Burberry’s Boy Bright

The British brand looks to Asia for their next ambassador and they found him in Thailand

Vachirawit ‘Bright’ Chivaaree, Burberry’s new brand ambassador. Photo: Burberry

Burberry has once again found a male face among the many willing Thais to peddle their wares. This time, as brand ambassador. After the unlikely Issan-born Manchester chap Zak Srakaew for their autumn/winter 2020 collection, they’ve now made a more conventional choice—the Bangkok-based actor Vachirawit ‘Bright’ Chivaaree (วชิรวิชญ์ ชีวอารี)—as the guy to front their campaigns and wear their clothes in public appearances. Unlike Mr Srakaew, Mr Chivaaree—known professionally as Bright—is not pure Thai, or as dark-skinned, or unknown. He is a (preferred) luk khreung (literally ‘half-child’) of Thai, Chinese and American decent, but still unmistakably Thai, a man of adequate fairness, and a radiant star of film and music.

Born Kunlatorn Chivaaree in 1997, in the province of Nakhon Pathom, central Thailand, to Thai-American father and Thai-Chinese mother, he was the only child from a family that has not been described as poor. His parents divorced when he was young and he grew up with his maternal relatives. Answering to the nickname Bright, he spent his growing-up years in a music school owned by his uncle. Although he loves to play music instruments and is able to with several, he has not been regarded as musically gifted. The soccer-loving actor told Harper’s Bazaar Thailand, “I’ve been playing instruments—guitar, bass, drums, keyboard and other Western instruments—since a very young age, as I grew up in a music school”.

Bright Vachirawit as Sarawat playing the guitar in the drama 2gether: The Series. Screen shot: GMM TV/YouTube

He did not, however, mention a broadcasted interview with Elle Thailand in which he spoke of a music competition that he and the mates of a band he formed participated during high school (he attended two, but did not mention which). During the audition that was judged by teachers and seniors, they were not selected. On the day of the finals, Mr Chivaaree and his band members “thought that (their) performance was much more interesting, and (their) friends would want to watch (them) play. (They) then prepared to go up on stage to perform, and asked those guys to leave the stage. Everyone was screaming and shouting. In the end, (they) were sent to the student affairs office.” As shocking as that revelation was, he did not seemed remorseful. Former schoolmates shared online their own take of what happened that day. Many thought that he still did not understand the impact of his actions, and was fervently glamourising it. As with the proverbial opening of a can of worms, more accusations emerged (even a teacher joined in the fray). He was accused of bullying, discrimination against LGBTQ classmates, sexual harassment, body shaming, and even colourism.

All this was little known (or not shared) when, at 22, Vachirawit Chivaaree became an overnight star playing the gay lead in the ’boys love’ (BL) TV rom-com 2gether: The Series, broadcast months before the Elle interview. Adapted from a 2019 eponymous Thai novel, the weekly drama would be so wildly popular that it is thought to have brought the BL genre to global attention, even when Japan was the first to introduce yayoi stories in the form of manga, anime, TV series, and other media. Mr Chivaaree took on the role of Sarawat, a musician and a footballer (nothing surprising in those two selves) in university, persuaded into a pretend relationship with Tine (a fellow student played by Metawin ‘Win’ Opasiamkajorn), who is the target of unwanted attention from another schoolmate. Too much noise (and the not-too-polite Gen-Z speak) and too much makeup characterised the unfolding narrative. Fake, as is often the case in Thai dramas, became real, the hard-to-get turned the unable-to-forget.

Bright Vachirawit as the smouldering Sarawat viewers are madly in love with. Photo: GMM TV

Gay characters are nothing new to Thai TV audiences, but 2gether brought sweet gay romance—not misfortune, repudiation, or indiscriminate sex—to a mass audience. Out of the dozen people we spoke to in Malaysia, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and on our island, all of them except one said it was “predictable”. One Malaysian K-drama fan said it’s very kiddy and is “targeted at teens”. In fact, university is one big social club of clubs. No one ever studies. Yet many fans were sucked into the pull of the simple plot and clichéd comedy (the two actors happily told the media that the drama is “light and easy to follow”). Viewers were talking about getting their “Sarawat X Tine fix”, even when some were saying that “the first half was great to watch but in the second, they were just like friends”. A month after it first aired in February 2020, the streaming platform Line TV reported 50 million views, prompting the online suggestion that it was the concomitant COVID-19 lockdown that was on the drama’s side. When production company GMMTV shared the drama on their YouTube page, the first episode alone garnered 29 million views to date. It was even picked up by Netflix, paving the way to American audiences.

The controversial high school reveal that emerged from the 2020 Elle Thailand interview was more or less confined to Thailand. Although he did apologise soon enough for what he said, he did not escape later, just-as-contentious tweets. Within months of the broadcast of 2gether, the show became a hit in the Philippines, and the massive market, China. In early April, Mr Chivaaree, a photography enthusiast, innocuously liked a post shared by a Thai photographer that featured four skylines referred to as “countries”, and Hong Kong, as fate would have it, was one of them. After a Chinese Weibo user shared a screen shot of that post, Chinese Netizens went quite mad about the actor’s seeming disrespect of China’s sovereignty and demanded an apology. He offered one on, but that wasn’t the end of it.

In Singapore this month for Burberry’s TB Summer Monogram bash at Tanjong Beach Club, Sentosa. Photo: Burberry

Not long after, his supposed girlfriend at that time, the influencer Weeraya Sukaram—aka Nnevvy—shared a Thai tweet that questioned China’s motive in not wanting foreign investigators in the country to determine whether COVID-19 was leaked from a Wuhan lab (and concurrently saying foreigners imported the virus). As with Mr Chivaaree’s retweet, Chinese Netizens were enraged. That was not the final misstep of Ms Sukaram. In one old post that they managed to uncover, she had responded to a question about her clothes she wore in a photograph by saying that the style was “Taiwanese”, again apparently acknowledging another neighbouring island to the mainland as distinct and separate from China. Mr Chivaaree, not yet distanced from her, was also embroiled in the anger she once again aroused among the Chinese. He apologised on her behalf.

The uproarious reaction in China mattered little to the Thais. When, in a tit-for-tat move, the former criticised and insulted Thai politicians and even the king, the Thais were happy that there were others doing the work for them (this was, after all, during the student protest of 2020). It is not known if Burberry is aware that their choice of Vachirawit Chivaaree as their new ambassador may rile the Chinese (still), with implications in possibly the brand’s biggest market, but in Thailand, the appointment is considered a triumph for the kingdom. Some Thais, however, did not think Mr Chivaaree is the best pick, considering him too 2020 and reminiscent of the start of the pandemic. He is, they believe, not as popular as before, even if he is still very recognisable, and well loved among Thai advertisers. There are those who think the current favourites, PP and Billkin—either one of them should have been considered by Burberry.

In the latest Burberry campaign. Photos: Burberry

Although 2gether: The Series was given a second season Still 2gether and the film 2gether: The Movie, with Vachirawit Chivaaree and Metawin Opasiamkajorn in the lead roles, it would be another BL drama, the two-parter I Told Sunset About You and I Promised You the Moon, that found another group of fervid fans. The two male-leads-in-love this time are Krit ‘PP’ Amnuaydechkorn and Putthipong ‘Billkin’ Assaratanakul. Both actors are Bangkok-born and are singers (like Mr Chivaaree, Mr Assaratanakul sings the theme songs of the TV series that he stars in), and both have such on-and-off-screen chemistry that there was persistent “rumours that PP and Billkin were ‘together’ during their school years”, one Bangkok media professional told us. Is it true, we asked. “It’s hard to say,” she replied, “but people like to believe that they were. It’s great for the fandom. That’s why I think what they represent seems bigger than who they really are.”

Perhaps what the actors of extremely popular BL drama represent matters not to Burberry as much as the reach of the brand ambassador they pick. Despite I Told Sunset About You’s huge commercial success—in China, too, where they enjoyed a Douban score of 9.4 out of 10—and critical acclaim—A Bangkok Post review enthused: “At times sensual, at times heartbreaking, Sunset was a well-rounded, coming-of-age drama with good writing, and beautiful cinematography to match”, it would be Vachirawit ‘Bright’ Chivaaree’s shinning star that impressed Burberry’s casting director. In the brand’s images just released, Mr Chivaaree, with those beguiling locks and speaking eyes, looks adequately aloof and moodily romantic—an expression that seems to say, as he did when he, in 2gether, met Tine for the first time, “Keep looking at me like that and I will kiss you till you drop.” Totally “grumpy” Sarawat.

Renaissance: Brand-Name Dropping

In her new album, Beyoncé won’t miss letting us know she’s rich and wears major luxury brands

In the “official lyric video” of Beyoncé’s latest song, her fave brands are made known to viewers. Screen shot: Beyoncé/YouTube

Beyoncé may wear near-nothing on the cover of her latest album Renaissance, but she does let us know in her thumping songs that she has a closet full of expensive stuff. And it isn’t just “this haute couture I’m flaunting”, as she sings/admits in Summer Renaissance. In the “official lyric video” of the song launched on YouTube and Vevo yesterday, she includes a textual list (in full caps) of the brands that she is partial to: Versace, Bottega, Prada, Balenciaga, Vuitton, Dior, Givenchy, and the sole American brand, and the only one with a Black (Liberian-American) designer, Telfar. Token?

We note that she places Versace at the top of the list, Prada above Balenciaga, and is careful to organise LVMH brands in a group and on a single screen. No Gucci! But two ’B’ Kering brands get the nod. Strangely, the two bags mentioned are Telfar (which she tells us is “imported”—made in China) and Birkin, both in the same line, but since she did not mention Hermès, could she be singing about the “Bushwick Birkin” that the Telfar bag, as we know, is dubbed in the US? There is no citing of her own fashion line Ivy Park, although she did consider her other name Bey a ”category”. Not really a song about fashion, Summer Renaissance samples Donna Summer’s I Feel Love from 1977, but her ”it’s so good” chorus is not nearly as orgasmic, even when she sings, “I just wanna touch you; I can feel it through those jeans.”

Her dance-leaning seventh studio album—surprisingly no vocal histrionics—mentions other luxury brands too. In Alien Superstar, she sings about “Tiffany Blue billboards on the ceiling” (obligatory inclusion since she and husband Jay Z are Tiffany models?). And Heated lets us know, “I’ve got a lot of bands (wristbands?), got a lot of Chanel on me (in the chorus, we also heard “like stolen Chanel, put me up in a jail”). She brings up Tiffany again, after reminding us, ”I got a lot of style”. It is possible that Beyoncé is being ironic although it is also likely that she is adopting the tendencies of other rap/R&B artistes: boasting about their possessions and acquisitions—most recently Kanye West telling us via Instagram that he racked up at Balenciaga an attention-worthy total of USD4,032,260 in 2022, so far. It’s so good?!

Mirror, Mirror On The Stage

Touted as the group to revive Canto-pop, Mirror is now in the news regionally for an uncommon-in-Hong-Kong stage mishap. Who are the boys in this band of merry 12?

The 12 members of MIRROR, as seen in a performance in May, 2021. Photo: MIRROR/Facebook

Warning: video links in this post will show footages that may not be suitable to some

Hong Kong social media and news platforms have been buzzing with discussions of what happened at the pop concert mega-venue Coliseum last night, around 10pm. In the middle of the performance by the hottest boy band of the moment MIRROR, a massive LED screen, suspended mid-air, fell, according to local reports. The horrific incident was caught on video (see links below) and it went viral as quickly as the video panel crashed. According to the Chinese paper Oriental Daily (東方日報), “it fell on two dancers who were performing… and one of them was suspected to have been hit on the back of his head”. It added that “many spectators saw the accident, and screams were let out, and some covered their faces and bawled”. The South China Morning Post (SCMP) later reported that “a local hospital said one performer suffered neck injuries and was in serious condition in intensive care while another was stable.”

Staged in Canto-pop’s performance mother ship in Hung Hom (紅磡, pronounced hong hum), southeast of Kowloon, this was MIRROR’s debut at the Coliseum (香港體育館). Last night’s performance was the group’s fourth of 12 scheduled concerts. As seen in video clips circulating online (such as this and this. Please note that these clips may be distressing to some viewers), two members Anson Lo and Edan Lui performed with several dancers when one of the eight suspended LED screens (for close-ups of the boys) plunged, hitting one dancer and toppling onto another in full view of the already-entrqnced audience who screamed in palpable horror and disbelief. The news quickly travelled beyond the Coliseum. An SOTD contributor, who was on his way home in Tsuen Wan in the north, received news and the video of the incident and told us this morning that he “didn’t, at first, think it was true.” A friend then sent him a clip and assured him that it was “新鮮熱辣 (sun seen yeet lat or fresh and hot)”. “As far as I can remember,” our source said, “nothing this dramatic has happened at the Coliseum before”.

At the point of impact. Screen shot: Ezra Cheung/Twitter

Many Hongkongers woke up this morning to the shocking news. Social media platforms saw heated discussions that expressed anger: This, fans noted vehemently, was not the MIRROR concert’s first incident at the Coliseum. On Tuesday night, group member Frankie Chan, soon to celebrate his 34th birthday, fell when he moved too closely to the edge of the stage while giving a speech. But he was not seriously hurt and the concert continued. After the performance, Mr Chan shared on social media a photo of his scraped left forearm, saying, “令大家擔心sorry (leng dai ga dum sum sorry or sorry to make everyone worry”. The day after the fall, more than 11,000 fans signed an online petition to ask for better safety standards for the performers. Although the question of safety was raised again this time, Hong Kong media reported that production companies involved in the live show have not admitted that they were responsible for the suspension of the problematic LED screen. The rest of the MIRROR concerts are now halted, with the new chief executive John Lee ordering authorities to “comprehensively investigate the incident”.

The staggering popularity of MIRROR in Hong Kong has been dubbed a “social phenomenon”, with SCMP describing it as “fervour unlike anything the city has seen for some time”. The rapid rise of the group is especially significant when the mood in Hong Kong still “reels” after the city-wide protest of 2019, the imposition of the national security law that followed, and the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many MIRROR fans are drawn to “Hong Kong people singing to Hong Kong people about things Hong Kong people understand,” as our contributor explained. The fever has afflicted non-locals too. One Hong Kong-based Singaporean told us, “I follow them fervently; I watch all the TV series they are in.” On our island, there’s even an SG MIRROR Fans Club! Last year, so massive did MIRROR become that McDonalds Hong Kong. almost turned their burger chain into McMIRROR, letting the boys’ poreless faces appear practically everywhere and on anything under the Golden Arches, from restaurant interiors to the food packaging to billboards ads, to self-service ordering kiosks. There were even collectible play cards! The fasfood’s video ad with the boys in it drew more than 3.7 million views on YouTube in the past 11 months. The sudden ubiquity of the boys is mind-boggling when the group was only celebrating their 3rd anniversary in that marketing coup with McD.

Mirror in the music video of their 2018 debut track In a Second. Screen shot: MIRROR/YouTube

Like the original size of the “King of Hallyu Wave” Super Junior in 2005, MIRROR consists of 12 members (we won’t list all their names here. That would be for another post). They did not go to some training boot camp organised by a recording company. Rather, each of them participated in the talent competition Good Night Show—King Maker (known locally as Good Night Show 全民造星), which is clearly inspired by the K-pop star search series Produce 101. Created by ViuTV, the Cantonese entertainment channel of HK Television Entertainment, the King Maker (or Kings as it were for MIRROR) is a reality TV program that seeks out talents from scores who show up for competitions, fighting it out in different performances to show off what they truly have. MIRROR comprises these unique individuals, which means not all of them can sing or that anyone of them has a stand-out voice. But that is not the sole ability fans look out for. Among a dozen of winsome boys from different backgrounds (journalism to sports) who get to do their own thing (such as pursue their solo careers or act in TV series without their mates), fans can choose their perfect idol and fashion icon.

There was less of such a collective with which to enjoy one’s star obsession in the past. Until MIRROR’s almost overnight success, the popularity of Canto-pop has been on the wane. Before them, people were mostly listening to artistes from the “golden era” of Hong Kong music: the ’80s and ’90s (we confess we still have Anthony Wong Yu Meng—and his debut band Tat Ming Pair—and the largely forgotten duo The Raiders on our playlist). Three years prior to MIRROR’s entrance, the live TVB broadcast of the 2015 Jade Solid Gold Top 10 Songs Music Awards ceremony (勁歌金曲頒獎典禮), once dubbed “Hong Kong’s Grammy’s” and compulsory viewing, went by without much notice or discussion the next day. Speaking to some Hongkongers, hardly anyone remembered who won what that Sunday night. And then MIRROR arrived In a Second (一秒間).

Curiously, three of the fours bands that were formed under the auspices of ViuTV have two-syllable names that end with the ‘er’ sound, and spelled in full caps, including ERROR and the girl group COLLAR. While many would say that MIRROR offer nothing that has not been covered by far more successful K-pop groups, they are agreeably sons of the SAR soil. Their appeal, as Tatler Hong Kong put it, boils down to the boys’ “good looks and magnetic personalities”. Attractiveness and magnetism are, of course, subjected to re-definition as time passes, but some Hongkongers observing the evolving pop scene in their city note that these boys are not exactly Beyond. “I think they’re more like the Grasshoppers of their generation, only bigger in numbers” another contact told us. “They’re just a copy of what the Koreans have been doing for years”. On their allure, he replied, ”very MK”, referring to Mongkok, the residential and commercial neighbourhood many similar-looking and similarly-dreaming boys gravitate. On our shores, we may simply call them Bengs.

The Heart Isn’t Lonely Anymore

The mighty heart of Comme des Garçons’s Play line now has a Converse star for company

A good heart is hard to find, they say (and sing). But the Comme des Garçons sub-brand Play did discover one. And the brand has used it well, establishing a long relationship with it—20 years! It first appeared on T-shirts, followed but other garments, then on shoes, and perfume bottles. But the mouthless heart—the first-born is red—has mostly been a solo act, even if it has appeared with its siblings of other colours, even expressions. On sneakers, it certainly has been more of a singleton (even if it appears as multiples of itself). Until now. In Play’s latest collaboration with Converse the seeing heart—in red—is given a celestial companion, a star. And a red one too.

On the quarter of the cotton upper of the Converse One Star sneaker (rather than the usual Chuck Taylor All Star since 2009), the heart is placed on its side, as if reclining. The star, a pentagram, slightly askew, appears as an inset, as if framed. The pointed end (chin?) of the heart is directed at the left vertex of the inner pentagon. It is tempting to think there could be a message in that side-by-side placement, but if the pentagram is also a symbol of humanity (as suggested in Leonardo Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man for instance), than the heart, even if it is not looking at his mate, is a fitting—and comely—match.

Play Comme des Garçons X Converse One Star, SGD210, is available at Play corners and Comme des Garçons. Photo: Comme des Garçons

New @ Design Orchard

But first, we have to stop giggling

It is increasingly common for retailers to use social media to hawk their wares. Design Orchard is no exception. We really applaud them for their enthusiastic online marketing efforts, and the smile they bring to our cheerless lives. On their delightful Instagram page, shopdesignorchard, two hours ago, our island’s premier retailer of all things local—not just fashion—shared some of their “new brands, new choices” in a strangely slipshod post. To be sure that what you’d be acquainted with are SG brands, they were certain to let you know that they “love seeing and supporting up and coming (sic) local designers” and that the three-year-old store has admirably “quite a line up (sic) just for you”.

What might that tantalising “line up” comprise? Nine brands—four fashion labels, two jewellery, one skincare, one fragrance, one home ware—are in the dazzling selection. Like Design Orchard, we too love supporting the brands that are proudly birthed on our shores, such as As’Fall, which, according to their own ‘About Us’, first “opened in Lausanne Switzerland in 2009” by French-Sengalese designer Astou Montfort. She moved to our island in 2017, and her label is now “made in SG, Bali” (islandic!), with “embroidery in Senegal”. Design Orchard’s IG post told us (all the following quotes are verbatim) As’Fall is “a brand that works with small family businesses and communities who are rich of long craftsmanship experiences that are inherited down the generations in embroideryy (sic), beading, dyeing or weaving”. Long, indeed. And, experiences inherited, but not the actual craftsmanship?

Then, we were introduced to Flair by Tori, “a Singaporean fashion label (with links to Australia) made for the confident cosmopolitan woman”, not including, naturally, the rest of us diffident kampong girls. Ms Tori’s Flair is in ‘One Wear’, ”uniquely gorgeaous (sic) piece s (sic) that let women go bra free (sic)”. In modest and provincial Singapore, you can’t be more confident and cosmopolitan than that. And if you are seeking “sustainable activewear made upcycled from post-consumer plastic waste that keeps you looking good and feeling good while you lunch, lounge and lunge (or whatever else it is you enjoy doing)”, you are covered by MYË (“pronounced: me-uh”, we learned. How Gen-Z!), whose founder, Raffles Design Institute alumna Mai Takemori, creates “workout clothes designed to last, crafted for performance, and hella cute and comfy”, their corporate message makes darned clear.

If accessories are more your thing, Mildly Pink, which touts itself as “homemade brilliance”, is exceptionally a “Singapore-based female hand-made jewellery label, born out of the founders; passion to portray the world with a magical twist”. Forget the founders, or what they can bear. The world, as we know, isn’t twisted enough. Or adequately inclusive: We need “female” labels. For skincare aficionado, you may gravitate towards Jill Lowe. A blast from the past, the name—once associated with image consulting—now offers you “skincare solutions to rebuild one’s character and image”. Should Siriwipa Pansuk consider this wonderful overhaul? And if you cannot resist a good fragrance, how about those by Scent Journer? They are “on a mission to empower you with perfumes… and only the highest quality organic sugarcane alcohol is used to boost your mood in a nano scond (sic)”. Take a deep whiff: This is better than laughing gas.

Photos: shopdesignorchard/Instagram

Visited: Yeezy Gap

The Kanye West-steered sub-brand of the Gap has its own space in a Gap store at last. But there is no shelf, no table, no rack. Everything is placed in bulk bags. Like merchandise to be discarded, or incinerated

The Gap store in Times Square, New York

Kanye West is paving the way for the Gap, literally with bulk bags. At its inaugural IRL retail run, a “pop-up” inside the Gap in Times Square, the space dedicated to Mr West’s much-hyped partnership with America’s most recognisable mall brand is nothing like what you might expect. Outside, at the corner of Broadway and West 44th Street, the blue façade and its lighter blue box-logo are all unmistakably the Gap. On the roof, above the large three-letter name are two billboards—one of a dove in flight, the other, a still, dark spectre—that stand ominously. Inside, it is just as sinister: In a narrow space the width of a hospital corridor, it is all black and dimly lit (low-light ambience even Abercrombie and Fitch has abandoned), like an entryway to a secret lair. Only this is not an unremarkable passage. This is where the hottest and most anticipated collaboration is sold, shockingly in those typically one-ton (here, they seem more capacious) receptacle of polypropylene for packing and moving goods, all two dozens of them. This could be easily a receiving bay, if not a dump site.

After two years of considerable hype, inconsistent drops, and online-only availability, the Yeezy Gap, presently “Engineered by Balenciaga”, retail space opened last Thursday to long queues. To avoid the possible crush, we visited the store on a Monday afternoon. It was not busy. But it was not the lack of a crowd that hit us immediately, like a slap (such as this one); it was the strange grimness. This is the highlight of summer shopping? This is the Gap? There is more cheer in a Yohji Yamamoto store. We knew there would be a predominance of black, but this drabness and gloominess? And what’s worse, those waist-high, black sacks on the floor! Walk into the store and they are on the right, placed in two rows, like oil drums, in the middle of the passage. It’s like visiting a wholesale market for secondhand clothes. You walk around the bags and look inside them to find what you want. And you have to rummage to find your size. This is worse than excavating a sales wagon at the OG Orchard closing down clearance.

Two rows of bulk bags in which you are encouraged to dig into

We were not the only ones shocked by the refuse point. One Black guy was heard saying to his buddy, who looked like he stepped out of the rooftop billboard: “Are they kidding? Trash bags?” Our photographer, who visited the store earlier said, “it was very unnerving for me to see the black bags in the black surroundings. Can you imagine what it would be like for the tourists?” The containers already looked a mess when we approached, even when there were six staffers folding the clothes and arranging, and returning them to the rightful vessel, tagged with images of the garment that reside in it and the price, after customers have finished with one and moved to the next. There was an unmistakable lack of allure, but since we were there, we thought we should just join the unconventional way of shopping for clothes and just dig, like everyone else. But, we kept thinking of meigancai (梅干菜, dried pickled Chinese mustard) in Albert Centre Wholesale Market. There is something menial about going through the clothes in this manner, too. No pleasure.

We looked at a mock turtleneck T-shirt with a surprisingly tiny white Gap logotype right in the centre, about 5 cm below the neckline. For some reason, the tees are made of very thick cotton jersey (and it was 28°C outside). A pile of, say, five of them is heavy to lift. A woman, frustrated by the hard work she had to do, muttered, “why is everything so fucking heavy?”. To see what what we were digging, we had to bend over the bags’ massive opening. After three minutes, it was too much. One of us decided to try a T-shirt, for the heck of it. At US$140 a piece (or more for other styles), they were rather hard to swallow. We picked the simplest: the mock turtleneck. The fabric was disturbingly thick. No one around us, we noticed, wore anything that heavy, except the staff. When we pulled the top down over our head, it was stuck; when we yanked harder, we thought we popped the stitching on the neckline! Why was it this tight?

Each bag is tagged with illustrations of the style of the garment as well as a number—the price

When we managed to remove the T-shirt, we noted that the neck was ribbed, but why was there the poor “stretch and recovery”, to borrow from production speak? The problem, it appeared to us, was technical: Somehow, Mr West and his team decided on this heavy fabric, and the rib on the neck had no Spandex in it. With possibly mis-calibrated knitting tension, the rib is limp and won’t stretch sufficiently. When we brought this up with a former Gap merchandiser, he was surprised that that could happen. “Is this the Gap we’re talking about here? They do the neck stretch test there (they invented it!), even for children’s clothes!” As for the heavy jersey, one designer told us that this has been the fabric choice—the dry-touch compact jersey that is rather ’70s—for many brands wanting to appear “luxe”, but “luxe,” he added, “does not need to be heavy.”

We did not want to look into the other bags—they were all equally uninviting. There is so much you’d wish to do if the Gap made you feel like you’re at a quartermaster’s retrieving uniforms. It is possible that Mr West wanted to create uniforms for his tribe of eager followers and, in due course, improve the sagging fortunes of the Gap. But these clothes are not the one-time uniforms of teens craving the Gap’s ubiquitous jeans and graphic tees. A far cry from what the Times Square website describes on it pages: “clean, classic and comfortable clothing”. When we first saw the pieces on the Yeezy Gap website, it is clear the line is aesthetically apart from the 52-year-old American brand to which it owes half its name. The Gap has lost its mojo for so long that even fans do not remember when they last brought anything from them (all Gap stores here closed in 2018). The brand needed a life buoy and it was tossed one. Kanye West could, apparently, be to the Gap what Alessandro Michele is to Gucci. So he got the job.

Quite a sea of clothes dumped in those bulk bags

But in the first 18 months of the collab, just two products—one puffer and one hoodie—were made available and only online. Compounding that, the e-retail model was troubled by missed datelines, low stocks, and late deliveries. Mr West seemed to need a life buoy too. So pal Demna Gvasalia came to the rescue and became co-conspirator, an unsurprising turn as the two desire to dominate the fashion world with their oversized, body/face-obscuring clothes. Additionally, Mr West announced on social media not too long ago that he had already spent US$4 million at Balenciaga so far this year (how much more before this is unknown. The former wife’s and daughter’s bill were not tallied either). Why not allow Balenciaga to make more by getting them to “engineer” Yeezy Gap? Speaking to The New York Times recently, Mr Gvasalia revealed that he wanted “to create a solid foundation for Ye’s aesthetic on which they can now build”. The paper also reported that Mr Gvasalia was “engineering the prototypes in the Balenciaga studios in Paris and Zurich”. Most of us already knew the clothes were based on Balenciaga blocks.

Kanye West might have been too busy to see Yeezy Gap through. After the partnership was announced, he ran for the US presidency, saved his marriage (tried to), insulted his ex’s boyfriend, and put out the album Donda, whose overall visual was co-conceived with Demna Gvasalia. Was he too busy to handle Yeezy Gap on his own unaided? Or was he, as the rumours flew, really unschooled in fashion design for a mass brand? According to the photographer Nick Knight, who also spoke to NYT, “if he wants to spend a year looking into the colour blue, we’ll spend a year looking into the colour blue, which is extremely inspiring when so often schedules take priority over creativity. He doesn’t see himself in any way constrained by deadlines or seasons. I don’t think he would even use the word ‘collection’ for what he is doing.” Mr West, in other words, marches to his very own Roland drum beat.

Digital screens to welcome you: The Yeezy Gap metaverse that apparently is taken from a related computer game

Moving to the back of the dedicated space for Yeezy Gap Engineered by Balenciaga, we saw that provision was made for the line that was expected to form at the cashier’s counter, which was just as black as the rest of the store. The rear wall, where a video screen was installed, was dark this afternoon (another two screens to the left of the entrance were aglow with some sky-like background, in front of which two avatars were dancing/spinning in mid-air). We stood comfortably in the quieter rear and sized up the near-monochromatic tableau before us. The shoppers were mostly male, dressed unmistakably in what Mr West desires them to: oversized tops and bottoms. Many gravitated to the T-shirts, with which they could probably at last enter the expensive world of Balenciaga, whose very temple of cool is about 1.5 kilometres away on Madison Avenue. This was far more accessible, and the clothes could be binned when desire, for some reason, was not aroused.

As we were leaving the store, more people dashed in excitedly, like they were approaching some concert merchandise. Would they leave as disappointed as we did? Stepping out into the afternoon warmth, we thought of that thick jersey T-shirt again. For the higher-than-the-Gap prices that Yeezy Gap charges, what incredible experience did the store offer or was it just the letdown that was indelible? It was hard to imagine that this would be how the Gap intends to move forward or ensnare the unconverted. One Singaporean working in New York later told us that he was “completely turned off by the experience” and that he could see a “stark disconnect with mainstream Gap”. When we asked him if it could be just some high concept that escaped him, he replied, with palpable disdain, “high concept, my pantat!”

Yeezy Gap is at the Gap, 1514 Broadway, New York City. Photos: HL See for SOTD

Protest At Dior

In Paris, Chinese students, wearing hanfu, want Dior not to claim a skirt as the maison’s “hallmark silhouette”

Chinese students in hanfu protesting outside the Dior Champs-Élysées store. Photo: 小红书

In February 2018, Dior showed the autumn/winter collection inspired by the student demonstrations that shook Paris in 1968—the models walked through a show space lined with wallpaper, as well as those for floor, of catchy slogans and ripped protest posters. Little did they know that four years later, they would witness a real protest right on their very doorsteps. About two weeks ago, consumers in China were deeply unhappy that Dior had described a “mid-length pleated skirt” that the brand sold online as a “hallmark Dior silhouette”. They considered the said skirt to be too similar to the Chinese’s own ma mian qun ((马面裙) or horse-face skirt and considered Dior’s a “plagiarised” product. The unhappiness rumbled through Chinese social media, but Dior probably did not expect that Chinese students furthering their education in Paris and elsewhere would take it further: To the street—the famed Avenue des Champs-Élysées, no less—in front of Dior’s flagship/headquarters.

Last Saturday, when they were not attending class, about 80 to 100 students (as well as those not studying in France) dressed in hanfu (汉服) fineness—traditional Han Chinese dress (but not necessarily historically accurate)—protested on one of the busiest and known avenues in the French capital. The student organisers, according The Observer, had expected about 20 to turn up, but the support was more encouraging than they had anticipated. According to them, even the locals were supportive of their action. Reportedly, a Frenchman who had previously participated in hanfu-promoting activities and and had worn a ma mian qun himself “understood what the students were doing”. One of the three organisers, surnamed Liu (刘), who apparently flew to France from China to see if Dior is still selling the offensive skirt in their stores in Paris, told the media: “Cultural reference (文化借鉴, wenhua jianken) we support—we are willing to share good things—but cultural appropriation (文化挪用, wenhua nayong) is absolutely not allowed.”

Protesters showing a ma mian qun. Photo: 小红书

The protesters held up cardboards and notices that read “Dior plagie la conception” (Dior plagiarises design), “stop appropriation culturelle (stop cultural appropriation)”, “C’est la tenue traditionnel Chinoise (this is traditional Chinese clothing)”. They chanted non-agressively: “Please stop cultural appropriation and respect Chinese culture”. The rather mild demonstration was livestreamed on Weibo and Wechat, according to Chinese media reports, and attracted more than 500,000 views. Online, Chinese outrage was also directed at how Dior, for the opening of its new store in Seoul and where the brand’s fall 2022 collection was stage to coincide with the event, acknowledged Korean influence in their work, sharing on Instagram that the store “fuses French and Korean culture, incorporating important and innovative digital dimensions”. Dior, those who oppose the brands action say, did not take into consideration the Chinese influence in their creative output, but would give a nod to the Korean’s. In the brand’s show notes of that season, it was stated that the collection, including the skirt, was inspired by school uniforms, hence—it could be assumed—the choice of Ewha Womans University as the show venue.

Some outside China consider the students’ action to be weakly-sighted cultural pride. And that there are other bigger issues to consider. One smaller group positioned themselves opposite the Chinese protestors with their own signs that read “les driots del’homme comptent (human rights matter)” and “裙子 〉人权 (skirts greater than human rights)”, likely referring to the still-problematic issues with the Uyghurs and the Xinjiang region in which they live, where the West believes crimes against humanity is committed by the Chinese government. It is tempting to see that perceived cultural appropriation can be used to divert the scary realness of human rights violation. A Chinese counter-protester was quoted by the press: “these people have the right and freedom to march, but they are discussing whether a skirt is plagiarized, rather than discussing June 4th, the Uyghurs, etc.” Ms Liu’s stand was that plagiarism and cultural appropriation cannot be ignored. She said, “Today, if you—an influential international brand—appropriate our culture, and we do not speak up, then in the future, no one would know that this, in fact, belongs to traditional Chinese culture.” As with most things now debated online, other counter-arguments have emerged. Some in France are now joking that the Chinese are finally aware that plagiarism is not good—the realisation, they say, is “a big improvement”.

Update (26 July 2022, 9am): The Dior “mid-length pleated skirt” is still available on their SG website

Additional reporting: Rachel Zhou

Scam, Bam, Thank You, Ma’am: Who Is Siriwipa Pansuk?

She carries Dior bags and sells those by Hermes and Chanel, as well as watches by Rolex and Patek Philippe. But she’s on the run; a luxury goods fraudster, now known to have operated in more than one city

It is hard not to say that Siriwipa Pansuk (ศิริวิภา พันสุข) is a talented young woman. If reports now slowly emerging in Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand are to be believed, the 27-year-old has a knack for social media and, through her online-retail skills, scamming. So good she had been that the Thai national and her one-year-younger Fujian-born Singaporean husband Pi Jiapeng (皮佳鹏) was allegedly able to make some 180 shoppers or so here part with S$32 million upfront for luxury goods that were never delivered. Both were under police investigation and their passports were impounded, but they managed to flee the Lion City via the Causeway, through the Tuas Checkpoint, concealed in a container of a lorry, driven by a Malaysian man, now arrested. The Singapore Police Force and the Interpol have issued warrants for the arrest of these two individuals (Ms Pansuk became the 13th Thai on the Interpol list). They are believed to have arrived in Thailand, but their whereabouts is not known.

As soon as their wanted status was announced, Thai social media was abuzz with rumours and speculations about their criminal compatriot. It is now known that victims in Bangkok have reached out to their Singaporean counterparts to share the former’s own transactional experiences that involved Ms Pansuk. As it were, she had used the same ruse in the Thai capitol and was, in fact, the Thai police’s person of interest in an investigation into scams that sound similar to what the husband and wife used here to defraud those many people, all the while living a life of enviable/admirable luxury, including the ownership of two flashy sports cars (later reported to be four), one of them purportedly bought as a gift by Ms Pansuk for her husband that were, as shown in online photographs, parked in the driveway of their rented Holland Road house that came with a lap pool.

As it were, she had used the same ruse in the Thai capitol and was, in fact, the Thai police’s person of interest in an investigation into scams that sound similar to what the husband and wife used here to defraud those many people, all the while living a life of supposed luxury, including the use of two fancy sports cars

Known to the online daigou (代购 or purchasing-on-behalf-of-clients) community as Ann, she has now been exposed on Thai social media and news outlets to have scammed others as far as Korea and many others in her homeland. Back in mid-2017 (and until early 2018), when Korea would be hit by a bitterly cold winter around Christmas, according to Yonhap News Agency, Ms Pansuk had spent some time in the capital city. She was reportedly a lover of K-everything (including the TV series Descendants of the Sun) and enjoyed shopping and living in Seoul. No one could say how she was able to finance her relatively long vacation. It was later rumoured that she was dating a Korean man who owned a bar in the swanky Gangnam area. There was no post on Ms Panuk’s social media about such an important and joyous romance in her life (it could have been deleted), but she did share on FB in 2013 her thoughts on a teenage crush on a classmate, writing in Thai, “I don’t know how short or how long. All I know is that I’m happy now”). When the news of the multi-million dollar cheating and subsequent escape from the law here emerged in Thailand, former clients and people who know her started commenting on social media that they were not surprised by the outcome. A friend, who studied at Seoul’s Sogang University and was with Ms Pansuk when the latter was in the city that frigid winter, commented in Thai on Facebook two days ago, “Hone-Krasae (one of Thailand’s most popular investigative TV shows) cometh.”

If this implies Ms Pansuk was involved in some kind of criminal operation that should be looked into, it is not clear what that really was. It is, however, not surprising so many want her apprehended. Some Thais are presently saying that they were duped by Ms Pansuk into investing in a bogus real estate scheme during this period. We are unable to determine the veracity of that charge nor determine if the real estate scam in question played out in Seoul or Bangkok, where Ms Pansuk was supposedly living before decamping to the Korean capital for a while and where she later returned to. Reportedly, she had impressed many of her victims that she came from a wealthy family (even royal!) and had studied in the UK. Before the Seoul sojourn, when she updated her profile photo on Facebook in March 2017, someone she knows asked her where she was at that moment, and she said that she was in Thailand. The guy also wanted to know if she was not going to the UK, and she replied in Anglicised Thai, “No money, so very sad.” Could this be the reason, we speculate, that she went to Seoul to ponder or embark on a career of cheating?

Pi Jiapeng and Siriwipa Pansuk, who is seen in this photo with an Hermes Birkin. Photo: klvnjp123_/Instagram

It seemed that three months after her Seoul escapade, she returned to Bangkok. No one is able to say what happened to her Gangnam romance or if she had a job to return to, but stories are now emerging that she got married to a Korean chap (it is not certain if it was the bar owner or someone else) in 2019, which meant she likely returned to Seoul before the COVID-19 pandemic struck and later overwhelmed the city. When she was in Bangkok, she was plotting with others (reportedly four) to seed the scamming that would be her profession. One Singaporean victim told Shin Ming Daily News (新明日报) that after she “斥责 (reprimanded)” Ms Pansuk (and Mr Pi) on Facebook, a Thai Netizens DM-ed her to say that she, too, was a victim and that Ms Pansuk had been operating her sham business in Bangkok between April and June last year (although others pointed out that it went as far back as 2017. Back then she sold low-price items such as clothing and Line character merchandise). She added that she lost shocking amounts of money to the woman and her accomplices. Reports were apparently filed with the Thai police, who later issued warrants of her arrest—eight of them. Now that she’s on the Interpol list, one Thai vocal coach who was also with Ms Pansuk in Seoul, wrote on Facebook, “It’s almost the day I’ve been waiting for—after four years.”

Through this time, Ms Pansuk’s scams reportedly chalked up more than 100 million baht (approximately S$3.8 million) of paid-up but undelivered goods that included Korean merchandise, even concert tickets. She operated under a different name then, not her actual moniker. How did so many people fall for her offerings or, possibly, charm, deceitful as it was? According to some victims, Ms Pansuk demanded “100% deposit” for items ordered. In the beginning, she would honour the sales to gain trust. On some occasions, she urged her buyers to sell their purchases before they received them at a higher price, claiming that there were interested parties. This could be one way to avoid providing those merchandise already sold. But she did pay the individuals who ‘resold’ their buys, together with the profits earned. One woman said that this encouraged her to trust Ms Pansuk, so much so that she ordered even more bags—another six. Despite the seeming smoothness and profitability of her business, Ms Pansuk was not insecure. In one 2017 Facebook post, she wrote in Thai: “Anyone can call on us when they need us but when we need someone no one is there.”

Siriwipa Pansuk in Bangkok, in 2018. Photo: Facebook

Having evaded the reach of the law in Korea and Thailand, it is thought that Ms Pansuk might have thought herself to be impervious to being caught, even the attendant fear, and believed that moving her operation to Singapore, she might avoid being apprehended here too. She could have fomented the relocation after knowing Pi Jiapeng, a former shoe salesman, who met her through a dating app that some in Thailand said is for rich women seeking boyfriends with the preference of the company of wealthy ladies. According to The Straits Times, that app is, in fact, Tinder. One of the most discussed anecdotes pertaining to the unlikely union, especially among male Netizens, is her gifting Mr Pi with a sports car. It is not known if this was before they were married or after. Or, inducement of marriage. According to Registry of Marriage (ROM) records, the couple tied the knot in September 2020, at the height of the pandemic. If it’s true that she was married to a Korean in 2019, as shared on Thai social media, Ms Pansuk would have divorced the fellow and dated Mr Pi all in less than a year, before the second marriage, which was only a solemnisation service at the ROM building on Fort Canning, and, reportedly, with Ms Pansuk’s mother in attendance.

Born in 1994 in Roi-Et province in central-northeast Thailand, known as Issan (also where the most-lauded Thai male model Zak Srakaew was born before emigrating to the UK, and was cast in a Burberry campaign), Ms Pansuk’s childhood and ’hood are not much known. Although in Korea in 2017/18, she made herself out to be the daughter of a wealthy family, she is, in fact, from far much humbler background. A graphic designer in the Thai media industry told us that Roi-Et is “not the type of province where you’d think of wealth although there are (likely) rich families there.” In one very recent investigation by Thai television channel Amarin TV, her mother, identified as Mdm Khamphong, was revealed to kai manao (ขายมะนาว) or sell limes in a Nonthaburi market (likely vegetables as well, since it is not a viable business to hawk just one type of citrus). A woman, who is supposedly Ms Pansuk’s aunt (maternal or paternal, it isn’t ascertained), told the Amarin TV reporter that, at the start, both she and her niece’s mother hawked together. Then, her co-hawker “became rich” and she stopped coming to the stall, and they lost touch. She added that she had not seen her niece or the latter helping her mother at the stall. A motorcycle taxi driver interviewed even knew that the woman later “disappeared in a (Mercedes) Benz”. The mother, curiously, has gone into hiding, too.

The market stall that Siriwipa Pansuk’s mother runs. Screen shot: Amarin TV/YouTube

Siriwipa Pansuk’s supposed Bangkok residence, even when her mother sells limes in the market and her husband is a former shoe salesman. Screen shot: Amarin TV/YouTube

The new-found wealth resulted in the purchase of a two-story bungalow in a gated residential estate in Nonthaburi that Amarin TV estimated to cost more that 60 million baht (or approximately S$2.3 million). Even the show’s anchors wondered how the selling of limes, which would bring about 300 baht (or about S$12)—presumably per day—could provide the means for a woman to live in, if not own, a multi-million baht home. The same could be said of the daughter: how did a girl of her standing come to possess such a property? The house is believed to have been sold two months ago. Very little is known of Siriwipa Pansuk’s formative years. At some point, the family (comprising the mother and two brothers, one older, the other, younger. There is no mention of her father but Thai media reported that he is a taxi driver) moved south, from Roi-Et to Nonthaburi (her registered address), a municipality about 21.5 kilometres away from central Bangkok. While she told quite a few people that she studied in the UK, she, in fact, attended just one school, according to her Facebook profile: Pramaesakolsongkroh School, a 75-year-old Catholic institution in the north of Nonthaburi. The large schoolhouse, which sits in the heart of Bang Bua Thong district’s seemingly Catholic enclave and in the close proximity of the Maria Mother of Peace Cemetery and The Blessed Virgin Mary The Mediatrix of all Graces Church, provides no more than secondary education. It is not known if Ms Pansuk graduated or how well she faired. In school, she was a member of the Scouts (it appears to be co-ed) and she claimed to like a “social” life. In one post (a response to her musing), a school chum wrote in 2013, when Ms Pansuk would have been 19, “We didn’t study”.

There is also little to glean from her young adult life in Bangkok or what her plans for the future were, other than the cheating she was hatching. After she married Pi Jiapeng in 2020, she was ready to return to her scamming ways. Some Netizens suggested that it was she who led Mr Pi astray, down the path of crime. Many, in fact, were curious about their relationship or if they could communicate at all. It is said that Ms Pansuk speaks English and well enough to conduct business (perhaps attributable to her Catholic secondary school), but it is not certain that Mr Pi, who is originally from Fujian, China, and, according to The Straits Times, a secondary-three dropout, is able to interact with her in proficient enough English to plot their game plan (it’s also unknown if his wife speaks Mandarin or Hokkien). That the fellow, who had been an odd-jobber before selling shoes, was attracted to her is understandable. Ms Pansuk, unlike the typical Issan lass, is relatively fair-skinned. Her seemingly girlish self, contained in a trim, 1.64m-tall fame, would have been the dream girl of a new, mainland Chinese immigrant who, although younger, might not have had it easy meeting a potential spouse.

Siriwipa Pansuk in Bangkok, in 2017. Photo: Deejean Wirapongpakdee/Facebook

However, according to one of the few Singaporean victims who had met the couple and socialised with them, the husband and wife did not appear to be “loving”. He speculated that the relationship was one based on “co-operation”, and that Ms Pansuk was the true mastermind behind their elaborate ruse. He even suggested that Mr Pi was being made use of because his Singapore citizenship came in handy for her, which seem to concur with current online sentiments about the marriage. He was reported to have said that when he met them for a meal, Ms Pansuk did not introduce Mr Pi as her husband. And that Mr Pi did not appear to be advantaged by any personal accomplishment. Another victim claimed that the couple loved gambling and would visit casinos “everyday” and that they were “high rollers”, betting as much as “S$100,000 a night”. It isn’t stated if they won anything or if, there were winnings, the money was reinvested into the business, which included two registered companies Tradenation (now suspended) and Tradeluxury, and a shop in Tanjong Pagar.

It is hard not to say that Siriwipa Pansuk is a talented young woman. It is possible that in all the audacious scheming, the ill-gotten gains, and the eventual escape, even the marriage, she was the sole planner. So smart and resourceful she was that both she and her husband were able to escape the detection of the immigration points of three different ports, to end up in Thailand—undetectable, as they lay low in a country of 70 million people. The story of their incredible daring has prompted some to say that it deserves a Netflix original series. On his IG profile (which is now set to private), Mr Pi Jiapeng wrote, as if foretelling, “Let’s wait for the last laugh”. If they’re patient, it could be them laughing really hard indeed.

Update (11 August 2022, 6.35pm): As reported by The Straits Time moments ago, Siriwipa Pansuk and her husband Pi Jiapeng were caught in Johor Bahru and were brought back to Singapore this afternoon

Illustration: Just So

They Like To Be Taped

Bound like this, walking is difficult, never mind about using the toilet, but it does not matter to these women. Fashion counts

Who wore it better? Or, should that be, who was more comfortable? Both are women who have an intense love of their own bodies, often wearing little to show off their well-tended skin and admirable curves, yet both have chosen to be mummified from the neck down, not with some linen strips, but by rolls of caution—actually, packing—tape. This is Balenciaga’s doing and it is all done under the auspices of the maison’s couture studio. The wrapping is completed by hand (!), fans of bandage-as-catsuit would remind us. Getting fitted for a dress can be a joy, but can the same be said of being bound by sticky, non-porous tape? Yet, Kim Kardashian and, now, Lisso is showing us that it’s okay to endure for fashion’s sake. Just as we thought that the latest cover of Vogue, with Emma Corrin lifting her right arm to show armpit hair, is the final visual frontier magazines will cross, Elle UK, not to be outdone, shows Lisso all wrapped up like the proverbial bak chang (rice dumpling). About Damn Time?

Fashion has to be inclusive. Every woman can be taped if she chooses to, if she is willing to put up with the discomfort, the restriction, the debilitation. To Balenciaga, this may be the art of ligature, but it isn’t known if the two women feel the same. Do they, in fact, consider this severe severe swaddling as sartorial emancipation? Although looking very much the antithesis of fashion (3M-Core?), Kim Kardashian was the first to allow herself to be this wrapped-up last March for the Balenciaga autumn/winter show in Paris. She could not walk properly to her seat and was afraid the supposedly low-tack tapes might rip after her posterior kissed the chair. Perhaps Ms Kardashian did not share her experience with Lisso.

To be sure, the Grammy winner did not look uncomfortable in that cover shot. But, in a video posted on Instagram, she tried dancing to About Damn Time, but could barely. She was as agile as C-3PO doing the Macarena. As she moved, it is clear that the Balenciaga wrapping specialists could not conceal her crotch (or was it mean to be crotchless?) And as she moved to her sides, you could see that her buttocks could not be properly covered (or was it mean to be peek-a-boo down there in the rear?). Even Balenciaga couture could not produce the perfectly taped backside. Polyethylene has more limitations than cloth, but to Balenciaga and their compliant friends, making a statement is infinitely more important. Or, as Lizzo sang in Truth Hurts, they simply “needed something more exciting”.

Photos: (left): AB+DM/Elle UK. (Right): Balenciaga

“Luxury Cheats” On The Run

A Singaporean man and his Thai-born wife, who are wanted by the police here after failing to deliver luxury goods they bought on behalf of customers, have turned international criminals, now that an Interpol warrant is issued against them too

They are believed to have left our island. A Dior-loving married couple, wanted for failing to deliver S$32 million worth of paid-up luxury goods that they allegedly bought on behalf of individuals, has fled, although both of them were earlier involved in police investigations. Their passports, according to CNA, were impounded last month. Shin Min Daily News (新明日报) ran a cover story earlier today with the couple’s full-face photo. In previous reports, their eyes were pixelated. The Straits Times (online edition) has also identified both of them as Pi Jiapeng (皮佳鹏) and Siriwipa Pansuk in response to the authorities who have “revealed their identities”. The Singapore Police Force wrote on its website: “The Police are appealing for information from the public on their whereabouts.” But even before this, a few of those who believed they were ruthlessly cheated had posted photos of the couple on social media and pleaded to be notified if anyone saw both or either of them.

As it has been circulating for more than a week, Mr Pi and Ms Pansuk had scammed a staggering amount of people (including, it is believed, Thais), who thought the couple was able to purchase luxury goods for them at attractive, lower-than-retail prices. Unlike, say, MDada (the live-streaming company of Addy Lee, Michelle Chia and Pornsak), the couple’s methods were not made public or immediately clear. The police received “at least 180” reports against the two of them. Many claimed that advanced payments for Rolex and Patek Philippe watches and high-end bags such as Chanel and Hermès were made, but no goods were delivered. When they tried contacting the couple, they could not reach them. A Telegram group was set up, comprising about 200 members, who shared similar stories of paying and not getting. Following the police reports filed and revelations on social media, Mr Pi was arrested last month and was released on bail. It is not clear if Ms Siriwipa was arrested, but media reports said she was “assisting” in the investigations. And then, as they were to their customers, they were “uncontactable”. According to CNA, a 40-year-old Malaysian man allegedly hid the fraudsters in a lorry in assisting their escape on 4 July across the Causeway. He was arrested and charged. It is believed that the absconders are now in Thailand.

Mr Pi was arrested… and Ms Pansuk was “assisting” with investigations. And then, as they were to their customers, they were “uncontactable”

Twenty-six-year-old Pi Jiapeng, as Shin Min Daily News reported, is a former 鞋店仔 (xiedianzai) or shoe shop chap. According to information posted on the Interpol website, he was born in Fujian, China. An only son from a single-parent family, he met his “wealthy” Thai wife through an unidentified dating app. It is not determined if they met here or in Thailand. He is known to those he allegedly scammed as ’Kevin’, while she is referred to as ‘Ann’. The Chinese paper cited those who are familiar with Mr Pi’s situation, saying that he became “富贵 (fugui or rich)” after knowing Siriwipa Pansuk, a (now) 27-year-old, originally from Roi-Et, Issan, but has a registered address in Nonthaburi, a municipality that is so close to Bangkok that it is regarded a suburb of the Thai capital. On social media, a repeated comment on her posts (discontinued) had been suai (สวยยย) or beautiful. It is possible that it was this chiobu (Hokkien for a female that’s especially attractive or hot) image that drew the geeky-looking Mr Pi to her.

That and, as speculated, her supposed wealth. It was reported that Ms Pansuk had gifted him with a sports car, (it isn’t clear if this was before or after they were married). No one knows the source of the woman’s riches or are aware of her propensity to offer expensive gifts, but some suggested that her mode of operation was evocative of Anna Delvey (real name: Anna Sorokin), the Russian-born German con artist and fraudster who became the subject of a recent Netflix series, Inventing Anna. Mr Pi’s new-found prosperity came so suddenly that he was described to have 飞黄腾达 (fei huang teng da or shot up meteorically). The couple is believed to have last lived in a house with a pool on Holland Road. A photograph of the forsaken residence shared online showed two sports cars parked in the porch.

Pi Jiapeng and Siriwipa Pansuk, Photo: Facebook

Coming into sudden wealth apparently raised no red flags among the people who knew the couple or did business with them. Nor, the two’s supposedly unceasing supply of some of the most expensive watches and coveted handbags in the market. A few of the victims who spoke to Shin Min Daily News claimed to have spent tens—even hundreds—of thousands of dollars through the couple’s social media operations. One of them, who contacted the duo through Instagram, paid—in full—SGD$700,000 for seven luxury timepieces. It is not clear why he was willing to spend that amount and yet chose not to get the corresponding service and assurance at an authorised retail store, other than that “the price they offered was about 10 per cent lower than the market price”. Another victim, a recent graduate, paid SGD40,000 for “branded bags”, with the intention of reselling them for a profit—a common practice. That pecuniary gain was never seen—the goods at no time arrived.

It was reported that the Pis started their buying-for-others activity on Carousell and IG. A year ago, there was a “shop” in Tanjong Pagar (for collection only, apparently), now reported to have shuttered. They told their victims that they travelled often, and, in the case of watches, to Switzerland, where the prices are, the pair assured their targets, cheaper. In police reports, two local companies that they started were implicated: Tradenation and Tradeluxury. Tradenation, according to its IG description, is a “Singapore-registered company (now suspended)” that deals in “AUTHENTIC (in caps) luxury timepiece (sic)” while Tradeluxury is a “one stop (sic) place to shop your favourite bags”. Despite the online negativity now, Tradenation and Tradeluxury did receive favourable reviews on Telegram, although it is not possible to confirm if they are genuine.

Coming into sudden wealth apparently raised no red flags among the people who knew the couple or did business with them

When the news of their possible crimes and daring escape broke in Thailand, chatter began to emerge on Thai social media that Ms Pansuk had previously gotten herself into similar hot soup in South Korea, where, before she met Mr Pi, she supposedly dated a Gangnam bar owner. Photos shared by her in late 2017 and early 2018 did show that she was in Seoul for a while, even offering to show visitors around the city because, as she wrote, “I’m also very free”. During that time, despite a seemingly comfortable life, she allegedly “tricked Thais into investing in a fake company (what it deals with is not known)”, even leading them to believe she had studied in the UK (according to her own social media profile, she attended the 75-year-old Catholic school Pramaesakolsongkroh [that goes by the regrettable abbreviation PMS!] in Nonthaburi, an institution that does not offer tertiary education). Someone who seems to know her wrote in Thai on Facebook, “Are you dead yet? Give me back my money.” It was beginning to emerge that Ms Pansuk was a likely serial cheat.

In the one photograph of the couple widely circulated online and used by the press before the pair’s names were revealed, bespectacled Pi Jiapeng was seen in possibly a Thai holiday resort, wearing a black-and-white jumper with what appears to be all-over Dior ‘Oblique’ monogram. He was shod in a pair of black Gucci Princetown Horsebit mules. His wife, who stood partly behind him, as if knowing her place, wore a black Chanel belt and carried a grey Lady Dior bag. They seemed the much-in-love and much-in-business husband and wife, living the life that their customers could relate to or may have even envied: Materially blessed. The better to not arouse suspicious transactions and to ensnare more bargain hunters into their well-baited trap. A considerable con job.

Update (11 August, 6.30pm): The Straits Times just reported that both Pi Jiapeng and his wife Siriwipa Pansuk were caught in Johor Baru and were brought back to Singapore to face charges tomorrow

Illustration: Just So

Freedom! ’22. She’s Back!

With Fendi’s latest ad, Lindia Evangelista might just be reviving her modelling career, as she wanted to

Linda Evangelista shared on Instagram just hours ago a new image of her, back as a model. So did Kim Jones and Fendi, and those who worked with her on the shoot. The photograph of her, looking recognisably her before the Coolsculpting (also known as cryolipolysis) scandal which allegedly “disfigured” her back in 2015 and 2016, was shot for Fendi to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Baguette, the “iconic” handbag designed by Silvia Venturini Fendi in 1997, during Karl Lagerfeld’s tenure at the house. The Baguette is considered the one that started the ‘It’ bag craze, reportedly moving more than a million pieces in the first 20 years of its existence.

Shot by Steven Meisel, who has put Ms Evangelista before his lens countless times before, the photograph shows the come-back Canadian model looking as many remember her, even when there are three baseball caps atop her head, a pair of shades over her eyes, and two Baguettes (and what appears to be another two mini ones) obscuring her body. On her IG page, the photo received 28,000 likes in the first 13 hours since it appeared (updated). Ms Evangelista does not look in any way marred. This could have been her at the height of her carrier in the ’90s. It is hard to imagine that this is the model who told People in February that a “fat-freezing” procedure Coolsculpting that she accepted left her “permanently deformed”. On IG, she made no comments other than expressing her gratitude to the team behind the shoot.

Last year, Ms Evangelista sued Zeltiq Aesthetics, the company behind the Coolsculpting performed on her, for US$50million (or about S$69.9 million), alleging that what was done caused severe and permanent injuries and suffering to her, and that she was not able to work as model after that. We do not know what is the outcome of that suit or if any settlement is reached. “I loved being up on the catwalk. Now I dread running into someone I know,” she told People. Ms Evangelista’s come-back is in the hands of those she does know and have worked with before, including French stylist Carlyne Cerf de Dudzeele, American makeup artist Pat McGrath, and British hairstylist Palau Guido. According to online buzz, Ms Evagelista will be returning to the runway too—in September for Fendi, unsurprisingly. She did tell People that she’s done with hiding. It is going to be the most anticipated show of the season as Fendi plays its trump card.

Photo: Steven Meisel/Fendi

What Is A Horse-Face Skirt?

In China, this Dior skirt is considered to be one, and not many are delighted that the French house called the silhouette its “hallmark”

Dior mid-length pleated skirt. Photo: Dior

In hanfu (汉服) or traditional Han Chinese dress, there is a skirt with two pleated sides and a flat front (and rear) panel known as ma mian qun (马面裙) or horse-face skirt. Worn since the Song dynasty (宋朝, 10th century) through the Qing dynasty (清朝, 1644—1911), even the Republic era, the skirt is characterised by side panels that are pleated (褶 or zhe), and the front and back that are not. This season, Dior offers a similar “mid-length pleated skirt”, as it is called. Nothing terribly wrong with that accept that the French house describes it on their website as “a hallmark Dior silhouette”. It was this description that ticked Chinese Netizens off this past week when they saw the skirt online (it is now removed from the Dior Chinese website). So similar it was to what the Chinese know as ma mian qun that many spoke up in disapproval, even the online Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily. “The so-called Dior silhouette is very similar to the Chinese horse-face skirt,” it opined somewhat angrily. “When many details are the same, why is it shamelessly called a ‘new design’ and ‘hallmark Dior silhouette’?”

It is not known if the Dior skirt was indeed based on the ma mian qun or just inspired by it. Or, in fact, a take on Sacai’s own interpretation. Maria Grazia Chiuri has rather been into pleated skirts recently, churning out many versions of them for the house’s autumn/winter 2022 season. Some of the skirts are schoolgirlishly short, some are hipster-style asymmetric. Regardless, they are very much a part of Ms Chiuri’s re-imagining of what constitutes modern prettiness and what might be a badge of present-day feminism. On their website, the “mid-length pleated skirt” is recommended to go with a T-shirt that reads on the chest “Femininity, the trap”. Dior was apparently contacted by local Chinese media for comment regarding the former’s ma mian qun lookalike, but has yet offered a statement.

A Chinese full-length ma mian qun or horse-face skirt. Photo: 百科

The horse-face skirt, also known as the horse-face pleated skirt (马面褶裙 ma mian zhe qun) is not named after any equine face. If there is anything related to horses, it is in the openings of the four-panel (四裙门 si qun men), apron-like skirt in the front and the rear that facilitate the mounting and dismounting of horses (or, as one report suggests, donkeys), making riding easier. Its popularity through the many years could, therefore, be attributed to its functionality. The reference to horse faces could be due to the flatness of the front panel (usually unadorned too) of the skirt, which the Chinese called ma mian (马面) or horse face. The first use of the phrase is believed to be in the publication History of the Ming Palace (明宫史) by the Ming Dynasty eunuch Liu Ruoyu (刘若愚), although horse-face skirts date back to the Song.

With the rise in the popularity of hanfu in China and an increasing suspicion of Western brands (after so many created communication materials that purportedly put Chinese people in unflattering light. This would be Dior’s second misstep in China after last year’s photo that “smeared Asian women”) taking advantage of their culture, it is not surprising that Chinese consumers are becoming a tad sensitive when it comes to how their culture is represented or, worse, “appropriated”. The similarity of Dior’s skirt to ma mian qun is probably coincidental, rather than a deliberate attempt at seizing a silhouette for themselves. But we do live in sensitive times, and brands would serve themselves better by refraining from potentially problematic expressions such as “hallmark”. Dior would want to listen to public opinion and not wish the Chinese to think that the maison, in not acknowledging its skirt’s resemblance to one of the Chinese’s own, is—keeping to bodily parts—胸无点墨 (siong wu dian mo) or chest without a dot of ink (literally). In other words, culturally bereft.