Can the little red dot stand shoulder to shoulder with the little black dress? A native islander and friends look at fashion (and such) in Singapore, and, occasionally, among her neighbours, and a little further afield
Does Adidas care?With the release of the new adiFOM Q, probably not
After the last outburst, it is hard to imagine Kanye West shutting up now. It is not unreasonable to think that his Instagram and Twitter feeds will be abuzz again, now that Adidas has announced the impending launch of their new shoe, the adiFom Q. Even we can’t ignore the obvious: That this pair of all-foam kicks has more than a passing resemblance to the freaky form of the Yeezy Foam Runner. In fact, we had thought, just looking at the side profile of the show in photographs released by Adidas, that the Yeezy Foam Runner had struck again with a sibling. As it turns out, this new EVA shoe has really nothing to do with Mr West.
On closer look, the shoe is different, even if both are are exoskeleton with ameboid holes (or shifting boomerang?). And Adidas was quick (preemptive move against a possible Kanye West attack?) that its Yeezy-seeming kick is based on 2901’s Quake, now considered an “archival” model. Like the shoes that supposedly will make you tremble, the adiFOM Q has laces and those holes of curvy shapes on the sides. And to make sure the dissimilarity holds up, it comes lined with Adidas’s Primeknit-looking socks, which possibly (and oddly) constrict the feet under a tongue too, in a style of shoe that is supposed to allow the terminal part of our legs to be free and that we can then walk naturally, as if un-shod.
Footwear that looks like something extraterrestrials left behind seems to be the future. With different foams—basically EVA (ethylene-vinyl acetate) or PU (polyurethane), or a compound of both—now offering all manner of forms, in weirder and weirder shapes and with odder and odder apertures, shoes, like clothes, are departing from the natural contours of our feet. In time, they will only be known as shoes in name, not by appearance. And Kanye West would be happy, at last, to say that he started it all.
Should the head of government wear expensive shirts to meet his people?
By Awang Sulung
Malaysian prime minister Ismail Sabri loves Burberry shirts, but his fellow Malaysians are not as enamoured with his baju. A photo shared on the PM’s Facebook page a few days ago showed him in a short-sleeved, buttoned-down, red/pink/white shirt—worn untucked—with a textual print that the British label describes as a “slogan”. As it appears to me: the phrase “UNIVERSAL PASSPORT” in two lines run from the shoulder to the hip, on both sides of the placket. That and the shirt itself are not controversial or offensive, or unflattering, but it did get people talking, including opposition members of parliament. The shirt Mr Sabri chose—in Italian silk organza, no less—costs S$2,190 or RM6,900, according to Burberry/MY. That amount, as the media reported, is “3.3 times median Malaysian salary”. With staggering inflation and rising cost of almost everything, it is understandable why people are so geram. This is this year’s quinoa-gate!
Burberry’s appeal to politicians is not new. I remember that back in the early 2000, Thailand’s then prime minister, the billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra (now in exile), loved Burberry shirts too, and was often seen in the light blue version of their house check before he was overthrown in a military coup in 2006. He even wore matching sunglasses with those shirts when he was out to meet the electorate. The Thais did not make a fuss of Mr Shinawatra’s sartorial choice, probably because his chemise was not thought to cost a bomb. Those check shirts were, after all, often seen for sale outside Burberry stores, from Patpong to Chatuchak. I do not remember how much that shirt cost back then, but Mr Shinawatra would not have bought a knock-off. Despite his wealth, out there among his constituents, he did look acceptably loong (uncle) and very much chun chan raeng ngan (working class)—one of them.
Perhaps the disapproval of Ismail Sabri’s shirt was not merely about the hefty price that went with it. What he donned was not quite walk-about wear. And, while he looked pakcik (uncle!) enough, he was not one of them; he appeared like one who would fork out more than six thousand ringgit for a shirt, which, I suspect, is rather far costlier than the rakyat-approved baju batiks that even younger politicians, such as the minister of health Khairy Jamaluddin, wears, and with considerable frequency, and, possibly, pride. And, for someone who reportedly prefers his colleagues to use mostly bahasa Malaysia, even abroad, Mr Sabri’s wearing of a shirt with blaring English words is, at the very least, hypocritical. This was not the first sighting of Mr Sabri in a shirt from Burberry. Last month in Tokyo, he wore an even bolder piece when he met with our PM Lee Hsien Loong. That shirt, with a symmetrical “abstract print” that looked like a silhouette of a Maori tekoteko (those carved human-like figures with tongues stuck out) and such, would have set Mr Sabri back by S$1,790. Possibly haram as it was small change?
I wonder, too, if there was ageism involved in the negative views that pervaded social media. Ismail Sabri is 62, and, while he is eight years younger than Mr Lee, is not considered to be of a vintage that should trifle with this thing called fesyen. Mr Sabri did not pick the less current, less ‘statement’ pieces, such as Burberry’s Simpson (or Somerton) shirt, with its familiar, non-threatening checks in “archive beige”. If he did, his choice of clothes would probably not be noticed. And if his pakaiyan is not registered, the empathy so many wishes to see could, perhaps, be discerned. Rather, Mr Sabri took a risk with fashion, and his followers were uncomfortable. As the New York Time’s Vanessa Friedman said to V magazine back in 2017, in a comment about politics and fashion, many people “think fashion is superficial and any association with it automatically denigrates the thing it is being associated with.” Politics! Some Malaysian Netizens even took issue with their PM choosing a “colonial” brand over one that is local. If only they have their own CYC in Kuala Lumpur.
If fashion is a mirror of an era, Marc Jacobs’s newest collection is a reflection of what outrageous ugliness we need to fit in with the present
Probably the last to present his autumn/winter 2022 collection, Marc Jacobs is also showing us how horrible the world is. And what ugliness of dress we need to meet the atrociousness head on. What Mr Jacobs proposes is a near-deformity of shapes (or not the usual with which dressmaking classes will teach measurement and proportion) that will not look out of place in the presence of clothes that seek to change ’ugly’ from a negative to a positive. Much of the pieces are bulky; they alter the natural outline of the body, effecting volume and mass(!) where we once did not desire to see. If the oversized puffer—first offered by Balenciaga in 2016—normalised the bulky upper body, Mr Jacobs girthy sweaters recommend that any part of the wearer can be given extra volume, gainly or not. A sure lesson, we think, for fashion students learning about silhouettes and the aesthetics of lines: bulk up wherever you like.
Quoting Nietzsche (in the show notes)—“We have art in order not to die of the truth”, Mr Jacobs’s brand of fashion-as-art has a whiff of the proportions of Botero imagined on a skinny body. And what is the immediate truth confronting Americans presently that requires the distraction of art, wearable as it were? The overturn of Roe Vs Wade? Are the wraps, knots, drapes, and tucks of the clothes that cause the shape of the body to distend also the “creativity (that) is essential to living (Nietzsche again)”? Mr Jacobs is considered one of the most creative American designers of his generation, but his creativity has shifted considerably, from his early years of promoting grunge (that complicated his career then) to the avant-garde of the proportionally-challenging since last season. Mr Jacobs has never shied away from acknowledging who has inspired him. This season, it’s an edge by way of Rick Owens, Rei Kawakubo (again), and a touch of Charles James under the bulk, with a nod to TikTok.
“Super size me” is, of course, an American enlargement of everything, from cars to stores to (fast) food to fashion. “Go big or go home” often means things in the US are just larger than the same elsewhere. Does upsizing boost the desirability of the item bulked up, just like McDonald’s French fries? “The showman of New York” Mr Jacobs uses bigness theatrically, not necessarily to attract women for whom clothes are not inherently a visual display. The enormousness is not quite the same as The Row’s oversized blazers. Some observers appreciate his exaggerated shapes for their “couture-like sensibility”, but most of the looks are based on ultra-large pieces tied to the body to create the mass. Already bulky knitted sweaters are sized bigger so that when worn or tied to the front, they are even hulkier. A top (jacket?), with sleeves tied across the naked breast, is so huge that the sleeves are large enough to accommodate thighs. Similar tops go round the hips to create bustles without (presumably) padded cushions. Gowns have skirts that are so ballooned that they make Issey Miyake’s inflatable dresses look barely bloated. It is unclear how these clothes can escape being cumbersome.
But there are, conversely, the barely-there pieces too. Itsy-bitsy bra tops to cater to the likes of Emily Ratajkowski, who is at the show. Interspersed among the aberrantly massive clothes are slim skirts (with a gaping back!) and slender dresses (in lace) for those occasions when bulk would just take up too much space. However, not to be outsized are the bags: One shoulder tote in the style of the triangular Japanese azuma bukuro (or cloth market bags) is so large it could probably fit a week’s grocery in it. Or, those massive and tall, five-strap, platform clompers that would not look out of place in the TV series Pose. Mr Jacobs has loved those by Rick Owens since 2019, before the pandemic. He has made versions of it before, but in this season, every model—both men and women (the clothes are unisex, we understand)—are shod in a pair, either in black or white. One of them nearly fell! Despite the brand’s seemingly waning popularity, with this collection, and the recent reported restructuring of the brand, the storied New York name that is Marc Jacobs is not likely going to come tumbling down.
Screen shot (top): Marc Jacobs/YouTube. Photos: Marc Jacobs
Thom Browne adopts the naval symbol of stability while showing jockstraps peeping from skirts hanging on to hips for dear life
It seems that ships have called to port during Paris Fashion Week. After Kenzo’s salute to naval uniforms, Thom Browne presented his men’s spring/summer 2023 collection at the venerable Hotel de Crillon with models wearing an anchor down the middle of their faces, like the maang tikka, forehead jewellery worn by Indian women; only Mr Browne’s are larger and longer, covering the nose, ending, in some cases, at the base of philtrum, in others, the lower lip. That is the only obvious naval symbol used in a melange of looks that span the sailor to the cowboy, wrapped in considerable amount (or less) of summer tweeds, made by the same people who produce the fabric for the brand with the interlocking Cs. Despite the presence of the anchor jewellery, which could commensurate with the navy’s idea of stability and strength, the clothes throws off the conventional balance of what constitutes strong menswear.
It is increasingly common to see women wearing underwear under not quite anything. Mr Browne is proposing that men can do the same, but, for starters, with waistband and top half of the front pouch showing. Rather than the elasticised waist of boxers (as seen in hip-hop fashion) or the waistband of trunks emblazoned with a name (as in Calvin Klein), he chose the thick ones of jockstraps, ‘protective’ underpants once popularly used for contact sports. And, perhaps, more significantly, their association with gay men’s fetishes: a masculine signifier alongside jeans (501s, not anything fancier). In the show, the jockstraps are worn like how women wear thongs, peaking from above the waist of both pants and skirts. In sum, they show the Apollo’s belt (the V-shaped grooves on the ab muscles alongside the hips) in the front and, just as proudly, the butt crack in the rear.
It is distracting in the beginning to see peek-a-boo peculiarities of what in the voice-over intro of the show (presented like a couture runway of the ’50s) says, “an exhibition of garbs (or did she say gowns?) men can actually wear”. Men can wear anything, or not, but will they? The skirts, no longer out of bounds for men, are worn low to deliberately almost expose the forking between the legs. Men do not have hips that (most) women do—the skirts (and pants) worn that low have nothing to cling to, to defy gravity. We assume (since we can’t see) that the skirt, shorts, or pants—many without waistbands—are attached to the pouch and and the rear, cheek-flanking straps of the jockstraps. These are, however, not the only underclothes to be seen. There are also bras. What is their appeal? We don’t quite know. These days, there is nothing under about underwear.
If you look beyond all that (do not succumb to your filthy mind), the clothes are Thom Browne as they always are. The tailoring is impeccable and the shapes flattering. If the fit is reproachable it’s mainly because the bottoms look like they will slip off by the time you put your next foot forward (is that why the models walk so slowly?). If you are not in the market for more of Mr Browne’s usual shirts, suits, and pleated skirts, there are cropped button-downs, shell tops, short shifts, ultra-mini skirts, or fringed chaps with strategic cut-outs and a very noticeable penile sheath. Cast Brooks Brothers aside. Thom Browne has. A long time ago.
Kenzo seems intent on staying firmly approachable, and rather juvenile at that
The opening electronic strain of Firecracker, the 1978 track from Yellow Magic Orchestra’s eponymous debut studio album, truly has us washed over with nostalgia. That Tomoaki Nagao, aka Nigo, is inspired by Kenzo’s halcyon days also reminds us of the shows Kenzo Takada himself staged back then, when the latter, too, used the techno-exotica of YMO (was it Tong Poo, or La Femme Chinois, or both [in the album, the former segues into the latter], we can’t quite remember now). But our reminiscing stopped there. Mr Nagao told the press that he took the idea of the show, set in a school gymnasium, from a Kenzo presentation of the ’80s, then conceived to evoke a school sports day. But rather than connect that to something akin to, say, the atheleisure style of the present, Mr Nagao has chosen to base his designs on those details usually connected to the uniforms of sailors.
But the clothes are not what Querelle of Brest would wear. Jean Genet’s sea-faring protagonist was portrayed in far sexier togs, at least according to the daring illustrations of Jean Cocteau, which accompanied the first (limited) print run of the book in 1945, then anonymously published. Kenzo’s naval chic is much more in line with the sailor-style school uniforms—or seifuku—of girls worn in Japan since the 19th century that have become quite the symbol of the country itself. Many Japanese are proud of their school uniforms, so much so that the seikufus frequently appear in mangas, even with characters based on their naval-style dress, such as Akebi-chan no sailor-fuku (Akebi’s Sailor Uniform). The most obvious details that Mr Nagao incorporated are the hats and flap collars, which seem to be modelled after the Nagoya collar of seikufus, with the designer adopting, if this was indeed school, a more flexible discipline level to dress. Sailor collars over blazers?!
Under the maritime styles, we see something mundane: The looks are so surprisingly unsurprising that it is hard to imagine them desired by the hipsters that Kenzo seems to be targeting. These are not clothes to stand out in any given crowd, unless in a sea of actual seikufu wearers. There is no reimagining of the sailor suit (or collegiate wear) in ways that would render them not looking juvenile. Shirtless with just a vest littered with Kenzo labels and a pair of jeans? An aviator jacket with the initials KP (Kenzo Paris) and leggings? An off-shoulder, smocked top and A-line denim skirt? An ankle-length sundress and floral broach on the shoulder? Clothes that will delight Shein to no end? Sure, these are not John Galliano’s sailor boys and girls for Maison Margiela, circa spring/summer 2020, but we have been hoping that Mr Nagao would be less The Bathing Ape in his approach. Sure, there is nothing erroneous in paying attention to the school yard for ideas, but much of the pieces look like they would work for the cast of Grease. Or a prim High School Musical.
Yellow Magic Orchestra’s seminal first album used catchy oriental melodies to spoof the West’s obsession with the ‘exotic’ sounds of the Far East at a time when bands exploring the newly emerging futurist electronic music of the late ’70s and early ’80s (later termed ‘synth-pop’) were inspired by the German band Kraftwerk. YMO’s cheeky fusion of arcade game bleeps/blurbs and Chinese classical or folk music was new-sounding and totally delightful. Or, in the case of Tong Poo (the only track of the album entirely written by band member Ryuichi Sakamoto, and recently used by Junya Watanabe for his spring/summer 2022 and reissued), sonic mish-mash imagined as music the Beijing Symphony Orchestra could play. Mr Nagao’s second collection for Kenzo has no such glimmer of brilliance. Just like Firecracker, in actual fact, a remake (of American composer Martin Denny‘s music from the 1949 album Quiet Village), adapting the familiar for the unfamiliar. Whether the clothes pander or please, we can’t say for sure.
Loewe goes grass planting, from the feet up. And that ‘Puzzle’ pants!
The strongest collection of PFW spring/summer 2023 season: May we declare Loewe? Let’s start from the very bottom: The shoes. Not since the debut season of Balenciaga’s Triple S Racer has there been anything this astonishing. Or, more original. The first pair, which could be the Flow Runner, is covered with weeds, as if the shoes, muddied, were left outside for too long and spring-time nature has taken over. Then there are the clothes—rustic weeds, too: One coat is half-blanketed with grass, one hoodie looks like a (still-growing) vertical garden, and a pair of trousers seems to be attacked by a botanical monster. At first we thought that the grass was very good artificial lawn carpet or some talented participant’s Project Runway ‘Challenge’. The footwear appears very much like some grass head animal adapted for feet!
According to Jonathan Anderson, these gardening experiments were conducted with Spanish designer Paula Ulargui Escalona, a graduate of the Istituto Europeo di Design Madrid, where she specialised in sustainable fashion and textile (her captivating and original Second Skin project is probably what brought Mr Anderson to her). Each shoe and outfit took 20 days to cultivate to achieve the desired shagginess. It is tempting to read eco-friendliness into Loewe’s grassy pursuits. And many have, referring to the clothes as thesis on our changing/damaged earth and its merciless climate. And, as there are references to technology, the need for balance between nature and the digital (even the meta?). Or, is Mr Anderson really saying that, in the end, nature will win, as she always has; we will not?
Many commentators called the Loewe presentation a glimpse of a possible “dystopian future”. Plants may be referenced but it is vastly different from the Dior ‘garden’ of a couple of days back. The set is really just a blank (or, contrary to the clothes and shoes, defoliated?) space, with just two pillars in an expanse of “blinding white”, as Loewe described it. This could be a representation of heaven, as seen in movies (we were thinking Morgan Freeman might cameo), or nothingness, as in the digital sphere (isn’t the metaverse a void until we fill it with the likenesses of this material world?). It is in this extreme whiteness that Mr Anderson is able to focus on the fashion, allowing you read whatever it is you wish it to communicate. And the message is surprisingly clear: clothes as we remember them.
After pushing menswear to the many possible extremes, including—unmistakably—dresses, Mr Anderson has now repositioned Loewe men to a form many, even those outside the parameters of fashion, would understand. A shirt looks like a shirt; a sweater looks like a sweater (even if the sleeves flap when you walk as they are not joined at the seams); a coat looks like a coat (even if is festooned, on one side, with doodads a modern man would be encumbered with or with tablet screens), trousers look like trousers (even if they are leggings or, as is a three-quarter-length pair, cleverly based on the house’s Puzzle bag). Their identifiability does not mean they’re not finessed. However solid the clothes, it is likely that the shoes will garner the most attention next time this year, especially those what-do-you-call-them? Paper bag boots, perhaps (if there are paper bag pants, why not footwear?)? These are so amazing in their simplicity and form, they make the abominable Yeezy NSLTD BT looked positively foolish. On the verdant lawn of Loewe, no mowing is at all required.
Junya Watanabe takes on the icons and symbols of Americana—specifically pop-Americana
“Americanos—blue jeans and chinos/Coke, Pepsi and Oreos/Americanos—movies and heroes in the land of the free/You can be what you wanna be”
—Americanos, 1989, Holly Johnson
America’s influence on fashion is not just the denim jeans worn almost everywhere. Or, the Americans helming European fashion houses and those showing their eponymous line in Paris (or Milan). It’s also the US cultural-visual identity that non-Americans find appealing and relatable. Junya Watanabe is a known admirer of authentic American fashion brands and has previously collaborated with ‘iconic’ names such as Levi’s, but this time, he wears Americana on his sleeves. He takes some of the most recognisable images and worked into his designs, often as pieces that form the boro or Japanese art of patchworking (as seen on the denim jeans, in particular). This mended fabric or garment is not new at all to Mr Watanabe’s output, but this time the restitched parts comprise patches of images of American brands and recognisable art.
In 1989, Holly Johnson sang in the catchily sarcastic Latinate dance-pop of Americanos (from the Dan Hartman-produced album Blast): “blue jeans and chinos, Coke, Pepsi, and Oreos, movies and heroes, you can be what you wanna be.” In view of the recent overturn of Roe vs Wade, it is irresistible to see Mr Watanabe’s newest menswear as ironic—a poke at the superficiality and materiality of the American dream. Jeans and chinos are, of course, almost de rigueur in his collections, and now Coke (not Pepsi or Oreos) join other brands and names through which America propelled its popular culture, globally: Campbell’s Soups and Marilyn Monroe made vivid by Andy Warhol, Girl with Hair Ribbon painted/dotted by Roy Lichtenstein, as well as the graffiti and scribbles of Keith Haring and Jean Michel Basquiat. It is, interestingly, not “’bout leather, leather everywhere”, as David Bowie sang earlier in 1975’s Young Americans, a song that has been compared to Americanos for its dig at US youth culture.
In Japan, Mr Watanabe embodies the melting of pop culture divided by oceans. His embrace of Americana is, of course, not precedential. But, he is constantly mixing and mixing in ways that, even if no longer surprising, is still charming. Some people consider his work as entry point to the more confrontationally avant-garde designs of his mentor, Rei Kawakubo, even saying that his are clothes for primarily fashion-consuming heterosexual males not willing to venture into, say, Gucci territory: There will never be skirts. Even those patchworked shirts of the finale are reminiscent of the Comme Des Garçons Shirt line. But for most fans, the sustained appeal of Junya Wantanabe’s work is his category-free approach to making desirable clothes. Just as you thought that work wear is what you saw, once on the body, the effect could be vastly different.
The crux of Mr Watanabe’s design is the Japanese concept of making things—monozukiri, which broadly means production or manufacturing. But it also embodies not just technological advantage, but also technical know-how, the embrace of tradition, and a relentless pursuit of innovation. In Mr Watanabe’s case, it has always been more than the amalgamation of the above, but also how he melds seemingly different visual cues—or cultural references—into a seamless whole. So those who do not require a regular blazer will be happy to see hybrid versions and those with unusual cuts. Or those averse to standard-issue jeans will find those with the said boro patchwork or with different washes for the front and back. If Americana is your thing, all the better. But with Uniqlo also featuring familiar corporate logos and the recognisable works of Warhol, Haring, Lichtenstein, and, definitely, Basquiat, are Junya Watanabe’s unique enough, even with monozukiri firmly intact, for us to part with considerable money to own his versions?
Is Dior producing something blooming fine or are there just more gimmicks than usual?
Down the garden path, Dior leaves last season’s city sidewalk. The trail could be a winding one. The back story to Kim Jones’s Dior spring/summer 2023 is just as sinuous. In a nutshell, the Bloomsbury set (again) and gardens (but no cacti). The long trek, a self-absorbed fascination—hence connection—between Christian Dior and Duncan Grant, the British painter who was, seemingly, partial to male nudes, and was a costume designer, too. Part of the Bloomsbury group (which included Virginia Woolf and E.M. Forster) that Mr Jones is enamoured with, Mr Grant operated, since 1916, out of Charleston, a farmhouse in Sussex, south of England, not far from where the Dior designer keeps a country home and garden. But more significantly, at least to Mr Jones, is that both Mr Grant and Monsieur Dior shared the same day of birth, 21 January.
Alright, we are meandering. The point is the garden: two, in fact: that of Charleston and Mr Dior’s childhood home Les Rhumbs, in Granville, Normandy, Northwest France. In case we can’t imagine the blooms-filled, bucolic setting(s), a fake, prettified one is created for the presentation, including a 3-D backdrop of Les Rhumbs (and a photo wall of the English Channel behind it), ass well as Charleston on the opposite end. In his (translated) autobiography Dior by Dior, the creator of The New Look wrote: “Our house at Granville, like all Anglo-Norman buildings at the end of last century, was perfectly hideous. All the same I look back on it with tenderness as well as amazement. In a certain sense, my whole way of life was influenced by its architecture and environment.”
Mr Jones looks back with tenderness and amazement, too. But in casting his mind to the past, he endears himself to Duncan Grant, a man thought to be a fashion, social, and sexual rule-breaker of his time (this was in the early 1900s), as much as gardens of yore. But, as one reviewer in the Kirkus Review of art historian Frances Spalding’s Duncan Grant: A Biography opined, the “minor English painter and decorative artist… his mild artistic abilities will always be overshadowed by whom he knew and whom he slept with”. They also held the believe that “unquestionably, Grant was a decent copyist and a reasonable colorist with a good sense of line and form, but his style tended to ebb and flow with whatever was in vogue at the time, so that it is hard to pin down anything in his work as definitively ‘Duncan Grant’”. Sometimes, that thought comes to us, too: What is definitively Kim Jones?
In this collection, outdoorsy looks that some commentators call “cottagecore” are thought to be Mr Jones’s cabbage patch. There are, therefore, plenty of shorts—double shorts, in fact; or running shorts-looking pairs on top of fitted ones that could be for cycling. These are teamed with embroidered fleece jackets, their technical kin (in sort of a camo print), sweaters (including sleeveless ones) bearing the artworks of Duncan Grant that Mr Jones reportedly owns. His usual tailoring is there, too: jackets have softer shoulders, waists cut close to the body, and peaked lapels worn upturned, creating graphic interest for the neck. But something else is not seen before—blousy tops. Mr Jones has largely avoided the semblance of skirts (even his shorts are not that wide) or dresses for men. So two tops are fascinating. One is like an asymmetric, half-woven-half-netting take on a scrub; sleeveless, but one shoulder is extended, the other side, double strapped. The other, a long-sleeved top with a square-necked double yoke-flap (with brooch to hold both pieces in place). Feminine touches, no doubt. Enough? Kim Jones never promised anyone a rose garden.
A collaboration of colours and prints that Uniqlo would not normally put out on their own
It is possibly Uniqlo’s most anticipated collab since the return of +J two years ago. Marni—known for their charmingly naïve prints, off-beat colours, and the unexpected pairing of either of the two—had applied their sense of the peculiar and the playful to Uniqlo’s staples, such as their packable parkas, utility jackets, and open-collar shirts. The result is a happy hippie-fication with 21st-century hands that few other fast fashion labels, if any, would produce, and with such commendable quality. While +J was minimalism that was almost severe (not at all a negative), Marni X Uniqlo is quite the opposite: they are amirthful mash-up of the spontaneous, sportif, and spirited.
We had expected the turn out at today’s launch of the collab to be big, but when we arrived slightly past noon at the Orchard Central flagship, there was no line to be seen or empty spaces between stanchions and ropes (these, too, were missing). We could go in as we pleased. Some pieces for both men and women were displayed at the entrance. Those familiar with the launches of Uniqlo’s special partnerships, walked straight to level two, where at the space next to the escalator landing on the right, the output of hyped pairings is usually sited. A young couple was drawn to the T-shirts placed on the circular display unit at the entrance. The guy picked up a red/white striped T-shirt with bolder contrasting red/khaki lines at the back. His female companion slapped it back to the pile, telling the puzzled fellow, “it’s too gay.”
At the dedicated space upstairs, the crowd made comfortable shopping a tad difficult. The enthusiasm was palpable as shoppers picked the items by the basketful or discarded the unwanted anywhere the clothes can be stuffed or dumped (and you thought Marni appreciators are better shoppers). Some items were sold out, we were told: the floral wide-fit pants visibly so (in both colours, and online too). Popular sizes of items such as the shorts were also gone. Uniqlo has, this time, made some of the pieces of the collab available in outlets other than the big stores (where the full collection is sold). It’s possible that what was no more at Orchard Central could be in abundance elsewhere (such as 51@AMK?). Unsurprisingly, the least popular item, we gathered, was the oversized ‘half coat’. Other than being a Blocktech item (read: heat trap), it was oddly available as a woman’s item, when it could easily be unisex, as the shirts and tees were.
While the collection was, at first glance, agreeable, closer inspection revealed some technical choices that Marni made that, to us, were not what might be considered commensurable to popular taste. The T-shirts came with oddly wide crew necks (and a little too skinny) that, when exposed to the tumble drying of the washing machine, may widen further. Shorts, although elasticised (and came with draw cords) at the waist had no belt loops (but the longs got them). The women’s open-collar and long-sleeved shirts came in a rather heavy 100% polyester while the men’s are in 100% cotton (which are, of course, available to women too, in sizes up to XS).
However, what to us were less-than-ideal choices may not be so for other shoppers. The opposite is true too: We thought the flattering balloon-shaped skirt with its clever patterning to keep the volume was really swell, but many women we saw who picked it up would return them to the rack just as quickly. One of them told her companion, “too heavy” and the other added, “too dressy.” Not far, a mother, accompanied by her teenaged daughter, picked up an oversized shirt with all-over flowers. “Cantik (beautiful)?” The older woman was seeking approval. “Too big, mom. You can hide two chickens in it.”
Marni X Uniqlo is now available at Uniqlo stores and online. There is a limit on purchases. According to Uniqlo, only “1 quantity per item per person” is allowed. Photos: Chin Boh Kay
Relaxed shapes have always been key to Dries van Noten’s allure. But that does not mean it can’t be dressy
Dries van Noten is never confined by the limits that menswear oftentimes imposes on a designer. He carries on in his laid-back way that seems to be independent of what tradition expects and street style demands. It is not easy to place his aesthetics in the larger scheme of things, and it’s quite an expanse. He is not avant-garde, neither is he Brooks Brothers-prim. He does not make himself buoyant by hype nor is he moored to the post of the static. Yet, he is always able to produce pieces that straddles both ends—whatever ends—of the fashion divide. Which perhaps explains his appeal to old-school fashion editors and must-be-on-trend KOLs.
While other designers are rushing to produce skirts (and more skirts) for men, Mr van Noten is taking this modern merchandising necessity quite in his stride. For the current season, he keeps to the two legs of pants, but over them, he slips on fitted tube dresses, if you will, that work like super-wide cummerbunds (“corsets”, as some writers describe them, are, to us, too constricted). Baju Melayu (Malay costume) wearers may recognise them as how guys wear the kain samping (also known as “merchant cloth” or a short sarong worn over the Malay tunic and trousers), rolled to secure it just below the chest. While the kain samping is most used for ceremonial wear or formal dress, Mr van Noten’s whatever-you-call-it has an ease about it, even when teamed with a suit. It’s like wearing an apron.
We know that Mr van Noten does not shy away from ethnic touches (even flourishes), but we doubt this is his intent for the collection, shown at a rooftop carpark (do they have those in Paris?), that has to speak to sartorially expressive men, even if they’re not peacocks. His use of colour—that dusty pink!—is always winning and his mix of prints remain a desirable strength. Oriental motifs are juxtaposed with sporty stripes, foliage with gradated dots, bold text in san-serif font with patchwork of all the print types that Mr van Noten is fond of: The mix is lively, even fresh, when compared to the ‘dirty’-looking fabric treatment that is gripping Paris (and, earlier, in Milan) this season. Sure, some of looks veer towards the dandy, but is that not more swell than looking like a tramp?
Still, Mr van Noten does not stay too far away from what might be, in the past, considered strictly the domain of women. Or, the increasing universality of womenswear. One piece stood out: The spaghetti-strapped top that seems akin to a camisole. This is worn on its own (a version with thicker straps goes over a shirt), like a singlet at bedtime, a welcome ease that characterises the collection. It is not clear if this slip of a garment will catch on. Skirts have had more time for guys to consider them, but the cami is still novel (until Harry Styles adopts it?). But it’s really hard to say if you consider what buffed guys are wearing on TikTok these days. Mr van Noten describes this piece in the puzzle to the media as “masculine-feminine”. The transitional stage before a full-on womanly?
Seven months after the death of Virgil Abloh, Louis Vuitton is still in memorial mode. Just as we thought that the recent “spin-off” show in Bangkok would be the last blaring of his name, Virgil Abloh is being honoured, again. This time in Paris, at the Cour Carrée of the Louvre, which sees the courtyard fitted with a massive playground, featuring a really long runway snaking round the fountain in the centre. It that has been described as a kid’s train set, but looks, to us, like one of those water slides in, say, Schlitterbahn in Texas or our very own Wild Wild Wet in Pasir Ris, in a colour that is supposed to allude to the Yellow Brick Road. Mr Abloh had a soft spot for The Wizard of Oz, originally a book by the American author L. Frank Baum before it became the famous 1939 film, whose characters appeared in Mr Abloh’s first collection for Louis Vuitton, back in 2018: Dorothy (Judy Garland as the main character, depicted asleep in a field of poppies on one anorak, we remember), the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Lion. Which one was he?
The show, titled Strange Math, opens with an 8-minute long video intro and a performance (described as “rousing” on social media) of a collegiate marching band, Marching 100, from the “historically Black” Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) in Tallahassee. Is this part of a procession of many from the recent Juneteenth celebration in the US that France has probably never seen? Or is this a snippet of the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade? Friend of the late designer, Rapper Kendrick Lamar, wearing a crown of thorns, as Jesus did on his way to the Crucifixion, according to the New Testament, is in attendance to do a live rap-ode throughout the runway presentation. Seated next to Naomi Campbell, who moves to the measured beat, Mr Lamar, performs tracks from his album Mr Morale & the Big Steppers, while he intones and repeats, and repeats: “Virgil, how many miles away?” Gone—we are constantly reminded—but not forgotten.
It is such a warm day in Paris—around three in the afternoon (about 28°C, according to AccuWeather)—when the show starts that guests are seen shielding themselves from the strike of the sun or fanning themselves manically. Ms Campbell, a friend of Mr Abloh and LV, even wears her shirt unbuttoned and braless, while holding a portable electric fan. But, you may not have guessed that summer has begun and that LV is showing the spring/summer 2023 collection. What stands out to us is how layered all the looks are, enough to make us, seated in front of the PC (not smartphone!), sweat. True, Mr Abloh loved outerwear and was credited for augmenting the strength of LV’s tailoring by introducing suits, blazers and coats to streetwear staples. But are the seasons in the northern hemisphere so indistinguishable now that warm-weather dressing requires rather bulky layering? Or are the outers perhaps for protection from the heat? A colour-blocked leather jacket with wavy placket is worn over another similar leather outfit (shirt or dress, it is hard to tell), complete with leggings, leg warmers, and high-tops. A tie-dyed overcoat has furry epaulettes and matching belt; the pocket flaps, and the pouches-as-pockets are as flocculent too. A hooded jacket, with a floral surface treatment identical to that on the shirt Ms Campbell has on, appears padded and is teamed with a heavy-looking drawstring/pleated/gathered ankle-length skirt. One embroidered trucker goes over a turtleneck sweater, so is one melton varsity jacket and one leather shirt. A short-sleeved, thick-looking sweater is not styled with arms bare—the model wears opera gloves that appear to be made of leather. Even a short-sleeved shirt is not left to its own devices—it goes on top another!
The collection, we are told, is not designed by Virgil Abloh. The LV studio that had worked with him did it “in his spirit”, and the team, dressed in symbolic black, took the traditional end-of-show bow. The clothes, appear to us, an overzealous attempt at keeping to Mr Abloh’s ethnicity-proud aesthetics: Throw in as many things he would like to see and see what happens. And we are not referring to the usual fancy skirts and gaudy baseball jackets. Or the place-logos-everywhere ardor. Every decorative element they could think of, they employed. From the smallest fancy buttons—floral!—to the visible paper planes on a black suit to the ridiculously large—boom boxes and sirens strapped to the back, like Nepalese porters and their cargo going up Mount Everest. In place of the hanging stuffed toys that Mr Abloh loved in his latter seasons, the clothes are affixed with what could be Indian tota hangings, but they could also be candies in the shapes of LV monogram florals strung together, very much like cords of alphabet beads of the ’90s. If everything appears somewhat juvenile, however “couture-grade” the clothes are, they are in keeping with Mr Abloh’s favour of child’s play “not yet spoiled by societal programming”. As the show comes to an end, Mr Lamar chants “Long Live Virgil”. Is that Louis Vuitton’s plan?
Don’t just drink it. Your favourite beverage is now jewellery
Bubble tea is, of course, not just a potable liquid. It is not even tea as many—the British and our teh-C drinkers—know it. It is a beverage turned symbol of pride of the food culture of our nation; a part of who we are, even when bubble tea originates from Taiwan. So vital it is to the quenching of our collective thirst/crave that we can’t bear not to drink it briefly when stalls selling bubble tea were ordered to close during the height of the pandemic—we queued past closing hours to get a cup. It would take a serious viral infection sweeping the island to show our deep and demented devotion to bubble tea. So a part of our lives the drink with the ‘pearls’—or boba— has become, especially our communication, that soon even a bubble tea emoji was necessary. There is no escaping the recognisable plastic cup with the light brown liquid and the dark brown dots.
Now, not only can you drink your favourite zhenzhu naicha (珍珠奶茶), you can wear it. The Copenhagen-based Pandora has released a little charm in the likeness of a cup of bubble milk tea, complete with over-flowing foam and a fat straw (unfortunately, this is what most of us need to imbibe the beverage). But rather than a flimsy plastic beaker, the cup part of the Pandora charm is made of Murano glass and secured by a sterling silver frame. Amazingly, the content of the cup is conceived to look rather like the real stuff: tea that isn’t well-shaken, showing streaks of milk. If only the pearls weren’t so evenly spaced and painted on. Still, this is clearly another to add to the burgeoning selection of bubble tea trinkets and danglies, even Jibbitz.
Pandora is relatively late to the game of putting out bubble tea accessories. For a while now, earrings in that familiar shape are available on e-sites such as Shopee. Some of them are scarily gaudy, but their very presence is indication of the place the drink in the sealed plastic cup has in our culture, especially popular culture. You know how popular it is when bubble tea is widely sung about. According to lyrics.com, there are, to date, 363 lyrics, 100 artists, featuring 50 albums that has ‘bubble tea’ mentioned in songs. We are drinking, emoji-ing, singing, and, now, most definitely wearing bubble tea. Charmed?
Pandora Bubble Tea Dangle Charm, SGD99, is available at Pandora stores and online (but it is currently out of stock at their e-store). Photo: Pandora