(2017) Winter Style 6: A Bomber Re-Imagined

Christian Dada Jinbei Bomber AW 2017

A military-style bomber jacket, also known as a flight jacket, has in recent years been de rigueur, thanks to its omnipresence in the street style choices of pop and Instagram stars, so much so that retailers everywhere are pressured into selling at least one, although likely a totally uninspired version.

When we encountered this bomber jacket, we were enamoured. Regular readers of SOTD realize how much we love hybrid garments and this one by Christian Dada is in top form. The front is especially appealing because of its semblance to traditional Japanese jinbei (甚平) top, essentially a summer garment (that also includes a pair of shorts, which, therefore, is not like the yukata, which is more of a summer kimono), mostly worn at home and, if outside, usually no further than the gate to collect mail or newspaper.

Christian Dada’s take is, without doubt, meant to be worn much further than the front yard. In place of the tradition ribbed collar and zipper closure, the quilted nylon body has a front with the eri (衿or collar) of the jinbei and is fastened by tape of similar fabric as the jacket. The left sleeve sport a utility pocket no different from a standard-issue bomber jacket. It even has the orange (polyester) satin lining that is usually associated with rescue missions. The padded jacket, we were told, is reversible, but we doubt anyone would want to turn out with the bright orange as a front (although, if you do, you’ll be wearing on the upper left chest sans-serif black text that says ‘nirvana’ in English and Japanese).

To be sure, this is not a Japanese flight jackets worn by kamikaze pilots. This is very much the punk/military idea of designer Masanori Morikawa, who is never afraid to mash things up to yield an effect that is aligned with street sensibility. There’s an element of surprise in this too, which is often missing in clothes that mostly serve to bundle their wearers. Sometimes, it really is not that cold, and you don’t have to zip up to the chin.

Christian Dada ‘Jinbei’ bomber jacket, SGD850, is available at Christian Dada, 268 Orchard Road. Product photo: Fake Tokyo. Collage: Just So

Two Kites And The Sky

Rare is the men’s wear label that offers a point of view at the point of its inception. Rarer still is the men’s wear label designed by a couple, who, despite the feeble market, creates clothes men actually want to wear. Nuboaix is that atypical men’s wear label, strong of voice and poised to soar

Jessica Lee & Yong Siyuan of NuboaixDesigning couple: Jessica Lee and Yong Siyuan of Nuboaix. Photo: Nuboaix

At tomorrow’s Singapore Fashion Awards (SFA), the nominees of Designer of the Year Danelle Woo of Aijek, Chelsea Scott-Blackhall of Dzojchen, and Yong Siyuan and Jessica Lee of Nuboaix are vying for the recognition with traits, skills, and flair that vary immensely on the scale.

Ms Woo’s Aijek, while a commercial hit, is far from design-driven; it speaks less of the designer’s gift than a market keen on the non-challenging; i.e. ultra-feminine styles that are often described as “effortless” to a superlative degree. An “everyday woman”, as Ms Woo describes herself to the media, she has conceived Aijek to “create something that was a middle ground”. Intermediate positions do not often win awards.

Ms Blackhall’s co-ed brand Dzojchen (pronounced, as advised, “doh-jen”) has the sleekness of a fashion-aware easy-to-wear line, with the male-leaning aesthetic of the women’s collection seemingly built on Freudian ideas. Working in Ms Blackhall’s favour is how the compliment ‘cool’ is often associated with her, how the social aspect of her life is just as cool, and how numerous the cool girls, such as fellow ex-model and ardent supporter Rebecca Tan, she hangs out with are. Chelsea Scott-Blackhall, by cool alone, has many rooting for her to win the Designer of the Year. And she is likely to.

Nuboaix is a lot quieter as a brand, significantly quieter, so much so that one veteran designer was miffed that he had not heard of them prior to the nomination. “Designers must know how to market themselves,” he had exhorted. “You can’t just sit by yourself in the studio and not connect with the outside world.” The designers of Nuboaix were unknown to the judges of SFA, too, until their names were offered when the pre-judging had, again, arrived at the edge of a small and shallow pool of talents. If a fashion brand’s award-worthiness is invariably linked to its designer’s social standing, then Yong Siyuan and Jessica Lee would be less accepted of what they have wrought since they are virtually unheard of.

Nuboaix AW2017 jacket 1A signature Nuboaix blouson with a cross-chest flap

Why should unknowns be awarded? Because these two not social-by-nature or social-for-reach unknowns have dedicated their lives to their craft, and spent many hours in their Northstar@Ang Mo Kio studio, patterning, perfecting, cutting, fitting, and sewing. Yes, sewing. From the brand’s first season until the current, every piece in the collections—15 seasons so far—has been stitched by both Yong Siyuan and Jessica Lee, partners in business and in life. And every trim affixed by the two. Their studio, no bigger than the master bedroom of a HDB flat, doubles as production facility. Nothing is farmed out. In addition, and more importantly, because both designers have a clear, distinct, original voice.

Few designers think about DNA, let alone a signature than can immediately identify their brand. Mr Yong and Ms Lee do, and their approach is so un-tethered to palpable signals in men’s wear—especially the current obsession with volume, as well as streetwear—that their designs are oftentimes headwinds pushing against the currents of what is considered fashionably masculine. For sure, they do not design for those who populate the Singapore Exchange, yet it would be imprecise to say that they design for those who prefer a strictly casual mode of dress, such as that unconsciously adopted by photographers’ assistants. These are clothes for guys who care about how they look, be it at work or at play, and how judiciously employed details in garments can set them apart. And smartly too.

And it is in the details that fans of the brand are raving about. A Web content developer, who has been buying NBX for more than a year, said that “the clothes are unlike anything seen even in more edgy men’s wear collections such as those at L’Amoire. I like the pieces joined to form shapes on the garment—they look like configurations on a computer chip!” The Nuboaix signatures are, in fact, more than their much admired insets in which assorted geometric parts (sometimes including a functional pocket), often arranged diagonally, convene rather happily. As Ms Lee, “in charge of all communications”, elaborated to SOTD: “Our double rivets affixed on the left of the neck, as seen on our knitwear, serve as one of our signatures. Another would be our cut-and-sew details worked on our T-shirts in the form of a simple single, left-chest pocket. Not forgetting the cross-chest flap, on our bomber jackets, which has become a staple since S/S 2017. Our designs are discernibly NBX and we like it that way. One will not mistake our brand for another, or vice versa.”

What they can achieve is more remarkable considering the oft-cited resource scarcity designers here face. “To name a few,” Ms Lee shared, “fabric selection is severely limited; zippers are very standard, with no variations on teeth size/color/material, etc. Good sewers are scarce too. There isn’t existing textile technology either, which means there is a limit to how much we can achieve. We simply do not have access to a more sophisticated manufacturing industry.” Which explain why they keep almost all the work in-house even when the breadth and depth are tough to sustain. “Every day is hard work and not one process is a bed of roses. But this is the price to pay in order to maintain the quality of our products. The whole process, from conception to sewing to fitting, is too important to outsource.”

Nuboaix AW2017 pulloverA Nuboaix pullover with signature bib-front composite of geometric shapes

Nuboaix was conceived in 2008—“the seed was planted” then—and incorporated as a company a year later. Both Ms Lee and Mr Yong had met as students in Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts’ School of Fashion Studies and graduated with a diploma in fashion design in 2004. Mr Yong would later return to the school to complete a BA degree in fashion marketing, a joint program with the UK’s Northumbria University. The name Nuboaix—vaguely Japanese or evocative of the world of Star Wars, which would not be inconsistent with their love of anime and science fiction—intrigues the uninitiated enough to think that it is a foreign brand. Ms Lee, somewhat self-deprecatingly, said, “Apologies as there is nothing exciting here.” When pressed further, she let on: “It’s just a made-up word from the name of a pet. Still, it’s a name that has come to resonate with the way we are steering the brand—with a more futuristic and forward feel.” The name sets the tone for the collections, and, as she noted, “the clothes remain subtle, almost clinical.”

According to Ms Lee, co-designing a collection was not initially on the cards. “Definitely not. LOL at that time. We were both very different in terms of design elements, direction, and thought process. Our idiosyncrasies define us both to be almost opposites, but, of course, along the way we learned to compromise and complement each other when working together.” The eventual harmony of the ying and the yang meant that, apart from being able to collaborate, both of them could arrive at a design consensus without disastrous skirmishes, and this is reflected in their output: a pleasing synergy that does not betray their gender differences.

The first NBX collection came together in 2010, at a time when start-ups in Singapore were slowly beginning to show signs of a possible boom. It was a women’s wear collection for the spring/summer 2011 season called Walküre, alluding to the valkyrie, or females figures of Norse mythology, who decide who can live, or die in battle, so dramatically retold in the Richard Wagner opera Die Walküre. Correspondingly, the designs eschewed obvious prettiness and clichéd delicateness for an aesthetic that could be Amazonian in a parallel universe. A highlight of the debut was the convertibility of some of the pieces, such as a pair of below-the-knee pants that could intriguingly be transformed into a mini-dress—the waistband morphs into a halter neck! The unusual tailoring with technically-challenging details that are now evident in the men’s wear took shape at that time, and, together with subsequent collections—including Macht (another German word, this time meaning ‘might’), seen at the now-defunct Audi Fashion Festival 2010’s trade event Blueprint and their contributions to Kimono Kollab­ in 2015—appealed to so many men’s wear buyers that suggestions started coming in that the two should consider a men’s line as well.

The Nuboaix corner at Robinsons The Hereen’s men’s floor

The transition to men’s wear came rather swiftly. Buoyed by encouragement from industry folks and precipitated by the competitive nature of the women’s wear market and what they thought were “a tad too forward” for the time, Nuboaix switched to men’s clothing in 2015, and quickly drew attention with their masterful patterning, especially for outerwear. That year, at a Paris trade fair, buyers from Robinsons visited their stand and was impressed enough by what they saw that Nuboaix was immediately offered space in the department store. Impressively, the brand’s merchandise was, from the start, sited among imported labels, and presently, Nuboaix has Andrea Pompilio and Marc Jacobs as immediate neighbours. If that does not adequately say something about the brand’s standing or quality or perceived value, perhaps pilferage does. According to an internal source, a Nuboaix piece was once shoplifted and the perpetrator, emboldened by the initial success, returned for a second attempt only to be caught red handed!

The immediate attraction of Nuboaix at one look is understandable. As one product development manager told SOTD, “Their things always look polished. Even with Marc Jacobs beside them, they don’t look like a shadow of the former. In fact, the clothes look expensive; they make Mark Jacobs look cheap.” From a design standpoint, “the concept is strong. Technically, it’s not easy to do what they do. Just look at how many pieces go into making just one top. And the final product is a balanced composition that has hanger appeal.” More importantly, regardless of the multiple cut-and-sew parts within the garment, which to the die-hard minimalists are superfluous, what emerges is something that any man can identify as clothes, not gimmickry with cloth.

In this respect, there’s something old-school in their approach. Although they continually experiment with new ideas and techniques; reconstructing and modernizing—uncommon for designers of their relative youth, they still kept to certain design approaches and details, and everything in their output is interrelated. As fashion has lost much of this sense of continuity, what Nuboaix has maintained harks back to older times, and is, ironically, refreshing. While this could result in formulaic designs, the proverbial complacency trap can be circumvented if Mr Yong and Ms Lee constantly reinvent themselves, or re-conceptualise the aesthetics of their brand.

With an SFA nomination and stockists in the US, Japan, Taiwan, and Saudi Arabia, it’s not unreasonable to assume that the two designers feel a sense of achievement, if not success. But Ms Lee’s reaction was more subdued. “We’re very humbled to be even nominated, so we’re not letting ourselves get ahead thinking about the results. It’s enough being recognized for the efforts, through these many years, put in to pursue a dream, a passion and to build a career in fashion.” She added, “Because we transited from women’s to men’s, we’ve kinda seen both worlds. Our understanding of the two probably sets us apart from the other designers. Again, looking at the NBX DNA that we’ve created, it’s uniquely ours. That’s our success.”

We noted that she had not once not used the pronoun ‘we’. Ms Lee and Mr Yong are engaged to be married. “People say one can never work with one’s partner. Sure, we have our moments, but after so many years being together and knowing each other inside out, we feel it boils down to splitting the work and apportioning to who’s better at what. It’ll take time to get there though.” And cheekily she added, “One mountain can’t have two tigers, right?”

Photos (except where indicated): Zhao Xiangji

Do We Need It This Fast?

Amazon announced a first-of-its-kind service during London Fashion Week: delivery within an hour of your see-now-buy-now order. Is this rush or rash?
Amazon UK

By Mao Shan Wang

Are we moving inexorably into the instant gratification of see now, wear now—or in the next hour? That seems to be what Amazon is suggesting when they paired with the millennial-baiting label Nicopanda to deliver the brand’s merchandise, during the showing at London Fashion Week, within an hour (only in London). That’s faster than going from Jurong West to Changi Airport!

I don’t know about you, but I can wait. There’s never anything I need immediately. Food maybe—goreng pisang (so scarce these days)—when the craving hits, you just one right away, or two. Like this instance! And you never have banana fritters sitting in the fridge, ready to be popped into your mouth. But clothes, you always have something to wear.

Sure, it may not be the T-Shirt or jeans you feel for at that moment, but you do have T-shirts and jeans that can be worn, too many to warrant counting probably. I know there’s nothing I don’t already have in my wardrobe, or require in a jiffy. But if Amazon’s flash delivery (only available to their Amazon Prime customers) for Nicopanda—by the stylist-turn-designer Nicola Formichetti—is any indication, someone needs one of their hoodies… at once.

Nicopanda SS 2018

This urgency sounds to me like a dash to (Nico)pander to millennial rash. Understandable. Someone out there had to be the first on Instagram to wear the newest Nicopanda. What rewards come to those who can’t wait? Logo-ed sweat top or a long-sleeved tee, a bomber jacket (that’s what they call it), a pair of leggings, a scarf, and a clutch: seven items for adopters of a complete Nicopanda look. But don’t Instagrammers always have a solution if they are short of something to wear for the camera of their smartphone? Like Kim Kardashian, don’t they go without?

These Insta-items are easy and fast to produce and are proven to be saleable, ideal for a platform like Amazon. If the pre-show buzz isn’t enough marketing bark, the packing boxes stacked as backdrop in the Nicopanda’s London show erects the obvious just as the clothes advocate the ostentatious. Mr Formichetti—believe it or not, appointed creative fashion director of Uniqlo in 2013—has a wholly playful, gila take on fashion, and Nicopanda (reportedly his nickname) offers mostly wacky merchandise that would sit comfortably in always-madcap Superspace, where anything remotely mainstream is banned.

What I saw behind my glasses with lenses that cut blue light was Nicopanda for Nickelodeon fans. Question is, are they Amazon Prime’s customers?

Nicopanda photos: Indigital.tv

Short-Time Supremacy

A day after the madness that was the launch of the Louis Vuitton X Supreme collaboration, the concourse outside the LV store in Ion Orchard is back to its usual tourist-dotted calm

LV X Supreme pic for SOTD

There’s enough queuing in our life, so we decided to sit this one out. Barely before 9am yesterday, a message came to us via WhatsApp: news from the ground that the crowd outside the Louis Vuitton store in Ion Orchard was “crazy”. We were not surprised, just as we were not impressed. Sure, there’s something amazing about such large numbers eagerly waiting the release of a fashion collection like those waiting for the new season of Game of Thrones. Louis Vuitton X Supreme for the autumn/winter 2017 was destined, the minute it was shown in January, to be bigger than anything Yeezy. But just as with the latter, our mind went into a silent yawn.

LV’s latest collaboration is devoid of the freshness, surprise, and rebelliousness of its first, 16 years ago: the Marc Jacobs commission of Stephen Sprouse’s neon, graffiti-style scribble, used to deface the LV Monogram, which until then, was thought to be sacrosanct, hence untouchable. It was very daring, which explained its appeal. As our contributor Mao Shan Wang recalls, “I was in Paris that year, and it was madness at LV’s Champs Élysées store. I was with a friend at that time. People snatched the bag off her hand when she merely looked undecided.”

By the second collaboration—with artist Takashi Murakami, the idea of the LV monogram overlaid with patterns from non-in-house designers became less novel, but Mr Murakami’s motifs were cute and endearing (and he enjoyed higher name recognition that Stephen Sprouse), making the joint output another massive success for the still in reinvention mode LV.

All quiet the day after the Louis Vuitton X Supreme launch17-07-15-21-15-09-743_decoScreen grab of IG post by The Straits Times

With the recent Chapman Brothers collaboration, initiated by LV’s men’s wear designer Kim Jones (who also linked up with Supreme), the surface rejuvenation of classic LV bags became appealing only to those who consider anything produced by the brand to be objects of desire. Even the latest ‘Masters’ series with Jeff Koons just look tacky, like something out of a museum shop, not the least wearable art.

Supreme is the streetwear label du jour, but LV is not the first designer name to align with Supreme, itself a serial collaborator. This past April, the increasingly accessible Comme des Garçons launched a new capsule with Supreme, having paired with the New York label since 2012. The line was supposed to be available at the Dover Street Market Singapore’s E-Shop, but it seemed like it was a no-show. Or, perhaps, it really sold out the minute it was available.

When was the last time LV drew a crowd (not counting the short queues outside their stores, created to give the impression that it’s really busy inside)? When the ‘Twist’ bag was launched in 2015? Handbags, as it’s often reported these days, no longer have the irrational lure they once had. The thing is, even a giant of a luxury brand such as LV needs a crowd puller—literally. Their executives are probably aware of the long lines each time Supreme launches a collaborative effort, from London to New York, and how willing to spend the Supreme addicts are.

On Saturday, signs at the entrances of the Louis Vuitton store in ION Orchard to inform the hopeful

Singapore fans and speculative resellers are lucky. Just four days or so ago, there were on-line reports that LV was closing their sales channels (so-called ‘pop-ups’) of the (so far) one-off. No actual reason offered and the provocative online talk was that there was fallout with Supreme as the New York brand did not feel that they had as much to gain from the collab. The discontinuation of the line was later said to be untrue, with LV announcing that it will be available later. Whatever the case, it’s considered a major fashion coup for our island since we are the only city in the whole of Southeast Asia to get this Supreme, never mind that even when you are ready to spend top dollar you’d have to participate in a raffle in order to get a chance in copping the goods. Yet, as reported, the masses went crazy, including 13-year-olds. We have no idea why any child just crossing into puberty should need to carry a USD$1,800 LV crossbody bag (the Danube PPB), but it is pointless to ponder.

While we are not keen on the LV and Supreme collaboration, we appreciate the irony in the pairing. Back in the early days of Supreme, the brand was force-fed a cease and desist for patterning a skateboard with the florals of LV’s Monogram Canvas. Does the present collab mean LV bears no grudges or does it indicate that luxury fashion and streetwear are now on equal footing?

This is consumerism in its most blatant (and unappealing?) form, which means these clothes are not going to add anything to the design legacy of the French house—let’s say they won’t make LV great, or any conversation about bringing newness and innovation to fashion. There is really no challenge to either LV or Supreme in producing the brand-blaring merchandise. This only illustrates unequivocally that no matter how sophisticated fashion consumers have allegedly become, logos and brand names must stand out and speak for the wearer.

Illustration: Just So. Photos: Zhao Xiangji. 

Close Look: Depression’s ‘Berlin Collection’

Depression AW 2017 Pic 1

Six months after the Depression boys—as Kenny Lim and Andrew Loh are affectionately known—sent out their autumn/winter 2017 collection during Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Berlin early this year, about a dozen pieces or so from that showing were launched at the designing duo’s multi-label store Sects Shops in Orchard Central last evening. This, as with Depression-related events, is a fan club greet-and-meet, with a token fashion show thrown in, not quite the gathering of the pugilist world (武林大会) that is part of the brand’s neo-Eastern image.

It is admirable that Depression, now in its 11th year, is able to capture the interest and purchasing power of its fan base despite what is willed to be unchanging aesthetic—heavy on darkness and bleakness, but light on cleverness and technical finesse. Called Vol 2: Dragon Vs Tiger, the collection may boast less T-shirts now than blousy tops, but the clothes have not (and probably will never) shed their Goth leaning. Depression is one of very few Singaporean labels that have stayed tenaciously true to its brand DNA: visual cheerlessness. And for that, we’d say the Depression boys have been triumphant.

Depression show at Sects Shop

By now, it is, perhaps, pointless to talk about Depression being unable to escape its propensity for the depressing. They are not going to go jolly suddenly, not at all. Surely in all the gloom, there is a bright spark. Amid the ‘wrongs’, they must have done something right—right enough to come this far. Lest you think we’re going to have a go at them, we are, in fact, going to look at the brand in a way that, as a cheery attendee at the launch party said, “could encourage the boys.”

So encourage we shall. Let’s egg them on to seek therapy in order for them to get out of their decade-long despair. And point to them the maxim “the power to change one’s life lies entirely within oneself”, as stated in their online ‘About Us’. Darkness, you see, does not have to be eternal, just as black as a colour need not project misery, or the macabre. Even if you are, as a Turkish saying goes, “keeping each other’s company on the way to hell”, do stop and smell the roses. But not black ones.

Depression shirt

We’ll cheer them on for the visual tact built on Chinese expressions that are evocative of the literary and cinematic genre of wuxia (武侠 or martial arts) and the brand’s apparent appeal to the wuling (武林 or the pugilists’ circle): a small sect of fashion warriors who dress like the Depression boys. This season, their use of the saying 十面埋伏, (shi mian mai fu or ambush from ten sides) is played up prominently—it takes up the entire bodice of one shirt, for example. But there is no surprise attack, visually. This is not the chromatic splendour of the Zhang Yimou film of the same name (known as House of Flying Daggers in English); this is Depression’s usual hack (such as 2014’s 心魔 or evil in the heart)—patently manga, no subtlety or subtitle.

They also need encouragement in the use of more fetching typography. Chinese fonts need not only be in bold face to be effective. They need not appear as if they’re being employed for the movie poster of some cheap Chinese zombie flick. Perhaps the B-grade quality is deliberate or salutary, since Andrew Low is the graphic designer of the two, both having started out in advertising. Still, the people around need not be visually waylaid by the wearer of 十面埋伏. But the font choice is not only problematic for the Chinese text. Depression would like you to believe that what you have bought is “made from a mad dark place” and that proclamation is embroidered noticeably on parts of the garments. Sure, we’re not expecting the embroidery of François Lesage, but must they look like something done in a baseball cap shop in Queensway Shopping Centre?

Depression did, in fact, show some rather eye-catching embroidery other than their usual hard-edge, bad-ass decorative treatment. In keeping with their Dragon Vs Tiger theme, they’ve included a monochrome pair of the heavenly and earthly beasts, each in the shape of a paisley. The keen eye would see that their use is a little belated, considering that the souvenir jacket, on which such embroidery are commonly found, is passé, and a little too Gucci to be relevant or even interesting to their wushu (武术 or martial arts) garb sensibility. And the placement of the motifs—symmetrical and opposite the other, with no animalistic tension—is completely devoid of surprise or edge.

Depression hemThe hem of a Depression top

We, too, like to encourage them to get a quality control head and a product development manager, assuming they have not hired any, or can’t do either jobs themselves. We have repeatedly expressed our dismay with the make of Depression garments, the finishing, and the choice of fabrics. It is disheartening to still see, after these many years of their existence, uneven hems that refuse to sit flat, seams that pucker (and those that bunch up under the arm), and fabrics that are mostly associated with low-cost garments. It challenges comprehension that pullovers fashioned out of a knit fabric with loopback underside (generally comfortable even if the fibre is synthetic) should require thick-ply polyester lining, and only on one side—either front or back, resulting in a lopsidedness that yields saggy hems.

These problems are compounded by the presence of other clothes from Korea and the US that are sold alongside Depression in the Sects Shop. Next to the imports, Depression looks decidedly slapdash. Beneath the distraction of the exaggerated shapes, Oriental embroidery, and Chinese text, the clothes still show their shaky foundation. Perhaps the other Chinese character used this season is instructive: 忍 (ren, or endure). In view of Depression’s design progress, we really have to bear with the slowness.  Haste, in this instance, cannot be encouraged.

Sects Shop is at level 4, Orchard Central. Photos: Zhao Xiangji