The Most Arresting Of The Season

During a blah couture week, Glenn Martens truly gave Jean Paul Gaultier the welcome haute so lacking elsewhere. From complex knits to swirling gowns, they’re heart-racingly rad

With couture (mostly) designed to look no different from prêt à porter these days, Jean Paul Gaultier Haute Couture by Glenn Martens is a master stroke of the extremes couture could afford. We’ve see the routine crowd-pleasers at Dior and Chanel (Vanessa Friedman’s shocking Tweet: “It was a very good Chanel #couture”!), and, disappointingly, even at Valentino, so Mr Martens’s high fashion debut is the proverbial breath of fresh air a sadly stodgy season needs. These are clothes that are born of an imagination in pumped-up mode. Mr Martens has a flair for the dramatic—a quality missing in couture for a while now (except, perhaps, at Viktor and Rolf)—and he expresses it in ways rather similar to Mr Gaultier. We always believe that couture should make us dream and Mr Martens has given us the tonic REM to go deep into that state.

To be sure, Mr Martens is not trying to be the enfant terrible who guided the conical-bra years of JPG in the ’80s. This isn’t “ready-to-wear on steroid”, one designer remarked to us, referring to Chitose Abe’s debut for the brand. JPG’s follow-up guest designer is more couture in his thinking, and creates shapes, other than details, that do not commensurate with the prêt. As he told the media during a preview of the show, “There’s only one time in my life when I can do a gown with a 15-meter train.” Mr Martens is clearly on a high, creating those expressive pieces in his first couture outing (although he has worked with Mr Gaultier previously and had referenced the former for his recent Y-Project collection), taking the tropes of the house and bending them to his will. Sure, there is Y-Project pinned to the pieces, but, unlike Chitose Ave, he does not let his deconstructing get too much in the way.

The Antwerp Royal Academy of Fine Arts alum, in fact, approaches his task with a welcome classicism. Yes, there are the trains, but they are not trains that are synonymous with wedding dresses. They have more in common with court trains of the 19th century than anything you’d find in Tanjong Pagar bridal shops. Many of the costume components of French fashion that Mr Gaultier cheekily employed in the past—but sans the bra (let some other couturier pick that up!!!)—are there: corsets and stomachers, too! Sure, some of the designs border on the theatrical, but couture can afford that, and many of us, wearied by couture looking anything but, welcome the controlled exaggeration, the fantastic shapes, and sensations only couture could promise (and few houses deliver)—Mr Martens offered them, with emotional pull.

We like that he did not impose his own vision to totally obscure the JPG tropes (“Gaultierism”, some call it) we know so well. There are the ‘tattoo’ prints, now layered (but still body-hugging) to look indistinct, almost NFT-ed; 3-D metallic flowers that float over the body (metal is ethereal!); the suit with cut-outs, but not quite cold-anything; the tattered surface treatment of the more glamourous Gaultier textures (mummy strips!), and the lacing taken out of corsets to crisscross hips and trains. But the collection also targeted Gaultier diehards for whom the marinière (long-sleeved tee with horizontal blue and white stripes, typically worn by seamen or personnel of the French Navy) is emblematic of the house. But a T-shirt in a couture collection won’t hold up to scrutiny, so Glenn Martens made it into a suit-dress and embellished it with bits of cords that look like frayed raffia. Subversive may not quite be on his mind, and subversive is hardly an attention-grabber these days. But sensational, that modern rarity, is surely—and firmly—there.

Screen grab and photos: Jean Paul Gaultier

Back To Galerie Vivienne

Nigo’s first collection for Kenzo brings the show back to where it all began. A charming start for the founder of A Bathing Ape

Nigo taking a bow at the end of his first Kenzo collection. Screen grab:

A Japanese, designing a collection for a label founded by a compatriot, debuts where the brand began its journey is not exactly the stuff of emotional pull. Yet, there is something charming about Nigo—on his passport it reads Tomoaki Nagao—going back to where Kenzo Takada opened his first store, Jungle Jap, and staged his first show: Galerie Vivienne, north of the Louvre in the 2nd arrondissement. Not just the actual venue, but in the spirit of the clothes too. To be sure, there is nothing retro about the show and the men’s and women’s collection. Galerie Vivienne looks swanky, not the same space that housed a little shop offered to Mr Takada cheaply back at that time. And Mr Nigo is a streetwear star not from America. This is like a manga classic remade, and respectfully rendered.

Trace it to the outset, that itself is unusual in that so very few designers desire to reprise the house codes of the brand they’re tasked to revive or make more visible. Making a mark is more important for a designer’s debut collection than really revisiting the legacy of the label. Mr Nigo’s looking at the halcyon periods of Kenzo, specifically of the ’80s, is reverential without being duteous. There is a free spirit about the looks, just as there was back in 1970, a collection reportedly made from a puny US$200 of fabrics. Mr Nigo clearly had significantly more than that. But as it was in the past, these are clothes to live and move in. There is nothing precious about them, not a tad delicate either. Kenzo’s clothes in the early years were so fun-seeming and so not soignée that the members of two major fashion camps at that time—one aligned to Yves Saint Laurent, the other to Karl Lagerfeld—were willing to risk charges of disloyalty to wear Kenzo.

“Kenzo san’s approach to creating originality was through his understanding of many different cultures. It is also the essence of my own philosophy of creativity,” Nigo wrote on Instagram following his appointment as CD at Kenzo. Philosophy of creativity is not necessarily tenet of design. Although also an alumnus of Bunka Fashion Collage (he once said that what he learned from Bunka was “zero”. The best thing was meeting Jun Takahashi of Undercover), as Mr Takada was, both men’s approach, we sense, are quite different. Mr Takada had always worked a significant measure of romance into his designs, while Mr Nigo, if we go by what he has done for A Bathing Ape and, recently, with Louis Vuitton (together with the late Virgil Abloh), has always been, for a lack of a better word, street. Surprisingly, his Kenzo isn’t an amalgamation of A Bathing Ape, Billionaire Boys Club, Store by Nigo, and Human Made.

The men’s looks are, unsurprisingly, better conceived than the women’s, at least for now. Kenzo is synonymous with floral prints, bold graphics, and vibrant colours—not necessarily in that order. Nigo takes all that and mixes the prints and patterns (sometimes no mixing at all) with considerable ease, and, at the same time, not trying too hard with the necessary visual branding. There is something almost collegiate about the styling. Some observers think that this is not an impactful first collection. “Boring” is bandied about, even “awful”. Is fashion waiting for the next Demna? Look what happened to Mr Nigo’s predecessor Felipe Oliveira Baptista. Kenzo Takada was never a radical designer, such as Issey Miyake (whose Miyake Design Studio was founded in the same year as Kenzo, but the Paris collection didn’t debut until 1973, when prêt-à-porter was institutionalised). Nigo has never assembled a ready-to-wear line of this scale. That he has produced a collection of considerable joy and with heart is an encouraging start.


Dior: Kim Jones The Soloist

Surprise! At Dior, Kim Jones offered no collaborations that set the tone of the collection

Kim Jones, the serial collaborator, is showing that he can have a go at a Dior collection all by himself (and with his design team). There are no artists or streetwear stalwarts to share the glory on the runway, no dead writer to inspire. (Accept, if you must consider them, the footwear with Birkenstock and the hats with Stephen Jones.) This is the 75th anniversary of Dior, and it is just Mr Jones and the legacy of the founder, or so it seems. Christian Dior did not design menswear during his time helming the house. Marc Bohan started Dior’s first men’s RTW collection in 1970. A decade later, there was a line called Dior Monsieur that, if we remember correctly, was mostly business wear. Then, in 2001, under the design direction of the then newish Hedi Slimane, the men’s RTW took off as Dior Homme. Kris van Assche succeeded Mr Slimane. It is not certain if his contribution to the development of Dior Homme is as sizeable as the former, but it would take Kim Jones to add considerable zing to the brand now mostly known as Dior Men.

This season, Mr Jones puts out a presentation that is Parisian in spirit, if not entirely in looks. A life-size replica of Pont Alexandre III, a deck arch bridge across the Seine that links the Champs-Élysées quarter and the areas of Invalides and Eiffel Tower. A fancy part of the capital, no doubt. It reminds us of the Chanel autumn/winter 2018 couture show, set against a fake walkway—sited along the Seine too—opposite the Institut de France. The Dior fellows breeze along the bannister, as relaxed as their finery are. We do not know if Monsieur Dior himself is partial to such casual styles (untucked shirts!), but he might approve the greys that dominate, especially a particular shade known as Dior Grey. Could this be Mr Jones at his most measured?

To us, some of the pieces look like they might have been designed by Maria Grazia Chiuri (perhaps it’s the beret?). She would have put out easy-to-wear blousons on top of round-neck sweaters, on top of shirts with the hem worn over slacks. The easy vibe aside, this could be Mr Jones’s most well-thought-out collection for Dior. Without aesthetical references from a collaborator, much of the pieces have to stand on their own. And quite a few do. Mr Jones has never been a careful-to-calibrate minimalist like his predecessor Mr Van Ascche. He has shown a soft spot for ornamentation, so pullovers are bedecked with flowers (purportedly as homage to Christian Dior’s own love for them) and blousons are petal-strewn. They are rather reminiscent of Raf Simons’s delicate blooms during his tenure with Dior women’s line. If you are not into florals, there is always the leopard print!

As with other houses this autumn/winter season, there is emphasis on the waist of jackets. Mr Jones, too, made them rather nipped-in. To be sure, his suit jacket is especially sharp this time, with lines of stitchwork and what seems like flocking (or frayed edges?) to augment the garment’s fetching trimness. And, soft too: There are those, as well as coats, that are gathered at the waist, creating a draped effect that relaxes the shoulders—tailoring seen more in womenswear then men’s. A certain body type is, of course, needed for guys to look good in them. The petite waist? Perhaps this is Mr Jones’s New Look for men. Will it be “quite a revolution”, as Carmel Snow remarked of the original in 1947? Hard to say, isn’t it?

Photos: Dior

The Swansong That Isn’t Supposed To Be

Virgil Abloh is reported to have finished the autumn/winter collection before he died. It is not certain he intended this to be his last

It is understandable why Louis Vuitton wants Virgil Abloh to be the most important and unforgettable designer in their employ, past and present. A month after his death in November last year, Louis Vuitton windows world-wide were dedicated to their star designer. Even Karl Largerfeld’s death did not yield a Chanel window on the same scale (not that Mr Lagerfeld would want to be remembered that way. Chanel organised a quiet funeral although, according to the late Andre Leon Talley, Mr Lagerfeld wished “not to be seen in death”). But it didn’t end with the “Virgil was Here” store-front memorial. In the same month, LV staged a show in Miami(!) where, as it was widely reported, Mr Abloh was “honored”. And now, for his final collection, honouring him seems more pronounced than showing the clothes. Virgil Abloh’s “profound legacy” is also Louis Vuitton’s profound legacy.

In 2019, Mr Abloh told Dazed, when asked what would be the fate of “the idea of streetwear” in 2020, “I would definitely say it’s gonna die, you know? Like, its time will be up”. That proclamation was met with dismay and even chagrin. He later told Vogue, “I didn’t say it to be polarising”. But he did say it, and now streetwear is not quite meeting its predicted demise, certainly not at LV, where it was brought to attention when Mr Abloh joined the house some eight collections ago. The numeral ‘8’ is, in Chinese culture, a lucky number, so his last might be an auspicious one for LV in this part of the world, but when ‘8’ makes a 90-degree left or right rotation, it is the infinity symbol, ∞. The collection is called The ∞th Field, “a place… something like a dream” (also dubbed Louis Dreamhouse), according to Mustafa the Poet, who appeared in the opening film, telling us that “When your imagination is a pulse, this sort of sparkle is formed. It lets you make things happen as long as you believe it will”.

Dream or not, the the streetwear sensibility, as seen through Black eyes and expressed by Black hands, is unmistakable. Although many attribute streetwear’s unstoppable rise to the Black culture of America, the streetwear of Shanghai or Tokyo is not the same as the streetwear of Los Angeles, or Chicago. Mr Abloh’s streetwear looks and, indeed, the tailoring, have an unmistakable Blackness about it—by now, all LV. This is not a collection in which to outdo what Mr Abloh had done in the past. After eight seasons, perhaps LV is really into the grove. There is no revolution to bring about, no creative point to prove, just reminding us what Mr Abloh was good at, as well as his intellectual bent, his predilection for art, his propensity to want to let the world know how far he has come.

A Louis Vuitton collection for men these days is incomplete without skirts. So there they are in various forms, including the asymmetric piece worn with what appears to be a football jersey (manlier?) and the sheer ones that would delight Maria Grazia Chiuri. The sports clothes, too, are still present, such as the varsity jacket that now comes with a cutaway collar. If a man has a weakness for openwork fabrics, but does not desire lace, there is the pantsuit with the overlay netting linked with LV floral motifs (as seen in their house monogram). This is not gender-bending; this is exclusive inclusivity that gives the LV shopper options. If you are planning to be a he-bride, there is something for you too, complete with trailing veil. And if it is an angel that you wish to dress as—an LV Angel, no less—there are assorted wings for you to choose. How pleased Virgil Abloh must be, looking at all this—and at all of us—from up where he is now.

Screen grab: Louis Vuitton/YouTube. Photos: Louis Vuitton

ALT: “The First Black Editor” Passes

Andre Leon Talley, the fashion giant many call an icon, has died. Perhaps now, truly the end of an era

It was reported by TMZ that the former Vogue editor Andre Leon Talley has passed away on Tuesday (local time). He was 73. It is not yet clear what illness he was battling, but he was in the hospital when he died. Social media was abuzz with RIPs. Diane von Fürstenberg, one of the earliest to react, Instagrammed, “Good bye darling André ❤️🙏… no one saw the world in a more elegant and glamorous way than you did ❤️🙏… no one was more soulful and grander than you were ❤️🙏…the world will be less joyful now ❤️🙏 I have loved you and laughed with you for 45 years…. I will miss your loud screams and your loyal friendship…I love you soooo much ❤️”.

Update to follow.

Illustration by Just So

Happy Wanderers

Comme des Garçons shows a colourful collection for the modern nomad. Seriously

Is this Rei Kawakubo being cheeky? In the time of a pandemic and she creates a collection for Comme des Garçons Homme Plus called Nomad? Is it a good time to be itinerant? Or does Ms Kawakubo truly have a sense of humour, contrary to what we are led to believe? With borders shut to vaccine-rejecters, not many nations welcome those who want to come and go freely. Yet, Ms Kawaklubo wants to evoke the happy-go-lucky sartorial inclination of the wayfaring. To be sure, this is not gypsy-nomadic although the clothes has a smidgen of gypsy air about them. And joyfulness. Is Ms Kawakubo suggesting that while we may not be able to roam in the physical world, we can go awandering in our imagination, and certainly in the world wide web? Do we still remember that?

The show is held in Tokyo, in the CDG headquarters, known to be a serious office and studio space. It’s an early reveal, at least much earlier than it would be if CDG kept to the Paris calendar. The barely-discernible set of what looks like patchwork of recycled boards could have been borrowed from Dover Street Market. According to Japanese media, models walk in a dark space and halts under a single spotlight. To better offer no hint as to where the runway is sited? CDG is not a label that stages flashy shows. Even in Paris, their presentations are mostly modest affairs. Even now, it’s hard to tell that Ms Kawakubo and her team have stayed put in Tokyo.

This is a modest 32-look collection, built almost entirely on tailoring. Not bashful, however, are the suiting, a category that was expected to come back years ago, even before the arrival of COVID, and clearly not what men’s haute couture is keen to advance, with, hitherto, unclear take-up rate. Ms Kawakubo has a far less buttoned-up approach to tailoring although often times they look like pieces from long forgotten times. It’s the tactile quality, whether in the fabrics or the finishings, that attracts. And more of that can be seen again this season: coats of various lengths delightfully making layering an exercise in exploring textures.

We do wish that the models would remove their outers to show what is worn beneath. Are those really dresses (with cowlnecks, no less!)? Are those shirts or tunics? Or neither? Is the suit crumpled or is that the fabric? Although the collection is based on dark colours, many are delightfully paired with a shock of colour. Whatever her former proclamations about black and the obligations towards it, Ms Kawakubo is a cunning colourist too. Who’d guess that for autumn/winter, she’d even allow the colour-blocking of four contrasting brights in one garment! Are nomads usually this colour-loving or aware of colour relationships? Or, is Rei Kawakubo truly in a wandering mood, her mind not a permanent abode for even her favourite black?

Photos: Comme des Garçons

They’ve Got The Spirit

British daily The Guardian made an offering. So did broadcaster the BBC. No one is happy. Most are 😱

The Guardian’s CNY suggestions. Photos: The Guardian

By Zhao Guozhu

In the spirit of graciousness, I’d just have a laugh, a big laugh, 大笑一场. You would have read the reports and reactions by now. If you have not, let me have the pleasure. It was all about what to cook for the festive season. First, it was The Guardian with their not festively plated “pork and crab dumplings”, placed atop a sheet of joss paper (金纸, jinzhi, also known as 冥纸, mingzi or hell paper). Then there was the BBC with their dish of “lo mein” (the Cantonese pronunciation of 捞面, laomian, or what we know as dry noodles, not what the BBC described as “actually a very simple egg noodle stir fry”) next to a pair of envelopes—one of them, a hongbao (红包), the other, for use at funerals, on which it is clearly written 吉儀 (吉仪, jiyi or auspicious yi). The latter is usually given by the family of the deceased to the attendees of the funeral as a gift of appreciation (谢礼, xieli). Here, it is common to place in the envelope a small towel, candy, and a coin.

You can imagine the online shock and disdain, especially in this part of the world, where many of us are deep in the preparation of Chinese New Year. The Guardian heard or read them too. So did the BBC. The paper replaced that photograph with one that is missing the offensive joss paper. The broadcaster was more brutal—they deleted the picture altogether. The recipe that follows is now without a visual to tell readers what “lo mein” is. The thing that came to my mind: Why did the food stylists of the two shoots not think about what they had placed next to the dishes? The Guardian spread was attributed to Marie-Ange Lapierre (food styling) and Pene Parker (prop styling). Westerners must find it hard to style Asian food. On a plain plate, they don’t know how to make the dishes look good. So they have to resort to styling tricks, such as the use of items to exoticise the subject of the photograph, even if it means prop-hunting in a 香烛店 (xiangzhudian, joss and candle shop)!

BBC’s “lo mein”. Photo: BBC

There is something disconcertingly simplistic here too: As dumplings (饺子, jiaozi) “are traditionally served at the lunar new year feast”, The Guardian declared, they have to be styled with some assurance to the angmo creatives—something “traditional”. (Mostly northern Chinese eat jiaozi for the first meal of the Lunar New Year.) For many stylists in the West tasked to put together an image related to Chinese culture, anything that comes with Han characters (sometimes even Japanese text will do) or are at variance with their own aesthetical familiarity can pass of as inspired by China. It did not help that The Guadian’s dumplings could be gyozas and the BBC’s “lo mein” could be mee goong haeng (Thai dry noodles with prawns). Nothing about the two dishes say 中国菜 (Chinese food), so they need obvious visual cues, even extraneous ones.

Surely, they have knowledgeable people they could ask. Uncle Roger, perhaps? James Wong? Heck, Gemma Chan? I thought that following the 2018 fiasco over the Dolce & Gabbana ad, which showed a Chinese model eating a massive cannoli with chopsticks (both The Guardian and the BBC published reports), brands and the media too would be more mindful of how they effect representations of Chinese culture and cuisine. What would the British say if The Straits Times featured haggis served in a ciborium? Or, fish and chips wrapped in a (funeral) order of service? To The Guardian and the BBC, food prepared for Chinese New Year is for welcoming the start of spring, not the end of life. 别客气. You’re welcome.

With Actors, To Entice Pursuit

Prada’s autumn/winter 2022 presentation includes “10 globally-renown Hollywood stars”

Kyle MacLachlan opening the Prada show

Jeff Goldblum closing the show

Prada courting Hollywood actors is nothing new. Many will remember the autumn/winter 2012 show: on the red carpet with patterns resembling those of the Navajo (although the stadium setting could have been some place in Red Soviet) were William Dafoe, Adrien Brody, and Gary Oldman. These were not your typical matinee idols. For cinema fans, they were (and still are) the best character actors of both sides of the Atlantic. And then, now, there are ten: Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Asa Butterfield, Jeff Goldblum, Damson Idris, Kyle MacLachlan, Tom Mercier, Jaden Michael, Louis Partridge, Ashton Sanders and Filippo Scotti. Once again, not your average leading men. Prada would never use Tom Cruise!

“Actors are interpreters of reality, employed to echo truth through their portrayals,” Prada tells us. The reality of an actor, whoever he portrays is, of course not necessarily our reality. But in choosing older actors for the runway, is Prada also saying something about experience as part of that reality? Fashion, of course, knows no age. And Prada’s menswear have often shown that to be true, as seen in how Jeff Goldblum has embraced the brand, pre-pandemic. Even the pick of Morale… You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling from The Human League’s first album in 1979, Reproduction, to soundtrack the show seems to target an older, post-disco pack that would no doubt instantly hum to “You never close your eyes anymore when I kiss your lips/And there’s no tenderness like before in your fingertips (yes, originally sung by the Righteous Brothers in 1964—even earlier!)”.

Co-designers Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons are not literalists. Their references are often far more oblique. While both do look back, they do not bring to the fore a wholesale past. As per their collection communiqué: “Eschewing hierarchy, a dignity is proposed to pragmatic clothing, uniforms of reality, rematerialized in precious leather and silk tech as a mark of respect and value“. It is hard to imagine Prada not doing anything pragmatic, but there is always something a tad subversive to the pragmatism, even deviant. In case you are not too impressed with the spot-on tailoring, they’ve sneaked in something small, but so unexpected: dangling earrings! Sure, these are not in the chandelier style (they’re mostly geometrically-shape charms), but some are long enough to be, hmmm, shoulder dusters!

That is probably as far a feminine touch as Prada would go. Definitely no skirts. Or, should that be not yet?. In fact, we think this is one of the most masculine collections from Prada. The leather outers, with their hulky shoulders—they have an almost gangster quality about them, even in red. An SOTD reader messaged us to say that they reminded him of Claude Montana. Perhaps, but we were thinking of Demna (now, like his new best friend, going by one name) designing the costumes for a John le Carré movie (even the unlikely George Smiley!). And those one-pieces, with their suggestions of the the boiler room—workwear cool as sexy as military pomp. When Miuccia meets Raf.

Screen shots and photos: Prada

Do It Smartly

For the next autumn/winter, Fendi is hoping to get guys to really dress up

Silvia Venturini Fendi told the media she thinks that although there are so few occasions for occasion dressing these days, the habit of dressing well and smartly should “return in full force”, as WWD quotes her. That Ms Fendi is keen to promote and encourage men to dress up is understandable. As a luxury house, Fendi can’t be hoping to sell T-shirts and kindred garb—or more of them—to commensurate with the persistence of the pandemic that necessitates casual clothes (who goes for COVID testing or vaccinations and booster shots in a suit?). Or, to let guys be truly comfortable with donning T-shirts everywhere and every day to the point where the creature of habit in them takes over?

Ms Fendi’s solution is to bring back the “classics”, re-proportion them, and give them an overall softness. It is not immoderate to see them as feminine although that may increasingly be inappropriate an adjective to use to describe menswear. There are tunic shapes (to mimic a dress?), tented shorts (for winter?), and as it is de rigueur these days, a skirt (or what looks like one)—all happy friends with more convention shirts, sweaters, and parkas. Men, fashion presentation these days tell us, desire bottoms that are not pants. Still, we are not sure if the skirt is more option than must-have. Perhaps Ms Fendi is onto something when she refers to occasion dressing. There could be a time and place for men to don a good skirt, just not to meet the bank manager?

To defy convention (if it still matters), Ms Fendi tweaks the necklines too, but they are less minor adjustments than actually incorporating those usually devised to resemble a décolleté. Could the seen collar bone be the new mark of masculinity? Or is its exposure a sure sign that design details no longer distinguish roles according to gender? There is the inverted-triangular key holes on sweaters (one even appearing under a spread collar), and the split boat-neck of an evening jacket, on which a single-bloom corsage (they are too large to be called boutonnière, no?) is worn, just like Carrie Bradshaw is (still) inclined to. Pandemic-era dressing requires the projection of nuptial joy.

To further strengthen the gender-neutrality, the accessories appear to have—like certain contagions—made the jump. Sure, the Baguette has crossed over to the men’s camp for quite a few seasons now, and they still remain strong and handbag-like on masculine hips, but less expected are pearl necklaces, now worn over neck warmers, like an obijime (decorative cord) atop the obi. It is, of course, true that pearls under male chins, even unshaved, have not been unusual for awhile too, but as strap-ons for covered necks, they may preface jewellery for turtlenecks, mock or not. With surgical masks still necessary, and adopted by the fashionable set, is neckwear with their own accessories the next big thing?

Screen grab and photos: Fendi

Play It Loud

With Machine Gun Kelly behind the music, Dolce & Gabbana shows that you really can look deafening

Machine Gun Kelly performing on the runway

Bengdom has a new god. Make that gods: Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana. Okay, perhaps not so new. They have held court in the Mount Olympus of visual excess for many years now, and those who come to worship at the foot of the giddy elevation can’t get enough of D&G’s boundless flashiness. Their shows are designed to top the excesses of previous presentations, the more dazzling, the better, the more gaudy, the merrier. Marketing missteps of the past be damned. They do not care what their naysayers think or post (although they did sue Diet Prada for what the Instagrammers shared online in 2018 that the brand claimed to have led to losses in revenue and deal). Over-the-top is their strong, showy suit. Dolce & Gabbana make Philip Plein look like a very minor deity.

Their autumn/winter collection emanates the sartorial energy of the time the two designers first met—in 1982, in a Milan discotheque—were eventually romantically linked. This time, their show is headlined by Machine Gun Kelly (aka Colson Baker), the American rapper/singer/actor, now engaged to Megan Fox, who is, expectedly, seated in the front row. Like MGK’s music, an ardent blend of hip hop and rock (as expected, My Ex’s Best Friend is performed), D&G is the visual fanciness to MGK’s aural fierceness. MGK struts down the runway to open the show in a white suit (one of three outfit changes) with pointy studs that form the outline of the jacket. As the camera zooms in, we see the ear, nose, and lip jewellery. Hardware is imperative and prolific. He dramatically pauses as he walks back, and cues the beat—a ringmaster ringing in the circus of fashion. And then closing it.

If the garish digital graphics and unrelentless flashing of disco lights are not enough, the clothes would definitely make up for the shortfall. Together, they provide a truly woozy viewing experience. So busy, in fact, is the sum of the show parts (including MGK!) that it is hard to understand what is really coming together in the massive display of the 107 looks. It is amazing how much one male body can don or need. D&G certainly shows the myriad possibilities and, in turn, the absurdities. Perhaps, they are inspired by Chinese New Year hampers (FYI, there’s a silver tiger print coat!). The designing duo has made outdoing themselves an art, although Mr Gabbana told the press before the show in more euphemistic terms, “We’re challenging ourselves; we’re questioning everything we’ve been used to.” The questionable, too.

There is no denying the free-hand approach to the designs: anything goes, and everything gets in. So what you see are clothes that are so exaggerated that unless one lives an outsized existence requiring sartorial extremes, they may not even fit—literally—in a typical wardrobe. Some of the puffers are really so large, the models could be wearing family tents. And, graffiti prints so packed onto fabrics, they make walls scrawled with spray paint look clean. In fact, pattern and prints dominate, but none more trying than the tedious repetition of two letter—yes, ‘D’ and ‘G’. They make LV’s appearances seem infrequent and tame.

Screen grab: Dolce & Gabbana/YouTube. Photos: Dolce & Gabbana

Star-Power Insistence

Unvaccinated Novak Djokovic is hell-bent on participating in this year’s Australian Open, largely through his standing as “the world’s number 1 tennis player”. Will his audacity enhance his appeal among brands behind his multi-million sponsorship deals?

By Lester Fang

The world is screwed. That much we know. The COVID pandemic has destructed civic life as much as the vaccine needed to bring about its end has divided it. Despite the climate problems we now face that may one day wipe us all off the surface of this earth, we have to preface that gloomy prediction by being caught between two opposing human forces: those who have accepted vaccination—and are inoculated—against the COVID virus (and the subsequent mutants) and those who have not and their dead refusal to receive it. I have not met an anti-vaxxer before. That is why the Serbian Novak Djokovic’s situation and defiance in Australia is so spine-straightening to me. Will he really get to play on Monday, and show the world how exceptional he really is—so out of the ordinary that he should be able to bypass immigration policies of a sovereign land when you and I would not be able to?

Let me lay it out: I am no tennis fan. Okay, to be more accurate, I am no fan of any tennis player, regardless of his world ranking. That kind of thing just does not impress me. Nor, how many pairs of shoes one can sell. Therefore, the individual known as Ye has not been able to make a fan out of me with his Yeezys, even less now that his name is the first syllable of Yeshua. No one is ever that big in stature and in wealth to be above immigration requirements of any independent state. Nor, is he able to impress the world by hiring a lawyer to fight his case in court, and then admit to failings, such as knowing that he tested positive when, last month, he attended a newspaper interview and photoshoot at his tennis centre in Serbia. And, in an unsurprising blame game, that his “agent” had conveniently made a mistake in a travel form. But we’re supposed to believe that Mr Djokovic is not a no one.

“It’s very clear that Novak Djokovic is one of the best players of the history, without a doubt. But there is no one player in history that’s more important than an event.”

Rafael Nadal

Rafael Nadal was a beacon of reason when he told the media in a pre-tournament press conference, “It’s very clear that Novak Djokovic is one of the best players of the history, without a doubt. But there is no one player in history that’s more important than an event.” The spotlight now cast on Mr Djokovic unfortunately brightens his importance, as the player, the anti-vaxxer, and the exceptional. One tennis enthusiast friend of mine, a Roger Federer fan, agrees that the alienating refusenik should not be allowed to enter Australia because “he has not been honest with quite a few things in pertaining to his entry requirement, particularly his vaccination status”.

To me, Mr Djokovic’s border behaviour borders on the bratty. He is already a polarising player in Centre Court, he does not need to remind us why some of us won’t buy his pathetic stand as victim in an airport. Sure, many people can’t bear watching the Australian Open without him competing (his 21st Grand Slam title is at stake), but there are those of us who can’t take his refusal to be vaccinated half way across the world and insist he is to be treated differently from others who respect the entry requirements of foreign nations. Some supportive members of the media say that Mr Djokovic’s “reception (at Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport) was not what the world’s No. 1 player anticipated”. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic even charged the Australian government for “mistreating” Serbia’s national pride. Australia is known to have one of the toughest border controls in the world (my mother was once almost denied entry for having on her a packet of peanuts distributed on the aircraft earlier that she did not finish!). Yet, the “World’s No.1” did not anticipate the airport staff would simply do their job.

Uniqlo sponsored Novak Djokovic from 2012 to 2017

According to Forbes last year, Mr Djokovic’s endorsement deals amounted to a not unimpressive US$30 million. So far, no brand has indicated that distancing themselves from him is on the cards. His insistence to be allowed to play, I can only imagine, is admirable qualities. Only the Swiss watchmaker Hublot has released a statement, assuring the public—fans, surely—that their sponsorship for the tennis star remains intact and, in addition, that “Novak Djokovic is his own person”. As most brands know of his stand on vaccination, whatever he does now, even if it doesn’t gain applause, likely won’t change what they think the value his name could bring to a product. Negative publicity has not hurt him in the past, it is possible it won’t ruffle him now. In 2012, when Uniqlo’s sponsorship of Mr Djokovic was announced, Tadashi Yanai, Chairman, President & CEO of Fast Retailing, said, “Uniqlo and Novak share a common, mutual desire to improve people’s lives and contribute to society”. What has happened in Melbourne since 6 January appear to contradict that view.

Mr Djokovic does not share headline space with luxury brands such as that between Naomi Osaka and Louis Vuitton. He is not, to me, the Christiano Ronaldo of the tennis world. He won’t, therefore, be on the marketing radar of, say, Kering. The most prestigious fashion brand to support him is Lacoste. The five-year sponsorship, which he accepted after the deal with Uniqlo (which came after Sergio Tacchini, 2009—2012) ended, is reported to be worth US$9.4 million annually till this year. Other non-garment sponsorships include the American label Head for racquets and the Japanese Asics for shoes, and, of course, Hublot for the timepiece(s). These brands’ no-reaction to the happenings in Melbourne of the past ten days, I am certain, would not have vaccinated fashionistas up in arms. By most indications, Novak Djokovic won’t go under Down Under.

Update (16 January 2022, 15:00): Novak Djokovic has lost his desperate court appeal against the cancellation of his visa. He will be deported from Australia just as he is looking forward to defending his Australian Open championship tomorrow evening.

Illustration: Just So. Photo:

The French Connection, A Story Of Hope

From Paris, Sharon Au lets us in on a little known fact: she’s an aspiring fashion designer

‘Red Carpet’ dress worn by Sharon Au (left) and seen in the Akinn look book. Photos: sharonau13/instagram and Akinn/Wee Khim Studio respectively

Who would have guessed that Sharon Au (欧菁仙), now based in Paris, would be the next Kelly to Akinn’s Song? Song Whykidd that is. Mr Song, some may remember, was part of the design duo Song and Kelly and their eponymous label that enjoyed considerable visibility and success in the ’90s, so much so that the Club 21 Group bought what was reported to be a “majority stake” in the label Song+Kelly (then textually identified, with the plus symbol) in 2000, and suffixed it with ‘21’. In no time, Song+Kelly21 was retailing through free-standing stores at Forum the Shopping Mall and Ngee Ann City, as well as their own corner in Isetan at Wisma Atria. Regionally, they were sold at Paragon Department Store in Bangkok, as well as Parkson in Kuala Lumpur. According to press reports, Song+Kelly21 was also sold in Selfridges and Harrods in London and Barney’s in New York. The brand parted ways with Club 21 in 2007, and with that, Song+Kelly21 folded.

Song Wykidd has looked Westwards in affirming his design sense: The ACS alum studied fashion and textile in the UK, at Kingston University (formerly Kingston Polytechnic), and he showed Song+Kelly briefly at New York Fashion Week and London Fashion Week in the late ’90s. And, now, for his three-year-old label Akinn, there is a Paris link—not the pret-a-porter, not a retail space, but a collaboration with résidente parisien Sharon Au, whom Mr Song referred to as “my perennial muse (a vintage expression, if there is one)”. An investment director with a private equity firm there, Ms Au has been in the City of Lights since 2018. Many of those we spoke to were not aware of Ms Au’s connection to fashion and were hard-pressed to remember her style—or if, indeed, she had one. “She designs?” was a repeated rejoinder. Although she was not quite the fashion plate that is Zoe Tay or Fann Wong, Ms Au did start and edit the Mediacorp e-magazine StyleXStyle in 2012 and was made the publisher of Elle Sg in 2017 to assist in the transitioning of the publication to an online title. She was also known to support young talents, not only by featuring them in her magazine, but also by encouraging them at their school, such as Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, attending their graduation shows.

Sharon Au prancing the streets of Paris in an Akinn X Sharon Au ‘A Fresh Start’ dress. Photo: sharonau13/Instagram

In her latest post on her healthily-followed Instagram (134K), liked by fellow Singaporean-in-Paris, designer Andrew Gn, the still-tethered-to-Mediacorp personality shared an ill-lit photo of her with the Tour Eiffel behind her, in an Akinn X Sharon Au dress called ‘Red Carpet’, presumably named after something she or her former MediaCorp colleagues might wear to the Star Awards (红星大奖). An ankle-length, loose-fit sleeveless dress, with an inverted pleat placed in the middle of the scoop neckline, the ‘Red Carpet’ is of a silhouette, we should say, that’s familiar: body-skimming, but still roomy enough to accommodate assorted bodily girths without risking the misfortune of looking like a downright sack. Ms Au wrote in the comments of that post—somewhat gleefully, “…you can eat as much bak kwas as you want wearing this. No matter what body shape you are, you can rock the Red Carpet”.

Akinn, even without the Sharon Au touch, has found the saleable shape that would be appealing—a circumscription adopted by many local brands now enjoying a retail renaissance, from The Closet Lover to The Editor’s Market. Dresses must have the preferred looseness of a housecoat, the happy vibe of a sundress, and the conservative length of a caftan. If its predecessor brand Song+Kelly21 captured the aesthetical zeitgeist of its time, Akinn reflects what sells today. While the brand is better made than many of its contemporaries, it does not quite enjoy the dashes that made Song+Kelly21 the standout that it was in the pre-Design Orchard days of SG fashion. One makeup artist recalled, “I bought a lot of their stuff in the early 2000s. What I remember most are the details worked into the clothes. Even a simple shell top has unexpected seam placement and asymmetric inserts. You sense the pieces had design thinking behind them”.

The Akinn X Sharon Au label, featuring her cat Rudon. Photo: sharonau13/instagram

Akinn X Sharon Au, launched last week, is a small, six-style, dresses-only capsule called ‘A Story of Hope’, one among half a dozen descriptions that aligns with Ms Au’s often upbeat, yet contrived, optimism. Ms Au, who is now home, reveals on IG that she named all the six dresses herself, such as the mint-green shirt-dress she wore shopping at the fleuriste Stephane Bellot, called optimistically ‘A Fresh Start’, because, as she wrote, “I have been given many chances in life to start over and I know how important second and repeated chances are” and “I believe a dress truly comes alive only when you wear it and own your style”. Netizens have, before this collab, frequently commentated on how regrettably trite her posts can be. For Akinn X Sharon Au, there is no discernible attempt to correct that perception: a slick two-tone ‘convertible dress’ bears the unfortunate moniker ‘Mademoiselle-in-Love’ and a lovely ‘ruffled neck blouson dress’ is, regrettably, ‘Spring in Paris’.

Apart from the naming of the dresses, it is not clear how involved Ms Au was in the design exercise of the capsule or if she was, in fact, present when it was put together. This is not the first time Mr Song has collaborated with local stars. Last October, there was a pairing with the singer-songwriter Inch Chua. In a livestream on IG, Mr Song said that the Akinn X Inch capsule had “gone through the fingers of Inch Chua”. Although that does not say a lot, it could indicate that the same might have benefitted Akinn’s team-up with Ms Au. The designer told CNA in 2019 that Akinn’s “vision is to build a collaborative design platform that goes beyond fashion”. And, that platform “could take the form of Akinn working with or being inspired by a celebrated personality with a distinct style, or with a designer or artist (he) admire(s), creating products at the same level of sophistication that customers expect”. Designing not expected? Despite Sharon Au’s admirable attempt at imbuing the collab—at least in the photographs of her in the dresses bearing her name—with a Parisian vigueur, the clothes emanate an SG post-blogshop vibe, even with a “level of sophistication”, with neither the Gallic ease of, say, Sandro or the edginess of The Kooples.

Akinn X Sharon Au communication image. Photo: akinndesign/instagram

Song Wykidd met British graphic designer Ann Kelly in the UK and a partnership was established in 1993. Mr Song came home, bringing along Ms Kelly, and both started Song+Kelly in 1995, a fairly late debut, considering that his schoolmate in ACS, Peter Teo, who also studied in England, launched the now defunct Project Shop, first a T-shirt label, in 1990 (followed by Project Shop Bloodbros, which eventually morphed into the popular PS Café). Song+Kelly enjoyed a good start as Mr Song were friends with many in the fashion scene here, such as the photographer Wee Khim, who shoots Mr Song’s designs till this day. When Club 21 bought into Song+Kelly, they paved the way for another multi-label store to have their own Singaporean label: The Link’s Alldressedup, launched in 2005 and closed in 2013. The designers Sven Tan and Kane Tan left a year earlier to start In Good Company, which some observers initially thought was reminiscent of Song+Kelly21, with their take on the “new minimalism” that emerged from the final Helmut Lang years. Mr Song did not stay away from fashion. After leaving Club 21, he started WK Design, offering bespoke clothing, on top of ready-to-wear and other fashion-related services. In 2014, he joined the Hong Kong premium womenswear label Anagram as their senior design/development manager. Before Akinn was born, he was head of the design faculty at MDIS.

The journey to the birth of Akinn was, reportedly, not an easy-sailing one. At Boutique Fairs in 2019, where the brand had a space (at the F1 Pit Building, the venue of the event that year), Song Wykidd was heard telling a visitor that it had been “hard” to “sell fashion to local shoppers”, but as “fashion was still in (his) blood, will still try”. At that time, less than 500 metres away, veteran designer Esther Tay, too launched her comeback eponymous label. Interestingly, another designer from the past was also a participant at the event: Thomas Wee, in another return of sort. When asked if these old-timers’ output would impact his new label, or emanate competitive heat, Mr Song said diplomatically, “we’re all doing different things”. To that, perhaps, he had (and still has) a trump card the other two did not: appreciating the value of collaborative partnerships and staying more visible as a result of them. It is not known publicly how long the designer knows his muse, but Ms Au’s endorsement of Akinn may augment the positioning of the fledgling brand and the credentials of Mr Song. As she wrote on IG, “I know how important second and repeated chances are”.

Akinn X Sharon Au capaule is available at Design Orchard and