No Press

Naomi Osaka has refused to meet members of the media at the French Open despite contractual obligations. Can she do the same to Louis Vuitton as the latter’s brand ambassador?

Naomi Osaka with Nicolas Ghesquière, January 2021

Japan’s biggest tennis star has spoken: she won’t speak. The news that rocked the tennis world these past few days was that Naomi Osaka has cancelled her requisite meeting with the press, citing “mental health” issues. She was insistent on sitting the press conferences out even when she was contractually obligated to fulfil her duties. As a consequence, she was fined US$15,000 by the tournament organisers. (According to Forbes, she earned US$37 million in 2019.) They also threatened to expulse her. A four-time major champion at only 23 and presently the world number two, Ms Osaka reacted to that possibility of being shut out by choosing to leave the competition midway. This would be the first time a major star, as AP notes, “walked away from a major tournament without a visible injury”. In a statement posted on Twitter, the tennis player wrote, “I think now the best thing for the tournament, the other players and my well-being is that I withdraw so that everyone can get back to focusing on the tennis going on in Paris.” She added, “I never wanted to be a distraction and I accept my timing was not ideal and my message could have been clearer. More importantly, I would never trivialize mental health or use the term lightly.”

Ms Osaka stepped out of Roland Garros to step into the spotlight that had nothing to with winning a game. That she has chosen to adopt Megan Markle’s approach of revealing her struggle with mental health issues is not surprising now that mental health has taken centre court and is what stresses famous persons or why they wouldn’t do what they do not wish to. We, too, are not trivialising mental health issues, their realness, and their prevalence, but it is apparently becoming easier to allow mental health to speak for one’s woes. Last March, in a CBS interview hosted by Oprah Winfrey, Ms Markle famously talked about suffering from depression and having suicidal thoughts while pregnant. It was a revelation. Ms Osaka’s speak-out was too. The rallying behind her “power move”, as The New York Times called it, came as quickly as it did for Ms Markle. The Guardian reported that “Japanese athletes and sponsors voice support for” her. Serena Williams, who was defeated by Ms Osaka in the controversial 2018 US Open championship, in which the former broke into what appeared to be a tantrum that cost her a point, said, “I feel for Naomi.”

We are not trivialising mental health issues, their realness and their prevalence, but it is becoming easier to allow mental health to speak for one’s woes

Will her action have far-reaching effects, even outside sports? Naomi Osaka is not only a star in the tennis world, she is also a star in the fashion world. In January, she accepted the brand ambassadorial role at Louis Vuitton. Ms Osaka appeared in LV’s spring/summer 2021 campaign photos, lensed by Nicolas Ghesquière. Some reports described Ms Osaka in those images as “perfectly incarnating the Louis Vuitton woman”. What if it was far from perfection? We do not know what is in the contract between LV and Naomi Osaka, but, as a brand ambassador, surely she has to deal with journalists too. Will she be tempted to do to LV what she did to the French Open? Or perhaps there is less impact on her mental health when she answers questions about dresses and her other love apart from tennis, fashion? And it isn’t just LV that she’s a face of. Ms Osaka is also in partnership with Nike, Comme des Garçons, Shiseido and, others, and has recently appeared as a model for Levi’s. She was also appointed co-chair of this year’s Met Gala. Will she turn down all attendant press interviews arranged for her?

Sure, being placed in the middle of a press conference is not the same as being in the centre of a tennis court, even if the pressures affecting mental health can exist on both. Curiously, no one asked if Ms Osaka’s desire to avoid the press was because she found post-match media sessions to be plain tedious. The press pack can be predatory and a player who had not performed may not be in a state of mind to take the tough questioning. Successful athletes—like successful artistes—facing the media is, for better or worse, a part of their job, but increasingly, those in the limelight do not need the press to speak to their fans or the simply curious; they have social media. So, they opt out. Or, use their platform to divert the spotlight to pet woke causes. In lauding her bravery shown at Roland Garros, we may have forgotten that Naomi Osaka is just 23 years old. She is also a member of Gen Z. And like those before her, the Millennials, she has been weaned on the believe that she can do whatever she wants, or not do. No one can tell her otherwise, not even the powers of the French Open. Or dutifully working sports journalists.

Photo: Louis Vuitton/Instagram

Take It Or Leave It

Is Jeanette Aw not keen on what she sells? Are we allowed to ask without incurring some people’s wrath?

By Pearl Goh

Ads that pop up in my social media feeds are as welcoming as my mother in my bedroom. But advertisers need to invade our digital space, just as they once did during the time between us and our television. I was minding my own business one recent stormy morning, looking at the Instagram posts of one of my favourite Malaysian food bloggers, when the above ad by the celebrity-endorsed durian-seller Golden Moments (GM) appeared somewhat impertinently. GM has, of course, similarly interrupted me before on IG, but usually with unappealing and subfuscous pictures of crack-opened durians or richly dressed gateaux that never gave me reason to dwell on. This time, it was the face of Jeanette Aw (欧萱), former full-time Mediacorp artiste and the co-host of the new food show/competition on Channel 8, Crème De La Crème (糖朝冠冕). I am usually drawn to Ms Aw, one of the most attractive actresses in the Mediacorp stable, but this time, I wasn’t sure the picture of her was stop-me-while-I-browse alluring.

In the GM durian ad (top), as well as another, I soon saw, that hawked cakes (below), Ms Aw posed with her right arm folded across her stomach. The left was held up almost vertically, with the elbow hinged on the right wrist, and the forearm forming a V with her torso. Her double-bracelet-ed left wrist was bent at the point where it met the hand. The palm was open, as if holding an imaginary platter or tray, the way a waiter in a fancy restaurant might, even when serving a bottle of water. But it wasn’t just the pose, it was the visage too: not terribly inviting nor approachable, with the lips parted, but not quite amounting to a smile. There was something haughty about her expression, a coldness too—the better to counter the heatiness of the durian? She wore what appeared to be a shift dress, with a double neck-flounce, pulled down to bare her shoulders (the right in a near-shrug), in a colour often associated with mourning. Sorry, Ms Aw, in sum, the photo seemed to tell me, take it or leave it.

Jeanette Aw does not seem to be the kind of TV star who exploits the perceived powers of those around her, but many of us cannot, of course, be sure of that

When I asked people knowledgeable of image creation and styling what they thought of this visual, no one wished to comment for fear of being hit back by Ms Aw’s watchful friends, in particular those who are in the business of offering her free personal services. Jeanette Aw does not seem to be the kind of TV star who exploits the perceived powers of those around her, but many of us cannot, of course, be sure of that. One media professional was only willing to say that the photo “is a poorly art-directed shot”, which was a little curious to me because it was reported in the news last April that the actress/film-maker was appointed Golden Moment’s “brand ambassador and creative director”. Does creative direction not supersede art direction? Or do brand owners, keen on working with stars they wouldn’t normally interface with, have the final, not necessarily informed, say?

In commenting on TV stars who are cocooned in the protective friendship of their vindictive chums, I, of course, risk being berated—that I do not know them, and, therefore, am in no position to comment, even if the TV stars put themselves out there for public consumption and for others to have an opinion about the personalities. Or, that I have no guts to say how I feel to their comely faces because only those who are spineless resort to social media platforms to express their views. The sad thing is that even people speaking in their professional capacity will be put down and shamed. Even when there is no slander, and even when it is not expressed in the same acrimony as that found in the Forum pages of Hardware Zone (I sometimes feel I need to learn another language to understand what is voiced here). Perhaps it’s okay for these keyboard warriors to upset and to provoke—without knowing the stars—if they are just any one of the Forum’s ribald denizens?

The TV stars of today are, like so many others, active on social media. Yet, there are those who hope that the rest of us, even with just-as-intense digital lives, best be cave-dwellers. Surrounded by their cronies and those who are mother hens, these celebrated artistes want visibility, but would not deal with the criticism (I am not referring to trolling) that comes with being so well placed and so unobstructed in many people’s view. You have to be on their side, always with a rah-rah attitude. They only have space in their rosy world for adoration. The captivating thing to me is how both unflattering comments on the stars and the attendant defence by their incensed defenders really suit our love for retaliation and the sensational. You may not understand the well-said by the well-qualified, but you know you can hit back as you always have, and there will always be those who’d cheer you on. It is of no significance if what is said about the stars is the prevalent, ground-level sentiment; it only matters that you don’t care.

Always amazing TV stars are no longer the faces of fashion, but food. Their awesomeness now selling anything from chee cheong fun to collagen soup, mookata to financiers. Ms Aw’s appeal to me is that she’s a fellow baker, but unlike her, I am not Le Cordon Bleu-trained and I don’t have the inclination to open a bakery. I appreciate from a distance. I do not interact with her online (or offline), even when I observe her (I resist using “follow” because that sounds too persistent, almost like stalking) through her presence online. Yes, I do not know her, as her protectors and minders will point out. I’ve never met her in my life; I never will. I only appreciate from a distance. In fact, I can’t say I am a devoted admirer, as ardent as those who start fan clubs to feel a sense of belonging. I wish her well and wish to see her do well. But I don’t dial down the urge to comment, even if they are not glowing comments. And I’m frequently writing—for release, for diversion, for fun; I’m just not writing for 8-Days.

Screengrab: Golden Moments/Instagram

Miss Universe Singapore: The Pinoy Connection

We are so starved of gowns for local beauty queens that this year, our Miss Universe had to outsource the creation of the national costume to pageant country, the Philippines

Miss Universe Singapore Bernadette Belle Wu Ong really flew Singapore’s flag high six hours ago, in Donald Trump’s post-presidency hometown Florida. The beauty contest is staged in Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, some 80 kilometres south of Mr Trump’s home and members-only resort Mar-a-Lago Club. Exactly two weeks back, when Ms Ong posted a video on Instagram, showing her proudly catwalking in Changi Airport—before departing for the US—with an SG flag floating above her head, no one had thought that she would actually wrap herself in a semblance of one on the pageant stage. Even when not clued in, no one could mistake where the inspiration for the floor-sweeping cape came from. According to the voice-over when Ms Ong was strutting her stuff during the National Costume segment, “the red represents equality for all (they were careful to omit the official description of red standing for the now-not-quite-woke ‘universal brotherhood and equality of man’) and the white symbolises everlasting virtue (skipping the unattainable ‘purity’).”

The bi-coloured piece, however, didn’t quite catch the fans’ and the pageant world’s attention as much as what was paint-written on it: “Stop Asian Hate”. This graffiti-like-text-meets-floating-rear-wrap-as-national-dress did not only express national identity, but more so the woke thoughts and convictions of the wearer. That an Asian participating in a beauty contest featuring women from different lands needed to use the platform to call attention to the ending of hostilities towards other Asians showed how political voice increasingly makes the costumes louder. As Ms Ong posted on Instagram, “What is this platform for if I can’t use it to send a strong message of resistance against prejudice and violence?” She also told Yahoo News, the pageant now “focuses more on advocacy, you as an individual, and how strong you are as a candidate through your past stories and heuristics (that should be the next ‘umbrage’!)” Or, was she just adulting?

Advocacy on our tiny island is, as we know, not really the stuff that move people, let alone mountains. No beauty queen that we can remember ever upgraded a pet cause into a cause célèbre. It is possible that because no one was willing to be co-participant in Ms Ong’s sloganeering, she had to take it to the Philippines. According to Ms Ong’s IG post, the dress was designed by her and executed by the still-in-school Filipino designer Arwin Meriales, with the oversized text painted by the cat-loving artist Paulo Espinosa. As Ms Ong wrote on IG this morning, “I reached out to Filipino designer Arwin Meriales to create a design of my own and he executed!” The reaction to that was unsurprising: how was it that the Singaporean organisers didn’t see this as potential affront to Singaporean design and attendant community? One stylist didn’t hold back when he told us, “designers here have all died.”

That Ms Ong would choose a designer from the Philippines to execute her costume is not at all surprising. She was born there. At age ten, she and her ethnic Chinese parents emigrated to our island-state. Ms Ong reportedly speaks fluent Tagalog, and still feels connected to her place of birth. To prep for Miss Universe, she went to Manila to be trained (yes, they are well-known for their “beauty boot camps”), which could explain her OTT catwalk style. Spotlighting the American-initiated plea #stopasianhate seemed to have wowed many viewers and her IG followers, bland as her actual message was. How magnificent—how maganda—seemed to be the common cheer. But whether Ms Ong as sartorial flag bearer was in itself a triumph, no one we spoke to was willing to say. Fashion folks preferred to keep mum as any criticism would be seen as directed at “not one, but two nations”, a designer told us.

We always remind ourselves that we can’t see Miss Universe gowns through the eyes of fashion. These are creations for a universe, a good way from ours. The costumes—rightly termed—are just that, but for those nations without their own traditional dress, it was often a challenge to dream one up. We have always had laughable results trying to push a Singapore dress out, and worse when we think rojak makes good baju. But even by our own grim standards for this entertaining segment of Miss Universe, the latest, oddly-sleeved outerwear is, at best, for memes. Hard it was for us to ignore how clumsily constructed the puffed sleeves were. They looked deflated, and with the gathered armhole (that appeared to be achieved with elastic bands), seemed exempt from the extra step of toile prototyping. Or how the painted text could be seen on the underside of the floaty panels—lining would have diminished the unsightliness. Ms Ong revealed on IG that the cape took two days to complete. It showed.

Arwin Meriales describes himself on his website as a “fast rising designer”, which says to us he is a relative newbie. The 21-year-old from Quezon City agreed to making the outfit for Ms Ong (it isn’t known if they are friends) despite the tight dateline (and studies in design school) because, as he posted on Facebook, it was more than a national costume that he was going to make, he would also be putting out a “STATEMENT” and “PROTEST” (yes, in caps) to halt the hatred of Asians. “Who wouldn’t want,” he asked, “to be a part of such cause?” It can be assumed that Ms Ong, who studied accounting, is an accidental designer (it isn’t known why she had to source her own pageant outfits) and Mr Meriales provided the technical support. It is easy to pin the flaccid results to the lack of time, but a maestro would be able to know what can or cannot be performed. Fellow Southeast Asian, Miss Philippines Rabiya Mateo wore a striking gown by a compatriot designer, the late Rocky Gathercole (who died in March before the outfit could be completed). The gown had near-vertical, (also) bi-coloured wings. Whatever needed to stand, stood, and stood out. If Bernadette Belle Wu Ong really required a cape to do her thing in Florida, she might have been better advised to approach Frederick Lee. No stranger to pageants, Mr Lee could have designed for her a dramatic cape, as he had produced in the past, and made it truly distend—and soar. And, as typical of the NatCos competition, camp enough.

Photos: #missuniversesg/Instagram

The Bandung Suit: Here And There

Elvin Ng wore the ombre suit at the Star Awards, so did one Kori Rae at the recent Oscars. And others even earlier

The Alexander McQueen “bandung” suit on Elvin Ng (left) and Kori Rae (right). Photos: Mediacorp and Getty Images respectively

By Ray Zhang

Many people had a go at Elvin Ng (黄俊雄) after this year’s inert Star Awards. Or, to be more specific, they bashed his inoffensive Alexander McQueen suit. The jacket, in a gradation of pink at the top to bordeaux (as the brand calls it) at the bottom was compared by many viewers, even fans, to a glass of unstirred bandung—yep, that usually too-sweet coffee-stall drink made of rose syrup and evaporated milk. Online, there was even a photographic, side-by-side show-and-tell. And that was the kinder comparison. The more wicked commentators likened the blazer to a particular sanitary plug that some women use, which Mr Ng, rather forgivingly, considered “a bit offensive”. Only affable Fairprice, in a Facebook post, saw raspberry parfait in his red-carpet look.

I do not know if Mr Ng or his stylist Darryl Yeo or both of them picked the said garment, but, frankly, I didn’t see those humorous and nasty similitudes. Maybe it’s my imagination: it isn’t so vivid. To me, he was much better attired than, say, the now-disgraced Shane Pow, who, in ill-fitting Berluti two-piece, looked like he was costumed for a K-drama in which he appeared as a bratty, wealthy scion on his first day in his father’s boardroom. Whatever those many people did notice has brought much attention to not only the garment, but the brand name too. Alexander McQueen is no Alexander Wang here. So the publicity did give the former a rather big boost.

Colour gradation on Wang Yibo (left) and Kevin Hart (right). Photos: sina.cn and Aspictures/Chloe Le Drezen respectively

Mr Ng was, however, not the first or only person in the entertainment industry to wear the ombre (also described as “gradient-effect”) jacket, part of Alexander McQueen’s spring/summer 2021 collection. The tailored garment appears to be attracting a lot of admirers. A week after his TV appearance, another person wore the same outfit, 14,112km across two oceans. In Los Angeles, Pixar producer Kori Rae attended the Oscars in identical suit (not, interestingly, the version available for women). But she took it two steps further—she included a matching shirt and tie, in case the colour effect on the jacket alone was not enough for you to think bandung, or the other thing! I was surprised she didn’t colour her hair to match. Perhaps it was the setting Californian sun, but Ms Rae’s suit did look rather saturated. Forgive me, I am thinking of what Donald Trump, if he had watched, might say!

The ombre effect of the silk-wool jacket (priced at S$6,450) is, according to the brand, an “engineered dip-dyed print”, which means that the jacket or the fabric used was not actually partially submerged into a vat of dye (which may offer the assurance of no colour run). Some people think that the pink and the red do not make a good pairing; some also said the pink is too feminine for Mr Ng, who has never really concerned himself with fashion colours and details that are thought to be binary (look at the boat-neck Prada nylon top that he wore on the Channel 8 talk show The Inner Circle [神秘嘉宾]). Following the bandung alert, some Netizens pointed out that Chinese actor and former member of Korean boy band Uniq, Wang Yibo (王一博), too, wore a McQueen bomber jacket with identical chromatic print. No one questioned Mr Wang’s fashion choice. Nor, in fact, Kevin Hart’s. The comedian/actor also wore what Elvin Ng (and Kori Rae) did for a Fashion Bomb Daily fashion editorial, his masculinity clearly not threatened by sweet, unstirred-beverage colours.

Oscars 2021: Yawwwn

Woke up early to watch the 93rd Academy Awards. Big mistake

The Oscars red carpet outside Union Station. Photo: Getty Images

By Mao Shan Wang

Let’s start by talking about the end: why like that? I sat—okay, lolled—in bed for close to five hours, from 6.30 to 11.15, only to see the ending that I did not see coming: No one went on stage to receive the Oscar! There was, therefore, no speech. The whole show just fizzled out. It was all brought to a close by the Crocs-shod musical director Questlove, who, for some reason, reminded me of tWitch of the Ellen Show. The last award, presented by the bland Joaquin Phoenix, was for Best Actor and it went to Anthony Hopkins. The Sir didn’t show up (not anywhere else in the world either) and that was that! Show was over. Credits rolled. Television sets ready to be turned off. My breakfast of chashaobao still not eaten.

The traditional order in which the categories were presented was jumbled. Best Picture was not reserved for the last. The Best Actor and Actress categories were. And the no-show winner left the stage empty. Rousing! Sure, we’ve all been told before that this would be a different Academy Awards night, to be presented “like a film”. Well, there was the cinematic aspect ratio on my TV screen, but it surely didn’t unfold like a movie. Everything had to be kept small, including the attendance, and so controlled, that the show, like a movie, was very, very scripted, except the winners’ speeches. And it was very, very, dull—just like the game that was played as entertainment, half-way through: the one that had Glenn Close appear to be utterly with-it. Seriously, I did not want to see Ms Close, curiously dressed in what could be a Punjabi suit (Giorgio Armani, no less), twerk to Da Butt!

Regina King opening the show. Photo: ABC

One thing I have to say: Both the Star Awards and the Academy Awards have one thing in common: they were held in transport hubs: The Star Awards at Changi Airport Terminal 4 and the Academy Awards in Union Station in Los Angeles, a change from the usual Dolby Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard, where the show had been staged and televised from for the last 20 years. The 73-year-old Union Station is “the Sistine Chapel of railway stations in America”, Tom Savio of the Los Angeles Union Station Historical Society told the BBC. The 1982 film Blade Runner was shot here, in addition to more than other 150 films. It has become legendary, which, perhaps, made it suitable as an Oscars venue. The set decorators kept somewhat to the part-Art Deco and part-mission revival styles of Union Station, converting the Historic Ticketing Hall and the Grand Waiting Room into a nightclub, as if where an old Hollywood-era musical number might be staged. A train station, for one night, didn’t look like one, but, a week ago, on our island, for one award night, an airport certainly looked like the passenger terminal it is.

But in a pandemic year, must award nights be so sluggish? Sure, it hasn’t been a show-biz-as-usual year for this award season, but, despite its IRL production (thankfully, no Zoom acceptance appearances and speeches), the presentation wasn’t exactly celebratory. I get it. It’s still a pandemic year, still post-BLM and the George Floyd court case has just concluded amid more police shootings, and, for many, the Oscars is still not inclusive enough. Entertainment no longer in the picture, causes close to the heart are. Regina King, who got the show going in probably the best gown of the night by Louis Vuitton, set the tone when she made references to the verdict in Minneapolis, and if it had been diametrically so, “I would have traded my heels for marching boots”. Were nominees and attendees, therefore, looking out for lapses in inclusivity and justice? Is it a wonder that viewership of the Oscars this year was reported to be at an “all-time low”?

Oscars 2021 Red Carpet: Yawwwn

The skin-baring and the over-fluffy: (from left) Andra Day, Zendaya, Laura Dern. Photo: Getty Images

Asian aesthetic on the red carpet: Chloé Zhao’s village girl look. Photo: Getty Images

“This is Hollywood’s Christmas,” Angela Bassett, confident in red Alberta Ferretti and sleeves that could be props from Raise the Red Lantern, had said earlier, outside the red carpet/arrival “pre-show”. But, thankfully, few came noticeably as Christmas trees. Rather, in their post-pandemic, post-jogger-bottom best. Both Andra Day (in Vera Wang) and Zendaya (in Valentino Couture) showed us how to be mask-free for the waist. Laura Dern took the modest route, wearing Oscar de la Renta ostrich feathers, while looking like the bird. Her pal Reese Witherspoon decided to give her red prom-night dress (Dior. Did she pick the belt from Walmart on the way to Union Station?) another run. Or was that her old bridesmaid gown? Conversely, Olivia Coleman, who also wore a red Dior and a belt, looked far much more pulled-together and stylish. Carey Mulligan seemed to be telling us that when she went to Valentino (Couture), they were very happy: They found someone to use their dead-stock fabric on. What, to me, was palpably absent was the gathering of fashion heavyweights. There was no Nicole Kidman, no Thilda Swinton, no Cate Blanchett. This has been one Oscars confectionary that not only didn’t rise, it was missing the frosting.

In the end, it was really Chloé Zhao that really killed it for me. Ms Zhao may have won for Asians and women directors in Hollywood with her two awards, but her sartorial choice was no victory for fashion. Even Hermès was limited in their powers to make her look polished. Yes, I know her trademark look is fashion-free, but this was the “casual-is-really-not”-cool Oscars. She could have tried; she could have left the sneakers (Hermès too, so what?) at home (even if she was taking the subway) and she could have worn some makeup (even if she was going to a train station), but somehow, she couldn’t shake off her 村女之美 (cunnu zhimei) village lass beauty and those barnyard ponytails. She told Vanity Fair last year, when asked about her hair, “I haven’t been to the hair salon in five years”. Enough said.

Fairprice Compares

The supermarket chain, like so many of us, weighed in

The last organisation we’d imagine to join the commentary on the fashions of Star Awards is Fairprice. Who’d guess that straight-laced NTUC—as many still prefer to call it—could be this visually tongue-in-cheek. On Facebook and Instagram, they compared the outfits worn by Elvin Ng (黄俊雄), Chantelle Ng ( (黄暄婷, unrelated), and Joel Choo (朱哲伟) to foods—dessert, pastry, and beverage respectively. Totally palatable humour for mass consumption, as opposed to the snarky comments appearing on social media, such as the annual bashing by former supervising editor at Channel News Asia Phin Wong, whose followers gleefully praise, “always gets it right” (his post seemed to have been deleted), and “always hungry, always bitchy” Dennis Lim whose Fashun Armageddon 2021 album (wittily called 红星大讲 or star talk) on Facebook gave the Star Awards a flaming roast.

For Elvin Ng, being compared to a raspberry parfait probably allowed him to sigh in relief after others distastefully linked his Alexander McQueen suit to a tampon. Chantelle Ng’s confection of a gown by bridal wear designer Jessicacindy was predisposed to be a food meme, so she, too, must have been delighted that her dress was likened to what Krispy Kreme offers, rather than considered inspiration for ex-Mediacorp radio darlings Daniel Ong and Jamie Yeo’s former bake shop Twelve Cupcakes. The colour of Joel Choo’s ultra-relaxed Zegna suit was seen to be similar to teh C peng (iced milk tea) instead of teh kor underpants, as trended. So happy he was with the association that the son of veteran actor Zhu Houren asked Fairprice on FB, “please send over 1 month’s supply of kopi peng!” You guessed it: crowd pleaser Fairprice cleverly obliged.

Screen grab: NTUC Fairprice/Facebook

The Blah Awards

Did Changi Airport and Jewel make for a better Star Awards show?

By Mao Shan Wang

This year’s Star Awards. (红星大奖) was supposed to soar, but it seemed to have gone as high as a paper plane could. Broadcast live yesterday from Changi Airport T4 and Jewel, the show felt like a bird in a wrong tree. Only here on our island is where an airport is also a leisure site. Or, an entertainment broadcast point. But, hard as I tried, I could not fathom why an airport terminal is an ideal location for an award ceremony that the stars decribed as 盛大 (shengda or grand). Would the Chingay be there next? National Day Parade? Or was T4 designed to be so admirably adaptable that it could be passenger building, vaccination centre and award ceremony venue? Or was this Mediacorp’s interpretation of using SingapoRediscovers Vouchers, while Changi Airport and Singapore Airlines was in enthusiastic marketing mode, in case we have forgotten about them?

It must have been hard for the attendees and the nominees appearing on the unmissable red carpet. I, of course, speculate since I wasn’t there, neither, in all likelihood, were you. But you and I can imagine. First, there was the weather. I live in the east, so I experienced what the attendees and participants must have had. It was blazing hot in the morning, which kept everything dry, but toasted the tarmac. Then the sky turned grey after noon, not the expectant grey of storm clouds, but the hoary expanse that just makes everything below muggy and so unfavorable to an afternoon of red carpet arrivals at the airport. You did not have to be in the stars’ shoes. If you had covered the anterior Jurassic Mile in such a day, you would not know what I mean.

Red-carpet hosts Desmond Ng, Vivian Lai, Lee Teng at the driveway of T4

Then there was the red carpet—not one but two! First encounter was a stretch on the driveway of the entrance to the departure hall and another, ridiculous as it was, on the airport apron, with SIA aircraft as backdrop. Not everyone got to walk in the front and the rear. You needed be a top star to be granted both. Or not either (Fann Wong and Jeanette Aw! Why were they exceptional, I wondered). All of them (those who mattered, anyway) did arrive on the driveway (which I only now realised is red asphalt—already a red ‘carpet’), but some did not alight kerbside. Zoe Tay suddenly appeared, with the top end of the red carpet behind her, with no car in sight, and with no companion. Did she take a bus? I hope not. Wearing a strapless, massive bow-front Caroline Herrera gown with a train, she gamely walked a considerable distance to the first of two platforms to be interviewed. No one was on hand to be chivalrous and to help her up the three-step platform, not even those around to open car doors for other stars. Her steady climb prompted host Lee Teng to say that Ah Jie “真的很有风范,完全是国际巨星的范儿—really has an air of stylishness, and it’s totally in the style of international superstars.”

Other luckier ones were allowed to alight closer to the two stages. I guess I have to count myself lucky too; I have never in my travelling life seen anyone in gowns and tuxedos dropped off at the entrance of an airport—not in Heathrow, not Charles de Gaulle, not Malpensa, not Pudong, not Narita, not JFK, not even LAX! It is fascinating—and horrifying—to see these stars navigate the red carpet in evening wear and towering heels that they get to wear only once a year (or, once since 2019, the year of the last Star Awards broadcast). But not everyone received the same memo. Some, I saw, were dressed as if they were attending a gala, some a wedding, others to perform on a getai, and one, to some debauchery involving paying customers. There were those who treated the event as the Oscars (or perhaps the Golden Horse Awards) and those who imagined it was the Grammys. What was really there on the driveway? Frankly, I don’t know what to call it.

Stars being interviewed on stage that overlooks Airport Boulevard

Star Awards is always touted as Mediacorp’s most glamorous event, but it has always been just a razzle-dazzle. No substance—this year especially. Right from the start, the union of Star Awards and Changi T4 was awkward and, as it turned out, not gratifyingly rewarding. We have so few events here that allow us to look at strikingly attired individuals who are more physically blessed than you and I are that we always fall for Star Awards (other annual events, such as the Tatler and Prestige balls are closed-door events). But when you have to take in the familiar airport locations—two boarding gates and a spot in the long departure lounge—in which the stars try to appear star-like, while socially distanced and their movement thwarted, you’ll be wondering when you can travel again, not who’d win what. Frankly, I struggled to reconcile gowns and airport lounge chairs.

What I was more at pains with was making sense of the pre-recorded runway performance earlier, on the airport apron that no regular passenger would have the privilege to prance on. Some selected (kena-arrowed?) stars were doing what has been described to me as a fashion show, right before a parked plane—an SIA Airbus A350-900. (Who could have guessed Mediacorp was out to beat two Karl Lagerfeld-era Chanel shows?!) Many of them would normally struggle to walk on an actual runway, but there they were, performing on the red-carpeted tarmac as if it was the most natural thing for them to do or part of their job description. Even former model Zoe Tay looked uncomfortable and embarrassed. Desmond Tan, in Alexander McQueen, appeared as if he was there against his will. Only Ian Fang, in Beng mode of his own design (did he don the same suit as the one worn in the 2019 Star Awards?) and the likely-borrowed-from-the-missus Chanel brooch, strutted as if he was already an award winner.

Two major stars Zoe Tay (top) and Desmond Tan performed before an SIA plane

For quite a few actresses, homage was paid to the Hollywood tape. Since so many gowns curiously did not perfectly fit, it was left to the sticky wonders of the double-sided adhesive to secure the edges of plunging necklines. No wardrobe malfunction for a conservative audience that we are. Only high slits on skirts were allowed to gape. One leg exposed, but with the thigh obscured by unsightly shorts. Vivian Lai was devious enough to wear, under the bustier-dress by Australian designer Alex Perry, a skin-coloured pair that was so close to the skin tone of her limbs that army boys in the coffee shop near my home, I heard, were cheering her on whenever she appeared as they viewed the show on their smartphones. Luckily she wasn’t in the running for the Top Ten Most Popular Female Artistes award. She’d pale in comparison to poor Ann Kok, whose Dolce and Gabbana gown seemed uncompleted due to insufficient fabric for the top left. But I suspected Ms Kok was most agreeable to exposing one side of her corset for all to appreciate.

It is sad and disappointing to me that after 26 years of the Star Awards (not counting last year’s hiatus), we are still witnessing attendees unable to understand what is dressing suitably for a special occasion, without looking like they were wearing yet another costume or blindly accepting the recommendation of their over-eager-to-make-a-fashion-statement stylists. Or, to make it easier for all the hosts to stick to the only two descriptions they know, year in, year out: 公主 (gongzhu or princess) or 女神 (nushen or goddess). Once again, it takes foreign artistes, invited to present, to show us how devoid of style many of our stars are: Gigi Leung in a sleek column with metallic bodice, Sandra Ng in an asymmetric dress and a half-cape, and Ella Chen in a gold long-sleeved gown. They wore the clothes, not, as the still-true cliche goes, the other way round.

😓😓😓😓😓

Screen grabs: Mediacorp/YouTube

Who Is Duan Mei Yue?

The model who was unhappy with the delineation of her by a local artist had dreams to land on the cover of Vogue Italia

Our own illustrated likeness of Duan Mei Yue, done, we admit, without her permission. This serves as illustration to this post only, and will not not be used commercially

Warning: this post contains language that some readers might find offensive

Full-time model Duan Mei Yue (段美玥) is trending, but not for a breakthrough runway show or an outstanding magazine cover we usually associate with models who receive ardent media attention. Rather, she’s been making the news for being deeply unhappy with some graphite and acrylic drawings by local artist Allison M Low called Weight of Longing that were discernibly based on a photograph posted on Instagram in February 2018. This photo, shot by professional lensman Li Wanjie, was allegedly used to create a “likeness” without Ms Duan’s expressed approval. (Just because images on social media are posted for all, does it mean they are free for all?) When she discovered that the drawings appeared as a chipped cut-out on the floor of the Love, Bonito store in Funan and, later, on the cover of author Amanda Lee Koe’s award-winning Ministry of Moral Panic, she was livid and so affected that she felt “very violated knowing that someone has profited off my likeness without my knowing or consent,” according to a post on Instagram Stories nine weeks ago. The distress, as she told it (too aggrieved to punctuate properly), wrecked her life—“how can i sleep at night”, “how do i function as per usual”, “how do i not let this affect me”.

Ms Duan’s anguish is understandable. Although she is a model, she did not model for Ms Low. Nor, was she paid by the artist as a model in abstentia. To see photos of her lopped-off face crowned by a head tie and positioned on the floor of Love, Bonito, also a community centre of sort, even under the guise of art, must have been too hard to stomach. It is not difficult to see why she was upset to be placed on that level. But, at Love, Bonito, it seemed to her that the artist was remunerated for the work that was used not only as art-prop, but also as visual for pendants and on tote bags. This could have been a revenue stream for her too, rather than just the artist’s. It isn’t known how much Love, Bonito paid Ms Low for the work (or Empigram Books, publisher of Ministry of Moral Panic), but it was reported that the artist, a Temasek Polytechnic School of Design graduate, made €1,875 (about S$3,000) from a sale of another art piece with Ms Duan’s likeness through an identified gallery. For one who professed that she has “a spending problem”, and “don’t have millions of dollars behind (her) name”, this lost income was, unsurprisingly, maddening. On IG Stories, she proclaimed “i’d be ok with this if it was done after i leave this existence but when i’m still alive and broke? no thank u”. In addition, she declared: “i have no money for a fucking lawyer”.

Interestingly, Ms Duan, who deprecatingly calls herself “just an awkward noodle” and has no problem identifying as “this dumb hoe”, loves to draw, and had often posted her amusing output on social media (on IG alone, she has, to-date, 55.1k followers) when she was still doing her A levels and not modelling full-time yet. Most of them, similar to her likeness in question, were of faces. Whether they were a figment of her imagination or based on photographs, she did not say. But they were expressed, including the self-portraits, in a sometimes quirky manner, not unlike the Arien herself. She said on IG, “im really relatable and im very honest with my vulnerability n flaws”. It is the honesty, perhaps, that led her to confess in her earliest post, that she “fucking love cats”. Ms Duan has a weakness for the F-word: “best fucking strawberry marshmallows” or “dramafest and photography camp made me so fucking happy” (just two of the many examples), but unlike, say, influencer Wendy Cheng (aka Xia Xue), who uses the four letters as cuss word, Ms Duan tends to employ them as adverb and adjective, and possibly also as indicator that she has crossed into adulthood. One expresses irritation, the other, delight.

The works of art that “violated” Duan Mei Yue: (clockwise from left) cover of book by Amanda Lee Koe, the drawing by Allison M Low, and the chipped piece on the floor of Love, Bonito (also by Ms Low). Photos: Epigram Books, Retrospect Galleries, and Allison M Low/Instagram respectively

She is candid and tells it like it is, which for her followers, is her charm and her pull. Accompanying a photo she posted in November 2017 to be used as a profile picture, Ms Duan wrote, with, again, scant regard to punctuation—and, now, propriety, “i’ll let you guys in on a secret; i photoshopped my armpits bc it’s so wrinkly it looks like a vagina”. Her “vagpit” reference prompted 1,862 likes and 54 comments, of which 24 were variations of “the most beautiful”, with one, calling her “仙女本人” (xian nu ben ren or the fairy herself). Her fans rave about her looks, but she is not considered conventional beauty, a point Ms Duan acknowledges. In 2019, she told the Shanghai media, “我从外貌来看就很少归类为传统模特” (wo cong wai mao lai kan jiu hen shao gui lei wei chuan tong mo te or “from my appearance, I am rarely classified as a traditional model”). But this non-traditional look is possibly why the casting agents in the West have been interested in her—she fits the Western perception of eastern beauty and exotica.

On her face, she has what the Chinese would call “丹凤眼” (dan feng yan or red phoenix eyes, referring to almond-shaped peepers with outer corners inclined upwards). Her eyes are set rather apart, creating a wide glabella that make-up artists don’t necessarily know what to do with. “You can’t shade that area,” one seasoned pro told us. “She also has a lot of space between the upper eyelid and the brow, which may require a lot of colour”. In a commentary on China’s Sohu (搜狐), Ms Duan was described to have “塌鼻梁圆鼻头” (ta bi liang yuan bi tou or collapsed bridge, round nose), which the writer acknowledged to be “颠覆了国际超模的直挺范儿” (dian fu le guo ji chao mo de zhi ting fan er or subverting the straightforward styles of international supermodels). And those full lips, not seen since Ethel Fong. In sum, her facial features may post a challenge to her creative partners, but most fashion stylists generally say she is fun to work with, as “she has character”. There’s a campy side to her too. In one IG post, she lip-synced delightfully to Olivia Newton-John’s Hopelessly Devoted to You!

Duan Mei Yue, now 22, started modelling full-time in 2017 after completing her A-Levels (if modelling didn’t work out, she would have considered psychology in university), but had earlier already wanted to be a model after discounting the possibility of being a fashion designer. She told Female magazine in 2018 that “K-pop and anime were part of my motivation to become a model. I saw how the K-pop idols I obsessed over at that time walked Seoul Fashion Week and they were invited to various fashion shows during the fashion week circuit in Europe and New York so I thought maybe I should become a model to meet them lol”. And ultimately, to be on the cover of Vogue Italia. She also told Cleo in 2019, “I started when I realised that I needed to express my love for aesthetics and fashion”. She has, so far, walked the runways of Shanghai, Seoul, Tokyo, New York, and Paris, but was conspicuously absent at the biggest fashion show of the year on our island: last week’s Louis Vuitton presentation, when the “bigger” star at the moment, Yong Kai Gin, had her SG moment in the klieg lights—and the rain.

Ms Duan gives the impression that there were many artists, professionals or amateurs, who desired to draw her face. On IG Stories, she wrote, “every other artists (sic) has either properly compensated me or has agreed to stop the selling and apologised sincerely”. Perhaps, it is true: Her unusual features are more interesting to artists than standard symmetry or placid perfection. That Allison M Low, herself considered a “looker”, chose that fated picture, one that would have been a weak shot for casting agents, is telling of the appeal of Ms Duan’s off-kilter looks. In her response to the controversy, Ms Low told The Sunday Times that “the artworks… were about the strength and grace in women…” but while there seems to be tremendous strength on both sides (and among their respective supporters), there has not been a palpable sense of grace, as the war wages online. As one marketing manager said to us, “Duan Mei Yue has grown-up. The modelling around the world has opened her eyes.” When that photo was shared on the model’s IG page on 18 Feb 2018, this was her comment (and we’re quoting verbatim): “grey eyes from @ttd_eye queen grey go spend some of dat angpao moneys and get yoself some cool grey eyes with a cool discount by using my code “dmeiyue” ✨ portrait by @uuanjie as usual hehe makeup done by moi :*” That girl is no more.

Illustration and collage: Just So

Oscars Producers: Casual Clothes “Are Really Not” Allowed

A reminder to nominees and attendees, in case anyone turns up in sweats

Oscar at the Oscars. Too casual? Illustration: Xiu Xian

By Mao Shan Wang

You know times have changed when the producers of this year’s Oscars presentation need to send nominees and attendees a letter to remind them to dress to the nines. As reported in the press around the globe, the letter stated that the organisers aimed “for a fusion of inspirational and aspirational, which in actual words means formal is totally cool if you want to go there, but casual is really not.” Wah, Hollywood stars have to be reminded to dress up even when there is clearly an occasion to. Is that like being told to get vaccinated? Or has the pandemic made even the Academy Awards show so unappealing that there might be those tempted to attend the glitzy presentation in their home clothes or without the services of a stylist? Or, as the epitome of luxury bagginess?

It’s hilarious to think about Oscars dress code. The award ceremony is represented by a bald man so in love with extreme casual, he has chosen to remain and appear as if the whole of Hollywood should be a nudist colony, but for the people attending the event to be flanked by him and, for a lucky few, to hold his cold, hard, naked body, they have to be served a reminder to ensure that their attire for the evening can be described as—er, what’s the opposite of casual? There is yet more reason to keep France’s petite mains gainfully employed, in particular during lockdown.

If the world’s fashion media is to be believed, we have been living and working, for the past year, in sweats—the clothes, not the perspiration, although anyone who lives on the equator knows that one tends to lead to the other. It is unthinkable that even for one of the world’s most glamorous event in Los Angeles, attendees are not inclined to make an appointment with their designer friends or their regular tailor, both I do not have, but if invited, would. Do Oscars producers really think the stars would pull out any old rag from their wardrobe? Or do I think too well of those with an awardable movie career?

If the likes of Carey Mulligan and Frances McDormand, both this year’s nominees for Best Actress, need to be made aware to dress in their glittery finest, where does that leave Mediacorp actors attending the Star Awards next month? Or has Mediacorp, in their excitement, already issued their demand? Both thoughts make me quiver.

Millennials Made Gucci

At the Grammy Awards, Billie Eilish and Harry Styles surprised no one when they turned up in full Gucci, illustrating, again, boys and girls their age group love the flashy Italian brand

Billie Eilish and Harry Styles in unmistakable Gucci outfits. Photos: Getty Images

The head-to-toe look is the to way dress among many of today’s young pop stars. And dedication to a single brand is the ideal. The easiest way to be camera-ready, we suppose. Just look at two of the biggest entertainers at the recent Grammys: Billie Eilish and the dress wearer Harry Styles. They were both outfitted by Gucci, down to, in the case of Ms Eilish, the bucket hat, face mask, and fingerless gloves, and, in the case of Mr Styles, the Mae West-worthy feather boa. It was as if they had turned over the entire exercise of dressing to a fashion house. Their own wardrobes non-existent, or redundant. Of course, most stars don’t look at their existing armoire anymore. They go with what fashion houses present to them, and if the final look is missing something—anything, there’s always the atelier’s sewers to custom-make. If they can sew a dress, they can sew a face mask. It’s all—as you can see (or maybe not)—very orchestrated.

This sounds very much like how they managed movie stars during the heydays of Hollywood. Only now, the current stars aren’t told how they are to be styled, or how to behave, or who to be seen with that is deemed suitable. The more anti-whatever they look, the better. And even more preferable, be linked to a brand (or a few). Bring your own take to how the sponsor wants you to look, it says to us. Billie Eilish certainly has. Until she dons Gucci the way she has been, no one thought the brand once associated with extreme sexiness under Tom Ford’s watch could be so bo chap baggy. She is not, as far as we’re aware, Gucci’s brand ambassador, unlike Harry Styles. She has more aesthetic room to navigate. Mr Styles is a Gucci model, appearing in their ads and video presentations; he is expected to embrace the brand wholesale, with a tad of pop-star insouciance.

…the pair helps Gucci appear as a label that’s “celebrity-approved”

Expectedly, their followers too. It is debatable if Mr Styles and Ms Eilish are leading the pack or wearing what others of their generation are wearing. Interestingly, if you combine, as we had, the first and second parts of their family names respectively, you would get “Stylish”. That’s enough to automatically grant them the upper hand as leaders than followers. To the many young fans who are enamoured with Gucci and can only feel confident—or validated—when they wear the label on their backs (or on their chest), the pair helps Gucci appear as a label that’s “celebrity-approved”, a marketing advantage and a sure crowd-puller. Together with their fans and followers, the Stylish stars have made Gucci the bubbling brand of the millennials, a group the Financial Times identified in 2018 as “the world’s most powerful consumers.”

Although Gucci reported a drop in global sales during their earnings report in February, they have, in fact, enjoyed startling growth for years and had been the growth accelerator of parent company Kering. Annual revenues reported in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic, was an impressive 10 billion euros. Their success has been linked to how appealing Gucci is to millennial consumers, under 35. Technology that resonates with this savvy group (as well as teaming up with digital games such as Zepeto) is part of their multi-prong strategy. The products, across categories, are calibrated to offer millennials born-again retro looks that are new to them, as well as the chances to experience what they could not ever have: past goofiness transmuted as present geekiness. The whole visual context of Gucci is companionably banal. To better suit the phenomenon and practice—sharing, and to fabulously costume colourful online life.

Tantrum On Full Display

Malaysian celebrity/influencer Cathryn Li made a sudden, heated departure during a Facebook Live session when she felt she was attacked by Netizens. Is storming out becoming a social trend?

First there was Piers Morgan, just a day ago. Mr Morgan, co-host of ITV’s Good Morning Britain show, was criticised by others on the broadcast he has been synonymous with, for his caustic comments on Meghan Markle’s allegations—during the recent Oprah Winfrey interview—that he thought to be spurious. He didn’t like what his colleague said (or was unable to fire back), so he upped and left. Now, closer to home, is Malaysian influencer/classical pianist/actress Cathryn Li’s (李元玲) departing in a huff (above), right in the middle of a Facebook Live session. She had been asked to play the piano and to jam along with the hosts. Those who tuned in didn’t think she played well and said so. She was not able to stomach the comments and got up and stomped off; her anger palpable and audible throughout her extended departure, leaving no doubt that she was truly offended.

Ms Li, who describes herself as “an ordinary girl” but is no stranger to controversy, had appeared as a special guest on the two-hour-forty-minute (Ms Markle’s interview was, a measly two hours!) live recording of the sixth episode of 正面交锋 (zhengmian jiaofeng) or FaceTalk, hosted by music producer and founder of Butterfly Entertainment, Andy Chan, and his music pals Fandi Foo and Zax Lee. FaceTalk is dubbed as “all about life’s bullshit and tell it out (sic)”. Broadcast in (Malaysian) Cantonese, it is essentially a web chat show with music thrown in, as the hosts sing and play their favourite songs. It seemed that Ms Li was not informed, prior to her appearance, that she would be asked to perform on the keyboard or to sing. She did say that she would need practice. Still, she was game enough to play when asked a second time. Things took a turn for the unpleasant when she opted out of playing to be audience and started paying attention to her phone (an insolent prelude to the impending fit?) and to the comments of her posted online. Some viewers clearly were not impressed by Ms Li’s performance of pop music and unsympathetically expressed their disappointment. She was seen deeply affected.

For her web appearance, Cathryn Li wore a seen-before-in-IG, dusty-pink, lace half-half number—dress in the front and romper in the back—that left her ample assets little to the imagination. The ruffled armhole appeared to be way too large for her: throughout much of her appearance on the show, she was seen adjusting the straps, even when in a state of mounting annoyance. Although it could be the ruffles irritating her skin, it did appear that she was pulling her straps up and backwards, so that the bust of the dress would not slip south. Ms Li is, of course, known for her preference of skimpy clothing. Her Instagram photos, which include one of her as Wonder Woman(!), could be seen as material for men’s onanistic delight. There’s a ditziness to her persona, affirmed by inane messages, such as “星星在天上,你在我心里” (“the stars are in the sky, you are in my heart”). What Ms Li, who believes that size “M = Fat” and “anything above M is as sinful as obesity”, wore on FaceTalk was consistent with her taste, if seen through just IG alone (presently, 1.9 million followers). At some point during the show, the microphone (on a stand) was repositioned so that Ms Li was not speaking too closely to it, but in the new spot, the mic cast a strangely phallic shadow on her cleavage, playing up the fantasy of her as the lubricious “Piano Goddess” (钢琴女神).

The show—admittedly an over-long interview that was, at best, trite) started well enough. Ms Li was cutely amicable. She even said, to the amusement of viewers, that she wants to be the “first female Asian weightlifter” who models rather than compete. Her “goal”, in doing so, is to “inspire women to take up weightlifting as a sport, and not to consider themselves as weaklings, who need protection, who leave the heavy-lifting to men.” That galvanising of strength soon whittled when she showed that she was not strong enough to take on her critics or haters. “Everyone is scolding me,” she yell-lamented in her choppy Cantonese. “I didn’t come here to be scolded,” her voice close to choking with tears. “I didn’t know I have to play the piano,” she insisted. “You guys didn’t tell me to prepare.” Throughout her outburst, she kept repeating, in English, that she’s “just a classical pianist”, and, emphatically, “not a keyboardist.” That distinction is important. Ms Li has a masters degree in piano from the Birmingham Conservatory of Music. It is said that she took further professional guidance from Li Yundi in summer residencies of sort. It was also reported that Ms Li was discovered by Fan Bingbing’s (范冰冰) assistant, which led her to roles in some (forgettable) Hong Kong movies.

After she marched off the performance area of FaceTalk, Ms Li returned to confront the three hosts in a hissy fit. The men had repeatedly placated her by saying that there were also many viewers who had praised her twinkling of the keys. They went as far as to say that, in fact, they played poorly, and could not catch up with her. But Ms Li would not have any of that. She had to blame someone for the criticisms levelled at her and the visible rage that followed. The three guys were now as culpable as anyone else. She asserted, “If you guys didn’t sing, there won’t be any problems.” By now, she was allowing her short hybrid outfit to be in full, front-centre view. Ms Li was dressed for an occasion, if not for a web performance. But rage has cut off her awareness of self and dress. As she clamoured confrontationally, with her arms flailing, a perceptible side boob became the veritable side show.

Storming off during an interview that is being recorded is, of course, nothing new or terribly shocking. Hollywood actors have done it, pop and rock stars have done it, even presidents have done it. Now, journalists do it to other journalists. It seems that, in our increasingly fracturable society, there are those who become so emotionally fragile that they, even as guest, would abruptly and angrily walking out of a video recording as the only way to express their anger at situations and reactions that can’t be controlled during a live, one-take session or streaming. However acceptable the behaviour, it’s hard to see it as becoming. Cathryn Li, despite her ‘classical’ training in music and ballet, and a weakness for the delicacy of lace, let herself go to cavort with the terrible twins, temper and tantrum. And very quickly forsaken grace for disgrace.

Screen grabs:  正面交鋒 FaceTalk/Facebook

Black She Wore

For her interview with Oprah Winfrey, Meghan Markle looked like she was mourning

Meghan Markle was well aware of what she was going to tell Oprah Winfrey in the most touted celebrity interview so far this year. Her tell-it-like-it-is would be so explosive that her words were all she needed to make an impact—no resplendent, In Style-worthy outfit required. So, she wore a matte-black, silk georgette, wrap-dress by Giorgio Armani that did not stand out against the set-like manicured garden of a third-party residence, where the televised chat took place. As she was seated on a patio chair—her back propped up by a large white cushion—throughout the time in front of Ms Winfrey—in Brunello Cucinelli, we could not really see the dress in its entirety. On the right shoulder, some abstract, white, leaf-like motif (reportedly a “botanical print” of lotus flowers) cascaded down to her right antenatal bosom. The not-too-plunging V-neck of the dress framed a small insignificant pendant. On her left wrist, what appeared to be a trio of skinny bracelets, one of them—a Cartier—reportedly belonged to Princess Diana. On her feet, pointed-toe stilettos, once popular among the secretarial profession. The styling was deliberately gloomy.

The Duchess of Sussex wore her hair centre-parted, pulled back to what appeared to be a low chignon. The do—face-framing fringe—looked self-styled, as if she used barbeque tongs instead of curling tongs. Her make-up was for lunch at a burger joint: actress-off-duty smokey eyes, cheeks—in her case, typically—over-rouged, and lips, deliberately not red, so that her words won’t come out flippant, and to better suit the glum she was radiating. It was, of course, going to be serious and she needed to look the part. She was not on Ellen’s set. Cheeriness was not required. The moment you tuned in, you might have thought she was at an appointment with her gynecologist, not a session with the most famous talk show host on our planet. For an IRL appearance on reality TV, Meghan Markle would have benefitted with a tip from one of the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. But, when one is going to put up an affront to the most-known and watched royal families in the world, one would need to look like happiness has dissipated, even if conjugal well-being is intact.

The choice of attire was, therefore, crucial. The outfit needed to underscore her distress, her pain, and her conflicts, but not her anger

When it comes to Ms Markle, it’s hard not to stand on one of divided sides. Was her TV performance-as-discourse noble or vile? The litany of her woes since joining the British royal household—her struggles with the in-laws, the British media (tabloid press in particular) and their criticism of her, and her fashion choices—culminated in the opening up to Ms Winfrey. Was this one-sided account to set the record straight or to air grievances? Or both? The choice of attire was, therefore, crucial. The outfit needed to underscore her distress, her pain, and her conflicts, but not her anger. Black—dead foliage aside—symbolises eternal struggle that seems to characterise her role as a royal, and contrasts with the white of her wedding dress, which might have meant a new, strife-free beginning. Black also relates to racism, an issue that has, as revealed in the interview, affected the Duke and the Duchess deeply. It is connected to mental health and, in the attendant darkness that Ms Markle claimed consumed her, the contemplation of devastating self-harm. No other colour would be as suitable as black, never mind if the wearer could look dour in it, or pity-arousing.

Her colour choice for a global TV appearance may be spot on, but it is hard to say if her incendiary revelations were just as good a decision. Ms Markle is American and an actress schooled in the candidly communicative ways of Hollywood in the post-#metoo era. She told Oprah that during her time in the UK, “there was no class on how to speak and how to cross your legs,” yet she was eager to open up, legs well-placed, about her grievous distress. It is unsurprising and is exemplar of the reason why American talk shows have no shortage of guests wanting to feel how “liberating” it is to “talk”, as Ms Markle put it to Oprah. But, a royal family is not the Kardashians. Members of the monarchy need no such scandalous, press-ready “bombshell” exposure. Or, frankly, any family. Meghan Markle may be wearing a clean dress for her appearance with Oprah Winfrey, but the laundry she aired was what so many could see as dirty. Yes, that’s a conservative stance, but, in this generation of easy exposé, aberrant nosiness, and talk show as psychiatric clinic, the less we lay open our discontent or disappointment publicly and sensationally, the less we divide those around us, familial and societal. Black or not, in black or other.

Screen grab: Harpo Productions/CBS