Theory At Uniqlo

The American brand, Uniqlo’s sibling, appears with its own little space in the Japanese fast fashion’s new global flagship in Ginza, Japan

Uniqlo in Tokyo is offering the more upmarket label Theory, its sibling brand under parent company Fast Retailing, alongside its LifeWear offerings, at its Yurakucho/Ginza store, which reopened last June after a refurbishment (and expansion), reimagined by the Swiss architectural firm of Herzog & de Meuron. Theory in the bright spanking space in Marronnier Gate 2 building is a surprising addition to a store initially dubbed Uniqlo Tokyo, which, according to a company media release, was “created as the new global flagship store to embody the LifeWear ideal.” It isn’t surprising that Theory, with its clean lines and generally neutral palette, fits the bill and the retail environment. The collection could have been, upon a cursory glance, Uniqlo U, the sub-brand presently steered by Christophe Lemaire in Paris.

Launched last October, Theory at Uniqlo takes up about 60-odd square metres on the first and second floors. Unless you seek it out, there is a good chance you might actually miss the relatively small collection. With the branding built into the industrial-looking fixtures that go well with the exposed beams of the four-level store’s central concourse, the corner is somewhat discreet, and is overwhelmed by Uniqlo’s own larger and more colourful offering. It could be assumed that Uniqlo is hopping to underscore its versatility, that their LifeWear, however basic, could be easily and stylishly teamed with other more ‘elevated’ styles, especially those under their family of brands, which includes the French label Comptoir des Cotonniers, also available here. But one thing does stand out: the price difference. Theory is many rungs up the price hierarchy. One Theory hoodie was going for JPY23,000 (approximately SGD294), while Uniqlo’s could be had for JPY2,900 (approximately SGD37).

It is inaccurate to think that just because one shops in Uniqlo, one only wants to buy cheap merchandise

Fast Retailing’s pulling together two of its brands on the different side of the price scale is, from a retail perspective, a refreshing arrangement. It is inaccurate—even parochial—to think that just because one shops in Uniqlo, one only wants to buy inexpensive merchandise. A discerning eye, as Uniqlo possesses, is not trained on price alone. Perhaps this will work only in Japan. No news from Uniqlo SG yet if Theory will be introduced here. We know, of course, that our shoppers have a tendentious habit of seeking the cheap. Since its arrival on our shores in 2009, its visitors mostly associate the brand with low-priced fashion than fast fashion, often overlooking its design value. In a statement prior to the launch of Theory (and Comptoir des Cotonniers) at Uniqlo Tokyo, Fast Retailing stated that the step towards a multi-label store “allows customers to handle and purchase items with the same high quality and comfort of Uniqlo [and] offer customers the opportunity to freely coordinate items from the three brands”. This obvious plus, we suspect, would have weak acceptance on our island.

Theory was born in New York in 1999 when former Anne Klein CEO Andrew Rosen teamed up with the Israeli designer Elie Tahari to create a line that was widely known then to cater specifically to professional women. The clothes associated with Theory were—at least initially—pants: in particular stretch pants, but cut and styled in a dressier way. That one item become the driving success of the brand. In 2003, both Mr Rosen and Mr Tahari sold Theory to its Japanese licensee Link International (before becoming Link Theory Holdings or LTH) just after compatriot company Fast Retailing acquired an “equity stake” in Link. Two years later, the American arm of LTH bought Helmut Lang from the Prada Group. In 2009, LTH was fully owned by Fast Retailing (after which, they acquired the jeans label J Brand in 2012). Under the new ownership, Theory enjoyed reasonable success. Between 2010 and 2014, it was designed by the “Prince of Goth” Olivier Theyskens. Mr Rosen even allowed the designer his own imprint, Theyskens’ Theory (at first a test capsule Theory by Olivier Theyskens). While the global profile of Theory at this time was raised, it was reported that the sale figures that Mr Rosen had craved for never materialised.

Theory and Uniqlo’s relationship on the selling floor goes back to 2016, when a collaboration between the two yielded a men’s admittedly conservative capsule collection. It was marketed with a catchy phrase: “Japanese Engineering, New York Style”, perhaps reminding shoppers of the brand’s Big Apple origins. This collab came back again last year. It is not clear how successful this co-branding is, but the repeat season and, now, a Theory corner in a Uniqlo flagship are indications that Fast Retailing has big plans—and high hopes—for a name that is, for many, an unshakeable reminder of the 2000s, when, way before the (fortunately ending) tumultuous Trump era, American labels had some appeal, if not cachet.

Photo: Jiro Shiratori for SOTD

Does The North Face Really Need Gucci?

The pairing that needn’t be

By Ray Zhang

Collaborations might still be the way forward, especially in these pandemic-stricken times. But is the Gucci X The North Face (TNF) pairing the stunning collaboration to end the stunned year? Gucci may need to expand its product categories, but I do not see TNF needing to align itself with more designer names. Are they planning to be the next Moncler? These are difficult times for fashion brands, so I won’t hazard a guess. But it seems odd to me that TNF thinks that by associating itself with Gucci, it shall improve its standing among fashion folk. To me, TNF has already been on the right path, doing what they do, pairing with whoever they have hitherto partnered with, but perhaps they didn’t think they’re doing enough. Or perhaps, all their previous collabs have not been sufficiently retro-cool? And that the Gucci tribe is too large—and influential—to ignore?

Have I missed something? Perhaps. Western media has stressed how Gucci and TNF can bring out the best of their respective brands. All I could see is Gucci bringing the best of Gucci. At least visually and chromatically. The collab appears to me a little lopsided. Even if I can see The North Face half-logo (or hybrid logo) and recognize some of the puffers, the collection is still more Gucci than The North Face. I can understand that there are those whose wardrobes are now so Gucci-fied that they would seriously need cold-climate wear, or climbing gear, or alpine togs that bear semblance to the Gucci aesthetics of topsy-turvy aberration, to survive the winter. But will only a Gucci puffer coat do, even if it’s, as the now-out ads, shot in the alps, suggest, warm enough for shorts (a black model even wore a white bikini)? You see, Gucci really wants to go everywhere—into the woods, and up the mountains.

Like every designer doing sneakers to remain on the street-wear roadway, I think Gucci’s Alessandro Michele just wants to try his hand at “Gorpcore”, to borrow a term from The Cut, so as to be able to say, he, too, has jumped onto the outdoor-performance-wear bandwagon. “Gorp” is the acronym for “good ol’ raisins and peanuts,” also known in the US as the “trail mix” (or, in Australia, scroggin), which hikers pack to bring along with them as a lightweight and healthy, protein-packed snack. (Here, they often appear in abundance, rather inexplicably, during Chinese New Year!) The operative words are “trail” and “hike”, and neither sounds particularly urban, or date nights at the movies. Perhaps that’s the point. Like athletic wear, people don’t adopt a particular category of clothing so as to wear them for participating in the activity the category suggests.

That trend report in The Cut appeared in 2017. But as far back as 2013 (if my memory serves me right), I have already observed in Tokyo the emergence of what the Americans called Gorpcore, for which the Japanese, masters of looks and creators of tribes, had no real name. Until, a group of girls—as it’s often the case—became regular and noticeable enough in their get-up, as they traipse into the woods, to be collectively known as yama gyaru (or “mountain girls”). I am not sure if these lasses wore their outdoor wear as a fashion statement or for practical reasons as they embrace shinrin-yoku forest therapy, but for certain, I know the Tokyo boys have been adopting hiking clothes and turning them into fashionable urban wear at least a decade before the Americans enthusiastically wear puffers and hiking boots with their Calvin Klein whatever.

The popularity of outdoor performance wear among Tokyoites went back much earlier, and it has something to do with The North Face’s trajectory in the Land of the Rising Sun. In 1978, at the height of TNF’s popularity among climbers and alpinist in the US, the Japanese conglomerate Goldwin, considered the “most important” among producers of technical outerwear, signed a deal with the former to exclusively distribute TNF in the country that would gain the status of the world’s third largest economy. TNF’s subsequent growth in sales and stature in Japan alone is nothing short of staggering. I won’t go into the figures, but one could be worth noting: In Tokyo, on a stretch less than a kilometre, along Meiji-Dori, off Harajuku (towards Shibuya), there is not one, but four TNF stores. These are The North Face (two of them), The North Face Alter, as well as my personal favourite The North Face Standard (all four floors!). This isn’t counting Goldwin’s own store and Arc’teryx on the same street, and TNF Kids, Columbia, and Helly Hansen just behind. And just a little further back, Chums. (There’s also Patagonia, but the store is over at Ura-Harajuku.) Or, the numerous other multi-brand stores that also carry outdoor wear, such as the Japanese version of Kelty. In case you don’t sense the scale, it is massive. This is like Gorpcore’s gravitational centre.

Goldwin’s massive standing is not only among consumers of TNF; it is with Japanese designers as well. One of them deserves singling out: Eiichiro Homma, a veteran designer at Goldwin for a long time. In 2003, the company decided to back probably their most outstanding employee with his own line, also one that has technical performance wear as its core. Nanamica was born, and in no time, The North Face Purple label. Now, these are not to be confused with TNF itself. Mr Homma himself has clarified that TNF Purple Label (the brand is so linked to him that sometimes the label also reads The North Face made possible by Nanamica) is to “adapt for city wear without compromising the core values of the original,” as he told Hypebeast back in the year the Purple Label was born. Despite all the charming quirks and unusual details that Mr Homma has given to both the Purple Label and his own Nanamica, there is, to me, innovation, and, more importantly, an authenticity about the two names under his charge than Gucci could never emulate.

There is also real difference between going to, say, the Tokyo mountaineering/outdoor gear retailer L Breath (or our own Outdoor Life) and buying the real deal and making them look fashionable and going to Gucci, and buying what’s designed to be fashion and wearing them wholesale, head to toe. Once in Tokyo, at Oshman’s—less of a fashion-potential treasure trove than L Breath, I saw a young chap in a Patagonia parka, Danton shirt, Levi’s, Timberland boots, Mystery Ranch tote, and all manner of danglies from Chums that, as I recall now, look like he could have been in the new Gucci campaign, minus the Guccis, and look better. Another time, in Sapporo, at Montbell’s Akarenga Terrace store, I caught sight of a guy with a buzz cut, who was so distinctively kitted—Visvim patchwork yukata coat, a rust-coloured quilted cape (there was a blizzard outside), and a United by Blue roll-top backpack—that he could have just stepped out of some stylish monastery in the Himalayas. These guys could use non-fashion items as fashion items, and that, to me, speaks so much more than wanting to look like one of Gucci goofy models.

The North Face seemed to have been rather judicious when it comes to who they collaborate with. Prior to Gucci, it was with Maison Margiela’s MM6, the street-inflected diffusion. The collection, interestingly, did not look weird. Build primarily on the house’s circle pattern, they have as much TNF’s DNA, and they look like you might actually be able to hike in them, not just frolic on flatlands. I like that both brands seem to share equally billing in the end products. Before MM6, there was Supreme, which requires no description. I don’t see why Supreme needed another collaboration, but I understand why TNF would agree to it. This was, to me, one of the lamest pairings ever. Even without Supreme, MM6 and, certainly, Gucci, TNF could hold nicely on its own with just the Japanese iterations, led so convincingly by Nanamica and The North Face Purple Label. Japan’s TNF, I suppose, is really perched on a different peak.

Sure, I can see that Mr Michele and his team has re-proportioned some of TNP’s classic outers, such as reshaping and shortening the sleeves of the women’s jackets. In addition, the breadth of the collection could mean that they’re not putting out some negligible capsule you’ll forget next week. This was conceived to sell, and in larger numbers than the typical collaboration. But that does not mean that stocks for individual items will be plentiful when they launch in January in the coming year. And the ’70s vibe is unmistakable too, in case you have not had enough of their romanticised version: Woodstock in the winter, if the cold is conducive to concerts. And there are backpacks, hats, beanies, and, of course, hiking boots, smacked with a massive logo. And just in case there is anyone seriously thinking of really wearing these clothes to go up the mountain or go down by the rapids, there is a tent too, even a sleeping bag. But will all these really tempt those who have not already adopted Gorpcore? Or, understand it? Will they seduce fashionistas to later consider a TNF not in collaboration mode?

Truth be told, I do subscribe to the Gorpcore aesthetics. But I can’t see myself buying the meaningless Gucci attempt. When in Tokyo, I visit, without fail, The North Face Standard in Harajuku, Nanamica in Daikanyama, And Wander in Marunouchi, White Mountaineering and the sensational Snow Peak flagship in Aoyama. But it isn’t always the high-end that I call on. There’s always the nine-storey L-Breath store in Shinjuku, where I end up buying more bags and such than I will ever need, mountain-bound or not, and, in contrast, a tiny shop smacked in the Tokyu Hands building in Shibuya, Function Junction, where hippies might stop by if they were heading for the hills (they have the most interesting range of carabiners). For all my cold-weather wear, I have always been able to rely on Nanamica and White Mountaineering, while resisting the soft spot I have for the terribly expensive The North Face collaboration with Junya Watanabe. As you can tell, it is in Japan—cities and mountaintops—that I get my Gorpcore wet dreams.

Photos: The North Face/Gucci

Atypical Asian Pick At Burberry

He’s too dusky, he’s over-tattooed, and he is half-Laotian, half-Issan. In Bangkok, he wouldn’t normally be cast in any major advertising campaign, but newcomer Zak Sakraew is in Manchester. And luck came a-calling

When Burberry shared two photos of its autumn/winter 2020 campaign in mid-November, the fashion world of Bangkok went wild. Newcomer Zak (pronounced ‘Sak’ in Thai) Srakaew, who doesn’t live anywhere in Thailand, is suddenly the son of the soil, hero of the heartland. Mr Srakaew has not only starred in a fashion ad, “he is a Burberry model”, as one Bangkok-based stylist proudly told us. And he appeared in the same campaign as the Manchester United football star Marcus Rashford. The 25-year-old is the only second Thai (but the first male) model, after the more established Wilhelmina lass Jan Baiboon, to come this far, or to the house of Burberry. Suddenly it was as if the nation’s Loy Krathong collective wishes amid a fierce pandemic have come true.

The thing is, if Zak Srakaew were to be doing his go-see in Bangkok, he may still be looking for a job. But Mr Srakaew lives in Manchester, a two-hour train ride to London. And inclusiveness is presently a major theme among the advertising and branding professionals there. In Bangkok, where most of the casting of local campaigns are conducted, Mr Srakaew’s Northern Thai look would be considered not outstanding enough, even common, and would not have excited those with control over large advertising budgets. One former marketing head told us that “You hardly ever see anyone dark-skinned in major campaigns. Local brands prefer the fairer models—both the men and the women. That’s why Nadech Kugimiya (Lieutenant Commander Dawin Samuthyakorn in The Crown Princess) is still hot and Cindy Bishop (host of Asia’s Next Top Model) still does shows.”

Thai model Zak Srakaew, first from left (and forth), in Burberry’s autumn/winter campaign. Photo: Burberry

That would generally mean the luk khreung (literally, ‘half-child’ in Thai, or mixed race, usually Thai-Western unions), such as model/actor Mario Maurer (half-Thai-Chinese, half-German)—in the just-concluded-on-Channel-U Thong Ake, The Pharmacist of Chaloang—and compatriot model/actress Urassaya Sperbund (half-Thai, half-Norwegian), popularly dubbed as “the first ever Thai celebrity featured in American Vogue”. Or the luk chin, those who are Chinese-looking but don’t have to be half-Thai. For the males, they would be boyish and would ideally look like they come from a wealthy merchant or property development family. Prime example in the Bangkok male modelling scene is the singer (and actor) from K-pop band 2pm Nichkhun Horawetchakun (mostly known by his first name): his parents are Chinese, and his family is wealthy, which, in South Korea, got him the nickname “the Prince.”

Zak Srakaew is/has none of the above. Burberry choosing him would be considered, in Thailand, casting against type. He does not come from a moneyed family and has virtually no presence in the entertainment industry. Mr Srakaew was born in Thailand, in the northeastern province of Roi Et, in an area known as Issan, which shares a border with Laos. Issan is considered to be Thailand’s poorest region, and most Issan folks who move to big cities, such as Bangkok, normally go for work, and usually as manual industrial or construction workers. Or, muay Thai boxer. In fact, we are not aware of any Issan individual who has made a name for himself (or herself) in the modelling industry.

Zak Srakaew, first from left. Photo: Burberry

Mr Srakaew did not make it to Bangkok to seek a better life. At a young age, his Laotian father and his Issan mother were divorced, and he lived with father. His mother remarried and moved to the UK. But before he knew anything or understood what being brought up by a single parent really meant, his father died of a heart attack, leaving young Zak at the cusp of puberty without adult care or supervision. At age eleven, he was sent to be with his mother, who had settled down in the northern city of Manchester, home of The Stone Roses. As he told the curious members of the Thai media, his early years in the UK were hard, primarily because he “didn’t look like the other kids in school” and, more unfavourably, he could not speak English.

In fact, Mr Srakaew was illiterate. He told Vogue Thailand, “I have never been educated. I didn’t study; I couldn’t even read and write in Thai.” It is not revealed if his eventual education in the UK bore results. He did only say that he worked in an unnamed fast food restaurant. Modelling was not on the cards, but a photo he took with a model-pal caught the attention of an agent. Although he told GQ Thailand that he didn’t believe there was a model in him, “fate was determined that I had to go by this route.” Early assignments were mostly for sports brands, such as Fila; outdoor labels such as The North Face and Stone Island, as well as the e-tailer Asos. When the quintessential British brand Burberry called, he said, “At first I thought it was not true. (At the shoot) I felt like I was in a room we didn’t own.”

He now speaks with what could be a Northern English accent faintly lilted by an Asian twang of indeterminate origin. While home is in Manchester, Mr Sakraew has been looking towards Thailand. The income from modelling means he could fly his mother home frequently, and also to build a house for her in their Roi Et hometown. As he told, Vogue Thailand, “I lived in a small flat with my mother, struggling to pay the rent. But when I started my modeling career, I was able to pay for a room.” This Asian sense of place and piety, coupled by his Issan bad-boy look do set him apart from the pale and pretty perfection that is the Bangkok modelling scene, so much so that GQ Thailand swooned—Mr Srakaew “proves that the Thai style is outstanding internationally.” Did they take “Thai style” to mean upcountry or baan nork?

He is tall: 1.83m, according to his London men’s-only agency Supa Model Management. And he has those sprawling tattoos, which spread across half his upper body and down both arms. A yakuza would be duly impressed. In many of the photos shared on social media, Mr Sakraew has a pai kia intensity about him and is often dressed in what he calls “sporty look”, but to posh Londoners might be considered a tad chav. Even if not quite major among Bangkok fashion folks, his appeal is gaining traction among those in the gay community who “like them blue-collar looking or na hia hia (natural ‘rough-looking face’, with no makeup)”, as a graphic designer told us, and those who consider Mr Sakraew as aroi (delectable) as som tum (papaya salad), a dish with origins that can be traced to Issan and Laos. Newfound fans find his red-blooded provincial vibe charming as it contrasts with another trait: the guy loves cats!

Photos: Zak Srakaew

Art Bag

Loewe’s collaboration with the artist Kenneth Price yields some rather drool-worthy unisex satchels

Loewe, under the watch of Jonathan Anderson, has been the champion of craft and craft-like work to rather alluring results. The latest is Mr Anderson’s interpretation of the cheerful work of American sculptor and painter Kenneth Price (1935—2012). The (above) illustration first appeared in a specially commissioned work for the Newport Beach (California) restaurant La Palme in the ’80s. Mr Price created vivid and optimistic landscapes on glazed plates and bowls, and these images are now reimagined as leather marquetry (so fine, it’s veritable art in itself) on the flap of this crossbody bag.

We like the simplicity of the bag and how the flap is made special by such simple but striking illustrative form. The positive vibe is so right for such dismal times. Mr Price, who, aside from art, studied the trumpet with Chet Baker, was known for the optimism he projected through his work, including often bulbous sculptures, and, in particular, Happy’s Curios (some of the works also appear in the Loewe collection), a six-year project, inspired by New Mexico, that was dedicated to his wife Happy Ward.

This crossbody is not a big bag. It reminds us of an oversized coin purse (and opens like one!). But, with a wider bottom, it is capacious enough for bag essentials such as portable phone charger, a wallet, as well as EarPods and their attendant case. Most people would say this a woman’s shoulder bag, and women will surely find it attractive (if money is no objection, also go for the totally loveable Easter Island bucket bag with bamboo handle). But as men are using smaller bags these days, they should not shut themselves out of this particular one. In fact, it was heartening to see this appearing in the Loewe store window, hung around the neck of a shirt, clearly pitched at guys. Man bags really do not need to be man-sized.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Loewe X Ken Price La Palme Heel bag, SGD 1,900, is available at Loewe stores. Photo: Zhao Xiangji

CDG IG Live: Hmmm…

Broadcast at the odd hour of nine this evening, CDG’s first IG Live here was hosted by former radio DJ Rosalyn “Rozz” Lee, who chirpily promised “a great 30 minutes”. Was it?

 

CDG IG Live

It is hard to imagine Comme des Garçcons taking to Instagram Live, just as it is impossible to frame Rei Kawakubo within a TicTok screen. Yet, CDG did go onto the social media video platform via Club 21’s IG page. The Japanese brand, despite finally joining IG (in September 2015), avoids using branded hashtags or posting IG Stories. So, it aroused our curiosity when it was announced only two days ago via Club 21, that CDG would be conducting an “IG Live preview” of the their new collection, and that viewers get to win a pair of Comme des Garçcons X Vans Graffiti sneakers. The giveaways (including another ten pair of socks) were a surprise to us since we do not associate the brand with D&D-style lucky draws.

It was then revealed that the host of Weird Food Diaries, Rosalind “Rozz” Lee, would be presenting the event. That, to us, is an odd choice. Ms Lee is known for her high spirits and exuberance, and opinions that can be best described as strong. CDG is a lot more austere and serious, and admittedly, just as unwavering. But Ms Lee’s personal style tends to veer towards the conventional, tethered to a tad of sexiness. The red and black dress that was picked for her, which she said she “really, really love” (and, in the end, enthused, “99% I am going to buy”), looked frumpy on her. Perhaps we’re used to seeing Ms Lee in something sleeker and definitely body-skimming.

Despite the potential pull of the live stream, which was Club 21’s very first, the simple and straightforward presentation drew a high of 349 views at its peak, and slipped to 266 when it was about to end. This was surprising to us as Club 21 has 53.8K followers and Ms Lee (#heyrozz) 109K. It is not clear what the target was, but the presenter did say that the show would begin when they hit 200. This might be considered an encouraging figure when most Club 21 posts garner 2-digit likes.

CDG IG Live Rozz

The show, filmed at the CDG Hilton Shopping Gallery store, was spared of conceptual strength. Sure, it looked spontaneous and user-generated—typically IG, but Ms Lee might have gained from a script or a rehearsal. At times, she did not appear to know her way around in what is a very small store. She kept relying on her smartphone to prompt her with what to say next. As she guided the viewer into the corner that houses CDG Girl, she called the space an “enclave”. Throughout her intro of the clothes, her description was that of a neophyte—light on fashion-speak, and peppered with “pretty dope” for almost every garment she showed.

Additionally, we did not quite understand why Ms Lee was told to announce the price of what the models—a male and a female—wore. And this covered every piece of the look on show. As one CDG regular told us, “customers who spend above S$1,000, would already know roughly how much those garments would cost.” We are aware that this was a selling exercise, but the inclusion of prices at the end of each intro of the pieces sadly gave what are designer clothes a pasar malam vibe.

Comme des Garçons usually launch their seasonal collections in the store with an intimate party, mostly attended by the more hardcore of fans. Given that social distancing is still strictly in place, it is understandable that an in-store event was not possible. With IG Live, CDG was pointing to the adoptable direction for other Club 21 brands, but, we were not sure who the target audience of this show really were. There was nothing in the presentation that might interest the die-hards, who were already invited to the store for the reveal tomorrow. For the newbies, Ms Lee who, like a keen-to-belong mom, happily described a shirt as “super street”, might just be the right host. And an eager shopper.

Screen grabs: Club 21/Instagram

Vetements Without Demna Gvasalia

You’ll hardly notice

 

Vetements AW 2020 P1

In earlier times—now forgotten, what Vetements proposes would be considered insufferably unattractive. But it’s 2020, and the ‘ugly’ trend is moving inexorably towards the end of its life (probably faster than streetwear). Yet, the Paris-based collective, now leader-less, isn’t changing gears. It’s driving steadily on a track it has laid: one that mall rats and those who live on a staple of vintage garb had previously laid out. It offers clothes people “want to wear” (already wearing?), just a little twisted and massively priced to be similar to, say, Balenciaga (which for a while seemed linked, at least aesthetically)—serious fashion pricing for mere vetements (clothing in French).

Some people think Vetements is admirable because it has not embraced “high fashion’s weighty concepts” but Demna Gvasalia’s former brand is based on the conceptual heft of the purposely low-brow, and rides on the very Noughties belief that ugly is nice, the hideous too. Even the uniform of your courier guy, offered with minimum design input from the manufacturer, can be fetching enough to adapt as the most haute article of clothing you could wear. Funnily, no one thought they were duped. Rather, they saw in the garments not parody, but irony, which, by 2016, was extremely marketable. Subsequently, no one could even tell subversion from scam.

Vetements AW 2020 G1Vetements AW 2020 G2

In 2018, Highsnobiety declared Vetements “dead”. This was a disturbing/divisive report, considering that, at that time, Vetements was just 4 years old (its debut in the a/w season of 2014 was presented as a look book shot in the apartment of Mr Gvasalia). Despite its anti-fashion (or anti-Parisian elegance/posturing) stance, Vetements was different enough yet oddly familiar since those awkward clothes looked like what you’ve seen in some neighborhoods or industrial parks that captured the imagination of a (mostly) young bunch of editors and influencers who had not, for a moment in their coddled lives, needed to look this alt, this oddly-fitted, this unappealingly appealing. They have never seen or been to those neighbourhoods and industrial parks. There was this chance to play the renegade without having to adopt what the punks did: tore up clothes and fasten them with safety pins. Vetements showed that fashion this anti could be well-made, well-distressed, so over-sized, and luxurious. Then Highsnobiety struck.

We can’t say for certain that Vetements is no longer saveur du jour. But we have heard, on the selling floor, that “nobody wants Vetements now.” Even less so without Demna Gvasalia? In the past, Mr Gvasalia had often stressed that Vetements is a “collective of designers”, which could mean that even without him, the label can soldier on. And what does a Vetements without the main man look like? Just as defiant, but tired. Six years after that apartment shoot, Vetements has not tossed out the want-to-make-every-day-bloke-cool vibe. Or, for the women, the same grit+glamour schtick. They continue to stab at fashion snobbery with blunt scissors.

Vetements AW 2020 G3Vetements AW 2020 G4

We weren’t at the show, so can’t say this for sure. but we imagine that, since attendees had to help light the runway with the flashlights on their smartphones, maybe they didn’t have time to busy themselves with social media? No show-to-IG immediacy. Could this slightly deferred transmission somehow minimise the still-banausic approach that is synonymous to both Vetements’s design and presentation? The styling for Vetements shows have mostly looked like costumes for a film about gritty, inner-city life, affording only occasional fashion quirks by those who are anti by circumstance. Even without its founding designer Demna Gvasalia, the brand still appears to straddle its suburban Georgian roots and inspiration and the collective’s separate starts at various luxury houses. Does anti still charm?

Till now, Vetements is considered to be “reworkings of wardrobe staples”, but whose staples? The present collection suggests those of security guards, pimps, and pai kias who share the same sartorial train home after the graveyard shift; the kids with their compulsory hoodies, who hog tables at Starbucks to study; the fashion students who think graduation can come when spending more on what they wear to class than on the materials needed to pass the class; the bengs and lians you meet every day, on the way to work. These are not clothes that will get people a job. Sure, some pieces are stylish, such as the ‘flat’ skirts, essentially two rectangles coming together, but if the wearers weren’t models and they came towards you in a group, walking as aggressively as they do in the show, you’d be afraid. Possibly, very afraid. Demna Gvasalia did leave his mark.

Photos: Filippo Fior/gorunway.com

His Soft Armour

Craig Green’s Paris debut proposes deconstructed straitjackets as supple protection. The clothes deserve all the accolades

 

Craig Green AW 2020 P1

One of London’s most original voices, Craig Green has decamped for Paris, the city every designer worth his salt gravitates to. He must know he’s ready to show alongside the city’s biggest names. Since his debut in 2015, Mr Green has been widely praised as a boy wonder of British men’s wear. And his climb has been, for the lack of better word, meteoric. He won British Menswear Designer thrice: in 2016, 2017, 2018. His designs, often not constricted and are sometimes inspired by Asian garbs such as the kimono and even monks robes, have influenced both emerging and established designers, including Virgil Abloh and, closer home, Amos Ananda Yeo.

For his first show outside London (excluding the Pitti Uomo presentation for spring/summer 2019), Mr Green offered a striking, confident, and forward collection, infused with every element one has come to associate with the label: relaxed shapes, unexpected quilting, and de rigueur free-to-flap straps, cords, and laces. Some of the horizontally quilted pieces look like bibs that, with straps, can be worn up and down the torso, in some cases under abbreviated knitted vests, and with what appear to be waist bags—similarly supple and padded. While, as a whole, there is newness (certainly against the tailoring that is pervading the other Paris collections), there is also classic Craig Green and, to us, not entirely surprising. That’s not a negative, but a nod to the clear DNA, defined enough for the brand to show abroad.

Craig Green AW 2020 G1Craig Green AW 2020 G2

Just as we thought Mr Green could not outdo himself any further after the first six ensembles that no doubt reach out to fans, he sent out tops (we can’t think of a name for them: shells?) that seem assembled by more straps and cords. A couple had smocked fronts, flanked by ruffles! Then, some compositions that look like they’re more suited to a window appear. In fact, these are ingenious outerwear composed of quilted pieces and padded panels that appear corded together and can be adjusted, we assume, for different visual effects.

Then, as if to confuse the viewer that this may not be an A/W collection, some vaguely futuristic, ropey mesh tops emerge, worn over bare skin, with sort of a filigree front that will surely intrigue the most dexterous boy scout. Mr Green likes doing things to fabrics. There are patchworks of symmetrical geometric shapes formed up as scrub-like tops and matching bottoms. Striking and easy to like, too, are the tunic tops and bottoms paired to yield a single, oversized flower running down the full-length of the garments. Just as remarkable are those outers that appear to be collages of pieces of rainwear and assorted bags!

Craig Green AW 2020 G3Craig Green AW 2020 G4

The final last four sets are akin to installation art, which is not at all alien to Mr Green’s hitherto 12 runway collections. Reportedly, the present is the final of a three-parter, exploring the idea of ‘skin’, which, as we see, need not adhere to the body. This quartet of indescribable clothes that seem destined for some design museum very soon, and has more in common with kites (an idea previously explored) than apparel illustrates Mr Green’s mastery at re-imagining what can be constructed and sewn. He applies the gossamer fabrics as deftly as a a master sculptor working with gold leaf: nothing appears to have fixed placement. And the resultant colours have a painterly quality about them. It isn’t clear if these would be bought and worn since they could be mistaken for a fancy food cover, but they’re fascinating to look at.

In Paris, a portentous year of the demise of what Supreme has been touting for close to a decade, Mr Green continues to offer clothes that defy categorising. But, if fashion are increasingly either streetwear (dying, remember?) or tailored styles, chances are, the young Londoner’s designs will be lumped with the former. This is, of course, unnecessary and unfair. The fashion world is large enough for either. Craig Green, quilting and padding in place, isn’t even straddling the two.

Photos:  Isidore Montag/gorunway.com

 

Raiding Mama’s Closet

At Loewe, boys play grown up by trying their mother’s clothes

 

Loewe AW 2020 P1

You’d think that Jonathan Anderson may not have any more of the delightfully off-beat under his sleeves after last A/W’s whimsical and resistance-is-futile collection, in particular the William De Morgan capsule and the magical knits. But no, he’s gone on to tackle an even harder subject (and a conundrum that won’t go away): guys who have their eyes on dresses. In particular, iridescent ones, better still if they’re of high fashion stock. Swiftly, Mr Anderson has moved from craft to couture.

From the first look, you know this is going to shake your sense of what constitutes modern masculinity in an already a-lot-less binary world: men in a dress. But Mr Anderson isn’t inclined to offer something so obvious. It’s only a suggestion of a man in a dress (there are, in fact, three of them): the models don’t actually wear one. From the front and in a flash, it sure looks like a dress—chintzy and gaudy, something you’d likely see at a hostess club or a prom—but they are each worn, with straps at the neck and waist, as an apron! It sure is a gotcha moment. Empowering, too? Or just an illusion?

Loewe AW 2020 G1Loewe AW 2020 G2

But that isn’t the end of it. These aren’t frocks worn for effect. A theme can soon be discerned. By the forth look—a Prada-worthy sweater with marabou collar and clam-diggers with marabou cuff—you know something is afoot. Then comes the tunics (that are actually worn like dresses), swing coats, and one with oversized shawl lapel, a couple with capes, pullovers with bejewelled shoulders and cuffs, blousy shirts, and more outerwear you’d see at a country club or what Bunny MacDougal might wear. It’s as if Mr Anderson has handed the entire pattern-making to the women’s wear team. We have not seen the clothes up-close, so we can’t say if the handling is like women’s wear too.

Sure, men in dresses are as new as them in skirts. And a dress held-up as a dress, and not actually worn is not novel either. Still, to see Mr Anderson send them down the runway for a house not his own—and once considered traditional—is a perhaps a little outré, although gender bending of even more extreme measure has happened elsewhere. A second viewing of the collection suggest to us that this isn’t merely allowing men to ape what women wear. These are not boys wanting to look like their sisters; they seem more enamoured with their mother’s wardrobe. Women’s old is men’s new.

Loewe AW 2020 G3Loewe AW 2020 G4

The clothing of women of a certain age and taste are tapped, not those who are enamoured with, say, Chanel or Jil Sander or, on the other end of the aesthetic spectrum, Comme des Garçons. That the frumpy femininity and potential bad drag need to be played down by putting the guys in boots (nary a pair of sneakers!) and belts of chunky chains (Louis Vuitton Men!) or fringing made with them suggests, perhaps, that for men to adopt female garb without appearing to really cross gender lines, some form of counterpoint is crucial, some cancelling out of camp cliches compulsory. Au courant is when you dress like a woman, but not as one.

Accessories, therefore, come to play: elephantine ones. The bags, quite literally! The proboscidea-shaped carry-alls (the elephant is already a ‘traditional’ animal shape at Loewe) are likely going to be a major hit (on IG, for sure), with iridescent/studded ones worthy of a maharajah’s wardrobe. Not since Thom Browne’s simple-by-comparison dog-bag—inspired by his dachshund Hector and still in production—has there been a bag shaped after mammals that is so unlike those kitty kits that tend to make it to handbag shelves, making it both conversation-starter and potential social-media star. What to make of all this? Are guys really going to wear dresses, and carry elephant bags henceforth? We really don’t know.

Photos: Loewe

Louis Vuitton Pares Down

Virgil Abloh’s three-month break from work is possibly what he needed for LV

 

LV Men AW 2020 P1

The first thing that struck us about the Louis Vuitton show this season is the vaguely surreal in-the-sky set. Somewhere in the middle, among sewing paraphernalia, is a giant scissors; its blades placed apart, as if about to cut something. We at SOTD are rather traditional and we tend to be mindful of placing sharp and pointed blades in all settings, including stagings meant to show off luxury goods in the hope of generating good tidings. Fengshui practice often encourage adherents to avoid incorporating sharp edges in any given space so as not to bring on sha qi (杀气 or aura of death/the inauspicious). Blades of scissors ajar, it is believed, will cut any good luck or good qi that may be present. An American and a French company, of course, may not concern themselves with such believes, but we noticed.

Perhaps the scissors is symbolic of Mr Abloh snipping off the superfluous, the over-designed, the duds. After a good rest, it appears he has decided to rethink his approach for Louis Vuitton, the ardent embracer of what Mr Abloh stood for. He is playing down garments that he and his pal Kanye West were instrumental in promoting: those that require not the rigours of tailoring. Now, the show opened with slim-fit suits—all seemingly simple, and while they might be refreshing for Mr Abloh’s LV, it was, to us, a revisit. Is it Dior (Homme) under Kris van Assche’s watch? Did the khaki suit not say Jil Sander to us? Or, if we care to go further back, the black-and-white combo Helmut Lang?

LV Men AW 2020 G1LV Men AW 2020 G2

To be sure, Mr Abloh was a proponent of tailoring when he took the creative reigns at LV Men. He did put out suits in what observers thought was an attempt to prove that he could do fashion, specifically at the luxury level. But there was something not quite right about the early attempts. Contrived comes to mind; also tried too hard. The tailoring was, naturally competent, but it was, more significantly, without the youthful insouciance that today’s suits would benefit from. It was not an Hedi Slimane moment.

But Mr Abloh persevered. And the suits are now witnessing some vestige of maturity, the proverbial express, not impress, and a restrain that is welcome when seen against his tendency to subscribe to a grandiose scheme of things. He is, perhaps, only practising what he has recently preached. When asked, in an interview with Dazed last month, how streetwear will evolve in 2020, Mr Abloh said, “I would definitely say it is gonna die”. But does death to streetwear immediately means living to suits? Apparently. While that line of thought might be reductive, we can’t say Mr Abloh does not try to at least be interesting.

LV Men AW 2020 G3LV Men AW 2020 G4

The holster, first accessory, now appearing as part of the suit jacket, will no doubt allow the whole garment be the curious retail joy known as a hit. There is the pants with what should be the end of the vest now appearing as part of the waist, possibly an irremovable cummerbund. And everything between that appears subtle and sleek. All seems fine and dandy until the pieced-together jackets appeared. We don’t want to be too quick to assume, so we waited, and there it was, a coat with a shirt built onto the front. Now, to us, a garment on a garment (and the former mostly decorative), as well as irregular shapes joined to form suits—and ruffles (one formed up as a peplum!)—has more than a mere whiff of Comme des Garçons. Virgil Abloh, tell us we’re reading too much.

After only four seasons at LV, Mr Abloh is considered such a seasoned pro that he probably thinks he does not need to prove that he can—still a contentious point—design. Why even bother? Just do whatever you like, with stops in the past and nods to your idols, and then throw in rapper styles in the form of a shaggy fur coat for good measure. One man’s fur coat is another man’s streetwear. Ditto suits. Thing is, in 2020 will a suit, however pleasing, change the course of history? Perhaps for some, their history-making luck will remain intact. Or, uncut.

Photos: (top) screen grab of LV live stream/(runway) Alessandro Lucioni/gorunway.com

The Anti-Fit Firmly In Place At Gucci

Forget about clothes that sit nicely on the body. Gucci is telling you to go too small or too big

 

Gucci Men AW 2020 P1

It is a matter of time, isn’t it, when the oversized will share the runway with the undersized? Just like black would meet white, masculine would encounter feminine, Tarzan would make contact with Jane. Now that roomier-than-normal has gone mainstream and seems to beat the tailored fit as the look to adopt, Gucci has taken the opposite, proving that even in sizing, what goes up must come down—really down.

But Alessandro Michele did not resuscitate the baby tees of the ’90s; he actually put out clothes that appear to be too small for the wearer or didn’t grow with him. One shirt, in particular, stood out: it is so tight, it won’t button up, leaving a placket with gapes. Another, a sweater that appeared before this, is short at both the hemline of the bodice and sleeve (emblazoned across the chest, humourlessly, the words “MON PETIT”—my little, in French), exactly like those worn by the kid who grew too quickly for his clothes. Could this be fashion finally owning up to the fact that, just as there are those boys who won’t accept adult responsibilities as they mature, as identified by Dr Dan Kiley in his seminal 1983 book Peter Pan Syndrome: Men Who Never Grow Up, there are men who won’t don adult clothing as they age?

Gucci Men AW 2020 G1

Either that or the clothes are too big, not in the least oversized, as we (still) see at, say, Balenciaga, but really the wrong size. Plaid shirts hang on the body as loosely as the knit vest worn over it, both with the sharpness of discards consigned to the Salvation Army, T-shirts that are too baggy, look, as the chest tells us, “impotent”; military jackets so large, the quartermaster probably wanted you to look this foolish, and jeans so much bigger than the waist, they look like part of contributions for flood victims.

It is’t immediately clear what this challenge to proper sizing might be. You sense that this is ridiculous having a fashion moment. It begs one question: how will Gucci train its sales staff to respond when a customer, emerging from the fitting room (are they necessary anymore?), asks, ”Is this my size? Is it a nice fit? Do I look good?”

Some members of the media describe this as Gucci “re-inventing masculinity”. Really? Smocked, bib-front auntie blouse on a male torso, with chest hair sprouting out of the V-shaped neckline befits the new man? In earlier days, that would have been called half-drag. And we don’t mean that as a form of shamming. Only now, with things being less (not?) binary, we somehow think a guy in a top that would look better on his primary school daughter is somehow better at representing male sartorial flair. Disruption is not necessarily fashion. And, let’s not tag this as irony; we’ve left the last decade.

Gucci Men AW 2020 G2Gucci Men AW 2020 G3

Sometimes one wonders if Mr Michele’s strategy is one of mere irreverence to affect discomfiture by taking something as unremarkable as a vintage-y girl’s blouse and putting it on a grown man. Pairing they call it, but on their own, the blouse/dress—and the military-surplus-looking pants (one with hole in the left knee!) that they go with—could be found in any weekend market, from Clignancourt to Chatuchak. However clever, however hi-brow the reference, however deep in shock value (or wrecking of nerves), this is really akin to what participants of Rupaul’s Drag Race already/usually wear before the race.

This season, Mr Michelle also riffs off the late Franco Moschino who riffed off Chanel. That and, surprisingly, Marc Jacobs interpreting, well, Marc Jacobs interpreting whoever. Mr Michell is known as a godown of immeasurable reference points and a willing mixer of disparate elements, historical or not, pop or not, good or not. This autumn/winter 2020 show at Milan’s Palazzo Delle Scintille has a giant, Miley-Cyrus-missing wrecking ball of a pendulum swinging menacingly in the centre of the presentation space. What was Gucci really aiming at, but did not gain a hit?

Photos: Gucci

Urban Characters

…encircling a man on a horse. But don’t take anything literally. It’s Prada

 

20-01-15-21-01-30-373_deco.jpgPrada has always been concerned with attitudes, consumption, or the state of the world than fashion itself. It does not succumb to trends—we don’t remember it did. If anything they show turns out to be trendy, coincidence is more likely than calculation. The Prada man, defined from the first collection in 1993, hitherto seems more inclined to express his outlook on the changing world he lives in than through clothes per se. Sure, Miuccia Prada has made certain clothing uniquely Prada—the relaxed suits, the retro coats, the camp shirts—but they do not place the wearer on trend-specific grounds. Yet, you know he’s a creature of fashion, uniquely so.

This season, that indefinable fashion man appears. He’s of the modern world, but he is also a part of the world of art, of the affluent, of the countryside, hipsterdom, of corporate life, of blockchain, of lounging, of clubbing, of social media, of whatever that now makes a man a man. Watching the presentation, show-goers look down into a piazza, which could be like how the audience once viewed the action at the Colosseum. Could this too have been a The Matrix moment, when the Neos of the world avoids the Agents in a sea of brisk-waking humanity?

Prada Men AW2020 G1Prada Men AW2020 G2.jpg

We admit we are reading too much into a collection that may not have been conceived for decoding. Well, we don’t  know what that cardboard sculpture of a man on a horse means either. But does that that really matter? Do men communicate the same ideas as Miuccia Prada when they don the clothes she designs? The thing is, Prada’s collection seduces the mind. It send signals to the brain, rather than the heart, and leaves a clear message: we want the clothes; we want to look like that!

That, to us, mean a certain veering off the standard, the classic, the recognisable, but not teleporting to another planet. We like that the suits are unmistakable, yet not one that you are expected to wear to a boardroom meeting, untethered to a digital world. We like the coats that are a little large and boxy, but not to the point that you could be mistaken for a filial son unwilling to discard the clothes he inherited from his father. Or, a member of a delegate bound for a UN meeting. We like the mis-match, off-beat styling—a sort of Pee-wee-Herman-found-modern-fashion vibe. We like the pajama-styles, with those repeated-pattern prints only Prada dares to propose and present; we’d wear them to that boardroom meeting!

Prada Men AW2020 G3.jpgPrada Men AW2020 G4.jpg

And there are the colours—not your Arrow shirt palette. Rather, those that seem picked from a chart for wall paint. It is totally imaginable seeing Miuccia Prada selecting colours from that than from a Pantone guide, just as she had from wallpaper swatches for prints. The orange (or burnt sienna?), the greens, the blues in cool tones that, when mixed, appear deeper and bolder, and even a tad mismatched, which make them even more appealing because the energy transmitted have the same potency and calm as, say, an Edward Hopper painting. That they are welcome alternatives to only-all-black-is-truly-fashionable underscore how the chromatically off-beat too can sit alongside the sooty and glum to communicate sartorial edge.

This collection shows Prada to be in fine form. Typical of the brand (which will bring a smile to fans), there’s the nod to the past just as there is the embrace of the present, or the sportif and the semi-formal, the nondescript and the eye-catching, the rural and the urban, the skinny and the oversized, the sleeved and the sleeveless the plain and the plaid, the cool and the goofy. Enough extremes to ensure a guy in 2020 does not need to choose the mainstream.

Photos: Prada

Requiem Of Fluidity And Softness

At Jil Sander, one can find assurances that the future of fashion is not incurable madness

 

Jil Sander AW 2020 P1

Of late, we have been reading a number of rants against minimalism, how adherents are boring (old) farts, how they live for safe than sorry, how they mistakenly think simplicity is a virtue. Although minimalism, like most of fashion—from couture to street, has evolved, many haters think minimalist style is “white-on-white-on-white” or “ten variations of taupe”. To them naysayers, so flavourless is minimalism as fashion that a Marie biscuit is tastier and looks better.

But biscuit the colour isn’t as dull as any other that has chromatic commonality with food. Even black has some bro in the comestible. It is possible that these antis can only equate minimalism with plain, possibly the un-designed. Or, they have never seen the work of Luke and Lucie Meier for Jil Sander. The husband-and-wife team has been so deft at what they do for Jil Sander that they have created a clear, distinctive voice for the label that is not a radical departure from the founder’s aesthetic, yet not without their own controlled spin. They have showed that minimalism need not be impoverished of the visually rousing. As guest designers at Pitti Uomo this season, they proved that stripped down is not stripped away.

Jil Sander AW 2020 G1Jil Sander AW 2020 G2.jpg

It is always fascinating to see how the Meiers can put out what appears to be little with such maximum effect. And without appearing to try too hard, which, increasingly seems to be the adopted look of many of today’s designers, old and new, attempting to make a mark in a difficult-to-dent world, or to remain relevant during a time when relevance morphs into irrelevance as quickly as disruption becoming undisruptive. The Meiers’ Jil Sander does not negate what was established before, nor does it shade the designers’ own vision of what the brand could be, without chipping away at its foundation.

Since 2017, when they joined Jil Sander (now owned by the Japanese multi-label giant Onward Holdings. It was once part of the Prada group), the Meiers have given the brand—both men’s and women’s wear—a contemporary update without stepping into nothing-to-see territory. For men, they have introduced shapes and volumes and decorative details while still keeping to a discipline that qualifies the output as minimalist. Some readers tell us that the two remind them of Lemaire’s also-married-to-each-other Christophe Lemaire and Sarah-Linh Tran, but the two couples could’t be more different. Both may eschew the far out and both may make modest marvelous, but their output are as only as similar as two sides of a coin.

Jil Sander AW 2020 G3Jil Sander AW 2020 G4

While many designers are going ‘gorpcore’ (natural next step after street?), the Meiers choose not to broach it. Sure, there are outdoorsy elements in the collection, but they walk in the shadow of the monastic and nomadic. For autumn/winter 2020, we are drawn to how ageless—even genderless—everything looks. If not for the fabrics, which include tweeds, suedes and Japanese wools, it could be seasonless too. It isn’t too dressed up or too dressed down either: the relaxed suits, the supple coats, the gentle capes, and the sleeveless tunics (with the epaulettes of a shirt that can be fastened to the shoulder of one of them). There are the muted water colour prints of what appears to be desert flora, even a bison. To underscore the hard and soft duality of the collection, details go from fringing to metal studs and silver pendants.

Under the Meiers, the brand’s bag offerings are especially strong. Apart from messenger and totes, there are the triangular (if you look at them sideways) postman bags with hand-knotted and crochet straps, hung trinket-like, that subtly under score the craft ethos for Jil Sander. The footwear, too, gets their own highlight in the form of the hiking shoe/sneaker hybrid, which, given the trail boots’ trajectory, is set to be the one to cop. If this alludes to the collection’s steady footing, it is much welcome.

Photos: Jil Sander