Holey Moley: The Tom Daley Effect

Edwin Goh chose openwork for his red carpet appearance at the Star Awards last month. He must have felt extremely cool. Now, the star and his girlfriend are turning their hobbies into a business

Actor Edwin Goh (吴劲威) knew it would be brutally warm that Sunday afternoon outside Marina Bay Sands. He chose a V-neck, waisted tank top for the Star Awards red carpet, looking decidedly kerbside-casual. It was possible that Mr Goh wanted to let his fans and TV audiences know that his body was then trim and toned. Or that he was simply averse to the standard red carpet wear of suits, even if shirtless was the way to go at this year’s event, such as seen on his red carpet buddy Zhai Siming (翟思铭). But what he wore was not an ordinary tank top. It was a crocheted version, and one that the actor made for himself, proving that he can do more than slip-knotting. But why the vest could’t go with, say a shirt, wasn’t immediately known. Mr Goh’s choice of wearing his own crochet top was, of course, reminiscent of Tom Daley knitting his own sweaters and also wearing them to public events. Was another Mediacorp star mimicking what other international celebrities had done or worn?

By now, many know that one of the most known—and followed—celebrity needlework enthusiast is the Olympian/knitter Tom Daley, with the media reporting that Mr Daley was “knitting his way through the Tokyo Olympics” in 2021. The diver, in fact, started playing with knit stitches in 2020 (he also crochets and began in the same year) and later made a scarf for his mother. He told the BBC that he started the needle work because he is “terrible at sitting down”. So into knitting he became that he started the Made with Love by Tom Daley Instagram page (1.2 million followers to date) that became a website and then a book, with 30 knitting and crochet patterns. Mr Daley has been so pleased and proud of his output (he does have an eye for colour) that he has been wearing his own knitwear to high profile events such as the Today show in 2022. His designs were soon sold through the British retailer John Lewis.

The Unravel & bucket hat and handbag that are currently available at unravel and.com. Photos: unraveland/Instagram

Edwin Goh and his girlfriend Rachel Wan had at first started a “crochet club” in April amiably called Stitch and B*tch (could they have taken the naming cue from Bark and Bake, the Joo Chiat confectioner for canines?) Then last Sunday, they announced on Instagram the launch of their crochet-centric label Unravel & (could that also be a little inspired by & Other Stories?). And what, they did not reveal. For now their yarn craft comes in bags (two styles), beanies, and bucket hats. The designs won’t change the fashion accessories market, but they are, without doubt, discernibly more creative than the offerings of another-star-with-an-accessory-brand, the Beijing-based Eleanor Lee Kaixin (李凯馨), daughter of TV host Quan Yifeng (权怡凤). Mr Goh described the venture on Instagram as “something we’ve been working on for the past couple of months”. That they could set up shop in just two, and with only the pair using a hook to create merchandise from loops of yarn could be indication that this is monitising a hobby and may not be backed by a business plan or production schedule.

It is admirable that there are TV stars who would pursue their passions so intensely. It was baked goods in the beginning, and now needlework. But based on Unravel &’s limited product range, it may not be a protracted venture. Edwin Goh told host Jeremy Chan (田铭耀) at the Star Awards that it was his girlfriend (he did not identify her then) who taught him how to crochet. Thereafter, he furthered his learning online (whether by watching YouTube videos or other media, he did not say). Within months of achieving some proficiency in crocheting, he was able to become an instructor and open an online store, and model his own headwear. According to 8 Days, Unravel & welcomes crocheters without a sales outlet to peddle their wares through the brand’s website. It is possible then that more merchandise could be in the pipeline. It is likely, therefore, that there would be more than the beanie, itself a curious key product to sell on our scorching island.

The products of Unravel & are available online at unraveland.com. They are reportedly sold out. Screen shot (top): MediaCorp/YouTube

She Took It Easy

On the red carpet of the Hong Kong Film Awards yesterday, Michelle Yeoh chose a long shirt-dress that bordered on the too-casual

It was widely reported in the Hong Kong press that Michelle Yeoh Choo Keng (杨紫琼) was the last to arrive at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui for the 41st Hong Kong Film Awards. That she hit the red carpet after Sammi Cheng—tipped to be named the best actress (she was) for her role in 流水落花 (Lost Love)—was testament to Ms Yeoh’s new-found status as Oscar winner and Asia’s most prominent actress. She arrived alone, traipsed the red carpet with the confidence of a cat in her own backyard, and even, at some point, surprised Andy Lau (刘德华) and film director Ann Hui (许鞍华) when she crept up to them while the two were about to have their photographs taken, and joined them for the snap without appearing to be asked. Everyone, presumably, wanted their turn with the Malaysian owner of the world’s most famous gold statuette.

Did Michelle Yeoh, in fact, modelled herself as an ethereal she-Oscar? She was togged in a sheer, gold, long-sleeved shirt-dress by her go-to label, Dior. But unlike her red carpet appearances outside Asia in the past two months, she chose to arrive looking decidedly breezy, as if she was attending a wedding in Bali. Sure, what she wore was long—near floor-length, but she did not look dressed to the nines. The Dior looked far less splendid than what the other attendees were fitted with. Or were we simply reminded that Hong Kong was no Hollywood? The startling casualness was compounded by the pushed-up sleeves (to her elbow) and the disconcerting black belt, which provided a strange hard line across her waist (could it be something that had gone with a pair of jeans moments earlier, in the car, perhaps?). She wore her hair in loose curls, which looked like it was just towel-dried. To us, she came as a wealthy actress, not a recent Oscar winner.

Or was this the usual sentiment that back in Asia, you don’t have to try too hard. There were no more White folks to impress. She made her fashion mark. Time for post-Oscars prudence. It is possible that since Michelle Yeoh has received the highest award an actress can hope to have, she was now ready to be rid of the pressures to be worthy of any red carpet best-dressed accolade. 靚就得啦 (beautiful is enough in Cantonese). Hong Kong, even the city that launched her career, did not require her extra effort in getting dolled-up. At the Oscars last month, she wore a semblance of a wedding dress (by Dior too), but that was at least special-occasion wear. Now, she no longer needed to make a splash. Casual was comely, just as an Oscar to her name was enough. Michelle Yeoh, the last to step onto the red carpet at the Hong Kong Film Awards, whether deliberate on the part of the organisers or not, was plain anti-climatic.

Photo: AFP

Star Awards (2023): Sparkle Not

The stars were out last night at a shopping mall. SG celebrity glamour’s high point.

Zoe Tay’s entrance with younger man Qi Yuwu.

By Ray Zhang

From a Changi Airport tarmac to the Event Plaza of The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, MediaCorp’s beloved Star Awards red carpet, also known as the Walk of Fame, certainly moved up. Curiously, the event must, on and off, be staged in the presence of the landmarks of our island. But, as usual, the red carpet was laid out on a passageway not normally used for fashion displays—a pop-up catwalk. This time, it framed the Plaza’s touristy Rain Oculus, the aquatic feature that on an active day would see water swirl down its shallow dish like waste flushed down a toilet bowl. But on this late afternoon, Mediacorp stars walked pass it like devotees at the (sunken) alter of fame, all in finery they did not own, worn with the confidence they did not have. The Star Awards, as I have noted with regret before, is not a presentation aligned with glamour, made worse by stars sharing on social media photos of them looking all done up against startlingly unglamorous backgrounds. Clothes overwhelmed the wearers, I kept seeing; fashion superseded moments.

By now, you’d think MediaCorp stars would have gotten used to getting all dressed up and going to the sole glamour-driven event of their social and professional year. But, it did not seem to be. This was, of course, an SG red carpet, incomparable with those in Cannes, Hollywood, or even Taipei. Yet, after 28 years of Star Awards and 23 (or so) for the red carpet display, it still amazed me that many stars carried themselves, overwhelmed by the clothes and not advantaged by style. It was, of course, understandably hard for those who, in the past year and all this while, played your neighbourhood types with ear-piercing shrill or sold “good quality products” on The Wonder Shop to suddenly become the height of the fashion season, convincingly. How many of them indeed look vastly differently from the roles they played when compared to their daily lives? On the Walk of Fame, too large a number appeared as the once-a-year gown wearer, not a red-carpet rabble-rouser. And as long as it looked ‘fashion’, it was good enough. Get-a-headline approach to dressing was preferred. It might work on Hollywood Boulevard, but I doubt, outside MBS, in the muggy weather, it registered in the annals of SG celebrity style.

Informally dressed Chantalle Ng and Xu Bin.

Chantalle Ng (黄暄婷), daughter of Lin Mejiao (林梅娇), stood out and possibly set the tone for the night: you might glimmer, but that did not mean you were scintillating. Dressed by local brand Denise Chong Adornments (whose namesake designer is a “beadwork artist”), Ms Ng wore a skimpy number strung together with silver beads and finished to look like a ferocious predator beat her to it before it was sent to the changing rooms at MBS. The need for cut-outs on the hips (even when there was one high slit on the right side of the skirt) to show skin and to suggest that Ms Ng was possibly without underwear straddled questionable taste and the desperation to 炫耀 (xuanyao or flaunt). I find it extremely hard to resist describing the get-up as tacky. How she went from last year’s Bottega Veneta gown to this year’s metallic mess was hard to comprehend. Some of the younger stars without acting/hosting chops to lean on just had to adopt risky risqué styles to feel that they had arrived on the grandest red carpet they’ll ever walk on.

Or, stylists who thought that they were the next Law Roach, cravenly promoting to their clueless charges that barely is plenty. Bombshell wannabe He Ying Yong (何盈莹) wore a strip of red sequinned fabric by LaQuan Smith to cover her breasts. What I saw was a mere piece of cloth. She was unsurprisingly touted as “性感撩人 (xinggan liaoren or titillatingly sexy)”. Regard not that her turnout was akin to Zendaya’s Vera Wang tube top and skirt that the American actress wore to the Council for Fashion Designers of America awards in 2021. Sexiness was all that mattered. Ms He told the show’s backstage host Jeremy Chan (田铭耀), “是我的造型师想的 (it was thought up by my stylist).” I had no doubt that many stars allowed their stylists to decide their sartorial fate. Or, left it in the hands of Mediacorp’s glamour guru Annie Chua, who has been delighting in Huang Biren’s best actress win online. Ms Chua’s “styled by me” declarations on Instagram confirmed that it was she who was involved in the dress that just happened to look like one created by Elie Saab.

The back must be bared: (left) Jessica Liu and (right) Rebecca Lim

Annie Chua told another backstage host Zhu Zheliang (朱泽亮) that the theme of the night “就是要 (has to be) glamorous”. But sexy threatened to overwhelm what she hoped to achieve. Out of her work area—on the red carpet, the looks that purportedly entranced were those that totttered daringly close to the edge of impropriety: let them have skin. Glam up was to strip down. It was once the sole domain of Ann Kok, but now more stars were crossing over (conversely, Ms Kok was very conservatively dressed this year). Baring skin on the red carpet became as natural as showing teeth. That seemed to be the message of the braless-is-better brigade. There was Rebecca Lim (林慧玲) in a silk apron-dress by Valentino and Jesseca Liu (刘子绚) in a 100% polyester gown from the Spanish label Isabel Sanchis, with a bow in the rear that was so big and billowy, I thought it was a bad case of flatulence trapped within, and Malaysian actress Bonnie Loo looking somewhat desperate in a viscose-blend cut-out, one-shoulder dress that exposed the right bra-top by Lebanese designer Eli Mizrahi’s label Mônot from spring 2021. There was Fann Wang (范文芳) too, who avoided the red carpet, but appeared on stage in Valentino to accept her husband’s win for best programme host, totally backless to the waist. Amazing it was that so many girls believed that if you don’t show skin, you won’t look glamorous.

It was surprising that no one thought that the blatant sexiness diminished what was once family entertainment. But there was a limit to the number of times one could describe the looks as 性感 (xinggan or sexy) without sounding repetitive and insincere. When Walk of Fame hosts Dennis Chew (周崇庆) and Hazelle Teo (张颖双) had really nothing better to ask the stars regarding what they wore, they requested that their interviewees, Romeo Tan (陈罗密欧), Denise Camillia Tan (陈楚寰), Koh Yah Hwee or Ya Hui (雅慧), and Desmond Tan (陈泂江), perform something painfully banal: strike a “cute pose”. Ms Koh, who revealed earlier that she starved for two days to get into her Norma Kamali bra-incompatible, halter dress, received a second chance to be cute, possibly to turn down the heat her revealing outfit was generating. Some sexiness just fell flat. Quan Yifeng (权怡凤) wore a black frock by Australian designer Toni Maticevski, with a slit that went all the way to her rump—and exposed it, but she strutted in such a clunky manner that it was hard to make out if the opening on the left side of the skirt did anything for her that might be considered xinggan.

The guys did not fare better: Herman Keh and Tyler Ten, flanking Ye Jia Yun

Sexy, too, was what the guys were going for, which inevitably meant going shirtless. Ayden Sng (孙政) and Desmond Ng (黄振隆) were the earliest two to emerge sans shirts under their non-black suits, but they were a year late. In the last Star Awards, Desmond Tan and others belatedly adopted Timothée Chalamet’s red carpet look. Perhaps of the popularity of suit jacket on bare skin then and the dread of embracing the late afternoon heat now in more than one layer, many others too, jumped on the bandwagon this year, such as Zong Zijie (宗子杰) and Joel Choo (朱哲伟), and Tyler Ten (邓伟德) and Herman Keh (郭坤耀), both so determined to appear near-identical that it truly illustrated what Mr Keh meant when, last year, he repeatedly referred to 制服 (zhifu or uniforms) in his descriptions of what he and others wore. Then, there was the other ridiculous extreme: mock turtleneck under the suit jacket. In fact, that could be another trend, as many actors were dressed this modestly: Qi Yuwu (戚玉武), James Seah (谢俊峰), Bryan Wong (王禄江), and another twinning, Pierre Png (方展发) and Shaun Chen (陈泓宇).

The need to cover the neck affected Zoe Tay (郑惠玉) too. Always the star to watch for uncontroversial glamour, she did not disappoint with vintage Oscar de la Renta from Vestiaire Collective that comprised a mock-turtle top embroidered with roses and a red pouf/tiered skirt. Her choice from the luxury resale store (bought or borrowed, I was not able to determine) possibly made her the first on the Star Awards red carpet to wear pre-loved ensemble as expression of her conviction to sustainability. As she said to Dennis Chew, what attracted her to the outfit when she went to the fitting was the “环保的感觉 (feeling of environmental friendliness)”, adding that “fashion, if well designed, could be everlasting.” To which Hazelle Teo rejoined with “timeless”. Curious comment: Did she know what that meant when she was wearing a black and white dress with an absurd one ruffled shoulder that was larger than her face by Olimpia Sanchis (a “younger line” of Isabel Sanchis. It was a good night for Pois, the stockist that provided many of the stars’ gowns for the night)? On the red carpet, as in life, sometimes less is indeed a lot more. Not to mention, enduring.

Updated: 12 April 2023, 21:00

Photos: MediaCorp/YouTube

Two of A Kind: Nude Slashes

When actresses trust their designers—and stylists—too much

Elie Saab Vs Francis Cheong. Photos: Elie Saab and Mediacorp respectively

It happened again and, interestingly, with the same sought-after dressmaker. For the 2017 Star Awards (红星大奖), Pan Ling Ling (潘玲玲) wore a flounced gown by renowned designer Francis Cheong that looked like one by couturier Zuhair Murad. This year, best actress winner Huang Biren (黄碧仁) was also outfitted in a Francis Cheong dress. And on the red carpet outside MBS and on stage inside, the floor-length piece, too, looked rather familiar. It did not take us more than five minutes to recall that what Ms Huang wore last night bore an astonishing resemblance to a gown seen in the Elie Saab autumn/winter couture collection of 2021 called Buds of Hope. A quick check on FF Channel’s YouTube account (while the Star Awards was on our television) confirmed what we suspected. The dress seen on the broadcast of the nation’s sole TV acting awards did indeed look disconcertingly similar to what Mr Saab presented for a show that did not travel to Paris that year due to the pandemic. It was not the most spectacular outfit in that collection and we almost forgot about it, until yesterday evening.

But that sleek dress that Mr Saab put out two years ago did leave an impression because it was one of three aesthetically similar gowns that were unlike the rest of the 63 looks for that just-emerging-from-lockdown season, or what could be considered the Beirut-based house’s signature. Mr Saab incorporated rather extreme sexiness into the trio by way of wide slashes incorporated diagonally across the finely-contoured bodices and the trumpet skirts. As a result, it showed considerable skin. And the bands held strikingly and securely to the bodies, clinging to and covering where they needed to, even when the models strutted somewhat purposefully. The gown that resembled what Ms Huang had on could be described as a bandage dress of sort, but it did not constrict the body in any way. It was, admittedly, a show-stopper that could swish beautifully on a red carpet while maintain the wearer’s modesty, which is not, as we have seen, a requisite these days.

Huang Biren, admittedly, did not look bad in that dress; she probably was not aware that what she had on first appeared elsewhere. On Facebook, Francis Cheong, who now mainly resides in Johor Bahru, congratulated Ms Huang for winning (it was her fiftth best actress Star Award in her 35-year career), and “wearing my 2023 spring couture (sic)”. It is not known if Ms Huang picked Mr Cheong as the designer of her 晚礼服 (wanlifu or evening attire). It is possible that the partnership was facilitated by Annie Chua (蔡宜君), the “principal image stylist” at Mediacorp and the Star Awards’ key fashion figure, as the designer did thank Ms Chua for “the collaboration”. Nor, do we know who among the them picked the Elie Saab piece for inspiration. There’s no missing Mr Cheong’s cleverness this year. He created not a total facsimile; he changed the sole sleeve to the left and used skin-coloured fabrics—nothing nude—to create the slashes so that Ms Huang bared little. And there was not a trace of embellishment! Going to local dressmakers to tailor a cheaper version of couture gowns is not an unknown practice. Many attendees of gala events here love such costumiers. But unlike, say, the Icon Ball, which is primarily a closed-door affair, Star Awards is broadcast to the world through Mediacorp’s YouTube page. And some things do stand out. Lookalikes, especially.

Update (11 April 2023, 17:30): Two hours ago, Annie Chua shared on Instagram her support for Huang Biren with a set of seven photos and a comment: “Thank you for the 💯 trust ❣️You totally slayed it both on & off stage! ❣️”. Replying, Ms Huang wrote: “Thank you very much for helping! Two consecutive years by you and won! You are superb!❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️”. Two hours later, with another set of six images of different people, which included one that saw Ms Huang carrying her trophy, Ms Chua added, “Making 💚Memories 💚 & Be 💚The Best 💚Version of Yourself 💚”. Amazing

Update (11 April 2023, 23:00): Francis Cheong has removed the congratulatory message and the photograph of Huang Biren wearing his “spring 2023 couture” (dress) from his Facebook page

Oscars 2023: Dress To Obstruct

It was not a night of many outstanding dresses, but in the audience one did stick out, literally

The single most obvious dress. Photo: ABC

Like some of you, we watched the Oscars telecast on television, a set that has not replaced our smartphone. We woke up early to catch the red carpet segment (this year it was changed to champagne after more than six decades of the colour of chilli). There was, unfortunately, little that could keep us from going back to snoozing. The sight of Michelle Yeoh looking like a bride at Ipoh’s Pusing Public Restaurant (布先民众海鲜酒家) did not. Someone did catch our eye even when she wasn’t interviewed on the pale carpet. We snagged mere snatches of a black woman in a white gown. Later, reading reports on the arrival of the A-listers and the Bs and Cs, we learned that it was Nigerian singer-songwriter Tems (name on passport: Temilade Openiyi). Many had thought she looked good as she posed for the cameras. No one foresaw the problem her dress—with the hood (the other hooded attendee was Malala Yousafzai), directed upwards and surrounding her head like the naga Mucalinda—would create when she was seated in the Dolby Theatre.

As the award ceremony proceeded and when the camera panned across the audience, Tems and her clouded head could not escape notice. In her seat, she looked like she had a roof of a heavenly carriage over her head (or was it an incomplete transformation of a pumpkin?). The dress, reportedly by Lever Couture, a German label by Ukraine-born designer Lessja Verlingieri—with a whiff of Gaurav Gupta?—could easily be seen to obstruct those seated behind her. The 27-year-old seemed unfazed by the inconvenience she caused (inflicted was more like it) to those around her. Her defenders were impressed by how “ethereal” she looked. Question is, at whose expense? Tems’s seeming indifference is, perhaps, consistent with the behaviour of those of her generation—there is no need to be aware of your immediate surroundings and to take note of how your behaviour may affect/annoy others. And when fashion is in the equation, that comes first. Tems, a nominee (who co-wrote the best song contender Lift Me Up with Rihanna for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever), not only wanted to be noticed, she desired that her presence felt, too.

Unmissable Fan Bing Bing on the champagne carpet. Photo: AP

Fan Bing Bing, recently out of hiding as a result of a tax scandal in China and ready to make an entrance, had extended parts to her dress as well. Although her massive, distended, barrel-like sleeves might not have blocked anyone’s view, it could have irritated the two people seated beside her. The dress by Lebanese-Italian Tony Ward comprised of a slim, beaded, halterneck gown with an ‘outer’ attached to the main dress. It is not known if the much larger green part is removable, but if it isn’t, we do not envy the seated individuals flanking her. If they weren’t able to sit higher than the 1.68m tall actress, might their view of the stage be obscured too? Would they remain quietly and patiently throughout the evening’s proceedings, just as the guy to Tems’s left did? Is it ever right to tell a woman that her mighty gown is obtrusive?

Netizens have called Tems out for being “rude”. But impertinence that is the result of preference of dress is no longer so. Stars have long thrust their fashion choices into our field of vision whether what is before us is acceptable or not, without considering if they might come across as insolent. Visually intrusive looks have dominated not just the red carpet or the audience, but the stage too. And it has trickled down to everyday life, when, for example, commuters in public transport, too, pay no heed to the encroachment of extraneous parts of clothes upon other commuters. Tems, in her frothy sumptuousness, validated the disregard of being mindful of public spaces. Obtrusive dressing, like loud conversations or profanities, must, therefore, be tolerated. Compared to The Slap, perhaps this fashion inconvenience, while also unmannerly, was nothing?

Oscars 2023: Everything Everywhere At Once At The Right Time

They won big, but why were we not elated?

Michelle Yeoh, in Dior, accepting her Oscar. Photo: Getty Images

To be sure, the continent of Asia is, as we post this, deliriously proud of Michelle Yeoh Choo Kheng (杨紫琼), not merely her small hometown of Ipoh. Malaysia is, of course, lauding their daughter, who has never starred in a single Malaysian film production, as their “大马之光 (damazhiguang or Malaysia’s glory)”. Just hours ago, Tan Sri Yeoh became the first Asian to win an Oscar for best actress, and only the second non-white to be awarded the title after Halle Berry for her role in 2001’s Monster’s Ball. She went on stage, resplendent in bridal Dior Couture, to accept her award and encouraged “all the little boys and girls who look like me watching tonight, this is a beacon of hope and possibilities (sic).” And like so many other recipients, she thanked her mother: “I have to dedicate this to my mom, all the moms in the world, because they are really the superheroes and without them, none of us will be here tonight. She’s 84 and I’m taking this home to her.”

We have no doubt that the Yeoh family was over the moon. Matriarch Janet Yeoh, decked in matching bridal white, was watching the telecast live with her family in Kuala Lumpur, in a cinema at the Pavilion mall. “I’m proud of my daughter. My daughter is a hardworking girl,” she said in a video circulating online. Those unable to attend the family viewing, such as nephew Justin Yeoh, who resides in Singapore, sent good wishes through their Facebook pages. Even Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim congratulated the Oscar winner with a honorific, saying she “carries the hopes of Malaysians”, the New Straits Times reported. BH (Berita Harian) enthused that her win “menepati ramalan ramai (met many predictions)”. Ms Yeoh’s triumph was, therefore, not surprising. Backstage at the Oscars press room, Ms Yeoh said, “This is something we have been working so hard towards, for a very long time… I’m still here today. Finally after 40 years I get this.” Forty years is a long wait. Other actresses have waited longer, and have not won. She found gold at first strike. The cheers she has garnered are expected.

But we, on the other hand, are not as thrilled as we thought we’d be. Michelle Yeoh’s performance in EEAAO as Evelyn Wang is credible. But was it a great one? Was it a tour de force? We are not able to say with confidence. Nothing Mediacorp’s Aileen Tan (陈丽贞) or Chen Liping (陈莉萍) can’t play. Surely the Academy should award exceptional performances? EEAAO, also the Best Picture, is not easy to understand, even to sit through (an unnecessarily lengthy film of 142 mins). It’s been called messy just like the private-quarters-behind-the-laundromat of the Wangs, but some messes are just that: 乱七八糟 (luanqibazao) or disorderly. And getting the multiverse involved—in which unfunny sausage fingers exist—is just pretext for throwing everything everywhere at the manic film and already convoluted plot, made worse by the inexplicably garish overproduction. It’s all a bit too keh kiang (假腔, Hokkien for hollow or unconvincing cleverness). Many Western critics had called EEAAO “original”, but just because such absurdist excess, bordering on the puerile, had not made it to the big screen before—or, gasp, Oscars—did not necessarily make it good.

Of the four acting awards, three went to EEAAO. From left, Ke Huy Quan, Michelle Yeoh, Brendan Fraser, Jamie Lee Curtis. Photo: ABC

Michelle Yeoh is one of those actresses who is okay to watch if she wasn’t aiming for film-making’s top award (e.g. her turn in Crazy Rich Asians). Her performance in EEAAO as the too-much-to-do Asian-American wife gunning for, well, too much, which The Star delightfully called a “complex take”, is not exactly to-be-studied character acting for acting class. She could have imagined herself as an auntie type back in Ipoh. The long-suffering wife is nothing novel or groundbreaking. What newness, indeed, did she bring to Evelyn Wang? We felt that we were watching Michelle Yeoh, still as feisty (even OTT?) as Inspector Ng in 1985’s Yes, Madam (皇家师姐) or Inspector Yang in 1992’s Police Story 3: Super Cop (,警察故事三:超级警察). Her Evelyn Wang sounds exactly the same as her Mameha (Memoirs of a Geisha, 2005) and Eleanor Sung-Young, the later slightly more posh-sounding. Cate Blanchett inhabiting her role in Tár did not bring along her Australian accent. Ms Yeoh, even in the AAEEO’s Asian-American household, was unable to shake off sounding Anglo-Malaysian.

It, too, is hard to understand why directors insist on her speaking Mandarin when she, by her own admission, is not proficient in the language. She was criticised for her 普通话 (putonghua) in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Chow Yun Fatt, too) despite, reportedly, having received training from an accent coach. That shaky Mandarin was repeated in EEAAO. But what was ironic is that the characters Evelyn and Waymond Wang are supposed to be from China. (The casting of Ke Huy Quan, a Vietnamese-American with his American English, too, was bizzare.) Add to that, Evelyn Wang speaks Cantonese! And only moderately better than her Mandarin. The communication in English between she and the people around her rings with an FOTB inflection, just in case you needed to be reminded that the Wangs are immigrants. The do-not-sound-alike husband and wife are seemingly not from the same part of China, which are not identified when we know their laundry business is in California.

Her Oscar win is, to us, an alignment of the stars. The year 2022, as it eased out of the pandemic, has been good to Michelle Yeoh. Time named her ‘Icon of the Year’. EEAAO arrived when there was (and is) demand for minority “representation” in Hollywood, including, in the case of EEAAO, the immigrant experience. The film is repeatedly hailed as “a breakthrough for Hollywood diversity”. In other words inclusive, purposely inclusive. Imagine how Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (卧虎藏龙) would have fared if it is a work of the present. This is the year for Asians actors and film-makers to shine. EEAAO’s award season success attests to that. And the Academy wanted to ensure that a win for the Michelle Yeoh vehicle will keep them in line with the overall mood and drive in the US. Ms Yeoh’s controversial Instagram post last Tuesday, just hours before Oscar voting closed, in which she shared—and then quickly deleted—a Vogue think-piece wondering if Cate Blanchett needed another of the gold statuette since she already has two, was overlooked. The Malaysian appeared to share Vogue’s sentiment—at least initially—until someone from her team probably reminded her that she could have violated Academy Awards guidelines. One of them states that “any tactic that singles out ‘the competition’ by name or title is expressly forbidden”.

The cast and crew of EEAAO receiving the Best Picture award. Photo: Getty Images

To us, Michelle Yeoh won the Oscar, not because of her exceptional, moving performance (some Malaysians, including those from Ipoh, shared with SOTD, that her part in EEAAO “说不上演技 (shuobushang yanji)” or isn’t about acting skills. It is possible she is surrounded by the right people to ensure that her time, although forty years late, would come. It is also tempting to consider the influence of the recently elected—last August—president of the Academy of Motion Arts and Sciences Janet Yang Yanzi (杨燕子). She is the organisation’s first Asian-American female president and it is possible that the born-in-Queens, New York film veteran wanted to make her mark at the Academy by witnessing Michelle Yeoh become the first Asian to get the best actress nod. What is also interesting is that she and the Malaysian Oscar winner share the same maiden name. We are not suggesting that there were improper behind-the-scenes arrangements. But everything—and everyone—everywhere just fell into place all at once for Michelle Yeoh.

It is hard to imagine that EEAAO, even if entirely spoken in Mandarin, would even be considered for the Golden Horse Award (金马奖), yet they made a staggering sweep at the Oscars, winning a total of seven awards out of 11 nominations: three acting awards, best editing, best original screenplay, best director, and best picture. The best is, of course, not always the best. Not since 2005’s Slumdog Millionaire (with eight awards), has there been EEAAO’s enviable haul. As they made more gains later into the award season, more pundits believed that the US$25 million movie (compared to another best film nominee Avatar: The Way of Water’s estimated US$250 million!) would dominate at the Oscars. The film’s success is thought to speak for Asians but we think that’s too grandiose an ambition to consider. EEAAO is intensely Asian-American in its leaning and narrative; doubtful, therefore, that it is, laundromat et al, a “beacon” for Asia, even if the Asian experience could be that multiversal. Asia is huge and it is diverse, possibly more than what is experienced or seen in California. Surely even Michelle Yeoh cannot profess to be the archetypal Asian actress.

She may have won an Oscar, but it can’t be said that Ms Yeoh scored big in the style stakes. We have often thought that Dior on the red (or champagne) carpet is frequently anti-climatic for even the most seasoned presentation attendee. For the grandest award ceremony (and the most watched), she placed her trust in Dior and it turned out to be the weakest of all her red carpet looks of the past months. Decidedly underwhelming (perhaps intentionally, in case she had to leave empty-handed), the gown could have passed off for one from any of the bridal shops along Tanjong Pagar Road. It seemed that it could have originally been a strapless number, but turned out to be something else—the tiered, feathered bustier-gown, for some reason, had to be attached to a sheer upper bodice. We weren’t quite able to make out the silhouette either: was it a tented dress or was it meant to be waisted? A safe bet to avoid the puzzlement that followed her choice of that Schiaparelli dress at the SAG awards? She was not, of course, the first to don bridal wear to an award ceremony. K D Lang wore one at the first-ever Juno Award in 1985. Michelle Yeoh has come a long way from the time of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, when she attended the Oscars in Barney Cheng. These days, Hong Kong qipao is no longer on her mind. She has walked on various red carpets in Gucci, Schiaparelli, Chanel, and Dior. When an Oscar win beckons, only European names will do, even if it could pass off as anyone’s wedding dress.

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.