Tokyo Olympics: The Men Wore Skirts

At the Opening Ceremony, did the finest male athletes of the world show the rest of the blokes watching on TV or their smart devices that skirts do not choose the gender of the wearer?

Tonga’s flag bearers Malia Paseka and Pita Taufatofua in national costume, together with their skirted team mates. Photo: Getty Images

Tokyo 2020 in 2021 is strange enough; the Olympics opening ceremony unveiled in a quiet Tokyo Olympic Stadium without spectators (the few who there could not really be seen) is downright eerie. To make matters worse (is that an appropriate word?), the Parade of the Nations segment of an already watered-down Opening Ceremony—with its tradition-meets-contemporary, Harajuku-meets-Sensoji (understandably not-quite) mass display—was just that much yawn-inducing. And weird. Who were these participants waving to, many so enthusiastically? And what (or who) were they filming with their phones? Were they really that happy to walk (or dance) into the US$1.5 billion stadium (designed by Kengo Kuma, not Zaha Hadid, as originally planned) with unmistakably quiet, empty seats, some 68,000 of them? And why were some of the Parade of Nations participants allowed to go mask-less during what was feared to be a “super spreader event”? Were we too observant?

For an Olympics Opening Ceremony this low-key, attention naturally turned to the participants/athletes, or what they wore as part of their national costumes, or, for many, uniforms during the Parade. Sure, this is no Miss Universe pageant (although the Cook Islands did put their female flag bearer, the swimmer Kirsten Andrea Fisher-Marsters (in a floor-sweeping, fish-tailed gown that, according to local media, was valued at NZD1,500 or SGD1,422), but there were countries that still aimed to impress. But many of them probably knew this was not going to be a ramped-up Rio 2016, given the situation, and, up till four days before the grand event would open, the Tokyo organising committee’s chief Toshiro Muto announcement that the city did not rule out even an 11th-hour cancellation of the global sporting showpiece if more athletes tested positive for the virus. Could this be why many nations were not dress to impress? Even the delegates of China, outfitted by a team from the Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology, looked astonishingly bland, especially when their own sports megabrand Li-Ning is making waves in the fashion-sphere.

Vanuatu’s flag bearer Rillio Rii in coloured grass skirt. Screen grab: Mediacorp

Reportedly, thirteen countries sent only two athletes to the Games. The smallness of those contingent meant we did not register and remember what they wore, but for many other nations, their athletes came dressed with layered festive cheer. It is amazing that Tokyo’s summer heat did not seem to bother them. They didn’t look bothered to us. That evening, our Google Assistant told us that it was 27 degrees Celsius in Tokyo, but, we guessed that it probably felt like 30℃ and above. The Japanese capital is known for its unbearable summer temperatures and humidity (yes, worse than our July/August highs). Many journalists, too, had earlier wondered how the athletes would deal with the punishing heat. Yet, some participants, such as those from Puerto Rico wore three-piece suits! In fact, the blazer—now appropriately referred to as the ‘sport coat’—was an extremely popular garment, never mind the setting: a stadium. Two nations did stand out for their distinctly different outers: Costa Rica chose the safari jacket, interestingly in navy and belted too, designed by compatriot menswear tailor Fabrizzio Berrocal, while Columbia picked the very Japanese yukata, with prints of “national flora”, produced by the 34-year-old local bag and accessories brand Totto.

Some nations were just a lot more practical than others, attested by the omnipresence of shorts, especially bermudas, which where worn by the small contingent from, where else, Bermuda. In pink, no less. The Australians were in shorts too, so were the Austrians, and at least another two dozen countries. Our own team SG did not turn up in the national dress of T-shirts, shorts, and slippers. Predictably, they wore blazers in hongbao-worthy red and what appeared to be chinos of khaki from the darkest end of that colour family (described more appetisingly by our media as “latte”), designed by uniform maker Esther Tay. Doing away with the full National Day look was, perhaps, deliberate, as the Singapore National Olympic Council probably didn’t what the team to appear similarly dressed as those from other contingents, such as China or Monaco. Did our athletes look good? Did they stand out? Were they in any best-dressed list? Best left unanswered.

Flag bearers of Tuvalu, Karalo Hepoiteloto Maibuca and Matie Stanley in grass skirts. Photo: Getty Images

Although the turn-out for the Parade of the Nations of the Opening Ceremony was a mixed bag—some dressed as athletes, others as flight attendants, bank clerks, nurses, even like our Safe Distancing Ambassadors!—memorable were the many men who appeared in non-bifurcated bottoms. In fact, what was spectacular were the skirts sported on the male athletes and officials, worn unselfconsciously. Most outstanding was Tongan star Pita Faufatofua’s (taekwando/rowing) traditional Tongan dress of a tupenu (a kin of what we recognise as the sarong) and taʻovala (a mat made of plant fibre that is typically wrapped around the waist)—a combo worn on formal and semi-formal occasions. On his upper body, he wore only body oil (coconut, we were told). Not to be outdone were his team mates, dressed in skirt-like tupenus of dark grey and topped by shorter, fringe-, zig-zag- and scallop-hemmed taʻovalas in the colour of straw. Although the Tongans were a small team, they made a striking sight.

As it turned out, it was quite the competition of the shirtless and the skirted. This was Mr Faufatofua’s third scene-stealing appearance at the Olympics. But, this year, he was not without serious sartorial match. Vanuatu’s Rillio Rii (rowing) was just as shirtless and just as gleamingly oiled. He wore a traditional, multi-coloured, striped, ankle-length grass-skirt (rather than the famous namba or penis sheath of the tribes people of the island), and he looked a lot more dashing than some of his trouser-wearing fellow athletes. Another grass-skirt wearer (but not entirely topless) was Tuvalu’s Karalo Hepoiteloto Maibuca (athletics), who wore a titi (skirt) on top of which the more decorative, paneled te titi tao was laid upon. His fellow flag bearer Matie Stanley (athletics) wore a similar titi, showing the world that skirts really recognise no gender. Surprisingly, there were few sarongs worn. The team from American Samoa, therefore, set themselves apart with black, knee-length versions paired with what were the handsomest holiday shirts of the night. And those, for whom the sarong is acceptable attire, chose something far more skirt-like. Team Malaysia’s traditional kain samping (a short sarong) in untraditional graphic print, conceived by the Design and Art Faculty of Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, was worn (or looked) very much like a cheer leader’s skirt although the National Sports Council of Malaysia insisted that it is kain samping.

Fiji’s flag bearers Taichi Vakasama and Rusila Nagasau in long dresses. Screen grab: Mediacorp

Team Burundi’s Belly-Cresus Ganira in traditional gown-like garb. Photo: Getty Images

Apart from the thwabs of the Middle Easterners or the boubous (long tunics) of the Africans (including Liberia’s Telfar Clements-designed, calf-length-and-below sports jerseys), there were those men’s styles that were rather dress-like. Fijian flag bearer Taichi Vakasama (swimming) wore a traditional column dress with fringing, all made from a local reed called kuta. From Burundi, Belly-Cresus Ganira (swimming) and his fellow male athletes wore a decidedly modern-looking, chocolate-brown-with-white-polka-dot, floor-length pagne, a wraparound garment (or, possibly, the more formal imgega), topped with a short cape, placed fetchingly askew. We thought Mr Ganira looked rather dapper in his traditional dress. These athletes stood out not only because of the perceived feminine style of dress they adopted or that they were willing to go against global athletic wear conventions (not regional or local), but because of the surprising freedom with their choice of clothes in the traditional power structure of the athletic world, as well as its attendant institutional and cultural bias. This is no less pronounced even if, among this Olympics’ three core concepts, there is the yet-to-date call of “accepting one another”.

And these men’s choice of clothes also showed that there was no need for a famous designer to design garments that would capture the imagination of the world watching from digital devices across the globe. Team USA was outfitted by Ralph Lauren (since 2008!) and the contingent, bursting with spurious preppiness (striped T-shirt, navy blazer, denim jeans) showed why American fashion is in unceasing decline. These clothes were communicating New England summer, circa 1985! But perhaps, more annoying was the oversized, kiasu Polo logo on the left pocket of the blazer—brand recognition or a reminder that Polo the sport is largely played and enjoyed by wealthy white individuals? Or, that the game was not included in the Olympics since 1936? If some Olympians could adopt fashion in non-gender-binary terms, perhaps many more could also not seek security behind the sport coat, especially those marked by a white man riding a horse, holding up a mallet—all in total white. Could this also be what author David Goldblatt—quoting the “godfather” of the modern Olympics, Baron Pierre de Coubertin—referred to as the “display of manly virtue”?

These Stripes Won’t Do

Adidas is at it again. This time, they’re suing Thom Browne

They are four rows instead of three (at least seen in the above photo), yet Adidas thinks Thom Browne’s parallel lines are exactly like the former’s. The German brand is suing Thom Browne for “selling athletic-style apparel (also seen above) and footwear featuring two, three, or four parallel stripes in a manner that is confusingly similar to Adidas’s three-stripe mark,” according to the trademark infringement claim filed in New York and reported in the media. It is understandable that three lines, even of different widths, could be “confusingly similar”, but two or four of them will cause confusion, even when everyone not living under a rock knows Adidas never use less than three? That’s confusing! Or is this because lawyers under Adidas’s payroll need to justify their existence? Don’t you dare!

Trademarks, of course, need to be protected, but is it possible that Adidas does not seem confident of their unmistakable, although unremarkable, graphical branding even as they say, “for over half a century, [they] extensively and continuously [have] used and promoted the three-stripe mark in connection with apparel and footwear”? Despite holding fast to the three stripes, Adidas does not consider it adequate or long enough since “confusing” is apparently the result when similar marks appear. And the only way to make things less “confusing” is to take a litigious approach. According to a 2017 Bloomberg report, Adidas had, by then, filed nearly 50 lawsuits to secure its trademarked stripes.

The suit also stated that, previously, there was mediation between Adidas and Thom Browne, beginning in November 2020. Nothing was resolved, it seems. But in a statement responding to Adidas’s charges—quoted by WWD—a spokesperson claimed that they did their part and “acted honorably for all this time”. He added that “Adidas consented for 12 years and now they’re changing their mind. The court won’t allow that. And consumers won’t as well. It’s an attempt to use the law illegally.”

We do not know that the illegal use of the law exists. But as consumers, we are definitely not confused by Thom Browne’s use of the stripes, which, graphic designers will agree, are themselves generic lines and are “devoid of any distinctive character”, as the EU Intellectual Property Office, which had rejected Adidas’s trademark application, said in 2016 (a ruling upheld by an EU court in 2019). Many of us do no think that the Adidas stripes look anything like Thom Browne’s. But never mind what the rest of us actually think. It only matters what Adidas think we may think, stupid us! Will Adidas sue Kit Kat next?

File photo: Zhao Xiangji/SOTD

Marimekko For Athletic Pursuits

The Finnish brand, beloved by women of a certain age, is going sporty, with Adidas joining the game

At each launch of the Marimekko X Uniqlo collaboration, now into their fifth season since 2018, women who have reached a particular station in life and age group make sure they are the first few to cop the cheerful tops and dresses. The collab’s success with this sizeable company of women allow it to be an ongoing project that suits the Japanese brand’s LifeWear positioning or what is described as “practical sense of beauty”. As Uniqlo is well embraced by all women, regardless of age and size, it is unsurprising that Marimekko’s tented shapes, in particular, are adopted and have quickly become the go-to silhouette for those seeking clothes that are forgiving. As one fashion stylist told us recently, “the Marimekko woman is not the Ines des la Fressange woman.”

Marimekko is probably well aware that it needs to break away from the sticky cliché that its designs appeal mostly to those who want loose, bright, graphic-strong clothes that detract attention from the body—unchallenging garments that make the wearer look youthful, too. Sportswear is an inevitable category to go into, even if Marimekko has never traipsed into the path of performance wear (not counting T-shirts) before this. Into the field came serial brand collaborator Adidas. And it’s timely too, considering that track tops and bottoms are presently the fashion choices of many women IRL. That Adidas has had success with pop-centric collabs—such as Beyoncé and Niki Minaj—likely prompted Marimekko to adopt the sports brand’s tried and tested formula.

The Finnish label, which turns 70 this year, calls the collaboration “the art of print and performance”. Indeed, print is synonymous with Marimekko—they can easily draw from an archive of reportedly more than 3,500 graphic motifs. But rather than employ those that have made their collaboration with Uniqlo so rewarding, such as their famous poppy flower (known by the Finnish name Unniko) or the jumble of blooms Siirtolapuutarha, they have opted far more graphic patterns, such as the repeated dots of Räsymatto and the vintage waves of Laine. Perhaps flowers do not hint at performance. The clothes are clearly pitched at the athleisure customer than an actual track-and-fielder. There’s a hip-hop, Missy Elliott-worthy vibe, too. In fact, it could even entice the gorpcore enthusiast if we go by the location of the shoot for the advertising: a hillside or a hiking trail.

The campaign images could also be one of the most inclusive among the collaborations of Adidas. The photographs all feature models of colour—there is not a single Caucasian (is that still inclusive?). The clothes seemed to be for women only, but in their publicity images made available to the media, there is one male model in a cycling top. These days, it is, of course, hard to tell who a brand’s intended audience really is. The clothes could be unisex or that the women’s items could also be pitched or “recommended” to guys. If so, Marimekko X Adidas is really a collaboration alert to the requirements that make today’s fashion brands really tuned in.

Marimekko X Adidas is available online in mid-June at adidas.com.sg. Photos: Marimekko/Adidas

We Need A Break From Kim Jones Collabs

Air Dior is done and sold. Kim Jones doesn’t need to milk that success. His collaboration with Nike shows it

By Ray Zhang

Kim Jones can’t do any wrong. From his bringing together Louis Vuitton and Supreme to Dior and Nike, everything he touched had turned to gold. What’s next, I wonder—Fendi and whoever, whatever? But before there’s that, Mr Jones has put his own name to sit alongside Nike’s in a collaboration that many had thought might be as exciting as the shoe for Dior, probably the most hyped sneaker in the history of luxury-brand collabs. Nike X Kim Jones is the coming together of two big names in an iteration of streetwear that overplays hoopla, not design. If the publicity material and the merchandise are not identified by Mr Jones’s name (or in the case of the logo used on the clothing, the initials KJ), these could be any merchandise in Nike’s regular drops. Or something you might consider at ASOS… when they are offering a store-wide 20% discount.

Perhaps I have overlooked something here. Were these put out for kids who missed out on the Dior collab, or those who could not afford the (from) S$3,100 a pair shoes? And those who are happy to just wear anything as long as they are associated with a trending name? Frankly no one needs to pay S$149 for “classic nylon bottoms”, as Nike describes a pair of very standard-issue track pants. Or, $69 for a “short-sleeve (sic) tee” that is accompanied with a curious description: “Neon hues are combined with a reflective design Nike Air graphic to give this top an essential feel”. Or (I cringe mentioning this), the socks (S$29), with the Nike Air logo on one side and KJ on the other. Seriously? Even the sole shoe, an Air Max 95 (S$299), with orange highlights and, on the upper, “Morse code-like pattern” (I, and so many of us here at SOTD, prefer the sound), is probably one of the most uninspired interpretations ever.

…one is well thought-out and thought-through for both design and performance, while the other is basically commercial fluff

Mr Jones has had quite a track record in making athletic clothes somewhat cool and mind-bogglingly desirable. Since his work for the UK brand Umbro back in 2008, with its references to British football culture, he has been known to have an eye to sift out sportif and cultural reference to bring something to whoever. But they have never been, to me, as crave-arousing as, say, those by A-Cold-Wall*. I won’t even bring up Gyakusou, Nike’s successful, eleven-year-old pairing with Jun Takahashi, for comparison, since one is well thought-out and thought-through for both design and performance, while the other is basically commercial fluff.

In many ways, Mr Jones’s output reminds me of the equally lacklustre Nike collaboration with Riccardo Tisci in 2017, which also featured the initials of the designer. Given that there is increasingly more design-driven pairings between sportswear and designer labels, I would have thought that Mr Jones might have tried a tad harder. Sure, I did not expect him to do a Sacai, but neither did I regard such bland take to happen. Even the placement of the Nike Air logo on the apparel suggests to me a what-the-heck, just-plonk-it-here approach. If Nike’s pairing with Kim Jones can’t yield even a fraction of the design savvy in the former’s own truly appealing and often fascinating Nikelab or the ACG (All Conditions Gear) line, they should really not bother. Nike—and all of us—deserves better.

Photo: Nike

In Bold Strides

Japan’s White Mountaineering collaborates with Fila. The result is more for track and field than pitch and trail

These days, every designer label worth its salt—or stripes—collaborates with at least one sports label. The Italian brand Fila is rather productive in this respect, and has been able to attract Japanese names to its stable, such as Mihara Yasuhiro. Hot on the heels of that release is the collaboration with White Mountaineering under the line Fila Fusion, which, according to a Fila Facebook post, “targets (the) youth market, incorporating vintage and on trend elements to bringing streetwear into a new level.”

White Moutaineering’s been quite a prolific brand collaborator, having paired with Adidas for quite a few seasons, and more recently, with the Italian outdoor wear label Colmar, the American athletic brand Saucony, as well as Australian footwear Ugg. Designer Yosuke Aizawa would be the guy to bring Fila’s Euro-vintagey sportif style to quite a height, never mind “new”. While WM fans might be hoping for a more up-the-hill aesthetic, Mr Aizawa and his team have remained close to Fila’s athletic roots, including the latter’s colour scheme for its logotype.

White Mountaineering X Fila. From left: (women’s), T-shirt, SGD136, and skirt, SGD208; (men’s) pullover, SGD208, and track pants, SGD 288. Products photo: Fila. Collage: Just So

To the uninitiated (or Fila novices), the blue/red/white combination could be mistaken as those worn by the North American team bound for the Olympics. Truth be told, there’s nothing quite mountaineering about these cheery, potentially nationalistic colours. They are more track than trail, and would really not be out of place on a path of any urban centre or the walkway of a mall. But WM devotees would want something to identify the brand with, and Mr Aizawa offers a hint of WM detailing, such as the brand’s logo bordered by ethnic-looking repeated patterns. In fact, the collection is mostly based on Fila staples, but with WM’s love of details gleaned from military and work wear.

The women’s pieces are quite the standout that many sportswear collaboration are not (except possibly Sacai and Nike). We like the boxier tops and the layered/pleated skirts—rather tennis wear charmingly gone a little off-tangent. As with WM collections, the Fila outers are smashing. Lightweight jackets, some with that ethnic pattern, but mostly with massive pockets (and flaps) are totally consistent with the outdoor look, but city-centric enough to go over any dress that you might be wearing now. If only our climate here isn’t one we wish we didn’t have.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

White Mountaineering X Fila autumn/winter 2020 is available at Fila, Orchard Central. Photo (top): Zhao Xiangji

Not Too Many Pockets

Now that the use of masks are mandatory, there really should be a way to keep them, including those set aside as spares, and those removed temporarily. Nikelab ACG has a jacket that solves the storage problem

 

Nikelab @ DSMS vestNikelab ACG vest. Photo: Nike/DSMS

By Ray Zhang

With increase and compulsory mask use, I found myself with one problem: I do not have a dedicated space to keep them when I am out, but not necessarily about, since I do not think the time is right to be gallivanting. Yet. I always like bringing a spare mask, in case the one I am wearing gets wet (the weather, for example, is so unpredictable) or when I have the misfortune of encountering someone who coughs into my face. And when I remove my mask to eat or drink at, say, the food court, I like to put it away in a proper and clean place; none of the below-the-chin, through-the forearm, or on-the-lap deployments. I usually bring along a Ziplock bag—two, in fact (one for clean masks, one for used masks)—but for those who use fancy fabric masks, a plastic case just won’t do.

Sure, some expensive masks brands offer storage bags that can be purchased separately, such as those by the streetwear-ish brand Profound, favoured by Zayn Malik, Kendrik Lemar, even Rihanna. But I do not know if the expense is warranted. I like a pouch pocket attached to something I can wear and is within easy reach. You can, therefore, understand why I was smitten by this Nike ACG vest at first sight.

This all-nylon gilet with mesh lining comes with an amazing number of highly usable pockets: five. They come in four different sizes, and each of them has zippered opening for additional security. I am also attracted to the triangular carabiner on the the outer corner of the bottom right pocket. For those who prefer to have their mask hanging, this is a good option (there is also an additional carabiner in the interior of the bottom pocket on the left). Additionally, I find the colour-blocking especially fetching—a bi-coloured body of top-half in black and bottom-half in white and the pockets in beige. It helps, too, that the utility vest is on trend, but that is never, to me, a priority. 😷

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Nikelab ACG vest, SGD189, is available at DSMS and online, as well as at nike.com

Nike Next

Although Nike clearly stands on the side of those demanding justice for the death of George Floyd, their stores, too, were targets of protesting looters

 

Happy lootingA delighted looter running out of a Nike in Chicago. Screen grab: Ben Pope/Twitter 

By now, looting has spread through many American cities. In Chicago, they struck at Nike. One video, posted on Twitter yesterday, showed a Nike store on Michigan Avenue, where the upscale shopping stretch The Magnificent Mile lies, completely swarmed with people determined to take whatever is inside without paying for them. One black woman, running out and hands filled with what she could carry, was shrieking with delight. Her face showed the satisfaction of perpetrating a crime, not seeing justice served. All around her, the happy looters were black—as much as we could see. Their willfulness and total disregard for damage to property and business is difficult to watch.

Is this protest or rampage?

Nike isn’t a luxury brand (although some products are priced as such), yet it is attracting looters as if there’s the equivalent of the Speedy or Capucines in its stores. In another shocking video—also posted on Twitter—looting was in full swing in Rochester, NY, at the Villa, described as “a lifestyle chain featuring brand-name shoes, clothes and sporting goods”. Amid people rushing out of the store, a black woman emerged with two Nike shoe boxes and other packaged merchandise and moved quickly towards a parked vehicle, left in the middle of the street. The person who shot the video asked her, “Sweetheart, is this your car? Did you leave your car to go get some sneakers?” She got into her automobile, said something not audible to the man, and left. About two minutes into the video, the same woman is seen running back to the store, presumably, to swipe more stuff!

Nike smashedCleared out: Nike in Chicago after looters had their haul. Photo: Ben Pope

We are not generalising here. The video posts of looting we have seen so far mainly involved people of the black community. This is perplexing and, for those of us from the other side of the world, incomprehensible. Part of the black issue—and experience—is how they are perceived. Or how they are easily the subject of racial profiling, which is clearly unacceptable. But by purloining while protesting, what are they hoping the world to see? Sure, this reflects the economic divide of the society that they live in, but how will breaking into stores to outright steal put the spotlight on their plight? How will the videos of their act—unimaginable in our part of the world, not even in riot-now-the-norm Hong Kong—widely posted and shared, make more people want to champion their cause?

America’s race issues are complicated and are not the discussion we want to take up here. But Nike has been a brand highly supportive of the black community. It has supported black athletes, named lines of shoes after black sportsmen, and even stood on the side of black NFL stars who stuck to what they believed in, even if doing so would incur the wrath of the White House. If Nike is, to this extent, with African-Americans, and is still the brand that the latter enjoys buying, why are those looters, both the black and their allies, creating such indelible damage to the Swoosh? Or, are we being naive?

20-06-01-17-37-15-287_decoNike’s video message. Screen grab: Nike/Twitter

Ironically, Nike came out just a few days ago to state that it is not sitting on the fence, urging its customers and loyalists to do the right thing. In a simple video message than made no mention of the brand, except a tweak on its 30-year-old slogan “Just Do It”, it adjures viewers to “For once, Don’t Do It”. And at the end, a fade-in of the Swoosh. There’s something poignant about the message, enough to prompt rival Adidas to support the post and share it. If Nike could be moved to sending out something this moving, why are its supposed fans responding by looting its stores, and gleefully so?

Nike is, of course, not the only target of the sneaker-raiders. Reports have emerged to say that other brands, including more luxury stores such as Gucci and Alexander McQueen, have been attacked and ransacked. Los Angeles, we hear, is badly affected, with shopping districts such as Melrose and Fairfax vandalised and marauded. Fashion, as it’s been repeatedly said these past months, is in a difficult place. What’s been videoed, Tweeted, and shared in just one weekend could point to something far more dire.

Classic Track Top Gets A Touch Of Fashion

Nike’s latest A.I.R. offering reminds us of a certain designer label’s fun side

 

Nike Windrunner AIR fall 2019

By Ray Zhang

My friends know I am partial to Nike. Apart from the fact that I was an early adopter—as early as 13, when I bought my first pair of kicks, the Air Zoom Pegasus, I am also an avid follower of the permutations that the Swoosh is able to give to its classic shapes and silhouettes and, geez, the very Swoosh itself. While I am getting increasingly bored with fashion (I know you are too), I am still fascinated with what Nike is able to continually do to arouse fan interest.

Take this track top, the Windrunner, a jacket that goes back to a very distant 1978. I own quite a few of them. Each time a colour-blocked version is released and, especially, in the nylon that’s as thin as tissue, I succumb. But I have never seen one conceived in this manner of colour-and-pattern-block symmetry. And this isn’t under the more experimental Nikelab. Sure, Nike, more than any other athletic brand, has embraced graphics so bold and off-court/track that you’ll think their design team works mainly with those who are perpetually equipped with aerosol paint. Still, this new Windrunner took me by delightful surprise if only because it immediately reminds me of CDG and Play.

Nike AIR Cody Hudson

There is, of course, the dots, which is a fave repeated pattern at CDG, and the two eyes in the rear that are not unlike Filip Pagowski’s peepers for the heart shape that the Polish artist designed for Play. Nike’s version is part of the graphical composition conceived for the brand’s Artist in Residence (A.I.R.) seasonal program by Chicagoan Cody Hudson, who is also behind the graphic design outfit Struggle Inc. Mr Hudson, who acknowledges that he can’t draw (an admission that I can relate to 😊), relies on irregular shapes that is akin to doodling, and it is this aesthetic naiveness that lends his work freshness.

And, as a consequences, this Windrunner looks different. I like the khaki and obsidian combo and that the jacket easily goes with anything I own under the CDG umbrella. The track top (an odd description, I admit, since it likely won’t see even a running path) comes with a packable hood (can be folded into the collar), which is perfect for those of us who really prefer to conceal the extraneous until needed. The polyester shell has the added advantage of being water-repellent and, if you need it for the darkness of night, is given reflective details. I should wear mine out tonight to see if the eyes will glow to better ward off the stealthy advance of PMD riders!

Nike Windrunner A.I.R., SGD149, is available at Nike flagship, Jewel Changi Airport and online. Photos: Nike

Would You Wear Vogue?

The magazine may be a “fashion bible”, but when it comes to the Vogue-branded clothes, it’s a lot more pulp

 

The Kith jacket blessed by Vogue. Photo: Hypebeast

Is Vogue becoming a lifestyle brand? It isn’t certain yet. At the autumn/winter 2019 presentation of the New York sneaker retailer Kith shown two days ago, clothes bearing the Vogue logo in its distinctive font, said to be a “modified Didot”, were presented in a catwalk show for the store’s Kith Air collection. This is the second collaboration between retailer and magazine—whether Kith’s Ronnie Fieg and Vogue’s Anna Wintour met over this, no one could say.

It is possible that this is the work of the marketing arm of the title than the editorial’s since the output is not quite what Vogue might consider fashion, even if many show attendees and, later, influencers, consider them of note. Are these transformative threads that could result in the digital phenomenon known misleadingly as ‘trending’ (easily mistaken as ‘trendy’)? It’d be interesting to see if even one of the title’s editors would pick any of these pieces for the magazine’s fashion pages in the coming months.

Kith X Vogue 2019 G1.jpgUnremarkable clothes despite two storied names. Photos: Vogue/Alessandro Lucioni/Gorunway

It looks like the latest Vogue-branded apparel expands on the last pairing’s two-item offering by, well, another two. Still bearing the titular name, the current pieces include varsity jacket and track pants on top of the expected hoodies (minus the sweatshirt from the last). Formerly, the Vogue logo was placed in a box, a la Supreme. This time, in addition to that, it is emblazon on the front of the varsity jackets with the prominence of mastheads, with as much colour as Burberry’s Patpong hues of the recent representation of the British brand’s name. Even the track pants sport similar logo placement: down the leg of the pants, along the seam.

Mr Fieg is a shoe retail veteran and a much-lauded sneaker designer since the opening of his first store Kith in 2011. Despite having collaborated on many desired kicks in the past decade or so, as well as Kith-branded clothes, he has not enjoyed a consensus that leans on him being a good fashion designer. But that, in New York, is besides the point, especially since Supreme’s James Jebbia won menswear designer of the year at last year’s CFDA awards. In the U.S., business model is more crucial than fashion design, and Kith’s increasing clout proves the point already raised by store-first-than-fashion Supreme.

Kith X Vogue 2017.jpgThe surprisingly lame first offering of Kith X Vogue in 2017. Photo: Kith/Nolan Persons

Still, is it not possible to produce clothes that are not variations of the hoodie? And if, indeed, a hoodie is a must because the customers are telling you to produce more as they have been buying more, is Kith unable to offer those that are not meekly differentiated by a mere name, although a 127-year-old one? For Vogue’s 125th anniversary, the retailer created basically two styles of tops, a hoodie and a sweatshirt, each displaying a boxed logo that could have been Gap re-branded, and marketed via images that would not be out of place in Qoo10 or Shopee. Or, was that the plan and the point—Vogue can come down from its lofty perch?

Magazine mastheads that are fashion labels are not new. Elle has for a long time licensed its name for clothing lines, as well as homeware. Vogue itself was once associated with clothing too, in the form of published patterns (now part of McCall Pattern Company that, for trivia buffs, also owns Butterick), but, like most print media, has gone digital. Better known, perhaps, is Vogue Eyewear, launched in 1973 “under the same name as the famous fashion magazine”, according to Luxottica, who owns the brand. Interestingly, the sunglasses they are known for now sell under a different logotype to the magazine, presumably so that there is no direct linkage.

That Vogue is willing to allow its name to be used on such near-grassroots, very  Calabasas clothing is perhaps less to do with fashion than popularity—the need to remain visible in an era when the relevance of magazines has been called to question. Its pairing with Kith, not, say, Marc Jacobs, is commercially consistent with the much used strategy of employing the reach and cool associations of born-in-the-streets brands to stay prominent in the public’s eye. Vogue.com’s Runway happily noted that “Kith is a New York brand and a testament to New York–style business”. Notice there’s no mention of design. Or, fashion.

Retro Brand Comeback Of The Year

Many of its young customers today do not know that Fila is a 108-year-old label. But the heritage may not matter as the Italian brand is trending through whichever social media you’re hooked to. Their flagship store opened in Jewel last month, and it looks like in here, one must stop

 

Fila shopping bag.jpgThe Fila shopping bag proudly displayed by a shopper in a bus

By Emma Ng

I don’t have the habit of looking at people’s chest or feet, but lately these body parts have been looking at me. Not just a casual glance, but a positive glare. I do not, of course, glare back, but I do notice one thing clearly: a four-letter word not found in the English dictionary: Fila.

Since the popularity of logos some years back (six, maybe?), I have seen a proliferation of Swooshes and Three Stripes worn all over, even in the most unlikely places, but it was only this past year that I started noticing the F, I, L, and A, in their thick lines, appearing not quite discreetly, often emblazoned across the chest or stretched across the dorsum of feet. It appears that this once relatively unknown Italian brand—now owned by Koreans and, in China, in a JV with the Chinese—is winning the pockets of shoppers the way bubble tea has robbed them.

The bubble tea analogy, you may have guessed, is deliberate. Both are comebacks with bigger, madder following the second time round. Fila was never as huge as Nike or Adidas, just as bubble teas of the first invasion was not quite the cha version of Starbucks, but some time in the mid-Nineties, when Clueless inspired many of my school friends and the Spice Girls were not yet dethroned, one shoe did find fans among those who had a weakness for white kicks, especially those with “saw-tooth” outsoles. I am not talking about what Sporty Spice wore; she was partial to Nike (oh, the Tailwind is making a comeback, but I prefer her Air Humara). I am recalling the Fila kick of 1996, the Disruptor.

Fila Disruptor 2 2018The sneaker that changed the fortunes of Fila, as seen in last year’s Sole Superior: the Disruptor 2

By now, most of you have heard of the Disruptor 2, or own a pair, maybe more. At the Fila store in ION Orchard last Saturday, I heard a girl of no more than twelve telling her friend of about the same age, “Don’t get the Disruptor—it’s too popular. I already have three!” This pubescent girl’s serious advice is ground level shout-out of the sneaker’s demand and acclaim, and how it can not only define a brand, but revive it. By the end of 2018, the Disruptor was the trainer to have, especially among young girls, many of whom looked unable to walk in what is essentially a hippo of a shoe. At last year’s Sole Superior, Fila’s star performer was expected to be in such high demand that a stall was almost entirely dedicated to it, drawing, unsurprisingly, manic attention.

The second version of the Disruptor’s rapid success took many observers and retailers by delightful surprise. In January, I remember seeing a Thai tourist on the MRT train going to the airport with six pairs in boxes that are neatly tied up in threes—these exclude the two huge suitcases that accompanied him. Sure, the sneaker arrived at the height of the chunky, “dad shoe” craze, but it was not a new silhouette compared with the competition and it had no celebrity endorsement (although Kendall Jenner did wear a pair). Its almost immediate popularity was attributed to its easy availability and a don’t-have-to-think-twice price. The Disruptor 2 was destined for success.

From that one shoe, Fila suddenly became the rage, and the logo, an emblem of sporty cool on everything from T-shirts to bum bags to slides. It is possible that Fila’s popularity received a boost from Gosha Rubchinskiy, who, in 2016, created Fila-branded merchandise that augmented over-branding’s extreme popularity after Demna Gvasalia similarly magnified the re-designed Balenciaga logo. I don’t remember when it was in the past that a logotype of an athletic brand became so well-loved and so applicable on merchandise that other brands soon followed (New Balance and the Japanese label Nanamica had a conceptually-similar offering to Mr Rubchinskiy’s).

The high with the low way of mixing clothes and accessories means Fila can be seen comfortably and proudly with Balenciaga

In fact, even luxury brands want in on the game, never mind that it’s the high-low pairing that’s on trend, not quite the high-high. Last year, Fendi, not just contented with partnering the Disruptor’s creator, even went as far as substituting the F of its logo with the latter’s, and repeat it all over whatever merchandise they can crank out to capture the attention of those fans that were past their love for the double Fs or Bag Bugs eyes, which, six years after their appearance, hasn’t shut, and now looking at you somewhat ominously from the face of watches.

Fila’s pull seems to be in how easily and suitably their merchandise go with products of status (even if that does not really mean much, now that brands such as Louis Vuitton and Chanel have broad, unstoppable appeal). I often see both men and women wearing or totting something that announces itself as Fila, accompanied by those that are not vague about their proprietary name and exorbitant pricing. It’s one conspicuous brand with another, even if they come from different ends of the price divide. The juxtaposition often examplar of today’s random, impulsive, and uncritical consumption, a predilection luxury brands have been fast to exploit.

Athletic brands, such as Fila, have become a status leveler now that even women still buying It bags wear track tops and pants with total nonchalance, with little regard for sense of occasion, just as you and I see on IG, Snapchat, and the like. Sure, this is probably the result of the influence of influencers—so far ineradicable—who set trends more rapidly and effectively than even the most buzzy brands. But Fila has one added advantage: apart from the heat generated by social-media, the brand has the advantage of a generation of consumers who has never savoured the then-emerging casualness of the ’90s, now on-trend with remarkable persistence. Fila is new.

Fila store P1Opened last month, the Fila flagship in Jewel Changi Airport offers both street styles and classic sportswear

The young discovering old brands and, as a consequence, giving them new life is nothing novel, and decidedly a part of the cycle we sometimes forget is fashion. It is very much like trying my first pair of bell-bottom jeans some time last year. My mother was shocked and, without hesitation, told me how hideous they were. “I wore them along time ago, and I had no idea why,” she said, regret thick in her voice. This year, I gave track pants a go—interestingly Fila, and, yes, with the tape down the sides!—but it has nothing to do with the eminent return of Missy Elliot, who, I was told, was the poster girl for tracksuit-as-playsuit back in the day.

It is not hard to see that Fila is presently merchandised to appeal to the young. Its footwear is aligned with fashion trends than sporting needs. Its clothing, too, is pitched at those who don them as a statement of being in the know than as unthinking post-game wear. If the Disruptor 2, brought sharp focus to Fila’s sneaker offerings (especially its flair for the chunky kicks), then its Eagle Logo T-shirt (with a ‘Miss’ version for women), featuring an indiscreet logo with the distinctive initial F, contrast-coloured on the top arm of the font, delivered interest to the increasingly street-leaning clothes, even, as cynics consider them “entry-level”. The fashion line received a major boost when, in September last year, they staged a catwalk presentation during Milan Fashion Week. Three months later, it was announced that Phillip Lim and the brand would collaborate on what the media described as “elevated, sport-inspired garments”.

Regardless, Fila seems to attract those who still depend on their parents for pocket money and, as I have noticed, the newly-in-love who like wearing identical clothes and footwear. While stores such as the Foot Locker and JD Sports carry the brand, it is their free-standing boutiques—now numbering three here—that are a major pull. And it is the flagship store in the sports-shops-too-many Jewel Changi Airport that is poised to take on the big boys, even if Fila is a small player, compared to rivals Nike and Adidas.

Fila store P2The right-half of the Fila flagship at Jewel Changi Airport, featuring the more ‘heritage’ lines

The flagship is a lineal, 2,730 square feet expanse that’s split into two halves, unlike Nike’s duplex eye-catcher. On the left, it houses the ‘Fusion’ collections and on the right, the ‘Heritage’ and more classic lines, such as White. On a Friday morning that I was there, I overheard a customer, standing on the more atmospheric ‘Fusion’ part, asking a sales staff, “What’s the difference between that side and this side?” She happily replied, pointing to where the enquirer stood, “This side is for more hip-hop, one.” Just as I was wondering if I was in the right half of the store, she added, “this side we also have Japan collection and Taiwan collection”. The regional offerings were instantly transmitting their pull.

As it turned out, the helpful staff was not wrong. I felt I was in EXO’s costume wardrobe. Not that that’s a bad thing: both men’s and women’s lines look somewhat the same—silhouettes too, which perhaps underscored the unisex appeal of sports-oriented clothes designed for the pavement, rather than courts or tracks. Some of them fall under what Fila calls the Urban Function Series, a name with an OG ring to it. What stood out was how roomy everything appeared, which, I guessed, explained the hip-hop link. The collection associated with Japan had the aesthetical strength of what you might find in Japanese stores such as Beams (the proportion of the T-shirts, for example, was alluringly less conventional: boxy, dropped shoulders), while the one from Taiwan appeared to be what might be worn by participants to local television game shows.

I caught sight of Phillip Lim’s “sports-inspired” fashion—two racks of them. The designs, currently the third drop, may be “elevated”, but the subtly retro vibe could still be discerned, including repeated patterns on garments and bags that are in keeping with graphics of a certain vintage. And just as attractive: you don’t need a bank loan to score something that neither canted towards the too sporty or the too retro. In this collaboration, they have, as a certain DM song goes, got the balance right.

Fila flagship store is on level 2, Jewel Changi Airport, Photos by Galerie Gombak and Zhao Xiangji

Two Of A Kind: Long and Puffed

Cold Wear vs Moncler

For many fashion folks, it isn’t unclear which came first. Moncler announced their Genius collaboration in February this year. One of the contributors is Valentino’s Pierpaolo Piccioli. His capsule collection for the Italian brand known for their down jackets is thought to be aesthetically the strongest among the eight designers invited to take part in the interpretation of the Moncler classic.

Mr Piccioli’s stunning versions, available at Club 21 last month, took Moncler’s familiar shape and quilting and gave them a simple but exaggerated silhouette. The most talked about and shared are the floor length, hooded coats (right, the Agnese) that has a familiarity that can be linked to Mr Piccioli’s rather renaissance silhouette he conceived for Valentino intermittently. Moncler’s puffer coats, for the first time, has a couture sensibility about them.

The long duvet coats, in the house nylon Laqué and with their horizontal quilting, recently had the spotlight shone on one of them when Erza Miller of the Fantastic Beasts series wore a black version to the franchise’s—The Crimes of Grindelwald—Paris opening early this month. Fashion tongues were wagging, and the most striking of the Moncler collaborations took centrestage.

Not long after Mr Miller’s red-carpet strut, this version (left) was spotted at the entrance of the Coldwear store in Tampines One. The version, as we learned, is not for sale. But, as the saleswoman told us, it can be made-to-order. And how much would that set us back? “Eight hundred to a thousand,” she said hesitatingly in Mandarin (the Agnese is on the other end at USD4,135). Why was it on display if it wasn’t for sale? “I don’t know,” she continued unhelpfully, “the boss wants it here.”

Cold Wear is a Singapore-based subsidiary of one of Indonesia’s largest manufacturers of winter wear. Their in-house label Coldwear’s coat in question comes in a white that has a hint of blue or grey, depending on the ambient light, sort of the colour of snow after a day or two. The nylon used isn’t as fine as Moncler’s—to be expected—and the down filling is rather thin and limp.

As we allowed the coat to feed our fascination, one of two women walking past the Coldwear store who caught sight of the mannequin’s outfit at the entrance, said to her friend, “Wah, can wear for a wedding!”

Photos: Zhao Xiangji

Trotter Trots On

Louise Trotter@Lacoste.jpg

We have always been partial to Joseph under creative director Louis Trotter’s watch. We learnt that she had left the British brand around the same time we were told of the closure of Singapore’s only Joseph store (at the ill-fated Capitol Piazza), in early August: two pieces of bad news. Now with reports that she has joined Lacoste, things are looking up, not only for those of us who have enjoyed Ms Trotter’s work, but also for the Swiss-owned French brand Lacoste, somewhat languishing under Portuguese designer Felipe Oliveira Baptista, who succeeded Christophe Lemaire in 2010.

Miss Trotter may seem like an odd choice for Lacoste, given her latterly not-too-commercial work for Joseph, but she had been at sportswear-oriented Gap and Hilfiger before, as well as the British high street label Jigsaw. Joseph, founded by one-time hairdresser Joseph Ettedgui, was initially a multi-label store before it branched into the highly successful knitwear line Joseph Tricot. When Ms Trotter came on board in 2009 from Jigsaw, she immediately positioned Joseph’s ready-to-wear as a wearable, several-notches-above-basic label that moved towards the fashion-forward, but not in an alienating way. This came a year after Phoebe Philo’s appointment at Céline, allowing Joseph to move in tandem with the French brand’s aesthetic that was clearly coming on apace.

Ms Trotter kept to Joseph’s reputation for championing young designers by infusing a youthful vibe into clothes that have always been associated with the British wardrobe, such as the trench coat and the fisherman jumper. She’s not shy of extreme proportions, pairing boxy jackets with wide-legged pants, nor of eye-catching details, such as pleated ruffs, oversized pilgrim collars, and pockets large enough to house an iPad. Her solid hand with shapes and an eye for the unusual will be advantageous in restoring Lacoste the edge it had lost with the departure of Mr Lemaire. The alligator needs a new keeper.

Photo: Cyril Masson/Lacoste