Music Cred To Boost Whatever That Needs Boosting

Dior has enlisted Travis Scott for input. Is Kim Jones showing off just how well connected he is?

Why do it alone when you can do it with someone else? Serial collaborator Kim Jones is at it again. Just fresh off a design partnership with Sacai, he has paired with Travis Scott to give the hip-hop star, considered one of the most stylish of them all, a jab at designing luxury clothes. Mr Jones’s Dior is increasingly a community club for people he appreciates to come and lend their voices. Many are not from fashion, but the art world. Sacai’s Chitose Abe was the second fashion professional after Shaw Stussy (the collabs with Alyx and Yoon Ahn yielded only accessories) to be invited. Ms Abe is considered a mountain of a talent and will soon present her debut haute couture for Jean Paul Gaultier, yet she was asked to collaborate on a 57-piece, off-season capsule Dior collection. Mr Scott, whose fashion talents are as a “style icon”, with a “cool wardrobe” and prolific drops in sneakers and other streetwear items linked to his name, gets to do the main line of a main season.

It is not likely Travis Scott’s input is the same as Chitose Abe’s, yet the Dior spring/summer collection features him as their star collaborator. For those in doubt of Mr Travis’s skill level (admittedly we are among the many; we still are), Dior released a video clip on Instagram, showing La Flame working (er, looks to us he was struggling) at a sewing machine. But that perhaps doesn’t matter as fans of the brand and the man would likely find that cute. What matters is the name—also the father of Kylie Jenner’s daughter (we do not know if the parents are married or if they are even together). Perhaps, just as importantly is Mr Scott’s standing as a fashionista and a fashion impresario. The collab is known as Cactus Jack Dior, so named because of the support to youngsters that Mr Scott’s Cactus Jack Foundation, a spin-off of his Cactus Jack Records (there is also a books division Cactus Jack Publishing), offers to those seeking fashion education. There were initial problems with the use of the Cactus Jack name—even the WWE tried to stop it being trademarked as the professional wrestler Mick Foley shares the same (nick)name—but Dior presses on with the association.

The image that the cactus often brings to mind is a desert, and it is in this (make-believe) setting that Dior’s show was staged. (Arid lands are themselves a recurrent set theme this menswear season.) This desert tableau is, according to the house, to “celebrate” Christian Dior’s first visit, in 1947, to the United States, where his first port of call was Texas (Mr Scott is Texan!), “whose grand canyons and huge dusty deserts made a lasting impression”. But the runway now isn’t quite that arenaceous vastness; it is prettified—to better frame what pre-show publicity had the media called a “blockbuster collaboration”. Everything is oversized: the desert roses, the cacti (naturally), fungi and a cattle skeleton head. So is the star power. Following the show, the press called it “the first major celebrity fashion moment”. The clothes? Just watch what Travis Scott wears!

In a 2017 interview with GQ Australia to promote his collaboration with the Aussie brand Ksubi, Mr Scott said, “I’m not like a fashion designer, but (the output of the collab) is like a piece of my brain.” In all likelihood, fashion for surviving the desert is the furthest from the designing duo’s minds. It is not immediately clear what is Mr Scott’s contribution to the partnership (other than the graphics such as the cartoonish Dior logotype), but styling tricks are more apparent than disruptive designs. Recurrent are the jackets, worn with the peaked-lapels upturned to reveal their bi-coloured underside. Other lapel shapes are given similar treatment so that the look is near-Edwardian primness and slimness. The lapels, with the left over the right, are held up together with brooches, designed by Dior’s resident jewellery designer Victoire de Castellane, that are attached to a chain and secured to the left ear, just like an Indian nose chain, except fastened to a spot on the jacket just below the collarbone. Every model in such a get-up looks affected. More dressed down are the oversized T-shirts, pulled over tailored looks (lapels worn conventionally), like a teen mistakenly wearing a concert tee instead of a sweater, over a suit instead of under. There are, of course, sweaters, but what their specific place is in fashion, set in a desert is not quite clear.

Not to be left out are the feminine silhouettes seen elsewhere during these past fashion weeks. Floaty poncho-shirts with busy scribbles by American artist George Condo, bell-bottom pants and those that could be unzipped from the hem of the outseams to give a wider leg opening, and layered shorts that could give the impression of skirts at a quick glance keep to the overall mood of the moment. Accessories are similarly less mannish. Apart from the jewellery (and whatever those sparkly danglies swinging from belt loops are), there are the getting-smaller-by-each-season bags (is the man bag still of popular usage?). For once the Saddle bag—now even with a saddle handle!—seems be to be set in the right context. Giddy-up! This is perhaps a cross-border triumph of inclusivity for Dior: a British designer collaborating with an African-American designer from Texas. The brand has a Black-creative ally. At last.

Photos: Dior

Two Of A Kind: Riddle This!

One green costume is showing up as a bag

The Riddler vs Louis Vuitton

Virgil Abloh is good, very good. He can reference anything, and the results would be lauded and loved. In just one spring/summer 2022 collection, he can go, with considerable ease, from the winner of the inaugural Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design’s unmistakable wrapped-up heads to comic super-villain the Riddler’s distinctive costume with those questions marks against that green. But only now, at the maison of Louis Vuitton, the Riddler’s onesie is still his. Mr Abloh has, without question, taken the question marks (in similar font and in different sizes) and the extreme green, but has turned them into a Keepall Bandoulière! It went almost unnoticed among the many other bags shown if not for the very bright colour and the very black interrogation points.

DC comic fans are familiar with The Riddler (aka Edward Nygma), the computer-genius and former employee of millionaire Bruce Wayne. In the comic, the Riddler was convinced by a prostitute he met in a bus that he could be a super villain! When he first appeared as the Riddler in 1948’s Detective Comics, he was kitted in what was commonly referred to as a unitard—essentially a catsuit. It was green (but not as bright as later versions) and littered all over with questions marks in different sizes. He also wore a purple domino mask that matched a rather wide belt with a squarish buckle. The Riddler’s costume went through several changes through the years. A suit, too, was introduced (so that he’d be better dressed when meeting Mr Wayne?). The onesie was tweaked frequently, some time appearing with one single punctuation mark, right in the middle of the chest.

The unmistakable five-sided side of the Keepall Bandoulière

in 1995’s Batman Forever, the Riddler, played by the inimitable Jim Carrey, wore what was then described as a return to the “original costume”. It was a leotard that Mr Carrey was surprisingly able to pull off well. Costume designers Ingrid Ferrin and Bob Ringwood gave the union suit a rather youthful fit (no doubt still tight), with more question marks, placed in graphically fetching randomness. Mr Carrey’s the Riddler had other costumes too, mainly a jacket (not blazer) in the style of the Stalin tunic (some might think it looks like a Mao suit!) that was also green and floridly logo-ed, but it was the leotard that most movie-goers remember. And it is this outfit that seems to be the inspiration behind the Louis Vuitton bag.

The Keepall is considered one of LV’s most popular weekenders. Introduced in 1930, it has been made in different colours and fabrics, and has enjoyed interpretations by the American brand Supreme and the Japanese artist Takashi Murakami. Mr Abloh made the Keepall the must-have when his first remake at his debut season with LV was an iridescent version in transparent embossed Monogram PVC, attached with a chunky cable chain. There has been many versions since, but none we can remember that can be traced to what super-villains wear. We can really hear the Riddler questioning: “Riddle me this, Louis Vuitton. Why won’t you leave me ALONE?”

Photos: Warner Bros/DC Comics and Louis Vuitton

In Praise Of Excess

Call it medley or pastiche, there is a lot going on at Louis Vuitton menswear for spring/summer 2022. But their fusion of influences and gimmickry, and a nod to Japan are, at best, pretentious

One white girl wearing a qipao (旗袍) to a prom is cultural appropriation, but a black man wielding a katana (かたな or samurai sword, also 打刀) for no apparent reason is not. Such is our complicated and unbalanced world. Louis Vuitton’s spring/summer 2022 collection once again explores other earthly divisions and cultures unfamiliar, and Virgil Abloh is the uniter, bringing together differences—aesthetical, visual, racial, ethnical, and sexual. Through his designs, he is “dialoguing” with opposites and is serving as “conduit” between poles, two of many key words he shared with WWD. And the katana? Why did it appear first, after shoes and a skirt? And why did the end featured it? Some online commentators linked it to the kendo demo seen in the second half of the video-show. But in kendo, the participants use a shinai (竹刀 or bamboo sword), not a katana. The katana is considered a symbol of Japan. Its much admired blade is seen as embodiment of what the mysterious samurai stands for: mannered, refined, and if need be, swiftly ferocious. Is Mr Abloh using the katana to cut through the conflicts of the world? Token exorcism!

The show/collection is loaded with so many symbolisms and obscure references and strange body movements that, after just five minutes of an unnecessarily long 16.44-minute video, we’re tired out. Called Amen Break, it is not a recess from the utterance used after a Christian prayer, but a drum break (a short drum solo that is commonly used as a sample loop) from the B-side of the 1969 track Amen, Brother by the soul group, the Winstons. We know not as much about hip-hop music as we should. According to hi-fi specialist Cambridge Audio, this “six important seconds in music” are extremely ”popular amongst producers over the last thirty years”. For the rest of us, listen to Amy Winehouse’s You Know I’m No Good for an idea (those who need something more obvious, try The Prodigy’s Firestarter) or the soundtrack of the show. Amen Break is considered one of the most sampled drum beats of modern music, yet, unbeknown to many listeners, the original band never received any royalties for that snatch of percussion, until recently. In a woke society, a debate about copyright in music was aroused, It is clear Mr Abloh, himself a musician, is using this to mirror what is happening in fashion and to ask if its really that bad to ‘sample’ design since the practice of sampling and consequently re-sampling is so widespread and blatant—even appreciated—in music. Similarly, isn’t Black culture just as widely appropriated, wondered Virgil Abloh, now the vanguard of Black-aesthetic globalism?

As with the LV autumn/winter 2021 show, Mr Abloh has created a multi-tableau set-piece with a massive model-cast—in pandemic-is-over close proximity. At times, they are all packed as if in a bus station, even writhing together. It is hard to make out what the stylised movements mean, or the physical nearness to each other. Do they make the clothes look better? Give it some context? We couldn’t tell. But desolation seems to be the preferred state these days. LV, too, chose the same, starting with a rocky grey terrain and then into a mock forest of birch (with canned thunder and strobe-light lightning), and then onto a wood-walled auditorium in which a game of chess is played, oddly undisturbed by people shuffling (and, again, as in a bus station) and a kendo session. According to LV’s own description, the presentation is “an abstract interpretation of the story of artist Lupe Fiasco (the American rapper)” that “depicts a father and son united by an unnamed loss, crossing a dream world to deliver a message to the other side.” Operative word: “abstract”, and it’s so abstract that it is disruptive to the enjoyment of the filmic pitch. The show may be a metaphor for whatever metaphor the world now needs, but if it requires the oft-cited forty-odd-page book (sent to the media) to explain it all, then perhaps there are too many metaphors and symbolisms and the superfluous for one event.

Usually, seasonal collections reflect, well, the seasons. But increasingly they mirror whatever you can glean from the things you see around you and the people you meet. LV’s busy proposals are a lot less summery than what we are used to (as we write this, our news feeds are filled with reports of Russia suffering one of their hottest summers in memory) for a season characterised by heat (even, more and more, in spring). What throws us off track at the start are—seriously—the ear muffs! Or, are they some powder-puffs-as-UV shields that we have yet encountered? And then more to make us sweat: the padded, gambeson-like vests (including a long version and even ones in the form of maxi-skirts), bulky (fake?) fur coats, outers and pants worn as if they are PPEs, puffer jackets with hoodies that look like helmets, the thick layering—sweater (with hoodie pulled up to completely cover the head), top coats, padded vests, and gloves, and the said ear muffs (were they thinking of the South Pole or similar?). And if all that do not make you feel that you might need cold-weather dressing, there is even a suit with images of the Alps and and kindred Alpine splendour!

The lack of lightness for a season associated with airy clothes aside, there seems to be a deliberate attempt to do away with conventional line planning so that off-season items can be included to expand the product offerings and bloat the SKU. Apart from the padded gloves, there are the fluorescent ushanka (the Russian fur cap with ear flaps), the stuffed animals (covered with LV monogram, of course), and the almost-knee-high calf-warming snow boots. Belts are aplenty too, not only leather belts with decorative buckles, but also soft fabric belts (worn tied rather than buckled) that go with many of the outers. Would they be sold individually? And there is no forgetting the many bags you do not yet own (a guitar bag or, better still, a back pack in the shape of a koinobori, the Japanese carp-shaped windsock?). As one product development manager remarks to us, “Virgil Abloh’s doing for LV bags what Marc Jacobs was never able to do during his entire time there.” We look out for the equivalent of last season’s massive aeroplane bag (after failing to spot the city-scape top), but there is nothing as useful to encourage social distancing.

The lightest-looking outfit is a track top and bottom in sheer and somewhat iridescent fabric (worn over an opaque tracksuit, which makes the sum less light!). In fact, the tracksuit—very much associated with rap culture: think Wu-Tang Clan, whose founding member GZA, the “spiritual head”, is featured in the show—are central to the collection. It’s styled with a tailored vest. The high-low pairings (only now, we can’t really call an LV tracksuit low) are characteristic of Mr Abloh’s melding of styles and cultures. Belts, treated like a martial arts obi, are tied around the waist of tailored garments, as if securing one’s kenogi (uniforms worn by kendo competitors), ready for a fight—even vests are similarly tied at the natural waist with a belt. This emphasis on the waist is perhaps consistent with the overall feminising of the aesthetic that Mr Abloh is increasingly adopting for LV now that men, too, can wear whatever they what.

As if targeting Lil Nas X and Billy Porter, the collection boasts a staggering amount of skirts. Even when skirts and dresses for guys are now part of popular culture, are they de rigueur in today’s male wardrobe? To be certain, Mr Abloh has shown skirts before, but not 18 of them in one show. Do men need this many of them to choose from? Even a tiered pouf that women are buying a lot less, or the padded variety? Because if there’s anyone who can make skirts for men mainstream, it’s Virgil Abloh? The feminising includes the scallop edges of a no doubt striking white top coat and a spiffy blazer. Men can now wear tailoring that’s sharp and pretty as well. Perhaps fashion that emerges from the fog of the pandemic is to see who can say something, if not shout the loudest. Mr Abloh’s LV (now in its seventh collection, as hinted on the banner of the kendo match ground that reads in kanji, “第七回国際発表大会 or 7th International Presentation Tournament”) is a visual rojak of checks, stripes, tie-dye, colour gradation, image-less jig-saw, decal disorder, Slender Man, and (what appears to be) photo prints. These and the staggering jumble of garments may show that the LV atelier is truly able, but what’s Mr Abloh, in the end, really trying to proof?

Screen grabs and photos: Louis Vuitton

Two Of A Kind: Breastplates

Now that the chest rig is so 2018, perhaps its time for something else to protect the torso?

It’s rather curious to us that warm-weather (or cruise) dressing would require additional gear to trap air to the torso, while arms are totally uncovered. Isn’t it true that with the heat (year after year not letting up), many prefer not to layer? So the suddenly popularity of the breastplate is rather curious. Okay, so far it’s just from two labels: first Dior for cruise 2022 and Burberry for spring/summer 2022, but would these armour-like extras be prelude to a wider trend? Sure, these are not really an outer layer. Do you even consider them clothes? Surely not accessories! But since they are worn and would likely remain on the body throughout the duration of their stay (unlike a bag, which are frequently parted with the body), they might be considered garments?

Breastplates, sometimes also known as chestplates have, in fact, been around for a long time. Often associated with battle wear, they can be traced to antiquity, as seen on Greek warriors, such as the Athenian hoplites. As the elite hoplites had to provide their own panoply or full suit of armour, they had theirs custom-made. This included the breastplate—mostly made of leather and bronze. Only wealthy Greeks, therefore, could be a hoplite. Breastplates slowly fell out of fashion until their resurgence in the Middle Ages. By the 14th and 15th centuries, they were basically very much part of the standard battle order, and remained so all through the Napoleonic wars in the 19th century. In Asia, breastplates were worn too. There were the Chinese xiongjia (胸甲) Japanese do, although both were more like a cuirass—it covers the back as well. Closer to our shore, there was the Majapahit Empire’s karambalangan, sometimes reported to be lavishly gold-embossed! Today, the bullet-proof vests that the police use are believed to be directly descended from the breastplate.

Do Dior’s and Burberry’s breastplates have any protective quality? Frankly, we do not know. Dior’s bib-like versions—although shown in Athens—aren’t quite like those worn by the hoplites or even the goddess Athena (often depicted wearing one over her peplos). Their version looks like chestplates Amazons of Themyscira (later known by the more familiar Paradise Island) might wear—more Queen Hippolyta than Princess Diana. The abstractly-shaped and loose version at Burberry appears more like a shrunken apron with a rather shapely hem that recalls the bottom edge of the bodices worn by Italian women of the 16th and 17th Century. Whichever you’re drawn to, wear these equivalent of a face-mask-for-the-torso with something sleeveless underneath. And breathe.

Photos: Dior and Burberry respectively

Sleeveless At Burberry

It’s a season to hack parts of clothes off. Why not sleeves?

If legs of trousers and bottom halves of bodices are superfluous for spring/summer 2022, sleeves are too. You can be quite sure of that when Burberry shows much of their collection sans sleeves. Of the 45 looks (excluding those shown with just pants), 38 feature sleeveless tops or outers. We are not referring to tank tops—those are there or overalls—they are there too; we are pointing to those traditionally made to cover arms, but now not: trench coats, top coats, car coats, bombers, and the list goes on. Riccardo Tisci have decided to do away with the extra fabrics needed to shape the tubular protuberances, retaining not even half of it nor a little capped sleeve. The opening look perhaps sums it up: a traditional Burberry trench coat worn with arms exposes. As the trench coat has raglan sleeves, removing them along the seams means the result is an upper that’s rather halter. To butch it up, the trench is worn with a white sleeveless muscle tee underneath, which makes the getup look like a butcher’s. Is Burberry proposing a new work wear, while others are promoting play wear?

Burbbery’s video presentation was shot in London even when they show during the current Paris Fashion Week. This time, the location is a desert-looking part of a once-derelict Millennium Mills in Royal Victoria Docks, East of the capital. This could be a barren set for a Mad Max movie, and the tough looking lads could be members of a fashion-forward biker gang, navigating post-apocalyptic times. To augment the rawness, the thumping soundtrack (UK duo Shpongle’s oddly fitting Strange Planet) is provided to seem like the viewer is watching the proceedings with headphones that have no noise cancellation. The music drifts in and out, all the while you can hear the shuffling of feet against the sandy ground (regrettably, you can’t really see the footwear). The ambient sounds are so deliberate that you can even hear dogs barking in the distance. Again, unlike others, this is not some conduit to joy. This is like moving from lockdown to desolation.

Despite the arid setting, this could possibly be Riccardo Tisci’s most spirited (fertile is somehow not quite the right word here) men’s collection for Burbbery yet. Netizens are already calling this a return to form—as seen during his time at Givenchy. The face jewellery is certainly evocative (those bridge clips and lip rings are going to find their way to Zara!) and those graphics on shirts and tees. But perhaps most missed is Mr Tisci’s hard-edge treatment of traditional menswear pieces, imbued with a distinctive street wear spirit. This season, there is a sizeable selection of outerwear and they manifest Mr Tisci’s flair for deconstructing/reconstructing military wear (the trench coat was first created for British troops fighting in World War I) and work wear into modern clothes with an edgy undertone. We are conflicted if sleeveless anything makes a good central idea. Not since the sleeveless plaid shirts and denim truckers of the grunge era in the mid-’80s have we seen this much biceps. But this isn’t a nostalgic step back into the past, not a nod to Raf Simons’s sleeveless blazers of his early years (okay, perhaps a tad). This is Mr Tisci exhaling and articulating. Burberry is humming again.

In the past three years of his tenure, the most recognisable British brand had been in a strange place: somewhere between intriguing but not quite embraceable. Oftentimes, when we visit their stores here, they are ghostly quiet. We do not know if its the merchandise or the buying. The menswear frequently appear avuncular desperately trying to be cool (graffiti on checks?!) With spring/summer 2022 collection, we would be happy to have a close-up of the hunky and structured shapes: bodice-and-collar-only trench coats; boatneck outers that could be the trench coat’s hipper cousin; the raglan tank tops with irregular cut-outs (which reminds us of a Louis Vuitton X Comme des Garçons tote from 2014); the breastplates; and those tops printed with a monotone, flat image of them; and the pants with the horizontal straps (what could they secure?). In short, there would be a lot more to see.

Screen grab (top) and photos: Burberry

Prada’s Rompers For Men

And other arm- and leg-baring pieces for the spring/summer 2022 season

The end of the tunnel is the sea. That’s Prada’s message of positivity during a pandemic, already suggested in this season’s eye-catching pop-ups. Models walked in an angular, red-lacquered, purpose-built passageway that ends in the open air of the sea. Prada calls this the “Tunnel to Joy”. The emotion isn’t so palpable, but you could almost smell the coastal salt. In the first frame of the model stepping outside, the camera pans to the ground and leather slip-ons strike the soft sand. The contrast with the red hard floor prior is immediately discernable. Come out to the outdoor (it is the seaside of Sardinia). Here, you’ll be free. Isn’t freedom the key message of Milan Fashion Week? Even with the radiant reemergence in mind, Prada has resisted the IRL fashion show. Yet, its half city, half seashore presentation isn’t bereft of the energy missed by those who have not been able to attend large-scale physical events. It has retained the sleekness, minimalism, and the vim of Prada shows.

And what do you wear to meet joy? First up, rompers, one of the key products in the likes of The Editor’s Market. For men, Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons bring together shirts and shorts as onesies (top pic), all in what appears to be the shirting fabric of cotton poplin. To be sure, these are not shortened jumpsuits. They have the ease and playfulness of rompers—garments initially associated with children’s clothes. Ensuring that their leisure intention isn’t mistaken, prints are incorporated: ’50s-looking tattoo-illustrations spread randomly across. If you want something more traditionally masculine, there are a couple with bold, vertical, unbalanced stripes. Next, there are the abbreviated ‘skorts’—skirt-meets-shorts combo—that, for any wearer, are half way to donning an actual skirt. But it isn’t immediately clear, while we watched the show on our PC, if what is shown is a skirt over shorts or that the front panel hangs like an apron. Either way, the skirt component isn’t ambiguous.

There is a surprisingly large show of skin—invariably arms and a lot of legs (phew, no midriff! Well, one: he is, after all, going to the beach!). Out of the 39 looks, 33 feature shorts/skorts. We do not remember a Prada Men’s collection that had only six pairs of trousers (in the last spring/summer season—before Mr Simons came onboard—there were no shorts!). That’s just 15 percent of all the bottoms shown. Is that a prediction that men will not be buying longs next year or that they want to look like they’re in primary six all over again? For the past year, the loungewear that many people supposedly adopted is mostly associated with joggers. Even when shorts are ideal at-home wear, it is the trousers worn by runners after a run that have been in the spotlight. As guys slowly move away from the confines of WFH, could it be that shorts would be preferred, as play takes priority over professional pursuits? The potential mass adoption of shorts and the common leg-baring would no doubt bring immense joy to the environment-protection activist Ho Xiang Tian!

A Prada collection is not a Prada collection without the quirky pieces—even more, with Raf Simons in the picture. Items you would not find in an average bloke’s wardrobe: knitted mock-turtleneck bibs, square-neck tank tops, blousey sleeveless boat-neck tops, and floral hoodies. But perhaps most desirable are the accessories, in particular the head wear. The bucket hats will likely be the most trendy and trending. This season, they come with a longer triangular brim in the rear, like a bobby’s custodian helmet, worn front-to-back—and the chin straps too. Some of them have a usable triangular (coin?) pouch above that brim extension in the back (longer to shield the neck from the sun?), while others have slots in the sides to welcome the arms of sunglasses so that the eye wear may perch right on top of the head wear. Looks like, next summer, limps can go quite bare, but not heads!

Photos: Prada

Two Of A Kind: The “Half-Suit”

It first appeared in 1982. Now Fendi is reviving it. Is half better that one whole?

Fendi Vs Philip Garner

Intrigued by Fendi’s lobbed-off suit-jacket shown in the recent spring/summer 2022 collection, we Googled to see if there was a precedence to this unsettling outfit. And true enough, there was. In 1982, this tailored piece (right) was proposed as an alternative to wear when it is scorching, as seen in the book of humour Philip Garner’s Better Living Catalog. Called the “Half-Suit”, it was shown worn in the same way as Fendi’s—with a cropped-off shirt and tie. The original version was preppie to just above the solar plexus, offering “abbreviated midsection for comfort and physical flair” (Fendi omitted the latter!). The author described the Half-Suit as “a new concept in warm weather business attire.” It does not seem to us that Fendi intended theirs for the corporate office or meetings with a bank’s relationship manager. In the book, it was further recommended that the Half-Suit “may be worn with shortened pants…” An idea that Fendi, too, adopted.

Philip Garner, 79, is an American artist and author (another book of his went by the title Utopia or Bust: Products for the Perfect World), known for his satirical take on consumer products that he cheekily—but not inaccurately—called “inventions”. They included such unlikely items as the Palmbrella, and one unimaginable “high-heeled roller skate”. He even appeared on late-night talk shows, such as The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, to tout his wares. Today, we’ll gladly labelled all that ‘fake’. In the 1980s, Philip Garner began developing a separate identity and started transitioning to Pippa Garner. Her new gender is more than a reassignment; it was also an “art project,” as she said, “to create disorientation in my position in society, and sort of balk any possibility of ever falling into a stereotype again.”

Silvia Venturini Fendi made no reference to the Half-Suit. Well, not yet. It’ll be interesting to see if Fendi’s version will take off when the Garner original elicited mostly laughs. Unlike the RTW of Fendi’s, the Half-Suit of 1982 was sort of customised. As stated in the out-of-print book, interested parties were asked to “send us your suit(s) for professional quality Half-Suit modification in our modern facility.” And happily it offered more: “For a slight additional charge, zippers can be installed, allowing rapid full-length reconversion at the onset of chilly weather.” Fendi’s very likely do not come with that welcome option.

Photos: (right) Fendi and (right) Delilah Books

At Dolce & Gabbana, It’s The Festival Of Lights

Guys want extreme resplendence now?

We always wonder: Do Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana sell that much of their giddily gaudy clothes to be able to afford a show with 96 looks, just as many models, and a custom light installation to beat all Little India light-ups during Deepavali, till today? Their spring/summer IRL show—called DG Light Therapy—in Milan is so blindingly brilliant, you’ll only subject your eyes to it if you have no objection to retinal damage. “The aesthetics of the 2000s meets the traditional Italian art of luminarie, a symbol of joy and positivity,” went the D&G’s show description. Luminous! That’s putting it mildly. Even Dior’s resort 2021 collection, similarly staged against the background of glittering luminarie—also of southern Italy—pales in comparison. Dolce & Gabbana is more dazzling than Dior!!!

The only other name capable of such meretricious madness, we thought, is Phillip Plein, but even the master of kitsch is outdone by Mr Dolce and Mr Gabbana this time. Is this an extreme reaction to the fashion lull that has overwhelmed the clothes worn during these acutely less social times? D&G is not known for their whisper-quiet style. Garish is often the thrust of their output. To think their clothes would not be flashy is to imagine that one might find a pair of plain jeans in raw denim in their store. However loud we think D&G is, we didn’t ever ponder that fairy lights would one day be imagined on clothes (that, in itself, is new?). The proverbial Christmas tree! Is that not worse than being likened to a peacock? Must fashion now look like a spin-off of the Mardi Gras?

Maximal style has, of course, gained currency among certain fashionistas. For many adopters and followers, fashion isn’t fashion until it looks fashion—until it stares in your face. D&G isn’t only achieving the maximum with what’s decoratively possible on clothes, it is pushing the limits. And if the garments themselves are insufficient to hold all the ostentation, pile on the blink: accessorise. How much can a single body hold? How do these clothes make the wearer feel? Perhaps the wonder of D&G is that no matter how ‘normcore’ fashion goes, they can be counted for clothes that amplify the opposite, the other end. That’s their consistency: always nudging forward what would be, for many (even the well-informed), an anomalous judgment of taste. Sure, there are many who like fairy lights (nothing wrong with that), but how many actually desire looking like they are wearing coils of them, and it’s not the festive season, yet?

If you break every piece of the collection down, the clothes on their own—minus the surface treatments—are what you have likely seen (not necessarily bought) before. An oversized T-shirt is an oversized T-shirt, a shirt is the chemise they have mostly been, and the suits are just that. The one re-imagining is the purple blazer with red leg-O-mutton sleeves (to better accommodate bulging biceps?), but even that isn’t a jaw-dropper as we have seen them in womenswear (so well done by Viktor and Rolf). Despite their attention-grabbing styles, Dolce & Gabbana has not won back the attention of Asian consumers after their PR/marketing blunders of the past years. Recently, Hong Kong songstress Karen Mok (莫文蔚) was slammed by Chinese Netizens for wearing D&G in her music video of the re-issue of the Cantonese rap-track A Woman for All Seasons (妇女新知). Asia’s largest luxury market has not quite forgotten. It’d take more that fairy lights to put Dolce & Gabbana back in the spotlight.

Screen grab (top) and photos: Dolce & Gabbana

Fendi’s Cropped Tops

are hot not! Or is this a pandemic-era aberration soon to go normal?

Fendi has a best-selling bag called Peekaboo. The name could also well apply to some of their fashion pieces in the latest collection for spring/summer 2022. Has there been so little happening in menswear of late that Fendi has to make something eventuate by going to extreme lengths, and in doing so, put very cropped jackets out, those so brief that they make a bolero looks positively long? For a moment we thought these were Balmain! Or are these strategically placed so that women will be the ones salivating after them, just as they once did, after Hedi Slimane’s painfully skinny suits at the former Dior Homme, once upon a time? But that may not be so. There are other cropped tops in the collection, all abbreviated as in womenswear: the hem sits just below where the bust line would be. They expose the navel (with chains and pendants for waists!), just as a belly dancer would.

Copped tops for men are, of course, not entirely new. We’ve seen them worn by body builders working out and dancers rehearsing. But Fendi’s versions aren’t ultra-short knit tops or regular tees, ripped to yield a certain sensual athleticism. The most prominent is the suit-jacket (top) truncated to chest level (with sleeves that end alongside the hem), under which a shirt that is similarly shortened (the tie seemed hacked too). It looks uncannily like one particular version humorously proposed in 1982 by the American artist and author Phillip Garner in Philip Garner’s Better Living Catalog. Fendi’s boasts impeccable tailoring, no doubt, but its precise brevity brings to mind men in China who roll their tops up in summer to beat the heat. Or, is this really what Silvia Venturini Fendi means when she referred to giving men “ a sense of freedom”, now (still) missing when so many are still working from home or staying put? The new going out top?

Men, more than ever, have the freedom to wear, whenever they want, what they want, even t-shirts and track pants to the office. Or even shorts, which are the star items at Fendi. From afar, some of them look like bloomers. If you look closer, the end of the shorts are lined with tiny pouch-cargo pockets, akin to those you might find on battle belts or those commonly seen on army webbing. Despite the seemingly military details and the extra 3-D pocket details of the short shorts, there is a certain prettiness to them, a quality that Gen-Z guys, bending gender norms, would welcome. Additionally, the blousiness of the tops too, the dress-likeness of a tunic, and the elasticised waists of fluid walking shorts add a relaxed, soft, and gentle spin to the Italian idea of what dressing to enhance one’s machismo has been, and is now ready to be redefined. Is Ms Fendi walking away from traditional binary constraints?

The 45-look collection was staged at the Palazzo Della Civiltà Italiana, Fendi’s striking headquarters in Rome, and streamed online. The house didn’t participate in an IRL runway show, as many of their eager-to-go-back-to-normal compatriot brands have. The view of the city from the upper floors of the Palazzo is an interplay of light and shapes, and is reflected in the collection. This looking down is also augmented by manly prints of archival maps of Rome, and patterns that mimic the earth seen from outer space. From the International Space Station, we wonder, could a different kind of swagger be seen, abstract or not?

Photos: Fendi

Mutual Hacking: Balenciaga Does Gucci

Pray the two doesn’t become one

It’s a confusing time for fashion and to add to the confusion, brands that should be rivals, even under the same conglomerate, are featuring each other’s accessories. We don’t know why this has to be so other than for both to sell more bags and such. Call us naïve. But if even a storied house like Balenciaga has to feature saleable Gucci merchandise with additional Balenciaga branding, then perhaps we’ve moved from ugly to crass. This Balenciaga’s spring/summer 20211 and the Gucci part really got to us. We can understand Gucci wanting to share Balenciaga’s winning aesthetics, but for the B to want a sliver of the G is, frankly, bewildering. Do customers of both brands really want a Balenciaga Gucci or Gucci Balenciaga? The two-is-better-than-one-thinking? Don’t be so serious, we hear people say. Oh, is this some mischief we know not of? An inside joke between the two houses? Because, if we look closely, Balenciaga has done the Gucci diamond monogram with a double B! Oh, we forgot. It’s called “hacking”. And who can be mistaken when a monogrammed tote is scrawled with “This is not a Gucci bag”?Don’t let the red-and-green stripe fool you.

From the first outfit, a black number that could have been destined for The Conjuring to the final, a red gown that could have been for Cruella, Demna Gvaslia does not let us forget that he is determined to set Balenciaga on his own course. Or that Balenciaga could be an offshoot of the brand he first founded: Vetements. From the oversized—now supersized—jackets to those loose, long-sleeved, printed modest dresses, to the deviant tops and bottoms inspired by retro track wear, these shall continue to be Balenciaga signatures. And, oddly for spring, those bubble coats too, with their gravity-defying collars, worn standing up—like what Mr Gvasalia had done for shirts, framing the face (rather than as some pulled-back screen as there were once before) and with the elegance of a more traditional quilted coat. But are we really seeing Balenciaga that is refreshing? Or one offering clothes that a diehard fan wouldn’t already have lusted after and own? Perhaps such familiarity, such tropes, are to ensure that followers do not forget Mr Gvasalia’s design past and the kinship he still shares with the family-namesake who still helms the house they both created.

Exaggeration is still the name of the game, whether in the silhouettes or the geekiness. And the off-beat is now so standard here that even the over-washed, carpenter-style denim cargos with the surfeit of low-brow utilitarian D-rings as decoration (rather evocative of White Mountaineering and their use of fancier carabiners) and the Crocs, again ‘elevated’—now in the form of heels, pumps, wellies, and platform slides can no longer be seen as demystifying the traditionally-not-attractive. These are destined for TikTok just as the printed dresses will have a place, again, on Instagram, so too those outers with extended, droopy shoulders. But are they really taking us anywhere? Or is entering the world of the young, weaned indiscriminately on luxury streetwear good enough (more Billie Eilish, of course, than Olivia Rodrigo)? Or sustaining on a diet of the likes of the sweatshirt on which Homer and Marge Simpson and brood are depicted wearing last season’s Balenciaga—another suitably LOLzy satire? Sure, our eyes have adjusted, as The Washington Post predicted in 2018, but have they also not seen quite enough?

But everything could be an illusion. Balenciaga broadcasted a show that never actually took place. They admitted to producing a “deep fake”. We were happy to see an IRL show, even on a PC screen, but we were duped! It was all digital trickery, all produced with software magic (listed on the media advisory, which we don’t care to repeat here), and, like the Vetements poser, “Are we becoming wires ourselves?”, is a thesis on the effects of the our online existence on our very selves. The media quoted Mr Gvaslia saying and asking, “What we see online is not what it is. What’s real and what’s fake?” Being a partner-in-crime with Gucci also questions the state of fashion today, as observed by social media watchdogs, such as Diet Prada: What is authentic? Who’s copying who? And does it really matter? The spring/summer 2022 show is called Clones, which has a rather mid-’90s ring to it (remember Dolly the sheep?). But in cloning the show’s model (one person throughout for both the men’s and women’s outfits) and itself (or repeating their classic shapes), is Balenciaga also telling us to put our consumption on a loop, as it’s so easily done on a music streaming service? The more of the same you see, you want in, not out.

Photos: Balenciaga

Vetements Well Ahead

For spring/summer 2022, Vetements is way earlier than the rest. Does it matter?

Fashion seasons are really quite screwed up. Sacai just showed their autumn/winter 2021 collection, and so close to the season’s retail drop, and in the middle of what, for some others, is resort 2022. Vetements, conversely, presented their spring/summer 2022 so many months away from when stores might stock them. What is going on? Is anyone keeping up? Is anyone keeping track? We are not quite at the end of the present spring/summer season yet. Are we, therefore, poised to look at the next? Would we, by the time it is to buy them, remember what was shown nearly six months earlier (assuming that spring/summer now retails as early as late November)? Wouldn’t we, by then, be confused by another ultra-early who-knows-what-season? In a disregard-the-fashion-weeks world, those questions probably do not matter. And Vetements probably don’t give a damn.

Their proposals for next spring/summer were made available to the media through photographs that appeared to be Photoshop (PSD) files with the background removed (which would normally be viewable as a PNG or GIF file to the non-Photoshop user), but the model and clothes in full 2-D glory. The collection purportedly questions the relationship between man and machine, and some how the 1999 film The Matrix was thrown by the brand and its commentators into the mix. The tech talk and how “wires have become the only way for us to stay connected to the outside world and the reality we live in”, as posited in the PR notes, all seem to play up what would otherwise be the usual Vetements design tropes. A Vetements fan wouldn’t care to ask, as Guram Gvasalia did: “Are we becoming wires ourselves?” As long as there are those exaggerated shoulders and, for some, the body-obscurity shapes, the brand can do no wrong. Or, alienate fans.

Vetements has become so good at pushing their unmistakable look that sometimes it seems that they are parodying themselves or—oddly—staying a step behind Balenciaga. Perhaps that should be ahead? It is easy to pin it to the Gvasalia brothers thinking alike, even when they are working separately and independently. But since the strange call-out last September by Vetements that hinted at Balenciaga copying the former (followed by the unambiguous message, “WTF”), we can’t be sure if the aesthetical parallel is coincidental or the leftover from sibling collaboration that was once deep and seriously trend-setting. Even in pandemic-defining times, there is no stepping away from the goofy, the geeky, and grandma goon. Vetements continues to draw out the odd-balls among their adopters, who all seem to prefer the fringes of what is already on the periphery of fashion. Ugly, once associated with the brand, now does not matter, or is seen as such. Take the cheesy and the beat-up and throw in a dash of the sheen of luxury and you can make the unseemly in appearance the LV for the flashy.

These season, there are references to the big screen. And definitely technology-can-screw-us thrillers such as The Matrix, as seen in the fabric with the green alphabets and numerals that mirror the film’s title sequence. And it doesn’t end there. The homage-to-Vogue film of 2006, The Devil Wears Prada is also in the line-up (as in ‘The Devil Doesn’t Wear Prada’ T-shirts), but how that fits the whole us becoming wires spiel isn’t clear. At some point, we thought we saw something akin to what Tilda Swinton wore as the Ancient One in Doctor Strange. All the referring to films also points to other brands. If the devil doesn’t wear Prada, perhaps they wears Versace? Or, gold curlicues that would make Donatella Versace beam with pride? Does the devil wear gender-neutral clothes too? Slip tops, for example, are for both women and men. Or, is the devil just the middle-aged uncle who prefers baggy avuncular suits over a cropped top that shows off a middle-aged paunch? Whatever the devil wears, the devil’s ally Vetements is still fashion’s diabolical adversary.

Photos: Vetements