Not Quite A Busy Black Friday

Has the novelty of the American day of discounts waned?

A short line outside Louis Vuitton at ION Orchard

It was too calm to be a Black Friday, but it was the morning of the year’s biggest mark-down event. Yesterday, at around 11am in ION Orchard, the few shoppers seen did not appear to be in a haste to shop. By noon, the mall was still relatively quiet. The only store that was attracting a noticeable stream of shoppers was Sephora. But, on the first floor, where we had expected snaking lines, the entrances clear of willing-to-wait shoppers were a surprise to see. Were people too sloshed at last night’s Thanksgiving dinners to be able to be out this early? There was no “palpable sense of excitement” that The Straits Times Channel would later report.

At the newly opened Dior store (formerly Burberry), there was no line, only a woman making an enquiry. But, when we attempted to enter the store, a saleswoman stopped us and asked if we had “an appointment”. Do we need an appointment to shop at Dior? “The waiting time is about one hour if you have no appointment,” she said. But the store is not packed. We peered into the store to be sure. “We want to be able to offer you a one-to-one.” What is that? “We will assign one staff to you.” We were happy to be unattended. “We can serve you better.” It was clear she would not let us in.

We had better luck at Gucci, next door. Just as we arrived at the entrance, a saleswoman gestured to us to enter. Did we need an appointment to shop? “Oh, no. It is not packed yet. You don’t have to queue.” Why is there no line? How has the announcement of the departure of Alessandro Michele affected to traffic? “Not really. It’s about the same as before.” She accompanied us throughout our brief exploration of the store, even stopping us to draw our attention to a Gucci X Adidas shirt, with an awfully massive joint-logo of the two brands. We thanked her, sure in our mind that when we come back again, it would be when the store is rid entirely of the present crop of merchandise.

No queue at the new Dior store at ION Orchard

Over at Bottega Veneta, we sauntered into the store easily. A saleswoman approached us to ask if she could be of any help. We said we were browsing. She left us alone. There were only two other women in the store. The quiet and the freedom to look at the merchandise unharried lent almost an old-time vibe to the experience (even if it was too brief to be described as one). We could appreciate the lovely details of Matthieu Blazy’s ready-to-wear, and touch them. Our reverie was finally broken when we were looking at a S$1,100 pair of clear (yes, see-through!) Puddle Ankle Boots. “Would you like to try,” a coaxing voice came from across our shoulders. No, thanks. It’s a very hot day. We had no idea what we were saying in response.

Across BV was LV. There was a line to the right of the sole entrance on this floor. After SOTD contributor Mao Shan Wang’s experience at the very same entrance in 2018, we had been wary of this particular LV store and had not visited since. It was after one, post meridiem, and we had not been nourished by lunch and we were not sure that we were able to handle any surliness of service, even when merely window shopping, not that there was much of a window to look at when those in line have mostly blocked it. When we stood at the entrance, to look beyond it, the doorkeeper’s speaking glance, said to us, “do you have an appointment?”

There was no one waiting at Loewe, although a rope secured to a pair of stanchions was stretched across the entrance. We stood in front of it, but caught no one’s attention. About a hundred metres to our right, there was a visible line outside Bacha Coffee. Behind us, the hoarding for Christian Louboutin on the former Moncler store looked uncommunicatively at us. Minutes dragged on. Then, a woman with no purchase in hand walked towards us. A sales staff let loose the rope to let her out. She waved to let us in. Were we hoping to see anything in particular, she asked. We wanted to look around first. “Sure”, she said, and left us to discover on our own. Further in the space called “Casa” (or house in Spanish), another staffer said to let her know if we needed anything. We found a S$850 almost-cubic coin case cute, but was not so sure about the extremely prominent logo on the front.

Sephora at Takashimaya Shopping Centre

Many of these stores made no announcement that they were participating in the Black Friday markdown. No standee was placed up front to entice, nor a discreet little sticker. The girl at Dior did whisper something about a “seasonal special”, but she did not elaborate. Was extreme bargain hunting seen on our faces, even when we had our four-ply mask on? A young guy, emerging from LV asked his shopping companion, “how come no sale?” They walked past the Saint Laurent pop-up in the atrium—it was without customers. A sales staff was loitering outside, like a tout. The relative quiet of this floor did not reflect what Black Fridays have become after the easing of COVID restrictions in 2020. Or, was this a reminder that it was a working day for most?

By two, ION did not look busier than usual. There was still no line outside Gucci. At fifteen to three, we walked to Wisma Atria. The traffic could hardly be described as heavy, the clusters of shoppers scarcely made a crowd. At the underpass to Takashimaya Shopping Centre, there was not quite the usual bottleneck. We breezed through. On the other side, it was not manic as we had thought it would be. Found café inside The Editor’s Market was full, but not the store. We took the escalator up, and was surprised to see a very short line outside Chanel (strangely, the queue did run along the side of the store, but cut diagonally across the entryway of the mall. It was quiet at the newly refurbished Fendi. Opposite, two people were waiting to be let in at Dior. Next door at Celine, staffers were chatting among themselves. Strange it was seeing so little action.

Finally a daunting queue. This was at, again, Sephora, where the long line for those opening their wallets was no deterrent to those determined to make a haul. Black Friday, as it turned out, had touched A Great Street rather unevenly this year. Could it be that, despite an impending GST rise, shoppers were not splurging if they were not buying a refrigerator or a television set? Friends WhatsApped us to announce that it was packed at the Courts Nojima Heeren store. Did we not want to see a crowd, they asked. Or go to Metro, they suggested. We would sit that one out.

Closed But Not Over

Raf Simons has announced the shuttering of his eponymous label, but his work is not going to disappear any time soon. He isn’t retiring. There is still his not-small part at Prada

Twenty seven is too young an age to die. But Raf Simons is seeing that the label that bears his name is killed in its 27th year. Better to depart youthful? Mr Simons has just announced that the beloved and influential brand he founded in 1995 showed its last collection—spring/summer 2023 last October in London—was his final. The fashion world is in shock. So many influential artists and artistes have passed on at that age, sufficient in numbers that there is a 27 Club—it came to existence after Kurt Cobain’s death in 1994. The Club is, of course, not a real one and not necessarily glorious either. Many in the hall of fame died from the excesses of just that—fame. But no one joins it since they would have been dead, but its notional existence shows that many noted creatives departed from this world at that age, leaving behind a veritable legacy. Most are musicians. Apart from Mr Cobain, there is Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and, closer to the present, Amy Winehouse. In art, there is Jean-Michel Basquiat, whose work is especially popular among clothing and footwear brands. But in luxury fashion, designers have longer lives. No one that we can remember died at 27, nor did their corresponding label (Jil Sander did [first] leave her brand in its 27th year, but it was not closed, and she did return to it in 2003, only to leave again a year later). Could Raf Simons the label be the first?

In Mr Simons’s announcement on Instagram, he offered no reason for the closure of his brand, which, as can be imagined, led to speculations. Was it the damned economy, with a recession looming? Was the label also the victim of the havoc COVID caused? We’ll add to those popular two. Was he missing an able sidekick after Pieter Mulier joined Alaia? Was he under too much stress to connect with the Metaverse—he hasn’t—to keep his brand relevant? Was Raf Simons too much of a cult label to enjoy the same success of, say, Ader Error? Or Ambush? It is hard to assert with certainty. Mr Simons does have a strong following, especially among those who have tracked his work from the start (including us!). But not going the logo-heavy route and keeping the cut and construction of his clothing generally simple may have not drawn new customers or win converts rooted in the excess of meretricious brands. The fashion marketplace has changed, and continues to, with staggering speed. Not wanting to stay put is not necessarily a bad thing. It certainly was not when he quit Dior and, later, Calvin Klein. But what about the collaborations, such as the still-desirable pairing with Fred Perry? That could remain to provide those who might be seized with nostalgia a chance to buy merchandise that would still have desirable links to the past.

And there is always Prada. After joining the Italian brand in 2020 to co-design the men’s and women’s collections with Miuccia Prada, Mr Simons seemed to have found his groove. He is poised to stay. The 109-year-old brand is enjoying renewed interest after a lull period. In the five years leading to 2018, the brand posted declining annual sales. Its performance was so dismal that rumours abound at that time that the company may be forced to sell to LVMH or Kering. But the tide turned, and The Washington Post wrote recently that the brand’s “creeping back into popular consciousness”. Part of it being noticed again is the current trend for things ’90s. Conversely, Raf Simons, also essentially a ’90s brand, chooses to bow out rather than take advantage of the zeitgeist. It is not clear what part in the rejuvenated Prada lies Mr Simons’s input, but each season since his first in September 2020, Prada has been steeped in ideas and innovation. Has Mr Simons proven his worth and is now a serious contender to succeed Ms Prada? Is this possibility so questionless that he is confident enough to wind up his own label? Mr Simons, it is reported, has an open-ended contract with Prada, just as Karl Lagerfeld had with Chanel. Miuccia Prada is 73 (he is 54); she could be pondering retirement. Hard to imagine someone else a worthier successor than Raf Simons.

Photo: Jim Sim

“Unauthorised”: Vogue Cover

Drake and Savage 21 pulled an editorial stunt the magazine and its publisher Condé Nast did not appreciate

Was it a clever joke? Maybe it was, until Condé Nast sued! Drake and Savage 21 must have thought creating the cover (above) to promote their joint album Her Loss is ingenious or hilarious, or both. They’ve even used the actual Vogue masthead, with both rappers—amateurishly shot—in front of it, as the magazine often places their cover models. There are cover blurbs too, with the main line that read “‘You have to be political’. 21 Savage is not holding back”, which sounds like something analogous to what Kanye West is prone to saying these days. Drake shared the photo of the mock mag on Twitter, saying, “Me and my brother on newsstands tomorrow!! Thanks @voguemagazine and Anna Wintour for the love and support on this historic moment.”

The magazine and its publisher showed no love nor saw the ingenuity and the hilarity of the social media stunt. According to press reports, they filed a USD4 million lawsuit against the duo. According to those who have seen the court papers, Conde Nast issued a cease and desist order in 31 October, and insisted that Drake and his social media team “unauthorized use of the Vogue trademark by removing the Instagram post, ceasing any distribution of this ‘magazine,’ and issuing a public statement clarifying that this was not an actual cover of Vogue”.

But why Vogue, rather than, say, XXL or Vibe, both would make more sense since it was an album promo, or even Ebony, if they must pick a woman’s title? With Vogue now featuring more Black cover models than ever (Michaela Coel appears on the November cover and Serena Williams was on it just two issues ago), it is perhaps understandable why Black artistes crave to appear on its cover. Kanye West, Drake’s one-time ‘beefing’ (12 years’ worth, reportedly) pal, was already cover boy (April 2014). Vogue is now Black artistes’ target title. The “fashion bible” is the magazine to aspire to appear in. A cover photo on Vogue means more than the appearance on any other professional mags, combined. Despite its thinning page count, it is still the periodical that announces you have arrived. But is the increase Black representation token shift or genuine change? Or is the change so slow that Drake had to create his own Vogue cover?

Photo: Eric Skelton/Twitter

Tales Of Terror

Was it a coincidence that Singapore Stories 2022 was held on the weekend of Halloween?

One of the entries by Jamela Law of Baëlf Design. Photo: KC for SOTD

Yesterday evening, in the riparian party central that is the Boat Quay, merrymakers were all out to enjoy the weekend before Halloween arrives on Monday. On Circular Road, a just-violated bride frolicked with an ogre who could be Shrek’s uglier cousin. At the edge of the Singapore river, Snow White, who looked like Cinderella in disguise, was cross with her very drunk prince. In a dark corner, a well-fed witch with an MLB cap was snogging with Batman’s Robin. Just a few of the more colourful characters among the usual gathering of the bedraggled and the bloodied. This year’s Singapore Stories at the Asian Civilisations Museum, just across the river, was just as delirious in spooking its unsuspecting attendees. At its first-ever runway presentation since the inauguration of Singapore Stories in 2018, the second-level Shaw Foundation Foyer of the museum was mood-lit like a soundstage for Fright Night. A pull into what could be a tantalising new direction for Singapore Stories under the watch of the newlynamed Singapore Fashion Council (SFC).

Yet, was it? Succumbed we tried not to, but irresistible it was to see the entries for Singapore Stories this year as hacks for hantu heroines, and we were horrified. These could be creative output for the inhabitants of the yinjian (阴间 or netherworld). CEO of SFC Semun Ho said in her welcome address that “it’s hard to talk about design” given the chilling challenges of the industry now. It is imperative, therefore, to built a viable “ecosystem”, and bring “sustainability” into focus. Singapore Stories, it could then be understood, is not design-centric. More important is the narrative that the contestants bring to their clothes. Appraise the Incredible Tales, rather than the designs, or the design finesse needed for the telling to be vivid and believable. Sure, story-telling is integral to contemporary visual culture, but with good design, stories illuminate; they clarify, they uplift, they reassure. Design is a better story-teller than mere stories. But, yesterday evening, on the squarish runway, surrounded on three sides by “function chairs”, those Singapore Stories emerged, frightening and daunting.

From left to right: the designs of Claudia Poh of Werable, Felicia Pang of Feel Archives, and Hu Ruixian of Studio HHFZ. Photos: KC for SOTD

The winner of the Singapore Stories this year is Kavita Thulasidas of the Indian emporium Stylemart. Those colourful silk mishmash of cultural references rather scared us out of our wits. Perhaps a deliberate staying away, but not entirely, from her understandably more ethnic tendencies, she attempted “Heritage Reinterpreted and Beyond”. Was it, in fact, from the beyond? There seemed the thought that apparitions sent down the runway would be less ghastly if there was evidence of embroidery or whatever surface treatment that could be applied. Apart from the obligatory flowers, there was the he (鹤) or crane, popular symbol of good luck and longevity in East Asian culture. The bird selected for the garments could have been picked from festive food packaging—there was no reimagining of the mythological crane. Perhaps this was key to her win: Asian exotica. The six-piece entry would appeal to ACM’s acquisition of Asiatic arts. At the post-show reception, ACM’s Kenny Tng urged Ms Thulasidas to continue designing such work so that the museum might acquire more, and eventually give her her own exhibition.

In design competitions, there are always those who are just not in the same league as the other contestants. If so, it becomes an uneven, haunted playing field for them. The lone wolf, if you will, of the night was Jamela Law of Baëlf Design. Her clothes were nothing like the rest of the contestants’, and perhaps that was her disadvantage. Ms Law and co-founder of Baëlf Design, Lionel Wong are known for their flair with laser cutting and for intricate three-dimensional printing, which are transformed into garments and other objects. She opened the show with a form-fitting dress, with sleeves that, in the dimness, appeared to be formed by rods (bamboo or resin, we couldn’t tell) assembled with the intricacies of takeami (Japanese bamboo weaving). It was, even at this early stage, easy to see she could win. And it would turn out that Ms Law was the only contestant who showed fabric manipulation (not merely surface embellishment) and the creation of unusual silhouettes that defied the natural contour of the body. While there were hints of Iris van Herpen couture, the clothes were, nonetheless, intriguing and deserved far more merit than what was accorded to her (she was in the top three, but unplaced). To be certain, Ms Law’s work was still not near what could be seen as refinement (and the inner wear used to introduce modesty under the open-work or gauziness looked woefully an afterthought), but the approach and the thinking behind the designs point to possibly more imaginative compositions to come.

Kavita Thulasidas (centre-front) of Stylemart with her winning designs. Photo: Shirl Tan for SOTD

From the first award handed out in 2018 to the one bestowed last night, there was no trajectory that suggested the awardees showed greater potential with each passing year. The standard did not budged. All the other three of the five finalists presented what could have been, at best, graduate collections. Hu Ruixian of HHFX Studio, known for their purported modern take on the qipao, unnerved with ill-construction on a massive scale. She daringly attempted a cartridge-pleat skirt that had the gainly edge of a barrel. As always, Ms Hu was unable to emancipate herself from chinois cuteness. Some trims looked decided cheap, such as the the row of short tassels that fringed a skirt—they could have been those found in Golden Dragon (金龙) Store in People’s Park Centre—those dangles sought after for making hongbao (红包) lanterns during Chinese New Year. Felicia Pang of Feel Archive left us quite incapacitated to feel for any of the half-a-dozen looks she sent out. Swinging from jokey to cheesy, and back again, the only thing consistent in the girly and meretricious collection was the shocking pink platform heels the models wore. The six looks of Claudia Poh of Werable (yes, spelled that way) were haunted by the ghosts of the simply bad, with no garment that appeared to fit. One top with spaghetti straps was a pair of oversized bust-cups that refused to cup. (Perhaps, that is not totally her fault. The ‘models’ for the entire show were Miss Universe Singapore contestants!) Ms Poh preferred the theatre of fashion: Two models with an extra garment each, stopped in the centre of the presentation area. They proceeded to pull the superfluous outfit, which was hung via the shoulder straps on the elbow pit, on top of the other. The point? We rather not hazard a guess.

Someone in the audience was heard saying that the designers “put a lot on one garment”, probably as expression of praise. But, as Ovidia Yu’s protagonist in Aunty Lee’s Delight believes: “people ought to go through the ideas they carried around in their heads as regularly as they turned out their store cupboards. No matter how wisely you shopped, there would be things in the depths that were past their expiration dates or gone damp and moldy—or that has been picked up on impulse and were no longer relevant”. Every writer, no matter how talented, knows the advantages of working with an editor in penning their prose. Unfortunately, fashion designers on our island rarely enjoy the benefits of the process of editing before they put out their final looks. Singapore Stories might have been better told if the narrative was well-shaped and the focus sharpened, with the emphasis on design that befits a design competition. Story-telling in fashion is not new, but the difference between riveting and tedious is a thread-fine line, just as the difference between zingy and scary is a tacky mask. Scream.

Yeezy Come, Yeezy Go

Balenciaga is fleeing from Kanye West

We thought we have given enough juice to the rambling disturbance known as Kanye West. Frankly, we are quite bored with his BS (ostensible mental condition aside) and his desperate need to be taken seriously in fashion, and the destructive path he has created in order to secure some recognition. And the people he will hurt—even the dead—to do all that. We have enough of how every little thing could disquiet him, how everyone else has done him wrong, how he cannot be blamed, tamed, and managed. Some people say that we cannot deny that he has talent. So, we won’t: His is to overstate his own.

Disastrously for him, his talent has turned the brand Mr West deeply admires away from him. By now, the news is raging like bush fire, but it still merits sharing. Balenciaga, whose designer Mr West deems the greatest and who was instrumental in the early conception of the Yeezy clothing line, has announced that they want nothing to do with the raving rapper. According to WWD, Kering has issued a statement (after the media wondered why the parent company has remained audibly mum?) to announce their position: “Balenciaga has no longer any relationship nor any plans for future projects related to this artist”. The New York Times reported last month that Yeezy Gap Engineered by Balenciaga would go no further than what was completed.

Balenciaga has no longer any relationship nor any plans for future projects related to this artist”

Kering

This dramatic end, or what Mr West might call being cancelled, is perhaps not surprising after it was reported last week that Balenciaga has edited the video of their spring/summer 2023 PFW presentation shared online in which Mr West opened the show, tromping through the muddiest runway Paris ever saw by trimming his part off. The brand has also removed images on their social media showing Mr West in the said show as model, even on the widely-viewed Vogue Runway. And then on the Yeezy Gap website, you no longer find the “Engineered by Balenciaga” selling catchphrase spelled out at any point or corner. Balenciaga is getting serious about the break, even if, at first, surreptitiously.

The brand distancing themselves from Kanye West, however, is no indication that Demna Gvasalia needs to do the same. Mr West and Mr Gvasalia are thought to be “very close”. Their “bromance” is well documented. Last Week, The New York Times, citing “one insider”, reported that the Donda artiste “has been known to refer to himself as Demna’s straight husband”. Both men wanted to be called by their mononym at about the same time. After Mr West opened the Balenciaga show last month, Mr Gvasalia attended the YZY SZN 9 presentation in Paris. The Georgian designer told Vanity Fair last year following his first couture outing for Balenciaga, “There are very few people that I know, especially of that caliber, who really understand what I do.” The relationship between those two, although not entirely clear beyond the professional, is probably harder to untangle.

Update (22 October 2022, 15:00):

Anna Wintour And Vogue’s Turn

Looks like the world’s most powerful editor and her just-as-mighty magazine are taking a stand too: away from Kanye West. According to the New York Post’s Page Six, a Vogue spokesperson told the gossip site “exclusively” that Anna Wintour and her almost-synonymous title do not “intend to work with Kanye West again after his anti-Semitic rants and support for the White Lives Matter cause”. A “source” quoted by Page Six said, “Anna has had enough. She has made it very clear inside Vogue that Kanye is no longer part of the inner circle.” As of now, Vogue online has removed the review of the YZY SZN 9 show. A search on the website turned up the message: “Oops. The page you’re looking for cannot be found”. Writer Luke Leitch’s feature on Mr West seems to have been extirpated too. Ms Wintour has yet to state her position with regards to Mr West’s controversial comments and rants. She was last seen with John Galliano and Demna Gvasalia at the YZY SZN 9 show, but had reportedly left early. It is not known if she was in touch with Mr West after that.

Illustration: Just So, based on Line characters

Trouble At Vogue SG

Will there be a second exit?

The latest issue of Vogue SG, out just today, with Jackson Wang on the cover. Photo: Jim Sim

Is Vogue SG not destined to enjoy longevity here? Or a glorious life? Will the comeback publication meet with the same fate as its former self? These questions followed media reports (even in Malaysia) that the validity of its license to publish has been halved—from its current one-year permit—after the publishing of a quartet of editorials deemed unsuitable for Singaporean consumption. According to The Straits Times this morning, the Ministry of Communication and Information (MCI) stated that the Singaporean edition of the global fashion title “had breached the content guidelines for local lifestyle magazines on four occasions within the past two years, for nudity and content that promoted non-traditional families”, despite what ST called “a stern warning”. MCI also disclosed that the license of Vogue SG was, in fact, revoked with effect yesterday, but the magazine—finally a monthly this October (they were, since the launch, a bi-monthly)—reapplied and was granted the six months. Publisher of Vogue SG Media Publishares (former Indochine Media Ventures or IMV), has not responded to the media reports.

Before the news of this breach emerged, the word buzzing about last night in media circles was that Vogue SG’s editor-in-chief Norman Tan has resigned from his position. He would be, we heard, heading for the Big Apple to join Apple (we were not able to independently verify this, but he was in New York last month for NYFW and he could have taken time off to do something else?). As the news of the magazine’s recurrent infraction began to be quickly shared, we were sent, together with links to the news stories, the burning question: “Could this be one of the reasons Norman Tan decided to leave?”, with others adding, “coupled with the fact that he knows the title is not doing well?” A media old-timer also chimed in: “It is going to be hard for them to get brand support if they really have just six months left to operate.” When Mr Tan was appointed as the EIC in 2020, Vogue Sg’s socialite-publisher Bettina von Schlippe told the media that his “rich expertise in journalism and publishing makes us confident that he will present a new and exciting vision for the title, while upholding the values of the brand.” She made no mention of upholding the values of the nation and its people.

Norman Tan, right, with Condé Nast’s global chief content officer Anna Wintour. Photo: musingmutley/Instagram

Norman Tan’s appointment at Vogue SG was, at that time, a surprise to some in the publishing industry. Mr Tan, a former lawyer, was editing two IMV titles prior, Buro and Esquire SG. He had not, until Vogue SG, directed the content of a woman’s magazine and yet he secured the post in what many (still) consider a “fashion bible”. Some observers thought he was handed the job because IMV wanted to choose from within, rather than hire someone more experienced and, inevitably, expensive (this was when COVID-19 would soon become a pandemic, affecting many editorial budgets) from outside. Moreover, Mr Tan is an eager and prolific social media user, a position that stood him in great stead, as magazine editors were expected to have conspicuous and well-followed online profiles. And he did create a Vogue SG that seemed to appeal to those who are digitally aware, who live their lives digitally, too. Last September, the magazine offered a pair of covers that were available as NSTs and this month, a virtual lounge Club Vogue—the Metaverse from the start, in fact, a recurring theme.

But has it been one Vogue that we could proudly call our own? Was there an identifiable—and relatable—identity? No one expected Vogue SG to look like the more-than-six-decades-old Her World. Mr Tan seemed to prefer a visually more edgy magazine—high on style, paltry on substance—for the market, with covers that have often been experimental (blue hands on face?) or over-styled, and unconventionally lit, sporting almost no blurb. In the ‘Editor’s Letter’ of the latest issue, he quoted Ms Wintour deferentially: “Vogue is always looking forward”. To lean that way, he picked “icons” and “mavericks” and, as MCI noted, near-nakedness and the “non-traditional” (could one of the stories MCI found objectionable be ‘Four LGBTQIA+ Advocates Share their Experiences Growing Up in Singapore’?). A former magazine journalist said to us, “it seems he’s creating a magazine for his friends, for his followers, but how much of the market do they make up?” On Instagram, Mr Tan has 27.5K followers. Is that large enough? One gripe we keep hearing is that the visually-focused magazine seems to be shaped by “angmo hands”. The EIC is, in fact, a Chinese-Australian from Melbourne, and the president of Media Publishares is the publishing veteran Michael Von Schlippe, the husband of Bettina Von Schlippe.

October issue of Vogue SG with two different covers on the rack in Kinokuniya. Photo: Zhao Xiangji

Mr Tan is inclined to Vogue-speak, calling his editorial charge in this October issue “a barometer for what’s round the corner”, just as Condé Nast has been labelling Vogue a “cultural barometer for a global audience”. It is possible that Mr Tan took “global audience” very seriously so that he could go beyond the shores of this sadly too-small island market. Condé Nast announced last August that this year’s “September issue of Vogue is centered around the idea of ‘new Beginnings’—an initiative that brings together all 27 editions of Vogue (ours is the 27th) as a powerful and emotive mark of unity (shared editorials are part of their cost-cutting measures) and message of hope for Vogue’s global community, looking ahead to a post-pandemic world.” How much of the Vogue Sg identity, if it were ever established, was sacrificed for this “unity”? A marketing consultant told us, “When I read Vogue Thailand, I feel they are communicating with Thais, but when I read Vogue SG, I don’t sense that they are talking to me.“ Is it erroneous then to ask if Vogue SG is an influential fashion and lifestyle magazine? Who really reads Vogue?

At Kinokuniya this morning, the latest (local) mouthpiece of the “global fashion authority”, as Condé Nast describes its most famous title, had just arrived. With most other publishing houses, an October issue out in the middle of the month is considered late—very late. The current month of Vogue SG comes with two covers: one with Jackson Wang (王嘉尔) and the other, CL (aka Lee Chae-rin), with, strangely, no accompanying story while Mr Wang is given one page to talk about his new album Magic Man. The magazines had just been placed on the five-tier rack when we visited the store; they were yet to be flipped, all in a pristine state. A massive carton of the said title, still unboxed, sat in the middle of the aisle. A staff came by and we asked, pointing to the magazine: “does our Vogue sell well?” She happily replied in the affirmative. Really? “Yes, we expect this issue to sell out,” she enthused. Really? ”Yes, because of the two stars on the cover.” As a Facebook post on the Jackson Wang Malaysia Fan Club page considered, “这次的杂志不买来收藏真的对不起自己 (if this issue of the magazine is not bought for collecting, we’ll do ourselves a great wrong)”. What about the other issues, we wondered. “Oh,” she hesitated, then said, ”not so.” We turned the final question to ourselves: Six months later, will we be writing the obituary of Vogue SG?

The Rumours Are True

Daniel Lee will go to Burberry

Just two days after Riccardo Tisci presented his solemn Burberry show, the British brand announced that Daniel Lee would be joining the 166-year-old company. This rapidly confirms the rumours circulating then that it would be Mr Tisci’s last show. Daniel Lee’s name was repeatedly mentioned as the likely replacer. Such gossip rarely is mere chatter, not when journalists were sharing the speculation via Twitter and newspapers were reporting on the possibility of new employ with such fervour. Burberry had earlier refused to comment on what they consider to be speculative talk. Mr Lee now takes over as the brand’s chief creative officer, a position Mr Tisci held close to five years.

According to eager media reports, the new guy will take his post on 3 Oct (next Monday), which means his predecessor will have to clear out of his office this week. The appointment must have been confirmed at least a month ago, or around the time WWD broke the news of the possible new hire, quoting “industry sources”. Burberry CEO Jonathan Akeroyd who picked Mr Lee, said via a statement, “Daniel is an exceptional talent with a unique understanding of today’s luxury consumer and a strong record of commercial success, and his appointment reinforces the ambitions we have for Burberry.” That sounds similar to what the former CEO Marco Gobbetti, who hired Mr Tisci, said of the latter in 2018: “He is one of the most talented designers of our time. His designs have an elegance that is contemporary and his skill in blending streetwear with high fashion is highly relevant to today’s luxury consumer. Riccardo’s creative vision will reinforce the ambitions we have for Burberry.”

It is not known either if Mr Tisci chose not to renew his contract, which expires next year, or if he decided to leave now, rather than finish what could be his final season

There is no mention of why Riccardo Tisci decided to leave (no euphemistic reasons such as pursuing other interests). Was he asked to? It is not known either if Mr Tisci chose not to renew his contract, which expires next year, or if he decided to leave now, rather than finish what could be his final season. Mr Gobbetti and Mr Tisci are both Italians. They were colleagues at Givenchy, where the former was its chief executive. The designer—then relatively unknown—was hired in 2005 to join the French house. It is possible that the new CEO at Burberry wishes to work with someone of his own choosing, rather than inherit a name much associated with the previous top guy. The international press is also of the view that Mr Tisci’s hyper-modern, street-savvy, definitely sexy style, while appealing to younger customers (really? What about middle-aged politicians?), kept their long-time fans, particular those deemed unadventurous, away. Or, was it because Mr Tisci’s unduly expressive designs were just not luring shoppers into Burberry stores?

Looking at what he had achieved, Daniel Lee had a more measured approach at Bottega Veneta that balanced appreciable shapes with sensuality. However, his tenure—just three years—did not provide enough of the salient for us to make out a definitive, bankable style, although, to be certain, his bags, including standouts the Pouch and the Cassette, were refreshingly huggable in the wake of more structured luxury ones that followed the ‘It’-bag years. But, was influencer excitement around the brand sufficient? Mr Lee was born in Bradford, a wealthy city in West Yorkshire, England, where, interestingly, Burberry trenchcoats are manufactured. Before his breakout appointment at BV, he was a “protégé” at Céline, with a résumé that included stints at Balenciaga, Maison Margiela, and Donna Karan. It is often said that he “revived” BV, as if he had plucked it from the clutches of doom. Now, back on home turf, is he expected to bring about another such restoration to Burberry’s lost cool and pull? Let’s see. It’d be fascinating.

Photo: Instagram

Changing The Pilot

Is Burberry pondering if Riccardo Tisci is still the right fit to take the brand soaring?

Riccardo Tisci with pal Kanye West after the Burberry spring/summer 2023 show in London. Screen shot: No Content/YouTube

Since the beginning of the month, there was chatter that the 166-year-old Burberry was looking to replace Riccardo Tisci, the Italian designer at the helm of the house since 2018. When August came to an end, Women’s Wear Daily reported that “Burberry is evaluating its options, and looking for a potential successor to (its) chief creative officer”. Mr Tisci’s contract expires early next year, so it is not premature for Burberry to go ahunting. But why was there not an excited announcement that Mr Tisci would be asked to stay on? Or was it he who did not wish to extend his contract? Despite the WWD story that quoted “industry sources” aware of the label’s executive search, Burberry said it would not respond to speculations.

When Riccardo Tisci was installed at Burberry in 2018, while the UK was messily moving towards Brexit, many observers and commentators were surprised by the appointment. Mr Tisci is not British; he is Italian. It was a time when national pride was palpable and placing a foreigner (one from an EU member state!) at a quintessentially British brand was not particularly ideal, especially after predecessor, the proud local lad Christopher Bailey, had reigned at the house (even serving as CEO) for 17 years (for Mr Tisci, it would be five when his contract ends next year). The Guardian described Mr Bailey as “the most successful British designer of his generation“. And now an Italian, formerly from a French house was taking over? But there was a non-Brit designer at Burberry earlier—an American-born Italian, Roberto Menichetti, from 1998 to 2001. There was never eye brows raised when Brits designed European brands, from John Galliano at Dior and now Margiela to Phoebe Philo at (old) Céline to JW Anderson at Loewe. They brought the brands they worked for critical and massive success.

Riccardo Tisci’s first Burberry show. Screen shot: Burberry/YouTube

Riccardo Tisci was thought to be able to bring a certain romance tempered by a punk sensibility (would the Rottweiler T-shirt for Givenchy influence his new work?) and his Catholic upbringing to Burberry. His first task was to introduce the freshly-minted TB logo (based on the initials of founder Thomas Burberry, and designed by Peter Saville), the brand’s first new symbol in 20 years. That was followed by the TB monogram (also designed by Mr Saville). Mr Tisci’s first collection for spring/summer 2019 was a staggering 134 looks on the runway. Why that many? Mr Tisci was quoted saying after the show that he was designing for “the mother and the daughter, the father and the son”. The plethora gave weak aesthetical clues as to where the designer was taking TB. Evening wear, not really associated with the brand, became a category to promote. By his second spring/summer collection (2020), the looks were modestly trimmed to 101, yet the collection could not scale the height of focus—still conceived to offer something for everyone. But were enough people blown over?

In the last two seasons or so, Riccardo Tisci has recalibrated his approach to interpreting Britishness by adding, rather than subtracting, and by going more outré. But somehow he was not able to effect the cool—London or elsewhere—that Christopher Bailey had so charming conveyed with ease. Now, the talk is that the person to undo Mr Tisci’s over-design or predilection for putting out too-large collections is the Brit-gone-overseas (to Bottega Veneta until he left last November) Daniel Lee. Apparently, Burberry was recently “talking” to Mr Lee, who, was, according to some accounts, asked to leave BV (but Kering, the brand’s owner, said it was a joint decision). Mr Lee’s departure came in the wake of complains by staff members of unreasonable and disturbing behaviour. How this will affect the outcome of the talks is not clear. Perhaps working with his countrymen is a different condition altogether.

Update (28 September 2022, 15:25): It’s confirmed. Riccardo Tisci is out. Daniel Lee goes to Burberry.

Screen shot: No Content/YouTube

The Kasut Across The Causeway…

Was our Deputy PM in Kuala Lumpur out-shod?

Ismail Sabri and Lawrence Wong in Kuala Lumpur. Photo: Lawrence Wong/Facebook

The pair of shoes on Ismail Sabri that had Netizens talking. Photo: Lawrence Wong/Facebook

Malaysia’s prime minister Ismail Sabri is known for his willingness to embrace fashion or make bold sartorial choices, even when meeting the rakyat (the people). Last June, there was the online hoo-ha about his flashy Burberry shirt. This time, the interest in his attire lay further south: His kasut (shoes). In a photograph shared on Facebook yesterday by deputy prime minister Lawrence Wong, who was in Kuala Lumpur on an official visit and had met the Malaysian PM, Mr Sabri was in a pair of sleek, leather slip-ons that look like the Hermès Paris Loafer. The shoes do not appear unattractive or visually at odds with his rather slender trousers. Nor is the gleaming hardware—a bold-font ‘H’—on the strap (also known as the ‘saddle’) atop the loafer an eyesore. What might have amused Netizens is the price: If it was really Hermès, it would have cost Mr Sabri a cool S$1,700 (or RM5,432). But, that is still cheaper than S$2,190 Burberry shirt.

In the symmetrically-composed photograph, Mr Wong was seated across from Mr Sabri. Both bespectacled men wore a dark suit, white shirt, and printed tie. They looked like your regular politician until you turn your eyes towards the floor or the base of the club armchair. Mr Sabri’s pointed shoes did set him apart. He didn’t just slip into anything sensible; he picked his footwear. What Mr Wong wore was harder to make out, but they seem like shoes from comfort-leaning—even orthopaedic—brands such as Ecco and Rockport. Between the two men’s black pairs, his clearly would not draw compliments nor, for that matter, deprecation. They’re just shoes. Lawrence Wong could be out-shod, but that does not mean outshone.

Will It Be 迪奥 Only In China?

The supposed ban on the use of English names by Chinese artistes and celebrities, could mean that Dior may have to give up using the 4-letter word in place of Han characters. And other foreign brands too?

Could this be how a Dior store in China would look in the future? Photo illustration: Just So

Much to the disappointment of Chinese stars who like using a Western name in addition to their Chinese moniker, there is now a rumour that non-Han names would not be allowed in China. According to one Chinese screenwriter Wang Hailin (汪海林), who shared the news on Weibo, the Chinese National Radio and Television Administration (NRTA) had “requested” that local stars not use “foreign names” or any that ”sounds foreign” to identify themselves in—probably—public or during public performances. He gave an example: Shanghai-Hong Kong model/actress “Yang Ying (杨颖) can no longer use Angelababy”. It is not known if her name can be uttered in private or if her family and friends can call her by what most fans know her by. Nor did Mr Wang say why NRTA made that unusual—and likely, unpopular—request.

We know Chinese artistes and celebrities like to use non-Han appellations, even if it is one not shown on their identity card. Or, especially when not. It isn’t understood why a Western name would pose a problem in China or why the authorities would think so, or how the use by stars would diminish anything, whether personally, professionally, or socially. Does the prohibition include those English names that sound like given Chinese names (or Cantonese, as it is the case in Hong Kong), such as Eason that precedes Chan Yick Shun (陈奕迅) or Hacken that comes before Lee Hak Ken (李克勤)? The use of a moniker associated with the West is, for a long time, not uncommon. In fact, the more uncommon the name the better. Whether drawing from fruit and vegetable (rather popular), the animal kingdom (the choice among the Chinese themselves, although mostly in the past), or the gaming world (a Gen-Z love), unusual determines the choice.

Presently, the prohibition (or discouragement) is not confirmed. Yet, Chinese influencer-turned-actress Lamu Yangzi (辣目洋子) announced on Weibo that she would revert to her original name Li Jiaqi (李嘉琦) henceforth, even when her self-chosen moniker does not sound especially English or Western. But if Chinese authorities are allegedly asking private individuals not to use whatever version of Western proper nouns they have adopted, would they, we wonder, request the same of Western brands? Would we soon see 爱马仕 (aimashi or Hermès, not to be confused with 赫耳墨斯 [heer mosi], the name of the Greek god), 巴伦夏卡 (balun xiaka or Balenciaga), 圣罗兰 (shengluolan or Saint Laurent), 宝缇嘉 (baotijia or Bottega [Veneta]), 古琦 (guqi or Gucci) or 迪奥 (di ao or Dior)? In the case of Dior, the maison was one of the earliest to encourage the use of Chinese characters on their products when they ran the ABCDior personalisation service for the Book tote in 2020. The two-word 迪奥 appearing appearing above store entrances may, therefore, now even look cool.

In China, most lovers of luxury brands use the respective Western names (pronounced with varying degrees of accuracy, but that is the same here, too) rather than those in hanzi (汉字). Most foreign brands, if not all, register their Chinese names as trademark. They are often displayed, although somewhat discreetly, on store-front windows. It is not known if shoppers there seek brands out by their Chinese moniker since it is likely that most would recognise English alphabets even if they are not always able to read them. Purists and branding professionals do think that brand awareness—and to a large extent, their appeal—is tethered to their foreign moniker. Even the Hermès-backed Shang Xia (上下) has yet to enjoy the same cachet as its French endorser. Semantically, the Chinese language is different to the Western names that desire a Sino-form, and indelicate naming, there are those who argue, may dilute brand value. Some of these Chinese names may sound odd too, even silly. And when uttered, they could phonetically be unlike how they’re pronounced in their native language. But, in some cases, the Chinese names may help with, for example, the silent ‘s’ in French. The Chinese characters of Louis Vuitton 路易威登 (luyi weideng) could, perhaps, allow some to simply say the first name as loowee.

End Of The Run For Con-Couple

They did not go far enough to escape capture. In Johor Bahru yesterday, the fraudster duo was caught and brought back to our island. They are, as many are now saying, not really that smart after all

Pansuk and Pi in police custody. Collage: Just So

They were masked when they were escorted to waiting police cars, as seen in last night’s news broadcasts, but even with faces half-concealed, it was not hard to distinguish them. Siriwipa Pansuk (aka Ann) and her husband Pi Jiapeng (aka Kevin), on the run since 4 July when they fled our island, were arrested by Malaysian police at a hotel in Johor Bahru (JB), where they had chosen to tarry and, likely, blend in. According to images from CCTV footage published by the press and shared online, the couple did not resist arrest. They were, according to the hotel staff, calm. When they were caught, they were dressed simply, with none of them wearing a watch, luxury or not. There were no Dior bags that Ms Pansuk had favoured either.

Mr Pi had on a dark green, baggy T-shirt with “Paris Balenciaga” printed in white on the chest—an original would have set him back S$880, retail—and a pair of slim, black, knee-length shorts of unrecognised provenance. He was carrying a black backpack of an indeterminate make when he was at the hotel (it was later held by the police). If it were a Balenciaga too, it would have cost at least S$1,250. His wife, with hair tied into a small matronly chignon, was even more nondescript; she was togged in a crumpled, black V-neck dress that did not look especially luxurious. Both were shod in black slides. As Netizens have been saying since last night, they did not look like they had enriched themselves with ill-gotten S$32 million; they looked like petty thieves.

…they did not look like they had enriched themselves with ill-gotten S$32 million; they looked like petty thieves

According to the Singapore Police Force, the arrest was made possible with help from the Malaysian authorities, based on information from the Royal Thai Police that it was likely the husband and wife were staying in a hotel right across the Causeway. Shinmin Daily News (新明日报) reported that the couple had remained in JB throughout these past 37 days, staying in different hotels—all amazingly possible without identification papers—to avoid detection. When the cash they brought along with them ran low, they switched to budget hotels, and one that set the stage for their capture is, ironically, called Bookme—a fitting end to their swindling and runaway life. This hotel can be reserved for as low as S$25 a night on booking.com. It is situated in the suburb of Bukit Indah, a residential and commercial area that is popular with those working here on our island. Bookme Hotel (formerly known as Smor Hotel) is just 1.5 kilometres away from a stretch of the Malaysia-Singapore Second Link highway. When the wanted two appeared at the hotel at around 10am last night (presumably to check in—without, again, passports?), and was apprehended, a sign on the glass door read, “Full House”.

One Malaysian working here, with his own residence in JB, told us that the couple made a poor decision to stay in Bukit Indah (meaning beautiful hill in Malay). “There are so many Singaporeans in this area, especially in the weekends” he said. “They would definitely meet someone who’d recognise them. For sure, I would not choose this place.” Bookme Hotel is, in fact, in a stretch of three-storey shop houses on a treeless road in the pusat (bellybutton) of Bukit Indah, right behind TF Value-Mart (former Giant), and within walking distance to Singaporean faves Tesco and, a little further, AEON Mall. Is it possible that, as they were used to a life of immense comfort, they needed to be in an area dense with urban conveniences? He added, “I think they cannot handle an environment with facilities wanting; they require a place that breathes with life.” Besides, we figured, if the nearby malls could not serve their still-to-change needs, the Johor Premium Outlet is really not that far away.

Bookme Hotel in Bukit Indah, Johor Bahru. Photo: agaoda.com

While initial reactions to the unbelievable escape (Mr Pi called it “our mistake” in his first comment after the arrest) were met with surprise at their daring and smarts, many are now saying that perhaps the two are not as clever or strategic as they had appeared to be. It is not clear why both, unencumbered with luxury bags, did not go away from the city centre, even leave the state of Johor entirely. Was it possible that they did not know how wanted they were? Or that an Interpol warrant was issued against them, or that Malaysian (and Thai) authorities were willing to assist in the search for this pair of absconders? It is likely that Malaysia was totally alien to the two of them, and the fear of not making it in remote places (let alone the wilderness), where Malay may be the only spoken language, kept them in the relatively mundane and relatable area of Bukit Indah.

Their choice of the hideout and the proximity to Singapore are not the only puzzlers. Just as baffling is how the Thai authorities knew the Pis were in JB when the talk for close to a month was that they were already in Thailand, completed plastic surgery, and had blended with the crowd. Thai social media is presently seeing rapid sharing of the video report of the couple’s arrest (even in Chinese, with chiding directed at Ms Pansuk) and is rife with speculation that someone she knows snitched on her. It is highly possible that she would stay in touch with individuals in her home country, even if it is surprising that she had not laid low enough. It seems that, other than her family (mother and brother are supposedly in hiding), most people are deeply angry with her. Even purported friends of Ms Pansuk’s were saying on social media, with links to the news reports here: “วันนี้ที่รอคอย (wan nee ti rao koy)”—the day I’ve been waiting for.

A Prime Minister in Burberry

Should the head of government wear expensive shirts to meet his people?

By Awang Sulung

Malaysian prime minister Ismail Sabri loves Burberry shirts, but his fellow Malaysians are not as enamoured with his baju. A photo shared on the PM’s Facebook page a few days ago showed him in a short-sleeved, buttoned-down, red/pink/white shirt—worn untucked—with a textual print that the British label describes as a “slogan”. As it appears to me: the phrase “UNIVERSAL PASSPORT” in two lines run from the shoulder to the hip, on both sides of the placket. That and the shirt itself are not controversial or offensive, or unflattering, but it did get people talking, including opposition members of parliament. The shirt Mr Sabri chose—in Italian silk organza, no less—costs S$2,190 or RM6,900, according to Burberry/MY. That amount, as the media reported, is “3.3 times median Malaysian salary”. With staggering inflation and rising cost of almost everything, it is understandable why people are so geram. This is this year’s quinoa-gate!

Burberry’s appeal to politicians is not new. I remember that back in the early 2000, Thailand’s then prime minister, the billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra (now in exile), loved Burberry shirts too, and was often seen in the light blue version of their house check before he was overthrown in a military coup in 2006. He even wore matching sunglasses with those shirts when he was out to meet the electorate. The Thais did not make a fuss of Mr Shinawatra’s sartorial choice, probably because his chemise was not thought to cost a bomb. Those check shirts were, after all, often seen for sale outside Burberry stores, from Patpong to Chatuchak. I do not remember how much that shirt cost back then, but Mr Shinawatra would not have bought a knock-off. Despite his wealth, out there among his constituents, he did look acceptably loong (uncle) and very much chun chan raeng ngan (working class)—one of them.

The Thais did not make a fuss of Mr Shinawatra’s sartorial choice, probably because his chemise was not thought to cost a bomb. Those check shirts were, after all, often seen for sale outside Burberry stores, from Patpong to Chatuchak

Perhaps the disapproval of Ismail Sabri’s shirt was not merely about the hefty price that went with it. What he donned was not quite walk-about wear. And, while he looked pakcik (uncle!) enough, he was not one of them; he appeared like one who would fork out more than six thousand ringgit for a shirt, which, I suspect, is rather far costlier than the rakyat-approved baju batiks that even younger politicians, such as the minister of health Khairy Jamaluddin, wears, and with considerable frequency, and, possibly, pride. And, for someone who reportedly prefers his colleagues to use mostly bahasa Malaysia, even abroad, Mr Sabri’s wearing of a shirt with blaring English words is, at the very least, hypocritical. This was not the first sighting of Mr Sabri in a shirt from Burberry. Last month in Tokyo, he wore an even bolder piece when he met with our PM Lee Hsien Loong. That shirt, with a symmetrical “abstract print” that looked like a silhouette of a Maori tekoteko (those carved human-like figures with tongues stuck out) and such, would have set Mr Sabri back by S$1,790. Possibly haram as it was small change?

I wonder, too, if there was ageism involved in the negative views that pervaded social media. Ismail Sabri is 62, and, while he is eight years younger than Mr Lee, is not considered to be of a vintage that should trifle with this thing called fesyen. Mr Sabri did not pick the less current, less ‘statement’ pieces, such as Burberry’s Simpson (or Somerton) shirt, with its familiar, non-threatening checks in “archive beige”. If he did, his choice of clothes would probably not be noticed. And if his pakaiyan is not registered, the empathy so many wishes to see could, perhaps, be discerned. Rather, Mr Sabri took a risk with fashion, and his followers were uncomfortable. As the New York Time’s Vanessa Friedman said to V magazine back in 2017, in a comment about politics and fashion, many people “think fashion is superficial and any association with it automatically denigrates the thing it is being associated with.” Politics! Some Malaysian Netizens even took issue with their PM choosing a “colonial” brand over one that is local. If only they have their own CYC in Kuala Lumpur.

Photo: Nik Nazmi/Twitter