AGN At ACM (Part II)

Andrew Gn has always been proud of his Singaporean roots. Despite having spent about only two decades of his life here, his home island still holds tremendous stories and considerable influence in his professional capacity away from our city

Andrew Gn : Fashioning Singapore and the World, the Asian Civilisations Museum’s (ACM) current special exhibition, shows the Singaporean designer at the height of his 28-year career. Welcoming visitors to the exhibition in part one of three are twenty seven outfits (excluding two gowns housed in a glassed cabinet under a stairway by the main entrance of the museum) worn by international celebrities such as Lady Gaga and Beyoncé, as well as royalty such as Princess Alessandra of Hanover and Crown Princess of Mette-Marit of Norway. Cut to May 2023: At the Buckingham Palace reception after the coronation of King Charles III, Crown Princess Mary of Denmark wore a dress from the maison of Andrew Gn. ACM opens the retrospective with the dresses that women of fame and fortune have worn, rather than those that have established Mr Gn as a designer of extraordinary technical finesse. In fact, his fame by association with these “influential woman”, as ACM calls them, is so widespread that a social media page imitating his own appeared recently. Ten days after the exhibition opened, the office of the brand announced that there is a “fake” Andrew Gn Instagram account online. Fans and followers beware.

The gowns on display would make those eager to pursue their own dream of Mr Gn’s celebrity-fueled success giddy with delight. However Euro-centric his designs are generally, with a sense of exotica that panders to a largely American/Middle-Eastern audience, ACM tries to dovetail his aesthetical narrative into their own: That while Mr Gn designs are, as Jackie Yoong, the museum’s senior curator of fashion and textiles, said to WWD last month, “used by celebrities to project glamour and also as a form of power dressing internationally”, it is his “East-West style that align (sic) with the stories that [ACM] tells”. More cogent, perhaps, is that the exhibition celebrates Mr Gn’s Singaporean ties and his willingness to trace his success to his country of birth, even if it isn’t a straight line. And his unwavering—and admirable—pride in his nationality. Mr Gn told The Straits Times (ST) in 2003, “I would never give up my red passport. Globalization is important but ultimately, Singapore is still my home” and in 2006, on not being tempted by French citizenship, “I’m born Singaporean, so I’d like to die Singaporean, rather than that turn French halfway.”

The glamorous gowns of Andrew Gn on the red carpet

According to the press, Andrew Gn Chiang Tiew (鄞昌涛, yin changtao) was born in 1966, about six months after Singapore gained independence. Curiously, those who know him have identified two earlier years—1965 and 1964 (a contemporary was able to say confidently that Mr Gn is an Aquarius). Almost all local media reports state 1966 as his year of birth. It is not certain why there is such a disparity, even if a small one. In a yearbook from Hwa Chong Junior College (the last local school he went to), a gathering of photographs of his classmates, with a recognisable Mr Gn in it, is attributed to the year 1981. Whether that picture was shot in his first year in JC or the second, simple calculation does not point to 1966. While his year of birth may be immaterial to his achievements thus far, and many creative people do succumb to fictive inventiveness when it comes to their ages, it is important to many Chinese, as it determines one’s Zodiac sign, and a way for others to understand an individual‘s personality traits. In China—and on our shores—individuals are still often asked, instead of their numerical age, “你属什么 (ni shu shenme)” or what is your (Chinese) zodiac sign?

Although the year of his birth is not certain, there is no doubt that his father is Gn Yong Kiat, a Teochew immigrant from China, and his mother is Ang Gek Siang, a Chinese/Japanese Singaporean. Andrew Gn likes telling Western journalists that he is “one quarter Japanese”. But there have been hints—he has not said it outright, publicly—that he is part Peranakan too. In an interview with Lianhe Zaobao (联合早报) to preface the exhibition, he said that in the memories of his childhood, his 外婆 (waipo) or maternal grandmother chewed 槟榔 (binglang) or sirih (betel nuts) while she beaded sandals, presumably kasut manek. The optics are rather clear. So too is a description in a WWD article published on the day the exhibition opened to the public: “Peranakan Chinese grandmother”. He also spoke to Zhaobao of her dress style and her “色彩冲突感 (yanse chongtugan)” or sense of colour clash and her “混合传统图案 (hunhe chuantong tu an)” or mix of traditional patterns, presumably referring to the Nonya baju kebaya. If his maternal grandmother was Peranakan, does that make his maternal grandfather Japanese, or partly? Mr Gn is known to converse in Teochew with close friends. Harper’s Bazaar SG noted that he “speaks English, Italian and French fluently, along with several Chinese dialects”. No one we have asked has heard him mouth Peranakan Malay, even a smattering of it.

A snapshot of Andrew Gn’s maternal grandmother Chen Mei Zhi shown at the exhibition

Gn senior, from an unspecified part of China, has been described as a constantly-on-the-move “merchant”, whose frequent travels throughout Asia meant he could bring home to his wife “wonderful hand-dyed batiks from Indonesia, beautifully woven and embroidered kimonos from Japan and amazing silks from China”, according to Mr Gn in an interview with Forbes in 2018. His mother, a homemaker, would then “go to her tailor (in Chinatown, as per Lianhe Zaobao)”, a man known to a young Mr Gn as “Wong sifu (师傅)”, who had the fabrics “transformed into dresses, suits and cheongsams”. Mr Gn told Haute Living magazine during a trip to San Francisco in 2017 for an AGN trunk show: “My mother is a very elegant woman. She was one of the first women in Singapore who used to keep a house in England and she would shop at Ossie Clark, Browns, and Geoffrey Beene; she would wear Chanel gowns.” In a 2022 podcast What We Wore with the Charlotte (North Carolina) fashion retailer Laura Vinroot Poole (behind the luxury store Capitol), Mr Gn said that his mother also wore “Saint Laurent, Valentino, and Jean Muir… and when she was in New York, she was shopping at Martha (an upscale Park Avenue boutique opened by Martha Phillips, the city’s earlier version of Joyce Ma)”. He also told Harper’s Bazaar SG’s EIC Kenneth Goh in 2021 that after his mother passed in 2019, “she left about 350 suits from Chanel that she collected since the ’70s”.

Mr Gn’s father was less enthusiastically talked about, other than the textiles and other gifts he brought home from his frequent travels. Unlike his wife, he did not seem to have his clothes custom-made. Mr Gn told Le Figaro in 2019 that he spent part of his childhood in his family home where his grandparents “accumulaient” (accumulated) 17th- and 18th-century porcelain. He added that his “father was also a great collector.” Some friends who knew him from their youth recalled that his dad had a store in South Bridge Road (one area identified was Circular Road, known in the old days as sio po chap buay geng [小坡十八间] in Hokkien), selling dried goods (it was also said that his family’s business was in the retail of 山珍海味 [shanzhen haiwei] or luxury foodstuff, such as bird’s nests and shark’s fins). It was Gn senior who, in 1995, furnished his son with what the latter called a “loan” to start his own fashion house (although both parents had initially objected to his choice of career). Lianhe Zaobao (and other press reports) stated that the figure was S$40,000. In 2007, ST wrote that Mr Gn took an additional S$20,000 in the form of a loan from a French bank.

Andrew Gn (age not indicated) with his mother Ang Gek Siang and father Gn Yong Kiat in an undated photograph shared in the exhibition

The media in Singapore is inclined to report that Andrew Gn was “born in Hougang”, as though this part of our island in the north-east is a state or a city. To be specific, Mr Gn grew up in a compound house on Simon Road, an approximately 165-metre street—off Upper Serangoon Road—that was named after Dr Max Simon, a.k.a. Max Aroozo, a prominent Eurasian of Portuguese descent. The unfancy, one-storey dwelling that the Gn family occupied was not far from Upper Serangoon Market, popularly known as the luck kok jio pasat (六条石巴刹) in Teochew (in 1999, four years after the Andrew Gn label was established, the market halted operations). Neighbouring Hougang—or ao-kang (后港) in Teochew or ‘river’s end’, as it’s sited upstream of Sungei Serangoon (now a reservoir)—is known for its predominantly Teochew residents.

Most Gn families are believed to be chaozhouren (潮州人) or Teochews. In written Chinese, the surname 鄞 (yin)—homophonically identical to 银 (silver)—is also used among the Cantonese and the Hakka people. The word is thought to refer to the Yin county (鄞县) in Zhejiang Province (浙江省). Spelled Gn, without a vowel, the Anglicised family name is more commonly used here on our island than anywhere else in the Chinese diaspora. Proudly Teochew, Andrew Gn’s family residence in this part of the city is unsurprising. The area is now a part of Kovan, with the Hougang housing estate, as it is mostly known, to the north. Until both his parents’ death and the house was eventually sold, Mr Gn came home at least annually (usually at the end of the year), and stayed in the Simon Road abode, in which a fabulous library once famously existed, comprising books that he could turn to fervently, to dream, and for pleasure and inspiration. It included the 18th century Chinese classic he often cites with relish, 红楼梦 (hong lou meng) or Dream of the Red Chamber (that he told the media in China was read at age eleven), as well as Histoires Naturelles (Natural Histories), an encyclopaedic tomb by the French naturalist Comte de Buffon (whether he read it in the original French version is not known).

Introductory notes to the Andrew Gn aesthetic, set against the wallpaper of the colour of the passport he will hold to the end

Andrew Gn is the youngest of six children. Little is known about his siblings (three other boys and two girls) or if he is close to them. He offers scant information of his pre-pubescent years, or which primary school he went to, but he did tell Prestige magazine in 2020: “When I was seven years old, in Primary 3 (unusual since most Singaporean children are in primary 1 at that age), I was given an assignment to imagine what a Singaporean national costume would be like (in which class, he did not say).” In a 2022 interview on the podcast What We Wore, he told the host Laura Vinroot Poole, when she asked him if he “went to boarding school early”: “My parents sent me to boarding school when I was 10½ in the UK, Stratford-upon-Avon (the famed 16th century birthplace of William Shakespeare).” The same story was recounted to Time earlier, in 2012. Similarly, in a 2019 article in the French weekly Le Point, Mr Gn was reported to have been “éduqué en Angleterre dans un rigide pensionnat”or educated in England in a rigid boarding school. Did he then interrupt his primary education to go abroad? If his mother was the owner of a house in England, that would not be unusual. Mr Gn did not identify the UK school that he went to, nor did he say how long he was there.

London was a city he reportedly visited with enviable regularity when young. He told Vogue China in 2021 that his parents “常常带我到伦敦的Mr Chow中餐馆去用餐 (frequently took me to the Chinese restaurant Mr Chow in London for meals)”. Mr Gn said that it was here that he met the late vintage-couture-collecting-and-wearing Tina Chow, and both of them—a kid and famous wife of a restaurateur—became friends. He went on to describe her couture collections and how she styled herself as if he was present at every momentous appearance of the Shiseido model and fashion icon. Although he said, “我很小的时候就认识Tina了 (I’ve known Tina since I was very young)”, using her first name, he was not known, prior to leaving for London in 1987, to have mentioned his friendship with Ms Chow to people he knew back home. Travel was truly a taste-forming part of his young life. He told Time in 2012 that he first went to Paris when he was 11 and to India when he was even younger—nine. It is understandable why ACM could not resist hailing Mr Gn as “citizen of the world”.

Activity room, part of the exhibition that provides the opportunity for visitors to mimic what Mr Gn might have done when he was young

In his early teens, Andrew Gn attended River Valley High School (he shared a photo of him in school uniform on IG, and the school recently helped him plug his retrospective in FB, calling him, with palpable pride, “super duper talented”), and after that, to Hwa Chong Junior College, both institutions were noted in the recent ST profile of him in Life Weekend. Curiously, Mr Gn told Ms Poole just last year that “after boarding school, I went back to Singapore to serve my military service for two and a half years.” A huge part of his secondary and pre-university education on home soil was either edited from the podcast or entirely self-omitted. But Sharon Au, fellow Paris resident, did proudly say that both of them went to Hwa Chong. Although he attended what could be considered two of our island’s top schools, he did not seem to have enjoyed academic life. He told Prestige in 2020, “I was daydreaming a lot then. I felt that doing homework and passing exams were duties to please my parents.”

During National Service (NS), Mr Gn served as a medical orderly (commonly known as a medic). He assured Ms Poole on What We Wore: “Yes, I know how to use a rifle.” It was during this period of zero combat-training hardship that he convinced himself that fashion was truly for him. “I used that time to figure out exactly what I wanted to do,” he has said, although he “was always toying with the idea of that while growing up.” He added, “I finally decided that, ‘You know what? I really love fashion, and this is exactly what I want to do’.” And he began moonlighting as a designer. The military years seemingly went by quickly and without perceptible physical stress. In his teens and right through the army, Mr Gn enjoyed Canto-pop and had shared on IG that Sam Hui (许冠杰, Xu Guanjie) of the Aces Go Places (最佳拍档, zuijia paidang) fame was his “idol”, even if it is hard to imagine Andrew Gn as a mere 打工仔 (dagongzai) or worker, as sung by Mr Hui in the 1976 hit 半斤八两 (banjin baliang) or Half Catty Eight Taels. More fascinating was Me Gn’s love for and ability to croon the uniquely Japanese musical genre of enka (演歌), as well as Japanese pop of the day; he loved singing the songs of Seiko Matsuda, among other artistes of the era, possibly imagining the soundtrack of his future fashion shows.

The catalogue that accompanies the retrospective, available to purchase

When referring to his time in Singapore in the ’90s (or earlier), the formative years before furthering his education abroad, Mr Gn often points to the material cache available to him then that were foundational to his fashion awakening. Or gifts, such as a white porcelain bowl from 19th-century China’s daoguang era (道光年间) that his mother gave him on his 18th birthday, as he told Singapore Tatler recently. Rarely, if ever, does he mention the friends around him or the burgeoning fashion scene of the time that he was eager to be part of. There was, apparently, no clique that many emerging designers endear themselves to. In the 2016 book Fashion Most Wanted, Mr Gn said, when asked what got him interested in fashion, “I’ve always been interested in all forms of art… That somehow got me interested in fashion.” But it is known among certain circles that Mr Gn was moving with a coterie of individuals who had piqued his interest in fashion more than books did, or art, and who were instrumental to his awareness of fashion not circumscribed by the changing coastline of our island. Yet, in the catalogue that accompanies the retrospective, one introductory essay (out of seven!), written by author/biographer Tan Siok Sun, states that, even when young, he was alone in his own fantasy world and amused himself accordingly: “He wrapped towels around his head to imitate headwear,” she wrote, “adorning them with his mother’s costume jewellery and accessories. Posing in front of a mirror, he told himself he was a princess from a faraway land.”

Throughout much of his late teens, Yves Saint Laurent was frequently on Andrew Gn’s lips, according to fashion folks who knew him. Yves Saint Laurent debuted in Singapore in 1976 through the first luxury multi-label store of the time, Glamourette (a cheekily antipodal name as the boutique was situated above a supermarket—Fitzpatrick). Mr Gn would have been 10 years old then. About eight years later, while fulfilling his national service obligations, he found the art-infused, culture-evocative designs of Mr Saint Laurent captivating as they paralleled his love for art and ornamentation, opulence and glamour. His ardour for Yves Saint Laurent (during the designer’s active years) never waned and was likely a motivational pull behind his decision to make Paris home. Some of the pieces exhibited in the retrospective bear identifiable “YSL codes”, one visitor was heard commenting. In an ST article in 2001, six years after his brand was founded, he said, somewhat seriously, “I had only one dream—to become a household name like Armani, and Yves Saint Laurent.”

Stay tuned for the final part of our first-ever post on Andrew Gn. Note on dates: Chronological detail vary according to publication referred to, and who said what

Andrew Gn: Fashioning Singapore and the World runs from now to 17 September 2023 at the Asian Civilisations Museum. Admission fee is applicable. Photos, except when indicated: Chin Boh Kay

Two Of A Kind: Bedwear As Baju

Malaysian singing sensation Aina Abdul, appearing to be wearing a sleeping bag, woke up the dismay of her alert fans

Similarly padded. Left, Viktor and Rolf’s bedding-as-fashion. Photo: Marcio Madeira. Right, Aina Abdul in Masyadi Mansoor’s sleeping bag. Photo: ainaabdul/Instagram

It is likely conceived as an Instagram bait, and many fell for it. Malaysian pop star Aina Abdul (top right) recently wore what seemed to be a fancy sleeping bag on an episode of the singing competition Big Stage (she’s a judge on the show). Ms Abdul is known for wearing massive clothes for her performances, but she has not been seen encased in a padded baju that not only made her appear to have come straight from some camp site on Brinchang Mountain, the undulating stripes of the garment could suggest the many layers of the mattress in Princess and the Pea, augmenting the visual effect of a ranjang (bed). The outfit came attached with a travel pillow large enough to cushion her scarved head.

Her fans (and not) are unimpressed with her tilam kutior (mattress couture). Netizens haven been up in arms, telling her to “berhenti berpakaian begitu pelik (stop dressing so weirdly)”. There is, of course, nothing really that strange about Ms Abdul’s stage costume, except that in the heat Malaysia and our island state share, it is curious that anyone would want to be togged like an Eskimo on New Year’s day in Alaska. In fact, the idea behind Ms Abdul’s floor-length cover-all is not new. We remember the autumn/winter 2005—musim luruh/sejuk!—ready-to-wear collection of Viktor & Rolf, inspired by bedclothes, but ended with models seemingly wearing the bed. But there is an artfulness to the duo’s madness. On one look (above left), the Euro-shams on which the model’s head ‘laid’ stayed up and the duvet which became the coat had what seemed like the top sheet cleverly folded over the quilt, like a skewed fichu.

There is nothing really that strange about Ms Abdul’s stage costume, except that in the heat Malaysia and our island state share, it is curious that anyone would want to be togged like an Eskimo on New Year’s day in Alaska

Aina Abdul’s pakaian pentas (stage fashion) is designed by relative newcomer Masyadi Mansoor whose fledgling label MSYD is about three years old. Mr Mansoor, a 2020 graduate of Universiti Teknologi Mara, is partial to padded garments, and has professed to love Moncler. That he would clothe Ms Abdul in a duvet with a bantal (pillow) to frame her head is, therefore, unsurprising, but that she looked like she picked her outfit from Decathlon is perhaps more amusing than incensing. The designer, in a reaction to the outrage over his design on Instagram, theorised that ”people experience a variety of emotions, ranging from some of the happiest and most euphoric feelings to some of the greatest anxieties and deepest sorrows. At the end of the day, the bed is the place we let it all out.”

And on stage, too. Aina Abdul, usually a strong supporter of Behati’s equally exaggerated style, shares the same perasaan (feeling). She told Yahoo News: “I chose that wardrobe to fit the theme, which is the turbulence of feelings. I thought the image will earn some entertaining comments since I have worn something even bigger and baggier than that.” Bigger, as many know, is not necessarily better, nor modest. But the “entertaining comments” did appear, although some bordered on the clearly unkind. She said, “Aside from face shaming, some Netizens even wanted to boycott me because of my style when I have spent thousands to maintain my looks as a celebrity.” There is considerable expense beneath the duvet. Spurn not the mattress maju (progress).

That White Suit

Does dressing in angelic white help you deal with the devil?

From the start, it did not seem that Kaitlan Collins would be in full control, let alone reign in Donald Trump. Two days ago, at the CNN town hall for the former president to fume, gripe, and taunt, the surly septuagenarian was his usual I-don’t-effing-care self. CNN received immense flak for platforming the former president, who, as before and without fail, built his case upon insults and falsehoods. It was not clear, as we watched him complaining—again and again—on Thursday morning, what the news channel hoped to achieve other than a ratings high. Mr Trump came across as a vile pile vomiting contempt and scorn, like in a bad horror film (the final scene of Evil Dead Rise in which there was the spewing of bloody matter that passed through a crusher?), not caring that what came out of his mouth affronted not only those he attacked, but also those who watched or heard him, or read about his performance the next day. All the while, the CNN host’s purity of whiteness could not repel the putrid bile that was discharged in her direction.

Ms Collins, a former Fox News anchor, did not wear a beige pantsuit, she wore one that was stark white, a two-piece that reminded us of school uniforms. Or, nurses’ work wear. It is not known if she was trying to come across as brightly pure, to better contrast her interviewee’s sinister wretchedness. The man was in his signature dark suit under which was a white shirt and that pitiable red tie. When not talking, he brought his hands between his thighs, open palms placed together, allowing his fingers to come into contact. Ms Collins tried to look calm, but no matter how much her slim, snow-white, single-breasted suit—worn buttoned—may seemingly augment her composure, she did not shield herself from allowing Mr Trump to trample on her. But who was she really hoping to meet? A lapdog that she could pat? Or a beastly individual who did not desire to end the town hall amicably, however impossible that would be. He said to her, nearing the end of the broadcast, “you’re a nasty person, I’ll tell you.” Ms Collins did not say anything; she swallowed it whole. But his MAGA-base-as-audience cheered and clapped.

We wondered what went through her mind. Was the 31-year-old indifferent to the old fox’s stage antics, however disgusting or pernicious? Was she overwhelmed? Out of her depth? It could be understandable that she did not react when she asked Mr Trump about “a significant verdict that was reached yesterday” and he insisted repeatedly that he “doesn’t know” E. Jean Carroll, who won the civil case against him just a day earlier (the jury found the accused sexually abused her), and called her a “whack job” (accompanied by cheering and clapping) and described the sexual assault in a fitting room as “hanky-panky” (more cheering and clapping). Ms Collins could keep a straight face because he was not putting her down. Why did the news anchor even bother bringing up the court case? Did she expect him to croak a different tune from his deposition (he did call Ms Carroll a nut job then)? Or was the recent American banking crisis, for example, just too boring? Donald Trump, looking at Kaitlan Collins’s pristine turn-out, probably saw a clean sheet that was ready to be crapped on, and for the stains to show, and stay.

Screen shot: CNN

Holey Moley: The Tom Daley Effect

Edwin Goh chose openwork for his red carpet appearance at the Star Awards last month. He must have felt extremely cool. Now, the star and his girlfriend are turning their hobbies into a business

Actor Edwin Goh (吴劲威) knew it would be brutally warm that Sunday afternoon outside Marina Bay Sands. He chose a V-neck, waisted tank top for the Star Awards red carpet, looking decidedly kerbside-casual. It was possible that Mr Goh wanted to let his fans and TV audiences know that his body was then trim and toned. Or that he was simply averse to the standard red carpet wear of suits, even if shirtless was the way to go at this year’s event, such as seen on his red carpet buddy Zhai Siming (翟思铭). But what he wore was not an ordinary tank top. It was a crocheted version, and one that the actor made for himself, proving that he can do more than slip-knotting. But why the vest could’t go with, say a shirt, wasn’t immediately known. Mr Goh’s choice of wearing his own crochet top was, of course, reminiscent of Tom Daley knitting his own sweaters and also wearing them to public events. Was another Mediacorp star mimicking what other international celebrities had done or worn?

By now, many know that one of the most known—and followed—celebrity needlework enthusiast is the Olympian/knitter Tom Daley, with the media reporting that Mr Daley was “knitting his way through the Tokyo Olympics” in 2021. The diver, in fact, started playing with knit stitches in 2020 (he also crochets and began in the same year) and later made a scarf for his mother. He told the BBC that he started the needle work because he is “terrible at sitting down”. So into knitting he became that he started the Made with Love by Tom Daley Instagram page (1.2 million followers to date) that became a website and then a book, with 30 knitting and crochet patterns. Mr Daley has been so pleased and proud of his output (he does have an eye for colour) that he has been wearing his own knitwear to high profile events such as the Today show in 2022. His designs were soon sold through the British retailer John Lewis.

The Unravel & bucket hat and handbag that are currently available at unravel Photos: unraveland/Instagram

Edwin Goh and his girlfriend Rachel Wan had at first started a “crochet club” in April amiably called Stitch and B*tch (could they have taken the naming cue from Bark and Bake, the Joo Chiat confectioner for canines?) Then last Sunday, they announced on Instagram the launch of their crochet-centric label Unravel & (could that also be a little inspired by & Other Stories?). And what, they did not reveal. For now their yarn craft comes in bags (two styles), beanies, and bucket hats. The designs won’t change the fashion accessories market, but they are, without doubt, discernibly more creative than the offerings of another-star-with-an-accessory-brand, the Beijing-based Eleanor Lee Kaixin (李凯馨), daughter of TV host Quan Yifeng (权怡凤). Mr Goh described the venture on Instagram as “something we’ve been working on for the past couple of months”. That they could set up shop in just two, and with only the pair using a hook to create merchandise from loops of yarn could be indication that this is monitising a hobby and may not be backed by a business plan or production schedule.

It is admirable that there are TV stars who would pursue their passions so intensely. It was baked goods in the beginning, and now needlework. But based on Unravel &’s limited product range, it may not be a protracted venture. Edwin Goh told host Jeremy Chan (田铭耀) at the Star Awards that it was his girlfriend (he did not identify her then) who taught him how to crochet. Thereafter, he furthered his learning online (whether by watching YouTube videos or other media, he did not say). Within months of achieving some proficiency in crocheting, he was able to become an instructor and open an online store, and model his own headwear. According to 8 Days, Unravel & welcomes crocheters without a sales outlet to peddle their wares through the brand’s website. It is possible then that more merchandise could be in the pipeline. It is likely, therefore, that there would be more than the beanie, itself a curious key product to sell on our scorching island.

The products of Unravel & are available online at They are reportedly sold out. Screen shot (top): MediaCorp/YouTube

Yeezy: A Secret Cult?

Season 10 of Kanye West’s fashion label showed little other than a rite of sort. What was he really selling?

Models wearing seemingly identical clothes at the Yeezy Season 10 presentation. Screen shot: yeezymafia/Instagram

After his Yeezy fashion show in Paris last October, which was deemed controversial at best, Kanye West is back with another—dubbed Season 10 (also YZY FREE, according to a reported invite, shared on a fan site)—in Los Angeles. This time, the event was held at his newly established office (or retail space, it is not clear) on Melrose Place. It was so covert that its has been described as “super secretive”. Curiously, the show took place on the same day as the much feted Met Gala. Anna Wintour and other fashion luminaries would, therefore, not be able to attend. It is known if they were invited at all. If they were, it is doubtful they would show up, considering what happened the last time. In fact, it is not known who were the guests, VIP or not. There was no livestream for this show (even one with registration required, as the last was). The few reports that emerged about the show described it as a “private affair”. So private, in fact, that the entire display was dimly lit. Candle were the main source of illumination.

This time, Mr West did not preface his show with a lengthy grouse-fest-turned-rally. Surprisingly, he did not even appear. The show was left to unfold without him. Attendees apparently turned up in an empty, concrete store space. It did not look like a fashion show was to be staged. There were narrow tables joined to form a long one, like a protracted alter, and a sullen sound system. It could be a pop-up anything. Or, something that in the old days would be called a mobile disco. But there was no dance. Everything was very sombre, like a gathering of the devout. And that is not overstating it. While we do not know who the guests were, in all likelihood, they were the Yeezy die-hards for whom every Yeezy item ever released has been a grailed offering. Nothing is ever unappealing or unnecessary. Attending a Yeezy event, cultish as it could be, is going on a pilgrimage.

The one T-shirt shown during the show as seen on a model and one that a guest scored. Photos: Twitter

The event unfolded largely illuminated by the candle votives. It is hard to make out what was shown at the event from some dark photographs circulating online (unlike the Met Gala, YZY FREE allowed guests to bring their smartphones into the venue. Photography was not, as far as we know, restricted). The models, mostly with heads clean-shaven—including the women—wore what seemed to be one T-shirt style and in one colour—white. The tees, with no sleeves but shoulders long enough to yield capped sleeves, appeared unsized; they were fitted on the women and terribly tight on the men, even too short for many of them. Was this a deliberate antithesis of the oversized T-shirt that is still trending? Or the reincarnation of the baby tee? They wore black trousers of different silhouettes—some could be leggings, others fairly regular pants. They were shod in post-Adidas X Yeezy footwear that has been described as socks with a thin sole, entirely black too. It is hard to understand what Mr West was attempting. Could it be some technical feat of clothes-making that we were not able to discern. Or was this just one giant empty vessel making some white noise?

Some Twitter posts showed those unforgiving T-shirts being tossed to a group of people thought to be attendees, like supplies being thrown to desperate refugees. That, presumably is the YZY FREE part. One guy who was so thrilled with being able to catch one, immediately slipped into the clearly constricted top on the street. Others who saw an opportunity in this immediately put the garment for sale online, with one seller asking for US$500 (shipping included!) for what could was likely produced for less than US$5. The frenzy may add to the desirability of the freebie, but if YZY Season 8 was, as we understand it, not produced, what is the likelihood that this collection, if we can call it that, will hot into production? Kanye West was probably just trying to prove (again) that he is a fashion designer, even if the presentation had a whiff of the unnecessarily exoteric. He can convince us all he wants.

Koh Boon Ki’s Back: “If You Don’t Shit, You’re Constipated”

The TikTok influencer riles social media users again with a post some consider verbal defecation

“I studied science my whole educational life,” declared Koh Boon Ki (许文琪) with boastful pride on Tik Tok* last week. Perhaps that is why she knew with stunning certainty that if you—especially those “nun-science stoodents”—do not void excrement from your bowels, your faeces harden and you will not be able to clear what you need to clear. But, according to her, as she ranted, complete with facial expressions to match: “All my friends from school are science students. And then I meet ‘nun-science stoodents’ and we talk about like healf, like the most simple things, and to them, it’s like, ‘wowwww, how do you know this?’ But for me, it’s like, how do you not know this? This is your body. How can you live your life, like not knowing how your body works?” Ms Koh declaimed against those who are, according to her, unschooled in science and unacquainted with their bodies. “Are you okay with that,” she asked. The influencer then answered her own question: “I’m not okay with that; I need to know how my body works.”

This was not enough for her. She went on to offer an example: “The other day, I was talking to my best friend, and I was telling her, I have this other friend, like don’t (sic) even know what constipation is, like, I like, she was like, I either shit or don’t shit. And then I said, uh, if you don’t shit, you’re constipated.” Charming. Ms Koh then contradicted herself when another friend allegedly asked her why she has “friends like that”: “No, it’s (sic) not my friend; it’s like talking to ‘nun-science stoodents’.” Her best friend supposedly agreed with her. As Ms Koh recounted what her pal said, “Oh, yah. That’s a common experience, like we go tru that.” And then it all made her—eyes wide open—want to “talk about something else, which is, why chemistry is a compulsory subject in school, but not biology?” She claimed that biology is more useful to her than chemistry. “You know, like, how much chemistry knowledge I use in my day-to-day life?” Glaring at the screen, she bark-replied, “not much!” She paused. “But how much bio (biology) knowledge do I use in my day-to-day life? It’s a lot!” However, she admitted that she “can’t think of a specific example right now.” And the peevish rant went on.

“…it’s like talking to ‘nun-science’ students”

Koh Boon Ki

Ms Koh’s disgruntled outburst unfolded animatedly while she was doing her makeup in front of what was likely her smartphone, set to record. Letting the world know that you are good at beautifying your face is no longer restricted to the MRT train. At various points during her fiery oration, she dabbed under her eyes with her third finger, as if to even out a smudge (she was holding a small compact that could be eye colour), showing her pointy, manicured nails in shades between pink, baby blue, and bright green. She wiped the finger with a tissue, and then whipped out what could be concealer, applied some to areas she dabbed on earlier. She then brought the applicator to her nose, spots on the corners of her mouth, her chin, and two more at the bottom of the corner of her nose, on each side of the philtrum. Then she returned to the eyes, dabbed both corners, too. It is disconcerting that she, like many of her ilk, did not consider doing something else while talking to her viewers impolite. The science student had a single hair roller hold her fringe upwards, above her hairline. She wore small hoop earrings and a beaded necklace. A black strapless top was chosen for this two-minute-plus video.

Without completing her makeup, she concluded by saying that it “just puzzles (her) how people go around not knowing any bio knowledge (sic).” She then informed viewers that she studied “a bit of healthcare” and then corrected herself, “I studied healthcare, not a bit of healthcare.” And in case you were not aware, she confirmed: “I have a bit of knowledge of, erm, blood pressure, sugar level,” adding a puzzling declaration: “all these, like, diseases are so common, like do those people with these diseases know, like, what’s going on with their body? I just wonder.” Cut. The end. It left us wondering why the healthcare graduate considered “blood pressure and (blood) sugar level” to be diseases. Unsurprisingly, this seeming contempt of “nun-science stoodents” did not score well with Netizens.

After removing that post, she quickly shared another, supposedly addressing the earlier one. Again, she was putting on makeup while speaking, this time shading her brows. Her reason for discarding the previous post was “because people call (sic) me out for being stuck-up”. She was also grateful: “Thank you for calling me up (sic) cause, honestly, I needed it.” She said she was aware that she could be “stuck-up sometimes”—her easy description for turning up her nose at those who do not have “bio knowledge”, as she clearly does. She claimed that the incident made her “reflect, like, how I’m in my own bubble”, and came to the conclusion that “everybody’s in their own bubble”, except that “people’s bubbles are different from our own bubble”. Bumbling psychobabble aside, she was certain to pretend to ingest humble pie, saying that what she shares on TikTok is “normal” to her, but others may not concur, and she has, therefore, to “watch what I say”, noting as she did with a sly grin. To be sure, an apology this was not.

Koh Boon Ki’s latest controversial post was not her first. Back in October of 2021, she aroused shock and outrage when she proposed on TikTok the start of a “Telegram group with girls from all the dating apps in Singapore and we discuss the guys we’ve talked to and dates we’ve been on.” As we indicated then, this was not an innocuous sharing of notes. This was potentially doxxing, even bordering on cyberbullying. Someone indeed took up her suggestion and shared a spreadsheet of names that the latter found to be best avoided. Ms Koh quickly shut the chat group down, saying “I did not realise that it was also spiralling into a name-and-shame group.” Rather than saying sorry or express remorse for doing what she did, she cleverly turned the incident into a chance for others to be aware of the sexual assault allegedly stated in that shared spreadsheet. She then continued with her bio-knowledge-enabled, day-to-day life on TikTok, not bothered by the controversy she aroused. Now that she has said her peace about “nun-science stoodents”, as she did about the guys she won’t date, she will returned to her self-obsessed life and share it online. Until the next rant. Or, when shit happens.

*Her original post has been deleted

Illustrations: Just So

Met Gala 2023: The Blurred Lines Of Beauty

There were, as usual, two extremes: decidedly dull and highly theatrical. And who needed Choupette when you had Jared Leto dressed as they? In the end, the men, with either too much fabric or virtually none, stole the show

Jeremy Pope did a Rihanna circa 2015, in Balmain. Screen shot: Vogue/YouTube

Rapper Lil Nas X wore mostly body paint. Photo: Getty Images

The Met Gala is dubbed the “Oscars of fashion”, but it’s more like the Razzies, only better attended. This year, just as you feared that it would be difficult to go over-the-top (or weird) channeling Chanel’s former long-serving designer’s work or his own style, quite a few invitees to this year’s Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty, did not think too much would be excessive. Or, for that matter, too little. In fact, so averse to cloth he was that rapper Lil Nas X pranced on the carpet (beige with red and blue lines this time) practically naked. How only a thong (even if purportedly by Dior), an encrusted face (like calcareous growth on seashells), and a crazy amount of body paint (that took Pat McGrath reportedly nine hours to spread on him) is tribute to Mr Lagerfeld and his legacy was not immediately apparent. The designer was known for his way with working on fabrics, yet Lil Nas X preferred almost none. News that emerged after the flashy display quoted the Grammy winner saying that what he had on was a “modern version of a cat”. In platform boots?! As Tan Kel Wen of Berhati might declare, kutior kucing (cat couture)?

It is hard to say that Lil Nas X looked feline (the face—catfish, perhaps?) as he pretended to be, but he did illustrate that what you mostly saw at the Met Galas were the emperor’s new clothes, It was usually the female attendees who affirmed the idea (in fact, Lil Nas X’s look brought to mind Cara Delevingne’s at the Met last year, only she was painted gold and she wore pants), but this time, the guys were doing so with verve and daring. Reportedly, guests to the gala were earlier notified by the organisers that “the most authentic approach” was “to wear an archival look from one of the labels Lagerfeld led”. Naturally not all attendees had links or access to the houses—and their ateliers and archives—that the late designer helmed or consulted for. So it was through the interpretive flair of other names that some guests preferred to trust their personal brands to. Lil Nas X chose a make-up artist over a fashion designer. Was he at the right event? Or did he not care about some silly authentic approach? When, in fact, during Anna Wintour’s latter-year command of the Met Galas was authenticity key?

Lil Nas X’s non-attire might actually win Mr Lagerfeld’s approval, even when he did not value what a guy thought about fashion. As he told The New York Times in 2015, “I’m not crazy to discuss fashion with men. I couln’t care less about their opinions.” The late designer was famously known for his dislike of looking back at his own work, too. A get-up on the carpet that cannot be directly linked to any look by number of his past collections could be the unsentimental acknowledgment of his influence that he might have tolerated. Similarly, he was disdainful of retrospectives in formal institutions. As he said in 2004, “fashion does not belong in a museum”. Yet, it is in one—the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute—that his body of work is now shown and saluted. And, interpreted by the 400-plus attendees whose attitude, assessment, and assumption he probably did not care about either.

Feline Fanatics

Left: suited-up Jared Leto. Right: Doja Cat in Oscar de la Renta. Photos: Reuters

Choupette, Mr Lagerfeld’s Birman cat, was not as absent as many had thought. Although they did not attend, Jared Leto—appearing in their likeness—sure did. Mr Leto took to the beige carpet as a plush pussy, complete with a feline head and a set of paws (but standing on two), making Lil Nas X’s kitty make-up a poor imitation, however “modern” it was. Perhaps Mr Leto thought he was on the set of The Masked Singer? The Choupette-lookalike quickly shed the hairy outerwear to complete his ascend on the stairway, in what appeared to be a Gucci ensemble that included a cape with glittery shoulders. Even Doja Cat, wearing Oscar de la Renta, came in her namesake, anthropomorphically-enhanced self, forgetting that the casting for Cats the movie is well over. Choupette may be the cat everyone was looking out for, but another pet was there too: Thom Browne’s Hector.

Camellia Overload

Left: Rihanna (with Gucci-clad partner A$AP Rocky) in Valentino. Right: Cardi B in Chenpeng Studio. Photos: Getty Images

She was not only the last to arrive, but even possibly the tardiest attendee at a Met Gala. Rihanna was touted all evening as a show-stopper. But even the Vogue livestream would not wait for her. Hosts La La Anthony, Chloé Fineman, and Derek Blasberg kept the last moments going with painful small talk, and telling the audience that a “surprise” was in store. After more than 20 minutes, the amazing astonishment was not to be. Ms Anthony had to say apologetically, “we tried and tried but sometimes things don’t work out as we expected”, wrapping up the livestream. When Rihanna did show up (reportedly two hours late), it was after the hosts retired for the night from the carpet (we can hear many saying that a pregnant woman needed more time to get ready, but she was not the only expecting mother on the guest list). However, the photographers—and fans did not give up waiting (some members of the media later call it “worth the wait”, encouraging such insolent behaviour). To audible screams from across the street and calls from the onsite lens men, she appeared in a Valentino hooded cape that was festooned with oversized camellias. Hardly a surprising outfit. She won’t marry A$AP Rocky (in Gucci this evening) but she showed up as a bride? Cardi B was festooned too, squeezing as many Chanel/Lagerfeld ‘codes’ as she could in one gown: a rigid collage by the Chinese label Chenpeng Studio, with white shirt, camellia, pearl studs, and, of course, the quilting of the classic Chanel bag. A walking visual encyclopedia?

Pearls Aplenty

Left to right: Lizzo in Chanel, Kim Kardashian in Schiaparelli, and Yung Miami in Sean Jean

Pearls, the Chanel way, were expected, and it showed up in massive miles of them. The gold chain through which a leather cord is usually laced through (as is used in Chanel bags) had, conversely, an extremely low take-up rate. Kim Kardashian’s Schiaparelli sort-of-dress had the most use of pearls—some 50 strands for the skirt and 20 for the top. Could this be a revenge dressing of sort after last year’s simple, constricted Marilyn Monroe gown that no one loved on her? Lizzo, in a black Chanel, had her torso visually lengthened with strands of pearls, but they looked regrettably like an afterthought. Rapper Caresha “Yung Miami” Brownlee was strung with pearls as well. Wearing a number by the old label Sean Jean, created by her date Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs (their relationship not established), she had her face framed by a black fur bloom, under which those pearls hung, like aerial roots. Serena Williams and Karlie Kloss, both pregnant, were also adorned with pearl, no doubt pointing the way forward for special-occasion maternity wear.

Fan Fanfare

Left to right: Carla Bruni in Chanel, Jordan Roth in Schiaparelli, and Conan Gray in Balmain. Photos: Getty Images

Some attendees had to incorporate a fan—Mr Karl Lagerfeld’s signature accessory—into their looks. Occasional songstress Carla Bruni, unsurprising in Chanel, whipped out a foldable one to improve her placid look and to show what a true friend she was to Mr Lagerfeld. American singer-songwriter Conan Gray, also wielding a fan, chose a black-and-white, half-circle piece that carefully coordinated with their jacket-attached-to-a-shirt Balmain number. But it was theatre impresario Jordan Roth, glammed up in Schiaparelli couture, that came as one. To be sure, Amber Valletta in Karl Lagerfeld, too, had a fan for a bodice, but it was Jordan Roth who showed the world that there is indeed a fine line between glamorous and not.

Brides Not

From left to right: Penelope Cruz and Gisele Bündchen, both in Chanel, and Alton Mason in Karl Lagerfeld. Photos: Getty Images

There was continual reminder that Chanel is a bridal house even before the night’s event. So it was not surprising that there were those who came as brides—but without a groom. Penelope Cruz and Giselle Gisele Bündchen were veritable Chanel bridal mannequins, but looked like they wore the gown of the bridesmaid instead. Elle Fanning, in Andreas Kronthaler for Vivienne Westwood, dressed literally as a bride—who ran away. Halle Bailey looked swamped in Gucci froth. And Alton Mason in Karl Lagerfeld? Frankenstein’s bride? But that was not as strange as the Marni-dressed Erykah Badu who came as a mop on her wedding day. Alexa Chung, pretending it was hers too, looked rather exquisite in Irish designer Roisin Pierce’s delicately-textured two-piece, like an Amish bride in fancy dress.

Man Trains

Bad Bunny in Jacquemus. Photo: Getty Images

As we have seen with fans, the train, too, was guys’ best friend. Stage actor and TV series Pose alum, Jeremy Pope (top photo) went to great lengths to show fashion watchers what he dragged behind—all 10 metres of it. The Balmain train was composed of ruffed tulle clusters, arranged by shade to form the familiar silhouette of Karl Lagerfeld. This could easily be the train to beat Rihanna’s Guo Pie “omelette” in 2015. Quite a few other male guests had their get-ups affixed with trains too, but it was Bad Bunny, in white and cream Jacquemus (including a blazer with a cut-out at the back) and that stole, who showed that guys can have something pretty trailing them that is not a personal assistant.


Left to right: Michelle Yeoh in Karl Lagerfeld, Serena Williams in Gucci and Kristen Stewart in Chanel. Photos: Getty Images

Black and white, we were repeatedly told, was Karl Lagerfeld’s favourite chromatic pairing. It was not surprising, therefore, that the Met Gala was practically an ebony-and-ivory affair. Michelle Yeoh, in Karl Lagerfeld, was in her post-award-season party look. While she could be channeling a modern-day Mameha (2005’s Memoirs of a Geisha), except that it seemed like the dress swallowed her, as Matsumoto would have. Ms Yeoh was among only a handful who chose the designer’s eponymous line, one that never quite achieved any height. Serena Williams picked the more dependable Gucci, but to her own detriment: the unflattering mermaid’s tail spread out from a shorter top dress with that decorative hem was, sad to say, dowdy. Kristen Stewart, ever the young face of Chanel, wore something not quite typical of the house. The bolero and the baggy pants had a whiff of a samseng (gangster) trading up.

Same Same

Left and right: Olivia Wilde and Margaret Zhang, both in similar Chloé dresses

It is not known if this has happened at a Met Gala: two guests outfitted in near-identical gowns. Actress Olivia Wilde and Vogue China editor-in-chief Margaret Zhang (章凝 or Zhangning) were spotted (hopefully not together) in geminated dresses from Chloé, now designed by Gabriela Hearst. Ms Zhang’s black frock appeared to be a negative likeness (especially with her shock of electric blue hair) of Ms Wilde’s slimmer version. The sleeveless piece with a high neck, circa 1983 and dubbed “the violin dress”, was reissued thirty years later, in 2013; it was one of Chloé’s most popular and identifiable designs. The question that won’t leave our mind: Was Chloé not aware, at the time of both fittings, that the two dresses would be worn at the same event, on the same day? Or, was this deliberate twinning to give Chloé twice the exposure?

Burberry Blue

Left to right: Burna Boy, Skepta, and Mary J Blige and Barry Keoghan, all in Burberry

Bigger a mystery than the two Chloé dresses Olivia Wilde and Margaret Zhang wore was the Burberry outfits on on a quartet—Nigerian singer Burna Boy, British-Nigerian MC/rapper Skepta, American singer Mary J Blige, and the Irish actor Barry Keoghan. Sure, they do not look alike, except Burna Boy’s and Mr Keoghan’s diagonal-checked suits, but it is not clear why all four of them (actually, there was Stormzy, too) were given identical chromatic combos of black and that particular shade of blue. Did Burberry think that there was power—and presence—by numbers?


Janelle Monae in Thom Browne. Photos: Getty Images

Janelle Monae is often willing to gamble with fashion on the red (or any colour) carpet. This year at the Met Gala, she chose a Thom Browne coat that appeared to be inspired by a Chanel jacket deconstructed and stretched over a teepee. The hulky outer came off at some point on the beige carpet, revealing another look—a sheer crinoline dress that served as a cage to house the wearer in a bikini (it is not known if she was able to sit in the conical coop). Later, on the steps, she lifted up the dress to let onlookers have a clearer view of her underpants. Ms Monae, like Lil Nas X, happily offered an emperor’s new clothes moment—always the high point of the Met Gala.

Celestial At Coachella

Björk brough something out of this world to the American music festival. And it was heavenly

It is Coachella season in the US, which also means spring has arrived. Or, time for “festival dressing”. Appearing on stage this year is the Icelandic star Björk Guðmundsdóttir. Unlike other performers who chose sexy as the performance message (such as a very famous girl band that donned the more meretricious costumes of Dolce and Gabbana), Björk augmented her weird fashion sense (in a good way) by wearing Kei Ninomiya, a Comme des Garçons alum. The always-her-own chanteuse makes her third Coachella appearance and again, she bucked what the Kardashian-Jenner sisters and company would wear. Her outfits and her track set cemented Coachella Valley Music and Art Festival’s early reputation as an indie-rock festival, rather than the largely pop fare it offers these days.

As a performer, Björk has always made costume choices that are the antithesis of, say, what Beyoncé loves, to the extend that she does sometimes look like an alien, but one we’re happy to receive. Her stage costumes are not restricted by the limitations of live performances; they could look as lavish and fantastical as anything worn in her music videos, such as those in the more recent Atopos. Björk and Kei Ninomiya, who dressed her for her multi-stop performances in Japan last month, are a natural fit. For Coachella, she was togged in an over-the-head cloak from the Japanese designer’s Noir line that seemed to be made of tiny filaments (purportedly fiber optic cables) atop an asymmetrically draped dress. This two-layer went over a printed bodysuit by compatriot Thora Stefansdottir, the London-based textile and fashion designer. From afar, Björk looked like a bioluminescent bug. Or, perhaps, sundew?

The Reykjavík-born star, as a performer, has always offered a total experience. At Coachella, her costumes were not the only compelling component of the show. Just as the music was sonically wondrous (even if not exactly rocking, including the cinematic Hunter and Isobel, and the Oscar-nominated I’ve Seen It All), the stage set up was a visual treat as well. The action, in fact, was concurrently happening above-stage, as in the air. An army of drones, 864 of them, dotted the sky with military precision, just over the roof of the stage, forming gleaming fractals of shapes, some extraterrestrial, some human, such as a hulk with an incredible dong, squatting—and watchful.

But the singer in the strange clothes (and make-up and headpieces) remained the pull, performing with full “orkestral” (as she described on Instagram) accompaniment. Björk understands more than the average performer the importance of costume on stage and its effects it can have on focusing the attention on the singer. There was another change that saw her in another Noir Kei Ninomiya outfit—an also-spikey stole (and just as transparent) and a multi-plane skirt that could be designed by AI. Together with her moves, she remained dutifully the hyper-balladeer of style. Elsewhere in the dessert, now a massive concert site, Kendal Jenner wore a black, sleeveless, cropped top and a pair of slacks that Vogue online delightfully described as “anti Coachella”. If so, what would you call Björk?

Photo: Björk/Instagram and Björk’s vault of dank memes/Twitter

She Took It Easy

On the red carpet of the Hong Kong Film Awards yesterday, Michelle Yeoh chose a long shirt-dress that bordered on the too-casual

It was widely reported in the Hong Kong press that Michelle Yeoh Choo Keng (杨紫琼) was the last to arrive at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui for the 41st Hong Kong Film Awards. That she hit the red carpet after Sammi Cheng—tipped to be named the best actress (she was) for her role in 流水落花 (Lost Love)—was testament to Ms Yeoh’s new-found status as Oscar winner and Asia’s most prominent actress. She arrived alone, traipsed the red carpet with the confidence of a cat in her own backyard, and even, at some point, surprised Andy Lau (刘德华) and film director Ann Hui (许鞍华) when she crept up to them while the two were about to have their photographs taken, and joined them for the snap without appearing to be asked. Everyone, presumably, wanted their turn with the Malaysian owner of the world’s most famous gold statuette.

Did Michelle Yeoh, in fact, modelled herself as an ethereal she-Oscar? She was togged in a sheer, gold, long-sleeved shirt-dress by her go-to label, Dior. But unlike her red carpet appearances outside Asia in the past two months, she chose to arrive looking decidedly breezy, as if she was attending a wedding in Bali. Sure, what she wore was long—near floor-length, but she did not look dressed to the nines. The Dior looked far less splendid than what the other attendees were fitted with. Or were we simply reminded that Hong Kong was no Hollywood? The startling casualness was compounded by the pushed-up sleeves (to her elbow) and the disconcerting black belt, which provided a strange hard line across her waist (could it be something that had gone with a pair of jeans moments earlier, in the car, perhaps?). She wore her hair in loose curls, which looked like it was just towel-dried. To us, she came as a wealthy actress, not a recent Oscar winner.

Or was this the usual sentiment that back in Asia, you don’t have to try too hard. There were no more White folks to impress. She made her fashion mark. Time for post-Oscars prudence. It is possible that since Michelle Yeoh has received the highest award an actress can hope to have, she was now ready to be rid of the pressures to be worthy of any red carpet best-dressed accolade. 靚就得啦 (beautiful is enough in Cantonese). Hong Kong, even the city that launched her career, did not require her extra effort in getting dolled-up. At the Oscars last month, she wore a semblance of a wedding dress (by Dior too), but that was at least special-occasion wear. Now, she no longer needed to make a splash. Casual was comely, just as an Oscar to her name was enough. Michelle Yeoh, the last to step onto the red carpet at the Hong Kong Film Awards, whether deliberate on the part of the organisers or not, was plain anti-climatic.

Photo: AFP

Star Awards (2023): Sparkle Not

The stars were out last night at a shopping mall. SG celebrity glamour’s high point.

Zoe Tay’s entrance with younger man Qi Yuwu.

By Ray Zhang

From a Changi Airport tarmac to the Event Plaza of The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, MediaCorp’s beloved Star Awards red carpet, also known as the Walk of Fame, certainly moved up. Curiously, the event must, on and off, be staged in the presence of the landmarks of our island. But, as usual, the red carpet was laid out on a passageway not normally used for fashion displays—a pop-up catwalk. This time, it framed the Plaza’s touristy Rain Oculus, the aquatic feature that on an active day would see water swirl down its shallow dish like waste flushed down a toilet bowl. But on this late afternoon, Mediacorp stars walked pass it like devotees at the (sunken) alter of fame, all in finery they did not own, worn with the confidence they did not have. The Star Awards, as I have noted with regret before, is not a presentation aligned with glamour, made worse by stars sharing on social media photos of them looking all done up against startlingly unglamorous backgrounds. Clothes overwhelmed the wearers, I kept seeing; fashion superseded moments.

By now, you’d think MediaCorp stars would have gotten used to getting all dressed up and going to the sole glamour-driven event of their social and professional year. But, it did not seem to be. This was, of course, an SG red carpet, incomparable with those in Cannes, Hollywood, or even Taipei. Yet, after 28 years of Star Awards and 23 (or so) for the red carpet display, it still amazed me that many stars carried themselves, overwhelmed by the clothes and not advantaged by style. It was, of course, understandably hard for those who, in the past year and all this while, played your neighbourhood types with ear-piercing shrill or sold “good quality products” on The Wonder Shop to suddenly become the height of the fashion season, convincingly. How many of them indeed look vastly differently from the roles they played when compared to their daily lives? On the Walk of Fame, too large a number appeared as the once-a-year gown wearer, not a red-carpet rabble-rouser. And as long as it looked ‘fashion’, it was good enough. Get-a-headline approach to dressing was preferred. It might work on Hollywood Boulevard, but I doubt, outside MBS, in the muggy weather, it registered in the annals of SG celebrity style.

Informally dressed Chantalle Ng and Xu Bin.

Chantalle Ng (黄暄婷), daughter of Lin Mejiao (林梅娇), stood out and possibly set the tone for the night: you might glimmer, but that did not mean you were scintillating. Dressed by local brand Denise Chong Adornments (whose namesake designer is a “beadwork artist”), Ms Ng wore a skimpy number strung together with silver beads and finished to look like a ferocious predator beat her to it before it was sent to the changing rooms at MBS. The need for cut-outs on the hips (even when there was one high slit on the right side of the skirt) to show skin and to suggest that Ms Ng was possibly without underwear straddled questionable taste and the desperation to 炫耀 (xuanyao or flaunt). I find it extremely hard to resist describing the get-up as tacky. How she went from last year’s Bottega Veneta gown to this year’s metallic mess was hard to comprehend. Some of the younger stars without acting/hosting chops to lean on just had to adopt risky risqué styles to feel that they had arrived on the grandest red carpet they’ll ever walk on.

Or, stylists who thought that they were the next Law Roach, cravenly promoting to their clueless charges that barely is plenty. Bombshell wannabe He Ying Yong (何盈莹) wore a strip of red sequinned fabric by LaQuan Smith to cover her breasts. What I saw was a mere piece of cloth. She was unsurprisingly touted as “性感撩人 (xinggan liaoren or titillatingly sexy)”. Regard not that her turnout was akin to Zendaya’s Vera Wang tube top and skirt that the American actress wore to the Council for Fashion Designers of America awards in 2021. Sexiness was all that mattered. Ms He told the show’s backstage host Jeremy Chan (田铭耀), “是我的造型师想的 (it was thought up by my stylist).” I had no doubt that many stars allowed their stylists to decide their sartorial fate. Or, left it in the hands of Mediacorp’s glamour guru Annie Chua, who has been delighting in Huang Biren’s best actress win online. Ms Chua’s “styled by me” declarations on Instagram confirmed that it was she who was involved in the dress that just happened to look like one created by Elie Saab.

The back must be bared: (left) Jessica Liu and (right) Rebecca Lim

Annie Chua told another backstage host Zhu Zheliang (朱泽亮) that the theme of the night “就是要 (has to be) glamorous”. But sexy threatened to overwhelm what she hoped to achieve. Out of her work area—on the red carpet, the looks that purportedly entranced were those that totttered daringly close to the edge of impropriety: let them have skin. Glam up was to strip down. It was once the sole domain of Ann Kok, but now more stars were crossing over (conversely, Ms Kok was very conservatively dressed this year). Baring skin on the red carpet became as natural as showing teeth. That seemed to be the message of the braless-is-better brigade. There was Rebecca Lim (林慧玲) in a silk apron-dress by Valentino and Jesseca Liu (刘子绚) in a 100% polyester gown from the Spanish label Isabel Sanchis, with a bow in the rear that was so big and billowy, I thought it was a bad case of flatulence trapped within, and Malaysian actress Bonnie Loo looking somewhat desperate in a viscose-blend cut-out, one-shoulder dress that exposed the right bra-top by Lebanese designer Eli Mizrahi’s label Mônot from spring 2021. There was Fann Wang (范文芳) too, who avoided the red carpet, but appeared on stage in Valentino to accept her husband’s win for best programme host, totally backless to the waist. Amazing it was that so many girls believed that if you don’t show skin, you won’t look glamorous.

It was surprising that no one thought that the blatant sexiness diminished what was once family entertainment. But there was a limit to the number of times one could describe the looks as 性感 (xinggan or sexy) without sounding repetitive and insincere. When Walk of Fame hosts Dennis Chew (周崇庆) and Hazelle Teo (张颖双) had really nothing better to ask the stars regarding what they wore, they requested that their interviewees, Romeo Tan (陈罗密欧), Denise Camillia Tan (陈楚寰), Koh Yah Hwee or Ya Hui (雅慧), and Desmond Tan (陈泂江), perform something painfully banal: strike a “cute pose”. Ms Koh, who revealed earlier that she starved for two days to get into her Norma Kamali bra-incompatible, halter dress, received a second chance to be cute, possibly to turn down the heat her revealing outfit was generating. Some sexiness just fell flat. Quan Yifeng (权怡凤) wore a black frock by Australian designer Toni Maticevski, with a slit that went all the way to her rump—and exposed it, but she strutted in such a clunky manner that it was hard to make out if the opening on the left side of the skirt did anything for her that might be considered xinggan.

The guys did not fare better: Herman Keh and Tyler Ten, flanking Ye Jia Yun

Sexy, too, was what the guys were going for, which inevitably meant going shirtless. Ayden Sng (孙政) and Desmond Ng (黄振隆) were the earliest two to emerge sans shirts under their non-black suits, but they were a year late. In the last Star Awards, Desmond Tan and others belatedly adopted Timothée Chalamet’s red carpet look. Perhaps of the popularity of suit jacket on bare skin then and the dread of embracing the late afternoon heat now in more than one layer, many others too, jumped on the bandwagon this year, such as Zong Zijie (宗子杰) and Joel Choo (朱哲伟), and Tyler Ten (邓伟德) and Herman Keh (郭坤耀), both so determined to appear near-identical that it truly illustrated what Mr Keh meant when, last year, he repeatedly referred to 制服 (zhifu or uniforms) in his descriptions of what he and others wore. Then, there was the other ridiculous extreme: mock turtleneck under the suit jacket. In fact, that could be another trend, as many actors were dressed this modestly: Qi Yuwu (戚玉武), James Seah (谢俊峰), Bryan Wong (王禄江), and another twinning, Pierre Png (方展发) and Shaun Chen (陈泓宇).

The need to cover the neck affected Zoe Tay (郑惠玉) too. Always the star to watch for uncontroversial glamour, she did not disappoint with vintage Oscar de la Renta from Vestiaire Collective that comprised a mock-turtle top embroidered with roses and a red pouf/tiered skirt. Her choice from the luxury resale store (bought or borrowed, I was not able to determine) possibly made her the first on the Star Awards red carpet to wear pre-loved ensemble as expression of her conviction to sustainability. As she said to Dennis Chew, what attracted her to the outfit when she went to the fitting was the “环保的感觉 (feeling of environmental friendliness)”, adding that “fashion, if well designed, could be everlasting.” To which Hazelle Teo rejoined with “timeless”. Curious comment: Did she know what that meant when she was wearing a black and white dress with an absurd one ruffled shoulder that was larger than her face by Olimpia Sanchis (a “younger line” of Isabel Sanchis. It was a good night for Pois, the stockist that provided many of the stars’ gowns for the night)? On the red carpet, as in life, sometimes less is indeed a lot more. Not to mention, enduring.

Updated: 12 April 2023, 21:00

Photos: MediaCorp/YouTube

Two of A Kind: Nude Slashes

When actresses trust their designers—and stylists—too much

Elie Saab Vs Francis Cheong. Photos: Elie Saab and Mediacorp respectively

It happened again and, interestingly, with the same sought-after dressmaker. For the 2017 Star Awards (红星大奖), Pan Ling Ling (潘玲玲) wore a flounced gown by renowned designer Francis Cheong that looked like one by couturier Zuhair Murad. This year, best actress winner Huang Biren (黄碧仁) was also outfitted in a Francis Cheong dress. And on the red carpet outside MBS and on stage inside, the floor-length piece, too, looked rather familiar. It did not take us more than five minutes to recall that what Ms Huang wore last night bore an astonishing resemblance to a gown seen in the Elie Saab autumn/winter couture collection of 2021 called Buds of Hope. A quick check on FF Channel’s YouTube account (while the Star Awards was on our television) confirmed what we suspected. The dress seen on the broadcast of the nation’s sole TV acting awards did indeed look disconcertingly similar to what Mr Saab presented for a show that did not travel to Paris that year due to the pandemic. It was not the most spectacular outfit in that collection and we almost forgot about it, until yesterday evening.

But that sleek dress that Mr Saab put out two years ago did leave an impression because it was one of three aesthetically similar gowns that were unlike the rest of the 63 looks for that just-emerging-from-lockdown season, or what could be considered the Beirut-based house’s signature. Mr Saab incorporated rather extreme sexiness into the trio by way of wide slashes incorporated diagonally across the finely-contoured bodices and the trumpet skirts. As a result, it showed considerable skin. And the bands held strikingly and securely to the bodies, clinging to and covering where they needed to, even when the models strutted somewhat purposefully. The gown that resembled what Ms Huang had on could be described as a bandage dress of sort, but it did not constrict the body in any way. It was, admittedly, a show-stopper that could swish beautifully on a red carpet while maintain the wearer’s modesty, which is not, as we have seen, a requisite these days.

Huang Biren, admittedly, did not look bad in that dress; she probably was not aware that what she had on first appeared elsewhere. On Facebook, Francis Cheong, who now mainly resides in Johor Bahru, congratulated Ms Huang for winning (it was her fiftth best actress Star Award in her 35-year career), and “wearing my 2023 spring couture (sic)”. It is not known if Ms Huang picked Mr Cheong as the designer of her 晚礼服 (wanlifu or evening attire). It is possible that the partnership was facilitated by Annie Chua (蔡宜君), the “principal image stylist” at Mediacorp and the Star Awards’ key fashion figure, as the designer did thank Ms Chua for “the collaboration”. Nor, do we know who among the them picked the Elie Saab piece for inspiration. There’s no missing Mr Cheong’s cleverness this year. He created not a total facsimile; he changed the sole sleeve to the left and used skin-coloured fabrics—nothing nude—to create the slashes so that Ms Huang bared little. And there was not a trace of embellishment! Going to local dressmakers to tailor a cheaper version of couture gowns is not an unknown practice. Many attendees of gala events here love such costumiers. But unlike, say, the Icon Ball, which is primarily a closed-door affair, Star Awards is broadcast to the world through Mediacorp’s YouTube page. And some things do stand out. Lookalikes, especially.

Update (11 April 2023, 17:30): Two hours ago, Annie Chua shared on Instagram her support for Huang Biren with a set of seven photos and a comment: “Thank you for the 💯 trust ❣️You totally slayed it both on & off stage! ❣️”. Replying, Ms Huang wrote: “Thank you very much for helping! Two consecutive years by you and won! You are superb!❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️”. Two hours later, with another set of six images of different people, which included one that saw Ms Huang carrying her trophy, Ms Chua added, “Making 💚Memories 💚 & Be 💚The Best 💚Version of Yourself 💚”. Amazing

Update (11 April 2023, 23:00): Francis Cheong has removed the congratulatory message and the photograph of Huang Biren wearing his “spring 2023 couture” (dress) from his Facebook page

Some Guys Are Bigger Than Others

Fashion photographer, occasional actor, and “Instagram sensation” Tan Chuan Do is releasing his first book soon. How much more huge can he become?

We admit that while we were writing this, we were listening to The Smiths’ Some Girls are Bigger than Others. We do not use big in a small way, or how Morrissey employed it. Tan Chuan Do (陈传多), also known by his initials CD, may not have been massive (although he was known) as a model back in the day, but he is, as The Straits Time’s Sumiko Tan wrote in a lightweight 2022 profile of the fellow in her benign column ‘Lunch with Sumiko’, “the man whose youthful good looks and washboard abs have made him an Internet sensation.” It has been about his stature—physical, social, and professional. And now it looks like Mr Tan, 56, is going to get even bigger: He shall be releasing an autobiography this day, next week. The renowned photographer and just-one-movie-under-his-belt actor shared on Instagram two hours ago that the book, in (traditional) Chinese, 人生,不需要每一次都贏 (In life, one does not need to win every time), will “convey [his] philosophy of life and the secrets of fitness and taking care of oneself”. In addition, he wrote that he “hopes everyone is able to absorb [his idea of] the meaning of life.” Serious stuff.

It looks like the book will first only be available in Taiwan. It is published by the Taiwanese imprint of the Japanese manga publisher Kadokawa (台湾角川, taiwan jiaochuan), known in the capital for their inaugural magazine Taipei Walker. Apart from periodicals, Kadokawa puts out mainly graphic novels, photo books (some are categorised “情欲”, [qingyu] or lust) and “轻小说” or light novels, including BL (boy love) comics. Where Mr Tan’s autobiographical debut fits in, it isn’t clear, yet. Kadokawa describes Mr Tan as a “冻龄男神 (male god frozen in age)”. His book, comprising 20 chapters with instructional titles, “analyses in detail his unknown inner world, philosophy of life, and his ways of keeping ageing at bay”, according to the publisher. The pages include photographs shot in Bali and the Maldives, presumably with beach scenes in which to better display his Herculean build. It seems that Mr Tan’s first printed work of non-fiction could be a photobook, not unlike those of Japanese aidoru (idols) or something akin to the numerous photobooks of Godfrey Gao (高以翔), published before his death in 2019.

On the admittedly striking black-and-white cover of 人生,不需要每一次都贏, Mr Tan is shot, eyes not meeting the viewer, emerging purposefully from the sea, with neoprene suit stripped to mere centimetres south of his bellybutton to deliberately reveal his hard, compact waist that spreads upwards to join what might be described as heaving chest. This could be the male version of Halle Berry in a similar appearance in the 2002 James Bond flick Die Another Day. In her ST interview, Sumiko Tan made sure to note her subject’s enviable specs: 1.85m in height and 78kg in weight (at the time of the story). In the books’s cover shot, Tan Chuan Do, who, in the introduction, describes himself as “害臊 (haisao)” or shy, looks self-assured, more than comfortable with his body, and possibly bigger. This could be more than what the cover blurb calls “养生之道” or the way of maintaining good health. Interestingly, chapter 16 of the book is titled, “由于我曾当过多年的专业模特儿,在镜头前展现身体并不会让我感到不自在”. As I had been a professional model for many years, I am not uncomfortable revealing my body in front of a camera. Show and tell: to his fans or the 1.2 million followers on Instagram he has garnered, this might be a book to buy and to cherish. But if it’s just the pictures they desire, would they pay when they could view to their heart’s content for free on social media?

We hope to get a copy of the book. If we do, a review won’t be far off. Photo: Kadokawa Taiwan