Dress Watch: The Bell Curve

Mulberry Bell BlouseIf there are statement jackets and coats, why can’t there be statement blouses? Given Singapore’s weather that is not friendly to layering, a belle usually needs, well, the bells (and whistles) of a dramatic top. Mulberry’s aptly named ‘Bell Blouse’ is just the piece to own. In a wool/polyester/silk blend, this twill-finish BB (!) is characterised by oversized bell sleeves. While the sleeves will elicit response from envious friends, it is the details that will win the approval of keen eyes. Unusual is the placement of the open-front side pockets that are raised so high as to allow the base seam to form the very discreet bust darts. This is made even less obvious by the V-front seams that plunge downwards only to arc away to the sides, forming the shape of the pocket and throwing a curve ball to the viewer who wonders how everything falls so beautifully on the body.

Clothing is usually the last thing that comes to mind when one shops at Mulberry, but designer Emma Hill has quietly steered the label’s ready-to-wear line on its British-quirky incline so well and convincingly that it is blouse rather than bag so many women are finding themselves gravitating towards. Let this ‘Bell” ring out loud!

The Mulberry ‘Bell Blouse’, SGD1430, is available at the boutique in Mandarin Gallery

Photo: Mulberry

Who Are… The CDG Customers?

CDG party AW 2013

It’s always fun to attend a gathering organized by Comme Des Garçons. There’s quite a lot to see, whether clothes or coteries. The air hums with stylishness—attendees parade, rather than peacock, their not-subtle attire. If individualism and the unconventional have a social centre, it sits here on level two of the Hilton Shopping Gallery. At this season’s party this afternoon, the get-together was in full swing when I arrived. Guests were mostly in different stages of purchase-making, prodded, possibly, by the bubbly booze and bit bites served.

Few brands attract such a motley group of customers as CDG does. These people are nothing like the supposed enthusiasts that you see queuing outside, say, Louis Vuitton. These are fans, those with the same devotion as avid supporters of Big Bang or Banksy; their loyalty bordering on idol worship. And they are as diverse a consumer base as the many lines CDG offers (17 at last count), not the single fashion-fabulous tribe adoring a young, social-media-savvy designer-of-the-moment.

Inside the white-walled boutique (although opened in early 2011, does not stray too much from the look of the first Paris boutique opened in 1982), the arriving customers quickly built up a mise-en-scène not unlike a Hou Hsiao-Hsien movie. I had not noticed this before. For all the far-out fashions these individuals embraced, there were humanistic, even sentimental, aspects to witness. Perhaps it was a Saturday afternoon, when alone shopping time is as appealing as this morning’s hangover. The shoppers seemed mostly accompanied. Among the groups, the less expected and more conspicuous were parents with kids in tow (decked out, no less, in Play, the only CDG line with pieces for the very young). The interaction between parents and children was no different from what one might observe in a supermarket. The father might be in a montaged shirt and the mother in flounced and beribboned dress, but the expression of style was secondary to the appearance of parenthood. If you think about it, this did not deviate from CDG’s widely varied consumer demographics.

Just as she has challenged convention in couture, designer Rei Kawakubo has bucked the establishment by not using the most beautiful or the youngest models. She has put on the catwalk girls who look as if they were picked from her factory floor, and men who might be ready to make their first CPF withdrawal. Her customers are often not broadly different from the models she presents on stage. Since she does not push for a particular type of woman or man, nor does she offer clothes with sexual overtones (preferring to add volume over, rather than trace the contours of the body), she has been able to draw a client base that goes beyond those of body-con fashionistas. Gender lines are blurred too, with women buying the men’s Shirt Line, and men picking up the women’s low-crotch pants and complex jackets.

Before the wildly successful Play line (with the much-copied heart shape with eyes sans lips designed by Polish artist Filip Pagowski), before the standalone boutique at the Hilton Shopping Gallery, CDG mostly attracted individuals from the art and media world, with fans including Charles Saatchi, Cindy Sherman, Tom Dixon, and, in Singapore, Theseus Chan, the founder of design studio Work and the kindred publication Werk. While CDG once provided alternative aesthetics to mainstream fashion, they have less of that power now since so many designers are challenging the status quo by approaching design the “Rei way”. The Play line—cute and accessible—spawned a new generation of fans, but the traditionalists mostly avoid it.

Back at the boutique, family folks succumbed to the little ones’ impatience and left, leaving behind the not-unexpected boys in skirts and girls in shirts. Between them, trend-led geeks in Star Wars tops as arresting as light sabers ready to strike, women who consider symmetry in dress a curse, those who cannot have too much bows and rosettes, and the die-hards who insisted they wear “only the runway looks”.

A waitress appeared to offer me some finger food smaller than the pinkie, all neatly arrange on a bed of limp linguine, housed in a birdcage. Unable to resist—bad joke as it were, I asked if the éclair-looking bits were what the escaped bird left behind. She did not look amused. Humour, I supposed, was hard to fit in a sombre, gallery-like setting such as this—ironic since, I soon learned, the event was really to launch the brand’s collaboration with Disney. What would Mickey Mouse have said?

Dress Watch: The Raw Edge

Bottega Blouse

I was enthralled by what I saw in the window, but, next to me, my companion deadpanned, “It won’t sell.” I looked at her, and she looked back, still insisting, “Unfinished edges won’t sell.” I did not go further. You don’t argue with a merchandise director.

The window that beckoned was at Bottega Veneta. The object in question was a marigold blouse in double-faced silk duchesse satin. The sleeveless top was asymmetric in the composition of its front bodice, some parts with unfinished hems. What was intriguing about this blouse was the skillful joining of the panels—their placements created sort of cascading blade foliage, a confirmation of mastery in draping. The many seams—all unexpectedly placed—within the blouse were held together with what seemed to be the mimicking of hand-tacking.

Despite the absorbing design (and the Thirties glamour it exuded), the element that bothered my companion was the unfinished edges. Raw hems may suggest crudeness in less deft hands, but here, designer Thomas Maier created something that was, to me, refined precisely because of this deliberate ignoring of the hems, resulting in a soft abbreviated fringing that went well with the unconcealed tacking. When I pointed to the thoughtful details, she simply said, “But the unfinished edges make it look cheap.”

It is intriguing that exposed overlock stitches are acceptable these days but not unfinished hems, which came into prominence during the rise of Japanese labels such as Comme des Garçons in the early Eighties, and later adopted by Maison Martin Margiela, and more recently by Alber Albaz for Lanvin.

To me, an unfinished hem can look far superior to a poorly stitched one.

This Bottega Veneta silk blouse is available at the boutique in Ion Orchard for SGD3,010. Photo: style.com

Who’s Bugging You?

Season of Bugs

From left: Kenzo’s current campaign image, Alexander McQueen + Damien Hirst scarf, Lanvin silk top

Welcome to a season of bugs. Have designers abandoned their horticulturist for their favourite entomologist, given the swarm of insect-inspired clothing and communication designs? It’s not an unreasonable assumption when pest is preferred to petal.

Fashion’s appropriation of insects is not necessarily a reflection of consumers’ changing attitudes towards creepy-crawlies. For the longest time, flowers, rather than bugs, were used for print on fabrics or appliqué on garment. In fact, bugs have traditionally appeared as jewellery rather than as clothing. From ancient Egyptian scarab rings to 18th Century Swiss beetle timepieces to present-time Cartier bee pendants and Gucci ladybug purses, insects have been used as accent pieces rather than motifs to flock the body. Considered irksome in nature, but admired in fashion, especially when rendered in precious metals and stones, even unsightly bugs such as the cockroach and the wasp have found favour among those who like their accessories off-beat. However popular they may become, it is doubtful that women will embrace beetle-covered skirts with the same zeal as those festooned with flowers.

The beetle print of a Lanvin silk blouse

Unlike floral print, bug motifs do not convey a sense of economic supremacy even when both blooms and vermin are products of nature. A woman emblazoned with roses, for example, may suggest wealth or person in possession of private grounds in which rose bushes thrive or the possibility of adventure in exotic (and expensive) locales, usually of cooler clime where the flora can flourish. Insects, on the other hand, point to places of questionable hygiene—usually dark and dank—or, like in Harry Porter, a predilection for the dark arts. Flowers are associated with aromatherapy, while insects with potions and spells!

Insectival styles are here to stay for a while. Squeamish or not, let not some trends be the season’s bugbear.