As Unsexy As Ever

And that is a good thing

COS pic 1

By Mao Shan Wang

COS has never been big on selling the kind of clothes that makes you feel like Kim Kardashian or the women who walk too regularly at night outside Orchard Towers. And that’s one of the reasons why I am a fan. But more than that: COS offers clothes that do not make you look foolish. In this age of some very strange antics and bodily representation on Instagram, I do think appearing sensible is a boon to one’s sanity. But sensible does not have to be boring. This has nothing to do with normcore, if that icky word is still in use. COS has proven again and again that minimalism can be compelling. Minimalism need not be pigeonholed.

This is the 10th year of business for COS, and, since its inception in 2007, has been producing eminently wearable clothes that do not remain on the side of dull. As if proof is needed, they have just released (actually, yesterday) a limited-edition, 10-piece (five for men, three for women, one for boys, and one for girls) collection to celebrate their anniversary and it clearly illustrates the advantage of clean that is COS. Good design, it is often said, lets the cut and the fabric do the talking, and what voluble and vivid message this is.

COS pic 2

As COS tells it in its eponymous magazine for spring/summer, “Every item… started life as a continuous rectangle of material. During an exacting design process, the space between individual pattern pieces was minimized, raising the bar for precision garments whose smart elements fit together like a puzzle.” Smart: everyone desirous of using smart gadgets in a smart city would appreciate that deceptively simple, but surely rigorous approach to design. I sure do. Okay, I am not speaking for all of you.

Appealing is the working with the one-dimensionality of fabrics, and using geometry to create something that can be worn on a clearly 3-D body. This would involve a highly-skilled patterning team, and the one at COS is. They would not shy away from toying with the space between the body and cloth, creating clothes that are not bashful of their roominess and boxiness. There is particular attention paid to symmetry so that every item has the beauty of balance. There’s also the play with lines, such as the curve on the side of the double hem of the men’s shirt-jacket. It takes after the curvature of the sleeve head, again underscoring the geometric interplay that is central to the design approach of this capsule.

COS pic 3

COS has likened the silhouette and softness of the collection to Japanese clothes, especially the kimono. While it is true that body-contouring is less a design element in Asian dressmaking (the kimono, for example, is fashioned without taking into consideration the contours of the body) than it is in the European’s, but to me, the un-bandaged silhouette of COS is also synonymous with those of other lands, such as the Middle East—the ancient Israelites, for example, wore robes in the shape of the T, known as kĕthoneth, of which Joseph’s colourful one is possibly the most known, being central to the Biblical stories of the Old Testament.

The less-structured form that COS has adopted is in line with the hitherto somewhat discreet push for a more relaxed approach to dress that has rather Oriental overtones (but not, obviously, the bluster of Gucci). Proponents include Craig Green, Rick Owens, Nakamura Hiroki of Visvim, Hirata Toshikiyo and Kazuhiro of Kapital, and Alexandra Byrne, whose costume for the 2016 Marvel film Doctor Strange is no doubt inspired by the garb of kungfu masters of yore.

I’d be the first to admit that the minimalist style (and styling) of COS has its limits. Amid ceaseless online and offline visual stimulation and provocation, these clothes, though powerful in their purity, are just too impotent to arouse. Is this why at yesterday’s opening-day sale of COS 10 (as the capsule is referred to in the store), there was no queue, no rush, no rack-side mayhem? Or was it because this was a no-big-name effort? Quiet begets quiet, and, unsurprisingly, calm came to sit alongside the clothes.

COS ‘10-Piece Capsule’ is now available at COS, Ion Orchard. Photos: COS

And You Wonder Why Women Won’t Sit Properly

Saint Laurent SS 2017 advertising

Ugly clothes, it seems, aren’t quite enough. They need to be marketed with ugly images of models in ugly poses too—triple the ugliness. The house of Saint Laurent got themselves in a bit of a spot a couple of days ago when uproar broke out over two of their latest advertising images for the spring/summer 2017 season. We won’t describe the pictures; we let you see what the indignation is all about for yourself.

The photos used in the Saint Laurent ads do open us up to one question: Why is the pose of the model, rather than the clothes she wears, the focal point of a fashion advertisement? It is perturbing to think that this is a reflection of the evolving taste of the consumers of fashion, but it is more disquieting to consider this an indication of how women now see themselves: individuals who can be viewed between their legs, and not face, first.

Of course, a woman seated with her legs apart is so common a sight that no one will think it a show of impropriety. After all, we are no longer in an era when not wearing a petticoat is tantamount to not wearing a brassiere. The panty now cheerfully looking out to the world between the shredded crotch of denim cut-offs is so inoffensive that nobody really cares anymore how a woman sits, or squats, or stoops.

And so she places herself on a chair, seat, or floor as she pleases, legs spread in a way that nearly renders her asunder. Or feet up on the seat so that a heel can cushion the backside, or a knee can serve as chin rest. Comfort is key, we have been told, and that means you do not loll at home, you do it before a camera. You do not kick up your heels when nobody is around, you do it when there is an audience. You do not curl up in private confines, you do so on any chair, anywhere—on the ground, in the air.

The Saint Laurent ad controversy comes just a week after Kellyanne Conway, President “Taped Tie” Trump’s able Counselor, was photographed seated with her legs tucked behind her rear on the sofa of the Oval Office. Ms Conway was, of course, more modestly seated compared to the model in the Saint Laurent ad, but it does draw our attention to the fact that many women now choose to take to a chair in a manner that challenges traditional ideas of lady-like demeanour.

Drawing a viewer’s attention to a woman’s full-frontal crotch is, of course, not new. Just last year, Calvin Klein Underwear put out an advertising image that was framed as an up-skirt shot. Something is also being said when mothers do not chastise little girls for seating with their underpants in full public view, even when unintended. Such indifference and advertising media that has adopted perceptibly suggestive poses in place of nudity to sell clothing allow the young to be weaned on the scanty as standard

Nudity in the media has lost much if its potency. It is a visual marketing device since the ’70s—it has been in use for too long. Yves Saint Laurent himself posed nude in 1971 for his first men’s fragrance in a campaign shot by Jeanloup Sieff. He did not have a shred of clothing on, yet one cannot say he was the epitome of a sex god. As we are now constantly told, just because there are no clothes on does not mean it’s sending out a salacious message. A nude body is no prelude to sex. In order to communicate sex, the message today has to be obviously about sex. Even with clothes on, fishnet stockings too, sex can be the core suggestion when you zero in on the area of the body where sex usually takes place. Better still, the legs positioned like a triangle that frames the other triangle.

But how does making visual the object of another’s voyeuristic or onanistic pleasure help sell clothes? Maybe selling is not the point, controversy is.

Burberry’s Best Yet

Has stepping down as CEO been good for the creative output of Christopher Bailey?


Finales of fashion show rarely come with surprises, or even more to see. Burberry’s presentation this morning (last night, London time) was one that truly ended with extras, as if designer Christopher Bailey wasn’t quite done with what he wanted to express. The models (re)emerged in the order they first came in, but this time with an extra article of clothing.

They were not given something essential to wear. No, these were not pieces you’d rush out to buy, but they caused quite a rush of excitement. At first, you wondered if these were another set of clothes, then you realised that the models were fitted in basically an extra outer. But there was nothing basic about them, not in Burberry’s sense anyway, which often meant the trench coat or the house checks. These were flourishes—ornamental pieces worn to stimulate the senses, or to end a show with a bang.

Mr Bailey has turned a brief 4-min-or-so finale into a showcase of intense creativity that could have passed off as a couture fling, or, conversely, graduate-show excess. These were elaborate pieces that, we suspect, will not be produced.They covered mostly the shoulders: flounced, layered, and tiered fichu; the chunkiest cable and fringed scarf; oversized, lace falling band; metallic feathered capelet, glittering aventail; pearl-strung passementerie, closed and opens ruffs; oversized feathered collar, and so many pieces that would have had Viktor and Rolf nod with gleeful approval.


That this was a rather arty collection surprised not, for according to Burberry, the collection was “an exploration of sculpture and silhouette, material and process… inspired by the life and creations of Henry Moore’, the English artist and sculptor whose work ‘Large Reclining Figure’ currently sits outside the OCBC Building on Chulia Street. Mr Moore, who was from the same county as Mr Bailey: Yorkshire, is known for his exaggerated, alien-like shapes—usually curvy and undulating, sometimes corpulent. We did not see much of the Moore silhouette in the Burberry set—now known by the season non-specific ‘February collection’—but being inspired does not mean imitative.

What we did see is a startling show of asymmetry, quite in the spirit of Henry Moore. Asymmetric bodices and skirts are not new at Burberry, but those of such extreme skew and graphical placement are refreshing. Even the knits, British cable knits, were given a treatment that takes diagonal positions across the body. Some have mismatched sleeves. Much of the asymmetry was not just from left to right; it was from front to back, too. The lopsidedness was rather extreme in some cases: a one-sleeve, one-lapel jacket, for example, was pair with a vaguely Victorian blouse with profusion of ruffles on the side the jacket did not cover. Flat juxtaposed to the wildly textured is the new-born sister of Mr Bailey’s recurrent opaque to the sheer.


As it is evidenced elsewhere, oversized seems to be the order of the day at Burberry too. This is perhaps to keep to Henry Moore’s exaggerated shapes. Consistent with the seemingly one-size-too-large proportion, most of the sleeves were extra long, which, by now could be just on the wrong side of novel. Still, the sum effect is one that is consistent with the loosen-up attitude towards dressing. Unless you work in a bank or similarly corporate institutions, you’re probably rather enticed by Burberry giving the slouchy and the bulky an affirmative tick.

This is not saying that the English Rose—youthful and charming lass with a hint of blue blood—is no longer the trim muse at Burberry. It is possible that, by turning away from the Rose garden, Mr Bailey is suggesting that his customers are grown up and ready to adopt a more adventurous and sophisticated wardrobe. Let’s not over-rely on the house codes—enough checks for the present, he seemed to mean; let’s not be so straightforward; let’s no trod on the path Top Shop will follow.

burbery-pic-5As per the see-now, buy-now business model, the latest collection is immediately available at the Burberry website to order

This aesthetic boldness came at a time that follows Mr Bailey vacating the seat of the CEO (last year), where he sat (while also steering the design studio) since May 2014. It injected a sense of anticipation and exhilaration not experienced since his debut at Burberry in 2001. For quite a while, and this could be attributed to the toil of caring for the company’s bottom line, Mr Bailey had not imbued his designs with much of the London cool that he so carefully and successfully cultivated when he took over. This was later augmented by the indie bands and singers that the brand has aligned itself with and also invited to soundtrack the presentations. Singer-musicians such as the latest show’s Anna Calvi and past performers such as Alison Moyet and Paloma Faith, as well as Burberry Acoustic (the webpage that showcases under-the-radar bands) have added to the brand’s non-mainstream creative cred.

Now, back to strictly designing, Mr Bailey has illustrated that he can more than tweak British classics. This collection showed a knack for adding and distorting without seemingly going overboard. Flash more than dash may be the prevailing mood in fashion, but Christopher Bailey isn’t surrendering to mindless ostentation (save the finale pieces). He just gets the balance right, punching things up without dragging them down. There is, as Depeche Mode sang, “more besides joyrides.”

Photos: (finale and website), (catwalk, individual)

Pills For Thrills


With the controversy it has aroused, we thought Moschino will not be bringing in these bags. But there they were, strikingly displayed in the Paragon store window, the blister pack of pills taking the place of the flap cover of the bag, clearly more noticeable than any strip of capsules at a pharmacy.

Designers such as Moshino’s Jeremy Scott have a predilection for provocation. It’s tempting to say that it’s all in the name of humour and that we should be able to see it for what it is. But what is also discernible is a very real addiction to opioids in epidemic proportion, so much so that there are stores, such as Nordstrom in the US, that have yank the bags and kindred merchandise out of their shelves in the wake of online activism. It isn’t clear what store buyers were thinking when they committed to the purchase of Moschino’s ‘Capsule’ collection.

The use of a capsule as design motif for non-medicinal/medical purpose is, of course, nothing new. But it is, as far as we’re aware, the first time an entire strip of pills is used in such a straightforward and unembroidered way. In airports with extra-tight security, will such a blatant display of love for pills be allowed to pass?

Moschino’s capsule bags and clothing are part of the brand’s spring/summer 2017 collection released as part of the “see-now, buy-now” brand reaction that seized quite a few labels on both sides of the Atlantic two months ago. There’s no negating that the pill bag is a trend item and, as such, has to be released the moment it hit Instagram or Snapchat. In addition, Jeremy Scott has always been a jokester first, then a designer. And you’ve got to let the joke spread fast before it gets stale. Even medicines have a consume-by date.

Moschino blister pack pill handbag, SGD1,160, is available at Moschino, Paragon. Product and catwalk photos: Moschino

It’s All Brand New


It’s not every day you see a brand-new sneaker design. When so many sports brands are re-issuing or re-iterating tennis classics or models from the past (the ’70s is a fave decade), the recent showing of Nike’s VaporMax, presently designed with Comme des Garçons, is as refreshing as Vicks VapoRub.

Revealed at Comme des Garçons’s spring/summer presentation during the recent Paris Fashion Week, the VaporMax, in either black or white, appeared to be a sensible shoe consistent with the collection. Given what CDG was showing, it was not likely that the models would have appeared in stilettos—CDG isn’t that kind of brand anyway. The VaporMax, with its full-length, visible air soles, is the ideal footwear to bear the weight of what seemed to be heavy sculptures-as-clothes.

nike-x-cdg-shoes-catwalkScreen grab of the Comme des Garçons spring/summer 2017 show on YouTube, featuring the Nike VaporMax (left)

Nike’s air soles are doubtlessly one of the brand’s most compelling shoe features, and the new version will attract staggeringly enthusiastic response when it’s launched in February next year. The VaporMax was, in fact, announced some seven months back, but it was only last week that we got to see them in monastic motion.

Despite its new silhouette, Nike fans will recognise the aesthetic of the brand’s air sole, here still much along the lines of the Air Max, a sole technology that debuted in the Air Max 1 in 1987. The innovation has not ceased and has spawned close to ten iterations with no diminished appeal to the original Air Max, which stills enjoy yearly updates and is a collector favourite.

Nike X CDG VaporMax black.jpgThe black version of the Nike X Comme des Garçons VaporMax

nike-vapormax-soleThe sole structure of the new VaporMax

On the VaporMax, the air sole is now a complex of air pods in various shapes that are placed at key points that correspond with the vital areas of the underside of the foot for increased support and flexibility. We have not test run a pair, but it is reported that these shoes, with their Flyknit upper (that allows you to slip into the shoe like a sock), are incredibly light, a boon to sneaker fans who are used to and prefer the buoyancy of the Roshe Run.

But CDG did not only show one shoe branded as a collaboration. Two styles were worn on the catwalk—the other is an all-white, high-top take of the Air Moc. This is a major collab between Nike and CDG if you include the Dunk High shown during the men’s show in June. For Nike-wearing CDG fans, 2017 will be a boom year.

Photos: Nike

New Blood, Old Soul, Stale Water

The change of guard at heritage fashion houses is usually an exciting time. More so the debut show of the new creative head. We remember John Galliano at Dior, Alexander McQueen at Givenchy, Nicolas Ghesquiere at Balenciaga, and most certainly Raf Simons at Dior in 2012. Mr Simons’s first show for the French house was haute couture, no less. Looking back at it now, we still feel those sleek suits and ethereal dresses tugging at our heartstrings. Alber Elbaz, who witnessed it all in the front row at that time, later told the media that it “was a beautiful marriage between a designer and a house.”

Three marriages were made in Paris in the past months, but whether there is going to be conjugal felicity, we won’t know yet. Still in the honeymoon period, many would say, the designers for Dior, Lanvin, and Saint Laurent respectively debuted with as much excitement as a brioche turning musty. Were we expecting too much? Were the designers offering too little? Or were there too many familiar phantoms?

dior-ss-2017Was expectations too high at Dior? Photos: Dior

At the house of Dior, ex-Valentino co-créateur Maria Grazia Chiuri preferred not to wow. Instead, she reminded us where her flair lies—diaphanous blouses, skirts, and gowns of a distinctive finesse honed at the atelier of her previous employer. Not that that is surprising. Designers do bring along with them pieces of their past. Not everyone is Karl Lagerfeld. But alongside what you already can do, there should be more—a lot more. This is not Gigi Hadid having a little bit of fun with Tommy Hilfiger.

It was said that expectations should not run high as Ms Chiuri had a mere two months to put together the collection. Her predecessor Raf Simons did not have much more time to prepare for the 2012 fall couture show either. Yet he was able to construct a collection that was as imaginative as it was replete with subtle references to the codes of the house. Ms Chiuri, instead, chose to imbue hers with ideas from past creative directors, including the now-mostly forgotten Marc Bohan. Mind boggling then how fencing jackets got into the mix. The result is a weak, colourless, soporific pastiche.

We’ll risk sounding sexist or anti-feminist (“We should all be feminists” went the pronouncement on a T-shirt): Ms Chiuri is playing the woman-designing-for-women card. As she told WWD, “I want to introduce into the house of Dior a natural attitude, to dress women to feel comfortable, to feel their beauty.” By natural attitude, it is possible that she meant innate feelings only a woman knows, to feel comfortable is to wear what women always wear, and to feel their beauty is to magnify their femininity.

lanvin-ss-2017If this is post-Alber Elbaz, the future of Lanvin looks bleak. Photos: Lanvin

It appears to be the same approach at Lanvin, so much so that if the collections were switched as, say, an act of mischief, we’ll be none the wiser. Lanvin’s Bouchra Jarrar is a commerce-minded designer. “I create to sell,” she told the New York Times. And so she did. Thing is: do women really like wearing sheer this and that over solid-colour underclothes, a pairing also seen at Dior?

Ms Jarrar, to new-gen consumers, is considered to be one of the more promising haute couturières, and that is evident in her sense of luxury that, by her own admission, is calibrated to sync with founder Jeanne Lanvin’s—whose own high fashion aesthetic was highly feminine and decorative. That Ms Jarrar should operate from a woman-for-women standpoint is, perhaps, consistent with the house since Ms Lanvin herself started when she designed for her daughter, Marie-Blanche de Polignac, who married the Comte Jean de Polignac, a nobleman. The younger woman, also known as Marguerite, was a trained milliner and dressmaker, and took over her mother’s business after the old lady’s death in 1946.

Sure, Ms Jarrar provided the satisfaction of individual taste within a wide selection of garments, but there’s still something missing. Mr Elbaz brought joy to Lanvin. Ms Jarrar’s vision of Lanvin is, on the contrary, a joyless one. In some ways, it mirrors what happened at Gucci after Tom Ford left. Frida Giannini did replicate Mr Ford’s sex-infused clothes, but they were arguably not sexy. Lanvin needs the joie de vivre that has sustained it for the past 14 years (for one, we remember the happy painted faces of the mannequins in the store windows). Ms Jarrar has a lot of impressing to do if she were even to catch up with her men’s wear counterpart Lucas Ossendrijver, whose homme collections, in its tenth year, continue to entrance, even post-Alber Elbaz.

saint-laurent-ss-2017Saint Laurent is strutting to the groove set by Hedi Slimane. Photos:

Similarly at Saint Laurent, nothing sent out on the runway made the heart beat even a tad faster. After Hedi Slimane’s unchanging West Coast of America’s rock-chic excesses, we’re hoping for the brand to move away from that direction. That’s, of course, wishful thinking when many observers already knew that Anthony Vaccarello isn’t going to dial down the extreme sexiness. It was said that he was selected because owner Kering knew he was the guy to pick up where Mr Slimane left off.

The silhouettes and styling were so similar to Mr Vaccarello’s predecessor that it is quite certain that the brand has truly found its groove, or unwilling to rock a commercially successful formula. The slim and the short, they were all out in full force. So were the strong shoulder, the one shoulder, the one sleeve (even appearing as a sort of full-length, modern-day, leg-o-mutton-shaped engageante). Could these be clothes a Peculiar Ymbryne such as Alma LeFay Peregrine might wear if it wasn’t 1943 and she was brandishing a smartphone instead of a pocket watch?

This isn’t about right or wrong, beautiful or not. The definition of elegance—even French elegance—has been re-written so many times in the past decade, and more so recently, that we no longer associate it with women of a certain bearing, living a life of certain rectitude. Mr Vaccarello knows that this elegance does not exist anymore. But rather than take the route of just creating looks or riff on what rockers already wear, he has given his output some elements of design. For that, perhaps he’s taking a divergent path. For some, that is good enough as point of view.

Oh, Prada, Ong Shunmugam’s Been There, Done That!


A Singapore-based label showed it before an Italian. How about that!

At its recent spring/summer 2017 presentation in Milan, Prada sent out five sets of samfus, distinguished by kitsch and a healthy dose of camp. For fans of Ong Shunmugam, Prada’s take on the samfu (衫裤 or shanku in Mandarin) is as new as frog buttons since their preferred homegrown brand had shown the Oriental top-and-pants combo before—in 2014 and 2015. See, Prada, Ong Shunmugam is ahead of you.

Why does it matter? Because Ong Shunmugam’s designer/founder Priscilla Tsu-Jen Shunmugam is the darling of the local media, not to mention the Singapore Tourism Board, all completely charmed by her revivalist approach to modern sartorial reinterpretation. It isn’t really known if her popularity (or 2015 Her World Young Woman Achiever award) has been good for business. Yet, this Malaysian daughter of Singaporean fashion can now be affirmed as the visionary that so many inexplicably think she is. Prada’s samfus, several seasons later than Ong Shunmugam’s, validate the latter’s “rethink of traditional garments”, and, possibly, posit the brand was right all along.


The remake of the samfu cannot, of course, be considered new. Designers of the West—Giorgio Armani, one among many—have looked at the cheongsum’s much dismissed (and dissed) sister when they cast their source of inspiration to China, or when they think they can sell noodles to the Chinese. The thing is, for many here in Singapore, the samfu is closely linked to the early years of our country’s founding and not the later boom years of stupendous economic growth. The samfu was mostly worn by the working class—amahs (or majie) and Samsui women, not primarily by ladies of leisure or admirable financial standing. Until Ong Shunmugam came jauntily along. It is, however, uncertain if their samfus enjoyed widespread adoption.

One of the most visible samfu appearances on the world stage of recent years was the USD1,190, limited-edition Michael Kors version worn by Grace Coddington at the 2015 Met Gala to celebrate the opening of China: Through the Looking Glass. The “pajama set”, as the US media called it, stood out in a glittery sea of sheer and body-hugging gowns that have become gala-night standards of red carpet habitues. To the Americans, Ms Coddington’s choice of dress for “the Super Bowl of social fashion events” may be exotic or, according to the Hollywood Reporter, “dreamy”, but to many of us in Asia, it was, at best, underwhelming.


So the Italians now show the Americans how to do what is essentially an outfit of Chinese origin. Ong Shunmugam could have assumed the mantle, but maybe it is not easy to manoeuvre from Chip Bee Gardens. Moreover, to go in front is possibly not on the cards for the 6-year-old brand that, until recently, operated like an alteration service in the basement of Hong Leong Building, mainly an office tower. Prada, on the other hand, has always been the pied piper of fashion, and they have led many a willing into their unconventional but charming, surprise-filled world. To followers, Prada always plays a hypnotic tune.

More importantly, Prada has Miuccia Prada, Ong Shunmugam does not. One ignores convention, the other sticks to the commonplace. The difference between the two—not that comparison is in order—is really chronology: Prada is about what’s next; Ong Shunmugam what’s now. Where wit and whimsy are characteristic of Prada (check out the flared cheongsum with breast pocket!), it is, even if it sounds censorious, the opposites, banality and nothingness, that has clung to Ong Shunmugam.


Prada’s introduction of a two-piece very much associated with southern China, though now outmoded, is not cultural revivalism, but in the wake of Marc Jacob’s recent New York Fashion Week show of white models with dreadlocks, a do that quickly spawned unwelcome online backlash and Internet memes, is Prada as guilty of what the Americans deem “cultural appropriation”? The Europeans, familiar with the adapting of design codes not from their own culture for re-imagining, knowledge, and expression—Chinoiserie, dating back to the 18th century, comes to mind—are probably less concerned with American sensitivities born of US race-relations woes. The thing is, fashion has always intersected with other fields—art, for one, not just culture. In a globalised world, cross-pollination—the way the sanguine among us prefer to call it—can yield happy hybrids and ethically diverse entities.

And beauty too, such as Prada’s take on the samfu. Yet, for the brand that pitches “ugly is attractive” so seductively, there is subversive sophistication as well. Sure, it is hard to imagine any Chinese woman wanting marabou fringe for the seams of sleeves and pant legs (“Because it was the most silly piece to put with reality,” Ms Prada told Suzy Menkes), unless she is Fan Bingbing, a diva who could carry herself with the delicacy of a songstress of yore, who would not look too self-indulgent, as she lounges, between sets, in a backstory-filled changing room. Prada, in Milan, can evoke the bygone extravagance of a faraway world, even if it is more Pearl S Buck than Pearl River Delta.


However appealing their samfus, Prada does not share Ong Shunmugam’s noble intent of restoring the distinction and conspicuousness of ethnic dress. It does not crusade for the tag of “an Asian label, by an Asian designer, for Asian women”. In fact, it mines from dress styles that span continents for consumers everywhere. It does not trumpet the need to use cloths of historical importance, but those fabrics that speak of its past dalliances with ugly prints and unappetising colours. It does not need to cross Asian lands to score traditional textiles to lend authenticity to its experiments with Asian dress forms.

Unlike Ong Shunmugam that wears Asian-ness like a badge, authenticity obviously isn’t Prada’s main aim. Although the tops of the samfus—worn belted—are beautifully cut close to the actual garment (the piping and button treatment are graphic counterpoint to the busy print of the fabric), the pants are veritably too tailored, which, of course, run counter to the pyjama-bottom-like floppiness of Ong Shunmugam’s fus. Prada’s foray into the past fashions of Chinese womenfolk is possibly a token embodiment of Asian modernism while Ong Shunmugam’s is so steep in cultural references that they have a contrived anthropological ring to them.

Prada, you’ll never surpass Ong Shunmugam’s deft hand for the hackneyed.

Photos: Prada

Ready-To-Wear Is Now Ready-To-Buy

Are you rushing out to shop?

gigi-x-tommy-hilfiger-windowGigi Hadid X Tommy Hilfiger video screen and window display at the Raffles City store

Like many of you, we saw the live stream of the Burberry show on its website yesterday. This time the staging was called The September Show rather than Spring/Summer 2017 as it would otherwise have been known, and it was a platform for both men’s and women’s wear, devised to encourage and meet the urge to spend. The video was 24.35-minutes long although the length of the actual catwalk presentation was 19 minutes. So fast moving was the video that it was hard to see every style in detail or remember what pieces beckoned. We remember that the first impression that struck us was that this could have been a Gucci show.

The clothes were, perhaps, more compelling now that it is possible to buy them after we saw them—a pro-consumer move that was proposed by Christopher Bailey (who relinquished his CEO position to concentrate on creative direction) in February this year. Despite the initial enthusiasm behind the idea, nobody could say for sure how this approach—so uncharacteristic of the catwalk-to-consumer path and time frame of the past—will work out for both retailers and shoppers.

For the purpose of experiencing what the brand thinks will be a thrill of getting something as soon as it appears on the runway, we identified a Burberry cavalry jacket as a potential buy and decided to see if it shall appear in the store soon after to seduce us into wielding a credit card.

burberry-sep-2016A rack of Burberry clothes from The September Show sat discreetly away from the main selling floor of the MBS store

First stop this afternoon was the Burberry store in Ion Orchard. When we walked in, there were surprisingly more customers than service staff. Despite the filled racks, we could not identify anything from The September Show. When a salesperson was available, we asked her about what we came to see and she was quick to say that the collection was already in the store, but the viewing is by appointment only. She offered to take our name to give us a time slot. We declined and she then said that we could come tomorrow to join a “special event” organized for Pin and Prestige readers. Or, “if there’s a style that you really want, we can help you order online.”

When even that failed to entice us, she patiently went on to say that the collection will then be moved to the Burberry store at The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands (MBS), and make a final appearance back at Ion Orchard before it is dispatched, after 2 Oct, to neighbouring cities. This seems to be a trunk show, we thought. She added, “Singapore is very privileged to be the first country in Southeast Asia to see the collection.” According to her, the clothes will then be sent to Bangkok and Seoul. Is it a full collection? Will we see it again? To both questions, she wasn’t sure.

We tried our luck at MBS. The staff here was more sympathetic and happily showed us to a quiet recess of the store—a private lounge—where a low rack of clothes sat as if in a corner of a warehouse. We immediately identified a pink sweater, but the cavalry jacket we wanted wasn’t there; the cape-coat cousin was. Not willing to let down a pair of keen walk-ins, she suggested that we return on the 23rd for “a special event at the ice skating rink. There will be a screening of the show, and you can buy the clothes afterwards.”

tom-ford-at-mbsAt Tom Ford, one single rack, barely filled, of the collection shown at New York Fashion Week

Since we were in MBS, we decided to pop over to Tom Ford, who, too, is adopting the “see now, buy now” model. The staff here was utterly delighted that we had asked for the “New York Fashion Week collection” (we did not know what to call it). She showed us the rack at the rear of the store. There were exactly ten pieces of just five styles. Sensing our disappointment with the smallness of what was in stock, she said, “there will be more stuff coming in on the 30th, but I am not sure if they’re from the runway show.”

We asked if the men’s collection arrived too. She led us to the adjacent section and pointed to a velvet, mirco-dotted, two-button blazer worn on a mannequin. “For men, we only have this one.” It was a near whisper, with regret breathing clear. When did the clothes arrive? “The New York show was on the 8th,” she pointed out helpfully, “we put out the clothes on the 9th. Of course, the clothes arrived in Singapore before that, but Mr Tom Ford won’t allow us to display earlier.”

Mr Tom Ford’s grip was clearly felt this far. He told Derek Blasberg in CNN Style early this month that he would be doing “something new: you will be able to buy the clothes as they come down the runway.” That’s, of course, not the case for us here since there is a 24-hour time difference between Madison Avenue and MBS, but next-day availability is probably speedy enough for those who buy into Mr Ford’s “grown up” elegance dripping with ’70s glamour. Interestingly, Thom Browne also referenced the ’70s, but that’s like a different planet.

tom-ford-mens-jacketFor men, the Tom Ford store at MBS had only one jacket

Still on planet MBS, by then heady with the smell of over-consumption, we decided to traipse over to Ralph Lauren. Mr Lauren had announced during his show, via a note left on the invitees’ seats, that he was “offering every look, every accessory, every handmade detail immediately in my flagship stores around the world and online.” The Singapore flagship’s window on B1 was homage to the quiet colour beige. Inside, it was as hushed: not a word was heard, not a sound. We approached two sales staff and asked, as we did at Tom Ford, for the “New York Fashion Week collection”. Both women looked at us quizzically. The collection that was shown last week outside the RL Madison Avenue store? One of them said, unsmiling, that “there won’t be any new collection as our store will be closing.”

We had not expected our on-the-ground research to be met with such dismal news. Business must have been so bleak that even Ralph Lauren could not wait for their own potentially game-changing and profit-turning “see now, buy now” approach test-run in its own store. Has simultaneous showing and selling met a premature death in Singapore before the idea can be conclusively said to be a success or letdown?

The purpose of “show now, buy now” is to tap the excitement from seeing a presentation, whether on site or online. Sell while it’s trending could be today’s version of the now infrequently used strike while the iron is hot. Fashion and trends are no longer embargoed till clothes reach stores or circumscribed by the catwalk on which they appear, once to a small coterie of people who care about such things. Let loose from the moment the first model appears on the runway, fashion now is a multi-channel, multi-platform, multi-celeb phenomenon that seems to arouse desires than dampen wants.

gigi-x-tommy-hilfiger-displayGigi Hadid X Tommy Hilfiger store display at Raffles City

The “everywhereness”—to borrow from author Laurence Scott’s description of the digital world—of fashion prior to retail has not enrich sellers and shoppers. A rethink of the flow from concept to consumer is, for many brand owners and their CFOs, as vital as cost control. As Tom Ford put it to CNN, “When you can buy something online and have it delivered the same day to your house in lots of key cities like you can now, it seems odd that you would look at clothes online and they would be everywhere, but you can’t have them for five months.”

Wait was definitely not something fans and followers of the model Gigi Hadid had to do.  Her collaboration with Tommy Hilfiger was available during the New York Fashion Week presentation via touch screens set up on site, a one-time fun fair at Manhattan’s South Street Seaport. On our island, the clothes were available the day after the show. We wanted to see for ourselves how talented Ms Hadid is, so we went to the Tommy Hilfiger store in Raffles City (the collection is also available at Ion Orchard and Vivo City—an impressive three points of sale).

“See now, buy now” was a serious and highly visible proposition here. The store was fronted by an island display full of the results of the collaboration (more than anything we saw at the other brands), the window was dressed with two cardboard cut-outs of the model fully garbed in the nautical-themed clothes bearing her name, and, on their left, a video screen was alive with flashing stills of Ms Hadid in poses that won’t give K-pop princesses a run for their money.

A sales staff did not hesitate to point out to us that two items were already sold out: a cap and a thigh-length, double-breasted, wool-blend cape-coat. “What does the coat look like,” we asked, and she whipped out an iPad to show us a product photo. “How many pieces were sold,” we ventured further, genuinely curious. With delight and will to convince, she said, “One.”

Photos: Zhao Xiangji

Partners In Crime

Vetements & co SS 2017

The two-year-old Vetements is on collaboration high. For its spring/summer 2017 show—pushed ahead of Paris Fashion Week in late September as opening act of the couture season for autumn/winter 2016 (you’re not the only one confused by that), the brand of the moment is working as a twosome. No, threesome… well, foursome… er, actually, eighteensome! It’s a confusing arrangement that has delighted many fans—members of the media, no less.

In what is seen as “impressive”, the Vetements team tapped into the expertise of 18 brands (listed in the above illustration) to augment—or supplement?—its newest collection. They run the gamut from supplier to the US military to shoe maker of choice of tai tais. Of the lot, half of them are American brands, one is Canadian and one is Japanese and the rest from across the EU, pre-Brexit.

Sure, numerous collaborations on one catwalk have never been shown before. No one wishes to dilute the USP of a brand this way. But numerous collaborations in a store by a single label (or a stable of labels) are not out of the ordinary. In Japan, the Comme des Garçons flagship and satellite outlets have been stocking their multiple collaborations since the ’90s, and they draw enthusiastic shopper response.

Vetements X Juicy CoutureOne of the surprising collaborations: with Juicy Couture, which, until now is not considered cool

Collaborations with specialty clothiers, shoemakers and such have been very much a part of Japan’s design and retail culture. And they’re not unique to designer labels since chain stores such as Beams and Beauty and Youth are serial collaborators with mass as well as artisanal brands. For many years, these have kept the Japanese retail scene very much appealing, not only to the locals but foreigners as well.

Also in Japan, relatively obscure brands that Vehements is now pairing with, such as Alpha Industries and Schott, are not that unknown. In fact, they have their own free-standing stores in Tokyo. These brands are not necessarily part of the fashion landscape of the West, but in Japan, they satisfy the hunger for American “authentics”, which arose in the wake of the end of World War II, and Americans—the victors—were regarded as the embodiment of modern fashion.

Japan’s craze for style Americana—known (not deliberately derogatory) as yankii—and the quality of American fashion it can produce is well documented. So successful have they been at keeping quintessential American work and military wear such as denim jeans and flight jackets true to their original form and function that the Japanese have won legions of fans outside their own country for the revival of out-of-favour fashions and lost or unpractised crafts.

Vetements SS 2017 Pic 1The androgynous ensembles of Vetements spring/summer 2017

Paris-based Vetements’s brand-America-heavy collaborations have, therefore, a precedent. It is likely that their un-French choices have to do with the Gvasalia brothers, Demna and Guram, both Georgians, running the creative and business sides of the fashion label respectively. As one-time refugees escaping civil strife, it is possible that, like the Japanese emerging from a world war, they have a passion for what style Americana is perceived to be for those seeking freedom. The widespread availability of clothes in the US, the styles that can be expressed on the streets, and the volubility of hip-hop to the Gvasalias perhaps express an alluring democracy of fashion.

This sense of liberty is rather evident in their teaming with Juicy Couture, the very un-couture of American labels, once mostly associated with LA actors and actresses going to the neighbourhood store to buy milk in ‘Juicy’ velour tracksuits, better still if the top and bottom were bedazzled. But the glory of Juicy Couture is now gone. It is not immediately obvious how Vetements will be able to resuscitate what was known as “sparkly California glam”, but, by what’s shown on the catwalk, it seems that even the trending French label may not be able to reverse Juicy Couture from being hopelessly déclassé. Juicy Couture may now bask in the firmament of cool on the shoulders of a well-hyped newbie, but would they still twinkle as soon as the latter moves to the next collaboration?

Selecting non-high-fashion brands perhaps speaks of Vetements’s claim that their choices come from the simple fact that members of the design team do not wear designer clothes. It’s perhaps “honest” to not speak of lofty personal sartorial aspirations. The collaborations could be just a practical move since this is a way to add to their collection and still retain the common-to-cult cool that they have started with those DHL-branded T-shirts of last season. Or it could be indolence: just get someone else to do your work! Still, not all collaborators are on the lower rungs of fashion credibility. Vetements still needs the perceived endorsement of brands such as Brioni (maker of the suits), Manolo Blahnik (those thigh-high boots) and Comme des Garçons (the shirts) to suggest that the Gvasalias and co are on par with the big names.

Vetements SS 2017 Pic 2The utility styles of the apron/overalls in collaboration with Carhatt

Have the collaborations brought anything unusual to the table? Vetements fans will be thrilled to know that the brand’s off-kilter aesthetic is as pronounced as ever. The anti-sexy, big-is-better, long-is-laudable mix will prove irresistible to those completely sold on the Vetements way of wearing clothes that just has to sit askew. Even belts necessarily hang to one side, touching the floor. There seems to be excess of everything: fabrics, shoulders, sleeves: the superfluous perhaps refreshing in a world where tight and abbreviated still hold sway.

For the women’s wear, despite the seven flimsy dresses, the look is androgynous, or rather, suggesting that, since the collection features clothes for both sexes, gender-ambiguity is the way forward for Vetements. Over-sized blazers worn with roomy shirts these days can cover the masculine and the feminine. What’s interesting is that the Vetements visual strength is so strong and persistent that the typical looks of the collaborators do not come through. Not only are gender lines blurred, categories and the street-couture divide too. As the definition of modern elegance continues to be written (and re-written), for now, jumbling all up is how our mixed-up world rather likes it.

Illustration: Just So. Photos: Fashionista/Imaxtree. Editor’s note: three consecutive posts on the work of Demna Gvsalalia is reflection of the timing of shows and events unfolding in fashion presently than indication of commercial arrangement with the brand to promote their wares. All reports are independently filed