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
The TakahiromiyashitaTheSoloist X Asics Chelsea boots are on the good side of cool
Sometimes you don’t have to do very much to a classic silhouette, such as the Chelsea boot. Japanese label TakahiromiyashitaTheSoloist has collaborated with fellow nihon no burano Asics for a pair of footwear that dates back to the Victorian era. This is all recognisably close-fitting and ankle-high, with the distinctive elastic side gusset. But the sole is very different. Rather that a union with the traditional low-stacked heel and hard-bottomed sole, this pair’s leather upper is cemented to the full-length GEL sole of the Asics GEL-Quantum 360 running shoes. The GEL sole is a technology that, according to Asics, “create better shock absorption underfoot”. Why a Chelsea boot that is now mostly worn to work needs such specialised cushioning for the feet is not explained, but the graphically jagged surface of the blacked-out sole does lend the otherwise sombre boot a slight subversive edge.
The Chelsea boot, interestingly, was thought to be first conceived for women. It is attributed to the work of Queen Victoria’s shoemaker, Joseph Sparks-Hall, who claimed that the monarch had worn the boots he designed daily, and was, hence, proof that the design held a special place in her heart (and shoe cabinet, probably). His boot came with practical elastic inserts to make the pulling on and off easier for the Queen. After Charles Goodyear’s invention of vulcanised rubber (treating the rubber to render it stronger and more flexible and springy) in the 1830s that led to the advent of elastics, the Chelsea boots (in equestrian sports, they’re known as paddock boot) now come with more elastic gusset that we’re familiar with to make slipping into a pair a lot easier, more than before. They became very much associated with the ’60s and, indeed, The Beatles, and the Chelsea boot is still not divorced from its mod past. Just the shoe for the holiday party season, especially this very cool pair.
TakahiromiyashitaTheSoloist X Asics Chelsea boots, SGD399, is available at Asics, Plaza Singapura. Photo: Asics
Is the Sussexes’ “full truth” the real truth? And do we even care?
You know what is the truth? When Prince Harry of Harry and Meghan said on the toothsome twosome’s eponymous Netflix docu-series that “we know the full truth”, he is really referring to their truth, which is not necessarily the truth. Or the truth of the others spotlighted by this two disgruntled individuals. He said that “the institution knows the full truth and the media knows the full truth because they’ve been in on it”. This full truth of the ex-royals could also be what one Kelly Ann Conway once famously called “alternative facts”, or whatever existed in their seemingly troubled universe. And the truth of the very wealthy H&M is worth a lot of money, but not necessarily the truth that that many of us wish to hear without being inevitably irritated. The truth that is nothing to do with economic disadvantage may not be the reality we can understand, let alone connect with.
The truth of the Sussexes is also boring truth, startlingly devoid of anything truthfully new or the minutiae of married life that might make them more compelling man and wife, and parents. This is self-aggrandising fluff that goes not beyond their ken. Don’t expect deep analysis of what troubles them. Or evidence of the hate against them. The first three of the six-parter are essentially about a fairy tale gone awry and a retelling that might, they had probably hoped, put them in better light. They repeatedly want us not just to listen to “their truth”, but also what they call “our story” and, as Prince Harry enthused, their “great love story”. As the international press had rightly pointed out, they had this all planned before even decamping for America. How do they explain the footages of their lovey-dovey selves leading up to their globally-covered departure from the royal cesspit? How did they have that well-documented video library (or what Netflix calls “never before seen personal archive), with the right words to slip between the “truth-be-told (as Ms Markle stresses)” docu-narrative? Who films themselves crying so that the footages could be used later to tell a story of personal pain and then gain?
H&M are a more-public-than-most millennial couple. H, as Ms Markle—and her friends—refer to him in the series, saw a digital photo of her, which was superimposed with facial parts of some cartoon canine to mimic juvenile cuteness; he was intrigued, as such filters intended, and wanted to uncover the countenance behind the graphic trickery—“whoisthat?”. M, as she is also known, checked him out through Instagram; she thinks she could better know the person through what he posts. But, strangely they were paired in a rather old-fashioned manner, through a friend—no swiping left or right. And their growing up, their royal-meet-the-commoner, love-trumps-racism story is retold in Harry and Meghan through a video montage that is not unlike those that many us here have to watch between the serving of the soup and the roast chicken at a conventional hotel ballroom wedding.
Prince Harry spoke of wanting to go to shield mode to keep his family from so much harm that threatened him and his clan of (now) four. “I knew that I had to do everything I could to protect my family,” he says. He also describes his dedication as a “job… to keep my family safe”. What dangers are before them, other than the peskiness that was to do with the paparazzi? Could he and his wife and brood be somewhere in Ukraine? He has a rather narrow definition of family, as we learned. It no longer includes even his father and elder brother (there is only mention of his mother), nor his cousins Princesses Eugenie and Beatrice, two of his childhood playmates, who are shown in news footages to have gone skiing with both his elder brother and he. When it comes to protecting, he can, as it appears, be selective. Doria Raglan, Ms Markle’s mother (who, like her daughter, “is ready to have my voice heard—that’s for sure”), says that Prince Harry has “really great manners”. Could she be referring to his wanting to trash his family, the one he does not see the need to protect?
“I realised they’re never gonna to protect you,” M declared conclusively, but she doesn’t explain why she; a grown, worldly individual; needed the protection or if such preservation from harm was just as desperately required before she met H, or while she was married to Trevor Engelson, and if so, who provided it. The need for protection is a constant refrain, as if that was what she required more than anything else from her relationship with a royal. Yet, the series tries to portray her as an extremely strong woman (even as a “big geek” kid), ”very outgoing, super social”, according to friend and producer of Suits, Silver Tree. M was also determined to make the initially long-distance relationship work. And later willing to challenge the more-than-a-thousand-year-old British monarchy and, as many believe, to draw her Prince away from where he was born to her California—that side of trashy. That the leaving of the royal family was dubbed Megxit, after her name, is telling enough of her influence in the decision. Does she need less protection, now that she is no longer a palace resident? Or are the US$15 million Montecito, Santa Barbara mansion and the reported payout of US$100 million by Netflix for the spill-all protection enough?
“There’s a hierarchy in the family,” H says. “Yeah, there’s leaking, there’s also planting of stories.” In the first three episodes, the gripes—as they sounded to us—are largely directed at the media. For H&M, the overwhelming press attention was oppressive. M informs, “my face was everywhere, my life was everywhere, tabloids had taken over everything,” Ms Markle says of her early encounters with the British press. Even getting dressed for a walkabout (she claims she didn’t know what that is) was an ordeal. Are we to believe that she had not expected any of that? Did she choose her prince for placid royal life? We found ourselves shouting: She married the most watched royal family in the world! Yet, she has no qualms in painting herself as some babe in the woods. H says that what the media put his wife through is “feeding frenzy”. But he acknowledges that what she went through with the British press was “a rite of passage” and that “some of the members of the family was like, ‘right, my wife had to go through that, so why should your girlfriend be treated any differently? Why should you get special treatment, why should she be protected?” And he said, “the difference here is the race element.”
The race card, we knew would be played. And it was. Harry and Meghan made sure to let you know that the latter’s mixed race worked against her. And that the British tabloid press is “a white industry”. That M was a target of racism was already broached in last year’s “bombshell” Oprah Winfrey interview. But they’re really racist in the UK, apparently—so much so that it bears repeating. And harping on. To make sure, that you are aware of how Ms Markle was targeted because of her race, they curiously show a photo of her, with what appears to be a rolled-up yoga mat under her right arm, while she passed a place with the sign that read “garbage area for New Balance Toronto” during a segment about the disadvantages she had to endure because of her race. Her H says, “it is amazing what people would do to when offered a huge sum of money… to hand over photographs, to create a story.” So why was that image submitted? And what was the Netflix deal all about if not about the earnings?
And in case you do not believe that racism exists in Britain, a history class is presented in the third episode, elucidating the empire’s slave trade. If you do not know, “Britain had a deep south,” Journalist Afua Hirsch tells you, “that was just as brutal, that actually enslaved more Africans than the United States of America did, but that deep south was the Carribbean”. And slavery was “fueling this early British empire”. And, to lend more heft to what is otherwise a repeated love story, there is the retelling of the Stephen Lawrence case. Mr Lawrence was an 18 year-old Black man who was killed unprovoked back in 1993 (Ms Markle was then about 11 and had appeared on a Nickelodeon program on which she spoke of writing to Procter and Gamble to suggest that they change an ad copy from “women are fighting greasy pots and pans” to “people”). The Sussexes attended a Stephen Lawrence memorial service in 2018, and they became instant heroes for the Black cause at that time.
Despite the social good that they attempted to do, the Sussexes were still ardently in need of media approval. But, the British media, as they see it, was out to “destroy” them. The press was never on the side of the Sussexes until they crossed the Atlantic, where the Americans were far more interested in their story and were sympathetic to their plight. Ms Markle calls a BBC—yes, even the BBC “was on it”—“engagement interview” an “orchestrated reality show” because they “weren’t allowed to tell [their] story.” It was “all rehearsed”, she asserted. It is hard to know for certain (the BBC has denied Ms Markle’s claim), but could such news—even those not generated by tabloids—be part of what Prince Harry calls his “duty to uncover this exploitation and bribery that happens within our media”? And to lay bare became even more exigent because, for poor Ms Markle, “no matter how hard I tried, no matter how good I was, no matter what I did, they were still going to find a way to destroy me.”
Meghan Markle is delineated as her H’s ideal woman and perfect wife. Prince Harry says that in the royal family, “especially the men, there can be a temptation or an urge to marry someone who would fit the mold.” It’s clear Ms Markle could not be the desired fit, even after learning to sing the national anthem of the United Kingdom from Google. “This is the woman who’s turning Britain’s most traditional brand on its head,” one news report went. “Meghan Markle isn’t British, she’s been married before, she’s mixed race, and she doesn’t shy away from politics.” And she wants to play all that up now to better underscore the suffering she had to endure (interestingly, so far, there is no mention of mental illness). The institution needed a new mold for her, but they did not cast it. And it’s time it pays.
Prince Harry saw not only the woman of his dreams, but also someone quite like his mother! Women generally dislike being compared to their mother-in-law, dead or alive, but Ms Markle appears not to have any issue with that, even seemingly enjoying the comparison. Video footages show Princess Diana with Prince Harry and then similar shots of Ms Markle and her eldest, Archie (one, with the little boy looking at a photograph of his grandmother). H says, “So much of what Meghan is and how she is, is so similar to my mom. She has the same compassion, the same empathy, she has the same confidence, she has this warmth about her.” But not the same reverence for the institution of monarchy. Is M playing a Di stand-in for H’s unexplained needs?
For the interview segments conducted by an unidentified woman and largely unseen, Ms Markle is dressed to playdown any fashion statement or to discourage any criticism. She wears a white shirt and a matching pair of slacks when she answers questions with her H and a grey jumper and similarly coloured skirt (sometimes also revealing nut-brown nearly knee-high boots) that could be school-mom proper when she is interviewed alone. Ms Markle is not the fashion plate that her sister-in-law, the Princess of Wales is. In fact, her sense of style veers towards the excruciatingly unexciting. And she has the justification for it. “Most of the time in the UK,” she says, “I rarely wore colour. There was thought in that. To my understanding, can’t ever wear the same colour as Her Majesty, if there’s a group event. But then you also shouldn’t be wearing the same colour as one of the other more senior members of the family. So I wore a lot of muted tones so that I could just blend in. I am not trying to stand out here.” But now she is—in a red Carolina Herrera—through her own docu-series, which, unfortunately, is a deeply dull dud.
Rating: 0.5 out of 5.
Harry & Meghan is streaming now on Netflix. Screen shots: Harry and Meghan/Netflix/YouTube
For the longest time, flagship stores of luxury brands have been veritable department stores. Just walk into any one of them and you’ll know what we mean. You won’t just find the usual clothes, bags, shoes, and accessories (all of them large enough categories on their own), but other merchandise not connect to what we employ to communicate a bodily fashion statement. There other stuff: cushions and blankets (even a ‘burger box’) at Louis Vuitton, vases and pitchers at Dior, plates and such at Hermes, camping ware at Prada. These brands set up pop stores too to show that homeware, especially during the holiday season, is as easy to sell as ready-to-wear. And now, two brands not usually associated with home interiors are offering, not cute little items such as a table figurine, but chairs and a bench!
Bottega Veneta is known for their artisanal ways with leather. If they were to put out chairs, you’d think they would be in some beautifully tanned hide. But their first chairs for sale are in mostly resin (the composition includes, interestingly, cotton and wood), and they look like coloured wax melted into each other and then hardened. These chairs were part of BV’s spring/summer 2023 show, those that the guests sat on (are some or all, therefore, used?). Named Come Stai? (Italian for “how are you?), they are designed by the Italian artist/architect Gaetano Pesce under the commission of Matthieu Blazy. The chairs are now available at the Bottega Veneta website, with an eye-watering starting price tag of S$9,900.
And then you have Balenciaga offering something to sit on too. Their chair is actually a bench. It is part of the brand‘s Art in Store output, made of deadstock fabrics (essentially remnants), Wood is used too, which likely makes the bench steadier. Up close, it is hard to see it as anything more than a pile of fabric, something a karung guni man with used clothes he can‘t sell might assemble in his free time to better organise his storage space. But this bench is the handiwork of the Dutch designer Tejo Remy, who is also an award-winning creative at Droog Design. The bench is available in three sizes, and different fabrics. The one pictured—‘Large Bench’— is priced at a staggering S$63,600. You can view it at the Paragon store.
Are these pieces of furniture that covetable or are buyers hoping to acquire them as investment pieces since they come in extremely limited pieces (there are reportedly 400 pieces of the BV chairs, which is still a small number). Is there hope that one day these chairs will be as rare and expensive as the almost-mythical Comme des Garçons furniture? Rei Kawakubo designed some chairs too—for her stores in Tokyo and Paris in 1983. They were used as props and were not made to be practicable. Yet, there was sufficient interest in them and limited-edition production ensued. In fact, a furniture store opened in the late ’80s in Place du Marché Saint-Honoré, Paris. It isn’t known how well the pieces faired, but the store eventually closed to make way for the brand’s perfume shop. Some of us do remember the CDG furniture. And that is clearly enough for them to qualify as grail.
This Margiela and Salomon collaboration is one strange and enticing hybrid
Sneakers, we know, are still conceived to elicit the reaction: “it’s ugly”. But ugly, as we have repeatedly noted, is being redefined, even now, as we write this. Ugly is no longer the ugly of your parents’ fashion-consuming years. Ugly can be a compliment, even admiration Apart from ugliness, sneakers are made bulky too, and often to let the feet look bagged. The MM6 Martin Margiela X Salomon Cross Low is one such sack of a shoe. Sure, there have been others, such as the Tom Sachs x NikeCraft Mars Yard Overshoe, but it is this Margiela X Salomon collaboration, in this colour combo that makes us think of a hybrid of gorpcore and dust bag (or laundry-bag). Shoes can, more and more, be pouches with soles.
Salomon has got themselves involved in rather fascinating fashion-forward collabs. Essentially an outdoor equipment maker, the born-in-Annecy, France label has been in partnership with one of the most cutting-edge brands, Comme des Garçons, with which they created a truly fetching pair of unisex Mary-Janes (unsurprisingly, these quickly sold out when launched last year), with trail-ready soles. Its partnership with the Margiela imprint MM6 is no less appetite-arousing. Although ostensibly a trail shoe, the Cross Low looks more like a high cut, with the added aesthetical heft of Margiela’s subversion bent. With the draw cords, you may gather the rip-stop upper-half into a small sack not unlike a gym bag, rendering it ready for inclement weather.
Underscoring the polyester bag-upper is a solid shoe with rubber soles, conceived for a rugged terrain. But in all likelihood, this Cross Low would be used on far much flatter, urban ground such as the city pavement. According to an MM6 statement, their “motivation was to create a shoe that could easily transition between cityscapes and the great outdoors — a single product that both maintained Salomon’s high-performance specifications and also resonated with MM6 Maison Margiela’s contemporary aesthetic”. As with the main line Maison Margiela’s pairing with Reebok—the Project 0 CL nylon tabi sneakers!—few will wear the Cross Low for sporting pursuits. There is too much fashion in it.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5.
MM6 Martin Margiela X Salomon Cross Low, SGD590, is available at Club 21. Photo Salomon
Dior’s fall—pre-fall?—2023 presentation was a theatrical affair at the Great Pyramids of Giza
Dior staged their latest men’s show at an Egyptian necropolis—on the Giza Plateau, home of the three 4th-dynasty pyramids. The four-sided structure appeared in the background, their outlines illuminated by lights. Dior proudly declared that this was their first presentation in Egypt. But the Italian label Stefano Ricci beat them to it when they staged their autumn/winter 2022 collection at Luxor’s better-lit Temple of Hatshepsut, this past October, making that Egypt’s first fashion show on their arid land. Neither was Dior’s the first presentation in a desert. Back in July, Saint Laurent staged its Spring/Summer 2023 event on the Agafay desert, outside of Marrakech, with just a single man-made structure, a massive monolithic ring, for the set. And in December 2020, a womenswear spring/summer 2021 runway on a dune, somewhere in the Sahara. If not for the pyramids in the background, Dior’s show could have been on any sandy acreage.
“My interest in ancient Egypt is about the stars and the sky,” Kim Jones said about the choice of Egypt as show venue. “It’s that fascination with the ancient world and the parallels with what we look at today; what we inherited from them and what we are still learning from the past.” There is no mention of sand or sand dunes, or this famous part, west of the capital Cairo. “In both the collection and the show there is an idea of ‘guided by the stars’ and what that can entail in many ways.” The pyramids were incidental; just theatrical scenery. And as there were no mention of the land, Lawrence of Arabia (although the film referred to Syria) did not appear, except those floaty capes or headwear that are not the keffiyeh. Mr Jones likely wanted to avoid the obvious. The universe, including Dior’s, is expanding.
In fact, there is, as far as we could discern, nothing that could be linked to Egypt, not that the collection—titled Celestial— needed to be. The soundtrack of a relentless techno thump already indicated the negation of North Africa or Bedouin exotica. This is modern fashion for urbanites much further away, with concrete rather than sand underfoot. There was a street vibe, a paring down of the formality that Mr Jones had initially reintroduce to his Dior Men. These were separates, almost travelcore, for the more adventurous fashion consumers, those keen on pairing the sportif with the elegant and a touch of the camp; these were not for the likes of Zahi Hawass of his younger self. Mr Jones put aside for now literary references (not even T.E. Lawrence?) for the exploration of what’s up there. Does it not sound like now-out-of-the-picture Alessandro Michele’s Gucci Cosmogenie?
There were, of course, the prints of the universe, in colours most of us came to be aware of through the cinema. They were on pullovers, leggings, windbreakers, and other outers that happily flap in the cooperative wind. Unexpected this season were the sheer gauzy pieces that, in some, included a few very bee-keeper-looking face/head protectors. Talking about those, there were also helmets with glass face shields. No driver/rider/vehicular needs were evident. In preparation for a stand storm? And what about those openwork (featuring the Dior motif Cannage) breastplates? For the modern charioteer? This season, Mr Jones finally explored skirts for men—sort of. There were many pleated halves, worn like you would an apron, but to the side. If they were full skirts (and, especially, paired with those sporty tops), might they have reminded us of what were shown at Louis Vuitton before? Could Kim Jones be positioning himself as the next Virgil Abloh?
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.
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
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
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.
Sneakers that come in shades of food are not unusual, but those in one of our fave beverages, the teh tarik, are rather
By Awang Sulung
Malaysia and our little island share many things in common, food wise. But I am not wadding into the nasi lemak debate. Jangan! Never! Rather, let’s dip into our shared love of milk tea, especially teh tarik (or pulled tea in Malay, even if it’s essentially a mamak brew) And, across the Causeway, they seem far more willing to pair their love of this beverage with their love of sneakers than we do, so much so that they managed to convince Asics to colour of one the Japanese brand’s most popular sneaks—the Gel-Lyte III—in the particular orange-y tint of the teh Malaysians love to drink with roti canai. I don’t think Asics has any pair that sports the green of matcha, but in Malaysia, they have theirs that could have really been dipped in milk tea.
And I must say they appear fetching, if not sedap. And, for sure, they look cukup lemak, with the suede-like upper really imparting the full-cream milkiness of the teh. There is, for contrast, even the Asics Tiger Stripes in a fuzzy fabric, which could be the characteristic foam of the beverage. The latest colour story of the Gel-Lyte III is really the quenching of the creative thirst of one of Malaysia’s leading streetwear retailers Hundred%. This is, in fact, a follow-up to 2019’s GEL-Kayano 5 OG that came in the shades of nasi lemak! A work of not just Hundred%, but also the Malaysian sneaker con and store, SneakerLAH. Frankly, that skim warna did not work for me, as I consider it a tad gawdy. But this time, the monochromatic choice of teh tarik is, I find, more appealing .
I’ve always been a fan of the Gel-Lyte III, with its distinctive forked-tongue, but not like those of reptiles. And this teh tarik version has added grassroots/kedai kopi pull for me. Unfortunately, it is only available in Kuala Lumpur, and in one physical location. If you have a friend in the capital to do you a favour, your problem could be solved, but I fear that by the time you read this post, this pair of Asics, launched tomorrow, would be sold out, which would really leave some of us quite haus.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Asics Gel-Lyte III ‘Teh Tarik’, RM699, is only available at Home Store, Jalan Pudu, Kuala Lumpur. Photo: Asics
Our island’s annual street-style, multi-activity fair Culture Cartel is back with their fourth edition. This time, in Orchard Road. Could this be the best retail event of the year?
The main concourse of Culture Cartel in Scape
In an op-ed last Monday for The Straits Times, ‘How to make Orchard Road great again for shoppers’, the former writer of the paper’s now-defunct Urban Karen Tee opined that “the shopping experience [on said street] does not always live up to expectations”. She isn’t wrong. The first reason Ms Tee cited is that “popular sizes and product models are often sold out”. Most retailers will say that it is nearly impossible to stock all the sizes and styles at once so that they are available to all customers whenever they walk into a store. Had it been just bad luck for the shopper? Additionally, Ms Tee is of the belief that brands are resistant to bringing in “too many statement pieces”. She did not explain why that many are needed if they are indeed those items that make a statement. A former buyer at Comme des Garçons once told us that “statement pieces are very expensive and it is not easy to sell them. Often, we have to mark down.”
What was interestingly missing in Ms Tee’s observation of shopping in Orchard Road was the no-mention of fashion—and culture—that correlates with youths, surely an important and influential market segment, and one that leads in terms of the experiential. She did write of the need to make shopping fun, and described the recently-concluded Boutique Fairs as “a nice break from the usual Orchard Road shopping experience”. What was fun or out of the ordinary to her at the Fairs? Apparently the chance “to meet designers in person and learn about their creative process (we, too, were there, but no designer spoke to us about that), making shopping a lived experience rather than just a mere transaction”. She then mentioned Tokyo’s Shimokitazawa neighbourhood and Seoul’s Hongdae, and how much she “enjoyed” both. Ms Tee did not indicate that Shimokitazawa and Hongdae, which is close to Hongik University, are essentially enclaves of a generally youthful consumer population. Retailers in these places do cater to the young; their businesses and the lively mix of tenants impart a distinct vibe to the place, as well as dynamism. Perhaps, more importantly, it’s easy to describe them as cool. In the end, we are curious to know if Ms Tee ever “met any designer in person” in those places. And, at the Boutique Fairs, were “popular sizes and product models” always in stock? And did she find her elusive statement pieces?
When we mentioned this ST story to a PR consultant, she was quick to say: “no fresh perspectives”. And we agree. Were these not the same gripes we have been hearing for the last 20 or so years? Orchard Road can never be Tokyo’s Omotesando—another street Ms Tee mentioned, nor should it try to be. In fact, “A Great Street”, as Orchard Road Business Association (ORBA) likes to call it, cannot come close to any of the main shopping areas in the Japanese capital. Omotesando is unlike any other major shopping belt in the world, not even Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré in Paris, or New Bond Street in London, is comparable. What makes Omotesando exceptional is that it is flanked and well served by the arterial streets of Ura-Harajuku and Aoyama/Jingumae on each side of the thoroughfare. And in these parts, you do find stores and brands that are not part of the usual European luxury conglomerates. Therein lies the opportunity for discovery, and gratification, and entertainment. Orchard Road is just one mall-lined street. Ms Tee mentioned the need to make shopping fun without saying what indeed makes for fun. Perhaps she might find it if she pops into Culture Cartel this weekend.
Massive installations dot Culture Cartel. Here, Singaporean toy and art studio Mighty Jazz’s CHXMP fronting Culture Cartel
Cuteness is often part of street culture. At Culture Cartel, a “Petting Zoo”
This year’s Culture Cartel is held at the (now significantly disused) *Scape. It is the fair’s first appearance in Orchard Road, and a rousing return to a physical space after 2020’s digital version and last year’s understandable hiatus. Culture Cartel is described as “the best and the only street culture event in Asia”, which may have been the selling point that snagged the Singapore Tourism Board as a firm supporter, hoping to “position Singapore as a street culture hub”. In his opening speech during the media preview this morning, convention director Jeremy Tan of Axis Group Asia revealed that the confirmation of the use of *Scape came only in July this year, which effectively gave him and his partners four months to prepare. Despite the short lead time, things came neatly to place because of the “creative passion, the bonds, and community spirit”. Culture Cartel is different from other street style-style-driven events in that it is a collective expression of what the culture is about: an amalgamation of obsessions, not just sneakers or T-shirts, but also figurines and toys, customised-ornamenting of motorcycles, even garments, and, for the first time, NFTs, and the very real art of tattooing. In fact, there are “six pillars” in all.
The event occupies the first three levels of *Scape, covering an area of 63,420 sq ft (or about 5,892 sqm), which is smaller than the F1 Pit Building, location of the first and second Culture Cartel. Housing the event here (possibly the last on such a scale as the 15-year-old building will, according to The Straits Times, “undergo a revamp” and reopen in 2024) is a boon to those participants who like proper, demarcated spaces, within which to tell their brand stories, and to do so with visual flair. Going from one brand space to another here is also a more agreeable experience. At the F1 Pit Building in the past, it took considerable time to go from one end to the other of the length of each floor. Conversely, *Scape, a building that’s triangular in shape, is a lot more compact. Mr Tan exclaimed to a member of the press: “It’s like a shopping mall experience.” Culture Cartel is not the first such event to be held here. In 2019, before the COVID 19 pandemic, the now-single-day-event-at-Drip-last-month Sole Superior (that once also went by the moniker Street Superior) staged their ‘con’ here, but with considerably less orderliness and, for some, pull.
One of the most popular areas of the event is the Archive Room, with Mark Ong’s SBTG on the left
One of the best local newcomers is the menswear brand N3AVIGATE
Regular attendees to Culture Cartel will be able to spot the regular exhibitors and the obligatory shops of the sponsors. The event is not discernibly zoned, except for the areas shared by tattoo artists. The most appealing set-up is by Pharaoh’s Horses, a Singaporean tattoo-parlour-cum-clothier, who offers fashion inspired by tattoo art. Many visitors appear to head straight for level three (the main atrium is on level two, and what appears to be the basement is, in fact, level 1). And the space that seems to draw them in is the Archive Room, curated by Chooee Hwang of the street-culture-centric media company Streething, with input from possibly the most beloved OG of the scene Mark Ong of SBTG. Mr Ong has his own space (thronged by fans) that offers, among the usual T-shirts and such, “neo-vintage” sneaks—new shoes made to look old. Mr Hwang explained that the idea of the Archive Room is to offer something that counters e-commerce platforms. “Everything is online, but I want a physical room, I want to create an on-site experience by putting out what I have, or sort of archive.”
One of the joys of an event such as Culture Cartel is to discover labels unheard of before (or unfamiliar), not necessarily just to meet the designers. One of the brands we were delighted to encounter in the Archive Room is the four-year-old N3avigate. As the numeral in the name suggests, there is a trio behind the brand—Aaron Yip, Alvin Tan, and Justin Low. N3avigate, founded in 2019, is a menswear label with a military/work wear aesthetic, reminiscent of WTAPS, and GR-Uniforma. Mr Tan says the clothes are “designed at home” since they do not operate out of a studio, as the guys have their “day jobs”. He happily reveals that he is working for Casio and has, in fact, “just finished setting up before coming over”. The clothes are produced in three countries: China, Vietnam, and Indonesia. We like the visual merchandising of the line, as well as the design consistency and the hand feel of the products, although the production would benefit from technical expertise. When we asked Mr Tan if he was invited by Mark Ong to participate in Culture Cartel, he replied, “Oh, we are friends!”
The unsurprising queue outside the Limited Edt unit, dubbed the Ice Cream Parlour
One of the few sneaker resellers, RAuthentic X District_Co, with their piled-up merchandise
Some names are the mainstays of Culture Cartel. Limited Edt certainly is, as the proprietor Mandeep Chopra is on the four-man organising team that includes Jeremy Tan, and Douglas Khee and Dave Chiam, co-founders of the event management outfit Division Communications. The almost twenty-year-old Limited Edt, with a gelato-coloured store front, sits in one corner of the third floor, next to an entryway, and it soon becomes clear why that is a vantage site. As soon as the event opened to the public, the first spot to draw a visibly long queue is Limited Edt (the line stretches past the glass sliding door of the building and into the corridor outside). Reportedly, there are “hourly drops” of limited-edition kicks for grabs. One teenaged guy in the line told us, with confident smugness, when we asked him what he was queuing for, “anything Limited Edt offers” and then qualified, ”they have the good stuff.” Apart from the sneakers, this time displayed in refrigerator units (likely not turned on) to mimic an ice cream parlour (the Limited EDT space is, ironically, the warmest on this floor), there is also a small collection from Patta, the much-watched streetwear-store-turned-brand from Amsterdam.
Sneakers are, surprisingly, not the biggest draw at Culture Cartel. Sure, there is that line at Limited Edt, but not quite elsewhere. With less than ten sneaker exhibitors, the offerings may not be the catch that such ‘cons’ are usually associated with. Mr Tan explains that as the venue was confirmed relatively late, many brands and retailers have already committed their budgets to other activities, but he did say that by representation, only Vans is not a participant this year. For those who like ‘con’-style kicks-stops, there is a lively corner jointly operated by Ruben Chan of RAuthentic and Edgar Goh of District_Co. Mr Chan, who primarily sells “sneaker accessories” such as crease guards (placed in the shoe to protect the toe box from furrowing), shoe trees, sneaker pills (deodorants), told us that he is “the top seller of (such) accessories on Shopee”. When we spotted several pairs of Yeezy in the tempting (but size-limited) pile of collectibles and wondered if there is still a demand for them, he said, “yes, there is, especially now that the partnership is over.” Has the price increased? “Not much, by the 10 to 20”, he replied while busy serving customers. Percent, we assume.
One of the best-looking set-ups at Culture Cartel is by the Hong Kong label Subcrew
Malaysian brand Nerdunit has the best sales drive in the whole event
From Culture Cartel’s overseas guest-exhibitors, two brands standout: Hong Kong’s Subcrew (appearing with Plants of Gods) and Malaysia’s Nerdunit. Subcrew—also known as 潜队 back in the Fragrant Harbour—is one of the smallest exhibitors, but they have created one of the simplest and sleekest space in the whole event, featuring ceramic incense burners in the shape of squat succulents by Plants of Gods (POG), an online plant store that “aims to promote a gardening culture”, as well as T-shirts with creepy-cute characters of plants, personified. Co-owner of POG Benny Fung informed us that presently Subcrew has a pop-up in Hong Kong’s Mongkok Sneaker Street (or 布鞋街). When we asked what the situation in Mongkok—and indeed Hong Kong—is like, he said, “everything is back to normal.” Subcrew is considered to be the SAR’s OG streetwear brand. POG’s collaboration with Subcrew is a tale of intertwining within the burgeoning street culture of the city. One name keeps popping up: Prodip Leung (梁伟庭), a bassist with Hong Kong’s influential hip-hop group LMF (Lazy Mutha Fucka). Mr Leung is also an artist and his work, such as the alien-looking POG Fever, appears on on ofthe T-shirts (limited quantities are available at Culture Cartel). When asked how he came to collaborate with members of Subcrew, Mr Fung said, “Oh, we used to skateboard together!”
Just as fascinating is Malaysia’s Nerdunit. And how they sell: Shoppers pay only S$120 and would be passed a small plastic basket, with which to stuff as many pieces of the mostly T-shirts as possible in 120 seconds. The stack must not go above the rim of the basket. Fun is indeed part of the experience here (was this what Karen Tee meant by fun?). Nerdunit takes up a considerable space in one of the units on level three, with a giant inflatable ‘sunflower’ sporting a smiley face welcoming shoppers. Founded and designed by Malaysian Ronald Chew in 2013, Nerdunit has a sub-brand Water the Plants (in collaboration with UK brand Smiley), also available at Culture Cartel, so is the label’s paring with Japanese imprint FR2 (or Fxxking Rabbits, the provocative other line by Ryo Ishikawa of Vanquish). The clothing of Nerdunit, designed out of a studio in Kuala Lumpur, has been retailing in Japan for four years and is available at Tokyo’s Laforet in Harajuku. General manager Raja Iskandar Shah gleefully tells us that they’re “on the first floor”, and is even more delighted when we noted that Undercover’s pop-up Madstore was on the same level too.
“Photo wall” inside the Mighty Jaxx space
The small but well-curated offering of Luca & Vic
Increasingly, toys are very much a part of the street culture, with many creatives/brand owners who are artists themselves, such as Plants of Gods’s Prodip Leung. Toys/figurines/art collectibles are reportedly a sizeable business on our island. One of the most noted names is Mighty Jaxx, the design studio that produces some of the most fetching little creatures you’ll ever dream of owning. Appearing at Culture Cartel is CHXMP, the company’s “first employee” in the Metaverse (smaller physical versions are on sale). While Mighty Jaxx is moving further into the digital world, their physical store is no less engaging. There is even a set-up where visitors can take selfies in possibly an office of the future. Small players are not left out. Luca And Vic, founded in 2019, is the brain child of Calvin Chua, who named his business and store after his two children. Mr Chua considers himself a toy collector first, then seller. In his motley stash is Lao Wang, the asymmetrical-eyes-above-mouth character, designed by Shanghai-based Malaysian artist Ken Wong. Also known by the Chinese moniker huabi laowang (花臂老王), the charming figures come in various guises, including one as Bruce Lee and another as Santa Wang! We wonder if Mr Chua’s buying is based on his own taste or what the market thirsts for. “I’m still learning,” he says. “There are major players here, and there’s the community.”
That keeps coming back throughout our exploration of Culture Cartel: the social heart of those who embrace the culture. Jeremy Tan is heard telling a journalist “that is why we as curators are apt for the job. We have earned the trust of the community.” Culture Cartel can indeed be the gravitational centre of a group/tribe that is no longer catered for in tangible ways. Physical spaces in the past include The Heeren and Far East Plaza, but they are no longer even a shadow of their former selves. Cathay Cineleisure, *Scape’s immediate neighbour, was headed in that direction, but lost its way; it’s now a ghost town. A four-day event, however, is not quite sufficient for sustained visibility of the community and the individuals who believe in it. Although the entry charge into Culture Cartel is somewhat steep, it opens one to this admirable group of individuals who are deeply knowledgeable of and passionate in what they do. And the camaraderie is infectious, which is rather absent in the larger fashion world. We left Culture Cartel shortly after 1pm. At the traffic junction of Grange and Somerset Roads, Mark Ong was waiting to cross the former to head for 313@Somerset. A trio of possibly fans spoke to him. He said cheerily, “I’m meeting Chooee for lunch. Some friends brought nasi lemak from JB for me. Want to share with the Japanese (exhibitors).” Community in action.
Culture Cartel 2022 opens today at *Scape and will run until 4 December 2022. Entry passes can be purchase on site: SGD30 for a single day or SGD69 for all four days. Photos: Chin Boh Kay