(2016) Winter Style 2: The Hound’s-Tooth Jacket


How do you fashion a down jacket without making it look like something that walked out of Shanghi’s Qipu Lu wholesale malls, where Michelle Chong’s alter ego Lulu found immense pleasure? You create three-dimensional hound’s-tooth jackets, just like they have at Moncler.

The hound’s tooth by itself is, of course, not new. This woven or printed pattern of jagged checks can be traced to wool cloths used in the Scottish Lowlands in the 1800s. They’re primarily in two tones—traditionalists would stick to black and white. This is why Moncler’s version is especially interesting: it’s all-black, and relies on texture—smooth and grained—to show the contrast of the hound’s-tooth pattern.

This fabric (100% polyamide to better serve as a lightweight shell for a down garment) is found in the Moncler Grenoble line’s ‘Orelle’ waistcoat (with detachable hoodie). The oversized lacquered hound’s tooth, in a six-point quilted shape that resembles an arrow, is an immediate draw. It’s a check that asks to be touched as it does not appear to be a fully-quilted garment.

The puffer jacket, however on trend, isn’t a winter option women embrace with the same fervour as picking a cashmere sweater. Concerns of looking too, well, puffed up, often influence the decision to buy. If there’s the fear of looking like a potential Michelin Man’s just-as-puffy cousin, the ‘Orelle’ sans sleeve in a silhouette that hints at ’60s après-ski chic may just vastly distant that relation!

Moncler Grenoble ‘Orelle’ quilted waistcoat, SGD3760, is available at Moncler, Ion Orchard. Product photo: Moncler. Collage: Just So

Dress Watch: The Sensuous And Snug


Thierry Mugler is so very much of the past that even with the Thierry dropped from the brand—as well as a newly designed logo (no more lightning-bolt signature), you wonder if what you’ll confront is the aggressive “glamazon” that once characterised the designer’s work when you come face to face with the clothes.

At the launch of the Mugler fragrance Angel Muse last Thursday at Manifesto, five styles of Mugler outfits from the spring/summer 2016 season were on display to the endless fascination of those who still remember what Mr Mugler once did and the indifference of those who really do not bother with brands that are not trending.

What’s really alluring to us is this two-tone navy wool-blend dress, no doubt an object of desire for the body-con brigade. If you look carefully, there are three neck/shoulder components that are adored by women for whom the concealment of shoulder and décolletage is totally aberrant to good taste. You can imagine seeing this outfit in the queue to get into 1-Altitude.

In just one dress, cut to love the body, there is the crisscross halter neck and off-shoulder sleeves that together offer cold shoulders! There’s also the bib-front bustier of the quadrilateral bodice, unexpectedly positioned beneath the halter top so that the cleavage is conspicuously blocked. To a psychiatrist, this dress may be suffering from a dissociative disorder, but to women who love to face the world radiating overt sexuality, this dress has only one personality: sex bomb.

Designer David Koma has, in some ways, kept to Thierry Mugler’s love of emphasising bust, waist, hip, and derriere, but he’s made it more in keeping with the Kardashian aesthetics. The shape of the back of the dress, for instance, is expertly controlled by clever seam work and dart placement so that the curves of the wearer’s rear side will not be down played. There’s technical savvy here that recalls Azzedine Alaïa.

Thierry Mugler’s aggressive glamour (some call it “fetishist-looking”) of the ’80s and ’90s that celebrated the hour-glass body, while not a massive commercial success, was very much lauded for its daring. In 1997, the company was sold to the French cosmetic firm Clarins, and in 2003, the fashion line was closed and discontinued before the rebirth in 2010 under the stewardship of Nicola Formichetti. The Mugler name became largely a fragrance entity. 

After fashion, Mr Mugler, 67, often cited as odd—even bizarre, reinvented himself as Manfred, a Tom-of-Finland-style avatar, rippling with muscles. Rumours were circulating at one time that he has turned into a porn star, no doubt fuelled by nude photos of the by then very buffed man circulating online.

In the spring 2008 Costume Institute show Superheroes, one of his outfits, a 1992 bustier with motorcycle handle bars spread atop the bust and stretching past the shoulder enthused and aroused Beyoncé so much that she coaxed Thierry Mugler out of retirement to designed the costumes for her 2009 world tour. For some women, Mugler still offers a wet dream of a dress.

Mugler dress, price upon request, is available at Manifesto, Capitol Piazza. Photo: Zhao Xiangji

The Birkin Is Not In

Triple its original size, the new Hermès flagship store has everything a rabid fan would want, except the Birkin

Hermes Liat Towers 19 May 16

Yes, the cash cow of Hermès was conspicuously absent. This, it should be said, isn’t totally accurate since we have not included those on the arms of the many who attended the grand opening of the new Hermès flagship. Last Thursday evening was clearly for the go-go social set, and the Birkin, like its owners, can’t really be absent. Inside the vertically expanded store, you’d think it’s the best time to ensnare those not yet satiated, but somewhere in France, artisans are meeting orders not necessarily destined for this store. Since many women already have a Birkin, not seeing one this evening isn’t a tragedy. There’s always the saddlery.

It is amazing that Hermès has stayed put in this part of Orchard Road—specifically Liat Towers—for 30 years. There are no competitor brands in the vicinity. The store is flanked by Zara on its left, and, across the street, a jewellery store, House of Hung, that encloses the right end of the 42-year-old Far East Shopping Centre like a photo corner. Sure, Hermès has a new neighbour Audemars Piguet on Angullia Park, but both are separated by a passageway that leads to the lift foyer of Liat Towers.

Try as we did, it was hard for us to remember any notable former tenants of Liat Towers except Chico’s and Charlie’s, Singapore’s first Mexican restaurant that operated on the 5th floor from 1979 to 2001. Oh, there was Galeries Lafayette, then back to our republic for a second time before exiting for good in 1996. Its space is now occupied by Starbucks and the café/bar Overeasy, and Zara. Luxury was not really part of Liat Tower’s DNA.

Hermes Level 1

And there’s this area’s susceptibility to the deluge of the monsoon season. A heavy and protracted downpour on the morning of 16 June 2010 saw the lower-than-ground-level first floor of Liat Towers inundated. Hermès was not spared. When photos of the store partially submerged in brown rain water appeared on social media, a joke went viral: rush to Liat Towers and stand in the torrent to seize any Hermès bag that floats out!

It was on this flood-prone floor that we began our exploration of the new Hermès. The men’s department is on this first level, as well as the watch, jewellery and perfume. Here is clearly merchandise that will survive Mother Nature’s no-warning inundation. We asked one of the sales staff if she and her colleagues worry about another flooding, and she said happily and confidently, “We’ve had people improve the drainage around the store.” Lucky she; too bad for the potential monsoon opportunists.

Although it is spread over four floors, the store has only three for the retailing of merchandise. The no-sale zone on the top-most level, called Aloft at Hermès, is set aside as gallery space, one of five around the world run by the Fondation d’entreprise Hermès. That a floor with rent obligations can be allowed to generate no profit must reflect its very healthy bottom line even when the corporate line is to support the visual arts. For the opening, Singaporean multi-disciplinary artiste Dawn Ng—whose work, the odd bunny-popping photograph series Walter, was acquired by the Singapore Art Museum—set up a sort of pastel-smoke-and-mirror installation titled How to Disappear into a Rainbow. Silly us: when we stumbled into it, we thought it was the VM prop room.

Hermes Level 3

One floor down, the space is dedicated to home ware and furniture and everything you may need for horse riding. Velvet Brown could really live here. Impressed by a tall tripod shelving unit, we stroked its very caressable legs only to be told by a security staffer, “don’t touch.” “Oh?” “Today is the opening, you cannot touch; tomorrow open you can touch.” “Oh!”

On level two, women’s wear and accessories take pride of place. Here, discerned by the smell of leather rather than perfume, is where, we assume, Hermès exceeds its monthly sales per square foot. The leather accessories naturally drew the guests’ attention more, we thought (and saw), than the ready-to-wear. It’s a space designed for shopping as well as relaxing—those inviting one-arm arm chairs, positioned to afford a street view, so ideal for a tête-à- tête, if you don’t mind conducting such discourse in public and amid such tasteful clothes.

A passerby stopped outside the window along Angullia Park to look at the interior action. She appeared interested in the party atmosphere and lifted her arms, palms upwards, as if to ask what’s going on. We pointed to the clothes and tried—charade-style—to communicate to her that the women were shopping. Could she, perhaps, see that, in fact, no one seemed really interested in the garments hung on the racks? Hermès makes beautiful clothes, and superbly crafted too, yet they are a smidgen too safe, too predictable, too for-the-social-pages-of-Icon. France’s most luxurious brand has perfected refinement to the point where its own good taste seems to be the dictate of a set of analytics or sales reports rather than the impulse of Gaelic joie de vivre or spontaneous creation.

Hermes Level 2

In order to appreciate the Hermès store with actual retail buzz, we came back the next day, when touching was henceforth permitted. Unsurprisingly, it was crowded. Despite the harsh daylight streaming in through the glass windows, the store was aglow with light that bulb sellers would call warm, a tone-setter that lent the fragrant surroundings a peculiarly autumn smoulder. A woman with an admirable bouffant was heard saying it was “homey”. CEO Axel Dumas, a sixth generation member of the Hermès family, would be delighted to overhear the remark. In his message to the media, he said, “It is with great enthusiasm that we open our doors to you, our Singaporean friends and treasured customers, to share our newly extended home.”

“Home” may, however, be a little underwhelming for a flagship that has more in common with a department store than a boutique. While it may be intimidating to some, Singapore’s largest Hermès is a browse-able retail space that is hospitable even if only because it’s too crowded for the staff to notice that you’re only looking around. If you can un-crown its halo of exclusivity, Hermès is possibly a Robinsons (minus a bed and bedding department) with better fixtures and lighting. As Hermès visibly augments its presence, has the surfeit of luxury inevitably dulled us to what in the past was quite special? If Hermès hopes to enchant for another 30 years, let’s hope not.

The new Hermès flagship store is at Liat Towers, corner of Orchard Road and Angullia Park. Photos: Galerie Gombak

Top And Bottom, Front And Back… A Pretty Picture

Issey Miyake X Ikko Tanaka bag T&BJust as we thought Issey Miyake’s bags will forever be the Bao Bao series, madly beloved throughout Southeast Asia, out comes something completely poles apart. Here’s a handbag that has less to do with the avant garde and more a reflection of tradition and art. That’s not saying the Bao Bao isn’t artistic, but Miyake’s use of graphic designer Ikko Tanaka’s illustrations for this hard bag of non-changing shape has more in common with silk kimonos, even paper fans, than pleated shifts.

Here, the ‘Carapace Sharaku’, as it is called, is an apt description. Firstly, the bag comprises two hard vinyl-chloride resin shells that belie its rather capacious interior. Secondly, when completely unzipped to its hinge, it can hang vertically as upper and lower pieces, depicting the full length of Mr Tanaka’s charming illustration: a stylised Japanese kabuki actor, shyly hiding behind what appears to be a shield (possibly a fan). This is Mr Tanaka’s take on the work of Toshusai Sharaku, a ukiyo-e print artist from the 18th century hitherto still not conclusively identified. In this version, the delineation is flatter and devoid of extraneous symbols, or what Apple users will identify as the flat UI on their screens, starting from IOS 7.

Issey Miyake X Ikko Tanaka bagThe front and back of a closed ‘Carapace Sharaku’

Ikko Tanaka is one of Japan’s most known and illustrious graphic designers. He was part of the trio—including writer/marketer Kazuko Koike (who wrote Issey Miyake: East Meets West) and Super Potato Design’s Takashi Sugimoto—that conceptualised and designed Mujirushi Ryohin, or what we know today as MUJI. Mr Tanaka, who died in 2002, was recognised for his unabashed Japanese-ness in graphic design that was communicated in a Western vernacular, especially minimal, geometric shapes. The East-West aesthetic was so powerful in its arresting simplicity that it drew admirers such as Issey Miyake, who worked with Mr Tanaka on the former’s advertising for much of the ’90s.

In 2012, past collaborator Kazuko Koike curated the “Ikko Tanaka and Future/Past/East/West of Design” exhibition at 21_21 Design Centre, a museum and research facility—part of the Tokyo Midtown complex—that was initiated by Issey Miyake and designed by Tadao Ando. Fast forward to 2016, the house of Miyake pays its own tribute with a capsule Pleats Please collection that features Mr Tanaka’s unique Japanese countenance. In the world of video-telephony (and amid the omnipresence of front-facing smartphone cameras), the ‘Carapace Sharaku’ and plissé dresses will no doubt connect to a generation that grew up on FaceTime.

Issey Miyake X Ikko Tanaka ‘Carapace Sharaku’ handbag, SGD730, is available at Pleats Please, Forum Galleria. Photos: Issey Miyake

Dress Watch: Multiple Rounds


The first thing that strikes you when confronted with this Marni tunic top is the fabric. Does it come this way, or are the coin-sized dots individually tacked to form the whole? Examining every stitch (and we bothered), the consistency suggests two possibilities: superb sewing machine or unparalleled textile weaving facility. The sales women in the shop were, unfortunately, of no help. Whichever way, the effect is an unusual fabric with a piece-together flexibility that allows designer Consuelo Castiglioni to create some rather arresting clothes.

We are truly fascinated by the way the circles are held together. Placed flat, it seems that the cotton/viscose felt dots are fastened to some kind of webbing when in fact they hold to each other at six equidistant points along the edges via a sort of twisted chain stitch that themselves form an octagonal frame in which a circle is suspended. There’s clearly some symmetry to it that craft folks will appreciate and calculation involving geometry that geeks will be charmed with. To us, the repetition of a single shape brings to mind a Suffolk-puff quilt, something that gave grannies of a previous age immense joy when they made them.

To be sure, there is nothing grandmotherly about this top, certainly not the colour-blocking and, through the manipulation of the placements of the dots, the asymmetric silhouette. If this were to be made of metallic plastic discs, rather than the very matte felt pieces, and if it were shaped closer to the body, would this not have been rather Paco Rabanne, circa 1966? Consuelo Castiglioni is, however, too busy with pushing her art-and-craft aesthetic to the present to look back at Sixties futurism for ideas, dotted or not.

Marni sleeveless ‘Dot Macramé’ tunic, SGD2,990, is available at Marni, Hilton Shopping Gallery and The Paragon. Cotton inner (in picture) is not part of the top. Photo: lyst.com

All-White Comes To The Sandal

Teva X Beauty & Youth river sandalsJust as white, old-school tennis shoes are de rigueur in the spring/summer season, river sandals are indispensable in a fashion-correct person’s wardrobe. And the white that has in recent years dominated sneakers of all stripes is now the colour of cool for sandals. And none are more pristine that these by Teva and the Japanese store United Arrow’s sub-label Beauty & Youth.

Truth be told, we have been waiting for the Teva X Beams (colour-blocked straps!) collaboration to hit our shores, but, unsurprisingly, that didn’t touch our grounds. It was much to our delight, then, to discover Teva’s collaboration with Beauty & Youth, the third, in fact, after the successful run of the former’s ‘Hurricane’ sandal in 2014  to celebrate the American footwear brand’s 30th anniversary.

Teva X Beauty & Youth river sandals pic 2Beauty & Youth has chosen not to tweak Teva’s classic design, turning the sandal back to what may be considered its “factory setting”—completely colour-free. The ‘Hurricane’ itself is believed to be one of the most comfortable and durable “sports” sandals available, which explains why brands—in Japan, especially—keep going to Teva for their own iterations. The shock absorption unit in the heel and the Velcro closures for a comfortable fit point to a pair of footwear that can replace sneakers when our punishing heat demands it. For some, the Beauty & Youth branding centralised at the heel strap has added allure.

It goes without saying how appealing the white will look against tanned skin. But since there’s less of it covering the feet, you won’t look like a nurse. Now, can we be hopeful that Teva X Ganryu’s bi-coloured Hurricane will be available next?

Teva X Beauty & Youth ‘Hurricane’ XLT river sandals for men and women, SGD109, are available at Left Foot Entrepôt, The Cathay, and selected World of Sports stores. The sandal is also available in navy. Photo: Teva

From The Banks Of Chaos In The Mind

Christian Dada shop frontThe first shop to open at the hirtherto desolate 268 Orchard Road. Photo: Galerie Gombak

By Raiment Young

The name reminds me of a song by The Police, the one that tells of our inability to resist the persuasiveness of “poets, priests and politician… ’cos when their eloquence escapes you/their logic ties you up and rapes you. De do do do, de da da da…” At the same time, I am recalling the ‘logic’ of the bourgeois capitalist thinking of the mid-1910s that, together with the onset of WWI and the opposition to it, led to the Dada art movement. I remember, too, what Tristan Tzara, one of the founders of Dada, said: “Dada puts an artificial sweetness onto things, a snow of butterflies coming out of a conjurer’s skull.”

That suggestion of surrealism is not at all incongruent with the newest brand to take its street-view place in Orchard Road: Christian Dada. First things first, this isn’t a brand that has anything to do with what the proper nouns in the name suggest. Well, maybe half of it does. The label is, in fact, the brainchild of Japanese designer Masanori Morikawa. As I suspected—since this is so typical of Japanese naming convention (John Lawrence Sullivan, for example, is really Arashi Yanagawa, not the American boxer aka Boston Strong Boy, but being a professional boxer before, it’s not surprising who inspired him), Mr Morikawa had deliberately picked a name that sounds Western. As he told The Japan Times last year, “I started out by wanting to parody a French house’s name. Christian Dada was my respectful riff on Christian Dior and Dada being a reference to my own love of the anarchy of Dadaism.”

Christian Dada SS 2016Christian Dada spring/summer 2016 women and men. Photos: Christian Dada

So I wasn’t off the mark in my thoughts. Mr Morikawa added, “I really didn’t think about potential Judeo-Christian misunderstandings or that, further down the line, people might assume the brand isn’t Japanese.” He really shouldn’t have to worry about that since no one ever thinks Hello Kitty is not a la Nippon! And what can be more Dada than the “artificial sweetness” of the mouth-less cat purported to be a British school girl (itself “a snow of butterflies coming out of a conjurer’s skull”)? In the same vein, the religious suggestion joined to the anarchy of a certain art movement can be Dada too, no?

Mr Morikawa has not claimed to be a Dadaist, yet it is tempting to seek evidence in his work, and I did. In the first look of his women’s wear spring/summer 2016 show, the model wore a white shirt under a black tee with the words in full caps “NO LOVE LOST”. The idiom is repeated in the sole neck wear (a sort of scarf-as-choker) worn by the models.  If Dadaism in its earliest and basic form was an anti-war stance, then perhaps the message of animosity is a declaration of Mr Morikawa’s own undeclared battle. I am, admittedly, being needlessly pedantic. The clothes themselves pay no obvious homage to the likes of Jean Arp. In the juxtaposition of shapes and the pairing of beading and embroidery to sporty/biker silhouettes, I do, however, see the spirit of Kurt Schwitters. Or, by the brand’s own admission, “the rejection of perfection, reason, and logic… a feeling of deconstruction and mystery.”

Christian Dada interior 1Christian Dada’s mostly monochromatic interior dotted with strange perforated shapes. Photo: Galerie Gombak 

This is, however, not the deconstruction or the mystery that we have come to associate with the Japanese since the early ’80s. Mr Morikawa does not overhaul garments the way Yohji Yamamoto does although his sense of mystery can faintly be traced to the latter’s. Unlike many of his compatriots, he is not quite resistant to the use of embellishments to lend extra dimension to his clothes, which, unsurprisingly, are highly visual. I was drawn, for instance, to the sprays of blue appliqué flowers on a trio of blouses (and also gold on a quartet of dresses), blooms that happily recall the cherry blossoms he introduced in the last spring/summer season. They are a chromatic aberration from his mostly black collection, suggesting, perhaps, that Mr Morikawa does not only dwell in darkness.

What’s interesting to note, too, is that Christian Dada is the first Japanese brand to be situated on the first floor—in fact, upfront by the entrance of a shopping centre, in this case the still forsaken-looking 268 Orchard Road (formerly Yen San Building) that is owned by Ngee Ann Development. That a prime spot could go to a rather obscure brand, I was told, is likely due to favourable rentals, given the oft-repeated gloomy retail scene, a sad state that was also reported somewhat gleefully by Life of The Straits Times two Thursdays ago. And the space was not cinched by a conglomerate such as LVMH or Kering, but by a Singaporean company, D’League. What’s little-known is that D’League, proprietor of what some consider to be the best men’s wear store on our island, Surrender, is also an investor in Christian Dada.

Christian Dada interior 2The 1,700-square-foot interior of the store. Photo: Galerie Gombak

It was reported that with D’League’s take-up of 51% in Mr Morikawa’s company in 2013, Christian Dada was able to make its Paris debut a year later, during the spring/summer 2015 season. A relatively small retail player investing in a fledgling designer label is rather striking, at least to me, since the only Singaporean fashion company to have done something similar, as far as I can recall, is the much larger Club 21. In 2000, the Christina Ong-owned corporation invested over £7 million (or about 30%) of Mulberry’s equity, landing it a controlling stake in the brand. D’League—once associated with Jamie Chua (and her maiden retail venture Cloud 9 Lifestyle) and ex-husband Nurdian Cuaca and consequently their complicated divorce—first stocked Christian Dada in its luxury store, Salon by Surrender in the Shoppes at Marina Bay. It surprised many that, among the edgy labels the boutique retails—including the supremely pricey sneaker label Buscemi, Christian Dada should be singled out for investment.

Christian Dada’s prominent presence on Orchard Road should be seen as a good sign for less mainstream brands. Amid top-tier European luxury labels with duplex stores now fronting ION Orchard, I was thinking Singapore’s most important shopping street may not entice those without the marketing muscle of, say, the Prada group. Christian Dada’s quiet entry offers others of its breed hope that our oldest retail belt isn’t quite adverse to brands not in the first twenty pages of Her World. Its eye-catching store—designed by Fumiko Takahama Architects, whose eponymous founder was formerly with Herzog and de Meuron—speaks in the vernacular of retail design not with plush carpets and costly wood, but with sheets of perforated metal stained black and formed into rock-like shapes that echo those of Zen gardens or karesansui. Like the building that houses it, Christian Dada sticks out, but it does so beautifully.

Christian Dada is at level one, 268 Orchard Road

Chung Brings Finesse

Alexa Chung

“In real life, I rarely think about clothes,” so said Alexa Chung in a Harper’s Bazaar interview last year. With the just-launched M&S collaboration, it would seem that her brain cells are doing some work, even if it’s not heavy lifting. Britain’s perpetual It girl—after Kate Moss—has done what It girls do, lend her aesthetic sense to fashion labels in need of, to quote Carmel Snow, a dash of daring.

Marks and Spencer is not a Savile Row outfitter despite its Mayfair-sounding name. Neither is it a cool high-street label, always at the cusp of something revolutionary. In Singapore, and quite possibly the UK, M&S (as it is usually called) is very much associated with one’s mother, even grandmother, or, if you’re a foodie, the All-Butter Sultana Cookies. Its presence in our city dates back to the Fifties. For those old enough (ageing population that we now are), M&S was first St Michael, appearing in 1958 in John Little, the oldest department store here, established in 1842. The name change was effected only in 1994, but it has never really discarded the frump that St Michael has made of itself.

Marks & Spencer Celebrates A Unique Collaboration With Style Icon Alexa Chung

Alexa Chung poses with models at a launch party hosted by Marks and Spencer in London 

Alexa Chung’s present involvement seems to say that the dowdiness that many folks can’t (no longer?) find beautiful is being given a new lease of life. Unlike the typical fashion collaboration involving fashionable celebrities, Ms Chung did not have M&S access her wardrobe for inspiration. The reverse became the work flow and she, instead, visited the M&S archives. M&S used Ms Chung’s eye and tapped her flair for making things of the past sit well in the present. These archival pieces have morphed into fashion-correct clothes for a generation of women—Alexa Chung included—rediscovering stuff of lost eras to take the place of what they cannot conceive for the future.

To be noted, what Ms Chung has done for M&S isn’t as lack of craft as what Kate Moss co-produced with Topshop. The proportions, for example, have clearly been reworked for the contemporary consumer. We were quite taken by the double-breasted Ada blazer, for example. The shoulders are now cut slanted, rather than ’80s-straight, and hang a little lower; the effect is a slouch that is rather becoming over a wisp of a dress—the way Ms Chung wears hers. The obligatory tennis sneakers are tweaked with a sense of humour, changing Adidas’s perforated lines into ‘yes’ on one side and ‘no’ on the other. This IT girl clearly isn’t averse to a little fun and wit in her clothes.

Archive by AlexaClockwise from top left: Ada double-breasted blazer, S$169.90; Ada wide-legged trousers, S$119.90; Harry pie-crust top, S$119.90; Eliza high-neck dress, S$1549.90; Lydia, A-line gingham skirt, S$89.90; and Helen ‘Yes/No’ trainer; $129.90. Illustration: Just So

And it is this irreverence doused with thought that truly sets her contribution apart. She may, as she said, “rarely think about clothes”, but it’s the consideration in how she puts clothes together that has made her very much a fashion star. Nothing on her is not deliberate (no woman wears overalls without first thinking how she will turn out!), yet she’s able to come across as one with better things to ponder than fashion. That in itself is more a womanly attitude than a girly one, which perhaps explains her appeal among those in their late twenties and early thirties than in their teenage years.

Alexa Chung’s style, therefore, deserves more study than, say, Kate Moss’s since one appears to dress for an exigent purpose (such as a profession) while the other seems to be attired just for hanging out. Ms Moss frequently looks like she walks into an older cousin’s wardrobe and tumbled out while Ms Chung seems to have visited a store and carefully picked her buys. If one is Gucci, then the other is rather possibly Prada! M&S is not off the mark, therefore, to be associated with the TV presenter in the hope that their clothes will be cast in new light. Problem is, any of these pieces won’t make you look as good as Alexa Chung. You have to be Alexa Chung to look this fine.

Archive by Alexa is available at M&S, Wheelock Place, and online at http://www.marksandspencer.com. Photos: Marks and Spencer

Orchard Fashion Runway: Pointless Street Show

Orchard Fashion Runway Pic 1The Raffles Privato collection, initiated by Raffles Design Institute and supported by Paragon, at OFR 2016

About a week after National Day last year, a postcard was found circulating on Orchard Road. The front of the card, dated August 18, 2015, mimics a tabloid cover of the ’60s and is provocatively blurbed: “Orchard Road—Doomed for the Future?” Other cover lines that suggest equally dismal prospects include “Bored Shoppers”, “Empty Streets”, and “Dopey Retail Stuff”. Flip it over, and you soon realise this is a cheeky little marketing material, distributed to entice shoppers into a deli for a meal to “get a free lemonade daily before 6pm”.

The consumers targeted to receive the postcard did not know then that the cover “story” of this fun title could be so portentous. According to research on Singapore’s retail sector published by London-based real estate services provider Savills, retail sales in the last three months of 2015 were “subdued”. In October, November and December, comparable figures against 2014 were down, with declines of 4.5%, 2.1% and 3.6% respectively. And these are, traditionally, supposed to be good months of the retail calendar. As Q1 of this year comes to a close, things do not look cheerier. On 2 March, The Straits Times ran the headline, “Rents in Orchard Road fall again for the seventh quarter in a row”. It requires no wild speculation then that retail business is, as The Business Times calls it, “anaemic”.

Something needs to be done. The solutions: Fashion Steps Out (FSO) and “signature runway show” and the FSO’s “curtain raiser” Orchard Fashion Runway (OFR). Orchard Road’s less-than-gleaming retail performance is, of course, not a recently recorded gloom. FSO to the rescue is, in fact, into its 7th year, and OFR has transformed 550m of Orchard Road into a catwalk—from outside Tangs Plaza to the Paragon—for 6 years. Our premier shopping belt has been in need of rallying since 2010, “when the Orchard Road shopping belt celebrates the Spring/Summer fashion season with local and international brands, as well as exciting events and shopping promotions”, according to yoursingapore.com, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) visitor-centric website.

Orchard Fashion Runway Pic 2Orchard Fashion Runway Pic 3One-time Kato Jay Chou’s label Phantaci seen on Orchard Road for the first time

No one knows for certain if we “celebrate” any fashion season at all, but many are sure Orchard Road needs to be inspired anew. With the oft-mentioned competition from suburban malls, and, more significantly, online stores, our oldest shopping belt is facing a tough and protracted battle, yet its troubles have been only momentarily solved, with ideas that have no long-term gains. To be sure, the street itself has undergone many improvements—even busking, once frowned upon, is now allowed. The real step up should go beyond the cosmetic and token public entertainment. To give the entire stretch of Orchard Road the appeal it needs, a vibrant retail culture such as those seen in Tokyo’s various shopping districts—Shinjuku, Shibuya, Omotaesando, just to name three—must be fostered.

Instead, the powers-that-be are contented with something as lame as Fashion Steps Out (no prizes for where that name really came from). Touted as “Singapore’s biggest fashion festival” (now that the official Fashion Festival is no more, the description is up for grabs), FSO is a six-week “extravaganza”, according to the SPH Newspaper: Special in ST’s Life that ran last Friday. Whether there’s going to be any lavishness or opulence that’s alluded to, shoppers are none the wiser. A mere six weeks to enhance Orchard Road’s weak retail standing, however, is fodder for detractors to question the value and usefulness of FSO. And what happens during the 45 days? Nothing much. According to ORBA’s micro-site for FSO, from 25 March to 8 May, shopping vouchers and 15 sets of Samsung’s new Galaxy S7 4G+ smartphones could be won. It would take considerable effort to find the “extravaganza” in those.

Orchard Fashion Runway is, thus, the flag bearer of the FSO. Its star billing this year is augmented by the presence of local and, for the first time, regional personalities: singers JJ Lin and Malaysia’s Aisyah Aziz, a couple of models (that did not walk the show), a fashion stylist, and the ever-important “influencers”, five of them (two Singaporeans, a Taiwan-based Malaysian, a Filipino, and an Indonesian). Whether their presence will make a difference (and who the influencers will influence) isn’t quite clear, but the ST supplement seems certain that the important invitees “will make waves”. A day after the event, Instagram was not inundated with selfies shot on Orchard Road the Runway.

Orchard Fashion Runway Pic 4The cute-as-hell, kitschy-like-mad designs of the irrepressible Mash-Up 

Given the dreary shows of the past years, it is admirable that ORBA, supported by STB, has not given up the idea of doing a runway presentation. It is said that, despite retaining the “curtain raiser”, ORBA still desires change. In the past, OFR was put together by the externally appointed creative director, Jeffrey Tay from ModernAge Design & Communication, a company that was involved in OFR since 2012. In his place this year is Daniel Boey, a seasoned show producer known for his theatrical productions and his good relationships with Singaporean designers. Mr Boey told ST that he’s directing the spotlight on local labels (and some Asian).

If that sounds like a familiar refrain, it’s because the show last year—SG50 year—was about local designers too. On the surface, Mr Tay and Mr Boey appear to have tremendous support for our home-grown names. There’s no negating that local brand owners are easier to cajole than their international counterparts, who do not participate in shows that are not at one with their own brand management and marketing plan. There was never any question about involving those names with strong global standing. It would have been more convincing if the organisers simply stated that Singapore’s “iconic street’ is the ideal platform for Singaporean labels.

Not that we have that many deserving a concerted national display, or that there are those willing to share street exposure with a motley group of designers with steeply varying degrees of design flair. It was, therefore, surprising to see Thomas Wee showing alongside those whose references are clearly not in the same line of sight as the veteran designer. Although he closed OFR with a wow factor more suited to a hotel-ballroom catwalk than a torrid tarmac, Mr Wee’s lost-era elegance stuck out, like his white, silk taffeta jumpsuit, against a jumble of jokey costumes conceived to humour the young and stand out, even absurdly, for the sake of standing out, and for the final destination: social media.

Orchard Fashion Runway Pic 5Orchard Fashion Runway Pic 6No clowning matter: Révasseur puts a circus and its principal designer (in harlequin check), Gilda Su, and her dog out there

ORBA’s objective is, therefore, rather clear. The need for influencers and clothes that will turn up well in the likes of Snapchat suggests that Orchard Road is scrambling for a trending makeover. No place along this street, not even the swanky ION Orchard, is uploaded to social media sites with the same frantic regularity as Bangkok’s Siam Paragon, which, in 2013, made it to the Most Frequently Instagrammed place on the planet, and has, hitherto, remained in the top 10. Siam Paragon’s achievement is all the more remarkable when you consider its location; it is not situated on “A Great Street” (in fact, that stretch of Rama I Road is a traffic and pedestrian nightmare!). Orchard Road’s lack of geo-tagged snapshots in the digital media-sphere seems to suggest that whatever is happening (or not happening here), it is not scoring big with youngsters or selfie-eager tourists.

OFR should have been what Mr Boey calls “a fashion Mardi Gras”. And the runway a sambadrome. If you’re assembling a group that mostly communicates via madcap visual antics, stay consistent to the zany miscellany. If Révasseur’s costumes for the non-practising, but ever-posing circus crowd are clothes of the moment, then send in the clowns. If fashion is only so when it is steep in street vibe and drips with way-out (or daft) excess, then strip away the artifice of deportment-class strolling and flood the street with badass, ass-bare individuals who can truly rock the malls down.

Unfortunately, Orchard Road is unable to use humour, wit, and daring for its own betterment. If “retail is stuck in its own mud”, as experts are inclined to say, then Orchard Road is trapped in its own perceived greatness. Still branded as “A Great Street” by ORBA, it forgets that it is the experiential component that determines what is great about a street. “Enhanced experience” is often bandied about on Orchard Road—in the malls too—as the way to differentiate itself, but rare is the enhancement palpable. If ORBA must persist with Orchard Fashion Runway, then it must deliver exhilaration that shopping inside one of Orchard Road’s increasingly dull malls cannot offer. Last Saturday, that, regrettably, did not happen.

Photos: Helena Tan

Welcome Flowers

Liberty London for UniqloLiberty London for Uniqlo men’s linen shirt in heart fern print. Photo: Jim Sim

Liberty London is so linked to floral prints that those who have not been to the UK’s capital city may not realise that it is foremost a department store, and a really nice one too. It may not be as swanky as Harvey Nichols, where the crush of their Boxing Day sale is almost legendary. However, in the West End’s Regent Street, in a building with a quaint Tudor-style façade, you’ll find a carefully stocked emporium that is as fascinating as a cabinet of curiosities. And it is on the third floor of the store that you will be smitten with what Liberty has come to embody: the happy floral patterns, stashed in the Liberty Print Room, still enveloped by bohemian air.

Some of that flower-patterned happiness arrived on our shores this morning via Uniqlo. Here’s another collaboration that the Japanese brand knows they have got right. In their design cache now is a print pedigree that can be transformed into modern clothes if applied judiciously. While girly dresses and mumsy tops with full-on flowers are unavoidable, and Uniqlo obliges, there are pieces with a graphic sensibility that reflects the brand’s increased love for patterns paired with solids, such as the women’s graphic T-shirt (below left) that are akin to those seen in Tokyo’s Ships and Beams. To be expected, however, are unimaginative ways these clothes will be worn by women who do not differentiate between bed clothes and those for social engagements such as a movie date.

Liberty London for Uniqlo product picksFrom left: women’s graphic T-shirt, S$19.90; men’s premium linen shirt, S$59.90; women’s graphic T-shirt, S$19.90; cotton pouch, S$14.90. Illustration: Molly Ong

Liberty has been around for more than a century. While the immediate association would conjure prints and fabrics, their history can be traced to an early basement space called the Eastern Bazaar. As the name suggests, Liberty was quite the destination for “decorative furnishing objects”. Heritage department store standing aside, they’re also at the forefront of modern British fashion, championing the work of Vivienne Westwood and Alexander McQueen and, at the same time, attracting brands and designers to their prints. In the past decade, Liberty has collaborated with some of the most illustrious names such as Fred Perry and Mastermind Japan, and sneaker giant Nike, even street wear powerhouse Supreme, but brand partnerships were, in fact, forged as early as the ’60s.

Back then, Carnaby Street (now home to English brands such as Pretty Green and Barbour), really a stone’s throw from the Liberty store, was the heart of “Swinging London”. It was both convenience and Liberty’s authentic prints that drew designer such as Mary Quant and Jean Muir, as well as retailers such as Biba to work with the store. The cool English-girl vibe, still strong at Burberry, could be traced to those days. Then in the ’70s, Cacharel’s Liberty-print maxi-dresses sealed the store’s reputation as the go-to purveyor of pleasant petals.

Liberty London for Uniqlo posterTo augment the Britishness of the collaboration, Uniqlo enlisted Nick Knight to shoot the images, and CHAOS Fashion’s Charlotte Stockdale and Katie Lyall for creative direction. Photo: Jim Sim

Given today’s penchant for more aggressive motifs such as Givenchy’s Doberman, there’s something innocent about Liberty’s dainty flowers. These are blooms that hark back to simpler and gentler times. They recall sewing machines atop the kitchen table and a mother diligently sewing her daughters’ clothes in time for the approachng Lunar New Year. One of SOTD’s contributors remember her grandmother making quilts of similar prints that are still in appreciative use. While the parental associations may put a damper on cool, so vital in the urbanite’s turnout, sometimes a little homespun has more heart.

Select Liberty London for Uniqlo pieces are available at all Uniqlo stores. For full collection, check out Bugis+, Jem, Parkway Parade, and Suntec City

Season’s Changed, Wardrobe’s The Same

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By Raiment Young

It’s the Ides of March, as they say in Roman times, circa 44 BC. So here I am, in the middle of the month, when once (date that to pre-Google times) the fashion-correct among us pondered on what to acquire (“invest” was preferred then) to get our wardrobe ready for the coming months. Never mind that we did not have the habit of putting away clothes worn during colder climes to mark the start of a new season. (So not in the habit that presently there are those still wearing neoprene tops from two winters ago—I saw one just now—in the punishing heat of March, the Ides!) What mattered was a chance to renew the wardrobe even if that renewal, technically, took place a month earlier during Chinese New Year.

The new fashion season may be upon us, but it is hard for me to get excited about it. In the past, it was easy to succumb to the thrill that consuming fashion offered. There was enjoyable build-up: you had to wait for at least three months after the respective fashion weeks before you were able to see the reports in a magazine (if you wanted them fast, it was not consumer monthlies such as Vogue, but trade titles such as Mode et Mode), from which you would succumb to the key, though not quite trending, pieces. There would then be another month or two before the clothes appeared in the stores. Anticipation was immense, and the reward, while variable, gave you a high.

Today, it’s too much, too quickly. Fashion is a speed demon, racing from catwalk to consumer, first via live stream, then through the hyper-effective distribution network of fast fashion. Inexorable, I feel, is the journey towards the much-discussed show-now-sell-now business model. Even inchoate, it will appease the appetites of an impatient generation consuming voraciously via online social channels. In fact, our digital lives have mostly taken the heat for it. Fashion is never far away and you can get up to speed, thanks in no small part to mobile technology, a fast-evolving one at that, and one that has widespread affect on our lives as active, no-respite-from-trends consumers.

When it comes to modern communication, adoption is discussed in terms of penetration rate. According to the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA), for example, ‘mobile population penetration rate’ in 2015 was an average of 148 percent. The figure is staggering if we consider that Singapore has enjoyed 28 years of mobile phone use: we’re not a new market (in fact, a 2014 Deloitte survey stated that smartphone penetration in Singapore is the highest globally). If the IDA’s figures can provide a snapshot of how ardently we embrace cellular tech, I think it would be rather illuminating if the Textile and Fashion Federation (TAFF) look into the penetration rate of fashion, both luxury and fast: how quickly are we consuming fashion, and how widespread is this rapid consumption?

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Fashion is in a transitory state. When it’s been going this fast, it needs to slow down, if not to take stock, at least to catch its breath. No one can say for sure where it’s heading. Or if real change can be effectuated. All the talk about reducing the number of collections a year, even doing away with seasons, will only amount to something if there’s accord among designers on output periods and selling seasons, as well as scheduling adjustments with manufacturers. Simply put, timetables have to change, but marking calendars isn’t as simple as it looks, not when there are those who still would not play by industry-wide practices. If indeed designers like to supply with the same speed and regularity of high-street labels, would there be anything left to set both sides apart? Or would we, by then, be in an era of what Marc Almond calls “monoculture”?

In recent times, fashion is rather like electronic music: it doesn’t date much. Across all selling spaces, online or in-store, there’s a serious surfeit of fashion that has not distinguished itself from the past in a manner that can be considered truly new. It is ironic, considering how ‘newness’ is integral to the survival of the retail business. Instead, sameness seems to be the stock-in-trade. A fashion buyer I know rather well lamented that she has been buying nipped-in-the-natural-waist floral dresses for so many seasons that she would like to cut them up into something else each time she sees them. Clearly some items have longevity built into them—like in the case of skinny jeans—so much so that it’s tempting to consider the phenomenon a retail conspiracy to keep us buying the same things over and over again, thus saving retailers the need to innovate.

Electronic music, too, endures. In 1978, the German group Kraftwerk released a quirky little single called Das Model (the English version, The Model, came out in 1981). It wasn’t until February 1982 that the track reached no. 1 in the UK, where it stayed for 21 weeks in the top 75 of the singles chart. The four-year gap did not diminish the catchy and kitschy appeal of Das Model. And this was even before the rise of Linda Evangelista and co. Close to four decades later, The Model, is still a must in any synthpop playlist and regularly broadcast on Internet radio channels such as the Madrid-based Synth Hero Radio. No matter when and where you listen to it, and no matter which mix (old or new, electronic or acoustic), The Model does not sound like a musical relic of the past, and you forget that Kraftwerk took pop, like Burberry did with fashion, into the fascinating sphere of technology.

In 1997, the German electro-rock band Rammstein released a cover version of Das Model (I have counted 8 variants I like, including one by The Cardigans, but I revisit the first cover in 1979 by Snakefinger a lot). Later an “official” music video appeared, starring Keira Knightly in what seems to be scenes from the 2005 film Domino, in which she plays “the daughter of actor Laurence Harvey turned away from her career as a Ford model to become a bounty hunter”, as described by IMDb. The intro to the MV, in fact, features catwalking models in a slugfest. What is interesting to me are the clothes: the sharp-shouldered dresses that bear an uncanny resemblance to Hedi Slimane’s recent “haute couture” collection for Saint Laurent.

Okay, I concede; I digress.

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In the peer-to-peer sharing of fashion-consumption of today, there seems to be less about distinctiveness than be at one with the rest of the community. That, and the rampant mimicking of what celebrities wear—not always flattering to everyday lives, but who’s noticing. If shoppers can look to Instagram, Pinterest, and the like for ideas and inspiration, so can retailers. And those sites are where merchandising heads are training their professional gaze at, doing away with storyboards, since the narratives are already out there, already influencing thousands, if not millions. They need only to give what their consumers have seen and, consequently, crave. In reality, stores no longer need to provide context, not even temptation; they only need to lay out the familiar clothes. Problem is, the open-source nature of fashion means other retailers, other store buyers, too, can see what has been seen and circulated. It’s no surprise at all that selling floors are overstocked with clones.

The fashion connection between brands and consumers has changed too. In the past, luxury fashion was sold through distributors or local agents. Now, the parent company is behind the distribution. Gucci, for example, was once available locally via FJ Benjamin, the player behind Goyard and Guess and their house brand Raoul. These days what you see in the Gucci stores in Paragon and The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands are put there directly by Kering-owned Gucci. The missing middleman is also evident in how fashion is communicated to us. When once our taste in clothes was influenced by fashion editors, especially those who could cut through the noise to inform us what is truly on trend, these days, we see fashion for ourselves through live streams, letting brands talk to us directly. And that’s a conversation we share with the rest of the world.

I find myself in the cavernous ION Orchard, unguided by social media, moving in and out of duplex stores and uncovering almost nothing that could entice me or fill the gap I think I see in my wardrobe. Some of the clothes I like aren’t so alluring on the rack, where they sit in pairs, spaced four fingers apart between the carefully coordinated twosomes. I’ve seen them via my PC and smartphone months ago and being there online in perpetuity means by the time I encounter them in-store, the freshness is relieved of these “new arrivals”, as the sales people invariably must inform me, which makes me think of refugees. I move to Paragon, and it is the same here. Except for a bag or two at Loewe, everything I am seeing is frightfully dull.

My afternoon of shopping brings me to 313 at Orchard. It is an indescribably annoying feeling seeing more of the same here, Orchard Road’s belly button where below twenty-fives gravitate towards. Yes, that camo-print is very familiar; that contrast sleeve too. By now, I do not want to recall where I saw them earlier. Not quite a glut, but what I am seeing is doing something to my gut. There’s only one unfashionable word for it: satiated.

Photos: Galerie Gombak

Dress Watch: Chanelling The Victorian Nightgown

Miu Miu nightgown dress SS 2016

It’s been suggested that Raf Simons had inadvertently launch a minor trend: the day Victorian nightdress, specifically those shown at Dior’s spring/summer 2015 collection. These were not, contrary to its popular description, frumpy bedroom clothes; these were sensational and ‘pure’ enough that the Bennet sisters would have worn them, even in the earlier Regency Period, to the suitors-awaiting Netherfield Ball.

It is, however, not clear how well these Dior dresses fared since no figures were released. More significantly, they weren’t considered the epitome of modernity or sexiness in a time when so much fabric for a single outfit is contrary to the less-is-more preference of women with ample not to conceal. Still, the trend prevails for yet another spring/summer season and we’re quite happy that it has. One of these outdoor-ready night gowns that we find positively charming is the above by Miu Miu.

Prada’s sister line (not diffusion, we should add) has always approached fashion as wackily as their fan base allows. No period, no occasion, or the suitability to either is off limits. It is not surprising then that some form of a nightdress should appear since Miu Miu is no stranger to house clothes as out-and-about attire.

The lace-trimmed ruffles caught our eye. While they may be associated with spinsterhood-bound women, the ruffles, in a V-formation that seems to underscore the high neck, are, in fact, off-beat romantic in a way that Chloe Sevigny would appreciate. And there’s the print: drawing of lit candles that clearly had been burning for hours, adding to the whole night clothes spiel. Rather Florence Nightingale, we thought. Or, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Things get a little tricky in the silhouette of this viscose dress, which the cheery salesgirl in the Miu Miu boutique was keen to point out, is based on the “boyfriend cut”. We assumed she meant “boyfriend shirt” but we’ll take her word for it. There’s nothing wrong with the roominess. It’s rather refreshing given the excess of body-con dresses on social media. However, for most women, used to emphasising the waist, presented with a tented (read: maternity) dress such as this may be like putting a cart before the horse.

Miu Miu ruffled maxi-dress, SGD5,900, is available at Miu Miu, Ion Orchard. Photos: left, style.com; right, Galerie Gombak