The Last Chance

…to see the display that nearly was not to be

For almost the whole of last weekend, we thought that the most hyped exhibition on this island of the pandemic years was not happening. And then it was. Before we could caw KAWS, the blow-up doll basking in the blazing sun shall be no more. Today is the last day of the eight-day display, and a lie-down defiance against an injunction issued against it. If the organisers had taken the cross-eyed Companion and his look-alike companion down (the court order had initially demanded that the exhibition stop taking place), we may not be able to benefit from a re-installation. But Companion was destined to enjoying his spot on The Float @ Marina Bay. And we were able to watch him without further disturbance.

The wise would say great art challenges us. But who would have known that even the great Companion would be challenged? And of all places, on this little red dot, a barren land of art on a monumental scale; his first legal obstacle after having been to half a dozen or so places around the world, sometimes floating in the sea rather than lying on dry land. Hitherto, not many people know what truly happened last weekend that led to the initial closure of the seemingly harmless display. Was it an absolutely necessary action on the part of those who filed the court papers? What did it suggest about the future of staging world-class exhibitions here?

It is often said that the KAWS sculpture is a figure of our age, a personification of the Mickey in us all. Yet, to us, Companion does not appear to be jolly even if in other settings he seems to be clowning. Distressed? His eyes are a pair of Xs, as if crossed out, or cancelled. Is he hiding his unhappiness—even tears—from us, keeping us away from his eyes, the windows to his soul? When we did finally see him up-close, he quietly reminded us of the very surface-only world we are inhabiting; the artificial and the artifice. In both the physical and digital world, clever fakeness and artful contrivance come together to hold sway over us. Perhaps, Companion is an image of our modern selves: all plastic and hot air. Happy to have met him.

KAWS:Holiday Singapore opens at 2pm and closes at 9pm. Photo: Chin Boy Kay

The Guy Who Gave You This Green

.…is leaving Bottega Veneta

The intrecciato weave in the Bottega Green. Photo: Bottega Veneta

We know that in fashion, it’s the coming and going that keeps the business in momentum. But when a designer, credited for reviving an unexciting house, leaves after just three years into his buzzy tenure, it’s hard to say if the leaving will do the the brand any good. Daniel Lee, as you have probably heard by now, is leaving Bottega Veneta. This comes just weeks after his show, Salon 3, staged in—of all places—Detroit. The loud collection was praised to the heavens by the media. It would seem Mr Lee, who posed shirtless on the cover of Cultured magazine for the fall 2020 issue that included the blurb “Prodigy”, could do no wrong. And then this surprising or, to better reflect the sentiment of the industry, shocking news. And just like that, he would be no more. Would the Cassette bag still be cool next month? And that gleefully bright Bottega Green? What happens to the stores given a new coat of paint?

It is not an easy green to wear, for sure. And it was not one to be the new black. Yet, some publications called it “colour of the year”. Fashionistas took to it like the proverbial moth to a flame. If there was one colour that dominated social media it was this green, so saturated that it could be considered too much. This is not Valentino red or Schiaparelli pink; this is green, with a particular brightness and intensity usually associated with goblins, the clothing of Leprechauns, and, of course, St Patrick’s day. No, not Starbucks, but—oh, yes—Grab! We tried to like it, but it was not speaking to us. Bottega Veneta’s spring/summer 2021 had so much of the green that it would make a convert of any green-averse, but we could only stand in a distance and observe, without, frankly, any envy.

The unmistakble and unmissable green that is the façade of the men’s store at MBS. File photo: SOTD

The truth is, we could not quite decide if we really liked the work of Daniel Lee, former ready-to-wear director at Celine, during Phoebe Filo’s stewardship. Not even after this many seasons at BV, not after he won four awards at the 2019 British Fashion Awards, not after the wild success of the crazy green. Mr Lee is no doubt technically skilled and chromatically gifted, but it is hard to describe one overaching aesthetic that could be ascribed to the brand. One tai-tai told us, “He started quite good at BV… but then he got weird. No one can wear his clothes.” We think there is sexy somewhere in his modern take of somewhat traditional shapes, but we can’t pin-point something so amazing that we’ll remember it even after Mr Lee’s Pouch bags and Wellies are long forgotten. Martin Margiela’s stint at Hermès was just three years longer than Mr Lee’s time at BV, but we do remember the house’s vareuse, that deep-V neckline that he had made quite his own, appearing on tunics, for example, worn over jumpers cinched at the waist with wide belts.

Many industry watchers thought Mr Lee’s resignation to be bad news for Kering, parent company of BV. No reason was given for their star British designer’s impending departure, or when his last day would be. Something did happen to precipitate the sudden exit, but we may never know. Although he told Cultured, “I’ve always been a people person and I like to be surrounded by world citizens from a richness of backgrounds”, WWD reported that he “clashed with several people within the company and was defined as ‘uncommunicative’.” In a statement issued to the media, Kering’s chief executive François-Henri Pinault thanked the designer for “the unique chapter” he brought to the house, which said the split is a “joint decision”. In January this year, BV removed all content on their social media accounts, purportedly to start on a clean slate. Could the end of Daniel Lee’s tenure allow Bottega Veneta to do the same with the design and the merchandise? Stay tuned.

Two Of A Kind: Vaccinated Too

Valentino hacked Cloney who had “cloned” Valentino. So who is Depression duplicating?

Valentino’s hoodie (left) and Depression’s T-shirt (right). Photos: Valentino and Depression/Instagram respectively

Yes, COVID-19 has made our world more confusing than it has ever been. In the fashion world, no one would be surprised if you see double: one design like another, or two names as one. Fendace! Designers are now hacking, cloning, and swapping. What is real, what is not? Who came first, who came after? To further boggle the mind, our very own Depression has joined the race to declare one’s vaccination status across a T-shirt, shortly after Valentino’s made theirs on a hoodie. Coincidence? Or is there something in the air, apart from virulent viruses, that makes people want to do the same things? Perhaps one of the side effects of vaccination is the afflicting of individuals to have the same idea, at the same time?

How about about identical fonts? Depression’s ‘VACCINATED’ shares an extremely similar type to Valentino’s, a serif style. Is the occurrence more than a case of mere chance? Sure, it is possible that the Depression designers, still depressed, was jelak of Helvetica and its ilk. Or, 腻烦 (ni fan—sick and tired of), to use a phrase that is more 武林大会 (wu lin da hui—general assembly of the martial arts world), as the Depression flagship considers itself to be. But the similarity does not end there. The word is spelled in full-caps too, and stretched from arm hole to arm hole as well. Okay, Depression fans would say that the T-shirt is slightly different since the 10-letter word is emblazoned in white and appears in the back. Yes, same difference or, as they say in Thailand, same same.

We truly live in a world when one person sells bubble tea, another has too; when one TV star hawks home-baked goods, another must too. As in much of the food world, which now dominates the (still) pandemic-stricken world, just because my ang ku kueh looks like yours does not mean I copied you!

Two Rich Women

…wore T-shirts to court to receive the fines handed to them for “harassing a public servant”, which included the demand that the victim—a police officer—“talk to rich people nicely”

Money talks, and it often does. Two women made sure money rebukes too. In court yesterday, they pleaded guilty to verbally abusing—”harassing a public servant”, according to news reports—an auxiliary police officer who caught the pair smoking outside the designated area in front of Lucky Plaza. Many women do no like to be told that they have done something socially improper, even repugnant, but these two did not merely dislike. Caught in the act by the arms of the law is understandably infuriating, but rather than just expressing frustration at the misfortune, these self-proclaimed moneybags—one 49 and the other 50—took it out on the appointee of the National Environment Agency to enforce the no-smoking rule by snubbing and reproaching her.

When they were asked for their particulars so that a summons could be issued, they remonstrated by showing their utter disdain for the police officer, even profiling her as poorly-paid and impecunious. “Your salary how much?” the younger woman taunt-asked in proud Singlish. “One thousand only one month, I think.” It is not known how the officer responded, if at all, but one of the women seemed even more ruffled, and chided, “talk to rich people nicely, you’re a poor girl”. Still unsatisfied, she added what sounded like a dastardly curse: “I tell you, you careful walk, fall down… don’t bang to the car” and then further taunting, and adding an expletive, “So what, pay only what. I got money, cheebye”. The older woman, who didn’t want to miss out on the action, chipped in with “You shut up and ask for IC” and “You poor forever, you know or not?”

The incident occurred a year ago, while the pandemic was raging and there was yet talk about “living with an endemic”. Smokers who light up whenever and wherever they wish tend to see themselves as a different breed: manifesting concerns only for themselves, COVID be damned. While this ongoing pandemic has repeatedly shown us that many individuals prioritise their own needs above the interests, even health, of others (those not holding a cigarette as excuse to go mask-less do the same with a cup of bubble tea or a bag of curry puffs), the expression of this selfishness and the simultaneous disparaging of those who are only doing their job must never be condoned. Or, ignored.

Derogatory words were then followed by action taken to humiliate

The deliberate put-down did not end. The women, now seemingly high on the abuse, continued. The older one, in full look-down mode, went on: “crazy girl, better go back and hug your pillow and cry”, adding that the much younger officer’s salary alone would not be sufficient for the abuser to buy a pillow. It is unclear why the women thought the victim to be near destitute, despite a salaried job. As if there were limitations to the use of Singlish to scold, she hit out with a Cantonese insult mo ga gao (無家教 or no family upbringing) and, in Mandarin, shen jing bing (神经病 or mental case). Derogatory words were then followed by action taken to humiliate. The younger woman whipped out a S$1,000 note and shook it in front of the officer, telling the working girl to say no more and accept the money. The episode was captured on the police officer’s body-cam.

In photos published in the media, the two women were seen leaving the court complex wearing T-shirts. According to Lianhe Wanbao (联合晚报), they “wore famous brands and gold chains to court (穿名牌戴金链出庭)”. The younger of the two, who had her hair tied to each side of her head in limp pigtails, as if inspired by manga characters (Izumi Akazawa of Rough Sketch, perhaps?), had on a fitted, white Under Armour T-shirt, with massive black logo and logotype on the chest, crowned at the crew neck with a chunky gold chain and a medallion that would not be out of place in a hip-hop artiste’s get-up. The other reportedly wore the Gucci, evidenced by a “large logo”, according to the evening paper. Other images clearly showed her in an oversized ivory top with the blue logo of Paramount Pictures (the top is listed on Matches Fashion for US$650), above which a gold chain—less coarse than her friend’s—laid, and carrying what appears to be a white Valentino Supervee crossbody bag (on valentino.com, it is available for S$3,680). We are unable to independently verify if any of the items spotted are original, but we can see that they were picked for visual impact.

We live in an economically unequal world. Some people make sure you know that by telling you in your face that they are wealthier than you. Or, by wearing clothes that announce their financial ability in splashing on, say, T-shirts that usually retail for above S$500 (the cheapest women’s Gucci T-shirt presently listed on their website is US$490, or S$658). Perhaps we might soon find a slogan tee with that quotation “talk nicely to rich people” on Shopee, for an ironically more agreeable price? Wealth differential—large or small—between you and any stranger you meet anywhere is always there. Allowing money to put you above others is way lower than the hem of your logo-ed, look-at-my-wealth T-shirts.

Collage: Just So

The Return Of…

Gone quiet for 30 years as a group, ABBA is back with a new studio album. Are we still in a nostalgic mood? Is it true when they sing, “I’m not the same this time around”?

Avatars of ABBA perform in the video of the group’s newest single, I still have Faith in You. Screen grab: ABBA/YouTube

For the many youngsters who shop at Shein and those who endure the electro-cheese that’s mainly TikTok’s soundtrack, ABBA is likely a pop-culture relic. Disbanded since 1982, the year when Billboard’s number-one hit was Olivia Newton-John’s “raunchy” Physical, ABBA has largely existed on karaoke nights of men and women of a certain age and as the soundtrack of their own promo-vehicle ABBA: The Movie (1977), the stage musical Mama Mia (1999) and the movie of the same name (2008), followed by Mama Mia! Here We Go Again (2018). It’s unclear how frequently ABBA is played on Spotify (compared to Ed Sheeran?), but in their heyday, the Swedish quartet reportedly sold more than 380 million albums (what are those? Let’s leave that for another time). So massive ABBA was in terms of album sales for a quartet that only The Beatles (since we’re looking back, why not even further back?) sold more, at 600 million. E!Online reported that the four of them turned down USD1 billion in 2000 to reunite for 100 performances. So ABBA’s much-publicised reunion and comeback and an impending live show are a big deal. And they have not only announced a new album Voyage coming out in November, but also the release of two new songs at the same time in the past 24 hours. Are we on the cusp of another ABBA-mania, even when their fans are mostly those considered senior citizens?

I Still have Faith in You is the first among the two to be made available with an accompanying music video, which is a patchwork of old photos and footages, and an in-the-shadows preview of the gig to come. Written in 2018 for a TV show, but somehow not broadcasted or used, it’s now their comeback theme of sort. This is classic ABBA if classic ABBA is what rocks your boat. It is perhaps hard for fans to imagine them doing anything outside their range when they are making new music as septuagenarians. It’s not as if we can imagine ABBA as Kiss or, perhaps more accessibly, Blur. If Bee Gees can return, they too would be just Stayin’ Alive. Schmaltz was an ABBA signature, and they still sign that way. NME quoted Benny Andersson explaining why they won’t adopt current pop music trends: “We can’t, because I don’t understand the ingredients in the songs that work today, so it’s impossible to emulate.” Dripping with sentimentality (“It stands above the crazy things we did/It all comes down to love”), I Still have Faith in You is the quartet looking back, or unable to part with their dreamy young selves. The ballad builds slowly (another ABBA identifier) to emotion-tugging musical-theatre style arrangement (as if prepping for another Mama Mia film) that easily becomes guilty pleasure. But have we not already sung Thank You for the Music?

There is moderately more heft to the other released track, Don’t Shut Me Down. While I Still have Faith in You is written to bring a stadium to its feet (and it will!), this is arranged for a dance floor to the DJ’s mercy. Similarly announced in 2018, but did not materialise, this is a potential dance-charter and stayer. Again, the song opens slowly, but when “the lights are on/it’s time to go/it’s time at last to let him know” and the showy piano glissando strikes, you’re in familiar territory. Cue to grab your partner by the hand and hit the dance floor. Voulez vous? Only thing is, you’re back in what was called a discotheque. Don’t Shut Me Down is no Dancing Queen, but you may want to scream. When was the last time you danced to a song that encouraged you to sing along, let your hair down and your voice out? Yet, it is not quite the disco banger it could be. One sense restraint here, as if the band was asking, “do they still boogie?” Or leaving the others to do a worthy remix. But not too new. Almighty Records come to mind (full disclosure: we’re not huge fans of ABBA, but we’re partial to Abbacadabra)! In the present form, Don’t Shut Me Down does not pretend to be, like their creators, other than a blast from the past. Even with Internet-era language such as “I’ve been reloaded”, the baseline, the percussion, the xylophone(!)—they conspire to make Tetron bell-bottoms want to dance along.

At this age, the foursome—it is possible—was not having that much fun. We’re not saying they did not derive joy in writing and producing the songs, or singing them, but both tracks sound so serious that we almost forget that ABBA was very much associated with the campy or even the kinky (remember Two For The Price Of One from the last album, 1981’s The Visitor? Was it a more liberal era then?). At this age, the Super Troupers are not keen to perform in person. In announcing the ABBA Voyage concert (for 2022), described as “revolutionary”, we were told that Industrial, Light and Magic-designed digital “ABBA-tars” (think Gollum) would take their place. These are put together, according to the BBC, by “850 people (who) worked on recreating ABBA ‘in their prime’”. More remaining in the past while bringing ABBA to the AI-ready anything? As we hear mellower-sounding Agnetha Fältskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad stack-harmonise, “we have a story/and it survived” in I Still have Faith in You, we also hear the making of Mama Mia: Don’t Shut Me Down!

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Two Of A Kind: Jet Set

Before Mediacorp’s Star Awards 2021, there was Karl Lagerfeld’s Chanel 2008, 2012, and 2016

An airport created inside the Grand Palais for Chanel spring/summer 2016. Photo: Chanel

The attendees at the Star Awards 2021 held inside the terminal building of T4. Screen grab: Mediacorp/YouTube

We are an island of many firsts. Mediacorp’s recent Star Awards, curiously staged at Changi Passenger Terminal T4, is one of them. It included a “fashion show” with a short runway on the tarmac, in front of an SIA jet. Another first. And stars strutting their stuff in front of an the aircraft—a first too. For the uninitiated, this must have been the grandest event Mediacorp has ever put together, and with more fashion than an average TV/MeWatch/YouTube viewer will get to see in their lifetime. But the aviation theme is hardly new in the world of fashion/entertainment. Watching the unreasonably long broadcast of six-and-a-half hours, with no real content in the first three, we started to stray and think of the grand sets of the old Chanel shows under Karl Lagerfeld’s watch that included an airport and aircraft. Grand. Monumental. Splendid. Stupendous! The descriptions came easily, but we struggled to find similar for Mediacorp’s dalliance with Changi Airport.

Outside their studios, Mediacorp was rather lost—a 孙公公 (sun gonggong, Eunuch Song!) in 21st century Singapore with a four-terminal, two-runway international airport. T4 is not the most attractive among all of Changi’s dissimilar terminals, and Mediacorp made it even less telegenic. From the “red carpet” on the red asphalt of the driveway to the plush, but utilitarian interiors of the departure gates, the show venues had the ambience of an MRT station during the Circuit Breaker. And to see the stars on both driveway and airport apron in sometimes laughable clothes that contradicted the spirit of red-carpet fashion (Chen Hanwei ridiculously over-fashioned by Q Menswear, for one) was really both highlight and downer of the whole event. It might be alright for us to laugh at ourselves, but thinking that the other regions with similar and far more polished award nights having a national giggle was pain-inducing. So, it was best to think of other memorable events.

Chanel cruise show in 2008 featuring a Chanel private jet from which models appeared. Photo: JKLD

Zoe Tay in Carolina Herrera at Changi T4. Photo: Mediacorp

Chanel’s over-the-top shows are, by now, legendary. No idea is too audacious or too unachievable for the house and their budget, and that includes creating a departure lounge and naming the check in counter Chanel Airlines. In fact, there was even a Chanel Line. Back in 2008, Chanel staged a couture show on an airfield in Santa Monica, Los Angeles. The audience was seated in a hanger and two planes—the Bombardier Challenger 601 (considered “business jets”, hence for private travel)—arrived to allow the models to alight. So spectacular the whole staging was (including a first-class departure gate set up in the hanger, complete with cocktail bars) that guests reportedly gave the show a standing ovation even before the first model, Raquel Zimmermann in an airport-ready navy jumpsuit, could deplane. So outstanding the presentation was that jet-setting attendees, such as Victoria Beckham and Demi Moore were duly impressed. If watching the action outside the aircraft was not quite enough, for the spring/summer 2012 couture collection, Chanel brought the show inside the cabin, with a set that allowed members of the audience aisle or window seat!

The house of Chanel had a long connection to aviation. In 1966, Coco Chanel herself even designed the uniforms—featuring her signature boxy jackets—of the flight attendants of Olympic Airways (now Olympic Airlines) of Greece, which was, at that time, marketed as a luxury airline owned by the shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis (who married the widowed Jackie Onasis). Back then, flying was a stylish affair. And an airport was not a place for T-shirts and shorts and flip-flops as it is now. In bringing back or remembering the romance of travel, Karl Lagerfeld had an airport terminal built in the Grand Palais for the Chanel spring/summer 2016 show. Models appeared as passengers ready to check in at the Chanel Airlines counter, manned by just-as-impossibly-good-looking staff. The flight information display system above (interestingly, not a split-flap) showed the final destinations of Chanel Airlines: Dubai, Seoul, Tokyo, and, amazingly, Singapore! We needed another country to show that we are worthy.

Abercrombie Will Soon Close

The last American casual brand to leave our shores. Will we miss it?

It was bound to happen. But we did not think it would be on their 10th year here. A decade is a long time to be in any market. But there has been declining interest in Abercrombie & Fitch since at least five years ago. This week, at its sole store on Orchard Road (in what was formerly known as Knightsbridge), the calm and uniformity of the stretch of merchandise-free window is interrupted by a sale sign that says “entire store 50%”. This afternoon, two women rushing towards the entrance were heard saying, “quick, quick.” Although the store front was quiet, it brought to mind the long queues seen in the first week of its opening back in December 2011. There are those, however, who remember that during that week, the MRT broke down on three consecutive days, leading to massive public anger. At least five hundred thousand commuters, it was said, were affected during those days. Yet, those who rushed to and queued at the new store in town seemed unaffected by the train disruption and unconcerned that deep dissatisfaction with our mass rapid transit system was seriously mounting.

At the closing down sale, we sense a similar indifference to what’s even more severe than not being able to get home soon enough—an ongoing pandemic. Purchases had to be made. A sale had to be taken advantage of. Bargain hunters left no garment and price tag unchecked. One Caucasian woman with a Saint Laurent tote had both her arms, locked at the fingers, served as a basket. A young chap was scooping up so many track pants, you’d wonder if he wears anything else. Folks of the Merdeka Generation were so numerous, you would not have guessed A&F was once considered a teen brand. We notice that there was hardly any staff. Two were spotted, both manning the only cashier counter opened, on the first floor. A chat with one of them confirmed that the store will “close for good on 2nd May” (last day of sale). There was no mention of the closure on table/counter stands, except the half-price sale. Or, on social media. Why are you closing, we wondered. “They’re not making money,” she offered helpfully. Why, no one shops? “It’s because of the pandemic.” That was not unexpected. Is 50 percent off enough to clear the stocks? “We hope so.” Will you be out of a job next month? “We’ll be retrenched, I guess.”

The merchandise seemed to have ended its seasonal life last year. It is not unreasonable to assume that the stock replenishment and renewal exercise did not continue after the autumn/winter buy, possibly including their supply of environmental perfume. The store was surprisingly and welcomely unscented! You could depart with purchases not artificially fragranced. Much of what they were clearing were standard and familiar separates, but in thicker fabrics than what might be comfortable for our weather. Some shoppers had noticed that the holiday offerings of last December were noticeably unremarkable. Back then, there was already talk that the store would be closing permanently. When Robinsons was clearing out last November, some leasing managers were already saying that the next available large retail space on Orchard Road would be the corner that is Abercrombie and Fitch—2,000 sq m, all three levels of it. Similarly, when Gap bowed out in 2018, as well as American Eagle Outfitters and, two years earlier, Aeropostale, the question was, “when will it be Abercrombie’s turn?”

US casual apparel brands have lost much of its appeal from the time Gap arrived on our island in 2006 (even before the iPhone!) with a 836 sq m “Southeast Asia flagship” in Wisma Atria. Throughout much of the ’90s, when Gap was popular, most Singaporeans were buying their clothes when travelling. And they needn’t go to the US, as Gap and its ilk were available in Tokyo and—even nearer—Hong Kong, where once a little street in Tsim Sha Tsui called Granville Road gave Gap fans—and certainly Abercrombie—their fill of merchandise by way of outlet shops. By the time Abercrombie arrived here, the brand was not as new as it seemed since many of those who love the label had brought their share during their holidays in the US, or, for the less-travelled, across the Causeway in also-outlet shops such as the Reject Shop. Abercrombie, as did its compatriot brands, scored by selling basic merchandise characterised by conspicuous placements of logotypes, but with far sexier branding (campaigns were famously shot by the now-disgraced Bruce Weber). But the formula never changed, not even when copies such as Bangkok’s CC Double O emerged, complete with similar store interiors, to tempt visitors, such as those from our island. If we really required basics, and fashionable ones too, we already had Uniqlo—they were earlier than Abercrombie by two years.

When Abercrombie opened, national pride could be sensed as the store was only the second to launch in Asia after Japan. The opening was not without fanfare, and was certainly more attention-grabbing than any witnessed till then. It was conceived to be remembered. Half-naked men—with only red track pants—paraded the store front daily, amenable to gawkers who must take selfies with them and to those who can’t resist appreciating their musculature by running their fingers down their abdomen. Many onlookers, including those that would be known now as the “Pioneer” generation, showed that we have arrived at a time when what was considered indecent was being redefine. As SOTD contributor Mao Shan Wang recalled, “even my mother wanted to touch them!” These weren’t shirtless men at a construction site (already rarely seen); these were men showing off, aware of their good looks, and their magnetism attracted both men and women to the store, even long after their sojourn. They were not guys seen on paper bags; they were flesh and gut. “From now till the opening,” one enthusiastic report at the time went, “you can expect these sexy hot bods to be in attendance.” If you really didn’t know better, you’d be wondering what the store was selling.

Abercrombie opened on our shores just two years after the Obama presidency. The first African-American to be elected president had promised “hope and change”. The US of A was to experience seismic shifts: demographically, socially, and technologically (Twitter was only picking up pace, no one was imagining a TikTok). Casual American fashion was slowly losing its wholesome appeal to not only the Americans, but also those abroad who were being converted by the Swedes and the Spaniards (and to an extent, the British) into fast fashion fans. H&M was selling retro-print T-shirts (so too was Uniqlo), but Abercrombie was stuck to the aesthetic dullness of its previous, controversial CEO Michael Jeffries, still banking on its appliqued graphics, heavy on the A&F logo. And, not forgetting how tight the clothes were (especially for the men). Mr Jeffries, himself a mature—and a bottle blond—personification of his Abercrombie ideal, told Salon in 2006 that his brand was for “cool” people, which presumably did not include the “overweight or unattractive people” he did not want seen in his clothes. Even before wokeness was a word, this did not score well with many people. Although Mr Jeffries issued a public apology when the comments were made known in 2013, the impact of his tone-deaf comments on Abercrombie could not be blocked or reversed.

Those heaving, bare-chested chaps on the pavement of Orchard Road only served to augment the positioning of the brand. Shoppers who did not care about their sexualised image, the dark-as-Zouk interior of the store, the dance music even at eleven in the morning, and the bothersome all-over scent that makes even Lush smelled discreet, just avoid it, like a bad joke. One segment of consumers who seemed more lured by it than others were gay boys. They wore the athletic, bicep-enhancing tees and polos as date clothes as much as club wear. Abercrombie made casual sexy and youthful insouciance equally so. The trick is to appear in the threads not self-aware, as though you’re naturally as glowingly appealing as those blonde gods lensed by Mr Weber. Or the store’s if-you-are-not-good-looking-you-can’t-work-here staff. The Abercrombie moose logo, whether on a plain crew-neck tee or a polo shirt, was like a badge that indicated you belonged to a club, one that honours only physical perfection. This ideal, often without sartorial merit, was eventually also appreciated by the masses, who had yet seen the fading glory of American preppy for a largely white consumer. Abercrombie was not hard to understand just as Americana, decades earlier, was not hard to digest.

But times do change, as well as consumer tastes. President Obama’s place in the White House elevated America’s image outside the US. But, when Donald Trump took over—to the horror of the world, that no longer held true. Which non-American would want to don anything that blatantly aligned the wearer with the MAGA States? In fact, Abercrombie’s still-blatant “all-American” branding was, and still is, its undoing—USA is no longer a seductive sell. Although its brand image was rehabilitated after Michael Jeffries’s departure (“ousted”, as was reported) from the company in 2014, things would not be the same for the brand. The cool that it so naturally exuded weaken, the clothes looked dated, and the store still dark, as if it could not come out of a doomed gloom. They did not, to borrow from an old phrase, get their mojo back.

Update (18 April 2021, 6.30pm): Abercrombie announced on Instagram earlier today that “the store is closing on 2 May 2021”, adding, “we’ve enjoyed being your Abercrombie”

Photos: Zhao Xiangji

The Met Looks At Its Front Yard

“American fashion” takes centrestage at this year’s Met Gala. Really

“Irony is over, oxymoron is next,” one marketing consultant said, when he heard the news. This year’s Met Gala and the attendant exhibition, to be held in September rather than the usual May (last year’s was cancelled), will be in salute of American fashion, according to Vogue. “Homegrown fashion”, as the organisers describe it, could possibly straighten the crumple post-Trump America is still wearing. This year’s event will be a two-parter (second to open in May 2022), and possibly larger than other previous ones. Could this be self-validation after a lame New York Fashion Week in February, amid a gloomy climate for American brands across all price points? Or is this a challenge to the believe that in the US, formulaic dressing and uniform-as-style can be replaced by fine examples of superlative design?

American fashion, two ends of the market and between, seems unable to capture our imagination for the past five years. Or even more. Storied names as Calvin Klein and mass appeal labels as Gap are fading in power, diminishing in influence, and declining in reach. More than ever America’s own needs an affirming boost. The mother telling her child, you are the best. In addition, the Met’s Costume Institute needs to WFA—work from America, now that borders are still not fully opened to facilitate any homage to designers of distant lands. Outside the US, its global standing, as a 13-nation Pew Research Center survey from last year illustrated, has “plummeted”—“majorities have an unfavorable opinion of the U.S. in nearly every country surveyed”. Now is the time to look homeward and champion America.

Who truly represents American fashion? Tom Ford? Alexander Wang? Gosh, Kanye West, the “fashion mogul”? And pal Virgil Abloh? Or flag bearers Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Michael Kors? Or, the retired Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, Todd Oldham, Izaac Mizrahi? Or, to be inclusive, Carolina Herrara, Vera Wang, Phillip Lim, the Olsen twins, Lazaro Hernandez (the other half of Proenza Schouler), Dapper Dan, Kerby Jean-Raymond, Telfar Clemens? Or, to salute the pop world, Rihanna, Beyoncé, Jennifer Lopez, Selena Gomez, Sean Combs, Pharrell Williams? Or, to acknowledge the immigrants, Oleg Cassini, Rudi Gernreich, Fernando Sánchez, Adrienne Vittadini, Ronaldus Shamask, Naeem Khan? Or, to include the dead, Claire McCardell, Lilly Pulitzer, Bonnie Cashin, Mary McFadden, Anne Klein, Halston, Zoran, James Galanos, Perry Ellis, Oscar de la Renta, L’Wren Scott? Or, to take note of the Americans abroad, Mainbocher, Vicky Tiel, Patrick Kelly, Yoon Ahn, Daniel Roseberry? Or, to mark the (now) less-known, Stephen Burrows, Geoffrey B Small, Reed Krakoff, Rhuigi Villaseñor? Or, to rave about the he-who-can-be-anyone, Marc Jacobs?

You get the picture.

Illustration: Just So

Sing Sing, Shake Shake

It’s true, some magazine editors have to TikTok themselves to the top

By Raiment Young

It isn’t easy being a magazine editor. With print media on a veritable decline, the magazine editor, these days, has to try harder. Now that many also have to play an active role in the digital version of their respective titles, editors have to be masters of more than one medium. In the past, they needed only to be adept at putting together a print magazine—fill the pages with engaging stories and striking photographs. A flair with pagination and packaging (stories), I was told, is a plus. Then some editors adopted Instagram, and they gained visual competency in not only selling products, but themselves too. Personal branding, as with OOTD, became a thing. Once an editor needed only to be good with text, now they’ve gone from shooting photographic selfies to video selfies. The journalist, not to be outdone by influencers, happily and actively becomes one.

A magazine is no longer the sum of its editorial pages or parts, or running heads. The content is not any more merely the editor’s signature. With digital iterations of print and the necessary attendant social media pages intersecting, I see editors have to be able to generate lively content across platforms. And then some: They also need to create personal pages as extension of their paid work, to spin-off the otherwise one-dimensional print page into something that engages so that the editor is then able to personally find new audiences—those who don’t read but view— and, in return, monetise what he/she posts, brilliant or banal, seemly or trite. By extending themselves, editors are also extending the brand. Mastheads need a digital life too; they sent out tweets and social posts, and these do not necessarily promote the content of the original medium. They are not merely a title; they are brands, and, as such, they can be a magazine, as well as a social-media page, a blog, a Youtube channel, a shopping portal, the merchandise, or even an app.

Editors need to be as multi-faceted, switching from the pages of a magazine to the pages of a website, or the tiles of Instagram. They have to show their audience what extracurricular talents they have, too. This is where TikTok comes in, with tremendous might. While fashion’s one-time favourite platform Instagram allows perfectly composed photos, they do not necessarily reflect the subject’s special/natural ability or aptitude. Sure, we can usually see an attractive face, but we can’t hear her voice (and even less in text form of, say, the editor’s page or letter or whatever they like to call it these days) or see his limp wrist limping. Who knows they can cavort so zestfully?! With TikTok videos—even just 15 seconds long—we can have a deeper impression, all the while enjoying, or not, the lowbrow or the high jinks (or high camp). The magazine editor comes alive.

Some editors reveal themselves as natural comedians and lip-sync talents, all packaged with intense fashion—sometimes, thanks to editing apps such as InShot, with multiple OOTD changes, accompanied by It bags, just by snapping fingers or jumping. They have the time! It isn’t clear to me if this is a case of old-fashioned showing-off or more-in-fashion-than-ever funded partnerships with brands. Either way, it’s an I-can-wear-this-many-trendy-and-expensive-clothes-and-you-can’t video brag. Some editors do this so well, I’d never guess they’re not entertainers or jokers by profession. Once virtually unknown, they are now the song-and-dance editors among the other singing and dancing zombies that populate TikTok, but they do it with better clothes or with more pronounced proclamation of their love for a brand. Nothing, as Oscar Wilde said, succeeds like excess.

Editors I spoke to admit that there’s no more downtime to their work, such as the period—even if short—after they put an issue “to bed”. One editor told me how, during her supposed own free time, she has to monitor social media content and create her own posts for her personal accounts that bear her own name. WFH makes it worse. So shackled to the demands of the digital life, professionally and personally, that her husband was convinced she is married to two: he and an indestructible entity that is pulling her further and further away from him. “Social media can really consume you,” she told me. “And we allow it.” It is not surprising then that there are many more addicted to TikTok than those to porn.

The suffix porn, as in food porn (or choose your favourite. Mine, word porn!), is very much a digital-era preoccupation/description (although food porn is said to date back to the late ’70s). Porn, from the Greek porne (which means “whore”), and now quite stripped (pardon the pun) of the intense and pervasive sex that it used to evoke, is an intensifier of the noun that precedes it. Food porn, the most used, and probably the most relatable, usually describes those photos that are exaggerated in their appetite-arousing appeal, with a fidelity that amplifies their sometimes unreal perfection, which, ironically, is un-erotic. Tiktok porn is alike and is not racy, but is more addictive. As reported by App Annie’s State of Mobile 2020, Android users clocked up 68 billion-plus hours using TikTok in 2019. That’s pornographic enough. And one magazine editor I chanced upon, who offered seven outfit changes in one 15-second video post, is without doubt a porn talent, even if he’s no stud, unveiling his cloth-based assets as the pornest of fashion porn.

Illustrations: Just So