Two Of A Kind: Raise The Fist

One is on a canvas tote, the other is on a jersey tee. Both say the same thing: punch up for unity

 

NDP fun pack 2020Punch the air: illustrations of (left) National Day Fun Pack tote by Anisah Binte Mohamed Faisal and (right) Comme des Garçons Black

The raised, closed fist as symbol of solidarity has become popular of late due, in no small part, to the still spreading and unceasing pandemic and, at the same time, the pervasive call for social change. It is, more than ever, a symbol of unity and strength. Unsurprisingly, therefore, that more than one fist is used to represent collective motivation and passion. Even among 11-year-olds. And more than just those by a primary five kid, Anisah Binte Mohamed Faisal of Haig’s Girl School, doing her bid to contribute to the illustration on a tote that is one of the goodie bags many had initially not wanted.

The visual on the left appears on one of the reported 20 designs of the National Day Fun Packs issued last week. This one caught our attention for its un-child-like depiction of five raised fists, above them the national flag appearing to flap. This could have been the work of a much older student, or a more involved social activist. But it was not. That it reflects the mood of the moment suggests the work of an artist beyond her years, or old enough to be on the same wavelength as the illustrator who created the three fists on the T-shirt from Black Comme des Garçons (right), a CDG sub-label that celebrates the founder’s love of the colour of coal.

CDG is not associated with sharing socially-aware messages on their clothes. Sure, text has been used in their various lines, but they don’t necessarily point to troubled times. Or, the call for action. But, of late, possibly pressured by the need for wokeness, they have been active in creating capsules with clear messages that align themselves with the desire to right social wrongs. First, there was the Social Justice Charity Capsule that stood up for the Black Lives Matter movement, and then, the Fearless initiative, with proceeds that go to charities that support healthcare workers.

As for the CDG Black T-shirt, we do not know if it came first. It is possible that this went into production before the other two ideas were conceived. Still, the punch-the-air image is timely. We aren’t certain about the word ‘black’ in full caps: It could be the name of the sub-label, or it could be a nod towards the BLM movement. Whichever the case, it could be worn with less activism-linked zeal. At least in this week that leads to National Day.

As an easy-to-adopt gesture and symbol, the raised fist has been brought to sharp focus following the BLM movement that came about in response to the increasing disproportionate brutality experienced by people of colour when dealing with law-enforcement personnel. However, its history goes way back—from rejections of ancien régimes to fights against oppressors to the marches of feminist movements to even the revolutionary zeal (革命精神, geming jingshen) of Mao’s China. Perhaps as a modern symbol, it could simply be the more inclusive and embracing “stronger together”, as seen through the eyes of a primary school child. Majulah Singapura.

Photos: (left) Zhao Xiangji, (right) CDG Black

Before Yohji, There Was Another Yamamoto

Orbituary | The master of using bold kabuki graphics on his clothes, Kansai Yamamoto, has died

 

Kansai YamamotoKansai Yamamoto with signature “shout” expression. Photo: source

One of Japan’s less-known fashion exports has died. According to Japanese media this morning, Kansai Yamamoto succumbed to leukemia and passed away last Tuesday. He was 76.

After thirty years of fashion and costume design, and not doing much of the former in his later years, Mr Yamamoto was brought back to the spotlight in 2017, when he collaborated with Nicolas Ghesquière for Louis Vuitton’s 2018 cruise collection. At that time, Mr Ghesquière told Dazed that Mr Yamamoto “was the first Japanese designer to show in Paris (1975)*, so I thought it was really interesting to celebrate that and ask him to design a few things for the show.” There were no reports then that the 73-year-old was ill. His contribution to some of the LV pieces, including the accessories, brought back memories for those who remember Mr Yamamoto’s signature looks of the late ’70s and much of the ’80s, which eschewed the eras’ hippie predictability and the subsequent ‘power’ aesthetics. His work was theatrical and, at the same time, projected an attitude that we today would call street.

Although not always credited, Kansai Yamamoto influenced many designers through the decades, from Jean Paul Gaultier who, for spring/summer 2013, re-interpreted the one-shoulder, one-sleeve, one-leg knit union suit that Mr Yamamoto designed for David Bowie’s 1973 Aladdin Sane Tour to Alessandro Michele, who created similar, large graphics (including their placements) that bore uncanny resemblances to the Japanese designer’s. Much of the oversized shapes we have been seeing this past seasons, and the use of immense illustrations placed in the rear or over shoulder of the garment, as seen at Raf Simons, for instance, can be attributed to what Mr Yamamoto produced for his Paris shows in the ’80s.

Kansai Yamamoto outer

The striking yakusha-e graphic applied on contemporary geometrics, typical of Kansai Yamamoto. Photo: source

Designers were not the only ones who could not erase the indelible impressions left on them by his work. When hairdresser-to-the-stars David Gan wore and posted pieces from the Valentino X Undercover collaboration from last fall on social media, and expressed his love for them, not many of his followers were aware that his preference for strong and conspicuous graphics can be traced to the early days of Passion, when he had a near-obsession for Kansai Yamamoto, alongside his fashion designer pal Francis Cheong. That Mr Gan is, in recent years, partial to Dries Van Noten’s ‘Marilyn’ shirts and jackets, and the London label Qasimi’s oversized denim shirt with the sew-on patch of ‘Kabuki Kiss’ by the American artist Mel Odom indicates that he has never quite pulled himself away from those dramatic images that are larger than he, the wearer.

In the eighties, when Japanese fashion was the rage on our shores, what Mr Gan and Mr Cheong wore stood out because Mr Yamamoto’s designs were not predominantly black, the preferred non-colour of the Tokyo designers showing in Paris then. As one fashion writer told us, “You could spot any one of them a mile away because of their exuberant Kansai jackets.” Of the couple or so retailers at that time that carried Japanese labels, Scene One (at the Meridien Shopping Centre) gave Mr Yamamoto’s kabuki-inspired clothes considerable attention. The shop was opened by the Malaysian (former) designer, Christopher Choo, who was himself a fan of Kansai Yamamoto, as well as the equally attention-grabbing designs of Thierry Mugler and Jean Paul Gaultier, which were all stocked in his store.

Bold was often associated with what Mr Yamamoto did in his early years. But many of his followers saw more than just the upsized graphics and the dizzying colours. One major fan told SOTD, “Others will say the joie de vivre of his early ’80s Paris catwalks, or the exoticism. For me, it’s the opulence, the beading, the riot of colours, the embroidery, the use of metallics—for 3 to 4 years, it was entirely ME!” Yet, much of what is known of Mr Yamamoto’s work is his collaboration with David Bowie following his debut in London in 1971. According to the designer’s own telling, he did not know the singer then. His stylist Yasuko Hayashi, who was working for the rock star as well, had lent the singer some clothes from Mr Yamamoto’s debut London collection. He liked them enough to wear them for a performance in New York’s Radio City Hall. The rest, as convention would have us say, is history,

With Sayoko and capeThe vivid colours: (Left) Kansai Yamamoto at a 1982 fitting with his favourite model Sayoko. Photo: Kyodo/Dpa. (Right): A 1971 cape appliqued with images of kabuki characters and those of mask kites. Photo: Philadelphia Museum of Art

Despite showing in Paris from 1975 until the early ’90s, it seems Mr Yamamoto would only remain in the history of rock ‘n’ roll, rather than fashion. Or, be known as creator of costume, rather than clothes. While his work for Mr Bowie launched him to a wider international audience, his ready-to-wear shown in Paris was to be slowly overshadowed by the unusual, un-Parisian collections and shows of first, Issey Miyake and then, the two behind what was called the “Japanese invasion”, Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons. While his compatriots tapped into their cultural heritage to set themselves apart from the French, Kansai Yamamoto made it his forte. His designs that were loved drew from Japanese theatre, in particular, the kabuki. He was gleefully using images of old yakusha-e, woodblock-printing of famous actors of the day, known in the West as “actor prints”. These, he juxtaposed with delineations seen on mask kites and then employed them against modern patterns in the spirit of his favourite Momoyama period of Japanese art, which is thought to be dynamic and opulent. Fittingly, the results were electric.

Kansai Yamamoto was born in Yokohama in 1944, a year before the Americans dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. The eldest son of a tailor, he lived a good part of his formative years in a children’s home after his parents divorced. He studied civil engineering, and even English, but gave both up for dressmaking. Mr Yamamoto was largely self-taught although he did apprentice at Junko Koshino (one of three designing Koshino sisters) and Hisashi Hosono, a designer of lady-like clothes. In 1967, he was awarded the prestigious Soen prize (that launched many designers, including Kenzo Takada) at the equally reputable Bunka Fashion College. Four years later, still-swinging London beckoned, and he moved to the English capital, staging his first runway presentation there in 1971. Harpers and Queen describe it as “The Show of the Year….a spectacular coup de theatre.” He would continue to show in the city until 1975, when he debuted in Paris, possibly after hearing of the success of Mr Takada’s Jungle Jap, a store in Galerie Vivienne. Two years later, Mr Yamamoto opened his eponymous boutique. In the autumn/winter season of 1992, he presented his last collection.

It is hard to say when Kansai Yamamoto fell out of favour with the trendy set—hairdressers and fashion designers too. By the time he presented his swan song, his designs had lost their theatricality, perhaps as reaction to the preference for more practical clothes in the ’90s. The inventiveness and the playfulness of his early years seemed to have waned. In retrospect, his work in the ’70s was prelude to everything the fans liked about him. To them, his output of this period was modern in a way Issey Miyake’s designers would prove to be enduring. He didn’t go all out with the kabuki stuff; he showed mastery of cut, shape, and proportion too, which reflected the Japanese ideal of not restricting the body. Yet, for all the inventiveness he clearly offered and the subsequent influence that reached others, Kansai Yamamoto, in death, would be, as The Guardian’s headline showed, remembered as the “designer and David Bowie collaborator”.

*Kenzo Takada showed his label Jungle Jap in his small boutique in 1971 and Issey Miyake presented his first pret-a-porter collection in 1973. It appears that Mr Ghesquière was mistaken about Kansai Yamamoto Paris debut

Two Of A Kind: These Doodles

Serial imitator Philipp Plein is one daring guy to do Dior. If you want to see the real deal, go to ION Orchard and ride an escalator

 

20-06-20-21-30-05-716_decoThe escalator plastered with repeated text of Dior, at ION Orchard. Photo: Zhao Xiangji

By now, you’d have read about one designer who had the nerve to put out something clearly associated with another. Philipp Plein, a German lawyer-turned-designer was recently called out for sharing an image of typographic play on his name which bears an uncanny resemblance to what Shawn Stussy has done for Dior in the current season. For some, it isn’t enough your clothes are not original, your communication material has to be too.

The similarities (see below) are not vague. The text, in flowy/wavy hand-drawn style, placed side by side with Dior’s is as different as Brie and Camembert. Mr Stussy’s flowers are replaced with skulls (its use itself is in clichéd territory), but that differentiation is a stroke of futility. Yet, Mr Plein, a noted bling “king of crass”, to paraphrase Bloomberg, sees his neoteric version good enough to stand on its own without immediately evoking the very recent work of someone else, a noted and just-celebrated illustrator/designer, whose influence is acknowledged by Kim Jones in his pre-fall collection for Dior.

Dior vs Plein June 2020Variations on a theme: (clockwise from top left) Dior, Philipp Plein, Dior. Philipp Plein. Photos: Dior and Philipp Plein, respectively

If you need a close encounter of the original, your best bet is to go to ION Orchard and ride—or look at—the escalator on the first floor, just outside the Dior men’s store. This is striking brand communication. Although advertisements stretched across the balustrade panel of escalators are nothing new (these days, almost anywhere can be ad space), Dior did not use this part of the moving stairway. Instead, it employed the much wider skirt panel (inside which the entire system under the steps is hidden) for the textual pattern that, when seen in its entirety, is almost installation art. No selfie-serving-as-fashion-shoot required.

But for Mr Plein, there may not be the need to concern himself with art, let alone art already created by someone else. For as long as he can amplify what is already illustratively stated, he will do so, and it will be consistent with the label’s inherent crassness. Mr Plein, of course, has a different—not necessarily cognizant—sense of what is refine or sophisticated. His eponymous label, including a men’s wear line branded ‘Billionaire’, represents the excess of wealth and embraces what to many others is plain tacky. Bloomberg quoted the designer saying, “Philipp Plein is a brand that’s very polarizing—you either hate it or you love it.” Which side to take isn’t a hard decision to make.

Holding Out For A Hero

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

 

Uniqlo on FB

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

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

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

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

Photo: Uniqlo/Facebook

Lending Leaders Style

Some Malaysians dream of better-dressed leaders. One of them visualises them

Mahathir Mohamad

Is it so bad to wish that some of our ministers and their spouses are better turned out in public, especially when representing the nation overseas? We wish, for example, that those Singaporeans who go to the White House be better-attired, but this kind of flair would appear to be a tall order. And, to make matters a tad complicated, spiffiness is not considered a political asset, and no one has yet offered a solution to the tendency for eye-raising frumpishness.

Over in Malaysia, an artist has dreamed up alternative looks for the country’s newly elected leaders in what was seen as the biggest election upset last month for the ruling party in the nation’s history. Malaysian politicians are not known to be sharp dressers, but that did not deter some to dare to hope. In a series posted on Instagram called “Minhipsters”, Malaysian artist/illustrator Aizat Paharodzi dreamed of the bridging of the political/generational divide by imagining what the current political champs would look like if they adopted something contemporary, or something with street cred.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, for example, was given a makeover that befits a middle-aged man, not a nonagenarian. Mr Paharodzi (or AP, as he is also known) dressed the good doctor in a palm-print Hawaiian shirt and a pair of slim-fit trousers cropped fashionably at the ankle—a sum of hipster heft that could have come under the auspices of Malaysian label Seed. He also added a pair of red Vans, as if in disapproval of the MYR11.99 Bata slides the “humble Tun” favours that had been trending agreeably among his ardent supporters.

AP illustrations.jpgClockwise from top left: Wan Aziza, Muhyiddin Yassin, Lim Guan Eng, and Mat Sabu

Mr Pahadrodzi’s drawings are, perhaps, a little derivative, but to be fair, he had declared that his work is inspired by Israeli illustrator Amit Shimoni. Unlike Mr Shimoni’s unabashed, in-your-face kitsch, Mr Pahadrodzi has played down flashiness and exaggeration while still catering to popular taste (that Supreme T-shirt on Mat Sabu!). His delineations are approachable and comprehensible, and project a genial disposition, all rather preferred political traits. While his choice of clothes for his subjects are not in the same league as Hong Kong illustrator John Woo’s depiction of Star Wars characters in designer threads (Ja Ja Binks, for example, in Maison Martin Margiela!), they may relate to a rakyat for whom better clothes are really just those that are neat and smart, and the occasional Adidas NMD.

Although our two lands are just divided by a causeway, our neighbour in the north seems a lot more progressive and expressive politically than we are. Sure, Netizens here have been vocal about how poorly some of our political players dress, but often times they are just trolling. For those not concerned with outward appearances, well-dressed is thought unseemly. To be certain, we’re not hoping for a Christine Lagarde or a Justin Trudeau in parliament so that their clothes can be trending, but we do hope some of our leaders can hold up sartorially, just as they do intellectually.

Many of us take pride in what our ministers have done for this tiny nation. That we can play host to the Trump-Kim summit this week attests to the clout, geostrategic smarts, and organisational flair of our top brass. Yet, we seem unwilling to see a stylish political class. Wishing for better dressed politicians seems to be the most unlikely desire we can harbour for our governmental make-up, or the least condoned. But optics matter, and when the West—Americans in particular—still think Singapore is part of China or, funnily, Malaysia, perhaps the way we dress in the company of those who will mistake our provenance should be a priority, not an afterthought.

Illustrations: Aizat Paharodzi

Google Doodle Salutes Eiko Ishioka

Google Doodle 12 Jul 2017

Movie fans, especially film costume aficionados, would know Eiko Ishioka. Therefore, if you use Google Search today, you may recognise the five illustrations that appear on Google Doodles: Ms Ishioka’s costumes from 2006’s The Fall, a film so fantastical, outlandish, and unlike any out there that Roger Ebert calls it “a movie that you might want to see for no other reason than because it exists”. In fact, it is in the genre of fantasy films that Ms Ishioka made her mark.

Ms Ishioka passed away in 2012. Today would have been her 79th birthday. And Google—a salute to them—decided to honour one of film’s most creative costume designers. If The Fall is unfamiliar to you, consider Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula of 1992. It scored Ms Ishioka an Oscar for best costume. We remember quite vividly the outlandish ruff worn by the coquettish Lucy Westenra (played by Sadie Frost) and how it stood beautifully even in the midst of an exorcism.

This is not the first time Google Doodles pays tribute to fashion figures. Back in 2013, there was also homage to another film costume name: Edith Head. Last December, there was animation to celebrate the work and invention of Charles Macintosh, whose namesake outerwear is synonymous with rainwear. Since its introduction in 1998, Google Doodles has celebrated the works of giants of design such as Sir Norman Parkinson and Zaha Hadid.

Eiko IshiokaEiko Ishioka. Photo: Brigitte Lacombe

The choice of Eiko Ishioka proves that Google does not hide from less conventional fashion figures or those not immediately identifiable by the average Google user. Ms Ishioka did not share Colleen Atwood’s fame and vast body of work; she did not, in fact, have her start in films. She was trained as a graphic designer, began with Shiseido, and later made her mark in the advertising scene in Tokyo, where, for those old enough to remember, her work for the retailer Parco caught the admiration of her peers. In one of Parco’s television commercials, Ms Ishioka art-directed a chiselled-face Faye Dunaway to do nothing other than crack, peel, and eat an egg!

Her Oscar win led to other film projects. Apart from Bram Stoker’s Dracula and The Fall, there’s also Paul Schrader’s Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (her first film in 1985) and those by her partner-in-crime Tarsem Singh: The Cell, Immortal and Mirror Mirror (not just The Fall). She also designed for the stage, garnering two Tony nominations in 1988 for M Butterfly. Proving that the art director in her never left, she won, a year earlier, a Grammy for the Miles Davis album Tutu.

While her creative output was varied, including the monochrome and minimalist music video for Bjorg’s Cocoon which showed almost no clothes (a break from costume design, or, as Tarsem Singh told WWD, “Eiko had only two gears: full-out or no gear at all”?), it was her costume work for strange worlds that continue to capture the adoration of fans. These included Cirque du Soleil’s Varekai and the massive stage wear of Grace Jones’s 2009 Hurricane tour that only the singer can pull off.

Many of Ms Ishioka’s fans note that she made a success for herself in an industry dominated by men. But we think it is more remarkable that she had left such a legacy in show business that was, and still is, the domain of the West. Eiko Ishioka, you are missed.