Dress Watch: Paper Lantern Revisited

Dior lantern dress

I call it a lantern dress. Maybe, you can understand why. But then, maybe not.

Today, when kids rely more on their parents’ iPads than on imagination for amusement, playing with self-made paper lanterns may be as familiar as occupying oneself with origami. Who uses paper anymore? Or folds them? Or cuts them? But I did and still do, and I remember. As a kid, I made a whole lot of them lanterns during the Mid-Autumn Festival. I took an oblong coloured paper and, in landscape orientation, folded it into half; then made slits of equidistance in the centre of the paper, right across its length, leaving a border at the top (which would also then provide the same border for the bottom whem the paper is unfolded). The paper was opened up, the breadths joined and sealed to form a column, which, when gently compressed at the top and bottom, yielded a slotted lantern. I made a few of them, and hung them up in a group. At that very young age, I believed I made art.

In my eyes, there is art in this Christian Dior dress. And seeing it up close earlier this afternoon, my interest was piqued by this wash of nostalgia. Raf Simons’s clever and skilful composition of a bustier-dress is, naturally, nothing like what I made out of paper. Here is a dress that is anything but flat. You sense movement even when it is still. The less aware may call it wash-bay curtains at the gas station or horizontal blinds at your office, but these panels are not left to catch the wind so that, collectively, they leave the dress formless.

While the use of un-joined vertical panels is not entirely new, applying horizontal ones to control their resultant shape is. The upper half of this silk dress is secured with a broad elasticised corset belt (possibly to underscore the bust). In the bottom half, panels in black are woven—almost ketupat style—across and around, forming soft hoops and effectively holding the bell shape of the skirt. In the rear, the vertical panels are allowed to hang from the top unsecured, cascading like Watteau pleats!

For a brief moment, I was drunk with awe.

This panelled silk dress, SGD12,000, is available at Christian Dior, Ion Orchard

Close Look: Depression Is Depressing


Do people want to make ugly clothes? Or do some of them just want to make clothes ugly? I departed depressed from the Depression corner in Workshop Elements at Westgate Mall this afternoon, saddened by these conflicting thoughts.

Beautiful clothes bring about joy; they elate the viewer and the wearer. The innate sophistication of Yves Saint Laurent, for instance. Or the shapely forms of Azzedine Alaia, the kooky modernity of Muccia Prada, the moving historicism of Alexander McQueen. Or the technical superiority of set-in sleeves, the attractiveness of straight-hanging seams and flat hems, the tactile satisfaction of the best fabrics.

I wonder—often enough—how the young designers of today can do without these pleasures. Or in a vernacular they can understand: the artful drapes of Rick Owens, the conflicted classic/cutesy aesthetic of Christopher Kane. Or the unapologetic brashness of Supreme, the urban-tribal allure of Dope Chef. Or the irony-heavy assaults of Banksy. Or the proper drop of a drop crotch!

What have all these been replaced with?

Depression Men's

At Depression, the answer is dismal. Try as you may, overlooking these is hard: graphic blouses with clumsy interplay of shapes, tops that are little more than two joined rectangular pieces, jackets with terribly fastened horizontal panels, shirts with poorly fashioned collars, plackets that do not sit smoothly, hems of armhole that warp, inconsistent stitches and those that are criss-cross traffic on the underside, men’s jackets with the button placement for women’s. I wondered—amazed by what were allowed on the racks—if the brand’s owners care about what they make and sell.

Or perhaps the clumsiness is deliberate, the warping intentional, the low-grade assemblage on purpose. It was hard to tell. Fashion has now allowed mediocrity to thrive sans hindrance to the point that the flawed and the lacking could be used as positives to mask the inadequate and conceal the unskilled. Some people called it a change in what is aesthetically acceptable. “It’s modern!” “It’s cutting-edge!” “It’s trending!” But so many of the Depression garments are finished to defy even good enough that you wonder if can’t-be-bothered switched place with well-executed.

Depresssion Grp 1bIn fact, the slapdash manufacture of the clothes leads you to think that the line is put together by a ragtag team. There are, however, designers behind Depression. Two, in fact: Kenny Lim and Andrew Loh. So, you’d want to uncover the design merit, but it’s hard to find. The influence of Japanese designers is so unmistakable that it is possibly due to their good luck that the referencing is not pointed out. Last season’s blouse on a blouse or tee on a tee—already conceived by Comme des Garcons. The scattered dangling tapes stitched on the bodice so that they can be tied at any point across the front panel to create a changeable relief for the surface—once explored by Issey Miyake. The circle pocket with a zip (and cord for the puller) in the middle—still in use by the label Visvim. There is the resistance of temptation in not going on.

Mr Lim and Mr Loh told online Surface SEA in 2011, “We’ve never had any formal training in fashion design, and that allows us to create from a very raw and honest place.” By raw, it could be assumed that they meant opposite of refined and honest, an uninformed approach to dressmaking. Could this provide the explanation to the atrocities I saw? They, too, said, “We’ve never intended to be different, and never tried to differentiate ourselves from other labels.” Quality (interestingly never pointed out when describing Depression in the media) in fashion traditionally varies. When you position yourself on the lower end of the quality scale, you have—even if inadvertently—set yourself apart.

Depression @ COLater, over at the main store in Cineleisure Orchard (above), Depression did not look more heartening. I thought that since the clothes were shown in its own brand environment, they could open me up to why the garments look the way they do. Traced to the mother ship, they appeared as “raw” as they did in another outpost. A corner shop of painted concrete with scaffolding on which the garments hung, the boutique befits the commonly held belief that Depression is a “cult brand”. The clothes—mostly black and white—inhabit a room that is crudely industrial, lacking in seductive VM, and unevenly illuminated. Why is it that an indie label—another tag oft-ascribed to them—must look like a struggling brand in order to win street cred and designer standing? Mr Lim has described Depression as “avant-garde”, even when he has stated that he does not go for differentiation. Avant-garde, interestingly, is often a euphemism for something that cannot be satisfactorily defined; it has the same effect as calling a hodgepodge interior “eclectic”!

The truth is, anyone can start a label these days. And many do. The route from concept to consumer is no longer like the one of yore. You can jump right in at any point between the two posts. You can dispense with pattern-makers and sample sewers and quality controllers. And many do. If your line offers something to see and the pieces are sharply priced, you’re in business. Just ask Love, Bonito. Depression was started 18 years ago, so it is not new, yet, from its early beginnings at Far East Plaza till the present, the aesthetic and the quality have not really changed. When you approach garment-making the only way you know, you’ll keep at it with the tenacity of a predator holding on to its prey. And many do.

Depresssion Grp 2Perhaps it is not entirely fair to single Depression out. Numerous local labels offer themselves in similar ways. Depression and the like, in the end, really go for looks rather than design, aiming for sum of parts with cursory regard for what really forms the total. The big picture without the small bits. Attention-to-detail deficit in order! After all, on Instagram (or your brand’s homepage), you can’t see unsuitable underlining, twisted in-seams, unintended puckering, sad-looking buttonholes, and such oversights that keep the mediocre apart from the good, the good from the great.

As I left the store, a twentysomething customer walked in. He wore an orange, racer-back singlet under a black pullover made of netting. This duo of tops was teamed with salmon-pink shorts printed to mimic the skin of some unknown campy snake. Not completely covering his feet were laced-up gladiator straps atop platforms that were at least 4 inches high. The aggregate of these parts: look at me. In an instance, I understood Depression.

Road Show


Now that fashion shows are streamed live even from far-flung venues, it was remarkable that people were willing to bear with the Saturday swarm and sundown humidity to see unremarkable clothes paraded on Orchard Road this evening. Unless you’re in the trade (or a celebrity in need of front-row cred), for the rest of us, Twitter, Instagram, and Youtube have made attending fashion shows as necessary as ironing jeans.

The ready crowd has lined up along “A Great Street” to catch sight of the models of Orchard Fashion Runway (OFR) with admirable orderliness. While it is normal these days to associate a fashion event with the enthusiastic, the curious, and the brazen, it was quite a different attendance along this runway. There were no Scott Schuman-worthy peacocks, just harried shopping tourists stopped in their tracks, gawky teens bent on posting after posing, and those DSLR-wielding ‘prosumer’ photographers dedicated to honing their skills by shooting live fashion action.

In its third year and a part of the annual Fashion Steps Out (FSO) season organized by Orchard Road Business Association (ORBA), OFR was supposed to be, according to last Friday’s Urban report, “stepping out in style”. If you thought that was creating unnecessarily high expectations, you may have thought right.

OFR Group 2

Under the pale glow of the crescent moon on the night of qingming (or tomb-sweeping day), 150 models took to the street to showcase seven labels’ and two stores’ spring/summer offerings. Given the four-lane width of Orchard Road (even after being nearly halved for the show), what was touted as “the longest runway” was a sparsely occupied catwalk. Twelve-and-a-half dozen models may sound impressive on paper, but out on the tarmac, the fewness was quickly magnified by the throng flanking the street. The arid show space was the fitting platter on which the models sauntered with blank expressions, possibly a brave front to play down the discomfort of walking all-dressed-up in the heat. It was all very sullen, the gloominess made more severe in the inexpressive lighting. If you weren’t standing right in front, it would be hard to make out what the models wore.

Not that what they wore really mattered. By the end of the show, if you had not Instagrammed your way from start to finish for recall later, chances are, you would not have remembered what flashed past. A typical single-brand fashion show of about twenty minutes could be visual overload. A show of nine collections over forty-five minutes was like driving past an extra-long, open-air laundromat, which, ironically, was once further down at Dhoby Ghaut. Since clothes paraded on the street may risk looking like, well, street clothes, the stylists had them stand out by making sure the outfits were accessorized or accompanied by props such as pillows!

How the motley brands came together or why they were picked is anyone’s guess. One label touted as the show’s highlight was the Chinese lingerie and beachwear brand Aimer (oddly not the pinyin for its Chinese name 爱慕—aimu or ‘admire’ in English). No Victoria’s Secret, and not styled similarly, Aimer’s twenty-piece fancy-dress collection was at odds with the generic offerings of the other brands. Clearly considering the mass turnout, the stylists threw so much into the mix to conceal exposed skin that many people were not aware they were seeing underwear worn in the open. Anything less would, of course, not amuse the authorities.

OFR Group 1

And as it was made for the masses, OFR does not expect you to laugh at the humour, nod at the wit, recognise the references because there was nothing funny, witty or referenced. Unexpectedly, it took a department store to present the show’s most on-trend collection. Robinsons sent out sporty styles, floral-print-on-floral-print pairings, and cheerful colours, only to be disturbed by dour inline skaters darting about like sand flies.

It is tempting to compare OFR to Chingay: street-level and colourful, but unlike Chingay (also once paraded through Orchard Road), OFR is of no real cultural value. If Orchard Road is one shopping mall, OFR is the level one concourse fashion show. Just as tenants of a shopping centre may get a temporary boost in foot traffic when music blasts and models prance at their door steps, the retailers on Singapore’s premier shopping belt, too, may enjoy similar improvement during OFR. What happens when the beat does not go on and the sashaying stops?

It is also unclear how this event will enhance the reputation of our city as an exciting shopping destination. If our shops can exhilarate as those on, say, rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré or Omotaesando, surely we don’t need an OFR to augment our standing since Paris or Tokyo has never required a road show. Perhaps fashion has become so fashionable that it is only spot-on to have such a show as a marketing gimmick. Or perhaps it is an embodiment of the rapid material change seen on Orchard Road in the past ten years and a shout-out—in typical STB style—that, in Singapore, we can stage anything anywhere.

There was no roar from the street this evening, and whatever whimper there was, it won’t be amplified in the press tomorrow.

Photos: Jim Sim

Kindred Spirits: Tech and Fashion

Moschino X Samsung Note 3

Who was there first?

We know Apple hitched a ride on Burberry Prorsum’s SS2014 show in London, touting the iPhone 5S before its launch with a one-and-half-minute teaser and a 15-minute video captured on the handset. Christopher Bailey was quoted in an Apple press release: “This collaboration celebrates our relationship and shared foundation in design and craftsmanship. We have a mutual passion for creating beautiful products and unlocking emotive experiences through technology, which has made it intensely exciting to explore the capabilities of iPhone 5S.” I suppose it has nothing to do with the target audience such as Sienna Miller and Harry Styles sitting in the front row, or their millions of followers, or what’s trending.

The Burberry collection seen with an iPhone 5S

The Burberry collection seen with an iPhone 5S

But Apple was not the only tech giant to share the clout of some brands during fashion week. In a blog posted on Samsung Tomorrow, Samsung was in Milan “to help celebrate Moschino’s 30th anniversary this year “, showing off not just its soon-to-be-released Galaxy Note 3, but the Galaxy Gear as well. It is, of course, rather curious that a three-decade-old label should need the assistance of a hand phone maker ten years its junior. This, however, was not Samsung’s first fashion week appearance. In New York earlier, the phablet and watch appeared in Dana Lorenz’s Fallon runway that was essentially an accessory presentation.

It’s not hard to see that there’s something mutually beneficial here. Despite the massive unsolicited publicity hand-phone launches receive these days, fashionable is not an attribute that can be immediately dialled up. In the first quarter of last year, Samsung Electronics was crowned the world’s largest phone maker by unit sales, not surprising since its handsets, particularly the Galaxy series, have been all the rage. But popular does not necessarily mean cool, the one quality always associated with Apple. By hobnobbing with fashion labels during the most important days of the ready-to-wear calendar, Samsung could see the cool factor of its products inch up.

Similarly, while fashion may have become a global circus, as IHT’s Suzy Menkes so rightly pointed out recently, not many brands are as tech-savvy as the ever-streaming/posting Burberry. Moschino, not in the collective memory of the world’s fashionistas for a long time, could really reach out to a Tweeter-mad generation by showing smart phones alongside smart suits.

These tech giant are, in fact, a little slow to the game. Fashion has been a marketing medium for a while to non-clothing brands, especially drinks: Coke Light has ensnared Lagerfeld’s silhouette for its cans, Evian has allowed Lacroix to pattern its glass bottles, while Piper-Heidsieck Champagne’s opaque bouteilles wear Gaultier‘s corset and, this year, fishnet stockings. Despite the arguments against carbonated drinks, alcoholic or not, when designers are associated with them, imbibing them may, for a moment, not be harmful to health.

Although it is doubtful that there will be a co-branded Burberry iPhone or a Moschino Galaxy Note, these exercises in mutual admiration can only become more evident and frequent, and as persistent as celebrities in the front row.

Photos: Samsung Tomorrow, Burberry

First Look: Raoul Spring/Summer 2014

Raoul SS04

The Sixties vibe is unmistakable, the conceptual strength sturdy. But hardly the front of the pack, how did Raoul come to this? That’s not quite obvious.

Just two days ago, on Friday the thirteenth in New York, the day after Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week ended, Singapore’s much-lauded label showed its SS2014 collection. The static presentation at the Highline Stages, a multi-studio space in the Meatpacking District, offered what, at first sight, could be Raoul’s best offering to date.

Silhouettes associated with Twiggy and prints vaguely recalling the graphic designs of Dutch typographer Jurriaan Schrofer (but are, in fact, influenced by Brit artist Ben Nicholson) form the backbone of the collection. The shifts, shell tops, tunics, and pyjama-styles reflect tight editing. There is a certain simplicity that is alluring as well and, at the risk of sounding trite, modern. But Raoul was not always like this.

Most press coverage of the line in the past has attributed Raoul’s aesthetic to its design director Odile Benjamin, who, together with her husband Douglas Benjamin, often took to the catwalk at the end of stage presentations. When the women’s collection was launched some 10 years ago, it was positioned as a take on the men’s, which appeared first in 2002. Looking at the show photos of the SS 2014 season, it may be hard to believe that not so far back Raoul was variations of the shirt before moving on to dresses not quite on the right side of the fashion track. The line was build on feminine construction that was classic rather than innovative, and it escaped a Burda-esque image mostly through savvy marketing.

About four years ago, New York-based stylist Haidee Findlay-Levin came onboard as a consultant. It was then that Raoul started its journey towards trend-led collections, and on the way, picked up accolades when celebrities and actresses started wearing Raoul very publicly. Ms Findlay-Levin’s influence is discernible, more so when you consider her reach with designers, stores, stars, and the media, connections so vital to the visibility of brands today.

The biggest achievement for Raoul came in September last year, when the Duchess of Cambridge, during her visit to our island, wore a silk outfit to the Rainbow Centre at Margaret Drive, effectively ranking Raoul alongside her favourite labels such as Jenny Packham and Erdem.

Exactly how much creative input Mrs Benjamin offered in the making of recent Raoul is not certain. Alone or with a lieutenant, the captain may be marching Raoul to the right evolutionary beat.

Photo: http://www.zimbio.com; Mireya Acierto/Getty Images North America