At the recent New York Fashion Week, Lisa Von Tang Dares to Die. Bravo?
Showing in the just-concluded New York Fashion Week, Lisa Von Tang (LVT) serves up her floozy looks at the right time. In the era of the pandemic, women, we have been told, are embracing sexy clothing as an “empowered choice”. This has nothing to do with effecting a sexual response in—well, to be woke—any sex. Women just want to look that way. And Ms Von Tang (aka Lisa Crosswhite, also Lisa Rosentreter, who formerly designed under Chi Chi Von Tang), is willing to wager that her body-hugging, cleavage-baring, navel-showing, rump-exposing, serpent-snaking fashion would find immense favour, especially in the Big Apple, where she is in the good company of like-minded designers Eckhaus Latta, LaQuan Smith, and Bronx and Banco. But, unlike the Americans, she is flashing skin under the gammy guise of Orientalism and, in doing so, ‘Dare(s) to Die’, as the 39-look collection is ominously called.
Whether that is defiance or a taunt, Ms Von Tang is clearly in a death-embracing mood. Hers is an admirable tenacity to milk Chinese motifs for all they’re worth, even when what she ends up with is mostly cheese. She has done it before (all the way back to her first store, now closed, in Scotts Square) and she’s still doing it. She is no Vivienne Tam, who has a pop sensibility, wrapped with cheeky irreverence, in the motifs chinois she employs. Ms Von Tang, who is half Chinese, has a more linear approach, sometimes mistakenly described by the media and her supporters as “authentic”. A dazzling snake has to slither down the body; its forked tongue flicked out. It can’t be placed in a more surprising manner. (We won’t attempt to understand that vulva-centred flame on a crotch! Or, is that empowered?) A slit is evocative of the qipao’s, but works like a rip. It rebuffs the Chinese belief that showing the whole knee is less alluring than a hint of the thigh. Pankou (盘扣) or frog fasteners are less decorative elements than to yield bondage effects; applied to the side of the bodice, they curiously make an outfit look constricted. “For soft, pure, spirits,” as she says on the LVT website, “who have had to deal with the brutality of the world”？
Ms Von Tang, to be sure, is proud of being half Chinese, and, according to her corporate profile, also with “Burmese, Thai and Indonesian blood in her ancient bloodline.” She, thus, wears Asia on her sleeve (LVT is an SG brand! And Ms Von Tang is a SG PR), but she tends to design from a Western standpoint, picking, as a Westerner would, those motifs considered “exotic”, forming a clichéd counterpoint to urban uniforms—such as a blouson—that she, at one time, made popular, one really modelled after the Japanese souvenir jacket. Whatever contemporary “twists” she attempts, they are tagged to the side of the hackneyed. It is, thus, tempting to compare the Mandarin-collared mini-dresses of the present collection to the archetypal Chinese restaurants’ waitress uniforms, but the effect rests somewhere between cringey costume and hooker chic that Saweetie would love.
Chineseness, it seems, is her calling card. She told the American media, “I want to do it in a way that doesn’t feel like Chinese New Year—a little more contemporary and modern”. She may have narrowly avoided CNY, but somehow the clothes have the vibe of Chinatown, not the one between South Bridge Road and New Bridge Road, but those theme-park manifestations in the hub cities of the West. “A little more contemporary and modern” is, therefore, not quite enough, even if they are tethered to the punkish, clubby, and ‘fierce’. Bodysuits unattached at the crotch (there’s also a super-abbreviated one!), OG (the store!)-worthy glittery leggings, skinny satin pants with criss-cross chains(?) across the stomach, bags-as-harnesses (part 1017 ALYX 9SM, part Virgil Abloh for Louis Vuitton?), and cheap-looking crystal danglies for straps and such have the whiff of the death of design savvy. It really might be a tad better if Lisa Von Tang dares to live.
Photos: Lisa Von Tang