Happy, Happy New Year!

This December has been a strange month to close the year. The fashion industry here has lost at least three of its notables, all within the very last week of 2022. On Monday, we learned that one of the top models of ’70s Mimi Tan passed away. And then just four days later, we heard that the veteran fashion journalist Cat Ong, who co-penned the book Fashion Most Wanted, departed. Moments after, we learned that Tang Wee Sung, credited for bringing one of Singapore’s oldest department stores CK Tang into the modern age, left too. Even for the strongest among us, such information is not easy to digest. It is truly, for a serious lack of a better phrase, the passing of an era.

We know it is not terribly upbeat to talk about demise in welcoming the New Year, but perhaps the recent confluence of deaths, including, in the UK, that of Vivienne Westwood, does remind us to be grateful for what we have, however wide the extent or small the constituents. This past year has been a strange one, with unequal parts of the good and the bad, and the downright awful. But, we are grateful of the support we have received from the increasingly large number of readers of SOTD. This year, we have achieved the highest number of views since our inception in 2013. From this, we are confident that the long reads that we have been sharing isn’t, as it is commonly thought, disfavoured. A heartfelt thanks to all our readers. And a Happy New Year.

Photo illustration: Jim Sim

People: The Top Reads Of 2022

Who did what: that seemed to interest many of you in the past year

The past year has been a mixed bag if we look into what deserved examining somewhat closely, but one thing was certain, people were interested in other people. While 2022 drew those readers who were keen to know about stores that were closing—understandably so as many businesses were terribly affected by the pandemic, which, incidentally, isn’t over—or opening, it was also one in which some individuals in the news are more fascinating and curiosity-arousing than others. We don’t mean the puke muffin that is Kanye West (he was, of course, a subject of tremendous interest), but those who are closer to us—on our island or in Southeast-Asian cities, such as Thailand. And no one made compelling news more than a pair of scammers.

Leading the top five most-read post of the year (excluding the homepage) is our profile of the Thai lass Siriwipa Pansuk who, together with her China-born Singaporean husband, not only cheated scores of shoppers, but was also able to escape our island while under police investigation and, presumably, watch. In fourth position is a piece from last year about the model Duan Meiyue, a face artists all over the world love. We think people are fascinated with her because she has been constantly displeased with being an unsolicited subject of art, and was pondering to sue, even all the way to Russia!

In the fifth place is a rather old post about Burberry’s unusual pick for their 2020 campaigns. This Isaan boy Zak Srakaew, although no longer the face of high fashion, continues to draw attention. Talking about old posts, our report on the closure of Pedder on Scotts in 2021 continue to bring in readers; it holds its place at number two. We wonder if people truly regret to see it go. The biggest riser of the year, jumping to a respectable third spot in just two months, is the report on Vogue SG’s troubles when their publishing licence was cancelled in October and then granted again, for another six months.

In terms of readership, 2022 has been our best year since we began, exceeding what was a good 2021 by an encouraging 55%. As we go into our 10th year of sharing with you what we think of fashion, the businesses and people behind it, we hope you will continue to read—and enjoy—Style on the Dot, wherever you are.

Collage: Just So

An Uncommon Beauty

Obituary | Mimi Tan, model-turned-operator of one of Singapore’s leading modelling agencies, has passed

Model and business owner Mimi Tan, with her unmistakable smile and cheekbones. Photo: Mimi Tan/Facebook

Many model watchers today are unlikely to be familiar with the local name Mimi Tan, but back in the hippie years of the ’70s, Ms Tan was a highly recognisable and bankable face in the modelling scene here, and then, in the middle of that decade, co-owner of one of the big four agencies on our island at that time. Last Monday, it was shared on the social media pages of fashion professionals of a certain vintage (as well as some of her close friends) that Ms Tan had passed away. We understand that the cause of death is lung cancer. Not many knew that she was so seriously ill, but some noted that she, an active 10-year Facebook user, had stopped posting on the social media for a while. Ms Tan was 76.

Our memory now of that fashion era is a little sketchy. Here is what we can recall. Mimi Tan was a successful print and runway model in the ’70s, appearing not just in fashion editorials and ads, but also those that sells alcoholic beverages such as Martini. At the start of her career, she was represented by Joan Booty Academy of Modelling (in the ’60s, they were also referred to as “training and charm school”). These “academies”—as they were mostly known, probably to lend some respectability to the business—were operated by British entrepreneurs who, apart from Ms Booty, included Ruth Warner of Ruth Warner’s Singapore Model Academy. Two of them were the biggest agency names at the time. Ms Tan was one of Joan Booty’s popular girls. In 1972, she, along with five others of different ethnicity, represented our nation on a fashion tour of the UK—in London, Manchester, and the South-West port city of Plymouth—“to give Britons a glimpse of the east”, as the publicity material informed. The traveling show was called Oriental Ride. One photo handout at the time curiously showed the svelte Ms Tan in what could be considered Malay dress.

Ms Tan on a holiday in 2015. Photo: Mimi Tan/Facebook

Although Mimi Tan was almost synonymous with Mannequin Studio, the modelling agency was, in fact, founded in 1972 by Ruth Warner as a sort of a second act. Ms Tan was invited by Ms Warner to train the girls of her agency, which did not only instruct would-be models, but also those who wanted to carry themselves better. A classified advertisement in the The Straits Times in 1975 read, “You know that Mannequin Studio trains mannequins and photographic model girls. Do you know we also conduct deportment and grooming classes for women of all ages?” Ms Tan was probably tasked to find the next her. The studio’s standing in the industry was so esteemed that in 1978, a Mannequin Studio model, Jane Lim, was cast in an English-language film produced by the globally-renowned Chinese-American actress Nancy Kwan. Although Ms Tan was still modelling then, it is not certain if she also modelled for Ruth Warner at this time, but in 1975, she was asked if she’d like to take over the agency. She did, with another partner, Joan Lui. And for much of the rest of the ’70s, they were referred to as “agency heads”. Mannequin Studio, believed to be the oldest Singaporean modelling agency (the most famous and largest at one time, Carrie Models, was founded in 1976), merged with another, Modelling Arts, in 1981 with a grand show at the Crystal Ballroom of Hyatt Hotel to form Mannequin Arts Studio. The new outfit produced some of the best models of that time, such as Daphne Lee and Jeane Ho.

Models who ran their own agencies were common in the early years of the industry. In fact, Mimi Tan was among the four “ah jie (big sister)” beauties who wielded considerable clout at the time. They included Carrie Wong of Carrie Models, Ida Ong of Imp International, and Elsa Yeo of Elsa Model Centre (also known as Elsa Model Management). Sure, there were other agencies, such as Marisalon Model Studio, Ivor’s Modelling Studio, and Richard Tan Model Centre, but they did not quite make a dent—at least in the fashion industry—as the other four did. In the ’80s, modelling agencies were quite community clubs. A former magazine editor told us, “I remember hanging out at the Mannequin office in Singapore Shopping Centre. I was not a model, so I do not know what I was doing there, but I remember seeing Humphrey train the girls, showing them how to catwalk.” Many stylists of that time remember the ebullient Humphrey Lim and the quieter David Lim [both unrelated], who were also bookers and who, as one former fashion editor told us, “ran the agency (they had shares in the company too). Mimi was very much behind the scene.” But in 1989, Ms Tan decided to quit the enterprise she had made an industry biggie. She sold Mannequin Studio to one of the most successful of her girls at that time, Seraphina Fong, who had decided to step aside after four years in the limelight.

The six women from Joan Booty’s Modelling Academy, who represented Singapore in a series of shows in the UK in 1972. From left: Mimi Tan, Ong Gaik Kim, Patsy Pang, Pamela Ragan, Yasmin Saif, and Joyce Ho. Photo: National Archives of Singapore

Two years after she walked away from the modelling business, Mimi Tan entered another world of models—dummies. In 1991, she opened Mimi Tan’s Mannequins, a niche retailer with brand-named offerings of modern 3-D representations of the human body that were appealing to an increasingly fashion-aware population. Some of the mannequins that she distributed included those from Europe, such as Hindsgaul from Denmark and those by the British mannequin designer Adel Rootstein (whose leggy goods were then dubbed the “Rolls-Royce of mannequins”). Some of these were based on real models, such as the legendary Twiggy and the now-retired Yasmin Le Bon and Joddie Kidd). They appealed to a younger breed of shoppers who were no longer drawn to mannequins once favoured by Robinsons and Metro. Ms Tan’s sleek dummies, some in the new material that was fibreglass (much lighter than those made of wax and plaster, as it was in the past, after the even earlier papier-mâché ones were no longer in favour), were so alluringly premium that her mannequins were even supplied to the just-as-atas The Link (multi-label store at the old Mandarin Hotel and, later, Palais Renaissance, both now closed). A former fashion editor recalls meeting Ms Tan around that time: “She told me these mannequins didn’t talk back and didn’t give her a headache!”

Many who were fashion-industry pioneers remember not only her striking good looks, but her stylish dress sense too. In the ’70s, she was a regular customer of the made-to-measure Joy’s Boutique (which was then sited in the now-demolished, Goodwood Group-owned Malaysia Hotel on Cuscaden Road), opened by the designer Joyce Mizrahie, who later became synonymous with the Italian label Roccobarocco that she distributed and retailed. One Singaporean designer, who fondly remembers her wearing his designs even before he started his own label, told us: “She was very confident in her own taste. She would choose my clothes to wear, including those for tea shows she used to organise and walked in.” Ms Tan was, in fact, considered a pioneer of Saturday tea fashion shows of the ’70s, and was much associated with those in the Hotel Malaysia lobby. Back then, and throughout much of the first half of the ’80s, luncheon and tea shows (sometimes held on a hotel poolside—Holiday Inn’s on Scotts Road was a favourite venue) were popular, culminating in must-attend shows during the now-unheard-of Secretaries’ Week (usually in April). Modelling agencies produced and staged many of these generally runway-less events.

Ms Tan in Madrid, 2013. Photo: Mimi Tan/Facebook)

Mimi Tan was born in the Malaysian island of Penang on the fourth day of the new year of 1946 to an Indonesian father and Chinese mother. When she was young, the family moved to Hong Kong where they ran a successful car business. By her own admission, she was not interested in automobiles, so in her 20s, opted not to assist in the family business. Instead, she chose banking, and in the early ’60s, joined Standard Chartered, but that turned out to bore her. She then applied for a position as a flight attendant with Cathay Pacific and was hired. She enjoyed flying and often recalled the celebrities she met and the parties she attended in cities such as London. During her days off between flights, she modelled part-time, and one of her early noted campaigns was for the Hong Kong store Maison Marie, precursor to the now internationally-known Joyce Boutique, part of the Lane Crawford Group. She flew with Cathay Pacific—on the Convair 800 Jetliner(!)—for four years before relocating to Singapore, where she turned to modelling. She was quickly welcomed into the fledgling fashion scene. Those who knew her or had worked with her remember that “she was always smiling, always friendly with everyone, no airs,” one PR veteran recalls, “and that deep and feminine voice, and polished too.” A stylist also remembers that she was “friendly and a little campy. Whenever I met her, her bubbly personality always overpowered the person she really was. To one starting out in fashion, she was easy to be around.”

Despite her unblemished standing in the industry, Ms Tan found herself the target of unkind words which were even more hurtful in the era before the advent of social media and attendant online trolling. A former secretary, Michelle Phang, who became founder of a competing business The World of Mannequin, gave an interview to Marie Claire in 1995, in which she alleged “betrayal” when her “former boss” joined her company and tried to oust her. No name was mentioned in that article, but Ms Tan knew who it referred to. She sued Ms Phang for defamation (and set the record straight: she did not go into business with her). In 1997, Ms Tan was awarded S$65,000 in damages and cost. The judge at that time ruled that Ms Phang harboured “obvious grievances” because she was fired from her job for being “foul-mouthed and ill-tempered”. After winning the case, Ms Tan said to the press that she had “to right the wrong of the defamation”, adding, “integrity and reputation, particularly in the field of fashion, are more important to me than any monies that I can hope to obtain.” It was clear by then why Mimi Tan, who still loved her hometown foods, such as assam laksa and ju hu cha (鱿鱼炒, Hokkien for cuttlefish fry), chose to leave the industry, while she was ahead of the game. But Mannequin Studio, although now in different hands, continue to hold what she had left behind in unmistakably good stead.

Is It Still Cool To Wear Yeezys?

Following the end of the relationship between Adidas and Kanye West, reports have emerged of objectionable work environment in the Yeezy/Adidas office in California and elsewhere. Are Yeezys still the footwear to be seen in?

A young chap in Adidas Yeezy Slides

By Awang Sulung

Yeezy is over. At least from Adidas’s side of the story, the name is. There are reports that Adidas will release non-Yeezy Yeezys next year. I am not sure if Kanye West is able to continue using the Yeezy name, but I am certain that is the least of his problems. There is still YZY. And, possibly a YZY SZN 10. No Yeezy Days? How about Donda Days? There is Donda Sports, Mr West’s managing agency that represents athletes in branding deals (and they sell stuff, like a hoodie, a pair of shorts and socks, all marked on the website ‘sold out’!). And don’t forget Ye, a name waiting to be slapped on merchandise. If Adidas continues to sell the designs that came about under Yeezy, but without that tainted name, will they still hold any appeal? Is Yeezy the same if it is not Yeezy? I mean, do sneakerheads want them if they look like Yeezys but are just Adidas? Does Adidas Boost 350 V2 have the same ring, even if you know which Yeezy shoe it is? Yes, questions there are, but, frankly, no easy answers.

Two months have past after the news that Adidas potong-ed ties with Kanye West, and a tumultuous year is near the end. Oddly, in a single day, I saw two separate guys wearing Adidas Yeezy Slides—yes, the one Mr West accused the German sportswear giant of “copying”. And in the following week, I saw more. All of them walking with considerable swagger. I think the colour of those slides I saw is the one former Adidas Yeezy (or Mr West? Was he involved in colour-naming?) called “Pure”. Oddly, all of them in that pale shade. On those occasions, I was not sure if I saw anything that wholesome. If bigotry has a colour, might it be that? Those anti-Semitic rants are still kind of fresh (let’s not even talk about his interview with Alex Jones!). And Mr West (I’ll still refer to him as that since he has always been Kanye West, the rapper, to me) has not showed that he is regretful, let alone remorseful, even planning to run for president of the US, again, totally unconcerned that what he spewed before would haunt him on the campaign trail, possibly now not trodden by Yeezys.

Another fellow in the same slide

Warning: the following contains words and descriptions some readers may find offensive

Recap: But what is more disturbing is the news that emerged, revealing the kind of boss and creative head Mr West was while steering the design and production of Yeezys. According to a report by Rolling Stones (they spoke to former staffers who requested anonymity), the rapper-designer was in a constant state of flux, even “pure chaos”. One informer told the magazine: ““It was the most hectic and chaotic experience of my life [and] career.” But poor managerial and operational skills aside, Mr West is described as a belligerent boss, and one inclined to show his sexual side even at work. Another report, headlined Kanye West Used Porn, Bullying, ‘Mind Games’ to Control Staff alleged that in one design meeting, Mr West was displeased with the shoes shown to him. He approached a senior female staffer and said to her, “I want you to make me a shoe I can fuck.” At other meetings with executives, he apparently played porn, showed intimate images and explicit videos of ex-wife Kim Kardashian. Sometimes, he showed “his own sex tapes”. It was also revealed that an open later by the Yeezy team stated that senior Adidas execs knew of Mr West’s “problematic behavior” but “turned their moral compass off”.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the chief executive and his top guys pondered over the potential fallout from its collab with Kanye West four years ago. They knew it might come to this, but perhaps making money was more important? They latter announced that they would US$246 million in profits by taking Yeezy out of the Adidas line-up. What Mr West did with Yeezy that led Adidas to such profitability and then loss was often thought to be a “cultural sensation”, but now he is a cultural pariah, best ignored, even forgotten. I have never owned a single pair of Yeezy, so I can’t say what choosing not to wear them feels like, but one of my buddies did say to me that now when he takes stock of his numerous pairs, “they look like sampah”. This is probably not how others consider Yeezys that cost them not a small sum. You can still get Adidas Yeezys at SNKR Dunk, moral compass not in sight. But do you really want to?

Photo: Jim Sim

Barking Up The Wong Tree

Is Marc Jacobs doing Heaven any favour with his homage to Asia’s favourite auteur, Wong Kar Wai?

We can’t speak for you but, to us, the inspiring oeuvre of the giant of Hong Kong cinema Wong Kar Wai (王家卫) is best left untouched by the extravagance and capriciousness of fashion. Mr Wong’s filmic output is not Star Wars, destined for merchandising triumph. So when we learned that Marc Jacobs (or, perhaps, his design team) has picked Mr Wong’s works—symbols, sayings, and scenes—to be design elements in the latest collection of his sub-brand Heaven (in collaboration with the filmmaker), we were quite scandalised. It didn’t help that the images that accompanied the capsule were nowhere near the vicinity of Mr Wong’s idea of off-beat cool. To be sure, these clothes aren’t targeted at film snobs with a rabid passion for Asian cinema. Rather, they look straight in the eye of the all-prancing TikTok generation. It, therefore, begs the question; how many Gen-Zers know Wong Kar Wai? Or desire to?

Mr Wong’s films are known and appreciated for their non-linear, fragmented narratives. The graphics and text used in the Heaven collection, conversely, go from screen to garment in a single bound. They are devoid of what might be considered graphical wit. Sure, these are, as we have mentioned, for a very specific audience—the very young who, for some reason, are seduced by Y2K looks, but not necessarily their creative nuances. The clothes might have the glance-back-at-that-time vibe, but they do not say anything vividly about the films which purportedly provided the inspiration behind the collaboration. Mr Wong’s works that inspired the small collection are 1994’s Chungking Express (重庆森林), 1995’s Fallen Angels (堕落天使), and 1997’s Happy Together (春光乍洩). These are complex stories with complex characters—obsessions and fantasies too—but the Heaven adaptation is just slap the text/visual on and go. Mickey Mouse on Uniqlo UT tees have more creative heft.

Mr Wong’s films are known and appreciated for their non-linear, fragmented narratives. The graphics and text used in the Heaven separates, conversely, go from screen to garment in a single bound

The urban environment of a Wong Kar Wai film isn’t the glass-and-steel polish of Hong Kong’s Central. Rather they have the seductive mess of the parts of the city where you can find gambling dens next to shops selling congee. The visual strength of the films are in their grunginess as well as indie-ness. The costumes are often slightly off-the-tangent. For us, the definitive fashion heroine in these films is Chunking Express’s Faye (阿菲, played by Faye Wong [then known as Wang Jingwen or 王靖雯] in her first major role), a protagonist who works in a doner kebab store (it is not clear if she sells shawarma or gyros), and listens to the Mamas and Papas’ California Dreamin’. She sports a boyish, pixie crop and her wardrobe is dominated by slim-fit tees, loose shirts (floral), and calf-length skirts (there’s even an ombre one). The only bag she carries is a backpack. Her clothing choice throughout is simple but unconventionally paired, even when she is a volunteer domestic cleaner in the apartment of the policeman she finds herself attracted to (she stole the key to his flat to gain access). Faye as Faye is a jumble of nervous energy, but with seductive, capital-S style.

The clothes of the Heaven and Wong Kar Wai collaboration, pulled together, try to be commensurate with that, but they have less character than the pink rubber gloves that Faye uses to clean the flat that she happily intrudes regularly. On some tops, a quote from the film—“Love you for 10,000 years (爱你一万年 in the original Chinese, which sounds and reads better)”—is emblazoned across the bodice, as if they are cheap slogan tees. Do Heaven fans know what that means? Are they even nostalgic for Hong Kong cinema of the ’90s? Heaven is a reflection of today’s youth culture, but they borrowing from the themes of Hong Kong art films of the past. The result is aesthetically wonky; the cultural/cinematic reference disingenuous. Despite its somewhat esoteric inspiration, it can’t escape the Shein posturing, minus the low price. Admittedly, Heaven by Marc Jacobs is not Marc by Marc Jacobs (discontinued in 2015). It has to be better, a lot better.

Heaven X Wong Kar Wai collaboration, from SGD135 for a T-shirt, is available at marcjacobs.com. Photos: Heaven by Marc Jacobs. Collage: Just So

It’s Removed!

H&M withdraws their collaboration with Justin Bieber after the singer called the clothes “trash”

It is funny that Justin Bieber has called the output of his collaboration with H&M ”trash”. Even if he is considered by many, including his fans, as a style icon, it is not certain that he is, in fact, such an arbiter of style that even the powerful H&M has to bow down to him, withdrawing the collaboration as soon as the singer deemed them to be garbage. Sure, he has his own fashion line, Drew (and the collective Drew House), but it is hard to determine if he is a man of innate taste, just like Kanye West. Sure, like Mr West, he wore Balenciaga and modeled for the house, but we were not aware that he is this knowledgeable in what clothes deserves to be binned. Now we know. Just one word—“trash” (the full sentence: “the H&M merch they made of me is trash”, expressed through Instagram Story two days ago)—and the Swedish brand yanks all the related merchandise online and off. We see the power of celebrity in action, again.

Collaboration tight spots these days are of course very much par the course, especially those involving singers. Mr West famously accused The Gap of not producing exactly what he wanted and not pricing the merchandise as he thought reasonable. It is probable that Mr Bieber’s very public disapproval is a page off Mr West’s partnership play book. People don’t go to the top these day; they take to social media. Who bothers with one CEO when you can galvanise millions of your followers. And that was exactly what Mr Bieber did. He told his audience of 270 million directly: “I wouldn’t buy it if I were you.” And then he became instructional: “Don’t buy it.” H&M likely did not expect that recommendation. In a statement quoted by Rolling Stone, H&M explained that they withdrew the products “out of respect for the collaboration and Justin Bieber.” We don’t remember reading of such deference in relation to Mr West’s plight!

People don’t go to the top these day; they take to social media

Frankly, we weren’t aware of an H&M X Justin Bieber collaboration. We are, after all, no Beliebers. As we gathered, H&M launched the new collection of Bieber merchandise early this month. They have been sold for weeks now. Most of the pieces, like concert merchandise, sport teenaged faces of the singer. Oddly, H&M allegedly did not have Mr Bieber sign off on the collection before putting it out on the selling floor. The singer was adamant: “I didn’t approve it.” WWD quoted a statement they received from H&M: ”as with other licensed products and partnerships, H&M followed proper approval and procedures.” The company is a serial collaborator. It is unlikely that they did not have standard ways to get a collaborative collection out. At first, H&M said they would continue to sell the merchandise despite their collaborator’s stern disapproval. Just a day after, they changed their mind, and withdrew the whole collection.

The abrupt halt of the sale of products already on the selling floor is rather odd. This was not the first time that Justin Bieber worked with H&M. In 2017, they partnered to produce the merchandise for his Stadium Tour. That first time must have been successful for either side to desire to come together again. Clearly, he didn’t see any trash then. This time round, surely they knew what to expect from each other. The pieces from the latest collab is no different from the one earlier. You get the usual hoodies, T-shirt—now, in the length of a dress—and there is presently a tote bag. Not terribly complicated to the point that approval from the guy whose face is used on the products is somehow muddled in processes and procedures. Disruption may be a buzzword in fashion and business, but where it would lead these two strong brands to or who will emerge victorious is hard to say with certainty. You can’t untrash trash, can you?

Photo: H&M. Photo illustration: Just Soh

Adidas Presses “Pause”

…on the collaboration with Balenciaga. Has recent controversial events pertaining to the latter led to this decision?

They have already cut ties with Kanye West. It took a while, but they did. Now, Adidas has apparently decided to “pause all product launches” with Balenciaga. Like Kim Kardashian, the maker of the Stan Smith has decided to “re-evaluate”their relationship with the creator of the Triple S. In a very recent report by Sneaker Freaker, customer service emails by Adidas were sent out last week in response to pre-orders of the US$800 ‘destroyed’—and, consequently, derided—Balenciaga X Adidas Stan Smith. Adidas wrote: “We have taken the time to re-evaluate our partnership with Balenciaga and we have decided to pause all product launches until further notice.” As such, they added, “we are unable to fulfill your pre-order of the Balenciaga/adidas Stan Smith.” They did not specify why there was a need for this re-evaluation. We have not been able to establish the veracity of the said email.

Could this, if true, be a preemptive move? Balenciaga was, as you remember, embroiled in a scandal involving the injudicious use of questionable objects in their advertising. It led to considerable online outcry, even compelling Ms Kardashian to make a statement—although somewhat vague—about her future commitments to Balenciaga. It didn’t help that Balenciaga wanted to sue the companies that oversaw the production of the ads, and then… withdrew. In the wake of the unceasing Kanye West social media rant that led to the demise of his collaborations with both Adidas and Balenciaga, could Adidas be doing the right thing before they are accused, again, for being slow to act in severing ties with those who are deemed offensive, even incendiary? Can they afford to wait until the situation at Balenciaga gets better or when people, if they do, forget?

The Balenciaga X Adidas collaboration is a full-line affair (including a water bottle!), and now out in Balenciaga stores. Contrary to a vogue.com report in May, it is not “already selling out”. Not even presently. We saw the collection in-store (admittedly not in its entirety) and we went away thinking we won’t suffer without a piece. It wasn’t that hard to come to that conclusion after seeing the advertising campaign, shot in an office. The bagginess for most of the pieces is not exactly the component of an extremely smart turnout. Nor, the embroidery of the Balenciaga logotype on some of the tops. The Stan Smith was not there, but the S$1,650 Triple S with the triple stripes was. We were told by a staffer that they “have not received the stock for the Stan Smith”. In fact, it is no longer listed on the Balenciaga website. That is, as it appears, just one item that Adidas is holding back from the collab. Or, are they saying that they are re-evaluating the two’s future partnership? Are they finally treading cautiously after losing a projected US$246 million by cancelling Yeezy, as they traverse a deeply complex world of fashion?

Illustration: Just So

“Truth To Power”: They Suffered, Severely

With the second package of the six-part docu-series now streaming, it is clear that the Sussexes want sympathy more than understanding. From the comfort of their Montecito hideaway. The end

Six episodes of who did what to them is, frankly, too much even if they expose alleged royal misdeeds. In total, Harry and Meghan is a 6-hour-plus series full of discontentment and fault-finding. The three episodes that make the second half of the docu-series have the enthusiasm of revenge-themed K-dramas, but without the latter’s suspenseful pacing. You wait for the hit-back at the British royal family and you get it. Meghan Markle even said that she was not merely “thrown to the wolves”—she “was being fed to the wolves.” The proverbial kid gloves are off. The Queen is dead. So she and all on her side no longer need to stick to discretion. She may have wanted to escape England for a quiet life, but there is not any kind of hush the minute she left, especially not when she returned to the free-speech familiarity of California. In the private jet, after their escape from Vancouver Island, Canada, on what Prince Harry calls the “freedom flight”, Ms Markle tells her son, Archie, “we’re about to go to where mommy’s from”. Whoever said she had planned to call the UK home?

In this part of the world, this kind of talk or reveal is largely contemptible. However disgraceful a family is, no one from within shames their own kin. The Chinese has an oft-heard expression 家丑不可外扬 (jia chou but ke wai yang) or family scandal is not to be publicised, and that we must never 大义灭亲 (da yi mie qin) or place righteousness before family. In fact, many of us in Asia grew up with the belief that problems within the family—and there always are—need to be solved or resolved internally. If outsiders are told of domestic shame, the family in dispute will be ridiculed or laughed at. As SOTD contributor Mao Shan Wang told us, “my nother would say sia suay (泻衰 or Hokkien for shamefully embarrassing)”. There is another Chinese saying, 隐恶扬善 (yin e yang shan) or extol a person’s (or family’s) virtue, but conceal his faults. That to Westerners might sound like sweeping familial failings and flaws under the carpet, but to the Chinese, it isn’t so. If you speak ill of your family, there is a good chance that others will despise you and laugh at your family. They won’t look up to you for exposing your family’s shortcomings. On the contrary, they will look down on you even more. Is this not what’s happening to the Sussexes?

According to recent news reports, the Netflix special Harry and Meghan enjoyed the most viewing time than any other documentary on the streaming service that week the show came on. And the figures are not unimpressive. Reuters stated that it “recorded 81.55 million viewing hours after its debut” the Thursday before last. Some “28 million household watched at least part of the series”. And in the UK, it was the most-watched series that week. (The final global numbers are yet to be tallied.) That the docu-series is this well-viewed is not surprising. Last year’s Oprah Winfrey interview of the Sussexes, as AP reported, drew about 50 million viewers worldwide. But are people watching H&M because they desire new or additional information to feel sorry for the prince and his wife, both, while desperately desiring privacy, are sharing—and dissing—more than what those wanting freedom or immunity from undue intrusion would reveal. And should they (or their supporters) be surprised that the reactions to the show the titular characters co-produced have been mostly unfavorable, even harsh?

We tried to be sympathetic, to see their side of the story, to appreciate that their first official residence in Kensington Palace grounds, Nottingham Cottage, was “so small” (how tiny could it be, as tight-spaced as a HDB flat? Or is that the best insider gossip they could offer?). But watching the show is no walk in a royal park, especially when what they do as catharsis is contradictory to what they claim they abhor. As much as they do not like their photos used by the media, they have no qualms of sharing more of their own (such as the one of M in despair amid unfinished packing) in the series. Harry and Meghan opens with the two’s own self-taped video footages from back in 2020—the first hint that they likely never really intended to keep their private life from public enjoyment, or derision. The more desperate the rehabilitation of their image is, the more irritating their case becomes. While M decries those who do not know her write about her, she has no objections to pouring her heart out to strangers, such as the billionaire American actor/producer Tyler Perry (Gone Girl, 2014), whom, by her own admission, she “has never met before”. Could it be because he is a fellow celebrity, lives in California, and wealthy to boot?

It was Mr Tyler (top right) who reached out to her and after some time, she called him while she was in Canada. “Finally—after years at that point—first time we ever spoke,” she says. “And I was just a wreck; I was just crying and crying, like sometimes, it’s easier to just open up to someone who knows nothing at all.” Amazingly, he who knew next to naught, was willing to offer the Sussexes abode in the Beverly Hills property that he lived in, reported to worth USD18 million. H&M “hadn’t seen the house, just video of it”, Mr Tyler points out. Yet, with a baby in tow, the Sussexes were willing to move in. H admits that “we only saw you filming from a gate up to your door, and seeing the big fountain there and we were like, that’ll do.” When Mr Tyler asks, “what if I had horrible taste and had big round beds, striper poles and everything?” Shouldn’t the question be, what if the man turned out to be another Harvey Weinstein?! H is unfazed: “it wouldn’t have mattered. We were desperate to find somewhere, desperate to be somewhere… to settle.” Desperate, as it were, to be housed by a stranger, with a fountain (shown in the show!) as epitome of good taste.

Desperation is, of course, central to their message. It is also easy to sense that M is desperately in need of people appearing to care about her, so much so that just three words would suffice: ”Are you okay?” In a 2021 New York Times opinion piece, she wrote that when those three words are uttered, “the path to healing begins”. She recounted, as she does in the series, an interview with the ITV reporter Tom Brady—who is said to be a friend of the couple and had attended their wedding—during a tour in South Africa: he had asked the simple “are you okay?” She was grateful that he put that question to her. “Thank you for asking,” she had said. “Because not many people have asked if I’m okay.” We sensed self-pity or the reluctance to be on a “rigorous tour” and be away from what was then home, shortly after she gave birth to Archie. She added, “it’s a very real thing to go through behind the scenes.” And is it because of her race again—as her American audience likely believes—that people weren’t asking if she was alright? Or, is she practicing what she believes in: that “most people need to find someone to blame, to try to like reconcile how you’re feeling”.

Once again, in all the interviews that are not the “never-before-seen personal archive (as per Netflix)”, M appears in that white blouse or grey sweater again, suggesting that the six-parter is based on just two interview sessions. In her attempt to underscore her pain, she probably thought it best to look worthy of pity. Stylists are not required for that. This is, of course, not a story of how her fashion sense influenced the world. She may, according to her husband, be like the late Princess Diana, but the actress-turned-podcaster is no fashion natural. After avoiding colour for most of her sojourn in England, she decided that she will show the world what sartorial strength she had, prior to leaving. How about an Emilia Wickstead dress the colour of Kermit the Frog, given a jewelled gloss? “Until that last week in the UK, I rarely wore colour,” M says. “And I never want to upstage or ruffle any feathers, so I just try to blend in, but I wore a lot of colour that week. Just felt like, well let’s just look like a rainbow.” Any discerning fashion consumer would say that that could never be a good look.

In episode four (or the first of the second release), former Givenchy designer Clare Waight Keller speaks about the surprisingly underwhelming wedding dress she was tasked to come up with for Ms Markle’s 2018 wedding. She says, “it has to be flawless; it has to be perfect”. But, as we noted before, it was not flawless, nor perfect. The fit was lacking—the bodice was roomy enough to conceal a chicken, as nonyas of the past would say of a loose kebaya. American writer Dana Thomas was quick to Tweet after the series was streamed, “The dress didn’t fit MM, and, as you can see in pix, the sleeve seams pucker—absolutely unforgivable for a couture house. One buys couture because it IS flawless.” Perhaps, to Meghan Markle—not a couture customer prior—that didn’t matter because she was to marry a prince. She probably didn’t care about the poor fit, just the wealthy groom. Even back then, during the morning of her wedding, when she felt “calm” and had wanted a “cresohn” (croissant), she could be hoping to hear not the two words, I do, but three: Are you okay?

Rating: 0.5 out of 5.

Harry and Meghan is streaming now on Netflix. Screen shots: Harry and Meghan/Netflix

And Clogs They Shall Be

Add a toe box to the Adidas Adilette and voila… the AdiFOM

What more can you do to a pair of classic slides while still keeping the recognisable form, especially a pair that’s such a signature of the brand that even luxury brands want a slice of its success? Adidas has a clever idea for their widely copied Adilette slides. They add a toe box to it. As simple as that. And then you have the new AdiFOM Adilette, a pair of slip-ons that rides on the ongoing popularity of clogs, although Adidas calls them “slides”. Those unused to covered toes may find the AdiFOM strange, but these are rather sleek, in a minimalist way. Just the three stripes on the upper and no other brand symbols, externally. The AdiFOM Adilette should not be confused with the Adilette Clog, on which are the perforation a la Crocs. The latest sibling of the Adilette family, no doubt also a clog, is akin to bedroom slippers—not, we should say—in a bad way. The similar ease of use is unmistakable.

The AdiFOM Adilette slides, according to the brand, “are ready to take you into the metaverse” even if they are made for this world. Apparently, they are good for “exploring virtual reality or just kicking back poolside”. How that works, we won’t be able to explain convincingly. Adidas also adds that these “metaverse-ready” slide are “made with nature”. By that they mean the AdiFOM Adilette is constructed from sugar cane foam, also known by its trade name SweetFoam, touted as “the world’s first green EVA foam”. This is carbon negative bio-based EVA—made from sugarcane, a renewable crop, rather than the traditional petroleum-based material. Adidas states that the slides have a “minimum of 50% natural and renewable materials”. One small step to gain the confidence of environmental activists or those who are keenly aware.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Adidas AdiFOM Adilette, SGD79, is available at some Adidas stores and at Leftfoot, Mandarin Gallery. Product photo: Adidas. Illustration: Just So

Illumination Goes Luxe

Increasingly, high-end brands are sponsoring Christmas light-ups inside and outside of malls and, in cities such as Tokyo, shopping districts too

An LV Christmas glass installation in Marunouchi, Tokyo

You have seen the Dior star-tree in the open space in front of ION Orchard. Scores have taken photos there, with the massive festive set-up behind them. It is not clear if the lavishly-lit, multi-story, outdoor Dior-branded structure pulls shoppers into the mall, specifically to the (new) Dior store inside, but that installation, with two massive Dior logotypes, is a reminder of the brand’s marketing might. It does not matter that more that 95 percent of those who desire to be photographed with the Dior fake tree would, in fact, not be seduced by it to want to go further than take selfies, but Dior is probably pleased that the tree is attracting massive attention, not just with locals, but tourists too. It is good enough that it’s a Dior Yuletide moment. And Orchard Road has not looked this festively cheery since the COVID pandemic struck. Dior is also making record sales globally to be able to stage such an unmissable pile of the brand’s mighty standing, augmenting the same unabashed commercialism of this very season.

Further north of our island, fellow LVMH brand Louis Vuitton took the massive on-the-mall-premises marketing exercise further—in, unsurprisingly, Tokyo. The business district and shopping area of Marunouchi, in front of the unmistakable Tokyo Station, is where they have set up not just the usual 3-D Christmas-themed structures (such as the window piece above) to attract amateur shutterbugs, but also something far much more interactive: an oblong skating rink to lure the winter skaters. Situated on Gyoko-dori, the wide pedestrian walkway (in front of the central entry/exit of Tokyo Station) that leads to the gardens and grounds of the Imperial Palace, the rink is without doubt, the main attraction of the area. Dubbed Marunouchi Street Rink, it is the first ever set up here, but the 9 metres long and 26 metres wide facility does not come with an iced surface. In the name of eco-friendliness, the rink has a resin skating area. When selfies are done and skating is completed, one can quench one’s thirst at the Fish Café. The kiosk, in the shape of a fish, is known as a Fish Car, and it serves winter-appropriate beverages, such as hot cranberry ginger tea. Every single one of the three stops here is designed in collaboration with Yayoi Kusama.

An LV ice skating ‘ring’, also in Marunouchi, Tokyo

That LV partnered with Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama is also an affirmation of their commitment to Japan. While the installations are, admittedly, a publicity effort for the collaborative collection with Ms Kusama, expected to launch on New Year’s day, they do not have the commercial blandness that such exercises typically project. They have the playfulness, even cuteness, that is inherently Japanese, when it comes to engaging the city folk in public art. And they are massive in scale, which allow them to be sculptures on their own (or installation art), which keeps with the creative standing of Tokyo. The Marunouchi installations are not the only ones LV has set up. Also Yayoi Kusama-themed are the 3-D video art in front of JR Shinjuku Station’s east exit, more video ads framing Shibuya Scramble Crossing, a giant “floating pumpkin” in Ms Kusama’s distinctive dots hovering above some rooftops, just next to Tokyo Tower, and the pathway in front of the Zojoji temple, dotted with the artist’s signature pattern.

Marunouchi (specifically Marunouchi Street Park or MSP, held this time of the year since 2019), even without the latest illuminated participation of big brands, is one of the most “classily lit” parts of Tokyo, as the locals would say. The main light-up is usually on Marunouchi Naka-Dori Avenue, one of our favourite shopping streets in Tokyo, about 1.2 kilometres long. Running for 21 years, the illumination here is, at its humblest, 1.2 million LED lights in champagne gold stretched over 340 trees. This year, much of the action is on MSP Twinkle Street, which this year tumbles down in front of Marunouchi Building. There is a merry-go-round and more Yuletide-themed spots to sit and sip hot beverages and non-alcoholic cocktails that can be bought in kiosks dotted around. The mood is decidedly festive, almost carnivalesque. Even the crowd does not spoil the fun. It helps that Tokyo this year is enjoying a comparatively cold December, averaging 6 degrees Celsius in the evenings these past weeks. There is something bracing about the cold air, a boon to the enjoyment of outdoor festivities.

The Tiffany’s globe also part of the Maruouchi’s annual street light-up

Another LVMH brand, Tiffany, too made their presence felt. Not to be outdone, the American luxury jewelers created the Tiffany Holiday Street in the vicinity of the Marunouchi Park Building, diagonally from the Kitte Shopping Mall (which has its own stunning festive decoration in the main atrium; this year, Winter Forest Christmas). Tiffany’s installations—more traditional—are no slouch: there is a Christmas tree, underscored with boxes in Tiffany blue, and a huge stained-glass bauble. These on-the-street pieces commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Tiffany store in Japan, which opened in Mitsukoshi Department Store in 1972. Although Japan is Tiffany’s largest market in the world outside the US, the company did not open a freestanding store in any Japanese city until 1996—in Tokyo, on the shopping belt Ginza, with a massive 7,700 sq ft flagship. The Tiffany Holiday Street designs are derived from the brand’s holiday greeting cards from the ’50s and ’60s, which were designed for the New York 5th Avenue store by the late pop-artist Andy Warhol.

The Marunouchi illumination is possibly more stylish than those in other parts of the Japanese capital (even trendy Omotesando) because the main street Marunouchi Naka-Dori Avenue is not only home to major fashion brands (including avant-garde mainstay of Japanese fashion Comme des Garçons), it is also where some of the city’s best public artworks are displayed—nineteen pieces in all, including the sculptures by Renate Hoffleitm, Emilio Greco, and Kohei Nawa. But these are not some random pieces placed in the front of buildings by their wealthy owners. They are, in fact, operated and curated, since 1972, by Chokoku-no-Mori Art and Culture Foundation, which operates the famed Open-Air Museum in the onsen town of Hakone. The alluring Marunouchi lights are more than prettifying one of the nicest and least manic parts of shoppable Tokyo. There is a spillover effect on the neighbouring districts of Yaesu and Yurakucho, too. In Japan, Christmas is not a public holiday. It is less about religion, and more about the festive vibe, augmented by the holiday illuminations.

The Dior star-tree outside ION Orchard. Photo: Chin Boh Kay

Back home, our main light-up is on Orchard Road, a roughly 3-kilometre stretch, taking into account Tanglin Road. That makes it twice the length of the Marunouchi illumination (and, at 38 years, almost twice as old), but not, unfortunately, double the stylishness or sophistication. Unlike the light-up in Marunouchi, Orchard Road’s goes through thematic and chromatic changes each year, and not always with convincing creative flair. Certainly not 2018’s Disney Magical Moments. Mickey Mouse and company (Elsa and Anna was somewhere too) pleased not the National Council of Churches (NCCS), to the extent that they wrote to the Singapore Tourism Board to express their displeasure that the light-up was more Disney than Christmas. Even Dick Lee, four-time Orchard Road light-up designer, joined the chorus of criticism, echoing to The Straits Times exactly what the NCCS felt: “there is too much emphasis on Disney, and too little on Christmas.” Mass appeal does not always sway. And Disney does not always win.

It is admittedly hard to evoke the Christmas vibe on our sunny island, chief among the disadvantages, our weather. Even in this rainy season, the temperature is around 28 degrees Celsius, way warmer than hot spots in Tokyo, even down in the belly of the Toei subway system. No one sings Baby, it’s Cold Outside. Which means when a Christmas ad calls out to you to “soak in the festive spirit”, it inevitably means you’d be soaked. The heat, coupled with the humidity, usually means T-shirt, shorts, and slippers are preferred for viewing the festive lights. This typical Orchard Road turnout contrasts dramatically with that in Marunouchi, where going to view the seasonal illumination is an affair that encourages better dress than required for a visit to the konbini. Here, inside is better than outside. At the central atrium in Takashimaya Shopping Centre recently, shoppers were thronged into the space now mostly occupied by a nearly three-storey Christmas tree surrounded by bears with the body of models and dressed in Ralph Lauren. Many visitors seemed to have escaped the scene out on the Ngee Ann City Civic Plaza, mere steps away. There is a Christmas market—the Great Christmas Village, it calls itself—in operation. The crowded open space is flanked by food trucks and crammed with fairground rides and a messy central zone of tables, littered with leftover makan and used disposable plates. “Great” is really stretching it.

Photos (unless stated): Jiro Shiratori

Visited: Blackjack, Now a Single Brand

A week ago, the new Blackjack was unveiled. It’s now a free-standing store with their very own eponymous label. Will you bite?

Blackjack is back, as we announced two weeks ago. Once a multi-label store, they are now a single-brand boutique in The Shopping Gallery (voco Orchard) that is conceived to lure the Gen-Z—and younger—customer. That is unmistakable from the minute you come face to face with the all-glass façade of the next-to-the-escalator unit. Unlike the green-top table on which the casino banking game—which lent its name to this fashion label—is played, the interior is essentially in black and white, totally unlike the CC you know in your neighbourhood. It vaguely reminded us of Alexander Wang stores in China (interestingly, the one in The Shopping Gallery, opened in 2012, is now shuttered). And, also Tokyo’s #FFFFFFT and sibling #000T, stores offering white tees and black tees respectively. Blackjack is now a “luxury fashion label”, unabashedly with a street vibe.

The clothes are merchandised for those with a closetful of casual clothes and wish to keep it that way. Almost every piece in the debut “capsule”, described by the brand as “limited edition”, is for those occasions when dressy would elicit the respond, “going to a wedding?” Don’t get us wrong. The clothes could be suitable for an evening event, such as a night out at the bar or club with your close, clamorous friends, but beyond that, they lack the versatility that we imagine such a line would benefit from. There is a predominance of T-shirts and, unsurprisingly, hoodies, but they are not of the persuasion that might find you using them for sports or wearing to next month’s reunion dinner. (Curiously, every piece is for pre-order only.) Although we were told by the staff that the “clothes are unisex”, the store appears to be separated into two parts: for men and women. The crop tees and tanks are, as the staffer, said, picked up by women. They speak to us campus chic and will probably attract a pair of Havaianas or, if open toes are not preferred, Crocs—white, of course.

Despite being a store founded in the mid-’90s, Blackjack the label is not the jeans couture or the leisurewear in the form of Juicy Couture of the era. It has more in common with the athleisure of the present, moving along contemporaneously with the oversized aesthetics of Balenciaga (its fate, after the Christmas ad controversy, unknown). But unlike those brands that eagerly jumped on the bandwagon of the oversized T-shirts and the midriff-baring, Blackjack is rather design-centred. Considerable thought is paid to the fineness of the fabric choice (it felt like double-knit cotton jersey for the tees—truly nice hand feel), proportion of the garment (not ridiculously voluminous), logo placement (skewed!), and details/trims (even in the back). We rather like the truncated contrast binding in the rear hem of some of the T-shirts, but not the elastics with screaming logotype on the pants, shorts, and skirts—too Alexander Wang. regrettably.

It’s heartening that a physical, not just online, store is opened to encourage those who want to be acquainted with the brand to touch and properly feel the merchandise for themselves before committing to a purchase. This is especially vital when you consider that the clothes, being the output of a “luxury fashion label”, is not exactly cheap. The least expensive T-shirt is S$120 and a nylon tote is S$190. These prices are probably not alien to those already forking out astronomical sums for those by the likes of Gucci X Adidas. It can be confidently said that none in their target market would remember Blackjack of yore. This can be a totally new fashion name and few would know any better. The link to its past is, therefore, not quite decipherable. In the monochromatic space, faded photos of the first store at HPL House explain the brand’s origin. A pair of vintage Maharishi pants (apparently in collaboration with Blackjack then) is hung to the left of the entrance. Do tokens from the past lend credibility to a fledgling clothing brand of the present?

Blackjack is at voco Orchard. Photos: Chin Boh Kay

Another Yuletide, Another Atrocious Advent Calendar

Lovers of this seasonal buy must know that the advent calendar is no fukubukuro

It’s hard to comprehend the intense desire for advent calendars put out by luxury brands. They are expensive and offer little by way of real, full-size, tangible products, yet they seem to draw considerable desire until the acquirer discovers that what she has purchased holds very little that can be considered evident value. You’d think that after last year’s Chanel advent calendar controversy (stickers were offered!), consumers would make more circumspect choices when spending on seasonal items. Apparently not, as more are lured by the over-the-top packaging of these frankly useless barely-one-month calendars. And then to find out way before the last day that every item that helps countdown the days till the 24th are not as great as they were thought to be. Regret comes earlier than Christmas.

The latest brand to be called out for offering products that are disappointing is Dior. American TikToker Jackie Aina has been unboxing Dior’s USD3,500 La Collection Privée Trunk of Dreams calendar with “24 Dior surprises”. (The one in the above photo is a different advent calendar, available here for S$845). And the brand meant it, the surprising part. Ms Aina, even with enthusiasm intact, said, on the 12th day of opening the drawers of the calendar, “so far it is what is is” and “it ain’t that great”. On the 16th day (she opened more than one drawer each time), the soap she found was “very underwhelming” (earlier, there was even a coaster!). It didn’t seem that Ms Aina was enjoying the “marvelous, miniature universe”, that Dior calls the sum of items in the calendar. The reactions to Ms Aina’s post are, as imaginable, far from restrained.

Unless you are an influencer who received the advent calendars as a gift from the brand, there is the very real possibility that you would not feel you have got your money’s worth. Many Western consumers of these fancy but feeble boxes-as-calendars have probably not encountered the Japanese fukubukuro, a New Year tradition of grab bags filled with items that, in total, are usually higher in value than the whole package that is paid for. Like the advent calendar, buyers of the fukubukuro do not know what is inside. In China, these bags are known as fudai (福袋), and the practice is similar to that in Japan, with content mostly worth more than what is charged for the stuffed bag. But in the marketing stratagem of luxury brands, perceived—rather than substantive—value is good enough. The advent calendar is perhaps just a metaphor: Ha, we got you!

Photo: Dior