A Stronger Ape?

Just a week after our only A Bathing Ape store announced its impending closure, the news now is that they’re embarking on an expansion drive. But not here

The closure of A Bathing Ape (Bape) at The Mandarin Gallery on 18 June 2021 would not be a sign that the brand is approaching any semblance of doomsday. There is, it seems, a long life ahead for the Ape. According to recent media editorials, private equity firm CVC Capital Partners—“co-investor” in Bape—has “successfully completed an investment” in the streetwear brand. The value of that investment is not announced. Bape’s Japanese company Nowhere Co was acquired by the I.T Group (the company behind the also-now-closed i.t multi-label store) in 2011 for what has been described as a bargain: US$2.8 million, which, according to the The Wall Street Journal, amounted to a 90% stake. Founder Tomoaki Nagao (aka Nigo) stayed on for the following two years to help with the transition. It is not known who ran the design studio thereafter or if a creative director was ever installed.

Last December, it was announced that I.T Group founder and chairman Sham Kar Wai has enlisted CVC to take Bape private. CVC’s fashion portfolio includes Breitling and Spain’s Tandem (manufacturer and retailer of the brand Springfield, once available in Isetan here). At around that time, Yahoo News informed that I.T was “delisted from Hong Kong Stock Exchange for US$168 million as it struggled with getting its online operations up to speed”. Despite its shoppable e-commerce platform, I.T curiously does not deliver outside of Hong Kong and China. According to the South China Morning Post, the retailer “reported a net loss of HK$337 million for the six months ended August 2020, a 373 per cent jump from HK$71.2 million a year ago”. It is not unreasonable to assume that A Bathing Ape was part of those losses.

Although it is widely said that Bape has lost much of its appeal and is no longer as cool as it once was, when it became inspiration behind other streetwear labels such as Pharrell Williams’s Billionaire Boys Club and Ice Cream, both aided by Mr Nagao in their conception, Mr Sham and CVC seem to believe that there is still potential in the 28-year-old A Bathing Ape. In a press statement, Mr Sham said, “I take great pride in the success of the brand to date, which has been thanks to the commitment of our leadership and staff. CVC is the right partner to support the transformation of BAPE as we focus on our long-term growth.” Further reports indicated that “CVC will support the expansion of the business, both online and geographically”. Markets cited include China, the United States, and Europe. There is no mention of the continued presence of A Bathing Ape here or or anywhere in Southeast Asia. It is possible that the Ape, in a bath or not, would’nt be returning.

Photo: Chin Boh Kay

A Bathing Ape Will Go Out With The Bath Water

Once a popular streetwear label, The Bathing Ape has lost its simian appeal, and will exit our shores on 18 June

Gone will be the good ape. The well-loved, urban primate that bathes will vacate its flagship premises at the Mandarin Gallery after 12 years. The impending closure of A Bathing Ape (also known as Bape) was announced on Vesak Day via the label’s Facebook page. “We hope to see you all one last time before we say a final goodbye,” went the message. Although another fashion brand to exit Singapore is hardly surprising these days, some observers thought Bape, one of the better-known and established Japanese streetwear names, would survive the retail havoc caused by COVID-19 since it had past the one-decade mark. When a member of the staff was asked yesterday why the store would be closing for good, he shrugged his shoulders and then added, “don’t know”. But it requires no effort to guess that even the great ape is unable to survive the pandemic jungle. Next month, the bath water will be thrown out of our island, and sadly, together with the ape.

The Bathing Ape opened its first Southeast Asian store here at the Mandarin Gallery in December 2009 (then, the seventh outside Japan. Three years earlier, Hong Kong saw Asia’s first). Distributed by the thirty-year-old fashion retailer Kwang Sia Fashion, a Singaporean company that brought to our shore brands such as Max Mara and Y3, and lost those, such as Hugo Boss, Dsquared2, and Replay Jeans, Bape was very much welcomed at its 186-square-metre debut. Prior to its opening here, most fans would cop their must-haves (mostly T-shirts) in Japan, or nearer, in Hong Kong. The opening of Bape also attested to the growing popularity and importance of streetwear here. And that there was a sizeable market for those willing to pay for what has been touted as a premium brand (no S$29.90 T-shirts!). Bape’s logo—a recognisable silhouette of a species-indeterminate ape—was the Supreme box logo of its day. It would not require extraordinary insight to know where our own The Slurping Ape (conceived in 2001, eight years before Bape’s splashy Orchard Road appearance) took inspiration from.

A Bathing Ape is the brainchild of Japanese street-fashion impresario Nigo—on his passport, it would have read Tomoaki Nagao. Mr Nagao is no longer directly associated with the line he created, but Bape and its sibling brands that emerged later are still linked to their creator/founder. Nigo’s A Bathing Ape emerged in the early ’90s alongside schoolmate Jun Takahashi’s Undercover. These were the fledgling years of street fashion in Japan. In the late ’80s, Mr Nagao, then a high-school student, met his idol-turn-mentor Hiroshi Fujiwara, the godfather of Japanese hip-hop, as well as its “living legend”, as Western followers of Japanese street style like to call him. As luck and the intervening hand of fate would have it, Mr Nagao ended up working for Mr Fujiwara, whose first clothing brand Goodenough (considered Japan’s “first streetwear brand”) was a rapid success after its launch in 1990. Soon, he decided to open his own retail store. It was situated in the then not-quite-frequented ura-Harajuku, and appropriately named Nowhere. Two of Mr Fujiwara’s friends were asked to operate the business: Mr Takahashi, who took one half of the space to stock his Undercover line, and Mr Nagao, who took the other half, sold imported labels, such as Stussy. But, Mr Nagao’s share of the store reportedly did not fare well. He realised that, just as with his mentor and friend, he needed to have his own brand.

A Bathing Ape was born in 1993, before, as we remind ourselves, the Internet, before Instagram. As many know by now, the name was derived from the old Planet of the Apes films that found a fervent fan in Nigo, who had (what we call today) binge-watched on them on television. The simian logo requires no explanation. The name, however, came not from any scene of the films in which a primate was bathing. Rather, as author Marx W. David wrote in the seminal book Ametora, Nigo “slapped on an English slogan—A Bathing Ape in Lukewater (sic)—borrowed from a line in an underground Takashi Nemoto comic that described an old man “like an ape in a bath of lukewarm water”. The initial run was T-shirts (just 50, reportedly) and jackets in the vein of American vintage wear that was popular at the time. From the start, A Bathing Ape (shortened to Bape in the late ’90s) was aligned with local hip-hop stars. And then there was the meeting with British electronic musician James Lavelle, also founder of the indie record label Mo’Wax and a member of the band UNKLE. Mr Lavelle wore a lot of Bape. He would also soon introduce Nigo to grafitti artist Futura (formerly Futura 2000, who, two seasons ago, collaborated with Comme des Garçons). In 1997, Nigo—even not a musician—surreptitiously debuted the album (B)Ape Sounds under Mo’Wax. The blink-heavy cover was, unsurprisingly, designed by Futura.

These deep connections with the music world, especially hip hop, led to long-lasting affiliations with those of similar taste, who eagerly endorsed Bape, such as Pharrell Williams, the Notorious B.I.G., and Lil Wayne. In no time, others came to sing Bape’s praises, including Kanye West and Virgil Abloh, with the rapper Souja Boy even going on about eagerly acquiring some Bapes in the 2007 Crank Dat. In return for the enthusiastic response he received in the West, Nigo (and his friends) would help launch Mr Williams’s now-waning labels, Billionaire Boys Club (BBC) and Ice Cream. The Japanese graphic designer Sk8thing (aka Shinichiro Nakamura) from the days of Goodenough, and a faithful Bape collaborator, would also create BBC’s astronaut logo and the brand’s well-loved repeated patterns. A Bathing Ape, now an international brand, sold in some of the buzziest streetwear stores in the world, and worn by performers from both sides of the Atlantic, gained even more traction in Japan, where it was sold in the Nigo-conceived Busy Work Shops. The success in America meant that they could open flashy Bape flagships, such as that in Aoyama in 2005 and in Shibuya in 2007, both designed by the bigwig Masamichi Katayama from the esteemed firm Wonderwall.

Market watchers believe Bape enjoyed a peak in popularity between 2000 and 2010. At its height, there was even a Bape café and a Bape TV station. But after 2010, adoration for the brand started to wane. There were always complaints of scarcity, a deliberate merchandising model to project the forced exclusivity that would come to define Supreme, but it became detrimental to Bape’s ability to win continued customer support. Quantity unfortunately remained below market demand. ‘Limited editions’ soon limited the brand’s appeal. Bape’s standing among Japanese consumers can perhaps be best summed up by what has been clearly observable. Vintage pieces are mostly found in the grungy neighbourhood of Shimokitazawa, for example, rather than those in the secondhand shops of swanky Ginza or Shinjuku, where Bape’s fellow brand in Nowhere in the ’90s, Undercover, could often be found. When one visited the Shibuya store (now closed), just next to the old Parco, one would often see mostly mainland Chinese tourists wanting merchandise that would allow them to boast about their visit to a Tokyo Bape store. Its arrival here in 2009, although rabidly received, was really at the tail-end of its popularity. Singaporean consumers, as it’s still often said, tend to be late adopters.

In 2011, the fashion world was brought to torso-straightening attention when it was announced that A Bathing Ape was acquired by the Hong Kong fashion conglomerate, the I.T Group. A year prior to that event, news had emerged that the Japanese brand had accrued a whopping ¥2.5 billion (approximately S$30 million) in debt. The sale to the Hong Kong owners was made for a surprisingly paltry ¥230 million (approximately S$2.7 million). Tomoaki Nagao stayed on as creative consultant for the next two years to “help with the transition”, as widely reported. Last December, another surprising announcement was made: founder and chairman of I.T Group Sham Kar Wai and co-investor of A Bathing Ape CVC Capital Partners had decided to keep the brand as separate company, independent of I.T Group. A year before the high-profile sale of the brand he created, Mr Nagao launched Human Made. It has, as we understand, yet to become as huge as Bape. In 2014, Uniqlo appointed Mr Nagao as creative director (namely for their UT line). A year later, he opened the rather out-of-place Store by Nigo in Harujuku’s Laforet. As expected, Human Made took the spotlight. Nigo, without his beloved Bape, is still a fashion force that brands turned to. Ten years after Bape’s staggering debt was announced, Louis Vuitton revealed a collaboration with Nigo—without doubt facilitated by pal Virgil Abloh.

At the time of its rage, many young fans found Bape expensive, even when purchased in Japan. Sure, if you look at just the T-shirts, they were cheaper than Supreme, but dearer than Stussy. Aware of the less-appealing pricing of Bape, the I.T group created Aape, which was available here in their short-lived multi-label store i.t at Orchard Gateway. But A Bathing Ape’s visual appeal slowly lost to the likes of the BFF of Kaws. Although the brand tried to counter the simian logo’s seriousness with other more affable-looking characters such as Felix the Cat and the other feline, Hello Kitty (with the cuter Baby Milo), Bape did not quite regain its footing at the apex of global streetwear, not even with best-sellers, such as the Nike Air Force 1 look-alike Bapesta (Kanye West even has his own made) or the no-longer-rare, quickly-jelak shark-head hoodie. Bape, like all primates, has aged.

A day after the closing down was announced, shoppers formed, outside the Mandarin Gallery store, a line that stretched past Michael Kors in the corner of the building. The waiting time in the scorching sun was, according to the Bape-clad crowd controller, “an hour and a half”. As with many brands suffering the same fate, A Bathing Ape is appealing when it is going out of business (50% off storewide, except T-shirts, which are marked down by 40%). A twentysomething guy in a tee with the name Alexander Wang repeated six times down his chest was deciding whether to join the queue. “Actually,” he told us, “I don’t wear Bape anymore. The last time I bought something in the store was when I was in secondary school.” He looked up, as if someone was beckoning. We looked too. On the façade of the store on level two, the familiar head of the twenty-eight-year-old primate was looking at all of us below. A speech bubble, larger than his face, sat alongside, with the text, “Go! Ape”. In all likelihood, that exhortation will be permanently gone.

Photo: Galerie Gombak

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

Must Fashion Use Religious Iconography To Be Cool?

Or is it, as usual, a lapse in the simple process called thought?

First it was Rihanna and now it’s Supreme. The skate brand that apparently can do no wrong has taken upon themselves to use the image of one of Thailand’s most revered monks on the back a camouflaged shirt, described in their website as ‘Blessings Ripstop Shirt’ (above). The icon is of the monk Luang Pho Khun Parisutthon, a well-loved figure, who died in 2015, aged 91. According to media reports, Thailand’s National Office of Buddhism, as well as Wat Ban Rai, the famed Nakhon Ratchasima temple with an elephant-head facade, in which the revered monk was based, asserted that Supreme made no contact with either regarding the use of the image, as well as the sacred text around it. Supreme, as it appeared, made no attempt to be respectful.

It isn’t clear how the use of clearly religious figures and scripts enhances Supreme’s design potency. Their designers—too indolent to research or understand—probably found the effect of the visuals exotic. But for the many in Thailand and outside, who hold the late monk in deep reverence, what Supreme has done is akin to sacrilege. Luang Pho Khun Parisutthon, even in death, is deeply venerated and is almost synonymous with Wat Ban Rai, where there is a museum dedicated to his life and teachings. While his image has been used for charitable purposes, for example, it is unthinkable in Thailand to employ it, even stylised, in such a commercial manner, in particular against a camouflage background, one associated with war. Luang Pho Khun Parisutthon is not Che Guevara.

Is nothing off-limits? Apparently not.

Just days earlier, Rihanna caused an uproar among the Hindu communities of the world when she posted on her Instagram page a photo (so inappropriate, we wouldn’t run it here) of herself totally topless, except for a folded left arm, placed to offer a modicum of modesty, and a host of jewellery to provide fashion interest, among them a pendant of the Hindu god Lord Ganesha. This sat provocatively on her belly button, under a length of tattoo that underscores her breasts. The photo appeared barely a week after reports of Rihanna jointly “pausing” her Fenty fashion line with LVMH. To generate more publicity? It seems that because the torso tattoo is of the Egyptian god Isis (inked, as reported, to honour the singer-in-haitus’s grandmother), Riri thought it was okay to go with Lord Ganesha, totally ignoring the fact that for the 1.2 billion Hindus in the world, he is highly venerable. Or has veneration and respect totally lost their meaning?

Apparently yes.

Photo: supremenewyork.com

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

This Big Kick

The confirmed return of hype

 

Air Dior July 2020

One thing that the pandemic has not been able to touch is hype. No matter how bad things have become, hype has been able to cut through the noise, except its own. Hype can fly with the sailing clouds, speed alongside underground trains, and dance with the daffodils, or lalangs. Hype can run with serious political news and reside amid tabloid gossips; it is, after all, news itself.

One particular sneaker has emerged as the undisputed king of hype. So hyped these kicks are, they don’t need to be named. They are Hype itself, beastlier than any hypebeast. They stand taller too, punching above the troposphere. They can even survive a bad PR communique.

Sure, talking about it here is fueling the hoopla, but perhaps we won’t be. WWD just reported that 5 million people signed up for Hype. That’s nearly the size of our population, but not the electorate! Reportedly, 13,000 pairs were produced, but only 8,000 pairs were available to the public as 5,000 were reserved for “top clients”. These probably include the celebrity friends of the designer, ballooning an already inflated hype.

Hype is expensive: (from) S$3,100 a pop. And Hype does not last—they just won’t. Hype is not about fashion or trends. Heck, Hype isn’t even trendy; it isn’t groundbreaking. It’s an old silhouette, an OG from 1985. But Hype can do no wrong because Hype is hype. It can’t help itself; it’s conceived that way.

Illustration: Just So

Two Of A Kind: These Doodles

Serial imitator Philipp Plein is one daring guy to do Dior. If you want to see the real deal, go to ION Orchard and ride an escalator

 

20-06-20-21-30-05-716_decoThe escalator plastered with repeated text of Dior, at ION Orchard. Photo: Zhao Xiangji

By now, you’d have read about one designer who had the nerve to put out something clearly associated with another. Philipp Plein, a German lawyer-turned-designer was recently called out for sharing an image of typographic play on his name which bears an uncanny resemblance to what Shawn Stussy has done for Dior in the current season. For some, it isn’t enough your clothes are not original, your communication material has to be too.

The similarities (see below) are not vague. The text, in flowy/wavy hand-drawn style, placed side by side with Dior’s is as different as Brie and Camembert. Mr Stussy’s flowers are replaced with skulls (its use itself is in clichéd territory), but that differentiation is a stroke of futility. Yet, Mr Plein, a noted bling “king of crass”, to paraphrase Bloomberg, sees his neoteric version good enough to stand on its own without immediately evoking the very recent work of someone else, a noted and just-celebrated illustrator/designer, whose influence is acknowledged by Kim Jones in his pre-fall collection for Dior.

Dior vs Plein June 2020Variations on a theme: (clockwise from top left) Dior, Philipp Plein, Dior. Philipp Plein. Photos: Dior and Philipp Plein, respectively

If you need a close encounter of the original, your best bet is to go to ION Orchard and ride—or look at—the escalator on the first floor, just outside the Dior men’s store. This is striking brand communication. Although advertisements stretched across the balustrade panel of escalators are nothing new (these days, almost anywhere can be ad space), Dior did not use this part of the moving stairway. Instead, it employed the much wider skirt panel (inside which the entire system under the steps is hidden) for the textual pattern that, when seen in its entirety, is almost installation art. No selfie-serving-as-fashion-shoot required.

But for Mr Plein, there may not be the need to concern himself with art, let alone art already created by someone else. For as long as he can amplify what is already illustratively stated, he will do so, and it will be consistent with the label’s inherent crassness. Mr Plein, of course, has a different—not necessarily cognizant—sense of what is refine or sophisticated. His eponymous label, including a men’s wear line branded ‘Billionaire’, represents the excess of wealth and embraces what to many others is plain tacky. Bloomberg quoted the designer saying, “Philipp Plein is a brand that’s very polarizing—you either hate it or you love it.” Which side to take isn’t a hard decision to make.

Will We See The Chest Rig At Givenchy?

Now that we know Matthew Williams will be heading the design studio of Givenchy, it’s not unreasonable to assume that the brand’s accessory business will be given a massive boost

 

Alyx chest rigAlyx leather chest rig. Photo: 1017 Alyx 9SM

The news that Matthew Williams will be installed at Givenchy was received with surprise and nonchalance. Before that is explored, the burning question is, will we be seeing Givenchy chest rigs?

Prior to Virgil Abloh’s assorted holsters for Louis Vuitton (early 2017), there was one bag worn close to the body that true street-style aficionados adopted with such fervour, it positioned its American creator Matthew Williams on the path of success that, this week, culminated in the Givenchy appointment, making him the second designer from the US to lead French maisons owned by parent company LVMH.

Not so long ago, Mr Williams, was not widely known, except his “luxury streetwear” brand 1017 Alyx 9SM. Fashion insiders know of his work for Lady Gaga and Kanye West (thought to be his mentor) and Virgil Abloh, but those with a weakness for expensive T-shirts and accessories inspired by utility gear and military wear, took a shine to Alyx, as it is mostly known.

The chest rig, probably last seen in the ’70s television series S.W.A.T. (or the 2017 remake), made such an unlikely impact on the accessories/bag market that suddenly many across high-low price points started to appear. Even Mr Williams began doing versions for Moncler on one end, and Nike on the other. In time, the chest rig was such a thing, it spawn the trend of oversized pouch pockets on the centre-front of shirts and T-shirts.

Alyx beltThe belt buckle that became highly covetable. Photo: 1017 Alyx 9SM

The chest rig, still often sold out, isn’t the only accessory associated with Mr Williams. There is that buckle inspired by those used on roller-coaster safety belts. His version—secure-looking and unmistakable—has become such a signature of the Alyx brand and so admired that a variation of it was introduced at Kim Jones’s Dior debut—a much-lauded collaboration between the two men. The belt buckle would appear not just on ceintures, but also on bags, in particular the Saddle, then introduced for guys. The Alyx buckle, in the mean time, was widely imitated, from London to Tokyo.

It is, therefore, unsurprising that Givenchy would offer Mr Williams the creative director position. Reports had suggested that his predecessor Clare Waight Keller was not able to create the kind of sales behemoth LVMH was hoping and waiting to see. It is known that accessories are vital to a brand’s must-be-staggering profits, and Ms Keller, in the three years with the house, had not produced one that could be remembered, that could delight the tills. Mr Williams might just be the guy to excite LVMH’s CFO.

Interestingly, Matthew William’s debut collection in 2015 was womenswear. It is mostly now forgotten, as his accessories and subsequent men’s line eventually overshadowed the former. It is not certain if Givenchy chose him because of his flair with accessories or because he could give their ready-to-wear a new spin (for now, let’s not wonder what’s going to happen to the haute couture). If, as we’re led to believe by LVMH’s own Virgil Abloh, street wear is dead (or will die), what is Givenchy doing aligning themselves with a street wear designer, even one this well regarded? Perhaps, having made Mr Abloh king, LVMH cannot afford to let street style meet its predicted demise.

Chuck Goes Psychedelic

Specifically the Converse Chuck 70 Ox. It’s delectably indescribable!

 

Pigalle X Converse

By Ray Zhang

I have been getting this vibe that sneakers shall soon be over until they’re back. People are telling me leather shoes in all their sensibleness will be 2020’s dad’s shoes. Really? Who knows how this prediction will pan out. I look at all the non-sneakers I own and I am not certain I want to wear them in place of my Air Maxes, all the time. In fact, I think it’s unfair that after weening us sneakers for more than ten years, those who have the power to wield are not telling us that the kicks we have so loved aren’t quite cool anymore.

I am not giving up on my sneakers. Nor looking at them, such as this pair of Pigalle and Converse collab, fashioned on the decidedly low-brow Chuck 70, a basketball shoe that’s now mostly not seen on courts. Truth be told, I am not much of a Converse fan. They are, to me, just too school-shoes-like, with little to no personality, making basic kicks such as the Adidas’s Stan Smith decidedly charismatic. But occasionally, someone (or some brand) comes along and gives the Converse a much appreciated makeover—these by the America-leaning French brand Pigalle, too.

The first thing that strikes is the colour. Rare is the Converse that is this multi-hued—gradated, too. The lightning streaks on the Chuck somehow make the mixed colours less hippie while the upper’s technical fused film (which gives the cotton canvas a nice touch) make it rather of the present. That most of the mid-sole comes in this bright lime green augments this Chuck 70’s deliberately anti-white appeal.

This is not the first time both brands have paired up. Pigalle, founded in 2007 in the French neighbourhood of the same name by Stéphane Ashpool, has become one of Europe’s rare streetwear brand that has found international fame. Its Converse collaboration, coming after major success with Nike, was widely noted in last September’s All Star Pro BB, as well as the Chuck 70 Ox, which, if I remember correctly, was a lot more pristine.

There is a palpable sense that sneakers, for those who still worship athletic kicks, are losing the exaggerated silhouettes of the past years. This Chuck, not chunk, is suitably streamlined and adequately forward. With its marine-coloured upper, this is the shoe to go with those printed pants we’re told will be big this year. I, however, have other ideas in mind. 😎

Pigalle X Converse Chuck 70 Ox in ‘Lightning Storm’, SGD179, is available at Lmited EDT. Photo: Zhao Xiangji

 

Street Players Meet

This is no collab with Supreme. Some of you might be delighted. 😀

 

CDG X Stussy SS2020 P1

By Ray Zhang

For the Comme des Garçons sub-brand CDG’s first collaboration, the three-letter label chose not the obvious or those the main line had paired with before, but one, although now trending, isn’t immediately the name to sing a duet with: Stussy. Yet come together they did, like Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger.

I am not at all clear what the end game might be, but it looks like this pairing is going to allow two very different brands to sing their way to their individual banks—gleefully. Stussy, possibly flushed by the high that came from its founder’s collaborating with Dior two months ago, is a surf-turn-street-wear brand currently being rediscovered by a new gen of fashion folks and celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. CDG, interestingly hashtagged “CDGCDG on social media and “CDGCDGCDG for their web address” (wouldn’t we recognise that as kiasuism?), is possibly the most street of the main label’s many sub-brands. In that sense, it is possibly a match made in heaven.

CDG X Stussy SS2020 P2CDG X Stussy SS2020 P3.jpg

Frankly, I am not quite sure I see Stussy or CDG in this sole release: a unisex varsity jacket in heavy and coarse melton wool, lined with (presumably polyester) satin, and appliquéd on the left sleeve with chenille patches of a distinctive Comme des Garçons perfume bottle (Concrete, maybe?) sandwiched vertically between a jacket and a pair of pants, and on the right, a bucket hat and a T-shirt. At the back, a much larger patch depicting a stylised surfer holding a CDG-branded surf board. The media release says that the jacket “nods to the past without losing sight of the future”. Hmmm… a future together?

Those of us hoping to find in this collaboration some spirit of either brand might be disappointed. I don’t know who this is really for. One Comme des Garçons “please, I-buy-only-the-runway-pieces” addict told me the varsity jacket is “definitely” not for him. We concurred: CDG, the label, is not exactly shorthand for the main line’s outre looks. Rather it is to maximise profits with and to entice those shoppers who care only about logos, and prominently positioned ones. This varsity jacket, too. If, however, price is a concern (and I understand), one can always pick the Hanes T-shirts—they’re also a collaboration and are always available.

The Stussy X CDG varsity jacket, SGD570, is available at Dover Street Market Singapore. Photos: Dover Street Market

Fashion’s Fondness For Identifying Things

Towards the end of the last decade, fashion proved that we need to know what the things we wear or used are called. Either that, or we’re terribly unintelligent

 

Off-White Quote “TOTE BAG” as seen on an evening commuter

Regular readers of SOTD know that, at the start of the new year (or, now, end of a span of ten years), we do not have the habit of looking back. Not for us, a recall of the “The Top Ten Items that Changed Fashion in the Last Decade” or “The Ten Looks of the Last Ten Years that should not Return in the Next Ten”. To rejoice or regret the past is, to us, a little pointless if you consider the speed at which things move forward, and the pleasure to bear witness to such a sweep. In no time, the Twenties shall not refer to the 1920s, but the 2020s. Today’s current will quickly become tomorrow’s retro. Yet, some things that happened in fashion need a looking back not because of their design value, but because of how they reflect our collective cleverness and, perhaps more importantly, discernment.

One thing that stood out for us rather glaringly (and annoyingly) is the predilection for identifying things as if we know them not. We aren’t referring to the oddly popular Nike T-shirt from a few months back that said “Freak” on the chest—people can describe themselves as whatever aberration they want (even if one “Greek Freak”, Giannis Antetokounmpo, already has). It is something more insidious, starting as a small text on the out-step of the mid-sole of a sneaker and becoming full-blown naming of anything, from tops to totes.

We have no idea why we need to be told or reminded of what we wear or its constituents. We can only surmise that designers are bored with monograms and logos, and clever turn of phrases. To stay with text on garments, accessories, and footwear, they turn to bold identifying without going into full anatomy mode. How unaware, unschooled, unknowing are we? Or, how clever is the instigator?

20-01-03-19-28-47-844_deco.jpgThe “WINDOWS” at Off-White, 268 Orchard Road

It took an architect/engineer/DJ bent on conquering the fashion word to tell us that we do not know our fashion. Virgil Abloh, the designer, likes pointing out to us what should be common knowledge. We aren’t sure when it all started, but when Off-White first opened here in 2016, we remember the window labelled at the top, “WINDOWS”, in his signature font that is bold, all-caps (he isn’t shouting, it has been said), and sans-serif, and captured between double inverted commas. What could that glassed opening be if not one of windows? (That currently appears on top of the door-less entrance, which could be a “WINDOW” into the Off-White world, now offering more than just clothing, shoes, and bags).

We remember that not long after the store opening, we started noticing the “AIR” on the side of the mid-soles of shoes he created in collaboration with Nike (that began with the Air Jordan I, released in October 2017). And the three-letter word continues to appear in subsequent-sneaker collabs. What is the likelihood that an Off-White “SUPERFAN” who is also a Nike die-hard would not know that the Air Jordan I is not fitted with Nike’s air sole technology? Hack, it is even in the name of the shoe!

Off White X Nike Air Presto Black 2018Off-White X Nike Air Presto from 2018

Those partial to Mr Abloh’s work will be quick to point out that the text is an attempt at humour and irony, and is a reflection of street culture, and a clever way of setting his (otherwise ho-hum) designs apart. Forget about show, not tell. Obvious is the new black. Spelled-out is the new loud. Just as you thought “AIR” was a one-off, he gave us “FOAM” and “VULCANIZED”; yes, “VULCANIZED”! A Vibram sole so branded is understandable, but vulcanized? Oh, let’s not discount “SHOELACES” too, just in case you forgot what your mother taught you when she dressed you for play school. And, if that’s the case, Virgil Abloh offers free flash cards with your Nikes and Converses!

Of course, brands were eager to follow. We’ve seen COLLAR (yes, minus the quotation marks. Who’d be that blatant?) and SLEEVE, and COTTON, and even on top of a tear at the knee of jeans that said RIP (we think the creator meant RIPPED, or perhaps Rest In Peace, un-disfigured pants!). Meanwhile, Mr Abloh’s gone on to accessories, telling you that a backpack is a “BACKPACK”, a name card holder is “FOR CARDS” and, in case your’re still uncertain, on the other side, “FOR CARDS”, again. Perhaps more crass is the bi-fold wallet that informs you it’s “FOR MONEY”, outside and inside. And, you probably guessed it, there’s really a bi-fold duly and boldly identified! Even graffiti on a handbag has to say WOMAN (no, inverted commas this time)! Frankly, how much is inane and how much is education?

20-01-03-22-14-34-877_deco.jpgOff-White “FOR CARDS” holder

“I don’t come from where I’m supposed to come from,” Mr Abloh once proudly said to W magazine. Which could mean—and we already know this—his background isn’t in fashion. Did he infer that he could, therefore, flout tasteful convention? It is possible that Mr Abloh had to learn everything about fashion and its many parts from a blank slate, even memorising components so as to understand the whole. But isn’t it presumptuous of him to think many people need to be similarly taught? Or, know not any better?

After a decade of fast fashion and street wear, we thought fashion consumers are better informed now that even Uniqlo gives it products proper descriptions and labeling (Harrington Jackets, for example, not just any jacket. There’s even Smart Shorts for women—nothing tattered or too short!). Or, in the case of sustainable brands, hang tags that announce their socially responsible design and business practices, such as the US label Outerknown’s (which are also dissovable in the wash, eliminating even the need for recycling). Shoppers have no use for useless information, we believed. Yet, there are “TOTE BAGS” that need to be known in indiscreet text—its self-identification strangely not thought of as affront to our intelligence nor casting aspersions to an elevated consumer culture. Perhaps, we’re not so sophisticated after all. And it takes fashion designers to tell us so.

Photos: Zhao Xiangji

Mad And Good

Go crazy! The first in Southeast Asia, Undercover’s Madstore is a provision shop that happens to be a hipster hub

 

Madstore P1

By Gambier Tan

Way before yesterday’s published opening time of Undercover’s debut Madstore in SG, a pop-up in the main atrium of ION Orchard, fans of Jun Takahashi’s label were milling in front of the un-walled and un-glassed-up space, eyeing what to cop. It is not known that any merch stocked here would be in limited quantities, but it looked to me that many of the impatient shoppers weren’t taking any chances.

Their palpable enthusiam is understandable and was to be expected. This is Mr Takahashi doing what compatriot Nigo had done so well with A Bathing Ape many years ago: creating cool fashion products with a streetwear bent that are priced attractively—not too cheap and not too expensive; the sweet spot of S$120 on average for a T-shirt. Although A Bathing Ape was sold to Hong Kong’s IT Group in 2011, its merchandising approach and sharp pricing continue to influence later Tokyo streetwear brands and retailers such as Ground Y and Atmos.

Madstore P2Madstore P3

To enhance the ‘Mad’ experience, Mr Takahashi takes it further by vending not only the clothes with the off-centre graphics that he is known for, but also zany products that enhance the crazy-cool illustrations that are often applied on the clothes, so alluringly that they enticed Pierpaolo Piccioli to commission Mr Takahashi to design beguiling collages for Valentino this season. Whether happy coincidence or deliberate strategy, I couldn’t tell, but the Madstore pop-up sat directly opposite the temporary Valentino shoe and handbag store.

I mention Nigo on purpose. Back in 1993, he opened his first store Nowhere with Jun Takahashi—then also the vocalist of the the cover band Tokyo Sex Pistols—in the yet-to-be-trendy part of Harajuku known locally as Ura-Harajuku (or urahara for short, the ‘back’ of Harajuku, now punctuated with many too-hip sneaker stores). Undercover was born earlier—in 1990, but I suspect Nowhere allowed Mr Takahashi to plant the seed that would eventually sprout as the precursor to the Mad Store, the Mad Market.

Madstore P4.jpg

I remember the Mad Market well. It was initially sited in Undercover’s flagship store in Aoyama, Tokyo, next to what had been the 10 Corso Como Comme des Garçons store. Unlike the unmistakable look of the Madstore, with the red (or green) utilitarian display units, the Mad Market, as the name suggests, was more ichiba in its approach and was an organised jumble of ‘vintage’ (past season, including samples), current, and pre-loved Undercover clothes, collab merchandise, other brands (such as the Spanish head wear label Buff) and assorted knick-knacks, as well as furniture. Somehow, it reminded me of the now-defunct Comme des Garçons Guerrilla store.

Fast forward to 2015, the Mad Market morphed into the Madstore and it debuted in the old Parco Shibuya Part 1, in a space opposite the maze-like Comme des Garçons. This Madstore was curated to weaken even the most controlled shopper into opening up his wallet. The space was a veritable provision shop! You just sensed that there was something to be bought. And it was filled with many products priced at what retail analysts would call entry level.

Madstore P5Madstore P6

But affordable did not mean aesthetically lame. In fact, Undercover merchandise—from T-shirts sporting the iconic teddy bears with blocked-out eyes to purses in the shape of edibles such as celery sticks to home wares such as the fanged burger lamp—communicate a visual language that has its roots in punk, but draws one in with the immediacy of those of Supreme, oftentimes with a dose of irreverence and provocative humour—photo prints of supposed Biblical images with ‘Mad’ printed conspicuously in a corner!

I have always found Undercover’s high-toned casual wear appealing, whether in its own outlets, in an Isetan corner, or in the Madstore. It is in the latter that perhaps one might find browsing—a ritual overtaken by online scrolling—the merch fun. Undercover may be a fashion label, but Madstore lives up to the brand’s motto: We Make Noise Not Clothes. However, this is no clamour; rather, the merchandise mix is a chatter that one might find in a delicatessen, a hum of admiration by those in the know.

Madstore P7bMadstore in Laforet, Harajuku, Tokyo

My observation showed me that the visitors to the Madstore pop-up are well aware of what it offered and the appeal within. I saw shoppers eyeing not only the large selection of tees (the one with the underscored U appeared popular) and the logo-ed windbreakers, but also the sub-brands of JohnUndercover and SueUndercover, as well as the small accessories, such as Medicom Toy danglies, which, at S$30 a pop for the Undercover teddy bear mascot, is the cheapest product to purchase.

According to the staff, this is “the first (free-standing) Madstore in Southeast Asia” (opened in partnership with Club 21, but Isetan in Kuala Lumpur, too, has recently erected a mini-me version) and the largest outside Japan (it looks to me to be about the same size as the one in Laforet, Harajuku). But this is not the first time Madstore appeared on our shores. It was first introduced to us as a small, against-a-single-wall unit in Dover Street Market Singapore, adjacent to the now closed stretch of Good Design Store. Later, some of the Madstore merch was (and still is) available in Undercover’s dedicated space. Wherever it appears, I’d say retail here could really do with going ‘Mad’.

The Undercover Madstore is opened till 12 November 2019 at level 1 atrium, ION Orchard. Photos: Galerie Gombak and Jiro Shiratori