Battle Of The Bulge

Who showed off their pregnant body better? And is Alexander Wang cornering the market for sexed-up maternity wear?

Adriana Lima (left) on the recent Alexander Wang runway and Rihanna (right) in Alexander Wang on a night out in Santa Monica, in March. Photos: Alexander Wang and Backgrid respectively

The message these (still) pandemic days is clear: Show your face and, if you are pregnant, bare your belly. As the world witnesses, Rihanna is leading the way. Since announcing her pregnancy on social media in January, the Fenty mogul has been ramping it up on the fashion front, each outfit she shares online, more revealing—her baby bump more prominent—than the last. Now it seems that the ex-Victoria’s Secret Angel Adriana Lima, too, is following in the singer’s footsteps. At the Alexander Wang autumn/winter 2022 show, the five-month pregnant Ms Lima was outfitted in a dress with a large circular cutout, deliberately positioned to frame the stomach, as if to place the belly in an inset.

This is, of course, not the first time that Mr Wang has created skimpy maternity wear. Last month, the much-followed Rihanna appeared in a bespoke look that was attributed to the designer. It comprised of a sparkly, barely-there brassiere worn under an oversized leather jacket that was paired with a matching, very abbreviated skirt. The outfit, naturally, divided the world, whether among those fashion-bent or not. Highsnobiety weighed in with the headline: “I love Rihanna, but not her Alexander Wang maternity outfit”. It should be noted that the writer behind the the opinion piece did not dislike the outfit as much as the name that custom-made it for the star. Mr Wang had then still yet to entirely shake-off the scandal that beset him almost three years ago. Rihanna’s choice, therefore, held “complicated implications”.

The fashion press has called RiRi’s very public display of her stomach a “master class” in alternative maternity wear. And now that Mr Wang has sent out on his recent runway, a similar look to his choice for the Barbadian mother-to-be, is it indication that he will be the go-to designer for outfits that show off a pregnant bulge that some women now prefer to flaunt, uncovered? The two outfits we have seen so far are less (literally, too) maternity clothes than near-negligees that are worn to accommodate a pregnant woman’s changing body. Amid the boob-baring that other American labels are into, perhaps Mr Wang has found a new category of maternity wear, one that, similarly, uses less fabric than more. Would this, aided by his exhibitionistic expecting supporters, be what he needs to help his career recover—bare-skinned baby bump?

The Skin Show

After being accused of sexual assault in 2019, Alexander Wang makes a tacky comeback with a late, autumn/winter 2022 show

When you look at the Alexander Wang clothes now, it would be hard to connect them to his two-year stint at Balenciaga. Or, remember that he was once there. Mr Wang’s designs for his eponymous label have never truly left the parameters of streetwear and partywear. And he is taking them to no wear—clothes that are barely there, between those that hip-hop artistes need when they want to show their panties on the red carpet or their under-boobs for racier-and-racier music videos and those that actresses choose for revenge-dressing after breaking up with a high-profile boyfriend. He knows what his customers want, we have often been told. He still does, undoubtedly. But why does a designer, blamed for sexual assault (to which he initially denied, then apologised, and then privately met the accusers), return with a collection that places sex squarely in its heart, with the kind of clothes that would prompt his haters to say that the skimpy outfits encourage the behaviours that he was accused of?

Many supportive celebrities (of course, friend of the house, K-rapper CL, was there)—as well as his rabid fans—seemed unconcerned with his predatory past; they were out giving him the thumbs up for his cheesy “Fortune City”—his make-belief emporium of party-on fabulousness. Alexander Wang made a “comeback”, not in his home city of New York, but in Los Angeles, specifically in LA’s gaudy Chinatown, with neon lights for store names and for outlining the kitschy architecture of what is typical of Chinese buildings. It was earlier reported in the American media that Mr Wang was re-connecting with his Chinese heritage. In Chinatown? And what is so Chinese about this part of Central LA other than the foods and the gift shops that he was concurrently helping to promote. As before, Mr Wang’s show was really about the “WangFest”—this time, a yeshi (夜市, night market) that offered guests dim sum and, of course, bubble tea. There is, to us, something terribly lazy about tapping Chinatown and its attendant clichés, and passing that off as aligning with one’s roots.

Mr Wang is, of course, looking at Oriental aesthetics through his Chinese-American eyes, but more the latter than the former, as if pandering to Americans’ idea of what Chinese (or Asian) is. Exotic is crucial as subtext for a collection that says nothing about how he saw his ethnicity in the greater language of design. Mr Wang, born in San Francisco, is, in fact, Taiwanese, and it was the Chinatown of the American West Coast that completed the mise-en-scène of his sleaze-tinged, chinois-not collection. Reportedly, Alexander Wang (王大仁, or Wang Daren) is doing well in China, but it isn’t the fashion equivalent of noodles that he is selling to the Chinese, it is urban Americana revealing substantial skin. Tackiness, as we know, is borderless. And skin-baring is nothing new to him, but coming after February’s New York Fashion Week, his skin show was rather belated. Yet, it did not deter Mr Wang. Or was this merely deflecting from those allegations of sexual misconduct?

If you were hoping to see some rehabilitation of his image, you would be disappointed. It really bordered on the irritating to see more of those skimpy horizontal fabrics revealing much of the breast as clothing. Is there really a huge market for a bodysuit that had more body than suit? Or those ruffled halter-necked pieces exposing much of the torso that one product development manager we know called “vulva tops”? A next-to-nothing Shein has not done and will not do? Even Adriana Lima, pregnant, was mirroring Rihanna on the runway. As we have lamented before, autumn/winter is this scanty? Or, is the US really not that cold any more? Well, if you need to keep warm, you could amp up the vampiness—there are also those crotch-high boots and up-to-the-armpit leather gloves that could have been those very boots wrongly sized at sampling stage! It is truly hard to discern a takeaway from all this. BOF was right to say, “but even before the allegations, Wang’s brand was waning”. Truly, is it still cool to wear Alexander Wang?

Screen grab (top): Alexander Wang/YouTube. Photos: Alexander Wang

Ready to Forget the Baguette?

Here is the Croissant to take its place!

If you’re looking into the bread basket for the next bag to buy and are quite jelak of the Baguette, it’s really time to consider the Croissant, the nifty little cross-shoulder by Lemaire. Introduced last year, this made-in-Spain bag requires no explanation as to where it derives its name from. Rather similar to those kidney-shaped bags, this crescent delight is a sleek composition of top-stitched panels, assembled to mimic the famous French breakfast pastry. But unlike the croissant, this buttery, nappa-leather sac isn’t brittle and fat-rich, and won’t flake!

As with most Lemaire merchandise, there is a sense of craft in the way this bag is fashioned. At the two points where the handle meets the body, it is knotted on both sides, which lends the organic design a decidedly less formal and structured vibe. The bag is unisex, and fits nicely against the back or chest, regardless of the gender of the user. What we found extra appealing is how huggable the capacious Croissant is. For fans of Lemaire, there is the added appeal of its logo-less, monogram-free exterior. Just swell.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Lemaire (small) ‘Croissant’ bag, SGD1,650, is available at DSMS. Photo: Lemaire/DSMS

A Couture Retrospective In Shenzhen

There will soon be a Viktor & Rolf exhibition in the “Silicon Valley of China”. Not in Shanghai. Not in Hong Kong. And not, unsurprisingly, in Singapore

That there should be a Viktor & Rolf exhibition is not astonishing. But that it will debut in Asia with a couture-only show is rather unexpected, and in Shenzhen (深圳)—that’s stunning. The southern city, the third most populous in China, is, of course, no longer where day-trippers from Hong Kong (as well as the tourists in the Fragrant Harbour) go for cheap knock-offs of their favourite designer labels or luxury watches. Shenzhen, many residents and folks from Hong Kong and Macau will tell you, is a far cry from those sleazy days. It is now a modern metropolis, as sleek and bustling as neighbouring Hong Kong. Still it isn’t immediate that anyone would associate the city, home to Huawei Technologies, Tencent, and even Hey Tea, with high fashion, yet haute couture would not be out of place there. It would seem our little island is not Shenzhen enough to lure a Viktor & Rolf exhibition to our shores.

Dutch design duo, Viktor Horsting and Rolf Schören, discontinued their ready-to-wear line in 2015, the second European label with an haute couture atelier to do so, after Jean Paul Gaultier about a year earlier. The couture collections of Viktor & Rolf—the label is now owned by Italy’s OTB group—have not diminished in their creative strength and social influence. Although not always practical (and we love them for that!), their pieces are steeped in ideas and themes, and humour not ardently appreciated by those who prefer the relatable output of Dior or Chanel. With design concepts gleaned from van Gogh’s paintings to royal regalia to Russian dolls, the creations do often border on the fantastical and sculptural, so much so that they’d lure the attention of those with a curatorial mission for museums.

Viktor & Rolf: Metafashion is organised by Shenzhen’s Design Society (设计互联), a “platform” and a promoter of design, focused on the Chinese public. The curator of the exhibition, Pookie Lee, told the media that “Victor & Rolf holds a unique place in the history of fashion. Their work has always been a way of making clever commentary on fashion through the creation of new fashions, a dominant visual arts style and identity. The form expands the public’s perception of fashion.” Metafashion, the title, is borrowed from a 1994 Artforum review of the duo’s work by Oliver Zahm, who wrote: “The fashion of Viktor & Rolf, or better metafashion, is the equivalent of a conceptual exercise in reconstruction.”

Reading the news of this approaching Viktor & Rolf 80-looks strong exhibition, we have to admit that we are envious of the people of Shenzhen. The last fashion exhibition here of the work of European masters that we can remember was 2010’s Valentino Retrospective: Past/Present/Future, at Resort World Sentosa. So rare are shows of such calibre organised here that we often wonder if we are indeed living up to the reputation that exists among the people of southern China, especially Hong Kong: “唔係好有趣 (not interesting)”. This island is, in other words, and as it’s often said, boring.

Victor & Rolf: Metafashion, from 29 April—8 October 2022, is held at the Sea World Culture and Arts Centre, Shenzhen. Photos: Shenzhen Design Society

Two Of A Kind: Cheap Cheery Clones

And TikTok users are delighted to compare them side by side. Fashion has a new form of entertainment. Its future looks bleak

On TikTok, they love comparing their favourite brands. Left: Beatriz (Bstyle). Right: iam.awilda. Screen grabs from respective TikTokers

By Pearl Goh

Is it still flattery when a piece of clothing is a likeness of an unoriginal? Okay, we’re living in confusing times and fashion is totally stupefying. Who is able to tell brands apart these days when, for example, Gucci is hacking Balenciaga (and vice versa)? Or, Prada is looking like Adidas? But, however blurred the lines have become, surely there is no kick in buying a knock-off of a knock-off? Or has the consumption of fashion become this perverse? Something is going on that is baffling. TikTok has been sending me notifications of “versus” videos. These are of women wearing identical pieces from Zara and Shein. No, I have not been searching any of these brands and I am not on TikTok. Yet, strangely, I have been receiving notification of the existence of these lurid, goofy comparisons.

The women in these videos seem to get some kick out of juxtaposing the identical clothes, and posing as if they have found the greatest joy of life. Did they actually buy two identical garments to make these enlightening TikTok videos? I do not know. But I was burning with curiosity. Are there that many Zara lookalike clothes by Shein? When I Googled ‘Zara versus Shein’ one afternoon, the first result read: “Discover zara vs shein ’s (sic) popular videos | TikTok”. Splendid SEO at work! There was a list of ten TikTokers’ posts to look at that has already attracted a whopping “25.9B” views! I was clearly late for the show. These women know what they’re doing. Instagram has caught up too, with one Dupes Nation offering a predominance of Zara-versus-Shein photos-only posts.

Are they creating content that is deliberately not like the “haul” videos of other TikTokers?

It is hard to make out why these girls are doing this, or what they’re hoping to achieve. Are they creating content that is deliberately not like the “haul” videos of other TikTokers? Are they doing their followers a favour by showing the latter the cheaper option to buy (prices are often put up)? Are they exposing something that could be detrimental to one brand? I can’t tell. I wonder if this comparison is a real exposé when we already know that Shein has been accused of plagiarism (the TikTok hashtag #sheinstolemydesign has received 6.4M views!) and the Chinese brand has been facing copyright disputes with Dr Martens and Levi’s, according to news reports. Even smaller, indie brands are not let off the hook. Dead-ringers of Marine Serre and Cult Gaia were also shared online.

While it’s rife among some fast (and ultra-fast) fashion brands to be ‘inspired’ by others, the problem at Shein, as widely reported, is particularly more acute. Never mind that these are litigious times. The brand’s big-data approach to design means they need to also consider what sells well for others, or what styles are trending on social media. This is no longer some high-low, looking-at-the-stars product development to better position a brand—that’s so yesteryear; this is looking at one’s peers to exceed. And better still, with a lower price for the end product. These days, as fans of Shein and company will say, there is no shame in buying cheap and dressing cheap. Not at all.

Good Value: +J Tote

Once going for S$249, this bag is now available for S$49

Bags were not a main category of the now-concluded Uniqlo and Jil Sander collaboration, +J. So when this strikingly simple tote (one of two bag styles) dropped for the partnership’s final collection last November, we were rather attracted to it. Everything about the bag was really appealing, except the price. We thought that S$249 was a tad high since a wool coat could be had for less. But now with a dramatic price drop, the bag is appealing again—even more so. It is now on sale for S$49, which is after a whopping 80% discount, one of the highest markdowns that you could find in a Uniqlo store.

This black tote would be described by most as ‘smart’, as opposed to the canvas shopping bags that are very much carried these days. With the return to the office, this is the ideal replacement for a cross-body, if you are seeking not to crease the front of your shirt or blouse. In the north-south orientation, the tote’s pull is the unusual pointed vertical three edges and one that is curved. Those edges—basically where the ends of the leather panels meet at ninety degrees—are painted in navy. It may be an extremely subtle detail, but it is a detail nonetheless, and one that is appealingly only-the-user-knows discreet.

The body of the tote is coated with acrylic resin to yield a sheen that Uniqlo describes as “a glass finish”, although it does not shine as conspicuously as patented leather. Inside (lined in cotton), the tote is capacious enough for whatever you need to lug with you in the course of the day, including a small notebook. It should, however, be taken into consideration that it is rather heavy even before any content is introduced to it. Uniqlo classifies this as a bag for women, but it is really blockish and rugged enough for guys. Don’t let gender tags be your guide; let the price be.

Uniqlo +J leather tote, now SGD49, is available at select Uniqlo stores and online. Photo: Uniqlo

Zilingo In A Pickle?

The Temasek-backed start-up’s millennial CEO has been suspended, pending investigation into the company’s accounts

Ankiti Bose, the much-lauded Indian national who co-founded the fashion-tech start-up Zillingo, is “suspended” from her role as CEO, according to numerous media reports. As Bloomberg first shared two days ago, the move came after fundraising talks prompted questions regarding the company’s accounting norms. Zilingo was in discourse to “raise $150 million to $200 million… when investors began to question its finances as part of the due diligence process”, wrote the newswire. According to Reuters, “the board of Singapore-based fashion technology startup Zilingo said on Wednesday that its major investors had authorised the suspension of its chief executive and co-founder, pending an investigation by an independent firm they had hired.” Neither Ms Bose (or Zilingo or co-founder Dhruv Kapoor) spoke to the media. Her lawyer reportedly said that she declined to comment.

But the Bloomberg report and others around the region that quickly followed stated that Ms Bose disputes the assertions of wrongdoing. She believes that her suspension partly occurred after complaining about “harassment”. What nature or against who, it is not known. But Indian news outlets have quickly reported “sexual harassment against colleagues”. Anonymous sources, purported to be “within Zilingo”, revealed that the complains were levelled at “the senior team and management”. Reportedly, Ms Bose has described the investigation with Donald Trump’s favourite phrase, “witch hunt”.

Zilingo—a play on ‘zillion’ rather than anything on language and speech—has been repeatedly described by the media as “one of Singapore’s highest-profile startups”. In 2019, Bloomberg called Ankiti Bose, also the company’s media-ready spokesperson, “Southeast Asia’s tech sensation”. Glowing accolades such as “golden girl”, “symbol of SEA’s entrepreneurial potential” and “something of a legend” were frequently bandied about. Ms Bose started Zillingo when she was just 23 (for comparison, Elizabeth Holmes founded Theranos when she was 19). Originally from Mumbai and now a permanent resident of our city, she worked as an investment analyst, before establishing the company that initially aimed to give small fashion vendors without tech know-how a platform to sell.

The Zilingo pitch. Screen grab:

Zilingo, “powered” from Bengaluru (the capital of the Indian state of Karnataka, often dubbed the Silicon Valley of India), has now become very much a B2B platform (often reductively described as one that “supplies technology to apparel merchants and factories”). Simply put, if you are a fashion retailer, you could source your merchandise on Zilingo (they even offer low MOQ (minimum order quantity)—from 100 units per colour, or link you to the supplier that can). Likewise, if you are a brand owner and needs to augment your supply chain, you could use Zilingo too. At the Rise Conference 2019 in Hong Kong, Ms Bose told the audience that “what (they) do is provide end-to-end cloud platform, right from the yarn guy to the brand, cutting middlemen and providing data science, technology, and financial services across the supply chain to make them or to help them trade better with one another.”

As the popular story goes, Ms Bose went to Bangkok for a holiday in 2014 with some ex-colleagues/friends. Like most tourists, they made the famed 40-year-old retail theme park, Chatuchak Weekend Market, one of their must-see stops. And saw Ms Bose did. She was so impressed with the vast selection of things to buy that she identified a massive business opportunity to provide the small clothing stallholders a platform to sell more by connecting them to shoppers online. It is not known if Ms Bose spoke to those chaokongs, but she seemed certain that these small weekend business owners wanted to go big. Most clothiers in Chatuchak are small-time traders, selling on the weekends the market is in business. There are those who do wholesale, opening their stalls on Friday to aid that (some furniture and homeware sellers are even there daily). But on a whole, many may not require a regional platform as they are not big enough. Or, even needed to source from large factories in China or Vietnam when many clothing sellers go to Samut Prakan’s numerous small facilities for their inventory. Hitherto, it isn’t certain how many Chatuchak traders have embraced Zilingo. But with interest in Singapore and Indonesia other than Thailand, Zilingo grew, massively. Four years since its founding, the company was valued at US$970 million, deliciously close to unicorn status.

Ankiti Bose was born in Mumbai, although some reports claim Dehradun in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand. She did go to school in the capital-city, graduating in economics and mathematics, in the 153-year-old, private Catholic university St Xavier’s College, where admission is reputed to be “tough”. By most accounts, the millennial excelled academically. But little is known of her youth. Or her love of fashion then. After she graduated, she joined the management consultant McKinsey & Company and, later, the venture capital firm Sequoia Capital, working in Bangalore. Ms Bose, who often appears in media photographs heavily made up and whose social media posts are part Bollywood star, part Mumbai influencer (augmenting what CNBC called her—“a fashion junkie”), speaks very much like consumers and business executives of her generation. “Everybody uses Instagram,” she said at the Rise Conference. “An average Instagram user spends 53 minutes on Instagram everyday. So, we are constantly triggered by what we see, what we see influencers doing.” Now, with Ms Bose in the news again, many are wondering what truly triggered her sudden suspension.

Illustration (top): Just So

More Japanese Homeware To Come

Daiso has announced that they will be opening the Standard Products concept store here

Daiso’s Standard Products in Shibuya, Tokyo

Just as we predicted! Hot on the heels of the opening of Japan’s Nitori at The Heeren, compatriot retailer Daiso has shared that the company will be opening their barely-a-year-old concept store, Standard Products, here in Jurong Point, soon. First unveiled in Tokyo’s Shibuya last May, Standard Products is what Tokyoites has described as “Muji-like”, but priced to be “slightly” easier on the pocket. To be more accurate, the new Daiso store is dedicated primarily to homeware, rather than general goods that the parent chain store offers (or, Muji—a veritable department store!). If they keep to the Japanese shop’s aesthetic for Standard Product’s debut here, expect a one-step-up stylishness that might draw those who find Daiso itself too messy to navigate.

It would appear that Daiso is intending to make their presence on our island felt, intensely. They have already introduced their Threepy chain (not really discernibly different from Daiso itself) to add to the Daiso stores found in almost every corner of our city except the off-shore islands. And now, on a yet-to-be-disclosed date, Standard Products, which, like merchandise at Threepy, is not based on a single price: $2. In fact, Daiso would very soon not be associated with SG’s lowest denominator on our dollar notes. From 1 May, the retailer would be charging GST, which means, each item will soon cost S$2.14 (when the GST is 7%. Some say that the new selling price is such an inauspicious number!). It is not yet known if shoppers will, too, be charged the goods and services tax for purchases made at Threepy or, before long, at Standard Products. The extra, we’re certain, won’t deter the hordes that will no doubt turn up.

Watch this space for more information on the opening of Standard Products. File photo: Jiro Shiratori for SOTD

The 100-Billion-Dollar Question

Could Shein be the future of fashion? It’s a scary thought

Shein has been in the news again. Not for the S$10 (or less) dresses that they sell, but for the staggering US$100 billion evaluation that they have received while the “clothing giant”, as they are now called, reportedly seeks a bold US$1 billion in funding, according to a Reuters report last week. This is so major, Bloomberg described it as a “big moment“, so big that every fashion business is taking notice. For context, that makes the brand worth more than H&M and Zara… combined! Shein, as news reports are wont to remind us, is thus worth as much as Elon Musk’s Space X. That, in merchandise quantity, is mind-boggling. Shein is believed to produce between 2,000 to 10,000 SKUs (roughly meaning individual styles) for it’s e-store, according to one report by the non-profit journalism organisation Rest of World (who was researching and examining the impact of Shein in the market). One University of Delaware study revealed that between January and October of last year, Shein produced “more than 20 times as many new items as H&M and Zara”. It is reasonable that, in order to enjoy a reported US$15.7 billion of sales in 2021 based on extremely low-priced products, they need to generate more merchandise than the world’s leading fast-fashion brands.

Do people buy that much clothes? Is this the reflection of what is happening in the market? That consumers need this amount of garments to view, choose, and buy? Or, to be “entertained” by, as one 20-year-old fashion student told us when we spied her engrossed by the Shein website? That this China brand is able to continue to increase its production again and again is veritable that whatever they put out to sell are snapped up as rapidly as they are produced. Shein offers, as fans know by now and love the brand for it, fast fashion that has gained even more speed. They put out on their website (their only point of sale other than the occasional pop-ups) with such incredible speed, the merchandise is now considered “ultra-fast” fashion, or as one store buyer calls it, “bullet-train-fast”. Typically, fast fashion brands, such as Zara, request a turn around time of approximately 2,000 fresh products in 30 days. Shein is able to get manufacturers to churn “6,000 new items daily”, according to Bloomberg.

Those new merchandise do not replace the existing (perhaps some styles that are sold out or discontinued are replenished). The total amount of items available for a shopper to choose from is, therefore, mind-blowing. Department stores, once known for their breadth of merchandise, would never tie themselves down to this amount of stock. But, Shein does not technically hold what are to be sold. They use big data to get manufacturers to produce “virtually on demand”. While traditional e-commerce platforms—such as Amazon—bring retailers and brands together, Shein’s gathers manufacturers (thereby cutting out middlemen). These producers come from every corner of China. And the massive products available on the Shein website or app have an added benefit: They keep shoppers glued to their smartphone (or tablet) for far much longer than they would be on even social media. And the longer they spend their time on Shein, the more likely they will spend. And spending on Shein, just as viewing videos on TikTok, can be frightfully addictive.

Much has been said about the link between Shein and TikTok (where, two months ago, influencer Chrysan Lee drew embarrassing attention to herself and concurrently created [further] brand awareness for Shein). The clothing retailer gleans from TikTok for trends and use the site’s members/users to promote (even hawk) their wares (such as the famous “haul” videos, with the hashtag #Shein enjoying more than 29 billion views). In researching for this post, we observed the young women who would not give the use of their smartphones a break, whether on the MRT train or on a busy street as they cross it. Oftentimes, they would have on their screens the ‘content’ from these two sites. TikTok is Gen Z’s Netflix (who has time for a feature-length film when in the same amount of time, you can binge on more than 40 inane TikTok posts) and Shein is the Taobao of trendy (which does not necessarily mean nice) clothing for the fashion bargain hunter. When, on the Downtown Line one morning, we spotted a teen visibly enjoying a video touting Shein dresses, we asked her what she got out of it. She said, “Nice, mah.” What is “nice”—the clothes, the wearer, or the post? “Aiya, all nice, lah! And she very clever to dance (sic).”

If Shein on TikTok is this appealing and is enticing many viewers to then cross to the Shein site and spend, then the brand could be dancing very closely to that US$1 billion funding. And if these Gen-Zers are behind this success, are they the passionate, save-the-environment adherents that we are led to believe? Are they really aware of fast fashion’s massive and damaging impact on the planet? Do they even care? Or are there fewer Greta Thunbergs in the fashion-consuming world than we have imagined or like to believe? Fashion before environment, it would appear, is more appealing to these shoppers who have placed cheap and plentiful at the top of their priority list. According to one Bloomberg report early this year, clothes are being discarded, as we type this, at a rate of 2,150 pieces per second! Is Shein not encouraging this disposal by making their wares so irresistible to buying, and then chucking? And do their selling approach not run counter to the belief that in order for our consumption to make a difference, we need to reduce our purchasing of new apparel by 75%? Besides, what are truly Shein’s green credentials when so much of what they sell are made of environment-polluting polyester and kindred fibres?

There is talk that what Shein does is the democratisation of fashion. Talk is cheap, just like the Shein clothes. But how does this broad appeal and wide reach help Shein tackle the issues of environmental impact when sustainability is trending across the industry? And just as pertinent: how will fashion advance when an entire generation is weaned on not-made-to-last clothes that are purchased to be (largely) showed off on social media? It is disheartening to see the oftentimes grim offerings on the Shein site and to know that there are many who are proud to be associated with the brand. Whenever we see fans on social media put on pieces from their “hauls” to show how proud they are with their purchases (even clothes that are not ironed!), we can’t help but wonder if fashion is doomed. But then we remember: We used to knock blog-shops when they were the rage, but look at how far they’ve come. If Shein’s astonishing evaluation is any indication, they and their retail model are here to stay. That possibility is frightening.

Photo (top): Zhao Xiangji. Screen grabs (bottom):

Grocery Bag With A Harness

One shopping bag comes with an accessory that can allow it to be carried as a shoulder bag

By Ray Zhang

The shopping bag has been in fashion for a while now, thanks largely to Balenciaga. But it has not really caught on here. I have not seen that many people carry it, compared to, say, in Japan. In our city, the shopping bag is still associated with supermarkets or going to one. Once, I carried a Porter ‘shopper’ to meet a friend for lunch at 313@Orchard. As I left the train station, I bumped into an acquaintance who asked me, “Going Fairprice, ah?” In less then ten minutes, a neighbour I was not expecting to see, greeted me with “刚买完菜啊 (just finished grocery shopping)?” Fifteen kilometres from my flat? Since then, I have stopped using that bag.

But now I am considering this from the Japanese label John Lawrence Sullivan by the menswear designer Arashi Yanagawa. While the label, once available at a formerly fashionable Tangs, is named after the late American boxer (aka Boston Strong Boy), the clothes are less for the boxing ring than the more fashionable part of any downtown. And this shopping bag too. While you could use it as grocery bag for fresh vegetables and such, it really would not be out of place—once you slip it into the harness that comes with it—if you carry it and catch up with your mates at the now-open night spots for a lager. Or to meet a date for a night out.

At the core is the shopping bag in the identifiable shape of a grocery bag. Use it as it is and be prepared (at least here) to mistaken to have just been to the grocer’s. But, if you take the harness, made of leather and is held together by a metal ring and studs, and slip the shopper into its frame, you get almost an entirely different carrier, one that appears to have the toughness that might be synonymous with Boston Strong Boy. That it has a fetishist vibe about it is rather appealing!

I really like that the harness provides the practical option of carrying the bag over your shoulder, like you might with a tote. It is truly rather amazing that a simple idea of the harness totally transforms the shopping bag. The Japanese have offered other ideas to make the grocery carrier “two-way”, such as the inclusion of single straps looped around the two handles, but it‘s John Lawrence Sullivan’s idea I find most appealing, and desirable.

John Lawrence Sullivan shopping bag, ¥52,800 (approximately SGD570), is unfortunately available only in Japan. Get a friend to cop it at the brand’s Nakameguro store. Photos: John Lawrence Sullivan

Trunk Show: When Louis Vuitton Flaunts, Again

In 2015, Louis Vuitton showed us what they were made of through the exhibition Series 3: Past, Present, Future at Marina Bay Sands. They are back with another free exhibition; this time, with just 200 trunks

Two major-events are marked on Louis Vuitton’s global marketing calendar this month: the pop-up highlighting Virgil Abloh’s last men’s pre-fall collection in Soho, New York and the travelling show 200 Trunks, 200 Visionaries: The Exhibition, now on at Marina Bay Sands. One is to honour the brand’s most adored menswear designer and, concurrently, sell more merchandise; the other to commemorate the founder of the maison’s 200th birthday and peddle memorabilia in the form of books and notebooks. Fans of Mr Abloh would be disappointed that their hero is not getting freestanding retail salute here, but those who love free exhibitions would be delighted to visit this pop-culture homage to what is essentially an unaffordable piece of luggage, used only by those who traveled a certain way, (mostly) back in the day.

In keeping with the theme, the exhibition is housed in a purpose-built, literal pop-up in the shape of a ‘trunk’ that, in other settings, would be considered a veritable shoebox. It sits on the Event Plaza of the Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, outside the Collyer Quay/Downtown Core-facing entrance of the luxury mall, as the bigger neighbour of the dome that is the Apple Store. The blockishness stands as an effective counterpoint to the mall’s curvilinear façade that forms the backdrop, but is in line with LV’s own hard-edge Island Maison, a pebble’s throw away. Our island is the exhibition’s first international stop after debuting in Asnieres, France, at the Vuitton family home last December. When we arrived at the exhibition site last Friday, just before sundown, a disheartening queue was seen outside. Many people not in line were milling around the building, enthusiastically taking selfies/wefies as if they had just met a Kaws installation.

The second exhibit at the entranceway where a compulsory briefing is conducted

The first room, apparently also known as the “briefing room”

Although we had scored a ticket online, as well as a time slot, we decided to give the exhibition a miss. Sure, all of us were now told that social distancing “is no longer required in mask-on situations”, but we weren’t exactly drawn to a scene with a throng that appeared unconcerned by a still-raging pandemic. A blond, United College type—with the top edge of his mask sitting above his lower lip—was shouting to his friends standing near the water’s edge: “come on, it’s free!” We were told by one of the young crowd controllers that those without tickets were allowed to view the exhibition too, which, we assumed, boosted the sizeable crowd. The guy assured us that we would be given priority to enter, but we decided to come back.

And return we did. This Monday afternoon. But you would not have guessed that it was the start of the week. While the turn out was discernibly smaller than three days earlier, it was by no means insignificant. Again, we made sure to secure our e-tickets (sent to us via email), but, again, it was not absolutely necessary. When we arrived, there was a short queue at the entrance, including another adjacent line for those who just walked up to the site. In front of us was a trio of aunties, seemingly enjoying an excursion that could have been organised by their neighbourhood community club. They were visually at odds with the twentysomethings, either totting an LV bag or shod in LV sneakers.

The Warehouse (top and bottom): trunks stacked up

The waiting was surprisingly quite short. We asked one of the staffers how long we would need to finish the exhibition, and she told us that it would not take longer than 30 minutes. When we got in, we were told that we had to be “briefed”. Standing in front of two trunks—one like a dismantled coffin (by Italian architect Gsetano Pesce), the other opened to reveal a pop-out bricked birthday cake by Lego—and the adolescent chap conducting the briefing, we were reminded “not to mask off” and “not to touch the exhibits”. And then we were shown a door to his left, held ajar by another young fellow. Inside, the first room, it was dark, with a lightbox of a trunk sitting in the middle. The roughly ten people in here were all scrambling to take selfies, even when the lights were low. On all four walls, multiple texts were projected on them, among the words, three appearing together were extremely familiar: “past, present, future”.

In 2015, Louis Vuitton held their first large-scale exhibition here, also at MBS. It was called Series 3: Past, Present, Future. And part of that exhibition was also a room in which a trunk was placed in the centre. Only now, this trunk was not split lengthwise, and its content not made known. Series 3 was broader in scope as it showed significantly more of what the maison was skilled at, including actual pieces of RTW for close inspection. This time, the focus is on one item—the trunk, a piece of luggage that may be synonymous with LV, but not with modern travel. That one-item theme, in fact, recalled Chanel’s The Little Black Jacket in 2013, held in same area, down at the Art Science Museum. Although Chanel’s was really a photo exhibition of the works of Karl Lagerfeld (collectively, a massive advertising work), the idea was somewhat similar—how many ways can you reimagine one classic fashion item?

The Dreamscape (top and bottom): the weird and downright macabre are here

This exhibition is clearly designed with mass appeal in mind, just as much of LV’s merchandise is. While the contributors (not everyone is an artist or a designer) were, according to LV, “offered the trunk in its purest state, stripped of all trimmings, as a metaphorical blank canvas or vessel”, not all participants returned them in a recognisable state. Some are not even reimagined as a trunk, such as Anglo-Brazilian interior/furniture designer Hamrei’s two side tables. Or French costume designer Charlie Le Mindu’s “yoyo” made with human hair! But it was when we came face to face with Nigo’s take, wrapped in just olive-coloured canvas (“inspired by furoshiki, the Japanese art of cloth wrapping”, the Kenzo designer said), with the LV logo on one side, that we thought of the Mickey Mouse exhibition, Mickey ‘Go Local’, at Raffles City in 2018: Anything goes.

Throughout the exhibition, the moniker ‘Louis’ appears repeatedly. It is possible that many visitors are aware that LV is the initials of a real person, but are we so familiar with the eponymous founder of the label that we would refer to him on first-name basis? In fact, the exhibition is dubbed “Louis 200”, as if the man’s name has the same ring as Rihanna. Ironically, there is almost nothing to help us better acquaint ourselves with the Frenchman, who left behind only one portrait and “whose story we know only from folklore”, as LV lets on in the preface of the exhibition’s accompanying book Louis 200. This was about an inanimate object, rather than a person who once lived.

The exhibition is zoned into five ‘rooms’. At the first, we were told by a staffer that this was the “briefing room” even when the briefing was conducted at the foyer prior to entering this space. When we were shown the next room, The Warehouse, we asked one of the guides the reason behind the name, and she told us enthusiastically: “The visionaries create the trunks from scratch here.” Why not ‘The Workshop’ then? The largest number of trunks appears to be housed in this tight confine, stacked as they would be in a warehouse. Or, could this be a tomb since some of the boxes look like ossuaries? The more atmospheric space is The Dreamscape, a darker area where the exhibits are more whimsical, such as balloon artist Robert Moy’s trunk made of small “latex balloons covered in 14 coats of resin” or dead serious, such as creative director Ben Ditto’s plastic-wrapped trunk with the label ‘Infectious Waste’, going back to the cholera epidemic of the 19th century to say something of the COVID pandemic of present.

But the most popular—and the brightest—room has to be the one singular space dedicated to the biggest boy band of today: Bangtan Sonyeondan, better known as BTS, whose members often wear LV, such as at the recent Grammys. As we approached that room, we saw visitors waiting outside and wondered why. It soon became clear: It was packed. Within the space, much smaller than Jamie Chua’s walk-in wardrobe, excited female fans were scribbling on the window-facing white wall, decorated with the cartoon avatars of the band members, flanked by two with facsimiles of the drawings and scribbles that appear on their trunk, which is placed in a portrait orientation, like a headstone.

The commemorative book available at the exhibition

The last room, the only other dedicated to one contributor, houses British DJ and music impresario Benji B’s (hence, the Benji B Room) trunk, in which he had a jukebox squeezed into it. A guy stands next to it to introduce the work, including “all the songs (the DJ) has used in the Louis Vuitton shows”. This is the only “interactive” exhibit in the whole event: You can choose a track to play. We, however, did not. The giggling girls from the previous room, opening the door repeatedly to get in, got to us. Outside, we were back to where we began, less than 15 minutes ago. People were crowding around a desk, on which books related to LV and the brand’s guide to cities were up for grab. It looked more like feeding than buying time. We asked a sales assistant if there were any LV merchandise and was told to go to the store. As we turned towards the door, she said chirpily, pointing to a waist-high container with rolled-up paper in it, “Take a poster. It’s free.”

Outside, back to the heat, the three aunties who were in the queue with us earlier were organising themselves to have photographs of two of them taken by the third. They unrolled the free posters, each holding one, and posed. A security staffer suggested that they take off their mask, to which they acted immediately. Their smiles were all Liu Ling Ling-wide and the photographer was delighted. At the holding area, where queues formed, the crowd did not appear larger than what we saw earlier. While waiting to enter, we asked the crowd controller: how many visitors are permitted inside each time? “Two hundred or 240, if you include the staff),” she informed us. As we now searched the entrance to re-enter MBS, we spotted a uniform-clad Louis 200 crew approaching people walking past the al fresco bar Le Noir. She asked them, with the spirit of a flag day kid, “Want to go to the Louis Vuitton exhibition?“ In olden days, we remember, that would be considered touting.

200 Trunks, 200 Visionaries: the Exhibition runs till 27 April 2022 before travelling to Beijing next. Reserve your tickets here. Photos: Chin Both Kay

A Face Artists Love

And, purportedly, to use “without permission”. Duan Mei Yue finds herself in an unpleasant spot, again

An easy-to-paint face? Do you see the same girl? Duan Mei Yue (left); photo: Duan Mei Yue/Instagram. And her ‘likeness’ by Russian painter Angelina Poveteva; Photo*: Angelina Poveteva

Model Duan Mei Yue (段美玥) has a unique—some might say, enviable—problem. Her face is a visage so comely artists love to paint it… but without her permission, so Ms Duan has asserted, with utter disgust, on social media. Just last year, she blasted on Instagram the “unethical” use of her likeness without being asked by the Singaporean artist Alison M Low, based on a photograph of her by photographer Li Wanjie. The image later appeared on a book cover and on the floor of a Love, Bonito store as a piece of chipped cut-out. Now, another artist in, of all places, Russia(!), has seemingly given this by-now-recognisable face the treatment of the artist’s hands (she used them in place of paint brush). One Angelina Poveteva (Ангелина Поветьева) has been accused by Ms Duan of a familiar offence: painting her face, based on the said photograph, without her formal consent. Ms Duan is adamant that the subject in the painting is her.

Angelina Poveteva is a portraitist from the town of Michurinsk (named after the famed biologist/horticulturist Ivan Michurin) in the Tambov region of the Bryansk oblast (a federal subject) of Western Russia, near the border with Belarus. She is a graduate of Kochetov Children’s Art School in the rural ‘village’, as some call it, of Kochetov. Although also in Bryansk, the institution that Ms Poveteva attended is some nine hours to the west by car from her home village. It is not known how long she has been an artist or if she is pursuing art professionally. But it does appear that Ms Poveteva is partial to large-scale works. Her piece that Ms Duan took offence to is what she calls “the second in a row in the series ‘Birth’”. On Instagram, she writes: “I create understandable art”. Not quite comprehensible is the subject: why her?

Angelina Poveteva with one of her art pieces. Photo: Angelina Poveteva/Facebook

Her painting of a supposed Ms Duan is last year’s winning entry of the competition segment of the IV International Festival of Contemporary Art, dubbed ‘Artlife Fest’. Her monochromatic two-face piece, titled ‘Time to Open Your Eyes’, was among 400 works shown at the annual exhibition held in Russian capital last October, at the Moscow Manege, a 19th century neoclassical building that is also the site of Moscow Design Museum. Without revealing who the subject of her prize-winning entry is, Ms Poveteva, in a release to the local media, said: “Art for me is a path of endless development, an opportunity to learn all my life, to become better. For me, living without creativity is like living with your eyes closed.” Unfortunately for her, Duan Mei Yue had hers very much open.

Ms Duan, who, coincidentally, is now also an artist, likened Ms Poveteva’s use of her face in a for-sale nude to being traded as a trollop. She told Asiaone: “To see myself depicted naked, exhibited and sold off, I felt like I was being prostituted.” She also commented via a keenly-edited TikTok video that the “hundreds of people” who “posed and (have) taken pictures” in front of Ms Poveteva’s supposed painting of her at the Moscow art exhibition did so “like (she’s) some kind of Oriental freakshow”. This was not exactly Paris Fashion Week (or, Shanghai), and she was not draped in Dior. That TikTok video is viewed over 6,000 times in two days, as well as the 25K+ times after she shared it on IG. Some observers wondered if Ms Duan was aware she herself drew attention to a painting few would otherwise know, by a painter even fewer would be aware of, outside now-heavily-sanctioned Russia.

…“hundreds of people” who “posed and (have) taken pictures” in front of Ms Poveteva’s supposed painting of her at the Moscow art exhibition did so “like (she’s) some kind of Oriental freakshow”

It is, of course, understandable that she would be overcome by shock and anger. No woman, model or not, wishes to see a likeness of herself floating online, and, least of all, sans clothes (in that particular painting, the subject was delineated to the waist naked, with nipples shown). A depiction, even if accurate, is not necessarily flattery. In Ms Duan’s case, she deemed it a flagrant violation. And claimed she cried “for 3 hours” when she saw the images of the painting. “Before (this), I was more upset in terms of how my ambitions of being a model were being exploited,” she told OneAsia. “This time, I feel so personally violated.” It is not clear if Ms Duan’s career has been adversely impacted by the existence of this painting. Nor has she said how so. Or, if, conversely, she had augmented her fame with the strong online condemnation.

To rub salt into the wound, the portrait—Ms Duan learnt—fetched USD10,000 (we are not sure how she came to know of this selling price or if indeed it was transacted at that amount), without a cent going to her. And if that was not insulting enough, the artist denied being inspired by her photograph—first shared on IG in 2018—or even used it as a reference. To prove that she was indeed not guilty as accused, Ms Poveteva allegedly produced a photo of a woman of unknown nationality and indeterminate race, and claimed she painted the Duan Mei Yue lookalike based on this other person. Ms Duan seemed certain that the photograph sent to her as “proof” had been “photoshopped” to look like the girl in the painting. The Russian artist has set her social media accounts to ‘private’ after this confrontation.

Publicity handout of Angelina Poveteva and her painting, Time to Open Your Eyes. Photo: Administration of the City of Michurinsk

Warning: objectionable language ahead

Ms Duan also said via the TikTok post that she was 18 when the vaguely seductive, semi-sultry photo of her was taken. “To see my eighteen-year-old self being painted naked and then being paraded around like that without my consent,” she said, “shattered me.” She told her viewers that she wishes to sue the artist but had learnt that copyright laws in Russia are complicated. She told AsiaOne that she wants to be compensated and to be offered an apology by both Ms Poveteva and the art school “in charged of” the artist in question. The school is believed to be Artlife Moscow (also known as Artlife Academy), an institution that “teach(es) painting online under the guidance of famous artists” and is, interestingly, the organiser of the eponymous exhibition Artlife Fest that awarded Ms Poveteva her win last year. Ms Duan alleges that the school is “super dismissive of this whole situation”. Additionally, she hopes that “a law can be put in place to protect everyone from artists like them”.

Four days ago, Duan Mei Yuan posted on IG a painting she did of that photographic portrait artists love. It was accompanied by a two-page essay on her reason for painting herself (and berating the two artists, so far, who have “PLAIN DISREGARD TO (HER) PRIVACY AND PERSONAILTY (sic) RIGHTS”), and the original, four-year-old photo. In the comments, below the images, she fulminated (and we quote verbatim), “if you wanna use me as the cover for your art, PAY ME. I AM NOT A PICTURE, I AM A HUMAN BEING. I AM NOT SOMETHING TO PUT ON ROCKS OR NAKED TORSOS. I AM NOT TO BE VIOLATED OR TAKEN ADVANTAGE OF.


*We took the liberty to pixelise part of the image of the painting in view of public decency

Updated: 08 April 2022, 1.30pm