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
Stuck in the disco age and unwilling to skimp on sequins, Tom Ford should consider withdrawing from his own fashionlabeluntil he comes up with something truly fresher
Last July, Bloomberg reported that Tom Ford appointed Goldman Sachs to “explore the potential” of selling his company. No reason for the exploration was shared by Mr Ford or CEO Domenico De Sole. But Bloomberg did note that the growth of top-tier luxury brands had been hampered for unsurprising reasons that include inflation, continued lockdowns in China, escalation of energy and logistic costs, as well as those in manufacturing. There was no mention of whether the fashion of Tom Ford is still desirable. Or, if there is demand outside his circle of celebrity friends. That question is even more pertinent after watching his spring/summer 2023 show, staged during NYFW. We sense that Mr Ford is unwilling to move forward amid the hurtling speed of change in our crazy world. He is happy to be caught in the past, in a groovier time that is soundtracked by Studio 54, lensed by Guy Bourdin.
That the former CFDA chairman would go down the disco route is a predictable track and tact that should not baffle us, but we are still, truth be told, disappointed. Dullness maxed out is dullness amplified. How many times do we want to be reminded of the glory days of the ’70s (and early ’80s)? Even the styling isn’t fresh. Gigi Hadid, with the fake blond frizzy hair and pregnant hoop earrings, in that hooker-savvy sequinned dress, is a bad parody of the campy past that Mr Ford adores. Although the soundtrack is a mashup of ’80s pop and latter-day rap, we had Dan Hartman’s Instant Reply in our head. Wasn’t Tom Ford singing, “got to have it… got me floating on a cloud, got me dancing all around”?
Mr Ford has redefined the sexy that is very much his aesthetical lexicon. Of late, it is regrettably meretricious. Perhaps it is in keeping with the prevalent mood in American fashion, which has significantly shifted from sportswear to something more suited for seduction or to express the confidence of an unapologetic sexual self. For the present Tom Ford season, scattered is the focus, from gaudy, sequinned, fringed Western shirts (even gaudier than what they might wear at the gay rodeo) with micro-running-shorts to bras that are just the perimeter of the already skimpy garment to sequins-all-over evening dresses that accentuate the derrière and expose the rump. Eckhaus Latta meets Dolce & Gabbana?
Perhaps there is real interest in the decade (and a little later) that, for some (rather than many), “taste forgot”. Or, the hope that Mr Ford would bring back the hits of his Gucci years. The satin shirt, worn unbuttoned to the navel, certainly did, even if less shiny. If shirts are not worn, underwear must be served. Here, even the guys get the lace in a boxer (Victor’s Secret?) that would make Calvin Klein’s look severely avuncular. Almost every garment shown appears to be for the pursuit of fun under lights that would make each piece glitter. It’s luster that lusts for attention just as the nipple-baring bras begs to be noticed. But these days, vain and shocking are hardly the traits that would make trying fashion striking. Even if he resists going any place without a disco beat, Tom Ford needs to dial down the tacky amid the showy.
No one is surprised that Kanye West has announced he’ll terminate his partnership with The Gap
The unceasing outbursts must amount to something. For Kanye West, anger and frustrations do not just blow over. The Wall Street Journal just reported that Mr West, newly bearded and recently seen at Vogue World, has informed The Gap that he is ending their relationship, which had lately turn quite sour. His lawyer shared that a letter was sent to the retailer with the request to end the deal. And what seemed to be that correspondence was shared on Mr West’s Instagram page. “Gap left him no choice but to terminate their agreement,” the BBC quoted him saying in response to the American brand’s “substantial noncompliance”. Mr West will go on to open his own Yeezy stores. Gap’s obligations in their agreement reportedly include not only producing and distributing the co-branded products, but also the opening of free-standing YZY Gap stores.
Perhaps the once-raved-about partnership between the man and the brand was not destined to take off as previously imagined. This was to be a 10-year deal, which was thought to bolster The Gap’s sagging fortunes. Mr West has quite a history of dissatisfaction with many of his collaborators, including Nike. These past weeks, he has publicly made his objections and outrage with his collaborators known—they include Adidas. It is not clear why Mr West has been unable to solve his problems with these partners in the boardroom or why he preferred to blast those who have displeased him via social media, a practice that is corporate aberration. If grievances in his personal life can be broadcast to the world, those of his professional activities may not require different channels of blaring. Or, restraint.
Announced in June 2020, Yeezy Gap was met with highly encouraging reception. The first item—a puffer—that launched a year later was sold out in hours, after it was made available online. Last month, when a collection was finally available (rather than the single-style drops of the past) in actual Gap stores, shoppers were dismayed by how the high-priced products were sold: in what were described as ”bins”. Was this dumping of the merchandise, in fact, foreboding of what would be ahead for the collaboration? But, would The Gap easily let Mr West walk away? Or, would they be relieved to let him go, enough of his bratty tricks? Should Adidas be worried? Will, gasp, the world suffer?
If you walk in into any United Overseas Bank (大华银行) branch today, you might notice something different. The branch interior would not have received a makeover, but members of the staff that you meet are likely outfitted in new uniforms. At the main bank in UOB Plaza this morning, all frontline personnel went about their work, seemingly pleased with how they turned out. And the new look came with smiles too. Most of the staff wore their corporate attire without an additional outer, even when jackets and a cardigan are offered. And this no-layering, too, is apparent in the other branches, where, as it appeared, the new uniforms were not completely rolled out. Some staff members were still seen in what seemed to be pieces from their own wardrobe.
First impression: The uniform—comprising different looks—is not ugly, but there is something not quite the present age about it. There are eight looks in the women’s (and possibly more since they are reportedly allowed to “mix and match”) that afforded a new—matronly even when abstract—print to prevail. In sum, the looks try to effect corporate chic, but what we saw, as we sat in the vast banking hall, appeared to us like those of old hotels; what receptionists and lobby lounge waitresses were attired in. And, as if to concur with what we were thinking, an elderly gentleman waiting to open a fixed-deposit account, said to us that the women’s uniform reminded him of the old (long closed) Ming Court Hotel (presently, Orchard Rendezvous Hotel), where Orchard and Tanglin Roads meet. A fashion stylist later WhatsApped us to say that the uniform “really looks like it’s for the hospitality industry”.
What could possibly lead to such an impression and evocation? To us, the shapes (and details) of the clothes were not based on blocks that could be described as contemporary. A dress with a band neckline and a bow worn skewed to the left looks unmistakably like a uniform, but it has the whiff of one from the ’70s. We did not have the benefit of a parade of the entire collection, but from images shared by UOB to the press, we could see a twin set, a wrap-dress, a shirt-as-blouse paired with a slim-fitted (in the past, it would be called tight) skirt (and worn, unsurprisingly with court shoes!). And the most interesting, a cropped, round-neck jacket with piping on the perimeter, armhole and hem of sleeves—if the lines are not enough, there is the stripe on each of the out seam of the trousers, such as those that appear on track pants or those trousers worn by members of a marching band.
UOB’s Deputy chairman and CEO Wee Ee Cheong told the press: “As ASEAN re-starts its engine of growth post-pandemic, it is timely for the bank to unveil its sharpened purpose and brand refresh.” The refresh of the uniform comes some 11 years after the last one, designed by Song Wykidd of Akinn (and once the other half of the Club 21-backed Song & Kelly), and revealed in November 2011. The latest is designed by Odile Benjamin. If the name is familiar, it is because Mrs Benjamin was, together with her husband Douglas, part of the design duo behind the now-defunct Raoul, a label under FJ Benjamin, former retailer of Gucci and, later, Givenchy. Raoul made international headlines when the Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton (now Princess of Wales) wore one of their dresses during her visit here in 2012’s Jubilee Royal Tour.
After the closure of the once-lauded Raoul, Mrs Benjamin started Estair almost right away in 2017, self-described as “a 360 degree outsource solution for fashion companies, specializing in children’s and women’s wear”. She has, of course, produced for other brands before, such as the ill-fated Ashley Isham diffusion line, AI. That Estair’s strength is not in menswear (which is curious as Raoul began in 2002 as a shirt label) is perhaps evident in the UOB uniform for the guys. With standard shirts, plain pullovers, and oddly-fitted jackets (one style sporting what looks like upturned lapels and a strange, prominent yoke in the front), the guys’ pieces seem designed to look relaxed, but turn out sloppy. Pants come with legs that are calf-enhancing skinny, perpetuating the Raffles Place belief that such narrowness is a professional standard. And, the men clearly have less to play with than the women.
While aesthetics deemed retro (including prints, such as the new, grid-like abstraction of the bank’s three-letter initials and their famed Vitalità bronze statue situated outside UOB Plaza, facing Singapore River) would not entirely lose favour, even among those whose profession requires no uniformity of dress, it seems a tad off-message for a bank that is looking forward, particularly to its 100th year in 2035. Yet, how the UOB uniforms turned out is perhaps not surprising. Mrs Benjamin told the South China Morning Post in 2015 that she found the ’70s to be “the most iconic fashion decade”, and her personal style is a reflection of that. And, her creative output too (hence, the wrap-dress?). When worn, the clothes can’t escape appearing old-fashioned or, worse, dated. One of UOB’s new messages that would be communicated regionally is a three-word catchphrase: “You are unique”. Which may inspire the question: In 87-year-old UOB’s banking halls, are uniforms still necessary?
Yeezy Gap versus Nike Forward. Photos: respective brands
Both are ghostly, both are sinister. Whose is more ominous? Nike has shared the images for their latest apparel featuring the new Forward textile on their website and app. That faceless hoodie seen here (on the right) appears as if worn by Invisible Man, including uneven placement of the arms—the unseen wearer in motion. Could this be Nike flattering Yeezy Gap? When the brand led by Kanye West (soon no more) launched the first drop of Yeezy Gap Engineered by Balenciaga last February, the images shared were similarly spectral. And in the latest, they are less black, which is rather close to Nike’s with the sepia patina. Two of the world’s most visible brands using such illusory effects may mean that phantoms, rather than models, could take over fashion communication of the near future.
There is of course the possibility that brands these days rather let the garments do the talking than voluble celebrities. Clothes should stand out, not faces. Yeezy Gap’s images require no perceivable face (although a body filling up the clothes can be discerned) just as its retail spaces need no shelf, rack or hanger. Balenciaga had a hand in all this. It started most prominently on the red carpet, as seen in the face-concealing number that Kim Kardashian wore to the last Med Gala. Ms Kardashian was already a walking preview for Balenciaga months earlier. Later, her ex-husband, too, appeared just as obscured in his Donda listening/reveal mega events, whose creative director was Demna Gvasalia. Mr West attended his by-then pal’s debut haute couture showing in Paris like a Black male Pontianak. And after Yeezy Gap Engineered by Balenciaga was announced, the images that were circulating and shared showed, until now, the fashionable on the incorporeal. As the Police once sang, Spirits in the Material World.
Or, when the contents of the Vogue Closet fell onto a street in New York
Serena Williams opening Vogue World with an uninspired stroll
On the Vogue website, there was a black-and-white digital clock that had been ticking for days, counting down to an event that the brand/magazine did not describe in detail, possibly so that curiousity about it could be kept burning. Even Anna Wintour was mum about Vogue World: New York, as it is called, only hinting in the recently shared video 73 More Questions with Anna Wintour that it would involve lots of clothes, so much, in fact, that it required the “Vogue army” to organised them. Not even the venue was disclosed (was it even an IRL event?). It did eventually happen last night (New York time) on a street in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District, a now-“glamourous” hipster neighbourhood (its name gives you an idea of what it was before) that is sandwiched between Chelsea to its north and the West Village in the south. Much of the streets here are paved with cobblestones made of Belgian blocks. That Vogue would stage an event down here on streets that could be high heels’ enemy, rather than at some place glitzier and carpeted is perhaps indication that the magazine is making itself—and the brand—a lot more accessible.
It described Vogue World as a “first-of-a-kind event” and a “global” one. Although staged in New York, it was live-streamed to the rest of us nowhere near that part of the city. The show was also a celebration of the magazine’s 130th year. On account of that, it had to be big and boisterous. (And no one more so than Kanye West, who arrivedlate enough that, while walking to his seat, he was mistaken as a model.) The show was prefaced—somewhat inexplicably—by a group of runners exercising their legs in the dim light, some with what appeared to be flags flapping behind them, like capes. Then it opened with Vogue’s September-issue cover girl Serena Williams in Balenciaga cape and dress, who looked like she was not quite thrilled to be on the runway, sauntering while a voiceover of her saying how she wants to be remembered could be heard over the apt soundtrack of Arthur Russell’s This is How We Walk on the Moon.
‘Sports couture’ at Vogue World
Brooklyn Beckham and his wife Nicola Peltz enjoying themselves on the runway
Although Vogue World took place during New York Fashion Week, it was not quite a fashion show like the rest that were staged in the city at this time. This was a Chingay approach to fashion presentations. The carnival mood was unmistakable, with street-style performances between each fashion segment to pump up the revelry (the cultural part was there, too, when a trio of sari-clad girls came out to do their Bollywood number). The clothes, purported to show the trends of autumn/winter 2022, were not based on collections. They were single looks from many designers (name them and they were there), but you might not know or remember the styles unless you have an encyclopedic memory of what were mostly shown back in February and March. Who wore what was not identified for the benefit of viewers. Although Vogue had sussed out the supposed trends (there were five main ones, as vogue.com reported later), you can‘t help but feel that they were rather forced (gowns and boots!). And somewhat haphazardly grouped, rather luan (乱 or messy). Perhaps Lil Nas X’s performance (that began with the singer seated next to Ms Wintour) to wrap up the runway extravaganza was designed to play down that shortcoming.
Vogue World was not just a show. As it turned out, what the models and stars wore could be purchased, reviving the old see-now-buy-now model that brands introduced with enthusiasm some years back, but is now largely forgotten. You could go to the Vogue website and find the links to the items that caught your attention and shop away. If you need to try before buying, an AR element, conceived by Snapchat, allows you to virtually put on the clothes no matter where you are. Like its print form, this is to push purchases for their advertisers. Is vogue.com then also sort of an e-store, and did we see additional revenue streams for the multi-platform title? Is the site now into live-stream selling, minus an ebullient host? According to Vogue’s creative editorial director Mark Guiducci, the show is a reflection of “all the ways in which fashion is changing. It comes at a moment when designers have become multi-disciplinary creators, innovating how we engage with fashion—even virtually.”
Shalom Harlow, one of the many ‘supers’ in the final segment of the show
Lil Nas X starting his performance while seated next to a delighted Anna Wintour
Vogue World could be seen as a big-budget, celebrity-endorsed, brand-building exercise. It reminded us of the eponymous Fashion’s Night Out (also launched in New York), the just-as-flashy, get-people-shopping-again initiative that was launched on 10 September 2009, twelve months after the doomed Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy. The year 2009 also saw Barrack Obama sworn in as the United State’s first Black president and the perpetuation of the financial crisis and recession that hit two years earlier, in late 2007. Fashion’s Night Out was Vogue’s contribution to improving the grim retail climate then. It eventually spun off into international editions in different hub cities. Could Vogue World—presently linked to New York—too have other editions in cities where Vogue operates. There was, for example, a Fashion’s Night Out in Tokyo in 2008. In 2013, Fashion’s Night out in New York ended it’s increasingly disfavoured run. But in Tokyo, the event continued until 2020, but, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, took place as Fashion’s Night In—an online affair.
It is hard to say how Vogue World will pan out. The show might be enjoyable to those who were there to see it, but to some (perhaps more?) of us watching on our devices, it teetered discomfortingly close to blah. This was Vogue at its inclusive best. The community-arousing performance, with its strong street culture, would have won the approval of the late Virgil Abloh. But what else could we glean from it? Former British Vogue’s fashion director Lucinda Chambers, after she was “fired” by the then in-coming editorial head Edward Enninful in 2017, now considered the most powerful Condé Nast editor after Anna Wintour, told Vestoj in a revealing interview that “we don’t need any more bags, shirts or shoes. So we cajole, bully or encourage people into continue buying. I know glossy magazines are meant to be aspirational, but why not be both useful and aspirational?” And why not magazines’ promotional events too? This may be a Vogue World, but is it a new, better world?
Marni in New York is not quite the Marni we’re used to. And there is that strange gaping aperture
Marni has been, for quite a while, dancing in the realm of the weird. The brand isn’t, of course, known for being typical, but looking downright freaky (probably funky to some) is rather the domain of Francesco Risso. This season, he’s moved the RTW show to New York and shown it below the Manhattan Bridge on the Brooklyn end, in the Dumbo neighbourhood. The under location aside, the clothes look positively under too—as in underclothes, not that that’s extraordinary. Perhaps it is not surprising that Mr Risso decides to show the spring/summer 2023 collection in New York, home of the Black Tape Project, in which designer Joel Alvarez uses not cloth to dress the body, but strips of adhesive. Sure, Mr Risso employs a more traditional way of dress making, but the scantiness is hard not to notice.
Or, the curious circular opening on the chests of knitted (mostly cropped) tops, repeated 19 times, out of the 58 looks that were shown. That’s one-third of the collection. Is that sufficient to constitute an emphasis? Or, a motif? This may sound crude (or, to eager censors, indecent), but they look vulval to us. It doesn’t help that most of the openings are framed by a ring of red, also hinting at something that could be labial. Mr Risso has not explained what he is suggesting, or what the wide, ringed aperture could mean that is not sexual. Could it be a mouth, sliced squid, the rim of a basketball hoop? Or, the fearful eye of Sauron?
There are other holes too. A squarish one appears on the front of a tank top. Others look like they are the result of unconventional tweaks in knitting machines. Filled holes are there too. Full moons (in some cultures, they are fertility symbols!) sit on the torso, with the upper portion stretched across the bust. When the models walk, the rounds look like pursed, moving lips. The sexiness is further augmented by the slinkiness of the clothes. Short and long shifts have no sides from the waist up, exposing more than side boobs. A long skirt, slit in the middle to up there, has a bifurcated hemline that becomes gloves/sleeves that reach the biceps. Even Mariacarla Boscono, in a red, leather, similarly slit dress, looks ravished, rather than ravishing.
The theme of the show, we would later learn, is “sunset” (under a bridge?). The dusty colours appear to suggest those that do not scintillate at sundown. They seem to mimick the hues of riverside festival seasons in Varanasi: earthy and primal. Mr Risso told the press that “a sunset is someone else’s sunrise… a physical phenomenon that sets fire to the sky”. It sounds like he was not describing riparian spiritual festivities, but some rave, when the goers eventually emerge into daylight after a night of expressive physical indulgence. A sunrise, conversely, could be someone else’s sunset. These garments are party clothes to better suit bodies that do not wish to be encumbered. Moreover, skimpy goes hand in hand with how Americans speak (or text) these days—for example, outfit, one syllable too many, is now reduced to “fit”. Is it a wonder that, over there, they are just wearing less and less. Francesco Risso certainly gets it.
As anticipated, Linda Evangelista appeared on the Fendi runway. Was Marc Jacobs, Fendi’s latest collaborator, sidelined?
Was it supposed to be Marc Jacobs’s moment? Or did Linda Evangelista steal his thunder? The Fendi show—the resort 2023 collection that also hailed the Baguette’s 25th year—was lauded to be so “big” that New York ”hasn’t seen” such a presentation in years. But the loudest applause was showered on Ms Evangelista when she walked in—not “strut down the runway”, as some reports described—to join the designers basking in the enthusiastic response to their work done. She strolled in like a star, rather than a model, wrapped in a taffeta coat the colour of an unmistakable Tiffany blue. She smiled and recognised the applauding support of her reappearance on the catwalk. Towering above the rest standing beside her, she looked good, with her black hair pulled back to reveal the recognisable face, but her body was obscured by outerwear that the late Andre Leon Telly would be thrilled to put on. However, the press described it, Linda Evangelista appeared to just show her face.
To be sure, Marc Jacobs encouraged the attention on her, jumping excitedly and gesturing madly to the audience to inspire a standing ovation. Ms Evangelista’s appearance was expected since last July, when the news-that-amounted-to-an-announcement emerged along her appearance in the Fendi ad for the Baguette. Marc Jacobs’s participation in the current Fendi show was not regarded as that likely since it was only rumoured in June (even earlier than the return of Ms Evangelista) that a “Marjendi”, as WWD called it, could be in the works. Fendi’s Kim Jones had already made Fendace happen, why diminish that novelty, even if tacky, by doing another even if the collaborator is a different person/brand? And would he really want to work with a former colleague? Apparently so. But unlike Fendace, the latest guest-designer-interprete-Fendi exercise did not have its own runway show. And Kim Jones did not decode Marc Jacobs.
This time, the hacking involved more than one other brand. There is additionally the now-LVMH-owned Tiffany & Co, as well as the Japanese bag maker Porter. Tiffany lent its distinctive blue to the clothes and bags, as well as bling in the form of diamonds on the Baguette, as well as jewellery. As for Porter, it is likely “homage” to Fendi’s It bag from 1997 in the form of lightweight iterations (frankly, we can’t tell which ones). Of the 54 looks shown, ten were designed by Marc Jacobs. And it was not hard to guess which ten. As soon as the models with the massive woolly hats appeared (reportedly made from recycled fur), we knew we’re in familiar New York territory, even if it was not in the Park Avenue Armory, or, as of late, the New York Public Library (after the bribery scandal regarding the use of the former). According to Mr Jones, Marc Jacobs, who is a “hero of (his) from day one”, was asked to put together a collection inspired by the Baguette. The connection was not immediately discernible, but the silhouettes of the ten looks that came at the end of the show did point to those Mr Jacobs has preferred since his autumn/winter 2021: ungainly and weird.
How these un-Fendi pieces add to the celebratory mood of the show isn’t clear. Or, exult over the past success of a bag that had already won its place in fashion and pop culture. Mr Jones stated in the press release of the show: “It’s a celebration of a time, of the moment the Baguette became famous”. As the Baguette needed to take centrestage, they appeared not just as the item itself, but as Baguettes on Baguette—mini ones acting as pouch pockets on a large piece, and with a surfeit of the double-F logo/buckle. It was also remade in other forms that were not a handbag—a marsupium on totes, even anorak pockets that double as hand warmers. And, it appeared practically everywhere a bag—micro as they were—could be placed: on hats, on clothes, on gloves, on socks, on leg warmers. No part of the Baguette could not be repurposed: Even the bag flap had a new life as pocket flaps! Who’d guessed that Carrie Bradshaw’s favourite bag could reincarnate so splendiferously? Perhaps one super of supers could. And did.
Two days before she died at age 96, Queen Elizabeth II received British prime minister Liz Truss at the rather remote Balmoral Castle—her summer residence in Scotland—to appoint the Conservative Party’s choice as the new PM, after the long-awaited resignation of Boris Johnson. The Queen must have been unwell then. Her doctors had deemed her “unfit to return to London due to ill health”, according to media reports (the appointment of a new PM, her fifteenth that day, would normally take place in Buckingham Palace). Palace officials had described what ailed her since the end of last year as “episodic mobility problems”. Yet she made the (likely considerable) effort to perform what would become her last official duty.
That afternoon, in the drawing room of the Castle, standing in front of a crackling fireplace, she was simply attired in what has been described as her “country style”, rather than her usual brightly-coloured coat-dress for other public engagements. The Queen wore a simple, pocketless, round-neck grey cardigan over a similarly-hued shirt. The skirt was knife-pleated, with hem below-the-knee, and in a wool Scottish tartan of grey too. She wore single-pearl drop earrings, a strand of pearls on her neck, and what could be her wedding ring on her left hand. She also wore glasses. As she was indoors in her own home (Balmoral Castle is, in fact, a private estate), she dispensed with her usual brimmed hat, but kept on her Anello & Davide shoes with the equivalent of a horse bit on top. What was curious (and drew online chatter) was her black Launer handbag: why did she need to carry one in her residence?
The last photo of Queen Elizabeth, in Balmoral Castle on 7 September. Photo: Getty Images
Queen Elizabeth was thought to be “most-prolific coutureclient in the world”. That is hardly surprising as the monarch would have clothes custom-made for her rather than have her spend an after out doing something as uninteresting as shopping. Reportedly, she has “thousands of clothes” stored (and probably indexed) in Buckingham Palace, where in 2016, it staged the exhibition Fashioning a Reign: 90 Years of Style from The Queen’s Wardrobe. Despite her easy access to clothes and the best people who make them, she was never a follower of fashion as we have come to understand the term. It has been said that royalty do not pursue trends or set them, a line of thought that would have been totally at odds with the preoccupation of the last Queen of France, Marie Antoinette, a veritable Queen of Fashion. Or, if we stick to British history, the earlier “Virgin Queen”, Elizabeth I, who was known to “dress to impress”. For Queen Elizabeth, the ideal is to strike a balance. And through the years, especially in her middle age and later, she did find a comfortable credo or, in less imaginative language, uniform.
What she wore that truly captured the public’s imagination began when she wowed the world in 1947 as a 21-year-old bride of her cousin Prince Philip of Greece. Her gown, designed by the British designer Norman Hartnell, was not quite a confection that would be expected of a princess bride. Rather, hers was in a rather conservative silhouette, made from ivory silk duchess satin purchased with ration coupons (which, at that time was also hard to get as it was not long after World War II) and decorated with 10,000 seed pearls (imported from the US, not, of course, Japan). The sum, despite whatever limitations of the time, was worthy of a Westminster Abbey wedding and the first television broadcast of a royal nuptial day.
The then Princess Elizabeth’s wedding dress when she married Prince Philip of Greece. Photo: Getty Images
But the wedding dress of the Princess would be overshadowed by the coronation dress of a Queen—her crowing in 1953, six years after the independence of India from British rule and the partition that led to the formation of Pakistan. Also designed by Norman Hartnell, the dress conformed to specifications requested by the new monarch, who had known, after wearing her bridal gown, quite exactly what she wanted: a dress in white, made from duchess satin again, and of a shape that did not unnecessarily accentuate her body, but that was regal, even “religious”, as some reports indicated. But despite a “brief”, Mr Hartnell was clear that he was going to create a dress that would be a masterpiece and one to be remembered.
Unlike what she wore for her wedding, the coronation gown had short sleeves and a seemingly lower sweetheart neckline. And the hand embroidery was grander, with floral emblems of every country of the United Kingdom, as well as those of the Commonwealth Nations (she was inclusive even before inclusive rings so stridently today), and flowers and other plants, such as wheat ears and olive branches, forming an orderly composition that was suitably ornate and stately. The dress was on display as part of the Platinum Jubilee: The Queen’s Coronation exhibition at Windsor Castle. As the curator Caroline de Guitaut told People, “it’s probably one of the most important dresses made in the 20th century—certainly a great piece of British design.”
The Queen posing in her coronation gown. Photo: Getty Images
Establishing a working wardrobe, The Queen in Stockholm in 1956, Photo: Getty Images
As she settled into her role as Queen, she began fine-tuning her dress choices and creating a wardrobe that would be suitable for her official duties. Just as her public life was tightly choreographed, her public style was solidly coordinated. Her clothes had to stand out from the crowd as the monarch who mingles with her subjects, even before she adopted the bright colours of her later years. “I have to be seen to be believed,” she once said. In the 2016 documentary, The Queen at 90, daughter-in-law, Sophie, Countess of Wessex, explained: “She needs to stand out for people to be able to say ‘I saw the Queen.’ Don’t forget that when she turns up somewhere, the crowds are two, three, four, 10, 15 deep, and someone wants to be able to say they saw a bit of the Queen’s hat as she went past.”
Even after leaving the post-war austerity quite behind her, she would wear rather practical clothes, but not dull. Before she embraced the colours now associated with her, she rather enjoyed prints (they reached, expectedly, quite a busy height in the ’70s). She wore mainly dresses (hardly ever do you see her in pants, although, according to one British report, she was photographed wearing pants in public “fewer than 10 times in the last 70 years”) in the ’70s and ’80s, before the coat dresses that started to dominate her attire for public appearances in the ’90s and that allowed the colours she used—mostly brights—to pop on and magnify an otherwise rather diminutive frame. It is tempting to say that she landed on the threshold of auntie-frumpiness, but even if she did occasionally knocked on its door, she did not cross to the other side.
The Queen visiting Toa Payoh when she was in Singapore in 1972. Photo: NYSP
Following her death, it emerged that the Queen was the “most well-travelled monarch in History”, chalking up over 117 (the figure varies depending on the reports) official visits overseas since her coronation in 1953, according to The Telegraph, who called her the ”Million-Mile Queen”. Other reports say that she took the most trips in the ’70s, amounting to 73 to 48 different countries. Interestingly, the Queen does not need a British passport for her travels outside the UK. According to the official web site of the British Royal Family, royal.uk, “as a British passport is issued in the name of Her Majesty, it is unnecessary for The Queen to possess one.” Her travel wardrobe, which apparently provided for three outfit changes a day (including hats and accessories), was assembled not just to communicate her taste when abroad, but also to weave in diplomatic messages, as well as cultural nods to the lands she visited. Practical considerations were taken into account too. According to CNN, her designers added weights to the hem of her dresses and skirts, for example, so that she needn’t have resist unpredictable gusty conditions.
She came to Asia several times. Out of the 54 independent countries that make up the Commonwealth, eight are in Asia (five in South Asia and three in South-East Asia), with six that are republics and two monarchies (Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam). The Queen’s trips to the largest continent in the world began in 1954, two years after her accession, with a trip to Sri Lanka. In 1986, she was the “first-ever” British monarch to visit China, where in Beijing she met Deng Xiaoping (邓小平), and where she reaffirmed that Britain will return Hong Kong to Chinese rule. That happened in July 1997. It was seen as the end of the British Empire. The Queen did not attend the handover ceremony, but Prince Charles—now King Charles III—did.
The Queen and Lee Kuan Yew at a state banquet held in her honour during a 1989 visit. Photo: Getty Images
The Queen with PM Lee Hsien Loong in 2006. Photo Chew Seng Kim/ST
Queen Elizabeth II first visited Southeast Asia in the leap year of 1972, with stops in Thailand, Malaysia, Brunei, and Singapore. She came to our island twice more, in 1986 and 2006. Probably briefed on our terrible heat and humidity, she wore mostly lightweight dresses during her times here. In her hitherto famous visit to the Housing Development Board’s second public housing estate Toa Payoh in 1972, she wore a pale, bluish dress with circular mirco-dots that appeared to be in repeated shapes of the chrysanthemum. The sleeve of the dress ended with a slight puff below her elbow. From there, the rest of her arms were covered in white gloves, which formed a continuous chromatic line with her Launer handbag—also in white. It must have been amusing for the residents of Toa Payoh to see someone so dressed up. In fact, those accompanying her were too, including members of the families whose flats she visited. We had to remind ourselves this was a different age. On another day, at the Botanic Gardens, where she was presented with an orchid named after her, the Dendrobium Elizabeth, the Sovereign went without sleeves in a low-waist dress that had quite a hint of the 1920s. But her white gloves remained.
In 1986—her second visit to the Lion City—she showed that regal could work in an equatorial land with no history of queenly resplendence. At the Istana state banquet held in her honour, she wore a gold gown in what could have been silk brocade, with a wide, gossamer flounce across her shoulder. There was, of course, the customary bling of crown and necklace. When she returned to our shores in 2006, which would be her final visit to Asia, the Queen’s by then familiar single-colour (dress that matched the hat) attire was the predominant look. One bright green dress paired with a jaunty marabou-ed hat in identical colours is probably the one most associated with her time on our island. “I have watched Singapore’s development with admiration,” the queen said during the Istana gala. “Although only 40 years old (then), your country already has a deserved reputation as a centre of excellence in Asia.” Indisputably, Queen Elizabeth II, too, had a deserved reputation, and kept in herself a centre of excellence.
Corruption and scams are not professional choices of the pretty girls who did not go very far with their education. There are also of those who specialises in the lawof their land
Two days ago, an incarcerated woman in one of Indonesia’s most followed criminal cases was released from the notoriously crowded Tangerang penitentiary, near the capital Jakarta. Just one year ago, a fire broke out in the 50-year-old prison complex, killing 41 inmates. According to news reports, 122 stayed in the worst hit block, built for 40. Yesterday, one of the country’s most famous convicts was released from the jailhouse that survived the inferno. But Pinangki Sirna Malasari did not walk out quite a free woman; she was placed on parole. The conditional release before the end of her 10-year sentence imposed last year and then curiously reduced to four, however, angered many Indonesians who saw this revised ruling favouring the rich. And, ironically, someone who knows the law deeply well. Ms Malasari was a state prosecutor; she was convicted for taking a bribe from a wanted man who had absconded.
Ms Malasari’s walking away from jail attracted attention to the judge’s reasons for her early release: the guilty’s gender. As the Indonesian newspaper and magazine Tempo reported, “the panel of judges at the appellate level considered that the 10-year prison sentence was too heavy for Pinangki. The judges also assessed that Pinangki was a mother of a 4-year-old who deserved to be given the opportunity to raise her child.” That this could be considered in court brought to mind the argument of the recently sentenced Rosmah Mansor (also ten years, for the moment) who, hoping for leniency, told the judge at her sentencing that she was a “woman taking over a man’s role in the house” (her husband Najib Razak was in jail). Motherly and spousal obligations, it now appears, can be factored in pleas and appeals. Last month, on the day Indonesians celebrated Hari Kemerdekaan (Independence day), Ms Malasari received remission of a three-month sentence cut, which allowed her to walk through the prison gates yesterday.
Pinangki Sirna Malasari in beauty influencer mode. Photo: Facebook
Pinangki Sirna Malasari, 41, once headed the ‘Sub-Section of Monitoring and Evaluation II’ at the Planning Bureau of the Deputy Attorney General for the Development of the Attorney General’s Office in Jakarta. Fame came to her relatively early, as she was considered “the youngest high-ranking officials of the Attorney General’s Office”, where she was employed since 2015. In her LinkedIn profile, she touted herself as an “experienced attorney and lecturer with a demonstrated history of working in the law enforcement industry. Skilled in criminal law, arbitration, legal document preparation, contract law, legal writing, and corporate law. Strong education, with a Doctor of Law from Padjadjaran University”, an institution located in Bandung, West Java. Despite the impressive education and a seemingly sterling career, the “beautiful prosecutor”, as the local media described her, was not able to resist the very rapacious lust, also known as greed.
In 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic hit Indonesia hard, Jakarta’s anti-corruption court found Ms Malasari guilty of accepting a first payment of US$500,000 in a bribe that reportedly amounted to US$1 million from Djoko Tjandra (aka Joko Soegiarto Tjandra or Chan Kok Hin [曾国辉]), an immensely wealthy and influential businessman on the run for 11 years from a jail sentence of two years for corruption. Mr Tjandra famously fled Indonesia to Papua New Guinea just a day before the supreme court was to present its verdict. Somehow, he was able to receive a passport (according to rumours, there was more than one) in the small Oceanian country. With travel documents in hand, he moved to Malaysia and hid in sprawling Kuala Lumpur, where he later met Ms Malasari and offered her a get-richer opportunity. The money was to buy her assistance in securing an acquittal from the Indonesian supreme court. But she would not be the only one caught in Mr Tjandra’s grand scheme: There were other agents of the law too, including a police inspector by the name of Gen. Napoleon Bonaparte, unbelievable but true. The wealthy fugitive was desperate to return home and to do so as a guiltless man.
Pinangki Sirna Malasari when she was a state prosecutor. Photo: Istimewa
With the money in her grasp, the prosecutor was said to be able to indulge her consumptive self, splurging on a sports utility vehicle, the BMW X5; cosmetic surgery (not her first) in the US; and, while she was there, fancy accommodation, reportedly in Trump Tower. Even before this, Ms Malasari was known for her “luxury lifestyle” although she was subsisting on a civil service salary. As The Jakarta Post noted of her financial moves after receiving the bribe, “the total sum of her suspicious transactions (including those with banks and money changers) grossly exceeded the combined monthly salaries of Rp 29 million (about S$2.728) that Pinangki and her police officer husband earned”. Her spouse (of her second marriage) Napitupulu Yogi Yusuf revealed during her trial that she led a ”glamourous life” long before they met.
Looking at her social media posts and photos of her in society magazines, one would not have guessed that Ms Malasari was “working in the law enforcement industry”, as she wrote in LinkedIn. With an attractive visage repeatedly fine-tuned by cosmetic procedures, she often projected herself with the élan of a beauty influencer. Indonesians would recognise her hair cascading past her shoulders, her big bright eyes beaming from under carefully-shaped brows and above pronounced cheeks that peaked aloft a chin so pointy Xia Xue would gleefully approve. The value of the bribe must, therefore, have been truly appealing as it would come in handy when Ms Malasari considered her next facial refinement. This is no speculation. In court, her sister claimed that she accompanied her sibling to the US for “nose surgery” and to “check her breast”. And there was a total of three visits. In one Instagram post, Ms Malasari shared a selfie, shot in a spacious apartment with the view of Central Park behind her.
Relaxing in Central Park, New York. Photo: Instagram
Pinangki Sirna Malasari was born in 1981 in Yogyakarta, a bustling city in the south-central Java that is the only one in Indonesia still ruled by a monarchy (it is still considered a sultanate). Scant information emerged about her family, her childhood, or her youth. In court during her trial, she said she was raised in the city of her birth. What her formative years were like, she did not say, but that was a period, as she described, of “very simple family life”, which could be taken to mean that the household was not financially blessed. She claimed that “at that time, (she) couldn’t even afford college”. But universities (three of them) she did attend—opportunities made repeatedly possible by “the kindness and generosity” of a much older man—the first of two Djokos in her life—Djoko Budiarjo (now deceased), also a prosecutor at that time. The account of her backstory, however, appeared to have been simplified.
According to a 2020 report by the Indonesian news site Grid, Mr Budiarjo met her when he was the prosecutor for a case that involved a pubescent Ms Malasari “caught with drugs” in high school. What came out of that is not known. It is believed that throughout her years in university, he “financed her”. Mr Budiarjo’s nephew Vanda Kusumaningrum told the YouTube news channel Hersubeno Point that “at that time, after college, while in Bogor (a Javanese city 416 kilometres from Yogyakarta), she lived at my uncle’s house”. She continued to reside with him, from whom she would continue to receive financial support for her education, first at Ibn Khaldun University Bogor and then, for her masters degree in business law at University of Indonesia, considered one of the most prestigious tertiary institutions in the country. As Mr Kusumaningrum elaborated, after her second degree, “she asked my uncle to marry her”. But there was a problem: Mr Budiarjo was married.
Ms Malasari conservatively dressed in court. Photo: Dos Antara
She eventually marry him despite a stunning 41 years age difference between them. It is not known if she had the approval of her parents. According to his nephew, Mr Budiarjo left his wife to accede to the younger woman’s request. “In the end, my uncle had to divorce my aunt,” Mr Kusumaningrum said. After tying the knot in 2007, Ms Malasari did not choose domestic life. She wanted to further her studies. Her husband’s family believed that the marriage allowed her to continue her higher education. They came to that suspicion because, according to Mr Kusumaningrum, “during her marriage, Pinangki never took care of her husband, even when he was sick”. The old man apparently had “two prostrate surgeries”. It is not known if he eventually died from illness of the prostrate.
However, Ms Malasari narrated quite a blander story. In court, she said—avoiding insights into her married life—that she was encouraged by her husband to study and, later, to apply for a post in the attorney’s office. She was accepted, and in 2007 was appointed as prosecutor. A year later, she continued with doctoral education in Padjadjaran University in West Java. Apart from her official duties at the attorney’s office, Ms Malasari lectured at various universities. After Mr Budiarjo married her, he retired from his job as a prosecutor, while his wife’s career blossomed. Whether on official duty or as a lecturer, Ms Malasari was noted for her looks. Her nephew-in-law suggested that because of her attractiveness, she often drew male attention, and he claimed that “she seemed to like meeting other men”.
Pinangki Sirna Malasari (second from right) on the day of her release from prison. Photo: VOI
Throughout her trial, Ms Malasari adopted severely conservative attire, complete with the jilbab (here, we know it as the hijab) and, to the surprise and curiosity of those entranced by her case, gloves—in black, no less. This concealment contrasted dramatically with what she wore before her appearances in court. In Indonesia, female head-covering is entirely optional; it is not obligatory. Although Ms Malasari is not known to wear overtly sexy clothes, she isn’t opposed to revealing her neck, her arms, and definitely her hands. Her decision to conceal parts of the body a Muslim woman must not show prompted Netizens to decry that she was merely “gaining sympathy”. It was such an issue that the attorney general declared that those who are not usually seen in “religious clothing” but appear in court looking pious would be “barred”. Ms Malasari’s piety was indeed questioned when, she left the prison yesterday without even a scarf. Her head and wiry hair were totally uncovered. Some observers of the case, however, said that the public was more interested in her clothing than her corrupt ways.
But, perhaps, more than what she wore in court and did not outside is the shocking, yet not—for many Indonesians—surprising reduction of Pinangki Sirna Malasari’s jail term, which an op-ed in The Jakarta Post called “discount”. Their advice to would-be convicts charged with graft: “Do not run away after your conviction. Just serve it, and then you should learn from the experiences of other corruption convicts on how to get freedom much earlier than you should”. Could this case foretell the outcome of Rosmah Mansor’s jail term, also 10 years? As her husband seeks royal pardon, would she choose the same option? As the “First Lady of Malaysia”, she is likely better blessed with privileges than a mere state prosecutor. And she’ll want to enjoy them.
Ismail Sabri and Lawrence Wong in Kuala Lumpur. Photo: Lawrence Wong/Facebook
The pair of shoes on Ismail Sabri that had Netizens talking. Photo: Lawrence Wong/Facebook
Malaysia’s prime minister Ismail Sabri is known for his willingness to embrace fashion or make bold sartorial choices, even when meeting the rakyat (the people). Last June, there was the online hoo-ha about his flashy Burberry shirt. This time, the interest in his attire lay further south: His kasut (shoes). In a photograph shared on Facebook yesterday by deputy prime minister Lawrence Wong, who was in Kuala Lumpur on an official visit and had met the Malaysian PM, Mr Sabri was in a pair of sleek, leather slip-ons that look like the Hermès Paris Loafer. The shoes do not appear unattractive or visually at odds with his rather slender trousers. Nor is the gleaming hardware—a bold-font ‘H’—on the strap (also known as the ‘saddle’) atop the loafer an eyesore. What might have amused Netizens is the price: If it was really Hermès, it would have cost Mr Sabri a cool S$1,700 (or RM5,432). But, that is still cheaper than S$2,190 Burberry shirt.
In the symmetrically-composed photograph, Mr Wong was seated across from Mr Sabri. Both bespectacled men wore a dark suit, white shirt, and printed tie. They looked like your regular politician until you turn your eyes towards the floor or the base of the club armchair. Mr Sabri’s pointed shoes did set him apart. He didn’t just slip into anything sensible; he picked his footwear. What Mr Wong wore was harder to make out, but they seem like shoes from comfort-leaning—even orthopaedic—brands such as Ecco and Rockport. Between the two men’s black pairs, his clearly would not draw compliments nor, for that matter, deprecation. They’re just shoes. Lawrence Wong could be out-shod, but that does not mean outshone.
Kanye West is peeved again. And, he has attacked another business partner, anew. Unrequited love?
Nike must be so thankful that their pairing with Kanye West ended when it did. They must be reading with such relief the news of Mr West’s online berating of his current footwear production partner Adidas. The rap star asserted that the German company has been designing Yeezy products without his involvement. On Instagram two days ago, Mr West boomed: “”The fact (Adidas) felt they could color my shoes and name them without my approval is really wild. I really care about building something that changes the world and something I can leave to my kids. They tried to buy me out for 1 billion dollars. My royalties next year are 500 million dollars alone.”
A buyout! Has it really come to this? Was Mr West surprised that Adidas, producing Yeezy since 2013, is considering ending their partnership? That they had enough of his egomania? The Sunday denunciation was, of course, not his first levelled at the manufacturer of his Yeezys. In fact, since last Friday, his fingers have been hard at work, generating posts that suggested Adidas had done him great wrong, to the point that he threatened to “legally finish with you”, directing that at the brand’s top brass, in particular the senior vice-president Daniel Cherry III (who has not offered a public response).
To make things more complicated, the executive board of JP Morgan Chase was also dragged into the one-sided quarrel, with the angry rapper uploading screen shots of the bankers. JP Morgan Chase assisted Adidas in finding a buyer for Reebok in 2021. And on Monday, Mr West posted: “I need a shoe company like how Jamie Salter bought Reebok”. Mr Salter is the CEO of Authentic Brands Group (ABG), the company that acquired Reebok from Adidas. It is curious that ABG was mentioned. Was Mr West hoping Reebok would be the next Yeezy collaborator?
His palpable rage, of course, goes further back—to June, when he accused Adidas of copying his Yeezy slides after the former teased the release of their Adilette 22. And then came “Yeezy Day” in August—some pseudo-important occasion that Mr West called “made up” and claimed he did not agree to, nor the Yeezy sneakers that Adidas was allegedly going to drop. It is not clear why he did not take his displeasure or misgivings directly to Adidas instead of publicly declaiming, “I have no chill. It’s going to cost you billions to keep me, It’s going to cost you billions to let me go, Adidas.“
This is, of course, not surprising. Even Gap was attacked. A week ago, as he had a go at Adidas, he concurrently accused the other half of Yeezy Gap of conducting a meeting without him. He added that they had copied his designs (the ones “Engineered by Balenciaga”). Can a pattern of behaviour be discerned? Not hard. For Mr West, lines are not drawn, not demarcated. Professional and private lives have no borders. Everyone is fair game. Even people close to him—or once were—were not spared. He attacked his ex-wife on more than one occasion (who strangely did not seem too upset by it) and her (now) ex-boyfriend with not a vestige of regret. Does he care how he may appear to his children?
But it was Adidas that he seems to spurn most. In his latest IG fume-post, he even clarified that “billions” mean “2” if Adidas wants to free him from his obligations to them, and that includes the alleged “stealing” of his intellectual property. This and others were no blank rants, even, if in many cases, he would delete them. They have been effectual among his friends, with Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs just announcing on IG that, in support for his mate, he was “done wearing Adidas” after a Ye-like blast: “’Since the era of Run-DMC, @Adidas has always used Hip Hop to build its brand and make billions off of our culture. BUT WE ARE MORE THAN JUST CONSUMERS NOW, WE’RE THE OWNERS. @KanyeWest and YEEZY are the reason Adidas is relevant to culture. WE KNOW OUR VALUE!”
The Swoosh is seriously reducing, and in doing so, births a new sub-brand
The way forward for Nike is to reduce. This is not merely to cut down on the wasteful ways of garment production, but to lower the many stages of making clothes by primarily going back to the first, and re-consider how textile can be produced. The innovative new way for them to go from fibre to textile is via a “needle-punch” approach, which, as the brand’s vice-president of innovation and apparel design Carmen Zolman told Forbes, produces “a completely new material that drastically reduces its carbon footprint”. That reduction, as Nike states, is 75% (compared to conventional production of, say, their knit fleece), as less energy is used. Nike calls this textile Forward. And the new line—they consider it a “platform”—is simply named Nike Forward.
But Forward is not Flyknit, likely the Swoosh’s most impactful and influential material for footwear uppers. In fact, it is not a knit at all, nor a woven. Rather, the manufacturing process—the result of more than five years of R&D—involves the creation of the fibres using recycled plastic “flakes” and formed by compressing the ultra-thin layers (five for now) with existing needle-punch machines, already used in the medical and automotive industries. The challenge was to create a fabric that is durable and that has a pleasant hand feel. The result is cloth that looks papery and perforated, that has substantial body.
Close-up of Forward fabric
The new fabric will initially be used for a hoodie and a sweatshirt (just two, and, although gender-neutral looking, they do come in styles for women and men). To further the reduction process, both garments, already minimalist, come sans zippers, aglets, or superfluous trims (but not, of course, the embroidered logo), which Nike says allow the clothes to be easier to recycle. Additionally, the fabric of the tops do not require water for the dyeing (most fabric dyeing notoriously require staggering amounts of water. According to one Euronews report, “to dye 1 tonne of fabric, 200 tonnes of water is required”) or finishing, such as laundering, to render it soft.
The images Nike has released show boxy and roomy tops, attractively shaped (even the hoods sit on the shoulders with sculptural form) to give the garments their contemporary volume, which looks far more cutting-edge than the first two hoodie and puffer that Kanye West launched through Yeezy Gap last year. Interestingly, the product images—shown suspended in the air—are rather evocative of those put out by Yeezy Gap Engineered by Balenciaga; only the former, with a faint sepia patina, is a lot brighter. Let’s hope that when they are available in stores, Nike Forward garments would not be stuffed into what could be easily mistaken as ”bins”.
Nike Forward launches globally on 8 September 2022. Check nike.com for details. Photos: Nike