And This Is Miu Miu?

Rihanna does not need to mimick no runway look. She can, as we have been repeatedly told, wear anything she wants, however she desires, modest or not—mostly not

Rihanna, out for the night, scantily clad, again. Photo: Backgrid

In the duration of her internationally-viewed-and-followed pregnancy, Robyn Rihanna Fenty has exposed more of her body than the average expectant woman. But Ms Fenty, as we have been made aware, is not an average woman or mother-to-be. So whatever she has worn (or not) isn’t standard either, or maternity wear. Her visible stomach is the focal point of most of her outfits, from the first trimester to the present. The outers, if worn, do not provide cover either. Even if you follow the growth of her baby bump, it may not mean it grows on you. Not many women are comfortable putting their enceinte body in near-full display. Ms Fenty has not only been at ease; she has been eager too. And that, for many COVID-era societies of the West, is admirable, if not exactly imitable.

Such as the above look she adopted two days ago when she went out with A$AP Rocky to have dinner at their favourite restaurant, Giorgio Baldi, in Santa Monica. On social media, so many said she looked “wonderful” or “beautiful”, but no one said they wanted to dress like her. At a glance, it should have been an immediately recognisable ensemble, but Ms Fenty has taken considerable liberties with it and a double take would possibly be necessary to identify the brand. She would not wear something as it was intended (to begin with, she picked regular RTW pieces, nothing, as she vowed, from the “maternity aisle”). So this Miu Miu two-piece, part of the current spring/summer collection that is much loved, was given a Rihanna remake (she is, after all, a fashion designer!): The skirt was lobbed off to shorten it. And she dispensed with Miu Miu inner wear for—presumably—her own Fenty undies. The genius here is making Miu Miu as un-Miu Miu as possible.

Adut Akech on the runway in the same Miu Miu outfit for spring/summer 2022. Photo: Gorurway

Media reports were all raves and more raves: “Rihanna Bra & Skirt Set… Deserves All The Fire Emojis”, “Stuns In See-Through Set”, and our favourite—from Vogue—“One For The Record Books”. Some choice words excited journalists used included “glamorous”, “inspiring”, “incredible”, “style-forward”, “effortless”. The beauty of all this worship is that the goddess is, fashion-wise, faultless. Even if there was discernible wardrobe malfunction. Fans and journalists alike noticed her body glitter, her tattoos, even the linea nigra, but no one mentioned one exposure: In some photographs of her in the silvery crystal mesh top (and matching customised-to-be-mini skirt), part of her left nipple could be seen above the top edge of her brassiere that appeared to have slipped down on that side (it isn’t known why her bra was so loose). Or was that insouciant slide part of what Vogue euphemistically called the “risqué look”?

Just because the Miu Miu set appeared fetching on the model (in this case, Adut Akech), on the runway, it does not automatically mean the outfit would look good on the rest of us. Ms Fenty is, of course, a determined woman. Not to be told what maternity clothes are, or not, she is happy to break all rules (is there any rule in her rule book?) and go the opposite way by not covering a—not just the—large part of her body. It is possible that she was emboldened by the frequent rhapsodising of the press and social media. The more she revealed, the more she was lauded and encouraged. The reciprocal flaunts even gained her a Vogue cover. There was really no need to hold back. It is said that Rihanna’s pregnancy is important to expectant women—she empowers them, to the extent that she needs to be immortalised with a marble statue of her pregnant self sitting in the Metropolitan Museum of New York, among priceless antiquities of stone. If any pregnancy can be this powerful—and political?—and public, it would be Rihanna’s.

Closed For Good?

Vogue Russia is no longer suspended; it’s shut

January 2022 issue of Vogue Russia. Photo: Vogue Russia. Illustration: Just So

Two weeks after Russia attacked Ukraine, Vogue Russia announced on Instagram, as well as on their webpage, that the title “will be suspending broadcasts on our platforms until further notice”. The latest, as reported in the media, is that the magazine will no longer be published in the land of Vladimir Putin. Publish Condé Nast had e-mailed a memo to its staff, stating that “the escalation in the severity of the censorship laws, which have significantly curtailed free speech and punished reporters simply for doing their jobs, has made our work in Russia untenable”. It is speculated that the Russian edition of other sibling titles under Condé Nast, such as Glamour and GQ, will also be closed.

In addition to Russia’s oppressive censoring of the media, it is possible that the luxury retail climate in the country has hastened the publisher’s decided to close Vogue. All European brands, across all price points, have suspended their businesses in Moscow and all other Russian cities. As one magazine sales executive said to us, “I doubt they will be able to get ads if they continue to publish”. Moreover, sanctions against Russia is not likely to be lifted soon. Vogue, so tethered to Western fashion brands, would be at odds with the current business sentiment pertaining to the Russo-Ukrainian war.

Vogue Russia was launched in 1998, during the Russian financial crisis that arose from the double-dread actions of the Russian government and its central bank: devaluing the rouble and defaulting on its debt. But Vogue Russia remained strong as a flagship of the Condé Nast stable. According to the publisher’s website, the magazine has over 800,000 readers. It was thought to be the most-flipped-through premium fashion title in the country. In that public announcement posted in March, the magazine wrote: “We hope that this is not a farewell letter but rather just a pause and soon we will be able to reunite with you”. It appears that that is an unlikely fate.

The Priscilla Shunmugam Surprise

A modern designing woman with unfashionable views?

Less than six hours after the news broke that Priscilla Shunmugam made some “offensive” remarks came the designer’s swift apology: She told Today that what she said during an Asian Civilisations Museum-faciliated discussion last September about fashion and identity was “clumsy, hurtful, and insensitive”. In that Zoom session of the series ACMtalks, she had said—in response to a question about her designs being more ethnically Chinese—“historically, and even today, Chinese women have progressed significantly faster and further, as compared to their Malay and Indian counterparts”. Part of a two-and-half minute clip that was shared on social media, the broad remark had many viewers saying that Ms Shunmugam’s view is “racist”. In her response to Today, she added, “I apologise unreservedly for the comments I made”.

That ACMtalks session, “Designing Singapore’s contemporary fashion identity”, organised in conjunction with the museum’s #SGFASHIONNOW exhibition, has been removed from ACM’s Facebook page following the uproar. But in the said clip still circulating, there were more questionable remarks. Ms Shunmugam, who was not wearing anything that could be identified as Chinese, said: “This is not a modern-day phenomenon; this is just something that has been the way it’s been since, I think, the ’60s. In fact, for example, Chinese women were the first Asian women to shake hands with men. So, culturally, it was acceptable for Chinese women to shake the hands of men long before it was acceptable for Indian and Malay women to do so.” Her comment, we noted, did not take into consideration the social customs women had to observe (and still do) and the religious constraints they experienced before, and now.

Priscilla Shunmugam on ACMtalks. Screen grab: kebaya.societe/Instagram

As a proponent of ethnically-flavoured clothes and textiles, and their amalgamation, Priscilla Shunmugam’s observations were startling. CNA called her “the designer who reinvented the cheongsam with her unique flair for mixing traditional Asian textiles with modernised silhouettes”, yet this “flair” was blind-stitched into her surprisingly narrow view of how women across ethnicities have indeed progressed in the choice of their clothes. Playing the anthropologist, Ms Shunmugam also went on to say that “Chinese women, for example, were culturally the first Asian women to adopt Western dressing”. It’s hard to digest that. Thai women, for example, were no laggards. Look at Queen Sirikit: In the era that Ms Shunmugam singled out—the ’60s, she wore Western fashion by a French house—Balmain couture, no less—with as much ease as traditional Thai dress, and her choices influenced generations of women, even the present.

At the beginning of the clip, the Malaysia-born designer revealed that she did some research into the “emancipation of Asian women” before she started her brand Ong Shunmugam (named after her mother’s and father’s surnames respectively). If she was equating the emancipation of women only with the adoption of Western fashion (“the dress or the mini-skirt”), then she was negating the reality that education opportunities and economic circumstances influenced women in the clothes they bought and wore. And, if local non-Chinese women were slow to adopt Western clothes, have they been left behind “Singapore’s contemporary fashion identity”? Wearers of baju kurong or the sari are somehow stuck in a distance, away from progress, or denied it? We viewed the clip a few times and it surprised us that Ms Shunmugam, a trained lawyer, who touts herself to be “a regular on the speaking and judging circuit in the Asian design community”, could put forth her argument so unpersuasively. We thought that only happens with her fashion design.

Illustration: Just So

What Happened To Vogue Russia?

According to Condé Nast, all Russian publishing operations will be suspended

The March 2022 issue of Vogue Russia. Photo: Lea Colombo/Vogue

As Western fashion brands halted their businesses in Russia, what did the industry-anointed ‘fashion bible’ Vogue do? The response came on 9 March, 13 days after the ruthless attack on Ukraine by one villainous autocrat in the Kremlin. A terse message in Russian and English on Vogue Russia’s website, addressed to “dear readers”, states: “We are suspending all kind (sic) of broadcasts on our platforms until further notice.” In addition, “the April issue of Vogue Russia will not be published. All previously published pieces are still available on vogue.ru.” The pronouncement came in the middle of Paris Fashion Week. There is no explanation to their decision, no mention of the besieged country, no denouncement of war, even when at vogue.com, four days before the Russian edition’s online message, an intro accompanying the feature Images of the Week stated that “despite the glitz of Paris Fashion Week, the world’s eyes are still trained on the Russian invasion of Ukraine.”

But the note, signed off “with respect and love” by the “Vogue Russia team”, expresses firm optimism: “We hope that this is not a farewell letter but rather just a pause and soon we will be able to reunite with you” (no acknowledgement of the many displaced Ukrainians who are unable to reunite with their families and loved ones). According to the latest figures shared by Condé Nast, the Russian title enjoys 662K print readers (for comparison, the US edition has 9.1 million). Ad rate for a full page is €17,600 (for comparison, again, the US counterpart‘s asking price per full page has a “general rate” of US$191,361 or about €174,603). It is not clear if the “pause” of Vogue Russia and the deferred “reunion” will impact the group performance of Vogue itself, but based on the figures, it is possible that Condé Nast can afford the professional respite.

Screen grab of Vogue Russia’s message announcing their “pause”

In the said message to announce the magazine’s temporary suspension, the title claims that “all these years our mission was to cover not only fashion news and trends but also culture, art and social agenda.” In the intro of Vogue Russia’s online media kit, editor-in-chief Ksenia Solovieva, just a year into the job (she was former EIC of Tatler Russia), offers more: “we try to support the fashion industry, open up new talents, discuss the questions of sustained development and sex, are not afraid to touch upon politics…” But there is, at the moment, fear (did Vogue Russia’s team read their Ukrainian colleagues’ accounts of escaping the war in the online parent title’s How Vogue Ukraine Survived the First Days of War With Russia?).

Ms Solovieva’s and her editorial team now choose the safer bet, reticence. Perhaps, that is necessary (under the advice of her boss, Anna Wintour, although the latter is not averse to showing her political standing?) amid a looming Cold War 2.0—any voice of dissent in Russia today is especially strident. With dire warnings sent out by Russian prosecutors, “threatening to arrest corporate leaders there who criticize the government or to seize assets of companies that withdraw from the country,” as reported by The Wall Street Journal, silence is probably golden.

Oh, BBC. Grrr…

Is it that hard for Western media to get Asia right?

By Zhao Guozhu

We have moved ahead, BBC. Into another year. Nope, we are not stuck in the year of other zodiacal beasts. We are firmly in 虎年, the Year of the Tiger. 🐯 But the news and graphics editors at the BBC are not entirely aware. Or, perhaps, as some people say, they were sleeping. Eagle-eyed Netizens spotted the above faux pas on chuyi (初一, the first day of the Lunar New Year) and social media went bonkers with the indeterminate creature (above) that is clearly not the 百兽之王, King of Beasts. In a statement to Marketing Interactive, a BBC spokesperson said, “We inadvertently used last year’s bug on the channel, but will immediately remove it. We apologise for the oversight and thank our viewers for spotting it.”

Chinese New Year (CNY) has about 3,500 years of history. It is generally thought to date back to the Shang Dynasty (1600–1046 BC). CNY is, therefore, not a festive celebration of modern times. Yet, some international news outlet can’t seem to get details pertaining to the most important date of the lunar calendar (农历) right. In the BBC title page, it looks to me like someone Google-searched a CNY image without entering the year and this came up, and they employed it. But, the news media said they used “last year’s bug” (roughly: label), but why does the animal look more like a rat than an ox? Could this then be from two years ago? Or were the BBC editors so charmed by the bug’s exotic potential—perhaps, all jianzi (剪纸, paper-cut) animals, in their eyes, look alike?—that it didn’t occur to them that the lunar year corresponds to a specific animal to form the 十二生肖, 12 signs of the Chinese Zodiac?

It is disconcerting that the nearly a-century-old BBC, which I have regarded and read with respect, would be this slack in visual accuracy. That it has happened before, as recently as two weeks ago, making it the second error in less than a month, 重蹈覆辙, is not entirely digestible. 好事成双吗? Do good things really come in pairs?

Screen grab: BBC Lifestyle

They’ve Got The Spirit

British daily The Guardian made an offering. So did broadcaster the BBC. No one is happy. Most are 😱

The Guardian’s CNY suggestions. Photos: The Guardian

By Zhao Guozhu

In the spirit of graciousness, I’d just have a laugh, a big laugh, 大笑一场. You would have read the reports and reactions by now. If you have not, let me have the pleasure. It was all about what to cook for the festive season. First, it was The Guardian with their not festively plated “pork and crab dumplings”, placed atop a sheet of joss paper (金纸, jinzhi, also known as 冥纸, mingzi or hell paper). Then there was the BBC with their dish of “lo mein” (the Cantonese pronunciation of 捞面, laomian, or what we know as dry noodles, not what the BBC described as “actually a very simple egg noodle stir fry”) next to a pair of envelopes—one of them, a hongbao (红包), the other, for use at funerals, on which it is clearly written 吉儀 (吉仪, jiyi or auspicious yi). The latter is usually given by the family of the deceased to the attendees of the funeral as a gift of appreciation (谢礼, xieli). Here, it is common to place in the envelope a small towel, candy, and a coin.

You can imagine the online shock and disdain, especially in this part of the world, where many of us are deep in the preparation of Chinese New Year. The Guardian heard or read them too. So did the BBC. The paper replaced that photograph with one that is missing the offensive joss paper. The broadcaster was more brutal—they deleted the picture altogether. The recipe that follows is now without a visual to tell readers what “lo mein” is. The thing that came to my mind: Why did the food stylists of the two shoots not think about what they had placed next to the dishes? The Guardian spread was attributed to Marie-Ange Lapierre (food styling) and Pene Parker (prop styling). Westerners must find it hard to style Asian food. On a plain plate, they don’t know how to make the dishes look good. So they have to resort to styling tricks, such as the use of items to exoticise the subject of the photograph, even if it means prop-hunting in a 香烛店 (xiangzhudian, joss and candle shop)!

BBC’s “lo mein”. Photo: BBC

There is something disconcertingly simplistic here too: As dumplings (饺子, jiaozi) “are traditionally served at the lunar new year feast”, The Guardian declared, they have to be styled with some assurance to the angmo creatives—something “traditional”. (Mostly northern Chinese eat jiaozi for the first meal of the Lunar New Year.) For many stylists in the West tasked to put together an image related to Chinese culture, anything that comes with Han characters (sometimes even Japanese text will do) or are at variance with their own aesthetical familiarity can pass of as inspired by China. It did not help that The Guadian’s dumplings could be gyozas and the BBC’s “lo mein” could be mee goong haeng (Thai dry noodles with prawns). Nothing about the two dishes say 中国菜 (Chinese food), so they need obvious visual cues, even extraneous ones.

Surely, they have knowledgeable people they could ask. Uncle Roger, perhaps? James Wong? Heck, Gemma Chan? I thought that following the 2018 fiasco over the Dolce & Gabbana ad, which showed a Chinese model eating a massive cannoli with chopsticks (both The Guardian and the BBC published reports), brands and the media too would be more mindful of how they effect representations of Chinese culture and cuisine. What would the British say if The Straits Times featured haggis served in a ciborium? Or, fish and chips wrapped in a (funeral) order of service? To The Guardian and the BBC, food prepared for Chinese New Year is for welcoming the start of spring, not the end of life. 别客气. You’re welcome.

Music Video Or Fashion Commercial?

With the new track from Kanye West’s Donda, the line is clearly blurred

Kanye West, er, Ye (since last October, we keep forgetting) has a new single from the 27-track Donda album, called Heaven and Hell. Between those poles, he has put out a music video two days ago that is quite unlike any seen on his YouTube channel. This is not awash with the most amazing video effects or full of sensational fashion, or elephantine footwear. At about two half minutes long, Heaven and Hell is a rather short track. The accompany video is dark, gloomy, and dystopian-looking, more hell than heaven, with many people in it, all looking rather like Ye has this past Balenciaga-enabled year: facially obscured, mysterious, and inaccessible. Even zombies have more expression.

We see only silhouettes of the indistinct people. They seem to be monks—just men. Maybe the gender is incorporeal, inconsequential. Maybe they are non-binary. Just single beings, single units, single entities, looking from the shadows towards the abode of the Almighty. The singularity is rather odd for a proudly cisgender Ye, more so when he reminds us in the new song, “women producing, men go work” (taken from 20th Century Steel Band’s 1965 track Heaven and Hell on Earth). Were the faceless men working as they go about slow-mo in what looks like a housing estate? In the stills towards the end of the video, the hordes seem to be in battle. The end of days?

Could they be angels? One thing is for certain, all of them are outfitted in a black hoodie of one design. And at the end of the video, we learned, at the sight of the familiar blue logo, that the top was from Yeezy Gap. Not likely the trousers since the Gap and Yeezy partnership has only released one hoodie and one puffer jacket, so far. Is the MV sponsored by Gap then, or is this part of the marketing exercise of the two names coming together? If there were to be roles/talents/characters in the video, the people would need clothes. But Gap (traditionally) takes pride in the many colours of one style that they could merchandise. It is, therefore, unclear how this gloomy video could augment the (still) fading glory of Gap, even if it was announced that Balenciaga would “engineer“ something with Yeezy Gap. Or, is it just the black similitude that the brand sees as the way forward?

As with most of Ye’s music in recent years, Heaven and Earth is a sharing of the power of the Christian God and a show of the rapper’s evangelical flair. This, like all of Donda, doubles as soundtrack for his popular Sunday service. It isn’t known how Ye—now, a monosyllabic moniker, like God—reconciles the materialism, swagger and self-absorption of fashion with the values of religious dogma. “Save my people through the music,” Ye raps, but not once does he plead, through clothes (instead, “no more logos“), even when he has used fashion merchandise to preach, such as as his label Yeezy Sunday Service, sold through the Coachella pop-up Church Clothes. Despite acknowledging the part that image and clothing play, Ye is still unwavering in his devotional bent, sing-preaching/suggesting more good than goods; more God than Gap.

Screen grab: Kanye West/Youtube

When Céline Paid Homage to Joan Didion

Orbituary | The American writer was, at age 80, a style icon, thanks to Phoebe Philo

Joan Didion as model for a Céline advertisement in 2015. Photo: Céline

In reports bursting all over the Net like opened Christmas presents, we learned that Joan Didion, the high priestess of American “New Journalism” and literature, and a former Vogue writer, has died. Her publisher Knopf said in a statement that the cause of death was Parkinson’s disease, a brain disorder that often sees sufferers shaking or walking with difficulty. Ms Didion passed away at aged 87 (as did Coco Chanel), in her home in Manhattan, New York. It is not known how long the disease ailed her. Regular readers of her work would know that Ms Didion had a nervous breakdown in the summer of 1968, as she recounted in The White Album. Consultation with a psychiatrist revealed that she was ill with vertigo and nausea, and multiple sclerosis. She was also suffering from migraine—so frequently and so badly that she was inclined to write about it. “Three, four, sometimes five times a month,” she described in the 1968 essay In Bed (also published in The White Album), “I spend the day in bed with a migraine headache, insensible to the world around me.”

But the world did make sense of her. Or, many women of the ’60s and ’70s did. Unafraid to express what was in her mind, Joan Didion spoke for her peers—hippies, liberals, English majors, especially would-be writers. She was born in 1934 in Sacramento, described as “the dowdiest of California cities”. Yet, Ms Didion herself said, “It kills me when people talk about California hedonism. Anybody who talks about California hedonism has never spent a Christmas in Sacramento.” Her forebears came to Sacramento in the mid-1900s, and their pioneer experiences affected her growing up, which informed her debut novel Run, River, about the coming apart of the marriage and family of a Sacramento couple whose great-grandparents were pioneers. Ms Didion would, in the book of essays, Where I was From, censure her first novel as the work of someone “homesick”, and considered it spun with false nostalgia, creating an idealised picture of life in rural California that she would say did not exist.

According to her, she did not dream of a profession in writing. “I wrote stories from the time I was a little girl,” she told The Paris Review in 1978, “but I didn’t want to be a writer. I wanted to be an actress. I didn’t realize then that it’s the same impulse. It’s make-believe. It’s performance. The only difference being that a writer can do it all alone.” But write she did. In her final year in the University of California, Berkley, where she read English, Ms Didion participated in a writing contest, ‘Prix de Paris’. It was sponsored by Vogue. She came in first, and was offered the position as a research assistant at the magazine, then edited by Jessica Davis. She moved to New York to take up the job. In the beginning, she wrote mostly captions (then, not the one lines they are today), but she would eventually have her pieces published in the magazine (it was during her time at Vogue that Run, River was written).

Joan Didion in her signature black top. Photo: Everett/Shutterstock

Much of the dates are quite muddled now. But reports suggested that she was with Vogue from 1956 to 1963. Ms Didion, apart from writing the caption, also had duties that “involved going to photographers’ studios and watching women being photographed”, as she recounted in Esquire in 1989. We can’t be certain if she had worked under the inimitable Diana Vreeland, but if Ms Vreeland joined only in 1962 and was made editor-in-chief a year later, it is possible they were at least colleagues, if not superior and subordinate. Ms Didion did not cover the fashion beat, but she did, as we understand it, contribute—sometimes, without byline—to the column People are Talking About, and she profiled stars, such as Woody Allen and Barbara Streisand (who did not appear on the cover of Vogue until 1966), and even reported on the death of Marilyn Monroe, whom Ms Didion described as “a profoundly moving young woman.”

She eventually left Vogue. Some reports suggested that she was “fired” for panning the 1965 screen musical The Sound of Music, which she described as “more embarrassing than most, if only because of its suggestion that history need not happen to people… just whistle a happy tune, and leave the Anschluss behind.” (If true, she was not the only one whose review cost her her job—Pauline Kael of McCall’s too was dismissed at the time for calling the film “the sugar-coated lie that people seem to want to eat”.) One good thing came out of New York: Joan Didion met Time staffer John Gregory Dunne (younger brother of author Dominick Dunne), whom she married, at age 28, a year after she left Vogue, and in whom she found a sparing partner in writing. The couple moved to Los Angeles and would stay for more than two decades, during which, they adopted a baby girl, their only child.

In LA, the Dunnes would come to be known as “Hollywood insiders”. Not surprising since Ms Didion’s brother-in-law Dominick Dunne was a Hollywood type, having started his career in television in New York and was later brought to Tinseltown by Humphrey Bogart to work on TV productions there. The younger Dunne socialised with the likes of Elizabeth Taylor (and would draw on his Tinseltown experiences for his later novels). The brothers collaborated on the 1971 romantic drama The Panic in Needle Park. Ms Didion and her husband wrote the screenplay and Dominick Dunne produced the film which had Al Pacino in his first leading role. The writing duo (and director Frank Pierson) also wrote the 1976 remake of A Star is Born that starred Barbara Streisand and Kris Kristofferson.

Joan Didion pictured on the cover of her book of essays. Cover photograph Hencry Clarke/Conde Nast via Getty Image. Photo: Jim Sim

While Hollywood appeared to suit them and their adopted kid, the movie town in Ms Didion’s writing was rather mercilessly dissected. In We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live, she wrote: “California is a place in which a boom mentality and a sense of Chekhovian loss meet in uneasy suspension; in which the mind is troubled by some buried but ineradicable suspicion that things better work here, because here, beneath the immense bleached sky, is where we run out of continent.” She told Vogue UK in 1993 that “Los Angeles presents a real culture shock when you’ve never lived there. The first couple of years you feel this little shift in the way you think about things. The place doesn’t mean anything. Los Angeles strips away the possibility of sentiment. It’s flat. It absorbs all the light. It doesn’t give you a story.” As she wrote in A Trip to Xanadu, published in the collection of essays Let Me Tell You What I Mean, “Make a place available to the eyes, and in certain ways it is no longer available to the imagination.” She was even more scathing when it came to the film industry and, in particular, film criticism, calling the latter—which she had previously done—in her 1973 essay Hollywood: Having Fun, “vaporous occupation”.

Apart from her style of writing, she was also noted for her style of dress. The Guardian, in what could be a fan-motivated homage, recently called her “a luminary of California cool”. It is doubtful that Ms Didion would describe herself that way or relate to that praise. And she would likely attribute her getting the job at Vogue to her writing, not her dress sense. It should be stated that the 5-foot-tall (about 1.5 metres) Ms Didion was an attractive young woman and it was possible that her appointment at Vogue had something to do with her looks. The magazine had a reputation of hiring mostly attractive lasses. But she must have had sartorial verve for her editors then to send her to watch women being photographed by—to name one—Robert Mapplethorpe. In fact, in one such session, an unidentified subject was so displeased with what she saw in the Polaroids that Ms Didion had to offer her what she had on. As she recalled for Esquire, “I lent the subject my own dress, and worked the rest of the sitting wrapped in my raincoat.” That had to be an agreeable outfit.

The dresses that she seemed to like were often long and loose. And sometimes, typical of the hippie era, floral-printed. She would wear them with flip flops, reflecting, perhaps, the Californian predilection for the unapologetically casual, as exemplified in the cover photo of her on Terry Newman’s 2017 book Legendary Authors and the Clothes they Wore. She had on a long-sleeved tee-dress; barely covering her thonged footwear. Her hair was slightly dishevelled; her left hand was holding what looked like a purse, and the forearm was folded across her waist; her right hand was on her left thigh, a cigarette barely noticeable between her thumb and index finger. These could possibly be one of the looks that inspired Phoebe Philo, who—during her time with Céline in 2015—had chosen Ms Didion, then 80, as the face of a Céline campaign. The New York Times would call the casting “prophetic”: Not long after, Saint Laurent, under Hedi Slimane’s watch, released their own ad with a geriatric beauty, the singer Joni Mitchell.

Joan Didion (right) with daughter Quintana Roo Dunne in a Gap ad from 1989. Photo: Gap

Céline’s image of Ms Didion was photographed by Juergen Teller. It showed her, from a somewhat top view, in a black dress that could have been from her own wardrobe. She wore a pair of oversized sunglasses that recalled what she used to wear in the ’60s/’70s and that obscured much of the top half of her face; the blackness of the shades contrasted with the paleness of her skin and underscored her thinning greyish hair. She also wore a necklace with an ember/copper-coloured pendant. Miss Didion told NYT that she “did not have any clue” to the chattering interests—online and off—with regards to her striking Céline appearance. Not everyone was that impressed. In her column ‘Ask Hadley’ for The Guardian, Hadley Freeman wrote, “It’s depressing to see your idol used to sell expensive clothes.” In fact, it is not known if Ms Didion herself wore expensive clothes, however iconic her looks were. Recently, The Cut opined, “Clearly, she had great taste and a point of view. But was it that special?”

In fact, the Céline modeling assignment was not Ms Didion’s first. Back in 1989, she was photographed by Annie Leibowitz for Gap’s ‘Individuals of Style’ campaign. She appeared with her daughter Quintana Roo Dunne (who died in 2005, just two months after her father John Gregory Dunne passed away). Both women were in USD19.50 black turtlenecks, with the mother sporting a barely visible chain. At the bottom of the image, the copy read: “Original. It’s how you twist the fundamental into something new.” That “Original” styling of Ms Didion would be reprised—not “twisted”—26 years later in the Céline ad. Many of her fans associate the writer with black turtleneck (or the mock sibling) tops, and she in them had transcended time. Even with grey hair, the look spoke of no zeitgeist. It was not that special.

“Style is character,” Joan Didion said in the1978 interview with The Paris Review. Although she was referring to writing, she could have been alluding to her own sartorial choices. Many women relate to Ms Didion’s famed itemised packing list, as described in The White Album. “This is a list which was taped inside my closet door in Hollywood during those years when I was reporting more or less steadily,” she wrote. “The list enabled me to pack, without thinking, for any piece I was likely to do. Notice the deliberate anonymity of costume: in a skirt, a leotard, and stockings, I could pass on either side of the culture.” Or, between Gap and Céline, either side of fashion.

Watched: And Just Like That

The much awaited return of the renamed Sex and the City is, in a word, sad

Warning: this post contains language and description that some readers may find offensive. It also reveals some plots points of the show

Sex and the City (SATC) was a made-for-television product of the late Nineties by HBO. The series premiered in 1998, more than two decades ago. Its unnecessary reboot, the 10-episode, now-45-minute-long And Just Like That (AJLT) desperately wants you to believe that the main characters have veritably left that era. But have they? The same blouse unbuttoned does not make the wearer sexier. AJLT is a desperate attempt to bring the women into a post-pandemic world, to show that these Manhattan women in their 50s can be relevant or speak the language of the present age, but not quite the metaverse, yet. The idea is appealing, but the execution forgets that it still needs to charm. AJLT is merely in legacy-protection mode.

When the camera framed the (remaining) three protagonists together in the first three minutes of episode one, we felt like we were seeing scenes and people frozen in time, unruffled by the cyclones of change. They appeared older, no doubt (Charlotte’s and Miranda Hobbes’s kids are teenagers!), but they also looked like they never went further than 2004, when SATC ended. We were still looking at the over-dressing, the It bags (Carrie now carries two at a time!!!) and, gosh, high heels—more! And the action still took place in some hipster eatery. The women still talked about sex—not their own fancy encounters, but Miranda’s, with her son’s spent condom!

The love columnist, now also an unimpressive podcaster, is her usual a-million-things-on-one-body fashionista. In her first appearance, it was busy from the knee up (we had to belief it was still pandemic season?). Her wavy, multi-tone, breast-length hair cascaded from a close-fit cap unto a floral Dries van Noten jacket, cut diagonally by the straps of not one, but two shoulder bags(!): one in black and the other a gold chain. The one with the black—a green bag that was deliberately hung lower—laid on the thigh of her vintage Claude Montana jumpsuit with flowy side panels. We know Carrie is no minimalist. Her tastes border on fashion victimhood. But, was she telling us she could not wait to be all togged up again, now possibly shopping at vintage stores such as Procell? Or, that her obsessions came along with her, right into a new era? Au courant and current must be there!

And her fervid fixations did not stop at clothes and bags, and oversized fabric flowers. As we know, Carrie Bradshaw has a thing for shoes. In one scene, we were reminded of how much she would not let go when she walked into a walk-in wardrobe and came face to face with a cabinet of high heels, and gleefully said, “hello, lovers”. As quickly as our eyes could see, there were no flats, not even a pair of sneakers. In the end, the “iconic” blue Manolo Blahnik ‘Hangisi’ stiletto pumps with the crystal buckle made their obligatory appearance. A throw-back to the scene of the final season of SATC when the wardrobe was empty? Or, the wedding in the film version of the TV series? How much more do we need to be reminded that Carrie is practically wedded to Manolo heels?

To be sure, we watched only the first half of the first episode. So unendurable it was that we did not care to finish, forget moving to the next. In fact, when it was announced right at the beginning, less than a minute into the show, that Samantha Jones had moved to London, after a bad joke about her possibly dead (Charlotte said “she’s no longer with us”), we did not want to go on watching a show we know will still be based on the whiny Carrie Bradshaw (new characters were introduced—expectedly, women of colour, and more decked-up than SATC’s one major black character Louise from St. Louis, played by Jennifer Hudson). Without the PR maverick, there was no one to temper Carrie’s unreasonableness, ultra-sensitivity and pseudo-prudishness. Broaching the subject of sex is not the same without Sam J. In fact, what more about sex have the women not covered that in the first episode of AJLT, they had to bring it up, humourlessly? Oh, Carrie Bradshaw had never seen a man masturbate. So she made Mr Big do it so that she could watch. And we too. No, thank you.

One of our readers in Bangkok wrote to us to ask if we have watched the show. She, an ex-SATC fan, who does not identify with any of the protagonists, said, “I forget how irritating Carrie is. I became depressed after that. And began to question myself if I, too, am guilty of not acting my age 😂. It took me three days to finish an episode.” For us, we did not even bother reaching to the end of the first. With expressions, such as “sexy sirens in their sixties” and “step up my pussy”, and scenes showing the women, still material, consciously coming into the world of no hand shakes and all manner of wokeness, it felt like the writers and producers tried too hard. Even Mr Big tried too hard (or should that be tried to get hard?)! What is truly regrettable is that And Just Like That is not funny. The jokes felt scripted, not the rapid repartees that so characterised the old show. The women’s lives were more mundane too; they attended a school piano recital! How Lion Moms! As we logged off, something came to our mind: Malboros and Metropolitans did not join the materialism and mania.

Screen grabs: HBO Max

M To M: The Metamorphosis Of Madonna

How did she go from this… to this?

Left : Madonna on one of three covers of V Magazine in May 2014 shot by Steven Klein. Right: Madonna on this month’s V Magazine cover, also shot by Steven Klein

On the latest cover of V Magazine, Madonna is framed within the large-as-the-page masthead, slanted, san-serif lines of the twenty-secondth letter of the English alphabet. She is reportedly 63 years old, but she looks half of that, like she shares the age of Lady Gaga. Her pore-less complexion is as fine as a mannequin’s. Or Barbie’s. Collagen and elastin in peak production. She looks at the reader from the corners of her dramatically made-up eyes, the lids lifted like a simmering pot’s, the whites as white as Mentos. Her lips, in particular, stick out. They are not only overdrawn, they look extra thick. They sit above a pronounced chin that is rather pointy, as if shaped so that it can dovetail into the sharp, pointed groove of the V. The letter elongates her face, keeping it compact and narrow, like a condensed font. Gravity has not reached Madonna.

If Madonna is recognisable on the V Magazine cover, it is likely because she is seen quite frequently these past months in the media, social too, looking like this—a version of herself. But for many no longer following her as Queen of Pop, she seems like another person. From images of her celebrating her birthday with her 27-year-old boyfriend in Puglia, Spain in August to her news-making appearance on The Tonight Show early this month, a different-looking, altered Madonna could be discerned. Fake or real, most chose the former. The singer has never admitted to plastic surgery. The sceptical is certain there is at least some toxins involved and definitely photo trickery. Back in 2019, when speculation was rife that she surgically augmented her derriere, the defiant star retorted, “Desperately Seeking No Ones (sic) Approval… And Entitled to Free Agency Over My Body Like Everyone Else!!”

The same woman? Left: Madonna shot by Herb Ritts for True Blue in 1986. Right: Madonna in this month’s cover story shoot by Steven Klein for V Magazine

The same blonde? Left: in 1987. Photo: Shutterstock. Right: today. Photo: Madonna/Instagram

In 2018, Madonna, then 60, said“I don’t know why ageing is a negative word, it needs to be a positive word.”Sure, but by not ageing negatively, it seems she is negating ageing, at least visually. Or is she ageing in reverse? Is she privy to some magical elixir we know not of? With scientific intervention, ageing needs not manifest itself on the face. And it is likely she works with the best doctors at her calling. And add to that, her own skincare line MDNA Skin, conceived with her aesthetician Michelle Peck and made by the Japanese skincare innovator MTG, and launched in Japan in 2014. But dermatologists reacting online to Madonna’s clearly different face today are sure that there is more than creams and lotions involved, no matter how potent or hi-tech the topical applications may be. Many also put forth confidently that “work has been done” and not just recently. There are reports that even suggested “her curiously taut face” has had “extensive amounts of work that has been done since she hit 40” or at least some fillers or fat transfers as far back as 2009.

That Madonna does not appear to have aged is hardly surprising since she is still an active performer (and, recently, a prolific Instagrammer). At her concert here in 2016, she did look a lot younger than her 58 years even when no one was able to get that close to her to be sure. Or, to see if the mole above the right side of her upper lip is still there or concealed by makeup. Surely, age does not make it disappear! Nevertheless, many in the audience recognised her as Madonna. When MDNA Skin was launched in the US in 2019, she told the media there, “I think it’s ridiculous that we have to hide our age or not be able to embrace it. We have to go the other way and stop cheating and pretending”, as stated in the beauty e-mag Byrdie. Although she does not say how old she is, she seems to be fronting a youthfulness that contradicts what she thinks. It is hard not to construe that photos after photos of her line-less—even pore-less—faces in the media and on her own IG page are not serious attempts to deceive and feign.

Madonna turning the other cheeks. At the Grammy’s (left). Photo: Wireimages, And on The Tonight Show early last month (right). Screen grab: NBC/YouTube

Not only is Madonna’s face defying age, her buttocks are too. In 2015, she exposed her other cheeks on the Grammy Awards red carpet, supposedly because she needed to adjust something under her skirt. Her backside at the time was, of course, no stranger to the public; they had been seen bare before, but no one was asking to see it then. Then it happened again at the MTV Video Awards in September this year, on stage, no less. There was also the harness/support that looked similar to the one she wore at the Grammy’s six years ago. And then The Late Show flaunt, which the visibly embarrassed host Jimmy Fallon could not digest, but Madonna is an artist and—quoting novelist James Baldwin— said, “artists are here to disturb the peace”. Displaying the derrière to upset the tranquility, in her case, is more of a possibilty after the (rumoured) augmentation and, by her admission, the consistent use of MDNA Skin’s Chrome Clay Mask, priced at USD220, on her butt!

This month’s V Magazine cover is shot by Steven Klein, the same photographer who was behind the lens of another V Magazine cover picture of her, seven years ago. It is rather curious that Mr Klein did not see a markedly different Madonna this time round. Did he not wonder how the two photos that he took of the same person could look so vastly unalike? Or was he complicit, merely doing his job, regardless of how his subjects have changed physically, and allowing heavy-handed Photoshopping? The media, too, is rather accepting of the singer’s changed face. We often see the transformation described as “amazing”—likely to mean wonderful than to cause great surprise. Whatever she did to her face, nothing is more astonishing, even bizarre, than what she was alleged to have doctored in March this year. Reports appeared in the media that Madonna posted on IG of a photo that digitally placed her head on the body of a fan! One Amelia Goldie from Australia shared on TikTok, “When Madonna posts a photo of herself to IG to promote her album but its actually your body (I’m not joking)”. No more evidence needed to prove that the posts on Instagram, like magazine covers, is mostly fictional.

Taste: It’s Good When It Isn’t

Refined and impeccable taste: Have they become so boring that going the opposite way is now far more appealing? Recent trends—and events—have made us wonder: is bad really better?

In a recent article about the rise in the popularity of wellies, the Guardian described the boots mostly associated with rain wear as “bad taste”. And it’s in the headline! Wellington boots, to call them by their proper, more tasteful English name, have a long history—whether illustrious or not, we can’t say. They go back to the early 1800s, and are associated with the British aristocracy. The footwear is, in fact, named after the 1st Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley. The good Duke was a military man and a Tory statesman. In fact, the chap served as prime minister not once, but twice. We do not know if he was an aesthete, but since he ruled over a dukedom, he probably had refined sensitivity towards his sartorial choices. Yet, the trusty wellies that he popularised, as well as their descendants (Bottega Veneta calls theirs by the positively low-brow ‘puddle boots’) are now associated with taste that’s not anywhere near good.

It does not require deep knowledge of current affairs to know that ‘ugly’ is, for more than half of the decade, not the ugly that we know. Ugly, the cousin of bad taste, is attractive; ugly is good; ugly is cool. We were even told that ugly wasn’t a passing fad. And it is true; it is still a trend! Ugly has redefined what is flattering just as much as it has changed what is considered attractive. In fact, chances are attractive is really not. Yet, it now encompasses so many aspect of contemporary tastes that even awful is in the jumble. And there is a word for it: inclusive. Or, the fake synonym, diverse. Both let ugly into the club. Ugly is dancing and winning. Now, if you refer to ugly in the negative, you’d have ugly-shamed! Ugly is so influential (in digital life, is influential synonymous with ugly?), it brought bad taste in too.

The thing about bad taste is that it needs it’s competitor good taste. Without good taste, bad taste won’t be that bad. One isn’t the mirror image of the other, but one can see what the other is not. It isn’t the bad that’s so bad it’s good. It’s bad that makes good look its part. What would Cinderella be without the bad—er, ugly—stepsisters? Would Cinderella stand out? Was it not the Fairy Godmother who gave her everything she needed that had some semblance of good taste? But what the Fairy Godmother created for her so that she could go to the good-taste ball came from the opposite of good: the footmen from mice, the driver of the coach from a frog, and the ball gown from rags! Oh, there is, of course, the coach; it was a pumpkin transformed, not a Yubari King melon!!!

Graphics om the Balenciaga ‘The Simpsons’ T-shirt. Product photo: Balenciaga

Fashion these days is hemorrhaging so much bad taste that it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore it as aberration that will vanish the next season. More and more, we can’t wish it away. It keeps coming at you, like mosquitoes on warm and humid days. Sometimes in ways you won’t expect. We are not hyperventilating. The Simpsons of every-town America, Springfield, for example, are not fashion darlings. As Matt Groening told the Smithsonian magazine in 2012, “I thought Simpson was a funny name in that it had the word ‘simp’ in it, which is short for “simpleton’”. But thanks to Balenciaga—the fearless bender of taste, the family of five are fashion icons. Is any of the Simpsons, now in Balenciaga and on Balenciaga, the epitome of good taste? Even poor Lisa Simpsons looks like a misguided 2nd grader who spends too much money on Shein, pearl choker intact. The Simpsons in Balenciaga seem to suggest that taste, like mood and marriages, can change overnight.

Balenciaga of the present, of course, straddles good and bad tastes, but oftentimes with one foot firmly planted in the latter. Their pairing with the Simpsons maybe irony at its highest order, but is it good taste? Or is this a sure reminder that so many people, like Homer Simpson, simply have no taste until someone comes along and gives them some. Not that Homer Simpson would be able to tell what is good or bad taste. In the case of the Balenciaga makeover of the residents of Springfield, it really depends on luck. But Balenciaga is increasingly able to make make bad taste better, so much so that it becomes good bad taste, or, as some might call it, “impeccable”. Example: Crocs. And recently it shows that on the runway or red carpet, bad taste can walk both. But with their haute couture revived, who’d dare say that Balenciaga is the arbiter of bad taste? Just badder?

Sometimes bad taste comes in the clever guise of ‘eclectic’. This eclectic is a parody of bad taste, often with kitsch as a partner in crime, and the devil around the two. That it might be steep in historicism does not take away bad-taste-as-eclectic’s parodic heft. The pied piper of this constantly jokey, retro-tinged pastiche is Gucci. Like stablemate Balenciaga, Gucci has made bad taste impossibly good, even gauche, galvanising the glaring and the glamourous into action. But few drawn to Gucci see the parody, nor, to be sure, the bad taste. When overexposed to such bad taste, we become immune to it. Bad-taste eclectic has a special—even sexual—power over those seeking fashion that looks like fashion. The nouveaux, like part of China’s social class tuhao (土豪), as well as the new-to-fashion are especially drawn to eclectic, like the proverbial magpie to shiny things. Or, a scene we get to see, flying termites to street lamps!

Chanel’s attempt at bad taste as seen on Lily Rose Depp in a recent campaign

When Balenciaga leads others follow. Bad taste is so potent that many can’t resist its pull, like boba tea. Chanel, once the epitome of good taste, is now moving away from it, baring so much underwear (above), just to name one transgression, that it would be considered bad taste just three pandemic-unheard years ago. Even Lily Rose Depp in the fall campaign couldn’t reverse the course. In fact, none of them nubile young things could. Blackpink’s Jisoo in the promo video Exploring Dior with Jisoo, expressed no taste, good or bad, when she saw the clothes; she was only able to utter, “I love this… I love this… Oh my god, I love this”. Is good taste daft? Chanel and its ilk joined the circus, but others have always been the ringmasters from the start. All-out bad taste at Dolce & Gabbana (including their marketing communication) keeps it in the spotlight. Others may fare less triumphantly but are no less trending, such as Roberto Cavalli and Virgil Abloh’s also-designer/DJ pal Heston Preston. Even to be named the “King of Bad Taste”, as Philipp Plein has, is an accolade. Zoolander, it seemed, saw the future.

To be sure, the Guardian isn’t the first to have ‘bad taste’ in its headline. Vogue, ever the seer of the future, already declared in 2018 that “Bad Taste Is the Best Thing to Happen to Fashion”. It did not conceal its enthusiasm for looks that were “about the hodgepodge style of looking like you don’t care at all coming into fashion”. But of course they cared (and still do), and the media continually shines a spotlight on bad taste, sending it on its inexorable rise. They do this by featuring the many artistes and celebrities, for whom bad taste is also the passport to ‘cred’, such as the Beibers, as well as so many American artistes-turned-whatever. Hip-hop stars have a big part in the rapid rise of bad taste. Whether by designing stuff or wearing them to effect insider advantage and cool, the sum of which frequently courts bad taste. But it isn’t just American stars who succumbed to taste aligned with bad. The Berlin rapper UFO361, a proponent, who attended the Balenciaga couture show, enthused in Stay High, “Nobody rocked Balenciaga. Crazy man. Long live Demna”. Ditto bad taste?

Perhaps bad taste is still taste, and in the world of fashion, it is increasingly better to have some taste than no taste. As the English novelist Arnold Bennett wrote in the Evening Standard in 1930, (even back then) “good taste is better than bad taste, but bad taste is better than no taste”. Although Mr Bennett was commentating on literary taste, what he said is just as applicable to much of today’s culture, not just fashion. In fact, bad taste is so much better that we have become used to it, and to the point it isn’t bad anymore. For many here, bad taste is who are: this is how we dress and behave. Accept it! And who even calls out bad taste when they can wallow in the repository of bad taste—TikTok, even YouTube? Has social media accelerated the consumption of bad taste? Its widespread use has certainly put bad taste persistently visible online. Bad taste manifests in not just what we wear, but in how we behave, in how we speak, in how we write, in the expletives we prefer, in the division we sow, in the crassness we consume, in the asinine jokes we rollick through, and in the private lives we expose—all delightfully. Even the most ardent among the promulgators of bad taste have become the arbiters of good taste. And our appetites only grow. And grow.

Illustrations by Just So

The Modern Newscaster

You’d think that Mediacorp anchors are conservative dressers, but some are not. Thumbs up?

By Mao Shan Wang

It has been a quiet Monday evening. I was watching Channel 5’s News Tonight as usual, and Glenda Chong was reading. Like most nights she’s on air, she was standing by the right side of her desk, opening with “Tonight’s Top Stories”. She wore a cream-coloured, form-fitting, knee-length dress. As she spoke and walked to the right side of the screen behind her, barely finishing a sentence, I caught sight of something I have never noticed of Ms Chong before. The dress is not unattractive. A somewhat Thirties silhouette, with a box-pleated neckline that formed, to the sides, fetching sleeves (possibly raglan) over her arms, it was one of Ms Chong’s better choices (over, say, the rather dowdy tweed jacket of some months back). But I did not expect to see, as she stood there telling me that “Singapore and the US are entering new areas of partnership” (truth be told, I was looking forward to see Kamala Harris), very clear and visible outlines of the protuberances of her breast. I look up at my clock: Nine, it told me, is not exactly the late-night hour.

I thought perhaps it was the lighting at that particular spot in the studio. Or, perhaps where she stood was just too draughty (despite the lights!). When she returned to the desk and the camera framed her much tighter, I realised I was not mistaken. Yes, there they were: distinct, dramatic, dauntless. I said aloud: “Oh, no.” My brother, who had just walked in from the kitchen to join me, said: “Why, not nice, ah, the dress?” Before I could offer a reply, he went, “Woah! Wow! WOW!” My mother, stirred by the living room commotion, also joined in. “哎哟,很难看啦! (aiyo, looks awful).” And I didn’t point anything out to them! Before Ms Harris’s face could appear, I received a WhatsApp message from my best friend, all the way from Sembawang. It was preceded by a screen shot of Ms Chong, seated (or standing?). “Correct me if I’m wrong,” she wrote. “Glenda looks like she’s bra-less. Surely it can’t be?”

I played the expert and the arbiter, not. “She is a liberated woman,” I texted back, not entirely sure of what I wrote or if I would come across as someone from the Seventies. Is anyone even supposed to look at her there? “I understand,” came the rapid reply, “but this is the national news, not an R-rated channel. I’m liberated too. But she’s reading the news, not acting in a movie. Am I a prude?” My friend, a PR professional, is not, and her reaction is totally comprehensible. This was the news and Kamala Harris was coming on! It is possible that Ms Chong did wear underclothes—a smooth, sheer, silky slip perhaps, just not a brassiere. Whatever, it was her choice. Just as it was ex-Mediacorp artiste, former 成人杂志 (City Beat) host Sharon Au’s choosing to go bra-less for work one day, as revealed by her pal Kim Ng in the latest installation of #JustSwipeLah. I am not sure if Mediacorp issues dress guidelines for their journalists who go on air, but I am sure the 23-year Mediacorp veteran’s superiors do not tell her what to wear—or not—under her dress. I am just surprised that no one behind the camera, not even the studio director, noticed and advised her accordingly when she walked in earlier to take up her position.

But in these ‘woke’ times, these minor indiscretions, not amounting to a wardrobe malfunction (so 2004!), are not supposed to bother us. When I mentioned this to another friend (a fashion industry veteran) after the newscast, she said very delightfully, “power to her!” Ms Chong, a former model, I’m sure, is empowered enough to know if she needed to be taped or not. And although she was standing at sedia (made more obvious by two diagonal pleats serving as bust darts) that did not mean our visual space had to be totally intruded. “Nippage” is real and is inevitable, as I recall reading somewhere, since women “simply have breasts”. I think the good news is that Mediacorp can finally be seen as a modern broadcaster and that, no matter how distracting—or titillating—the effect some clothes may have on their anchors, their on-air staff would not be dressed, as one stylist once said to me, “as if going to meet grandma”. Frankly, I think cascading locks to the right of the face are far more distracting than a pair of perky dots on the chest.

Updated: 24 August 202, 16:00. Unadulterated TV screen shot: Mao Shan Wang