Spare Us

In his unsparing memoir, Prince Harry reveals, among many things, that he is circumcised. Do we really need to know this much from the horse’s mouth?

As it turns out, while Prince Harry hates the media for disrespecting his privacy, he has no qualms betraying his own—privates. In his much anticipated memoir Spare, the damaged Duke is so cocksure that he writes about his genitalia. And is keen that you know he is circumcised. “My penis was a matter of public record,” he tells his dear readers, “and indeed some public curiosity.” And, as with almost everything else, the British mass media is to be blamed. “The press had written about it extensively. There were countless stories in books, and papers (even The New York Times) about Willy and me not being circumcised.” And talking about his own willy is not enough, he has to expose his brother’s, too? (There is also the bit about a stag: after it was hunted down, and his entrails removed—“gralloching”, they “snipped his penis.) “Mummy had forbidden it, they all said, and while it’s absolutely true that the chance of getting penile frostbite is much greater if you’re not circumcised, all the stories were false. I was snipped as a baby.” Were the two snips the same? And you’d know, too, that there’s such a thing as penile frostbite. Prince Harry is no stranger to it. He recounts his “tender penis”, even when he says “it was an effort not to overshare” during a family evening when his father became “very interested and sympathetic about my frostnipped ears and cheeks (caught while on an expedition to the North Pole)” after he “regaled the company with the tales of the (South) pole.” If that was not clever enough, he told the doctor, when he finally saw one, “I went to the North Pole and now my South Pole is on the fritz.” So much for removing the foreskin.

The first mention of circumcision is when he writes of going back to Ludgrove School after his mother’s funeral. The boarding school was “where more than a hundred boys lived in close proximity. Everyone knew everyone’s business, down to who was circumcised, who was not. (We called it Roundheads versus Cavaliers.)” But why is knowing that he is a Roundhead crucial to the understanding of his problems with his family and the British press? Was this to inform his American readers, for whom male circumcision is taken seriously and preferred by both men and women? Or is a circumcised male a better man, and lover? We are relieved he stopped there at the manly tenderness, and did not go on to say what endowment—when finally apparent—was revealed years after his prepuce was “snipped”. Or if his girlfriends, or that older woman, to whom he lost his virginity to in “a grassy field behind a busy pub (a milestone he calls “inglorious”), and who “treated (him) like a young stallion”, liked him, cut. Or if Meghan Markle prefers her prince with a royal manhood—“the todger”—not whole. The book was, even prior to its completion, reported to be boldly contentious and highly revealing. We didn’t think that this much would be divulged, even the state of personal appendages. And, if you are burning with curiosity, “penis” is brought up eight times throughout the book.

Other bodily parts mentioned include his facial hair. It appears right on the second page—“to beard or not to beard”. As Prince Harry recounts, “a mate, trying to make conversation, asked Grandpa what he thought of my new beard.” Prince Philip said, “THAT’S no beard!” But by the time his grandson was to get married in 2018, the beard was beard enough to be a problem. We are told that the duke had to ask permission from the late Queen to keep his beard for the nuptial day. She did not object to it, but Prince William, his younger brother recounts, was not pleased: “You put her in an uncomfortable position, Harold (the name used at home)! She had no choice but to say yes.” And there, too, is mention of the lack of hair. When he first describes his brother, the Prince of Wales, he does not draw a flattering picture: “his alarming baldness, more advanced than my own”. Then there was the shaving of his own hair by his schoolmates that left him horrified, and in an attempt to gain sympathy from his brother (futile), the “fingering the nubs on my newly bare scalp”. From the top to the bottom: He also writes about his bum (he doesn’t say if that is hairless). On wearing kilts, an article of clothing his father is fond of donning, but he dislikes—mainly because of “that breeze up your arse.” And his exposed derrière during an infamous trip to Las Vegas in 2012, which was splashed across newspapers of the globe. He now ponders: “Is my bare arse that memorable?”

Why have we highlighted these asinine, X-rated details? Because everything else brought up in the book, you would have already read or heard, in the leaks that were published last week and in the interviews the prince gave, with relish, to Anderson Cooper and, with dismay, to Tom Bradby (there were, of course, others since). Whatever is juicy—or the preferred “explosive”—is already out there. From his “arch-nemesis” brother’s indifference to his plight (and that scuffle) to the outrage with the British press to the alleged villainy of his step-mother to the perceived public and press hatred—and disapproval—of his wife, little requires repeating here. Not even his inability to accept his fate as the royal “spare”. Without plunging into the book, you would have gathered that this memoirist is deeply aggrieved. The Chinese has a better phrase for it: 愤愤不平 (fen fen bu ping) or extreme anger that can’t be calmed. Prince Harry did not only begrudge scores of people for his misfortunes, he unloaded a staggering backlog of injustice—a one-man grievance committee. He has waited this long. It is time to settles old scores. No one escapes his wrath. This is a British prince doing what American celebrities do with remarkable flair: the unsparing spill all.

Is this then a career option? Prince Harry was a military man. Although going back to the uniform was not considered, it is now impossible when he inexplicably reveals in the book that he killed 25 members of the Taliban—who were, to him, “chess pieces taken off the board”—during his deployment in Afghanistan in 2012/13. Why did he not spare the British army? He knew—as stated in the book—that even military “exercises were always kept secret from the press”. But this was his memoir and it was not about secrets. The disclosure does make one wonder: How smart is he, really? Is he by nature just flippant? He does confirm in Spare that he is not academically inclined. For one, he did not like history, even English history. At Ludgrove, you’d never find him in the library; “better check the woods. Or the playing fields.” Later, at Eton, “heaven for brilliant boys, it could thus only be purgatory for one very unbrilliant boy”, he chose self-pity and then sports—it would be “my thing”, he writes, and rugby, which “let me indulge my rage”. He does not fail to let you know how angry he was (and still is). Could it be this fury that came between him and his studies? The hurdle to appreciating Shakespeare, which his father adored? But he did try, picking up a copy of Hamlet, and then quickly abandoning it. “I slammed it shut. No, thank you.” One book—only one—he did enjoy: American author John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, “a story about friendship, about brotherhood, about loyalty, it was filled with themes I found relatable.”

By now, the world knows that, back in England, Prince William and he was in a physical altercation (that broke a dog’s bowl) which the younger brother would not call a fight because he did not hit back. He allowed himself to hurt. But being hit was not new to Prince Harry. He could take a sock. He writes of visits, when he was an early teenager, to a Norfolk country estate of friends of his father’s, where, among the children, “hair-pulling, eye-gouging, arm-twisting, sleep holds” were normal play. And he “always took the brunt”, adding, “black eye, violet welt, puffed lip, I didn’t mind… Whatever my motivation, my simple philosophy when it came to scrapping was: more, please.” As Oliver Twist asked for more gruel? Is there a masochistic streak in the prince, even in the presence of his brother? Was he unable to retaliate unless he was on a real battlefield-chessboard? Surely he was not trained at Sandhurst to be a punching bag. Or was it because no matter how hard he took, he was always cushioned—he could call his therapist. And even when he was not beaten, he saw that others would get even with him someday. When, once, Prince William was asked to leave the car their father was driving, after the two brothers, seated in the rear, were squabbling, the heir went to and boarded the rear vehicle occupied by their bodyguards. Prince Harry recounts: “Now and then I peered out the back window. Behind us, I could just make out the future King of England, plotting his revenge.”

Spare opens with a scene in Frogmore gardens, with Prince Harry writing that “the trees were bare, but the air was soft. The sky was grey, but the tulips were popping. The light was pale, but the indigo lake, threading through the gardens, glowed”. Would a former military man, a rugby player pay attention to such details? The air was soft! It is hard to commensurate the description with the severe face on the cover. For someone who does not read, who has no affinity with history, he has the unexpected talent to describe a termite mound as “baroque architecture (he does not even describe the royal residences he enjoyed)”. We have to remind ourselves that although, on the cover, the book is credited to Prince Harry, it is, in fact, ghost-written by the American author J.R. Moehringer (Open, the memoir of Andre Agassi). That a stand-in was required (not even a co-writer) corroborates with the Duke’s own admission in the book that he “was a poor student, a dreadful writer.” It is unlikely that he is better now, poised for the Booker Prize. If you want entertainment for a lonely night, Spare is moderately pacey, with parts that, for some, might be charming, and naughty—consistent with the reputation he acquired back in the day. Also befitting a former soldier, who does not give or receive orders in compound sentences, the writing is simple, conversational even (and sentences-in-italics galore). But a “dreadful writer” need not be free of some semblance of erudition. So he writes, “how can you really describe light? Even Einstein had a problem with that one.”

Many would have a problem with that one. The attempt to make him sound smart, however, does not equal the effort to make him appear pitiful. At every turn, at every juncture, sympathy is milked out of the reader. In school, in his early teens, when he was punished for being naughty, for going against school rules, he was already so emotionally fractured that “there was no torture Ludgrove could dish out that surpassed what was going on inside me.” There is also a palpable defeatist attitude. In the army, when he was training to fly, his reaction to a flight instructor telling him, “don’t let one mistake destroy this flight”—“but I let one mistake ruin many a flight”. Jumping out of nearly every page, except those describing his military training, is the trauma that he was left with following his mother Princess Diana’s death in August 1997. She is within many pages of the book. Even during a safari in Botswana, when a leopard appeared before the campers. The wild cat, according to the motherless royal, “was clearly a sign, a messenger she’d sent to say: All is well. And all will be well.”

But Prince Harry does not show that all is that well. He is funny sometimes, but more often than not, he is angry, seething, unforgiving. When he mentions his mother, he is tender, reflective; when he talks of others he is (still) enraged with, the language is brutal. One person who crossed him intensely was an editor he did not name, who wanted to expose his drug-taking while he was still at Eton. She was seriously attacked, even when what she wanted to run in her paper did happen. He said of her: “loathsome toad, I gather (he isn’t sure?). Everyone who knew her was in full agreement that she was an infected pustule on the arse of humanity… (second-hand information?).” It is hard to ignore the hypocrisy. When Jeremy Clarkson wrote in The Sun last month those uncalled for words about the repugnant punishment that the Duchess of Sussex deserved, he and his wife were outraged. He later told Tom Bradby in an interview for ITV that what Mr Clarkson penned “is hurtful and cruel towards my wife.” Was his description of that editor a delineation of Mini Mouse? Perhaps the reader is expected to overlook the uneven tone that vacillates between “naughty Harry” and motherless boy, killer-pilot and his philosophical self. The prince is not the simple fellow or a marionette with the strings in the hands of his wife?

The 410-pager would have been a fairly dull read—if not for the small details, such as noting that there was a psychiatric hospital Broadmoor, down the road from his school and that before he was a student, a “patient had escaped and killed a child in one of the nearby villages.” Or, the bleak sandiness of the military outpost Dwyer: “Everyone and everything at Dwyer was either caked with sand or sprinkled with sand or painted the colour of sand.” Or, the rituals of hunting, such as being pushed into a stag after it was shot and its stomach slit opened (we did say some parts of the book are charming!). A book from a prince, who admitted, “when I was forced to sit quietly with a book, I freaked out”, could be considered with suspicion. “At all costs, I avoided sitting quietly with a book,” he wants you to believe. Yet, in weighing his options to make money, he chose to offer a book. Spare was projected to be one of the biggest best-sellers of the start of the new year. In the UK, it was just reported that it is their fastest-selling non-fiction, ever. We purchased it, hoping to hear from the man himself, but somehow, we aren’t sure it is his voice that is discernible. In one of his numerous trips to Botswana, he came face to face with an elephant, and caught the eye of the beast. He writes, “I thought of the all-seeing eye of the Apache, and I thought of the Koh-i-Noor diamond…” How was he able to go from the night vision system of a helicopter to a rock in the Crown of Elizabeth The Queen Mother, in the presence of a huge animal that might crush him? Believe him, we did try.

Spare is one of the most expensive memoirs available at Kinokuniya. It is priced at S$60.48 (for comparison, Haruki Murakami’s immensely enjoyable Novelist as a Vocation, also in hardback, is S$37.45). But in the UK, booksellers are offering it at half the recommended retail price. Even Suzy Menkes was surprised by the markdown just days after the book was published, sharing on Instagram a photo of a shop in City Airport, London, with the comment, “half price already?” When we expressed our surprise at and disapproval of the pricing to the cashier at the Bugis Junction store, he told us that the proceeds would go to charity. Are we then performing a charitable act when we buy the book we were not certain we would enjoy? After we made the payment, the book was passed to us, accompanied by a flyer (third photo from the top), presumably distributed last week to announce the arrival of Spare, as well as a similar bookmark, both with the face used on the cover. We were not sure if this was to allay our astoundment with the high price of the book, that, as it turns out, is not packed with information that is compelling or previously unknown.

Prince Harry’s telling of his life’s story up to now, since his mother’s death, could be a sad read. Even his aversion to schooling—when he was offered the chance to be a helicopter pilot and learned that the training would stretch for two years, he does not hide his disappointment: “Bloody help. At every turn, life was determined to drag me back to a classroom.” After marrying an older woman who is able to give him what he has hitherto lacked and craved, you’d think that he would be able to put the past behind him. Yet, he does not seem to be able to come to terms with maternal loss. And in his frustration, compounded by the fact that he is not the heir, but the spare, he has a go at anyone who has not coddled him or supported him or protected him. In the inside of the book’s back jacket, the description of the author reads: “Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex, is a husband, humanitarian, military veteran, mental wellness advocate and environmentalist.” Achievements. Yet? Within the pages, he who is now man of a Montecito mansion recalls his Grandpa telling him, “you have to know when it’s time to go, Harry.” Perhaps, the old man said “let go”, and the young, troubled prince did not hear him. Or remember, correctly.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

Photos: Jim Sim

“Silence Is Betrayal”

So, Prince Harry gabs with ITV and CBS ahead of the launch of his memoir. Yawn?

Prince Harry talking quite happily to Anderson Cooper. Screen shot: 60 Minutes/CBS

And you thought you could start the new year without a word from the Sussexes. But it was never in doubt that the December 2022 Netflix docu-series Harry and Meghan (part one and part two, both three episodes each) was not going to be the last of their “whinge-fest”, as some British media watchers called it. The whining continued the past couple of days when Prince Harry appeared in two different interviews, each targeting different audiences across the Atlantic. There was CBC’s 60 Minutes presented by CNN’s Anderson Cooper and ITV’s Harry: The Interview by Tom Bradby. Both seasoned journalists were, surprisingly, rather gentle on the pity-seeking duke, and the interlocutions went on rather amiably. Mr Bradby, to us, scored better on the aggressive scale, and, hence, offered a better session. To be certain, we weren’t expecting Stephen Sackur on Hard Talk (BBC), but we were hoping for far more bite. Mr Cooper and Mr Bradby did ask some “tough” questions (the latter, more), but were they tough enough? And did we get answers that we have not already heard, or were they mere variations of the same theme? Was that why Prince Harry was not given the full hour (just slightly more than half) for a show called 60 Minutes? He was luckier with ITV—they gave him an hour, and a generous forty minutes more.

Both shows were aired, presumably, to preface the launch of his upcoming book, Spare. That he had agreed to be interviewed by Anderson Cooper is not surprising as the CNN journalist is not part of the nasty British press corp that Prince Harry loathes and is not known to be that hard on any of his interviewees, including one Donald J Trump. Mr Cooper was generally nice in front of the royal, even when saying that the comment in the book about the Prince of Wales (“his familiar scowl, which had always been his default in dealings with me, his alarming baldness, more advanced than my own, his famous resemblance to Mummy which was fading with time, with age”) “is cutting”. Frankly, it’s bordering on the bitchy. Even the Prince smirked at the description—or was he delighted at how good or clever that criticism sounded? The interviewer sometimes seemed sympathetic. Even his subject agreed with the news anchor’s observation: “You’re absolutely right; you hit the nail on the head.” They were like chums (even walking in a garden) agreeing on the beauty of a lass. This rather affable exchange befits a book launch. And if you won’t be bothered to read Spare, this is good enough to know that Prince Harry, for whom “silence is betrayal”, is still a troubled and aggrieved chap, who considers his mother’s death the work of the collective devil known as the paparazzi and his step-mother’s rise the diabolical plotting of a “villain”.

The interviewer sometimes seemed sympathetic. Even his subject agreed with the news anchor’s observation: “You’re absolutely right; you hit the nail on the head.”

The sit-down with ITV was not much more different in terms of the questions posed, but Tom Bradby was more willing to grill, to incur the potential wrath of the new Californian resident. Mr Bradby, if you are not aware (or can’t recall), is the journalist who asked Meghan Markle if she was doing okay (and how she ardently appreciated that and brought it up in Harry and Meghan) during the Sussexes’s tour of South Africa in September 2019 (earlier, he attended their wedding). It is possible that Prince Harry had thought that since Mr Bradby was nice, even showing concern, to his wife, the news veteran would be just as affable to him. Mr Bradby came as a journalist, not the Prince’s PR vehicle, or a sympathiser. He did not ask his interviewee if he was okay. He was, in fact, willing to counter some of the latter’s accusations, even saying, in response to the “sibling rivalry”, as was described to Mr Cooper and My Bradby, “I think he (Prince William) would say he found you emotional, defensive, he couldn’t get through to you…” The spare was not amused. “It’s quite a list—list of things, assumptions you’re making,” he hit back. He was, for all to see—and note, not okay.

This irritability, this displeasure, this WTF expression on his face culminated to palpable anger when Mr Bradby brought up the Oprah Winfrey interview some two years ago, and spoke of the racism levelled against the royal family that was broached then. We could sense the Duke bristling. He challenged the journalist, “did Meghan ever mention that we were racists?” Mr Bradby, not expecting the change of narrative, fumbled in his follow-up, searching for better words. The interviewee would not let the other guy finish his line of questioning, interrupting Mr Bradby repeatedly. Either Prince Harry has been well trained in the course of putting together the Netflix show about he and his wife’s truths, or he has a natural flair for gaslighting. Again, as with everything else, the British press were to be blamed; they painted the racism picture, not the Sussexes. The two of them were only concerned with “unconscious bias”, which, in the prince’s “own experience”, we are are now informed, is not the same as racism: “the two things are different”, he said with needed emphasis. And, once you are made aware that you have unconscious bias, “you have the opportunity to learn and grow from that in order so that you can be a part of the solution rather than the problem. Otherwise, unconscious bias then moves into the category of racism”. And we now know, too, that the one-time cocaine/marijuana/magic mushroom user—as admitted in both interviews—is a profound thinker!

On ITV, deeply displeased. Screen shot: ITV News

Curiously, for both interviews, Prince Harry put on identical sweaters—a dark green one for CBS and a navy for ITV, and the two were worn over similar shirts with straight collars, tucked under the ribbed neckline of the plain knitwear. And coincidentally, Anderson Cooper, not known to be a fashionable dresser, was similarly attired. In the shot of the two of them walking in a garden, both men were seen in identical silhouettes: neat and trim, accentuated by their slim, tailored, Raffles-Place-at-lunchtime trousers. Even the belts seemed alike. This could be a dad look that suggested serious business was at hand. Even a cable-knit sweater could be considered frivolous, and likely, a pair of jeans—the American staple. In contrast, Tom Bradby wore a dark blazer under a dark, rather than contrast-coloured shirt, clearly setting himself apart from a need-to-look-royal interview subject. Sure, the prince was not interviewed by Graham Norton or Naomi Campbell. He need not appear interesting or trendy. Still, something-to-look-at clothes might have made his dull, repetitive replies less tedious.

Without his wife in tow on both shows, Prince Harry looked sad, an approaching-middle-age man unable to let go of his past or the wrongs he perceived was waged against him. Even without the missus by his side, he was in his accusatory best, and was quickly incensed and readily defensive, and constantly reminding us that his relationship with his famous family is fraught, and all of them are to be blamed for his misery, a life “put through… a blender as such”. You’d think that now, with the life he has always wanted, in marvelous Montecito (presently under a storm/flash flood warning. Residents have been told to evacuate, but it is not known if the Sussexes’s home is affected), he’s closer to attaining contentment, even just a vestige of it. But, far from that, he is still mad, still disgruntled, and still playing up the I-grew-up-without-a-mother disadvantage to gain by-now-limited sympathy. He told Tom Bradby: “I do not want history to repeat itself. I do not want to be a single dad. I certainly do not want my children to have a life without a mother or a father.” For all the talk of unconscious bias, Prince Harry should, perhaps, seriously consider self-fulfilling prophecies too.

It’s Removed!

H&M withdraws their collaboration with Justin Bieber after the singer called the clothes “trash”

It is funny that Justin Bieber has called the output of his collaboration with H&M ”trash”. Even if he is considered by many, including his fans, as a style icon, it is not certain that he is, in fact, such an arbiter of style that even the powerful H&M has to bow down to him, withdrawing the collaboration as soon as the singer deemed them to be garbage. Sure, he has his own fashion line, Drew (and the collective Drew House), but it is hard to determine if he is a man of innate taste, just like Kanye West. Sure, like Mr West, he wore Balenciaga and modeled for the house, but we were not aware that he is this knowledgeable in what clothes deserves to be binned. Now we know. Just one word—“trash” (the full sentence: “the H&M merch they made of me is trash”, expressed through Instagram Story two days ago)—and the Swedish brand yanks all the related merchandise online and off. We see the power of celebrity in action, again.

Collaboration tight spots these days are of course very much par the course, especially those involving singers. Mr West famously accused The Gap of not producing exactly what he wanted and not pricing the merchandise as he thought reasonable. It is probable that Mr Bieber’s very public disapproval is a page off Mr West’s partnership play book. People don’t go to the top these day; they take to social media. Who bothers with one CEO when you can galvanise millions of your followers. And that was exactly what Mr Bieber did. He told his audience of 270 million directly: “I wouldn’t buy it if I were you.” And then he became instructional: “Don’t buy it.” H&M likely did not expect that recommendation. In a statement quoted by Rolling Stone, H&M explained that they withdrew the products “out of respect for the collaboration and Justin Bieber.” We don’t remember reading of such deference in relation to Mr West’s plight!

People don’t go to the top these day; they take to social media

Frankly, we weren’t aware of an H&M X Justin Bieber collaboration. We are, after all, no Beliebers. As we gathered, H&M launched the new collection of Bieber merchandise early this month. They have been sold for weeks now. Most of the pieces, like concert merchandise, sport teenaged faces of the singer. Oddly, H&M allegedly did not have Mr Bieber sign off on the collection before putting it out on the selling floor. The singer was adamant: “I didn’t approve it.” WWD quoted a statement they received from H&M: ”as with other licensed products and partnerships, H&M followed proper approval and procedures.” The company is a serial collaborator. It is unlikely that they did not have standard ways to get a collaborative collection out. At first, H&M said they would continue to sell the merchandise despite their collaborator’s stern disapproval. Just a day after, they changed their mind, and withdrew the whole collection.

The abrupt halt of the sale of products already on the selling floor is rather odd. This was not the first time that Justin Bieber worked with H&M. In 2017, they partnered to produce the merchandise for his Stadium Tour. That first time must have been successful for either side to desire to come together again. Clearly, he didn’t see any trash then. This time round, surely they knew what to expect from each other. The pieces from the latest collab is no different from the one earlier. You get the usual hoodies, T-shirt—now, in the length of a dress—and there is presently a tote bag. Not terribly complicated to the point that approval from the guy whose face is used on the products is somehow muddled in processes and procedures. Disruption may be a buzzword in fashion and business, but where it would lead these two strong brands to or who will emerge victorious is hard to say with certainty. You can’t untrash trash, can you?

Photo: H&M. Photo illustration: Just Soh

“Truth To Power”: They Suffered, Severely

With the second package of the six-part docu-series now streaming, it is clear that the Sussexes want sympathy more than understanding. From the comfort of their Montecito hideaway. The end

Six episodes of who did what to them is, frankly, too much even if they expose alleged royal misdeeds. In total, Harry and Meghan is a 6-hour-plus series full of discontentment and fault-finding. The three episodes that make the second half of the docu-series have the enthusiasm of revenge-themed K-dramas, but without the latter’s suspenseful pacing. You wait for the hit-back at the British royal family and you get it. Meghan Markle even said that she was not merely “thrown to the wolves”—she “was being fed to the wolves.” The proverbial kid gloves are off. The Queen is dead. So she and all on her side no longer need to stick to discretion. She may have wanted to escape England for a quiet life, but there is not any kind of hush the minute she left, especially not when she returned to the free-speech familiarity of California. In the private jet, after their escape from Vancouver Island, Canada, on what Prince Harry calls the “freedom flight”, Ms Markle tells her son, Archie, “we’re about to go to where mommy’s from”. Whoever said she had planned to call the UK home?

In this part of the world, this kind of talk or reveal is largely contemptible. However disgraceful a family is, no one from within shames their own kin. The Chinese has an oft-heard expression 家丑不可外扬 (jia chou but ke wai yang) or family scandal is not to be publicised, and that we must never 大义灭亲 (da yi mie qin) or place righteousness before family. In fact, many of us in Asia grew up with the belief that problems within the family—and there always are—need to be solved or resolved internally. If outsiders are told of domestic shame, the family in dispute will be ridiculed or laughed at. As SOTD contributor Mao Shan Wang told us, “my nother would say sia suay (泻衰 or Hokkien for shamefully embarrassing)”. There is another Chinese saying, 隐恶扬善 (yin e yang shan) or extol a person’s (or family’s) virtue, but conceal his faults. That to Westerners might sound like sweeping familial failings and flaws under the carpet, but to the Chinese, it isn’t so. If you speak ill of your family, there is a good chance that others will despise you and laugh at your family. They won’t look up to you for exposing your family’s shortcomings. On the contrary, they will look down on you even more. Is this not what’s happening to the Sussexes?

According to recent news reports, the Netflix special Harry and Meghan enjoyed the most viewing time than any other documentary on the streaming service that week the show came on. And the figures are not unimpressive. Reuters stated that it “recorded 81.55 million viewing hours after its debut” the Thursday before last. Some “28 million household watched at least part of the series”. And in the UK, it was the most-watched series that week. (The final global numbers are yet to be tallied.) That the docu-series is this well-viewed is not surprising. Last year’s Oprah Winfrey interview of the Sussexes, as AP reported, drew about 50 million viewers worldwide. But are people watching H&M because they desire new or additional information to feel sorry for the prince and his wife, both, while desperately desiring privacy, are sharing—and dissing—more than what those wanting freedom or immunity from undue intrusion would reveal. And should they (or their supporters) be surprised that the reactions to the show the titular characters co-produced have been mostly unfavorable, even harsh?

We tried to be sympathetic, to see their side of the story, to appreciate that their first official residence in Kensington Palace grounds, Nottingham Cottage, was “so small” (how tiny could it be, as tight-spaced as a HDB flat? Or is that the best insider gossip they could offer?). But watching the show is no walk in a royal park, especially when what they do as catharsis is contradictory to what they claim they abhor. As much as they do not like their photos used by the media, they have no qualms of sharing more of their own (such as the one of M in despair amid unfinished packing) in the series. Harry and Meghan opens with the two’s own self-taped video footages from back in 2020—the first hint that they likely never really intended to keep their private life from public enjoyment, or derision. The more desperate the rehabilitation of their image is, the more irritating their case becomes. While M decries those who do not know her write about her, she has no objections to pouring her heart out to strangers, such as the billionaire American actor/producer Tyler Perry (Gone Girl, 2014), whom, by her own admission, she “has never met before”. Could it be because he is a fellow celebrity, lives in California, and wealthy to boot?

It was Mr Tyler (top right) who reached out to her and after some time, she called him while she was in Canada. “Finally—after years at that point—first time we ever spoke,” she says. “And I was just a wreck; I was just crying and crying, like sometimes, it’s easier to just open up to someone who knows nothing at all.” Amazingly, he who knew next to naught, was willing to offer the Sussexes abode in the Beverly Hills property that he lived in, reported to worth USD18 million. H&M “hadn’t seen the house, just video of it”, Mr Tyler points out. Yet, with a baby in tow, the Sussexes were willing to move in. H admits that “we only saw you filming from a gate up to your door, and seeing the big fountain there and we were like, that’ll do.” When Mr Tyler asks, “what if I had horrible taste and had big round beds, striper poles and everything?” Shouldn’t the question be, what if the man turned out to be another Harvey Weinstein?! H is unfazed: “it wouldn’t have mattered. We were desperate to find somewhere, desperate to be somewhere… to settle.” Desperate, as it were, to be housed by a stranger, with a fountain (shown in the show!) as epitome of good taste.

Desperation is, of course, central to their message. It is also easy to sense that M is desperately in need of people appearing to care about her, so much so that just three words would suffice: ”Are you okay?” In a 2021 New York Times opinion piece, she wrote that when those three words are uttered, “the path to healing begins”. She recounted, as she does in the series, an interview with the ITV reporter Tom Brady—who is said to be a friend of the couple and had attended their wedding—during a tour in South Africa: he had asked the simple “are you okay?” She was grateful that he put that question to her. “Thank you for asking,” she had said. “Because not many people have asked if I’m okay.” We sensed self-pity or the reluctance to be on a “rigorous tour” and be away from what was then home, shortly after she gave birth to Archie. She added, “it’s a very real thing to go through behind the scenes.” And is it because of her race again—as her American audience likely believes—that people weren’t asking if she was alright? Or, is she practicing what she believes in: that “most people need to find someone to blame, to try to like reconcile how you’re feeling”.

Once again, in all the interviews that are not the “never-before-seen personal archive (as per Netflix)”, M appears in that white blouse or grey sweater again, suggesting that the six-parter is based on just two interview sessions. In her attempt to underscore her pain, she probably thought it best to look worthy of pity. Stylists are not required for that. This is, of course, not a story of how her fashion sense influenced the world. She may, according to her husband, be like the late Princess Diana, but the actress-turned-podcaster is no fashion natural. After avoiding colour for most of her sojourn in England, she decided that she will show the world what sartorial strength she had, prior to leaving. How about an Emilia Wickstead dress the colour of Kermit the Frog, given a jewelled gloss? “Until that last week in the UK, I rarely wore colour,” M says. “And I never want to upstage or ruffle any feathers, so I just try to blend in, but I wore a lot of colour that week. Just felt like, well let’s just look like a rainbow.” Any discerning fashion consumer would say that that could never be a good look.

In episode four (or the first of the second release), former Givenchy designer Clare Waight Keller speaks about the surprisingly underwhelming wedding dress she was tasked to come up with for Ms Markle’s 2018 wedding. She says, “it has to be flawless; it has to be perfect”. But, as we noted before, it was not flawless, nor perfect. The fit was lacking—the bodice was roomy enough to conceal a chicken, as nonyas of the past would say of a loose kebaya. American writer Dana Thomas was quick to Tweet after the series was streamed, “The dress didn’t fit MM, and, as you can see in pix, the sleeve seams pucker—absolutely unforgivable for a couture house. One buys couture because it IS flawless.” Perhaps, to Meghan Markle—not a couture customer prior—that didn’t matter because she was to marry a prince. She probably didn’t care about the poor fit, just the wealthy groom. Even back then, during the morning of her wedding, when she felt “calm” and had wanted a “cresohn” (croissant), she could be hoping to hear not the two words, I do, but three: Are you okay?

Rating: 0.5 out of 5.

Harry and Meghan is streaming now on Netflix. Screen shots: Harry and Meghan/Netflix

Watched: Harry And Meghan. Or, California Dreaming

Is the Sussexes’ “full truth” the real truth? And do we even care?

You know what is the truth? When Prince Harry of Harry and Meghan said on the toothsome twosome’s eponymous Netflix docu-series that “we know the full truth”, he is really referring to their truth, which is not necessarily the truth. Or the truth of the others spotlighted by this two disgruntled individuals. He said that “the institution knows the full truth and the media knows the full truth because they’ve been in on it”. This full truth of the ex-royals could also be what one Kelly Ann Conway once famously called “alternative facts”, or whatever existed in their seemingly troubled universe. And the truth of the very wealthy H&M is worth a lot of money, but not necessarily the truth that that many of us wish to hear without being inevitably irritated. The truth that is nothing to do with economic disadvantage may not be the reality we can understand, let alone connect with.

The truth of the Sussexes is also boring truth, startlingly devoid of anything truthfully new or the minutiae of married life that might make them more compelling man and wife, and parents. This is self-aggrandising fluff that goes not beyond their ken. Don’t expect deep analysis of what troubles them. Or evidence of the hate against them. The first three of the six-parter are essentially about a fairy tale gone awry and a retelling that might, they had probably hoped, put them in better light. They repeatedly want us not just to listen to “their truth”, but also what they call “our story” and, as Prince Harry enthused, their “great love story”. As the international press had rightly pointed out, they had this all planned before even decamping for America. How do they explain the footages of their lovey-dovey selves leading up to their globally-covered departure from the royal cesspit? How did they have that well-documented video library (or what Netflix calls “never before seen personal archive), with the right words to slip between the “truth-be-told (as Ms Markle stresses)” docu-narrative? Who films themselves crying so that the footages could be used later to tell a story of personal pain and then gain?

H&M are a more-public-than-most millennial couple. H, as Ms Markle—and her friends—refer to him in the series, saw a digital photo of her, which was superimposed with facial parts of some cartoon canine to mimic juvenile cuteness; he was intrigued, as such filters intended, and wanted to uncover the countenance behind the graphic trickery—“who is that?”. M, as she is also known, checked him out through Instagram; she thinks she could better know the person through what he posts. But, strangely they were paired in a rather old-fashioned manner, through a friend—no swiping left or right. And their growing up, their royal-meet-the-commoner, love-trumps-racism story is retold in Harry and Meghan through a video montage that is not unlike those that many us here have to watch between the serving of the soup and the roast chicken at a conventional hotel ballroom wedding.

Photo: SOTD

Prince Harry spoke of wanting to go to shield mode to keep his family from so much harm that threatened him and his clan of (now) four. “I knew that I had to do everything I could to protect my family,” he says. He also describes his dedication as a “job… to keep my family safe”. What dangers are before them, other than the peskiness that was to do with the paparazzi? Could he and his wife and brood be somewhere in Ukraine? He has a rather narrow definition of family, as we learned. It no longer includes even his father and elder brother (there is only mention of his mother), nor his cousins Princesses Eugenie and Beatrice, two of his childhood playmates, who are shown in news footages to have gone skiing with both his elder brother and he. When it comes to protecting, he can, as it appears, be selective. Doria Raglan, Ms Markle’s mother (who, like her daughter, “is ready to have my voice heard—that’s for sure”), says that Prince Harry has “really great manners”. Could she be referring to his wanting to trash his family, the one he does not see the need to protect?

“I realised they’re never gonna to protect you,” M declared conclusively, but she doesn’t explain why she; a grown, worldly individual; needed the protection or if such preservation from harm was just as desperately required before she met H, or while she was married to Trevor Engelson, and if so, who provided it. The need for protection is a constant refrain, as if that was what she required more than anything else from her relationship with a royal. Yet, the series tries to portray her as an extremely strong woman (even as a “big geek” kid), ”very outgoing, super social”, according to friend and producer of Suits, Silver Tree. M was also determined to make the initially long-distance relationship work. And later willing to challenge the more-than-a-thousand-year-old British monarchy and, as many believe, to draw her Prince away from where he was born to her California—that side of trashy. That the leaving of the royal family was dubbed Megxit, after her name, is telling enough of her influence in the decision. Does she need less protection, now that she is no longer a palace resident? Or are the US$15 million Montecito, Santa Barbara mansion and the reported payout of US$100 million by Netflix for the spill-all protection enough?

“There’s a hierarchy in the family,” H says. “Yeah, there’s leaking, there’s also planting of stories.” In the first three episodes, the gripes—as they sounded to us—are largely directed at the media. For H&M, the overwhelming press attention was oppressive. M informs, “my face was everywhere, my life was everywhere, tabloids had taken over everything,” Ms Markle says of her early encounters with the British press. Even getting dressed for a walkabout (she claims she didn’t know what that is) was an ordeal. Are we to believe that she had not expected any of that? Did she choose her prince for placid royal life? We found ourselves shouting: She married the most watched royal family in the world! Yet, she has no qualms in painting herself as some babe in the woods. H says that what the media put his wife through is “feeding frenzy”. But he acknowledges that what she went through with the British press was “a rite of passage” and that “some of the members of the family was like, ‘right, my wife had to go through that, so why should your girlfriend be treated any differently? Why should you get special treatment, why should she be protected?” And he said, “the difference here is the race element.”

The race card, we knew would be played. And it was. Harry and Meghan made sure to let you know that the latter’s mixed race worked against her. And that the British tabloid press is “a white industry”. That M was a target of racism was already broached in last year’s “bombshell” Oprah Winfrey interview. But they’re really racist in the UK, apparently—so much so that it bears repeating. And harping on. To make sure, that you are aware of how Ms Markle was targeted because of her race, they curiously show a photo of her, with what appears to be a rolled-up yoga mat under her right arm, while she passed a place with the sign that read “garbage area for New Balance Toronto” during a segment about the disadvantages she had to endure because of her race. Her H says, “it is amazing what people would do to when offered a huge sum of money… to hand over photographs, to create a story.” So why was that image submitted? And what was the Netflix deal all about if not about the earnings?

And in case you do not believe that racism exists in Britain, a history class is presented in the third episode, elucidating the empire’s slave trade. If you do not know, “Britain had a deep south,” Journalist Afua Hirsch tells you, “that was just as brutal, that actually enslaved more Africans than the United States of America did, but that deep south was the Carribbean”. And slavery was “fueling this early British empire”. And, to lend more heft to what is otherwise a repeated love story, there is the retelling of the Stephen Lawrence case. Mr Lawrence was an 18 year-old Black man who was killed unprovoked back in 1993 (Ms Markle was then about 11 and had appeared on a Nickelodeon program on which she spoke of writing to Procter and Gamble to suggest that they change an ad copy from “women are fighting greasy pots and pans” to “people”). The Sussexes attended a Stephen Lawrence memorial service in 2018, and they became instant heroes for the Black cause at that time.

Despite the social good that they attempted to do, the Sussexes were still ardently in need of media approval. But, the British media, as they see it, was out to “destroy” them. The press was never on the side of the Sussexes until they crossed the Atlantic, where the Americans were far more interested in their story and were sympathetic to their plight. Ms Markle calls a BBC—yes, even the BBC “was on it”—“engagement interview” an “orchestrated reality show” because they “weren’t allowed to tell [their] story.” It was “all rehearsed”, she asserted. It is hard to know for certain (the BBC has denied Ms Markle’s claim), but could such news—even those not generated by tabloids—be part of what Prince Harry calls his “duty to uncover this exploitation and bribery that happens within our media”? And to lay bare became even more exigent because, for poor Ms Markle, “no matter how hard I tried, no matter how good I was, no matter what I did, they were still going to find a way to destroy me.”

Meghan Markle is delineated as her H’s ideal woman and perfect wife. Prince Harry says that in the royal family, “especially the men, there can be a temptation or an urge to marry someone who would fit the mold.” It’s clear Ms Markle could not be the desired fit, even after learning to sing the national anthem of the United Kingdom from Google. “This is the woman who’s turning Britain’s most traditional brand on its head,” one news report went. “Meghan Markle isn’t British, she’s been married before, she’s mixed race, and she doesn’t shy away from politics.” And she wants to play all that up now to better underscore the suffering she had to endure (interestingly, so far, there is no mention of mental illness). The institution needed a new mold for her, but they did not cast it. And it’s time it pays.

Prince Harry saw not only the woman of his dreams, but also someone quite like his mother! Women generally dislike being compared to their mother-in-law, dead or alive, but Ms Markle appears not to have any issue with that, even seemingly enjoying the comparison. Video footages show Princess Diana with Prince Harry and then similar shots of Ms Markle and her eldest, Archie (one, with the little boy looking at a photograph of his grandmother). H says, “So much of what Meghan is and how she is, is so similar to my mom. She has the same compassion, the same empathy, she has the same confidence, she has this warmth about her.” But not the same reverence for the institution of monarchy. Is M playing a Di stand-in for H’s unexplained needs?

For the interview segments conducted by an unidentified woman and largely unseen, Ms Markle is dressed to playdown any fashion statement or to discourage any criticism. She wears a white shirt and a matching pair of slacks when she answers questions with her H and a grey jumper and similarly coloured skirt (sometimes also revealing nut-brown nearly knee-high boots) that could be school-mom proper when she is interviewed alone. Ms Markle is not the fashion plate that her sister-in-law, the Princess of Wales is. In fact, her sense of style veers towards the excruciatingly unexciting. And she has the justification for it. “Most of the time in the UK,” she says, “I rarely wore colour. There was thought in that. To my understanding, can’t ever wear the same colour as Her Majesty, if there’s a group event. But then you also shouldn’t be wearing the same colour as one of the other more senior members of the family. So I wore a lot of muted tones so that I could just blend in. I am not trying to stand out here.” But now she is—in a red Carolina Herrera—through her own docu-series, which, unfortunately, is a deeply dull dud.

Rating: 0.5 out of 5.

Harry & Meghan is streaming now on Netflix. Screen shots: Harry and Meghan/Netflix/YouTube

Balenciaga Ads: “Wrong Artistic Choice”

Demna Gvasalia finally reacts and apologises

In the past, European luxury houses could not get their advertising right for Asia. Now they can’t do it well for their own audience. For Balenciaga, the misstep struck twice. And the reactions to them have been by no means mild. Fans of Kim Kardashian were quick to point out how she, a Balenciaga fan and model (or the better-sounding “brand ambassador”), had been slow to say something. She eventually did, claiming she had been “re-evaluating” her relationship with the house. Five days after one of the problematic ads ‘Balenciaga Gift Shop’ was launched (16 November) and the disapproval (sometimes rabid) that followed, Balenciaga posted on Instagram, “We sincerely apologize for any offense our holiday campaign may have caused…” In the mean time, country singer Jason Aldean’s wife Brittany Aldean was one of the first celebrities to show her unmistakable disapproval: she shared a post on IG showing her taking out the garbage in clear plastic bags. In them were Balenciaga merchandise. The comment read, “It’s trash day @balenciaga.” No one could be certain if she really discarded those items or if it was just a social-media stunt. The post was quickly deleted. Two days ago, Mrs Aldean shared another photo of herself in a leather jacket with the message: “A little fringe and Dolce never hurt nobody”.

And now Demna Gvasalia, like other designers before him, has apologised. On IG, he wrote under the header “Personal Message”: “I want to personally apologize for the wrong artistic choice of concept for the gifting campaign with the kids and I take my responsibility. It was inappropriate to have kids promote objects that had nothing to do with them.” This came more than two weeks after the backlash unfurled. Still, it is a welcome move as no one in the industry that we spoke to believed that Balenciaga was not aware of “unapproved items” used, as stated in an earlier apology, or that no one in the company knew what was disseminated. And that they should be so aggrieved by the sum fallout that they initiated a USD25-million lawsuit against the companies that produced the advertisements for another campaign (Spring 2023 collection) containing those “unsettling documents”.

After Mr Gvasalia’s post, Balenciaga CEO Cédric Charbit apologised too, calling what happened in the past weeks “our mistakes” and sharing a list of corporate actions—“with the objective to learn from our mistakes”—that the company has instituted, including reorganising “our image department to ensure full alignment with our corporate guidelines”. Mr Charbit also revealed that Balenciaga “has decided not to pursue litigation”. No reason was given to the rescinding. Provocation is, of course, part of Balenciaga’s present-day appeal. But things could go unnecessarily far. Now, there is even the hashtag #CANCELBALENCIAGA (on TikTok, more than 120 million views have been clocked). Mr Gvasalia also said in his personal message, “As much as I would sometimes like to provoke a thought through my work, I would NEVER have an intention to do that with such an awful subject as child abuse that I condemn.” Another day in the world of fashion. And the route to redemption.

Photo: Zhao Xiangji

No Kidding: S&M Teddy

Has Balenciaga crossed the line with their holiday ads that feature children holding bears in “bondage gear”?

It is not clear why Balenciaga, the brand that dropped Kanye West, chose to be controversial in their holiday advertising campaign. In one series, called Balenciaga Gift Shop, children were photographed holding bags in the shape of bears. Usually, the choice of handheld would be deemed cute, but these were not Care Bears, nor those akin to Ralph Lauren’s Polo Bear, also dubbed Preppy Bear. Balenciaga’s were kitted in what many has described as “S&M bondage gear”. There are even those going as far as calling the end result “depraved” and “virtual child porn”. Any advertising that involve the underaged is always a tricky affair, so it is not clear why the children were placed amid merchandise for adults and those only adults could afford to buy. Balenciaga has, of course, pushed the boundary of taste during much of Demna Gvasalia’s tenure, but this time, could they have thrusted themselves just that much too far?

Following the public outcry, Balenciaga withdrew all the unseemly ads, saying in a statement on Instagram: “We sincerely apologize for any offense our holiday campaign may have caused. Our plush bear bags should not have been featured with children in this campaign. We have immediately removed the campaign from all platforms.” In one photo, a child stood before a quartet of wine glasses, among other things associated with grownups. Kids and the things arranged orderly in front of them are reportedly a take on photographer Gabriele Galimberti’s Toy Stories, in which children from all over the world are photographed with their play things. In an earlier press release, Balenciaga described the images as “exploration of what people collect and receive as gifts”. Yet, in the apology post, it stressed: “We take this matter very seriously and are taking legal action against the parties responsible for creating the set and including unapproved items for our Spring 23 campaign photo shoot.” They must have seen the images before issuing the PR kit. It is hard to imagine that no one in Balenciaga sent out those item for the shoot, or knew what was loaned.

Indeed, how did the “unapproved items” appear in an ad that Balenciaga commissioned? Mr Galimberti was quick to respond on IG: “I am not in a position to comment [on] Balenciaga’s choices, but I must stress that I was not entitled in whatsoever manner to neither chose the products, nor the models, nor the combination of the same. As a photographer, I was only and solely requested to lit (sic) the given scene, and take the shots according to my signature style.” One fashion photographer here told us that Mr Galimberti is not wrong. “We don’t decide what to shoot. Clients do, even the props. Sometimes, the clients work through a stylist, who will then bring the clothes and accessories to the shoot. We won’t know what’s approved, what’s not. Or, even, who the models might be.”

Soon after the S&M bear rebuke, those on the lookout for missteps of luxury brands spotted one more oversight, in another Balenciaga ad—this time for the house’s Hourglass bag, bearing the Adidas Three Stripes. In the image (above), put together during the shoot for the collab’s campaign, the S$4,790 bag was placed atop strewn documents. Perhaps to come across as officious (the campaign, in fact, was shot in an office). One of the sheets is purportedly a page off the document from a Supreme Court decision that prohibits the distribution of pornography involving children. What was the set stylist thinking of? Whatever it was, Netizens could not help but wonder if Balenciaga thought that two controversies are better than one.

“We apologise for displaying unsettling documents in our campaign,” Balenciaga posted on Instagram. “We take this matter very seriously and are taking legal action against parties responsible for creating the set and including unapproved (again?) items for our spring 23 campaign photoshoot.” The legal action, as it turned out, was to file a lawsuit against production company North Six, Inc. and its agent, Nicholas Des Jardins, who was reported to have designed the set for the shoots. And Balenciaga said it will seek at least US$25 million in damages for what they called “false association” between Balenciaga and the “repulsive and deeply disturbing subject of the court decision.”

Meanwhile, ardent friend of the house Kim Kardashian, who is also their couture model and who always has first dibs of their key looks, has remained curiously silent. Even her fans were wondering why she had not taken a stand, considering that her kids could be the target audience of the teddy ads. Then on Sunday, she made an announcement, claiming that she has been “re-evaluating” her relationship with Balenciaga. She explained why she did not say something sooner: “I wanted an opportunity to speak to their team to understand for myself how this could have happened” even when she was “shaken by the disturbing images”. Has she understood and was she satisfied? Balenciaga had already found themselves in a predicament with Ms Kardashian’s ex-husband and his shocking anti-Semitic rants. They quickly disassociated themselves with him. And now, those disquieting ads. Not quite the festive edit, not at all.

Photos: Balenciaga

A Dubious Fit

One MediaCorp actress wore a loose corset-top and social media buzzed like crazy

Carrie Wong in a leather Fendi corset. Photo: carriewst/Instagram

It is easy to say an actress is badly-dressed. The thing is, she may not even be aware of it. There are actresses who wear whatever is presented to them, without considering how they might appear to those the stars are outfitted to dazzle. Carrie Wong (黄思恬) could have been similarly unaware, or inattentive, or just indifferent. Last Wednesday, she wore a brown Fendi leather corset—likely loan to her—for the opening of the brand’s newly refurbished store in Takashimaya Shopping Centre. Photographs of her were shared on her WhatsApp page, and many of her followers noticed that she was not able to fill the two parts of the outfit usually described as “cups”. The critical Netizens were not wrong, but some, admittedly, have been cruel in their description of hers not runneth over. The reactions did bring to mind the just-as-harsh comments by the many who were not impressed by influencer Chrysan Lee’s choice of a scanty Shein top. Time and again, we see the less well-endowed are inclined to not be aware that they are.

Some Netizens think Carrie Wong had only herself to blame: Even if Fendi gave the outfit to her, she could have said no to that attire, they insisted. Stars attending these brand events are expected to wear something from that brand. You do not show up at a Fendi store opening wearing Dior (even if they are both from the same LVMH stable); you appear as Fendi’s model, not as an individual with your own taste or trace of discernment. It is possible that Ms Wong did not have a chance to take a pick from the rack made available to attendees from MediaCorp, or was the last to choose. It is also possible that a mirror was not available to her. Still, she might have discovered something amiss if she looked down at her corset top, which 8 Days curiously called “edgy” (they are especially fond of that word—a convenient euphemism). Surely she must have seen the deflated parts. Or, were the dimples on the bust what gave the top the edginess only 8 Days saw?

We suspect fit didn’t matter to Ms Wong, or smooth contours. She is not as “flat” as many commentators considered her to be, but the top really did not fit, let alone flatter her. Leather corsets, when worn, are expected to be as tought as rugby balls. Perhaps she was drawn to it because it afforded her freedom of movement. Sleeves could be impediment to motion or gesticulation. With this corset-top, she was able to assume a certain posture, even if was not tight enough to position her rigidly upright or trussed up. The irony in this is that a corset is a form-fitting garment—it is designed to encase the body snugly (even the bodice is not a close fit on her). With a corset, as the saying in the halcyon days of corsetry went, “a lady does not stoop”. Perhaps Ms Wong had no idea. In an age of the anti-fit, as seen in Gucci, or the oversized, as seen in Balenciaga, it is possible that Ms Wong, like so many of her contemporaries, is clueless about what exactly is a good fit. Or, a good fill.

National Costume Naught

Does this Mister International Singapore contestant’s near nakedness prove that the emperor’s new clothes equal our “national costume”? Or, the other obsession, “national dress”?

Mr International Sean Nicholas Sutiono in our “National Costume”. Photo: officialmisterinternatinoal/Instagram

No costume is the costume! You can’t say that is not genius. By now, you’d have seen this picture. The male beauty competition Mister International has shared it on social media, and Netizens have decried the clothing of choice as “nothing”, not the touted “national costume”. This is such an apt look to announce that we are still searching—even in vain—for one. Bare chest (and muscles) can take the place of a set of clothing. And we are in line with trends in fashion. This year’s winner to represent our nation at the finals in Manila this Sunday is Sean Nicholas Sutiono, an accounts associate and The Straits Times’s ‘Hot Bods’ honoree last October. Mr Sutiono also shared this photo on Instagram, adding the comment: “If you’d understand, it was a statement I had to make and the only thing I had.” Many people were confused—did he mistake the swimwear round for the national costume segment? That would make a statement! And what was he referring to by saying that that was the only thing he had? Did he mean the Singaporean flag?

If Mister International can pass that off as national costume, then Mr Sutiono is often wearing one on his IG page. Responding to the sharp comments on their IG post of Mr Sutiono in the brief-as-boxers shorts posing as if he has just won a medal at some global games, Mister International wrote, “Sean’s National Costume is in the works”. So close to the competition day and not completed? Does it not sound like last year’s Miss Universe Bernadette Belle Wu Ong with her last-minute national costume? But at least she had someone in Manila to whip something up for her. Mr Sutiono, as it appears, had to assemble one for himself. Do pageant organisers not learn from each other? Mister International then explained why the costume was still in the works on the day of the photo shoot: “Due to the unfortunate tragic passing of our Singaporean owned National Director (sic) – the late Alan Sim. This was fitting at the time.” Fitting! Someone dies and the man strips? Our national costume is now apropos salute to guys who run shirtless on Holland Road outside the Botanic Gardens on any given day.

Sean’s National Costume is in the works”

Mister International

The passing of Singaporean Alan Sim was announced by Mister International on 16 October. The cause of death is not known. Mr Sim, 50, founded Mister International Organization (MIO) in 2006. A 23-year male beauty contest veteran, he considered himself “a great fan of the Miss Universe Pageants” and counted Miss Columbia 1986, Patricia Lopez Ruiz, a favourite. With his unmistakable, tattooed, arched eyebrows, Mr Sim was himself also a frequent contestant of the pageant circuit—most of the competitions regular guys won’t know if they are not pageant fanatics: Mister Young Singapore and Mister Young International. His passing has not deterred MIO from carrying on with the staging of their latest edition—the 14th—“as a tribute to our founder”, the company announced on IG. It is not known when Mr Sim became ill and why he was singularly responsible for Mr Sutiono’s costume. Or, why, given the urgency of the matter, something could not be found or stitched up for the SG rep to wear, more than a week after Mr Sim’s demise was publicly made known.

At the 2019 Mister International, also held in the Philippines, Singaporean rep Famy Ashary wore a pale green baju Melayu that his mother would likely find too tight for Hari Raya, but it was a baju—an outfit, modest to boot, although, to be sure, as with Miss Universe, national costumes can be and often are scanty affairs. They are, however, not quite like the afterthought that the unfortunate Mr Sutiono, also last year’s Mr World participant (he’s an experienced pageant boy!), had to pull off in what Mister International had described as “National Costume portrait”. How is Singapore really depicted? Or the Singaporean male? Lazy oafs? One New York-based Singaporean designer wondered why, till today, we cannot get this right. He told SOTD: “Enough. It’s so ridiculous. Or, when designers try to mesh cultures together to create a national dress.”

Mr Sutiono’s no-clothes national costume, in fact, appeared just a few days after the newly-named Singapore Fashion Council (SFC, the former TaFF or Textile and Fashion Federation of Singapore) sent out a guide to attendees of the upcoming Singapore Stories 2022 presentation with suggestions of what they could wear to go with the dress code of the evening, Singapore Glamour: Black Tie or National Dress. SFC helpfully informed that black tie is “semi-formal attire convention” while national dress is an “alternative to black tie and entails formal attire from diverse cultures”. National dress and national costume are often used interchangeably. If Sean Nicholas Sutiono’s pageant-worthy national costume of shorts and boots can make the cut, male guests gracing Singapore Stories 2022 can take inspiration from him. As SFC also suggested, ”feel free to bring your own interpretation”. How about free of clothes?

The Prime Minister Wears Prada

The United Kingdom’s latest PM likes the same label as one particular Devil

Rishi Sunak.

If The Devil Wears Prada, why not the prime minister? The United Kingdom’s latest PM, the fifth in six years, Rishi Sunak, is not only dominating the headlines for being the first person of colour to be appointed PM (he’s of Indian Punjabi descent); with a religion that’s not Christianity (Hinduism); at 42, the youngest PM to occupy 10 Downing Street or; according to Reuters, the wealthiest occupant, with the estimated net worth of £730 million (about S$1.18 billion), believed to be more that any British royal, even the late Queen; but also a rather stylish politician. His style is even more striking considering the mono-tone and rather frumpish choices of his predecessor Liz Truss, and the frankly shockingly messy turnout of her predecessor Boris Johnson.

Liz Truss, now famous for being the shortest-serving PM in the history of the UK, is, of course, no Theresa May, Britain’s second female PM (2016—2019). Ms Truss’s dress sense is electorate-correct: neither too bland nor too conspicuous, but her tailored single-coloured dresses and suits (her faves are from Karen Millen) could stand out in Instagram posts, even if they lack noticeable élan. Boris Johnson, he is quite another beast altogether. Throughout his shambolic tenure, we’ve never seen him looking neat. The messy clothes—shirts with collars that won’t behave and ill-fitted, crumpled suit—aside, there is that irritating mop of hair that looks like it has never met a comb in their life cycles, except, perhaps, the owner’s fingers. The total package is always unkempt, top to bottom. No one needs a prime minister who consciously preens, but neither one who comes off as frowsy.

Rishi Sunak and his wife Akshata Murthy. Photo: PA Wire

Mr Sunak, in contrast, cuts a sleek, dashing figure. But his critics seem to believe that a well-dressed political leader is out of touch with his voters. They drew attention, for example, to his £3,500 custom-made suit by Henry Herbert (an almost indie brand compared to those on Savile Row) and his £490 Prada shoes when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer (Minister of Finance to the rest of us non-Brit lay people), and equated that with a lifestyle no ordinary folk will appreciate. Or, is it just difficult for them to accept a dapper Asian politician? And, especially one who is well-educated and wealthy? It is not quite comprehensible that, with today’s access to well-made clothes—they don’t have to be expensive—and the importance of looking well-groomed in a professional capacity, we still prefer our politicians to look like they can barely afford to buy anything to wear, even at Uniqlo.

If it shouldn’t be said that Mr Sunak has innate style and the means to express it, is it acceptable to think that his wife Akshata Murthy has something to do with his welcome nattiness? A fashion designer (and a business woman and “software heiress”, whose father, N,R, Narayana Murthy, is the founder of Infosys), Ms Murthy started her own clothing business Akshata Designs in 2010. Vogue India described her designs as “more than just stylish; they’re also vehicles to discovering Indian culture”. It is not known if the line is still in production (the website does not appear to be functional: a click on ‘Collections’ revealed nothing). The pair is noted in British social circles as a stylish couple. No reason to believe that Mr Sunak needs to abandon smart elegance now that he will work and live in 10 Downing Street. Surely he does not need to follow his former boss Boris Johnson? Begrudge him not his style or his Pradas if he can restore order to what appears to us a rather disunited United Kingdom.

This Taped Bag

It was not a customised gimmick for just one famous person after all

Remember this Balenciaga bag? Or the tape that goes around it? Well, back then, as the story went, the bag was part of a customised look that was conceived for Kim Kardashian when she attended the Balenciaga autumn/winter 2022 show in Paris earlier this year. Ms Kardashian was totally wrapped in the Balenciaga-branded “packing tape”, as it was later identified. Whether she needed something different to wear for the show and the house did not have fabric for her or if she liked to be bound like this is not quite clear, but the whole-body bandage was appealing enough that Lizzo duplicated it for the cover of last September’s US Elle. Initially, Balenciaga told the media that the tape would be available to purchase for anyone who wanted to follow the footsteps of the stars, but we have not seen them in the stores.

Now, for anyone enamoured with the taped look, but is not willing to undergo the mummification herself or without a petit main (a domestic helper is not sufficiently trained) to assist with the binding, there is that very bag Ms Kardashian carried. Limited pieces of the Balenciaga ’Hourglass’, with its distinctive curvilinear base, now comes similarly wrapped with the said yellow tape (even the detachable shoulder strap that goes with it is bound). Underneath is still a luxury calfskin bag, but it is not known in what colour. Would it be black, just like the SKIM bodysuit that Ms Kardashian wore under was? It’d be good to know because you might one day want to peel off the tape when you become jelak of it. But perhaps you won’t. According to Balenciaga, “due to the handmade process, all the pieces are unique”. Couture finish!

Balenciaga ‘Hourglass’ small handbag in box with tape in yellow, SGD4,100, is available at Balenciaga and online. Photo Balenciaga

Ye, Something Is Wrong

Has jealousy really consumed Kanye West?

Kanye West interviewed by Tucker Carlson. Screen shot: motherboardtv/FaceBook

At the end of the Tucker Carlson introduction to his interview with Kanye West, televised on Fox News last week, the anchor asked, “Is West crazy?”. The answer might well be a resounding yes (his purported bipolar disorder aside). But Mr Carlson wanted you to believe otherwise. Many of us, “the enemies of his ideas”, America’s favourite conservative political commentator said, “dismissed West, as they have for years, as mentally ill. Too crazy to take seriously. Look away. Ignore him. He’s a mental patient. There’s nothing to see here.” Did Tucker Carlson know something we did not or only suspected? Is he pro-West, as he appeared to be, calling his interviewee “a highly-paid and celebrated fashion designer”. Perhaps anything less laudatory but more critical would not be honorary to the man lapping it all up before him? Never mind that when Mr Carlson adulates, as he does when it comes to, for example, Vladimir Putin, he makes many cringe.

As it turned out, Kanye West enjoyed the interview so much that he gave Mr Carlson more than the two hours worth of material that made the broadcast. In fact, the desultory session was much longer. And far more revealing and disturbing. According to Vice, its sibling unit Motherboard TV obtained footages of those parts omitted in the final two-parter. Kanye West can’t stop talking—that’s for sure. But he won’t stop talking about Virgil Abloh—that’s just annoying. Or Mr West’s own massive part in the scheme of things—that’s double the annoyance. Since his mind-numbing YZY SZN 9 show in Paris more than a week ago, the rapper-designer has been gabbing that it was he who made possible Mr Abloh’s rise to the fashion firmament. And, in case everyone has just returned from orbiting Mars, that Mr Abloh was his assistant, a mere sidekick, the one who should not have succeeded, but did anyway. What is that supposed to evoke?

And the sour grapes became even more so. Could this be what consumed by jealousy looks like? He couldn’t reiterate what he already said on Instagram (the platform, as well as Twitter restricted him for allegedly anti-Semitic comments); so he took to the French media outlet Clique TV. And just in case the editing there was too heavy-handed, he found the repeating of himself necessary with Tucker Carlson, the eager listener to those who would give him material to match his view that his own voice is being silenced by intolerant liberals. And Mr West would not be suppressed either. So he said again in the un-aired footage Motherboard TV shared, ”Virgil was hired as my assistant” (he also emphasised later that “he got his line [Off-White], but he’s my main employee”) and, in true Trumpian boast, “we did this fashion show that was the… it was the most seen fashion show in history”. We assume he was referring to Yeezy Season 1.

And then the reminder that LVMH wanted to invest in him. As that show was so widely watched, “Bernard Arnault asked to meet with me. And he offered me a deal. But with the deal, they had to have ownership because they are colonisers… All these people, all these VCs and a lot of this type of companies, they have to have a lot of this kind of ownership. And Louis Vuitton have presented themselves in such a way—they have so much real estate, where a Black man’s dream comes true.” Yet, despite their real estate, their supposed interest in him and what he had done till then, and his willingness “to give them the lion’s share”, Mr West said, that “three months later, they dropped the deal at the board.” And then his “best friend” got the position at Louis Vuitton, “which is, aside from Hermès, one of the most prestigious jobs in the world.”

Despite the acknowledgement of the prestige a job at LV confers, it would be amazing that after this, any fashion company would be willing to work with him. Particularly disconcerting was his assertion that “Virgil was actually the third person to die of cancer in that organisation (LVMH)“ without saying how he came to such statistics, as well as “not just Black men have passed in that organisation, but the third person to die of cancer that was in a higher up position in that organisation”. And then he went on to point out that “Paris is a different level of elitism and racism. And Virgil was the kind of guy that—he didn’t hold it in. And I believe it ate him up from inside.” If you are still not convinced, he repeated himself to underscore that point. “The level of racism, elitism and pressure that he was under, I’m sure, affected his health.”

No matter how often he has blurted about the competition—unhealthy enough to deserve echoing—between Mr Abloh and he, repetition is necessary. “At that point, also me and Virgil had a rivalry because he had taken my place in fashion,” Mr West reminded the viewers. Was his place that low that it could be easily scaled or, to him, usurped? And as before, he had to drag Drake’s name in: “He was now Drake to the radio of what he was to fashion. And we had a strained relationship also.” He did not say exactly what caused the strain. But jealousy, as he had pointed out before, was (and still is) likely the root of all that bedeviled him. And then his other Drake, Bernard Arnault, was brought up again. “I felt what Bernard Arnault—not only did he pull on the deal that contributed to me breaking down, and go back on his word with that, he also went on to hire multiple people out of my organisation.” It is hard even for the “king of culture” to find the courage and the confirmation in a career considered crowned. Even when no one cares.