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 Photos: Heaven by Marc Jacobs. Collage: Just So