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
This is Pieter Mulier’s most confident and facile collection, yet
Is he presently the only designer working for a house not his own who respects the founder’s aesthetics and silhouettes this closely? Pieter Mulier’s curiously labelled “summer fall 2023 show” for Alaïa was his most confident and most creatively exact since taking over the house in 2021. His tentative moves then was now full strides. This was more than just a whiff of Alaïa; this was redolent. And that definitely was not an unwelcome thing, refreshing even, when many other houses allow their creative directors to slash and burn in order to propagate. The collection was recognisably Alaïa, but with Mr Mulier’s deft minimalist-yet-sexy touch: the elongation and the body-consciousness, and the sculpting. Curves were celebrated, so were technical finesse. It was a familiarity that bred pleasure. There was something sanguine about it too, as if Mr Mulier was saying that he is able to take the house further, to a better place.
This season, Mr Mulier showed his Alaïa collection not in Paris, but in Antwerp, and not in the Alaïa home in the Marais (now the Foundation Azzedine Alaïa), but in his own home in the Belgium port city. Mr Mulier lives in a 1968 brutalist flat designed by the Belgium architects Léon Stynen and Paul de Meyer, best known in their home country for the un-church-like building Saint Rita Church in the city of Harelbeke, completed two years before Mr Mulier’s block was erected. The top-level duplex is in the two-building, 20-storey Riverside Tower, a stone’s throw from the city centre that enjoys a striking view of Antwerp and the River Scheldt on one side and, further away, The North Sea on the other. According to attendees, the show meandered through much of the space—the living room, the dining, the kitchen, and yes, even the bedroom (some guests apparently sat on the bed!). The thing is, Mr Mulier does not live here alone. This wasn’t a space that showed only one person’s possessions and personal taste. It is likely that it also housed the personal affects and collections of Matthieu Blazy, the Bottega Veneta creative director who is Mr Mulier’s life partner (they met while both were working with the now-closed Raf Simons). In attendance were fellow Belgian designers Raf Simons (of course) and Dries van Noten. This was, literally, home ground.
And home is where one is most comfortable. Pieter Mulier’s designs reflected that. It is imaginable how totally absorbing it would be to sit that close to the clothes (unfortunately, like most, we saw them in front of our screen), to witness the fit and how it worked, and how the models might have felt as they moved in pieces that hugged the shoulders and hips, or enveloped the neck and the torso. Most of the outfits covered the body (with the odd crescent cut-out above the derrière in one dress); even the mini-skirts were worn over leggings. Yet, there was nothing prudish about the sum effect. Even the hooded dresses did not look as habit-like as those of the Sisters of Sion order, whose habits had inspired Mr Alaia’s own designs (did the Cathedral of Our Lady, which Mr Mulier could see from his Antwerp flat inspire him?). These would entice Grace Jones, long-time fan of the maison’s slinky, hooded gowns. There were frocks ready for any ball too, voluminous, bell-skirts, even nearly orbicular in one, that were more sumptuous when contrasted with the lean, knit, turtle-necked tops that accompanied them. Elizabeth Holmes, if she were not in jail or had been successful in her attempt to “flee” to Mexico, might find them covetable.
Shapes were key to the looks, too. The trousers with the curved out-seams were especially appealing (there was even a version in the form of denim jeans!). A floor-length coat wrapped like a spring bud. One short jacket had faux fur lapels that were oversized and nearly circular. There was minimal ornamentation on the clothes. Leather—the only fabric given extra treatment—were laser-cut to yield a trellis openwork, and that formed the closest thing to patterned cloth. They became leggings, skirts, even a trenchcoat. When actual embellishments were used, these came in rows of pins that seemed to hold hems together. In the brand’s communique, it said “a humble dressmaker’s pin can become sublime” and that meant using them in rows, like with a bandolier, and they looked especially so when fashioned diagonally on the torso of a bustier or on the side of sleeves. Pieter Mulier might be doing something closer to what he likes and what he is now totally comfortable with, and showing the result in a setting that reflected domestic calm, even bliss, but the whole exercise did not deviate drastically from Azzedine Alaïa at his long-time 19th-century home.
Haider Ackerman brought back those and more toFrench couture
It can be said that this French hautecouture spring 2023 season is a mixed bag. It borders on the mémère (dowdy) at Chanel, the dull at Dior, and heavy on the theatrics at Schiaparelli. Everything between is hard to write home about without sounding too critical. Then you have Haider Ackermann’s couture debut at Jean Paul Gaultier. And then couture made sense. Mr Ackerman was given free reign to interpret JPG as he saw fit, and the result was not short of astounding. The JPG codes were not immediately discernible amid the linearity and the sumptuousness, but you knew this was special in the way that it was to be surprising (Mr Gaultier told all his collaborators to “surprise” him). And strike a sense of wonder Mr Ackerman did, even if only by the sheer chicness of the clothes These were steep in the flair a masterful couturier would conjure. It is no wonder that Karl Lagerfeld once considered Mr Ackermann worthy of succeeding the former at Chanel. As the German told Numero in 2010, “I have a contract for life, so it depends on who I would like to hand it to. At the moment, I’d say Haider Ackermann.”
And now we saw why he deserves that appointment. Or, as Venessa Friedman excitedly Tweeted after the show, “Someone make this designer the head of a brand please.” Mr Ackermann not only exhibited the aptitude and a keen discernment for haute couture, but understood its spirit. He did not just throw himself to the house codes of JPG: no Breton stripes or tattoo prints. There were, to be expected, bras, but they were barely conical or that pointy. And there was no overt campiness, just good ’ol élégance. If this was not conceived under the banner of the house of Gaultier and through their own atelier, this could pass off as Mr Ackermann designing for his eponymous line. The fourth collaborator in JPG’s guest designer program, he did not succumb to the need to express Mr Gaultier’s maximalist irreverence; he stayed with his more minimalist aesthetics, but with adornments (a couture requisite?). Chitose Abe of Sacai was the first to be invited, and she turned out JPG through the lens of Sacai (making her complex designs, even more so), so did Y Project’s Glenn Martens (a lesson in assymetry), and Balmain’s Olivier Rousteing (ridiculously OTT, to the extent that the models were tottering in the too-high shoes; one even fell). For Mr Ackermann, capturing l’ esprit de couture was more crucial than augmenting the JPG canon.
Tailoring has always been the crux of Mr Ackermann’s oeuvre. It was, therefore, unsurprising that it was JPG’s tailoring he wanted to honour. The opening look of a trim redingote with pleated crisscrossed front had a neu-militaire fervour about it, so did the cropped lapel-less piece that followed—a sort of calvary jacket with hand-sewn running stitch in place of braiding and with unfinished oblong tabs along the front vertical hems. Standouts, too, were those looks destined for special occasions. One pink gown had for a bodice a plissé strip that turned and twisted around the torso and neck, another—in royal blue, worn by Raquel Zimmermann—was elliptical at the top and epitome of how couture can astound with shapes. To re-interpret a preponderance of bras-as-outerwear in the JPG body of work, Mr Ackermann had a one-sided version that miraculously emerged from the rear of a bat-winged, one-sleeve gown to cup a right breast, like a hand of a protective lover. The Colombian-born French designer has said, in response to designing for JPG, that, unlike Mr Gaultier, he has no sense of humour. But he did know quirky. Mariacarla Boscono wore a lean, straight-shouldered gown with a deep cut-out in the rear and a high collar with a tailpiece that extended to the left like a ‘wing’ of a zhanjiao futou (展角幞頭 or spread-horn head cover; think: bao zheng [包拯] or Justice Bao), worn by Chinese officials of the Song dynasty. But it was not all this unexpected. The collection would not be lacking if some pieces were omitted, such as the tracksuit-y two-piece or the pantsuit with a hood that was embroidered inside.
The show itself had a rather old-world vibe too. Staged at the JPG headquarters in Rue Saint-Martin, it was devoid of props (nothing mobile, in which models would emerge, for example). The sound track featured French actress Joana Preiss breathily reading a passage by former French Elle journalist Sophie Fontanel about the protests in Iran and the Iranian singer-songwriter Shervin Hajipour singing Baraye (‘For the Sake of’ in Persian). Mr Ackermann is a known supporter of the Iranian cause, sharing on Instagram last September, “I stand with the women of Iran”. The recital and the singing were interspersed with pulsing sounds that could be the heartbeat of a foetus amplified. Just as yesteryear were the walk of the models: exaggerated, individualistic, expressive, they were unafraid to use their hands. Mr Gaultier, who sat at the end of the runway, sandwiched between Catherine Deneuve to his right and Edward Enninful to his left (Anna Wintour was not sighted, or perhaps the camera did not capture her?), seemed to be playing judge as the models stopped right before him to articulate their act. At the end of the show, when Mr Ackermann emerged, he went straight to Mr Gaultier (you could see Ms Deneuve mouth “bravo”), took his hand and walked down the runway to join the models at the other end. At this moment, one sensed that not only will the world now be better acquainted with Haider Ackermann, luxury houses, too, will take note of this bona-fide couturier.
Screen grab (top): Jean Paul Gaultier/YouTube. Photos: Gorunway.com
Schiaparelli tames the beast to lay its head on the wearer’s shoulder
The big cat is not the one we see during Chinese New Year, when lion dance troupes visit mostly businesses to perform the ritual of caiqing (採青 or plucking the greens). Or at the Chingay parade. Rather, at the spring couture 2023 show of Schiaparelli, it appeared as what could easily be the head of Aslan, the slow-talking King of Beast in Narnia (particularly the 2005 film version). Or, something that could be a product of skillful taxidermy. Before even the start of the show, guest Kylie Jenner showed up with the same lion’s head on the same black gown. When the picture of her in said outfit made the expected social media rounds, Netizens were outraged, accusing Schiaparelli of “promoting trophy hunting”, only now the part of the (hunted) animal not displayed on walls, but on a body, worn like a brooch. The house was quick to say that no animal was used in the making of the head of the beast. It was, in fact, the result of embroidery. Realistic, as it turned out, is sometimes not quite a good thing. Ms Jenner did not say how the lion’s head made her feel or if she paid for the dress.
Apart from the majestic panthera leo’s head (on Irina Shayk), there were those of a leopard (on Sharlom Harlow) and a she-wolf (on the she-wolf herself, Naomi Campbell), too. Rather than saying something about the jungle or wildlife or animal welfare, these embroidered bodiless creatures spoke for Dante’s Inferno from the 14th century poem The Divine Comedy. They represented pride, lust, and avarice respectively. The story’s Dante was supposed to avoid these three beasts, according to Virgil, the Roman poet, who appeared before protagonist in the first canto of the poem. Conversely, Schiaparelli’s Daniel Roseberry approached them head-on, showing off the technical ability of the house and their collaborators to create the animals’ heads that were nearly indistinguishable from real-life. We, not Dante, can now come face to face with the animals to see that the “faux” taxidermic output is hand-sculpted from foam and resin, and then embroidered with wool and silk faux fur. In couture, designers would go to all lengths.
Take away the fake heads, did the gowns say anything? Would the dress look good without the animal part? Can she sit at the dining table and eat? Can it be removed? And how does one put the outfit away in a home without a museum’s storage facility? Ms Jenner probably does not care about where she keeps the gown after she has worn it. It is about now, the very moment that she aroused the world’s attention. Why would she bother about the outfit’s fate thereafter? Couture does not concern itself with the inconveniences resulting from use and wear when what matter most are the difficulty of execution and the man hours (or, collectively, the “enormity of workmanship”, as Susie Menkes described Schiaparelli) that can be brought to he forefront, or on the red carpet. Mr Roseberry has taken surrealism quite close to his heart. Each collection must be surrealistic in terms of how hard it is and how long it takes to execute the ideas for a dress. In the past, the surrealism employed on the Schiaparelli garment articulated a sense of witticism too. We do not see that in Mr Roseberry’s work. If the dramatic flourishes are kept down, would Schiaparelli be still considered couture-spectacular?
But the business is dependent on those customers who do not come for heads of any kind, worn to complete with the wearer’s very own head. So Mr Roseberry sent out neat, wearable (couture has a different definition for that) outfits that played on proportion and exaggeration, both to varying degrees of success and appeal. That broad shoulders had to be included at a time when they should be retired perhaps suggested his limited repertoire when reimagining the shapes that can be imagined to clothe the body. He seemed to prefer top/front-heavy looks too, sending out a trio of bodices that were rigid and high and sight-of-wearer-obscuring and another other (he preferred ideas to come in threes?) with ridiculous pointed sides that aimed skywards like spires of church towers. And that finale mini-dress and accompanying oversized wrap: in duchess satin and puckered-hem glory. Was it included at the eleventh hour to yield a total of looks in even numbers—32? We wish we would could like the collection more.
And for the first time, the position goes to a Singaporean
Vogue SG’s new editor-in-chief Desmond ‘Monkiepoo’ Lim. Photo: monkiepoo/Instagram
The Singaporean edition of Vogue has just announced its new editor-in-chief, three months after it was reported that their publishing licence was revoked and then reissued, but valid for six months. It was then also said that the previous EIC Norman Tan resigned from his position to take up a new job in the Big Apple. Mr Tan wrote his farewell message in the November/December issue, comparing his tenure to baking. In a media release, Vogue SG said that Desmond ‘Monkiepoo’ Lim will be the magazine’s new editorial head. The appointment must have come as a 大红包 (big hongbao) for the magazine’s former fashion director. Mr Lim’s first issue would be in March. That indicates that the magazine’s publishing licence has been extended beyond the six months that was offered to them after an appeal was made. Mr Lim, as one former magazine editor told us, “has his job cut out for him.”
According to Mr Lim’s latest Instagram post, it took him “2.5 months and 5 rounds of interviews” before the job was his. As with his predecessor’s appointment, Media Publishares looked from within to hire the magazine’s next EIC. Some media observers believe this is a cheaper way since it is likely that existing senior staff would eagerly accept the coveted job with minimal or no adjustments to the salary. Until the current announcement, Mr Lim held the position of fashion director at Vogue SG, after leaving, in 2020, Singapore Tatler, where he held the same position for six years. He is Vogue SG’s first Singaporean for the top editorial post. Former EICs were connected to Australia: In the magazine’s first run (1994—1997), Nancy Pilcher was the editorial head. An American, she ran Vogue Australia (and the SG edition concurrently). When the magazine returned to our shores 23 years later, the EIC role was offered to Norman Tan, originally from Melbourne, who was the social media-crazy EIC of Esquire SG. But Desmond Lim is not entirely disconnected from Down Under. He went to school there, graduating with a BA from the University of South Australia.
It is not immediately apparent what Mr Lim will bring to Vogue SG. Will he continue in the footsteps of the one who came before him? Could those shoes be too large to fill? Or, will he speak directly to the readers here with a more authentic voice? Mr Lim is known to be comfortable with his native self, as sure of his love for bubor cha cha as his adoration of his late ah ma (paternal grandmother) to whom he was the endearing “ah boy” (once, he even did an Iris Apfel on her, and styled her in Prada). Vogue SG struggled to evoke affection before. Or, a discernible Singaporean-ness. It would serve the title well to rouse feelings and excitement that reflect the uniqueness of the name framed in the ‘O’ of the masthead. In the media release, Mr Lim shared that he will “continue to explore the integral connection between fashion, culture, and technology.” Continue, he said.
A PR consultant asked us what we thought of the appointment, “if he makes the cut”. It is hard to say. Going from a fashion director to an EIC is a big leap. Mr Lim, to us, has always been more of a visual person than textual. Putting together a whole magazine, with numerous constituent parts, isn’t the same as styling a fashion spread or creating the content for a social media account. Mr Lim started his career as a graphic designer and his visual language, fashion-wise, is based on gratuitous edginess, rather than clear communication through clothes. The curious May/June 2022 cover of the model covering her hands painted blue may have found kinship in Mystique, but for us, it was hard to ascertain what it really meant, and why it would be a draw or inspiration. But these days, as editors are less the gatekeepers of the fashion industry, Desmond Lim may need more than edginess to be persuasive and compelling.
Louis Vuitton, it seems, is not leaving the Virgil Abloh era. Yet
That the late Virgil Abloh left his mark at Louis Vuitton is possibly understating it. So indelible it was and so successful the Abloh years were that LV probably now sees no reason to give their men’s line a major aesthetical shift. Mr Abloh was the guy LV was waiting for, but he left the world too soon. And LV was sure that you feel that too. If you have not, now is not too late. The autumn/winter 2023 show looked like those from the brand’s recent past, or eight of the runway presentations under Mr Abloh’s watch, neighbourhood and not. It preceded with an abstract film (those of us fixed on our screens saw that). The runway was not a linear track. Models walked past mise-en-scènes, amalgamated to be ghetto-fabulous and set up to suggest children’s (or young persons’) rooms. LV said that the collection is “imbued with the spirit of the inner child”, which is consistent with what Mr Abloh famously said, “I’m always trying to prove to my 17-year-old self that I can do creative things I thought weren’t possible.” Was his ghost present?
The show opened with the Spanish singer Rosalia (top)—togged in what could be the brand’s men’s pieces (and curiously carrying a search light when she came out), with hair that looked unwashed (or just washed?)—singing from atop a yellow automobile, it’s doors fitted with boom-box speakers. A black model was the first to emerge, as it had been with Mr Abloh’s show. Other models followed. They stopped in the rooms that were propped with LV trunks and strewn with stuffed toys (not, unlike in the past, attached to the clothes), fiddled with the miscellany, one was rummaging through clothes, another was scribbling on a wall, a pair played darts. It was stagey, contrived, but what that all really meant was not clear. It is reminiscent of Mr Abloh’s performative masculinity; it is inclusive, of course, and the Black-Americana is unmistakable. At times, we had to remind ourselves that we were watching the presentation of a French brand, shown in Paris.
The Abloh-ness is not tempered even with a new name presently linked to the collection: Colm Dillane, an LVMH prize finalist (2021) and the fellow behind the US streetwear label KidSuper (which was also showing in Paris). According to LV’s PR-speak, Mr Dillane was “embedded” in the menswear studio recently as—what everyone else called—a “guest designer”. Whether that was a temporary arrangement or preface to a permanent one, clear it was not (LV has yet to name a successor to Mr Abloh). The half Irish/half Spanish American knew he had large boots to fill and went about doing it without changing the metaphoric footwear—he kept the Abloh razzle-dazzle, showing largely roomy clothes with exaggerated silhouettes, immaculately tailored, faced with the mantle of streetwear, but without the cloak of design laziness. Mr Abloh had created a massive fan base. There was no reason for Mr Dillane to not cater to that. These were clothes—largely for play or to go on stage in—that would sit comfortably in a wardrobe already brimming with Mr Abloh’s LV RTW.
What struck us about the collection was the total lack of skirts. Did Virgil Abloh’s many versions not sell? And would LV be omitting the skirt from their offerings for men, totally? Mr Dillane did not push a gender-bending agenda; he took a more conventional route, putting out tailored-but-with-a-twist (some literally) looks or jackets made more interesting by adding zips to front seams and rear vents. The more unconventional details are the criss-crossed straps on a jacket that could be used to secure envelopes, notes and such. Talking about notes, one suit was festooned with pieces of oblong fabrics that looked like a random composition of written notes, such as those of Post-Its (but much larger) on a cork board. There were also graphics that were rather akin to those of KidSuper: patchwork leather that appeared like camouflage but showed a face, much like composite photography; large repeated patterns of blurred apples accompanied by text across the torso: “Fantastic Imagination”; and collage-y illustrations that would make Mr Abloh proud. But none more so than yet another reimagining of the Keepall, a bag that has been rejuvenated more times than any other in the LV collection. Even in death, Virgil Abloh was still gaily smiling on Louis Vuitton.
Miss Universe Singapore’s “3-D printed national costume”—as some reports describe it—is a misnomer. But what fun is a national costume at the Miss Universe final if it’s not poorly named, controversial, and bordering on the absurd?
On stage in New Orleans, Miss Universe Singapore in national costume
We always remind ourselves that when it comes to the national costume segment of Miss Universe—and, frankly, the whole pageant—we have to think of entertainment, of amusement, of laughter. No one takes them costumes seriously, or as inspiration for a dress you might wish to wear for the next Christmas/party season. So when our current Miss Universe Singapore Carissa Yap strutted out—and she did—in what appeared to be a leotard, festooned with veiny petalous shapes, we were not surprised; we were entertained and we were amused, and we laughed. After 2021’s lacklustre, caped national costume, worn by Bernadette Belle Wu Ong (or Mr International Singapore Sean Nicholas Sutiono’s flag-as-cape), we were delighted to see our national flower Papilionanthe Miss Joaquim—a.k.a. Vanda Miss Joaquim—in use, again. Better bunga than, say, nasi lemak. We think the decorative is better than the edible when it comes to adorning a dress, even when there are designers who think it might be more effective to appeal to one’s appetite than aesthetic sense. And this year, it is hybrid orchid and national colour that take centrestage to generate fervid viewer reaction.
As with most of the national costumes that were shown in this 71st year of the pageant, held in New Orleans, Ms Yap’s outfit is hard to describe. It is, for sure, not a gown. The bifurcated, seeming one-piece is an audacious proposition for a beauty-contest stage, where looking glamorous is what every contestant hopes to achieve, and usually with an over-the-top dress. Some call this year’s SG national dress a jumpsuit. We are not sure. It could be a unitard of sort (something a trapeze artist might wear?), even a close-fitting two-piece, or samfu (it’s really hard to make out from the photos). The base garment is designed and made by our island’s couture darling Frederick Lee. Apparently, he even dreamed up the idea of the segments of the corolla of the orchid, conceived to expose the venation of the petals, like those of pressed leaves after they have spent considerable time weighted between the pages of a book. They are arranged in the shape of our island (more nationalistic fervour in the red and white!). Those petal parts are realised and 3-D-printed by Baëlf Design, the studio specialising in clothes not made of conventional cloth.
Publicity photo: Close up of the “lattice”
It is debatable if what was worn by Ms Yap, a National University of Singapore student, can be accurately described as a 3-D printed garment. According to the posts on Mr Lee’s and Miss Universe Singapore’s social media pages, the outfit is a result of “combining intricate craft, precise design computation and innovative use of 3D-printing technologies.” So, it is not entirely 3-D printed. The posts went on: “By using computation to grow organic, vein-like structures, these petals form a high-rise collar around the neck, as well as outstretched wings, enveloping the body in a lightweight, white-coloured 3D-printed lattice.” That, of course, makes the costume grander than it actually is. Perhaps, as long as it sounds good, it would look smashing. Growing a winged, biological form that is structural yet covers the body completely is, naturally, a feat. It does not matter that it is arguable that the irregular lines of the petals’ veins and the spaces between indeed make up latticework. The composition appeared, to us, an embellished, closing-fitting suit attached with extraneous decoration, but whether the petals—“200 individual pieces”—are stitched on or affixed with a glue gun, it is not known.
Three-dimensional printing is, of course, better poised to position our island as the hub of technological advancements than traditional dressmaking can. Although Frederick Lee has successfully marketed himself as a couturier, he does need to appear to be moving with the times, to stay relevant, and to be able to incorporate additive manufacturing to his work, rather than using a far more commonplace method, such as stitching cloth, alone. While the alate attachments (the illustration by Mr Lee shows them to be more wing-like or “outstretched”) may be enchanting, the idea of the orchid, for many of the pageant’s SG followers, is not quite. No, it isn’t because the sum effect is a tad too Iris van Herpen. When it comes to the costumes (or gag-garments?) of Miss Universe Singapore, we have a tendency to fall back on the good ’ol standby, the orchid, for inspiration. It is hard to say if this is really lack of imagination or simple laziness. Or, that our young nation is bereft of cultural motifs and material uniqueness for our costume designers to create awe-inspiring creative forms. Singapore is the only country in the world with a national flower that’s a hybrid bloom. Introducing Carissa Yap (and her costume), the co-host told the audience that “she would never settle for just one petal (there was not much more she could have settled for).” If only the commentator knew that the Vanda Miss Joaquim, when accurately depicted, has only two.
Erratum: A previous version of this post mis-stated that Bernadette Belle Wu Ong is Miss Universe Singapore in 2022; she, in fact, represented Singapore in 2021
Screen shot (top) and photo: missuniverse.sg/Instagram
In his unsparing memoir, Prince Harry reveals, among many things, that he is circumcised. Do we really need to know this much from the horse’s mouth?
As it turns out, while Prince Harry hates the media for disrespecting his privacy, he has no qualms betraying his own—privates. In his much anticipated memoir Spare, the damaged Duke is so cocksure that he writes about his genitalia. And is keen that you know he is circumcised. “My penis was a matter of public record,” he tells his dear readers, “and indeed some public curiosity.” And, as with almost everything else, the British mass media is to be blamed. “The press had written about it extensively. There were countless stories in books, and papers (even The New York Times) about Willy and me not being circumcised.” And talking about his own willy is not enough, he has to expose his brother’s, too? (There is also the bit about a stag: after it was hunted down, and his entrails removed—“gralloching”, they “snipped his penis.) “Mummy had forbidden it, they all said, and while it’s absolutely true that the chance of getting penile frostbite is much greater if you’re not circumcised, all the stories were false. I was snipped as a baby.” Were the two snips the same? And you’d know, too, that there’s such a thing as penile frostbite. Prince Harry is no stranger to it. He recounts his “tender penis”, even when he says “it was an effort not to overshare” during a family evening when his father became “very interested and sympathetic about my frostnipped ears and cheeks (caught while on an expedition to the North Pole)” after he “regaled the company with the tales of the (South) pole.” If that was not clever enough, he told the doctor, when he finally saw one, “I went to the North Pole and now my South Pole is on the fritz.” So much for removing the foreskin.
The first mention of circumcision is when he writes of going back to Ludgrove School after his mother’s funeral. The boarding school was “where more than a hundred boys lived in close proximity. Everyone knew everyone’s business, down to who was circumcised, who was not. (We called it Roundheads versus Cavaliers.)” But why is knowing that he is a Roundhead crucial to the understanding of his problems with his family and the British press? Was this to inform his American readers, for whom male circumcision is taken seriously and preferred by both men and women? Or is a circumcised male a better man, and lover? We are relieved he stopped there at the manly tenderness, and did not go on to say what endowment—when finally apparent—was revealed years after his prepuce was “snipped”. Or if his girlfriends, or that older woman, to whom he lost his virginity to in “a grassy field behind a busy pub (a milestone he calls “inglorious”), and who “treated (him) like a young stallion”, liked him, cut. Or if Meghan Markle prefers her prince with a royal manhood—“the todger”—not whole. The book was, even prior to its completion, reported to be boldly contentious and highly revealing. We didn’t think that this much would be divulged, even the state of personal appendages. And, if you are burning with curiosity, “penis” is brought up eight times throughout the book.
Other bodily parts mentioned include his facial hair. It appears right on the second page—“to beard or not to beard”. As Prince Harry recounts, “a mate, trying to make conversation, asked Grandpa what he thought of my new beard.” Prince Philip said, “THAT’S no beard!” But by the time his grandson was to get married in 2018, the beard was beard enough to be a problem. We are told that the duke had to ask permission from the late Queen to keep his beard for the nuptial day. She did not object to it, but Prince William, his younger brother recounts, was not pleased: “You put her in an uncomfortable position, Harold (the name used at home)! She had no choice but to say yes.” And there, too, is mention of the lack of hair. When he first describes his brother, the Prince of Wales, he does not draw a flattering picture: “his alarming baldness, more advanced than my own”. Then there was the shaving of his own hair by his schoolmates that left him horrified, and in an attempt to gain sympathy from his brother (futile), the “fingering the nubs on my newly bare scalp”. From the top to the bottom: He also writes about his bum (he doesn’t say if that is hairless). On wearing kilts, an article of clothing his father is fond of donning, but he dislikes—mainly because of “that breeze up your arse.” And his exposed derrière during an infamous trip to Las Vegas in 2012, which was splashed across newspapers of the globe. He now ponders: “Is my bare arse that memorable?”
Why have we highlighted these asinine, X-rated details? Because everything else brought up in the book, you would have already read or heard, in the leaks that were published last week and in the interviews the prince gave, with relish, to Anderson Cooper and, with dismay, to Tom Bradby (there were, of course, others since). Whatever is juicy—or the preferred “explosive”—is already out there. From his “arch-nemesis” brother’s indifference to his plight (and that scuffle) to the outrage with the British press to the alleged villainy of his step-mother to the perceived public and press hatred—and disapproval—of his wife, little requires repeating here. Not even his inability to accept his fate as the royal “spare”. Without plunging into the book, you would have gathered that this memoirist is deeply aggrieved. The Chinese has a better phrase for it: 愤愤不平 (fen fen bu ping) or extreme anger that can’t be calmed. Prince Harry did not only begrudge scores of people for his misfortunes, he unloaded a staggering backlog of injustice—a one-man grievance committee. He has waited this long. It is time to settles old scores. No one escapes his wrath. This is a British prince doing what American celebrities do with remarkable flair: the unsparing spill all.
Is this then a career option? Prince Harry was a military man. Although going back to the uniform was not considered, it is now impossible when he inexplicably reveals in the book that he killed 25 members of the Taliban—who were, to him, “chess pieces taken off the board”—during his deployment in Afghanistan in 2012/13. Why did he not spare the British army? He knew—as stated in the book—that even military “exercises were always kept secret from the press”. But this was his memoir and it was not about secrets. The disclosure does make one wonder: How smart is he, really? Is he by nature just flippant? He does confirm in Spare that he is not academically inclined. For one, he did not like history, even English history. At Ludgrove, you’d never find him in the library; “better check the woods. Or the playing fields.” Later, at Eton, “heaven for brilliant boys, it could thus only be purgatory for one very unbrilliant boy”, he chose self-pity and then sports—it would be “my thing”, he writes, and rugby, which “let me indulge my rage”. He does not fail to let you know how angry he was (and still is). Could it be this fury that came between him and his studies? The hurdle to appreciating Shakespeare, which his father adored? But he did try, picking up a copy of Hamlet, and then quickly abandoning it. “I slammed it shut. No, thank you.” One book—only one—he did enjoy: American author John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, “a story about friendship, about brotherhood, about loyalty, it was filled with themes I found relatable.”
By now, the world knows that, back in England, Prince William and he was in a physical altercation (that broke a dog’s bowl) which the younger brother would not call a fight because he did not hit back. He allowed himself to hurt. But being hit was not new to Prince Harry. He could take a sock. He writes of visits, when he was an early teenager, to a Norfolk country estate of friends of his father’s, where, among the children, “hair-pulling, eye-gouging, arm-twisting, sleep holds” were normal play. And he “always took the brunt”, adding, “black eye, violet welt, puffed lip, I didn’t mind… Whatever my motivation, my simple philosophy when it came to scrapping was: more, please.” As Oliver Twist asked for more gruel? Is there a masochistic streak in the prince, even in the presence of his brother? Was he unable to retaliate unless he was on a real battlefield-chessboard? Surely he was not trained at Sandhurst to be a punching bag. Or was it because no matter how hard he took, he was always cushioned—he could call his therapist. And even when he was not beaten, he saw that others would get even with him someday. When, once, Prince William was asked to leave the car their father was driving, after the two brothers, seated in the rear, were squabbling, the heir went to and boarded the rear vehicle occupied by their bodyguards. Prince Harry recounts: “Now and then I peered out the back window. Behind us, I could just make out the future King of England, plotting his revenge.”
Spare opens with a scene in Frogmore gardens, with Prince Harry writing that “the trees were bare, but the air was soft. The sky was grey, but the tulips were popping. The light was pale, but the indigo lake, threading through the gardens, glowed”. Would a former military man, a rugby player pay attention to such details? The air was soft! It is hard to commensurate the description with the severe face on the cover. For someone who does not read, who has no affinity with history, he has the unexpected talent to describe a termite mound as “baroque architecture (he does not even describe the royal residences he enjoyed)”. We have to remind ourselves that although, on the cover, the book is credited to Prince Harry, it is, in fact, ghost-written by the American author J.R. Moehringer (Open, the memoir of Andre Agassi). That a stand-in was required (not even a co-writer) corroborates with the Duke’s own admission in the book that he “was a poor student, a dreadful writer.” It is unlikely that he is better now, poised for the Booker Prize. If you want entertainment for a lonely night, Spare is moderately pacey, with parts that, for some, might be charming, and naughty—consistent with the reputation he acquired back in the day. Also befitting a former soldier, who does not give or receive orders in compound sentences, the writing is simple, conversational even (and sentences-in-italics galore). But a “dreadful writer” need not be free of some semblance of erudition. So he writes, “how can you really describe light? Even Einstein had a problem with that one.”
Many would have a problem with that one. The attempt to make him sound smart, however, does not equal the effort to make him appear pitiful. At every turn, at every juncture, sympathy is milked out of the reader. In school, in his early teens, when he was punished for being naughty, for going against school rules, he was already so emotionally fractured that “there was no torture Ludgrove could dish out that surpassed what was going on inside me.” There is also a palpable defeatist attitude. In the army, when he was training to fly, his reaction to a flight instructor telling him, “don’t let one mistake destroy this flight”—“but I let one mistake ruin many a flight”. Jumping out of nearly every page, except those describing his military training, is the trauma that he was left with following his mother Princess Diana’s death in August 1997. She is within many pages of the book. Even during a safari in Botswana, when a leopard appeared before the campers. The wild cat, according to the motherless royal, “was clearly a sign, a messenger she’d sent to say: All is well. And all will be well.”
But Prince Harry does not show that all is that well. He is funny sometimes, but more often than not, he is angry, seething, unforgiving. When he mentions his mother, he is tender, reflective; when he talks of others he is (still) enraged with, the language is brutal. One person who crossed him intensely was an editor he did not name, who wanted to expose his drug-taking while he was still at Eton. She was seriously attacked, even when what she wanted to run in her paper did happen. He said of her: “loathsome toad, I gather (he isn’t sure?). Everyone who knew her was in full agreement that she was an infected pustule on the arse of humanity… (second-hand information?).” It is hard to ignore the hypocrisy. When Jeremy Clarkson wrote in The Sun last month those uncalled for words about the repugnant punishment that the Duchess of Sussex deserved, he and his wife were outraged. He later told Tom Bradby in an interview for ITV that what Mr Clarkson penned “is hurtful and cruel towards my wife.” Was his description of that editor a delineation of Mini Mouse? Perhaps the reader is expected to overlook the uneven tone that vacillates between “naughty Harry” and motherless boy, killer-pilot and his philosophical self. The prince is not the simple fellow or a marionette with the strings in the hands of his wife?
The 410-pager would have been a fairly dull read—if not for the small details, such as noting that there was a psychiatric hospital Broadmoor, down the road from his school and that before he was a student, a “patient had escaped and killed a child in one of the nearby villages.” Or, the bleak sandiness of the military outpost Dwyer: “Everyone and everything at Dwyer was either caked with sand or sprinkled with sand or painted the colour of sand.” Or, the rituals of hunting, such as being pushed into a stag after it was shot and its stomach slit opened (we did say some parts of the book are charming!). A book from a prince, who admitted, “when I was forced to sit quietly with a book, I freaked out”, could be considered with suspicion. “At all costs, I avoided sitting quietly with a book,” he wants you to believe. Yet, in weighing his options to make money, he chose to offer a book. Spare was projected to be one of the biggest best-sellers of the start of the new year. In the UK, it was just reported that it is their fastest-selling non-fiction, ever. We purchased it, hoping to hear from the man himself, but somehow, we aren’t sure it is his voice that is discernible. In one of his numerous trips to Botswana, he came face to face with an elephant, and caught the eye of the beast. He writes, “I thought of the all-seeing eye of the Apache, and I thought of the Koh-i-Noor diamond…” How was he able to go from the night vision system of a helicopter to a rock in the Crown of Elizabeth The Queen Mother, in the presence of a huge animal that might crush him? Believe him, we did try.
Spare is one of the most expensive memoirsavailable at Kinokuniya. It is priced at S$60.48 (for comparison, Haruki Murakami’s immensely enjoyable Novelist as a Vocation, also in hardback, is S$37.45). But in the UK, booksellers are offering it at half the recommended retail price. Even Suzy Menkes was surprised by the markdown just days after the book was published, sharing on Instagram a photo of a shop in City Airport, London, with the comment, “half price already?” When we expressed our surprise at and disapproval of the pricing to the cashier at the Bugis Junction store, he told us that the proceeds would go to charity. Are we then performing a charitable act when we buy the book we were not certain we would enjoy? After we made the payment, the book was passed to us, accompanied by a flyer (third photo from the top), presumably distributed last week to announce the arrival of Spare, as well as a similar bookmark, both with the face used on the cover. We were not sure if this was to allay our astoundment with the high price of the book, that, as it turns out, is not packed with information that is compelling or previously unknown.
Prince Harry’s telling of his life’s story up to now, since his mother’s death, could be a sad read. Even his aversion to schooling—when he was offered the chance to be a helicopter pilot and learned that the training would stretch for two years, he does not hide his disappointment: “Bloody help. At every turn, life was determined to drag me back to a classroom.” After marrying an older woman who is able to give him what he has hitherto lacked and craved, you’d think that he would be able to put the past behind him. Yet, he does not seem to be able to come to terms with maternal loss. And in his frustration, compounded by the fact that he is not the heir, but the spare, he has a go at anyone who has not coddled him or supported him or protected him. In the inside of the book’s back jacket, the description of the author reads: “Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex, is a husband, humanitarian, military veteran, mental wellness advocate and environmentalist.” Achievements. Yet? Within the pages, he who is now man of a Montecito mansion recalls his Grandpa telling him, “you have to know when it’s time to go, Harry.” Perhaps, the old man said “let go”, and the young, troubled prince did not hear him. Or remember, correctly.
So, Prince Harry gabs with ITV and CBS ahead of the launch of his memoir. Yawn?
Prince Harry talking quite happily to Anderson Cooper. Screen shot: 60 Minutes/CBS
And you thought you could start the new year without a word from the Sussexes. But it was never in doubt that the December 2022 Netflix docu-series Harry and Meghan (part one and part two, both three episodes each) was not going to be the last of their “whinge-fest”, as some British media watchers called it. The whining continued the past couple of days when Prince Harry appeared in two different interviews, each targeting different audiences across the Atlantic. There was CBC’s 60 Minutes presented by CNN’s Anderson Cooper and ITV’s Harry: The Interview by Tom Bradby. Both seasoned journalists were, surprisingly, rather gentle on the pity-seeking duke, and the interlocutions went on rather amiably. Mr Bradby, to us, scored better on the aggressive scale, and, hence, offered a better session. To be certain, we weren’t expecting Stephen Sackur on Hard Talk (BBC), but we were hoping for far more bite. Mr Cooper and Mr Bradby did ask some “tough” questions (the latter, more), but were they tough enough? And did we get answers that we have not already heard, or were they mere variations of the same theme? Was that why Prince Harry was not given the full hour (just slightly more than half) for a show called 60 Minutes? He was luckier with ITV—they gave him an hour, and a generous forty minutes more.
Both shows were aired, presumably, to preface the launch of his upcoming book, Spare. That he had agreed to be interviewed by Anderson Cooper is not surprising as the CNN journalist is not part of the nasty British press corp that Prince Harry loathes and is not known to be that hard on any of his interviewees, including one Donald J Trump. Mr Cooper was generally nice in front of the royal, even when saying that the comment in the book about the Prince of Wales (“his familiar scowl, which had always been his default in dealings with me, his alarming baldness, more advanced than my own, his famous resemblance to Mummy which was fading with time, with age”) “is cutting”. Frankly, it’s bordering on the bitchy. Even the Prince smirked at the description—or was he delighted at how good or clever that criticism sounded? The interviewer sometimes seemed sympathetic. Even his subject agreed with the news anchor’s observation: “You’re absolutely right; you hit the nail on the head.” They were like chums (even walking in a garden) agreeing on the beauty of a lass. This rather affable exchange befits a book launch. And if you won’t be bothered to read Spare, this is good enough to know that Prince Harry, for whom “silence is betrayal”, is still a troubled and aggrieved chap, who considers his mother’s death the work of the collective devil known as the paparazzi and his step-mother’s rise the diabolical plotting of a “villain”.
The sit-down with ITV was not much more different in terms of the questions posed, but Tom Bradby was more willing to grill, to incur the potential wrath of the new Californian resident. Mr Bradby, if you are not aware (or can’t recall), is the journalist who asked Meghan Markle if she was doing okay (and how she ardently appreciated that and brought it up in Harry and Meghan) during the Sussexes’s tour of South Africa in September 2019 (earlier, he attended their wedding). It is possible that Prince Harry had thought that since Mr Bradby was nice, even showing concern, to his wife, the news veteran would be just as affable to him. Mr Bradby came as a journalist, not the Prince’s PR vehicle, or a sympathiser. He did not ask his interviewee if he was okay. He was, in fact, willing to counter some of the latter’s accusations, even saying, in response to the “sibling rivalry”, as was described to Mr Cooper and My Bradby, “I think he (Prince William) would say he found you emotional, defensive, he couldn’t get through to you…” The spare was not amused. “It’s quite a list—list of things, assumptions you’re making,” he hit back. He was, for all to see—and note, not okay.
This irritability, this displeasure, this WTF expression on his face culminated to palpable anger when Mr Bradby brought up the Oprah Winfrey interview some two years ago, and spoke of the racism levelled against the royal family that was broached then. We could sense the Duke bristling. He challenged the journalist, “did Meghan ever mention that we were racists?” Mr Bradby, not expecting the change of narrative, fumbled in his follow-up, searching for better words. The interviewee would not let the other guy finish his line of questioning, interrupting Mr Bradby repeatedly. Either Prince Harry has been well trained in the course of putting together the Netflix show about he and his wife’s truths, or he has a natural flair for gaslighting. Again, as with everything else, the British press were to be blamed; they painted the racism picture, not the Sussexes. The two of them were only concerned with “unconscious bias”, which, in the prince’s “own experience”, we are are now informed, is not the same as racism: “the two things are different”, he said with needed emphasis. And, once you are made aware that you have unconscious bias, “you have the opportunity to learn and grow from that in order so that you can be a part of the solution rather than the problem. Otherwise, unconscious bias then moves into the category of racism”. And we now know, too, that the one-time cocaine/marijuana/magic mushroom user—as admitted in both interviews—is a profound thinker!
On ITV, deeply displeased. Screen shot: ITV News
Curiously, for both interviews, Prince Harry put on identical sweaters—a dark green one for CBS and a navy for ITV, and the two were worn over similar shirts with straight collars, tucked under the ribbed neckline of the plain knitwear. And coincidentally, Anderson Cooper, not known to be a fashionable dresser, was similarly attired. In the shot of the two of them walking in a garden, both men were seen in identical silhouettes: neat and trim, accentuated by their slim, tailored, Raffles-Place-at-lunchtime trousers. Even the belts seemed alike. This could be a dad look that suggested serious business was at hand. Even a cable-knit sweater could be considered frivolous, and likely, a pair of jeans—the American staple. In contrast, Tom Bradby wore a dark blazer under a dark, rather than contrast-coloured shirt, clearly setting himself apart from a need-to-look-royal interview subject. Sure, the prince was not interviewed by Graham Norton or Naomi Campbell. He need not appear interesting or trendy. Still, something-to-look-at clothes might have made his dull, repetitive replies less tedious.
Without his wife in tow on both shows, Prince Harry looked sad, an approaching-middle-age man unable to let go of his past or the wrongs he perceived was waged against him. Even without the missus by his side, he was in his accusatory best, and was quickly incensed and readily defensive, and constantly reminding us that his relationship with his famous family is fraught, and all of them are to be blamed for his misery, a life “put through… a blender as such”. You’d think that now, with the life he has always wanted, in marvelous Montecito (presently under a storm/flash flood warning. Residents have been told to evacuate, but it is not known if the Sussexes’s home is affected), he’s closer to attaining contentment, even just a vestige of it. But, far from that, he is still mad, still disgruntled, and still playing up the I-grew-up-without-a-mother disadvantage to gain by-now-limited sympathy. He told Tom Bradby: “I do not want history to repeat itself. I do not want to be a single dad. I certainly do not want my children to have a life without a mother or a father.” For all the talk of unconscious bias, Prince Harry should, perhaps, seriously consider self-fulfilling prophecies too.
Adidas appears to go big on foam. Their latest is quite a shoe to clomp in
It looks like a Lego shoe with the studs levelled and the sharp edges smoothed out. But Adidas’s latest is made of foam, not plastic; it’s, in fact, another adiFOM technological wonder. This time, the foam is not reimagined as the Adilette, but their all-season darling the Superstar. So the heel is encased. No clog here; a whole shoe. Nothing is hacked away. No perforation, or slots like the AdiFOM Q. This version of the Superstar mummifies the feet. The upper sits rather high up the tarsal, and the slip-on fits like a sock. On a hot day, you can imagine the heat that may be trapped in there.
Adidas clearly derives some excitement making footwear with a “one-piece body made of foam derived from sugarcane”. This material is also known by its trade name SweetFoam, which is, according to the brand, “the world’s first green EVA foam”. Foam for shoes does not easily lend itself to a slender silhouette. The AdiFOM Superstar is therefore quite the hulk it is. If you look at them from the top down, they could easily be a pair of palmate. Or, webbed feet! Even footwear is embracing inclusivity. How marvelous is that?
Rating: 2.5 out of 5.
Adidas AdiFOM Superstar, SGD109, is available at Leftfoot. Photo: Adidas
Who’d guess that a cushion can be turned into a garment?
By Mao Shan Wang
I know Ikea is not the same to everyone. Some people see it as a furniture store, many a place for Swedish meatballs and cheap coffee, even more to let their kids run wild, and a few the spot to nap in full public view. I, however, find Ikea to be quite a fashion store, even if you don’t immediately see it. Yep, they sell T-shirts—occasionally—and bags, not just those popular Frakta carriers that Balenciaga made even more famous. Ikea’s fashion cred is, in my eyes, raised considerably when I recently encountered this cushion named Lånespelare (I’ll be the first to admit I can’t pronounce that!). Much to my delight, this humble-looking cushion can be transformed into what Ikea calls the “onesie”. And, yes, that means you can wear it.
The cushion, at first look, is like any oblong ones in east-west orientation. The more imaginative among us may see it as a makura (the pillow) of an obi. In fact, if you squeeze it, you are not wrong; it does feel like the makura. The Lånespelare is not filled like a conventional cushion. Rather, the 100% cotton shell has a thin polyester layer inside, which makes it feel like Uniqlo’s ultra-light puffer vest. How does it get its cushion-y bulk? Under the hood, if you will, is the garment itself that when folded, gives it the body. When extricated from the simple form, you get a sleeved tunic with funnel neck!
Truth be told I was too shy to try it on. In any case, this is not something I need when the weather here will never call for its use. But, I figure this may really be handy if you are heading for, say, Japan. It’s a practical flight companion—perfect as a pillow (your own is better than what the airline hands out) for lumbar support and when it gets cold, it can be unfolded and used as a blanket. If all you need is a hand warmer, the cushion’s decorative top layer comes with pockets too. When you depart the airport of your destination (Tokyo?), you’ll also have an outer to keep you warm. You don’t need to carry a coat or dig into your luggage to unearth a sweater. Really neat. But I am not sure if it’s easy to fold the whole thing back to its nifty original shape. Maybe it’s best to keep it as a cushion. Afterall, I do like Bumblebee Transformer (in the animated series) as a Volkswagen Beetle.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
The Ikea Lånespelare, $49.90, is available at IKEA stores. Product photos: Ikea. Illustration: Just So
There are things we use in our daily lives that we do not give much thought to, but designers do. In the area of luxury bags, anything that can hold anything can be basis for a new bag. Balenciaga started the madness in 2017 when they made an all-leather version of the Ikea shopper Frakta, down to the same bright shade of blue. And then things turn downright absurd last year when Louis Vuitton released those tub-like bags in the likeness of paint cans. And, even more ridiculous, was the Lay’s-chip-bag-lookalike, again by Balenciaga. Now, Saint Laurent joins the who-can-pick-the-most-ordinary-of-things-and-make-a-bag-out-of-it mania; they created a take-away box in calfskin—printed with the maison’s Cassandre monogram) and affixed with a gold logo on the front—and slap a four-figure asking price on it.
Buying anything in a restaurant or food court to bring home won’t necessarily reward you with a box akin to this, not even in cardboard. Plastic is the operative word. A cake might be placed in a similar box for you to carry, but you’d probably have to spend a three-figure sum to get it. So, in the end, this fancy dabaohe (打包盒) might just be the bag to hold your humble lunch when you decide to take the food—chai png (菜饭), maybe?—away. We’re not sure if the suede lining would keep the meal warm, but we are quite certain you do not want the greasy base of the styrofoam box to mess up the beautiful interior, which comes with a small pocket that would be handy for the receipt that you might later wish to share online because the stall overcharged you for the fried fish. Interestingly, this box is marketed as a men’s bag. So, chances are, you’ll be be carrying your Nintendo Switch in it.
Saint Laurent Take-Away Box, SGD2,660, is available in Saint Laurent stores. Photo: Saint Laurent
The title published its final issue last month. We read it
The Esquire SG swansong: December 2022, with Bollywood star Panveer Singh on the cover
Nineteen days before Christmas, Esquire SG announced on Facebook: “Welcome to the last issue…”, but that we-shall-be-no-more announcement was barely discernible in the page, A Letter from the Editor of the physical magazine that we finally picked up. The EIC, Rahat Kapur, barely mentioned that the title will wrap for good with the said issue. She wrote that she has “never been great at goodbyes”. That, it appears, is the farewell message. Curiously, she did not say outright that Esquire SG will cease publishing or that licensee Media Publishares will not have the brand under its stable of international names, such as Vogue SG. She expressed heartache at having to “bid adieu to something that has truly mattered to [her], well after its time has concluded”. She did not call that something by name. And when she had to say that the magazine will come to a close, she wrote of the “final issue for 2022”, not the final. Even when she informed the cover subject, Bollywood actor Ranveer Singh, that he would be the magazine’s “first Bollywood celebrity on the cover”, she did not say (she would have known by then) that it would be the last.
It could be discerned that she was not willing to let go. Understandable when ten months was all you had on the job. Ms Kapur came onboard in February last year. She said she “gasped in disbelief when [she] found out [she’d] be taking over the helm of this esteemed publication”. Two paragraphs down, she still won’t call the title she regarded so highly by what everyone else called it. Perhaps she thought that readers were already aware of Esquire SG’s impending closure. Since former EIC Norman Tan decamped to Vogue SG in 2020, speculation was rife about the fate of Esquire SG. Would the Hearst Magazine Media magazine be left languishing in the shadow of the more glamorous Condé Nast title? When Ms Kapur was appointed the EIC, cynics wondered how long she would get to edit the magazine. They got their answer.
One can’t be faulted for wondering if local editions of international titles just don’t stand a chance to last on this island. To be sure, the media business has been tough and rough, made less tenable by unceasingly dwindling readership. With Esquire SG’s closure, only two men’s magazines here—Men’s Folio and August Men, both local titles—are left. The heat of competition is turned down for the pair of survivors. But competition is not the only challenge magazines, whether online or print, faces. There are two other Cs: consumption, which has largely changed, and, for print in particular, cost, which, like almost everything else, has skyrocketed. And there is the third C—content. With so many snazzy “content creators”, magazines have it tough speaking a voice that could pull in readers.
Ms Kapur’s Esquire SG is a predictable blend of lifestyle/culture snippets, catalogue-style pages, fashion spreads, trend reports (strangely, often all credited to the fashion editor Gordon Ng), luxury watch features, and celebrity interviews. Add to those, fan-girl vim. For her swansong, Ms Kapur “jets to Mumbai”, she informed her readers, to interview “Bollywood’s ‘It’ leading man today”, Ranveer Singh. Yet, she wrote “I hate Bollywood”. And explained, repeating her aversion, “I hate Bollywood for enveloping me in the likes of icons such as Shah Ruk Khan, who to this day, remains the one person I’d donate a kidney to”, even when she confessed that she detests the India film industry “for making [her] feel like dream men could exist in the realms of reality, and with one dance number, they could end up becoming the greatest and most passionate loves of our lives”. And then just a paragraph later, “I wanted to go where we’ve never been before: to Bollywood—and just like that, it happened.”
It is not certain who among the Esquire readers would love the gushing and fawning, and heating up—she wrote, with relish, “much repositioning of my legs and 20 sips of my water later, in enters Ranveer” (seriously! It was even used in a pull-quote). What would past contributors of Esquire (US), such as Norman Mailer, had he been alive, say? Or, perhaps, therein lies the charm? Or, the fast track to the magazine’s exit? Interestingly, there is practically no editorial that could “encourage hetero readers to ogle”, one former editor of a men’s magazine noted (the feature of K-pop girl group (G)I-dle is, at best, placid). Or, stories on health and wellness, even grooming. There is much crammed into the pages, but the content is far from compelling, or better than others found on the dizzy, content-laden web.
Esquire SG debuted in our city on September 2012. At that time, it came under the stewardship of Kuala Lumpur-based Mongoose Publishing (once behind Time Out SG). Five years ago, the license was granted to Media Publishares, then operating as Indochine Media Ventures, and synonymous with Buro SG and Robb Report SG. Vogue SG was added to the trio of titles in 2020. With Rahat Kapur saying that the current edition is the “final issue for 2022”, some media professionals were wondering if Esquire SG, like Vogue SG might return. Industry watchers speculated that Media Publishares are now consolidating their resources to keep Vogue SG afloat after it was issued a six-months permit to publish by the Ministry of Communication and Information (after initially revoking it) because the magazine “had breached the content guidelines for local lifestyle magazines”. There are reports, too, that Ms Kapur has been reassigned to another role within the media firm. Would she, we wonder, be the second former-Esquire SG EIC to take up the much coveted editorial position to keep our born-again Vogue going? Like in the old days, sometimes, you have to kill a child to keep another alive.