Who Is Duan Mei Yue?

The model who was unhappy with the delineation of her by a local artist had dreams to land on the cover of Vogue Italia

Our own illustrated likeness of Duan Mei Yue, done, we admit, without her permission. This serves as illustration to this post only, and will not not be used commercially

Warning: this post contains language that some readers might find offensive

Full-time model Duan Mei Yue (段美玥) is trending, but not for a breakthrough runway show or an outstanding magazine cover we usually associate with models who receive ardent media attention. Rather, she’s been making the news for being deeply unhappy with some graphite and acrylic drawings by local artist Allison M Low called Weight of Longing that were discernibly based on a photograph posted on Instagram in February 2018. This photo, shot by professional lensman Li Wanjie, was allegedly used to create a “likeness” without Ms Duan’s expressed approval. (Just because images on social media are posted for all, does it mean they are free for all?) When she discovered that the drawings appeared as a chipped cut-out on the floor of the Love, Bonito store in Funan and, later, on the cover of author Amanda Lee Koe’s award-winning Ministry of Moral Panic, she was livid and so affected that she felt “very violated knowing that someone has profited off my likeness without my knowing or consent,” according to a post on Instagram Stories nine weeks ago. The distress, as she told it (too aggrieved to punctuate properly), wrecked her life—“how can i sleep at night”, “how do i function as per usual”, “how do i not let this affect me”.

Ms Duan’s anguish is understandable. Although she is a model, she did not model for Ms Low. Nor, was she paid by the artist as a model in abstentia. To see photos of her lopped-off face crowned by a head tie and positioned on the floor of Love, Bonito, also a community centre of sort, even under the guise of art, must have been too hard to stomach. It is not difficult to see why she was upset to be placed on that level. But, at Love, Bonito, it seemed to her that the artist was remunerated for the work that was used not only as art-prop, but also as visual for pendants and on tote bags. This could have been a revenue stream for her too, rather than just the artist’s. It isn’t known how much Love, Bonito paid Ms Low for the work (or Empigram Books, publisher of Ministry of Moral Panic), but it was reported that the artist, a Temasek Polytechnic School of Design graduate, made €1,875 (about S$3,000) from a sale of another art piece with Ms Duan’s likeness through an identified gallery. For one who professed that she has “a spending problem”, and “don’t have millions of dollars behind (her) name”, this lost income was, unsurprisingly, maddening. On IG Stories, she proclaimed “i’d be ok with this if it was done after i leave this existence but when i’m still alive and broke? no thank u”. In addition, she declared: “i have no money for a fucking lawyer”.

Interestingly, Ms Duan, who deprecatingly calls herself “just an awkward noodle” and has no problem identifying as “this dumb hoe”, loves to draw, and had often posted her amusing output on social media (on IG alone, she has, to-date, 55.1k followers) when she was still doing her A levels and not modelling full-time yet. Most of them, similar to her likeness in question, were of faces. Whether they were a figment of her imagination or based on photographs, she did not say. But they were expressed, including the self-portraits, in a sometimes quirky manner, not unlike the Arien herself. She said on IG, “im really relatable and im very honest with my vulnerability n flaws”. It is the honesty, perhaps, that led her to confess in her earliest post, that she “fucking love cats”. Ms Duan has a weakness for the F-word: “best fucking strawberry marshmallows” or “dramafest and photography camp made me so fucking happy” (just two of the many examples), but unlike, say, influencer Wendy Cheng (aka Xia Xue), who uses the four letters as cuss word, Ms Duan tends to employ them as adverb and adjective, and possibly also as indicator that she has crossed into adulthood. One expresses irritation, the other, delight.

The works of art that “violated” Duan Mei Yue: (clockwise from left) cover of book by Amanda Lee Koe, the drawing by Allison M Low, and the chipped piece on the floor of Love, Bonito (also by Ms Low). Photos: Epigram Books, Retrospect Galleries, and Allison M Low/Instagram respectively

She is candid and tells it like it is, which for her followers, is her charm and her pull. Accompanying a photo she posted in November 2017 to be used as a profile picture, Ms Duan wrote, with, again, scant regard to punctuation—and, now, propriety, “i’ll let you guys in on a secret; i photoshopped my armpits bc it’s so wrinkly it looks like a vagina”. Her “vagpit” reference prompted 1,862 likes and 54 comments, of which 24 were variations of “the most beautiful”, with one, calling her “仙女本人” (xian nu ben ren or the fairy herself). Her fans rave about her looks, but she is not considered conventional beauty, a point Ms Duan acknowledges. In 2019, she told the Shanghai media, “我从外貌来看就很少归类为传统模特” (wo cong wai mao lai kan jiu hen shao gui lei wei chuan tong mo te or “from my appearance, I am rarely classified as a traditional model”). But this non-traditional look is possibly why the casting agents in the West have been interested in her—she fits the Western perception of eastern beauty and exotica.

On her face, she has what the Chinese would call “丹凤眼” (dan feng yan or red phoenix eyes, referring to almond-shaped peepers with outer corners inclined upwards). Her eyes are set rather apart, creating a wide glabella that make-up artists don’t necessarily know what to do with. “You can’t shade that area,” one seasoned pro told us. “She also has a lot of space between the upper eyelid and the brow, which may require a lot of colour”. In a commentary on China’s Sohu (搜狐), Ms Duan was described to have “塌鼻梁圆鼻头” (ta bi liang yuan bi tou or collapsed bridge, round nose), which the writer acknowledged to be “颠覆了国际超模的直挺范儿” (dian fu le guo ji chao mo de zhi ting fan er or subverting the straightforward styles of international supermodels). And those full lips, not seen since Ethel Fong. In sum, her facial features may post a challenge to her creative partners, but most fashion stylists generally say she is fun to work with, as “she has character”. There’s a campy side to her too. In one IG post, she lip-synced delightfully to Olivia Newton-John’s Hopelessly Devoted to You!

Duan Mei Yue, now 22, started modelling full-time in 2017 after completing her A-Levels (if modelling didn’t work out, she would have considered psychology in university), but had earlier already wanted to be a model after discounting the possibility of being a fashion designer. She told Female magazine in 2018 that “K-pop and anime were part of my motivation to become a model. I saw how the K-pop idols I obsessed over at that time walked Seoul Fashion Week and they were invited to various fashion shows during the fashion week circuit in Europe and New York so I thought maybe I should become a model to meet them lol”. And ultimately, to be on the cover of Vogue Italia. She also told Cleo in 2019, “I started when I realised that I needed to express my love for aesthetics and fashion”. She has, so far, walked the runways of Shanghai, Seoul, Tokyo, New York, and Paris, but was conspicuously absent at the biggest fashion show of the year on our island: last week’s Louis Vuitton presentation, when the “bigger” star at the moment, Yong Kai Gin, had her SG moment in the klieg lights—and the rain.

Ms Duan gives the impression that there were many artists, professionals or amateurs, who desired to draw her face. On IG Stories, she wrote, “every other artists (sic) has either properly compensated me or has agreed to stop the selling and apologised sincerely”. Perhaps, it is true: Her unusual features are more interesting to artists than standard symmetry or placid perfection. That Allison M Low, herself considered a “looker”, chose that fated picture, one that would have been a weak shot for casting agents, is telling of the appeal of Ms Duan’s off-kilter looks. In her response to the controversy, Ms Low told The Sunday Times that “the artworks… were about the strength and grace in women…” but while there seems to be tremendous strength on both sides (and among their respective supporters), there has not been a palpable sense of grace, as the war wages online. As one marketing manager said to us, “Duan Mei Yue has grown-up. The modelling around the world has opened her eyes.” When that photo was shared on the model’s IG page on 18 Feb 2018, this was her comment (and we’re quoting verbatim): “grey eyes from @ttd_eye queen grey go spend some of dat angpao moneys and get yoself some cool grey eyes with a cool discount by using my code “dmeiyue” ✨ portrait by @uuanjie as usual hehe makeup done by moi :*” That girl is no more.

Illustration and collage: Just So

Tantrum On Full Display

Malaysian celebrity/influencer Cathryn Li made a sudden, heated departure during a Facebook Live session when she felt she was attacked by Netizens. Is storming out becoming a social trend?

First there was Piers Morgan, just a day ago. Mr Morgan, co-host of ITV’s Good Morning Britain show, was criticised by others on the broadcast he has been synonymous with, for his caustic comments on Meghan Markle’s allegations—during the recent Oprah Winfrey interview—that he thought to be spurious. He didn’t like what his colleague said (or was unable to fire back), so he upped and left. Now, closer to home, is Malaysian influencer/classical pianist/actress Cathryn Li’s (李元玲) departing in a huff (above), right in the middle of a Facebook Live session. She had been asked to play the piano and to jam along with the hosts. Those who tuned in didn’t think she played well and said so. She was not able to stomach the comments and got up and stomped off; her anger palpable and audible throughout her extended departure, leaving no doubt that she was truly offended.

Ms Li, who describes herself as “an ordinary girl” but is no stranger to controversy, had appeared as a special guest on the two-hour-forty-minute (Ms Markle’s interview was, a measly two hours!) live recording of the sixth episode of 正面交锋 (zhengmian jiaofeng) or FaceTalk, hosted by music producer and founder of Butterfly Entertainment, Andy Chan, and his music pals Fandi Foo and Zax Lee. FaceTalk is dubbed as “all about life’s bullshit and tell it out (sic)”. Broadcast in (Malaysian) Cantonese, it is essentially a web chat show with music thrown in, as the hosts sing and play their favourite songs. It seemed that Ms Li was not informed, prior to her appearance, that she would be asked to perform on the keyboard or to sing. She did say that she would need practice. Still, she was game enough to play when asked a second time. Things took a turn for the unpleasant when she opted out of playing to be audience and started paying attention to her phone (an insolent prelude to the impending fit?) and to the comments of her posted online. Some viewers clearly were not impressed by Ms Li’s performance of pop music and unsympathetically expressed their disappointment. She was seen deeply affected.

For her web appearance, Cathryn Li wore a seen-before-in-IG, dusty-pink, laced, half-half number—dress in the front and romper in the back—that left her ample assets little to the imagination. The ruffled armhole appeared to be way too large for her: throughout much of her appearance on the show, she was seen adjusting the straps, even when in a state of mounting annoyance. Although it could be the ruffles irritating her skin, it did appear that she was pulling her straps up and backwards, so that the bust of the dress would not slip south. Ms Li is, of course, known for her preference of skimpy clothing. Her Instagram photos, which include one of her as Wonder Woman(!), could be seen as material for men’s onanistic delight. There’s a ditziness to her persona, affirmed by inane messages, such as “星星在天上,你在我心里” (“the stars are in the sky, you are in my heart”). What Ms Li, who believes that size “M = Fat” and “anything above M is as sinful as obesity”, wore on FaceTalk was consistent with her taste, if seen through just IG alone (presently, 1.9 million followers). At some point during the show, the microphone (on a stand) was repositioned so that Ms Li was not speaking too closely to it, but in the new spot, the mic cast a strangely phallic shadow on her cleavage, playing up the fantasy of her as the lubricious “Piano Goddess” (钢琴女神).

The show—admittedly an over-long interview that was, at best, inane) started well enough. Ms Li was cutely amicable. She even said, to the amusement of viewers, that she wants to be the “first female Asian weightlifter” who models rather than compete. Her “goal”, in doing so, is to “inspire women to take up weightlifting as a sport, and not to consider themselves as weaklings, who need protection, who leave the heavy-lifting to men.” That galvanising of strength soon whittled when she showed that she was not strong enough to take on her critics or haters. “Everyone is scolding me,” she yell-lamented in her choppy Cantonese. “I didn’t come here to be scolded,” her voice close to choking with tears. “I didn’t know I have to play the piano,” she insisted. “You guys didn’t tell me to prepare.” Throughout her outburst, she kept repeating, in English, that she’s “just a classical pianist”, and, emphatically, “not a keyboardist.” That distinction is important. Ms Li has a masters degree in piano from the Birmingham Conservatory of Music. It is said that she took further professional guidance from Li Yundi in summer residencies of sort. It was also reported that Ms Li was discovered by Fan Bingbing’s (范冰冰) assistant, which led her to roles in some (forgettable) Hong Kong movies.

After she marched off the performance area of FaceTalk, Ms Li returned to confront the three hosts in a hissy fit. The men had repeatedly placated her by saying that there were also many viewers who had praised her twinkling of the keys. They went as far as to say that, in fact, they played poorly, and could not catch up with her. But Ms Li would not have any of that. She had to blame someone for the criticisms levelled at her and the visible rage that followed. The three guys were now as culpable as anyone else. She asserted, “If you guys didn’t sing, there won’t be any problems.” By now, she was allowing her short hybrid outfit to be in full, front-centre view. Ms Li was dressed for an occasion, if not for a web performance. But rage has cut off her awareness of self and dress. As she clamoured confrontationally, with her arms flailing, a perceptible side boob became the veritable side show.

Storming off during an interview that is being recorded is, of course, nothing new or terribly shocking. Hollywood actors have done it, pop and rock stars have done it, even presidents have done it. Now, journalists do it to other journalists. It seems that, in our increasingly fracturable society, there are those who become so emotionally fragile that they, even as guest, would abruptly and angrily walking out of a video recording as the only way to express their anger at situations and reactions that can’t be controlled during a live, one-take session or streaming. However acceptable the behaviour, it’s hard to see it as becoming. Cathryn Li, despite her ‘classical’ training in music and ballet, and a weakness for the delicacy of lace, let herself go to cavort with the terrible twins, temper and tantrum. And very quickly forsaken grace for disgrace.

Screen grabs:  正面交鋒 FaceTalk/Facebook

Gosh, Kosh!

Dee Kosh, the YouTuber-turned-radio-DJ, is now battling some very serious allegations. The “fried chicken connoisseur”, who switches between wearing a dress and hoodie with incredible ease, “stand(s) before you” to refute accusations of inappropriate chats with and proposals to boys deemed too young to engage in social media filth

 

20-08-17-22-52-04-603_decoDee Kosh’s alter ego, the headscarf-wearing Ria Warna. Screen grab:  SIAxRIA show/YouTube

This evening, he posted a seven-page explanation/defence on Instagram (24 paragraphs on Facebook) that was accompanied by a short comment: “I’m sorry.” As it turned out, Dee Kosh, 32, was sorry for being outed for “sexually harassing” under-aged boys. The allegations, made via social media, as most tend to be these days, have now budged the arms of the law. According to Today, the police are investigating after “several reports (four, as of now) alleging sexual harassment of teenage boys were filed against him.” All the victims are apparently under 18 years of age.

Dee Kosh’s ostensible apology came after initially denying any wrongdoing. Two days ago, one kiddie-looking Instagrammer, who goes by the handle _epaul, posted a since-deleted exposé, claiming that the YouTube star had made indecent propositions to him, even “kept asking for sexual favours”. Despite being flatly rejected, the proponent would not give up, even resorting to “an alternate Instagram account” to convince the teenager to give in. A day after the incriminating post, _epaul was sent a cease and desist letter by the law firm of DC Law LLC, purportedly acting on behalf of Dee Kosh. That letter was shared on _epaul’s IG account and, hitherto, remains there although reports have emerged that the lawyer has “withdrawn” from representing Dee Kosh.

That single post opened the proverbial can of worms, and more allegations with details followed. Shortly, Dee Kosh posted on IG Stories an announcement: “Im (sic) aware of the allegations against me(.) Will be taking the necessary steps to clear this all up. I’m denying all allegations made by the people who have said what they’ve said(.)” Denial, as is often the case in resent charges of inappropriate, sexually-loaded behaviours (such as those alleged against Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey), is the first step to a dramatic downfall. Swiftly, the radio station that hired the controversial YouTuber released a statement today: “POWER 98 does not tolerate any form of harassment. Dee Kosh is currently on leave.”

20-08-17-23-11-09-209_decoSans costume, Dee Kosh, the unlikely YouTube star. Photo: deekosh/Instagram

Although known as Dee Kosh, his name on his I/C is Darryl Ian Koshy, He was born in the Philippines (thought to be in Cebu City) to an Indian father and a Chinese mother (both their nationalities then are unknown). Despite his “Chindian” ethnicity, Mr Koshy (as he shall be known from this part of the post on) stated on Facebook that he’s “Malay by (sic) heart”. He certainly looks like he’s from the peninsular to our north, allowing him to gleefully refer to his “Malay roots”, cleverly blurring any clarity of his racial mix, and allowing him to freely create racial stereotypes and to take pot shots at those he deems worthy. That he speaks Tagalog, although the provenance of his family name can be traced to Kerela, enhanced his “regional” appeal.

Also a “content creator”, “CEO bitch” of his own persona, friend of Xia Xue, and, as claimed on Twitter, to be “in a loving long term (sic) relationship with Fried Chicken (proper noun? Could this be a person?)”, Mr Koshy found fame and following as a YouTuber (where he began posting in 2011) and is followed for his brashness, no-filter talk, senseless humour, kurang ajar antics, sexual references, and a propensity to laugh out loud, including at his own perceived cleverness. He is part of a “top” YouTube clique that includes Tan Jianhao and the “content hub” Night Owl Cinematics. His fame climbed when his negative comments on the K-pop boy band BTS generated furious fan-backlash. There was even a petition on change.org to “restrict Dee Kosh and his associations from being allowed to engage with BTS in Singapore”. Mr Koshy eventually called the fiasco a “social experiment”. Netizens are now wondering if his interfacing with minors are, similarly, for experimental purposes.

As an entertainment package, Mr Koshy’s get-up and facial gymnastics bring to mind the just-as-loud celebrity-makeup-artist-turned-private-dining-cook Tinoq Russell Goh (aka Pasir Panjang Boy, who has moved to Hong Kong last month to “open a restaurant”), and his humour and loquaciousness a pinch of Jojo Joget (aka Suhaimi Yusof, The Noose alum), all with the decibels cranked up. Of late, he is known for his reactions to TikTok videos that are considered “cringe-y”, which encouraged him to be as inane, slapstick, strident, and unfunny as the targets of his judgment. As one social media observer said, “It really takes a cringe-inducing to appreciate the cringe-notable.” Truth is, Mr Koshy was already TikTok-worthy before there was TikTok.

20-08-18-10-12-50-972_decoDee Kosh’s PR shots for his podcast tea with Dee. Photo: Marc Lim/Tea with Dee/Instagram

A social media success trait is brashness, enhanced by garish and flashy clothes—crass over class. As part of his loudness (a fact even his mother won’t negate, as seen in the first YouTube video featuring her), Mr Koshy creates online characters that borders on camp, but without the clever artifice (or kitsch) that comes with effective campiness. His is all unthinking, prattling pondan power, with no consideration for entries into the ledger of grace (that his Ria Warna hasn’t yet upset Malay women is surprising), only the tacky clothes (prints and patterns are major) and the eye makeup, here and there, that one fan called “flawless”. Now, it is more than bedak, it involves budak-budak.

Those who follow the increasing uproar over social-media misbehaviours, point out that what Mr Koshy is alleged to have committed is an ironic turn of events. In January 2018, Mr Koshy released a damning 20-plus-minute video post, “Eden Ang Whats (sic) Up?!”, that revealed scandalous details—which he repeatedly and emphatically called “facts”—regarding the fellow, highly popular YouTuber, who was accused of sexually harassing an 18-year-old employee, to which he denied, as Mr Koshy did to his own charges of wrongdoing. The radio DJ professed to “know how it feels to feel powerless in a situation”. He even dramatically added—as if holding back tears, “When I was young, I was abused, and I know what it feels to be taken advantage of.”

Despite this knowledge, Mr Koshy did not hesitate to say what he said to those boys. On Eden Ang’s alleged victim, Mr Koshy said, “She is an impressionable 18-year-old girl, especially when it comes to famous people. You guys look up to these people. When you meet them, you’re enamoured by their fame.” Was he not in the same situation when he, a famous person, meets the “enamoured”, in his case, minors? The thing about allegations of sexually inappropriate behaviours in the age of social media is that when one surfaces, more would emerge. It is not easy to follow Mr Koshy’s claim that he is innocent or that the allegations are “baseless and untrue”, even when he concedes that “some screenshots circulating of me texting with a 15-year-old I now accept is problematic.” Never mind if it all seemed sleazy. His denial of misdeeds becomes less convincing when one views the trailer posted on Facebook on 14th May for his podcast Tea with Dee. It ended with Darryl Ian Koshy saying—diabolical glint in his eye unmistakable—“Gather round, children, we’re about to begin.”

Elaine Heng Has A Fashion Label

The popular blogger tries her hand at retailing. Looks like there is no decline in the demand for more clothes of garden variety designs

Ilo P1

Influencer Elaine Heng, 27, is a proud owner of a fashion brand. It’s called Ilo the Label—yes, as in Ilo Ilo, title of the award-winning film and, if spelled as one word, a seaport of central Philippines. But the brand prefers the Finnish meaning—joy. Or, according to them, “sunshine”. It isn’t clear why it is necessary for her brand to be identified as “the Label”. We can only surmise that it is a trendy naming convention, such as at Collate the Label and Ying the Label. Ms Heng, who now posts on Instagram under the name Elaine Rui Min (瑞敏), and considers herself an “entrepreneur” occupationally, launched her fashion label online in mid-March, eight days before the Multi-Ministry Task Force announced stricter measures to combat the spread of COVID-19 that would lead to the Circuit Breaker measures about two weeks later.

Despite the charges of professional shortcomings and the iffy video defence she posted on IG Stories in 2018, Ms Heng has not suffered any blow, nor has she been impeded from furthering her career as an influencer. She has been able to happily align herself with retail names such as the Japanese eyewear brand Owndays, lingerie label La Senza, and beauty brands Olay and Sum37. She continues to act as merchandise promoter on Instagram, which radiantly exhibits her (now-married) life with enviable felicity. Marketability dictates that she is dressed her best, in clothes that her audience can relate to: pretty. Elaine Heng, who graduated at NUS in communication and media studies, is the girl-next-door you envy, knowing you can never dress to look like her. When Malaysian singer Ah Niu sang in 1998, 对面的女孩看过来 (Girl Opposite, Look Over Here), he probably had someone like her in mind.

Ms Heng is aware that her girlish style has bankable following and, hence, business potential. Two years in the making, as the brand declared on IG, Ilo the Label appears to be conceived to mirror her wardrobe or what she tends to wear to earn her income on IG. If a girl, among the countless, desires to start a fashion brand, especially online, this would be it. No design value required, nor point of view. Just straight-on pretty, vanilla pretty. Ms Heng calls it “my joy”, which is consistent with the brand platitude that quotes Australian poet Gemma Troy, “Whatever that makes you feel the sun from inside out, chase that.”

Ilo P2Influencer Melissa Jane Ferosha in Ilo the Label. Photo: Instagram

To be sure, Ms Heng is not a fashionista in the mold of Yoyo Cao, Willabelle Ong, and Andrea Chong. But, she is considered a “fashion blogger” It is, in fact, her ordinariness that those who seek the same find captivating, not a bold, statement-making style that would score her a best-dressed nomination at any of the annual society balls. From her beginning as a blogger, she has not shed her pronounced girlishness, her xiaoyuan zhihua (校园之花 or schoolyard beauty) posturing, her marketable cheerfulness. The prettiness is projected to be palatable and is tempered with a healthy dose of sexiness. She moves between the two comfortably and are just as willing to pose in a sundress as negligee. She has co-ed appeal; she is both women’s envy and men’s fantasy, effective as a go-to for what to wear for a date on Saturday night and what to see when, for the guys, that evening turns lonely.

As a fashion entrepreneur, Ms Heng typifies many who dream of their own fashion label. Or, (re-)creating whatever they already buy and wear. They are not in the business to fill the proverbial gap in the market; they are merely adding to the surfeit of similitude. Bloggers-turn-fashion-designers of her ilk are nothing new. The clothes are casual, cheery, and common. How does Ilo the Label then stand out? It doesn’t. Perhaps, that’s not the aim. As with many other labels these days, the five-month-old brand is “beyond just creating pretty clothes,” according to their own description, even if they don’t step out of the comfort, over-shared zone. They “hope to create a community that sparks fun, laughter and joy, thereby lifting the spirits of anyone that is part of it.”

Ms Heng’s clothes consciously project this joie de vivre, just as her IG posts present her as a particularly ebullient person. Ilo the Label does this by featuring hand-painted house prints, featuring dainty flowers that could be as comfortable on tea towels or bed sheets, or bath mats. One Orchard Store would come a-calling. According to her designers, “Our founder, Elaine, is all about prints and the first thing she told our team when we first gathered was ‘Ilo is going to be a brand of happy prints.’” The exultation of spirit through blooms is typically Gemma Troy: “I’m the type of person that falls in love with flowers…” And Elaine Heng too. In an IG post back in 2017, she wrote of an unremarkable WheresCinderella floral dress, “Somehow, I always find myself drawn to wearing florals because they make me happy.”

Ilo P3The startling sameness of Ilo the Label

This selling of positivity rather than design is also the modus operandi of brands that she promotes, such as All Would Envy, Lovet, WheresCinderella, and possibly her absolute fave, Thestagewalk—all labels for women who want to look pretty in the manner that is not intimidating—roses among roses, rather than to stand out dauntlessly—thorns among roses. It is hard to differentiate between these brands since all embrace the conventional than the unconventional, the straightforward rather than the complex, the winsome rather than wondrous. It is through Ms Heng’s fashion choices that one could learn of the many like-minded brand owners who have shared aesthetical preferences, and are happily part of a group of relatively quiet online businesses that trade in pretty dresses Ms Heng and her followers view with eye-watering delight.

You need not click on Ilo the Label’s generic-looking website to imagine there would be maxi-sundresses, spaghetti-strapped shifts, rompers, off-shoulder tops and more maxi-dresses, spaghetti-strapped shifts, rompers, off-shoulder tops. Most are made of 100% “quality polyester”, the brand emphasises, like those who underscore “luxury denim”. The prints—ditsy florals digitally rendered on those polyesters—comprise mostly small blooms with positive vibes, such as honeysuckle that “inspire love and passion”, all painted in a style that an art teacher might say lovely, but a gallerist would not. The sum are clothes that could easily be found on Lazada or Shopee, or in any mall across our island.

And therein lies the limitation of the brand. Ilo the label veers to the side of bland and sits on the centre of commonplace, inspiring the reaction, “another one of those”. They are as differentiable as the countless clothiers that started to pop up in malls prior to the pandemic: The Closet Lover, Fayth, Playdress, Yacht 21, et al. Many of them, like Ilo the Label, tout creating their own prints, which, for most brands, is an easy way to generate pieces that stand apart even if the silhouettes are similar, if not the same. This is an approach even stall owners of Bangkok’s Chatuchak weekend market adopt. It isn’t certain if Elaine Heng has learnt her métier as a fashion professional. However, given her present standing as a successful blogger and sunny stalwart, she can sell anything. Sunshine, too.

Photos: Ilo the Label

Fashion’s Powerful Duo

Are these related family names the most formidable in the industry? Bear witness to the influence of the two Ks

 

J & W

Kanye West has caused the stocks of Gap Inc to slide. Improbable, but it has happened. And he has not even officially joined the company. We assume that to be so since Mr West has threatened to take off from the deal. Trying to proof that he can be a president at a campaign rally in Charleston, South Carolina, he said, “risk or no risk of losing whatever deal possible, I am not on the board at Adidas. I am not on the board at Gap. And that has to change today or I walk away,” Can he do that? Still, that was deemed such a serious threat that Gap’s stocks fell, according to Forbes, by 6% on Monday.

This news is a little familiar to us. Back in February, 2018, Mr West’s sister-in-law, the former billionaire Kylie Jenner similarly caused another company’s shares to drop. In a Twitter post that responded to Snapchat’s update, Ms Jenner wrote, “sooo does anyone else not open Snapchat anymore? Or is it just me… ugh this is so sad.” It didn’t take long for the social media company’s stock to tumble. As Reuters reported, Snapchat’s suffered a US$1.5 billion loss in market value. Things apparently did not improve for Snapchat a year later. According to Markets Insider, “shares have never really recovered.”

When it was revealed that Kanye West will collaborate with Gap to create a sub-brand called Yeezy Gap, Gap Inc’s stocks soared by as much as 42%! The surge is understandable since Mr West’s Yeezy brand is valued at US$1.3 billion, according to Forbes. Gap must have thought that the rapper is a walking money-printing machine. Then came the no-longer-a-shocker: Mr West will run for his nation’s top job. And people began wondering if Gap was embroiled in a bad 10-year deal. Would Kanye West have time to design clothing? And, as we wondered, what kind of designing president would he make?

That Mr West’s words and possible moves are so influential boggles the mind. When it was announced that Raf Simons will join Prada, there was no news about a shock-spike in Prada’s stock. And Mr Simons is a lauded designer with haute couture credentials. How did we get to this point in the evolution of fashion, when celebrities with debatable talents could send the stocks of established companies (in the case of Gap, they are eight years older than Mr West) tumbling? Or, has fan adulation inadvertently handed over the reigns of power to celebrities who sit on the throne called social media?

Illustration: Just So

Quietly Is Not The Way To Work

For a rather long while, editors of fashion magazines are not expected to toil silently, unseen behind the scenes. They are now mostly adopting the modus operandi of influencers, and, for some, acquiring the following that befits opinion leaders who are considered key

 

musingmutleyMusingmutley’s last post, dated 30 March, showing Norman Tan in sea-side holiday splendour. Photo: musingmutley/Instagram

The recent controversial posts of Vogue Singapore’s editor-in-chief Norman Tan has trained the spotlight on high-profile editors and their glamourous digital presence. Mr Tan, who also identifies as Musingmutley, assembles a carefully curated Insta-self-promotion as a peek into his enchanting material life and world travels rather than enervating editorial work that others might consider hard. His braggy photographs show a world that many people might find aspirational: in the latest fashion, keenly styled, in locations that, minus the subject, could be sold as postcards at hotel lobby gift shops. In that respect, Mr Tan has perched himself alongside the countless influencers followed by those with a predilection for composed and enhanced fabulousness.

Three of those four photos, featuring him and his staff, of which two showed off their recent booty of Apple gifts on IG Stories, were talking points among members of the press corp last week, leading to a report in The New Paper today. Despite the unfavourable optics, some thought the posts—already deleted—were a shrewd move as it concurrently raised the visibility of the yet-to-publish Vogue SG. However, it isn’t certain if Mr Tan could capitalise on his 14,900 followers to draw readers to Vogue SG (or had, before this, to Esquire SG), but he has used social media well to augment his style cred and to appeal to those who reads by looking at tiles of people and their adventures. An ardent Instagrammer since December 2011 (his first post was a photo of lavender fields), with 2,211 posts to date, he has been able to highlight his editorial hand as well as his love for djellabas and hats, many hats—trilbies, fedoras, Pananamas, and boaters.

Like many influencers, Mr Tan is not opposed to posting videos of himself shirtless. One recently circulating—captioned “What did you learn? Tropical sun is no joke”—showed him, bare-chested, in what could be a shower room, saying to viewers, “Guys, look at how burnt I am. I went for a run during lunch, and now I am a freakin’ lobster.” Those who know him say that he is proud of his toned body, enough, in fact, to write a fitness article for sibling publication Buro, titled “How to look good naked and other fitness goals”, and set himself up as model for the photo-illustration. This is admirable multi-hyphenate flair that many influencer adore, but few are blessed with. Yet, some do wonder: among the 27 Vogue EICs throughout the world, including Anna Wintour, how many would go topless before a smartphone camera?

kennieboyKennieboy’s last travel photo, dated 30 March, showing Kenneth Goh in sea-side holiday splendour. Photo: kennieboy/Instagram

Norman Tan is considered one of Singapore’s most social-media active magazine editors with compelling content on IG. The other is Kenneth Goh (aka Kennieboy), EIC of Harper’s Bazaar SG. Like his counterpart at Vogue SG, Mr Goh is known for what he has on his head. In his case, a mop of hair that is frequently styled like an inverted bowl. In one video that was posted last January, shortly before Chinese New Year, Mr Goh took his mother to Goh Lai Chan’s boutique in Paragon Shopping Centre to shop. Mother and son have uncannily identical hairstyles. It is not unreasonable to assume that Mr Goh puts tremendous effort into how he looks in the 1,848 posts he has put out so far; his extraordinary fashion matched only by his intense chumminess.

He has taken to IG Live and video posts like the proverbial fish to water. In almost all his interviews (including and especially those on his Bazaar TV show Café a la Mode), he approaches his subjects, from Asia’s Next Top Model judge/photographer Yu Tsai (who is, technically, Mr Goh’s colleague since both were on ANTM) to Nga Nguyen (one of the first two Vietnamese socialite-sisters to have contracted COVID-19 from Europe and brought it back home), with palpable pleasure, so heightened the I’m-so-happy-to-see-yous, and so energetic the exchanges that transpired, the high degree of enjoyment might just seep through your Samsung Galaxy screen.

Unlike Norman Tan, Kenneth Goh does not seem partial to posting Edwin Hung-style topless photos of himself. But both do have a weakness for travel shots, with many depicting impossibly beautiful backdrops. Mr Goh even has a hashtag #kennieboytravels to enchant his 33,700 followers. What stands out is their compositional similarity. In front of a body of water with an infinity edge, for example. If the subjects are swopped, we’d be none the wiser as to who was where, when. In fact, if we transpose their bodies with any other KOL pix, the photos would be a droplet in the azure sea of influencer brilliance.

Yilianng and Noelle LohHer World’s Ng Yi Lian (left) and Female’s Noelle Loh (right). Photos: Yilianng/Instagram and Noelle.loh/Instagram respectively

In contrast, women EICs’ social-media entries tend to be less about self, even when they do not use handles other than their actual names. The Instagram pages of the EICs of Singapore’ top two women’s magazine Her World and Female, Ng Yi Lian and Noelle Loh respectively, tend to mostly tout the content of the publications they edit. There are, of course, photos of them out and about, but these infrequently punctuate (certainly the case with Ms Loh) the plethora of work-related travels, poses with designers, fashion shoots, their magazine covers and pages, and the odd stand on social activism. No mother of either is featured. Ms Ng, who’s also behind Yi Lian Ng Floral Atelier, appears to be the least of a clotheshorse among those reviewed for this post, perhaps reflecting Her World’s style-for-working women stance and selling point. Ms Loh, even with a spunky style that’s photogenic, infrequently relies on her clothes to make her IG pages quiver with modishness, yet, standing next to Kim Jones in river sandals in one photo, one senses that she transmits more fashion vibe than her IG tiles let on.

Among the most followable of the female EICs is Pin (品) magazine’s Grace Lee. Served a stay home notice in early March after returning from Milan and Paris fashion weeks, she spent part of her days in quarantine by blogging about it with considerable wit and humour, as well as posting photos of herself adopting fashion that was sometimes xiao-yuan (校园 or school yard) prim, sometimes housewife proud. Ms Lee appears rather frequently (at least for a Singaporean editor) on street style blogs since her previous tenure—also as EIC—at Nuyou (女友). Her IG posts comprise obligatory work- and fashion-related photos, as well as those of herself unbashfully goofing around or seriously checking proofs in the office, but they belie, according to friends, her not much known discomfort with the need to be so social-media-active.

Grace LeeEIC of Pin Grace Lee working from home. Photo: jiajinggrace/Instagram

It isn’t certain if these days an EIC’s personal social media account is part of the requirements related to their appointment and frequent updates showing a splendid life part of the job scope. If not, is an EIC obligated to maintain an active social media account? Is there pressure to post? Although there could be potential for conflict of interest, it seems many publishers now consider social-media savvy as skill that can go hand-in-hand with editorial finesse, both in glorious balance. If magazine readerships are less able to attract readers, as we’re repeatedly told, are editors now required to engage readers through their social media posts? According to a 2019 report by American creative agency We Are Social (with offices worldwide, including Singapore), “45% of the world’s population are now social media users: a whopping 3.5 billion people”. It also found that “86% of Singaporeans (are) now online, 76% active on social media and mobile subscriptions – amongst the world’s highest”. It is understandable why editors need to use their social media pages, in influencer fashion, to reach other social media users.

But how influential are our EICs? What they put on their magazine pages may be read as fact (admittedly increasingly redefined), but what they have on social media are not necessarily a reflection of reality. Are their posts then merely feeding social media users’ voyeuristic bent? Virtual images and real-world selves are, of course, not one and the same, and oftentimes, there is a lag between them. It isn’t known how many of the EICs’ followers prefer magazine content or social media posts. Norman Tan and Kenneth Goh have reached “micro influencer” status (thought to be between 10,000 and 200, 000 followers, which pales to the 179 million of billionaire-no-more Kylie Jenner’s IG page). With 33,700 followers, Mr Goh is currently at the top. The three women fall outside this marketable circle. Among the women, Ng Yi Lian has the highest number, with 9,783 followers, followed by Grace Lee with 2,085, and Noelle Loh with 1,975. But perhaps, as Mr Tan has shown, following is only one part of reach. Individually or collectively, do they have sufficient pull? Are hashtags more alluring than headlines?

Looking at that post again, an irony begins to appear. Back in 2016, four Vogue editors—Sally Singer, Sarah Mower, Nicole Phelps, and Alessandra Codinha—wrote a not-well received criticism of fashion bloggers, then beginning to appear in visible numbers at fashion shows and events, so much so that some members of the press consider them “irritating”. In their censure, the women did not mince words: “Note to bloggers who change head-to-toe, paid-to-wear outfits every hour: Please stop. Find another business. You are heralding the death of style.” Four years later, it’s difficult to tell the difference between editors and bloggers/influencers. That death hasn’t struck.

Note: all IG numbers quoted reflect what are indicated on 8 June 2020, 08:30

A Temperate Response

But is it apology or justification?

 

musingmutley replies

A few hours ago, a welcome admission to a “lapse in judgment” was posted on the IG page of musingmutley, aka Norman Tan, editor-in-chief of the soon-to-launch Vogue Singapore. SOTD understands from feedback that Mr Tan’s incautious sharing of photographs of Vogue SG staff at work without, it appears, observing social distancing has been “going the rounds”. It is not certain if Mr Tan had his ears to the subsequent ringing chatter, but the promptness of his response suggests he must have at least read Kien Lee’s Facebook post* and wanted to set the record straight.

However, some who have read the five-page message on his Instagram Stories thought that, while perspicuous, it does not sound like an apology. Titled “Social Distancing”, it explains what happened on the day Mr Tan and his staff were in their office: “It was such a joy to see the members of the team in person after months of only seeing them through a screen.” But he gave his word that they kept within what the authorities had set out. “We adopted and implemented the safeguards stipulated by the government,” he wrote reassuringly.

One writer with a local magazine, who is still working from home, told us, “but this wasn’t what we saw. What we did see in those photographs were a group of people gathering without the 1-metre distancing.” Another, who has also stuck to WFH, said, “as members of the media, we should know the importance and consequence of optics. What’s seen cannot be unseen.” Most of us understand that offices can re-open. However, telecommuting is recommended as the main mode of work. Many members of the media, as far as we are aware, are still editing, writing, and designing from home. Some said it’s unfair that there are magazine staff working full-strength in the office while most, if not all, are doing so at home. One editor we spoke to was emphatic, “If you can work from home, you should.”

This seems to suggest that he is apologetic for the reactions to his photographic posts, not his own actions

 

It has been noted that Mr Tan wrote in the third page, “I recognise this was a lapse in judgment and I apologise for the concern this might have caused.” This seems to suggest that he is apologetic for the reactions to his photographic posts, not his own actions. A digital editor, also WFH, did not mince words: “There is no apology, not for his flippant action. Seriously, are you so seized with ‘joy’ to see your staff again, so much so that you want to take photos of the moment and post them for the world to see?” Including one photograph captioned, “It’s Christmas in the IMV office!” The editor added, “with that exclamation mark of delight.”

One point of contention is the apparent gloating of the work team’s “All stocked up with @apple MacBooks, Apple Watches and iPhone 11 Pros”, products assumed to be the result of a “barter” with Apple (which may explain the necessity of tagging the brand in the photo), a not-uncommon practice of acquiring what’s needed in exchange for ad space or social media mentions. Industry veterans we spoke to concur that, given the present time, when jobs are lost and retail spending is considerably reduced, the photographic show-off errs on the side of questionable taste. A now-disappeared IG page Diet Bazaar—purported to be the media industry’s version of Influencer Glassdoor—wrote, “seeing them do this, when they could have chosen to be a little sensitive to what is happening right now does leave a sour taste in your mouth.”

Mr Tan, a prolific IG user, should understand what photographs captured for social media can tell or effect. And readers do hold Vogue to a higher, if not the highest, standard. We know we do. While it is clear that people now live their personal and professional lives digitally, the musingmutley posts are easily seen as imprudent. Some measure of restrain, therefore, would be considered empathetic, even when the pandemic is seemingly mitigated. One PR manager, who frequently deals with the press, was, conversely, impressed by Mr Tan’s position. “No direct apology is one thing, it’s very clever of him to turn this into a rallying call for the industry.” The publishing industry, like the fashion industry, is going through difficult times. While unthinking actions should be called out, there are other more exigent matters to consider too. The old saying, “let bygones be bygones”, is now particularly alluring. We look forward to The September Issue of Vogue SG.

*Presently removed (5 June, 11:30). And then it’s there again (15:55)! We stopped tracking (18:00).

Screen shots: musingmutley/Instagram Stories

Her Best Yet?

Kim K’s latest Vogue Arabia cover could be the fashion cover of the year—and of all 2019 Vogues

 

Vogue Arabia Sep 2019

We are not fans of Kim Kadashian as a model. Not as a reality star, nor a fashion icon. We are moderately amused by her as a shape wear designer and slightly more fascinated by her as prolific IG influencer. As a model, she’s mostly stiff, one-dimensional, and communicates little sartorially since what she usually puts on can hardly be called wear or, if she does, is something so skin-hugging that our imagination is never taxed.

Yet, she’s not only a model, she is, according to editors (and quite a few of them), cover material. From her feeble first—Complex (February, 2007)—to the borderline bridal bashful—US Vogue (April, 2014)—to the one that “broke the Internet” and consequently became a “cultural phenomenon”—Paper (Winter, 2014), Ms Kardashian is unfazed by the equally positive and negative effects she has on people who buy and read magazines. It is rather curious that despite her status as a social-media star, Ms Kardashian is rather besotted with old media and ever-ready to pose for print.

And now, a title associated with a hyper-conservative society that only very recently allowed women to drive and to travel abroad without consent from a male “guardian”. That Ms Kardashian is given the go-ahead to bare shoulders, arms, and cleavage is perhaps indication of creative output on her terms, rather than expression to test societal limits. Perhaps, to her, this is one way to encourage and empower the women of Saudi Arabia. Or, a chance to sell her “solutionwear”, now called Skims after the first disastrous naming exercise.

It is not unreasonable to assume that the cover girl wore Skims beneath the exaggeratedly shaped and fitted dress (with hips that could have been the result of a modest pannier), which is a vintage ensemble by the former designer Thierry Mugler, whose unnaturally enhanced silhouette was his trademark, an ’80s success story, and now the obsession of pop stars, such as Beyonce, who must wear his designs even when he no longer makes clothes, at least not commercially.

Shot by Spanish photographer Txema Yeste, this is, to us, Kim Kardashian’s strongest, fashion-savvy cover and the September issue cover to beat, but we are not inclined to give the credit entirely to her. The cover blurb also cites the contribution of Mr Mugler as art director (and Kanye West as interviewer of subject, but the husband is not the focus of this post). While the Frenchman’s eponymous line was still under his watch, Mr Mugler was known to have personally conceived the images that defined his sense of ultra-femininity, as well as the concepts of his wildly entertaining fashion shows in the ’80s.

Now a cabaret impresario, Mr Mugler continues to have full control of the images he creates, his own and those of the people he works with, as well as the projects that are under his conception and direction. His clothes might have appeared to be maximal (Harley Davidson corset!!! Millennials may remember Beyonce in it, but back in the ’90s, in that supermodel music video, George Michael’s Too Funky, model Emma Wiklund wore it alongside others in more clothes designed by Mr Mugler, who also directed the film), but the visuals have always veered towards minimal—even futuristic—to better underscore his designs’ sculptural, almost architectural quality.

Ms Kardashian’s covers have always leaned on the side of the commercial. Her rise from reality television is ascent from a commercial medium. Her later and current proclivities for nudity teeter on the pornographic, and nothing is more commercial than porn. The Vogue Arabia—not even two years old— cover is, conversely, a treatise on fashion as artistic expression that can be spared sexual overtones. The well thought-out composition of bi-coloured dress against a not-overwhelming desert that is roofed by a sheltering blue sky, as well as the red patina across the model’s face and left arm is evocative of Mark Rothko’s colour blocking, even if not at all painterly.

For Kim Kardashian, this is possibly the closest to art.

Photo: Vogue Arabia

Is D&G Now Too Toxic To Touch?

Even the “respected” fashion critic Suzy Menkes can’t escape the wrath of those who are bent on seeing the end of Dolce & Gabbana after she made clear where her “allegiance” lies

 

Suzy Menkes IG

The first thing we read on Instagram this morning was the above post. Suzy Menkes took us by surprise. Usually unapologetic in her stand (in 2007, she boldly declared that “Marc Jacobs disappoints with a freak show”), she issued an apology, presumably in response to the curious review of Dolce Gabbana’s Alta Moda/Sartoria, the private (but widely shared online) show for couture clients, held in Milan four days before. The black and white IG square looks like an obituary.

Are apologies the new ‘It’ act to follow discriminatory outbursts and indiscriminate commentaries? Like Dolce and Gabbana’s video apology after the storm they whipped, Ms Menkes’s textual version came days after her review blunder. That the online culture of say first, apologise later has influenced even a writer with over 50 years of experience, culminating at Condé Nast, where she is the “the independent eye of the international Vogues”, indicates perhaps that we are edging towards a new type of morality. It is hard, for now, to say what that might be.

For many people, Mr Gabbana’s outburst is for remembering, but for the culpable, it was rather the opposite. “China is yesterday,” he supposedly told Ms Menkes, “today is another day. It’s a new Rennaisance.” Ensconced in Milan, it’s easy for Mr Gabbana to forget about what happened in China. But many people want D&G reduced to dust. Then Suzy Menkes came cheerily along.

Suzy Menkes @ D&G Alta Moda IG picSuzy Menkes, looking the part of the grande dame (of fashion criticism) that many consider her to be

We first read what Ms Menkes wrote on Vogue.com yesterday, and was amused by the position she took when the Dolce and Gabbana fiasco in China of three weeks ago has not really died down. She did not appear to concur with a large swath of the online fashion community that the two designers had screwed up, especially Stefano Gabbana, whose Instagram account she called “prolific”. We don’t know about you, Kim Kardashian, to us, is prolific, Stefano Gabbana borders on the profane. It astonished us that Ms Menkes would not even say that the man’s IG excesses were “controversial”, or “provocative” when, in fact, a nation was provoked.

One reader of SOTD told us that the online reaction to Ms Menkes’s review, as well as the surfeit of IG posts on D&G within a day—21 in all—was “Diet_Prada trying to kill her in their anti-DG obsession. They are very vindictive now.” By the time, we checked Diet_Prada’s IG posts/stories, the supposed attack was gone. Apparently, Diet_Panda had said that Ms Menkes is a journalist who isn’t doing her job. Did she not tread carefully, we wondered? “She did,” our follower said. “But obviously not enough for the Nazi-hunters Diet_Police!”

Entitled “A Day of Atonement” on vogue.co.uk and simply “Atonement” on her own suzymenkesvogue.com, the article stood out, in light of D&G’s troubles, for her rather unwavering support of the designers and apparent refusal to walk into the room of disdain. What had Dolce and Gabbana to atone for, she did not say. Calling the duo “chastened” twice, Ms Menkes was, as our commentator said, showing her “allegiance”—to two people she probably considers friends. Or, “family”, like “the alliance of moneyed people, many of whom enjoy the D&G events (as she did) because they become part of this family of the super-rich”, as she described the attendees.

Suzy Menkes @ D&GSuzy Menkes enjoying herself at Dolce & Gabbana Alta Moda in Milan

Nothing amiss there. Friends can still be friends even when their beliefs are not shared. But when she started to ask “what went wrong in China”, she, replying to her own question, said that she found it “hard to make any judgment about a show that never took place.” What went wrong in China led to the cancellation of the show. Even that she would not acknowledge, except to say, provocatively, that “the criticism over a marketing campaign… branded racist, where I would see it as insensitive and stupid.”

That remark, to many Netizens, was exemplar of insensitivity and stupidity. One commentator on her IG post even called her “a privileged white woman”. Ms Menkes seemed to have spurred that charge when, in the third paragraph of the review, she referred to China as “the Far East”, a popular blanket term during the 16th to 18th centuries that referred to lands beyond India. Perhaps we should be relieved that she did not call the world’s most populous country Cathay! As SOTD contributor Raiment Young said, “alongside ‘Editor, International Vogue’, maybe she should have added: Subject, British Empire”.

The apology Ms Menkes posted on IG was strangely rather similar to Dolce and Gabbana’s. Instead of apologising for the displeasure and unhappiness she has caused, even unthinkingly or unintentionally, she chose to say, “I am deeply sorry if words I have written have been interpreted…” White privilege? Do tell us.

Photos: suzymenkesvogue/Instagram

All That Is Needed Is A Face

In celebrity/KOL-sports brand pair-ups, taste and talent are unimportant

 

Kylie Jenner for AdidasKylie Jenner giving Adidas a Calabasas spin. Photo: Adidas Originals

By Mao Shan Wang

Kylie Jenner may not be as major as sister Kendall in the modelling business, but she is big in her own right and bigger still as a cosmetic seller, more so after being named by Forbes as the youngest near-billionaire (USD999 million is how much she’s worth, as reported) on its yearly ranking of America’s wealthiest “self-made” (controversial in the case of Kylie Jenner) women. I don’t know about you, but that sounds very much like success, which makes her decamping Puma for Adidas, where her sister is already the latter’s face, quite a puzzler.

“So excited to announce that I am officially an Adidas ambassador,” she boasted via Instagram stories recently. Nothing more was said. Two sisters for one brand is quite a lot. I don’t think Kylie Jenner is doing it for money—she’ll make more through her wholly-owned company Kylie Cosmetics. I don’t think it is about fame—the still-successful reality TV show with her family ensures that, as well as her IG following which numbers 114 million to date (versus Kendall Jenner’s paltry 94.7 million). I don’t think it’s about power—since the Forbes cover story broke, she isn’t lacking in that either.

What could it be then?

Adidas FalconThe Kylie Jenner-endorsed dad-ish Adidas Falcon soon to be released. Photo: Adidas Originals

Fore sure, I do not know. So, I am guessing here: It’s a cultural thing, a Calabasas thing, even a cheap thing! Cultural because the people of her ilk and tribe are all trying to be designers or faces of brands, whether they have this other thing called talent or not. Some are, of course, more successful than others, but that’s not important. Rather, it’s vital that you get your foot across the threshold and the Jenner sure have. Their half-brother-in-law only succeeded after many (news-making) attempts. It’s a Calabasas thing because in this lian town of southern California, people dress in a certain conspicuous way and they think the rest of the world wants to dress like them too, so much so that the name of the town appears on Yeezy apparel and attendant knock-offs. It’s a cheap thing because it costs the Jenners virtually nothing to get into the fashion business as almost everyone is clamouring to collaborate with them, which validates the power of association than the strength of talent.

Adidas, of course, loves working with non-talents. While they have teamed up with fashion mavericks such as Kolor’s Junichi Abe and corporate darlings such as Raf Simons, they have also paired with style-dubious Rita Ora with quite frankly dreadful results. In the case of choosing Kylie Jenner as the face (and body) of the brand, it is possible that Adidas is fulfilling Kanye West’s wish. Remember his now-deleted rant: “There will never be a Kylie Puma anything. 1000% Kylie is on Yeezy team!!!”? It isn’t hard to see that what Adidas mainly wants is her social media reach and her propensity to live her life publicly. They are happy to feature Kylie Jenner as she is, and she is happy to be as she is, complete with over-drawn brows and over-painted lips. Predictable? Yes, I know.

Instafame… Instashame… Instafame

On social media, it can be fast to rise and quick to fall. And rise and rise again. But who’s really watching?

 

Elaine Heng.jpgScreen grab of Elaine Heng in an Owndays marketing video

By Misha Wong

The media called the “spat” a “saga”, yet that had not caused influencer Elaine Jasmine Heng to lose any influence, let alone face. Not in the slightest. Despite a frankly embarrassing video that she posted to explain her side of the story behind the dispute with jewellery brand By Invite Only, Ms Heng’s popularity has increased. Her IG account in April, following the public row, registered 83.7K followers. Today, just three months later, the number has jumped to 86.3K, a 3.1 percent increase in a quarter of a year, not bad at all if you consider tourist arrivals to our island for the whole of last year was a 6.2 percent rise over 2016.

I don’t know if, in terms of reach, that’s impressive, but I think that that’s quite a lot of people—assuming there are no bots among them—following an individual with no apparent personal attributes one might call impressive. Or, fashion flair that can be considered inspiring. Whatever reason people have been compelled to click ‘follow’ on her page, it is not clear. Yet, Japanese eyewear retail chain Owndays saw it gainful to engage her for their latest video marketing. The dubious professional standing of some influencers be damned.

I suppose that’s the beauty of social media: there’s no difference between Instafame and Instashame. Who was it who said even bad publicity is good publicity? Ms Heng’s questionable antics with some of the brands that have engaged her did not appear to have put a damper on her career-via-social-media. Since By Invite Only’s should-be-ruinous disclosure, she has been engaged by Marigold Peel Fresh and the Singapore Maritime Foundation, to name just two. Is it possible that By Invite Only is a small business and their experience with Ms Heng would not have knocked off the IG/FB star’s stature among those organisations with marketing muscle who are besotted by her?

Elaine Heng 2Screen grab of video of Elaine Heng, looking like alter ego Si En, promoting Owndays online and in store

I supposed Owndays engaging a social media habitué is understandable and a matter of time. They are no longer the sole player in prescriptive eyewear retail that offers quality and affordable glasses “in 20 minutes”, and for all to see the assembly process. Compatriot-competitor Zoff has taken a slice of the pie and local upstarts such as Glimpse is quickly setting itself up as a worthy rival. Owndays’s aligning with Elaine Heng (let’s keep it short!) is strategic given their desire to be a long-term player in the local retail scene, and possibly a bonus, considering that they are likely keen to reach out to her friends, followers, and contemporaries. This isn’t just influencer engagement, this is influencer employment.

In the video, currently screened in-store, Ms Heng, dressed—all white—in a wrap-dress that could have been sponsored by Love, Bonito, and looking all wide-eye eager for her “experience”, she performs as if this was a spin-off of StarCrossed, the Toggle series that made her an actress. Trying on glasses offered to her by a store hand, she uttered flatly, “My artsy friends would love this,” pretentiousness in tact. Who would have guessed that just three months ago, this was the same defiant, argumentative, and hungry girl who posted a video of herself challenging the reasonable charges against her while slurping noodles?!

If you believe that what goes up must come down, then you may be well served to know that in social media, coming down means you land on a trampoline of unwavering supporters who would send you back up again. Users and perusers of IG and the like have short memories. Influencers and (the more desirable) KOLs (key opinion leaders) take advantage of that, deflecting unwelcome attention with ever-more drool-worthy photos of themselves. As Huawei spokesperson Peter Gauden told the BBC about the P20 Pro’s camera capability and can perhaps describe influencer obsession: “Their Instagram feeds will look far more premium than all of their friends, and it will give the appearance, of course, that they are living in a far more premium life than everybody else.” The representations of present fun, splendour, and indulgence would obliterate past—even recent—misdemeanors. Ill behaviour, bad manners/profanities, and dubious practices are prevalent enough among the community that most followers—kindred souls—prefer to sweep aside the misdeeds of their idols in favour of absorbing (and liking) glorious posts.

KOL & MediaKOLs have their own line when registering at media events. Photo: Zhao Xiangji

Influencers and KOLs are such a force to reckon with that at media events, they have their own registration line. More often than not, their numbers are larger than those representing traditional media outlets, so much so that some journalists who see themselves as the real deal have chosen not to attend so as not to be outshone by the darlings of the influencer-sphere. It amuses me to see how brand marketing heads, themselves social-media types, eagerly court influencers and KOLs—feted as celebrities, adored as ascendants.

For the followers that the brands are really after, influencer posts are entry points and exposure to popular consumption. Many young consumers look to this group of self-made stars rather than trained journalists for what is trending (not necessarily selling). Whether influencer association or involvement leads to sales conversion is not quite clear. Brands are mostly tight-lipped about the numbers, as I have learned. Many seem to agree that it has, by and large, been about branding than sales lead.

Influencers know this: they are not directly responsible for driving sales. The crux of their business is the number of their followers. The quality of past brand collaborations is, therefore, possibly secondary to those who presently engage them. Elaine Heng, as I see it, knows that. So do many others. Lapses in judgement is more likely brushed aside in social media than in, say, print media, where advertising dollars loom large above the heads of writers whose column inches seek to delight the ad sales department and corroborate advertiser claims. I am not sure why there is unbridled trust in what influencers can truly offer. Or why unquestioning confidence in their true abilities outside drawing followers by large numbers endear influencers to marketers. Could it be some kind of envy that prompts ardent affiliation: Looking across the street and seeing a nicer house, bigger car, better-dressed influencer?

Daryl Aiden Yow 2018Photographer-influencer Daryl Yow waiting to tell fans how he did it. Photo: Zhao Xiangji

Another rise-and-fall Instagrammer is possibly waiting in the wings to leap up again. He rose to be a hot-shot photographer, then he’s not. He was in demand and then he’s reviled. He had hundreds of photos and then he has only one extant black square. His is possibly the most unpopulated IG account now, all because he was exposed as a Photoshop-dependent plagiarist, who created montages on a photographic base not belonging to him without crediting the source. Digital tools may have elevated him, but, tragically, it is digital media that brought him down, specifically stock photos. Yet, I think Daryl Aiden Yow (like Elaine Jasmine Heng, many influencers like using a second Christian name), already apologetic, is waiting to bombard IG with more of those sweet, pastel-hued photos that had attracted 100K+ followers to his page.

On social media, originality is in the eye of the beholder. One, accordingly, does not have to be transparent about sources as long as one appears authentic. I do not know if Mr Yow had from the beginning considered originality crucial to his work. The Nanyang Poly alumnus, who studied mechatronics, had an early pop start as a singer with a predilection for Taylor Swift songs. He sang for his school’s open house and even posted his listenable renditions on YouTube. He was also able to count namesake and fellow YouTuber Dee Kosh (aka Darryl Ian Koshy) a fan, even when the Power 98FM DJ admitted that he isn’t a Taylor Swift fan. It probably did not dawn on Mr Yow that while you can do cover versions of songs, you don’t generally do cover versions of photographs, and stay mum about it.

No one is able to tell me why Mr Yow didn’t eventually pursue singing. His online musical career was reported to have won him fans in Asia, and that was probably his first taste of fame and following (unlike his photos, his songs are still online and can be found on his YouTube channel). Somewhere along the career line, influencer as a profession summoned. Who had he hoped to influence, he had not made known either. When had he taken up photography, it wasn’t certain. How had he learned it, no one bothered. It is conceivable that, as with his singing, Mr Yow is self-taught. Like the recording of his tracks, he appeared totally dependent on digital means as well as enhancers. Covers and sampling in music-making are so accepted that the budding photographer seamlessly made them crossover to his lens work, and was not eventually able to draw the line between what’s original, what’s not, or what’s half.

Darylaiden IGScreen grab of Daryl Aiden Yow’s IG page at the height of his fame. Photos: Daryl Yow/Instagram

Perhaps the world of rose-tinted photography and KOL fashion was more appealing to Daryl Yow. Before he established himself as an influencer-photographer with the numbers, Mr Yow was working with professional and life partner, Isaac Tng, artist/digital designer cum non-practising architect who runs the boutique design-and-branding agency Sixmoredays. Prior to Sixmoredays officially establishing an office in December 2015, both fellows were working on-the-go in the cafes and bars in the Tanjong Pagar area, where they, according to those familiar with them, were often seen with their notebook computers. So regular were they in the area that in 2015, Mr Tng was able to know that “a café in Duxton was going for a very low takeover fee” and offered himself as matchmaker. At about the same time, Mr Yow, who told The Straits Times in 2016 that “women’s clothing tends to fit me better”, had set up an online fashion retail business, Putongren (普通人), with a partner—fellow Instagrammer Dingxuan (IG: Twiggtwiggz) on IG, where unspectacular (“basic”, some called them) clothes were sold. KOL Andrea Chong (IG: Dreachong), as I see, isn’t the only photogenic influencer that he had aligned himself with.

It is said that Mr Yow learned a lot from Mr Tng, who has been described as a go-getter, and is, between the two of them, more of the conceptualiser and “visionary” (in 2015, when he wrote on Facebook that “Scoot makes it a point to take a jab at everyone else in their marketing campaigns”, he did not foresee that three years later, someone once close to him would be the subject of Scoot’s cheeky jabbing). Some observers thought Sixmoredays’s aesthetic distinction “feels Taiwanese”, as seen in Mr Tng’s design for the company’s homepage, the Putongren logo, and others, attributing it to the designer’s frequent visits to Taiwan. The duo worked well together, I was told, and their services mostly came as a pair: one for content, the other for the images. (Early this year, fellow influencers spread that Daryl Yow and Issac Tng parted ways.) Like most business owners fresh from school who prefer the start-up path, both creatives emerged in the scene with no/little corporate exposure.

It is perhaps helpful to understand that in today’s one-man/woman-operated, business-via-social-media setups, experience is not vital, and is, in fact, to those thinking that it’s an easy leap out there, an alien concept. Why bother with experience—a long-drawn affair—to impress when social media platforms can springboard you to greatness, fame, and likes? If models and singers could do it, why not graphic designers and photographers? Instagram and its kind allow their users to post as many photographs as he/she can, even those of dubious origins. In rushing out this online portfolio—containing entries in the thousands, influencers need speed, not ideas independent of anyone or anything else. Few, if any, will choose what Robert Frost called The Road Not Taken, one that seductively “wanted wear”.

Darylaidenyow IG July 2018Screen grab of Daryl Yow’s Instagram page today

It’s not hard to see that the race to fame triumphs over originality. Influencers can’t wait to influence, to make it to the top of the heap, to count as “key”. Originality becomes subordinate. Digital creatives today have a tough time making their representations stand out because there are so many of them in the Instagirl/boy set that is out to make money. The barriers to entry are low enough that even those never remotely connected to employment are jumping and racing to the top. It’s alluring up there: a new aspirational target. Look where Kylie Jenner is perched on—a pile reportedly making her the world’s youngest “self-made” billionaire, according to Forbes; and drawing an estimated USD1 million per post, according to WWD.

Despite what can now be considered to constitute a legion in our city, I do not imagine that social media stars are the same as you and I, the casual blogger. Not only are they a brand on to themselves, they’re also their own enterprise, complete with staff and office. Admittedly, I am thinking of Andrea Chong. I don’t know how much she makes per post, but I’m certain I won’t be discussing my pay grade with her anytime soon. It dawns on me that with her coasting along and posting of what every other influencer of her ilk posts, unvarying is perhaps a lot easier to try than original.

To base one’s own output on material already out there is commonplace enough that even retail big-wigs such as ION Orchard wasn’t able to escape the urge. The hope is that whatever one does, it’ll win raves instantly and then quickly gets lost in the buzz. Just because there are followers does not mean there are watchers. Unfortunately for Daryl Yow, the noise dimmed enough for his oversight to boom. And the watchers to pounce or trolls to trounce. Just as search engines can bring you to the farthest corners of what creative ideas are put out there, it can also draw you close to the stuff that looks a lot like yours. Google search provides unimaginable breadth to what’s available in the digital world and, as ardent users know, one does not search by text alone; one can search by images too.

The opening up of the online world—expansive, descriptive, and affective—has led to what people who are dedicated to their craft call a “crisis of creative originality”. Honestly, I don’t know if it is really a plight yet. In the case of Daryl Yow, there were as many who condemned as those who shrugged indifferently. Social media is gripping perhaps because there are flying gods and fallen angels. I guess Depeche Mode was right when they sang with foresight, eleven years ago, “The sun will shine; the bottom line: I follow you.”

Baits And Bites Of A Popular Deception

The spat last month between an Instagrammer who is identified as a “public figure” and a fledgling jewellery brand sadly reflects the deceitfulness and bottom-heading standards of the quickly expanding local KOL community

 

A sentiment that is shared by many influencers. Photo: Chin Boh Kay

Instagram, the bluff! For all its appeal and draw, and constant role as marketing tool to selves and brands, IG is ultimately a trickster—the great deceiver of the social-media age. Rarely do you get to see the truths behind the posts. Unless you were present during those times the photographs were shot, or when the selfies were snapped, or if you knew the subject personally. Otherwise it’s hard to wipe off the rosy patina.

Most IG posts suppose the subject to be presenting his/her true self. In these days, true, as you know, is subjective and variable, especially when ‘fake’ is tagged to all manner of news. Instagram could possibly be the mother of much of the faking, more so when the app was equipped with truth-blurring filters. These, the Instagrammer tends not to skip—they remove or down-play the less attractive aspects of their posts by using digital lenses with such fancy names as Clarendon and Mayfair. The photos are dramatically enhanced.

Or, elevated. We want so many things in our life to go the next level, why not our photos. Through filters—and and other adjustable settings—Instagrammers-as-influencers hook for positive impressions the way socialites fish for compliments at a charity gala by wearing outlandish clothes. Influencers or key opinion leaders (KOLs), as many preferred to be called (or, media shorthand to distinguish the starlets and stars), including what we’re told is now trending, “the influential influencer”, bait and we bite.

EJHLike all the way. Photo: xelainejasmine/Instagram. Collage: Just So

Sure, we know the real world is not so ideally filtered, not so perfectly cropped, and definitely not so obsessively photographed, yet the reality hasn’t stopped followers of IG accounts to believe the beauties, and also the beasts, that they follow, even buying into their perfect lives or buying what they hawk, both good and bad.

Yet, the positive front does not always hold up. When charges of improper conduct surface, the liable’s anterior peels away, unmasking his/her true self, especially when in hasty self-defence or, worse, with total indifference. The recent rather public trouble of influencer Elaine Heng (aka Elaine Jasmine) with jewellery label By Invitation Only (BIO) is a case in point. It is understandable why many stood with BIO’s owner Trixie Khong when she prefaced her telling of what happened on Facebook with, “The sad truth about why influencers get a bad reputation.”

We’ll try to keep it short, just in case you have just returned from the International Space Station. By Invite Only had identified Elaine Heng, also a part-time actress/Toggle starlet, as an influencer who could influence the 83.7K influenced on her IG account. A deal, as Donald Trump would have called it, was struck. BIO’s Ms Khong arranged for some jewellery to be sent to Ms Heng, as well as for payment for the agreed service to be made. All seemed business as usual until the influencer’s influence went, as Ms Khong described it, MIA. The business owner reached out to the blog-for-a-living Instagrammer, but was not successful. A digital cat and mouse chase ensued.

EH on IGPhotos: xelainejasmine/Instagram. Collage: Just So

According to Ms Heng—who not only refuted Ms Khong’s FB post on FB, but also posted a shockingly sloppy, “actually”-filled video on Instagram Live to negate the former’s charges—when she received the said jewellery, she found that “the products were very poor quality (sic)”. At this point, many members of the jewellery design community were quite taken aback by Ms Heng’s daring claim: it was hard to believe that Ms Khong, herself an ardent Instagrammer—KOL-style, would send inferior merchandise to an influencer that she had considered influential. By Invite Only was, after all, among the winners of the Top 3 Most Popular Brand at last year’s Singapore Fashion Award. It would not have been living up to the accolade and too soon after the honour to go rogue if they had indeed shipped products of questionable make.

The recipient of “poor quality” jewellery went on: “Of course I didn’t want to promote such a product, right?” In case her followers doubted her honour and her dependability, she explained: “Because you all know I value the trust that you guys have for (sic) me and my reviews, so why would I promote something that I don’t like, something that is of such a bad quality?” Ms Heng, who pronounced post as pose (“I’ll pose only when I like the product”, in which case she isn’t wrong) and stressed that she “is not those (sic) kind of bloggers that just want everything to be sponsored just because you pay me over hundred dollars”, was clearly in defence mode even when it escaped her that a sponsorship involving products is possibly not accompanied by payment. She was, as many understood it, not sponsored; she was paid to do a job.

She continued to explain why she did not refund the payment as a consequence of no posts, and was emphatic that she was not avoiding the client’s justifiable pursuit of her. “I was rushing for my Australia trip—because you guys know that before my Bali trip, right, I flew to Australia, and things were very busy that period. So, it’s my fault that I didn’t manage to transfer her (sic) the money before I flew overseas.”

Trixie Khong at SFA 2017By Invite Only’s Trixie Khong holding the award for Top 3 Most Popular Brands at the Singapore Fashion Award 2017. Photo Zhao Xiangji

What followed was a series of why-I-didn’t and why-I-couldn’t: she did not have her ibanking token with her, she was overseas and was unable to transfer the money, she returned but “forgot to pay”, flew off to Bali (reminding her viewers that they knew she “went to Komodo Island”), WiFi was not available on the boat to her “for three days” (when she had “disappeared”), and more because-I-forgots, intermittently swaying the audience with the admission that it was her fault (“I’m not going to say it’s completely her fault”). And, in a moment of unpersuasive frailty, conceded that she is human—“we all make mistakes”.

What Ms Heng offered, if seen in most transactional arrangements, would be mere excuses (upon excuses), and could be considered as avoiding the problem of her own making. It is, of course, possible that she was procrastinating, in view of the fact that she was to be travelling (for what purpose, she did not state, but one could assume to show via Instagram that she has a blessed life). She said, towards the end of the video, that it was a “simple matter” and that she “didn’t expect her to take it so seriously and blow it up.”

Was it really so simple? And was By Invite Only’s Trixie Khong blowing it up? Should she not have taken the episode seriously? Most people saw this as a case of not honouring one’s commitment that deserves censure, and members of the media who reported on the dispute did not appear to be sympathetic towards the defiant Instagrammer. Some of her supporters thought that she was being bullied, with one gung-ho individual, in a display of maiden-to-the-rescue machismo, asking, “What brand? Tell me. I will make them regret.” The xiao yuan zhi hua (校园之花, campus beauty) card always comes in handy. We were inclined to see Elaine Heng’s behaviour as lacking professional discipline, but when we saw that 11-minute-40-second video she posted on Instagram Live, we could not ignore the juvenile outpouring too.

Screen grab Elaine Heng on Instagram LiveScreen grab of Elaine Heng appearing on Instagram Live to explain away. Photo: Elaine Heng/Instagram

And it quickly dawned on us that that was exactly where you can see her appeal and draw. Ms Heng’s behaviour is representative of the girls (and boys) of her generation, and this generation of social media followers understands that her video feed is basically a platform on which she is talking to her fans directly, as if chatting with her BFFs in a kopi tiam. This is how many of them speak and conduct themselves, mostly inured to niceness, its allure and advantages. This is what you hear in the MRT train when a petulant schoolgirl complains about another petulant schoolgirl. This is totally unscripted, as girl talk tends to be; this is not quite serious, flippant even; this is not a show of remorse; this is no apology and, if so, not directed at the person angered by her.

Her spontaneity is her stroke of genius. Her by-the-way approach has an immediate intimacy and her while-I-eat posturing has a non-threatening casualness that people even find cute. She interrupted the video session by talking to her sister (“can you don’t [sic] watch my IG story in front of me like that?”, “I eating [sic] half-way”) and her maid, and then dismissed them (“go, go, go!”); she rocked back and forth as she tried to read the real-time comments appearing on her side of the screen; and—charming to her fans, unbecoming to her haters—she slurped noodles as she banters (“wait ah, I eat first”, “wah, it’s very spicy, leh!”), with the handle of the soup spoon taking up a quarter of the screen; and she concluded her session because “my noodles is getting fat”.

This girl is entertaining!

You would not have known that just by looking at her Instagram photos. By those photos alone, you’d never guess she’s this amusing, this loquacious, and this hungry! Nor, that fashionable, to the point she could sell clothes, let alone earrings. Those posts left you with no clue that while she was having a whale of a time in Komodo Island, a business owner was hunting her down for a commitment she allegedly did not keep. Neither will you think she expects people to “chase” her for the money owed to them. You would not be able to imagine that while she was eager to monitise her follower base, she was unable to see the exigency of returning what she had to pay back. Or, that she would have the gumption to exhort that “all brands should know this: when you engage an influencer, you don’t expect them to write an amazing post about your product unless you are sure that your product is something that they like!”

18-05-19-10-36-05-715_deco.jpgWherever you turn to, there’s a good chance someone is looking at Instagram. Photo: Zhao Xiangji

Perhaps, what Ms Heng, once identified as a “hot bod” in The Straits Times, did not foresee was BIO’s Trixie Khong stealing her spotlight. She did not expect Ms Khong to use the very same platforms to out her (when the dispute went online, she repeatedly called it “childish”). She thought she could have it her way until she came face to Facebook with what was untenable: avoid the situation at hand. She thought the mess could be cleaned up privately via one-to-one WhatsApp messages; she did not realise that she had waited too long. She thought replying with LOLs could defuse any situation, but, since texting acronyms are no cure-all and may be seen as a digital slap-in-the-face, they only exacerbated the situation. Ms Heng has a very specific so-cute-it’s-sexy appeal that makes army boys’ knees go weak. Likely, she thought her chio-ness could continue to front her brand (“You are so pretty” is a common textual reaction to her posts) only to clash with those who believe rectitude counts more.

Regrettably, in the world of #mefirst social media, prettiness can take the place of propriety, cuteness can forgo decorum, ignorance can supplant knowledge. The influencer-sphere is peopled with face/body-worthy pococurantes, cavaliers, and would-be fashion designers. On top of the unceasing, this-is-my-life-but-you’ll-never-really-know appeal, Instagram encourages influencers to comport with vainglory and condense their lives into neat stamps of perfection. The grid of photos is a story board of endless fun and enjoyment. That’s the one thing about many KOLs, and quite a cliché too: they want to give you the impression that they attend the best parties, the most gainful product launches; that they rock in the coolest dress and shine in the most stunning jewellery; that they eat in the hippest hipster cafes, cavort in the most photogenic locales, and are always on the move—overseas!

When more of the veneer cracks or wears off, will we see further decay inside?

Some of those fretful of social media’s compelling force to affect behaviour and action miss pre-digital innocence, if it existed. The past does not always inform the future. And the present is so reliably unpredictable and changeable that what comes next is anybody’s guess. Yet, the comeliest faces are preserved in the cloud as reminder that the visual selves of these influencers have a triumvirate presence: somewhere out there, in the bloggers’ reality, and in our very own. If what the digital world has to offer up till now, including the attendant apps, is habit-forming, would the bad behaviour we see online with numbing regularity become a habit for many too?