Culture On!

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

The main concourse of Culture Cartel in Scape

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One of the best local newcomers is the menswear brand N3AVIGATE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Photo wall” inside the Mighty Jaxx space

The small but well-curated offering of Luca & Vic

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

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

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

Walk Into Shein

The Chinese hyper-fastfashion online label is now into physical stores: a pop-up in Osaka, and now its first permanent physical store in Tokyo

Shein pop-up in Osaka

Shein is not only going big, they’re getting physical. Two stores in Japan, the country with some of the best stores and shopping experiences in the world, are now Shein standalones. First a pop-up in Osaka (till the 26th of January or six days after the Lunar New Year) and then a proper bricks-and-mortar in Tokyo, touted “the world’s first”. It opened three Sundays ago in the streetwear/sneaker (but not quite hipster) stretch of Cat Street, Ura-Harajuku, a ten-minute, or so, walk from the famed Takeshita-Dori. These are not modest little stores. The glass-front Tokyo space spreads over two stories (or 201 sqm), and is stocked with merchandise for men (although somewhat limited) and women, including cosmetics, and even products for pets. Clothes (the largest category) can be tried on by Japanese customers for the first time, prior to purchase, on-line.

In Osaka, the pop-up, also a double-floor affair, opened a month earlier. Part of the Shein Popup: The Japan Tour (which will includes five cities in all), it sits on Osaka’s main shopping street of Shinsaibashi, in a space formerly occupied by Uniqlo, and is in the company of competitor-neighbours Gap and H&M (how thrilled is the Swedish brand now that Shein is directly opposite?), turning this area of the street into a multi-nation fast-fashion hub. Japanese media enthusiastically reported of “more than 800 items” on display in the Shein pop-up, but with the crowd, it’s hard to see the vastness of the offerings. There are, to the thrill of the Japanese, nine fitting rooms, each decorated differently (and with considerable camp!) so that the trying-on of clothes could also be a selfie moment to be shared on social media. These do not include seven additional photo-op spots throughout the store. Shein’s target audience is unambiguous: smartphone-dependent, must-be-visible-online Gen-Zers.

…fitting rooms are each decorated differently so that the trying-on of clothes could also be a selfie moment to be shared on social media

Despite the staggering array of merchandise, nothing in the two stores are for outright purchase. Shoppers can browse and try, but there are no cashiers for you to take your desired products to, to seal the deal. Shein is essentially a showroom, although, in Tokyo, the company calls it an “event space”. To purchase (which is surely the intention of opening a physical store), customers scan a QR code on a hang tag attached to every product. They would then be directed to the online page (or on the app) of the selected merchandise. An order of their picks can be placed. This is not Japan’s first browse-only fashion space. We remember that in 2019 there was a GU (Uniqlo’s sister brand) concept store in nearby Omotesando (close to the Harajuku station) called GU Style Studio, where shoppers were able to enjoy everything the store had to offer, except make a purchase. To buy, one scans a QR code too, and would be directed to GU online. There was also an avatar you can create to dress yourself digitally in GU clothes. Even earlier, in the ’90s, Shiseido opened a store—also on Omotesando, in a former apartment block where Omotesando Hills now stands—for women (and men!) to try merchandise (even do a makeover) the brand offered, for however long they wish, but nothing was for sale.

A Shein spokesperson told Forbes that the brand’s “focus remains digital-first.” He also said, “Shein customers can experience our fashion and lifestyle products at our pop-ups around the world. We will continue to expand our pop-up roadmap and keep making the beauty of fashion accessible to all.” Despite the impressive turnouts for both stores on opening day (in Osaka, 3,000 people reportedly turned up, and it took two and half hours to enter the store; in Tokyo, more than 150 were in line even before the store opened at 11am that day), it is not certain if Shein will be a stunning success in Japan when the country has their own low-priced but better-made fashion brands, such as the cheap and cheerful Wego, the fashion-reliable Niko And …, and, to a large extent, Uniqlo’s engaging GU, whose past collaborator included Undercover—it’s hard to get cooler than that.

Shein, launched in 2008, could be trying to rewrite their brand narrative in both visual and tactile ways, given the (still) bad rep they receive in so many parts of the world (they do not sell in China, where the brand was founded and where the clothes are manufactured), compounded by a Greenpeace Germany report published last week, claiming that some Shein products “contained hazardous chemicals that break EU regulatory limits”. Shein is probably aware that their customers do not care. The response to the two Japanese stores may be indicative. In both, one snappy slogan greets shoppers: “Wear your Wonderful”. In telling their Japanese customers to do so, perhaps Shein is trying to convince the skeptics that they do, too. Let other brands worry about the environment.

Photo: Jiro Shiratori for SOTD

Beyond Baseball

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two Of A Kind: Apparel Apparitions!

All roads lead to Balenciaga?

Yeezy Gap versus Nike Forward. Photos: respective brands

Both are ghostly, both are sinister. Whose is more ominous? Nike has shared the images for their latest apparel featuring the new Forward textile on their website and app. That faceless hoodie seen here (on the right) appears as if worn by Invisible Man, including uneven placement of the arms—the unseen wearer in motion. Could this be Nike flattering Yeezy Gap? When the brand led by Kanye West (soon no more) launched the first drop of Yeezy Gap Engineered by Balenciaga last February, the images shared were similarly spectral. And in the latest, they are less black, which is rather close to Nike’s with the sepia patina. Two of the world’s most visible brands using such illusory effects may mean that phantoms, rather than models, could take over fashion communication of the near future.

There is of course the possibility that brands these days rather let the garments do the talking than voluble celebrities. Clothes should stand out, not faces. Yeezy Gap’s images require no perceivable face (although a body filling up the clothes can be discerned) just as its retail spaces need no shelf, rack or hanger. Balenciaga had a hand in all this. It started most prominently on the red carpet, as seen in the face-concealing number that Kim Kardashian wore to the last Med Gala. Ms Kardashian was already a walking preview for Balenciaga months earlier. Later, her ex-husband, too, appeared just as obscured in his Donda listening/reveal mega events, whose creative director was Demna Gvasalia. Mr West attended his by-then pal’s debut haute couture showing in Paris like a Black male Pontianak. And after Yeezy Gap Engineered by Balenciaga was announced, the images that were circulating and shared showed, until now, the fashionable on the incorporeal. As the Police once sang, Spirits in the Material World.

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.

Balenciaga Embraces Pride

With a capsule that’s gender-neutral, of course

It is Pride month, so, like last year, Balenciaga is offering a capsule to entice members of the LGBTQIA community and their friends. However, if you are hoping to score a pink balaclava, you would be disappointed. The follow-up to 2021’s “Gay” is “Anybody Is Queer”, a proclamation that is as vague as it could be provocative. The clothes are typically Balenciaga-street, and expensive (S$180 for a pair of socks!), with your fair share of tees (oversized), hoodies (baggy), and jeans (a bit ’80s, a bit ’90s) for however you identify yourself—or do not, or whichever event you will be attending: March or picnic. And being Balenciaga, whose designer Demna Gvasalia is openly gay, these are not necessarily separates that have a particularly queer vibe, if you don’t style them that way.

One denim look (top) will no doubt delight cis-gender, clothes-optional Julia Fox, assuming she would not consider it too modest (just drop the jeans?!). The denim is washed until it’s a hint of uneven baby blue. The trucker jacket is overly-large, with a collar that would fit someone at least three times the wearer’s size. The pair of jeans is mom/dad in shape, and comes with pointy booties attached to the seemingly straight legs. Worn with the white undies, the sum is decidedly anti-fashion fashion, but with a clearly flex—to use a term familiar in the gay community—advantage. You can look either way in such a get-up. Or not look any way at all.

The capsule has been lauded in the media as one that is right for this pride season. It is not immediately clear how exactly this will bridge the sexuality divide still pervasive in our society, near and far. It could be said that the clothes do not overtly pander to sartorial stereotypes of the LGBTQIA community (except maybe the fitted and cropped tank top [above]), but it may not negate the belief, misguided or not, that queer folks place a premium on image, as well as indiscriminately adopting trends. One of the things Mr Gvasalia (or his team) did to play down the gender binary is to re-imagine one of the most common gender symbols—those that are mostly found on signages denoting or pointing to public toilets used separately by primarily the two sexes. Balenciaga’s redraw shows a couple of indeterminate gender holding hands, each looking like a conflation of the two figures we are familiar with: one bifurcated from the waist down, the other skirted.

For the launch, Balenciaga has deleted the past post of its Instagram account, leaving only seven images from the Anybody is Queer campaign, lensed by Patrick Weldé, the French stylist-cum-photographer, a creative synthesis that is rather uncommon in fashion. Kudos to the casting, some queer activists told us: there is no type. Anyone can be queer. Everyone can be someone’s 菜 (cai) or dish. There is no singular way to be gay: The models look like they could have come from any neighbourhood, even if they are better dressed than the boy or girl, or boy/girl next door you know. Fashion can be this gender-blind, sexuality-immaterial. Happy Pride Month.

Anybody is Queer, or the Pride 22 capsule, is available at Balenciaga and online. Photo: Balenciaga and demnagram/Instagram

Practically Nothing

If little is worn and clothes matter not, is there fashion? Or, will we have another word?

Julia Fox in Alexander Wang out grocery shopping. Photo: Rachpoot.com/Splashnews.com

We call ourselves a fashion blog. But more and more there is treasured little left to write. Fashion is reduced to a veritable nothing. Increasingly, there is more skin shown by wearers than cloth. Fabrics are inconveniences, hindrances, barriers, and, if their use necessary, too opaque. Little bits are a lot simpler. Pasties are easier to design and produce than brassieres! A narrow bandage has more potential than a full-form bandeau. Once-upon-a-time-private parts are no longer completely undisclosed. Free the nipple is very near reality. In fact, if what are worn by many well-followed stars are to be noted, clothing as we know it—with the fundamental purpose of covering (which is sounding oddly dated)—would no longer have a future, or, if we were to be more hopeful, a dim one.

A recent photo of Julia Fox—in head-to-toe Alexander Wang from his recent autumn/winter 2022 presentation—shared online truly made us realise that there is nothing we can say about her clothes: She was not wearing much; she was basically in underwear. Is this fashion? Or, has fashion come to this? Her fans would say she was not entirely nude (she has, of course, worn a lot less). There was the denim blazer, but was that even a jacket worth talking about? Or should we compliment how destructed and crappy it looked? Or that she was carrying a beautiful jurse (jeans-as-purse!)? Ms Fox has, of course, mostly dressed (admittedly, a poor choice of word) like that since she came to public attention for her brief, for-all-to-see affair with Kanye West. And that’s the daunting and unnerving prospect: the near-nudity is here to stay.

As one fashion designer told us when we showed him Ms Fox’s photo, “I am thinking, since so many pop and film stars are flashing themselves for the world, they have, naturally, created a new normal. The public, who looks up to them, will think, if their favorite stars can do it, so can they.” But the question is still unanswered: Is it fashion? The designer replied indignantly, “Of course not, not to me. It is purely styling; it is not Gaultier doing innerwear as outerwear!” A follower of SOTD, who formerly worked for a luxury brand, agreed. She said, “It’s just ludicrous and I think these women wear such rubbish on purpose to get attention. It’s really looney bins and not fashion at all—their own invention of fashion and the press lapped it up.”

“It is purely styling; it is not Gaultier doing innerwear as outerwear!”

We have, indeed, been wondering, too: Has the media encouraged this stripping (not merely revealing)? For every star baring herself—from Doja Cat in gold pasties under mere chiffon at the Billboard Music Awards two days ago to Kim K in nude bra and panty for Sports Illustrated’s current swimsuit issue—the press gleefully say they “rock” or—our extreme peeve—“stun”. If readers needed to be told that a certain actress or singer in close to nothing astounds, they already know she is not predisposed to, without the without. She needs the costume of a stripper. In fact, when she “stuns”, there’s a good chance she is as bare-skinned or as bare-breasted as it is legally possible. And that she is satisfying her (insatiable?) hunger for attention than fashion. Why would a lover of clothes not wear them?

The press not negating the lewdness once associated with strip clubs is operating within present-day necessity: The imperative embrace of inclusivity, now considered conducting oneself in a conscionable manner. Julia Fox in a narrow strip of fabric across her chest must be accorded equal opportunity to raves as Thilda Swinton in Haider Ackermann, if not more. Inclusivity is so compulsory in the business of fashion, as well as among adopters of fashion, that the unattired can be free of disapproval. Criticism is unacceptable because it would be shaming. We can’t say Ms Fox isn’t dressed for she can, as we are often reminded, wear whatever she wants, or omit. All women can, including the expectant. There is so little to say about what is worn these days since hardly any is; it’s no wonder more columns go to sneakers or meta-clothes.

To be certain, we are no prudes. Scanty dress as desirable dress is so omnipresent that anything that does not, in fact, amount to a dress is hardly terribleness of epic proportion. One fashion writer told us, “Nudity, in a post-OnlyFans world, is not sin, it’s just skin. Skimpy clothes is the future. Designers now need to go to school to learn how to make barely-clothes, but we may have soon another word for ‘fashion’. How about unfashion?” Come to think of it, un is a prefix of profound relevance. It’s skimpy too! Just two letters, yet with such descriptive power. So much of fashion today can be described with the simple un and so effectively: unattired, unclothed, undressed, unclad, uncover, unravel, untie, unline, unfuse unzip, unpick, unpin, untack, unsew, unseam, unseemly, unsuited, unfixed, unveiled, unfolded, unfurled, unrolled, untidy, and, of course, underwear and undies. Oh, for sure, unlovely and, definitely, underwhelming.

The Strange Love For F-Words On Clothes

Is one particular profanity the new cute? Or, worse, today’s logomania?

Warning: This post contains language and illustrations some viewers might find offensive

By Ray Zhang

There are worse things to wear than ugly clothes; there are rude clothes. But what makes our clothes unmannerly? Or, in the case of the South Korean disc jockey Deejay Soda’s track pants, “offensive”, so much so that she was asked to leave a plane, and, allegedly, made to strip before others at the departure gate? Why would an inanimate article of clothing, secured to the wearer, cause transgressions, social or moral? Most of you would take the stand of the “silent majority”: We live in a conservative world. And there are always children around. But I don’t mean clothes that show more than half of the wearer’s private parts (in the case of Deejay Soda, she was completely and impenetrably covered); I mean those with words, in particular one deemed crude, uncivilised, hostile, gross, low, insulting, contemptible, vulgar, obscene, and good ’ol offensive. I mean, fuck. No offense intended: If I am going to write it, I might as well spell it.

I don’t know why, but, of late, I have been seeing people wearing this particular four-letter world, without asterisks—and the like—between the first and last letters, on the visible parts of their clothes (not just reading about them). The word fuck is not any more offensive than buttocks exposed below the frayed hem of crudely cut off shorts. Well, not. We can’t go to a woman and eff her off for shorts that are too short just as we can’t tell her her sweatpants are too offensive (unless you are a staff with United Airlines?), for as long as they are already dressed in that manner and as long as they are able to leave their home with no objection from family members, and are not arrested until the point we meet them, they are allowed to dress-speak as they like. To me, asking why there are those who like using ‘vulgar words’ or wearing them is like wanting to know why clothes are (now) so trashy. Or why some pregnant women like wearing next-to-nothing. The time has simply come.

Does it all semaphore something more pervasive? Frankly, I don’t know. I hope not. But if those shorts I mentioned were once derided for being indecent, but have survived and are now so much a part of our national dress; along with just-as-skimpy slippers, I expect fuck-in-place-of-Gucci as all-over print, in spite of the absurdity, would enjoy a higher adoption rate and get even more popular. But is the word only more appealing to those who choose to wear them because they are still, in many quarters and, no doubt, in our society, an expletive—one that has a repugnant ring, made more so when the utterer emphasises the F, as if it must only be said with a capital letter? Or, is wearing clothes with the F-word some defiance of youth or a badge of emancipation?

Some people tell me that “fuck you” is better than a slap, or The Slap. It does not cause physical pain, they insist. In fact, it can be uttered silently and the target of the profanity could still make out what is merely mouthed, no respiratory fluids involved. But these days, when the word appears with astounding regularity on social media, used by young and old, is it still really that detestable? If so, why has it then become such a choice word in speech and in text? If not, its visual presence can still cause enough offense to render a plane journey intolerable? I am not sure if it’s really the word or the world that riles people. After all, we do live in an angry world. In the case of Deejay Soda, the repeated pattern that comprises the F-Us, laid out diagonally, could be some rage against whatever or whoever was around her, contempt for everything that’s thought to be contemptible to her and deserving hostility, even when her strike-first was worn innocuously as trousers. If anyone can wear their anger on their sleeves, why not on trouser legs? I recall, after reading her posts, JD Salinger, who wrote in Catcher in the Rye, “I went down by a different staircase, and I saw another ‘Fuck You’ on the wall”: The key word, “another”.

English’s favourite bad word is not born recently. Thought to be of Germanic origin, its use in the English language, as I understand it, began around the 15th century, possibly earlier. Contrary to what supporters of its open, ardent use tell me, the word is not abbreviation of For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, or similar, and always involving forbidden pleasures of the body. Wherever that came from, I have no idea, but acronyms were not popular before the 1930s, if used at all. Old England was not post-independence Singapore! Still, fuck survived—through war, economic hard times, changing word trends, and definitely pandemics. Its longevity also proves its versatility. From disgusting interjection, it has become useful verb and noun, with attendant adjectival and adverbial forms. Even punctuation! Its use here so publicly and, in particular, textually has a fairly recent history, as I see it. I was not aware of its expanded adoption until I read the blog posts of Xia Xue in the mid-2000 (or thereabouts) and then later on, the forums of Hardware Zone. I also remember a friend telling me that when he was in the army, and a sergeant barked “fuck you” in anger, he merely replied, “don’t make promises you can’t keep.”

Printed on clothes, the practice goes even further back. The first time I saw the word on a T-shirt, it was implied. This was in the mid-’90s and the faux-French British high-street brand, French Connection, was rebranded as FCUK (in 1991). When I saw the items sold here and guys (mainly) were buying and wearing brandish with the evocative acronym, with relish, I was impressed that the sale of said garments did not somehow contravene some law insulating people from public nuisance (it was not until 2014 that we had the Protection from Harassment Act [POHA]. Foul words, including fuck, when directed at any individual, I was told, “constitute abusive and insulting behaviour”). In the UK and the US, there were, initially, calls to boycott the brand, but few actually took heed. FCUK knew well what its targeted young audience wanted. A buddy of mine said then, “but it is not spelled out, what!” Trolls today would post, “we can overpower them with fashion”! Tempered and euphemistic representation continued with the fashion website Go Fug Yourself. Why? “Because Fugly is the New Pretty”! That moved on to a T-shirt from Vetements autumn/winter 2016, and the full-on “YOU FUCKIN’ ASSHOLE (yes, in full caps)”. Fuck won. But really? For me, that will be the day when Anna Wintour wears F-Us in place of pretty florals. Better still, at the Met Gala.

Illustrations: Just So

It’s Yeezy: Look Like Kanye

If you can’t afford the threads Kanye West wears to look ominously wrapped up, Yeezy Gap Engineered by Balenciaga has similar sinister options for you

Gap will, for the first time in their 53-year existence embrace the look of a dark lord—whether of the Sith or Mordor, or Hidden Hills, you choose. Their offshoot brand Yeezy Gap headed by the all-dominant Kanye West is now in a collaborative arrangement with Balenciaga, specifically the equally powerful Demna Gvasalia. The sub-brand of that sub-brand, Yeezy Gap Engineered by Balenciaga (another long name to add to the club of long names or text in a logo), has released images of the so-far 8-piece capsule that comprises way more that what Mr West has produced since his appointment in 2020, when he signed an unimaginable 10-year deal with The Gap Inc, reported to be “worth as much as $970 million”, according to estimates later provided by UBS.

This collection, compared to Yeezy (the fashion label), is another planet. We have to go back to the past since Mr West has only created two items—a puffer and a hoodie—for Yeezy Gap. While Yeezy (fate not yet known) was mostly sensuous and body-loving, the Yeezy Gap tie-up is moody, oversized stuff that members of the Abnegation (or, perhaps, off-duty folks of Dauntless) of Divergent Chicago would wear. But the pieces click with Mr West’s preference for basics that are sufficiently tweaked for the pieces to look outré, but not so much that the kids of Calabasas or the fans in not-yet-dystopian Chicago would find them hard to accept. This time, the merchandise—apparently ready to retail three months earlier than planned—is a grand selection of one hoodie, four tees (one long-sleeved, three with a blurred dove image on the back), a pair of track pants, one torn denim trucker and jeans to match.

While the clothes may not arouse zeal, the pricing would spark shock. The cheapest item, one of the four T-shirts, is S$180 a pop (S$210 if the logo on the chest is larger)! For Gap? Yeezy? That makes Comme des Garçons’s madly popular made-in-Japan Play tees, at S$100 a piece (or S$110 for the men’s sizes), alluringly cheap. Is Yeezy Gap Engineered by Balenciaga expensive because, other than the luxury-brand association, they are MAGA-proudly “made in the USA”? Or is this a Gap-backed Balenciaga diffusion line to infuse the fashion and pop world with baggy bombast? A venture to better propagate the increasingly bleak, individual-erasing aesthetic of the Ye-Demna pairing, already seen in so much visually associated with Mr West’s Donda album release, activities, and publicity?

Mr Gvasalia told Vogue, “This is a very different challenge. I’ve always appreciated the utilitarianism and the accessibility of Gap. This project allowed me to join forces (with Ye) to create utilitarian fashion for all.” Reaching out to this many is ambitious. The thought is pretty scary too, when you consider seeing before you, the hordes dressed as if to attend Kanye West’s Sunday Service, to worship at the alter presided by a polymath-proteus-egoist. Even if you stop outside the moving doors of this church/cult (which one it is, it’s hard to say), it does not mean you would not witness the many adopters for whom the two one-names behind Yeezy Gap’s latest offerings could do no wrong. Are there really that many wishing for this creepy uniformity?

Oh, do also note: on the Yeezy Gap website, there’s no button that says ‘add to cart’, but a brief line that urges you to ‘JOIN WAITLIST’. Yes, in all caps, just like Kanye West’s rant-Tweets.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

Yeezy Gap Engineered by Balenciaga is available online at Yeezy Gap and Farfetch. Photos: Yeezy Gap Engineered by Balenciaga

On Valentine’s Day, Go Luxury Shopping

This year, the women of the happy pairs celebrating love weren’t carrying a stalk of rose or a bouquet, they were holding paper bags, big and small, with luxury brand names stretched delightfully across them

By Pearl Goh

It’s was a day when one-metre distancing did not apply, masks were preferably optional, and special occasion dressing had no opportunity to meet this annual celebration. The curious and single I thought I would venture out to see what the more fortunate were doing on Valentine’s Day, still marked by the romance-spoiling pandemic. So I went out. Do courting couples still make an effort? Was romance in the air, like the coronavirus? Did couples perform the ART before they meet? Or together—the new romantic? It was a Monday and many, I assume, will be working. Surely, the amorous would have done what they needed to do to declare their love yesterday, or the day before? I was not expecting to see that many romantic pairs out, but I couldn’t be more mistaken. When love needs a declaration, it requires a public display.

The day to celebrate love this year was a day to go shopping together. The paired-ups were holding at least one branded shopping bag between them. I don’t remember this day to be of such conspicuous consumption other than the snapping up of flowers and chocolates. Sure, in the past, gifts were exchanged, but they were, as far as I was aware, purchased earlier. But from the minute I boarded the MRT train, I sensed the rituals were different. I quickly became aware that flowers this year were noticeably missing. Sure, some women were carrying bouquets (the trend, if I can call it that, this year were those in cardboard boxes—coffins to preempt their certain demise?!), but paper bags bearing large, recognisable, crowing logotypes were saying enthusiastically, “look at me”.

At City Hall interchange, in front of me was a guy in a white tee that read, “Without style, playing and winning are not enough”. He paired that masculine maxim with black shorts. On his feet were a pair of white Crocs slides without the Jibbitz charms. On his left hand, he was holding a paper bag in an identifiable burnt orange; its visible boxed content, I guessed, for the Paige Chua look-a-like, whose dainty left hand he held—to me—rather tightly. Love is expensive, celebrating Valentine’s Day no less. A box of Teuscher truffles this year is not quite cutting it, not at a time when a PCR test costs more. As one of my friends said to me earlier, “many can afford to buy chocolates for themselves. The boyfriend has to do better”. No wonder, as I saw, even Godiva was empty. “Better” seemed to mean something from within the hallowed walls of brands whose stores you can’t just walk in as you wish.

To be sure that these were not, in fact, gifts purchased earlier, I went to ION Orchard to have a look, to see shopping as it deliriously unfolded. Sure enough, there was a queue outside LV, and at Dior and Gucci, and—perhaps a little surprisingly—Cartier. And in the line were patient pairs, mostly hugging as they waited their turns to be allowed into the temples of thousands-of-dollars spending (at Prada, a petite girl took out a credit card from her BV Cassette wallet to pay for a white T-shirt embroidered with the Prada lettering, which I later spied to cost S$1,410!). What I noted, too, was that many of the couples were young: no more than 25 (the only celebrants?), the target age group of so many luxury brands whose entry-level goods are increasingly S$10 shy of four figures!

Outside Loewe, where the entrance was a welcome sight as no one was in line, a woman was walking away with a stuffed paper bag from the brand rather in a huff. Her boyfriend, with no purchase seen on him (yet), did not put on a happy face, as he tried catching up with her. Did he overspend, I wondered, or did she? And, if so, was that so bad? Then suddenly, she said, “Stop it. It’s just a bag”. Even on a day that celebrated love, profound passion differed and surfaced publicly. Many guys don’t quite understand love, or, to be more precise, the love of luxury handbags. And the difference between love and not could be like life and death, or Chanel and Louis Vuitton. Death of a relationship by “just a bag” or the wrong one. Or, as I was witnessing, the prelude.

Missing this year, too, were those individuals on pedestrian walkways, who must thrust a stalk of rose into your face and ask for $8 (prices, like everything else, have gone up this year. A list I caught sight of, next to a makeshift stall, announced that a stalk was S$10, three for S$50, six for S$75, and nine for S$100!). Orchard Road was without these sellers; at least I didn’t see them, which really said to me that women were no longer enchanted by the red flower—any flower. It is now a well-filled paper bag from the big brand they adore. Back on the MRT train, two women were talking loudly next two me (despite the sign in front of them that encourages passengers not to). One, in a white Essentials hoodie worn as a dress, said, “Aiya, forget it. Don’t depend on them. Guys won’t buy anything I like. I gave them up long ago.” And just like that, I was reminded of a line in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, “The more I know of the world, the more I am convinced that I shall never see a man whom I can really love. I require so much”. More.

Illustration: Just So

Growl: The Tiger Cometh

Japan’s Onitsuka Tiger can’t wait for the Lunar New Year to arrive

You would expect that, with 2022 being the Year of the Tiger (from 1 February, of course), many brands will be releasing tiger-themed products. And you’d expect rightly. One of the earliest to announce their adoption of the tiger for a capsule collection is Japan’s Onitsuka Tiger. But that is not surprising. In five days’ time, it’d be what the brand calls the “Year of the Onistsuka Tiger”. As it coincides with the Chinese zodiac tiger, this occasion comes only once every 12 years. A symbol of the brand, the tiger—confident, brave, and thrill-seeking—would be seen not only on shoes, but in a limited range of fashion items for those born in the year of the tiger or those who consider the panthera tigris its spirit animal. These include tees and hoodies, socks, and bags.

But the most eye-catching and desirable would likely be the Serrano sneaker with the tiger-stripe upper. At first glance, the interpretation looks a tad too literal to us, even for Chinese New Year! But we are not, admittedly, big fans of animal prints. However they are used, they frequently would result in a form that borders on the camp. And to us, the Serrano of the Year of the Onitsuka Tiger is no exception. In fact, the more we look at it, the more it reminded us of another shoe: the yellow and black Mexico 66. Yes, the pair worn by Uma Thurman in Kill Bill, a movie with such deliciously intense artifice that even the gory revenge and growling violence cannot dial the camp down.

It is not yet known when the Year of the Onitsuka Tiger capsule would be launched. Watch this space for updates. Product photo: Onitsuka Tiger. Photo Illustration: Just So

Bag This Outer

Undercover pairing with Eastpak is not unusual. But the apparel they produced is

Eastpak has collaborated with designers on what they specialise in: bags. Names they have shared on the labelling of their wares include Raf Simons, Vivienne Westwood, and most recently, Margiela. But all these collabs yielded only bags. Until Undercover comes along. Shown during Undercover’s charming autumn/winter 2021 collection in January, the two brands offer not bags per se, but outerwear that constitutes some of the most fetching of the season. This is the first for Eastpak: clothing. And by the looks of it, this may not be the last.

Incorporating bags or fabric used in their manufacturer is a particular area of collaborative design that the Japanese do so well, as previously seen with The North Face and Junya Watanabe, as well as Nanamica for the The North Face Purple Label. In that respect, what Undercover has done with Eastpak is rather late in the game, But, as it is often said, better late than never. And it is hard to imagine the never after seeing these wearing garments with the quirky ‘bag’ details. Should they really be there? Can you store anything in them?

There are at least six styles in the capsule. From a bomber to a parka to a car coat, each comes with bag-pockets of varying sizes, as well as short handles—as seen on the top of backpacks—under the rear of the collar, above the yoke (one even emerges from there). The outers come in some strong colours too, such as the above Wellington yellow, as well as a bright red and a dark green. A real pity that we are not likely in need of one of them. Many of us are not travelling, only dreaming of it.

Undercover X Eastpak launches on Christmas Day at Undercover stores, Tokyo. Photo: Undercover