Can the little red dot stand shoulder to shoulder with the little black dress? A native islander and friends look at fashion (and such) in Singapore, and, occasionally, among her neighbours, and a little further afield
Kourtney Kardashian married Travis Barker in Italy, at a lavish, “sponsored” event. A win-win for the Kardashian family and the fashion house—Dolce and Gabbana
American bride and groom in Italy: Kourtney Kardashian and Travis Barker, outfitted by Dolce Gabbana. Photo: kourtneykardashian/Instagram
At the Balenciaga cruise 2023 show, staged on the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange last Sunday morning, one supporter/model of the house was conspicuously not present: Kim Kardashian. The SKIMS founder was MIA because she was unable to attend; she was in Italy, specifically the resort town of Portofino, to witness sister Kourtney Kardashian tie the knot with fellow Californian, the Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker. According to media reports, the wedding was to be a weekend-long affair. As expected, the paparazzi attended too (including the fashion photographer Ellen Von Unwerth), ensuring that the Kardashian-Jenner clan in attendance was well shot. For a celebratory occasion, the family members, expectedly, were bedecked to the nines, and tens. Kim Kardashian was not in a semblance of a head-to-toe bodysuit; she was her usual Instagram-worthy self: Sexy. As more photos emerged with accompanying credits, it became obvious that the wedding turned out to be a resort-wide fashion show for a single brand: Dolce and Gabbana (D&G).
Soon, talk emerged that the bride and groom’s big day was “sponsored” by the Italian label, so were the outfits of the couple’s guests. According to an opus of an “exclusive” in the Daily Mail’s digital edition, MailOnline, Dolce and Gabbana and the couple agreed to “a deal set to give millions of pounds worth of free publicity to (the) controversy-hit luxury fashion house”. D&G was embroiled in a series of scandals pertaining to their opinions, as well as their marketing exercises that, in one case, angered an entire nation: China. It is not clear if the brand’s image has been totally salvaged, even when they are still the go-to label among attention-adoring film and pop stars, and revered by journalists such as Suzy Menkes. According to a report by CNN last June, “D&G is still struggling to win back China”, and their store count in the world’s most populous nation dropped to 47 from 58 (before the fallout). But things did pick up, modestly. In March, Dolce and Gabbana opened in Shanghai’s CITIC Pacific Plaza, giving the total in China a boost by one. Jing Daily shared that by the final quarter of this year, D&G would “open new men’s, women’s, and junior stores in fashionable Chengdo”, quoting the brand’s group communication and marketing officer Fedele Usai: “The company has always carefully paid attention to the potential and demand coming from emerging areas (of China).”
It is conceivable that the brand still needs some help, and that the Kardashian-Jenners could be crucial to D&G’s protracted rehabilitation. A D&G-branded wedding for one of the world’s most recognisable family-brands could be the genius stroke in getting the visibility of the meretricious fashion raised, further. But a spokesperson for D&G denied that any sponsorship was offered, telling Business of Fashion that the former was merely “hosting this happy event”. MailOnline said that they “can reveal that the Italian fashion house has been closely involved in organising every aspect of the lavish wedding celebrations”. Apart from outfitting the attendees of the wedding, D&G reportedly had the couple stay in a mega-yacht—the Regina d’Italia, believed to be owned by Stefano Gabbana. The entire entourage was ferried to the wedding venues in Portofino—the L’Olivetta, a villa owned by Dolce & Gabbana and the 16th-century castle Castello Brown—in luxury speedboats by the Italian yacht builder Riva. Published photographs showed the vessels furnished with D&G accessories including cushions, throws, and towels in the house’s flashy animal prints or colourful clash of patterns (think: the D&G X Smeg home appliances). On land, a pop-up store, Galleria d’Arte, offered D&G merchandise for the wedding guests needing to buy a gift or memorabilia, as well as for tourists gathering to watch the Americans-marrying-in-Italy spectacle.
At the prop-like altar, the bride wore a white mini-dress that was unambiguously corset-meets-negligee. It spoke volumes when the the dress was staggeringly shorter than the cathedral-length veil. All around and beyond, it was an orgy of Dolce & Gabbana frocks (including the matriarch Kris Jenner’s one alto moda fluff among other gaudy outfits worn throughout the celebration) and suits, including the children’s. Theme: Italian OTT. D&G’s willingness and eagerness to caparison the whole clan was consistent with the founders’ love of la famiglia and the brand’s repeated depictions of multi-generational families in their advertising. It was reported that this massive exercise was “a first for the luxury and marketing industry”. Those who follow influencers on social media would know that a sponsored wedding is not unusual, although by one brand for practically the whole shebang is less so. In a Dolce and Gabbana/Kardashian-Jenner tie-up, it is hard to discern who needed the publicity more, but there is, in our present day, no such thing as too much hoopla and attention to selves. The brand and the family needed each other, and therein we find the contrived, even crazy happy ending.
As usual, attendees of the latest Met Gala stayed away from the theme as far as possible, or as abstrusely. From Gwen Stefani’s fluorescent pouf to Katy Perry’s black-swathe-on-white-mini-skirt, most were rather off the track, er, carpet. And the most anticipated guest came unexpectedly understated
Officially a couple, Pete Davidson and Kim Kardashian. Photo: AP News
It has often been said: All that glitter is not necessarily gold. Similarly, all that is gilded is not necessarily glamour. Sure, the Met Gala, specifically the show that is the red carpet, will have you believe that this year’s theme, Gilded Glamour, will be a showcase of stars all aureate and alluring, and not one bit absurd. Fashion and prosperity are all there for the green of envy to overshadow the gold of excess. Ironically, this abundance was not truly the case back during The Gilded Age (approximately 1870—1900), from which the Met derived this year’s theme. Historians will concur that The Gilded Age, from Mark Twain’s 1873 book The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today (co-written with Charles Dudley Warner), was used to disparage a time that was largely two sided: materialistic excesses on one and extreme poverty on the other. The Met Gala red carpet flaunt, of course, has never been a live history lesson.
According to Vogue, “Guests will be serving up their theatrical takes on white-tie dressing”. Theatrical is the operative word, but this year, the curtain was not fully raised, and the drama was not altogether fleshed out. Some even looked like stage hands enjoying the kindness of the costumer. “White-tie” really only applied to the men. The “fashion bible” quoted Anna Wintour saying, “What’s wonderful about the Met is that people feel very fearless.” Yet, Ms Wintour herself is, as usual, not quite the intrepid one. As the mastermind of this theatre, she appeared more like a wealthy patron on opening night than its marquee star. Or, rousing rebel. She is, of course, never a fashion radical, seeking safety in the deeply familiar—Chanel couture, and, this year, in a silhouette/look very identical to what she wore back in 2019. Still, attendees must abide by her bidding: set the scene, theatrically. As Ciara said later, “If you are not doing drama, why are you at the Met?”
References to the theatre aside, the Met Gala has more to do with films. Movie stars were also the more visible ones. The Met Gala is often referred to as the Oscars of fashion, and perhaps they aim to be. The presentation opened with host, former MTV VJ La La Anthony (in a body wrap of a LaQuan Smith dress and a ridiculous and distracting hat), speaking to the cast of the film Elvis. No one spoke at length about fashion or the theme of the night, instead they plugged the movie. So did Venus Williams, who wore a Chloe pantsuit and spoke about King Richard, the film based on her family, which won one public slapper an Academy Award. But there was no stage here and none of the evening’s hosts cracked a semblance of a joke. The evening was very safe, in more ways than one.
Blake Lively in two looks, Photos: Getty Images
Vogue says, “There’s a reason why Blake Lively is one of the Met Gala’s co-hosts this year. She never fails to wow on the red carpet.” And also why she keeps getting asked to come back. Ms Lively is no Tilda Swinton, and her “wow” attracts less fashion folks than those shopping for a prom dress. Yet, she has been the embodiment of the dressed-up Met turn-out. This year, she bettered herself with a change of look that simply involved the (assisted) releasing of a massive bow affixed to her hip. The Versace Atelier dress, inspired by the architecture of New York and engineering feat, the Statue of Liberty, as Ms Lively said, went from mostly copper bling to the bluish-green that the metal becomes when oxidation strikes, at a mere unfurling of that bow. Despite the quick-change finesse, modernity, as usual, escaped her.
Jordan Roth in two looks. Photos:Getty Images
But Blake Lively would be outdone. Theatre producer Jordan Roth may not be really known on our red dot, but after this Met Gala, he may be well remembered. Mr Roth, who has appeared mostly on-theme in past Met Galas, showed up in a Gothic Thom Browne construct: On top, a quirky black coat that appeared to be made to resemble a misshapen stereo speaker, complete with what could be the cone and diaphragm! At one point, he allowed the tented outer to slip down his lithe body, and it became a floor-length skirt. Then he stepped out of it, and that top-turned-bottom just sat there, waiting for the wearer’s re-entry! Was it a decompression chamber of sort as well?
Golden girls. Khloe Kardashian, Kim Kardashian, and Sara Sampaio. Photos: Shutterstock, Getty Images, and Shutterstock respectively
Frankly, Kim Kardashian’s appearance—she was the last to hit the red carpet—was a much-larger-than-anyone’s-dress disappointment. After last year’s face-and-body-obscuring, red-carpet-negating anti-fashion of Balenciaga’s making, her subtle gold slip was not quite the daring we associate with her. Donning the Jean-Louis dress that Marilyn Monroe wore to sing Happy Birthday to President John F. Kennedy in 1962 was not a major reveal either, since the press had already reported, three days ago, that she spied the piece at Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! museum in Orlando, Florida. And was determined to wear it, so much so that she revealed on the red carpet to La La Anthony that she had to lose 16 pounds (or 7.25kg) by totally avoiding sugar and carbs to get into it. Excited fans called it an “iconic” dress. On Ms Monroe at that time, it was; on the SKIMS creator for the duration she was on the red carpet, it wasn’t.
Curiously, sister Khloe Kardashian, a Met Gala first-timer (“following years of snubs”), wore a gold Moschino dress that looked similar to the elder sibling’s. And just as sheer. It is not known if the sisters (all of them, including the matriarch Kris Jenner, were there) discussed earlier what would be worn, but it was revealed that the ex-Mrs West was ensconced in a “secret” dressing room, even when, by then, her dress was not so hush-hush anymore. On the same beat, too, was the Portuguese model Sara Sampaio, in a slinky Michael Kors, with cut-outs to reveal her taut waist, making the Kardashian sisters look unnaturally and uncharacteristically conservative.
The bright brigade: Sebastian Stan, Gwen Stefani, Kiki Layne. Photos: Getty Images
It is hard to link neon with the gilded, but there it was—a blindingly bright green. It is not, however, J Balvin’s hair we are referring to, but the two-piece gown Gwen Stefani chose. A Vera Wang creation, it came with a cautiously shaped bra-top, as if to prevent the insecurity that afflicted Nicki Minaj. If there was one colour that kept popping up through the night, it was hot pink: SZA in Vivienne Westwood, actresses Kiki Layne and Ashley Park in Prabal Gurung, model Anok Yai in Michael Kors, and the many more Anna Wintour would no doubt know. But it was the Valentino pink of the brand’s recent season that appeared repetitive: Sebastian Stan (white tie, really?), Jenna Ortega (with leggings!), Glenn Close (escorted by Pierpaolo Piccioli), and Nicola Peltz (escorted by her husband Brooklyn Beckham). Fortunately, the Met decorators did not go with a fuchsia carpet this year.
Walking down the aisle or red carpet? Kylie Jenner, Miranda Kerr, Emma Stone. Photos: Getty Images
It’s always baffling when women appearing on a red carpet would want to look like a bride. Or, in the case of Emma Stone, a bridesmaid or flower girl. Ms Stone is often quite a red carpet eye candy, even if she is not usually a standout. But this time, afraid of outshining the brides (how did she know there would be at least one?), she chose a bland Louis Vuitton slip. Because conspicuous had to be Kylie Jenner? The cosmetic mogul wore her friend, the late Virgil Abloh’s work for Off-White: a bridal number with a bustier-dress over a sheer T-shirt. Really. Perhaps this was a bride off to a Calabasas wedding? And what about Miranda Kerr? Her Oscar de la Renta princess-bride dress was all audition-ready for the next Disney movie.
Nicki Minaj and Nicole Peltz Beckham. Photos: Shutterstock
They did not amount to a wardrobe malfunction (at least not on the red carpet), but they looked uncomfortable, and they made for uncomfortable viewing. Nicki Minaj’s boobs appeared so very on the verge of popping out with every pose, at every turn that it was a wonder she had not screamed by the time she reached the top of the stairs. She revealed to La La Anthony that the reason she had to yank her Burberry dress up was “because they made the cup size a little too small”. Even that massive belt, presumably to keep the bodice up, was of no help. No idea why, even with the fact of the misfortune, she would not find something else to wear. Nicole Peltz was moderately better off. The newly-minted Mrs Beckham had on a sheer Valentino dress, with a scooped bustier neckline that was similar to model Quannah Chasinghorse’s by the largely jewellery-focused Antelope Women Designs. Although the former stayed more or less in place, it looked threateningly collapsible. Unsurprising that she clung on to her husband Brooklyn. Might she have worn a safer dress if her mother-in-law made it?
Just in case someone cracked an ill-placed GI Jane joke? Or was the air-conditioning in the museum too strong? The choice to have the head wrapped is an odd one. Both Janelle Monae and Michaela Jaé Rodriguez, in Ralph Lauren and Moschino respectively, wore rather similar-looking gowns, with halter necks and fitted, decorated hoods. Hard to say if they were inspired by synchronised swimmers or Joan of Arc. Interestingly, Ms Monae, while choosing to conceal her hair, did not hide her underarm tuft, confirming that such exposure is a very real trend, on the red carpet too. She confidently described her look as “gilded glamour from the future”. Precious Lee, in Althuzara, was on the contrary, more of the present; she did, in fact, look like the minute she ditched the sheer frock, she’d join a swim team. And then there was Lily Aldridge, dressed by her friend Cate Holstein of the “classic American sportswear” brand Khaite. Ms Aldridge sported a crystal embellished babushka to match her dress-and-train. Whether that was a statement pertaining to women of a certain nation at war with a neighbour, it was hard to say.
Their own thing. (Clockwise from top left): Tommy Dorfman, Conan Gray, Odell Beckham Jr., Joe Jonas, Evan Mock, Cara Delevingne. Photos: Getty Images
It is never easy to guess why people choose to wear what they wear. After all, fashion consumers are encouraged to dress as they please, sans constraints personal or societal. So, we won’t start a worst-dresses list. Still, it has to be said that it’s ridiculous to wear a massive, floor-length puffer coat to a gala, as Gigi Hadid, in Versace, did, but is it not even worse to go rather topless to an event that celebrates clothes? Cara Delevingne wore something we can’t quite make out: did she even have anything on, other than body paint and large pasties, and the surprisingly modest Dior pants? Those who did not dare bare that much, chose cut-outs, such as Tommy Dorfman’s Christopher Kane dress with a bodice full of holes. And if you must feel cloth on your skin, but the nipples must not be completely obscured, perhaps Conan Gray, in a Valentino shirt-and-cape, had something going for him? Did he and Ms Hadid receive the same invite?
It is understandable that sports people want the ultimate comfort in what they wear to the point that even on the red carpet, they can’t part with what’s familiar to them. American footballer Odell Beckham Jr brought field side to museum steps in a Cactus Plant Flea Market velvet hoodie, made more expensive-looking with massive amount of jewellery. Joe Jonas, brother of Nick, pinched some poor bride’s (another one?) lace veil to lengthen his cropped Louis Vuitton jacket, leaving him looking neither bride nor groom. The most curious of the night is a suit of very un-evening persuasion. Model/actor/skateboarder Evan Mock wore one by Head of State. It has a cropped jacket with a scooped front that ended in the middle, above the crotch, shaped like a stomacher. Perhaps, he and Gigi Hadid received the same invite. Both of them had that torso-lengthening extension.
Standouts (clockwise from top left): Isabelle Boemeke, Renate Reinsve, Louisa Jacobson, Emma Chamberlain, Kodi Smit-McPhee, and Christine Baranski. Photos: Getty Images
Thankfully there were those who tried harder. And they were the proverbial palate-cleansers. Brazilian model Isabelle Boemeke wore a delightful Noir Kei Ninomiya gilet and dress that were equal parts hardcore Goth and romantic flou. Norwegian actress Renate Reinsve looked statuesque in a cropped Louis Vuitton top that could have been a pair of soften cathedral roofs draped over her shoulders. Star of HBO’s The Gilded Age Louisa Jacobson (an ideal invitee?), in Schiaparelli Couture, redefined the mermaid gown with one that was sheer and with the tail of tulle cropped to the level of her shin. Also redefining the ages—Gilded?—was Emma Chamberlain in a very cropped Miu Miu-esque cream Louis Vuitton jacket and a clean-lined white skirt.
Taking a more androgenous route was Christine Baranski in Thom Browne. Under her sequinned caped-jacket was a white corset-shirt that possibility tempered the sum effect of what could have been a tad too masculine, too white-tie. Conversely, the most bo chap (don’t care) look, but with incredible attitude was Aussie actor Kodi Smit-McPhee’s Bottega Veneta white shirt-and ‘jeans’ (in leather!) combo that saluted the influential American style invention Casual Friday. But something extra did not: Red opera gloves! Now, there is there a touch of glamour, even if not gilded.
Update (4 May 2022, 9.20am): As it turned out, Emma Stone actually wore something from her own wedding! According to Louis Vuitton, the house “specially designed (the dress) for her wedding after-party”
At the recent Grammy Awards, the late Virgil Abloh was described as a “Hip-Hop Fashion Designer”. Stop “downplaying his achievements”, many cried
Virgil Abloh had a long career in fashion—almost two decades. From the early days of Pyrex Vision to his final glory at Louis Vuitton, Mr Abloh, admittedly, more than dabbled in fashion. But was his accomplishments unfairly trimmed when the recent Grammy Awards show labeled him a “Hip-Hop Fashion Designer” during the In Memoriam segment of the presentation? Was ‘Fashion Designer’ not adequate? Mr Abloh still has a huge fan base, possibly larger than some of the night’s nominated artistes. That so many viewers and attendees would be riled up was to be expected when the description does not offer something that suggests Greatness, specifically Black Greatness. But was it, as many insisted, “racially-charged” Or, “disrespectful”? And what, by the way, is a “hip hop fashion designer”?
It didn’t help that the members of BTS wore Louis Vuitton, specifically from the late designer’s last collection for the house—fall 2022. Vogue called the suits that the septet wore “spiffy” although four of the double-breasted (out of the seven two-pieces) were dangerously close to dowdy (let’s risk the wrath of The Army!) if not for the youthfulness of the wearers. But looking at those suits lined up in a row, it is hard to pin “hip hop fashion” to the tailored ensembles, even if hip-hop stars have for quite a while adopted dapper suits for their performances and public appearances (even Rihanna wore his LV!). This was, to so many who watched the telecast, visually contradictory to the description that appeared below Mr Abloh’s name. This had to be the apex of fashion!
There is no denying Virgil Abloh was a titan in the world of hip hop, not only for his association with Kanye West (who attended Mr Abloh’s debut LV show and hugged him at the end of it), but also the work he did for the rapper. Before he created clothes that many people wanted to buy, he was very much a part of that world, and still is. But Mr Abloh, to many of his supporters, was much bigger than anything that came out of hip-hop: he headed a French house and dabbled, even if only briefly, in the rather un-hip-hop of crafts—haute couture. In addition, Mr Abloh was a Grammy nominee. In 2011, he was selected for the cover design (done in partnership with Riccardo Tisci) of Jay-Z’s Watch the Throne (more hip-hop there). Would The Recording Academy not have served the viewers of their award presentation better if they acknowledged the Off-White founder with the prefix “Grammy-nominated” followed by his stature in art and fashion?
Despite the underwhelming description, it is not degrading to be considered a “hip-hop fashion designer” (assuming that’s a valid accolade) when so many Black creatives have effected distinctive and influential aesthetics rooted in their own culture, which includes hip-hop. Sure, Mr Abloh went further than most, but he did draw from the aesthetical legacy of his community and brought international attention to it. He, too, birthed the use of text—within inverted commas—to identify articles of clothing and accessories, and their parts, which is not unlike the words used in graffiti art—considered a part of the quartet most identified with hip-hop that includes emceeing (rapping), DJing (which the designer did), and B-boying (breakdancing). In hip-hop, many do see the positively indomitable spirit of Virgil Abloh.
One betrothal ceremony that is big, bold, and boastful
What does Kim Lim (林慧俐) have that many of us do not, apart from beauty and money? This question was recently posed to us by a friend who admits to an irrational fascination with her social media appeal (on Instagram, she has 324K followers, among them Paris-based Singaporean designer Andrew Gn) and immense popularity among journalists. The answer was not obvious to us until now: she gets to enjoy a wildly lavish guodali (过大礼) betrothal ceremony! Ms Lim and her (still) unnamed fiancé (he’s only known by the handle ‘waleoweh’) are not quite married yet, but the soon-to-be groom did not hold back on the gifts—and their symbolisms—that he presented to her and family yesterday, according to a report on the digital edition of Icon. It was a boon to luxury brands (Rolex and Hermes!) and traders of shanzhen haiwei (山珍海味) luxury foodstuff. Her family needed to know she would be well dressed and fed, and he showed it! The expensive everything, reportedly to the tune of S$2 million, formed a sea of red against an acrylic floral wall, and the couple were happy to pose in the centre of the imposing and orderly array, underscored by more than a dozen boxes of chunky gold jewellery—way more than the sidianjin 四点金, four touches of gold (excluding the reported “15 gold bars”), that are customarily offered to the bride-to-be.
As invitee Xiaxue enthusiastically described the ceremony on IG Stories, “It’s the most bamz (something that’s very good) guo da li I’ve ever seen”. The groom arrived (at presumably the Lim family residence) in one black Rolls Royce, followed by another. He was decked in what Icon described as 上海滩唐装 (shang hai tan tang zhuang or Shanghainese Tang suit), in the colour of the fissures on the pale and expensive huagu (花菇 or flower mushroom) seen in the posted photos. Big-headed dolls and lion dancers came out to greet him, indicating an affair to follow that’s so massive, it would get social media immediately texting and sharing. The many images that appeared showed the impressive tiered set-up that could pass off as a brimming nianhuo (年货 or new year goods) stall on Waterloo Street during CNY. Or even an auspiciously-merchandised kiosk at a bridal show. This, according to Icon, was conceived and put together by The Wedding Atelier, the Singapore-born “luxury wedding planner”, with also an office in Hong Kong, and a client list few can proudly say they belong to.
Guodali (or gor dai lai in Cantonese) this huge and this elaborate is rarely seen these days, although in the distant past, the betrothal ceremony could be immense, lasting a few days and, for those with wealth, just as opulent, and an opportunity to show to those, who consider being informed of such matters essential, the families of the betrotheds’ riches or worth. The Hokkiens and the Peranakans know this as lapchai (纳财 or bringing in wealth), and theirs, especially for the latter, even came with a noisy procession of gift bearers, a band playing traditional instruments, and relatives deemed lucky enough to witness the ceremony. At its most basic, the guodali is a formal meeting between two families to exchange gifts that represent prosperity and—to ensure progeny—fertility too. But, as seen in what Kim Lim and her friends shared on IG, hers was far from basic. It was lavish, adorned, and splashy. Every single item—even the many cans of abalone—was affixed with the shuangxi (双喜) double-happiness character, and, if possible, encased or sheathed in red. For once and a change, the fiancée was upstaged.
One elderly lady brought to our attention that the guodali is normally dispensed with if it’s the second marriage for the woman. Ms Lim had tied the knot before. According to Icon, whose editor Sylvester Ng gets first dibs when it comes to stories of the fushang qianjin 富商千金 (daughter of a wealthy businessman), she registered her marriage in 2016 to Kho Bin Kai, a little-known fellow to the public she had met in Thailand, but the wedding banquet was held in March 2018 (no guodali was mentioned, although it is likely it took place, possibly more modestly), after the couple’s son was born. A year later, man and wife separated, and in 2020, both chose divorce. Soon—last September—she announced on IG that she was engaged. And now this OTT guodali, born of prodigal resources. It was a staggering display of immense attention to detail, rich with symbolism rarely appreciated today, presented by a guy not leaving the minutiae of ritual to his fiancée. It is no wonder that Kim Lim posted on IG when he proposed last year, “YES TO YOU A THOUSAND TIMES OVER AND OVER AGAIN!” We wish her (and fiancé) as much happiness as there were shuangxi cut-outs on every gift presented so dramatically to her, ahead of what is likely to be an even more staggering and extravagant wedding.
Photos: (top) thefloralatelier.co/Instagram and (bottom) kimlimhl/Instagram
This year, the women of the happy pairs celebrating love weren’t carrying a stalk of rose or a bouquet, they were holding paper bags, big and small, with luxury brand names stretched delightfully across them
By Pearl Goh
It’s was a day when one-metre distancing did not apply, masks were preferably optional, and special occasion dressing had no opportunity to meet this annual celebration. The curious and single I thought I would venture out to see what the more fortunate were doing on Valentine’s Day, still marked by the romance-spoiling pandemic. So I went out. Do courting couples still make an effort? Was romance in the air, like the coronavirus? Did couples perform the ART before they meet? Or together—the new romantic? It was a Monday and many, I assume, will be working. Surely, the amorous would have done what they needed to do to declare their love yesterday, or the day before? I was not expecting to see that many romantic pairs out, but I couldn’t be more mistaken. When love needs a declaration, it requires a public display.
The day to celebrate love this year was a day to go shopping together. The paired-ups were holding at least one branded shopping bag between them. I don’t remember this day to be of such conspicuous consumption other than the snapping up of flowers and chocolates. Sure, in the past, gifts were exchanged, but they were, as far as I was aware, purchased earlier. But from the minute I boarded the MRT train, I sensed the rituals were different. I quickly became aware that flowers this year were noticeably missing. Sure, some women were carrying bouquets (the trend, if I can call it that, this year were those in cardboard boxes—coffins to preempt their certain demise?!), but paper bags bearing large, recognisable, crowing logotypes were saying enthusiastically, “look at me”.
At City Hall interchange, in front of me was a guy in a white tee that read, “Without style, playing and winning are not enough”. He paired that masculine maxim with black shorts. On his feet were a pair of white Crocs slides without the Jibbitz charms. On his left hand, he was holding a paper bag in an identifiable burnt orange; its visible boxed content, I guessed, for the Paige Chua look-a-like, whose dainty left hand he held—to me—rather tightly. Love is expensive, celebrating Valentine’s Day no less. A box of Teuscher truffles this year is not quite cutting it, not at a time when a PCR test costs more. As one of my friends said to me earlier, “many can afford to buy chocolates for themselves. The boyfriend has to do better”. No wonder, as I saw, even Godiva was empty. “Better” seemed to mean something from within the hallowed walls of brands whose stores you can’t just walk in as you wish.
To be sure that these were not, in fact, gifts purchased earlier, I went to ION Orchard to have a look, to see shopping as it deliriously unfolded. Sure enough, there was a queue outside LV, and at Dior and Gucci, and—perhaps a little surprisingly—Cartier. And in the line were patient pairs, mostly hugging as they waited their turns to be allowed into the temples of thousands-of-dollars spending (at Prada, a petite girl took out a credit card from her BV Cassette wallet to pay for a white T-shirt embroidered with the Prada lettering, which I later spied to cost S$1,410!). What I noted, too, was that many of the couples were young: no more than 25 (the only celebrants?), the target age group of so many luxury brands whose entry-level goods are increasingly S$10 shy of four figures!
Outside Loewe, where the entrance was a welcome sight as no one was in line, a woman was walking away with a stuffed paper bag from the brand rather in a huff. Her boyfriend, with no purchase seen on him (yet), did not put on a happy face, as he tried catching up with her. Did he overspend, I wondered, or did she? And, if so, was that so bad? Then suddenly, she said, “Stop it. It’s just a bag”. Even on a day that celebrated love, profound passion differed and surfaced publicly. Many guys don’t quite understand love, or, to be more precise, the love of luxury handbags. And the difference between love and not could be like life and death, or Chanel and Louis Vuitton. Death of a relationship by “just a bag” or the wrong one. Or, as I was witnessing, the prelude.
Missing this year, too, were those individuals on pedestrian walkways, who must thrust a stalk of rose into your face and ask for $8 (prices, like everything else, have gone up this year. A list I caught sight of, next to a makeshift stall, announced that a stalk was S$10, three for S$50, six for S$75, and nine for S$100!). Orchard Road was without these sellers; at least I didn’t see them, which really said to me that women were no longer enchanted by the red flower—any flower. It is now a well-filled paper bag from the big brand they adore. Back on the MRT train, two women were talking loudly next two me (despite the sign in front of them that encourages passengers not to). One, in a white Essentials hoodie worn as a dress, said, “Aiya, forget it. Don’t depend on them. Guys won’t buy anything I like. I gave them up long ago.” And just like that, I was reminded of a line in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, “The more I know of the world, the more I am convinced that I shall never see a man whom I can really love. I require so much”. More.
The heiress Paris Hilton’s marriage is also a marketing opportunity for the c-commerce site Italist. Fabulous?
By Mao Shan Wang
Paris Hilton is a married woman. I am happy for her; I truly am. Last month, she tied the knot with her venture capitalist fiancé Carter Reum in what CNN described as a “lavish ceremony”. Meghan Trainor called it the “most beautiful wedding ever!! (yes, double exclamation marks all hers)” and Rachel Zoe said she was “the most beautiful bride.” Yes, I am happy for her. To top the many compliments, Ms Hilton will have a new reality TV show, Paris in Love, on Peacock, after the inane Netflix series Cooking with Paris. Everything from the engagement to the proposal to walking down the aisle will be featured in Paris in Love. She gleefully posted of the show, “I want my fans to know how I found my Prince Charming, and a fairy tale. Happy ending”. So, yes, I am Happy for her.
But I am not sure that. despite all the happiness I am feeling—in times of the ominous Omicron—that I would want to win a “Paris Hilton’s Fairytale Wedding Giveaway”, as curiously offered by the e-commerce site Italist. The wedding is over, but somehow it is still happening. We’re still seeing her veiled face. Is this like one of those long Indian weddings that could last five days (although for most couples, it’s just the average three), only now, with Ms Hilton, much longer? Wouldn’t it be great if newly engaged Kim Lim and Club 21, too, give something away after the former’s likely lavish-as-well wedding in the unknown future?
In Paris Hilton’s name (also to “honor” her new show) and part of their “December Treats”, Italist is letting “one lucky winner” walk away with a “Paris and Carter’s (nope, not Cartier’s!) Gift Bag”. Would this be like those that guests receive at the end of wedding parties? Or, something akin to the Chanel advent calander? According to Italist, the gift, probably housed in a (now-trendy/trending) dust bag, includes “Wedding Sweatshirt, His & Hers Paris Hilton Perfume Set, Tote Bag, R3SET Botanical Stress & Anxiety Support Supplements, & Candles”. Excited yet?
But that is not all. The winner will also be gifted with four certificates for a stay at, where else, a Hilton Hotel of their choice (valued at USD2,400), a wedding crystal figurine (worth USD500), a USD500 gift card to Jane (a “curated marketplace”), a USD300 gift card to The Dog Bakery (yes, a canine pâtisserie), a USD350 hair-care hamper from Keratase, USD500 worth of products from paw.com, and a USD500 gift card to Italist. If you include the Paris and Carter’s Gift Bag, which, according to sweepstakes.com, is worth USD4,800 (oh yes, they, too, are giving that away), the total value of the haul is very close to a rather handsome US ten grand. (More) excited yet?
To be sure, Italist addressed their communique to: “Hilton fans” with the specific, “this one is for you”. So that, technically, counts me out. I can be happy for Paris Hilton and not be a fan. There are enough of them around the world. Otherwise, why a show of her married life? Who really cares? Who even bothered when she was living The Simple Life? Truth be told, I am no fan of anyone. But, as a believer in the institution of marriage and its sanctity, I am glad that she is heading towards marital bliss and, despite numerous past engagements, a “happy ending”. Do I want any of those giveaways? Yes, I am happy for her, but not that much.
The Paris Hilton’s Fairytale Wedding Giveaway is open to US residents only. Photo: Italist
You’d think that with New York Fashion Week just concluded, attendees would have so much to choose from to meet the dress code that, on the invite, read, “American Independence”. But on the steps of the Met Gala, who really cared? Why choose American when they could have European?
Two extremes: Kim Kardashian (top) in Balenciaga. Photo: Getty Images. And Billie Elilish in Oscar de la Renta. Photo: Shutterstock
The Met Gala is where, for one time in a year—even a pandemic year, you can look ridiculous and everyone will call it fashion. I sometimes wonder if Anna Wintour organises the event and encourages everyone attending to “dress up” so that she could have a good and hearty laugh later. There is something juvenile about the idea of the Met Gala—it’s, to me, fashion folks’ prom night. Fashion is, of course, not important as long as you’re the belle of the ball, or whatever you call Saweetie’s I-don’t-have-enough-fabric-for-a-saree look. In fact, I do think that it is under Ms Wintour’s watch (since 1999!) that the Met Gala is the circus of the ridiculous that it is today. In fact, if you Google Met Gala and ‘ridiculous’, you’ll get at least six links in just one page (‘outrageous’ is in there too). The ridiculousness, sometimes teetering dangerously close to tackiness, is augmented by the chair’s and co-chairs’ outfits—often so bland and proper, they seem calculated to make everyone else look like they didn’t get the memo.
Queen bee Ms Wintour and her four worker-bee co-chairs—all more than half her age younger—were in clothes, not quite the costume that has come to characterise the Met Gala. The “most powerful woman” in fashion was in a predictably pretty, tiered, floral Oscar de la Renta dress (was she attending a wedding at a country club?). Amanda Gorman was in a short, studded Vera Wang bustier-thingy, with a sheer overlay; TimothéeChalamet in a satin Haider Ackermann tuxedo jacket, and Billie Eilish in a cotton candy of an Oscar de la Renta gown, probably her first-ever floor-sweeping dress and of this volume (a truly sharp contrast to the black and baggy tunic-and-skirt combo by Takahiromiyashita The Soloist that she wore at the VMA a day ago). Only Naomi Osaka looked the Met Gala newbie and fashion victim in a combo by Louis Vuitton that supposedly celebrated her heritage. I was expecting all of them to lead (or set the standard) by example, but I did not see the American-ness in anything they wore, least so Ms Osaka, with the un-American obi belt, deliberately tied askew.
Anna Wintour in Oscar de la Renta. Photo: Getty Images
Perhaps, I took the theme and the dress code too seriously and literally. But why would I not. What was the point of a theme and dress code if not to abide by? Could the attendant exhibition at the Anna Wintour Costume Center and other parts of the Met, then, be a very chin chai affair too? Would Andrew Bolton gasak buta with A Lexicon of American Fashion? The American attendees looked to me devoid of wit and irony (okay, the latter not so trendy anymore) in the choices they made that were supposed to honour the American heritage of fashion (let’s just say, for now, there is. Jeans are, to many Americans and non-Americans alike, a very real and iconic American fashion item). But, of course, country themes are tricky when the brands that can afford a (USD) six-figure table—or two—are mostly from out-of-country—European, specifically French and Italian. Common knowledge, at least in the US, would remind us that the stars and celebs do not buy tickets; they are invited by brands (and approved by Ms Wintour). Invitees, therefore, will be required to be outfitted by the brand doing the inviting.
Yet, according to Vogue’s own pre-event reporting, “the theme for this year’s Met gala is a celebration of American Fashion.” E Online earnestly called it “a deep dive into American ingenuity.” Yes, the livestream was quite early in the morning, but I was wide awake watching it. What celebration, what ingenuity? Although there was the discernible presence of Thom Browne and, to a lesser degree, Prabal Gurung (his deplorable excuse of a dress for Diane Kruger made me want to strike him out), I thought the Europeans won the night, in particular Iris Van Herpen, Valentino (even Ms Wintour’s daughter Bee Carrozzini, expecting her second child, was dressed by the house), and Balenciaga. And, as Vanessa Friedman pointed out via Twitter, Cartier.
But, perhaps, it was Balenciaga who may have enjoyed the last laugh and a clear win when Kim Kardashian appeared incognito, completely swaddled in a black fabric, a look attributed to Balenciaga’s Demna Gvasalia, and believed to be conceived with Ms Kardashian’s (estranged, is it not?) husband Kanye West, who was also there on the Met Gala steps, in all-black, the kuroko (stagehands in traditional Japanese theatre) to the missus—the leading lady—(he was seen assisting her and adjusting her dress). Rihanna, the last to arrive, wore Balenciaga too, but it was the two Ks who stole the show with their black nothingness. Was Balenciaga mocking the excesses of American red carpet looks? Some Netizens think the couple were mourning the death of American fashion. I think they were merely acknowledging that it does not exist.
Clockwise from top: Billie Eilish, Naomi Osaka, Amanda Gorman, and TimothéeChalamet. Photos: Getty Images
Her fans are not wrong. Billie Eilish, in her Met Gala debut, “killed it”. She did not come ready to be filmed for TikTok, but, with her old-Hollywood styling (Marilyn Monroe is really rather close), she could be filmed for a major movie role. She truly played a—and her—part. Would she be invited back again? I’m not sure if that would be in the affirmative if the question is posed to Amanda Gorman and Naomi Osaka. Ms Gorman might be disappointed that few saw the poetry in her Prom Store dress and Ms Osaka might be similarly let down to learn that her fussy outfit and the amateur kabuki makeup were no victories for her. Timothée Chalamet bravely tackled more than one brand for his total look. Apart from the satin Haider Ackermann tuxedo jacket, he wore a Rick Owens turtleneck under that, and unidentified sweatpants. On his feet were Converse Chuck Taylors. There were even some 1920s Cartier brooches pinned to the sweats. Okay, that’s a bit much. No pin should ever go so near there!
Lil Nas X in three different costumes. Photos: Film Magic, Wire Image, Film Magic
Someone had to do it. Why leave it to only Rihanna when just as willing was Lil Nas X, the fashion sponge who’d wear anything, and would come wearing everything. Lil Nas X is not one to shy away from an outfit that looks like a haberdashery fell on it. At his Met Gala-as-VMA appearance, he was inspired by Met Galas past. Either that or he forgot that Lady Gaga already did multiple costume changes back in 2019 (she revealed four, while he showed three), that the exhibition Heavenly Bodies: Fashion & The Catholic Imagination (2018) is over, ditto for Manus ex Machina (2016). The only look that the Met has not quite paid tribute to is Michael Jackson as Catwoman. So Lil Nas X, with the help of Atelier Versace, did the most fashionable thing: at the end of the strip-down, he wore a derriere-enhancing, exotically-patterned catsuit.
Clockwise from top left, Kristen Stewart, Yara Shahidi, Sienna Miller, Lupita Nyong’o, Hailee Steinfeld, Indya Moore. Photos: Getty Images
For Kristen Stewart, it’s all in a days work, in Chanel. It is not a bad look if she was going shopping at Bloomingdale’s. Or lunch nearby. Actresses are not pop-stars—no day is the Grammy’s. So safe is the best dress. When an actress turns to the present-day Dior, safe is what she seeks, and safe was what Yara Shahidi got. And secure in the body-skimming Gucci was Sienna MIller, in a colour so safe, it’s called nude. Or, match-the-carpet! Conversely, Carey Mulligan braved a bright-pink Valentino, but looked just as safe, if not safer. Some actresses try. Lupita Nyong’o opted for denim and some bling by Versace and appeared rather like Wakanda royalty, not American. More challenging was Hailee Steinfeld’s Iris Van Herpen mini-dress with wispy leaf shapes, arranged artfully, revealing almost nothing, even if it came this close to a nude dress. Indya Moore, in Saint Laurent, clearly wore shorts (with a velvet bow as waistband), but it’s hard to be certain if she had anything else under that coat.
Clockwise from top left, Kaia Gerber, Cara Delevingne, and Kendall Jenner, Imaan Hammam, Gigi Hadid, Winnie Harlow,. Photos: Getty Images
Models, like actresses, are drawn to safe. They are supposed to be better at fashion since fashion is basically their job, but safe is chicer than sorry. Kaia Gerber, in Oscar de la Renta, looked like she prefers the taste of girls who won’t (can’t?) grow up. Cara Delevingne, in Dior, seemed like she was on her way to fencing class, but changed her mind. As for the red text—“Peg the Patriarch”—on the vest, there’s no doubt it’s a political message. If you were hoping for her to throw some light on what “peg” means, she said to an interviewer that people should look it up “because I’m not going to explain it, right now”. If an explanation is needed right now, pegging is, simply put, a sex act in which a cis woman plays the role of the opposite sex in a heterosexual union. Okay, that’s far enough! Kendall Jenner did not look like she the pegging sort. She wore a nude dress by Givenchy that, to me, flashed 2015, the year both Beyonce and Kim Kardashian wore see-through gowns to this very same event. Not to be outdone was the Dutch model Imaan Hammam in vintage Atelier Versace. And similarly see-all were also on Zoe Kravitz in Saint Laurent and Irina Shayk in Moschino. Gigi Hadid did safe too—old-Hollywood safe—in Prada. Vogue.com reported that she “offered a modern take on Audrey Hepburn”. I saw not. It was more like a modern take on Julia Roberts. Which brings us to Winnie Harlow in Iris Van Herpen. Even when I still do not see America, what’s there not to like?
Clockwise from top left:Olivia Rodrigo, Teyanna Taylor (photo: Shutterstock), Jennifer Lopez, Megan thee Stallion, Rosé (photo: Wire Image), Jennifer Hudson. Photos: Getty Images
Super-young pop star Olivia Rodrigo wore a Saint Laurent lace catsuit with a wide marabou fichu, looking every bit the teen that she is, testing the dangerous waters of sexiness. Ms Rodrigo does not have a powerful breakout look as Billie Eilish did, so this was far enough for an 18-year-old newbie to show her granny knickers. Going the other extreme was Teyana Taylor, who wore so little in the Prabal Gurung that I hesitate to call the held-together-with-cords clothing. Surely there’s a difference between dress up and dress not? Surely the Met Gala deserved more cloth than rope, more dress than train? Even Jennifer Lopez, the one-half of born-again Bennifer, had to show cleavage and thigh, which I remember to be her very thing. But getting Ralph Lauren to do sexy is like asking Bob Mackie to do preppy. Surprisingly, Megan thee Stallion chose sweet, but Coach gave her part shrink-wrapped strawberry cheesecake, part dalgona froth. Blackpink’s Rosé, escorted by Anthony Vaccarello, was one of the few Asians in attendance, which was unexpected, given that this is the year of Shang Chi. In Saint Laurent, Rosé looked the ingenue I never thought she could be. By contrast, Jennifer Hudson picked a custom AZ Factory gown and a massive matching coat only for them to be underwhelmed by her bigger, bubbly personality. At some point on the stairs, Ms Hudson removed the coat to pose. Unfortunately for her, somewhere in the crowd, Isabelle Huppert, in Balenciaga, was in a similar fish-tail dress.
Rihanna was the last to arrive, as expected, but there was no equivalent of an omelette to be seen. In fact, she was cocooned in Balenciaga couture of rather intense black. While the shape of cloak is beguiling, Rihanna needed heavier clothes for her to conquer those cumbersome stairs (that omelette coat was 25kg!). Grimes chose Iris van Herpen; she looked less a couture wearer than a cosplay newbie. Lorde had an unusual look. Her gaping Bode two-piece (interest-arousing also because designer Emily Bode is a menswear designer), with the floral appliques, was fetching, but why the headwear? Spanish pop star Rosalía’s Rick Owens heavily-fringed shawl wrapped more fetchingly than some dresses. Case in point: Saweetie. In Christian Cowan, she really showed how she punished her misbehaving boobs, and saw, I believe, many did. The Colombian singer Maluma wore a red leather Versace trucker jacket that was studded and fringed. There were matching pants and shoes too. Okay, no rhinestone cowboy here, but definitely a strutting Beng gaucho.
There has not been this many athletes at the Met Gala. Maybe it’s the Olympic year and athletes are making the news. But many sports people are not necessarily fashion folks. Sure, Lewis Hamilton bought a table and invited designers of colour, but they did not make the scene (Mr Hamilton curiously wore a sheath of café curtain on his right leg). It would take Serena Williams in a Gucci cape of ombre feathers to trail the spotlight on athletes, reminding us that, like her rapper sisters, sports stars enjoy OTT clothes too, especially those not made of plain fabric. As with Ms Williams, Simone Biles (fellow gymnast Nia Dennis attended too, outfitted in blue bodysuit to do cartwheels!) enjoyed relief work on the surface of her bustier-gown, which she wore over a floral (were they sparkly snowflakes?) bodysuit. The silver embroidery of the former reportedly weighed 40kg. The design team at Area X Athleta that put the outfit together might have forgotten that Ms Biles is a gymnast, not a weightlifter.
Guys on the red carpet are usually no news, but on the cream carpet of the Met Gala, the guys are a braver breed. Surprisingly, the more unusual look didn’t come from a celebrity, but a techie, specifically Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram, who wore a Bode suit with diamond-shaped pieces stitched to the bodice and arm. Others who abandoned the tuxedo, I’m not sure, did so for better choices. Poor A$AP Rocky—Rihanna was looking all couture-serious, but he appeared to have been dragged out of grandma’s bed. I think only Rihanna knew why he saw it fit to turn up at the Met Gala in a blanket made by ERL, the abbreviation of the name of the LA designer Eli Russell Linnetz, collaborator to Lady Gaga and Kanye West, who, by the way, was there, and equally blacked-out as his (former yet?) wife. Aussie, Troye Sivan, in choosing a slinky dress that Kim K might have worn 20 years ago (with cut-outs on each side of the waist!), continued to push the non-binary agenda on the red carpet—okay, cream. But the most begging-to-be-understood look went to Dan Levy, in Loewe. I don’t know why, but the getup, with puff/balloon sleeves and a map of the world in the shape of two men kissing (powerful message, no doubt), made me see a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. I don’t know why, but I did.
Clockwise from left, Donatella Versace, Vera Wang, Tory Burch, Virgil Abloh, Kerby Jean-Raymond, Tom Ford. Photos: Getty Images
Designers often take the bow at the end of runway shows in very nondescript, practical work clothes. But I think deep down inside they want to dress up. Some designer dress others better than they can dress themselves. I mean, look at Vera Wang. Did she spend too much hours making the bloomers that she had time only for a curtain as the rest of the outfit? Donatella Versace, on the other hand, dresses others as she would dress herself: not at all subtly. Tory Burch wore an interesting dress, but she looked too eager to please. The guys might score a tad better. Tom Ford couldn’t break away from black tie (it’s also safer), playing the suave charmer he has cultivated himself to be. Kerby Jean-Raymond, in a red Pyer Moss suit held in place with a matching hybrid vest-harness, was beaming with designer-to-watch energy. I’m just surprised he didn’t come in a peanut butter jar. Wouldn’t that be American? Meanwhile, Virgil Abloh, presumably in Louis Vuitton, came as the Easter bunny, lost in a party he shouldn’t have crashed.
Clockwise from top lfet, Whoopie Goldberg, Iman, Erykah Badu, Kim Petras, Debbie Harry (photo: AP), Ella Elmhoff. Photos: Getty Images
Whoopie Goldberg does not really wear dresses, so when she does, the world takes notice. Her yurt of a gown by the esteemed house of Valentino was, to be sure, not the same tent that Carey Mulligan wore, both flanking Pierpaolo Piccioli when they arrived. While Ms Mulligan was predictably saluting pretty, fashion iconoclast Erykah Badu took a different route: she abandoned her famous towering turbans in favour of a top hat and a lace face-screen that, together with the tuxedo skirt-suit and quilted cape, was designed by Thom Browne, seemingly the most worn American designer name of the evening. Ella Elmhoff, famous for being Kamala Harris’s stepdaughter, wore Stella McCartney to prove that the WFH look, even if more amped up, was still relevant, however glamorous the occasion, no matter how many women still preferred trains for evening wear. The biggest outfit of the night went to Iman. The former model wore a massive hooped cage that was the result of the collaborative effort of Dolce & Gabbana and the young, Central Saint Martin alum Harris Reed. With the just-as-large hat, she looked like some African fertility goddess. Rock star (still!) Debby Harry also wore a hooped cage (by Zac Posen), visible under a crinoline made of panels of fabric that, together with the deconstructed denim jacket, represented the colours of the American flag.
Perhaps nobody does America better than a foreigner. German singer Kim Petras (now based in LA) certainly expressed herself. In a wearable—aka piñata—by the sustainable brand Collina Strada, Ms Petras seemed connected to her animal spirit. The dress came complete with a face of a horse (could it be a donkey?) with eyes strategically covering the breast, pannier for the animal’s body, and hair styled as a long pony tail to represent the beast’s tail. Frankly, I could not tell where the head began and the tail ended. Or, was this the night’s best visual lexicon of American fashion and designers—heads or tails, they’re just horsing around?
Rose Bakeries in Tokyo are temporarily closed due to COVID-19, but looking inside their Marunouchi café, you probably won’t know
Tokyo’s Marunouchi (丸の内), at this time of the year, is normally packed with shoppers and people coming out to enjoy one of the prettiest Christmas light-ups of the capital city. Flanked by the Imperial Palace East Garden and the stately Tokyo Station, it is a financial district with a formidable shopping stretch that, to us, could rival nearby Ginza. This year, being what it has been thus far, the main retail thoroughfare Marunouchi Naka-Dori Avenue is unusually quiet. This could be because the light-up is turned off at 8pm (usually till midnight) to discourage people from staying late or to throng the area to enjoy some seasonal illumination. Similarly, many shops have chosen to close early, which further augment the stillness of the area.
But one of those that has decided to shut—temporarily—is the English-French café Rose Bakery. There are four Rose Bakeries in Tokyo (the fifth in the trendy neighbourhood of Kichijoji [吉祥寺] was shuttered permanently in 2017), and all of them have chosen to close for the time being. The Rose Bakery at the Comme des Garçons’ store in Marunouchi (My Plaza), a stone’s throw from Tokyo Station, is closed until next February as a response to “a change in the business situation due to various circumstances,” according to a company statement. This has been one of our favourite of the Rose Bakeries, primarily because it is at street level, unlike the others housed in Dover Street Market London and DSM Ginza, both with the cafés in the topmost floor (we do not know why there isn’t a Rose Bakery at DSMS other than Como Lifestyle, linked to DSMS, also runs F&B outlets in the same area known as Como Dempsey). Although it is now closed, this Rose Bakery still caught our attention because it is still ‘packed’.
Rather than let the lights go out on the area it shares with the CDG boutique (as well as the Play corner) or have the space cordoned off, Rose Bakery has allowed its tables to be busy with customers—mannequins all togged in CDG. Of course. And the mannequins weren’t just standing, as in a typical window display. They were gathered around tables, some seated, others huddled: a veritable tableau of on-season CDG wearers (a few bag-totting), partaking in something festive, even when there was nary a tinsel in sight. These silent revellers, of course, needn’t practise social distancing. And, although faceless, they appear, like the celebrity guests at Jeffery Xu’s birthday bash and Max Lim’s wedding party, rather happy for it.
It is admirable that there are brands using temporary closure as a marketing opportunity with long-term effect. Charm can, indeed, be created in the clutches of crisis. And, as a consequence, hope too. If retailers are sanguine about future prospects, consumers will be as well. Does it only happen in Japan, where, despite a year that has to surrender to the vagaries born of a still-raging pandemic, retailers are expressing a will to survive, and creatively? On our island, the same cannot be said of those who had to shut during the Circuit Breaker. Shops were left completely dark, with some tightly covering their mannequins with plastic, as if to suffocate them, and others remained as if hastily abandoned. Perhaps looking real is a better way to survive than daring to dream.
It has been a remarkable 2019, even if it has been fairly quiet on this dot we call home. Fashion is increasingly difficult to grasp. So much that is thought to be fashion today wouldn’t be considered so only a couple of years ago. No matter, we try to make sense of them, even if that may ultimately be a senseless thing to do. Here at SOTD, we’d like to thank you for your unwavering support and for continuing to read us, despite the lengths of some of the posts! From the team, have a blessed year ahead.
Rows and rows or cascades after cascades of fairy lights on holiday leave at Christmas Light-Up 2019
By Ray Zhang
After 35 years, perhaps the novelty of the Orchard Road Christmas light-up has worn off. I look forward to it as I would the arrival of noon-day heat or the opening of another bubble tea shop. Still, it is the only Christmas draw that Orchard Road can offer, and even that increasingly borders on the lame. It is not clear what purpose the Light-Up now offers other than obligatory decorating of a street that otherwise would have as much pull as Far East Plaza.
A week before the Light-Up was officially switched on, I was in Orchard Road. Seeing just the lamp post decorations up, I thought perhaps, the work was incomplete. Last night, when I was out to catch the festive lights in their full glory (“A Great Gift”, as this year’s theme will have you believe), I was quite surprised—shocked would have been a better word, but I resist—to see emptiness directly above Orchard Road itself. There was nothing, not even a string of fairy lights. You could see the blackness that was the dark sky clearly. Unobstructed.
This year, for reasons not entirely clear, Orchard Road Business Association (ORBA, ) and its design company opted for a noticeable change: just road-side adornments, mostly lamp-post decorations and scant ornaments dangling from the trees that line both sides of the “great street”. This year’s decoration, however colourful pedestrians think it is, looks half-done.
ORBA’s executive director Steven Goh told The Straits Times that “The Christmas street light design is refreshed in a new showcase format with the objective to create a more immersive pedestrian experience designed for visitors who walk along Orchard Road during this festive season.” If, in addition, there were no decorations from the buildings on both sides of the street, I wonder how immersive those one-dimensional “great gifts” up there can be.
As with window displays, street light-ups during this time of the year are notoriously unable to please everybody. I would be the first to admit that I’m not at all easily thrilled, especially when the embellishment and trimming look like they need more work—and lights (even when we’re told that the exact length of LED lights are the same as last year’s, some 60,620m of it)—to complete. A street light-up just has to have lights strung across or along the road. Call me old-fashioned.
I am baffled, too, as to why Mr Goh thought that the “light design is refreshed” when it looks to me a total break from last year’s much-maligned Disney theme-park blandness. The “commercialisation” of Christmas—as new as Santa itself—upset quite a few last year, rather that the light-up’s aesthetic value. Some, for whom Christmas must not move away from tradition, took umbrage at the crassness of Mickey Mouse enjoying Christmas. It was as if Be@rbrick characters were doing the nativity scene.
I sometimes wonder if there’s a need for complete design change to our light-up every single year. Would that not result in eco-unfriendly waste? Could we not have recycled past decorations with thematic variations? If we don’t put up new ornaments on the same plastic tree every year in our living room, why should Orchard Road boast a new festive wardrobe every November/December? Some argue that the same light-up every year may be repetitive. But in other cities, where street illumination is festive necessity and tourist draw, recognisable consistency is not necessarily unvaried or uninteresting.
In London’s Oxford Street, light canopies of one colour have been used for many years, yet each time, the light-up seems different as the themes are changed (this year, it has been reported that there will be an upgrade to “LED light curtains”). And, the Oxford Street light-up has not seen a decrease in visitors. Similarly, closer home, the decorations on Tokyo’s Marunouchi Naka-Dori Avenue (just across from Tokyo Station) has remained somewhat identical through the years, yet the queues to get into the stretch with the most dazzling lights in the days leading up to Christmas have not, as I am aware, shortened.
Orchard Road’s aspirational days are, sadly, left behind like the fairy lights in this years Christmas light-up. Its feeble display is a lady of a certain age togged in finery that are no longer fine. Even the christmas.orchardroad.org website strains to convince us to “revel in the gift of the holidays at this wonderland of light and colour”. Wonderland. No characters or avatars except jolly Santa. This year, Orchard Road is carefully staying clear of controversy.