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 was 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 makes 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 not 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.

Short Is Not A Cut Above

A Singaporean journalist was booted out of the Oscars press room early this week for not wearing a long evening dress to the event. If only the folks at the Oscars knew: she was just showing them a typical Singaporean

 

By Mao Shan Wang

That poor girl. She didn’t know, perhaps. Or, maybe she knew but couldn’t be bothered. Formal attire at the Academy Awards is standard. She should have asked me and I would have told her to stick to baju kurong—they’ll definitely let her in. Instead, she chose—and, gosh, felt fabulous—in “knee-length shimmery dress, killer heels and formal blazer”, a combination that, as it appears to me, look right on an auditor attending her company’s D&D, but at the Oscars, could be something belonging to Elisa Esposito on her day off, stumbling onto the red carpet by mistake, minus her love interest, the humanoid amphibian.

That she had survived the kick-out and was keen to tell all about it showed that many Singaporean girls are not embarrassed by their lack of sense of occasion. This is typical of the young today: I am in my best dress—that’s good enough. And it shimmers! That’s evening enough. I pair it with a “formal” jacket! That’s grand enough. And don’t forget my killer heels! They’re high enough!

Just as not all that glitters is gold, all that shimmers is not necessarily evening wear. Short and shimmery, less so, unless you’re headed to 1-Altitude. And just because it’s a jacket—even a double-breasted one—does not mean it’s formal. A blazer, especially in Prince of Wales check (or similar), is definitely not part of a formal ensemble. As for those killer heels, I am sorry to say, the more killer they are, the more they will spell death to red carpet elegance. Girl, this wasn’t the night your boyfriend took you to his mother’s birthday party at a hotel coffee house.

And feeling sorry for yourself is definitely not Night-at-the-Oscars-smart. Even Ryan Seacrest wore a tux! Who cares if you were “nursing jet leg”? Or, that you would leave the day after? Those invitees arriving from London were probably jet-lagged too, and would scoot off just as quickly. It is convenient to blame lack of style on lack of sleep. If you ignore the dress code, you will look like you missed the memo, or the girl who turned up as Olaf when everyone else receiving the right invite came as Elsa.

I don’t know why so many women can’t be bothered with dress codes or think them a bother. Journalists are especially guilty, ST journalists in particular. It’s as if they’re saying, “We’re here to report the news, not to look nice.” And dressing appropriately would impede on their ability to do their job. Or, diminish their credibility. Maybe journalists won’t look nice because no one wants to look like Sumiko Tan? Maybe? As a friend pointed out to me, I have to understand that there are many people who see nothing wrong with attending a stated ‘gala’ event in T-shirt and jeans—they simply don’t care. Even when attending the Oscars in LA, apathy, like the passport, can’t be left at home.

Assuming you “made the mistake of not paying attention” to the “formal attire policy that everybody needs to adhere to at the Oscars”. It’s tempting to ask: Isn’t paying attention part of your job? And, let me add, have you never watched Red Carpet Live? Even the ushers are in evening wear. Did you not, for one moment, desire to not look like you just fell from the bleachers? Those there don’t wear a gown. Did you not know this isn’t the same as the Star Awards?

I have never quite understood why dressing appropriately is so difficult for some women. Is there no pleasure in donning a dress less ordinary? Are special occasions not so special anymore? Nor do I understand why throwing a jacket—any jacket—over the shoulder like a shrug can save them from a thousand scenes. For goodness’ sake, it’s not the le smoking and you’re not posing for Helmut Newton! Kid yourself not. It’s time to graduate from the campus chic (yes, oxymoron!) approach to fashion; it’s time to step up from killer heels that are already a huge misstep. Dress codes are imposed for a reason. Flouting them will not make you a cool fashion rebel; it’ll get you kicked out. This was the Oscars; this wasn’t your sister’s wedding.

Let The Support Win

Two weeks ago, Textile and Fashion Federation Singapore presented the annual Singapore Fashion Awards. Despite news preceding the event that speculated on the Awards’ uncertain future, as well as the unexpected downgrade of the presentation to a “tea gala”, many attendees and industry stalwarts concurred: the show must go on

 

SFA 2017 P1The SFA presentation at the W Hotel, Sentosa Cove

It is heartening that Singapore Fashion Awards (SFA) isn’t leaving the stage. Two months before the sophomore presentation of the come-back SFA, rumours were afloat that organiser Textile and Fashion Federation (TAFF) Singapore may put SFA on a hiatus next year. Among designers and brand owners, this was disappointing news, especially when it was earlier reported that Singapore Fashion Week will likely be no more in 2018—one platform less, not that there are numerous to begin with, on which to trump home-grown fashion.

The initial talk was that TAFF was facing budgetary constraints in staging an increasingly expensive SFA. That this year’s event had to be put in the less glamorous, working-hour time slot of tea (inexplicably termed “gala”) in a place that’s far from the maddening crowd—the W Hotel in the hard-to-get-to Sentosa Cove—was suggestion that TAFF had too tight a purse string to pay for the venue and catering expense, and had to depend on whichever establishment willing to be the sponsor, putting them in a beggars-can’t-be-choosers position.

The sustainability of budding-again SFA was also called to question as the selection committee had a hard time coming up with names in the fashion categories that were not the usual suspects, or last year’s nominees, or winners. The names that were eventually shortlisted were so unexceptional that some of the judges felt this year’s SFA would be severely uninspired. It was heard that at the last minute, two labels were brought to the table and had delighted the judges so much that things started to look up. Nuboaix and Ametsubi were suggested for the Designer of the Year (Fashion) and Emerging Designer of the Year (Fashion) categories respectively to the surprise of many as the co-designers of both labels were unknowns. The two nominations, too, surprised the respective designers as none of them had considered themselves to be part of a fashion circle framed by individuals of cultivated visibility.

SFA 2017 P2The always in-control Yasminne Cheng holding the show together

It is now said that SFA will be presented next year and, thereafter, many more years to come. This was encouraging and uplifting news to not only the fashion community, but also to those who think design awards are instrumental in the raising of industry-wide standards and the visibility of the work Singaporean fashion designers do. The limit in budget is understandable and may be improved by better fund-raising programs or by welcoming a title sponsor. The lack of credible names, unfortunately, is very real, and may not necessarily improve in the years to come.

Should TAFF then field those already nominated before, or have been awarded already? There seems to be the thought that each year, SFA should witness a new set of names and labels. The reality is that, despite new entrants in fashion retail yearly, there is still a very small pool of designers that TAFF can turn to. Except for the Emerging Designer category, which, by definition, is to honour the new, all other categories do not have to shy away from those previously considered for the SFA. As one marketing consultant said after the presentation, “Does Meryl Streep not qualify for the following year’s Academy Awards if she is nominated for the current year?”

SFA 2017 P3Designers Keita Ebihara and Elizabeth Soon of Ametsubi holding a pose with their Emerging Designer of the Year (Fashion) award

Fashion needs a certain cycle, as it needs selling seasons. It also requires something that practitioners can look forward to. That TAFF was willing to resurrect the once thought to be forever departed Singapore Fashion Awards points to the Federation’s understanding of the value of an annual salute to those who have put their very creative best into their work. Fashion folks like the proverbial pat on the back regardless of how independent, how strong, how unaffected by the opinions of others they are. And nothing is more assuring than accolades from one’s peers and recognition from industry notables. A fashion award such as SFA may prompt designers to work harder, to embrace innovation more fervently, and to adopt originality more passionately. They may aim higher too, since winning once does not mean win no more.

The Singapore Fashion Awards should, therefore, be prized as support, as much as encouragement to designers steering their brand in an industry characteristically faced with unabated challenges. Many designers, even after passing the industry-standard five-year mark that makes them no longer ‘emerging’, continue to manage their brands like fledgling businesses, with profitability a constant inconstancy, so much so that some of them have to supplement their brand’s income by taking on an extra job, often—the heart-wrenching truth—employment that has nothing to do with the perceived allure of fashion. SFA recognition may, thus, make the hardships easier to bear, allowing designers to continue to struggle, as artists do, for their craft, rather than the glamour.

Support for young, up-coming designers is especially important. There is a general lament that our island nation is utterly lacking in talents that can be nutured to fly the Singapore flag. It is also a reality that many budding designers, however gifted and prolific, are not able to propel themselves to a bigger audience without a more established organisation such as TAFF to act as some kind of launch pad. Private sector and government initiatives, thus, often allow greenhorns to see and learn more, and may expose them to markets not previously thought reachable. Case in point: This past Thursday, Singapore saw for the first time ‘Finland’s Fashion Frontier’, a fashion show featuring five of Helsinki’s best fashion design graduates that was organised by Helsinki New, a private enterprise that pairs Finnish designers and brands with the international marketplace, in collaboration with Aalto University and Helsinki Marketing, a company backed by the city itself. Sure, we’d probably not see these designers’ work for a while to come, but the satisfaction from witnessing talents in action from the Nordic land is immeasurable. It is not improbable that some day we may wear some of these names on our back.

SFA 2017 P4State Property’s Lin Ruiyin and Afzal Imran with their Emerging Designer of the Year (Accessories) award

But our young designers can only dream of support that has such far-reaching consequence. Sure, TAFF has, for many brands, acted as link to overseas markets though consultations and trade missions abroad, even if the trips have not enjoyed the visibility of those co-organised with the then Trade Development Board in the ’80s, of which those particular excursions that launched the careers of “The Magnificent Seven”—among them Tan Yoong, Thomas Wee, and Bobby Chng—are still talked about today. But can the Federation alone offer consequential reach with their woefully inadequate resources without members of the media, for one, helping to bolster the small efforts put together to give those designers a leg up?

Shortly after the SFA presentation, The Straits Times ran a report of the event on their online edition that curiously omitted the names of the co-winners of the Emerging Designer of the Year (Fashion). An update published a few hours later did not correct the irregularity; neither the follow-up the next day—save a mention in the caption that accompanied the main picture—or the version that appeared in the print edition two days later. It was not, curiously, an omission particular to ST. Other online reports, including those by the members of the Chinese media, published similar exclusion. This collective blank-out (in some cases, one-half of the duo was mentioned) prompted the whisper of conspiracy theories, including one that suggested that TAFF had wanted to play down the fact that the winning brand Ametsubi’s design studio is based in Japan, never mind that they’re a Singapore-registered company and label.

Carolyn KanCarolyn Kan of Carrie K won big this year, with three awards: Best Collaboration of the Year, Champion for Creatives and Designers, and Bespoke 

This was an odd development. It is not likely that TAFF would sanction such a reporting anomaly. Surely they would have ascertained all selected brands’ country of origin. As one creative director rightly pointed out, “In this connected world, where many of us do business from all corners of the globe, does it matter where the design studio is based? A designer can design in the middle of the Indian Ocean if he or she, or they wanted to.” Or, could the non-acknowledgement be the result of appeasing disgruntled nominees claiming unfair competition, as some attendees had later inferred? Even to that, it is possible that TAFF had anticipated such an unseemly expression of displeasure and planned a course of action to deal with it.

It is, therefore, possible, after a process of elimination, that the names of the winners of the Emerging Designer of the Year (Fashion)—Elizabeth Soon and Keita Ebihara—were excluded because these are monikers that do not arouse the interest of the respective editors, or will not ring even the lightest bell among the titles’ readers. If the suppositions are true, then some members of the media may be well served to be reminded that the biggest winner of this year’s SFA, Carolyn Kan, was a fashion nobody when she started Carrie K, even when she had made a name for herself in the advertising industry. The same can be said of the winner of Designer of the Year (Fashion), Dzojchen’s Chelsea Scott-Blackhall, who, by her admission, has been spending a lot of time in New York, presumably to design, and Vietnam, where she had acquired a factory to produce her collection. To not talk about those with a dream and the talent to make it big, even if that will happen in the distant future, is to deny them the hope with which many project their prospects.

Marilyn TanMarilyn Tan receiving the Designer of the Year (Accessories) award from Carolyn Kan

In tandem with the honours that they bestow, Singapore Fashion Awards should be produced to be worthy of Event of the Year. A “tea gala” in the resort hotel W on Sentosa is hardly the premise of something that would grab the attention of the industry or imbue the Awards with the prestige that would make a momentous difference to the honorees. While this year’s presentation enjoyed a significant improvement from last year’s, which was staged in the ill-suited space of the Supreme Court Terrace of the National Gallery, it could have been better appreciated and, indeed, attended if it had been held at a more accessible location. Nobody, it can be certain, expects the equivalent of the Royal Albert Hall, where the British version of the SFA, The Fashion Awards, also a sophomore outing, was held this past Monday. Nobody is going to pretend that the choice of the W, no doubt a lovely hotel, is an artistic decision.

In fact, SFA does not have to be a splashy event in a plush setting. As an industry occasion, it can be a little more intimate, with the atmosphere of a family gathering that generates a sense of belonging for all. It could, for instance, be staged at the main atrium of the National Design Centre, a fitting location for an event that celebrates design. The best fashion often takes inspiration from previously unthought-of places, and tells stories yet narrated. TAFF may put SFA in better standing by trekking that path.

Chelsea Scott BlackhallChelsea Scott-Blackhall receiving the Designer of the Year (Fashion) Award from guest-of-honour, Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth and Ministry of Trade and Industry, Sim Ann

If more boxes are to be ticked, it should also include calling out those nominees and winners who have opted to give SFA a noticeable miss. Support for the fashion industry does not come from only those watching or cheering from the sides or below the stage. It ought to also come from those who have the talent and the good fortune to be nominated. Even if you are not the winner, it is always an appreciable act of grace to be present to applaud those who walk away with a trophy. The high number of no-shows of those whose names were announced and flashed on screen, therefore, left a somewhat unpleasant aftertaste at the end of the presentation, not because of the indifference suggested by those individuals’ absence, but because of their plain rudeness.

Among the winners of the Marketing Awards—Most Popular Brands and Best Marketing, only Trixie Khong of By Invite Only and Rebecca Ting of Beyond the Vines attended and went on stage to collect their trophy. No one from Love, Bonito was present; no one from Benjamin Barker showed up to collect the Best Marketing award. It was a now-show, too, for Contributor Awards winners—the Fashion Hairstylist of the Year, Fashion Make-Up (Artist) of the Year, Fashion Photographer of the Year. Jeremy Tan, who won Fashion Stylist of the Year, had at least sent a friend to collect the trophy on his behalf.

For as long as you’re a nominee, attendance is expected. To not be able to meet that expectation would be akin to letting your brand skip a fashion season. Buyers may overlook the professional mis-step, but consumers may think your playing hooky is ignoring the fact that they’re watching you. Bye for now may not beget hello tomorrow.

Singapore Fashion Award 2017: Full List of Winners

Emerging Designer of The Year (Fashion): Elizabeth Soon and Keita Ebihara for Ametsubi

Emerging Designer of the Year (Accessories): Lin Ruiyin and Afzal Imram of State Property

Top Three Most Popular Brands: Love, Bonito; By Invite Only; Beyond the Vines

Best Marketing: Benjamin Barker

Best Collaboration of the Year: Carrie K X Disney

Honorary Award: Tan Yoong

Bespoke Award: Carolyn Kan of Carrie K

Fashion Hairstylist of the Year: Marc Teng

Fashion Make-Up (Artist) of the Year: Elain Lim

Fashion Photographer of the Year: Stefan Khoo

Fashion Stylist of the Year: Jeremy Tan

Designer of the Year (Accessories): Marilyn Tan of Marilyn Tan Jewellery

Designer of the Year (Fashion): Chelsea Scott-Blackhall of Dzojchen

Photos: Chin Boh Kay and Zhao Xiangji

Oscar 2017: Safe And Sorry Made The Red Carpet

Has this been the dullest Oscar fashion put on show?

oscars-2017-red-carpet

By Mao Shan Wang

I woke up early this morning to watch the Oscars red carpet live stream. Thirty minutes into the ABC presentation, I wondered why I bothered. There I was, in a singlet and pair of netball shorts from Sec 4, staring at my PC screen come not-quite alive with Kirsten Dunst looking like a matron. Her dress could have been something left behind by the Bling Ring after they realized they’ve robbed the wrong house. As stars after stars take their obligatory camera call in front of the over-branded photo wall, I soon realised that there was more variety and taste in my muesli.

Still, I persevered so that I could see who wore what.

The Look-A-Likes

Nothing is worse that arriving on the red carpet after hours of preening, and the first thing you encounter is the mirror. That, for some women, is pure horror, even if that is a genre the Academy rarely ever honours.

michelle-williams-emma-robertsPhotos: oscar.com

Poor Michelle Williams, the Louis Vuitton muse. I bet she left the choice of the dress to LV. And I bet she did not guess that a bi-coloured gown would be more bane than sane, nor that Emma Roberts would go to Armani Privé for a similar black and cream number. Even the evil step sisters wouldn’t wish this upon Cinderella.

charlize-theron-scarlett-johhansonPhotos: oscar.com

Silhouettes are always important, and actresses—no fashion plates, really—are known to go for the safest. That is why it’s not surprising that Charlize Theron, even a Dior model, would aim for a sort-of-goddess shape that has also caught the eye of Scarlett Johansson. To be fair to Ms Theron, she looked a tad better in the Dior. Ms Johansson wore Azzedine Alaïa, and I must say I was surprised. You see, even an Alaïa can look nasty on a wrong body. I don’t understand the saggy armhole that from the front made Ms Johansson look like she was hoping to have the breasts of Mae West. Or was it Salma Hayek’s? I wonder if they knew that somewhere on that red carpet, screenwriter Allison Schroeder also looked like them. Okay, let’s not draw her dress to their attention.

Ruth Negga & Ginnifer Goodwin.jpgPhotos: (left) AP and (right) Getty Images

Red lace, too, is always a safe bet, so safe that another actress might have the same thought. Perhaps Ruth Negga didn’t think of that. She’s been busy playing the fashion star of the award season, so it’s not surprising that she did not consider the possibility that another actress would upstage her at the Oscars. Until Ginnifer Goodwin arrives in Zuhair Murad, proving that Valentino isn’t the only go-to designer for some sheer and lace, and lots of red. Why any woman wants to look like they’ve emerged from the carpet really beats me.

octavia-spencer-ava-duvernayPhotos: oscar.com

Curvy women like big skirts, spread out from the natural waist. If the shape of the skirt isn’t large enough to draw the viewer’s attention, then add surface ornamentation such as feathers or lace or embroidery. Octavia Spencer and Ava Duvernay are perhaps soul sisters, but surely they did not wish to look like mother doves from the same tree?

The Confectioner’s Delight

The tendency to show off is never weak on the red carpet. Sometimes you need the boast to play up something you do not have, such as innate style. Your best chance then is to seek inspiration from the baker of wedding cakes. You’ll be the centre of attraction, waiting to be sliced.

janelle-monaePhoto: oscar.com

Janelle Monae is an attractive woman, which means she could have offered more with less, but she chose a lot more—an Elie Saab overload. I can understand the desire for embellishment and exaggerated shape on a night like this, but surely all that boob show, embroidered birds, excessive frills are quite enough, even when together they are the stew that won’t sell. But add that pannier and you’re definitely in prom-queen-thinking-she’s-Marie-Antoinette territory. As for the black, have you not heard of charcoal cake?

cynthia-erivoPhoto: REX

Although it was reported that Los Angeles was cooler than usual, it was still ideal weather to show that you know spring is near. But, in the case of British actress Cynthia Erivo, she looked like she had just emerged from a flower bath that had tar for water. The dress, by Australian label Paolo Sebastian, appeared to be splattered with flowers, leaves, curlicues, and lattice cutouts from some fey decorator’s garden. Since we’re on the topic of baking, we remember that most cakes decorated with all-over flowers are made of butter cream. Yes, the topping that, after more than a mouthful, is very jelak.

The Fichu And Other Evening Standards

Websites from E! to Elle enjoy trendspotting on Oscar night. Trend—by a simple definition—could mean what is popularly worn, and not on one night, but on those other nights of an annual event. So trends are easy to spot. Unsurprisingly, so many Oscar attendees are on trend.

halle-berryPhoto: oscar.com

The one-shoulder of Halle Berry’s Versace gown is, or course, a standard. But what exasperates is not knowing which direction that sheer fabric emerging from the shoulder plans to flow. But perhaps that is less bothersome than her hair. I heard that she decided to go natural this year rather than getting her locks meet Tangle Teezer. But, seriously, a bird’s nest kept by a swiftlet with poor housekeeping skill is never a good do.

brie-larsonPhoto: oscar.com

The sweetheart neckline is always a safe bet, but one that looks like an outline of shrinking Playboy Bunny ears? Brie Larson chose this Oscar de la Renta to show that it’s alright to salute a certain mascot on Oscar night. The only thing is: the cotton tail has transmogrified into a swirl of black flounces that looks like oversized pencil shavings. Mind you, discards for the red carpet are eco-friendly.

hailee-steinfeldPhoto: oscar.com

Okay, we know you have a near-backless dress, but do you really have to put chin to shoulder to pose? They don’t even do that on RuPaul’s Drag Race! Or was that a way to create a small ‘i’ with the rest of your just-as-bare arm? Or perhaps that was to draw attention to the withered flowers cascading down your discernible rear? Hailee Steinfeld in Ralph and Russo, as a 20-year-old Oscar veteran, you’re forgiven.

meryl-streepPhoto: Getty Images

So this is what it looks like when Meryl Streep ditched Chanel for Elie Saab. Quarrels never end well. Or, as Jimmy Kimmel wondered, “Is that an Ivanka?”

The White That Is Not A Bride

They love white on Oscar night, presumably for the suggestion of purity the non-colour affords. Sure, a pure actress is always more appealing than a slutty one. Still, white isn’t always a vision of wholesomeness, not when it has the same appeal as hotel towels.

naomi-harrisPhoto: oscar.com

I am thrilled that a Raf Simons outfit made it to the Oscar red carpet, albeit in the form of a Calvin Klein dress. Naomi Harris stepped onto the red carpet in a bustier dress by the new guy in charge that made her look she just stepped out of a shower. As she stood for the cameras to feast on her, I really thought that the dress was made while she was having a shoot in a photo studio, and the only material available was the background paper. Unfortunate girl.

priyanka-chopraPhoto: oscar.com

So who says a bustier bodice cannot look like the back of a chair made from auntie Elsie’s quilt? Priyanka Chopra, in Ralph and Russo, showed what Hussein Chalayan always knew: a dress can be transformed from a piece of furniture. If it needs to be more convincing, use a quilted fabric. The Chesterfield can have a mate.

The Metallic Shimmer

The fashion police has been quick to identify all the gold (and attendant metallic) dresses a trend of the night. Gold is gorgeous, but as it is often pointed out to me, all that shines is not necessarily gold. It could be champagne, which, as we all know, very quickly becomes flat.

nicole-kidmanPhoto: oscar.com

I always pay attention to Nicole Kidman, not because she’s an Oscar regular, but because she did look good in that chartreuse Dior Couture (by John Galliano) dress in 1997, exactly 20 years ago. And I am hoping that could be repeated. Is there a red carpet equivalent of a one-hit wonder?  In Armani Privé, Mr Kidman looks lovely, but lovely does not red carpet fashion make. Lovely is easily lost… and forgotten.

emma-stonePhoto: oscar.com

For someone who could not dance in a musical for which she won an Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role, Emma Stone wore a Givenchy dress that made her look like she was about to break into the Charleston. Or, maybe that, too, would be difficult for her. There’s nothing wrong with the dress, of course. It’s all good for Ms Stone to reign as the American sweetheart everyone loves.

sofia-boutellaPhoto: oscar.com

Sofia Boutella wore Chanel. I am sure Karl Lagerfeld did not mean for her to go as a sequinned paintbrush. But who really knows?

Photos: oscar.com

Return Of The Singapore Fashion Awards

sfa-2016-pic-1Class 95FM radio DJ Yasmine Cheng hosted the Singapore Fashion Awards with aplomb

As fashion awards go, this was low-key: plain-weave rather than jacquard. Last Friday’s Singapore Fashion Awards (SFA) 2016 at the National Gallery wasn’t like the CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America) sit-down-to-dine ceremony. Yet, it was not less important. Our city has not been one that’s big on saluting fashion talent. There is, of course, the annual President’s Design Award Singapore, but that does not go to a fashion professional yearly. There’s also the clubby StyleXStyle awards’ nod to fashion folk (so far, Trailblazer Awards 2016 and StyleXSG50 Awards), but those seemed more like popularity contests than one that truly acknowledges talent.

The SFA is organized by the Textile and Fashion Federation Singapore (TAFF). According to the press release issued by TAFF, SFA “aims to honour the industry greats as well as give recognition to the brands and/or individuals’ potential to be the stars of the fashion industry locally, and make a mark on the global fashion landscape”. TAFF’s CEO Lynette Lee took it a step further: “There are many talented designers in the fashion industry and many have established their brands locally and internationally. We feel that the time is right to recognise and elevate the designers and brands that are putting Singapore on the fashion map.”

displays-on-the-stepsThe work of the nominees, such as Max Tan (above), were displayed at the Supreme Court Terrace of the National Gallery

Singapore Fashion Awards 2016 was, for many (including members of the media), an “inaugural” presentation. Truth is, it really isn’t. In fact, TAFF’s president Mark Lee told the audience at National Gallery’s much-feted Supreme Court Terrace that there was a hiatus between this year’s presentation and the last, which was “more than ten years ago”. SOTD’s editorial team came together to work this one out, and we believe that the last awards were handed out in 2003, just three years after its inauguration, during Singapore Fashion Week, a very different version from the one staged last month, also at the National Gallery.

Our nation’s first-ever Singapore Fashion Awards was staged in August 2001 at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel ballroom to cap the Singapore Fashion Week (SFW), then an umbrella event under which the Singapore Apparel show was once the main event in SFW’s earlier years. At the first Awards presentation, eight individuals were honoured. They included Photographer of the Year, Fashion Stylist of the Year (Editorial), Hair Stylist of the Year (Editorial), Make-Up Artist of the Year (Editorial), Male Model of the Year, Female Model of the Year, and Label of the Year. Joanna Fong, then deputy director of TAFF, told the media that the awards distinguished “the bright and the brightest” of the fashion industry. Oddly, no fashion designer then was bright enough.

biro-sfa-2016Live mannequins wearing some of the nominees’ designs such as this by Birofashion-presentationA brief show of Frederick Lee Couture before the start of the award presentation

Present-day TAFF’s Ms Lee put it more prosaically—“recognise the contribution and achievement of those in the fashion industry”—and it was this lack of rah-rah that characterised the presentation and the list of nominees. The categories—and they’re just that, suggesting neither one-of-a-kind nor one-and-only—are quite different from those of 2001. This time round, awards go to Emerging Designers of the Year (fashion and accessories), Top 3 Most popular Brand of the Year, Honorary Award, Best Collaboration of the Year, Best Marketing Award, Outstanding Contribution to Fashion (make-up, styling, photography, and hair-styling), Designer of the Year (accessories and fashion).

The nominees of the SFA were selected by a group of industry veterans, referred to by TAFF as “judges” (and the competitive nature of the Awards is not lost when the presenters announced “the winner”): CEO of TAFF Lynette Lee, editor of HerWorldPlus Niki Bruce, former editor-in-chief of Elle Singapore Sharon Lim, owner of the now-defunct Link Tina Tan, founder and managing director of Mercury M&C Tjin Lee, fashion designer Thomas Wee, and “digital influencer” Andrea Chong. If there’s one conspicuous difference between the present and earlier SFA, it is the appointment of social media darling Ms Chong, who, in a video post on YouTube for HerWorldPlus, described a Beyond the Vines outfit as a “blazer-vest-dress”—a split personality of a garb if there ever was one. She sits atop the list of photos of the judges on the SFA website, no doubt to give the event the necessary social-media clout, and to bring SFA into the present digital decade.

winner-ginlee-studioGeorgie Lee accepting the Emerging Designer of the Year Award on behalf of her sister from presenter Dick Leewinner-onepointsixoneOne.61’s Jennifer Alejandro accepting her Emerging Designer of the Year (Accessories) Award

The first awards of the evening—Emerging Designer(s) of the Year—went to the fashion label GinLee Studio and the accessory brand One.61. Ms Lee’s triumph (her award was accepted by her sister, Georgie, as the former was in Israel) is unsurprising as her clothes are generally well-made even if they do not seduce those who look for designs that break new ground. Although GinLee Studio is touted as a Singaporean label, Ms Lee—a Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts School of Fashion alumna—is, in fact, largely based in Israel (where her husband is from), while her showroom is in Singapore.

One.61’s victory (read as one point six one, and not to be confused with the New York fashion label OnePointSix) came as a surprise: the handbag brand was formed only in 2013 and consists of, to our knowledge, five styles so far. Designer Jennifer Alejandro, formerly a TV journalist with Channel NewsAsia, makes handcrafted bags inspired by the architecture of Singapore. Her “winning entry” (these two categories saw submissions from nominees to convince the judges of their talent and skill) is a kitschy bag in the shape of the rotunda of the former Supreme Court, surely a thrill to the National Gallery, a venue sponsor of SFA.

winner-beyond-the-vinesBeyond the Vines’s Rebecca Ting giving her acceptance speechwinner-by-invite-onlyBy Invite Only’s Trixie Khong expressing thanks for the awardwinner-love-bonitoLove, Bonito’s Rachel Lim and Viola Tan receiving their award from TAFF’s Mark Lee

As if to underscore the fact that Singaporean labels that are accepted and admired do exist, TAFF offered not one, but three Top Most Popular Brand of the Year awards (they include both fashion and accessory brands). In its selection criteria, “strong social media presence” seemed to be more important than “creativity of design and quality”, which was placed second in a list of four. It is not surprising then that the accolade went to those labels that are especially buzzy online rather than offline, and to those that are adept at playing down any weakness in design with trending hype.

Beyond the Vine, a one-year-old label by married couple Rebecca Ting and Daniel Chew; By Invitation Only, the jewellery brand conceived by Trixie Khong in 2011; and Love, Bonito, that favourite born-online label among those tired of Forever 21, are the three deemed most popular. In the minds of the many attendees, there was no doubt that Love, Bonito—now run by two of the original three founders, Rachel Lim and Viola Tan—was the one whose popularity can be attested by its 103,000 Instagram followers. Love, Bonito may lead IG followers, but that’s no indication they are fashion leaders.

recipient-thomas-weeThomas Wee posing with guest-of-honour Sim Ann, Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, and Ministry of Trade and Industry

Thirteen years after the last Singapore Fashion Awards, the come-back event paid homage to “accomplished designers in the industry… who have contributed to elevating the Singapore Brand of fashion at home or on the global stage.” The Honorary Award was presented to revered design veteran Thomas Wee, and it sealed Mr Wee’s indisputable standing as one of our fashion greats, even when that was already ratified at the time he was inducted into the CNN Power List of 2011 as one of the 30 people who shaped Singapore. While Mr Wee has intermittently showed abroad and thus elevated brand Singapore on the global stage (his last show overseas was in Surabaya in September this year during the city’s Ciputra World International Fashion Week), it is here, at home, that Mr Wee has left an indelible, if not influential, mark. It is not yet heard, but we hope someday soon, some designer will say, “I’m inspired by Thomas Wee.”

Collaborations, although not a big, publicity-generating business in Singapore, got a boost too. The Best Collaboration of the Year Award went to Love, Bonito’s pairing with Tex Saverio, the Indonesian designer who has dressed pop heavyweights such as Lady Gaga and Ayumi Hamasaki. This was not Love, Bonito’s first collaboration. Back in October 2013, during the now-defunct Fidé Fashion Weeks, the brand showed a capsule collection that was conceived together with the French couturier Julien Fournié. This immediately elevated the brand once known by the City-Plaza-sounding name of Bonito Chico into a serious fashion label. While it isn’t clear how the collaboration with Mr Savero fared, this recognition, their second of the night, may propel Love, Bonito to unimaginable heights.

Love, Bonito, too, was awarded the Best Marketing Award, which made them the biggest winner of the evening. This so thrilled BFFs/partners Rachel Lim and Viola Tan that they were not, in their jubilant outburst, able to return to the stage in time to receive their final award. Love, Bonito may have a stronger marketing program than their fellow nominees, but we are not certain that what they have generated is effective or attractive. Based on what has been hitherto put out online, Love, Bonito’s marketing efforts are remarkable by how ho-hum they have been.

recipient-celestine-sngMake-up artist Celestine Sng delivering her acceptance speech

Fashion has always been more than brands and the designers behind them. The whole universe includes many cameo players. This year’s Outstanding Contribution to Fashion went to Celestine Sng (make-up), Johnny Khoo (styling), Wee Khim (photography), and David Gan (hair-styling). The recipients in this category were a little unexpected, yet expected. In the era of the “digital influencer”, these four familiar names seemed decidedly pre-Facebook.

Make-up artist Celestine Sng, a former manager with the Estee Lauder Group (and the only one in this category who came to receive the award), is now more into producing commercials than working on models’ faces. The other three, they’re certainly no stranger to SFA—past and present. The stylist Johnny Khoo, a former marketing manager who made a name for himself in the ’90s with work he gleefully described as “deviant” (shot in HDB estates), as well as sending Christopher Lee to the 1997 Star Awards in an apron, had already won the same award twice—in 2001 and 2002. Photographer Wee Khim, who is married to the alt-folk-singer-turn-café-owner Jessica Soo, too, bagged the same award twice before—in 2002 and 2003. David Gan won the Hairstylist of the Year at the debut of SFA in 2001. The Malaysian-made-good-in-Singapore had not received his Singapore citizenship yet. That night, he was so moved by the recognition that tears welled up in his eyes while he received his plaque—perhaps a realisation that he had indeed come that far. And this was even before the very public pat on the shoulder that PM Lee Hsien Loong gave during the National Day Rally Speech of 2006.

winner-carrie-kCarrie K’s Carolyn Kan accepted her award as Thomas Wee looked on

Carolyn Kan of the jewellery label Carrie K was awarded Designer of the Year (accessories). Ms Kan, who was a former general manager of M&C Saatchi, is no stranger to being awarded. Back in 2010, she was Elle Singapore’s Jewellery Designer of the Year, and Carrie K has remained a favourite among the members of the press. Started in 2009, the brand has also caught the attention of overseas retailers, such as Yuji Yamamoto, the fashion impresario son of Yohji Yamamoto. The younger Yamamoto represented Carrie K and helped the label establish distribution points in Tokyo, such as Seibu in Shibuya. It is our hope that Ms Kan’s award will push her to achieve more, especially in the area of creativity—the type that seduces as much as surprises.

It was not unexpected that Designer of the Year (fashion) went to the In Good Company boys, Sven Tan and Kane Tan. Many had, in fact, hoped the duo would be honoured. The support that they have garnered is remarkable—even unprecedented—given how difficult it is for Singaporean brands to win the adoration and dollars of Singaporean shoppers. IGC has been a retail hit since its inception in August 2012, and with their own flagship in the heart of Orchard Road showcasing a striking range of their own products as well as those by others who share their distinct aesthetic, they seemed to be on the path to greater things.  Although both Tans told the media that there was “no expectation to win”, it was obvious to many that, against the other two nominees, IGC is leaps ahead with their winning designs and visible (and appreciated) quality. Fashion—indeed Singaporean fashion—can do with more of those.

winner-igcIn Good Company’s Sven Tan accepting his award with a speech as his co-designer Kane Tan (on his left) looks on

It is commendable that the Textile and Fashion Federation has decided to bring back the Singapore Fashion Awards. Honouring talents has always been a good way of raising standards and encouraging betterment. Awards can create awareness—in the case of the SFA, in Singaporean fashion. For the consumer, an award is an indicator of trust. But trust is a two-way street. In order to trust in what an award symbolises, the award must come to stand for something. Winning one must mean something. Those selected for the awards must be worthy of nomination and the nomination must be of some worth. Visible social media presence alone is no indication that a brand is first-rate. Quietly working on one’s craft away from online glare does not mean one is out of touch with the digital environment.

Fashion, both as craft and enterprise, is not exclusionary; it involves more than just designers. Brands such as IGC are aware of that. Their collaborative efforts, including pairing with skincare brands, independent artists, and devoted food outlets, indicate that they are tuned into the idea that fashion is inclusive, and involves an eco-system that goes beyond the vines, to steal the name of a just-awarded brand. SFA, as it ventures further down the road (and we hope another hiatus won’t come too soon) should expand its scope to other associated fields, such as journalism, graphic design, advertising, visual merchandising, and technology.

Sure, the award presentation is a resource-intensive investment. Even the trophies and plaques cost a considerable amount (TAFF could reprise the idea used in 2002 when the awards came in the form of customised stuff animals conceived by the graphic designer Theseus Chan). But it should be noted that what’s key here is ‘investment’. Invest to gain, to strengthen, and to add value. And, there should be no doubt, for the long run.

Photos: Zhao Xiangji and Chin Boh Kay