Can the little red dot stand shoulder to shoulder with the little black dress? A native islander and friends look at fashion (and such) in Singapore, and, occasionally, among her neighbours, and a little further afield
There is no stopping pigments that are bright and not belonging to nature to go into nail colour and, astonishingly, bread
While influencer Koh Boon Ki is no fan of chemistry and has barely any use for knowledge of the chemical make up and interaction of things, she is happy to wear vivid nail colour that is the result of fairly complex chemical processes. Ms Koh rant-questioned in a now-deleted video on TikTok: “You know, like, how much chemistry knowledge I use in my day-to-day life?” She then replied, stridently, “Not much!” She is a big fan of biology and prefers to be aware of peristalsis that leads to defecation or in her more colourful language: “shit”. We don’t know what goes through her mind when she does her business, but human stool is made up of entities that are both biological and chemical. Even the roughly 75% of water in fecal matter is a chemical compound. Perhaps she was too busy tending to her painted nails, which, given the opaque, matte coating, is chemical composition in itself.
In that video, Ms Koh was seen dabbing the bottom of her eyes, nails visible for all to see. She was highly animated—gesticulating as she went about, at first, speaking against “nun-science stoodents” and then railing against the uselessness of studying chemistry in school. As she disastrously made her case, she was applying makeup on her face. Her pointy (or tear-drop-shaped), colourful nails played a delightful cameo in her tirade against those who do not have the “bio knowledge” like she does. The pastel pink, blue, and green melded as a ‘gradient’, chemical sum that could be inspired by the colours of lollies. (In a follow-up ‘apology’ video, a few of the nails looked painted to depict sky and grass, with flowers in the mix.) They were the most compelling thing to watch while she wielded an applicator to dab something (concealer or highlighter, we couldn’t tell) on certain spots of her expressive face.
Ms Koh’s nails immediately brought to mind a bread we have been seeing sold at a stall that also offers cook-to-order waffles with assorted spreads. The waffles are uncoloured, but the breads, available in loaves that remind us of those hand-cut ones of the distant past, are with swirls or streaks of incredible colours that you would not find even in the most chromatically-blessed fruits. They look like something you might see in a metaverse bakery. Or, roti that is fit for a Vogue SG cover. Surprisingly, these enthusiastically coloured breads have found themselves buyers, including those who love a slice of Wall’s blocked ice cream with it. Perhaps, those bread lovers, like Koh Boon Ki, do not concern themselves with the petroleum-based dyes in them. They are, after all, just chemicals; they can be ignored.
Jaden Smith models Louis Vuitton’s spring/summer 2023 womenswear in a newly-released commercial, blithely dancing awayin a leather blouse
Jaden Smith in a Louis Vuitton leather halter top. Screen shot: Louis Vuitton/Instagram
We know Jaden Smith dares to dress. For him, there is no gender boundaries when it comes to fashion. To be sure, he doesn’t look like Billy Porter. Mr Smith is less dramatic when it comes to his sartorial choices. But, he is not one whose style is circumscribed by conventions of masculine dress. To him, clothes know gender not, such as the halter top that he wore in the latest Louis Vuitton commercial, just shared by the label on Instagram. According to LV, the 24-year-old “transcends style codes” and “embodies the essence of the collection”. This refers, we assume, to the work of Nicolas Ghesquire. It does not require the taxing of one’s imagination to discern what Mr Smith wore to be from the womenswear line. While we are not quite fans of such a sleeveless blouse, we will say that Mr Smith does not look bad in it. Maybe it’s to do with the leather. Would it be the same if it was in floral silk chiffon?
The halter top is one of those garments that, to us, is associated with a form of rather aggressive sexiness. Many (if they are old enough) also think of Halston, although the halter-neck itself emerged in the ’30s and was usually designed on gowns. A decade later, they were popular in swim and beach wear. And their return in the ’70s, especially for day clothes, sealed the halter neck’s future as a must for warm-weather dressing. The halter top gives prominence to bare shoulders, which could be the silhouette’s infinite appeal. And if it’s tied behind the neck, the top exposes the back, which has its own particular lure. But although the halter neck has mostly been adopted by women, it has a fan base among men too, even—believe you us—Jackie Chan (陈龙). Back in the ’80s, Mr Chan was photographed twice in different white halter tops—one with a high, near-mock-turtle-neck (and a perceivable bare back), the other with a deeply scooped neck. While many do no consider Mr Chan a style icon, there are now those who consider his clothing choices back then “rocking”.
Jaden Smith’s halter top is different from what guys used to wear and have been wearing. It is tented and swings like a baby doll dress. Is that why the ad has been attracting surprisingly nasty comments in LV’s Instagram page, directed solely at the star when there are other models in the commercial too? Mr Smith teamed the top with a pair of straight-legged trousers, and the clunky kicks Archlight, now a version 2. We remember that the original Archlight, released in 2018, was for women; we checked at the store back then, and the helpful salesgirl said “guys are welcome to buy if the size fits.” The latest Archlight, to our surprise, is available in men’s sizes even when it is listed in the brand’s website under Women’s Shoes. LV staffers have often said to us that many men buy the women’s line. We have seen it for ourselves in Tokyo. But does this mean that the men’s collection, soon to be designed by Pharrell Williams, could be cannibalised by the women’s? Or, perhaps this is just spreading the love?
The recent Oscars presentation showed that there is a market for head covering that’s not a tudung
Left: Gaurav Gupta dress shown at Paris Couture Spring/Summer 2023. Photo: Gaurav Gupta. Right: Tems in Lever Couture. Photo: Getty Images
The red carpet, must trod-on walkway of award shows, has always been a fashion trap. The colour may make those standing on it appear important, but it is, in fact, insidious by nature, ready to ensnare the fashion-clueless star and underscore how foolish they look. In the past, screen idols—and they were—needn’t depend on fashion to the point that their popularity at the award ceremony depended on what they wore. These days, things are, of course, vastly different. So many individuals in the fashion ecosystem are involved. A star cannot simply go to their favourite store and pick what they like. They are expected to make this the opportunity to keep otherwise unoccupied couturiers busy. Or avail themselves as a walking billboard. An what is worn now must shout F.A.S.H.I.O.N. As much is at stake, red carpet newbies try harder, often unaware of what they are really wearing because powerful stylists have more say. As long as you stand out, even if to the detriment of others around you, you have made it. One of them who had us thinking (yes, still) is the singer-songwriter Tems.
Yes, we’re revisiting that dress. Tems, aka Temilade Openiyi, wore a white gown that provided shelter for her head. The partly ruched dress with a thigh-high slit was by the just-over-a-decade-old label, Lever Couture, whose designer is Ukrainian-German, Lessja Verlingieri, known for her over-the-top “hand-sculpted” gowns. What Ms Openiyi wore was part of the label’s spring/summer 2023, revealed last September at the Rakuten Fashion Week in Tokyo. It is similar to the dress—also by Lever Couture—that Cardi B wore on the cover of Essence’s May/June 2022 issue. Ms Verlingieri’s style is hard to define, but she seems to like to manipulate her fabrics by fashioning them directly onto the body’s form. She is partial to extravagant over-the-head extensions, such as the cumulous canopy seen on Tems. Extraneous and distended parts are very much a part of the couture language. But what framed Tems’s head was already seen elsewhere—a continent apart.
In India. But that’s not quite exact enough. To be more precise, Paris, during the couture spring/summer 2023 season. Designer Gaurav Gupta showed for the first time—as a guest member—during the official Haute Couture Week. The collection comprised his signature curvilinear swathes in Indian handloom tissue that swirled around the body and over the head. He, too, called his way with fabric “sculpting”. This dramatic aesthetic was best worn on Aishwarya Rai Bachchan at last year’s Cannes Film Festival in May. The back of that dress that soared skywards was taller than Tems’s head cover. It is not known if the former beauty queen wore the dress at any of the festival’s screening and if she did, if anyone’s view was blocked. Times of India described the Indian actress in the Gaurav Gupta dress as “a phenomenon” while the Delhi-based designer portrayed her as “new-concept Venus” after Botticelli’s famed mid-1480 painting, minus the shell. Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s gown was mostly covered by the Indian media. Conversely, Tems’s look went viral. In the end, that’s all that matters.
Even with a new editor-in-chief, the ‘fashion bible’ continues its love affair with blue skinfortheircovers. Are they publishing in Pandora?
There is something about blue that editors-in-chief of Vogue SG love. And the ardour must be expressed on the top page of the magazine. For his debut issue, Desmond ‘Monkiepoo’ Lim, who shared the image on Instagram, put an alien on the cover. The humanoid being, named Faye, has not embraced earthly aesthetic conventions although she is ready to partake in one temporal joy: food. She has on make-up that Neytiri on the moon Pandora would call cultural appropriation. Jake Scully would be so peeved, he’d return to earth, thinking the Resources Development Administration was up to something here and that the Na’vi race—indigenous to Pandora—would, again, be under attack so that the RDA could subjugate the moon-dwellers. The blue face is somehow here on our island, at least one of them is. She is among us. And Vogue SG is happy to put her on their cover. The first creature from outer space to grace the magazine in its longer-than-a-century-old history—and among all 27 editions.
A fashion stylist asked us if this is STB’s doing, an early cover to promote next year’s Chingay parade. Why have we not thought of that? The main blurb reads “roots”. Could this be a look at a time when we were costumed. Or, is this tracing back to a genesis that we know not of? Were we a people dressed like the Sakaarans on the trash planet created by the un-aged Grandmaster? According to Marvel, Sakaar “is the collection point for all lost and unloved things”. Is Vogue SG positioning themselves as this assemblage spot? We looked at all the Asian Vogue covers this month—nine of them (we love Vogue Korea’s and Hong Kong’s). None had a model hued blue. We stand out! Are the other Asian EICs laughing at us? Or are they full of admiration, just as they might be with our city-state for being one of the richest countries in the world. This, however, isn’t the title’s first blue-skin cover. On the issue of last May/June, a woman with blue hands and nails partially covered her face. It looked like she was taking a break from working her hands in a vat of indigo dye all day. The fashion message missing then is still lost now.
Someone said to us that Vogue SG is reaching out to a new generation. And which might that be? Cerulean children? The latest cover does tell us that the issue is themed “fashion meets AI revolution”. The image is created by the intelligence that is artificial and cold. Vogue SG has been pro-technology and likes illustrating how digital means can be employed to manipulate the images it uses to communicate to the weary, the blasé, and the aloof, and to induce them to buy a copy of the magazine. In tandem with the rise of ChatGPT, the title and its EIC are, perhaps, showing the world that it is truly ahead of the digital curve. But, if there is one thing this cover proves, AI is yet to be better than human touch. Curiously, rather than make a boast of the talents we have here, Mr Lim chooses to work with a Mumbai-based AI artist. Perhaps this ties with his desire to “return to our ‘Roots’ and rediscover who we truly are as South East Asians” (India is not part of SEA), as he declared on IG. And discover we tried, but it has been futile. Besides, what are the chalk-green biscuits on the table? Are they part of our “roots”, too?
Yesterday afternoon, despite the heavy rain, we made a trip to Kinokuniya to get a copy of the magazine. We thought it deserved a quick perusal. Not a copy was seen on the rack. Instead, piles of the last issue, “Renewal”, were there, waiting to be removed and replaced. We returned to the bookstore again this afternoon, and once more, the cover of non-indigenous Faye’s blue visage couldn’t be seen (nor the other two that are part of a triumvirate of covers for this month). We asked a staff if the store was expecting a delivery. She told us she’d check. When she returned, she was extremely apologetic: “the only copy we have is this,” she pointed to the crumpled, stale issue. Do you know when the magazine will arrive? “Oh, I won’t know. We are not notified beforehand.” It is late for a March/April issue, isn’t it? “Yes, it is,” she replied sympathetically. “They are always like that.”
Update (5 March 2023): Vogue SG is still not available on the newsstands, five days after EIC Desmond Lim shared the photo of the cover on IG
Our island’s annual street-style, multi-activity fair Culture Cartel is back with their fourth edition. This time, in Orchard Road. Could this be the best retail event of the year?
The main concourse of Culture Cartel in Scape
In an op-ed last Monday for The Straits Times, ‘How to make Orchard Road great again for shoppers’, the former writer of the paper’s now-defunct Urban Karen Tee opined that “the shopping experience [on said street] does not always live up to expectations”. She isn’t wrong. The first reason Ms Tee cited is that “popular sizes and product models are often sold out”. Most retailers will say that it is nearly impossible to stock all the sizes and styles at once so that they are available to all customers whenever they walk into a store. Had it been just bad luck for the shopper? Additionally, Ms Tee is of the belief that brands are resistant to bringing in “too many statement pieces”. She did not explain why that many are needed if they are indeed those items that make a statement. A former buyer at Comme des Garçons once told us that “statement pieces are very expensive and it is not easy to sell them. Often, we have to mark down.”
What was interestingly missing in Ms Tee’s observation of shopping in Orchard Road was the no-mention of fashion—and culture—that correlates with youths, surely an important and influential market segment, and one that leads in terms of the experiential. She did write of the need to make shopping fun, and described the recently-concluded Boutique Fairs as “a nice break from the usual Orchard Road shopping experience”. What was fun or out of the ordinary to her at the Fairs? Apparently the chance “to meet designers in person and learn about their creative process (we, too, were there, but no designer spoke to us about that), making shopping a lived experience rather than just a mere transaction”. She then mentioned Tokyo’s Shimokitazawa neighbourhood and Seoul’s Hongdae, and how much she “enjoyed” both. Ms Tee did not indicate that Shimokitazawa and Hongdae, which is close to Hongik University, are essentially enclaves of a generally youthful consumer population. Retailers in these places do cater to the young; their businesses and the lively mix of tenants impart a distinct vibe to the place, as well as dynamism. Perhaps, more importantly, it’s easy to describe them as cool. In the end, we are curious to know if Ms Tee ever “met any designer in person” in those places. And, at the Boutique Fairs, were “popular sizes and product models” always in stock? And did she find her elusive statement pieces?
When we mentioned this ST story to a PR consultant, she was quick to say: “no fresh perspectives”. And we agree. Were these not the same gripes we have been hearing for the last 20 or so years? Orchard Road can never be Tokyo’s Omotesando—another street Ms Tee mentioned, nor should it try to be. In fact, “A Great Street”, as Orchard Road Business Association (ORBA) likes to call it, cannot come close to any of the main shopping areas in the Japanese capital. Omotesando is unlike any other major shopping belt in the world, not even Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré in Paris, or New Bond Street in London, is comparable. What makes Omotesando exceptional is that it is flanked and well served by the arterial streets of Ura-Harajuku and Aoyama/Jingumae on each side of the thoroughfare. And in these parts, you do find stores and brands that are not part of the usual European luxury conglomerates. Therein lies the opportunity for discovery, and gratification, and entertainment. Orchard Road is just one mall-lined street. Ms Tee mentioned the need to make shopping fun without saying what indeed makes for fun. Perhaps she might find it if she pops into Culture Cartel this weekend.
Massive installations dot Culture Cartel. Here, Singaporean toy and art studio Mighty Jazz’s CHXMP fronting Culture Cartel
Cuteness is often part of street culture. At Culture Cartel, a “Petting Zoo”
This year’s Culture Cartel is held at the (now significantly disused) *Scape. It is the fair’s first appearance in Orchard Road, and a rousing return to a physical space after 2020’s digital version and last year’s understandable hiatus. Culture Cartel is described as “the best and the only street culture event in Asia”, which may have been the selling point that snagged the Singapore Tourism Board as a firm supporter, hoping to “position Singapore as a street culture hub”. In his opening speech during the media preview this morning, convention director Jeremy Tan of Axis Group Asia revealed that the confirmation of the use of *Scape came only in July this year, which effectively gave him and his partners four months to prepare. Despite the short lead time, things came neatly to place because of the “creative passion, the bonds, and community spirit”. Culture Cartel is different from other street style-style-driven events in that it is a collective expression of what the culture is about: an amalgamation of obsessions, not just sneakers or T-shirts, but also figurines and toys, customised-ornamenting of motorcycles, even garments, and, for the first time, NFTs, and the very real art of tattooing. In fact, there are “six pillars” in all.
The event occupies the first three levels of *Scape, covering an area of 63,420 sq ft (or about 5,892 sqm), which is smaller than the F1 Pit Building, location of the first and second Culture Cartel. Housing the event here (possibly the last on such a scale as the 15-year-old building will, according to The Straits Times, “undergo a revamp” and reopen in 2024) is a boon to those participants who like proper, demarcated spaces, within which to tell their brand stories, and to do so with visual flair. Going from one brand space to another here is also a more agreeable experience. At the F1 Pit Building in the past, it took considerable time to go from one end to the other of the length of each floor. Conversely, *Scape, a building that’s triangular in shape, is a lot more compact. Mr Tan exclaimed to a member of the press: “It’s like a shopping mall experience.” Culture Cartel is not the first such event to be held here. In 2019, before the COVID 19 pandemic, the now-single-day-event-at-Drip-last-month Sole Superior (that once also went by the moniker Street Superior) staged their ‘con’ here, but with considerably less orderliness and, for some, pull.
One of the most popular areas of the event is the Archive Room, with Mark Ong’s SBTG on the left
One of the best local newcomers is the menswear brand N3AVIGATE
Regular attendees to Culture Cartel will be able to spot the regular exhibitors and the obligatory shops of the sponsors. The event is not discernibly zoned, except for the areas shared by tattoo artists. The most appealing set-up is by Pharaoh’s Horses, a Singaporean tattoo-parlour-cum-clothier, who offers fashion inspired by tattoo art. Many visitors appear to head straight for level three (the main atrium is on level two, and what appears to be the basement is, in fact, level 1). And the space that seems to draw them in is the Archive Room, curated by Chooee Hwang of the street-culture-centric media company Streething, with input from possibly the most beloved OG of the scene Mark Ong of SBTG. Mr Ong has his own space (thronged by fans) that offers, among the usual T-shirts and such, “neo-vintage” sneaks—new shoes made to look old. Mr Hwang explained that the idea of the Archive Room is to offer something that counters e-commerce platforms. “Everything is online, but I want a physical room, I want to create an on-site experience by putting out what I have, or sort of archive.”
One of the joys of an event such as Culture Cartel is to discover labels unheard of before (or unfamiliar), not necessarily just to meet the designers. One of the brands we were delighted to encounter in the Archive Room is the four-year-old N3avigate. As the numeral in the name suggests, there is a trio behind the brand—Aaron Yip, Alvin Tan, and Justin Low. N3avigate, founded in 2019, is a menswear label with a military/work wear aesthetic, reminiscent of WTAPS, and GR-Uniforma. Mr Tan says the clothes are “designed at home” since they do not operate out of a studio, as the guys have their “day jobs”. He happily reveals that he is working for Casio and has, in fact, “just finished setting up before coming over”. The clothes are produced in three countries: China, Vietnam, and Indonesia. We like the visual merchandising of the line, as well as the design consistency and the hand feel of the products, although the production would benefit from technical expertise. When we asked Mr Tan if he was invited by Mark Ong to participate in Culture Cartel, he replied, “Oh, we are friends!”
The unsurprising queue outside the Limited Edt unit, dubbed the Ice Cream Parlour
One of the few sneaker resellers, RAuthentic X District_Co, with their piled-up merchandise
Some names are the mainstays of Culture Cartel. Limited Edt certainly is, as the proprietor Mandeep Chopra is on the four-man organising team that includes Jeremy Tan, and Douglas Khee and Dave Chiam, co-founders of the event management outfit Division Communications. The almost twenty-year-old Limited Edt, with a gelato-coloured store front, sits in one corner of the third floor, next to an entryway, and it soon becomes clear why that is a vantage site. As soon as the event opened to the public, the first spot to draw a visibly long queue is Limited Edt (the line stretches past the glass sliding door of the building and into the corridor outside). Reportedly, there are “hourly drops” of limited-edition kicks for grabs. One teenaged guy in the line told us, with confident smugness, when we asked him what he was queuing for, “anything Limited Edt offers” and then qualified, ”they have the good stuff.” Apart from the sneakers, this time displayed in refrigerator units (likely not turned on) to mimic an ice cream parlour (the Limited EDT space is, ironically, the warmest on this floor), there is also a small collection from Patta, the much-watched streetwear-store-turned-brand from Amsterdam.
Sneakers are, surprisingly, not the biggest draw at Culture Cartel. Sure, there is that line at Limited Edt, but not quite elsewhere. With less than ten sneaker exhibitors, the offerings may not be the catch that such ‘cons’ are usually associated with. Mr Tan explains that as the venue was confirmed relatively late, many brands and retailers have already committed their budgets to other activities, but he did say that by representation, only Vans is not a participant this year. For those who like ‘con’-style kicks-stops, there is a lively corner jointly operated by Ruben Chan of RAuthentic and Edgar Goh of District_Co. Mr Chan, who primarily sells “sneaker accessories” such as crease guards (placed in the shoe to protect the toe box from furrowing), shoe trees, sneaker pills (deodorants), told us that he is “the top seller of (such) accessories on Shopee”. When we spotted several pairs of Yeezy in the tempting (but size-limited) pile of collectibles and wondered if there is still a demand for them, he said, “yes, there is, especially now that the partnership is over.” Has the price increased? “Not much, by the 10 to 20”, he replied while busy serving customers. Percent, we assume.
One of the best-looking set-ups at Culture Cartel is by the Hong Kong label Subcrew
Malaysian brand Nerdunit has the best sales drive in the whole event
From Culture Cartel’s overseas guest-exhibitors, two brands standout: Hong Kong’s Subcrew (appearing with Plants of Gods) and Malaysia’s Nerdunit. Subcrew—also known as 潜队 back in the Fragrant Harbour—is one of the smallest exhibitors, but they have created one of the simplest and sleekest space in the whole event, featuring ceramic incense burners in the shape of squat succulents by Plants of Gods (POG), an online plant store that “aims to promote a gardening culture”, as well as T-shirts with creepy-cute characters of plants, personified. Co-owner of POG Benny Fung informed us that presently Subcrew has a pop-up in Hong Kong’s Mongkok Sneaker Street (or 布鞋街). When we asked what the situation in Mongkok—and indeed Hong Kong—is like, he said, “everything is back to normal.” Subcrew is considered to be the SAR’s OG streetwear brand. POG’s collaboration with Subcrew is a tale of intertwining within the burgeoning street culture of the city. One name keeps popping up: Prodip Leung (梁伟庭), a bassist with Hong Kong’s influential hip-hop group LMF (Lazy Mutha Fucka). Mr Leung is also an artist and his work, such as the alien-looking POG Fever, appears on on ofthe T-shirts (limited quantities are available at Culture Cartel). When asked how he came to collaborate with members of Subcrew, Mr Fung said, “Oh, we used to skateboard together!”
Just as fascinating is Malaysia’s Nerdunit. And how they sell: Shoppers pay only S$120 and would be passed a small plastic basket, with which to stuff as many pieces of the mostly T-shirts as possible in 120 seconds. The stack must not go above the rim of the basket. Fun is indeed part of the experience here (was this what Karen Tee meant by fun?). Nerdunit takes up a considerable space in one of the units on level three, with a giant inflatable ‘sunflower’ sporting a smiley face welcoming shoppers. Founded and designed by Malaysian Ronald Chew in 2013, Nerdunit has a sub-brand Water the Plants (in collaboration with UK brand Smiley), also available at Culture Cartel, so is the label’s paring with Japanese imprint FR2 (or Fxxking Rabbits, the provocative other line by Ryo Ishikawa of Vanquish). The clothing of Nerdunit, designed out of a studio in Kuala Lumpur, has been retailing in Japan for four years and is available at Tokyo’s Laforet in Harajuku. General manager Raja Iskandar Shah gleefully tells us that they’re “on the first floor”, and is even more delighted when we noted that Undercover’s pop-up Madstore was on the same level too.
“Photo wall” inside the Mighty Jaxx space
The small but well-curated offering of Luca & Vic
Increasingly, toys are very much a part of the street culture, with many creatives/brand owners who are artists themselves, such as Plants of Gods’s Prodip Leung. Toys/figurines/art collectibles are reportedly a sizeable business on our island. One of the most noted names is Mighty Jaxx, the design studio that produces some of the most fetching little creatures you’ll ever dream of owning. Appearing at Culture Cartel is CHXMP, the company’s “first employee” in the Metaverse (smaller physical versions are on sale). While Mighty Jaxx is moving further into the digital world, their physical store is no less engaging. There is even a set-up where visitors can take selfies in possibly an office of the future. Small players are not left out. Luca And Vic, founded in 2019, is the brain child of Calvin Chua, who named his business and store after his two children. Mr Chua considers himself a toy collector first, then seller. In his motley stash is Lao Wang, the asymmetrical-eyes-above-mouth character, designed by Shanghai-based Malaysian artist Ken Wong. Also known by the Chinese moniker huabi laowang (花臂老王), the charming figures come in various guises, including one as Bruce Lee and another as Santa Wang! We wonder if Mr Chua’s buying is based on his own taste or what the market thirsts for. “I’m still learning,” he says. “There are major players here, and there’s the community.”
That keeps coming back throughout our exploration of Culture Cartel: the social heart of those who embrace the culture. Jeremy Tan is heard telling a journalist “that is why we as curators are apt for the job. We have earned the trust of the community.” Culture Cartel can indeed be the gravitational centre of a group/tribe that is no longer catered for in tangible ways. Physical spaces in the past include The Heeren and Far East Plaza, but they are no longer even a shadow of their former selves. Cathay Cineleisure, *Scape’s immediate neighbour, was headed in that direction, but lost its way; it’s now a ghost town. A four-day event, however, is not quite sufficient for sustained visibility of the community and the individuals who believe in it. Although the entry charge into Culture Cartel is somewhat steep, it opens one to this admirable group of individuals who are deeply knowledgeable of and passionate in what they do. And the camaraderie is infectious, which is rather absent in the larger fashion world. We left Culture Cartel shortly after 1pm. At the traffic junction of Grange and Somerset Roads, Mark Ong was waiting to cross the former to head for 313@Somerset. A trio of possibly fans spoke to him. He said cheerily, “I’m meeting Chooee for lunch. Some friends brought nasi lemak from JB for me. Want to share with the Japanese (exhibitors).” Community in action.
Culture Cartel 2022 opens today at *Scape and will run until 4 December 2022. Entry passes can be purchase on site: SGD30 for a single day or SGD69 for all four days. Photos: Chin Boh Kay
In two cities, it’s fashionable to frolic in the muck
Mud in Paris versus mud in Singapore. Photos (left): Balenciaga and (right): TikTok
Whose mud is better; whose is muddier? And whose can really muck up? Balenciaga has shown at the recent Paris Fashion Week that, when it comes to fashion show grounds, bog is better than pile. For their spring/summer 2013 presentation, held at the Parc des Expositions, the French couture house created a runway that was not carpeted, but muddied. Yes, earth of the very wet kind. We, too, had our own runway last weekend, during the comeback F1 Night Race, at the parc de City Hall, aka the Padang. It was near-identical, the mud, but we did not have to create the guck. It was there all along, compacted soil waiting for a downpour and excited F1 attendees to whip it up into a deliciously sticky and slimy mess.
According to The New York Times, 275 cubic metres of mud was dumped onto the Balenciaga show venue. But this was no ordinary mud; this was black dirt “harvested from a French peat bog”. Definitely more atas than the common earth on our historic Padang, all 43,000 sqm of it. And Balenciaga had the Spanish artist Santiago Sierra dump and “arrange” the guck there. The only artist we had was good ’ol Mother Nature and her showers. And to make sure their sodden runway smelled right, Balenciaga had a scent specially concocted—dubbed by NYT as “eau de peat”. It was sprayed into the air of the site. Seriously. A perfume to intensify the fragrance of wet soil. Very high-end, indeed. All we had was Mother N’s own bau—geosmin and, consequently, petrichor—and they didn’t have to be spritzed to odorise the Padang.
Balenciaga is known to show their collections outside Paris, even in unlikely places such as the New York Stock Exchange. They are, therefore, not opposed to decamping to foreign soil. If they had asked, we’re sure the Singapore Tourism Board would be happy to arrange for them to have a field day at the Padang, and allow their expensive sneakers and silk gowns trudge through our free and foul mud. According to the show notes, the Balenciaga Paris set was a “metaphor for digging for truth and being down to earth”. We do not for certain if they can do that here, but we are quite sure that the Lion City is as good a venue as the City of Lights to muddy a fashion show.
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?
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?
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.
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?
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.
Fashion needs to be so inclusive that even if you have somehow hurt yourself, you can still be part of itall
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.
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.
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.
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‘.“
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.