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
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. 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). But 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
So it’s true: COS’s sister brand will be here. At the store’s neighbouring unit in ION Orchard by the year’s end
Fans of labels under the H&M Group that is not, well, H&M, would be thrilled. The one with the longest name, & Other Stories—sister brand to COS, and the yet-to-be-here Monki and Weekday—will indeed open on our island. The first store will, in fact, be COS’s immediate neighbour on level three of ION Orchard. So the rumours circulating since January is true. Back then, no one was able to say for certain where the store would be situated. Hoarding at the unit clearly confirms its arrival, and at that very space. Curious about its opening, we went next door to ask when & Other Stories would welcome shoppers. The first person we met answered with a “what?”, suggesting to us she knew not of the new neighbour she will “soon”—as the notice next door informed us—have.
A more helpful reply came via a second, cheerier sales associate. She eagerly told us that & Other Stories will “open at the end of the year”. Really? “Yes,” she said with certainty, “some time in Q4, but I do not know exactly when.” Does the renovation and fit out take that long? She added, unexpectedly: “Actually, we will be closed too. We will also undergo a renovation. This whole store.” We were, in fact, not really surprised. COS, opened in 2013, will want to look as spanking as the newest retail entrant, more so when the latter is kin. But will the simulateous renovation of two retail units affect the opening of the other?
Launched in March 2013 in Europe, & Other Stories is thought to be aesthetically skewed to appeal to the “cool girl”. Or, we suppose, those self-proclaimed fashion junkies on TikTok. But more noted (and appealing?) is the brand’s price point: a comfortable, hence tempting, somewhere between H&M and COS. Our first visit to & Other Stories was in Paris, at the Rue St Honoré establishment, just across from the charming little French accessories store Goossen. Our first impression, we recall, was that it reminded us of the American chain Athropologie. Atmospherically, it was not as severe as COS and it was not as low-brow/low-cost as H&M. Merchandise-wise, we thought it was more fun than the two. Housed in a hippy-ish space with an inner courtyard of artfully neglected greenery, & Other Stories is the kind of store you will uncover “finds”. It is not known if our first store here would be similarly positioned. We will find out. In December. Probably.
Watch this space for more information on the opening of & Other Stories.Photo: Chin Boh Kay
At Daiso, there will no longer beone flat price, come May. Oh, GST not included, too
In Japan presently, Daiso is celebrating its 50th anniversary. We are not aware of any major observance (read: sale) over there, but they do have some anniversary-specific “limited” releases—largely products for the home—that are mostly priced at 100 yen (or about S$1.08, before the Japanese sales tax). Here, news have emerged that Daiso will very soon no longer offer their products at a single fixed price of S$2. Or absorb GST. On Instagram two days ago, the Japanese retailer announced that “with effect 1 May 2022, there will be a price change”. In the second of the two-image post, a colourful list of the new 15-tier (!) pricing was shared. The cheapest item (plus GST) will be $2.14 and the dearest, a staggering $25.47, much to the dismay—even shock—of fans and long-time customers. No one we spoke to about the impending price hike has paid more than double digits for a single item at Daiso, whether here or in Japan.
Some observers think that the announcement of the new pricing is too sudden, and just a week before the new prices will be tagged in the 27 Daiso stores across our island, gives consumers insufficient time to digest the sizable increase. Some retail managers we spoke to said that it is not possible for Daiso to continue to sell at that low price after 18 years here, in the wake of increases in business and material costs. About ten days ago, after news emerged that Daiso would be charging GST from 1 May and with reports showing images on notices of that announcement on Daiso stores, we were looking out for those notices, but did not find any. Now we know why: they took them down as it was not going to be a price hike due to the charging of GST alone. In the same IG post, Daiso wrote: “We thank you for your understanding and continued support”. The latter has not panned out yet, but understanding might be easier if Daiso had explained the reason behind the coming price hike, but they did not. We could only guess: on-going pandemic, long-drawn war, logistic woes, forex fluctuation, and, that dreaded phenomenon, historic inflation.
According to a “Message” on a Japanese microsite created to mark Daiso’s momentous anniversary, the “One Price” is key to Daiso’s branding and merchandising. “The One Price makes it possible to buy more. The One Price allows you to give it a try. The One Price encourages casual purchases that lead to changes in everyday life. The One Price has infinite power to enrich our lives. For these 50 years, our thoughts have never changed.” Until now, it would seem. One price will soon be a distant memory, even when, in Japan, they have pledged that “Daiso will bring out a more exciting shopping experience, life, and society with the power of the One Price.”
Although Daiso in its homeland is proud to be 50 years old, it was not founded exactly five decades ago. In 1972, Hirotake Yano opened Yano Shoten, described as a “street vending shop dealing with 100 yen products”, according to their corporate literature. It was five years later that Daiso-sangyo (or the Daiso we recognise today) was born. According to Mr Yano, “Since our founding as the pioneer of 100 yen shops, we have continued to evolve and take on new challenges. One of those challenges was to abandon our original business model of ‘everything for 100 yen,’ and start developing and selling products for 200 yen, 1,000 yen, and so on.” That abandoning—in 2004—seems to contradict their confident anniversary message. A check with our friends in Japan confirmed that some products now cost more than ¥100. It would really be a matter of time before the business here follow suit. It is also possible that Daiso’s new tiered pricing here will bring it in line with their Threepy stores, and the soon-to-open Standard Products. To better reflect a changed business model? Bargain hunters, take note.
Daiso has announced that they will be opening the Standard Products concept store here
Daiso’s Standard Products in Shibuya, Tokyo
Just as we predicted! Hot on the heels of the opening of Japan’s Nitori at The Heeren, compatriot retailer Daiso has shared that the company will be opening their barely-a-year-old concept store, Standard Products, here in Jurong Point, soon. First unveiled in Tokyo’s Shibuya last May, Standard Products is what Tokyoites has described as “Muji-like”, but priced to be “slightly” easier on the pocket. To be more accurate, the new Daiso store is dedicated primarily to homeware, rather than general goods that the parent chain store offers (or, Muji—a veritable department store!). If they keep to the Japanese shop’s aesthetic for Standard Product’s debut here, expect a one-step-up stylishness that might draw those who find Daiso itself too messy to navigate.
It would appear that Daiso is intending to make their presence on our island felt, intensely. They have already introduced their Threepy chain (not really discernibly different from Daiso itself) to add to the Daiso stores found in almost every corner of our city except the off-shore islands. And now, on a yet-to-be-disclosed date, Standard Products, which, like merchandise at Threepy, is not based on a single price: $2. In fact, Daiso would very soon not be associated with SG’s lowest denominator on our dollar notes. From 1 May, the retailer would be charging GST, which means, each item will soon cost S$2.14 (when the GST is 7%. Some say that the new selling price is such an inauspicious number!). It is not yet known if shoppers will, too, be charged the goods and services tax for purchases made at Threepy or, before long, at Standard Products. The extra, we’re certain, won’t deter the hordes that will no doubt turn up.
Watch this space for more information on the opening of Standard Products.File photo: Jiro Shiratori for SOTD
More clothing brands are going gender-neutral, but most are really just saying a woman can buy a man’s shirt, even when many already have. Question is, are guys ready to shop in the woman’s department?
At Uniqlo, a tag offering men more options
By Raiment Young
Last year. What do we remember of it other than the arrival of Omicron? Or, the return of physical fashion shows? Or, the collaborations between luxury brands? One of the style issues trending into 2021 was the visible advent of non-binary styles. Men, especially, we were counselled, should be able to adopt traditionally-feminine fashion if they choose to. Gender-neutral and gender-inclusive brands were talked about alongside those that chose the sustainable and were aware of garment manufacture’s impact on the environment (other than using cottons from non-controversial regions). Leading the adoption of clothes that do not shout out their traditional masculinity are pop stars, such as Harry Styles and Troye Sivan. To them, wearing a dress is okay. Even lexicography is seeing a re-definition of dress by not ascribing it to gender. The Oxford Learner’s Dictionary defines the noun form of ‘dress’ as “a piece of clothing that is made in one piece and hangs down to cover the body as far as the legs, sometimes reaching to below the knees, or to the ankles”. That’s it.
At Uniqlo’s global flagship store during the festive season, two guys in until-recently-MIA office attire were looking at a long, loose, lapel-less knitted coat right in front of me. One of them, in a fitted and darted shirt, was holding up the hung garment to give it a proper look, as if to understand it better, rather than to consider buying it. The other then said, somewhat incredulously, “men can wear, meh?” This disbelief seemed to be a reaction to a little sign, clipped to the chest of the coat to draw attention. It read, in full caps, “RECOMMENDED FOR MEN TOO!”—the exclamation not just to denote vehement enthusiasm, but also to seemingly say “believe you me”. The guys looked at the soft and drapey outerwear from top to hem. There was a moment of silence. Then, the one still holding the hanger asked—in comfortable Hokkien—disbelievingly, “汝知嗎 (li zai bo, do you know)?” As Uniqlo intended, now both do.
Women’s clothes outrightly recommended for men is really a recent occurrence. I was only seeing the guidance with some regularity last year. Sure, some guys are now wearing what would be indisputably designed for women, including accessories such as pearls, but these individuals are not traipsing the town in numbers large enough to be considered normality. Even with the seeming popularity of skirts for men—now also championed by Louis Vuitton, I doubt that for many (most?) guys, shopping would not still be a gendered experience. The fact that male shoppers needed to be told that specific styles merchandised for the women’s department are suitable for them indicate that they still draw the line between his and hers, bifurcated and not. Uniqlo, mostly seen as a traditional, even family-oriented, brand, is, admirably, taking the lead, suggesting that gender-neutral is going mainstream. But, are guys ready for stores that disrupt gender norms, even mildly?
Seen on a Urban Revivo hanger in the men’s department
Whether retail is welcoming more non-binary customers or not, women have never needed prompting to shop men’s clothing for themselves. They have, for a long time, not been constricted by gender confines. And that can be said to go back as far as Yves Saint Laurent’s Le Smoking of 1966. One buyer-friend told me that he is seeing more women purchasing menswear—especially tops—as “many now prefer larger and looser cuts that they do not find in the women’s department“. The oversized T-shirt, adopted so that the wearer looks like she is pants-less, has been visible for many years now. That is just one example. Increasingly, oversized shirts and denim truckers are preferred over those cut specifically for women. At the Nike store in Jewel on Boxing Day, I saw a trio of girls—dressed like paddlers after a training session—choosing a fleece hoodie from the Jordan men’s collection. The one purchasing said, with palpable glee, “good, they have my size.“
Such satisfaction is not uncommon. It was, therefore, to my surprise when I saw, in the men’s department of Urban Revivo recently, a wood hanger which accommodated a washed denim happy coat, proudly tagged “RECOMMENDED FOR WOMEN TOO”. I was not sure if it was really a statement of the garment’s gender-neutrality or that the masculine-not style isn’t incorrectly situated. The similarly-worded tag has been deployed at Uniqlo’s men’s department too, even when many women already shop there. While such recommendations are laudable, it does, to me, arouse the question: are we only taking baby steps towards gender-fluid fashion retail? Despite the growing social awareness of non-binary inclusion, we are still led to believe that, as Asians, we are conservative by default. And as long as retailers still stick to the binary departmentalising of their stores—and their merchandise, non-binary clothing, by design or not, is still uncommon.
One of the truly few retailers that appear to be positively gender-inclusive is Muji Labo, a brand that especially appeals to those for whom binary classification (that includes “recommended for”) is a turn-off when deciding what to buy and what to wear. According to Muji, the Labo line “aims to get rid of the unnecessary ‘fashion waste’, riding on the principle of unisexuality, producing basic wear that overrides age, sex and body size, demonstrating the versatility of Muji’s garments at every occasion.” Describing their clothes by the somewhat retro-term “unisex” (circa mid-’60s), Muji is adopting the more moderate and less activism-tinged approach to retailing clothes that are suitable for any gender (in the current climate, ‘them’?”). But gender, however neutral, is not such a simple and straightforward construct. Clothing, in whatever shape and form, does not inherently relate to gender. What I see as truly groundbreaking would be when Uniqlo tags an Ines de La Fressange dress with “RECOMMENDED FOR MEN TOO!”
Chanel is increasing the prices of their handbags. Again. They know they can, and the very many who continue to buy are encouraging, rather than deterring the hike
For many women, the dearer Chanel bags are, the more desirable owning one is. It has to be, or it’s hard to explain the bags’ puzzlingly massive appeal. The price increases are not attributed to inflationary pressures, but are, according to a spokesperson, cited by Bloomberg recently, “in response to unspecified exchange-rate fluctuations, changes in production costs and to ensure its handbags cost roughly the same around the world”. This is not the first time, nor the second, in the past two years that Chanel has upped its prices for their bags. As stated in the Bloomberg piece, prices for the classic styles have been raised by “almost two-thirds since the end of 2019”. That, to us, is staggering. But our—and kindred folks’—reaction to the price hike matters not to Chanel who seems to only want to target those for whom prices matter not. Their latest price increase is a staggering fourth in these past two years. That averages a rise of twice a year.
One marcom executive told us, “This is so ridiculous. Pricing a Chanel bag closer to an Hermès does not make it an Hermès!” But for many women, especially the young, a Chanel bag is the most covetable, and, as a gift, is considered a measurement of the depth of the love shown by the romantic partner. One twentysomething we know, reacting to the news of Chanel jacking up the prices of their bags, said to us, “It’ll not change anything for me. I will still buy. And I want no other bag. And I don’t expect my boyfriend to buy anything but Chanel for me.” Conversely, a “former lover” texted us to say, “25 years or so ago, a Classic (one standard size) with lambskin and lined in burgundy leather sold for S$3,500. That was princely. But now!!!🙀” Many observers consider Chanel’s pricing move a way to keep their bags exclusive. Even after so many are appearing in the secondhand, not to mention bootleg, market? Or, has price, more than the bag itself, become the real confidence booster?
Chanel does not make better leather bags than, say, Delvaux, the world’s oldest luxury leather goods maker. But somehow the very mention of Chanel sends eyes quite lit up. To us, Chanel bags can look frumpy, but even women dressed in Balenciaga-ish oversized togs would carry the recognisable bag, not because they are especially on-trend, but because the double-C lock (never seen in the original that Coco Chanel designed) is the ultimate status symbol. You almost never witness a woman carry her Chanel 2.55 or whatever Flap Bag there are (let’s not get into the taxonomy) with the outside facing inward, against her body—the logo totally blocked. That Chanel did not start (or have a long history) in leather goods, as Hermès primarily did, is no disincentive to the women (and men) so desirous of a Chanel bag. Coco Chanel created her first bag for practical need, rather than materialistic demand: so that, with the shoulder strap, women can keep their hands free while carrying one. These days, women want more than their hands free. And they don’t mind paying for whatever else is associated with carrying a Chanel bag. And the bag maker knows. Only too well.
Virgil Abloh’s final collection for Louis Vuitton, recently restaged in Miami, included more long skirts that was already shown (digitally) in June. Will there be a mad rush to buy them?
These days, they do not need to go by the euphemism kilts. Or in hybrid form, the skort. A skirt is a skirt, and if Louis Vuitton’s latest showing of so many is to be believed, many men are going to be wearing them, if not now, very soon. At the second presentation—finally an IRL show—in Miami of Virgil Abloh’s final collection for Louis Vuitton, skirts were aplenty. We are not merely talking about the odd wrap-overs masquerading as skirts, worn over trousers; we are talking about full-skirted ones, some 28 of them (out of 83 looks shown in the city in Florida). There were even those unmistakably puffed and layered, like those women would wear to a gala event. Only now, men could wear them, with a football jersey. To better play down any overt femininity?
And Mr Abloh did give guys many skirts to choose from in the digital presentation in June. And now they appear ready to be the big story when the next season comes around. Those not yet willing to look like they raided the wardrobe of their sisters/girlfriends have the choice of pieces that look like folds of fabrics or come with vertical drawstrings to break the shape of what would be identifiably a skirt. But those willing to be unambiguous about the non-bifurcated bottoms they wear could opt for the real deal: with gathers or with pleats (they could pass of as part of uniforms for the Japanese partial arts of kendo if you are still unsure), Or, a couple seemingly with petticoats underneath. These are red carpet-ready, even when worn with sneakers, and would no doubt inspire a new generation of male award attendees.
By now, the idea of men in skirts is really no longer shocking or mere rhetoric that would pass. We have seen male cover subjects wearing skirts on magazines and we have seen non-models wearing them on the streets (yes, on Orchard Road!). And we have heard—and read—the frequent reminders that men have, in fact, worn skirts in the past and still do, especially in Southeast Asia, such as the Burmese longyi (they don’t call it a sarong). But a skirt that looks like something your wife wears is still very much absent from an average guy’s—even a hypebeast’s—wardrobe. And will likely remain so for a while. The irony, as we observe, is that more women are forsaking skirts for pant, just as they are increasingly choosing sneakers over high heels, which, conversely, are what some men are enthusiastically adopting.
Virgil Abloh was not the first to think skirts suit men. Jean Paul Gaultier, Alexander McQueen and Rei Kawakubo (Comme des Garçons), just to name three of the early pioneers, have never considered a skirt to be solely for one sex. While gay guys and men extremely comfortable with their feminine side have no qualms about a skirt or two sitting among the pants they own, the majority of the heterosexual male population have totally discounted the skirt as an option, dismissing it as feminine, totally female. Perhaps, Mr Abloh could have changed the course of the discourse if he had the chance to pursue it further. As a cis straight man (as far as we know), he was most likely able to do the convincing. And if the world of Black machismo could be persuaded and assured, perhaps there is hope for the rest of the hordes of refusing men.
Jaden Smith paved the way when he wore an LV skirt from the women’s spring/summer 2016 collection in the brand’s campaign of that season. Many more men have adopted skirts since then. But things may, perhaps, only change significantly if Idris Elba did so, or Jamie Foxx, or Michael B Jordan, And then followed by Tom Hanks, Leonardo DiCaprio, or Ryan Renolds. And Hyun Bin, Lee Min Ho, and every one of them from BTS. Then, the rest of the blokes around you. Here, things would truly change if the likes of Terrence Koh, Jamie Chua’s LV-loving boyfriend, would wear any one of those LV skirts just seen in Miami. That would truly be a revolution.
Although they have been around for five years, they have remained relatively low-key. Is the Goodluck Bunch the best streetwear store on our island?
On Bali Lane, the shop houses are not as spruced up as those on both sides of Haji Lane, just one street away, towards the Sultan Mosque. Built in the mid-19th century, the Bali Lane shophouses, numbering around 30, have rather simple façades, described as belonging to the Early Shophouse Style (1840-1900), distinguished by their lack of ornamentation. They are part of the area known by the road that links Victoria Street to Beach Road: Arab Street. Bali Lane is only one of two named after Indonesian islands (the other is Java Road), rather than a place in the Middle East, such as Bussorah Street and Muscat Street. It is a rather short lane. At about 100 metres, it less than half the length of Haji Lane. Most of the businesses here are of F&B persuasion. Between a halal restaurant that serves Japanese grilled meat Waku Waku Yakiniku and an empty shop lot is the only one of its kind on this motley makan row: a clothing store.
Without a striking shop front, it is easy to miss Goodluck Bunch (GLB). But the visual restraint is also its allure, the relative plainness and lack of sheen often make up secret addresses among those in the know. Devoid of obvious swank, it has an absence of pretentiousness to match. Stand on the five-foot way and peek inside the heritage shophouse, and the space, bathed in incandescent glow, beckons like a treasure trove, within what is often considered the exemplar of indie cool: white walls and concrete floor. But there is something more welcoming in GLB’s not quite calculated relaxedness, with merchandise displayed in a free-hand manner that will doubtlessly encourage browsing and touching. It is the market vibe too, which we refer to, in the best possible way. After all, one of our island’s best multi-label stores is self-touted as a market too.
Goodluck Bunch looks to us like something out of the arterial streets of Tokyo’s Daikanyama; a cross between the area’s long-serving Hollywood Ranch Market (that word again!) and the rock of an outdoor store High! Standard, with a touch of Nanamica and the posturing of Kikunobu. GLB has been described as a streetwear clothier, but the merchandise includes a spirited mix of Normcore and Gorpcore labels thrown in for good measure. The selection of clothes is augmented with practical accessories to allow shoppers to purchase a complete look, including less common items such as shoulder bags for water tumblers or the odd bottle of Ayataka green tea. And just as you thought everything stocked is for those with an inherently casual wardrobe, immaculate business/dress shoes from the Thai label London Brown incongruently greet visitors near the entrance.
There seems to be a subtle Asian slant to the merchandising approach, with Japan being an obvious source. While there are brands from the US (we’re talking about streetwear after all), it is the Japanese offshoot of American labels Ben Davis, Chums, and Gramicci, and born-in-Japan Mont Bell that shoppers seem to enthusiastically target, as well as the now-sold-out tote bags featuring the simple and striking drawings of Tokyo-based illustrator Noritake. Given the Japaneseness of the store, the Nippon connection makes sense. But rather than evoke Harujuku, the heart of the not-readily-definable Tokyo street scene, GLB takes on the indie spirit of Japanese retail that is found in other neighbourhoods, such as aforementioned Daikanyama, and situates itself on a street here that has virtually no shopping. The dissimilarity to its neighbours probably stood it in good stead.
The two founders of Goodluck Bunch are not newcomers to clothing retail. Quek Swee Ying (known on social media as Swee) and her husband Lee Hong Ping started GLB in 2016 on the weath of experience Ms Quek had gained from her typical blogshop-made-good label Runway Bandits. First hosted on LiveJournal in 2008, two years after Love, Bonito began as BonitoChico on the same platform, Runway Bandits, “catered towards students with limited budget”, as Ms Quek told the press. These school-goers were spending, and two years later, business was so encouraging that a bona fide e-commerce site for the label was created. When Plaza Singapura remade its basement 1 into a haven featuring “leading local fashion blogshops” in 2018, not-marauding Runway Bandits was there with their first physical store, diagonally across from rising star Fayth. Ms Quek told us then that it was “a pop up as trial”. On what made her brand stood out, she said that it was the “soft and neutral palette” and that they “engaged customers by allowing them to vote for their favourite colours”.
Of the half-a-dozen or so stores that opened on-theme at Plaza Singapura that COVID-19-free year, only three have survived, and that include Runway Bandits. In June this year, the brand was renamed From There On, catching fans quite by surprise. Where “there” might be, it does not say. Why the change of moniker, it is not yet known. One retail consultant told us that “‘bandit’ does not have a positive connotation”. Even after more than 10 years of use? Outlaws aside, the word, informally, also refers to individuals who take unfair advantage of others. Neither runway or bandit, the brand was a misnomer. The new name, a clear departure from the old, however, is no indication of a fresh aesthetical direction. From There On sits comfortably on the same-old plot of unconstricted shapes, immediate everyday-ness, and sassy girlishness of Runway Bandits. A clear lineage. One chirpy shopper at the store recently, who said she was “doing a course at SOTA”, told us that she was a regular because she liked the “better basics” there.
For many, the two-storey, 1,300 sq. ft Goodluck Bunch is also likely the place to score better basics. To be sure, despite their veritable street cred, GLB is not quite the same as, say, Undercover’s Madstore. Yet, there is no denying the clearness of their merchandising direction. With about 30 brands in-store, what you’d get is a happy wearable jumble that includes Danton (the French label that’s so Normcore-cool that even DSMS—yes, that market!—and Hong Kong’s i.t are stockists), Gorpcore heavyweights Kavu and Patagonia, the fun-centric Chinatown Market, hip-hop’s fave hat brand Kangol, Singaporeans’-must-buy-when-in-Japan Champion, and Jil Sander’s latest collaborator Arc’teryx. The mix is varied and a joy to uncover. The staff told us of their other boss Lee Hong Ping: “he treats this as his playground”. A clothier who has fun with the stocking of his store often allows that pleasure to shine through in the merchandise. This is totally palpable at GLB.
Going through the stuff after you enter will take you some time. And then you remember that there’s upstairs. (The staff will happily remind you too.) So up you go. As the view of the second floor unfolds, the Japanese vibe again hits you. Up here, there is a faux tree in the middle of the space, a shade provider that seems to bring the disparate brands together, like a group of well-togged friends convening at their favourite spot. On the weekday afternoon we were there, we heard giggling behind a curtain. As it turned out, some girls were trying on the Ben Davis. Although GLB stocks mostly menswear, it also attracts women with a weakness for jendaresu-kei (genderless style) or too-big T-shirts, sometimes inexplicably massive. In fact, most of their social media posts are photos of girls dressed in tees and bifurcated bottoms. One of them in the fitting room emerged to have a better look at the mirror. She could have just leapt out of Goodluck Bunch’s Instagram grid.
Goodluck Bunch is at 26 Bali Lane. Photos: Zhao Xiangji
Balenciaga defaced by Gucci. Welcome to the new wonderful
On both corners of the Orchard Road-facing side of Paragon, Kering brands occupy the spaces: Balenciaga and Gucci. Although both are in mutually hacking mode, it is Balenciaga, replacing Gucci as the most searched brand on Lyst, that is drawing attention. On its second-level glass façade, Gucci is scribbled in what looks like spray paint across the width of the window. As nothing blocks this side of the shopping centre, it is hard to miss the defacement art (‘graffiti’ would be too low for Balenciaga), especially when you are walking on the opposite side of the road, right in front of Ngee Ann City. It does look like the work of a vandal, determined to let Gucci overwhelm Balenciaga, even when the name of the latter, appearing twice on the front of the store, is in the recognisable full caps.
Inside the mall, as we stood at the entrance, blocked by a pair of stanchions with a black tape stretched between, waiting to catch the attention of the staff to let us in, a guy, dressed totally in black, who sat at the entrance earlier to ensure that visitors were scanned in, approached. Without going beyond the barrier, he waved at a male staff inside, who was similarly dressed, but had his shirt untucked. The first fellow lifted his smartphone and showed the other something on it. “Is it supposed to be like that?” The reply was swift. “Ah, yes. It’s like that. We’re doing an event here.” And to be sure he was not really the kaypoh one, the inquirer added, “Oh, customers were asking if something was wrong.” Unsmiling, the Balenciaga staff informed him, “It’s a collaboration with Gucci“.
The wait for us was at least 10 minutes long. There was no one else in the line. Paying attention to the Gucci monogram with the double B plastered on the windows flanking the entrance was a way to pass the time. Inside, there were three customers, none in any obvious transaction. Finally a guy let us in. He apologised for keeping us waiting. We were tempted to say that he didn’t have to make us stand there and not tell us how long more before we would be let into an empty store. But, we did not. A tote with the scribble, “This is not a Gucci bag”, caught our attention, but it was not speaking to us. There was really nothing to it.
The Hacker Project, as this “collaboration“ is dubbed, was presented hushly. Before us, the breadth of the merchandise available was not quite on the same scale as the desecration somewhere up there above us. We looked around for clear signs, but they were mostly hidden in drawers: SLGs and socks. Is this all there is to The Hacker Project? The same guy who showed us in was now showing us out. “Some item (sic), we keep,“ he said. Why is that so? “We don’t display everything. Is there anything you want?“ He was beginning to sound impatient. “If you want, I can take it out to show you”. He was now sounding irritable. “The launch already four days.” Should we apologise for not being enough of a fan to rush here on the first day? “We sold out many things.” Was he trying to convince us or tell us not to bother looking? And how much was sold? “About 60/70 percent sold out,” he intoned conclusively. He was not planning to bring out what was kept. We weren’t hoping.