Robinsons To Be Resurrected

…as an online store on 24 June. It is now owned by the Australian family behind Canningvale sheets

The news was released to the media just after eight this morning. The reactivated landing page was published “late last night”, according to a source. Three weeks ago, just after Phase 2 (Heightened Alert), talk was emerging that Robinsons could come back as an e-tailer. Some brands had been asked if they would like to sell through the new e-commerce site, which was marketed as “tightly curated”, one merchandise manager told us. Some former suppliers to Robinsons thought they were only “conducting a market study”. Six months after the sudden announcement of the total closure of Robinsons in late October last year, the brand is now back, but only with an online presence. Or, as described in the media advisory, “a fully digital, state-of-the-art, vertically integrated online department store.”

The return of Robinsons surprised industry watchers. While it is understandable that an online retail model is viable and right for the present time, it is also rather curious that Robinsons would stage a comeback at all, considering that their abrupt shutting down of their last two stores—in The Heeren and Raffles City—after 162 years of existence (that saw them survive two World War II bombings and a massive fire that razed their Raffles Place flagship in 1972) was not especially graceful or thought to be sympathetic to consignors and customers (particularly those who had paid for mattresses and not received them). But one retail veteran told us, “Robinsons has history behind it. Its name won’t be tainted. Singaporeans are sentimental.”

Robinsons shuttered for good in January. Its return—which the Australian media calls “rescue”—is led by Canningvale Australia, a manufacturer and retailer (online) of sheets and towels, and fabric goods, conceived “to make luxury homewares attainable”, according to the company’s vision statement. Canningvale’s former managing director Jordan Prainito (he now holds the same position at the newly named Robinsons Online) will lead the operations in Singapore. Mr Prainito is a third generation member of the family that founded Canningvale in 1997, when Italian father-and-son refugees from Libya started a terry cloth weaving factory in Perth that emerged to be Australia’s “main towel company”. It is widely reported that Canningvale is “one of the fastest-growing digital retailers in Australia”. According to the press release, the company “evolved from a wholesale supplier into a multi-million-dollar business in just five years”. Business News Australia reported that Mr Prainito led Canningvale Australia’s digital transformation since 2016. During this time, the company’s “e-commerce turnover surged tenfold”.

The Canningvale website. Would Robinsons Online look like this?

Mr Prainito is no stranger to our city. As reported, he did his tertiary education here and knew of Robinsons and the subsequent failure. He told Australian Financial Review, “When we heard the news it had collapsed, we had a chat as a family and I said it’s an amazing brand and an amazing heritage—why don’t we throw our hat in the ring and see what comes of it.” Robinsons was part of the Dubai-based Al Futtaim Group for 13 years. Sometime in the mid-2000s, it was rumoured that Thailand’s Central Retail Corporation (which owns and operates a local department store chain Robinson—without the ‘S’, apart from the more upscale Central) had shown interest in acquiring Robinsons, but dropped the idea because the asking price was too high. The sale to Canningvale—value not disclosed—includes the domain names for Singapore and Malaysia, customer data base, and some 50 product names, presumably former Robinsons house brands. It is not known if those names will be brought back.

Canningvale initially manufactured for bedding company such as Sheridan and fashion labels such as Country Road. They’ve now their own product ranges and are available mainly through the company’s website and select specialty retailers and department stores. Over here, Canningvale sheets and towels are stocked at Tangs and Courts, as well as on e-commerce platforms Amazon and Lazada. Those who were aware that Canningvale were behind Robinsons Online had, in fact, wondered if the e-store would be similar to Canningvale’s own, and if the latter’s merchandise would dominate. Might the emphasis then be on home goods? According to the press release, 200 “specially-curated” brands, including homegrown ones, will be made available. Names have not presently been offered. In addition, Robinsons Online “will present price-sensitive customers with a value oriented, rationalised product offering”. It is not unreasonable to assume that “price-sensitive customers” means bargain hunters. Or is that based on what Jordan Prainito calls “forensic focus on our customers”? Even in the present time of Trace Together, that reveal is oddly discomforting.

Watch this space for our review of Robinsons Online. Photo: file. Photo illustration: SOTD. Screen grab (below): Canningvale

The Uptick From The Umbrage

One trending word, now happily used and proudly worn

By Bu Shikong

As a nation, we’re hardly ever affected by single words, nor pairs. Ex-Mediacorp stars can start a food business with the curse-turn-oxymoron Sibay Shiok, but no one’s undies are caught in a knot. When former military man, now SPH’s CEO, Ng Yat Chung indignantly brandished “umbrage”—twice!—in response to CNA reporter Chew Huimin’s question, many people are piqued. The uncle’s contempt at the press conference was, for sure, unmistakable. However, it was not just how garang he was that people reacted to, but the word choice (choice word?) as well. This morning, The Sunday Times reported that that one beautiful word very quickly led to a 200,000-plus searches on Google that day: what did Mr Ng really take? What was given? People were burning with curiosity.

In one Coconuts report I read, it was noted that “many Singaporeans have never even heard of the word until it got a mention at the company’s press conference…” With the Speak Good English Movement still running this year’s campaign, Let’s Connect, Let’s Speak Good English, on TV, that is hardly surprising. But the memes and jokes that emerged have somehow diluted the kau-ness of the fury. And the retailers that have been quick to turn this into a money-making opportunity have only made a word expressing no ordinary anger funny. Since yesterday morning, I have been inundated with photos of and links to the availability of T-shirts with ‘umbrage’ emblazoned across the chest, as well as marketing campaigns enjoying the use of what Asiaone called “word of the day”.

It is rather puzzling that the lead time for producing garments, bags, and cups could be this short. Clicking on a Lazada ad on my social media site, I was brought to a page of a selection of merchandise—six different pieces in all. There is a three-product ‘line’ known as “Umbrage Dictionary”, offered by sellers that appear to be in the digital printing business. Things the now-shuttered-for-good Naiise would have gladly taken in. When I looked closely at the images on the website, I could see that the U-word had been superimposed on the images of standard-issue crew-neck tees. This is likely a print-on-order product line, which could explain how they managed to put umbrage out almost as soon as Ng Yat Chung was susceptible enough take it. But I wonder if more umbrage would be taken if he has read how the seller’s lexicographer defined the word that had a nation talking and dissing.

Those who don’t find charm or humour in this meaning of the hot noun may aquire some other at the National Library. I always thought that our flagship public library is staid. Well, it isn’t. A new display to entice you to their books was very recently set up: “Umbrage And Other Words You Should Know”. An orgiastic grouping for those who would relate to titles such as Word Nerd. But if you need to take knowledge-seeking to social media, enter ‘umbrage’ in Facebook search—the result will tell you the word is “popular now”, just as another phrase is: Umbrage Singapore. As it turns out, this is “a group for Singaporeans who want to take umbrage at anything and anyone”, created just a day after Mr Ng’s heated retort. It is understandable why his rebuke has generated so much reactions. It wasn’t just the use of an uncommonly-mouthed word, it was also the near-bullying way that he spoke it, which included the delectable and by-then-obvious admission that he is not a gentleman.

But not everyone thinks the umbrage was unwisely taken. The former journalist Bertha Henson, who, as one online description enthused, covered “Singapore developments for the Singapore Press Holdings stable of newspapers for 26 years”, took a more contrary view. In her blog Bertha Harian (Bertha Daily, a pun on the Malay-language broadsheet Berita Harian or Daily News), Ms Henson wrote in the piece “It…could be… a new beginning for news media here”, shared a day after the incident of the CEO and the journalist, that she “empathised” with Mr Ng, even when she noted that he “lost his cool”. Many who have read her post were certain she was speaking up for her former employer SPH, which wouldn’t be surprising. Ms Henson, now also an author, is a product of The Straits Times and its sibling titles. She knows why—and how—SPH has become what it is today, even correctly acknowledging that “journalism standards… have been declining at a precipitous rate”.

But as an experienced news person, she curiously chose to deprecate a journalist who turned up to do her job, of which asking questions is expected. She opined that “it is a naive reporter, especially from a local media outlet, who asks such questions which can be applied to his or her own employers and editors”, in a clear reference to a competing news organisation. I don’t expect Ms Henson to play the dajie of local journalism, but choosing not to also empathise with someone whose job she once did seems, to me, to be taking the side of a media company she still feels dearly for. If that singling out was not enough, in a Facebook post from yesterday, Ms Henson wrote in defence of those working for her former employer: that it was “pretty insulting to insinuate that SPH journalists were pandering to advertisers and not maintaining their integrity.” Ms Henson was basically saying to the CNA staff, you deserve it. How becoming, I wonder, is that of a news veteran? Was Bertha Henson also insulted or was she, as the T-shirt sold on Lazada suggests, simply dulan?

Product photos: Lazada. Photo illustrations: Just So

History Of His World

Raf Simons has a new, ”curated” website. And we get to see what makes this man ticks

Raf Simons is a designer with a distinct point of view, not to mention, an unmistakable voice. He’s now opened up to his fans, so to speak, and we get to have a peek into his ‘world’—actually, soon, likely universe. His new website, History of My World, is, according to its own description, “distinct from the Raf Simons brand, this new multidisciplinary platform offers a curation of pieces selected by Raf Simons which reflect the designer’s point of view, aesthetic and philosophy.” Those who follow Mr Simons’s career will know that History of My World was the title of the 10th anniversary collection of his eponymous label, shown in 2005. As such, “the website proposes a unique and direct echo of Raf Simons, a personal and intimate window into a thought process, onto a world.”

Launched today, it opens with a trio of photographs that recall the last Raf Simons collection: spring/summer 2021, which includes womenswear. The models are not standing. They are all on the ground: one seated and huddled like the Little Match Girl, one asleep like a vagrant albeit a fashionable one, and the last, body tilted back and supported by both hands—a pose that suggests waiting during a fitting. All three, apart from wearing Raf Simons, also have with them the new Raf Simons-designed blankets. These, as we shall soon see, are not those one might use in place of the duvet. That Raf Simons would put blanket out to sell is as expected as Prada moving bathmats. Yet, they are here, not one, but 45 of them.

As you can imagine, these are no ordinary blankets, and not quilts made by a bevy of grandmothers needing something to do during lockdown (no disrespect to Lee Suet Fern’s favourite craft). These wool, handmade-in-Antwerp blankets, with edges left raw, are an extension of Mr Simons’s predilection for applying scrapbooking montages on his clothes. These include photos that appear to be picked from school yearbooks and other memorabilia, such as pins. They don’t come cheap: the least expensive is priced at €1,650. And the dearest is €2,200. As we write this, 17 of them are sold out. It is not certain if there are only one of each available, but at these prices, they would reasonably be limited in quantity. And it is unlikely that anyone would take these blankets to go to bed with. They’d be used as an outer, draped over the body like a cape. Or—don’t be surprised—hung on walls, like tapestries.

Apart from the blankets, there are three products released so far. There are “apothecary candles” that come in sets of four (€450), all shaped like those brown bottles that you might find in an old dispensary. Made in Belgium, these candles are unscented. Two sets (there are six)—one the colour of rhodonite and the other, the shade of jade—are sold out. Then there are the books. Three of them, all pricey: Isolated Heroes (€950), Raf Simons: Redux (the commemorative book that went with the 10th anniversary of the brand, €950), and the cheapest tome, Woe Onto Those (€450). Style of My World appears to be in the early stages of development. Presently, there’s not much content, and there are too few products. But it appears destined to be an online stop for those looking for unique, Raf Simons-curated gifts. High prices? We don’t think these shoppers care.

Screen grabs: historyofmyworld.com

12.12: Expected!

They would not end the year without a sale that is named after the same numbers for the day and the month. Again

Before Cyber Monday could come to an end, we’re being readied for the 12.12 sale. This floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall, screaming red/orange Shopee poster was seen yesterday afternoon at Orchard Road MRT Station. While we wouldn’t call this wall art, it is massive. Could it be installed to overshadow the 15-year-old Cyber Monday? Or, to extend a monthly sale event that had started in September, the month of the Mid-Autumn Festival? The specific sale date of 12.12 has no precedent, but it looks to be Shopee’s retail event of the month, conceived and marketed to beat the year-end and post-Christmas sales before they can happen.

This could be Shopee’s final sale of 2020, but we aren’t counting on it. With the vexatious and trying Gurmit Singh as Phua Chu Kang (still) helming their mass-appeal ads (to differentiate themselves from Lazada?) or in marketing parlance, “hyperlocal”, is it possible there is more life to this event, predictably based on the day similarly numbered as the month? The last episode of the eight-season sitcom Phua Chu Kang aired on 11 February 2007, more than a decade ago. Yet, the titular character is still so alive in our collective consciousness that Shopee believes he can move merchandise as well and rapidly as the most-followed influencer. Cringe not—“don’t play play”!

But Shopee isn’t the first to tempt the sale-hungry with 12.12. Two days earlier, in the midst of the Black Friday madness—online and offline, the usually atas Sony (they don’t keep pace with the sale seasons) floated a flashing ad that appeared on our social media feeds. It, too, used the same marketing device, playing up that date, leaving no uncertainty as to who they’re targeting. This upcoming event is, in fact, part of Sony Days 2020 Year-End Promotion, the on-going discounting that began last month. It does’t appear to be a separate sale event, with more irresistible buys or unexpected giveaways. Same face different mask.

After spotting the unmissable Shopee MRT ad, we started noticing Zalora’s own 12.12 online shout-out. They call their own version the “Most Awaited Sale of the Year”. Really?! Is it possible that despite markdowns across so many shopping portals since September’s 9.9 (wait, wasn’t there an 8.8 for National Day too?), we’re still awaiting the “sale of the year”? Have we been duped? Had those other monthly sales—even Lazada’s Big Brands Sale or Shopee’s touted as “mega”—not been big at all? Who remembers? And what is the likelihood that 12.12 would be better than 9.9, 10.10, or 11.11? If 12.12 turns out to be nothing but hype, perhaps we would wait (again) for the arrival of the New Year’s Day sale or—no prizes—1.1?

Photos: Chin Boh Kay

Spill Not From Santa’s Sleigh

You know for certain that times have changed when outside mailboxes, they are delivering more parcels than letters

This isn’t Christmas morning. Yet. It’s a gloomy, humid, drizzle-speckled noon. The mailman has not arrived, but the delivery people have. And they come bearing what could be Santa’s early bounty. The orders are scattered all over the void deck, as if Mr Clause’s elves have been busy, but not tidy. Big and small, tall and stout, thick and thin, they are there, all more massive than any mailbox could hold. They look to be the same community of packages, delivered in the paper uniform of brown/white envelopes/boxes. What we see are arrivals for an entire block of flats. Is that not a lot of shopping delivered in a moment? And Black Friday has only just arrived, barely 12 hours ago.

Perhaps we have been e-commerce disbelievers, the die-hard brick-and-mortar shoppers for too long. Seeing this pasar malam spread, it’s hard to dispute that our shopping habits have changed, and that we’re the goons still going to stores and touching things, and interacting with increasingly indifferent service staff, who must think we are from a distant, backward star. The rest of the populace are no longer going out to buy what they want and bringing the items home themselves. They are shopping via their smartphones, and having their purchases delivered to their front door. And it isn’t just the odd lazy consumer ensconced at home. It appears to be a whole community, an entire people doing their shopping online. One of the most primal of human behaviours—and needs—has really succumbed to digital conversion. Like cash.

Retailers, too, are pressured to go online. Adopt the platform or perish. The threat is very real, not virtual. A distributor and retailer of a popular shoe brand told us that the potential of online sales cannot be ignored. “Before 11/11, we were doing less than 10% of online sales,” she said. “Now, we’re doing more than 35%!” One sales assistant at a clothing store, said to us that “unless we have a sale, traffic is very slow. People may come in, but only to check the prices. They end up buying online.” Government ministers have warned too. Reacting to the impending closure of Robinsons, manpower minister Josephine Teo told the media that “it does signal very strongly that our industries are going to continue to have to transform.” There was no mention in the trite statement of how Robinsons has slipped in store positioning or merchandise mix. Whatever it is, rejig—go online. Keep the deliverymen busy.

Photo: Chin Boh Kay

The Crazy 1s

Is 11.11 really the biggest sale of the year?

By Truss Tan

Who’d thought that innocuous quadruple one, split in the middle by a period, can be such a big deal, and date. Yes, the symmetrical numbers are appealing, lined up in a neat row, like rubber trees in a plantation. But people don’t know them as “ones”. These are not simply a repetition of the lowest cardinal number, deemed lucky in numerology. As K-actor Lee Min Ho (now with more than 20 million followers on Facebook and Instagram) said in the Lazada ad, “eleven eleven” (I did not, at first, understand what he uttered). Or as they say in China, “shuang shiyi (双十一, or double eleven)”, the massive, 24-hour retail event that is so huge, a tally room is set up to track the sales and the millions made, by the second!

Like so many shopping phenomena, these days, much of them are emerging from China. Originally known as Single’s Day (光棍节, guang gun jie), 11.11 has gone beyond the celebration of singlehood and not be ashamed of going without a romantic partner to become a gargantuan and unfettered consumerist indulgence—so massive in scale, it’s often acknowledged as the largest online and offline shopping festival in the world! And Americans thought Black Friday is huge. Last year, in China alone, they chalked up a record-breaking (again) USD38 billion in sales! If that is not staggering, I don’t know what is. As I write this, I have not been fed this year’s numbers, expected to break records again since spending is predicted to be high, considering people have accrued a lot from not travelling overseas.

Lee Min Ho for Lazada. Photo: Lazada

As the popular telling goes, in 1993, four unattached, unnamed dudes from Nanjing University (南京大学), probably bored to death, was wondering how to mitigate the “monotony” of not having a romantic mate. An idea came to these guang guns—“bare sticks”, the slang word Netizen used for single men. They thought it would be a good time to organise fun activities (nothing to do with shopping) to occupy similarly single campus mates, and they did, which apparently became popular among the co-ed population of the school. Phallic symbolism aside, 11.11 was also meant to be a stand to show that men do not need romance to validate their masculinity. It was, therefore, also known as “anti-Valentine’s Day”.

But no good idea can escape the grip of some greedy entrepreneurs, especially those in tech, sitting behind their laptops, watching the world, all agog for action. In 2009, Alibaba, through the manic site Taobao, create the 11.11 that we know today. Who cares about the singles now or the increasing number of them, left on the shelf, when you can, instead, see the item(s) you have been lusting after fly off the shelf. In fact, 11.11 is now a veritable cultural event, with celebrity attendance. In 2018, Mariah Carey kicked-started the festival with a performance backed by the Cirque de Soleil. Last year, Taylor Swift plugged the buying frenzy with a splashy performance. In the past years, we, too, have caught up. As Alibaba has a sizeable investment in Lazada, 11.11 has gripped the imagination and aroused the appetites of shoppers here.

Club 21 sleek landing page. Screen grab: sg.club21global.com

I am not easily afflicted by any shopping fever. In the past years, 11.11 came and went, and I have not been disadvantaged by it. But when Club 21, this year, persistently appear on my social media accounts with their beckoning, I was seduced into experiencing 11.11, at least once. Now, atas Club 21 was never known to play by the typical sale-schedule rule book. In the past, they would not even participate in the now significantly less great Great Singapore Sale (which was “forced” to go online due to the pandemic). Yet, here they were, notifying me on FB and IG incessantly that there were, at first, two more days to go before 11.11 (shown in bold, patterned type), and then, there was a day more. The urgency it created and the possibility that FOMO may strike finally aroused my curiosity about Eleven Eleven.

The Club 21 e-shop is still one of the most unfriendly to navigate despite a supposed remake last year. They are, to be sure, not Qoo10; they are a lot more classy, for a lack of a better expression. But they are not what you would call engaging (the buzz word in e-commerce these 11.11-aware days) or experiential. A journalist friend had texted me yesterday to ask if “get your favourite items for the price of one” (according to the Club 21 ads) meant “two items for 50%”. The answer is not immediately available on the Club 21 homepage (I assume I’d have to “see ‘promotions’ for T&C”, which, despite the pointer symbol appearing when I hover over the line, wasn’t clickable).

Anyway, I was not really here to spend (at least not at twenty past midnight); I wanted to see how our island’s premier multi-label store is adapting to 11.11, or adopting it. Regrettably, it was a totally anti-climatic session. Once you click on ‘shop now’ on the main page, it’ll bring you to the products page. No fanfare. A click on any item did not immediately bring me to the merchandise. It took an unusually lengthy 11.25 seconds. In fact, my entire 30-minute browsing was characterised by very annoying lag. And especially curious was items listed under the ‘Sale’ tab: they were not discounted! And when I clicked on the back arrow, the page hanged!

Singaporean actors Wang Weiliang (王伟良) and Gurmit Singh, peddle for Shopee

Might it be better at Lazada, heavily advertise on TV this past week, featuring the hard-to-comprehend Lee Min Ho? The sheer number of items offered by Lazada, on the homepage alone, often makes me nervous. Where do I begin? And there are those coupons preceding the listing of products. I saw an inordinate amounts of coffee machines, kitchen storage, and electric fans! I tried a search: fashion. The first item that appeared was a “2020 Autumn Clothing New Style Hong Kong Flavor Chic Versitile (sic) Fashion Vintage Hong Kong Flavor qian kai cha(?) Backless Strapped Dress Women Fashion”. Thankfully, there was the picture. But, was I in the market for clothes to wear to a nightclub when they are allowed to open? At $8.80 (not marked as an 11.11 sale item), it was cheaper than a McDonald’s Breakfast Deluxe Extra Value Meal.

While Lazada took the more stylish—no less popular—choice of Lee Min Ho, kitted in a pink suit, for their 11.11 communications, Shopee adopted a more grassroots approach, selecting Singaporean actors, Wang Weiliang (王伟良), as himself, and Gurmit Singh as Phua Chu Kang to helm the selling. I’ll keep my feelings about Mr Phua as a salesman to myself for now. Clearly, Shopee is geared for the mass market. And those who must buy at a discount or what is perceived to be cheap. The homepage, however south you scroll, was slapped with discount coupons after discounts coupons after discounts coupons. I finally saw ‘Key Highlights’ after what seemed like the time I would need to pee. Still, there were no product so irresistible I would go weak in the knees (or knuckles—I was scrolling with my fingers) for. By now, my eyes were so fatigued I mistook a Military “Lensatic” Compass for a compact! It was really time to go to bed. In the morning, I’ll try Tekka Online Market; I heard they were doing 11.11 too.

Illustration (top) by Just So

Watch, Not Buy

One Orchard Store, the Textile and Fashion Federation-initiated e-commerce platform joined the first E-Great Singapore Sale today with a shop-by-video access. Only thing is, it isn’t shoppable… yet

The Textile and Fashion Federation’s (TaFF) e-shop One Orchard Store (OOS) launched a video today that allows viewers to shop what they see, but it was met with a glitch: like that, buy not. The video, showing models in pairs and filmed at various local tourist spots, is supposed to have the added function of allowing viewers to immediately access the “looks” that they like and desire to buy. A discreet “Shop this Look” link is provided on the bottom-right side of the video, but click on it, and no pop-up page opens that allows viewers to shop the desired garment. It was later reported on CNA that “due to a technical error, a video without the function has been uploaded.” CNA also said that according to TaFF, the operator of OOS, “this was a loss of direct purchasing opportunity.”

Whether there is calculable loss is not yet known. For the debut of the e-Great Singapore Sale (e-GSS), many retail platforms have included live-streaming to make online shopping more engaging, but OOS has opted for a video format instead. Titled “Step into a World”, the video is “Specially Curated for You”, and comes with the possibility of instantaneously buying what catches your fancy. We were not tempted, but curious to know how this would work, we clicked on the link when we saw a cheongsam by Lai Chan. The link offered no other action than pausing the short film. As the video is powered by YouTube, the bar of ‘suggested video’ (based on your viewing habits) appeared at the bottom of the screen. Nothing bore any relation to OOS.

We repeated this at other points on the two-minute-plus video for the next two hours, and the same result kept surfacing. This, in fact, was not the only glitch that we experienced on OOS today. Earlier, we tried accessing the video on our smartphone, but was met with an error message: “Webpage not available.” SOTD contributor Mao Shan Wang later messaged us to say that she too encountered the same problem on her Galaxy Note 20. We took to our notebooks and only then, did we land on the webpage with the yet-to-fully function video—possibly the first technical snag of the e-GSS.

The technical fault was easy to overlook since we were not really here to shop. But what we found rather curious is the direction of the video. Was this, in fact, from the Visit Singapore website? We had no idea why the selling of Singaporean fashion labels via an e-commerce page has to be a video recommendation of our island’s places of interest—National Gallery, Asian Civilisations Museum, Treetop Lofts, S.E.A. Aquarium, and Gardens by the Bay. What is surprising is how lacking in fervour the video was filmed. This may have worked as a TaFF video annual report, but for the retailing of clothing, was it saying that OOS is a mere cluster of brands? And a Singapore Tourism Board (STB) vehicle too?

We are not sure if clothes and locations are equally enticing when shared in one promotional material. Sure, the e-GSS is part of the STB’s impressively-budgeted S$45-million marketing splash to get locals to explore the island’s many attractions in lieu of holidays abroad. But must the film project an image of our city’s offerings as grassroots rather than worldly, average rather than exceptional? To be certain, the video is consistent with the content now being generated in a COVID-19 world, when models/subjects with zombie smiles are unable to benefit from professional hair and makeup services, when visuals have to look decidedly homespun, when clothes have not the benefit to meet an electric iron.

It is not known how much sales One Orchard Store has generated since its launch in June. Or, if the labels in its fold have been able to generate sufficient interest with the bland product visuals submitted by the respective brands for use on the OOS site. The video is possibly aimed at creating not just a less static platform, but also one with which OOS is able to project a vestige of image consistency for the online store. Sensory stimulation to counter OOS’s till-now one-dimensional and dull product presentation is a positive way forward. But a mere moving version of those unimaginative photos really won’t do very much.

Screen grabs: One Orchard Store

Elaine Heng Has A Fashion Label

The popular blogger tries her hand at retailing. Looks like there is no decline in the demand for more clothes of garden variety designs

Ilo P1

Influencer Elaine Heng, 27, is a proud owner of a fashion brand. It’s called Ilo the Label—yes, as in Ilo Ilo, title of the award-winning film and, if spelled as one word, a seaport of central Philippines. But the brand prefers the Finnish meaning—joy. Or, according to them, “sunshine.” It isn’t clear why it is necessary for her brand to be identified as “the Label”. We can only surmise that it is a trendy naming convention, such as at Collate the Label and Ying the Label. Ms Heng, who now posts on Instagram under the name Elaine Rui Min (瑞敏), and considers herself an “entrepreneur” occupationally, launched her fashion label online in mid-March, eight days before the Multi-Ministry Task Force announced stricter measures to combat the spread of COVID-19 that would lead to the Circuit Breaker measures about two weeks later.

Despite the charges of professional shortcomings and the iffy video defence she posted on IG Stories in 2018, Ms Heng has not suffered any blow, nor has she been impeded from furthering her career as an influencer. She has been able to happily align herself with retail names such as the Japanese eyewear brand Owndays, lingerie label La Senza, and beauty brands Olay and Sum37. She continues to act as merchandise promoter on Instagram, which radiantly exhibits her (now-married) life with enviable felicity. Marketability dictates that she is dressed her best, in clothes that her audience can relate to: pretty. Elaine Heng is the girl-next-door you envy, knowing you can never dress to look like her. When Malaysian singer Ah Niu sang in 1998, 对面的女孩看过来 (Girl Opposite, Look Over Here), he probably had someone like her in mind.

Ms Heng is aware that her girlish style has bankable following and, hence, business potential. Two years in the making, as the brand declared on IG, Ilo the Label appears to be conceived to mirror her wardrobe or what she tends to wear to earn her income on IG. If a girl, among the countless, who desires to start a fashion brand, especially online, this would be it. No design value required, nor point of view. Just straight-on pretty. Ms Heng calls it “my joy”, which is consistent with the brand platitude that quotes Australian poet Gemma Troy, “Whatever that makes you feel the sun from inside out, chase that.”

Ilo P2Influencer Melissa Jane Ferosha in Ilo the Label. Photo: Instagram

To be sure, Ms Heng is not a fashionista in the mold of Yoyo Cao, Willabelle Ong, and Andrea Chong. But, she is considered a “fashion blogger” It is, in fact, her ordinariness that those who seek the same find captivating, not a bold, statement-making style that would score her a best-dressed nomination at any of the annual society balls. From her beginning as a blogger, she has not shed her pronounced girlishness, her xiaoyuan zhihua (校园之花 or schoolyard beauty) posturing, her marketable cheerfulness. The prettiness is projected to be palatable and is tempered with a healthy dose of sexiness. She moves between the two comfortably and are just as willing to pose in a sundress as negligee. She has co-ed appeal; she is both women’s envy and men’s fantasy, effective as a go-to for what to wear for a date on Saturday night and what to see when, for the guys, that evening turns lonely.

As a fashion entrepreneur, Ms Heng typifies many who dream of their own fashion label. Or, (re-)creating whatever they already buy and wear. They are not in the business to fill the proverbial gap in the market; they are merely adding to the surfeit of similitude. Bloggers-turn-fashion-designers of her ilk are nothing new. The clothes are casual, cheery, and common. How does Ilo the Label then stand out? It doesn’t. Perhaps, that’s not the aim. As with many other labels these days, the five-month-old brand is “beyond just creating pretty clothes,” according to their own description, even if they don’t step out of the comfort, over-shared zone. They “hope to create a community that sparks fun, laughter and joy, thereby lifting the spirits of anyone that is part of it.”

Ms Heng’s clothes consciously project this joie de vivre, just as her IG posts present her as a particularly ebullient person. Ilo the Label does this by featuring hand-painted house prints, featuring dainty flowers that could be as comfortable on tea towels or bed sheets, or bath mats. One Orchard Store would come a-calling. According to her designers, “Our founder, Elaine, is all about prints and the first thing she told our team when we first gathered was ‘Ilo is going to be a brand of happy prints.’” The exultation of spirit through blooms is typically Gemma Troy: “I’m the type of person that falls in love with flowers…” And Elaine Heng too. In an IG post back in 2017, she wrote of an unremarkable WheresCinderella floral dress, “Somehow, I always find myself drawn to wearing florals because they make me happy.”

Ilo P3The startling sameness of Ilo the Label

This selling of positivity rather than design is also the modus operandi of brands that she promotes, such as All Would Envy, Lovet, WheresCinderella, and possibly her absolute fave, Thestagewalk—all labels for women who want to look pretty in the manner that is not intimidating—roses among roses, rather than to stand out dauntlessly—thorns among roses. It is hard to differentiate between these brands since all embrace the conventional than the unconventional, the straightforward rather than the complex, the winsome rather than wondrous. It is through Ms Heng’s fashion choices that one could learned of the many like-minded brand owners who have shared aesthetical preferences, and are happily part of a group of relatively quiet online businesses that trade in pretty dresses Ms Heng and her followers view with eye-watering delight.

You need not click on Ilo the Label’s generic-looking website to imagine there would be maxi-sundresses, spaghetti-strapped shifts, rompers, off-shoulder tops and more maxi-dresses, spaghetti-strapped shifts, rompers, off-shoulder tops. Most are made of 100% “quality polyester”, the brand emphasises, like those who underscore “luxury denim”. The prints—ditsy florals digitally rendered on those polyesters—comprise mostly small blooms with positive vibes, such as honeysuckle that “inspire love and passion”, all painted in a style that an art teacher might say lovely, but a gallerist would not. The sum are clothes that could easily be found on Lazada or Shopee, or in any mall across our island.

And therein lies the limitation of the brand. Ilo the label veers to the side of bland and sits on the centre of commonplace, inspiring the reaction, “another one of those”. They are as differentiable as the countless clothiers that started to pop up in malls prior to the pandemic: The Closet Lover, Fayth, Playdress, Yacht 21, et al. Many of them, like Ilo the Label, tout creating their own prints, which, for most brands, is an easy way to generate pieces that stand apart even if the silhouettes are similar, if not the same. This is an approach even stall owners of Bangkok’s Chatuchak weekend market adopt. It isn’t certain if Elaine Heng has learnt her métier as a fashion professional. However, given her present standing as a successful blogger and sunny stalwart, she can sell anything. Sunshine, too.

Photos: Ilo the Label

One Online Option

Digital stores offering clothing and such are by now nothing new. As e-shops and sales conducted via social media go, newcomer One Orchard Store isn’t setting itself apart. They’re just joining the crowd

 

OOS homepage June 2020

Resilience is an admirable quality in the business of fashion. Failure is not. Nor succumbing to it. One form of a venture may not have succeeded, but you can try again with another. This can be said of the Textile and Fashion Federation’s (TaFF) latest retail endeavour, the new e-commerce platform One Orchard Store (OOS), set up to promote, as TaFF does, local designs. In the wake of an economy-ravaging pandemic, this enterprise is more urgently needed than ever.

Some observers thought OOS is the online imprint of Design Orchard, last known to be operated by the vagabond retailer Naiise. It is not. Design Orchard has its own website with an inactive “shop”. Rather, this could be considered TaFF’s return to retailing or the provision of a retail platform for fledgling and established brands. A post-Zhuang, if you will.

Few remember Zhuang (庄, or farmstead, or the banker in gambling, such as mahjong), a TaFF initiative to put local brands with minimum or no retail exposure in a pleasing physical space. Their first in 2016 was a pop-up at Tangs. That was followed by a store in swanky The Shoppes at Marina Bay in 2017. Zhuang quietly shuttered a year or so after their mall debut, due to lack of brand and shopper interest, and what was thought to be a diffident effort.

It is not known why the nearly 40-year-old TaFF chose to close Zhuang rather than take it online, which could have been a more viable platform, and in line with what many others retailers were already exploring to do back then. Formed in 1981 as a trade alliance of sort to augment the profile and visibility of its members and to propel them overseas, TaFF has since taken the role to not only guide local labels in their search for markets elsewhere, but also create channels with which to help them reach an audience within our shores or further afield.

Zhuang @ MBSZhuang @ The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands in 2017

Published just twelves days ago, One Orchard Store is “based on the idea of discovery”, according to its webpage, and it “curates contemporary designers in Singapore and introduces innovative businesses.” Nearly two weeks after going online, OOS looks like it’s still in browser testing stage. Curation is cursory and innovative businesses have yet to appear. Perhaps the mask-making workshop Mask4SG counts?

And what can be discovered? It depends on what is considered a discovery. If finding a product is the mission, perhaps. If it’s gaining insight, perhaps not. OOS encourages discovery by scrolling from the top feature banner down to the last. And clicking on tiled pictures between. The interface borders on the bland and the attempt to reach out to the viewer, on the passive, leaving behind energy levels of the pages that make Love Bonito’s look positively frenetic.

Opting for a flat design typical of websites such as Fairprice and Courts, OSS is built around click and get, less song and dance. No GIFs (or animation) are seen, no videos, no soundtrack (an opportunity to expose local music?). Engagement is perfunctory. At the moment, only shipping to local addresses are available, despite OSS saying that it “seeks to showcase and facilitate exposure of the locally based designers locally, regionally and globally.”

Three core categories of products are offered: women’s wear/accessories, kid’s wear, and lifestyle, which, despite a sub-head ‘home’, comprises only of products in ‘fragrance’. The women’s clothing section has a surprisingly large sub-section with a list of 14, but not all open up to something to see or buy—activewear, denim, and suits have nothing in them, while knitwear has one item. In shoes, there is only one brand, in beauty, none. It might be possible that OOS, like Zhuang before it, is disadvantaged by a lack of brand support.

OOS fashion labels June 2020Some of the labels available at OOS: (clockwise from top left) GINLEE Studio, Ying the Label, hher, Silvia Teh, Shirt Number White, Minor Miracles, ANS.EIN

Among the old and new fashion names that populate OOS, Zhuang alums such as influencer Beatrice Tan’s Frontrow by Klarra, the streetwear collective Mash-Up, and Gilda Su’s Rêvasseur are not included. But one name is: Ying the Label. A favourite of the political elite and a darling of TaFF since the days of Zhuang, Ying the Label—now without a designer collab—seems to enjoy favourable visibility, with the top feature banner in a photograph of the brand’s art-infused outfit shot like it was a design student’s work, destined for a graduation catalogue.

OOS is, visually, a sum of photographs pulled from the brands themselves, but not put through the rigors of editing. In fact, even the products appear to lack some measure of merchandising. Perhaps brands can choose what they want to sell in OOS. It is possible that OOS had been in a state where having stock is better than not. It is difficult to reconcile the astonishing difference between Anna Rainn’s ’90s secretary aesthetics and newbie Silvia Teh’s borderline edgy looks.

E-commerce platforms, like their brick-and-mortar counterparts, are better served if there is a component in its set-up that can effect experience. OOS’s potential is impeded by a genuine lack of content. Scrolling mindlessly down a page might be explorative to some, but it is, for many others, a reason to kill the page. And, strangely, despite all the discovering encouraged, facilitated by over-working the index finger, there is not even a single back-to-top button. Despite its shortcomings, OOS is still appealing to some, such as influencer Andrea Chong, whose website DC Edit calls it “brilliant… responsive digital marketplace.”

To land on OOS, it is imperative that one does not search One Orchard (an understandable action), which would link one to YMCA @ One Orchard! The full One Orchard Store is required. The name choice is, in fact, rather odd, considering that OOS is a digital-native business and need not be associated with a known shopping street or a specific destination, such as a fruit farm, unlike, say, the e-shop of Dover Street Market, which was originally situated on Dover Street, a short, 330-metre thoroughfare in Mayfair, London. If place name is crucial, why not—for strong local flavour—One Ang Mo Kio Store?

Screen grabs: One Orchard Store. Photo: Zhao Xiangji

Two Of A Kind: Doing Dots

One Singaporean designer is going the Finnish way

 

Sabrina Goh vs MarimekkoLeft: Sabrina Goh. Photo: Sabrina Goh/Instagram. Right: Marimekko X Uniqlo. Photo: Uniqlo

Marimekko is not only known for their oversized abstract flowers (particularly the house bloom, the Unikko poppy), they are loved for their oversized, irregular-edge polka dots, arranged in a neat grit—a sort of chessboard with circles. In their collaboration with Uniqlo, one of the most popular dresses, we were learned, is an A-line, cotton/linen blend dress (top right), based on one of the house’s popular prints Kivet, first conceived by the Finnish textile designer Maija Isola in 1959 for Marimekko. So popular is Kivet the repeated circles that the print now appears on other garments such as ponchos, accessories such as umbrella, as well as home furnishings such as blankets and cushions.

Concurrent to the availability of this Marimekko X Uniqlo dress is one possible sibling—a 100% cotton version (top left) by Sabrina Goh’s label Elohim. The kinship is further augmented by the black and white colour scheme, and overall shape of the dress—loose-fitted, with light gathers in the centre, just below the bust. Ms Goh’s version has shorter sleeves (almost capped) and sports a slit on the right side. Although it is, similarly, V-necked, it is additionally mandarin-collared. It is shorter, too, skimming just below the new, while the Marimekko X Uniqlo dress is of maxi length. The print also looks similar, but each piece of the pattern is, in fact, a three-sided polygon that suggests pebbles. This also recalls the inspiration behind Ms Isola’s design, which, according to Marimekko, “likely originate(s) from the large, rough-edged stones cleared from the site of the artist’s studio home”.

The Elohim dress is called ‘Genesis’ (Ms Goh has a weakness for biblical references. Elohim is frequently used in the Hebrew bible to refer to god), and the naming seems to hint at creation, origin, and beginning. Or, corresponding to creativity, original, and first? Whichever description you’re inclined to accord the dress, it is unlikely that both came hand-in-hand from the garden of (design) Eden.

Elohimby Sabrina Goh ‘Genesis’ polka-dot dress, SGD249.90, is available online at Sabrina Goh e-shop. Marimekko X Uniqlo linen-blend V-neck dress, SGD59.90, is available online at Uniqlo’s website

Home Of Nowhere

We’re told to work from home and to stay at home, but the restriction to domestic boundaries don’t seem to suit that many people. No reason to get dressed nicely, perhaps?

 

Stay @ home illus Mar 2020 SOTD

By Gordon Goh

I am staying home. I am listening to music played on my Rega, with Barbara Streisand (who not long ago praised the PM on Twitter for acing the Fareed Zakaria interview on CNN’s GPS show), singing the directed-at-Trump Don’t Lie to Me; reading the books that have been stacking up—higher and higher—by the side of my desk and bed; and laundering clothes I have not worn in the past two years to keep them fresh. Outside is no lure, not when so many, contrary to what we’ve been told, continue to go about their daily lives in groups and in close proximity—contiguous with you, without a care in the world. Social distancing should really be called by the less euphemistic safe distancing or better still, as CNN’s Sanjay Gupta suggested, “physical distancing”. Or, as one middle-aged fellow was heard telling a fellow shopper at Sheng Siong, “Stay away from me!” Say it like what it must be. The world is full of barmpots.

The COVID-19 pandemic really opened my eyes to what we are like as a people. Humanity is on full show—well-dressed or not, it’s warts and all in public view. You still meet people who take things so lightly, it’s as if the Year of the Rat has not already arrived, and they can go about as they well please. Manners, thoughtfulness, and prudence are used up as quickly as toilet paper. No matter how frequently Gurmit Singh-as-Phua Chu Kang bleat-pleads on telly, how loudly he squawk-sings for all to do otherwise, the reality on the ground is quite the opposite of what the higher-ups would have us believe.

The order now is for us to remain indoors, within the confines of what we call home. But I’ve heard people say it’s “inconvenient” to stay in one’s own residence. Why are people so uncomfortable in their own domesticity? Are their resistance to life circumscribed by the four walls of home the same as that of students who hog tables in cafés to do their school work because home is inexpedient to study? Even with the drip-feed of doomsday-like news daily, many cannot find their home a secure refuge, preferring instead to gather in groups outside to better serve as a mobile Petri dish. Way before any daunting amount of time is spent indoors, some are already saying how enervating it has been. Only Netflix, it seems, is the tonic to revive stay-at-home fatigue. How many e-mags are now recommending “The Best Shows to Watch on Netflix While You’re Social Distancing and Staying Home”?

Stay @ home illus V4 SOTD

It’s all rather curious if you consider that we have not been given the order for an actual lockdown, nor what our northern neighbour has in place—the Movement Control Order (MCO). Yet, lassitude has already set in. Many people are so fearful that shopping and browsing shall be no more and they would be so lacking in the essentials of life that they started thronging (and ending up queuing sans any sense of social distancing) stores that will close for the rest of the month, such as Swedish meatball giant Ikea. Or were they out to buy those items that will, as the mega-retailer urges, “Make Home Count”? Because, until now, it has not? It is mind boggling what home is like for most people. We don’t know how lacking our dwellings are (or how insufficiently stocked with toilet rolls) until a virus of unimaginable virulence strikes.

In places already with strict stay-at-home orders, some experts think that, as a result of the reluctance to abide with oneself or family, “anxiety is rampant”. I am starting to see and hear phrases I rarely encountered pre-COVID-19: cabin fever, which I thought was a condition confined to Pulau Ubin; prison pallor, which I thought was limited to the penitentiary in Changi; and stir crazy, which I thought was restricted to coffee cups at Yakun (although some of you may remember it as a 1980 Gene Wilder/Richard Pryor comedy). A confining existence is punishing, just as it could be when one is marooned on an island, as Tom Hanks has shown in Castaway. Outside is the circulation of the temptation of entertainment, gastronomy, and the material, as well as a novel and not completely understood virus that is getting more pervasive. News constantly feeding into our mobile devices amplify both. How, then, do people reconcile the two, equally unnerving in scale? I really don’t know.

You’d think that since so many people are distancing themselves socially or working from home, the situation could become a social leveller of sort. Or what the media has been calling, the “great equaliser”. Yet, public behaviour hitherto witnessed shows that some people are more equal than you and I. Selfishness, to name one enduring—not, to be certain, endearing—trait, has become the un-equaliser. You want the over-packaged and overpriced beverages of Chi Cha San Chen (吃茶三千), you join a body-to-body queue, never mind that some of us are trying to get past this obstacle to the supermarket for next week’s sustenance. You bring your entire family out for a meal because soon dining in won’t be an option, never mind if the five of you mean more people would have to wait to enter a mall that already maxed out the allowable capacity. You go to the food court for lunch with your colleagues, and as you came in a group, “it is ridiculous” to sit a metre apart, even if an assemblage engaged in the aerosolising acts of slurping noodles and laughing hysterically is enhanced threat to the sole, socially-distanced diner.

Stay @ home illus 2 SOTD

Staying home, for some reason, makes people hungrier and, especially, thirstier than they would normally be when out and about with remunerated work. Cafés are busier than usual (one CBTL manager told me with amazement that their branch had yet to see a decline in business. In fact, sales until last weekend, have been above average, so much so that her bosses were baffled) and bubble tea stalls are still attracting unbelievably long lines (not taking into account orders received via Grab Food and similar services). Caffeinated drinks, it appears, are the affordable panacea to the dreaded anxiety that comes with staying at home. And the perfect excuse to leave one’s abode to get an essential

Going round and round (not quite appropriate to use that ‘V’ word these days) is the online demo of the ridiculous dalgona affogato—instant coffee granules whipped with water and sugar until mouse-like, and served on top of milk. People do have too much time on their hands, and instant coffee and sugar (which is necessary in unhealthy amounts for the coffee to foam up). Instagrammable coffee aside, the “quickest and easiest cakes to make” are also widely shared for those partial to “isolation baking”, with eater.com proudly promoting “Quarantine Baking in Times of Crisis”, which, frankly, sounds to me like a relief inmates at certain facilities might appreciate. It isn’t surprising then that the popular—and, consequently, clichéd—memes are built around Marie Antoinette’s leading-to-death, alleged quip, “let them eat cake” (more accurate and historical would be “let them eat brioche”) should emerge and spread.

Food, as always, can keep people busy or, better still, indoors. Even Unicef is offering “easy, affordable and healthy eating tips during the coronavirus outbreak”. If so many people are “sad” (as reported on CNA) that they can’t go drinking and partying with their friends now that bars and entertainment spots have been ordered to close, maybe they can “enjoy virtual happy hours” that some establishments in Hong Kong are reportedly asking those now-not-visiting patrons to do. Seriously! Might the devastated Boat Quay or Clarke Quay bars consider that one? Or would that encourage friends to gather at a chosen home to the blight of social-distancing measures and, for certain, the chagrin of the the Multi-Ministry Taskforce on COVID-19? Drinking and partying is probably still rife. Last Saturday, at the checkout of a Fairprice near my flat, a millennial couple in the adjacent line was paying for largely canned food and drinks. What struck me most were the four 12-can cartons of Carlsberg in their loot. When the receipt was handed to one of them, I spied a total spending of S$56 on beer alone. Since there is no purchase limit on alcoholic beverage, the two youngsters happily avoided restraint, but what were they going to do with that many cans of beer? Panic buy or party mood, I could not tell.

Stay @ home illus V3 SOTD

The thing about staying at home, even to work, is to not bother with what one wears. A ragged T-shirt is as good as any office-worthy shirt or client-ready dress. On the MRT train a week ago, I heard, even with a good two metres between us, a makeup-free woman tell her Felicia Chin-looking friend that the joy of working from home is that she does “not need to do” her face. She explained, “I wake up in the morning—late, usually; brush my teeth after breakfast; and that is it. I don’t wash my face till before I go to bed. So senang,” Such ease that saves on grooming is probably more welcome than we think. Yet, people are urged to dress nicely for teleconferencing or even writing a report without the semblance of a shadow of a colleague nearby, which naturally becomes divisive among both the established remote workers and the newly inducted. People can wear whatever they want, was the strident mantra. What really got Netizens in this region into a tizzy was the news report that in Malaysia last week, the Women and Family Ministry published an online advisory, counselling MCO-affected women, in particular “wives and mothers working from home” to “groom as usual”, including wearing make-up. That was not the end of the recommendation. If conversation is to be conducted at home, women should “talk like Doraemon”!

As long as looking spiffy is de rigueur, many brands are hopeful that long-time home-stayers would want to buy new clothes or even home-appropriate togs that have been, for years, sold as ‘loungewear’. Surely, marketing departments must have been working overtime to come up with ideas to tempt this novel consumer group. One of the earliest on the spin wagon is British knitwear label Sunspel. Their online curation is an “Edit for Working from Home”. Uniqlo, a purveyor of pyjamas-nice-enough-to-wear-out, through Facebook, persuaded followers to “relax in comfort at home, with our wide-ranging loungewear options.” And timely, too, “the first-ever launch of Airism bedding goods in Southeast Asia”, welcome news for those whose idea of staying at home is staying in bed. Even The Guardian is into it, instructing readers on “How to Build a Loungewear Collection”. Singapore’s go-to indie store, Surrender, sent out e-mails telling its customers that, at 30% off, it was “the last chance to get your stay-home-fits”. Getting a fit or not (likely, if staying at home is loathsome), another new phrase to remember.

While browsing CNN news feed a few days back, a video-ad from a brand I have never heard of suddenly appeared. Malaysian label Thousand Miles touting their Omniflex All Day Shorts, as it were. “These are designed to withstand the toughest obstacle course imaginable—the feeling like you’re sitting on a cloud at home with a cup of coffee on a Sunday afternoon.” Huh? Okay, despite the scene-setting, the pitch many not be convincing, so the promoter went on: “These shorts dry five times quicker, and three times more stretcher (sic) than your average pair of shorts, made possible by our proprietary bi-component material, designed to be fifty percent more breathable.” The affable guy concluded, “So these pairs right here are our love child.” Well, at least some people are productive!

Stay safe. Don’t let anyone tell you the end is nigh. I believe we will prevail.

Photo illustrations: Jim Sim

This Graphic Tote

The strength of Mlouye bags are in their bold, bold shapes

 

Mlouye Sera Tote P1By Mao Shan Wang

If you’re a bit over Bao Bao bags because of their ubiquity, yet won’t give up on graphically-bold bags with designs rooted in geometry and symmetry (and won’t give in to a certain Pouch), then perhaps Mlouye’s distinctive bags might interest you. I know they have aroused my interest.

The Turkish brand has been enjoying quite a lot of buzz since its founding in 2017, making it to every list of new bag brands to watch, from Forbes to Yahoo News. Their Pandora bag—a lot more conservative in shape if compared to their more striking designs—has been seducing headline writers to pen grabbers such as “Gigi Hadid Made This Bag Sell Out Everywhere”.

I have not one tiny speck of interest in what Ms Hadid wears or not, carries or not, causes sell-outs or not. So her impact on the popularity of the brand has no bearing on my appreciation of Mlouye. I am into shapes, the more unusual and seemingly difficult to construct the better. Mlouye matches that description.

Designer Meb Rure, who “hails from an industrial design background”, according to corporate literature, is reportedly inspired by the architects and interior designers of the Bauhaus, and is a massive fan of the design movement that can be traced to, first, a German art school, then, to an artistic front that greatly influenced modernism. Which perhaps explains Mlouye bags’ tendency to sport the seductive lines of the arms and legs of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s chairs with the quirk of Marianne Brandt’s kitchenware!

Mlouye Sera Tote P2Anyway, I am enamoured with this particular bag (above) called the Sera tote (nope, nothing to do with the Singapore Emergency Responder Academy). The form is almost traditional, but look at the controlled geometric folds of the 3-D front. Bao Bao-ists would go quite delirious. The surprise is in the inner top: it comes with suede drawstring closure! The Sera is what Japanese bag makers would call a ‘two-way’. You can carry the handle-strap in your hands or on your forearm. Or, add the supplied shoulder strap and you have a cross-body.

Sustainability is key to Mlouye, and if you are especially particular that the leather used for your satchels is sourced from tanneries with practices that are friendly to the environment, then these bags are for you. The Sera tote is made of Italian calf leather, and the bag feels lighter than it looks. That is, without doubt, a deal maker.

Mlouye bags are available at Pedder on Scotts. The Sera tote (cobalt blue, above), USG395, is available online at mlouye.com. And the best part: they ship to our island for free. Photo: Mlouye