Return Of The Rockstud

Valentino’s beloved sneaker is back. With the help of Craig Green, it is looking its handsome best

Looks like it is through collaborations that you can create winning products. Valentino’s once-popular Rockstud range of shoes, bags, and accessories has had its halcyon days. In recent years, with the popularity of monograms, old and new, on almost anything, details such as studs have less drawing power. Valentino, aware that their cash cow Rockstud needs a makeover or “re-signification”, as the brand calls it, approached the star British men’s wear designer Craig Green to reimagine the sneaker version as footwear that would appeal to guys who are no longer drawn to a surfeit of fancy hardware on their kicks, such as Christian Louboutin’s once all-the-rage Spikes. Valentino calls this collaboration an era-appropriate “cultural exchange”.

Rockstud is almost a sub-brand in itself, much like Nike’s Jordan. Last year, Valentino celebrated its 10th anniversary with an announcement that they would open the Rockstud to chosen creatives to re-imagine the use of the house detail. Mr Green is the first to come onboard, as the “Rockstud X becomes a white canvas for new imaginary landscapes”, according to a press release at that time. Characterised by mainly metal pyramidal studs, Rockstud was an instant hit for Valentino. It’s introduction in 2010 in the form of heeled footwear was received enthusiastically. The almost punk studs contrasted effectively with Valentino’s usually ultra-feminine styles. And then came the Rockrunner, the kicks that would augment the growing obsession with luxury sneakers throughout the 2010s.

Mr Green has made the limited-edition Rockstud less a stud of a shoe. The upper is in surprisingly humble knit that looks rather perforated. With widely placed lacing, it sits on a rubber base that is almost entirely Rockstudded, except that Mr Green has removed any extraneous hardware and worked the studs (now oversized, and in rows and separated by what could be parentheses) as part of the entire sole, making the silhouette sturdy-looking and well grounded. This must the least flashy iteration of the Rockstud so far, yet it’s easily the Batmobile of shoes!

Valentino X Craig Green Rockstud, USD1,295.00. is available in four colours on valentino.com. Product photo: Valentino

The Wings On The Tongues

Nike’s latest iteration of their classic Air Force 1 is inspired by its namesake goddess. And it is poised to take flight

Nike has released some unusual versions of their Air Force 1 kicks for women. They are usually in colours not typically found in the men’s or in offbeat colour blocking, and so appealing that guys are often disappointed that those for them are left out of the chromatic makeover. Now, it’ll soon be releasing the Air Force 1 in the non-colour of pristine white, plus a little unexpected detail: a slip of a wing on the tongue of the shoe, peeking from beneath the crisscrossed lace. Given the overall ruggedness of one of Nike’s most recognisable kicks, this is a rather delicate touch, like a butterfly beginning to emerge from a chrysalis.

But Nike’s newest kicks are not inspired by a winged insect, rather by a winged goddess, specifically its namesake Greek deity, also known as the (seemingly trending) Winged Victory of Samothrace. Nike calls this version of the AF1 Goddess of Victory, dropping the suggestion of flight appendages in the moniker. Yet this able goddess is known for its visible wings (at least seen in the Hellenistic sculpture that resides in the Louvre). So Nike couldn’t avoid the wings. The tip of one is affixed visibly on the part of the shoe that, ironically, could be hidden under the hems of pants.

This isn’t the first time Nike has dedicated the AF1 to the (Winged) Goddess of Victory. In March, they launched the first version that was unlike anything the brand has done before. The upper of the shoe was given an additional layer. A rather scrunched up, paper-like fabric was sort of ‘pasted’ on top. On it was a blue drawing of the statue as seen in the Louvre. Nike described this as work based on the “folk art of paper cutting”. In fact, we think this version is more unusual and more eye-catching. And it isn’t the first time that wings are attached to sneakers. Back in the 2010s, Jeremy Scott partnered with Adidas (they are reportedly pairing again) to release a basketball shoe known unambiguously as Wings—a cartoonish version attached to the eyelets of the shoe and secured with the laces.

The wings of the AF1 Goddess of Victory is a sheer, exoskeleton appendage that veils the mesh padding of the tongue and extends beyond the tip (the Nike label on the tongue is still there). When worn, we suspect it could be mistaken for the lace trims of some fancy socks! The shoe’s upper comes in Epi leather and has been described as “premium”. It is not yet known if this is natural or synthetic. But if there’s anything a goddess deserves, it’s the real deal.

No release date is currently available. Check nike.com for details. Photos: Nike

Can Balenciaga’s New X-Pander Be The Next Triple S?

Loud, waiting-to-be-stepped-on sneakers may still be selling, but some of us are suffering from fancy footwear fatigue

No matter how we look at the X-Pander, Balenciaga’s new sneakers, they appear to us like kicks trapped in some contraption. Regardless of the angle too. Could this be a shoe ensnared in a rodent trap? Or one stuck in a Brannock device, the instrument used to measure a person’s shoe size? Is the rear elevation a high heel? Or a visible heel lift? Can you walk, let alone run in them? Balenciaga, of course, has been churning sneakers that defy conventional silhouettes, but it has not quite needed superfluous engineering. What’s really with the Track-looking shoe on a hydraulic lift? Or a car jack? Is this hi-tech gone mad? Or as the Chinese would say, zuo huo ru muo (走火入魔, to go overboard)?

With a shoe looking like that, questions naturally plaque the X-Pander. The crucial part: what is the “suspended heel” for? We have not seen the actual shoe, so we can only go by enthusiastic media reports. Apparently when worn, the heel of the X-Pander—mounted on a spring—extends, but take a step and rest your heel, it compresses, and your heel is back to the ground. Up, down, up, down, it goes. What all that mechanical action does for your walk (or run, if you’re so inclined) isn’t really clear. Some reports say that the rear set-up is to “ensure optimal comfort and cushioning”. How true that is can’t be determined by just looking at the pictures.

Already, the fashion press is calling the X-Pander “the next street-style blockbuster”. We’re expecting it to be frighteningly popular, of course, but would it influence the future design of sneaker heels not already changed by Nike X Sacai’s split/gaping version for the Vaporwaffle? When the Balenciaga Triple S was launched in 2017, many thought it was outrageously clunky, but it made other sneaker brands take notice. Dad shoes, as they became known, soon ruled, and more abominable kicks emerged. Every brand with a worthy sneaker had their own take on the Triple S. Huge and bombastic shoes blasted their way into popular taste. After four long years, satiated we really have become. And jelak too.

Balenciaga X-Pander, SGD$1,790, is available at Balenciaga, Paragon. Product photo: Balenciaga. Photo illustration: Just So

Blame The Weather

Shorts and slippers aren’t sloppy,” says self-professed “slipper-wearing environmentalist” Ho Xiang Tian. Is that a hurray?

By Raiment Young

Yesterday, in a long-form commentary for CNA, the 25-year-old environmentalist Ho Xiang Tian (何翔天) wrote, “most people complain about Singapore’s erratic weather—it’s hot and humid, or storming (sic) and wet—but no one ever seems to complain about the dress code that amplifies discomfort in Singapore’s weather.” How fascinating it is that an environmental advocate would “talk about how we dress in sunny Singapore”. Mr Ho is the co-founder of LepakInSG, a three-person initiative that offers “a one-stop calendar listing environmental events and activities in Singapore”, as stated in its blog page. By his own admission in the CNA piece, he’s a “slipper-wearing environmentalist”, just as, I suppose, Gandhi was a dhoti-wearing anti-colonial nationalist. Mr Ho’s slippers are, presumably, the mark of identification with the problems of our impoverished Earth, just as the Mahatma’s loincloth was worn to identify with the poor. At rallies, Mr Ho introduces himself—with considerable delight—as “the person who wears slippers and shorts everywhere I go”.

In placing slippers first in that order, it seems to me that Mr Ho is aligning himself with the chin chai (casual, not fastidious, or as one pleases) attitude that is associated with the open footwear. On his Instagram, which he says he doesn’t use, the intro reads, “I wear slippers everywhere”. In doing so, it is possible that he, who only uses Telegram, is giving his LepakInSG movement concordant grassroots leaning. Lepak, as many of us know, is basically loafing around in Malay, and mostly associated with youths. But a more acceptable definition would be to ‘hang out’ or even ‘chill out’, but clearly not doing anything. Singlish.net considers it “a form of enjoyment that is carefree and stress-free”. Foreigners who think we are overworked and mentally pressured might be surprised that, as Mr Ho and his friends posit, we do lepak in SG. The word appears in the Oxford English Dictionary too, where it also means “loiter aimlessly or idly; relax”. LepakInSG, therefore, projects an easy and informal image of the causes it champions. You can do something for the environment by being and looking laid-back. 

In his CNA commentary that reads as charmingly as a secondary school composition, Mr Ho positions himself as an outsider. He looks at the office worker from where he can observe inclement weather: outdoor. He observes that “long-sleeved shirts, pants, shoes, suits and heels are mainstays in the CBD, fitting the narrative of Singapore as a serious and slick financial centre of the world.” (LepakInSg, therefore, the antithesis of that?) Office wear—even a fading category of clothing—to him is serious and associated with the business of making and managing money. He continues quite grimly, “this fragile narrative, however, is challenged when a roaring thunderstorm or an unbearable heat wave happens, revealing disgruntled office workers who have gotten soaked in a sudden downpour during their lunch break. Or soaked from sweat just heading to and from a meeting.” I was lost in the comic absurdity and tragedy of that observation. It was even more amusing to think that Mr Ho might have imagined that the staff of the many banks in Raffles Place go to work in shorts and slippers.

Ho Xiang Tian refers to how professionals and office workers in the CBD like to conform to a “dress code” (he repeated it six times!). That they are attired to a set of rules ascribed to circumstances, occasions, and purpose is rather risible when so many travellers to our island (in the halcyon days of travel) note that we often look “super casual” or, as first-time Chinese visitors would say, “超休闲” (chaoxiuxian). This dress code is so unsuited to the vagaries of our equatorial weather that Mr Ho is unable to develop a social, sartorial, and sympathetic relationship with it. “I can’t relate,” he continues to convince readers, “as I go about almost everywhere in slippers and shorts. My renown for that is second only to my reputation as an environmental advocate.” Some of you may chuckle, but Mr Ho clearly takes his image seriously, and is exacting about his skin-baring footwear and bottoms. Casual, as it appears, is crucial.

But Mr Ho does not distinguish between anyhow casual and smart casual. Shorts and slippers aren’t sloppy, indeed. The garment and the footwear themselves are not sloppy; often, the wearers are. Casual is so much the opposite of dressed-up that clothes can be spared from ironing, just as slippers can be freed from cleaning. Nor does he point out the difference between the shorts and slippers for a trip to the neighbourhood bubble tea stall, for an afternoon at the Rail Corridor, or for taking a date to “a great street” Orchard Road. But he isn’t alone. Many, like him, do not acknowledge that shorts and slippers can be neatly unstudied and personably unpretentious, just as they can be comfortable, easy-to-wear, and not draw attention to themselves.

Mr Ho’s attitude towards dress seems to me a reflection of the attitude of a sizeable group of his generation, including many undergrads who consider shorts and slippers truly the best options for campus life. In a 2017 ST article on the extremely casual attire that students adopt in universities, the consensus was that clothes and footwear were picked for practical reasons—“convenience and comfort”. One student from NUS was quoted saying, “our climate is very hot, and sometimes classrooms can be very far apart, so students dress in more comfortable attire such as shorts and slippers.” Mr Ho’s description of what “disgruntled office workers” go through—seemingly on a regular basis—echoes this thought. Many, he is telling us, are a hot mess in our equatorial heat. All the growing technologies that yield moisture-wicking fabrics (Uniqlo’s Airism, for example, among many) and those that are anti-bacterial and odour-free, quick-dry and wrinkle-resistant; the myriad ways of cutting clothes to maximise air flow; as well as ventilation-possible details such as meshed insets and strategically-placed eyelets have somehow escaped the shorts-and-slippers brigade.

I have no objection to slippers, if they are neat and clean, on which feet that are also neat and clean sit. But the reality is that slippers are given the treatment that commensurate with their lowest ranking among footwear. As they tend to be relatively inexpensive, few treat them as they would Yeezys—or the expensively similar. Ardent adopters tend to have somewhat disconnected relationships with their slippers, which are often seen kept apart from their feet. Just observe in any MRT car. And when wearers are seated in a café too; they have the habit of completely distancing the feet from slippers by bringing the legs up close to the waist, or, in some cases, the knees to the chest. People have the tendency to drag their feet in slippers, making the choice of footwear audible to others. The habit possibly explains why the Chinese call slippers tuoxie (拖鞋) or ‘dragging shoes’. Taking the cue from the Chinese, the Peranakans use the identical phrase kasut seret (rather than the Malay kasut capal, the traditional thonged slippers thought to have originated in India [modern versions are known by the English loanword selipar]). Kasut seret originally refers to the Nonya’s beaded kasut manek, but also points to slippers in the post-colonial years.

The need to drag one’s feet when shod in the kasut manek is understandable. These mule-like slip-ons offered no grip to the feet of the wearer. In addition, women wore their kasut manek with long and narrow sarongs, which made steady strides tricky. But today’s young who are outfitted in shorts and slippers—usually thonged, such as the Havaianas—have significantly less restrictions. Yet, it seems that no matter how light or unrestrictive the wearers’ slippers are, many still drag their feet or shuffle. In this instance, the article worn and action taken are, more often than not, sloppy. Mr Ho asks, “What’s wrong with dressing down when no disrespect is meant?” The optics may not appear disrespectful (even that is uncertain since he admits he receives “several emails from event organisers explicitly stating their dress code, to prevent me from sticking out like a sore thumb”), but we can’t be sure that the sound isn’t. It is possible that Mr Ho, who is also a volunteer guide for the Naked Hermit Crabs (a nature-loving group that offers free guided walks along our threatened shores), simply does not see sloppiness. Or, hear it.

Admittedly, Ho Xiang Tian is no fashion commentator. He makes some rather strange (heat-induced?) observations: “we must be the only tropical country where people wear cardigans all day.” Are cardigans the new national obsession the way slippers are? He also notes that “working from home has also made athleisure the mainstay of Big Tech staff around the world, mainstream office wear”. Athleisure may have made office wear even more casual in certain fields, but it hasn’t mainstreamed what many of us don to work. According to a recent report in Sourcing Journal, denim jeans are expected to make a “strong return” as “consumers re-enter the work world and resume their school and social lives, they’ll undoubtedly be looking for something new that’s still comfortable yet gives them the confidence to greet their colleagues, classmates and friends again.” Rather than attribute our consistent poor turn out to lack of interest or flair, fecklessness, or peer pressure, many people blame it on the weather. As they always do.

Illustrations: Just So

Go With The Flow

Loewe’s decidedly vintage-y sneakers

It is refreshing to see a pair of luxury sneakers not tethered to the bombastic. Loewe’s latest is clearly an ode to the time when sneakers were not “grailed” kicks that sneakerheads furiously hunt down or those that have to be satanised with human blood to be cool and valuable. The newly launched Flow Runner shares the more low-key aesthetics and silhouettes of the athletic shoes of the ’70s, which, for many, was the “the pinnacle of sneaker design”. Those still unable to grasp the phenom known as social media might remember Nike’s Tailwind or New Balance’s 327 (currently enjoying a raging revival). Of, if you are of less advanced years, Nike’s also still-issued Air Pegasus. After a few years of flashy and clunky sneakers, it is unsurprising that brands are issuing those that are, shall we say, more sampan than schooner.

What could be an update of the Ballet Runner, the Flow has a welcome elegance about it, and is sleek, unlike the alien-looking clumps, Yeezys. We like the close-to-the-feet fit, and the simple upper of nylon and suede upper in shades of khaki, with the cursive-L monogram positioned on the side of the shoe, as if its military braiding. The not-shy rubber “wave” outsole, probably the longest ever seen on a running shoe, stretches to the rear, up the heel counter and is tucked under the heel notch, while in the front, it covers, in a tapered manner, the toe tip. The back does resemble the New Balance’s 327; it’s a detail that lovers of car shoes might appreciate. But, on a running shoe, we aren’t sure if there is any real advantage. Fashion footwear does not need technical superiority; it just has to look good. The Flow Runner certainly does.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Loewe Flow Runner, SGD990, is available for men and women at Loewe stores. Photo: Chin Boh Kay

Sneakers: Play Some More

Comme des Garçons sub-brand Play has released a new series of their popular Converse collaboration. It’s destined to sell out

Has Comme des Garçons Play co-created another winner? The CDG sub-brand—with that unmistakable heart logo, distinguished by a blunt chin—has been a hit since its inception in 2002. Their new kicks with Converse (a partnership that has spanned more than a decade) is likely going to be another sell-out at launch—this morning. For the latest, Play has worked its cheery logo into the side of the Jack Purcell, as if a pair of Hello Kitty-like mouthlessness is peeping from behind a wall. There is that bold line on the mid-sole that seems to underscore its sneaky appearance. The current iteration seems to us, the most fun since the born-in-Poland logo debuted on the 86-year-old Jack Purcell in 2011. Yep, a neat ten years ago.

CDG die-hard fans have generally ignored the “entry-level” Play, which to some is disagreeably commercial (there are even clothes for kids!), and usually not adopted by those who could pull CDG off with panache. The Play line has not changed much within its various product categories, T-shirts being perennial best-sellers. But the Converse kicks have the rare quality of being both cute and cool at the same time. In 2019, Sneaker Freaker magazine calls the Chuck Taylor version “the decade’s most influential sneaker”. Despite its obvious charm, the sneakers, also seen in the Chuck 70, have been resisted by some sneaker fans, such as SOTD contributor Shu Xie, who told us that she has not bought a pair for herself because the plain canvas sneakers “are reminiscent of school.” In addition, “most versions are in white (or off-white), which say to me, ‘nurse’!”

That would not be the reaction with the current release. The base colour of the still-cotton canvas kicks is now grey, a perfect tone and density for those find white too ‘nurse-y’ and black too harsh. The logos—three altogether (two on each side and one, dissected, on the back)—are big and bold, and available in black or the OG red. In addition, the silhouette of the Jack Purcell is closer to smart than anything by Vans, and far more flattering for feet than anything by Yeezy. To quote a particular cyborg, resistance, this time, is possibly futile.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Comme des Garçons Play X Converse Jack Purcell sneakers, SGD220, are available from today at Comme des Garçons and DSMS. Product photos: Comme des Garçons Play. Collage: Just So

The First Split

Nike’s Air Rift with the tabi-like toes debuted in 1996. They still look temptingly current

The Maison Margiela X Rebook Classic Leather Tabi is (still) trending now. Launched last month, it is, as imaginable, mostly sold out. At USD300 a pair, these are not exactly affordable luxury (resellers are reportedly now flipping them for USD1,000). The Classic Leather Tabi is not, however, the first split-toe sneaker to be available. Twenty five years ago, Nike debuted the Air Rift, a silhouette so bold that it prompted sneakerheads to consider the oddity of a sneaker prized kicks. Sure, Maison Margiela’s split-toe shoe was first introduced in the spring/summer season of 1989 (six years after the Reebok Classic Leather), but it did not appear as a pair of sneakers. In fact, then still under the creative direction of its founder, the house issued them in the form of leather boots, with the almost hoof-like toe box stirring deep passions, enough that they have a place in the Museum of Modern Art, New York. For some fashion folks, these were the McQueen Armadillo of that time.

Nike does not say that their Air Rift is inspired by the Japanese tabi (足袋) socks, as is the case with Margiela. According to Nike, the shoes with the velcroed Mary Jane fastening is a nod to “the efficient barefoot style of Kenyan distance runners and their international competition dominance” and are named after the Great Rift Valley in Kenya (and the OG colours are no doubt based on the country’s flag). Back then, “woke” and “inclusive” had not surfaced in product development as they are likely to these days. Designed by Kip Buck, then a model maker at Nike, the Air Rift was conceived as a running shoe (not for strolling on the beach or kicking them off in Starbucks!) that is evocative of gongfu kicks and allows wears to run like Kenyan athletes—unbound by restrictive footwear. It isn’t clear how the decoupled toe helped you feel bare-footed, but the easy-to-pack Air Rift stills enjoys a large enough following that Nike has reissued it several times.

The latest iterations in various colours are due out any time now. The versions for men and women are already launched in Japan and seen in retail stores across Hong Kong. But news of its possible appearance here is scant. We asked a staff at Nike, Jewel, about the Air Rift’s availability and he could only say, “I’m not sure.” Kids versions were reportedly seen at JD Sports. Despite its unique silhouette, the Air Rift is unlikely going to enjoy the same mass adoration as Air Jordan 1 (after the release of the super-hyped Air Dior) or Daybreak (after Nike’s pairing with Undercover). But given the yet-to-fade spotlight on the Maison Margiela X Rebook Classic Leather Tabi, who knows?

Check nike.com for issue dates and local availability. Illustration: Just So

Two Of A Kind: The Transparent Mid-Sole

Is Prada doing a Nike?

Can a certain mid-sole technology come to an extreme ubiquity that even if you are not the inventor of that technology, you could adopt a similar and simply join the fun? When Prada’s Linea Rossa revealed their newest kicks, the Collision 19 LR (top left), they potentially set themselves on a collision course with the thinking of sneakerheads who have a fanatical love for Nike Air Maxes, noted for their “visible air” mid-soles, in particular Air Max 97. That the similarity of Prada’s sole to Nike’s, especially its full length, and also called “Air” has encouraged talk of likely copying is not the least surprising. People expect more and better of Prada, the originator of some truly pioneering ideas in shoe design and, to us, the first on the trail of delectably ugly footwear.

While transparent mid-soles filled with air are seen in many kicks these days, they will always be associated with Nike. The first was introduced in 1987, in the silhouette of the Air Max 1, then applied to the back half of the sole of the shoe to, primarily, support the heel. Air, in fact, had earlier been used as cushioning, trapped within the foam frame of the first Tailwind running shoes of 1978. According to Nike’s telling, the NASA aeronautical engineer Frank Rudy had suggested to Phil Knight to use air in the manner Nike is now known for, based on the work Mr Rudy was doing for the space agency at that time. We don’t how much of this account is lore since it seems strange that an employee of a government institution could share the tech that did not really belong to him with a commercial enterprise. But the story is interesting and the NASA link lended gravitas to the usefulness of the sole and added heft to the early marketing efforts in launching the Air Max 1.

The subsequent success of the Air Max and the family it spawned need no recounting here. The most amazing thing is how Nike could, in recent years, used the air sole with other cushioning tech of theirs to yield some arresting hybrids (Air Max 270 React, to name one). This attests to the air sole’s solidness as cushioning, as well as its longevity, both in practical and visual terms. Although there seems to be a shift, trend-wise, to more retro, less tech-obvious styles, such as the Daybreak (so expertly and charmingly reinterpreted by Undercover in 2019) and the recent ‘Type’ series, the air sole is still crucial in Nike’s bag of tricks for shoes that are bombastic, and will lure hypebeasts, such as the more recent Air Max 2090.

It is, therefore, rather curious that Prada has chosen to build a sneaker, based on a mid-sole so associated with the biggest shoe maker in the world. And one that is full-length, with tiny pillar support, and visible. But the sole isn’t the only part of the shoe that is evocative of the Air Max. At first look, we saw the Air Max 2003 SS Triple Black (top right), originally with a Japan-made carbon-based fiber upper. The Prada Collision 19 LR has an oddly similar moulded-looking upper (which, according to the brand, is “technical fabric”), making the sum even more inexplicable. As SOTD contributor Ray Zhang said, “I like the Prada, but it looks too close to one of my all-time favourite Nike shoes for me to even consider my feet in them.”

Prada Collision 19 LR, SGD1,580, is available at Prada Stores. Nike Air Max 2003 SS Triple Black id currently unavailable. Product photos: Prada and Nike respectively

Pussycat, Yes!

Animals have inspired designers for as long as fashion has looked to the zoic kingdom for ideas. One creature stands out: the cat. No less than four of what are worn or used in fashion today are named after them

After watching the Dior pre-fall 2021 show recently, we got hooked to the remade and remixed Deee-Lite dance hit What is Love? from the 1990 album World Clique. This new track also has snatches of the feline-themed, vinyl-only single Pussycat Meow from the second album Infinity Within. It was the purring and the “pussycat… no!” cries of the band’s lead singer Lady Miss Kier that did it for us. For most of the rest of that week (and the week after), we allowed that groove to get into our heart. Two tracks on loop, however, became monotonous after a while. So we looked into our CD collection (yes, for some, they still exist and are played!), and found one of our favourites: Takkyu Ishno’s highly danceable 2017 song Kitten Heel. This whole afternoon, we had three tracks on loop, pumping through our Sonos One, allowing the bass to course through our willing body.

The dancing—and Lady Miss Kier purring and then rap-calling “here, kitty, kitty, kitty” and then tease-pleading “kiss me, you fool!”—also got us thinking of the influence of domestic cats (yes, those you keep as pets) in fashion. No, there won’t be references to Karl Lagerfeld’s too-famous Choupette. Or, the countless cat videos on YouTube and TickTok. Or, cute cat-faced accessories to wear around the neck. And not a clowder of cats on a T-shirt either. Rather, we’re looking at something more subtle—those articles of fashion inspired by parts of cats or the whole animal, or just suggestive of those things we associate with felines. And, like the cats themselves, these fashion items seem to have many, many lives! Here, we name four. If you know others, do tell.

Cat Glasses

Photo: Celine/24s

Cat glasses, or rather sunglasses with frames that supposedly mimic cat eyes, are not really inspired by the-cuddly-creature-that-meows. According to fashion lore and the documentary Altina, based on the life of the multi-hyphenate Altina Schinasi (1907—1999), they were inspired by Venetian masks. In fact, the first cat glasses, introduced in the ’30s, were known by the more mysterious and glamourous descriptor, Harlequin. At that time the designs of glasses for women were hardly fashionable, and reflected what Dorothy Parker famously said, “Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses,” originally a two-line poem News Item.

But, that didn’t deter Ms Schinasi. She related in the documentary: “I thought, well, something better can be done than just these awful glasses that look like the time of Benjamin Franklin. Then I thought, what would be good on a face and I thought of a mask, a Harlequin mask.” By the ’50s, when the glasses really took off—worn by movie stars such as Audrey Hepburn and, unmistakably, Marilyn Monroe (especially as Pola in How to Marry a Millionaire), they became mostly known as cat-eye glasses (now, just cat glasses) due to the shape of the frame, with the outer tips pointing upwards and alluringly, feline-like.

Catsuits

Photo: Warner Bros

Long before there was Michele Pfeiffer as Catwoman (in 1992’s Batman Returns), there was one Black Wild Cat, our mothers told us. This was Connie Chan (陈宝珠) in the titular role of 女贼黑夜猫 (Black Wild Cat), in the 1960s Hong Kong film that saw Ms Chan as a sort-of female Robin Hood, masked in a flat-top half-balaclava that was, presumably, like a cat’s head. To augment her feline mysteriousness, she leaves messages by throwing darts on walls on which her masked identity is reveal by, well, a Harlequin mask (see a recurring theme?). Ms Chan was so successful in playing these mysterious do-gooders operating under the cover of darkness that other characters emerged: The Black Rose (黑玫瑰) and The Black Killer (女杀手). And with each role she wore something black and close-fitting—not quite the catsuits we know today, but enough for her to move with the stealth and style of cats.

It wasn’t until Michele Pfeiffer’s campy interpretation of Catwoman (aka Selina Kyle) did we come to associate the catsuit with those that totally outline the body and in gleaming latex (a silicon-based top coat was used to effect the shine). Sure, Halle Berry’s titular turn in Catwoman (2004), too, saw her in a catsuit, but they appeared to be a part of it—the bikini dominatrix top didn’t cover enough, at least not the torso. Interestingly, Ms Berry’s Catwoman wore a full head mask that looks uncannily like what Connie Chan wore as Black Wild Cat! In fact, the catsuit was very much at first a costume, often linked to the Catwoman character, first introduced in 1940 as simply The Cat. The term catsuit didn’t come into popular usage until after 1955. Its origin is unclear although it wouldn’t be immoderate to assume that, once suited up, the slinkiness immediately accords the wearer a cat-like grace.

Pussy Bows

Photo: Saint Laurent

The pussy bow comes from something more extraneous: it’s not in anyway part of a cat. Or look like anything that might be akin to cats. According to media speculation—Vogue among them—the pussy bow probably got its name from a time in the late 19th century, when cat owners would tie a bow around the neck of their feline pets to prettify them before the arrival of guests. In French couture houses, they go by a less animal-linked description: lavallière (also the noun for a pendant, centred on a necklace, and hangs pendulously). Some fashion historians trace the pussy bow to the cravat, although the connection is hard to discern. Most of the pussy bows we now see can be linked to the versions first introduced by Chanel, and later, Yves Saint Laurent (paired with the Le Smoking). And in the past ten years, the popularity of the pussy bow has not waned, and (still) well loved by designers such as Hedi Slimane and Alessandro Michele.

However fancy it is tied, the pussy bow is essentially a strip of fabric, with the middle portion, lengthwise, stitched to the neckline of the blouse, leaving the rest hanging, and to be knotted. For many women, the pussy bows were very much a ’70s thing. A decade on, “Iron Lady” Margaret Thatcher made it her thing, and claimed the pussy bow softens her public appearance. A mere feminine flourish it, therefore, is not. Cut to 2016, Melania Trump wore her Gucci crepe de chine pussy bow defiantly (triumphantly, too?) against her husband’s self-confessed predilection for grabbing the female genitalia. Pussy bows today have long shed their dowdy Gibson Girl image. Just see how Anthony Vaccarello styled them for Saint Laurent (above). As in the past, there is power in them bows.

Kitten Heels

Photo: Prada

Interestingly, these heels weren’t originally worn by women, but by men—at least in Versailles, France. To be sure, the kitten heels that we now know is not quite the same as those the guys wore, in particular by Louis XIV of France and his courtiers. Those in the 17th century were a lot clunkier, at least where the heels were concerned, not the pin that they are in present times. According to common belief, the smallish Sun King chose heeled shoes to give him extra height (he was, reportedly, only five foot, four inches—or about 162cm—tall). This new-found stature caught on with the other royals too, but did not impress the monarch. He banned them outside his court, effectively denying himself as the footwear trend setter.

The kitten heels today can, perhaps, be more accurately traced to the 1950s. Many people associate them with Audrey Hepburn or more specifically her in Billy Wilder’s 1954 movie Sabrina, with (some of) the costumes by Hubert de Givenchy. Like the cat glasses, the kitten heels have come to represent the ’50s and a certain elegance that need not require a statuesque carriage. Another name linked to the kitten heel at this time is Roger Vivier, who was, conversely, more prolific with the stiletto, but in the ’50s, Mr Vivier created a more tapered and stout heel for “girls”, so that they can get used to the elevation and grow into higher shoes. In fact, in the US, kitten heels were also known as “training heels”, since they were bought for the (very) young high-heel novice who had yet able to handle the forbidding stiletto. For some, so well trained they were in kitten heels that they never truly graduated to the taller kin. Kitty, as it turns out, truly has a long, comfortable life.

Illustration: Just So

Underscored With Denim

Nike’s new Air Max Plus Tuned 1 is a jolly mix of patterns and a strip in the texture we associate with jeans

Although Nike makes shoes for sports, many of their iterations of classic styles are, in fact, destined for the fashion crowd. Case in point: the Air Max Plus Tuned 1 (part of the Tn-labeled series, “tuned for running”, available only at Foot Locker). Among all the Air Max series of running shoes, the timeless Air Max Plus often enjoys rather interesting—even surprising—uppers, frequently in mixed media and quirky colourways, even bold text. We are especially drawn to this version, simply known by their chromatic combination: multi-colour-white-university-red. They wouldn’t look out of place with a pair of White Mountaineering’s draw-string ‘Sarouel’ (or sirwal, also known as Punjabi pants) or the reconstructed denim jeans by Junya Watanabe and Levis.

In fact, the Japaneseness of the shoe is unmistakable to us, in particular the use of the plaid upper on which a camo-ish print runs over, and on top of that, the Air Max Plus’s unique skeletal-like marks. That would have been good enough for most sneakerheads, but Nike gave the shoe one more detail: a denim border (with gold top-stitching, no less, as in jeans), just above the mid-sole, underscoring the fabric above it. The plaid and denim might be somewhat country and western if they were clothes, but Nike has managed to combined the two in a way that is part old-fashioned grunge, part modernist rodeo. To break the overall monochrome, the top-most lace loops, lining of the tongue, and the arch of the mid-sole (that supports the plantar fasciitis) are in Nike’s famed ‘university red’.

Nike Air Max Plus was designed in 1998 by Sean McDowell, who said that the general idea for the design of the sneaker came about when he watched palm trees sway in the breeze as the sun set on some Florida beach. Early versions, with uppers of colour gradation, certainly had a Miami spirit about them. But, as the years went by, Air Max Plus became a lot more sophisticated. And some of the Tn iterations, created for Foot Locker, seem to come with elements evocative of clothes-making that a fashion follower would not be able to walk away from.

Nike Air Max Plus Tuned 1 multi-colour-white-university-red, SGD249, is available at Foot Locker. Photo Zhao Xiangji

The Tassel’s Moment

One 2021 trend for guys is the use of tassels. Yes, the pendant ornaments. You ready to dangle one?

One of the danglies shown at the recent pre-fall 2021 Dior show is not some Kid Cudi-esque necklace or chain. Rather, it is a tassel—the pendant ornament (we’ve never heard it referred to as accessory or jewellery) that is essentially a column of quite tightly packed strings (referred to as a ‘skirt’) topped with a fancy knot or cap. Dior’s (left), fastened to what could be a belt (or waist bag?), has the girth of Chinese ink brush and the length of a man’s forearm. This particularly thick one is gradated, as if the yellow of monks robes is dipped into a vat of purple cabbage. It is fancy, for sure, and, an IG-worthy exaggeration. They are nothing like those leather tassels sometimes affixed to the vamp of loafers. From our perspective, Dior’s seems to glean from the world of Chinese wuxia, or perhaps scholars.

For those with less progressive leaning, we are, admittedly, putting a more masculine spin here. Since the Dior tassels look Chinese (or Oriental, definitely not those on English academic caps—Oxford or Cambridge, take your pick), we’ll look at China, where Kim Jones engaged local embroiderers to create the two-thousand-year-old seed embroidery (繨子绣 or dazixiu) for the Dior collection. Whether this was to expressly cater to a Chinese market or Mr Jones expressing his love for Eastern craft and exotica, it is hard to say.

Anyway, tassels were once used ornamentally on swords (剑 or jian). Broadly speaking, the sword tassel (剑繐 or jian sui) appeared at the end of the hilt of what was known as the scholar’s sword (文剑 or wen jian), used mainly for self defence and dancing, rather than at war, or to project an elegant image—possibly the same motivation as Pharrell Williams in pearls. The tassel was less evident on the martial sword (武剑 or wu jian), which was used on the battlefield. Historically, the tassel mostly hung from the scholar’s sword. If a sword was designated for offensive use, it unlikely came with a tassel, since it would get in the way of a duel. However, the swordsman blessed with cunning might use a long, deceptively limp tassel to target his opponent’s eyes!

But the Chinese tassel did not only hang on the hilt of the sword, it dangled from the waists of men too. These were known as waist accessories (腰佩 or yaopei)—the Dior belt above certainly qualifies as one. In ancient times, both men and women wore carved jade pieces from which hung a tassel (but never as thick as the Dior version). These were known as jinbu (禁步) or ‘forbidden steps’, which, in the case of women, may make sense, since the jinbu was used to hold down the skirt (including the men’s) and possibly preventing the wearer from striding. How this eventually became a check on female deportment isn’t clear. The men did not, however, appear to need to be held back (guys today who wear extra-long canvas belts left dangling from the box buckle could be mimicking the wearing of a jinbu). Apart from the jinbu, both men and women also wore the xiangnang (香囊) or a fragrance pouch. Made of silk and embroidered, they were often attached to a tassel. The xiangnang was usually stuffed with cotton and aromatics, and were used as personal perfume, air-freshener, and even to ward off evil spirits.

A few days after the Dior show, Nike announced the release of the Air Jordan 1 for Chinese New Year 2021 (no drop date was revealed). This basketball shoe—that Dior (again?!) made massive in June—sports one of the style’s most popular colour combo: ‘university red’ (and just as hongbao bright) and black. That the upper would partly come with a brocade fabric sporting oxen is hardly surprising, but that the shoe comes with a tassel is quite unexpected. The cord, red, is fasten along the collar of the sneaker, like a choker, and the tassel, gold, hangs to the side, near the eyestay, like an earring. This tassel, unlike Dior’s is really quite small. Its short fringe body is topped with what looks like a Chinese button knot. Pendant to a necklace. A neat way of wearing an anklet without actually wearing one?

Photos: Dior and Nike respectively. Collage: Just So

They Totally Ignored Social Distancing For This Shoe

Yeezy madness strikes. Again. What pandemic?

It was a COVID-19 day. If the virus was indeed circulating in Orchard Road yesterday evening, outside the Foot Locker flagship at Orchard Gateway (the other half opposite 313@Orchard), they would have seen a delectable buffet. Such a shocking number of people (videos circulating online showed mostly kids) were crowding the entrance of the sneaker retailer that at some point, the police were called in. One SOTD reader who, was going to Uniqlo across the street, saw what he thought were personnel from the anti-riot Police Tactical Unit. Seriously? Apparently, even social distancing ambassadors could not manage the crowd. People didn’t care. Treasures and profiting were to be had inside Foot Locker. Coronaviruses, be damned.

The said covetable shoe was the Adidas Yeezy Boost 350—released for the umpteenth time. Yesterday’s launch was the V2 Core Black/Core Black/Red (first released in 2017). The Adidas website had announced weeks earlier that the sneaker would be launched yesterday, and by Thursday morning, had declared on their Facebook page that their online ballot had closed and that “winning entrants” would have been notified by e-mail. “For those who were unsuccessful,” it added, “you may stand another chance to purchase—our Pacific Plaza store will be contacting unsuccessful balloters in the case of drop outs on collection day.” And if even that couldn’t help the Yeezer lover, “…fret not. We will also be launching the Yeezy Boost 350 V2 Core Black/Core Black/ Red on adidas.com.sg come 5 December, 12pm.” Adidas didn’t think there would be this many who love the Yeezy Boost so much and want to touch a pair so desperately, they’d risk falling sick—seriously sick—to jam a store front for that chance.

Back to the old normal: The unbelievable crowd outside Foot Locker. Photo: solesuperiorsg/Instagram

But the staggering and disturbing Orchard Road turnout was not the only one. Apparently, over at Foot Locker’s Jewel outlet, close to 200 people crowded the store this morning, hoping to cop what they could not last night. A cheerful but perplexed staff told us that by eight, there was already a long queue. “We told them we don’t have the shoe,” he said helpfully. “Many left, but some still hanged around.” Why did he think people were so crazy about this pair of kicks? “I don’t know; I don’t get it. I think most who buy are re-sellers. I don’t know how they knew we had the shoe (at the Orchard store). We didn’t announce it. When we told them the shoes were sold out, they insisted we still had them.” What spell did Kanye West and Adidas cast on this unsexy sheath of sneakers?

The guy at Foot Locker Jewel continued, understandably on the side of his employer, “Actually, the people who came, they were out of control. We did our best to tell the people to social distance, but no one bothered. Actually the space (including the kerb) that they were crowding did not belong to us. The mall security didn’t help us; they let us do everything ourselves.” When we said we understood, just as we know how hard it has been for F&B outlet operators to tell people not to enter their premises in groups larger than five and not to mingle, he added, “These shoppers didn’t think about those working in the store. When we were asked to close for ten days (as instructed by the authorities this afternoon), all those people would have no work. But our company did not stop them working. The staff were shared among other stores.” Whatever, happened last night, Foot Locker alone should not have to shoulder the blame solely. However much you covet a shoe—any shoe, do not let COVID-19 win. Yeezy Boost is not a talisman.

Illustration: Just So