BTS In An LV Show

On Wednesday evening, the boys appeared in a special Seoul edition of Virgil Abloh’s autumn/winter 2021 collection for Louis Vuitton. This was really one for the Army

By Colin Cheng

Why do you need to show autumn/winter twice? Because you can. And you must finish telling the story. Louis Vuitton was not quite done with their autumn/winter 2021 narrative, so they took it to Seoul to complete it, together with additional 34 new looks. And if you were going to Seoul, you might as well get what CNN called “the biggest boyband in the world to model”, all seven of them. Yes, BTS was the star of the (officially) “spin-off show” and the main draw. The septet was installed as LV’s brand ambassadors just last April, but unlike others similarly appointed, the boys were asked to perform (LV calls it “integrated”) in the fashion show (Blackpink’s Rose didn’t have to strut for Saint Laurent, not yet anyway), and, strangely, a rather static one. And, boring too.

It was quite a rush for me yesterday evening. I was watching the Balenciaga couture show on my smartphone, ensconced in a sofa seat at Starbucks. The show was running late, about 20 minutes or so; it started only after Bella Hadid arrived, tardiness for the world to see. The live streaming of both shows was only 30 minutes apart (5.30pm, our time, for Balenciaga and 6pm for LV), but because Balenciaga was late (and I did want to see the presentation till the last outfit appeared—a beautifully ghostly apparition of a wedding dress), I could not switch to LV. And I do not, as many others seem to be, especially the Pokémon Go-playing ones, carry more than one phone. As my best friend and I WhatsApped, “isn’t this like those days when we had to rush from one show to another, and hopping that the one we were on the way to see had not already started?” When I was finally able to go to LV’s webpage some 15 minutes or so later, the show had already begun, but not by much.

Clockwise from top left: Jimin, RM, Suga, Jin, Jungkook, V, and J-Hope

Directed by South Korean auteur Jeon Go-woon (Microhabitat, 2017), the Yeezy-ish, pseudo performance-art film was set in Bucheon Art Bunker B39, just outside of Seoul. The building was once a complex of incinerators. This time, a different fire was burning, and it was smoldering through seven hot-blooded Korean males. Only the BTS boys were walking through the space (which included one central scaffolding/structure). The rest of the models just stood (or sat) still. Like so many of Virgil Abloh’s recent artsy presentation, this is painfully pretentious. With a small hot-air balloon—emblazoned with the word “Hope”—hovering ominously, I was not sure anything was going hopefully forward. Where were the overly made-up boys going to? Or where they seeking Permission to Dance? Why was V (Kim Tae-hyung) wondering aimlessly with a LV-logo-ed coffee cup?

This collection/presentation is a Black-American embracing Asian sex appeal by way of a French brand. Internationalism and inclusivity have never made such visually striking bedfellows. I am not going to say anything about BTS’s usefulness in all this because, as so many have found out, one never says anything about the boys, even if one is right, as the stans or the BTS Army will wage war against anyone who dares put their biases in any perceived-to-be-negative light. The clothes have a Black aesthetic about them, and for fervent Asian rappers could be amusing, even ideal, to wear. According to LV, “the collection re-appropriates the normal through extreme elevation” and “employs fashion as a tool to change predetermined perceptions of dress codes”. I am not sure any of the BTS boys are such alert thinkers.

Photos: Louis Vuitton

Potent Pairing

In a collaboration that no one saw coming, Gucci seems to finally be shifting gears

Did the Gucci show really happen? Is Gucci really 100? Why was Balenciaga the elder (104!) roped in to celebrate? Is this a tap-thy-stablemate’s-mind Gucci for the next century? Did your head not spin? Does Gucci need Balenciaga to—finally—look this interesting? Are they not able to reinvent themselves on their own? Is this Balenciaga doing Gucci? A sort of guest editor? Or Gucci in homage mode? Or an expression of Alessandro Michele’s desire to do Balenciaga? Do we need a Balenciaga ‘Hourglass’ bag with Gucci monogram? Or Gucci jackets with Balenciaga shoulders? Or Gucci-Balenciaga suits with the logotype of both brands littered on them, like department store gift wrappers? Or the familiar printed leggings-cum-boots chez Balenciaga? What’s a coat fastened to the extreme left a la Balenciaga doing in a Gucci collection? Or an asymmetric dress with a draped hemline so evocative of the B appearing in a show (still) typical of the G?

Is the world we are living in now not confusing enough?

The action takes place in supposedly London’s Savoy Hotel, imagined as a club with a catwalk and a secret garden. The music is not house (as has been the choice of the season at other houses), but a mish-mash that is a narcissistic bang at Gucci as narcotic, from Lil Pump’s yo-bro chorus of “Gucci gang” to Tita von Tesse’s tease on Die Antwood’s “Gucci coochie”. And there is a lot to analyse and unpack. But we may risk misreading everything. Mr Michele is, of course, no stranger to collaboration (the allegedly sold-out collab with The North Face, the most recent). He is also quite the plunderer of the past and cultures not his own. This collection, conversely called “Aria” (essentially an operatic solo), although a “pop” version, looks to the past, to self, and to contemporaries in a show that seems to salute whatever deserves to be hailed. A greatest hits of Gucci’s own legacy, the now fashion culture that the house is largely part of, and the design contributions of another equally iconoclastic, if not more, label. As Mr Michele said, post-show, to the media, “I have been an excellent thief, a robber.”

This is not the Gucci we are used to. It’s less geeky (except some of the models), less foolish (except, maybe the accessories), and even less irreverent (except, again, the accessories). Could this be Mr Michele’s tame side; he on the periphery of reasonableness? The clothes do not look too vintage-y (the retro vibe cannot, of course, be totally rid of) nor do they deliberately look as though sourced from the Salvation Army. We keep seeking out Balenciaga, but the partnership is not so much the two designers coming together to design the collection as one expressing love for the work of another. This is not the same as, say, Dries van Noten and Christian Lacroix in 2019. Or, contemporaneously, Valentino and Undercover. And definitely not Miuccia Prada with Raf Simons (no way!). Rather, Mr Michele “quoted” Demna Gvasalia, according to the show notes, not copied. Euphemistic talk no doubt, but it makes the results very much Mr Michele’s singular doing. Apparently, he was granted permission by his Georgian Kering associate to create hacks of Balenciaga’s distinctive silhouettes for both the ready-to-wear and the leather goods. This truly speaks of the creative culture of today, when Balenciaga can be treated like Ikea. Replete with rhinestones and marabou!

The references make for absorbing viewing. For so long (it has been more than half a decade of Alessandro Michele’s tenure!), Gucci has been frustratingly predictable that we wanted to really not dislike this collection. Sure, we do not expect Gucci to suddenly become unprovocative. We want their fans to go on being enamoured. It is inevitable there is enough camp to keep both Harry Styles and Jared Leto delighted and sufficient logos and indeterminate forms to keep Billie Eillish coming back for more. And adequate 70s disco glam (glittered cowl-neck top for men!) to get night owls ready for the day when bars and club can open. At the same time, it is refreshing to see that some of the tailoring is ‘classic’ and that the clothes sit well; the oversized is not actually ill-fitting. And the return of equestrian details, even if they are harnesses for chests or saddles for shoulders—not so barefaced since Dawn Mello was hired to revive the brand in 1989. But we are not sure if we are used to seeing Balenciaga’s extraordinary (less so now), offbeat (that, too) shapes within the kooky universe—including a near-obsession with body parts held in the hand, such as this season’s glittery minaudières of anatomically-correct heart—that is the only Gucci that fashionistas know.

But Mr Michele did not only pay homage to Balenciaga, he also saluted fashion’s patriarch of sexy who changed Gucci forever, Tom Ford (totally snubbing John Ray, Alessandra Facchinetti, and, unsurprisingly, Frida Giannini). The first suit that appeared will always be associated with Mr Ford: in red velvet, and worn with a baby blue shirt, with two buttons deliberately undone. Thankfully, none of the pre-wokeness “porno chic” was revived. That Mr Ford’s designs could be easily riffed—er, hacked—is understandable: Mr Michele and the Texan designer/film maker have a maximal love of the ’70s, even when both dance on opposite ends—one with a deep reverence for the elegance of Halston, the other with the ardour for the hipness of the hippies. The Tom Ford-era suits, now with reshaped shoulders, have the sexed-up dapper cool associated with the oddball individuality of Balenciaga, rather than something akin to those in forgotten wardrobes of Haight-Ashbury. Mr Ford is relevant again.

In most cities, dance clubs are closed, but luxury fashion seems eager for them to open or to be looking forward to the mirrored ball spinning again. The just-concluded Dior pre-fall 2021 show in Shanghai is illustrative. At Gucci, the models, flanked by flash lights, finish their catwalk routine and move to a holding area (gosh, we are thinking of Prada. Again!). But rather than ending their job there, they are led by one of them, who opens a massive door, into a garden. There, they danced among white horses—interestingly, without saddlery—and albino peacocks. Very soon, as the frolicking suggests, the world can parallel Peter Pan’s. Perhaps, Alessandro Michele, in his mind, is singing I will Survive.

Screen grab (top) and photos: Gucci

Jet Bag

The Louis Vuitton Keepall has a new shape. And it’s ridiculous

A new aircraft will land in a Louis Vuitton store near you. And whether it will then take off isn’t certain yet as the big-ticket item is tagged at—fasten your seatbelt—USD39,000. Or, about the cheapest price of a one-way ticket from our island to the city of Tokyo on a private jet. Or, the COE for a Cat A car. People long to travel, we understand. But yearning is one thing, showing your cannot-be-concealed desire to fly (again) amid a pandemic by carrying a bag in the shape of a plane borders on absurd and, frankly, laughable. Louis Vuitton has just announced the availability of the Airplane Bag to order and its staggering price tag (to compare, the “entry-level” Hermès’s Birkin is reported to be USD9,000). When it was shown during the men’s autumn/winter 2021 show, we had thought that it would not go into production, as it could be just a prop—good for runway, not quite on a city sidewalk. But now that we know it can soon be purchased, it would appear that Virgil Abloh can really do anything.

Looking like it belongs to Fluffy Airport, in the company of Gugu and friends, Mr Abloh’s jet bag is consistent with his increased use of cartoon/stuffed-toy accessories to add interest to his tailoring that has yet become streetwear’s much awaited stand-in. The Airplane Bag brings to mind Thom Browne’s Hector canine carryall, so adorable that mature women are known to go weak in its presence. And to a lesser extent, Hermès’s Bolide Shark Bag, only far less capacious. And, to us, not cute like both. It does not take long to see that it is probably not quite the cabin bag to bring onboard, even in first class: not exactly overhead compartment-friendly. In fact, it is hard to imagine a grown man totting the bag anywhere. This is not a Thomas the Tank Engine lunch box dad has to bring for junior.

Understandably, Mr Abloh is into the present travel-again obsession, like so many people, especially fashion folks. We didn’t, however, quite get the supposedly dichotomic “Tourist-vs-Purist” message he was communicating or how the plane fits into all that. To be sure, the flying machine was a key motif. It appeared as oversized buttons and illustration on sweaters, even on earrings. But this unwieldy jet bag in the recognisable monogram is way too serious and too boys-and-their-toys to be clever or ironic. Mr Abloh, we know, likes to be literal; he is inclined, for instance, to naming things or identifying their function with descriptions in bold font. Is it a relief then that the Airplane Bag doesn’t come with a textual identifier? And in quotation marks?

Leaving on a Jet Plane is not a song to sing these days. Or an action to talk about. What about leaving with a jet plane?

Product photo: Louis Vuitton. Illustrations: Just So

Teen No More

Is Raf Simons finally inspired by maturity?

Morse code signals of Kraftwerk’s Radio-Activity (or Radio-Aktivität), released in 1975, could have been a delightful hint of what the Raf Simons autumn/winter 2021 co-ed show might look like. But Mr Simons is never unsubtle. And definitely none of the retro-futuristic exuberance for him. Perhaps we were just thrilled to hear the familiar melody of what could be a remix of the remastered title track of the German composers’ first all-electronic album. When the show began, we saw a model emerge from a pentagonal tunnel, lit by running fluorescent lights. Our thinking was in overdrive. When the models walked into the movie-set-like Barenzaal, a power-plant-turn-event-space, we were certain we had thought too much. This was not going to be a collection inspired by The Looking Glass War.

The catchy electro-pop minimalism of Radio-Activity, perhaps, threw us off. We couldn’t really imagine Raf Simons set against Kraftwerk. (But who else could we have thought, Tate McRae?!) In 2015, an article in the Financial Times, enthused that “it is difficult to think of a band less inclined to noodle—and yet there’s also warmth and humour in their music”. Perhaps the same can be said of the clearly-intoned designs of Mr Simons, even when we couldn’t join the dots between the designer and the music. It is not the warmth of his tenure at Dior and not quite the humour of, say, Moschino, but there is—we did sense it—something warm and humorous. In fact, the oversized shapes that Mr Simons has been offering for a while now sometimes felt like a big joke, and you either get it or don’t. We do know, for sure, one person who does: Miuccia Prada.

The show is set in a former mine building, now known as C-Mine, in the former mining town of Genk, in the Limburg region of Belgium. Millennials of the party gen before COVID-19 might recognise in C-Mine, the building St James Powerhouse in HarborFront. The Barenzaal’s bunker-like industrial site somehow made us think that the Amphibian Man (The Shape of Water) might appear, rather than Mr Simons’s gorgeous, supple shapes. What struck us was a palpable omission of obvious youth, “solar” or not. These clothes seemed less gleaned from campuses than camps, or more specifically, the groups favouring the less conventional without looking, when dressed, like arrivistes embracing fashion for the first time, or for social-climbing attention.

People do grow up, so do fashion. Mr Simons said in the accompanying notes to the collection—“I don’t want to show clothes, I want to show my attitude, my past, present and future. I use memories and future visions and try to place them in todays world.” Unencumbered by the heritage or archive of a heritage-house-as-employer, Mr Simons was able to just hit the right notes, as he went on with not just marching to his own drum beat, but by striking the drum too. This collection had all the hallmarks of shapes and details that fans love, whether for his own house or when he was designing for another. If you were sold to the intriguing volumes, they’re all still here, this time in a near-cocoon that might be associated with the business tagged haute. This was “attitude” that, despite being forward-looking, had the sense of the palpable present: comfortable and assuring.

Mr Simons is not only a shape-meister, he’s also a texture ace, creating knits with the surface effect of stretched kueh ambon or forming the diamond-quilts on the coats (with voluminous rear) that could be a remake the 127-year-old British brand Barbour might just need. And there were the colours, too—chromatic pairing that only Mr Simons would attempt. Few could pair brights to black the way he could: always with such electrifying effect, even when the shades were closer to pastels. Who’d think of teaming candy pink with highlighter yellow? And there are the accessories: one skeletal wrist arm-cuff got us wondering. Was this Mr Simons offering the equivalent of the skull? Humour?! And what about those new R. Simons labels that appears even on knitted gloves? Is the brand embracing commercialism? Or, had his experience with the Prada triangle brought something out in him that we know not much of?

This was Mr Simons’s second women’s collection. It’s hard to link anything here to the past, Jil Sander or Dior, although some of the shirts did bring to mind Calvin Klein. Despite the clearly feminine leaning at Dior, Raf Simons is rarely associated with profound femininity and high-octane glamour. Yet, he has a clear sense of what makes striking womenswear that’s sensational, and, at the same time, uncontrived and unforced. We are partial to the tunics and tunic-dresses, so consistent with styles that are knowing and confident. At Jil Sander, one fashion critic once said that Mr Simons was not able to cut the pants well. This season, the trousers looked masterfully executed—with just the slouch that today’s ‘relaxed’ calls for without the too-easy hang-loose of sweat pants. The mood of the moment was truly well, and enticingly, captured.

Screen grab (top) and photos: Raf Simons

Through Snow And Ice

Performance wear right where it is needed

White Mountaineering has largely been, since its inception in 2006, an outdoor-wear sort of brand, but not in a hardcore sense, although, to be fair, designer Yosuke Aizawa has imbued much of his output with what adventure-seeking fashion types might wish to wear, whether hiking on a verdant hillside or a snowy slope, and Helly Hansen—or the like—isn’t calling (or, Gucci X The North Face). For the brand’s autumn/winter video presentation, Mr Aizawa availed a compelling and beautifully-edited video, shot in Hoshino Resorts (including their famed Ice Village) on Mount Tomamu, which sits in the heart of Hokkaido, and modelled by those who appear to be professional snowboarders and snowmobile racers. It is a sleek amalgam of scenes reminiscent of the 2014 documentary The Little Things, interspersed with fashion snaps, featuring those who might actually wear these clothes in a setting that would really require them. Few fashion films unite stunning action photography and runway against a rugged, natural backdrop so seamlessly. One just wishes to rush out to buy a parka and head for the (even if white-out) hills!

The thing is, even with its fashion-forward designs, White Mountaineering is also known for their high-performance wear. Mr Aizawa himself is a recognised and ardent fan of the great outdoors. The name of his label is proof of his mountain-sports leaning, as well as his desire to blend fashionable clothing with the usability of high-altitude gear. Or, using details found in, say, ski wear in city clothing (for serious mountaineering gear, there is the collaboration with French brand Millet Mountain). Fans appreciate the Junya Watanabe alum’s use of unexpected textile pairings as well as touches, such as hardware to create a decidedly forward style (carabiners, a/w 2018!) that straddles rather than distinguishes regions and climates that may be poles apart. Although this autumn/winter collection is shot in sub-zero conditions, the clothes don’t just look like they belong up there, between the powdery slopes and the log cabins; they are as suitable for exploring the towns at the foot of the mountains.

It is hard, in fact, to pin the pieces down to mere winter-sports wear. We are drawn to, for example, a plaid wool shirt-jacket with practical patch-pockets of different fabrics (but in the same tone), three in a row on each side, worn with trousers with a lighter shade of similar plaid, an ensemble that would not be out of place in Tokyo’s fashion-centric areas, such as Marunouchi or Daikanyama, where the White Mountaineering flagship is situated. Or any of those utility jackets, with the yoke that appears to be extended forward in the front (or is that to give the effect of a trompe l’oeil vest?), so effortlessly smarter than, say, a chore coat. In fact, with the cold-season collections, many pieces of Mr Aizawa’s outerwear, year after year, are as collectible as the other favourite labels for-extreme-weather gear, such as compatriot Eiichiro Homma’s Nanamica.

Japanese designers have, for years, been adept at adapting classic American-style outdoor wear to their own street-tinged (but not necessarily streetwear) looks, just as how they have been able to similarly rejuvenate denim jeans even earlier. They have also the particular skill in striking a balance between the performance ability expected of outdoors clothing and the stylish aspects so needed in the selling of fashionable garments. And if certain technical aspects require professional supervision, they won’t hesitate to collaborate. White Mountaineering, apart from working with Millet Mountain, has also paired with the Italian brand Colmar A.G.E. this autumn/winter season. No matter who Mr Aizawa teams up with, or whether he keeps his brand on the slope or down below, White Mountaineering continues to provide, within the shape of recognisable garments, elements not usually found in menswear destined for mundane city life. And therein lies the mountain-high some of us often happily derive.

Screen grabs (top) and photos: White Mountaineering

The Sum Of Its Fascinating Parts

Kolor’s Junichi Abe, the master of category-defying styles, offers a master class in mixing and patching things up

At Kolor, it was a rare IRL presentation for the still mostly digital autumn/winter 2021 Paris season. There is a runway, set in what looks like an outdoor space that, in the darkness, bears some resemblance to the Midtown Garden of Tokyo Midtown during their year-end festive light-up. But, in fact, the show is staged in Happo-En Garden in the affluent residential neighbourhood of Shirokanedai, Minato. There are attendees too, appropriately socially distanced, as can be made out. The models, both men and women, walked the runway in the manner models walked when they are watched: aloof and indifferently, or impossibly cool. It helps that the clothes are able to augment the in-person attitude. And, how they are worn—often with indefinable mash-ups that never leave the effect we still know as elegance. After last season’s on-set, topsy-turvy headache inducer, the runway show allows, once again, Kolor’s riveting patchworks within recognisable wholes to be appreciated without the interference of distracting camera work.

Fans of Kolor and its low-key designer Junichi Abe look out for the season’s “accent” pieces, usually outerwear for autumn/winter. And, they won’t be disappointed. Wearing one of these delightful pieces would continue to invite the inane question from the clueless, “did you they have not have enough fabric to finish the other side?” Case in point: A slouchy blazer looks perfectly normal on the left side, but to its right, there is no corresponding other half of the notched lapel. Instead, you get the button side of a strip of cardigan! Or another: A regular crew-neck sweater that is not so regular when you spot the sleeve of a Harrington jacket on the other arm, and its tab collar on half the neck. We could go on, but detailed description takes the fun out of looking at the clothes and be captivated. Mr Abe not only pulls together disparate elements to complete a garment, he marries genres too. Athletic wear, in particular, is spectacular incorporated into more traditional menswear staples. A vintage-y track top, for example, could magically be worked into a classic bombardier jacket.

Pairing and patching have always been Mr Abe’s particular forte. Through the years since Kolor’s founding in 2004, he has been able to perfect the mixes, which, despite the increasing complexity, never felt contrived. This season, as stated in the show notes, Mr Abe tries to forge, in the light of the world’s present troubles, “a new style of simplicity where complexity also coexists within.” This is not immediately obvious if you allow the complexity that evidently exists to carry you away. Perhaps simplicity comes in the final product, when all the different parts have settled in their respective places to yield their intended effects (such as when elasticised in-seams in this season’s pants settle with regular out-seams). The womenswear, shown alongside the men’s, appears to be more composited—with some pieces, you can’t be sure which is part of the garment, which is accessory. Perhaps it is in bafflement that interest is sustained.

Reaction to Kolor, in fact, borders on the fanatical. It is considered one of the most successful labels in Tokyo, heightened by their collaborations with sports brands such as Adidas and Puma. Like Comme des Garçons, Kolor’s key pieces from past seasons fetch a high price with sellers of the pre-loved. As Junichi Abe continues his deep, deconstructive pulling apart and then bringing together of classic styles and opposing categories of clothing, and applying textures and colours (in order for its name to retain its meaning?) to the results in unexpected ways, there will always be a strong following of his style of simplicity that happily allows complexity to coexist.

Screen grab (top) and photos: Kolor

Priming The Pomp

Dior salutes “the masculine extravagance of ceremonial garb”, as the show notes state. Are you ready for band leader schtick?

For the latest Dior collection, Kim Jones collaborates with yet another artist—Scot-in-Trinidad figurative painter Peter Doig, contemporary of the milliner Stephen Jones (they where schoolmates at Central Saint Martins). The Guardian’s art critic Jonathan Jones’s impression of Mr Doig: “Amid all the nonsense, impostors, rhetorical bullshit and sheer trash that pass for art in the 21st century, Doig is a jewel of genuine imagination, sincere work and humble creativity.” In the first part of Mr Jones’s comment, he could have referred to fashion as well, but we are not sure if Kim Jones (no relation to the critic) is offering anything in his work for Dior that can be characterised as “humble creativity”. If anything at all, the Dior designer has infused the brand with considerable measure of grandiloquence, which is really how some luxury brands are moving forwards theses days, as counterpoint to the the mundane and the necessarily practical that have come to dominate the world, much of it in various guises of lockdown and reduced social interaction. Dior projects that this will all be over by Q3, and we’re all ready to rally around the bandstand and watch society and everything around us bounce rhythmically back.

According to Dior, the collection is a nod to “the ceremony of the everyday”. That is, of course, diametrically different to what we’re used to these days since formal activities conducted in public with some measure of solemnity—or importance—are far and between, or even discouraged. Many pieces in the collection allude to uniforms of brigades ready for a parade. Or, intended for evening dress. Mess dress redux? Our NS men would recognise them as No. 1 dress, although the silhouettes are a lot more relaxed, and the details more akin to the less regimental versions of Calvary uniforms, be they reiterations of the shell jacket or the frock coat. The details—without lapels in some instance (stand collar instead), contrast piping, and brass(?) stud buttons—have the air of the ceremonial, but where do they stand if the occasion were to be decidedly less, say, inaugural, to cite one recent event that’s still fresh in our minds?

These are nothing like those military uniforms that rock stars of the past used to wear—clearly ceremonial, such as the red Grenadier drummer’s jacket that Mick Jagger wore in the ’60s or the authentic hussar’s uniform (believed to date back to 1850s) that former soldier Jimi Hendrix wore, or those braids-aplenty sets adopted by the Beatles during the Sgt. Peppers era. These are, of course, more modern, more cool, as Mr Jones designs are usually tagged. And to augment these two crucial elements, he has added extended/exposed pocket bags to the front of the jackets and appliqued ribbons and stars emerging from the yoke, and tweaked the traditional stripes down the outside leg seams of military trousers—also known to the Germans who popularised them as lampasse—by leaving them stitched up to the knee or up to the calf and flapping like the ends of notched or pointed ribbons respectively.

Yet, theses could be the look of teenagers incorporating drum major uniforms into their anti-establishment stance. Or, as we see them, the mimicking a bell hop’s at-work look. Seeing the clothes this way may obliterate their haute couture bearing (Dior’s petit mains are, again, involved in some of the pieces), but it is precisely this perception that, to us, takes the haute out of the equation. To be sure, these Dior ceremonial coats are, according to Mr Jones, inspired by what artists in France wear during the ceremony when they’re inducted into the Academie des Beaux-Arts in Paris. But how many of us enjoy occasions such as those these inductees partake? Or, the chance to just play dressed-up in looks reminiscent of military folk of yore?

And there is the art collaboration; art being the incorporation in luxury ready-to-wear now that attempts to elevate the ho-hum to high art. Mere graphic design isn’t enough (although Issey Miyake Studio has done wondrous work with the estate of Ikko Tanaka, with such well-received output that there’s an Ikko Tanaka Issey Miyake sub-brand). Art has a long history with haute couture (at present, we’re thinking of Yves Saint Laurent and George Braque). Mr Jones’s previous pairing with Ghanaian artist Amoako Boafo, Portrait of an Artist, yielded a “celebration of identity, of power of creativity”, visibly, not necessarily or convincingly, so. This time, with Peter Doig, the application of the artist’s distinctive brush strokes is more subtle, less plonked-on, less museum shop, and, in some outerwear, the monochrome washes, more textile than canvas, distinguishing themselves as wearable rather than exhibitable. It is not yet clear how successful such collaborations are. Artists, for most, do not paint with the aim of being assimilated into fashion design, which, in the end, is destined for the body, not the easel.

Photos: Dior

Post-BLM Fashion?

When black style dominates, are we talking about a fashion moment or a cultural shift?

No matter how delicately we put this, we will be misconstrued. This is not the Louis Vuitton we know or remember. There is no good or bad, no better or worse. It is different and we have to acknowledge it. Under the stewardship of Virgil Abloh, LV is increasingly reflecting what he told British Vogue last year, “My power is to show Black talent, Black people, and Black people inside of my output.” And that power is expressed in full force this season: blackness has not been so obvious in an LV collection, so mightily expressed, so explicitly articulated, so evocatively styled, leaving no doubt that a black American creative director now helms the 167-year-old label. This is, perhaps, response to a burgeoning black clientele, or the ever-more surefooted stride of black creatives. Is LV, however, ready for such a massive aesthetical shift?

It is really hard to say. When Mr Abloh was handed the creative reigns of the house, surely it was foreseeable that he would create a strong identity that deviates not from his own. Mr Abloh has shown talent in deeply referencing from a whole lot of sources, but the exercises always come through from a very specific lens: black experience. This is most evident in the current show or, more specifically, film, shot by the transgender, half-Chinese-half-Swedish, American artist-and-indie-filmmaker Wu Tsang (such as the 2012 documentary Wilderness or 2019’s One Emerging from a Point of View, shown at the Singapore Biennale 2019). At 13 minutes long, this livestream event is an opus, given the general brevity of most phygital presentations now. From its opening snow-covered mountain wilderness to the interior of what looks like a subterranean space that’s evocative of a posh subway station (actually Tennis Club de Paris), with commuters, wanderers, voyeurs, and sleepers—all men—sharing the interior, the film seems to be conceived to appeal to those with a fondness for the pretentious or to video-savvy TikTok stars, such as Noah Beck, he with a bankable legion of 24 million followers, and now an LV-aligned KOL.

Titled Ebonics (the English spoken by black Americans, and considered to be a language in its own right), the collection is probably Mr Abloh’s most ambitious, covering men in suits, men in skirts, men in bulky sweaters, men in (fake?) fur, men in padded-shouldered shirts, men in hoodies, men in motocross gear, men in Calvary officer uniform, men in work wear, men in gym wear, men strapped with architectural models, men with Carrie-Bradshaw-worthy rosettes, men with Gaddafi drapes. In all, a relatively large collection of 70 looks (Prada showed only 42, and they have two designers working on the collection), which in sum, is a bit (Berry Gordy’s) Motown, a bit off-the-courts NBA, a bit Kanye West and co, a bit RuPaul when not in drag, a bit Laurie Cunningham, a bit Iceberg Slim, a bit Harlem-flashy, a bit Congo dandies, a bit Wakanda royalty; really a whole lot to unpack, and you may not want to.

As with most of Mr Abloh’s designs (or the lack of it, some might say), styling is key to setting the looks. A regular suit jacket, for example, is mis-buttoned to yield an asymmetric effect. Or, topcoats given extra-long tails so that they drag on the floor, like the trains of gowns (to excite Billy Porter?). Aplenty are knife-pleated skirts, but we’ve seen them elsewhere before—even when worn over pants (not that this will make the skirts more masculine). As well as the show-off pieces: urban armours, composed of buildings that could have been made with Metcalfe card construction kits (to better remind us Mr Abloh is a trained architect?) Despite the myriad looks, the black aesthetic is unmistakable. Could this be artistic taste that is palpably and necessarily stronger, following the Black Lives Matter movement? As Mr Abloh told the media, “Within my practice, I contribute to a Black canon of culture and art and its preservation. This is why, to preserve my own output, I record it at length.” He sure did—13 tedious minutes long.

Screen grab (top) and photos: Louis Vuitton

When Art Slips In

Undercover’s Jun Takahashi combines art and fashion so effortlessly

Fashion may not be art (we’re not initiating a debate), but art can sure work its way into fashion. Jun Takahashi has always been a designer with a strong graphic sense, which explains why Undercover T-shirts, with their offbeat illustrations, are massively popular at both the Madstores anywhere and the brands flagship in Aoyama, Tokyo. And, the collaboration with Valentino two fall seasons ago, seducing fans of both labels with a curious and compelling mix of flying saucers, alphabets, Beethoven, and Edgar Alan Poe in thoughtful collages that are really more arty than it is, as some KOLs thought, street. The subversive bent that Mr Takahashi is known for was ever present too.

But there has never really been art, as defined by the art world, until now. For his latest collection, Mr Takahashi collaborates with the Swedish painter, Markus Åkesson, known for his photorealistic portraits of persons completely wrapped, up to the head, in floral fabrics that would give Richard Quinn an orgiastic thrill. The anonymity of the subjects and the fashion-worthy cloths for both model and background makes for compositions that are odd and beautiful, or oddly beautiful, which may also describe Undercover’s unconventional application of graphics in clothes that are, well, oftentimes conventional. This is one of the most synergistic collaborations between artist and designer, something not always evident with those who have previously tried.

Art on clothes—that are often described as streetwear—in the hands of Mr Takahashi is beguiling. Most of the garments are Undercover on familiar territory: pullovers, hoodies, blousons, parkas, and such. But the application of the art, composed without loss of the visual impact of the original, elevates the pieces. as elevation is meant to transmit. The familiar becomes unfamiliar, the everyday becomes occasion-worthy. While not many might wear a poster-size delineation of an unknown on their front or back, there would be those who has no qualms in striking portraiture as part of their sartorial expression. Mr Takahashi, like many of his compatriots, has also a weakness for workwear, for utilitarian details, and this season he does not disappoint. One standout detail: a bag attached to outerwear, which we suspect is used to also house the garment itself when folded for compact transportability.

Undercover is one of the most popular menswear labels in Japan. One of the reasons why they’re so esteemed and followed is the immediacy of everyday usability in their products, without sacrificing design. And all the while not losing the punk sensibility that still filters through from his early days as band member of The Tokyo Sex Pistols. Jun Takahashi may not consciously position himself as a streetwear designer (his underrated womenswear is proof), but fans won’t think otherwise. Accessibility has always been his strength. Even when there is the application of art, as is the case this season, the pieces do not distance themselves as objects so rarefied that they’re untouchable.

Photos: Undercover

Raf Prada!

Has Miuccia Prada become more hands off sooner than we think? Or is Raf Simons merely asserting himself? Would this turn out be the best menswear collection of the Milan season?

If you love Prada and you love Raf Simons, you would love this collection. If you love Raf Simons more, this would totally grab you by the collar. The world was deeply curious when Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons as co-designers was announced in February 2020: How would the “balance of power” work out? These two designers do have distinct voices. Will they harmonise? The answer came in the form of the spring/summer 2021 women’s collection shown last September. It was as much Prada as it was Raf Simons—the best of both worlds, some say. But, with the pair’s first men’s collection for autumn/winter 2021, Mr Simons seems to hold sway. It was all rather familiar. Those of us who have been following the work of Mr Simons will recognise many of his touches. But more importantly, it’s how everything comes together, including Prada’s unmissable inverted triangle (now more symbolic that the straight-on enamelled logo)—there’s no mistaking Mr Simons has a strong hand in all of it.

Called Possible Feelings, the possibilities can indeed be felt. This is not a collection (or the thinking behind it) circumscribed by the four walls of your home because you are WTF. It isn’t a deliberate and conscious reaction against what is considered far from normal, which, as we know, is being redefined. Possible Feelings are what you, the individual, feel, and people do not feel alike. This open-to-interpretation approach is also reflected in the Rem Koolhaas/Amo-designed set. Although presented as a ‘show’, it isn’t on a regular runway, as the entire Milan Fashion Week is an online affair. We see the models walk into rooms, sans audience. Prada calls them a “non-space”. But they are physical confines, even if empty. Each with surfaces differently coloured and textured. Could they be separate realms? How do we possibly feel? Raf! The faux fur walls! Did they not appear in Mr Simons’s website History of my World?

It all starts with a sort of base garment: a knitted, patterned body stocking of sort, be it a top, a legging (the media calls it “long johns”), or both. Against the hard and grinding sounds of Plastikman’s soundtrack, the models appear in silhouettes that are generally lean. Raf! (We’re not getting into the argument of who did skinny first although we know.) The patterns recall Prada’s notorious but welcome “ugly” geometric shapes, in the colours of ’60s wallpaper. But these were not restricted to the close-to-the-body wear; they are in the form of cardigans (or all-knit cardi-suits!), coats, and, in what appears to be the lining of outers. Sometimes underneath all these is a turtleneck pullover. Raf! The slightly oversized sweaters, bombers, coats (those lapel-less pea coats!), shaped longer than the standard issue, contrast appealing with the lean separates worn underneath. Raf!

If you look at the pieces individually, you can’t really describe them as out there. Even with the addition of a co-designer, Prada keeps to the merchandising approach characteristic of the brand. Make a great coat, for example, with perfect proportions, of a familiarity that even non-fashion guys can accept, only make it in a blistering yellow or the softest of pink so that fashion folks cannot resist. Also Raf! There seems to be a push for textures, and the pairing with the smooth. A Prada collection is incomplete without nylon, and here, it goes with boldly patterned jacquard knits. There are also the matte turtle-necks and just-as-shine-free slim pants teamed with slouchy bombers with a soft sheen—almost lurid (the purple in particular). Prada calls these “sensory stimulation”. Given how our surroundings have been last year and would be the year ahead, such a stimulus is very much welcomed.

But it isn’t just the individual pieces that come together to show a Prada that’s delightfully not quite the same as it was before. The styling, too, speaks of the newer half of the designing duo. The models are thinner than ever (“all new models,” as The New York Times reported Mr Simons saying in a dialogue with Ms Prada). There’s the bowl cut of the hair—a reference to the Mods, although sartorially, the total is not quite the ’60s and there is no rebellion against the austerity of a previous generation. Raf! Or, could this be Prada’s style-aware otaku tribe, as opposed to the dandies seen elsewhere, such as at Fendi? Some of the guys walk awkwardly, some dance. They’re in their own world, kitted in their own vision of what is fashion in a world when fashion should not matter, at least not to the extent it deserves something as inane as Zoom meeting wear.

“Fashion became pop,” Mr Simons said in that dialogue, “and the winners now are the ones that scream hardest, not the ones that speak most intelligently.” Was that a prediction that having a vestige of intelligence in speaking, or communicating a design language or aesthetic, as is (always) evident in Prada, may result in not winning? Even when it was reported that Prada has been doing well, especially in Asia? It is unthinkable of a debut Raf Simons collection that does not emerge from speaking intelligently. Although Prada’s newest collection does not scream, it is audible in its tactile sumptuousness, pattern-strong pep, and off-beat pairings. How Raf.

Screengrab (top) and photos: Prada

And The Luxe Goes On

Despite what’s going on around us right now, Silvia Fendi does not believe in an abstemious life. Her latest collection for autumn/winter 2021 continues to pile on the luxe and is not short of ideas, proving that her strength is in menswear

“Hello,” goes the matronly voice above the not-yet-loud electronic beat, “it’s Silvia calling. I just wanted to tell you about humanity, colour… about what is normal today, about light… and darkness…” That’s how the Fendi show started. These days, the creative heads behind luxury houses want to speak to you directly. Silvia Venturini Fendi does so through the soundtrack by Not Waving, the London-based Italian “musical artist” Alessio Natalizia, for the live-streamed men’s show. She does not sing. Instead, she speaks as if through a phone, or Zoom without the video turned on. It is reminiscent of Jean Paul Gaultier’s 1989 dance single How To Do That, in that he too didn’t sing, but Mr Gaultier sounded like he was having fun, rather than encourage a discourse on what matters now. Ms Fendi’s wanting to tell you about “what is normal today” could be prelude to what her Fendi men’s might look like.

But only, it isn’t really. This is not some elevated athleisure or loungewear 2.0 frippery; this is whatever you wish to call it, with extra doses of the deluxe. Not quite the fashion of WTF, unless you live in a country estate in, say, Buckinghamshire, England, the look that reflects a still-precarious time. We can’t place exactly where these clothes might be worn to or where they might feel right, but we are drawn to them, if only because they look like we might be able to snuggle in them or turn one of the quilted coats into pillow or blanket. These are not exactly clothes for a lockdown (or for retiring, socially); they look like they would want to be worn somewhere. And clothes have such appeal if they are destined to be seen outside, in the world, no matter how awful or lamentable it is. What’s normal for Ms Fendi, as it turns out, is not quite so.

Such as shorts in winter. Although quilted, they might be insufficient for, say, Sapporo. Or too much for Hong Kong, where winters rarely warrant quilted garments. So they will be a fashion item, distanced from the practical obsessions of a now-different world. The head-to-toe knits too (we like the overalls with the turtleneck sweater), which could be for a log cabin apres ski (who really wears sweater-knit slacks outdoors?). Or, for that matter, the quilted dressing gowns? The dandy vibe is not lost, although it’d be eye-opening if there are, at this time, or nine months later, men who’d want to express their predilection for clued-in elegance by adopting such symbols of deep refinement and eccentric aristocracy. But it is the unlikely, by way of the practicable or visual, that we find this collection compelling.

The first look sums it all up. Two quilted coats together is unusual enough, but it is the cable-knit sweater worn underneath that draws our interest: it has a collar (if you can call it that), seemingly made from two joined sleeves. The styling allows these two ends to just hang down the chest, but we suspect that, for the more fashion forward, they could be tied into a pussy bow! Ms Fendi, as head of menswear, kidswear, and accessories, has, in these past years, made Fendi men a considerable force. Her women’s line, after Karl Lagerfeld’s death, banked too much on Roma retro, and did not quite excite, which may explain Kim Jones’s taking over in the upcoming season. Whether extreme or conspicuous luxe for menswear shall stake its place in a pandemic-ravaged world remains to be seen, but Silvia Fendi has positioned the now-LVMH-owned brand well, and with wit to boot.

Screen grab (top) and photos: Fendi

People, Press Play

Balenciaga’s video-game-in-place-of-fashion-show is, for now, gimmicky

Fashion shows—are they not pre-autumn/winter 2020 season? That seemed such a distance away. Since the last shows of that time (in Paris, to us), things have changed drastically for fashion, both for businesses and the people who consume them. The runway, while still important for many luxury brands, is less the ideal platform to deliver and to watch when you know that, for now, models are waking as if for a dress rehearsal, since no audience is present (at Chanel’s Métiers D’art, there was one—never lonelier Kristen Stewart). Brands are looking at other ways to present their seasonal collections. Film is the platform of choice, especially at Gucci, with their pretentious seven-parter that is now mostly forgotten (who remembers what Harry Styles wore?).

Balenciaga, the first to present the autumn/winter 2021 season, has opted to show the new collection as a video game, The Age of Tomorrow (that would be, according to their press material, the year 2031). Now, this is not targeted at those whose closest companion is their Razor hardware, since it has barely the thrill and force of an actioner. Fashion has always been a game (there are always winners, aren’t there?), but this time it’s really one. Being a Pokemom Go deserter, we need an actual gamer to tell us how good the Balenciaga game is. Okay, this is no Grand Theft Auto, but we didn’t think it’d be this slumberous. As with role-playing games, you can choose your own avatar to move through the five “zones”. There are 50 of them avatars, as there are 50 looks (and each exactly like the character models), but for some reason we are not able to pick any. There is no selector button, or key.

The opening scene is a Balenciaga boutique “in the future”, sparsely stocked, designed as if for a dystopian world (it’s rather evocative of the brand’s Rue St. Honoré store in Paris). There are no sales people to welcome or help you. Just unspeaking (it’s all soundless here), unreacting models that turn to give you a 360-degree view of what they wear. We navigate this space on our own, with the guide of illuminated arrows on the floor. When we encounter a rack of clothes, we could not tap on it to see what items are hung on it. In fact, practically everything in this game is unresponsive. We enter a cold world, and we’re left cold. It is odd that a video game has such impassivity. Hoping for more excitement, we leave the boutique (after some hard navigation) and are brought to a backstreet that is worthy of Batman’s Gotham. All the while, we pass Balenciaga-clad people. Many get in our way. Then we are shown a bus stop. A bus arrives, and we’re whisk away. By now, we feel we have been taken for a ride.

You probably guess that we didn’t finish the game. Truth be told, as much as we were, at first, excited to play it, we lost interest barely minutes into into the first zone. The thing is, it’s kind of mindless. We don’t know what the purpose is, what the target is, or what to look out for. We’re just walking. To make matters worse, navigating it is not so simple (or instinctive). On the smartphone, there are two buttons for you to move forward and to look around. Both did not work smoothly. If you play the game on your PC, there are designated keys—W, A, S, D—for you to move in the rather dark world of the game. And your mouse will be temporarily disabled (you’d be told to press the ‘ESC’ button to bring back the cursor). Once you try to use the mouse during gameplay, the screen goes bonkers, or the action moves at warped speed. The game really feels like a test run.

Curious, and for us to be able to post this report, we decided to go back to the game to finish playing it. But we were greeted with a screen that seems to depict a galaxy. There is a digital timer in the middle that appears to be counting down. At the bottom, a discreet message reads: “You ended the game prematurely. If you’d like to start again, please come back later.” Returning to the game means an hour later. If you played to the end, a different message appears: “Congratulations, you have reached the highest level of digital enlightenment. If you’d like to start another game, please come later.” Despite the puffery, it all seems very dour to us. Balenciaga shows under Demna Gvasalia have never been chirpy and buoyant affairs. This game is even less so—in fact, somewhat downcast. We’re surprised Balenciaga did not do something along the lines of the #crabdance challenge, presently with 56 million views on TickTok.

It is too much work to just make out what is fashion. Is there such a thing as too immersive? The irony (it’s Balenciaga!) is, we didn’t really get to see the clothes. Unlike select editors and clients (reportedly 200 around the world), we were not privy to a virtual-reality runway show, viewed through a set of Oculus. We had to click on the lookbook link on the Balenciaga website to have a clearer view of the clothes. And these displayed what Mr Gvasalia has been doing for the house: loose silhouettes, low-brow-high-brow pairings, sportif shapes, fitted turtles necks and loose skirts or wide pants, jeans of ripped knees (and, now, torn posterior), more exaggerated puffer coats (floral too), and more Balenciaga-branded T-shirts (and some with the PS5 logo). We sense that because the clothes are meant to be in the context of a video game, with the somewhat futuristic description The Age of Tomorrow, the clothes have to be at least moderately sci-fi, which may explain some of the metallic guards for limps, as well as armour, and armour parts. Afterworld or afterthought, we don’t know.

Photos: Balenciaga