An Uncommon Beauty

Obituary | Mimi Tan, model-turned-operator of one of Singapore’s leading modelling agencies, has passed

Model and business owner Mimi Tan, with her unmistakable smile and cheekbones. Photo: Mimi Tan/Facebook

Many model watchers today are unlikely to be familiar with the local name Mimi Tan, but back in the hippie years of the ’70s, Ms Tan was a highly recognisable and bankable face in the modelling scene here, and then, in the middle of that decade, co-owner of one of the big four agencies on our island at that time. Last Monday, it was shared on the social media pages of fashion professionals of a certain vintage (as well as some of her close friends) that Ms Tan had passed away. We understand that the cause of death is lung cancer. Not many knew that she was so seriously ill, but some noted that she, an active 10-year Facebook user, had stopped posting on the social media for a while. Ms Tan was 76.

Our memory now of that fashion era is a little sketchy. Here is what we can recall. Mimi Tan was a successful print and runway model in the ’70s, appearing not just in fashion editorials and ads, but also those that sells alcoholic beverages such as Martini. At the start of her career, she was represented by Joan Booty Academy of Modelling (in the ’60s, they were also referred to as “training and charm school”). These “academies”—as they were mostly known, probably to lend some respectability to the business—were operated by British entrepreneurs who, apart from Ms Booty, included Ruth Warner of Ruth Warner’s Singapore Model Academy. Two of them were the biggest agency names at the time. Ms Tan was one of Joan Booty’s popular girls. In 1972, she, along with five others of different ethnicity, represented our nation on a fashion tour of the UK—in London, Manchester, and the South-West port city of Plymouth—“to give Britons a glimpse of the east”, as the publicity material informed. The traveling show was called Oriental Ride. One photo handout at the time curiously showed the svelte Ms Tan in what could be considered Malay dress.

Ms Tan on a holiday in 2015. Photo: Mimi Tan/Facebook

Although Mimi Tan was almost synonymous with Mannequin Studio, the modelling agency was, in fact, founded in 1972 by Ruth Warner as a sort of a second act. Ms Tan was invited by Ms Warner to train the girls of her agency, which did not only instruct would-be models, but also those who wanted to carry themselves better. A classified advertisement in the The Straits Times in 1975 read, “You know that Mannequin Studio trains mannequins and photographic model girls. Do you know we also conduct deportment and grooming classes for women of all ages?” Ms Tan was probably tasked to find the next her. The studio’s standing in the industry was so esteemed that in 1978, a Mannequin Studio model, Jane Lim, was cast in an English-language film produced by the globally-renowned Chinese-American actress Nancy Kwan. Although Ms Tan was still modelling then, it is not certain if she also modelled for Ruth Warner at this time, but in 1975, she was asked if she’d like to take over the agency. She did, with another partner, Joan Lui. And for much of the rest of the ’70s, they were referred to as “agency heads”. Mannequin Studio, believed to be the oldest Singaporean modelling agency (the most famous and largest at one time, Carrie Models, was founded in 1976), merged with another, Modelling Arts, in 1981 with a grand show at the Crystal Ballroom of Hyatt Hotel to form Mannequin Arts Studio. The new outfit produced some of the best models of that time, such as Daphne Lee and Jeane Ho.

Models who ran their own agencies were common in the early years of the industry. In fact, Mimi Tan was among the four “ah jie (big sister)” beauties who wielded considerable clout at the time. They included Carrie Wong of Carrie Models, Ida Ong of Imp International, and Elsa Yeo of Elsa Model Centre (also known as Elsa Model Management). Sure, there were other agencies, such as Marisalon Model Studio, Ivor’s Modelling Studio, and Richard Tan Model Centre, but they did not quite make a dent—at least in the fashion industry—as the other four did. In the ’80s, modelling agencies were quite community clubs. A former magazine editor told us, “I remember hanging out at the Mannequin office in Singapore Shopping Centre. I was not a model, so I do not know what I was doing there, but I remember seeing Humphrey train the girls, showing them how to catwalk.” Many stylists of that time remember the ebullient Humphrey Lim and the quieter David Lim [both unrelated], who were also bookers and who, as one former fashion editor told us, “ran the agency (they had shares in the company too). Mimi was very much behind the scene.” But in 1989, Ms Tan decided to quit the enterprise she had made an industry biggie. She sold Mannequin Studio to one of the most successful of her girls at that time, Seraphina Fong, who had decided to step aside after four years in the limelight.

The six women from Joan Booty’s Modelling Academy, who represented Singapore in a series of shows in the UK in 1972. From left: Mimi Tan, Ong Gaik Kim, Patsy Pang, Pamela Ragan, Yasmin Saif, and Joyce Ho. Photo: National Archives of Singapore

Two years after she walked away from the modelling business, Mimi Tan entered another world of models—dummies. In 1991, she opened Mimi Tan’s Mannequins, a niche retailer with brand-named offerings of modern 3-D representations of the human body that were appealing to an increasingly fashion-aware population. Some of the mannequins that she distributed included those from Europe, such as Hindsgaul from Denmark and those by the British mannequin designer Adel Rootstein (whose leggy goods were then dubbed the “Rolls-Royce of mannequins”). Some of these were based on real models, such as the legendary Twiggy and the now-retired Yasmin Le Bon and Joddie Kidd). They appealed to a younger breed of shoppers who were no longer drawn to mannequins once favoured by Robinsons and Metro. Ms Tan’s sleek dummies, some in the new material that was fibreglass (much lighter than those made of wax and plaster, as it was in the past, after the even earlier papier-mâché ones were no longer in favour), were so alluringly premium that her mannequins were even supplied to the just-as-atas The Link (multi-label store at the old Mandarin Hotel and, later, Palais Renaissance, both now closed). A former fashion editor recalls meeting Ms Tan around that time: “She told me these mannequins didn’t talk back and didn’t give her a headache!”

Many who were fashion-industry pioneers remember not only her striking good looks, but her stylish dress sense too. In the ’70s, she was a regular customer of the made-to-measure Joy’s Boutique (which was then sited in the now-demolished, Goodwood Group-owned Malaysia Hotel on Cuscaden Road), opened by the designer Joyce Mizrahie, who later became synonymous with the Italian label Roccobarocco that she distributed and retailed. One Singaporean designer, who fondly remembers her wearing his designs even before he started his own label, told us: “She was very confident in her own taste. She would choose my clothes to wear, including those for tea shows she used to organise and walked in.” Ms Tan was, in fact, considered a pioneer of Saturday tea fashion shows of the ’70s, and was much associated with those in the Hotel Malaysia lobby. Back then, and throughout much of the first half of the ’80s, luncheon and tea shows (sometimes held on a hotel poolside—Holiday Inn’s on Scotts Road was a favourite venue) were popular, culminating in must-attend shows during the now-unheard-of Secretaries’ Week (usually in April). Modelling agencies produced and staged many of these generally runway-less events.

Ms Tan in Madrid, 2013. Photo: Mimi Tan/Facebook)

Mimi Tan was born in the Malaysian island of Penang on the fourth day of the new year of 1946 to an Indonesian father and Chinese mother. When she was young, the family moved to Hong Kong where they ran a successful car business. By her own admission, she was not interested in automobiles, so in her 20s, opted not to assist in the family business. Instead, she chose banking, and in the early ’60s, joined Standard Chartered, but that turned out to bore her. She then applied for a position as a flight attendant with Cathay Pacific and was hired. She enjoyed flying and often recalled the celebrities she met and the parties she attended in cities such as London. During her days off between flights, she modelled part-time, and one of her early noted campaigns was for the Hong Kong store Maison Marie, precursor to the now internationally-known Joyce Boutique, part of the Lane Crawford Group. She flew with Cathay Pacific—on the Convair 800 Jetliner(!)—for four years before relocating to Singapore, where she turned to modelling. She was quickly welcomed into the fledgling fashion scene. Those who knew her or had worked with her remember that “she was always smiling, always friendly with everyone, no airs,” one PR veteran recalls, “and that deep and feminine voice, and polished too.” A stylist also remembers that she was “friendly and a little campy. Whenever I met her, her bubbly personality always overpowered the person she really was. To one starting out in fashion, she was easy to be around.”

Despite her unblemished standing in the industry, Ms Tan found herself the target of unkind words which were even more hurtful in the era before the advent of social media and attendant online trolling. A former secretary, Michelle Phang, who became founder of a competing business The World of Mannequin, gave an interview to Marie Claire in 1995, in which she alleged “betrayal” when her “former boss” joined her company and tried to oust her. No name was mentioned in that article, but Ms Tan knew who it referred to. She sued Ms Phang for defamation (and set the record straight: she did not go into business with her). In 1997, Ms Tan was awarded S$65,000 in damages and cost. The judge at that time ruled that Ms Phang harboured “obvious grievances” because she was fired from her job for being “foul-mouthed and ill-tempered”. After winning the case, Ms Tan said to the press that she had “to right the wrong of the defamation”, adding, “integrity and reputation, particularly in the field of fashion, are more important to me than any monies that I can hope to obtain.” It was clear by then why Mimi Tan, who still loved her hometown foods, such as assam laksa and ju hu cha (鱿鱼炒, Hokkien for cuttlefish fry), chose to leave the industry, while she was ahead of the game. But Mannequin Studio, although now in different hands, continue to hold what she had left behind in unmistakably good stead.

A Style Of Her Own

Obituary | For 70 years of her reign, Queen Elizabeth II was an icon of stoicism, as much as fashion

Queen Elizabeth, unmistakable monarch. Photo: Getty Images

Two days before she died at age 96, Queen Elizabeth II received British prime minister Liz Truss at the rather remote Balmoral Castle—her summer residence in Scotland—to appoint the Conservative Party’s choice as the new PM, after the long-awaited resignation of Boris Johnson. The Queen must have been unwell then. Her doctors had deemed her “unfit to return to London due to ill health”, according to media reports (the appointment of a new PM, her fifteenth that day, would normally take place in Buckingham Palace). Palace officials had described what ailed her since the end of last year as “episodic mobility problems”. Yet she made the (likely considerable) effort to perform what would become her last official duty.

That afternoon, in the drawing room of the Castle, standing in front of a crackling fireplace, she was simply attired in what has been described as her “country style”, rather than her usual brightly-coloured coat-dress for other public engagements. The Queen wore a simple, pocketless, round-neck grey cardigan over a similarly-hued shirt. The skirt was knife-pleated, with hem below-the-knee, and in a wool Scottish tartan of grey too. She wore single-pearl drop earrings, a strand of pearls on her neck, and what could be her wedding ring on her left hand. She also wore glasses. As she was indoors in her own home (Balmoral Castle is, in fact, a private estate), she dispensed with her usual brimmed hat, but kept on her Anello & Davide shoes with the equivalent of a horse bit on top. What was curious (and drew online chatter) was her black Launer handbag: why did she need to carry one in her residence?

The last photo of Queen Elizabeth, in Balmoral Castle on 7 September. Photo: Getty Images

Queen Elizabeth was thought to be “most-prolific couture client in the world”. That is hardly surprising as the monarch would have clothes custom-made for her rather than have her spend an after out doing something as uninteresting as shopping. Reportedly, she has “thousands of clothes” stored (and probably indexed) in Buckingham Palace, where in 2016, it staged the exhibition Fashioning a Reign: 90 Years of Style from The Queen’s Wardrobe. Despite her easy access to clothes and the best people who make them, she was never a follower of fashion as we have come to understand the term. It has been said that royalty do not pursue trends or set them, a line of thought that would have been totally at odds with the preoccupation of the last Queen of France, Marie Antoinette, a veritable Queen of Fashion. Or, if we stick to British history, the earlier “Virgin Queen”, Elizabeth I, who was known to “dress to impress”. For Queen Elizabeth, the ideal is to strike a balance. And through the years, especially in her middle age and later, she did find a comfortable credo or, in less imaginative language, uniform.

What she wore that truly captured the public’s imagination began when she wowed the world in 1947 as a 21-year-old bride of her cousin Prince Philip of Greece. Her gown, designed by the British designer Norman Hartnell, was not quite a confection that would be expected of a princess bride. Rather, hers was in a rather conservative silhouette, made from ivory silk duchess satin purchased with ration coupons (which, at that time was also hard to get as it was not long after World War II) and decorated with 10,000 seed pearls (imported from the US, not, of course, Japan). The sum, despite whatever limitations of the time, was worthy of a Westminster Abbey wedding and the first television broadcast of a royal nuptial day.

The then Princess Elizabeth’s wedding dress when she married Prince Philip of Greece. Photo: Getty Images

But the wedding dress of the Princess would be overshadowed by the coronation dress of a Queen—her crowing in 1953, six years after the independence of India from British rule and the partition that led to the formation of Pakistan. Also designed by Norman Hartnell, the dress conformed to specifications requested by the new monarch, who had known, after wearing her bridal gown, quite exactly what she wanted: a dress in white, made from duchess satin again, and of a shape that did not unnecessarily accentuate her body, but that was regal, even “religious”, as some reports indicated. But despite a “brief”, Mr Hartnell was clear that he was going to create a dress that would be a masterpiece and one to be remembered.

Unlike what she wore for her wedding, the coronation gown had short sleeves and a seemingly lower sweetheart neckline. And the hand embroidery was grander, with floral emblems of every country of the United Kingdom, as well as those of the Commonwealth Nations (she was inclusive even before inclusive rings so stridently today), and flowers and other plants, such as wheat ears and olive branches, forming an orderly composition that was suitably ornate and stately. The dress was on display as part of the Platinum Jubilee: The Queen’s Coronation exhibition at Windsor Castle. As the curator Caroline de Guitaut told People, “it’s probably one of the most important dresses made in the 20th century—certainly a great piece of British design.”

The Queen posing in her coronation gown. Photo: Getty Images

Establishing a working wardrobe, The Queen in Stockholm in 1956, Photo: Getty Images

As she settled into her role as Queen, she began fine-tuning her dress choices and creating a wardrobe that would be suitable for her official duties. Just as her public life was tightly choreographed, her public style was solidly coordinated. Her clothes had to stand out from the crowd as the monarch who mingles with her subjects, even before she adopted the bright colours of her later years. “I have to be seen to be believed,” she once said. In the 2016 documentary, The Queen at 90, daughter-in-law, Sophie, Countess of Wessex, explained: “She needs to stand out for people to be able to say ‘I saw the Queen.’ Don’t forget that when she turns up somewhere, the crowds are two, three, four, 10, 15 deep, and someone wants to be able to say they saw a bit of the Queen’s hat as she went past.”

Even after leaving the post-war austerity quite behind her, she would wear rather practical clothes, but not dull. Before she embraced the colours now associated with her, she rather enjoyed prints (they reached, expectedly, quite a busy height in the ’70s). She wore mainly dresses (hardly ever do you see her in pants, although, according to one British report, she was photographed wearing pants in public “fewer than 10 times in the last 70 years”) in the ’70s and ’80s, before the coat dresses that started to dominate her attire for public appearances in the ’90s and that allowed the colours she used—mostly brights—to pop on and magnify an otherwise rather diminutive frame. It is tempting to say that she landed on the threshold of auntie-frumpiness, but even if she did occasionally knocked on its door, she did not cross to the other side.

The Queen visiting Toa Payoh when she was in Singapore in 1972. Photo: NYSP

Following her death, it emerged that the Queen was the “most well-travelled monarch in History”, chalking up over 117 (the figure varies depending on the reports) official visits overseas since her coronation in 1953, according to The Telegraph, who called her the ”Million-Mile Queen”. Other reports say that she took the most trips in the ’70s, amounting to 73 to 48 different countries. Interestingly, the Queen does not need a British passport for her travels outside the UK. According to the official web site of the British Royal Family, royal.uk, “as a British passport is issued in the name of Her Majesty, it is unnecessary for The Queen to possess one.” Her travel wardrobe, which apparently provided for three outfit changes a day (including hats and accessories), was assembled not just to communicate her taste when abroad, but also to weave in diplomatic messages, as well as cultural nods to the lands she visited. Practical considerations were taken into account too. According to CNN, her designers added weights to the hem of her dresses and skirts, for example, so that she needn’t have resist unpredictable gusty conditions.

She came to Asia several times. Out of the 54 independent countries that make up the Commonwealth, eight are in Asia (five in South Asia and three in South-East Asia), with six that are republics and two monarchies (Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam). The Queen’s trips to the largest continent in the world began in 1954, two years after her accession, with a trip to Sri Lanka. In 1986, she was the “first-ever” British monarch to visit China, where in Beijing she met Deng Xiaoping (邓小平), and where she reaffirmed that Britain will return Hong Kong to Chinese rule. That happened in July 1997. It was seen as the end of the British Empire. The Queen did not attend the handover ceremony, but Prince Charles—now King Charles III—did.

The Queen and Lee Kuan Yew at a state banquet held in her honour during a 1989 visit. Photo: Getty Images

The Queen with PM Lee Hsien Loong in 2006. Photo Chew Seng Kim/ST

Queen Elizabeth II first visited Southeast Asia in the leap year of 1972, with stops in Thailand, Malaysia, Brunei, and Singapore. She came to our island twice more, in 1986 and 2006. Probably briefed on our terrible heat and humidity, she wore mostly lightweight dresses during her times here. In her hitherto famous visit to the Housing Development Board’s second public housing estate Toa Payoh in 1972, she wore a pale, bluish dress with circular mirco-dots that appeared to be in repeated shapes of the chrysanthemum. The sleeve of the dress ended with a slight puff below her elbow. From there, the rest of her arms were covered in white gloves, which formed a continuous chromatic line with her Launer handbag—also in white. It must have been amusing for the residents of Toa Payoh to see someone so dressed up. In fact, those accompanying her were too, including members of the families whose flats she visited. We had to remind ourselves this was a different age. On another day, at the Botanic Gardens, where she was presented with an orchid named after her, the Dendrobium Elizabeth, the Sovereign went without sleeves in a low-waist dress that had quite a hint of the 1920s. But her white gloves remained.

In 1986—her second visit to the Lion City—she showed that regal could work in an equatorial land with no history of queenly resplendence. At the Istana state banquet held in her honour, she wore a gold gown in what could have been silk brocade, with a wide, gossamer flounce across her shoulder. There was, of course, the customary bling of crown and necklace. When she returned to our shores in 2006, which would be her final visit to Asia, the Queen’s by then familiar single-colour (dress that matched the hat) attire was the predominant look. One bright green dress paired with a jaunty marabou-ed hat in identical colours is probably the one most associated with her time on our island. “I have watched Singapore’s development with admiration,” the queen said during the Istana gala. “Although only 40 years old (then), your country already has a deserved reputation as a centre of excellence in Asia.” Indisputably, Queen Elizabeth II, too, had a deserved reputation, and kept in herself a centre of excellence.

A True Pioneer

Obituary | There is no better way to describe Issey Miyake: He was, without doubt, ahead of his time

The world mourned an iconoclast of fashion design when it was reported yesterday in the Japanese press (and immediately picked up by the West) that Issey Miyake had died five days earlier. An official statement issued by the company he founded in 1970 Miyake Design Studio (MDS) stated that the designer “passed away on August 5th, 2022, at a hospital in Tokyo, surrounded by close friends and associates. The cause of death was hepatocellular carcinoma”, considered a common type of liver cancer (the same disease that took the life of another Japanese fashion designer of the era, Mitsuhiro Matsuda, in 2008). According to Nikkei Asia, “the funeral has already been held”. A company employee was quoted by The Japan Times to have indicated that there would not be a public ceremony, as the designer had requested. Mr Miyake was 84.

Born Miyake Kazumaru (the Japanese characters 一生 also read as Issey, which he adopted professionally) in 1938, in Hiroshima, the south of Japan’s largest island Honshu, he grew up in the higashi-ku (or east ward) of the city. At the time, Hiroshima was a military base, and considered a prominent one, where the residents, according to the city’s own literature, worked for the army or were from Korea and Taiwan, which were then Japanese colonies. Six years later, in 1945, an American B-29 bomber released the world’s first atomic bomb, code-named Little Boy, on Hiroshima. Mr Miyake was himself a little boy when the attack struck. His experience during the bombing, which obliterated his home city and resulted, at the end of that year, the death of between 90,000 to 166,000 city folks, most of whom were civilians, was never truly recounted. But in a now-famous and oft-quoted op-ed for The New York Times in 2009, he wrote: “When I close my eyes, I still see things no one should ever experience: a bright red light, the black cloud soon after, people running in every direction trying desperately to escape—I remember it all. Within three years, my mother died from radiation exposure.” He still did not talk about his younger days, least of all the precise details of living in the aftermath of the bombings, but that fateful day in 1945 did leave him with a pronounced limp.

Issey Miyake in 1970. Photo: Claude Charlie’s/Vogue

As an adult and through his professional life, he offered almost no glimpse of his formative years, fearing any recollection might label him, as he wrote, “the designer who survived the atomic bomb”. In fact, till his piece for NYT, not many knew of his war-time experience. “I have always avoided questions about Hiroshima. They made me uncomfortable.” To understand his discomfort, we may have to look at the experiences of others who survived the bombing. In one 2014 report in The Chugoku Shimbun, a former electrical technician Shinji Mikamo, by then 87, described how he lost his family and home to the American attack. The situation in Hiroshima was already tense at the time. “To create a fire lane in the event of an air raid,” the paper wrote, “he was helping to dismantle his house. He was on the roof, removing roof tiles to take them to the spot where the house would be rebuilt. Suddenly, a yellow ball of fire, three times as large as the sun, filled his vision. At the same instant, he felt a blast of intense heat, as if splashed with boiling water… his pants had caught fire and he suffered serious burns to his right thigh. He was also burned and wounded on his back, right arm, both hands, and face.”

We do not know much of Mr Miyake’s youth following the Hiroshima bombing, or his health, but a 2010 article in the British paper The Telegraph wrote that he was diagnosed with a bone-marrow disease when he was 10 years old. In 2015, he finally revealed more to the Japanese paper The Yomiuri Shimbun. He said, “I was a first-grade primary school student when the atomic bomb was dropped 70 years ago on Hiroshima on August 6. I heard the boom all of a sudden when I entered a classroom after a morning assembly. A broken piece of window glass got stuck into my head. I was frightened. I told the people at the home to which I had been evacuated, ‘I want to go home,’ and they gave me lots of hard, dry biscuits. I headed home alone to search for my mother. People were burned, lying on top of each other, and others gathered at a stream for water. I found my mother, who was burned over half her body, the following day. I developed periostitis (inflammation of the connective tissue that surrounds bone) due to radiation exposure when I was a fourth-grader at primary school. Some people died of this disease, but I was saved by penicillin. My mother nursed me while I was fighting the disease and died soon after my condition improved.”

The illustration of Issey Miyake’s 1969 collection Constructible Cloth. Photo: Miyake Design Studio

The execution. Photo: Kishin Shinoyama/Miyake Design Studio

Whether he remained in Hiroshima is not ascertained, nor when he moved to Tokyo. We do know that Mr Miyake was interested in dance, but did not pursue it. In 1962, he enrolled in the private institution Tama Art University in the mountain suburb of Tama, west of Tokyo. He chose graphic design, as the school did not offer a course in fashion (his contemporaries included the late Makoto Wada—famed illustrator, as well as film director [1988’s Kaitō Ruby]). But fashion had stirred a deep interest in him when he became an ardent reader of his sister’s fashion magazines—in Japan they were an invaluable source of information and inspiration. So passionate he was about fashion that in 1960, during the World Design Conference (that gathered Japanese designers, architects and industrial designers with their European and American counterparts to discuss ‘Total Image for the 20th Century’ that year), which Japan was hosting for the first time, Mr Miyake shot a letter to the secretariat and put to them why clothing design was not part of the program. It is not known if he was given an answer.

Yet, according to MDS, “his focus upon clothing as design rather than fashion attracted attention”. Whether this was campus-wide, city-wide, or nation-wide, it is not specified. Although graphic design was the subject on his books, it was fashion design that Mr Miyake held on tightly to (surprising, he did not choose to go to Bunka Fashion College, where many of the country’s elite designers went). Reportedly, he started designing clothing for himself. Then the art director Jo Murakoshi, founder of the Tokyo advertising firm Light Publicity, came acalling with the suggestion that Mr Miyake designed the clothes for the calendar that he was doing for the fabric manufacturer Toyo Rayon, now know worldwide as Toray Industries. After his graduation, he created his first collection called nuno to ishi no uta (布と石の詩 or Poem of Cloth and Stone); its art-school vibe unmistakable. The collection enjoyed a proper show, staged at the old Tokyo Chamber of Commerce and Industry building in Marunouchi, not far from the Tokyo Imperial Palace. It is not quite certain what happened after the show or if it made a mark in Tokyo.

With his models at the end of his spring/summer 1988 collection. Photo: Getty Images

A year after he graduated in 1964, Mr Miyake decided to go to Paris, where just months earlier compatriot Kenzo Takada had arrived. There, he enrolled, as Mr Takada did too, at the prestigious L’École de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne (where the famed Bunka lecturer Chie Koike was educated and where a young Yves Saint Laurent was reportedly in her class) and stayed for a year. School was followed by work in surprisingly traditional couture houses: First, at Guy Laroche, and a year later, at Hubert de Givenchy. But Paris couture had insufficient pull and he moved to New York where he was assistant to Geoffrey Beene, who, in a 1999 interview for Veery Journal, curiously opined: “I admire Issey Miyake who worked for me at one time for his technique. I don’t think the clothes are modern but the technique is.” In New York, it was said that Mr Miyake took English classes at Columbia University, but it did not seem he intended to stay. In less than a year he was back in Tokyo.

In 1970, Miyake Design Studio was established upon the designer’s return. A year later, he was back in New York to stage his first overseas fashion show. The collection featured “body tights” in skin-coloured stretch fabrics on which images of Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin—following their tragic deaths—were employed just like Japanese tattoos, only more vivid and, as was the graphic style of the time, pop. In 1973, he showed his first collection at Paris Fashion Week, and since then, the brand has not departed the Paris calendar (2023 would be its 50th year showing in Paris). While Mr Miyake was often placed together with Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons and Yohji Yamamoto as one of “The Big Three” to rock the French establishment in 1981 with their radical looks, which, ironically (even cruelly) was described as “Hiroshima chic”, among other names, he did debut earlier—eight years earlier, which made him the veritable veteran of the trio—and he did not show anything with holes. Ms Kawakubo’s and Mr Yamamoto’s overnight success probably bolstered Mr Miyake’s standing. Finally, the Japanese designers had arrived.

Poster for the Tokyo leg of the exhibition Issey Miyake Spectacle: Bodyworks. Photo: Miyake Design Studio

With The Plastic Body—his famous bustier made of fibreglass—at the Issey Miyake Spectacle: Bodyworks at the Laforet Museum Iikura, Tokyo in 1983. Photo: club21global.com

Three years after Mr Miyake’s Paris debut, in what can now be seen as a far-sighted idea, he staged an off-season show in Tokyo titled “Issey Miyake and Twelve Black Girls in Tokyo”, which trained the spotlight on Black models, including Grace Jones and Toukie Smith (sister of the designer Willi Smith of the ’80s label Williwear). It is tempting to say that the designer’s sojourn in New York in 1969 exposed him to the beauty and potential of Black models, just as American sportswear might have influenced him into wanting his clothes to be totally wearable and to reach many people, not just fashion folks. But while his designs were practical and practicable no matter how out-there they sometimes were, the clothes were not at all in the same league as Uniqlo’s Lifewear. Every design was a confluence of tradition and technology, with Mr Miyake equally interested in looms and software, in wefts and bytes. His famous Pleats Please line, born in 1993 that saw the garment (or object) pleated after they were cut and sewn, rather than before, as was the conventional practice (hence the patented “garment pleating”, a concept much copied), is testament to his willingness to see the tried-and-tested given a technological spin. Much of Mr Miyake’s pioneering and groundbreaking work will probably be covered by the press in the coming days.

Although he was unable to follow his love of dance professionally, Mr Miyake was able to support the art by designing costumes for ballets (and other dances), such as William Forsythe’s Frankfurt Ballet company in 1991. But the idea of fashion as performance-display-entertainment truly came in the form of the numerous exhibitions throughout the world that dramatically showcased his work. Bodyworks in 1983 is still considered the most unforgettable; it featured Mr Miyake’s most indentifiable construction The Plastic Body and the curvilineal armour made of bamboo, as an exploration of hard materials that could be made to be worn on a body, and in doing so, examine the space between the garment and the body. The result of the rattan bodice was so radical, but so beautiful in its form as well as its nod to traditional basketry that the magazine Artforum featured it on the cover of its February 1982 issue, making it the first-ever garment to appear. His reputation as an artist was slowly consolidated. But in 1994 and 1999, Mr Miyake relinquished the design of the men’s and women’s lines respectively to his assistant Naoki Takizawa (who in 2014 joined Uniqlo), in order to do research and explore new concepts—even at retail level—full-time.

With models for the Pleats Please launch show in Paris, 1993. Photo: AP

The designs of Issey Miyake were brought to our shores in the ’70s. Although the brand is presently linked to Club 21, with a freestanding boutique at The Shopping Gallery in the new Voco Orchard, it was the store of the ’80s and ’90s, Man and his Woman, that introduced it here. In the early ’70s proprietress and former journalist Judith Chung bought the line not long after Mr Miyake’s Paris debut for her first store at the now largely-forgotten Specialists’ Shopping Centre (where Orchard Gateway now stands). Ms Chung was an arden supporter of not just the trending European designers of the day, but also the those of the burgeoning Japanese avant-garde. She was no stranger to Japanese designers, having earlier stocked Kenzo Takada’s Jungle Jap. But in Issey Miyake, with whom she would form a firm friendship, she saw a talent that was special. And in time, not only did she carry the men’s (which was launched in 1978), she opened the brand’s stand-alone store in 1984—the first in Asia outside Japan—at The Promenade, where Man and his Woman moved to after Specialists’ Shopping Centre, in 1982. The Promenade was demolished in 2003 for the extension of the Paragon. In 1993, when Ms Chung closed Man and his Woman for good, the retail and distributorship of Issey Miyake went to Club 21.

An ex-staffer at the Issey Miyake store in The Promenade, who was later also a fashion stylist, shared on Instagram (we quote verbatim), “It was such a great learning experience to see , touch n sell all those collections . And Thanks to Judith I had the experienced to do buying , visited his Studios n meeting Mr Miyake himself in Tokyo. I learned so much !” One former designer told us that the Issey Miyake fibreglass bustier, The Plastic Body, was unforgettable: “First saw it in a magazine and was always sketching it in my text book while in class! When I finally saw it at Man and his Woman, I almost cried. It taught me that fashion could be art.” Another designer, now based in New York, said, “When Man and his Woman had a store in Specialists’ Shopping Center, a friend and I used to go there and try all the clothes! Back then, it was outré… but now…? That’s why he was so ahead of his time.” A former editor, who said that the designs made him rethink “how clothes could flow around the body”, told us, “people these days often talk about ‘newness’, a requisite that is stress to designers and retailers. Back then, Issey Miyake was newness, totally. And every season too.”

Illustration (top): Just So

Through His Eyes

Orbituary | He shot many photographs for magazine covers of the ’80s and ’90s. But later he was shot down with allegations of shocking sexual misconduct, tainting a legacy that included the “iconic” photographs of Princess Diana for British Vogue

Patrick Demarchelier photographed for Vogue in 2010 by his son Victor Demarchelier

Considered one of the greatest fashion photographers of his generation, Frenchman Patrick Demarchelier has died. It was reported that Mr Demarchelier passed away on March 31, on the Caribbean island of Saint Barthélemy (popularly known as St. Barths), where he was known to have a house and where he conducted some of his beloved shoots. The cause of death was not officially announced but WWD, quoting a friend who asked not to be named, reported that it is cancer. News of his passing “rocked” the fashion world and was met with eager tributes on social media. Mr Demarchelier is survived by his wife Mia, his three sons, Gustaf, Arthur, Victor, and three grandchildren. He was 78.

Although born “near Paris” (according to most biographies—no exact location is known), Mr Demarchelier grew up in Le Havre, in the Normandy region of northwestern France with his mother and four brothers. Almost nothing is known about his dad, but his stepfather was instrumental in piquing the young man’s interest in photography. When he was 17, his stepfather gifted him with an Eastman Kodak camera, which led him to discover and learn film development and the retouching of negatives. He soon started photographing his friends, which led to work shooting weddings—like many lensmen—and, according to Vogue, passport photos. He would proudly declare that he was self-taught and that a career with a camera was never planned: “It came to me”.

Madonna photographed by Patrick Demarchelier in 1989. Photo: Vogue

At the age of 20, he moved to Paris and found work with the Swiss photographer Hans Feurer, who shot for Vogue, in 1983, lensed a Kenzo campaign featuring Iman. Mr Demarchelier remained in Paris for 12 years. In 1975, he moved to New York, reportedly to follow an unnamed girlfriend. It was in New York where he discovered fashion photography and was, in turn, discovered. Vogue covers soon followed, including one, in 1989, with Madonna, swimsuit clad, sitting in a pool looking rather unthreateningly Like a Virgin. But it was Mr Demarchelier’s work with Harper’s Bazaar that kick-started what was dubbed “the bidding war” of the early ’90s among magazines desperate to secure the best photographers.

Back in 1992, the late editor Liz Tilberis was lured across the pond from British Vogue to Harper’s Bazaar. She had worked regularly with Mr Demarchelier before. According to Alexandra Shulman in her book Inside Vogue, the photographer “decamped… to Harper’s Bazaar for a big contract” (Mr Demarchelier told WWD back then that the pay was very good). That meant Mr Demarchelier would shoot for no other fashion magazine. Until then, it was not known that photographers were offered contracts. Most worked on a part-time basis, and if any of them was favoured, could become the “featured” photographer, such as Irving Penn at Vogue, under the creative head, the Russian-born artist Alexander Liberman.

Linda Evangelista in 1992, photographed by Patrick Demarchelier for Harper’s Bazaar. Photo: Harper’s Bazaar

Ms Tilberis’s appointment at Harper’s Bazaar ushered in an era of rivalry among British editors at American magazines, specifically Anna Wintour at Vogue. When she took up her post in the US in January of 1992, Ms Tilberis had assembled a formidable team, including the French art director Fabien Baron (who was much admired for his work at Italian Vogue) as the creative director and the famed New York publicist Paul Cavaco as fashion director. Mr Demarchelier’s coming onboard meant New York publishing was seeing a powerful trinity. And the photographer’s “contract” meant that he would not be welcomed at Vogue, especially since Ms Wintour was said to have had issued a warning to her regular team of contributors: Work for Harper’s Bazaar, and be banned from all Condé Nast titles, not just in the US, but worldwide. In her autobiography, No Time to Die, Ms Tilberis wrote, “Patrick had the whole thing planned: I should hire Fabien Baron.” She also quoted Mr Demarchelier saying, “If you get Fabien, I’ll think of coming with you.”

The move was not only a risky one for the photographer, it changed the course of Harper’s Bazaar’s re-launch trajectory. His debut cover for the magazine’s 1992 September issue was so different, spare, and striking, it would still be talked about today. Linda Evangelista, at the height of her career, had her hand up, her palm a gentle cup, and placed on the page to appear to knock off one of the ‘A’s of the masthead, a clever design touch by Mr Baron. But outside fashion, it was Mr Demarchelier’s portraits of the late Diana, Princess of Wales, that raised his public profile beyond what even the photographer himself could imagine. Princess Diana had admired his work, so much so that, in 1989, she reportedly called him personally to commissioned him to photograph her and sons, William and Harry. He became the first non-British official photographer for the British royal family.

With Princess Diana in 1991. Photo: Patrick Demarchelier

In time, his images of Princess Diana would be known as his “best”, even if only because he shot the most famous woman in the world then. Those snapshots, keenly seen and admired around the world, and described by Ms Tilberis, then editor-in-chief of British Vogue, as “eternally famous”, also paved the path of an unlikely friendship between the princess and the photographer. As the popular telling went: In 1989, the princess saw a copy of British Vogue when she came upon a shot of a model and a child, and liked it. Liz Tilberis provided more details in No Time to Die: “I wrote to her asking whether she’d consider being photographed with her sons and sent the letter over to Kensington Palace with the portfolios of three photographers.” The princess chose Mr Demarchelier because of the cover picture for British Vogue, on which the child was, in fact, his son. That first shoot, with mother and brood “frolicking in the hay barn” did not make the cover of the magazine as intended.

In a second session, Princess Di—still in a playful mood, but now wearing a tiara and a gown with a beaded bodice—was photographed “on the floor laughing with her head thrown back, the folds of the gown pooling around her”. Still, the photos from this sitting were not deemed by Buckingham Palace to be cover material enough (but one with a smile would be the most loved to this day). Instead and surprisingly, the far more informal photo of the princess—in a simple turtleneck, with chin resting on her right hand atop the left—that Mr Demarchelier captured graced the cover of the Christmas 1991 issue of British Vogue. The publicity that went with that was immense, to say the least. By now, Patrick Demarchelier was a huge name. He would continue to be Princess Diana’s portraitist until her death in 1997. In 2007, Mr Demarchelier was named an Officer of the Order of the Arts and Letters by the French government. In the following year, he was awarded the prestigious Lucie Award for achievements in fashion photography.

The Boston Globe article of 2018 that exposed sexual abuses experienced by models. Screen grab: The Boston Globe

Warning: objectionable language ahead

Those who had still not heard of his name despite his having photographed the most famous woman in the world would become acquainted with him through the 2006 film The Devil Wears Prada, when Miranda Priestly (played by Meryl Streep) demanded, “Get me Demarchelier!” and the quick reply from the more competent of her two assistants: “I’ve got Patrick!” But a damning 2018 report by the Massachusetts daily, The Boston Globe, quickly brought him down from his “superstar status”. In an editorial entitled “Modeling’s glamour hides web of abuse”, the paper quoted models accusing “at least 25 photographers, agents, stylists, casting directors, and other industry professionals” of sexual misconduct, even assault. Mr Demarchelier was among the men accused and one that The Cut called “the biggest bombshell on the list”. According to the Bostonian paper that first broke the news, he had “long preyed on young women”. One of his former assistants purportedly even wrote to Anna Wintour about his “relentless advances… beginning when she was a 19-year-old intern“. Other women spoke of “unwanted sexual advances, including thrusting a model’s hands onto her genitals and grabbing another model’s breasts”. With one teenaged model, Mr Demarchelier—offering to make her famous—allegedly asked her, “Can I lick your pussy?”

Unsurprisingly, he denied the accusations, telling The Boston Globe, “People lie and they tell stories. It’s ridiculous.” But these stories did not arouse enough ridicule for industry heavyweights to ignore the charges. By then, Mr Demarchelier was no longer contracted to Harper’s Bazaar. He was shooting for Vogue again, and other titles. In February 2018, Condé Nast issued a statement: “We have informed Patrick we will not be working with him for the foreseeable future”, four months after the company came up with a “Code of Conduct” in response to sexual misconduct levelled at another photographer, the American lensman Terry Richardson, with an accompanying message, “There are no excuses for this type of behavior; it is completely unacceptable“. Patrick Demarchelier, that “bear of a man”, as it turned out, was barely bearable to many models. It is regrettable that a photographer, who rose to the top with his unerring eye for the supremely elegant, would also go down with his vile penchant for the despicably indecent.

Pioneer Fashion Newscaster Dies

Obituary | Before social media and livestreaming, Elsa Klensch and her namesake show in the ’80s brought designer fashion to the masses

Elsa Klensch on Style with Elsa Klensch. Screen grab: YouTube

CNN announced this morning (our time) that their pioneer/former fashion newscaster Elsa Klensch has passed away in New York. It is not clear if she was in a hospital or at home at the time of death. Ms Klensch was reported to live in West 54th Street, Manhattan, in an apartment that overlooks the Museum of Modern Art, after her namesake show, Style with Elsa Klensch, on CNN was cancelled in 2001. Although originally from Australia, Ms Klensch had been based in New York after joining the network in 1980. No cause of death was given. She was 92.

Prior to the advent of digital broadcasts and livestreams by fashion brands, Style with Elsa Klensch, was the only TV show at that time to bring viewers to the front row and backstage of the four major fashion weeks. It was described as a “groundbreaking” show, even today, broadcast in 142 countries then, including ours. Ms Klensch was a powerful, much-listened-to voice, way before the influence of the KOLs of today. Vanessa Friedman described her via Twitter, shortly after her death was announced, as “among the first of her kind”. Entertainment Weekly wrote in 1993, “And there’s Elsa (everyone knows her as Elsa): impeccable in a Sonia Rykiel jacket, thick gold necklaces, and glossy black bobbed hair.” And that “clipped, fashion-magaziney inflections of her Australian accent softened by more than a quarter century in New York”.

She was born Elsa Aeschbacher in 1933, in the town of Cooranbong, New South Wales, Australia, originally land of the aboriginal people known as the Awabakal, to Johann Ernst and Mary Margaret Aeschbacher. Little is known about her German family, except that she grew up in the Blue Mountains, about two hours by car from Sydney, and that her father died when she was very young. Her family managed to get by with an inheritance from her grandfather, but they did not lead anywhere near a lavish lifestyle. In her late teens, she left for Sydney, where she wanted to be a political journalist. As she told The New York Times in 2001 after she left CNN, “I’ve always been fascinated by power.“ But it would be the power that fashion and its players wielded that would later determine her career path.

The unmistakable title design of Style with Elsa Klensch. Screen grab: YouTube

She pursued journalism at University of Sydney, during which she started her chosen profession at the Sydney Daily Telegraph, using the byline Elsa Barker because her surname was difficult for people to pronounce and remember. But her career really took off in London in the Swinging Sixties. She reported for the London Star and London Sunday Express. London may be where the ‘Youthquake’ was, but returned to Sydney she did, continuing her work in journalism with the local media there. In 1966, she moved again, this time to Hong Kong, where the city’s famed Trade Development Council (HKTDC, organiser of Hong Kong Fashion Week and also Gifts and Premium Fair, among many) offered her a position as editor of their trade publications. It was in Hong Kong that she met her husband, Charles Klensch, a Saigon-based, “Brooks Brothers type” news bureau manager for the American Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), who, at that time, was on leave in the Fragrant Harbour. They married that year in war-time Saigon. Ms Klensch was later appointed senior market editor for Women’s Wear Daily (WWD), a position she held in Hong Kong until the couple moved to New York not long after their marriage.

She was always proud of having worked with the big names of fashion journalism of that time, including WWD’s irascible John Fairchild; June Weir, the “tough and tender” fashion editor also at WWD and, later, at W (“I learned it all at Women’s Wear Daily,” Ms Klensch told Time in 2004); as well as two other formidable editors (one textually, the other visually), Grace Mirabella and Polly Mellon, both from Vogue. “I worked with all those people,” she said, “I knew one hell of a lot about fashion, so my reports were more in-depth because I really understood.” Many stories on Elsa Klensch fail to mention a little-known career detail: that she was fashion editor with the just-as-unfamiliar New York magazine Savvy, but her tenure was short-lived, and the person who replaced her in 1980 was, according to Jerry Oppenheimer in his book Front Row, none other than the “ambitious” Anna Wintour, who also omitted this part of her professional life in her public image.

After Savvy, Elsa Klensch joined CNN to host and produce Style with Elsa Klensch, with which she became the first TV journalist to bring fashion to the small screen and, as she frequently recalled, to have “had Halston, Liza Minnelli, Andy Warhol and Martha Graham on the first day”. The show, televised on weekends, would become CNN’s highest-rated show of their weekend programming, with 200 million households tuning in worldwide at its peak. So successful was Style (as it was commonly referred to) and its host that the network organised a celebratory bash for Ms Klensch at New York Public Library on the show’s 15th Anniversary in 1995, just before New York Fashion Week, then staged in tents at Bryant Park on 42nd Street. Style had by then become five three-to-five-minute daily news features that were then compiled into half-hour programs for the weekends. Designers, once video-camera-shy, by now had no qualms guesting on the show and offering the appreciated bon mot.

With Bill Blass in 1987 at the CFDA Awards. Photo: Getty Images

Style was, however, never an NYT piece in video format; its host never controversial or provocative as she brought viewers around the world to see beautiful clothes and, later, interiors. So deferential she was to her interviewees and so deliberately amiable that she was referred to, flatteringly or not, as the “Robin Leach of fashion television” (fans saw her as Walter Cronkite). In fact, so serious she was at what she was presenting—from skirts to skirtings—that in 1999, The New Yorker wrote that she “reports on developments in design, on innovations in fabrics, and on mutations of hemlines as soberly as if she were covering the State Department.” Beneath her on-screen smiles and chumminess with designers, Ms Klensch was also known to be tough to work with. A former staffer described her to WWD as “very strong-willed”.

Although she was noted for her “insightful reports”, Ms Klensch was not exactly the go-to for her illuminating commentary. On Bill Blass’s spring/summer 1993 collection, she said it was “upbeat and colourful, made for modern women… The shapes are simple, made to reveal a woman’s figure”. Not exactly Pulitzer Prize-winning stuff, but she was speaking to those who, “every Saturday morning, would plunk down on the couch with a bowl of Fruity Pebbles to watch (her) thoughtfully dissect the runways of NY, London, Milan, Tokyo, and Paris—an American “fashion follower” shared. Or those, as Tampa Bay Times more cruelly put it, on “an unknown frontier of pizza-stained carpet and nubby nightgowns: the American living room”.

Her own style was strictly less Saturday-morning-out-of-bed. Perhaps the definition of tasteful, or what tasteful was back then. A sharp jacket with pronounced shoulders was almost standard (Sonia Rykiel, it bears repeating, was a favourite), even when she championed Giorgio Armani’s far more relaxed silhouettes. The pile-on jewellery on the neck (rarely, if ever a single strand or chain) was just as synonymous, possibly to reflect her enthusiasm for how Karl Lagerfeld, who regularly appeared on her show, transformed Chanel in the ’80s. Her make-up was intensive (she was lucky that shows then were not broadcast in 4K!), while her lips were almost too thickly defined. The hair, too, was unmistakable: that longish bob, with the dense bangs. While such a straight hairstyle would come to define Anna Winour, it was Ms Klensh who made it acceptable while most of America was enamoured with the bouffant of Krystle Carrington.

Elsa Klensch in her post-broadcasting years. Photo: Getty Images

The impeccable turnout, it seemed, was achieved at her own personal expense. According to her, she received “zero” clothing allowance at CNN in all of her 21 years with the network. To intensify the constriction, she was not allowed to accept free clothes from designers because then objectivity could be compromised. As she told NYT, “You wouldn’t want to feel an obligation to anyone.” She admitted to the Los Angeles Times in 1989: “Clothes are so expensive. You’ve got to know what you want, what suits you and do different things with them.” What suited her were suits, and the different things were the accessories. While she hit the big time during the rise of the Japanese designers in Paris, she never appeared on television in those inky, forward clothes. One co-worker said that “the worst thing for us is an all-black show in an all-black room” even though Ms Klensch was fascinated by the extreme creativity of the Japanese and interviewed designers such as Yohji Yamamoto. In 1990, despite the veritable conservatism, she was inducted into the International Best-Dressed Hall of Fame.

Style was considered the only TV show on fashion that mattered. Elsa Klensch’s only competitor at the that time, dare we say, was Jeanne Beker of the Canadian-produced Fashion Television (aka Fashion TV) that came five years later (and would last for 27). Initially a local production for Toronto before it was syndicated and aired on the American Style Network, and then others, Fashion Television adopted much of what Style had done earlier. Fashion broadcasting in the those years was dominated by the two women who did not sound American. The reportage on TV then was straightforward, but it was Elsa Klensch who dialed up the glamour, even when that eventually fizzled out as the 2000s approached. Her influence spawned not just the imitation from America’s northern neighbour, but also from within, such as MTV’s lamer House of Style, hosted by posey models, not experienced journalists; first Cindy Crawford and later, Daisy Fuentes and Molly Sims. Elsa Klensch also appeared in the fluffy, 1994 Robert Alman film PrêtàPorter, in which Kim Basinger played the TV fashion journalist Kitty Potter, widely believed to be based on Ms Klensch. This predated 2009’s The September Issue: until then, the public knew not of Anna Wintour or how she looked like. Elsa Klensch was already a recognisable face, so much so that, as she liked to regale, she was asked to sign autographs on the Great Wall of China.

In a report by the now-defunct weekly The New York Observer, Ms Klensch’s parting with CNN was described as “a civil but rather unceremonious end”, vaguely recalling her previous boss Grace Mirabella’s fate at Vogue in 1988. In November 2000, two months prior to the end of Style, talk emerged that she would be “terminated” and that some industry individuals had been reached to interview for what they had thought was Ms Klensch’s position. Officially, the reporter had resigned because her show was cancelled, but the chatter was that she was fired following a change in programming after CNN was bought by AOL Time Warner in 2000, despite the mere two years left in her contract. She later told WWD, “I can confirm I have been asked to leave the network”. She also concluded, “I don’t think any ending is exactly as one envisions it, but I was very happy with the way it all ended.” Perhaps, that was all that mattered, 21 years of Style and a purported 40,000 fashion shows later.

When Céline Paid Homage to Joan Didion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He Brought The Street Right Into The Studios Of Louis Vuitton

Orbituary | Virgil Abloh also showed that being black is no barrier

We woke up to highly OMG news this morning: Virgil Abloh is dead. The revelation that “shocked” even his employer at LVMH, Bernard Arnault, has been flooding our news feed with the same urgency as the passing of a head of state, with his eponymous Instagram account announcing six hours ago, “We are devastated to announce the passing of our beloved Virgil Abloh”. It also revealed that Mr Abloh “battled a rare, aggressive form of cancer, cardiac angiosarcoma”. He was diagnosed with the illness in 2019, just a year after he was named artistic director of Louis Vuitton’s menswear collections. Cardiac angiosarcoma, according to John Hopkins University, are tumours that form in the heart. Mr Abloh was 41.

So determined was he to make a deep mark in the world of luxury fashion, and fashion at large, that he kept his diagnosis secret and soldiered on. Even a three-month break that he took before the autumn/winter 2020 show was not clue that he was seriously ill. Under his watch, the menswear of Louis Vuitton was more successful than it ever was, even when the collections were designed by his friend and mentor Kim Jones, who reportedly recommended Mr Abloh to the LV position when Mr Jones vacated it to go Dior. The American designer was already making waves stateside with his own label Off-White, but it was the LV role that brought his “elevated take” (the oft-repeated description) of streetwear to the hallowed corridors of Louis Vuitton and the attention of the world. Even Mr Jones’s collaboration with Supreme (the one that got it all rolling) paled in comparison to Mr Abloh’s I’d-be-damned-if-I-don’t attitude towards luxury menswear.

The emotional hug between Virgil Abloh and Kanye West at Mr Abloh’s debut collection for Louis Vuitton’s menswear in 2018. Photo: Getty Images

His appointment at LV shocked the world then as his death does now. It was not that he was the first black American to hold the design reigns at a French house. The general consensus was that Mr Abloh was not quite the designer that many have come to associate with those helming a storied fashion label even one without an haute couture heritage. We too were not certain he was the right choice, and we are still conflicted about his output for LV. Yet, he would come to be described as the “Karl Lagerfeld of the millennial generation”, courtesy of Vanessa Friedman, whose 202O New York Times article compared him to the late Chanel designer. Mr Abloh was not delighted with the parallels drawn. He responded via Twitter, “i’m going to do an academic lecture about this article one day. just figuring out which one. riffing online is far too low hanging fruit for such an easy and massive “case & point”, igniting, unsurprising, a Twitter war among fans and not.

Virgil Abloh was born in Rockford, Illinois in 2018 to parents who immigrated to the US from Ghana, West Africa. His father was in the paint business and his mother was a seamstress, and from her, Mr Abloh learned to sew. Despite this initial interest in a component of dressmaking, he chose to graduate in civil engineering and, later, with a masters in architecture. According to him, it was during his second time in university when he came face to face with an on-campus building that was being constructed. It was designed by Rem Koolhas, the Dutch architect who had been behind many Prada stores, including the first-ever US flagship, the Prada Epicentre in Soho, New York City. It is not certain if Mr Abloh had then seen any of the Prada stores, but it was generally excepted that his love for fashion took root at that time.

Virgil Abloh’s first clothing label Pyrex Vision. Photo: wehustle.co.uk

According to one Vogue report, it was rumoured that on the day of his first tertiary graduation, Mr Abloh skipped the ceremony to meet Kanye West’s one-time manager John Monopoly. It is not known what was discussed, but soon after that, the rapper and the young graduate worked together. A fast friendship took shape between the two men and dreams of conquering the fashion world began to appear. In 2009, three years after gaining his degree in architecture, Mr Abloh and his mentor-turn-pal Mr West would find themselves interning at Fendi in Rome. A year later, he would become the creative director of Donda, the creative agency, not the tenth studio album (2021), that Mr West started. Concurrently, both fellows would make their presence felt in fashion, appearing, for instance, in Paris Fashion Week, and be photographed—at Comme des Garçons, no less and by Tommy Ton, who sent it to (the now defunct) style.com. Mr Abloh told W’s Diane Solway in 2017, “We were a generation that was interested in fashion and weren’t supposed to be there”.

But, there they were, and in no time, they caught up. In 2011, a Grammy nomination started the ball rolling. Mr Abloh was asked to art direct Jay Z’s Watch the Throne album. He enlisted Riccardo Tisci, then at Givenchy and who was thick with the community of hip-hop stars, as well as the Kardashians, to design the cover. A year later, the Grammy attention led to Mr Abloh’s first clothing line Pyrex Vision—the now-famous gathering of deadstock Ralph Lauren shirts silkscreened with the massive number 23 (as homage to his fave basketball star Michael Jordan) and daringly hawked for US$550 apiece. Pyrex Vision lasted for about a year. And then Off White c/o Virgil Abloh was born, in, unexpectedly, Milan. He made quotation marks the most desirable punctuation. And soon Off-White products with textual indentification became a thing. When we look back now, it is hard to remember design distinctions of Off-White other than those words in sans-serif font. Even his debut store here had “WINDOWS” for a shop name.

Fan tribute: this morning, a pedestrian wears an Off-White X Nike football tee from 2018. Photo: Chin Boh Kay for SOTD

Mr Abloh has up till now approached his clothing design with the flair of a graphic, rather than fashion designer. Much of the text-as-motifs used in Off-White recall those of Pyrex Vision, themselves rather post-Junya Watanabe and Undercover. When he added those massive, arrowed crosses to the rear of the Off-White tops, they became more desirable than any monogram then. Text-emblazoned garments, both bottoms and tops, became the brand’s hot-sellers and established Mr Abloh as the designer to watch. But just as important, his rise as a black man in fashion was far more rapid that his fellow intern at Fendi, Kanye West, who debuted Yeezy Season 1 in 2015, two years after Off-White’s founding and a year after the later’s womenswear line was showed during Paris Fashion Week. In 2017, his partnership with Nike—The Ten, which saw him re-interpret the Swoosh’s 10 “iconic” silhouettes—sealed his destiny as the designer who could do no wrong. And the main man to lay the path for other Black designers to follow suit. Not even Pharrell Williams, with his association with Chanel and Karl Lagerfeld on one end and Adidas on the other, could be close.

In 2018, Louis Vuitton came acalling. By then, the brand had already dipped its toes into the bubbling streetwear pool with the Kim Jones-initiated collaboration with Supreme. The launch here at their ION Orchard store amounted to a near frenzy, with shoppers from the region coming specifically for the event. That would be a foretaste of what was to come of Mr Abloh’s unexpected appointment. Streetwear was a burgeoning retail category and luxury fashion would not want to be excluded. Mr Abloh’s debut LV show, had hype and hoodies to delight those for whom, a snazzy sartorial existence could not be so without them, as well as tailoring and utility vests to delight the dandies and Alyx fanboys alike. On the prismatic runway set in the grounds of the Palais Royal, on which Black models dominated, streetwear devotees saw their god-man rose to the occasion.

The fibreglass image of Omari Phipps, Virgil Abloh’s personal pick to represent the LV man at the launch of Mr Abloh’s collection for the French house. File photo: Jiro Shiratori for SOTD

Mr Abloh took his position at LV proudly and seriously, wearing his Blackness on his sleeves. His subsequent LV shows amps up the Black aesthetic, not just in the clothes, but also in their presentation, as well as in the environment in which the buzzy products are sold, as evident, for example, at the LV pop-up stores in January 2019, erected to give fans and followers a heads-up over Mr Abloh’s first looks for the brand. The store in Tokyo’s Harajuku had a massive structure of the model Omari Phipps stretched across two floors of the glass building. It was unmistakable that a Black man had come to revive LV, just as inclusiveness and street style came to the fore simultaneously among the fashion conscious and the community of hypebeasts who considered everything he did unquestionably “genius”.

Despite the massive global fame that his supporters said were equal parts passion in his work and the self-belief that he had come to change things or, at least, shake them up, Virgil Abloh’s career was riddled with industry doubt of his design talents, charges of hype-dependency, and, more seriously, a string of supposed plagiarism. Just last August, the Belgium designer Walter van Beirendonck alleged that his designs/ideas were knocked off by the LV artistic director. This, and other similar accusations, Mr Abloh flatly denied. In responding to Mr van Beirendonck’s accusation, he issued a statement to say, “They are a hate-filled attempt to discredit my work”, which, to some, played the thinly-veiled race card. Despite the industry’s distrust in the provenance of his design ideas, consumers would not be discouraged, or uninfluenced. Louis Vuitton remained hugely popular and profitable. The pertinent and urgent question is, who will take over Virgil Abloh? Will it be another Black man? If that’s crucial to the brand identity of LV, who would that guy be?

Illustration (top): Just So

The Ebullient One

Obituary | Alber Elbaz, considered one of the most likeable designers in the business, will always be remembered for turning around the fusty house of Lanvin

Alber Elbaz succumbed to complications due to COVID-19, as reported by The New York Times, quoting a statement issued by Richemont, the Swiss luxury group that backed Mr Elbaz’s latest venture AZ Factory. He was 59. The fashion designer died in the American Hospital in Paris, the same institution where Kenzo Takada too died from COVID-19 in October last year. According to Israeli media, Mr Elbaz was “infected with the South African COVID variant despite being fully vaccinated”. Poised for a major comeback in January, the Moroccan-born Israeli designer was once a major force of fashion when he held the design directorship at Lanvin, ushering an era of unabashed elegance tinged with fun and sometimes (subtle) irreverence for the more-than-a-decade-old French house. Women adored his clothes. Meryl Streep, who wore a gold Lanvin dress in 2012 to receive the Oscar for her role as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady, later told Vogue, “Alber’s dresses for Lanvin are the only ones that, when I wear them, I feel like myself, or even a better version of her.”

Born in Casablanca in 1961 to Jewish parents—a hairdresser father and painter mother, Albert Elbaz (he later dropped the T from his first name, apparently to ensure the right pronunciation in French) immigrated to Israel with his family when he was 10. As he recounted, he started drawing dresses when he was seven. Dana Thomas told British Vogue that he said to her, “I would sketch women—queens, nurses, women in pictures… It’s funny—a lot of what I’m doing now, I did then.” But he did not pursue that path—at least not as soon as he was old enough. After national service with the Israel Defence Forces (“I had asthma, so they put me in charge of the entertainment of the soldiers,” he once told Sarah Mower), Mr Elbaz enrolled at the Shenkar College of Engineering and Design in Ramat Gan (a city in the district of Tel Aviv) to study design. He was close to his mother (his father died when he was 13) and with her blessing and financial support of US$800, left for New York in 1985, a month after his graduation, to pursue a career in fashion.

The finale of the AZ Factory spring/summer 2021 video-show. Screen grab: AZ Factory/Youtube

When in New York, Mr Elbaz began in an unnamed dressmaker’s shop in the Garment District. Some accounts thought that to be a bridal fashion house. He held that job—designing eveningwear—for two and half years. According to fashion lore, he met Dawn Mello who introduced him to Geoffrey Beene in 1989. But Mr Elbaz told Ms Thomas that it was his boyfriend who introduced him to the American couturier. He was offered a job as assistant after a ten-minute interview with Mr Beene, and he remained for seven-and-half years. Mr Elbaz always credited everything he had learned to Mr Beene, as well as everything about designing. In 2012, he said, “I was very much into design because I came from the house of Geoffrey Beene, which was all about design, and then we pushed it also to desire, to women, to reality, to be relevant.” In addition, what he admired there, remained with him forever: “the inside and the outside (of the clothes) were as beautiful—that the back and the front were as important.”

In 1996 (some reports state 1997), Mr Elbaz moved to Paris, where his first appointment was at the house of Guy Laroche, then looking unmistakably staid, unlike its heydays in the ’60s. The Observer declared in a 1998 headline that Mr Elbaz would be the “man who’ll put Guy Laroche back in your closet.” Suzy Menkes, then writing for The International Herald Tribune, enthused earlier that “(Mr. Elbaz) blew out the dust of the (Guy Laroche) couture house with a show that was spring clean.” But, as the designer himself said, “I didn’t forget that Guy Laroche’s customers can be, like, 75 years old and they like pink, bouclé and gold buttons.” But he would be at Guy Laroche for a mere two years. With Yves Saint Laurent, who also grew up in North Africa, retiring from prêt-à-porter, he was installed by Pierre Berger as YSL’s creative director in 1998. Many observers considered the appointment “a perfect fit”. This time, the tenure was similarly short. Just after three seasons, he was ousted when Gucci, then headed by Domenico de Sole, took over the brand and Tom Ford installed himself as the designer.

Alber Elbaz with is adorable sketches in his AZ Factory office. Photo: AZ Factory/Richemont

But it was at Lanvin where the world really saw and enjoyed his groove. Mr Elbaz joined what is considered the oldest operational French couture house in 2001. He brought to Lanvin a romance that was slipping the grip of fashion at that time. But Mr Elbaz preferred not to call it romance, saying to WWD in 2014, “I work mostly by intuition. Every time I think too much and try to rationalize every issue, it doesn’t work. I think that intuition is the essence of this métier.” The clothes—often draped—were designed for real occasions, during a time when the right clothes for those occasions still mattered. Memorable are the hyper-feminine details, such as ruffles and flounces, and the edgier, such as visible zips, and exposed and unfinished hems and seams, as well as costume jewellery set on or fastened with grosgrain ribbons. For menswear, which he oversaw the work of Lucas Ossendrijver, formerly Hedi Slimane’s assistant at Dior Homme, Mr Elbaz was one of the earliest adopters of athleisure and creators of luxury sneakers. So noted he was and so red-hot Lanvin was that in 2010, the French brand collaborated with H&M for a collection that sold out. Those who queued for a go at scoring a piece would remember.

When Mr Elbaz departed from Lanvin in November 2015, he left the fashion world quite in shock. His sudden parting was also mired in rumours of the breakdown of relationship with Lanvin owner, the Taiwanese media doyenne Wang Shaw Lan (王效蘭). He quit, it was initially reported and believed. But according to a New York Times editorial later, Mr Elbaz sat “at his home in Paris reading a letter from Lanvin telling him not to come into the office, because he had been fired.” Ms Wang had quite a reputation then as a formidable business woman. In August 2001, through her holding company Harmonie SA, she led a group of investors to acquire Lanvin from L’Oréal Group. Old-school and used to getting her way, she was described as “autocratic” and as China’s Jing Daily once wrote, “Even though the company has a clear executive structure, it was not surprising that she was willing to circumvent it.”

Lanvin spring/summer 2016, Alber Elbaz’s last collection for the house. Screen grab: FF Channel/YouTube

Sudden firings in the ateliers of luxury fashion was not new that year. Eleven months earlier, Gucci’s Frida Giannini was asked to leave and was replaced by Alessandro Michele. But Mr Elbaz’s termination was thought by industry folks and Lanvin customers to be especially unjust and undue. That Mr Elbaz was well liked by the many who knew him made the very public corporate divorce uglier on the side of the hirer, rather than the hired. After the acrimonious exit of Mr Elbaz, Lanvin reported its first annual loss in a decade. No one was surprised. The brand would subsequently only see a series of creative directors who failed to bring back the glory days of the Lanvin. It was finally sold to Forsun Fashion, part of China’s Fosun Group, also owner of St John and Wolford; it was their first acquisition of a key luxury brand. Lanvin’s current creative director is Frenchman Bruno Sialelli, former head of menswear at Loewe and womenswear at Paco Rabanne.

Post-Lanvin, Mr Elbaz said he would like to take an extended hiatus and travel. But he did collaborate with others, including the French parfumeur Frederick Malle on a fragrance called—oddly (or, perhaps, cheekily)—Superstitious. There was also a project with Tods, as well as a one-off with the Japanese-owned American bag brand LeSportsac. While acknowledged as a true talent, it surprised many that Mr Elbaz was not snapped up by a major house. Or that he and his life partner of more than two decades, Alex Koo, who had worked with Mr Elbaz in Lanvin as merchandising director, did not start their own label. But in 2019, it was reported that he was conceptualising a new brand that would be called AZ Factory. Richemont, the conglomerate that has Cartier, Chloé, Van Cleef & Arpels, and Yoox Net-a-Porter Group in its stable of brands was to back it. In January, AZ Factory was launched during Paris Couture Week to warm response, with many expecting more from the new label. Unlike the luxury brands he was associated with before, AZ Factory would be modelled as see-now-buy-now, and would be available from size XXS to XXXXL, and in what was thought to be accessible price points, which seemed so distant from how exclusive and costly Lanvin was (and is). In 2009, he explained to The New Yorker why his designs for Lanvin were expensive. “It’s so much work,” he said. “Doing a collection for me is almost like creating a vaccine.” Was Alber Elbaz really being prescient?

Illustration: Just So

Man Of Many Trades

Obituary | Pierre Cardin may have been known as a fashion designer, but he would be remembered for doing much, much more

Photo: Pierre Cardin

Louis Vuitton’s first restaurant, Le Café V, at its Osaka flagship Maison Osaka Midosuji, Armani Hotel in the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, Rei Kawakubo’s (now discontinued and highly collectible) furniture for the home, Hermès custom-made mahjong table, Dolce e Gabbana kitchen appliances, Bottega Veneta Intrecciato suede cushions, Versace dog bed, Balenciaga beach towels, Chanel boomerang and tennis racket, Berluti dumbbells, Prada water bottle—these are nothing unusual today. But they might not have been so if not for one man: Pierre Cardin, who died in Paris, barely three days before this upsetting year will end, according to Agence France-Presse. No cause of death was given. He was 98.

That short list above of non-fashion products conceived by fashion designers—now considered essential to luxury branding—does not take into consideration attendant merchandise such as accessories, bags, footwear, and makeup. That brands such as Louis Vuitton operating more like department stores than mere fashion boutique can be directly or indirectly traced to Mr Cardin. The first to turn his name into a label beyond fashion, he has allowed his moniker to be used on so many products that no one is really counting, or wishes to. For years at the height of his career, he claimed that his trademark enjoyed 800 licenses in 140 countries. Throughout his career, in particular after his “Space Age” halcyon days, Mr Cardin was often derided for having his name on some (many?) undeniably tacky products. But he didn’t care. As he told The New York Times in 2002, still defiant at age 80, “If someone asked me to do toilet paper, I’d do it. Why not?”

Pierre Cardin at the Cannes Film Festival in 1961. Photo: Getty Images

Pierre Cardin was born Pietro Costante Cardin in the commune of San Biagio di Callalta, near Treviso, northern Italy, where Benetton and Diadora are headquartered. At age two, his parents moved the family to France, in the industrial town of Saint-Étienne, reportedly to get away from the intensifying fascism of Italy in the mid-Twenties. In his teens, his father, then a wine merchant, wanted him to study architecture, but Mr Cardin preferred to pursue fashion, which he had developed an intense love for since an early age. By 14, he was interning for (un-named) fashion brands and at 17, he moved to Vichy in central France to become a tailor at Manby, a men’s shop, where it was said that he made suits for women. After World War II, Pierre Cardin relocated to Paris, where, to his father’s pleasure, he studied architecture. Fashion, however, never left him. He soon worked for Jeanne Paquin, and then moved on to Elsa Schiaparelli, before securing a place at Christian Dior where he was put in charged of the tailleur side of the couture atelier. Western journalists often note that Mr Cardin was never employed by Balenciaga.

In 1950, three years after Christian Dior’s “the New Look”, Pierre Cardin established his own fashion house, with couture shown in 1953, followed by what would be his best known dress shape in 1954, the “bubble dress”—a short-skirted, cocktail number, cut on a bias, and shaped over a stiffened base. By the ’60s, in tandem with the decade’s space race, Mr Cardin’s clothes departed dramatically from his couture beginnings. It was the era that Diana Vreeland called “Youthquake”. Just as today’s young consumers might find Kim Jones’s work hip, many during the decade they called “swinging” considered Pierre Cardin’s space-age-y dresses with cut-outs or geometric appliques deliciously cool and, simultaneously, provocative. But Mr Cardin was not the only one exploring design concepts related to what the future might be like. There, too, were André Courrèges and Paco Robanne. But unlike the rest of the French fashion establishment, Mr Cardin actually pursued his “space” ambitions. He was, in 1969, the first civilian to try on the Apollo 11 space suit that Neil Armstrong wore on his walk on the moon. After that, he even designed a space suit for NASA. Whether that was put to use in outer space, we don’t know.

Pierre Cardin Great Wall of China show, 2018. Photos: Pierre Cardin

Pierre Cardin was also credited for his foray into pret-a-porter, when he designed a collection for the Paris department store Au Printemps in 1959. Today, we might see such a commercial move as disruption, or a precursor to Karl Lagerfeld designing for H&M, but back then it annoyed the hell out of the establishment. It was, to them, a positive downgrade; a cop-out. In fact, much of what we know today as “masstige” could be attributed to Pierre Cardin, including the use of the logo as part of the design, at first just PC, which appeared as early as 1960. In the ’70s and onwards, licensing increasingly became the name of the game for him. As the number grew larger, the products that were churned out, for the most part, crossed over to the crass. His own designs started to look like they never left the ’60s, or went beyond 1975. The “futurism” of the Cardin years, like many trends of the era, fizzled out, and it became truly hard to pin cool to the brand when somewhere in the less posh part of any city, a Pierre Cardin keyring can be had for less than tips left at a restaurant for service staff. By the ’80s, Pierre Cardin the brand swung between staggeringly expensive couture gowns and cheap boxer shorts.

His persistence with pret-a-porter caused a riff with the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture: in 1959, after the Au Printemp stunt, they kicked him out. But as other designers saw the potential of ready-to-wear and were willing to embrace it, the Chambre Syndicale eventually invited him back, but in 1966, he resigned, and quit Paris Fashion Week altogether, to show at his own time and in his own space—the former Théâtre des Ambassadeurs, which he bought and converted to L’Espace Cardin. While he was a formidable businessman, buying up real estate as he became wealthier, Mr Cardin was not without a legacy of technical innovation. His clothes may have appeared rather naively futuristic, but more progressive was the development of a heat-molded, synthetic fabric, called Cardine, which was used to lend his mini-dresses their rigidity, on which geometric/abstract shapes were embossed or cut out. In 1981, F&B business was added to his portfolio: he bought the Parisian restaurant Maxim’s, followed by the licensing of food under the 142-year-old name.

Hiroko Matsumoto in Pierre Cardin, 1960s. Photo: Pierre Cardin

Somewhat rare among his peers was Pierre Cardin’s affinity to Asia. His first acquaintance with this part of the world was in Japan, where he was appointed professor emeritus at Bunka Fashion College in Tokyo in 1958, which would be around the time a young Kenzo Takada attended the school. It isn’t known if Mr Cardin taught Mr Takada, but it was established that both became close friends in Paris (Jean Paul Gaultier, who started at the house of Cardin, was the other intimate fashion designer pal). Mr Cardin’s time in Japan opened Asia to him, and allowed him to establish a presence in the country. He would be so enchanted with Japanese culture, aesthetics and, in particular, beauty that he struck up a long-lasting friendship with Japanese model Hiroko Matsumoto (1936—2003), and tempted her to go to Paris with him. Ms Matsumoto became not only his house mannequin (believed to be the first for a French fashion house), she was a muse too—and an Asian, which was considered extremely unusual at that time.

In 1979, he visited China, where he staged a fashion show at the Beijing National Culture Palace, marking, for the first time, the presence of an international fashion label in the capital city. The brand left such a lasting impression in China that the Global Times wrote in an obituary today that “Pierre Cardin was regarded as the peak of Western fashion.” Since that first show, the house has continued to exhibit in China, including a 2007 production on the desert of Whistling Sand Mountain in Gansu Province, 2018’s forty-years-in-China show on the Great Wall (Fendi, too, used the world longest wall for their show in 2020. The Italian label staged theirs at the more stunning Juyongguan Pass, while the French at the more commercial Badaling section), and early this year’s Qinhuangdao sea-side event in Hebei. Mr Cardin had his eyes on other Asian countries as well. In the Philippines, he gave the national costume (for men), the barong tagalog, a makeover in 1971, effectively modernising what was a rather fancy special-occasion shirt. In India, apart from the fashion, the biggest and most desirable item to own was the Pierre Cardin pen (with its own dedicated website!), first introduced in 1994. As “merchant to the masses”, it was clear that Pierre Cardin made sure that, even after his death, his name will live on… and on, and in ink too.

A Pioneer Passes

Obituary | Tan Beng Yan, the fashion retail doyenne behind Tyan Fashions was a private individual who had more of a doting mother’s instinct than a clothing retailer’s ambition 

 

Tan Beng Yan 2013Tan Beng Yan at a Vivienne Tam in-store show in 2013. Photo: Tyan

Among the women fashion retailers of multi-labels that emerged in the mid-Eighties (or earlier), Tan Beng Yan was probably the quietest and least-known. Yet, she was less mysterious than Club 21’s Christina Ong. Those who knew her referred to her vivacious and sociable nature, yet she was not as press-savvy/ready as Man and his Woman’s (now defunct) Judith Chung, a former journalist with The Straits Times. She was known to have kept the company of some of her well-heeled customers, yet she did not share the glamourous standing of The Link’s (also defunct) Tina Tan (not related), now the founder of Privato. The owner of Tyan was, by most account, a down–to–earth entrepreneur—“one of the nicest people in fashion,” a former magazine editor told SOTD. “Motherly, too.”

Mrs Tan, 70, passed away this past Tuesday, shortly after a family trip to Japan. The news shocked many customers, as well as industry friends and former colleagues, with many saying they had not known she was so seriously ill. It was reported that she succumbed to leukemia, but few knew of or talked about her declining health. She had, according to those who knew her, remained her upbeat/jovial self. Family members told friends at the wake that she had been responding well to treatment. A magazine editor who had been friends with Mrs Tan since the ’80s, and who knew she was unwell said, “She didn’t want others to be overtly concerned… and she was a fighter.”

It is possible, too, that Mrs Tan valued her privacy; she was known to shield her personal life from needless attention. She hardly talked about her children (except, in recent years, that her second daughter Gayle is “helping” her) or made references to her connection to the Tan Chong Group (her husband Tan Eng Soon is chairman of listed motor firm Tan Chong International and their son Glenn Tan is the company MD). When once asked if she could be interviewed for a magazine article, she told the editor, “I’m not that interesting”. And gleefully changed the subject, “let’s go eat”. Mrs Tan was as known for her “zest for life”—her editor-friend was quick to point out—as her love for food.

20-01-25-21-44-23-833_decoA spacious and plush Tyan store. Photo: Tyan

Tyan opened in 1986, fourteen years after Club 21 (which was set up in 1971 as a man’s tailor shop before transforming into a multi-label store a year later) and Man and his Woman, and four years after The Link (which was a 2.0 of Link, originally conceived in 1973 by Chan Kheng Lin—now Farah Khan, founder of the Melium Group and the emporium Aseana, as well as her eponymous label). The ’80s was considered the heydays of the multi-designer-label store. Singaporeans were able to shop for their favourite European labels among other European labels during a time of burgeoning ready-to-wear. And a few enterprising women were quick to react to the opportunities such a retail concept provided in what was initially our island’s rather barren retail landscape.

While most stores competed with each other to score the most happening labels of the time, Tyan was working with those that had what one buyer called “practical appeal”. A former fashion editor told us that the store offered “stylish but not overtly trendy” clothes. “It’s a multi-label store that offers a variety of styles at affordable price range,” he added. “Tyan stood the test of time, as retail goes bonkers—up and down”. This is achieved through a balanced mix of accessible names such as Betty Barclay and Paula Ke and edgier ones such as Jean Paul Gaultier and Vivienne Westwood, and clearly commercial brands such as Japanese bag label Samantha Thavasa.

Mrs Tan’s background in fashion goes back to her time at Hagemeyer Trading, the once Dutch-owned, Singapore-based company founded in Surabaya in 1904 that distributed brands such as Christian Dior (yes, it was known by its full name!). She was, in fact, CD’s (and, yes, it went by that abbreviation too) boutique manager from 1979 to 1986. Prior to Tyan, she started  her own fashion label Saturday’s Child (based on the “Carnaby Street look”, she once told a journalist), conceived with her Hagemeyer colleague, CD brand manager Alice Fu, who would later be Tang’s first head buyer for women’s wear between 1982 to 1996. Having run her own label, Mrs Tan understood the difficulties of creating and selling local, and was willing to support the fledgling, such as jewellery designer Marilyn Tan’s early collections in the ’90s.

Despite the vagaries of fashion and the retailing of it, one constant remained: Mrs Tan was committed to helping others. Although she hardly talked about her philanthropic work, she was known as a tireless fundraiser. From 2009 to 2015, she was a member of the board of directors of the Singapore Heart Foundation (SHF) and the chairperson of its fundraising committee. In a Facebook post, SHF wrote, “We remember Mrs Tan as a cheerful and driven woman, who was not only committed in raising funds for SHF, but also did it with great finesse.” It was the same finesse that Tan Beng Yan brought to fashion retail on our island, and secured Tyan’s admirable longevity.

Like So Many Before Him, Gone Too Soon

Obituary|Godfrey Gao’s sudden death, to his fans, means he’ll be “forever handsome”

Godfrey Gao in an Earl Jeans campaign in 2012. Photo: 小苏 for Earl Jeans

The news that Godfrey Gao (高以翔) died in a fall while filming the sports-themed reality TV show, Chase Me (追我吧), in Ningbo, China, had members of our local media keep their WhatApp chats abuzz. Mr Gao had worked with quite a few stylists and photographers here, and was known to be a much sought-after subject, even if only for those who profiled him, to be close to someone considered the best-looking Asian male specimen on the planet. The shock is understandable.

Many in the fashion industry here knew him as a model, whose career culminated in the 2011 appearance in the now “legendary” Louis Vuitton campaign, a first for LV involving not just an Asian male model, also one not from Japan or Korea, but from unlikely Taiwan. In it, Mr Gao’s striking looks rivaled any Caucasian male’s; his sharp jawline, unshaped by the likes of Pao Facial Fitness (yes, the one Christiano Ronaldo promoted) and so sharp it could have cut the suit he wore.

His fans (surprisingly only 550K on IG) remember him as an actor, whose career never quite matched not-shoddy-in-the-looks-department Mark Chao’s (趙又廷, of the Inspector Dee series), but it did lead up to a smallish Hollywood part in 2013’s The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, in which he took on Magnus Bane, a flamboyant, bisexual character of Asian descent that Mr Gao played in such a campy manner, observers thought it was risky as a breakthrough role.

Godfrey Gao for LVGodfrey Gao in an Louis Vuitton ad in 2011. Photo: Louis Vuitton

That, however, did not put the brakes on leads heading his way. His biggest role came in the relatively short, 38-episode, 2016 Chinese novel-turn-TV-series Encountering Lichuan (遇见王沥川, aka Remembering Li Chuan’s Past). It sealed his heartthrob reputation as the titular character, also called Alex, is considered so well casted and performed—more turning on the born-for-camera charm than acting—by Mr Gao that fans were convinced he “wasn’t eye candy anymore”.

That he was, at time of death, filming for a China reality TV show indicated that he was big enough a name to be sold to a mainland Chinese audience, who isn’t quite tuned into Taiwan’s male-star offering when they have their own, such as Shawn Dou (窦骁, also a fellow Canadian) and Kenny Lin (林更新) who starred with Mr Gao in God of War, Zhao Yun (战神赵子龙). All that came to a halt in that fall, attributed to (or as a result of, it was not immediately clear) a cardiac arrest, a cause of death not typical of Mr Gao’s 35 years of age or a basketball player, but may be aggravated by the reported “17 straight hours of filming”. As one of his best friends, the Taiwanese basketball player (and one-time actor) James Mao (毛加恩), who was always referred to by Mr Gao as his “brother” (both were last here in September for F1), IG-ed, “This is not how it’s supposed to be”.

What was supposed to be was Godfrey Gao’s face. His was what traditionalists would call classically handsome and what the many young women who are mad about him would consider 帅呆了 (shuai dai le, awesomely suave or, literally, handsome till you’re struck speechless). Mr Gao had an extremely easy to shoot face. Those who had worked with him, make-up artists too, told SOTD he “had no bad angle”. One Singaporean stylist who had collaborated with him on commercials told us that “he doesn’t have a bad photo”, deliberately using the present tense. “I feel it’s the proportion of the head in relation to the body. And of course, it’s also because he has many good angles.”

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Godfrey Gao certainly knew his angles and wasn’t afraid to use them, such as in this series of overtly sexy ads for Earl Jeans. Photo: 小苏 for Earl Jeans

Cameras loved him and he loved them back. For some behind the lens, their work with Godfrey Gao was unforgettable, formative years. James Hsu, the Tawainese art director of the ad campaigns for Earl Jeans (the LA-based brand loved by the Hollywood set, now owned by Nautica) that featured Mr Gao for several seasons told us, “I’ve worked with Godfrey constantly for over three to four years. And it’s the time where I started everything (directing & producing). Now saying good bye to him feels more like saying goodbye to my youth.”

Godfrey Gao was the personification of youth— in his case, tenacious youth. He was enigmatic, media-ready, and willing to bank on his face. But, as it’s often said of the photogenic, what the camera sees isn’t necessarily an intimate portrait. In person, we were told, he was not always the personable idol that those who swoon at his mere presence think. One former marketing head, who had worked with Mr Gao in a paid project in Shanghai in 2011, recalled what he wasn’t prepared for: incommunicado and resistance to cooperate.

“He was not friendly, leaving all dealings and speaking to his personal assistant, appearing not for rehearsal, just the event proper, which was to walk out onto the stage at the end of a fashion show, but he didn’t emerge when he was introduced. The upbeat host of the event later surmised that because he was a guo ji ju xing (big international star), he probably didn’t want to appear alongside the other regional celebrities, sharing the same intro. She had to re-introduce him and allow him his own spotlight on stage.

Godfrey-Gao-Esquire-Singapore-March-2015-Cover.jpegOn Esquire Singapore in March 2015. Photo: Chuck Reyes/ Esquire

“We had arranged a dinner for him following the event, which he was told about earlier. He vanished after the appearance on stage, leaving his assistant to inform us that he won’t be joining us for dinner. No reason was given. My Chinese colleagues accepted that as unsurprising of an “international star”. When I later mentioned this to a Taiwanese editor friend, he said in Mr Gao’s defence, ‘He doesn’t speak Mandarin very well.’” Nor write, probably. On his social media accounts, Mr Gao posted only in English. The Singaporean stylist concurred that his Mandarin was “competent at most”.

Godfrey Gao was born in Taipei in 1984 to a Shanghainese father, who was in the auto-tyre business, and a Peranakan mother from Georgetown, who was a 1970 Miss Penang beauty queen. The young Godfrey emigrated to Vancouver with two brothers when he was eleven—his family, like so many of those from Hong-Kong before 1997, was likely attracted to the pleasant climate and slower pace of life in the Canadian city that was ideally situated on the Pacific Rim. Mr Gao completed his tertiary education in University of Capalino in northern Vancouver, where he was, unsurprisingly, given his 1.93m height, a member of the school’s basketball team. It is not known how well he played (or how Jeremy Lin-gifted), but it was reported that he did consider a career in the sport, but did not pursue it. He continued to play basketball throughout his professional life, counting some members of Taiwan’s national players as friends.

No major reason was offered to the deeply curious about his return to Taiwan in 2004. Some said, as an Asian model, opportunities for him in Vancouver would be few and far between. In Taipei, he did make a mark through modelling, and was part of Fashion F4, a media-bestowed collective, unashamedly named after the attractive clique in the manga series Boys Over Flowers (BOF). The Taiwanese real-life Fashion F4—not to be mistaken for the pop group F4 comprising Jerry Yan (言承旭), Vanness Wu (吴建豪), Ken Chu (朱孝天), and Vic Chou (周渝民), formed after the 2001 TV series Meteor Garden (流星花园, loosely based on BOF)—was a deft self-promotion based on the good looks of those also born into wealth (贵公子).

The Fashion F4: (from left) Victor Chen, Sphinx Ting, Godfrey Gao, and Gaby Lan. Photo: source

Mr Gao, together with fellow models Sphinx Ting (丁春诚, also turned-actor, but continued to be a popular model), Victor Chen (陈绍诚, turned-producer/TV host, but mainly managing his family business) and Gaby Lan (蓝钧天, also turned-actor, as well as member of the hip-hop outfit Maji), became such a high-profile quartet in the Taipei beau monde that the local media initially named them 社交 F4 (Social F4). Their collective good looks and smoulder culminated in a 2008 photo-book Meet Fashion 4, a publication similar to the scores in Japan that cater to vapid pop fandom.

That Godfrey Gao moved among a certain social set wasn’t surprising. Good looks and Western education tend to find company with those similarly blessed (his close friendship with basketballer James Mao, a University of Austin grad who also speaks and posts in English, may attest to that) and attract the attention of influential TV and film producers/executives. Mr Gao’s early roles were considered small parts in ‘idol’ dramas: forgettable. His first leading character finally came in the to-be-expected sports-themed TV series Volleyball Lover (我的排队情人, 2010), in which he played rich-kid Bai Qianrui (白谦睿), an only-silly-school-girls-will-like Sudoku champ and volleyball player, enlisted by a lass he doesn’t at first love to help train the team she was in, only to find how different things between them will turn out. One regular Taiwan TV series follower at that time called the show “lame” and his acting “strictly for pre-pubescent girls who can’t tell the difference between woods”.

Until his casting in The Mortal Instruments, few thought his acting would go far, let alone to Hollywood. But he was offered a leading role in an American film, 2017’s The Jade Pendant (金山), as an American-born cook caught in the events of the 1871 mass Chinese lynchings in the Old West. It was considered by some to be a “stand-out role”, but did not win him critical acclaim, as the film had a limited release, going almost straight to DVD. His last film, Shanghai Fortress (上海堡垒)—premiered last August—was largely a Lu Han/Shu Qi (鹿晗/舒淇) vehicle. With his part in Chase Me unlikely to be televised, Godfrey Gao had yet, at the time he left this world, shown us the thespian he might become. But, as James Dean, also gone too soon, once said, “If a man can bridge the gap between life and death, if he can live on after he’s dead, then maybe he was a great man.”

Godfrey Gao (Tsao Chih-Hsiang, 高以翔), model, actor, basketball player, and KOL, born 22 September 1984; died 27 November 2019

The Show’s Over

For some of us, it’s about time

 

Victoria's Secret show.jpg

It shouldn’t have to take dwindling TV ratings and rising wokeness for the producers of the annual Victoria’s Secret fashion show to realise that there is no more appeal in a staged and televised presentation that sells little else other than sex. But, apparently, those are the main reasons—along falling sales—that led to parent company L Brands (also owner of the less-hyped La Senza, as well as Bath & Body Works) announcing, on a quarterly earnings call, that the 2019 show would definitely be cancelled. The alert, of course, knew this months ago.

What took L Brands so long? Audience size believed to (once) number in the tens of millions and the many models who consider an appearance on the show as an Angel, not ASEAN’s Next Generation Leader, but a part of a constantly changing roster of women, who consider the title an honour and even a career high. For those fans who weren’t tuning into live streams of fashion week shows, Victoria’s Secret’s parade of the bevy of the bra-and-panty-clad was a real fashion show—“extravaganza” was how it was often described.

…the mardi gras for flashy underwear-as-outerwear excess was never toned down, only played up

 

The Victoria’s Secret event was never broadcast on any of our local channels—the sexiest show we’ll ever get is Michael Chiang’s Mixed Signals—yet its strong appeal at one time meant that sports bars were showing the show (past years’) on nights when there wasn’t a game that could encourage patrons to order an extra pitcher of beer. That it was the live-action version of FHM magazine (closed in Singapore in 2015) for NS boys (and army regulars alike) only augment their standing as a “girlie show”.

After 24 years of high-profile existence, the Victoria’s Secret presentations were still largely pageant-for-entertainment, with virtually no change to its over-the-top tackiness and objectifying scantiness. Sure, in later years, they added not-quite-Coachella performances by the likes of Shawn Mendes and the Chainsmokers, but the mardi gras for flashy and campy underwear-as-outerwear excess was never toned down, only played up.

Liu Wen in VF.jpgChina’s Liu Wen, even with a good-girl image and a lucrative Estee Lauder contract, was eager to strut down the Victoria’s Secret runway in 2016

It has been suggested that the Victoria’s Secret shows were the fantasies of heterosexual bosses conceived for other heterosexual males—an FTV cruise liner on a catwalk. Donald Trump, reportedly, was a fixture at the staging. That many models love to appear on the show suggested a possible complicity in their choice. The show is an expression of feminism in an era when, contrary to #metoo, ogling was no longer offensive. It was even emancipation from the convention that women’s underclothes should remain, well, under.

Adriana Lima said to The Telegraph in 2011, “Actually, the Victoria’s Secret show is the highlight of my life.” Many of the models called the experience “amazing”, so much so that Kendal Jenner told Popsugar that at her debut in 2015, she “did (cry) a little bit (during) my first fitting. I had tears.” So known was the desirability of the Victoria’s Secret show to top-tier models that E! New wrote yesterday, “Sorry Angels, the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show is now cancelled”, calling it “the end of an era”.

Much criticism had been leveled at the show (the press announced the cancellation with palpable glee), but inadequate was the acknowledgement that it had, in fact, influenced many others too, including a copy-cat staging in Chengdu, China in 2015. The shows were expensive to put together—reportedly, USD20 million were used in the 2016 production. However, few look-a-likes came close to its OTT, feathered-angel-wings lavishness. If there’s a Victoria’s Secret fashion show legacy, it was the massive good it had done for society by putting the Playboy Mansion on stage.

Photo: Getty Images