Theory At Uniqlo

The American brand, Uniqlo’s sibling, appears with its own little space in the Japanese fast fashion’s new global flagship in Ginza, Japan

Uniqlo in Tokyo is offering the more upmarket label Theory, its sibling brand under parent company Fast Retailing, alongside its LifeWear offerings, at its Yurakucho/Ginza store, which reopened last June after a refurbishment (and expansion), reimagined by the Swiss architectural firm of Herzog & de Meuron. Theory in the bright spanking space in Marronnier Gate 2 building is a surprising addition to a store initially dubbed Uniqlo Tokyo, which, according to a company media release, was “created as the new global flagship store to embody the LifeWear ideal.” It isn’t surprising that Theory, with its clean lines and generally neutral palette, fits the bill and the retail environment. The collection could have been, upon a cursory glance, Uniqlo U, the sub-brand presently steered by Christophe Lemaire in Paris.

Launched last October, Theory at Uniqlo takes up about 60-odd square metres on the first and second floors. Unless you seek it out, there is a good chance you might actually miss the relatively small collection. With the branding built into the industrial-looking fixtures that go well with the exposed beams of the four-level store’s central concourse, the corner is somewhat discreet, and is overwhelmed by Uniqlo’s own larger and more colourful offering. It could be assumed that Uniqlo is hopping to underscore its versatility, that their LifeWear, however basic, could be easily and stylishly teamed with other more ‘elevated’ styles, especially those under their family of brands, which includes the French label Comptoir des Cotonniers, also available here. But one thing does stand out: the price difference. Theory is many rungs up the price hierarchy. One Theory hoodie was going for JPY23,000 (approximately SGD294), while Uniqlo’s could be had for JPY2,900 (approximately SGD37).

It is inaccurate to think that just because one shops in Uniqlo, one only wants to buy cheap merchandise

Fast Retailing’s pulling together two of its brands on the different side of the price scale is, from a retail perspective, a refreshing arrangement. It is inaccurate—even parochial—to think that just because one shops in Uniqlo, one only wants to buy inexpensive merchandise. A discerning eye, as Uniqlo possesses, is not trained on price alone. Perhaps this will work only in Japan. No news from Uniqlo SG yet if Theory will be introduced here. We know, of course, that our shoppers have a tendentious habit of seeking the cheap. Since its arrival on our shores in 2009, its visitors mostly associate the brand with low-priced fashion than fast fashion, often overlooking its design value. In a statement prior to the launch of Theory (and Comptoir des Cotonniers) at Uniqlo Tokyo, Fast Retailing stated that the step towards a multi-label store “allows customers to handle and purchase items with the same high quality and comfort of Uniqlo [and] offer customers the opportunity to freely coordinate items from the three brands”. This obvious plus, we suspect, would have weak acceptance on our island.

Theory was born in New York in 1999 when former Anne Klein CEO Andrew Rosen teamed up with the Israeli designer Elie Tahari to create a line that was widely known then to cater specifically to professional women. The clothes associated with Theory were—at least initially—pants: in particular stretch pants, but cut and styled in a dressier way. That one item become the driving success of the brand. In 2003, both Mr Rosen and Mr Tahari sold Theory to its Japanese licensee Link International (before becoming Link Theory Holdings or LTH) just after compatriot company Fast Retailing acquired an “equity stake” in Link. Two years later, the American arm of LTH bought Helmut Lang from the Prada Group. In 2009, LTH was fully owned by Fast Retailing (after which, they acquired the jeans label J Brand in 2012). Under the new ownership, Theory enjoyed reasonable success. Between 2010 and 2014, it was designed by the “Prince of Goth” Olivier Theyskens. Mr Rosen even allowed the designer his own imprint, Theyskens’ Theory (at first a test capsule Theory by Olivier Theyskens). While the global profile of Theory at this time was raised, it was reported that the sale figures that Mr Rosen had craved for never materialised.

Theory and Uniqlo’s relationship on the selling floor goes back to 2016, when a collaboration between the two yielded a men’s admittedly conservative capsule collection. It was marketed with a catchy phrase: “Japanese Engineering, New York Style”, perhaps reminding shoppers of the brand’s Big Apple origins. This collab came back again last year. It is not clear how successful this co-branding is, but the repeat season and, now, a Theory corner in a Uniqlo flagship are indications that Fast Retailing has big plans—and high hopes—for a name that is, for many, an unshakeable reminder of the 2000s, when, way before the (fortunately ending) tumultuous Trump era, American labels had some appeal, if not cachet.

Photo: Jiro Shiratori for SOTD

Does The North Face Really Need Gucci?

The pairing that needn’t be

By Ray Zhang

Collaborations might still be the way forward, especially in these pandemic-stricken times. But is the Gucci X The North Face (TNF) pairing the stunning collaboration to end the stunned year? Gucci may need to expand its product categories, but I do not see TNF needing to align itself with more designer names. Are they planning to be the next Moncler? These are difficult times for fashion brands, so I won’t hazard a guess. But it seems odd to me that TNF thinks that by associating itself with Gucci, it shall improve its standing among fashion folk. To me, TNF has already been on the right path, doing what they do, pairing with whoever they have hitherto partnered with, but perhaps they didn’t think they’re doing enough. Or perhaps, all their previous collabs have not been sufficiently retro-cool? And that the Gucci tribe is too large—and influential—to ignore?

Have I missed something? Perhaps. Western media has stressed how Gucci and TNF can bring out the best of their respective brands. All I could see is Gucci bringing the best of Gucci. At least visually and chromatically. The collab appears to me a little lopsided. Even if I can see The North Face half-logo (or hybrid logo) and recognize some of the puffers, the collection is still more Gucci than The North Face. I can understand that there are those whose wardrobes are now so Gucci-fied that they would seriously need cold-climate wear, or climbing gear, or alpine togs that bear semblance to the Gucci aesthetics of topsy-turvy aberration, to survive the winter. But will only a Gucci puffer coat do, even if it’s, as the now-out ads, shot in the alps, suggest, warm enough for shorts (a black model even wore a white bikini)? You see, Gucci really wants to go everywhere—into the woods, and up the mountains.

Like every designer doing sneakers to remain on the street-wear roadway, I think Gucci’s Alessandro Michele just wants to try his hand at “Gorpcore”, to borrow a term from The Cut, so as to be able to say, he, too, has jumped onto the outdoor-performance-wear bandwagon. “Gorp” is the acronym for “good ol’ raisins and peanuts,” also known in the US as the “trail mix” (or, in Australia, scroggin), which hikers pack to bring along with them as a lightweight and healthy, protein-packed snack. (Here, they often appear in abundance, rather inexplicably, during Chinese New Year!) The operative words are “trail” and “hike”, and neither sounds particularly urban, or date nights at the movies. Perhaps that’s the point. Like athletic wear, people don’t adopt a particular category of clothing so as to wear them for participating in the activity the category suggests.

That trend report in The Cut appeared in 2017. But as far back as 2013 (if my memory serves me right), I have already observed in Tokyo the emergence of what the Americans called Gorpcore, for which the Japanese, masters of looks and creators of tribes, had no real name. Until, a group of girls—as it’s often the case—became regular and noticeable enough in their get-up, as they traipse into the woods, to be collectively known as yama gyaru (or “mountain girls”). I am not sure if these lasses wore their outdoor wear as a fashion statement or for practical reasons as they embrace shinrin-yoku forest therapy, but for certain, I know the Tokyo boys have been adopting hiking clothes and turning them into fashionable urban wear at least a decade before the Americans enthusiastically wear puffers and hiking boots with their Calvin Klein whatever.

The popularity of outdoor performance wear among Tokyoites went back much earlier, and it has something to do with The North Face’s trajectory in the Land of the Rising Sun. In 1978, at the height of TNF’s popularity among climbers and alpinist in the US, the Japanese conglomerate Goldwin, considered the “most important” among producers of technical outerwear, signed a deal with the former to exclusively distribute TNF in the country that would gain the status of the world’s third largest economy. TNF’s subsequent growth in sales and stature in Japan alone is nothing short of staggering. I won’t go into the figures, but one could be worth noting: In Tokyo, on a stretch less than a kilometre, along Meiji-Dori, off Harajuku (towards Shibuya), there is not one, but four TNF stores. These are The North Face (two of them), The North Face Alter, as well as my personal favourite The North Face Standard (all four floors!). This isn’t counting Goldwin’s own store and Arc’teryx on the same street, and TNF Kids, Columbia, and Helly Hansen just behind. And just a little further back, Chums. (There’s also Patagonia, but the store is over at Ura-Harajuku.) Or, the numerous other multi-brand stores that also carry outdoor wear, such as the Japanese version of Kelty. In case you don’t sense the scale, it is massive. This is like Gorpcore’s gravitational centre.

Goldwin’s massive standing is not only among consumers of TNF; it is with Japanese designers as well. One of them deserves singling out: Eiichiro Homma, a veteran designer at Goldwin for a long time. In 2003, the company decided to back probably their most outstanding employee with his own line, also one that has technical performance wear as its core. Nanamica was born, and in no time, The North Face Purple label. Now, these are not to be confused with TNF itself. Mr Homma himself has clarified that TNF Purple Label (the brand is so linked to him that sometimes the label also reads The North Face made possible by Nanamica) is to “adapt for city wear without compromising the core values of the original,” as he told Hypebeast back in the year the Purple Label was born. Despite all the charming quirks and unusual details that Mr Homma has given to both the Purple Label and his own Nanamica, there is, to me, innovation, and, more importantly, an authenticity about the two names under his charge than Gucci could never emulate.

There is also real difference between going to, say, the Tokyo mountaineering/outdoor gear retailer L Breath (or our own Outdoor Life) and buying the real deal and making them look fashionable and going to Gucci, and buying what’s designed to be fashion and wearing them wholesale, head to toe. Once in Tokyo, at Oshman’s—less of a fashion-potential treasure trove than L Breath, I saw a young chap in a Patagonia parka, Danton shirt, Levi’s, Timberland boots, Mystery Ranch tote, and all manner of danglies from Chums that, as I recall now, look like he could have been in the new Gucci campaign, minus the Guccis, and look better. Another time, in Sapporo, at Montbell’s Akarenga Terrace store, I caught sight of a guy with a buzz cut, who was so distinctively kitted—Visvim patchwork yukata coat, a rust-coloured quilted cape (there was a blizzard outside), and a United by Blue roll-top backpack—that he could have just stepped out of some stylish monastery in the Himalayas. These guys could use non-fashion items as fashion items, and that, to me, speaks so much more than wanting to look like one of Gucci goofy models.

The North Face seemed to have been rather judicious when it comes to who they collaborate with. Prior to Gucci, it was with Maison Margiela’s MM6, the street-inflected diffusion. The collection, interestingly, did not look weird. Build primarily on the house’s circle pattern, they have as much TNF’s DNA, and they look like you might actually be able to hike in them, not just frolic on flatlands. I like that both brands seem to share equally billing in the end products. Before MM6, there was Supreme, which requires no description. I don’t see why Supreme needed another collaboration, but I understand why TNF would agree to it. This was, to me, one of the lamest pairings ever. Even without Supreme, MM6 and, certainly, Gucci, TNF could hold nicely on its own with just the Japanese iterations, led so convincingly by Nanamica and The North Face Purple Label. Japan’s TNF, I suppose, is really perched on a different peak.

Sure, I can see that Mr Michele and his team has re-proportioned some of TNP’s classic outers, such as reshaping and shortening the sleeves of the women’s jackets. In addition, the breadth of the collection could mean that they’re not putting out some negligible capsule you’ll forget next week. This was conceived to sell, and in larger numbers than the typical collaboration. But that does not mean that stocks for individual items will be plentiful when they launch in January in the coming year. And the ’70s vibe is unmistakable too, in case you have not had enough of their romanticised version: Woodstock in the winter, if the cold is conducive to concerts. And there are backpacks, hats, beanies, and, of course, hiking boots, smacked with a massive logo. And just in case there is anyone seriously thinking of really wearing these clothes to go up the mountain or go down by the rapids, there is a tent too, even a sleeping bag. But will all these really tempt those who have not already adopted Gorpcore? Or, understand it? Will they seduce fashionistas to later consider a TNF not in collaboration mode?

Truth be told, I do subscribe to the Gorpcore aesthetics. But I can’t see myself buying the meaningless Gucci attempt. When in Tokyo, I visit, without fail, The North Face Standard in Harajuku, Nanamica in Daikanyama, And Wander in Marunouchi, White Mountaineering and the sensational Snow Peak flagship in Aoyama. But it isn’t always the high-end that I call on. There’s always the nine-storey L-Breath store in Shinjuku, where I end up buying more bags and such than I will ever need, mountain-bound or not, and, in contrast, a tiny shop smacked in the Tokyu Hands building in Shibuya, Function Junction, where hippies might stop by if they were heading for the hills (they have the most interesting range of carabiners). For all my cold-weather wear, I have always been able to rely on Nanamica and White Mountaineering, while resisting the soft spot I have for the terribly expensive The North Face collaboration with Junya Watanabe. As you can tell, it is in Japan—cities and mountaintops—that I get my Gorpcore wet dreams.

Photos: The North Face/Gucci

Atypical Asian Pick At Burberry

He’s too dusky, he’s over-tattooed, and he is half-Laotian, half-Issan. In Bangkok, he wouldn’t normally be cast in any major advertising campaign, but newcomer Zak Sakraew is in Manchester. And luck came a-calling

When Burberry shared two photos of its autumn/winter 2020 campaign in mid-November, the fashion world of Bangkok went wild. Newcomer Zak (pronounced ‘Sak’ in Thai) Srakaew, who doesn’t live anywhere in Thailand, is suddenly the son of the soil, hero of the heartland. Mr Srakaew has not only starred in a fashion ad, “he is a Burberry model”, as one Bangkok-based stylist proudly told us. And he appeared in the same campaign as the Manchester United football star Marcus Rashford. The 25-year-old is the only second Thai (but the first male) model, after the more established Wilhelmina lass Jan Baiboon, to come this far, or to the house of Burberry. Suddenly it was as if the nation’s Loy Krathong collective wishes amid a fierce pandemic have come true.

The thing is, if Zak Srakaew were to be doing his go-see in Bangkok, he may still be looking for a job. But Mr Srakaew lives in Manchester, a two-hour train ride to London. And inclusiveness is presently a major theme among the advertising and branding professionals there. In Bangkok, where most of the casting of local campaigns are conducted, Mr Srakaew’s Northern Thai look would be considered not outstanding enough, even common, and would not have excited those with control over large advertising budgets. One former marketing head told us that “You hardly ever see anyone dark-skinned in major campaigns. Local brands prefer the fairer models—both the men and the women. That’s why Nadech Kugimiya (Lieutenant Commander Dawin Samuthyakorn in The Crown Princess) is still hot and Cindy Bishop (host of Asia’s Next Top Model) still does shows.”

Thai model Zak Srakaew, first from left (and forth), in Burberry’s autumn/winter campaign. Photo: Burberry

That would generally mean the luk khreung (literally, ‘half-child’ in Thai, or mixed race, usually Thai-Western unions), such as model/actor Mario Maurer (half-Thai-Chinese, half-German)—in the just-concluded-on-Channel-U Thong Ake, The Pharmacist of Chaloang—and compatriot model/actress Urassaya Sperbund (half-Thai, half-Norwegian), popularly dubbed as “the first ever Thai celebrity featured in American Vogue”. Or the luk chin, those who are Chinese-looking but don’t have to be half-Thai. For the males, they would be boyish and would ideally look like they come from a wealthy merchant or property development family. Prime example in the Bangkok male modelling scene is the singer (and actor) from K-pop band 2pm Nichkhun Horawetchakun (mostly known by his first name): his parents are Chinese, and his family is wealthy, which, in South Korea, got him the nickname “the Prince.”

Zak Srakaew is/has none of the above. Burberry choosing him would be considered, in Thailand, casting against type. He does not come from a moneyed family and has virtually no presence in the entertainment industry. Mr Srakaew was born in Thailand, in the northeastern province of Roi Et, in an area known as Issan, which shares a border with Laos. Issan is considered to be Thailand’s poorest region, and most Issan folks who move to big cities, such as Bangkok, normally go for work, and usually as manual industrial or construction workers. Or, muay Thai boxer. In fact, we are not aware of any Issan individual who has made a name for himself (or herself) in the modelling industry.

Zak Srakaew, first from left. Photo: Burberry

Mr Srakaew did not make it to Bangkok to seek a better life. At a young age, his Laotian father and his Issan mother were divorced, and he lived with father. His mother remarried and moved to the UK. But before he knew anything or understood what being brought up by a single parent really meant, his father died of a heart attack, leaving young Zak at the cusp of puberty without adult care or supervision. At age eleven, he was sent to be with his mother, who had settled down in the northern city of Manchester, home of The Stone Roses. As he told the curious members of the Thai media, his early years in the UK were hard, primarily because he “didn’t look like the other kids in school” and, more unfavourably, he could not speak English.

In fact, Mr Srakaew was illiterate. He told Vogue Thailand, “I have never been educated. I didn’t study; I couldn’t even read and write in Thai.” It is not revealed if his eventual education in the UK bore results. He did only say that he worked in an unnamed fast food restaurant. Modelling was not on the cards, but a photo he took with a model-pal caught the attention of an agent. Although he told GQ Thailand that he didn’t believe there was a model in him, “fate was determined that I had to go by this route.” Early assignments were mostly for sports brands, such as Fila; outdoor labels such as The North Face and Stone Island, as well as the e-tailer Asos. When the quintessential British brand Burberry called, he said, “At first I thought it was not true. (At the shoot) I felt like I was in a room we didn’t own.”

He now speaks with what could be a Northern English accent faintly lilted by an Asian twang of indeterminate origin. While home is in Manchester, Mr Sakraew has been looking towards Thailand. The income from modelling means he could fly his mother home frequently, and also to build a house for her in their Roi Et hometown. As he told, Vogue Thailand, “I lived in a small flat with my mother, struggling to pay the rent. But when I started my modeling career, I was able to pay for a room.” This Asian sense of place and piety, coupled by his Issan bad-boy look do set him apart from the pale and pretty perfection that is the Bangkok modelling scene, so much so that GQ Thailand swooned—Mr Srakaew “proves that the Thai style is outstanding internationally.” Did they take “Thai style” to mean upcountry or baan nork?

He is tall: 1.83m, according to his London men’s-only agency Supa Model Management. And he has those sprawling tattoos, which spread across half his upper body and down both arms. A yakuza would be duly impressed. In many of the photos shared on social media, Mr Sakraew has a pai kia intensity about him and is often dressed in what he calls “sporty look”, but to posh Londoners might be considered a tad chav. Even if not quite major among Bangkok fashion folks, his appeal is gaining traction among those in the gay community who “like them blue-collar looking or na hia hia (natural ‘rough-looking face’, with no makeup)”, as a graphic designer told us, and those who consider Mr Sakraew as aroi (delectable) as som tum (papaya salad), a dish with origins that can be traced to Issan and Laos. Newfound fans find his red-blooded provincial vibe charming as it contrasts with another trait: the guy loves cats!

Photos: Zak Srakaew

Art Bag

Loewe’s collaboration with the artist Kenneth Price yields some rather drool-worthy unisex satchels

Loewe, under the watch of Jonathan Anderson, has been the champion of craft and craft-like work to rather alluring results. The latest is Mr Anderson’s interpretation of the cheerful work of American sculptor and painter Kenneth Price (1935—2012). The (above) illustration first appeared in a specially commissioned work for the Newport Beach (California) restaurant La Palme in the ’80s. Mr Price created vivid and optimistic landscapes on glazed plates and bowls, and these images are now reimagined as leather marquetry (so fine, it’s veritable art in itself) on the flap of this crossbody bag.

We like the simplicity of the bag and how the flap is made special by such simple but striking illustrative form. The positive vibe is so right for such dismal times. Mr Price, who, aside from art, studied the trumpet with Chet Baker, was known for the optimism he projected through his work, including often bulbous sculptures, and, in particular, Happy’s Curios (some of the works also appear in the Loewe collection), a six-year project, inspired by New Mexico, that was dedicated to his wife Happy Ward.

This crossbody is not a big bag. It reminds us of an oversized coin purse (and opens like one!). But, with a wider bottom, it is capacious enough for bag essentials such as portable phone charger, a wallet, as well as EarPods and their attendant case. Most people would say this a woman’s shoulder bag, and women will surely find it attractive (if money is no objection, also go for the totally loveable Easter Island bucket bag with bamboo handle). But as men are using smaller bags these days, they should not shut themselves out of this particular one. In fact, it was heartening to see this appearing in the Loewe store window, hung around the neck of a shirt, clearly pitched at guys. Man bags really do not need to be man-sized.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Loewe X Ken Price La Palme Heel bag, SGD 1,900, is available at Loewe stores. Photo: Zhao Xiangji

Dress Watch: Suitable For Hydra

How many collars, or necks, does a chemise need?

Combining more than one outfit (or parts of) in a single garment is, of course, nothing new these days. We’ve seen it forever at Comme des Garçons and more recently at Y-Project and Balenciaga. Joining (pun, for sure) the rest is Burberry, the British house now still being remade by the Italian designer Ricccardo Tisci. This isn’t a simple one plus one, or one on one. Mr Tisci has made a simple shirt dress, conjoined with two halves-and-full-collars. This is the work of a Victor Frankenstein with an eye for symmetry.

The Burberry chemise-dress is interesting at first encounter. Pull back and it might be less fetching. The stand out parts are the two extra collars that, when worn, frame both ends of the shoulder, which, as a styling effect, is known as the “cold shoulder”. Think: summer of 2016. But the dress has less the sex appeal of those from four years ago. In fact, with the sleeve dangling by the side, it gives the dress a sack-like silhouette that may not be flattering for those not on the side of svelte.

What may, perhaps, be more appealing is to treat the two side collars as armholes. Yes, put your arms through them. It’s a twofer! Bring the sleeves to the middle, knot at the waist. In this manner, the dress would be unusual enough to intrigue even the keenest fashion observer. Is an extra shirt tied over the bodice?

What, to us, is a let down is the fabric used: The winter standard cotton flannel. And in WFH-friendly buffalo check and plaid! Fashion hack: do the same look by picking three flannel shirts from Uniqlo, and getting an able tailor to piece them together. Because that would cost you a total of S$89.70 (minus sewing charge) instead of the eye-watering S$3,950 you’d otherwise have to fork out.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Burberry Contrast Check Cotton Reconstructed Shirt Dress, SGD3,950, and a similar version for men, SGD1,880, are available at Burberry stores and online. Photo: Zhao Xiangji

CDG IG Live: Hmmm…

Broadcast at the odd hour of nine this evening, CDG’s first IG Live here was hosted by former radio DJ Rosalyn “Rozz” Lee, who chirpily promised “a great 30 minutes”. Was it?

 

CDG IG Live

It is hard to imagine Comme des Garçcons taking to Instagram Live, just as it is impossible to frame Rei Kawakubo within a TicTok screen. Yet, CDG did go onto the social media video platform via Club 21’s IG page. The Japanese brand, despite finally joining IG (in September 2015), avoids using branded hashtags or posting IG Stories. So, it aroused our curiosity when it was announced only two days ago via Club 21, that CDG would be conducting an “IG Live preview” of the their new collection, and that viewers get to win a pair of Comme des Garçcons X Vans Graffiti sneakers. The giveaways (including another ten pair of socks) were a surprise to us since we do not associate the brand with D&D-style lucky draws.

It was then revealed that the host of Weird Food Diaries, Rosalind “Rozz” Lee, would be presenting the event. That, to us, is an odd choice. Ms Lee is known for her high spirits and exuberance, and opinions that can be best described as strong. CDG is a lot more austere and serious, and admittedly, just as unwavering. But Ms Lee’s personal style tends to veer towards the conventional, tethered to a tad of sexiness. The red and black dress that was picked for her, which she said she “really, really love” (and, in the end, enthused, “99% I am going to buy”), looked frumpy on her. Perhaps we’re used to seeing Ms Lee in something sleeker and definitely body-skimming.

Despite the potential pull of the live stream, which was Club 21’s very first, the simple and straightforward presentation drew a high of 349 views at its peak, and slipped to 266 when it was about to end. This was surprising to us as Club 21 has 53.8K followers and Ms Lee (#heyrozz) 109K. It is not clear what the target was, but the presenter did say that the show would begin when they hit 200. This might be considered an encouraging figure when most Club 21 posts garner 2-digit likes.

CDG IG Live Rozz

The show, filmed at the CDG Hilton Shopping Gallery store, was spared of conceptual strength. Sure, it looked spontaneous and user-generated—typically IG, but Ms Lee might have gained from a script or a rehearsal. At times, she did not appear to know her way around in what is a very small store. She kept relying on her smartphone to prompt her with what to say next. As she guided the viewer into the corner that houses CDG Girl, she called the space an “enclave”. Throughout her intro of the clothes, her description was that of a neophyte—light on fashion-speak, and peppered with “pretty dope” for almost every garment she showed.

Additionally, we did not quite understand why Ms Lee was told to announce the price of what the models—a male and a female—wore. And this covered every piece of the look on show. As one CDG regular told us, “customers who spend above S$1,000, would already know roughly how much those garments would cost.” We are aware that this was a selling exercise, but the inclusion of prices at the end of each intro of the pieces sadly gave what are designer clothes a pasar malam vibe.

Comme des Garçons usually launch their seasonal collections in the store with an intimate party, mostly attended by the more hardcore of fans. Given that social distancing is still strictly in place, it is understandable that an in-store event was not possible. With IG Live, CDG was pointing to the adoptable direction for other Club 21 brands, but, we were not sure who the target audience of this show really were. There was nothing in the presentation that might interest the die-hards, who were already invited to the store for the reveal tomorrow. For the newbies, Ms Lee who, like a keen-to-belong mom, happily described a shirt as “super street”, might just be the right host. And an eager shopper.

Screen grabs: Club 21/Instagram

PFW: The Japanese Brands Not Comme des Garçons Or Yohji Yamamoto, Or Issey Miyake

Designers decamping Tokyo for Paris are not just the ones from many moons ago. Here, we take a look at the few that we have been watching regularly and closely… even before their move to the fashion capital of the world 

 

PFW JapaneseCollage: Just So. Photo: Undercover

Paris has always been the ultimate destination for Japanese designers to show and to sell to the world. Not all who participate in Paris Fashion Week (PFW), however, enjoy the longevity of the Tokyo big three: Issey Miyake, Comme des Garçons, and Yohji Yamamoto. Or the hype that follows the newish names, such as Junya Watanabe and his one-time employee Chitose Abe of Sacai, who was just invited to be the first guest designer for the re-thought Jean Paul Gaultier haute couture collection. It requires no big-data analysis to understand how irresistible it still is to show in Paris. After all, their compatriots have successfully laid the path in the ’70s and ’80s, and wanting to emulate their ways for the attendant success and fame is totally expected, even rational.

Although Japanese designers have participated in PFW for more than four decades, not many show consistently. Some, such as Mihara Yasuhiro, Auralee’s Ryota Iwai, and Kolor’s Junichi Abe (Chitose Abe’s husband, but according to the Tokyo grapevine, “former”) continues only with the Men’s PFW although they design for both sexes. And there are those who have come and gone, such as Masaki Matsushita, Keita Maruyama, Akira Onozuka (or Zucca), and Issey Miyake alum Chisato Tsumori, and Yohji Yamamoto’s former rep in Paris Atsuro Tayama (both Ms Tsumori and Mr Tayama, to be sure, still operate showroom and studio respectively in the city). Paris may be welcoming but that does not mean it is conducive to recognition or propitious to international stardom. 

By the mid-’90s, a Japanese in Paris is no longer novel or necessarily a draw, but the few who stayed and those who continued to come do keep PFW nicely varied, just as their critical acclaim were too. Although the big names are still attracting media attention with their headline-ready collections, as well as massive fan turn-up, the smaller brands are, to us, doing just as challenging (if not more) work that continue to put Japanese design thinking and aesthetical uniqueness in the spotlight. In view of the COVID-19 outbreak, most Chinese designers have dropped out of PFW this season. Conversely, the Japanese have largely stuck to their original schedules. Here, six Japanese names or brands to note and, perhaps, to enjoy.

Anrealage

Anrealage AW 2020Photos: Filippo Fior/gorunway.com

Even in Tokyo, Anrealage is a relatively quiet brand, despite its own compelling flagship, opened in 2016 in the luxury shopping district of Aoyama, off the famed Omotesando, not far away from Sacai’s own. Perhaps things will change for the brand founded by Kunihiko Morinaga. In Paris, Anrealage is increasingly drawing critical acclaim and back home in Tokyo, a new corner within the refurbished Shibuya Parco is drawing more shoppers to this 17-year-old brand. Often described as “strong” and “directional”, Anrealage is especially appealing among fashion folks with a yen for the Japanese avant-garde—in particular among those who are less drawn to the labels under the Comme des Garçons kasa (傘 or umbrella). 

Anrealage debuted in Paris in 2014 with the spring/summer 2015 collection. Yet, only last year was the brand getting the attention it deserves when Mr Morinaga was one of eight finalists for the 2019 LVMH Prize. Although he did not win it (South Africa’s Thebe Magugu clinched the award), he continues to show that Anrealage is not only a label to follow, but to covet as well. In Japan, he was named Best New Designer for the Shiseido Sponsorship Award at the 29th Mainichi (national daily newspaper) Fashion Grand Prix held in Tokyo, cementing his reputation as the one to rise, not merely to watch. Collaborations with Onitsuka Tiger, Dickies, and Bearbrick will only yard-up the brand’s popularity.

Mr Morinaga told Japan House last year: “I’m not interested in making something overly offbeat. My aim is to design clothes that inject a little bit of intrigue in the everyday.” Perhaps a bit of an understatement when one considers that the striking collection of the autumn/winter 2020 season, which continues to see Mr Morinaga bringing together, as in the past, what he calls “the real and the unreal”. Wearability is paired with the seemingly anti-body. The coats, for instance, appear almost two-dimensional, as if animating a paper pattern, which bear a resemblance to the giant clothes that front the Parco store. Unreal, but delightfully so.

Beautiful People

Beautiful People AW 2020Photos: Filippo Fior/gorunway.com

Like many Japanese designer gaining an increasingly audible bleep on the PFW radar, Hidenori Kumakiri of Beautiful People can call the veritable launching pad of careers, Comme des Garçons, alma mater. And like other alums, such as Chitose Abe, Mr Kumajiri was a pattern maker, in his case, for CDG Homme. After six years in their employ, he started his own label. And the preciseness that came with the previous tenure stuck along. A Japanese precision. As he once told Tank magazine, “When you train as a pattern cutter at Comme des Garçons, you always want to make everything perfect.”

Beautiful People may sound like a spin-off of Rachel Ashwell’s Shabby Chic, but the former has way more bite than the latter’s teeth-less chew. His designs underscore Mr Kimakiri’s technical skills—no shape too unmanageable, no seam too unplaceable. The designer describes his kooky elegance “French chic–meets–Japanese pop”. But that is, to us, a little misleading as Beautiful People is more than the coming together of divergent West and East, soigné and Shibuya. From the start, there has been poles apart meeting in the middle. Male and female don’t blur, but happily co-exist, so too are top and bottom, front and back, and even, oddly, child and adult. In fact, Mr Kimakiri’s initial impact was in what he called “Kid Series”—“children’s clothes for grown-ups”. So popular they have been, the Kid’s Series is a permanent sub-collection.

But make no mistake, this is not hybridising as the Japanese are known for and wont to do. As seen in Beautiful People’s autumn/winter 2020 show, the coming together of different components aims for a certain harmony rather than discord. In excess was not military-coat-meets-sundress, jumper-conjoined-to-shirt, trousers-couple-skirts. Or, Y-Project-style amalgamation of individual garments. Rather, Beautiful People, shown in Paris since the spring/summer 2017 season, cleverly pulls opposing forces together in a way that one barely notices until the trench coat, for instance, reveals the appealing rather than disagreeable other side of its Two-Face. In a word, beautiful.

Mame

mame AW 2020Photos: Mame

Mame (pronounced mah may, as in ‘bean’ in Japanese) is the brainchild of Maiko Kurogouchi, alum of Bunka Fashion College and, professionally, Issey Miyake. Dubbed “the next Sacai” by Western media, Ms Kurogouchi’s aesthetic is, conversely, unlike the former’s, although at times, they share a certain enhanced femininity—between a wayward schoolgirl and bored housewife—that is uniquely and identifiably Japanese. More significantly, Ms Kurogouchi is not the chronic hybridiser that Chitose Abe is. In fact, among all the designers in this brief list, she offers clothes closest to what many consider conventional and not a fright or challenge to a potential mate. Or, as she calls it—by a rather archaic-sounding descriptor, “timeless”.

The ten-year-old Mame showed in Paris since the fall season of 2019, which makes the label a PFW baby. In fact, at 35, the brand’s Nagano-born founder is the youngest too. Her age, however, belies her experience, especially in incorporating Japanese craft, textile, and age-old techniques in her designs, without going into national-dress territory, or costume-y nostalgia. While those who find pleasure in the alt may consider her designs too straight for expressing their far-out side, many of the label’s fans adore Mame’s familiar silhouettes, within which traditional Japanese elements are judiciously applied, not to pander to Western sense of Eastern exotica (even when she’s showing in Paris), but to extend the longevity of homeland craftsmanship and skill.

This season, Mame’s womanly silhouette and sense of femininity are enhanced with draping, asymmetry, and a strong use of open-work fabrics. Ms Kurogouchi, more than any of her compatriots, seems determined to contradict the belief that Japanese fashion is, by default, outré, never mind that she cut her teeth with one of the most way-out-inventive designers that emerged from Japan: Issey Miyake. In addition, a collaboration with the Italian shoe brand Tods that features clothing and accessories (dropping this month in stores) will likely see Mame as champion of the sanely swish.

Noir Kei Ninomiya

Noir KN AW 2020Photos: Alessandro Lucioni/gorunway.com

As it’s often said about design that is above the ken of the average fashion consumer, Kei Ninomiya’s Noir line, produced by the Comme des Garçons group, is not for the faint of heart. Of all the names linked to CDG, where quite a few of today’s successful Japanese designers with an international reputation graduate professionally, Kei Ninomiya takes to the CDG spirit most closely and ardently. In fact, oftentimes, his designs are more complex and the assembling more intricate than his famous employer’s museum-ready pieces. Mr Ninomiya had admitted to i-D magazine last year that “it is all very tough, to be honest. Even if you have an image in your head, there are cases where it is hard to actually make it.”.

One of three CDG brands that shows in PFW, Noir (as it is mostly known) was born in 2012, when Mr Ninomiya was only 28. The brand made its Paris debut in the spring/summer season of 2016. A graduate of Antwerp’s famed Royal Academy, he was reported to be unable to sew at the time he joined CDG. Mr Ninomiya corrected that perception by telling the media that he did eventually learn to sew as it was taught at CDG. Even with the skill, he conceived Noir to involve little sewing. The clothes in body-obscuring forms are often knitted (not necessarily with yarn), strung together by means of polygonal links, or held together by press studs. With Noir, one never thinks of how the clothes would be stored, washed, or ironed.

Despite naming his brand after the French word for ‘black’, the collections do sport some colour, such as this season’s reds, including their metallic cousins. Or, its opposite, white. Black, however, is still core to the collections. As Mr Ninomiya told i-D, black “is the absence of colour, and without colour you can emphasise the form and technique and create simple and strong designs.” While irrefutably strong rather than simple, these forms and techniques are best appreciated by confronting the clothes upfront (easily in CDG-owned Dover Street Market). One then senses that Kei Ninomiya is really more a proponent of crafting than mere sewing.

Toga

Toga AW 2020Photos: Alessandro Lucioni/gorunway.com

A brand’s success could perhaps be assessed by the demands of pieces done in the past. At Toga’s new space in Shibuya Parco, substantial rack space is dedicated to pieces from the Archive, and the interest in them is no less than anything grouped under New Arrivals. Toga may be relatively unknown in the west, even here in the east, but in Japan, Toga is not only covetable, they’re collectable. A sales staff in Tokyo’s most popular vintage clothier Rag Tag told us in December last year, “very hard to see Toga. Every time we put something out, it’s gone.” Such is the response to the brand among the cognoscenti that the rapidly growing awareness and popularity of Toga in Paris is really a matter of time than the influence of social media.

Interestingly, Toga founder Yasuko Furuta had her start in the retailing of vintage fashion, which may explain the existence of Archive—good designs need not be forgotten when the season is over. A graduate of the esteemed fashion school Esmod Paris, Ms Furuta returned to Tokyo and worked as a stylist before starting Toga in 1997. She presented the brand’s first runway show in Paris in 2006, with an autumn/winter collection called Monastic. But if that is suggestion of bleak and spare designs, then the name is a misnomer. Toga, till today, is a technical powerhouse of mixing vintage clothes, couture styles, and what may be considered Shibuya street, and then deconstructed to yield clothes that are different yet unquestionably wearable.

For autumn/winter 2020, Ms Furuta offers pieces, such as shirting and blazers, rooted in men’s wear, but given her unmistakably feminine twist. The sum reveals Ms Furuta’s flair for taking what women already wear or are familiar with and giving them unexpected design elements within those ready confines. Her clothes are not weird for the purpose of standing out strange. Rather, she challenges the notion that appealing, feminine fashion must not differ between those for mother and daughter, boss and co-worker, even just the usual she and her. And the past can certainly join the present in an easy, fascinating alliance.

Undercover

Undercover AW 2020Photos: Undercover

To be sure, Undercover is not new. Against the rest here, designer Jun Takahashi’s an old hat. Yet, until his stupendous collaboration with Valentino last fall, only streetwear fans seem to relate to what he does, which, for some of us, is a little annoying. We feel that he should be included in this list because his Undercover has been, in our opinion, unfairly considered and labelled as a bona fide streetwear brand, even in his native Japan, just because he has found considerable success with Madstore, the candy shop for casual clothes, bags, and toys; and earlier, in the 1993, the truly streetwear venture Nowhere that he started with T-shirt king Nigo.

Mr Takahashi’s trajectory in the streetwear sphere is a little unexpected, considering that he had received the blessings of none other than the high priestess of the Japanese avant-garde herself, Rei Kawakubo. According to popular telling, Ms Kawakubo had been impressed with Undercover as early as the mid-’90s, and had invited him to Paris, where the now-closed multi-label store Colette was so taken by Undercover that they invited Mr Takahashi to present the 1998 collection ‘Exchange’ in their Rue Saint-Honoré store. Just four years later, Undercover presented their first PFW collection for spring/summer 2003.

Despite his streetwear leaning, Mr Takahashi has shown tremendous design mastery, coupled with astounding imagination that sees his work recall fairy-tale-like characters in what could be tableaux akin to old masters’ paintings. The two-time Mainichi Fashion Grand Prize winner has a way with taking the unconventional garment construction that the Japanese before him were known for, and giving it the streetwear currency that he is able to communicate.

That he can draw from both the popular and the more cerebral, such as Akira Kurosawa’s 1957 film, Throne of Blood—which re-imagined Shakespeare’s Macbeth—for the autumn/winter 2020 collection (surprisingly not shown on a catwalk), is both amazing and admirable. The Renaissance seen through the eyes of, say, street artist Shepard Fairey—underpinnings and ruffles go with khakis, and here and there, prints of roses and razor blades! The Pirates of Penzance for the stomping grounds of PFW! Is it any wonder that The New York Times called him “The Sorcerer of Fashion”?

A Disappointing Close

Louis Vuitton could always be counted on to end the four-city fashion season with a bang. So why the cacophonous whimper?

 

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We watch the Louis Vuitton live stream once, and then again when it becomes available to view as a post. We are not sure what to make of it. This is a lull season for them, we conclude. Louis Vuitton, closing PFW and marking the end of the four-city rush that makes fashion weeks (in view of the unceasing COVID-19 outbreak, none has cancelled or gone online only), has always been a restorer of our faith in the creativity of fashion when increasingly what’s creative is being redefined or ignored. But what we have thought might be able to reverse the built-up dismay is no longer so. Not this season.

Nicholas Ghesquiere has always been an enthusiastic stirrer of the big fashion pot made increasingly vapid by those who add nothingness into it. Although his debut at Vuitton was not the stuff of fashion legend, he has put his distinctive stamp on the house in these past years: wearable separates that are melanges of fabrics, textures, prints, patterns, all in a delightfully varied mingle of the compulsory past and the fantastic future. But this season, while the blending is still there, they don’t coalesce into anything cracking, certainly not, as before, sublime. Is Mr Ghesquiere saving his better ideas for later by pausing to create a greatest hits, like how it was when sitcoms used to look back at the “best moments” between seasons or when writers were on leave?

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To be sure, he’s still up there breathing the rarefied air of luxury fashion—a stratosphere he brought along from his previous tenure at Balenciaga. Mr Ghesquiere is a technically sound designer, far more than many of this peers, even within the LVMH group, and, without doubt, more so than his colleague designing the men’s collection. He understands that no matter what you do to a garment and after what you do it, it must still look like something destined for the body. An ardent proponent of the odd pairing, he works with mostly traditional forms and relatively conventional silhouettes and yet within them he is able to create additional components that render the end result unexpected and, oftentimes, novel. We’ve seen him meld contradictory elements, those that are not meant to match, into breathtaking wholes.

Mr Ghesquiere is still able to do all that, but somehow, in presently messy and complicated times, which LV admits to in a pre-show video posted online, the collection is weighted by its own excesses and, especially, excess of cleverness. While other designers have nothing to pull out from their bag of ideas, Mr Ghesquiere seems to saturate his designs with more. A ton of ideas, however, isn’t necessarily any measure of brilliance. Maybe it’s the mood of the times and the mood we’re in—here in Southeast Asia, much of the collection look to us over-designed; even overwrought. And, worse, repetitive. The smorgasbord isn’t appealing when you’re not hungry. Or, when much of the Paris season has made you lost your appetite.

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The collection, according to LV’s PR material is called Anachronism, which may well describe the designer himself. He admits to the media: “I still breathe the past”. Mr Ghesquiere’s anachronistic approach to design, with a weakness for the ’70s and a pull from as far back as the era of the Sun King to a future indeterminate, has seen him excite with more hedonic rewards than all the retro-bent American designers combined. But he should have stopped at last season’s Belle Époque. All this mixing is headache-inducing. Do we need so many eras, so many points of reference in one garment?

Take the inordinately busy outerwear, a result of his predilection for mixing fabrics and patterns: they now seem a tad too Sacai for comfort. As you go on, White Mountaineering comes to mind. Louis Vuitton in a Japanese state of mind? Then those dresses, in particular the sheer baby doll with the four-tier hem (the bouncy tiered skirt is an LV highlight this season). This is worn over a (typically Nicholas Ghesquiere) panelled top and similarly sheer pants. Someone is taking his cue from a fellow LVMH brand.

One curiosity to note. For the past few seasons (we have not been able to trace back far enough), we noticed looks that appear to be for guys. This has been evident even when Kim Jones was still taking care of the sibling homme collection. Two years ago, we asked a staffer at the Louis Vuitton flagship here if Mr Ghesquiere makes a capsule for men. “No,” the affable woman told us, “but men like to buy our womenswear.” Which begs the question, are the boiler suits and motocross pants to attract potential male customers or, as 21st century wokeness demands, for the manly women who have never bought a dress in their life? Wouldn’t Virgil Abloh have taken care of them? Or are we being too binary? Complicated times, no doubt.

Photos: Isidore Montag/gorunway.com

The Chanel To Love

Vogue.com announced recently that the most viewed show on its Runway page is Chanel’s spring/summer 2020 collection. This season, too, looks destined to be another hit for the house. Welcome to the masterclass in consistency

 

Chanel AW 2020 P1

Chanel has become more consistent than its ever been: the consistent quality of designing the same way, over time. In the case of Virginie Viard, slightly over a year (the house announced on 19 February 2019 that she will take the place of the late Karl Lagerfeld). Chanel, more and more, and more than the average luxury brand, second the increasing believe that fashion design need not be complicated. In fact, the less in the exercise of design the better, especially for the bottom line. Ms Viard is, of course, not alone in taking the consistent-is-best route. In her good company is Maria Grazia Chiuri and the most consistent of them all, Hedi Slimane.

With consistency comes a susceptibility to the lacklustre. Consistency has the tendency to breed the latter. Styling can mask the lacklustre, and the styling at Chanel does that remarkably well. Even if you watch the show with lacklustre eyes, you may be seduced into seeing lack masquerading as lustre. Fashion is, after all, smoke and mirrors. It helps, of course, that Chanel has loads of costume jewellery to disguise the lacklustre, like fairy light and tinsel livening up what would mostly be insipid trees. And bags—loads of them—to throw you off the scent-of-lacklustre trail.

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Consistency and lacklustre are such dazzling partners that they make good runway. The Hadid sisters, regrettably, do pale. Consistency and lacklustre love an audience and the audience love them back. Chanel’s Conlack (in the convention of Brangelina, which Reuters noted back in 2006, “has more cultural equity than their two star parts”) we shall henceforth call consistency and lacklustre, plays to the pervasive social and all-important-front-row aspects well. In the past, fashion has no love for Conlack, but in the present, they have more cultural equity than any part Coco Chanel has ever imagined, beige and black too. And the celebrity-thick audience (presumably, and understandably, with less Conlack lovers from Asia) will lap up Conlack with as much enthusiasm as Marilyn Monroe—bless her soul—dousing herself in No 5, as she supposedly did.

Like news feeds, Conlack is with us more than it ever was. Ms Viard is aware of it too. She understands the power of Conlack and she draws on their immense potency to inflict delightful torture and tortured delight on the rapt audience. It does not matter that customers of Chanel, who could splurge without as much as fiddling with the camellia brooch before committing, are going to buy no matter how glaringly Conlack manifests this season, and they do appear with considerable clarity. Conlack likes no better than showing it can appeal to every woman, every wardrobe, every occasion, every trip to Daily Monop. It has mumsy jackets for madams of a certain age,  hotpants for the twentysomethings with legs, and everything between that Conlack can squeeze into, and it can squeeze itself into many things. Conlack, in case you didn’t notice, is thin. On what, you decide.

Chanel AW 2019 G3

Conlack has no voice; it is better at echoing. It echoes the voices of the dead; of the living; of the girls who wear their side-buttoned track pants unbuttoned, but no longer; of the KOLs who can’t get enough of hot pants because, well, of course, the weather demands it; of the executive who thinks a long-sleeved shift is work wear and wearing one will upstage co-users of the co-working space, of the crazy woman who slips her neckwear under her tube top because, frankly, crazies do. Conlack offers no surprise. Don’t expect strange bows behind the neck or shoulders that peak above the ears, or coats so roomy you can hide three of your children under them. Conlack loathes surprises. Ms Viard has moulded Conlack so perfectly and so ingeniously that it could reverse last year’s “fake news”, and entice LVMH to come a-calling with an acquisition offer. There is money to be made in Conlack. The world’s largest luxury group knows that.

Conlack is not only about the clothes. It can manifest itself in the hair and makeup too. Conlack hair is sad, no-effort hair. It is the cousin of hair that is synonymous with bad days. Or bridesmaids unwilling to outdo the bride. But Conlack hair is proud hair; it does not need to hide under a headscarf. Conlack makeup is no-colour makeup, the antithesis of what used to be Vamp and its entire dark ecosystem of irresistible products. It is also the opposite of Vamp’s life partner Camp. Conlack makeup is ready-to-rise and ready-to-bed. It is free of the palette, of shading, of highlights. Together with the clothes, Conlack is daily life and consumption that alters your propensity to discern and differ. Conlack, Chanel has shown once more, is top-to-toe—your total, all-loving, fashion-affirming dud(s).

Photos: Alessandro Lucioni/gorunway.com

 

And Let There Be Yeezy. Again

Yeezy may need Paris, but does Paris need Yeezy?

 

Yeezy S8 P1

Yeezy disappeared for a couple of seasons. Sort of. They ‘showed’ via social media, modelled by the missus, of course, and styled, according to KKW herself, by Carine Roitfeld (probably not very busy at CR Fashion Book). And there were reported “private appointments”, presumably for trade buyers, not the rest of us. The collections S6 and S7 were available online, not seen, according to our sources in New York, in stores. Does anyone still remember Kanye West’s Yeezy fashion?

Season 8 is a return to a catwalk presentation and a reminder that the clothing is as alive as the sneakers, and still designed by Mr West, a newly religious man, who, a day before, conducted Kanye West presents Sunday Service in Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord, a performance venue near the Gare, considered by the French to be a salle historique Parisienne, and one of the locations of Jean-Jacques Beineix’s 1981 film Diva. Setting is important when you do not have an actual church to conduct your song-led service in. What does a faith-guided collection prefaced by worship look like?

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The show itself takes place on the grounds of the French Communist Headquarters, against the futuristic façade of the Espace Niemeyer, designed by Brazilian architect, the late Oscar Niemeyer. Setting! According to pre-show excitement/reports (this is Yeezy, after all), Mr West will be presenting “a little piece from our home in Cody, Wyoming.” What a move from S6’s Calabasas! It’s 1,418 km apart, if you’re wondering. Cody, as we now know is where the West family has a 4000-acre (16,1874 square kilometres) ranch which they call home with 700 heads of sheep; it is also deeply tied to Colonel William Frederick Cody (hence its name)—the legendary Buffalo Bill. In addition, Cody considers itself “Rodeo Capital of the World”. Cowboy country. It won’t, therefore, be surprising if Season 8 will be, as part of a song goes, a little bit country.

It isn’t. Nor is it a little bit rock ‘n’ roll. Strike off any clerical garb, too. Yeezy just doesn’t fit with any particular vernacular, less so in Paris. It is simply Kanye West. Not more, not less. Not good, not bad. Thing is, if you’re neither this nor that, chances are, you’re in the betwixt, possibly the nether, a space called boring. It is hard to be aroused by non-fashion passed off as seasonal trends. That it all feels like you’ve seen them before adds to the needless dismay. Good enough for Cody does not mean good enough for Paris, not even with a dollop of Kim K—the bare midriff—for extra dash of what would otherwise be no flavour.

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To be sure, this is not an on-calendar show, which, technically, does not mean it is necessarily a PFW collection. Paris is an open city, anyone can go there to show. In fact, no one knew anything about the Yeezy Season 8 presentation until rumours were rife that the man was in town. Mr West, of course, has a flair for this sort of to-do-or-not-to-do news generating. Yet the pre-show buzz and the Sunday service cannot hoist S8 beyond a short fringe event. That there are only 18 looks (pal Virgil Abloh showed 41 for Off-White—already small, compared to Balenciaga’s staggering 105) augment the show’s and brand’s peripheral standing.

You can’t be certain what part these clothes could really play in your life if you take fashion seriously and live by it religiously. It is tempting to surmise that Mr West designs with his wife’s day-wear needs, and we shall. These are for running around Cody, running around in the cabin of planes, running after the kids (For evening wear, she has also-pal Olivier Rousteing.) To us, Yeezy is Mr West bringing Lululemon and Muji together, one cropped singlet after another, one cropped sleeveless puffer top after another, with the odd judoji worn with pants that look like the fly is open breaking the monotony (still, we can’t tell the difference between look 15 and 16). Perhaps Yeezy Season 8 is how Kanye West, believe it or not, squares faith and fashion.

Photos: Isidore Montag/gorunway.com

Balenciaga, As The World Nears Its End

In an already complicated, weather-changing existence, Demna Gvasalia continues to make clothes that boggle the mind. They are not easy to grasp or immediately likable, and therein lies his strength. And appeal

 

Balenciaga AW 2020 P1

It isn’t clear what the flooded runway means. Or the submerged front row. Is it a suggestion that fashion is now too inundated with the murky-good, or is it just Demna Gvasalia’s commentary on global warming and that cities, such as much-noticed Venice and overlooked Jakarta, are sinking? Perhaps he has more time to think of such things, now that he’s not designing Vetements. If so, he is showing, not telling, which seems wonted at other houses. Maybe, it’s best not to read too much into it and concentrate, instead, on the clothes. The staging at Balenciaga is always a conversation starter, but the clothes, more than that, encourage thinking, inspiring wonder and WTFs in equal measure. Last season’s parliamentary delegates seem to have given way to mourners and celebrants of the end of the world.

The show opened with dark, dark clothes that are a tad on the eerie side (some of the models wear red contact lenses, like Vin Diesel in Bloodshot!), so much so that some even called it “apocalyptic”, all fourteen (a number here in Asia considered inauspicious) are black until a brief shot of colour and then it’s mournful again and then hopeful, and the alternating rhythm continues. The solid blackness forces one to look at the clothes: the shapes, the silhouettes, or the fall (and the raised). Mr Gvasalia is a master of the silhouette. He goes from what in China was once proletarian to what in France is now the nostalgic-bourgeoisie. Between them, global left/right whatever. It can be hard, it can be soft, it can be punk, it can be pretty, there’s a dark edge to them all. This might have been Yohji Yamamoto if the designer stops coasting along.

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Mr Gvasalia’s designs not only make you consider the metaphors, they also urge you to look at them a little closer, like you would with art not rendered in the usual strokes, with the usual pigments. And like any work of emotional power, there are details that perhaps only you see and are delighted by. He’s also a tamperer, which means that what we expect to be at their usual places or placements are not: shoulders swoop, sleeves droop, neckline gape, plackets askew, cuffs hang. All within the silhouettes that are seriously clerical (monastic sounds too drab and abstemious), obliterating the wearers’ natural outlines and curves, like the robes of those who dedicate their lives to religion prefer to wear. Yet, one can discern a swash of couture: the collar that is also a hood and part of a cape, the generous gathers that forge the tented volumes, the oversized bows in the rear that do not tell if they hold the outfit or are there for effect.

But just as you thought this is going to be homage to the cassock and the like—contorted, they may be, Mr Gvasalia takes his usual off, off-centre route. The earlier shrouding in blockish shapes slowly gives way to the near-fantastical, an exaggeration that not only accentuates the body, but also, in the case of shoulders, forms acuminate shrugs. How they can stay up there, even on cable-knit sweaters, is a feat of cunning construction (not to mention the need for padding that won’t be found in your usual haberdashery). Pagoda shoulders have become veritable bargeboards akin to lamyongs at the end of Thai gables (especially true of the dresses). And just as there are those who want their bodies cloaked or who enjoy feeling undistinguished (when, in fact, they do), there are those who have no objection to the body-accentuating and the slinky—body stockings of perverse modesty.

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It is, in fact, in the tailoring that we find Mr Gvasalia express himself to a high degree. Is this a prelude to the proposed haute couture he will present in July? It is already known that he has a way with tailoring, especially in bending it—quite literally—to his will, often testing the limits of the lapels, its nape, and the shoulders this time: how far they could go. Or to what previously unexplored proportion, or to what extent of stress he can inflict on, say, the fulcrum of a jacket, traditionally positioned at the top button, below where the ends of the lapels meet. His pant or skirt suit, with the upturn of the lapel—even peaked—that can turn the jacket into a Nehru, with their pocket flaps affixed like Band Aid, with their rounded shoulders and judiciously padded hips make Maria Grazia Chiuri’s Bar suits decidedly child’s play.

For the guys, it’s a collection that will make Billie Eilish one happy customer. If you like looking hunched over, there are overcoats that afford such an effect with no effort. If you like mimicking the spines of the porcupine/hedgehog, there is a jacket with similar to protect you against predators. If you like satin shorts over track pants a la Superman’s undies over tights, there are those that will amuse your mates to no end. If you still like the logotype of Balenciaga, there is an abbreviated version minus all the vowels to make you still a collector. And if you like looking no more than your favourite football star, there are enough jerseys and shorts to make you appear like you perpetually camp out at Wembley, always close to footballers, only now, you carry clutches that look like jewellery boxes for your mother’s heirloom pieces or bento boxes for nori-whiskered Hello Kitty onigiri rice balls.

Photos: Alessandro Lucioni/gorunway.com

Spirited Away

Felipe Oliveira Baptista steadies Kenzo with a strong debut by going places, and with some desirable outerwear

 

Kenzo AW 2020 P1

For a long time, Kenzo the label has lost its way. Under the stewardship of Opening Ceremony founders Umberto Leon and Carol Lim, the brand began to waver after a promising start, adrift in the sea of aimlessness. At some point, Kenzo became what is thought to be “entry-level fashionista”. It, too, was street in a way founder Kenzo Takada probably never intended, and lost its initial cool veneer just as Open Ceremony was beginning to shed its down-town edge. Under their watch, Kenzo became widely associated with T-shirts and hoodies bearing the frontal face of the house tiger, with the Kenzo logo across an already busy delineation, what some euphemistically called “playful branding”. The tiger and the logo were, at one point, gaudily embroidered, and so poorly that the standing joke among some local fashion professionals was that even the same-same on the road side stalls of Guangzhou, shoppers are not picking them up. Kenzo became the de facto brand for shampoo girls trading up to designer labels.

Then in came Felipe Oliveira Baptista, who was head of design at Lacoste until 2018 (his position filled by Louise Trotter, formerly from Joseph). Prior to his tenure with the Alligator, the Paris-based Portuguese had his own eponymous haute couture label before ending it in 2009, reportedly to concentrate on his remunerated duties. The media was mostly thrilled with Mr Baptista’s surprising appointment, noting that his eight years at Lacoste allowed the French label to earn in access of €2bn annually, mouthwatering  enough to lure LVMH, owner of Kenzo, into making him an irresistible employment offer. A couturier with a flare for sportswear must have added to Mr Baptista’s professional appeal.

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What’s heartening is that Mr Baptista did not merely expand on what the Opening Ceremony duo did before, except to reprise the tiger, but differently (it was said that the two found running tigers inside waistbands and jackets in the Kenzo archive, and introduced the first of the embroidered cat on a sweater in the autumn/winter season of 2012). This time, the tiger takes the form of those imagined in the ’80s by Lisbon-based painter, the late Júlio Pomar.

Or, make it Lacoste 2.0. Rather, Mr Baptista salutes Kenzo’s nod-to-nature heritage through the eyes of an adventurer/traveller who absorbs the dress of a people as readily as the heritage of their land. Acknowledging to Financial Times that “there’s a nomadic spirit to Kenzo,” Mr Baptista delineates a world traveller with exploration, rather than expedition in mind. You have probably seen these individuals seized by wanderlust, backpacking to lands less travelled or coming from there, and then busking to earn their way back. Their clothes are oftentimes variations of the tunic, placing blanket-like comfort above trend-led restrictiveness.

Mr Baptisda’s Kenzo is, however, not Jungle Jap—Mr Takada’ first Paris store in Galerie Vivienne, opened in 1970, as well as a visual style that saw him wildly pastiche what he brought from Japan and what he saw in Paris. But, aesthetically, Kenzo the label was never identifiably Japanese, nor was it thoroughly French. Mr Takada drew from varied sources, from continents, from tribes, embracing globalism before it became the thing to enfold. In his final Paris show in 1999, that diversity came together in a delightfully heterogeneous collection that predates today’s call for inclusiveness amid the risk of cultural appropriation.

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Mr Baptista takes the obvious, but paces them through less trodden routes. He adopts, for example, Mr Takada’s love of flowers, working them into avant-garde, cocoon-like forms (or as lining of coats), rather than the latter’s playful shapes, and the babushka by attaching large veil-like pieces to hang from the rear of caps and hats, sometimes covering shoulders like a blanket. Itinerant, too, does not have to mean embracing the gaudily exotic. Mr Baptista casts his sight beyond the usual ‘resort’ styles, beach wear, or details that tell of cultural character for what seems like those that hint at places further afield: the highlands, the grassland, possibly deserts, too. Appealing are the tunics (including those for men), the ponchos, the sweater dresses, all with the spirit of non-city travels.

It could be the clear break away from what Mr Leon and Ms Lim had established for Kenzo or the redefinition of a brand that, at least for now, appears to be merging borders. Regardless, this is a good start for Felipe Oliveira Baptista. And an exhilarating refresh for Kenzo. Question is, will the new abstract, painterly tiger face appeal as much as the former cartoonish, logo-like version? Much, much more, we hope.

Photos: Isidore Montag/gorunway.com