The Wreck Of The Beautiful

Has alternative, experimental, inclusive, diverse, or street dimmed and beclouded fashion as lovely to look at, even as art?

Publicity shot for #SGFASHIONNOW. Photo: Ethan Lai/Asian Civilisations Museum

Recently, in Tokyo, the pre-loved luxury goods retailer Komehyo opened a pop-up on the second floor of the multi-level department store Marui, in the Yurakucho neighbourhood, not far from the Hankyu Men’s Store. Called Start Komehyo, the well-appointed “concept shop” is targeted at a very specific demographic: Gen Z, a significant contributor to the growth of luxury fashion now. The pieces selected for sale commensurate with what Gen-Zers or zoomers—those born, according to the Pew Research Centre, between 1997 to 2012—like to buy and wear. These are mainly fashion items from the 1990s to the early 2000s, and include Japanese and European labels, and styles that could be considered to go with the “Y2K” trend, a sartorial run that Gen-Zers have not experienced. They reflect what the young with means are consuming and relate to. There is no such shop on our island.

But, from the latest #SGFASHIONNOW exhibition, now on at the Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM), we may have an idea of what appeals to youngsters below 25, and what, to them, is considered fashionable clothing, including what constitutes a fashionable image. And, perhaps, more important, how they hope Singaporean fashion will evolve. If the above photograph represents Singaporean fashion or its future, could we be hopeful? This image shows the garments of the designers participating in the sophomore #SGFASHIONNOW that spotlights Singaporean designers. A line-up of models cast in poor lighting is perhaps no big deal in an aesthetical culture shaped by anything-goes social media, but could this image really be what current fashion on this island represents? Or is this, as noted in the e-book, Architectural Drape (companion to the exhibition), a “fresh take on local fashion design”? Perhaps, “a fresh take” could be a clever rephrasing—or even recasting—of fresh out of ideas?

Perhaps “a fresh take” could be a clever rephrasing—or even recasting—of fresh out of ideas?

The image is shot by photographer Ethan Lai, also, a street style lensman, a national serviceman (currently), a student of Central Saint Martins (it isn’t certain if he graduated), alumnus of Lasalle College of the Arts, and the student-curator of the second instalment of #SGFASHIONNOW, which was put together with the School of Fashion of Lasalle. Mr Lai is partial to flat lighting and feebly-lit faces to effect edginess or rawness, necessary or not, and his aesthetical choices have been imposed on the communication material (or “campaign”, as he called it on Instagram) of a museum associated with some of the finest Asian art and antiquities. The nine motley models that are shown were shot separately (some with shadows cast to the bottom half of the body, some without), digitally corrected, and transposed as a linear composition to a blank white space. One marketing consultant said, when we showed him this image, “it looks like they died and went to heaven.” We could see that what’s missing is Morgan Freeman as god in the distance.

The shoot did not benefit from the minimal or zero styling, although two photographer’s assistants are listed as “stylists”. One magazine and commercial stylist told us that he thought that “there is no styling” since “the hair doesn’t go with the makeup, which doesn’t go with the outfits. What has anything got to do with anything? The models look like they were just plonked there.” As they would be in a TikTok video? What stands out to us is how the clothes could not be seen clearly. For an image that speaks for an exhibition extolling Singaporean designs across generations, the focus, curiously, is not on the clothes. The Biro coat (second from right) was shot to show the bafflingly washed-out back, a rear that has no superlative design to speak of. The Thomas Wee shift (extreme left), with dramatically draped details in the back, was worn by the usually beautiful quadriplegic model Zoe Zora seated, front-facing, on a wheel chair. The campy layered, draped bustier of Harry Halim (front) on a model laid on the floor was completely consumed by some unknown entity intercepting the light. But perhaps, as with most G-Zers, fashion does not matter, the look does.

The photo shoot for #SGFASHIONNOW. Photographer Ethan Lai, second from right. Screen shot: sgfashionnow.com

And what is the look? What does the creator of the image hope to convey? Daniela Monasterios-Tan, fashion lecturer at Lasalle and co-designer of the collective Mash-Up, shared on Architectural Drapes that “as part of the execution of #SGFASHIONNOW, Lai also conceptualised a photo-shoot highlighting the way that the fashion image contributes to the dissemination of a vocabulary of fashion.” She does not explain what that vocabulary might be, except, perhaps, in Mr Lai’s choice of using a disabled model, trangenders, and the not traditionally beautiful from the smaller agencies MiscManagement and Platinum Models, the catchwords diverse and inclusive. But what is the creative buzz? Take aware the requisite wokeness, what is the artistic value? In so questioning, do we risk discrediting and discriminating? And what does it mean to show models wearing on their faces some version of glum?

In a recent video interview with Female magazine, Mr Lai said that, to him, “Singaporean contemporary fashion means garments that kind of reflect our current climate and culture. It is diverse (!) and has different modes and practices, not just about making clothes for people to wear and consume, but it’s more about the designers their narratives through the clothes.” All the requisite buzzwords are in there, but in that photograph for #SGFASHIONNOW, is the “narrative” evident? What does it really say? Has it upended the belief that Gen-Zers are self-important, apathetic, hack-loving, creatively shallow, and averse to the conventional? Perhaps Mr Lai, whose work has appeared in Men’s Folio and Vogue Singapore, is truly just showing us the preference and standing of his generation. But will it consolidate our position as a city of fashion?

Has it upended the belief that Gen-Zers are self-important, apathetic, hack-loving, creatively shallow, and averse to the conventional?

Gen-Z life is highly documented online, with text and photographs. The zoomers are not acquainted with a time when there was no Internet and when their existence was not expressed digitally. For considerable many, they largely communicate creativity to merely look good in the virtual world (or an e-book), rather than output creativity born from solid grounding or scholarship. They mostly race to fame (or infamy) as quickly as they could, and they are able to do so as the Internet is the ultimate springboard to visibility and likes—the more one scores, the higher the validation that one is good. It is not necessarily based on the tangible or the discernible. Fashion photography is not the result of the imagination, but what is perceived to be a reflection of the current. Perception that something is fashion because it is based on their own experiences, and shared online and is liked is good enough to be considered credible.

In the end, is the visual presentation of the Architecture of Drape—to use a street style term—GOAT (greatest of all time)? Or is it just good enough for a fleeting moment? It is hard to mention the shortcomings of criticism-averse Gen-Zers without being attacked, as public relations professional Tjin Lee of Mercury Marketing & Communications and a judge on the selection panel for #SGFASHIONNOW recently found out. We are well aware of being deemed “too critical” in our reviews of trends, shows and, indeed, exhibitions; for speaking the truth few want to hear if it is not flattering. But, as ACM curator Dominic Low wrote in Architectural Drape, the exhibition, not “a comprehensive survey but a snapshot”, should be “an invitation to discussion and alternative perspectives.” Looking at this one snapshot, we except the invitation.

Clothes Not Preferred

So this is Beyoncé’s new album cover. Fashion commentators have only a few metallic straps to content with

There was a time when “apparel oft proclaims the man” and—to supplement Shakespeare there—his woman. These days the reverse is true: stripped is stunning, near nudity is normative, and peeled, for sure, is proclaiming. Beyoncé has just shared on Instagram a photo of what is assumed (she did not say) to be the cover of her upcoming album, Renaissance. “Creating this album,” she wrote, “allowed me a place to dream and to find escape during a scary time for the world.” She made no mention of cover art, but the photo looks very much the striking sort that you would want to front a new album, with enough space for the attendant text. The singer sits astride a model horse that looks like it is made of glass. Apart from the equestrian theme, there is also the message that clothing is not preferred. She is nude, except for the metallic- and osseous-looking body sculpture that appears rather tribal. There are chains around her abdomen too. In sum, they cover her lady parts, but are they enough to constitute clothes? Accoutrements, yes; clothing? However changed the definition of getting dressed has become, there is hardly any semblance of dress in the photograph.

Beyoncé’s bare proposition is, of course, hardly a fashion revolution. For a rather long time now, American pop stars such as her (hip-hop and R&B artistes, in particular) have depended on very little by way of clothes to project talent, as well as taste. And, emancipation. The image-making ‘tradition’, in fact, goes back quite a way—to as early as the ’20s, when, in Paris, another American performer, Black too, scandalised the city with a revue performance in which she wore as much as an abbreviated skirt, made of artificial bananas. On her torso, she had only a beaded necklace round her neck. She became an icon, a veritable (woke?) symbol of the burgeoning Jazz Age and the liberated Roaring Twenties. She was Josephine Baker. In fact, dance commentator and teacher Darren Royston, wrote on BBC online in 2014 that Josephine Baker was “the Beyoncé of her day”. Is Beyoncé, on her album cover, the Josephine Baker of her day?

For a rather long time now, American pop stars such as Beyoncé have depended on very little by way of clothes to project talent, as well as taste

Some observers have likened the image of the possible Beyoncé album cover to the British artist John Collier’s 1897 painting Lady Godiva. Who was this titular character and why was she depicted naked on a horse? Lady Godiva was one Anglo-Saxon (England in the early Middle Ages) noble woman who was also a patron of churches and monasteries, where she was noted for her generous contributions. But many now remember her as the nude rider. Apart from the John Collier painting, there was also a 1949 sculpture of her—similarly unclothed and on a horse—in Coventry, West Midlands, where she lived. Was this the naked truth? Apparently not. According to English legend, Lady Godiva rode, without a shred of clothing (her modesty, as per the John Collier painting, was somewhat protected by her long hair), through the streets of Coventry in order to urge her husband, an earl, to lower taxes. But, no, it did not happen, as most historians concurred. A famous woman riding a horse in unlikely places did not stop in the 13th century. In the mid ’70s, another was said to have quite a jaunt through the famous New York discotheque Studio 54: Bianca Jagger, former wife of Mick Jagger. Only thing, she was clothed, and another, that ride was not true either. In 2015, Ms Jagger had to explain, via a letter to the Financial Times, “No doubt you will agree with me that it is one thing to, on the spur of the moment, get on a horse in a nightclub, but it is quite another to ride in on one.”

Beyoncé did not actually ride on a horse either. She posed on the equine beast, and it was not even real (some reports describe it as “holographic”). Regardless, one media report called the photograph “a resplendent shot”. Unfortunately, we could not see the resplendence. True, the horse gleams, but is that enough to be make a splendid composition? There are no clothes to speak of that we can describe as lustrous either, not one ochre of fierceness. What strikes us more is how, like so many others, Beyoncé allows her image to be based on the look of her body, a sexualised whole. Not that it has not happened before, but as the star gets older, this need to bare seems more than an expression, or, as she wrote on IG, “a safe place, a place without judgment. A place to be free of perfectionism and overthinking. A place to scream, release, feel freedom.” All roads lead to the deliverance from clothes. It must be liberating indeed.

Photo: Beyonce/Instagram

The Beauty Of Injury

Fashion needs to be so inclusive that even if you have somehow hurt yourself, you can still be part of it all

This is not just getting your cool friends to draw on the cast that you need over your lower right arm after you fell from skateboarding and broke your wrist. Nor, on a smaller scale, is this the Hello Kitty plaster you used on a cut after you nicked yourself while shredding cucumber for the bimbimbap lunch. Heck, this is not even Jean-Charles the Castelbajac using hospital bandage (a luxury version!) for his BandAid dress of the ’90s. This is making actual ligature a part of the look. And that is what Finnish designer Rolf Ekroth, who—as his corporate profile tells us,—“champions utilitarianism”, has done. Strictly speaking, that should be synonymous with functionality. And what is more functional than gauze bandage used to secure a dressing applied to a wound?

Apart from the bandaged lower arm that appeared in one of his looks (T-shirt with contrast sleeves and illustration on the chest, and paper-bag jeans), there is also the sling (worn with a millitary-ish boiler-suit): Yes, a hanging bandage usually placed around the neck—as it is in this case—in which an injured arm or hand is supported or rendered immobile. Only now, Mr Ekroth has made his sling in a fabric with floral prints that could have been abstracted from Marimekko. As we do not know for sure if the models were indeed hurt, it would be unnecessarily barbed to consider the swath and support mockery.

Mr Ekroth, a psychology and social work major who once played poker professionally before embarking on fashion, is big on the tactile. He has caught the attention of fashion folks outside Finland with immensely intriguing surface treatments of the three-year-old label’s mainly gender-neutral collections. Hand fraying of fabrics seems to be a signature technique. Perhaps, the bandaging by hand as well. In a world that has so much going on that could be injurious to the craft of fashion, the binding up could be a confident sign of healing too.

Photos: Rolf Ekroth

Shit, Is Excrement A Thing Now?

From poop on the bed to possibly eating some, women are finding use for fecal matter

By Mao Shan Wang

I have not heard this much shit in such a short span of time. This should have been a load of crap, but it isn’t. A month ago, at the now-concluded-and-Twittered-to-death trial of Johnny Depp versus Amber Heard, the jury was told that Mr Depp one day learnt a clump of faeces was dumped on his side of the bed he shared with his former wife. Ms Heard reportedly admitted to a security staff that turning the bed into a toilet was “a horrible practical joke”, but she denied she said that. Instead, she blamed it on one of their dogs. Court documents seemingly did not provide information on how many day’s worth of turd laid in wait, but according to Mr Depp, the “fecal delivery” was not canine: “I lived with those dogs for many years. That did not come from a dog. It just didn’t”.

And then just two days ago, venerable newspaper The New York Times shared that Kim Kardashian said, “If you told me that I literally had to eat poop every single day and I would look younger, I might. I just might.” Literally jiak sai (食屎, in Hokkien)! And this was a serious interview about her new beauty line SKKN by Kim, and the gunk she hoped you’d put on your face. I assume what she is willing to ingest to defy skin ageing comes from her own defecation. I don’t know about you, but after thinking that the SKIMS founder entertains such a thought (seriously, who does?!), I am not considering the stuff she peddles, no matter how “prestige” she described them to be. Okay, people might be fascinated with her recognisable body, but, I am certain, not what comes out of it.

Never have I thought that there could be individuals for whom the leaving of excreta, human or not, where one sleeps is appropriate, no matter the extent of the failure in love. Perhaps it was, for Ms Heard, the ultimate revenge, since Mr Depp is no Chuck Berry, who was known to dabble in coprophilia (yes, there is a word for it, this love of using poop for some return of satisfaction). And Mr Depp did not tell Ms Heard, “Now it’s time for my breakfast.” Or, that Ms Kardashian would consider coprophagia (yes, there is also a word for it, this feeding on shit!), or, to be more precise, autocoprophagy, the ingesting one’s own, whether deposited (on a bed or elsewhere) or taken directly from the point of exit. In court last month, Ms Heard could not believe that her ex-husband was “going on and on” about the mucked bed. “Our marriage was over and falling apart… I couldn’t believe he wanted to talk about faeces”. I could, and I would.

Illustration: Just So

She Did It Too

Madonna did not change her face; she covered it

If Madonna is doing it, there is a possibility that women, even not a celebrity, would be adopting the full face mask, too. In a recent outing with her son David Banda in New York City, the pop star showed her much changed face covered with a full-lace headgear that exposed only her eyes and mouth. Although not quite as severe as Kim Kardashian’s take on the look that Demna Gvasalia conceived for Balenciaga, it is face fashion that is expected to take off massively, even if the look is thought to be intimidating. The balaclava’s popularity is of such great potential since Ms Kardashian made a statement with it at the Met Gala last year that even Gap has allowed Kanye West to introduced it for Yeezy Gap under the guise of a further collaboration with Balenciaga—the brand that appears to be ruling the world.

That Madonna, after making sure everyone is familiar with her new young face, is willing to have it nearly completely covered is indication of the power of the extreme end that fashion endears itself to these days. But while Madonna’s whole head is covered, she is not that unrecognisable, just as Ms Kardashian is not indistinguishable when completely suited up. The balaclava may obscure the face, but it does not blank out the personality under it. We know it is Madonna (although, to be certain, her face mask was not that hardcore since it was made of openwork fabric). What surprised us was not the encased head, but the extremely baggy tracksuit that the author of Sex wore—Balenciaga X Adidas, no less. Was it to better co-ordinate with her son David in a Gucci X Adidas T-shirt dress?

The drastically different ends that women stand in terms of fashion are thought to be the opposing reactions against the pandemic that has deprived many the opportunity to dress up, to express, especially publicly. So either go nearly nude or totally covered. Clothes are now mere shreds of fabric or a complete bale. Anything in-between is too old normal, too ancien, too dull. Our avatar is no longer an online proxy. It is here among us, tangible and tantalising. We really do not need the metaverse to reshape fashion. It is already happening in this protoverse.

Photo: madonna/Instagram

The Previews Of Balenciaga’s Cruise 2023

Kim Kardashian is a fan of Balenciaga and a friend of Demna Gvasalia. Since August last year, she has been helping the brand and its créateur preview what would become the key look of the current Balenciaga cruise collection

All covered. (Clockwise from top left): Kim Kardashian at the Met Gala in September 2021, three days earlier, a possible sneak peak at what she was to wear, the earliest head-to-toe body suit in August 2021, and in Prada, February this year. Photos: kimkardashian/Instagram

The recent Balenciaga cruise 2023 showed how “terrifying” the world that we currently inhabit is when Demna Gvasalia sent out models with latex head/face coverings that were once associated with luchadors (Spanish for masked pro-wrestlers). Every one of them on the runway in the New York Stock Exchange had their faces completely covered (some even their eyes when sunglasses were worn) as if they were performing in a wrestling ring. While this obscuring of the face became the talking point (more than the clothes, except those from the collab with Adidas), it was not without precedence in the shifting shape of pandemic-era fashion. In fact, Kim Kardashian has been ahead of the curve. With the help of Mr Gvasalia and—no less—her ex-husband Kanye West, Ms Kardashian availed herself as model experiment to push Mr Gvasalia’s ideas of representing the world’s multi-form terror, including, possibly in fashion.

Ms Kardashian made the most news when she showed up like an apparition, all black and ghostly and faceless, at last year’s Met Gala in a Balenciaga get-up. She stole the show. No omelette dress could come close to the stark spectral showiness. Despite its news-making outcome, Ms Kardashian told Vogue in February this year that she “fought against it”. It is understandable that she would. “Why would I want to cover my face?” The reality star is known primarily for her leave-nothing-to-the-imagination outfits. This total cover-up was more extreme than what the Taliban would have expected. According to her, “Demna and the team were like, ‘This is a costume gala. This is not a Vanity Fair party where everyone looks beautiful‘.“

The reality star is known primarily for her leave-nothing-to-the-imagination outfits. This total cover-up was more extreme than what the Taliban would have expected

Her reluctance, while comprehensible, is puzzling too. In August last year, a month before the Met Gala, she shared on Instagram a photo of her in a Balenciaga all-covered look, seen at a Donda event (she even had her kids with her). Three days before her appearance on the stairs of the Met, she was out in an outfit that would turn out to be very similar to those revealed at the Balenciaga cruise show. Was she already wearing the sample pieces then? After she debuted as host on Saturday Night Live, looking upholstered, Ms Kardashian was photographed in a set of hot pink coveralls, with her face again obscured (even the heels attached to the legging are by now familiar), suggesting that breathing, for her, seemed increasingly secondary. Close to half a dozen (or more) similar outfits were noted. In the business of digital gadgets, what she did would be considered “leaks”.

Even the Balenciaga autumn/winter show, despite its visual commentary on the Russo-Ukrainian war, did not give a clue of the reflection of terror to come, or total face covering. While Mr Gvasalia is not known for the bare-skin sexiness associated with, say, LaQuan Smith, his latest proposal for Balenciaga is the total opposite of sartorial emancipation, the antithesis of free-the-nipple enthusiasm, and contradiction to the believe that women really want to show more skin and exaggerated makeup, a la Julia Fox. Or, is this a sign that Mr Gvasalia never left the sphere of irony that he built, one that could be traced to the halcyon days of Vetements? Now that covering half the face is commonly seen, is the total concealment of the head the next new normal? Balenciaga would be truly prescient then.

Two Of A Kind: The Sheer Black Dress

If you are proud of your body, show it, even if under a dress

Sheer power: (Left) Rihanna in Dior at the Dior show. Photo Getty Images. (Right) One of the looks at the recent Gucci cruise 2023 show. Photo: Gucci

Now that Rihanna has given birth and the sartorial baton is passed to Adriana Lima (see her appearance at the Cannes Film Festival), stomach-on-full-display is on track to be the maternity look of the pandemic era. Rihanna’s “lingerie moments”, as we know by know, have been widely lauded as “stunning” and “redefining”. If Beyonce made the naked dress acceptable on the red carpet, Rihanna was certain to affirm the naked maternity frock’s commitment to a very public existence. No wonder Alessandro Michele was quick to offer one on Gucci’s latest runway that is rather similar to the Dior dress that the star wore in Paris, even if the Italian house’s version was designed first as a sheer dress (Rihanna reportedly had the Dior’s lining ripped off) worn on a braless (not-skinny) model rather than an expectant woman. Could Gucci be targeting expectant customers now that there is no doubt how nude some are willing to go?

These days, the encouragement is dress to ‘celebrate’ the body, not to hide it, pregnant or not, slim or otherwise. Conservative attitudes towards a woman’s bare baby bulge (or any bulge) has no place in today’s society, just as Harry Styles in a dress should not have to threaten anyone. Immodest, when it comes to dressing to go out, whether pregnant or not, is preferred because every body has to be exalted. In the ’60s, American civil-rights activists wore their “Sunday best” to show that dignity is not the reserve of the non-whites and they are not by default relegated to the lowest rung of the social order. Today, the “any-day least” allow wearers to demonstrate that the skimpiest clothes need not be just for the pool or beach, and less so for the confines of a bedroom. And baring is really not restricted to exotic dancers.

Conservative attitudes towards a woman’s bare baby bulge (or any bulge) has no place in today’s society, just as Harry Styles in a dress should not have to threaten anyone

Demi Moore on the cover of Vanity Fair in 1991, if you remember, stripped away all the pre-natal dress conservatism that the Victorians left behind since the 19th century. Sure, we had many women wear clothes that hinted at nudity since the Sixties, but those in diaphanous dresses that substantially show the body are mostly latter-day individuals with specific interest (obsession?). The easy shift to near nudity has been attributed to the need to show individuality, boost confidence, embrace empowerment, gain attention, express sexuality, and simply because they can. On our shores, the weather. Could it also be because it is still provocative, and provocation is fun—let you see, but not touch? Gucci’s sheer black number was simply answering to today’s needs.

In both cases, the naked dresses—an oxymoron if you think about it—have fabrics acting merely as a sort veil for the body. Like the silk screens Empress Cixi sat behind from, where she ruled in the 19th century, these dividers are not there to conceal the wearer or make them inscrutable (are women today as manipulative?). They are there for a peekaboo effect. Tease is very much a part of modern fashion’s commitment to overt shame-free self-expression. Even the retired Victoria’s Secret Angels were more modestly attired. Trenchant media support for Rihanna’s near-nude maternity style and Emily Ratajkowski’s unconcealing every-day wear would only boost Gucci’s desire to send other sheer black dresses down the runway. There would be more to come.

Practically Nothing

If little is worn and clothes matter not, is there fashion? Or, will we have another word?

Julia Fox in Alexander Wang out grocery shopping. Photo: Rachpoot.com/Splashnews.com

We call ourselves a fashion blog. But more and more there is treasured little left to write. Fashion is reduced to a veritable nothing. Increasingly, there is more skin shown by wearers than cloth. Fabrics are inconveniences, hindrances, barriers, and, if their use necessary, too opaque. Little bits are a lot simpler. Pasties are easier to design and produce than brassieres! A narrow bandage has more potential than a full-form bandeau. Once-upon-a-time-private parts are no longer completely undisclosed. Free the nipple is very near reality. In fact, if what are worn by many well-followed stars are to be noted, clothing as we know it—with the fundamental purpose of covering (which is sounding oddly dated)—would no longer have a future, or, if we were to be more hopeful, a dim one.

A recent photo of Julia Fox—in head-to-toe Alexander Wang from his recent autumn/winter 2022 presentation—shared online truly made us realise that there is nothing we can say about her clothes: She was not wearing much; she was basically in underwear. Is this fashion? Or, has fashion come to this? Her fans would say she was not entirely nude (she has, of course, worn a lot less). There was the denim blazer, but was that even a jacket worth talking about? Or should we compliment how destructed and crappy it looked? Or that she was carrying a beautiful jurse (jeans-as-purse!)? Ms Fox has, of course, mostly dressed (admittedly, a poor choice of word) like that since she came to public attention for her brief, for-all-to-see affair with Kanye West. And that’s the daunting and unnerving prospect: the near-nudity is here to stay.

As one fashion designer told us when we showed him Ms Fox’s photo, “I am thinking, since so many pop and film stars are flashing themselves for the world, they have, naturally, created a new normal. The public, who looks up to them, will think, if their favorite stars can do it, so can they.” But the question is still unanswered: Is it fashion? The designer replied indignantly, “Of course not, not to me. It is purely styling; it is not Gaultier doing innerwear as outerwear!” A follower of SOTD, who formerly worked for a luxury brand, agreed. She said, “It’s just ludicrous and I think these women wear such rubbish on purpose to get attention. It’s really looney bins and not fashion at all—their own invention of fashion and the press lapped it up.”

“It is purely styling; it is not Gaultier doing innerwear as outerwear!”

We have, indeed, been wondering, too: Has the media encouraged this stripping (not merely revealing)? For every star baring herself—from Doja Cat in gold pasties under mere chiffon at the Billboard Music Awards two days ago to Kim K in nude bra and panty for Sports Illustrated’s current swimsuit issue—the press gleefully say they “rock” or—our extreme peeve—“stun”. If readers needed to be told that a certain actress or singer in close to nothing astounds, they already know she is not predisposed to, without the without. She needs the costume of a stripper. In fact, when she “stuns”, there’s a good chance she is as bare-skinned or as bare-breasted as it is legally possible. And that she is satisfying her (insatiable?) hunger for attention than fashion. Why would a lover of clothes not wear them?

The press not negating the lewdness once associated with strip clubs is operating within present-day necessity: The imperative embrace of inclusivity, now considered conducting oneself in a conscionable manner. Julia Fox in a narrow strip of fabric across her chest must be accorded equal opportunity to raves as Thilda Swinton in Haider Ackermann, if not more. Inclusivity is so compulsory in the business of fashion, as well as among adopters of fashion, that the unattired can be free of disapproval. Criticism is unacceptable because it would be shaming. We can’t say Ms Fox isn’t dressed for she can, as we are often reminded, wear whatever she wants, or omit. All women can, including the expectant. There is so little to say about what is worn these days since hardly any is; it’s no wonder more columns go to sneakers or meta-clothes.

To be certain, we are no prudes. Scanty dress as desirable dress is so omnipresent that anything that does not, in fact, amount to a dress is hardly terribleness of epic proportion. One fashion writer told us, “Nudity, in a post-OnlyFans world, is not sin, it’s just skin. Skimpy clothes is the future. Designers now need to go to school to learn how to make barely-clothes, but we may have soon another word for ‘fashion’. How about unfashion?” Come to think of it, un is a prefix of profound relevance. It’s skimpy too! Just two letters, yet with such descriptive power. So much of fashion today can be described with the simple un and so effectively: unattired, unclothed, undressed, unclad, uncover, unravel, untie, unline, unfuse unzip, unpick, unpin, untack, unsew, unseam, unseemly, unsuited, unfixed, unveiled, unfolded, unfurled, unrolled, untidy, and, of course, underwear and undies. Oh, for sure, unlovely and, definitely, underwhelming.

And This Is Miu Miu?

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.

Battle Of The Bulge

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?

Two Of A Kind: Asymmetric Pleated Skirts

Is Dior flattering Sacai?

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?

New York Fashion Week: Strip For Autumn/Winter

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.

…there is also America’s increasing partiality for the madcap (imprudent?) pulling together of looks that weaken the boundaries of refinement and discernment

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.

Runway photos: source. Collage: Just So