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

Up, Up, And Away

Chanel is increasing the prices of their handbags. Again. They know they can, and the very many who continue to buy are encouraging, rather than deterring the hike

For many women, the dearer Chanel bags are, the more desirable owning one is. It has to be, or it’s hard to explain the bags’ puzzlingly massive appeal. The price increases are not attributed to inflationary pressures, but are, according to a spokesperson, cited by Bloomberg recently, “in response to unspecified exchange-rate fluctuations, changes in production costs and to ensure its handbags cost roughly the same around the world”. This is not the first time, nor the second, in the past two years that Chanel has upped its prices for their bags. As stated in the Bloomberg piece, prices for the classic styles have been raised by “almost two-thirds since the end of 2019”. That, to us, is staggering. But our—and kindred folks’—reaction to the price hike matters not to Chanel who seems to only want to target those for whom prices matter not. Their latest price increase is a staggering fourth in these past two years. That averages a rise of twice a year.

One marcom executive told us, “This is so ridiculous. Pricing a Chanel bag closer to an Hermès does not make it an Hermès!” But for many women, especially the young, a Chanel bag is the most covetable, and, as a gift, is considered a measurement of the depth of the love shown by the romantic partner. One twentysomething we know, reacting to the news of Chanel jacking up the prices of their bags, said to us, “It’ll not change anything for me. I will still buy. And I want no other bag. And I don’t expect my boyfriend to buy anything but Chanel for me.” Conversely, a “former lover” texted us to say, “25 years or so ago, a Classic (one standard size) with lambskin and lined in burgundy leather sold for S$3,500. That was princely. But now!!!🙀” Many observers consider Chanel’s pricing move a way to keep their bags exclusive. Even after so many are appearing in the secondhand, not to mention bootleg, market? Or, has price, more than the bag itself, become the real confidence booster?

Chanel does not make better leather bags than, say, Delvaux, the world’s oldest luxury leather goods maker. But somehow the very mention of Chanel sends eyes quite lit up. To us, Chanel bags can look frumpy, but even women dressed in Balenciaga-ish oversized togs would carry the recognisable bag, not because they are especially on-trend, but because the double-C lock (never seen in the original that Coco Chanel designed) is the ultimate status symbol. You almost never witness a woman carry her Chanel 2.55 or whatever Flap Bag there are (let’s not get into the taxonomy) with the outside facing inward, against her body—the logo totally blocked. That Chanel did not start (or have a long history) in leather goods, as Hermès primarily did, is no disincentive to the women (and men) so desirous of a Chanel bag. Coco Chanel created her first bag for practical need, rather than materialistic demand: so that, with the shoulder strap, women can keep their hands free while carrying one. These days, women want more than their hands free. And they don’t mind paying for whatever else is associated with carrying a Chanel bag. And the bag maker knows. Only too well.

Photo: Zhao Xiangji

Visited: The Editor’s Market Flagship

One of our oldest apparel stores opens their largest Orchard Road store in Takashimaya Shopping Centre. But, is big necessarily better?

Newly-opened The Editor’s Market at Takashimaya Shopping Centre

By Emma Ng

With the pandemic not quite over, many clothing brands have found themselves unable to survive and have, therefore, shuttered their business. Yet, the dismal retail climate does not deter some local brands from raising their visibility. Rather than downsizing, they are expanding, both in terms of selling space and merchandise breadth. One of them is eleven-year-old The Editor’s Market (TEM). Its flagship-to-replace-the-313@Somerset-flagship—opened just last Friday—is massive, larger than any of their physical stores that I can remember, including, what to me was their best—at Orchard Central (OC). This time, like at OC, the store is stocked to offer more than apparel, even when there’s a dizzying dominance of clothes that I’m sure I have already seen elsewhere. There are household items too, as well as a plant counter by Soilboy, a set-up that’s part of the lofty, “Flagship Opening Festival”, one of no specific duration. There’s even a small café, with a not-related-to-caffeine-or-java moniker, Found. I overheard a shopper saying delightfully in Mandarin to her companion, “this is great. My boyfriend can wait for me while I shop. Can’t complain I’d take too long.”

At the new 8,000 sq ft TEM, which occupies the old Zara women’s store, I can understand why she won’t be done shopping quickly. Entering the inelaborate space, I could see what my not-20/20 vision allowed. It was really a sea of clothes, as far back as the barely visible rear wall. Although I noticed that there were relatively wide aisles between racks, the frightful abundance of clothes immediately brought to my mind aesthetically similar brands such as Iora at Wisma Atria next door, or Playdress at Suntec City. I struggled to see how this vast amount of merchandise would budge in bulk. It was hard to imagine any shopper needing this much choice. Even after giving myself some time to absorb what was before me, I could not pick out anything that spoke to me in the overwhelming much of muchness. It’s mass appeal sacrificing appeal for mass. The Editor’s Market in my memory was not like that. Or did I remember it incorrectly?

The simple decor of the interior

Almost no styling attempted on the dressing of the mannequin

Before they were The Editor’s Market, they were Hula & Co (both at one time brands under the parent company Hula Outfitters), a business that went as far back as 2002, three years before Love, Bonito was founded as a blogshop (then known as Bonito Chicco). At the very beginning, Hula & Co—which had nothing to do with the hoop or the dance—was a pushcart enterprise at Far East Plaza, a mall built even earlier, in 1983. I have faint memory of their stall of that time. While small, they did not begin as an e-retailer, as others did. It was completely a physical existence, started by three partners, with Vivian Low as the main spokesperson (the other two are mainly quiet). However, Hula & Co did not sell via a stall for too long. Sales were good enough that they eventually cast aside the pushcart and moved into a shop space in the same mall, on level three, if my memory serves me. Later, other stores opened—I do recall at least one: at Citilink, a humble affair with merchandise that barely left an impression on me. They appeared to sell similar products as the other clothing stores that dotted the shopping conduit, connecting City Hall MRT station to Suntec City. Hula & Co stopped spinning in 2009. The next year, The Editor’s Market opened at Cineleisure Orchard.

TEM was a breakaway from Hula & Co. For one, it looked better. Its first store was spacious, predominantly white, and interestingly zoned to encourage browsing. And when you bought something, the purchase would be bagged in a paper carrier with the eye-catching, straight-alternating-with-zig-zag lines. They were, I remember, a multi-label store during those early years. Unknown names were sold alongside recognisable ones such as House of Harlow (founded by Nicole Ritchie!), and the now-closed Cheap Monday. TEM even described themselves as “the ultimate hipster and fashion destination”. Additional appeal of the place came in the form of their pricing: three-tiered. The more you bought, the cheaper the items became (that pricing model was terminated last year in favour of the fixed price). Then they opened their most interesting store in Orchard Central, known as The Editor’s Market Avenue. More international labels were housed here under a concept “extension” known as Preview, where, among others, the tasteful French label Surface to Air and the gaudy American shoe brand Jeffrey Campbell were found. There was even a men’s collection. But in 2015, a fire broke out, and the multi-label store became one with namely an in-house brand.

In the middle of the store, a sort-of-pushcart, to remind the founders of their Far East Plaza days?

The “Life” section of the store dedicated to homeware

Yet, their latest, which brings the total number of outlets on our island to four, is not entirely a mono-brand store. Sure, the clothing is largely eponymously labelled—apart from local activewear brand Kydra—but other products are more plural. There are footwear labels Veja, Superga, and Havaianas. And bags from Afterall (their own sub-brand) and Baggu, an American brand that I first spotted at the now defunct multi-label store Rockstar, The Editor’s Market’s competitor at Cineleisure Orchard. In fact, a two-way tote in horizontal stripes, like the Breton tee, reminded me of one I saw at Rockstar back in 2013. It was then priced S$38, but today, the same bag at TEM is retailing at S$55. Non-fashion items sold alongside the clothes include mugs and tumblers by the Japanese brand Rivers. To bring back their former hipster vibe, hipster magazines are placed randomly among the merchandise: Another, Cereal, and Dansk. I assume they are for sale. It’d be too pretentious if they serve as props.

Single-bar racks dominate the flagship, all at barely varying heights that presumably syncs with how tall their shoppers are. I was pleased to see that the racks were not too tightly packed on both weekends I was there, which meant that I didn’t have to rummage. But no matter which corner I explored, I was bound to see something—a blouse, a dress—that I thought I saw just moments ago. In similar fabrics whose hand feel did not meet long-wearing comfort grade. What was especially disconcerting was that none of the clothes appeared to me to have been pressed. Not even those in linen. When I looked back at the service counter in the rear, I did not see a steamer. It is possible that, in rushing to open, they allowed the clothes to go directly from box to rack. If TEM offers predominantly “everyday wear” or what Her World would call “basic dresses you can wear on repeat”, I guess the clothes had to look the part. Aesthetically, TEM did not seem to have moved forward from the formative Hula & Co years.

In more than 10 years, the silhouette adopted at The Editor’s Market has not changed. Left: a Hula & Co spaghetti-strapped dress from 2011, Right: a similar dress from the current season of The Editor’s Market. Photos: the respective brands

Perhaps fashion does not change after all. Left: Hula & Co top and ultra-faded, high-waisted skinny jeans from 2011. Right: The Editor’ Market top and ultra-faded, high-waisted skinny jeans from the current season, a neat decade later. Photos: respective brands

To be fair, the brand does not pretend to be a clothier of elevated positioning. They sell what some members of the media describe as “democratic pieces”. Democracy is timeless, even aesthetic democracy. What was democratic yesterday would be democratic tomorrow. Could this explain why the silhouettes vary almost not at all, from the time of Hula & Co to now? As the brand’s business development director Spencer Wong (also Ms Low’s husband) told Inside Retail, “we do not zealously follow fashion trends”. He added that they “focus on creating clothing that is timeless and can be worn season after season”. Without ironing. And, timelessness, like democracy, can resist the restriction to a particular moment. Yesterday is no different from today. This is, perhaps, best exemplified in the how-to-style videos that co-founder Ms Low posted on Facebook. She wore what are popularly known as “romantic maxi-dresses”, and they could have been from Hula & Co from many years ago. Who, I wonder, has not progressed: the customer or the brand?

The lack of newness in the merchandise and, regrettably, compelling visual merchandising may work in TEM’s favour. Over the past weekend, most of the women I saw at the store seemed ready for more of the same. They paid no heed to any of the already minimal displays or what was worn on the mannequins. They zeroed in on the clothes hung on the racks, picked the pieces they liked—as many as they could carry, and headed for the fitting room, sometimes leaving behind racks not in their original state, while bored boyfriends, unable to secure a seat at Found, looked desperate to leave. I felt sorry for the staff as many were busy neatening the racks and returning clothes to their proper places, rather than standing by to assist the shoppers. There was a pasar spirit to the place, which may be considered a plus since it would be consistent with the store’s moniker. I was hoping to leave with a purchase, but the hope was, at the start, somewhat futile and destined to be dashed. Two teens next to me were truly excited to be in the sea of clothes. I asked them if they are fans of the brands. “Yah, for very long already,” one of them replied. Because? “Because they are cheap and good.” With that, they giggled and disappeared.

Photos: Chin Boh Kay

Visited: Leftfoot

Our island’s earliest indie sneaker store Leftfoot has always been a trail blazer in terms of product offering and shopper experience. Their new store at Mandarin Gallery sees the retailer in fine facile form

By Ray Zhang

Fond memories accompany me whenever I visit the Leftfoot store. I still remember their first in Far East Plaza in the mid-2000 (yes, Far East Plaza had a lot more going for it than their sad present (but Gen-Zers won’t remember). Leftfoot exposed me to the world of limited-edition kicks, as well as those in colours not offered in the regular releases available elsewhere here, before I visited Tokyo’s Atmos and Mita Sneakers for the first time. The Far East Plaza store closed, as were other cool stores such as the buzzy bag shop Trever, led by former Bodynits designer Gary Goh, and multi-label Ambush and Surrender (the first stockist of Supreme) set up by Earn Chen (also, later, Cherry Discotheque And Potato Head Folk), invariably dubbed “the poster boy” of the SG streetwear scene. In fact, if you go further back to, say 1982, there was even designer fashion—Thomas Wee’s first boutique! Yes, Far East Plaza was that happening even if, looking at it now, you would never have guessed.

Leftfoot was founded in 2003 by Anthony Ho and Kevin Lo, considered pioneers of the streetwear scene back then (Mr Ho started in the retail of vintage clothes). After their Far East Plaza venture closed around 2008, to the dismay of fans, they reopened Leftfoot in Cineleisure Orchard, then a youth-oriented shopping destination that seemed poised to take over from the old Heeren, but never quite did (now, in fact, it’s also, like Far East Plaza, a shadow of its former self). A larger store, intriguingly called Leftfoot Entrepôt, followed at The Cathay; it was a space put together with an edge not seen in sneaker retail then, designed as if for hanging out, with a wood-wall store front that practically obscured the going-ons inside. When both the Cineleisure Orchard and The Cathay stores closed in the middle of this year, some of us thought that what we considered an SG institution had come to an end, until they posted on Facebook that a “new location will be announced soon”. Sure, they continued to sell Via Facebook and Instagram (even offering free delivery for purchase above S$60) in the mean time, but, for me, seeing the kicks personally and being able to try them on makes a difference—massive difference. Moreover, I missed the indie vibe of their physical stores, which often made me feel like I was shopping overseas. Leftfoot is not Limited Edt.

That distinction is again made clear with the new Leftfoot store, opened on 16 July in the hard-to-defined (maybe that’s good) Mandarin Gallery. Since its reincarnation in Cineleisure Orchard, Leftfoot always has an edge about it. The store turns footwear retailing quite on its head, and in doing so, draws the attention of sneakerheads. (Sure, Limited Edt also sells, as its name suggest, some merch considered rare and available in limited numbers, but, to me, their stores have no personality and the friendliness level—even in not-quite-atas Queensway Shopping Centre—leaves little to be desired.) Leftfoot never has a window, at least not in the traditional sense of store windows. At Cineleisure Orchard, I remember, the first shelving unit of a single row of them on the left of the compact space, was situated right at the store front. Shoppers were picking up their fave kicks and trying them on the corridor of the mall! Conversely, at The Cathay, there was only an entranceway and shelves of shoes to the right. At both stores, no particular brand was given upfront prominence. Leftfoot seemed to draw mostly those in the know and those who know their kicks.

Their new space is, in contrast, a lot more orderly than I remember them to be. Not that Leftfoot was chapalang (messy) to start with, but at the Mandarin Gallery shop, the striking use of shelving units akin to cabinets in a compactor storage and archival system is eye-catching, and allows shoppers to zero in on the kicks they want quickly. The pale office-grey, too, heightened the pleasing orderliness. Additionally, I thought I sensed a seriousness about what they are doing, as if they are now really curating what they sell—the one-side sneakers on those metal shelves like prototypes ready for mass and limited production. The store has nothing blocking its full-glass front, not even a name. On the left, what looked like vintage traffic barriers were the only display, while on the right, a table on a pair of similar-looking trestles stood. I was in the store on a Thursday afternoon and it was, to my surprise, busy. I already had in mind what I wanted, but no sales staff could, at first, be spotted. When she finally appeared, she quickly came to my assistance, found the sneakers in my size for me to try (I sat on one of three small wooden stools dotted in a row in the centre of the store), and then offered to hold it for me at the payment counter while I made up my mind, and continued browsing. And then I spotted a watchman near the entrance, his vigilant gaze deterring would-be shoplifters, but when I left, he said “thank you” with a nod, amicably.

The Leftfoot Family and Friends Pop-Up Store

The Left Foot pop-up store at Mandarin Gallery

Like the old Leftfoot in Cineleisure Orchard, the store at Mandarin Gallery is accompanied by a sibling sale outlet on the same floor (interestingly also on level two). The staff at the main shop happily referred me to the Leftfoot Family and Friends Pop-Up Store as it’s known, “just behind the escalator”. This sale shop contrasts dramatically and charmingly to Leftfoot itself. While one is all sleek and minimalist and bright, the other is groovy with bohemian vibe, made even more palpable with the discernible smell of incense, wafting in a romantically-lit shoe-box space. Once inside, I thought I was transported to a store lost somewhere in the winding lanes of Harajuku, Tokyo. Nothing about the modestly-appointed pop-up screamed sale. Shoes and bags and other items—even mugs—were mixed with no discernible order, but neatly, as if in a sample room. The bazaar energy intensified the store’s browsability. This space, as I understand, is also an event area of sort, having played host previously to Obey and The Lucky Shop (aka 福乐店 or fu le dian). I would have loved to linger, but it was getting a tad crowded, and the shoppers, probably excited, were speaking too loudly.

It seems that Leftfoot has found itself in the right ’hood. Their immediate neighbours are Carhartt WIP (across) and the multi-label store Manifesto (next door). While not exactly a streetwear haven, Mandarin Gallery—with ‘big’ names fronting the four-story mall—seems to be attracting retailers that offer a street-centric point of view, such as the Euro-cool Manifesto, the goth shop L’amoire, and the alt-bent menswear store Supplies & Company. Some observes think Mandarin Gallery should better define their positioning, but I think it makes a better shopping experience if the mall is less predictable, less like its neighbours, less opposed to unknown/unfamiliar names. And more willing to go with an adventurous retail mix, which now, for a discernible on-going and distant good, includes the 18-year-old Leftfoot.

Leftfoot Family and Friends Pop-up Store will open till the end of year. Photos: Galerie Gombak

Pedder On Scotts Walks The End Of The Road

Hong Kong’s premium shoe emporium will close for good at the end of this month. But their parent store in Takashimaya Shopping Centre remains

The tell-tale signs on the front side of Scotts Square were there, way back when Hermès closed in 2019, followed by Delvaux, the Belgian bag’s flagship store and then Alexander McQueen’s—this year. The mall, one of the smallest in Orchard Road, seems to be shedding its high-end image. A former marketing staff with Wheelock Properties once told us that they would be filling their spaces “with exclusive luxury brands not found elsewhere”. The Business Times once described it as “home of luxury”. But with the debut of the LA eatery Eggslut next week (official opening on the 9th) in the corner where Hermès (and Mosscape Concept after that) vacated, are we looking at a less “exclusive” image? A long queue was seen this morning when they opened for “family and friends”. Long is expected when Eggslut finally opens to the egg-loving public. Is F&B the direction Scotts Square is going, especially with crowd-pulling names? Could this be the reason why Pedder on Scotts is closing—they no longer fit?

Pedder on Scotts’s “It’s hard to say goodbye” closing down sale (“up to 80% off”, but not everything is marked down to clear) started sharing on social media this week (the store’s website and Instagram pages are no more). We are not surprised by the closure announcement. Since the start of the pandemic, the store, occupying the whole floor of the three-storey mall, has been looking a tad less glorious than their former self. Some mall leasing managers we know were already speaking of a “massive space to be available in Scotts Square soon”. News of their closing travelled fast. Although it is stated on their communication material that opening hours are from “10am to 6pm daily”, the store welcome shoppers an hour later—“open eleven (sic)”, a staffer said brusquely when we asked her if they were closing down. By 10.30, people were milling in the corridor, with the crowd concentrated at Coffee Academics, the atas Hong Kong cafe situated in the Scotts Road-facing corner of the floor. When asked why the store would be closing, another staffer, a lot chirpier, told us it’s because of “landlord change”.

We’re not sure what to make of that surprising reveal. Scotts Square has been, for as long as we remember, a part of Wheelock Properties. A staffer in the mall told us that “the place is now under Wharf”, which is really Wharf Estates, a subsidiary of the esteemed, 135-year-old Hong Kong-based Wharf Real Estate Investment Company that is behind popular HK shopping destination such as Harbour City and Time Square. Known to the staff of the mall here as Wharf, the operator is, according to their website, “formerly known as Wheelock Properties (Singapore)”. Scotts Square and Wheelock Place are two of Wharf Estates’ commercial properties on our island. Is dropping the Wheelock name as owner of the mall reason to belief that there is a “landlord change”? Or is Wharf Estate truly rejigging their tenant mix so dramatically that staff of their lessees believe some major overhaul is afoot?

Pedder on Scotts opened in October 2015. The massiveness of the store—20,000 sqf—and the breadth of the merchandise were seen as a strong boost to luxury retail here. It was an emporium—specialty store, really—unlike any SG had seen, however large our consumption of luxury footwear. One fashion stylist at the store’s opening party, we vividly remember, called the product offering “orgiastic”. Shoe-lovers would not see that as exaggeration. Before the arrival of Pedder on Scotts, the largest standalone footwear haven was parent store On Pedder at Takashimaya Shopping Centre. We were told On Pedder would not close down. The women’s shoes in the Scotts store would move there, but the men’s and the sneakers would not. They will be “discontinued”. It is unclear what the fate of Canada Goose’s boutique in Pedder on Scotts is (Coffee Academics, it seems, will stay). Pedder Red (closed at Takashimaya Shopping Centre), the in-house, pocket-friendly diffusion line, will cease to exist too.

When we spoke to a society lady earlier today, she said that it may not be right to conclude, as many have, that Pedder on Scotts is closing because of discouraging sales as a result of the COVID pandemic. “U assume they weren’t doing well, but in reality they were,” she texted us. “Many (socialites) shop there. I have seen them. (They) don’t blink an eye at buying a few pairs at a go. Not unusual for them to spend 1k on a pair and they shop a lot. So on average 3k to 5k.” What did they buy, we wondered. “Dressy heels,” came the quick reply. It may surprise some that heels are selling when Crocs are increasingly popular, even among the fashion set. But, a former magazine editor told us, “Pedder on Scotts has their customers, but how many shiny, glittery heels do ladies need during this pandemic?” To him, price is the store’s undoing: “how to sustain if the selection is always pricey. Sneaker sales can only help so much. (They) need to have a nice (selection) of affordable practical styles as well, no?”

Affordability is increasingly not an issue in the marketing of luxury footwear. Otherwise, Louis Vuitton and the like would resist increasing their prices, repeatedly. What is appreciable of Pedder on Scotts is their attempt at going beyond just running a shoe store, and a static one. Sure, they have introduced us to otherwise alien-to-our-shore brands such as Malone Souliers, Rene Caovilla, Sophia Webster, and Tabitha Simmons, and, for men, Japanese advant-gardiste Yoshio Kubo, but they did broadened their offerings to include exquisite accessories, such as bags (Benedetta Bruzziches) and eyewear (Linda Farrow), and introduced items not-bound-for-feet products, such as the home ware of Fornasetti and the fragrances of Maison Francis Kurkdjian. They have supported local creatives too, staging the Onitsuka Tiger Stripes 50th Anniversary exhibition, featuring the collaborative works of our own designers and media professionals and, also in the same year, invited photographer Mark Law and fashion stylist Jeremy Tan to exhibit their work, as well as the entries of the finalists of Harper’s Bazaar’s NewGen design competition. At Pedder on Scotts, there was community outside the patronage of socialites. We shall miss all that.

Pedder on Scotts will be permanently closed on 26 September 2021. Photos: Chin Boh Kay

Gone Quietly

Elaine Heng’s digital-native Ilo the Label is shut, just a year after she started it

Click on the New In tab, and “0 products” is shown

It left as discreetly as it arrived. Ilo the Label—influencer Elaine Heng’s rookie hand at fashion retail—has stopped trading. The eponymous website is now only a landing page, with a still banner offering a “10% off when you purchase Tasha Twist Front Top & Tina Mermaid Midi Skirt as a set!” No Tasha or companion Tina is available. Oddly, a video from her last season—“Citrus Summer: 07.07.2020” remains. We noticed this non-activity at least four months ago at the eponymous website, but we thought it was going through some maintenance or renewal exercise. But it seems that isn’t quite the case. At the end of January, Ilo the Label shared on Facebook what was their “third and final Chinese New Year collection”. Their concluding post on Instagram was a photo of an off-shoulder romper on 7 February. Ms Heng’s last post with the hashtag #lovebyilo was 12 days later. The last of the #happyilogirls to share on IG (also in February) did so to announce that she was selling an Ilo the Label jumpsuit. Since March, we also noticed a rise in viewership on our post of the birth of Ilo the Label, resulting from searches on Ms Heng’s clothing business. Shoppers or the simply-curious could be wondering what happened to the “fashion brand that cares about your feelings”, according to the label’s self-description.

Back in March this year, Elaine Heng (aka Elaine Jasmine or Elaine Ruimin [瑞敏], depending on the stage of the influencer’s digital life) posted on IG a photograph of herself and a rack of three dresses (followed by four more snaps in that one post, showing her work space being cleared out), with an accompanying farewell message: “Bidding goodbye to my first ever office space.” In the rather lengthy post, she also wrote: “Such a bittersweet feeling because there’s been so much memories and emotions experienced in this humble space.” That spot of humility was in Kallang Place, in the Four Star Building, owned by the people behind Four Star Mattress. (Strangely, she thanked the company that renovated her office when she was closing it!). Spaceportal descibes what could be seen from the building as such: “…the stunning view of the Kallang Stadium along Kallang river is spectacular and well appreciated by our tenants, some call it a ‘fireworks view’”.

If Elaine Heng fashioned Ilo the Label after her own cheery personal style, she might not have realised that, some time down the road, the jelak factor would just as happily set in

Launched on 18 March last year after two years of gestation, Ilo the Label was met with less fanfare: no fireworks. Essentially an online brand, the collections were available through their own website shortly before last year’s Circuit Breaker was implemented. They were heavily touted on the brand’s IG pages, as well as on Ms Heng’s own IG account, where she continually posted photos of herself, looking vivacious, in her own label, as well as of her friends wearing the same, such as fellow influencer Melissa Jane Ferosha (何青燕 or He Qingyan). As we understood it, Ms Heng did not design the collections: she had what was described as “a team of designers”. One fashion buyer we spoke to said that the brand did not seem to be “conceived to last. It is really hard to sell very similar things, season after season. How many rompers and jumpsuits do you really need?” If Elaine Heng fashioned Ilo the Label after her own cheery personal style, as it appeared, she might not have considered that, some time down the road, the jelak factor would just as happily set in.

Another victim of the pandemic? It is hard to say. Ilo the Label is available only online—and just that one point of sale. It has no physical store. According to Globaldata figures published last year, Singapore’s online sales were set to hit S$9.5 billion, despite the pandemic. Singstat data showed that by the time we came to last November, we reached “an estimated total retail sales value” of “about $3.6 billion. Of these, online retail sales made up an estimated 14.3%, higher than the 10.5% recorded in October 2020”. It would appear to be relatively encouraging then for those brands who were available online. In that March IG post to announce that she was clearing out of her Kallang Place office, Elaine Heng wrote: “now that the one year (sic) lease has ended, it’s time to move on to a new space & look forward to better things ahead”. That did not sound like Ilo the Label would be totally folded. But just a month later, she posted (also on IG) about “trying to juggle between my new full time job & night grooming course”. Ilo the Label’s bland positioning might have been eternal-blooms-in-solar-radiance but, alas, like many flowers, is monocarpic—bloom, seed, and then die. Quite the contrary to their early upbeat belief that “the flower that follows the sun does so even in cloudy days.”

Screen grab: ilothelabel.com