New @ Design Orchard

But first, we have to stop giggling

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

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

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

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

Photos: shopdesignorchard/Instagram

Scam, Bam, Thank You, Ma’am: Who Is Siriwipa Pansuk?

She carries Dior bags and sells those by Hermes and Chanel, as well as watches by Rolex and Patek Philippe. But she’s on the run; a luxury goods fraudster, now known to have operated in more than one city

It is hard not to say that Siriwipa Pansuk (ศิริวิภา พันสุข) is a talented young woman. If reports now slowly emerging in Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand are to be believed, the 27-year-old has a knack for social media and, through her online-retail skills, scamming. So good she had been that the Thai national and her one-year-younger Fujian-born Singaporean husband Pi Jiapeng (皮佳鹏) was allegedly able to make some 180 shoppers or so here part with S$32 million upfront for luxury goods that were never delivered. Both were under police investigation and their passports were impounded, but they managed to flee the Lion City via the Causeway, through the Tuas Checkpoint, concealed in a container of a lorry, driven by a Malaysian man, now arrested. The Singapore Police Force and the Interpol have issued warrants for the arrest of these two individuals (Ms Pansuk became the 13th Thai on the Interpol list). They are believed to have arrived in Thailand, but their whereabouts is not known.

As soon as their wanted status was announced, Thai social media was abuzz with rumours and speculations about their criminal compatriot. It is now known that victims in Bangkok have reached out to their Singaporean counterparts to share the former’s own transactional experiences that involved Ms Pansuk. As it were, she had used the same ruse in the Thai capitol and was, in fact, the Thai police’s person of interest in an investigation into scams that sound similar to what the husband and wife used here to defraud those many people, all the while living a life of enviable/admirable luxury, including the ownership of two flashy sports cars (later reported to be four), one of them purportedly bought as a gift by Ms Pansuk for her husband that were, as shown in online photographs, parked in the driveway of their rented Holland Road house that came with a lap pool.

As it were, she had used the same ruse in the Thai capitol and was, in fact, the Thai police’s person of interest in an investigation into scams that sound similar to what the husband and wife used here to defraud those many people, all the while living a life of supposed luxury, including the use of two fancy sports cars

Known to the online daigou (代购 or purchasing-on-behalf-of-clients) community as Ann, she has now been exposed on Thai social media and news outlets to have scammed others as far as Korea and many others in her homeland. Back in mid-2017 (and until early 2018), when Korea would be hit by a bitterly cold winter around Christmas, according to Yonhap News Agency, Ms Pansuk had spent some time in the capital city. She was reportedly a lover of K-everything (including the TV series Descendants of the Sun) and enjoyed shopping and living in Seoul. No one could say how she was able to finance her relatively long vacation. It was later rumoured that she was dating a Korean man who owned a bar in the swanky Gangnam area. There was no post on Ms Panuk’s social media about such an important and joyous romance in her life (it could have been deleted), but she did share on FB in 2013 her thoughts on a teenage crush on a classmate, writing in Thai, “I don’t know how short or how long. All I know is that I’m happy now”). When the news of the multi-million dollar cheating and subsequent escape from the law here emerged in Thailand, former clients and people who know her started commenting on social media that they were not surprised by the outcome. A friend, who studied at Seoul’s Sogang University and was with Ms Pansuk when the latter was in the city that frigid winter, commented in Thai on Facebook two days ago, “Hone-Krasae (one of Thailand’s most popular investigative TV shows) cometh.”

If this implies Ms Pansuk was involved in some kind of criminal operation that should be looked into, it is not clear what that really was. It is, however, not surprising so many want her apprehended. Some Thais are presently saying that they were duped by Ms Pansuk into investing in a bogus real estate scheme during this period. We are unable to determine the veracity of that charge nor determine if the real estate scam in question played out in Seoul or Bangkok, where Ms Pansuk was supposedly living before decamping to the Korean capital for a while and where she later returned to. Reportedly, she had impressed many of her victims that she came from a wealthy family (even royal!) and had studied in the UK. Before the Seoul sojourn, when she updated her profile photo on Facebook in March 2017, someone she knows asked her where she was at that moment, and she said that she was in Thailand. The guy also wanted to know if she was not going to the UK, and she replied in Anglicised Thai, “No money, so very sad.” Could this be the reason, we speculate, that she went to Seoul to ponder or embark on a career of cheating?

Pi Jiapeng and Siriwipa Pansuk, who is seen in this photo with an Hermes Birkin. Photo: klvnjp123_/Instagram

It seemed that three months after her Seoul escapade, she returned to Bangkok. No one is able to say what happened to her Gangnam romance or if she had a job to return to, but stories are now emerging that she got married to a Korean chap (it is not certain if it was the bar owner or someone else) in 2019, which meant she likely returned to Seoul before the COVID-19 pandemic struck and later overwhelmed the city. When she was in Bangkok, she was plotting with others (reportedly four) to seed the scamming that would be her profession. One Singaporean victim told Shin Ming Daily News (新明日报) that after she “斥责 (reprimanded)” Ms Pansuk (and Mr Pi) on Facebook, a Thai Netizens DM-ed her to say that she, too, was a victim and that Ms Pansuk had been operating her sham business in Bangkok between April and June last year (although others pointed out that it went as far back as 2017. Back then she sold low-price items such as clothing and Line character merchandise). She added that she lost shocking amounts of money to the woman and her accomplices. Reports were apparently filed with the Thai police, who later issued warrants of her arrest—eight of them. Now that she’s on the Interpol list, one Thai vocal coach who was also with Ms Pansuk in Seoul, wrote on Facebook, “It’s almost the day I’ve been waiting for—after four years.”

Through this time, Ms Pansuk’s scams reportedly chalked up more than 100 million baht (approximately S$3.8 million) of paid-up but undelivered goods that included Korean merchandise, even concert tickets. She operated under a different name then, not her actual moniker. How did so many people fall for her offerings or, possibly, charm, deceitful as it was? According to some victims, Ms Pansuk demanded “100% deposit” for items ordered. In the beginning, she would honour the sales to gain trust. On some occasions, she urged her buyers to sell their purchases before they received them at a higher price, claiming that there were interested parties. This could be one way to avoid providing those merchandise already sold. But she did pay the individuals who ‘resold’ their buys, together with the profits earned. One woman said that this encouraged her to trust Ms Pansuk, so much so that she ordered even more bags—another six. Despite the seeming smoothness and profitability of her business, Ms Pansuk was not insecure. In one 2017 Facebook post, she wrote in Thai: “Anyone can call on us when they need us but when we need someone no one is there.”

Siriwipa Pansuk in Bangkok, in 2018. Photo: Facebook

Having evaded the reach of the law in Korea and Thailand, it is thought that Ms Pansuk might have thought herself to be impervious to being caught, even the attendant fear, and believed that moving her operation to Singapore, she might avoid being apprehended here too. She could have fomented the relocation after knowing Pi Jiapeng, a former shoe salesman, who met her through a dating app that some in Thailand said is for rich women seeking boyfriends with the preference of the company of wealthy ladies. According to The Straits Times, that app is, in fact, Tinder. One of the most discussed anecdotes pertaining to the unlikely union, especially among male Netizens, is her gifting Mr Pi with a sports car. It is not known if this was before they were married or after. Or, inducement of marriage. According to Registry of Marriage (ROM) records, the couple tied the knot in September 2020, at the height of the pandemic. If it’s true that she was married to a Korean in 2019, as shared on Thai social media, Ms Pansuk would have divorced the fellow and dated Mr Pi all in less than a year, before the second marriage, which was only a solemnisation service at the ROM building on Fort Canning, and, reportedly, with Ms Pansuk’s mother in attendance.

Born in 1994 in Roi-Et province in central-northeast Thailand, known as Issan (also where the most-lauded Thai male model Zak Srakaew was born before emigrating to the UK, and was cast in a Burberry campaign), Ms Pansuk’s childhood and ’hood are not much known. Although in Korea in 2017/18, she made herself out to be the daughter of a wealthy family, she is, in fact, from far much humbler background. A graphic designer in the Thai media industry told us that Roi-Et is “not the type of province where you’d think of wealth although there are (likely) rich families there.” In one very recent investigation by Thai television channel Amarin TV, her mother, identified as Mdm Khamphong, was revealed to kai manao (ขายมะนาว) or sell limes in a Nonthaburi market (likely vegetables as well, since it is not a viable business to hawk just one type of citrus). A woman, who is supposedly Ms Pansuk’s aunt (maternal or paternal, it isn’t ascertained), told the Amarin TV reporter that, at the start, both she and her niece’s mother hawked together. Then, her co-hawker “became rich” and she stopped coming to the stall, and they lost touch. She added that she had not seen her niece or the latter helping her mother at the stall. A motorcycle taxi driver interviewed even knew that the woman later “disappeared in a (Mercedes) Benz”. The mother, curiously, has gone into hiding, too.

The market stall that Siriwipa Pansuk’s mother runs. Screen shot: Amarin TV/YouTube

Siriwipa Pansuk’s supposed Bangkok residence, even when her mother sells limes in the market and her husband is a former shoe salesman. Screen shot: Amarin TV/YouTube

The new-found wealth resulted in the purchase of a two-story bungalow in a gated residential estate in Nonthaburi that Amarin TV estimated to cost more that 60 million baht (or approximately S$2.3 million). Even the show’s anchors wondered how the selling of limes, which would bring about 300 baht (or about S$12)—presumably per day—could provide the means for a woman to live in, if not own, a multi-million baht home. The same could be said of the daughter: how did a girl of her standing come to possess such a property? The house is believed to have been sold two months ago. Very little is known of Siriwipa Pansuk’s formative years. At some point, the family (comprising the mother and two brothers, one older, the other, younger. There is no mention of her father but Thai media reported that he is a taxi driver) moved south, from Roi-Et to Nonthaburi (her registered address), a municipality about 21.5 kilometres away from central Bangkok. While she told quite a few people that she studied in the UK, she, in fact, attended just one school, according to her Facebook profile: Pramaesakolsongkroh School, a 75-year-old Catholic institution in the north of Nonthaburi. The large schoolhouse, which sits in the heart of Bang Bua Thong district’s seemingly Catholic enclave and in the close proximity of the Maria Mother of Peace Cemetery and The Blessed Virgin Mary The Mediatrix of all Graces Church, provides no more than secondary education. It is not known if Ms Pansuk graduated or how well she faired. In school, she was a member of the Scouts (it appears to be co-ed) and she claimed to like a “social” life. In one post (a response to her musing), a school chum wrote in 2013, when Ms Pansuk would have been 19, “We didn’t study”.

There is also little to glean from her young adult life in Bangkok or what her plans for the future were, other than the cheating she was hatching. After she married Pi Jiapeng in 2020, she was ready to return to her scamming ways. Some Netizens suggested that it was she who led Mr Pi astray, down the path of crime. Many, in fact, were curious about their relationship or if they could communicate at all. It is said that Ms Pansuk speaks English and well enough to conduct business (perhaps attributable to her Catholic secondary school), but it is not certain that Mr Pi, who is originally from Fujian, China, and, according to The Straits Times, a secondary-three dropout, is able to interact with her in proficient enough English to plot their game plan (it’s also unknown if his wife speaks Mandarin or Hokkien). That the fellow, who had been an odd-jobber before selling shoes, was attracted to her is understandable. Ms Pansuk, unlike the typical Issan lass, is relatively fair-skinned. Her seemingly girlish self, contained in a trim, 1.64m-tall fame, would have been the dream girl of a new, mainland Chinese immigrant who, although younger, might not have had it easy meeting a potential spouse.

Siriwipa Pansuk in Bangkok, in 2017. Photo: Deejean Wirapongpakdee/Facebook

However, according to one of the few Singaporean victims who had met the couple and socialised with them, the husband and wife did not appear to be “loving”. He speculated that the relationship was one based on “co-operation”, and that Ms Pansuk was the true mastermind behind their elaborate ruse. He even suggested that Mr Pi was being made use of because his Singapore citizenship came in handy for her, which seem to concur with current online sentiments about the marriage. He was reported to have said that when he met them for a meal, Ms Pansuk did not introduce Mr Pi as her husband. And that Mr Pi did not appear to be advantaged by any personal accomplishment. Another victim claimed that the couple loved gambling and would visit casinos “everyday” and that they were “high rollers”, betting as much as “S$100,000 a night”. It isn’t stated if they won anything or if, there were winnings, the money was reinvested into the business, which included two registered companies Tradenation (now suspended) and Tradeluxury, and a shop in Tanjong Pagar.

It is hard not to say that Siriwipa Pansuk is a talented young woman. It is possible that in all the audacious scheming, the ill-gotten gains, and the eventual escape, even the marriage, she was the sole planner. So smart and resourceful she was that both she and her husband were able to escape the detection of the immigration points of three different ports, to end up in Thailand—undetectable, as they lay low in a country of 70 million people. The story of their incredible daring has prompted some to say that it deserves a Netflix original series. On his IG profile (which is now set to private), Mr Pi Jiapeng wrote, as if foretelling, “Let’s wait for the last laugh”. If they’re patient, it could be them laughing really hard indeed.

Update (11 August 2022, 6.35pm): As reported by The Straits Time moments ago, Siriwipa Pansuk and her husband Pi Jiapeng were caught in Johor Bahru and were brought back to Singapore this afternoon

Illustration: Just So

“Luxury Cheats” On The Run

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pi Jiapeng and Siriwipa Pansuk, Photo: Facebook

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

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

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

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

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

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

Illustration: Just So

The Wreck Of The Beautiful

Has alternative, experimental, inclusive, diverse, or street dimmed and beclouded fashion as lovely to look at, even as art?

Publicity shot for #SGFASHIONNOW. Photo: Ethan Lai/Asian Civilisations Museum

Recently, in Tokyo, the pre-loved luxury goods retailer Komehyo opened a pop-up on the second floor of the multi-level department store Marui, in the Yurakucho neighbourhood, not far from the Hankyu Men’s Store. Called Start Komehyo, the well-appointed “concept shop” is targeted at a very specific demographic: Gen Z, a significant contributor to the growth of luxury fashion now. The pieces selected for sale commensurate with what Gen-Zers or zoomers—those born, according to the Pew Research Centre, between 1997 to 2012—like to buy and wear. These are mainly fashion items from the 1990s to the early 2000s, and include Japanese and European labels, and styles that could be considered to go with the “Y2K” trend, a sartorial run that Gen-Zers have not experienced. They reflect what the young with means are consuming and relate to. There is no such shop on our island.

But, from the latest #SGFASHIONNOW exhibition, now on at the Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM), we may have an idea of what appeals to youngsters below 25, and what, to them, is considered fashionable clothing, including what constitutes a fashionable image. And, perhaps, more important, how they hope Singaporean fashion will evolve. If the above photograph represents Singaporean fashion or its future, could we be hopeful? This image shows the garments of the designers participating in the sophomore #SGFASHIONNOW that spotlights Singaporean designers. A line-up of models cast in poor lighting is perhaps no big deal in an aesthetical culture shaped by anything-goes social media, but could this image really be what current fashion on this island represents? Or is this, as noted in the e-book, Architectural Drape (companion to the exhibition), a “fresh take on local fashion design”? Perhaps, “a fresh take” could be a clever rephrasing—or even recasting—of fresh out of ideas?

Perhaps “a fresh take” could be a clever rephrasing—or even recasting—of fresh out of ideas?

The image is shot by photographer Ethan Lai, also, a street style lensman, a national serviceman (currently), a student of Central Saint Martins (it isn’t certain if he graduated), alumnus of Lasalle College of the Arts, and the student-curator of the second instalment of #SGFASHIONNOW, which was put together with the School of Fashion of Lasalle. Mr Lai is partial to flat lighting and feebly-lit faces to effect edginess or rawness, necessary or not, and his aesthetical choices have been imposed on the communication material (or “campaign”, as he called it on Instagram) of a museum associated with some of the finest Asian art and antiquities. The nine motley models that are shown were shot separately (some with shadows cast to the bottom half of the body, some without), digitally corrected, and transposed as a linear composition to a blank white space. One marketing consultant said, when we showed him this image, “it looks like they died and went to heaven.” We could see that what’s missing is Morgan Freeman as god in the distance.

The shoot did not benefit from the minimal or zero styling, although two photographer’s assistants are listed as “stylists”. One magazine and commercial stylist told us that he thought that “there is no styling” since “the hair doesn’t go with the makeup, which doesn’t go with the outfits. What has anything got to do with anything? The models look like they were just plonked there.” As they would be in a TikTok video? What stands out to us is how the clothes could not be seen clearly. For an image that speaks for an exhibition extolling Singaporean designs across generations, the focus, curiously, is not on the clothes. The Biro coat (second from right) was shot to show the bafflingly washed-out back, a rear that has no superlative design to speak of. The Thomas Wee shift (extreme left), with dramatically draped details in the back, was worn by the usually beautiful quadriplegic model Zoe Zora seated, front-facing, on a wheel chair. The campy layered, draped bustier of Harry Halim (front) on a model laid on the floor was completely consumed by some unknown entity intercepting the light. But perhaps, as with most G-Zers, fashion does not matter, the look does.

The photo shoot for #SGFASHIONNOW. Photographer Ethan Lai, second from right. Screen shot: sgfashionnow.com

And what is the look? What does the creator of the image hope to convey? Daniela Monasterios-Tan, fashion lecturer at Lasalle and co-designer of the collective Mash-Up, shared on Architectural Drapes that “as part of the execution of #SGFASHIONNOW, Lai also conceptualised a photo-shoot highlighting the way that the fashion image contributes to the dissemination of a vocabulary of fashion.” She does not explain what that vocabulary might be, except, perhaps, in Mr Lai’s choice of using a disabled model, trangenders, and the not traditionally beautiful from the smaller agencies MiscManagement and Platinum Models, the catchwords diverse and inclusive. But what is the creative buzz? Take aware the requisite wokeness, what is the artistic value? In so questioning, do we risk discrediting and discriminating? And what does it mean to show models wearing on their faces some version of glum?

In a recent video interview with Female magazine, Mr Lai said that, to him, “Singaporean contemporary fashion means garments that kind of reflect our current climate and culture. It is diverse (!) and has different modes and practices, not just about making clothes for people to wear and consume, but it’s more about the designers their narratives through the clothes.” All the requisite buzzwords are in there, but in that photograph for #SGFASHIONNOW, is the “narrative” evident? What does it really say? Has it upended the belief that Gen-Zers are self-important, apathetic, hack-loving, creatively shallow, and averse to the conventional? Perhaps Mr Lai, whose work has appeared in Men’s Folio and Vogue Singapore, is truly just showing us the preference and standing of his generation. But will it consolidate our position as a city of fashion?

Has it upended the belief that Gen-Zers are self-important, apathetic, hack-loving, creatively shallow, and averse to the conventional?

Gen-Z life is highly documented online, with text and photographs. The zoomers are not acquainted with a time when there was no Internet and when their existence was not expressed digitally. For considerable many, they largely communicate creativity to merely look good in the virtual world (or an e-book), rather than output creativity born from solid grounding or scholarship. They mostly race to fame (or infamy) as quickly as they could, and they are able to do so as the Internet is the ultimate springboard to visibility and likes—the more one scores, the higher the validation that one is good. It is not necessarily based on the tangible or the discernible. Fashion photography is not the result of the imagination, but what is perceived to be a reflection of the current. Perception that something is fashion because it is based on their own experiences, and shared online and is liked is good enough to be considered credible.

In the end, is the visual presentation of the Architecture of Drape—to use a street style term—GOAT (greatest of all time)? Or is it just good enough for a fleeting moment? It is hard to mention the shortcomings of criticism-averse Gen-Zers without being attacked, as public relations professional Tjin Lee of Mercury Marketing & Communications and a judge on the selection panel for #SGFASHIONNOW recently found out. We are well aware of being deemed “too critical” in our reviews of trends, shows and, indeed, exhibitions; for speaking the truth few want to hear if it is not flattering. But, as ACM curator Dominic Low wrote in Architectural Drape, the exhibition, not “a comprehensive survey but a snapshot”, should be “an invitation to discussion and alternative perspectives.” Looking at this one snapshot, we except the invitation.

Gone With The (Digital) Wind

Kim Lim removed photos of her husband on Instagram and the media became really excited

We delete Instagram entries all the time. It’s the thing we do. Sometimes, every single post. But, when Kim Lim (林慧俐), the influencer and beauty entrepreneur, removed a few on her IG page, the media consider that headline news! Ms Lim, as we learned, did not merely edit the contents of her IG, she apparently got rid of all the photos of her husband of barely four months, Leslie Leow. That is a big deal. Such is social progress. Even The Straits Times was into sharing Ms Lim’s daring deletion: “Her Instagram feed has recently been scrubbed of all photos of Mr Leow, including those of his proposal in September 2021 and wedding on Feb 22 this year”, they wrote. A Mothership report stated that “all traces of Kim Lim’s husband have disappeared from her Instagram feed”. Expunged! Was the guy obliterated? Or, were the deletions tantamount to someone’s death?

One of the earliest to report on the missing squares on Ms Lim’s revealing IG grid was the e-mag GirlStyle two days ago, describing her act as “mysterious”. It helps not that IG does not leave deleted posts blank so that we may know what was removed, even how many. Which led many in the media to wonder why she did what she did: Was it petulance, her “borderline personality disorder” that her father had previously identified, or the breakdown of her marriage? Does it matter? Could the deletion be part of what influencers commonly—and cringingly—refer to as “curation” (which, in the world of influencer engagement, is on-going)? The thing is, much of the contents of social media are what the account holders want you to see. Is it possible that Ms Kim now no longer wishes, for whatever reason, her followers to view those photos she presently does not consider viewable, even if, for most, the images cannot be unseen?

As we know, nothing, once posted online, disappears completely. The Leow’s expensive wedding planner, The Wedding Atelier, has not deleted the two IG posts (excluding those of the flashy guodali betrothal ceremony) of the couple in their matrimonial best. Not yet, anyway. Unmistakably ardent Kim Lim supporter, Icon (风华) magazine, too, has not removed the two photos they shared on their IG feed. Neither are those on the hashtags #kimlim and #klstyle—just to name two—taken out. And even on Ms Lim’s own IG page, her connection to her husband (as of now) is not totally ”scrubbed”. We do not know if Kim Lim wants all photos of her wedded to Leslie Leow deleted for good. A marriage is forever: Online, it is. Search and the images shall be found.

Illustration: Just So

A Career Dee-stroyed?

The ex-radio deejay and now-quiet YouTube/TikTok star Dee Kosh pleaded guilty to the charges of sexual offenses involving teenaged boys. If he still enjoys Watching Cringey TikTok Videos, it is possible he would be doing so from behind bars

Warning: This post discusses a subject matter that may not be suitable to young readers

In his second last post on Instagram in August 2020, Dee Kosh blurbed the next instalment of his Watching Cringey TikTok Videos YouTube broadcast. The theme was “Gross Guys Galore!?” Three days later, he had to share a lengthy post on IG to deny the charges of sexual relations with minors levelled against him through social media, negating the possibility that he, too, might have been a fellow of rank behaviour. “Men have a tendency to be over-confident,” he said in the introduction to that video post, in full makeup. The YouTuber knew what he was talking about. In that firm rejection—a second, in fact—of the by-then very public accusations, he wrote, “Today I stand before you to account for my actions.” And then came the certitude: “Some of the allegations baffled me because they were baseless and untrue”, before, just as bafflingly, accepting “that there is truth to some of the things which are being said now, and I am sorry to the people I have hurt in the process.”

Today, in court, there was no reversal to that admission. But we already knew that it would be so since January, when his lawyer notified the court that the accused would be pleading guilty. Many on social media had already said that it is unlikely that he could be totally innocent. Appearing before the district judge as Darryl Ian Koshy, he did not challenge the seven sex-related offences that were raised before him: He marked three guys between the ages of 15 and 23 (at that time of the misdeeds) for sexual gratification, offered to pay them between S$400 and S$2,000, and made an obscene film by recording himself and a man in “a sexual act”, reported to be onanistic and oral. According to the news, the other four charges “will be taken into consideration for sentencing on July 28”.

In one photograph published online by CNA, Mr Koshy wore a printed, blue and white camp shirt to the State Courts. He appeared to have put on weight, and looked, even with mask on, surprisingly older than his 33 years of age. The shirt, one stylist told us, “is uncle”. It did look like it might have been bought at CK Department Store. Mr Koshy has, through the years, cultivated an image of unmistakable street cool. His attire today was, therefore, unexpected. So youth-centric and pop-relevant he was that, in July 2020, he even wore a hoodie with the phrase emblazoned in the back: “TEAM WANG”. It could be now seen as prescient. American designer Alexander Wang was accused in December 2019 of sexual misconduct by a British model who claimed that he was groped by Mr Wang during a concert at a New York nightclub in January 2017 (other accusations soon followed). While both cases are different (the latter not concerning the below sixteen), they involved behaviors that could be understood to be predatory, since the advances were unsolicited. Was the possibly like-minded Mr Koshy showing sympathy and support for the designer?

According to CNA, “if convicted under the Children and Young Persons Act for attempted sexual exploitation of a young person, he could be jailed for up to five years, fined up to S$10,000 or both.” And if “found guilty of communications for the purpose of obtaining sexual services of a minor, he could be jailed for up to two years and fined. The penalty for making an obscene film is a jail term of up to two years and a fine of between S$20,000 and S$40,000.” With the possibility of jail term, could this be the end of Mr Koshy’s career and the gila antics of Ria Warna? Or, Xiaotina? The online star had, no doubt, normalised brash queerish humour and fans appreciate and adore him for that. One of them wrote on IG last year: “I’m still hoping you will upload videos on youtube soon. It’s been boring without your videos. I hope that things get better on your side an you can come back to yt asap”. If the comeback of Alexander Wang is any indication of how easily and quickly people forget past transgressions of the famous, this fan’s hope may not be dashed.

Illustration (top): Just So. Photo: deekosh/Instagram

Two Of A Kind: Cheap Cheery Clones

And TikTok users are delighted to compare them side by side. Fashion has a new form of entertainment. Its future looks bleak

On TikTok, they love comparing their favourite brands. Left: Beatriz (Bstyle). Right: iam.awilda. Screen grabs from respective TikTokers

By Pearl Goh

Is it still flattery when a piece of clothing is a likeness of an unoriginal? Okay, we’re living in confusing times and fashion is totally stupefying. Who is able to tell brands apart these days when, for example, Gucci is hacking Balenciaga (and vice versa)? Or, Prada is looking like Adidas? But, however blurred the lines have become, surely there is no kick in buying a knock-off of a knock-off? Or has the consumption of fashion become this perverse? Something is going on that is baffling. TikTok has been sending me notifications of “versus” videos. These are of women wearing identical pieces from Zara and Shein. No, I have not been searching any of these brands and I am not on TikTok. Yet, strangely, I have been receiving notification of the existence of these lurid, goofy comparisons.

The women in these videos seem to get some kick out of juxtaposing the identical clothes, and posing as if they have found the greatest joy of life. Did they actually buy two identical garments to make these enlightening TikTok videos? I do not know. But I was burning with curiosity. Are there that many Zara lookalike clothes by Shein? When I Googled ‘Zara versus Shein’ one afternoon, the first result read: “Discover zara vs shein ’s (sic) popular videos | TikTok”. Splendid SEO at work! There was a list of ten TikTokers’ posts to look at that has already attracted a whopping “25.9B” views! I was clearly late for the show. These women know what they’re doing. Instagram has caught up too, with one Dupes Nation offering a predominance of Zara-versus-Shein photos-only posts.

Are they creating content that is deliberately not like the “haul” videos of other TikTokers?

It is hard to make out why these girls are doing this, or what they’re hoping to achieve. Are they creating content that is deliberately not like the “haul” videos of other TikTokers? Are they doing their followers a favour by showing the latter the cheaper option to buy (prices are often put up)? Are they exposing something that could be detrimental to one brand? I can’t tell. I wonder if this comparison is a real exposé when we already know that Shein has been accused of plagiarism (the TikTok hashtag #sheinstolemydesign has received 6.4M views!) and the Chinese brand has been facing copyright disputes with Dr Martens and Levi’s, according to news reports. Even smaller, indie brands are not let off the hook. Dead-ringers of Marine Serre and Cult Gaia were also shared online.

While it’s rife among some fast (and ultra-fast) fashion brands to be ‘inspired’ by others, the problem at Shein, as widely reported, is particularly more acute. Never mind that these are litigious times. The brand’s big-data approach to design means they need to also consider what sells well for others, or what styles are trending on social media. This is no longer some high-low, looking-at-the-stars product development to better position a brand—that’s so yesteryear; this is looking at one’s peers to exceed. And better still, with a lower price for the end product. These days, as fans of Shein and company will say, there is no shame in buying cheap and dressing cheap. Not at all.

A Ban Won’t Shut Him Up

Kanye West’s use of Instagram was disallowed for 24 hours after he posted something racially insensitive. That, regretfully, won’t coax him into speaking with some vestige of grace

The Instagram ban of Kanye West for a mere full day, won’t cause the rapper to suffer much, if he suffered at all. That 24-hour ban is expired now. Mr West is probably planning his next textual attack, never mind that he was already told that what he posted about his estranged wife (they are not divorced yet!) was harassment and her boyfriend Pete Davidson, cyber bullying. And one of the persons who pointed those out, The Daily Show host Trevor Noah, was hit back with a racial slur, which prompted IG to put in place that brief, hardly-a-deterrent ban, even if that post was quickly deleted by the author. Why would a mere day’s suspension of his favourite social media be enough to encourage good online behaviour for a fellow who does not care about such things, in the least?

Online, as on the streets, some people are just more entitled than others. Celebrities, especially so, as they are often given no limit to bad behaviour, online or off. Kanye West can be nasty at the Grammy’s, but who remembers? If they do, they recall with fondness. Despite his repeated attacks on not just the two major targets of the present, many fans still consider him “great”. “Great for Gap”, went one fervid support. While it is true that the disapproval of Mr West’s abusiveness has been expressed on the Gap social media pages, there are also many—far more—who ask the clothier to continue to support him: “Don’t cancel Ye”, “da best thing that ever happened to yu (sic)”, “here for Ye”, “Ye is harmless man always like that when y’all will understand him?”, the simple “we love Kanye” and the adoring “Kanye is King”.

Or, could it be possible that, in Mr West’s case, badness is good for business?

Should Gap budge? They probably won’t. Ditto for Adidas and Balenciaga, whose Demna Gvasalia is so chummy with Mr West that it is unlikely the designer would call the rapper out for his deplorable ways, or stop dressing him. Any fashion label linked to Kanye West has only fared well despite past transgressions. Just because they didn’t involve his now-single wife (they are not divorced yet!) does not mean there was no harassment targeted at women. Or, could it be possible that, in Mr West’s case, badness is good for business? Because in that package of wrongs, is an amalgam of talents? As he once said (on Sway In The Morning Radio Show, 2013), “I am Warhol! I am the number one most impactful artist of our generation. I am Shakespeare in the flesh. Walt Disney, Nike, Google.”

Delusional, some may call that, but Mr West believes in his own greatness and strengths, and has displayed them in full public view, augmenting his self-importance. All that publicness can’t escape scrutiny and being talked about, whether audibly or not. A big part of his success is that he’s discussed, whether flatteringly or otherwise. The multi-channel/platform chatter in its unfiltered, antagonistic glory is, perhaps, what Gap wants, even craves. In as much as we are living in the grasp of what author/Harvard professor Shoshana Zuboff calls “surveillance capitalism”, we are also in the grip of scrutinised social existence. Kanye West may say as he pleases and get away with it, but Gap—and the rest—may not merely associate with who they please and not account for their deliberate action. Either way, we are watching. Fashion deserves better.

Update (21 March 2022, 9am): The Los Angeles Times reported that “Kanye West has been pulled off the performance lineup for the upcoming Grammy Awards due to his recent erratic online behavior”. Trevor Noah Twittered, “I said counsel Kanye not cancel Kanye.” Even the leader of his own Sunday Service needs counselling

Illustration: Just So

The Shein Top

…at the heart of the latest influencer controversy

By Pearl Goh

It is an itsy-bitsy top, but it has an oversized effect on social media. And the response to the proud wearer/influencer’s subsequent riposte was massive enough for her to enjoy a couple of long digital headlines. Making, I presume, the online retailer she touts very pleased. Chrysan Lee is a YouTuber, an Instagrammer, a TikToker, and an “actress” on the YouTube channel Wah!Banana. She appeared in this top by Shein on IG (sharing that what she wore was “top to toe outfit from SHEIN!” and offering a code which offers the user a “15% off! [yes, also with exclamation])” and TikTok and, as a (predictable) consequence, invited viewer comments, flattering and not. Unfortunately for her, few said anything about the garb itself, but how she looked in the skimpy top. Enraged by the many negative criticisms, she hit back by naming and shaming those who made harsh and uncomplimentary remarks about her appearance. And, as it usually is nowadays, effectively dividing the followers of her social media.

You’d think that the admittedly exiguous top, requiring fabric tantamount to how much it takes to make a bandana (or two handkerchiefs), would be a discreet entity, but on some bodies, it might cry, ‘look at—and comment about—me’. Ms Lee, to be sure, does not look dreadful or deserving of the sometimes hostile impulses that ensued. The piece, which seems to me to be designed to sufficiently cup ample boobs, has a rather one-dimensional effect on her. It looks flat, not what most of the viewers she attracts (102K on IG), guys especially, hope to see: cup(s) runneth over. On TikTok, she adjusted the top (I have no idea why) by pulling it upwards, and it slid smoothly without the tug that a more-endowed wearer would experience. As we know, it takes very little these days to induce the online community to disparage. Or, draw attention to comparatively restricted physical dimensions. Even girls-friendly websites, to my surprise, unambiguously point out her “small tatas”.

…she adjusted the top by pulling it upwards, and it slid smoothly without the tug that a more-endowed wearer would experience

This swimwear-like chest-wrap—S$11, on the Shein SG website—is described by the number one Chinese fast-fashion brand as a “halter neck ring chain rhinestone backless crop top (sic)”. A mouthful, no doubt, even if you could figure out the order. As much as I tried, I could not discern the halter part of what is essentially a bandeau (known in Chinese as a 抹胸上衣 moxiong shangyi or go-around-the-chest top. On the brand’s Taiwan site, a search yielded 3,254 items!), drawn together in the middle by way of a ring to create a circular key-hole right between the breasts. The halter effect is in the chain-and-rhinestone necklace that is looped through the front opening. When placed around the neck, I assume it helps hold up the top when worn on those for whom such additional securing is required. The necklace doubles as a decorative component too, and augmented by more of the same—with additional charms(!)—that hang from that middle ring to a tape-loop stitched to the centre-back of the straight rear (Shein describes the piece as “backless”, but it is not). If it recalls a belly-dancer’s costume, then I am not alone.

The sparkly, poly-metallic shangyi Ms Lee featured is one among more than 560—frankly I lost count!—variations of scantiness, categorised under “top/sleeveless/sexy/glamorous” in the Shein website, nearly all no more than S$20. Among these, more than a dozen—lost, again—sport the ring in the middle that affords a circular peek at the cleavage, as if creating a focal point. At the time of this posting, only sizes L and XL are left. I can’t be certain if its seeming popularity is the result of Ms Lee’s still and video posts, but the sell-out of popular sizes and the fact that Ms Lee singled this upper garment out to feature could attest to the acceptance and adoration of racy looks now pervading social media and the runway. Chrysan Lee herself is partial to swaddling her upper body in what would normally be considered the upper half a bikini set—very ready for online followers, even when she claims to not know where her sartorial inspo comes from. She said on one of her hitherto just five YouTube posts, Answering your Stupid Questions—Part 1, “I’ll be very happy to find clothes outside that fits me”. As with ‘to clothe’, ‘fit’ is being actively redefined for fashion of the pandemic era. Less, I suppose, is definitely more—whether on a voluptuous body or not.

Illustration by Just So

She Won’t Be Guilted 👏🏼

Kanye West demands a public apology for Travis Scott from Billie Eilish. Who does Ye think he is?

By Lester Fang

Kanye West is truly admirable. I think so; I do. No role he has played is too much, too bold, too absurd. He has styled himself as the arbiter of taste and the barometer of the zeitgeist, on top of whatever else he does in music. Oh, that is the wannabe president of the United States as well. Now, he’s a demander of apologies too. Not for himself, as you might expect, but for his presumed pal Travis Scott, the fellow now laying low after the Astroworld Festival tragedy. If you have not availed yourself to the entertainment (and entertaining) news of the week, it goes like this.

Billie Eilish was singing during a concert in Atlanta when she spotted someone in the crowd struggling to breathe. She paused her performance, and drew the attention of the crew to assist the person. (Ms Eilish, it should be said, is known to stop mid-performance during her shows to check on fans seeming unwell.) In videos shared on social media, Ms Eilish was seen pointing to the crowd with a hand holding a bottle of water and heard saying, “Do you need an inhaler?” And she did not go right back to singing. Wearing a baggy T-shirt and cycle shorts, she told the audience, “Guys, give it some time. Don’t crowd. Relax, relax, it’s okay… We’re taking care of people. I wait for people to be okay before I keep going.”

It sounds to me that Ms Eilish was explaining to the excited many who have come to watch her perform what the hold up was about. But Mr West read that very differently. On social media, he wrote in full caps, sans punctuation, as if barking: “COME ON BILLIE WE LOVE YOU PLEASE APOLOGIZE TO TRAV AND TO THE FAMILIES OF THE PEOPLE WHO LOST THEIR LIVES NO ONE INTENDED THIS TO HAPPEN TRAV DIDN’T HAVE ANY IDEA OF WHAT WAS HAPPENING WHEN HE WAS ON STAGE AND WAS VERY HURT BY WHAT HAPPENED…”

So, what in Donda’s name was he thinking?

In response to Mr West’s post and demand, Ms Eilish wrote on IG somewhat conciliatorily, “Literally never said a thing about Travis. Was just helping a fan,” So, what in Donda‘s name was he thinking? According to some reports, Mr West was reacting to one RapseaTV news report that ran the headline “Billie Eilish dissed Travis Scott at her concert after she stopped the show to give her fan an inhaler!” on IG (the post is removed now). And he bought it? This is irony in its highest order when Mr West had attacked journalists, mid-concert, in a 2014 show in New Jersey. “Write that motherfxxxxxg headline when you try to make me look like a maniac or an animal,” he admonished. That was not the only time, of course. Some people suggested that his present fragile state is due to problems with his ex-wife. And Ms Eilish conveniently becomes another target of his easily-triggered acrimony, just as Taylor Swift was once before?

It is tempting to treat Mr West’s demand as facetious—just like his presidential bid—but he has threatened to pull out of the Coachella Music Festival. Should the organisers be intimidated? He and Ms Eilish are slated to be the festival’s headline acts. And Mr West did say on that IG post, “TRAV WILL BE WITH ME AT COACHELLA BUT NOW I NEED BILLIE TO APOLOGIZE BEFORE I PERFORM”. Did he, therefore, think that Ms Eilish had spoilt Travis Scott’s comeback bid while La Flame is still thick in lawsuits worth billions of dollars filed by the victims (and their families) of the Astroworld tragedy? Would Coachella really be worse off without eruptive Kanye West?

The estranged husband’s reaction is not surprising, even for someone whose ninth studio album is titled Jesus is King. Outbursts are almost synonymous with the star and designer. He rants as often and as passionately as he raps. But why, I wonder, is a 44-year-old censuring a woman of 20, doing nothing more than getting someone the help they need, not bullying? Or, are we to believe, like so many of his supporters do, including the many, many brands eagerly aligned with him, that the face stocking-wearing Sunday Service leader Kanye West can really do no wrong?

Collage: Just So

What Would Your Parents Say?

If putting one’s feet on a table during meal times is rude, is placing one’s shoes alongside food any better?

This image appeared on our Instagram page, and it shocked us. It really did. That it came from Club 21 was even more disturbing. We thought it shameful, so inconsistent with what many of us were brought up to believe is acceptable. The oldest multi-label store here left standing has, a few hours ago, shared this on their official IG account, not in some remote corner of the Internet. Originally posted by Two Men Bagel House last week, it shows unambiguously a pair of plated (!) Comme des Garçons X Converse sneakers, placed next to two bowls of barely finished dry prawn noodles (虾面). It is possible that the shoes are unworn (and presumably clean), but is it still perfectly alright for them to be on a table that has, by practice and custom, no place for footwear? This is likely photographed in a hawker centre (or foodcourt), but just because it’s not in a setting that equals that of a restaurant does not mean liberties can be taken without thinking. To make it worse, Club 21 wrote in the comment: “simply delicious”! Have we really become so culturally ignorant and insensitive?

Popular culture, TikTok buffoonery, and the general do-and-say-as-you-please that social media affords may allow marketers to imagine that they have the green light to ignore table manners, but that does not mean marketing with a nod to common etiquette is no longer important. Or, worth considering in the quest for eye-catching photos or, worse, talking points. We risk sounding prudish and custom-bound, but in a time when brands and politicians are knocking, for example, the traditional use of chopsticks, should there be more perplexing ignorance regarding table-top practices? It is easy to dismiss the Club 21 post as the work of benighted Millennials (or Gen-Zers?), but that does not allow the image to be more acceptable. We could not unsee what we saw. That this did not come from some ignorant Western brand makes Club 21’s faux pas (and that of the two men they sponsored) all the more difficult to understand and accept. We are unaware of anywhere in Asia where shoes of any sort on a table used for meals, whether in one’s home or not, is decent or tolerable. Half of smiley-hearts do not take away the fact that the very act is crude and—ask any parent—rude.

Screen grab: Club 21/Instagram

Tufted Armpits: They’re A Thing

Don’t depilate. You are on trend

Au naturel. Left, Thomas Sabo. Right, Adidas. Photos: respective brands

We are starting to see quite a few ads that show women in their natural state. Sure, going unshaved up there as I-can-do-whatever-I-want expression of confidence has been noticed since 2019, when Nike, always more forward thinking than other brands, shared on Instagram a photo of a model in a bra top, with right arm lifted to frame her head so that her fingers could be hooked to the strap of the top on the other side. The pose would have been quite regular if not for what was viewable under her arm: not a hairless pit. It isn’t hard to imagine that the world of social media went wild. Yet, Netizens were not that divided over the hairy reveal, with most expressing disapproval of the look. Defenders of body positivity were not the least amused.

While movie and pop stars and those living their lives publicly have already been seen sparing underarm hair scissors, tweezers and depilatory creams, models representing brands, especially clothing labels, have largely gone smooth before standing before the camera. Julia Roberts (remember that incident?) and her clean-ketiak sisters did not really initiate a social/style revolution. And we soon fussed not with the fuzz (even the striking Nike initiative) that for many women is totally natural and deserves to be kept, even long, where it belongs. Then, at this year’s Met Gala that had attendees salute American fashion, Madonna’s first-born Lourdes Leon posed before the cameras in glittery pink and unabashed tuft. Like mother (in 2014), like daughter. Under the watch of the world, armpit hair is back in the spotlight.

The Nike Instagram post from 2019 that possibly started it all. Photo: nikewoman/instagram

We did not really pay much attention to all the exposed armpits and their crinite glory. But this week, two ads appeared in our news feed and they had us wondering: Is it back? One was by Adidas, featuring a Stella McCartney support bra—the model posing with arms up like a victory hurray. The other (surprisingly) by the new jewellery brand Saboteur (by Thomas Sabo and his son Santiago), showing their model with her arm lifted as if readying herself for an inspection of her axilla. What was striking to us weren’t just the clear clumps, but the way they caught our attention. The fuzz did not peek from the crack where the arm meets the body, like some shy Baby’s Breadth. The models posed to bring their underarm(s) into full attention. In the case of the Saboteur photo, the necklace they were presumably promoting was secondary to the more eye-catching auxiliary hair. The mind boggles to think that, these days, when a brand casts models, the brief to the agency is, send only those not shaved/plucked/depilated.

Standards of beauty have, of course, changed. Dramatically. If nipples can be shown, what’s a little hair? But what’s also different in the case of underarm growth is that more guys are, conversely, removing hair there. A look at the Instagram pages of the many males who use them to share images of their shirtless selves, the majority, unlike, say, Japanese gymnasts, have quite bare armpits. Are what’s acceptable for men and for women reversed now? We shared the Adidas shot with a few women to have a sense of what the ladies may feel about the new, naturally-fringed area to show off. All of them are not comfortable with what they saw, “Is this the new beauty that we are not aware of?” “Don’t like; don’t understand.” “Sorry, I’m still old-fashioned.” “Don’t think will catch on with Asian women.” “How do I unsee this?” “😱” “My mother will force me to shave.” “I want to keep my husband!” “I never liked fatt choy, anyway.”