Blame The Weather

Shorts and slippers aren’t sloppy,” says self-professed “slipper-wearing environmentalist” Ho Xiang Tian. Is that a hurray?

By Raiment Young

Yesterday, in a long-form commentary for CNA, the 25-year-old environmentalist Ho Xiang Tian (何翔天) wrote, “most people complain about Singapore’s erratic weather—it’s hot and humid, or storming (sic) and wet—but no one ever seems to complain about the dress code that amplifies discomfort in Singapore’s weather.” How fascinating it is that an environmental advocate would “talk about how we dress in sunny Singapore”. Mr Ho is the co-founder of LepakInSG, a three-person initiative that offers “a one-stop calendar listing environmental events and activities in Singapore”, as stated in its blog page. By his own admission in the CNA piece, he’s a “slipper-wearing environmentalist”, just as, I suppose, Gandhi was a dhoti-wearing anti-colonial nationalist. Mr Ho’s slippers are, presumably, the mark of identification with the problems of our impoverished Earth, just as the Mahatma’s loincloth was worn to identify with the poor. At rallies, Mr Ho introduces himself—with considerable delight—as “the person who wears slippers and shorts everywhere I go”.

In placing slippers first in that order, it seems to me that Mr Ho is aligning himself with the chin chai (casual, not fastidious, or as one pleases) attitude that is associated with the open footwear. On his Instagram, which he says he doesn’t use, the intro reads, “I wear slippers everywhere”. In doing so, it is possible that he, who only uses Telegram, is giving his LepakInSG movement concordant grassroots leaning. Lepak, as many of us know, is basically loafing around in Malay, and mostly associated with youths. But a more acceptable definition would be to ‘hang out’ or even ‘chill out’, but clearly not doing anything. Singlish.net considers it “a form of enjoyment that is carefree and stress-free”. Foreigners who think we are overworked and mentally pressured might be surprised that, as Mr Ho and his friends posit, we do lepak in SG. The word appears in the Oxford English Dictionary too, where it also means “loiter aimlessly or idly; relax”. LepakInSG, therefore, projects an easy and informal image of the causes it champions. You can do something for the environment by being and looking laid-back. 

In his CNA commentary that reads as charmingly as a secondary school composition, Mr Ho positions himself as an outsider. He looks at the office worker from where he can observe inclement weather: outdoor. He observes that “long-sleeved shirts, pants, shoes, suits and heels are mainstays in the CBD, fitting the narrative of Singapore as a serious and slick financial centre of the world.” (LepakInSg, therefore, the antithesis of that?) Office wear—even a fading category of clothing—to him is serious and associated with the business of making and managing money. He continues quite grimly, “this fragile narrative, however, is challenged when a roaring thunderstorm or an unbearable heat wave happens, revealing disgruntled office workers who have gotten soaked in a sudden downpour during their lunch break. Or soaked from sweat just heading to and from a meeting.” I was lost in the comic absurdity and tragedy of that observation. It was even more amusing to think that Mr Ho might have imagined that the staff of the many banks in Raffles Place go to work in shorts and slippers.

Ho Xiang Tian refers to how professionals and office workers in the CBD like to conform to a “dress code” (he repeated it six times!). That they are attired to a set of rules ascribed to circumstances, occasions, and purpose is rather risible when so many travellers to our island (in the halcyon days of travel) note that we often look “super casual” or, as first-time Chinese visitors would say, “超休闲” (chaoxiuxian). This dress code is so unsuited to the vagaries of our equatorial weather that Mr Ho is unable to develop a social, sartorial, and sympathetic relationship with it. “I can’t relate,” he continues to convince readers, “as I go about almost everywhere in slippers and shorts. My renown for that is second only to my reputation as an environmental advocate.” Some of you may chuckle, but Mr Ho clearly takes his image seriously, and is exacting about his skin-baring footwear and bottoms. Casual, as it appears, is crucial.

But Mr Ho does not distinguish between anyhow casual and smart casual. Shorts and slippers aren’t sloppy, indeed. The garment and the footwear themselves are not sloppy; often, the wearers are. Casual is so much the opposite of dressed-up that clothes can be spared from ironing, just as slippers can be freed from cleaning. Nor does he point out the difference between the shorts and slippers for a trip to the neighbourhood bubble tea stall, for an afternoon at the Rail Corridor, or for taking a date to “a great street” Orchard Road. But he isn’t alone. Many, like him, do not acknowledge that shorts and slippers can be neatly unstudied and personably unpretentious, just as they can be comfortable, easy-to-wear, and not draw attention to themselves.

Mr Ho’s attitude towards dress seems to me a reflection of the attitude of a sizeable group of his generation, including many undergrads who consider shorts and slippers truly the best options for campus life. In a 2017 ST article on the extremely casual attire that students adopt in universities, the consensus was that clothes and footwear were picked for practical reasons—“convenience and comfort”. One student from NUS was quoted saying, “our climate is very hot, and sometimes classrooms can be very far apart, so students dress in more comfortable attire such as shorts and slippers.” Mr Ho’s description of what “disgruntled office workers” go through—seemingly on a regular basis—echoes this thought. Many, he is telling us, are a hot mess in our equatorial heat. All the growing technologies that yield moisture-wicking fabrics (Uniqlo’s Airism, for example, among many) and those that are anti-bacterial and odour-free, quick-dry and wrinkle-resistant; the myriad ways of cutting clothes to maximise air flow; as well as ventilation-possible details such as meshed insets and strategically-placed eyelets have somehow escaped the shorts-and-slippers brigade.

I have no objection to slippers, if they are neat and clean, on which feet that are also neat and clean sit. But the reality is that slippers are given the treatment that commensurate with their lowest ranking among footwear. As they tend to be relatively inexpensive, few treat them as they would Yeezys—or the expensively similar. Ardent adopters tend to have somewhat disconnected relationships with their slippers, which are often seen kept apart from their feet. Just observe in any MRT car. And when wearers are seated in a café too; they have the habit of completely distancing the feet from slippers by bringing the legs up close to the waist, or, in some cases, the knees to the chest. People have the tendency to drag their feet in slippers, making the choice of footwear audible to others. The habit possibly explains why the Chinese call slippers tuoxie (拖鞋) or ‘dragging shoes’. Taking the cue from the Chinese, the Peranakans use the identical phrase kasut seret (rather than the Malay kasut capal, the traditional thonged slippers thought to have originated in India [modern versions are known by the English loanword selipar]). Kasut seret originally refers to the Nonya’s beaded kasut manek, but also points to slippers in the post-colonial years.

The need to drag one’s feet when shod in the kasut manek is understandable. These mule-like slip-ons offered no grip to the feet of the wearer. In addition, women wore their kasut manek with long and narrow sarongs, which made steady strides tricky. But today’s young who are outfitted in shorts and slippers—usually thonged, such as the Havaianas—have significantly less restrictions. Yet, it seems that no matter how light or unrestrictive the wearers’ slippers are, many still drag their feet or shuffle. In this instance, the article worn and action taken are, more often than not, sloppy. Mr Ho asks, “What’s wrong with dressing down when no disrespect is meant?” The optics may not appear disrespectful (even that is uncertain since he admits he receives “several emails from event organisers explicitly stating their dress code, to prevent me from sticking out like a sore thumb”), but we can’t be sure that the sound isn’t. It is possible that Mr Ho, who is also a volunteer guide for the Naked Hermit Crabs (a nature-loving group that offers free guided walks along our threatened shores), simply does not see sloppiness. Or, hear it.

Admittedly, Ho Xiang Tian is no fashion commentator. He makes some rather strange (heat-induced?) observations: “we must be the only tropical country where people wear cardigans all day.” Are cardigans the new national obsession the way slippers are? He also notes that “working from home has also made athleisure the mainstay of Big Tech staff around the world, mainstream office wear”. Athleisure may have made office wear even more casual in certain fields, but it hasn’t mainstreamed what many of us don to work. According to a recent report in Sourcing Journal, denim jeans are expected to make a “strong return” as “consumers re-enter the work world and resume their school and social lives, they’ll undoubtedly be looking for something new that’s still comfortable yet gives them the confidence to greet their colleagues, classmates and friends again.” Rather than attribute our consistent poor turn out to lack of interest or flair, fecklessness, or peer pressure, many people blame it on the weather. As they always do.

Illustrations: Just So

Who’s That Goddess?

The Winged Victory of Samothrace has such high-low appeal

Left: Louis Vuitton show that ended with the last model in front of the statue. Screen grab: Louis Vuitton. Right: The image on a Uniqlo T-shirt. Photo: Zhao Xiangji

When the final model of last month’s Louis Vuitton show came to the end of the runway (set in the Louvre Museum), she came face to face with one of the biggest treasures of the musée: the Winged Victory of Samothrace. She paused and looked at the imposing figure as if in silent worship. What stood before her was the Hellenistic sculpture of Nike—the Greek goddess, not the sneaker brand. Nearly 11,000 kilometres to the east of Paris, the image of the same headless and armless deity was seen on the front of a black, S$19.90 Uniqlo crew-neck T-shirt. The illustration, in a patina of pastels, is conceived by the British graphic designer Peter Saville, in conjunction with the Louvre. It also includes the location of the statue and two letters and four numerals that form the inventory number. Back in Paris, you can buy a good 18-cm reproduction of the goddess that’s patinated by hand for €119. An immeasurable distance away, at the online portal Lazada, you, too, can obtain a similar figurine, cast in resin, for S$35.74. The Winged Victory (the shorter name), it seems, is almost everywhere.

Discovered in 1863 on the Greek island of Samothrace, in the northern Aegean sea, this sculptured likeness of Nike (circa 200 B.C.) is considered one of the finest in the world for its realistic depiction of a body in motion as well as its attractive female proportions. Ironically, the sculptor is unknown. By most accounts, Nike is a winged goddess who flies around as the bestower of victory to those who win wars, as well as peaceful competition, such as athletic games. Although not shown in the statue, she is known to carry laurel wreaths to hand out to, naturally, victors, and bestowing on them the rewards that come with winning. Other than her ability to take to flight, she is also reputed to be a fast runner (the connection to that shoe company again!) and a talented charioteer (which makes her standing atop the prow of a boat in the Louvre rather odd), so good, in fact, she commanded Zeus’s cavalry as the chief charioteer.

Despite her abundant talents, Nike did not seem attractive to possible suitors

No goddess of repute wasn’t connected to Zeus, the god of gods, the all-father, whose throne was in Olympus and whose personal logo is the thunder bolt. Nike was born to the Titan Pallas and the nymph Styx. In the ten-year Titanomachy, a war of egos that saw the Olympians battle the Titans, Styx sided with Zeus and was the first to dash to his aid. She presented him with Nike and her siblings to serve as allies. So pleased was Zeus with this unconditional readiness that he allowed them to use Mount Olympus as their permanent residence. Nike was allowed to remain by his side and receive his eternal protection. Despite her abundant talents, Nike did not seem attractive to possible suitors (she remained unmarried). In fact, there is no mention of her looks unlike, say, Aphrodite, who, although a warrior goddess, was celebrated for her beauty, among many other attributes. Stephen Fry in Mythos, described her as “a face far more beautiful than creation has yet seen or will ever see again”. Nike did not enjoy such a tribute to her physical attributes, although the ancients did describe her as “trim-ankled”.

In the Winged Victory, the goddess is often admired for the draped dress on her forward-thrusting body, both captured with remarkable mastery. This version of Nike wears a chiton, a unisex garment of either linen or wool. Given the lightness in the depiction, linen is likely the fabric represented there. The chiton was mostly rectangular, and held in place and gathered at the shoulders by either stitches or pins. Since its length for women was usually longer than the wearer, the chiton was worn with a belt so that when the top part was pulled up to fall over the cinched waist, like a blouse, the length could be shortened. On the Winged Victory, an additional belt is secured under the bust to further secure the dress. The fabric, possibly because of the wind, gathered between the legs to expose unscandalously the left hip and leg. Around the waist, another garment could be discerned: a himation or a cloak, draped around the right hip and swept open, with a swathe of it caught in the wind behind. Unlike mortals of today, the gods of yore clearly didn’t need a stylist to work their fashion.

New Year But Clothes Not New

This Lunar New Year, it’s not wearing what we’ve worn before; it’s not bothering at all

By Emma Ng

“新年不穿新衣,” I heard a young, Hayley Woo (胡佳嬑)-looking woman telling her friend that she won’t be wearing anything new this Chinese New Year. Not really a surprising affirmation since, for many of us, it’s a new year unlike any we’ve known thus far. According to what I’ve heard from retail professionals, people aren’t purchasing as much clothes as before. Many aren’t buying at all. This year, with the number of visitors to each household limited, some have opted out of bainian (拜年 or pay a new year call) altogether. Not in the mood, I repeatedly hear people say, as if disinclined to meeting a suitor. If visiting one’s relatives is given a miss, why bother with new clothes at all? The wearing of everything new is really for the purpose of showing to those who are particular about such things. Are new clothes even relevant when so many have opted out of the social obligations expected of the new year festivities, a term that now sounds disproportionately convivial?

Still, I am curious to see what those who happily or reluctantly chose to go bainian would wear, or if a CNY trend could be discerned, as in past, old-normal years. I looked out of the window of my flat into the car park below to see what visitors, emerging from neutral-coloured vehicles, wore, and was (initially) surprised that many were really casually dressed, as if going to the nearby food court for a meal. Or, to walk the Pomeranian. This didn’t appear like a New Year’s Day, just any day. I looked at the visitors (and I knew they were because at least one person in the groups was carrying the small, gaily-designed paper bag in which mandarin oranges were held)—it was disconcerting to know that they were going to be offering and receiving hongbaos in such a sloppy manner of dress. I saw T-shirts after T-shirts, many un-ironed, on both the young and the old. Hongbao giving or accepting is a time-honoured tradition, and with all such festive habits, one does not discharge one’s duties or obligations looking sartorially slack. I was brought up to believe that when you dress smartly, you not only accord yourself respect, but also those you are extending new year wishes to.

For the rest of chuyi (初一, the first day of the new year), whenever I looked down at the car park, which was expectedly teeming, I saw visitors dressed similarly. At first I did not make out the common factor, until one of my nephews came with my cousins to visit. At the door, the usual auspicious new year greetings somehow escaped me. What caught me was the striking outfit on my niece: ratty shorts, above which was an oversized T-shirt that had spent too much time in the washing machine. On her feet was a pair of slippers—slides, to be more specific—that had clearly benefited from the more recent footwear-maintenance advice, “the more beaten-up, the better”. Was this some CNY cool I knew not of? I thought initially that this was my niece’s way of protesting against following her parents to our flat. When it was my time to visit relatives, I saw for myself that the shorts and T-shirt combo was truly the choice of this new year.

The look was deliberately assembled to make her look pant-less

They’re everywhere, and on everyone. The second I encountered was just minutes after leaving my flat. It was in the lift. When the door opened, I detected the smell of some shampoo. Inside, the unnaturally sweet scent could clearly be traced to a twentysomething woman, who pulled up her mask-as-neck-brace over her nose only when she saw me. She was in a black over-sized T-shirt that was chosen to end just above her knee. The look was deliberately assembled to make her look pant-less. On her shoulders was a black Chanel 19 bag; on her feet, slides with pong-pongs. As I walked towards the MRT station, it quickly became clear to me that what I saw just moments earlier was truly the CNY style of this year. There were more oversized tees that I could count. And since what was worn from the waist down couldn’t be seen, I could only conclude that many wanted whoever they visited to think they deserved a larger hongpao this year because they couldn’t afford bottoms, possibly not even underpants.

The platform of the train station was abuzz with an energy that felt like that emanating from the throng waiting to enter a tourist attraction. There were families with young-adult children, who were attired as described above, which did not seem to bother the parents. I had, at first, thought that it was mostly women who dressed this casually. Inside the train, seated opposite me was a young chap. He was in a white Stussy T-shirt, a pair of striped red/maroon shorts that looked like boxers, and black Nike slides. It could be said he was only out for an errant. But no, the tell-tale sign of that fancy paper bag for mandarin oranges told me with some certainty that he had gone or was going to bainian. It appears clearer this year, when WFH persists, that there’s no longer a difference between what one dons in one’s own living room and what is worn in a very public space of an MRT car, even during CNY celebrations. For the rest of my journey, I continue to see the same pairing of tees and shorts and slides. There were no variations. Colours were almost always black or anything dark. They were as auspicious as packs of beans in a kitchen cupboard.

To set themselves apart, many women—therefore, not quite individually—carried a luxury bag. The one I kept seeing was the Louis Vuitton Monogram Multi Pochette Accessoires, a triumvirate of a bag that would almost always be teamed with an oversized tee, as if its relative smallness could be counterpoint to the massiveness of the typically long, baggy top. The LV comprises three parts: the main pouchette, a mini, and a coin purse that dangles from a catch, affixed to the wide strap. This was often carried with a swagger that, in another era, would be considered actsy, but presently was hipster-attractive, fashionista-affirmative, or boyfriend bait. But that monogrammed bag alone, did not save the overall look from blandness and the near-generic. Everyday is not New Year’s day. What name do I give to this festive letdown? CNY fashion 2021’s lull year?

Illustration: Just So

Loewe Thy Neighbour

One is in Spain and the other in Japan, but that has not stopped them from being next-door chums

Japanese anime—and manga—are on a happy roll in fashionland. And Loewe is on top, collaborating with one of the most recognisable and cutest cartoon characters to emerge from Japan: Studio Ghibli’s Totoro, the egg-shaped mori no nushi (master of the forest) in the 1988 Hayao Miyazaki-directed film My Neighbour Totoro. That designer JW Anderson should be inspired by this animated character and the other adorable creatures in the film is not surprising. Mr Anderson said in a media release, “There is a natural longing for heartwarming feelings right now. When I think of a movie that affords me that kind of solace, speaking just as directly to a child as it does to an adult, that movie is My Neighbor Totoro.”

And he isn’t the only one thinking. So many shoppers have Totoro and company on their minds that well-aware Loewe had to conduct an online raffle for an opportunity to attend the pre-launch at Casa Loewe in ION Orchard yesterday in order to purchase the limited pieces available. This was announced on 27 December, last year, via Instagram: “Enter the draw for the chance to access the collection in store or on loewe.com 24h before the global launch on 8 January.” Or—the message was clear—there would be no “access”, just, perhaps, a peek from the store window.

One Studio Ghibli fan who spoke to SOTD said that he had to try twice before he succeeded in securing a place. An e-mail with the subject “Congratulations!” was sent to him at 1:04:19am (!) on the morning of the 6th, a day before the preview, to announce that he had “won a place on the guest list to attend the exclusive LOEWE x My Neighbor Totoro pre-launch, giving (him) first access to the collection.” The time allotted was 6.30pm. Entry could be gained with a provided QR code, and only a “plus one” was allowed. He was also told that all registrants, whether a winner or not, would be allowed to collect a single gift, companion excluded.

It is understandable why this particular luxury collaboration is appealing and so in demand. Anyone who’ve been to the Mamma Aiuto shop at the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, in the west of Tokyo, or the Donguri Kyowakoku chain stores (exclusive Studio Ghibli merchandise retailer) throughout the city would have witness the horde inside, and they’re mostly foreigners. Among fashionistas, too, there are rabid fans. Loewe is in the know of this, but rather than pick any character from the Studio Ghibli films (surely not No-Face from Spirited Away!), Mr Anderson has chosen My Neighbor Totoro, and populated the clothes, bags, and accessories with not only Totoro itself, but other cute creatures such as Chu-Totoro, Chibi-Totoro and the clearly irresistible pom-pom-looking dust bunnies (or soot spirits) known as Makkuro-Kurosuke. It’s a quartet assembled to get fans with deep pockets to go quite wild.

Japanese cartoon characters have had a long and fruitful relationship with fashion. Think Hello Kitty. Even Balenciaga couldn’t resist (in 2019, there were also man-bags in the shape of HK’s head!). But characters from anime aligned with designer names are a fairly recent occurrence. One of the earliest to collaborate with an anime series that we can remember was Yohji Yamamoto’s streetwear imprint Ground Y’s pairing with Ghost in the Shell, in early 2018. So successful that was for the sub-label that there was a second collab a year later, followed by one with One Piece in August, 2019. The Ground Y collections were available only in Japan and enjoyed very limited world-wide exposure. Then came Longchamp X Pokémon last October and Coach X Michael B Jordan adapting Naruto for the American brand. Shortly after Loewe’s announcement of their teaming up with My Neighbour Totoro, Gucci disclosed that they would produced a capsule with Doraemon.

Anime, as with cartoons in general, don’t age. Even if they have faded in popularity, they will find new legions of fans. My Neighbour Totoro is 33 years old, yet there is life in its characters for a fashion iteration. In a 2019 annual report by The Associations of Japanese Animations, the global market size for anime and attendant merchandise was estimated to “exceeded 2 trillion yen (or S$25.5 billion)”. Anime’s extraordinary lure is attributed to the films’ ability to evoke emotions with their well-crafted storylines, provide shared experiences, and bring about a sense of nostalgia among mature fans. Mr Anderson not only picked one of the most beloved anime films of all time, his application of the characters and scenes both tug at heartstrings and appeal to those with a deep sense of what is artistic application.

The design team at Loewe did not plonk the titular Totoro on the front of T-shirts. Rather, there was considerable thought on the placement of the drawings and scenes so that the tees, for example, look elevated. Much appreciated are the subtle details, such as embroidery on the green patch on top of Totoro’s head, a flat pom-pom of the soot spirit in place of the ‘O’, and the characters appearing on the leather goods using the house marquetry technique intarsia. We were especially drawn to one oversized unisex mohair and wool sweater that sports a tree design in the front. There’s a three-dimensionality to the knit work of tactile jacquard in contrasting yarns that brought the enchanted forest to anime liveliness, and all the while keeping to Loewe’s predilection for craft, as steered by Mr Anderson.

The Studio Ghibli fan who spoke to us appeared in front of Casa Loewe at 6.25 yesterday evening. At that time, there was a queue of six people (equal number of men and women). Two directly in front of him did not have a QR code to show, and was told that, while they could browse, they were unable to purchase the Loewe X My Neighbour Totoro pieces specifically. When it was time for our Studio Ghibli fan to enter the store, he was assigned a sales staff to accompany him. There was by then very few merchandise from the capsule, placed in the front portion of the Casa, to view. In fact, the first thing that struck him was how little there was to choose from. When asked about the low quantity, the crew explained that when the first batch of preview attendees came at about 5pm, most of the merchandise were snapped up. When interest was shown for a mini ‘Heel’ pouch (S$690), with one dust bunny on the flap cover, he was told that was the last one, so where the five or so T-shirts, S$550 a piece, the second cheapest item in the 58-piece, largely unisex collection.

It was hard for our Studio Ghibli fan to accept that there were so few items to see and to choose from. He was convinced that Loewe did not avail the entire collection here, to which the staff politely denied. When the staff was asked if at least 80 percent of the products were snapped up, she said yes. The impressive sell-through, even before the actual launch date, was not only due to compelling designs and the likely over-enthusiastic response of the VVIP customers (who probably enjoyed a preview before the preview), but also to one of the biggest marketing effort we’ve seen in a collaboration. Over at Wisma Atria, next door, an ad was flashing on the Orchard Road-facing video screen all of yesterday (and probably earlier) and on the extended lightbox that runs alongside the underground conduit between ION Orchard and the Wisma Atria side of the Orchard MRT station, Gary Sorrenti-lensed photos were drawing the attention of commuters and pedestrians. And there were the free sticker set—four pieces held in a neat little holder distributed to the raffle winners.

Concurrently, at Gucci, some 30 steps away from Casa Loewe, the buzz in the line at the entrance was the collaboration with Doraemon. Gucci, under Alessandro Michele, love things Japanese, so much so that its ‘Grip’ watch, released in that country last June, came with the brand’s name written on the face in big, bold katakana characters. Doraemon was really an unsurprising choice. This evening, the “already launched”—as one staffer said—Doraemon collab was only “taking orders with a deposit”. Were there pieces that could be seen? “No, we don’t have stocks,” she continued, whipping out a smartphone to show shoppers the range on the screen. “Once you pay the deposit, we will notify you when your order arrives and we’ll send to you (sic). Before Chinese New Year.” How much deposit was required per order? “Full payment.” That’s not a deposit; that’s a purchase! “Yes,” she smiled, satisfactorily.

Loewe X My Neighbour Totoro is available at Casa Loewe, ION Orchard. Good luck! Photos: Zhao Xiangji

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

Does The North Face Really Need Gucci?

The pairing that needn’t be

By Ray Zhang

Collaborations might still be the way forward, especially in these pandemic-stricken times. But is the Gucci X The North Face (TNF) pairing the stunning collaboration to end the stunned year? Gucci may need to expand its product categories, but I do not see TNF needing to align itself with more designer names. Are they planning to be the next Moncler? These are difficult times for fashion brands, so I won’t hazard a guess. But it seems odd to me that TNF thinks that by associating itself with Gucci, it shall improve its standing among fashion folk. To me, TNF has already been on the right path, doing what they do, pairing with whoever they have hitherto partnered with, but perhaps they didn’t think they’re doing enough. Or perhaps, all their previous collabs have not been sufficiently retro-cool? And that the Gucci tribe is too large—and influential—to ignore?

Have I missed something? Perhaps. Western media has stressed how Gucci and TNF can bring out the best of their respective brands. All I could see is Gucci bringing the best of Gucci. At least visually and chromatically. The collab appears to me a little lopsided. Even if I can see The North Face half-logo (or hybrid logo) and recognize some of the puffers, the collection is still more Gucci than The North Face. I can understand that there are those whose wardrobes are now so Gucci-fied that they would seriously need cold-climate wear, or climbing gear, or alpine togs that bear semblance to the Gucci aesthetics of topsy-turvy aberration, to survive the winter. But will only a Gucci puffer coat do, even if it’s, as the now-out ads, shot in the alps, suggest, warm enough for shorts (a black model even wore a white bikini)? You see, Gucci really wants to go everywhere—into the woods, and up the mountains.

Like every designer doing sneakers to remain on the street-wear roadway, I think Gucci’s Alessandro Michele just wants to try his hand at “Gorpcore”, to borrow a term from The Cut, so as to be able to say, he, too, has jumped onto the outdoor-performance-wear bandwagon. “Gorp” is the acronym for “good ol’ raisins and peanuts,” also known in the US as the “trail mix” (or, in Australia, scroggin), which hikers pack to bring along with them as a lightweight and healthy, protein-packed snack. (Here, they often appear in abundance, rather inexplicably, during Chinese New Year!) The operative words are “trail” and “hike”, and neither sounds particularly urban, or date nights at the movies. Perhaps that’s the point. Like athletic wear, people don’t adopt a particular category of clothing so as to wear them for participating in the activity the category suggests.

That trend report in The Cut appeared in 2017. But as far back as 2013 (if my memory serves me right), I have already observed in Tokyo the emergence of what the Americans called Gorpcore, for which the Japanese, masters of looks and creators of tribes, had no real name. Until, a group of girls—as it’s often the case—became regular and noticeable enough in their get-up, as they traipse into the woods, to be collectively known as yama gyaru (or “mountain girls”). I am not sure if these lasses wore their outdoor wear as a fashion statement or for practical reasons as they embrace shinrin-yoku forest therapy, but for certain, I know the Tokyo boys have been adopting hiking clothes and turning them into fashionable urban wear at least a decade before the Americans enthusiastically wear puffers and hiking boots with their Calvin Klein whatever.

The popularity of outdoor performance wear among Tokyoites went back much earlier, and it has something to do with The North Face’s trajectory in the Land of the Rising Sun. In 1978, at the height of TNF’s popularity among climbers and alpinist in the US, the Japanese conglomerate Goldwin, considered the “most important” among producers of technical outerwear, signed a deal with the former to exclusively distribute TNF in the country that would gain the status of the world’s third largest economy. TNF’s subsequent growth in sales and stature in Japan alone is nothing short of staggering. I won’t go into the figures, but one could be worth noting: In Tokyo, on a stretch less than a kilometre, along Meiji-Dori, off Harajuku (towards Shibuya), there is not one, but four TNF stores. These are The North Face (two of them), The North Face Alter, as well as my personal favourite The North Face Standard (all four floors!). This isn’t counting Goldwin’s own store and Arc’teryx on the same street, and TNF Kids, Columbia, and Helly Hansen just behind. And just a little further back, Chums. (There’s also Patagonia, but the store is over at Ura-Harajuku.) Or, the numerous other multi-brand stores that also carry outdoor wear, such as the Japanese version of Kelty. In case you don’t sense the scale, it is massive. This is like Gorpcore’s gravitational centre.

Goldwin’s massive standing is not only among consumers of TNF; it is with Japanese designers as well. One of them deserves singling out: Eiichiro Homma, a veteran designer at Goldwin for a long time. In 2003, the company decided to back probably their most outstanding employee with his own line, also one that has technical performance wear as its core. Nanamica was born, and in no time, The North Face Purple label. Now, these are not to be confused with TNF itself. Mr Homma himself has clarified that TNF Purple Label (the brand is so linked to him that sometimes the label also reads The North Face made possible by Nanamica) is to “adapt for city wear without compromising the core values of the original,” as he told Hypebeast back in the year the Purple Label was born. Despite all the charming quirks and unusual details that Mr Homma has given to both the Purple Label and his own Nanamica, there is, to me, innovation, and, more importantly, an authenticity about the two names under his charge than Gucci could never emulate.

There is also real difference between going to, say, the Tokyo mountaineering/outdoor gear retailer L Breath (or our own Outdoor Life) and buying the real deal and making them look fashionable and going to Gucci, and buying what’s designed to be fashion and wearing them wholesale, head to toe. Once in Tokyo, at Oshman’s—less of a fashion-potential treasure trove than L Breath, I saw a young chap in a Patagonia parka, Danton shirt, Levi’s, Timberland boots, Mystery Ranch tote, and all manner of danglies from Chums that, as I recall now, look like he could have been in the new Gucci campaign, minus the Guccis, and look better. Another time, in Sapporo, at Montbell’s Akarenga Terrace store, I caught sight of a guy with a buzz cut, who was so distinctively kitted—Visvim patchwork yukata coat, a rust-coloured quilted cape (there was a blizzard outside), and a United by Blue roll-top backpack—that he could have just stepped out of some stylish monastery in the Himalayas. These guys could use non-fashion items as fashion items, and that, to me, speaks so much more than wanting to look like one of Gucci goofy models.

The North Face seemed to have been rather judicious when it comes to who they collaborate with. Prior to Gucci, it was with Maison Margiela’s MM6, the street-inflected diffusion. The collection, interestingly, did not look weird. Build primarily on the house’s circle pattern, they have as much TNF’s DNA, and they look like you might actually be able to hike in them, not just frolic on flatlands. I like that both brands seem to share equally billing in the end products. Before MM6, there was Supreme, which requires no description. I don’t see why Supreme needed another collaboration, but I understand why TNF would agree to it. This was, to me, one of the lamest pairings ever. Even without Supreme, MM6 and, certainly, Gucci, TNF could hold nicely on its own with just the Japanese iterations, led so convincingly by Nanamica and The North Face Purple Label. Japan’s TNF, I suppose, is really perched on a different peak.

Sure, I can see that Mr Michele and his team has re-proportioned some of TNP’s classic outers, such as reshaping and shortening the sleeves of the women’s jackets. In addition, the breadth of the collection could mean that they’re not putting out some negligible capsule you’ll forget next week. This was conceived to sell, and in larger numbers than the typical collaboration. But that does not mean that stocks for individual items will be plentiful when they launch in January in the coming year. And the ’70s vibe is unmistakable too, in case you have not had enough of their romanticised version: Woodstock in the winter, if the cold is conducive to concerts. And there are backpacks, hats, beanies, and, of course, hiking boots, smacked with a massive logo. And just in case there is anyone seriously thinking of really wearing these clothes to go up the mountain or go down by the rapids, there is a tent too, even a sleeping bag. But will all these really tempt those who have not already adopted Gorpcore? Or, understand it? Will they seduce fashionistas to later consider a TNF not in collaboration mode?

Truth be told, I do subscribe to the Gorpcore aesthetics. But I can’t see myself buying the meaningless Gucci attempt. When in Tokyo, I visit, without fail, The North Face Standard in Harajuku, Nanamica in Daikanyama, And Wander in Marunouchi, White Mountaineering and the sensational Snow Peak flagship in Aoyama. But it isn’t always the high-end that I call on. There’s always the nine-storey L-Breath store in Shinjuku, where I end up buying more bags and such than I will ever need, mountain-bound or not, and, in contrast, a tiny shop smacked in the Tokyu Hands building in Shibuya, Function Junction, where hippies might stop by if they were heading for the hills (they have the most interesting range of carabiners). For all my cold-weather wear, I have always been able to rely on Nanamica and White Mountaineering, while resisting the soft spot I have for the terribly expensive The North Face collaboration with Junya Watanabe. As you can tell, it is in Japan—cities and mountaintops—that I get my Gorpcore wet dreams.

Photos: The North Face/Gucci

Two Of A Kind: Pleated Are The Bags

With her new customisable pleated bags, Gin Lee won’t be the first nor the last to be inspired by the pioneering work of Issey Miyake

Pleats plenty: (left) Ginlee Make Bag. Photo: Ginlee Studio. (Right) Issey Miyake Crystal Rock Pleats Bag. Photo Issey Miyake Me

Some elements or details in fashion design are so connected to a particular designer that it’s almost impossible to disassociate one with the other. And vice versa. Take pleats, for example: one inevitably thinks of Issey Miyake. Sure, there is also the Spanish couturier Mariano Fortuny, but the works of both are not only decades apart, their outputs are worlds apart. Mr Miyake’s pleats, now attributed to the Issey Miyake Studio, are primarily effected as a finished garment, rather than product made from a pleated fabric. Through the years, Mr Miyake has introduced many innovations (and new technologies) in pleating, including curvilinear and bias pleating, as well as advances in micro-pleating, also known as plissé. And he does not only pleat clothes, he creates permanent folds on accessories and bags, too.

One of the fashion names here that appears to be taking a similar route is Gin Lee. The Singaporean, who overseas the creative output of the company, Ginlee Studio—co-founded with her Israeli husband Tamir Niv in 2011—didn’t incorporate pleats into her early output. In recent years, however, pleated garments seem to be the mainstay of her collections. There are the usual tented dresses, shell tops, and pajama-style pants that have become typical of pleated clothes, and now, in addition, bags. Just totes for the present, these were launched last month as part of a new sub-label called Ginlee Make, available at the brand’s flagship store in the refurbished Great World City.

The immediate reaction to these bags when seeing them for the first time could be best summed up by what two women at the store one weekend said, “so Pleats Please!” But that response has not only been evident with these bags. Similar comments were heard of her dresses, sold at Design Orchard. But the seeming similarity to the work of Issey Miyake was also apparent in the name of her new sub-label. Back in 1998, the year the A-POC (A Piece of Cloth) line was launched in Tokyo, Mr Miyake staged an exhibition at the Jean Nouvel-designed Foundation for Contemporary Art in Paris titled, Issey Miyake: Making Things. Uncanny? Or, coincidence?

How long must a recognisable design, fabric treatment, retail concept, or branding exercise remain or circulate in the market before mimicking them can be accepted and not considered a copy?

The Ginlee Make bags are the manifestation of the in-store service Make In Shop, a retail concept that offers “last-mile production” of those items that can be finished before watchful shoppers. As Ms Lee told the press last month, “When a customer places their order for a pleated bag, we’ll proceed to make it for her there. They can see it being made and customise their own version of it.” In Tokyo last year, at the world’s largest Homme Plissé Issey Miyake store in Aoyama, the brand availed its pleating process for customers to witness. Three times a week, over a relatively short time of an hour in the afternoon, engineers (they are specialists indeed) from the company’s Internal Pleats Laboratory show how the clothes are made: a massive machine swallows a sewn T-shirt, for example, cut 1.5 times the completed size, and in ten minutes, reveals the pleated garment. This, too, is last-mile production. How long must a recognisable design, fabric treatment, retail concept, or branding exercise remain or circulate in the market before mimicking them can be accepted and not considered a copy?

Sure, on the same note, we could also say, for instance, that Mary McFadden mimicked Mr Fortuny, but if you examined her pleats closely, the effect, as one Singaporean designer told us, “is more liquid”, and her silhouettes more boxy. Technologies in garment manufacture do become widely adopted, and the onus is upon the adopters to output designs that are distinctly theirs. Issey Miyake certainly did not invent pleating (and he wouldn’t claim he did), but what he undeniably introduced was a whole new way of working with—and on—the pleats. And there is tremendous conceptual heft and mathematical calculations involved. Much of the output require origami-like folds, as well as ingenious geometry. More importantly, to fans, he was the first to introduce the pleats that we now mostly associate with his brand, especially Pleats Please Issey Miyake, the line introduced in 1993, after the exhibition of the same name at the Tokyo Museum of Contemporary Art in 1990.

That Issey Miyake’s pleats would inspire Singaporean designers isn’t surprising. Pleating services here go as far back as the ’80s. Back then, there were primarily two major players: Mong Seng Pleats Garment, founded in 1974, and Owen Trading Company, launched in 1980. Between the two, Owen Trading was, as one designer told us, “at the top of its game”. The popularity of pleats rose in the mid-’80s, after Issey Miyake debuted a sub-brand Permanente in 1985, featuring the early forms of his distinctive creases and folds that culminated as the capsule Pleats in 1988. By the time Pleats Please was launched five years later, capturing the imagination of the world, many local designers were experimenting with pleats too, and many were doing so through the services of Owen Trading, owned and operated by three Tan brothers. One of them, Paul Tan, was the go-to guy for anything that can be pleated, even a scrap of fabric that can be turned into a small scarf.

Gin Lee at work in her Great World City store. Photo: Ginlee Studio

But towards the early ’00s, when pleated garments and accessories, and Pleats Please knock-offs were easily found, first in the fashion wholesale centres in China and, later, online, pleating was a dwindling business. In 2011, Owen Trading was sold to a young Raffles College of Higher Education fashion graduate Chiang Xiaojun, who renamed the company Bewarp Design Studio. With full access to pleating machines, Ms Chiang created Pleatation, the label totally dedicated to pleats, and a moniker—similar to Ginlee Make—unabashed of its alluding to Issey Miyake, in particular, Pleats Please and the older Plantation, introduced in 1981, and now part of the Issey Miyake subsidiary A-net, which produces brands such as ZUCCa and mercibeaucoup. The quality offered by the old Owen Trading, which counted some of our design luminaries, such as Thomas Wee, Frederick Lee, and the late Tan Yoong as customers, evaporated, according to some who have used the services of the renamed pleater. “She couldn’t keep up,” one of them told us, “she does only basic pleating. Nothing fancy.” Despite the skepticism, Ms Chiang opened two standalones for Pleatation: The Compleat Store, which, like Ginlee Studio, sold pleated totes. Both The Compleat Stores have closed. Even their website’s e-commerce component is now free of merchandise and activity. On the SGP Business website, the status of Bewarp Design Studio is marked “cancellation in progress.”

The sale of Owen Trading Company, after three decades of existence, to a then unknown individual, who is unable to protect it from total closure, perhaps serves as a cautionary tale. It is not quite clear why many brand owners choose pleating as the main design feature of their products. Is pleating an easy way to create a fashion line? Does it provide a differentiating factor to the clothes—or bags? Or, allow products categories that are more cost-efficient to produce (Pleats Please, being mainly made of a specially-produced polyester, is still less expensive than the main line)? If pleated garments and accessories offered low barriers to entry, why did Pleatation not take off? Some designers who had worked with Paul Tan in the past thought that he could have been retained by Bewarp Design Studio as a technical advisor. No one now knows what was the nature of the transaction. Mr Tan was last seen driving an SBS Transit bus.

It is possible that Gin Lee’s foray into pleated clothing and bags is the result of reduced competition. Based on the Make Bag alone, it isn’t difficult to see where her inspiration comes from. In a 2017 Financial Times interview, Issey Miyake, who is no longer actively involved in the designs of his numerous lines, said of his pleats: “It is my gift, my legacy, and if other designers look to Pleats Please for inspiration, I feel honoured and happy—it is a great compliment.” Whether that is Japanese niceness or diplomacy, or just resignation to the truth that he is widely copied, we may never know. But, as written on one decal we once saw in an atelier, “You can copy all you want, you’ll always be one step behind.”

The Tassel’s Moment

One 2021 trend for guys is the use of tassels. Yes, the pendant ornaments. You ready to dangle one?

One of the danglies shown at the recent pre-fall 2021 Dior show is not some Kid Cudi-esque necklace or chain. Rather, it is a tassel—the pendant ornament (we’ve never heard it referred to as accessory or jewellery) that is essentially a column of quite tightly packed strings (referred to as a ‘skirt’) topped with a fancy knot or cap. Dior’s (left), fastened to what could be a belt (or waist bag?), has the girth of Chinese ink brush and the length of a man’s forearm. This particularly thick one is gradated, as if the yellow of monks robes is dipped into a vat of purple cabbage. It is fancy, for sure, and, an IG-worthy exaggeration. They are nothing like those leather tassels sometimes affixed to the vamp of loafers. From our perspective, Dior’s seems to glean from the world of Chinese wuxia, or perhaps scholars.

For those with less progressive leaning, we are, admittedly, putting a more masculine spin here. Since the Dior tassels look Chinese (or Oriental, definitely not those on English academic caps—Oxford or Cambridge, take your pick), we’ll look at China, where Kim Jones engaged local embroiderers to create the two-thousand-year-old seed embroidery (繨子绣 or dazixiu) for the Dior collection. Whether this was to expressly cater to a Chinese market or Mr Jones expressing his love for Eastern craft and exotica, it is hard to say.

Anyway, tassels were once used ornamentally on swords (剑 or jian). Broadly speaking, the sword tassel (剑繐 or jian sui) appeared at the end of the hilt of what was known as the scholar’s sword (文剑 or wen jian), used mainly for self defence and dancing, rather than at war, or to project an elegant image—possibly the same motivation as Pharrell Williams in pearls. The tassel was less evident on the martial sword (武剑 or wu jian), which was used on the battlefield. Historically, the tassel mostly hung from the scholar’s sword. If a sword was designated for offensive use, it unlikely came with a tassel, since it would get in the way of a duel. However, the swordsman blessed with cunning might use a long, deceptively limp tassel to target his opponent’s eyes!

But the Chinese tassel did not only hang on the hilt of the sword, it dangled from the waists of men too. These were known as waist accessories (腰佩 or yaopei)—the Dior belt above certainly qualifies as one. In ancient times, both men and women wore carved jade pieces from which hung a tassel (but never as thick as the Dior version). These were known as jinbu (禁步) or ‘forbidden steps’, which, in the case of women, may make sense, since the jinbu was used to hold down the skirt (including the men’s) and possibly preventing the wearer from striding. How this eventually became a check on female deportment isn’t clear. The men did not, however, appear to need to be held back (guys today who wear extra-long canvas belts left dangling from the box buckle could be mimicking the wearing of a jinbu). Apart from the jinbu, both men and women also wore the xiangnang (香囊) or a fragrance pouch. Made of silk and embroidered, they were often attached to a tassel. The xiangnang was usually stuffed with cotton and aromatics, and were used as personal perfume, air-freshener, and even to ward off evil spirits.

A few days after the Dior show, Nike announced the release of the Air Jordan 1 for Chinese New Year 2021 (no drop date was revealed). This basketball shoe—that Dior (again?!) made massive in June—sports one of the style’s most popular colour combo: ‘university red’ (and just as hongbao bright) and black. That the upper would partly come with a brocade fabric sporting oxen is hardly surprising, but that the shoe comes with a tassel is quite unexpected. The cord, red, is fasten along the collar of the sneaker, like a choker, and the tassel, gold, hangs to the side, near the eyestay, like an earring. This tassel, unlike Dior’s is really quite small. Its short fringe body is topped with what looks like a Chinese button knot. Pendant to a necklace. A neat way of wearing an anklet without actually wearing one?

Photos: Dior and Nike respectively. Collage: Just So

The Clutch

No, we don’t mean the handbag; we’re referring to the way Raf Simons likes his models to hold on to the lapels of their coats, as if buttons don’t exist

From left: Prada spring/summer 2021 (photo: Prada), Jil Sander autumn/winter 2012 (photo: gorunway.com), Christian Dior Couture autumn/winter 2015 (photo: indigitalimages.com)

The way to secure a coat, it seems, is to clutch it. At the opening, just about where your solar plexus is. Ignore the buttons or the zip, or the Velcro. If they are there, they’re decorative details. Hold on to the opening in the form of a grab, but not as if for dear life. Designers like to say that there is a way to tie a sash so that the wearer looks chic. The same goes for your palm-as-fastener. You don’t grip as if to choke (nothing so violent), not even to clench (nothing so threatening). This is not prelude to some Masonic handshake. You curl your fingers to gently hold some fabric, the bend of your arm as if ready for a pet cat tired from walking. Or, at least that is how we think Raf Simons wants us to secure the opening of coats.

For his debut Prada collection that was co-designed with Miuccia Prada, Mr Simons (and Ms Prada) sent out models holding their coats in the said manner. It did not even require the sharp-eyed to see that this is a recognisable Raf Simons gesture. We were transported back to early 2012, at the autumn/winter swan song of his collection for Jil Sander. Those pastel double-faced wool coats, held as if the wearers had just emerged from a shower, clutching the ends of the towel close. We didn’t think much of that. Then came July of 2015, when Mr Simons, then steering Dior, had models do the same with the autumn/winter couture outerwear. Still, it would have been presumptive to consider that signature.

Of the four seasons Mr Simons showed at Calvin Klein, no model—not even one—ever held the opening of either coat or jacket together with one hand, and close to the chest. Many things happened during Mr Simon’s tenure at CK, but coats were left to their respective fastening to do their job. Then came his opening act for Prada a week or so ago. That clutch again. We did not forget. But now we are seeing a pattern. Clearly repetition can be discerned (thrice is enough to qualify), and, while Ms Prada herself had taken the end-of-show bow with hands similarly placed, she had not sent models down the runway doing so. This had to be Mr Simons’s doing. A gestural flourish. He was making a mark—his mark. As with everything these days, will it become a meme?

Bags: Louis Vuitton Vs Chanel

Which is at top of the food chain?

 

LV vs Chanel

A week or so ago, we were brought to the attention of the post of a disgruntled, anonymous NUS student on the Facebook page, NUSWhispers*. In that 214-word “confession”, as the page admin calls the entries, the dismayed complainant said that “LV is for poor people who want to look rich.” How she came to that conclusion isn’t clear. But her thought on Louis Vuitton was spurred from not receiving the brand she wanted: Chanel.

As her straightforward telling went, “Recently my boyfriend bought me a Louis Vuitton wallet which costs around $700 for my birthday. When I saw the wallet, I felt really upset and disappointed. Because earlier this year, my sister’s bf got her a Chanel wallet which costs at least $1000 for her birthday. Chanel is so much nicer than LV.” Price, the world noted, equals nice.

That was not the only comparison she made, but we won’t explore them as they aren’t related to luxury bags/wallets, and will detract from the main thrust of this post (you can read about her grievance here). She concluded with clearly self-absorbed unhappiness: “Sometimes I really feel like a loser.” It, naturally, garnered no sympathy, certainly not from the commentators on NUSWhispers.  It did, however, make us wonder: which is indeed more desirable—Louis Vuitton or Chanel?

There is, surprisingly, no definitive ranking of luxury handbag brands. According to one price-based list offered by the luxury shopping service The Luxe Link, Chanel ranks third, after Hermès and Delvaux. LV is fifth. In a listicle posted by the website Who What Wear on the “the 10 most popular designer bags ever” (and shared by Yahoo News in March), Chanel ranks 2nd (for quilted bags) and Louis Vuitton, 3rd (for the Alma). First goes to Hermès (for the Birkin).

While luxury-brand snobbery is rarely discussed among shoppers of expensive bags, it does exist

 

In an unscientific, un-representational, and unorthodox poll that we recently conducted among (admittedly small number of ) 12 fashion folks, we asked our interviewees one very simple question: “If you were to buy a handbag, LV or Chanel?” The answers were almost unanimous. Eleven chose Chanel, while one insisted on selecting Hermès. On why LV repeatedly ranks behind Chanel, one observer told us, ”LV is Coach for those with just enough money”. Still, “not for poor people who want to look rich.”

Once, as we walked past a line outside Chanel at Takashimaya Shopping Centre, we overheard a young woman tell her friend, while looking across at the LV store, “I’d rather die than queue opposite.” While luxury-brand snobbery is rarely discussed among shoppers of expensive bags, it does exist. Hermès fans know, for example, that you don’t buy a Birkin off the shelf (assuming you could); you join a wait list.

A fashion insider we spoke to noted that, despite the recent price hikes, many tai-tais who carry luxury handbags do prefer Chanel. LV is for “smallish bags”. Apparently some of them have recently been disappointed with LV for selling them what was touted as a limited edition: the S$2,570 “hybrid cross-body” Multi Pochette Accessoires. “But strange thing is,” the puzzled person continued, “that every lady said it was limited, and yet all of them have it!”

20-06-03-02-11-07-258_decoJamie Chua showing the bags that she “regretted buying”. Screen grab: Jamie Chua/YouTube

Socialite Jamie Chua, who bought her first Chanel—the 2.55—when she was 17, could be a reliable person to shed some light on luxury bag ranking. We turned to her Youtube channel for guidance. In one of her videos that has chalked up an impressive 1.5 million views, she listed five bags that she “regretted buying”, and all of them are from Chanel: a gold mini ‘Boy’, a two-tone Lucite evening ‘Watch’ bag, a ‘Belt Buckle’ minaudière (small, decorative handbag), a pink (“that Jamie loves”) ‘Round as Earth’ patent leather bag, and a La Pausa ‘Life Buoy’ bag.

And the five she likes most? “I really feel kind of bad,” she said. “All my favourites are Hermes.” But that’s hardly surprisingly when you consider the 200 over Hermès bags she has collected—believed to be the largest in the world by a single individual—and displays in a famous, viewed-by-many, 700 sq ft, walk-in wardrobe. Although most of what she wished she hadn’t bought were deemed impractical due to their smallness, she was happy with one S$22,000 Chanel ‘Rocket Ship’ bag, as it “value-adds to the beauty of this closet”. Clearly there are women who don’t wait for their boyfriends to buy them bags, and be disappointed.

*Despite the page title, what’s posted in NUSWhispers is not even remotely academic or shared in hush tones. From acute friendlessness to jilted hearts to “really obsessed with boobs” to “girls need to improve their online dating app conversation starter skills”, one can’t escape the rather juvenile quality of the “confessions”, many so inane, they’re hard to read for longer than it takes to close a double-C clasp. There is chatter that the post we have been discussing here is just the person trolling. Even so, it could be troll mimicking life.

Illustration: Just So

 

The Sudden Rise Of Loungewear

Is it even a real category? Loungewear may not appear in your style radar, but with WFH arrangements prevalent now, they are as legit and persuasive as athleisure

 

Loungewear 1Illustration: Just So

By Ray Zhang

Spell checks are really slow when it comes to the inclusion of words of popular usage. Fashion terms are almost ignored: Electronic dictionaries in our devices embrace them with the enthusiasm of your grandmother enjoying social-media profanities. When I typed—as I write this—‘loungewear’ on my virtual keyboard, the noun that appears on the screen is underscored by the red squiggle that tells me the word is not in the system’s built-in dictionary. Athleisure has not been excepted either. No reason, then, that loungewear—much older—should make the cut.

Regardless of what typing the word brings up on screen, loungewear is now both catchword and fashion of the day. With work hours and downtime now indistinguishable, loungewear is up for mass adoption. Online accounts have confirmed its prevalence and media reports too, including one by ST, which delightfully noted that “many are realising that working from home brings the perks of dressing down and working in unpolished comfort”. Would adding a dressing gown reverse that potentially oxymoronic description to make comfort polished? Just as we are not expected to fill our days with demure quietude, I don’t see many people dress in refined marvelousness. I am not sure if the writer had gotten loungewear mixed up with what I call loll-wear. It appears to me, that most people at home are lolling than lounging, with some IG posts showing those working doing so in bed, even under sheets.

Loungewear 2Loungewear everywhere, as evidenced by the laundry we put out to dry

Frankly, I don’t know if you need a WFH order to enjoy this “perk”. What most people wear now are home clothes and few would consider them worthy enough to be categorised as loungewear. It is true, as the ST piece noted in the intro with interviewee Ailynn Song, a customer relationship management specialist with Carousell, that there are many who delight to be in “nothing but pyjamas”. I know of those who content with wearing night clothes throughout the day, and this mode of dress they consider loungewear. In a similar report by Yahoo Style, featuring various individuals in their at-home best (not everyone was selfie-d at home!), one marketing type Pat Law was even more detailed: “There is nothing more liberating than to be pitching in PJs without my bra and underwear.”

Someone asked me, “What happens if a client reads that?” I really don’t know. Won’t it depend on the client? Anyway, underwear is different thing to different people. And they don’t always remain under. A friend told me this morning that she is “happy to be in her negligee all day”. That’s underwear enough, I suspect. Lest you should be mistaken, I did not go around asking people to describe to me what they have on at the point of our chat, as if I was in pursuit of some visual to satisfy a perverse need. Perhaps, my friend meant déshabillé (from the French  déshabiller, meaning to undress), which in 17th century France was really the loungewear of its day—“little nothings”, wrote Francophile Joan DeJean in The Essence of Style—but was soon worn outside. Okay, I am putting a fashion spin on my friend’s lack of clothes, which is imagining her consumed by elegance that is usually at odds with a utilitarian home setting.

Loungewear 3Do guys not prefer just (boxer) shorts at home, despite many appearing in joggers in their IG posts? Illustration: Just So

Truth be told, I wear nothing but boxers at home. Have always worn them, since I was a kid. I have never own a set of pyjamas in my life, and loungewear is a marketing tag and, to me, such a waste of money. Most of my male friends wear boxers at home, even to go out of the front door to pick up what the Grab Food fellow left outside. There are, of course, those who are married to modesty, and for them a T-shirt teamed with pair of boxers is de rigueur. Boxers, whether alone or with additional underpants (common practice!) are comfort at its best, which may explain why they are popular among women, too. I was told that Calvin Klein boxer shorts are not only worn by women who borrow their boyfriend’s/husband’s, they are also bought by those who want their own.

In the past, loungewear was not sleepwear or underclothes. And certainly not worn to while away one’s extra hours at the first-class lounge. It was, as the name suggested, for lounging (also pottering), and in, as far as I am aware, private quarters. A lounge in Britain is a sitting room (in Australia, it is known as a lounge room), but these days, it is not often known in that context. Most of us equate a lounge with a large sitting area in a hotel, a theatre, or an air terminal. Lounge is of fairly recent usage—around 1930s, I understand. In my home, I grew up with my parents referring to the front part of our flat as the ‘hall’, which was the word used in England until the mid-1600s, before the more posh-sounding parlour or drawing room came into popular usage. Still, living room is now the standard, if only because Ikea always refers to the part of a house after the main door as that. According to a survey by the British department store John Lewis, age and lounge correlate. If you are a millennial—and I guess you are—you are likely to use living room. Those older (35-54 years, and only referring to the English), tend to say lounge.

“People did have the habit of getting out of their sleepwear, at least in the west, even when I suspect pyjamas served its purpose out of bed

 

Even outmoded as an expression for living room, lounge is adopted in the first half of the conflation that refers to clothes you wear at home, not necessarily just in the space where sofas are usually placed, where you receive those currently disallowed creatures, guests. In the distant past, people did have the habit of getting out of their sleepwear, at least in the west, even when I suspect pyjamas served its purpose out of bed (unless it was even before pyjamas—a word, incidentally of Hindi origin— when the nightshirt or nightdress for women was widely worn). Lines started to blur in the Roaring Twenties: The deep cry of excitement was most pronounced when Coco Chanel introduced silk pyjamas as evening wear (there was even a version for the beach). And once hooked, many women no longer equate the pyjamas with or remember them as men’s bedroom garb once brought back to England by colonials with stints in India.

Loungewear as a word came into use in the mid-’50s, when it became more acceptable for both men and women wearing the shirt-and-pants combo to lounge in, or for what was also known as “leisure”, so much so that there were brands and shops that sold clothing worn at home. Things might have accelerated when, two years earlier, the 1953 film Roman Holiday allowed an adorable Audrey Hepburn to face the camera in what looked like a set of men’s pyjamas. Relaxed clothing have, of course, never really been restricted to the lounge. Since that Holiday, pyjamas-outside-the-bedroom/lounge appear to have gone from strength to strength, culminating in Grace Coddington wearing Michael Kors pyjamas to the Met Gala in 2015’s China Through the Looking Glass. Today, even Big Bang’s Taeyang reportedly loves not getting out of his PJs.

Loungewear 4Have T-shirts and shorts not always been our version of loungewear?

Loungewear as a fashion category has since expanded to include almost anything that is deemed comfortable. The key is to dress to chill, which allows another curious phrase to come into use—“comfort dressing”, as if clothes traditionally worn inside of one’s home have been doors away from comfort. Regardless of word choice, loungewear now includes athleisure staples such as pullovers and sweatpants, and virtually anything—or the lack of—that can be considered comfortable. And they are not just for the confines of your home and those confined with you. I see how loungewear have now become Zoom-ready (nobody dresses up even for Zoom happy hour!), as well as IG-ready. I see how loungewear is touted online with the same fervour as the other definitely newer category “fashion mask”. I see how those in loungewear can perform for the world to see, such as Dick Lee in a striped singlet, belting what else but Home. Or the Mediacorp stars, stuck indoors, urging you to Stay Home for SG via their smartphone, in full loungewear glory.

We are in the thick of a pandemic that not only stopped the world in its tracks, but also halted the inclination for many to slip into slacks. To better binge on Netflix or AirBnB’s virtual experiences? Going extremely casual is, without doubt, our national passion. On our island, we are stuck to our shorts, sometimes so ratty, it’s regrettable they have to be dispatched to meet the day. We have, in fact, derived such a narcotic joy from clothes that are of “unpolished comfort”, to quote ST, that we risk being enslaved to the uniform of well-worn T-shirts and shorts, with nary a soupçon of style, even after the lockdown is totally lifted. It is, of course, true that with a downturn in spending on clothes, who’s thinking of looking polished? Or presentable, since we have no one to present ourselves to. Perhaps at Zoom parties?!

I had thought that the casualisation of fashion would stop right at athleisure or the hem of track pants. How much more dress-down can we get from there? More! Especially when home is the centrestage of our life. Few activity is as anti-fashion as, for example, Netflix—binge watching requires no polished form of dress. Nor, for that matter, watching others on TikTok in their loungewear fineness against a domestic setting—captivating it seems to see people in mundane buzz. Regardless of what online magazines and newspapers are encouraging people to do, few groom for Zoom or the like, except perhaps Anna Wintour, who’s on the video chat app “day in day out”, as she told Naomi Campbell on the latter’s YouTube show No Filter. What would Karl Lagerfeld—if he were alive—have said to the Vogue editor after seeing her in what has been reported to be sweatpants? “Tres chic, Anna”? Or would he repeat his famous retort: “Sweatpants are a sign of defeat”?

Photos: Jim Sim

No Turning Back

In the post-COVID-19 world, fashion can’t return to what it was. Dries Van Noten led the clarion for change by first issuing an open letter to address concerns about the future of the industry. Now, moving forward, another group is calling for the resolve of “rewiring fashion” as lockdown throughout the world eases. Will they be heard? Has the fashion business become too crumpled to be ironed out of its creases?

 

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By Raiment Young

Fashion has fallen on hard times. And before it crashes through the cutting room floor, many in the industry are calling for the change that was previously talked about, but not met with actual action. Last week, Dries Van Noten, leading a group that includes fellow designers Tory Burch, Erdem Moralioglu, as well as Acne Studio CEO Mattias Magnusson, Bergdorf Goodman’s Linda Fargo and others, initiated the call with an Open Letter to the Fashion Industry that said “the current environment, although challenging, presents an opportunity for a fundamental and welcome change that will simplify our businesses, making them more environmentally and socially sustainable and ultimately align them more closely with customers’ needs.”

It went on to propose “adjusting the seasonality and flow of both womenswear and menswear goods, starting with the Autumn/Winter 2020 season (which was already shown in February/March and January respectively)”. The recommendation asked for selling seasons to be “put back” to the time frame followed in the past—fall/winter in August—January and spring/summer in February—July. In addition, it urged for a “more balanced flow of deliveries through the season to provide newness but also time for products to create desire”. And discounting provided only at the end of the season so as to “allow for more full-price selling”.

In sync with the call for long-term socio-ecological balance in fashion, the letter-writers also advocated “increase sustainability throughout the supply chain and sales calendar” by producing “less unnecessary products”, adopting “less travel”, and reviewing the traditional fashion show format. These are all pertinent proposals that have been brought up in the past, especially among brands that have not been able to enjoy the production resources and marketing might of bigger names or those who are managed by conglomerates. It is, however, the first time they’re communicated so succinctly and purposefully in one missive, signed off by noted industry figures.

Signatories of open letterSome of the signatories of the Open Letter: (from left)  Acne Studios CEO Mattias Magnusson, Bergdorf Goodman’s Linda Fargo, Dries Van Noten, Tory Burch, Erdem Moralioglu. Individual photos: source

Shortly after the Open Letter was announced, another group headlined by Phillip Lim, Rodarte, and Proenza Schouler put together the plan, Rewire Fashion, which was soon followed by its own independent micro-site. “Facilitated by” the industry news portal Business of Fashion (BOF), Rewire Fashion is like one group seconding the proposals of another, while going into more details by identifying the problems and offering possible solutions, with very specific call out to fashion show pressures: “that there should be no rules—imposed by convention or fashion councils—regarding the format of shows, nor any expectations that every brand should show every season”, as well as fashion retailers’ deeply-rooted “addiction” to the very modern proclivity of “extreme discounting”.

These are proposals that have no doubt been brewing for a while. However necessary the changes put forward, it may be difficult to undo the forces and practices put into momentum by powerful corporate hands for a long time. In fact, some habits are so entrenched in the fashion consumption culture of today that halting them would be just like asking the community not to consume. Take discounting: many have been weaned on buying not regular retail prices that even if the full-price selling season could be restored, most would just wait out till the end-of-season sale. The reality of fashion is that few seasonal items are so desirable that they can’t wait to be bought three months or so later.

If brands are telling consumers that early and immoderate discounting must not be encouraged, why are consumers not able to sway brands from reducing the frequency of or holding back price hikes, especially at a time when it would be unseemly to do so?

 

With most brands and businesses facing overstock issues this season and likely the next, or even further down the road, discounting may be a necessary evil for a while and for the duration shoppers need to get accustomed to the next new-normal. The question we find ourselves asking in response to mark downs is on the other side of the practice—mark ups. If brands are telling consumers by way of retailers that early and immoderate discounting must not be encouraged (so don’t get used to them), why are consumers not able to sway brands from reducing the frequency of or holding back price hikes, especially at a time when it would be unseemly to do so? Prices climb from an already steep leap-off point. A S$560 Gucci T-shirt that could pass off as a Uniqlo offering don’t merit a discount before purchase consideration? How many, indeed, truly shop at full price? Even members of the fashion media don’t, not when they have the unsaid but well-enjoyed privilege of press or influencer discount.

Prices of designer fashion have reached such prohibitive levels this past decade that they are driving the engine of growth of the resale market. Just look at Japan, not only is second-hand fashion a massive and expanding business, major players—they have, in fact, become chain stores—such as Ragtag have a flagship that can be as large, if not larger, than even the European brands’. What makes these Japanese resale stops the go-to among both locals and tourists is the quality of the merchandise. More often than not, they are well curated and are as good as new. And fashionable individuals know they don’t need on-season clothes to look on trend. And it does not take a fashion observer with an acute sense to see that fashion is not just the desire of the wealthy. The presence of “entry-level” goods in every luxury store is clear indication that most brands offer products beyond the reach of more than 50 percent of those in the queue to get in, to the extent that entry-level is necessary to spur growth. For those who would not be mindlessly ensnared, there are resale vendors, where, for the price of one boutique’s entry-level, they are able to score the secondhand outlet’s sartorial grail.

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Fashion consumption these days may be somewhat homogeneous—the love of Dior dresses is as intense anywhere on the globe—but the time/period/season they are needed may vary. Take Asia, for example. It is widely acknowledged that China is the world’s main driver of spending on the high-end. According to McKinsey’s China Luxury Report 2019, “Chinese consumers at home and abroad spent 770 billion RMB (or 115 billion USD) on luxury items” in 2018. This is “equivalent to a third of the global spend”. If you include the rest of Asia, that would rank this continent the largest market for luxury goods. Many in this part of the world follow the lunar calendar, which makes, among other occasions, the Lunar New Year (or Spring Festival) an important date and celebration. All brands know the importance of tapping into pre-festival spending, so they release the first drop of spring/summer in December (even in November). If, according to both groups’ proposal of deliveries to match seasons, will many—in particular Southeast Asians—be shopping for Spring Festival by browsing the autumn/winter rack?

It is not yet certain how a motley gathering of fashion practitioners that include designers, buyers, and executives will be able to see the proposals through. So far, it has been a call to action, not quite a concrete plan hot-stamped on leather or fused on silk. After the past months of fashion retail standstill, the journey forward is expected to be fraught with yet-to-be experienced uncertainties and pitfalls. We’re all for change—that’s fashion’s DNA. But after extended periods of staying at home, where fashion is, at best, asleep, most consumers may be counting what they have not worn (yet?) than thinking if autumn/winter deliveries will be in time for a splurge on more clothes or bags that have done delivery schedules justice and the supply chains proud.

Illustrations: Just So