Walk Into Shein

The Chinese hyper-fastfashion online label is now into physical stores: a pop-up in Osaka, and now its first permanent physical store in Tokyo

Shein pop-up in Osaka

Shein is not only going big, they’re getting physical. Two stores in Japan, the country with some of the best stores and shopping experiences in the world, are now Shein standalones. First a pop-up in Osaka (till the 26th of January or six days after the Lunar New Year) and then a proper bricks-and-mortar in Tokyo, touted “the world’s first”. It opened three Sundays ago in the streetwear/sneaker (but not quite hipster) stretch of Cat Street, Ura-Harajuku, a ten-minute, or so, walk from the famed Takeshita-Dori. These are not modest little stores. The glass-front Tokyo space spreads over two stories (or 201 sqm), and is stocked with merchandise for men (although somewhat limited) and women, including cosmetics, and even products for pets. Clothes (the largest category) can be tried on by Japanese customers for the first time, prior to purchase, on-line.

In Osaka, the pop-up, also a double-floor affair, opened a month earlier. Part of the Shein Popup: The Japan Tour (which will includes five cities in all), it sits on Osaka’s main shopping street of Shinsaibashi, in a space formerly occupied by Uniqlo, and is in the company of competitor-neighbours Gap and H&M (how thrilled is the Swedish brand now that Shein is directly opposite?), turning this area of the street into a multi-nation fast-fashion hub. Japanese media enthusiastically reported of “more than 800 items” on display in the Shein pop-up, but with the crowd, it’s hard to see the vastness of the offerings. There are, to the thrill of the Japanese, nine fitting rooms, each decorated differently (and with considerable camp!) so that the trying-on of clothes could also be a selfie moment to be shared on social media. These do not include seven additional photo-op spots throughout the store. Shein’s target audience is unambiguous: smartphone-dependent, must-be-visible-online Gen-Zers.

…fitting rooms are each decorated differently so that the trying-on of clothes could also be a selfie moment to be shared on social media

Despite the staggering array of merchandise, nothing in the two stores are for outright purchase. Shoppers can browse and try, but there are no cashiers for you to take your desired products to, to seal the deal. Shein is essentially a showroom, although, in Tokyo, the company calls it an “event space”. To purchase (which is surely the intention of opening a physical store), customers scan a QR code on a hang tag attached to every product. They would then be directed to the online page (or on the app) of the selected merchandise. An order of their picks can be placed. This is not Japan’s first browse-only fashion space. We remember that in 2019 there was a GU (Uniqlo’s sister brand) concept store in nearby Omotesando (close to the Harajuku station) called GU Style Studio, where shoppers were able to enjoy everything the store had to offer, except make a purchase. To buy, one scans a QR code too, and would be directed to GU online. There was also an avatar you can create to dress yourself digitally in GU clothes. Even earlier, in the ’90s, Shiseido opened a store—also on Omotesando, in a former apartment block where Omotesando Hills now stands—for women (and men!) to try merchandise (even do a makeover) the brand offered, for however long they wish, but nothing was for sale.

A Shein spokesperson told Forbes that the brand’s “focus remains digital-first.” He also said, “Shein customers can experience our fashion and lifestyle products at our pop-ups around the world. We will continue to expand our pop-up roadmap and keep making the beauty of fashion accessible to all.” Despite the impressive turnouts for both stores on opening day (in Osaka, 3,000 people reportedly turned up, and it took two and half hours to enter the store; in Tokyo, more than 150 were in line even before the store opened at 11am that day), it is not certain if Shein will be a stunning success in Japan when the country has their own low-priced but better-made fashion brands, such as the cheap and cheerful Wego, the fashion-reliable Niko And …, and, to a large extent, Uniqlo’s engaging GU, whose past collaborator included Undercover—it’s hard to get cooler than that.

Shein, launched in 2008, could be trying to rewrite their brand narrative in both visual and tactile ways, given the (still) bad rep they receive in so many parts of the world (they do not sell in China, where the brand was founded and where the clothes are manufactured), compounded by a Greenpeace Germany report published last week, claiming that some Shein products “contained hazardous chemicals that break EU regulatory limits”. Shein is probably aware that their customers do not care. The response to the two Japanese stores may be indicative. In both, one snappy slogan greets shoppers: “Wear your Wonderful”. In telling their Japanese customers to do so, perhaps Shein is trying to convince the skeptics that they do, too. Let other brands worry about the environment.

Photo: Jiro Shiratori for SOTD

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.

Pasar Dalam

The Boutique Fairs, dubbed a “shopping event”, is basically an air-conditioned market with stalls. And it is products galore, but is there anything to buy?

The biannual Boutique Fairs is a misnomer and an oxymoron. There are no boutiques, only stalls, and it is largely a single fair, in one venue. Although spread over two floors of the F1 Pit Building, it is unmistakably a solo bazaar. The organizers refer to their retail assemblage as “Boutiques”. Which is which? Perhaps that does not matter. Despite its somewhat atas-sounding name, the 20-year-old Boutique Fairs is not quite a high-end affair, and therein, perhaps lies its attraction. Its mass appeal is obvious, which explains why it has been a crowd-puller in the pre-COVID years, so much so that they started charging for entry in the last in order to attract serious shoppers, one stallholder told us, and to control the foot traffic. E-tickets are issued, which means getting inside the venue requires joining a queue to scan a QR code for entry, and dealing with the enthusiastic sun in the unsheltered line.

The Boutique Fairs (BF) is huge. It occupies the entire length of the Pit Building (the nerve centre of the F1 night races), over two floors, of about 9,000 sqm in total (it can easily take three hours or more to cover the whole area). They do have a handy little “event guide”, if navigational assistance is what you need, or the exact location of a particular stall. But BF is known for their “curated” jumble of brands—this year, more than 240 make up the Gifting Edition (as it’s also known), according to their media release. Visitors do not mind getting lost in the borderline farrago. The set-up is pasar malam-style array, flanking the generous aisles, with vendors doing up their spaces as they please. Some put in more effort than others. One guy was heard saying rather loudly “angmo pasar malam”. In fact, we were reminded of the old YWCA fairs—merchandise miscellany brought together by Caucasian hucksters.

The Boutique Fairs was founded in 2002 by Danish expatriate Charlotte Cain and two of her friends. The Business Times reported in 2019 that Mrs Cain, a potter, wanted not only to sell her wares, but also desired to interface with the people buying her products. She rented a room at the Fort Canning Centre, and, with her friends, “found several like-minded vendors to take part”. Pottery was the primary focus back then, but that is no longer the case. Through the years, Mrs Cain moved away from ceramics and the like (but not entirely; they now form only a small part of the line-up), and was able to attract fashion designers who do not shun expo-like set-ups to peddle their merchandise, such as Max Tan, reportedly Mrs Cain’s “favourite”. BF’s neo-kampong vibe could be commensurate with Mr Tan’s recent design aesthetic. With the inclusion of SG fashion labels, BF slowly morphed into the general merchandise fair that has become part Blueprint Singapore (now defunct), part Singapore Gifts and Premiums Fair, part Singapore Food Festival.

While more SG brands (including several newbies) are now in the mix (many you would likely encounter for the first time), there is still the clique of the “like-minded”—those hawking what are especially a draw to Westerners-in-Asia in the business of lifestyle products. Inevitably, you get more floral sundresses (and matching cushion covers) you’ll ever need, more batik wear (and ware) than you’ll ever consider, and more of those items deemed Asian exotica that not many of us salivate over. On that note, BF has a whiff of Bali markets about it, but with just a smidgen of their vibrancy. Mrs Cain told BT that “it all boils down to the curation. I have done myself since the beginning and that will not change. Curation is very important, it is an instinct and a gut feeling.” Could this also boil down to the taste of one individual? Or her friends?

One product development professional, whose visit to BF was his first, told us, “I like that there is a variety of products, but I feel the curation can be segmented according to product types. So to make it easier for shoppers to look at the things they like within an area, rather than having different merchandise grouped in rooms with different names.” There are seven rooms in all, three on level two and four on level three, each—really a hall—named after a colour, except one where food can be consumed seated, known as Breathe. Other than a chromatic guide to pinpoint the precise location of the brand a visitor might wish to see, it isn’t clear what the colours of each room denote. Scarlet, their newest, for example, bears none of the old suggestion of immorality of a woman so labeled. And yet it is not known why a simple red would not suffice.

Perhaps, the zoning strategy is deliberate. Each room is seemingly calculated to be without discernible order. In this manner, it encourages shoppers to visit every room, rather than just zoom in on, say, a womenswear room and then discount the rest. And, you do not get a cluster of ‘designer’ brands. A clothier’s neighbour could be a seller of beddings. In fact, the no-fixed-order approach could be advantageous to first-timers. There would be none of the possible anxieties going into actual boutiques, or the intimidation. The minute you step into any of the rooms, you would be rather rapidly swept into the hive of the Fairs. And there is a dizzyingly wide range of merchandise, but few of it have real design value or quality of make that would encourage keen appreciation. In the end, your eager PayLah may not get activated.

Boutique Fairs is at the F1 Pit Building from today to Sunday. Tickets: $5 for single-day admission (four hours of shopping) and $25 for a three-day pass. Photos: Chin Boh Kay

It’s All Gone

The Yeezy Gap website is taken down, along with all the merchandise

The final new item from the Yeezy Gap line that was touted online

By Lester Fang

The last mail that I received from Yeezy Gap was last Saturday. In it, they tried to seduce my consumer self (but, unfortunately for them, not a Yeezy-fan self) with a “long round jacket”, an around-the-knee length take of the first item “you-can’t-manage-me” Kanye West released under that collaboration. Nothing in the minimalist, copy-lite mail said anything about Engineered by Balenciaga as this outer was not. I subscribed to their e-mail notification not because I have anything to buy there, but because, as a contributor to SOTD, I wanted to keep abreast with what’s happening in the Yeezy cult. By now you would have read of all the pull-outs by the brands that Mr West had aligned himself with. In fact, The Gap was the first to want to disassociate themselves with the man who, I am sure, was not worth all the trouble and online rants. There is so much even a resilient company such as The Gap can take.

I revisited that mail this morning. When I clicked on the link to yeezygap.com, I landed at Gap’s own chirpy website. There was no yeezygap.com, not even a landing page that says something like “this site can’t be reached”. At gap.com, there were links at the top to other Gap brands: Old Navy, Banana Republic, and Athleta, but there was nothing that said Yeezy Gap, not anywhere on the page. Everything vanished. Yeezy Gap has been obliterated, just like Pharaoh Akhenaten was. As I understand it from my friends in San Francisco, the clothes and accessories were not available in the stores too. No more of those ridiculous bulk bags. I would think that The Gap has a lot of merchandise to clear. Yeezy Gap did not enjoy typical Gap price points. Five days ago, they were discounting the Yeezy Gap hoodies. But now they are taking everything off the market. It is not clear if there is anything else in production, but clearly no more “cheap Balenciaga” tops to be had.

The Gap announcement on Instagram not long ago, Screen shot: yeezyxgap/Instagram

The Gap’s action is rather swift. It came as soon as Adidas announced that they would end their partnership with Mr West. On Instagram, three days after they shared that “YEEZYGAP AVAILABLE IN📍ATLANTA MORE GAP STORES CONTINUE TO GET YEEZYGAP ITEMS” (yes, in full caps, sans punctuation, just like how Mr West would text), it posted a “Statement On Yeezy Partnership”. The two paragraph notice stated that they “are taking immediate steps to remove Yeezy Gap product (sic) from our stores and we have shut down YeezyGap.com” after explaining that their “former partner’s recent remarks and behaviour further underscore why” the partnership had to come to an end. It added, “Antisemitism, racism and hate in any form are inexcusable and not tolerated in accordance to our values. On behalf of our customers, employees and shareholders, we are partnering with organizations that combat hate and discrimination.” But unlike Adidas, it did not say how much of a loss it would incur by this action.

To me, Yeezy Gap will not be missed. Nor Adidas Yeezy. While I think there was an aesthetical point in what Kanye West did, it was not for me. I have never found anything associated with Yeezy to be attractive. Or the people who wore Yeezy going about as if they were the epitome of cool. When I tried the US$220 Yeezy Boost 350 V2 ‘Zebra’ for the first time back in 2017 (I did not buy it. Someone I know had a pair; he later sold it for double the retail price. The shoe was tried on, but not worn), I thought to myself what an ugly piece of crap. It looked like something died on my feet. (Apparently, Adidas intents to continue selling Yeezy designs with the second name.) When it came to the Yeezy Gap, I was of two minds. While I did like the boxy silhouettes of the T-shirts, Engineered by Balenciaga, I was not too enamoured with the price: from US$140 a piece. And that they were very thick was a deal breaker for me too. But, more than anything, the fact that they were linked to Yeezy and the man behind it, just turned me away. I never saw him as a designer, never did, never will. Rapper—yes, social agitator—yes, anti-Semite—yes; designer, definitely no.

This Is A Bank

At the new OCBC Wisma Atria branch, deposits, withdrawals and such are not quite the main business of the day

When is a bank not quite a bank? When it’s the OCBC Bank Wisma Atria branch. To be certain, this is still a bank as we know it, with both retail and ‘premier’ banking facilities available, but not one we can immediately take notice. The bank’s financial business is tucked discreetly away, and what would usually be the main banking hall is conspicuously occupied by a bookshop, and rather stunningly too: curvilinear, ceiling-to-floor, pale wood shelving units that afford exceptionally generous browsing space between. This is a delightful surprise, like finding renowned sculptures in the CBD, only here you can spend more time or browse, and in welcomed air-conditioned comfort.

When we came up to the top-most floor of the Wisma Atria shopping centre (popularly referred to as Wisma) via the escalator from the lower levels of this side of the thirty-six-year-old building, the first thing that caught our eye was the light box on the ceiling, with the OCBC logo of a roundel in which a Chinese junk (as it appears to us) is framed. We have not been to this part of Wisma Atria for a long while, and the first thought was that OCBC bank has taken over the one-floor level-four space vacated by a gathering of Japanese food shops, known as Japan Food Town (it closed abruptly in 2020, a month before COVID-19 was declared a pandemic). But as we emerged and looked around us at the invitingly-lit space, we wondered where the bank was hidden.

This end of Wisma Atria, the space across five floors is—in an unusual arrangement—owned by Isetan (as far as we’re aware, it still is. Seventy four percent of the whole building belongs to SGReit). In 2015, the Japanese department store (in Japan, they merged with Mitsukoshi in 2008), stopped operating their retail business at the very spot that, since the opening of Wisma Atria, is very much associated with them, much to the surprise of regular shoppers. The five levels were converted to leasable space, but had been, on a whole, weak in terms of retail concept. While Japan Food Town was a draw for the 16 eateries it brought together, it was not an experiential offering. On other floors, assorted retailers (including pop-ups, such as Workshop Elements) came and went. The only constant is the Sony store. Last August, Isetan looked for investors to purchase the space, but found none. After Japan Food Town shuttered, the fourth floor was hoarded up, until 15 August, when this fascinating OCBC branch started with what staffers described as a “soft opening”. Are things looking up at this almost-forgotten corner of “A Great Street”?

OCBC wanted something more than a banking hall for their newest Orchard Road branch. According to one of the bank’s newly-created “lifestyle ambassadors” Sherman Sim, “the new concept” is to “integrate lifestyle products with those offered by the bank”. In fact, unlike at most banks, the first person on staff to approach us did not ask what they could do for us. Rather, an OCBC’s ebullient lifestyle ambassador enthusiastically introduced the entire space, “adding if you need banking service, we do have that too” (coincidentally, we had an inquiry about an OCBC card that was to be discontinued, and the information was forthcoming). When we met Mr Sim later, he even offered to show us around and explain each corner to us. When we told him that we were off to a lunch appointment, he said cheerfully, “if you come again and have more time, look for me, I’ll guide you around”. We had to remind ourselves we were in a bank.

The approximately 1,860m² mixed-retail space comes with a straightforward name: OCBC Wisma Atria branch. Prominent and probably the bank’s pride is the bookshop, operated by the Malaysian online discount retailer BookXcess (they’re also behind our favourite discounter Big Bad Wolf Books), takes up a considerable section (in area known as the Spiral), and is so stylishly appointed that it is easy to not notice those installations principal to banks—ATM machines. Mr Sim helpfully, and truthfully, told us that if we were to compare the books here with those in Kinokuniya, “Kino has newer books” and quickly added “we have more than 5,000 titles, we think people can find something they like. It’s just that if you want the latest release, we may not have them.” Despite his humble introduction, we did see some fashion tomes (usually not a popular category in book stores here) that beckons a return visit.

The bookshop is just one of the retail offerings within the bank. Incorporated, too, is what could be a home decor/gift shop, featuring table ware and decorative items, including those by such specialist manufacturers as Japan’s Kanazawa-based Hakuichi gold-leaf handicrafts. There are also items by indie retail darlings Scene Shang and Crane Living. For those who prefer a cup of java over printed matter, there is a hipster-ish café by Orange Mocha. In sum, this is probably a bank you’ll visit despite the many recent complains of the pains of visiting one. Visually, it brought to our mind bookstores Tsutaya and Muji Books in Japan and Eslite (誠品) in Taiwan, although on a far smaller scale. While a café fronting a bank is not new (DBS and UOB have tried it too, with indeterminate success), a space where banking seems secondary is.

It is not immediately understood how this retail-cum-banking model works. In many banks, retail banking appears to be waning in its business appeal, so much so that the strategy seems to be to turn customers off, to the extent that they would then minimise visits to the branch. OCBC has shown that it is possible for retail banking to be a pleasant, even enjoyable experience, complete with truly affable frontline staff. When we asked Mr Sim if the handsome fit-out is borne by OCBC or if the retail participants are operating on a sub-lease basis, he was not able to say, suggesting we speak to the person in-charged. The branch is clearly purpose-built, and this, on many fronts, is a bold move by OCBC. It is unlikely that the nearly ninety-year-old bank is diversifying into the brick-and-mortar retailing of consumer products, but what they have conceived easily puts them as a progressive against other banks. Just as UOB, for example, goes retro with its public image, OCBC is looking rather forward.

Photos: Chin Boh Kay

A Name Change

The Textile and Fashion Federation of Singapore has a new moniker

The Textile and Fashion Federation of Singapore or TaFF is no more. In its place is the Singapore Fashion Council (SFC). The name change was announced in July and the new moniker took effect on the 28th of that month. But TaFF has kept relatively low-key about its rename. As of now, the TaFF website remains as it is, although under ‘About Us’, they have started identifying as SFC. Their social media accounts continue to sport the old name. Email communications are still sent out under TaFF. We were told that there would be a media announcement some time this month. Until then, one of the official events that comes under the new name is the upcoming Singapore Stories—the ‘Finale Runaway’ will be staged under the banner of SFC at TaFF‘s favourite museum, Asian Civilisations Museum, on 28 October. Presumably, this would allow SFC to be inaugurated with a major, museum-worthy show.

The renaming of the 26-year-old TaFF came two months after their “retail showcase” Design Orchard was “relaunched”, following a cosmetic makeover of the space in May. Now, with the SFC, it is likely that the former TaFF is looking to refresh its positioning, and show both members and the public that the organisation is keeping abreast with the times. The name change, to some industry observers, is overdue. TaFF was formed in 1996, the year our once-laminated NRICs (‘boomers’ might remember) was no longer usable. In the present, nearly post-pandemic era, when the ‘textile’ component of the industry is wanting, the old moniker was not only unwieldy, it sounded rather bygone. It didn’t help that TaFF was referred to as a federated body, which has a decidedly pre-1990s ring. One designer told us that whenever he referred to TaFF in its full name, he would think of lianbang (联邦, especially in Hokkien), which means federation, in particular, the Federation of Malaya (1948—1963). Some years back, when we attended Bangkok Fashion Week, a Thai designer asked us if the garment industry on our island was so big that it came under the stewardship of a federation. We could not provide a convincing reply.

One designer told us that whenever he referred to TaFF in its full name, he would think of lianbang (联邦, especially in Hokkien), which means federation, in particular, the Federation of Malaya

Our island’s sole “trade association”—as TaFF referred to itself—that supports the industry was, in fact, the result of the 1996 merger of the Society of Designing Arts (SODA, co-founded by Dick Lee in 1975) and the Singapore Textile & Garment Manufacturers’ Association (STGMA, founded in 1981). While both bodies did organise fashion events during the hey days of SG fashion, such as the hugely popular SODA Shows and STGMA’s Singapore Fashion Week (the first, not the 2015 version, staged by Mercury M&C), co-organised with the Singapore Tourism Promotion Board [pre-STB]), their influence appeared to be waning. By the time TaFF was formed, the fashion industry here was quite different from what it was in the ’70s and ’80s: manufacturing was rapidly facing what the media then called a “sunset”. STGMA likely found itself to be an extraneous entity, especially when, according to DOS figures, manufacturing output has declined, so had global export. Between 1980 to 1999, we went from 19th biggest exporter of apparel in the world to the 28th.

TaFF has largely been a relatively quiet industry supporter—at least in the public eye—until in recent years, when it began to manage the Cocoon Space at the Design Centre in 2018, and create the annual design competition Singapore Stories, an event “to promote, support, and develop the local fashion industry”. A year later, it launched The Bridge Fashion Incubator (TBFI) to “groom early stage fashion, beauty brands and related tech startups to refine and validate their products, services or solutions, and commercialisation strategies”. In 2020, after the failure of its predecessor Naiise, TaFF was appointed as the operator of Design Orchard Retail Showcase. Thereafter, they launched their first e-commerce site, the One Orchard Store with merchandise found in the Design Orchard retail space (it is not known why Design Orchard did not get its own e-shop). There was also TaFF Talks, “a series of intimate conversations” with known industry names, such as Guo Pei, Joe Zee, and Andrew Gn. TaFF had been really active.

Singapore Fashion Council, the former TaFF, is housed in Design Orchard. File photo: Chin Boh Kay for SOTD

Now as Singapore Fashion Council, the organisation has not really released its mission statement, although on the current TaFF web page, it does say that SFC will “bring together leaders across multiple sectors to bolster the fashion industry both in Singapore and internationally” (such as facilitating the Singapore Stories 2020 winner Carol Chen’s Paris debut?). In addition, it “actively works to develop the entire industry, positioning Singapore as a key partner in Southeast Asia centred in technology and innovation, sustainability, and Asian craftsmanship”. For all the industry-speak, the name change still aligns with their marketing language heard before and frequently used by its executives. The question that many of those we have spoken to is now asking: Will there be real change?

The Singapore Fashion Council could be mistaken as a part of DesignSingapore Council, the Singapore Economic Board agency—established in 2003—“that promotes design”. While those that DesignSingapore Council’s support is multi-disciplinary, with eyes mainly on architecture and urban design, it does acknowledge fashion, as seen through the prestigious President*s Design Award (P*DA)—past recipients of the Designer of the Year category include Andrew Gn (2007) and Alfie Leong (2013). It is also tempting to see Singapore Fashion Council modelled after the British Fashion Council, the organiser of London Fashion Week. Therein lies the poser for SFC: Would a fashion council do without a fashion week that showcases the talents it purports to support? Or, is a sole retail outlet and an e-shop sufficient? It is unlikely that anyone in the industry here would hold SFC against the BFC or compare Singapore Stories with P*DA. Yet, how would they address the skeptics? One industry veteran said to SOTD, when asked about the new name, “it’s like giving a crumbling house a fresh coat of paint without repairing its foundation.” Perhaps, as in the business of fashion, all it matters is that someone buys a new dress.

Illustration: Just So

More Bad News For The Gap

After Kanye West announced the end of the Yeezy Gap partnership, the three-letter brand has announced the elimination of jobs as margins shrivel

Gap has been stricken with one bad news after another, all in less than three months. In July, reports emerged that the Indian-born Canadian CEO Sonia Syngal was dismissed after a mere two-year tenure, with Bloomberg describing the move as somewhat unceremonious: She was “fired after failing to rescue struggling retailer”. The Gap has not announced a replacement. Then last week, the announcement that “Gap and Kanye West are Ending their Partnership” was made by The Wall Street Journal. Few people were surprised by that news. And now The Gap has said that they would be laying off staff—up to 500 corporate jobs—in offices in San Francisco, New York, and in Asia. Was Mr West’s bowing out timely for The Gap?

It has been speculated that the once-loved San Francisco brand was not terribly thrilled with what Ms Syngal had done, including signing up Mr West to bring about Yeezy Gap, and that what she put in place was taking too long to see real results. Ms Syngal was previously with The Gap’s sister brand Old Navy, having arrived at Gap Inc in 2004 with no background in fashion (before that, she was with Sun Microsystems and Ford Motor Co.). Yet she was considered to be instrumental during the family-centric Old Navy’s admirable height of success, escalating the brand’s revenue to more than double The Gap’s. But just because she was able to realise the potential of one sibling did not indicate that she could bring to fruition the aspirations of another.

Just because she was able to realise the potential of one sibling did not indicate that she could bring to fruition the aspirations of another

For a while, The Gap as a fashion player has been languishing. The world has basically moved on and on, and without The Gap’s washed chinos and straight-legged jeans, and, most definitely, their logo-ed tees. Did the 53-year-old clothier ever consider that their all-American fashion, often described as “laid-back style”, has lost considerable appeal, especially since Donald Trump took office in 2017 and the US is a different place. But critics say that The Gap’s lost its punch even earlier, in 2004, a year before Uniqlo, who does American laid-back better then the Americans themselves, opened their first store in New Jersey. That year, when a chap Mark Zuckerberg launched The Facebook (later shortened to Facebook), The Gap scored Tommy Hilfiger alum Pina Ferlisi to tweak the retailers offerings so that things could look up again after two years of decline. Few remember The Gap from that period and later, and the brand continued to fizzle.

When they had Mr West onboard in 2020, it was thought that The Gap finally took a close look at their merchandise, and realised that a major refresh was desperately needed, and Mr West was their guy even when his own Yeezy clothing line was not the epitome of brand success. So convinced they were that they signed a 10-year deal with him to birth Yeezy Gap. But the first year was not all rosy for the new brand. News emerged that back of house, things were messy. Mr West’s pal Demna Gvasalia was called in to help and very quickly Yeezy Gap was “Engineered by Balenciaga”. Despite the added edge, it is not clear if the collab is making pots for The Gap. But one thing is obvious: many shoppers did not like buying merchandise out of bulk bags. Rapidly, Mr West revealed that he wanted out and had his lawyers make it happen, claiming The Gap did not open Yeezy Gap stores as they agreed to. According to Forbes, “Gap president Mark Breitbart immediately shot off an email to all Gap Inc. employees suggesting it was a mutual decision”. Still, it appears that Kanye West had The Gap in his grasp. We’re not near a cliffhanger yet.

File Photo: SOTD

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.

Visited: & Other Stories

H&M’s girlish sibling is finally open. Could this be the closest we’ll get to Cottagecore?

The first & Other Stories in our city

The storefront two weeks earlier, at its opening

Back in April, after seeing the hoarding of the & Other Stories store in ION Orchard, we were told by the helpful staff at COS next door that their sister brand and new neighbour would open in the last quarter of the year. As it turns out, & Other Stories welcomed shoppers on the 19th of last month, considerably sooner that expected. As with any new opening (or for that matter, closing down!), the store drew a large, rummaging crowd, like pigeons at feeding time, in the first weekend of its rather quiet debut. To avoid the crush, we paid the store a visit two weeks later, and on a week day. And it was a pleasant roll in the barn for us. The imagery of the country building is deliberate. This is probably the closest to Cottagecore—an aesthetic trend that emerged around 2017—we’ll get here in a retail concept.

To be sure, it is not all-out rural charm. But on the day we did not enter the store—just after it opened, the entrance was flanked by a profusion of flowers in jars and plants in pots, and a kiosk-on-wheels that would not be out of place in a Tenille Townes music video. When we were there last week to shop, the country props fronting the entrance were removed, but the hint at Western agricultural life is still evident. From the farmhouse chair and wooden screen in the window to the coated iron racks and display tables with timber trestles, the vast interior is far more bucolic than the stores of its sibling brands, H&M and COS, have ever been, or desire to be. Atmospherically enhanced, this could be & Other Stories’ selling point: There is the very real possibility that you’d linger.

It is likely that the store’s visual merchandising is a strategic approach to capture the attention of shoppers increasingly accustomed to the near uniformity and predictability of e-shopping. Physical stores (H&M brands are primarily a brick-and-mortar business) have to try harder than their online counterparts. Although there is something old-fashioned about the in-store look of & Other Stories, the layout avoids lines of racks after racks of clothes, with pockets of space that are islands of accessories and others in what would otherwise be a lake of garments. This may bode well for the store’s ability to entice and engage those who do not consider shopping as a grab-and-go moment. Sure, there are many who do not consider physical stores to hold real value, but it is possible that more might not be underwhelmed by the physical sum & Other Stories.

The not-modernist lines of the store make for a space that is less cold, less uninviting than other similarly not-atas brands. The entrance is lined with plants on both sides, hinting at a warm, even cosy, interior ahead. Clothes are worn on tailor dummies, augmenting the interior’s subtly old-fashioned vibe, circumscribed by pale, near-white walls. These are not left bare, but appended with photo collages and what look corkboards (or the rear of framed canvas panels?) on which clothing hang, or more photographs are attached. We sensed that there is an attempt at recreating a schoolgirl’s room, with its natural disorderliness, but no clutter. Plants, placed on the tiled or wood-panelled floor, or on wooden stools, as well as dried variety on tables—continue to appear throughout the space, ensuring its calculated homeliness.

Although a single-brand store, the irregular-shaped space is separated into zones of various sizes. It is not immediately discernible if in each there are different fashion categories (excluding accessories, footwear, and bric-a-brac), but there are pockets in which discoveries could be made. This could, of course, be due to the novelty of a first visit. The clothes are, consistent with the Cottagecore sensibility, largely print-driven—flowers the mainstay. If the florals are insufficiently feminine, there are dresses with frills and flounces, and “flutter sleeves”. For most international brands, this is the season of the first drop for fall, but at & Other Stories, the collections seem to reflect a far warmer season, which could make a more sensible product launch for their debut here.

At the rear, the space is akin to a boutique—“more atmospheric”, as one SOTD follower said to us, which could be reference to the seemingly warmer lighting here, as well as the pale wood floor. Impressive is the width of the aisles, with the racks and shelves assigned to the perimeter, providing adequate room for a group of girlfriends to amuse themselves without creating too much traffic obstruction (regrettably, there is no space for bored boyfriends or spouses to wait, or even a stool on which to lay a heavy backpack). The clothes here seem dressier, even party-worthy. Plunging neckline, the halter neck, and the one shoulder provide the sexiness that frills and the like may not. It is also here that the fitting rooms (unusually not hidden) are situated. Each is a wood-framed unit with curtains for doors. And there is sufficient foreground for queues when they are necessary, or for those offering their opinion to observe comfortably. As we turned to walk away, we heard a young voice behind us exclaim approvingly, “yes!”

& Other Stories is at Level 3, ION Orchard. Photos: Chin Boh Kay

A Different Wang

Another streetwear brand banking on a family name. This is, however, not by that Wang

Team Wang Pop-Up store at The Shopping Gallery, Voco

It is probably the buzziest store opening since the start of the pandemic. Team Wang Design, a rising star in the firmament of “luxury street wear” opened yesterday evening to intensely enthusiastic response. If you are unfamiliar with the newish label, it is understandable that you’d think that Team Wang is linked to the designer Alexander Wang. But it is not. The label is, in fact, the brainchild of popstar Jackson Wang (王嘉尔). He has, as fans are well aware, added fashion designer to his resume. But if Team Wang sounds familiar, it is because Alexander Wang (王大仁) had used it too, and the phrase was employed for his collaboration with H&M in 2014. But Alexander Wang’s “team” of musicians, muses, and models who were associated with him were often referred to by the press as his “squad”. Team Wang is thus dissimilar as it is not about a clique (or, worse, hangers-on). Rather, it was initially set up to manage Mr Wang’s growing commitments in China and then to include a record label and now fashion design too. And Mr Wang seems to acknowledge that the brand’s creative output is a collective one.

And the clothes have found their way here through the auspices of Club 21 who has set up the eponymous pop-up—dubbed Mudance—not only on our shores, but in Chengdu and Bangkok, concurrently. As early or late (it really depends) as eleven yesterday morning, The Shopping Gallery at the former Hilton Hotel, now Voco Orchard, was busy, not with shoppers, but with construction crew setting up the opening of Team Wang Design (the shop was still merchandise-free) and, unsurprisingly, numerous female fans reserving a spot to catch their idol (this was an invitation-only event). Two hours before the party was due to start, there was a dispiriting crowd, restrained by mills barriers just to the left of the main door to the lobby of the hotel. The side entrance to The Shopping Gallery was shut too. The girls were visibly excited, presumably expecting the star they had been waiting for to arrive by car and alight at that very spot. This was happening as it rained. If the reception the fans gave Mr Wang at Changi airport yesterday was any indication, this really was not surprising.

Outside Voco Hotel, fervid fans waiting patiently despite the rain

But unexpected was the wait that invited guests had to endure. The invitation to the event stated 6.30pm—presumably the time it would the start. Jackson Wang had arrived some fifteen minutes earlier to a screaming welcome. He was escorted to a room in the hotel, where he went to “freshen up”, as the chatter at the lobby of the hotel went. Guests were held around the escalator to the second floor, where the proceedings would unfold. An hour had past, but most of the attendees were still waiting in the increasingly unbearable heat. Nathan Hartono in a salmon-coloured, sweat-soaked tee, would later share on Instagram a snap of him and Mr Wang, with the comment, “…I am clearly sTrUgGliN 🥵🥵🥵”. But still-waiting Fiona Xie, togged in Team Wang Design, appeared to be getting impatient. Jean Yip, the beauty mogul, and her family were seen heading for the exit, telling someone, “we’re leaving. Bye.” Those with more clout could make a phone call while aggressively pushing their way through the crowd and be ushered up the escalator, immediately. Word started to go around to explain the delay: Mr Wang had accepted a media interview. Ms Universe 2016 Cheryl Chou, chatting with someone, was cheerily indifferent to the crowd’s waning patience.

Sixty five minutes later, the escalator was ready to transport the guests one floor up. Wrist bands issued earlier had to be shown for entry. At the top of the escalator, a large crowd had already formed. A fellow escalator rider was heard wondering angrily: “We were waiting for so long, but actually so many people already here?!” Inside, the pop-up, Mediacorp stars and influencers had first dib of the offerings, including the man of the hour himself. Dressed simply in a black T-shirt (with sleeves folded up) and black pants (not jeans), he was obliging everyone who approached him with selfies and polite chatter, but remained inscrutable behind vaguely cat-eyed shades, which he kept on all night. When he left the store to address the crowd outside, grown women near the door were hyperventilating: “Oh my god! Oh my god! Oh my god!” The people who should be there—the screaming fans—were not. They continued to wait in collective high for their idol to exit the hotel. Somewhere above them, he was dancing enjoyably, fenced by more-delighted, also-bopping lasses.

Jackson Wang addressing the crowd outside the Team Wang Designpop-up at Voco

Jackson Wang was born in Hong Kong before he moved to Seoul to be part of the group Got7, a name that would work very well on our island. As fans know by now, Mr Wang was spotted while playing basketball in school by JYP Entertainment (Stray Kids!) agents who managed to persuade the school goer to join an audition for the company’s global search for talents. Among 2,000 participants, he came up top. Although around this time he was offered a Standford University scholarship for fencing (he was very much a sportsman, following the footsteps of his fencer father and gymnast mother), he turned it down. Instead he answered the calling to do music. He accepted the JYPE offer and moved to Seoul in 2011. Ater two years of notoriously tough K-pop training, including a made-for-television competition which pitched trainees of JYPE against YG Entertainment (Blackpink!), Mr Wang was made member of Got7, debuting with the single Girls Girls Girls in 2014. The rest is, as is often the case with K-popstars, has been the unstoppable rise of Jackson Wang.

Last year, it was widely reported that Got7, JYP Entertainment’s “most successful boy group”, has “terminated” their contract with the company. This came amid fan dismay that JYPE had allegedly not done enough for their boy groups, with Got7 singled out (their career had curiously been dominated by EPs rather than full-length albums, for example), leading to the thread on Reddit, ”JYP STOP SABOTAGING GOT7”. Fans were distraught that their fave septet would be no more. But, The Korea Times clarified in an editorial just three months ago that without JYPE, “this was not the end of GOT7―instead, it was a new beginning”; the group released a self-tiled EP. Even when recording new material with his band mates, Jackson Wang was forging ahead with his own carrier, concentrating on his homeland market, China. He founded Team Wang in 2017 as, first, a record label. The 28-year-old is considered to be quadrilingual—“fluent”, many say, in English, Cantonese, Mandarin, and Korean, so the plan was to establish him as an international star. His first single under Team Wang was 2019’s all-English Papillon. A year later, he released a duet with soon-to-begin-his-world-tour JJ Lin (林俊杰), the R&B-ish Should’ve Let Go.

The one print of the collection—tiger tails hidden in the profusion of peonies—that seems to draw shoppers

Team Wang Design was birthed in pandemic-high 2020, reportedly after three years of gestation. HBX, the e-store of the streetwear news site Hypebeast, describes the label, which it carries: “Wang’s vision is to align his brand with his wardrobe”. But the rapper-turned-designer is known to be partial to Fendi (although he has been associated with Armani and Adidas). He is, according to Vogue, “a Fendi muse”, and so enamoured he is with the Roman label that he even rapped about it in the track Fendiman from 2018, and urged his listeners with the plea, “call me Fendiman“. That possibly lead him to sign, a year later, with the brand as their China ambassador. Although his own label was not released until two years, he did rap in the same song, “Team Wang, label what I made”, preempting that the clothes would be on par with Fendi’s. The first collection and the core line that reflects the brand’s DNA, Cookies—The Original, comprises what are almost synonymous with streetwear: T-shirts, hoodies, blousons, trackpants, and hoodies, and all in black. The images for the launch are admittedly arresting, and are evocative of brands with European roots.

Team Wang Design, in many ways, treads the path already paved and trodden by HK-star-conceived brands such as Edison Chen’s Clot or Shawn Yu’s Madness. Celebrity multi-hyphenates are really crowding the pop/design sphere, and it would take more than references to Chinese culture, motifs and whatnot (a direction also adopted by Clot), to stand apart from the rest, or the West. The latest collection of Team Wang Design is part of another line called Sparkles. Like Cookies, the pieces would be considered staples that Mr Wang’s fans would not find challenging to accept. The brand says on their website that “pastel pink, flowers, and this season’s iconic floral design” are for “creating the perfect midsummer party”. Mudance, a play on the name of the Chinese flower mudan (牡丹花) or peony, is about enjoying oneself; is about play. Mr Wang told Vogue Thailand last month, when he was in Bangkok to shore up support for the Bangkok leg of the pop-up, “It’s summertime and summer is fun, and it’s crazy. Everybody jump (sic), and everybody needs to dance. So that’s why this collection we call it Mudance.” If the word would not excite lexicographers, the print may move graphic designers. He explained further: “It is a mixture of, of course, the mudan flower and the year of the tiger.”

The queue outside the Team Wang Design pop-up this morning

This morning, along the sidewalk between Voco Hotel and Wheelock Place, many youngsters were carrying the familiar Club 21 paper bag. Emerging from the side entrance of the renamed hotel, two teenaged girls in oversized tees and invisible shorts were each with the same carrier. We asked them if they had just visited the Team Wang Design pop-up. They froze with shyness. We told them we just wanted to know if it was any good. “Yes,” they chorused and giggled. “We came last night, but they won’t let us in. No invitation. So we try again today, lah.” Was it packed? “There is a queue,” they replied in unison, again. “The store opens at 10.30, but we were here at nine.” Your bags are full. Did you buy a lot? “Yah,” and they moved off with a gurgle of giggles

The pop-up is in an actual shop lot. Outside, two gold, metal trees (palms?) rose out of an irregular sand pit, set on a plywood floor in the colour of, well, peony. (The sand suggested the seaside and, therefore, beach wear. According to Mr Wang, it “is something I’ve always wanted to do; I’ve always wanted to do a beach pants [sic] for guys and then, a bikini for girls”.) Inside, the massive space, with just two racks of clothes, looked like it was half-dipped in pink cream. The light emerging from it cast a pale patina the shade of strawberry milkshake over the beach set-up. A queue that continued to lengthen had formed on the perimeter of the sand pit. There were mainly girls in the line. One of them was heard exclaiming, “I love this pink”, concurring with Jackson Wang, who said in the Vogue Thailand interview, “I chose pink because—honestly, personally—I’m a big fan of pink… And I just wanted to do it… I’ve always had a feeling for pink.”

Team Wang Design pop-up store is at Voco Orchard until 31 August 2022. Photos: Chin Boh Kay

New @ Design Orchard

But first, we have to stop giggling

It is increasingly common for retailers to use social media to hawk their wares. Design Orchard is no exception. We really applaud them for their enthusiastic online marketing efforts, and the smile they bring to our cheerless lives. On their delightful Instagram page, shopdesignorchard, two hours ago, our island’s premier retailer of all things local—not just fashion—shared some of their “new brands, new choices” in a strangely slipshod post. To be sure that what you’d be acquainted with are SG brands, they were certain to let you know that they “love seeing and supporting up and coming (sic) local designers” and that the three-year-old store has admirably “quite a line up (sic) just for you”.

What might that tantalising “line up” comprise? Nine brands—four fashion labels, two jewellery, one skincare, one fragrance, one home ware—are in the dazzling selection. Like Design Orchard, we too love supporting the brands that are proudly birthed on our shores, such as As’Fall, which, according to their own ‘About Us’, first “opened in Lausanne Switzerland in 2009” by French-Sengalese designer Astou Montfort. She moved to our island in 2017, and her label is now “made in SG, Bali” (islandic!), with “embroidery in Senegal”. Design Orchard’s IG post told us (all the following quotes are verbatim) As’Fall is “a brand that works with small family businesses and communities who are rich of long craftsmanship experiences that are inherited down the generations in embroideryy (sic), beading, dyeing or weaving”. Long, indeed. And, experiences inherited, but not the actual craftsmanship?

Then, we were introduced to Flair by Tori, “a Singaporean fashion label (with links to Australia) made for the confident cosmopolitan woman”, not including, naturally, the rest of us diffident kampong girls. Ms Tori’s Flair is in ‘One Wear’, ”uniquely gorgeaous (sic) piece s (sic) that let women go bra free (sic)”. In modest and provincial Singapore, you can’t be more confident and cosmopolitan than that. And if you are seeking “sustainable activewear made upcycled from post-consumer plastic waste that keeps you looking good and feeling good while you lunch, lounge and lunge (or whatever else it is you enjoy doing)”, you are covered by MYË (“pronounced: me-uh”, we learned. How Gen-Z!), whose founder, Raffles Design Institute alumna Mai Takemori, creates “workout clothes designed to last, crafted for performance, and hella cute and comfy”, their corporate message makes darned clear.

If accessories are more your thing, Mildly Pink, which touts itself as “homemade brilliance”, is exceptionally a “Singapore-based female hand-made jewellery label, born out of the founders; passion to portray the world with a magical twist”. Forget the founders, or what they can bear. The world, as we know, isn’t twisted enough. Or adequately inclusive: We need “female” labels. For skincare aficionado, you may gravitate towards Jill Lowe. A blast from the past, the name—once associated with image consulting—now offers you “skincare solutions to rebuild one’s character and image”. Should Siriwipa Pansuk consider this wonderful overhaul? And if you cannot resist a good fragrance, how about those by Scent Journer? They are “on a mission to empower you with perfumes… and only the highest quality organic sugarcane alcohol is used to boost your mood in a nano scond (sic)”. Take a deep whiff: This is better than laughing gas.

Photos: shopdesignorchard/Instagram

Visited: Yeezy Gap

The Kanye West-steered sub-brand of the Gap has its own space in a Gap store at last. But there is no shelf, no table, no rack. Everything is placed in bulk bags. Like merchandise to be discarded, or incinerated

The Gap store in Times Square, New York

Kanye West is paving the way for the Gap, literally with bulk bags. At its inaugural IRL retail run, a “pop-up” inside the Gap in Times Square, the space dedicated to Mr West’s much-hyped partnership with America’s most recognisable mall brand is nothing like what you might expect. Outside, at the corner of Broadway and West 44th Street, the blue façade and its lighter blue box-logo are all unmistakably the Gap. On the roof, above the large three-letter name are two billboards—one of a dove in flight, the other, a still, dark spectre—that stand ominously. Inside, it is just as sinister: In a narrow space the width of a hospital corridor, it is all black and dimly lit (low-light ambience even Abercrombie and Fitch has abandoned), like an entryway to a secret lair. Only this is not an unremarkable passage. This is where the hottest and most anticipated collaboration is sold, shockingly in those typically one-ton (here, they seem more capacious) receptacle of polypropylene for packing and moving goods, all two dozens of them. This could be easily a receiving bay, if not a dump site.

After two years of considerable hype, inconsistent drops, and online-only availability, the Yeezy Gap, presently “Engineered by Balenciaga”, retail space opened last Thursday to long queues. To avoid the possible crush, we visited the store on a Monday afternoon. It was not busy. But it was not the lack of a crowd that hit us immediately, like a slap (such as this one); it was the strange grimness. This is the highlight of summer shopping? This is the Gap? There is more cheer in a Yohji Yamamoto store. We knew there would be a predominance of black, but this drabness and gloominess? And what’s worse, those waist-high, black sacks on the floor! Walk into the store and they are on the right, placed in two rows, like oil drums, in the middle of the passage. It’s like visiting a wholesale market for secondhand clothes. You walk around the bags and look inside them to find what you want. And you have to rummage to find your size. This is worse than excavating a sales wagon at the OG Orchard closing down clearance.

Two rows of bulk bags in which you are encouraged to dig into

We were not the only ones shocked by the refuse point. One Black guy was heard saying to his buddy, who looked like he stepped out of the rooftop billboard: “Are they kidding? Trash bags?” Our photographer, who visited the store earlier said, “it was very unnerving for me to see the black bags in the black surroundings. Can you imagine what it would be like for the tourists?” The containers already looked a mess when we approached, even when there were six staffers folding the clothes and arranging, and returning them to the rightful vessel, tagged with images of the garment that reside in it and the price, after customers have finished with one and moved to the next. There was an unmistakable lack of allure, but since we were there, we thought we should just join the unconventional way of shopping for clothes and just dig, like everyone else. But, we kept thinking of meigancai (梅干菜, dried pickled Chinese mustard) in Albert Centre Wholesale Market. There is something menial about going through the clothes in this manner, too. No pleasure.

We looked at a mock turtleneck T-shirt with a surprisingly tiny white Gap logotype right in the centre, about 5 cm below the neckline. For some reason, the tees are made of very thick cotton jersey (and it was 28°C outside). A pile of, say, five of them is heavy to lift. A woman, frustrated by the hard work she had to do, muttered, “why is everything so fucking heavy?”. To see what what we were digging, we had to bend over the bags’ massive opening. After three minutes, it was too much. One of us decided to try a T-shirt, for the heck of it. At US$140 a piece (or more for other styles), they were rather hard to swallow. We picked the simplest: the mock turtleneck. The fabric was disturbingly thick. No one around us, we noticed, wore anything that heavy, except the staff. When we pulled the top down over our head, it was stuck; when we yanked harder, we thought we popped the stitching on the neckline! Why was it this tight?

Each bag is tagged with illustrations of the style of the garment as well as a number—the price

When we managed to remove the T-shirt, we noted that the neck was ribbed, but why was there the poor “stretch and recovery”, to borrow from production speak? The problem, it appeared to us, was technical: Somehow, Mr West and his team decided on this heavy fabric, and the rib on the neck had no Spandex in it. With possibly mis-calibrated knitting tension, the rib is limp and won’t stretch sufficiently. When we brought this up with a former Gap merchandiser, he was surprised that that could happen. “Is this the Gap we’re talking about here? They do the neck stretch test there (they invented it!), even for children’s clothes!” As for the heavy jersey, one designer told us that this has been the fabric choice—the dry-touch compact jersey that is rather ’70s—for many brands wanting to appear “luxe”, but “luxe,” he added, “does not need to be heavy.”

We did not want to look into the other bags—they were all equally uninviting. There is so much you’d wish to do if the Gap made you feel like you’re at a quartermaster’s retrieving uniforms. It is possible that Mr West wanted to create uniforms for his tribe of eager followers and, in due course, improve the sagging fortunes of the Gap. But these clothes are not the one-time uniforms of teens craving the Gap’s ubiquitous jeans and graphic tees. A far cry from what the Times Square website describes on it pages: “clean, classic and comfortable clothing”. When we first saw the pieces on the Yeezy Gap website, it is clear the line is aesthetically apart from the 52-year-old American brand to which it owes half its name. The Gap has lost its mojo for so long that even fans do not remember when they last brought anything from them (all Gap stores here closed in 2018). The brand needed a life buoy and it was tossed one. Kanye West could, apparently, be to the Gap what Alessandro Michele is to Gucci. So he got the job.

Quite a sea of clothes dumped in those bulk bags

But in the first 18 months of the collab, just two products—one puffer and one hoodie—were made available and only online. Compounding that, the e-retail model was troubled by missed datelines, low stocks, and late deliveries. Mr West seemed to need a life buoy too. So pal Demna Gvasalia came to the rescue and became co-conspirator, an unsurprising turn as the two desire to dominate the fashion world with their oversized, body/face-obscuring clothes. Additionally, Mr West announced on social media not too long ago that he had already spent US$4 million at Balenciaga so far this year (how much more before this is unknown. The former wife’s and daughter’s bill were not tallied either). Why not allow Balenciaga to make more by getting them to “engineer” Yeezy Gap? Speaking to The New York Times recently, Mr Gvasalia revealed that he wanted “to create a solid foundation for Ye’s aesthetic on which they can now build”. The paper also reported that Mr Gvasalia was “engineering the prototypes in the Balenciaga studios in Paris and Zurich”. Most of us already knew the clothes were based on Balenciaga blocks.

Kanye West might have been too busy to see Yeezy Gap through. After the partnership was announced, he ran for the US presidency, saved his marriage (tried to), insulted his ex’s boyfriend, and put out the album Donda, whose overall visual was co-conceived with Demna Gvasalia. Was he too busy to handle Yeezy Gap on his own unaided? Or was he, as the rumours flew, really unschooled in fashion design for a mass brand? According to the photographer Nick Knight, who also spoke to NYT, “if he wants to spend a year looking into the colour blue, we’ll spend a year looking into the colour blue, which is extremely inspiring when so often schedules take priority over creativity. He doesn’t see himself in any way constrained by deadlines or seasons. I don’t think he would even use the word ‘collection’ for what he is doing.” Mr West, in other words, marches to his very own Roland drum beat.

Digital screens to welcome you: The Yeezy Gap metaverse that apparently is taken from a related computer game

Moving to the back of the dedicated space for Yeezy Gap Engineered by Balenciaga, we saw that provision was made for the line that was expected to form at the cashier’s counter, which was just as black as the rest of the store. The rear wall, where a video screen was installed, was dark this afternoon (another two screens to the left of the entrance were aglow with some sky-like background, in front of which two avatars were dancing/spinning in mid-air). We stood comfortably in the quieter rear and sized up the near-monochromatic tableau before us. The shoppers were mostly male, dressed unmistakably in what Mr West desires them to: oversized tops and bottoms. Many gravitated to the T-shirts, with which they could probably at last enter the expensive world of Balenciaga, whose very temple of cool is about 1.5 kilometres away on Madison Avenue. This was far more accessible, and the clothes could be binned when desire, for some reason, was not aroused.

As we were leaving the store, more people dashed in excitedly, like they were approaching some concert merchandise. Would they leave as disappointed as we did? Stepping out into the afternoon warmth, we thought of that thick jersey T-shirt again. For the higher-than-the-Gap prices that Yeezy Gap charges, what incredible experience did the store offer or was it just the letdown that was indelible? It was hard to imagine that this would be how the Gap intends to move forward or ensnare the unconverted. One Singaporean working in New York later told us that he was “completely turned off by the experience” and that he could see a “stark disconnect with mainstream Gap”. When we asked him if it could be just some high concept that escaped him, he replied, with palpable disdain, “high concept, my pantat!”

Yeezy Gap is at the Gap, 1514 Broadway, New York City. Photos: HL See for SOTD