Changing The Pilot

Is Burberry pondering if Riccardo Tisci is still the right fit to take the brand soaring?

Riccardo Tisci with pal Kanye West after the Burberry spring/summer 2023 show in London. Screen shot: No Content/YouTube

Since the beginning of the month, there was chatter that the 166-year-old Burberry was looking to replace Riccardo Tisci, the Italian designer at the helm of the house since 2018. When August came to an end, Women’s Wear Daily reported that “Burberry is evaluating its options, and looking for a potential successor to (its) chief creative officer”. Mr Tisci’s contract expires early next year, so it is not premature for Burberry to go ahunting. But why was there not an excited announcement that Mr Tisci would be asked to stay on? Or was it he who did not wish to extend his contract? Despite the WWD story that quoted “industry sources” aware of the label’s executive search, Burberry said it would not respond to speculations.

When Riccardo Tisci was installed at Burberry in 2018, while the UK was messily moving towards Brexit, many observers and commentators were surprised by the appointment. Mr Tisci is not British; he is Italian. It was a time when national pride was palpable and placing a foreigner (one from an EU member state!) at a quintessentially British brand was not particularly ideal, especially after predecessor, the proud local lad Christopher Bailey, had reigned at the house (even serving as CEO) for 17 years (for Mr Tisci, it would be five when his contract ends next year). The Guardian described Mr Bailey as “the most successful British designer of his generation“. And now an Italian, formerly from a French house was taking over? But there was a non-Brit designer at Burberry earlier—an American-born Italian, Roberto Menichetti, from 1998 to 2001. There was never eye brows raised when Brits designed European brands, from John Galliano at Dior and now Margiela to Phoebe Philo at (old) Céline to JW Anderson at Loewe. They brought the brands they worked for critical and massive success.

Riccardo Tisci’s first Burberry show. Screen shot: Burberry/YouTube

Riccardo Tisci was thought to be able to bring a certain romance tempered by a punk sensibility (would the Rottweiler T-shirt for Givenchy influence his new work?) and his Catholic upbringing to Burberry. His first task was to introduce the freshly-minted TB logo (based on the initials of founder Thomas Burberry, and designed by Peter Saville), the brand’s first new symbol in 20 years. That was followed by the TB monogram (also designed by Mr Saville). Mr Tisci’s first collection for spring/summer 2019 was a staggering 134 looks on the runway. Why that many? Mr Tisci was quoted saying after the show that he was designing for “the mother and the daughter, the father and the son”. The plethora gave weak aesthetical clues as to where the designer was taking TB. Evening wear, not really associated with the brand, became a category to promote. By his second spring/summer collection (2020), the looks were modestly trimmed to 101, yet the collection could not scale the height of focus—still conceived to offer something for everyone. But were enough people blown over?

In the last two seasons or so, Riccardo Tisci has recalibrated his approach to interpreting Britishness by adding, rather than subtracting, and by going more outré. But somehow he was not able to effect the cool—London or elsewhere—that Christopher Bailey had so charming conveyed with ease. Now, the talk is that the person to undo Mr Tisci’s over-design or predilection for putting out too-large collections is the Brit-gone-overseas (to Bottega Veneta until he left last November) Daniel Lee. Apparently, Burberry was recently “talking” to Mr Lee, who, was, according to some accounts, asked to leave BV (but Kering, the brand’s owner, said it was a joint decision). Mr Lee’s departure came in the wake of complains by staff members of unreasonable and disturbing behaviour. How this will affect the outcome of the talks is not clear. Perhaps working with his countrymen is a different condition altogether.

Update (28 September 2022, 15:25): It’s confirmed. Riccardo Tisci is out. Daniel Lee goes to Burberry.

Screen shot: No Content/YouTube

Hip Hop Flip Flop

Has Kanye West copied us?

By Awang Sulung

With so many Yeezys to choose from, not to mention all the prototypes that did not go to production, Kanye West turned up for the Burberry show in London, wearing slippers that looked like the pair my makcik Aisha owns. She said she was “attracted to the ‘berlians’ (diamond)” and I believed her; my aunt is quite a magpie, you see. But Mr West has better resources than my aunt; and he is supposed to be a fashion icon. Well, maybe that is it. Fashion heavyweights can wear anything. Is Mr West reflecting some zeitgeist? Or is he, in sharing my aunt’s love for bedazzled flip flops, reflecting popular taste? I’d have thought that he’d want to promote his Yeezy slides if open-toe footwear is a must. Or are they too plain, too “pure”?

Mr West is, of course, known to wear things that do not correspond with the seasons or to “dress like winter when it’s hot”, as he professed on Instagram early this month, which justifies his layers of bulky puffers and heavy-guage hoodies in the middle of summer. Try wearing those here! Was he deliberately doing the opposite of Kim Kardashian? AccuWeather told me that it was about 10°C in London when he arrived for the Burberry show. He was bungkus-ed in a hoodie, again, and a button-down leather shirt and matching pants. The get-up I suspect was by Burberry. The extra sleeves, attached to the side seams and tied to the front, informed me so—they looked like those that appeared on the runway. Formidable Kanye West has to wear pieces from the season to come, not the present, definitely not before.

This footwear choice is well planned and thought out. Like his clothes, they previewed what Burberry would later show. And he was given a pair of black tabi socks so that the first two toes would better grip the also-black thongs, which are topped with a single row of clear, sparkly, squarish stones. They look like pasar malam crowns for feet. Mr West’s slippers are, of course, a notch above those we like to wear, even if he appeared to be inspired by the footwear of our nation. But the sparkles may proof a tad too terang (bright) for flip flop die-hards such as environmentalist Ho Xiang Tian. As much as the blink seemed to be saying something to curious onlookers (I have no idea what), it preferred to draw no comment. Mr West later shared a Yeezy-Gap-ish photograph of said footwear on Instagram, it was accompanied by “DON’T TALK TO ME”.

It is not at all hard to see this as a publicity stunt. The grumpy rapper/designer has been really geram (angry/disgruntled) this month, bleating about perceived improper practices against him by his business collaborators. I wonder if what he wore down there on his feet was just distraction from the problems he’s facing. For the moment, people would be talking about those slippers. His position as the incomparable superstar of fashion is strengthened, just like his ex-wife’s when she appeared bare-butt on the cover Interview. Frankly, I am not buying it.

Photos: Getty Images

And There She Was

As anticipated, Linda Evangelista appeared on the Fendi runway. Was Marc Jacobs, Fendi’s latest collaborator, sidelined?

Was it supposed to be Marc Jacobs’s moment? Or did Linda Evangelista steal his thunder? The Fendi show—the resort 2023 collection that also hailed the Baguette’s 25th year—was lauded to be so “big” that New York ”hasn’t seen” such a presentation in years. But the loudest applause was showered on Ms Evangelista when she walked in—not “strut down the runway”, as some reports described—to join the designers basking in the enthusiastic response to their work done. She strolled in like a star, rather than a model, wrapped in a taffeta coat the colour of an unmistakable Tiffany blue. She smiled and recognised the applauding support of her reappearance on the catwalk. Towering above the rest standing beside her, she looked good, with her black hair pulled back to reveal the recognisable face, but her body was obscured by outerwear that the late Andre Leon Telly would be thrilled to put on. However, the press described it, Linda Evangelista appeared to just show her face.

To be sure, Marc Jacobs encouraged the attention on her, jumping excitedly and gesturing madly to the audience to inspire a standing ovation. Ms Evangelista’s appearance was expected since last July, when the news-that-amounted-to-an-announcement emerged along her appearance in the Fendi ad for the Baguette. Marc Jacobs’s participation in the current Fendi show was not regarded as that likely since it was only rumoured in June (even earlier than the return of Ms Evangelista) that a “Marjendi”, as WWD called it, could be in the works. Fendi’s Kim Jones had already made Fendace happen, why diminish that novelty, even if tacky, by doing another even if the collaborator is a different person/brand? And would he really want to work with a former colleague? Apparently so. But unlike Fendace, the latest guest-designer-interprete-Fendi exercise did not have its own runway show. And Kim Jones did not decode Marc Jacobs.

This time, the hacking involved more than one other brand. There is additionally the now-LVMH-owned Tiffany & Co, as well as the Japanese bag maker Porter. Tiffany lent its distinctive blue to the clothes and bags, as well as bling in the form of diamonds on the Baguette, as well as jewellery. As for Porter, it is likely “homage” to Fendi’s It bag from 1997 in the form of lightweight iterations (frankly, we can’t tell which ones). Of the 54 looks shown, ten were designed by Marc Jacobs. And it was not hard to guess which ten. As soon as the models with the massive woolly hats appeared (reportedly made from recycled fur), we knew we’re in familiar New York territory, even if it was not in the Park Avenue Armory, or, as of late, the New York Public Library (after the bribery scandal regarding the use of the former). According to Mr Jones, Marc Jacobs, who is a “hero of (his) from day one”, was asked to put together a collection inspired by the Baguette. The connection was not immediately discernible, but the silhouettes of the ten looks that came at the end of the show did point to those Mr Jacobs has preferred since his autumn/winter 2021: ungainly and weird.

How these un-Fendi pieces add to the celebratory mood of the show isn’t clear. Or, exult over the past success of a bag that had already won its place in fashion and pop culture. Mr Jones stated in the press release of the show: “It’s a celebration of a time, of the moment the Baguette became famous”. As the Baguette needed to take centrestage, they appeared not just as the item itself, but as Baguettes on Baguette—mini ones acting as pouch pockets on a large piece, and with a surfeit of the double-F logo/buckle. It was also remade in other forms that were not a handbag—a marsupium on totes, even anorak pockets that double as hand warmers. And, it appeared practically everywhere a bag—micro as they were—could be placed: on hats, on clothes, on gloves, on socks, on leg warmers. No part of the Baguette could not be repurposed: Even the bag flap had a new life as pocket flaps! Who’d guessed that Carrie Bradshaw’s favourite bag could reincarnate so splendiferously? Perhaps one super of supers could. And did.

Photos: (top) gorunway.com and Fendi

The Kasut Across The Causeway…

Was our Deputy PM in Kuala Lumpur out-shod?

Ismail Sabri and Lawrence Wong in Kuala Lumpur. Photo: Lawrence Wong/Facebook

The pair of shoes on Ismail Sabri that had Netizens talking. Photo: Lawrence Wong/Facebook

Malaysia’s prime minister Ismail Sabri is known for his willingness to embrace fashion or make bold sartorial choices, even when meeting the rakyat (the people). Last June, there was the online hoo-ha about his flashy Burberry shirt. This time, the interest in his attire lay further south: His kasut (shoes). In a photograph shared on Facebook yesterday by deputy prime minister Lawrence Wong, who was in Kuala Lumpur on an official visit and had met the Malaysian PM, Mr Sabri was in a pair of sleek, leather slip-ons that look like the Hermès Paris Loafer. The shoes do not appear unattractive or visually at odds with his rather slender trousers. Nor is the gleaming hardware—a bold-font ‘H’—on the strap (also known as the ‘saddle’) atop the loafer an eyesore. What might have amused Netizens is the price: If it was really Hermès, it would have cost Mr Sabri a cool S$1,700 (or RM5,432). But, that is still cheaper than S$2,190 Burberry shirt.

In the symmetrically-composed photograph, Mr Wong was seated across from Mr Sabri. Both bespectacled men wore a dark suit, white shirt, and printed tie. They looked like your regular politician until you turn your eyes towards the floor or the base of the club armchair. Mr Sabri’s pointed shoes did set him apart. He didn’t just slip into anything sensible; he picked his footwear. What Mr Wong wore was harder to make out, but they seem like shoes from comfort-leaning—even orthopaedic—brands such as Ecco and Rockport. Between the two men’s black pairs, his clearly would not draw compliments nor, for that matter, deprecation. They’re just shoes. Lawrence Wong could be out-shod, but that does not mean outshone.

Disgruntled Once More

Kanye West is peeved again. And, he has attacked another business partner, anew. Unrequited love?

Nike must be so thankful that their pairing with Kanye West ended when it did. They must be reading with such relief the news of Mr West’s online berating of his current footwear production partner Adidas. The rap star asserted that the German company has been designing Yeezy products without his involvement. On Instagram two days ago, Mr West boomed: “”The fact (Adidas) felt they could color my shoes and name them without my approval is really wild. I really care about building something that changes the world and something I can leave to my kids. They tried to buy me out for 1 billion dollars. My royalties next year are 500 million dollars alone.”

A buyout! Has it really come to this? Was Mr West surprised that Adidas, producing Yeezy since 2013, is considering ending their partnership? That they had enough of his egomania? The Sunday denunciation was, of course, not his first levelled at the manufacturer of his Yeezys. In fact, since last Friday, his fingers have been hard at work, generating posts that suggested Adidas had done him great wrong, to the point that he threatened to “legally finish with you”, directing that at the brand’s top brass, in particular the senior vice-president Daniel Cherry III (who has not offered a public response).

…his fingers have been hard at work, generating posts that suggested Adidas had done him great wrong, to the point that he threatened to “legally finish with you”

To make things more complicated, the executive board of JP Morgan Chase was also dragged into the one-sided quarrel, with the angry rapper uploading screen shots of the bankers. JP Morgan Chase assisted Adidas in finding a buyer for Reebok in 2021. And on Monday, Mr West posted: “I need a shoe company like how Jamie Salter bought Reebok”. Mr Salter is the CEO of Authentic Brands Group (ABG), the company that acquired Reebok from Adidas. It is curious that ABG was mentioned. Was Mr West hoping Reebok would be the next Yeezy collaborator?

His palpable rage, of course, goes further back—to June, when he accused Adidas of copying his Yeezy slides after the former teased the release of their Adilette 22. And then came “Yeezy Day” in August—some pseudo-important occasion that Mr West called “made up” and claimed he did not agree to, nor the Yeezy sneakers that Adidas was allegedly going to drop. It is not clear why he did not take his displeasure or misgivings directly to Adidas instead of publicly declaiming, “I have no chill. It’s going to cost you billions to keep me, It’s going to cost you billions to let me go, Adidas.“

This is, of course, not surprising. Even Gap was attacked. A week ago, as he had a go at Adidas, he concurrently accused the other half of Yeezy Gap of conducting a meeting without him. He added that they had copied his designs (the ones “Engineered by Balenciaga”). Can a pattern of behaviour be discerned? Not hard. For Mr West, lines are not drawn, not demarcated. Professional and private lives have no borders. Everyone is fair game. Even people close to him—or once were—were not spared. He attacked his ex-wife on more than one occasion (who strangely did not seem too upset by it) and her (now) ex-boyfriend with not a vestige of regret. Does he care how he may appear to his children?

But it was Adidas that he seems to spurn most. In his latest IG fume-post, he even clarified that “billions” mean “2” if Adidas wants to free him from his obligations to them, and that includes the alleged “stealing” of his intellectual property. This and others were no blank rants, even, if in many cases, he would delete them. They have been effectual among his friends, with Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs just announcing on IG that, in support for his mate, he was “done wearing Adidas” after a Ye-like blast: “’Since the era of Run-DMC, @Adidas has always used Hip Hop to build its brand and make billions off of our culture. BUT WE ARE MORE THAN JUST CONSUMERS NOW, WE’RE THE OWNERS. @KanyeWest and YEEZY are the reason Adidas is relevant to culture. WE KNOW OUR VALUE!”

Anger begets anger. And love for the Yeezy brand?

Illustrations: Just So

Habis: The Fall Of Rosmah Mansor

Sentenced to 10 years’ jail for corruption, the ex-Malaysian PM’s wife and her luxury load would be separated for a considerable while. Could this be a good ’ol cautionary tale?

All the expensive brands were found in that police raid and haul of 2018, among them Birkins and Bijans. On that fateful day, Rosmah binti Mansor was confirmed to be a handbag junkie, much to the derision of Malaysians celebrating her husband’s election defeat of that year. But in court yesterday for the sentencing of the corruption charges filed against her four years ago, she was not seen with anything resembling a handbag, not even one akin to Jacquemus’s diminutive Le Chiquito. Not a peek. Still, she appeared and conducted herself as if she was still the wife of a sitting prime minister. In fact, according to The Straits Times, she called herself a former “First Lady of Malaysia” (it was not the first) when she touted her achievements in court after the verdict was read to her. And as First Ladies do, she waved to the crowd when she left the court komplex and entered her waiting car.

She was dressed eye-catchingly in a pisang-coloured baju kurung, dotted with micro-embroidery and printed with flowers on the lower half of the sleeves, which like the neckline, was beaded with dainty bungas on the edges. This two-piece—RM500, as she once said hers cost?—would be considered locally as “Datin-style”, far removed from the revisionist spirit of Behati. She draped a similarly coloured scarf over her head, the combed-back hair, not bouffant as before, framing her bumpy dahi. An equally yellow face mask obscured her recognisable face, even from just the glabella up. She was surrounded, as before when she was “First Lady of Malaysia”, by her usual aides and members of her security detail as she entered the court building and when she left. Despite the bustle, Malaysian Netizens were able to notice that on her wrist, she wore a Cartier Ballon Bleu watch in what could be rose gold and with diamonds set on the bezel, which, according to one Instagram post, costs RM216,075 (about S$67,114). Was this, as online chatter went, not among the 401 timepieces that were seized by the police from the headline-grabbing raid on the former prime minister’s residences?

Not long after her husband Najib Abdul Razak unexpectedly lost his seat as the PM in 2018 and was suspected of misappropriating about US$4.5 billion worth of funds from the insolvent 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), police stormed the homes of the high-profile couple in the wee hours and emerged with cartons—280 of them in total (including those that looked like orange-coloured Hermès boxes for bags)—of assorted possessions that were filmed by the press. The reports that quickly emerged staggered an entire nation. Most people knew that Rosmah Mansor led a life of luxury, but not one this luxurious. The final inventory of the seizure revealed 1,400 necklaces, 567 handbags, 423 watches, 2,200 rings, 1,600 brooches and, curiously, 14 tiaras (this is not a comprehensive list), estimated then to be worth between US$223 million and US$275 million. The police were gobsmacked, calling the material haul the “biggest in Malaysian history” that required 16 days for the entire value to be determined.

Widely shared photo of Rosmah Mansor in court, revealing her expensive watch. Photo: AFP

Rosmah Mansor allowed herself access to that much stuff because she considered it “embarrassing for Malaysians when other countries tease the prime minister’s wife for being shabby”, according to her eponymous 2013 “biography”, co-written by journalists Siti Rohayah Attan and Noraini Abd Razak, and no doubt designed as a coffee table book. No one could really accuse Ms Mansor’s attire as ever worn or slovenly. In the book, she repeatedly described how, as a teenager, she was constantly fashionable when going out with her clique, the “Giddy gang”. Even as a young woman working in the former Bank Pertanian (now the Islamic bank Agrobank), she was seen as “a fashion-conscious career woman”, as described in past profiles of her. When she became the wife of the PM, she found it additionally imperative to look better, and saw no wrong in her shopping—however lavish—and desire to appear stylish. But as a very public figure who was supposed to serve the rakyat (if not, keep a low profile), her spending aroused criticisms, even scorn. In the book, she was defiant: “I have bought some jewellery and dresses with my own money. What is wrong with that?”

Sure, that may be acceptable, but status and the constant reminder of her own were all part of what was important to her too and what many find irksome. She did not just buy any jewellery, any dress—they were those that augmented her position: She sought out the truly exorbitant. If that was insufficient, she often reminded her audience that she was the “wife of the prime minister”. She was especially partial to the title “First Lady of Malaysia”. She used it at home (there was, according to CNA, even a “First Lady of Malaysia unit”, set up in the PM’s department, to deal with her affairs) and abroad, often sending aides ahead of her visits to stores to announce the impending arrival of the “First Lady of Malaysia”. It is not hard to see how easily impressed people were (if they were not put off)—not many, especially foreigners, know Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy and does not have a president as head of state. Her bajus and trappings conferred her the status of a consort of sort and afforded her the image of eminence and prominence she wished to project. “As a woman and as the wife of a leader, I have to look presentable, neat, and take care of my appearance,” she declared in her biografi. But how she looked (even now) had not always been flatteringly described or shared.

There has been much speculation about her going under the knife (which she, predictably, denied), to the extent that Singaporean cosmetic doctor Siew Tuck Wah saw it necessary to post about it. In 2018, shortly after the power couple’s properties were raided, Dr Siew shared on his blog page of the same name, a rather long entry, titled “What Bad Plastic Surgery Caused Rosmah Mansor’s Distorted Face?” He did not mince his words, writing that she “has long been the poster girl of bad plastic surgery procedures amongst practicing doctors,” even calling her visage “the scary gargoyle we are familiar with”, before listing five “possibilities” that could have caused what he thought were botched jobs. This analysis came just a week after Ms Mansor’s estranged daughter (from the former’s first marriage) Azrene Ahmad posted on Facebook a lengthy and damning entry that painted a deeply unflattering picture of her mother (and, to a slightly lesser extent, her stepfather). From it, we learned that among “shamans and witch doctors, aesthetic doctors and the like” came to their home, affirming the open-secret suspicions that Ms Mansor had procedures done in her house. Dr Siew concluded in his post: “Rosmah’s face proves one thing—money cannot buy you good taste.”

The 2013 biography of Rosmah Mansor. Photo: Jalil Samad

Rosmah Mansor did not grow up incredibly rich, nor terribly poor. Her parents were school teachers in Kuala Pilah, a small valley town in the south of the state of Negri Sembilan, where she was born, in 1951. She went to the local school Kolej Tunku Kurshiah, an all-girls boarding school often described as “premier“. Although her own telling of her childhood could have been romanticised, she was rather forthright about her strict father, describing how he disciplined her when the young fashionista once daringly refused to get out of a dress he did not approve of: He flogged her with “a rubber hose”. Her mother did not come to the daughter’s consolation as she did not, according to Ms Mansor, dare to defy her husband. When things calmed, her mother told her, “I cannot take your side. If your father said you were in the wrong, I too have to say you were in the wrong. When you are bigger, you will value this.”

Grown-up and married Rosmah Mansor appeared to understand her mother’s explanation, if not to value it. In her book, she believes that “when the husband scolds the children, the wife should not defend the children… because the children will feel there is someone else to defend them and do more wrongs”. But, as it appeared, in her married life, she took only her own side. Her daughter Azrene Ahmad wrote on FB in 2018, “As I grew older, I saw the selfishness and greed of one above all else. I experienced firsthand emotional, physical and mental abuse at the hands of the one on the left. I witnessed firsthand the same abuse she caused onto the one on the right.” The photo that accompanied the post showed Rosmah Mansor and her husband: she was on the left. That she was the dominant partner in the relationship was also recently asserted in the high court’s 116-page judgment in which an audio recording that purportedly revealed a conversation between her and her husband was shared: “It is clear from the recording that the accused gave instructions to Najib on government affairs”, the judge was reported to have said. “She has control over him”, which is rather different from how her mother abided by her father.

“It is clear from the recording that the accused gave instructions to Najib on government affairs”

—Malaysian high court judge

Ms Mansor has other talents. In her biography, she described herself as a “naturally gifted accountant” (although she has a degree in anthropology and sociology and a Masters of Science in sociology and agriculture), which may explain her flair for managing money and spending it. In one Wall Street Journal report in 2016, the paper claimed that Ms Mansor racked up credit card bills of US$6 million between 2008 and 2015 on clothes, shoes, and jewellery “despite having no known source of income beyond her husband’s salary,” it wrote. “She is the only child of school teachers, hasn’t had a regular paying job in years and her husband, prime minister Najib Abdul Razak, is a longtime bureaucrat with an annual salary of US$100,000.”

Usually, she denies such profligate spending. In a trip to Sydney in 2012, she reportedly spent A$100,000 at the boutique of South African-born designer Carl Kapp (on hand to serve his rich customer, he was introduced to her as—you probably guessed it—“the First Lady of Malaysia”). When the news spread homewards of the extravagant purchases, the then PM and his wife refuted the allegations as “a wildly exaggerated story deliberately fabricated to affect people’s perception of their leaders”. The shopper herself was adamant, telling the press, “It’s all rubbish, wildly exaggerated, and not true” (in one live, by-election appearance in 2011, she told the audience, “Adakah muka ini muka penipu? Tak ada lah! [Do I look like a liar? I don’t!]). Even the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission was summoned to investigate the Sydney scandal. It is not clear what came out of that. The Associated Press reported that, in court, the judge was told that Ms Mansor had spent RM100,000 per month to hire spin doctors to avert criticisms of how lavishly she led her life.

A young Rosmah Mansor. Photo: My News Bistro

She had a kreatif side too. Before her shopping habits became public scrutiny, Ms Mansor was a recording artiste. She claimed in her book that she had cut an album—title unknown—and made “millions” out of it. Strangely, the Malaysian public knew almost nothing of the recording (possibly made in 2005/2006, when a compilation album Lagenda Cinta [Legends of Love], in which a track attributed to her, was released). Some reports claimed that the album was “bought by government ministers who were big fans of her singing talent.” In 2005, she sang a song Lara Jiwa (Sorrowful Souls) in a duet with a much younger, talent show winner of Akademi Fantasia 3, Asmawi Ani, to support the work of Kedah Natural Disaster Relief Association. Ms Mansor’s pop aspirations brings to mind Thailand’s Princess Ubolratana, who also loves to sing and had similarly performed with contestants of singing competitions. However, unlike the Princess, whose zeal for expressing herself in song remains effusive, Ms Mansor has retired her microphone.

But, not her audibility. When her sentence was read in court yesterday, Ms Mansor was said to have cried. Given the guilty of graft verdict (and the vehement denials prior), it is hard to imagine that anyone in Malaysia not part of her family and inner circle would express sympathy. Her tears are perhaps understandable when her husband was sentenced just days earlier to 12 years’ jail. CNA’s Kuala Lumpur correspondent Melissa Goh reported that the seventy-year-old “was in tears… choking”, but “one moment she’s in tears, seated in the dock, next, she turned around and smiled to her daughter (likely hers and Mr Razak’s—Nooryana Najwa)… it’s simply baffling.” Could her grief be that brief? But the rise of Ms Mansor, too, has, for the most part, tricky to understand. Given her dubious record with handling money, it is odd that she could be trusted with the government contract for which she was charged with accepting bribes—when her husband was still in power. She said in court: “Never ever have I thought I want to squander money (or buang duit, an act she had frequently said she was incapable of). Never ever have I ever touched a single sen (cent)!” Chronic self deception, in the end, leads to her truth, and only hers.

Reuters helped paint a more vivid picture of her in the well-attended courtroom: “I must admit that I’m very sad with what happened today,” she told the judge—tearfully again—after hearing the verdict. And she insisted rather laughably “nobody saw me taking the money, nobody saw me counting the money…. but if that’s the conclusion, I leave it to God.” Apart from the 10-year jail term for each of the three charges (which would be served concurrently, she still has other charges pending, including 17 for money laundering and tax evasion), Rosmah Mansor was given an impressive fine of RM970 million (about S$303 million), a figure believed to be “the largest in Malaysian legal history”. Her lawyer Jagjit Singh told the press that she has no means to pay. “Who can afford the fine of almost RM1 billion? You tell me, who can afford that money?” He added, perhaps to confirm the WSJ editorial of 2016, “my client doesn‘t have any source of income. Is this what we call justice?” A fine—even a lot lighter—is, of course, no Birkin.

Illustration (top): Just So

This Be The Look

Another fashion week in Malaysia, another sartorial controversy

Barely three weeks after the chest-baring controversy at Kedah Fashion Week (KFW)* that led to nation-wide disapproval and apology from the organiser, Malaysia is seeing another contentious fashion choice that riled up the watchful, not-necessarily-fashion-consuming public, this time in the capital. At the closing day of Kuala Lumpur Fashion Week (KLFW) 2022 last Sunday, the city’s “king of viral fashion” Tan Kel Wen (陳楷文) attended the show of his own label Behati at the Pavilion Kuala Lumpur mall in a self-designed, oversized, ankle-length, quilted happi coat (it was 31°C that afternoon in KL) over a pair of folded-down-at-the-waist, knotted-in-front-like-a-sampin shorts. The 26-year-old l, who has no qualms in casting himself as a model in his brand’s communication material, was shirtless under the outer, but it was not specifically this show of some skin that irked Malaysian Netizens. It was his choice of headwear: A black songkok—traditional, flat-top (atap leper) headgear worn by Malay males throughout the Malay/Indonesian archipelago, Brunei, and the south of the Philippines and Thailand.

Many Netizens took offence to his pairing of the headwear with his “half-naked” self, as one put it, when commenting on the photo he posted on Instagram. Others thought it disrespectful that he would bare part of his chest and limps while donning the brimless, close-fitting-at-the-sides hat that is commonly associated with going to the mosque. In another photo, also shared on IG, Mr Tan took to the stage at the end of his afternoon show with his muse, the beauty entrepreneur/“online personality”/singer of cheesy pop Dato’ Seri Vida (aka Hasmiza binti Othman), wearing another black songkok, now with a pin of his brand’s logo—a stylised image of a man in an oversized baju melayu (traditional Malay dress) striking a pose on bended knees—fastened to the right. To bask in the post-show glory, he donned a massively oversized shirt (with padded shoulders and the outline of the augmentation visible) and a plain black tie, and a waist-high short-sarong-as-mini-skirt.

Designer Kel Wen and Internet star Dato’ Seri Vida on the runway at KLFW 2022

In a lengthy IG post to defend himself against the antagonists, who are referred to as “commenters”—although he is prone to calling them “haters”—and “to educate” them, Mr Tan considers the songkok “a formal cultural headgear, not entirely a religious headgear that’s only worn for Islamic prayers”, adding that “in Malaysia it gets more complicated when different races wear the headgear for different purposes.” He did not say what the purposes were or that his wearing of the songkok was, therefore, to simplify things. Mr Tan, who prides himself as an ardent researcher, with a voracious appetite for his homeland culture, also pointed out to the provenance of the songkok. He claimed that the “Songkok doesn’t originate from the Malay community… Malays do not (sic) wear Songkok in Melaka Sultane (sic)” and “the first Songkok traces back to Ottoman Fez”. It is not known why he thinks the connection is that linear. He does not state the sources behind his assertion.

The fez itself does not have a straightforward history. According to author on Moorish culture Cozmo El, in his book The Secret of the Fez, the hat, which the Arabs call tarboosh, is claimed by some to have originated in ancient Greece, with some even pointing to the Balkans. Similarly, the songkok has a rather obscure beginning. No historian of Malay culture has yet drawn a direct link between the songkok and the “Ottoman fez”. There are similarities between the two, but it is hard to see why a largely tribal community would look to an empire with a capital some nine thousand kilometres away for aesthetic ideas. The popular thought is that the songkok arrived in Malaysia in the 13th century (Mr Tan prefers a later date: “19th century”)—when Islam was spreading in Southeast Asia—by way of India, where the fez-like headwear was improved with the addition of paper between the sides to make it tougher and more rigid. And it is not difficult to see the songkok’s popularity rising alongside the ascent of Islam. That the songkok is considered to be distinctly Malay is also due to the craftsmen of the early years, who refined the shape of the hat into the oval (as opposed to the round of the fez) that is recognisable today.

Behati’s latest collection based on Peranakan dress

Mr Tan is not wrong to say that non-Malays wear the songkok too. In several black and white photographs dated June 1963, shared by the National Archives of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew was seen wearing one when he conducted a walkabout in Ulu Pandan (now part of the Holland -Bukit Timah GRC). On that day, he was attired in a white, short-sleeved, open-neck shirt and loose, dark trousers. There were other occasions as well (on one, he wore a songkok with the word “Malaysia” across its front), and each time, Mr Lee was suitably dressed. While it is not compulsory for Muslim men to wear the songkok, many do, especially with the baju melayu, even the batik shirt. Western fashion can be considered, provided, as one songkok-wearing Muslim friend told us, it is “tasteful or worn tastefully”.

In the age of TikTok, taste is subjective. As he kept to his penchant for viral results and adverse criticisms (in one TV interview, he said, “my work is known to get [sic] viral, to get negative comments”), Mr Tan may have not considered that the songkok has not quite achieved the sebarang (anything-will-do) status of social media, and that many Malays do regard the wearing of one with considerable rectitude. Defiantly, he wrote on IG, insisting on his sense of propriety: “I did not wear Songkok with a sexy underwear or reveal any sensitive parts of my body that shows nudity. Showing my knees like most malay (sic) men out there is a common fashion today.” Curiously, he compares the exposure of nearly half of both of his legs with “a Hijabi who wears the Tudung with their (sic) neck out (sic)“. (Are there such short tudungs?). The race card came in the conclusion: “I’m not Muslim, but wearing a Songkok signifies that I accept and learn the religion in my own personal lifestyle. If you can’t accept, it only means that you’re racist and that’s the real problem here.”

A groom’s outfit for the Behati ‘Peranakan’ collection

Mr Tan did not, however, draw flak for just his personal attire alone. The clothes he presented for Behati on the runway at KLFW attracted unfavourable criticism too. Based on “mixed race, mixed culture, mixed tradition”, the Peranakan-themed collection had all the fervour of a graduate show and the appeal of a cultural village gift shop. Mr Tan’s adoration for his nation’s plural culture is palpable, but he does not consider a judicious use of the myriad things, big and small, that he adores to keep the end result from being laughing matter. Or, worse, the proverbial rojak. There is something naive about his love for the cross-cultural. His critics were not just unimpressed with the baju-panjangs-as-duster-coats, kebaya blouses teamed with cargo joggers, or the 结婚绣球花 (jiehun xiuqiuhua)—wedding ribbon ball—strapped to a white suit worn under a sheer baju panjang festooned with tassels, but for the four model-dancers who performed and strutted their stuff in fake kebaya tops (two were very cropped!) and triangular fabrics tied to the waist like a pareo and exposing considerable rump. Any bibik would say the clothes (and their wearers) are tak senonoh (indecent). Behati fans applauded the social media-worthy liberties taken, but others were appalled, with one IG user going as far as to describe the seeming impropriety as “rape the tradition”.

An alumnus of Raffles Design College in KL, Tan Kel Wen graduated with a diploma in fashion design and then cut his teeth as assistant designer with compatriot Lee Khoon Hooi (李坤辉). Until five years ago, he was working with the veteran. Mr Lee told South China Morning Post last February: “I’ve always been influenced by different cultures because Malaysia has a multinational community.” Sounds familiar? The style of his eponymous label has unfailingly been described as “feminine” or “romantic”, with no discernible visual defiance that would come to define his young protégé, who must have been so influenced by his former employer that he reprised Mr Lee’s use of tassels as repeated motif from 2019 for his current Peranakan collection. Some ten years ago, when he was putting out flounced dresses and one-shoulder numbers, Mr Lee Khoon Hooi was considered Malaysia’s Alber Elbaz.

Behati’s culture-show-as-fashion-show at Pavilion Kuala Lumpur

Mr Tan founded Behati in 2018 as a label—self-touted to be “modern traditionalist”—that brings together the aesthetic traditions of Malaysia, seen through a lens focused on streetwear, while amping up the brand’s ethno-social appeal. He calls it “blending urban and heritage”. Recently, he told L’Officiel Malaysia, “As people say, nothing is original anymore but there’s always something new, and mixing cultures is a way to create.” Born in the historic state of Melaka, he, in fact, grew up, further south, in the coastal town of Muar, Johor. He attended Sekolah Tinggi Muar (High School Muar), housed in a building—erected in 1914—that is not far from the sea, and was a member of the school’s choir. His love for music has never waned and he claimed to have been writing music since he was 15 years old. His mother is a retired school teacher who taught English and music in a Malay school. He shared on IG that “growing up, I always wanted to write like her, sing like her”. Although he moved to KL to further his studies and to pursue a career in fashion, he has not put aside music, and continues to perform under the “stage name” Khai, the first of his two-word Chinese moniker. He has even released a Malay language dance single and an accompanying music video—under Khai + Haus of RN—Demam Cinta (Love Sick).

By his own account, he has “been wearing traditional clothes for Raya since (he) was younger”, keeping his love of Malaysian multi-culturalism, and indeed nationalism, on his sleeve, constantly; not even shying away from naming the previous collection “kampung”—almost another country in the antarabangsa (international) capital of Kuala Lumpur. According to the KL-based news site World of Buzz, Mr Tan revealed that “Behati is a word of African origin, which means ‘blessed’”. And, a female pronoun, such as the name of Namibian model Behati Prinsloo, wife of Adam Levine. It seems rather odd that, being unabashedly proud of his Malaysian identity, he would use an African name for a brand. Mr Tan told the podcast Borak Sini Habis Sini (Chat Here, End Here) that he thinks that behati sounds a little like the Malay word for blessing, berkati. For his latest runway show, no African or Malay text was used—the back drop was an expansive sheet of red, with the Chinese pronunciation of his brand name, 百哈迪 (bai ha di) written in massive calligraphic strokes. Whether this amounts to creative schizophrenia or is just a happy campuran (mix), it is perhaps too early to say, but Behati is exactly the gratuitous pastiche that social media feeds on. Despite its hybridised image, the brand is considered an “Internet sensation”.

Aina Abdul in Behati going to the Behati show

In 2019, one particular garment Mr Tan created evoked both delight and derision: The “oversized baju Melayu”. The press preferred the euphemism “mixed reaction”. This was no re-designing of the men’s two-piece (formerly known by the once gender-neutral term baju kurung, which now only refers to the version for women), comprising a tunic-like baju (top) and loose seluar (trousers), but a re-proportioning of the garments in a similar vein to the exaggerated sizing of early Vetements (now VTMNTS. Behati subsequent tailored suits would, for most, recall Balenciaga’s). Most Malays did not wish for their beloved baju to be so radically up-sized—”this was no French fries at McDonald’s”, one retired Malaysian model told us. Believed to have originated from the court of the Malacca Sultanate (as early as the 1400s), the baju Melayu is already loose-fitting, with virtually no change to the silhouette since its introduction. In a move that supporters consider “ingenious”, Mr Tan made his baju so large that some had such huge armholes that entire tops were, horizontally, almost an oblong, from end to end, when the arms are stretched out. For the images shared on social media, Mr Tan had his models pose like the stylised figures of Taiwanese sculptor Ju Ming’s (朱銘) Tai Chi bronzes. The silhouettes, including that of the logo, were so similar, it’s tempting to say he could have been inspired by the artist’s work. He described the images as “avant-garde”.

Behati and Mr Tan’s online reputations were further enhanced in the past two years when stars and celebrities came to the designer for special commissions. Two most noted are the aforementioned muse Dato’ Seri Vida, who, at the Behati show, modeled a colourful dress that could be seen as a tent made of scraps of 云肩 (yun jian) or cloud collar. And a tagine on her head. “Culturally-mixed fashion”, as Mr Tan described the design on IG, or Gen-Z oriental camp? And, looking even more absurd, Aina Abdul. Also dressed by Behati, the Johor-born songstress (who shared on IG: “I loveeeee how this look turned out 🖤 Major love!”) was entrapped in what could be a mass of deflated, balled-up fabric. As she moved, she looked like a cartoon likeness of a black cloud. Only her face and her hands were shown. In fact, she did not appear to be wearing a dress; she seemed upholstered. Perhaps, in Kuala Lumpur, as one IG user commented, paraphrasing what Tan Kel Wen said on a Jack and Jill Potato Chip TV commercial, “ini(lah) baru fashion show.”

*Not to be confused with Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Kuala Lumpur

Photos: kel_wen and behati.my/Instagram

Her Cami-And-Slip Get-Up

Billie Eilish’s négligé style for our equatorial heat

Billie Eilish in Kampong Glam. Photo: Billie Eilish/Instagram

Before her performance at the National Stadium last night, Billie Eilish took time off to take in the sights of hipster-cool-lost Haji Lane and, the surrounding back alleys. In an Instagram post, Ms Eilish wore a black camisole and a slip-skirt with a wide lace border and a left slit that shot up her thigh. Déshabillé lorong! The get-up, we presume, was chosen with consideration for our uncomfortably warm weather (which made the National Stadium so heated up that a few concert-goers were reported to have fainted, necessitating the singer to call security at one point). Above her straight neckline, she wore multiple silver chains, flanked by black bra straps. She was cuffed with a black bracelet on her left wrist and had multiple rings on both hands. In sum, it was nothing like the baggy-tee-and-shorts combo that she loves and her fans, too.

To contrast with the delicate two-piece, Ms Eilish was shod in Uggs-like, lace-up boots by Moon Boot. They appear weighty, wintery, and worn. In a TikTok-ish video shared in the same IG post, in which Ms Eilish was prancing in a drizzle, the boots looked a little ungainly as she clomped happily towards the camera. While she clothed her body to embrace the sweltering heat, her feet, curiously, are cozily padded with what are usually worn in winter. Could it be a deliberate choice so that there would be a noticeable contrast between outfit and footwear? (Was it also contrast that she was after when, in the video, she cavorted with the Sultan Mosque behind her?) After all, it is hard to imagine Billie Eilish in heels, even kitty heels. But ankle-high clomper-hoofs are the stuff that would engender influence. Even in the dumpster-lined back alleys of Kampong Glam, fans are clearly not far from her mind.

Rather Wrapped Up

Before her reported comeback on the runway next month, Linda Evangelista appeared on a Vogue cover, looking like she has not changed, even when framed by a large scarf

Linda Evangelista, “permanently damaged” by a 2016 body-contouring procedure, wants to revive her modelling career. “I’m done with hiding,” she told People in a February cover story. So, she is back in sight. And she has many friends who could make her a model again. First there was Kim Jones who cast her in last month’s ad for Fendi, and—next month—the runway appearance for the Italian brand. “I loved being up on the catwalk,” she admitted to the American weekly in that revealing interview. And likely still does. But before that anticipated IRL appearance, she has Edward Enninful to thank for her return to magazine covers; for starters, the latest British Vogue. Ms Evangelista is in demand again. The return of the supermodel.

Surprisingly, it wasn’t American Vogue that got hold of the Canadian-born model (she appeared on their cover a whopping 11 times in her career). It was the British edition that gave her the cover opportunity, and it was its editor-in-chief Mr Enninful who styled her, in full modest fashion glory. It is possible that Anna Wintour preferred her Vogue to be graced by someone whole, even when she told People that “no model was more super than Linda”. Ms Evangelista said in the People cover story that the treatment Coolsculpting had “brutally disfigured” her. In a far more natural photograph published on that cover, Ms Evangelista looked less a fashion model: Her face seemed wider, her jaws more pronounced, her cheeks not as lifted, and her skin less smooth than before. CoolSculpting, a treatment that helps reduce unwanted fat by “freezing” them, left her with hard “bulges” due to a rare reaction known as paradoxical adipose hyperplasia or PAH.

The damages Ms Evangelista suffered probably could not be totally undone or significantly minimised, which may explain why in all the Vogue photos Mr Enninful had her face framed by scarves and topped by dramatic headwear. Worn like a babushka, the scarves are bound rather tightly, effecting a slimmer face, even a smaller head. For most, the cover is major and one that is considered “stunning”; as striking, to some, as Ms Evangelista’s Patrick Demarchelier-lensed 1992 cover for Harper’s Bazaar, under newly-installed editor, the late Liz Tilbiris, 30 years ago. This is Linda Evangelista as Linda Evangelista of the past, of our firm memory of her; this is not post-PAH. Her eyes are just as speaking, under the arch of the brows; her nose as perky; her lips as full; her teeth as white, all set in flawless and glowing skin.

According to British Vogue, makeup artist Pat McGrath “gently (how else?) drew her face, jaw and neck back with tape and elastics”. There were, of course, digital trickery too. Ms Evangelista has no illusion about the illusory contours seen. She said: “That’s not my jaw and neck in real life – and I can’t walk around with tape and elastics everywhere.” Nor, probably headscarves and hats, at least not everywhere, every day. Styling can truly recast even a “damaged” face and person into unimpaired familiarity. The cover girl said to People five months ago, “I don’t recognize myself physically, but I don’t recognize me as a person any longer either. She (and “she means Linda Evangelista, supermodel,” People wrote) is sort of gone.” But now, with this, perhaps not. With help, the model is again.

In weighing what might have prompted the super of the supers to go for body contouring, the British Vogue editorial put forth a conjecture that, apart for herself, “perhaps also in some warped way for everyone else who will forever compare you to the impossible ideals of your Vogue covers and campaign images”. Although good looks are now seen even in beauty outside known and accepted standards, Ms Evangelista’s altered visage is not quite gorgeous, recognisable, and admissible enough for a Vogue cover. In his editor’s page, Edward Enninful wrote that “perhaps no other face so effortlessly captures the essence of the fin-de-siècle supermodel as Linda Evangelista.” So the final effect has to commensurate with that. Let her look unchanged. Once a model, always a model.

Photos: Steven Meisel/British Vogue

This Is Dressed

…and well-dressed? Whatever Julia Fox wishes to sell, it’s hard to tell, but fashion—that could be stretching it

Julia Fox has more outfits for running errands around Los Angeles than film parts to boast. And is better known for her skimpy clothes than meaty roles. Latex is one of her fave fabrics for clothing. But, as with everything else in fashion, latex has not escaped the inflation that has hit us hard, and it’s getting so expensive that using a sheet big enough to make an actual outfit is untenable. So, she is content with scraps, assembled as a barely-there one-piece (even if it looks like two in the front). We do not know if she uses natural or synthetic rubber, but either way it must be dear enough for her to buy as little of it as possible to assemble the outfit. Ms Fox, a fashion designer apparently, is known for her “custom” clothes. This is likely another one of them, put together to delight social media and for its habitués to talk about.

Ms Fox has worn underwear as outerwear before—and the indescribables between—but they were not pieced precariously like it is in the latest latex composite. It is not easy to describe an outfit with no name, but credit must be given to the fragments that can be held together, with the help of two amoeba-shaped rings, to yield a wearable form that on the left side reveals an entire rump. In the rear, the upper parts are secured by strings, or laces. A ruched triangular piece from the waist down blocks the gluteal cleft, but not the thigh gap. Part of the right buttock is revealed too. A band at the bottom, not part of a skirt, hugs her thigh and, in the back underscores the left butt cheek. In sum, the outfit is a walking wardrobe malfunction waiting to strike.

On Julia Fox, such clothes are no longer refreshing or provocative, not when these DIY-seeming bits have become her go-to clothes for anything between a visit to the supermarket and a stroll down a red carpet. These are not special-occasion get-ups; they are, to her, everyday wear. Ms Fox, who told Interview magazine that she’s “always been someone’s muse”, is so accustomed to the scantiness that they have defined her, to the point that anything she wears that requires more than a metre of cloth is downright weird and not quite normal, and not muse-like. She also suggested that her style changed drastically after her brief romance with Kanye West. But, her look is worse and more tragic than Kim Kardashian before she dated the guy. The real novelty now would be when she really puts on something that can be called a dress, in every sense of the word. That would be an eye-opener.

Photo: Getty Images

Not A Man In A Skirt

You know times have changed when new dad A$AP Rocky goes out wearing something that isn’t a pair of pants

Three days ago, A$AP Rocky took a break from fatherhood duties and stepped out in New York in an A-line, knee-grazing, leather Givenchy skirt. American Vogue said that he “went full cybergoth”. Its British counterpart was certain that he “sets the bar for modern menswear”. W magazine thought he “looked effortlessly cool”. GQ’s approving headline read, “Only for A$AP Rocky Is August Leather Kilt Season”, carefully avoiding the S-word. It was, overall, a strong show of support, if you ignore one unkind headline that went, “Shocker: A$AP Rocky Spotted Out… Wearing Rihanna’s Leather Skirt”.

He is, of course, not a “man in a skirt”; he is A$AP Rocky in a skirt. Just like it was Brad Pitt in a skirt days earlier (linen, by Haans Nicholas Mott) and Kanye West in a skirt even way before (2011, during a concert, when he was costumed by Givenchy, then designed by Riccardo Tisci). More mortal males would not be able to rock a similar skirt, even if it is based on a simple shape, so uncomplicated that they’re often the basic skirt taught in pattern-making and sewing classes. Guys without the same standing, social and fashion-wise, as the rapper, would not be blessed with such encouraging headlines. That A$AP Rocky chose a more ‘solid’ silhouette in a hulky fabric such as leather is to leave the viewer in no doubt of his cis gender and his procreative heterosexuality.

This was not A$AP Rocky’s first time wearing a skirt, but it was the first time he wore one as a father. Before his very public romance with Rihanna, he was seen in Rick Owens and Vivienne Westwood “kilts”—entry level skirts that could help the wearer graduate to more serious stuff. That he and his fellow artistes in skirts no longer receive derogatory comments could be due to the garment’s popularity among, in particular, Black rappers, such as P Diddy, Omar Epps, R Kelly, Snoop Dog, Coolio, just to name a few. Still, only a very small group of them gets accolades for wearing skirts. To quote, Quentin Tarantino, who said of Brad Pitt in this month’s issue of GQ, “It’s just a different breed of man”.

Photo: Backgrid

A Different Wang

Another streetwear brand banking on a family name. This is, however, not by that Wang

Team Wang Pop-Up store at The Shopping Gallery, Voco

It is probably the buzziest store opening since the start of the pandemic. Team Wang Design, a rising star in the firmament of “luxury street wear” opened yesterday evening to intensely enthusiastic response. If you are unfamiliar with the newish label, it is understandable that you’d think that Team Wang is linked to the designer Alexander Wang. But it is not. The label is, in fact, the brainchild of popstar Jackson Wang (王嘉尔). He has, as fans are well aware, added fashion designer to his resume. But if Team Wang sounds familiar, it is because Alexander Wang (王大仁) had used it too, and the phrase was employed for his collaboration with H&M in 2014. But Alexander Wang’s “team” of musicians, muses, and models who were associated with him were often referred to by the press as his “squad”. Team Wang is thus dissimilar as it is not about a clique (or, worse, hangers-on). Rather, it was initially set up to manage Mr Wang’s growing commitments in China and then to include a record label and now fashion design too. And Mr Wang seems to acknowledge that the brand’s creative output is a collective one.

And the clothes have found their way here through the auspices of Club 21 who has set up the eponymous pop-up—dubbed Mudance—not only on our shores, but in Chengdu and Bangkok, concurrently. As early or late (it really depends) as eleven yesterday morning, The Shopping Gallery at the former Hilton Hotel, now Voco Orchard, was busy, not with shoppers, but with construction crew setting up the opening of Team Wang Design (the shop was still merchandise-free) and, unsurprisingly, numerous female fans reserving a spot to catch their idol (this was an invitation-only event). Two hours before the party was due to start, there was a dispiriting crowd, restrained by mills barriers just to the left of the main door to the lobby of the hotel. The side entrance to The Shopping Gallery was shut too. The girls were visibly excited, presumably expecting the star they had been waiting for to arrive by car and alight at that very spot. This was happening as it rained. If the reception the fans gave Mr Wang at Changi airport yesterday was any indication, this really was not surprising.

Outside Voco Hotel, fervid fans waiting patiently despite the rain

But unexpected was the wait that invited guests had to endure. The invitation to the event stated 6.30pm—presumably the time it would the start. Jackson Wang had arrived some fifteen minutes earlier to a screaming welcome. He was escorted to a room in the hotel, where he went to “freshen up”, as the chatter at the lobby of the hotel went. Guests were held around the escalator to the second floor, where the proceedings would unfold. An hour had past, but most of the attendees were still waiting in the increasingly unbearable heat. Nathan Hartono in a salmon-coloured, sweat-soaked tee, would later share on Instagram a snap of him and Mr Wang, with the comment, “…I am clearly sTrUgGliN 🥵🥵🥵”. But still-waiting Fiona Xie, togged in Team Wang Design, appeared to be getting impatient. Jean Yip, the beauty mogul, and her family were seen heading for the exit, telling someone, “we’re leaving. Bye.” Those with more clout could make a phone call while aggressively pushing their way through the crowd and be ushered up the escalator, immediately. Word started to go around to explain the delay: Mr Wang had accepted a media interview. Ms Universe 2016 Cheryl Chou, chatting with someone, was cheerily indifferent to the crowd’s waning patience.

Sixty five minutes later, the escalator was ready to transport the guests one floor up. Wrist bands issued earlier had to be shown for entry. At the top of the escalator, a large crowd had already formed. A fellow escalator rider was heard wondering angrily: “We were waiting for so long, but actually so many people already here?!” Inside, the pop-up, Mediacorp stars and influencers had first dib of the offerings, including the man of the hour himself. Dressed simply in a black T-shirt (with sleeves folded up) and black pants (not jeans), he was obliging everyone who approached him with selfies and polite chatter, but remained inscrutable behind vaguely cat-eyed shades, which he kept on all night. When he left the store to address the crowd outside, grown women near the door were hyperventilating: “Oh my god! Oh my god! Oh my god!” The people who should be there—the screaming fans—were not. They continued to wait in collective high for their idol to exit the hotel. Somewhere above them, he was dancing enjoyably, fenced by more-delighted, also-bopping lasses.

Jackson Wang addressing the crowd outside the Team Wang Designpop-up at Voco

Jackson Wang was born in Hong Kong before he moved to Seoul to be part of the group Got7, a name that would work very well on our island. As fans know by now, Mr Wang was spotted while playing basketball in school by JYP Entertainment (Stray Kids!) agents who managed to persuade the school goer to join an audition for the company’s global search for talents. Among 2,000 participants, he came up top. Although around this time he was offered a Standford University scholarship for fencing (he was very much a sportsman, following the footsteps of his fencer father and gymnast mother), he turned it down. Instead he answered the calling to do music. He accepted the JYPE offer and moved to Seoul in 2011. Ater two years of notoriously tough K-pop training, including a made-for-television competition which pitched trainees of JYPE against YG Entertainment (Blackpink!), Mr Wang was made member of Got7, debuting with the single Girls Girls Girls in 2014. The rest is, as is often the case with K-popstars, has been the unstoppable rise of Jackson Wang.

Last year, it was widely reported that Got7, JYP Entertainment’s “most successful boy group”, has “terminated” their contract with the company. This came amid fan dismay that JYPE had allegedly not done enough for their boy groups, with Got7 singled out (their career had curiously been dominated by EPs rather than full-length albums, for example), leading to the thread on Reddit, ”JYP STOP SABOTAGING GOT7”. Fans were distraught that their fave septet would be no more. But, The Korea Times clarified in an editorial just three months ago that without JYPE, “this was not the end of GOT7―instead, it was a new beginning”; the group released a self-tiled EP. Even when recording new material with his band mates, Jackson Wang was forging ahead with his own carrier, concentrating on his homeland market, China. He founded Team Wang in 2017 as, first, a record label. The 28-year-old is considered to be quadrilingual—“fluent”, many say, in English, Cantonese, Mandarin, and Korean, so the plan was to establish him as an international star. His first single under Team Wang was 2019’s all-English Papillon. A year later, he released a duet with soon-to-begin-his-world-tour JJ Lin (林俊杰), the R&B-ish Should’ve Let Go.

The one print of the collection—tiger tails hidden in the profusion of peonies—that seems to draw shoppers

Team Wang Design was birthed in pandemic-high 2020, reportedly after three years of gestation. HBX, the e-store of the streetwear news site Hypebeast, describes the label, which it carries: “Wang’s vision is to align his brand with his wardrobe”. But the rapper-turned-designer is known to be partial to Fendi (although he has been associated with Armani and Adidas). He is, according to Vogue, “a Fendi muse”, and so enamoured he is with the Roman label that he even rapped about it in the track Fendiman from 2018, and urged his listeners with the plea, “call me Fendiman“. That possibly lead him to sign, a year later, with the brand as their China ambassador. Although his own label was not released until two years, he did rap in the same song, “Team Wang, label what I made”, preempting that the clothes would be on par with Fendi’s. The first collection and the core line that reflects the brand’s DNA, Cookies—The Original, comprises what are almost synonymous with streetwear: T-shirts, hoodies, blousons, trackpants, and hoodies, and all in black. The images for the launch are admittedly arresting, and are evocative of brands with European roots.

Team Wang Design, in many ways, treads the path already paved and trodden by HK-star-conceived brands such as Edison Chen’s Clot or Shawn Yu’s Madness. Celebrity multi-hyphenates are really crowding the pop/design sphere, and it would take more than references to Chinese culture, motifs and whatnot (a direction also adopted by Clot), to stand apart from the rest, or the West. The latest collection of Team Wang Design is part of another line called Sparkles. Like Cookies, the pieces would be considered staples that Mr Wang’s fans would not find challenging to accept. The brand says on their website that “pastel pink, flowers, and this season’s iconic floral design” are for “creating the perfect midsummer party”. Mudance, a play on the name of the Chinese flower mudan (牡丹花) or peony, is about enjoying oneself; is about play. Mr Wang told Vogue Thailand last month, when he was in Bangkok to shore up support for the Bangkok leg of the pop-up, “It’s summertime and summer is fun, and it’s crazy. Everybody jump (sic), and everybody needs to dance. So that’s why this collection we call it Mudance.” If the word would not excite lexicographers, the print may move graphic designers. He explained further: “It is a mixture of, of course, the mudan flower and the year of the tiger.”

The queue outside the Team Wang Design pop-up this morning

This morning, along the sidewalk between Voco Hotel and Wheelock Place, many youngsters were carrying the familiar Club 21 paper bag. Emerging from the side entrance of the renamed hotel, two teenaged girls in oversized tees and invisible shorts were each with the same carrier. We asked them if they had just visited the Team Wang Design pop-up. They froze with shyness. We told them we just wanted to know if it was any good. “Yes,” they chorused and giggled. “We came last night, but they won’t let us in. No invitation. So we try again today, lah.” Was it packed? “There is a queue,” they replied in unison, again. “The store opens at 10.30, but we were here at nine.” Your bags are full. Did you buy a lot? “Yah,” and they moved off with a gurgle of giggles

The pop-up is in an actual shop lot. Outside, two gold, metal trees (palms?) rose out of an irregular sand pit, set on a plywood floor in the colour of, well, peony. (The sand suggested the seaside and, therefore, beach wear. According to Mr Wang, it “is something I’ve always wanted to do; I’ve always wanted to do a beach pants [sic] for guys and then, a bikini for girls”.) Inside, the massive space, with just two racks of clothes, looked like it was half-dipped in pink cream. The light emerging from it cast a pale patina the shade of strawberry milkshake over the beach set-up. A queue that continued to lengthen had formed on the perimeter of the sand pit. There were mainly girls in the line. One of them was heard exclaiming, “I love this pink”, concurring with Jackson Wang, who said in the Vogue Thailand interview, “I chose pink because—honestly, personally—I’m a big fan of pink… And I just wanted to do it… I’ve always had a feeling for pink.”

Team Wang Design pop-up store is at Voco Orchard until 31 August 2022. Photos: Chin Boh Kay