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 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

But Not Today

Design Orchard is “re-launched” after it closed last month for renovation. Is the store “elevated”, as they promised. Is it rejuvenated? Is it, finally, sensational, almost two years after TaFF took over its operations?

The day after its re-opening on 20 May, Design Orchard was considerably quiet. Two or three courting couples were browsing, but no purchase was made, as it appeared to us during our reasonably long visit. Two Caucasian women were happily looking at what could be resort wear. One had wanted to try something, but it seemed the dress she picked was not available in her size. They, too, left—without buying anything. A day earlier, the Textile and Fashion Federation (TaFF)-operated Design Orchard opened to brand owners and friends of the store after a month of “transforming to a fresh new look”. It was a roaringly festive affair, with lion dancers in red and white 狮子 (shizi) costumes prancing their way through the re-configured space—most obvious, the runway display that directly faced the entrance was now removed. It was rather surprising that, for a retailer that had proudly touted its offering of top local fashion, the re-opening welcomes shoppers with a Wellness Festival, which, according to them, was staged in conjunction with the inaugural Wellness Festival Singapore, “an initiative by Singapore Tourism Board (STB)”, the statutory board that “owns” the Design Orchard project, which is jointly supported by two other government agencies, Enterprise Singapore (ESG) and Jurong Town Corporation (JTC).

Two and half weeks after that rousing re-opening, a by-invite-only “official relaunch” party was organised last night to introduce Design Orchard’s stable of brands, some new, some not, as well as “a lot of enhancements” given to the three-year-old, 9,000-square-foot store (touted as a “retail showcase”), according to TaFF CEO Semun Ho. Contrary to what the invitation tantalised, a runway-less fashion show—forty minutes late—took place on the central aisle of the made-over space. About thirty designers and labels participated in the presentation, all with varying degrees of calibre, originality, relevance, attention to finish, and design savvy. The show may have been in a refreshed space, but the clothes seemed the “same-old, same-old”, as a few attendees shared, disappointed by the staleness. One industry veteran said to us, “The renovation, at most, was superficial. More important—which wasn’t done enough—was that they should have used this opportunity to completely overhaul their labels”.

Designer Carol Chen (right) with two models in her “couture” gowns

The “highlight” of the show, someone was heard saying, was TaFF’s star designer Carol Chen, with her newly established “Couture” label. She sent out two of the ten looks that were presented in Paris three months ago, during—but not part of—Paris Fashion Week. The first was a green, long-sleeved, belted, polyester-mesh column. On the bodice was an embroidered encrustation that appeared to have been something molten, flowed from the right shoulder to cover the breasts, and then solidified. That was followed by her finale gown (also the last to appear in Paris), an atrocity of pleated polyester organza, bunched at the shoulder to create a towering protrusion on each side, with the left that refused to stay upright. The tented skirt was an amusing disarray of swirls that one attendee described as “an explosion”. Someone followed with, “Where did she get her fabrics from? Arab Street?” Before the show commenced, chatter emerged between the clinks of champagne flutes that, initially, only one of Ms Chen’s gown was picked for the show. Dismayed, she allegedly went straight to the top to know why a mere gown was selected and why she was not closing the show (the organiser had, apparently wanted her to open). She had her way.

It has been said that we were harsh on Carol Chen Couture’s Paris debut. It was the label’s first time showing in the city, we were duly reminded. A baby first step. Re-reading the post now, we realised we should have said more. We wanted Ms Chen’s show in the French capital to be good, to do our nation proud, to justify her lofty standing in TaFF. But, at the same time, we did not want to lie. When we listen to a vocal performance, for example, we want to be drawn into the singing, without being too concerned with the technical failings (there shouldn’t be any). Whether from fry to falsetto (assuming a he is behind the mike), the marvelous octave leaps, we want to be able to sail into the story telling. Similarly, when we read, say, Jane Austen (a name that just came to us), we want to be absorbed into her narrative. There is a discernible intelligence in her work that we, the readers, feel, and this can be attributed to, among many things, the unmistakable skill of her writing. Perusing her novels, we do not need to be disturbed and distracted by problems of syntax or construct. We cannot, regrettably, say the same of Ms Chen when we acquainted ourselves with her designs: the lack of technical finesse was as confounding as the crude white running stitch she used in one pink couture confection to hold part of a bodice to the inner garment. “An artist’s principal task,” wrote Truman Capote in A Voice from the Cloud, “(is to) tame and shape the raw creative vision.”

The in-store fashion show to mark the “re-launch” of Design Orchard

To be sure, Ms Chen, basking in her post-Paris pride (in the presence of her “mentor”, Vogue Singapore publisher Bettina von Schlippe and her ardent supporter, fellow American Paige Parker; both were dressed by Ms Chen), should not have to bear the brunt of essentially an inflated show to evince what Design Orchard lacks: Design. Carol Chen Couture was not the only label that set the conversation going about the paucity of imaginative, high-calibre, laudable, well-executed designs in this city-state. Much of what was presented in the show was saved by clever styling—it rescued the presentation from tanking into complete blah. As it’s usually said in the image-making business, “styling to hide”. What, indeed, was the styling concealing? If you broke down the looks, there was really nothing much to see—the proverbial all show but no substance. Even veteran designer Thomas Wee’s relaxed elegance was lost in the convivial busyness. No woman—or man—should need to go to such lengths to look fashionable because there was no fashion to begin with. Spirited can be meaningless, just as jovial can be mere façade. We have to admit that we expected too much, thinking, this time, we could see design, but if design manifested, it was thin and, mostly, unfelt.

And what was Design Orchard projecting? It was hard to tell from the show clothes. Was it streetwear? Resort wear? Or, sartorial rojak? What struck us was the odd plethora of ethnic styles. It seemed like we were watching a show that was part Night Bazaar of Chiangmai, part Love Anchor of Canggu, Bali. Two weeks earlier, we did notice in the store that there was an increase in clothes made of folk fabrics, such as batik, ikat, and the tie-dyed. These were in addition to the already-plentiful resort-wear-seeming clothes (including one “luxury resort fashion brand”) that have taken a firm grip in the merchandising of the store. When we asked around with the hope of finding the answer to why the prominence of these clothes, a repeated reply was, “ask Tina”. When TaFF took over the running of Design Orchard from the ill-fated Naiise in 2020, one of the first hires was Tina Tan, the fashion doyenne behind the Link Group, and the sole owner of the multi-label store Link Boutique, the fashion label Alldressedup (precursor to the independent In Good Company), and the home-furnishing/lifestyle shop Living the Link (all three are now defunct), as well as the ad-hoc, travelling showroom Privato. Ms Tan, as we understand it, is the consultant curator, and she has been instrumental in bringing the inchoate mass of brands into the store. According to staffers, there are presently “more than 100 fashion labels, with 30 that are new to Design Orchard”. As TaFF’s Semun Ho concurred, when she spoke to the guests last night: “What can we do without Tina?”

Design Thomas Wee (third from left) with his models

It is not clear if Ms Tan’s strategy is to turn her retail charge into the next Island Shop (once owned by Tangs before it was sold to Decks, the retailer/manufacturer that resurrected M)phosis—one of the eight brands the company now holds), or to bring in as many labels as she could to improve the reportedly weak gross profit of the selling floor. These days in retail, there is scant regard for the relationship between quantity and quality. Earlier, during Naiise’s stewardship and the TaFF years preceding the renovation, Design Orchard had a strong gift-shop vibe. Even their fashion accessories, such as scarves and handbags, would strike a chord with tourists needing obligatory souvenirs to bring home. For a rather lengthy period of time, they sold a staggering range of merchandise that included kitchenware, rempah pastes, teas and such that were connected to fashion only by their proximity to the clothes in the store. They were looking rather like the annual Boutique Fairs (only with better looking interiors and fixtures), with some items so cringe-worthy that we feared someone might start a page Terok SG Souvenirs on Facebook! After the renovation, Design Orchard seems to have scaled down the number of brands that target the mari-memasak market or those individuals decorating to WFH. Yet, for some reason we have not determined, the store is still unable to entirely shake off its souvenir-centric leaning.

In a VisitSingapore video shared online last February, Design Orchard’s general manager Julynn Tay said that the store was conceived to “allow both locals and tourists to come to discover a range of Singaporean talents”. That positioning has not changed, but the target still seems to be tourists. Clearly addressing the shopping needs of foreigners vacationing here is important to the merchandise mix of the store. It is hard not to see this as meeting the expectations laid out for Ms Tay and her bosses by STB, just as it’s reasonable to assume that the tourism board wishes to have a tourist-friendly retail product they could promote overseas—as ESG did, for example, in Shanghai in 2018, with 12 Singaporean brands (that included Love, Bonito and Yacht 21), before the pandemic struck. But, a city must, foremost, be adored by its own people before it could be one loved by tourists. If Design Orchard could first appeal to shoppers here, it is conceivable they’d score even better with overseas visitors. So few of us have adopted batik fashion as a wardrobe staple. Yet, the store stocks a strangely inordinate selection of baju batik. Does it not comport with the suspicion that Design Orchard is aiming for the tourist dollar and those still seeking the exotic far east? In her opening address last night, Ms Ho admitted that “it is difficult” working with government agencies. Is Design Orchard’s barely discernible makeover and unaffected merchandising hinting at a possible strain?

A new men’s corner is introduced at Design Orchard

Much of the refurbished interior of the store appeared unchanged to us. According to Ms Ho, the “redecoration” is meant to be “meaningful” to the brand owners and the customers. In achieving that, they have been “conscious of the sustainability” aspect, “reusing a lot of the fixtures and (the) furniture” If that’s sustainability, that’s naive. A guest was heard saying, “that means they have no budget to really renovate.” It appeared to us that it was largely an exercise in moving things around. To be certain that we were not mistaken, we asked a member of the staff to tell us what was changed. “The cashier is moved to the back,” she gladly told us. Pointing to the left side of the store (along Cairnhill Road), she added, “the fitting room is moved to the back of the cashier.” In addition, we noticed that there’s now a new men’s zone. Apparently, a common refrain among male shoppers was: “We like to support local, but there’s nothing for us here”. To be certain, Design Orchard did have men’s from the beginning (Depression and Q Menswear were early supporters), but their products did not, as we were informed, move. We have said before that the entire store is suitably configured for shopping. In the past, the mixed floor layout may have been a tad messy, but it is now neater and better zoned. Still, the merchandise placement seems rather curious. When you enter the store and turn to the right (as is the common navigational instinct), the first rack on the prime location that you’d encounter in this Orchard Road Singaporean fashion flagship were hung with plain tank tops!

In the end, it is not just the attractiveness of the store that would set Design Orchard forward in their quest to be “where local brands flourish” (note the avoidance of ‘design’ in the phrasing). For anything to thrive, it must advance in an environment conducive to collective and nurturing growth. As a “retail showcase”, Design Orchard has to offer showcase retail too. Even with a celebratory relaunch, there was a disconcerting lack of attention to detail in the visual merchandising, for example. From the opening in late May to yesterday’s bash, many garments have remained unpressed, including one shirt (the whole collection was messy) by Silvia Teh that has remained stubbornly creased from the day it first enjoyed an upfront position in the store. Design Orchard not only has to espouse quality of design, it has to cradle quality of vision—which is still not immediately clear. And, consistency of message. One of the suggestions offered in response to Carol Chen’s admirable standing among TaFFers was that she speaks with an (American) accent—one thought to be delectable, admirable, even superior. If so, the presence of a brand such as wetteeshirt (of the Prata Kosing and Don’t Say Bojio fame) would appear at odds with Ms Chen’s atas vibe. Or, is that considered, inclusive, and vice versa? TaFF has been indomitable, a trouper, but did they do better than their predecessor, Naiise? It did appear so. Were we then in commendable, first-rate design territory? Not quite the day yet.

Photos: Chin Boh Kay

Visited: Gucci X Adidas Pop-Up

The latest luxury brand and sportswear collab is strictly for die-hards

By Lester Fang

It’s groovy, but is it for me? Regardless, I wanted to see for myself what the Gucci X Adidas hype is about. There was a daunting queue when I arrived at Design Orchard, where the pop-up popped out in part of the complex’s top-storey incubator space that overlooks the rooftop park. Some 25 individuals were standing between a railing and the stanchions and ropes that were erected outside the recently renovated Design Orchard’s “retail showcase”, where pillars urge you to “Shop SG Brands”. In the 30 minutes that I had spent waiting, the few shoppers heading for Design Orchard wondered if they had to queue to get in, even when it was dead quiet inside. One Gucci X Adidas staffer of three in attendance had to direct them to “just enter”. One of them approached me and asked, “do you have a Gucci profile?” Do I need one to enter? “If you buy later, you can collect points,” she tried to convince me. It’s okay, I don’t need them.

A Filipino family of four was in front of me; the kids—two below-fives—were getting restless, monkeying from railing to rope. The parents were looking at the father’s phone to decide what they shall be buying. Behind me, a mainland Chinese teen seemed impatient. Suddenly he leapt over the rope and dashed to the counter that sat next to the staircase at the side of the building that would lead us shoppers upstairs. I could not hear what he said. He returned, and spoked to me directly. He told me in Mandarin that he had to rush off to a class, and wondered if I could buy something for him when I get to enter the shop. I was very surprised by his request and did not how to react. I asked him what he desired and he told me it was a pair of sneakers. He asked me to pay for it first, and he’ll transfer the money to me. Scam alert! Would he not want to try the kicks first? He said he already did, this morning! I told him I derive no pleasure in helping others, 助人不乐, (it’s the heat!). The guy ran away.

I was the only one to leave the line when it was my turn to ascend to heaven. The whole stairway there, where “the experience begins”, another staffer told me, was covered with the Gucci X Adidas logos; the walls too. As the rooftop garden came into view, it was clear why the brands-in-collaboration needed this place. The Gucci X Adidas pop-up store is not erected at either the atrium of ION Orchard, as was the 100th Anniversary capsule, nor the Paragon (Gucci has a store at both malls). Rather, it is sited at Design Orchard, about 1 kilometre away from their two-level flagship at Paragon. Up here, where you can see our beloved Orchard Road, Gucci has set up a veritable temple complex to their partnership with Adidas. There was a pavilion of sorts to my right, saturated with the two brands’ logos that were conflated for this exercise. On the terrace, where on a weekend night, courting couples come to moon-bathe, huge cushions were scattered around, as if in preparation of some mid-summer soiree.

To justify the dazzling dollars they’re charging you for the merchandise, there are, apart from the queue, the climb to the pop-up (work up an appetite?), the spacious store, and the attendant surroundings of retro excess, SAs to accompany you as you explore the well-appointed space. As it looked to me, no more than six shoppers were permitted inside, which was roughly the size of a HDB three-room flat. When I stepped in, it was, as expected, more Gucci than Adidas. But no one, I keep getting told, goes there to partake in the interior loveliness. They’re there for the clothes. But when I asked the SA assigned to me if there were sizes left, rather than enquiring which item I was interested in, she told me most were sold out. Earlier, in the line, I was already warned by the girl who wanted to know if I had a Gucci profile that “not many products would be replenished”.

I am not a star/celebrity/influencer, such as Yung Raja, who had first dib of the merchandise. I should be grateful for whatever crumbs I could find. This is the ultimate high-fashion-meets-streetwear collab, or so people have been trying to convince me, however ill-favored (flavoured?) the clothes appeared to me. After its debut at Milan Fashion Week not long ago, the capsule is so hyped that even the Yeezy Gap Engineered by Balenciaga release seemed lost in some shadow play of who among the Kering brands could put out a cooler collaboration. Perhaps I was coming in from the blistering heat, but what I saw was making me sweat. Everything I touched was oddly thick, and I am not referring to those oversized track tops. The helpful SA was trying to interest me in some of the items socially-distanced on the rack. She showed me a knit top (why was it so scratchy other than thick?) and then pointed to a short-sleeved button-down Oxford shirt (why was this a heat trap, too?). I did not want to deprive her of her sales commission, but there was nothing—zilch—I would like to buy. I told her that the Gucci X Adidas uniform she was wearing looked good. Would she get to keep it? “We don’t know yet”. Good luck.

Gucci X Adidas Pop-Up store is opened daily till 27 June at Design Orchard. Photo: Zhao Xiangji

Coming: & Other Stories

So it’s true: COS’s sister brand will be here. At the store’s neighbouring unit in ION Orchard by the year’s end

Fans of labels under the H&M Group that is not, well, H&M, would be thrilled. The one with the longest name, & Other Stories—sister brand to COS, and the yet-to-be-here Monki and Weekday—will indeed open on our island. The first store will, in fact, be COS’s immediate neighbour on level three of ION Orchard. So the rumours circulating since January is true. Back then, no one was able to say for certain where the store would be situated. Hoarding at the unit clearly confirms its arrival, and at that very space. Curious about its opening, we went next door to ask when & Other Stories would welcome shoppers. The first person we met answered with a “what?”, suggesting to us she knew not of the new neighbour she will “soon”—as the notice next door informed us—have.

A more helpful reply came via a second, cheerier sales associate. She eagerly told us that & Other Stories will “open at the end of the year”. Really? “Yes,” she said with certainty, “some time in Q4, but I do not know exactly when.” Does the renovation and fit out take that long? She added, unexpectedly: “Actually, we will be closed too. We will also undergo a renovation. This whole store.” We were, in fact, not really surprised. COS, opened in 2013, will want to look as spanking as the newest retail entrant, more so when the latter is kin. But will the simulateous renovation of two retail units affect the opening of the other?

Launched in March 2013 in Europe, & Other Stories is thought to be aesthetically skewed to appeal to the “cool girl”. Or, we suppose, those self-proclaimed fashion junkies on TikTok. But more noted (and appealing?) is the brand’s price point: a comfortable, hence tempting, somewhere between H&M and COS. Our first visit to & Other Stories was in Paris, at the Rue St Honoré establishment, just across from the charming little French accessories store Goossen. Our first impression, we recall, was that it reminded us of the American chain Athropologie. Atmospherically, it was not as severe as COS and it was not as low-brow/low-cost as H&M. Merchandise-wise, we thought it was more fun than the two. Housed in a hippy-ish space with an inner courtyard of artfully neglected greenery, & Other Stories is the kind of store you will uncover “finds”. It is not known if our first store here would be similarly positioned. We will find out. In December. Probably.

Watch this space for more information on the opening of & Other Stories. Photo: Chin Boh Kay

More Japanese Homeware To Come

Daiso has announced that they will be opening the Standard Products concept store here

Daiso’s Standard Products in Shibuya, Tokyo

Just as we predicted! Hot on the heels of the opening of Japan’s Nitori at The Heeren, compatriot retailer Daiso has shared that the company will be opening their barely-a-year-old concept store, Standard Products, here in Jurong Point, soon. First unveiled in Tokyo’s Shibuya last May, Standard Products is what Tokyoites has described as “Muji-like”, but priced to be “slightly” easier on the pocket. To be more accurate, the new Daiso store is dedicated primarily to homeware, rather than general goods that the parent chain store offers (or, Muji—a veritable department store!). If they keep to the Japanese shop’s aesthetic for Standard Product’s debut here, expect a one-step-up stylishness that might draw those who find Daiso itself too messy to navigate.

It would appear that Daiso is intending to make their presence on our island felt, intensely. They have already introduced their Threepy chain (not really discernibly different from Daiso itself) to add to the Daiso stores found in almost every corner of our city except the off-shore islands. And now, on a yet-to-be-disclosed date, Standard Products, which, like merchandise at Threepy, is not based on a single price: $2. In fact, Daiso would very soon not be associated with SG’s lowest denominator on our dollar notes. From 1 May, the retailer would be charging GST, which means, each item will soon cost S$2.14 (when the GST is 7%. Some say that the new selling price is such an inauspicious number!). It is not yet known if shoppers will, too, be charged the goods and services tax for purchases made at Threepy or, before long, at Standard Products. The extra, we’re certain, won’t deter the hordes that will no doubt turn up.

Watch this space for more information on the opening of Standard Products. File photo: Jiro Shiratori for SOTD

Hungry For Luxury

Chanel has refused to sell to Russians overseas, who intend to use their merchandise back on home soil. Despite the ban, there are Russians who are determined to buy their fave bags, failing which, they take to social media to denounce the perceived Russophobia

Is it true that Chanel is presently Russophobic, as charged by some Russians online, after they failed to secure their desired items, even when abroad? According to media reports, Chanel stores across the world have stopped selling to Russians who reside in their native land (the French brand has, like their counterparts, stopped operating in cities such as Moscow). Chanel has stated that they are merely acting in accordance with EU sanctions that forbid the export of luxury goods to Russia costing more than €300 (or about S$445), as well as the sale of these goods to shoppers who intend to use them there. Bloomberg quoted a Chanel spokesperson: “We have rolled out a process to ask clients for whom we do not know the main residency to confirm that the items they are purchasing will not be used in Russia.”

Unhappiness over the drastic Chanel move was expressed swiftly on social media. Russian influencers were the first to condemn the purchase ban, as if it they were prohibited from buying sugar. One of them, Liza Litvin, who was shopping in Dubai, was quoted in many news reports to have posted, “I went to a Chanel boutique in the Mall of the Emirates. They didn’t sell me the bag because (attention!) I am from Russia!!!” The outrage was expressed by wealthy Russian fans of Chanel not only in words. Some went even further. Marina Ermoshkina, actress/TV presenter/influencer, was reported to have cut up her Chanels in disgust, and posted a video of the destruction, saying “If owning Chanel means selling my Motherland, then I don’t need Chanel.” It is not known if Chanel has calculated the cost of incurring the wrath of Russian influencers.

Customer browsing at the Chanel store in Takashimaya Shopping Centre

The Russians who were able to score Chanel merchandise were reportedly told to put their signature to an agreement that they will not use—or wear—their new purchases in Russia. Ms Litvin confirmed this by sharing on social media that Chanel “has a new order that they only sell after I sign a piece of paper saying that I won’t wear this bag in Russia.” The company has admitted to the press that “a process” is in place to ensure that what they sell do not cross into Russia. Many Russians call this need for signed assurance before a transaction can be completed “humiliating” and a slap to the staggering amounts they had been spending in Chanel stores.

It is remarkable that Chanel remains so desirable that some Russian women are willing to face painful loss of pride to buy something from the house. Despite repeated price increases globally in the past two years and, now, this ban, these Chanel measures have not put a damper on Russian enthusiasm for Chanel, or the die-die-must-have stance that many women here would relate to. This surprised many observers: “Chanel is not that exclusive to be this desirable”. Wherever you go, from neighborhood shopping centres to Orchard Road malls, you’d see someone carrying (rather than wearing) something with the familiar double Cs, they noted.

Curious to know if the ban is extended to these parts (or SEA), we asked a member of the three-person staff manning the queue outside the newly refurbished Chanel store in Takashimaya Shopping Centre. She said she wasn’t aware and would have to ask her manager. Before she disappeared inside, we wanted to know as well if a Singaporean buying for another Singaporean residing in Russia is allowed. In less than a minute, she was back. Cheerily she said, “All are welcome.” We expressed surprise. And she repeated, “All are welcome. Everyone can buy.” Two women, who had just scanned the QR code on a tablet held by another staffer to receive a queue number, heard our query. One of them asked the other, “Got ban, meh?”

Illustrations: Just So

Change Of Mind

In a stunning reversal, Fast Retailing announced in Japan that they have temporarily halted the operations of Uniqlo in Russia

Uniqlo at ION Orchard

In less than five working days, Fast Retailing’s CEO Tadashi Yanai has reviewed his position on keeping Uniqlo stores open in Russia. According to a Nikkei report published online just minutes ago, Uniqlo’s parent company has announced today that they have suspended trading in Russia. Uniqlo stores—50 of them across the country, according to Nikkei—operated until yesterday (9 March 2022). Mr Yanai was quoted to have said through a company statement: “We have decided to suspend the business due to changes in the current situation surrounding the dispute and various difficulties in continuing business.” The quick turnabout surprised many who believe that the Fast Retailing boss would stick to his contrarian stand.

Mr Yanai had said days earlier that he would not close any Uniqlo store in Russia as he believed “clothing is a necessity of life” and that “the people of Russia have the same right to live as we do”. Ukraine’s ambassador to Japan Sergiy Korsunsky responded via Twitter immediately: “Uniqlo has decided that (the) basic need of #Russian(s) to have pants and T-shirts are more important than the basic needs of Ukranians to live.” Mr Yanai made no further mention of clothing as the necessity of life. On social media, many have vehemently condemned Mr Yanai’s comments and decision. Trending was the hashtag #BoycottUNIQLO. It is not known what other pressures he faced before coming to this action that is in line, although belatedly, with those of other brands such as Levi’s, Zara, H&M, and Mango.

File photo: Chin Boh Kay for SOTD

In Russia They’ll Stay

Uniqlo has no intention of halting their operation in the land with a leader that would not cease the war he started against Ukraine

Uniqlo in Harajuku. File photo: Jiro Shiratori for SOTD

Unlike many fashion brands, including H&M, Zara, and Levi’s, Uniqlo won’t budge. The company will keep their stores open in Russia, as the country’s president continues to order military attacks and airstrikes on Ukraine (including civilian targets). Nikkei reported that the Japanese retailer won’t be quitting Russia, even temporarily. There, they operate 49 stores (the first opened in 2010), believed to be the most among countries of the European continent (but small, compared to the 800 in China). With unrelenting international pressure to isolate Russia and the attendant restrictions to trade and finance, many fashion companies have opted to halt their operations, at least for the time being. The Japanese government’s reaction is largely in tandem with the US and Europe: sanctions have been imposed, including the freezing of assets of oligarchs and officials, and the halting of dealings with financial institutions, including Russia’s central bank.

Tadashi Yanai, CEO of Uniqlo’s parent company Fast Retailing, rather put his massive business on a different track, and sticking to his outlier reputation. Known to prefer staying politically neutral (even avoiding commenting on the company’s acquiring of cotton from China’s Xinjiang), he said, “clothing is a necessity of life. The people of Russia have the same right to live as we do.” And the people of Ukraine, many are now asking? Do they not have the right to live peacefully as we do? He did not say. Or, is Uniqlo succumbing to fashion’s preference for the default stance on not having a take-a-side view, even if politics is inherently divisive?

Mr Yanai, dubbed the “man who clothes Asia”, added that he is against the war in Ukraine and exhorted countries to oppose it (Fast Retailing announced that a donation of USD10 million and 200,000 items of clothing would be given to the UN refugee agency). Yet, his urging and staying put in Russia are disparate. Last year, Nikkei announced that Uniqlo “outstrips Zara as most valuable clothier at USD103 billion”. It is possible that Fast Retailing needs to remain in Russia to keep that position, even if it means embracing reputational risks. The man could clothe Europe next! It is not, however, clear if there would be repercussions to Mr Yanai’s questionable decision, even when #boycottuniqlo is beginning to trend on social media. But Russia must be told to get out of Ukraine, and one of the best ways is to hit it where it could be severe: the supply of clothing deemed a necessity.

Updated: 8 March 2022, 9am

Wear A Tee, Take A Stand

Japanese e-tailer Zozotown has offered a special-edition ‘No War’ T-shirt “to support those who have been deprived of their peaceful life in Ukraine¨. Why are there no similar initiatives among our fashion businesses?

“The peace that everyone naturally wants is now lost,” read the promotion copy for the Zozotown special-edition ‘No War’ T-shirts. “The ordinary everyday life of people who, like us, should have been able to spend time with family and friends with a smile suddenly disappears one day.” As “humanitarian aid to Ukraine”, proceeds of the sale of the T-shirt will go to ADRA (Adventist Development and Relief Agency) Japan. In an official statement, ADRA International “calls for peace for the people of Ukraine and mobilizes relief for millions of people impacted by the war.”

While not exactly a creation in the vein of Supreme tees, these simple, 100% cotton, crew-neck, white tops have already hit the number one spot on Zozotown’s merchandise ranking just a day after its launch on 1 March. Available in two unisex styles for young and old, they sport motifs in yellow and blue, the colours of the Ukrainian flag. For kids, a garland in the form of the peace symbol and, for the adults, two flowers on the left side of the chest, with a short text below that reads, “NO WAR IN UKRAINE”. The item is described as ‘Ukrainian Humanitarian Charity T-shirt’, and is available by pre-ordering only (unfortunately not outside Japan). In its promotional material for the T-shirts, four hashtags of #nowar appear in three other languages too: Japanese, Ukrainian, and Russian. Zozotown is clear of their intent: “to support those who have been deprived of their peaceful life in Ukraine”.

Zozotown is clear of their intent: “to support those who have been deprived of their peaceful life in Ukraine”

A quick survey of some of the most popular local e-shops reveal no such initiative. At The Editor’s Market, the homepage asks visitors to “explore” their “Forever Hits”, described as the brand’s “most wanted silhouettes back and in better shape than ever”. Love, Bonito’s homepage skips any message altogether, going straight to their merchandise under a banner ‘Women’. Fayth is promoting ‘Back to Work’, or “sophisticated looks for the office”. Weekend Sundries is still in a festive mood, showing off ‘A Feast of Colours’, featuring “new limited edition prints for good cheer this holiday season”. We were discouraged and did not go looking further. Nowhere on each of these sites mentioned the occurrence of war. Or, offered a denouncement.

A marketing head said to us that for most fashion retailers, “staying neutral is probably the best”. Moreover, it takes too much effort to create new merchandise that is already past each brand’s production schedule. He added, “As a society, we are rather indifferent to such thing—attacks not happening near us. Few people would have heard of Ukraine!” At a Uniqlo store early this afternoon, two young women were looking at T-shirts featuring recognisable characters from Studio Ghibli. We asked them, “what attracts you to these?” One of them replied shyly, “they are cute, lor.” We asked again, “Would you wear a T-shirt that says ‘No War’?” Their puzzlement is unmistakable: “What war?” Zozotown, Japan’s largest fashion e-commerce site, is straightforward when they said, “We oppose the war.” So do we.

Product photos: Zozotown. Typography: Zozotown. Collage: Just So

The French Connection, A Story Of Hope

From Paris, Sharon Au lets us in on a little known fact: she’s an aspiring fashion designer

‘Red Carpet’ dress worn by Sharon Au (left) and seen in the Akinn look book. Photos: sharonau13/instagram and Akinn/Wee Khim Studio respectively

Who would have guessed that Sharon Au (欧菁仙), now based in Paris, would be the next Kelly to Akinn’s Song? Song Whykidd that is. Mr Song, some may remember, was part of the design duo Song and Kelly and their eponymous label that enjoyed considerable visibility and success in the ’90s, so much so that the Club 21 Group bought what was reported to be a “majority stake” in the label Song+Kelly (then textually identified, with the plus symbol) in 2000, and suffixed it with ‘21’. In no time, Song+Kelly21 was retailing through free-standing stores at Forum the Shopping Mall and Ngee Ann City, as well as their own corner in Isetan at Wisma Atria. Regionally, they were sold at Paragon Department Store in Bangkok, as well as Parkson in Kuala Lumpur. According to press reports, Song+Kelly21 was also sold in Selfridges and Harrods in London and Barney’s in New York. The brand parted ways with Club 21 in 2007, and with that, Song+Kelly21 folded.

Song Wykidd has looked Westwards in affirming his design sense: The ACS alum studied fashion and textile in the UK, at Kingston University (formerly Kingston Polytechnic), and he showed Song+Kelly briefly at New York Fashion Week and London Fashion Week in the late ’90s. And, now, for his three-year-old label Akinn, there is a Paris link—not the pret-a-porter, not a retail space, but a collaboration with résidente parisien Sharon Au, whom Mr Song referred to as “my perennial muse (a vintage expression, if there is one)”. An investment director with a private equity firm there, Ms Au has been in the City of Lights since 2018. Many of those we spoke to were not aware of Ms Au’s connection to fashion and were hard-pressed to remember her style—or if, indeed, she had one. “She designs?” was a repeated rejoinder. Although she was not quite the fashion plate that is Zoe Tay or Fann Wong, Ms Au did start and edit the Mediacorp e-magazine StyleXStyle in 2012 and was made the publisher of Elle Sg in 2017 to assist in the transitioning of the publication to an online title. She was also known to support young talents, not only by featuring them in her magazine, but also by encouraging them at their school, such as Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, attending their graduation shows.

Sharon Au prancing the streets of Paris in an Akinn X Sharon Au ‘A Fresh Start’ dress. Photo: sharonau13/Instagram

In her latest post on her healthily-followed Instagram (134K), liked by fellow Singaporean-in-Paris, designer Andrew Gn, the still-tethered-to-Mediacorp personality shared an ill-lit photo of her with the Tour Eiffel behind her, in an Akinn X Sharon Au dress called ‘Red Carpet’, presumably named after something she or her former MediaCorp colleagues might wear to the Star Awards (红星大奖). An ankle-length, loose-fit sleeveless dress, with an inverted pleat placed in the middle of the scoop neckline, the ‘Red Carpet’ is of a silhouette, we should say, that’s familiar: body-skimming, but still roomy enough to accommodate assorted bodily girths without risking the misfortune of looking like a downright sack. Ms Au wrote in the comments of that post—somewhat gleefully, “…you can eat as much bak kwas as you want wearing this. No matter what body shape you are, you can rock the Red Carpet”.

Akinn, even without the Sharon Au touch, has found the saleable shape that would be appealing—a circumscription adopted by many local brands now enjoying a retail renaissance, from The Closet Lover to The Editor’s Market. Dresses must have the preferred looseness of a housecoat, the happy vibe of a sundress, and the conservative length of a caftan. If its predecessor brand Song+Kelly21 captured the aesthetical zeitgeist of its time, Akinn reflects what sells today. While the brand is better made than many of its contemporaries, it does not quite enjoy the dashes that made Song+Kelly21 the standout that it was in the pre-Design Orchard days of SG fashion. One makeup artist recalled, “I bought a lot of their stuff in the early 2000s. What I remember most are the details worked into the clothes. Even a simple shell top has unexpected seam placement and asymmetric inserts. You sense the pieces had design thinking behind them”.

The Akinn X Sharon Au label, featuring her cat Rudon. Photo: sharonau13/instagram

Akinn X Sharon Au, launched last week, is a small, six-style, dresses-only capsule called ‘A Story of Hope’, one among half a dozen descriptions that aligns with Ms Au’s often upbeat, yet contrived, optimism. Ms Au, who is now home, reveals on IG that she named all the six dresses herself, such as the mint-green shirt-dress she wore shopping at the fleuriste Stephane Bellot, called optimistically ‘A Fresh Start’, because, as she wrote, “I have been given many chances in life to start over and I know how important second and repeated chances are” and “I believe a dress truly comes alive only when you wear it and own your style”. Netizens have, before this collab, frequently commentated on how regrettably trite her posts can be. For Akinn X Sharon Au, there is no discernible attempt to correct that perception: a slick two-tone ‘convertible dress’ bears the unfortunate moniker ‘Mademoiselle-in-Love’ and a lovely ‘ruffled neck blouson dress’ is, regrettably, ‘Spring in Paris’.

Apart from the naming of the dresses, it is not clear how involved Ms Au was in the design exercise of the capsule or if she was, in fact, present when it was put together. This is not the first time Mr Song has collaborated with local stars. Last October, there was a pairing with the singer-songwriter Inch Chua. In a livestream on IG, Mr Song said that the Akinn X Inch capsule had “gone through the fingers of Inch Chua”. Although that does not say a lot, it could indicate that the same might have benefitted Akinn’s team-up with Ms Au. The designer told CNA in 2019 that Akinn’s “vision is to build a collaborative design platform that goes beyond fashion”. And, that platform “could take the form of Akinn working with or being inspired by a celebrated personality with a distinct style, or with a designer or artist (he) admire(s), creating products at the same level of sophistication that customers expect”. Designing not expected? Despite Sharon Au’s admirable attempt at imbuing the collab—at least in the photographs of her in the dresses bearing her name—with a Parisian vigueur, the clothes emanate an SG post-blogshop vibe, even with a “level of sophistication”, with neither the Gallic ease of, say, Sandro or the edginess of The Kooples.

Akinn X Sharon Au communication image. Photo: akinndesign/instagram

Song Wykidd met British graphic designer Ann Kelly in the UK and a partnership was established in 1993. Mr Song came home, bringing along Ms Kelly, and both started Song+Kelly in 1995, a fairly late debut, considering that his schoolmate in ACS, Peter Teo, who also studied in England, launched the now defunct Project Shop, first a T-shirt label, in 1990 (followed by Project Shop Bloodbros, which eventually morphed into the popular PS Café). Song+Kelly enjoyed a good start as Mr Song were friends with many in the fashion scene here, such as the photographer Wee Khim, who shoots Mr Song’s designs till this day. When Club 21 bought into Song+Kelly, they paved the way for another multi-label store to have their own Singaporean label: The Link’s Alldressedup, launched in 2005 and closed in 2013. The designers Sven Tan and Kane Tan left a year earlier to start In Good Company, which some observers initially thought was reminiscent of Song+Kelly21, with their take on the “new minimalism” that emerged from the final Helmut Lang years. Mr Song did not stay away from fashion. After leaving Club 21, he started WK Design, offering bespoke clothing, on top of ready-to-wear and other fashion-related services. In 2014, he joined the Hong Kong premium womenswear label Anagram as their senior design/development manager. Before Akinn was born, he was head of the design faculty at MDIS.

The journey to the birth of Akinn was, reportedly, not an easy-sailing one. At Boutique Fairs in 2019, where the brand had a space (at the F1 Pit Building, the venue of the event that year), Song Wykidd was heard telling a visitor that it had been “hard” to “sell fashion to local shoppers”, but as “fashion was still in (his) blood, will still try”. At that time, less than 500 metres away, veteran designer Esther Tay, too launched her comeback eponymous label. Interestingly, another designer from the past was also a participant at the event: Thomas Wee, in another return of sort. When asked if these old-timers’ output would impact his new label, or emanate competitive heat, Mr Song said diplomatically, “we’re all doing different things”. To that, perhaps, he had (and still has) a trump card the other two did not: appreciating the value of collaborative partnerships and staying more visible as a result of them. It is not known publicly how long the designer knows his muse, but Ms Au’s endorsement of Akinn may augment the positioning of the fledgling brand and the credentials of Mr Song. As she wrote on IG, “I know how important second and repeated chances are”.

Akinn X Sharon Au capaule is available at Design Orchard and akinn.com