She Did It Too

Madonna did not change her face; she covered it

If Madonna is doing it, there is a possibility that women, even not a celebrity, would be adopting the full face mask, too. In a recent outing with her son David Banda in New York City, the pop star showed her much changed face covered with a full-lace headgear that exposed only her eyes and mouth. Although not quite as severe as Kim Kardashian’s take on the look that Demna Gvasalia conceived for Balenciaga, it is face fashion that is expected to take off massively, even if the look is thought to be intimidating. The balaclava’s popularity is of such great potential since Ms Kardashian made a statement with it at the Met Gala last year that even Gap has allowed Kanye West to introduced it for Yeezy Gap under the guise of a further collaboration with Balenciaga—the brand that appears to be ruling the world.

That Madonna, after making sure everyone is familiar with her new young face, is willing to have it nearly completely covered is indication of the power of the extreme end that fashion endears itself to these days. But while Madonna’s whole head is covered, she is not that unrecognisable, just as Ms Kardashian is not indistinguishable when completely suited up. The balaclava may obscure the face, but it does not blank out the personality under it. We know it is Madonna (although, to be certain, her face mask was not that hardcore since it was made of openwork fabric). What surprised us was not the encased head, but the extremely baggy tracksuit that the author of Sex wore—Balenciaga X Adidas, no less. Was it to better co-ordinate with her son David in a Gucci X Adidas T-shirt dress?

The drastically different ends that women stand in terms of fashion are thought to be the opposing reactions against the pandemic that has deprived many the opportunity to dress up, to express, especially publicly. So either go nearly nude or totally covered. Clothes are now mere shreds of fabric or a complete bale. Anything in-between is too old normal, too ancien, too dull. Our avatar is no longer an online proxy. It is here among us, tangible and tantalising. We really do not need the metaverse to reshape fashion. It is already happening in this protoverse.

Photo: madonna/Instagram

A Career Dee-stroyed?

The ex-radio deejay and now-quiet YouTube/TikTok star Dee Kosh pleaded guilty to the charges of sexual offenses involving teenaged boys. If he still enjoys Watching Cringey TikTok Videos, it is possible he would be doing so from behind bars

Warning: This post discusses a subject matter that may not be suitable to young readers

In his second last post on Instagram in August 2020, Dee Kosh blurbed the next instalment of his Watching Cringey TikTok Videos YouTube broadcast. The theme was “Gross Guys Galore!?” Three days later, he had to share a lengthy post on IG to deny the charges of sexual relations with minors levelled against him through social media, negating the possibility that he, too, might have been a fellow of rank behaviour. “Men have a tendency to be over-confident,” he said in the introduction to that video post, in full makeup. The YouTuber knew what he was talking about. In that firm rejection—a second, in fact—of the by-then very public accusations, he wrote, “Today I stand before you to account for my actions.” And then came the certitude: “Some of the allegations baffled me because they were baseless and untrue”, before, just as bafflingly, accepting “that there is truth to some of the things which are being said now, and I am sorry to the people I have hurt in the process.”

Today, in court, there was no reversal to that admission. But we already knew that it would be so since January, when his lawyer notified the court that the accused would be pleading guilty. Many on social media had already said that it is unlikely that he could be totally innocent. Appearing before the district judge as Darryl Ian Koshy, he did not challenge the seven sex-related offences that were raised before him: He marked three guys between the ages of 15 and 23 (at that time of the misdeeds) for sexual gratification, offered to pay them between S$400 and S$2,000, and made an obscene film by recording himself and a man in “a sexual act”, reported to be onanistic and oral. According to the news, the other four charges “will be taken into consideration for sentencing on July 28”.

In one photograph published online by CNA, Mr Koshy wore a printed, blue and white camp shirt to the State Courts. He appeared to have put on weight, and looked, even with mask on, surprisingly older than his 33 years of age. The shirt, one stylist told us, “is uncle”. It did look like it might have been bought at CK Department Store. Mr Koshy has, through the years, cultivated an image of unmistakable street cool. His attire today was, therefore, unexpected. So youth-centric and pop-relevant he was that, in July 2020, he even wore a hoodie with the phrase emblazoned in the back: “TEAM WANG”. It could be now seen as prescient. American designer Alexander Wang was accused in December 2019 of sexual misconduct by a British model who claimed that he was groped by Mr Wang during a concert at a New York nightclub in January 2017 (other accusations soon followed). While both cases are different (the latter not concerning the below sixteen), they involved behaviors that could be understood to be predatory, since the advances were unsolicited. Was the possibly like-minded Mr Koshy showing sympathy and support for the designer?

According to CNA, “if convicted under the Children and Young Persons Act for attempted sexual exploitation of a young person, he could be jailed for up to five years, fined up to S$10,000 or both.” And if “found guilty of communications for the purpose of obtaining sexual services of a minor, he could be jailed for up to two years and fined. The penalty for making an obscene film is a jail term of up to two years and a fine of between S$20,000 and S$40,000.” With the possibility of jail term, could this be the end of Mr Koshy’s career and the gila antics of Ria Warna? Or, Xiaotina? The online star had, no doubt, normalised brash queerish humour and fans appreciate and adore him for that. One of them wrote on IG last year: “I’m still hoping you will upload videos on youtube soon. It’s been boring without your videos. I hope that things get better on your side an you can come back to yt asap”. If the comeback of Alexander Wang is any indication of how easily and quickly people forget past transgressions of the famous, this fan’s hope may not be dashed.

Illustration (top): Just So. Photo: deekosh/Instagram

In Paris, Finally

Two years after she was named the winner of the inaugural Singapore Stories competition, Carol Chen showed a small collection in Paris last March. She said, it was “40 years in the making”. A worthwhile wait? And for whom?

Carol Chen (right) with a model on the runway in Paris

There is a stark difference between “show(ing) during Paris Fashion Week” and presenting a collection as part of the PFW calendar, set by the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode (FHCM), or, as it is popularly referred to in English, the French Fashion Federation. Carol Chen (陈慧敏), the Taiwanese-American whose eponymous label is referred to as a “Singaporean brand”, was careful to describe her debut in Paris as the former. Last March, a month before our COVID restrictions were lifted, Ms Chen participated in a fashion show in the French capital that was part of her prize, promised to her by organiser of Singapore Stories 2020 , the Textile and Fashion Federation (TaFF), that included a “retail collaboration with (the store) SocietyA”, as well as “one of the winning looks displayed in the contemporary gallery at Asian Civilisations Museum alongside renowned designers in #SGFashionNow”, and cash. In an Instagram entry before the presentation in The Westin Paris, she wrote that the “show is for Singapore, the country that made this opportunity possible and inspired me to design again”.

While that dedication might arouse pride among those waiting here for the next Andrew Gn to emerge, it was a tad misleading with regards to who organised the multi-label show or if TaFF was actively involved. Although Ms Chen and her segment were “sponsored” (or “supported”; she used the words interchangeably) by TaFF (the Federation had initially made clear—“airfare and accommodation not included”), she was in Paris as “Singapore’s representative for FD Paris fashion show during Paris Fashion Week 2021 (the presentation was postponed to this year due to the pandemic)”, as stated in the TaFF website. But what is the cryptic “FD” event that TaFF mentioned? After the competition, it became clear that FD is Fashion Division, a Jakarta-based organisation that is “the first International Fashion Career Center, redefining Fashion Learning by adapting French education system”, their website tells us. FD also organizes fashion shows (primarily) in Paris to coincide with PFW for designers of the region since 2019.

Carol Chen was the only Singapore-based brand at the FD fashion show, which primarily featured Indonesia labels selected and presented by Gerakan Ekonomi Kreatif Nasional (GEKRAFS) or National Creative Economy Movement of the archipelago to our south. It is not clear what the relationship is between GEKRAFS and TaFF, if any, or why there was a need to ride along with the Indonesians (including, curiously, the graduates of Bina Nusantara University, a private institution in greater Jakarta, as well as those from Lasalle and Ciputra, Surabaya). How the participation of Ms Chen, an American representing our nation, jibbed with GEKRAFS’s mission is not quite clear either. Further diminishing the SG presence, Ms Chen, who identifies as “hustler, designer, adventurer”, chose to work with Malaysian stylist Cho Wee Chee and New York jewellery designer Zameer Kassam (also the creator of her engagement ring). As it was at its inception, Singapore Stories were now told abroad through others, too. Could these be the individuals that Senior Minister of State Sim Ann, in describing the forces behind Singapore Stories, called “people who all care about the advancement of Singapore fashion”? The more caring non-natives?

After her win in 2020, Carol Chen told Vogue Singapore, whose publisher Bettina von Schlippe is often identified as Ms Chen’s “mentor”, in an editorial that she would launch her “first full collection during the most iconic week in fashion“. However full it was, only 10 looks were shown in Paris—one of them incomplete, or, as it appeared, missing a top. The model’s arms were sheathed to the biceps in opera gloves, but her body from the waist up was totally bare (save two strands of sparkly necklaces), so much so that she had to cup her breast during her entire saunter on the runway. The arms with the gloves that matched the waistband of the embroidered full skirt could be a substitute for a top (or bralet?). That is a presumption. But, Ms Chen could have forgotten to bring that garment since a bare torso was not a recurring theme. One other top (gowns dominated the show)—a wide band-as-boob-cover that strapped the arms to the body—had an unfortunate identity crisis: was it a bandage that failed as a bandeau?

The modestly-numbered autumn/winter 2022 collection, titled Florescence, was purportedly inspired by Gardens by the Bay, although it was hard to tell. In Ms Chen’s own words, it “depicts a futuristic world in bloom and the hope of a brighter future as the country (SG, of course) emerges from the pandemic to blossom again” (it is not immoderate to think that Ms Chen’s popularity at TaFF is attributed to her ability to gush with such propagandist gems). By “futuristic”, it could be assumed that she was referring to the metallic fabrics used, rather than any cutting-edge representation of clothing that might provide the viewer with a glimpse into the hereafter. The bi-coastal designer (the US is still home, and to which she also dedicated the show. It is, she wrote on IG, “the country that made [her] believe anything is possible”) is partial to visual tangles that correspond with Americans’ love for bigness. Colorado-born Ms Chen grew up in Texas, and spent time in Mississippi, too. All three southern states are not exactly known as fashion states. But, Ms Chen was certain to carry the US flag in Paris, offering what could be considered American-style prom fluff—gowns that tend to inch the viewer closer to cringe.

By “futuristic”, it could be assumed that she was referring to the metallic fabrics used, rather than any cutting-edge representation of clothing that might provide the viewer with a glimpse into the hereafter

Ms Chen seemed to design with the aim of resigning the fate of her gowns to her store Covetella (“Singapore designer dress rentals”), which is, as stated on their website, “currently closed”—it is, in fact, shuttered in November 2020. If the show pieces did not generate buyer interest, she could easily put them out to renters, with or without a shop. According to a 2020 Business Times report, our island’s clothing rental/subscription business amounts to some “US$3.9 million (or about SGD5.3 million) a year”, and growing. Ms Chen is known to supplement her Covetella stocks with her own designs. In 2017, she told Forbes that “Covetella gives you the true ‘Cinderella’ experience”, presumably with the fairy godmother (Billy Porter’s Fab G?) rather than a generator of cinders. The name she chose is a conflation of covet, to have inordinate desire, and Ella, generally a woman’s name and also, perhaps intentionally, the English moniker of the latter-day telling of The Glass Slipper folk tale.

It is not imprecise to say that her own label similarly provides the fairy-godmother-spun, off-to-the-prince’s-ball fantasy: Gowns to twirl in, and attract the attention of whoever, if not the targeted suitor. A former beauty queen (‘Miss Scholastic Achievement’ at the Miss Asian American 2004 and Miss Chinatown USA in 2005, and Miss San Francisco in 2006), the 40-year-old is partial to pageant pomp—and frippery. As she often recounts to the media, it was during a trip back to Texas to visit her parents that her mother alerted the daughter to the stash of gowns (nearly 100, it has been said) that were kept: Mrs Chen wanted to get rid of them. Rather than discard her beloved dresses or relegate them to, say, Thrift Town in Austin, the fashion entrepreneur brought them back to gown-starved Singapore and Covetella was born. “A knack for the evening wear business”, as she proclaimed, no doubt aided the birth.

Although her winning the top prize of Singapore Stories may have suggested that Ms Chen was a design novice, she was, at that time, a born-again designer. In the mid-2000s, after graduating from Barnard College (Columbia University) in psychology and economics, she decided to realise a “childhood dream (she) had forgotten”: To be a fashion designer. So rather than embark on a summer business program at Stanford, where she was accepted, she enrolled at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in San Francisco (it is not known what she studied). She worked in fashion after leaving school, but found—somewhat belatedly—that the couture that she loved “isn’t very scalable”.

She then decided to start her own line: C.C. Couture, which, at its height in 2007, was, as she regaled BT in 2020, retailed through 300 doors. But that soon met with an end when the 2008/2009 economic downturn struck, a neat confluence of the bursting of the US housing bubble and the global financial crisis. (Interestingly, she did not abandoned the label. The alliterative name is now spelled out: Carol Chen Couture). C.C. Couture, as our friends in the US tell us, can still be found in discount stores. The economic gloom did not deter her. Keen to remain in the clothing industry, she went into partnership with a family friend from Texas to produce cheerleading uniforms in China. A former cheerleader herself, the business seemed sensible to go into, but the Texan soon found out that life in Donguan (东莞, an industrial city in Central Guangdong), where the factory was based and where she lived, was not one without its “challenges”.

She worked in fashion after leaving school, but found—somewhat belatedly—that the couture that she loved “isn’t very scalable”

There is a discernible linearity in Ms Chen’s professional fashion adventure, from pre-college to the present. Pageant and cheerleading fashions are for show, worn before an audience. They have to be conspicuous, if not ostentatious. She does not play down these qualities in her couture, possibly drawing from her own experience as a wearer (and collector) of such gowns. One of a kind is the best descriptor, and the kind, if not in the pageant context, falls between The Star Awards (红星大奖) and the bridal packages that can be found on Tanjong Pagar Road. Her finale gown (top) in Paris, with the puffed and elevated shoulders that were evocative of Viktor & Rolf’s recent haute couture, and swirls of fabrics sweeping the ground, has been described as “amazing”, a superlative frequently uttered in beauty contests, many a time euphemistically.

Ms Chen wrote on Instagram before her presentation, “To show at any of the Big Four Fashion Weeks would already be incredible, but to debut at (sic) Paris is something I never could have imagined.” Few of her 28.9K followers on IG would notice the possible implication of that statement. Ambiguity aside (and therein, possibly lies the problem), those unfamiliar with PFW proper may think that organisers Fashion Division was participating in the FHCM event. FD’s Paris office had to issue a memo (also shared on IG) that they were “*allowed* (asterisks included) to organise events during Paris Fashion Week, including mentioning it. (They) can’t, however, mention that (they) are part of the official schedule, but rather OFF (in full caps) schedule.” Whether that was a blow to the show’s prestige, or the participants’ pride, it is hard to conclude. It is understandable that Carol Chen was elated that her clothes enjoyed the rarefied air of Paris during PFW. The question that is more pertinent: Would she return? With Covetella now shuttered, perhaps. Or would she, like others before her, be a one-season pony?

Photos: carolchenofficial/instagram

Ready To Be Totally Covered?

Yeezy Gap is putting out versions of the Balenciaga cover-alls, affordably. Fans can rejoice!

Kim Kardashian is no longer required to serve as walking preview of Balenciaga (and has stayed away from looking all wrapped up), now that she has discovered the Jean-Louis dress that Marilyn Monroe wore. Or, re-loved the Dolce & Gabanna sexed-up, body-con one-pieces that she donned to her sister Khourtney’s flashy wedding to Travis Barker. She has moved away, but that does not mean that the strange path she has paved would not be trodden. Probably certain that Ms Kardashian is a trend setter (even if one held by the hand), Yeezy Gap—conceived by her former husband Kanye West, and now “engineered” by Balenciaga (namely Demna Gvasalia)—has put, in the second release of the limited-edition capsule, two items that could have been part of the line sheet of the recent Balenciaga cruise collection.

The full facemask and the bodysuit that covers hands and feet would encourage copywriters to call them “Kim Kardashian-approved”. The three-name brand does not say what fabrics are used for the two items, but it is safe to assume that a synthetic stretch textile, such as spandex, is employed. Like what was seen at the Balenciaga show last week, the facemask is designed to obscure the whole head (including the neck), except, unsurprisingly, the eyes. At less than SGD100 a piece, it could be a good Balenciaga substitute should you wish to look like Spiderman Noir (or Spider-Girl). The bodysuit—for women only—comes with attached socks and gloves for neck-to-toe obscuring, but, this version, not entirely. At the back is a large circular opening that seems larger than that at the neck. Could this be for getting into the garment since there is no fastening detected on any other part of the one-piece?

Kanye West and Demna Gvasalia appear determined to conquer the world with their bleak aesthetic. And Yeezy Gap has been selling well (or sold out, as we understand it) since the debut of the first piece, the ‘Round Jacket’. Mr West told Vogue early this year that it was a “a vision come true to work for Gap and Demna… to make incredible products available to everyone at all times.” While it is understandable why both men wish to cover both ends of the fashion market, it is not so clear why anyone would desire the two above pieces “at all times”. But it is hard to say. We live in a present that is at its most diametrical: dress nearly nakedly or totally covered. Forget the in-between.

Yeezy Gap Engineered by Balenciaga facemask, SGD60, and bodysuit, SGD450, are available online at Yeezy Gap. Product photos: Yeezy Gap. Photo illustration: Just So

Old-School, Yes!

They are not your plain white plimsolls, but neither are they some overwrought monstrosity

By Shu Xie

As sneakers become more outrageously styled, such as the Balmain B Bold, or the new, ridiculously hammered Balenciaga Paris sneakers, which are sold “destroyed”, I find myself gravitating towards simpler silhouettes that are undoubtedly pristine. I mean, shoes will get soiled eventually, even when you have a solid rotation in place. Okay, may be not soiled, but definitely scuffed. I know mine do. Perhaps, it’s also my tendency to attract those who love stepping on my feet. Sure, social distancing is, regrettably, no longer required, but must people come this close? Which also explains why I have no love for all-white sneakers. Not one bit. But I am easily attracted to those that are off-white (colour, not brand!) or cream, or shades of stone, from pebble to pumice.

Such as this pair by Novesta. This is from the Slovak brand’s Marathon Trail silhouette, a shoe that is much appreciated by aficionados of the decidedly old-school, such as the Loewe Flow Runner. It is essentially a running shoe with the ruggedness of a trail shoe and attended all-terrain outsole in a neat little package that has more than a whiff of retro. In fact, Novesta would be quick to say that this particular style is reminiscent of kicks produced during the era of Czechoslovak, the former sovereign state of Czech and Slovak in Central Europe.

Fans of vintage-y European running shoes, such as I, would be happy to know that Novesta, other than its exotic provenance, is linked to another major name in footwear that, too, has links to Czech and Slovak: Bata (yes, that Bata). In fact, Novesta was conceived by Jan Antonin Bata, one of the three siblings that founded The Bata Shoe Company in 1894. Till today, Novesta shoes are produced entirely in Europe, with some in Partizánske, the town where the brand began. Most of their shoes are low-key and low-tech, which lend their output immediate appeal.

The shoe’s main allure to me is its surprising lightness. The upper is made of mesh and suede, with unfussy overlays, including the contrast ‘pine’ that stretches from the eye-stays and laces to the collar and then the heel. This truly seals the deal for me. It continues to speak to my eagerness with its not-too-narrow toe box that is slightly rounded, and that striking underscore of the toothed outsole. In sum, the pair would encase my foot for a long while to come, on track or trail.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Novesta Marathon Trail in beige-pine, SGD189, is available at Goodluck Bunch. Photo: Zhao Xiangji

The Previews Of Balenciaga’s Cruise 2023

Kim Kardashian is a fan of Balenciaga and a friend of Demna Gvasalia. Since August last year, she has been helping the brand and its créateur preview what would become the key look of the current Balenciaga cruise collection

All covered. (Clockwise from top left): Kim Kardashian at the Met Gala in September 2021, three days earlier, a possible sneak peak at what she was to wear, the earliest head-to-toe body suit in August 2021, and in Prada, February this year. Photos: kimkardashian/Instagram

The recent Balenciaga cruise 2023 showed how “terrifying” the world that we currently inhabit is when Demna Gvasalia sent out models with latex head/face coverings that were once associated with luchadors (Spanish for masked pro-wrestlers). Every one of them on the runway in the New York Stock Exchange had their faces completely covered (some even their eyes when sunglasses were worn) as if they were performing in a wrestling ring. While this obscuring of the face became the talking point (more than the clothes, except those from the collab with Adidas), it was not without precedence in the shifting shape of pandemic-era fashion. In fact, Kim Kardashian has been ahead of the curve. With the help of Mr Gvasalia and—no less—her ex-husband Kanye West, Ms Kardashian availed herself as model experiment to push Mr Gvasalia’s ideas of representing the world’s multi-form terror, including, possibly in fashion.

Ms Kardashian made the most news when she showed up like an apparition, all black and ghostly and faceless, at last year’s Met Gala in a Balenciaga get-up. She stole the show. No omelette dress could come close to the stark spectral showiness. Despite its news-making outcome, Ms Kardashian told Vogue in February this year that she “fought against it”. It is understandable that she would. “Why would I want to cover my face?” The reality star is known primarily for her leave-nothing-to-the-imagination outfits. This total cover-up was more extreme than what the Taliban would have expected. According to her, “Demna and the team were like, ‘This is a costume gala. This is not a Vanity Fair party where everyone looks beautiful‘.“

The reality star is known primarily for her leave-nothing-to-the-imagination outfits. This total cover-up was more extreme than what the Taliban would have expected

Her reluctance, while comprehensible, is puzzling too. In August last year, a month before the Met Gala, she shared on Instagram a photo of her in a Balenciaga all-covered look, seen at a Donda event (she even had her kids with her). Three days before her appearance on the stairs of the Met, she was out in an outfit that would turn out to be very similar to those revealed at the Balenciaga cruise show. Was she already wearing the sample pieces then? After she debuted as host on Saturday Night Live, looking upholstered, Ms Kardashian was photographed in a set of hot pink coveralls, with her face again obscured (even the heels attached to the legging are by now familiar), suggesting that breathing, for her, seemed increasingly secondary. Close to half a dozen (or more) similar outfits were noted. In the business of digital gadgets, what she did would be considered “leaks”.

Even the Balenciaga autumn/winter show, despite its visual commentary on the Russo-Ukrainian war, did not give a clue of the reflection of terror to come, or total face covering. While Mr Gvasalia is not known for the bare-skin sexiness associated with, say, LaQuan Smith, his latest proposal for Balenciaga is the total opposite of sartorial emancipation, the antithesis of free-the-nipple enthusiasm, and contradiction to the believe that women really want to show more skin and exaggerated makeup, a la Julia Fox. Or, is this a sign that Mr Gvasalia never left the sphere of irony that he built, one that could be traced to the halcyon days of Vetements? Now that covering half the face is commonly seen, is the total concealment of the head the next new normal? Balenciaga would be truly prescient then.

Louis Vuitton Men’s, Post-Virgil Abloh

A cruise line without the brand’s most-adored menswear designer. Finally. Is anything missing?

At last, a men’s collection not associated with the late Virgil Abloh. But is it really? The cruise or resort (take your pick) 2023 season is not helmed by a single designer. No one has been selected to fill Mr Abloh’s Air Force 1s—not even rumoured to have. According to press notes that LV shared, the latest collection is “conceived” by the house’s favourite designer. Mr Abloh is known to work way ahead of schedule and for his habit of keeping visual notes on what he would do for upcoming seasons. Still, it is not unreasonable to assume that the LV men’s studio would have exhausted whatever Mr Abloh left behind by now, but apparently there has been enough materials and ideas that could be “carried out by the creative teams and collaborators with whom he continually worked at Louis Vuitton”, so much so that they could even discern a “coming-of-age theme”.

That LV wants Mr Abloh’s name linked to the brand for as long as possible isn’t hard to grasp. Mr Abloh was not only LV’s most successful menswear designer, he was their most popular. Since his death last November, there were not only posthumous shows (three now!) or “memorials”, as some call it; but tributes (including store windows); in-store/pop-up events; and the current Nike X Louis Vuitton Dream Now, a fancy, hologram-aplenty exhibition in Brooklyn, New York. We don’t remember any brand, in recent years, so ardently protracts the legacy and memory of a design employee, not even Chanel, following the death of the more prolific Karl Lagerfeld. Mr Abloh was often compared to Mr Lagerfeld, but it is the Off-White founder that is being so eagerly and extensively memorialised.

This is rather a filler collection, one not only for the in-between season, but also for the rudderless interim. Fashion’s success is presently so tethered to a living name (or one in living memory) that the clothes have to sport more than a trace of the aesthetical cheer raged by individuals of the recent past. Virgil Abloh’s hand may not be in the pieces, but the handwriting is not indistinct. And the styling retains the Blackness that he had introduced and was lauded for. One of Mr Abloh’s talents was his flair with using logograms and such conspicuously, which no doubt delighted his employer. This season, that surfeit of identifiable symbols and text, monograms and the Damier check, is augmented by the late designer’s love of cartoons, font play, and patterns—this time, musical notation. The outright branding exercise allows for minimal design push that might be considered curiosity-arousing (put aside, for now, ground-breaking). This is not the LV resort for women.

Surprisingly, there are so few skirts—just two out of the 43 looks. Mr Abloh had made non-bifurcated bottoms, even if belatedly, key to his brand of forwardness for LV, so their cutback is unexpected. It is not known how many skirts for men are sold to date, or how popular they are, but the reduction in quantity now might indicate that the skirt adoption among their customers may not be as high as their increased presence during Mr Abloh’s tenure suggested. For now, the collaboration with Nike will (in fact, has) be in the spotlight, encouraging frenzy and the very real boom in the resale market. Mr Abloh always did know that bombastic sneakers boost brand bottom line. Louis Vuitton is unlikely to change that.

Photos: Louis Vuitton

A Branded Wedding

Kourtney Kardashian married Travis Barker in Italy, at a lavish, “sponsored” event. A win-win for the Kardashian family and the fashion house—Dolce and Gabbana

American bride and groom in Italy: Kourtney Kardashian and Travis Barker, outfitted by Dolce Gabbana. Photo: kourtneykardashian/Instagram

At the Balenciaga cruise 2023 show, staged on the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange last Sunday morning, one supporter/model of the house was conspicuously not present: Kim Kardashian. The SKIMS founder was MIA because she was unable to attend; she was in Italy, specifically the resort town of Portofino, to witness sister Kourtney Kardashian tie the knot with fellow Californian, the Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker. According to media reports, the wedding was to be a weekend-long affair. As expected, the paparazzi attended too (including the fashion photographer Ellen Von Unwerth), ensuring that the Kardashian-Jenner clan in attendance was well shot. For a celebratory occasion, the family members, expectedly, were bedecked to the nines, and tens. Kim Kardashian was not in a semblance of a head-to-toe bodysuit; she was her usual Instagram-worthy self: Sexy. As more photos emerged with accompanying credits, it became obvious that the wedding turned out to be a resort-wide fashion show for a single brand: Dolce and Gabbana (D&G).

Soon, talk emerged that the bride and groom’s big day was “sponsored” by the Italian label, so were the outfits of the couple’s guests. According to an opus of an “exclusive” in the Daily Mail’s digital edition, MailOnline, Dolce and Gabbana and the couple agreed to “a deal set to give millions of pounds worth of free publicity to (the) controversy-hit luxury fashion house”. D&G was embroiled in a series of scandals pertaining to their opinions, as well as their marketing exercises that, in one case, angered an entire nation: China. It is not clear if the brand’s image has been totally salvaged, even when they are still the go-to label among attention-adoring film and pop stars, and revered by journalists such as Suzy Menkes. According to a report by CNN last June, “D&G is still struggling to win back China”, and their store count in the world’s most populous nation dropped to 47 from 58 (before the fallout). But things did pick up, modestly. In March, Dolce and Gabbana opened in Shanghai’s CITIC Pacific Plaza, giving the total in China a boost by one. Jing Daily shared that by the final quarter of this year, D&G would “open new men’s, women’s, and junior stores in fashionable Chengdo”, quoting the brand’s group communication and marketing officer Fedele Usai: “The company has always carefully paid attention to the potential and demand coming from emerging areas (of China).”

It is not clear if the brand’s image has been totally salvaged, even when they are still the go-to label among attention-adoring film and pop stars

It is conceivable that the brand still needs some help, and that the Kardashian-Jenners could be crucial to D&G’s protracted rehabilitation. A D&G-branded wedding for one of the world’s most recognisable family-brands could be the genius stroke in getting the visibility of the meretricious fashion raised, further. But a spokesperson for D&G denied that any sponsorship was offered, telling Business of Fashion that the former was merely “hosting this happy event”. MailOnline said that they “can reveal that the Italian fashion house has been closely involved in organising every aspect of the lavish wedding celebrations”. Apart from outfitting the attendees of the wedding, D&G reportedly had the couple stay in a mega-yacht—the Regina d’Italia, believed to be owned by Stefano Gabbana. The entire entourage was ferried to the wedding venues in Portofino—the L’Olivetta, a villa owned by Dolce & Gabbana and the 16th-century castle Castello Brown—in luxury speedboats by the Italian yacht builder Riva. Published photographs showed the vessels furnished with D&G accessories including cushions, throws, and towels in the house’s flashy animal prints or colourful clash of patterns (think: the D&G X Smeg home appliances). On land, a pop-up store, Galleria d’Arte, offered D&G merchandise for the wedding guests needing to buy a gift or memorabilia, as well as for tourists gathering to watch the Americans-marrying-in-Italy spectacle.

At the prop-like altar, the bride wore a white mini-dress that was unambiguously corset-meets-negligee. It spoke volumes when the the dress was staggeringly shorter than the cathedral-length veil. All around and beyond, it was an orgy of Dolce & Gabbana frocks (including the matriarch Kris Jenner’s one alto moda fluff among other gaudy outfits worn throughout the celebration) and suits, including the children’s. Theme: Italian OTT. D&G’s willingness and eagerness to caparison the whole clan was consistent with the founders’ love of la famiglia and the brand’s repeated depictions of multi-generational families in their advertising. It was reported that this massive exercise was “a first for the luxury and marketing industry”. Those who follow influencers on social media would know that a sponsored wedding is not unusual, although by one brand for practically the whole shebang is less so. In a Dolce and Gabbana/Kardashian-Jenner tie-up, it is hard to discern who needed the publicity more, but there is, in our present day, no such thing as too much hoopla and attention to selves. The brand and the family needed each other, and therein we find the contrived, even crazy happy ending.

Balenciaga Is Bullish

Demna Gvasalia showed his Balenciaga cruise show at the New York Stock Exchange to the suggestion that the brand’s strength is still on the rise. More face/body obscuring looks, anyone?

On Friday, the day before the New York Stock Exchange closed for the weekend, during which Balenciaga could prep for their show on Sunday morning (New York time), Wall Street teetered disconcertingly to the rim of a bear market. The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq both showed figures that were their seventh straight week of losses—their most protracted defeating streak since the end of the dotcom bubble in 2001. But inside the NYSE two days later, the mood was rather different, bullish even. The Balenciaga cruise show was staged here, on the trading floor, with their attendant screens ominously flashing what appeared to be trading numbers, as if hackers had struck. Some screens showed the logos of enterprises as diverse as The Disney Company and Pfizer. Whether this was a commentary on wealth or greed, it is hard to say. Or a vote of confidence in the US market? The music pulsing through the space was not the usual clatter of a trading day. Rather, it was urgent techno thrust (there was the opening bell, of course) sandwiched between what sounded like Carey Mulligan’s rendition of New York New York on the 2012 film Shame.

But it was not guilt or humiliation that emanated from the models’ totally obscured faces, via full-cover masks or bodysuits. It was a show of terror. Or, as Demna Gvasalia said to the media, “We live in a terrifying world, and I think fashion is a reflection of that.” On a regular trading day, we doubt anyone so extremely covered would be allowed into the NYSE building, let alone the trading floor. But there they were, in full-face/head masks, not mere balaclavas, strutting to the pulsating beat, like a bunch of rookie robbers filing into a bank to execute a heist. Or, walking mannequins. Has fashion become so visibly accessible and democratic that we must now obscure the wearer’s very being in order to stand out, and be apart from every pretty face on social media? Or do we now have to look macabre and menacing (even pussy bows could not soften the looks) to forge an elegance that’s so terrifying that fashion can be really reckoned?

By now, what Mr Gvasalia proposes for Balenciaga is, of course, not frightening. Or even threatening. His severe aesthetics have, after all, survived the red carpet. At the Met Gala last year, Kim Kardashian, you’ll remember, “rewrote the red carpet’s rules” (were there any?), according to Vogue, when she appeared in a Balenciaga-conceived, (literally) head-to-toe outfit that covered every centimetre of her unmistakable body. Three days earlier, she, too, was just-as-encased in a leather bodysuit with attached face/head cover under a matching trench coat. If Ms Kardiashian, who has no qualms about baring her body publicly, would be willing to be so tightly sheathed, it is possible that many women would just as gladly be so utterly covered. So Balenciaga, anticipating its influence, put out similarly wrapped looks for its latest collection. The clothes really require no description or introduction. All the Balenciaga tropes that Mr Gvasalia have introduced, from shoulders to shoes, that you are familiar with are there. They continue with the designer’s conviction to anti-fashion, ant-fit, anti-genteel, anti-subtle, anti-girly, anti-sexy.

And then there was the more real and less intimidating Balenciaga X Adidas. It is not known what deal Adidas has struck with Kering, but this would be the second of the conglomerate’s brands to collaborate with the sports name, after Gucci. While Mr Gvasalia remained true to his preference for the oversized and the baggy, and the less retro, the pieces do share something common with Gucci: the look-at-me sportiness, now considered the true achievement of performance wear. Even sports clothes need to be elevated. And just in case interests in these wane too quickly (and they just might), some 34 pieces from the collaboration are available for pre-order, from now to 29 May, with the lowest asking price of SGD275 for a pair of socks (the cheapest T-shirt, you may wish to know, is USD995). These days the ‘entry-level’ is shown alongside the main. Marketing cleverness has a legitimate space next to design excess. That is seriously bullish. In a money pit, no less.

Screen shot (top): Balenciaga/YouTube and photos: Balenciaga

Two Of A Kind: The Sheer Black Dress

If you are proud of your body, show it, even if under a dress

Sheer power: (Left) Rihanna in Dior at the Dior show. Photo Getty Images. (Right) One of the looks at the recent Gucci cruise 2023 show. Photo: Gucci

Now that Rihanna has given birth and the sartorial baton is passed to Adriana Lima (see her appearance at the Cannes Film Festival), stomach-on-full-display is on track to be the maternity look of the pandemic era. Rihanna’s “lingerie moments”, as we know by know, have been widely lauded as “stunning” and “redefining”. If Beyonce made the naked dress acceptable on the red carpet, Rihanna was certain to affirm the naked maternity frock’s commitment to a very public existence. No wonder Alessandro Michele was quick to offer one on Gucci’s latest runway that is rather similar to the Dior dress that the star wore in Paris, even if the Italian house’s version was designed first as a sheer dress (Rihanna reportedly had the Dior’s lining ripped off) worn on a braless (not-skinny) model rather than an expectant woman. Could Gucci be targeting expectant customers now that there is no doubt how nude some are willing to go?

These days, the encouragement is dress to ‘celebrate’ the body, not to hide it, pregnant or not, slim or otherwise. Conservative attitudes towards a woman’s bare baby bulge (or any bulge) has no place in today’s society, just as Harry Styles in a dress should not have to threaten anyone. Immodest, when it comes to dressing to go out, whether pregnant or not, is preferred because every body has to be exalted. In the ’60s, American civil-rights activists wore their “Sunday best” to show that dignity is not the reserve of the non-whites and they are not by default relegated to the lowest rung of the social order. Today, the “any-day least” allow wearers to demonstrate that the skimpiest clothes need not be just for the pool or beach, and less so for the confines of a bedroom. And baring is really not restricted to exotic dancers.

Conservative attitudes towards a woman’s bare baby bulge (or any bulge) has no place in today’s society, just as Harry Styles in a dress should not have to threaten anyone

Demi Moore on the cover of Vanity Fair in 1991, if you remember, stripped away all the pre-natal dress conservatism that the Victorians left behind since the 19th century. Sure, we had many women wear clothes that hinted at nudity since the Sixties, but those in diaphanous dresses that substantially show the body are mostly latter-day individuals with specific interest (obsession?). The easy shift to near nudity has been attributed to the need to show individuality, boost confidence, embrace empowerment, gain attention, express sexuality, and simply because they can. On our shores, the weather. Could it also be because it is still provocative, and provocation is fun—let you see, but not touch? Gucci’s sheer black number was simply answering to today’s needs.

In both cases, the naked dresses—an oxymoron if you think about it—have fabrics acting merely as a sort veil for the body. Like the silk screens Empress Cixi sat behind from, where she ruled in the 19th century, these dividers are not there to conceal the wearer or make them inscrutable (are women today as manipulative?). They are there for a peekaboo effect. Tease is very much a part of modern fashion’s commitment to overt shame-free self-expression. Even the retired Victoria’s Secret Angels were more modestly attired. Trenchant media support for Rihanna’s near-nude maternity style and Emily Ratajkowski’s unconcealing every-day wear would only boost Gucci’s desire to send other sheer black dresses down the runway. There would be more to come.

A Showy Amble

Walking on the path Gucci paved, Dior is showing its gaudy side.

The Dior Men’s spring—also known as resort or cruise, in case there’s any confusion—2023 season started rather straightforwardly enough. Like those of other luxury brands, Dior’s inter-season show is staged away from home, in Los Angeles, specifically the neighbourhood of Venice, in what is known as its “heart”— Winward Avenue, a flashy and touristy thoroughfare that cuts right to the famed Venice Beach Boardwalk. This could easily be the equivalent of Bangkok’s Khao San Road, if not visually, definitely in spirit. The runway, not flanked by buildings of architectural value or set against the Pacific Ocean (the Dior show is the second LVMH-owned brand to show in California this season after Louis Vuitton), is done up as if for a beach bash (complete with surging waves!). The clothes correspond to the waterfront party vibe, but with considerably more bling than one might be comfortable wearing to a littoral event with no guarantee that the sand won’t somehow get into shoes and clothes. Then we remember, this is California. The Californication of Dior.

It is open to view that Kim Jones is pandering to a Californian crowd with his California Couture, as the season is themed. Like other designers of European brands, such as Hedi Slimane, Mr Jones seems to have a thing for America (another collection for Dior was staged in Florida: Fall 2020), and this time, the clothes seems targeted at California’s most recognisable metonym for entertainment: Hollywood. And, of course, music. It is, therefore, easy to connect the styling to what stars operating out of this city would wear to go out to dine at high-profile restaurants, on date nights with equally famous other-halves, jam in a recording studio, attend movie premiers and music awards presentations, and, of course, to buy milk. This being the West Coast, the looks have to project unambiguously Californian Casual and Cool, if not exactly Couture. If Californian fashion has not been convincingly defined, what is California Couture, other than plain puffery? Or, perhaps the show is best described by the opening track: My Bloody Valentine’s Only Shallow?

By Mr Jones’s definition, French urban polish will look out of place in California. So the surf and the skate must come rolling in. There has to be commercial American staples, such as hoodies, pullovers, and hang-loose shirts, but being a tribute to Venice Beach’s “seedy glamour”, as described by Mr Jones to the press, all are given a meretricious makeover, in a manner we are already familiar with at Gucci: Their spring/summer 2022 show also in California—on Hollywood Boulevard—still so fresh in our mind. The blatant retro-ness may not be cresting at Dior, but the push-femininity-as-far-as-you-could ostentation is there: pearl-studded fisherman sweaters, jumpers woven with sparkly metallic yarns, mixed-media appliqued cardigans, newsprint tees, satin trousers, those with the cannage-quilting of Lady Dior bags, furry shorts, those with sequined hems, all teamed with the, frankly irritating, laces-untied sneakers. Dior is in California!

What we found starring at us, too, is Dior seemingly mocking itself. Could this be the label doing its own bootleg clothes. Before the counterfeiters strike? It is hard to say this of possibly one of the most-loved menswear lines in the luxury sphere: Some pieces are evocative of what one might find on Taobao. One really stood out for us: a long-sleeved cycling top with a triple chevron underscoring the four-letter brand name depicted in a font layout/placement we are desperately trying not to call cheesy. This season, part of the collection (those hoodies and puffers, for sure) was “guest-designed” by Eli Russell Linnetz of ERL, the much feted brand, especially among hip-hop circles. Mr Linnetz, a Venice Beach native, moves glowingly in the orbit of Kanye West; he directed Mr West’s Famous (yes, the one with recognisable stars in bed, naked) and Fade (yes, the one with Teyana Taylor dancing alone in the gym, quite naked) music videos, and dipped his hands in the now-untalked-of Yeezy line. In 2018, Dover Street Market came acalling. The rest is history, and, now, Dior. California is not dreaming.

Screen shot (top) and photos: Dior

Come Shine, Not Rain

Good news for this who love impractical things: Gucci’s umbrella won’t keep you dry

By Ray Zhang

If I go by the definition that I had learnt in school, the umbrella is a cover that is used to protect us from the rain. I have never really owned an umbrella until I started working, and bought one for myself. At that time, if my memory serves me well, I bought the foldable umbrella because it was raining. I never thought of an umbrella serving other function until my mother once asked me to buy one for her in Tokyo (where I was holidaying one Christmas season) because she wanted a “nice shade” to shield her from the sun. Which means, she reminded me, it must come with a UV layer or coating. But, for me, the umbrella is synonymous with the rain. I am, therefore, able to understand the thunderous outrage in China when Netizens found out that an umbrella, marketed under the much-hyped Gucci X Adidas collaboration, was described as “不防水” (bufangshui) or “not waterproof”.

Drenched with curiosity, I hit the SG Gucci website and was surprised that the said umbrella was not among the 147 items listed that would be on sale from the 7th of next month. A quick check at the American pages showed the brolly with the accompanying encouragement, “join the wait list for this item”. I did note that Gucci was careful to describe the product as a “sun umbrella”. Prior to the uproar in China, it is not clear if this phrase was used, but the Chinese equivalent 阳伞 (yangsan) was not seen. Instead, “雨伞 (yusan)” or “rain umbrella” appeared online. Is it a wonder that those interested (and those not) are angered and resentful that Gucci would charge 11,100 yuan (or approximately S$2,280) for the yusan and not make it waterproof? Gucci was quick to react to the derision: On their webpage, they changed the description by deleting the 雨 (yu), leaving the less specific 伞 (san).

Is it a wonder that those interested (and those not) are angered and resentful that Gucci would charge 11,100 yuan (or approximately S$2,280) for the yusan and not make it waterproof?

Some members of the Western press chose the more suitable (17th century) ‘parasol’ to describe the Gucci X Adidas offering, presumably not to offend both brands. But in China, no euphemistic efforts were discerned. The hashtag #售价11100元联名款雨伞不防水# (the collaboration umbrella sold for 11,100 yuan is not waterproof) started trending and quickly attracted more than 140 million views on Weibo alone. When the local media picked up the controversy, a Gucci spokesperson was quoted saying that the umbrella (I’ll just stick to this unambiguous word) “适合人们日常搭配造型,但并不建议当做日常晴雨伞使用 (is suitable for everyday styling, but is not recommended for daily protection from rain)”.

Now that it is clear the umbrella from the Gucci X Adidas collab was not conceived with inclement wet weather in mind, I wonder if it is still enticing to those for whom high-low pairings are their obsessions and the yushan and the rain are a pair made in heaven. Why had Gucci not considered what the French called en-tout-cas (or “in any case”), combination of umbrella and parasol! Truth be told, I am not impressed with the collaboration that Gucci describes to compose of “silhouettes inspired by collegiate style unfold through a retro colour palette and reimagined sports clubs’ uniforms”. How an umbrella with limited function fits into Adidas in a revivalist mood, materialised through retro-bent Gucci is rather beyond me. When in bed, two can have fun without, you know, climax.

Illustration: Just So