Dress Watch: An Intricate Sheath

This Prada sheath dress would be spellbinding to those who appreciate design as much as dressmaking, and the efforts that go into something this complex that looks not quite

This season at Prada, much attention is paid to the double-faced silk satin, very abbreviated mini-skirts that come with an origami-ish train. They are all over social media, although mostly worn without the more covered-up tops that Prada probably intended. The brand called this wee piece of garment “seduction by reduction” and the public-transport-unfriendly train “a spontaneous gesture”. But long-time followers of their design development know nothing at Prada is ever reduced—stripped of details to nothing. And, despite the suggestion of insouciance, definitely not impromptu or offhand.

But more compelling is our favourite dress from the house this season: First seen on the runway (and the sales person was quick to inform us), this one-piece is, at it most elemental, a shirt-dress worn back to front. But, as we’ve noted, few item of Prada’s RTW are as simple as they first appear. The dress is of a conventional enough silhouette (to us, a whiff of the Forties), even with the considerably dropped shoulders. The focal point in the front is the waist, positioned not too high up. It is gathered by means of boning, inspired, presumably, by the corset. But unlike the close-fitting undergarment of the past, this boned treatment is not worn to constrict the torso. Nope, nothing as Victorian as that.

In fact, the boning is not discreet. Of different length placement (but symmetrical), the stiffening slips (we do not know if they are whalebone, nor the staff at the store), which looked to be half an inch (about 1.3 cm) wide, are hidden as well as exposed, allowing a graphically decorative interest. In addition, they keep the gathers in place and the bodice stiff, but not quite. This dress is not worn for body-shaping, and it is made in linen, which isn’t a rigid fabric. And that is, to us, deeply alluring about the dress: the idea of stiffening but executed with fabric that is somewhat limp, made more so by the slubbed finish.

In the rear, the dress is held together by a row of buttons from the collared opening at the neck to just below the posterior (the rest is an inverted-V opening). If you thought that would mean needing assistance getting buttoned-up, then take comfort in the knowledge that Prada intended the dress to be unbuttoned to the waist, which means you can fasten the last three or four buttons and get into the dress without any effort at all. Skin-baring, but without the sleazy exposure of Julia Fox.

Prada Slub Canvas Dress, SGD 7100, is available at Prada stores. Photo illustration: Just So

Dress Watch: The Hydra Shirt

How many collars, or necks, does a chemise need?

Combining more than one outfit (or parts of) in a single garment is, of course, nothing new these days. We’ve seen it forever at Comme des Garçons and more recently at Y-Project and Balenciaga. Joining (pun, for sure) the rest is Burberry, the British house now still being remade by the Italian designer Ricccardo Tisci. This isn’t a simple one plus one, or one on one. Mr Tisci has made a simple shirt dress, conjoined with two halves-and-full-collars. This is the work of a Victor Frankenstein with an eye for symmetry.

The Burberry chemise-dress is interesting at first encounter. Pull back and it might be less fetching. The stand out parts are the two extra collars that, when worn, frame both ends of the shoulder, which, as a styling effect, is known as the “cold shoulder”. Think: summer of 2016. But the dress has less the sex appeal of those from four years ago. In fact, with the sleeve dangling by the side, it gives the dress a sack-like silhouette that may not be flattering for those not on the side of svelte.

What may, perhaps, be more appealing is to treat the two side collars as armholes. Yes, put your arms through them. It’s a twofer! Bring the sleeves to the middle, knot at the waist. In this manner, the dress would be unusual enough to intrigue even the keenest fashion observer. Is an extra shirt tied over the bodice?

What, to us, is a let down is the fabric used: The winter standard cotton flannel. And in WFH-friendly buffalo check and plaid! Fashion hack: do the same look by picking three flannel shirts from Uniqlo, and getting an able tailor to piece them together. Because that would cost you a total of S$89.70 (minus sewing charge) instead of the eye-watering S$3,950 you’d otherwise have to fork out.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Burberry Contrast Check Cotton Reconstructed Shirt Dress, SGD3,950, and a similar version for men, SGD1,880, are available at Burberry stores and online. Photo: Zhao Xiangji

Dress Watch: The Graffiti-Smeared

By now a ‘signature’, the Balenciaga long-sleeved, high-neck dress has taken a hiatus from hyper-floral prints to take on street-worthy scribbles and scrawls


Balenciaga baby doll dress.jpg

Demna Gvasalia has remade the Balenciaga aesthetic so nearly completely that the dramatic volumes and shapes that the brand’s founder established are not even a distant memory anymore unless you’re a collector or a fashion historian. One of the dress silhouettes that Mr Gvasalia popularised—first seen at Vetements—is rather modest: nothing skin-tight or revealing, since they tend to cover both the neck and the arms; it can even be described as ‘sensible’. This oddly appealing primness has influenced fashion across many price points and cities, allowing what has been considered a “rebellious take on femininity” to pervade every level of the retail stratum.

Not to scrap a good thing (such as the the still-strong Triple S), Balenciaga offers another of those dresses that allow cool and KOL to go together as inseparables. This time, the version comes in a hot pink ‘technical’ (euphemism for synthetic) polyester crepe, on which text and the brand’s name are scribbled with the same enthusiasm as a child given a marker to run amok in a bathroom. Graffiti appearing on a denim jacket is understandable (and Balenciaga offers versions for men and women this season), but manic scrawls on a delicate pink one-piece that Balenciaga calls a “baby doll dress” is irony and subversion deliciously rolled up in one frock.

On the neck, which is fashioned characteristically high, some retailers described the elongated front overhang as a “pussy bow”, but, Balenciaga calls it a “neck scarf”, which sounds like a detachable piece, but is, in fact, not. Distinguished as a neck scarf is perhaps important because it isn’t, as the look book offers, worn knotted, but—as in a scarf—gently tied sans bow. Nothing akin to Celine, you understand.

The dress in the front is defined, but almost imperceptibly, with an elasticated waist that sits fairly high (hence the “baby doll” perhaps). At the back, it hangs straight, downwards, and is longer than it is in the front. The above-the-knee length, with the almost-haphazard-looking pleats, adds to that certain cool vibe that will be appreciated by those for whom such brevity immediately equals hip. Faddish graffiti notwithstanding.

Balenciaga pleated baby doll dress, SGD4,300, is available at Balenciaga, Paragon. Photo: Zhao Xiangji 

Dress Watch: Colour Blocking Afresh

Loewe shirt AW 2019
Colour-blocking had its day, so did mixed fabrics. The Japanese were (and still are) masters of the pairing of coloured shapes like they are Lego bricks. But in the past years, colour-blocking seemed to have waned in popularity. Until now. Jonathan Anderson has, to us, picked up where the Japanese tailed off.

In fact, when we saw this Loewe shirt, we felt rather nostalgic. We thought of some of those by Comme des Garçons and the T-shirts by the Tokyo-based brand Aloye. But there was something about the construction that has less to do with deconstruction than reconstruction that we found refreshing.

Sure, there is the asymmetry: we like the wing tips, but they’re not meant to shelter a bow tie; we like the bib-front, but they fly in the face of the dress shirt; and we like the extra long shirt tails of the uneven front and back that has more in common with the djellaba. But, there is also the the compositional strictness that respects classic shirt-making: it does not pretend to be something else, not even a blouse.

This is also not a shirt with an androgynous bent. It is clearly part of a woman’s wear collection, made more appealing by the almost sweet colour pairing of the cotton poplin sleeves, back and bib, and the use of folksy cotton broderie anglais for the front. Simple and practical fabrics employed in such an arresting way deserves both purchase and applause.

Loewe Long Asym Shirt Broderie Blue/Pink, SGD1,700, is available at Loewe stores. Photo: Loewe

Dress Watch: Sweatshirt Dress On Steroids

LV Sweatshirt dress

Louis Vuitton calls it a sweatshirt dress, but it is nothing like what Norma Kamali popularised back in the Nineties. First seen in the autumn/winter 2018 show back in February, this is the epitome of the tussle of complexity and simplicity that modern fashion finds itself in, without a mess as a result. It captures in one outfit two themes that Nicolas Ghesquiere is fond of exploring: retro-futurism and sportiness

This dress has been in the LV window for weeks now, and each time we passed it, we can’t help but stand before it to examine it. The overall simplicity is beguiling. The rounded shoulders enhance the slightly generous volume—still a trend—without making the dress appear too oversized, yet it seems to give the upper bodice a little brawn that suggest power without the need to resort to exaggerated shoulder pads.

At first glance, we thought it has raglan sleeves, but it does not. The extra white panel brought down from the shoulder to the mid-upper arm is in fact a part of the patchwork of the upper bodice and arm, comprising twelve pieces on the front alone! The mixed fabrics, including a barely discernible strip of LV logo on the right arm and floral devoré across the shoulder, give the overall mix an artsy vibe.

Contrast that to the solid colour of the body of the dress and you get a composition that represents the essence of sporty chic, if that’s not an oxymoron to you. Perhaps, more importantly, it is thoughtful design that does not resort to visual trickery and excess commonly associated with performance at the circus than stylish dress away from the spotlight.

Louis Vuitton sweatshirt dress, SGD2,910, is available at LV stores. Photo: Louis Vuitton

Dress Watch: This One Shape

Fashion search Jul 2018

By Mao Shan Wang

For a lack of something better to do, I Googled ‘fashion’ on my idle Samsung Note 8. Since I am still on 3G, the result came back at the speed of what the wired schoolgirl seated next to me would call “snail”. Still, Google responded, not with the result I was expecting, but a banner ad, first. This appeared under the Google search bar—after the tabs—and comprised a row of tile ads discreetly labelled “sponsored” in the right corner. Static banner ads appear so regularly in all manner of searches that I don’t really pay attention to them. But this time, I did because this one stood out, if only for the uniformity and banality of the product offering.

The header “Shop for fashion” did not exactly correspond to my search. The offering, too, did not match anything that I had searched previously: not specific article of clothing. To be sure, I looked at my search history: I have never searched for dresses. Google’s data is perhaps not quite reliable. To understand how this came about (although I could have guessed), I clicked on the light gray circle in which a small ‘i’ was centred, and was rewarded with a pop-up that asked “why these ads?” I clicked on the text and a small drop-down window appeared. A list of the websites that featured in the banner ad was provided. I clicked on the first and was immediately told that “This ad is based on: Your current search term; Your visits to other websites”.

So, fashion equals dresses? And I have visited other websites that would place me as the right customer for frocks of the same ilk?

Wanting to see where this would take me, I clicked on the first tile. The page that appeared is part of the mobile site of Light In the Box, which touts itself as a “a global online retail company”. I came face-to-face with the featured dress, not the homepage. No time to lose when you shop online, I suppose. The green floral dress on a cheery-looking lass was described as “Women’s Going out Plus Size Casual Swing Dress” (initial caps as captioned), which seems to me one-word redundant: we have as yet reached an era of men’s dress! In addition, the model was far from plus-sized. I am, as my friends would say, under-sized.

Unimpressed, I hit the back button and tried the second tile. This time, I was hyperlinked (a word unimpressive now, but was once, to me, the digital version of teleported) to the page of the said dress in My Theresa, “THE FINEST EDIT IN LUXURY FASHION” (all caps as headlined), now owned by the Neiman Marcus Group. The Dolce & Gabbana “cotton-blend lace dress” that greeted me was sans a model. It looked like an entity was wearing it, but nothing was there.

Two dresses

Are these what women are buying? I have not heard of Light in the Box, yet I was shown a link to their site; I have never looked at Dolce & Gabbana online and here I was offered one of the brand’s dresses to buy. What is it about my browsing habit that allowed Google to suppose I share the same taste in dresses as other web users? I am assuming that other online viewers are attracted to these dresses because appearing in the ad side-by-side were a quartet of dresses of very similar silhouette—the first two almost identical, except for the USD2,488.40 difference in price.

I know dresses sell. I have been told by so many buyers I know working for department stores and private labels that the one-piece is never hard to move off the racks. While I suspect a certain style—round neck, body-skimming bodice, natural waist, and a flowy skirt—is popular, I did not expect it to be this popular: showing up in an ad four-in-a-row (and more!). Is this what makes a trend? Is this how women know what is trendy? Is this how women are guided to make wardrobe choices?

If this is any indication, women are buying the same things. Perhaps, the question to ask then is, why are women dressed alike?

It would appear that e-commerce have more influence on consumer fashion choices than catwalk slideshows or fashion editors’ picks or the best street styles from fashion weeks. To see what other styles Dolce & Gabbana offered in My Theresa, I continued my search by narrowing it to just one brand, and there they were: more dresses in the one silhouette that refuses to go away. For actual merchandise, it would seem that brands do not vary their offerings very much. This is a dress shape that sells, why try another? And when women are familiar and comfortable with such a dress, why would they want to experiment with something different?

Wondering what would show up if I had searched ‘dresses’, I gave it a go. My trusty Note 8 was as unresponsive as my wardrobe when it showed me the result. Again, the “Shop for fashion” banner surfaced. Of the four dresses showed at the top of my screen, one did not look like the others. It was a USD195.60 one-shoulder, slit-high-on-the-left-leg gown called the “Disco Drape Dress” from the multi-label e-shop Revolve. The other three were similar to the ones that coughed out from the search ‘fashion’. This time, the priciest was a printed Gucci linen dress tagged USD4,870. Frocks, as Google search proved, don’t discriminate: they align themselves to every price point. Rich or poor, women can look the same. And they do.

Dress Watch: Construction Time

Nuboaix X Kimono Kollab

Kimono Kollab, the costume-rescue project, is back for a third installation. Conceived last year as an opportunity to breathe new life to blemished but still good kimonos, the ad hoc project was so successful that stockist Takashimaya Department Store has invited the participants to present a third season. As with the previous, a motley group of (ten, presently) ‘Kollaborators’ (recalling the Kardashians’ naming convention) were assembled to re-purpose the up-till-now abandoned kimonos. The current crop of designers reflects the Kollab’s plurality even when the sole fabric to work with is entirely Japanese. Among them, there is a knitter, an embroiderer, an architect, a bag maker, and a group of guys that hand-stitches small leather goods. As the source kimonos to be re-imagined are single garments, every design is reborn as one-of-a-kind. This, as the organiser pointed out to SOTD at the 1 October launch, “is an approach that’s not common in today’s market.”

Of the spirited mix, one to note is Nuboaix—a progressive label birthed five years ago by Singaporean designers Yong Siyuan and Jessica Lee. Both alumni of the School of Fashion Studies at Nayang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA), the duo has forged a rather distinctive aesthetic that is avant garde design built upon refined tailoring. In response to SOTD’s query about their style, Jessica Lee said, “We’ve always veered towards an industrial feel, delivering forward-looking and functional pieces that speak of modernity, yet express timelessness.”

That timelessness is, in essence, wearability—a characteristic that seems to contradict the duo’s penchant for complicated construction. Their ambidexterity on the cutting table shows technical finesse uncommon for their relatively young age (he 31, she 34). Apart from cutting the patterns, they sew the clothes too. It’s unsurprising that people would think that these garments were produced in a sampling room of an established house. It is refinement rarely encountered in the recent flurry of new local labels, mostly concerned with visual edge than design flair.

Perhaps Nuboaix’s polished products can be traced to the designers’ early exposure to the supply side of the business, having exhibited during Men’s Fashion Week in Paris, at RoomsLink in Tokyo, and, on home ground, at the annual trade show Blueprint. It has been grounding achieved alongside other designers that were determined to make an impact on the world stage (Nuboaix is represented by Lakic, a Tokyo-based agency that has under its wings indie-designers such as Satoko Ozawa and Belgium’s rising star Tim van Steenbergen). It is conceivable that an international audience has heightened the two designers’ sensitivity to what constitutes global appeal.

Take this sleeveless jacket that we’ve singled out. Keeping to the kimono silhouette, it has a neckline that traces the bodice in a traditional Japanese way, yet it is framed by a halter panel that cuts diagonally to the hem, with the upper portion sitting beneath a contrasting yoke, deliberately fashioned to follow the slope of the shoulder (a treatment that vaguely recalls John Galliano’s reinterpretation of Dior’s bar suit). At each ninety-degree point along the seam, the tip is rounded so as to diminish any sharp joint—a detail that tags on the organic shapes of traditional Japanese kimono-making (as exemplified by Visvim’s classic Lhamo shirt). The tented silhouette, too, has more than a whiff old Japan, yet the fall and swing of the garment are clearly 21st Century.

Nobuaix X Kimono Kollab, S$399, is available at level 3, Takashimaya Department Store until 13 October. Photo: Jim Sim

Dress Watch: Paper Lantern Revisited

Dior lantern dress

I call it a lantern dress. Maybe, you can understand why. But then, maybe not.

Today, when kids rely more on their parents’ iPads than on imagination for amusement, playing with self-made paper lanterns may be as familiar as occupying oneself with origami. Who uses paper anymore? Or folds them? Or cuts them? But I did and still do, and I remember. As a kid, I made a whole lot of them lanterns during the Mid-Autumn Festival. I took an oblong coloured paper and, in landscape orientation, folded it into half; then made slits of equidistance in the centre of the paper, right across its length, leaving a border at the top (which would also then provide the same border for the bottom whem the paper is unfolded). The paper was opened up, the breadths joined and sealed to form a column, which, when gently compressed at the top and bottom, yielded a slotted lantern. I made a few of them, and hung them up in a group. At that very young age, I believed I made art.

In my eyes, there is art in this Christian Dior dress. And seeing it up close earlier this afternoon, my interest was piqued by this wash of nostalgia. Raf Simons’s clever and skilful composition of a bustier-dress is, naturally, nothing like what I made out of paper. Here is a dress that is anything but flat. You sense movement even when it is still. The less aware may call it wash-bay curtains at the gas station or horizontal blinds at your office, but these panels are not left to catch the wind so that, collectively, they leave the dress formless.

While the use of un-joined vertical panels is not entirely new, applying horizontal ones to control their resultant shape is. The upper half of this silk dress is secured with a broad elasticised corset belt (possibly to underscore the bust). In the bottom half, panels in black are woven—almost ketupat style—across and around, forming soft hoops and effectively holding the bell shape of the skirt. In the rear, the vertical panels are allowed to hang from the top unsecured, cascading like Watteau pleats!

For a brief moment, I was drunk with awe.

This panelled silk dress, SGD12,000, is available at Christian Dior, Ion Orchard