Tiger Beat: Happy Family

The lanterns for this year’s Chinese New Year light-up in Chinatown is about the alpha male and his family. Endearing, even when it reminds us of some scary beasts in a ’70s theme park along Pasir Panjang Road

When the Chinese-style lanterns in the shape of tigers (虎) were lit this evening, a throng had gathered outside Chinatown Point to take photographs of them. In real life, tigers are the largest living cat species known. On the road divider between Eu Tong Sen Street and New Bridge Road, the tigers appeared to be live-sized. They struck an imposing figure. Most of the spectators across the intersection were pointing the camera on their smartphone at the subject; some were more seriously equipped—with DSLRs and tripods. The silent tigers were a clear draw, like those in a zoo. However, a woman, not snapping, was heard saying, “一点都不可爱 (yi dian dou bu ke ai, not cute at all).”

Unlike in Japan, we have never placed a premium on cuteness. We do not have or enjoy a culture of kawaii—where in the land of Pokémon, is itself a pop culture phenomenon. Through the years, the light-ups in Chinatown have banked mostly on a conventional Chinese aesthetic that borders on the run-of-the-mill. It has not been an interpretive depiction that conveys a sense of the adorable. Better be zhun (准, accurate) than cute. In their seriousness to be culturally on-the-dot (although not specifically appealing to any elite currency), the organisers of the Chinatown light-ups have frequently drawn criticism for their aesthetic faux pas, such as the manly and pregnant moon goddesses during the Mid-Autumn Festivals.

Before the LED lights did their controlled magic, the tigers looked— from a distance—grey, stony, and somewhat menacing, even when the adult beasts were standing on clouds and the brood frolicking with a gold coin and an ingot. In the light of an overcast day, the trigonal set-up was rather evocative of those hellish dioramas in Haw Par Villa (虎豹別墅, aka Tiger Balm Gardens) of the ’70s, then a major local attraction (without the influence of a pandemic) and now considered a cultural heritage. As dusk approached, the shadowy creatures looked the antithesis of an approaching festive season.

There are five tigers in the main display. We wondered if the quintet is to show the size of a family that is now encouraged in view of our shrinking population. Or, to match the number of people allowed in social interactions or to dine out. Could it also be to denote the five elements in Chinese philosophy: wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. Come 1 February, we will be welcoming the year of the water tiger (and so that you are not mistaken, blue ripples underscore the scenes of posing and prancing tigers along Eu Tong Sen Street and New Bridge Road). As soft as that sounds, the tiger of the Chinese Zodiac is a symbol of strength and confidence. The water tiger is not a tamed beast; it is believed to possess a self-esteem that is considered strong. Perhaps, that is why the organisers of the Chinatown light-up have avoided cute?

But soft is the pull elsewhere in Chinatown. Away from the light-up, inside the shopping streets, large quantities of bulaohu (布老虎 or stuffed cloth tiger) are available in many gift shops and those offering CNY decorations in staggering bulk. These made-in-China toys bear a cute countenance, compared to those now populating the main street outside People’s Park Complex. The bulaohu is a traditional folk handicraft that has been made and used in China since ancient times. Aesthetically, these seen in Chinatown may look different from those of the past, but its feline form is unmistakable, and is deliberately simplified to trot out its facial adorableness, and that grin!

The tiger, placed third in the Chinese Zodiac, was both worshipped and feared in ancient China. Known as bai shou zhi wang (百兽之王, king of beasts), it was also considered to be efficient in warding off the three domestic disasters of more rural times: fire, burglars, and evil spirits. But in the pandemic era of an urban world, the fierceness and courageousness of the tiger are somewhat played down. From tiger buns at Ikea to T-shirts emblazoned with “Gucci Tiger”, the king of beasts is not quite kingly, and is taking on a decidedly less ferocious role. Do they even roar anymore?

Photos: Chin Boh Kay

Closures: The Top Three Reads Of 2021

It appears that the closing of stores permanently is what many like to read

We have never really been too concerned with figures or looking back, but it’s interesting to see, as we look back at this past year—still pandemic-stricken, that the top three reads of the year are those about brands and businesses closing here. It is always regrettable and sad that good businesses close down despite their best efforts to stay afloat. The many closures this past year, not just these three mentioned in this post, suggest to us that other than real economic factors, retailers are indeed facing declining shopper numbers. No real study has been conducted to understand why people are no longer shopping at physical stores other than the general belief that most consumers prefer to do it online, as attested by the popularity of Shopee and the rising tide of livestream selling.

At the top of the list, and sitting way above the second and the third, is the closure of Pedder on Scotts in September. The “it’s hard to say goodbye” closing down sale of Pedder on Scotts, after five years operating on the entire second floor of Scotts Square, surprised many. On Pedder at Takashimaya Shopping Centre remains open. Also totally unexpected was the closure of AW Lab. Headquarted in Italy, AW Lab has considerable presence in Europe. On our island, they had four stores. They closed all of them at the end of November last year. The least unanticipated permanent shuttering was the closure of Temt. Sitting on the third place of the most read post, the Australian fast-fashion brand seemed to enjoy a heathy fan base, but that was not sufficient to keep them buoyant and alive.

It is hard not to see that many of our shoppers here are attracted to reports of stores that would no longer exist, as if they have been placing wagers on who would go next. Interestingly, our top read last year was about the closure of Topshop (and Topman) here. The subsequent media coverage was about how “fans mourn” the passing of an era. With the pandemic still very real, it does appear that shopping in a physical store would increasingly look like an activity of an age past and forgotten. No one is too concern with the rapid vanishing of real spaces in which you are able to see, touch and feel tangible merchandise (since, as the common refrain goes, “you can get anything online”). We have lost our position as a shopping destination a long time ago. It does not seem we would be reclaiming that status any time soon.

File photos: SOTD

Old Sneakers Smell Brand New

Your kicks deserve a clean break, if not materially, perhaps smell-wise?

If there are those who love to smell like fresh laundry (consider the original Clean fragrance), it is not unreasonable to assume there are sneakers that love to smell like they have just come off the factory floor. To be sure, we do not know who would like to go so close to your shod feet to determine if what you have put on smells new, but in case you fear that your kicks are an affront to the olfactory glands around you, consider this fresh offering from French “aesthetic perfumer” Officine Universelle Buly, grandly called Eau Gymnastique (or gymnastics water). Made in France specifically for sneakers, they promise shoes that are not merely clean-smelling, but new-smelling, As the brand describes it: “Designed for athletic shoe perfectionists, the Eau Gymnastique is ideal—if not necessary—for sneaker collectors obsessed with the immaculate appearance of their treasures maniacally stored in their original boxes.”

It is hard to imagine that sneakers are allowed to get so fetid before something is done. “Obsessed” is perhaps the key word—the quality that makes an indiviual desire to go to extremes, such as totally undoing the aquired funk of footwear, even if it’s not necessarily bad for every shoe. With the Eau Gymnastique in standby, he could provide what Officine Universelle Buly describes on the bottle as an “olfactory fix”, promising that “the scent of newness will embalm your sneakers… forever.” How is that possible? The spray dispenser, housed in what looks like a bottle of a household cleaning aid (500ml, no less! Clearly shoes need to be spritzed in larger amounts than bodies!), contains a water-based formula than has the benefit of “micro-encapsulation technology”, which provide long-lasting odour masking. Perfect for anything that covers despicable feet, really. Even if sneakers no longer look new, they could smell new. Just marvelous.

Eau Gymnastique, €58.33 (or approximately SGD90), is available online at the Officine Universelle Buly website. Photo: Officine Universelle Buly

Revolutionary!

The second item from the Gap YZY collection is launched. Excited about a hoodie?

By Lester Fang

Wow, Gap YZY has a second item to show! After what seems like an eternity! And after the collaborator Kanye West wore the first—a puffer jacket—to death! Okay, maybe just twice, but it was seen everywhere, so might as well have been really worn. I should add, in the middle of summer, which, in so many cities this year, was seeing record-breaking temperatures. Mr West must like his clothes to trap heat. Now, his follow-up to that puffer jacket is the less warm hoodie, but nonetheless warm (made of “beefy double-layer cotton”, according to GQ), although probably not warm enough for the approaching winter. How this product release schedule makes sense is beyond me. But, at least we get to see something. I was beginning to think the brand may be discontinued.

Why a hoodie, and a plain one? I have no idea. Just as I am clueless as to why a puffer jacket is required in forest fire season. By the front-side product shot, I can’t tell if it is better than those that the Gap is already selling. Its website does not allow me to go beyond the initial group photo of the top. A message tells me unapologetically that I “don’t have permission to access “http://www.gap.com/yeezy on this server”. I take that to mean that Gap has no desire to interest me in the line that they paid Mr West heavens-know-how-many-millions to design. I say that with some certainty because the same thing happened when I took interest in that first puffer jacket. Frankly, the hoodie is not my thing, but I was curious. And curiosity, as I found out, is not what Gap wants to reward.

Gap YZY was announced last June, and the first collection was supposed to drop in the “first half of 2021”, according to media reports. Surely someone at the Gap know we’re now approaching the last quarter of the year. The puffer jacket, aka the ‘RoundJacket’, in one colour (blue), was launched in June for a not-small amount of USD200. It reportedly was all gone in a few hours. Online shoppers were met with a “sold out” message, which, to me, is a lot better than “don’t have permission to access”. But according to Forbes, “the ’sold out’ message customers were seeing was a glitch due to high demand”. And now this hoodie, ‘The Perfect Hoodie’, which is cheaper, at USD90. But it is for pre-order in the US only, with the waiting time for delivery two months if one chooses the black. After a year, just two products? And one that you may not receive after buying until closer to Christmas?

So why the hoodie? Who knows? The real question is, do you need Kanye West to come up with that?

Product photos: Gap. Illustration: Just So

Tokyo Olympics: The Winner-Knitter

While watching other athletes in action, Great Britain’s Tom Daley kept busy by knitting. 👍🏼

Would any Olympian bring along knitting needles and yarn to the Games? And actually sit in the stand to knit? Diver Tom Daley would. And did. Photos making social-media rounds last weekend showed the diving gold medalist seated, hands together, with an incomplete purple-pink sheath of knitted yarn. Mr Daley did not only draw the world’s applause (perhaps, except Russia’s!) for the gold medal that he won in the men’s synchronized 10-meter platform event alongside diving partner Matty Lee, but also for his dexterity with the knit-stitch, seen so clearly. The action was attention-grabbing as the project-in-action, with a loose yarn draped across his right thigh (presumably ending in a ball in a bag placed on the ground), contrasts rather dramatically with the athlete’s attire of singlet and shorts, which projected something more physical than needlecraft. And more so if you consider the setting: the world’s biggest and grandest sporting meet.

Mr Daley was not the first guy seen at the Olympics going way beyond the first slipknot. Back in the 2018 Winter Games in South Korea, Finland’s snowboarding coach Antti Kroskinsen was filmed knitting while compatriot snowboarder Roope Tonteri was preparing to start a competition. Mr Kroskinsen was working with black yarn, and this blended with the black of his winter coat, but the action was unmistakable: he was turning loose yarn into stitches. This time in Japan’s capital, Mr Daley’s craft work seemed at odds with the scorching temperature experienced in the city, with participants calling this “Tokyo summer the worst in the history of the Olympics”, as reported by CNN. Still, Mr Daley knitted coolly away—the heat did not seem to bother him. In fact, he is such an ardent knitter that he has his own Instagram page, madewithlovebytomdaley in which many of his pieces are shown, including a little case, sporting the British flag on one side and the Japanese on the other, shaped to house his gold medal.

Not only was Tom Daley’s knitting skills (learned during last year’s lockdown in the UK)—and design flair—on display, his generosity was too. Yahoo News reported that he also knitted an orange/pink cardigan for Malaysian diver Cheong Jun Hoong (張俊虹, silver medalist in Rio 2016), whom he called “dear friend”. Mr Daley’s participation in Tokyo 2020 as a publicly-out gay athlete is seen as standing up for the LGBTQ communities around the world, as well as showing how inclusive the Games of the XXXII Olympiad is. In addition to that, he, too, demonstrated visibly that knitting is not just a “feminine interest” and that athletics and craft do mingle.

Photo: Getty Images

The Uptick From The Umbrage

One trending word, now happily used and proudly worn

By Bu Shikong

As a nation, we’re hardly ever affected by single words, nor pairs. Ex-Mediacorp stars can start a food business with the curse-turn-oxymoron Sibay Shiok, but no one’s undies are caught in a knot. When former military man, now SPH’s CEO, Ng Yat Chung indignantly brandished “umbrage”—twice!—in response to CNA reporter Chew Huimin’s question, many people are piqued. The uncle’s contempt at the press conference was, for sure, unmistakable. However, it was not just how garang he was that people reacted to, but the word choice (choice word?) as well. This morning, The Sunday Times reported that that one beautiful word very quickly led to a 200,000-plus searches on Google that day: what did Mr Ng really take? What was given? People were burning with curiosity.

In one Coconuts report I read, it was noted that “many Singaporeans have never even heard of the word until it got a mention at the company’s press conference…” With the Speak Good English Movement still running this year’s campaign, Let’s Connect, Let’s Speak Good English, on TV, that is hardly surprising. But the memes and jokes that emerged have somehow diluted the kau-ness of the fury. And the retailers that have been quick to turn this into a money-making opportunity have only made a word expressing no ordinary anger funny. Since yesterday morning, I have been inundated with photos of and links to the availability of T-shirts with ‘umbrage’ emblazoned across the chest, as well as marketing campaigns enjoying the use of what Asiaone called “word of the day”.

It is rather puzzling that the lead time for producing garments, bags, and cups could be this short. Clicking on a Lazada ad on my social media site, I was brought to a page of a selection of merchandise—six different pieces in all. There is a three-product ‘line’ known as “Umbrage Dictionary”, offered by sellers that appear to be in the digital printing business. Things the now-shuttered-for-good Naiise would have gladly taken in. When I looked closely at the images on the website, I could see that the U-word had been superimposed on the images of standard-issue crew-neck tees. This is likely a print-on-order product line, which could explain how they managed to put umbrage out almost as soon as Ng Yat Chung was susceptible enough take it. But I wonder if more umbrage would be taken if he has read how the seller’s lexicographer defined the word that had a nation talking and dissing.

Those who don’t find charm or humour in this meaning of the hot noun may aquire some other at the National Library. I always thought that our flagship public library is staid. Well, it isn’t. A new display to entice you to their books was very recently set up: “Umbrage And Other Words You Should Know”. An orgiastic grouping for those who would relate to titles such as Word Nerd. But if you need to take knowledge-seeking to social media, enter ‘umbrage’ in Facebook search—the result will tell you the word is “popular now”, just as another phrase is: Umbrage Singapore. As it turns out, this is “a group for Singaporeans who want to take umbrage at anything and anyone”, created just a day after Mr Ng’s heated retort. It is understandable why his rebuke has generated so much reactions. It wasn’t just the use of an uncommonly-mouthed word, it was also the near-bullying way that he spoke it, which included the delectable and by-then-obvious admission that he is not a gentleman.

But not everyone thinks the umbrage was unwisely taken. The former journalist Bertha Henson, who, as one online description enthused, covered “Singapore developments for the Singapore Press Holdings stable of newspapers for 26 years”, took a more contrary view. In her blog Bertha Harian (Bertha Daily, a pun on the Malay-language broadsheet Berita Harian or Daily News), Ms Henson wrote in the piece “It…could be… a new beginning for news media here”, shared a day after the incident of the CEO and the journalist, that she “empathised” with Mr Ng, even when she noted that he “lost his cool”. Many who have read her post were certain she was speaking up for her former employer SPH, which wouldn’t be surprising. Ms Henson, now also an author, is a product of The Straits Times and its sibling titles. She knows why—and how—SPH has become what it is today, even correctly acknowledging that “journalism standards… have been declining at a precipitous rate”.

But as an experienced news person, she curiously chose to deprecate a journalist who turned up to do her job, of which asking questions is expected. She opined that “it is a naive reporter, especially from a local media outlet, who asks such questions which can be applied to his or her own employers and editors”, in a clear reference to a competing news organisation. I don’t expect Ms Henson to play the dajie of local journalism, but choosing not to also empathise with someone whose job she once did seems, to me, to be taking the side of a media company she still feels dearly for. If that singling out was not enough, in a Facebook post from yesterday, Ms Henson wrote in defence of those working for her former employer: that it was “pretty insulting to insinuate that SPH journalists were pandering to advertisers and not maintaining their integrity.” Ms Henson was basically saying to the CNA staff, you deserve it. How becoming, I wonder, is that of a news veteran? Was Bertha Henson also insulted or was she, as the T-shirt sold on Lazada suggests, simply dulan?

Product photos: Lazada. Photo illustrations: Just So

Pussycat, Yes!

Animals have inspired designers for as long as fashion has looked to the zoic kingdom for ideas. One creature stands out: the cat. No less than four of what are worn or used in fashion today are named after them

After watching the Dior pre-fall 2021 show recently, we got hooked to the remade and remixed Deee-Lite dance hit What is Love? from the 1990 album World Clique. This new track also has snatches of the feline-themed, vinyl-only single Pussycat Meow from the second album Infinity Within. It was the purring and the “pussycat… no!” cries of the band’s lead singer Lady Miss Kier that did it for us. For most of the rest of that week (and the week after), we allowed that groove to get into our heart. Two tracks on loop, however, became monotonous after a while. So we looked into our CD collection (yes, for some, they still exist and are played!), and found one of our favourites: Takkyu Ishno’s highly danceable 2017 song Kitten Heel. This whole afternoon, we had three tracks on loop, pumping through our Sonos One, allowing the bass to course through our willing body.

The dancing—and Lady Miss Kier purring and then rap-calling “here, kitty, kitty, kitty” and then tease-pleading “kiss me, you fool!”—also got us thinking of the influence of domestic cats (yes, those you keep as pets) in fashion. No, there won’t be references to Karl Lagerfeld’s too-famous Choupette. Or, the countless cat videos on YouTube and TickTok. Or, cute cat-faced accessories to wear around the neck. And not a clowder of cats on a T-shirt either. Rather, we’re looking at something more subtle—those articles of fashion inspired by parts of cats or the whole animal, or just suggestive of those things we associate with felines. And, like the cats themselves, these fashion items seem to have many, many lives! Here, we name four. If you know others, do tell.

Cat Glasses

Photo: Celine/24s

Cat glasses, or rather sunglasses with frames that supposedly mimic cat eyes, are not really inspired by the-cuddly-creature-that-meows. According to fashion lore and the documentary Altina, based on the life of the multi-hyphenate Altina Schinasi (1907—1999), they were inspired by Venetian masks. In fact, the first cat glasses, introduced in the ’30s, were known by the more mysterious and glamourous descriptor, Harlequin. At that time the designs of glasses for women were hardly fashionable, and reflected what Dorothy Parker famously said, “Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses,” originally a two-line poem News Item.

But, that didn’t deter Ms Schinasi. She related in the documentary: “I thought, well, something better can be done than just these awful glasses that look like the time of Benjamin Franklin. Then I thought, what would be good on a face and I thought of a mask, a Harlequin mask.” By the ’50s, when the glasses really took off—worn by movie stars such as Audrey Hepburn and, unmistakably, Marilyn Monroe (especially as Pola in How to Marry a Millionaire), they became mostly known as cat-eye glasses (now, just cat glasses) due to the shape of the frame, with the outer tips pointing upwards and alluringly, feline-like.

Catsuits

Photo: Warner Bros

Long before there was Michele Pfeiffer as Catwoman (in 1992’s Batman Returns), there was one Black Wild Cat, our mothers told us. This was Connie Chan (陈宝珠) in the titular role of 女贼黑夜猫 (Black Wild Cat), in the 1960s Hong Kong film that saw Ms Chan as a sort-of female Robin Hood, masked in a flat-top half-balaclava that was, presumably, like a cat’s head. To augment her feline mysteriousness, she leaves messages by throwing darts on walls on which her masked identity is reveal by, well, a Harlequin mask (see a recurring theme?). Ms Chan was so successful in playing these mysterious do-gooders operating under the cover of darkness that other characters emerged: The Black Rose (黑玫瑰) and The Black Killer (女杀手). And with each role she wore something black and close-fitting—not quite the catsuits we know today, but enough for her to move with the stealth and style of cats.

It wasn’t until Michele Pfeiffer’s campy interpretation of Catwoman (aka Selina Kyle) did we come to associate the catsuit with those that totally outline the body and in gleaming latex (a silicon-based top coat was used to effect the shine). Sure, Halle Berry’s titular turn in Catwoman (2004), too, saw her in a catsuit, but they appeared to be a part of it—the bikini dominatrix top didn’t cover enough, at least not the torso. Interestingly, Ms Berry’s Catwoman wore a full head mask that looks uncannily like what Connie Chan wore as Black Wild Cat! In fact, the catsuit was very much at first a costume, often linked to the Catwoman character, first introduced in 1940 as simply The Cat. The term catsuit didn’t come into popular usage until after 1955. Its origin is unclear although it wouldn’t be immoderate to assume that, once suited up, the slinkiness immediately accords the wearer a cat-like grace.

Pussy Bows

Photo: Saint Laurent

The pussy bow comes from something more extraneous: it’s not in anyway part of a cat. Or look like anything that might be akin to cats. According to media speculation—Vogue among them—the pussy bow probably got its name from a time in the late 19th century, when cat owners would tie a bow around the neck of their feline pets to prettify them before the arrival of guests. In French couture houses, they go by a less animal-linked description: lavallière (also the noun for a pendant, centred on a necklace, and hangs pendulously). Some fashion historians trace the pussy bow to the cravat, although the connection is hard to discern. Most of the pussy bows we now see can be linked to the versions first introduced by Chanel, and later, Yves Saint Laurent (paired with the Le Smoking). And in the past ten years, the popularity of the pussy bow has not waned, and (still) well loved by designers such as Hedi Slimane and Alessandro Michele.

However fancy it is tied, the pussy bow is essentially a strip of fabric, with the middle portion, lengthwise, stitched to the neckline of the blouse, leaving the rest hanging, and to be knotted. For many women, the pussy bows were very much a ’70s thing. A decade on, “Iron Lady” Margaret Thatcher made it her thing, and claimed the pussy bow softens her public appearance. A mere feminine flourish it, therefore, is not. Cut to 2016, Melania Trump wore her Gucci crepe de chine pussy bow defiantly (triumphantly, too?) against her husband’s self-confessed predilection for grabbing the female genitalia. Pussy bows today have long shed their dowdy Gibson Girl image. Just see how Anthony Vaccarello styled them for Saint Laurent (above). As in the past, there is power in them bows.

Kitten Heels

Photo: Prada

Interestingly, these heels weren’t originally worn by women, but by men—at least in Versailles, France. To be sure, the kitten heels that we now know is not quite the same as those the guys wore, in particular by Louis XIV of France and his courtiers. Those in the 17th century were a lot clunkier, at least where the heels were concerned, not the pin that they are in present times. According to common belief, the smallish Sun King chose heeled shoes to give him extra height (he was, reportedly, only five foot, four inches—or about 162cm—tall). This new-found stature caught on with the other royals too, but did not impress the monarch. He banned them outside his court, effectively denying himself as the footwear trend setter.

The kitten heels today can, perhaps, be more accurately traced to the 1950s. Many people associate them with Audrey Hepburn or more specifically her in Billy Wilder’s 1954 movie Sabrina, with (some of) the costumes by Hubert de Givenchy. Like the cat glasses, the kitten heels have come to represent the ’50s and a certain elegance that need not require a statuesque carriage. Another name linked to the kitten heel at this time is Roger Vivier, who was, conversely, more prolific with the stiletto, but in the ’50s, Mr Vivier created a more tapered and stout heel for “girls”, so that they can get used to the elevation and grow into higher shoes. In fact, in the US, kitten heels were also known as “training heels”, since they were bought for the (very) young high-heel novice who had yet able to handle the forbidding stiletto. For some, so well trained they were in kitten heels that they never truly graduated to the taller kin. Kitty, as it turns out, truly has a long, comfortable life.

Illustration: Just So

Orange Is More Auspicious

The circle line is really orange because we do not do trendy colours, such as those two Pantone says are the colours of the 2021

By Gordon Goh

Chinese New Year is not even here, and we’re talking about orange(s), just as Fairprice and Cold Storage are displaying CNY goodies before Christmas could get out of the way. Love letters are suddenly more enticing than stollen. Anyway, out of the blue, hotly discussed online during this holiday season is apparently the colour of the visual representation of the MRT’s Circle Line: is it orange or yellow? Frankly, I have never pondered this question before. As I was impertinently told to get my eyes checked when I daringly suggested that on the MRT map the line looks rather yellow to me, I thought it best to actually confront the line itself. Seeing is, after all, believing.

I live in the east, so I frequently commute on the East-West Line. Times were a lot simpler in, gosh, the old days. There were only two lines then: the one I used almost daily (and still do) and the North-South Line. I never bothered with the colours of the lines even when it is easy to remember that the first two MRT lines share the same colours usually associated with Christmas. Even now, I get on the train, get off at City Hall Station, walk across the platform to take the other train to Orchard Station, where I alight for most of my social activities. It’s really that simple. No colour required. Nor name.

It seems that people do identify MRT lines by their chromatic distinctiveness. Someone purportedly wrote to SMRT to clarify the Circle Line’s colour identity. Last week, an “Aleza (Ms) from SMRT Customer Relations replied, in the spirit of the season: “We wish to share that SMRT Circle Line is orange in colour.” That should have settled it. Auspicious colour et al. Until Xia Xue shared—’tis the season!—that reply and commented “I also think it’s orange are the rest of you blind (sic).” Missing punctuation followed by missing word: well, that is the way some Netizens communicate. But to be sure that I am not blind, I looked up from my seat on the train of the East-West Line, where I was reading what was on my phone, and saw a woman in an oversized T-shirt that allowed her to look like she had gone pant-less. And coincidentally, the tee was orange. Or was it yellow?

I made a trip to the Paya Lebar Station. The mission was to be sure that I would not later need to go to the National Eye Centre. Paya Lebar Station is one of those that is always busy and this day was no exception. On the map from the East-West side of the station, the line still looked yellowish to me. But by now, I was no longer able to trust my colour judgment. I headed towards the platform of the Circle Line, our fake Yamanote Line (in Tokyo, it’s a real circle, as in a loop service!). There they were, above the doors, the signage that bore the orange line, looking all bright and, er, tangerine? I was still hoping to see the colour of lemons. And I know another friend who would be too. But really, was I expecting SMRT to be on-trend and adopt one of the two that Pantone declared to be the colours of 2021: yellow? The issue is in no grey area at all.

Illustration: Land Transport Authority

It’s Their Turn

In recent years, fashion has looked to Ikea for ideas. One very expensive Balenciaga bag, for example (among others). With the Efterträda line, launched today, Ikea is fighting back. Sort of

If car makers can sell fashion collections, why not furniture makers? Ikea has just launched the Efterträda line, showing the world that it can do for T-shirts what it has done for its Billy bookcases. At the launch this morning, it was a relatively quiet affair. Nothing remotely close to last Friday’s throng outside Orchard Gateway was seen. Or during the launch of the Virgil Abloh collaboration last year. But there was a queue (short), or a line that was set up only for those buying the 8-piece Efterträda line. But it was learned that customers were allowed into the stores (both at Alexandra and Tampines) because by ten, “the line was quite long,” according to one traffic warden (the store opens at 11).

At the Tampines store, there was a dedicated line for those desiring to buy the Efterträda, but you would not know that, as it was not marked out or clearly sign-posted. A staff was stationed at the entry to the line, shouting “Efterträda?” to whoever she thought might be interested. This person was key. If you missed her, you would have joined the wrong line, and you would not be given a sticker bearing the crucial queue number with which to gain admission. In the line, someone comes to you with a mounted poster to say that each customer is allowed to “buy two items each” from the seven items shown on the poster. These were two water bottles, two towels, one hoodie, and one T-shirt. The tote, we were told, was sold out. Someone wondered aloud, “so soon?”

The woman explained that the first customers snapped up all the bags. Really? “We had only twenty bags,” she offered. You could see on their faces: “Are you kidding?” It seems odd that Ikea, a mass retailer, with probably one of the best supply chains of any business, would not be able to secure something as basic as a cotton canvas tote. When we expressed that thought, the woman spoke somewhat defensively, “It’s a global supply issue.” While it is true that global supply chains for soft merchandise—in particular those dealing with cotton*—is in a state of flux, it is puzzling that, with the buying power of Ikea and a retail programme (and costs) that would have been locked in at least six months ago, the store had such a small amount of the one-style bag to sell. “Well, obviously I can’t convince you,” the woman shut us up and walked away.

As it turned out, once you leave this queue, there were another two more to join: one, a holding area a floor before the showroom and the other, just in front of the designated space for Efterträda. Only five people were allowed to be in these two lines at a time. Similarly in the Efterträda corner, only five shoppers could browse and choose. Before you enter, you would have to surrender the sticker with the number “so that you would not get in again.” As they were basically three items (different colours of the same thing were not counted), except the miniature Frakta bags, it was not hard to finish picking (at least visually) in a glance. For most shoppers, they already knew what they wanted. Most grabbed and went. The space itself was no larger than a bedroom of a HDB flat, and was furnished, unsurprisingly, with Ikea furniture on which no one sat to try.

There was really not that much to buy. For fashion fans, there was only the T-shirt and the hoodie. During the time we were here (and around the space), we noted that most people picked the tee. We did also notice something odd. The crew necks of the T-shirts differ in the width of the rib. For both small and medium, they were the same, but the large, at about 5/8 of an inch wide, is visibly narrower. We brought this to the attention of the staff. At first she could not see the difference. When we put the L and the M side by side, she said it was “because the L is larger”. We were quite surprised by the response, but at the same time, we did not think the Ikea staff, trained to sell furniture, would understand the complexities or inadequacies of quality control.

Announced in July, the Efterträda capsule was made available first in Tokyo on 30 November, at its city-centre store (another first) in Harajuku. We were told by a staffer that the collection “did very well in Japan.” And then she added, “ but not in China.” This isn’t the first time Ikea is selling clothing. Back in 2017, there was a capsule (also) of T-shirts in the multi-product Stunsig Limited Collection. The tees were conceived in collaboration with print artists from Europe and the US. We were impressed by the quality and even more so with the price: S$8.90 (and no limit to the number that can be purchased), which is cheaper than the S$12.90 charged for the Efterträda version. It suddenly dawned on us as to why the T-shirts were not tempting. They look like uniforms. Scanning the space and the people who staffed it, we saw that we were not wrong. A brand such as Balenciaga can use visual codes of Ikea in their fashion and they could pass it off as ironic. Ikea doing Ikea is not.

*We understand that cotton is a tricky material to acquire now. With the Xinjiang situation, most European and American brands are now looking to Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam for their supplies. It is also true that prices of cotton are on the rise. It is possible that Ikea, not primarily a fashion producer, would have some problems getting their hands on sufficient cotton for their totes. We are, of course, speculating.

Photos: Zhao Xiangji

Two Of A Kind: Doing Dots

One Singaporean designer is going the Finnish way

 

Sabrina Goh vs MarimekkoLeft: Sabrina Goh. Photo: Sabrina Goh/Instagram. Right: Marimekko X Uniqlo. Photo: Uniqlo

Marimekko is not only known for their oversized abstract flowers (particularly the house bloom, the Unikko poppy), they are loved for their oversized, irregular-edge polka dots, arranged in a neat grit—a sort of chessboard with circles. In their collaboration with Uniqlo, one of the most popular dresses, we were learned, is an A-line, cotton/linen blend dress (top right), based on one of the house’s popular prints Kivet, first conceived by the Finnish textile designer Maija Isola in 1959 for Marimekko. So popular is Kivet the repeated circles that the print now appears on other garments such as ponchos, accessories such as umbrella, as well as home furnishings such as blankets and cushions.

Concurrent to the availability of this Marimekko X Uniqlo dress is one possible sibling—a 100% cotton version (top left) by Sabrina Goh’s label Elohim. The kinship is further augmented by the black and white colour scheme, and overall shape of the dress—loose-fitted, with light gathers in the centre, just below the bust. Ms Goh’s version has shorter sleeves (almost capped) and sports a slit on the right side. Although it is, similarly, V-necked, it is additionally mandarin-collared. It is shorter, too, skimming just below the new, while the Marimekko X Uniqlo dress is of maxi length. The print also looks similar, but each piece of the pattern is, in fact, a three-sided polygon that suggests pebbles. This also recalls the inspiration behind Ms Isola’s design, which, according to Marimekko, “likely originate(s) from the large, rough-edged stones cleared from the site of the artist’s studio home”.

The Elohim dress is called ‘Genesis’ (Ms Goh has a weakness for biblical references. Elohim is frequently used in the Hebrew bible to refer to god), and the naming seems to hint at creation, origin, and beginning. Or, corresponding to creativity, original, and first? Whichever description you’re inclined to accord the dress, it is unlikely that both came hand-in-hand from the garden of (design) Eden.

Elohimby Sabrina Goh ‘Genesis’ polka-dot dress, SGD249.90, is available online at Sabrina Goh e-shop. Marimekko X Uniqlo linen-blend V-neck dress, SGD59.90, is available online at Uniqlo’s website

Stojo X Starbucks Tumbler Is Back

The handiest multi-use rummer is available again. But not for long

 

Stojo X Starbucks cup 12.2019.jpg

By Jia Yao

They were once available in Starbucks, but I can’t remember how recently or how long ago. Just when I thought there was no chance of seeing them again, Starbucks just released the siren-stamped Stojo collapsible cups. This is possibly one of the niftiest re-usable coffee cup out there, and it beats every single Starbucks-branded beverage container—quite literally—flat!

It is, of course, the right (and, for better or worse, trendy) thing to do when you bring and use your own cup at any of your fave coffee places (I think I need not explain the no-no about single-use plastic ones). But unlike nearly every short or tall bottle, mug, glass, et al now available, including those from competitor Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, the Stojo can be flattened. Once capped (to prevent droplets or whatever remains, even ice, from leaking), the cup is no thicker than four slices of bread.

It is made of silicone that is LFGB-Certified (Lebensmittel-und Futtermittelgesetzbuch, the German abbreviation for the Food and Commodities Act, which is a mark of food safety). The polymer is of considerable thickness and is sturdy to hold, whether the content is cold or hot. While the collapsible design makes it truly appealing, it may require some practice to flatten the cup to its ideal flatness, neatly.

The cup comes with its own reusable silicone straw, which I usually do without since it is much easier to just drink from the cup. The straw is inserted into the circular straw opening on the cap, which is also where you sip your coffee if it’s served hot. This hole can be covered with an attached tab that also secures neatly on the opposite side. Included is the polypropylene (thermoplastic, also LFGB-Certified) heat sleeve that, when not used, fits neatly—inverted—under the flattened cup, acting like a stand too.

Stojo, calls it a “cup” (and Starbucks follows), but at 24oz (the size I prefer), it is too gargantuan to be a cup, which, to me, is a lot more petite. That is roughly equivalent to 710ml, which holds more java than a typical 250ml container that we would use at home. So, with this size, you can buy yourself a ‘venti’ iced latte or anything smaller (or taller, if we consider Starbucks’s naming for their sizes).

Bringing your own cup to a Starbucks here will get you fifty cents off the price of the beverage. But if you visit Malaysia often and hope to enjoy discounts (which, is only RM1) on your drinks served in a reusable cup that you brought, you’d need a Starbucks-branded one. They’re extremely strict about this.

While pricey, the Stojo is durable, sits beautifully next to your Surface Pro, and, more importantly, deny one more piece of the hideous clear plastic cup we’ve been using from an over-filled landfill.

Stojo X Starbucks collapsible cup, 24oz and 16oz, SGD39.90 and SGD29.90 respectively, is available in navy, red, olive, yellow, mint, and pastel blue at Starbucks stores. Photo: Jim Sim

FYI, according to earthday.org, the world uses 500 billion disposable plastic cups a year. America alone, Jurrien Swarts, co-founder and CEO of Stojo told the media, uses 58 billion disposable cups annually

A Better Priced Moleskin

Get your 2020 planner at Starbucks

 

Starbucks X Moleskin 2020 planner

By Low Teck Mee

I know it’s odd and not quite sensible in the age of Google Calendar (or Apple) to suggest that a paper planner is a desirable thing to own. You see, I am still very much into paper (and the perfect partner of Pentel Energel pens). I like how it feels and how it smells. Coffee sellers sure know something about what seduces the nose, which could explain why Starbucks is in the business of selling paper planners. But these are no ordinary ones; they’re by the Milanese notebook manufacturer Moleskin.

Which means these are hard-back planners with binding similar to the best book on your shelves (I am assuming, of course, that you’re not a Kindle or Kobo die-hard). The cover of the planner feels good to the touch, and has the texture of kid leather. Only thing is, Moleskin is on the same path as—my fellow contributor Mao Shan Wang told me—Stella McCartney: no animal hide. So what you’re holding is in vegan leather (okay, that’s as oxymoronic as vegetarian bacon), which, given how the world is now, is probably a better choice anyway.

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One little peeve I can’t ignore is the content of the weekly planner. Like smartphones with much disfavoured bloatware, the Starbucks X Moleskin contains significant pages that are best left out. Just after the double-page spread, following the personal info recto, that shows 2020 in a glance, there is another that lists, by month, the new Starbucks outlets opening in Asia in the coming year. And as intro to each month, a shout-out for the highlight stores of the region. The admittedly handsome Reserve store in Jewel at Changi Airport gets to preface June. Month after month, I shall be reminded that the entries I will make are on pages co-created by an American caffeine vendor.

And the undeniable plus: at the Moleskin store in ION Orchard, similar weekly planners are going for S$37.00. It’s at least a ten-bucks savings if you purchase yours at Starbucks (with a S$30 top-up of your Starbucks card, which you know you’ll use). Problem is, these are extremely popular, as their baristas have been telling or reminding me, which could mean that by the time you read this, you won’t be able to find one, even if only to caress the caressable cover.

Starbucks X Moleskin 2020 planner, SGD28.90 (with “reload”, as the store calls it, of SGD30 in the Starbucks Card), is available at all Starbucks stores. Photos: Jim Sim