Can the little red dot stand shoulder to shoulder with the little black dress? A native islander and friends look at fashion (and such) in Singapore, and, occasionally, among her neighbours, and a little further afield
If little is worn and clothes matter not, is there fashion?Or, will we have another word?
Julia Fox in Alexander Wang out grocery shopping. Photo: Rachpoot.com/Splashnews.com
We call ourselves a fashion blog. But more and more there is treasured little left to write. Fashion is reduced to a veritable nothing. Increasingly, there is more skin shown by wearers than cloth. Fabrics are inconveniences, hindrances, barriers, and, if their use necessary, too opaque. Little bits are a lot simpler. Pasties are easier to design and produce than brassieres! A narrow bandage has more potential than a full-form bandeau. Once-upon-a-time-private parts are no longer completely undisclosed. Free the nipple is very near reality. In fact, if what are worn by many well-followed stars are to be noted, clothing as we know it—with the fundamental purpose of covering (which is sounding oddly dated)—would no longer have a future, or, if we were to be more hopeful, a dim one.
A recent photo of Julia Fox—in head-to-toe Alexander Wang from his recent autumn/winter 2022 presentation—shared online truly made us realise that there is nothing we can say about her clothes: She was not wearing much; she was basically in underwear. Is this fashion? Or, has fashion come to this? Her fans would say she was not entirely nude (she has, of course, worn a lot less). There was the denim blazer, but was that even a jacket worth talking about? Or should we compliment how destructed and crappy it looked? Or that she was carrying a beautiful jurse (jeans-as-purse!)? Ms Fox has, of course, mostly dressed (admittedly, a poor choice of word) like that since she came to public attention for her brief, for-all-to-see affair with Kanye West. And that’s the daunting and unnerving prospect: the near-nudity is here to stay.
As one fashion designer told us when we showed him Ms Fox’s photo, “I am thinking, since so many pop and film stars are flashing themselves for the world, they have, naturally, created a new normal. The public, who looks up to them, will think, if their favorite stars can do it, so can they.” But the question is still unanswered: Is it fashion? The designer replied indignantly, “Of course not, not to me. It is purely styling; it is not Gaultier doing innerwear as outerwear!” A follower of SOTD, who formerly worked for a luxury brand, agreed. She said, “It’s just ludicrous and I think these women wear such rubbish on purpose to get attention. It’s really looney bins and not fashion at all—their own invention of fashion and the press lapped it up.”
We have, indeed, been wondering, too: Has the media encouraged this stripping (not merely revealing)? For every star baring herself—from Doja Cat in gold pasties under mere chiffon at the Billboard Music Awards two days ago to Kim K in nude bra and panty for Sports Illustrated’s current swimsuit issue—the press gleefully say they “rock” or—our extreme peeve—“stun”. If readers needed to be told that a certain actress or singer in close to nothing astounds, they already know she is not predisposed to, without the without. She needs the costume of a stripper. In fact, when she “stuns”, there’s a good chance she is as bare-skinned or as bare-breasted as it is legally possible. And that she is satisfying her (insatiable?) hunger for attention than fashion. Why would a lover of clothes not wear them?
The press not negating the lewdness once associated with strip clubs is operating within present-day necessity: The imperative embrace of inclusivity, now considered conducting oneself in a conscionable manner. Julia Fox in a narrow strip of fabric across her chest must be accorded equal opportunity to raves as Thilda Swinton in Haider Ackermann, if not more. Inclusivity is so compulsory in the business of fashion, as well as among adopters of fashion, that the unattired can be free of disapproval. Criticism is unacceptable because it would be shaming. We can’t say Ms Fox isn’t dressed for she can, as we are often reminded, wear whatever she wants, or omit. All women can, including the expectant. There is so little to say about what is worn these days since hardly any is; it’s no wonder more columns go to sneakers or meta-clothes.
To be certain, we are no prudes. Scanty dress as desirable dress is so omnipresent that anything that does not, in fact, amount to a dress is hardly terribleness of epic proportion. One fashion writer told us, “Nudity, in a post-OnlyFans world, is not sin, it’s just skin. Skimpy clothes is the future. Designers now need to go to school to learn how to make barely-clothes, but we may have soon another word for ‘fashion’. How about unfashion?” Come to think of it, un is a prefix of profound relevance. It’s skimpy too! Just two letters, yet with such descriptive power. So much of fashion today can be described with the simple un and so effectively: unattired, unclothed, undressed, unclad, uncover, unravel, untie, unline, unfuse unzip, unpick, unpin, untack, unsew, unseam, unseemly, unsuited, unfixed, unveiled, unfolded, unfurled, unrolled, untidy, and, of course, underwear and undies. Oh, for sure, unlovely and, definitely, underwhelming.
Rihanna does not need to mimick no runway look. She can, as we have been repeatedly told, wear anything she wants, however she desires, modest or not—mostly not
Rihanna, out for the night, scantily clad, again. Photo: Backgrid
In the duration of her internationally-viewed-and-followed pregnancy, Robyn Rihanna Fenty has exposed more of her body than the average expectant woman. But Ms Fenty, as we have been made aware, is not an average woman or mother-to-be. So whatever she has worn (or not) isn’t standard either, or maternity wear. Her visible stomach is the focal point of most of her outfits, from the first trimester to the present. The outers, if worn, do not provide cover either. Even if you follow the growth of her baby bump, it may not mean it grows on you. Not many women are comfortable putting their enceinte body in near-full display. Ms Fenty has not only been at ease; she has been eager too. And that, for many COVID-era societies of the West, is admirable, if not exactly imitable.
Such as the above look she adopted two days ago when she went out with A$AP Rocky to have dinner at their favourite restaurant, Giorgio Baldi, in Santa Monica. On social media, so many said she looked “wonderful” or “beautiful”, but no one said they wanted to dress like her. At a glance, it should have been an immediately recognisable ensemble, but Ms Fenty has taken considerable liberties with it and a double take would possibly be necessary to identify the brand. She would not wear something as it was intended (to begin with, she picked regular RTW pieces, nothing, as she vowed, from the “maternity aisle”). So this Miu Miu two-piece, part of the current spring/summer collection that is much loved, was given a Rihanna remake (she is, after all, a fashion designer!): The skirt was lobbed off to shorten it. And she dispensed with Miu Miu inner wear for—presumably—her own Fenty undies. The genius here is making Miu Miu as un-Miu Miu as possible.
Adut Akech on the runway in the same Miu Miu outfit for spring/summer 2022. Photo: Gorurway
Media reports were all raves and more raves: “Rihanna Bra & Skirt Set… Deserves All The Fire Emojis”, “Stuns In See-Through Set”, and our favourite—from Vogue—“One For The Record Books”. Some choice words excited journalists used included “glamorous”, “inspiring”, “incredible”, “style-forward”, “effortless”. The beauty of all this worship is that the goddess is, fashion-wise, faultless. Even if there was discernible wardrobe malfunction. Fans and journalists alike noticed her body glitter, her tattoos, even the linea nigra, but no one mentioned one exposure: In some photographs of her in the silvery crystal mesh top (and matching customised-to-be-mini skirt), part of her left nipple could be seen above the top edge of her brassiere that appeared to have slipped down on that side (it isn’t known why her bra was so loose). Or was that insouciant slide part of what Vogue euphemistically called the “risqué look”?
Just because the Miu Miu set appeared fetching on the model (in this case, Adut Akech), on the runway, it does not automatically mean the outfit would look good on the rest of us. Ms Fenty is, of course, a determined woman. Not to be told what maternity clothes are, or not, she is happy to break all rules (is there any rule in her rule book?) and go the opposite way by not covering a—not just the—large part of her body. It is possible that she was emboldened by the frequent rhapsodising of the press and social media. The more she revealed, the more she was lauded and encouraged. The reciprocal flaunts even gained her a Vogue cover. There was really no need to hold back. It is said that Rihanna’s pregnancy is important to expectant women—she empowers them, to the extent that she needs to be immortalised with a marble statue of her pregnant self sitting in the Metropolitan Museum of New York, among priceless antiquities of stone. If any pregnancy can be this powerful—and political?—and public, it would be Rihanna’s.
Who showed off their pregnant body better? And is Alexander Wang cornering the market for sexed-up maternity wear?
Adriana Lima (left) on the recent Alexander Wang runway and Rihanna (right) in Alexander Wang on a night out in Santa Monica, in March. Photos: Alexander Wang and Backgrid respectively
The message these (still) pandemic days is clear: Show your face and, if you are pregnant, bare your belly. As the world witnesses, Rihanna is leading the way. Since announcing her pregnancy on social media in January, the Fenty mogul has been ramping it up on the fashion front, each outfit she shares online, more revealing—her baby bump more prominent—than the last. Now it seems that the ex-Victoria’s Secret Angel Adriana Lima, too, is following in the singer’s footsteps. At the Alexander Wang autumn/winter 2022 show, the five-month pregnant Ms Lima was outfitted in a dress with a large circular cutout, deliberately positioned to frame the stomach, as if to place the belly in an inset.
This is, of course, not the first time that Mr Wang has created skimpy maternity wear. Last month, the much-followed Rihanna appeared in a bespoke look that was attributed to the designer. It comprised of a sparkly, barely-there brassiere worn under an oversized leather jacket that was paired with a matching, very abbreviated skirt. The outfit, naturally, divided the world, whether among those fashion-bent or not. Highsnobiety weighed in with the headline: “I love Rihanna, but not her Alexander Wang maternity outfit”. It should be noted that the writer behind the the opinion piece did not dislike the outfit as much as the name that custom-made it for the star. Mr Wang had then still yet to entirely shake-off the scandal that beset him almost three years ago. Rihanna’s choice, therefore, held “complicated implications”.
The fashion press has called RiRi’s very public display of her stomach a “master class” in alternative maternity wear. And now that Mr Wang has sent out on his recent runway, a similar look to his choice for the Barbadian mother-to-be, is it indication that he will be the go-to designer for outfits that show off a pregnant bulge that some women now prefer to flaunt, uncovered? The two outfits we have seen so far are less (literally, too) maternity clothes than near-negligees that are worn to accommodate a pregnant woman’s changing body. Amid the boob-baring that other American labels are into, perhaps Mr Wang has found a new category of maternity wear, one that, similarly, uses less fabric than more. Would this, aided by his exhibitionistic expecting supporters, be what he needs to help his career recover—bare-skinned baby bump?
Battle of the skirts: (left) Dior autumn/winter 2022; photo: Dior and (right) Sacai Resort 2021; photo: Sacai
Women do admire each other when it comes to creativity. In fashion, that admiration could be in the form of adopting a sartorial version associated with someone else. To the one emulated, such a move might be considered blandishment that validates a certain style. Or simple approval. But what if it happens in design? Dior and Sacai are not only brands from opposite sides of the globe, they do not have a shared history, are not of the same age, or under the same holding conglomerate. Respectively, Maria Grazia Chiuri and Chitose Abe are vastly different designers. Their outputs and aesthetics are rather poles apart, yet there seems to be, at least in one Dior skirt style of the next season, a striking similarity to Sacai’s. Coincidence? Homage? Adulation? Or were we imagining the resemblance?
Dior showed a dozen or so asymmetric, pleated skirts for autumn/winter 2022. Sacai has for almost their entire existence, so much so that whichever side the pleated part appears on the skirt, the sum is now considered a ‘signature’. And so identifiable, and associable to the Japanese label that when it pairs with Nike, a pleated fraction of fabric is used in the skirts (and tops) in the different collabs. This uneven balance has so taken the world that the influence has reached even brands with a considerably lower price point. But there is rarely a doubt as to where the pleated detail might come from.
It must say something when we immediately thought of Sacai upon sighting the first Dior skirt (look 15). And then more emerged, in varying lengths; some in print, some not. Another striking detail: the longer, pleated side appears on the left of the skirt, in versions above and below the knee. Why did this placement stick out or say a very specific name to us? For as long as we can remember and have admired, Sacai’s pleating of one part (or added section) of the skirt has mostly swung on the same side as the hand that secures the wedding ring. Dior’s skirts were more than a tad uncanny. But were they really flattering? Or, as they were to us, disconcerting?
If some shows of the just-concluded New York Fashion Week is any real indication, it’d be an autumn/winter 2022 season of clothes that are really scraps of fabric on the body
Seasons change; so too fashion. But it’s increasingly hard to tell the seasons apart if we go by what is shown on the New York runways recently. Even the fashion: swimwear or dress? Or, bandages? This has been New York Fashion Week, not Los Angeles, not Miami. The average low of the Big Apple’s winter temperatures is minus-10 degrees Celsius. Yet, for autumn/winter 2022, a considerable number of American designers seemed to have Mogadeshu in mind, not Manhattan. There is no denying that fabric prices are rising (check: cotton, especially organic), so using considerably less might be a strategy to push cost (although not retail prices) down, but if fashion’s main premise is the use and manipulation of cloth to cover the body, does it make sense that less is positively more, unclothed is attractively dressed?
With the biggies, namely Tom Ford and Marc Jacobs, missing in action this time, we were encouraged to look at the runways of other names, not necessarily within our usual radar. And the newbies—“New York Fashion Week Is All About Emerging Talent”, went the rousing WWD headline. We were, however, putting them aside for the noise generated by those deemed New York’s loudest and brightest—the extraordinary individuals who could make noise out of nothing. While there is the subtext of fashion’s relationship with race (now Black designers and Black aesthetic are to be even more celebrated), there is also America’s increasing partiality for the madcap (imprudent?) pulling together of looks that weaken the boundaries of refinement and discernment. Sportswear meets worse-for-wear, pseudo-prissy pairs with tryingly pretty, and utilitarian clichés mate with hoary hussy hacks.
In fact, the vivid pronouncement of sex, or sexiness that must replace loungewear-as-all-wear of the past two years is the dominant theme of this season in New York, from the debut of Lisa Von Tang to the strengthening of Telfar Clements to the comeback of Shayne Oliver. Sure, this close-to-nakedness shouldn’t be surprising when many designers made the bra a major trend for spring/summer 2022, but is stripping down really the way forward even when bare is not normally preferred to battle brrr? Where do we go—or how little more—from here? Or, have fabrics become so expensive that it is really more viable for some brands to use as little of them as possible? Rather than textile cost that impacts wholesale markup, there is this persuasive believe that the market for such clothes is ripe. Pioneers such as Nicki Minaj has been testing the legal limits of the lack of dress since 2017, but at the time, the adoption was mainly among celebrities and stars. Now, we are to believe that women in general hanker after the utterly skimpy too.
Near-nudity is not, of course, radical, anymore. We have gotten used to it. Social media made sure of that, the red carpets of the Grammys and Met Gala made sure of that, and the lost of nuances that once constituted sexy made sure of that. Or is this bare-is-beautiful the epitome of modern ease? When we looked at an Eckhaus Latta column, with a plunging neckline (to the navel), ‘cold hips’, side slits, we can’t help but wonder where construction and flattering went. To be sure, there are techniques involved in the assembling of these crisscrossed strips or the hanging of fabrics from a narrow point on the shoulders to barely cover the rest of the body. Change has arrived at how clothes are held together too. Could taping now take the place of sewing?
Some people say that the sex in clothes is not there unless you were looking for it. These are articles of fashion, not dresses for any gaze, male or female. Women are now so comfortable with their bodies that they are expanding the definition of a sexualised body. Self-esteem is boosted by self-sexualising? It is a complex world, and fashion, with all its increasingly mixed messages, is just as much about un-fashion: Why have more clothes when you can do away with a whole chunk of them (even for winter months)? Clothing has a different function from what many of us remember. Unclothed says about fashion design what space does for graphic design: it is an element. Bare skin in a no body-shaming world is lovelier to look at than the stitched fabric that once concealed it. Tom Ford—who’d guess?—now looks positively modest.
These clothes could be one of reasons why not that many people take New York Fashion Week seriously, especially when the output is increasingly looking like the getups at that event on the first Monday of May. American fashion has gone from user-friendly practicality to celebrity-targeted hotness, from Donna Karan’s Five Easy Pieces to just plain easy—free from the constraints of coverings. It is tempting to cast this as a new gen of designers having fun, communicating an inside joke, but the swaddles are serious stuff. The name to watch out for this season was Shayne Oliver, whose former label Hood by Air came to a halt in 2017. Mr Oliver returned with a fashion mishap called Headless, sending out a hotchpotch that set forth his embrace of the display of skin. So, there was that Viktor & Rolf-like shoulder, and a horizontally protracted version, as well as those odd shapes here and there that made every falling piece in Tetris look positively regular, but for the most part—those deconstructed bra tops!—are composites that considered not the sheathing of the body. Supporters eagerly tagged Mr Oliver’s scant semblance of clothes as “American avant garde”. Oh, sure, just like the rest of the bare brigade.
Beautiful eyes. Who doesn’t want them, especially those of us not especially blessed, and need some tools of colour for enhancement? But I really can’t make out the make-up du jour. From Chanel’s single blacken eye to Julia Fox’s total black out, what is really going on? Why, at a time when we really want to look healthy and unscarred by a unrelenting virus, does any woman desire to give the impression that she was abused? Willingly! Or, is this some self-pummeling as a beauty expression I—and, presumably, you—know not of? If I were to leave my home looking like that, people I know (and do not) would be very worried. Either my eye make-up skill has gone to the dogs, or domestic violence—no laughing matter—has roosted in my home.
The Chanel models I can understand. They did not have a choice in the colour of their eye makeup, nor the intensity of the make-believe bruise. But for Julia Fox, a woman then dating the most powerful man in music and fashion, the indefatigable Kanye West (they reportedly broke up in the middle of this month), and attending the Kenzo and Schiaparelli shows with her beau, the black eyes offered not quite positive optics for the actress and the man next two her, known to be somewhat misogynistic (how do you call his attack of Taylor Swift and Billie Eilish?). Could this be Mr West’s doing—a compulsory makeover of the women he dates? Or was Ms Fox trying to look as sexy as Diggs of Cats and Dogs?
I am tempted to see this trend as makeup brands attempting to sell more eye colour. Chanel’s runway looks certainly impacted their makeup division bigly before—remember the nail colour Vamp? Or was 1994 too long ago? Dark nail polish (and it would get darker), while totally new then, was not suggestive of violence (Vamp would go on to be so successful that it was ranked fifth all-time best-selling nail colour of the previous century) willfully inflicted on women. But a black eye socket? So that fashionable women could appear as though there were physically assaulted? Or, in the case of Chanel, like they fell off a horse? I give up.
Increasingly, many celebrants of Chinese New Year are not in their best dress when visiting family and friends. Festive finery is no longer part of the hongbao season
By Lester Fang
I am not aware that I have been overdressed these past two days of Chinese New Year. Until this afternoon. I just got off the bus at Toa Payoh Lorong 1, on my way to my uncle’s. In front of me at the bus stop is a family of five. Each of them—the parents and their three teenaged kids—are dressed indentically. Yes, exactly the same: a red T-shirt and a pair of plain black shorts. They could be off to the NDP if not for the very obvious seasonal red paper bag each of the adult is carrying in which to bring along pairs of mandarin oranges. The citrus duos are certainly more attired! Below those mini carriers, the whole family wears slippers; yes, every member. I suddenly became self-conscious of my very covered legs and feet. I feel the fabric on my limbs and it seems more than a tad excessive. Divan cover when the bedsheet would have sufficed?
The encounter with the family in shorts makes me become aware of other families in shorts. In fact, everyone doing their rounds of bainian (拜年) showing more leg, if not whole legs. And very quickly, I see that, this year, if a CNY dress trend is to be discerned, it is the ferocious presence of shorts, a ubiquity that would no doubt greatly please fans of abbreviated trousers, such as environmentalist Ho Xiang Tian. There is apparently no transgression of CNY visiting norms, not when, in the lift after leaving my uncle’s flat, a grandmother happily adopts the unclothed space between ankle and crotch for herself. All manner of shorts are out this chuer (初二) and, presumably, on the first day, including Daisy Dukes, high risers, boxers, and those usually worn to sleep in, and they all share a common attribute: they are far from dressy. Only pineapple tarts look fancier.
The omnipresence of shorts on two days of the year when looking dressed up should be preferred is an unavoidable sign of a cultural shift, a pandemic-era combination of can’t-be-bothered and the demise of sense of occasion. No garment is inappropriate for any time, any setting, any festival. There is no more distinction between what is worn to 7-Eleven to buy beer for an uncle expecting more than Yeo’s chrysanthemum tea for the fat hongbao he has given and the garb chosen to visit other relatives for more of the enveloped bounty. Many dress as if in the presence of a TikTok recording, and no one considers if what they have on would be deemed disrespectful to the people they are visiting. Is that even a consideration any more? That’s why, for the same reasons, colours do not matter either: funereal is as good as festive. As-I-please is paramount. Casual is king.
I am in Bugis Junction for a late lunch. The body-to-body crush is more intense than I expect. People are out in groups, sometimes larger than the five that we are supposed to keep to. As with what is worn on CNY, who cares? This place in most days is a shorts-and-slippers magnet. Every other person that passes me is dressed to suggest that the mall is an extension of their living room. The trendiest—and showiest—I see is a trio of girls contrasting shorts (so short the pocket bags are brought to light) with sleek handbags from Celine, Saint Laurent, and, Dior. Yet, they do not differentiate themselves from their peers who are disinclined to show less leg. I think that there is a general believe that going to a relative’s or a friend’s home during CNY is not the same as going to a wedding at Capella. As many CNY visits bring one (or five) to a flat not necessarily air-conditioned to mimic springtime temperatures, there is a compelling reason to be more casual. Comfort, as the AccuWeather notice (today, 32°C; Real Feel: 33) would remind us, ranks above everything else.
I walk into Cold Storage. Between cheeses and Chardonnays, a woman suddenly appears before me, taking money out of a large hongbao (less hong [red], more jin [gold]), and counting, presumably to see if she has enough to pay for the bottle of wine she is holding in her hand. But it’s not the quick relieving of the red packet of its content in full public view that amuses me. She is wearing a cropped, pastel, tie-dyed top with a pair of studded-at-the-hem denim shorts so torn, the integrity of the fabric is questionable. The jersey micro-whatever is equal in length to her cut-offs. And, black rubber slippers. In the left front pocket of her shorts, a long, bulky wallet peeks. She’s probably in a festive mood: torso and thighs, too, fiercely greeting the Year of the Tiger, unhindered. As she walks away, two women, both also in short shorts, look at her admiringly, the scantiness likely tacks memory to it.
For two years in a row, we have to celebrate CNY with social restrictions. Not that I mind. It does help slow the flow of visitors to my flat, and limit the numbers, to the point, in fact, that many of my relatives, unable to come as a mighty village, decide to opt out of the ponkan (椪柑) and bainian ritual. Those who have not, come acalling with the enthusiasm of children tasked to do spring cleaning. I sense that for this reason, no one is motivated to dress nicely or in styles that, in past CNYs, would be considered festive necessity—and respect. Curious, I asked one of my Toa Payoh uncle’s kids, who was leaving for an appointment in a slip-top and a sliver of shorts, why skimpy is CNY-worthy. “I don’t know.” Who are you visiting, I pursued. “My boyfriend’s family,” she offered reluctantly. Should you not respect the old folks there？“Respect works both ways. They have to respect how I want to dress.” She stopped by a side table at the entranceway, scooped up a stack of hongbaos she had collect up till then, stuffed them into her Baguette, and left. Money during this season, conversely, has on more—even fetching—clothes: scarlet, embossed, and hot-stamped.
More clothing brands are going gender-neutral, but most are really just saying a woman can buy a man’s shirt, even when many already have. Question is, are guys ready to shop in the woman’s department?
At Uniqlo, a tag offering men more options
By Raiment Young
Last year. What do we remember of it other than the arrival of Omicron? Or, the return of physical fashion shows? Or, the collaborations between luxury brands? One of the style issues trending into 2021 was the visible advent of non-binary styles. Men, especially, we were counselled, should be able to adopt traditionally-feminine fashion if they choose to. Gender-neutral and gender-inclusive brands were talked about alongside those that chose the sustainable and were aware of garment manufacture’s impact on the environment (other than using cottons from non-controversial regions). Leading the adoption of clothes that do not shout out their traditional masculinity are pop stars, such as Harry Styles and Troye Sivan. To them, wearing a dress is okay. Even lexicography is seeing a re-definition of dress by not ascribing it to gender. The Oxford Learner’s Dictionary defines the noun form of ‘dress’ as “a piece of clothing that is made in one piece and hangs down to cover the body as far as the legs, sometimes reaching to below the knees, or to the ankles”. That’s it.
At Uniqlo’s global flagship store during the festive season, two guys in until-recently-MIA office attire were looking at a long, loose, lapel-less knitted coat right in front of me. One of them, in a fitted and darted shirt, was holding up the hung garment to give it a proper look, as if to understand it better, rather than to consider buying it. The other then said, somewhat incredulously, “men can wear, meh?” This disbelief seemed to be a reaction to a little sign, clipped to the chest of the coat to draw attention. It read, in full caps, “RECOMMENDED FOR MEN TOO!”—the exclamation not just to denote vehement enthusiasm, but also to seemingly say “believe you me”. The guys looked at the soft and drapey outerwear from top to hem. There was a moment of silence. Then, the one still holding the hanger asked—in comfortable Hokkien—disbelievingly, “汝知嗎 (li zai bo, do you know)?” As Uniqlo intended, now both do.
Women’s clothes outrightly recommended for men is really a recent occurrence. I was only seeing the guidance with some regularity last year. Sure, some guys are now wearing what would be indisputably designed for women, including accessories such as pearls, but these individuals are not traipsing the town in numbers large enough to be considered normality. Even with the seeming popularity of skirts for men—now also championed by Louis Vuitton, I doubt that for many (most?) guys, shopping would not still be a gendered experience. The fact that male shoppers needed to be told that specific styles merchandised for the women’s department are suitable for them indicate that they still draw the line between his and hers, bifurcated and not. Uniqlo, mostly seen as a traditional, even family-oriented, brand, is, admirably, taking the lead, suggesting that gender-neutral is going mainstream. But, are guys ready for stores that disrupt gender norms, even mildly?
Seen on a Urban Revivo hanger in the men’s department
Whether retail is welcoming more non-binary customers or not, women have never needed prompting to shop men’s clothing for themselves. They have, for a long time, not been constricted by gender confines. And that can be said to go back as far as Yves Saint Laurent’s Le Smoking of 1966. One buyer-friend told me that he is seeing more women purchasing menswear—especially tops—as “many now prefer larger and looser cuts that they do not find in the women’s department“. The oversized T-shirt, adopted so that the wearer looks like she is pants-less, has been visible for many years now. That is just one example. Increasingly, oversized shirts and denim truckers are preferred over those cut specifically for women. At the Nike store in Jewel on Boxing Day, I saw a trio of girls—dressed like paddlers after a training session—choosing a fleece hoodie from the Jordan men’s collection. The one purchasing said, with palpable glee, “good, they have my size.“
Such satisfaction is not uncommon. It was, therefore, to my surprise when I saw, in the men’s department of Urban Revivo recently, a wood hanger which accommodated a washed denim happy coat, proudly tagged “RECOMMENDED FOR WOMEN TOO”. I was not sure if it was really a statement of the garment’s gender-neutrality or that the masculine-not style isn’t incorrectly situated. The similarly-worded tag has been deployed at Uniqlo’s men’s department too, even when many women already shop there. While such recommendations are laudable, it does, to me, arouse the question: are we only taking baby steps towards gender-fluid fashion retail? Despite the growing social awareness of non-binary inclusion, we are still led to believe that, as Asians, we are conservative by default. And as long as retailers still stick to the binary departmentalising of their stores—and their merchandise, non-binary clothing, by design or not, is still uncommon.
One of the truly few retailers that appear to be positively gender-inclusive is Muji Labo, a brand that especially appeals to those for whom binary classification (that includes “recommended for”) is a turn-off when deciding what to buy and what to wear. According to Muji, the Labo line “aims to get rid of the unnecessary ‘fashion waste’, riding on the principle of unisexuality, producing basic wear that overrides age, sex and body size, demonstrating the versatility of Muji’s garments at every occasion.” Describing their clothes by the somewhat retro-term “unisex” (circa mid-’60s), Muji is adopting the more moderate and less activism-tinged approach to retailing clothes that are suitable for any gender (in the current climate, ‘them’?”). But gender, however neutral, is not such a simple and straightforward construct. Clothing, in whatever shape and form, does not inherently relate to gender. What I see as truly groundbreaking would be when Uniqlo tags an Ines de La Fressange dress with “RECOMMENDED FOR MEN TOO!”
Virgil Abloh’s final collection for Louis Vuitton, recently restaged in Miami, included more long skirts that was already shown (digitally) in June. Will there be a mad rush to buy them?
These days, they do not need to go by the euphemism kilts. Or in hybrid form, the skort. A skirt is a skirt, and if Louis Vuitton’s latest showing of so many is to be believed, many men are going to be wearing them, if not now, very soon. At the second presentation—finally an IRL show—in Miami of Virgil Abloh’s final collection for Louis Vuitton, skirts were aplenty. We are not merely talking about the odd wrap-overs masquerading as skirts, worn over trousers; we are talking about full-skirted ones, some 28 of them (out of 83 looks shown in the city in Florida). There were even those unmistakably puffed and layered, like those women would wear to a gala event. Only now, men could wear them, with a football jersey. To better play down any overt femininity?
And Mr Abloh did give guys many skirts to choose from in the digital presentation in June. And now they appear ready to be the big story when the next season comes around. Those not yet willing to look like they raided the wardrobe of their sisters/girlfriends have the choice of pieces that look like folds of fabrics or come with vertical drawstrings to break the shape of what would be identifiably a skirt. But those willing to be unambiguous about the non-bifurcated bottoms they wear could opt for the real deal: with gathers or with pleats (they could pass of as part of uniforms for the Japanese partial arts of kendo if you are still unsure), Or, a couple seemingly with petticoats underneath. These are red carpet-ready, even when worn with sneakers, and would no doubt inspire a new generation of male award attendees.
By now, the idea of men in skirts is really no longer shocking or mere rhetoric that would pass. We have seen male cover subjects wearing skirts on magazines and we have seen non-models wearing them on the streets (yes, on Orchard Road!). And we have heard—and read—the frequent reminders that men have, in fact, worn skirts in the past and still do, especially in Southeast Asia, such as the Burmese longyi (they don’t call it a sarong). But a skirt that looks like something your wife wears is still very much absent from an average guy’s—even a hypebeast’s—wardrobe. And will likely remain so for a while. The irony, as we observe, is that more women are forsaking skirts for pant, just as they are increasingly choosing sneakers over high heels, which, conversely, are what some men are enthusiastically adopting.
Virgil Abloh was not the first to think skirts suit men. Jean Paul Gaultier, Alexander McQueen and Rei Kawakubo (Comme des Garçons), just to name three of the early pioneers, have never considered a skirt to be solely for one sex. While gay guys and men extremely comfortable with their feminine side have no qualms about a skirt or two sitting among the pants they own, the majority of the heterosexual male population have totally discounted the skirt as an option, dismissing it as feminine, totally female. Perhaps, Mr Abloh could have changed the course of the discourse if he had the chance to pursue it further. As a cis straight man (as far as we know), he was most likely able to do the convincing. And if the world of Black machismo could be persuaded and assured, perhaps there is hope for the rest of the hordes of refusing men.
Jaden Smith paved the way when he wore an LV skirt from the women’s spring/summer 2016 collection in the brand’s campaign of that season. Many more men have adopted skirts since then. But things may, perhaps, only change significantly if Idris Elba did so, or Jamie Foxx, or Michael B Jordan, And then followed by Tom Hanks, Leonardo DiCaprio, or Ryan Renolds. And Hyun Bin, Lee Min Ho, and every one of them from BTS. Then, the rest of the blokes around you. Here, things would truly change if the likes of Terrence Koh, Jamie Chua’s LV-loving boyfriend, would wear any one of those LV skirts just seen in Miami. That would truly be a revolution.
Au naturel. Left, Thomas Sabo. Right, Adidas. Photos: respective brands
We are starting to see quite a few ads that show women in their natural state. Sure, going unshaved up there as I-can-do-whatever-I-want expression of confidence has been noticed since 2019, when Nike, always more forward thinking than other brands, shared on Instagram a photo of a model in a bra top, with right arm lifted to frame her head so that her fingers could be hooked to the strap of the top on the other side. The pose would have been quite regular if not for what was viewable under her arm: not a hairless pit. It isn’t hard to imagine that the world of social media went wild. Yet, Netizens were not that divided over the hairy reveal, with most expressing disapproval of the look. Defenders of body positivity were not the least amused.
While movie and pop stars and those living their lives publicly have already been seen sparing underarm hair scissors, tweezers and depilatory creams, models representing brands, especially clothing labels, have largely gone smooth before standing before the camera. Julia Roberts (remember that incident?) and her clean-ketiak sisters did not really initiate a social/style revolution. And we soon fussed not with the fuzz (even the striking Nike initiative) that for many women is totally natural and deserves to be kept, even long, where it belongs. Then, at this year’s Met Gala that had attendees salute American fashion, Madonna’s first-born Lourdes Leon posed before the cameras in glittery pink and unabashed tuft. Like mother (in 2014), like daughter. Under the watch of the world, armpit hair is back in the spotlight.
The Nike Instagram post from 2019 that possibly started it all. Photo: nikewoman/instagram
We did not really pay much attention to all the exposed armpits and their crinite glory. But this week, two ads appeared in our news feed and they had us wondering: Is it back? One was by Adidas, featuring a Stella McCartney support bra—the model posing with arms up like a victory hurray. The other (surprisingly) by the new jewellery brand Saboteur (by Thomas Sabo and his son Santiago), showing their model with her arm lifted as if readying herself for an inspection of her axilla. What was striking to us weren’t just the clear clumps, but the way they caught our attention. The fuzz did not peek from the crack where the arm meets the body, like some shy Baby’s Breadth. The models posed to bring their underarm(s) into full attention. In the case of the Saboteur photo, the necklace they were presumably promoting was secondary to the more eye-catching auxiliary hair. The mind boggles to think that, these days, when a brand casts models, the brief to the agency is, send only those not shaved/plucked/depilated.
Standards of beauty have, of course, changed. Dramatically. If nipples can be shown, what’s a little hair? But what’s also different in the case of underarm growth is that more guys are, conversely, removing hair there. A look at the Instagram pages of the many males who use them to share images of their shirtless selves, the majority, unlike, say, Japanese gymnasts, have quite bare armpits. Are what’s acceptable for men and for women reversed now? We shared the Adidas shot with a few women to have a sense of what the ladies may feel about the new, naturally-fringed area to show off. All of them are not comfortable with what they saw, “Is this the new beauty that we are not aware of?” “Don’t like; don’t understand.” “Sorry, I’m still old-fashioned.” “Don’t think will catch on with Asian women.” “How do I unsee this?” “😱” “My mother will force me to shave.” “I want to keep my husband!” “I never liked fatt choy, anyway.”
Refined and impeccable taste: Have they become so boring that going the opposite way is now far more appealing?Recent trends—and events—have made us wonder: is bad really better?
In a recent article about the rise in the popularity of wellies, the Guardian described the boots mostly associated with rain wear as “bad taste”. And it’s in the headline! Wellington boots, to call them by their proper, more tasteful English name, have a long history—whether illustrious or not, we can’t say. They go back to the early 1800s, and are associated with the British aristocracy. The footwear is, in fact, named after the 1st Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley. The good Duke was a military man and a Tory statesman. In fact, the chap served as prime minister not once, but twice. We do not know if he was an aesthete, but since he ruled over a dukedom, he probably had refined sensitivity towards his sartorial choices. Yet, the trusty wellies that he popularised, as well as their descendants (Bottega Veneta calls theirs by the positively low-brow ‘puddle boots’) are now associated with taste that’s not anywhere near good.
It does not require deep knowledge of current affairs to know that ‘ugly’ is, for more than half of the decade, not the ugly that we know. Ugly, the cousin of bad taste, is attractive; ugly is good; ugly is cool. We were even told that ugly wasn’t a passing fad. And it is true; it is still a trend! Ugly has redefined what is flattering just as much as it has changed what is considered attractive. In fact, chances are attractive is really not. Yet, it now encompasses so many aspect of contemporary tastes that even awful is in the jumble. And there is a word for it: inclusive. Or, the fake synonym, diverse. Both let ugly into the club. Ugly is dancing and winning. Now, if you refer to ugly in the negative, you’d have ugly-shamed! Ugly is so influential (in digital life, is influential synonymous with ugly?), it brought bad taste in too.
The thing about bad taste is that it needs it’s competitor good taste. Without good taste, bad taste won’t be that bad. One isn’t the mirror image of the other, but one can see what the other is not. It isn’t the bad that’s so bad it’s good. It’s bad that makes good look its part. What would Cinderella be without the bad—er, ugly—stepsisters? Would Cinderella stand out? Was it not the Fairy Godmother who gave her everything she needed that had some semblance of good taste? But what the Fairy Godmother created for her so that she could go to the good-taste ball came from the opposite of good: the footmen from mice, the driver of the coach from a frog, and the ball gown from rags! Oh, there is, of course, the coach; it was a pumpkin transformed, not a Yubari King melon!!!
Graphics om the Balenciaga ‘The Simpsons’ T-shirt. Product photo: Balenciaga
Fashion these days is hemorrhaging so much bad taste that it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore it as aberration that will vanish the next season. More and more, we can’t wish it away. It keeps coming at you, like mosquitoes on warm and humid days. Sometimes in ways you won’t expect. We are not hyperventilating. The Simpsons of every-town America, Springfield, for example, are not fashion darlings. As Matt Groening told the Smithsonian magazine in 2012, “I thought Simpson was a funny name in that it had the word ‘simp’ in it, which is short for “simpleton’”. But thanks to Balenciaga—the fearless bender of taste, the family of five are fashion icons. Is any of the Simpsons, now in Balenciaga and on Balenciaga, the epitome of good taste? Even poor Lisa Simpsons looks like a misguided 2nd grader who spends too much money on Shein, pearl choker intact. The Simpsons in Balenciaga seem to suggest that taste, like mood and marriages, can change overnight.
Balenciaga of the present, of course, straddles good and bad tastes, but oftentimes with one foot firmly planted in the latter. Their pairing with the Simpsons maybe irony at its highest order, but is it good taste? Or is this a sure reminder that so many people, like Homer Simpson, simply have no taste until someone comes along and gives them some. Not that Homer Simpson would be able to tell what is good or bad taste. In the case of the Balenciaga makeover of the residents of Springfield, it really depends on luck. But Balenciaga is increasingly able to make make bad taste better, so much so that it becomes good bad taste, or, as some might call it, “impeccable”. Example: Crocs. And recently it shows that on the runway or red carpet, bad taste can walk both. But with their haute couture revived, who’d dare say that Balenciaga is the arbiter of bad taste? Just badder?
Sometimes bad taste comes in the clever guise of ‘eclectic’. This eclectic is a parody of bad taste, often with kitsch as a partner in crime, and the devil around the two. That it might be steep in historicism does not take away bad-taste-as-eclectic’s parodic heft. The pied piper of this constantly jokey, retro-tinged pastiche is Gucci. Like stablemate Balenciaga, Gucci has made bad taste impossibly good, even gauche, galvanising the glaring and the glamourous into action. But few drawn to Gucci see the parody, nor, to be sure, the bad taste. When overexposed to such bad taste, we become immune to it. Bad-taste eclectic has a special—even sexual—power over those seeking fashion that looks like fashion. The nouveaux, like part of China’s social class tuhao (土豪), as well as the new-to-fashion are especially drawn to eclectic, like the proverbial magpie to shiny things. Or, a scene we get to see, flying termites to street lamps!
Chanel’s attempt at bad taste as seen on Lily Rose Depp in a recent campaign
When Balenciaga leads others follow. Bad taste is so potent that many can’t resist its pull, like boba tea. Chanel, once the epitome of good taste, is now moving away from it, baring so much underwear (above), just to name one transgression, that it would be considered bad taste just three pandemic-unheard years ago. Even Lily Rose Depp in the fall campaign couldn’t reverse the course. In fact, none of them nubile young things could. Blackpink’s Jisoo in the promo video Exploring Dior with Jisoo, expressed no taste, good or bad, when she saw the clothes; she was only able to utter, “I love this… I love this… Oh my god, I love this”. Is good taste daft? Chanel and its ilk joined the circus, but others have always been the ringmasters from the start. All-out bad taste at Dolce & Gabbana (including their marketing communication) keeps it in the spotlight. Others may fare less triumphantly but are no less trending, such as Roberto Cavalli and Virgil Abloh’s also-designer/DJ pal Heston Preston. Even to be named the “King of Bad Taste”, as Philipp Plein has, is an accolade. Zoolander, it seemed, saw the future.
To be sure, the Guardian isn’t the first to have ‘bad taste’ in its headline. Vogue, ever the seer of the future, already declared in 2018 that “Bad Taste Is the Best Thing to Happen to Fashion”. It did not conceal its enthusiasm for looks that were “about the hodgepodge style of looking like you don’t care at all coming into fashion”. But of course they cared (and still do), and the media continually shines a spotlight on bad taste, sending it on its inexorable rise. They do this by featuring the many artistes and celebrities, for whom bad taste is also the passport to ‘cred’, such as the Beibers, as well as so many American artistes-turned-whatever. Hip-hop stars have a big part in the rapid rise of bad taste. Whether by designing stuff or wearing them to effect insider advantage and cool, the sum of which frequently courts bad taste. But it isn’t just American stars who succumbed to taste aligned with bad. The Berlin rapper UFO361, a proponent, who attended the Balenciaga couture show, enthused in Stay High, “Nobody rocked Balenciaga. Crazy man. Long live Demna”. Ditto bad taste?
Perhaps bad taste is still taste, and in the world of fashion, it is increasingly better to have some taste than no taste. As the English novelist Arnold Bennett wrote in the Evening Standard in 1930, (even back then) “good taste is better than bad taste, but bad taste is better than no taste”. Although Mr Bennett was commentating on literary taste, what he said is just as applicable to much of today’s culture, not just fashion. In fact, bad taste is so much better that we have become used to it, and to the point it isn’t bad anymore. For many here, bad taste is who are: this is how we dress and behave. Accept it! And who even calls out bad taste when they can wallow in the repository of bad taste—TikTok, even YouTube? Has social media accelerated the consumption of bad taste? Its widespread use has certainly put bad taste persistently visible online. Bad taste manifests in not just what we wear, but in how we behave, in how we speak, in how we write, in the expletives we prefer, in the division we sow, in the crassness we consume, in the asinine jokes we rollick through, and in the private lives we expose—all delightfully. Even the most ardent among the promulgators of bad taste have become the arbiters of good taste. And our appetites only grow. And grow.
These may not be names we get to see and buy here, but followthem we sure can
If the Japanese can organise the Tokyo Olympics in the middle of a raging pandemic, while the capital was (and still is) in a state of emergency, it would not be unreasonable to assume that they could put together a Tokyo Fashion Week (TFW). And they did. But the annual event no longer goes by that name. The old TFW had been struggling to stay on its feet, until Rakuten came along as official title sponsor in August 2019. The Japanese “e-commerce giant” Rakuten pulled out of Singapore in 2016, just after two years of operations here, and retrenching staff on the fifth day of the Lunar New Year—one ill-advised HR move that startled the industry. Known as “the Amazon of Japan”, it lost the accolade that year (website closures also included Indonesia and Malaysia, and in Europe) to, yes, Amazon. Rakuten Group’s business has become varied since, and now includes telecommunications. Still, its e-commerce connection is not severed, and, with the company’s motto “Shopping is Entertainment”, remains a huge part of Japan’s online shopping culture and hive.
To bring more heft to mere sponsorship, Rakuten also created the sibling “by R” project to “support the fashion shows” of Japanese designers (both new and established), “with the goal of broadening the horizons of talented young designers in Japan and showcasing the country’s designer fashion to the world”, according to a company statement. It does not say what the criteria of selection are. Only two are picked. Recipient of the support at the inaugural “by R” shows last year were Undercover and Beautiful People, both labels benefitted from “planning assistance and event management for the fashion shows”, as well as the “stream(ing) of videos of both shows on the Rakuten Fashion online fashion shopping website for free, with the goal of helping to further raise awareness of the brands”. This season, two awareness-not-quite-required names were selected for Rakuten to “power”: White Mountaineering and Kolor.
White Mountaineeringin a garden
Kolorin a subway train
Rakuten Fashion Week Tokyo this year, which began on 30 August and ended last Saturday, surprised many industry watchers as it did not take place in the more traditional month of October. The orgainisers moved it to be even ahead of New York Fashion Week, which begins tomorrow. Two weeks before the shows started, The Japan Times called the new dates the “shock of the month” and reported that media and buyers were “caught off guard”. Some observers thought that the new dates were to better accommodate those brands that offer menswear, usually shown earlier than women’s. It is, however, unclear how this will affect international buyers’ timetable (are they still travelling?), but with the sudden rescheduling, the Tokyo shows seem to target the domestic market, which has always been sizeable, and continues to be encouraging. According to a Reuters report, published on the first day of the shows, “Japan’s retail sales rose for a fifth straight month in July (a rise of 2.45% from the same month a year earlier), beating expectations”. That was clearly off to a good start.
Rakuten Fashion Week Tokyo’s 48 brands offer a varied mix of IRL shows (with or without audience) and video-films, some more compelling than others. For many designers, a physical presentation is still the more desirable option, even when not all could present to an audience. As Yosio Kubo said through a video presentation, “There was a tendency that digital announcements were enough due to the corona, but there are still many things that cannot be done. After all, I think that the physical fashion show will continue. You can see it from various angles and smell it. I feel it and realize the importance of the parts that cannot be covered digitally. That is why I think that the fashion show will not end even though it is an old system.” Digital-only fashion weeks may be seeing the last of their heydays.
All of the following brands featured are not, as far as we are aware, available here. We have been following them in our annual visit to Tokyo, which unfortunately had to come to a halt in 2020, but this does not mean that we cannot continue to enjoy their creative output. We hope you’d take pleasure in them too.
The Bunka Fashion College-educated, Seoul-based designer Avizmo Jo is a proponent of “New Normcore”, based on the big-in-Japan fashion movement Neo-Dadism—essentially the meeting of what is considered art and the minutiae of everyday life. The designer’s post-graduation label De_Caffeine Homme, conceived in 2018, offers “trendy style(s) that you can enjoy freely in your life, like decaffeinated coffee”, according to their communication material. It is not entirely certain if Avizmo Jo is a real name since it does not sound Korean (some members of the Japanese media refer to the moniker as a brand, even framing it with inverted commas), but his designs marry the realness of what men increasingly want—nothing too formal or business-y—with details that are often surprising, such as this season’s multiple collars/collarless treatment on a single shirt. Almost-traditional tailoring is strong with masculine silhouettes that are relaxed by not exaggerated.
Hare is part of the Tokyo-based fashion retail company Adastria’s stable of more than 25 mid-priced-to-affordable brands, such as Rage Blue, Lowrys Farm (that exited Singapore in 2015 just after three years here), and Niko and… (currently wildly popular). Regular visitors to Tokyo would be familiar with Adastria brands although they may not know which company is behind them. Hare is one such label, often seen in teen hotspots such as Lumine Est in Shinjuku. Established in 2003, the label, categorised as a “mode brand” in Japan, is put together by a team of in-house designers who translates the key trends of the season into looks that straddle fashion-school-graduation excesses and high-street salability. This season, oversized shapes dominate, with a welcome dose of technical fabrics and rich prints. The layering suggests a far more sophisticated leaning than what the brand is noted for in stores.
Hyke was launched during the 2013 autumn/winter season, but designers Hideaki Yoshihara and Yukiko Ode—married to each other—have worked together since 1998. Their eight-year-old label is very much followed in their homeland, where could be consider the Luke and Lucie Meier of Japan. Winners of the 35th Mainichi Fashion Grand Prix in 2017, the designing duo is known for their strong tailoring with feminine touches. For spring/summer 2022, their strength in pattern making and modern fabrication are again evident. Menswear styles are tempered with puff-sleeved dresses, sometimes paired with unlikely accessories such as a helmet bag. Just as striking are the strong but simple tops, teamed with waist-gathered skirts that are cut from shinny, technical fabrics. A collection that truly stands out for its grown-up, intelligent attitude.
Although the brand has a clothing line, F/CE is popularly known for their bags, including serious camping backpacks that could rival The North Face. And, their cool retail space in Shibuya called Root General Store. Founded in 2010 by Satoshi Yamane (with Asami Yamane designing the womenswear), F/CE is a go-to RTW label among those in the know. Mr Yamane has quite an impressive CV: a former designer at Men’s Bigi and, later, sales and marketing manager for Crocs Japan before moving up to become the shoe brand’s chief designer. Like quite a few of his fellow Tokyo creatives, Mr Satoshi is also a musician, playing the bass guitar with his post-rock band, cheekily named Toe (there are three studio albums to boot). Perhaps, it is this background in commercial footwear and indie, guitar-based music that Mr Yamane is able to lace F/CE with a considerable dose of edgy cool: utilitarian styles paired with outdoor wear and holiday garb, and the brand’s wearable and desirable bags.
Yohji Yamamoto alums Yu Kobayashi and Yuji Abe used to be the revered 77-year-old designer’s pattern maker and product development specialist respectively. Launched during the autumn/winter 2020 season, Irenisa is a menswear label that does not quite look back at the co-founders’ fashion pedigree. Instead, both men have forged forward with an aesthetic that they called “chic with sarcasm”. It is not certain that the sarcasm is immediately discernible, but Irenisa do not shy away from the elegant, and the the seemingly basic. Upon closer examination, one sees the three-dimensionality of the cuts and how they allow the comfortably-fitted separates to envelope the body without excess and without confining it. A jacket looks like a jacket, a shirt looks like a shirt—no needless deviation.
In Tokyo, Rainmaker is unusual in that it is based in Kyoto, the cultural and historical heart of Japan. Although one does not associate the city with fashion, it is considered a textile hub, especially for kimono silks (the best are still hand-woven and hand-dyed). It is in this artisanal environment that Rainmaker was conceived in 2013 by Kohichi Watanabe and Ryutaro Kishi. The duo’s aesthetic for both the men’s and women’s lines have always been heavy on crafting that tends to characterise those brands not operating out of Tokyo. From traditional fabrics to dyeing techniques to the relaxed silhouettes, there is something refreshingly retro-urban about Rainmaker’s looks. This season, blue in all its glorious subtle shadings—indigo naturally not to be omitted—determines the collection’s Japanese-ness, if it can be so described. Set apart, the clothes will not stump the adventurous pattern maker, but when worn, these pieces feel like the best pieces of a mature wardrobe.
One of the newest labels of the season, Sartograph was launched only last year, yet designer Shinsuke Nakano’s collection is so confidently put together that the clothes feel like the work of much more seasoned hands. A Central Saint Martins graduate, who benefited from winning Alexander McQueen’s Sarabande Scholarship, Mr Nakano completed his PhD at CSM. Sartograph, although only into its second season, offers no lack of technical finesse. Mr Nakano has been described as a minimalist designer, but it isn’t the minimalism of say, the ’90s. Within the discipline of the traditional tailoring, utilitarian workwear details—sometimes in the form of wearable accessories—are incorporated, almost like graphic design. The result is unmistakably contemporary, without traipsing into the much trampled grounds of streetwear.
Seishin Matsui’s Sise is a Tokyo Fashion Week regular. Conceived in 2010, Sise came into prominence after securing a place as a finalist at the 2015 Woolmark Prize. The line is often described by Japanese media as “minimalistic”, but, increasingly, Mr Matsui explores more complex cuts and styling that are reminiscent of the ’90s Japanese avant-garde, seen, perhaps, through European lenses. Colours are mostly kept muted to better reveal the subtlest of details and silhouettes—still body-respecting that they avoid leaning on exaggeration. Although Sise offers menswear, it is the women’s collection that is presented at Rakuten Fashion Week Tokyo, and like the other stronger looks shown this season, Sise’s sits comfortably on the side of androgyny without jumbling too much the male/female sartorial divide.
Yoshio Kubo showed his modestly-staged IRL collection in his office/atelier in Nakameguro, Tokyo’s hotbed of edgy labels, marking a welcome return to the Tokyo calendar after showing in Milan and Paris for the past five years. Among the names in this list here, Yoshio Kubo is possibly the most internationally-recognised. In Asia, the line was sold in Bangkok and Hong Kong, and here at Club 21. Although Nr Kubo’s clothes are not considered so subtle as to escape the curious mind, he does hope to encourage consumers to “think about the design and details of clothes again”, presumably as opposed to the thoughtless consumption of fast fashion. A graduate of Philadelphia University’s school of Textile & Science and a former assistant with American couture designer Robert Dane of The Danes for four years, Mr Kubo’s work is not separated from impeccable refinement, even when the final looks—as in this season’s curved lines within relaxed tailoring—tend to place him among the leading Japanese avant-gardists.
Photos and screen grabs: Rakuten Fashion Week Tokyo/respective designers. Collage: Just So