Cartoonish Clump

Adidas appears to go big on foam. Their latest is quite a shoe to clomp in

It looks like a Lego shoe with the studs levelled and the sharp edges smoothed out. But Adidas’s latest is made of foam, not plastic; it’s, in fact, another adiFOM technological wonder. This time, the foam is not reimagined as the Adilette, but their all-season darling the Superstar. So the heel is encased. No clog here; a whole shoe. Nothing is hacked away. No perforation, or slots like the AdiFOM Q. This version of the Superstar mummifies the feet. The upper sits rather high up the tarsal, and the slip-on fits like a sock. On a hot day, you can imagine the heat that may be trapped in there.

Adidas clearly derives some excitement making footwear with a “one-piece body made of foam derived from sugarcane”. This material is also known by its trade name SweetFoam, which is, according to the brand, “the world’s first green EVA foam”. Foam for shoes does not easily lend itself to a slender silhouette. The AdiFOM Superstar is therefore quite the hulk it is. If you look at them from the top down, they could easily be a pair of palmate. Or, webbed feet! Even footwear is embracing inclusivity. How marvelous is that?

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Adidas AdiFOM Superstar, SGD109, is available at Leftfoot. Photo: Adidas

Is It Still Cool To Wear Yeezys?

Following the end of the relationship between Adidas and Kanye West, reports have emerged of objectionable work environment in the Yeezy/Adidas office in California and elsewhere. Are Yeezys still the footwear to be seen in?

A young chap in Adidas Yeezy Slides

By Awang Sulung

Yeezy is over. At least from Adidas’s side of the story, the name is. There are reports that Adidas will release non-Yeezy Yeezys next year. I am not sure if Kanye West is able to continue using the Yeezy name, but I am certain that is the least of his problems. There is still YZY. And, possibly a YZY SZN 10. No Yeezy Days? How about Donda Days? There is Donda Sports, Mr West’s managing agency that represents athletes in branding deals (and they sell stuff, like a hoodie, a pair of shorts and socks, all marked on the website ‘sold out’!). And don’t forget Ye, a name waiting to be slapped on merchandise. If Adidas continues to sell the designs that came about under Yeezy, but without that tainted name, will they still hold any appeal? Is Yeezy the same if it is not Yeezy? I mean, do sneakerheads want them if they look like Yeezys but are just Adidas? Does Adidas Boost 350 V2 have the same ring, even if you know which Yeezy shoe it is? Yes, questions there are, but, frankly, no easy answers.

Two months have past after the news that Adidas potong-ed ties with Kanye West, and a tumultuous year is near the end. Oddly, in a single day, I saw two separate guys wearing Adidas Yeezy Slides—yes, the one Mr West accused the German sportswear giant of “copying”. And in the following week, I saw more. All of them walking with considerable swagger. I think the colour of those slides I saw is the one former Adidas Yeezy (or Mr West? Was he involved in colour-naming?) called “Pure”. Oddly, all of them in that pale shade. On those occasions, I was not sure if I saw anything that wholesome. If bigotry has a colour, might it be that? Those anti-Semitic rants are still kind of fresh (let’s not even talk about his interview with Alex Jones!). And Mr West (I’ll still refer to him as that since he has always been Kanye West, the rapper, to me) has not showed that he is regretful, let alone remorseful, even planning to run for president of the US, again, totally unconcerned that what he spewed before would haunt him on the campaign trail, possibly now not trodden by Yeezys.

Another fellow in the same slide

Warning: the following contains words and descriptions some readers may find offensive

Recap: But what is more disturbing is the news that emerged, revealing the kind of boss and creative head Mr West was while steering the design and production of Yeezys. According to a report by Rolling Stones (they spoke to former staffers who requested anonymity), the rapper-designer was in a constant state of flux, even “pure chaos”. One informer told the magazine: ““It was the most hectic and chaotic experience of my life [and] career.” But poor managerial and operational skills aside, Mr West is described as a belligerent boss, and one inclined to show his sexual side even at work. Another report, headlined Kanye West Used Porn, Bullying, ‘Mind Games’ to Control Staff alleged that in one design meeting, Mr West was displeased with the shoes shown to him. He approached a senior female staffer and said to her, “I want you to make me a shoe I can fuck.” At other meetings with executives, he apparently played porn, showed intimate images and explicit videos of ex-wife Kim Kardashian. Sometimes, he showed “his own sex tapes”. It was also revealed that an open later by the Yeezy team stated that senior Adidas execs knew of Mr West’s “problematic behavior” but “turned their moral compass off”.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the chief executive and his top guys pondered over the potential fallout from its collab with Kanye West four years ago. They knew it might come to this, but perhaps making money was more important? They latter announced that they would US$246 million in profits by taking Yeezy out of the Adidas line-up. What Mr West did with Yeezy that led Adidas to such profitability and then loss was often thought to be a “cultural sensation”, but now he is a cultural pariah, best ignored, even forgotten. I have never owned a single pair of Yeezy, so I can’t say what choosing not to wear them feels like, but one of my buddies did say to me that now when he takes stock of his numerous pairs, “they look like sampah”. This is probably not how others consider Yeezys that cost them not a small sum. You can still get Adidas Yeezys at SNKR Dunk, moral compass not in sight. But do you really want to?

Photo: Jim Sim

Dust Bag Meets Sneaker

This Margiela and Salomon collaboration is one strange and enticing hybrid

Sneakers, we know, are still conceived to elicit the reaction: “it’s ugly”. But ugly, as we have repeatedly noted, is being redefined, even now, as we write this. Ugly is no longer the ugly of your parents’ fashion-consuming years. Ugly can be a compliment, even admiration Apart from ugliness, sneakers are made bulky too, and often to let the feet look bagged. The MM6 Martin Margiela X Salomon Cross Low is one such sack of a shoe. Sure, there have been others, such as the Tom Sachs x NikeCraft Mars Yard Overshoe, but it is this Margiela X Salomon collaboration, in this colour combo that makes us think of a hybrid of gorpcore and dust bag (or laundry-bag). Shoes can, more and more, be pouches with soles.

Salomon has got themselves involved in rather fascinating fashion-forward collabs. Essentially an outdoor equipment maker, the born-in-Annecy, France label has been in partnership with one of the most cutting-edge brands, Comme des Garçons, with which they created a truly fetching pair of unisex Mary-Janes (unsurprisingly, these quickly sold out when launched last year), with trail-ready soles. Its partnership with the Margiela imprint MM6 is no less appetite-arousing. Although ostensibly a trail shoe, the Cross Low looks more like a high cut, with the added aesthetical heft of Margiela’s subversion bent. With the draw cords, you may gather the rip-stop upper-half into a small sack not unlike a gym bag, rendering it ready for inclement weather.

Underscoring the polyester bag-upper is a solid shoe with rubber soles, conceived for a rugged terrain. But in all likelihood, this Cross Low would be used on far much flatter, urban ground such as the city pavement. According to an MM6 statement, their “motivation was to create a shoe that could easily transition between cityscapes and the great outdoors — a single product that both maintained Salomon’s high-performance specifications and also resonated with MM6 Maison Margiela’s contemporary aesthetic”. As with the main line Maison Margiela’s pairing with Reebok—the Project 0 CL nylon tabi sneakers!—few will wear the Cross Low for sporting pursuits. There is too much fashion in it.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

MM6 Martin Margiela X Salomon Cross Low, SGD590, is available at Club 21. Photo Salomon

Bobitecture Of Shoes

It’s hard to deny the influence of Yeezys

Givenchy TK-360+

They could pass off as something made of bread dough. That’s what came to mind when we saw the Givenchy TK-360+ sneakers up close. A leavened lump. An irregular loaf. A curvilinear paste. With scored pattern on top, no less. They look comfortable, but we are not sure we’re comfortable with how they look. Ugly footwear is, for sure, still a thing. With new footwear technology and design approaches, ugliness can be enhanced, rather than diminished. Sure, luxury brands are re-defining sleek, but they are also (still) augmenting unseemliness, especially in the form of the clunky. And, far-out. Yet, these shoes do not necessarily invite replusion. Unlike It bags, It shoes have to be somewhat odious, at least at the first encounter. But warming up to them does not take time. Aesthetically, they need to be, for the present, staggeringly anti-trim. Sneakers unlike clothes, cannot be worn oversized, so designers exaggerate the form and disfigure the already clumpy soles to allow the kicks to appear to house distended feet. The TK-360+ is keeping with this new tradition.

Givenchy isn’t the first to offer blobs for feet. That honour could go to the doomed Adidas Yeezy collaboration. Kanye West’s ideas for sneakers never truly made the feet look especially sleek and aerodynamic. Sure, Yeezy 350, which were almost synonymous with the Yeezy footwear line, was not quite clunky, but the Yeezy 500 from 2018 was, so too the 570. Other new styles that came later got progressively bulkier: the 700 V1, V2, and V3, the 700 QNTM (even the “OG”), and without doubt, the post-350 of the 380, culminating in the outright alien Foam Runner. The TK-360+ in its first version (released in May, with a style number minus the +) did bring to mind Adidas Yeezy Knit Runner from September last year, way before things turned awry for the partnership. The Adidas Yeezy and the Givenchy are all-knit slip-ons, with details in the mid-sole: one with a horizontal slit, the other a vertical groove. The Knit Runner was considered Mr West’s most “avant-garde” silhouette. Givenchy’s Matthew M Williams described the TK-360+ as his “dream shoe”. But, for some of us, not quite sweet.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Givenchy TK360+ sneakers, SGD1,450, are available in stores. Photo: Jim Sim

The Colour Of (Pulled) Milk Tea

Sneakers that come in shades of food are not unusual, but those in one of our fave beverages, the teh tarik, are rather

By Awang Sulung

Malaysia and our little island share many things in common, food wise. But I am not wadding into the nasi lemak debate. Jangan! Never! Rather, let’s dip into our shared love of milk tea, especially teh tarik (or pulled tea in Malay, even if it’s essentially a mamak brew) And, across the Causeway, they seem far more willing to pair their love of this beverage with their love of sneakers than we do, so much so that they managed to convince Asics to colour of one the Japanese brand’s most popular sneaks—the Gel-Lyte III—in the particular orange-y tint of the teh Malaysians love to drink with roti canai. I don’t think Asics has any pair that sports the green of matcha, but in Malaysia, they have theirs that could have really been dipped in milk tea.

And I must say they appear fetching, if not sedap. And, for sure, they look cukup lemak, with the suede-like upper really imparting the full-cream milkiness of the teh. There is, for contrast, even the Asics Tiger Stripes in a fuzzy fabric, which could be the characteristic foam of the beverage. The latest colour story of the Gel-Lyte III is really the quenching of the creative thirst of one of Malaysia’s leading streetwear retailers Hundred%. This is, in fact, a follow-up to 2019’s GEL-Kayano 5 OG that came in the shades of nasi lemak! A work of not just Hundred%, but also the Malaysian sneaker con and store, SneakerLAH. Frankly, that skim warna did not work for me, as I consider it a tad gawdy. But this time, the monochromatic choice of teh tarik is, I find, more appealing .

I’ve always been a fan of the Gel-Lyte III, with its distinctive forked-tongue, but not like those of reptiles. And this teh tarik version has added grassroots/kedai kopi pull for me. Unfortunately, it is only available in Kuala Lumpur, and in one physical location. If you have a friend in the capital to do you a favour, your problem could be solved, but I fear that by the time you read this post, this pair of Asics, launched tomorrow, would be sold out, which would really leave some of us quite haus.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Asics Gel-Lyte IIITeh Tarik’, RM699, is only available at Home Store, Jalan Pudu, Kuala Lumpur. Photo: Asics

Culture On!

Our island’s annual street-style, multi-activity fair Culture Cartel is back with their fourth edition. This time, in Orchard Road. Could this be the best retail event of the year?

The main concourse of Culture Cartel in Scape

In an op-ed last Monday for The Straits Times, ‘How to make Orchard Road great again for shoppers’, the former writer of the paper’s now-defunct Urban Karen Tee opined that “the shopping experience [on said street] does not always live up to expectations”. She isn’t wrong. The first reason Ms Tee cited is that “popular sizes and product models are often sold out”. Most retailers will say that it is nearly impossible to stock all the sizes and styles at once so that they are available to all customers whenever they walk into a store. Had it been just bad luck for the shopper? Additionally, Ms Tee is of the belief that brands are resistant to bringing in “too many statement pieces”. She did not explain why that many are needed if they are indeed those items that make a statement. A former buyer at Comme des Garçons once told us that “statement pieces are very expensive and it is not easy to sell them. Often, we have to mark down.”

What was interestingly missing in Ms Tee’s observation of shopping in Orchard Road was the no-mention of fashion—and culture—that correlates with youths, surely an important and influential market segment, and one that leads in terms of the experiential. She did write of the need to make shopping fun, and described the recently-concluded Boutique Fairs as “a nice break from the usual Orchard Road shopping experience”. What was fun or out of the ordinary to her at the Fairs? Apparently the chance “to meet designers in person and learn about their creative process (we, too, were there, but no designer spoke to us about that), making shopping a lived experience rather than just a mere transaction”. She then mentioned Tokyo’s Shimokitazawa neighbourhood and Seoul’s Hongdae, and how much she “enjoyed” both. Ms Tee did not indicate that Shimokitazawa and Hongdae, which is close to Hongik University, are essentially enclaves of a generally youthful consumer population. Retailers in these places do cater to the young; their businesses and the lively mix of tenants impart a distinct vibe to the place, as well as dynamism. Perhaps, more importantly, it’s easy to describe them as cool. In the end, we are curious to know if Ms Tee ever “met any designer in person” in those places. And, at the Boutique Fairs, were “popular sizes and product models” always in stock? And did she find her elusive statement pieces?

When we mentioned this ST story to a PR consultant, she was quick to say: “no fresh perspectives”. And we agree. Were these not the same gripes we have been hearing for the last 20 or so years? Orchard Road can never be Tokyo’s Omotesando—another street Ms Tee mentioned, nor should it try to be. In fact, “A Great Street”, as Orchard Road Business Association (ORBA) likes to call it, cannot come close to any of the main shopping areas in the Japanese capital. Omotesando is unlike any other major shopping belt in the world, not even Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré in Paris, or New Bond Street in London, is comparable. What makes Omotesando exceptional is that it is flanked and well served by the arterial streets of Ura-Harajuku and Aoyama/Jingumae on each side of the thoroughfare. And in these parts, you do find stores and brands that are not part of the usual European luxury conglomerates. Therein lies the opportunity for discovery, and gratification, and entertainment. Orchard Road is just one mall-lined street. Ms Tee mentioned the need to make shopping fun without saying what indeed makes for fun. Perhaps she might find it if she pops into Culture Cartel this weekend.

Massive installations dot Culture Cartel. Here, Singaporean toy and art studio Mighty Jazz’s CHXMP fronting Culture Cartel

Cuteness is often part of street culture. At Culture Cartel, a “Petting Zoo”

This year’s Culture Cartel is held at the (now significantly disused) *Scape. It is the fair’s first appearance in Orchard Road, and a rousing return to a physical space after 2020’s digital version and last year’s understandable hiatus. Culture Cartel is described as “the best and the only street culture event in Asia”, which may have been the selling point that snagged the Singapore Tourism Board as a firm supporter, hoping to “position Singapore as a street culture hub”. In his opening speech during the media preview this morning, convention director Jeremy Tan of Axis Group Asia revealed that the confirmation of the use of *Scape came only in July this year, which effectively gave him and his partners four months to prepare. Despite the short lead time, things came neatly to place because of the “creative passion, the bonds, and community spirit”. Culture Cartel is different from other street style-style-driven events in that it is a collective expression of what the culture is about: an amalgamation of obsessions, not just sneakers or T-shirts, but also figurines and toys, customised-ornamenting of motorcycles, even garments, and, for the first time, NFTs, and the very real art of tattooing. In fact, there are “six pillars” in all.

The event occupies the first three levels of *Scape, covering an area of 63,420 sq ft (or about 5,892 sqm), which is smaller than the F1 Pit Building, location of the first and second Culture Cartel. Housing the event here (possibly the last on such a scale as the 15-year-old building will, according to The Straits Times, “undergo a revamp” and reopen in 2024) is a boon to those participants who like proper, demarcated spaces, within which to tell their brand stories, and to do so with visual flair. Going from one brand space to another here is also a more agreeable experience. At the F1 Pit Building in the past, it took considerable time to go from one end to the other of the length of each floor. Conversely, *Scape, a building that’s triangular in shape, is a lot more compact. Mr Tan exclaimed to a member of the press: “It’s like a shopping mall experience.” Culture Cartel is not the first such event to be held here. In 2019, before the COVID 19 pandemic, the now-single-day-event-at-Drip-last-month Sole Superior (that once also went by the moniker Street Superior) staged their ‘con’ here, but with considerably less orderliness and, for some, pull.

One of the most popular areas of the event is the Archive Room, with Mark Ong’s SBTG on the left

One of the best local newcomers is the menswear brand N3AVIGATE

Regular attendees to Culture Cartel will be able to spot the regular exhibitors and the obligatory shops of the sponsors. The event is not discernibly zoned, except for the areas shared by tattoo artists. The most appealing set-up is by Pharaoh’s Horses, a Singaporean tattoo-parlour-cum-clothier, who offers fashion inspired by tattoo art. Many visitors appear to head straight for level three (the main atrium is on level two, and what appears to be the basement is, in fact, level 1). And the space that seems to draw them in is the Archive Room, curated by Chooee Hwang of the street-culture-centric media company Streething, with input from possibly the most beloved OG of the scene Mark Ong of SBTG. Mr Ong has his own space (thronged by fans) that offers, among the usual T-shirts and such, “neo-vintage” sneaks—new shoes made to look old. Mr Hwang explained that the idea of the Archive Room is to offer something that counters e-commerce platforms. “Everything is online, but I want a physical room, I want to create an on-site experience by putting out what I have, or sort of archive.”

One of the joys of an event such as Culture Cartel is to discover labels unheard of before (or unfamiliar), not necessarily just to meet the designers. One of the brands we were delighted to encounter in the Archive Room is the four-year-old N3avigate. As the numeral in the name suggests, there is a trio behind the brand—Aaron Yip, Alvin Tan, and Justin Low. N3avigate, founded in 2019, is a menswear label with a military/work wear aesthetic, reminiscent of WTAPS, and GR-Uniforma. Mr Tan says the clothes are “designed at home” since they do not operate out of a studio, as the guys have their “day jobs”. He happily reveals that he is working for Casio and has, in fact, “just finished setting up before coming over”. The clothes are produced in three countries: China, Vietnam, and Indonesia. We like the visual merchandising of the line, as well as the design consistency and the hand feel of the products, although the production would benefit from technical expertise. When we asked Mr Tan if he was invited by Mark Ong to participate in Culture Cartel, he replied, “Oh, we are friends!”

The unsurprising queue outside the Limited Edt unit, dubbed the Ice Cream Parlour

One of the few sneaker resellers, RAuthentic X District_Co, with their piled-up merchandise

Some names are the mainstays of Culture Cartel. Limited Edt certainly is, as the proprietor Mandeep Chopra is on the four-man organising team that includes Jeremy Tan, and Douglas Khee and Dave Chiam, co-founders of the event management outfit Division Communications. The almost twenty-year-old Limited Edt, with a gelato-coloured store front, sits in one corner of the third floor, next to an entryway, and it soon becomes clear why that is a vantage site. As soon as the event opened to the public, the first spot to draw a visibly long queue is Limited Edt (the line stretches past the glass sliding door of the building and into the corridor outside). Reportedly, there are “hourly drops” of limited-edition kicks for grabs. One teenaged guy in the line told us, with confident smugness, when we asked him what he was queuing for, “anything Limited Edt offers” and then qualified, ”they have the good stuff.” Apart from the sneakers, this time displayed in refrigerator units (likely not turned on) to mimic an ice cream parlour (the Limited EDT space is, ironically, the warmest on this floor), there is also a small collection from Patta, the much-watched streetwear-store-turned-brand from Amsterdam.

Sneakers are, surprisingly, not the biggest draw at Culture Cartel. Sure, there is that line at Limited Edt, but not quite elsewhere. With less than ten sneaker exhibitors, the offerings may not be the catch that such ‘cons’ are usually associated with. Mr Tan explains that as the venue was confirmed relatively late, many brands and retailers have already committed their budgets to other activities, but he did say that by representation, only Vans is not a participant this year. For those who like ‘con’-style kicks-stops, there is a lively corner jointly operated by Ruben Chan of RAuthentic and Edgar Goh of District_Co. Mr Chan, who primarily sells “sneaker accessories” such as crease guards (placed in the shoe to protect the toe box from furrowing), shoe trees, sneaker pills (deodorants), told us that he is “the top seller of (such) accessories on Shopee”. When we spotted several pairs of Yeezy in the tempting (but size-limited) pile of collectibles and wondered if there is still a demand for them, he said, “yes, there is, especially now that the partnership is over.” Has the price increased? “Not much, by the 10 to 20”, he replied while busy serving customers. Percent, we assume.

One of the best-looking set-ups at Culture Cartel is by the Hong Kong label Subcrew

Malaysian brand Nerdunit has the best sales drive in the whole event

From Culture Cartel’s overseas guest-exhibitors, two brands standout: Hong Kong’s Subcrew (appearing with Plants of Gods) and Malaysia’s Nerdunit. Subcrew—also known as 潜队 back in the Fragrant Harbour—is one of the smallest exhibitors, but they have created one of the simplest and sleekest space in the whole event, featuring ceramic incense burners in the shape of squat succulents by Plants of Gods (POG), an online plant store that “aims to promote a gardening culture”, as well as T-shirts with creepy-cute characters of plants, personified. Co-owner of POG Benny Fung informed us that presently Subcrew has a pop-up in Hong Kong’s Mongkok Sneaker Street (or 布鞋街). When we asked what the situation in Mongkok—and indeed Hong Kong—is like, he said, “everything is back to normal.” Subcrew is considered to be the SAR’s OG streetwear brand. POG’s collaboration with Subcrew is a tale of intertwining within the burgeoning street culture of the city. One name keeps popping up: Prodip Leung (梁伟庭), a bassist with Hong Kong’s influential hip-hop group LMF (Lazy Mutha Fucka). Mr Leung is also an artist and his work, such as the alien-looking POG Fever, appears on on ofthe T-shirts (limited quantities are available at Culture Cartel). When asked how he came to collaborate with members of Subcrew, Mr Fung said, “Oh, we used to skateboard together!”

Just as fascinating is Malaysia’s Nerdunit. And how they sell: Shoppers pay only S$120 and would be passed a small plastic basket, with which to stuff as many pieces of the mostly T-shirts as possible in 120 seconds. The stack must not go above the rim of the basket. Fun is indeed part of the experience here (was this what Karen Tee meant by fun?). Nerdunit takes up a considerable space in one of the units on level three, with a giant inflatable ‘sunflower’ sporting a smiley face welcoming shoppers. Founded and designed by Malaysian Ronald Chew in 2013, Nerdunit has a sub-brand Water the Plants (in collaboration with UK brand Smiley), also available at Culture Cartel, so is the label’s paring with Japanese imprint FR2 (or Fxxking Rabbits, the provocative other line by Ryo Ishikawa of Vanquish). The clothing of Nerdunit, designed out of a studio in Kuala Lumpur, has been retailing in Japan for four years and is available at Tokyo’s Laforet in Harajuku. General manager Raja Iskandar Shah gleefully tells us that they’re “on the first floor”, and is even more delighted when we noted that Undercover’s pop-up Madstore was on the same level too.

“Photo wall” inside the Mighty Jaxx space

The small but well-curated offering of Luca & Vic

Increasingly, toys are very much a part of the street culture, with many creatives/brand owners who are artists themselves, such as Plants of Gods’s Prodip Leung. Toys/figurines/art collectibles are reportedly a sizeable business on our island. One of the most noted names is Mighty Jaxx, the design studio that produces some of the most fetching little creatures you’ll ever dream of owning. Appearing at Culture Cartel is CHXMP, the company’s “first employee” in the Metaverse (smaller physical versions are on sale). While Mighty Jaxx is moving further into the digital world, their physical store is no less engaging. There is even a set-up where visitors can take selfies in possibly an office of the future. Small players are not left out. Luca And Vic, founded in 2019, is the brain child of Calvin Chua, who named his business and store after his two children. Mr Chua considers himself a toy collector first, then seller. In his motley stash is Lao Wang, the asymmetrical-eyes-above-mouth character, designed by Shanghai-based Malaysian artist Ken Wong. Also known by the Chinese moniker huabi laowang (花臂老王), the charming figures come in various guises, including one as Bruce Lee and another as Santa Wang! We wonder if Mr Chua’s buying is based on his own taste or what the market thirsts for. “I’m still learning,” he says. “There are major players here, and there’s the community.”

That keeps coming back throughout our exploration of Culture Cartel: the social heart of those who embrace the culture. Jeremy Tan is heard telling a journalist “that is why we as curators are apt for the job. We have earned the trust of the community.” Culture Cartel can indeed be the gravitational centre of a group/tribe that is no longer catered for in tangible ways. Physical spaces in the past include The Heeren and Far East Plaza, but they are no longer even a shadow of their former selves. Cathay Cineleisure, *Scape’s immediate neighbour, was headed in that direction, but lost its way; it’s now a ghost town. A four-day event, however, is not quite sufficient for sustained visibility of the community and the individuals who believe in it. Although the entry charge into Culture Cartel is somewhat steep, it opens one to this admirable group of individuals who are deeply knowledgeable of and passionate in what they do. And the camaraderie is infectious, which is rather absent in the larger fashion world. We left Culture Cartel shortly after 1pm. At the traffic junction of Grange and Somerset Roads, Mark Ong was waiting to cross the former to head for 313@Somerset. A trio of possibly fans spoke to him. He said cheerily, “I’m meeting Chooee for lunch. Some friends brought nasi lemak from JB for me. Want to share with the Japanese (exhibitors).” Community in action.

Culture Cartel 2022 opens today at *Scape and will run until 4 December 2022. Entry passes can be purchase on site: SGD30 for a single day or SGD69 for all four days. Photos: Chin Boh Kay

“Kicked Out”!

That was in the NBC News headline. Kanye West made an ”uninvited” visit to the Skechers HQ and was “escorted” out of the building. Is this a sign of out-of-control or desperation?

With Adidas out of the way, is Kanye West looking to co-brand his precious Yeezy again? Friends in the US (and a Malaysian reader too!) have been enthusiastically sending us reports all morning of Kanye West’s alleged trespass into the headquarters of the Southern Californian sneaker brand Skechers. The company later released a statement to say that the disgraced rapper “arrived unannounced and without invitation at one of Skechers’ corporate offices in Los Angeles”. According to CNBC News, Mr West was with other unidentified people. They were, according to Skechers, “engaged in unauthorized filming”. What they were filming is not known. “Two Skechers executives escorted him and his party from the building after a brief conversation”. There was no report of unfriendly exchange.

Skechers was also certain to say that it “is not considering and has no intention of working with West”. This is likely in anticipation of the speculation that Mr West is looking for a sneaker brand to replace Adidas. You know by now that he was dropped by the Three Stripes, after a considerable period of “review” (which turned many customers impatient, asking for a boycott of Adidas), for comments considered “anti-Semitic and hateful”. Skechers, too, showed that they are willing to censure what he has repeatedly said. “We condemn his recent divisive remarks and do not tolerate antisemitism or any other form of hate speech.” There clearly would not be Skechers Yeezy!

Mr West has already been called out and dropped by three fashion brands. There are not many corporations he could really turn to now, if they are not the likes of Parler. While his clothing line can possibly wait, his sneakers cannot. With Adidas, they have created what is considered one of the most successful shoe partnerships in modern footwear history, making him a billionaire—he no longer is, as Forbes was quick to declare after the Adidas split with him. It is unsurprising, therefore, that the rapper would need to find another company to continue the Yeezy drops. He has previously announced: “I need a shoe company like how Jaimie Salter bought Reebok. Or I’ll take over some shoe factories.” Was what happened at the Skechers compound an incursion?

Mr West being turned away by Skechers would augment the brand’s corporate standing and show that they are willing to do what’s right, and swiftly. One PR professional told us, “It is PR value that costs Skechers nothing.” The shoe label known for their memory foam technology currently has Korean actor Pak Seo Jun as their regional ambassador (for Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong, and Macau). Cedrick Tan, Skechers SVP, told Marketing Interactive last year that “with the shorter and fragmented attention span of consumers today, it is important that a brand ambassador, besides having a positive, well-liked image, is a role model who is multi-dimensional, driven, and inspiring”. They would not find that person in Kanye West.

Which brand will he go acalling next? LA Gear?

File photos: Chin Boh Kay for SOTD

Persuasive Pastels

Some light colours just beckon. New Balance knows it

The thing about colours for sneakers is that neither-vivid-nor-pristine tones don’t score massively among hypebeasts. It’s usually either all-white or all-black, or an amalgamation of staggering brights. With the release of New Balance’s newest collab in the form of the 993 silhouette, the chromatic story is a little different, and a little surprising, especially when we’re entering what is the fall season or, for many here, the ghoulish festival of black and orange—Halloween. NB has paired with the Chicago designer Joe Freshgoods and the result is rather pale. The two brands call the colors—a blue and a green (the pink will launch later)—“pastel”. We like and feature here the blue, which comes with the strangely soft “vintage rose”. Don’t get us wrong, this pair of Made in USA kicks is as handsome and virile as they come.

First released in 2008, the Boston brand’s 993 is a mashup of the 991 and 992 styles that arrived earlier. And it still looks like the runner of its time, even with the new colours, unlike the neo-vintagey XC-72—“the past could only imagine the future” as NB touts it. As hyperbolic as it sounds, the sum of the mesh and suede upper is described as “Performance Art”, and the characterisation even appears on the underside of the cover of the shoe box. Truth be told, we have not taken this 993 through the requisite paces, but we have no doubt it will perform, whether for running or for running errands. And it seems that the colours are aimed at those with a fashionable bent, not just street-style aficionados. Or, the more gender-neutral inclined. We keep thinking they would go with something from Fendi.

Joe “Freshgoods” Robinson (who also goes by the abbreviation JFG) draws from his home city to put out merchandise that has been said to reflect his home culture. Some call him “poet of merch, king of collab”. He describes himself on his webpage: “I’m crazy. I’m all over the place. I randomly collab with friends. I release clothes when I feel like it. I have no structure.” Might this also mean the “unmanageable” that another Black bro/designer described himself not too long ago? This is Mr Robinson’s fourth collaboration with NB. But his work isn’t restricted to footwear. Back in April, New Balance appointed him as the brand’s creative director for the ”Conversations Among Us” campaign.

Despite his alleged craziness and randomness, Mr Robinson did not go quite wild with his makeover of the 993. It is, to us, even subtler than Junya Watanabe’s pairing with NB through the 573 ‘legacy’. But there is something undeniably sweet about the colour choice. And in the still pro-bombastic sneaker world, something this understated, looking like a real athletic shoe, does stand out. New Balance, of course, isn’t averse to more eye-catching collabs. Just look at the 574 with Miu Miu or the latest just-as-torn-looking 2002R Protection Pack by the new creative director Teddy Santis. But a silhouette that looks trim and slowly moving out of the dad sphere may be what many of us need for our next rotation.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

New Balance X Joe Freshgoods Made in USA 993, SGD329, Is available at DSMS from today, or at the New Balance web store. Photo: New Balance

Beyond Baseball

The Korea-linked fashion brand Major League Baseball or MLB has opened their first store on our island. They intend to “be major”; they just might

Clothing and footwear associated with specific sports are not necessarily a consideration when consumers without sports in their minds shop for apparel and footwear. Even skate wear is now largely adopted by those who don them without skateboards. The brand Major League Baseball (known by the abbreviation MLB), despite its affiliation with the game and organisation, has similarly been embraced by those who have never pitched a baseball in a diamond field before. Despite its association with baseball, a sport that’s not quite the rage here or widely played, MLB is very much “a premium lifestyle brand”, as we were told. The crossover, if ever there was one, could easily place them in the same league as sports brands that play down sporting pursuits as USP, such as Fila. And the sports-lite positioning is very much evident in MLB’s newly-opened debut store on our island at the Mandarin Gallery.

Aesthetically, MLB is sportswear meets streetwear, with a heavy dose of hip-hop styling, K-pop style—an unsurprising proposition considering that MLB is licensed by the Korean garment manufacturer and retailer F&F Group, also the producer of the outdoor brand Discovery Expedition, created under a licensing deal with Discovery Channel. Their design studio is based in Seoul, and MLB has enjoyed the ambassadorial exposure of their homegrown stars such as the all-girl pop quartet aespa (spelled with a lowercase initial ‘a’). To enhance their Korean design sensibility, the brand, with more than 360 stores throughout Asia, is largely known on social media as MLB Korea (or KR), possibly to avoid the potential mix-up with MLB players’ on-field uniforms, now produced by Nike (who took over from Majestic Athletic in 2020) or teamwear merchandise and fan fashion sold in dedicated MLB shops, and online.

On our shores, the brand that benefits from the 150-year-heritage of Major League Baseball is distributed by the Kuala Lumpur-based retail conglomerate Valiram Group, who represents popular label such as Michael Kors, Victoria’s Secret, and Tumi here. On the first-level, street-fronting row of shops of the Mandarin Gallery, Valiram brands flank the 12-year-old building. With MLB in the middle (where Boss used to be); this—as we overhead someone say—could soon be “Valiram street”. MLB is expected to do well here, as it does in other cities in Asia that it operates in. Denise Yeo, assistant VP for marketing for Valiram brands, revealed that more MLB stores are down the pipeline. “We’re definitely opening more stores,” she revealed. “Our next is in Changi Airport T1. We are looking at other malls, but unless the ink is dry, we can’t say anything.”

The merchandising in the 120-sqm store, touted as a flagship, is trend-led, youth-oriented, and influencer-friendly. The media release for the store opening goes further: “The MLB brand fashion attitude is unique, non-conforming and independent, targeting a trend-forward customer base, who love music and dance”, alluding not to sports and definitely not to baseball, but to their alignment with the highly marketable and associable K-pop scene. Shoppers are expected to zoom in on their footwear (the brand was one of the earliest to espouse chunky, “dad shoes” even before they became trendy), T-shirts (especially those with adorable cartoon graphics), as well as merchandise with the popular ‘Diamond’ monogram and the other with repeated NY letters, as worn by the four lasses of aespa in their promotional photos for the brand.

Unsurprisingly, a large wall is dedicated to caps and other headwear, such as bucket hats. According to Korean news media, one MLB baseball cap is “sold every 10 seconds”. Expecting the caps to do spectacularly, the store is stocked with “over 300 classic and new styles all year round”, which readily affords the boast of “the widest range of caps in Asia”. Inside MLB earlier today, mask-on Tyler Ten (邓伟德 or Deng Weide), as OK Chan in the just-concluded When Duty Calls 2 (卫国先锋2) on Channel 8, who “happened to be nearby” when a friend asked him to visit the store, wore an MLB khaki cotton twill cap with the initials LA in the middle (it was, he said, “unplanned”) while looking at the wall of caps. When asked if he, a muay Thai enthusiast and former bodybuilder, likes the brand, he gave a simple “sure” and pointed to what he wore on his head. “Yah, I like sporty clothes,” he added.

Style sportif—not necessarily sports performance wear—have since the ’90s been part of the urban wardrobe and are crucial to streetwear. Ditto baseball caps. So important a merchandise category ‘sporty’ became that even luxury brands saw the need to include it, as seen, particularly, in those by Louis Vuitton and Dior. In the pre-pandemic years, it sailed into a whole new category, athleisure, those garments that allow wearers to easily transition between gym/court/track/field and leisure. In 2021, when WFH was (and, for many, still is) a real option, sportswear was the veritable winner. MLB’s arrival here could be seen as a little belated, especially given the emergence of massive flagships by leading sports labels in this part of Orchard Road months earlier that, too, offer a strong lifestyle component. But with persuasive K-pop association and a savvy design language, MLB may catch up with more speed than the next Blackpink catapulting up the charts.

MLB opens today at #01-06 Mandarin Gallery. Photos: Chin Boh Kay

Ready For Ripped

Not really. It is harder to wear tattered shoes than torn jeans

The tattered version of the Converse Chuck 70

By Ray Zhang

I own only a pair of carefully tattered—but not knee-baring or buttocks-exposing—jeans, and I think I have only worn it once. It’s now somewhere inside a box of unworn clothes asking to be in favour again, but they are more forgotten than loved. I have never taken a shine to anything torn except, maybe, frayed hems. So it amuses me to no end when social media went mad with the news that Balenciaga released a pair of practically damaged shoes. I only saw the photographs, but they look ridiculous to me. The kicks in that condition are saleable? No retailer would accept returns of shoes in that state, but Balenciaga would sell them like that? I remember when Maison Margiela made available in 2017 a pair of battered sneakers for US$1,425, I told myself that the world has gone quite berserk. But at least those shoes—broken-down version of the brand’s ‘Future’ high-tops—were not dirty. Soiled shoes, I learned on SOTD, are trending—that also escapes me.

The “destroyed” Balenciaga shoes look to me like Converse kicks worn at a construction site on a rainy day. And I have really seen them in that condition, unaided by Balenciaga’s very capable China factory, but I have never been seduced by them. I own only one pair of Converse in my entire life. It was the Chuck Taylor conceived in collaboration with Junya Watanabe that came in Madras check of rather bright yellow (unfortunately the soles crumbled and I couldn’t wear them anymore). Pristine, uncoloured Converse canvas shoes do not appeal to me. People have frequently said to me that Converse shoes look better when worn out and soiled. I don’t know about soiled, but I am willing to try a little worn out. I have tried ugly, how bad can mildly ragged be? When, at The Foot Locker, recently I spotted a pair of Converse Chuck 70 High that was quite torn on the heel and collar (and on sale!), I was oddly drawn to it. I tried them on, and my friends who were with me said: “They really look good on you.” Really? I bought them despite the very certain fear that with them on my feet, I might look like I do not have money to buy proper shoes that are in tact, even if that could be true.

A fellow torn Converse wearer. Photo: Ray Zhang

While I refuse to buy into Balenciaga’s wrecked aesthetics because I am unable to entertain the brand laughing at all the idiots who could be so easily duped into this possible high-end scam, I thought I might give sneakers that are not violently ripped a try just to see how I’d feel in them. After I put on my new torn Converse, my mother caught sight of them. She said somewhat sternly, “if you have no money to buy shoes, let me know.” Why did she not say that earlier? Not long after I stepped out in my new torn kicks, I saw a buffed-up fellow in a scuffed-up pair of the same Converse I had on. Were there so many sold that I would meet someone identically togged on the very first that I put the sneakers through their paces? But, his looked worse than mine, and were as beaten-up as he was worse for wear. He did not appear to adopt the shoes to be on trend. With nondescript T-shirt and ‘berms’, he looked like your regular heartlander. I was suddenly relieved; I would not, I thought, look like an unfortunate victim.

In the MRT train, I noticed that many commuters wore white sneakers, but none of them were torn, not even a tiny nick could be seen on any. On my feet could be a fashion statement, but it did not make me feel particularly fashionable. As classic kicks go, few are as adored as the Converse, especially in school-shoe white. And perhaps therein lies the deep doubt for me. There is something not quite grown-up happening on my feet. Perhaps I need to wait till my Chuck 70s are really threadbare. I realised as I stared at them in the train car that there is, in fact, a hidden blue layer beneath. It is possible that when the upper is decorticated, what’s below will be revealed and it will be whole. Tatty, I reminded myself, is not better than tidy.

The Converse Chuck 70 High (torn), now SGD79, is available in stores. Photo (top) Jim Sim

Two Of A Kind: Get A Grip

They are different product categories, but both are caught in claws

Alabaster Industry’s ‘Web’ watch and the the Adidas Yeezy 45 in slate. Photos: respective brands

From wristwatches to sneakers, things are getting clawed. American cult watch brand Alabaster Industries is known for releasing timepieces that sellout in minutes. Their watches were first available here at Dover Street Market SG last April. DSMS has announced that Alabaster Industries will be back in the store this Saturday. One of the most distinctive (hence, sought after) feature of the watch is the stainless steel case cage, shaped like some claw, catching the face in its menacing grip. Even the lug (which holds the matching band) are talons. It is not quite traditional, for sure. They do appear rather sinister, even when the face of the watch is violet, but collectors love the ungual bezel precisely because they do not look like anyone would mess with them.

No less ominous-looking is the Adidas Yeezy 450, first seen online last February. Even in the butter yellow that the brand calls “sulfur”, there is no escaping those bestial appendages—only Kanye West (or his design team) has made them more alien-looking. In fact, they have been called “futuristic”. The shoe is essentially a Primeknit upper caught in the claws, made of the now-trendy material, EVA (ethylene-vinyl acetate) foam. The entire base has been described as a “dynamic-shaped” sole. Seen from the top, if the sneaker does not hold a foot or is propped by a shoe tree, it looks like flaccid fabric framed by limp dough. However strange it looks, the Yeezy 450 remains wildly popular, and difficult to score.

Looking at animal extremities for ideas is not that strange a practice. We remember Alexander McQueen’s “armadillo” shoes. That the fascination with hoofs is now extended to claws is really, especially in the case of Alabaster Industries, rather a matter of time. Even Raf Simons’s skeleton bracelet-cum-arm-band is in similar territory, never mind that the reference is decidedly human. Fashion is clearly in the grip of the strange and the claw-like. When will chicken feet be next?

Alabaster Industries watches will launch at DSMS on 6 August 2022. Adidas Yeezy 450 is available at adidas.com

The Heart Isn’t Lonely Anymore

The mighty heart of Comme des Garçons’s Play line now has a Converse star for company

A good heart is hard to find, they say (and sing). But the Comme des Garçons sub-brand Play did discover one. And the brand has used it well, establishing a long relationship with it—20 years! It first appeared on T-shirts, followed but other garments, then on shoes, and perfume bottles. But the mouthless heart—the first-born is red—has mostly been a solo act, even if it has appeared with its siblings of other colours, even expressions. On sneakers, it certainly has been more of a singleton (even if it appears as multiples of itself). Until now. In Play’s latest collaboration with Converse the seeing heart—in red—is given a celestial companion, a star. And a red one too.

On the quarter of the cotton upper of the Converse One Star sneaker (rather than the usual Chuck Taylor All Star since 2009), the heart is placed on its side, as if reclining. The star, a pentagram, slightly askew, appears as an inset, as if framed. The pointed end (chin?) of the heart is directed at the left vertex of the inner pentagon. It is tempting to think there could be a message in that side-by-side placement, but if the pentagram is also a symbol of humanity (as suggested in Leonardo Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man for instance), than the heart, even if it is not looking at his mate, is a fitting—and comely—match.

Play Comme des Garçons X Converse One Star, SGD210, is available at Play corners and Comme des Garçons. Photo: Comme des Garçons