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
In two cities, it’s fashionable to frolic in the muck
Mud in Paris versus mud in Singapore. Photos (left): Balenciaga and (right): TikTok
Whose mud is better; whose is muddier? And whose can really muck up? Balenciaga has shown at the recent Paris Fashion Week that, when it comes to fashion show grounds, bog is better than pile. For their spring/summer 2013 presentation, held at the Parc des Expositions, the French couture house created a runway that was not carpeted, but muddied. Yes, earth of the very wet kind. We, too, had our own runway last weekend, during the comeback F1 Night Race, at the parc de City Hall, aka the Padang. It was near-identical, the mud, but we did not have to create the guck. It was there all along, compacted soil waiting for a downpour and excited F1 attendees to whip it up into a deliciously sticky and slimy mess.
According to The New York Times, 275 cubic metres of mud was dumped onto the Balenciaga show venue. But this was no ordinary mud; this was black dirt “harvested from a French peat bog”. Definitely more atas than the common earth on our historic Padang, all 43,000 sqm of it. And Balenciaga had the Spanish artist Santiago Sierra dump and “arrange” the guck there. The only artist we had was good ’ol Mother Nature and her showers. And to make sure their sodden runway smelled right, Balenciaga had a scent specially concocted—dubbed by NYT as “eau de peat”. It was sprayed into the air of the site. Seriously. A perfume to intensify the fragrance of wet soil. Very high-end, indeed. All we had was Mother N’s own bau—geosmin and, consequently, petrichor—and they didn’t have to be spritzed to odorise the Padang.
Balenciaga is known to show their collections outside Paris, even in unlikely places such as the New York Stock Exchange. They are, therefore, not opposed to decamping to foreign soil. If they had asked, we’re sure the Singapore Tourism Board would be happy to arrange for them to have a field day at the Padang, and allow their expensive sneakers and silk gowns trudge through our free and foul mud. According to the show notes, the Balenciaga Paris set was a “metaphor for digging for truth and being down to earth”. We do not for certain if they can do that here, but we are quite sure that the Lion City is as good a venue as the City of Lights to muddy a fashion show.
Is it about the clothes? And they still make them?And the show—what devotionals?
Truth be told, we remember very little of what Yeezy is as a fashion label. They have been relatively quiet (not owner Kanye West, of course) but their return to Paris after the last show—season 8 in 2020—is not. The event was prefaced by Mr West walking the Balenciaga show and his appearance on the Givenchy front row. And there were the notices on social media, including one in Instagram, claiming with sheer exasperation that “Magically No production companies (sic) have been willing to produce my YZYSZN9 fashion show in Paris on October 3″ (that post, since deleted, was accompanied by an image of the list of Gap “Board of Directors”). The show, latter to be touted as being on “the new frontier”, was off to an inauspicious start.
We stayed up last night to try to watch the show on yeezy.com. But, as it turned out, it was a private livestream. On the landing page, we were asked to “enter your email address for YZYSZN9” so as to “join the waitlist”. To watch a livestream fashion show? That’d be a first. But the Internet is a wondrous place and you could still view what some might wish to place a restriction on you. The livestream came on, but we had to wait more than an hour for the show to start. And when it did, it was not even the show. In Virgil Abloh fashion, a film preceded the proceedings, or rather, a video compilation of events past (not necessarily connected to the Yeezy brand), including clips of the dead—John Lennon and Steve Jobs and his mother Donda West, whom Mr West spoke of during the David Letterman talk show—and the living, Kim Kardashian (he really couldn’t let go of her?). Then the waiting continued.
This was the weirdest Yeezy show (or any show), to say the least. Or, more—the most boring, the dreariest and the draggiest to watch. It is amazing how the guests (reportedly only 50 were invited) could put up with the indefinite waiting. The show (more like a rally) finally started, but still no clothes. Kanye West took to the centre of the semi-circular, atrium-like space, offering multiple-Instagram-posts-in-one-rant. Seriously. He fretted, with no spotlight on him, about the reactions to the late start of his Yeezy Season 4 show on Roosevelt Island, New York in 2016, and how the press, having to wait for two hours, “completely killed us” (Mr West forgot to mention that his Donda listening events started late too, but fans, of course, didn’t mind). He went on about the former missus getting robbed “right here in Paris” and people still talking about the Tommy Ton photo, shot in 2009 when he and Virgil Abloh and others attended their first PFW.
Other than his first arrival in the scene, Kanye West wanted to remind you that Yeezy “did change the look of fashion over the past ten years” and that “we are the streets; we are the culture”. And, therefore, “we will not be bullied; we will not be treated differently than you treat any fashion show that might start a little bit later, just to present the best idea to you”. Lateness in the start of shows (and the arrivals of merchandise. Remember what happened to the early drops of Yeezy Gap?) is part of the deal because, in case you did not know, he is all that matters. He stated very clearly, with total alpha-male certainty, “I am Ye and everyone here knows that I am the leader.” That must have been a turn-on for many. It is notable that for a considerable part of this sermonic exhortation, quite a few could be heard saying, when they agree with what was uttered, “yes”, which might have been amen. The self-appreciation/affirmation—and further denunciation (Gap was singled out)—went on for some ten minutes. Towards the end, we heard: “You can’t manage me. This is an unmanageable situation”. By then we were very sleepy and very bored.
Were we here to hear grouses, not see gowns? Shortly after the rambling speech, which ended with “Bernard Arnault is my new Drake” (read into that whatever you will), the show began. And, again, sort of. A little girl took to the performance area, and shouted ”good morning, Donda”. A chorus of juvenile voices responded. Then other kids joined her, including the fashionista-daughter North West. They are reportedly from Mr West’s controversial Donda School (except North), and they continued the salutation to Donda (person, school, or album, your guess would be as good as ours) like a religious chant. A fashion event suddenly seemed like the Kanye West Sunday Service. Or a community event in Harlem. Then a choir master took over, and the worshipful vibe became disturbingly palpable. When the kids started circling the space, as if in some sacred ritual, before the models emerged, it started to look like a cult ceremony. They sang their hearts out, this motley bunch of different ages. There was no explanation as to why the kids were involved in the selling of Yeezy. Early aesthetical indoctrination?
The clothes: Before the ragtag models joined the still-singing children, they were filmed somewhere backstage, and the live images were projected on the on-site screen and shown—each quadrupled—during the livestream. It would take no effort to see the similarity to Yeezy Gap Engineered by Balenciaga’s communication materials. Yeezy solo is still unable to pull away from the aesthetic that Demna Gvasalia had helped the collaboration cement. And it is a look Mr West has been personally keen to adopt and push, including the obscuring of faces—identity be damned. The Yeezy collection is really variations of what were established earlier with The Gap, even when Mr West seemed certain that “the idea behind this collection is that everything is pulled on and pulled over… The future of clothes… No hardware…” Or, for that matter, discernible logos. But what Yeezy hoodie or T-shirt isn’t pulled over, and has no hardware?
The collection is, we’re told, co-designed with Shane Oliver of Hood By Air. Mr West apparently couldn’t go at the design singly. But the hand of Demna Gvasalia is strong. The lightest clothes, a pair of fitted singlets with spaghetti straps and cold hips (and the similar in dress form), were overwhelmed by the pieces that were variations of the hoodie and the puffer, now puffed to extreme shapes, and the outers that looked like rags wrapped around and around the body. Is this truly the direction Yeezy is taking to make fashion accessible to everyone, to break down the class divide that Mr West believes exists in fashion (never mind the show was attended by the said 50 people), even if it is doubtful that anyone wants to looks thrice their size and, in doing so, appear sinister? That Kanye West is able to continue to do this, to appear baleful, is due to, in no small part, the ardent support of those who really believe he is a design deity: such as attendees Anna Wintour, Hamish Bowles, Demna Gvasalia, Riccardo Tisci or friends-as-models Matthew Williams and Michèle Lamy (wife of Rick Owens), and Naomi Campbell, who looked like she was wearing an inflatable pool bed.
Not much about the collection was immediately talked about post-show, even on social media. By next week, the clothes may be forgotten. But one item had already stoke fires: the black, long-sleeved T-shirt Mr West wore, with a photo print of Pope John Paul II across the chest. At the back were three words in white san-serif font, arranged in three lines: “White Lives Matter”, a slogan that came into use in 2015, after the Black Live Matter movement. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama, the phrase on the T-shirt Mr West wore is “a racist response to the civil rights movement Black Lives Matter, is a neo-Nazi group that is growing into a movement as more and more white supremacist groups take up its slogans and tactics.” The Anti-Defamation League declared those three words a “hate slogan”. It did not help that Kanye West was seen with conservative influencer/commentator/activist Candace Owens (three weeks ago, she called Kim Kardashian “a prostitute” on her talk show Daily Wire), who also wore the same top, but in white and with black text. How nuts were the Wonder Twins? Mr West, for whom “slavery was a choice”, did say earlier in his tirade-cum-homily, “people feel like they have the right to come to my face and call me crazy. Like it doesn’t hurt my feelings. Or like, you don’t have to be crazy in order to change the world.” Yeah.