Vogue SG Appoints A New EIC

And for the first time, the position goes to a Singaporean

Vogue SG’s new editor-in-chief Desmond ‘Monkiepoo’ Lim. Photo: monkiepoo/Instagram

The Singaporean edition of Vogue has just announced its new editor-in-chief, three months after it was reported that their publishing licence was revoked and then reissued, but valid for six months. It was then also said that the previous EIC Norman Tan resigned from his position to take up a new job in the Big Apple. Mr Tan wrote his farewell message in the November/December issue, comparing his tenure to baking. In a media release, Vogue SG said that Desmond ‘Monkiepoo’ Lim will be the magazine’s new editorial head. The appointment must have come as a 大红包 (big hongbao) for the magazine’s former fashion director. Mr Lim’s first issue would be in March. That indicates that the magazine’s publishing licence has been extended beyond the six months that was offered to them after an appeal was made. Mr Lim, as one former magazine editor told us, “has his job cut out for him.”

According to Mr Lim’s latest Instagram post, it took him “2.5 months and 5 rounds of interviews” before the job was his. As with his predecessor’s appointment, Media Publishares looked from within to hire the magazine’s next EIC. Some media observers believe this is a cheaper way since it is likely that existing senior staff would eagerly accept the coveted job with minimal or no adjustments to the salary. Until the current announcement, Mr Lim held the position of fashion director at Vogue SG, after leaving, in 2020, Singapore Tatler, where he held the same position for six years. He is Vogue SG’s first Singaporean for the top editorial post. Former EICs were connected to Australia: In the magazine’s first run (1994—1997), Nancy Pilcher was the editorial head. An American, she ran Vogue Australia (and the SG edition concurrently). When the magazine returned to our shores 23 years later, the EIC role was offered to Norman Tan, originally from Melbourne, who was the social media-crazy EIC of Esquire SG. But Desmond Lim is not entirely disconnected from Down Under. He went to school there, graduating with a BA from the University of South Australia.

Vogue SG struggled to evoke affection before. Or, a discernible Singaporean-ness

It is not immediately apparent what Mr Lim will bring to Vogue SG. Will he continue in the footsteps of the one who came before him? Could those shoes be too large to fill? Or, will he speak directly to the readers here with a more authentic voice? Mr Lim is known to be comfortable with his native self, as sure of his love for bubor cha cha as his adoration of his late ah ma (paternal grandmother) to whom he was the endearing “ah boy” (once, he even did an Iris Apfel on her, and styled her in Prada). Vogue SG struggled to evoke affection before. Or, a discernible Singaporean-ness. It would serve the title well to rouse feelings and excitement that reflect the uniqueness of the name framed in the ‘O’ of the masthead. In the media release, Mr Lim shared that he will “continue to explore the integral connection between fashion, culture, and technology.” Continue, he said.

A PR consultant asked us what we thought of the appointment, “if he makes the cut”. It is hard to say. Going from a fashion director to an EIC is a big leap. Mr Lim, to us, has always been more of a visual person than textual. Putting together a whole magazine, with numerous constituent parts, isn’t the same as styling a fashion spread or creating the content for a social media account. Mr Lim started his career as a graphic designer and his visual language, fashion-wise, is based on gratuitous edginess, rather than clear communication through clothes. The curious May/June 2022 cover of the model covering her hands painted blue may have found kinship in Mystique, but for us, it was hard to ascertain what it really meant, and why it would be a draw or inspiration. But these days, as editors are less the gatekeepers of the fashion industry, Desmond Lim may need more than edginess to be persuasive and compelling.

“Silence Is Betrayal”

So, Prince Harry gabs with ITV and CBS ahead of the launch of his memoir. Yawn?

Prince Harry talking quite happily to Anderson Cooper. Screen shot: 60 Minutes/CBS

And you thought you could start the new year without a word from the Sussexes. But it was never in doubt that the December 2022 Netflix docu-series Harry and Meghan (part one and part two, both three episodes each) was not going to be the last of their “whinge-fest”, as some British media watchers called it. The whining continued the past couple of days when Prince Harry appeared in two different interviews, each targeting different audiences across the Atlantic. There was CBC’s 60 Minutes presented by CNN’s Anderson Cooper and ITV’s Harry: The Interview by Tom Bradby. Both seasoned journalists were, surprisingly, rather gentle on the pity-seeking duke, and the interlocutions went on rather amiably. Mr Bradby, to us, scored better on the aggressive scale, and, hence, offered a better session. To be certain, we weren’t expecting Stephen Sackur on Hard Talk (BBC), but we were hoping for far more bite. Mr Cooper and Mr Bradby did ask some “tough” questions (the latter, more), but were they tough enough? And did we get answers that we have not already heard, or were they mere variations of the same theme? Was that why Prince Harry was not given the full hour (just slightly more than half) for a show called 60 Minutes? He was luckier with ITV—they gave him an hour, and a generous forty minutes more.

Both shows were aired, presumably, to preface the launch of his upcoming book, Spare. That he had agreed to be interviewed by Anderson Cooper is not surprising as the CNN journalist is not part of the nasty British press corp that Prince Harry loathes and is not known to be that hard on any of his interviewees, including one Donald J Trump. Mr Cooper was generally nice in front of the royal, even when saying that the comment in the book about the Prince of Wales (“his familiar scowl, which had always been his default in dealings with me, his alarming baldness, more advanced than my own, his famous resemblance to Mummy which was fading with time, with age”) “is cutting”. Frankly, it’s bordering on the bitchy. Even the Prince smirked at the description—or was he delighted at how good or clever that criticism sounded? The interviewer sometimes seemed sympathetic. Even his subject agreed with the news anchor’s observation: “You’re absolutely right; you hit the nail on the head.” They were like chums (even walking in a garden) agreeing on the beauty of a lass. This rather affable exchange befits a book launch. And if you won’t be bothered to read Spare, this is good enough to know that Prince Harry, for whom “silence is betrayal”, is still a troubled and aggrieved chap, who considers his mother’s death the work of the collective devil known as the paparazzi and his step-mother’s rise the diabolical plotting of a “villain”.

The interviewer sometimes seemed sympathetic. Even his subject agreed with the news anchor’s observation: “You’re absolutely right; you hit the nail on the head.”

The sit-down with ITV was not much more different in terms of the questions posed, but Tom Bradby was more willing to grill, to incur the potential wrath of the new Californian resident. Mr Bradby, if you are not aware (or can’t recall), is the journalist who asked Meghan Markle if she was doing okay (and how she ardently appreciated that and brought it up in Harry and Meghan) during the Sussexes’s tour of South Africa in September 2019 (earlier, he attended their wedding). It is possible that Prince Harry had thought that since Mr Bradby was nice, even showing concern, to his wife, the news veteran would be just as affable to him. Mr Bradby came as a journalist, not the Prince’s PR vehicle, or a sympathiser. He did not ask his interviewee if he was okay. He was, in fact, willing to counter some of the latter’s accusations, even saying, in response to the “sibling rivalry”, as was described to Mr Cooper and My Bradby, “I think he (Prince William) would say he found you emotional, defensive, he couldn’t get through to you…” The spare was not amused. “It’s quite a list—list of things, assumptions you’re making,” he hit back. He was, for all to see—and note, not okay.

This irritability, this displeasure, this WTF expression on his face culminated to palpable anger when Mr Bradby brought up the Oprah Winfrey interview some two years ago, and spoke of the racism levelled against the royal family that was broached then. We could sense the Duke bristling. He challenged the journalist, “did Meghan ever mention that we were racists?” Mr Bradby, not expecting the change of narrative, fumbled in his follow-up, searching for better words. The interviewee would not let the other guy finish his line of questioning, interrupting Mr Bradby repeatedly. Either Prince Harry has been well trained in the course of putting together the Netflix show about he and his wife’s truths, or he has a natural flair for gaslighting. Again, as with everything else, the British press were to be blamed; they painted the racism picture, not the Sussexes. The two of them were only concerned with “unconscious bias”, which, in the prince’s “own experience”, we are are now informed, is not the same as racism: “the two things are different”, he said with needed emphasis. And, once you are made aware that you have unconscious bias, “you have the opportunity to learn and grow from that in order so that you can be a part of the solution rather than the problem. Otherwise, unconscious bias then moves into the category of racism”. And we now know, too, that the one-time cocaine/marijuana/magic mushroom user—as admitted in both interviews—is a profound thinker!

On ITV, deeply displeased. Screen shot: ITV News

Curiously, for both interviews, Prince Harry put on identical sweaters—a dark green one for CBS and a navy for ITV, and the two were worn over similar shirts with straight collars, tucked under the ribbed neckline of the plain knitwear. And coincidentally, Anderson Cooper, not known to be a fashionable dresser, was similarly attired. In the shot of the two of them walking in a garden, both men were seen in identical silhouettes: neat and trim, accentuated by their slim, tailored, Raffles-Place-at-lunchtime trousers. Even the belts seemed alike. This could be a dad look that suggested serious business was at hand. Even a cable-knit sweater could be considered frivolous, and likely, a pair of jeans—the American staple. In contrast, Tom Bradby wore a dark blazer under a dark, rather than contrast-coloured shirt, clearly setting himself apart from a need-to-look-royal interview subject. Sure, the prince was not interviewed by Graham Norton or Naomi Campbell. He need not appear interesting or trendy. Still, something-to-look-at clothes might have made his dull, repetitive replies less tedious.

Without his wife in tow on both shows, Prince Harry looked sad, an approaching-middle-age man unable to let go of his past or the wrongs he perceived was waged against him. Even without the missus by his side, he was in his accusatory best, and was quickly incensed and readily defensive, and constantly reminding us that his relationship with his famous family is fraught, and all of them are to be blamed for his misery, a life “put through… a blender as such”. You’d think that now, with the life he has always wanted, in marvelous Montecito (presently under a storm/flash flood warning. Residents have been told to evacuate, but it is not known if the Sussexes’s home is affected), he’s closer to attaining contentment, even just a vestige of it. But, far from that, he is still mad, still disgruntled, and still playing up the I-grew-up-without-a-mother disadvantage to gain by-now-limited sympathy. He told Tom Bradby: “I do not want history to repeat itself. I do not want to be a single dad. I certainly do not want my children to have a life without a mother or a father.” For all the talk of unconscious bias, Prince Harry should, perhaps, seriously consider self-fulfilling prophecies too.

Esquire SG Ends Its Ten-Year Run

The title published its final issue last month. We read it

The Esquire SG swansong: December 2022, with Bollywood star Panveer Singh on the cover

Nineteen days before Christmas, Esquire SG announced on Facebook: “Welcome to the last issue…”, but that we-shall-be-no-more announcement was barely discernible in the page, A Letter from the Editor of the physical magazine that we finally picked up. The EIC, Rahat Kapur, barely mentioned that the title will wrap for good with the said issue. She wrote that she has “never been great at goodbyes”. That, it appears, is the farewell message. Curiously, she did not say outright that Esquire SG will cease publishing or that licensee Media Publishares will not have the brand under its stable of international names, such as Vogue SG. She expressed heartache at having to “bid adieu to something that has truly mattered to [her], well after its time has concluded”. She did not call that something by name. And when she had to say that the magazine will come to a close, she wrote of the “final issue for 2022”, not the final. Even when she informed the cover subject, Bollywood actor Ranveer Singh, that he would be the magazine’s “first Bollywood celebrity on the cover”, she did not say (she would have known by then) that it would be the last.

It could be discerned that she was not willing to let go. Understandable when ten months was all you had on the job. Ms Kapur came onboard in February last year. She said she “gasped in disbelief when [she] found out [she’d] be taking over the helm of this esteemed publication”. Two paragraphs down, she still won’t call the title she regarded so highly by what everyone else called it. Perhaps she thought that readers were already aware of Esquire SG’s impending closure. Since former EIC Norman Tan decamped to Vogue SG in 2020, speculation was rife about the fate of Esquire SG. Would the Hearst Magazine Media magazine be left languishing in the shadow of the more glamorous Condé Nast title? When Ms Kapur was appointed the EIC, cynics wondered how long she would get to edit the magazine. They got their answer.

One can’t be faulted for wondering if local editions of international titles just don’t stand a chance to last on this island. To be sure, the media business has been tough and rough, made less tenable by unceasingly dwindling readership. With Esquire SG’s closure, only two men’s magazines here—Men’s Folio and August Men, both local titles—are left. The heat of competition is turned down for the pair of survivors. But competition is not the only challenge magazines, whether online or print, faces. There are two other Cs: consumption, which has largely changed, and, for print in particular, cost, which, like almost everything else, has skyrocketed. And there is the third C—content. With so many snazzy “content creators”, magazines have it tough speaking a voice that could pull in readers.

One can’t be faulted for wondering if local editions of international titles just don’t stand a chance to last on this island

Ms Kapur’s Esquire SG is a predictable blend of lifestyle/culture snippets, catalogue-style pages, fashion spreads, trend reports (strangely, often all credited to the fashion editor Gordon Ng), luxury watch features, and celebrity interviews. Add to those, fan-girl vim. For her swansong, Ms Kapur “jets to Mumbai”, she informed her readers, to interview “Bollywood’s ‘It’ leading man today”, Ranveer Singh. Yet, she wrote “I hate Bollywood”. And explained, repeating her aversion, “I hate Bollywood for enveloping me in the likes of icons such as Shah Ruk Khan, who to this day, remains the one person I’d donate a kidney to”, even when she confessed that she detests the India film industry “for making [her] feel like dream men could exist in the realms of reality, and with one dance number, they could end up becoming the greatest and most passionate loves of our lives”. And then just a paragraph later, “I wanted to go where we’ve never been before: to Bollywood—and just like that, it happened.”

It is not certain who among the Esquire readers would love the gushing and fawning, and heating up—she wrote, with relish, “much repositioning of my legs and 20 sips of my water later, in enters Ranveer” (seriously! It was even used in a pull-quote). What would past contributors of Esquire (US), such as Norman Mailer, had he been alive, say? Or, perhaps, therein lies the charm? Or, the fast track to the magazine’s exit? Interestingly, there is practically no editorial that could “encourage hetero readers to ogle”, one former editor of a men’s magazine noted (the feature of K-pop girl group (G)I-dle is, at best, placid). Or, stories on health and wellness, even grooming. There is much crammed into the pages, but the content is far from compelling, or better than others found on the dizzy, content-laden web.

Esquire SG debuted in our city on September 2012. At that time, it came under the stewardship of Kuala Lumpur-based Mongoose Publishing (once behind Time Out SG). Five years ago, the license was granted to Media Publishares, then operating as Indochine Media Ventures, and synonymous with Buro SG and Robb Report SG. Vogue SG was added to the trio of titles in 2020. With Rahat Kapur saying that the current edition is the “final issue for 2022”, some media professionals were wondering if Esquire SG, like Vogue SG might return. Industry watchers speculated that Media Publishares are now consolidating their resources to keep Vogue SG afloat after it was issued a six-months permit to publish by the Ministry of Communication and Information (after initially revoking it) because the magazine “had breached the content guidelines for local lifestyle magazines”. There are reports, too, that Ms Kapur has been reassigned to another role within the media firm. Would she, we wonder, be the second former-Esquire SG EIC to take up the much coveted editorial position to keep our born-again Vogue going? Like in the old days, sometimes, you have to kill a child to keep another alive.

Photo: Jim Sim

“Truth To Power”: They Suffered, Severely

With the second package of the six-part docu-series now streaming, it is clear that the Sussexes want sympathy more than understanding. From the comfort of their Montecito hideaway. The end

Six episodes of who did what to them is, frankly, too much even if they expose alleged royal misdeeds. In total, Harry and Meghan is a 6-hour-plus series full of discontentment and fault-finding. The three episodes that make the second half of the docu-series have the enthusiasm of revenge-themed K-dramas, but without the latter’s suspenseful pacing. You wait for the hit-back at the British royal family and you get it. Meghan Markle even said that she was not merely “thrown to the wolves”—she “was being fed to the wolves.” The proverbial kid gloves are off. The Queen is dead. So she and all on her side no longer need to stick to discretion. She may have wanted to escape England for a quiet life, but there is not any kind of hush the minute she left, especially not when she returned to the free-speech familiarity of California. In the private jet, after their escape from Vancouver Island, Canada, on what Prince Harry calls the “freedom flight”, Ms Markle tells her son, Archie, “we’re about to go to where mommy’s from”. Whoever said she had planned to call the UK home?

In this part of the world, this kind of talk or reveal is largely contemptible. However disgraceful a family is, no one from within shames their own kin. The Chinese has an oft-heard expression 家丑不可外扬 (jia chou but ke wai yang) or family scandal is not to be publicised, and that we must never 大义灭亲 (da yi mie qin) or place righteousness before family. In fact, many of us in Asia grew up with the belief that problems within the family—and there always are—need to be solved or resolved internally. If outsiders are told of domestic shame, the family in dispute will be ridiculed or laughed at. As SOTD contributor Mao Shan Wang told us, “my nother would say sia suay (泻衰 or Hokkien for shamefully embarrassing)”. There is another Chinese saying, 隐恶扬善 (yin e yang shan) or extol a person’s (or family’s) virtue, but conceal his faults. That to Westerners might sound like sweeping familial failings and flaws under the carpet, but to the Chinese, it isn’t so. If you speak ill of your family, there is a good chance that others will despise you and laugh at your family. They won’t look up to you for exposing your family’s shortcomings. On the contrary, they will look down on you even more. Is this not what’s happening to the Sussexes?

According to recent news reports, the Netflix special Harry and Meghan enjoyed the most viewing time than any other documentary on the streaming service that week the show came on. And the figures are not unimpressive. Reuters stated that it “recorded 81.55 million viewing hours after its debut” the Thursday before last. Some “28 million household watched at least part of the series”. And in the UK, it was the most-watched series that week. (The final global numbers are yet to be tallied.) That the docu-series is this well-viewed is not surprising. Last year’s Oprah Winfrey interview of the Sussexes, as AP reported, drew about 50 million viewers worldwide. But are people watching H&M because they desire new or additional information to feel sorry for the prince and his wife, both, while desperately desiring privacy, are sharing—and dissing—more than what those wanting freedom or immunity from undue intrusion would reveal. And should they (or their supporters) be surprised that the reactions to the show the titular characters co-produced have been mostly unfavorable, even harsh?

We tried to be sympathetic, to see their side of the story, to appreciate that their first official residence in Kensington Palace grounds, Nottingham Cottage, was “so small” (how tiny could it be, as tight-spaced as a HDB flat? Or is that the best insider gossip they could offer?). But watching the show is no walk in a royal park, especially when what they do as catharsis is contradictory to what they claim they abhor. As much as they do not like their photos used by the media, they have no qualms of sharing more of their own (such as the one of M in despair amid unfinished packing) in the series. Harry and Meghan opens with the two’s own self-taped video footages from back in 2020—the first hint that they likely never really intended to keep their private life from public enjoyment, or derision. The more desperate the rehabilitation of their image is, the more irritating their case becomes. While M decries those who do not know her write about her, she has no objections to pouring her heart out to strangers, such as the billionaire American actor/producer Tyler Perry (Gone Girl, 2014), whom, by her own admission, she “has never met before”. Could it be because he is a fellow celebrity, lives in California, and wealthy to boot?

It was Mr Tyler (top right) who reached out to her and after some time, she called him while she was in Canada. “Finally—after years at that point—first time we ever spoke,” she says. “And I was just a wreck; I was just crying and crying, like sometimes, it’s easier to just open up to someone who knows nothing at all.” Amazingly, he who knew next to naught, was willing to offer the Sussexes abode in the Beverly Hills property that he lived in, reported to worth USD18 million. H&M “hadn’t seen the house, just video of it”, Mr Tyler points out. Yet, with a baby in tow, the Sussexes were willing to move in. H admits that “we only saw you filming from a gate up to your door, and seeing the big fountain there and we were like, that’ll do.” When Mr Tyler asks, “what if I had horrible taste and had big round beds, striper poles and everything?” Shouldn’t the question be, what if the man turned out to be another Harvey Weinstein?! H is unfazed: “it wouldn’t have mattered. We were desperate to find somewhere, desperate to be somewhere… to settle.” Desperate, as it were, to be housed by a stranger, with a fountain (shown in the show!) as epitome of good taste.

Desperation is, of course, central to their message. It is also easy to sense that M is desperately in need of people appearing to care about her, so much so that just three words would suffice: ”Are you okay?” In a 2021 New York Times opinion piece, she wrote that when those three words are uttered, “the path to healing begins”. She recounted, as she does in the series, an interview with the ITV reporter Tom Brady—who is said to be a friend of the couple and had attended their wedding—during a tour in South Africa: he had asked the simple “are you okay?” She was grateful that he put that question to her. “Thank you for asking,” she had said. “Because not many people have asked if I’m okay.” We sensed self-pity or the reluctance to be on a “rigorous tour” and be away from what was then home, shortly after she gave birth to Archie. She added, “it’s a very real thing to go through behind the scenes.” And is it because of her race again—as her American audience likely believes—that people weren’t asking if she was alright? Or, is she practicing what she believes in: that “most people need to find someone to blame, to try to like reconcile how you’re feeling”.

Once again, in all the interviews that are not the “never-before-seen personal archive (as per Netflix)”, M appears in that white blouse or grey sweater again, suggesting that the six-parter is based on just two interview sessions. In her attempt to underscore her pain, she probably thought it best to look worthy of pity. Stylists are not required for that. This is, of course, not a story of how her fashion sense influenced the world. She may, according to her husband, be like the late Princess Diana, but the actress-turned-podcaster is no fashion natural. After avoiding colour for most of her sojourn in England, she decided that she will show the world what sartorial strength she had, prior to leaving. How about an Emilia Wickstead dress the colour of Kermit the Frog, given a jewelled gloss? “Until that last week in the UK, I rarely wore colour,” M says. “And I never want to upstage or ruffle any feathers, so I just try to blend in, but I wore a lot of colour that week. Just felt like, well let’s just look like a rainbow.” Any discerning fashion consumer would say that that could never be a good look.

In episode four (or the first of the second release), former Givenchy designer Clare Waight Keller speaks about the surprisingly underwhelming wedding dress she was tasked to come up with for Ms Markle’s 2018 wedding. She says, “it has to be flawless; it has to be perfect”. But, as we noted before, it was not flawless, nor perfect. The fit was lacking—the bodice was roomy enough to conceal a chicken, as nonyas of the past would say of a loose kebaya. American writer Dana Thomas was quick to Tweet after the series was streamed, “The dress didn’t fit MM, and, as you can see in pix, the sleeve seams pucker—absolutely unforgivable for a couture house. One buys couture because it IS flawless.” Perhaps, to Meghan Markle—not a couture customer prior—that didn’t matter because she was to marry a prince. She probably didn’t care about the poor fit, just the wealthy groom. Even back then, during the morning of her wedding, when she felt “calm” and had wanted a “cresohn” (croissant), she could be hoping to hear not the two words, I do, but three: Are you okay?

Rating: 0.5 out of 5.

Harry and Meghan is streaming now on Netflix. Screen shots: Harry and Meghan/Netflix

Watched: Harry And Meghan. Or, California Dreaming

Is the Sussexes’ “full truth” the real truth? And do we even care?

You know what is the truth? When Prince Harry of Harry and Meghan said on the toothsome twosome’s eponymous Netflix docu-series that “we know the full truth”, he is really referring to their truth, which is not necessarily the truth. Or the truth of the others spotlighted by this two disgruntled individuals. He said that “the institution knows the full truth and the media knows the full truth because they’ve been in on it”. This full truth of the ex-royals could also be what one Kelly Ann Conway once famously called “alternative facts”, or whatever existed in their seemingly troubled universe. And the truth of the very wealthy H&M is worth a lot of money, but not necessarily the truth that that many of us wish to hear without being inevitably irritated. The truth that is nothing to do with economic disadvantage may not be the reality we can understand, let alone connect with.

The truth of the Sussexes is also boring truth, startlingly devoid of anything truthfully new or the minutiae of married life that might make them more compelling man and wife, and parents. This is self-aggrandising fluff that goes not beyond their ken. Don’t expect deep analysis of what troubles them. Or evidence of the hate against them. The first three of the six-parter are essentially about a fairy tale gone awry and a retelling that might, they had probably hoped, put them in better light. They repeatedly want us not just to listen to “their truth”, but also what they call “our story” and, as Prince Harry enthused, their “great love story”. As the international press had rightly pointed out, they had this all planned before even decamping for America. How do they explain the footages of their lovey-dovey selves leading up to their globally-covered departure from the royal cesspit? How did they have that well-documented video library (or what Netflix calls “never before seen personal archive), with the right words to slip between the “truth-be-told (as Ms Markle stresses)” docu-narrative? Who films themselves crying so that the footages could be used later to tell a story of personal pain and then gain?

H&M are a more-public-than-most millennial couple. H, as Ms Markle—and her friends—refer to him in the series, saw a digital photo of her, which was superimposed with facial parts of some cartoon canine to mimic juvenile cuteness; he was intrigued, as such filters intended, and wanted to uncover the countenance behind the graphic trickery—“who is that?”. M, as she is also known, checked him out through Instagram; she thinks she could better know the person through what he posts. But, strangely they were paired in a rather old-fashioned manner, through a friend—no swiping left or right. And their growing up, their royal-meet-the-commoner, love-trumps-racism story is retold in Harry and Meghan through a video montage that is not unlike those that many us here have to watch between the serving of the soup and the roast chicken at a conventional hotel ballroom wedding.

Photo: SOTD

Prince Harry spoke of wanting to go to shield mode to keep his family from so much harm that threatened him and his clan of (now) four. “I knew that I had to do everything I could to protect my family,” he says. He also describes his dedication as a “job… to keep my family safe”. What dangers are before them, other than the peskiness that was to do with the paparazzi? Could he and his wife and brood be somewhere in Ukraine? He has a rather narrow definition of family, as we learned. It no longer includes even his father and elder brother (there is only mention of his mother), nor his cousins Princesses Eugenie and Beatrice, two of his childhood playmates, who are shown in news footages to have gone skiing with both his elder brother and he. When it comes to protecting, he can, as it appears, be selective. Doria Raglan, Ms Markle’s mother (who, like her daughter, “is ready to have my voice heard—that’s for sure”), says that Prince Harry has “really great manners”. Could she be referring to his wanting to trash his family, the one he does not see the need to protect?

“I realised they’re never gonna to protect you,” M declared conclusively, but she doesn’t explain why she; a grown, worldly individual; needed the protection or if such preservation from harm was just as desperately required before she met H, or while she was married to Trevor Engelson, and if so, who provided it. The need for protection is a constant refrain, as if that was what she required more than anything else from her relationship with a royal. Yet, the series tries to portray her as an extremely strong woman (even as a “big geek” kid), ”very outgoing, super social”, according to friend and producer of Suits, Silver Tree. M was also determined to make the initially long-distance relationship work. And later willing to challenge the more-than-a-thousand-year-old British monarchy and, as many believe, to draw her Prince away from where he was born to her California—that side of trashy. That the leaving of the royal family was dubbed Megxit, after her name, is telling enough of her influence in the decision. Does she need less protection, now that she is no longer a palace resident? Or are the US$15 million Montecito, Santa Barbara mansion and the reported payout of US$100 million by Netflix for the spill-all protection enough?

“There’s a hierarchy in the family,” H says. “Yeah, there’s leaking, there’s also planting of stories.” In the first three episodes, the gripes—as they sounded to us—are largely directed at the media. For H&M, the overwhelming press attention was oppressive. M informs, “my face was everywhere, my life was everywhere, tabloids had taken over everything,” Ms Markle says of her early encounters with the British press. Even getting dressed for a walkabout (she claims she didn’t know what that is) was an ordeal. Are we to believe that she had not expected any of that? Did she choose her prince for placid royal life? We found ourselves shouting: She married the most watched royal family in the world! Yet, she has no qualms in painting herself as some babe in the woods. H says that what the media put his wife through is “feeding frenzy”. But he acknowledges that what she went through with the British press was “a rite of passage” and that “some of the members of the family was like, ‘right, my wife had to go through that, so why should your girlfriend be treated any differently? Why should you get special treatment, why should she be protected?” And he said, “the difference here is the race element.”

The race card, we knew would be played. And it was. Harry and Meghan made sure to let you know that the latter’s mixed race worked against her. And that the British tabloid press is “a white industry”. That M was a target of racism was already broached in last year’s “bombshell” Oprah Winfrey interview. But they’re really racist in the UK, apparently—so much so that it bears repeating. And harping on. To make sure, that you are aware of how Ms Markle was targeted because of her race, they curiously show a photo of her, with what appears to be a rolled-up yoga mat under her right arm, while she passed a place with the sign that read “garbage area for New Balance Toronto” during a segment about the disadvantages she had to endure because of her race. Her H says, “it is amazing what people would do to when offered a huge sum of money… to hand over photographs, to create a story.” So why was that image submitted? And what was the Netflix deal all about if not about the earnings?

And in case you do not believe that racism exists in Britain, a history class is presented in the third episode, elucidating the empire’s slave trade. If you do not know, “Britain had a deep south,” Journalist Afua Hirsch tells you, “that was just as brutal, that actually enslaved more Africans than the United States of America did, but that deep south was the Carribbean”. And slavery was “fueling this early British empire”. And, to lend more heft to what is otherwise a repeated love story, there is the retelling of the Stephen Lawrence case. Mr Lawrence was an 18 year-old Black man who was killed unprovoked back in 1993 (Ms Markle was then about 11 and had appeared on a Nickelodeon program on which she spoke of writing to Procter and Gamble to suggest that they change an ad copy from “women are fighting greasy pots and pans” to “people”). The Sussexes attended a Stephen Lawrence memorial service in 2018, and they became instant heroes for the Black cause at that time.

Despite the social good that they attempted to do, the Sussexes were still ardently in need of media approval. But, the British media, as they see it, was out to “destroy” them. The press was never on the side of the Sussexes until they crossed the Atlantic, where the Americans were far more interested in their story and were sympathetic to their plight. Ms Markle calls a BBC—yes, even the BBC “was on it”—“engagement interview” an “orchestrated reality show” because they “weren’t allowed to tell [their] story.” It was “all rehearsed”, she asserted. It is hard to know for certain (the BBC has denied Ms Markle’s claim), but could such news—even those not generated by tabloids—be part of what Prince Harry calls his “duty to uncover this exploitation and bribery that happens within our media”? And to lay bare became even more exigent because, for poor Ms Markle, “no matter how hard I tried, no matter how good I was, no matter what I did, they were still going to find a way to destroy me.”

Meghan Markle is delineated as her H’s ideal woman and perfect wife. Prince Harry says that in the royal family, “especially the men, there can be a temptation or an urge to marry someone who would fit the mold.” It’s clear Ms Markle could not be the desired fit, even after learning to sing the national anthem of the United Kingdom from Google. “This is the woman who’s turning Britain’s most traditional brand on its head,” one news report went. “Meghan Markle isn’t British, she’s been married before, she’s mixed race, and she doesn’t shy away from politics.” And she wants to play all that up now to better underscore the suffering she had to endure (interestingly, so far, there is no mention of mental illness). The institution needed a new mold for her, but they did not cast it. And it’s time it pays.

Prince Harry saw not only the woman of his dreams, but also someone quite like his mother! Women generally dislike being compared to their mother-in-law, dead or alive, but Ms Markle appears not to have any issue with that, even seemingly enjoying the comparison. Video footages show Princess Diana with Prince Harry and then similar shots of Ms Markle and her eldest, Archie (one, with the little boy looking at a photograph of his grandmother). H says, “So much of what Meghan is and how she is, is so similar to my mom. She has the same compassion, the same empathy, she has the same confidence, she has this warmth about her.” But not the same reverence for the institution of monarchy. Is M playing a Di stand-in for H’s unexplained needs?

For the interview segments conducted by an unidentified woman and largely unseen, Ms Markle is dressed to playdown any fashion statement or to discourage any criticism. She wears a white shirt and a matching pair of slacks when she answers questions with her H and a grey jumper and similarly coloured skirt (sometimes also revealing nut-brown nearly knee-high boots) that could be school-mom proper when she is interviewed alone. Ms Markle is not the fashion plate that her sister-in-law, the Princess of Wales is. In fact, her sense of style veers towards the excruciatingly unexciting. And she has the justification for it. “Most of the time in the UK,” she says, “I rarely wore colour. There was thought in that. To my understanding, can’t ever wear the same colour as Her Majesty, if there’s a group event. But then you also shouldn’t be wearing the same colour as one of the other more senior members of the family. So I wore a lot of muted tones so that I could just blend in. I am not trying to stand out here.” But now she is—in a red Carolina Herrera—through her own docu-series, which, unfortunately, is a deeply dull dud.

Rating: 0.5 out of 5.

Harry & Meghan is streaming now on Netflix. Screen shots: Harry and Meghan/Netflix/YouTube

A Farewell Note

Vogue SG’s editor-in-chief confirms he’s leaving the magazine with a “final Editor’s Letter”

The rumours are true. Norman Tan, the Aussie editor-in-chief of Vogue SG is leaving the magazine. On Instagram four days ago, Mr Tan shared a photograph of “the last issue” of the title he has edited for the past two years, as well as the ‘Editor’s Letter’ he has penned to say goodbye. It is not a maudlin farewell note. In fact, it sounded rather cheery. And quite sweet, as he probably intended it to be, using cake as a fluffy metaphor: When he was young, he wrote, “the fashion industry seemed like a fantastical tiered chiffon cake, piled high with frosted cream and painted in bright pastel hues”. This is clearly not the pandan variety that many of us are familiar with—the unadorned, flavourful green kek. Till the end, Mr Tan continues to pitch himself as the well-dressed foreigner-made-good-here. And, 11 years after his arrival on our island, “not only is cake in the menu”, he was “allowed into the kitchen”. The Chinese saying 入得了厨房出得了厅堂 (referring to women who, when skilled in the kitchen, can do anything outside of it) comes to mind! And, as editor, “concoct(s) recipes for fashion stories… selecting the best ingredients to realise the most delectable creations”.

He continued—pâtisserie (still) in the picture: “It’s easy to see the finished meringue of a magical story and forget the long hours it took to beat those stiff peaks into action.” We now know with certainty that Mr Tan is no baker, just as some observers consider him to be no editor of fashion. Egg whites for meringues usually require between five to ten minutes of beating (Yotam Ottolenghi prefers the latter) to reach the desired stiffness. Never “long hours”. Even a home baker knows one can really take it too far. Over-beating—usually more than 15 minutes—can do serious damage to the meringue. In fact, working the balloon whisk over the egg whites for too long can cause a decrease in volume in the meringue, and the mixture collapses and may even look curdled. The structure of the egg whites is compromised and liquid will seep out. Not quite the “stiff peaks” Mr Tan was aiming to achieve.

Egg whites for meringues usually require between five to ten minutes of beating. Never “long hours”

According to our trusty Larousse Gastronomique, the meringue was the creation of a Swiss pâtissier called Gasparini, and the light, candy-like pastry (back then, it was meringue ordinaire, not the coloured and flavoured bites they are now) was a favourite of Marie Antoinette, who adored it so much that she apparently submitted herself to manual labour and made them with her own delicate hands in the kitchen of the Trianon. It is interesting that Mr Tan used the doomed queen’s favourite sweetmeat as figure of speech to describe his professional output. Was he saying that the editorial contents—or “delectable creations”—that he took “long hours… to beat” are, in the end, merely airy confections? Just as pavlova—the meringue-based dessert of his homeland—is, even when it could be, as he would say, “piled high” with fruit. Airiness aside, could the textual and visual stories he ran in the magazine be the editorial equivalent of empty calories?

Industry chatter says Norman Tan’s leaving Vogue SG is related to a particular trouble at the magazine (we are unable to independently verify this). Last month, the Ministry of Communication and Information (MCI) revoked the title’s license to publish and then granted them six months after Vogue SG appealed. According to MCI, the magazine “had breached the content guidelines for local lifestyle magazines on four occasions within the past two years, for nudity and content that promoted non-traditional families”. All of this happened under Mr Tan’s watch. Four days after he shared on IG that he would be leaving the periodical, he posted a slide show of “two years of Vogue SG covers”. Not a single one struck us as striking. Were we “too harsh”, as a magazine veteran wondered when we said we were not impressed? For his swan-song cover, Mr Tan featured Rina Sawayama, the Japanese-British singer-songwriter, dressed in an “animal-free YSL coat” and a pair of towering heels. (This isn’t the first cover featuring shaggy fur this year. On the August/September issue, Cardi B wore a similar.) Is the magazine really communicating with the readers here? How does a woman relate to another, cloaked like a street walker on Rue Saint Denis in winter? And why that Slime green for the festive season? And, does it all amount to “glory”, as the sole cover blurb states? Or were we not able to see that it was all confectionary fluff?

“Unauthorised”: Vogue Cover

Drake and Savage 21 pulled an editorial stunt the magazine and its publisher Condé Nast did not appreciate

Was it a clever joke? Maybe it was, until Condé Nast sued! Drake and Savage 21 must have thought creating the cover (above) to promote their joint album Her Loss is ingenious or hilarious, or both. They’ve even used the actual Vogue masthead, with both rappers—amateurishly shot—in front of it, as the magazine often places their cover models. There are cover blurbs too, with the main line that read “‘You have to be political’. 21 Savage is not holding back”, which sounds like something analogous to what Kanye West is prone to saying these days. Drake shared the photo of the mock mag on Twitter, saying, “Me and my brother on newsstands tomorrow!! Thanks @voguemagazine and Anna Wintour for the love and support on this historic moment.”

The magazine and its publisher showed no love nor saw the ingenuity and the hilarity of the social media stunt. According to press reports, they filed a USD4 million lawsuit against the duo. According to those who have seen the court papers, Conde Nast issued a cease and desist order in 31 October, and insisted that Drake and his social media team “unauthorized use of the Vogue trademark by removing the Instagram post, ceasing any distribution of this ‘magazine,’ and issuing a public statement clarifying that this was not an actual cover of Vogue”.

But why Vogue, rather than, say, XXL or Vibe, both would make more sense since it was an album promo, or even Ebony, if they must pick a woman’s title? With Vogue now featuring more Black cover models than ever (Michaela Coel appears on the November cover and Serena Williams was on it just two issues ago), it is perhaps understandable why Black artistes crave to appear on its cover. Kanye West, Drake’s one-time ‘beefing’ (12 years’ worth, reportedly) pal, was already cover boy (April 2014). Vogue is now Black artistes’ target title. The “fashion bible” is the magazine to aspire to appear in. A cover photo on Vogue means more than the appearance on any other professional mags, combined. Despite its thinning page count, it is still the periodical that announces you have arrived. But is the increase Black representation token shift or genuine change? Or is the change so slow that Drake had to create his own Vogue cover?

Photo: Eric Skelton/Twitter

Trouble At Vogue SG

Will there be a second exit?

The latest issue of Vogue SG, out just today, with Jackson Wang on the cover. Photo: Jim Sim

Is Vogue SG not destined to enjoy longevity here? Or a glorious life? Will the comeback publication meet with the same fate as its former self? These questions followed media reports (even in Malaysia) that the validity of its license to publish has been halved—from its current one-year permit—after the publishing of a quartet of editorials deemed unsuitable for Singaporean consumption. According to The Straits Times this morning, the Ministry of Communication and Information (MCI) stated that the Singaporean edition of the global fashion title “had breached the content guidelines for local lifestyle magazines on four occasions within the past two years, for nudity and content that promoted non-traditional families”, despite what ST called “a stern warning”. MCI also disclosed that the license of Vogue SG was, in fact, revoked with effect yesterday, but the magazine—finally a monthly this October (they were, since the launch, a bi-monthly)—reapplied and was granted the six months. Publisher of Vogue SG Media Publishares (former Indochine Media Ventures or IMV), has not responded to the media reports.

Before the news of this breach emerged, the word buzzing about last night in media circles was that Vogue SG’s editor-in-chief Norman Tan has resigned from his position. He would be, we heard, heading for the Big Apple to join Apple (we were not able to independently verify this, but he was in New York last month for NYFW and he could have taken time off to do something else?). As the news of the magazine’s recurrent infraction began to be quickly shared, we were sent, together with links to the news stories, the burning question: “Could this be one of the reasons Norman Tan decided to leave?”, with others adding, “coupled with the fact that he knows the title is not doing well?” A media old-timer also chimed in: “It is going to be hard for them to get brand support if they really have just six months left to operate.” When Mr Tan was appointed as the EIC in 2020, Vogue SG’s socialite-publisher Bettina von Schlippe told the media that his “rich expertise in journalism and publishing makes us confident that he will present a new and exciting vision for the title, while upholding the values of the brand.” She made no mention of upholding the values of the nation and its people.

Norman Tan, right, with Condé Nast’s global chief content officer Anna Wintour. Photo: musingmutley/Instagram

Norman Tan’s appointment at Vogue SG was, at that time, a surprise to some in the publishing industry. Mr Tan, a former lawyer, was editing two IMV titles prior, Buro and Esquire SG. He had not, until Vogue SG, directed the content of a woman’s magazine and yet he secured the post in what many (still) consider a “fashion bible”. Some observers thought he was handed the job because IMV wanted to choose from within, rather than hire someone more experienced and, inevitably, expensive (this was when COVID-19 would soon become a pandemic, affecting many editorial budgets) from outside. Moreover, Mr Tan is an eager and prolific social media user, a position that stood him in great stead, as magazine editors were expected to have conspicuous and well-followed online profiles. And he did create a Vogue SG that seemed to appeal to those who are digitally aware, who live their lives digitally, too. Last September, the magazine offered a pair of covers that were available as NSTs and this month, a virtual lounge Club Vogue—the Metaverse from the start, in fact, a recurring theme.

But has it been one Vogue that we could proudly call our own? Was there an identifiable—and relatable—identity? No one expected Vogue SG to look like the more-than-six-decades-old Her World. Mr Tan seemed to prefer a visually more edgy magazine—high on style, paltry on substance—for the market, with covers that have often been experimental (blue hands on face?) or over-styled, and unconventionally lit, sporting almost no blurb. In the ‘Editor’s Letter’ of the latest issue, he quoted Ms Wintour deferentially: “Vogue is always looking forward”. To lean that way, he picked “icons” and “mavericks” and, as MCI noted, near-nakedness and the “non-traditional” (could one of the stories MCI found objectionable be ‘Four LGBTQIA+ Advocates Share their Experiences Growing Up in Singapore’?). A former magazine journalist said to us, “it seems he’s creating a magazine for his friends, for his followers, but how much of the market do they make up?” On Instagram, Mr Tan has 27.5K followers. Is that large enough? One gripe we keep hearing is that the visually-focused magazine seems to be shaped by “angmo hands”. The EIC is, in fact, a Chinese-Australian from Melbourne, and the president of Media Publishares is the publishing veteran Michael Von Schlippe, the husband of Bettina Von Schlippe.

October issue of Vogue SG with two different covers on the rack in Kinokuniya. Photo: Zhao Xiangji

Mr Tan is inclined to Vogue-speak, calling his editorial charge in this October issue “a barometer for what’s round the corner”, just as Condé Nast has been labelling Vogue a “cultural barometer for a global audience”. It is possible that Mr Tan took “global audience” very seriously so that he could go beyond the shores of this sadly too-small island market. Condé Nast announced last August that this year’s “September issue of Vogue is centered around the idea of ‘new Beginnings’—an initiative that brings together all 27 editions of Vogue (ours is the 27th) as a powerful and emotive mark of unity (shared editorials are part of their cost-cutting measures) and message of hope for Vogue’s global community, looking ahead to a post-pandemic world.” How much of the Vogue SG identity, if it were ever established, was sacrificed for this “unity”? A marketing consultant told us, “When I read Vogue Thailand, I feel they are communicating with Thais, but when I read Vogue SG, I don’t sense that they are talking to me.” Is it erroneous then to ask if Vogue SG is an influential fashion and lifestyle magazine? Who really reads Vogue?

At Kinokuniya this morning, the latest (local) mouthpiece of the “global fashion authority”, as Condé Nast describes its most famous title, had just arrived. With most other publishing houses, an October issue out in the middle of the month is considered late—very late. The current month of Vogue SG comes with two covers: one with Jackson Wang (王嘉尔) and the other, CL (aka Lee Chae-rin), with, strangely, no accompanying story while Mr Wang is given one page to talk about his new album Magic Man. The magazines had just been placed on the five-tier rack when we visited the store; they were yet to be flipped, all in a pristine state. A massive carton of the said title, still unboxed, sat in the middle of the aisle. A staff came by and we asked, pointing to the magazine: “does our Vogue sell well?” She happily replied in the affirmative. Really? “Yes, we expect this issue to sell out,” she enthused. Really? ”Yes, because of the two stars on the cover.” As a Facebook post on the Jackson Wang Malaysia Fan Club page considered, “这次的杂志不买来收藏真的对不起自己 (if this issue of the magazine is not bought for collecting, we’ll do ourselves a great wrong)”. What about the other issues, we wondered. “Oh,” she hesitated, then said, ”not so.” We turned the final question to ourselves: Six months later, will we be writing the obituary of Vogue SG?

Skimming The Surface

Reading a recent story on Chanel by CNA Luxury, we sensed we would be confronting something unsatisfying when, from the start, we had to be reminded that the 112-year-old maison has an “exclusive atelier in Paris”. We were not wrong. Superficial observation is one thing, trite description is another

Just like the ceaseless supply of Chanel tweed jackets, there have been never-ending media stories on Chanel’s haute couture. A report by CNA Luxury shared online last week is another, and it won’t be the last. More than a century after Gabrielle ’Coco’ Chanel founded her eponymous label and nearly 50 years after her death, there appears to be constant craving, not about her, but the couture studio that she left behind that is still generating what CNA imaginatively calls “lavish clothes”. Is there anything in their editorial that isn’t a pallid reminder of what haute couture is not?

We feel bad for Chanel. By their “invitation” (which could mean this was a junket), CNA Luxury was in Paris to show readers “inside Chanel’s world of haute couture”, perhaps with the noble aim of demystifying it. The 1,290-word editorial, in fact, accompanies the 2.44-minute documentary, ‘Inside Chanel’s Haute Couture Universe in Paris’, for the CNA Lifestyle 2022 series. From the first paragraph, it was a journey of textual cringe. To set the scene, they told readers that the Chanel epicentre at Rue Cambon—a narrow, one-way, 449-metre long street in the heart of the French capital—“is chockful of French dreams” and, later, that it is “one of the most well-stocked flagship boutiques… in the world”. We are not sure, but were they describing a 杂货店, provision store? Or, recalling the set for the RTW autumn/winter 2014 show, a supermarket?

And who was Chanel before she became a “full-fledged fashion designer dreaming (again?!) up sartorial hits(!)”? Wherever she is now, we doubt Chanel would be amused to be called, at the start of her career, a “mere milliner”. Chanel did begin as a hat maker and, by most accounts, a rather successful one. Biographer Edmond Charles-Roux wrote in Chanel, “The truth was she had a really impressive talent” (so much so that one of her boyfriends at the time eagerly financed her venture). This was the early 1900s, a time when, as Mr Charles-Roux noted, “family, children, love, jewels—none of these aroused as much concern as the question of hats”. Her headwear, in particular a boater, “was absurdly simple, and it was curious to see how some of her friends reacted to this sparseness as a new form of eccentricity”. Her clientele expanded and they included “customers of Worth, Redfern and Doucet”. Chanel’s first proper shop (before that, she operated out of another boyfriend’s “bachelor flat”), Chanel Modes, that opened in 1910 was in Rue Cambon, at number 21. The number 31 address—where, according to CNA, ”is chockful of French dreams”—did not materialise until 1918 when Chanel, the “mere milliner”, purchased the building.

Wherever she is now, we doubt Chanel would be amused to be called, at the start of her career, a “mere milliner”

Above the store, we were told, “Chanel had an apartment where she used to work, daydream and entertain a small circle of friends. Curiously, the couturier (sic) never actually lived there, preferring to call one of the suites at the Ritz Hotel… home”. Yet, the apartment is an “abode” and, to be certain, a “historical” one. Then we were introduced to the ateliers above. “Everything is made-to-measure and made entirely by hand,” one of the premieres was quoted saying. “Haute couture is really about excellence. It is all about handwork and craftsmanship,” she expanded helpfully. Enlightening. And to add to your growing knowledge, “each haute couture garment begins from a sketch.” For the complicated nature of the work they do, we were offered a glimpse: “See-through (!) Guipure lace layered with gossamer lace; coloured lace inlaid onto Guipure lace; lace patterns reworked entirely by hand with sequins; lace hand-painted in resin; and cashmere wool woven into lace-like patterns.” Following?

Whether anyone at CNA knows what Guipure lace is, we can’t say (if you ask, it is openwork, therefore, nearly always “see-through”, with motifs, such as flowers, joined by fine bars or plaits instead of webs of nets or mesh, as in other laces). But they seem to be educated on the fineness of couture finishing, explaining away that “not only are the seams on the outside hidden from view, even those on the inside of the garment are ingeniously tucked away”. The ingenuity is in how, in this, we can’t discern the making of “really expensive clothes”. To banish all doubts that Chanel could be capable of even a whisper shred of shoddiness, we were informed that “nothing is left unfinished, everything is finished to perfection”. A friend from Kuala Lumpur, who had read the article too, said to us, “I’m surprised there isn’t ‘laboratory of ideas’. Maybe they are not informed enough to use that!”

A report startlingly littered with clichés wasn’t enough, it had to include the “icons” that “continue to thrive” and bear listing: “the tweed jacket, the ‘little black dress’, two-tone slingbacks and, of course, the inimitable Chanel 2.55 purse”, much, we suspect, to the delight of the brand (one media professional said to us, “Chanel will love it, lah. They obviously paid for the trip and they expect the media to fawn over them”). The article is probably targeted at those who are not acquainted with the creative and practical business of “custom-made artisanal garments fashioned entirely by hand by dressmakers skilled in creating one-of-a-kind garb that are more than worthy of their price tags”. But could they not have toned down the trite and the banal? “Every single detail matters,” they concluded, ”After all, this is haute couture, where precision is the name of the game.” Take note, you “stylish set”!

Illustration: Just So

Rather Wrapped Up

Before her reported comeback on the runway next month, Linda Evangelista appeared on a Vogue cover, looking like she has not changed, even when framed by a large scarf

Linda Evangelista, “permanently damaged” by a 2016 body-contouring procedure, wants to revive her modelling career. “I’m done with hiding,” she told People in a February cover story. So, she is back in sight. And she has many friends who could make her a model again. First there was Kim Jones who cast her in last month’s ad for Fendi, and—next month—the runway appearance for the Italian brand. “I loved being up on the catwalk,” she admitted to the American weekly in that revealing interview. And likely still does. But before that anticipated IRL appearance, she has Edward Enninful to thank for her return to magazine covers; for starters, the latest British Vogue. Ms Evangelista is in demand again. The return of the supermodel.

Surprisingly, it wasn’t American Vogue that got hold of the Canadian-born model (she appeared on their cover a whopping 11 times in her career). It was the British edition that gave her the cover opportunity, and it was its editor-in-chief Mr Enninful who styled her, in full modest fashion glory. It is possible that Anna Wintour preferred her Vogue to be graced by someone whole, even when she told People that “no model was more super than Linda”. Ms Evangelista said in the People cover story that the treatment Coolsculpting had “brutally disfigured” her. In a far more natural photograph published on that cover, Ms Evangelista looked less a fashion model: Her face seemed wider, her jaws more pronounced, her cheeks not as lifted, and her skin less smooth than before. CoolSculpting, a treatment that helps reduce unwanted fat by “freezing” them, left her with hard “bulges” due to a rare reaction known as paradoxical adipose hyperplasia or PAH.

The damages Ms Evangelista suffered probably could not be totally undone or significantly minimised, which may explain why in all the Vogue photos Mr Enninful had her face framed by scarves and topped by dramatic headwear. Worn like a babushka, the scarves are bound rather tightly, effecting a slimmer face, even a smaller head. For most, the cover is major and one that is considered “stunning”; as striking, to some, as Ms Evangelista’s Patrick Demarchelier-lensed 1992 cover for Harper’s Bazaar, under newly-installed editor, the late Liz Tilbiris, 30 years ago. This is Linda Evangelista as Linda Evangelista of the past, of our firm memory of her; this is not post-PAH. Her eyes are just as speaking, under the arch of the brows; her nose as perky; her lips as full; her teeth as white, all set in flawless and glowing skin.

According to British Vogue, makeup artist Pat McGrath “gently (how else?) drew her face, jaw and neck back with tape and elastics”. There were, of course, digital trickery too. Ms Evangelista has no illusion about the illusory contours seen. She said: “That’s not my jaw and neck in real life – and I can’t walk around with tape and elastics everywhere.” Nor, probably headscarves and hats, at least not everywhere, every day. Styling can truly recast even a “damaged” face and person into unimpaired familiarity. The cover girl said to People five months ago, “I don’t recognize myself physically, but I don’t recognize me as a person any longer either. She (and “she means Linda Evangelista, supermodel,” People wrote) is sort of gone.” But now, with this, perhaps not. With help, the model is again.

In weighing what might have prompted the super of the supers to go for body contouring, the British Vogue editorial put forth a conjecture that, apart for herself, “perhaps also in some warped way for everyone else who will forever compare you to the impossible ideals of your Vogue covers and campaign images”. Although good looks are now seen even in beauty outside known and accepted standards, Ms Evangelista’s altered visage is not quite gorgeous, recognisable, and admissible enough for a Vogue cover. In his editor’s page, Edward Enninful wrote that “perhaps no other face so effortlessly captures the essence of the fin-de-siècle supermodel as Linda Evangelista.” So the final effect has to commensurate with that. Let her look unchanged. Once a model, always a model.

Photos: Steven Meisel/British Vogue

End Of The Run For Con-Couple

They did not go far enough to escape capture. In Johor Bahru yesterday, the fraudster duo was caught and brought back to our island. They are, as many are now saying, not really that smart after all

Pansuk and Pi in police custody. Collage: Just So

They were masked when they were escorted to waiting police cars, as seen in last night’s news broadcasts, but even with faces half-concealed, it was not hard to distinguish them. Siriwipa Pansuk (aka Ann) and her husband Pi Jiapeng (aka Kevin), on the run since 4 July when they fled our island, were arrested by Malaysian police at a hotel in Johor Bahru (JB), where they had chosen to tarry and, likely, blend in. According to images from CCTV footage published by the press and shared online, the couple did not resist arrest. They were, according to the hotel staff, calm. When they were caught, they were dressed simply, with none of them wearing a watch, luxury or not. There were no Dior bags that Ms Pansuk had favoured either.

Mr Pi had on a dark green, baggy T-shirt with “Paris Balenciaga” printed in white on the chest—an original would have set him back S$880, retail—and a pair of slim, black, knee-length shorts of unrecognised provenance. He was carrying a black backpack of an indeterminate make when he was at the hotel (it was later held by the police). If it were a Balenciaga too, it would have cost at least S$1,250. His wife, with hair tied into a small matronly chignon, was even more nondescript; she was togged in a crumpled, black V-neck dress that did not look especially luxurious. Both were shod in black slides. As Netizens have been saying since last night, they did not look like they had enriched themselves with ill-gotten S$32 million; they looked like petty thieves.

…they did not look like they had enriched themselves with ill-gotten S$32 million; they looked like petty thieves

According to the Singapore Police Force, the arrest was made possible with help from the Malaysian authorities, based on information from the Royal Thai Police that it was likely the husband and wife were staying in a hotel right across the Causeway. Shinmin Daily News (新明日报) reported that the couple had remained in JB throughout these past 37 days, staying in different hotels—all amazingly possible without identification papers—to avoid detection. When the cash they brought along with them ran low, they switched to budget hotels, and one that set the stage for their capture is, ironically, called Bookme—a fitting end to their swindling and runaway life. This hotel can be reserved for as low as S$25 a night on booking.com. It is situated in the suburb of Bukit Indah, a residential and commercial area that is popular with those working here on our island. Bookme Hotel (formerly known as Smor Hotel) is just 1.5 kilometres away from a stretch of the Malaysia-Singapore Second Link highway. When the wanted two appeared at the hotel at around 10am last night (presumably to check in—without, again, passports?), and was apprehended, a sign on the glass door read, “Full House”.

One Malaysian working here, with his own residence in JB, told us that the couple made a poor decision to stay in Bukit Indah (meaning beautiful hill in Malay). “There are so many Singaporeans in this area, especially in the weekends” he said. “They would definitely meet someone who’d recognise them. For sure, I would not choose this place.” Bookme Hotel is, in fact, in a stretch of three-storey shop houses on a treeless road in the pusat (bellybutton) of Bukit Indah, right behind TF Value-Mart (former Giant), and within walking distance to Singaporean faves Tesco and, a little further, AEON Mall. Is it possible that, as they were used to a life of immense comfort, they needed to be in an area dense with urban conveniences? He added, “I think they cannot handle an environment with facilities wanting; they require a place that breathes with life.” Besides, we figured, if the nearby malls could not serve their still-to-change needs, the Johor Premium Outlet is really not that far away.

Bookme Hotel in Bukit Indah, Johor Bahru. Photo: agaoda.com

While initial reactions to the unbelievable escape (Mr Pi called it “our mistake” in his first comment after the arrest) were met with surprise at their daring and smarts, many are now saying that perhaps the two are not as clever or strategic as they had appeared to be. It is not clear why both, unencumbered with luxury bags, did not go away from the city centre, even leave the state of Johor entirely. Was it possible that they did not know how wanted they were? Or that an Interpol warrant was issued against them, or that Malaysian (and Thai) authorities were willing to assist in the search for this pair of absconders? It is likely that Malaysia was totally alien to the two of them, and the fear of not making it in remote places (let alone the wilderness), where Malay may be the only spoken language, kept them in the relatively mundane and relatable area of Bukit Indah.

Their choice of the hideout and the proximity to Singapore are not the only puzzlers. Just as baffling is how the Thai authorities knew the Pis were in JB when the talk for close to a month was that they were already in Thailand, completed plastic surgery, and had blended with the crowd. Thai social media is presently seeing rapid sharing of the video report of the couple’s arrest (even in Chinese, with chiding directed at Ms Pansuk) and is rife with speculation that someone she knows snitched on her. It is highly possible that she would stay in touch with individuals in her home country, even if it is surprising that she had not laid low enough. It seems that, other than her family (mother and brother are supposedly in hiding), most people are deeply angry with her. Even purported friends of Ms Pansuk’s were saying on social media, with links to the news reports here: “วันนี้ที่รอคอย (wan nee ti rao koy)”—the day I’ve been waiting for.

Not A Man In A Skirt

You know times have changed when new dad A$AP Rocky goes out wearing something that isn’t a pair of pants

Three days ago, A$AP Rocky took a break from fatherhood duties and stepped out in New York in an A-line, knee-grazing, leather Givenchy skirt. American Vogue said that he “went full cybergoth”. Its British counterpart was certain that he “sets the bar for modern menswear”. W magazine thought he “looked effortlessly cool”. GQ’s approving headline read, “Only for A$AP Rocky Is August Leather Kilt Season”, carefully avoiding the S-word. It was, overall, a strong show of support, if you ignore one unkind headline that went, “Shocker: A$AP Rocky Spotted Out… Wearing Rihanna’s Leather Skirt”.

He is, of course, not a “man in a skirt”; he is A$AP Rocky in a skirt. Just like it was Brad Pitt in a skirt days earlier (linen, by Haans Nicholas Mott) and Kanye West in a skirt even way before (2011, during a concert, when he was costumed by Givenchy, then designed by Riccardo Tisci). More mortal males would not be able to rock a similar skirt, even if it is based on a simple shape, so uncomplicated that they’re often the basic skirt taught in pattern-making and sewing classes. Guys without the same standing, social and fashion-wise, as the rapper, would not be blessed with such encouraging headlines. That A$AP Rocky chose a more ‘solid’ silhouette in a hulky fabric such as leather is to leave the viewer in no doubt of his cis gender and his procreative heterosexuality.

This was not A$AP Rocky’s first time wearing a skirt, but it was the first time he wore one as a father. Before his very public romance with Rihanna, he was seen in Rick Owens and Vivienne Westwood “kilts”—entry level skirts that could help the wearer graduate to more serious stuff. That he and his fellow artistes in skirts no longer receive derogatory comments could be due to the garment’s popularity among, in particular, Black rappers, such as P Diddy, Omar Epps, R Kelly, Snoop Dog, Coolio, just to name a few. Still, only a very small group of them gets accolades for wearing skirts. To quote, Quentin Tarantino, who said of Brad Pitt in this month’s issue of GQ, “It’s just a different breed of man”.

Photo: Backgrid