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

Art Bag

Loewe’s collaboration with the artist Kenneth Price yields some rather drool-worthy unisex satchels

Loewe, under the watch of Jonathan Anderson, has been the champion of craft and craft-like work to rather alluring results. The latest is Mr Anderson’s interpretation of the cheerful work of American sculptor and painter Kenneth Price (1935—2012). The (above) illustration first appeared in a specially commissioned work for the Newport Beach (California) restaurant La Palme in the ’80s. Mr Price created vivid and optimistic landscapes on glazed plates and bowls, and these images are now reimagined as leather marquetry (so fine, it’s veritable art in itself) on the flap of this crossbody bag.

We like the simplicity of the bag and how the flap is made special by such simple but striking illustrative form. The positive vibe is so right for such dismal times. Mr Price, who, aside from art, studied the trumpet with Chet Baker, was known for the optimism he projected through his work, including often bulbous sculptures, and, in particular, Happy’s Curios (some of the works also appear in the Loewe collection), a six-year project, inspired by New Mexico, that was dedicated to his wife Happy Ward.

This crossbody is not a big bag. It reminds us of an oversized coin purse (and opens like one!). But, with a wider bottom, it is capacious enough for bag essentials such as portable phone charger, a wallet, as well as EarPods and their attendant case. Most people would say this a woman’s shoulder bag, and women will surely find it attractive (if money is no objection, also go for the totally loveable Easter Island bucket bag with bamboo handle). But as men are using smaller bags these days, they should not shut themselves out of this particular one. In fact, it was heartening to see this appearing in the Loewe store window, hung around the neck of a shirt, clearly pitched at guys. Man bags really do not need to be man-sized.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Loewe X Ken Price La Palme Heel bag, SGD 1,900, is available at Loewe stores. Photo: Zhao Xiangji

Fakes From Inside

News that former Hermès staff have been making and selling knock-off Birkins and others are sending shivers through (expensive) bag-carrying society ladies

 

Hermes Birkin

“So the rumours are true.” This has been a common refrain since it was reported, two days ago, that ten former Hermès staff are on trial in a French court for putting fake bags bearing the name of their former employer out in the market. According to The Guardian, a “forgery network manufactured bags between 2013 and 2014 for a profit of more than €2m”. This shocker is, unsurprisingly, the talk of the town. Many women who buy and hoard Birkins and kindred bags are alarmed (or relieved) to know that investigators in an unrelated case had bugged the apartment of “a man suspected of selling handbags stolen in France to customers in Asia”. It was through him that they uncovered the covert operation of the ex-employees of Hermès

The reaction to the news of purloined purses sold to Asian customers was swift. Who were these customers? Text messages exchanged expressed shock, dismay, and suspicion—who among them have been carrying the output of this inside job without knowing? Was the Birkin in the loot?

Many women stressed the importance of buying only from the Hermès store. Some were quick to confirm the hunch that some Hermès bags sold at secondhand dealers could be fake. Or that such places are where one could “get rid” of bootleg bags, noting that one “authentic Hermès purveyor” had “made S$49.8 mil sales in 2019 from pre-loved Hermès bags”, according to one media story.

That, based on our conservative calculation, could amount to over 3,300 bags. The Birkin, the most coveted and among the dearest of bags, is known for its limited quantity, available at authorised retailer, namely their own stores. We are no customer of the positional goods of Hermès, as such we cannot say for certain, but according to reports, a walk-in customer at an eponymous boutique is unlikely able to secure the Birkin. Joining the legendary wait list is required. The waiting time for the bag upon ordering can, reportedly, be up to six years. There is apparently a limit to how many a customer can buy, even as a top spender—said to be two a year.

If indeed the Birkin is as limited as they are thought to be, why are they so numerous in secondhand shops?

 

Old riddles are re-surfacing. If indeed the Birkin is as limited as they are thought to be, why are they so numerous in secondhand shops? Are there really that many sold? (Hermès doesn’t release figures on specific bags, but according to media speculation, more than one million Birkins are in circulation in 2019.) How is it, for example, that one known ardent collector of Birkin with a swanky walk-in wardrobe to house them all could buy that many?

Current tai-tai tattle includes the poser: were some of those no-longer-loved bags that she had re-sold in much earlier years obtained from dubious sources, commonly referred to as “third party”? Apparently this woman of immense means denied there was any question of authenticity regarding her Hermès bags. Whether she still disposes of her bags isn’t certain, but she herself probably owns more of them bags than any re-seller on our island.

It is, of course, difficult to swallow the possibility of buying what was once loved that turns out to be a counterfeit. One woman was more optimistic. “I have bought Birkins from re-sellers before. They told me they were authentic and I believed them. Anyway, if these bags were made by ex-staff, they know the quality. The bags are fake only by name.”

Illustration: Just So

 

 

Bags: Louis Vuitton Vs Chanel

Which is at top of the food chain?

 

LV vs Chanel

A week or so ago, we were brought to the attention of the post of a disgruntled, anonymous NUS student on the Facebook page, NUSWhispers*. In that 214-word “confession”, as the page admin calls the entries, the dismayed complainant said that “LV is for poor people who want to look rich.” How she came to that conclusion isn’t clear. But her thought on Louis Vuitton was spurred from not receiving the brand she wanted: Chanel.

As her straightforward telling went, “Recently my boyfriend bought me a Louis Vuitton wallet which costs around $700 for my birthday. When I saw the wallet, I felt really upset and disappointed. Because earlier this year, my sister’s bf got her a Chanel wallet which costs at least $1000 for her birthday. Chanel is so much nicer than LV.” Price, the world noted, equals nice.

That was not the only comparison she made, but we won’t explore them as they aren’t related to luxury bags/wallets, and will detract from the main thrust of this post (you can read about her grievance here). She concluded with clearly self-absorbed unhappiness: “Sometimes I really feel like a loser.” It, naturally, garnered no sympathy, certainly not from the commentators on NUSWhispers.  It did, however, make us wonder: which is indeed more desirable—Louis Vuitton or Chanel?

There is, surprisingly, no definitive ranking of luxury handbag brands. According to one price-based list offered by the luxury shopping service The Luxe Link, Chanel ranks third, after Hermès and Delvaux. LV is fifth. In a listicle posted by the website Who What Wear on the “the 10 most popular designer bags ever” (and shared by Yahoo News in March), Chanel ranks 2nd (for quilted bags) and Louis Vuitton, 3rd (for the Alma). First goes to Hermès (for the Birkin).

While luxury-brand snobbery is rarely discussed among shoppers of expensive bags, it does exist

 

In an unscientific, un-representational, and unorthodox poll that we recently conducted among (admittedly small number of ) 12 fashion folks, we asked our interviewees one very simple question: “If you were to buy a handbag, LV or Chanel?” The answers were almost unanimous. Eleven chose Chanel, while one insisted on selecting Hermès. On why LV repeatedly ranks behind Chanel, one observer told us, ”LV is Coach for those with just enough money”. Still, “not for poor people who want to look rich.”

Once, as we walked past a line outside Chanel at Takashimaya Shopping Centre, we overheard a young woman tell her friend, while looking across at the LV store, “I’d rather die than queue opposite.” While luxury-brand snobbery is rarely discussed among shoppers of expensive bags, it does exist. Hermès fans know, for example, that you don’t buy a Birkin off the shelf (assuming you could); you join a wait list.

A fashion insider we spoke to noted that, despite the recent price hikes, many tai-tais who carry luxury handbags do prefer Chanel. LV is for “smallish bags”. Apparently some of them have recently been disappointed with LV for selling them what was touted as a limited edition: the S$2,570 “hybrid cross-body” Multi Pochette Accessoires. “But strange thing is,” the puzzled person continued, “that every lady said it was limited, and yet all of them have it!”

20-06-03-02-11-07-258_decoJamie Chua showing the bags that she “regretted buying”. Screen grab: Jamie Chua/YouTube

Socialite Jamie Chua, who bought her first Chanel—the 2.55—when she was 17, could be a reliable person to shed some light on luxury bag ranking. We turned to her Youtube channel for guidance. In one of her videos that has chalked up an impressive 1.5 million views, she listed five bags that she “regretted buying”, and all of them are from Chanel: a gold mini ‘Boy’, a two-tone Lucite evening ‘Watch’ bag, a ‘Belt Buckle’ minaudière (small, decorative handbag), a pink (“that Jamie loves”) ‘Round as Earth’ patent leather bag, and a La Pausa ‘Life Buoy’ bag.

And the five she likes most? “I really feel kind of bad,” she said. “All my favourites are Hermes.” But that’s hardly surprisingly when you consider the 200 over Hermès bags she has collected—believed to be the largest in the world by a single individual—and displays in a famous, viewed-by-many, 700 sq ft, walk-in wardrobe. Although most of what she wished she hadn’t bought were deemed impractical due to their smallness, she was happy with one S$22,000 Chanel ‘Rocket Ship’ bag, as it “value-adds to the beauty of this closet”. Clearly there are women who don’t wait for their boyfriends to buy them bags, and be disappointed.

*Despite the page title, what’s posted in NUSWhispers is not even remotely academic or shared in hush tones. From acute friendlessness to jilted hearts to “really obsessed with boobs” to “girls need to improve their online dating app conversation starter skills”, one can’t escape the rather juvenile quality of the “confessions”, many so inane, they’re hard to read for longer than it takes to close a double-C clasp. There is chatter that the post we have been discussing here is just the person trolling. Even so, it could be troll mimicking life.

Illustration: Just So

 

Your Fave Bags Cost More Even Before The Pandemic Ends

At Chanel, the only way is up

 

Chanel Classic handbagChanel Classic—the 11.12— handbag created by Karl Lagerfeld in 1983 reinterpreted the 2.55 designed by Coco Chanel in 1955, hence the name. Illustration: Just So

The house of Chanel wasted no time. The moment lockdown eases in Europe and North Asia, prices of their bags and kindred leather goods went up. What they now charge are significantly high enough that in Seoul and Shanghai (and other Chinese cities) shoppers queue at the Chanel stores to cop their favourite bags before the new prices set in. So long the queues have been in Seoul that city officials are reportedly now pondering if they should ask Chanel to close. It is amazing that despite what Seoul (or South Korea) went through, there are those who could return to the consumptive life prior to lockdown, as if their present world is reset to that time. While it is widely said that life will not be the same before the pandemic ends, for some, it’s back-to-before with such haste and vigor. Along this social emancipation, Chanel resumed operations with a swift price hike, while other fashion businesses are waking up from a nightmare, struggling with managing inventories, and pondering closure.

The rush to buy seen in Seoul is understandable. This is as much revenge as desperate spending. COVID-19 has allowed us to realise that ‘essentials’ are different things to different people. Oftentimes they have nothing to do with staples and sustenance. Chanel knows that too. Their bags, more expensive than a fridge or a PC, are as essential now as before, perhaps even more—the apparent result of pent-up demand and aching despair. Sales, therefore, will likely be bloated than dented. Yet, making them dearer seems like a good strategy, never mind that Chanel will continue to sell the same quilted bags for many years to come. The 2.55 and its later reincarnation the 11.22 (also called the “Classic”, re-imagined by Karl Lagerfeld in 1983, the first year of his tenure), for examples, wouldn’t go out of fashion and will continue to sell in the multitude for decades to come. Regardless, a price increase is deemed necessary as if the cash cows shall be no more, as if two months of store closures will bring the great house down.

Chanel @ Taka Apr 2020Chanel at Takashimaya Shopping Centre shortly before the Circuit Breaker

According to Chanel, as quoted in the press, “The price adjustments only regard Chanel’s iconic handbags, 11.12 and 2.55, as well as Boy, Gabrielle, Chanel 19 bags, and certain small leather goods.” And the purpose of the exercise? “These adjustments are made while ensuring that we avoid excessive price differentials between countries, in line with our commitments regarding price harmonization.” We are not in the luxury business, so we won’t know with certainty if that justification makes sense. But the timing of these “adjustments” seems add odds with the prevalent consumer mood. It sounds insensitive and opportunistic, more so when Chanel’s brand value this year, according to the annual ranking BrandZ Top 50 France, is worth USD43 billion, below number one Louis Vuitton’s USD$53.4 billion. For many average (if that’s not belittling) Chanel customer, it’s quite unfathomable that Chanel, with USD11.12 billion worth of sales in 2018, can’t stomach two months of no sale and attendant costs without resorting to making their popular products more expensive. Or is that naive?

“Harmonizing” of prices is, of course, not new. Chanel, proud of its practice and considers itself a transparent pioneer in this area, typically adjust their prices bi-annually to, according to the brand, “avoid excessive price differentials between countries”. We do not know of the percentages of past adjustments, but the current highest of 17% (in Euros) is described by some observers as “audacious”. Chanel, of course, can afford not to be cautious or modest. They are a luxury business. However, years before earnings were first announced in 2018, it was known that the privately-owned company made “subtle adjustments that were reflected on the price tags, not announced like that”, as an industry veteran told us. Welcome, we hear many say, to the school of Apple retail.

Chanel @ Taka 2 Apr 2020Despite the long queue outside Chanel, it’s always relatively calm inside—more conducive for bag buying regardless the price

No matter how the news broke, the surprise and dismay to many were palpable online. The common refrain, as uttered by an English YouTuber known for her unboxing videos, is that it “feels like the most insensitive time to be whacking your prices up, particularly by such a large amount.” What’s intriguing is that it’s not as if Chanel was not able to anticipate the quick return to form. There was already indication that their bag business was probably not going to be affected severely. It would bounce back. On 6 April, the day before our city went into lockdown that is euphemistically called Circuit Breaker, a snaking line was seen outside the Chanel store at Takashimaya Shopping Centre. The demand then was Circuit Breaker-defying and it’s not unreasonable to assume Chanel wouldn’t lose its brand value and ranking when social distancing measures are eased or lifted. Price hikes of anything on any day is hardly welcome news. Chanel’s prices, like those of its competitors, are expected to climb, but during an inadequately mitigated pandemic, with the very real threat of a second wave of infection, the increases smack of corporate indifference.

Diehard fans and those referred to as “elite customers” (presumably with direct access to a VIP room than the need to join a queue) will probably take the new prices in their stride, but others are miffed. It is understandable why people are. As one designer told SOTD, “it will only impact those who save their lunch money to buy the bags. The rich cannot be bothered, I’m sure.” The British YouTuber, too, said, “There’s so much uncertainty: People might have lost their jobs, people are not on full pay, people who are self-employed in the UK not getting any help… of all the times to put your prices up, now is not it.” It is doubtful that in deciding to raise their prices, Chanel had considered the jobless, those who suffered pay cuts, or the income-insecure part-timers. Which stirs the speculation that the brand is trying to weed out a particular group of queue-willing fans. If you have to worry about keeping your job or buying your next meal, Chanel is really another planet.

Photos: Zhao Xiangji

阿莲 On The Book Tote?

In China, you could have it if you wanted to. But Dior’s personalisation for one of its most popular bags may have an unintended effect: could it be fake?

 

ABCDior in Chinese fontABCDior personalisation in Chinese font. From left, the bags of actresses/celebs Zhang Xueying, Jing Tian, and Wu Jinyan. Photos: Dior/Weibo

Dior’s bag personalisation service, ABCDior, has arrived in China with the option of having the Book Tote, to name one, embroidered in logosyllabic Chinese characters. According to some local media reports, ABCDior as embroidered-name-on-bag has been met with lukewarm response. Despite celebrity endorsement and a feverish return to shopping after the COVID-19 lockdown has been lifted, women are not biting. Surprising?

To be sure, the Book Tote is, by most accounts and inane unboxing videos, still a popular bag, but would hanzi (汉字) of your choice enhance its appeal? For the Chinese, the height of prestige and sophistication is association with a European name, spelled out in letters of the Latin alphabet. Luxury brand’s snob appeal would be considerably, if not entirely, reduced if Chinese characters take the place of anything from A to Z and back again, so much so that, with the exception of the press, Chinese consumers rarely, if ever, write Dior in its Chinese script: 迪奥 (pronounced dí ào).

One major complaint, it appears, is the font choice. According to reports, as well as posts on Weibo, many (even Dior fans) are horrified by the plain and generic typeface, believed to be Source Han Sans, a sans-serif gothic type conceived by Adobe and Google, first released in 2014. This was clearly picked to match Dior Book Tote’s serif-free, unidentified typeface, that has the minimalism of the-still-popular Helvetica, but none of the latter’s relaxed cool nor the elegance of the original font, designed by the Parisian typographer Georges Peignot. In English, or French, the full name of the creator of the New Look, while unnecessarily busy-looking in full caps, still evokes widespread admiration and respect. What does the name of actresses—or the regular Dior consumer—call up?

Personal branding to augment luxury branding is merely the sprinkles on an already fancy cake

 

To be certain, the brand name of the unlined, Oblique-patterned Dior Book Tote is still kept since its already embroidered as part of the jacquard canvas. For the ABCDior service, the customer’s name is embroidered on the opposite, (for most users) body-facing side, which, in the end, may not front the public as much as Monsieur Dior’s full name. Although Dior has engaged actresses—looking like they are out to the supermarket—such as Zhang Xueying (张雪迎, due to appear in the new Chen Kaige film Flowers Bloom in the Ashes) and Jing Tian (景甜, in a nearly wordless role in 2017’s King Kong: Skull Island) to show off the bag with their names on it, the effort smacks of pretentious display. Personal branding to augment luxury branding is merely the sprinkles on an already fancy, good-to-look-at gateau.

There is also the thought that the Dior with Chinese characters, featuring a bland font, look like fakes, an unimaginative Qipu Lu (七浦路) Market—if you’re in Shanghai—spin-off. We also see another fake—personalisation as fake customisation. This is, in fact, merely identification, rather than personalisation that reflect one’s personality. Placing your name on a bag is the same as inscribing your initials on the back of a watch, on the body of a pen, in the inside of a ring—it does not make the watch, the pen, and the ring any different from when you first chose either. It does not become more you.

And there’s a third fake: an unreal sense of superiority—that because one’s bag now comes with one’s name could be better than another without. The thing about such personalisation is that one person’s name is not another’s titular treasure. If, as it is commonly known, tai tais and society ladies sell their bags to acquire the next newest, would a tote that spots a name such as 阿莲 (Ah Lian) have appeal, let alone resale value?

Of course, the personalised Book Tote was already carried by stars such as Rihanna and the KOL Chiara Ferangni way before ABCDior embroiderers travelled the world. The service was available here last June at the Dior store in The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands. The personalisation, as we understand it, was not available in Chinese characters then. Dior had not made known the total number of bags—in the Oblique monogram style only, including the Diorcamp messenger (and the Walk‘n’Dior sneakers)—that had been embroidered. We may, therefore, never know of the personalisation’s popularity here. In the end, our names, like any child knows, should be, at most, used as icing on birthday cakes.

Collage: Just So

Guys Get Theirs Too

The Dior ‘Saddle’ bag was John Galliano’s contribution to the era of ‘It’ bags. ‘It’, 20 years later, it still is, but now, conversely, among men

 

Dior Saddle Bag

By Ray Zhang

It was during the Lunar New Year holiday season that the Dior Saddle bag for men was brought into sharp focus for me. I was at a dinner party whose host had just moved into a smallish Geylang apartment, designed to be achingly modern, with a massive marble dinner table that was the talking point, until someone spotted a Saddle, lying lifeless like dismounted saddlery, on an ottoman. One uninitiated guest asked, no one in particular, what it was. The owner of the bag, a middle-aged guy with a serious weakness for luxury bags, lifted the subject like a trophy and said, “it’s a Saddle”.

“What’s a Saddle?”

“It’s a Dior bag”.

“Oh. For guys?”

Never mind the last redundant question. A bag once the domain of women is now arousing curiosity and adoption, among—not a few—men. The It bag has crossed into men’s wear, and by most accounts and observation on the street, acquisition rate is high (unfortunately, figures are not available, but one ION Orchard store clerk told me emphatically that the Saddle is their “best seller”). I’d like to see what it’s like strapped on the body, but the owner of the said bag held on to it as a clutch.

Dior Saddle Bag 2

The Saddle bag made its runway appearance in the third year of John Galliano’s media-dominating stewardship of Dior, during the spring/summer 2000 presentation of punk cowgirls leaving some bordello for a purposeful stride into the sunset. The bags, when they were launched was an instant hit and enjoyed a second wave of popularity after Carrie Bradshaw carried it in Sex and the City. When the trendiness of the Saddle eventually left the Dior stable, its production run ended too. But as with many ‘iconic’ fashion accessories, they were eagerly rediscovered by generation influencer. Not surprising, as many Saddles were ready to be picked up in vintage shops around the globe and on-line at collectible stores such as The Real Real. Then in 2018, Dior did the unforeseeable: it permitted Maria Grazia Chiuri to bring the Saddle back for a ride. Aided by freebies to KOLs who, naturally, IG-ed it, the Saddle was extolled as “an instant hit”.

A year later, Kim Jones re-imagined the Saddle for men. What was once a bag secured under the armpit, with thumb hooked unto the D-shaped charm that was fastened to a front-facing strap—like a stirrup, the guy’s butched-up version is a bum bag wannabe with a broad, single strap that sports a chunky Matthew Williams-design clasp. Like the original, the men’s Saddle is not a terribly capacious bag. Bulky items such as battery charger or even a fat wallet stored within may cause bumps to appear on what should be a flat case. Think not gym gear. When I did eventually strap the Saddle on in a Dior store, I was tempted to re-christen it Holster. In the end, its victim-encouraging trendiness immediately— and totally—discouraged adoption.

Photos: Zhao Xiangji

Bi-Coloured For The Back

The classic Prada nylon backpack takes on two solid colours

 

20-02-08-14-58-09-467_deco

By Ray Zhang

I am finding love with the backpack. Second time round. The tote was my bag of choice for a long time, but these days, I like the backpack more, as carrying one, strapped over the shoulders and secured close to the vertebrae allows both my hands to be free for my smartphone. I am not one of you dexterous millennials, good at one-hand use, Tik-Toking and Snapchatting and selfie-taking at one go, with one hand.

And the backpack that has caught my attention recently is Prada’s nylon two-tone, in a sort-of-khaki and inky black. Well, actually, a quadri-tone, if you consider the brown Saffiano leather trims and the grey nylon straps. The bag is generously sized, with one massive pocket in front and one on each side. It is made of what to me appears to be Prada’s classic nylon once known as pocone although the brand now calls it a “technical fabric”.

Prada’s backpack in their unmistakable nylon has a special place in my heart. The first time I encountered them was in Paris, some time in the early ’90s. One of my closest friends and I were in the French capital, coincidentally during fashion week. We readied ourselves early one spring morning (despite dancing till just three hours ago) to go to a cafe at the Carrousel du Louvre, perched above where in those days one accessed the show venues, situated inside the bowels of the newer part of the museum.

From our vantage point, we could see the attendees—industry and media folks, none from the celebrity and influencer circus that dominates today—hurrying to the show sites, their rear revealing Prada nylon backpacks on nearly every one of them. We counted, and while I can’t remember the figure now, I do recall that the number was staggering. It was the only bag that mattered.

Miuccia Prada first introduced the pocone in 1984 (some reports say earlier—1979) in the form of the Vela backpack for women, with their double front pockets and leather straps to secure the flaps, but this challenge to the dominance of Hermes’s Birkin didn’t become massively popular (and copied) until around 1990. By then, the Vela, initially available only in black and brown, became a major obsession, with women abandoning their dainty bags for something associated with more tough-and-tumble pursuits.

I bought my first Prada backpack two years after that Paris adventure. I do not know if there is a revival now, but I really like returning to something that has historical heft and is made of a light yet seriously durable fabric and is truly useful. Looking at this nylon and Saffiano two-tone, I see that it looks nothing like the first I owned. It is a lot handsomer, and that is definitely a lure.

Prada nylon and Saffiano two-tone backpack, SGD2,910, is available in stores. Photo: Chin Boh Kay

A Bold Remake

Germany’s 133-year-old Braun Büffel is fast-tracking its long-overdue re-making, and the results are rather compelling, if not yet all-convincing

 

Braun Buffel store @ION orchardRefurbished Braun Büffel store at ION Orchard

In the business of rejuvenating European heritage brands, Braun Büffel is considered a late entrant. Although it’s only 33 years younger than Louis Vuitton (which was founded in 1854. Older still is Hermes, which counts 1837 as year of birth), it was not until 2016, nineteen years after Marc Jacobs joined LV in 1997, that the German brand initiated its first major aesthetical makeover to meet the onslaught of dramatic retail shifts and changing consumer tastes, here in Singapore (effectively showcased at their Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands store). It’s latest transformation is more pronounced than the last, and seems better positioned to attract a burgeoning consumer base no longer buying leather bags that hark back to an era when the attaché case was a mark of a successful, bag-toting executive, and all that was ever needed.

Audrey Liew, general manager of Braun Büffel (‘brown bull’ in German) told members of the media at the brand’s relaunch event yesterday evening that “believe it or not, the attaché case continues to sell well. Many customers are still loyal to us”. While the popularity of the attaché case (variously known as a diplomat case or, simply, briefcase) may have placed Braun Büffel in good steed in the past, it is possible that those “many customers” are a dwindling group. The new designs and product categories are clearly targeted at those for whom a work bag no longer needs to be prefixed by the classifier “business” or strictly made of leather.

Braun Buffel bags 2020 P1.jpgBoldly hued straps and colour-blocking of the Rebecca and Denise (right) bags for women. SGD469, SGD599, and SGD499 respectively

In fact, Braun Büffel’s Italian creative director, Fabio Panzeri, is certain that what an attendee called “pure classics” have “no future”. Mr Panzeri, a Prada alumnus who is based here and heads the design studio at Tan Boon Liat Building, is committed to making Braun Büffel “more modern and current”. If this was just talk and not given the physical results to show for, believing may require effort. But in the new store in ION Orchard a day earlier, nylon bags of various contemporary shapes and for different functions, as well as those in perforated leather, draw considerable shopper attention, possibly because Braun Büffel has not looked this modish.

If surprise is registered on the faces of those encountering these products for the first time, it is understandable. As one delighted window shopper told his female companion, “I thought Braun Büffel is an uncle brand”. This perception is perhaps compounded by its past, close association with department stores, from Tangs to Metro to BHG. One former accessories buyer told us that Braun Büffel continues to do well in department stores here, as in Europe, “because many boutique-resistant shoppers consider the brown bull a status symbol”. Yet, the stylised bovine had not quite allowed the brand it represents to shed its for-a-certain-age-group image.

Braun Buffel bag 2020 P2.jpgSpecial edit of the Jumper waist pouch, with its hi-vis chartreuse straps. SGD399

It could boil down to snob appeal, or the lack of. Despite its German provenance, Braun Büffel has been closely associated with Southeast Asia (in Singapore, it has been available since 1982) as it is partly owned by the 46-year-old, Kuala Lumpur-based and listed Bonia Corp Berhad (maker and retailer of Bonia, Sebmonia, and Carlo Rino bags—Italian-sounding names, but with no substantial history connected to the land in the shape of a boot) through a joint venture between Braun Büffel and 22-year-old Singaporean company Jeco Pte Ltd (whose subsidiary Lianbee-Jeco is licensee of Pierre Cardin, Bruno Magli, and Renoma), which Bonia acquired in 2010. Despite its consequently wide portfolio, Bonia was unable to un-tether itself from its successful marketing tagline “An Italian Inspiration”, which appealed to middle-aged women who might not have been able to identify Italian inspirations even if they encountered one.

While it may be potted to consider Braun Büffel an “uncle brand” because Bonia has a healthy auntie following, the association sadly has not been completely dislodged. To be sure, Bonia has submitted itself to change and a youthful image, even if they may not have proved effective. In 2013, a roundish Sonia bag was created, named after Sonia Sui (隋棠), the Taiwanese model/actress/social-media star engaged as brand ambassador, who, like many other Taiwanese in modelling and acting, also owns a fashion label, SuiTangTang. Two years later, it installed a former Burberry and Loewe designer, Pepe Torres, as its creative director. With the latest revamped Braun Büffel flagship store and its attention-pulling merchandise, things might move in a different direction, and quickly.

Braun Buffel bag 2020 P3.jpgDiscreet and smart recycled nylon Kendrish shoulder bag with Nappa leather trims. SGD549. Available in February

We were told that Braun Büffel’s operations and creative direction are independent of Bonia, a brand linked to Singapore if only because it was initially conceived for sale here, where its first store opened in 1981 in City Plaza, in the Geylang area, where Bonia once had a factory in the ’70s (it would be seven years later before Malaysia got its own Bonia store in Kuala Lumpur). With Mr Panzeri, who designed the entire collection since the last spring/summer season, forging ahead and eager to embrace traditionally un-Braun Büffel material, such as nylon—recycled nylon, to boot, the brand looks geared to lure a growing pool of customers who do not bother themselves with heavy, traditional leather bags.

The designs under Mr Panzeri’s watch are conceived to forge a stronger—not necessarily new—identity for Braun Büffel. It could, of course, be novel to the aesthetic tradition of the brand, having jolted it from near-inertia, but what’s new to Braun Büffel may not necessarily be so in the bag market, now a tad crowded with other labels also embracing the sporty and the street-leaning as modern. To be certain, this design direction is a necessary move for Braun Büffel—better late, as it’s oft-said, than never. We do, however, see that the trek taken isn’t an untrodden path. Mr Panzeri’s time in Prada has made its mark, so has the influences of Japanese bag makers, such as the hugely popular designer-manufacturer Porter Yoshida & Co, a favourite and go-to collaborator among designers and brands, from Marni to Murakami.

Braun Buffel bag 2020 P4Playful appliqué on the Bully-Digi clutch with detachable pouch. SGD499

Braun Büffel was founded by Johann Braun in Kirn—a small, valley town on the Western side of Germany—in 1887, not long after the Petri dish was invented by the microbiologist Julius Richard Petri. Initially dealing with saddlery and upholstery, Braun Büffel would, under the second-gen leadership of Mr Braun’s son Alois, make bags and small leather goods that proved to be popular, no doubt strengthened by their tangible quality. In Europe, following expansions outside their home country, the brand’s popularity was thought to be mostly within a certain set that counted function over style as incentive to buy. By many accounts, their foray into Singapore in the early ’80s, which saw the rise of the willing-to-spend Yuppy—was met with considerable success, enough for Bonia to acquire the local distributor at the time, Lianbee-Jeco, for the latter’s profitable star brand.

Following a period of plateauing, in terms of image, Braun Büffel began to take small tentative steps towards modernising its product designs and selections; also introducing new categories such as totes for men that had not existed before. It culminated in the opening of a new flagship store in MBS in 2016, which Braun Büffel’s MD Christiane Brunk had said to be “a pivotal chapter”. The swanky space definitively played down the department-store association of its early years here. This, for some observers, came somewhat belatedly, considering the remarkable upswing and subsequent success of heritage brands, such as Loewe, when they put themselves through striking change.

20-01-10-18-40-12-034_deco.jpgThe sleek, soft-hued interior of the new Orchard Road flagship

The new ION Orchard store that would, according to Mr Panzeri, set the direction for future Braun Büffel stores here and in the region, is a palpable contrast of textures—the brand’s signature leather in tan is a luxurious counterpoint to the more industrial, concrete/aluminium/glass surfaces and fixtures, with the overall grey, subtly gradated, part modern rawness, part conventional defiance. The welcome minimalism and the energised product mix make it easy to forget that Braun Büffel was once primarily a department store staple.

Mr Panzeri pointed out that “30 percent” of the new merchandise is directional and youth-oriented. According to him, Braun Büffel’s positioning is close to Tumi’s, with their sight cast towards Coach’s. It appears that shoppers are lured by the new offerings, in particular the sportif Jumper collection—assorted tough-looking bags that one staffer told us are “ideal for work and gym”. Their grouping near the store window is attracting the seriously curious. Probably, the sharp pricing too. Despite Braun Büffel’s refreshing aesthetic makeover, one thing still remains unreconciled for us: they don’t look like they’re Italian-made nor Japanese. Where, indeed, do they stand? Meanwhile, over at the Braun Büffel corner in Tangs, three men were looking with visible satisfaction at attaché cases. Clearly, we spoke too soon.

Photos: Zhao Xiangji

Erratum (17 January 2020): this post has been corrected from an earlier version which incorrectly stated that Jeco Pte Ltd was formerly known as Lianbee-Jeco

This Graphic Tote

The strength of Mlouye bags are in their bold, bold shapes

 

Mlouye Sera Tote P1By Mao Shan Wang

If you’re a bit over Bao Bao bags because of their ubiquity, yet won’t give up on graphically-bold bags with designs rooted in geometry and symmetry (and won’t give in to a certain Pouch), then perhaps Mlouye’s distinctive bags might interest you. I know they have aroused my interest.

The Turkish brand has been enjoying quite a lot of buzz since its founding in 2017, making it to every list of new bag brands to watch, from Forbes to Yahoo News. Their Pandora bag—a lot more conservative in shape if compared to their more striking designs—has been seducing headline writers to pen grabbers such as “Gigi Hadid Made This Bag Sell Out Everywhere”.

I have not one tiny speck of interest in what Ms Hadid wears or not, carries or not, causes sell-outs or not. So her impact on the popularity of the brand has no bearing on my appreciation of Mlouye. I am into shapes, the more unusual and seemingly difficult to construct the better. Mlouye matches that description.

Designer Meb Rure, who “hails from an industrial design background”, according to corporate literature, is reportedly inspired by the architects and interior designers of the Bauhaus, and is a massive fan of the design movement that can be traced to, first, a German art school, then, to an artistic front that greatly influenced modernism. Which perhaps explains Mlouye bags’ tendency to sport the seductive lines of the arms and legs of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s chairs with the quirk of Marianne Brandt’s kitchenware!

Mlouye Sera Tote P2Anyway, I am enamoured with this particular bag (above) called the Sera tote (nope, nothing to do with the Singapore Emergency Responder Academy). The form is almost traditional, but look at the controlled geometric folds of the 3-D front. Bao Bao-ists would go quite delirious. The surprise is in the inner top: it comes with suede drawstring closure! The Sera is what Japanese bag makers would call a ‘two-way’. You can carry the handle-strap in your hands or on your forearm. Or, add the supplied shoulder strap and you have a cross-body.

Sustainability is key to Mlouye, and if you are especially particular that the leather used for your satchels is sourced from tanneries with practices that are friendly to the environment, then these bags are for you. The Sera tote is made of Italian calf leather, and the bag feels lighter than it looks. That is, without doubt, a deal maker.

Mlouye bags are available at Pedder on Scotts. The Sera tote (cobalt blue, above), USG395, is available online at mlouye.com. And the best part: they ship to our island for free. Photo: Mlouye

Playful Pyramidal Package

Bottega Veneta of late has been the go-to brand for soft, big bags, but amid all the potential pillows lie a Christmas ornament wanna-be. Or maybe an aroma diffuser?

 

Bottega Veneta Pyramid.jpg

It’s homage to the ancient Egyptian tombs of the pharaohs, an immediate conversation starter, a centrepiece for dinner tables when there isn’t one, a reflective surface for accurate makeup application-on-the-go (or whatever grooming needs), a “who’s the fairest of them all” teller of truths, a defensive tool against unwanted male advances, a dashboard gadget when the rear view is required, a mobile device when the hind sight is needed to warn of errant PMD riders on a pedestrian walkway, and, oh, it’s a handbag.

We are still unsure if what Bottega Veneta’s Daniel Lee is doing for the house, two seasons after his appointment, is persuasively good, but we do think the accessories deserve their continual trending status. The Pouch bag is, of course, the must-carry-or-you’ll-definitely-miss-out holder of everything dear, with the Shoulder Pouch destined for similar success. But tucked among these huggable clutches is a not-quite-discreet little thing—a mirror-surfaced Pyramid bag.

This is clearly a more striking version than the leather ones, and not at all suitable for squashing close to the bosom. But it is almost like an oversized jewel, which might ensnare those for whom a handbag can double as a light-reflecting precious collectible. It is interesting how the bag opens up on all three sides (the top triangle acts as a clasp) to reveal its white, nappa-lined gut, which, frankly won’t hold even a foldable LCD smart phone, unless it’s the upcoming Motorola Razr.

To be sure, the pyramid-shaped ‘micro’ bag is not completely new. Last year, Chanel’s Egyptian-themed Métiers d’Art collection featured one that looked like the house re-purposed the mask of Tutankhamun. There’s also the logo-large Saint Laurent Minaudière, which guys have been spotted using. Regardless, Bottega Veneta’s version will only make bags that hold little stand as the most desirable.

Bottega Veneta Pyramid Bag in Mirror, SGD7,100, is available for pre-order at Bottega Veneta stores. Photo: Bottega Veneta