Star-Power Insistence

Unvaccinated Novak Djokovic is hell-bent on participating in this year’s Australian Open, largely through his standing as “the world’s number 1 tennis player”. Will his audacity enhance his appeal among brands behind his multi-million sponsorship deals?

By Lester Fang

The world is screwed. That much we know. The COVID pandemic has destructed civic life as much as the vaccine needed to bring about its end has divided it. Despite the climate problems we now face that may one day wipe us all off the surface of this earth, we have to preface that gloomy prediction by being caught between two opposing human forces: those who have accepted vaccination—and are inoculated—against the COVID virus (and the subsequent mutants) and those who have not and their dead refusal to receive it. I have not met an anti-vaxxer before. That is why the Serbian Novak Djokovic’s situation and defiance in Australia is so spine-straightening to me. Will he really get to play on Monday, and show the world how exceptional he really is—so out of the ordinary that he should be able to bypass immigration policies of a sovereign land when you and I would not be able to?

Let me lay it out: I am no tennis fan. Okay, to be more accurate, I am no fan of any tennis player, regardless of his world ranking. That kind of thing just does not impress me. Nor, how many pairs of shoes one can sell. Therefore, the individual known as Ye has not been able to make a fan out of me with his Yeezys, even less now that his name is the first syllable of Yeshua. No one is ever that big in stature and in wealth to be above immigration requirements of any independent state. Nor, is he able to impress the world by hiring a lawyer to fight his case in court, and then admit to failings, such as knowing that he tested positive when, last month, he attended a newspaper interview and photoshoot at his tennis centre in Serbia. And, in an unsurprising blame game, that his “agent” had conveniently made a mistake in a travel form. But we’re supposed to believe that Mr Djokovic is not a no one.

“It’s very clear that Novak Djokovic is one of the best players of the history, without a doubt. But there is no one player in history that’s more important than an event.”

Rafael Nadal

Rafael Nadal was a beacon of reason when he told the media in a pre-tournament press conference, “It’s very clear that Novak Djokovic is one of the best players of the history, without a doubt. But there is no one player in history that’s more important than an event.” The spotlight now cast on Mr Djokovic unfortunately brightens his importance, as the player, the anti-vaxxer, and the exceptional. One tennis enthusiast friend of mine, a Roger Federer fan, agrees that the alienating refusenik should not be allowed to enter Australia because “he has not been honest with quite a few things in pertaining to his entry requirement, particularly his vaccination status”.

To me, Mr Djokovic’s border behaviour borders on the bratty. He is already a polarising player in Centre Court, he does not need to remind us why some of us won’t buy his pathetic stand as victim in an airport. Sure, many people can’t bear watching the Australian Open without him competing (his 21st Grand Slam title is at stake), but there are those of us who can’t take his refusal to be vaccinated half way across the world and insist he is to be treated differently from others who respect the entry requirements of foreign nations. Some supportive members of the media say that Mr Djokovic’s “reception (at Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport) was not what the world’s No. 1 player anticipated”. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic even charged the Australian government for “mistreating” Serbia’s national pride. Australia is known to have one of the toughest border controls in the world (my mother was once almost denied entry for having on her a packet of peanuts distributed on the aircraft earlier that she did not finish!). Yet, the “World’s No.1” did not anticipate the airport staff would simply do their job.

Uniqlo sponsored Novak Djokovic from 2012 to 2017

According to Forbes last year, Mr Djokovic’s endorsement deals amounted to a not unimpressive US$30 million. So far, no brand has indicated that distancing themselves from him is on the cards. His insistence to be allowed to play, I can only imagine, is admirable qualities. Only the Swiss watchmaker Hublot has released a statement, assuring the public—fans, surely—that their sponsorship for the tennis star remains intact and, in addition, that “Novak Djokovic is his own person”. As most brands know of his stand on vaccination, whatever he does now, even if it doesn’t gain applause, likely won’t change what they think the value his name could bring to a product. Negative publicity has not hurt him in the past, it is possible it won’t ruffle him now. In 2012, when Uniqlo’s sponsorship of Mr Djokovic was announced, Tadashi Yanai, Chairman, President & CEO of Fast Retailing, said, “Uniqlo and Novak share a common, mutual desire to improve people’s lives and contribute to society”. What has happened in Melbourne since 6 January appear to contradict that view.

Mr Djokovic does not share headline space with luxury brands such as that between Naomi Osaka and Louis Vuitton. He is not, to me, the Christiano Ronaldo of the tennis world. He won’t, therefore, be on the marketing radar of, say, Kering. The most prestigious fashion brand to support him is Lacoste. The five-year sponsorship, which he accepted after the deal with Uniqlo (which came after Sergio Tacchini, 2009—2012) ended, is reported to be worth US$9.4 million annually till this year. Other non-garment sponsorships include the American label Head for racquets and the Japanese Asics for shoes, and, of course, Hublot for the timepiece(s). These brands’ no-reaction to the happenings in Melbourne of the past ten days, I am certain, would not have vaccinated fashionistas up in arms. By most indications, Novak Djokovic won’t go under Down Under.

Update (16 January 2022, 15:00): Novak Djokovic has lost his desperate court appeal against the cancellation of his visa. He will be deported from Australia just as he is looking forward to defending his Australian Open championship tomorrow evening.

Illustration: Just So. Photo: novakdjokovic.com

Music Video Or Fashion Commercial?

With the new track from Kanye West’s Donda, the line is clearly blurred

Kanye West, er, Ye (since last October, we keep forgetting) has a new single from the 27-track Donda album, called Heaven and Hell. Between those poles, he has put out a music video two days ago that is quite unlike any seen on his YouTube channel. This is not awash with the most amazing video effects or full of sensational fashion, or elephantine footwear. At about two half minutes long, Heaven and Hell is a rather short track. The accompany video is dark, gloomy, and dystopian-looking, more hell than heaven, with many people in it, all looking rather like Ye has this past Balenciaga-enabled year: facially obscured, mysterious, and inaccessible. Even zombies have more expression.

We see only silhouettes of the indistinct people. They seem to be monks—just men. Maybe the gender is incorporeal, inconsequential. Maybe they are non-binary. Just single beings, single units, single entities, looking from the shadows towards the abode of the Almighty. The singularity is rather odd for a proudly cisgender Ye, more so when he reminds us in the new song, “women producing, men go work” (taken from 20th Century Steel Band’s 1965 track Heaven and Hell on Earth). Were the faceless men working as they go about slow-mo in what looks like a housing estate? In the stills towards the end of the video, the hordes seem to be in battle. The end of days?

Could they be angels? One thing is for certain, all of them are outfitted in a black hoodie of one design. And at the end of the video, we learned, at the sight of the familiar blue logo, that the top was from Yeezy Gap. Not likely the trousers since the Gap and Yeezy partnership has only released one hoodie and one puffer jacket, so far. Is the MV sponsored by Gap then, or is this part of the marketing exercise of the two names coming together? If there were to be roles/talents/characters in the video, the people would need clothes. But Gap (traditionally) takes pride in the many colours of one style that they could merchandise. It is, therefore, unclear how this gloomy video could augment the (still) fading glory of Gap, even if it was announced that Balenciaga would “engineer“ something with Yeezy Gap. Or, is it just the black similitude that the brand sees as the way forward?

As with most of Ye’s music in recent years, Heaven and Earth is a sharing of the power of the Christian God and a show of the rapper’s evangelical flair. This, like all of Donda, doubles as soundtrack for his popular Sunday service. It isn’t known how Ye—now, a monosyllabic moniker, like God—reconciles the materialism, swagger and self-absorption of fashion with the values of religious dogma. “Save my people through the music,” Ye raps, but not once does he plead, through clothes (instead, “no more logos“), even when he has used fashion merchandise to preach, such as as his label Yeezy Sunday Service, sold through the Coachella pop-up Church Clothes. Despite acknowledging the part that image and clothing play, Ye is still unwavering in his devotional bent, sing-preaching/suggesting more good than goods; more God than Gap.

Screen grab: Kanye West/Youtube

Carrie Bradshaw Goes Ethnic

Woke or cultural appropriation? No, it’s “cultural appreciation”. Confusing times, isn’t it?

Carrie Bradshaw decked up for Diwali. Photo: sarah.j.p.bradshaw/Instagram

And Just Like That… it’s Diwali. Carrie Bradshaw has a new gal-pal, her real estate agent Seema Patel (played by British actress Sarita Choudhury). Not only has Ms Bradshaw bought an apartment from the latter, she is getting rather close to her. And Just Like That… Ms Bradshaw is going to celebrate the Festival of Light with an Indian family in episode six of AJLT, titled—what else?—‘Diwali’. But before that, soul mate Seema took her to “my Soho” in Manhattan for sari-shopping. In the unnamed store, no sari was seen (we certainly did not see one), but Ms Patel said “sari” twice: “I’ll buy a stunning sari” and “let’s get you a sari”. Neither woman touched a sari; neither is shown leaving the store with a purchase of one.

(Okay, truth now: we did watch AJLT, even when we said we would not. The temptation to see how blah it would turn out is too great to resist.)

And then Ms Bradshaw is, 21 minutes (and a consultation with a facelift doctor) later, all dressed and ready to go celebrate Diwali somewhere in Queens. She emerges from her part-time home, a Brownstown on the Upper East Side, decked out in a long-sleeved choli and a full-skirted lehenga! Did Ms Patel not say, in “my Soho” that her friend should get a sari? Or were we mistaken (could not be bothered to rewind)? As she arranges her outfit outside the front door to her block, it is clear Ms Bradshaw is not wearing a sari, but a skirt, the lehenga, usually ankle-length—hers seems to be sweeping the floor. It is hard to imagine that fashion-mad Carrie Bradshaw did not know what she was wearing, exactly.

A supposed sari shop in Soho, but the women are flanking a set of choli and lehenga. Photo: Netflix

To be sure, she did let on that she knew little (or nothing?) about Indian dress and Indian festive seasons. She told Ms Patel shortly after entering the “sari shop” (she did later call it that): “Okay, these clothes, this holiday, I need to know everything about it (sic)”. As it turns out, she learnt nothing about them. When she was told to purchase a sari to go to the party, she asked with 2021-proper caution, “Is that allowed?” The buying? Sure! But, Ms Patel replied confidently, “You’re wearing it to a traditional celebration at my family home. That’s not cultural appropriation; that’s cultural appreciation”. It’s in the Borough of Queens, not the Republic of India! The wearing of ethnic clothes (let’s not talk about the blooming mohawk on her hair!) not related to the ethnicity of the wearer is not inappropriate adoption for as long one is given approval by a single person from that ethnic group, an entire diaspora? Or is it more lax in New York?

In this episode of AJLT, directed by cast member Cynthia Nixon, Carrie Bradshaw reminds us that “15 years” have passed. And in her mid-50s, she has an Indian friend and learning about Diwali for, both the first time. It is unfathomable that, in all these years, from the time they met (let’s go back further), the three women have so few Asian friends when New York is such a plural society, with Asians constituting the highest total Asian population of any US city. Sure, Charlotte York has an adopted Chinese daughter, Lily, but she is largely a peripheral character. Sex and the City, while progressive at the time of its broadcast, did not really have a sterling reputation when it came to embracing diversity. And Just Like That playing catch up is, regrettably, just that.

Couturier Possessed

A high-fashion designer claimed he was under demonic influence when he was unable to show up at an arranged meeting to execute a paid job, and then he disappeared, as the client chased him to have her money back

Scandal to start the year: a S$1,000 photo shoot that did not materialise, the victim who reached out to The Straits Times to expose the service provider—a self-proclaimed “couturier” who seemingly vanished. The tale is not the equivalent of The House of Gucci, but it is still a story with cinematic potential, one that might interest Mark Lee (although it is unlikely he would cast himself as the main man). According to the ST report, admin assistant Katrina Rawther approached the paper with her story/grievance in October last year, claiming that the Singaporean “couturier” Dicky Ishak had not honoured the thousand-dollar photo shoot they had agreed to do and for which she had paid in full in two payments. Ms Rawther had, apparently, not been able to reach him after November last year. It is unclear why the ST report appeared only yesterday.

Dicky Ishak, who calls himself “Mr Dicky” (even in Malay, he is referred to as “Encik Dicky”), is a “bespoke” high-fashion designer, known for gowns and special occasion wear, in particular, baju nikah (wedding dress). Reportedly a professional since 1990, he claimed to have “designed the wardrobes for the Miss Singapore World contestants (yes, in plural)”, as well as those of “international beauty pageants such as Mrs Global, Miss World and Mrs Asia Pacific” although ST stated that he only “once designed a dress for the Miss Universe Pageant”. That single dress, according to a 2020 Berita Harian report, was supposed to have been made for Miss Universe Singapore Bernadette Belle Wu Ong of that year for the National Costume segment at the delayed staging of the event last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But as we know now, Ms Ong wore a dress designed by Filipino Arwin Meriales, with a cape that had “Stop Asian Hate” written on it.

As Mr Dicky told the Malay-language paper, national director of Miss Universe Singapore Valerie Lim had sent him a letter with the “opportunity to sponsor the national costume, evening gown and cocktail dress, accessories and shoes” that Ms Ong would don at the finals in Florida. He said that, in the midst of the pandemic, designing the Miss Universe costumes: “ia bak bulan jatuh ke riba (it’s like the moon has fallen on your lap)”, by which he meant something good unexpectedly happened to him. With Ms Ong’s red-and-white dress making the news globally, she revealed on Instagram that she “reach(ed) out” to Mr Meriales “to create a design of my own”, It is not known what happened to the gowns Dicky Ishak had agreed to design or if he completed them at all. But, according to Low Hwee Lee of Red Carpet Invite (a “models and talents agency”), who shared on FB, “Designer Dicky Ishak is the key sponsor for most of MUS gown (sic)”.

Designing the Miss Universe costumes: “it’s like the moon has fallen on your lap”

A month after the Miss Universe staging and telecast, Mr Dicky met his potential client, Katrina Rawther. According to ST, Ms Rawther had organised a photo shoot of herself in “traditional costume” with “a local bridal services company”. Mr Dicky was reportedly hired as a stylist for the session. It is not certain if they spoke in person, but he told Ms Rawther that he was a fashion designer, experienced in dressing contestants of pageants, and “suggested that she hire him in the future”, To bolster his creative credentials, he allegedly showed Ms Rawther media coverage of his work (presumably the Berita Harian story was shown, although Mr Dicky himself claimed on Facebook to have been “mentioned” in The New Paper and the now-defunct Lianhe Wanbao [联合晚报]) and identified the talk shows he was on (these were not named).

About a month after that (and the traditional costume shoot we assume to have taken place), Ms Rawther was contacted by the baju nikah designer with a seemingly attractive overture: for S$1,000, he would organise a shoot and “loan her three costumes he had designed for her to be photographed in”, according to ST. It is not understood why he had three dresses “designed for her” when she did not ask for them, but she seemed to be happy with the fee and agreed to the service offered. Apparently, she thought the makeover would be a lovely birthday present to herself. The photos were to be ready by her birthday—16 September. To initiate the agreed project, Ms Rawther revealed to ST that she transferred, via PayNow, S$300 to him as a deposit on 17 July, followed by the rest of the payment eight days later. They now agreed to a shoot scheduled for 6 September.

When that day arrived, Mr Dicky called to postpone the photographic session. He told Ms Rawther the “photographer had tested positive for COVID-19” (then, before the emergence of the Omicron variant). It is not known if the S$1,000 that was paid included the photographer’s fee or those doing the hair and makeup. Stylists that we have spoken to said that the quote Mr Dicky offered to his client was likely a “package price” and that it was “competitive” if “a top photographer is not used”. It is, therefore, unlikely that he considered backing out for under-quoting her. He told Ms Rawther that he would get back to her for a new date for the shoot by 16 September. He contacted her on her birthday.

Image from Dicky Ishak’s last FB post on 10 September 2020. Photo: Akram TheLove

This was when the story took a comedic turn. Not only did Mr Dicky fail to deliver the photographs by the anniversary of his client’s birth (as initially agreed), he called her again on that day, this time offering a bomo hokum: he was “possessed”! It is not stated what possessed him, but as he told Ms Rawther that he needed “spiritual healing”, it might be safe to assume that a supernatural power was involved. Aware that the excuse this time might sound utterly foolish, he provided her with “proof” of the control of his body by spirits (we do not know if they were malevolent): “pictures, videos and an audio file”, all purportedly ST was privy to. Once again, Ms Rawther agreed to a postponement. As fate would have it, she saw, on the same day of the possession reveal, activity on Mr Dicky’s IG page, and proceeded to text him on WhatsApp, but was ignored. Afraid of a bad outcome, she tried all social media options to reach him, but met a blank.

As many Singaporeans would, Ms Rawther filed a report with the Small Claims Tribunals, but was informed that there was no business license in Mr Dicky’s name, although BH did report of a “studio” in Prestige Centre@Bukit Batok Crescent that he was working out of last year. Clearly at the end of the road now, Ms Rawther went to the police, and then spoke to ST about her case in October last year. When the paper tried to contact Mr Dicky, he did not respond. On the same day, he reached out to Ms Rawther and offered to reschedule the shoot, again. But in November, he changed his mind and supposedly cancelled the entire project and offered to return the S$1,000 he received from her. That was the last she heard from him. When we called the one number linked to Dicky Ishak Couturier, we were met with totally no response, not even a ring tone—it appeared to be an unused number.

In a hilarious “Details about Dicky” entry in FB, he stated that (and we quote verbatim) “Mr Dicky is one of the designer in Singapore today. Since 1990, it has developed a unique style of its own, reflecting the Fusion craftsmanship in a contemporary vocabulary. Mr Dicky understanding individual designs and the innovative use of modern crafts has created a new classicism. Today his name is renowned for its distinctive use of colors, quality of fabrics, intricate embroideries and a gloriously rich Wedding wear.” It was perhaps this fame that landed him, alongside eight others, in the semi-finals of last year’s Singapore Stories design competition, organised by TaFF (Textile and Fashion Federation), also the operator of Design Orchard. He did not advance to the final.

It is not stated what possessed him, but as he told Ms Rawther that he needed “spiritual healing”, it might be safe to assume that a supernatural power was involved

Not much is known about Mr Dicky’s training in fashion. According to some media reports, he “was born into a family of dressmakers”. He told BH that his mother was in the busana pengantin (bridal wear) business and that he helped her from an early age, allowing “bidang fesyen mendarah daging dalam dirinya sejak kecil (fashion to be ingrained in him since young)”. He revealed almost nothing about his formal education. According to him, he began his vocational training in hairdressing at Toni & Guy before taking up a makeup course at Cosmoprof as “he believe it takes a package to make all happen to make them look good, From head to toe (sic)“. Somehow fashion design came into the picture, and he “started full blast into Fashion World once the time strikes right for him to express his goal”. Wedding dresses in both Western and Malay styles seem to be his forte. By most online responses, his output was much appreciated.

An earlier BH story from 2018, reported that Mr Dicky expanded his fashion business into Malaysia a year before. Butterworth native, “Mrs Most Elegance Malaysia Global United 2017” Sally Ong, shared a photo on FB of her wearing a Dicky Ishak dress at the Dolby Theatre in LA, “walking on the Oscars red carpet”, she wrote, in July! He was soon dressing celebrities there, according to BH. They included actress Rita Rudaini and singers Aiman ​​Tino and Ziana Zain. Malaysia had been especially appreciative of his designs. In 2015, prior to his supposed venture into the peninsular to our north, Mr Dicky was the winner of the MEFA Malaysia (a “wedding festival“) Best Designer Award. This was followed by other accolades, mainly targeted at a Malay audience. In 2016, Mr Dicky participated in the Johor Fashion Week, held at the Persada Johor International Convention Centre. A year later, he started an eponymous online store on Carousell.

Although Mr Dicky generally receives positive responses online, he and his brand have minimal digital presence now, possibly a reaction to the ST report. On FB, which he joined in 2014, only one post from 10 September 2020 was left. There is nothing on IG or Tweeter. His TikTok account is set to private. Quite a few of his fans are unhappy with the ST report, commenting on the daily paper’s FB page that this is a “private matter” and that, based on a “single accusation”, the paper’s coverage is excessive. Moreover, he is, as one commentator, gripped by irrationality, pointed out, not “a serial cheat”. Sure, he is no Elizabeth Holmes, but now that the police are apparently involved, let them decide who is or not on the right side of the law. Perhaps, to quote BH, there is in this “pelangi selepas hujan”—rainbow after the rain.

Illustration by Just So

Watched: And Just Like That

The much awaited return of the renamed Sex and the City is, in a word, sad

Warning: this post contains language and description that some readers may find offensive. It also reveals some plots points of the show

Sex and the City (SATC) was a made-for-television product of the late Nineties by HBO. The series premiered in 1998, more than two decades ago. Its unnecessary reboot, the 10-episode, now-45-minute-long And Just Like That (AJLT) desperately wants you to believe that the main characters have veritably left that era. But have they? The same blouse unbuttoned does not make the wearer sexier. AJLT is a desperate attempt to bring the women into a post-pandemic world, to show that these Manhattan women in their 50s can be relevant or speak the language of the present age, but not quite the metaverse, yet. The idea is appealing, but the execution forgets that it still needs to charm. AJLT is merely in legacy-protection mode.

When the camera framed the (remaining) three protagonists together in the first three minutes of episode one, we felt like we were seeing scenes and people frozen in time, unruffled by the cyclones of change. They appeared older, no doubt (Charlotte’s and Miranda Hobbes’s kids are teenagers!), but they also looked like they never went further than 2004, when SATC ended. We were still looking at the over-dressing, the It bags (Carrie now carries two at a time!!!) and, gosh, high heels—more! And the action still took place in some hipster eatery. The women still talked about sex—not their own fancy encounters, but Miranda’s, with her son’s spent condom!

The love columnist, now also an unimpressive podcaster, is her usual a-million-things-on-one-body fashionista. In her first appearance, it was busy from the knee up (we had to belief it was still pandemic season?). Her wavy, multi-tone, breast-length hair cascaded from a close-fit cap unto a floral Dries van Noten jacket, cut diagonally by the straps of not one, but two shoulder bags(!): one in black and the other a gold chain. The one with the black—a green bag that was deliberately hung lower—laid on the thigh of her vintage Claude Montana jumpsuit with flowy side panels. We know Carrie is no minimalist. Her tastes border on fashion victimhood. But, was she telling us she could not wait to be all togged up again, now possibly shopping at vintage stores such as Procell? Or, that her obsessions came along with her, right into a new era? Au courant and current must be there!

And her fervid fixations did not stop at clothes and bags, and oversized fabric flowers. As we know, Carrie Bradshaw has a thing for shoes. In one scene, we were reminded of how much she would not let go when she walked into a walk-in wardrobe and came face to face with a cabinet of high heels, and gleefully said, “hello, lovers”. As quickly as our eyes could see, there were no flats, not even a pair of sneakers. In the end, the “iconic” blue Manolo Blahnik ‘Hangisi’ stiletto pumps with the crystal buckle made their obligatory appearance. A throw-back to the scene of the final season of SATC when the wardrobe was empty? Or, the wedding in the film version of the TV series? How much more do we need to be reminded that Carrie is practically wedded to Manolo heels?

To be sure, we watched only the first half of the first episode. So unendurable it was that we did not care to finish, forget moving to the next. In fact, when it was announced right at the beginning, less than a minute into the show, that Samantha Jones had moved to London, after a bad joke about her possibly dead (Charlotte said “she’s no longer with us”), we did not want to go on watching a show we know will still be based on the whiny Carrie Bradshaw (new characters were introduced—expectedly, women of colour, and more decked-up than SATC’s one major black character Louise from St. Louis, played by Jennifer Hudson). Without the PR maverick, there was no one to temper Carrie’s unreasonableness, ultra-sensitivity and pseudo-prudishness. Broaching the subject of sex is not the same without Sam J. In fact, what more about sex have the women not covered that in the first episode of AJLT, they had to bring it up, humourlessly? Oh, Carrie Bradshaw had never seen a man masturbate. So she made Mr Big do it so that she could watch. And we too. No, thank you.

One of our readers in Bangkok wrote to us to ask if we have watched the show. She, an ex-SATC fan, who does not identify with any of the protagonists, said, “I forget how irritating Carrie is. I became depressed after that. And began to question myself if I, too, am guilty of not acting my age 😂. It took me three days to finish an episode.” For us, we did not even bother reaching to the end of the first. With expressions, such as “sexy sirens in their sixties” and “step up my pussy”, and scenes showing the women, still material, consciously coming into the world of no hand shakes and all manner of wokeness, it felt like the writers and producers tried too hard. Even Mr Big tried too hard (or should that be tried to get hard?)! What is truly regrettable is that And Just Like That is not funny. The jokes felt scripted, not the rapid repartees that so characterised the old show. The women’s lives were more mundane too; they attended a school piano recital! How Lion Moms! As we logged off, something came to our mind: Malboros and Metropolitans did not join the materialism and mania.

Screen grabs: HBO Max

When Paris Marries, You Gain

The heiress Paris Hilton’s marriage is also a marketing opportunity for the c-commerce site Italist. Fabulous?

By Mao Shan Wang

Paris Hilton is a married woman. I am happy for her; I truly am. Last month, she tied the knot with her venture capitalist fiancé Carter Reum in what CNN described as a “lavish ceremony”. Meghan Trainor called it the “most beautiful wedding ever!! (yes, double exclamation marks all hers)” and Rachel Zoe said she was “the most beautiful bride.” Yes, I am happy for her. To top the many compliments, Ms Hilton will have a new reality TV show, Paris in Love, on Peacock, after the inane Netflix series Cooking with Paris. Everything from the engagement to the proposal to walking down the aisle will be featured in Paris in Love. She gleefully posted of the show, “I want my fans to know how I found my Prince Charming, and a fairy tale. Happy ending”. So, yes, I am Happy for her.

But I am not sure that. despite all the happiness I am feeling—in times of the ominous Omicron—that I would want to win a “Paris Hilton’s Fairytale Wedding Giveaway”, as curiously offered by the e-commerce site Italist. The wedding is over, but somehow it is still happening. We’re still seeing her veiled face. Is this like one of those long Indian weddings that could last five days (although for most couples, it’s just the average three), only now, with Ms Hilton, much longer? Wouldn’t it be great if newly engaged Kim Lim and Club 21, too, give something away after the former’s likely lavish-as-well wedding in the unknown future?

Would this be like those that guests receive at the end of wedding parties? Or, something akin to the Chanel advent calendar?

In Paris Hilton’s name (also to “honor” her new show) and part of their “December Treats”, Italist is letting “one lucky winner” walk away with a “Paris and Carter’s (nope, not Cartier’s!) Gift Bag”. Would this be like those that guests receive at the end of wedding parties? Or, something akin to the Chanel advent calander? According to Italist, the gift, probably housed in a (now-trendy/trending) dust bag, includes “Wedding Sweatshirt, His & Hers Paris Hilton Perfume Set, Tote Bag, R3SET Botanical Stress & Anxiety Support Supplements, & Candles”. Excited yet?

But that is not all. The winner will also be gifted with four certificates for a stay at, where else, a Hilton Hotel of their choice (valued at USD2,400), a wedding crystal figurine (worth USD500), a USD500 gift card to Jane (a “curated marketplace”), a USD300 gift card to The Dog Bakery (yes, a canine pâtisserie), a USD350 hair-care hamper from Keratase, USD500 worth of products from paw.com, and a USD500 gift card to Italist. If you include the Paris and Carter’s Gift Bag, which, according to sweepstakes.com, is worth USD4,800 (oh yes, they, too, are giving that away), the total value of the haul is very close to a rather handsome US ten grand. (More) excited yet?

To be sure, Italist addressed their communique to: “Hilton fans” with the specific, “this one is for you”. So that, technically, counts me out. I can be happy for Paris Hilton and not be a fan. There are enough of them around the world. Otherwise, why a show of her married life? Who really cares? Who even bothered when she was living The Simple Life? Truth be told, I am no fan of anyone. But, as a believer in the institution of marriage and its sanctity, I am glad that she is heading towards marital bliss and, despite numerous past engagements, a “happy ending”. Do I want any of those giveaways? Yes, I am happy for her, but not that much.

The Paris Hilton’s Fairytale Wedding Giveaway is open to US residents only. Photo: Italist

M To M: The Metamorphosis Of Madonna

How did she go from this… to this?

Left : Madonna on one of three covers of V Magazine in May 2014 shot by Steven Klein. Right: Madonna on this month’s V Magazine cover, also shot by Steven Klein

On the latest cover of V Magazine, Madonna is framed within the large-as-the-page masthead, slanted, san-serif lines of the twenty-secondth letter of the English alphabet. She is reportedly 63 years old, but she looks half of that, like she shares the age of Lady Gaga. Her pore-less complexion is as fine as a mannequin’s. Or Barbie’s. Collagen and elastin in peak production. She looks at the reader from the corners of her dramatically made-up eyes, the lids lifted like a simmering pot’s, the whites as white as Mentos. Her lips, in particular, stick out. They are not only overdrawn, they look extra thick. They sit above a pronounced chin that is rather pointy, as if shaped so that it can dovetail into the sharp, pointed groove of the V. The letter elongates her face, keeping it compact and narrow, like a condensed font. Gravity has not reached Madonna.

If Madonna is recognisable on the V Magazine cover, it is likely because she is seen quite frequently these past months in the media, social too, looking like this—a version of herself. But for many no longer following her as Queen of Pop, she seems like another person. From images of her celebrating her birthday with her 27-year-old boyfriend in Puglia, Spain in August to her news-making appearance on The Tonight Show early this month, a different-looking, altered Madonna could be discerned. Fake or real, most chose the former. The singer has never admitted to plastic surgery. The sceptical is certain there is at least some toxins involved and definitely photo trickery. Back in 2019, when speculation was rife that she surgically augmented her derriere, the defiant star retorted, “Desperately Seeking No Ones (sic) Approval… And Entitled to Free Agency Over My Body Like Everyone Else!!”

The same woman? Left: Madonna shot by Herb Ritts for True Blue in 1986. Right: Madonna in this month’s cover story shoot by Steven Klein for V Magazine

The same blonde? Left: in 1987. Photo: Shutterstock. Right: today. Photo: Madonna/Instagram

In 2018, Madonna, then 60, said“I don’t know why ageing is a negative word, it needs to be a positive word.”Sure, but by not ageing negatively, it seems she is negating ageing, at least visually. Or is she ageing in reverse? Is she privy to some magical elixir we know not of? With scientific intervention, ageing needs not manifest itself on the face. And it is likely she works with the best doctors at her calling. And add to that, her own skincare line MDNA Skin, conceived with her aesthetician Michelle Peck and made by the Japanese skincare innovator MTG, and launched in Japan in 2014. But dermatologists reacting online to Madonna’s clearly different face today are sure that there is more than creams and lotions involved, no matter how potent or hi-tech the topical applications may be. Many also put forth confidently that “work has been done” and not just recently. There are reports that even suggested “her curiously taut face” has had “extensive amounts of work that has been done since she hit 40” or at least some fillers or fat transfers as far back as 2009.

That Madonna does not appear to have aged is hardly surprising since she is still an active performer (and, recently, a prolific Instagrammer). At her concert here in 2016, she did look a lot younger than her 58 years even when no one was able to get that close to her to be sure. Or, to see if the mole above the right side of her upper lip is still there or concealed by makeup. Surely, age does not make it disappear! Nevertheless, many in the audience recognised her as Madonna. When MDNA Skin was launched in the US in 2019, she told the media there, “I think it’s ridiculous that we have to hide our age or not be able to embrace it. We have to go the other way and stop cheating and pretending”, as stated in the beauty e-mag Byrdie. Although she does not say how old she is, she seems to be fronting a youthfulness that contradicts what she thinks. It is hard not to construe that photos after photos of her line-less—even pore-less—faces in the media and on her own IG page are not serious attempts to deceive and feign.

Madonna turning the other cheeks. At the Grammy’s (left). Photo: Wireimages, And on The Tonight Show early last month (right). Screen grab: NBC/YouTube

Not only is Madonna’s face defying age, her buttocks are too. In 2015, she exposed her other cheeks on the Grammy Awards red carpet, supposedly because she needed to adjust something under her skirt. Her backside at the time was, of course, no stranger to the public; they had been seen bare before, but no one was asking to see it then. Then it happened again at the MTV Video Awards in September this year, on stage, no less. There was also the harness/support that looked similar to the one she wore at the Grammy’s six years ago. And then The Late Show flaunt, which the visibly embarrassed host Jimmy Fallon could not digest, but Madonna is an artist and—quoting novelist James Baldwin— said, “artists are here to disturb the peace”. Displaying the derrière to upset the tranquility, in her case, is more of a possibilty after the (rumoured) augmentation and, by her admission, the consistent use of MDNA Skin’s Chrome Clay Mask, priced at USD220, on her butt!

This month’s V Magazine cover is shot by Steven Klein, the same photographer who was behind the lens of another V Magazine cover picture of her, seven years ago. It is rather curious that Mr Klein did not see a markedly different Madonna this time round. Did he not wonder how the two photos that he took of the same person could look so vastly unalike? Or was he complicit, merely doing his job, regardless of how his subjects have changed physically, and allowing heavy-handed Photoshopping? The media, too, is rather accepting of the singer’s changed face. We often see the transformation described as “amazing”—likely to mean wonderful than to cause great surprise. Whatever she did to her face, nothing is more astonishing, even bizarre, than what she was alleged to have doctored in March this year. Reports appeared in the media that Madonna posted on IG of a photo that digitally placed her head on the body of a fan! One Amelia Goldie from Australia shared on TikTok, “When Madonna posts a photo of herself to IG to promote her album but its actually your body (I’m not joking)”. No more evidence needed to prove that the posts on Instagram, like magazine covers, is mostly fictional.

Sylvia Chan Opened Up To Xiaxue

One ex-pink-haired spilled to another, and it became only louder

Warning: this post contains language and description that some readers may find offensive

At around fifteen past eight yesterday evening, influencer extraordinaire Xiaxue announced/teased on Instagram that Sylvia Chan “is going to appear on video to give an exclusive interview to me to clip her side of the story as well as to answer some hard questions.” Clumsy intro aside, the host preview snips of Ms Chan angry, effing, and crying, as well as the explosive admission: “we never have a happy marriage”. Social-media broadcasts like these possibly explain why free-to-air television struggles to find enough viewers. They also show that influencers-as-talk-show-hosts are more compelling to watch than TV old hats, such as Quan Yifeng. The saga involving Ms Chan is not only trending, it has engrossed much of our social media-consuming world. Our look into who she is and what happened was this year’s most viewed within thirty-six hours of of its appearance on SOTD. Xiaxue’s promised interview was finally shared two hours later, at ten thirty, possibly because of the R-rated content. The hard questions were fairly hard, but the show was pacy melodrama that even Channel U’s Sunday night Thai soap operas can’t match.

Recorded on 22 October, the interview was shared on Xiaxue’s own eponymous YouTube channel. It opened with her ensuring viewers of the integrity of the show: “this interview is entirely produced by my own team. Okay, I’m not being paid by NOC or Sylvia in any way. She does not know the questions I’m going to be asking her before hand. And she does not get any vetting or editing rights in what is the final piece that is going to be published.” The chat between the women was an hour and forty-seven minutes long, or nearly the average length of a movie (the running time of the recent Shang Chi is 132 minutes). By midnight, there were more than 110,000 views. CNA’s broadcast of the Multi-Ministry Task Force’s full news conference earlier yesterday, also on YouTube, had only 70K views. Three hours after the “bombshell after bombshell” interview, as Xiaxue delightfully called it, 7.4K viewers liked it.

And it certainly did have a sudden and sensational effect. Set in what could be a living room, the two—one looked as if dressed for a regular IG shoot and the other, for a meeting with a defamation lawyer, but both without their recognisable pink dos—spoke as girlfriend to girlfriend would: with candour and mutual outrage. Sylvia Chan used YouTube to announce her divorce; she used the same platform to proclaim that not only did she and her former husband Ryan Tan “never”—not once, rather than the inaccurate synonym Singaporeans prefer: did not—enjoyed conjugal bliss, she was the target of a “smear campaign” by him to get her out of Night Owl Cinematics, the media company they started together, and that Mr Tan was suicidal, unfaithful, and unwilling to have sex with her! And, on top of that, she believes he is the one to initiate the smear of the past three weeks against her because “Ryan has something to gain from this”.

As it turned out, it was cushion-holding airing of dirty laundry. No holds barred. Three days ago, a “spokeperson” told CNA that “with regards to the latest slew of allegations, (Sylvia) intends to address and thoroughly rebut every one of these in due course.” No one could have guessed the rebutal (and rebuke) would be conducted in this manner. It is not certain if Ms Chan’s intention was to rehabiltate her battered image (she said of the interview, “it’s more cathartic than anything I want to achieve today”). If so, why did she not speak to accredited media? Or was she confident that Xiaxue would accord her “the right to say her peace“. After all, “even murderers have their day in court“, never mind if Ms Chan would be tried in the court of public opinion. One sensed that this fiery tell-all emerged from rancour, and was based on the motivation, if you pull me down, I’ll drag you down too.

This post will not be a summary of the many points and allegations raised in the video. Mothership would already have it published before the sun rises. Rather, this is a reaction post, faintly in the vein of reaction videos. And it is hard to be dispassionate about it, just as it seemed difficult for Ms Chan to comport herself. Xiaxue conducted the interview with the flair of Jerry Springer, the refinement of his delirious guests, and the empathy of Oprah Winfrey. She said, “I am trying to be neutral”, but played the responsive sympathiser. And Sylvia Chan easily opened up to her. The rapport was obvious and the responses spontaneous. This could hardly be scripted, although, in planning the questions, Xiaxue and her team clearly aimed to spill corporate scandal, spousal indiscretion, bosom-buddy betrayal, influencer gossip, insider misdeeds, familial shock, and, the icing on the cake, self-loathing. Without doubt, they knew how to augment the trash factor.

Ms Chan was no less skilled than her interviewer, cleverly deflecting questions, agilely not admitting to wrong doing and nearly denying a particular sex-act exposé (a friend said, “your boobs, wrong size”). She was sure to set out that if she was bad or reprehensible, they made her so. It was easy to feel sorry for her. She only wanted “to be that person to protect her business, to protect Ryan”—“this person really bully you, ah. I’m going to fuck him; I’m going to fuck him up for you… Because I love him, I fuck that person up, lah”. Now, she called herself “the shit of Singapore”, yet she never wanted to be “Sylvia, Version Shit”. Still, she pushed on with a tough and unyielding demeanour of herself: “I always say I am very strong, one. You know, I always say like, never mind, lah. Shit happens is okay, one. And I tell myself, today I won’t cry, one. Can’t stand the show cry for what? Go and show people that I don’t give a fuck. You want to call me a bitch, now I am, lor.”

As so many have read and seen these past weeks, shit did happen. And Xiaxue, who equates being “vulgar” with being “straightforward”, was able to make it happen again. This is one video that easily beats, in content strength, the entire series of NOC’s ‘Shit’ videos, beginning with 2013’s Shit Singaporean Girlfriends Say. In those narratives, bad behaviours are hard to justify. But in this, every alleged wrong-doing is offset with a legit excuse. On the purported “barter trade”, for example, of the sexual services of her talents for logistics arrangements for NOC, which Ms Chan laughed as they are “not a retail company”, she asked, “What is wrong if you introduce girlfriends to really rich guys?” Even acrimonious reactions: “He knows me well enough to say things that will make me very pissed off.” Her tendency to eff has nothing to do with her. Whether or not the video was shared to augment Xiaxue’s status as the queen of controversy or so that followers and more could revel in her subject’s misfortunes, or cackle at her foibles, it was the entertainment Night Owl Cinematics could not have produced. Or, dreamed to.

Xiaxue’s video post (the content of which “stupified” her, as she said in the end) had the input of her lawyers; it came with a disclaimer: “The guest states that all statements of facts she makes within the programme are based on materials in her personal possession evidencing these facts. Where she makes any opinions, these constitute her personal fair comments derived from information and materials she has access to and are not meant to offend, insinuate anything, or disparage any person. Neither are these comments or opinions meant to cause alarm, harassment, or distress to any person.” A good part of the interview talked about Ryan Tan’s supposed suicidal tendencies. Apparently, when he tried to end his life in Osaka in 2017, it was not his first attempt—it has happened “so, so, so many times”. Sylvia Chan repeatedly said she was and has been afraid that he would kill himself. She even wondered if he would do so after watching this video. Would there then be no incredulous gasp when reading the last sentence of the disclaimer? That a dysfunctional marriage should end is understandable. No life, however, should follow suit.

Update (25 October 2021, 5.30pm): Barely a day after her interview with her friend Xiaxue, Sylvia Chan issued a second apology. This time, unlike the first, she actually said she is sorry. “I am truly sorry for all the wrongs I have done,” she wrote on her Instagram page, “and the mistakes I have made.” In five short paragraphs, she said that she is cooperating with the authorities investigating her work place and hopes that she “be given a chance to work on (herself) to become a better person, and a better leader”. The curious thing is, why did she not apologise on Xiaxue’s show? Why did she, instead, continue to besmear others she thought had wronged her? Puzzling, no?

Screen grabs: xiaxue/Facebook

Kim Kardashian Looks Upholstered

So that you’ll know she’s pretty wrapped up in herself?

By Mao Shan Wang

Kim Kardashian has so many firsts that I stopped counting. Her debut as host of Saturday Night Life this past weekend is certainly one. But watch I did, not count. As her performance went rather smoothly and on-script, it didn’t have the same impact as the sex tapes (2007) or the Vogue cover (2014), or the time she broke the Internet (also 2014, a vintage year). I think it has to do with the jelak factor. Even when she is totally shrouded in black for an event that one attends to be seen: the Met Gala. Can Ms Kardashian, 41, surprise anymore? Sure, she is a savvy businesswoman and, to her fans, a style icon, but can there be more to her that would cause our jaw to drop? In that confidently handled SNL monologue, she already ruled out the possibility of being an American president. However hard I tried, I could not think of anything else I want to see her do except not to see her. Or, to see less of her.

When she walked down the stairs of the set of SNL, I thought it was a stagehand gone rogue, beating her to it by appearing as Miffy with a remade body in the shape of Kanye West’s still-legal-wife. But it was not so. As she moved towards the camera, one question immediately hit me. Why would anyone who would not hesitate to share naked selfies of herself on social media now want to look like a upholstered love seat, removed from a love hotel? And in lurid pink! I am serious. Or, after the Met Gala, should I say re-upholstered? Ms K loves nudity, but now she preferred covering every part of her body—more completely than a sofa. Yes, even her fingers and her toes. Why the strange modesty? Is this a divorce-in-the-process look? The fIngers covered so that no one can see that she is no longer trapped by a wedding ring?

The pink velvet(?) catsuit is designed by Demna Gvasalia of Balenciaga. We sort of had a preview of Ms K’s total-onesie in the Paris Fashion Week animated short of the Simpsons walking a Balenciaga show. She was seated in the front row, looking vacuum-sealed. Her face for SNL, however, was not covered. But as with the black outfit—also by Balenciaga—that she wore for the Met Gala, there was no mistaking who the silhouette belonged to. A body with such a defined and smooth shape had to be enhanced by some shape wear. It is, of course, expected that she’d wear one to promote her own Skims line (initially called Kimono!), however successful it already is. The Balenciaga second skin needed the Skims for sure. So why let Balenciaga have all the publicity? Now, that to me is a symbiotic relationship. And what better place to show it than on YouTube-bound television, on Saturday night?

Photo: NBC/YouTube

Valentino Makes A Statement

And it will drive the anti-vaxxer nuts

Fashion do want to be counted when it comes to making a social/political stand. Valentino, for one, not only knows their position on the divisive issue of COVID-19 vaccination, they are willing to express it, and, concurrently do good. Taking advantage of the cool-after-summer season, they’ve released a black, made-in-Italy, cotton hoodie with the word “Vaccinated” stretched across the chess, above which the unmistakable V-logo is centred. There is nothing to the hoodie really, other than what it might literally say about the wearer. With the vaccinated more appreciated in social circles and welcomed in dine-in-allowed eateries, knowing that they have received the two doses of either the mRNA or viral vector vaccines without turning on their Trace Together app might be a boon to those who’d benefit from the knowledge or be able to complete a professional duty.

Launched on the Valentino website today, the hoodie is shown on the label’s creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli, who looks relaxed in a rattan chair, placed in a garden. According to Valentino’s corporate comms, the designer was “captivated” by an identical hoodie conceived by “the American pop culture sensation Cloney” (a multi-disciplinary collective based in LA, headed by one Duke Christian George III) that he ordered all that was available (five, it is said) and gave them to his friends, among them Lady Gaga, who dutifully wore the V-logoed version and posted a video on Instagram. Clearly Nicki Minaj of the “swollen balls anti-vaxx claim” wasn’t on the receiving end of this messaged top.

Valentino’s Pierpaolo Piccioli proudly promoting his vaccination status

But, apparently, Valentino only told part of the story. According to media reports, Cloney “cloned” Valentino in their hoodies by replacing the V in ‘Vaccinated’ with Valentino’s V and the rest of the letters in the brand’s serif font. Mr Piccioli spotted the item on IG and magnanimously bought them to gift his friends, seeing the potential good that could come out of this hoodie. So rather than sue Cloney, as big brands such as Adidas are wont and eager to, he chose to work with them, pairing the couture brand in his charge with another closer to street that stars such as Justin Beiber and wife Hailey already love so that both can benefit from the resultant social-media exposure and old media support.

Lest you think this is just a commercial, opportunistic exercise, the sale of the hoodie, in fact, benefits places where COVID-19 vaccines have yet made significant impact. “All net profits,” Valentino reveals, “will be donated to UNICEF in favor of the COVAX facility, which ensures equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines by supplying doses to countries in need.” Doing so is also “to highlight the values the Maison stands for”, we are also told. We are not sure how many pieces are allotted to our island, but as of now, they are still available. Those who are keen on a charitable purchase and be in the company of others who share Valentino’s mission, best be quick. They are sold out in Europe.

The Valentino ‘Vaccinated’ hoodie is available on the brand’s website for SGD 1,1901. Photos: Valentino

‘In America’, The Europeans—And A Horse—Won

You’d think that with New York Fashion Week just concluded, attendees would have so much to choose from to meet the dress code that, on the invite, read, “American Independence”. But on the steps of the Met Gala, who really cared? Why choose American when they could have European?

Two extremes: Kim Kardashian (top) in Balenciaga. Photo: Getty Images. And Billie Elilish in Oscar de la Renta. Photo: Shutterstock

By Emma Ng

The Met Gala is where, for one time in a year—even a pandemic year, you can look ridiculous and everyone will call it fashion. I sometimes wonder if Anna Wintour organises the event and encourages everyone attending to “dress up” so that she could have a good and hearty laugh later. There is something juvenile about the idea of the Met Gala—it’s, to me, fashion folks’ prom night. Fashion is, of course, not important as long as you’re the belle of the ball, or whatever you call Saweetie’s I-don’t-have-enough-fabric-for-a-saree look. In fact, I do think that it is under Ms Wintour’s watch (since 1999!) that the Met Gala is the circus of the ridiculous that it is today. In fact, if you Google Met Gala and ‘ridiculous’, you’ll get at least six links in just one page (‘outrageous’ is in there too). The ridiculousness, sometimes teetering dangerously close to tackiness, is augmented by the chair’s and co-chairs’ outfits—often so bland and proper, they seem calculated to make everyone else look like they didn’t get the memo.

Queen bee Ms Wintour and her four worker-bee co-chairs—all more than half her age younger—were in clothes, not quite the costume that has come to characterise the Met Gala. The “most powerful woman” in fashion was in a predictably pretty, tiered, floral Oscar de la Renta dress (was she attending a wedding at a country club?). Amanda Gorman was in a short, studded Vera Wang bustier-thingy, with a sheer overlay; Timothée Chalamet in a satin Haider Ackermann tuxedo jacket, and Billie Eilish in a cotton candy of an Oscar de la Renta gown, probably her first-ever floor-sweeping dress and of this volume (a truly sharp contrast to the black and baggy tunic-and-skirt combo by Takahiromiyashita The Soloist that she wore at the VMA a day ago). Only Naomi Osaka looked the Met Gala newbie and fashion victim in a combo by Louis Vuitton that supposedly celebrated her heritage. I was expecting all of them to lead (or set the standard) by example, but I did not see the American-ness in anything they wore, least so Ms Osaka, with the un-American obi belt, deliberately tied askew.

Anna Wintour in Oscar de la Renta. Photo: Getty Images

Perhaps, I took the theme and the dress code too seriously and literally. But why would I not. What was the point of a theme and dress code if not to abide by? Could the attendant exhibition at the Anna Wintour Costume Center and other parts of the Met, then, be a very chin chai affair too? Would Andrew Bolton gasak buta with A Lexicon of American Fashion? The American attendees looked to me devoid of wit and irony (okay, the latter not so trendy anymore) in the choices they made that were supposed to honour the American heritage of fashion (let’s just say, for now, there is. Jeans are, to many Americans and non-Americans alike, a very real and iconic American fashion item). But, of course, country themes are tricky when the brands that can afford a (USD) six-figure table—or two—are mostly from out-of-country—European, specifically French and Italian. Common knowledge, at least in the US, would remind us that the stars and celebs do not buy tickets; they are invited by brands (and approved by Ms Wintour). Invitees, therefore, will be required to be outfitted by the brand doing the inviting.

Yet, according to Vogue’s own pre-event reporting, “the theme for this year’s Met gala is a celebration of American Fashion.” E Online earnestly called it “a deep dive into American ingenuity.” Yes, the livestream was quite early in the morning, but I was wide awake watching it. What celebration, what ingenuity? Although there was the discernible presence of Thom Browne and, to a lesser degree, Prabal Gurung (his deplorable excuse of a dress for Diane Kruger made me want to strike him out), I thought the Europeans won the night, in particular Iris Van Herpen, Valentino (even Ms Wintour’s daughter Bee Carrozzini, expecting her second child, was dressed by the house), and Balenciaga. And, as Vanessa Friedman pointed out via Twitter, Cartier.

But, perhaps, it was Balenciaga who may have enjoyed the last laugh and a clear win when Kim Kardashian appeared incognito, completely swaddled in a black fabric, a look attributed to Balenciaga’s Demna Gvasalia, and believed to be conceived with Ms Kardashian’s (estranged, is it not?) husband Kanye West, who was also there on the Met Gala steps, in all-black, the kuroko (stagehands in traditional Japanese theatre) to the missus—the leading lady—(he was seen assisting her and adjusting her dress). Rihanna, the last to arrive, wore Balenciaga too, but it was the two Ks who stole the show with their black nothingness. Was Balenciaga mocking the excesses of American red carpet looks? Some Netizens think the couple were mourning the death of American fashion. I think they were merely acknowledging that it does not exist.

The Co-Chairs

Clockwise from top: Billie Eilish, Naomi Osaka, Amanda Gorman, and Timothée Chalamet. Photos: Getty Images

Her fans are not wrong. Billie Eilish, in her Met Gala debut, “killed it”. She did not come ready to be filmed for TikTok, but, with her old-Hollywood styling (Marilyn Monroe is really rather close), she could be filmed for a major movie role. She truly played a—and her—part. Would she be invited back again? I’m not sure if that would be in the affirmative if the question is posed to Amanda Gorman and Naomi Osaka. Ms Gorman might be disappointed that few saw the poetry in her Prom Store dress and Ms Osaka might be similarly let down to learn that her fussy outfit and the amateur kabuki makeup were no victories for her. Timothée Chalamet bravely tackled more than one brand for his total look. Apart from the satin Haider Ackermann tuxedo jacket, he wore a Rick Owens turtleneck under that, and unidentified sweatpants. On his feet were Converse Chuck Taylors. There were even some 1920s Cartier brooches pinned to the sweats. Okay, that’s a bit much. No pin should ever go so near there!

The Show-Stopper

Lil Nas X in three different costumes. Photos: Film Magic, Wire Image, Film Magic

Someone had to do it. Why leave it to only Rihanna when just as willing was Lil Nas X, the fashion sponge who’d wear anything, and would come wearing everything. Lil Nas X is not one to shy away from an outfit that looks like a haberdashery fell on it. At his Met Gala-as-VMA appearance, he was inspired by Met Galas past. Either that or he forgot that Lady Gaga already did multiple costume changes back in 2019 (she revealed four, while he showed three), that the exhibition Heavenly Bodies: Fashion & The Catholic Imagination (2018) is over, ditto for Manus ex Machina (2016). The only look that the Met has not quite paid tribute to is Michael Jackson as Catwoman. So Lil Nas X, with the help of Atelier Versace, did the most fashionable thing: at the end of the strip-down, he wore a derriere-enhancing, exotically-patterned catsuit.

The Actresses

Clockwise from top left, Kristen Stewart, Yara Shahidi, Sienna Miller, Lupita Nyong’o, Hailee Steinfeld, Indya Moore. Photos: Getty Images

For Kristen Stewart, it’s all in a days work, in Chanel. It is not a bad look if she was going shopping at Bloomingdale’s. Or lunch nearby. Actresses are not pop-stars—no day is the Grammy’s. So safe is the best dress. When an actress turns to the present-day Dior, safe is what she seeks, and safe was what Yara Shahidi got. And secure in the body-skimming Gucci was Sienna MIller, in a colour so safe, it’s called nude. Or, match-the-carpet! Conversely, Carey Mulligan braved a bright-pink Valentino, but looked just as safe, if not safer. Some actresses try. Lupita Nyong’o opted for denim and some bling by Versace and appeared rather like Wakanda royalty, not American. More challenging was Hailee Steinfeld’s Iris Van Herpen mini-dress with wispy leaf shapes, arranged artfully, revealing almost nothing, even if it came this close to a nude dress. Indya Moore, in Saint Laurent, clearly wore shorts (with a velvet bow as waistband), but it’s hard to be certain if she had anything else under that coat.

The Models

Clockwise from top left, Kaia Gerber, Cara Delevingne, and Kendall Jenner, Imaan Hammam, Gigi Hadid, Winnie Harlow,. Photos: Getty Images

Models, like actresses, are drawn to safe. They are supposed to be better at fashion since fashion is basically their job, but safe is chicer than sorry. Kaia Gerber, in Oscar de la Renta, looked like she prefers the taste of girls who won’t (can’t?) grow up. Cara Delevingne, in Dior, seemed like she was on her way to fencing class, but changed her mind. As for the red text—“Peg the Patriarch”—on the vest, there’s no doubt it’s a political message. If you were hoping for her to throw some light on what “peg” means, she said to an interviewer that people should look it up “because I’m not going to explain it, right now”. If an explanation is needed right now, pegging is, simply put, a sex act in which a cis woman plays the role of the opposite sex in a heterosexual union. Okay, that’s far enough! Kendall Jenner did not look like she the pegging sort. She wore a nude dress by Givenchy that, to me, flashed 2015, the year both Beyonce and Kim Kardashian wore see-through gowns to this very same event. Not to be outdone was the Dutch model Imaan Hammam in vintage Atelier Versace. And similarly see-all were also on Zoe Kravitz in Saint Laurent and Irina Shayk in Moschino. Gigi Hadid did safe too—old-Hollywood safe—in Prada. Vogue.com reported that she “offered a modern take on Audrey Hepburn”. I saw not. It was more like a modern take on Julia Roberts. Which brings us to Winnie Harlow in Iris Van Herpen. Even when I still do not see America, what’s there not to like?

The Singers

Clockwise from top left: Olivia Rodrigo, Teyanna Taylor (photo: Shutterstock), Jennifer Lopez, Megan thee Stallion, Rosé (photo: Wire Image), Jennifer Hudson. Photos: Getty Images

Super-young pop star Olivia Rodrigo wore a Saint Laurent lace catsuit with a wide marabou fichu, looking every bit the teen that she is, testing the dangerous waters of sexiness. Ms Rodrigo does not have a powerful breakout look as Billie Eilish did, so this was far enough for an 18-year-old newbie to show her granny knickers. Going the other extreme was Teyana Taylor, who wore so little in the Prabal Gurung that I hesitate to call the held-together-with-cords clothing. Surely there’s a difference between dress up and dress not? Surely the Met Gala deserved more cloth than rope, more dress than train? Even Jennifer Lopez, the one-half of born-again Bennifer, had to show cleavage and thigh, which I remember to be her very thing. But getting Ralph Lauren to do sexy is like asking Bob Mackie to do preppy. Surprisingly, Megan thee Stallion chose sweet, but Coach gave her part shrink-wrapped strawberry cheesecake, part dalgona froth. Blackpink’s Rosé, escorted by Anthony Vaccarello, was one of the few Asians in attendance, which was unexpected, given that this is the year of Shang Chi. In Saint Laurent, Rosé looked the ingenue I never thought she could be. By contrast, Jennifer Hudson picked a custom AZ Factory gown and a massive matching coat only for them to be underwhelmed by her bigger, bubbly personality. At some point on the stairs, Ms Hudson removed the coat to pose. Unfortunately for her, somewhere in the crowd, Isabelle Huppert, in Balenciaga, was in a similar fish-tail dress.

The One-Names

Rihanna, Grimes, Lorde, Maluma, Saweetie, Rosalía, Photos: Getty Images

Rihanna was the last to arrive, as expected, but there was no equivalent of an omelette to be seen. In fact, she was cocooned in Balenciaga couture of rather intense black. While the shape of cloak is beguiling, Rihanna needed heavier clothes for her to conquer those cumbersome stairs (that omelette coat was 25kg!). Grimes chose Iris van Herpen; she looked less a couture wearer than a cosplay newbie. Lorde had an unusual look. Her gaping Bode two-piece (interest-arousing also because designer Emily Bode is a menswear designer), with the floral appliques, was fetching, but why the headwear? Spanish pop star Rosalía’s Rick Owens heavily-fringed shawl wrapped more fetchingly than some dresses. Case in point: Saweetie. In Christian Cowan, she really showed how she punished her misbehaving boobs, and saw, I believe, many did. The Colombian singer Maluma wore a red leather Versace trucker jacket that was studded and fringed. There were matching pants and shoes too. Okay, no rhinestone cowboy here, but definitely a strutting Beng gaucho.

The Athletes

There has not been this many athletes at the Met Gala. Maybe it’s the Olympic year and athletes are making the news. But many sports people are not necessarily fashion folks. Sure, Lewis Hamilton bought a table and invited designers of colour, but they did not make the scene (Mr Hamilton curiously wore a sheath of café curtain on his right leg). It would take Serena Williams in a Gucci cape of ombre feathers to trail the spotlight on athletes, reminding us that, like her rapper sisters, sports stars enjoy OTT clothes too, especially those not made of plain fabric. As with Ms Williams, Simone Biles (fellow gymnast Nia Dennis attended too, outfitted in blue bodysuit to do cartwheels!) enjoyed relief work on the surface of her bustier-gown, which she wore over a floral (were they sparkly snowflakes?) bodysuit. The silver embroidery of the former reportedly weighed 40kg. The design team at Area X Athleta that put the outfit together might have forgotten that Ms Biles is a gymnast, not a weightlifter.

The Guys

Guys on the red carpet are usually no news, but on the cream carpet of the Met Gala, the guys are a braver breed. Surprisingly, the more unusual look didn’t come from a celebrity, but a techie, specifically Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram, who wore a Bode suit with diamond-shaped pieces stitched to the bodice and arm. Others who abandoned the tuxedo, I’m not sure, did so for better choices. Poor A$AP Rocky—Rihanna was looking all couture-serious, but he appeared to have been dragged out of grandma’s bed. I think only Rihanna knew why he saw it fit to turn up at the Met Gala in a blanket made by ERL, the abbreviation of the name of the LA designer Eli Russell Linnetz, collaborator to Lady Gaga and Kanye West, who, by the way, was there, and equally blacked-out as his (former yet?) wife. Aussie, Troye Sivan, in choosing a slinky dress that Kim K might have worn 20 years ago (with cut-outs on each side of the waist!), continued to push the non-binary agenda on the red carpet—okay, cream. But the most begging-to-be-understood look went to Dan Levy, in Loewe. I don’t know why, but the getup, with puff/balloon sleeves and a map of the world in the shape of two men kissing (powerful message, no doubt), made me see a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. I don’t know why, but I did.

The Designers

Clockwise from left, Donatella Versace, Vera Wang, Tory Burch, Virgil Abloh, Kerby Jean-Raymond, Tom Ford. Photos: Getty Images

Designers often take the bow at the end of runway shows in very nondescript, practical work clothes. But I think deep down inside they want to dress up. Some designer dress others better than they can dress themselves. I mean, look at Vera Wang. Did she spend too much hours making the bloomers that she had time only for a curtain as the rest of the outfit? Donatella Versace, on the other hand, dresses others as she would dress herself: not at all subtly. Tory Burch wore an interesting dress, but she looked too eager to please. The guys might score a tad better. Tom Ford couldn’t break away from black tie (it’s also safer), playing the suave charmer he has cultivated himself to be. Kerby Jean-Raymond, in a red Pyer Moss suit held in place with a matching hybrid vest-harness, was beaming with designer-to-watch energy. I’m just surprised he didn’t come in a peanut butter jar. Wouldn’t that be American? Meanwhile, Virgil Abloh, presumably in Louis Vuitton, came as the Easter bunny, lost in a party he shouldn’t have crashed.

The Others

Clockwise from top lfet, Whoopie Goldberg, Iman, Erykah Badu, Kim Petras, Debbie Harry (photo: AP), Ella Elmhoff. Photos: Getty Images

Whoopie Goldberg does not really wear dresses, so when she does, the world takes notice. Her yurt of a gown by the esteemed house of Valentino was, to be sure, not the same tent that Carey Mulligan wore, both flanking Pierpaolo Piccioli when they arrived. While Ms Mulligan was predictably saluting pretty, fashion iconoclast Erykah Badu took a different route: she abandoned her famous towering turbans in favour of a top hat and a lace face-screen that, together with the tuxedo skirt-suit and quilted cape, was designed by Thom Browne, seemingly the most worn American designer name of the evening. Ella Elmhoff, famous for being Kamala Harris’s stepdaughter, wore Stella McCartney to prove that the WFH look, even if more amped up, was still relevant, however glamorous the occasion, no matter how many women still preferred trains for evening wear. The biggest outfit of the night went to Iman. The former model wore a massive hooped cage that was the result of the collaborative effort of Dolce & Gabbana and the young, Central Saint Martin alum Harris Reed. With the just-as-large hat, she looked like some African fertility goddess. Rock star (still!) Debby Harry also wore a hooped cage (by Zac Posen), visible under a crinoline made of panels of fabric that, together with the deconstructed denim jacket, represented the colours of the American flag.

Perhaps nobody does America better than a foreigner. German singer Kim Petras (now based in LA) certainly expressed herself. In a wearable—aka piñata—by the sustainable brand Collina Strada, Ms Petras seemed connected to her animal spirit. The dress came complete with a face of a horse (could it be a donkey?) with eyes strategically covering the breast, pannier for the animal’s body, and hair styled as a long pony tail to represent the beast’s tail. Frankly, I could not tell where the head began and the tail ended. Or, was this the night’s best visual lexicon of American fashion and designers—heads or tails, they’re just horsing around?

The Modern Newscaster

You’d think that Mediacorp anchors are conservative dressers, but some are not. Thumbs up?

By Mao Shan Wang

It has been a quiet Monday evening. I was watching Channel 5’s News Tonight as usual, and Glenda Chong was reading. Like most nights she’s on air, she was standing by the right side of her desk, opening with “Tonight’s Top Stories”. She wore a cream-coloured, form-fitting, knee-length dress. As she spoke and walked to the right side of the screen behind her, barely finishing a sentence, I caught sight of something I have never noticed of Ms Chong before. The dress is not unattractive. A somewhat Thirties silhouette, with a box-pleated neckline that formed, to the sides, fetching sleeves (possibly raglan) over her arms, it was one of Ms Chong’s better choices (over, say, the rather dowdy tweed jacket of some months back). But I did not expect to see, as she stood there telling me that “Singapore and the US are entering new areas of partnership” (truth be told, I was looking forward to see Kamala Harris), very clear and visible outlines of the protuberances of her breast. I look up at my clock: Nine, it told me, is not exactly the late-night hour.

I thought perhaps it was the lighting at that particular spot in the studio. Or, perhaps where she stood was just too draughty (despite the lights!). When she returned to the desk and the camera framed her much tighter, I realised I was not mistaken. Yes, there they were: distinct, dramatic, dauntless. I said aloud: “Oh, no.” My brother, who had just walked in from the kitchen to join me, said: “Why, not nice, ah, the dress?” Before I could offer a reply, he went, “Woah! Wow! WOW!” My mother, stirred by the living room commotion, also joined in. “哎哟,很难看啦! (aiyo, looks awful).” And I didn’t point anything out to them! Before Ms Harris’s face could appear, I received a WhatsApp message from my best friend, all the way from Sembawang. It was preceded by a screen shot of Ms Chong, seated (or standing?). “Correct me if I’m wrong,” she wrote. “Glenda looks like she’s bra-less. Surely it can’t be?”

I played the expert and the arbiter, not. “She is a liberated woman,” I texted back, not entirely sure of what I wrote or if I would come across as someone from the Seventies. Is anyone even supposed to look at her there? “I understand,” came the rapid reply, “but this is the national news, not an R-rated channel. I’m liberated too. But she’s reading the news, not acting in a movie. Am I a prude?” My friend, a PR professional, is not, and her reaction is totally comprehensible. This was the news and Kamala Harris was coming on! It is possible that Ms Chong did wear underclothes—a smooth, sheer, silky slip perhaps, just not a brassiere. Whatever, it was her choice. Just as it was ex-Mediacorp artiste, former 成人杂志 (City Beat) host Sharon Au’s choosing to go bra-less for work one day, as revealed by her pal Kim Ng in the latest installation of #JustSwipeLah. I am not sure if Mediacorp issues dress guidelines for their journalists who go on air, but I am sure the 23-year Mediacorp veteran’s superiors do not tell her what to wear—or not—under her dress. I am just surprised that no one behind the camera, not even the studio director, noticed and advised her accordingly when she walked in earlier to take up her position.

But in these ‘woke’ times, these minor indiscretions, not amounting to a wardrobe malfunction (so 2004!), are not supposed to bother us. When I mentioned this to another friend (a fashion industry veteran) after the newscast, she said very delightfully, “power to her!” Ms Chong, a former model, I’m sure, is empowered enough to know if she needed to be taped or not. And although she was standing at sedia (made more obvious by two diagonal pleats serving as bust darts) that did not mean our visual space had to be totally intruded. “Nippage” is real and is inevitable, as I recall reading somewhere, since women “simply have breasts”. I think the good news is that Mediacorp can finally be seen as a modern broadcaster and that, no matter how distracting—or titillating—the effect some clothes may have on their anchors, their on-air staff would not be dressed, as one stylist once said to me, “as if going to meet grandma”. Frankly, I think cascading locks to the right of the face are far more distracting than a pair of perky dots on the chest.

Updated: 24 August 202, 16:00. Unadulterated TV screen shot: Mao Shan Wang