Horn Of Fenty

With backing from LVMH on a fashion line, Rihanna is now an all-singing, all-dancing, all-beautifying, all-designing one-woman super brand. But are the clothes nice? It may depend on whether you are a Riri fan or not


By Mao Shan Wang

Let me be upfront: I am not a rabid fan of Rihanna—okay, not a fan at all. I don’t listen to her music (except when it’s played on the radio; even then, I pay attention not); I don’t buy her Puma shoes; and I am not impressed by her cosmetics, never mind if there are 40 “inclusive” shades of foundation (at launch).

Like countless young women who desire to be a fashion designer because they like clothes, shopping, and to dress up, Rihanna seems, to me, to be answering to gratifiable vanity than vocational calling. As we know, fashion these days is doable as long as you want to and have the means or connections, not if you really have the skill or flair.

I grew up understanding that fashion designers design. They don’t sing. Jean Paul Gaultier, who despite a single from 1989, How To Do That, won’t go so far as to call himself a singer. But, conversely, many who sing—or employed as musicians or DJs—are not quite contented with expressing themselves vocally or musically, and are boldly crossing over so as to be able to establish themselves as fashion designers.
Fenty 052019 G1

To be sure, there are singers who are/were successful designers. Victoria Beckham comes to mind, and, reluctantly, Gwen Stefani, but these women put out fully-merchandised lines there are more than an extension of their armoire and their penchant for a certain look. Or, fashion that’s less the wardobe ‘edit’ of a fashionable individual such as Kate Moss for Topshop. I have, of course, not forgotten Beyonce, but you probably have. Remember Ivy Park? Maybe you do. House of Deréon? Guess not! And somewhere in there, the Haus of Gaga, which is really another story.

Maybe Rihanna is different, maybe she has what it takes—if not necessarily in the realm of actual clothes-making, at least in churning the hype. To be fair, she has experience, as many people call the pre-LVMH, Puma-backed/produced Fenty (not to mention the even earlier, 2013 collab with British fast fashion label River Island). Could Rihanna have been just parking herself there until a luxury conglomerate comes a-calling? Despite clever (or campy) collection themes such as Marie Antoinette at the Gym, Fenty 1.0 was not exactly high fashion. But, I could be wrong about that. It’s hard to be certain about such things these days. Whatever Serena Williams wears on court, the media is wont to call it a “high-fashion statement”.

Through Fenty, Rihanna augments the fashion-as-amour posturing by using a not-quite-soft silhouette and tough-wearing fabrics, such as canvas and barely-washed (or perhaps not at all) Japanese denim. She does not say how comfortable these fabrics are in increasingly high summer temps or scorching heat that is much of the world with no seasonal variations, such as Southeast Asia. The first hype-driven ‘release’ (her preferred term than ‘drop’), comprises the kind of clothes that wearers can “stun” in, “rock” a look, and appear “fierce”. Or, as Badgalriri described to the media, “badass and daring”.

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And there’s the tailoring, which recalls pal Virgil Abloh’s suits for Louis Vuitton, kind of a post-streetwear take on the zoot suit—a little oversized, with conspicuous lapels, in colours that are, surprisingly, sweet. Indeed, are they not on the same page? Rihanna makes her Fenty blazers more feminine by taking them in at the waist, so as to give the nipped-in effect that would otherwise not be apparent on wide-girthed women, a group every ‘inclusive’ fashion label now cannot ignore.

There is a discernible path here. When hip-hop-pop-stars-turn-designers (or streetwear-designers-do-luxury), tailoring seems to be the way to show that they have arrived at a certain level in fashion. To have mastered the suit is perhaps the equivalent of attaining an MBA, which, many graduates know—and schools promote—“means a worldwide recognition of your credentials”. Rihanna needed to move Fenty out of the sportif and athleisure sphere that the brand found itself in under the auspices of Puma. Tailored garments, with all its technical complexities, is a veritable upgrade for both label and the woman behind it, and a testimonial of her abilities for a global audience.

That Rihanna appeared at the Paris launch of Fenty in a white suit top (sans the bottom) with sort of boning that emphasises the waist is authentication of her style, one no longer glorifying a super-svelte body, and her long-brewing wish to be taken seriously as a designer. It is inconsequential that the silhouette—top heavy, sort of an inverted tear drop—is not quite new as brands, from Ambush to A Land, have long stocked them.


Fashion is, of course, no longer about mileage. Who thinks about what they will wear a month from now? It’s about the moment, the vibe of the hour, the feeling of the day. See now, want now! Fenty is that time, the creator’s emotional state, the ardour her fans will not dampen. These are not exactly designs to rewrite anything; they are clothes that are familiar, something already seen and shall be seen (a week later, Alexander Wang showed interestingly similar jackets), pieces that presently seemed to me destined for discount retailers such as New York’s Century 21.

Although the media and Rihanna’s fans think this is a big deal for fashion, I am not sure what it all would really mean. It seems odd to me that those who can really design, such as Phoebe Philo, isn’t pursued and given their own label. Instead, we gravitate towards those with a pop life, a deep sense of self-worth and an ever-expanding IG account, those who have never sat at a drafting table before, those who have never ever dreamt of being a designer’s designer. According to WWD, LVMH has availed key employees from Louis Vuitton and Celine to work with Rihanna and her team, among them Fenty’s style director, Jahleel Weaver, who has been Rihanna’s partner-in-crime on previous projects. Of course Fenty will be well staffed. Who’s expecting Rihanna to even sketch?

Rihanna, while reportedly the first black woman to launch a fashion collection in Paris (for sure under LVMH), isn’t the first African-American to do so. I reminder one other. In the early 1980s, the late Patrick Kelly, a friend of the model Pat Cleveland, moved to Paris from New York City to establish his eponymous label, and was subsequently admitted into the prestigious Fédération Française de la Couture, du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode, never mind if many only remember him for buttons and bows. Mr Kelly, unlike Rihanna, could at least sew, a requisite no longer crucial as long as you can sell anything, and in doing so, move mountains and the titans… of luxury.

The Fenty online store launches today at fenty.com. Photos: Fenty

Close Look: The Bulges Are Hard!

We didn’t think that the maternal bumps of the Comme des Garçons outfit would be as rigid as anti-riot shields


CDG SS 2019 fibreglass vest.jpg

We have to state for the record that we were mistaken. The Comme de Garçons protuberances that we blogged about in October last year are not stuffed body stockings. Now that we have the opportunity to look at the spring/summer 2019 separates—launched yesterday— up close, we saw for ourselves that they are, in fact, three completely different parts.

Rei Kawakubo’s base garments that bring back memories of her 1997 spring collection are in fact a body stocking, leggings, and a sort-of tank top made of fibre glass,  accompanied by those intriguing two bulges. One male shopper at the CDG store was heard telling his friend, “which woman wants to let people think her jugs fell to there”. We shall pretend he only came for Play.

The sales staff was trying to explain to us what these truncated torpedoes are about, alluding to the designer having not experience pregnancy. It is rather hard to see how these bodily extensions—organically shaped (giant silk cocoons?) and symmetrical as they may be—can be about child bearing. We were surprised how hard the bumps are, and could imagine how surprised the person who bumps into the wearer might be. There goes the thought of using them as transit lounge pillows.

For you ardent collectors of runway pieces, Comme des Garçons tattoo rose-print body stocking and legging set, SGD590. and fibre glass tank top, SGD6,550, are available at CDG. Photo: Chin Boh Kay

The Talkative Us: Paris Fashion Week SS 2019

When two friends chat fashion


Conversation PFW SS 2019

One Monday evening—a stormy night—two individuals sought sanctity and peace, but found themselves giving Facebook more data to mine when they chatted, via WhatsApp, about a Paris season that had, as they saw it, neither vigour nor vim.

L: This season...

V: This season is a write-off! Paris now is a bit like 1982, or before Rei and Yohji came: flat.

Doesn’t it feel like that? We need someone to shake things up.

Unfortunately, fashion changers don’t come even every decade.

Definitely not Hedi, not this decade.

Pity the fashion editors who have to say nice things. Otherwise, no invites.

Even Karl stopped saying anything about him.

Haha, though he was in the audience. It’ll take two minutes for Karl to come up with this type of show.

Karl spins more variations on the Chanel jacket in one show than Hedi has for a dress the entire time he was at Saint Laurent.

True, but I didn’t see anything at Balenciaga either. Unnecessary $ for effects.

Projection on the wall is this year’s in thing. I feel like I have seen this show before.

He’s dialed back and is doing commercial and more wearable versions of previous stuff. Snore.

I looked at the current collection of Vetements up-close yesterday. Major snore too.

Irony can only go so far.

At least he has a point of view (and technical flair) for Balenciaga than the other one at Celine.

Since it’s Demna, I shall reflect for a week to see if he’s being ironical on his expected irony.

Demna does not depend on irony alone; he has something more innate. Although, for me, the Margiela influence is sometimes a bit too obvious.

For me, last year’s overcoat, pulled to one shoulder. Love! They were Beautiful. On every level. The intent was clear.

And the skill in meeting the intent! Irony atop expertise.

Or course, there’s not one shred of irony at Dior. Maybe the French are running out of steam. Paris = zero.

I don’t understand why everyone has a bloody social message to deliver. Why can’t fashion just be fashion? Or am I being ignorant—not woke enough?

Because that Maria made it cool, muahaha!!!

Maria is trite! Sumiko should interview her. They’ll enjoy each other’s company.

Unlike Galliano. No conscience, that one! All I want to know is whether he’s drug-free.

He isn’t—to style like that!

Waiting for another relapse.

Dior now just gets to me. I have never been so irritated by a label this much.

Can’t think of anyone else with her stunning lack of talent. Bouchra Jarrar has at least three silhouettes. Sarah Burton also has at least three.

It’s come to a stage when it’s about getting the bonuses to buy another house somewhere in the south of France. Or, being one’s own kick-starter to begin one’s own label.

Dunno, but we all know now which one of the Valentino duo has the talent. Before she left, it must have been her hand because every Valentino collection was the same camel tone and sheer.

I wonder what Pierpaolo thinks each time he sits there watching her show. Every time I walk pass Dior, I can’t bear to look. Too painful. More brain cells die.

That Dior ‘Blue’ collection: Has anything gone lower? Nothing excites anymore. Hence, I thought of pre-Comme/Yohji Paris. But readers of SOTD won’t go that far back.

How many people even go back to yesterday? That’s why we should. There’s nothing wrong with shuttling back. If things look better today, we wouldn’t have to.

They’re all doing what they’ve always been doing, even Galliano and Rei. I want something to shock me or disgust me. Demna came close a few seasons ago, but…

But Paris isn’t poised to shock when French fashion now is a multi-billion-dollar business. Shocking won’t pass the grade in any business plan. Ugly yes; shocking no.

I think the Dior windows this season can be a starting point for everything that is urghhh in fashion now.

But Anna said in Vogue.com that “everything was wonderful”.

She never says what she thinks. She’s no idiot. I’m sure she sees the malaise in fashion.

She loves Chanel too much.

I’m the only one saying this: Karl is younger and more inventive than the rest of them.

Inventive in styling and sets, but not quite in design. I don’t consider his clothes inventive at all. Maybe a little more so at Fendi. Or, why wouldn’t his own line ever take off?

Not everything works, but he’s firmly planted in the immediate. His play on the Chanel jacket, the fabrics, etc, I don’t think others can come near.

There’s some truth to that. In some ways, Karl is like Steve Jobs—he doesn’t truly innovate, but he does take what’s popular and give it a popular spin. You know it’s on trend but it doesn’t look like everybody else’s on trend. 

Agreed. He has never really ‘invented’ anything, but I think he’ll be the first to say he never intended to, anyway. Looking ahead, I think Marc at Chanel will be okay. Or even at Dior. Not earth-shaking, but competent.

It would be hard to replace Karl, but too easy to replace Maria!

Even Susie couldn’t bring herself to say anything about Dior, just praising the dancers. Sheer stretch tops + long tulle skirts. Genius.

Re-looking at Marc (sorry, divert to NYC a bit), that’s pure, pure retro-love. No irony, no attempt at 2019. Just a riff on YSL that’s not even contemporary—sort of YSL created for Alexis Carrington.

Marc always goes back to YSL (its okay, we’re in Paris again), sometimes by way of Comme.

Of course! I liked it immediately, but I knew exactly why it appealed to me—the taffeta, the satin, the flounces, the ruffles, the oversized bows.

To be fair, the flounces are not easy to handle. Marc has more in his repertoire than Hedi. Additionally, Marc had the rosettes of Ungaro, not just the flounces of YSL!

Marc did it all very well, especially the proportions. Hedi: short. slim, black, tight.

Like Hedi, Marc has gone through three houses (including his own). Marc has spanned a range.

But he’s not connecting to the now. In that sense, Hedi is more connected than Marc.

I am not sure if what he’s doing is “now” because now can’t stretch back to 2000 when he was designing YSL men’s (even before Dior Homme). 

Yep. I think fashion has moved on since his time at Saint Laurent. It’s dated, but Carine may like; she’s stuck in her Tom Ford era.

Why do you think Marine Serre is so well liked? I am not sure I get her.

I don’t even register her. The little I have seen, I did not even realise it was supposed to be ‘fashion’.

But many reviewers like her.

The only two I like this season are Thom Browne and Rick Owens, but they’re both in their own little universe.

I have no problem with that. Better in their own universe than in the same gutter.

Re-looking at Serre. Why am I seeing Demna and Ghesquiere? Did she intern, or was an assistant to them?

I see Vetements, too.

She just makes Demna more palatable.

Maybe she has captured the mood! Or, imagine getting stuck even before Demna!

That French woman designer—I can’t remember her name now. She’s very Vogue Paris.


She did a collab with Topshop, or was it H&M?

Oh, Isabel Marant! It was H&M.

Now, that’s stuck, stuck, stuck!!! I know you like Phoebe, but Phoebe and Marant, etc, all design in a very fixed and narrow aesthetic.

I see what you’re saying, but both are leagues apart. I admire Phoebe because she’s ‘technical’. Nothing she did was straightforward. She could make a simple shirt sing and soar! There was a certain mastery that even her contemporary Stella doesn’t have.

Hello?! There’ll be no Stella without Phoebe. I wonder how much of Chloe did Stella design. I bet Phoebe did it all.

Even a quintessentially French brand like Chloe is sleep-inducing. Why does Paris not excite any more? I have always skipped New York, been selective when it came to London and Milan, and totally followed Paris, but more and more, I feel let down by Paris. 

Paris—I just feel that every designer (even Rei, I’m sorry) was doing exactly what they were expected to do. Exactly!!!

Theyskens did not do exactly what was expected of him, but look at the result! He and the others seem weary of the business or unsure of the prevalent mood. And I don’t think they bother to carry the torch for Paris.

Aiyo, Theyskens was weak. Like he completely lost his mojo.

The worst is happening at resuscitated houses! Poiret! Why did they even bother? You might as well bring back Worth! But he’s not French. Maybe this is consistent with the nationalism sweeping across Europe?

Who even knows or cares about Poiret? Might as well develop a new name.

Poiret’s clothes were not even known to be well-made! He was better known for his ideas, not quite dressmaking. 

And did I hear Patou?

Why not Lelong too?

Rabanne—salah! Could be any label.

It’s such a waste of money and resources. Aren’t there enough unworn and unsold clothes? And those destined for the incinerators? How much can Rabanne sell to justify its existence? 

Who cares about anyone who would buy Rabanne?

Like who cares about those buying Lanvin now!

See how we don’t remember Alber Albaz? It’s telling.

You’re only as good as your last good collection: clichéd but true.

People praised him and dissed the Taiwanese owners, but he became rather formulaic too. His last few seasons were so blah.

By the time of his H&M collaboration, he was, in fact, coasting. The jelak effect set in. Even today, many brands still insist only getting us satiated.

As I said, this was Paris, 1982.

Even Sacai! She’s traipsing a plateau, not, as Kate Bush sang, Running up that Hill. Or, have I become easily bored? I was such a fan. No more. I think she sold out after that Colette thing. 

Sacai! Chitose is doing exactly what she has been doing. Sacai has now early-fossilised into, not a caricature, but doing the same thing because she likes it and her customers like it. That’s what I find about designers like her: they want to have their own voice, but it’s the same voice every season.

I think women are not quite as influenced by designers as they are by pop stars and KOLs. The catwalk is really for entertainment. I mean, people go to the movies, love a character, but don’t dress like the character (no more Annie Halls). Who’d want to look like Effie Trinket anyway? But pop stars and KOLs photograph themselves on a real beach, in a real bathroom, with a real ice cream cone, so that’s more real for most.

Maybe the idea of “iconic” and “fashion-forward” dressing is no longer relevant. Or even dressing as a challenge to the zeitgeist. Maybe these are outmoded ideas.

Because “icons” these days are not iconic and “fashion-forward” can be backward. Or, nudity in IG. Or, some trashy dress on the red carpet, even at the Met Gala.

Every city, big and small, has a designer who just survives recycling off-shoulder or one-shouldered satin dresses, mermaid/goddess gowns with beading or fish-tails, and tulle skirts. Best examples: Zuhair Murad and Elie Saab.

And Michael Cinco. 

[Yawn emoji]

Or feathers—McQueen plumage. 


Conversely, there’s this thing about wanting to look not polished and the love of the anti-fit. And aping hip-hop stars.

Sorry, that’s the black culture, which I don’t care about because it’s not fashion; it’s money. Never allow casual sportif New York to go to Paris.

Or anyone in Kanye’s orbit.

Nooooo!!! Cannot mention the Ye or Abloh. Cannot!!!

Oh! Yes! No!

I think the word we dare not use today is original.

I think that died with the corset. Or, may be, later, with Cristobal.

The finality and banality of SS 2019: Cathy being nice to Dior and Hedi. She took a long time to sell out, but she did anyway. When Cathy is being nice, I don’t believe in what she thinks any more.

I can’t say I was not disappointed, not because she was seemingly positive about Hedi, but because she, like Sarah, justified what he did. She probably missed going to his shows. Maybe she needs to get back into his good books.

I think fashion critics don’t matter anymore.

I still think they do because I want them to put into context for me what I would not be able to see or experience on my own. But at the same time, I do not lap up everything they say—Suzy, for example. Her IG posts are, frankly, embarrassing. And, contrary to Mark’s disdain, I do not “click on some poor designer’s name who (I) might think is about to get a drubbing”. I want them to tell it like it is. Even Rei has her moments of extreme silliness. Just say it.

No one reads them with the intent we do.

Read? Many fashionistas count looking at IG posts as reading. (Fashionista! Is that word still relevant? There is a website by that name!) #OOTD dos not require the reading faculty.

Well, we watch the live streams. (I did not even bother with Gucci!) and instant viewing.

[Gasp] You didn’t watch Gucci? Have you given up on Michele?

Not given up, but for the last two/three collections, he has moved on to a different aesthetic (not that most people noticed) that is not quite me. I can appreciate it, but I don’t want to wear it. Also, Gucci have raised their prices.

And the aesthetic shift is different enough to matter? He has gone through several shifts. I like his first two/three collections a lot, but not when he started pushing the already distinctive aesthetical force.

I don’t think it matters because his unquestioning fans will and have bought it, and when they wear it, I can appreciate it, but not on me.

Why are fans “unquestioning”?

For me (and fans), it’s about the unabashed explosion of colours, of textures, of colour mixes that are so off that they’re right, the nerdy feel, the totally non-gender specific individual items. The proportions are surprisingly “classic” though disguised by colours and the accessories.

[Photo reference]

Is there any other designer doing the totality of this look? Tisci can, but he’s too lazy now. People can get turned off by the runway or editorial look, but that’s what fans want, not the tees or just the shoes, but the whole feel.

Yep, not just one pair of Flashtrek with the crystal embellishments.

I can’t bear it, anyway.

It’s hard to say that isn’t gaudy. When will we know it’s excess?

There’s no excess in Gucci. It’s all built-in. A Gucci fan will immediately get Tony Duquette.

Kaleidoscopic! Or, maximum of maximalism?

You better pray I don’t die before you do. How to have this conversation with someone else in Southeast Asia?

Collage: Just So

Phoebe Philo Fans, Some Possible Alternatives

In one fell swoop, the new Celine was effectively telling former, less-attenuated fans and customers to eff off! But all is not lost. Until the return of Phoebe Philo (or not), some names to consider


Celine SS 2018 adSpring/summer 2018, Phoebe Philo’s last collection for Céline, shot by Juergen Teller. Photos: Céline

By Mao Shan Wang

Enough of harping on what Celine is today or, come January, when the new collection drops, what there is nothing to buy. Trends come and go, so do labels: Look at Lanvin. Besides, loyalty is not as valued as it was before. Only tech companies appreciate loyalty. Apple wouldn’t be where it is today if customers were fickle about why they like the brand. But if there’s something that can be gleaned from the world’s second largest smartphone maker (okay, third-largest since Huawei has overtaken them in August, according to media reports), consistent aesthetic identity is key. An iPhone will always look—and feel—like an iPhone.

Fashion is, of course, not the same as communication devices. It does not have to be user-friendly and it’s a lot more manic and far more mutable, having to update itself up to six times a year, and, now, with monthly drops. But, perhaps due to this need for constant renewal or, rather, refreshment in most cases, some kind of brand consistency is necessary. Unfortunately, for fashion—the luxury business, brand recognition alone is enough, not nearly substance and not nearly astonishment. And since egomaniacs are often installed as creators of the brand’s products, they would like to obliterate what came before. It’s a matter of how ruthless.

Sure, we’re all going to move on to something else. No one died a sartorial death after Michael Kors decamped Céline to continue his own label. I don’t remember anyone knowing at that time that they desired the unsexy but alluring shapes that Phoebe Philo introduced until she did. Fashion is variegated, and there will be others, while not entirely the same as the Céline that, as The Gentlewoman rightly noted, “cut through fashion’s tired fantasy… for sharp reality and hyper-luxurious clothes”, are surely just as genial, pleasing, and intelligent. These are my pick.

Dries Van Noten

Dries Van Noten SS 2019Photos: indigital.tv

I was resistant to adding Dries van Noten to this list, but in his spring/summer 2019 show, I saw quite a few pieces those willingly labelled Philophiles would find compatible with their wardrobe: the loose-hanging jackets, the easy-fit shirts, the modern-sporty outers. Mr Van Noten did not always design like this, but his designs have a certain romance that is increasingly missing in today’s clothes, and an artsiness similar in spirit to what Ms Philo introduced in her latter years at Céline, a welcome flourish at a time when minimalism was being redefined for the post-Helmut Lang era customer.

Haider Ackermann

Haider Ackermann SS 2019 G1Photos: indigital.tv

This may not seem like an obvious choice. The designs of Haider Ackermann is, however, on track to welcome former Céline fans. The non-body-defining shapes, a slouchiness that suggests I-don’t-care androgyny, and a palette that has more in common with the holy than holi are, to me, the sensibilities that Philo followers can relate to and would desire to buy. What I consider a plus, too, is that Mr Ackermann, who, in 2010 was tipped by Karl Lagerfeld as a possible Chanel designer should the latter bow out, constructs in such a way as to never let the clothes look too dressed-down.

Jil Sander

Jil Sander SS 2019 G1Photos: indigital.tv

It’s hard not to be lured by Luke and Lucie Meier’s clean lines for Jil Sander, arguably the Phoebe Philo of her time. Amid all the noise that fashion now rides on, the Meiers’ quiet tones and gentle shapes are as refreshing as a palate cleanser. Some people think their aesthetic is minimal to a point that it’s almost suited to conventual life. But it is precisely the serenity that the clothes—with quirky details such as extra-wide, inside-out seam allowance and ungainly cuffs for sleeves—project that the more and less restrained Philophiles will adore.


Lemaire SS 2019 G1Photos: Lemaire

Christophe Lemaire and designing partner/wife Sarah-Linh Tran have a chemistry between them that fans and the media alike call poetry. Together, they have created a Lemaire that has more oomph than when Mr Lemaire soldiered on alone under his earlier eponymous label while simultaneously designing for Lacoste. Comparing the duo’s work with Ms Philo’s is probably not fair since Lemaire offers more intriguing details, such as odd pocket placements and alternatives to traditional fastening positions, which, in marketing speak, could be considered value-added. And what value!


Loewe SS 2019 G1Photos: Loewe

While Cathy Horyn thought that Loewe “might be getting too relaxed”, I thought that Jonathon Anderson did it, if true, for the right reasons. As counter stroke to the onward march of street fashion, other designers are pushing for tailoring, sometimes extreme tailoring that encases the body too closely and with shoulders that look ready for war. Mr Anderson, on the other hand, has guided Loewe on a different path. There is dressiness and crafting to the clothes, but with ease in mind. I don’t mean “relaxed” though, I mean freedom from constriction, from efflorescence, even the zeitgeist. Individualism doesn’t mean one has to forgo discernment.

Bold In The Climate Of The Banal

In the fashion of the present, you can either be palatable or a punchline. Nicolas Ghesquière chose neither


LV SS 2019 P1

You often see long queues outside Louis Vuitton stores, even when, looking in, it is far from busy as Fairprice on PG Day. It isn’t hard to guess what most people line up to buy: not the clothes, if you aren’t sure. But, increasingly, the clothes are the reason some of us are willing to get in line with the bag/wallet/sneaker/trinket hunters for a chance, if not to cop, at least to view the apparel, which deserves to be appreciated up-close. Nicolas Ghesquière has more and more offered on the runway garments of such compelling qualities that Louis Vuitton is one of the few fashion labels today that inveigles fashion aesthetes to walk into a store for a closer look.

The brand’s final show of Paris Fashion Week will again encourage some—perhaps many—of us to join the queue: those blousons ruched at the shoulders, those jackets with peaked lapels that were fashioned to look like deconstructed star of David (especially the khaki version with white lapels), those pleated and billowy sleeves, those vaguely space-age-y tops with re-enforced dropped shoulders, those sort-of cocoon coats with coloured shapes, and even those cargo pants (a reiteration of those from his Balenciaga days?). Only through actual contact would we then be able to discern the unusual details, extras, and seam placements that have come to characterise Mr Ghesquière’s work for LV. That, for us, is the real deal: up-close, at which point the clothes offer the chance to enthrall.

LV SS 2019 G1

It is this “another level” aspect, through a very specific lens, that reflects a design muscularity Mr Ghesquière’s predecessor never had despite his later physical brawn. And the reason why so many are disappointed that the distinctive world Phoebe Philo created for Céline (as spelled during her day) has met its end time. Even a view at an LV store window is good enough for some because there is always adequate to astound even the most seasoned fashion follower. Film fans seeing a costume exhibition of their favourite movie experience similar pleasure and tingle.

Mr Ghesquière’s designs, in the past four seasons or so, have a powerful and irresistible effect. No particular aspect is central to his themes and ideas. Instead, he works with multiple visual and technical components simultaneously. This season, it was (again) the unusual, vaguely ’80s shapes, the way he cut his pieces to fall away from the body and yet not hang loose or sack-like, his love for layering that saw the overlays and mash-ups of prints come together in happy discordance, the feminine-but-not-overtly sense of prettiness (dresses not pre-soaked with sex), and a canny understanding that a woman’s wardrobe is not necessarily only spelled out for the roles she plays in her life. A blouson, for example, despite its outdoorsy vibe, can have feminine shape, touch, and flourishes that allow it to be worn to a performance of Bach in a grand national concert hall. Or, in the corridors of business. Without, we should add, sacrificing youthful lilt.

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To be sure, Mr Ghesquière has not always been this successful or sure-footed. We won’t resist the temptation to point out certain silk boxer shorts worn with bejewelled frock coats—a flippant marriage of historicism and Kardashian-esque IG-style show-all. But when he goes beyond the convenience of superficial styling, as he did currently, he is able to place design at the heart of his work. And the designs are what the discerning have come to see, designs that—this season—continue to straddle artsy and sci-fi, sporty and girlish, old-fashioned and newfangled; designs that juxtapose neckline with neckline, sleeves with armholes, long with short.

A little curious to us were the duo or trio (or was it a quartet?) of men’s wear that appeared. In this time of genderless-as-euphemism-for-gender-bending, we weren’t sure if we saw what we saw, or if it was guys’ clothes available for gals or gals’ clothes worn by guys. If Mr Ghesquière is given the men’s collection to do (and we know he can as evidenced by his past output for Balenciaga), what would Virgil Abloh be doing in the studio? Those jackets, with the tweaked peaked lapels, had the strength of creative crafting that Mr Abloh has yet to express. And, if he at Celine can do a co-ed collection, why not Nicolas Ghesquière? We can be hopeful, can’t we?

Photos: (top) Louis Vuitton, live stream/ (runway) indigital.tv

What A Beach!

It could be an allusion to Biarritz—the seaside town where Coco Chanel opened her first couture house in 1915. If so, the recreation of sand and sea in the Grand Palais was not only clever, but evocative. However, would it not have been better to really stage the show in the Basque coast instead? Or would that have been a tad too Jacquemus? Well, if Karl Lagerfeld can’t go the the beach, bring the beach to him


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Here, in Southeast Asia, many of us are riveted to our news sources for updates on the tsunami that hit the Indonesian island of Sulawesi four days ago. The Chanel show with the girls walking on the make-belief beach in their Chanel finery seemed, in contrast, a little impervious to the misfortunes of others, half-way round the world. Of course, Chanel could not have planned this splashy production by taking into account what they could not have possibly predicted. Still, the disparity between the fantasy evoked in a fashion capitol and the tragedy of an unheard-of coastal town was palpable, leaving us to see that fate and fashion are truly different worlds.

Chanel’s beach-centred collection for next spring/summer could have been La Pausa Part II, La Pausa (also Coco Chanel’s villa in the south of France) being the fake ship that was part of the set for the cruise 2019 collection, shown in May. The thing is, it’s no longer easy to differentiate between the Chanel seasons, not even between the couture and the pret-a-porter, so we remember the characteristic but indistinguishable clothes by the set against which they were shown: the supermarket collection or the airport collection! Provincial perhaps, but not ineffective.

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In fact, the Chanel clothes have been so dependent on the extravagant sets to mean something that one suspects that design matters less than theatrics since the label banks mainly on its house codes to interest their customers and commercial sass to keep them buying. As we watched the girls go by, bare-footed, and over-layered on the seashore with no sea shells, we wondered if Karl Lagerfeld, prolific as he is, has spent too much time dreaming of context than clothes. Which, we found ourselves asking, came first: set or dress?

Maybe it’s dress. Then to make it thematically strong, give it scene-setting context, a beach complete with lifeguards, a diorama that only a powerful fashion house can afford to erect. This is even better than 4K broadcast. You have the lapping sea before you and real sand. All the antiquities in the Louvre can’t top this. Coco herself, in her wildest dreams—and she had some of those, we’re sure—would not have imagine that more than a decade after her Biarritz debut, the sea that she enjoyed would be brought to Paris, in the Grand Palais. Is the water salty and the sand warm, we wondered.

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Few women, of course, enjoy the beach with so much clothes on. All dressed up to go to see the sea? You could call it sea folly if not for the fact that Seafolly is an actual beach wear brand—from Australia. But it would be hard to describe bouclé suits on the sand as anything else. We’re not sure if Coco Chanel ever thought of being suited in bouclé, even summer bouclé, when strolling on the water’s edge, but Mr Lagerfeld has made it, well, a walk on the beach, with the usual boxy shapes in colours as light as see breeze. After 35 years at Chanel, Mr Lagerfeld has perfected the bouclé suit and has offered so many variations for so many occasions that perhaps now is the time for those that can be worn to make sandcastles and pick crabs.

This is his flair: making the unlikeliest of things distinctly possible, not to mention a knack for imbuing otherwise commercial clothes with a vibe that is fashionable. Or, the way the younger set likes it, such as the white shirt Kaia Gerber wore—rather unremarkable if not for the black Chanel branding on the pocket flaps. Or, could this have been a spillover from the Karl X Kaia collab? For a label that sells quite a lot of shoes, it is perhaps against promotional wisdom to let the models go bare-footed, carrying the footwear in their hands, augmenting, instead, the dreams of many women: long walks on the beach, with the soft, warm sand underfoot; a moment of bliss, possibly romance; a retreat from urban bustle, as a piña colada awaits somewhere in the distance. The Thais have a word for women of such inclination and with such love, but it would be too impolite to print it here. Let’s just say she could be the Chanel woman.

Photos: (top) Getty images, (runway) Chanel

Not Better, Not Badder

Demna Gvasalia did not let up as he pushed forth with the old-world and dramatic shapes once associated with Balenciaga, but he appeared to be repeating himself. Or, were we seeing too many all-over-agains to tell the difference?


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What is it about passageways that designers love? (One more would later appear in Louis Vuitton’s presentation in the grounds of the already stunning Louvre.) It would seem that the catwalk, like the clothes, can also be trend-generating. And this season, a long, meandering passageway, first brought to our attention at the Gucci 2017 autumn/winter show, is the way to go. Video software-aided designs projected on walls appear to be on-trend too. Must fashion presentations these days be so immersive an experience that clothes by themselves wouldn’t be enough to engage the viewer? Sure, fashion has always been theatre, but there’s a nagging suspicion that stylistic content is so lacking that we now need visual aids (or distractions?) to augment the clothes. Sounds like the National Day Parade, does it not?

Balenciaga’s tunnel of dizzying, moving graphics designed by Jon Rafman, the Canadian digital artist known for using random Google Street View images for his somewhat bleak online exhibition of photo essays 9-Eyes, maybe awe-inspiring at first, but would, three minutes into the show, proved to be unnecessarily distracting. Did the invitees come to watch a fashion or video show? If the first five identical jacket-dresses were any indication, perhaps Demna Gvasalia was using the clothes as canvas for his personal message/visual noise, rather than the runway as the setting for the clothes. Could the flicking, changing, and disorienting images (including what appeared to be sea water, bringing to mind Calvin Klein at New York Fashion Week) be telling us that in confusing times, we need uncomplicated clothes?

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Those suits-dresses (that could possibly double as a topcoat and worn unbuttoned to look less stuffy) shared a similar silhouette to the skirt suits that Mr Gvasalia introduced in his debut for Balenciaga in 2016. Now, however, the models were a lot less hunched forward in them, and the shoulders were a lot wider—being straighter, and a lot stronger—being squarer—literally. This tinkering with traditional tailoring has always been Mr Gvasalia’s strength, especially the skillful silhouette-shifting of at-first-look conservative, even old-fashioned, clothing into shapes that hint at couture, but minus the potential stuffiness.

To be sure, this was not the country-club tailoring for women who adore Ralph Lauren or tai-tai who admire Eleanor Young’s love of Giorgio Armani. It is in this fear-not of angular shoulders, rounded hips (but not constricted), and past-the-knee length that gives Balenciaga jackets, suits, and coats their immense, although man-repelling, pull. This may be be subversive to what constitutes tasteful and feminine tailoring, but it proposes that the tailleur need not be stuck in time or taste. This is not a conscious reaction against street style; this is not even merely re-writing the house codes. This is design, pure and simple.

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In addition to strong shoulders, there are the Balenciaga labels that you can have, perched on them. Labels, for a long time, are not obligated to remain on the inside of the centre-back of a garment. Mr Gvasalia has give them a pride of place where pirates of the past would have placed a faithful parrot. The logo has been a crucial part of Balenciaga’s current success, and the house will not forgo the opportunity to appeal to the post-adolescents who have been instrumental in making it a bastion of cool. So the name repeated all over a fabric seemed like an obvious option, but if you prefer something more fun and knowingly kitsch, there’s always the repeated pattern of the Eiffel Tower. You don’t get more French than that.

What could be touristy motifs aside, the complex cuts and draping ensured that there is nothing quiet about MrGvaslia’s collection. Some people consider these only moderately expressive clothes. And it is understandable when elsewhere, other designers prefer to holler than to hum. But even if the volume wasn’t turned up, it didn’t mean the collection was mute. The shirt-dresses, for example, had the smartness of what some might call office wear, but, with a drape of a sarong on one side, offered another possibility: resort ease. Diane Von Furstenburg could have been cursing that she didn’t think of that.

Photos: (main) Balenciaga live stream/(runway) indigital.tv

Finally, Clothes!

Has Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons had enough of creating stuff for private collectors and museum curators?


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This could be one of Comme des Garçons’s most wearable, clothing-like collections in recent memory. While it may delight fans, it did not mean Rei Kawakubo had made it easy. On the surface, the ensembles did not look like the encasements she had been showing for no less than six seasons, but, just as you thought it was safe to bring out the CDG rags you’ve been hording, she worked in the bumps. These, fans would know, are her old normal.

In fact, we started seeing some semblance of normalcy—by her own standard any way—last season (even the season earlier), when the designs seemed to have the chance of an actual willing body to wear them. This time round, the 30-look collection—a grand number, considering that the collection prior to last year’s Met’s Costume Institute exhibition comprised of merely 18 looks—could be mistaken for sister line Comme des Garçons Comme des Garçons or even the other family member, Black. It has distinctively identifiable pieces such as jackets (yes, with two sleeves), trousers (yes, with two legs), and skirts. They’re not only body-suitable, they’re boutique-ready too.

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Reports following the show proposed that Ms Kawakubo was sharing her own experiences as a woman distanced by youth (hence the models’ grey hair and almost-no makeup) and, consequently, offering a thesis on womanhood, early or late. If so, could these clothes mirror Ms Kawakubo’s own unknown wardrobe, speculated to be more suited to her workplace than the deformed, layered, and status quo-defying constructions that she had been proposing to the miscomprehension of many not wanting to miscomprehend? Or has Ms Kawakubo simply returned from another planet?

Ms Kawakubo would, naturally not let clothes just be. No fashion is sacred that it can’t be defiled, no line too straight it can’t be bent, no tailoring too perfect that slits and holes can’t be put in it. And there are the bumps—awkward bulges not usually associated with fashionable dress. They have appeared intermittently since she first introduced them in the 1997 spring/summer collection called Body Meets Dress, Dress Meets Body. In the present iterations, many are more discreet, some of them appearing like pregnant bellies (actually padded body suits), peeking from between a slit made across the waist of jackets (or at the sides, like bulbous panniers). We don’t think this a commentary on a woman’s maternal disposition. Ms Kawakubo isn’t so obvious. But if this isn’t about child bearing—and it’s not likely a note on marsupial pouches in which joeys are born, what could she be getting at?

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It’s hard to say except that bumps are part of the CDG vernacular, just as stuffed bows and other large, three-dimensional embellishments are much a part of their decorative repertoire. So while this season’s offering may look recognisably wearable (and uncommonly symmetrical for the most part), they were not freed of Ms Kawakubo’s off-kilter but strangely feminine proportions, surface effects of hand-fashioned twists and turns, and unexpected placements of those protuberances.

Some people are disappointed that CDG is now offering clothes that would not be at odds with a typical fashion wardrobe. That those weird, sometimes wonderful designs may be no more. There has been talk among collectors of CDG’s catwalk looks that the designer no longer wishes to sell the main line shown in Paris Fashion Week. Difficult to make, it was said she had lamented. Additionally, she does not want them to be marked down for sale, a fate that’s hardly surprising since these clothes have a built-in don’t-buy-me/where-do-you-wear-this-to deterrence. Not everything in CDG can enjoy a healthy sell-through as the Play line. It has always been the unwearable pieces that have elevated the desirability of her sub-lines, much like how haute couture for French brands is the driver of sales of the RTW, leather goods, and perfumes. But then typical has never been the Comme des Garçons lure. Way-out more so.

Photos: indigital.tv

Out With The Old, In With The Old

Relieving Celine of its accent above the ‘e’ is minor change compared to dropping Yves from Yves Saint Laurent, and that perhaps was the point: Hedi Slimane was not planning to reinvent the sewing needle at Celine. Instead, he brought unfinished business at YSL along


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We guessed it, and yet we were still bothered, perplexed, annoyed. It’s like the end of a romance. You know it’ll soon be over and yet when he/she is gone, you feel the pain, or anger. Hedi Slimane was not expected to expand the look Phoebe Philo left at Céline (as spelled when she was there) the way his successor at Saint Laurent, Anthony Vaccarello, continued Mr Slimane’s rock-chick-waif-groupie look. Yet, we were still dismayed. Perhaps it was the late hour of the live stream (2.45 am!), but mostly it was the annoyance of having to view his last, by-then-repetitive Saint Laurent collection all over again.

We weren’t sure but was the collection about a true singular vision? Mr Slimane is no visionary and his Celine is regrettably short-sighted. Or, was he pleasing an already sizeable fan base of an increasingly commercial rather than innovative fashion business climate? Surely there are those who have remained with Saint Laurent and those who have moved on. Or is this output of a designer that hitherto is, for the most part, one-note? This seemed like indolence at design level: he could have simply bring along the paper patterns from his previous tenure. He was at Saint Laurent for a mere four years (2012 to 2016). Sure, he not only made a huge impact to the fortunes of the house, but also promulgated the idea that luxury fashion can look like fast fashion, which may mean he did not have enough time to really conquer and rule, although divide he arguably did.

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The skinny jeans and pants that he popularised at Dior Homme still bolstering ascendancy over other silhouettes in both women’s and men’s wear (even their office clothes!) today is probably not enough. If he wants to leave a lasting legacy, there has to be a persistent aesthetic singularity to better overrun an over-shared world. When Mr Slimane took over Dior Homme in 2000, fashion editors spoke of how he “idolised” teen-ish, waifish rock musicians or such a look. Eighteen years later, at 50, his kind of idolisation could be construed as bordering on the paedophilic, yet it did not bother Mr Slimane or his supporters, including one Karl Lagerfeld, because fashion is, since the advent of pret-a-porter, about youth. He continued with Celine’s debut men’s wear the skinniness and gangliness that he first mooted 18 years ago, as if times have not changed, as if men’s taste have not altered. He even told the media that Celine men’s clothes are unisex, and women are free to buy, which harks back to the female interest in his Dior Homme. Interestingly, he didn’t say that the women’s clothes are unisex and available to men. Remember Phoebe Philo’s Celine appealed to guys, with Pharrell Williams her number one fan?

With a casting that would have the black community cry out tokenism, Mr Slimane again made sure that not only was the Caucasian face his ideal beauty, body diversity was not part of his universe. In fact, these clothes—their smallness, slimness, and shortness—were really for adolescent boys and girls: the boyishness and girlishness augmented by the skinny ties that men past a certain station in life stay clear of and the little dresses with a very fixed waist that women of a certain age normally avoid. Is Mr Slimane’s Celine the new Gap for the children of the wealthy whose numbers are rising all over the world—for certain in Asia? Or is this fashion’s own Peter Pan syndrome?

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Some members of the press have taken to justifying Mr Slimane’s design direction than saying that it is lacking in, say, newness (a bad word in fashion these days), among other things. He has proven himself to be a commercially successful designer, they reasoned. Celine, as most people know, is part of LVMH, one of the most powerful luxury conglomerates in the world, if not the most powerful. So there is fear of commercial reprisal. Or, the denial of invitation to future shows. God forbid that a fashion editor should watch live streams like the rest of us! Mr Slimane was known to take umbrage at members of the media who did not share his view or who were not keen in what he did. The relationship between the press and luxury brands has always been a complicated one, and the love-hate relationship, for a lack of better description, is mostly concealed by love, no matter how dismal or disappointing the output of the brands. Love lost, as some journalists—including prominent ones—have learnt, is not nearly recoverable.

At the end of the Celine Hedi Slimane show, there were audible screams of approval. These can’t be construed as anything but love, which means we shall see more of what may be teetering close to ennui: little dresses—black aplenty—and those, equally compact versions, with flourishes such as flounces; boyfriend jackets that, when worn over said dresses, made the latter look even shorter; biker jackets for serious rock cred; and skinny suits that, any skinnier, would be compression wear. Mr Slimane is not the least vague about where he intends to take Celine under his charge. Just because you were given a name at birth and trained to be a lady does not mean that someone, further down the road, can’t lead you astray, and make you a tramp.

Photos: (top) screen shot/Celine live stream, (catwalk) indigital.tv

Some Kind Of Wonderful

John Galliano is no longer the enfant terrible of fashion; he is no longer a media darling, and he sure is no longer a spaceman, a chieftan, or such, taking the customary bow at the end of his shows—in fact, he does not appear to the applause at all for Maison Margiela, but he sure is still uninhibited, unapologetic, and unafraid


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So many designers have stressed that they want to veer off street style and re-emphasise tailoring, but it’s John Galliano who’s really taking tailoring to places we have not quite ventured yet—a wonderland (and we mean this literally) that fires the imagination, not just churning out a perfectly-made suit. For the next season, he made us ask in wonderment: really, what more can he do to a jacket, a coat, a dress? And what will he think of next? We know he has always been a master of the tailleur—those suits he did for Dior are still unforgettable and resolutely modern. Now that he has, to us, really found his groove at Maison Margiela, and not make mad clothes for madness’ sake, as he did at the start, we find his designs compelling, even if only because they astound.

There’s a lot to unpack at Maison Margiela, but what delightful unpacking. In keeping with the house’s deconstruction legacy, Mr Galliano, in fact, not only deconstructed, he reconstructed, and, sometimes, post-constructed, also not omitting the technique known as décortiqué (meaning to shell a lobster or, in Mr Galliano’s case, shedding the carapace of the superfluous), leaving those of us fascinated by how clothes are made (or engineered, if you want to take it further) quite enthralled, and with lots to see. It wasn’t just the ideas, but how he thought of them and how he made them happen. And, how he was able to temper idiosyncrasy with exactitude. Simply put, he made our spine tingle.

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He offered tailoring that was raw, feminine, and against the rules. There were jackets with Watteau back (a personal favourite); shell tops with tromp l’œil (the Latin grapheme ‘œ’ itself evocative of Mr Galliano’s visual ligatures) blazer front (including stitching that suggests tailor’s chalk marks); a bodysuit, unfastened at the crotch, that looked like it was cut out of a jacket (with racer back, no less!); outer wear with sleeve treatment that seemed to house the arms inside like a cape, but with openings above the elbow that allowed the arms to hang outside, (which then would change the silhouette of the garment!) if desired. And the quirky details, such as upper arms with cut-outs that flop like Mickey’s ears (does his flop?) and from the rear looked like lantern sleeves. We’re not done unpacking, not even half-way through.

Even when he was ‘good’—in dressmaking terms, conventional, ‘regular’ outer wear, including the swing coat, the car coat, the trench, and even le smoking, were not only precisely cut (and just rightly oversized), but also the epitome of perfection. The surprisingly few dresses—no bias-cut splendour so associated with Mr Galliano—was sufficiently off-beat without crossing into unwearable or hobo territory, with one lace shift left raw-edged and worn under a shower-curtain twin with Rabannesque, linked harlequin squares. The plastic a see-through that sees through nothing except the delicate layering inside that is unexpectedly even more covered up, and in a version for men, too.

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The collection is, of course, gender-fluid—a recurrent theme in Paris this season. Although not quite as outlandish (men in dresses is, frankly, not eyebrow-raising any more), it points to an earlier time (mainly ’80s), when, in London especially, hedonistic fashion indulgences saw no gender divide. Boy George, despite the gender-specific first and second names, emerged from this period to raves by not restraining himself to conventions of dress. Mr Galliano himself alluded to the clubbing days of his student years, when the impresario/stylist/nightclub promoter of the day was the headlining Australian Leigh Bowery (1961—1994), whose “polysexual”, as he called it, club Taboo was where sexually-ambivalent clothing set the clubbers apart. The wacky, if not outrageous, looks later went borderline mainstream through publications such as the now defunct The Face, in which Mr Bowery has styled its pages and appeared as gender-, even creature-, indeterminate—an amalgam of cultures, photographed by Nick Knight.

The gender-undefined styles of Mr Bowery and his cohorts impacted Mr Galliano, who lived through, absorbed, and enjoyed this era of fashion mayhem. Like Leigh Bowery (also a fashion designer, but of significantly less profound stature), he is an astute gatherer of not just cultural mismatch, but visual discordance, who could use fashion to express something about society at large. Like many other designers, there’s cultural commentary (no one just makes clothes anymore) in this one. In the pre-show screening of a black-and-white video (projected almost all-around on the walls), Mr Galliano had six women—the “mutinists”—talk about individualism, with Willow Smith urging all to “Create the rules, then break them”. John Galliano has long stopped breaking rules since he has broken most, if not all, of them; he now makes his very own.

Photos: indigital.tv

Different City, Same Shtick

Gucci is slowly moving into one-trick-many-dresses pony territory. Even in Paris


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You know what they say about familiarity. Yet, Gucci fears not the familiar. Nor, the similar. How does contempt—or boredom—not breed in such same-same-ness? The genius of Gucci is not in generating new designs (although, to be fair, there are new ideas, a live bird among them), but to put those styles already deeply adored by fans in a new setting, better still a different city: Paris, where the fashion world is centred and obsessively watched. And in a nightclub of the past housed in a theatre of the past: Le Palace, where the Parisienne fashion set of the late ’70s, including Karl Lagerfeld; his rival, the late Yves Saint Laurent; as well as Kenzo, partied like their New York counterparts did in Studio 54.

Of course, Alessandro Michele is the master conjurer of the past. You think only Marc Jacobs brings back Yves Saint Laurent? Think again. Mr Michele does it better, and more crazily, more irreverently, as if a hobo has found a discarded trove of YSLs and decided to wear the finds to party at the most decadent club in town because tomorrow is the end of the world. And, true to form, Mr Michele let the geeks and the nerds of every era get their moment too, revenge being the best fashion statement because tomorrow is the end of Instagram. And wasn’t there also a riff on Issey Miyake? Or Chanel, as envisioned by Franco Moschino?

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Mr Michele is also the master impresario of the theatre of fashion. Clothes these days are nothing if there’s no setting, no context, or as they say, story line. Inside a former dance club reputed to be a temple of debauchery, it wasn’t enough to offer the ghosts of the past, an obscure indie film was projected on the walls. Show notes, as reported, included the bio of as-little-known Italian experimental theatre practitioners (the late) Leo de Berardinis and Perla Peragallo, referred to as the Dioscuri (twin brothers of Greek mythology) of Italian “theatre of contradiction”. For seekers of meaning, this veneer of intellectual depth not only explained the opposing forces of the clothes (such as men wearing knickers), but also supported the image of Alessandro Michele as thinker, one who can put Jane Birkin and Dolly Parton on the same stage.

This is not all fluff, in other words, never mind if majority of the women who buy the handbags or shoes probably do not care about the references; this is what makes Gucci refreshing. It is the invisible sidebars that give reason to its singular visual language. When that lingo sounds repetitive or trite, there’s always the far more interesting slang of artifice. When an outfit looks like it has appeared before, add a cockatoo. When Sikh turbans have served their useful controversy, return to the banality of beauty-queen tiaras or the play version. If you like heads, and (3-D printed?) human likeness is no longer shocking, go for Mickey’s—cuteness unusually immune to backlash. If only Mr Michele had lived in Bangkok, he would have known that Thai brands such as Kloset and Senada have resorted to such devices for years!

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To appreciate Gucci, we were repeatedly told, is to not nitpick about this and that, but to let these and those be. It appeared to us that Mr Michele designs with one endgame in mind: the show, which, in part, borrowed from Cirque du Soleil. The clothes by themselves wouldn’t be enough because, sans wacky pairings and the nerdy models who wear them, they were just vintage-looking garments fashioned to be lurid, and just not disco-era-lurid, but a gaudiness that maybe only Lynn Yaeger can pull off. Oftentimes, they are quite basic garments on their own, in nicer fabrics and rather enchanting prints. This is beyond Warholian. Mr Michele and his team are more adept at twisting what is standalone ordinariness into something extraordinary by the use of colour—for example, that garish green often seen in silk satin, or by additions such as codpieces to the otherwise unspectacular pants for men. The point is, those trousers will make the sale, but you need an external genital pouch to make the news.

Mr Michele is also a proponent of the anti-fit. This is not the oversized look that has dominate catwalks for quite a few years now. Take look 2, for example, the sailor-dress, which really looked too big because, we guess, it’s meant to be vintage-y, so it won’t flatter the body—you’d have to look like you just left the Salvation Army without trying on your purchases, overwhelmed by the low prices of the finds. Or the shirt of look 25 (worn with pencil skirt—a combo already proposed this past season by Balenciaga and executed with far more refinement), which looked like you wore not your father’s, but your grandfather’s shirt during moments of desperation, like when you’re stuck in a farmhouse after coming in from really bad weather and there’s a slasher out there. Yes, we, too, see the stories, even if inelegantly told.

Photos: Gucci

Burberry’s New Jumble

Riccardo Tisci told The Guardian that he wanted his version of Burberry to “celebrate eclecticism”. Does that mean anything goes?


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The show was basically split into two parts, or maybe three, for both the men’s and the women’s collections, suggesting that designer Riccardo Tisci wishes to cater to more than one group of customers: those moneyed individuals who see Burberry as a traditional brand and still desire to buy traditional styles, those indefatigable influencers who hope to acquire ‘statement’ pieces, and those who have red carpets to walk on. That means catering to a broad base, which is already there, as evidenced by the reportedly close to USD3 billion annual sales, as well as creating a Burberry that is less tied to its English roots. Or, at least the Englishness that Christopher Bailey had once so seductively evinced.

In fact, to us, the new Burberry emanates a rather Italian aesthetic, Roman even—sunray skirts (or trench coat if inclement weather) for prancing at the Piazza Navona and vaguely street style for the rest, hanging out in Piazza Trilussa. To be sure, we weren’t hoping at that late hour of the live stream for anything that would bring back Mr Bailey’s Bloomsbury brio (or sorcery since many women were under its spell for quite a while) and we’re glad there was no return, but there was something lacking in its glorification of a British house.

Burberry SS 2019 G1

Sure, the Burberry check was there (as well as the stripes); the unmissable trenchcoats too, but these seemed like products taken from the shop floor to supplement otherwise incomplete merchandising rather than design-led garments destined for a direction-setting runway. Otherwise it would be hard to explain the pussy-bow blouses, even in the house tartan; pencil and bubble shirts; a baby-doll dress that looked oddly drab; blazer-skirt combos that wouldn’t be out of place in the confines of Marks & Spencer. Perhaps, Riccardo Tisci was doing Brit style after all.

Some people are thrilled that Mr Tisci is “bringing back elegance”. It’s a strange elegance, if you can call it that. Proper, too, especially in the first half. It was, as if Mr Tisci was deliberately going against the grain of the surge of street style, like so many designers are now doing, rejecting, as a matter of course, the ‘ugly’ too. That this should be the track he chose to take is not surprising, but that he should put out such kosher designs that’s reminiscent of one-time office wear is. Perhaps Mr Tisci is tired of dressing the likes of the Kardashian/Jenner clan, conspicuously missing in the front row of the show?

Burberry SS 2019 G2

Burberry SS 2019 G3

Just as we thought the now-uncommon prim will dominate, Mr Tisci ditched the Town and Country look for something more in keeping with what he was known for at Givenchy: clothes, although not “darkly romantic”—the favourite description among the media and KOLs, that his followers would definitely wear. These had a whiff of the sporty, the military, and the punk, all calculated to appeal to a generation that grew up through Mr Tisci’s Givenchy years (2005—2017). So, if you want accent sleeves, you got accent sleeves; even cold shoulder, yes, those cold shoulders you see around you that won’t go away. There was even a Virgil Abloh moment, three letters on a T-shirt that read COW, in case you did not know that the top was paired with a skirt of bovine print.

It may be a little severe to say that the most anticipated show of London Fashion Week turned out to be disappointing, but a let down it was even if the failure to fulfill our expectations was partly of our own making. We had hoped that Riccardo Tisci would go to London to place Burberry in a leadership role, the way Christopher Bailey had during the brand’s heydays. It would not, at present, be that.

Photos: Burberry