This Is How It Looks

The latest iteration of the Comme des Garçons X Gucci bag is uncharacteristically simple

The bag’s released was teased on Gucci’s Instagram page and on the brand’s new e-store Vault. On the webpage, the illustration of the latest iteration of the Comme des Garçons X Gucci tote, simply called the Shopper, sported flashing stripes in yellow, red, green and purple as mock-up of the print/pattern to come. We had expected something very much in the vein of what Gucci has been doing: flowery. But, as it turns out, it is something far more in common with Balenciaga’s Paper Bag tote. It is in plain black and could look somewhat sinister. The recognisable red-and-green Gucci Web stripe runs vertically down the middle of the bag, obscuring the centre portion of the Comme des Garçons logotype, printed in white. It is a smart-looking bag that bears more of the CDG aesthetic than Gucci. But, according to CDG’s own description, “the limited-edition tote represents the perfect embodiment of two mutually distinctive aesthetics driven by the desire to explore innovative visions”.

To us, the placement of the striped strap requires no nerve-wrecking exercise in design. The CDG bag itself is one from the special edition that was created for the 2017 Tokyo pop-up event called Black Market. The retail event, which was later brought to London, featured products and collaborations (no, Gucci is not in the picture for this one) that are only available at the Black Market. One of them is this black shopper, itself an update of the original that was first introduced a few years back, in the exact light brown typical of shopping bag, but totally encased in PVC. It was rather typical of CDG to use materials so associated low-cost merchandise and elevate them to something altogether more deluxe. The style was so popular that it was later also extended to the Comme des Garçons SHIRT line, this time as a north-south tote.

Left to right: the three versions of the same tote, 2018, 2019, and 2021

The first Comme des Garçons X Gucci shopper appeared in 2018, as part of the year-end Friends and Comme des Garçons holiday collection. The tote took quite a few by surprise since it was not thought at the time that the two brands were a natural fit. But it was soon sold out. A year later, the collaboration was reprised. The form of the second bag remained the same, but this time the brown paper inner, behind the clear PVC shell, was printed in rows of floral motif that looked like pencil drawing. It is also rather evocative of vintage wallpaper. Now, the bag looked like it did finally bagged half of some semblance of Gucci-ness.

According to the communication material of the collab, the latest black tote “closes the circle of this experimental process”. Does it mean that this is the last of the pairing? If you’ve missed the earlier two, do you need to rush off somewhere to get one? When we saw the new version previewed, so to speak, on Vault, we thought this would not be available to those who are not living in one of the 25 countries that Vault ships to. But it is available here at the CDG store, as well as DSMS. Question is, at S$820 a pop, would it be too much to pay? When the first CDG solo-branded plastic-wrapped shopper was introduced half a decade ago, it could be had for S$200+. Even last year’s version, a collab with Futura, went for S$580. Have prices all round really shot up? Or are we just being budget conscious in times of a still-ranging pandemic?

Comme des Garcons X Gucci shopper, SGD820, is now available at Comme des Garcons and DSMS. Photos: Comme des Garcons

They’re Pairing Again

Gucci and Comme des Garçons are teaming up once more. Who’s thrilled?

They are back in the act. The on/off union was just teased on Gucci’s Instagram Stories, with the announcement that the Kering super brand is pairing with indie Comme des Garçons on a tote bag. This will be available exclusively on Gucci’s dedicated online store, Vault, where its merchandise is presently not available to the shoppers in a massive part of Asia, except—unsurprisingly—Japan. A collaboration with a Japanese brand, therefore, makes sense. In fact, Gucci has engaged Japanese customers rather actively even when the country was under a state of emergency due to COVID-19 . In August, they opened a pop-up in Kyoto, sited in a historical house. Then, there was the final Asian stop of the exhibition Gucci Garden Archetypes (after Hong Kong and Shanghai) in Tokyo. And later this month, the capital’s first Gucci restaurant Gucci Osteria da Massimo Bottura Tokyo is slated to open on the 28th. The makers of the Marmont has been busy in the Land of the Rising Sun.

And now the tote. This is not the first time that CDG is collaborating with Gucci on what’s essentially a shopping bag. Back in 2018, as part of the year-end Friends and Comme des Garçons holiday collection, the two brands released an east-west tote based on the CDG plastic-encased paper bag that had enthralled fans of the brand, and was soon very much copied (even compatriot Beams later did a version with Disney!). Gucci’s part of the coupling is the house’s red and green stripes, applied vertical in the middle of the bag, which quickly sold out. Unsurprising then that there is a repeat, this time available through Gucci’s own (online) retail outlet. It is not not known yet what graphic the bag would sport this time, other that the stripes (the flashing illustration on IG, we believe, is just a mock-up). This collaboration has, in fact, been rather baffling to us. What is the likelihood that a serious/enthusiastic CDG follower would at the same time be just as mad about Gucci to want something—anything—with the name or logo of the two together in one item? Or, are we living in truly not-quite-discerning times?

Gucci X Comme des Garçons bag will be available at The Vault from 15 Oct 2021. Screen grab: Gucci/Instagram

It’s A Menagerie!

With Louis Vuitton now joining the zoological race, ‘It bags in the shapes of animals seem to still hold petting appeal

Clockwise from top left: Nigo X Louis Vuitton Duck bag, Loewe Bunny bag, Loewe’s Mini Elephant Anagram bag, and Thom Browne’s Hector bag that started it all

Photographs of a new Louis Vuitton bag were supposedly ‘leaked’ a few days ago. They showed a new bag, purportedly conceived with one of Virgil Abloh’s favourite collaborators, Nigo—now ready to join Kenzo. The bag, made of the unmistakable brown LV monogram canvas, comes in the shape of a duck! Apparently an airplane bag is not enough, now they’ve moved from a hangar into the animal kingdom, specifically a pond. It is not clear why Nigo chose a member of the Anatidae that looks to us like a common mallard rather than, say, a swan. But what other animal comes to mind when we think of Louis Vuitton (at least Hermes can be linked to a horse)? Certainly not cousin of Donald? Perhaps for ease of design, the duck makes practical sense—the wings easily provide for two zippered side pockets (as shown in the photos). And the body capacious enough for present-day necessities. But is the duck cute? Or, sexy?

These are, of course, not insipid, flat bags in the silhouette of an animal (e.g. an owl. Or, Hello Kitty!), easily found anywhere, and online. We are not even referring to Loewe’s elephant-headed raffia basket bag, attractive as it is. We are pointing to those that are fully fleshed-out, in three-dimensional forms, such as those in Loewe’s very own increasingly large animal farm. These are mostly not predatory animals, and are designed to accompany the user like a pet. But the real advantage of these is that, unlike a companion animal, the LV duck and the Loewe rabbit can be carried anywhere, even on a plane (when the time comes). Or, to a restaurant, Michilen-starred or not. And you don’t even have to feed it, except with whatever you want it to stomach!

The creature that started it all is Hector, the canine-carrier Thom Browne first showed in his Autumn–Winter 2016 collection, based on his actual pet, a dachshund named, of course, Hector. The realistic-looking bag caught on so quickly that even grown women were smitten by it. Like most designers’ dogs, Hector has his own Instagram account and, as you can imagine, is extremely famous, but is outdone by a cat—the late Karl Legerfeld’s Choupette. Although Hector typically costs around USD4,000 to USD5,000, depending on its hide, one of its early forms—in crocodile—was asking for USD35,000! The price of LV’s duck is not yet known. But it’d be less dear, we suspect, and a one-time payment. No additional grooming costs and charges from visits to the vet. This is no quack!

Product photos: respective brands. Illustrations: Just So

Graceful Is The Giantess

Burberry plants itself right in the heart of Orchard Road with a massive Olympia

There aren’t many places on Orchard Road where a handbag, the height of the nutmeg tree that used to grow here in the 1800s, can sit obtrusively for the pleasure of gawkers and selfie-mad teenaged girls. The open space outside Ion Orchard (adjacent to Paterson Road) is possibly the only one and a spot luxury brands like to market themselves—visibly. Traditionally, this is where a Christmas tree (increasingly sponsored) would be erected during the Yuletide season, but Burberry has, instead, laid their Olympia bag “sculpture” here, following the footsteps of Louis Vuitton with their shipping container display last January. A handbag left in a very public place won’t be there for very long, but the Olympia is too massive to be removed unnoticed. The handbag, at 10m high, is taller than the Merlion (8.6m), and loftier than the ERP gantry it faces (6m). Which means that the Olympics 2020 pole vault gold medalist, Sweden’s Mondo Duplantis, who won by soaring over 6.02 metres, won’t be able to jump over its shoulder strap!

After its debut in London last month, floating on a barge along the River Thames, and then moving on to Dubai, where it sat on a sandy stretch on Palm West Beach of the famed Palm Jumeirah, with the city’s gleaming sky scrapper’s behind it, the Olympia is here, right where Orchard Road’s heart supposedly beats, standing proudly as “the first Asian stop” (we do not know where else on this continent it will land after this). The imposing bag is a crowd magnet, having enjoyed pre-unveiling publicity as an “IG moment”. It seems only women want to pose with the Olympia, with boyfriends/husbands serving as photographers, since it is likely that bag and subject(s) are unlikely able to be entirely framed by a smartphone’s front camera, held with hand stretched to the max. When a woman, standing alone, just below and to the right of the bag’s pentagon zip-puller, felt awkward and asked her male companion to go over and pose with her, he shouted from about three metres across her, “不要啦,很奇怪 (no, lah, it’s very strange)”.

Olympia the modern bag seems to allude to Olympia the ancient site/sanctuary dedicated to the worship of the Greek god Zeus, and home of the ancient Olympic Games. In Greek mythology, there are 12 Olympians of the pantheon, some are female goddesses, such as Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite, but none known as Olympia. At the Burberry store window inside ION Orchard, a row of Olympia the bag is placed against what appears to be the delineation of some ancient Hellenic deity, which is not identified (the staff in the store do not know who she is either). Women’s role in ancient Greece is believed to be somewhat limited, but in their religion, there is a line-up of surprisingly strong female characters, such as the Muses, celebrated for their beauty, as well as their artistic skills, and to whom we owe today’s use of the word ‘muse’—she who inspires a creative genius. However, the actual usable Olympia, launched in May, is, according to Burberry, inspired by their “show venue, Olympia London”, a 134-year-old exhibition space in West Kensington!

Designed by Riccardo Tisci, the Olympia is described by the brand in its publicity material as a “runway shoulder bag” (not handbag) that’s an “embodiment of modern classicism”. Shaped like a wedge of watermelon, the Burberry Olympia is a smart-looking bag. Somewhat unusual is the rigid shoulder strap (yes, it can stand when you sit the bag on a table), which is adjustable to suit the length you desire. The bag is striking in its simplicity of form: fold-over flap with a zip pocket and a zip-puller (on the rear is a a slip pocket—unfortunately not gusseted, so you can’t fit a Trace Together token) that is secured by magnetic closure. What’s interesting about the Olympia is that, while the bag was launched by the publicity visuals featuring Kendall Jenner, FKA twigs, and the British rapper Blaine Muise, better known as Shygirl, it is marketed unabashedly as unisex. For this shoulder bag, men are included (Kohei Takabatake models with it). To our friend above, it’s not strange, lah.

The Burberry Olympia sculpture is open to view until 29 August 2021. The bag itself, from SGD2090, is now available at Burberry, Ion Orchard. Photos: Jim Sim

Two Of A Kind: Riddle This!

One green costume is showing up as a bag

The Riddler vs Louis Vuitton

Virgil Abloh is good, very good. He can reference anything, and the results would be lauded and loved. In just one spring/summer 2022 collection, he can go, with considerable ease, from the winner of the inaugural Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design’s unmistakable wrapped-up heads to comic super-villain the Riddler’s distinctive costume with those questions marks against that green. But only now, at the maison of Louis Vuitton, the Riddler’s onesie is still his. Mr Abloh has, without question, taken the question marks (in similar font and in different sizes) and the extreme green, but has turned them into a Keepall Bandoulière! It went almost unnoticed among the many other bags shown if not for the very bright colour and the very black interrogation points.

DC comic fans are familiar with The Riddler (aka Edward Nygma), the computer-genius and former employee of millionaire Bruce Wayne. In the comic, the Riddler was convinced by a prostitute he met in a bus that he could be a super villain! When he first appeared as the Riddler in 1948’s Detective Comics, he was kitted in what was commonly referred to as a unitard—essentially a catsuit. It was green (but not as bright as later versions) and littered all over with questions marks in different sizes. He also wore a purple domino mask that matched a rather wide belt with a squarish buckle. The Riddler’s costume went through several changes through the years. A suit, too, was introduced (so that he’d be better dressed when meeting Mr Wayne?). The onesie was tweaked frequently, some time appearing with one single punctuation mark, right in the middle of the chest.

The unmistakable five-sided side of the Keepall Bandoulière

in 1995’s Batman Forever, the Riddler, played by the inimitable Jim Carrey, wore what was then described as a return to the “original costume”. It was a leotard that Mr Carrey was surprisingly able to pull off well. Costume designers Ingrid Ferrin and Bob Ringwood gave the union suit a rather youthful fit (no doubt still tight), with more question marks, placed in graphically fetching randomness. Mr Carrey’s the Riddler had other costumes too, mainly a jacket (not blazer) in the style of the Stalin tunic (some might think it looks like a Mao suit!) that was also green and floridly logo-ed, but it was the leotard that most movie-goers remember. And it is this outfit that seems to be the inspiration behind the Louis Vuitton bag.

The Keepall is considered one of LV’s most popular weekenders. Introduced in 1930, it has been made in different colours and fabrics, and has enjoyed interpretations by the American brand Supreme and the Japanese artist Takashi Murakami. Mr Abloh made the Keepall the must-have when his first remake at his debut season with LV was an iridescent version in transparent embossed Monogram PVC, attached with a chunky cable chain. There has been many versions since, but none we can remember that can be traced to what super-villains wear. We can really hear the Riddler questioning: “Riddle me this, Louis Vuitton. Why won’t you leave me ALONE?”

Photos: Warner Bros/DC Comics and Louis Vuitton

Hermès: Veggie Might

With the latest re-imagining of the Birkin, Hermès shows that it need not take itself too seriously

It’s delightful to see that Hermès does not treat its signature Birkin bags too preciously—at least not to the point that they can’t be reimagined or delineated with artistic humour. On their official Instagram recently, Hermès posted images of their “iconic” bag dreamed up by the American artist/designer/publisher Ben Denzer, using vegetables and fruit—so distant from exotic skins Hermès is known for (the Nile crocodile hide that is the ‘Himalayan’ style, for example). Birkin acolytes (Jamie Chua?) may frown at this making of food porn out of their prized handbag grail(s), but the French house urged followers and viewers in their IG comment to “enjoy the detour as classic Hermès bags inspire art good enough to eat”.

Edible Birkin is surely a diversion. Who wouldn’t be drawn to food although, admittedly, not everyone is to vegetables and fruit, surely the lower end of the spectrum of coverings that can be imagined on what is often considered the most expensive bag in the world. To make the veggie versions even more intriguing, Mr Denzer did not use expensive greens (or even the heirloom variety); he didn’t succumb to the dearest, such as hop shoots, reportedly costing US$426 per pound (or 0.45kg). Rather he used market vegetables—shoots and cruciferous—and fruits (yes, the cucumber is one!). And there is considerable construction and engineering in his work. He didn’t merely plonk lemon slices or orange peel on illustrations and call them art!

To other heritage luxury brands (Chanel?), this exercise that could have been a Project Runway challenge might be considered downgrading, even desecration, but Hermès took it all rather lightly. It didn’t seem they commissioned Mr Denzer to make the bags, but it did appear that Hermès found the work charming and image-enhancing, enough for them to share it on IG, where the brand does post fun images not necessarily tied to their own already-rather-against-the-grain advertising. If we should not take fashion too seriously, neither should we with bags—they’re serious enough. Seriously expensive.

Photos: Hermès/Instagram

All Ruffled Up

Two of the prettiest bags from what’s been called a “cult” collaboration—Sacai X Tomo Koizumi. And they’re unisex

Even if the It bag is not quite back, statement bags are, well, making quite a statement. The collaboration between Sacai and compatriot Tomo Koizumi is now one of the buzziest partnerships Chitose Abe has taken on (other than her approaching debut under Jean Paul Gaultier Couture). Both Japanese designers have transformed a simple ovaloid shape into a fluffed-up ruff in gradated colours that could be mistaken for oversized haute shower puffs. Amazingly, despite its delicate form, the bags are marketed to guys as well. Aptly 2021? In in one of the promotional images—released by Sacai—that featured ten ‘regular’ folks as models, exactly half are men, and each is carrying one of these tutus-disguised-as-bags, masculinity intact.

Tomo Koizumi is quite the star of the current group of rising Japanese designers. As the popular telling goes, Mr Koizumi was “discovered” by British stylist and Love mag’s EIC Katie Grand through fellow countryman Giles Deacon. He was tagged “breakout star” when he debuted his autumn/winter 2019 collection in New York, in the Marc Jacobs Madison Avenue store. Through Ms Grand, the who’s who of New York fashion supported and attended the event. International acclaim followed. He would go on to be the co-winner of the 2020 LVMH Prize (the €300,000 award was split equally among the eight finalists). In Asia, Mr Koizumi’s work gained tremendous traction from the time Hong Kong songbird Miriam Yeung (杨千嬅) commissioned the designer to create her 2019 world tour and Thai editor and socialite Nichapat Suphap wore a custom Koizumi dress to the Met Gala of the same year, themed Camp.

Initially launched in China last year, as part of the Hello Sacai pop-up’s special merchandise, the bags, available in three colours, have finally reached our shore. The crunchy ruffles are made of Japanese polyester organza and holds their fluffiness well, even after hugging them or leaning on them, like one would against a cushion. The tote bag (that’s what it’s called) comes with cowhide handles that sit comfortably in the crook of your arm, but aren’t long enough to go on the shoulder. It does, however, come with a slim, adjustable strap—also in cowhide—that can be attached to the tote for crossbody use.

By contrast, the more compact bum bag has more of Sacai’s sense of hybridisation. It sports details that reflect Ms Abe’s love of military wear. Here, the organza ombré gathers are paired with a nylon belt (on which kindred straps and hardware are afixed) that looks like shoulder straps dismembered from a backpack issued as part of the SBO during National Service! Strapped across the chest, it has a frou-frou front, but on the back, a totally tough-looking harness. Totally captivating.

Sacai X Tomo Koizumi tote, SGD1, 930, and belted pouch, SGD820, are available at Sacai, Hilton Shopping Gallery. Beware: many are sold out. Photos: Sacai

When Is A Handbag A Sneaker?

When it’s the Balenciaga Sneakerhead

Do women love their sneakers so much that they want a look-a-like as their bags? Balenciaga seems to think so. Its latest offering—a top handle style—has the silhouette and arched base of the Hourglass, but looks to own the upper that could have been ripped from their avuncular Track running shoe that had been made for a giantess! It comes with a front flap that looks like a magnification of the Track’s flattened mesh-and-leather top, complete with lace guard, bare eyelet, lace stay, removable round cotton laces (the lacing appear on both sides of the bag too), and what appears to be a tongue that’s upside-down. That it’s called the Sneakerhead should surprise no one. Duly impressed will be sneaker-loving boyfriends. The ideal date bag, if one is ever needed.

Could this mark the return of the It bag? For a while, luxury bags that are on the side of OTT have been missing. Balenciaga own Hourglass—so iconic that even Gucci wanted a take on it—is somewhat conservative, when compared to the Sneakerhead. If this isn’t It, a statement piece it sure is. Of course, a bag pretending to be a sports shoe is not entirely new (you can even find one on Amazon that looks like Converse kicks), but a handbag that is inspired by what athletes wear on their feet while staying slightly away from the cheesy is still novel, even more so for a luxury house. But if Balenciaga can make Crocs impossibly cool, they sure can make the Sneakerhead so as well.

The Sneakerhead seems destined to be a collectible (not necessarily an investable). Many retailers are already reporting that the bag, available in sizes S and M, are “selling out fast”. On Balenciaga’s website, some colours—there are three available—are already indicated to be “out of stock”. Not even one Sneakerhead was seen at the Balenciaga store at the Paragon, amid the many Hourglasses in myriad fabrics and colours. That perceived rarity will only increase its desirability, among sneakerheads, hypebaes, and those clearly not.

Sneakerhead Top Handle Bag (M), SGD3,150, in limited colours is available online at balenciaga.com. Product photo: Balanciaga. Photo illustration: Just So

This Bucket Bag

An unusual two-way carrier from the second White Mountaineering X Fila collaboration

When it comes to bags, athletic brands tend to create those that one can bring to the gym, the court, stadium, or even the poolside. Sportif is key. Uncommon are bags that can be togged along for a day out with friends or a date with the beau. The Fila X White Mountaineering collaboration this season yields a bag shape that isn’t usually seen in stores dedicated to performance wear: the bucket bag. This is so untethered to exercising and to the likes of sweatshirts that it looks almost out of place among Fila’s family of sporting kits and kicks.

And just as uncommon is the shell of the bag: pleated polyurethane (PU) that is subtly sheer. Within, is an inner bag of synthetic fabric in an ethnic print that is rather similar to those White Mountaineering employs in their own collections. The outer has a truly stylish vibe about it. On its own it can be used as a beach bag or, as the collab’s ‘Urban Mountopia’ positioning suggests, for hiking too. The details are pure ‘gorpcore’:apart from a pair of faux leather handles, the bag also comes with two para-cord handles, one short and another long to allow for cross-body use. These are in addition to hardware that’s consistent with mountaineering gear and knots that will make the most ardent boy scout proud.

The inner bag can be used on its own, even without handle or strap. It comes with a drawstring closure. If left inside the PU outer, the pattern can be seen discreetly, enhancing the bag’s striking silhouette. To be sure, this isn’t Fila’s first collaborative bucket bag (we remember one fabric one conceived with BTS, as well as another with 3.1 Philip Lim), but with White Mountaineering, they have created a distinctively fashion-centric carrier that brings the leisure in athleisure firmly to the fore. Fila has had numerous good runs with Japanese labels, such as Maison Miharayasuhiro. With White Mountaineering, they continue to push performance wear in directions that can truly be said to be appealing.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

White Mountaineering X Fila pleated bucket bag, SGD178, is available at Fila, Orchard Central. Photo: Chin Boh Kay

Jet Bag

The Louis Vuitton Keepall has a new shape. And it’s ridiculous

A new aircraft will land in a Louis Vuitton store near you. And whether it will then take off isn’t certain yet as the big-ticket item is tagged at—fasten your seatbelt—USD39,000. Or, about the cheapest price of a one-way ticket from our island to the city of Tokyo on a private jet. Or, the COE for a Cat A car. People long to travel, we understand. But yearning is one thing, showing your cannot-be-concealed desire to fly (again) amid a pandemic by carrying a bag in the shape of a plane borders on absurd and, frankly, laughable. Louis Vuitton has just announced the availability of the Airplane Bag to order and its staggering price tag (to compare, the “entry-level” Hermès’s Birkin is reported to be USD9,000). When it was shown during the men’s autumn/winter 2021 show, we had thought that it would not go into production, as it could be just a prop—good for runway, not quite on a city sidewalk. But now that we know it can soon be purchased, it would appear that Virgil Abloh can really do anything.

Looking like it belongs to Fluffy Airport, in the company of Gugu and friends, Mr Abloh’s jet bag is consistent with his increased use of cartoon/stuffed-toy accessories to add interest to his tailoring that has yet become streetwear’s much awaited stand-in. The Airplane Bag brings to mind Thom Browne’s Hector canine carryall, so adorable that mature women are known to go weak in its presence. And to a lesser extent, Hermès’s Bolide Shark Bag, only far less capacious. And, to us, not cute like both. It does not take long to see that it is probably not quite the cabin bag to bring onboard, even in first class: not exactly overhead compartment-friendly. In fact, it is hard to imagine a grown man totting the bag anywhere. This is not a Thomas the Tank Engine lunch box dad has to bring for junior.

Understandably, Mr Abloh is into the present travel-again obsession, like so many people, especially fashion folks. We didn’t, however, quite get the supposedly dichotomic “Tourist-vs-Purist” message he was communicating or how the plane fits into all that. To be sure, the flying machine was a key motif. It appeared as oversized buttons and illustration on sweaters, even on earrings. But this unwieldy jet bag in the recognisable monogram is way too serious and too boys-and-their-toys to be clever or ironic. Mr Abloh, we know, likes to be literal; he is inclined, for instance, to naming things or identifying their function with descriptions in bold font. Is it a relief then that the Airplane Bag doesn’t come with a textual identifier? And in quotation marks?

Leaving on a Jet Plane is not a song to sing these days. Or an action to talk about. What about leaving with a jet plane?

Product photo: Louis Vuitton. Illustrations: Just So

Two Of A Kind: Pleated Are The Bags

With her new customisable pleated bags, Gin Lee won’t be the first nor the last to be inspired by the pioneering work of Issey Miyake

Pleats plenty: (left) Ginlee Make Bag. Photo: Ginlee Studio. (Right) Issey Miyake Crystal Rock Pleats Bag. Photo Issey Miyake Me

Some elements or details in fashion design are so connected to a particular designer that it’s almost impossible to disassociate one with the other. And vice versa. Take pleats, for example: one inevitably thinks of Issey Miyake. Sure, there is also the Spanish couturier Mariano Fortuny, but the works of both are not only decades apart, their outputs are worlds apart. Mr Miyake’s pleats, now attributed to the Issey Miyake Studio, are primarily effected as a finished garment, rather than product made from a pleated fabric. Through the years, Mr Miyake has introduced many innovations (and new technologies) in pleating, including curvilinear and bias pleating, as well as advances in micro-pleating, also known as plissé. And he does not only pleat clothes, he creates permanent folds on accessories and bags, too.

One of the fashion names here that appears to be taking a similar route is Gin Lee. The Singaporean, who overseas the creative output of the company, Ginlee Studio—co-founded with her Israeli husband Tamir Niv in 2011—didn’t incorporate pleats into her early output. In recent years, however, pleated garments seem to be the mainstay of her collections. There are the usual tented dresses, shell tops, and pajama-style pants that have become typical of pleated clothes, and now, in addition, bags. Just totes for the present, these were launched last month as part of a new sub-label called Ginlee Make, available at the brand’s flagship store in the refurbished Great World City.

The immediate reaction to these bags when seeing them for the first time could be best summed up by what two women at the store one weekend said, “so Pleats Please!” But that response has not only been evident with these bags. Similar comments were heard of her dresses, sold at Design Orchard. But the seeming similarity to the work of Issey Miyake was also apparent in the name of her new sub-label. Back in 1998, the year the A-POC (A Piece of Cloth) line was launched in Tokyo, Mr Miyake staged an exhibition at the Jean Nouvel-designed Foundation for Contemporary Art in Paris titled, Issey Miyake: Making Things. Uncanny? Or, coincidence?

How long must a recognisable design, fabric treatment, retail concept, or branding exercise remain or circulate in the market before mimicking them can be accepted and not considered a copy?

The Ginlee Make bags are the manifestation of the in-store service Make In Shop, a retail concept that offers “last-mile production” of those items that can be finished before watchful shoppers. As Ms Lee told the press last month, “When a customer places their order for a pleated bag, we’ll proceed to make it for her there. They can see it being made and customise their own version of it.” In Tokyo last year, at the world’s largest Homme Plissé Issey Miyake store in Aoyama, the brand availed its pleating process for customers to witness. Three times a week, over a relatively short time of an hour in the afternoon, engineers (they are specialists indeed) from the company’s Internal Pleats Laboratory show how the clothes are made: a massive machine swallows a sewn T-shirt, for example, cut 1.5 times the completed size, and in ten minutes, reveals the pleated garment. This, too, is last-mile production. How long must a recognisable design, fabric treatment, retail concept, or branding exercise remain or circulate in the market before mimicking them can be accepted and not considered a copy?

Sure, on the same note, we could also say, for instance, that Mary McFadden mimicked Mr Fortuny, but if you examined her pleats closely, the effect, as one Singaporean designer told us, “is more liquid”, and her silhouettes more boxy. Technologies in garment manufacture do become widely adopted, and the onus is upon the adopters to output designs that are distinctly theirs. Issey Miyake certainly did not invent pleating (and he wouldn’t claim he did), but what he undeniably introduced was a whole new way of working with—and on—the pleats. And there is tremendous conceptual heft and mathematical calculations involved. Much of the output require origami-like folds, as well as ingenious geometry. More importantly, to fans, he was the first to introduce the pleats that we now mostly associate with his brand, especially Pleats Please Issey Miyake, the line introduced in 1993, after the exhibition of the same name at the Tokyo Museum of Contemporary Art in 1990.

That Issey Miyake’s pleats would inspire Singaporean designers isn’t surprising. Pleating services here go as far back as the ’80s. Back then, there were primarily two major players: Mong Seng Pleats Garment, founded in 1974, and Owen Trading Company, launched in 1980. Between the two, Owen Trading was, as one designer told us, “at the top of its game”. The popularity of pleats rose in the mid-’80s, after Issey Miyake debuted a sub-brand Permanente in 1985, featuring the early forms of his distinctive creases and folds that culminated as the capsule Pleats in 1988. By the time Pleats Please was launched five years later, capturing the imagination of the world, many local designers were experimenting with pleats too, and many were doing so through the services of Owen Trading, owned and operated by three Tan brothers. One of them, Paul Tan, was the go-to guy for anything that can be pleated, even a scrap of fabric that can be turned into a small scarf.

Gin Lee at work in her Great World City store. Photo: Ginlee Studio

But towards the early ’00s, when pleated garments and accessories, and Pleats Please knock-offs were easily found, first in the fashion wholesale centres in China and, later, online, pleating was a dwindling business. In 2011, Owen Trading was sold to a young Raffles College of Higher Education fashion graduate Chiang Xiaojun, who renamed the company Bewarp Design Studio. With full access to pleating machines, Ms Chiang created Pleatation, the label totally dedicated to pleats, and a moniker—similar to Ginlee Make—unabashed of its alluding to Issey Miyake, in particular, Pleats Please and the older Plantation, introduced in 1981, and now part of the Issey Miyake subsidiary A-net, which produces brands such as ZUCCa and mercibeaucoup. The quality offered by the old Owen Trading, which counted some of our design luminaries, such as Thomas Wee, Frederick Lee, and the late Tan Yoong as customers, evaporated, according to some who have used the services of the renamed pleater. “She couldn’t keep up,” one of them told us, “she does only basic pleating. Nothing fancy.” Despite the skepticism, Ms Chiang opened two standalones for Pleatation: The Compleat Store, which, like Ginlee Studio, sold pleated totes. Both The Compleat Stores have closed. Even their website’s e-commerce component is now free of merchandise and activity. On the SGP Business website, the status of Bewarp Design Studio is marked “cancellation in progress.”

The sale of Owen Trading Company, after three decades of existence, to a then unknown individual, who is unable to protect it from total closure, perhaps serves as a cautionary tale. It is not quite clear why many brand owners choose pleating as the main design feature of their products. Is pleating an easy way to create a fashion line? Does it provide a differentiating factor to the clothes—or bags? Or, allow products categories that are more cost-efficient to produce (Pleats Please, being mainly made of a specially-produced polyester, is still less expensive than the main line)? If pleated garments and accessories offered low barriers to entry, why did Pleatation not take off? Some designers who had worked with Paul Tan in the past thought that he could have been retained by Bewarp Design Studio as a technical advisor. No one now knows what was the nature of the transaction. Mr Tan was last seen driving an SBS Transit bus.

It is possible that Gin Lee’s foray into pleated clothing and bags is the result of reduced competition. Based on the Make Bag alone, it isn’t difficult to see where her inspiration comes from. In a 2017 Financial Times interview, Issey Miyake, who is no longer actively involved in the designs of his numerous lines, said of his pleats: “It is my gift, my legacy, and if other designers look to Pleats Please for inspiration, I feel honoured and happy—it is a great compliment.” Whether that is Japanese niceness or diplomacy, or just resignation to the truth that he is widely copied, we may never know. But, as written on one decal we once saw in an atelier, “You can copy all you want, you’ll always be one step behind.”

The Super Sleek

Prada’s Cleo shoulder bag, brought back from the ’90s, deserves to be revisited

By Mao Shan Wang

Walking past a Prada window recently, a friend pointed to a bag held by the mannequin. She simply said, “it’s so you”, and she wasn’t wrong. In the window was a simple shoulder bag. Its simplicity makes it even more outstanding. No monogram, no busy embroidery, no clunky clasp. Just an enamel inverted triangle. This, to me, is classic Prada. It is the Cleo bag and it reminded me of the lady-like elegance Miuccia Prada is known for. Talking about it now seems so out of touch with the times. This elegance, for many women, is no longer relevant. But there, in the Prada window (and later on the arms of Freja Beha in the brand’s autumn/winter 2020 campaign, shot by David Sims), the bag spoke to me—softly, but definitely.

I like classic bags. Black, and in leather. Plain. No quilting. No embellishments. Just good sturdy leather, with a soft sheen that suggests a luxury that whispers. And so understated that I can’t call it “arm candy”. This Cleo, the first bag from the Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons partnership, is all of these and more. I am especially drawn to its shape: a measured meeting of two trapezoids, with the rear panel longer/larger than the front. Sure, this bag can’t stand, but I like laying it on it’s back, as bags were placed in the past. I like the curved bottom corners too—reminds me of the iPhone. And because this bag is not designed to bulge, I’d be sure not to carry too many things in it, keeping it suitably light. It’s not too big either, with about the surface area of an A4 paper—perfect, when it’s reclining, for my lap. Yes, I’m dreaming. In these difficult times, we can all do more of that.

Prada Cleo shoulder bag, SGD2,900, is available in Prada stores and online. Photo: Zhao Xiangji