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

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