Can the little red dot stand shoulder to shoulder with the little black dress? A native islander and friends look at fashion (and such) in Singapore, and, occasionally, among her neighbours, and a little further afield
Left : Madonna on one of three covers of V Magazine in May 2014 shot by Steven Klein. Right: Madonna on this month’s V Magazine cover, also shot by Steven Klein
On the latest cover of VMagazine, Madonna is framed within the large-as-the-page masthead, slanted, san-serif lines of the twenty-secondth letter of the English alphabet. She is reportedly 63 years old, but she looks half of that, like she shares the age of Lady Gaga. Her pore-less complexion is as fine as a mannequin’s. Or Barbie’s. Collagen and elastin in peak production. She looks at the reader from the corners of her dramatically made-up eyes, the lids lifted like a simmering pot’s, the whites as white as Mentos. Her lips, in particular, stick out. They are not only overdrawn, they look extra thick. They sit above a pronounced chin that is rather pointy, as if shaped so that it can dovetail into the sharp, pointed groove of the V. The letter elongates her face, keeping it compact and narrow, like a condensed font. Gravity has not reached Madonna.
If Madonna is recognisable on the V Magazine cover, it is likely because she is seen quite frequently these past months in the media, social too, looking like this—a version of herself. But for many no longer following her as Queen of Pop, she seems like another person. From images of her celebrating her birthday with her 27-year-old boyfriend in Puglia, Spain in August to her news-making appearance on The Tonight Show early this month, a different-looking, altered Madonna could be discerned. Fake or real, most chose the former. The singer has never admitted to plastic surgery. The sceptical is certain there is at least some toxins involved and definitely photo trickery. Back in 2019, when speculation was rife that she surgically augmented her derriere, the defiant star retorted, “Desperately Seeking No Ones (sic) Approval… And Entitled to Free Agency Over My Body Like Everyone Else!!”
The same woman? Left: Madonna shot by Herb Rittsfor True Blue in 1986. Right: Madonna in this month’s cover story shoot by Steven Klein for V Magazine
The same blonde? Left: in 1987. Photo: Shutterstock. Right: today. Photo: Madonna/Instagram
In 2018, Madonna, then 60, said“I don’t know why ageing is a negative word, it needs to be a positive word.”Sure, but by not ageing negatively, it seems she is negating ageing, at least visually. Or is she ageing in reverse? Is she privy to some magical elixir we know not of? With scientific intervention, ageing needs not manifest itself on the face. And it is likely she works with the best doctors at her calling. And add to that, her own skincare line MDNA Skin, conceived with her aesthetician Michelle Peck and made by the Japanese skincare innovator MTG, and launched in Japan in 2014. But dermatologists reacting online to Madonna’s clearly different face today are sure that there is more than creams and lotions involved, no matter how potent or hi-tech the topical applications may be. Many also put forth confidently that “work has been done” and not just recently. There are reports that even suggested “her curiously taut face” has had “extensive amounts of work that has been done since she hit 40” or at least some fillers or fat transfers as far back as 2009.
That Madonna does not appear to have aged is hardly surprising since she is still an active performer (and, recently, a prolific Instagrammer). At her concert here in 2016, she did look a lot younger than her 58 years even when no one was able to get that close to her to be sure. Or, to see if the mole above the right side of her upper lip is still there or concealed by makeup. Surely, age does not make it disappear! Nevertheless, many in the audience recognised her as Madonna. When MDNA Skin was launched in the US in 2019, she told the media there, “I think it’s ridiculous that we have to hide our age or not be able to embrace it. We have to go the other way and stop cheating and pretending”, as stated in the beauty e-mag Byrdie. Although she does not say how old she is, she seems to be fronting a youthfulness that contradicts what she thinks. It is hard not to construe that photos after photos of her line-less—even pore-less—faces in the media and on her own IG page are not serious attempts to deceive and feign.
Madonna turning the other cheeks. At the Grammy’s (left). Photo: Wireimages, And on The Tonight Show early last month (right). Screen grab: NBC/YouTube
Not only is Madonna’s face defying age, her buttocks are too. In 2015, she exposed her other cheeks on the Grammy Awards red carpet, supposedly because she needed to adjust something under her skirt. Her backside at the time was, of course, no stranger to the public; they had been seen bare before, but no one was asking to see it then. Then it happened again at the MTV Video Awards in September this year, on stage, no less. There was also the harness/support that looked similar to the one she wore at the Grammy’s six years ago. And then The Late Show flaunt, which the visibly embarrassed host Jimmy Fallon could not digest, but Madonna is an artist and—quoting novelist James Baldwin— said, “artists are here to disturb the peace”. Displaying the derrière to upset the tranquility, in her case, is more of a possibilty after the (rumoured) augmentation and, by her admission, the consistent use of MDNA Skin’s Chrome Clay Mask, priced at USD220, on her butt!
This month’s V Magazine cover is shot by Steven Klein, the same photographer who was behind the lens of another V Magazine cover picture of her, seven years ago. It is rather curious that Mr Klein did not see a markedly different Madonna this time round. Did he not wonder how the two photos that he took of the same person could look so vastly unalike? Or was he complicit, merely doing his job, regardless of how his subjects have changed physically, and allowing heavy-handed Photoshopping? The media, too, is rather accepting of the singer’s changed face. We often see the transformation described as “amazing”—likely to mean wonderful than to cause great surprise. Whatever she did to her face, nothing is more astonishing, even bizarre, than what she was alleged to have doctored in March this year. Reports appeared in the media that Madonna posted on IG of a photo that digitally placed her head on the body of a fan! One Amelia Goldie from Australia shared on TikTok, “When Madonna posts a photo of herself to IG to promote her album but its actually your body (I’m not joking)”. No more evidence needed to prove that the posts on Instagram, like magazine covers, is mostly fictional.
Refined and impeccable taste: Have they become so boring that going the opposite way is now far more appealing?Recent trends—and events—have made us wonder: is bad really better?
In a recent article about the rise in the popularity of wellies, the Guardian described the boots mostly associated with rain wear as “bad taste”. And it’s in the headline! Wellington boots, to call them by their proper, more tasteful English name, have a long history—whether illustrious or not, we can’t say. They go back to the early 1800s, and are associated with the British aristocracy. The footwear is, in fact, named after the 1st Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley. The good Duke was a military man and a Tory statesman. In fact, the chap served as prime minister not once, but twice. We do not know if he was an aesthete, but since he ruled over a dukedom, he probably had refined sensitivity towards his sartorial choices. Yet, the trusty wellies that he popularised, as well as their descendants (Bottega Veneta calls theirs by the positively low-brow ‘puddle boots’) are now associated with taste that’s not anywhere near good.
It does not require deep knowledge of current affairs to know that ‘ugly’ is, for more than half of the decade, not the ugly that we know. Ugly, the cousin of bad taste, is attractive; ugly is good; ugly is cool. We were even told that ugly wasn’t a passing fad. And it is true; it is still a trend! Ugly has redefined what is flattering just as much as it has changed what is considered attractive. In fact, chances are attractive is really not. Yet, it now encompasses so many aspect of contemporary tastes that even awful is in the jumble. And there is a word for it: inclusive. Or, the fake synonym, diverse. Both let ugly into the club. Ugly is dancing and winning. Now, if you refer to ugly in the negative, you’d have ugly-shamed! Ugly is so influential (in digital life, is influential synonymous with ugly?), it brought bad taste in too.
The thing about bad taste is that it needs it’s competitor good taste. Without good taste, bad taste won’t be that bad. One isn’t the mirror image of the other, but one can see what the other is not. It isn’t the bad that’s so bad it’s good. It’s bad that makes good look its part. What would Cinderella be without the bad—er, ugly—stepsisters? Would Cinderella stand out? Was it not the Fairy Godmother who gave her everything she needed that had some semblance of good taste? But what the Fairy Godmother created for her so that she could go to the good-taste ball came from the opposite of good: the footmen from mice, the driver of the coach from a frog, and the ball gown from rags! Oh, there is, of course, the coach; it was a pumpkin transformed, not a Yubari King melon!!!
Graphics om the Balenciaga ‘The Simpsons’ T-shirt. Product photo: Balenciaga
Fashion these days is hemorrhaging so much bad taste that it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore it as aberration that will vanish the next season. More and more, we can’t wish it away. It keeps coming at you, like mosquitoes on warm and humid days. Sometimes in ways you won’t expect. We are not hyperventilating. The Simpsons of every-town America, Springfield, for example, are not fashion darlings. As Matt Groening told the Smithsonian magazine in 2012, “I thought Simpson was a funny name in that it had the word ‘simp’ in it, which is short for “simpleton’”. But thanks to Balenciaga—the fearless bender of taste, the family of five are fashion icons. Is any of the Simpsons, now in Balenciaga and on Balenciaga, the epitome of good taste? Even poor Lisa Simpsons looks like a misguided 2nd grader who spends too much money on Shein, pearl choker intact. The Simpsons in Balenciaga seem to suggest that taste, like mood and marriages, can change overnight.
Balenciaga of the present, of course, straddles good and bad tastes, but oftentimes with one foot firmly planted in the latter. Their pairing with the Simpsons maybe irony at its highest order, but is it good taste? Or is this a sure reminder that so many people, like Homer Simpson, simply have no taste until someone comes along and gives them some. Not that Homer Simpson would be able to tell what is good or bad taste. In the case of the Balenciaga makeover of the residents of Springfield, it really depends on luck. But Balenciaga is increasingly able to make make bad taste better, so much so that it becomes good bad taste, or, as some might call it, “impeccable”. Example: Crocs. And recently it shows that on the runway or red carpet, bad taste can walk both. But with their haute couture revived, who’d dare say that Balenciaga is the arbiter of bad taste? Just badder?
Sometimes bad taste comes in the clever guise of ‘eclectic’. This eclectic is a parody of bad taste, often with kitsch as a partner in crime, and the devil around the two. That it might be steep in historicism does not take away bad-taste-as-eclectic’s parodic heft. The pied piper of this constantly jokey, retro-tinged pastiche is Gucci. Like stablemate Balenciaga, Gucci has made bad taste impossibly good, even gauche, galvanising the glaring and the glamourous into action. But few drawn to Gucci see the parody, nor, to be sure, the bad taste. When overexposed to such bad taste, we become immune to it. Bad-taste eclectic has a special—even sexual—power over those seeking fashion that looks like fashion. The nouveaux, like part of China’s social class tuhao (土豪), as well as the new-to-fashion are especially drawn to eclectic, like the proverbial magpie to shiny things. Or, a scene we get to see, flying termites to street lamps!
Chanel’s attempt at bad taste as seen on Lily Rose Depp in a recent campaign
When Balenciaga leads others follow. Bad taste is so potent that many can’t resist its pull, like boba tea. Chanel, once the epitome of good taste, is now moving away from it, baring so much underwear (above), just to name one transgression, that it would be considered bad taste just three pandemic-unheard years ago. Even Lily Rose Depp in the fall campaign couldn’t reverse the course. In fact, none of them nubile young things could. Blackpink’s Jisoo in the promo video Exploring Dior with Jisoo, expressed no taste, good or bad, when she saw the clothes; she was only able to utter, “I love this… I love this… Oh my god, I love this”. Is good taste daft? Chanel and its ilk joined the circus, but others have always been the ringmasters from the start. All-out bad taste at Dolce & Gabbana (including their marketing communication) keeps it in the spotlight. Others may fare less triumphantly but are no less trending, such as Roberto Cavalli and Virgil Abloh’s also-designer/DJ pal Heston Preston. Even to be named the “King of Bad Taste”, as Philipp Plein has, is an accolade. Zoolander, it seemed, saw the future.
To be sure, the Guardian isn’t the first to have ‘bad taste’ in its headline. Vogue, ever the seer of the future, already declared in 2018 that “Bad Taste Is the Best Thing to Happen to Fashion”. It did not conceal its enthusiasm for looks that were “about the hodgepodge style of looking like you don’t care at all coming into fashion”. But of course they cared (and still do), and the media continually shines a spotlight on bad taste, sending it on its inexorable rise. They do this by featuring the many artistes and celebrities, for whom bad taste is also the passport to ‘cred’, such as the Beibers, as well as so many American artistes-turned-whatever. Hip-hop stars have a big part in the rapid rise of bad taste. Whether by designing stuff or wearing them to effect insider advantage and cool, the sum of which frequently courts bad taste. But it isn’t just American stars who succumbed to taste aligned with bad. The Berlin rapper UFO361, a proponent, who attended the Balenciaga couture show, enthused in Stay High, “Nobody rocked Balenciaga. Crazy man. Long live Demna”. Ditto bad taste?
Perhaps bad taste is still taste, and in the world of fashion, it is increasingly better to have some taste than no taste. As the English novelist Arnold Bennett wrote in the Evening Standard in 1930, (even back then) “good taste is better than bad taste, but bad taste is better than no taste”. Although Mr Bennett was commentating on literary taste, what he said is just as applicable to much of today’s culture, not just fashion. In fact, bad taste is so much better that we have become used to it, and to the point it isn’t bad anymore. For many here, bad taste is who are: this is how we dress and behave. Accept it! And who even calls out bad taste when they can wallow in the repository of bad taste—TikTok, even YouTube? Has social media accelerated the consumption of bad taste? Its widespread use has certainly put bad taste persistently visible online. Bad taste manifests in not just what we wear, but in how we behave, in how we speak, in how we write, in the expletives we prefer, in the division we sow, in the crassness we consume, in the asinine jokes we rollick through, and in the private lives we expose—all delightfully. Even the most ardent among the promulgators of bad taste have become the arbiters of good taste. And our appetites only grow. And grow.
Following their success with Nike, Sacai and Undercover remain in bed without the footwear giant
After the very recent launch of the Nike X Sacai X Undercover LDWaffle, which, as with others before the present release, is unattainable, the two Japanese brands reveal that they are collaborating on their own. Yes, without Nike. The two are on their own, in their very hometown. This time, they have come together to create a tiny capsule of clothing, specifically hoodie/track top and matching pants, very much a product category Nike covers, and, under the Nikelab sub-label, does so very well. It is not clear why Sacai and Undercover have chosen athletic wear to express their combined aesthetic sense. Undercover has an existing line with Nike since 2010, dedicated to running: Gyakusou. We can only guess that Sacai and Undercover are catering to demand for luxury sports fashion.
But what’s truly unusual is that the items—in one style for the top and jogger, and three colours for each set—are not only exclusive to Japan (available, in fact, to the rest of the world via Undercover’s web store.), but are available to order only. According to Japanese media, they are “made-to-order”, but not bespoke. It is likely that the clothes are made when they have received the order. Both brands consider this retail exercise as “limited sale”. This is unusual as sportswear rarely, if ever, is sold in such a way. Local reports also stated that, “sales will end as soon as the maximum number of reservations is reached”. Thankfully, no raffle!
This is not the first time the two Japanese brands have collaborated. More recently, both worked on a “two-phase” collab that saw both brands spice up the Sacai MA-1 bomber jacket and a leather rider’s jacket. Now, the tracksuits, inspired, according to the brands, by the LDWaffle that was released two days ago, is issued as the two-piece item (sold separately) by the brands. It also sports a new logo that features Underground designer Jun Takahashi’s love for retro space crafts, such as flying saucers. Colour-blocking and a touchy of cartoon-y whimsy are perhaps just the stuff to lure those who can’t get their hands on those shoes. However hard they tried.
Looks like Prada has embraced the love for bags that won’t stand right side up
Back in 2018, before anyone could imagine a pandemic approaching, Balenciaga issued an oddity of a bag. It had the shape of a cut sandwich, and, if you held it the right-side up by the handle—as you would—and placed it on, say, a table, it won’t sit straight down. Unless you are especially adept at balancing an object on a point, chances are, the the bag would rest, as gravity does its job, on either one of its flat sides. Or fall forward, or backwards, assuming you do not mind a rude jolt to its content. Despite the problems with keeping such a bag upright, Prada, too, has released their own version of the the three-corner bag, some three years later. Shape, as it turns out, trumps practical considerations.
That Prada would fashion a bag after an impractical polygon is understandable. Under the creative co-stewardship of Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons, the house’s inverted triangle that was originally used in the company’s handbags has been imaginatively reinstated by the designers in versions not seen before. Now, the triangle comes in unbranded sweater-knit pieces used on clothing, as well as in the form of little purses and pouches that could be attached to anything, from gloves to sneakers. Or, more dramatically, on this striking bag as just a padded shape in the same nappa leather as the bag itself, and without the crest of the original logo, just the name, embossed in silver.
This triangular flap-top (secured to the body by zips) handbag is lightly padded, and comes with a handle and a shoulder strap, which is reminiscent of the Balaenciaga too. But while Demna Gvasalia’s version had a sportif vibe about it, Prada’s emanate the quiet elegance of its popular Cleo shoulder bag. It may not be the obvious choice for those picking a new bag, but the fact that it can’t sit up the way we are used to in handbags might augment its oddball appeal. For pandemic-era revenge spending, why join the crowd?
Prada padded nappa leather handbag, SGD3,200, is available at Prada stores. Product photos: respective brands
Bound by thirst and sisterhood: Sylvia Chan (left) and Nina Tan
Five days ago, at the height of the Sylvia Chan/Night Owl Cinematics (NOC) open-to-all drama and one movie-length interview facilitated by Xiaxue, the NOC-affiliated podcast The Thirsty Sisters (TTS) is no more. Or, all posts are now removed (as of 21 October) from their dedicated channel. Even their Instagram page is deleted. Helmed by Ms Chan and her cousin-in-law Nina Tan, the podcast touts itself as the explorer of “hot and pressing issues”. Is the withdrawal of the podcasts from public enjoyment indication that what the women had discussed are no longer hot, or pressing? Or, is the thirst of the sisters finally quenched? The title of their show, then, no longer relevant? Online speculations suggested that in order not to drag Ms Tan along on the mud that Ms Chan has found herself in as she pulled others along with her, the latter decided to remove their rowdy online presence. The channel is, however, still on YouTube, which, for hopeful fans, is indication that the dehydrated jiemei may soon return.
Despite their supposed popularity, there are many who are still unaware that there are two sisters thirsty enough to start a podcast. What are the sister thirsty for? It isn’t clear if they needed merely liquids or libation, or if they are, like most influencers, eagerly desirous of an audience—31.7K on YouTube alone—or just craving attention. Or something more profound, such as “wisdom, trends, success and men”, according to the podcast analytics service Chartable. As they described it on YouTube, the podcast is about their “raw and real journey of living (their) best lives, crying over love/dating struggles”. In their last post, Biting your Lips on the First Date, shared on 7 October, Ms Chan asked her co-host/relative, between promoting Koi Guava Green Tea, “do you think it’s too much if they keep looking at the area of your tits or your groin?” The women are extremely comfortable, possibly more than their listeners, to talk about sex and, more sex. And “dicks”. And they love to post posers, such as “When is it okay to bang?” and “What’s the best size?” On top of that, they give relationship advice. Sort of.
The Thirsty Sisters channel is still up, but there is no content
Who are the thirsty sisters? Sylvia Chan, the main news this past weeks, requires no introduction. Nina Tan (陈淑芬) was born in 1991. Unlike her fellow Thirsty Sister, she did not have to cross the causeway to go to school, as she is Singaporean and completed her education here. But we do not know which institution she went to or if she was, like Ms Chan, bullied as a student. Not much is known about her other than what she has revealed in NOC videos and the podcast, which is not a lot, or detailed. For example, we only know she has a diploma in sports education and had wanted to be a PE teacher (she did enjoy playing hockey very much). Her mother, in fact, wanted her to be an air stewardess. But she chose to not to be, taking on other jobs: “I was a barista; I was a Canon girl at an IT show, and then I was a beauty therapist for a period of time,” she said on TTS.
As with many of the NOC regulars, she had her start with the founders of the popular YouTube channel. She told the Chinese radio show, 后台无限 Play (Unlimited Behind-The-Scene Play), that her cousin Ryan Tan, Ms Chan’s former husband, said to her, “we’re filming something and we’re looking for people. Would you like to come down to help me?” She agreed to help just once, but ended up as an NOC talent for “eight to nine years (nine, in fact)”. But, prior to that she was already working with the husband and wife on their wedding videography business. She is, therefore, considered by her employers to be “one of the og NOC girls”, as described on the company’s website. A lauded comedian, she has also appeared on Mediacorp programmes such as 这个是不是Prank? (or Prank It!). She is now considered to be in the big league among YouTubers and Instagrammers, and has plugged anything from McCafé Kopi Frappé to Durex condoms.
According to their own telling on TTS, the two women met in 2010 when Ms Chan was at her husband’s family home to announce the couple’s decision to get married. The women did not talk, and all that was on Nina Tan’s mind then: “When can I leave?” As Ms Chan said, they had no impression of each other. But close they did become as a result of time spent in the office and with Ah Ma (grandmother) during one particular Chinese New Year. They became gym buddies at Amore Fitness, doing zumba and kick-boxing. “After that, since we go the gym together, we decided to eat together also. And after that, drink together also.” But more than activity companions, they hit it off because, as Ms Chan said, “We clicked and ‘vibed’ so much”. More significantly, she found in Ms Tan the younger sister she never had. And in each other, honesty that is rare. Ms Chan even said to her cousin-in-law: “one of the best things that came out of me and Ryan’s marriage is actually having you as a sister”.
It is hard to tell the difference between these siblings defined by thirst and those characters they play on NOC videos. They are, as fans concur, “raw and real”, in equal measure. They are brash and loud too, in proud Singlish. and basically do not give a hoot to what anyone perceives of them, to or say. They are all the caricatures ever played on local media rolled into two equal parts, packaged as sort-of-feminist ideal, but, perhaps, more in a sociosexual context. Many of their listeners are charmed and inspired, if not empowered, by their daring, nothing-is-taboo stance, as comfortable talking about men’s failings as the pleasures of sex toys. Nina Tan told Elle SG in February this year, “When Sylvia and I talk about such topics on our podcast, it works to break down that idea that self-pleasuring is too taboo to speak about. Our listeners have been pretty receptive, although we still get some comments saying that we are too out there and ‘trashy’ that, honestly, I’m tickled by. At least there is a voice and platform out there for people who are interested in different perspectives”.
And while talking trashily on the platform, they seemed genuinely interested in men—Ms Chan prefers the “alpha male” and Ms Tan those with “dad bod”—they are just as eager to show that “there is no dick worth your self-esteem; there is no guy that’s worth your self-worth”. The popularity of The Thirsty Sisters seems to commensurate with the rise of vocal women who truly believe they can do and say anything, even to expose the guys they have had bad dating experiences with publicly as a “warning” to other women, with no careful consideration for consequences. Ms Chan herself is now seen as vintage example, after she dramatically disclosed her husband’s mental health struggles, among other intimate details, with Xiaxue just days ago. The Thirsty Sisters sent out its first podcast in April 2020. There are 55 episodes so far, each averaging 40-minutes long. It is not conclusively clear why they yanked every single episode out of YouTube other than for the protection of the younger co-host. But if, as Sylvia Chan said in one of the podcasts, “we can probably get into deeper shit and we are going to laugh about it”, what’s the real fear?
The French sports equipment manufacturer Salomon produces footwear for adventurists, such as skiers and hikers. In fact, the company started in 1947 as maker of metal blades for skis and then later their bindings. Their shoes and boots (which was their first footwear, appeared only in 1979) tend to bear technical excellence than fashion flair. So when we saw these, made in collaboration with Comme des Garçons, we were rather taken aback. Who’d have guessed that mud-ready Salomon kicks would look this befitting of activities not involving a trail? Or that CDG would consider other sports shoe brand not marked out by a Swoosh? Or is this merely in line with the still-strong ‘gorpcore’ trend?
As many sports/adventure labels up their game by collaborations with designers—edgy ones, especially (not Ralph Lauren and ilk), Salomon is no exception. This is, in fact, their second season pairing with CDG. Others include Japanese outdoor brand And Wander and Persian-German designer Boris Bidjan Saberi. With CDG, it’s not just a colour makeover for an existing style. Last season’s venture, featuring Salomon’s RX3.0 models, saw tweaking in the form of exaggerating the silhouettes, such as the platform sole. Or recreating something new such as the Mary Jane style. The follow-up this time (two styles are released), is this fashion-focused version of the Salomon S/Lab Cross, with the (unfortunately) requisite CDG branding on the side.
This is essentially a trail shoe that offers “protection on the muddiest, most technical terrain” typical of the Cross series, although it is hard to imagine a pair this good-looking muddied. The original S/Lab Cross was conceived together with the Norwegian sky runner Stian Angermund who was inspired by the Aurora Borealis of his homeland. Like most of styles in the Cross line, the CDG version is equipped with Salomon’s signature Contagrip rubber sole and Quicklace system. The knit ankle gaiter, however, now comes in striking black and white houndstooth. Definitely for pairing with a black, asymmetric, ankle-length CDG skirt. Still planning to hike up some mountain?
Comme des Garçons X Salomon Cross (Mixed), SGD520, comes in women’s sizing only andis available at DSMS. Product photo: CDG
In July, when Kim Kardashian posted on Instagram a photo of her with Donatella Versace and Kim Jones (a post liked by over 2.6 million followers to date), those who follow the three of them individually or as a group were quite sure they were up to something. A collab perhaps, I had thought, and you too, I’m sure. When the pairing of Ms Versace and Mr Jones were revealed, many thought Ms Kardashian was left out. But now we know. A collaboration was indeed in the works between the two Kims. That is, in fact, not surprising, but the result is. Well, somewhat. While Fendace was all gaudy-go-not-lightly, the un-named Fendi X Skims (fortunately not Fendims!!!), is rather tasteful (did I just write that?), if a little too tight. But, before you hit back, yes, it is shapewear and what is shapewear if they do not constrict enough to shape? Maybe I am not sure if all the contouring and lifting is that comfortable. If only Skims were available to the staffer assisting Sylvia Chan for the Preetipls shoot. Her angry boss may not then bitchily compare the rapper to a “rhinocerous”, in a three-word sentence that, incredibly, also included the name of an Aramaic-speaking religious leader of the Herodian Kingdom of the Roman empire!
I have to say I have never worn Skims (can you imagine it was initially called Kimono? 😲). The only shapewear I have tried (and I say tried because it was on me for, like, 15 minutes!) was Spanx—I received it as a Christmas gift years ago. It is possible that this name is now largely forgotten, but back then, it was the go-to brand for looking trim or keeping parts of the body from spilling everywhere. It is still big in the US (which is the largest shapewear market, I was told). Now, to make that kind of stretchy inner wear that gives you shape where there may be none, synthetic fabrics are used almost entirely, mainly nylon and spandex, which means they don’t necessarily allow the body/skin to breathe. And in this weather of ours, five minutes outside air-conditioning and you’d start to itch. And in all the wrong places. Fabric technologies have, of course, changed and improved. Skims probably benefits from this. Which may explain the far wider product offering of the Fendi X Skims collab.
Kim Kardashian has already made Skim quite the name in shapewear. It is reportedly now worth more than USD1 billion. She clever describes her offering, “solutions for every body” (Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty caters to just as many bodies, but she calls her shapewear ‘cinchers’). With Fendi, she appears to take it a step further. The collab offers, on top of shapewear, lingerie, swimwear, gym wear, onesies, dresses, and even outerwear (there’s even a hoodie outer). And in colours other than black and ‘skin’. A green which is akin to military fatigues is part of the colour story. Oh, there are bags and shoes too. Is Ms Kardashian readying her brand as a full fashion line? Or are the two Kims acknowledging that more and more women are taking the inners out, showing considerable amount of skin as a result. To be sure, the collection, a limited edition, is not as sexy as I thought it would be. I mean there is a lot of fabric used. At least from the images I have seen so far. Well, if you are going to be logo-centric or monogram-mad, which Fendi is increasingly becoming, you’d need a considerable amount of fabric to have, in this case, the logotype to go on and on and on. Even on the sheers (see-throughs, to some), it is logo galore.
Talking about images, the publicity shots are lensed by Steven Meisel and styled by a name I have not heard for quite a while: Carlyn Cerf de Dudzeele. In 1988, Ms de Dudzeele styled Anna Wintour’s first Vogue cover. Ms Kardashian is, unsurprisingly, placed front and centre in all the images, even the one (above) featuring other women, which I assume is the main image. The casting is, well, inclusive, although the Asian girl Jessie Li is styled to look quite angmo. Amazingly all the models’ hair are in motion or afloat, even when they are seated. To reflect the energy of the collaboration? Not many people are convinced of the need or usefulness of this tie-up. A fashion designer I know texted me to say: “sadly, Karl (Lagerfeld) taught them nothing and left them nothing to use”. Fendi may have gone into haute couture, but I don’t think they wish to avoid the market that is closer to grassroots. There’s a fortune to be made in bodysuits and the like. Kim Kardashian have already proven it. In Korea, the family name Kim (as in Daniel Kim) is the equivalent of the Chinese Jin (金), which also means gold. Is Fendi and Skims heading for that win—double gold, to boot? I really think so.
Fendi X Skims will be available on 9 November (from 9pm, our time) at fendiskims.com. Photos: Kim Kardashian/Instagram. Collage (top): Just so
One ex-pink-haired spilled to another,and it became only louder
Warning: this post contains language and description that some readers may find offensive
At around fifteen past eight yesterday evening, influencer extraordinaire Xiaxue announced/teased on Instagram that Sylvia Chan “is going to appear on video to give an exclusive interview to me to clip her side of the story as well as to answer some hard questions.” Clumsy intro aside, the host preview snips of Ms Chan angry, effing, and crying, as well as the explosive admission: “we never have a happy marriage”. Social-media broadcasts like these possibly explain why free-to-air television struggles to find enough viewers. They also show that influencers-as-talk-show-hosts are more compelling to watch than TV old hats, such as Quan Yifeng. The saga involving Ms Chan is not only trending, it has engrossed much of our social media-consuming world. Our look into who she is and what happened was this year’s most viewed within thirty-six hours of of its appearance on SOTD. Xiaxue’s promised interview was finally shared two hours later, at ten thirty, possibly because of the R-rated content. The hard questions were fairly hard, but the show was pacy melodrama that even Channel U’s Sunday night Thai soap operas can’t match.
Recorded on 22 October, the interview was shared on Xiaxue’s own eponymous YouTube channel. It opened with her ensuring viewers of the integrity of the show: “this interview is entirely produced by my own team. Okay, I’m not being paid by NOC or Sylvia in any way. She does not know the questions I’m going to be asking her before hand. And she does not get any vetting or editing rights in what is the final piece that is going to be published.” The chat between the women was an hour and forty-seven minutes long, or nearly the average length of a movie (the running time of the recent Shang Chi is 132 minutes). By midnight, there were more than 110,000 views. CNA’s broadcast of the Multi-Ministry Task Force’s full news conference earlier yesterday, also on YouTube, had only 70K views. Three hours after the “bombshell after bombshell” interview, as Xiaxue delightfully called it, 7.4K viewers liked it.
And it certainly did have a sudden and sensational effect. Set in what could be a living room, the two—one looked as if dressed for a regular IG shoot and the other, for a meeting with a defamation lawyer, but both without their recognisable pink dos—spoke as girlfriend to girlfriend would: with candour and mutual outrage. Sylvia Chan used YouTube to announce her divorce; she used the same platform to proclaim that not only did she and her former husband Ryan Tan “never”—not once, rather than the inaccurate synonym Singaporeans prefer: did not—enjoyed conjugal bliss, she was the target of a “smear campaign” by him to get her out of Night Owl Cinematics, the media company they started together, and that Mr Tan was suicidal, unfaithful, and unwilling to have sex with her! And, on top of that, she believes he is the one to initiate the smear of the past three weeks against her because “Ryan has something to gain from this”.
As it turned out, it was cushion-holding airing of dirty laundry. No holds barred. Three days ago, a “spokeperson” told CNA that “with regards to the latest slew of allegations, (Sylvia) intends to address and thoroughly rebut every one of these in due course.” No one could have guessed the rebutal (and rebuke) would be conducted in this manner. It is not certain if Ms Chan’s intention was to rehabiltate her battered image (she said of the interview, “it’s more cathartic than anything I want to achieve today”). If so, why did she not speak to accredited media? Or was she confident that Xiaxue would accord her “the right to say her peace“. After all, “even murderers have their day in court“, never mind if Ms Chan would be tried in the court of public opinion. One sensed that this fiery tell-all emerged from rancour, and was based on the motivation, if you pull me down, I’ll drag you down too.
This post will not be a summary of the many points and allegations raised in the video. Mothership would already have it published before the sun rises. Rather, this is a reaction post, faintly in the vein of reaction videos. And it is hard to be dispassionate about it, just as it seemed difficult for Ms Chan to comport herself. Xiaxue conducted the interview with the flair of Jerry Springer, the refinement of his delirious guests, and the empathy of Oprah Winfrey. She said, “I am trying to be neutral”, but played the responsive sympathiser. And Sylvia Chan easily opened up to her. The rapport was obvious and the responses spontaneous. This could hardly be scripted, although, in planning the questions, Xiaxue and her team clearly aimed to spill corporate scandal, spousal indiscretion, bosom-buddy betrayal, influencer gossip, insider misdeeds, familial shock, and, the icing on the cake, self-loathing. Without doubt, they knew how to augment the trash factor.
Ms Chan was no less skilled than her interviewer, cleverly deflecting questions, agilely not admitting to wrong doing and nearly denying a particular sex-act exposé (a friend said, “your boobs, wrong size”). She was sure to set out that if she was bad or reprehensible, they made her so. It was easy to feel sorry for her. She only wanted “to be that person to protect her business, to protect Ryan”—“this person really bully you, ah. I’m going to fuck him; I’m going to fuck him up for you… Because I love him, I fuck that person up, lah”. Now, she called herself “the shit of Singapore”, yet she never wanted to be “Sylvia, Version Shit”. Still, she pushed on with a tough and unyielding demeanour of herself: “I always say I am very strong, one. You know, I always say like, never mind, lah. Shit happens is okay, one. And I tell myself, today I won’t cry, one. Can’t stand the show cry for what? Go and show people that I don’t give a fuck. You want to call me a bitch, now I am, lor.”
As so many have read and seen these past weeks, shit did happen. And Xiaxue, who equates being “vulgar” with being “straightforward”, was able to make it happen again. This is one video that easily beats, in content strength, the entire series of NOC’s ‘Shit’ videos, beginning with 2013’s ShitSingaporean Girlfriends Say. In those narratives, bad behaviours are hard to justify. But in this, every alleged wrong-doing is offset with a legit excuse. On the purported “barter trade”, for example, of the sexual services of her talents for logistics arrangements for NOC, which Ms Chan laughed as they are “not a retail company”, she asked, “What is wrong if you introduce girlfriends to really rich guys?” Even acrimonious reactions: “He knows me well enough to say things that will make me very pissed off.” Her tendency to eff has nothing to do with her. Whether or not the video was shared to augment Xiaxue’s status as the queen of controversy or so that followers and more could revel in her subject’s misfortunes, or cackle at her foibles, it was the entertainment Night Owl Cinematics could not have produced. Or, dreamed to.
Xiaxue’s video post (the content of which “stupified” her, as she said in the end) had the input of her lawyers; it came with a disclaimer: “The guest states that all statements of facts she makes within the programme are based on materials in her personal possession evidencing these facts. Where she makes any opinions, these constitute her personal fair comments derived from information and materials she has access to and are not meant to offend, insinuate anything, or disparage any person. Neither are these comments or opinions meant to cause alarm, harassment, or distress to any person.” A good part of the interview talked about Ryan Tan’s supposed suicidal tendencies. Apparently, when he tried to end his life in Osaka in 2017, it was not his first attempt—it has happened “so, so, so many times”. Sylvia Chan repeatedly said she was and has been afraid that he would kill himself. She even wondered if he would do so after watching this video. Would there then be no incredulous gasp when reading the last sentence of the disclaimer? That a dysfunctional marriage should end is understandable. No life, however, should follow suit.
Update (25 October 2021, 5.30pm): Barely a day after her interview with her friend Xiaxue, Sylvia Chan issued a second apology. This time, unlike the first, she actually said she is sorry. “I am truly sorry for all the wrongs I have done,” she wrote on her Instagram page, “and the mistakes I have made.” In five short paragraphs, she said that she is cooperating with the authorities investigating her work place and hopes that she “be given a chance to work on (herself) to become a better person, and a better leader”. The curious thing is, why did she not apologise on Xiaxue’s show? Why did she, instead, continue to besmear others she thought had wronged her? Puzzling, no?
Kanye West is partial to strange, bulky, indefinable shapes for his Yeezy line of footwear. To me, they often look like they are conceived to be worn by animals or, in the case of their weird Foam RNNR, some alien being. His latest, a pair of winter boots, is no exception. Padded, looking almost like a tree stump, with the stitches visible to create parallel curves, they appear to be more at home in elephantidae family than his group of ardent supporters, who considers Mr West a design god of sort. Called the YZY NSLTD BT (again, clearly a vowel-averse moniker. Yes, Yeezy Insulated Boot), it sports a mid-sole that looks like it was nicked from the Foam RNNR’s wavy, three-holes-to-the-side exo-skeleton support. Forgive the cliché: Kindred soles?
This BT is part of Yeezy Season 8, which was shown in Paris last March, if you still remember that. My memory is hazy, but I do recall now that the collection was not memorable. But, somehow, I am reminded of the perforamce of the designer’s daughter North West at the end of the show. Frankly, I don’t even know if Yeezy 8 was ever released (I checked with a New York contact, and he, too, has no idea). Still, here we are with a boot from that very season. The padded foot covering, likely in nylon, is itself not rewriting the aesthetic for those you pull on to trudge through snow. Margiela’s Puffer Snow Boots, for example, is Hulk-like, but is more discernible as footwear for human feet. But if Mr West’s current predilection for covering up and obscuring his body is any indication, he could also be keen on wearing boots that, from afar, might be mistaken for those of Yeti. Cool or crazy, I can’t say.
The YZY NSLTD BT “Khaki” is expected drop next month for USD250.Photo: Yeezy Mafia
More allegations have surfaced about the Night Owl Cinematics boss. Will there be a second ‘apology’?Or would this be the fall of one angry Ah Lian?
This past week has perhaps been a bonus for those who are voracious readers of news about influencers who have not fared as brilliantly as they have made themselves so on social media. Earlier in the week, TikTok sensation Koh Boon Ki (许文琪) was called out for facilitating the dissemination of damming information of men that a group of women wanted excluded from the dating market. Doxxing and cyberbullying were bandied about in relation to what Ms Koh initially allowed before it grew too big to be contained within a group chat. Before her, Sylvia Chan (陈思华) was exposed to have allegedly used offensive language against the staff of Night Owl Cinematics (NOC), the company she runs. This, to many, was seen as bullying too. Although she took a while, Ms Chan issued what was assumed to be an apology on Instagram and removed herself from NOC’s list of artistes, but she remained, as far as it is publicly known, the boss. Less than a week after her peace offering, former and present employees of NOC “gathered… to break their silence on the allegations” with Must Share News. In addition, present and ex-staffers (it is not known if they are the same people who shared their experiences with MSN) started a blog, End the Silence, on Google’s blogging platform Blogspot to “to shed light on (their) workplace encounters over the years with Sylvia Chan”. At the same time, the blog creators also started a YouTube channel of the same name, on which they shared a video of clips of Ms Chan’s reactions during what appears to be meetings conducted via video calls or Zoom. The post has attracted 255, 543 views and 414 comments in less than a day, or while we write this.
That more verifications have appeared to bolster the initial accusations suggest the extent of her offensive behaviour and how deep the displeasure among those affected ran. There was no corporate disciplinary committee to act. The transgressions are now determined publicly, with many Netizens asking for her to be met with what her pal Xiaxue passionately disapprove: cancellation. Charges against Ms Chan on End the Silence were preceded by a disclaimer: “we have exhausted all means of trying to get our voices heard in NOC by talking to key members of the management team as appointed by Sylvia – such as Sylvia herself, the accountant, her lawyers… and more but to no avail”. The optics have not been good for Ms Chan. On the video shared on YouTube, there was no mistaking her disdain, disapproval, and displeasure with the participants of the Zoom call. There was even talking down to reportedly her husband Ryan Tan (it is not certain if they were divorced at the time of the heated interlocution) when the exchange did not go her way. Details of her management habit too were revealed, such as messaging her staff “at (sic) Sunday 3am”. While Mr Tan spoke, she was seen smoking and smirking. Her behaviour seemed to commensurate with the bubbling public perception of her now: “boss from hell”.
Sylvia Chan striking a pose in the style of the covers of I-D magazine
Sylvia Chan was born in Johor Bahru in 1988, the year Singapore and Malaysia signed a memorandum of understanding on water and gas supplies, which set out the terms of their future sales by our northern neighbour to us. According to her YouTube post Draw my Life (then under her debut channel Ryan Sylvia), she grew up in Kampung Saleng (now Kampung Baru Saleng). This small town in the Kulai district, with a population of about 92,223, sits just 50 kilometres to the north of our city. Its residents are mostly Chinese and many speak the Hakka dialect. She lived in a house not situated in the heart of town, and the family “had a durian tree, a rambutan tree, and a vegetable gardens (sic), and lots of chickens walking around all the time”. She considered those days the best part of her life. Village days were blissful: “I would feed turtles in the temple, steal fruits from my neighbours’ tree, collect chicken eggs, and get scolded by my grandmother all day, but it was awesome, and I love my grandmother a lot.”
She started schooling late (K2, when she was six) because “when you live in a kampung, you don’t need to study, lah”. Little is known about her parents (except that her mother, who calls her “geer” (girl), is Peranakan and “worked in an office job (sic)”), but when she was in Primary 3 back in JB, they sent her to Singapore to continue her studies after she told her parents she “didn’t want to study anymore” because “the teachers were really scary and they had canes and they scold (sic) me all the time”. She admitted that it “sounds really bad but I was actually at the top of my class, but I was really stressed”. She did not say which school in Kampung Saleng that she went to, but, according to public records, such as Kemudahan Carian Sekolah-Sekolah di Malaysia, there is only one primary school in the town: Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan (C) Saleng (沙令国民型华文小学) or SJK (C) Saleng, a national (government) school, with medium of instruction in Mandarin. In Singapore, her parents managed to secure a place for her in Fuchun Primary, a school in Woodlands (three hours by bus from Kampung Saleng) that was founded in 1985, three years before she was born.
Ms Chan told Quan Yifeng (权怡凤) in the 2020 talk show Hear U Out (权听你说) that the entire Chan family budget was spent on sending her to school here. Back then, she woke up at four in the morning so that she could make the three-hour commute by bus—sometimes alongside pig delivery trucks (a fact she seems to be proud of as she is wont to repeat it)—to cross the causeway to get to school. She claimed that she was afraid in those early years as she felt the weight of her entire household’s financial sacrifice on her. When asked if her family “算是小康 (is considered moderately affluent), she replied, “其实算是辛苦 (actually, considered hard)”. The early years here were tough also because she had to use “full English from full Chinese back in Malaysia”. She added that in Singapore, she discovered that Singaporeans were all very wealthy because the people could shop for clothes frequently while, for her, purchasing new garments was only for the first day of the Lunar New Year. Despite their thrifty way of life, it appears that she was very much doted on at home in JB. As she once said on the social network Ask.fm, “I grew up with two brothers and five male cousins in my childhood (sic), plus I was the only girl in the neighbourhood”. She wanted so badly to have sisters, she recounted in an episode of the podcast The Thirsty Sisters, that when her mother was at work, she dressed her two brothers in half-drag (high heels and handbags were involved too) and created “different scenes” so that she could say, “today, ladies, we’re going to the market and another day, ladies, we’re going to work”.
After her PSLE, she went to Nanyang Girl’s High School. Although she had spent more than three years in the school system here, she did not enjoy her time at NYGH. She considers it “a very sad period”. Again, on Ask.fm, she said that it was “one of the most difficult part (sic) of my life. Everyone was super competitive and I was bullied a lot by my school mates and teachers alike”. Secondary school was similar to her first three years in primary—it was “super stressful and competitive and some of my teachers are (sic) more demon than human so I thought I was gonna die from the pressure. I even pon (first syllable of ponteng, Malay for playing truant) school sometimes (on rainy days) cos I couldn’t muster any more strength to continue”. But she did, as she performed well at the ‘O’ levels, scoring seven points. While her peers would have not hesitated to go to junior college with that, she was contemplating something else. “A diploma in visual effects from Temasek Poly. Did I go ahead with that choice? No. Because I was young and impressionable and I followed what people told me to do.” So she enrolled in Anglo Chinese Junior College. While she said she enjoyed her JC days, she did not complete her education there. She told Quan Yifeng that her grandmother’s death (when she was in JC2) impacted her severely, so much so that she suffered “depression, OCD, and rage disorder”. She then decided to stop her studies at ACJC. Despite her mental health, she considers herself to be “a super sensible teen, and I gave my mom an update every 3 hours if I’m out”. After a hiatus from school, she decided to enroll in University of London (Singapore campus) to read economics. According to some media reports, she did not complete her studies.
Ryan Tan and Sylvia Chan as Xi Guay Ong and Xiao Bitch respectively
Modelling, too, was in the picture, and it was during this time that she met her future husband Ryan Tan (陈伟文), a Kent Ridge Secondary School alum. Both were 16 then, but neither revealed what modelling jobs they did. However, Mr Tan was “also doing model management jobs and other odd jobs”, as Sylvia Chan recounted on Draw my Life. “It just so happens that I was also working as a part-time model to earn some money, and that’s when I met Ryan”. But it was not until five years later, when Mr Tan became a franchisee of an American-themed restaurant (in the drawing, “New York New York” was scribbled on the whiteboard. There was such a place in Citilink back in 2008, but it later folded) that he started dating her, as she put it. She told Quan Yifeng that during this time, she assisted him—“有菜捧菜，有碗洗碗”, serve and wash dishes, whatever needed to be done. But in one episode of On the Red Dot in 2015, both regaled host Cheryl Fox with a far more dramatic story that was worthy of a Niu Chengze (鈕承澤) movie. Ms Chan said that an ex-boyfriend had stolen her money, so she asked “Ryan, who was just a normal friend, for help, because he looked more ‘gangster’ (suggesting that she was drawn to the more paikia type)”. Despite the confrontation that involved the other party’s family, the money was not returned. Mr Tan’s version, as he told Today in the same year: “I saw her on the streets and she was scolding some vulgarities to her ex-boyfriend, who seemed to have cheated her of some money. After that I tried to help her get her money, but it didn’t succeed”. They made a police report and went for lunch. Mr Tan described that meal together as their “first date”, to which she’d say, “That’s what he likes to tell people”.
But it did not end there. As he recalled on On the Red Dot, “I had to drop her off at the checkpoint for her to go home. Before the long tedious journey to the customs, we stopped by at my home, where she came by (but nothing happened)”. After sending her to the checkpoint, he return home and found a bottle of perfume in his room. Thinking that Ms Chan had left it behind by mistake, he contacted a common friend to have it returned to the owner, but was told that he had to do it himself. When he met her to pass the perfume bottle back to her, “that’s when we got together and started dating,” he said. The story, again, does not end there: more was revealed on their wedding day. “The common friend got so drunk… she told me that Sylvia left the perfume bottle there intentionally, and she asked me not to take it back from you so that you will see her again”. Those with a flair for strategising may find possible kinship with her in her methods.
Even when Ryan Tan’s restaurant business was in full swing, his girlfriend-by-then, Sylvia Chan, was unable to say what her interests truly were. “In fact, I did know what I would like to do,” she said on Hear U Out. “The restaurant was not doing well and incurred losses. It became Ryan’s turn to be depressed.” She asked him, “Eh, how about you (sic) learn from my experience: firstly, ask yourself what would make you happy.” He told her that, as a matter of fact, he likes filming and editing videos. Mr Tan then took on a few freelance jobs, and the more filming and editing he did, the happier he became. “It came to a point when he said, ‘eh, I want to do this (making videos) as a career’.” She supported his decision. “Anyway, it was not that I had a big career waiting for me.” They started making wedding videos. At the start, they charged S$300 per production, a low price justified by the lack of wedding videography services back then, according to Ms Chan. But apart from weddings, the couple accepted jobs to record funerals too. As Ms Chan told Quan Yifeng, “You cannot laugh. We had to make money, okay. We had only two small cameras; we had to earn more to buy a bigger, better camera, which cost S$3,000.”
Sylvia Chan modelling when she was 17
At this juncture, it should be stated that there seems to be some contradiction in terms of chronological order of events, or who said what and did what. It is possible that the couple led such a hectic life that they told different people or different members of the press different dates relating to the important milestones of their lives together. Even Sylvia Chan herself has not been consistent with the sequence of the happenings in her life. In any case, after they “stead” for eight months, the Chens (陈) got married and became the Tans (陈) in 2010 (many conservative Singaporeans believe two people of the same surname should not come together in matrimony). On why she was attracted to Ryan Tan, she said on Ask.fm, “he complements me in every way and he has a fat baby smell that I love.” She said on Draw my Life, “one day, while we were driving, he asked me if I want to marry him (sic). So I said, are you sure, and he said yah.” She then called her “cool mom” to break the good news. The first question she asked her excited daughter: “you diao kia (unplanned, pre-marital pregnancy, in Hokkien) or not?” Ms Chan responded swiftly. “I said no and she replied (in the illustration, she wrote ‘I am a legit woman’), ‘Okay, lor. You want marry then marry, lor. K, bye’!” When this was revealed, the question on many lips was, who’s mother would ask such a question unless her daughter is known to her to be promiscuous?
But marry, the love birds did. By most early accounts, they were happy. Not only were they partners in life, they were partners in business. Before Night Owl Cinematic took definite shape, the couple dabbled in the F&B business again with Shi Wei Tian (食为天), a retro-themed Chinese restaurant in Joo Chiat Place—based on Mr Tan’s Malaysian grandmother’s recipes—that also served Malay street food, such as the fried rice, nasi Pattaya. As Ms Chan recounted in Draw my Life, her husband’s “food business was doing pretty well”, which seemed to contradict her claim to Quan Yifeng that “the restaurant was not doing well and incurred losses”. In any case, things appeared encouraging enough for Ryan Tan to open Shi Wei Tian. “It did well at first,” according to Ms Chan in Draw my Life, “but then the rising rental and the manpower loss (she did not elaborate) caused him a little bit of trouble and he was soon bleeding money from the business.” Things became so bad financially that, as the video telling continued, Mr Tan took money from the till, went to a casino “just to win a little bit more money to pay our staff. It worked but it was really a risky and scary part of our lives.” Despite the enterprising method, in the end, they “had to sell off all (their) businesses (listed as three)”, which led both to be in such bad financial shape that they had to “share their hawker centre meals together (sic)”.
Although editing on the side was enjoyable, Ryan Tan was “soon frustrated with the shots and he felt it wasn’t (sic) good enough to be edited, and that’s where he started doing videography on his own. NOC was thus born. According to her narration in Hear U Out, NOC came about in 2013 when a wedding planner approached them “to film his own set-up”. But he had some requirements; he did not want anything “basic”; he wanted to have “cinematography”. This stumped Ms Chan. “What? Cinematography?” They were asked if they knew what that was, and both said “YES!”. They had to, as they had already accepted the job, valued at an irresistible S$800. The client asked if they had a slider, and both said “YES!” too. They rented a slider and, as the filming was not due till a month later, they had a chance to practise. So, they gathered a few friends, which included Ms Chan’s brother Sikeen, and filmed the seminal comedy video, Shit Mahjong Players Say, which received 2,000 views on the first day of its release. Ms Chan told Quan Yifeng that she had never seen such a figure. A week later, the viewership grew to 20,000. By their third video, Shit Singaporean Girlfriends Say, “we were viral material” (to date, more than one million views and the ‘Shit’ series was born). The response encouraged the duo to build on their brand of humour: heartland-strong, grassroots-relevant, and not necessarily funny. Although the pair did discover cinematography, their output has never been a Christopher Doyle. But, to their target audience, slick production values mattered not. Ryan Tan and Sylvia Chan were the King of Bengdom and the Queen of Lian Land, and YouTube stars and the platform’s “power couple”.
Sylvia Chan as Xiao Bitch
Power coupledom took its toll (by 2018, the two were constantly on the top 10 lists of “Internet Celebrities You Must Know”). So did playing Xi Guay Ong (Ryan Tan as Watermelon King) and Xiao Bitch (Sylvia Chan as Crazy Bitch), the two NOC characters that Netizens are now saying could be at least partly autobiographical. In a 2015 episode of Sylvia Ryan, titled The Weird Couple, the now disgraced YouTuber Dee Kosh said, “Ryan and Sylvia are so different.” Added fellow YouTuber Fish, “they are so different I don’t even know how they work together or how even they got married (sic).” Mr Kosh described the male half of NOC as “a plain prata”, while Fish said “Sylvia, the prata, got egg, got chicken, got rice, got everything also add inside (sic).” Amid the past weeks’ allegations of bad behaviour, some of their followers are now wondering if Sylvia Chan has all along been playing and being her true self: ill-tempered and foul-mouthed. Two years after NOC was established, Ms Chan’s disposition was known to be like the colour of her hair: fiery. In the clearly not comedic The Weird Couple, Fish also declared that “Ryan is always a civil guy, but sometimes when Sylvia is angry, her tiger just comes out… WAAAA…” To substantiate his point, he described “one of (his) personal experiences shooting with Night Owl Cinematics…. when Sylvia gets really mad on set; she starts getting angry at somebody, (and) I want to ask her a question, but I am scared if I go, ‘eh, ah, Sylvia,’ she ‘WHAT, WHAT YOU WANT?’” When asked on Hear U Out how her staff would appraise her, she said confidently, “they would say I am fair, love that they write reports, and, if anything that is not done well, no matter who is guilty, I would scold.” Also on The Weird Couple, NOC’s star performer Tan Jianhao (now the CEO of his own company Titan Digital Media) said, “If they have any questions, go to Ryan, but when they see Sylvia, they will (shielding the right side of his face with his right hand), ‘oh my god, is she going to scold me?’”
Last year, the couple, minus their fervid avatars, shocked their fans and the world of local YouTubers with the news that they were divorced. The information was, like so much of their lives up till then, released via video on YouTube. This enjoyed a staggering 2.1 million views. Ms Chan, told Quan Yifeng that day, the viewers and fans knew of the divorce before her parents! Unsurprisingly, some Netizens wondered if they profited from this. Not long after the We Got A Divorce video, Ryan Tan shared his struggles with depression in an Instagram post. There was even a suicide attempt while filming a travelogue in Osaka in 2017. On the pressures of being a power couple and the demands of work, Mr Tan wrote, “I completely gave up on myself and started to loathe my existence, believing that my sole purpose was to just produce videos after videos (later, he described NOC as a “video factory”). I no longer had the desire to travel, to buy anything, or to even look forward to anything.” On the Divorce video, he said, “I don’t enjoy fame; I don’t enjoy recognition. I don’t enjoy being in the public eye.” The stress from the sacrifices is understandable. By then, it was known that “every YouTuber has appeared in an NOC video” and that the founders of NOC are the mother and father to the community”.
It is not unreasonable to assume that Sylvia Chan was experiencing similar professional pressure, enough for the build-up to turn her into the verbally abusive person whose text and audio messages were leaked on social media three weeks ago, opening up allegations—and more allegations—of vulgar outbursts. While it is possible that Ms Chan has not resolved the affliction that she called “rage disorder”, it is also imaginable that she is a temperamental person to begin with, even when she has learnt martial arts, specifically wushu and taekwando (blue belt), whose basic tenets include courtesy, integrity, perseverance, and self-control. Not only are her present and former employees speaking up, others who have had dealings with her, including providers of personal services, are also relaying, “she is not a very nice person.” Armchair psychiatrists and her supporters attribute her explosive temper to survival instincts, honed during her students days, when she claimed she was bullied by classmates and teachers. We may never know the truth, but it is unfortunate that juvenile angst and anger can’t be left behind. Instead, they tag along and dominate adult professional life.
From the start of her career, Ms Chan has not worked as an employee. She made the leap to the station of boss in almost a single bound. Even when she helped out at Mr Tan’s restaurants, she did so as the boss’s lover. When NOC was formed, she ran it as one who had never been part of an organisation, at any level, that would have allowed her to see how an effective, pro-staff manager works. By her admission on Hear U Out, she knew almost nothing when she and Mr Tan started the business. She was even clueless about HR, although, as she said in Draw my Life, she studied “econs”. As she told Quan Yifeng, “At the start, we may not have a finance department, we have no accounts, no auditors, but suddenly we are working with government agencies, and many brands are coming onboard, and they would say, ‘does your HR know how to issue…’” So she went to learn: “I had to do my investigation—eh, what is HR?”
But it seemed she still did not quite grasp what she picked up. She said on Ask.fm, “I don’t know if many of you know but NOC is not just a YouTube channel but also a company—Ryan and I have staff to take care of…” Yet, top on the list of grievances aired on the End the Silence blog post is “alleged failed attempt to remedy HR issues”. As shared, a survey was conducted among the staff to help management better manage HR issues, but, as the writers of the blog stated, “employees have noted that even after this survey was done, there was no improvement in the welfare of the staff, and no follow-up actions were conducted. Sylvia’s alleged feedback on this HR investigation was that she was not happy with the results of this survey as she found it to be biased”. Is it possible that she is still ignorant of HR, and, therefore, runs her company based on unreliable instincts and the instilling of fear?
Sylvia Chan’s disposition is known to be like the colour of her hair: fiery
The startling exposé on End the Silence did not only reveal Sylvia Chan’s “misdeeds and mistreatment”, which the sharers—identified as “Sylvia’s victims”—want her accountable for, the single-entry blog post also laid open supposed financial irregularities that could fall afoul of the Companies Act, issues with salary paid to her ex-husband Ryan Tan (in a text chat that was also shared, she purportedly wrote, “I was the one who assign him the pay”), and the supposed request for her younger brother Sikeen Chan to be under the NOC payroll so that he could attain an S Pass and, as a result, file a PR application (it is not known if he is now a permanent resident, but in a May 2021 issue of Home & Decor, it was reported that “Sylvia and her brother decided to model this 1,700 sq ft shophouse after their childhood kampung home”). While she said on Hear U Out that she and Ryan Tan are no longer at a “玩玩 (play-play)” stage, as there were at the start, and that she has “slowly discovered” that, for many things, she has to “go by corporate rules”, followers of the on-going saga are now asserting that if the serious and incriminating allegations on End the Silence were true, she was merely paying lip service. And Quan Yifeng lapped it all up.
Perhaps more unfair was the digging up of her personal life away from NOC. However, since it was categorised as supposed infidelity, with its own cross head “Alleged Cheating On Ryan While He Was In Taiwan”, the whistleblower probably thought it ranks up there with “the improvement of employee welfare”. Through a series of text chats supposedly shared by “someone who was close to Sylvia” (yes, in the past tense), and who appeared to be away with Mr Tan and his team at the time the text messages were exchanged, Ms Chan was depicted to live a life of a sexually active woman, who enjoys the occasional fling and fellatio. She has admitted on television that part of the reason for revealing her divorce on YouTube—or so publicly—was because people were DM-ing Ryan Tan with the information that she was seen with other guys. She called this “拍拖, 喝咖啡而已 (dating but only drinking coffee)”. She did not deny engaging in social appointments with the possibility that a romantic relationship may develop. Her detractors would say neither did she admit to the details so explicitly shared—including the girth of the man’s genital—with the someone who was once close to her. But in the scandalous text messages revealed, she did acknowledge that she is inclined to cheat.
Social media stars tend to find fame and success rapidly, without the usual mundane trajectories experienced by those not in the same line of work. When they set up companies and are keen to give themselves fancy titles to show that, ultimately, they are the boss, not many are capable of living up to the lofty position that they have hoisted themselves on to. From the time her former husband saw her “on the street and she was scolding some vulgarities to her ex-boyfriend” to the alleged “strong language”—as she called it—used against a novice YouTuber under her watch to the fierceness on the confrontational Zoom meetings, Sylvia Chan has mostly shown the tough, street-savvy side of her that has not quite reflected the acceptance of “corporate rules”, which also include engagement, that she uttered so passionately. From watching her former husband dig into the till to gamble at a casino in the hope of a win to remunerate the restaurant staff to her own alleged late payments of NOC staff brought up in that Zoom meeting that was reported to have taken place last year, she seems to have adopted the stance, as many young, first-time bosses have, that it’s my company and mymoney, and I can do whatever I want. It is hard to see how this will end. But digital lives are forgettable lives, even when they hang over the heads of participants like a tragedy. Sylvia Chan, like the proverbial phoenix, will rise again.
Can an outer-only capsule arouse shoppers’ appetite, especially when many are not likely to be travelling?
Under normal circumstances and weather, many of us do not buy outerwear. Sure, hoodies or windbreaker for the cinema and lecture theatres are still flying off the shelves, but a padded coat is unlikely to arouse our urge to aquire protection against the cold for our bodies. Layering to keep warm is unlikely on anyone’s mind right now, not when even night-time temperatures these days are around 30 degrees celsius. So when we checked out Uniqlo’s latest tie-up with compatriot brand White Mountaineering, we were disappointed that there was nothing we could justifiably buy (who is spending indescrimately these days?). Sure, we already knew it would be for-winter collection, but we couldn’t help being let down.
The ten-piece capsule for men, women, and kids comprises mostly of outers, designed clearly for weather conditions nowhere near ours. Even the pullovers are in fleece, which for a freezing movie hall is still too warm. At the launch of the collection last Thursday, it was not as busy as it was for other such debuts. We saw a few self-declared White Mountaineering fans (we asked!), but many walked away without buying. One young fellow told us, disappointment thick in his voice, “Although the prices are not really high, it still doesn’t make sense for me to buy something I won’t be wearing any time soon”.
Uniqlo, we suspect, hopes that some of us in this part of the world would buy the pieces to keep. But winter wear takes up space and another coat to be stored is additional capacity, assuming we have, used up. Still, if you need to pick one standout buy, we’d say go for the WPJ Fleece Oversized Jacket. Unfortunately, this is for guys only. At a quick look, it could pass off as a varsity jacket. But look closely, the combination of fleece body and a poly-sherpa (fleece) panel on the bodice, with two rows of piping that are parallel to the zipper closure and frames the neckline, creates a fetching twofer effect.
What could against WM’s favour is the availability of other lines within the Uniqlo store, namely the Christophe Lemaire-led U sub-brand and the return of +J (possibly the last collection), both with more fetching coats and such, but more importantly, with items that can be worn here, such as shirts and blouses. And those ubiquitous U oversized tees. That is not even counting the women’s lines with Theory and Ines de la Fressange. If you really want something truly wearable and, perhaps more importantly, with unabashed WM branding, just hop next door and consider their second collaboration with Fila.
What is also puzzling, in terms of timing, perhaps, is that the White Mountaineering pairing with Uniqlo appears at the same time as Fast Retailing’s other brand GU’s more compelling romance—with the hot label Undercover. This tie-up’s first offerings were launched in March for the spring/summer season and were quickly sold out wherever there is a GU store. Perhaps, here, the consolation is that GU is not available. That is clearly one competitor less.
White Mountaineering X Uniqlo is available in Uniqlo Global Flagship Store, Orchard Central. Photos: Zhao Xiangji
Another day, another influencer in the news. Like Sylvia Chan, Koh Boon Ki was exposed and then she apologised. And as with Ms Chan, sort of
Influencers are good at generating news—that, we have to give to them. Few go about their digital lives quietly. After the Sylvia Chan saga, before you could say there would be a lull, another influencer makes the news. And, again, not for excelling in what they do (even if it’s creating some amazing TikTok videos), but what they should not do. Koh Boon Ki (许文琪) is, until now, your regular TikToker and Instagrammer. But she decided that, in her dating life, one thing is a requisite: “Just tell me all I should know before I even start talking to him”. No one guessed it then, but “all” is the operative word. So, last Sunday, she posted on TikTok a message superimposed on her sort-of-dancing (with hand movements to underscore her bust and to the apt soundtrack of Meghan Trainor’s narcissistic song Me Too), telling her 112,000 followers what she intended to do: start a “Telegram group with girls from all the dating apps in Singapore and we discuss the guys we’ve talked to and dates we’ve been on”. But it wasn’t innocently just a social group to “share notes”, as they would say in the old days. Ms Koh added, one senses, with relish: “imagine the excel sheet we can make”.
Shortly after the TikTok post, she created the said Telegram group, and named it “sg dating adventures”. She was determined; she did not renege. We don’t need to tell you what that spurred. The beauty of digital sisterhood is that it is so easy to mobilise members for action. Excited by the prospect of the gossip they could crowdsource and the certainty of the cads that they could out and spurn, someone took up Ms Koh’s suggestion, and turned what could have been an innocuous and girly group into one that is potentially pernicious. A Google spreadsheet, also innocently and inoffensively titled, “Dating Guide SG” was shared by an unidentified person. Split into two unkind, even spiteful, tabs, “Blacklist” and “Avoid”, it supposedly listed dozens of guys, entered by anonymous, don’t-mess-with-me users, with claims that the men are guilty of behaviours adverse to romantic dating life. These ran the gamut, from infidelities to molestations to outright sexual assault. But other than a warning to others of the men best to avoid, it was also a comparative study of some of the listees’ skill—or none—in pleasing the listers, sexually!
No one could say if what were seriously alleged were at all true. What’s even more startling and disturbing is that the compilation purportedly included the men’s full names and contact details. Is it at all surprising then that Netizens were quick to call what was happening “doxxing” and cyberbullying? Even trolling? Ms Koh, who has admitted to the media that there are viewers who find her videos “cringey”, reacted rapidly too, declaring in the wee hours of Monday morning that the group chat she started was closed. Later in the day, the recent pharmacy graduate from NUS pointed out, via TikTok, that she was not the one behind the open doc. She subsequently said, possibly in the hope of absolving herself from guilt, “I did not realise that it was also spiralling into a name-and-shame group”. How about date and divulge? Or, the good ol’ kiss and tell. And a collective one! Group gratification, to boot. Safety in numbers. A vexed SOTD reader texted us and asked, “What’s the difference between this and revenge porn?” We could only reply with “good question”.
Pleading innocence further, Ms Koh continued, “It did not turn out the way I imagine, and (sic) it turned out way worse”. Many think “worse” is putting it extremely mildly: she gathered the girls; she was the facilitator; she did not stop the list from view. Or, likely, from circulating. Then came the apology video, which is viewed 282.9K times and is loved by 7,460 followers (at the time of this writing). It is delivered in rapid-fire speech, without even a single use of either of two crucial words: apologise or sorry. She opened by saying, “I am here to address the video that I posted and the group chat I created”. The TikTok video, according to her, was conceived and put out “in the spur of the moment”. In other words, swayed by impulse. It did not dawn on her that her action was reckless. Throughout the explain-herself video post, she littered her prattle with “I did not” and “I didn’t”. Rather than expressing remorse (she did say “regret”, but only that the spreadsheet exists), she cleverly turned the drama into a chance to spotlight sexual assault alleged in the document and “if (they) were true, I hope there are authorities involved”. The lack of self-reproach is, consciously or not, remarkably consistent with the digital lives of uniquely self-obsessed influencers.
The spreadsheet is reportedly deleted after its scandalous existence was exposed and deemed harassment. Ms Koh has mostly denied that she had anything to do with the shared doc although she did first tantalise, not scandalise, her followers with “imagine the excel sheet we can make”. Another layer of mystery emerges: Did Ms Koh already know of such a list, one that would grow a Telegram group in just one night? If not, who would be able to compile the names and the corresponding misdeeds and character flaws with such speed? Or, again, was the list already prepared to be shared? Who has been waiting for Ms Koh’s “spur of the moment” to pounce? That the document exists is, perhaps, unsurprising. We live in a shame-free, blame-much co-ed social culture where it seems totally acceptable, even when it’s deplorable, to post such a poser on forums—Hardware Zone, no less: “Nowadays girls all so chio (hot), how married guys tahan (bear it)?” Is the Google spreadsheet “Dating Guide SG” pay-back time?
Koh Boon Ki has 112.7K followers on TikTok, where she posts, like so many of her peers, inane, lamely comedic videos. A member of the site since Christmas day, 2019, she seems to enjoy sharing (mainly) herself in dance, showing moves of no discernible flair, but in touch with her inner Ah Lian. On Instagram, where she enjoys a surprisingly smaller following—13.5K, but no less hyper-visibility, she posts stills of her hawking anything, from clothes to skincare products to pasteurised fruit juice. In videos and in selfies, she reminds us of Elaine Heng (formerly Elaine Jasmine), who was also embroiled in an influencer-style scandal in 2018. They dress alike and pose alike. Both their expressions metronome-clicks between sweet and sweeter (occasionally goofy), a twinning that would encourage her male followers to call her cute or even chio, to use the expression popular in chat groups. Like many of her fellow Gen-Zers, Ms Koh is weaned on fast fashion. As such, she demands fast dates too. She wants to know all she should know about the guy before she meets him, and a group chat would, therefore, “save everybody some time”. On Instagram, she wrote in her “Bio” (and we quote verbatim): “can’t talk right now. i’m doing hot girl sh!t”. Last Sunday, she sure was. Will “hot girl sh!t” then land her in hot girl soup?
Updated (19 October 2021, 23:00): Koh Boon Ki shared a new TikTok video, directed to “my FA friends”, less than 24 hours after her supposed apology video. In her latest post, she said, “the next time I tell you about my spending habits, and you think I need an investment plan, NO. I need therapy”. As she probably does not think she has done anything wrong, laying low isn’t on the cards.