Shirtless Under A Suit: The Timothée Chalamet Effect

Mediacorp stars know an imitable styling idea when they see one. Applause?

Just a suit: (from left) Jarrell Huang, Desmond Tan, and Chung Kun Wah. Photos: #红星大奖2022/Instagram

By Lester Fang

It is hard to be the first. I mean to be a trend-setter. On the red carpet. At the Stars Awards. Okay, I am not going to censure what they wore last Sunday, but it is hard not to notice (or turn a blind eye to?) the trends that the clueless hosts pointed out or the fans of Mediacorp stars said they could make out. Most obvious among the guys, if you did not already detect, was going shirtless under a suit. That was so distinctly Timothée Chalamet at the Oscars last month that my first reaction—and second and third—was, “oh, no!” Could this be the reason why the annual Star Awards takes place after the Academy Awards—so that Mediacorp’s big and not-so-big names could get some sartorial ideas for their red carpet?

Local stars looking at what their Hollywood counterparts wear on the red carpet are like regular folks looking to influencers on social media to conduct their otherwise mundane lives: It happens. I am not sure, to be honest, how fashion-aware our TV stars really are (how did Elvin Ng [黄俊雄] go from last year’s Alexander McQueen to this year’s Versace is really beyond me). Or, how much they admire the style of Hollywood superstars that they feel confident enough to emulate them. Variety Tweeted shortly after the Oscars presentation, “no shirt, no problem, if your are Timothée Chalamet”. We are all aware there is no equivalent in Medicorp. There should not even be.

However, there they were: Baring their chest as Mr Chalamet did, but, reversely, in white. So excited with the prospect of seeing the barely exposed torso of everyone’s favourite actor and Bioskin Most Charismatic Artist awardee Desmond Tan (陈泂江)—shirtless under the Alexander McQueen neo-redingote with zips in front and the rear, where darts would normally be—that the highly excitable, rapid-talking co-host Seow Sin Nee (萧歆霓) squealed in delight: “我觉得你最吸引的大概是你的腹肌… 我看到了 (I feel that your most attractive [part] is probably your abdominal muscles… I see it)!” Whatever she did see, she was so gleefully pleased, it was as if she won a lottery. Unlike Mr Chalamet, Mr Tan was strategically buttoned up!

So were the other two shirtless ones: singer/songwriter Jarrell Huang (黄俊融) in a Q Menswear double-breasted, completed buttoned, and Yes 933 DJ Kenneth Chung (钟坤华) in one unnecessarily belted. They were not only covered, they were securely covered. They were in white too, as if the “colour of purity” could temper any suggestion of unwanted sexual inducement. This was, after all, family entertainment! And all of them had something in common too. Or, in common with Mr Chalamet: jewellery for the neck and sternum. Yes, if you follow suit (oops!), do so right down to the accessories. In the past, wearing a T-shirt under a blazer, as Xu Bin (徐彬) and Brandon Wong (黄炯耀) did, was considered too casual, even disrespectful. But last Sunday, just that simple extra layer was, for some, way too much.

Star Awards (2022): Still Not Shining

Away from Changi Airport, is this year’s Star Awards a better, sleeker affair? Were we hoping for too much?

Ah jie Zoe Tay, in purple silk chiffon, floating down the Walk of Fame. Photo: The Celebrity Agency/Instagram

By Ray Zhang

The Star Awards 2022 is a very long show, if you take into consideration that ‘Backstage Live’ segment, screened three and half hours before the ceremony proper on MeWatch and YouTube. At more than seven hours duration in its entirety, it was long enough for me to be on a flight to Tokyo. Since last year, MediaCorp has decided that the annual show generates enough interest to warrant extra broadcast of not only the anywhere-is-a-red-carpet segment, Walk of Fame, but also a look at the stars getting ready, presumably from around or after noon. But while the award presentation, now back at the MediaCorp Theatre, veered dangerously towards dull, it was Backstage Live that was utterly unbearable to watch, even more so than last year’s. If any glamour was to be expected, as promised by Mediacorp, all was lost in the loud, grating, uninformative banter that dominated this painful prelude.

Juvenile and boisterous, in all its youth-grassroots glory, it was as if all the hosts—all six of them—cut their teeth at a qiyue getai (七月歌台 or the ‘song stage’ of the 7th lunar month, aka Hungry Ghost Festival). When asked by hosting partner Seow Sin Nee (萧歆霓) what he liked to watch at each Star Awards, apart from the main presentation, the 1.91-metre tall Herman Keh (郭坤耀) mentioned the “红地毯 (red carpet)” because of the stars’ attire, which he referred to as “制服 (zhifu or uniform)”! And he would go on to say that at least five times more, including referring to the Hugo Boss suit that he wore as zhifu, too. And, even when later, Priscelia Chan (曾诗梅) was curious about his word choice while being interviewed by the noisy duo, he did not appear to be aware of the embarrassing faux pas.

The new-gen Channel 8 hosts: (left) “uniform”-clad Herman Keh and (right) Seow Sin Nee with resident stylist Annie Chua (middle). Screen grab: Mediacorp/YouTube

I know not if Mr Keh was on script, but bumbling and blundering his way through his set was only part of the pain in watching this segment of MediaCorp’s biggest night. When the same pair presented one of the six debut My Pick awards (for Favourite Male Show Stealer, which Xu Bin won), Ms Seow was asked “哪一个是你的pick (who is your pick)?”. She replied, “it’s all my picks”! The appalling command of both Mandarin and English on a broadcast believed to be one of the most popular for Channel 8 (the main event of last year’s show at Changi Airport shockingly won the award for Best Entertainment Special!) is embarrassing, to say the least. Later, when Mr Keh won the Most Attention-Seeking New-Gen Host, he said, “感谢我爸爸妈妈把我养成这么高 (grateful to my parents for raising me until I am so tall)“. There is a difference between “古灵精怪 (weird or bizarre, as Mr Keh described himself)” and trite. Throw in their mission to find the “female star with the highest heel” and the “guy with the tallest hair”, I knew nothing begged further viewing.

The Walk of Fame at five o’clock brought me back to the show. After last year, the struts and poses this time returned to a real but somewhat short red carpet, although it was obvious that all the stars waited behind a backdrop to emerge. No one was seen coming out of a luxury car (sponsorship was hard to score this year?). As with her appearance on the Changi Airport Terminal Four driveway of the entrance to the departure hall in 2021, Zoe Tay had to walk alone. Wearing a silk chiffon dress by Gucci with a cape that floated behind her like a parachute (I’m not sure about the curiously chunky black platforms), she commanded the red carpet like a seasoned pro, lifting nary a pinch of her floor-length skirt to navigate the Walk of Fame, while other younger actresses lifted their distended skirts as if they were avoiding dog excrement. I had to remind myself that for most of the actresses, this was probably the only chance in the entire year when they could wear an evening gown, and possibly towering heels. And since they had to return the the borrowed dresses in saleable condition, they had to content with lifting while parading to avoid an embarrassing frock-ripping, if not nasty fall.

Best actress and actor favourites Chantalle Ng and Xu Bin. Photo: The Celebrity Agency/Instagram

On the red carpet, the most anticipated, I suppose, were the My Star Bride leads Chantalle Ng (黄暄婷) and Xu Bin (徐彬). Ms Ng is the daughter of old-timer Lin Meijiao (林梅娇, winner of the evening’s Best-Supporting Actress). She wore a red, sequinned Bottega Veneta gown, which appeared a tad too large for her and clearly too long. Frequently, she had to hold one side (or both) of the dress to help her walk less uncomfortably or so that her platform compers won’t cause her to trip. Contrasting her, colour-wise (or to express some National Day fervour?), was Mr Xu in an off-white Dolce & Gabbana suit that was tackily tacked with what could be earrings, bearing the letters ‘D’ and ‘G’, all over—yes, on the pants too, without which he would be too close to an albino peacock? Mr Xu had earlier, in the Backstage Live segment, said that when he saw the suit, he knew immediately that it was the one he wanted and had instructed his stylist to get it for him. I wish someone had told him he could pass of as a window display at Chomel.

In fact, the guys seemed to have tried harder this year. Many came in suits—some of a better fit than others, many curiously semi-casual, and few down-right not dressy. Elvin Ng (黄俊雄), in a Versace suit, was the first joke of the day: he went from kedai-kopi bandung to Fanta orange. Or, was it F&N? To be sure, I don’t know if Mediacorp ever stipulated a dress code or whether it was merely a given that attendees would don evening wear, but it was unlikely that black tie, as many had thought, was expected. Still, odd choices abound: Desmond Tan (陈泂江) in a cream, zips-for-darts Alexander McQueen coat, which he wore sans shirts a la Timothée Chalamet at the Oscars (I do not know why there persists this love of substituting outerwear for a blazer at an awards night), only that the American actor did not go shirtless under a coat; Dennis Chew (周崇庆) in a cartoonish white suit, with hand-drawn tracing of the perimeter of the outfit, designed by, gasp, Chen Hanwei (陈汉玮) and made by Q Menswear; or Nick Teo’s shaggy, kungfu-master, Yohji Yamamoto layers. And those in non-solids: Romeo Tan’s Etro suit with geometric patterns gleaned from carpets, Bryan Wong’s also-Etro blazer with Savannah print (feline included), and worse, Pierre Png’s too-small, too-day-yet- too-prom-night gingham jacket.

Formalwear interpreted: (from let) James Seah, Desmond Tan, and Teo Ze Tong. Photo: The Celebrity Agency/Instagram

There were other trends among the men—possibly what Herman Keh obliviously, gleefully, and toothily called zhifu—if you consider, like I did, their omnipresence. Most discernible were the dinner jackets with peaked lapels in black (sometimes part of it) to stand out from the main fabric. At least half a dozen of them embraced this small chromatic contrast. Even Desmond Tan could not resist the pull, when he changed into a different suit for the award presentation (he was a best actor nominee). Was it to show that the stars paid attention to details? Also, the persistence of sneakers peeking out from the hem of tailored trousers (many annoyingly not altered to the wearer’s height). Is this really considered cool, even on tuxedo-clad sexagenarian Zhu Houren (朱厚任)?

But what really caught my attention were their faces, which I usually do not scrutinise (nothing surgical intervention won’t hide). I should be more specific—this year, the eyebrows or the many stars who had theirs darken or drawn to augment the density. The unnaturalness really jumped at me. Those of Jeremy Chan (田铭耀, among those who wore a tuxedo jacket with contrast-black lapels), for one, were especially intense and oddly linear and light brown, as if they were shaded with a template; they were even thicker and denser than wife Jessica Liu’s (刘子绚), as if he was trying to impress her as Zayn Malik!

The long and lean: (left and right) Cynthia Koh, and Rebecca Lim. Photos: The Celebrity Agency/Instagram. And (centre)) Joanne Peh. Screengrab: Mediacorp/YouTube

The women, in contrast, seemed more measured in their attempts to make a massive impact. I consider this year a lull year. According to Mediacorp’s principal image stylist & costume designer Annie Chua, what she prepared for 23 of the stars revolved around “old Hollywood glamour” or, if you missed it the first time, “very glamorous old Hollywood glamour”. I wonder if the emphasis was on “old”. Quan Yifeng (权怡凤) wore a front-heavy, fussy, old-looking, black (and some white) strapless number: Ms Chua may not have realised that someone’s Hari Raya valances were missing. The opposite to that dated fussiness was Sheryl Ang’s (洪丽婷) yellow Sportmax crush of fabric. Was there not a single iron in the dressing rooms of Mediacorp? And what were the opera gloves about?

In the end, it was clean lines, as well as neatness that attracted me. Although many viewers consider the actresses who could stop traffic in their manner of dress of the past to be “boring” this year, I do think that they stood out for their unfussy turn out: Cynthia Koh (许美珍) in Moshino, Joanne Peh (白薇秀) in Ralph Lauren, and, most striking, Rebecca Lim (林慧玲) in Louis Vuitton. Sure, what they wore could be the epitome of modest fashion (at least from the front), but the dresses (including special guest, Taiwanese Pets Tseng’s [曾沛慈] red Rebecca Vallance dress, I should add) communicated a certain elan and class, both of which the Star Awards still lack, in spades.

Was He Or Was He Not?

At the recent Grammy Awards, the late Virgil Abloh was described as a “Hip-Hop Fashion Designer”. Stop “downplaying his achievements”, many cried

Virgil Abloh had a long career in fashion—almost two decades. From the early days of Pyrex Vision to his final glory at Louis Vuitton, Mr Abloh, admittedly, more than dabbled in fashion. But was his accomplishments unfairly trimmed when the recent Grammy Awards show labeled him a “Hip-Hop Fashion Designer” during the In Memoriam segment of the presentation? Was ‘Fashion Designer’ not adequate? Mr Abloh still has a huge fan base, possibly larger than some of the night’s nominated artistes. That so many viewers and attendees would be riled up was to be expected when the description does not offer something that suggests Greatness, specifically Black Greatness. But was it, as many insisted, “racially-charged” Or, “disrespectful”? And what, by the way, is a “hip hop fashion designer”?

It didn’t help that the members of BTS wore Louis Vuitton, specifically from the late designer’s last collection for the house—fall 2022. Vogue called the suits that the septet wore “spiffy” although four of the double-breasted (out of the seven two-pieces) were dangerously close to dowdy (let’s risk the wrath of The Army!) if not for the youthfulness of the wearers. But looking at those suits lined up in a row, it is hard to pin “hip hop fashion” to the tailored ensembles, even if hip-hop stars have for quite a while adopted dapper suits for their performances and public appearances (even Rihanna wore his LV!). This was, to so many who watched the telecast, visually contradictory to the description that appeared below Mr Abloh’s name. This had to be the apex of fashion!

Mr Abloh, to many of his supporters, was much bigger than anything that came out of hip-hop: he headed a French house and even dabbled, even if only briefly, in the rather un-hip-hop of crafts—haute couture

There is no denying Virgil Abloh was a titan in the world of hip hop, not only for his association with Kanye West (who attended Mr Abloh’s debut LV show and hugged him at the end of it), but also the work he did for the rapper. Before he created clothes that many people wanted to buy, he was very much a part of that world, and still is. But Mr Abloh, to many of his supporters, was much bigger than anything that came out of hip-hop: he headed a French house and dabbled, even if only briefly, in the rather un-hip-hop of crafts—haute couture. In addition, Mr Abloh was a Grammy nominee. In 2011, he was selected for the cover design (done in partnership with Riccardo Tisci) of Jay-Z’s Watch the Throne (more hip-hop there). Would The Recording Academy not have served the viewers of their award presentation better if they acknowledged the Off-White founder with the prefix “Grammy-nominated” followed by his stature in art and fashion?

Despite the underwhelming description, it is not degrading to be considered a “hip-hop fashion designer” (assuming that’s a valid accolade) when so many Black creatives have effected distinctive and influential aesthetics rooted in their own culture, which includes hip-hop. Sure, Mr Abloh went further than most, but he did draw from the aesthetical legacy of his community and brought international attention to it. He, too, birthed the use of text—within inverted commas—to identify articles of clothing and accessories, and their parts, which is not unlike the words used in graffiti art—considered a part of the quartet most identified with hip-hop that includes emceeing (rapping), DJing (which the designer did), and B-boying (breakdancing). In hip-hop, many do see the positively indomitable spirit of Virgil Abloh.

Illustration: Just So

Thin Skin To Thick Skin

In a history-making Oscars night moment, Will Smith went from won’t take it to won’t budge

As it turned out, Will Smith was asked to leave the Academy Awards ceremony at the Dolby Theatre after slapping Chris Rock. But he was adamant about staying put. According to the latest statement from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences that was reported by the press, “Mr Smith was asked to leave the ceremony and refused”. It is not certain if it was a request or a demand. Or why Mr Smith was allowed to deny either. The Academy added that they “could have handled the situation differently”. How so, they did not say. But they did concede that “Mr. Smith’s actions at the 94th Oscars were a deeply shocking, traumatic event to witness in-person and on television”. That it was unacceptable was not mentioned. But in a letter addressed to its members, as report by Variety, the Academy’s president and CEO, David Rubin and Dawn Hudson respectively, wrote, “To be clear, we condemn Mr. Smith’s actions that transpired Sunday night.”

Will Smith’s refusal to leave allowed him to bask in the standing ovation when he went to receive his Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role. In fact, he took to the stage twice. The first, prematurely, to strike Chris Rock. And the second, triumphantly, to be the fifth Black actor to win the award, for the first time. It is possible that Mr Smith declined to submit to the Academy’s toothless punitive action then because he was confident he would win. The 94th Academy Awards was the “most diverse” presentation, produced by an “all-Black” team (or “mostly black”, depending on which news service you subscribe to). They had to give it to him. Denzel Washington, the other Black nominee already won one Oscar. It was Will Smith’s turn—the actor was probably convinced. He was not ready for a win in absentia.

And his insistence paid off. What was truly amazing to us was that Mr Smith was first a thin-skinned husband when it came to an unfunny joke about his wife, but quickly became a thick-skinned star, certain that he would be bestowed Hollywood’s highest accolade, even when his presence was not desired in the theatre. The witnessed aggressor seemingly accorded impunity. Sure, the Academy later said they would investigate and Mr Smith has issued, via social media, an apology to Mr Rock (so did the Academy. Every presenter, without doubt, deserves a safe space on stage), but that Slap is unfortunately an affront to decency and humanity. And the world saw it. And the Internet has it secured deep in its bowels, waiting to cough it out by the stroke of a search entry. To forget it would be hard, very hard.

Update (31 March 2022, 9.30pm): Who is right? According to TMZ, who spoke to “sources with direct knowledge who were present”, Will Smith was not asked to leave the scene of the Slap. Apparently, “Academy officials were backstage with Will’s reps and there were heated conversations about what had gone down.” No consensus was reached as those officials were split in what was the right thing to do. Oscars producer Will Packer apparently told Mr Smith that “he could stay”. And the actor did

Illustration: Just So

Oscars 2022: Many Forgettable Dresses, One Memorable Moment

Gowns failed to impress after Will Smith seemingly pulled off a slap-first version of Kanye West at the 2009 VMAs

Will Smith took to the stage to slap Chris Rock for joking about wife Jada Pinkett-Smith. Screen grab: YouTube

Warning: this post contains language that some readers may find objectionable

“Love will make you do crazy things,” said Will Smith in his acceptance speech for the Best Actor award. And crazy it was when the King Richard lead earlier slapped Chris Rock on stage after Jada Pickett-Smith was teased by the comedian. Mr Rock had jabbed at her by comparing her to G.I. Jane, the eponym in the 1997 Ridley Scott film in which Demi Moore plays the soldier-character with a shaved head. “Jada, I love ya. G.I. Jane 2, can’t wait to see it,” Mr Rock teased. Ms Pickett-Smith’s barely discernible hair is the result of alopecia, an autoimmune condition, where the body attacks the cells of hair follicles, causing hair loss. At first, Mr Smith seemed to be laughing, but then his wife, decked in a Glenn Martens for Jean Paul Gaultier Couture gown, showed she disapproved the joke by rolling her eyes. The camera returned to Mr Rock and the next thing we saw was the actor marching up the stage and quickly smacking the presenter. It did not look scripted. Immediately, social media went berserk! “What just happened?” became the question of the hour.

But the on-stage slap was not enough. After swaggering back to his seat, Mr Smith shouted, “keep my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth!” Twice! (The telecast on channel 5 this morning was not censored.) The Academy Awards have its fair share of distasteful jokes, and nominated actors—and their companions—have always been free for all who host (should Jesse Plemmons have lunged at Amy Schumer for calling his wife Kirsten Dunst a “seat filler” and getting her to vacate her chair?). But is a bad gag good reason to attack the joker? At the risk of pointing to the unmentionable “angry Black man”, this was not the first time a Black ‘bro’ took to the stage to express deep unhappiness. Back in the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs), Kanye West leapt on stage during Taylor Swift’s acceptance of the Best Female Video award and said, “Yo Taylor, I’m really happy for you, I’ma let you finish, but Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time! One of the best videos of all time!” Notice the repeat. Only now, Mr Smith had not confronted a White woman or a White man. He laid his hand on a Black guy, which could be “settled”, just as P Diddy said, when he appeared after Mr Rock: “Will and Chris, we’re gonna solve that like family…” On their official Twitter account, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences posted: “The Academy does not condone violence of any form.” And quickly re-focused on the aim of the show: “Tonight we are delighted to celebrate our 94th Academy Awards winners, who deserve this moment of recognition from their peers and movie lovers around the world.”

Will Smith, in Dolce & Gabbana and wife Jada Pinkett-Smith in Glenn Martens for Jean Paul Gaultier Couture gown. Photo WireImage

After the manly outburst, the show moved into surreal territory. While a (mere) heckler would likely be shown the door, Will Smith was allowed to stay and watch the show, and laugh, and go back up the same stage to receive the award for Best Actor, his first. He was met with a standing ovation (Prada-clad Lupita Nyong’o, who sat behind him and was at first shocked by the latter’s open-hand action, stood up to applaud excitedly)! Tearing (or acting?), he said sorry to practically everyone except the guy he smacked. “I want to apologize to the Academy. I want to apologize to all my fellow nominees. This is a beautiful moment and I’m not crying for winning an award. It’s not about winning an award for me. It’s about being able to shine a light on all of the people… Art imitates life. I look like the crazy father…” While he was crying, social media was calling out the slap for a joke as reactive and excessive. And, what if he didn’t win?! This was, however, not the first time Chris Rock targeted Jada Pinkett-Smith. During the 2016 presentation, he joked about her boycotting the award show due to what she saw as lack of diversity. “Jada’s gonna boycott the Oscars?” he joked, “Jada boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna’s panties. I wasn’t invited!”. But the current “attack”, some also said, “was low”. Very quickly, #UgliestOscarsMoment_Ever was trending.

Earlier, on the red carpet, the media described the Smiths to have had “wow(ed) the red carpet”—he in a fussy black three-piece suit (and a tie!) by Dolce & Gabbana and she in a green Glenn Martens for Jean Paul Gaultier Couture gown with a ponderous-looking train. Their comeliness gave no clue that something a lot less attractive would take place soon. But, the red carpet this year did seem like a foretaste of the lacklustre proceedings of a tightly-edited show, up to the slap. The looks easily fell into twos: conservative or sexy, pink or green, easy or trying. Those who opted for a more ‘conventional’, symmetrical choice brought back chic based on a definition we thought was lost. Those who took their style cues from Saweetie looked as slutty. Chloe Bailey’s LVDF dress (by the LA-based Austrian designer Lukas van der Fecht), for example, had a slit up her left leg that went straight to below her breast!

The Better Dressed

Clockwise from top left: Zoe Kravitz in Saint Laurent, Uma Thurman in Bottega Veneta, Cynthia Erivo in Louis Vuitton, Zendaya in Valentino, Timothée Chalamet in Louis Vuitton, Kodi Smit-McPhee in Bottega Veneta. Photos: Getty Images

The Worst Dressed

Clockwise from top left: Megan Thee Stallion in Gaurav Gupta, Penélope Cruz in Chanel, H.E.R. in Carolina Herrera, Kristen Stewart in Chanel, Maggie Gyllenhaal in Schiaparelli, Halle Bailey in Roberto Cavalli. Photos: Getty Images

In the camp of the better-dressed, there was a nod to a specific past: the shirt and skirt ensemble not normally associated with the Oscars red carpet, except for Sharon Stone’s Gap and Vera Wang respectively in 1998. Uma Thurman wore a nicely loose white shirt with a barely flared black skirt, both by Bottega Veneta. The slickest look of the night seemingly channeled her 1994 Pulp Fiction character Mia Wallace. Zendaya, who has embraced this red carpet season in more avant-garde looks, such as those by Rick Owens and Loewe, has opted, just like Ms Thurman, for a shirt (and sparkly and impeccably fitted skirt with a train), only hers was cropped and came with curved shirttails. Such simplicity finally negates the outdated belief that princess dresses stand out more on the red carpet and augment the wearer’s femininity. But, perhaps more memorable would be Timothée Chalamet, who, quite the opposite, went shirtless under his Louis Vuitton cropped tuxedo jacket—not from anything by the late Virgil Abloh, but by Nicolas Ghesquière for the women’s collection!

Those who tried harder just appeared to have, perhaps as evidence that they did experience the Oscars ritual of getting dolled/tarted up. This was, after all, the first mask-free Oscars since the start of the pandemic. Megan Thee Stallion, rather new to the show, looked like she fell into a craft class teaching the making of fabric flowers. Penélope Cruz, no newbie, was dressed by Chanel to look like a woman who went back to high school to be a belated prom queen. Maggie Gyllenhaal, who normally looks pleasing if not smashing, appeared to have worn a chest of drawers, or were the drawer knobs on the Schiaparelli dress unnecessarily evocative of furniture? And then Kristen Stewart appeared in something that could have come from that chest: shorts! Lady Gaga, expected to turn up in a showstopper of a gown, did not walk on the red carpet at all. When she emerged on stage (with Lisa Minnelli in a wheelchair), she was not stealing any scene, at least not in a curiously dated look of a shinny tux by Ralph Lauren. Without a nomination, did the house of Gucci abandon her? Next year, we probably won’t remember her tuxedo, but we would recall those worn by the two guys’, who let this troubled world be distracted from war and pandemic with the Oscars’ first on-stage, man-to-man slap.

Note: Mediacorp censored the expletive in the repeat telecast of the show this evening

Update (28 March 2022, 11pm): The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences issued a statement: “The academy condemns the actions of Mr. Smith at last night’s show. We have officially started a formal review around the incident and will explore further action and consequences in accordance with our bylaws, standards of conduct and California law.” Earlier , it was reported that Chris Rock would not be filing charges

Update (29 March 2022, 9.30am): Twenty four hours after The Slap, Will Smith posted an apology on Instagram, saying, “I would like to publicly apologize to you, Chris. I was out of line and I was wrong. I am embarrassed and my actions were not indicative of the man I want to be”

The Bandung Suit: Here And There

Elvin Ng wore the ombre suit at the Star Awards, so did one Kori Rae at the recent Oscars. And others even earlier

The Alexander McQueen “bandung” suit on Elvin Ng (left) and Kori Rae (right). Photos: Mediacorp and Getty Images respectively

By Ray Zhang

Many people had a go at Elvin Ng (黄俊雄) after this year’s inert Star Awards. Or, to be more specific, they bashed his inoffensive Alexander McQueen suit. The jacket, in a gradation of pink at the top to bordeaux (as the brand calls it) at the bottom was compared by many viewers, even fans, to a glass of unstirred bandung—yep, that usually too-sweet coffee-stall drink made of rose syrup and evaporated milk. Online, there was even a photographic, side-by-side show-and-tell. And that was the kinder comparison. The more wicked commentators likened the blazer to a particular sanitary plug that some women use, which Mr Ng, rather forgivingly, considered “a bit offensive”. Only affable Fairprice, in a Facebook post, saw raspberry parfait in his red-carpet look.

I do not know if Mr Ng or his stylist Darryl Yeo or both of them picked the said garment, but, frankly, I didn’t see those humorous and nasty similitudes. Maybe it’s my imagination: it isn’t so vivid. To me, he was much better attired than, say, the now-disgraced Shane Pow, who, in ill-fitting Berluti two-piece, looked like he was costumed for a K-drama in which he appeared as a bratty, wealthy scion on his first day in his father’s boardroom. Whatever those many people did notice has brought much attention to not only the garment, but the brand name too. Alexander McQueen is no Alexander Wang here. So the publicity did give the former a rather big boost.

Colour gradation on Wang Yibo (left) and Kevin Hart (right). Photos: sina.cn and Aspictures/Chloe Le Drezen respectively

Mr Ng was, however, not the first or only person in the entertainment industry to wear the ombre (also described as “gradient-effect”) jacket, part of Alexander McQueen’s spring/summer 2021 collection. The tailored garment appears to be attracting a lot of admirers. A week after his TV appearance, another person wore the same outfit, 14,112km across two oceans. In Los Angeles, Pixar producer Kori Rae attended the Oscars in identical suit (not, interestingly, the version available for women). But she took it two steps further—she included a matching shirt and tie, in case the colour effect on the jacket alone was not enough for you to think bandung, or the other thing! I was surprised she didn’t colour her hair to match. Perhaps it was the setting Californian sun, but Ms Rae’s suit did look rather saturated. Forgive me, I am thinking of what Donald Trump, if he had watched, might say!

The ombre effect of the silk-wool jacket (priced at S$6,450) is, according to the brand, an “engineered dip-dyed print”, which means that the jacket or the fabric used was not actually partially submerged into a vat of dye (which may offer the assurance of no colour run). Some people think that the pink and the red do not make a good pairing; some also said the pink is too feminine for Mr Ng, who has never really concerned himself with fashion colours and details that are thought to be binary (look at the boat-neck Prada nylon top that he wore on the Channel 8 talk show The Inner Circle [神秘嘉宾]). Following the bandung alert, some Netizens pointed out that Chinese actor and former member of Korean boy band Uniq, Wang Yibo (王一博), too, wore a McQueen bomber jacket with identical chromatic print. No one questioned Mr Wang’s fashion choice. Nor, in fact, Kevin Hart’s. The comedian/actor also wore what Elvin Ng (and Kori Rae) did for a Fashion Bomb Daily fashion editorial, his masculinity clearly not threatened by sweet, unstirred-beverage colours.

Oscars 2021: Yawwwn

Woke up early to watch the 93rd Academy Awards. Big mistake

The Oscars red carpet outside Union Station. Photo: Getty Images

By Mao Shan Wang

Let’s start by talking about the end: why like that? I sat—okay, lolled—in bed for close to five hours, from 6.30 to 11.15, only to see the ending that I did not see coming: No one went on stage to receive the Oscar! There was, therefore, no speech. The whole show just fizzled out. It was all brought to a close by the Crocs-shod musical director Questlove, who, for some reason, reminded me of tWitch of the Ellen Show. The last award, presented by the bland Joaquin Phoenix, was for Best Actor and it went to Anthony Hopkins. The Sir didn’t show up (not anywhere else in the world either) and that was that! Show was over. Credits rolled. Television sets ready to be turned off. My breakfast of chashaobao still not eaten.

The traditional order in which the categories were presented was jumbled. Best Picture was not reserved for the last. The Best Actor and Actress categories were. And the no-show winner left the stage empty. Rousing! Sure, we’ve all been told before that this would be a different Academy Awards night, to be presented “like a film”. Well, there was the cinematic aspect ratio on my TV screen, but it surely didn’t unfold like a movie. Everything had to be kept small, including the attendance, and so controlled, that the show, like a movie, was very, very scripted, except the winners’ speeches. And it was very, very, dull—just like the game that was played as entertainment, half-way through: the one that had Glenn Close appear to be utterly with-it. Seriously, I did not want to see Ms Close, curiously dressed in what could be a Punjabi suit (Giorgio Armani, no less), twerk to Da Butt!

Regina King opening the show. Photo: ABC

One thing I have to say: Both the Star Awards and the Academy Awards have one thing in common: they were held in transport hubs: The Star Awards at Changi Airport Terminal 4 and the Academy Awards in Union Station in Los Angeles, a change from the usual Dolby Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard, where the show had been staged and televised from for the last 20 years. The 73-year-old Union Station is “the Sistine Chapel of railway stations in America”, Tom Savio of the Los Angeles Union Station Historical Society told the BBC. The 1982 film Blade Runner was shot here, in addition to more than other 150 films. It has become legendary, which, perhaps, made it suitable as an Oscars venue. The set decorators kept somewhat to the part-Art Deco and part-mission revival styles of Union Station, converting the Historic Ticketing Hall and the Grand Waiting Room into a nightclub, as if where an old Hollywood-era musical number might be staged. A train station, for one night, didn’t look like one, but, a week ago, on our island, for one award night, an airport certainly looked like the passenger terminal it is.

But in a pandemic year, must award nights be so sluggish? Sure, it hasn’t been a show-biz-as-usual year for this award season, but, despite its IRL production (thankfully, no Zoom acceptance appearances and speeches), the presentation wasn’t exactly celebratory. I get it. It’s still a pandemic year, still post-BLM and the George Floyd court case has just concluded amid more police shootings, and, for many, the Oscars is still not inclusive enough. Entertainment no longer in the picture, causes close to the heart are. Regina King, who got the show going in probably the best gown of the night by Louis Vuitton, set the tone when she made references to the verdict in Minneapolis, and if it had been diametrically so, “I would have traded my heels for marching boots”. Were nominees and attendees, therefore, looking out for lapses in inclusivity and justice? Is it a wonder that viewership of the Oscars this year was reported to be at an “all-time low”?

Oscars 2021 Red Carpet: Yawwwn

The skin-baring and the over-fluffy: (from left) Andra Day, Zendaya, Laura Dern. Photo: Getty Images

Asian aesthetic on the red carpet: Chloé Zhao’s village girl look. Photo: Getty Images

“This is Hollywood’s Christmas,” Angela Bassett, confident in red Alberta Ferretti and sleeves that could be props from Raise the Red Lantern, had said earlier, outside the red carpet/arrival “pre-show”. But, thankfully, few came noticeably as Christmas trees. Rather, in their post-pandemic, post-jogger-bottom best. Both Andra Day (in Vera Wang) and Zendaya (in Valentino Couture) showed us how to be mask-free for the waist. Laura Dern took the modest route, wearing Oscar de la Renta ostrich feathers, while looking like the bird. Her pal Reese Witherspoon decided to give her red prom-night dress (Dior. Did she pick the belt from Walmart on the way to Union Station?) another run. Or was that her old bridesmaid gown? Conversely, Olivia Coleman, who also wore a red Dior and a belt, looked far much more pulled-together and stylish. Carey Mulligan seemed to be telling us that when she went to Valentino (Couture), they were very happy: They found someone to use their dead-stock fabric on. What, to me, was palpably absent was the gathering of fashion heavyweights. There was no Nicole Kidman, no Thilda Swinton, no Cate Blanchett. This has been one Oscars confectionary that not only didn’t rise, it was missing the frosting.

In the end, it was really Chloé Zhao that really killed it for me. Ms Zhao may have won for Asians and women directors in Hollywood with her two awards, but her sartorial choice was no victory for fashion. Even Hermès was limited in their powers to make her look polished. Yes, I know her trademark look is fashion-free, but this was the “casual-is-really-not”-cool Oscars. She could have tried; she could have left the sneakers (Hermès too, so what?) at home (even if she was taking the subway) and she could have worn some makeup (even if she was going to a train station), but somehow, she couldn’t shake off her 村女之美 (cunnu zhimei) village lass beauty and those barnyard ponytails. She told Vanity Fair last year, when asked about her hair, “I haven’t been to the hair salon in five years”. Enough said.

Two Of A Kind: Jet Set

Before Mediacorp’s Star Awards 2021, there was Karl Lagerfeld’s Chanel 2008, 2012, and 2016

An airport created inside the Grand Palais for Chanel spring/summer 2016. Photo: Chanel

The attendees at the Star Awards 2021 held inside the terminal building of T4. Screen grab: Mediacorp/YouTube

We are an island of many firsts. Mediacorp’s recent Star Awards, curiously staged at Changi Passenger Terminal T4, is one of them. It included a “fashion show” with a short runway on the tarmac, in front of an SIA jet. Another first. And stars strutting their stuff in front of an the aircraft—a first too. For the uninitiated, this must have been the grandest event Mediacorp has ever put together, and with more fashion than an average TV/MeWatch/YouTube viewer will get to see in their lifetime. But the aviation theme is hardly new in the world of fashion/entertainment. Watching the unreasonably long broadcast of six-and-a-half hours, with no real content in the first three, we started to stray and think of the grand sets of the old Chanel shows under Karl Lagerfeld’s watch that included an airport and aircraft. Grand. Monumental. Splendid. Stupendous! The descriptions came easily, but we struggled to find similar for Mediacorp’s dalliance with Changi Airport.

Outside their studios, Mediacorp was rather lost—a 孙公公 (sun gonggong, Eunuch Song!) in 21st century Singapore with a four-terminal, two-runway international airport. T4 is not the most attractive among all of Changi’s dissimilar terminals, and Mediacorp made it even less telegenic. From the “red carpet” on the red asphalt of the driveway to the plush, but utilitarian interiors of the departure gates, the show venues had the ambience of an MRT station during the Circuit Breaker. And to see the stars on both driveway and airport apron in sometimes laughable clothes that contradicted the spirit of red-carpet fashion (Chen Hanwei ridiculously over-fashioned by Q Menswear, for one) was really both highlight and downer of the whole event. It might be alright for us to laugh at ourselves, but thinking that the other regions with similar and far more polished award nights having a national giggle was pain-inducing. So, it was best to think of other memorable events.

Chanel cruise show in 2008 featuring a Chanel private jet from which models appeared. Photo: JKLD

Zoe Tay in Carolina Herrera at Changi T4. Photo: Mediacorp

Chanel’s over-the-top shows are, by now, legendary. No idea is too audacious or too unachievable for the house and their budget, and that includes creating a departure lounge and naming the check in counter Chanel Airlines. In fact, there was even a Chanel Line. Back in 2008, Chanel staged a couture show on an airfield in Santa Monica, Los Angeles. The audience was seated in a hanger and two planes—the Bombardier Challenger 601 (considered “business jets”, hence for private travel)—arrived to allow the models to alight. So spectacular the whole staging was (including a first-class departure gate set up in the hanger, complete with cocktail bars) that guests reportedly gave the show a standing ovation even before the first model, Raquel Zimmermann in an airport-ready navy jumpsuit, could deplane. So outstanding the presentation was that jet-setting attendees, such as Victoria Beckham and Demi Moore were duly impressed. If watching the action outside the aircraft was not quite enough, for the spring/summer 2012 couture collection, Chanel brought the show inside the cabin, with a set that allowed members of the audience aisle or window seat!

The house of Chanel had a long connection to aviation. In 1966, Coco Chanel herself even designed the uniforms—featuring her signature boxy jackets—of the flight attendants of Olympic Airways (now Olympic Airlines) of Greece, which was, at that time, marketed as a luxury airline owned by the shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis (who married the widowed Jackie Onasis). Back then, flying was a stylish affair. And an airport was not a place for T-shirts and shorts and flip-flops as it is now. In bringing back or remembering the romance of travel, Karl Lagerfeld had an airport terminal built in the Grand Palais for the Chanel spring/summer 2016 show. Models appeared as passengers ready to check in at the Chanel Airlines counter, manned by just-as-impossibly-good-looking staff. The flight information display system above (interestingly, not a split-flap) showed the final destinations of Chanel Airlines: Dubai, Seoul, Tokyo, and, amazingly, Singapore! We needed another country to show that we are worthy.

Fairprice Compares

The supermarket chain, like so many of us, weighed in

The last organisation we’d imagine to join the commentary on the fashions of Star Awards is Fairprice. Who’d guess that straight-laced NTUC—as many still prefer to call it—could be this visually tongue-in-cheek. On Facebook and Instagram, they compared the outfits worn by Elvin Ng (黄俊雄), Chantelle Ng ( (黄暄婷, unrelated), and Joel Choo (朱哲伟) to foods—dessert, pastry, and beverage respectively. Totally palatable humour for mass consumption, as opposed to the snarky comments appearing on social media, such as the annual bashing by former supervising editor at Channel News Asia Phin Wong, whose followers gleefully praise, “always gets it right” (his post seemed to have been deleted), and “always hungry, always bitchy” Dennis Lim whose Fashun Armageddon 2021 album (wittily called 红星大讲 or star talk) on Facebook gave the Star Awards a flaming roast.

For Elvin Ng, being compared to a raspberry parfait probably allowed him to sigh in relief after others distastefully linked his Alexander McQueen suit to a tampon. Chantelle Ng’s confection of a gown by bridal wear designer Jessicacindy was predisposed to be a food meme, so she, too, must have been delighted that her dress was likened to what Krispy Kreme offers, rather than considered inspiration for ex-Mediacorp radio darlings Daniel Ong and Jamie Yeo’s former bake shop Twelve Cupcakes. The colour of Joel Choo’s ultra-relaxed Zegna suit was seen to be similar to teh C peng (iced milk tea) instead of teh kor underpants, as trended. So happy he was with the association that the son of veteran actor Zhu Houren asked Fairprice on FB, “please send over 1 month’s supply of kopi peng!” You guessed it: crowd pleaser Fairprice cleverly obliged.

Screen grab: NTUC Fairprice/Facebook

The Blah Awards

Did Changi Airport and Jewel make for a better Star Awards show?

By Mao Shan Wang

This year’s Star Awards. (红星大奖) was supposed to soar, but it seemed to have gone as high as a paper plane could. Broadcast live yesterday from Changi Airport T4 and Jewel, the show felt like a bird in a wrong tree. Only here on our island is where an airport is also a leisure site. Or, an entertainment broadcast point. But, hard as I tried, I could not fathom why an airport terminal is an ideal location for an award ceremony that the stars decribed as 盛大 (shengda or grand). Would the Chingay be there next? National Day Parade? Or was T4 designed to be so admirably adaptable that it could be passenger building, vaccination centre and award ceremony venue? Or was this Mediacorp’s interpretation of using SingapoRediscovers Vouchers, while Changi Airport and Singapore Airlines were in enthusiastic marketing mode, in case we have forgotten about them?

It must have been hard for the attendees and the nominees appearing on the unmissable red carpet. I, of course, speculate since I wasn’t there, neither, in all likelihood, were you. But you and I can imagine. First, there was the weather. I live in the east, so I experienced what the attendees and participants must have had. It was blazing hot in the morning, which kept everything dry, but toasted the tarmac. Then the sky turned grey after noon, not the expectant grey of storm clouds, but the hoary expanse that just made everything below muggy and so unfavorable to an afternoon of red carpet arrivals at the airport. You did not have to be in the stars’ shoes. If you had covered the anterior Jurassic Mile in such a day, you would know what I mean.

Red-carpet hosts Desmond Ng, Vivian Lai, Lee Teng at the driveway of T4

Then there was the red carpet—not one but two! First encounter was a stretch on the driveway of the entrance to the departure hall and another, ridiculous as it was, on the airport apron, with SIA aircraft as backdrop. Not everyone got to walk in the front and the rear. You needed be a top star to be granted both. Or not either (Fann Wong and Jeanette Aw! Why were they exceptional, I wondered). All of them (those who mattered, anyway) did arrive on the driveway (which I only now realised is red asphalt—already a red ‘carpet’), but some did not alight kerbside. Zoe Tay suddenly appeared, with the top end of the red carpet behind her, with no car in sight, and with no companion. Did she take a bus? I hope not. Wearing a strapless, massive bow-front Caroline Herrera gown with a train, she gamely walked a considerable distance to the first of two platforms to be interviewed. No one was on hand to be chivalrous and to help her up the three-step platform, not even those around to open car doors for other stars. Her steady climb prompted host Lee Teng to say that Ah Jie “真的很有风范,完全是国际巨星的范儿—really has an air of stylishness, and it’s totally in the style of international superstars.”

Other luckier ones were allowed to alight closer to the two stages. I guess I have to count myself lucky too; I have never in my travelling life seen anyone in gowns and tuxedos dropped off at the entrance of an airport—not in Heathrow, not Charles de Gaulle, not Malpensa, not Pudong, not Narita, not JFK, not even LAX! It is fascinating—and horrifying—to see these stars navigate the red carpet in evening wear and towering heels that they get to wear only once a year (or, once since 2019, the year of the last Star Awards broadcast). But not everyone received the same memo. Some, I saw, were dressed as if they were attending a gala, some a wedding, others to perform on a getai, and one, to some debauchery involving paying customers. There were those who treated the event as the Oscars (or perhaps the Golden Horse Awards) and those who imagined it was the Grammys. What was really there on the driveway? Frankly, I don’t know what to call it.

Stars being interviewed on stage that overlooks Airport Boulevard

Star Awards is always touted as Mediacorp’s most glamorous event, but it has always been just a razzle-dazzle. No substance—this year especially. Right from the start, the union of Star Awards and Changi T4 was awkward and, as it turned out, not gratifyingly rewarding. We have so few events here that allow us to look at strikingly attired individuals who are more physically blessed than you and I are that we always fall for Star Awards (other annual events, such as the Tatler and Prestige balls are closed-door events). But when you have to take in the familiar airport locations—two boarding gates and a spot in the long departure lounge—in which the stars try to appear star-like, while socially distanced and their movement thwarted, you’ll be wondering when you can travel again, not who’d win what. Frankly, I struggled to reconcile gowns and airport lounge chairs.

What I was more at pains with was making sense of the pre-recorded runway performance earlier, on the airport apron that no regular passenger would have the privilege to prance on. Some selected (kena-arrowed?) stars were doing what has been described to me as a fashion show, right before a parked plane—an SIA Airbus A350-900. (Who could have guessed Mediacorp was out to beat two Karl Lagerfeld-era Chanel shows?!) Many of them would normally struggle to walk on an actual runway, but there they were, performing on the red-carpeted tarmac as if it was the most natural thing for them to do or part of their job description. Even former model Zoe Tay looked uncomfortable and embarrassed. Desmond Tan, in Alexander McQueen, appeared as if he was there against his will. Only Ian Fang, in Beng mode of his own design (did he don the same suit as the one worn in the 2019 Star Awards?) and the likely-borrowed-from-the-missus Chanel brooch, strutted as if he was already an award winner.

Two major stars Zoe Tay (top) and Desmond Tan performed before an SIA plane

For quite a few actresses, homage was paid to the Hollywood tape. Since so many gowns curiously did not perfectly fit, it was left to the sticky wonders of the double-sided adhesive to secure the edges of plunging necklines. No wardrobe malfunction for a conservative audience that we are. Only high slits on skirts were allowed to gape. One leg exposed, but with the thigh obscured by unsightly shorts. Vivian Lai was devious enough to wear, under the bustier-dress by Australian designer Alex Perry, a skin-coloured pair that was so close to the skin tone of her limbs that army boys in the coffee shop near my home, I heard, were cheering her on whenever she appeared as they viewed the show on their smartphones. Luckily she wasn’t in the running for the Top Ten Most Popular Female Artistes award. She’d pale in comparison to poor Ann Kok, whose Dolce and Gabbana gown seemed uncompleted due to insufficient fabric for the top left. But I suspected Ms Kok was most agreeable to exposing one side of her corset for all to appreciate.

It is sad and disappointing to me that after 26 years of the Star Awards (not counting last year’s hiatus), we are still witnessing attendees unable to understand what is dressing suitably for a special occasion, without looking like they were wearing yet another costume or blindly accepting the recommendation of their over-eager-to-make-a-fashion-statement stylists. Or, to make it easier for all the hosts to stick to the only two descriptions they know, year in, year out: 公主 (gongzhu or princess) or 女神 (nushen or goddess). Once again, it takes foreign artistes, invited to present, to show us how devoid of style many of our stars are: Gigi Leung in a sleek column with metallic bodice, Sandra Ng in an asymmetric dress and a half-cape, and Ella Chen in a gold long-sleeved gown. They wore the clothes, not, as the still-true cliche goes, the other way round.

😓😓😓😓😓

Screen grabs: Mediacorp/YouTube

So, Chanel Can Now Look Like This!

You know, for sure, times have changed if the house that Coco built, too, succumbs to the anti-fit. Who would have thought of that?

 

oscars-2020-billie-eilish-2

Mao Shan Wang

What would Coco have said; she who had perfected the perfect-fit skirt-suit?  Or Karl Lagerfeld, he who updated it? I don’t know about you, but I can hear the sounds of turning in graves, whatever that sound might sound like, which at present, is a shuffle as regrettable as frightening. I am, of course, referring to Billie Eilish wearing to the Oscars the Chanel pantsuit that appeared to have been designed for Rebel Wilson. As my grandma—pray she isn’t churning in her urn in Jalan Senyum—would have said (or asked, without even a hint of a senyum), “How many chickens are you planning to steal tonight?”

I am all for Ms Eilish establishing her own look and daring to appear at the Grammys not as a sex kitten or goddess, or whatever form that little bits of clothing on such a platform can be evocative of sexy, but her turning luxury threads into luxury rags with deplorable fit is, frankly, getting to me. If all attendees—even ushers and journalists—are expected to wear formal attire, exceptions not accepted, why are emerging stars allowed to go into the event dressed as Auntie Suzie at her last grandson’s wedding in a suit of the wrong size?

Admittedly, Ms Eilish stood out among the other fitted-for-cleavage-to-be-deep stars. There is no denying that she made many look decidedly yesteryear, appearing with as much panache as attendees at a staid affair, such as a state dinner. I can’t say—happily so—she obligingly played by the red carpet rules that had served actresses well for so many, many years. Yet, being different isn’t necessarily being the height of glamour, old or new, traditional or forward. At best, she was the awkward teenager still grappling with the idea of comfortable swish and was to be understood. It was, after all, her first Oscar appearance. Still, why an 18 year old would take inspiration from Hilary Clinton is anyone’s guess, assuming one bothers.

Don’t get me wrong. Nothing terrible with wearing a suit. Look at British costume designer Sandy Powell’s (best costume nominee for The Irishman) white double-breasted, with all-over autographs of several “high-profile Hollywood figures”, I read somewhere. She looked good—perhaps with Al Pacino’s and Robert De Niro’s signatures, among many others, the two-piece had more gravitas than that the tweed one in question, randomly affixed with double-C brooches that looked like someone was on a buying spree in Patpong.

Billie Eilish going to the Grammys, then Oscars and from Gucci to Chanel is, to many fans, double upgrades. She probably dressed for them than a statuette she was not meant to get. Yet I don’t consider the sack-like suit spiffy, which ironically, is no longer even required among the men: look at Timothée Chalamet; he could have been on his way to work at the Whole Foods warehouse! There was some style reversal, too. While Ms Eilish had forsaken ball gowns (she probably couldn’t carry herself in one), Billy Porter embraced them, with gusto and naturalness, I should add. Sartorially, there was more than just gender re-definition; in the end, it was about choice. On the red carpet these days, you could choose whatever you wanted to wear. Regrettably, the dubious, too.

Photo: Getty Images

Yawning Is Catching

The Oscars red carpet this year truly caused the head/upper body to react: involuntarily inhaling audibly due to boredom, not tiredness

 

B Porter Oscar 2020Billy Porter in Giles Deacon. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

By Mao Shan Wang

I rose early this morning, raring to go, not at all my groggy early-hour self. Yet, it became tiring, looking at the tired looks in front of me, an equally tired telecast of ABC’s Oscars Red Carpet Show on Channel 5, which was a surprise since also-tired Mediacorp had not bothered with simultaneous telecast for years. Five gowns later, I was certain where the moda will head. This was not going to be a vintage year for “fashion at the Oscars”. Not all red carpets are created equal. The Oscars has always been up there—firmament level, but this year, I really thought I woke up to People’s Choice Awards!

In the show, Billy Porter was very visible. He was a co-host; he wore a gown like his female counterparts, which was expected, and therein lies the problem for me: predictability. What would have been more striking and unexpected was for him to not wear a dress. Mr Porter, perhaps, unbeknownst to him, has come to reflect the show’s expected visual tedium, even if he had striven to be not-the-usual-actor-in-a-tux. The way he wore what he wore, you’d think that Mr Porter is a red carpet veteran. But he started only wearing gowns at last year’s Academy Awards. Yet, in a very short span, he has become the Cher of his time. Or, as my best friend from KL said more accurately in a text to me, “moved from wow to becoming a black woman”. I would struggle to disagree.

The red carpet’s one-dimensional lameness-as-lure could also be attributed to a noticeable lack of those women who can truly dress, and had made the red carpet deserving of viewership: Nicole Kidman, Cate Blanchett, Uma Thurman, and to a lesser but not insignificant degree, Tilda Swinton. These women know how to carry an evening dress and how to move in couture—what the French call (and the Americans have turned into a cliche) je ne sais quoi, or as Carine Roitfeld once described to the Evening Standard, a “way of thinking, of sitting, of crossing the legs, of eating, of everything”.

The situation is compounded by the visible changes in couture—French couture, not whatever it is that they do out there in LA. On the red carpet, almost everyone wears what the American media likes to call “custom”. And French couture is where most turn to. But long gone are the times when stars took a gamble on the red carpet by wearing a designer’s daring—not necessarily, to be sure, outré—creations. I still vividly recall Ms Kidman in John Galliano for Dior in 1997, a chartreuse gown in the silhouette of a cheongsam, so striking it was that the venerable Smithsonian considers it “one of the most influential Oscars dresses of all time”. Sadly, I don’t believe any of the gowns I saw this morning will enjoy the ‘influential’ tag. Many traditional Parisian houses simply do not create clothes that, in the old days, make people dream.

To the mix that is je ne sais quoi, Ms Roitfeld also added “bad taste”. However, dressing for the Oscars has to be the antithesis of that, since actresses, outside of playing imperfect characters, want to look perfect, offering no room for what the truly stylish know could work favourably: a touch of something that is off. Diana Vreeland, a proponent, said, “A little bad taste is like a nice splash of paprika. We all need a splash of bad taste—it’s hearty, it’s healthy, it’s physical. I think we could use more of it. No taste is what I’m against.” This morning, the dresses on the red carpet at the Oscars, to me, not only showed no taste, they were—simply put—under-seasoned.

One Shoulder/One Strap/One Sleeve Safe Bet

Oscar 2020 One ShoulderClockwise from top-left: Regina King in Versace, Cynthia Erivo in Versace, Charlize Theron in Dior, Kelly Ripa in Christian Siriano, Caitriona Balfe in Valentino, Renee Zellweger in Armani Privé, Salma Hayek-Pinault in Gucci. Photos: source

It seems that baring one arm or one shoulder (not one breast—this is the Oscars!) is the exposure that actresses needed, even with seasoned stars such as Rene Zellweger and Charlize Theron. Ms Zellweger, in Armani Privé, was in a safe bet that every actress thinking they would win adopts. Ms Theron, Dior-clad and proud of her legs, needed us to know she has never abandoned her StairMaster and Veet (or whatever is loved these days). But it is her need to join the one-shoulder club that I found amusing. To achieve the one-deltoid-exposed sexiness, she deliberately dropped the left strap down the side of her arm. Better to coordinate with her stuck-out left leg? More intriguing was Cynthia Erivo: her cleavage was framed by a pair of inverted commas, 45-degrees askew. Breast enhancement has never been this well punctuated.

Lace Always Has Its Place

Oscar 2020 LaceFrom left: Rooney Mara in Alexander McQueen, Gal Godat in Givenchy, Geena Davis in Romona Keveža. Photos: source

You can always count on lace to make evening wear more evening and the red carpet more resplendent, never mind that quite often, the wearers barely escape looking like they are ensnared in a fancy net or are reviving macrame to support a craft school for the delinquent. Rooney Mara, former fashion darling, looked strangely demure in Alexander McQueen’s skin-baring, cut-out bodice, which had pretty going for it rather than sexy—odd choice since I could not get Lisbeth Salander out of my head. Gal Godat, Givenchy-clad, was all wrapped-up on top and frothing at the bottom—odder since I could not get Diana Prince out of my head. As for Geena Davis in bridal wear designer Romona Keveža’s gown, the pandan leaves, even in silk (probably), covering the breasts prevented me from seeing them as anything other than bak chang wrappers.

Something’s Going On From The Waist Down

Oscar 2020 WaistFrom top-left: Krysty Wilson-Cairns in an hitherto unidentified dress, Saoirse Ronan in Gucci, Florence Pugh in Louis Vuitton. Photos: source

What is it about gathers of fabric from just below the belly button that make women feel especially attractive? Anything that flares from the waist—peplum especially—perhaps a fertility symbol? I admit I am ill-informed. The big bow underscoring Krysty Wilson-Cairns waistline has the same appeal as paper that is crushed when one is in a foul mood. Young Saoirse Ronan, once a fairy frock fan, now decided to be Gucci-fied and wears a peplum so huge they looked like an abbreviated skirt she might have saved from her adolescent red carpet days. Fellow cast member of Little Women, Florence Pugh, in an eight-tier Louis Vuitton dress, could have been wearing her character Amy March’s outfit of choice to vex her older sisters if such an outfit were permissible in New England during the American Civil War. I can’t make out the appeal of the poufiness, since even currently loved Disney royalty Elsa and Anna of Arendelle clearly prefer more streamlined silhouettes.

The Allure Of Long Backs

Oscar 2020 Capes & TrainsNatalie Portman in Dior Couture, Brie Larson in Celine, Olivia Colman in Stella McCartney. Photos: source

Sometimes, a little extra covering appears, even if it is mostly superfluous. Natalie Portman concealed her Dior Couture gown with a cape, reportedly embroidered with the names of female film makers—later referred to by Chris Rock as “vaginas”—thought to have been snubbed by the Academy. So discreet was this detail that, frankly, I was none the wiser. Why so imperceptibly? Because you can’t lend your voice too loudly? She could have taken the Sandy Powell route (the costume designer had stars signed her suit), but instead, Ms Portman preferred the not-discernible touches of Dior’s petite mains. Brie Larson’s caped dress by Hedi Slimane for Celine did not have secret names, but there were sequins galore, sharing the same iridescence of a gown I once saw in Mustafa, Seriously. On Olivia Colman, the Stella McCartney (not quite a red carpet name) dress I did find refreshing and, dare I say, modern. The train just wide and long enough that one might think it was a scarf. Maybe it was her hair too—nicely short and opened up a happy face.

The Plain Dull

Oscar 2020 DullGreta Gerwig in Dior, Idina Menzel in J Mendel, Camila Morrone in Carolina Herrera. Photos: source

And there were those who probably tried, but sadly, didn’t look like they did. Greta Gerwig, in Dior but could have been a prom relic, appeared to be in a generous mood: she likely preferred her young Little Women cast to outshine her. Actress/singer Idina Menzel, who sang Into the Unknown from Frozen 2, picked a designer with a surname that rhymes with hers: J Mendel, and the result is a dress that was plonked on her. Camila Morrone, the Argentine-American actress (Dead Wish), reportedly dating Leonardo Dicaprio, knew how to pressure her man: she gave a wedding dress a trial run. Any discerning bride would have relegated the ho-hum piece to the bride’s maid, but Ms Morrone did not, probably thinking that the Once Upon a Time in Hollywood lead prefers her looking like a pure, prairie lass.

The Two Ralphs

Oscar 2020 RalphsJanelle Monáe (left) and Lily Aldrige (right), both in Ralph Lauren. Photos: source

And how different they are. Janelle Monáe was little red-riding hood in a galactic silver hooded gown—very modest, while Oscars Red Carpet Show co-host Lily Aldrige had the belle-of-the-ball pick: a low-cut, body-skimming sheath with flounces on one side that opened up at a kick of the leg to show alabaster limb. No, I am not going down that path!

The Stage Hand

Oscar 2020 Stage HandScarlett Johansson in Oscar de la Renta. Photo: source

Is it I, or does Scarlett Johansson look like the woman (women?) who hands out the statuettes to the presenters on stage? Do tell me.