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.

19-11-10-21-46-02-259_deco.jpg

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

Burgers Are Big

Are you buyin’ it?

 

Junya Watanabe burger teeJunya Watanabe Man T-shirt featuring a Diego’s Burgers, at DSMS. Photo: Zhao Xiangji

By Gambier Tan

I have never really been a meat guy. Sure, I do have a weakness for bak kut teh and bak kwa, but not to the point where, if I were to open a restaurant, I would name it The Meathouse. I am also not a burger guy, a lot less so after watching the 2004 Academy Awards-nominated documentary Super Size Me in which director Morgan Spurlock subjected himself willingly to a full month of subsistence on nothing but what’s in the extensive menu of McDonald’s. I enjoy food too much, anyone who knows me will tell you, to put myself through such punishing restrictions.

Which means you may understand my grappling to grasp the current fascination with burgers as motifs to gussy up clothing or items to grace a pad. Of course there’s nothing wrong with announcing to the world a love for food that allows you to be gastronomically inclusive by accumulating fat in the liver. Well-piled burgers, now redeemed by the prefix wagyu, with their layered goodness are so much sexier than a bunch of celery. Its all rather reality-discombobulating to me—I feel like I am waking up to a Michael Chiang play-turn-TV-series in which the real mixed signal is the protagonist, still from Batu Pahat, persisting to cook fried rice when she’s really better at kong bak pao.

One burger-themed T-shirt that caught my eye recently was a crew neck by Junya Watanabe (above). On the chest was a happy, personified burger that looked like an illustration one would find among the many offerings in Bugis Street that are stacked to appeal to souvenir hunters on a budget (and understandably so—if you’re travelling on the world’s most expensive city). But what’s Diego’s Burger or who’s Diego? Since, for expensive burgers, I know only of Shake Shack and the soon-to-be-here Five Guys, I decided to feed my curiosity by allowing Google to cough up what it knows about a chap who is not Dora the Explorer’s eight-year-old cousin. As it turns out, Diego is fake. Or, Diego in Buenos Aires is fake. There is a burger man Diego in Rotterdam, Netherlands, which Google also served up, is 11,384 km away from Argentina.

Madstore burger lamp.jpgMadstore burger lamp produced by Medicom Toys. Photo: Undercover/Madstore

Closer home and less to do with wearables is the Hamburger Lamp at Undercover’s Madstore. Conceived together with Medicom Toys of BE@RBRICKS fame, the table illuminator first appeared in 2002 and revived in 2015 (and again last fall), with rarity characterising every release. And those fangs too. So in demand was the lamp when it was made available here last week that Club 21 (the retailer behind Madstore’s much awaited entrance here) restricted the purchase of a total of 25 pieces to 25 individuals by stipulating that “a minimum spend of $300 will guarantee each customer the opportunity to purchase only 1 lamp”. Quite a condition for a model that is not nearly “two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, on a sesame seed bun”.

When it comes to hamburgers, the most recognisable name on earth, despite its celebrated standing with dietitians, is McDonald’s. Here, even after forty years of selling Big Macs without any decline in popularity, McDonald’s saw that it needed to be in the fashion game as well. On the 3rd of last month, the home of the discontinued Quarter Pounder (since December 2017) made an announcement on Instagram that they’ll be taking the wraps off “a new collection that’ll make nights in even better”. What could that be, I wondered at that time, other than new chicken burgers for supper?

It was soon revealed that McD was to release “loungewear sets” for both men and women with orders of, interestingly not burgers, but McNuggets and McWings that are dubbed McDelivery Night in Bundle. As unsexy as that sounded, the response was overwhelming, with one IG commentator posting on McD’s page, “better than Gucci”! He clearly knows his fashion. Or perhaps the bundle is sexy, because the disappointment with not being able to score those lounge sets was so palpable that McD placated the unsuccessful with a second release. If that sounds like limited sneaker drops, I’d say you know your stuff.

McD pajama topMcDonald’s pajama top, part of the fast food giant’s ‘Loungewear Bundle’

McDonald’s didn’t even have to try too hard. The tops were in a micro-print of hamburgers and packs of French fries. This was accompanied by shorts in the yellow that is the Golden Arches, which on the shorts was so saffron, they could have been worn as part of a PT kit in a monastery. I have always wondered why McD won’t resurrect the Hamburglar, that potentially creepy McDonaldland urchin whose burger-pilfering ways were always foiled by pal Ronald. Or any of his pals such as Grimace and Birdie. Hamburglar could work on T-shirts, just as Pillsbury Dough Boy still does.

But the burger—when did it debut in fashion? I don’t know, to be honest. If you really looked, food and fashion are, of course, intertwined. What’s good on the lips, as it usually turns out, is nice on the hips (or the feet, if you go by a certain pair of H&M socks). From the time Josephine Baker wore a skirt of 16 rubber bananas (during a 1926 performance of La Revue Nègre) to 1937, when Elsa Schiapparelli worked with images of the lobster (painted by Salvador Dalí, who, according to rumours at the time, wanted to spread real mayonnaise on the crustacean!) to the MTV Music Awards of 2010 when Lady Gaga donned a dress of real and very raw beef (which was later preserved as jerky and displayed at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame!), and everything between and after, anything that can be eaten can also be worn.

What will they think of next—a bubble tea skirt?

Mad And Good

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

 

Madstore P1

By Gambier Tan

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

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

Madstore P2Madstore P3

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

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

Madstore P4.jpg

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

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

Madstore P5Madstore P6

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

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

Madstore P7bMadstore in Laforet, Harajuku, Tokyo

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

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

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

This Is Kim And She’s Wearing Kimono

And it is clearly not a Japanese dress. Do names still mean anything?

 

Kim Kardashian enjoys many descriptions, but imaginative isn’t one of them. Case in point: her debut underwear line, just announced, is called Kimono. And many people are not charmed. It’s obvious the name is a play on her own moniker, but it also happens to be the traditional clothing of Japan. We can’t say for sure if there is cultural appropriation here, since there is no material component, but many people seem to consider it so—enough that #KimOhNo quickly emerged, within hours of her Instagram and Twitter announcements. However we see it, it is ignorant of the lawyer-in-training to think that Anglicised words no longer have provenance, meaning, or cultural connection.

To be fair, Mrs West (her Mr, too) has a penchant for unusual, un-name-like names, such as those for her kids (the latest, Psalm! Is that religious or musical appropriation?). A mother, we suppose, can name her children anything she wants. But a line of underclothes? That’s quite another matter, especially when lingerie, even post-Victoria’s Secret fashion shows, is still linked to something not quite as mundane as bras and panties, never mind if they are sold as “shapewear” and known to her as “solutions”. To call them by a name that is a national dress not related to the namer is understandably insensitive. It’s like a Korean wig-maker calling a new range of blond bobs Cornrows. Who’s buying—you, Kim K?

Photo: Vanessa Beecroft

Update (1 July 2019): Bowing to public outcry, Kim K has announced that she will not used the trademarked name Kimono for her shape wear brand. Watch this space for the next name that she will come up with

These Coffee Mugs Come Dressed

CBTL X'Mas mugs

As you know, we’re not inclined to offering gift suggestions at this time of the year. No ten whatever for whoever! But sometimes when we allow something to catch our eye, and it does not cost too much, we think, why not share.

These coffee mugs at Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf would have normally not attracted our notice if not for the cute little jumper that they come in. In a poly-blend ribbed knit of a red Valentino himself would have approved, the removable pullover comes with movable arms and gloved hands. It fits the porcelain mug to a T! Beats the café’s other holiday mug, the Bedford, with the silly, sleepy-eyed smiley.

Charming as they are, we are not sure how this dressed 250-ml mug can cope with a clumsy coffee (or tea or Ovaltine) drinker or lipsticked lips. Since the jumper can be removed, we assume it is washable. Just throw it in with the rest of the wash, but do check that the colour does not run. You don’t want the rest of the laundry to receive a free re-colour.

Or maybe they can be used as a pen caddy. Then there’d be another poser: do people still use pens nowadays?

The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf mug, SGD22.90, is available at all CBTL stores. Photo: Chin Boh Kay

Two Of A Kind: Helping Hanes

CDG, the new sub-brand by Comme des Garçons, is like the streetwear giant Supreme: heavy on logos. It also shares something in common with the latter: Hanes tagless T-shirts

 

Hanes, Supreme Vs CDG

Is there a need for Comme des Garçons to sell co-branded Hanes T-shirts? Apparently so. Must they follow Supreme’s foot steps? Who isn’t? Is this affirmation that Comme des Garçons is going mass? Who knows? Supreme’s James Jebbia is not, according to the man himself, a designer. Comme des Garçons’s Rei Kawakubo is. So, what gives?

Comme des Garçons launched a new line, CDG, worldwide last week. An accompanying website that is also the latter’s e-shop opened for business this past Wednesday. CDG is not coy about its initials as the brand’s main selling point, literally littering its white homepage with the three black letters—animation that is reportedly conceived by design head Rei Kawakubo. Among the hoodies, blousons, and bags available at launch, the logo distinguishes the items more than design does.

This is, of course, not the first time CDG has used its initials to such oversized, dramatic effect. As part of their (now-concluded) collaboration with Japanese retailer Good Design Store (GDS), the CDG logo was, in fact, the main reason the small collection consistently sold well. Commercial and accessible, CDG is, by the looks of its longevity, more successful—and desirable—than the first initials-as-brand-name labels DKNY and CK, helping the house that Rei built secure a reported USD300-million turnover annually.

To hit that figure, one can’t really just rely on expensive products. There’s not that many catwalk looks you can sell either, but the CDG T-shirt, at the opposite end of haute, at the entry-level price of ¥8,700 (S$105) for a pack of three (compared to the S$100 a piece for the most basic of the tees of the Play line) is what you can move in staggering numbers. And for those who find the prices of the regular T-shirts prohibitive, the tagless versions (logo-less essentially) may proof to be a value buy, as is often the case in Supreme stores.

Whether there’s pent-up demand for something that Hanes sell all-year round at around USD10 for the three-piece pack or this is merely antithesis to the Zeitgeist, it’s too early to tell. Sure, this is a page from the Supreme play book (we don’t know what’s in it for Hanes), but if Supreme’s success with the tagless three is any indication, CDG may score with yet another product that can go on selling without a need for markdown. Some may deem this too low for Comme des Garçons to go, but it could prove to be a strategy most well Play-ed.

Photos: (right) Stadium Goods, (left) CDG