Two Of A Kind: Apparel Apparitions!

All roads lead to Balenciaga?

Yeezy Gap versus Nike Forward. Photos: respective brands

Both are ghostly, both are sinister. Whose is more ominous? Nike has shared the images for their latest apparel featuring the new Forward textile on their website and app. That faceless hoodie seen here (on the right) appears as if worn by Invisible Man, including uneven placement of the arms—the unseen wearer in motion. Could this be Nike flattering Yeezy Gap? When the brand led by Kanye West (soon no more) launched the first drop of Yeezy Gap Engineered by Balenciaga last February, the images shared were similarly spectral. And in the latest, they are less black, which is rather close to Nike’s with the sepia patina. Two of the world’s most visible brands using such illusory effects may mean that phantoms, rather than models, could take over fashion communication of the near future.

There is of course the possibility that brands these days rather let the garments do the talking than voluble celebrities. Clothes should stand out, not faces. Yeezy Gap’s images require no perceivable face (although a body filling up the clothes can be discerned) just as its retail spaces need no shelf, rack or hanger. Balenciaga had a hand in all this. It started most prominently on the red carpet, as seen in the face-concealing number that Kim Kardashian wore to the last Med Gala. Ms Kardashian was already a walking preview for Balenciaga months earlier. Later, her ex-husband, too, appeared just as obscured in his Donda listening/reveal mega events, whose creative director was Demna Gvasalia. Mr West attended his by-then pal’s debut haute couture showing in Paris like a Black male Pontianak. And after Yeezy Gap Engineered by Balenciaga was announced, the images that were circulating and shared showed, until now, the fashionable on the incorporeal. As the Police once sang, Spirits in the Material World.

New @ Design Orchard

But first, we have to stop giggling

It is increasingly common for retailers to use social media to hawk their wares. Design Orchard is no exception. We really applaud them for their enthusiastic online marketing efforts, and the smile they bring to our cheerless lives. On their delightful Instagram page, shopdesignorchard, two hours ago, our island’s premier retailer of all things local—not just fashion—shared some of their “new brands, new choices” in a strangely slipshod post. To be sure that what you’d be acquainted with are SG brands, they were certain to let you know that they “love seeing and supporting up and coming (sic) local designers” and that the three-year-old store has admirably “quite a line up (sic) just for you”.

What might that tantalising “line up” comprise? Nine brands—four fashion labels, two jewellery, one skincare, one fragrance, one home ware—are in the dazzling selection. Like Design Orchard, we too love supporting the brands that are proudly birthed on our shores, such as As’Fall, which, according to their own ‘About Us’, first “opened in Lausanne Switzerland in 2009” by French-Sengalese designer Astou Montfort. She moved to our island in 2017, and her label is now “made in SG, Bali” (islandic!), with “embroidery in Senegal”. Design Orchard’s IG post told us (all the following quotes are verbatim) As’Fall is “a brand that works with small family businesses and communities who are rich of long craftsmanship experiences that are inherited down the generations in embroideryy (sic), beading, dyeing or weaving”. Long, indeed. And, experiences inherited, but not the actual craftsmanship?

Then, we were introduced to Flair by Tori, “a Singaporean fashion label (with links to Australia) made for the confident cosmopolitan woman”, not including, naturally, the rest of us diffident kampong girls. Ms Tori’s Flair is in ‘One Wear’, ”uniquely gorgeaous (sic) piece s (sic) that let women go bra free (sic)”. In modest and provincial Singapore, you can’t be more confident and cosmopolitan than that. And if you are seeking “sustainable activewear made upcycled from post-consumer plastic waste that keeps you looking good and feeling good while you lunch, lounge and lunge (or whatever else it is you enjoy doing)”, you are covered by MYË (“pronounced: me-uh”, we learned. How Gen-Z!), whose founder, Raffles Design Institute alumna Mai Takemori, creates “workout clothes designed to last, crafted for performance, and hella cute and comfy”, their corporate message makes darned clear.

If accessories are more your thing, Mildly Pink, which touts itself as “homemade brilliance”, is exceptionally a “Singapore-based female hand-made jewellery label, born out of the founders; passion to portray the world with a magical twist”. Forget the founders, or what they can bear. The world, as we know, isn’t twisted enough. Or adequately inclusive: We need “female” labels. For skincare aficionado, you may gravitate towards Jill Lowe. A blast from the past, the name—once associated with image consulting—now offers you “skincare solutions to rebuild one’s character and image”. Should Siriwipa Pansuk consider this wonderful overhaul? And if you cannot resist a good fragrance, how about those by Scent Journer? They are “on a mission to empower you with perfumes… and only the highest quality organic sugarcane alcohol is used to boost your mood in a nano scond (sic)”. Take a deep whiff: This is better than laughing gas.

Photos: shopdesignorchard/Instagram

“Luxury Cheats” On The Run

A Singaporean man and his Thai-born wife, who are wanted by the police here after failing to deliver luxury goods they bought on behalf of customers, have turned international criminals, now that an Interpol warrant is issued against them too

They are believed to have left our island. A Dior-loving married couple, wanted for failing to deliver S$32 million worth of paid-up luxury goods that they allegedly bought on behalf of individuals, has fled, although both of them were earlier involved in police investigations. Their passports, according to CNA, were impounded last month. Shin Min Daily News (新明日报) ran a cover story earlier today with the couple’s full-face photo. In previous reports, their eyes were pixelated. The Straits Times (online edition) has also identified both of them as Pi Jiapeng (皮佳鹏) and Siriwipa Pansuk in response to the authorities who have “revealed their identities”. The Singapore Police Force wrote on its website: “The Police are appealing for information from the public on their whereabouts.” But even before this, a few of those who believed they were ruthlessly cheated had posted photos of the couple on social media and pleaded to be notified if anyone saw both or either of them.

As it has been circulating for more than a week, Mr Pi and Ms Pansuk had scammed a staggering amount of people (including, it is believed, Thais), who thought the couple was able to purchase luxury goods for them at attractive, lower-than-retail prices. Unlike, say, MDada (the live-streaming company of Addy Lee, Michelle Chia and Pornsak), the couple’s methods were not made public or immediately clear. The police received “at least 180” reports against the two of them. Many claimed that advanced payments for Rolex and Patek Philippe watches and high-end bags such as Chanel and Hermès were made, but no goods were delivered. When they tried contacting the couple, they could not reach them. A Telegram group was set up, comprising about 200 members, who shared similar stories of paying and not getting. Following the police reports filed and revelations on social media, Mr Pi was arrested last month and was released on bail. It is not clear if Ms Siriwipa was arrested, but media reports said she was “assisting” in the investigations. And then, as they were to their customers, they were “uncontactable”. According to CNA, a 40-year-old Malaysian man allegedly hid the fraudsters in a lorry in assisting their escape on 4 July across the Causeway. He was arrested and charged. It is believed that the absconders are now in Thailand.

Mr Pi was arrested… and Ms Pansuk was “assisting” with investigations. And then, as they were to their customers, they were “uncontactable”

Twenty-six-year-old Pi Jiapeng, as Shin Min Daily News reported, is a former 鞋店仔 (xiedianzai) or shoe shop chap. According to information posted on the Interpol website, he was born in Fujian, China. An only son from a single-parent family, he met his “wealthy” Thai wife through an unidentified dating app. It is not determined if they met here or in Thailand. He is known to those he allegedly scammed as ’Kevin’, while she is referred to as ‘Ann’. The Chinese paper cited those who are familiar with Mr Pi’s situation, saying that he became “富贵 (fugui or rich)” after knowing Siriwipa Pansuk, a (now) 27-year-old, originally from Roi-Et, Issan, but has a registered address in Nonthaburi, a municipality that is so close to Bangkok that it is regarded a suburb of the Thai capital. On social media, a repeated comment on her posts (discontinued) had been suai (สวยยย) or beautiful. It is possible that it was this chiobu (Hokkien for a female that’s especially attractive or hot) image that drew the geeky-looking Mr Pi to her.

That and, as speculated, her supposed wealth. It was reported that Ms Pansuk had gifted him with a sports car, (it isn’t clear if this was before or after they were married). No one knows the source of the woman’s riches or are aware of her propensity to offer expensive gifts, but some suggested that her mode of operation was evocative of Anna Delvey (real name: Anna Sorokin), the Russian-born German con artist and fraudster who became the subject of a recent Netflix series, Inventing Anna. Mr Pi’s new-found prosperity came so suddenly that he was described to have 飞黄腾达 (fei huang teng da or shot up meteorically). The couple is believed to have last lived in a house with a pool on Holland Road. A photograph of the forsaken residence shared online showed two sports cars parked in the porch.

Pi Jiapeng and Siriwipa Pansuk, Photo: Facebook

Coming into sudden wealth apparently raised no red flags among the people who knew the couple or did business with them. Nor, the two’s supposedly unceasing supply of some of the most expensive watches and coveted handbags in the market. A few of the victims who spoke to Shin Min Daily News claimed to have spent tens—even hundreds—of thousands of dollars through the couple’s social media operations. One of them, who contacted the duo through Instagram, paid—in full—SGD$700,000 for seven luxury timepieces. It is not clear why he was willing to spend that amount and yet chose not to get the corresponding service and assurance at an authorised retail store, other than that “the price they offered was about 10 per cent lower than the market price”. Another victim, a recent graduate, paid SGD40,000 for “branded bags”, with the intention of reselling them for a profit—a common practice. That pecuniary gain was never seen—the goods at no time arrived.

It was reported that the Pis started their buying-for-others activity on Carousell and IG. A year ago, there was a “shop” in Tanjong Pagar (for collection only, apparently), now reported to have shuttered. They told their victims that they travelled often, and, in the case of watches, to Switzerland, where the prices are, the pair assured their targets, cheaper. In police reports, two local companies that they started were implicated: Tradenation and Tradeluxury. Tradenation, according to its IG description, is a “Singapore-registered company (now suspended)” that deals in “AUTHENTIC (in caps) luxury timepiece (sic)” while Tradeluxury is a “one stop (sic) place to shop your favourite bags”. Despite the online negativity now, Tradenation and Tradeluxury did receive favourable reviews on Telegram, although it is not possible to confirm if they are genuine.

Coming into sudden wealth apparently raised no red flags among the people who knew the couple or did business with them

When the news of their possible crimes and daring escape broke in Thailand, chatter began to emerge on Thai social media that Ms Pansuk had previously gotten herself into similar hot soup in South Korea, where, before she met Mr Pi, she supposedly dated a Gangnam bar owner. Photos shared by her in late 2017 and early 2018 did show that she was in Seoul for a while, even offering to show visitors around the city because, as she wrote, “I’m also very free”. During that time, despite a seemingly comfortable life, she allegedly “tricked Thais into investing in a fake company (what it deals with is not known)”, even leading them to believe she had studied in the UK (according to her own social media profile, she attended the 75-year-old Catholic school Pramaesakolsongkroh [that goes by the regrettable abbreviation PMS!] in Nonthaburi, an institution that does not offer tertiary education). Someone who seems to know her wrote in Thai on Facebook, “Are you dead yet? Give me back my money.” It was beginning to emerge that Ms Pansuk was a likely serial cheat.

In the one photograph of the couple widely circulated online and used by the press before the pair’s names were revealed, bespectacled Pi Jiapeng was seen in possibly a Thai holiday resort, wearing a black-and-white jumper with what appears to be all-over Dior ‘Oblique’ monogram. He was shod in a pair of black Gucci Princetown Horsebit mules. His wife, who stood partly behind him, as if knowing her place, wore a black Chanel belt and carried a grey Lady Dior bag. They seemed the much-in-love and much-in-business husband and wife, living the life that their customers could relate to or may have even envied: Materially blessed. The better to not arouse suspicious transactions and to ensnare more bargain hunters into their well-baited trap. A considerable con job.

Update (11 August, 6.30pm): The Straits Times just reported that both Pi Jiapeng and his wife Siriwipa Pansuk were caught in Johor Baru and were brought back to Singapore to face charges tomorrow

Illustration: Just So

The 100-Billion-Dollar Question

Could Shein be the future of fashion? It’s a scary thought

Shein has been in the news again. Not for the S$10 (or less) dresses that they sell, but for the staggering US$100 billion evaluation that they have received while the “clothing giant”, as they are now called, reportedly seeks a bold US$1 billion in funding, according to a Reuters report last week. This is so major, Bloomberg described it as a “big moment“, so big that every fashion business is taking notice. For context, that makes the brand worth more than H&M and Zara… combined! Shein, as news reports are wont to remind us, is thus worth as much as Elon Musk’s Space X. That, in merchandise quantity, is mind-boggling. Shein is believed to produce between 2,000 to 10,000 SKUs (roughly meaning individual styles) for it’s e-store, according to one report by the non-profit journalism organisation Rest of World (who was researching and examining the impact of Shein in the market). One University of Delaware study revealed that between January and October of last year, Shein produced “more than 20 times as many new items as H&M and Zara”. It is reasonable that, in order to enjoy a reported US$15.7 billion of sales in 2021 based on extremely low-priced products, they need to generate more merchandise than the world’s leading fast-fashion brands.

Do people buy that much clothes? Is this the reflection of what is happening in the market? That consumers need this amount of garments to view, choose, and buy? Or, to be “entertained” by, as one 20-year-old fashion student told us when we spied her engrossed by the Shein website? That this China brand is able to continue to increase its production again and again is veritable that whatever they put out to sell are snapped up as rapidly as they are produced. Shein offers, as fans know by now and love the brand for it, fast fashion that has gained even more speed. They put out on their website (their only point of sale other than the occasional pop-ups) with such incredible speed, the merchandise is now considered “ultra-fast” fashion, or as one store buyer calls it, “bullet-train-fast”. Typically, fast fashion brands, such as Zara, request a turn around time of approximately 2,000 fresh products in 30 days. Shein is able to get manufacturers to churn “6,000 new items daily”, according to Bloomberg.

Those new merchandise do not replace the existing (perhaps some styles that are sold out or discontinued are replenished). The total amount of items available for a shopper to choose from is, therefore, mind-blowing. Department stores, once known for their breadth of merchandise, would never tie themselves down to this amount of stock. But, Shein does not technically hold what are to be sold. They use big data to get manufacturers to produce “virtually on demand”. While traditional e-commerce platforms—such as Amazon—bring retailers and brands together, Shein’s gathers manufacturers (thereby cutting out middlemen). These producers come from every corner of China. And the massive products available on the Shein website or app have an added benefit: They keep shoppers glued to their smartphone (or tablet) for far much longer than they would be on even social media. And the longer they spend their time on Shein, the more likely they will spend. And spending on Shein, just as viewing videos on TikTok, can be frightfully addictive.

Much has been said about the link between Shein and TikTok (where, two months ago, influencer Chrysan Lee drew embarrassing attention to herself and concurrently created [further] brand awareness for Shein). The clothing retailer gleans from TikTok for trends and use the site’s members/users to promote (even hawk) their wares (such as the famous “haul” videos, with the hashtag #Shein enjoying more than 29 billion views). In researching for this post, we observed the young women who would not give the use of their smartphones a break, whether on the MRT train or on a busy street as they cross it. Oftentimes, they would have on their screens the ‘content’ from these two sites. TikTok is Gen Z’s Netflix (who has time for a feature-length film when in the same amount of time, you can binge on more than 40 inane TikTok posts) and Shein is the Taobao of trendy (which does not necessarily mean nice) clothing for the fashion bargain hunter. When, on the Downtown Line one morning, we spotted a teen visibly enjoying a video touting Shein dresses, we asked her what she got out of it. She said, “Nice, mah.” What is “nice”—the clothes, the wearer, or the post? “Aiya, all nice, lah! And she very clever to dance (sic).”

If Shein on TikTok is this appealing and is enticing many viewers to then cross to the Shein site and spend, then the brand could be dancing very closely to that US$1 billion funding. And if these Gen-Zers are behind this success, are they the passionate, save-the-environment adherents that we are led to believe? Are they really aware of fast fashion’s massive and damaging impact on the planet? Do they even care? Or are there fewer Greta Thunbergs in the fashion-consuming world than we have imagined or like to believe? Fashion before environment, it would appear, is more appealing to these shoppers who have placed cheap and plentiful at the top of their priority list. According to one Bloomberg report early this year, clothes are being discarded, as we type this, at a rate of 2,150 pieces per second! Is Shein not encouraging this disposal by making their wares so irresistible to buying, and then chucking? And do their selling approach not run counter to the belief that in order for our consumption to make a difference, we need to reduce our purchasing of new apparel by 75%? Besides, what are truly Shein’s green credentials when so much of what they sell are made of environment-polluting polyester and kindred fibres?

There is talk that what Shein does is the democratisation of fashion. Talk is cheap, just like the Shein clothes. But how does this broad appeal and wide reach help Shein tackle the issues of environmental impact when sustainability is trending across the industry? And just as pertinent: how will fashion advance when an entire generation is weaned on not-made-to-last clothes that are purchased to be (largely) showed off on social media? It is disheartening to see the oftentimes grim offerings on the Shein site and to know that there are many who are proud to be associated with the brand. Whenever we see fans on social media put on pieces from their “hauls” to show how proud they are with their purchases (even clothes that are not ironed!), we can’t help but wonder if fashion is doomed. But then we remember: We used to knock blog-shops when they were the rage, but look at how far they’ve come. If Shein’s astonishing evaluation is any indication, they and their retail model are here to stay. That possibility is frightening.

Photo (top): Zhao Xiangji. Screen grabs (bottom): shein.com

H&M: Multi-Label Online Store

The Swedish fast fashion giant allows other brands to trade on its e-commerce site in Sweden and Germany

According to a recent Reuters report, H&M won’t be just selling the group’s own labels on their e-store. The news outlet quoted an H&M spokesperson saying that online shoppers can now also purchase from a “curated selection of other fashion brands” in Sweden and Germany. The brands cited are namely jeans and streetwear names: Lee, Wrangler, and Kangol. This expanded mix was made available in Germany this month. A quick look at the Swedish page saw at least 20 non-H&M brands, including the footwear of GH Bass (and even Crocs!), bags of Hershel, and eyewear of Le Specs. There is no mention of introducing this enhanced e-commerce concept outside Europe, only that they “will gradually add more markets online”.

H&M has been comparatively slow in turning to the potential of online selling (although their Swedish site has been around since 1998), compared to others, such as Zara or Uniqlo. As their physical stores are looking a shadow of their earlier selves, the company needs online presence to boost their waning appeal, even with the reported 23% hike in first quarter sales. Some observers say that H&M needs to strengthen their online offerings in the wake of the onslaught by China’s Shein, coupled by increasing difficulty in the Chinese market, where it is (still) suffering backlash against its decision to stop using cotton from Xinjiang. H&M needs to shore up its brand positioning by doing more, and online seems the natural place to press on. Their online sales achieved last year was in the neighbourhood of one-third of total sales.

The inclusion of third-party brands reminds us of e-stores such as Zalora, ASOS, and Urban Outfitters, all with their house labels too. Despite the variety of brands, hm.com, is still primarily and aesthetically H&M, comprising at the fore, their own products. To seek non-H&M names, you need to click on ‘H&M with friends’ which allows you to “shop by brand”. While the site layout is similar to its competitors’, hm.com is not exactly fizzing with excitement. It could do with the elusive quality known as fun or what e-tailers like to call experiential. It is perhaps telling that despite including the group’s kindred labels, such as Monki, & Other Stories, Arket, and Weekday (all not available here), H&M’s e-commerce offering requires the presence of other brands to augment its merchandise breadth as the world’s second-biggest clothing retailer.

File photo: SOTD

Wear A Tee, Take A Stand

Japanese e-tailer Zozotown has offered a special-edition ‘No War’ T-shirt “to support those who have been deprived of their peaceful life in Ukraine¨. Why are there no similar initiatives among our fashion businesses?

“The peace that everyone naturally wants is now lost,” read the promotion copy for the Zozotown special-edition ‘No War’ T-shirts. “The ordinary everyday life of people who, like us, should have been able to spend time with family and friends with a smile suddenly disappears one day.” As “humanitarian aid to Ukraine”, proceeds of the sale of the T-shirt will go to ADRA (Adventist Development and Relief Agency) Japan. In an official statement, ADRA International “calls for peace for the people of Ukraine and mobilizes relief for millions of people impacted by the war.”

While not exactly a creation in the vein of Supreme tees, these simple, 100% cotton, crew-neck, white tops have already hit the number one spot on Zozotown’s merchandise ranking just a day after its launch on 1 March. Available in two unisex styles for young and old, they sport motifs in yellow and blue, the colours of the Ukrainian flag. For kids, a garland in the form of the peace symbol and, for the adults, two flowers on the left side of the chest, with a short text below that reads, “NO WAR IN UKRAINE”. The item is described as ‘Ukrainian Humanitarian Charity T-shirt’, and is available by pre-ordering only (unfortunately not outside Japan). In its promotional material for the T-shirts, four hashtags of #nowar appear in three other languages too: Japanese, Ukrainian, and Russian. Zozotown is clear of their intent: “to support those who have been deprived of their peaceful life in Ukraine”.

Zozotown is clear of their intent: “to support those who have been deprived of their peaceful life in Ukraine”

A quick survey of some of the most popular local e-shops reveal no such initiative. At The Editor’s Market, the homepage asks visitors to “explore” their “Forever Hits”, described as the brand’s “most wanted silhouettes back and in better shape than ever”. Love, Bonito’s homepage skips any message altogether, going straight to their merchandise under a banner ‘Women’. Fayth is promoting ‘Back to Work’, or “sophisticated looks for the office”. Weekend Sundries is still in a festive mood, showing off ‘A Feast of Colours’, featuring “new limited edition prints for good cheer this holiday season”. We were discouraged and did not go looking further. Nowhere on each of these sites mentioned the occurrence of war. Or, offered a denouncement.

A marketing head said to us that for most fashion retailers, “staying neutral is probably the best”. Moreover, it takes too much effort to create new merchandise that is already past each brand’s production schedule. He added, “As a society, we are rather indifferent to such thing—attacks not happening near us. Few people would have heard of Ukraine!” At a Uniqlo store early this afternoon, two young women were looking at T-shirts featuring recognisable characters from Studio Ghibli. We asked them, “what attracts you to these?” One of them replied shyly, “they are cute, lor.” We asked again, “Would you wear a T-shirt that says ‘No War’?” Their puzzlement is unmistakable: “What war?” Zozotown, Japan’s largest fashion e-commerce site, is straightforward when they said, “We oppose the war.” So do we.

Product photos: Zozotown. Typography: Zozotown. Collage: Just So

When Paris Marries, You Gain

The heiress Paris Hilton’s marriage is also a marketing opportunity for the c-commerce site Italist. Fabulous?

By Mao Shan Wang

Paris Hilton is a married woman. I am happy for her; I truly am. Last month, she tied the knot with her venture capitalist fiancé Carter Reum in what CNN described as a “lavish ceremony”. Meghan Trainor called it the “most beautiful wedding ever!! (yes, double exclamation marks all hers)” and Rachel Zoe said she was “the most beautiful bride.” Yes, I am happy for her. To top the many compliments, Ms Hilton will have a new reality TV show, Paris in Love, on Peacock, after the inane Netflix series Cooking with Paris. Everything from the engagement to the proposal to walking down the aisle will be featured in Paris in Love. She gleefully posted of the show, “I want my fans to know how I found my Prince Charming, and a fairy tale. Happy ending”. So, yes, I am Happy for her.

But I am not sure that. despite all the happiness I am feeling—in times of the ominous Omicron—that I would want to win a “Paris Hilton’s Fairytale Wedding Giveaway”, as curiously offered by the e-commerce site Italist. The wedding is over, but somehow it is still happening. We’re still seeing her veiled face. Is this like one of those long Indian weddings that could last five days (although for most couples, it’s just the average three), only now, with Ms Hilton, much longer? Wouldn’t it be great if newly engaged Kim Lim and Club 21, too, give something away after the former’s likely lavish-as-well wedding in the unknown future?

Would this be like those that guests receive at the end of wedding parties? Or, something akin to the Chanel advent calendar?

In Paris Hilton’s name (also to “honor” her new show) and part of their “December Treats”, Italist is letting “one lucky winner” walk away with a “Paris and Carter’s (nope, not Cartier’s!) Gift Bag”. Would this be like those that guests receive at the end of wedding parties? Or, something akin to the Chanel advent calander? According to Italist, the gift, probably housed in a (now-trendy/trending) dust bag, includes “Wedding Sweatshirt, His & Hers Paris Hilton Perfume Set, Tote Bag, R3SET Botanical Stress & Anxiety Support Supplements, & Candles”. Excited yet?

But that is not all. The winner will also be gifted with four certificates for a stay at, where else, a Hilton Hotel of their choice (valued at USD2,400), a wedding crystal figurine (worth USD500), a USD500 gift card to Jane (a “curated marketplace”), a USD300 gift card to The Dog Bakery (yes, a canine pâtisserie), a USD350 hair-care hamper from Keratase, USD500 worth of products from paw.com, and a USD500 gift card to Italist. If you include the Paris and Carter’s Gift Bag, which, according to sweepstakes.com, is worth USD4,800 (oh yes, they, too, are giving that away), the total value of the haul is very close to a rather handsome US ten grand. (More) excited yet?

To be sure, Italist addressed their communique to: “Hilton fans” with the specific, “this one is for you”. So that, technically, counts me out. I can be happy for Paris Hilton and not be a fan. There are enough of them around the world. Otherwise, why a show of her married life? Who really cares? Who even bothered when she was living The Simple Life? Truth be told, I am no fan of anyone. But, as a believer in the institution of marriage and its sanctity, I am glad that she is heading towards marital bliss and, despite numerous past engagements, a “happy ending”. Do I want any of those giveaways? Yes, I am happy for her, but not that much.

The Paris Hilton’s Fairytale Wedding Giveaway is open to US residents only. Photo: Italist

Visited: Vault

Gucci’s all-new, all-dancing e-store may change the way online shops are conceived in the future, but not everyone gets to buy what’s up for grabs

Gucci describes its fresh digital platform Vault as a “new experimental online space”. The website is primary an e-store, but it is also an e-mag. When you arrive at the homepage, there is surprisingly not an immediate call to view the merchandise. No cart symbol could be seen in the top right-hand corner (instead, it reads “Edition #1”). Click the ‘hamburger’ menu icon on the left, and it drops down to reveal a very short list of three items: Join Vault, Current Country (SG isn’t listed), and Language. No shop and items. The main image—not animated—featuring Gucci fashion is not even clickable. Below the photograph, you are told to “Discover More”. But you scroll further down. The site is highly visual and the images are mostly full-bleed, which lend the webpage the feel of a vertically-flowing magazine. And it’s quite a way down to the end: 28 swipe-ups later, in fact.

The experiential component of the space is, therefore, not over-stated. There is considerable content to discover, apart from stuff to buy (we’ll come to that later). What you are entering is a totally Gucci world. If their mostly retro-heavy images are not your cup of kombucha, or are overwhelming, there is a good chance you may not go to the subterranean end. But the website’s content developers are eager to engage you. And Gucci wants to foster “an imaginative relationship that goes beyond the purely transactional”. It is a strategy that will make you stay as long as, if not longer, than you would at Net-A-Porter and the like. Gucci is serious when they say Vault is “a time machine, an archive, a library, a laboratory, and a meeting place”.

That a project associated with Alessandro Michele should facilitate time travel, cast a light on the archival, the librarial, the experimental, and the social (can any online enterprise be without this component?) is unsurprising. Gucci under his watch is all of the above. And Vault is a flashy showcase of how imaginative Mr Michele is or, as the intro to Vault states, how much a reflection of “the Creative Director’s passion for experimentation, showcasing restored and customized archive pieces alongside the creations of emerging designers through a poetic and coherent editorial format.” Restoring? Is that a stab at sustainability? Yes, there is talent discovery too. And designers you would not have heard of elsewhere are given a space in Vault.

Even esoteric music (yep, there is a tune to “discover”), which, according to Gucci, is the “sound of style”. Or, if a more learned description is required, the “captivating delights of autonomous sensory meridian response”, per the brand. What in the world of pussy bows and Kingsnakes is that? Sound engineers call it a “perceptual condition”. There is an example in Vault: a ‘music video’, if you will. A model is seen with a vintage GG Plus bag (presumably “restored”). She squeezes the body to yield crunchy sounds, then she strokes the straps and then taps on the distinctive handle of the Bamboo bag, generating more sounds. A teaspoon is seen grinding the rim of a Gucci coffee cup. A bag buckle snaps. These sounds and others more come together to create a percussive chorus. And there you have music. Or, as Gucci calls it, “sensory overload, where objects can inflame or provoke, placate and subdue”.

Mr Michele is clearly creating a world not yet imagined as a welcome and doable sphere for online retail. But this is not the same as Raf Simons’s History of my World (now inactive, but quite the precursor to Vault). This is far more immersive, even if it borders, in parts, on the pretentious. But do visitors want to go through this much in a site visit that begins with transactions in mind? So what Gucci merchandise are there to buy after you have enjoyed the “sound of style”? Almost nothing. Before you can click on the past-era products temptingly photographed, you will meet the message, “All vintage items are sold out”. There is a top, one unexceptional Aria T-shirt that is a limited edition and a Vault exclusive. If you are open to the products of the new designers Mr Michele has selected (13 of them), then perhaps the credit card you have on standby would be useful. If, however, you are in Asia but outside Japan, all you could do is browse. Vault has shut you out of their merchandise.

Shortly after Vault went online, an SOTD reader wrote to us, rather with a huff: “It’s such a stupid site,” his message read. The vexation is palpable. “You cannot buy if you are not living in those few countries they want to sell to. So few countries for members to select. We can’t buy cos (we are) not among the 20+ countries on the list.” There are, as of now, just 25 countries that Gucci ships to, including Romania! Italist, to compare with a compatriot business, ships to 216 countries. It is understandable why this reader fumed. “Waste of my time to join (as member),” he wrote in conclusion. Apart from writing to us, he also sent a missive to Gucci. And, rightly, there was a reply, which was shared with us by the SOTD reader.

A written reply from Gucci Customer Services

“Thank you for contacting VAULT,“ one client advisor called Hiroko from Customer Services replied (presumably, Gucci had their Tokyo office respond since they are in a time zone closer to ours), addressing the male complainant as “Ms“. She continued: “Unfortunately, Singapore, Hong Kong and China are not eligible for Vault product delivery and cannot meet your needs.“ We suspect Google translate is at work here. “Thank (sic) for your interest in Vault products and we apologize for not meet (sic) your expectations. If you have any questions, please reply to this e-mail or contact VAULT Client Service (sic).”

The mail does not say if things would change or if purchases on Vault can be made by shoppers in Singapore, Hong Kong, and China beyond “currently not”. There is something final about “not eligible”, so too “cannot meet your needs“, since there is no attempt at assuaging this Vault visitor’s disappointment with more positive news. It is unknown if Gucci sees limited shipping as strategic advantage. But if e-commerce market size in Southeast Asia alone is reported to be around USD62 billion now, why is it favourable for Gucci to keep part of its online retail vaulted from the rest of us? Sticking to “beyond the purely transactional”? Rather mind-boggling, isn’t it?

Screen grab: Gucci Vault

Valentino Makes A Statement

And it will drive the anti-vaxxer nuts

Fashion do want to be counted when it comes to making a social/political stand. Valentino, for one, not only knows their position on the divisive issue of COVID-19 vaccination, they are willing to express it, and, concurrently do good. Taking advantage of the cool-after-summer season, they’ve released a black, made-in-Italy, cotton hoodie with the word “Vaccinated” stretched across the chess, above which the unmistakable V-logo is centred. There is nothing to the hoodie really, other than what it might literally say about the wearer. With the vaccinated more appreciated in social circles and welcomed in dine-in-allowed eateries, knowing that they have received the two doses of either the mRNA or viral vector vaccines without turning on their Trace Together app might be a boon to those who’d benefit from the knowledge or be able to complete a professional duty.

Launched on the Valentino website today, the hoodie is shown on the label’s creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli, who looks relaxed in a rattan chair, placed in a garden. According to Valentino’s corporate comms, the designer was “captivated” by an identical hoodie conceived by “the American pop culture sensation Cloney” (a multi-disciplinary collective based in LA, headed by one Duke Christian George III) that he ordered all that was available (five, it is said) and gave them to his friends, among them Lady Gaga, who dutifully wore the V-logoed version and posted a video on Instagram. Clearly Nicki Minaj of the “swollen balls anti-vaxx claim” wasn’t on the receiving end of this messaged top.

Valentino’s Pierpaolo Piccioli proudly promoting his vaccination status

But, apparently, Valentino only told part of the story. According to media reports, Cloney “cloned” Valentino in their hoodies by replacing the V in ‘Vaccinated’ with Valentino’s V and the rest of the letters in the brand’s serif font. Mr Piccioli spotted the item on IG and magnanimously bought them to gift his friends, seeing the potential good that could come out of this hoodie. So rather than sue Cloney, as big brands such as Adidas are wont and eager to, he chose to work with them, pairing the couture brand in his charge with another closer to street that stars such as Justin Beiber and wife Hailey already love so that both can benefit from the resultant social-media exposure and old media support.

Lest you think this is just a commercial, opportunistic exercise, the sale of the hoodie, in fact, benefits places where COVID-19 vaccines have yet made significant impact. “All net profits,” Valentino reveals, “will be donated to UNICEF in favor of the COVAX facility, which ensures equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines by supplying doses to countries in need.” Doing so is also “to highlight the values the Maison stands for”, we are also told. We are not sure how many pieces are allotted to our island, but as of now, they are still available. Those who are keen on a charitable purchase and be in the company of others who share Valentino’s mission, best be quick. They are sold out in Europe.

The Valentino ‘Vaccinated’ hoodie is available on the brand’s website for SGD 1,1901. Photos: Valentino

Naiise To Be Back?

The multi-brand retailer returns. Will the baggage of a troubled past weigh them down?

Designer names used to be enduring. These days, retail brands are the ones that don’t die. Once born, they can’t be rid of; they can’t self-destruct. One of them here is Robinsons, the other is Naiise. Announced on Instagram last night, Naiise’s comeback is a return to their founding format: an e-store. The big reveal struck at nine this evening, their “witching time of night”, to borrow from Shakespeare (it is unclear why the store is launched three hours to midnight rather than during the day). However, unlike the return of Robinsons, there is no fanfare prior, no media walk-through, no build-up. One post on the brand’s Facebook and Instagram pages each appeared yesterday evening, followed by two more—six hours apart—that announced their sudden re-emergence. The second post stated that followers of their social media were missed. A comment followed: “We know it has been a while, but we are coming back online”. At the time of this writing, it garnered 126 likes.

One of the earliest media outlets to report on Naiise’s re-opening is Vulcan Post, an ardent supporter of the brand, then—and now, as well as its founder Dennis Tay. In an editorial, they wrote that “this comeback is not too surprising as the previously-defunct website had the words ‘opening soon’ emblazoned across”. In their social media announcement, Naiise also stated: “We’re gonna continue our mission in championing local creatives, designers and artisans. Come on a journey with us as we inspire creativity and connect communities!” Despite their cheeriness, the new Naiise is aware that the fallout of the past (just this year, in fact) is not quite forgotten, yet. In the final post before the online opening, they wrote/assured: “The new and improved marketplace platform allows sellers to be paid instantly upon every successful order fulfilment.” However, it is not known if those to whom money was owed were all paid.

If this is the Naiise still associated with Dennis Tay, now largely held in disesteem, perhaps the declaration of prompt payment would be taken with a generous pinch of salt. But the confidence is now expressed by a new company. By Naiise’s own reveal hours earlier, seemingly written by a legal advisor, “the WestStar Group has completed its acquisition of Naiise Pte Ltd’s (the “Company’s”) online marketplace (“Online Marketplace”) as well as its accompanying trademarks and social media accounts”. It also quoted the group’s CEO Ong Lay Ann saying, “in line with its mission of inspiring creativity and connecting communities, Naiise aspires to be at the forefront of aggregating a community that has always appreciated local designs.” Mr Ong is the former CEO of Honestbee, an also-embattled company once self-touted as “Asia’s leading online lifestyle concierge and delivery service” that is now described by the media as “insolvent”. One PR manager cheekily said to us, “from the frying pan into the fire!”

The new Naiise homepage

WestStar Group is an 18-year-old Malaysian company with multifarious business activities, namely automotive, aviation, construction, defence, and engineering, according to their corporate communication material. We are not sure if they have been in the lifestyle retail business before the acquisition of Naiise, but Mr Ong told The Straits Times online that he had been “on the lookout for good quality companies that have potential to scale, and this was one of the companies I was interested in”. He did not say how the dent to Naiise’s reputation—slowly nicked by many years of consignor complaints of tardy payment—would impact the stewardship of the company henceforth. Or how he would “scale” his new charge when the former owner too tried to set the stage to enable and support the growth of Naiise, but failed, dramatically. But in the last social media post before the new Naiise went online, the company did say that “the priority will be to built and improve on the Naiise platform to ensure its long-term sustainability and scalability for a wider creative ecosystem”.

When we spoke to a retail marketing manager about Naiise’s present potential, he said he is “keen to see how they’d reinvent themselves”, adding, “Naiise, as a retail concept, is not really damaged, not in the way the name of the founder is. His name may need rehabilitation, but Naiise, through the eyes of consumers, may not. It is still the store to go to when they want to buy products with distinctly local identity, not necessarily of design brilliance”. It is possible that WestStar sees the investment value in the brand recognition—even in Malaysia, where Naiise’s MY IG page, interestingly, still remains, suggesting that the brand may also be brought back there. Hence its potential “scalability”? Conceptually, Naiise was plugging a hole in the market that, in the early years of the brand’s existence (2013 to 2015), saw few place, if any, similar to the “fancy pasar malam”, as one shopper recalled, that it was.

On Naiise’s social media pages, Mr Ong also said that “the creative ecosystem is fragmented and the reintroduction of Naiise marketplace, will allow both consumers and merchants to connect through a dedicated platform”. The new e-shop (and a refreshed logotype that is now in colour) came online on the dot, . Although it looks quite like its past site, it now lacks a certain buzziness of the former, including the snappy, even if hackneyed, copy that was rather unusual for an SG e-shop. On the new homepage, there is the call to “Meet Your Familiar Brands”. We are not able to ascertain if these 20 are those that were sold on the former Naiise platform, but Dennis Tay’s favourite curry puff cushion by local, food-themed, home-ware brand Nom Nom Plush—purportedly one of the best-selling items in the heydays of Naiise—is conspicuously missing. As in its previous incarnation, the e-store’s merchandise mix is predictably a mish-mash of the kitschy and the retro, with Singaporeana the identifiable USP. Now that Naiise is back, every day can be National Day.

Illustration (top): Just So. Screen grab: naiise.com

Torture To Go Through

Is it reasonable to spend an hour hitting keys on your smartphone repeatedly to score a pair of shoes and not be rewarded?

By Ray Zhang

“OOPS…” went the full-cap message. Is that the best Nike can do? I sat at my desk five minutes to ten, ready to hit my virtual keyboard on my smartphone so as to enter the necessary information to buy myself a pair of LDWaffle x Sacai x Fragment kicks, launched today on Nike’s SNKR site at 10am. At the precise moment, I selected my size, and hit “Add To Bag”. I was then linked to a page where all my purchase details were listed. I filled in my credit card info, and hit purchase. As if I was played by a ghost (which wouldn’t surprise me since this is the seventh lunar month!), I was brought back to the previous page. Not yet discouraged, I repeated this procedure another ten times at least, and finally I got to the page (above) that went “OOPS”! I would spend the next hour going between the page that asked for my shoe size and the one that expressed surprise at its own blunder. In the mean time, my fingers and my mind were begging for mercy. Despite the exercise I give my thumbs daily, this was still too much stress to expect of them.

Is it reasonable to ask anyone to spend an hour on the same page, doing the same thing, hitting the same keys, looking at the same numbers, reading the same “OOPS” message only to come up naught each time, and be filled with deep disappointment at how unpleasant the entire procedure was? When I checked the page at around 1pm, the shoes were “sold out”. It’s inconceivable to me that a company as massive and wealthy as Nike would put their customers through what I went through. And I was not the only one. Another 12 of my friends who tried came away empty-handed and frustrated—and cursing. One of them said to me, “It is wicked that the biggest brand in the world, with all the resources at hand, would do this to their customers.” If indeed one of the basic tenets of good service is never to let your customer wait (let’s not even talk about letting them down), why did Nike put so many of us through the torment? And if we’re more likely to remember a bad customer experience than good, why would Nike not make purchasing their shoes online even slightly more pleasant?

This is not my first time in such a maddening situation. For as long as I have been using the SNKR site to score a pair of shoes—okay, mostly the Nike X Sacai collabs—I would want to scream my lungs out. I knew my chances here would be as slim as the OG Waffle sole, so I entered the Club 21 raffle last week to, well, double my chance. But someone later told me I would also be wasting my time as Club 21 would likely avail whatever stocks they have to their top-spenders, and I am not one of them. Undeterred, I submitted my details for the raffle. Up till ten last night, I did not hear from them. No word this morning either, not a simple “thank you” for participating. However, on Instagram Stories earlier (close to midnight, I believe), they posted a photo of the shoes and the message, “All winners for the Nike X Sacai X Fragment raffle have been contacted via email. Congratulations to all and thank you everyone for joining.” Should I feel better?

Screen shot: nike.com

Gone Quietly

Elaine Heng’s digital-native Ilo the Label is shut, just a year after she started it

Click on the New In tab, and “0 products” is shown

It left as discreetly as it arrived. Ilo the Label—influencer Elaine Heng’s rookie hand at fashion retail—has stopped trading. The eponymous website is now only a landing page, with a still banner offering a “10% off when you purchase Tasha Twist Front Top & Tina Mermaid Midi Skirt as a set!” No Tasha or companion Tina is available. Oddly, a video from her last season—“Citrus Summer: 07.07.2020” remains. We noticed this non-activity at least four months ago at the eponymous website, but we thought it was going through some maintenance or renewal exercise. But it seems that isn’t quite the case. At the end of January, Ilo the Label shared on Facebook what was their “third and final Chinese New Year collection”. Their concluding post on Instagram was a photo of an off-shoulder romper on 7 February. Ms Heng’s last post with the hashtag #lovebyilo was 12 days later. The last of the #happyilogirls to share on IG (also in February) did so to announce that she was selling an Ilo the Label jumpsuit. Since March, we also noticed a rise in viewership on our post of the birth of Ilo the Label, resulting from searches on Ms Heng’s clothing business. Shoppers or the simply-curious could be wondering what happened to the “fashion brand that cares about your feelings”, according to the label’s self-description.

Back in March this year, Elaine Heng (aka Elaine Jasmine or Elaine Ruimin [瑞敏], depending on the stage of the influencer’s digital life; on YouTube she’s also known as Elaineypoop) posted on IG a photograph of herself and a rack of three dresses (followed by four more snaps in that one post, showing her work space being cleared out), with an accompanying farewell message: “Bidding goodbye to my first ever office space.” In the rather lengthy post, she also wrote: “Such a bittersweet feeling because there’s been so much memories and emotions experienced in this humble space.” That spot of humility was in Kallang Place, in the Four Star Building, owned by the people behind Four Star Mattress. (Strangely, she thanked the company that renovated her office when she was closing it!). Spaceportal describes what could be seen from the building as such: “…the stunning view of the Kallang Stadium along Kallang river is spectacular and well appreciated by our tenants, some call it a ‘fireworks view’”.

If Elaine Heng fashioned Ilo the Label after her own cheery personal style, she might not have realised that, some time down the road, the jelak factor would just as happily set in

Launched on 18 March last year after two years of gestation, Ilo the Label was met with less fanfare: no fireworks. Essentially an online brand, the collections were available through their own website shortly before last year’s Circuit Breaker was implemented. They were heavily touted on the brand’s IG pages, as well as on Ms Heng’s own IG account, where she continually posted photos of herself, looking vivacious, in her own label, as well as of her friends wearing the same, such as fellow influencer Melissa Jane Ferosha (何青燕 or He Qingyan). As we understood it, Ms Heng did not design the collections: she had what was described as “a team of designers”. One fashion buyer we spoke to said that the brand did not seem to be “conceived to last. It is really hard to sell very similar things, season after season. How many rompers and jumpsuits do you really need?” If Elaine Heng fashioned Ilo the Label after her own cheery personal style, as it appeared, she might not have considered that, some time down the road, the jelak factor would just as happily set in.

Another victim of the pandemic? It is hard to say. Ilo the Label is available only online—and just that one point of sale. It has no physical store. According to Globaldata figures published last year, Singapore’s online sales were set to hit S$9.5 billion, despite the pandemic. Singstat data showed that by the time we came to last November, we reached “an estimated total retail sales value” of “about $3.6 billion. Of these, online retail sales made up an estimated 14.3%, higher than the 10.5% recorded in October 2020”. It would appear to be relatively encouraging then for those brands who were available online. In that March IG post to announce that she was clearing out of her Kallang Place office, Elaine Heng wrote: “now that the one year (sic) lease has ended, it’s time to move on to a new space & look forward to better things ahead”. That did not sound like Ilo the Label would be totally folded. But just a month later, she posted (also on IG) about “trying to juggle between my new full time job & night grooming course”. Ilo the Label’s bland positioning might have been eternal-blooms-in-solar-radiance but, alas, like many flowers, is monocarpic—bloom, seed, and then die. Quite the contrary to their early upbeat belief that “the flower that follows the sun does so even in cloudy days.”

Screen grab: ilothelabel.com