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

Two Of A Kind: Beekeeping Looks

Louis Vuitton’s pre-fall 2022 offers headwear that we have seen at Kenzo’s spring/summer 2021

Left: Louis Vuitton. Photo: Louis Vuitton. Right: Kenzo. Photo: gorunway.com

We really do not wish to talk about the dead in not-so-glorious terms. But some things are just hard to ignore. Louis Vuitton has just released images of their men’s pre-fall 2022 (that’s another confusing season/category), reported to be designed by the late Virgil Abloh, and was finished and photographed before his shocking demise. Among his usual take on workwear-meets-streetwear-meets-sportswear mix-ups, one single item stood out, not because it is incoherent with the looks of the collection, but because it is very similar to those already shown very recently: the beekeeper’s hat and veil. Now, we resist the C-word here, but being inspired by someone else’s idea from not too long ago: we really do not know what else to call that.

In fact, from just last year, when Felipe Oliveira Baptista showed very similar head wear for Kenzo spring/summer 2021, which also included those for men (see photo, top right). Mr Baptista’s version were offered in assorted hat shapes and veils of different volumes and, fabulously, lengths. Some are packable too. They came at the height of the pandemic, when face shields were among the options for protective gear not amounting to the PPE. It is not clear what the adoption rate of these beekeeping wear was, but they made for one rather unforgettable collection of that season.

Now, we have Louis Vuitton also doing these hat-and-face-coverings. Mr Abloh had, in fact, in the past year or so, been rather into obscuring the face, just like pal Kanye West (now rumoured to be succeeding his friend!). This veiling comes after he did a Richard Quinn! Is this beekeeper’s shield also homage to something done by someone else Mr Abloh admired? Or, in the age of the hack, just a simple trick to share output of what is already part of the luxury group (Kenzo belongs to LVMH)? Even if they come in LV’s monogram and the graffiti prints of the Milan-based artist/tattooist Ghusto Leon, are they less first-seen-somewhere-else (some of Kenzo’s veils were printed too)? Or, as we have lamented before, is the world really so confusing to make out?

Visited: Goodluck Bunch

Although they have been around for five years, they have remained relatively low-key. Is the Goodluck Bunch the best streetwear store on our island?

On Bali Lane, the shop houses are not as spruced up as those on both sides of Haji Lane, just one street away, towards the Sultan Mosque. Built in the mid-19th century, the Bali Lane shophouses, numbering around 30, have rather simple façades, described as belonging to the Early Shophouse Style (1840-1900), distinguished by their lack of ornamentation. They are part of the area known by the road that links Victoria Street to Beach Road: Arab Street. Bali Lane is only one of two named after Indonesian islands (the other is Java Road), rather than a place in the Middle East, such as Bussorah Street and Muscat Street. It is a rather short lane. At about 100 metres, it less than half the length of Haji Lane. Most of the businesses here are of F&B persuasion. Between a halal restaurant that serves Japanese grilled meat Waku Waku Yakiniku and an empty shop lot is the only one of its kind on this motley makan row: a clothing store.

Without a striking shop front, it is easy to miss Goodluck Bunch (GLB). But the visual restraint is also its allure, the relative plainness and lack of sheen often make up secret addresses among those in the know. Devoid of obvious swank, it has an absence of pretentiousness to match. Stand on the five-foot way and peek inside the heritage shophouse, and the space, bathed in incandescent glow, beckons like a treasure trove, within what is often considered the exemplar of indie cool: white walls and concrete floor. But there is something more welcoming in GLB’s not quite calculated relaxedness, with merchandise displayed in a free-hand manner that will doubtlessly encourage browsing and touching. It is the market vibe too, which we refer to, in the best possible way. After all, one of our island’s best multi-label stores is self-touted as a market too.

Goodluck Bunch looks to us like something out of the arterial streets of Tokyo’s Daikanyama; a cross between the area’s long-serving Hollywood Ranch Market (that word again!) and the rock of an outdoor store High! Standard, with a touch of Nanamica and the posturing of Kikunobu. GLB has been described as a streetwear clothier, but the merchandise includes a spirited mix of Normcore and Gorpcore labels thrown in for good measure. The selection of clothes is augmented with practical accessories to allow shoppers to purchase a complete look, including less common items such as shoulder bags for water tumblers or the odd bottle of Ayataka green tea. And just as you thought everything stocked is for those with an inherently casual wardrobe, immaculate business/dress shoes from the Thai label London Brown incongruently greet visitors near the entrance.

There seems to be a subtle Asian slant to the merchandising approach, with Japan being an obvious source. While there are brands from the US (we’re talking about streetwear after all), it is the Japanese offshoot of American labels Ben Davis, Chums, and Gramicci, and born-in-Japan Mont Bell that shoppers seem to enthusiastically target, as well as the now-sold-out tote bags featuring the simple and striking drawings of Tokyo-based illustrator Noritake. Given the Japaneseness of the store, the Nippon connection makes sense. But rather than evoke Harujuku, the heart of the not-readily-definable Tokyo street scene, GLB takes on the indie spirit of Japanese retail that is found in other neighbourhoods, such as aforementioned Daikanyama, and situates itself on a street here that has virtually no shopping. The dissimilarity to its neighbours probably stood it in good stead.

The two founders of Goodluck Bunch are not newcomers to clothing retail. Quek Swee Ying (known on social media as Swee) and her husband Lee Hong Ping started GLB in 2016 on the weath of experience Ms Quek had gained from her typical blogshop-made-good label Runway Bandits. First hosted on LiveJournal in 2008, two years after Love, Bonito began as BonitoChico on the same platform, Runway Bandits, “catered towards students with limited budget”, as Ms Quek told the press. These school-goers were spending, and two years later, business was so encouraging that a bona fide e-commerce site for the label was created. When Plaza Singapura remade its basement 1 into a haven featuring “leading local fashion blogshops” in 2018, not-marauding Runway Bandits was there with their first physical store, diagonally across from rising star Fayth. Ms Quek told us then that it was “a pop up as trial”. On what made her brand stood out, she said that it was the “soft and neutral palette” and that they “engaged customers by allowing them to vote for their favourite colours”.

Of the half-a-dozen or so stores that opened on-theme at Plaza Singapura that COVID-19-free year, only three have survived, and that include Runway Bandits. In June this year, the brand was renamed From There On, catching fans quite by surprise. Where “there” might be, it does not say. Why the change of moniker, it is not yet known. One retail consultant told us that “‘bandit’ does not have a positive connotation”. Even after more than 10 years of use? Outlaws aside, the word, informally, also refers to individuals who take unfair advantage of others. Neither runway or bandit, the brand was a misnomer. The new name, a clear departure from the old, however, is no indication of a fresh aesthetical direction. From There On sits comfortably on the same-old plot of unconstricted shapes, immediate everyday-ness, and sassy girlishness of Runway Bandits. A clear lineage. One chirpy shopper at the store recently, who said she was “doing a course at SOTA”, told us that she was a regular because she liked the “better basics” there.

For many, the two-storey, 1,300 sq. ft Goodluck Bunch is also likely the place to score better basics. To be sure, despite their veritable street cred, GLB is not quite the same as, say, Undercover’s Madstore. Yet, there is no denying the clearness of their merchandising direction. With about 30 brands in-store, what you’d get is a happy wearable jumble that includes Danton (the French label that’s so Normcore-cool that even DSMS—yes, that market!—and Hong Kong’s i.t are stockists), Gorpcore heavyweights Kavu and Patagonia, the fun-centric Chinatown Market, hip-hop’s fave hat brand Kangol, Singaporeans’-must-buy-when-in-Japan Champion, and Jil Sander’s latest collaborator Arc’teryx. The mix is varied and a joy to uncover. The staff told us of their other boss Lee Hong Ping: “he treats this as his playground”. A clothier who has fun with the stocking of his store often allows that pleasure to shine through in the merchandise. This is totally palpable at GLB.

Going through the stuff after you enter will take you some time. And then you remember that there’s upstairs. (The staff will happily remind you too.) So up you go. As the view of the second floor unfolds, the Japanese vibe again hits you. Up here, there is a faux tree in the middle of the space, a shade provider that seems to bring the disparate brands together, like a group of well-togged friends convening at their favourite spot. On the weekday afternoon we were there, we heard giggling behind a curtain. As it turned out, some girls were trying on the Ben Davis. Although GLB stocks mostly menswear, it also attracts women with a weakness for jendaresu-kei (genderless style) or too-big T-shirts, sometimes inexplicably massive. In fact, most of their social media posts are photos of girls dressed in tees and bifurcated bottoms. One of them in the fitting room emerged to have a better look at the mirror. She could have just leapt out of Goodluck Bunch’s Instagram grid.

Goodluck Bunch is at 26 Bali Lane. Photos: Zhao Xiangji