Blackjack’s Back

Or, will be before long. In 1996, when it opened, Club 21’s Blackjack was the temple of cool, but it closed 15 years later. They’ll soon return, very soon

Most shoppers these days associate Club 21 (this year marks their golden jubilee) with just that—Club 21, the multi-label store in the Four Seasons Hotel, and the separate units for men and for women. Those more aware would be able to identify other single-brand entities under the Club 21 Group, such as Jil Sander, Comme des Garçons, and the newly refurbished Issey Miyake, all at voco Orchard (the former Hilton Singapore), but still known as The Shopping Gallery. There were, however, other multi-label stores under Singapore’s most recognisable luxury retailer. One that might easily come to mind is Blackjack (in Forum the Shopping Gallery), Club 21’s carefully-considered assemblage of mid-’90s cool, featuring clothes by minimalist brands, such as Helmut Lang and Fifth Avenue Shoe Repair, as well as street/sports-centric labels (still minimal), such as Y3.

To be exact, Blackjack opened in 1996 at HPL House, the headquarters of HPL—Hotel Properties Limited, the conglomerate behind some of the best luxury hotels in the world. It was deemed the most exciting store for youths at the time, a haven for street style that included Japanese labels such as Tsumori Chisato, as well as those from the UK such as Maharishi. It even had an accompanying Blackjack Café (once Scoops, a Häagen-Dazs ice cream parlour). But, Blackjack was possibly too ahead of its time. The Straits Times journalist Jamie Ee (now an editor with The Business Times), once described in the daily that “there’s nothing for the over-20 set in this store.” Blackjack closed two years later due to sluggish footfall, and, perhaps more directly, the economic woes of the time. Although there were initial rumours that they would relocated to Pacific Plaza (then, a swanky mall with Prada in it), they chose the HPL-owned Forum The Shopping Mall, the former Forum Galleria.

Against its placid neighbours, the new Blackjack store stood out for its stylish incongruence and a departure from its initial funkier self. We remember the unusual and somewhat off-beat tangerine-hued rubber flooring and similarly coloured storage units. The space was not massive, yet there was the centrepiece of an ovoid rack, suspended from a stainless-steel vessel secured to the ceiling. Somewhat industrial was the effect, with a whiff of Halloween. Some shoppers sensed a coldness that they said was consistent with Club 21 stores, but came they did for the merchandise mix that spoke with considerable eloquence of the zeitgeist of the time. Blackjack closed in 2011 after an impressive 15-year run in all. Replacing it was the more intimate and, dare we say, edgier Club21b (that, too, recently moved out, and is in two unmarked units at voco Orchard). But Blackjack is poised to return this month. From an accidental peek at the black-and-white space (top) a few days ago, and the updated logotype, we sensed something appealing is afoot.

From an accidental peek at the black-and-white space (top) a few days ago, and the updated logotype, we sensed something appealing is afoot

To be sure, Blackjack was not the first into the hipster market back then. The template was formed by Blue Moon, a retail disrupter conceived unexpectedly by HPL in 1991. Blue Moon was unlike anything under HPL’s kin, the Club 21 Group. It was not situated in the Hilton Shopping Gallery (a HPL property, now voco Orchard) or in a mall, even a HPL-owned shopping centre. Rather, Blue Moon was in HPL House on Cuscaden Road, behind Forum the Shopping Mall. It sat on the first floor (but not quite street level), below Hard Rock Cafe, opened a year earlier, and, interestingly, our island’s first Emporio Armani store. From Orchard Road, you could barely see it. A discrete address, some had said: still on the our island’s only shopping belt then, but away from the main drag.

Blue Moon was a draw because it was the closest we had to street fashion that was not an obvious nod to hip hop. It was closer to what you would have found in London’s Covent Garden (of the ’90s). There were many brands (compelling products, rather than brand names, were the driving force) in the 7,300 sq ft (or 678 sqm)—too many for us to remember now. But what was also unique about Blue Moon was their openness to local labels. One of them was Argentum, the indie jewellery brand, still in operation today. Unfortunately, with the changing tide of fashion, and taste, Blue Moon closed in 1995. The baton to capture youth spend was passed to Blackjack in the same location, but that too shuttered in 1998. Unlike Blackjack, Blue Moon was not considered for resurrection. We are unable to say for now what the new Blackjack will stock, but we expect it to live up to its sterling past.

Updated: 5 December 2022, 18.30. Some dates have been corrected for accuracy.

Blackjack is expected to reopen at level 2, The Shopping Gallery, voco Orchard on 8th December. Photo: Chin Boh Kay

Bobitecture Of Shoes

It’s hard to deny the influence of Yeezys

Givenchy TK-360+

They could pass off as something made of bread dough. That’s what came to mind when we saw the Givenchy TK-360+ sneakers up close. A leavened lump. An irregular loaf. A curvilinear paste. With scored pattern on top, no less. They look comfortable, but we are not sure we’re comfortable with how they look. Ugly footwear is, for sure, still a thing. With new footwear technology and design approaches, ugliness can be enhanced, rather than diminished. Sure, luxury brands are re-defining sleek, but they are also (still) augmenting unseemliness, especially in the form of the clunky. And, far-out. Yet, these shoes do not necessarily invite replusion. Unlike It bags, It shoes have to be somewhat odious, at least at the first encounter. But warming up to them does not take time. Aesthetically, they need to be, for the present, staggeringly anti-trim. Sneakers unlike clothes, cannot be worn oversized, so designers exaggerate the form and disfigure the already clumpy soles to allow the kicks to appear to house distended feet. The TK-360+ is keeping with this new tradition.

Givenchy isn’t the first to offer blobs for feet. That honour could go to the doomed Adidas Yeezy collaboration. Kanye West’s ideas for sneakers never truly made the feet look especially sleek and aerodynamic. Sure, Yeezy 350, which were almost synonymous with the Yeezy footwear line, was not quite clunky, but the Yeezy 500 from 2018 was, so too the 570. Other new styles that came later got progressively bulkier: the 700 V1, V2, and V3, the 700 QNTM (even the “OG”), and without doubt, the post-350 of the 380, culminating in the outright alien Foam Runner. The TK-360+ in its first version (released in May, with a style number minus the +) did bring to mind Adidas Yeezy Knit Runner from September last year, way before things turned awry for the partnership. The Adidas Yeezy and the Givenchy are all-knit slip-ons, with details in the mid-sole: one with a horizontal slit, the other a vertical groove. The Knit Runner was considered Mr West’s most “avant-garde” silhouette. Givenchy’s Matthew M Williams described the TK-360+ as his “dream shoe”. But, for some of us, not quite sweet.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Givenchy TK360+ sneakers, SGD1,450, are available in stores. Photo: Jim Sim

Balenciaga Ads: “Wrong Artistic Choice”

Demna Gvasalia finally reacts and apologises

In the past, European luxury houses could not get their advertising right for Asia. Now they can’t do it well for their own audience. For Balenciaga, the misstep struck twice. And the reactions to them have been by no means mild. Fans of Kim Kardashian were quick to point out how she, a Balenciaga fan and model (or the better-sounding “brand ambassador”), had been slow to say something. She eventually did, claiming she had been “re-evaluating” her relationship with the house. Five days after one of the problematic ads ‘Balenciaga Gift Shop’ was launched (16 November) and the disapproval (sometimes rabid) that followed, Balenciaga posted on Instagram, “We sincerely apologize for any offense our holiday campaign may have caused…” In the mean time, country singer Jason Aldean’s wife Brittany Aldean was one of the first celebrities to show her unmistakable disapproval: she shared a post on IG showing her taking out the garbage in clear plastic bags. In them were Balenciaga merchandise. The comment read, “It’s trash day @balenciaga.” No one could be certain if she really discarded those items or if it was just a social-media stunt. The post was quickly deleted. Two days ago, Mrs Aldean shared another photo of herself in a leather jacket with the message: “A little fringe and Dolce never hurt nobody”.

And now Demna Gvasalia, like other designers before him, has apologised. On IG, he wrote under the header “Personal Message”: “I want to personally apologize for the wrong artistic choice of concept for the gifting campaign with the kids and I take my responsibility. It was inappropriate to have kids promote objects that had nothing to do with them.” This came more than two weeks after the backlash unfurled. Still, it is a welcome move as no one in the industry that we spoke to believed that Balenciaga was not aware of “unapproved items” used, as stated in an earlier apology, or that no one in the company knew what was disseminated. And that they should be so aggrieved by the sum fallout that they initiated a USD25-million lawsuit against the companies that produced the advertisements for another campaign (Spring 2023 collection) containing those “unsettling documents”.

After Mr Gvasalia’s post, Balenciaga CEO Cédric Charbit apologised too, calling what happened in the past weeks “our mistakes” and sharing a list of corporate actions—“with the objective to learn from our mistakes”—that the company has instituted, including reorganising “our image department to ensure full alignment with our corporate guidelines”. Mr Charbit also revealed that Balenciaga “has decided not to pursue litigation”. No reason was given to the rescinding. Provocation is, of course, part of Balenciaga’s present-day appeal. But things could go unnecessarily far. Now, there is even the hashtag #CANCELBALENCIAGA (on TikTok, more than 120 million views have been clocked). Mr Gvasalia also said in his personal message, “As much as I would sometimes like to provoke a thought through my work, I would NEVER have an intention to do that with such an awful subject as child abuse that I condemn.” Another day in the world of fashion. And the route to redemption.

Photo: Zhao Xiangji