Can the little red dot stand shoulder to shoulder with the little black dress? A native islander and friends look at fashion (and such) in Singapore, and, occasionally, among her neighbours, and a little further afield
At the Bottega Veneta pop-up store outside ION Orchard, a staffer had a curious way of welcoming shoppers
By Ray Zhang
The Bottega Veneta pop-up outside ION Orchard is a striking, unmissable block made of inflatable ‘masonry’ the colour of quartzite. When I spotted it from Wisma Atria, it was beckoning me unlike anything ever erected in this space, not even the mall’s annual Christmas installations. Opened last week, what could be a kid’s playroom looked serious and whimsical at the same time. At its front, tired pedestrians were lolling on the glassed (maybe it was just reflective?) benches arranged in a deliberately non-linear manner; the sitters belying the serious fashion merchandise that I assumed laid inside. As I approached the blow-up shop, shoppers—perhaps, browsers, or sightseers—emerged, giggling. Was it as fun inside as it appeared on the outside? The lure was more palpable.
I walked passed the opened entrance and a wordless doorman, and was immediately surprised to find the inside to be rather warm. Could it be due to the unbreathable material used (possibly PVC-coated vinyl) in the soft-to-touch structure? Some pieces of menswear were within reach. I looked at a denim jacket and a pair of jeans, hoping they were in the printed leather (they were not) that was so much talked about after it was shown last season. Suddenly a salesgirl in all-black appeared next to me and said, not quite chirpily, “Hi, do you have an account with us?” Account? Was I in a bank? Was this set-up for accounts holders only? I asked the unsmiling Gen-Z lass if I needed an account before I could shop. She said no, and went on to babble about something being able to serve me better if my account with the store was made know to her. When I teasingly said that I had no wish to have my spending monitored, she said defensively, “no, we don’t monitor you.”
I can understand why brands often desire to determine if a shopper is “registered” (another frequently used word) with their store. But need that be established first before even any interest in the merchandise was expressed by the visitor? The girl did not welcome me to the store, had not asked how I was, or if there was anything she could help me with—the standard SA reflexes. Rather, with an iPad (or some smart device) in hand, she was eager to enter my “account” details into the system. When she was not able to ascertain that I was a regular or return customer, she walked away. No apology for the intrusion or the unwelcome question. I was later informed that she was “a part-timer”. But, that occupational detail did not negate the disquieting encounter. Interestingly, I have never had to content against such an imposition in a Bottega Veneta store outside our island. Was it bad to shop anonymously, as I always have?
I continued my exploration of the temporary space that looked as large as a living room. A male staffer finally asked me if I needed assistance or if anything caught my interest. He went on to explain that the pop-up featured mainly new merchandise from the latest season. The truth is that I was so thrown off by that earlier unfriendly encounter that I was not in the mood to browse and absorb. Compounded by the heat, the ten minutes or so I was in the store was as memorable—and bearable—as inside an old MRT train with questionable cooling capability. But perhaps what was more pertinent: how experiential was it in there? It is not unreasonable that in building a distinctly different and separate store, Bottega Veneta had wanted to offer shoppers something not just provisional but unforgettable, an environment that is different, a visit that could be fun. I was not sure I walked away especially delighted by what I saw and heard, and felt.
Who’d guess that a cushion can be turned into a garment?
By Mao Shan Wang
I know Ikea is not the same to everyone. Some people see it as a furniture store, many a place for Swedish meatballs and cheap coffee, even more to let their kids run wild, and a few the spot to nap in full public view. I, however, find Ikea to be quite a fashion store, even if you don’t immediately see it. Yep, they sell T-shirts—occasionally—and bags, not just those popular Frakta carriers that Balenciaga made even more famous. Ikea’s fashion cred is, in my eyes, raised considerably when I recently encountered this cushion named Lånespelare (I’ll be the first to admit I can’t pronounce that!). Much to my delight, this humble-looking cushion can be transformed into what Ikea calls the “onesie”. And, yes, that means you can wear it.
The cushion, at first look, is like any oblong ones in east-west orientation. The more imaginative among us may see it as a makura (the pillow) of an obi. In fact, if you squeeze it, you are not wrong; it does feel like the makura. The Lånespelare is not filled like a conventional cushion. Rather, the 100% cotton shell has a thin polyester layer inside, which makes it feel like Uniqlo’s ultra-light puffer vest. How does it get its cushion-y bulk? Under the hood, if you will, is the garment itself that when folded, gives it the body. When extricated from the simple form, you get a sleeved tunic with funnel neck!
Truth be told I was too shy to try it on. In any case, this is not something I need when the weather here will never call for its use. But, I figure this may really be handy if you are heading for, say, Japan. It’s a practical flight companion—perfect as a pillow (your own is better than what the airline hands out) for lumbar support and when it gets cold, it can be unfolded and used as a blanket. If all you need is a hand warmer, the cushion’s decorative top layer comes with pockets too. When you depart the airport of your destination (Tokyo?), you’ll also have an outer to keep you warm. You don’t need to carry a coat or dig into your luggage to unearth a sweater. Really neat. But I am not sure if it’s easy to fold the whole thing back to its nifty original shape. Maybe it’s best to keep it as a cushion. Afterall, I do like Bumblebee Transformer (in the animated series) as a Volkswagen Beetle.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
The Ikea Lånespelare, $49.90, is available at IKEA stores. Product photos: Ikea. Illustration: Just So
Add a toe box to the Adidas Adilette and voila… the AdiFOM
What more can you do to a pair of classic slides while still keeping the recognisable form, especially a pair that’s such a signature of the brand that even luxury brands want a slice of its success? Adidas has a clever idea for their widely copied Adilette slides. They add a toe box to it. As simple as that. And then you have the new AdiFOM Adilette, a pair of slip-ons that rides on the ongoing popularity of clogs, although Adidas calls them “slides”. Those unused to covered toes may find the AdiFOM strange, but these are rather sleek, in a minimalist way. Just the three stripes on the upper and no other brand symbols, externally. The AdiFOM Adilette should not be confused with the Adilette Clog, on which are the perforation a la Crocs. The latest sibling of the Adilette family, no doubt also a clog, is akin to bedroom slippers—not, we should say—in a bad way. The similar ease of use is unmistakable.
The AdiFOM Adilette slides, according to the brand, “are ready to take you into the metaverse” even if they are made for this world. Apparently, they are good for “exploring virtual reality or just kicking back poolside”. How that works, we won’t be able to explain convincingly. Adidas also adds that these “metaverse-ready” slide are “made with nature”. By that they mean the AdiFOM Adilette is constructed from sugar cane foam, also known by its trade name SweetFoam, touted as “the world’s first green EVA foam”. This is carbon negative bio-based EVA—made from sugarcane, a renewable crop, rather than the traditional petroleum-based material. Adidas states that the slides have a “minimum of 50% natural and renewable materials”. One small step to gain the confidence of environmental activists or those who are keenly aware.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5.
Adidas AdiFOM Adilette, SGD79, is available at some Adidas stores and at Leftfoot, Mandarin Gallery. Product photo: Adidas. Illustration: Just So
For the longest time, flagship stores of luxury brands have been veritable department stores. Just walk into any one of them and you’ll know what we mean. You won’t just find the usual clothes, bags, shoes, and accessories (all of them large enough categories on their own), but other merchandise not connect to what we employ to communicate a bodily fashion statement. There other stuff: cushions and blankets (even a ‘burger box’) at Louis Vuitton, vases and pitchers at Dior, plates and such at Hermes, camping ware at Prada. These brands set up pop stores too to show that homeware, especially during the holiday season, is as easy to sell as ready-to-wear. And now, two brands not usually associated with home interiors are offering, not cute little items such as a table figurine, but chairs and a bench!
Bottega Veneta is known for their artisanal ways with leather. If they were to put out chairs, you’d think they would be in some beautifully tanned hide. But their first chairs for sale are in mostly resin (the composition includes, interestingly, cotton and wood), and they look like coloured wax melted into each other and then hardened. These chairs were part of BV’s spring/summer 2023 show, those that the guests sat on (are some or all, therefore, used?). Named Come Stai? (Italian for “how are you?), they are designed by the Italian artist/architect Gaetano Pesce under the commission of Matthieu Blazy. The chairs are now available at the Bottega Veneta website, with an eye-watering starting price tag of S$9,900.
And then you have Balenciaga offering something to sit on too. Their chair is actually a bench. It is part of the brand‘s Art in Store output, made of deadstock fabrics (essentially remnants), Wood is used too, which likely makes the bench steadier. Up close, it is hard to see it as anything more than a pile of fabric, something a karung guni man with used clothes he can‘t sell might assemble in his free time to better organise his storage space. But this bench is the handiwork of the Dutch designer Tejo Remy, who is also an award-winning creative at Droog Design. The bench is available in three sizes, and different fabrics. The one pictured—‘Large Bench’— is priced at a staggering S$63,600. You can view it at the Paragon store.
Are these pieces of furniture that covetable or are buyers hoping to acquire them as investment pieces since they come in extremely limited pieces (there are reportedly 400 pieces of the BV chairs, which is still a small number). Is there hope that one day these chairs will be as rare and expensive as the almost-mythical Comme des Garçons furniture? Rei Kawakubo designed some chairs too—for her stores in Tokyo and Paris in 1983. They were used as props and were not made to be practicable. Yet, there was sufficient interest in them and limited-edition production ensued. In fact, a furniture store opened in the late ’80s in Place du Marché Saint-Honoré, Paris. It isn’t known how well the pieces faired, but the store eventually closed to make way for the brand’s perfume shop. Some of us do remember the CDG furniture. And that is clearly enough for them to qualify as grail.
At the new OCBC Wisma Atria branch, deposits, withdrawals and such are not quite the main businessof the day
When is a bank not quite a bank? When it’s the OCBC Bank Wisma Atria branch. To be certain, this is still a bank as we know it, with both retail and ‘premier’ banking facilities available, but not one we can immediately take notice. The bank’s financial business is tucked discreetly away, and what would usually be the main banking hall is conspicuously occupied by a bookshop, and rather stunningly too: curvilinear, ceiling-to-floor, pale wood shelving units that afford exceptionally generous browsing space between. This is a delightful surprise, like finding renowned sculptures in the CBD, only here you can spend more time or browse, and in welcomed air-conditioned comfort.
When we came up to the top-most floor of the Wisma Atria shopping centre (popularly referred to as Wisma) via the escalator from the lower levels of this side of the thirty-six-year-old building, the first thing that caught our eye was the light box on the ceiling, with the OCBC logo of a roundel in which a Chinese junk (as it appears to us) is framed. We have not been to this part of Wisma Atria for a long while, and the first thought was that OCBC bank has taken over the one-floor level-four space vacated by a gathering of Japanese food shops, known as Japan Food Town (it closed abruptly in 2020, a month before COVID-19 was declared a pandemic). But as we emerged and looked around us at the invitingly-lit space, we wondered where the bank was hidden.
This end of Wisma Atria, the space across five floors is—in an unusual arrangement—owned by Isetan (as far as we’re aware, it still is. Seventy four percent of the whole building belongs to SGReit). In 2015, the Japanese department store (in Japan, they merged with Mitsukoshi in 2008), stopped operating their retail business at the very spot that, since the opening of Wisma Atria, is very much associated with them, much to the surprise of regular shoppers. The five levels were converted to leasable space, but had been, on a whole, weak in terms of retail concept. While Japan Food Town was a draw for the 16 eateries it brought together, it was not an experiential offering. On other floors, assorted retailers (including pop-ups, such as Workshop Elements) came and went. The only constant is the Sony store. Last August, Isetan looked for investors to purchase the space, but found none. After Japan Food Town shuttered, the fourth floor was hoarded up, until 15 August, when this fascinating OCBC branch started with what staffers described as a “soft opening”. Are things looking up at this almost-forgotten corner of “A Great Street”?
OCBC wanted something more than a banking hall for their newest Orchard Road branch. According to one of the bank’s newly-created “lifestyle ambassadors” Sherman Sim, “the new concept” is to “integrate lifestyle products with those offered by the bank”. In fact, unlike at most banks, the first person on staff to approach us did not ask what they could do for us. Rather, an OCBC’s ebullient lifestyle ambassador enthusiastically introduced the entire space, “adding if you need banking service, we do have that too” (coincidentally, we had an inquiry about an OCBC card that was to be discontinued, and the information was forthcoming). When we met Mr Sim later, he even offered to show us around and explain each corner to us. When we told him that we were off to a lunch appointment, he said cheerfully, “if you come again and have more time, look for me, I’ll guide you around”. We had to remind ourselves we were in a bank.
The approximately 1,860m² mixed-retail space comes with a straightforward name: OCBC Wisma Atria branch. Prominent and probably the bank’s pride is the bookshop, operated by the Malaysian online discount retailer BookXcess (they’re also behind our favourite discounter Big Bad Wolf Books), takes up a considerable section (in area known as the Spiral), and is so stylishly appointed that it is easy to not notice those installations principal to banks—ATM machines. Mr Sim helpfully, and truthfully, told us that if we were to compare the books here with those in Kinokuniya, “Kino has newer books” and quickly added “we have more than 5,000 titles, we think people can find something they like. It’s just that if you want the latest release, we may not have them.” Despite his humble introduction, we did see some fashion tomes (usually not a popular category in book stores here) that beckons a return visit.
The bookshop is just one of the retail offerings within the bank. Incorporated, too, is what could be a home decor/gift shop, featuring table ware and decorative items, including those by such specialist manufacturers as Japan’s Kanazawa-based Hakuichi gold-leaf handicrafts. There are also items by indie retail darlings Scene Shang and Crane Living. For those who prefer a cup of java over printed matter, there is a hipster-ish café by Orange Mocha. In sum, this is probably a bank you’ll visit despite the many recent complains of the pains of visiting one. Visually, it brought to our mind bookstores Tsutaya and Muji Books in Japan and Eslite (誠品) in Taiwan, although on a far smaller scale. While a café fronting a bank is not new (DBS and UOB have tried it too, with indeterminate success), a space where banking seems secondary is.
It is not immediately understood how this retail-cum-banking model works. In many banks, retail banking appears to be waning in its business appeal, so much so that the strategy seems to be to turn customers off, to the extent that they would then minimise visits to the branch. OCBC has shown that it is possible for retail banking to be a pleasant, even enjoyable experience, complete with truly affable frontline staff. When we asked Mr Sim if the handsome fit-out is borne by OCBC or if the retail participants are operating on a sub-lease basis, he was not able to say, suggesting we speak to the person in-charged. The branch is clearly purpose-built, and this, on many fronts, is a bold move by OCBC. It is unlikely that the nearly ninety-year-old bank is diversifying into the brick-and-mortar retailing of consumer products, but what they have conceived easily puts them as a progressive against other banks. Just as UOB, for example, goes retro with its public image, OCBC is looking rather forward.
H&M’s girlish sibling is finally open. Could this be the closest we’ll get to Cottagecore?
The first & Other Stories in our city
The storefront two weeks earlier, at its opening
Back in April, after seeing the hoarding of the & Other Stories store in ION Orchard, we were told by the helpful staff at COS next door that their sister brand and new neighbour would open in the last quarter of the year. As it turns out, & Other Stories welcomed shoppers on the 19th of last month, considerably sooner that expected. As with any new opening (or for that matter, closing down!), the store drew a large, rummaging crowd, like pigeons at feeding time, in the first weekend of its rather quiet debut. To avoid the crush, we paid the store a visit two weeks later, and on a week day. And it was a pleasant roll in the barn for us. The imagery of the country building is deliberate. This is probably the closest to Cottagecore—an aesthetic trend that emerged around 2017—we’ll get here in a retail concept.
To be sure, it is not all-out rural charm. But on the day we did not enter the store—just after it opened, the entrance was flanked by a profusion of flowers in jars and plants in pots, and a kiosk-on-wheels that would not be out of place in a Tenille Townes music video. When we were there last week to shop, the country props fronting the entrance were removed, but the hint at Western agricultural life is still evident. From the farmhouse chair and wooden screen in the window to the coated iron racks and display tables with timber trestles, the vast interior is far more bucolic than the stores of its sibling brands, H&M and COS, have ever been, or desire to be. Atmospherically enhanced, this could be & Other Stories’ selling point: There is the very real possibility that you’d linger.
It is likely that the store’s visual merchandising is a strategic approach to capture the attention of shoppers increasingly accustomed to the near uniformity and predictability of e-shopping. Physical stores (H&M brands are primarily a brick-and-mortar business) have to try harder than their online counterparts. Although there is something old-fashioned about the in-store look of & Other Stories, the layout avoids lines of racks after racks of clothes, with pockets of space that are islands of accessories and others in what would otherwise be a lake of garments. This may bode well for the store’s ability to entice and engage those who do not consider shopping as a grab-and-go moment. Sure, there are many who do not consider physical stores to hold real value, but it is possible that more might not be underwhelmed by the physical sum & Other Stories.
The not-modernist lines of the store make for a space that is less cold, less uninviting than other similarly not-atas brands. The entrance is lined with plants on both sides, hinting at a warm, even cosy, interior ahead. Clothes are worn on tailor dummies, augmenting the interior’s subtly old-fashioned vibe, circumscribed by pale, near-white walls. These are not left bare, but appended with photo collages and what look corkboards (or the rear of framed canvas panels?) on which clothing hang, or more photographs are attached. We sensed that there is an attempt at recreating a schoolgirl’s room, with its natural disorderliness, but no clutter. Plants, placed on the tiled or wood-panelled floor, or on wooden stools, as well as dried variety on tables—continue to appear throughout the space, ensuring its calculated homeliness.
Although a single-brand store, the irregular-shaped space is separated into zones of various sizes. It is not immediately discernible if in each there are different fashion categories (excluding accessories, footwear, and bric-a-brac), but there are pockets in which discoveries could be made. This could, of course, be due to the novelty of a first visit. The clothes are, consistent with the Cottagecore sensibility, largely print-driven—flowers the mainstay. If the florals are insufficiently feminine, there are dresses with frills and flounces, and “flutter sleeves”. For most international brands, this is the season of the first drop for fall, but at & Other Stories, the collections seem to reflect a far warmer season, which could make a more sensible product launch for their debut here.
At the rear, the space is akin to a boutique—“more atmospheric”, as one SOTD follower said to us, which could be reference to the seemingly warmer lighting here, as well as the pale wood floor. Impressive is the width of the aisles, with the racks and shelves assigned to the perimeter, providing adequate room for a group of girlfriends to amuse themselves without creating too much traffic obstruction (regrettably, there is no space for bored boyfriends or spouses to wait, or even a stool on which to lay a heavy backpack). The clothes here seem dressier, even party-worthy. Plunging neckline, the halter neck, and the one shoulder provide the sexiness that frills and the like may not. It is also here that the fitting rooms (unusually not hidden) are situated. Each is a wood-framed unit with curtains for doors. And there is sufficient foreground for queues when they are necessary, or for those offering their opinion to observe comfortably. As we turned to walk away, we heard a young voice behind us exclaim approvingly, “yes!”
& Other Stories is at Level 3, ION Orchard. Photos: Chin Boh Kay
“Pragmatic garments acquire new importance and value”, Prada says on its website in reference to their “typically masculine tank top”. That Prada would give seriousness and status to clothing this practical is understandable. But what about value? Are they referring to merit or material worth? First shown in the autumn/winter 2022 show in Milan back in February, the sleeveless top is now available in stores here for the startling price of S$1,480. Under the same roof, a “wallet with shoulder strap” in the house’s recognisable Saffiano leather and with gold hardware is noticeably cheaper—S$1,070. And you thought the similar Marine Serre version (in organic cotton though), with her crescent moon logo in the middle, expensive at S$200 a pop. How does a mere singlet, as we tend to call such garment (Prada prefers the American phrase), that is essentially an undershirt become a four-figure item? Or is the price determined to deter wearers from letting it sit under? Surely it has to be seen?
To be sure, the Prada singlet has a nice hand feel. In baby-ribbed, cotton-knit jersey, it is soft and surprisingly rather thick and does not yield easily to enthusiastic stretching, possibly due to the heavier-gauge yarn used in the fabric, and that it is for the fall season. The neckline—described as “scooped” but is rather squarish—and the surprisingly wide armholes are piped (quite widely) in the same fabric as the body. Although of a “fitted silhouette”, as per Prada, the singlet sits rather loosely on an average-sized woman. In the middle, right below the neckline, a recognisable Prada inverted triangle in enamel catches attention, like a third eye—here, seeing from the cleavage. Without this, the singlet, even if it “embodies the luxury of simplicity”, would not have stood out from its less-worthy ilk, such as those by Hanes or the Japanese brand Gunze.
This singlet, Prada tells us, is “is transformed” from a “typically masculine tank top… with the addition of feminine elements”. While the neckline and possibly the armholes are feminised, the garment is unable to divorce itself from the regular singlet once worn mainly by men. This top, when it emerges as outerwear in the mid-19th century has always been associated with the working class or, in Australia, where the name ‘singlet’ derives, shearers, miners, and farmers. It is a simple garment, made of durable, inexpensive rib cotton knit that is appreciated for its comfort and shape retention (the neck and the armholes are usually reinforced for added durability, as it is with the Prada). It is not associated with high-end fashion, but so are T-shirts. Nothing is too low-brow for luxury fashion when brands desire to offer everything one may need to fill one’s wardrobe.
This is not Prada‘s first singlet, of course. One iteration in the past that we recall has far less discreet branding on the chest (emblazoned with logo and crest). We cannot remember how much that cost, but it is unlikely above S$1,000. A Calvin Klein tank top under its Calvin Klein Jeans imprint, averages S$79 a piece, and that is still premium pricing. One Hong Kong-based sourcing agent told us that such tank tops “typically cost US$1 to 2” to produce if Chinese cotton is not used (they are now cheaper as most international brands are avoiding them—“nobody wants China cotton now”). Fabrics make up the largest component of the cost of the garment, and the fibre of the fabric usually the largest of that cost. Cotton fibres outside China preferred these days come from Peru and Barbados, to name two places. We do not, of course, know where Prada’s cotton for their singlet comes from, but, in all likelihood, it’s not a fabric so astronomically priced that they could justify the four-figure price the brand is asking for.
Garment pricing is, of course, somewhat complex and includes factors beyond manufacturing and the quantity produced. The one item on the singlet that is probably its selling point rather than the “pragmatic garment” itself—and a symbol of perceived value—is the triangular Prada plaque. As one marketing head told us, “the Prada brand value and their logos sit in the stratosphere. And they are worth more than the ribbed cotton singlet, which is just a vehicle to push the brand. You have to pay to wear that triangle, and not an insignificant amount. Somehow they have worked the ‘COE’ into the price of the garment.” The Prada triangle first mostly appeared on bags and accessories. It started to find its place on garments in a significant manner, sometimes just a mere triangle in fabric and sans text, after Raf Simons joined the company as co-designer in 2020. The plaque is appealing all over again, even on gloves.
But as with everything else in fashion, including ugliness, expensive is being redefined. That a singlet could cost this much is not due to the design and the sensuality that the brand has infused into its garments and one that has been described as cerebral, but a single hardware no taller than the length of an adult thumb. Prada is aware of the humble history of the singlet. That’s why they need to elevate it and team it with relatively fancy, not minimalist, skirts, as seen on the runway, in the current lookbook, and on store mannequins, not with just a pair of jeans—that would be too pedestrian. And to further augment its value, that small regular shape with three angles, a vestige of luxury that will cost the proverbial pretty penny. That way, you could single the singlet out.
Another streetwear brand banking on a family name. This is, however, not by that Wang
Team Wang Pop-Up store at The Shopping Gallery, Voco
It is probably the buzziest store opening since the start of the pandemic. Team Wang Design, a rising star in the firmament of “luxury street wear” opened yesterday evening to intensely enthusiastic response. If you are unfamiliar with the newish label, it is understandable that you’d think that Team Wang is linked to the designer Alexander Wang. But it is not. The label is, in fact, the brainchild of popstar Jackson Wang (王嘉尔). He has, as fans are well aware, added fashion designer to his resume. But if Team Wang sounds familiar, it is because Alexander Wang (王大仁) had used it too, and the phrase was employed for his collaboration with H&M in 2014. But Alexander Wang’s “team” of musicians, muses, and models who were associated with him were often referred to by the press as his “squad”. Team Wang is thus dissimilar as it is not about a clique (or, worse, hangers-on). Rather, it was initially set up to manage Mr Wang’s growing commitments in China and then to include a record label and now fashion design too. And Mr Wang seems to acknowledge that the brand’s creative output is a collective one.
And the clothes have found their way here through the auspices of Club 21 who has set up the eponymous pop-up—dubbed Mudance—not only on our shores, but in Chengdu and Bangkok, concurrently. As early or late (it really depends) as eleven yesterday morning, The Shopping Gallery at the former Hilton Hotel, now Voco Orchard, was busy, not with shoppers, but with construction crew setting up the opening of Team Wang Design (the shop was still merchandise-free) and, unsurprisingly, numerous female fans reserving a spot to catch their idol (this was an invitation-only event). Two hours before the party was due to start, there was a dispiriting crowd, restrained by mills barriers just to the left of the main door to the lobby of the hotel. The side entrance to The Shopping Gallery was shut too. The girls were visibly excited, presumably expecting the star they had been waiting for to arrive by car and alight at that very spot. This was happening as it rained. If the reception the fans gave Mr Wang at Changi airport yesterday was any indication, this really was not surprising.
Outside Voco Hotel, fervid fans waiting patiently despite the rain
But unexpected was the wait that invited guests had to endure. The invitation to the event stated 6.30pm—presumably the time it would the start. Jackson Wang had arrived some fifteen minutes earlier to a screaming welcome. He was escorted to a room in the hotel, where he went to “freshen up”, as the chatter at the lobby of the hotel went. Guests were held around the escalator to the second floor, where the proceedings would unfold. An hour had past, but most of the attendees were still waiting in the increasingly unbearable heat. Nathan Hartono in a salmon-coloured, sweat-soaked tee, would later share on Instagram a snap of him and Mr Wang, with the comment, “…I am clearly sTrUgGliN 🥵🥵🥵”. But still-waiting Fiona Xie, togged in Team Wang Design, appeared to be getting impatient. Jean Yip, the beauty mogul, and her family were seen heading for the exit, telling someone, “we’re leaving. Bye.” Those with more clout could make a phone call while aggressively pushing their way through the crowd and be ushered up the escalator, immediately. Word started to go around to explain the delay: Mr Wang had accepted a media interview. Ms Universe 2016 Cheryl Chou, chatting with someone, was cheerily indifferent to the crowd’s waning patience.
Sixty five minutes later, the escalator was ready to transport the guests one floor up. Wrist bands issued earlier had to be shown for entry. At the top of the escalator, a large crowd had already formed. A fellow escalator rider was heard wondering angrily: “We were waiting for so long, but actually so many people already here?!” Inside, the pop-up, Mediacorp stars and influencers had first dib of the offerings, including the man of the hour himself. Dressed simply in a black T-shirt (with sleeves folded up) and black pants (not jeans), he was obliging everyone who approached him with selfies and polite chatter, but remained inscrutable behind vaguely cat-eyed shades, which he kept on all night. When he left the store to address the crowd outside, grown women near the door were hyperventilating: “Oh my god! Oh my god! Oh my god!” The people who should be there—the screaming fans—were not. They continued to wait in collective high for their idol to exit the hotel. Somewhere above them, he was dancing enjoyably, fenced by more-delighted, also-bopping lasses.
Jackson Wang addressing the crowd outside the Team Wang Designpop-up at Voco
Jackson Wang was born in Hong Kong before he moved to Seoul to be part of the group Got7, a name that would work very well on our island. As fans know by now, Mr Wang was spotted while playing basketball in school by JYP Entertainment (Stray Kids!) agents who managed to persuade the school goer to join an audition for the company’s global search for talents. Among 2,000 participants, he came up top. Although around this time he was offered a Standford University scholarship for fencing (he was very much a sportsman, following the footsteps of his fencer father and gymnast mother), he turned it down. Instead he answered the calling to do music. He accepted the JYPE offer and moved to Seoul in 2011. Ater two years of notoriously tough K-pop training, including a made-for-television competition which pitched trainees of JYPE against YG Entertainment (Blackpink!), Mr Wang was made member of Got7, debuting with the single Girls Girls Girls in 2014. The rest is, as is often the case with K-popstars, has been the unstoppable rise of Jackson Wang.
Last year, it was widely reported that Got7, JYP Entertainment’s “most successful boy group”, has “terminated” their contract with the company. This came amid fan dismay that JYPE had allegedly not done enough for their boy groups, with Got7 singled out (their career had curiously been dominated by EPs rather than full-length albums, for example), leading to the thread on Reddit, ”JYP STOP SABOTAGING GOT7”. Fans were distraught that their fave septet would be no more. But, The Korea Times clarified in an editorial just three months ago that without JYPE, “this was not the end of GOT7―instead, it was a new beginning”; the group released a self-tiled EP. Even when recording new material with his band mates, Jackson Wang was forging ahead with his own carrier, concentrating on his homeland market, China. He founded Team Wang in 2017 as, first, a record label. The 28-year-old is considered to be quadrilingual—“fluent”, many say, in English, Cantonese, Mandarin, and Korean, so the plan was to establish him as an international star. His first single under Team Wang was 2019’s all-English Papillon. A year later, he released a duet with soon-to-begin-his-world-tour JJ Lin (林俊杰), the R&B-ish Should’ve Let Go.
The one print of the collection—tiger tails hidden in the profusion of peonies—that seems to draw shoppers
Team Wang Design was birthed in pandemic-high 2020, reportedly after three years of gestation. HBX, the e-store of the streetwear news site Hypebeast, describes the label, which it carries: “Wang’s vision is to align his brand with his wardrobe”. But the rapper-turned-designer is known to be partial to Fendi (although he has been associated with Armani and Adidas). He is, according to Vogue, “a Fendi muse”, and so enamoured he is with the Roman label that he even rapped about it in the track Fendiman from 2018, and urged his listeners with the plea, “call me Fendiman“. That possibly lead him to sign, a year later, with the brand as their China ambassador. Although his own label was not released until two years, he did rap in the same song, “Team Wang, label what I made”, preempting that the clothes would be on par with Fendi’s. The first collection and the core line that reflects the brand’s DNA, Cookies—The Original, comprises what are almost synonymous with streetwear: T-shirts, hoodies, blousons, trackpants, and hoodies, and all in black. The images for the launch are admittedly arresting, and are evocative of brands with European roots.
Team Wang Design, in many ways, treads the path already paved and trodden by HK-star-conceived brands such as Edison Chen’s Clot or Shawn Yu’s Madness. Celebrity multi-hyphenates are really crowding the pop/design sphere, and it would take more than references to Chinese culture, motifs and whatnot (a direction also adopted by Clot), to stand apart from the rest, or the West. The latest collection of Team Wang Design is part of another line called Sparkles. Like Cookies, the pieces would be considered staples that Mr Wang’s fans would not find challenging to accept. The brand says on their website that “pastel pink, flowers, and this season’s iconic floral design” are for “creating the perfect midsummer party”. Mudance, a play on the name of the Chinese flower mudan (牡丹花) or peony, is about enjoying oneself; is about play. Mr Wang told Vogue Thailand last month, when he was in Bangkok to shore up support for the Bangkok leg of the pop-up, “It’s summertime and summer is fun, and it’s crazy. Everybody jump (sic), and everybody needs to dance. So that’s why this collection we call it Mudance.” If the word would not excite lexicographers, the print may move graphic designers. He explained further: “It is a mixture of, of course, the mudan flower and the year of the tiger.”
The queue outside the Team Wang Design pop-up this morning
This morning, along the sidewalk between Voco Hotel and Wheelock Place, many youngsters were carrying the familiar Club 21 paper bag. Emerging from the side entrance of the renamed hotel, two teenaged girls in oversized tees and invisible shorts were each with the same carrier. We asked them if they had just visited the Team Wang Design pop-up. They froze with shyness. We told them we just wanted to know if it was any good. “Yes,” they chorused and giggled. “We came last night, but they won’t let us in. No invitation. So we try again today, lah.” Was it packed? “There is a queue,” they replied in unison, again. “The store opens at 10.30, but we were here at nine.” Your bags are full. Did you buy a lot? “Yah,” and they moved off with a gurgle of giggles
The pop-up is in an actual shop lot. Outside, two gold, metal trees (palms?) rose out of an irregular sand pit, set on a plywood floor in the colour of, well, peony. (The sand suggested the seaside and, therefore, beach wear. According to Mr Wang, it “is something I’ve always wanted to do; I’ve always wanted to do a beach pants [sic] for guys and then, a bikini for girls”.) Inside, the massive space, with just two racks of clothes, looked like it was half-dipped in pink cream. The light emerging from it cast a pale patina the shade of strawberry milkshake over the beach set-up. A queue that continued to lengthen had formed on the perimeter of the sand pit. There were mainly girls in the line. One of them was heard exclaiming, “I love this pink”, concurring with Jackson Wang, who said in the Vogue Thailand interview, “I chose pink because—honestly, personally—I’m a big fan of pink… And I just wanted to do it… I’ve always had a feeling for pink.”
Team Wang Design pop-up store is at Voco Orchard until 31 August 2022. Photos: Chin Boh Kay
A collaboration of colours and prints that Uniqlo would not normally put out on their own
It is possibly Uniqlo’s most anticipated collab since the return of +J two years ago. Marni—known for their charmingly naïve prints, off-beat colours, and the unexpected pairing of either of the two—had applied their sense of the peculiar and the playful to Uniqlo’s staples, such as their packable parkas, utility jackets, and open-collar shirts. The result is a happy hippie-fication with 21st-century hands that few other fast fashion labels, if any, would produce, and with such commendable quality. While +J was minimalism that was almost severe (not at all a negative), Marni X Uniqlo is quite the opposite: they are amirthful mash-up of the spontaneous, sportif, and spirited.
We had expected the turn out at today’s launch of the collab to be big, but when we arrived slightly past noon at the Orchard Central flagship, there was no line to be seen or empty spaces between stanchions and ropes (these, too, were missing). We could go in as we pleased. Some pieces for both men and women were displayed at the entrance. Those familiar with the launches of Uniqlo’s special partnerships, walked straight to level two, where at the space next to the escalator landing on the right, the output of hyped pairings is usually sited. A young couple was drawn to the T-shirts placed on the circular display unit at the entrance. The guy picked up a red/white striped T-shirt with bolder contrasting red/khaki lines at the back. His female companion slapped it back to the pile, telling the puzzled fellow, “it’s too gay.”
At the dedicated space upstairs, the crowd made comfortable shopping a tad difficult. The enthusiasm was palpable as shoppers picked the items by the basketful or discarded the unwanted anywhere the clothes can be stuffed or dumped (and you thought Marni appreciators are better shoppers). Some items were sold out, we were told: the floral wide-fit pants visibly so (in both colours, and online too). Popular sizes of items such as the shorts were also gone. Uniqlo has, this time, made some of the pieces of the collab available in outlets other than the big stores (where the full collection is sold). It’s possible that what was no more at Orchard Central could be in abundance elsewhere (such as 51@AMK?). Unsurprisingly, the least popular item, we gathered, was the oversized ‘half coat’. Other than being a Blocktech item (read: heat trap), it was oddly available as a woman’s item, when it could easily be unisex, as the shirts and tees were.
While the collection was, at first glance, agreeable, closer inspection revealed some technical choices that Marni made that, to us, were not what might be considered commensurable to popular taste. The T-shirts came with oddly wide crew necks (and a little too skinny) that, when exposed to the tumble drying of the washing machine, may widen further. Shorts, although elasticised (and came with draw cords) at the waist had no belt loops (but the longs got them). The women’s open-collar and long-sleeved shirts came in a rather heavy 100% polyester while the men’s are in 100% cotton (which are, of course, available to women too, in sizes up to XS).
However, what to us were less-than-ideal choices may not be so for other shoppers. The opposite is true too: We thought the flattering balloon-shaped skirt with its clever patterning to keep the volume was really swell, but many women we saw who picked it up would return them to the rack just as quickly. One of them told her companion, “too heavy” and the other added, “too dressy.” Not far, a mother, accompanied by her teenaged daughter, picked up an oversized shirt with all-over flowers. “Cantik (beautiful)?” The older woman was seeking approval. “Too big, mom. You can hide two chickens in it.”
Marni X Uniqlo is now available at Uniqlo stores and online. There is a limit on purchases. According to Uniqlo, only “1 quantity per item per person” is allowed. Photos: Chin Boh Kay
It is Pride month, so, like last year, Balenciaga is offering a capsule to entice members of the LGBTQIA community and their friends. However, if you are hoping to score a pink balaclava, you would be disappointed. The follow-up to 2021’s “Gay” is “Anybody Is Queer”, a proclamation that is as vague as it could be provocative. The clothes are typically Balenciaga-street, and expensive (S$180 for a pair of socks!), with your fair share of tees (oversized), hoodies (baggy), and jeans (a bit ’80s, a bit ’90s) for however you identify yourself—or do not, or whichever event you will be attending: March or picnic. And being Balenciaga, whose designer Demna Gvasalia is openly gay, these are not necessarily separates that have a particularly queer vibe, if you don’t style them that way.
One denim look (top) will no doubt delight cis-gender, clothes-optional Julia Fox, assuming she would not consider it too modest (just drop the jeans?!). The denim is washed until it’s a hint of uneven baby blue. The trucker jacket is overly-large, with a collar that would fit someone at least three times the wearer’s size. The pair of jeans is mom/dad in shape, and comes with pointy booties attached to the seemingly straight legs. Worn with the white undies, the sum is decidedly anti-fashion fashion, but with a clearly flex—to use a term familiar in the gay community—advantage. You can look either way in such a get-up. Or not look any way at all.
The capsule has been lauded in the media as one that is right for this pride season. It is not immediately clear how exactly this will bridge the sexuality divide still pervasive in our society, near and far. It could be said that the clothes do not overtly pander to sartorial stereotypes of the LGBTQIA community (except maybe the fitted and cropped tank top [above]), but it may not negate the belief, misguided or not, that queer folks place a premium on image, as well as indiscriminately adopting trends. One of the things Mr Gvasalia (or his team) did to play down the gender binary is to re-imagine one of the most common gender symbols—those that are mostly found on signages denoting or pointing to public toilets used separately by primarily the two sexes. Balenciaga’s redraw shows a couple of indeterminate gender holding hands, each looking like a conflation of the two figures we are familiar with: one bifurcated from the waist down, the other skirted.
For the launch, Balenciaga has deleted the past post of its Instagram account, leaving only seven images from the Anybody is Queer campaign, lensed by Patrick Weldé, the French stylist-cum-photographer, a creative synthesis that is rather uncommon in fashion. Kudos to the casting, some queer activists told us: there is no type. Anyone can be queer. Everyone can be someone’s 菜 (cai) or dish. There is no singular way to be gay: The models look like they could have come from any neighbourhood, even if they are better dressed than the boy or girl, or boy/girl next door you know. Fashion can be this gender-blind, sexuality-immaterial. Happy Pride Month.
Anybody is Queer, or the Pride 22 capsule, is available at Balenciaga and online. Photo: Balenciagaand demnagram/Instagram
Design Orchard is “re-launched” after it closed last month for renovation. Is the store “elevated”, as they promised. Is it rejuvenated? Is it, finally, sensational, almost two years after TaFF took over its operations?
The day after its re-opening on 20 May, Design Orchard was considerably quiet. Two or three courting couples were browsing, but no purchase was made, as it appeared to us during our reasonably long visit. Two Caucasian women were happily looking at what could be resort wear. One had wanted to try something, but it seemed the dress she picked was not available in her size. They, too, left—without buying anything. A day earlier, the Textile and Fashion Federation (TaFF)-operated Design Orchard opened to brand owners and friends of the store after a month of “transforming to a fresh new look”. It was a roaringly festive affair, with lion dancers in red and white 狮子 (shizi) costumes prancing their way through the re-configured space—most obvious, the runway display that directly faced the entrance was now removed. It was rather surprising that, for a retailer that had proudly touted its offering of top local fashion, the re-opening welcomes shoppers with a Wellness Festival, which, according to them, was staged in conjunction with the inaugural Wellness Festival Singapore, “an initiative by Singapore Tourism Board (STB)”, the statutory board that “owns” the Design Orchard project, which is jointly supported by two other government agencies, Enterprise Singapore (ESG) and Jurong Town Corporation (JTC).
Two and half weeks after that rousing re-opening, a by-invite-only “official relaunch” party was organised last night to introduce Design Orchard’s stable of brands, some new, some not, as well as “a lot of enhancements” given to the three-year-old, 9,000-square-foot store (touted as a “retail showcase”), according to TaFF CEO Semun Ho. Contrary to what the invitation tantalised, a runway-less fashion show—forty minutes late—took place on the central aisle of the made-over space. About thirty designers and labels participated in the presentation, all with varying degrees of calibre, originality, relevance, attention to finish, and design savvy. The show may have been in a refreshed space, but the clothes seemed the “same-old, same-old”, as a few attendees shared, disappointed by the staleness. One industry veteran said to us, “The renovation, at most, was superficial. More important—which wasn’t done enough—was that they should have used this opportunity to completely overhaul their labels”.
Designer Carol Chen (right) with two models in her “couture” gowns
The “highlight” of the show, someone was heard saying, was TaFF’s star designer Carol Chen, with her newly established “Couture” label. She sent out two of the ten looks that were presented in Paris three months ago, during—but not part of—Paris Fashion Week. The first was a green, long-sleeved, belted, polyester-mesh column. On the bodice was an embroidered encrustation that appeared to have been something molten, flowed from the right shoulder to cover the breasts, and then solidified. That was followed by her finale gown (also the last to appear in Paris), an atrocity of pleated polyester organza, bunched at the shoulder to create a towering protrusion on each side, with the left that refused to stay upright. The tented skirt was an amusing disarray of swirls that one attendee described as “an explosion”. Someone followed with, “Where did she get her fabrics from? Arab Street?” Before the show commenced, chatter emerged between the clinks of champagne flutes that, initially, only one of Ms Chen’s gown was picked for the show. Dismayed, she allegedly went straight to the top to know why a mere gown was selected and why she was not closing the show (the organiser had, apparently wanted her to open). She had her way.
It has been said that we were harsh on Carol Chen Couture’s Paris debut. It was the label’s first time showing in the city, we were duly reminded. A baby first step. Re-reading the post now, we realised we should have said more. We wanted Ms Chen’s show in the French capital to be good, to do our nation proud, to justify her lofty standing in TaFF. But, at the same time, we did not want to lie. When we listen to a vocal performance, for example, we want to be drawn into the singing, without being too concerned with the technical failings (there shouldn’t be any). Whether from fry to falsetto (assuming a he is behind the mike), the marvelous octave leaps, we want to be able to sail into the story telling. Similarly, when we read, say, Jane Austen (a name that just came to us), we want to be absorbed into her narrative. There is a discernible intelligence in her work that we, the readers, feel, and this can be attributed to, among many things, the unmistakable skill of her writing. Perusing her novels, we do not need to be disturbed and distracted by problems of syntax or construct. We cannot, regrettably, say the same of Ms Chen when we acquainted ourselves with her designs: the lack of technical finesse was as confounding as the crude white running stitch she used in one pink couture confection to hold part of a bodice to the inner garment. “An artist’s principal task,” wrote Truman Capote in A Voice from the Cloud, “(is to) tame and shape the raw creative vision.”
The in-store fashion show to mark the “re-launch” of Design Orchard
To be sure, Ms Chen, basking in her post-Paris pride (in the presence of her “mentor”, Vogue Singapore publisher Bettina von Schlippe and her ardent supporter, fellow American Paige Parker; both were dressed by Ms Chen), should not have to bear the brunt of essentially an inflated show to evince what Design Orchard lacks: Design. Carol Chen Couture was not the only label that set the conversation going about the paucity of imaginative, high-calibre, laudable, well-executed designs in this city-state. Much of what was presented in the show was saved by clever styling—it rescued the presentation from tanking into complete blah. As it’s usually said in the image-making business, “styling to hide”. What, indeed, was the styling concealing? If you broke down the looks, there was really nothing much to see—the proverbial all show but no substance. Even veteran designer Thomas Wee’s relaxed elegance was lost in the convivial busyness. No woman—or man—should need to go to such lengths to look fashionable because there was no fashion to begin with. Spirited can be meaningless, just as jovial can be mere façade. We have to admit that we expected too much, thinking, this time, we could see design, but if design manifested, it was thin and, mostly, unfelt.
And what was Design Orchard projecting? It was hard to tell from the show clothes. Was it streetwear? Resort wear? Or, sartorial rojak? What struck us was the odd plethora of ethnic styles. It seemed like we were watching a show that was part Night Bazaar of Chiangmai, part Love Anchor of Canggu, Bali. Two weeks earlier, we did notice in the store that there was an increase in clothes made of folk fabrics, such as batik, ikat, and the tie-dyed. These were in addition to the already-plentiful resort-wear-seeming clothes (including one “luxury resort fashion brand”) that have taken a firm grip in the merchandising of the store. When we asked around with the hope of finding the answer to why the prominence of these clothes, a repeated reply was, “ask Tina”. When TaFF took over the running of Design Orchard from the ill-fated Naiise in 2020, one of the first hires was Tina Tan, the fashion doyenne behind the Link Group, and the sole owner of the multi-label store Link Boutique, the fashion label Alldressedup (precursor to the independent In Good Company), and the home-furnishing/lifestyle shop Living the Link (all three are now defunct), as well as the ad-hoc, travelling showroom Privato. Ms Tan, as we understand it, is the consultant curator, and she has been instrumental in bringing the inchoate mass of brands into the store. According to staffers, there are presently “more than 100 fashion labels, with 30 that are new to Design Orchard”. As TaFF’s Semun Ho concurred, when she spoke to the guests last night: “What can we do without Tina?”
Design Thomas Wee (third from left) with his models
It is not clear if Ms Tan’s strategy is to turn her retail charge into the next Island Shop (once owned by Tangs before it was sold to Decks, the retailer/manufacturer that resurrected M)phosis—one of the eight brands the company now holds), or to bring in as many labels as she could to improve the reportedly weak gross profit of the selling floor. These days in retail, there is scant regard for the relationship between quantity and quality. Earlier, during Naiise’s stewardship and the TaFF years preceding the renovation, Design Orchard had a strong gift-shop vibe. Even their fashion accessories, such as scarves and handbags, would strike a chord with tourists needing obligatory souvenirs to bring home. For a rather lengthy period of time, they sold a staggering range of merchandise that included kitchenware, rempah pastes, teas and such that were connected to fashion only by their proximity to the clothes in the store. They were looking rather like the annual Boutique Fairs (only with better looking interiors and fixtures), with some items so cringe-worthy that we feared someone might start a page Terok SG Souvenirs on Facebook! After the renovation, Design Orchard seems to have scaled down the number of brands that target the mari-memasak market or those individuals decorating to WFH. Yet, for some reason we have not determined, the store is still unable to entirely shake off its souvenir-centric leaning.
In a VisitSingapore video shared online last February, Design Orchard’s general manager Julynn Tay said that the store was conceived to “allow both locals and tourists to come to discover a range of Singaporean talents”. That positioning has not changed, but the target still seems to be tourists. Clearly addressing the shopping needs of foreigners vacationing here is important to the merchandise mix of the store. It is hard not to see this as meeting the expectations laid out for Ms Tay and her bosses by STB, just as it’s reasonable to assume that the tourism board wishes to have a tourist-friendly retail product they could promote overseas—as ESG did, for example, in Shanghai in 2018, with 12 Singaporean brands (that included Love, Bonito and Yacht 21), before the pandemic struck. But, a city must, foremost, be adored by its own people before it could be one loved by tourists. If Design Orchard could first appeal to shoppers here, it is conceivable they’d score even better with overseas visitors. So few of us have adopted batik fashion as a wardrobe staple. Yet, the store stocks a strangely inordinate selection of baju batik. Does it not comport with the suspicion that Design Orchard is aiming for the tourist dollar and those still seeking the exotic far east? In her opening address last night, Ms Ho admitted that “it is difficult” working with government agencies. Is Design Orchard’s barely discernible makeover and unaffected merchandising hinting at a possible strain?
A new men’s corner is introduced at Design Orchard
Much of the refurbished interior of the store appeared unchanged to us. According to Ms Ho, the “redecoration” is meant to be “meaningful” to the brand owners and the customers. In achieving that, they have been “conscious of the sustainability” aspect, “reusing a lot of the fixtures and (the) furniture” If that’s sustainability, that’s naive. A guest was heard saying, “that means they have no budget to really renovate.” It appeared to us that it was largely an exercise in moving things around. To be certain that we were not mistaken, we asked a member of the staff to tell us what was changed. “The cashier is moved to the back,” she gladly told us. Pointing to the left side of the store (along Cairnhill Road), she added, “the fitting room is moved to the back of the cashier.” In addition, we noticed that there’s now a new men’s zone. Apparently, a common refrain among male shoppers was: “We like to support local, but there’s nothing for us here”. To be certain, Design Orchard did have men’s from the beginning (Depression and Q Menswear were early supporters), but their products did not, as we were informed, move. We have said before that the entire store is suitably configured for shopping. In the past, the mixed floor layout may have been a tad messy, but it is now neater and better zoned. Still, the merchandise placement seems rather curious. When you enter the store and turn to the right (as is the common navigational instinct), the first rack on the prime location that you’d encounter in this Orchard Road Singaporean fashion flagship were hung with plain tank tops!
In the end, it is not just the attractiveness of the store that would set Design Orchard forward in their quest to be “where local brands flourish” (note the avoidance of ‘design’ in the phrasing). For anything to thrive, it must advance in an environment conducive to collective and nurturing growth. As a “retail showcase”, Design Orchard has to offer showcase retail too. Even with a celebratory relaunch, there was a disconcerting lack of attention to detail in the visual merchandising, for example. From the opening in late May to yesterday’s bash, many garments have remained unpressed, including one shirt (the whole collection was messy) by Silvia Teh that has remained stubbornly creased from the day it first enjoyed an upfront position in the store. Design Orchard not only has to espouse quality of design, it has to cradle quality of vision—which is still not immediately clear. And, consistency of message. One of the suggestions offered in response to Carol Chen’s admirable standing among TaFFers was that she speaks with an (American) accent—one thought to be delectable, admirable, even superior. If so, the presence of a brand such as wetteeshirt (of the Prata Kosing and Don’t Say Bojio fame) would appear at odds with Ms Chen’s atas vibe. Or, is that considered, inclusive, and vice versa? TaFF has been indomitable, a trouper, but did they do better than their predecessor, Naiise? It did appear so. Were we then in commendable, first-rate design territory? Not quite the day yet.
The latest luxury brand and sportswear collab is strictly for die-hards
By Lester Fang
It’s groovy, but is it for me? Regardless, I wanted to see for myself what the Gucci X Adidas hype is about. There was a daunting queue when I arrived at Design Orchard, where the pop-up popped out in part of the complex’s top-storey incubator space that overlooks the rooftop park. Some 25 individuals were standing between a railing and the stanchions and ropes that were erected outside the recently renovated Design Orchard’s “retail showcase”, where pillars urge you to “Shop SG Brands”. In the 30 minutes that I had spent waiting, the few shoppers heading for Design Orchard wondered if they had to queue to get in, even when it was dead quiet inside. One Gucci X Adidas staffer of three in attendance had to direct them to “just enter”. One of them approached me and asked, “do you have a Gucci profile?” Do I need one to enter? “If you buy later, you can collect points,” she tried to convince me. It’s okay, I don’t need them.
A Filipino family of four was in front of me; the kids—two below-fives—were getting restless, monkeying from railing to rope. The parents were looking at the father’s phone to decide what they shall be buying. Behind me, a mainland Chinese teen seemed impatient. Suddenly he leapt over the rope and dashed to the counter that sat next to the staircase at the side of the building that would lead us shoppers upstairs. I could not hear what he said. He returned, and spoked to me directly. He told me in Mandarin that he had to rush off to a class, and wondered if I could buy something for him when I get to enter the shop. I was very surprised by his request and did not how to react. I asked him what he desired and he told me it was a pair of sneakers. He asked me to pay for it first, and he’ll transfer the money to me. Scam alert! Would he not want to try the kicks first? He said he already did, this morning! I told him I derive no pleasure in helping others, 助人不乐, (it’s the heat!). The guy ran away.
I was the only one to leave the line when it was my turn to ascend to heaven. The whole stairway there, where “the experience begins”, another staffer told me, was covered with the Gucci X Adidas logos; the walls too. As the rooftop garden came into view, it was clear why the brands-in-collaboration needed this place. The Gucci X Adidas pop-up store is not erected at either the atrium of ION Orchard, as was the 100th Anniversary capsule, nor the Paragon (Gucci has a store at both malls). Rather, it is sited at Design Orchard, about 1 kilometre away from their two-level flagship at Paragon. Up here, where you can see our beloved Orchard Road, Gucci has set up a veritable temple complex to their partnership with Adidas. There was a pavilion of sorts to my right, saturated with the two brands’ logos that were conflated for this exercise. On the terrace, where on a weekend night, courting couples come to moon-bathe, huge cushions were scattered around, as if in preparation of some mid-summer soiree.
To justify the dazzling dollars they’re charging you for the merchandise, there are, apart from the queue, the climb to the pop-up (work up an appetite?), the spacious store, and the attendant surroundings of retro excess, SAs to accompany you as you explore the well-appointed space. As it looked to me, no more than six shoppers were permitted inside, which was roughly the size of a HDB three-room flat. When I stepped in, it was, as expected, more Gucci than Adidas. But no one, I keep getting told, goes there to partake in the interior loveliness. They’re there for the clothes. But when I asked the SA assigned to me if there were sizes left, rather than enquiring which item I was interested in, she told me most were sold out. Earlier, in the line, I was already warned by the girl who wanted to know if I had a Gucci profile that “not many products would be replenished”.
I am not a star/celebrity/influencer, such as Yung Raja, who had first dib of the merchandise. I should be grateful for whatever crumbs I could find. This is the ultimate high-fashion-meets-streetwear collab, or so people have been trying to convince me, however ill-favored (flavoured?) the clothes appeared to me. After its debut at Milan Fashion Week not long ago, the capsule is so hyped that even the Yeezy Gap Engineered by Balenciaga release seemed lost in some shadow play of who among the Kering brands could put out a cooler collaboration. Perhaps I was coming in from the blistering heat, but what I saw was making me sweat. Everything I touched was oddly thick, and I am not referring to those oversized track tops. The helpful SA was trying to interest me in some of the items socially-distanced on the rack. She showed me a knit top (why was it so scratchy other than thick?) and then pointed to a short-sleeved button-down Oxford shirt (why was this a heat trap, too?). I did not want to deprive her of her sales commission, but there was nothing—zilch—I would like to buy. I told her that the Gucci X Adidas uniform she was wearing looked good. Would she get to keep it? “We don’t know yet”. Good luck.
Gucci X Adidas Pop-Up store is opened daily till 27 June at Design Orchard. Photo: Zhao Xiangji