Tokyo Olympics: That Mask

Nike’s version for Team USA is clearly a winner

The American Olympics team did not make quite the mark at the Opening Ceremony, fashion-wise, so much so that there were calls in their home country for long-time Olympics fashion provider Ralph Lauren to be replaced by a fresher name/brand. But the mask the athletes wore when the Games proceeded definitely did. Created by Nike (it’s become unimaginable for Team USA to wear any other sports brand), the mask—called Venturer—is eye-catching, whether the wearer is on the sporting grounds or on the podium receiving their awards. That’s the most noticeable part of their all-white get-up, more than the sneakers they wear or, in the case of the winners, more than their medals! Even without the Swoosh. Facewear trumps footwear.

The white mask is certainly a form of wear these days. And Nike, aware that American athletes at the winners’ podium will get their well-deserved close-ups, fitted them with a mask that is a statement piece, distinguished by the unusually pleated front that could have come from the Miyake Design Studio. Comparison has been made to the mask Batman’s nemesis Bane wears, with one Netizen actually saying “TeamUSA face masks are creeping me out”, but they do not look to us as sinister as the super-villian’s. According to Nike, the geometric ridges are supposed to “evoke the folds of Japanese origami”. But they resemble more closely to hand-folded fabric pleats of takumi artisans, such as those by Kyoto-ite Yuko Shimizu of YS Planning Co, part of the famed pleating machine manufacturer Sankyo. Perhaps Americans are less aware of pleating as an art form?

Swimming star Caeleb Dressel wears the Nike Venturer. Photo: Getty Images

Through a media release, Nike states that the “pleated design allows for optimal air flow and air volume within the lightweight, mesh mask”. Nothing about safety or its ability to block out pathogens is mentioned. Nike did say that the Venturer is “not medical-grade”, like most cloth masks. That means it should not be treated like an N95. Because of its comfort and breathability, the mask is designed for sporting activities or working out. The mask is suitable for prolonged wear and activities that might be described as “intense”. It comes with a chin rest and a nose cushion (apart from the surface relief, the reason why the mask juts out, but, thankfully, not beak-like?), and adjustable straps for a better fit. The mask is reportedly washable, hence reusable. In sum, Nike has certainly considered the Venturer’s aesthetic value and pull.

Unsurprisingly, the mask is available to buy at Nike’s online store, but for a tear-inducing US$60 each. That will give you the mask itself (available in sizes XS to XL and only in black, it seems) and a carry case. Despite its creepiness to some, the Venturer is, at present, out of stock. Are people snapping them up as an Olympics memento? At the Nike website (including the Japanese), the page on which the mask is supposed to be available simply reads, sans photos: “the product you are looking for is no longer available”. Read: sold out.

The Nike Venturer mask is not available on the nike.com.sg site. Product photo: Nike

Thick And Clunky

Is this spectacle lanyard made from a leftover handbag strap or someone’s bicycle security cable?

By Mao Shan Wang

Burberry has just released images of their resort 2022 collection. Among the pieces sporting graphic prints, monograms and camo-on-tartan is this striking spectacle cord. At first, I thought I was looking at a strap of one of their bags, hung upside down. Then I noticed it was attached to the red-lensed wrap-shades. They have to be an eyewear accessory. Besides, Burberry handbags come with far much wider straps—the Olympia and Grace do. I have never seen such thick spectacle cords. Sure, thanks to Virgil Abloh, they are those that mimick his chains for the Louis Vuitton Keepall Bandouliere, but these are, like bicycle cables, really clunky and conspicuous. That is, perhaps, the whole idea?

I can see that to use one, you simply slip the arms of the glasses through the rubber ring on each end of the smooth leather cord. There is a cube of a charm hanging from the other ends of the rings, cinched in the middle like the numeral 8. Looked to me that even arms of eyewear need danglies. Odd to call them earrings. Arm rings perhaps? I wondered if they are heavy, and if they can be easily put away for storage, say, in a bag. I could see other uses for this luxury accessory. Could they be attached to surgical masks so that when one is not in use, they can hang down the chest like a plate-pendant? Or, might they be given the function of defensive—even offensive—weapons? You are, as it’s often said, only limited by your imagination.

Photo: Burberry

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

Guys And Pearls

…no longer like chalk and cheese

When Pharrell Williams wore pearls and not just a strand, but, as Coco Chanel preferred, “ropes and ropes” of them, many guys here thought him to be an advanced specimen of American culture. Mr Williams, a known heterosexual fashionista and a regular Chanel jacket wearer too, has not taken the Harry Styles route and worn a dress, but his penchant for jewellery is far more ardent than an average woman’s. Lest this becomes a binary gender issue, we should point out that the wearing of multi-strands of necklaces is not unique to Mr Williams. Mr Styles wears them too. It was prevalent among male hip-hop stars, going back to the ’70s, when rap was born, when Kurtis Blow, considered the first commercially successful rapper to have a record deal with a major label, wore strands of gold chains on the cover of his 1980 debut eponymous album. Since then, almost all hip-hop stars, from LL Cool J to Notorious B.I.G to Jay Z, have put multiple necklaces on their necks. But strands of pearls were slow to catch on.

And when they did, we didn’t think it’d be this fast. Here, social media posts of society chaps wearing a strand of pearls at various gatherings in the past few months were not signal enough of an impending trend since they are fashion types (“guru” for one of them, we were corrected), forward enough to not suggest anything extraordinary. But on one blistering day, on a barely-cool west-bound MRT train of the East-West line, we spotted a young fellow—not particularly spiffy—with a strand of white pearls set against the black crew-neck T-shirt he was wearing. The neatness of the row of pearls was broken by the colour-matched white cable of his earphones. He was not attired to augment the inherent elegance of the pearls. If not for the pearls, you wouldn’t give him a look. Two weeks later, a similar get-up was seen on a chap on an escalator in Bugis+. The pearls were, again, at odds with the fellow’s oversized Palace tee and Carhartt bum bag. But he seemed unconcerned with the jewellery and the skate aesthetic being as compatible as meat in a vegetarian meal.

Perhaps that’s the whole point of pearls these days: to not fit in. Surely they can be styled to bear street cred, just as much as they can be part of any guy’s tailored best. Just look at the pearl collection of Comme des Garçons, conceived with the 128-year-old Japanese house of Mikimoto (above) since last season. It could be discerned that Rei Kawakubo has introduced something punk and subversive into otherwise very conventional strands of pearls. CDG does not indicate which gender the jewellery is targeted at, but in the joint marketing campaigns by the two brands, male models wore the pearls, with one fellow sporting a double-strand over a tie and under a suit jacket with peaked lapels. The aesthetic base is still elegant, but the saltwater akoya pearls seemed to turn away from the conventional, like wildly patterned socks under pin-striped trouser legs. CDG, as we know, doesn’t really do anything vanilla. With a ‘classic’ material such as pearls, they’d want to introduce a counterpoint to the poshness. So there are the sterling silver hardware, such as chains (which are rather Virgil Abloh, even Yoon Ahn, and have been similarly employed at Maison Margiela), studs, and safety pins, all used as decorative trims, like in CDG’s RTW, but presently looking less fierce than they had been.

The circular pearl strand we have been seeing guys now wear could, therefore, be influenced by CDG. They are not long strands as in Pharrell Williams’s Chanel nor are they those made more masculine with black Tahitian pearls. These small off-white spheres circle the neck in a rather delicate fashion, like ruffs, but not quite twee as the latter. It’s been hard to design and market pearls to men. In 2002, Australian Olympic swimming star Ian Thorpe collaborated with compatriot brand Autore to create a high-profile line of neck and wrist wear featuring South Sea pearls—mostly just one bead apiece—for both men and women. Single pearl worn like a pendant might perhaps have been more acceptable back then, when David Beckham was known to be partial to one, or when Pierce Brosnan wore a solo bead on the cover of Italian Vanity Fair in 2005. It isn’t certain how Mr Thorpe’s pearls panned out, but some observers thought the line was premature. Few people now remember Mr Thorpe’s association with pearl jewellery. The line was eventually discontinued a few years later. Even the Olympian would not have guessed that men will graduated from one pearl to a whole strand.

Photo: (top) Zhao Xiangji and (product) Comme des Garçons

The Nose Gets Shaded Too

Are these coolest sunglasses yet?

By Ray Zhang

We are without doubt moving into a post-CNY period, characterised by bright, scorching days. These past weeks have been especially so. And nothing is more appreciated now than sunglasses, especially this pair by TAKAHIROMIYASHITATheSoloist. Not in the mood to buy—and wear—anything new (actually, to dress well, which these days means considerable effort), I think the best and easiest thing to do new is wearing a pair of shades, but not just any lying around (or the good ’ol, inherently cool Aviator). I am completely drawn to these novel big-eyes-with-a-nose. For one, it’ll distract from my clearly no-new-season-clothes stance; for another, it will amuse the many for whom a pair of sunglasses is just that.

The Soloist’s Takahiro Miyashita is the main man behind the now-defunct Number (N)ine, beloved by many outgrowing the first gen of Japanese designers who put Tokyo on the map from Paris. My first encounter with Number (N)ine was in Tokyo in the mid-’90s, and it was classic love-at-first-sight seizure. A frighteningly-priced patchwork blazer was beseeching my ownership, but fate did not deal me a good card. In 2009, Mr Miyashita took a year’s hiatus after ending the brand that he started with others. He returned with TAKAHIROMIYASHITATheSoloist in 2010, and has diligently garnered what has been described as a “cult following”. As a Soloist, his designs bring sharp focus to youth culture, like his pal’s Jun Takahashi’s. They are an amalgam of punk and grunge, and everything between. And, often, they are also cheekily unexpected.

Such as these acetate sunglasses. They look, to me, at first glance, something a psycho in a B-grade slasher flick might have worn to conceal his identity. Or, in a remake of The Birds, featuring humans with some ornithological madness, and hell-bent to wipe out the screaming living before them. Maybe it’s the beak-like extension of the front, through the bridge, evocative of a bird, rather than an insect. A neb that kids might have made out of papier-mâché to wear as costume in a play. This sunglasses has, in fact, more in common with a Harlequin mask than shades such as the Wayfarer. It covers up a good part of the upper half of the face, and would clearly delight those who need such obscuring. I am one.

This Takahiromiyashita The Soloist’s debut eyewear line—known as TheLeftEye—is conceived with the Japanese company EYEVAN, remembered as the manufacturer of the hipster label Oliver Peoples. EYEVAN’s stunning store in Tokyo’s Aoyama is a must-stop for fashionista in search of unusual eyewear. It is unsurprising to me that TheLeftEye is born of this partnership. Launched on the eve of CNY in Tokyo’s Parco Shibuya, via a striking pop-up, Pop by Jun, and under the intriguing theme Listen to This Glasses, TAKAHIROMIYASHITATheLeftEye piques more than just interests, it seems destined to be the leading purveyor of uncommon shades. And this is only just the beginning.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Photos: Takahiromiyashita The Soloist

Loewe Thy Neighbour

One is in Spain and the other in Japan, but that has not stopped them from being next-door chums

Japanese anime—and manga—are on a happy roll in fashionland. And Loewe is on top, collaborating with one of the most recognisable and cutest cartoon characters to emerge from Japan: Studio Ghibli’s Totoro, the egg-shaped mori no nushi (master of the forest) in the 1988 Hayao Miyazaki-directed film My Neighbour Totoro. That designer JW Anderson should be inspired by this animated character and the other adorable creatures in the film is not surprising. Mr Anderson said in a media release, “There is a natural longing for heartwarming feelings right now. When I think of a movie that affords me that kind of solace, speaking just as directly to a child as it does to an adult, that movie is My Neighbor Totoro.”

And he isn’t the only one thinking. So many shoppers have Totoro and company on their minds that well-aware Loewe had to conduct an online raffle for an opportunity to attend the pre-launch at Casa Loewe in ION Orchard yesterday in order to purchase the limited pieces available. This was announced on 27 December, last year, via Instagram: “Enter the draw for the chance to access the collection in store or on loewe.com 24h before the global launch on 8 January.” Or—the message was clear—there would be no “access”, just, perhaps, a peek from the store window.

One Studio Ghibli fan who spoke to SOTD said that he had to try twice before he succeeded in securing a place. An e-mail with the subject “Congratulations!” was sent to him at 1:04:19am (!) on the morning of the 6th, a day before the preview, to announce that he had “won a place on the guest list to attend the exclusive LOEWE x My Neighbor Totoro pre-launch, giving (him) first access to the collection.” The time allotted was 6.30pm. Entry could be gained with a provided QR code, and only a “plus one” was allowed. He was also told that all registrants, whether a winner or not, would be allowed to collect a single gift, companion excluded.

It is understandable why this particular luxury collaboration is appealing and so in demand. Anyone who’ve been to the Mamma Aiuto shop at the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, in the west of Tokyo, or the Donguri Kyowakoku chain stores (exclusive Studio Ghibli merchandise retailer) throughout the city would have witness the horde inside, and they’re mostly foreigners. Among fashionistas, too, there are rabid fans. Loewe is in the know of this, but rather than pick any character from the Studio Ghibli films (surely not No-Face from Spirited Away!), Mr Anderson has chosen My Neighbor Totoro, and populated the clothes, bags, and accessories with not only Totoro itself, but other cute creatures such as Chu-Totoro, Chibi-Totoro and the clearly irresistible pom-pom-looking dust bunnies (or soot spirits) known as Makkuro-Kurosuke. It’s a quartet assembled to get fans with deep pockets to go quite wild.

Japanese cartoon characters have had a long and fruitful relationship with fashion. Think Hello Kitty. Even Balenciaga couldn’t resist (in 2019, there were also man-bags in the shape of HK’s head!). But characters from anime aligned with designer names are a fairly recent occurrence. One of the earliest to collaborate with an anime series that we can remember was Yohji Yamamoto’s streetwear imprint Ground Y’s pairing with Ghost in the Shell, in early 2018. So successful that was for the sub-label that there was a second collab a year later, followed by one with One Piece in August, 2019. The Ground Y collections were available only in Japan and enjoyed very limited world-wide exposure. Then came Longchamp X Pokémon last October and Coach X Michael B Jordan adapting Naruto for the American brand. Shortly after Loewe’s announcement of their teaming up with My Neighbour Totoro, Gucci disclosed that they would produced a capsule with Doraemon.

Anime, as with cartoons in general, don’t age. Even if they have faded in popularity, they will find new legions of fans. My Neighbour Totoro is 33 years old, yet there is life in its characters for a fashion iteration. In a 2019 annual report by The Associations of Japanese Animations, the global market size for anime and attendant merchandise was estimated to “exceeded 2 trillion yen (or S$25.5 billion)”. Anime’s extraordinary lure is attributed to the films’ ability to evoke emotions with their well-crafted storylines, provide shared experiences, and bring about a sense of nostalgia among mature fans. Mr Anderson not only picked one of the most beloved anime films of all time, his application of the characters and scenes both tug at heartstrings and appeal to those with a deep sense of what is artistic application.

The design team at Loewe did not plonk the titular Totoro on the front of T-shirts. Rather, there was considerable thought on the placement of the drawings and scenes so that the tees, for example, look elevated. Much appreciated are the subtle details, such as embroidery on the green patch on top of Totoro’s head, a flat pom-pom of the soot spirit in place of the ‘O’, and the characters appearing on the leather goods using the house marquetry technique intarsia. We were especially drawn to one oversized unisex mohair and wool sweater that sports a tree design in the front. There’s a three-dimensionality to the knit work of tactile jacquard in contrasting yarns that brought the enchanted forest to anime liveliness, and all the while keeping to Loewe’s predilection for craft, as steered by Mr Anderson.

The Studio Ghibli fan who spoke to us appeared in front of Casa Loewe at 6.25 yesterday evening. At that time, there was a queue of six people (equal number of men and women). Two directly in front of him did not have a QR code to show, and was told that, while they could browse, they were unable to purchase the Loewe X My Neighbour Totoro pieces specifically. When it was time for our Studio Ghibli fan to enter the store, he was assigned a sales staff to accompany him. There was by then very few merchandise from the capsule, placed in the front portion of the Casa, to view. In fact, the first thing that struck him was how little there was to choose from. When asked about the low quantity, the crew explained that when the first batch of preview attendees came at about 5pm, most of the merchandise were snapped up. When interest was shown for a mini ‘Heel’ pouch (S$690), with one dust bunny on the flap cover, he was told that was the last one, so where the five or so T-shirts, S$550 a piece, the second cheapest item in the 58-piece, largely unisex collection.

It was hard for our Studio Ghibli fan to accept that there were so few items to see and to choose from. He was convinced that Loewe did not avail the entire collection here, to which the staff politely denied. When the staff was asked if at least 80 percent of the products were snapped up, she said yes. The impressive sell-through, even before the actual launch date, was not only due to compelling designs and the likely over-enthusiastic response of the VVIP customers (who probably enjoyed a preview before the preview), but also to one of the biggest marketing effort we’ve seen in a collaboration. Over at Wisma Atria, next door, an ad was flashing on the Orchard Road-facing video screen all of yesterday (and probably earlier) and on the extended lightbox that runs alongside the underground conduit between ION Orchard and the Wisma Atria side of the Orchard MRT station, Gary Sorrenti-lensed photos were drawing the attention of commuters and pedestrians. And there were the free sticker set—four pieces held in a neat little holder distributed to the raffle winners.

Concurrently, at Gucci, some 30 steps away from Casa Loewe, the buzz in the line at the entrance was the collaboration with Doraemon. Gucci, under Alessandro Michele, love things Japanese, so much so that its ‘Grip’ watch, released in that country last June, came with the brand’s name written on the face in big, bold katakana characters. Doraemon was really an unsurprising choice. This evening, the “already launched”—as one staffer said—Doraemon collab was only “taking orders with a deposit”. Were there pieces that could be seen? “No, we don’t have stocks,” she continued, whipping out a smartphone to show shoppers the range on the screen. “Once you pay the deposit, we will notify you when your order arrives and we’ll send to you (sic). Before Chinese New Year.” How much deposit was required per order? “Full payment.” That’s not a deposit; that’s a purchase! “Yes,” she smiled, satisfactorily.

Loewe X My Neighbour Totoro is available at Casa Loewe, ION Orchard. Good luck! Photos: Zhao Xiangji

Pussycat, Yes!

Animals have inspired designers for as long as fashion has looked to the zoic kingdom for ideas. One creature stands out: the cat. No less than four of what are worn or used in fashion today are named after them

After watching the Dior pre-fall 2021 show recently, we got hooked to the remade and remixed Deee-Lite dance hit What is Love? from the 1990 album World Clique. This new track also has snatches of the feline-themed, vinyl-only single Pussycat Meow from the second album Infinity Within. It was the purring and the “pussycat… no!” cries of the band’s lead singer Lady Miss Kier that did it for us. For most of the rest of that week (and the week after), we allowed that groove to get into our heart. Two tracks on loop, however, became monotonous after a while. So we looked into our CD collection (yes, for some, they still exist and are played!), and found one of our favourites: Takkyu Ishno’s highly danceable 2017 song Kitten Heel. This whole afternoon, we had three tracks on loop, pumping through our Sonos One, allowing the bass to course through our willing body.

The dancing—and Lady Miss Kier purring and then rap-calling “here, kitty, kitty, kitty” and then tease-pleading “kiss me, you fool!”—also got us thinking of the influence of domestic cats (yes, those you keep as pets) in fashion. No, there won’t be references to Karl Lagerfeld’s too-famous Choupette. Or, the countless cat videos on YouTube and TickTok. Or, cute cat-faced accessories to wear around the neck. And not a clowder of cats on a T-shirt either. Rather, we’re looking at something more subtle—those articles of fashion inspired by parts of cats or the whole animal, or just suggestive of those things we associate with felines. And, like the cats themselves, these fashion items seem to have many, many lives! Here, we name four. If you know others, do tell.

Cat Glasses

Photo: Celine/24s

Cat glasses, or rather sunglasses with frames that supposedly mimic cat eyes, are not really inspired by the-cuddly-creature-that-meows. According to fashion lore and the documentary Altina, based on the life of the multi-hyphenate Altina Schinasi (1907—1999), they were inspired by Venetian masks. In fact, the first cat glasses, introduced in the ’30s, were known by the more mysterious and glamourous descriptor, Harlequin. At that time the designs of glasses for women were hardly fashionable, and reflected what Dorothy Parker famously said, “Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses,” originally a two-line poem News Item.

But, that didn’t deter Ms Schinasi. She related in the documentary: “I thought, well, something better can be done than just these awful glasses that look like the time of Benjamin Franklin. Then I thought, what would be good on a face and I thought of a mask, a Harlequin mask.” By the ’50s, when the glasses really took off—worn by movie stars such as Audrey Hepburn and, unmistakably, Marilyn Monroe (especially as Pola in How to Marry a Millionaire), they became mostly known as cat-eye glasses (now, just cat glasses) due to the shape of the frame, with the outer tips pointing upwards and alluringly, feline-like.

Catsuits

Photo: Warner Bros

Long before there was Michele Pfeiffer as Catwoman (in 1992’s Batman Returns), there was one Black Wild Cat, our mothers told us. This was Connie Chan (陈宝珠) in the titular role of 女贼黑夜猫 (Black Wild Cat), in the 1960s Hong Kong film that saw Ms Chan as a sort-of female Robin Hood, masked in a flat-top half-balaclava that was, presumably, like a cat’s head. To augment her feline mysteriousness, she leaves messages by throwing darts on walls on which her masked identity is reveal by, well, a Harlequin mask (see a recurring theme?). Ms Chan was so successful in playing these mysterious do-gooders operating under the cover of darkness that other characters emerged: The Black Rose (黑玫瑰) and The Black Killer (女杀手). And with each role she wore something black and close-fitting—not quite the catsuits we know today, but enough for her to move with the stealth and style of cats.

It wasn’t until Michele Pfeiffer’s campy interpretation of Catwoman (aka Selina Kyle) did we come to associate the catsuit with those that totally outline the body and in gleaming latex (a silicon-based top coat was used to effect the shine). Sure, Halle Berry’s titular turn in Catwoman (2004), too, saw her in a catsuit, but they appeared to be a part of it—the bikini dominatrix top didn’t cover enough, at least not the torso. Interestingly, Ms Berry’s Catwoman wore a full head mask that looks uncannily like what Connie Chan wore as Black Wild Cat! In fact, the catsuit was very much at first a costume, often linked to the Catwoman character, first introduced in 1940 as simply The Cat. The term catsuit didn’t come into popular usage until after 1955. Its origin is unclear although it wouldn’t be immoderate to assume that, once suited up, the slinkiness immediately accords the wearer a cat-like grace.

Pussy Bows

Photo: Saint Laurent

The pussy bow comes from something more extraneous: it’s not in anyway part of a cat. Or look like anything that might be akin to cats. According to media speculation—Vogue among them—the pussy bow probably got its name from a time in the late 19th century, when cat owners would tie a bow around the neck of their feline pets to prettify them before the arrival of guests. In French couture houses, they go by a less animal-linked description: lavallière (also the noun for a pendant, centred on a necklace, and hangs pendulously). Some fashion historians trace the pussy bow to the cravat, although the connection is hard to discern. Most of the pussy bows we now see can be linked to the versions first introduced by Chanel, and later, Yves Saint Laurent (paired with the Le Smoking). And in the past ten years, the popularity of the pussy bow has not waned, and (still) well loved by designers such as Hedi Slimane and Alessandro Michele.

However fancy it is tied, the pussy bow is essentially a strip of fabric, with the middle portion, lengthwise, stitched to the neckline of the blouse, leaving the rest hanging, and to be knotted. For many women, the pussy bows were very much a ’70s thing. A decade on, “Iron Lady” Margaret Thatcher made it her thing, and claimed the pussy bow softens her public appearance. A mere feminine flourish it, therefore, is not. Cut to 2016, Melania Trump wore her Gucci crepe de chine pussy bow defiantly (triumphantly, too?) against her husband’s self-confessed predilection for grabbing the female genitalia. Pussy bows today have long shed their dowdy Gibson Girl image. Just see how Anthony Vaccarello styled them for Saint Laurent (above). As in the past, there is power in them bows.

Kitten Heels

Photo: Prada

Interestingly, these heels weren’t originally worn by women, but by men—at least in Versailles, France. To be sure, the kitten heels that we now know is not quite the same as those the guys wore, in particular by Louis XIV of France and his courtiers. Those in the 17th century were a lot clunkier, at least where the heels were concerned, not the pin that they are in present times. According to common belief, the smallish Sun King chose heeled shoes to give him extra height (he was, reportedly, only five foot, four inches—or about 162cm—tall). This new-found stature caught on with the other royals too, but did not impress the monarch. He banned them outside his court, effectively denying himself as the footwear trend setter.

The kitten heels today can, perhaps, be more accurately traced to the 1950s. Many people associate them with Audrey Hepburn or more specifically her in Billy Wilder’s 1954 movie Sabrina, with (some of) the costumes by Hubert de Givenchy. Like the cat glasses, the kitten heels have come to represent the ’50s and a certain elegance that need not require a statuesque carriage. Another name linked to the kitten heel at this time is Roger Vivier, who was, conversely, more prolific with the stiletto, but in the ’50s, Mr Vivier created a more tapered and stout heel for “girls”, so that they can get used to the elevation and grow into higher shoes. In fact, in the US, kitten heels were also known as “training heels”, since they were bought for the (very) young high-heel novice who had yet able to handle the forbidding stiletto. For some, so well trained they were in kitten heels that they never truly graduated to the taller kin. Kitty, as it turns out, truly has a long, comfortable life.

Illustration: Just So

Upside Down You Turn Me

When glasses can’t be left right side up

By Mao Shan Wang

It’s a topsy-turvy world, that much I know. But, I’m not head over heels for it. In case I and those of you who share my feelings are in doubt that the world is disarranged, Gucci has released a pair of glasses with cat-eye frames, set upside down! Okay, I am sure there are those out there who can’t wait for gravity to do its work on their eyes, and would wear these to hasten the effect, but seriously, my peepers are not—or ever will be—ready to be this droopy. Or, to look like I’m suffering from a severe case of two-side ptosis. Even my grandmother, with cognitive decline, wouldn’t wear her glasses the wrong side up.

That this pair of glasses needs to be flipped so as to make an upright statement about style perhaps indicates that we have come to a stage of existence when the virus of the year has somehow affected our creative judgment. Gucci calls this pair “inverted cat eye sunglasses”. How about the bottom half of butterfly wings? It is not clear why Gucci chose inversion. Did someone leave a regular pair upside-down on a table, and the design team decided it was great and “an unconventional take on the ’50s and ’60s inspired cat eye frames” that could win the heart of fans? Have they not considered how sad the whole face looks with the glasses worn?

Sometimes I feel fashion is at the stage where being different for the sake of being different has taken precedence over not looking bonkers. Even if I choose appearing unbalanced, I am stable enough to know that I won’t spend this amount—more than S$1,000 (RRP: US$755)—to suggest that the corners of my eyes are heading south with accordance to the shape of my eyewear. And since, the lenses of the sunglasses are not the least dark, there is no way I can use it as a disguise. Or, to blend in with the rest of the shades-wearing crowd. Or, to simply look cool. Perhaps looking uncool is the game plan. I wonder then how little inverted cat eyes will look perched on a face mask?

Photo: Gucci

The Tassel’s Moment

One 2021 trend for guys is the use of tassels. Yes, the pendant ornaments. You ready to dangle one?

One of the danglies shown at the recent pre-fall 2021 Dior show is not some Kid Cudi-esque necklace or chain. Rather, it is a tassel—the pendant ornament (we’ve never heard it referred to as accessory or jewellery) that is essentially a column of quite tightly packed strings (referred to as a ‘skirt’) topped with a fancy knot or cap. Dior’s (left), fastened to what could be a belt (or waist bag?), has the girth of Chinese ink brush and the length of a man’s forearm. This particularly thick one is gradated, as if the yellow of monks robes is dipped into a vat of purple cabbage. It is fancy, for sure, and, an IG-worthy exaggeration. They are nothing like those leather tassels sometimes affixed to the vamp of loafers. From our perspective, Dior’s seems to glean from the world of Chinese wuxia, or perhaps scholars.

For those with less progressive leaning, we are, admittedly, putting a more masculine spin here. Since the Dior tassels look Chinese (or Oriental, definitely not those on English academic caps—Oxford or Cambridge, take your pick), we’ll look at China, where Kim Jones engaged local embroiderers to create the two-thousand-year-old seed embroidery (繨子绣 or dazixiu) for the Dior collection. Whether this was to expressly cater to a Chinese market or Mr Jones expressing his love for Eastern craft and exotica, it is hard to say.

Anyway, tassels were once used ornamentally on swords (剑 or jian). Broadly speaking, the sword tassel (剑繐 or jian sui) appeared at the end of the hilt of what was known as the scholar’s sword (文剑 or wen jian), used mainly for self defence and dancing, rather than at war, or to project an elegant image—possibly the same motivation as Pharrell Williams in pearls. The tassel was less evident on the martial sword (武剑 or wu jian), which was used on the battlefield. Historically, the tassel mostly hung from the scholar’s sword. If a sword was designated for offensive use, it unlikely came with a tassel, since it would get in the way of a duel. However, the swordsman blessed with cunning might use a long, deceptively limp tassel to target his opponent’s eyes!

But the Chinese tassel did not only hang on the hilt of the sword, it dangled from the waists of men too. These were known as waist accessories (腰佩 or yaopei)—the Dior belt above certainly qualifies as one. In ancient times, both men and women wore carved jade pieces from which hung a tassel (but never as thick as the Dior version). These were known as jinbu (禁步) or ‘forbidden steps’, which, in the case of women, may make sense, since the jinbu was used to hold down the skirt (including the men’s) and possibly preventing the wearer from striding. How this eventually became a check on female deportment isn’t clear. The men did not, however, appear to need to be held back (guys today who wear extra-long canvas belts left dangling from the box buckle could be mimicking the wearing of a jinbu). Apart from the jinbu, both men and women also wore the xiangnang (香囊) or a fragrance pouch. Made of silk and embroidered, they were often attached to a tassel. The xiangnang was usually stuffed with cotton and aromatics, and were used as personal perfume, air-freshener, and even to ward off evil spirits.

A few days after the Dior show, Nike announced the release of the Air Jordan 1 for Chinese New Year 2021 (no drop date was revealed). This basketball shoe—that Dior (again?!) made massive in June—sports one of the style’s most popular colour combo: ‘university red’ (and just as hongbao bright) and black. That the upper would partly come with a brocade fabric sporting oxen is hardly surprising, but that the shoe comes with a tassel is quite unexpected. The cord, red, is fasten along the collar of the sneaker, like a choker, and the tassel, gold, hangs to the side, near the eyestay, like an earring. This tassel, unlike Dior’s is really quite small. Its short fringe body is topped with what looks like a Chinese button knot. Pendant to a necklace. A neat way of wearing an anklet without actually wearing one?

Photos: Dior and Nike respectively. Collage: Just So

Umbrella: A Mannequin In A Dress

Or, is this a Valentino frock in miniature?

It’s the rainy season and you need an umbrella decked out in couture. This Pylones brolly is so marvelously dressed (or arranged, your pick) in full-fashion glory that it looks like something Pierpaolo Piccioli might have designed for Valentino. You know, the silk tulle swirls that seem to be constructed to stand up to gravity. The ruffles that cocoon, but not to protect; rather, to let the body retreat into its own supple and yielding armour. The sumptuousness that avers what Oscar Wilde said: “Nothing succeeds like excess!”

The French brand Pylones has, of course, a knack for personifying everyday objects—particularly kitchen aids—with a fashionable eye. This time it’s the humble umbrella. The end tip, usually a screw cap, is given a round woman’s head, which recalls the old Lanvin mannequins during the reign of Alber Elbaz, and the handle is in the shape of a pair of boots, possibly wellies! Placed standing when folded, and with the canopy strap secured, the canopy can be arranged or ruffled to create a dress shape of couture proportions. Of course, you could do this with any compact umbrella, but no matter how skillful your arrangement, a dress is not quite so without a head, even when not supported by a neck!

The Rain Parade umbrella, SGD44, is available in five colours (white, black, purple, red, and cyan) at Pylones. Photo: Chin Boh Kay

Art Bag

Loewe’s collaboration with the artist Kenneth Price yields some rather drool-worthy unisex satchels

Loewe, under the watch of Jonathan Anderson, has been the champion of craft and craft-like work to rather alluring results. The latest is Mr Anderson’s interpretation of the cheerful work of American sculptor and painter Kenneth Price (1935—2012). The (above) illustration first appeared in a specially commissioned work for the Newport Beach (California) restaurant La Palme in the ’80s. Mr Price created vivid and optimistic landscapes on glazed plates and bowls, and these images are now reimagined as leather marquetry (so fine, it’s veritable art in itself) on the flap of this crossbody bag.

We like the simplicity of the bag and how the flap is made special by such simple but striking illustrative form. The positive vibe is so right for such dismal times. Mr Price, who, aside from art, studied the trumpet with Chet Baker, was known for the optimism he projected through his work, including often bulbous sculptures, and, in particular, Happy’s Curios (some of the works also appear in the Loewe collection), a six-year project, inspired by New Mexico, that was dedicated to his wife Happy Ward.

This crossbody is not a big bag. It reminds us of an oversized coin purse (and opens like one!). But, with a wider bottom, it is capacious enough for bag essentials such as portable phone charger, a wallet, as well as EarPods and their attendant case. Most people would say this a woman’s shoulder bag, and women will surely find it attractive (if money is no objection, also go for the totally loveable Easter Island bucket bag with bamboo handle). But as men are using smaller bags these days, they should not shut themselves out of this particular one. In fact, it was heartening to see this appearing in the Loewe store window, hung around the neck of a shirt, clearly pitched at guys. Man bags really do not need to be man-sized.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Loewe X Ken Price La Palme Heel bag, SGD 1,900, is available at Loewe stores. Photo: Zhao Xiangji

This Handy Buckle

With this Prada belt, loose change and such are within easy reach

Just adding a logo to a belt buckle is too easy for a house such as Prada. Sure, the unmistakable logotype is there (as today’s branding on merchandise demands), but they’ve made the belt, in their signature Saffiano leather no less, a little more useful—it’s buckle is now a purse. Prada calls it by the more utilitarian term “case”, but it does not convey the compactness and usefulness of this container-as-fastener. We love the old-world feel of it, like something our mothers use to have in their handbags, only now this sits handily on the belt.

When we examined it, this is really an elegant and dainty version of a waist bag. Or one of Prada’s “belt with pouches”. As seen on the runway (when IRL was still normal), the belt/case goes well with a suit. We can also imagine it over a sweater, with jeans, or to cinch a Prada Re-Nylon pinafore. Is the belt buckle too big? Not to us. We don’t think it’s larger than those that cowboys (and cowgirls) wear (which, as we understand it, are symbols of accomplishment in areas such as barrel racing, bull riding, lassoing, etc).

The case—we’ll stick to Prada’s description—opens and snaps shut at the top, supported by a gold frame that is hinged to give the opening a restraint, preventing contents from spilling. It is, in fact, surprisingly capacious. Lined in leather, it’s large enough to house credit and MRT cards, folded notes, and loose change. And, if you have to, the engagement ring! As we pondered the practicality of the belt, we felt the beat of nostalgia running through our body: In the long-gone days of clubbing, this would be the perfect belt to wear to go handbag-free for dancing all night.

Prada ‘Vanity Belt with Case’, SGD1,720, is available in limited numbers at Prada stores. Photo: Zhao Xiangji