Recommended: For Him, For Her, For Them

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!”

Photos: Chin Boh Kay

Up, Up, And Away

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.

Photo: Zhao Xiangji

The Many LV Skirts For Men

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.

Runway photos: Louis Vuitton. Collage: Just So

Visited: Goodluck Bunch

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

The Hack’s In The House

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.

Photos: Chin Boh Kay

Visited: The Editor’s Market Flagship

One of our oldest apparel stores opens their largest Orchard Road store in Takashimaya Shopping Centre. But, is big necessarily better?

Newly-opened The Editor’s Market at Takashimaya Shopping Centre

By Emma Ng

With the pandemic not quite over, many clothing brands have found themselves unable to survive and have, therefore, shuttered their business. Yet, the dismal retail climate does not deter some local brands from raising their visibility. Rather than downsizing, they are expanding, both in terms of selling space and merchandise breadth. One of them is eleven-year-old The Editor’s Market (TEM). Its flagship-to-replace-the-313@Somerset-flagship—opened just last Friday—is massive, larger than any of their physical stores that I can remember, including, what to me was their best—at Orchard Central (OC). This time, like at OC, the store is stocked to offer more than apparel, even when there’s a dizzying dominance of clothes that I’m sure I have already seen elsewhere. There are household items too, as well as a plant counter by Soilboy, a set-up that’s part of the lofty, “Flagship Opening Festival”, one of no specific duration. There’s even a small café, with a not-related-to-caffeine-or-java moniker, Found. I overheard a shopper saying delightfully in Mandarin to her companion, “this is great. My boyfriend can wait for me while I shop. Can’t complain I’d take too long.”

At the new 8,000 sq ft TEM, which occupies the old Zara women’s store, I can understand why she won’t be done shopping quickly. Entering the inelaborate space, I could see what my not-20/20 vision allowed. It was really a sea of clothes, as far back as the barely visible rear wall. Although I noticed that there were relatively wide aisles between racks, the frightful abundance of clothes immediately brought to my mind aesthetically similar brands such as Iora at Wisma Atria next door, or Playdress at Suntec City. I struggled to see how this vast amount of merchandise would budge in bulk. It was hard to imagine any shopper needing this much choice. Even after giving myself some time to absorb what was before me, I could not pick out anything that spoke to me in the overwhelming much of muchness. It’s mass appeal sacrificing appeal for mass. The Editor’s Market in my memory was not like that. Or did I remember it incorrectly?

The simple decor of the interior

Almost no styling attempted on the dressing of the mannequin

Before they were The Editor’s Market, they were Hula & Co (both at one time brands under the parent company Hula Outfitters), a business that went as far back as 2002, three years before Love, Bonito was founded as a blogshop (then known as Bonito Chicco). At the very beginning, Hula & Co—which had nothing to do with the hoop or the dance—was a pushcart enterprise at Far East Plaza, a mall built even earlier, in 1983. I have faint memory of their stall of that time. While small, they did not begin as an e-retailer, as others did. It was completely a physical existence, started by three partners, with Vivian Low as the main spokesperson (the other two are mainly quiet). However, Hula & Co did not sell via a stall for too long. Sales were good enough that they eventually cast aside the pushcart and moved into a shop space in the same mall, on level three, if my memory serves me. Later, other stores opened—I do recall at least one: at Citilink, a humble affair with merchandise that barely left an impression on me. They appeared to sell similar products as the other clothing stores that dotted the shopping conduit, connecting City Hall MRT station to Suntec City. Hula & Co stopped spinning in 2009. The next year, The Editor’s Market opened at Cineleisure Orchard.

TEM was a breakaway from Hula & Co. For one, it looked better. Its first store was spacious, predominantly white, and interestingly zoned to encourage browsing. And when you bought something, the purchase would be bagged in a paper carrier with the eye-catching, straight-alternating-with-zig-zag lines. They were, I remember, a multi-label store during those early years. Unknown names were sold alongside recognisable ones such as House of Harlow (founded by Nicole Ritchie!), and the now-closed Cheap Monday. TEM even described themselves as “the ultimate hipster and fashion destination”. Additional appeal of the place came in the form of their pricing: three-tiered. The more you bought, the cheaper the items became (that pricing model was terminated last year in favour of the fixed price). Then they opened their most interesting store in Orchard Central, known as The Editor’s Market Avenue. More international labels were housed here under a concept “extension” known as Preview, where, among others, the tasteful French label Surface to Air and the gaudy American shoe brand Jeffrey Campbell were found. There was even a men’s collection. But in 2015, a fire broke out, and the multi-label store became one with namely an in-house brand.

In the middle of the store, a sort-of-pushcart, to remind the founders of their Far East Plaza days?

The “Life” section of the store dedicated to homeware

Yet, their latest, which brings the total number of outlets on our island to four, is not entirely a mono-brand store. Sure, the clothing is largely eponymously labelled—apart from local activewear brand Kydra—but other products are more plural. There are footwear labels Veja, Superga, and Havaianas. And bags from Afterall (their own sub-brand) and Baggu, an American brand that I first spotted at the now defunct multi-label store Rockstar, The Editor’s Market’s competitor at Cineleisure Orchard. In fact, a two-way tote in horizontal stripes, like the Breton tee, reminded me of one I saw at Rockstar back in 2013. It was then priced S$38, but today, the same bag at TEM is retailing at S$55. Non-fashion items sold alongside the clothes include mugs and tumblers by the Japanese brand Rivers. To bring back their former hipster vibe, hipster magazines are placed randomly among the merchandise: Another, Cereal, and Dansk. I assume they are for sale. It’d be too pretentious if they serve as props.

Single-bar racks dominate the flagship, all at barely varying heights that presumably syncs with how tall their shoppers are. I was pleased to see that the racks were not too tightly packed on both weekends I was there, which meant that I didn’t have to rummage. But no matter which corner I explored, I was bound to see something—a blouse, a dress—that I thought I saw just moments ago. In similar fabrics whose hand feel did not meet long-wearing comfort grade. What was especially disconcerting was that none of the clothes appeared to me to have been pressed. Not even those in linen. When I looked back at the service counter in the rear, I did not see a steamer. It is possible that, in rushing to open, they allowed the clothes to go directly from box to rack. If TEM offers predominantly “everyday wear” or what Her World would call “basic dresses you can wear on repeat”, I guess the clothes had to look the part. Aesthetically, TEM did not seem to have moved forward from the formative Hula & Co years.

In more than 10 years, the silhouette adopted at The Editor’s Market has not changed. Left: a Hula & Co spaghetti-strapped dress from 2011, Right: a similar dress from the current season of The Editor’s Market. Photos: the respective brands

Perhaps fashion does not change after all. Left: Hula & Co top and ultra-faded, high-waisted skinny jeans from 2011. Right: The Editor’ Market top and ultra-faded, high-waisted skinny jeans from the current season, a neat decade later. Photos: respective brands

To be fair, the brand does not pretend to be a clothier of elevated positioning. They sell what some members of the media describe as “democratic pieces”. Democracy is timeless, even aesthetic democracy. What was democratic yesterday would be democratic tomorrow. Could this explain why the silhouettes vary almost not at all, from the time of Hula & Co to now? As the brand’s business development director Spencer Wong (also Ms Low’s husband) told Inside Retail, “we do not zealously follow fashion trends”. He added that they “focus on creating clothing that is timeless and can be worn season after season”. Without ironing. And, timelessness, like democracy, can resist the restriction to a particular moment. Yesterday is no different from today. This is, perhaps, best exemplified in the how-to-style videos that co-founder Ms Low posted on Facebook. She wore what are popularly known as “romantic maxi-dresses”, and they could have been from Hula & Co from many years ago. Who, I wonder, has not progressed: the customer or the brand?

The lack of newness in the merchandise and, regrettably, compelling visual merchandising may work in TEM’s favour. Over the past weekend, most of the women I saw at the store seemed ready for more of the same. They paid no heed to any of the already minimal displays or what was worn on the mannequins. They zeroed in on the clothes hung on the racks, picked the pieces they liked—as many as they could carry, and headed for the fitting room, sometimes leaving behind racks not in their original state, while bored boyfriends, unable to secure a seat at Found, looked desperate to leave. I felt sorry for the staff as many were busy neatening the racks and returning clothes to their proper places, rather than standing by to assist the shoppers. There was a pasar spirit to the place, which may be considered a plus since it would be consistent with the store’s moniker. I was hoping to leave with a purchase, but the hope was, at the start, somewhat futile and destined to be dashed. Two teens next to me were truly excited to be in the sea of clothes. I asked them if they are fans of the brands. “Yah, for very long already,” one of them replied. Because? “Because they are cheap and good.” With that, they giggled and disappeared.

Photos: Chin Boh Kay

Close Look: Uniqlo X White Mountaineering

Can an outer-only capsule arouse shoppers’ appetite, especially when many are not likely to be travelling?

Under normal circumstances and weather, many of us do not buy outerwear. Sure, hoodies or windbreaker for the cinema and lecture theatres are still flying off the shelves, but a padded coat is unlikely to arouse our urge to aquire protection against the cold for our bodies. Layering to keep warm is unlikely on anyone’s mind right now, not when even night-time temperatures these days are around 30 degrees celsius. So when we checked out Uniqlo’s latest tie-up with compatriot brand White Mountaineering, we were disappointed that there was nothing we could justifiably buy (who is spending indescrimately these days?). Sure, we already knew it would be for-winter collection, but we couldn’t help being let down.

The ten-piece capsule for men, women, and kids comprises mostly of outers, designed clearly for weather conditions nowhere near ours. Even the pullovers are in fleece, which for a freezing movie hall is still too warm. At the launch of the collection last Thursday, it was not as busy as it was for other such debuts. We saw a few self-declared White Mountaineering fans (we asked!), but many walked away without buying. One young fellow told us, disappointment thick in his voice, “Although the prices are not really high, it still doesn’t make sense for me to buy something I won’t be wearing any time soon”.

Uniqlo, we suspect, hopes that some of us in this part of the world would buy the pieces to keep. But winter wear takes up space and another coat to be stored is additional capacity, assuming we have, used up. Still, if you need to pick one standout buy, we’d say go for the WPJ Fleece Oversized Jacket. Unfortunately, this is for guys only. At a quick look, it could pass off as a varsity jacket. But look closely, the combination of fleece body and a poly-sherpa (fleece) panel on the bodice, with two rows of piping that are parallel to the zipper closure and frames the neckline, creates a fetching twofer effect.

What could against WM’s favour is the availability of other lines within the Uniqlo store, namely the Christophe Lemaire-led U sub-brand and the return of +J (possibly the last collection), both with more fetching coats and such, but more importantly, with items that can be worn here, such as shirts and blouses. And those ubiquitous U oversized tees. That is not even counting the women’s lines with Theory and Ines de la Fressange. If you really want something truly wearable and, perhaps more importantly, with unabashed WM branding, just hop next door and consider their second collaboration with Fila.

What is also puzzling, in terms of timing, perhaps, is that the White Mountaineering pairing with Uniqlo appears at the same time as Fast Retailing’s other brand GU’s more compelling romance—with the hot label Undercover. This tie-up’s first offerings were launched in March for the spring/summer season and were quickly sold out wherever there is a GU store. Perhaps, here, the consolation is that GU is not available. That is clearly one competitor less.

White Mountaineering X Uniqlo is available in Uniqlo Global Flagship Store, Orchard Central. Photos: Zhao Xiangji

CDG Does Mickey

Or, perhaps, the world’s most famous mouse can’t resist the charms of CDG?

As avant-garde as Comme des Garçons is, the brand is not opposed to collaborating with highly commercial names such as Disney. Their CDG sub-brand has just announced a pairing with Mickey Mouse for a capsule that is skate-inspired (read: loose silhouettes). This is not their first association with Disney, nor is this the first time they have teamed up with cartoons. Under the Japan-only Edited line, we remember, they have worked with Marvel Comics on T-shirts featuring the Silver Surfer (and possibly Spiderman) in late 2000. On the marketing communication front, there was the work of Katsuhiro Otomo (manga fans would know him to be behind Akira) in 2013. But tapping the world of comics—or manga—is very different from dalliances with Disney. One would entice hypebeasts, the other would not.

Still, the Disney association has not impacted Comme des Garçons’s generally left-field leaning, yet. If they have survived, gasp, Frozen (in 2014) via the popular Play, Mickey is not going to mar the image of the just-as-commercial CDG line. And even less so, now that Rei Kawakubo has introduced Mickey’s mate Mini for her tribute dress, created in honour of Alber Elbaz a few days ago. Never mind that for many fans, the joining of forces between a (still) largely indie brand with a global entertainment corporation is rather disappointing. Perhaps, some cartoons are best left to Uniqlo.

To dumbfound fans even further, the collection of white/grey/black pieces have none of the usual topsy-turvy mash-up when it comes to graphics. There is the deconstructed face of Mickey and the rotate-right placement, and (for the hoodie) a tight crop of Mickey’s foot on a skateboard, but are those enough to appease fans and followers who are exposed to more? To be certain, CDG is an entry-level line. It does not need to be too outré, as as long as the three-letter logotype is placed conspicuously somewhere on the garment (this time, in the rear), in it full-sized, bold-faced, look-here glory.

CDG X Mickey Mouse is available at DSMS. Photo: CDG/Disney

Visited: Leftfoot

Our island’s earliest indie sneaker store Leftfoot has always been a trail blazer in terms of product offering and shopper experience. Their new store at Mandarin Gallery sees the retailer in fine facile form

By Ray Zhang

Fond memories accompany me whenever I visit the Leftfoot store. I still remember their first in Far East Plaza in the mid-2000 (yes, Far East Plaza had a lot more going for it than their sad present (but Gen-Zers won’t remember). Leftfoot exposed me to the world of limited-edition kicks, as well as those in colours not offered in the regular releases available elsewhere here, before I visited Tokyo’s Atmos and Mita Sneakers for the first time. The Far East Plaza store closed, as were other cool stores such as the buzzy bag shop Trever, led by former Bodynits designer Gary Goh, and multi-label Ambush and Surrender (the first stockist of Supreme) set up by Earn Chen (also, later, Cherry Discotheque And Potato Head Folk), invariably dubbed “the poster boy” of the SG streetwear scene. In fact, if you go further back to, say 1982, there was even designer fashion—Thomas Wee’s first boutique! Yes, Far East Plaza was that happening even if, looking at it now, you would never have guessed.

Leftfoot was founded in 2003 by Anthony Ho and Kevin Lo, considered pioneers of the streetwear scene back then (Mr Ho started in the retail of vintage clothes). After their Far East Plaza venture closed around 2008, to the dismay of fans, they reopened Leftfoot in Cineleisure Orchard, then a youth-oriented shopping destination that seemed poised to take over from the old Heeren, but never quite did (now, in fact, it’s also, like Far East Plaza, a shadow of its former self). A larger store, intriguingly called Leftfoot Entrepôt, followed at The Cathay; it was a space put together with an edge not seen in sneaker retail then, designed as if for hanging out, with a wood-wall store front that practically obscured the going-ons inside. When both the Cineleisure Orchard and The Cathay stores closed in the middle of this year, some of us thought that what we considered an SG institution had come to an end, until they posted on Facebook that a “new location will be announced soon”. Sure, they continued to sell Via Facebook and Instagram (even offering free delivery for purchase above S$60) in the mean time, but, for me, seeing the kicks personally and being able to try them on makes a difference—massive difference. Moreover, I missed the indie vibe of their physical stores, which often made me feel like I was shopping overseas. Leftfoot is not Limited Edt.

That distinction is again made clear with the new Leftfoot store, opened on 16 July in the hard-to-defined (maybe that’s good) Mandarin Gallery. Since its reincarnation in Cineleisure Orchard, Leftfoot always has an edge about it. The store turns footwear retailing quite on its head, and in doing so, draws the attention of sneakerheads. (Sure, Limited Edt also sells, as its name suggest, some merch considered rare and available in limited numbers, but, to me, their stores have no personality and the friendliness level—even in not-quite-atas Queensway Shopping Centre—leaves little to be desired.) Leftfoot never has a window, at least not in the traditional sense of store windows. At Cineleisure Orchard, I remember, the first shelving unit of a single row of them on the left of the compact space, was situated right at the store front. Shoppers were picking up their fave kicks and trying them on the corridor of the mall! Conversely, at The Cathay, there was only an entranceway and shelves of shoes to the right. At both stores, no particular brand was given upfront prominence. Leftfoot seemed to draw mostly those in the know and those who know their kicks.

Their new space is, in contrast, a lot more orderly than I remember them to be. Not that Leftfoot was chapalang (messy) to start with, but at the Mandarin Gallery shop, the striking use of shelving units akin to cabinets in a compactor storage and archival system is eye-catching, and allows shoppers to zero in on the kicks they want quickly. The pale office-grey, too, heightened the pleasing orderliness. Additionally, I thought I sensed a seriousness about what they are doing, as if they are now really curating what they sell—the one-side sneakers on those metal shelves like prototypes ready for mass and limited production. The store has nothing blocking its full-glass front, not even a name. On the left, what looked like vintage traffic barriers were the only display, while on the right, a table on a pair of similar-looking trestles stood. I was in the store on a Thursday afternoon and it was, to my surprise, busy. I already had in mind what I wanted, but no sales staff could, at first, be spotted. When she finally appeared, she quickly came to my assistance, found the sneakers in my size for me to try (I sat on one of three small wooden stools dotted in a row in the centre of the store), and then offered to hold it for me at the payment counter while I made up my mind, and continued browsing. And then I spotted a watchman near the entrance, his vigilant gaze deterring would-be shoplifters, but when I left, he said “thank you” with a nod, amicably.

The Leftfoot Family and Friends Pop-Up Store

The Left Foot pop-up store at Mandarin Gallery

Like the old Leftfoot in Cineleisure Orchard, the store at Mandarin Gallery is accompanied by a sibling sale outlet on the same floor (interestingly also on level two). The staff at the main shop happily referred me to the Leftfoot Family and Friends Pop-Up Store as it’s known, “just behind the escalator”. This sale shop contrasts dramatically and charmingly to Leftfoot itself. While one is all sleek and minimalist and bright, the other is groovy with bohemian vibe, made even more palpable with the discernible smell of incense, wafting in a romantically-lit shoe-box space. Once inside, I thought I was transported to a store lost somewhere in the winding lanes of Harajuku, Tokyo. Nothing about the modestly-appointed pop-up screamed sale. Shoes and bags and other items—even mugs—were mixed with no discernible order, but neatly, as if in a sample room. The bazaar energy intensified the store’s browsability. This space, as I understand, is also an event area of sort, having played host previously to Obey and The Lucky Shop (aka 福乐店 or fu le dian). I would have loved to linger, but it was getting a tad crowded, and the shoppers, probably excited, were speaking too loudly.

It seems that Leftfoot has found itself in the right ’hood. Their immediate neighbours are Carhartt WIP (across) and the multi-label store Manifesto (next door). While not exactly a streetwear haven, Mandarin Gallery—with ‘big’ names fronting the four-story mall—seems to be attracting retailers that offer a street-centric point of view, such as the Euro-cool Manifesto, the goth shop L’amoire, and the alt-bent menswear store Supplies & Company. Some observes think Mandarin Gallery should better define their positioning, but I think it makes a better shopping experience if the mall is less predictable, less like its neighbours, less opposed to unknown/unfamiliar names. And more willing to go with an adventurous retail mix, which now, for a discernible on-going and distant good, includes the 18-year-old Leftfoot.

Leftfoot Family and Friends Pop-up Store will open till the end of year. Photos: Galerie Gombak

Google Opens A Store

Its first is in the Big Apple, New York City

Google is a latecomer when it comes to hardware retail. Apple’s first retail outlet was opened two decades ago, in May 2001, in not one but two locations, both not hub cities: McClean, Virginia and Glendale, California. Google’s retail debut, simply called Google Store is in Manhattan, New York, in the still-happening neighbourhood of Chelsea, just across from the famed Chelsea Market. In fact, in the same building as Google’s NYC HQ is situated. Adjacent to what’s known as the Meatpacking District, the swanky glass-fronted Google retail temple is in the company of some of the big names associated with the city: Diane von Furstenberg, Anthroplogie (just opposite, in fact), and Kiehl’s, and restaurants such as Buddakan (in which Carrie and Big’s wedding rehearsal dinner from the first Sex and the City movie was shot). Perhaps what’s more interesting is that an Apple Store is situated nearby too, less than 100m away, and on the same thoroughfare: 9th Avenue. With the Samsung store and Tesla showroom nearby, too, Chelsea is geared up to be quite the tech district.

In a blog post, Google wrote that the eponymous store is “a space where customers can experience our hardware and services in a helpful way.” It sounds very Apple, of course. In a press release from 2001, the late Steve Jobs was quoted saying, “Rather than just hear about megahertz and megabytes, customers can now learn and experience the things they can actually do with a computer, like make movies, burn custom music CDs, and publish their digital photos on a personal website.” There is that word “experience”. In a world where online is the preferred place to shop, what one gets out of visiting a physical store other than the purchase considered is what makes or breaks the store. Perhaps echoing Apple twenty years ago, Google said it wanted their space for consumers to come and try all of its devices and services that show their synergy, and how they’ll work together in different places.

But experience isn’t just a beautiful space or good service. There’s also the component, “theatre of retail” (stand outside an Apple store as far away as you can, and look at the action within—performance indeed!). Google is so serious about making their debut store work, they built a full-size mockup in a hangar in Mountain View, California to give their ideas the necessary trial runs.The Google Store is divided into rooms or “sandboxes” (to suggest play?) that offer situations in which their gadgets might be used. There is even a soundproofed area to audition their various Home/Nest products. One particularly experiential feature is a striking 5-metre-tall circular glass enclosure that is known as the Google Imagination Space. At this spot, shoppers can enjoy an immersive exploration of Google’s newest technologies. For the opening, the company’s Translate service is in full display. Speak any language (almost, anyway—Google can’t translate Aramaic!) and you will be able listen to real-time translation, in 24 languages (about 6,500 are spoken in the world today), while learning how this is possible. Playing can go hand-in-hand with purchasing.

Despite the popularity of the their search engine, Google is not really known for their products, at least not here, where they are not as widely sold as in the US. The store’s lure is that you can “shop the latest Chromecasts, Phones, Speakers & Smart Displays at Google Store. Buy Pixel 5, Nest Audio, Chromecast with Google TV, Nest Wifi, and more,” according to pre-opening marketing blurbs. And to that, add sending what you already own for on-site servicing or tweaking. The shopping and learning is done inside the 465-square-metre space, clearly designed to encourage discovery. As it looks less cold and sparse and more homey than the Apple Store, there is a good chance this is where you’ll be able to easily while away an afternoon. Now that the prospect of travel is still dim, we are unlikely able to see the Google Store soon. It took Apple 16 years to open its first free-standing flagship here (and the first in Southeast Asia), on Orchard Road. For Google/Android fans, the wait for our own Google Store here would probably be just as long.

Google Store is at 76 9th Ave, New York, NY10011. It opens tomorrow (New York time). Screen grabs: Google

All For The Home

Daiso’s new store in Tokyo is completely dedicated to furnishings and kitchenware

Cheap and cheerful Daiso is already where one goes to find inexpensive stuff for the home. But now, the retailer of 100-yen anything (or S$2 here, as you know) has opened one in Tokyo, where only home ware is available. Yes, no nail polish or boxer shorts, but, interesting, there are wristwatches! And not everything is sold at the standard price of 100 yen; new prices are between 330 and 770 yen. The new Daiso store is called by another name, too: Standard Products, presumably to stand out from the (generally) one-price older sibling. And also to set itself apart from the original store, but not nearly enough for it to be different from more established compatriot brands, particularly Muji and, to a degree, Nitori. In fact, so much better looking is the new store—and higher the prices—that Tokyoites happily call it “upmarket Diaso”.

Opened in March and situated inside Mark City in Shibuya, just a hop from the Shibuya Bus Station, Standard Products will inevitably draw comparison with Muji and such (some even likened it to Ikea!). For starters, it’s much better looking than the average Daiso store (if you’ve been to those not in big cities, you’ll remember them to be quite humble). There is also the more staggering variety of products, and better storage/displays (attractively stacked!), even with a veritable semblance of visual merchandising. There is also a neatness not usually evident in Diaso. But that, for some, may take the fun out of shopping in Standard Products: it’s too posh and orderly. And it does not have quite the you-don’t-know-what-useful-stuff-you-may-find madness. If Standard Products makes you miss Diaso, the later is, in fact, just round the corner, and with the unmistakable hot-pink shop front and the crazy jumble inside too.

When approaching Standard Products, Daiso regulars might think they have stumbled upon a home emporium in the hipster neighbourhood of Daikanyama. The main store front is top to bottom aluminium-framed glass panels, on which the name is emblazoned in massive, black sans-serif font. There is no window display. The interior is for all to see. Merchandise immediately greet you at your first step. Inside, you will take a while to get used to the orderly space and wrap your head around the fact that this is a Diaso offshoot. As you explore the surprisingly wide aisles, you’ll find yourself wondering if you are, in fact, in a Muji store (like we said). Even the industrial-space-meets-modern-barn of some corners are unmistakably Muji. And the wares? You need to be a hermit just descended from Mount Fuji not to see the similarities and the matching minimalist aesthetics.

Stuff for the kitchen or dining takes up at least half of the reported 1,300 products available. There are more bowls, plates, mugs, and glassware than you’ll ever need, but truth be told, most of them are truly appealing, especially if you are susceptible to neutral-coloured ceramics and stoneware in simple shapes that can show off their equally stylish content. There is also a surprisingly large selection of acacia wood accessories such as caddies, platters, and pot holders, all handsomely fashioned. What seems to be missing are appliances. Still, the selection of merchandise is so extensive and the products so appealingly designed that it is hard, we think, even for the not house-proud to successfully resist.

Although retail in Japan is going through hard times due to the still-raging pandemic, retailers there have not given up or stopped innovating. Daiso going specifically into home ware with Standard Products makes sense. As WFH is still prevalent and the preferred work-place arrangement, consumers are opening up their wallets or Google Pay to shop for items that can spruce their domestic interiors, rather than those that will fill an already over-stuffed wardrobe. Instead of going by way of the even less expensive route (can they go lower than 100 yen?), the Hiroshima-based company has chosen a retail concept that is a winning combination of friendly prices and accessible designs, both in a setting that reflects the growing sophistication of the pandemic-era homeowner. But this isn’t the first time Diaso has adopted the more-than-100-yen merchandising approach. There is the Threeppy chain (which, according to the parent company, is a conflation of “300 yen and happy”) that was introduced in Japan in 2018. A year later, the first of six Threepy shops (they are nearly always smaller than Diaso) outside Japan opened here at Funan Mall. Will we also see a Standard products store here in 2022?

Despite the unmistakable home theme of Standard Products, the merchandising team also took pleasure in defining what home is or where it could be. As we well know, as long as there is access to the Internet, home (and the home office) could be anywhere, even in the mountains. Well aware of this, Standard Products has also a section for camping kits, complete with a tent, set up to give context to its attendant products, such as thermoses, water bottles, and even mess tins! Standard is clearly not quite the defining quality of the store, fun is.

Photos: Jiro Shiratori

Prada Outdoor: Tale Of Two Cities

Could Prada Outdoor be the world’s most compelling post-lockdown fashion? In Hong Kong and Singapore, Prada shows—rather seductively—what going out to open spaces to have fun could really look like. But why is one atrium exhibition more compelling than the other?

Outdoor indoor: Prada’s spectacular pop-up in Hong Kong’s IFC Mall

Our version in ION Orchard: considerably smaller and, curiously, dimmer

Fun. Do we still remember that? Enjoyment. When did that last strike? Mirth. Hasn’t that been missing for a long while? Well, we were already beginning to re-acquaint ourselves with what going out to play would be like, until the latest COVID-19 safety measures—a return to Phase 2, now also known as “heightened alert”—kicked in last Sunday. Many of us, of course, can’t wait to fully return to a post-lockdown, post-socially-distanced, post-movement-controlled world. Shopping, for example, is still muted here, but elsewhere, retailers are out to seriously entice. In Hong Kong, for instance, the locals are offered a glimpse of how alluring going out for a spot of fun can be, even only through the lens of Prada. The eye-catching mini-exhibition is concurrently available here too, but it is dismally smaller, and no shopper seems to bother with it.

This pop-up store/exhibition at IFC Mall in Central opened last Thursday to launch the brand’s across-season collection Prada Outdoor. In full visualisation of the theme, a massive diorama of a beach-side scene is brought indoor in the usually less outdoorsy IFC Mall. Awash with sky-meets-sea blue, the set-up clearly hints at fun and relaxing times by the waves. Awning-striped beach umbrellas and chairs hint at seaside fun that’s more Amalfi Coast than the East Coat, more Biarritz than Pulau Ubin. There is even a rather mid-Century-looking lifeguard tower, on which a mannequin in a Breton top sits. A blue pop-up canopy is put together to welcome whoever wants relaxation under the shelter. A polyhedron tent—blue too—is erected as well, in which a mise en scene of ‘glampers’ relaxing in a surprisingly utilitarian space (but no less suitably equipped) could be viewed—and envied.

A view from second floor of IFC Mall: going to the beach for the day or to camp overnight is more appealing than ever—going by Prada’s life-size diorama

Seen from level two of Ion Orchard, the SG set-up is oddly ill-lit and says precious little of the purpose

On Monday, three days ago, our own pop-up Outdoor opened in ION Orchard, in a small, rather low-lit corner of the mall’s fragmented concourse. Its diminutive set-up is in sharp contrast to Prada’s breadth of covering nature’s bounty. The beach umbrellas are there, the tent too, as well as the lifeguard tower, on which a mannequin (dressed in a logo-ed French terry sweat top) also sits. Missing is the pop-up canopy. All the shelters are placed on a relatively flat platform, unlike those in the HK display, which mimics the undulating dunes seen on some beaches. It is also dimly lit, as if it’s the beach at dusk, but no campfire was roaring. The Outdoor set styling at ION Orchard seems to be toned and scaled down to cater to an audience that wouldn’t be bowled over by anything not quite contemporaneous to real life here. Even the tent has a sole occupant, rather than more to suggest, or welcome, social times. Does this go with the oft-expressed belief that we’re too small for anything major or massive? Or, could this be Prada SG’s cheeky, glammed-up kampung version that we can relate to?

The seaside scene is only one part of Prada Outdoor’s trifecta of “nature in its myriad forms”. Dubbed “special project”, Outdoor comprises the Garden, the Coast, and the Mountain in their idealised articulations. These static displays are, according to the brand, “dedicated to the emotions conveyed by different settings”. Occupiable and enjoyable that they already are, every scene too comes with “a selection of original products recalling each particular environment.” In Hong Kong, despite the large size of the IFC Mall atrium, Prada has only what appears to be the Coast set up, but if you look closely, the canopy wouldn’t be out of place even in the most modest of gardens and the tent would be happy anywhere along a mountain trail. Is the outdoor this inviting or have we been holed up at home for too long?

It is doubtful anyone would be this stylish and so well kitted when enjoying nature and the outdoors, but Prada shows us we can dream

The SG proposal: Dressed for a night by a camp fire?

Prada’s embrace of the outdoors is possibly to pave the way for a return to the old normal of going out to enjoy oneself with a few friends. It also proposes that we should be in the open, rather than indoors or within closed quarters. As The Straits Times reported four days ago, “recent clusters have shown that the new Covid-19 variants are more infectious, with transmission more likely to take place in indoor settings where people do not wear masks”. Prada not only provides the clothes, but also the context in which to wear them. In addition, when viewed from above, the nicely outfitted, in-character, mask-less (presumably vaccinated!) models that dot the space are socially distanced. There is clearly no over-crowding. Retailers can, indeed, lead by example.

Prada Outdoor is, of course, also riding on the bandwagon of ‘gorpcore’, so gleefully adopted by Gucci and The North Face last December. The Mountain component corresponds to the rising popularity of outdoor brands such as Patagonia and Japan’s Snow Peak, Nanamica, and the rebranded Goldwin. Prada has always made outerwear that can stand the test of the harshest elements, but what makes it more appealing this time is the inclusion of the gear not typically seen in the stores. Sure, they have offered water bottles and thermoses before, but now they include camping kit such as mess tins and lunch bowls (made in collaboration with English brand Black & Blum) and reusable cutlery (even chopsticks!), stylishly sheathed in a logo-ed pouch. There are also accessories that are ready for any climb: paracord survival bracelets, with enamel Prada triangle as charm, of course!

The clothes alone are not quite enough. Complete the look with Prada’s camping kit

The Prada buying office here seems to know that we are not going to be seduced by camp-ready lunchboxes. In their place, huggable terrycloth handbags

This multi-product approach is also consistent with luxury brands going totally lifestyle. In fact, a Prada store is increasingly a department store—the Tokyo flagship in Aoyama, for example, is, without doubt, one. Prada Outdoor is not only category-breaking for a luxury brand, but also indication that they can sell almost anything. Apart from clothing, accessories, and wearables, there are also play things such as inflatable pool floats and rings, and even a hammock! What makes extra Prada Outdoor appealing is how wearable and usable every item is. There is also something delectably familiar about what is in stock: the tropical prints (and, yes, the bananas too); bold, colourful stripes; the loose, boxy shapes; the goofy footwear (fluffy slides) and the elegant (river sandals with Japan-esque knotted thongs), volleyball bags, and for men, the eve-popular camp shirts with bold graphics, only now multi-print and even bolder.

Hong Kong, like us, isn’t out of the pandemic woods, yet retailers there are not resistant to creating enhanced shopping experiences that are impressive not by content alone, but scale too. And it is experiential: Prada Outdoor in Hong Kong is open to walk-ins. The pop-up is not cordoned off. Shoppers are free to saunter in, examine the displays up-close and even touch what interests them. The sale staff happily tells you she is contactable whenever you need something, even after leaving the display area. She later sends you a message to thank you for stopping by. Here, the already small set-up is entirely surrounded by stanchion and velvet rope (Phase 2!). An attendant (accompanied by a security guard) is around to introduce the collection to you and to answer questions, and, no, you can’t walk into the exhibition area, not that anyone seems to want to. If there is anything you need, you would just be directed to the nearby Prada store. End of contact. Charming.

Prada Outdoor pop-up exhibition is on at ION Orchard from 17 May to 2 June. Prada encourages all shoppers to call ahead to secure a spot if a store visit is necessary. Photos: K S Yeung (HK) and Chin Boh Kay (SG)