They Will Be Sold

Adidas said they will sell the Yeezys they have in stock. But do sneakerheads really want the tainted shoes now?

Stuck with a mountain of Yeezys, Adidas decides to retail them after all. The Financial Times reported that a portion of the proceeds (not its entirety) will be donated to still-to-be-named charities. According to earlier reports, Adidas is saddled with €1.2 billion (or about S$1.75 billion) worth of Yeezy shoes that brought down operating profits by €500 million. How many pairs that amounts to is not known. The Three Stripes did consider other options, including destroying the kicks, but did not find that to work to their advantage. Chief executive officer Björn Gulden was quoted telling investors at the brand’s annual meeting earlier today that “burning several million pairs does not make sense.” They decided to “try to sell parts of the product”. Did he mean that they won’t be selling the shoes intact?

It is not known if investors who are demanding that Adidas reveal the findings of the company’s investigations into Kanye West’s behavior are pleased with this decision. Last month, news emerged that investors took up a class action lawsuit against Adidas, asserting that the latter was aware of the risk that came with the collaboration even before Mr West’s string of anti-Semitic comments made through social media and press interviews in 2022. If Yeezys were to be sold whole, would there be a rush for them? A quick search for Yeezys at Stadium Goods showed a impressive 400 results, with prices that did not seem to have dipped. It is not clear if the sneakers—and slides—have been moving as quickly as before. With more kicks to be released by Adidas, would consumer interest be dramatically aroused? Or, has the recent Yeezy show—a cultish display of immense strangeness—put a damper on the ardour for the brand?

The exact release date of Yeezy X Adidas is unknown. Illustration: Just So

Holey Moley: The Tom Daley Effect

Edwin Goh chose openwork for his red carpet appearance at the Star Awards last month. He must have felt extremely cool. Now, the star and his girlfriend are turning their hobbies into a business

Actor Edwin Goh (吴劲威) knew it would be brutally warm that Sunday afternoon outside Marina Bay Sands. He chose a V-neck, waisted tank top for the Star Awards red carpet, looking decidedly kerbside-casual. It was possible that Mr Goh wanted to let his fans and TV audiences know that his body was then trim and toned. Or that he was simply averse to the standard red carpet wear of suits, even if shirtless was the way to go at this year’s event, such as seen on his red carpet buddy Zhai Siming (翟思铭). But what he wore was not an ordinary tank top. It was a crocheted version, and one that the actor made for himself, proving that he can do more than slip-knotting. But why the vest could’t go with, say a shirt, wasn’t immediately known. Mr Goh’s choice of wearing his own crochet top was, of course, reminiscent of Tom Daley knitting his own sweaters and also wearing them to public events. Was another Mediacorp star mimicking what other international celebrities had done or worn?

By now, many know that one of the most known—and followed—celebrity needlework enthusiast is the Olympian/knitter Tom Daley, with the media reporting that Mr Daley was “knitting his way through the Tokyo Olympics” in 2021. The diver, in fact, started playing with knit stitches in 2020 (he also crochets and began in the same year) and later made a scarf for his mother. He told the BBC that he started the needle work because he is “terrible at sitting down”. So into knitting he became that he started the Made with Love by Tom Daley Instagram page (1.2 million followers to date) that became a website and then a book, with 30 knitting and crochet patterns. Mr Daley has been so pleased and proud of his output (he does have an eye for colour) that he has been wearing his own knitwear to high profile events such as the Today show in 2022. His designs were soon sold through the British retailer John Lewis.

The Unravel & bucket hat and handbag that are currently available at unravel Photos: unraveland/Instagram

Edwin Goh and his girlfriend Rachel Wan had at first started a “crochet club” in April amiably called Stitch and B*tch (could they have taken the naming cue from Bark and Bake, the Joo Chiat confectioner for canines?) Then last Sunday, they announced on Instagram the launch of their crochet-centric label Unravel & (could that also be a little inspired by & Other Stories?). And what, they did not reveal. For now their yarn craft comes in bags (two styles), beanies, and bucket hats. The designs won’t change the fashion accessories market, but they are, without doubt, discernibly more creative than the offerings of another-star-with-an-accessory-brand, the Beijing-based Eleanor Lee Kaixin (李凯馨), daughter of TV host Quan Yifeng (权怡凤). Mr Goh described the venture on Instagram as “something we’ve been working on for the past couple of months”. That they could set up shop in just two, and with only the pair using a hook to create merchandise from loops of yarn could be indication that this is monitising a hobby and may not be backed by a business plan or production schedule.

It is admirable that there are TV stars who would pursue their passions so intensely. It was baked goods in the beginning, and now needlework. But based on Unravel &’s limited product range, it may not be a protracted venture. Edwin Goh told host Jeremy Chan (田铭耀) at the Star Awards that it was his girlfriend (he did not identify her then) who taught him how to crochet. Thereafter, he furthered his learning online (whether by watching YouTube videos or other media, he did not say). Within months of achieving some proficiency in crocheting, he was able to become an instructor and open an online store, and model his own headwear. According to 8 Days, Unravel & welcomes crocheters without a sales outlet to peddle their wares through the brand’s website. It is possible then that more merchandise could be in the pipeline. It is likely, therefore, that there would be more than the beanie, itself a curious key product to sell on our scorching island.

The products of Unravel & are available online at They are reportedly sold out. Screen shot (top): MediaCorp/YouTube

Yeezy: A Secret Cult?

Season 10 of Kanye West’s fashion label showed little other than a rite of sort. What was he really selling?

Models wearing seemingly identical clothes at the Yeezy Season 10 presentation. Screen shot: yeezymafia/Instagram

After his Yeezy fashion show in Paris last October, which was deemed controversial at best, Kanye West is back with another—dubbed Season 10 (also YZY FREE, according to a reported invite, shared on a fan site)—in Los Angeles. This time, the event was held at his newly established office (or retail space, it is not clear) on Melrose Place. It was so covert that its has been described as “super secretive”. Curiously, the show took place on the same day as the much feted Met Gala. Anna Wintour and other fashion luminaries would, therefore, not be able to attend. It is known if they were invited at all. If they were, it is doubtful they would show up, considering what happened the last time. In fact, it is not known who were the guests, VIP or not. There was no livestream for this show (even one with registration required, as the last was). The few reports that emerged about the show described it as a “private affair”. So private, in fact, that the entire display was dimly lit. Candle were the main source of illumination.

This time, Mr West did not preface his show with a lengthy grouse-fest-turned-rally. Surprisingly, he did not even appear. The show was left to unfold without him. Attendees apparently turned up in an empty, concrete store space. It did not look like a fashion show was to be staged. There were narrow tables joined to form a long one, like a protracted alter, and a sullen sound system. It could be a pop-up anything. Or, something that in the old days would be called a mobile disco. But there was no dance. Everything was very sombre, like a gathering of the devout. And that is not overstating it. While we do not know who the guests were, in all likelihood, they were the Yeezy die-hards for whom every Yeezy item ever released has been a grailed offering. Nothing is ever unappealing or unnecessary. Attending a Yeezy event, cultish as it could be, is going on a pilgrimage.

The one T-shirt shown during the show as seen on a model and one that a guest scored. Photos: Twitter

The event unfolded largely illuminated by the candle votives. It is hard to make out what was shown at the event from some dark photographs circulating online (unlike the Met Gala, YZY FREE allowed guests to bring their smartphones into the venue. Photography was not, as far as we know, restricted). The models, mostly with heads clean-shaven—including the women—wore what seemed to be one T-shirt style and in one colour—white. The tees, with no sleeves but shoulders long enough to yield capped sleeves, appeared unsized; they were fitted on the women and terribly tight on the men, even too short for many of them. Was this a deliberate antithesis of the oversized T-shirt that is still trending? Or the reincarnation of the baby tee? They wore black trousers of different silhouettes—some could be leggings, others fairly regular pants. They were shod in post-Adidas X Yeezy footwear that has been described as socks with a thin sole, entirely black too. It is hard to understand what Mr West was attempting. Could it be some technical feat of clothes-making that we were not able to discern. Or was this just one giant empty vessel making some white noise?

Some Twitter posts showed those unforgiving T-shirts being tossed to a group of people thought to be attendees, like supplies being thrown to desperate refugees. That, presumably is the YZY FREE part. One guy who was so thrilled with being able to catch one, immediately slipped into the clearly constricted top on the street. Others who saw an opportunity in this immediately put the garment for sale online, with one seller asking for US$500 (shipping included!) for what could was likely produced for less than US$5. The frenzy may add to the desirability of the freebie, but if YZY Season 8 was, as we understand it, not produced, what is the likelihood that this collection, if we can call it that, will hot into production? Kanye West was probably just trying to prove (again) that he is a fashion designer, even if the presentation had a whiff of the unnecessarily exoteric. He can convince us all he wants.

Two Of A Kind: Crazy Colours

There is no stopping pigments that are bright and not belonging to nature to go into nail colour and, astonishingly, bread

While influencer Koh Boon Ki is no fan of chemistry and has barely any use for knowledge of the chemical make up and interaction of things, she is happy to wear vivid nail colour that is the result of fairly complex chemical processes. Ms Koh rant-questioned in a now-deleted video on TikTok: “You know, like, how much chemistry knowledge I use in my day-to-day life?” She then replied, stridently, “Not much!” She is a big fan of biology and prefers to be aware of peristalsis that leads to defecation or in her more colourful language: “shit”. We don’t know what goes through her mind when she does her business, but human stool is made up of entities that are both biological and chemical. Even the roughly 75% of water in fecal matter is a chemical compound. Perhaps she was too busy tending to her painted nails, which, given the opaque, matte coating, is chemical composition in itself.

In that video, Ms Koh was seen dabbing the bottom of her eyes, nails visible for all to see. She was highly animated—gesticulating as she went about, at first, speaking against “nun-science stoodents” and then railing against the uselessness of studying chemistry in school. As she disastrously made her case, she was applying makeup on her face. Her pointy (or tear-drop-shaped), colourful nails played a delightful cameo in her tirade against those who do not have the “bio knowledge” like she does. The pastel pink, blue, and green melded as a ‘gradient’, chemical sum that could be inspired by the colours of lollies. (In a follow-up ‘apology’ video, a few of the nails looked painted to depict sky and grass, with flowers in the mix.) They were the most compelling thing to watch while she wielded an applicator to dab something (concealer or highlighter, we couldn’t tell) on certain spots of her expressive face.

Ms Koh’s nails immediately brought to mind a bread we have been seeing sold at a stall that also offers cook-to-order waffles with assorted spreads. The waffles are uncoloured, but the breads, available in loaves that remind us of those hand-cut ones of the distant past, are with swirls or streaks of incredible colours that you would not find even in the most chromatically-blessed fruits. They look like something you might see in a metaverse bakery. Or, roti that is fit for a Vogue SG cover. Surprisingly, these enthusiastically coloured breads have found themselves buyers, including those who love a slice of Wall’s blocked ice cream with it. Perhaps, those bread lovers, like Koh Boon Ki, do not concern themselves with the petroleum-based dyes in them. They are, after all, just chemicals; they can be ignored.

Screen shot: (left) boonkikikiki/TikTok. Photo: (right) Zhao Xiangji

The Hurting Of Adidas

Despite numerous compelling collaborations this year, Adidas isn’t able to make up for the losses incurred with the discontinuation of Yeezy

It is hard to imagine that Adidas didn’t see this coming. The Three Stipes just shared their Q1 earnings result. Unsurprisingly, it isn’t rosy. According to Adidas’s chief executive officer Bjørn Gulden, who decamped Puma for Adidas early this year, the company suffered a loss of €400 million (or about S$594.6 million) year-on-year in the first three months of 2023. As reported by AP, Adidas admitted that the divorce between the brand and Kanye West is “hurting” them. Yet, things are not as bad as they seem due to “extraordinary demand” for the old-school kicks of Samba and Gazelle, both not easily found when you walk into Adidas stores here. These shoes are also known as ‘terrace’ style, first seen gaining traction in the ’80s among football fans on the bleachers. Adidas isn’t the only brand banking on this style. One of them that’s highly alluring is the New Balance URC30, recently reimagined by Junya Watanabe.

Adidas also revealed that the performance in North America was particularly bad as the termination of Yeezy footwear has impacted the market there, with a dip of 20% in sales. It did not say how Yeezy-no-more was received in South-East Asia (in North Asia, specifically China, business was not encouraging due to the COVID lockdown across several Chinese cities). Or, if the market for Yeezy was particularly large in this part of the world. At the recent Sneaker Con SEA, although the most visible brand was Nike, some indie sellers managed to score Yeezys, such as the Slide—which they claimed to be legit—for sale. Apparently there is still demand for Yeezys here and across the region, as a group of young sellers told us. And now that Yeezys are no longer available through Adidas, the demand via resellers is “still there”, which seemed to contradict reports that prices and demand have generally dropped. Some fans can indeed separate footwear and the disgraced creator.

The Adidas and Kanye West partnership was called off somewhat belatedly last year after the rapper-turned-designer made anti-Semitic remarks publicly, repeatedly. Sales of the shoes were immediately halted. It was reported that Adidas would continue selling Yeezys without the Yeezy branding, but nothing came out of that. Adidas did not announce what they would do with the massive stock of Yeezys—said to be worth a staggering €1.2 billion—that they won’t/can’t(?) sell (or destroy, or donate), but they did warn that it would affect operating profits by a dip of €500m this year. Although Kanye West may have “rescued Adidas”, as The Guardian put it, it does show that relying on a volatile celebrity with no verbal filter as the key driver of profits may not be worth it in the longer run. Destroying the stocks that cannot be sold is not an option that the maker of the Stan Smith could consider without being called out as wasteful and detrimental to the environment. It’d be fascinating to see what Adidas can do to deal with those tainted sneakers and not turning down what Mr Gulden called “brand heat”.

File photo: Jim Sim for SOTD

Koh Boon Ki’s Back: “If You Don’t Shit, You’re Constipated”

The TikTok influencer riles social media users again with a post some consider verbal defecation

“I studied science my whole educational life,” declared Koh Boon Ki (许文琪) with boastful pride on Tik Tok* last week. Perhaps that is why she knew with stunning certainty that if you—especially those “nun-science stoodents”—do not void excrement from your bowels, your faeces harden and you will not be able to clear what you need to clear. But, according to her, as she ranted, complete with facial expressions to match: “All my friends from school are science students. And then I meet ‘nun-science stoodents’ and we talk about like healf, like the most simple things, and to them, it’s like, ‘wowwww, how do you know this?’ But for me, it’s like, how do you not know this? This is your body. How can you live your life, like not knowing how your body works?” Ms Koh declaimed against those who are, according to her, unschooled in science and unacquainted with their bodies. “Are you okay with that,” she asked. The influencer then answered her own question: “I’m not okay with that; I need to know how my body works.”

This was not enough for her. She went on to offer an example: “The other day, I was talking to my best friend, and I was telling her, I have this other friend, like don’t (sic) even know what constipation is, like, I like, she was like, I either shit or don’t shit. And then I said, uh, if you don’t shit, you’re constipated.” Charming. Ms Koh then contradicted herself when another friend allegedly asked her why she has “friends like that”: “No, it’s (sic) not my friend; it’s like talking to ‘nun-science stoodents’.” Her best friend supposedly agreed with her. As Ms Koh recounted what her pal said, “Oh, yah. That’s a common experience, like we go tru that.” And then it all made her—eyes wide open—want to “talk about something else, which is, why chemistry is a compulsory subject in school, but not biology?” She claimed that biology is more useful to her than chemistry. “You know, like, how much chemistry knowledge I use in my day-to-day life?” Glaring at the screen, she bark-replied, “not much!” She paused. “But how much bio (biology) knowledge do I use in my day-to-day life? It’s a lot!” However, she admitted that she “can’t think of a specific example right now.” And the peevish rant went on.

“…it’s like talking to ‘nun-science’ students”

Koh Boon Ki

Ms Koh’s disgruntled outburst unfolded animatedly while she was doing her makeup in front of what was likely her smartphone, set to record. Letting the world know that you are good at beautifying your face is no longer restricted to the MRT train. At various points during her fiery oration, she dabbed under her eyes with her third finger, as if to even out a smudge (she was holding a small compact that could be eye colour), showing her pointy, manicured nails in shades between pink, baby blue, and bright green. She wiped the finger with a tissue, and then whipped out what could be concealer, applied some to areas she dabbed on earlier. She then brought the applicator to her nose, spots on the corners of her mouth, her chin, and two more at the bottom of the corner of her nose, on each side of the philtrum. Then she returned to the eyes, dabbed both corners, too. It is disconcerting that she, like many of her ilk, did not consider doing something else while talking to her viewers impolite. The science student had a single hair roller hold her fringe upwards, above her hairline. She wore small hoop earrings and a beaded necklace. A black strapless top was chosen for this two-minute-plus video.

Without completing her makeup, she concluded by saying that it “just puzzles (her) how people go around not knowing any bio knowledge (sic).” She then informed viewers that she studied “a bit of healthcare” and then corrected herself, “I studied healthcare, not a bit of healthcare.” And in case you were not aware, she confirmed: “I have a bit of knowledge of, erm, blood pressure, sugar level,” adding a puzzling declaration: “all these, like, diseases are so common, like do those people with these diseases know, like, what’s going on with their body? I just wonder.” Cut. The end. It left us wondering why the healthcare graduate considered “blood pressure and (blood) sugar level” to be diseases. Unsurprisingly, this seeming contempt of “nun-science stoodents” did not score well with Netizens.

After removing that post, she quickly shared another, supposedly addressing the earlier one. Again, she was putting on makeup while speaking, this time shading her brows. Her reason for discarding the previous post was “because people call (sic) me out for being stuck-up”. She was also grateful: “Thank you for calling me up (sic) cause, honestly, I needed it.” She said she was aware that she could be “stuck-up sometimes”—her easy description for turning up her nose at those who do not have “bio knowledge”, as she clearly does. She claimed that the incident made her “reflect, like, how I’m in my own bubble”, and came to the conclusion that “everybody’s in their own bubble”, except that “people’s bubbles are different from our own bubble”. Bumbling psychobabble aside, she was certain to pretend to ingest humble pie, saying that what she shares on TikTok is “normal” to her, but others may not concur, and she has, therefore, to “watch what I say”, noting as she did with a sly grin. To be sure, an apology this was not.

Koh Boon Ki’s latest controversial post was not her first. Back in October of 2021, she aroused shock and outrage when she proposed on TikTok the start of a “Telegram group with girls from all the dating apps in Singapore and we discuss the guys we’ve talked to and dates we’ve been on.” As we indicated then, this was not an innocuous sharing of notes. This was potentially doxxing, even bordering on cyberbullying. Someone indeed took up her suggestion and shared a spreadsheet of names that the latter found to be best avoided. Ms Koh quickly shut the chat group down, saying “I did not realise that it was also spiralling into a name-and-shame group.” Rather than saying sorry or express remorse for doing what she did, she cleverly turned the incident into a chance for others to be aware of the sexual assault allegedly stated in that shared spreadsheet. She then continued with her bio-knowledge-enabled, day-to-day life on TikTok, not bothered by the controversy she aroused. Now that she has said her peace about “nun-science stoodents”, as she did about the guys she won’t date, she will returned to her self-obsessed life and share it online. Until the next rant. Or, when shit happens.

*Her original post has been deleted

Illustrations: Just So

Met Gala 2023: The Blurred Lines Of Beauty

There were, as usual, two extremes: decidedly dull and highly theatrical. And who needed Choupette when you had Jared Leto dressed as they? In the end, the men, with either too much fabric or virtually none, stole the show

Jeremy Pope did a Rihanna circa 2015, in Balmain. Screen shot: Vogue/YouTube

Rapper Lil Nas X wore mostly body paint. Photo: Getty Images

The Met Gala is dubbed the “Oscars of fashion”, but it’s more like the Razzies, only better attended. This year, just as you feared that it would be difficult to go over-the-top (or weird) channeling Chanel’s former long-serving designer’s work or his own style, quite a few invitees to this year’s Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty, did not think too much would be excessive. Or, for that matter, too little. In fact, so averse to cloth he was that rapper Lil Nas X pranced on the carpet (beige with red and blue lines this time) practically naked. How only a thong (even if purportedly by Dior), an encrusted face (like calcareous growth on seashells), and a crazy amount of body paint (that took Pat McGrath reportedly nine hours to spread on him) is tribute to Mr Lagerfeld and his legacy was not immediately apparent. The designer was known for his way with working on fabrics, yet Lil Nas X preferred almost none. News that emerged after the flashy display quoted the Grammy winner saying that what he had on was a “modern version of a cat”. In platform boots?! As Tan Kel Wen of Berhati might declare, kutior kucing (cat couture)?

It is hard to say that Lil Nas X looked feline (the face—catfish, perhaps?) as he pretended to be, but he did illustrate that what you mostly saw at the Met Galas were the emperor’s new clothes, It was usually the female attendees who affirmed the idea (in fact, Lil Nas X’s look brought to mind Cara Delevingne’s at the Met last year, only she was painted gold and she wore pants), but this time, the guys were doing so with verve and daring. Reportedly, guests to the gala were earlier notified by the organisers that “the most authentic approach” was “to wear an archival look from one of the labels Lagerfeld led”. Naturally not all attendees had links or access to the houses—and their ateliers and archives—that the late designer helmed or consulted for. So it was through the interpretive flair of other names that some guests preferred to trust their personal brands to. Lil Nas X chose a make-up artist over a fashion designer. Was he at the right event? Or did he not care about some silly authentic approach? When, in fact, during Anna Wintour’s latter-year command of the Met Galas was authenticity key?

Lil Nas X’s non-attire might actually win Mr Lagerfeld’s approval, even when he did not value what a guy thought about fashion. As he told The New York Times in 2015, “I’m not crazy to discuss fashion with men. I couln’t care less about their opinions.” The late designer was famously known for his dislike of looking back at his own work, too. A get-up on the carpet that cannot be directly linked to any look by number of his past collections could be the unsentimental acknowledgment of his influence that he might have tolerated. Similarly, he was disdainful of retrospectives in formal institutions. As he said in 2004, “fashion does not belong in a museum”. Yet, it is in one—the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute—that his body of work is now shown and saluted. And, interpreted by the 400-plus attendees whose attitude, assessment, and assumption he probably did not care about either.

Feline Fanatics

Left: suited-up Jared Leto. Right: Doja Cat in Oscar de la Renta. Photos: Reuters

Choupette, Mr Lagerfeld’s Birman cat, was not as absent as many had thought. Although they did not attend, Jared Leto—appearing in their likeness—sure did. Mr Leto took to the beige carpet as a plush pussy, complete with a feline head and a set of paws (but standing on two), making Lil Nas X’s kitty make-up a poor imitation, however “modern” it was. Perhaps Mr Leto thought he was on the set of The Masked Singer? The Choupette-lookalike quickly shed the hairy outerwear to complete his ascend on the stairway, in what appeared to be a Gucci ensemble that included a cape with glittery shoulders. Even Doja Cat, wearing Oscar de la Renta, came in her namesake, anthropomorphically-enhanced self, forgetting that the casting for Cats the movie is well over. Choupette may be the cat everyone was looking out for, but another pet was there too: Thom Browne’s Hector.

Camellia Overload

Left: Rihanna (with Gucci-clad partner A$AP Rocky) in Valentino. Right: Cardi B in Chenpeng Studio. Photos: Getty Images

She was not only the last to arrive, but even possibly the tardiest attendee at a Met Gala. Rihanna was touted all evening as a show-stopper. But even the Vogue livestream would not wait for her. Hosts La La Anthony, Chloé Fineman, and Derek Blasberg kept the last moments going with painful small talk, and telling the audience that a “surprise” was in store. After more than 20 minutes, the amazing astonishment was not to be. Ms Anthony had to say apologetically, “we tried and tried but sometimes things don’t work out as we expected”, wrapping up the livestream. When Rihanna did show up (reportedly two hours late), it was after the hosts retired for the night from the carpet (we can hear many saying that a pregnant woman needed more time to get ready, but she was not the only expecting mother on the guest list). However, the photographers—and fans did not give up waiting (some members of the media later call it “worth the wait”, encouraging such insolent behaviour). To audible screams from across the street and calls from the onsite lens men, she appeared in a Valentino hooded cape that was festooned with oversized camellias. Hardly a surprising outfit. She won’t marry A$AP Rocky (in Gucci this evening) but she showed up as a bride? Cardi B was festooned too, squeezing as many Chanel/Lagerfeld ‘codes’ as she could in one gown: a rigid collage by the Chinese label Chenpeng Studio, with white shirt, camellia, pearl studs, and, of course, the quilting of the classic Chanel bag. A walking visual encyclopedia?

Pearls Aplenty

Left to right: Lizzo in Chanel, Kim Kardashian in Schiaparelli, and Yung Miami in Sean Jean

Pearls, the Chanel way, were expected, and it showed up in massive miles of them. The gold chain through which a leather cord is usually laced through (as is used in Chanel bags) had, conversely, an extremely low take-up rate. Kim Kardashian’s Schiaparelli sort-of-dress had the most use of pearls—some 50 strands for the skirt and 20 for the top. Could this be a revenge dressing of sort after last year’s simple, constricted Marilyn Monroe gown that no one loved on her? Lizzo, in a black Chanel, had her torso visually lengthened with strands of pearls, but they looked regrettably like an afterthought. Rapper Caresha “Yung Miami” Brownlee was strung with pearls as well. Wearing a number by the old label Sean Jean, created by her date Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs (their relationship not established), she had her face framed by a black fur bloom, under which those pearls hung, like aerial roots. Serena Williams and Karlie Kloss, both pregnant, were also adorned with pearl, no doubt pointing the way forward for special-occasion maternity wear.

Fan Fanfare

Left to right: Carla Bruni in Chanel, Jordan Roth in Schiaparelli, and Conan Gray in Balmain. Photos: Getty Images

Some attendees had to incorporate a fan—Mr Karl Lagerfeld’s signature accessory—into their looks. Occasional songstress Carla Bruni, unsurprising in Chanel, whipped out a foldable one to improve her placid look and to show what a true friend she was to Mr Lagerfeld. American singer-songwriter Conan Gray, also wielding a fan, chose a black-and-white, half-circle piece that carefully coordinated with their jacket-attached-to-a-shirt Balmain number. But it was theatre impresario Jordan Roth, glammed up in Schiaparelli couture, that came as one. To be sure, Amber Valletta in Karl Lagerfeld, too, had a fan for a bodice, but it was Jordan Roth who showed the world that there is indeed a fine line between glamorous and not.

Brides Not

From left to right: Penelope Cruz and Gisele Bündchen, both in Chanel, and Alton Mason in Karl Lagerfeld. Photos: Getty Images

There was continual reminder that Chanel is a bridal house even before the night’s event. So it was not surprising that there were those who came as brides—but without a groom. Penelope Cruz and Giselle Gisele Bündchen were veritable Chanel bridal mannequins, but looked like they wore the gown of the bridesmaid instead. Elle Fanning, in Andreas Kronthaler for Vivienne Westwood, dressed literally as a bride—who ran away. Halle Bailey looked swamped in Gucci froth. And Alton Mason in Karl Lagerfeld? Frankenstein’s bride? But that was not as strange as the Marni-dressed Erykah Badu who came as a mop on her wedding day. Alexa Chung, pretending it was hers too, looked rather exquisite in Irish designer Roisin Pierce’s delicately-textured two-piece, like an Amish bride in fancy dress.

Man Trains

Bad Bunny in Jacquemus. Photo: Getty Images

As we have seen with fans, the train, too, was guys’ best friend. Stage actor and TV series Pose alum, Jeremy Pope (top photo) went to great lengths to show fashion watchers what he dragged behind—all 10 metres of it. The Balmain train was composed of ruffed tulle clusters, arranged by shade to form the familiar silhouette of Karl Lagerfeld. This could easily be the train to beat Rihanna’s Guo Pie “omelette” in 2015. Quite a few other male guests had their get-ups affixed with trains too, but it was Bad Bunny, in white and cream Jacquemus (including a blazer with a cut-out at the back) and that stole, who showed that guys can have something pretty trailing them that is not a personal assistant.


Left to right: Michelle Yeoh in Karl Lagerfeld, Serena Williams in Gucci and Kristen Stewart in Chanel. Photos: Getty Images

Black and white, we were repeatedly told, was Karl Lagerfeld’s favourite chromatic pairing. It was not surprising, therefore, that the Met Gala was practically an ebony-and-ivory affair. Michelle Yeoh, in Karl Lagerfeld, was in her post-award-season party look. While she could be channeling a modern-day Mameha (2005’s Memoirs of a Geisha), except that it seemed like the dress swallowed her, as Matsumoto would have. Ms Yeoh was among only a handful who chose the designer’s eponymous line, one that never quite achieved any height. Serena Williams picked the more dependable Gucci, but to her own detriment: the unflattering mermaid’s tail spread out from a shorter top dress with that decorative hem was, sad to say, dowdy. Kristen Stewart, ever the young face of Chanel, wore something not quite typical of the house. The bolero and the baggy pants had a whiff of a samseng (gangster) trading up.

Same Same

Left and right: Olivia Wilde and Margaret Zhang, both in similar Chloé dresses

It is not known if this has happened at a Met Gala: two guests outfitted in near-identical gowns. Actress Olivia Wilde and Vogue China editor-in-chief Margaret Zhang (章凝 or Zhangning) were spotted (hopefully not together) in geminated dresses from Chloé, now designed by Gabriela Hearst. Ms Zhang’s black frock appeared to be a negative likeness (especially with her shock of electric blue hair) of Ms Wilde’s slimmer version. The sleeveless piece with a high neck, circa 1983 and dubbed “the violin dress”, was reissued thirty years later, in 2013; it was one of Chloé’s most popular and identifiable designs. The question that won’t leave our mind: Was Chloé not aware, at the time of both fittings, that the two dresses would be worn at the same event, on the same day? Or, was this deliberate twinning to give Chloé twice the exposure?

Burberry Blue

Left to right: Burna Boy, Skepta, and Mary J Blige and Barry Keoghan, all in Burberry

Bigger a mystery than the two Chloé dresses Olivia Wilde and Margaret Zhang wore was the Burberry outfits on on a quartet—Nigerian singer Burna Boy, British-Nigerian MC/rapper Skepta, American singer Mary J Blige, and the Irish actor Barry Keoghan. Sure, they do not look alike, except Burna Boy’s and Mr Keoghan’s diagonal-checked suits, but it is not clear why all four of them (actually, there was Stormzy, too) were given identical chromatic combos of black and that particular shade of blue. Did Burberry think that there was power—and presence—by numbers?


Janelle Monae in Thom Browne. Photos: Getty Images

Janelle Monae is often willing to gamble with fashion on the red (or any colour) carpet. This year at the Met Gala, she chose a Thom Browne coat that appeared to be inspired by a Chanel jacket deconstructed and stretched over a teepee. The hulky outer came off at some point on the beige carpet, revealing another look—a sheer crinoline dress that served as a cage to house the wearer in a bikini (it is not known if she was able to sit in the conical coop). Later, on the steps, she lifted up the dress to let onlookers have a clearer view of her underpants. Ms Monae, like Lil Nas X, happily offered an emperor’s new clothes moment—always the high point of the Met Gala.

‘Classicle’ Teaching: Who is Brooke Lim?

The GP tutor who steered her tuition centre towards drawing “a six-figure sum in six months” and was recently accused of plagiarism is, like so many others of her generation, an influencer too

TikTok. If only it is just full of bad dancing and inane commentary. But TikTok is, for many of its rabid followers, window to real life, a voyeuristic peak at enviable existences not their own. And, for as long as there are those who make social media an easy platform to draw attention to themselves, if not spawn envy, there would be those who enjoy courting controversial behaviours and practices on it for better visibility. Private tutor Brooke Lim Ke Xin (林可心), founder of the tuition centre Classicle Club, recently made news for questionable practices regarding a self-penned essay about eating disorders and self-esteem on her blog page; she might have received less of a blow when exposed if she is not, at the same time, an influencer, with 183, 300 followers on TikTok (@sugaresque) alone. Between her dancing—which corresponds to the typical TikTok standard—and more dancing, she helpfully shares “study hacks” and “productivity tips” with her followers. An example of such tips that she put out early this year, before the scandal broke, expounded the beauty of emulating another person. Ms Lim said: “one that worked [it no longer did?] really, really well for me was scheduling a block of time where (sic) I would be the one person I really want to be.”

While that may fly in the face of the popular call to just Be Yourself, it is, for her, a tip that “just about changed my life [did it or did it not?].” The General Paper (GP) tutor went on to describe “this one girl in council” during her junior college days (which ended not too long ago) “that I really, really wanted to be like.” The subject of her adoration “worked really hard; she had fantastic grades; she was so humble; she was sweet; she was an absolute dream to be around.” (By now you can tell, Ms Lim really, really likes “really” especially when the adverb comes in pairs.). The said girl was so free of flaws that the impressed admirer-turned-tutor “essentially wanted to emulate her”, before adding “work ethic” to her acknowledgement. She then advised viewers to “think of someone you admire or some character that has some qualities that you want to embody. And you pick a day or just a few hours where (sic) you try to act like that person.” Remember what happened to The Talented Mr Ripley? Ms Lim called her adopting the part of someone else “fixed role therapy”. Only problem is, fixed role therapy, devised by American psychologist George Kelly in the 1950s, is when a patient “enacts a make-believe character drafted by the therapist to portray an alternative identity for a fixed period of time”, according to the Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences. In present-day practice, it is largely based on a fictitious identity, not “a girl in council”.

The said girl was so free of flaws that the impressed admirer-turned-tutor “essentially wanted to emulate her”

That Ms Lim was happy to imitate someone else (to match up or surpass the target, it is not clear) does raise the question of how authentic she really is. If she urges her young followers to emulate others, might she, too, do the same, even if momentarily (or “a day”)? If this is her “productivity tip”, as she described it, could it also be a writing tip, to be used creatively and professionally? Ms Lim was called out for plagiarism by anonymous TikToker @sugaresqueessay days earlier. She posted a piece of writing, On Being Afraid Of Eating, on 18 April on her blog Grayscale Copy (was this meant to be telling?), which is now password-protected, that purportedly bore similarities to 13 different authors’ published works that included books and articles. According to a lengthy breakdown of her alleged appropriation, shared as a Google doc and broadcasted on TikTok by @sugaresqueessay, Ms Lim’s writing is an “autobiographical recount” in which “more than half of the original version of her essay was not written by her (the investigators pointed out “over 70%)”. As we are unable to read On Being Afraid Of Eating (the post has been removed), we go with the claim that “the similarities include sentences, whole paragraphs, plot points, and specific details… with no credit whatsoever to the original creators”. Could this be, to her, just another session of emulation, rather than plagiarism?

Following the accusation, Brooke Lim did not immediately remove the blog post. Rather, she edited her writing, hoping to dilute the plagiarism. Before she eventually got rid of the piece, viewers reported seeing a foreword, which apparently stated—rather curiously—that part of the article was penned when she was 14. Whatever she did to salvage the work and the situation, it was too little too late. Soon she password-protected her page and removed all references to the faulted writing in her Telegram channel. Then, she took to TikTok to apologise. With a video that was rotated right, she said—voice clearly less enthusiastic than usual—that in her “long-form essay”, she “made the very serious and regrettable mistake of plagiarising and for that [she is] so sorry.” As an educator, what example did she set? She said she has reached out to her students, “one by one to apologise”. She explained that the words she copied “resonated very deeply” with her, leaving out that it was to the extent that she could claim them as her own. She added that she “should have been more careful throughout the process of crafting the essay”. The skill she employed and the attention to detail—in other words, “crafting”—was, in fact, “just reaching into my past compilation of thoughts and insights that I had lifted from other authors.”

Screen shot of the Google Doc that lists the similarities between Ms Lim’s writing and those published by other authors

It was, for many, a lame pitch. She called her action a “mistake” (like adding salt to your tea instead of sugar?), which suggested that it was unintentional. But as it has been pointed out by Netizens that given the extent of the similarity of her writing to published work, it was deliberate. And we should add, reckless. In one post on Telegram that appeared before the questionable ”long form”, Ms Lim shared that she “desperately want[s] to be taken seriously as an essayist, copywriter, and teacher. I want to be more than just a face on social media.” Was she then desperate enough to adopt desperate measures? In the same post, she added, “I’ve always been drawn to words & essays & for the longest time I’ve wanted to build a career based on my writing ability [the use of the ampersand instead of ‘and’ appears on Classicle Club’s webpage too]. To some extent, I already have (and am so grateful for that!) but I do want to continue exploring the written word + push the boundaries of what I’m already doing.” Nobody knew what she was really already doing. Prior to publishing the piece, she shared it with “a few close friends”. They were impressed. She shared their comments on Telegram: “couldn’t put it down”, one wrote; “it’s a really interesting and well-written work,” said another. The making of a star essayist, even in noviciate, was well on the way.

Brooke Lim was born a Leo in 2004 to an engineer father and a mother whose occupation is unknown. Both parents, according to a now-deleted TikTok video, “are strict”. Social media is burning with curiosity about the way she speaks (as well as the way she writes, which could be mistaken for old Khmer script), that her English has an unusual lilt and her words sometimes come out garbled. She told Rice Media recently that “it has a lot to do with being raised in a family with a parent whose first language isn’t English.” Although she did not say which, it is possible she was referring to her mother. As seen in screen shots of the texting between mother and daughter, shared on Telegram, the tutor-essayist communicates with the older woman in Mandarin. When TikToker Ge Jiabao took to the video-sharing site to also level charges of copying at Ms Lim (that’s another saga altogether), she suddenly spoke in Mandarin after being amazed by how much the former charges for what was alleged as copied material—“你好意思吗 说真的 (you have the nerve, seriously). Ms Ge spoke with an accent that suggests a connection with China, and she sounded like she was talking to someone who would understand her, as if she was addressing a compatriot. Is it possible then that Ms Lim’s mother is from the mainland? In several other TikTok posts, another family member that she has mentioned is an older sister.

Little is known about her younger days or if she had always wanted to be a writer, or a tutor. She made no mention of the primary school she went to. There is scant reference to where she received her secondary education, but in a trio of early Instagram posts, she did tag Raffles Girls School (RGS) and in one IG entry, referred to RGS as “my alma mater”. In one mention of her RGS days, she shared that “very little of secondary school textbook knowledge is transferable”. A video from 2020, which showed her celebrating “the last day of A-levels”, she was seen in the uniform (house shirt with the heraldic symbol of twin eagles and a green pleated skirt) of Raffles Institution (RI), the school that’s mentioned in her social media posts and press interviews. She reportedly achieved “straight As” for her A-levels, which seems to enhance her marketability. In a Life feature, “The Z Factor”, that was published in The Sunday Times on 9 April, just ten days before @sugaresqueessay posted “@sugaresque (brooke) longform essay plagiarism problem” on TikTok, it was revealed that she found her first student in December 2021, after leaving RI. It is not known how she grew the intake, but seven months later, Classicle Club—her tuition centre with a website that many have described as “classy”—was launched. At the end of the year, she reportedly raked in “a six-figure profit”. So popular her classes were that, according to The Sunday Times story, there is “a waiting list of about 150 students for O-level classes that will begin only next year. It is not known if that number has now changed.

In 2022, about a month after she took her first student, she started a podcast (“because some of my followers told me it would be fun”) called All the World’s a Talking Stage that discusses anything troubling teens, from “Social Media Feels Increasingly Irrelevant (‘I have a lot of complaints,’ she said)” to “The Psychology of Overthinking Romantic Relationships” (it was AI, she revealed, that wrote the episode’s synopsis. Question is, did it stop there?)). The podcast is available to listen by subscription. She told the Rebound with Resilience YouTube Channel that she really likes the podcast as a medium because “you know, it’s just my voice; you know, nothing to do with my face, and I know that they are not listening to me just because of my face; they’re actually listening to me because of what I have to say.” While she prefers her followers to pay attention to her voice than her looks, she does share social-media posts of come-hither lures and then proclaim it is hard to live up to what’s expected of her. In one TikTok post, she said, “I am so self-conscious and aware of my looks. I feel I have certain expectations to fulfill, and if I fail to meet them, people wouldn’t like or care about me nearly as much any more. So, in the sense, it’s a constant internal battle.”

While she prefers her followers to pay attention to her voice than her looks, she does share social-media posts with come-hither lures

But, at the same time, she said, (also on TikTok), “when people look at me, they see a 19-year-old Asian girl, and they probably only think, ‘oh, you know, she’s a bimbo, she probably only cares about her looks, whether she actually have (sic) that’s valuable to who I am as a student.” Despite fearing others not taking her seriously, she would post videos of herself putting on lip colour—utterly red and glossy—up close and seductively. Or, adopt a flirtatious pose, and tell you, “the difference hair and makeup can make”. And even more doltish “proof that hair is everything”. Like so many of her fellow TikTokers with a message, Ms Lim often delivers hers while doing something—usually putting on makeup—even when she is in keenly telling you about what she learned from a public-speaking coach, who was paid “$300 per hour” to impart his wisdom. In a follow-up, which was about the “productivity tip” mentioned earlier, she was putting on accessories: a ruched hairband that sat on her head like a crown (her hairbands never needed to hold her locks in place) and a pair of earrings hidden by wavy hair that cascaded down both sides of her made-up face. It is difficult to understand that she wants to be taken seriously when she behaves frivolously or tells you that it’s ”time to put on a cute outfit and go to class.”

Apparently when she is not developing content, as many call what she does online, or teaching, she is “devouring self-help books”, which may explain why her constantly empowering tone, if not provoking annoyance, sounds like Rachel Hollis’s (Girl, Wash Your Face). She has “watched every Ah Boys to Men film [even when she cites Quentin Tarantino in one post without really saying anything] just so I would have a clue about what he’s going through [in the army]”, referring to her boyfriend, whose face she has not reveal on social media, even when he is seen alongside her. When not urging her followers to be unnaturally positive, Ms Lim enjoys dabbling in amigurumi—Japanese knitting (or crocheting) of small, stuffed animals, designed to be cute, which is how her fans describe her too. While it is hard to paint a substantial picture of anyone based on a single or two TikTok videos typically of no more than 40 seconds long and a few IG photos, it is possible to paint a discernible personality from even a modest 254 TikTok videos and 185 IG photos of student-life vignettes to date. Whether intentionally or not, Brooke Lim, aware of her looks, posts to be watched. If no one takes her seriously as an essayist, many will fervently regard her as a social media star.

Illustrations: Just So

Tina Gharavi: “What Bothers You So Much?”

Who is the director pushing for a Black Cleopatra?

Not many people have heard of the name Tina Gharavi until now. In the wake of the questionable casting of the up-coming Netflix docu-series Queen Cleopatra, Ms Gharavi is thrust into the public eye, especially after she penned an “exclusive” for the Variety, doubling down on the producers’ decision to cast dark-skinned, bi-racial, British actress Adele James as the titular queen and what she sees as her (“melanated”?) truth. Perhaps Ms James playing the Macedonian-Greek queen would not have aroused this much controversy if the Neftlix show is not touted as a “docudrama featuring reenactments and expert interviews” that included an unidentified individual who does not “care what they tell you in school”. Many consider a documentary—even dramatised—to veer to the side of established truth, but Netflix prefers that it “shows a side of the infamous royal you haven’t seen before”—a queen that Ms Ghavari describes as Black. She rebukes those who do not agree, “what bothers you so much about a Black Cleopatra?” Strangely, Netflix would not allow the viewers of the trailer to answer that question. On YouTube, it had the comment option turned off.

The streaming platform has not responded to the casting controversy either, but Tina Gharavi was quick to hit back at those who do not concur with her position on her subject’s skin colour, insisting that “it is more likely that Cleopatra looked like our actor than Elizabeth Taylor ever did”. In a laughable introduction to her Variety piece, the British-American Iranian director, who is based on both sides of the Atlantic, in Newcastle and Los Angeles, claimed that a “fortune teller” told her—“ever the sceptic but game for a laugh”—that she shares Cleopatra’s story and both “are connected”. The connection was established, as the seer foretold, when, a month later, the production company behind Queen Cleopatra called, and she was offered the directing job. “The joke”, she wrote, was on her. Perhaps, more than that, by regaling the reader with her exposure to such colourful divination, she was possibly also illustrating the triumph of oracular utterance and wishful thinking.

There is another connection. Ms Ghavari helpfully establishes that, born in Iran, she is Persian. She asserts that Cleopatra’s “heritage has been attributed at one time or another to the Greeks, the Macedonians and the Persians.” There is clearly kinship here, and, therefore, “why shouldn’t Cleopatra be a melanated sister?” Like she is? (She’d have you know “that Persians have a long, long history of female warriors,” as she once told Primetime.) Cultural and visual evidence, as cited by historians and Egyptologists (including Dr Zahi Hawass), be damned. I want her black! Ms Ghavari asked: “And why do some people need Cleopatra to be white?” Similarly, why does she need Cleopatra to be Black? Might she desire Joan of Arc, someone she’s “particularly inspired by” to be Black, too? She gleefully applies another wonky reasoning for her conclusion that the queen cannot be of a lighter skin colour: “Cleopatra was eight generations away from these Ptolemaic ancestors, making the chance of her being white somewhat unlikely.” Can the obsession for a Black Cleopatra distance one from thinking with a rational basis? If she is right, are the hans (汉人), for example, many more generations later, less Chinese than their ancestors? Or, “somewhat unlikely”?

In a laughable introduction to her Variety piece, the Iranian director claimed that a “fortune teller“ told her, “ever the sceptic but game for a laugh”, that she shares Cleopatra’s story and both “are connected”

Of the choice of the lead, Ms Gharavi writes, “we found in Adele James an actor who could convey not only Cleopatra’s beauty, but also her strength.” The Greek biographer Plutarch was less complementary when it came to how the ruler looked. Writing a century after the queen’s demise, he said: “For her beauty, as we are told, was in itself not altogether incomparable, nor such as to strike those who saw her”. Team Queen Cleopatra would probably call that misogynistic. To Ms Ghravari, it would be “misogynoir”—her preferred charge, assuming she is right about Cleopatra being discernibly Black. We try not to connect this forcefulness of her thought to wokeness (essentially an African-American alertness), but it is hard not to when she is adamant that “we need to liberate our imaginations, and boldly create a world in which we can explore our historical figures without fearing the complexity that comes with their depiction.” Create! Does that mean she can delineate those historical figures as she pleases, let them evolved from her impassioned imagination, independent of established scholarship?

Tina Gharavi was born in Tehran in 1972, a month after Nixon visited the capital—the first time in thirteen years that a U.S. president stepped on Iranian soil. At age 6, in the year of the Islamic Revolution in 1979, she left her homeland to join her father in Loughborough, England. Her parents were divorced then. She revealed to her mom in her second documentary Mother/Country (2002), “You don’t understand how hard it was for me to grow up without my mother.” It is not known if she still carries that baggage with her or if it shapes her approach to making documentaries or how she sees her subjects. She calls herself “a citizen of everywhere” (on Twitter she is “stateless”), and claims to carry “no less than four passports”. She has lived in the UK, New Zealand, France, and the US, where she attended high school in New Jersey. Trained as a painter at Rutgers University initially, she continued her studies in film at Le Fresnoy, a “post-graduate art and audio-visual research centre” (in Northern France), as the school describes itself. It was during this time, when she was offered a residency position in the institution in 2000 that her first documentary Closer—a script-less portrait of a 17-year-old lesbian from Newcastle—was made. The biggest acknowledgement of her work came when she was nominated for a BAFTA in 2014 for I am Nasrine, a docu-feature about a pair of brother-and-sister immigrants from, unsurprisingly, Iran, and their life in the UK.

In a 2013 interview with film festival organiser Birds Eye View, Tina Gharavi said that her early attempts with film work “slowly became documentary and then documentary with fiction and now it’s fiction with some documentary.” She reiterated that equation to Zanan TV two years later, saying, “I make documentaries and fiction films; I have actually managed to combine both.” It can be said that with Queen Cleopatra, she demonstrated that skill—described as “cross-platform”, as well as showed that “people have been thought to fear Blackness”. Additionally, Ms Gharavi said she could care less in appealing to the “intellectual documentary” audience. “I’m not interested in objectivity,” she stressed. “In fact, I’m more interested in making sure my subjectivity is clear, and really pronounced. I want to tell people who I am when I am making a film. From your privilege comes subjectivity. When I teach documentary film-making… I say to students, ‘You, know, it is all fiction’.” Now, we do. Queen Cleopatra isn’t revisionist; it’s just a tale.

Illustration: Just So

Bold Retro Vibes

New Balance hits another winning stride with its collaboration with Junya Watanabe

Adidas might be on a collab rush, now that they have axed their partnership with the beleaguered Yeezy (however, the Three Stripes is still laden with stocks), but it is New Balance that is, judiciously, teaming up with some of the most noteworthy/established/discreet names. Their latest is with Junya Watanabe, featuring NB’s not-bombastic URC30, also dubbed as the ‘Trackster’. Nothing dramatic or shape-shifting is done to the shoe, but Mr Watanabe did put together some striking colour combos, and still letting the the retro posturing shine through. The shoes were shown last June’s in the collab-centric spring/summer 2023 collection, which saw licensed images/graphics from artists fashion brands love to turn to, such as Andy Warhol, Jean Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring and Roy Lichtenstein.

Mr Watanabe is a fairly regular NB collaborator. His choice of the URC30 this season is a silhouette that’s a tad fancier than the 574 of the previous season although the vibrancy is still there. The URC 30 shoe is inspired by football kicks as seen in the quilted upper (leather, suede and overlays of synthetic material) and the jagged rubber outsole. The mid-sole—twin laters of white and blue—sits atop the outsole in the back half of the shoe and juts out in the rear, as many so-called cool kicks still do, but ever so slightly, which is a boon to those who wear their shoes in sizes larger than 10 and fear the heel steppers among MRT commuters in a crowded train are ever present. The URC 30 is, in fact, not bulky on the feet—a sleekness that’s always appreciated.

Junya Watanabe X New Balance URC 30, SGD440, is available at DSMS. Photo: New Balance

Cleopatra: Black Or Not?

In Netflix’s latest docu-series, the famous Egyptian queen is played by an actress with dark skin. History buffs are not amused and Egyptologists are calling it “black-washing”

British actress Adele James plays Cleopatra in a soon-to-air Netflix series, Screen shot: Netflix/Youtube

The trailer of Netflix’s Queen Cleopatra from the new African Queens docu-series, despite being merely two-minute long, is ruffling more than a few feathers. The titular character, when she first appeared in a green usekh (neckwear), is visibly Black. For many scholars, historians, Egyptians, and Egyptian-royalty buffs, Cleopatra was not. The role of the queen who ruled the land of the pyramids from 51 to 31 B.C., but had eyes on Roman men is played by British actress Adele James. She looks not quite the Cleopatra of popular imagination, darker-skinned than most depicted on the big screen, which is not necessarily objectionable if the general consensus isn’t so skewed towards the belief that Queen Cleopatra of Egypt isn’t as Black as Queen Ramonda of Wakanda. So unacceptable the former’s presently depicted skin colour is that, in Egypt, a lawyer has taken legal action to prevent Netflix from screening the four-parter in his country. Famed Egyptologist and Egypt’s former minister of state for antiquities affairs Dr Zahi Hawass waded into the contentious flare-up, responding to the controversial Netflix casting in a Facebook post three days ago, “Cleopatra wasn’t brown… Cleopatra was not black.”

According to Dr Hawass, she “was originally Greek, and if we look at the statues and figures of her father and brother, we will not find any evidence to support this claim [that the queen was black]”. The last queen of Egypt’s ethnicity and skin colour has, for a very long time, been part of the discussion of her identity even if her acumen and achievement left more to history than the melanin in her skin. Most scholars concur that Cleopatra was of Greek-Macedonian stock. Or, southern European, simply out. She was legitimately part of the Macedonian-led Ptolemaic kingdom, an ancient Greek state based in Egypt. Her ancestor Ptolemy I was a general and a bodyguard (some even say “companion”) of Alexander the Great; he began his rule over Egypt after the former’s demise. Ptolemy I died in 282 BC and there was a 200-plus-year gap between then and the time Cleopatra was born. Anything could have happened in that time gap, the Netflix series seems to suggest—it’s hard to say for sure that the Ptolemaic line wasn’t diluted.

In fact, some scholars suggest that the family did not strictly adhere to the Greek-Macedonian pedigree. Cleopatra’s father, Ptolemy XII, was not Black either, but it is not certain he didn’t beget offspring with women who did not share his ethnicity (even when inbreeding was the norm back then and before among the Ptolemaic clan). It is not conclusively known who Cleopatra’s mother or grandmother was (just speculation). Women were not much mentioned, alive or dead, until the rein of Cleopatra (by now VII; yes, there were another six before her—including her supposed mother—named Cleopatra, essentially a Greek moniker, meaning ‘glory of the father’), who was the last of the Ptolemaic rulers of Egypt. Supporters of the idea of an ethnically African queen speculated that there could be Black wives or concubines, and, therefore, the possibility of the ruler with Egyptian/African blood coursing through her. But there is nothing that would say conclusively that Cleopatra was a Black African. But, a guest on Queen Cleopatra (which Netflix describes as “the true story”) insists, “I don’t care what they tell you in school, Cleopatra was Black.”

Adele James as Cleopatra without the royal diadem. Screen shotNetflix/Youtube

But, the producers of Queen Cleopatra, including the wife of an infamous he-who-slaps, Jada Pinkett Smith (who is also the narrator of the series), seem unconcerned that they could be walking on a minefield with their assertion and casting choice. Ms Pinkett Smith said of African Queens, “I really wanted to represent Black women”, as quoted in Tudum, “the companion site to Netflix”. But director Tina Gharavi was more vocal, writing—considerably miffed—in Variety, “the known facts are that her Macedonian Greek family—the Ptolemaic lineage—intermarried with West Asian’s Seleucid dynasty and had been in Egypt for 300 years. Cleopatra was eight generations away from these Ptolemaic ancestors, making the chance of her being white somewhat unlikely.” She did not say who the “known facts” are acknowledged by or who married who that led to a Black Cleopatra, only that “what a political act it would be to see Cleopatra portrayed by a Black actress.” While she concurred that, with the skin colour of her subject, “we do not know for sure,” she was proud with “a reimagined Cleopatra”. Defiantly, she added, “Why shouldn’t Cleopatra be a melanated sister?”

It is almost impossible to portray historical figures accurately—Cleopatra included. No woman would come close to resembling her, even when it can’t be determined how she looked or what her true skin colour was. When Gal Gadot was cast as Cleopatra in 2020 in a still-to-be-titled film (it is still in the making), there was accusations of “white-washing”. She told the BBC at that time: “First of all if you want to be true to the facts then Cleopatra was Macedonian. We were looking for a Macedonian actress that could fit Cleopatra. She wasn’t there, and I was very passionate about Cleopatra.” And she wanted to bring the last of the Ptolemaic ruler in Egypt “to the big screen in a way she’s never been seen before. To tell her story for the first time through women’s eyes, both behind and in front of the camera”. Similarly, Netflix’s Queen Cleopatra is also a project put together by women, but only now, they believe their royal was “melanated”. Regrettably, there seems to be a defensive, take-it-or-leave-it response on the part of the participants of the docu-series to the casting of the titular role. Adele James, who, like Meghan Markle, is biracial, Tweeted in reaction to the disapproval (some hateful) of her lead role, “If you don’t like the casting don’t watch the show”—basically tell those who isn’t on her side to sod off.

Dr Zahi Hawass, careful to add that he was “not anti-black”, was emphatic on Facebook: “she was similar to the queens and princesses of Macedona,” he wrote, adding: “I am not against black people at all but here I am just listing the evidence that Cleopatra was not black at all.” Mr Hawass may have forgotten that we live in an era of a Black Anne Boleyn (Jodie Turner-Smith in the 2021 TV series of the same name). If beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, why not history? Could that be the message of Queen Cleopatra? In an already complex world with different versions of a single truth, a revisionist take of characters of the past seems a consistent order of the day. Sure, we can understand the need for a Black designer at the White-owned Louis Vuitton with a considerably white history, but it is a tad tricky to comprehend Netflix’s commitment to an indisputably dark-skinned actress to take on the role of Cleopatra. In time, we should not be surprised if a Black actress gets to play the lead in the biography of, say, Jane Austin (why couldn’t she have more melanin than Ann Radcliffe, or Mary Shelly?)? And why stop there? Why not Angela Bassett as Wu Zetian (武则天)? We are also not anti-black, and can’t wait for a hei (Black) Yang Guifei (杨贵妃).

One Nylon Bag

…is top of The Lyst Index of Fashion’s “hottest products”. And it is not a luxury brand

Trending now from the just-released Q1 2023 “hottest brands” ranking of The Lyst Index is a pair of labels from the Prada Group that has taken the top two spots: Prada, followed by Miu Miu. Many Prada followers are thrilled that the once languishing proponent of nylon bags as luxury accessories has again stayed at the apex after Q4 2022’s admiral climb to the very top. The brand’s leading position is hardly surprising, considering that Prada has been enjoying an impressive run since Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons became co-designers in 2020, and generated €3.252 million (or about SGD4,755,278) in retail sales last year, as reported by the brand. Miu Miu is definitely no laggard, clocking at €432 million last year (possibly because they used less cloth with those popular ultra-mini-skirts?). Sure, the combined sales pale in comparison to Louis Vuitton’s (ranked 13 on the Index) €20 billion, but Prada has shown that not outdoing the world’s most valuable luxury brand is not necessarily a bad thing.

Prada’s nylon bags may still be the ones that many with no aversion to high prices turn to when looking for soft, less structured crossbodies, but one that seems to trump those with the inverted triangle plaque is from Uniqlo. According to The Lyst Index’s less buzzy “hottest products” listing, the Japanese brand’s ‘Round Mini Shoulder Bag’ is “the cheapest product to ever be featured” in the top-ten line-up (it sits at the top). And it’s one of only two bags that made the list (the other is the USD1,080 [or SGD1,440] heart-shaped Alaïa Le Coeur). A considerable triumph since the bag, launched last April, is not likely to be coveted for its exceptional stylishness, although Uniqlo does describe it as an article of “sophisticated design”. What clearly worked in its favour is the more-than-59-million views it has enjoyed on TikTok so far, with users showing how much more they can stuff into the little satchel.

It is a practical bag, moderately larger than the average sacoche, but definitely more capacious. Uniqlo is confident that “it easily handles all your daily essentials, such as your phone, wallet and water bottle”. You might, in fact, fit a compact umbrella in it if the water bottle is not a must. (There are two interior pockets for receipts and such.) Although Uniqlo describes the shape of the bag as “round”, it is more of a half-round, something akin to kidney shape, especially after it’s weighted, with hints of Loewe’s ‘Luna’ (or something cheaper, Kangol’s ‘Light Travel Round’). The bag is lightly padded and comes in two surface treatments, one with a smooth finish (water repellent) and the other “with a naturally wrinkled texture”. Both feel good to the touch As the bag is padded, it is comfortable to hold or to carry close to the body. The unisex bag is available in a large array of colours (we counted close to ten), as well as those in prints that are a collaboration with the estate of Keith Haring. Perhaps more crucial, at S$19.90, it is what social media users call “a steal”. Or, perhaps, to others, “luxury”.

Uniqlo Round Mini Shoulder Bag is available in stores and online. Photo: Zhao Xiangji