First Look: Whole 9 Yards Autumn/Winter 2014

W9Y Runway

The last time a fashion show was staged on a footbridge, it was in March at Gardens by the Bay. So much have been said about that event, it may be considered harping on old news if we were to go there. Conversely, at the Orchard Gateway Link Bridge yesterday evening, Whole 9 Yards presented a preview of their autumn/winter 2014 collection without distancing models from guests. There was an oddly agreeable feeling that the show was up here as Orchard Road hummed down there.

It was a marketing win of some measure for Whole 9 Yards. The catwalk presentation was touted as Orchard Gateway Link Bridge’s “first fashion show”. About 10 metres above ground traffic, the glass-encased pedestrian duct isn’t opened for crossing yet. The attendees could, therefore, take pride in being the first to grace it. Strewn with dried leaves and randomly sprouting wilted grasses, the runway was that of an unkempt, autumnal pathway—one that would not have been alien to Hansel and Gretel. The fall foliage hues and hints of shorter daylight hours were, however, not a foretaste of things to come.

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In contrast to the muted colours of the year-end season, Whole 9 Yards presented a collection that had the brightness of a sunnier clime. It shouldn’t really matter since the audience, still not out of our July heat, was not likely thinking of the months of diminishing greens. Pantone fanatics, however, would be eager to point out that in colour aesthetics, there are differences between summer and autumn hues. The non-seasonal colours though found synergy in the non-seasonal silhouettes. If you traced the lines from shoulder to the hips and to the knees, where the hems mostly ended, you wouldn’t find anything linear, heavy, and aggressive, or that does not accentuate the waist. Whole 9 Yards is identified, even when the label is barely a year old, by their ultra-feminine clothes, and the just-shown season did not deviate drastically from their founding look.

Established in September last year, and available through various pop-up counters before its standalone stores in Wisma Atria and, now, Orchard Gateway, the brand’s ultra-femininity is also ribboned to a predilection for past-leaning looks. It takes to ‘vintage’ styling like indigo dye to denim. As CEO and spokesperson Widelia Liu told TimeOut Singapore last year, “Vintage is at the core of all Whole 9 Yards’ designs… because it captures the essence of timelessness.” In vinification, vintage is used only for exceptionally fine wines from the crop of an especially good year. Only in fashion do retailers and shoppers adopt indiscriminate labelling of old clothing. When even garments from the ’90s are now considered vintage, have we not stretched the term’s aptness? In addition, are vintage automatically timeless, such as bell-bottoms or Alexis Carrington Colby’s Nolan Miller-designed dresses?

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Visiting past eras for ideas is not necessarily a bad thing, but the shuttling between decades may hold a brand back from going forward even when, according to Ms Liu, “vintage fashion is… interpreted in a modern way”. Sure, you can amp them up, as hipsters would say, but can newness be offered as a result? Is there a different point of view? Can a shopper look at these clothes and don’t feel that she has seen them somewhere else? The affirmative is not offered even when merely peeking through the windows of the Whole 9 Yards store at Orchard Gateway. A peach-pink dress with a high waistline festooned with flowers of identical fabrics on the bodice, for example, articulates Salvation Army Thrift Store. The appeal is even more diminished when the vintage approach is so frightfully prevalent, from H&M to Heng Nam Nam. Surely it’s time for design studios to file away old copies of Burda.

While Whole 9 Yards was initially steered by a team of “designers from different parts of the world including Singapore, London and Paris”, as stated by Ms Liu, it is presently designed by Malaysian Daniel Ngoo. The latest collection seems to be taking a breather from its vintage positioning (hitherto, pre-’80s). Mr Ngoo, a winner at Star Creation 2010 (a Textile & Fashion Federation-initiated competition during Audi Fashion Festival), has reworked the brand’s typical silhouette into something more akin to his own: leaner and longer. This season, the ’90s is a source of inspiration, so is grunge, as well as African tribal body art. The combination is intriguing even though grunge—in essence, characterised by a rejection of polish and pretence—can be the proverbial throwing of a spanner in the works. It, too, would require a designer of tremendous ability to bring together counterculture (grunge) and culture (African tribal body art), all set within a very specific time period (the ’90s). Interesting, then, that Mr Ngoo’s winning collection at Star Creation 2010 was called ‘Her Unidentified Grunge’?

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Fashion movement and epidermal decoration, disappointingly, weren’t explored, at least not to the point where visual splendour could be effected.  We were not expecting Courtney Love-meets-Congolese tribeswoman, but if Whole 9 Yards were to stay true to their image of embracing ‘vintage’, grunge and African tribal body art could have so many possibilities. Instead, they opted for a cursory reading of past trends and clan skin beautification of the planet’s second largest continent. And the result is unconvincing, devoid of a sense of place. Appliqué does not represent scarification (just to name one body art) and long floral skirts do not grunge make!

Just as the designs could have benefitted from more thought, the technical aspects of the garments could have gained from more expertise. A recurrent hitch: on many shoulders, it couldn’t be ascertained if they meant to drop or point outwards. It appeared that the problem was in the shoulder slope (or the lack of it), compounded by set-in sleeves. The ill-fitting shoulders surely can’t be a page from fashion of the ’90s. Winter wear, too, isn’t Whole 9 Yards’ strength. It was odd that they took it on. The token coats they showed appeared oddly bulky and lacking in sleekness, with collars that fell rather than sat on shoulders. The handling appeared to have been guided by fundamentals (and tools) employed in construction based on lighter-weight fabrics. And they didn’t look like they would be warm enough.

Whole 9 Yards may have skirted—not ditched—the vintage look and girly leaning that have come to characterise the brand, but on Orchard Gateway Link Bridge, the circumvention was missing spontaneity. The new direction was an enthusiastic endeavor, perhaps, but not an enthusiasm borne of a need to innovate. Fashion design and retail these days need to tickle the consumers’ urge to splurge. Will these clothes be absolutely desired in the coming season? If only they had gone the whole nine yards.

Whole 9 Yards is at #02-06 Orchard Gateway and #01-05 Wisma Atria

First Look: Raoul Fall/Winter 2014

Raoul AW 2014 Gp 1The Sixties vibe from last season returns like updated cell phone apps: improved but not life-changing. Raoul’s Fall/Winter 2014, the much anticipated follow-up to Spring/Summer’s refreshing collection, continues to explore the label’s fascination with a period that oscillates between 1960 and 1970. The graphic sense, so energetically introduced six months ago, is re-explored, but you don’t sense it is revivified.

Held, this time, at the Kaplan Penthouse of the Lincoln Center Plaza, and (finally) part of the official calendar of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, the showing is, once again, a static display that allows the viewer to ascertain that the clothes, to be expected, are well made and fit as they should, with an ease that befits the brand’s “contemporary luxury” positioning.

Raoul AW 2014 Gp 2While Raoul may have seduced consumers into perceiving the brand as higher-end than they really are, their merchandising approach is similar to that of its mid-price competitors. And like the latter, they don’t break new ground in product categories nor design approach. Still headed by Douglas and Odile Benjamin, the line hardly vary in terms of silhouettes and aesthetics too, which may make for sound branding, but may not arouse those seeking excitement for an increasingly generic wardrobe.

The Benjamins have no Raoul archive to mine, so they do not. They stick to shapes that they like and are familiar with: the usual shell top, the slim (not constricted) skirt, the puff-sleeved shirt, the slightly-tented jacket, much with a subtlety-lite nod to Oleg Cassini. For design cred, they look to art. This season, it is the Wiener Werkstätte Sti or the Vienna Workshops Style, an early 1900s Modernist movement that later influenced the Bauhaus group as well as the American Art Deco, and has even spawned fabrics that are categorised by micro-prints of florals and graphic shapes.  This is, however, not a crossover, as the art is a mere hint, not a master stroke to its design dimension, and does not vary in treatment from the previous season. Even the cut-outs that form the border of a shell top qualify as replicate.

Raoul AW 2014 Gp 3By associating itself with art, Raoul is able to invigorate a line that may, by a mere misstep, be unremarkable as it confines itself within commercial context. It’s a balancing act that, to be fair, the brand has walked with some finesse. The AW 2014 season appear to comprise several stories, but taken as a whole, they do not look disparate. While not as tightly edited as the previous season, the pieces will, for the most part, translate into healthy sales, which, no doubt, will inform the following season’s design direction.

Raoul may be presented in New York and presumably targeted at Americans, but the label’s sensibility is somewhat European. The print-on-same-print styling recalls Prada’s and Marni’s (although the daisy is unabashedly Marc Jacobs). And the over-sized Harlequin checks—a minimalist ode to Italian commedia dell’arte? The Euro-sense for an Asian label is not necessarily a drawback since American consumers do look to European fashion with a palpable fervour. As such, Raoul, has hit some notes right.