Balenciaga Couture For The Young

…and hip-hop stars. Is this the collection to change haute couture’s trajectory?

It’s at least two years in the making. This is Demna Gvasalia’s first couture collection ever and Balenciaga’s first after 53 years. And the first featuring menswear. The house closed its doors in 1968, and slammed the door shut on its haute couture division for more than half a decade. Now it’s back with a bang, but hushed by the cream carpeted floors and matching drapery of its restored salon in their haute couture quarters on 10 Avenue Georges V, Paris. Half way across the globe, we were paying close attention to our PC monitor screen for the presentation to start (it was late, and kicked off after the arrival of Bella Hadid!). The opening screen at first showed what appeared to be a label, set (not stitched) against a beige background. Below, it said, “Welcome to the Salon”, not show. When the livestream began, we saw a room (and later a corridor) and people were mingling, waiting for the show to start. For most of the day earlier, social media was heavy with expectation. Balenciaga’s ready to wear is enough to get people talking. This was predicted to break the Internet.

But it didn’t. Balenciaga’s social media pages were restored around the time of the live-streaming of the couture show, or at least Instagram and Twitter were. But was it all the rave it was expected to be? Sure, there would be those for whom Balenciaga couture can do no wrong. But, unlike in the past, there would not be the likes of Mona von Bismarck—who, according to Diana Vreeland, did not leave her room in her villa in Carpri for three days when Cristóbal Balenciaga closed his atelier in 1968—to buy and wear his clothes and visually rave about them. How many influencers can afford couture? Now, it is quite a different clientele, or audience. Men were many—James Harden, Lil Baby, Kanye West (face mysteriously concealed, but everyone knew it was him!), and others. The presence of these men, predominantly hip-hop stars, strengthen the believe that streetwear has arrived at couture houses. Once it was the aesthetics of the couture that trickled down to the pret-a-porter. Now the reverse is true. Haute couture can’t be that high up anymore.

It isn’t quite clear yet if streetwear needs further elevating or if couture needs to be less rarified. Or if streetwear, like Black designers, still needs validation. Should we call it streetwear now that even the T-shirt has a place in Balenciaga couture, although not the least a simple one? But Demna Gvasalia has not entirely distance himself from the DNA of the house known for not creating clothes that follow the lines and shapes of women’s bodies. Mr Gvasalia, adept at using negative spaces in clothes to striking effect, continues Balenciaga’s manipulation and exaggeration of shape. Continuing is key here. He called the show the “50th”. He is reopening the doors that stayed shut, and within the hallowed and hush grounds (the show was sans soundtrack, like in the old days—you could hear the rustling/swishing of the clothes. Silk taffeta!), continued showing where the last great collection was presented. And Mr’s referential and confident nod to the man whose name he now leads is exciting the wealthy young who are unable to yoke themselves to the stubbornly old-school houses such as Chanel.

But is it the great collection we have been waiting for? Or, a refresher course? We have mixed feelings. This does not have the WTF-are-those punch in the gut of Mr Gvasalia’s first outing with the house after Alexander Wang’s totally unsurprising departure in 2015. It certainly has the spirit; it has the shapes, it has the proportions; it has the textures, but does it sing—or rap? We thought we heard a hum, but only what Mr Gvasalia could intone. Is the anorak, with a back of Watteau pleats, the new opera coat? Is the cable sweater, woven with chaîne gourmette by the textile design atelier of Jean Pierre Ollier, the new hoodie? Is the bathrobe, in super-fine micro-knifed leather (actually, ciseaux-ed. Is it heavy?), the new trench? Is the floor-length padded coat, oversized and tented, the new Andre Leon Talley’s beloved “sleeping bag coat”? Is the pieced-together-by-hand leather, made into a flounced skirt, the new embossed leather? Is Demna Gvasalia, hidden away in the atelier while the guests applauded, the new “master” of them all?

Screen grab (top) and photos: Balenciaga

“If You Want A Pair, You Have To Buy Two”

From the look of the box, you’d never guess, there’s only one shoe inside

By Shu Xie

The cheerful salesperson at the Lego store was very quick to tell me, even before I could complete my question, that there is only one shoe in the box with the flip-up lid, not a pair. Frankly, I didn’t know that. I have never bought a single shoe before, nor do I know that shoes are sold singly! The recognisable blue boxes—stacked on the floor, as you might find in a shoe shop—certainly look like the regular ones: there is room in each for two. As if to placate my disappointment, she added helpfully, “you can choose right or left side”. Choose? They come as right or left? “No, but you can fix it as a right shoe or left.” Such thoughtful option! But when I looked at the built-up sneaker, placed on top of a shoe box in the acrylic showcase, I couldn’t tell if it was the left or the right (there is apparently a separate bag with the right parts for you to get the side you want). Despite the “real shoelaces” that Lego proudly announced, it appeared as it was—unwearable.

The Lego Adidas Originals Superstar is the toy maker’s first sneaker that is built with their plastic bricks, and conceived for adults. Adidas and Lego have collaborated before. There were shoes and even clothing (for kids, if I remember correctly), but never has there been the toy footwear. Like most of their special-edition items, Lego’s take on the Superstar is for display only. It is massive for a toy shoe—at least men’s size 15, I thought! But since it’s 27-centimetres in length, they are really a very common US size 9 (UK 8 or Euro 42.5), which would sit nicely on top of a book case. It comes with all the logos and trademarks to make it look “authentic”. And, you can even customise it with whatever bricks you already have so that they do not need to look monochromatic. It also comes with a clear stand so that you can prop up the heel (as seen in the photo above). A small plaque with description is also issued, so that the less informed will not mistake it for a Stan Smith!

At S$149.90, the one-sided Lego Adidas Originals Superstar (with a total of 731 pieces) is actually more expensive than the wearable version. I didn’t think it would be, but it is. At the Foot Locker, the regular Superstar in the same colour combination can be bought for S$139. An enticing bargain? But, soon to be released is a very real iteration of the Lego-fied Superstar—in a synthetic upper, but with no buildable parts. The Adidas Superstar X Lego costs S$200, or S$100 a side. A replica of a replica! And a price to match, but still cheaper than its plastic cousin!

The Lego Adidas Originals Superstar, SGD149.90, is available at Lego stores. Photo: Chin Boh Kay/SOTD

A Lifetime Less Ordinary

Undercover has not gone Madstore bonkers. Their latest offerings are not as street-bent as the brand is known for. Are these clothes for some secret commune?

In troubled times, do people dream of a monastic life? Or something close to that? Undercover’s first set of photos from their pictures-only presentation of their spring/summer 2022 collection suggests a retreat to some place less manic, more bucolic. This is not the setting we imagine Jun Takahashi, stalwart of the Harajuku street scene of the early ’90s, would place his designs in. But there they are, shot against lush hillside greenery, with a foreground of wooden decking that looks like a verandah of someone’s country home. Or, some monastic hideaway. Perhaps it is the hat that each of the first ten models has on—something akin to what a Taoist priest might wear?

The collection is called Once a Lifetime. It is not immediately clear what Mr Takahashi is alluding to. Could it be the pandemic? The WFH? The difficulties in putting a collection together during such a time? Or that maybe, for once in a lifetime, we need clothes that are a reflection of assuring and positive realness? Like the output of so many of the Japanese menswear designers this season, there’s an outdoorsy vibe to the clothes (outside is safer than inside?). But these are not really trekking togs although they wouldn’t be out of place anywhere on a trail (you’d need the right shoes, though). What’s appealing is that they look ready for any rough-and-tumble, for any weather condition, for serious use, not just for leisure pursuits. They are are not challenging clothes, but they have a lure that says, with their addition, you don’t need to revamp your wardrobe.

“No more street style,” Mr Takahashi told Highsnobiety in 2019. He has largely kept to his word. Since his spring/summer 2020 show, Undercover has put out pieces that can add variety to one’s closet, to go beyond what many guys consider comfort clothes. For close to 30 years, Mr Takahashi’s streetwear (not entirely an accurate description since he has offered more than that), with its own conceptual heft and visual flair, was what many aspiring designers look to for some old-fashion inspiration. Mr Takahashi has an uncommon eye for graphic uniqueness that so impressed Valentino’s Pierpaolo Piccioli that the latter initiated a collab with Undercover for spring/summer 2020, featuring Mr Takahashi’s somewhat otherworldly visuals (flying saucers!), placed in not-the-usual spots on the clothes (this collab, to us is the “pinnacle”, not the one with Off-White in 2019!). While there is now a moving away from those elements that make Undercover the brand among those who truly know and are cool at the same time: the beloved graphics remain: T-shirts, roomier than ever, come with colourful shapes that wouldn’t be out of place in a Alexander Calder mobile.

As usual, the outers are alluring. Japanese designers simply have a way with them, and even the unassuming windbreakers show the Undercover predilection for the progressive, and in a sheer nylon the colour of amber. The blazers are beautifully relaxed in silhouette, quite the antithesis of the couture versions shown in Paris that men are now thought to lust after. There is also the hoodie/cargo jogger sets with bag label Eastpak to make the regular customers happy. But this post can’t be complete without mentioning those comforter-like robe-coats—two appearing at the start of the photo set. How these will find their place in a guy’s regular wardrobe is not immediately clear. There is something utterly relaxed about them, and protective. They defy the need to be paired with anything that says ‘fashion’, holding up on their own with positive elan. Perhaps this is the continual appeal of Undercover—they just make handsome, desirable clothes.

Photos: Undercover

Balenciaga Has Done A Bottega

The brand’s contents on all social media channels have been deleted

Balenciaga’s Instagram page yesterday evening

We were caught unaware; we didn’t think there would be other fashion houses following the track left by Bottega Veneta. Balenciaga is going back to a clean slate. Some time this week, the house whose haute couture division is being brought back by Demna Gvasalia after 53 years, has removed all its content on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. No explanation is given. No statement from Balenciaga yet. Has the cultural and commercial value that brands supposedly derive from social media declined to the point that some may just choose to opt out of Facebook and the like entirely?

People are speculating that this is in preparation of the haute couture show, scheduled for 7 July. But why would the reintroduction of high fashion require the removal of social media content that has been there for a considerable while? Whatever the reason (marketing stunt included), does it not seem a little impertinent to just suddenly wipe out all content when there are still active followers—in the case of Balenciaga’s IG, 11.6 million? And these people don’t care that they’re simply ignored? (Balenciaga already did not bother about what followers had to say when the comment feature was turned off on IG.) Or, have we simply no understanding of how social media works between fashion brands and followers, nor realisation that decorous behaviour doesn’t belong here?

Screen grab: Balenciaga/Instagram

These Stripes Won’t Do

Adidas is at it again. This time, they’re suing Thom Browne

They are four rows instead of three (at least seen in the above photo), yet Adidas thinks Thom Browne’s parallel lines are exactly like the former’s. The German brand is suing Thom Browne for “selling athletic-style apparel (also seen above) and footwear featuring two, three, or four parallel stripes in a manner that is confusingly similar to Adidas’s three-stripe mark,” according to the trademark infringement claim filed in New York and reported in the media. It is understandable that three lines, even of different widths, could be “confusingly similar”, but two or four of them will cause confusion, even when everyone not living under a rock knows Adidas never use less than three? That’s confusing! Or is this because lawyers under Adidas’s payroll need to justify their existence? Don’t you dare!

Trademarks, of course, need to be protected, but is it possible that Adidas does not seem confident of their unmistakable, although unremarkable, graphical branding even as they say, “for over half a century, [they] extensively and continuously [have] used and promoted the three-stripe mark in connection with apparel and footwear”? Despite holding fast to the three stripes, Adidas does not consider it adequate or long enough since “confusing” is apparently the result when similar marks appear. And the only way to make things less “confusing” is to take a litigious approach. According to a 2017 Bloomberg report, Adidas had, by then, filed nearly 50 lawsuits to secure its trademarked stripes.

The suit also stated that, previously, there was mediation between Adidas and Thom Browne, beginning in November 2020. Nothing was resolved, it seems. But in a statement responding to Adidas’s charges—quoted by WWD—a spokesperson claimed that they did their part and “acted honorably for all this time”. He added that “Adidas consented for 12 years and now they’re changing their mind. The court won’t allow that. And consumers won’t as well. It’s an attempt to use the law illegally.”

We do not know that the illegal use of the law exists. But as consumers, we are definitely not confused by Thom Browne’s use of the stripes, which, graphic designers will agree, are themselves generic lines and are “devoid of any distinctive character”, as the EU Intellectual Property Office, which had rejected Adidas’s trademark application, said in 2016 (a ruling upheld by an EU court in 2019). Many of us do no think that the Adidas stripes look anything like Thom Browne’s. But never mind what the rest of us actually think. It only matters what Adidas think we may think, stupid us! Will Adidas sue Kit Kat next?

File photo: Zhao Xiangji/SOTD

Will These KAWS Another Mad Rush?

Uniqlo has announced another KAWS collaboration even when the last was supposed to be the final

The Uniqlo UT X KAWS collaboration was supposed to have ended two years ago, but it’ll soon be bouncing back. Looks like the crashing of Uniqlo store shutters will happen all over again as the young (mostly) rush and trip over themselves to get a piece of the merchandise for either personal consumption or—very likely—to resell online for a ridiculously inflated price. The craze for anything KAWS has not died down since its association with Dior at the start of Kim Jones’s stewardship of the brand’s menswear. KAWS—aka Brian Donnelly— isn’t just known for his own caricatured characters such as the beloved loner Companion, but also cartoon characters such as those from Sesame Street, as seen in another Uniqlo collab. There is no denying the cross-market lure of KAWS, especially in the form of illustrations on fashion items.

We understand that the latest Uniqlo X Kaws pieces will be available only in Japan for the moment. This will be released two weeks from now to commemorate the first major KAWS exhibition in Tokyo (at the capital’s Mori Arts Center Gallery), titled KAWS Tokyo First. The T-shirt (three styles) and tote bag (one) collection, featuring Companion, will be made available as exhibition merchandise at the show venue first, followed by a country-wide Uniqlo store release later. There is no news yet from Uniqlo’s local office if the commemorative merchandise will be available here. Reach out to a kind friend in Tokyo!

Uniqlo X Kaws will be available in Japan from 20 July. Product photos: Uniqlo

American Avant-Garde?

Marc Jacobs returns with a new collection of gigantic hoods and snoods. And, surprisingly, there’s nothing ’70s about it

After a longer-than-one-season break, Marc Jacobs is back, showing—really, really late—autumn/winter 2021 in his native New York. Every time we thought we have seen the final anything for this year, then we wouldn’t be. Americans are naturally thrilled. Mr Jacobs’s collections are the only ones during New York Fashion Week, even now off-calendar, that, as one buyer told us, people actually see. Now that he’s showing at his own pace, fans and observers are even more curious. Will he stand out without his compatriots to compare to (remembering what Tom Ford showed in February now could be hard)? Will the looks in Europe filter down to his runway’s? Will he be the darling of the global press? Mr Jacobs has always known how to make the news, from desecrating the monogram of one luxury brand to starting fashion shows unreasonably late, he has done quite enough attention grabbing. Even his not showing last season was major news. His name is, in fact, rarely not, which makes this collection’s use of his moniker in bold, san-serif font and near-neon colours in place of a monogram a bit of a puzzler.

Perhaps Mr Jacobs does not want you to forget him. The name, therefore, must be masthead-large (and repeated in lines) to be noticeable, just as the clothes are crazily massive to be noted. Would the Marc Jacobs store (or all other stockists retailing his line, such as Bergdorf Goodman) be required to make even more capacious paper bags than usual? These are seriously oversized garments. The 101 ways with Sleeping Bags? In the case of the outers, they look large enough to fit two wearers. In fact, you actually see more clothes that the persons in them. We’re thinking of South Park’s Kenneth “Kenny” McCormick! Mr Jacobs chose to have the runway—in the New York Public Library, rather than his usual Park Avenue Armory—photos shot to see the side of the models. This could be better to highlight the chunky, vaguely ’60s silhouettes, but they give little to how the clothes would look front-facing. A view of the show is, therefore, necessary. The front, too, obscures the body in many instances, sometimes even faces. There could have been droids in those padded cocoons.

For the present, Mr Jacobs has left the ’70s, even if momentarily. He, too, has allowed the usual Yves Saint Laurent and Rei Kawakubo grips to weaken. Despite the outre shapes and the unwieldy proportions, there seems to be semblance of looking back—to the ’60, first, in what has been described as “space age-y”—those outerwear and their attendant hoods or padded balaclavas, vaguely recalling the futurism of André Courrèges, and secondly, the dresses with medallion-sized paillettes, vaguely bringing to mind Paco Rabanne. Mr Jacobs is a master plunderer of the past, positioning what he acquires at points just past the present. He has taken the vintage-y out of the space age-y by pumping up the volume of the clothes or elongating sleeves and skirts. Exaggeration of shape is not exactly new these days, but New York designers have not been enthralled by the practice. Mr Jacobs knows, therefore, that he can draw attention with the goofy enlargement, and re-establish himself as the American who can.

So the practicable is replaced by the outlandish, as he sends out massive jackets and coats (their size augmented by the skinniness of the pants or the outrageous girth of their legs); some hooded coats placed over heads like wearable tipis. Even Mr Jacobs’s prim jackets with rounded collars are upsized. The puffer jackets are even larger, some with hoods the size of African elephants ears, and one, with a hooded snood as tall and wide as a 20-litre water dispenser bucket. The puffers are so bulky, they come with straps so that you can carry them like backpacks. Whatever cannot be made excessively larger are lengthened: shoulders and sleeves, skirts and pants (so long that they require platform Mary Janes to prevent them from dragging). Veil-like hoods (in sweater knit) are so long, they look like chadors from afar. Paillettes destined for discotheques appear on skirts and dresses, and granny cardis, or are shaped into bib-sized neckwear. The collection also shows Mr Jacobs to be an avid colorist: brights are paired with more brights, sometimes with vintage-looking graphic patterns in the richer shades of ecclesiastical robes. All in all, lots to see, but how much of them will really arouse desire? Marc Jacobs is hopeful; he calls the collection Happiness.

Photos: Marc Jacobs

The Hills Are Alive

White Mountaineering shows stylish outdoor clothes to live in

In Japan, there are spectacular open outdoor spaces to go to unwind and escape. And they are beautiful, immense and beckoning, too. Just any view, any angle of majestic Mount Fuji will leave you in no doubt the extent of nature’s striking gifts for the island-country. And for all seasons too (the colours!). Unsurprising, therefore, that the Japanese love exploring their stunning outdoors. White Mountaineering too—it is against a verdant hillside (and soundtrack by the uplifting electronic sounds of Yehezkel Raz and Jameson Nathan Jones) that the Japanese label presents their spring/summer 2022 collection, perhaps giving the brand the visual context it has never really needed. O’er vales and hills, to quote Williams Wordsworth, the models (a cast of just 18) walk down meandering tracks and on wooden footpaths over bubbling brooks. This is one of the most refreshing collections of Paris Fashion Week. Nothing arid! There is no desperate hope that after the pandemic eases, we will party like there’s no tomorrow. White Mountaineering has more pastoral pursuits.

‘Gorpcore’, of course, comes to mind. But Yosuke Aizawa is not such an obvious designer and White Mountaineering is not The North Face. Called Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, which, frankly sounds a little camp to us (anything that references the Supremes usually is, even when no Motown sound is heard!), the collection proves that even if the clothes are bound for the hills, they can still have the slickness of the city, and you wouldn’t look like you need to change before going downtown. If you step into White Mountaineering’s Tokyo flagship in Daikanyama, the log-cabin-like fixtures might remind you of ski stores in Niseko, but the merchandise are decidedly urban in their aesthetical bent and stylishness. These are worn by city folks with a holiday home—and somewhere to go—in the mountains.

White Moutaineering often notes that their clothes “blend into daily life”, but this isn’t akin to Uniqlo’s Lifewear. Lines are blurred: Seemingly simple pieces have the technical advantage of performance wear. Even if you need a suit for apres-hike soirees, it comes in such relaxed shapes (and are lapel-less) that they would not be different from wearing a cardigan-and-slacks combo, almost erasing the divide between casual and dressy. Even if there’s the severity of the functional, the collection do bear some semblance of fun. Mr Aizawa is no slouch when it comes to the slouchy that is sleek and designed with some twist of detail. Bomber jackets have the cheeriness of their souvenir cousins, walking shorts come with prints of fruits (some cut into halves—apples, lemon, dragon fruit, pomegranate!) or phoenix-like bird creatures, utility jackets are with front-centre chest pocket, bombers have the pockets of truckers, shirts have the pockets of utility jackets, trousers are half-cargos, half-chinos (pleated!), and we could go on. To be sure, these are not hybridisation in the vernacular of Sacai. Mr Aizawa, a former employee at Comme des Garçons, was a protégé of Junya Watanabe, and it is in the latter’s work that he finds common ground, but in aesthetically different ways.

White Moutaineering is, perhaps, more prescient than the credits accorded them would have us believe. When the brand was launched back in 2006, outdoor clothing was not part of fashion as we know it today. Now, even hip-hop styles cop the garments worn by hikers, after all the vintage track jackets and pants have become limited in their ability to provide deep inspiration (interestingly, Mr Aizawa is a serious hip-hop fan). White Mountaineering was born out of its founder’s love of outdoor sports, particularly snowboarding, and therein lies the brand’s realness and authenticity within what Mr Aizawa likes to refer to as “mode” (French for fashion). After a season of what-to-make-of-them looks, it is refreshing to see this (mountain) runway-to-(city) sidewalk relatability, or what SOTD contributor Ray Zhang calls, with palpable relief, “for the rest of us”.

Screen grab (top) and photos: White Moutaineering

Walking On The Spot

Kolor is on track to delivering some of the coolest clothes, when it’s time to mingle and impress

You can always depend on Kolor to colour what could be turning out to be the pandemic-influenced preference for drabs. Fashion is grappling with loungewear-goes-to-the-street on one hand and ready-to-party-clothes-for-all-occasions on the other. Many designers believe that when things go back to normal (as they surely must), we we will want extraordinary clothes that look like they truly deserve the attention that is now mostly lost to a disease people are sick of. Junichi Abe does not negate the truth that when we’re out of the woods, we’d want comfortable clothes, as well as those that say we’re embracing fashion again. And these could be garments that are the sum of what we have worn before, pre- or, hopefully coming soon, post-pandemic. A happy amalgamation of all those that had brought us joy and comfort, in ways that they had not been able to in the past year, at least visually.

Yet, if the spring/summer collection looks a tad similar, it’s because Mr Abe’s design approach this season seems like a version 2.0 of his autumn/winter 2021 collection. Could this be a natural progression of designs started during the lockdowns that struck so many countries and progressed to a time when social restrictions are still very much a part of our lives? Perhaps that could also explain Kolor’s presentation. The space is the neutral confines of, say, a theatrical black box. The models walk on a short treadmill (barely half the length of what you would find in a gym, and operating at a speed that would feel like a stroll). Despite the walk, the models are essentially in the same spot. An observation of how we are all essentially in one position, at the same time, even if the optimists among us think we’re heading towards a better place? And does the pair of flanking robotic arms with cameras attached to them, to zoom in on the walkers—garment parts recognition, too, enabled?—work like contact tracing devices and apps, tracking us and the clothes we wear? How this must delight the fashion police!

Kolor has always been about the compositional. Increasingly, it is more so. Their individual pieces feel like parts of clothes we are familiar with that are taken apart and then reassembled on those we are still familiar with. The less imaginative might think these are scraps or remnants from the sampling room, but upon closer inspection, it can be seen that they are not odd bits and pieces of an upcycling project (if only fashion upcycling is this good-looking). The parts are ‘site-specific’ and are knitted and woven to be placed in those exact spots that they are destined to reside in. Despite the seeming randomness, a collar remains a collar, a yoke stays where it is supposed to be. They come together as a coherent whole, not some fashion Frankenstein (as our description might make them out to be): a jacket still looks like a jacket, a sweater is recognisable; so is a dress. The result maybe off-beat, but they are not weird or require a manual to wear. They may look a tad busy (how do we iron them? Can the parts be dismantled?), and sometimes we do wonder if we need clothes with such extraneous additions, but a closer look at them will excite those who are intrigued by such dressmaking intricacies and improbabilities.

A co-ed collection is shown and, for both men and women, the approach is the same. These are not hybrid clothes; these are clothes with parts, not necessarily from the type of garment on which they appear. The first look for men typifies those to come: a top coat appears to have the top left half of a pique polo shirt, draped over the shoulder of the same side, but the collar seems to be part of the inner garment, the actual polo top, which seems to sport three collars! A simple collar and we’re fixated. But they are hydra-collars! As it turns out, the coat too has a polo collar and the actual polo has a collar and a half (forgive us if you are not following. See the second top photo)! What’s with all those collars? That’s why Kolor is a joy to behold: it does not immediately make sense. These are not quite as much cut and sew than rip and tack. Where do they begin and where does one find the end? Sure, many consumers do not need fashion to challenge the mind. Just make me look good, goes the common plea. But why settle for less—a lot less—when there could be more to play with and to dress the mind?

Screen grabs (top) and photos: Kolor

Music Cred To Boost Whatever That Needs Boosting

Dior has enlisted Travis Scott for input. Is Kim Jones showing off just how well connected he is?

Why do it alone when you can do it with someone else? Serial collaborator Kim Jones is at it again. Just fresh off a design partnership with Sacai, he has paired with Travis Scott to give the hip-hop star, considered one of the most stylish of them all, a jab at designing luxury clothes. Mr Jones’s Dior is increasingly a community club for people he appreciates to come and lend their voices. Many are not from fashion, but the art world. Sacai’s Chitose Abe was the second fashion professional after Shaw Stussy (the collabs with Alyx and Yoon Ahn yielded only accessories) to be invited. Ms Abe is considered a mountain of a talent and will soon present her debut haute couture for Jean Paul Gaultier, yet she was asked to collaborate on a 57-piece, off-season capsule Dior collection. Mr Scott, whose fashion talents are as a “style icon”, with a “cool wardrobe” and prolific drops in sneakers and other streetwear items linked to his name, gets to do the main line of a main season.

It is not likely Travis Scott’s input is the same as Chitose Abe’s, yet the Dior spring/summer collection features him as their star collaborator. For those in doubt of Mr Travis’s skill level (admittedly we are among the many; we still are), Dior released a video clip on Instagram, showing La Flame working (er, looks to us he was struggling) at a sewing machine. But that perhaps doesn’t matter as fans of the brand and the man would likely find that cute. What matters is the name—also the father of Kylie Jenner’s daughter (we do not know if the parents are married or if they are even together). Perhaps, just as importantly is Mr Scott’s standing as a fashionista and a fashion impresario. The collab is known as Cactus Jack Dior, so named because of the support to youngsters that Mr Scott’s Cactus Jack Foundation, a spin-off of his Cactus Jack Records (there is also a books division Cactus Jack Publishing), offers to those seeking fashion education. There were initial problems with the use of the Cactus Jack name—even the WWE tried to stop it being trademarked as the professional wrestler Mick Foley shares the same (nick)name—but Dior presses on with the association.

The image that the cactus often brings to mind is a desert, and it is in this (make-believe) setting that Dior’s show was staged. (Arid lands are themselves a recurrent set theme this menswear season.) This desert tableau is, according to the house, to “celebrate” Christian Dior’s first visit, in 1947, to the United States, where his first port of call was Texas (Mr Scott is Texan!), “whose grand canyons and huge dusty deserts made a lasting impression”. But the runway now isn’t quite that arenaceous vastness; it is prettified—to better frame what pre-show publicity had the media called a “blockbuster collaboration”. Everything is oversized: the desert roses, the cacti (naturally), fungi and a cattle skeleton head. So is the star power. Following the show, the press called it “the first major celebrity fashion moment”. The clothes? Just watch what Travis Scott wears!

In a 2017 interview with GQ Australia to promote his collaboration with the Aussie brand Ksubi, Mr Scott said, “I’m not like a fashion designer, but (the output of the collab) is like a piece of my brain.” In all likelihood, fashion for surviving the desert is the furthest from the designing duo’s minds. It is not immediately clear what is Mr Scott’s contribution to the partnership (other than the graphics such as the cartoonish Dior logotype), but styling tricks are more apparent than disruptive designs. Recurrent are the jackets, worn with the peaked-lapels upturned to reveal their bi-coloured underside. Other lapel shapes are given similar treatment so that the look is near-Edwardian primness and slimness. The lapels, with the left over the right, are held up together with brooches, designed by Dior’s resident jewellery designer Victoire de Castellane, that are attached to a chain and secured to the left ear, just like an Indian nose chain, except fastened to a spot on the jacket just below the collarbone. Every model in such a get-up looks affected. More dressed down are the oversized T-shirts, pulled over tailored looks (lapels worn conventionally), like a teen mistakenly wearing a concert tee instead of a sweater, over a suit instead of under. There are, of course, sweaters, but what their specific place is in fashion, set in a desert is not quite clear.

Not to be left out are the feminine silhouettes seen elsewhere during these past fashion weeks. Floaty poncho-shirts with busy scribbles by American artist George Condo, bell-bottom pants and those that could be unzipped from the hem of the outseams to give a wider leg opening, and layered shorts that could give the impression of skirts at a quick glance keep to the overall mood of the moment. Accessories are similarly less mannish. Apart from the jewellery (and whatever those sparkly danglies swinging from belt loops are), there are the getting-smaller-by-each-season bags (is the man bag still of popular usage?). For once the Saddle bag—now even with a saddle handle!—seems be to be set in the right context. Giddy-up! This is perhaps a cross-border triumph of inclusivity for Dior: a British designer collaborating with an African-American designer from Texas. The brand has a Black-creative ally. At last.

Photos: Dior

Two Of A Kind: Riddle This!

One green costume is showing up as a bag

The Riddler vs Louis Vuitton

Virgil Abloh is good, very good. He can reference anything, and the results would be lauded and loved. In just one spring/summer 2022 collection, he can go, with considerable ease, from the winner of the inaugural Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design’s unmistakable wrapped-up heads to comic super-villain the Riddler’s distinctive costume with those questions marks against that green. But only now, at the maison of Louis Vuitton, the Riddler’s onesie is still his. Mr Abloh has, without question, taken the question marks (in similar font and in different sizes) and the extreme green, but has turned them into a Keepall Bandoulière! It went almost unnoticed among the many other bags shown if not for the very bright colour and the very black interrogation points.

DC comic fans are familiar with The Riddler (aka Edward Nygma), the computer-genius and former employee of millionaire Bruce Wayne. In the comic, the Riddler was convinced by a prostitute he met in a bus that he could be a super villain! When he first appeared as the Riddler in 1948’s Detective Comics, he was kitted in what was commonly referred to as a unitard—essentially a catsuit. It was green (but not as bright as later versions) and littered all over with questions marks in different sizes. He also wore a purple domino mask that matched a rather wide belt with a squarish buckle. The Riddler’s costume went through several changes through the years. A suit, too, was introduced (so that he’d be better dressed when meeting Mr Wayne?). The onesie was tweaked frequently, some time appearing with one single punctuation mark, right in the middle of the chest.

The unmistakable five-sided side of the Keepall Bandoulière

in 1995’s Batman Forever, the Riddler, played by the inimitable Jim Carrey, wore what was then described as a return to the “original costume”. It was a leotard that Mr Carrey was surprisingly able to pull off well. Costume designers Ingrid Ferrin and Bob Ringwood gave the union suit a rather youthful fit (no doubt still tight), with more question marks, placed in graphically fetching randomness. Mr Carrey’s the Riddler had other costumes too, mainly a jacket (not blazer) in the style of the Stalin tunic (some might think it looks like a Mao suit!) that was also green and floridly logo-ed, but it was the leotard that most movie-goers remember. And it is this outfit that seems to be the inspiration behind the Louis Vuitton bag.

The Keepall is considered one of LV’s most popular weekenders. Introduced in 1930, it has been made in different colours and fabrics, and has enjoyed interpretations by the American brand Supreme and the Japanese artist Takashi Murakami. Mr Abloh made the Keepall the must-have when his first remake at his debut season with LV was an iridescent version in transparent embossed Monogram PVC, attached with a chunky cable chain. There has been many versions since, but none we can remember that can be traced to what super-villains wear. We can really hear the Riddler questioning: “Riddle me this, Louis Vuitton. Why won’t you leave me ALONE?”

Photos: Warner Bros/DC Comics and Louis Vuitton

Two Of A Kind: Full Head Covering

Hide, hide, hide

Richard Quinn Vs Louis Vuitton

Since his full fashion presentation for autumn/winter 2018, Richard Quinn has obscured his models’ entire heads. Never mind that the Queen of England was seated in the front row (she was there to present him with the inaugural Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design) and the models looked like they might mug the unsuspecting attendees. At first, Mr Quinn covered his models heads and faces by cleverly tying a scarf over every inch above the shoulder—rather Cristo for head—and then graduating to full-on custom balaclavas that often matched gloves and leggings. It is his, for a lack of a better word, signature—one look and you know it’s Richard Quinn. But these days, one man’s signature is another man’s hack! Or the beginning of the buzzy discourse on who’s copying who. Or amen-breaking!

For Louis Vuitton’s spring/summer 2022, Virgil Abloh, too, covered the head of a few of his models. The balaclavas are there as well, but it is the total head covering and the matching gloves that very much raised our eyebrows. Mr Abloh’s presentations for both LV and his own line Off-White have always been watchable for what would be riffed. He has no qualms of being so very clearly inspired, so aroused by the ideas of others. It is very much a part of the hip-hop culture that he grew up in, where sampling and re-sampling across genres among artistes are the norm and widely practised. Why waste a good beat or bass?

Just as one can’t claim ownership to blond hair, so one can go from brunette to flaxen or similar, it is perhaps tempting to say that the head totally enclosed in a scarf belong to no one particular créateur, and, therefore, can be adopted by anyone. But it is disconcerting that Mr Abloh’s shrouded head appeared only recently, long after Mr Quinn made it very much his aesthetic guise, even if he may say his was inspired by the men (面, the protective head guard worn kendo competitors). Or, is Virgil Abloh merely adopting what Pablo Picasso is widely thought to have said and Steve Jobs had delightfully quoted, that “good artists borrow, great artists steal”?

Photos: (left) Richard Quinn and (Right) Louis Vuitton