Shein The Shoo-in

Despite their not-quite-stirling reputation, China’s largest fast fashion brand is a stirring global hit. We visited the site to see what’s the appeal

Shein’s TikTok-style photos on their website

If you don’t identify as Gen Z, you might want to give this post a miss. If you do not, but like wearing cheap clothes that appeal to the very younger, our uncovering of an online retail sensation might appeal to you. Just in case you aren’t aware yet (or too shy to ask your daughter), Shein from Nanjing (南京), China is a global phenomenon. According to a Forbes report in February this year, the brand is a “(USD)15 billion fast fashion retailer”. While you are too busy watching which of your fave brands will be conducting a closing-down sale, Shein launched, two months ago, a “hub” on our island, with our own stand-alone website, which means prices quoted are in SGD. In Southeast Asia, Shein is also operating e-shops in Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam (Malaysia’s, it is reported, is in the works). Although its expansion into our part of the world looks massive, Shein really made their mark and their sales in the United States, quickly beating American fast fashion brands, such as Forever 21, at their own game, tempting young shoppers with USD5 cropped tops and USD15 dresses (before discounts). Shein truly champions cheap.

But, first, let’s look at the name. It is often heard pronounced as “shine” (it’s not a Yiddish moniker!) or “shayne”, even “sheen”, as spoken by two teenaged girls seated next to us in an MRT train one weekday morning. However, according to fans using TikTok to communicate their #OOTD, it is “she in” (yes, two syllables), presumed by some to be a conflation of the two words, which may have come from “she is in”, but as mainland Chinese speakers of English do drop helping verbs, Shein pronounced as “she in” is unsurprising. However, if we go back to an earlier period, when the company traded as SheInside, perhaps the shortened name, as we know today, is understandable. Unlike many Chinese brands, such as Huawei, Shein the name does not have a Chinese root. Despite grabbing the headlines of major news outlets around the world with its un-Oriental-sounding brand, Shein is relatively unknown in the land where it was born as they only sell to overseas customers. When we spoke to a contact in Shanghai to ask her if she knows of the brand everyone is talking about and buying, she replied, “诗恩吗?没听说过 (shi en? Never heard of it)”. Some Chinese media use the name 希音 (xiyin), although it is unclear if the company is registered in China with that moniker.

You can’t imagine a Chinese brand not connected to technology or smartphones to be this big, but Shein is. Going back to America, hitherto their biggest market, it is reported that in a monthly ranking, the Shein app is downloaded more often than the Amazon app. As TechCrunch reported in May, citing App Annie and SensorTower, in the US, Amazon was beaten by the Chinese company on the Apple App Store on the 11th of that month, and then on Goggle’s Play Store just six days later. Now, it is reported that the Shein app enjoys 230 million downloads globally. In addition, a Similarweb research showed that Shein’s website is the most visited clothing retailer/brand in the world. According to Euromonitor International, the clothier is “the world’s largest online-only fashion company (based on sales of products under their own brand)”. That, by any standard, is a stunning achievement for a 13-year-old Chinese fast fashion label (H&M, at 74, is 61 years older) that first sold their products under the less marketable—and now defunct—website

Shein bus-stop ad seen in June 2021

After typing the new in the Google Search bar on our PC, (unsurprisingly) the site’s ad first appeared, looking exactly like a search result. The title read “SHEIN Official Site – Free Shipping – Countless Choices”, telling us immediately what their customers consider important. Surprisingly, “cheap” wasn’t in that order. The snippet followed with “Browse a wide range of Hot Sale Clothes. Big Savings, Limited Time Only. Shop Now! New Trends in Clothes. High Quality, Up to 85% Off. Free Shipping Available! Bonus Point. Quick & Secure Checkout. 100% Quality Guaranteed. Size Guide. Customer Service Focused.” Sure, it isn’t a proper paragraph that David Ogilvy would recommend, but this isn’t written to appeal to an English major. The site links came after, offering quick access to “New Styles For Women”, “Classic Sweatshirts” (they are still in demand?), “Shein’s Hot Deals” (they are always hot) and “Extended Sizes” (inclusive!). The ad, in fact, sat above the top search result for Shein (both with “Sg” in their URL), which, to us, appeared a little too kiasu.

A click on the ad and we were very quickly brought to their homepage. But we didn’t see any of their irresistible clothing immediately. Before the flash animation of the promotional banner could fully load, a trio of coupons popped up, offering three different levels of discounts, based on the total purchase made. When the coupons went away (we don’t remember closing the window), we could see the major temptation—“9.9 pre-sale: up to 80% off”. Surrounding this traditionally-placed value proposition—front and centre—are tabs on all sides except the left, offering more discounts. We scrolled further down, and we still did not see clothes. After the clickable ‘Category’ buttons (24 in all), more sales and promotions were announced and conveniently linked to bring you straight to the cheap stuff. We clicked on “All under S$9.90”. Before long, there was a “Croc Embossed Saddle Bag”, but not that Saddle Bag, for the unbelievable price of S$3.75 (seriously!). We scrolled 20 rows down (still no clothes): nothing came close to S$9.90.

We returned to the homepage and scrolled further down. Finally, some semblance of fashion. But first, they’d tempt you with more markdowns, from 17% off for a palette of eyeshadows to 61% off for a “Lettuce Trim Rib-knit Lounge Top”. Does any shopper buy at full price? We wanted to look at regular-priced merchandise, so we clicked on the links under “#SHEINstyles”. There were two of them: “Dazy” and “Honeyspot”. Since the former sounded like lazy, we skipped that. As it turned out, “Honeyspot” is for the honeypot, or she who thinks herself as one. The first item was a pair of black, sexed-up, wide-legged pants, with the waistband cut in a V-shape to bare the hips. The model picked to wear the trousers was impossibly thin, with a girth of the waist that looked unreal. Was she Photoshoped to look like a reed? We couldn’t tell. There were seven shots of her, looking like screen grabs of TikTok post, with varying degrees of come-hither engagingness. In fact, all the girls (and they are mere girls) looked like they were posing for their boyfriend’s secret photo stash. No picture was alike; each seemingly shot to connect with those who are weaned on Instagram and TikTok—but not Taobao (淘宝).

Shein homepage this week opens with a sale

Despite repeated visits, it is hard to discern the aesthetic strength of the Shein website. First impression is that it looks like an e-store by the people behind Shopee—but a tad more orderly. The impression stays. Shein’s makes Love, Bonito appear like a high-end site (but more conservative), and the Bangkok-based Pomelo’s a luxury platform. There seems to be an endless supply of merchandise; the scrolling almost never comes to an end. Gondolas in physical stores have a bottom, but Shein seems to offer none. On their “New Arrivals” banner, you’re told to “meet your new 1,000+ favourites”. They have such confidence in their offerings and the breadth, even when it is hard to imagine any visitor to have four-figure favourites, all in one stop. But 1,000 is an oft-cited figure. According to numerous news reports, Shein puts out “1,000 new products a day” (sometimes, as it is also often said, staggeringly close to 6,000)! Their releases in a week are believed to match already prolific Zara’s for an entire year. The minute the items go online, A.I. keeps a close watch on shopper behaviour via clicks and the picks in the shopping cart. Demands are quickly forecasted and inventory updated, all in real time. No human hands are required in the processes. In addition, their impressive algorithm is able to make recommendations to those who share similar profiles and purchases as those of earlier visitors. Like on social media, Shein is a community experience.

The massive merchandise output they are able to produce is the result of an advanced and sophisticated supply chain that is thought to rival even its closest competitors’. “Nothing can’t be done in China,” sourcing agents and product development managers are wont to say, even if garment production has shifted to an extent to Southeast Asia. Just for fabrics alone, Shein taps the astounding supplies and varieties from wholesale markets, such as those in Guangzhou (广州) and increasingly in Yiwu (义乌), a city in Zhejiang province (480km away from Shein’s home in Nanjing or five hours by car, and a lot less from their production base in Panyu District [番禺区], Guangzhou). Known as the “wholesale centre of the world”, what Yiwu offers, as one fabric sourcing agent based in Hong Kong told us recently, is “a whole level of crazy. They can customised based on order size. Mind you, the fabrics are of the moment, not from many years ago, not stock lot. They have ideas pumped up to them from everywhere. And they can do effects such as print embroidery as well.”

The core of Shein’s supply chain, in fact, is in fabric production, as well as the sibling businesses of printing and dyeing. According to the brand’s 2018 business plan quoted in the media, this allows Shein to attain “75% direct procurement rates” (values that track all relevant aspects of obtaining or buying goods and services to arrive at an end product), meaning they are able to maintain high standards in aspects such as quality consistency, cost optimisation, and trend correctness. Another Hong Kong production professional told us, “they could be on trend just by buying, for example, fleece or French terry to run throughout the year; they don’t need to think and rethink.” And, famously, shorter garment production cycles too. As industry watchers are always marveling at, Shein’s speed—from production to market—is the crux of their success. While most fast fashion brands take two to three weeks to go from design to finished garment (already considered speedy considering, traditionally, it takes about three months), Shein achieves the same in an impressive five to seven days, hence you, the shopper, during the pandemic or not, are able to constantly “meet your new 1,000+ favourites”. One procurement manager, based in Guangzhou, told us, “for cross-border commerce, in terms of supply chain and online ordering, for examples, China is way ahead of Singapore.”

If you need to see how the clothes look as social media posts, there is a “Style Gallery” for your enjoyment

But Shein did not begin as such a well-oiled clothing powerhouse. Founded in 2008 by a media-wary (“low-key” is often used by the press, and the company he helms “mysterious”) Shandong (山东) native Chris Xu Yangtian (许仰天), Shein’s early merchandise was reportedly sourced from Guangzhou’s famed Shisanhang Wholesale Market (十三行服装批发市场), a popular area in Liwan District (荔湾区), comprising primarily five markets that are known for their “mid- and low-grade products”, as one regular buyer told us. When sales grew dramatically (especially in the US, still their largest market to date), the initial procurement model of just buying to sell was no longer tenable. By 2014, they overhauled their supply chain, even forming their own design team (which is a curious asset when they are known to knock off the output of others), and the rest is laughing to the bank. Shein’s rapid rise and success are all the more fascinating for business watchers as Xu Yangtian was an unknown and did not come from a fashion background and was not thought to be interested in fashion. His company is so unheard in China that a newscaster on China Business Journal (中国经营报) described Shein as “中国最神秘的百亿公司,一家没有百度百科的百亿公司 (China’s most mysterious multi-billion company, a multi-billion company without a Baidu Baike [China’s Wiki] entry)”. Once an SEO specialist, Mr Xu started in clothing retail by selling wedding dresses (also overseas) through another defunct brand. It was reported, that despite his lack of fashion—and, indeed, supply chain—experience, Mr Xu went to Guangzhou in 2014 to set up Shein’s new procurement management and creative team in person.

From the start, price was key to Shein’s success. Ultra-fast fashion went hand-in-hand with ultra-cheap. As our Hong Kong source told us, “you can get fabrics in China for as low as 30 to 50 US cents a metre!” It is, therefore, unsurprising that Shein is able to sell tops for the unbelievable but inviting price of S$6, and dresses for S$10. The pants we mentioned earlier can be had for S$22, but if that’s too much for you, there’s a S$4 off voucher for you to redeem after you “register” with them. (And if that’s still too dear, you may opt to split the bill into three separate payments via the “buy now, pay later” service Atome, interest-free!) At every page, temptations in the form of further discounts seem to lurk, turning maybe-later to why-not-now. It is totally possible to purchase a complete look or even two, including accessories and makeup, for less than S$50. Shein hits the sweet spot that resides between Zara’s higher prices (for Shein’s customers) and H&M’s lower, but not those that necessarily come with product durability. Moreover, unlike the European rivals, the Chinese brand is increasingly operating like a department store. There’s a men’s line, a plus-size collection, lingerie, baby clothes, maternity wear, electronics, home décor, office and home wares, bedding (watch out, Robinsons) and, for good measure, pet supplies.

Although Shein engaged Mercury Marketing and Communications to launch their business here, the fast fashion brand also worked their magic by reaching out to influencers and KOLs. According to online reports, those with a sizeable following could receive free clothes or earn commissions of “between 10% and 20% when maintaining a steady stream of photo and video posts on Instagram, YouTube or TikTok”. Followers of their fave social media stars are also able to enjoy more discounts, with many SG influencers offering “codes” that come with “15% off”. On IG, there are more than 40 hashtags linked to Shein. Our own #sheinsg that started in July has quickly reached 183 posts. If after all these views, you are still not convinced of the clothes’ social media potential, you can visit the website’s IG-esque “Style Gallery”, organised by looks, such as “Summer Time”, “Beach Vibes”, and “Boho Gal”, and seven more. Back to the two lasses we encountered on the MRT train, who were, in fact, looking at the Shein website on one phone and the brand’s IG page on another. We noticed that they kept going back to a S$7 (not discounted) sleeveless, body-con “Draped Neck Butterfly Print Dress”. Unable to contain our curiosity, we asked them if they were in a dilemma. At that price, it seemed odd that they were hesitating. A MacDonald’s Big Mac Extra Value Meal is S$8.65. One of them, giggling, said, “We can’t decide who will buy; we both love it”.

Photo illustration (top): Just So. Product photo and screen grabs: Shein. Others: Chin Boh Kay

The Kampong Affair

Max Tan wants to “rewrite this whole language of the wrap”. In doing so, he brings us back to a 1950s village, complete with scurrying chickens

Considered one of our city’s most forward designers, Max Tan has always taken the path less travelled. For his latest collection, that jalan brings us to Kampong Lorong Buangkok, a traditional Malay-style village that enjoys the reputation as “the last surviving”, situated in not-so-rural-anymore Yio Chu Kang. The video-show (film this month “in compliance with prevailing Safe Management Measures”, we are told) of his latest collection (season unspecified) debuts online today. Since it’s still the month of August; it seems de rigueur that it would appear like a National Day homage to a lost way of life and a rural relic, destined for the National Archives. This is a part of our island that few have ever seen: the home to a reported 28 families who live in one-storey wooden houses with corrugated zinc roofs, on a plot of land the size of three football fields. Kampong Lorong Buangkok is privately-owned by the Sng family, whose patriarch Sng Teow Koon, a TCM seller, bought the 12,248-square-metre verdant expanse in 1956, the year Nicoll Highway and the Merdeka Bridge were officially opened, 40-odd kilometres away to the south. Although long-term evolution (LTE or 4G) cellular signals can be picked up here, the kampong has retained much of its idyllic air, including almost-clichéd, swaying coconut trees.

To be certain that viewers are not taken elsewhere other than the past that Max Tan looks at (or, as he says, “to tell people where I’m from as a designer”), the show is set to music that harks to the early ’60s (a decade before the 38-year-old was born): P Ramlee’s Getaran Jiwa (Soul Vibrations, aka Yearning Heart), made popular in English by the American singer Lobo in Whispers in the Wind. And Ye Feng’s (叶枫 aka Julie Yeh) 神秘女郎 (shenmi nulang or Mysterious Maiden), a song now often associated with compatriot Cai Qin (蔡琴 or Tsai Chin). Both oldies are sung mournfully by the husky-voiced stage actress Zelda Tatiana Ng. The choice of a Malay lagu and a Chinese ge is perhaps deliberate to better reflect the racial mix of this kampong. In Getaran Jiwa, written by Mr Ramlee, with lyrics by Syed Sudarmaji, we hear of the jiwa of possibly a place: “tak mungkin hilang/irama dan lagu/bagaikan kembang/setiasa bermadu (it will never fade/the melody and song/such as a flower/always in bloom)”. Could this koleksi be Mr Tan’s fashion blossoms, redolent of kampong spirit?

Mr Tan, the second-place awardee at the China Fashion Creation Contest in 2010, who ends the online show with a personal plug of his brand, “decided to rewrite this whole language of the wrap, which is really a humble piece of Southeast Asian garment, which is a sarong.” Rewriting seems to be Mr Tan’s present preoccupation. For his spring/summer 2021 collection (called wanita or woman in Malay), it was about “rustic moods re-written with an urban touch”, as well as “structured tailored qualities stripped back and rewritten (yes, sans hyphen) with a looser hand”, as described on his website. This time, the seemingly bold recast “revolves around drapes, around the body—simple folds and tucks,” Mr Tan tells us. Simplicity is, of course, relative. To his fans, his clothes appeal because they are not that simple. And simplicity doesn’t necessarily equate with minimalism, which is often doing away with the superfluous. Mr Tan does not eliminate the unnecessary. Dress over dress, flaps over shoulders, asymmetric drapes on top of more, sleeves too long, and cords that do not function as a fastener—all composited so that the end results appear to be simple. And so that, as Mr Tan declares with delight, “you’ll see a very, very much softer side to what I’ve usually been doing.” He has, of course, put aside easy-to-form fabrics such as neoprene, and has embraced rather enthusiastically more of the pliable, such as polyester jersey and kindred modals, hence the “softer side”, evident since his graduate collection in 2020.

The problem with simplicity is that in its very freedom from anything perceived to be complex, it may expose one’s weaknesses. A straight line, for example, may not be exactly horizontal or, in the case of Mr Tan’s rewriting of the wrap, a neat line. The sarong, in its most elemental form, is a rectangle, joined at the two ends to form a tubular garment. Mr Tan’s approach to design is based on a similarly planar construction. Almost everything comes from flatness—the fabrics hang down (movement allows the skirt to flare or open up, sometimes to drag on the floor), or stretched across the upper chest, straight. A horizontal neckline of a cream column-dress, for example, held up by spaghetti straps, puckers. The plackets of shirts and shirt-dresses, too, gape and won’t sit flat. If these issues are unmissable on video, it would be regrettable when one see them close-up. Designer fashion, if the term is still relevant or revered, deserves better.

“What I really wanted to show,” Mr Tan cajoles, “and to say with the collection from post-pandemic (sic) is to look back at where I’m from and be inspired by where I grew up from, my experiences as a childhood (sic), who I became—how I became a designer, and all these different elements that really made me who I am.” It is not clear how he is connected to the kampong (or if, indeed, he grew up in one since most kampongs in Singapura made way for urbanisation in the ’80s), but situating the adoption of the sarong in kampongs and in Southeast Asia alone negates the other forms, such as the lungi of the Indian subcontinent (also known as the longyi in Myanmar where it is worn by both men and women) and the izaar of the Arabian Peninsular, just to identify two. But what is rather puzzling is the need to drape some pieces from the collection on clothes lines, the way the kampong folks might, if they were drying the day’s laundry. Was this to augment the kampong theme? Or to exoticise what would otherwise just be a bunch of clothes in what’s, foremost, a residential area?

It would be surprising if the ketua kampong (village head) or “the landlord”, as the sole Ng still residing here is called, find this amusing. Not quite cantik, we imagine the respond to be. The models walk in and around the kampong listlessly (the chicken are in better spirit), as if they were paid just to do that; what they wear offer no latitude for understanding the connection between designs conceived in Mr Tan’s studio in McNair Road (quite the heart of our city) and the presentation in a conserved kampong. This is not a soul vibrating; this is without soul. As it is written in Getaran Jiwa, “andainya dipisah/irama dan lagu/lemah tiada berjiwa/hampa (if they should part/the song and the melody/they grow weak and dispirited/and empty)”. Perhaps the same can be said of design and craft, and, just as importantly, fashion and tradition.

Screen grab: Max Tan/AP Media Asia/Vimeo

Mountain High

Uniqlo X White Mountaineering could be the most exciting collab for both Japanese brands this year

White Mountaineering (WM) has just announced on social media that they will be collaborating with compatriot brand Uniqlo for an autumn/winter 2021 capsule. Fans of Japanese ‘Gorpcore’ would be thrilled (to us, it was in the Land of the Rising Sun that it all began). For us here at SOTD, this would probably be the most exciting Uniqlo collaboration since Undercover in 2012, six years after WM was born. These days, more and more fashion consumers appreciate outdoor styles that can be copped for a trendy and distinctive expression of self. WM’s designer and founder Yosuke Aizawa—a Junya Watanabe alum—will be the first to tell you that his clothes are not entirely suitable for serious mountain climbing. But his love for the outdoors and sports that brings one to higher altitudes is overwhelming, so much so that he saw the possibility of melding the functional and the utilitarian with the fashionable. And he did not see incorrectly. White Mountaineering predated the Gorpcore trend by more than a decade, way before Gucci’s pairing with The North Face.

Nothing very much is revealed (not even a photo) about the collab yet. Nor, date of release. But White Mountaineering did post on Instagram: “Announcing a new collaboration for Fall/Winter 2021. Outerwear created as a common language for everyone—LifeWear simplicity and White Mountaineering style.” To note is the deliberate mention of “outerwear”. Given that the collection is for the fall season and WM is known for their covetable parkas and such, it could be pieces we are unlikely to buy, especially when travel to colder climes this year seems unlikely. If WM’s own autumn/winter collection (or their collaborative output, such as last year’s pairing with Fila) is any indication, expect practical styling with silhouettes that are decidedly contemporary and cool. And yes, utility pockets, unusually placed too. You may not need these clothes this year (or here), but you can always purchase a couple to keep, especially when they would be priced at a fraction of what you’d have to pay for, if considering WM’s main line. Watch this space for more details.

Update (7 October 2021, 11:15): the Uniqlo X White Mountaineering collaboration will be available at Uniqlo’s Orchard Central Global Flagship store on 15 October

Photo illustration: Just So

Torture To Go Through

Is it reasonable to spend an hour hitting keys on your smartphone repeatedly to score a pair of shoes and not be rewarded?

By Ray Zhang

“OOPS…” went the full-cap message. Is that the best Nike can do? I sat at my desk five minutes to ten, ready to hit my virtual keyboard on my smartphone so as to enter the necessary information to buy myself a pair of LDWaffle x Sacai x Fragment kicks, launched today on Nike’s SNKR site at 10am. At the precise moment, I selected my size, and hit “Add To Bag”. I was then linked to a page where all my purchase details were listed. I filled in my credit card info, and hit purchase. As if I was played by a ghost (which wouldn’t surprise me since this is the seventh lunar month!), I was brought back to the previous page. Not yet discouraged, I repeated this procedure another ten times at least, and finally I got to the page (above) that went “OOPS”! I would spend the next hour going between the page that asked for my shoe size and the one that expressed surprise at its own blunder. In the mean time, my fingers and my mind were begging for mercy. Despite the exercise I give my thumbs daily, this was still too much stress to expect of them.

Is it reasonable to ask anyone to spend an hour on the same page, doing the same thing, hitting the same keys, looking at the same numbers, reading the same “OOPS” message only to come up naught each time, and be filled with deep disappointment at how unpleasant the entire procedure was? When I checked the page at around 1pm, the shoes were “sold out”. It’s inconceivable to me that a company as massive and wealthy as Nike would put their customers through what I went through. And I was not the only one. Another 12 of my friends who tried came away empty-handed and frustrated—and cursing. One of them said to me, “It is wicked that the biggest brand in the world, with all the resources at hand, would do this to their customers.” If indeed one of the basic tenets of good service is never to let your customer wait (let’s not even talk about letting them down), why did Nike put so many of us through the torment? And if we’re more likely to remember a bad customer experience than good, why would Nike not make purchasing their shoes online even slightly more pleasant?

This is not my first time in such a maddening situation. For as long as I have been using the SNKR site to score a pair of shoes—okay, mostly the Nike X Sacai collabs—I would want to scream my lungs out. I knew my chances here would be as slim as the OG Waffle sole, so I entered the Club 21 raffle last week to, well, double my chance. But someone later told me I would also be wasting my time as Club 21 would likely avail whatever stocks they have to their top-spenders, and I am not one of them. Undeterred, I submitted my details for the raffle. Up till ten last night, I did not hear from them. No word this morning either, not a simple “thank you” for participating. However, on Instagram Stories earlier (close to midnight, I believe), they posted a photo of the shoes and the message, “All winners for the Nike X Sacai X Fragment raffle have been contacted via email. Congratulations to all and thank you everyone for joining.” Should I feel better?

Screen shot:

The Modern Newscaster

You’d think that Mediacorp anchors are conservative dressers, but some are not. Thumbs up?

By Mao Shan Wang

It has been a quiet Monday evening. I was watching Channel 5’s News Tonight as usual, and Glenda Chong was reading. Like most nights she’s on air, she was standing by the right side of her desk, opening with “Tonight’s Top Stories”. She wore a cream-coloured, form-fitting, knee-length dress. As she spoke and walked to the right side of the screen behind her, barely finishing a sentence, I caught sight of something I have never noticed of Ms Chong before. The dress is not unattractive. A somewhat Thirties silhouette, with a box-pleated neckline that formed, to the sides, fetching sleeves (possibly raglan) over her arms, it was one of Ms Chong’s better choices (over, say, the rather dowdy tweed jacket of some months back). But I did not expect to see, as she stood there telling me that “Singapore and the US are entering new areas of partnership” (truth be told, I was looking forward to see Kamala Harris), very clear and visible outlines of the protuberances of her breast. I look up at my clock: Nine, it told me, is not exactly the late-night hour.

I thought perhaps it was the lighting at that particular spot in the studio. Or, perhaps where she stood was just too draughty (despite the lights!). When she returned to the desk and the camera framed her much tighter, I realised I was not mistaken. Yes, there they were: distinct, dramatic, dauntless. I said aloud: “Oh, no.” My brother, who had just walked in from the kitchen to join me, said: “Why, not nice, ah, the dress?” Before I could offer a reply, he went, “Woah! Wow! WOW!” My mother, stirred by the living room commotion, also joined in. “哎哟,很难看啦! (aiyo, looks awful).” And I didn’t point anything out to them! Before Ms Harris’s face could appear, I received a WhatsApp message from my best friend, all the way from Sembawang. It was preceded by a screen shot of Ms Chong, seated (or standing?). “Correct me if I’m wrong,” she wrote. “Glenda looks like she’s bra-less. Surely it can’t be?”

I played the expert and the arbiter, not. “She is a liberated woman,” I texted back, not entirely sure of what I wrote or if I would come across as someone from the Seventies. Is anyone even supposed to look at her there? “I understand,” came the rapid reply, “but this is the national news, not an R-rated channel. I’m liberated too. But she’s reading the news, not acting in a movie. Am I a prude?” My friend, a PR professional, is not, and her reaction is totally comprehensible. This was the news and Kamala Harris was coming on! It is possible that Ms Chong did wear underclothes—a smooth, sheer, silky slip perhaps, just not a brassiere. Whatever, it was her choice. Just as it was ex-Mediacorp artiste, former 成人杂志 (City Beat) host Sharon Au’s choosing to go bra-less for work one day, as revealed by her pal Kim Ng in the latest installation of #JustSwipeLah. I am not sure if Mediacorp issues dress guidelines for their journalists who go on air, but I am sure the 23-year Mediacorp veteran’s superiors do not tell her what to wear—or not—under her dress. I am just surprised that no one behind the camera, not even the studio director, noticed and advised her accordingly when she walked in earlier to take up her position.

But in these ‘woke’ times, these minor indiscretions, not amounting to a wardrobe malfunction (so 2004!), are not supposed to bother us. When I mentioned this to another friend (a fashion industry veteran) after the newscast, she said very delightfully, “power to her!” Ms Chong, a former model, I’m sure, is empowered enough to know if she needed to be taped or not. And although she was standing at sedia (made more obvious by two diagonal pleats serving as bust darts) that did not mean our visual space had to be totally intruded. “Nippage” is real and is inevitable, as I recall reading somewhere, since women “simply have breasts”. I think the good news is that Mediacorp can finally be seen as a modern broadcaster and that, no matter how distracting—or titillating—the effect some clothes may have on their anchors, their on-air staff would not be dressed, as one stylist once said to me, “as if going to meet grandma”. Frankly, I think cascading locks to the right of the face are far more distracting than a pair of perky dots on the chest.

Updated: 24 August 202, 16:00. Unadulterated TV screen shot: Mao Shan Wang

Graceful Is The Giantess

Burberry plants itself right in the heart of Orchard Road with a massive Olympia

There aren’t many places on Orchard Road where a handbag, the height of the nutmeg tree that used to grow here in the 1800s, can sit obtrusively for the pleasure of gawkers and selfie-mad teenaged girls. The open space outside Ion Orchard (adjacent to Paterson Road) is possibly the only one and a spot luxury brands like to market themselves—visibly. Traditionally, this is where a Christmas tree (increasingly sponsored) would be erected during the Yuletide season, but Burberry has, instead, laid their Olympia bag “sculpture” here, following the footsteps of Louis Vuitton with their shipping container display last January. A handbag left in a very public place won’t be there for very long, but the Olympia is too massive to be removed unnoticed. The handbag, at 10m high, is taller than the Merlion (8.6m), and loftier than the ERP gantry it faces (6m). Which means that the Olympics 2020 pole vault gold medalist, Sweden’s Mondo Duplantis, who won by soaring over 6.02 metres, won’t be able to jump over its shoulder strap!

After its debut in London last month, floating on a barge along the River Thames, and then moving on to Dubai, where it sat on a sandy stretch on Palm West Beach of the famed Palm Jumeirah, with the city’s gleaming sky scrapper’s behind it, the Olympia is here, right where Orchard Road’s heart supposedly beats, standing proudly as “the first Asian stop” (we do not know where else on this continent it will land after this). The imposing bag is a crowd magnet, having enjoyed pre-unveiling publicity as an “IG moment”. It seems only women want to pose with the Olympia, with boyfriends/husbands serving as photographers, since it is likely that bag and subject(s) are unlikely able to be entirely framed by a smartphone’s front camera, held with hand stretched to the max. When a woman, standing alone, just below and to the right of the bag’s pentagon zip-puller, felt awkward and asked her male companion to go over and pose with her, he shouted from about three metres across her, “不要啦,很奇怪 (no, lah, it’s very strange)”.

Olympia the modern bag seems to allude to Olympia the ancient site/sanctuary dedicated to the worship of the Greek god Zeus, and home of the ancient Olympic Games. In Greek mythology, there are 12 Olympians of the pantheon, some are female goddesses, such as Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite, but none known as Olympia. At the Burberry store window inside ION Orchard, a row of Olympia the bag is placed against what appears to be the delineation of some ancient Hellenic deity, which is not identified (the staff in the store do not know who she is either). Women’s role in ancient Greece is believed to be somewhat limited, but in their religion, there is a line-up of surprisingly strong female characters, such as the Muses, celebrated for their beauty, as well as their artistic skills, and to whom we owe today’s use of the word ‘muse’—she who inspires a creative genius. However, the actual usable Olympia, launched in May, is, according to Burberry, inspired by their “show venue, Olympia London”, a 134-year-old exhibition space in West Kensington!

Designed by Riccardo Tisci, the Olympia is described by the brand in its publicity material as a “runway shoulder bag” (not handbag) that’s an “embodiment of modern classicism”. Shaped like a wedge of watermelon, the Burberry Olympia is a smart-looking bag. Somewhat unusual is the rigid shoulder strap (yes, it can stand when you sit the bag on a table), which is adjustable to suit the length you desire. The bag is striking in its simplicity of form: fold-over flap with a zip pocket and a zip-puller (on the rear is a a slip pocket—unfortunately not gusseted, so you can’t fit a Trace Together token) that is secured by magnetic closure. What’s interesting about the Olympia is that, while the bag was launched by the publicity visuals featuring Kendall Jenner, FKA twigs, and the British rapper Blaine Muise, better known as Shygirl, it is marketed unabashedly as unisex. For this shoulder bag, men are included (Kohei Takabatake models with it). To our friend above, it’s not strange, lah.

The Burberry Olympia sculpture is open to view until 29 August 2021. The bag itself, from SGD2090, is now available at Burberry, Ion Orchard. Photos: Jim Sim

Is This Dee End?

The former deejay is alleged to have done all those things he was accused of a year ago

“Some of the allegations baffled me,” Darryl Ian Koshy wrote on Instagram around this time last year, “because they were baseless and untrue.” The seven-image text denial came in the wake of accusations that he had solicited sexual favours from underaged boys. When he was arrested at his Woodlands HDB home in October last year, the police found that the loud and bawdy former deejay/YouTuber, better known as Dee Kosh, possessed “obscene videos”—23 of them, a few reportedly surreptitiously shot, and showed him and his victims in incriminating positions. According to Today, “Some of the videos that Koshy allegedly possessed showed him performing sexual acts with others. These were taken without the other party’s knowledge, the police said in a statement on Wednesday evening.” The 33-year-old had, at first, vehemently denied any wrong doing, even when the first boy to accuse him told Coconuts Singapore shortly after the scandal blew up, “It is disgusting to know that such a big public figure has the audacity to carry out such acts, and yet has no courage to own up for his own mistakes.” Another four more boys emerged to corroborate the first’s allegation with accounts that were disturbingly similar. Mr Koshy posted on IG a firm denial: “Let me state categorically that I did not ever have any sexual relations with him (the first accuser) or with any minor.”

Yet, a total of seven charges were brought against Mr Koshy earlier today: “three counts of communicating with a minor under 18 to obtain their sexual services, one of sexually exploiting a minor under 18, and three for possessing and making obscene videos of minors”, as widely reported in the media. He appeared in person to have the charges read to him, dressed in all black (including motorcycle boots that appeared to conceal a tracking device secured to his left ankle)), a colour that belied his more florid online drag personae. such as the course-mouthed Ria Warna and Leachme Teachu. Under a gag order, the names of the boys involved were not revealed to protect their identities. According to the police, Koshy had, between 2017 and 2020, allegedly induced victims below the age of 18 years old to agree to sexual services in exchange for monetary payments. In one specific charge involving the youngest victim, aged 15, he supposedly asked the boy to perform recompensed—undisclosed amount (he was known to call “incentive”)—sexual acts, between March and June 2018. The results of the lengthy investigation seem to confirm what was filed with the police last year—at that time, at least six reports were known to be lodged against the sexual perpetrator.

It started with online allegations in mid-August last year—and screenshots of explicit chats between Mr Koshy and his victims, who claimed they connected with the “talent scout”, as he was thought to be, on Telegram, as well as through the direct message feature on IG. Those conversations were damning enough, but he refuted the accusations vehemently on Instagram Stories at first, and then later apologised and admitted “that there is truth to some of the things which are being said now”. When the reports were lodged with the police, investigations followed. More reveals circulated on social media. Celebrity friends shared their views—a mix of disbelief and support. Even AWARE lent their weight, posting on IG: “It is categorically wrong to engage a minor in sexual conversation. And there is no situation in which quid pro quo sexual harassment could be acceptable.” Mr Koshy, who still enjoys 188,000 followers on Instagram and 367,000 on YouTube, remained largely quiet, but about a month after the arm of the law caught up with him, he posted on IG a defiant message: “Not dead. Not gone. Just waiting for police investigations.” The wait is now over.

Illustration: Just So

This Collab Now Involves Three

Why have two when you can add one more?

Is it possible that when there are more names to a collaboration, the end product would sell better? We might fear the too-many-cooks situation, but brands, especially those seriously trending, are not. In the case of Nike, Fragment Design, and Sacai, three in collaborative mode is the magic number. But how would the extra-name hype increase sales when these collaborative outputs would still be sold in ridiculously limited quantities and priced beyond the reach of the average sneaker lover? We don’t know. As sneaker collabs go, this two-easts-meet-one-west team-up is destined to make big what is already a major hit: the LDWaffle. This time, it is still unmistakably Sacai: double the Swoosh, heel counter, and tongue, and the more obvious the heel wedge, to better let fellow MRT commuters to step on it. But what makes this round of collaboration more desirable is the addition of the third name, spelled out noticeably on the heel wedge. After Fragment Designs, look out for Clot and Undercover, as we have been recently told, courtesy of Edison Chen’s teaser post on Instagram.

Sacai is, of course, the brand name on everyone’s lips these days. No sneaker designer Chitose Abe touches, it appears, does not turn to gold. At least with Nike, that has been the case, starting from the Nike Blazer Mid of 2019. Ms Abe’s former boss Junya Watanabe has, of course, been a long-time Nike collaborator, going back to his debut of the Nike Zoom Haven in 1999 (our favourite is the low-key Super Fly from 2001). At the launch of the Blazer Mid, not many sneakerheads thought Sacai could go as far as Junya Watanabe, but the former did. When the LDWaffle (hybrid of Waffle Daybreak and LDV) appeared in 2020, the sneaker space went berserk. About a year later, the staggering Vaporwaffle, with its gaping heel, sealed the deal and Sacai’s reputation as the collaborator that can produce extreme sneakers that sell was cemented.

That Fragment Design is in the triumvirate is not surprising. Hiroshi Fujiwara’s work with Nike goes back even further: to 2002 when the other threesome—Mr Fujiwara, Tinker Hatfield and Mark Parker (both from Nike) formed HTM (from the initials of their first names) and, later, HTM2, the project that would, hitherto, produce grail-level sneakers. Sneakerheads never get enough of his output, including those under the Air Jordan imprint. Nike’s global director of influencer marketing and collaborations, Fraser Cooke, once said to the media that Mr Fujiwara “has remained relevant for so long because he has good taste and a very acute sense of timing—he’s good at partnering with the right people at the right time.” And that he is a prolific collaborator helps too. The founder of Fragment Design’s other presently-trending collaboration is with Travis Scott, also in partnership with Nike—Air Jordan 1.

For this iteration of the LDWaffle involving Fragment Design, Mr Fujiwara picked a navy, later named Blackened Blue, as the shade of the mesh and suede upper. There’s something almost old-school about the kicks in this colour, a chromatic hush that Nike called “understated”. The heel wedge in white, acting like an underscore, comes with the branding of all three, with Nike’s known simply as ”the classic” (the double Swooches enough to take the place of a single four-letter name?). On the second (bottom) layer of the two tongues, Fragment Design’s logo of the double thunder bolt within a circle is immediately discernible. To fans, this is possibly the most important inclusion above all else. Read, even now, sold out!

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

LDWaffle x Sacai x Fragment Blackened Blue, SGD249, will be available on the Nike e-store on 24 August 2021, 10am. Product photos: Nike

No Pink Shorts In Prison

Defiant to the end, this British no-masker, with a penchant for pastel berms, was not able to convince the judge that the law here does not apply to him

As we have said here on SOTD before, there are those who find the face mask we have to wear for the past year and a half totally unwearable, offensive, and revolting, so much so that they are willing to face jail time to keep one off their delicate faces. The British expatriate, who became famous in May when his no-mask defiance on an MRT train was filmed and shared, was sentenced to six weeks in jail this afternoon after what the press described as a “brief trial”. Apart from not wearing a mask on two occasions, other charges included “causing public nuisance” and “using threatening words on public officers (according to the policemen who arrested him, he had adopted a “boxing stance” and told them, “I am going to fucking drop you”—both he denied). It staggers the imagination that this guy could find mask wearing so objectionable that rage would consume him while reason took flight.

Netizens were quick to express how light the sentence is. When the “Living Man” goes to a living jail, he won’t be spending all six weeks inside as his sentence is backdated to 19 July, the day he was first remanded. He will thus be released in no time. Many are wondering if the relatively lenient punishment for violation as egregious as threatening public health is due to the fact that he is angmo. This is truly how the sentence is seen, even by foreigners. An American reader messaged us to say “it’s ridiculous that expats get the kid glove treatment.” He added, “I’m surprised that the UK has the sovereign citizen movement. I thought it was a ridiculously American disorder.” The Brit expat had earlier called himself a “sovereign” (basically he who decides for himself, not judges or police officers, what laws to obey) and told the court: “I know what a crime is, there must be a victim which is a living man or woman, not a legal fiction which is what you are, officers. You are not living men and women, they are legal fictions. I am living man, I control my public trust,” as reported.

The “living man” controls his public image too. Much was discussed publicly about his attire when he appeared in court on 2 July, wearing a short-sleeved, blue/white foliage-print shirt and a pair of pink, narrow-legged bermudas. The casual turnout for a court hearing shocked many following the case, which led to the question, “are shorts allowed inside State Courts (the Briton was tried and sentenced here)?” According to their online FAQ for visitors, one must dressed “appropriately” when visiting the State Courts (formerly the Subordinate Courts). This means “business wear, smart casual wear and traditional dress”. An accompanying illustration does not show men—or women—in shorts (short-sleeved shirts are allowed). But even those who have never attended a court session know that one must never dress that casually. Yet, the British offender wore knee-baring bermudas to hear his case in court. So did a man purported to be his “legal representative” who had previously been turned away from the courts for “inappropriate attire”, as reported. It’s not clear how inappropriately dressed he was. Lawyers, it seems, are held to a higher sartorial standard. Back to that July afternoon, it could really be hot, but surely not in a court room?

Again, we hear people say they are surprised that those who look this smart would be this far from smart. Some women were astonished that a “not-bad looking” Caucasian man, who “dresses well” (also, they think, in that May video that got him caught, when he wore shorts too), would so flagrantly disregard our laws. Manner of dress never reveals the law-refusal or ignoring nature of people. Certainly not the show of legs either. For some reason, this pandemic has unambiguously point to us how selfish and uncaring individuals can be, how mandates can be ignored, even ridiculed, how public decency is somehow outmoded and to be cast into the bin of lost social discipline, along with chivalry and courtesy, mindfulness and kindness, and used masks. Perhaps prisoners’ garb may serve some corrective function. But the “living man” won’t be in prison long enough to miss his pink shorts.

Update (19 August 2021, 13:05): According to CNA, the Briton is out of jail and has been handed to Immigration and Checkpoints Authority for deportation.

Illustrations: Just So

Happy, Not Happy

Coping with fame or romantic relationships, as Billy Eilish croons, isn’t easy, but are we still enthralled by more confessions of the tough and the dark?

It’s retro-tinged, it’s melancholic, it’s tuneful, and it is destined to be a successful follow-up to 2019’s When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?—the album that worn Billie Eilish’s (and her brother Finneas O’Connell) five Grammies. It’s quite a feat for what Mr O’Connell called “home-made cookies”. The sophomore Happier than Ever, released two weeks ago, boasts more refined and rarefied song craft, and is, therefore, poised to repeat the feat in the next music award season. Ms Eilish creates music far more sophisticated than other recording artistes much older than her. She expresses emotions the average late-teen rarely emotes or so ardently. Her songs, woke and ever so anguish-filled, are not about musical trends; they are song-writing that tugs at heartstrings. On the cover of Happier than Ever, the newly blonde Billie Eilish is in tears.

Teen confessional-pop is, of course, (still) a thing. Singing about growing-up pains is the stuff of the rapid rise to stardom these days, and if you do it all with a smidgen of alt posturing, all the better. Ms Eilish packages herself vocally as an old soul. She offers not Meghan Trainor’s vibrant pop or Olivia Rodrigo’s Sour-ness, but they all share the need to express periods of their lives affected by heartbreak and whatever now—and then—ails young women embracing the adult world, including, in the case of Ms Eilish, her objections when watching porn. In Male Fantasy, a guitar-driven track that would actually appeal to guys, she recounts: “home alone, tryin’ not to eat/distract myself with pornography” and continues to point out the untruth of such performances since, as she believes, the actresses in them “would never be/That satisfied, it’s a male fantasy”.

On the whole, Happier than Ever encourages you to put your player (or streaming service) on loop. It is not manic; it’s nicely paced, and, in parts, it makes for the listening you’d keep for between you and the four walls of your bedroom. It’s ideal for listening alone, whether streamed through your smart speaker or via wireless earbuds. Our problem—if it’s right to call it that—with this album is Ms Eilish’s singing. Don’t get us wrong, she can sing. In fact, we like her voice: the clarity, the roundedness, the warmth, the not-girlish vocal styling. But it is how she used that voice that can sometimes annoy. In this album, Ms Eilish sounds as if she is singing to herself, as if testing a tune. The words won’t come out wholeheartedly, the phrasing too manipulated in the throat. She metronomes between amusing herself and seducing you. It is appreciable that she does not scream, she does not show off in unnecessary vocal gymnastics, but sometimes it is better not to let the singing get in the way of the song.

Many of her fans say her style is “intimate”. Since she sings almost entirely in the first person (except in GOLDWING), it is “natural” that she sounds as if she is in your attentive company. Happier than Ever is, therefore, ideal for solo listing, whether streamed through your smart speaker or via a pair of wireless earbuds. Perhaps it is with such intimacy that you’ll know she’s Getting Older (“I wish someone had told me I’d be doin’ this by myself”) and, in the talk-not-sing, Anne Clark-ish Not my Responsibility (“If I wear what is comfortable, I am not a woman/ If I shed the layers, I’m as slut“), that criticisms of her body bothers, if not hurt, her. Some songs augment her indie cred, including the stand out Your Power (“Will you only feel bad when they find out?”). There are a couple of tracks that beg to be remixed for the dancefloor or your bedroom, such as the excellent Oxytocin* (“I wanna do bad things to you… You know I need you for the oxytocin”)—how many young women use such a lovely word?!—and GOLDWING (“They’re gonna tell you what you wanna hear/Then they’re gonna disappear/Gonna claim you like a souvenir/Just to sell you in a year”). Pretty hardcore stuff from a fresh post-adolescent.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

*Oxytocin is a neuro-hormone that plays a part in the emotions we feel and the sensations in the body. It is also popularly known as the love hormone as it is released while we kiss and hug, and get heavy in sexual activity

Screen grab: Happier Than Ever/YouTube

Havaianas Tradi Zori

Looks like Havaianas is able to re-imagine the good ’ol slippers. But when they cost more than S$100, would you jump into a pair?

By Shu Xie

We are a country of lovers of flip-flops. Slippers, as we call them, are footwear of the nation. But would you love them that much if you have to part with close to S$200 for a pair? I would not. To me, there is no such thing as luxury rubber! Yet, Havaianas would have us believe that their new Tradi Zori—launched somewhat quietly here last July—that is mainly a piece of getah the length of your foot has to be copped for the bold, pocket-draining price of S$175. For that amount of money, I could get myself the delightfully clunky Nike Asuna slide (S$69) or the Canyon sandals (S$129). I am not comparing, of course, but if a comparison is to be made—and why not, let’s look within the brand. The regular Havaianas slippers start from S$25, which makes the Tradi Zori a staggering seven times costlier! Some of us do watch how we spend.

To be sure, the new Havaianas slippers are good-looking slippers—very. They are Havaiana’s first new silhouette since the birth of the brand with the unmistakable (and widely copied) Tradicional. As Havaianas fans know well, the brand started after a group of execs from Alpargatas, a 114-year-old Brazilian footwear manufacturer (also behind the fashion label Osklen), visited Japan in the early ’60s. In the Land of the Rising Sun, they encountered the zori, a flat-soled slipper mostly made of straw. So impressed they were with the simplicity of the footwear, and its durability that, on returning home, they went about to create what would be the world’s best-selling slipper (or ‘thong’ as the Australians call it). The first version was named Tradicional and is still in production today.

The Havaianas Tradicional was launched in 1962, and for the next 50-plus years, its shape remained largely unchanged. Until last year, when the Tradi Zori was launched as a collaborative output with high-end Japanese streetwear brand Mastermind (priced at the more tearful S$220). A month later, a series of colour-blocked pairs hit the Havaianas stores. As the name suggests, the new silhouette is based on the zori, but tweaked to reflect Havaianas’s flair with rubber and, with the monochrome styles, to cater to those who’d wear it in an urban setting, rather than, say, at the seaside, with Yohji Yamamoto hakamas, rather than Vilebrequin beach shorts.

One afternoon, when I was looking at the pair produced in collaboration with A Bathing Ape (top) at their freestanding store in Ngee Ann City, a Puma-shod customer wondered aloud to his shopping companion: “How come square toe, huh?” That was a curious question when the Tradi Zori, in fact, has a squared heel. To me, it looks like a Tradicional laid atop a zori-derived, larger sole, complete with an obvious corridor round the edge, as if framing the former, making the slippers look larger than your feet, the way Birkenstocks do too. They are heavy, possibly because of their relative thickness (or perhaps I’m used to the weight of their regular slippers). In black and white for the two styles currently available (including the collab, which, surprisingly, isn’t dearer) and with soft PVC thongs, the Tradi Zori is truly handsome. Sadly, I can’t say the same about the price.

Havaianas Tradi Zori, SGD175, is available at Havaianas, Ngee Ann City. Photo: Zhao Xiangji

Update (14 August 2021, 13:00): Havaianas X A Bathing Ape Tradi Zoris are sold out in stores

Seungri Is Sentenced

The former member of Big Bang is found guilty by a military court for multiple crimes, including “prostitution mediation”

Once thought to be headed for immense success for his accessible pop music as a soloist, Seungri will be heading towards jail. In what has been described by Korean media as “sex and gambling scandal” that has riveted the nation, the verdict of the court case—he was tried in military court as he enlisted for compulsory military service in March last year after being indicted in January—was thought to be a foregone conclusion. K-pop industry watchers and the media did not think he was able to extricate himself from the explosive allegations. Earlier today, Seungri was sentenced to three years in jail (it is not known if he would be sent to a military lock-up) “on multiple charges, including prostitution mediation and overseas gambling”, according to the Yonhap News Agency. Prosecutors had sought a five-year prison term for the star. He was handed down a total of nine charges, which included “the operation of an unlicensed adult entertainment establishment and embezzlement”. Seungri denied the charges. With his arrest in 2019 and the accompanying allegations, the K-pop industry was sent into a reverberant state of shock.

Seungri, whose name in his passport reads Lee Seung-hyun, was called for questioning when Burning Sun, a high-end nightclub in Gangnam that was reported to be co-owned by him, was under investigation: Initially over the alleged assault of a male guest, but soon blew up to include criminal activities that was staggeringly wide-ranging, from prostitution (as well as the trafficking of the underaged) to the mistreatment of South Korean women (the use of ‘date drugs’) to spy-cams to drug trafficking to tax evasion, even police corruption (some law enforcers allegedly colluded with the club owners). It was considered one of the biggest probes of the entertainment industry at that time, and impacted individuals—the famous and the less so—across Seoul. When he decided to quit the entertainment business following charges of “sex bribery”, Seungri admitted on Instagram that he had caused “societal disturbance”.

One of the far-reaching allegations against Seungri was that he “procured” prostitutes for VIP individuals, identified as “investors” for his nightclub and attendant businesses. These men were believed to be from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, and other countries. Curiously, even our little red dot was implicated when Seungri brought up a name, “Kimmy”, during a March 2019 interview with Chosun Ilbo, the oldest newspaper in South Korea. In a widely shared translation, Seungri was quoted saying, “In the Club Arena (another nocturnal venue linked to the star) case, it’s regarding a woman from Singapore called Kimmy. She’s the daughter of a famous soccer club owner. I’ve received a lot of help from her, so I just wanted to look out for her.” Looking out, according to Seungri, was arranging for a “female travel companion to shop with her while she was in Seoul”. The Straits Times, following the Chosun Ilbo interview, wrote: “While he did not identify who she was, speculation swirled that he was referring to socialite Kim Lim, whose billionaire father Peter Lim has a controlling stake in Spanish side Valencia.”

The talk that emerged bordered on the shocking and unseemly. Ms Lim, not a stranger to Seungri (there were social media posts of them together), was quick to act, posting on Instagram stories, three successive pages that refuted any suggestion that she was involved in the burgeoning scandal, 4,669 kilometres away. She insisted that she was at Club Arena with Singaporean friends, saying “we partied by ourselves and left after”. She was emphatic: “I’m not involved in any way whatsoever” and concluded with the warning: “Any media outlets which persist in reporting so will be hearing from my legal counsel”. Ms Lim’s outrage is understandable. Why would she, a seasoned shopper, need local shopping companion when she had company from home with her? And why should aspersions be cast on what was essentially a night out with friends?

Many Seungri fans were unable to accept the guilty verdict. On Twitter today, some of them claimed that there was “no evidence” to the purported wrongdoings, while others thought the allegations were “made up”. That Seungri could be embroiled in seedy sex crimes is still beyond the grasp of his followers. He is, among the Big Bang quartet (now a trio), the most relatable—despite his reportedly lavish lifestyle, he is not aloof; he is friendly; he is masculine; he does not dress weirdly; and he “does not come across as someone who would even have a beer with a pimp, let alone do the pimping”, as one disappointed SG fan said to us. Unfortunately, K-pop idols, like all pop idols, as the increasingly prevalent reminder goes, are humans too.

Illustration: Just So