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.

Will We See The Chest Rig At Givenchy?

Now that we know Matthew Williams will be heading the design studio of Givenchy, it’s not unreasonable to assume that the brand’s accessory business will be given a massive boost

 

Alyx chest rigAlyx leather chest rig. Photo: 1017 Alyx 9SM

The news that Matthew Williams will be installed at Givenchy was received with surprise and nonchalance. Before that is explored, the burning question is, will we be seeing Givenchy chest rigs?

Prior to Virgil Abloh’s assorted holsters for Louis Vuitton (early 2017), there was one bag worn close to the body that true street-style aficionados adopted with such fervour, it positioned its American creator Matthew Williams on the path of success that, this week, culminated in the Givenchy appointment, making him the second designer from the US to lead French maisons owned by parent company LVMH.

Not so long ago, Mr Williams, was not widely known, except his “luxury streetwear” brand 1017 Alyx 9SM. Fashion insiders know of his work for Lady Gaga and Kanye West (thought to be his mentor) and Virgil Abloh, but those with a weakness for expensive T-shirts and accessories inspired by utility gear and military wear, took a shine to Alyx, as it is mostly known.

The chest rig, probably last seen in the ’70s television series S.W.A.T. (or the 2017 remake), made such an unlikely impact on the accessories/bag market that suddenly many across high-low price points started to appear. Even Mr Williams began doing versions for Moncler on one end, and Nike on the other. In time, the chest rig was such a thing, it spawn the trend of oversized pouch pockets on the centre-front of shirts and T-shirts.

Alyx beltThe belt buckle that became highly covetable. Photo: 1017 Alyx 9SM

The chest rig, still often sold out, isn’t the only accessory associated with Mr Williams. There is that buckle inspired by those used on roller-coaster safety belts. His version—secure-looking and unmistakable—has become such a signature of the Alyx brand and so admired that a variation of it was introduced at Kim Jones’s Dior debut—a much-lauded collaboration between the two men. The belt buckle would appear not just on ceintures, but also on bags, in particular the Saddle, then introduced for guys. The Alyx buckle, in the mean time, was widely imitated, from London to Tokyo.

It is, therefore, unsurprising that Givenchy would offer Mr Williams the creative director position. Reports had suggested that his predecessor Clare Waight Keller was not able to create the kind of sales behemoth LVMH was hoping and waiting to see. It is known that accessories are vital to a brand’s must-be-staggering profits, and Ms Keller, in the three years with the house, had not produced one that could be remembered, that could delight the tills. Mr Williams might just be the guy to excite LVMH’s CFO.

Interestingly, Matthew William’s debut collection in 2015 was womenswear. It is mostly now forgotten, as his accessories and subsequent men’s line eventually overshadowed the former. It is not certain if Givenchy chose him because of his flair with accessories or because he could give their ready-to-wear a new spin (for now, let’s not wonder what’s going to happen to the haute couture). If, as we’re led to believe by LVMH’s own Virgil Abloh, street wear is dead (or will die), what is Givenchy doing aligning themselves with a street wear designer, even one this well regarded? Perhaps, having made Mr Abloh king, LVMH cannot afford to let street style meet its predicted demise.

Two Of A Kind: Cotton Work Jacket

In the work wear category, which is better: Dior or Uniqlo?

 

Dior Vs UniqloTwo work-wear-style cotton jackets: Dior (left) for women and (right) Uniqlo X JW Anderson for men

When we saw this Dior jacket in the window of the brand’s Takashimaya Shopping Centre store, we did a double take. Had we not just seen a very similar piece at Uniqlo a short while ago?

It was a day after Uniqlo’s launch of its collaborative line with JW Anderson, the fifth season since its debut in 2017, now including a kid’s capsule for the first time. Described as “British country style”, the result is more Land Girls than To the Manor Born, South Downs than South Bank. Mr Anderson knows what he can do with a mass brand such as Uniqlo. While the Britishness is arguable in the hands of the Japanese, the clothes are an agreeable interpretation of idyllic-meets-high-street. With Uniqlo, Mr Anderson has consistently offered his version of British outerwear (winter coats have been especially appealing), and this men’s cotton work jacket is another to add to the pairing’s repertoire, and continues to expand on Uniqlo’s own contemporary-fit versions.

That Dior needs to produce a jacket of such proletarian provenance for its women’s wear is a little more than mind boggling. Or, that such an item need to be sold alongside the brand’s own signature Bar jacket, is indication that Dior, like many other luxury labels, is studying with palpable seriousness from the playbook of money-churning mass brands. The line between fashion and clothing is blurred to the point that you can’t see if there’s a demarcation in the first place, like the smudgy marks of past and present scribbles on a black board that never benefited from a thorough wipe down. It is apposite to say that Dior, more than ever, is traipsing into the territory that Uniqlo and the like hold court. In this court—of numbing mono-culture, why be different when you can be the same?

Photos: (left) Dior and (right) Uniqlo

Lame Once More

Who’s lazy: Supreme or Nike?

 

supreme-nike-air-force-1-low-2020-release-date-price-07

By Ray Zhang

What’s with no-effort white (or black) sneaker collaborations these days? Or was Prada and Adidas really on to something?

Supreme and Nike has just revealed their next collab in the form of the Air Force 1 Low. It is the same shoe you have worn since Sec 2, black or white, but now with that logo. Why bother? Sure, I am not their target customer. One red box-logo isn’t going to make be a convert. Or turn me into a hypebeast right away. Still, can these really make feet walk on cloud nine? Or encourage a pair to queue for hours to score them?

Frankly, I am getting a bit fed up with collaborations that merely want to reprise the pristine—keep them as intact as possible. Why change anything if the original has worked for so long, I hear you ask, and with earnestness. Because just slapping a logo on a shoe, however popular its silhouette, is an exercise in branding, not design. I have a brand, you have a brand, let’s go for it. But, as branding go, a massively passive effort. Logo placement alone requires no mulling over.

These are the Supreme X Hanes tees for feet!

I don’t know why something more can’t be done, even slightly more. A different coloured mid-sole? A contrast Swoosh? A patterned tongue? For goodness’ sake, at least try.

Photo: Supreme/Nike

Two Distinctive Voices To Speak As One

Clearly, what Calvin Klein can’t appreciate, Prada can. What sweet sounds will Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons produce?

 

20-02-23-20-57-33-057_deco

Prada has announced what might be the most powerful pairing in fashion today. And unexpected, too. Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons will be jointly designing the Prada collections from spring/summer 2021 onwards. Two strong voices—not entirely dissimilar yet so unalike—co-designing as a working arrangement is not groundbreaking. There are designing couples such as Luke and Lucie Meier (Jil Sander) ; Christophe Lemaire and Sarah Linh Tran (Lemaire); Vivienne Westwood and Andreas Kronthaler; and, on our own soil, Yong Siyuan and Jessica Lee (Nuboaix). But Ms Prada is not married to Mr Simons. What bedfellows would they make?

Prada has been the singular vision of one clear-sighted woman. As a designer, Ms Prada always follows her (march to, a physical move, is at odds with her persona) own drum beat, which in itself is often not any beat at all, or anything toe-tapping (popular), or mensural. Ms Prada, who was well ahead of everyone in the ‘ugly’ movement, sees what many other createurs do not. Or, refuse to? She has paid the price for not catching up. Even in sneaker collaborations, she was many moons late. While still critically lauded, Prada isn’t drawing the crowds like they used to. When was the last time you saw a line outside a Prada store? That’s not to say the brand isn’t still compelling. It just means that there is space and merchandise for true fans.

The Belgian has, of course, worked with the Italian before. Well, sort of and briefly. Between 2005 and 2012, Mr Simons was the creative director of Jil Sander. At that time of his appointment, Jil Sander was owned by the Prada Group. It was acquired by the London-based Change Capital Partners in 2006 and then, two years later, sold to Japan’s Onward Holdings (also owner of Rochas, Chalayan, Woo Young Mi, and others) via its European subsidiary Gibo Co (also a manufacturer for brands such as Marc Jacobs, John Galliano, Michael Kors, and others). It was reported that Ms Prada’s husband Patrizio Bertelli was first to approach Mr Simons in 2005 with a job offer at Jil Sander, and he proposed again when Mr Simons left Calvin Klein.

PQ Feb 2020

Before anyone could peddle succession theories, Ms Prada was fast to illuminate to the media that she intends to continue designing. At the same time, Mr Simons is said to be offered a “lifetime” contract. If true, he’d be the only designer after Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel to enjoy such an uncommon pact. But Mr Lagerfeld had free reign to do as he pleases while Mr Simons would have to co-create. This, however, could also reflect Mr Simons’s known disdain for the fashion system and the musical chairs that have been played at luxury houses. In what BOF described as a “secretive conference for select press”, Mr Simons was quoted saying, ““Miuccia and I had a conversation about creativity in today’s fashion system. And it brought me to open dialogue with many designers, not just Mrs Prada. We have to re-look at how creativity can evolve in today’s fashion system.”

Two-as-one the solution? But, how will the two “co-design?” How does a duo with very different minds share “equal responsibilities for creative input and decision-making”, as stated in the official Prada statement on the pairing? It may work, but to what degree of success? Ms Prada may have introduced some of the most influential looks of the past 31 years, but in the recent, have not exactly matched the aesthetical punch seen (and felt) at other houses. Mr Simons was able to make his mark at Jil Sander and Dior—marvelously, it should be added—but his tenure at Calvin Klein, which closer mirrored his own visual and cultural obsessions, could hint at the importance of chemistry and affinity with a brand.

That’s not to say there’s no tacit understanding and mutual appreciation between the two designers. It has, in fact, been reported that more than being one-time employer and employee, both are friends. But creative temperament has a strange way of coming between people or hamper the creative process itself. When one’s vision is more compelling and relevant than the other’s, how will they square? This is the first time Prada has enlisted an outsider to share the creative reign. If you recall, when Donatella Versace tapped talents from outside her own studio for Versus (conceived by Gianni Versace as a “gift” to his sister), it didn’t last. Christopher Kane (2009—2012), JW Anderson (2013—2014), and Anthony Vaccarello (2014—2016) were, at best, guest designers. None was able to put the shine back to the faded glory that was Versus.

Some speculated that it was probably hard to work with women designers who have very specific tastes and are possibly inflexible when it comes to aesthetical/creative differences. In that respect, could it be even harder to shape the will of Ms Prada, she who started the brand’s ready-to-wear line in 1989, and knows it only too well? As one fashion observer said to SOTD, “Miuccia has a certain level of ‘trend’ (practically her own), a certain amount of novelty and definitely change for each season. Those things are not Raf”. Who will come up tops? We look forward to Milan Fashion Week, come September.

Photo: (top) cameramoda.it