The Uptick From The Umbrage

One trending word, now happily used and proudly worn

By Bu Shikong

As a nation, we’re hardly ever affected by single words, nor pairs. Ex-Mediacorp stars can start a food business with the curse-turn-oxymoron Sibay Shiok, but no one’s undies are caught in a knot. When former military man, now SPH’s CEO, Ng Yat Chung indignantly brandished “umbrage”—twice!—in response to CNA reporter Chew Huimin’s question, many people are piqued. The uncle’s contempt at the press conference was, for sure, unmistakable. However, it was not just how garang he was that people reacted to, but the word choice (choice word?) as well. This morning, The Sunday Times reported that that one beautiful word very quickly led to a 200,000-plus searches on Google that day: what did Mr Ng really take? What was given? People were burning with curiosity.

In one Coconuts report I read, it was noted that “many Singaporeans have never even heard of the word until it got a mention at the company’s press conference…” With the Speak Good English Movement still running this year’s campaign, Let’s Connect, Let’s Speak Good English, on TV, that is hardly surprising. But the memes and jokes that emerged have somehow diluted the kau-ness of the fury. And the retailers that have been quick to turn this into a money-making opportunity have only made a word expressing no ordinary anger funny. Since yesterday morning, I have been inundated with photos of and links to the availability of T-shirts with ‘umbrage’ emblazoned across the chest, as well as marketing campaigns enjoying the use of what Asiaone called “word of the day”.

It is rather puzzling that the lead time for producing garments, bags, and cups could be this short. Clicking on a Lazada ad on my social media site, I was brought to a page of a selection of merchandise—six different pieces in all. There is a three-product ‘line’ known as “Umbrage Dictionary”, offered by sellers that appear to be in the digital printing business. Things the now-shuttered-for-good Naiise would have gladly taken in. When I looked closely at the images on the website, I could see that the U-word had been superimposed on the images of standard-issue crew-neck tees. This is likely a print-on-order product line, which could explain how they managed to put umbrage out almost as soon as Ng Yat Chung was susceptible enough take it. But I wonder if more umbrage would be taken if he has read how the seller’s lexicographer defined the word that had a nation talking and dissing.

Those who don’t find charm or humour in this meaning of the hot noun may aquire some other at the National Library. I always thought that our flagship public library is staid. Well, it isn’t. A new display to entice you to their books was very recently set up: “Umbrage And Other Words You Should Know”. An orgiastic grouping for those who would relate to titles such as Word Nerd. But if you need to take knowledge-seeking to social media, enter ‘umbrage’ in Facebook search—the result will tell you the word is “popular now”, just as another phrase is: Umbrage Singapore. As it turns out, this is “a group for Singaporeans who want to take umbrage at anything and anyone”, created just a day after Mr Ng’s heated retort. It is understandable why his rebuke has generated so much reactions. It wasn’t just the use of an uncommonly-mouthed word, it was also the near-bullying way that he spoke it, which included the delectable and by-then-obvious admission that he is not a gentleman.

But not everyone thinks the umbrage was unwisely taken. The former journalist Bertha Henson, who, as one online description enthused, covered “Singapore developments for the Singapore Press Holdings stable of newspapers for 26 years”, took a more contrary view. In her blog Bertha Harian (Bertha Daily, a pun on the Malay-language broadsheet Berita Harian or Daily News), Ms Henson wrote in the piece “It…could be… a new beginning for news media here”, shared a day after the incident of the CEO and the journalist, that she “empathised” with Mr Ng, even when she noted that he “lost his cool”. Many who have read her post were certain she was speaking up for her former employer SPH, which wouldn’t be surprising. Ms Henson, now also an author, is a product of The Straits Times and its sibling titles. She knows why—and how—SPH has become what it is today, even correctly acknowledging that “journalism standards… have been declining at a precipitous rate”.

But as an experienced news person, she curiously chose to deprecate a journalist who turned up to do her job, of which asking questions is expected. She opined that “it is a naive reporter, especially from a local media outlet, who asks such questions which can be applied to his or her own employers and editors”, in a clear reference to a competing news organisation. I don’t expect Ms Henson to play the dajie of local journalism, but choosing not to also empathise with someone whose job she once did seems, to me, to be taking the side of a media company she still feels dearly for. If that singling out was not enough, in a Facebook post from yesterday, Ms Henson wrote in defence of those working for her former employer: that it was “pretty insulting to insinuate that SPH journalists were pandering to advertisers and not maintaining their integrity.” Ms Henson was basically saying to the CNA staff, you deserve it. How becoming, I wonder, is that of a news veteran? Was Bertha Henson also insulted or was she, as the T-shirt sold on Lazada suggests, simply dulan?

Product photos: Lazada. Photo illustrations: Just So

Magazine Biz

The first issue of Bottega Veneta’s adoption of ‘traditional’ media

Social media, no; magazine yes. So that’s the stand at Bottega Veneta after quitting Instagram and the like in January. The digital magazine, Issued by Bottega, appears to be the work of creative director Daniel Lee. It is a lively mix of content, featuring artists from many disciplines, which could mean that the magazine provided Mr Lee the opportunity to work with those he admires, who are mostly not in the field of fashion. Increasingly, fashion designers are expressing themselves outside of clothing/accessory design, taking on roles that show how much an all-rounded creative they each are—from photography to art to interiors to furniture and, of course, to magazine editing. Interestingly, Kim Jones, too, has put together a magazine—his first—by guest-editing this month’s Vogue Italia. But it is probably Mr Lee who is having the best time editorially. Issued by Bottega 01 is not assembled for paid consumption; it is a marketing exercise with a sizeable budget that tells the brand’s own story or whatever from its point of view, rather than content to inform viewers of the world around them.

This is not a magazine to read, even when it is described by BV as medium that’s traditional. It is heavy with graphical and visual cleverness, and scant of text, witty or otherwise. Words are mostly spoken or sung. It’s presented in a portrait orientation, but is formatted to take on the size of the screen you choose to view (including the PC monitor). The pages, comprising both stills and videos, can be flipped like a conventional magazine (you can swipe left or right, and each time it comes with a highly digitised sound of a page turned). There’s an inverted equilateral triangle on the top left corner. Click on this and you’ll be shown the contents page, organised not by stories and corresponding page numbers, but the names of the contributors of this issue. They include the Polish designer Barbara Hulanicki, most known as the founder of the British store Biba (where a teenaged Anna Wintour once worked); the hip-hop artist always associated with Adidas, Missy Elliot; the Chinese industrial designer and Pratt Institute alum Yi Chengtao (易承桃), and even the unlikely Japanese balloon artist Masayoshi Matsumoto. This is what SPH’s The Life Magazine—published in 2014 and folded not long after—could never look like.

“Lose your head, not your mind,” the magazine says. And how do they make you do that? They don’t, really. It is just page after page of images after images after images. If the now-defunct Visionaire had a digital life, this might be it. But, none of BV’s images really makes you stop to think or marvel. There are videos of parkour in action, roller-skating a la Xanadu, balloon art demo, accessories niftily transformed from before to after shapes, wobbly jellies of boot and bags (our fave), close-up of cello and sax performance (with strategically place jewellery) and photographs of heeled slides made of food stuff (a shoe design competition “challenge”?), folded clothing framed like art, not spectacular fashion spreads (including one featuring art and dress), spoken and written interviews, and a performance (sort of) by Missy Elliot. And like all magazines, the obligatory ads, only these come from one brand. It is quick, in fact, to see that Issued by Bottega is, at the end of all the song and dance and wobble(!), a good, old-fashioned catalogue.

As the flipping is so easy (no licking of fingers necessary), you’d come to the end of the magazine in three-and-half minutes (well, we did). In parts, it has visual heft, but as we flipped, we kept thinking we were on TikTok! What’s the point, we had asked. There isn’t, probably. It all seems to share the content development finesse of the average KOL, only the pages were better shot and, in some, well art-directed. The reality is, many of us are no longer getting the satisfaction out of mags, September issue or not, the way we did. Magazines—or catalogues—have not been able to move to the digital realm with content, nor a pretty picture, that can capture both hearts and minds. With the first, mixed-bag issue, it isn’t clear how Bottega Veneta’s attempt at magazine making will pan out. But, in the mean time, there’s always Gwyneth Paltrow making a fool of herself on vogue.com.

Screen grabs: Bottega Veneta

US$12 Dollars For A Pair Of Gucci Sneakers?

What you pay is real, what you get is virtual

By Shu Xie

Are you so desperate to own a pair of normally expensive Gucci kicks that you are willing to part USD12 (approximately S$16) for a Net version? It seems many are. Or, Gucci seems to think so. They have just ‘launched’ virtual sneakers so that you can wear them on your digital hooves for slightly less than, as I discovered, the McDonald’s 2X Sausage McGriddles with Egg Extra Value Meal (+ French Fries). The avatar fashion for feet, even if un-pedicured. And you can then post the superimposed sneakers on your social media pages and appear as if you’ve been to a Gucci store and bought a pair yourself, at a mere fraction of the boutique price. There must be some draw in that?

Yet, I don’t understand the potential appeal of these untouchable digital-only sneakers. Maybe I am just not aware that Gucci is now truly the first love of geeks and increasingly discovered by gamers (no longer unique to Burberry?). The shoes—just one style—look to me like they might have been designed by the programmers behind Neon Tiles Space Hop. Called Gucci Virtual 25 (apparently Michele Alessandro’s fave number), they probably look fetching on Buzz Lightyear too. You put them on as you would an AR face filter, but instead of rabbit ears, you get Gucci kicks.

The key feature of the sneaker appears to be the double-G logo-ed bottle cap-like dial just above the laces (you can’t miss it) that presumably allows the wearer to auto-lace up. This bears no resemblance to the US-born BOA Fit System, which saw New Balance among the early adopters back in 2017. Everything about the virtual shoe just looks cartoonish, and likely more so on 4K-filmed feet!

Gucci has, of course, embraced everything virtual enthusiastically. Not content with dressing the characters on Zepeto (including footwear), they want to help us get virtually shod. And throughout our digital life (do we now participate in Zoom meetings with our feet up?). Our online appearance at feet level must be so slack that Gucci sees a money-making opportunity to improve the appearance of our chosen footwear. Surely, they’re better off at creating finer-looking real shoes than making those that exist in apps or in the cloud?

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Screen grab: Gucci app

When Bored Models Strut In Their Living Rooms

Do we really need fashion entertainment when staying at home? CR Fashion Runway just told us we do. Or is it a narcissistic exercise by a selected few for the not-select many?

 

Models CR RunwayModels applauding their own ‘runway’ performance

By Raiment Young

Being by oneself is so undesirable and unbearable during what Pierre Png calls on television “these trying times” that we seem to be in a state of desperation. The stay-home order across the world has been so hard to endure and detrimental to persons or families alone that people want to break free like caged animals. Home may be where the heart is, but it isn’t where fun and gratification reside. People need to be—must be—entertained, more so the confined. Survival is not part of the equation, entertainment is. Our digital life is characteristically one huge orgy of providing and being provided with all that amuses us or deems enjoyable. This has become, online or offline, instinctive need. Self-isolation has only amplified our requirement for entertainment, however unimportant, however stupid or banal.

CR Runway with amfAR Against COVID-19 Fashion Unites broadcast on YouTube earlier taps into this beastly desire. Touted as YouTube’s first fashion runway show, the digitally stitched up video of models sashaying in their homes (or surroundings) is spearheaded by Carine Roitfeld. After leaving her job at French Vogue in 2011, Ms Roitfeld has been re-inventing herself, with varying degrees of success. Her unimaginatively named CR Fashion Book, from which this show draws its title, is an attempt to keep her finger in the publishing pie and, at the same time—with publisher Stephen Gan—create an overly-thick title that merely crawls in the shadows of Mr Gan’s far artier Visionaire (now folded) and fashion heavyweight Italian Vogue (the partnership with Mr Gan ended in 2016). CR the runway, just as with the magazine, is ensnared in a fashion rut.

CR & DB

To borrow from a popular quarantine activity, half-baked is how this YouTube show appeared to me. Now that live fashion shows can be watched on video streaming’s favourite platform, as well as on not-video-centric sites such as Twitter and Instagram, any event titled as “runway” or, as host, YouTube’s head of fashion and beauty, Derek Blasberg called it, “a high fashion runway show entirely from home… essentially supermodels supporting superheroes (medical and front-line staff)”, needs to appear at least delightful. On the surface, it sounds glamourous, but when the show began, it streamed like other society-rousing, social-message patchwork, broadcast to galvanise the grassroots into action or support, now popular online. This was, at best, talk-show savvy. “Many of the beloved faces from the world of fashion” can’t save it from being what might be seen on The Wendy Williams Show.

CR Runway is a fashion effort not for a fashion audience. This is not even targeted at the Victoria’s Secret Show crowd. A crisis can spawn both the critical and inconsequential. CR Runway, also a charity effort, falls with the latter. Its pedestrian presentation and a perfunctory use of technology won’t do anything for the image of fashion, already considered out of touch and in dire need of hitting the reset button. I am not sure what Ms Roitfeld hopes to achieve with this lacklustre reveal. To be fair, she did not claim credit for the idea. She attributed the fashion show to her son Vladimir Restoin Roitfeld, president of the company that publishes the magazine with his mother’s initials on it. This, as it turned out, was a family affair—his sister Julia walked the “runway” too.

Natasha Poly CR Runway 2020Natasha Poly in Paco Rabanne

CR Runway was not, of course, a catwalk in the traditional sense. It was more playtime than showtime, girls having fun than at work. Confined at home, the models were only mimicking what so many others have been already doing when bored and the fashion bug bit. After watching the ridiculously lengthy show, I found The Pillow Challenge oddly more compelling. Irreverence, wit, and irony were not choreographed into CR Runway, nor fashion. The nugatory quality of the show and the ensuing blandness was assured when, out of the roughly half-an-hour broadcast, 17 minutes were used up for mutual admiration and expression of gratitude among its participants. Tiresome bunkum! Each frame was so unimaginatively filmed that I wondered why the CR brand needed to be stitched to it. Even Carine Roitfeld, a stylist of some repute, could not light herself well enough to look the fashion doyenne she is supposed to be. Whatever it was that the show attempted to communicate, the approach was very IG, very influencer with a smartphone, very shoot-your-next-campaign-via-Zoom.

Now that models and, indeed, modelling have been demystified, what is there about models even at home, that is fascinating to watch? Worse, when un-styled and un-directed? We now learn and can ascertain that models away from an actual runway, without the hands that make them, well, models, are just like most girls who follow them: They dress similarly (so what if the models wore their own designer togs), they can’t do their hair, and—believe it—not even their own make-up. The collective sigh among fashion folks: “Even a nearly-bare face does not have be a I-just-woke-up look!” To be sure, everyone working in the front line against COVID-19 deserves support and encouragement. Would it not be more convincing and moving if models were in the act of actually doing something for those workers. Surely that would play down the belief that the fashion industry is predictably self-absorbed and self-indulgent?

Photos: CR Fashion Runway/YouTube

Reprise: Listening To Another ‘Home’

A nation in song earlier this evening, but some of us aren’t moved. Do we have to be?

 

TH Home album

By Raiment Young

It has been a grey day, but the evening is not a natural progression of the day-time gloominess into sedative twilight. The night looks agreeable, with a discernible petrichor of earthy familiarity and an increasing darkness, dappled with leftover blue that struggles to express. Still, there is a sureness that seems to agree with what American school teacher Jeb Dickerson observed, “A setting sun still whispers a promise for tomorrow”.

If this night has a social media account, I’d sent it a Friend Request. But this night, with a digital life or not, has many others to connect with than to address my pointless entreaty. Sing Together Singapore was just broadcast, a roughly six-minute crepuscular chorus, led by Dick Lee and digitally patched to encourage citizens to sing the pop-track-turn-national-song Home in the quiet of night. Communicating via social media in song has gained traction during this pandemic, affirming, once again, that not only is our life increasingly connected, it is so by means of entertainment, or what is entertaining. More and more, the unconnected and unentertained self is too lonely a dwelling.

I’m replacing Dick Lee with Terry Hall, supplanting one Home by another, a 22-year-old song by a 26-year-old album. Terry Hall’s Home accompanied me through the early years of my professional life. Formerly of the Coventry band The Specials, Mr Hall was the indie-pop act with a jaunty vibe and a jangly sound that, post-Brit-synth-pop, I found greatly appealing. Looking back, I hear a sparkling optimism that seems right for today.

DL & co

Before I could past track three, Dick Lee Peng Boon (李迪文) appeared on my TV screen as sprightly as he usually is, attired as if ready to be subject of a Warhol portrait. When he spoke, “Hello, Singapore…”, I kept waiting for it to end with “weather report brought to you by Mitsubishi Electric”. As he was looking rather closely into what I assumed to be a webcam, he loomed a little larger than what I normally would find comfortable. Even newscasters don’t fill the viewable space to this extent (maybe BBC’s Rico Hizon). Or, was it because I was not sure having a hi-def familiar stranger in my living room, close-up-as-backdrop, singing Home the umpteenth time could be deemed conducive to my stay-home well-being.

I like to think it’s Home fatigue, but I’m not alluding to cabin fever. You know what they say about too much of a good thing. Frankly, I’m sick of it. For some reason, the song has never struck me in a way it has others, or the nation. I like the original Kit Chan (陈洁仪) version of 1997/98 in that it was then not sung with nationalistic fervour to rally a people. Ms Chan has one of those warm voices that is beguiling, especially in lower registers. No one who sang Home after her has come close to the intimacy and tenderness that she imbued the song with. Not even Dick Lee himself, now leading the eight-person sing-a-long, not as a choir master but as the leader of cheer leading, and that was what Sing Together Singapore essentially was.

Home will have its place it the history of national songs, but will it leave a legacy in the pop domain? As a pop tune, it ticks the boxes for simplicity of lyrics, structure, and melody. This is as karaoke-friendly as any Canto-pop hit. Yet it has the anthemic mark of songs that can be sung nationally by a sizeable mass, with a manageable tessitura to match. But as with many chart-toppers, Home has outlived its freshness—its sentimentality is beginning to feel tiresome, and its repeated broadcast, especially the singing with comely comradeliness, is on the verge of annoying. I’m not even sure that the broadcast of Sing Together Singapore is providential. How has the exercise made us forget that much of our island is still pestiferous? Of is it, as one media outlet posed, “empty distraction from meaningful action”?

DL

Seeing only a handful of waving torches outside my window, I think of what I would really like to hear. It’s odd that when it comes to songs that can move a nation, we consider only those by the self-styled Son of SG Dick Lee. At the time he was a prolific songwriter, someone else too was managing quite an impressive musical output, the far more percipient Liang Wenfu (梁文福). And one particular song—easy to sing too—I now desire to hear again in these bleak days is the up-lifting Catch the Sunrise with Me (陪我看日出) from 2005, sung by the now mostly forgotten Joi Chua (蔡淳佳). Mr Liang was the lyricist for this track, and the hard-warming narrative that speaks of a better tomorrow—sun after the rain—seems more befitting of the present climate than the reminder of self and nation in Home: “The rain has fallen, walk carefully, I shall remember these words/However hard the wind blows, good blessings will not be carried away with it/After the rain, there would be a way for us to see the sunrise as in the year past (雨下了走好路这句话我记住/风再大吹不走祝福/雨过了就有路像那年看日出).

Admittedly, this (literal) translation captures not the nuances, imagery, and positivity that Mr Liang intended. And not many may consider xinyao heavy with schoolyard innocence—however evocative of our home—not Home enough to sing on a national level. If Dick Lee’s contribution to our city’s catalogue of patriotism-stirring songs must be sung, could it not benefit from some rearrangement, if not reimagining? I am thinking of the rousing rendition of Foo Fighters’ Times Like These, initiated by BBC Radio 1’s Stay Home Live Lounge, featuring Chris Martin, Dua Lipa, Ellie Goulding, and others. Or the 100-year-old fundraiser Captain Tom Moore’s duet with Michael Ball, singing The Weeknd’s You’ll Never Walk Alone, backed by the staff of Britain’s National Health Services (NHS). The latter, this week, charted at number one. These are not only inspiring, they sing of what Jeb Dickerson wrote with palpable hope (and I reiterate), “a promise for tomorrow”.

I am (still) playing Terry Hall’s Home—on loop, something I have not done since my Spotify subscription of many moons ago. Produced by Ian Broudie of The Lightning Seeds (also on my playlist), Home is Mr Hall’s debut album. I was very much drawn to his lyrics, as much as I was a few years earlier, to Stephen Duffy’s for their art-school vim, tinged with Euro-centric swish. On the opening track, Forever J, Mr Hall croons, “Like Isabelle Adjani/She glides by upon a bank of violets…” It is, hopefully, understandable why, for this evening, as a form of escape from the unsettling reality outside, I’m giving “the river which bring us life” and one that “always flows” a decided miss.

Update (26 April 2020, 3.30): if you need a new take on Home, listen to Mr Brown’s deliciously funny version. Now, he should be leading the sing-a-long

Photo: Jim Sim. Screen grabs: YouTube

Holding Out For A Hero

Is Uniqlo’s message sent by Superman and Louis Lane?

 

Uniqlo on FB

This appeared on Facebook some time today, the start of what is called Circuit Breaker, in response to the increasingly critical situation brought on by the COVID-19 outbreak. The Circuit Breaker (unlike most, we will not use the abbreviated form, so as to edge to the side of propriety) will change the entire local retail landscape, and Japan’s Uniqlo, which, in 2019, ranks 8th in terms of retail sales worldwide, won’t escape the clutches of the business havoc the coronavirus will wreak. Despite the closure of all physical stores on the island, Uniqlo saw it necessary to send a positive message to its customers and followers: “Our stores may be closed for now, but our support for you, our staff and the entire Uniqlo community has not.”

The succinct and optimistic message is accompanied by an illustration of a couple in a classic nan zuo nu you (男左女右 or man on the left, woman on the right) positioning, with their backs facing the viewer. Together with the caption, “We’re Here For You”, it is not unreasonable to assume that Uniqlo is telling us they’ve got our backs covered, but what caught our eyes is the red cape of the male. Could this be the Man of Steel (the blue, skin-tight sleeve also corresponds to the Krptonian’s crime-fighting costume), and if so, is Superman’s arm protectively around his “primary” love interest, Lois Lane, the Daily Planet journalist who married the superhero in 1996?

There is something comforting about this image. Curiously named Secret 7s, it made an earlier appearance: on the cover of Uniqlo’s debut in-house magazine LifeWork (Fall/Winter 2019), and is drawn by Copenhagen-based British illustrator, Adrian Johnson (not, to our knowledge, related to Boris). In fact, it was seen even earlier, as part of the sleeve artwork of the catchy Beck-ish 2015 single The Less I Know the Better by Tame Impala, a psychedelic-pop project of Australian musician Kevin Parker, whose stylo-retro-ish music and videos are a neat fit with the artist’s Procreate-rendered picture. Mr Johnson’s simple yet striking, colour-blockish pieces have appeared in The New Yorker and Monocle,and in the marketing communications of brands such as Stussy, Norse Project, and the Japanese fashion label and retail store Tomorrowland.

As much as we are aware, Mr Johnson has not identified the two individuals of his art. Named or not, a superhero is a symbol of hope, beacon of strength; a graspable certainty that we will triumph over evil, which COVID-19, as the most destructive villains go, definitely is.

Photo: Uniqlo/Facebook

Two Of A Kind: Face Near Feet

Oh, Gucci, what would Gianni Versace have have said? Or, similarly, Richard Avedon?

 

Gucci Vs GV.jpgLeft: Gucci fall/winter 2019 ad shot by Glen Luchford. Photo: Gucci. Right: Gianni Versace’s ad campaign of 1980, shot by Richard Avedon. Photo: Gianni Versace

Fashion does go back in time, the past can’t stay out of the present. Often, in other circumstances, this could be considered a haunting. Just like the past that has been possessing Gucci, scarily or not. After 2015, the brand has built their entire aesthetic on looks that appear to have been seen before. That goes for their advertising too: often set in gaudy surroundings and with offbeat characters, including aliens reminiscent of B-grade sci-fi movies of the ’50s/’60s. They frequently border on the obiang, or what A Dictionary of Singlish calls “a bad or dubious style or taste, esp. ostentatiously so”.

But how much borrowing from the past can one do without the present looking eerily like its done before? This Gucci ad (top left) appeared as an Instagram ad and was spotted by  SOTD contributor Mao Shan Wang on her IG page. When she showed it to us, we thought she had seen a pontianak. Quickly, the horror is apparent and understandable. Was this the haunting of Gianni Versace?

The man may have died 22 years ago, but some of us remember the Gianni Versace ad campaigns—then marketed under the designer’s full name—very well. If you thought the images of Beyoncé in whatever she does are ‘fierce’, you are unacquainted with these advertisements shot by the late Richard Avedon. Models then could model; they were able to move—literally—and bend(!), and form shapes with their bodies that could rival any gymnast’s. More significantly, perhaps, they weren’t opposed to lying on the ground, with faces near feet or between them, a pose likely still frown upon in Asia today.

GV adMore ground-level action: Jerry Hall astride a pile of guys in a 1980 Gianni Versace ad. Photo: Gianni Versace

But back then, in the early ’80s, when those ads that Gucci seems to have modeled theirs after appeared, what Gianni Versace did was considered not only eye-catching (the visual impact only repeated in the Dior by John Galliano/Nick Knight ads of the ’90s), they were sexually powerful, not just sexy (the similar, but more erotic message later communicated by Tom Ford’s Gucci). These were photos of compositional panache and effortless dash, employing both models and clothes to dynamic effects.

If Peter Lindbergh, who passed away this week, “played a key role in inaugurating the supermodel era”, as New York Times said, then perhaps Richard Avedon paved the way for the emergence of the supermodel who became referred to as “glamazons”. And if Mr Lindbergh was known for his “cinematic and naturalistic portraits” of the girls, then Mr Avedon will always be remembered for his dramatic, kinetic, and exaggerated depictions of them. Or, as editor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar Glenda Bailey said, “an absolute surrender to glamour”.

What Gucci has done this season is, according to media reports, “tap” from the advertising of the past and pay “tribute”. Given how Gucci is easily inspired by others, which, to them, is “creative exchange… using graphics and words that have been ‘Guccified’”, as told to WWD, following two charges of plagiarism that came after the Dapper Dan hoo-ha of 2017, is it enough—or satisfactory—today that this is “homage” to the past? The Gianni Versace ads in question appeared in the 1980s: thirty nine years or close to four decades is a rather long time ago. Gucci must have assumed people have forgotten. Not all of us have. Go back to the past for all you want, just bring back something different to the present for some of us.

Sorry Is The Hardest Word

The Chinese have a saying 后悔莫及 (houhui moji) or regret is too late. Does this describe the Dolce & Gabbana debacle?

 

Gabbana & Dolce apologise

Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana have apologised, three days after we wondered why they had not done so in person, issuing, instead, a statement that sounded like it came from a well-paid lawyer. Their video appearance, broadcast first on Weibo and then picked up and shared by other media outlets, looked like something conducted in their corporate meeting room not without duress.

Who wouldn’t be stressed?

Two days after what rapidly became the most frightful PR disaster for Dolce & Gabbana, China’s e-commerce sites such as Alibaba, JD.com, Yangmatou, Kaola, and the Chinese platform of Yoox Net-a-Porter have confirmed that they have stopped carrying the brand. Luxury department store Lane Crawford has similarly dropped the label that fervently celebrates their Italian-ness and made pasta-eating a marketing statement.

By now, we know Chinese consumers account for one third of global spending on luxury goods. That does not include ethnic Chinese outside China, such as the roughly 75% of the population here or about 22 million in Southeast Asia. If there were to be a real and prolonged boycott of the brand, as called for by Netizens, Dolce & Gabbana is thought to face considerable financial setback. To limit the fallout, they directed their apology to “all Chinese people in the world”.

This is not just about Chinese national identity; this is as much to do with Chinese ethnic identity

 

Many Singaporeans think we shouldn’t be concerned with comments not directed at us. If the world is small, Asia is smaller. This is not just about Chinese national identity; this is as much to do with Chinese ethnic identity. The Chinese diaspora isn’t unconnected. Should we, therefore, hold a brand (or individual) in any esteem for attacks on any nation and its people? What’s to stop Dolce & Gabbana from repeating themselves even if they are “certain”, rather than promise, “it will never happen again”?

Some Chinese fashion folks think the impact would not be great as they do not consider those who made the loudest noise to be Dolce & Gabbana customers. Does this mean that those who buy and wear Dolce & Gabbana are willing to accept what is considered xenophobic slights? There is, it would seem, little to be gained from associating oneself with such online bluster and not-isolated behavior regardless of how appealing their clothes may be. Not even if you had spend a fortune on the brand to get yourself the privilege to swagger on stage for what would have been The Great Show.

But was it really an apology?

More importantly, did they sound sincere? What was perhaps disconcerting was how Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana firstly framed the charge of what the whole PR disaster was about: “we have thought very much with great regret about what has happened to us…” What happened to them?! If that did not sound remorseful for an opening sentence, it’s because it didn’t. When an entire nation felt insulted, one does not apologise by saying first what happened to oneself. One immediately apologises to the 1.4 billion people of China.

It is interesting that Mr Gabbana made no reference to the perceived-to-be-racist comments he made on Instagram, as if the “Not Me” reaction, plastered in red over the remarks he allegedly made to Instagrammer Michaela Phuong, was adequate in denying the over-enthusiastic lashing out at the people of China. Ms Phuong had subsequently posted five times to confirm that the chat between Mr Gabbana and her did take place. Can the fiasco blow over by simply negating guilt? Regrettably, “Not Me” is not the same as I am sorry.

Can the fiasco blow over by simply negating guilt? Regrettably, “Not Me” is not the same as I am sorry

 

In fact, there was no reference to the IG disaster that sealed the fate of The Great Show. To Dolce & Gabbana, they only “made mistakes interpreting your culture”. Interpretation on a private basis is very different from one made publicly—the latter comes with the social media-rare quality called accountability. In an age when we tend to glorify fashion designers and exalt those who dare say what they want, we may care less about a moment’s folly than a designer’s design fancy. It may be tempting, therefore, to separate talent from online behaviour, but we shouldn’t yield. We must not. Really.

In the video apology, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana mostly look glum, as if succumbing to social coercion that is beyond their ken. Throughout the one-minute-twenty-second take, delivered in Italian (more Chinese are likely to understand English than Italian, but to the two men, that probably did not matter), they did not use the word sorry until the end, and only in Mandarin, saying in unison “对不起 (duibuqi or sorry)”, as if they were two tourists trying to win the hearts of a Chinese host they’re meeting for the first time by attempting a feeble 你好 (nihao or how are you?). You may be amused, but are you impressed? Or, in the present context, assuaged? 服不服?

Photo (screen grab): HKFP/Youtube

The Daring Duo And The Gaffes A People’s Republic Won’t Forgive

Hacked account or not, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, in particular, have a history of hitting out with controversial words

 

D&G IG P1The first of two: apology by Dolce & Gabbana posted on Instagram

Note: this post contains what some readers may consider offensive language

It was supposed to be a spectacle, but it quickly descended into a debacle. Italian brand Dolce & Gabbana has cancelled a headlining, 500-look, one-hour-long fashion show in a 20,000 square meters space in the Shanghai Expo World Museum that was supposed to open at 9 o’clock this evening (forty-five minutes before the scheduled start, they posted what is presumably a backstage clip on their FB page). This came after the online circulation of screen shots of a shared IG post in which Stefano Gabbana, in a chat with one Michaela Phuong (reported to be a fashion business student), was widely considered to have insulted an entire nation when he allegedly wrote, “the country of 💩💩💩💩💩 is China” (recalling Donald Trump’s comment on African countries) and “China Ignorant Dirty Smelling Mafia”.

Known as 杜嘉班纳 (dujiabanna) in China, the brand had earlier already upset Netizens after three 40-sec promotional videos were posted on Weibo (they are still on Dolce & Gabbana’s IG and FB page at the time of this posting) that showed a Chinese model, dressed like a tuhao (土豪 or uncouth rich), using chopsticks to eat Italian food—pizza, pasta, and cannolo—with difficulty. This bad light was compounded by a male Chinese narrator pronouncing the names of the two designers as “Dols and Gaberner” and calling chopsticks 小棍子形状的餐具 (xiao gunzi xingzhuang de canju). Little, stick-shaped eating implements! Admittedly, there’s nothing funny or charming about the videos, ironically hashtagged #DGLovesChina. Whether timed to provoke or generate interest, this came not long before what was to be the brand’s The Great Show.

DG on IGDG on IG: screen grab of the first video of three that Dolce & Gabbana posted on their Instagram page

Dolce & Gabbana responded with an IG apology, considered by Weibo users to be insincere. Understandable since it sounded like it was written by a lawyer than someone banging on bigotry’s door. Why, we had thought, was there no in-person daoqian [apology] for something of this magnitude? Dolce & Gabbana explained that their IG account had been “hacked”. Convenient an excuse, no doubt. To be sure, the veracity of the alleged disparaging chat was not ascertained and Ms Phuong (if she exists) did not say if she knows the two Italian designers personally and explain why she was chatting with one of them that led to the offensive comments. If Dolce & Gabbana’s social media account was hacked so that the hacker could put the brand and its designers in bad light, does that mean that they have more haters than Dolce & Gabbana imagined?

Controversy involving words that should not have been said or sent is not new to Dolce & Gabbana. Increasingly, provocative proclamations put the brand and duo in the news rather than the flamboyant clothes. There was the 2015 spat with Elton John that resulted from the two calling IVF babies “synthetic”. And, in June, there was Mr Gabbana’s fan-enraging online remark about Selena Gomez: “she’s so ugly”. Last year, reacting to those who expressed their dismay at the two designers for enthusiastically willing to dress Melania Trump, the brand released, somewhat arrogantly we thought, a USD295 T-shirt emblazoned with #BOYCOTT DOLCE&GABBANA, which is still available in their online store.

D&G IG P2A little too late: Dolce & Gabbana reaching out via IG the second time in a couple of hours

Culturally insensitive social media images, too, seem to be their forte. The present videos came after last year’s spring/summer images tagged “DG loves China” that Chinese Netizens thought belittled their homeland with a “stereotypical” depiction of a place that fashion stars such as Sun Feifei and Liu Wen call home. In the ads, models in flashy clothes and ridiculous head and eye wear pose with locals that appeared to be less privileged and sophisticated, and in settings that suggested third-tier cities instead of those such as Shanghai or Beijing (ironically the city in which the ads were shot), where the inhabitants are more likely to be Dolce & Gabbana customers.

Anger with the latest videos is understandable too. Dolce & Gabbana had picked a gangly model who, for most Chinese, is not mei (pretty) enough to front a major campaign targeted at them. As one former marketing head who had worked in China told SOTD, “the Chinese view beauty very differently from the West. What is beautiful to D&G may not be so to the Chinese. For that matter, what is clever to the Italians may not be clever to the Chinese.” To make matters worse, the model was made to handle chopsticks in a manner that the Chinese from young would have been told is never acceptable. If that wasn’t enough, the narrator asked suggestively, when she tried eating the unusually large tubular canollo (a sweet Sicilian pastry), 对你们来说这是太大了吗?(dui nimen laishuo zheshi taida le ma). Is this, to you, too big?

Huang Xiaoming IGActor Huang Xiaoming was not ambiguous about where his loyalty lies. Photo: Huang Xiaoming/Instagram

The outrage came fast and furious. Dolce & Gabbana first reacted by removing the videos from Weibo. Then came those remarks. It was just too late to reverse course. Public outcry was so serious and palpable that The Great Show, said to be the largest in the brand’s 33-year existence, had to be called off. The cancellation (as first reported), then postponement (later corrected, but no one is certain which is correct since Dolce & Gabbana have not responded to media queries) came when celebrities due to attend and models due to participate had pulled out unequivocally. Models and actors alike took to social media to express their disapproval and dismay, with many expressing clear support for the 祖国 (zuguo or motherland). The China actor Huang Xiaoming, also Tissot ambassador and London, Paris, and Milan Fashion Weeks regular, posted succinctly on his official IG account, “祖国第一!毫无疑问 (zuguo diyi! haowu yiwen).” Motherland first, no doubt.

Were the Chinese over-reacting? Or, crucially, were Dolce & Gabbana over-reaching? Did the Italians think their brand of Eastern exotica and taste-dubious visual and video communication would charm the Chinese? Did they really consider themselves so culturally superior that they could teach the Chinese how to 起筷吃饭 (qikuai chifan)? That in the land of chopsticks, the people had to be schooled on how to “lift a pair of chopsticks to have a meal”? Or, is the fashion design community of Italy so tone-deaf that they ignore the attention they have drawn to the delivering of messages that ignore racial, cultural, and religious sensitivities, such as those by compatriot Gucci?

Dolce & Gabbana @ IONSilent night: not a soul on the women’s floor at Dolce & Gabbana, ION Orchard. Photo: Dawn Koh

Earlier this evening, we dropped by at Dolce & Gabbana, ION Orchard to see for ourselves if the China fiasco had any impact on the consumption here. It had been hours since the indignation on Weibo, and it is not immoderate to assume that people here, apathetic as they can be, had an inkling of what happened and may be disconcerted enough to avoid the store if they were not inclined to say something in disapproval. On level one, a few men—tourists we assume since they spoke in a different language—were browsing. Upstairs, where the women’s wear and accessories are offered, it was as silent as a churchyard at sundown.

It isn’t clear yet what brand damage this fallout will cost Dolce & Gabbana or what losses will be incurred in the cancellation of the show (the last dispatch on the show that we read before we hit the sack: it was “cancelled by the Cultural Affairs Bureau of Shanghai”). According to reported estimates, the brand, in 2016, enjoyed 30% of total sales in the Asia Pacific region—China alone has Dolce & Gabbana stores in 25 cities. Boycott is now the rallying cry in dealing with the foolish, unthinking duo. Or could a higher road be an option? As one SOTD follower commented, “Aiya, they’re just a couple of angmo bengs; they don’t know any better.”

Photos (except where stated): Dolce & Gabbana/Instagram

Two Pairs Of Sisters: No Blood Ties But So Alike

Do the Hadid and Jenner sisters come from the same model-making womb?

The Hadid sistersThe Hadid sisters, Gigi and Bella, in Tommy Hilfiger and Alexander Wang respectively. Photos: vogue.comThe Jenner sistersThe Jenner sisters, Kylie and Kendall, in Versace and La Perla respectively. Photos: vogue.com

There are sisters, and there are sisters. As we know, sisters are not created equal, but some sisters, linked by fame, reality TV families, and the very public lives they lead, rather than blood, can be quite equal. Fashion’s most visible model-sisters, the Hadids and the Jenners, share commonalities of behavior and style that are rather uncommon in the age of fierce individualism. As the Hokkiens would say, they seem to come from the same ang koo kueh mould.

Just look at them at the Met Gala. They’re not your usual sisterhood, characterised by something mutual; this is kinship, characterised by sameness. Not only do they look alike, they dress alike. Swop one sister from one twosome for the other, can you tell them apart?

They sure have the same taste; one pair a mirror image of the other. Is Gigi the Kylie of the Jenner duo and vice versa, or Kendall the Bella, vice versa? Surely this is calculated when one pair of sisters is in the same colour coupling as the other? Even the silhouettes seem deliberate: Gigi and Kylie in sheer, flowy skirts; Bella and Kendal, both in lingerie fabrics that were so see-through and back/posterior-baring that you wonder why they even bothered with clothes.

Are they the present-day equivalent of the Bennet sisters, only just more lian? They like to attend galas (in the 19th century, they were balls, with the Netherfield ball being especially irresistible) and they like to dress up to attract the attention of camera lenses (in the 1800s, it was notice and interest of a potential husband). We do not know for certain if the Hadids and the Jenners like to dance (we can only assume they do—“every savage can dance”, noted by Mr Darcy), but unlike the era of the Bennets, we think the model-sisters totally dispense with propriety. Near-nakedness to express twentysomething muliebrity is the Hadid/Jenner lure.

Kendall Jenner IG PostGoing low: Instagram post of the BFFs in derriere-accentuating pose during the Met Gala. Screen grab: Kendall Jenner/Instagram

The deliberate display so thrilled the media that the Daily Mail ran in their headline, “fashion’s new darlings: Gigi and Bella and Kendall and Kylie were fawned over at Vogue‘s Met Ball” (now, who’s really fawning?). They may be fashion’s current favourite, but are they really anyone’s “darlings”? Sure, the number of IG followers of just one of them easily exceeds the population of our nation—with Kylie Jenner’s at a staggering 93 million (as of today)—but “fawn over”? The Queen of England has about 65.14 millions subjects in the UK (significantly less than the online adorers of Kylie Jenner), but are there people who actually “fawn over” her?

It seems that it is not enough to gauge young women’s success—professionally or socially—from her social-media following, you have to take note of those inclined to secure the former’s notice by servile behavior or by cringe-worthy flattery. The Jenners and Hadids may reign for now, but why do we have to fawn over them? Isn’t their individual omnipresence enough, the collective overbearing? Or do we need the excess, ostentation, dizziness, self-importance, self-promotion, tawdriness, predictability, visual disturbance… times four? And marvel at how not stiff, how not self-conscious, and how not sanctimonious they are as they stare back at you from your smartphone?

And who are these millions who supposedly derive pleasure from looking at them? It beggars belief that there are this many followers so utterly inadequate in their own being and their own style that they should follow every move, every dress (or no dress), every vapid utterance of this quartet to support the certainty that there are those who need to behave like a pet to enjoy dubious fashion taste. It does not require mature perspective to see that photos of youthful prettiness in glamourous settings offer, by way of returns, very little long-term satisfaction for the amount of time spent tracking and looking at them.

It’s probably tiring to read our having a go at these young women’s empty showiness. For many IG junkies, our criticism is almost certainly socially naff and not original. This is not hater’s rant, just something to get off our chest, while Kendall, Kylie, Gigi, and Bella walked down some pavement in Los Angeles, four-abreast, encouraging tabloid-press and social-media delight.

Looking Foward

new-year-greeting-2017

It has been an eventful 2016, as we have been recounting here in SOTD. Thank you for your unceasing support and for continuing to enjoy the long read. From all of us at SOTD, Happy New Year!

Orchard Road Killer

shopandbox-pages

By Low Teck Mee

The one appeal of our increasingly digital life is its immateriality. We listen to music, watch movies, and view photographs by playing files. We read—assuming there is still appeal in that—on an e-reader or phablet. We ask for paperless bank statements, movie tickets, and boarding passes. We organise social events and put out invitations on Facebook; we even request the company of our friends at our wedding with e-invites! The Cloud, where we now store so many of these possessions, has practically de-materialised our very material world. Even the “cold hard cash” that Madonna once happily sang about is meaningless with the advent of Paypal and Apple Pay. Yet, ironically, it is online that we’re acquiring and purchasing very material things.

In a virtual vastness pregnant with products, limited offerings in real-world destinations such as Orchard Road look decidedly dull. Fact is, no one can negate that online shopping has adversely (and triumphantly) affected Singapore’s major shopping stretch. What’s disheartening is that Orchard Road is not seriously fighting back. While it (still) laments that there’s a dire lack of shoppers looking beyond shop windows, cyberspace is bursting with stores that out-stock, out-thrill, and out-sell the busiest spot on what we’re persuaded to believe is “a great street”.

The call to shop is never more strident online. Our in-boxes and timelines are constantly besieged with messages, ads, and links to sites that help us navigate the infinite, yet crowded, online marketplace, never mind if we do not frequently end up on the landing pages. Amid the many sites and those exasperatingly pertinacious, one stands out: ShopandBox. Here’s not your average choose-click-buy platform. ShopandBox does not offer products per se. Instead, it connects you to stuff specified by you in a store/place/city stated by you. Subsequently, an actual—not virtual—personal shopper will do the buying and “boxing” (since these are mostly not digitisable products) on your behalf. It does, therefore, appear that many, many things are within your reach. ShopandBox looks poised to ring the death knell for Orchard Road.

shopandbox-on-notebook-c

I did not explore the three-year-old ShopandBox until recently, and it was pleasure from first click, just like playing Pokemon Go for the first time (even if that initial encounter now seems such a long time back). Sure, it is hard to be readily lured to ShopandBox’s prosaic name, but if you shouldn’t judge a book by its e-cover, you should not assess a site’s appeal by what it’s called. No one will blame you for mistaking it as a storage service for your shopping. However, once you’ve entered their conversely more appealing, vaguely Kinfolk-ish portal, you’ll be so caught up with the seemingly endless possibilities that you’ll forget there’s laundry to be done and the baby to be fed.

Personally, I have not been getting retail kicks by clicking on “add to cart”, which seems to me a description of an act that’s evocative of a rural way of life, but I can see that e-commerce, specifically B2C (business to consumer) transactions, is not only burgeoning, it’s virtually exploding. Pervasive media reports inform me that by the end of this year, worldwide B2C online sales will reach USD1.92 trillion. Staggering figure considering that small-fry I probably contribute only 0.001% to that sum.

To my delight, ShopandBox employs a “submit order” button. But before you get there, there’s shopping to be done. The site spells the procedure in four, straightforward steps. There are, in fact, only three since the last won’t be done by you. To make things easier, especially for repeat and seasoned visitors, there’s a box on the homepage where you can request for what you already know you want and the system will do the rest. And rather swiftly too.

ShopandBox touts itself as a site for “global personal shopping”. Two words there jump at you: “global” and “personal”. You can really shop for almost anything, anywhere—28 countries, so far (discount all of Africa though)—and someone on the other side will pick the items up for you. Yes, it’s really having a living and breathing person run your errand (the Chinese have an excellent word for it: paotui or 跑腿, literally running legs). But those doing your bidding are not known as ‘shoppers’, since you, in front of your notebook or smartphone, are already the shopper. Instead, they’re known as ‘boxers’, which sounds like inductees of a fight club, but it makes sense since it is they who are the ones to box your purchases for shipping.

tai-xin-lung-and-rebecca-chuaCo-founders of ShopandBox, Rebecca Chia and Tai Xin Lung

The husband-and-wife team of Tai Xin Lung and Rebecca Chia (a Malaysian and Singaporean working out of Melbourne!) that dreamed up the idea for ShopandBox started by deploying those they know as boxers. “All of us have, at some point, asked our overseas friends to buy and send stuff to us,” Mr Tai said. “So we thought: why not develop this into an online service? We started the business by using our family and friends just as we had before.” These have since grown into a network of boxers around the world. Unlike shopping sites such as Qoo10, where anonymous handlers (and sellers) process your order, ShopandBox assigns a boxer to you. As your boxer—including a former beauty queen in the US—is known to you, some trust in the transaction can be established.

This one-to-one approach adds a personal touch to a normally cold and anonymous deal. When boxers are unsure if they have the right item, for instance, they could take a picture of the product and send to you for approval. If you need suggestions, the boxer could also offer them. In fact, some of the listed boxers have “recommendations” that you could browse through. What I find especially appealing is that you could also request for the boxer to go to a specific store in the city where they’re based to buy exactly the item you already have in mind. That could avail to you product releases specific to a certain country, which means you could be wearing or using something not available here.🙂

ShopandBox , in fact, goes beyond their perfunctory name. For popular items, such as the Playstation VR, they offer price comparison across five cities (cheaper in the US than in Japan—who would have thought?!). This can be found in the page called The Blog, where a host of ideas and suggestions can be found in the form of articles. Okay, the writing is not exactly the stuff of the Pulitzer Prize, but it does get you going, or, in the case of the city guides, in a mood for shopping.

shopandbox-blog-page

To me, the biggest appeal of ShopandBox is the freedom and flexibility it affords when shopping online. You start with knowing already what you want. Nothing is curated for you; well at least not when you don’t need it. And you’re not confronted with a mind-boggling array of merchandise. This is not Taobao, the gaudy online pasar malam that bombards you with so much that you do not know where to start. This is not Net-A-Porter, a site that many consider the “ultimate shopping destination”—now seducing you wih an e-mag on its homepage to better showcase its wares. This is not Luisaviaroma, with their categories and themes. This is not Amazon, which seem unable to completely shake off their bookseller image. This is not Farfetch, again just scores of merchandise even if they fetch from afar. ShopandBox may yet go to the end of the earth, but they have boxers in places distant enough to bridge desire and the desired.

When asked what’s next for ShopandBox or what is done so that it won’t be a convenient stop for the mundane, Mr Tai said, “We hope to grow the number of more sophisticated customers, not just the 18 to 25 year-olds.” Could this mean that the older, more affluent shopper isn’t embracing online shopping with the same fervour as the young?

With the world’s merchandise a click away, it is irrefutable that fewer people are doing their shopping on Orchard Road; fewer still the older consumer. The overall figures continue to look bleak. According to a May report in The Straits Times, retailers were raking in 3.2% less in February when compared to the same period last year (not that it was better then). If you exclude motor vehicle sales, the drop was even steeper: 9.6%. More than six months later, the situation does not seem to have improved. Orchard Road, I hate to say, ShopandBox is here to stay… and slay.

ShopandBox mobile app is available on Google Play and Apple App Store. Photos: Zhao Xiangji