Can the little red dot stand shoulder to shoulder with the little black dress? A native islander and friends look at fashion (and such) in Singapore, and, occasionally, among her neighbours, and a little further afield
We do not know enough about viruses. The same can be said of the coronavirus, such as COVID-19 and its variants. We will be the first to admit we are no expert in virology. What we know, we learned from media coverage of the pandemic, such as one report in The Straits Times yesterday. Covering health minister Ong Ye Kung’s visit to a farmers’ market in Woodlands, the editorial quoted Mr Ong commenting on existing hybrid mutants: “There are plenty of variants, but many of them are like us humans. Today you wear this earring, tomorrow you change your earring. That’s all it is. You’re still the same person”. It would never occur to us to liken coronavirus infection to the wearing of accessories, but there it was in the third paragraph of the ST story. We can’t say we were not impressed by the originality.
Mr Ong has never spoken about fashion, as far as we are aware. He is not Sim Ann or the occasional shoe designer Indranee Rajah. Yet, it was the choice of ear ornaments that illustrated the existence of variants still infecting many people. He did not even pick clothing, which we assume would come more naturally. The non-essential is perhaps easier to cite than the essential? The shape of the coronavirus possibly evocative of an earring? Rather than have us guessing, the writer of the article could have provided an explanation: What did Mr Ong really mean? Was he saying that the many variants of the coronavirus are like the plurality of humans? That they pick and change their victims in the same manner as people selecting and replacing their earrings? A harmless act? And in the end, they are the same pathogen? That’s all it is?
Earrings, unlike the human coronavirus, have a much longer history. Jewellery attached to the ear, from the helix to the lobe, is considered to be one of the oldest forms of body modifications. There are, however, no written records about the use of earrings in early times. In the Exodus story, Moses’s elder brother Aaron (and later, the first high priest of the Israelites) commanded his people: “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, sons and daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.” He then turned all that gold into a calf. Closer home, gold earrings were found in India’s Lothal, an ancient site of the Indus Valley Civilisation that dates back to 2200BCE. Comparatively, the human coronavirus was first identified rather recently—in 1965, the year of this nation’s independence. Coming from the Minister of Health, there must be a serious connection between the coronavirus and earrings. We, on the other hand, could have been flippant if we had compared COVID to Cartier.
Sacai offers what you would likely find in stores such as Outdoor Life. A trio tethered to a paracord
What won’t brands offer these days that are not related to garments? If Prada now also caters to camping pursuits and puts out mess tins, other labels might be tempted to follow. We are not referring to the odd bottle carrier that is creeping into the must-have bag category (which still employs a fabric, even when non-woven); we are speaking of products that use other materials such as aluminum or rubber that fashion companies generally don’t buy or stock in bulk. One of them brands is Sacai. Now considered a major, haute couture-worthy player, the fast-rising Japanese star burando is offering accessories for your daily commute or weekend adventure.
You know what is crucial nowadays when you are gallivanting outside the confines of your home. Hand sanitiser, AirPods, H2O—choose your own order. So Sacai is right by your side. This trio comprises an aluminum sanitiser spray bottle, a case for Airpods Pro, and a silicone ring with which to hold a bottle of Ice Mountain at its neck (see top image, clockwise from top). All three are strung through a paracord with a metal spring-load toggle attached. You can wear it round your neck as if its a necklace with oversized charms. And the conspicuous Sacai branding on two of the items will ensure that you are on the right side of the trek, urban or uphill.
Sacai ‘Accesories Strap’, SGD370, is available at Sacai and DSMS. Product photo: Sacai. Illustration: Just So
Two similarly-named, ‘label-less’ brands and their close-fitted knit caps
Kindred beanies: No Label (left) and No Labels (right). Photos: No Label and No Labels respectively
Near identical names; so, too, the look of the beanies. No Label from Netherlands began in 2013. No Labels from China was launched early this year. A plural noun differentiates the two, but is the extra ‘s’ in the moniker of the one conspicuous enough? Perhaps, the European version with a logotype in a sans-serif font contrasts with the Chinese competition’s script font sufficiently for one not to be mistaken for the other? Or, perhaps, the former’s fully-merchandised line is a clear differentiator from the latter’s one-product debut? As well as one being a men’s brand* while the other targets both sexes?
Yet, amazingly, the two brands offer a rather similar beanie. Apart from the black, both also offer yellow. One is simply ‘Yellow’, the other a brilliantly un-urban ‘Chicken Yellow’. One beanie is made of ‘wool and nylon’ yarn, the other, pure ‘polyester’. One’s ribbed knit is less bulky than the other. One is cheaper in price than the other: €15 (about S$23) and ¥128 (about S$27) respectively. One has no external branding on the product, the other has its name zealously embroidered across the front. Both are made in China. Both have a turn-back cuff, not a short bill. Both are without trims, and not joined at the top by a button, or a pompom. Both are as suitable for cold weather and as useful for flattening hair.
Beanie for him and for her: No Label (left) and No Labels (right). Photos: No Label and No Labels respectively
It is a puzzler why the founder of No Labels, Eleanor Lee, named her clothing brand without first determining if the two words she picked are already used elsewhere. Could it be because she operates out of China, where brand owners are less inclined to concern themselves with the process of naming and the very name itself? Netherland’s No Label is so registered because the company began largely as a manufacturer for private labels before establishing their own brand, offering what they call “basics” that are best identified by quality rather than name. The irony is that Ms Lee would have gone to a company such as No Label to produce her No Labels.
Ms Lee took the plural form because she dislikes being labelled. As she told 8 Days, “you know how in our industry, people always give you a label? Like, ‘Oh she’s a sweet and cute girl’… Yeah. I’ve always been against this and I want the things that I design to represent me. What represents me the most is that I hate labels so the reasoning behind the name No Labels was really quite simple.” And straightforward too, except that, on the other side of the world, there is another brand—established earlier—with a name that’s just as elementary. And, without doubt, alike.
*Interestingly, there is also an SG womenswear label called No Label by an individual—or organisation—called Nami that predominantly trades on Instagram. As far as we’re aware, there is no beanie in their offering, yet. In Malaysia, there is also a menswear brand called No Label Project, another IG-native set-up. Similarly, they offer no beanie, yet
Talk show host Quan Yifeng’s daughter Eleanor Lee launched her No Labels fashion brand last month with just one inessential product
The beanies of No Labels modelled by Dasmond Koh’s protégé-actor Zong Zijie (宗子杰, right). Photo: No Labels/Taobao
Quan Yifeng has an outstanding, 优秀 daughter that she is really proud of: Eleanor Lee Kaixin (李凯馨; born 俞凯馨, Yu Kaixin), who is an actress, a singer, one of the ‘100 Most Beautiful Asia Faces of 2020’*, Star Awards ‘Top Ten Female Artistes’ nominee, “全能女神 (quanneng nushen or all-round goddess)” in China, goddaughter of hairdresser-turned-livestreaming-star Addy Lee (she took his surname when she turned fourteen), “and so on”. In addition, regular viewers of Star Awards would know that Ms Lee is the designer of the outfits that her mother wore on the red carpet in 2014 and 2015, when she was 15 and 16 respectively, while still in school. With that juvenile experience under her belt, she is now, seven years later, ready to launch a fashion label. Not here, but in China, where Ms Lee calls Beijing home and base for her acting pursuits.
The brands goes by the unimaginative, faintly anti-establishment, potentially pretentious name No Labels (yes, plural), although it is labelled, and is represented by the moniker in script font. 8 Days—typically the ardent promoter of Mediacorp stars’ non-acting/hosting careers—described No Labels by the convenient tag “streetwear”, a fashion category The New York Times, in an article yesterday, declared “is dead”. It was not, however, launched with a line, as there isn’t one. No Labels (the name reflects Ms Lee’s desire not to be labelled even when she has no problem with being known as a goddess) debuted last month with just one product: a beanie, available in four colours. How Yeezy Gap is that? Ms Lee curiously admitted to 8 Days, “who’s going to be wearing beanies once summer comes around?” On starting with millinery, she said, “I kind of want to test the water with it. I really wanted to put out something so I decided to start with something small like a hat. It’s winter over here so I decided on a beanie!”
Eleanor Lee. wearing her No Labels beanie, in China. Screen grab: eleanorleex/Instagram
For her customers, likely fans, it is this still-green, still-schoolgirlish, still-a-mother’s-girl (“the beanies are only allowed in the basement [of her four-storey house where she stores them] because my mum would scold me if they’re anywhere else”) persona that might direct them to the fledgling designer and her label. It is not known if Eleanor Lee has ever received education in fashion design (here, she studied in Tao Nan School and Nexus International School in Aljunied, and left for Beijing when she was 17). Some stylists we spoke to who are familiar with outfitting actresses for the Star Awards red carpet do not think Ms Lee designed her mother’s dresses the way Tom Ford does for Hollywood stars attending the Oscars. Ms Lee dabbles in art (she collaborated with Chinese artist Wu Qiong [吴琼] in a 2020 exhibition here), so it’s possible she can draw. But drawing a dress is not necessarily designing a dress.
It is not clear either if Ms Lee designed the No Labels knit beanie although she announced on Weibo: “The hat I designed is now available! ! ! 🖤💚💛💜✌🏻”. Yet, she told 8 Days that she is “more concerned about negotiating materials, sizes and designs with the factories”. Negotiating designs? Could that mean she went to a manufacturer, picked an existing style, chose the colours and determined the placement of the logotype? She said nothing about yarn choice, lab dip development, flat or circular knitting. With many of her generation weaned on blog-shop fashion, what she described could be ‘design’ to her. No Labels is currently available only on Taobao China, and Ms Lee has no intention yet to avail her stock—a modest 200 pieces per colour—to the rest of the world. She did not reveal how many beanies she has sold. Based on a single, unremarkable item, which in retail terms, is tantamount to naught, No Labels may just be a nonentity celebrity brand that would be a no go.
*According to TCCAsia, whose parent company TC Candler has rated “the world’s top male and female lookers since 1990”, as reported by The Straits Times
Raf Simon’s skeletal-wrist bracelet doubles as arm clasp. They are eerily beautiful
By Mao Shan Wang
Halloween is over. But a skeletal wrist is still making the news, delighting many who desire the grip of its spindly fingers. I don’t know about you, but this is one grab of the arm I do not the least mind, even in a crowded train! And for those of you celebrating Thanksgiving, that quieter transition to the madness that is Christmas, possibly just the accessory to have on your bicep to either delight relatives or annoy them. Bad fengshui? It sure would be a conversation starter. Studded with Swarovski crystals, this ‘Skeleton’ bracelet by Raf Simons looks to me to be the bling to have this festive season.
Frankly, I have had quite enough of the skeletal wrist’s other related bodily part: the skull. In fact, I don’t own anything bearing the bony framework of the head, even when they are similarly blinked out. Not for me the skull’s supposed status as the symbol of sub-cultures, desirable or not; even the outsider status the wearing of it supposedly bestows. By now the skull has lost all that. The skull is, to me, more Phillip Plein than Alexander McQueen, more Chomel than Chrome Hearts. And when it starts to appear in Ang Mo Kio market, I really wish some pirate would take it all back, whether underscored with crossbones or not.
But the skeletal wrist, that is newer. Raf Simons debuts this piece of accessory this season. And the beauty of it, apart from the glitteringly obvious, is that it can be worn on a wrist of flesh and skin, as well as on the arm as the above photo shows, like a sleeve garter, but you won’t look like a like a ragtime pianist! Yet, the Skeleton bracelet can be similarly worn to adjust the length of Mr Simons’s increasingly long sleeve lengths. The bracelet comes in two sizes, so that the guys can have one—or a pair—for themselves too (I’m not sure they would fit the developed arms of gym bunnies).
Wearing it on the wrist is somewhat predictable. Grab my arm, I’d say, even when it is bare. Given how dismal things still are in yet another (!) pandemic year, perhaps it is the shot in the arm that we really need?
Raf Simons skeleton bracelet, €940, is available online at historyofmyworld.com. Photo: Raf Simons
They are known to be the most ancient of chewing herbivorous insects, which may explain the grasshopper’s particular appeal to Loewe. Ancient being the operative word. The Spanish house is, after all, known for their support of old-world crafts that are sometimes associated with agrarian life, but these pieces are nowhere near, for example, the Thai craft of making insects out of palm leaves. Loewe’s grasshoppers are fashioned with leather, a material very much part of the heritage of the house. What we find relatable is that the grasshopper—rather than, say, a cleg (horsefly)—is very much an insect we are familiar with, even if we do not see much of them in this urban sprawl we call home. In Thailand, they are not only seen, they are caught and eaten, deep fried!
At Loewe, the grasshopper appears on the front of a coin-cum-card holder, looking somewhat well-fed. And, as a pin charm with a 3-D grasshopper—possibly in the process of moulting—that bears some resemblance to insects made out of reeds or grasses. Both look more adorable than the serious pests that the insects can be (larger and when in swarms, they are the vermin known as locusts!). We are not sure who these small accessories will appeal to when flowers and kin are the preferred motif (even sculls). But Loewe looking across the food chain may be just the exercise to keep the excess of boring blooms in check!
Loewe Grasshopper coin/card holder, SGD690, and pin charm, SGD490, are available at Loewe. Product photos: Loewe
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
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.
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?”
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
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.
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