CDG Laughs Along With Yue Minjun

But Comme des Garçons Shirt’s latest collection may not necessarily let you in on the joke

It is not just a smile; it is clearly a laughter. And not just one, but a sea of them. Chinese artist Yue Minjun’s (岳敏君) xiaolian (笑脸, literally laughing face in Mandarin) is probably one of the most recognised icons to emerge from the Chinese art world of the post-Open Door Policy era. Now, Comme des Garçons Shirt has collaborated with the Beijing-based painter, featuring the distinctive pink laughing heads in a small capsule that comprises blazers, shirts, tees, pullovers, pants, shorts, totes, and sneakers, all in designs far less contorted than the depicted countenances. We may be in a time that deserves a good laugh, and we may wish to be seen expressing mirth, but how much should that be worn on our body?

Yue Minjun’s famous faces are those of his own. These were painted before ‘selfie’ was a nomenclature. By his admission, the choice of depicting his own laughter under a receding hairline and closed eyes was inspired by the late artist, compatriot Geng Jianyi (耿建翌), whose paintings of laughing faces, such as 第二状态 (dier zhuangtai or The Second State) Mr Yue would later say “were not quite right, in which meaning had been inverted, and expressions turned upside down.” It is hard to say if Mr Yue’s own cackling expression is one of pleasure or derision. Some of his earliest xiaolians were featured in the painting 枪决 (qiangjue or Execution). which, when sold in 2007 in London’s Sotheby for USD5.9 million, was the most expensive work by a Chinese contemporary artist. The laughing faces seemed to be mocking—and somewhat remorselessly—while being fired at (rifles were not painted in).

The faces picked by CDG are far more jubilant and appear to have less political reference. But the signature pink-skin countenances still fill the entire surface of the fabric (like they would have on canvas). And the laughter, still untraceable to a cause, hits you upon first viewing. This is not the first time that CDG has collaborated with a Chinese artist of immense standing. Back in 2009, when the CDG Hong Kong store on On Lan Street moved to its current location on Ice House Street, commemorative T-shirts were created with the controversial Ai Weiwei. The images then, too, seemed apolitical. But we’ll never really know, such as with Yue Minjun’s xiaolians now, the garment creator’s true emotions when placing them.

Comme des Garçons Shirt X Yue Minjun capsule is now available at CDG, Hilton Gallery and DSMS. Product photos: Comme des Garçons Shirt/DSM. Collage: Just So

Next Collab: Gucciaga?

Two brands, totally unrecognisable from the original, are said to be teaming up. Yikes!

The pairing of Gucci and Balenciaga as we imagine it. Illustration: Just So

Alessandro Michele is on a collaboration roll. According to WWD, he and Demna Gvasalia are rumoured to be bringing Gucci and Balenciaga together. Not unimaginable since both brands are luxury conglomerate Kering’s cash cows. They are destined to make more money together. Gucci will be showing its new collection Aria on Thursday and that’s when the said collab will be unveiled. Both designers have kept mum about their partnership.

A brand that was once a couture house now joins with another that was started as a leather goods shop: that’s an interesting alignment. Would this be fashion’s ultimate high-low pairing? The coupling of royalty and Hollywood (and a spill-all to follow)? Mr Michele has said that “seasonalities” are “worn-out ritual(s)”. Collaborations, apparently not. Will this show that Michele Alessandro is better at sussing out hot collabs than Kim Jones?

Stay tuned to find out.

We Need A Break From Kim Jones Collabs

Air Dior is done and sold. Kim Jones doesn’t need to milk that success. His collaboration with Nike shows it

By Ray Zhang

Kim Jones can’t do any wrong. From his bringing together Louis Vuitton and Supreme to Dior and Nike, everything he touched had turned to gold. What’s next, I wonder—Fendi and whoever, whatever? But before there’s that, Mr Jones has put his own name to sit alongside Nike’s in a collaboration that many had thought might be as exciting as the shoe for Dior, probably the most hyped sneaker in the history of luxury-brand collabs. Nike X Kim Jones is the coming together of two big names in an iteration of streetwear that overplays hoopla, not design. If the publicity material and the merchandise are not identified by Mr Jones’s name (or in the case of the logo used on the clothing, the initials KJ), these could be any merchandise in Nike’s regular drops. Or something you might consider at ASOS… when they are offering a store-wide 20% discount.

Perhaps I have overlooked something here. Were these put out for kids who missed out on the Dior collab, or those who could not afford the (from) S$3,100 a pair shoes? And those who are happy to just wear anything as long as they are associated with a trending name? Frankly no one needs to pay S$149 for “classic nylon bottoms”, as Nike describes a pair of very standard-issue track pants. Or, $69 for a “short-sleeve (sic) tee” that is accompanied with a curious description: “Neon hues are combined with a reflective design Nike Air graphic to give this top an essential feel”. Or (I cringe mentioning this), the socks (S$29), with the Nike Air logo on one side and KJ on the other. Seriously? Even the sole shoe, an Air Max 95 (S$299), with orange highlights and, on the upper, “Morse code-like pattern” (I, and so many of us here at SOTD, prefer the sound), is probably one of the most uninspired interpretations ever.

…one is well thought-out and thought-through for both design and performance, while the other is basically commercial fluff

Mr Jones has had quite a track record in making athletic clothes somewhat cool and mind-bogglingly desirable. Since his work for the UK brand Umbro back in 2008, with its references to British football culture, he has been known to have an eye to sift out sportif and cultural reference to bring something to whoever. But they have never been, to me, as crave-arousing as, say, those by A-Cold-Wall*. I won’t even bring up Gyakusou, Nike’s successful, eleven-year-old pairing with Jun Takahashi, for comparison, since one is well thought-out and thought-through for both design and performance, while the other is basically commercial fluff.

In many ways, Mr Jones’s output reminds me of the equally lacklustre Nike collaboration with Riccardo Tisci in 2017, which also featured the initials of the designer. Given that there is increasingly more design-driven pairings between sportswear and designer labels, I would have thought that Mr Jones might have tried a tad harder. Sure, I did not expect him to do a Sacai, but neither did I regard such bland take to happen. Even the placement of the Nike Air logo on the apparel suggests to me a what-the-heck, just-plonk-it-here approach. If Nike’s pairing with Kim Jones can’t yield even a fraction of the design savvy in the former’s own truly appealing and often fascinating Nikelab or the ACG (All Conditions Gear) line, they should really not bother. Nike—and all of us—deserves better.

Photo: Nike

The Follow-Up Comeback Collection

Is the next season of +J as compelling and as crowd-pulling as the first?

Static display outside the Uniqlo store at Orchard Central yesterday

Uniqlo knew that they had a winner when long queues were seen outside their flagship store in Orchard Central on the day of the launch of the resuscitated +J collection last November and the demand for the pieces were still high even a month after. This was generally seen throughout much of Asia (in Hong Kong, it was, as observers noted, “overwhelming”). Initially, no news was released if there would be a second season, although sources told us at the time that Uniqlo was “ready for a follow-up” and, presumably, the designer Jil Sander herself. Official word came on 3 March when the retailer announced that the launch today “continues last season’s popular return of Uniqlo’s collaboration”. Two days after that, it was reported that Jil Sander the label, presently designed by Luke and Lucie Meier, was sold by Japanese conglomerate Onward Holdings to the Italian luxury group Only the Brave, parent company of Diesel and Margiela.

A second season of +J is, perhaps, inevitable—it was launched this morning. That the Jil Sander name still enjoys high visibility even without any connection to its founder perhaps attests to the appeal of well-established labels, continually putting out clothes that resonate with those who appreciate designs that are not bombastic. In the case of +J fans, for whom moniker and associations are added value to the clothes they buy, even if not priced in the same level as designer labels. As one fashion stylist told us, “+J does not look cheap”. It helps that, unlike collaborations with, for example, JW Anderson, +J is marketed as covetable, so much so that people are willing to queue to get their hands on the pieces.

There was surprisingly a very short line this morning. In fact, prior to the opening of the store at 11am, the few present within the cordoned space would not constitute a queue. Could the craze have waned, we wondered. About 30 minutes later, a possibly daunting line could be seen. Staff controlling the crowd estimated the number to be around 90 as the space was marked out to hold that number of shoppers. As before, this was a line for +J customers only. They had to wait for typically 30 mins (the duration, as seen up to noon). A ticket was issued and a staff guided the six or so to the women’s department, in front of the escalator on the second floor. But you have no immediate access.

The +J selling space on the day before the launch

The same space today, at noon

Like during the day of the launch last year, a holding area was set up on the connector-bridge that, pre-pandemic, would have led to Orchard Gateway. But unlike the previous occasion, black stools that looked like Ikea’s Marius were now available for the waiting to be more comfortable. And those in this space need not while away the time on their smartphone for long. Shoppers in the +J retail zone were given only half an hour to pick up what they desired (which recalled similar time limits at the launch of H&M’s designer collabs). To help them make the most of the 30 minutes, the +J catalogue was distributed prior to entry, but not many wanted it (later, it could be seen disposed in the bins throughout OC, and even further away at Takashimaya Shopping Centre). Once inside, there was a maximum of 20 shoppers allowed, which made for reasonably comfortable browsing and selecting. Staff manning the line had served the reminder that no more than five pieces for purchase per person was permissible, and no more than one per style (but another colour was allowed).

Wearers of +J might project themselves as knowing sophisticates, but as shoppers, they could be anyone of them visitors to the Chinatown wet market, in the days leading to Chinese New Year. Or, if a better comparison is preferred, like those at the Club 21 Bazaar. For some reason, the clothes, once examined or slipped on, did not deserve hangers or their neat places on shelves. This shopping behaviour seemed to be consistent with the general lack of respect for clothes, no matter what price is indicated on the price tag. The desire to own the quiet, intelligent designs of Ms Sander is no indication that there is the accompanying capacity to interface with the clothes—and the environment in which they’re sold—in an appreciative manner.

It is regrettable to see garments that have clearly enjoyed the rigorous process of design, as well as the careful thought of what works in the present be given affection that is, at best, cursory, for there is much to love about +J. Once again, Uniqlo illustrates that clothes, regardless of what we wear them for or when, can always be better designed, and be more refined, even when so many consumers are blasé about fashion, or opting for garments that don’t need ‘personality’ to thrive among the denizens. Ms Sander has created “classics”, but not in the sense of what we might want that is trend-neutral and can stand the test of time. The +J pieces are totally driven by the smallest of details, even those that bring only pleasure to the wearer. Subtly is not so indistinct when they are this pronounced.

Some repeated items from last season are now available to general public on the first floor of the OC store

This is a collection that will continue to hold Uniqlo in good stead among a certain faction of the fashion community: those who value design and will continue to buy +J’s embodiment of the practical in the creative. Ms Sander has built the collection on shirts, incorporating graphic touches, as in one cropped dolman-sleeved chemise, horizontal pleats in the rear that have the quiet assured by closed blinds. Even the shirts for guys—this season with open collars—now come in a highly desirable version that can be worn as an outer, like a blouson. One skirt, too, stood out, a two-tone polyester-silk taffeta piece with side hems positioned diagonally forward and centre-back panels cut to provide a little flirtatious kick at the hem. Those in search of a parka would be well served to pick one short, A-line version with a hood that sits under a wide band collar, with draw-string-attached. When pulled to tighten, the effect could be a ruff, or even a flower! It seems Ms Sander has had some fun with this collection.

Although shoppers joining the queue were of the impression that the second +J season would not be repeated and are available in limited quantities to buy (at least on launch day), many, too, were surprised that some popular pieces from last November are available once more. Most unmistakable are the men’s Supima cotton shirts that were really sought after last year. Even women preferred the guys’ versions. Now, one of the styles with striped and plain-weave fabrics, is repeated—its restock clearly tethered to high demand. They take pride of space, right in the middle of the store entrance, confident of their second-round success. A young woman—in a slip top and denim cut-offs—and her mother was earlier standing outside the second-floor +J sales zone, looking at the buying buzz inside that she was not privy to. She told her mom, “Why nice? Not sexy at all.” Outside, back on the first floor, a longer line had formed. Many here obviously didn’t care if +J is sexy. Only if it’s here to stay, or not.

Photos: Chin Boh Kay

Stepping Up

Design Orchard, in the month of its second anniversary, is finally stocking ‘designer’ clothes. But is it enough?

Thomas Wee gets a street-facing window and dedicated space for his first collection at Design Orchard. Photo: 路人甲

After close two years in business, Design Orchard is upraising its positioning. At a media event yesterday evening, when operator Textile and Fashion Federation (TAFF) announced their “exciting plans in-store for 2021” and to “unveil” their Chinese New Year windows, one sensed that the operative word ‘design’ is finally taking tentative root in a store conceived to showcase what Charles Eames called “a plan for arranging elements in such a way as best to accomplish a particular purpose”. It is still not yet clear what purpose Design Orchard has set out for themselves other than to foster the spirit of “Shop Local, Grow Global”, but the current mix of names could portent well for a store that has not quite found its footing.

After protracted grumblings that there were no true designer styles in their merchandise mix, they have managed to invite some recognisable names to their fold, even successfully coaxing veteran designer Thomas Wee out of his serial retirement to present his first collection for Design Orchard. To be sure, at the 2019 opening of TAFF’s Cocoon Space, also in the building that houses Design Orchard, formerly operated by Naiise, Mr Wee had shown a selection of past fashion-show clothes. But as we understood at the time, that was a static display to fill the empty nooks of Cocoon Space, not a prelude to the availability, at Design Orchard, of our city’s premier designer line. Now that Thomas Wee is finally in the store and an “anchor label”, as one fashion buyer called it, would this be the charm to draw other revered names and to elevate Design Orchard’s standing among the design and retail community?

As the grand elder of Singaporean fashion, Thomas Wee gets his own private corner. Photo: Chin Boh Kay

The sizeable Thomas Wee collection takes up a space in an extreme corner of the store, on the opposite end of the main door, at what was another entrance (or rear exit) until the COVID-19 social-distancing mandate required stores to have a single point of entry and exit, to better control and monitor shopper movement. What Mr Wee is assigned is rather unusual in that, based on our earlier understanding, brands are not usually allotted their own designated spot. Within the roughly 50-square-metre corner, with a street-facing window, Mr Wee has set up shop in a layout that feels familiar: simple racks, headless mannequins (five of them—more than the other labels), the largely monochromatic scheme, a bench, which appears to welcome resting—a sum that hints at the elegant simplicity of his clothes. If not for the distracting UOB logo on a lightbox from next door, this would be a corner that could easily induce the appreciable description, cosy.

The familiarity extends to the clothes too. On the five mannequins that line the window, we could discern the discernible silhouette: relaxed, slightly voluminous, with drop shoulders, and a flare towards the hems (for both tops and skirts); the sum of which would not be out of place in today’s preference for a more relaxed approach to dress. Upon closer inspection, many pieces—some are tweaked or updated—have had their place in past collections. This could be, yet again, The Best of Thomas Wee fashion mixtape—a boon to those who are fans and for those who collect his designs or wish to replenish well-worn favourites. It is to the designer’s advantage that his clothes are situated away from the other labels. Mr Wee designs for a specific customer, a woman of a certain age, who is unconcerned with what’s trending, who has every reason to be dressed, attractively. But would the typical Design Orchard customer, weaned in the last two years on the store’s ho-hum offerings, be enticed? One attendee at last night’s event told us, “Only Thomas Wee’s things look and feel nice. They are really classy. Wear his designs and you will straightaway look ex.”

As the darling of the local designer pack, Max Tan gets the best spot to showcase his dramatic lines. Photo: Chin Boh Kay

Mr Wee is not the only designer invited to showcase and sell here. Close to Mr Wee’s space is that of Max Tan, the Boy Wonder of Singaporean fashion. Mr Tan has not been this visible—and strikingly so—since closing his first free-standing boutique and exiting Capitol Piazza in 2016. He continued to sell in various pop-ups and to export. In the mean time, he earned his BA (Hons) at NAFA through a joint programme with the University of East London. Max Tan the label is in its 21st year, and there are some hints of maturity of thought and sophistication of execution, although his insistence, till today, on what he continues to call “quirk cuts” has somewhat hit the breaks on his progress. His collection at Design Orchard is appealing at first sight until, as is often the case with Mr Tan’s work, you come up close and touch. Refinement is still elusive. One round neckline stands out: it is gathered with a rather wide tape and, given the fabric’s inherent weight, forms a rather thick ring round the neck, as if with the intent to choke, if not to wring it.

Another name that’s new to Design Orchard, but not an unexpected one, given the approach of Chinese New Year, is Lai Chan by Goh Lai Chan. Although Mr Goh is a popular designer of occasion wear and a name bandied about among some society women, he is still the go-to name for his unchanging retro-modern cheongsams. A profitable sub-line, the cheongsams are reportedly in demand among women who favour this dress style, as well as among stockists that bank only on products that move, especially with the lead-up to CNY. The close-to-forty-years veteran provides Design Orchard with his usual, neatly sewn, not-too-constricted cheongsams, distinguished by the row of coloured spherical stones of indeterminate gemological value on the right, in place of Chinese frog buttons—an aesthetical sum Mr Goh seems to have churned out forever. These will likely sell well for the store, although if you already own one—or two—of this particular style, they may have less subsequent pull, however floridly vintage-looking some of the fabrics are. Nostalgia has its limits too. Change might inspire a more bloom-ful present than a mirrored past could.

Rows of Lai Chan’s signature cheongsams. Photo: 路人甲

Two unexpected names appear. The first, national-song-meister and occasional designer Dick Lee, with a new shirt line, put together in collaboration with custom tailor Pimabs, the brainchild of Leslie Chia, previously of Haberdasher (and, later, Haber) and the oddly named The Clothes Publisher. The “limited-edition” Dick Lee X Pimabs is really more the former than the latter. Mr Lee’s weakness for florid prints, which he often recounts (in his concerts too), harking back to the days when he went shopping with his mother at the first Metro department store in High Street, is again in full display, recalling his last menswear collab with the short-lived The Modern Outfitter in Tiong Bahru in 2014. Back then, shirts with micro-floral prints dominated. Presently, they still do. Only now, as Mr Lee boasted on Facebook, they’re “in mixed-up Liberty prints”. A la the Mad Chinaman. Although a trained designer, he seems to have overlooked the overall aesthetics of the line.

The shirts—especially those with open collars (some with an odd crease above the notch)—could be kin to the auntie blouse. The “mix-up” means a clash of prints (at least two different florals in one shirt), but it is hard to find in them print pairing that hints at something more contemporary. Loud is all that matters. In addition, we find it odd that with the use of silk and ultra-fine poplin in shirts that are mostly casual, there is a need to have fused, rather than unfused stand collars, with the interlining unnecessarily stiff. We expect more from the input of a experienced tailor that Mr Chia is. Is this Mr Lee’s contributive follow-up after criticising Design Orchard in a remark published by The Straits Times last June: “I went into Design Orchard and it’s shocking, the standard of clothing stocked there. Things are so basic and there’s no nice fabrication or nice finishing”? Is he showing us what “nice” is?

The other name new to Design Orchard that will surprise is Yang Derong. On hindsight that shouldn’t, in particular when Dick Lee is in the picture. Both of them are the best of friends, and Mr Lee’s song Follow your Heart (from the 1991 compilation album When I Play and, later in the OST of the 2017 autobiographical film Wonder Boy) was said to be written for Mr Yang. It is, therefore, not immoderate to assume that, this time, Mr Yang was roped in by Mr Lee. A designer who hails from the late ’80s, and who is reportedly retired from fashion, Mr Yang has, in recent years, made a name for himself as the creator and sole model of the quirky and unapologetically outrageous Instagram page FaceOfTheDaySG, which was followed with a 2019 exhibition at the National Museum, and also as the makeover stylist on Channel News Asia’s Style Switch. But rather than design clothing that many still remember him fondly for, he created a “lifestyle” line to appeal to not-yet-returning tourists. The refinement-lite collection of T-shirts, bags, face masks, cushion covers, and greeting cards are based on the Chinese zodiac. Labelled Sayang Sayang, the manja-ish name and the kitsch-driven products have Mad Chinaman written all over them.

A new collaboration between Dick Lee and custom tailor Pimabs. Photo: Chin Boh Kay

Yang Derong’s Sayang Sayang collection. Photo: Chin Boh Kay

It is heartening to see familiar names with a storied past in the history of Singaporean fashion appear in Design Orchard, but are these individuals still able to pull in shoppers and, perhaps more pertinently, are they still relevant? Since its opening, Design Orchard has mostly availed easily accessible designs, such as those by Weekend Sundries and Little Match Girl, to their not-necessarily-in-the-know customers. Weaned on these not-artful labels (even when actual painting is involved), shoppers are not likely able to put themselves up to the level the new (old?) names are hoping to effect. That these names may give the store the directional heft it lacks is a plus. Young brand owners may feel a sense of pride to share the same platform as the established brands, but some may use the opportunity to be seen in the company of those they do not belong. Just a look at the window displays that TAFF has so proudly unveiled: the evidence is clear.

Despite all the efforts on the part of TAFF, mistakes (or oversight?) appear to dog Design Orchard, even in the digital-sphere. Yesterday afternoon, before the Cocoon Space event, we clicked on the store’s flat website to confirm the new names already talked about among those interested in such matters. To our astonishment, two captions incorrectly paired to two photos stared at us*. A picture with a model languishing in a recognisable cheongsam was attributed to Max Tan, while another woman looking haughty in a military-style trench coat to Lai Chan! As we write this post, no corrections are made or erratum published. One editor told us that the mis-match is “likely an honest mistake”. We are certain it is, but errors as easy to spot as these should not have their share of exposure online (or even off) when Design Orchard is positioned as the premier destination—the “hub”—for Singaporean labels. Or, perhaps, no one knew any better. One designer said to us, “Do you think they can tell what is Goh Lai Chan’s signature look or that Max Tan probably never made a qipao in his entire career?” We’re not referring to being intellectually fervid about the power of image and text coming together. Captioning is a marketing necessity, as well as an informational opportunity. If some of the Design Orchard brands are to be “featured”, such erroneous descriptions is palpable disservice.

The opening page of the Design Orchard website, with the incorrectly captioned photographs (blurred text inherent). Screen grab: designorchard.sg

This should not be mistaken as casting the proverbial wet blanket on Design Orchard. In the bleakness of the present, not-yet-post-pandemic time, what TAFF continues to strive for is laudable. But sometimes, we wonder if they truly have their heart in this and if the right people are recruited to see Design Orchard rise to greater heights. Design Orchard, unlike during Naiise’s watch, is now supposed to benefit from TAFF’s experience and industry leadership. If TAFF, with the resources (perhaps, not, as we’re repeatedly told, financial), does not discern, filter, or guide, who would take on the role? Who will be able to distill the essence of the work of those who are truly creative and encourage more from whence it came? Who will spur the vitality so necessary in growing a design community? How different is Design Orchard from, say, The Editor’s Market if they do not distinguish themselves with turbo-ed enthusiasm and intellectual might? Or are they just content with giving whoever’s interested in setting up a fashion (or lifestyle) label a hotchpotch confine to do their thing, and fizzle out within?

Even if we do not play on an international stage, we can aspire to play to an international audience. Design Orchard needs to go beyond its Singapore tag. Singapore Tourism Board’s “Made with Passion”, which Design Orchard yokes itself to, is good, but is geographical limitation encouraging designers to look beyond our front or back yards to scale higher? The view, as any climber or apartment hunter will attest, is always more impressive and inspiring when we’re aloft. But the trend seems to be for many to stay grounded: look back and dwell in the past, the more conspicuous and kitschier the better. Do we, therefore, invite committed and skilled designers to participate in the conversation of what fashion is now and will be in the future, or do we request the participation of those on/off practitioners who can’t give up living in their teenage years? The answer really lies with TAFF, and Design Orchard.

*Update (16 Jan 2021, 11.15pm): The content on the Design Orchard website has been amended to show the correct captions

Loewe Thy Neighbour

One is in Spain and the other in Japan, but that has not stopped them from being next-door chums

Japanese anime—and manga—are on a happy roll in fashionland. And Loewe is on top, collaborating with one of the most recognisable and cutest cartoon characters to emerge from Japan: Studio Ghibli’s Totoro, the egg-shaped mori no nushi (master of the forest) in the 1988 Hayao Miyazaki-directed film My Neighbour Totoro. That designer JW Anderson should be inspired by this animated character and the other adorable creatures in the film is not surprising. Mr Anderson said in a media release, “There is a natural longing for heartwarming feelings right now. When I think of a movie that affords me that kind of solace, speaking just as directly to a child as it does to an adult, that movie is My Neighbor Totoro.”

And he isn’t the only one thinking. So many shoppers have Totoro and company on their minds that well-aware Loewe had to conduct an online raffle for an opportunity to attend the pre-launch at Casa Loewe in ION Orchard yesterday in order to purchase the limited pieces available. This was announced on 27 December, last year, via Instagram: “Enter the draw for the chance to access the collection in store or on loewe.com 24h before the global launch on 8 January.” Or—the message was clear—there would be no “access”, just, perhaps, a peek from the store window.

One Studio Ghibli fan who spoke to SOTD said that he had to try twice before he succeeded in securing a place. An e-mail with the subject “Congratulations!” was sent to him at 1:04:19am (!) on the morning of the 6th, a day before the preview, to announce that he had “won a place on the guest list to attend the exclusive LOEWE x My Neighbor Totoro pre-launch, giving (him) first access to the collection.” The time allotted was 6.30pm. Entry could be gained with a provided QR code, and only a “plus one” was allowed. He was also told that all registrants, whether a winner or not, would be allowed to collect a single gift, companion excluded.

It is understandable why this particular luxury collaboration is appealing and so in demand. Anyone who’ve been to the Mamma Aiuto shop at the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, in the west of Tokyo, or the Donguri Kyowakoku chain stores (exclusive Studio Ghibli merchandise retailer) throughout the city would have witness the horde inside, and they’re mostly foreigners. Among fashionistas, too, there are rabid fans. Loewe is in the know of this, but rather than pick any character from the Studio Ghibli films (surely not No-Face from Spirited Away!), Mr Anderson has chosen My Neighbor Totoro, and populated the clothes, bags, and accessories with not only Totoro itself, but other cute creatures such as Chu-Totoro, Chibi-Totoro and the clearly irresistible pom-pom-looking dust bunnies (or soot spirits) known as Makkuro-Kurosuke. It’s a quartet assembled to get fans with deep pockets to go quite wild.

Japanese cartoon characters have had a long and fruitful relationship with fashion. Think Hello Kitty. Even Balenciaga couldn’t resist (in 2019, there were also man-bags in the shape of HK’s head!). But characters from anime aligned with designer names are a fairly recent occurrence. One of the earliest to collaborate with an anime series that we can remember was Yohji Yamamoto’s streetwear imprint Ground Y’s pairing with Ghost in the Shell, in early 2018. So successful that was for the sub-label that there was a second collab a year later, followed by one with One Piece in August, 2019. The Ground Y collections were available only in Japan and enjoyed very limited world-wide exposure. Then came Longchamp X Pokémon last October and Coach X Michael B Jordan adapting Naruto for the American brand. Shortly after Loewe’s announcement of their teaming up with My Neighbour Totoro, Gucci disclosed that they would produced a capsule with Doraemon.

Anime, as with cartoons in general, don’t age. Even if they have faded in popularity, they will find new legions of fans. My Neighbour Totoro is 33 years old, yet there is life in its characters for a fashion iteration. In a 2019 annual report by The Associations of Japanese Animations, the global market size for anime and attendant merchandise was estimated to “exceeded 2 trillion yen (or S$25.5 billion)”. Anime’s extraordinary lure is attributed to the films’ ability to evoke emotions with their well-crafted storylines, provide shared experiences, and bring about a sense of nostalgia among mature fans. Mr Anderson not only picked one of the most beloved anime films of all time, his application of the characters and scenes both tug at heartstrings and appeal to those with a deep sense of what is artistic application.

The design team at Loewe did not plonk the titular Totoro on the front of T-shirts. Rather, there was considerable thought on the placement of the drawings and scenes so that the tees, for example, look elevated. Much appreciated are the subtle details, such as embroidery on the green patch on top of Totoro’s head, a flat pom-pom of the soot spirit in place of the ‘O’, and the characters appearing on the leather goods using the house marquetry technique intarsia. We were especially drawn to one oversized unisex mohair and wool sweater that sports a tree design in the front. There’s a three-dimensionality to the knit work of tactile jacquard in contrasting yarns that brought the enchanted forest to anime liveliness, and all the while keeping to Loewe’s predilection for craft, as steered by Mr Anderson.

The Studio Ghibli fan who spoke to us appeared in front of Casa Loewe at 6.25 yesterday evening. At that time, there was a queue of six people (equal number of men and women). Two directly in front of him did not have a QR code to show, and was told that, while they could browse, they were unable to purchase the Loewe X My Neighbour Totoro pieces specifically. When it was time for our Studio Ghibli fan to enter the store, he was assigned a sales staff to accompany him. There was by then very few merchandise from the capsule, placed in the front portion of the Casa, to view. In fact, the first thing that struck him was how little there was to choose from. When asked about the low quantity, the crew explained that when the first batch of preview attendees came at about 5pm, most of the merchandise were snapped up. When interest was shown for a mini ‘Heel’ pouch (S$690), with one dust bunny on the flap cover, he was told that was the last one, so where the five or so T-shirts, S$550 a piece, the second cheapest item in the 58-piece, largely unisex collection.

It was hard for our Studio Ghibli fan to accept that there were so few items to see and to choose from. He was convinced that Loewe did not avail the entire collection here, to which the staff politely denied. When the staff was asked if at least 80 percent of the products were snapped up, she said yes. The impressive sell-through, even before the actual launch date, was not only due to compelling designs and the likely over-enthusiastic response of the VVIP customers (who probably enjoyed a preview before the preview), but also to one of the biggest marketing effort we’ve seen in a collaboration. Over at Wisma Atria, next door, an ad was flashing on the Orchard Road-facing video screen all of yesterday (and probably earlier) and on the extended lightbox that runs alongside the underground conduit between ION Orchard and the Wisma Atria side of the Orchard MRT station, Gary Sorrenti-lensed photos were drawing the attention of commuters and pedestrians. And there were the free sticker set—four pieces held in a neat little holder distributed to the raffle winners.

Concurrently, at Gucci, some 30 steps away from Casa Loewe, the buzz in the line at the entrance was the collaboration with Doraemon. Gucci, under Alessandro Michele, love things Japanese, so much so that its ‘Grip’ watch, released in that country last June, came with the brand’s name written on the face in big, bold katakana characters. Doraemon was really an unsurprising choice. This evening, the “already launched”—as one staffer said—Doraemon collab was only “taking orders with a deposit”. Were there pieces that could be seen? “No, we don’t have stocks,” she continued, whipping out a smartphone to show shoppers the range on the screen. “Once you pay the deposit, we will notify you when your order arrives and we’ll send to you (sic). Before Chinese New Year.” How much deposit was required per order? “Full payment.” That’s not a deposit; that’s a purchase! “Yes,” she smiled, satisfactorily.

Loewe X My Neighbour Totoro is available at Casa Loewe, ION Orchard. Good luck! Photos: Zhao Xiangji

In Bold Strides

Japan’s White Mountaineering collaborates with Fila. The result is more for track and field than pitch and trail

These days, every designer label worth its salt—or stripes—collaborates with at least one sports label. The Italian brand Fila is rather productive in this respect, and has been able to attract Japanese names to its stable, such as Mihara Yasuhiro. Hot on the heels of that release is the collaboration with White Mountaineering under the line Fila Fusion, which, according to a Fila Facebook post, “targets (the) youth market, incorporating vintage and on trend elements to bringing streetwear into a new level.”

White Moutaineering’s been quite a prolific brand collaborator, having paired with Adidas for quite a few seasons, and more recently, with the Italian outdoor wear label Colmar, the American athletic brand Saucony, as well as Australian footwear Ugg. Designer Yosuke Aizawa would be the guy to bring Fila’s Euro-vintagey sportif style to quite a height, never mind “new”. While WM fans might be hoping for a more up-the-hill aesthetic, Mr Aizawa and his team have remained close to Fila’s athletic roots, including the latter’s colour scheme for its logotype.

White Mountaineering X Fila. From left: (women’s), T-shirt, SGD136, and skirt, SGD208; (men’s) pullover, SGD208, and track pants, SGD 288. Products photo: Fila. Collage: Just So

To the uninitiated (or Fila novices), the blue/red/white combination could be mistaken as those worn by the North American team bound for the Olympics. Truth be told, there’s nothing quite mountaineering about these cheery, potentially nationalistic colours. They are more track than trail, and would really not be out of place on a path of any urban centre or the walkway of a mall. But WM devotees would want something to identify the brand with, and Mr Aizawa offers a hint of WM detailing, such as the brand’s logo bordered by ethnic-looking repeated patterns. In fact, the collection is mostly based on Fila staples, but with WM’s love of details gleaned from military and work wear.

The women’s pieces are quite the standout that many sportswear collaboration are not (except possibly Sacai and Nike). We like the boxier tops and the layered/pleated skirts—rather tennis wear charmingly gone a little off-tangent. As with WM collections, the Fila outers are smashing. Lightweight jackets, some with that ethnic pattern, but mostly with massive pockets (and flaps) are totally consistent with the outdoor look, but city-centric enough to go over any dress that you might be wearing now. If only our climate here isn’t one we wish we didn’t have.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

White Mountaineering X Fila autumn/winter 2020 is available at Fila, Orchard Central. Photo (top): Zhao Xiangji

Will This Be The First?

Crowd control measures are already in place outside the Uniqlo Global Flagship at Orchard Central for the launch of the Uniqlo +J collection tomorrow morning. It looks set to be Uniqlo’s most successful launch after their collaboration with Kaws last year

It seems that the madness is about to begin. At Uniqlo’s three-storey Orchard Central (OC) store early this evening, separate-from-the-usual-queue stanchions were set up to control what’s anticipated to be a large turn out for tomorrow’s launch of the much-hyped +J collection, conceived with Jil Sander, the designer, not the brand. At six this evening, no one was stationed in the designated area, split into two holding zones in the main concourse/walkway of the mall. Yet. Staff members, all in discreet black that Ms Sander would approve, were seen arranging the set up and putting up signs to better guide shoppers. It was still all calm, the usual OC Thursday evening.

This could be unprecedented in the history of Uniqlo collaborations. Despite pairings with heavy-weight designers such as Ms Sander, JW Anderson (ongoing), and Jun Takahashi of Undercover (2012), lines rarely form outside the stores as those seen outside H&M for their collabs with, say, Balmain (2015) or Giambattista Valli (2019). When asked what size crowd they’re expecting tomorrow, one staffer told us, “huge”. We wondered if there would be a line tonight, and she said, “possible”. Does the OC operations managers allow overnight queueing, given present pandemic restrictions? “As of now,” she continued, “yes.” Would those already in line be told to go home if they change their mind? “They can queue outside.”

Two mannequins in +J tease in the front of Uniqlo

The +J launch here, as well as in Malaysia, was postponed by a week due to shipping delays (both Malaysia and Singapore share the same warehouse facility in the Peninsular, hence both are affected) as a result of the pandemic situation in various ports where the merchandise were due to depart. The reaction to the comeback +J line is believed to be overwhelming, considering its success in Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Tokyo last Friday, with one unverified video circulating online, purportedly showing a mad crush in an unidentified Japanese store. One Uniqlo fan we spoke to said she will be kiasu and head out to the store at six in the morning. “I’ll bring breakfast along,” she beamed.

We were curious to know if there would be enough clothes for these fans. The staffer we spoke to earlier quipped, “No, that’s why it’s limited edition!” As it turns out, the pieces are so limited that shoppers are allowed to buy only “five SKUs (stock-keeping unit, representing one style) each.” That effectively means five different styles per person. No more. And that also indicates that the one total covers both men’s and women’s line. A wife, therefore, won’t be able to pick five for herself and five for her husband. She would only have that precious five to allot. The mad rush, it seems, would be inevitable.

Update: (19 November 2020, 22.30) Uniqlo at Orchard Central has closed for thirty minutes. No queue was seen outside the store. Inside, it appears that staff are setting up for the big reveal tomorrow.

Photos: Zhao Xiangji

Return With A Bang

While we wait for the comeback Uniqlo +J collection to hit the brand’s Global Flagship store next Friday, Hongkongers made a manic rush at the launch in the city today

Friday the thirteenth may be deemed an unlucky day in Western superstition, but here in Asia, it is quite auspicious, especially for Uniglo launching their comeback collaboration with the German designer Jil Sander, who no longer designs her eponymous label. At its Causeway Bay outlet in Lee Theatre Plaza on Hong Kong island, dubbed the “1st worldwide flagship store”, long queues were seen leading to the cashier early this evening. One happy shopper told SOTD she would have come in the morning if she could get away from work. She said, in Cantonese, that she was waiting for the launch since hearing about it on social media last month because the clothes “又平又靚 (yao paeng yao laeng, or cheap and attractive” and “好有設計感” (ho yao chit gai gam, or with design sense).

It is not surprising that this would be the reception to the +J collection in Hong Kong. We won’t know how it will fare here until next Friday when it will be revealed. Uniqlo has created what is possibly one of its most popular and successful collaborations, spanning some five seasons, from 2009 to 2011. Then there was the “greatest hits” collection of 2014, which allowed those who missed the earlier releases the fashion equivalent of back issues. Many thought that was the last chance of owning something that Ms Sander actually had a hand in designing, until it was announced, more than two months ago, that the collaboration would be brought back with a brand new collection. Now that WFH is very much a part of our lives, +J’s intelligently conceived, elevated classics are expected to score big. The GQ columnist Justin Myers posted on Twitter, “Looking forward to seeing everyone in their Uniqlo +J turtlenecks on their Zoom call screenshots.”

It is doubtful Zoom users here would make such an effort. Still, good design and good value do appeal. And it is not unreasonable that Uniqlo would be expecting enthusiastic response at Orchard Central next week, although it may not generate the same crowd as buzzy collabs at, say, H&M. Although collaborators and designers such as JW Anderson and Christophe Lemaire, who oversees the Uniqlo U line, have made classic designs with subtly tweaked details the mainstay of their collections for the brand, precision and nuance have not really caught on here. One Singaporean designer said to us, when we asked him what’s the lure of +J, “Honestly, I think not many people would understand the appeal of Jil Sander. Most won’t even know of her, let alone her style. Her designs are so understated that even if she executed an unusual pocket, most consumers can’t see how unusual.”

Which, seems to support the oft-said belief that Hongkongers are more sophisticated than us. The +J sell-through here would, therefore, tell. Back in the still-packed Causeway Bay Uniqlo store, the +J merchandise looked to be running low. One product development specialist who was there to consider a puffer jacket said, “I do like the women’s duffle coat. The outerwear is very now in terms of the details and silhouette. The knits, however, felt, to me, like she was repeating her styles from the past.” Revivals are not necessarily a minus for +J. Ms Sander has, more than other collaborating designers before and after her, created pieces for Uniqlo that can test the passing of time. One content development manager told us, “The first bubble coat I ever bought was from +J. I wanted to know if I would like it. And the price was sharp. That was more than ten years ago. I still use it now when I travel. And happily. It doesn’t date.”

Photos: K S Yeung for SOTD. Illustration: Just So

DSM Gives Back

A fashion retailer that cares is a fashion retailer that wins

 

DSM IG announcement Jul 2020

Dover Street Market has announced an initiative that applies to the country/city where it has a physical store. Buy a T-shirt from the “Fearless” collection, and “100% of its proceeds go to charities supporting healthcare workers in each of the six DSM regions”. Here, what you pay for will instead go to Beyond Social Services, described on their website as “a charity dedicated to helping children and youths from less privileged backgrounds break away from the poverty cycle”. Enjoying fashion and serving a good cause feel right (and good?) now.

Fearless involves some of the biggest names in luxury fashion, as well as streetwear, twenty eight of them that DSM considers as “friends”. And the store is well-supported. To look out for are Raf Simons, Sacai, Undercover, and Valentino, and, for streetwear junkies, Awake NY, Bianca Chandon, Clot, just to name three. The objective is as simple as it is charitable: “…to create a simple collection of T-shirts that help to spread positive energy through the wider DSM global community and out into the world,” according to DSM.

DSM tees Jul 2020

Fearless comes hot on the heels of the Social Justice Charity Capsule, conceived by the sub-brand CDG to support the Black Lives Matter movement. What were first designed as uniforms for staff to wear to welcome shoppers back to the store after lockdown have become available for sale, presumably due to the intense interest from customers. The positive messages on the garments along the lines of “Believe in a better tomorrow” sync with the present global sentiment that calls for massive social change.

Prices of the T-shirts are not yet available as we hit the publish button. It is hard to make a guess as DSM does carry tees of a rather wide price range. We suspect they will retail for SGD100 upwards. This may not be considered outrageous since many are from trending brands. We are certain Doublet’s design of a heart shape, composed of Post-It notes with handwritten messages on them will be first to be snapped up. The Fearless Initiative launches tomorrow at DSMS, as well as online. Shop and do some good.

Photos: (main and products) DSM. Collage: Just So

Yeezy To Do: Bring Along Hype, Not Design

Gap has placed their trust in Kanye West to save the brand. Haha

 

Kanye West YZY

We have not completely digested the news when it came out last night. We thought we’d sleep on it. Kanye West for Gap greeted us this morning. Is there a nice ring to it? Yeezy Gap? Cheesy? But the name of the new partnership between the rapper-designer and one of America’s most recognised mass-market brands isn’t making us think. It is the aesthetic that he would bring to Gap that is provoking us to wonder: Will Kanye West be the right fit?

Gap issued a press release yesterday to say that Mr West “will develop the new line to deliver modern, elevated basics for men, women and kids at accessible price points.” Which means he won’t be involved in Gap itself. Gap hiring a separate designer to create “elevated basics” bears an uncanny resemblance to Uniqlo installing Christophe Lemaire’s as the artistic director of Uniqlo U, the Japanese label’s sub-brand—launched in 2016—that is designed in a specially set up Paris studio to “reimagine everyday clothing using innovative materials and contemporary silhouettes.”

Mr West tweeted a photograph (hashtagged #WESTDAYEVER) that hinted at what his Yeezy Gap might look like. Hoodie! And, surprisingly, colour. Nothing else to describe. There’s that oversized bag—similar to one from Uniqlo U’s past collection—with a message in the bottom right that reads “YZY Gap developed by Yeezy and 699 in Cody WY 062520”. We have no idea why Gap should be developed in Cody, Wyoming, basically Buffalo Bill country. Could Cody be where Yeezy Gap’s design studio is situated, just as Uniqlo U’s is in Paris? Oh, we forget: Cody is where the West family lives, in a a 4000-acre farm.

Yeezy sold US$1.3 billion worth of Adidas-backed sneakers last year. Such impressive figures were often quoted by the press, but similar numbers weren’t linked to his increasingly low-key fashion line

 

The Donald Trump supporter is a hometown-proud man. Calabasas, California, where he once lived and where the Kardashians still reside, was overweeningly featured in his collaboration with Adidas. Even the merchandise linked to his Sunday Service outputs one unabashed “Calabasas sweatpants”. It is not surprising that, for Gap, Cody is similarly given the spotlight. At the last Yeezy show, staged in Paris, attendees were told he was presenting “a little piece from our home in Cody, Wyoming”.

No matter where he designs from, Kanya West is, at least where footwear is concerned, a money maker. According to Forbes, Yeezy sold US$1.3 billion worth of Adidas-backed sneakers last year. Such impressive figures were often quoted by the press, but similar numbers weren’t linked to his increasingly low-key fashion line. Still the Yeezy brand is expanding. Last week, it was reported that Mr West filed a trademark for makeup and hair-care products (including, curiously, pine cones and aromatherapy pillows!), which led to the speculation that this meant billionaire beauty mogul in the making. It would be interesting to note that his wife Kim’s KKW beauty line has not yet made her a billionaire mogul. And his lip-kit queen sister-in-law Kylie Jenner had her billionaire status rescinded.

Gap also announced that they “are excited to welcome Kanye back to the Gap family as a creative visionary”. It is a return as Mr West had worked in a Gap store when he was a teenager (no mention of what he did there, but customer service was bandied about) and had sung about his experience that included pilferage (or suggested) in ‘Spaceship’ in the 2004 debut album College Dropout. How that is back-as-a-creative-visionary is not clear or imaginable. It is possible that Mr West was creative even back then, and to Gap, maker of T-shirts and chinos, a visionary now.

Ye TwitterSneak peek of Yeezy Gap. Photo: Ye/Twitter

But as with everything in fashion, “creative” is being re-defined. His pal Virgil Abloh is doing this re-defining at Louis Vuitton to startling effects on sales. In a radio interview last year, Mr West repeats his known dismay with Mr Abloh’s appointment: “I felt like it was supposed to be me. I was the Louis Vuitton Don”, referring to the sneaker he did in a collaboration with LV back in 2009, a sneaker no one remembers. In the same interview, he declared that he is “unquestionably, undoubtedly the greatest human artist of all time”.

It is ironic that, in the face of still-raging aspiration to design for a luxury house, Kanye West is going to Gap, known for its merchant-led product development, rather than design-led. It is, therefore, possible that the partnership—reported to be a ten-year deal (brand Kenya West will enjoy such longevity?)—might work as Mr West need not bring design to the table. Basics, however “elevated”, would be just that: basics. In the end, Gap is using a name to sell clothes, not design; it will maintain the status quo, not be elevated.

Gap also shared the official logo of Yeezy Gap, featuring Yeezy without the vowels using the condensed serif font of the Gap logotype, introduced in 1986, and often seen on the front of T-shirts and hoodies. This might be in keeping with the simplicity of the three-letter name that is Gap. To some observers, the choice of Mr West is just as simple. In the present, when diversity is expected, if not demanded, of fashion companies, they say Gap is woke to employ Mr West. But he is not the first black hire at the company. Patrick Robinson—the Armani alum greatly loved by Vogue—was with Gap from 2007 to 2011. It would need talent rather than race to turn Gap around.

Illustration: Just So

Two Of A Kind: These Doodles

Serial imitator Philipp Plein is one daring guy to do Dior. If you want to see the real deal, go to ION Orchard and ride an escalator

 

20-06-20-21-30-05-716_decoThe escalator plastered with repeated text of Dior, at ION Orchard. Photo: Zhao Xiangji

By now, you’d have read about one designer who had the nerve to put out something clearly associated with another. Philipp Plein, a German lawyer-turned-designer was recently called out for sharing an image of typographic play on his name which bears an uncanny resemblance to what Shawn Stussy has done for Dior in the current season. For some, it isn’t enough your clothes are not original, your communication material has to be too.

The similarities (see below) are not vague. The text, in flowy/wavy hand-drawn style, placed side by side with Dior’s is as different as Brie and Camembert. Mr Stussy’s flowers are replaced with skulls (its use itself is in clichéd territory), but that differentiation is a stroke of futility. Yet, Mr Plein, a noted bling “king of crass”, to paraphrase Bloomberg, sees his neoteric version good enough to stand on its own without immediately evoking the very recent work of someone else, a noted and just-celebrated illustrator/designer, whose influence is acknowledged by Kim Jones in his pre-fall collection for Dior.

Dior vs Plein June 2020Variations on a theme: (clockwise from top left) Dior, Philipp Plein, Dior. Philipp Plein. Photos: Dior and Philipp Plein, respectively

If you need a close encounter of the original, your best bet is to go to ION Orchard and ride—or look at—the escalator on the first floor, just outside the Dior men’s store. This is striking brand communication. Although advertisements stretched across the balustrade panel of escalators are nothing new (these days, almost anywhere can be ad space), Dior did not use this part of the moving stairway. Instead, it employed the much wider skirt panel (inside which the entire system under the steps is hidden) for the textual pattern that, when seen in its entirety, is almost installation art. No selfie-serving-as-fashion-shoot required.

But for Mr Plein, there may not be the need to concern himself with art, let alone art already created by someone else. For as long as he can amplify what is already illustratively stated, he will do so, and it will be consistent with the label’s inherent crassness. Mr Plein, of course, has a different—not necessarily cognizant—sense of what is refine or sophisticated. His eponymous label, including a men’s wear line branded ‘Billionaire’, represents the excess of wealth and embraces what to many others is plain tacky. Bloomberg quoted the designer saying, “Philipp Plein is a brand that’s very polarizing—you either hate it or you love it.” Which side to take isn’t a hard decision to make.