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
Who is the director pushing for a Black Cleopatra?
Not many people have heard of the name Tina Gharavi until now. In the wake of the questionable casting of the up-coming Netflix docu-series Queen Cleopatra, Ms Gharavi is thrust into the public eye, especially after she penned an “exclusive” for the Variety, doubling down on the producers’ decision to cast dark-skinned, bi-racial, British actress Adele James as the titular queen and what she sees as her (“melanated”?) truth. Perhaps Ms James playing the Macedonian-Greek queen would not have aroused this much controversy if the Neftlix show is not touted as a “docudrama featuring reenactments and expert interviews” that included an unidentified individual who does not “care what they tell you in school”. Many consider a documentary—even dramatised—to veer to the side of established truth, but Netflix prefers that it “shows a side of the infamous royal you haven’t seen before”—a queen that Ms Ghavari describes as Black. She rebukes those who do not agree, “what bothers you so much about a Black Cleopatra?” Strangely, Netflix would not allow the viewers of the trailer to answer that question. On YouTube, it had the comment option turned off.
The streaming platform has not responded to the casting controversy either, but Tina Gharavi was quick to hit back at those who do not concur with her position on her subject’s skin colour, insisting that “it is more likely that Cleopatra looked like our actor than Elizabeth Taylor ever did”. In a laughable introduction to her Variety piece, the British-American Iranian director, who is based on both sides of the Atlantic, in Newcastle and Los Angeles, claimed that a “fortune teller” told her—“ever the sceptic but game for a laugh”—that she shares Cleopatra’s story and both “are connected”. The connection was established, as the seer foretold, when, a month later, the production company behind Queen Cleopatra called, and she was offered the directing job. “The joke”, she wrote, was on her. Perhaps, more than that, by regaling the reader with her exposure to such colourful divination, she was possibly also illustrating the triumph of oracular utterance and wishful thinking.
There is another connection. Ms Ghavari helpfully establishes that, born in Iran, she is Persian. She asserts that Cleopatra’s “heritage has been attributed at one time or another to the Greeks, the Macedonians and the Persians.” There is clearly kinship here, and, therefore, “why shouldn’t Cleopatra be a melanated sister?” Like she is? (She’d have you know “that Persians have a long, long history of female warriors,” as she once told Primetime.) Cultural and visual evidence, as cited by historians and Egyptologists (including Dr Zahi Hawass), be damned. Iwant her black! Ms Ghavari asked: “And why do some people need Cleopatra to be white?” Similarly, why does she need Cleopatra to be Black? Might she desire Joan of Arc, someone she’s “particularly inspired by” to be Black, too? She gleefully applies another wonky reasoning for her conclusion that the queen cannot be of a lighter skin colour: “Cleopatra was eight generations away from these Ptolemaic ancestors, making the chance of her being white somewhat unlikely.” Can the obsession for a Black Cleopatra distance one from thinking with a rational basis? If she is right, are the hans (汉人), for example, many more generations later, less Chinese than their ancestors? Or, “somewhat unlikely”?
Of the choice of the lead, Ms Gharavi writes, “we found in Adele James an actor who could convey not only Cleopatra’s beauty, but also her strength.” The Greek biographer Plutarch was less complementary when it came to how the ruler looked. Writing a century after the queen’s demise, he said: “For her beauty, as we are told, was in itself not altogether incomparable, nor such as to strike those who saw her”. Team Queen Cleopatra would probably call that misogynistic. To Ms Ghravari, it would be “misogynoir”—her preferred charge, assuming she is right about Cleopatra being discernibly Black. We try not to connect this forcefulness of her thought to wokeness (essentially an African-American alertness), but it is hard not to when she is adamant that “we need to liberate our imaginations, and boldly create a world in which we can explore our historical figures without fearing the complexity that comes with their depiction.” Create! Does that mean she can delineate those historical figures as she pleases, let them evolved from her impassioned imagination, independent of established scholarship?
Tina Gharavi was born in Tehran in 1972, a month after Nixon visited the capital—the first time in thirteen years that a U.S. president stepped on Iranian soil. At age 6, in the year of the Islamic Revolution in 1979, she left her homeland to join her father in Loughborough, England. Her parents were divorced then. She revealed to her mom in her second documentary Mother/Country (2002), “You don’t understand how hard it was for me to grow up without my mother.” It is not known if she still carries that baggage with her or if it shapes her approach to making documentaries or how she sees her subjects. She calls herself “a citizen of everywhere” (on Twitter she is “stateless”), and claims to carry “no less than four passports”. She has lived in the UK, New Zealand, France, and the US, where she attended high school in New Jersey. Trained as a painter at Rutgers University initially, she continued her studies in film at Le Fresnoy, a “post-graduate art and audio-visual research centre” (in Northern France), as the school describes itself. It was during this time, when she was offered a residency position in the institution in 2000 that her first documentary Closer—a script-less portrait of a 17-year-old lesbian from Newcastle—was made. The biggest acknowledgement of her work came when she was nominated for a BAFTA in 2014 for I am Nasrine, a docu-feature about a pair of brother-and-sister immigrants from, unsurprisingly, Iran, and their life in the UK.
In a 2013 interview with film festival organiser Birds Eye View, Tina Gharavi said that her early attempts with film work “slowly became documentary and then documentary with fiction and now it’s fiction with some documentary.” She reiterated that equation to Zanan TV two years later, saying, “I make documentaries and fiction films; I have actually managed to combine both.” It can be said that with Queen Cleopatra, she demonstrated that skill—described as “cross-platform”, as well as showed that “people have been thought to fear Blackness”. Additionally, Ms Gharavi said she could care less in appealing to the “intellectual documentary” audience. “I’m not interested in objectivity,” she stressed. “In fact, I’m more interested in making sure my subjectivity is clear, and really pronounced. I want to tell people who I am when I am making a film. From your privilege comes subjectivity. When I teach documentary film-making… I say to students, ‘You, know, it is all fiction’.” Now, we do. Queen Cleopatra isn’t revisionist; it’s just a tale.
This December has been a strange month to close the year. The fashion industry here has lost at least three of its notables, all within the very last week of 2022. On Monday, we learned that one of the top models of ’70s Mimi Tan passed away. And then just four days later, we heard that the veteran fashion journalist Cat Ong, who co-penned the book Fashion Most Wanted, departed. Moments after, we learned that Tang Wee Sung, credited for bringing one of Singapore’s oldest department stores CK Tang into the modern age, left too. Even for the strongest among us, such information is not easy to digest. It is truly, for a serious lack of a better phrase, the passing of an era.
We know it is not terribly upbeat to talk about demise in welcoming the New Year, but perhaps the recent confluence of deaths, including, in the UK, that of Vivienne Westwood, does remind us to be grateful for what we have, however wide the extent or small the constituents. This past year has been a strange one, with unequal parts of the good and the bad, and the downright awful. But, we are grateful of the support we have received from the increasingly large number of readers of SOTD. This year, we have achieved the highest number of views since our inception in 2013. From this, we are confident that the long reads that we have been sharing isn’t, as it is commonly thought, disfavoured. A heartfelt thanks to all our readers. And a Happy New Year.
On Kate Moss, Bottega Veneta shows that what is wearable can be far from mundane, but others pulled off the proposition better than she did
She does not open the show, but she is there. Appearing the sixth of a 72 line-up, she saunters out as if she just stepped out of a ranch home. Kate Moss looks ready to work in the fields, if not to actually round up the sheep or milk some cows, definitely to put away bales of hay. Or, get into a truck to go to town to get some flour for an apple pie she would bake later in the afternoon. This is definitely not the Kate Moss we’re familiar with, not the heroin-chic chick, not the vintage junkie, not the festival style maven, not the TopShop collaborator, not a skincare businesswoman, not a rock star’s former girlfriend, not Johnny Depp’s ex in court. She wears a shirt-jacket in shadow check over what could be a tank top and faded jeans, unbelted. Only her leather shoes—not quite heeled—give her away: She isn’t going to do field or barn work. Strangely, Kate Moss on the painted Bottega Veneta runway does not look an urbanite as the other models do.
There is visual trickery involved here. What Ms Moss wears may look like flannel and denim, but they are, in fact, made of leather. Matthieu Blazy, in his second outing for the house, is reprising what he did in his debut: make leather not look like leather. It is a complicated process. Ms Moss’s top requires prints layered 12 times to achieve the chromatic depth of the woven equivalent. Mr Blazy calls this “perverse banality”, but it sounds like something Demna Gvasalia would do for Balenciaga couture. Other seemingly Normcore-looking pieces that might not be out of the ordinary at Uniqlo are given this leather-looking-like-ordinary-fabric treatment. Which means that if one does not examine the finished pieces up-close or in one’s hand, one may not know that the T-shirt is not made of cotton jersey and the jeans not cotton denim. The commonplace is not at all. Thankfully, Kate Moss did not need to do a Naomi Campbell.
The press describes what Mr Blazy does as “wardrobing”, creating practical clothes that have real use and place in a wardrobe. It is not a plan totally new to Bottega Veneta. Even as far back as the tenure of Thomas Maier, BV’s first superstar creative director, the clothes have been easy to wear. Its quiet luxury led Vogue to describe BV fans as projecting “stealth wealth”. The brand’s ready-to-wear line is, in fact, relatively young; its debut appeared only in 1998 (some 30-odd years after parent company Gucci introduced their first pieces of clothing). It was designed by Laura Braggion, the ex-wife of the co-founder of the house Michel Taddei, who, together with Renzo Zengyaro, developed the unmistakable intrecciato weave used in the bags, wallets, even shoes. Bottega Veneta has never alienated their customers with designs considered too radical for a functioning wardrobe.
Mr Blazy has not kept that approach in his blind side. This season the tailoring is elegant, with none of the exaggeration of silhouette that still plagues many other brands; the dresses understated but just so, with some in prints that are graphic as they are offbeat; the leather wear supple and slick, with barely a hint of anything rock or ruffian. There is nothing too forward or too retro about the styling, even the fichu neckline—absent in fashion for so long—is a neoteric, tad folksy flourish, so are the scarfs floating in the rear, their single tip secured to baubled necklaces. Those slim, sheer, layered dresses with padded appliqués and decorative trims are evocative of Prada, but perhaps that’s a certain Milanese sensibility shared by those who design with a certain élan, just as some brands are unshakably partial to flesh and flash. Matthieu Blazy’s follow-up to his debut is a well thought-out and deftly edited collection. And, best of all, beautiful too.
Obituary | There is no better way to describe Issey Miyake: He was, without doubt, ahead of his time
The world mourned an iconoclast of fashion design when it was reported yesterday in the Japanese press (and immediately picked up by the West) that Issey Miyake had died five days earlier. An official statement issued by the company he founded in 1970 Miyake Design Studio (MDS) stated that the designer “passed away on August 5th, 2022, at a hospital in Tokyo, surrounded by close friends and associates. The cause of death was hepatocellular carcinoma”, considered a common type of liver cancer (the same disease that took the life of another Japanese fashion designer of the era, Mitsuhiro Matsuda, in 2008). According to Nikkei Asia, “the funeral has already been held”. A company employee was quoted by The Japan Times to have indicated that there would not be a public ceremony, as the designer had requested. Mr Miyake was 84.
Born Miyake Kazumaru (the Japanese characters 一生 also read as Issey, which he adopted professionally) in 1938, in Hiroshima, the south of Japan’s largest island Honshu, he grew up in the higashi-ku (or east ward) of the city. At the time, Hiroshima was a military base, and considered a prominent one, where the residents, according to the city’s own literature, worked for the army or were from Korea and Taiwan, which were then Japanese colonies. Six years later, in 1945, an American B-29 bomber released the world’s first atomic bomb, code-named Little Boy, on Hiroshima. Mr Miyake was himself a little boy when the attack struck. His experience during the bombing, which obliterated his home city and resulted, at the end of that year, the death of between 90,000 to 166,000 city folks, most of whom were civilians, was never truly recounted. But in a now-famous and oft-quoted op-ed for The New York Times in 2009, he wrote: “When I close my eyes, I still see things no one should ever experience: a bright red light, the black cloud soon after, people running in every direction trying desperately to escape—I remember it all. Within three years, my mother died from radiation exposure.” He still did not talk about his younger days, least of all the precise details of living in the aftermath of the bombings, but that fateful day in 1945 did leave him with a pronounced limp.
Issey Miyake in 1970. Photo: Claude Charlie’s/Vogue
As an adult and through his professional life, he offered almost no glimpse of his formative years, fearing any recollection might label him, as he wrote, “the designer who survived the atomic bomb”. In fact, till his piece for NYT, not many knew of his war-time experience. “I have always avoided questions about Hiroshima. They made me uncomfortable.” To understand his discomfort, we may have to look at the experiences of others who survived the bombing. In one 2014 report in The Chugoku Shimbun, a former electrical technician Shinji Mikamo, by then 87, described how he lost his family and home to the American attack. The situation in Hiroshima was already tense at the time. “To create a fire lane in the event of an air raid,” the paper wrote, “he was helping to dismantle his house. He was on the roof, removing roof tiles to take them to the spot where the house would be rebuilt. Suddenly, a yellow ball of fire, three times as large as the sun, filled his vision. At the same instant, he felt a blast of intense heat, as if splashed with boiling water… his pants had caught fire and he suffered serious burns to his right thigh. He was also burned and wounded on his back, right arm, both hands, and face.”
We do not know much of Mr Miyake’s youth following the Hiroshima bombing, or his health, but a 2010 article in the British paper The Telegraph wrote that he was diagnosed with a bone-marrow disease when he was 10 years old. In 2015, he finally revealed more to the Japanese paper The Yomiuri Shimbun. He said, “I was a first-grade primary school student when the atomic bomb was dropped 70 years ago on Hiroshima on August 6. I heard the boom all of a sudden when I entered a classroom after a morning assembly. A broken piece of window glass got stuck into my head. I was frightened. I told the people at the home to which I had been evacuated, ‘I want to go home,’ and they gave me lots of hard, dry biscuits. I headed home alone to search for my mother. People were burned, lying on top of each other, and others gathered at a stream for water. I found my mother, who was burned over half her body, the following day. I developed periostitis (inflammation of the connective tissue that surrounds bone) due to radiation exposure when I was a fourth-grader at primary school. Some people died of this disease, but I was saved by penicillin. My mother nursed me while I was fighting the disease and died soon after my condition improved.”
The illustration of Issey Miyake’s 1969 collection Constructible Cloth. Photo: Miyake Design Studio
The execution. Photo: Kishin Shinoyama/Miyake Design Studio
Whether he remained in Hiroshima is not ascertained, nor when he moved to Tokyo. We do know that Mr Miyake was interested in dance, but did not pursue it. In 1962, he enrolled in the private institution Tama Art University in the mountain suburb of Tama, west of Tokyo. He chose graphic design, as the school did not offer a course in fashion (his contemporaries included the late Makoto Wada—famed illustrator, as well as film director [1988’s Kaitō Ruby]). But fashion had stirred a deep interest in him when he became an ardent reader of his sister’s fashion magazines—in Japan they were an invaluable source of information and inspiration. So passionate he was about fashion that in 1960, during the World Design Conference (that gathered Japanese designers, architects and industrial designers with their European and American counterparts to discuss ‘Total Image for the 20th Century’ that year), which Japan was hosting for the first time, Mr Miyake shot a letter to the secretariat and put to them why clothing design was not part of the program. It is not known if he was given an answer.
Yet, according to MDS, “his focus upon clothing as design rather than fashion attracted attention”. Whether this was campus-wide, city-wide, or nation-wide, it is not specified. Although graphic design was the subject on his books, it was fashion design that Mr Miyake held on tightly to (surprising, he did not choose to go to Bunka Fashion College, where many of the country’s elite designers went). Reportedly, he started designing clothing for himself. Then the art director Jo Murakoshi, founder of the Tokyo advertising firm Light Publicity, came acalling with the suggestion that Mr Miyake designed the clothes for the calendar that he was doing for the fabric manufacturer Toyo Rayon, now know worldwide as Toray Industries. After his graduation, he created his first collection called nuno to ishi no uta (布と石の詩 or Poem of Cloth and Stone); its art-school vibe unmistakable. The collection enjoyed a proper show, staged at the old Tokyo Chamber of Commerce and Industry building in Marunouchi, not far from the Tokyo Imperial Palace. It is not quite certain what happened after the show or if it made a mark in Tokyo.
With his models at the end of his spring/summer 1988 collection. Photo: Getty Images
A year after he graduated in 1964, Mr Miyake decided to go to Paris, where just months earlier compatriot Kenzo Takada had arrived. There, he enrolled, as Mr Takada did too, at the prestigious L’École de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne (where the famed Bunka lecturer Chie Koike was educated and where a young Yves Saint Laurent was reportedly in her class) and stayed for a year. School was followed by work in surprisingly traditional couture houses: First, at Guy Laroche, and a year later, at Hubert de Givenchy. But Paris couture had insufficient pull and he moved to New York where he was assistant to Geoffrey Beene, who, in a 1999 interview for Veery Journal, curiously opined: “I admire Issey Miyake who worked for me at one time for his technique. I don’t think the clothes are modern but the technique is.” In New York, it was said that Mr Miyake took English classes at Columbia University, but it did not seem he intended to stay. In less than a year he was back in Tokyo.
In 1970, Miyake Design Studio was established upon the designer’s return. A year later, he was back in New York to stage his first overseas fashion show. The collection featured “body tights” in skin-coloured stretch fabrics on which images of Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin—following their tragic deaths—were employed just like Japanese tattoos, only more vivid and, as was the graphic style of the time, pop. In 1973, he showed his first collection at Paris Fashion Week, and since then, the brand has not departed the Paris calendar (2023 would be its 50th year showing in Paris). While Mr Miyake was often placed together with Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons and Yohji Yamamoto as one of “The Big Three” to rock the French establishment in 1981 with their radical looks, which, ironically (even cruelly) was described as “Hiroshima chic”, among other names, he did debut earlier—eight years earlier, which made him the veritable veteran of the trio—and he did not show anything with holes. Ms Kawakubo’s and Mr Yamamoto’s overnight success probably bolstered Mr Miyake’s standing. Finally, the Japanese designers had arrived.
Poster for the Tokyo leg of the exhibition Issey Miyake Spectacle: Bodyworks. Photo: Miyake Design Studio
With The Plastic Body—his famous bustier made of fibreglass—at the Issey Miyake Spectacle: Bodyworks at the Laforet Museum Iikura, Tokyo in 1983. Photo: club21global.com
Three years after Mr Miyake’s Paris debut, in what can now be seen as a far-sighted idea, he staged an off-season show in Tokyo titled “Issey Miyake and Twelve Black Girls in Tokyo”, which trained the spotlight on Black models, including Grace Jones and Toukie Smith (sister of the designer Willi Smith of the ’80s label Williwear). It is tempting to say that the designer’s sojourn in New York in 1969 exposed him to the beauty and potential of Black models, just as American sportswear might have influenced him into wanting his clothes to be totally wearable and to reach many people, not just fashion folks. But while his designs were practical and practicable no matter how out-there they sometimes were, the clothes were not at all in the same league as Uniqlo’s Lifewear. Every design was a confluence of tradition and technology, with Mr Miyake equally interested in looms and software, in wefts and bytes. His famous Pleats Please line, born in 1993 that saw the garment (or object) pleated after they were cut and sewn, rather than before, as was the conventional practice (hence the patented “garment pleating”, a concept much copied), is testament to his willingness to see the tried-and-tested given a technological spin. Much of Mr Miyake’s pioneering and groundbreaking work will probably be covered by the press in the coming days.
Although he was unable to follow his love of dance professionally, Mr Miyake was able to support the art by designing costumes for ballets (and other dances), such as William Forsythe’s Frankfurt Ballet company in 1991. But the idea of fashion as performance-display-entertainment truly came in the form of the numerous exhibitions throughout the world that dramatically showcased his work. Bodyworks in 1983 is still considered the most unforgettable; it featured Mr Miyake’s most indentifiable construction The Plastic Body and the curvilineal armour made of bamboo, as an exploration of hard materials that could be made to be worn on a body, and in doing so, examine the space between the garment and the body. The result of the rattan bodice was so radical, but so beautiful in its form as well as its nod to traditional basketry that the magazine Artforum featured it on the cover of its February 1982 issue, making it the first-ever garment to appear. His reputation as an artist was slowly consolidated. But in 1994 and 1999, Mr Miyake relinquished the design of the men’s and women’s lines respectively to his assistant Naoki Takizawa (who in 2014 joined Uniqlo), in order to do research and explore new concepts—even at retail level—full-time.
With models for the Pleats Please launch show in Paris, 1993. Photo: AP
The designs of Issey Miyake were brought to our shores in the ’70s. Although the brand is presently linked to Club 21, with a freestanding boutique at The Shopping Gallery in the new Voco Orchard, it was the store of the ’80s and ’90s, Man and his Woman, that introduced it here. In the early ’70s proprietress and former journalist Judith Chung bought the line not long after Mr Miyake’s Paris debut for her first store at the now largely-forgotten Specialists’ Shopping Centre (where Orchard Gateway now stands). Ms Chung was an arden supporter of not just the trending European designers of the day, but also the those of the burgeoning Japanese avant-garde. She was no stranger to Japanese designers, having earlier stocked Kenzo Takada’s Jungle Jap. But in Issey Miyake, with whom she would form a firm friendship, she saw a talent that was special. And in time, not only did she carry the men’s (which was launched in 1978), she opened the brand’s stand-alone store in 1984—the first in Asia outside Japan—at The Promenade, where Man and his Woman moved to after Specialists’ Shopping Centre, in 1982. The Promenade was demolished in 2003 for the extension of the Paragon. In 1993, when Ms Chung closed Man and his Woman for good, the retail and distributorship of Issey Miyake went to Club 21.
An ex-staffer at the Issey Miyake store in The Promenade, who was later also a fashion stylist, shared on Instagram (we quote verbatim), “It was such a great learning experience to see , touch n sell all those collections . And Thanks to Judith I had the experienced to do buying , visited his Studios n meeting Mr Miyake himself in Tokyo. I learned so much !” One former designer told us that the Issey Miyake fibreglass bustier, The Plastic Body, was unforgettable: “First saw it in a magazine and was always sketching it in my text book while in class! When I finally saw it at Man and his Woman, I almost cried. It taught me that fashion could be art.” Another designer, now based in New York, said, “When Man and his Woman had a store in Specialists’ Shopping Center, a friend and I used to go there and try all the clothes! Back then, it was outré… but now…? That’s why he was so ahead of his time.” A former editor, who said that the designs made him rethink “how clothes could flow around the body”, told us, “people these days often talk about ‘newness’, a requisite that is stress to designers and retailers. Back then, Issey Miyake was newness, totally. And every season too.”
Giorgio Armani’s IRL show is staged without music. Silence to stand in solidarity with Ukraine. Applause
So far, in Milan, no designer has taken a definitive stand on what is happening to the north-east of the fashion capital, some 2,203 kilometres away. The unfortunate, clear-as-velvet Russo-Ukrainian war struck on the second day of Milan Fashion Week, but it would take the vanguard of Italian fashion Giorgio Armani to express—even if it’s another two days later—what his fellow designers probably feel, but unwilling to say: show “respect” for the Ukrainians. This Mr Armani does by eliminating the soundtrack to his autumn/winter 2022 show. A quiet affair can be a much louder objection to the war than what some far more vocal opponents prefer: blaring condemnation. (While we are on the topic of taking a stand, we at SOTD would like to state categorically that we do not support unprovoked war against a sovereign country. Peace be with Ukraine soon.)
The show opens with a voice-over reading in the darkness, a message in English that Mr Armani had written: “My decision to not use any music in the show was made as a sign of respect towards the people involved in the unfolding tragedy in Ukraine.” The audience clapped approvingly. While reports emerged that, since last Thursday, there were people holding placards denouncing the war outside some show venues, none stated that designers took similarly disapproving stance. It is possible that many brands worry about their businesses in Russia (where, in Moscow, many Italian brands have flagship stores that appeal to the oligarchs and co) and, therefore, prefer to be quiet about their feelings and play down their reactions. Mr Armani’s music-free show may help break that booming silence.
No matter how much the present time has changed (or will change even more), Mr Armani’s designs have not. This is not necessarily disadvantageous. Perhaps of the uncertainty of the future, this familiarity is reassuring. The Armani silhouette, never extreme (no Yeti’s-fur-as-coat or leg-O-Franken-mutton sleeves, as seen in the Dolce & Gabbana blitzkrieg on the senses), adheres to a reliable and, if one tries, relatable elegance that may wane with the fashion crowd, but does not fade. His shoulders are often rounded and soft, but can be powerfully strong when the occasion calls for them, his necklines are usually quite high, but they may plunge when the trend expects it, and his hems are usually low, but they do rise when there is a need for them to. This, for many, is a ‘safe’ balancing act, but it is the embrace of such safety that many turn to when confronting the ugliness of an abhorrent, conflict-struck world.
Mr Armani, to be fair, attempts to create freshness in fabrics he uses: corded fretwork, graphic quilting and paneling, even faux fur—they have the exquisite quality (and technical finesse of application) that other houses declare to possess, but do not. And however he mixes them—the heavy with the light, the patterned with the plain, the effect is not excessive or disproportionate—he confidently repels the excesses these past two years wrought. While only the models’ footsteps and the swish of the body-skimming clothes could be heard, the overall quiet is peacefulness that stirs. With a war raging, the serenity is truly pleasing, audible, and harmonic.
What a year it has been. 2021 was tumultuous, and what would likely remain dominantly problematic is the still-raging pandemic that is getting many people quite fatigued by it. One good thing for us at SOTD is that, with more people spending time at home, weather working or just avoiding the crowds outside, more are reading our posts. These past 12 months have been the best for us—we see the highest viewership in all of our nine years of bringing fashion news to you. And it shows us that many people still enjoy reading, no matter how dated some are making blogs in general out to be. Or, saying that no one wants to read in-depth analysis or back stories of fashion and such happening around us. We like to thank all of you for your tremendous support and encouragement, and for continuing to believe that this is where you would always find something informative and enjoyable to read. From all of us here, a better and healthful 2021 to you. And, great style, too.
Food: how they inspire shoes. After seeing Loewe’s egg heels, our appetites were aroused too. We were suddenly reminded of Y/Project’s lobster toes. There is no mistaking the inspiration. But we are not talking about the famous Schiaparelli print that the house revived in 2017. Or, something like the cartoon lobster plonked as upper on the Libertine heels from spring/summer 2019. We are referring to footwear that is quite a feat of engineering.
Y/Project’s Glenn Martin, announced last week as Jean Paul Gaultier’s next couture collaborator after Sacai’s Chitose Abe, has always turned the seeming innocuous on its head, or in the case of these heels, their impressively-shaped claws. How do the propodus become split toes? Can human toes actually fit into them? The dainty upper no doubt looks as hard as the marine crustacean’s exoskeleton, enhancing the shoe’s protective quality (even if only partly). And there is a sensuous grace to the entire toe box, even if they may appear sinister if you look long enough. Like bat wings!
There is no doubt this pair would be a major lure to shoe collectors who amassed such heels like they would with sculptures. Margiela may be the first to show the possibilities of the tabi split toe on all manner of footwear, but the maison won’t be the last to separate the big toe and its siblings inside a shoe. The Y/Project ‘Lobster’ heels, although a spring/summer 2022 style, are already sold out at many stockists, such as Farfetch. Claw your way to a pair elsewhere!
Product photo: source. Photo illustration: Just So
The setting is rather otherworldly, a forbidding suburbia, butRiccardo Tisci’ Burberry is not for children of a dystopia
Burberry must believe that the majority of those who watch their livestream do so on their smartphones. It’s probably true. The brand’s spring/summer 2022 show is not only optimised for phone viewing, it seems to be filmed specifically for broadcasting to phone users, or TikTok habitués. Rather than in landscape orientation, the show is streamed in portrait. When you rotate your phone, the screen keeps (largely) to the north-south sizing. This is also rather true if you watch it on your notebook: to meet the landscape view, the image is half of the portrait! Even when you click your web browser to full screen, nothing is changed. Watching on the smart phone, especially in 21:9 screen ratio, is truly a reminder that fashion has become a digital experience, involving just the viewer alone, even when we’re told that it’s all IRL again. You can watch shows on the MRT train or in bed, even in the wee hours of the morning.
In terms of the feel of the presentation, the women’s is rather similar to the men’s presentation in June. Desolation is the setting. There is barely any soundtrack except the ambient sounds and, when the scene shifts to a sort of dance club (youth?!), music to move enthusiastically to. Multiple is the setting, from sand mounds in some void deck to empty echo-y rooms to corridors with speakers on one side to that packed dance space (a message there?!), where even the large, floppy-eared (no idea why some models need the prosthetic) can move un-hassled. The clothes do not seem to have anything to do with the somewhat cold surroundings: they are far less apocalyptic-seeming, more an exploration—a metamorphosis, even—of the things women might wish to wear when the pandemic is finally over, without stripping down to the underclothes. Which is understandable because, according to the show notes, Riccardo Tisci dedicated the collection to his mother.
If Christopher Bailey modernised the Burberry trench coat in the early 2000s and turned it into a fashionable staple, Mr Tisci has now made it sexy. They are, in fact, not kept whole: sleeves are removed, collars too, and in quite a few styles, the back—yes, entire backs! Deconstructed would be a strong word to use here (you can trace the garment to its original silhouette), but there is clearly a reimagining of what the trench coat could be used for. They could be worn as a dress, for instance, and with the rounded shoulders, look like a dress. And if you think that the Burberry trench coat is still too traditional for you, Mr Tisci dishes up some with geometric shapes on them, which could be discreet applications of tone on tone or something more eye-catching (that is key, isn’t it, when we embrace social gathering enthusiastically, again?), with contrasting colours of black and white on the more trad khaki. A garment can be so strikingly and effectively transformed.
Geometrical shapes are seemingly a new obsession with Mr Tisci, as if he was recently given a set square and a compass, and he is rediscovering the joy of their use. Curved shapes—that include the elliptic and parabolic—abound. Some are used symmetrically, and in sum look like creatures wearing gas masks or full-face respirators (did we also see a burka?). Some are more random in composition (abstract, really) and, in black and white, look like those on cows, but designed by man, not nature. Layered asymmetry is strong too. Sheer fabrics (netting?) over more shapes and, in some, with text (one reads “universal sports”). A low-front tailored gilet is a cape at the rear, a poncho has a vertical hoodie centre front and back, a top that looks like a blazer on the lower right half is a throw on the opposite end on the left. Relatively modest is the collection of 52 styles, but no doubt, visually compelling. And, best of all, there is a lot to see.
In a few months’ time, get ready for the show-your-brassiere trend. But you really don’t have to wait. The bra, or the sibling bralette, not under anything is already fashionable. NYFW merely confirms it
Bra as solo item at Michael Kors. Illustration: Just So
With lockdowns nearly behind us, people want to break free. Escaping the grasp of the pandemic and the social restrictions that followed it means showing how hot one feels—in all sense of the word. Or, according to the (mostly) IRL New York Fashion Week, how one should be released from the restrictions of certain clothes, mainly tops. It should have been called Freedom Week, just as many in the West look forward to the end of lockdown or social restrictions as Freedom Day. American designers, it seems, want shoppers and fans to know that now (or a few months later) is the time to, if not shed your clothes, undo all the buttons. The bra—and bralette—takes centrestage, alongside those that look like one, but may not, by definition, be underclothes. It’s one article of clothing that keeps popping up in the shows, from Altuzarra to Ulla Johnson, as base garment to disco wear. This will all, no doubt, be good for real brassiere makers—nobody’s secret, such as Triumph. When thwarted movement is no longer the norm, isn’t it rather peculiar that women will say the bra is the new sweatpants? Bra-less at home for too long translates to bra-for-sure outside?
Cathy Horyn, reviewing the NSFW shows for The Cut, wrote, “sex is on everyone’s mind”, calling it the “new freedom” (oh, that word, again!). As many dream to be on the other side of the closed-for-too-long door, did they think the pandemic dampened everyone’s urges and then amped depravity? We don’t know. But Ms Horyn seems to suggest that there is not just sex appeal at play, but something “primary”, rather than primal. Nothing, thankfully, like the unsexy visual categories on social media suffixed by the flaccid word “-porn”. We are, of course, creatures of needs, and the need now is to show the bra. Yet, these bras are, mostly, conservatively black, as if chosen because the designers forgot to include a top in the final styling and decided to just throw an easy-to-purchase-from-anywhere bra in the mix. Some are fancier, such as those at Moschino and Coach, but these aren’t quite sexy as they are too pretty, the kind women buy for each other for birthdays or Christmas. Since it’s NYFW, there are, unsurprisingly, designers who prefer no bra at all. But, exposed breast we do not consider fashion because there is not even a shred of fabric used.
Top row: Tom Ford, Maryam Nassir Zadeh, Michael Kors. Middle row: Coach, Altuzarra, Jonathan Simkhai. Bottom row: Brandon Maxwell, Moschino, Coach
The bras, plain and simple—a cross between the plunge and triangle bras (no conical cups like Madonna’s, adopted during 1990’s Blond Ambition Tour)—are mostly worn under something, mainly a shirt or a jacket. Or, sometimes, over a top—at Maryam Nassir Zadeh, for example. Ms Zadeh’s collection is an interplay of light and opaque, so she hints and, when that is not possible, shows. Michael Kors, too, showed, sending out half a dozen or so looks featuring bras, but if you were hoping for something that is raise-the-temperature hot, you might be disappointed: a triangle bra under an unbuttoned cardigan above circle skirt, for example. This is all the sexy Mr Kors could muster? The thing is, you would not ask Kate Spade to do sexy, would you?
Stuart Vevers, too, came up with six visible bras for Coach’s skater-edgy collection, all worn under outerwear, suggesting, perhaps, that it has to either be a T-shirt beneath, or a bra. To play down exposed underwear’s potential provocativeness, some designers have theirs under suits, such as Altuzarra and Jonathan Simkhai. Smart sexy? But allowing the bra to be what it often symbolises, apart from protective inner garment, is Tom Ford. Unapologetically sexy and glamourous in equal measure, Mr Ford’s bras are a move to deliberately dispense with tops to contrast with shinny (sometimes glittery) bottoms, as the world prepares to boogie or, as the Fifth Dimension sings in the soundtrack, Let The Sunshine In.
The bra is, of course, just a small part of the everything-is-fashion mantra of the Big Apple. In all-inclusive America, every designer deserves a runway; every model deserves it too, even the non-model; every dress, even the non-dress; every bra, even the no-bra. Not at any other of the major fashion weeks will we see such knock-out diversity, gloriously celebrated, even by those in a wheelchair. The runway, as Thom Browne showed, sending models in full, animal-head mask, riding penny-farthings, is for wheels, as much as for legs. But despite its mish-mash, passed euphemistically off as diversity (even when, sometimes, it’s down-right freaky), is American fashion still respect-arousing? Just as the nation of America has lost its standing among the world’s leading nations, the fashion of America, too, matters less and less to those who consume fashion. Or, is TheNew York Time’s Vanessa Friedman right when she posted on Twitter, “So long #NYFW. It’s been real”. Really wanting.
Photos: gorunway.com, except Maryam Nassir Zadeh, courtesy of the designer
Oh, Joanna Dong (董姿彦), you are so right: “Singaporeans deserve what they get.” During the six-and-half-hour broadcast of the Star Awards last Sunday, I know I did. I deserved what I got because I was foolish enough to sit through a show that should be in a theatre or an auditorium, but was instead staged in a passenger-free passenger terminal—all 390 minutes of it. I deserved what I got because I was blur enough to think that a red carpet on a driveway of an airport was where I could see the best fashion I’ll ever get to witness on our island. Or for not suspecting bandung could appear on the hongditan too. I deserve what I got because I so seriously believed any Singapore Airlines plane is worthy of being more than just an oversized prop of an inane fashion show.
I deserved what I got because I have no taste in music. I mostly listen to original songs, not covers—well, actually not lame covers. I deserve what I got because I am a big fan of Miley Cyrus’s The Backyard Sessions. I deserved what I got because I am easily put off by mature singers who try to sound cute and sweet, and like a brass instrument. I deserved what I got because vocal gimmicks annoy me. I deserved what I got for not adoring those who sing to show off. Or to impress vocal pedagogists or the judges of Sing! China (中国好声音), rather than to please the average listening ear. Euphonious, they call it. I deserved what I got because I did not know that the voice is an instrument, and can be misused. I deserved what I got for cringing. I deserved what I got because I thought you could sing.
I also deserved what I got because I have no taste in clothes. Or appreciation of shocking pink hair. I deserve what I got because I couldn’t see the beauty of your gown, to my everlasting shame. I deserve what I got because you chose Vaughn Tan, the Joo Chiat Place bridal wear designer, whose gowns Her World once enthusiastically described as “fashion-forward with a glamorous vibe”. I deserve what I got because the forwardness or glamour escaped me. I deserve what I got because your dress looked to me like a fallen-in black sesame chiffon cake, partly eaten by a neighbour’s cat. I deserved what I got because I appreciated Gigi Leung’s simple column gown. And sleek dark hair.
We didn’t think we’ll reach the 1000th, and this soon. It’s been more of a jaunt than a journey. This turned out to be a stretch that was not always easy to stride on. We have met many people along the way, and we are thankful to those who have helped Style On The Dot come this far. You know who you are, and our appreciation is from deep within.
SOTD started as a journal at a time when the blogosphere was already crowded. We were, admittedly, latecomers. Fashion even back then, specifically 2013, was fast-changing. It is still an unceasing paradigm shift. We did not think we could keep up. So it would be helpful, we thought, if we recorded what we saw, what we heard, and what we felt. And the more we felt (fashion is emotion-stirring), the more the need to express and share an opinion, not just hold it, became persuasive.
Fashion and the brands and the people linked to it are not always amenable to different—and differing—opinions. Not liking and not agreeing, we have been told, have no part in the social discourse on the creative output that leads to what we wear. But, it is, as we see daily, okay to troll. Increasingly, we are acculturated to the belief that brands cannot be criticised. Less so if they are part of a conglomerate. Or, are influencer-approved.
In Instagram country and the like, criticism is a strange creature. It is both ogre and angel, but more and more, they meld into one colourless glob on which brands float their merely passable products. We do not think it is inappropriate to say so. Or, take on a contrarian position. To maintain our independence, we do not, therefore, receive remuneration from any brand. Our contributors write because they enjoy the craft.
We can’t see into the future; we do not know what will happen in fashion or the business of fashion. Change may or may not be afoot. But, from this vantage point—even just a dot, we see ourselves continuing what we have been doing for quite a distance yet. We welcome you as we continue, assured of your support, full throttle ahead.
Felipe Oliveira Baptista has captured the founding spirit of Kenzo without directly reprising the past
Could this be the most joyous collection of the season? We are not referring specifically to Paris, since Kenzo presented their newest collection outside PFW. There have been so few exultant shows these past months, whether ‘phygital’ or not, that Kenzo’s autumn/winter 2021 joyous set of skip, spin, strut, sway, and swing was truly heartfelt and spellbinding. Felipe Oliveira Baptista has put what would usually be sombre autumnal moods under the spotlight of tremendous fun—and movement. These clothes are not only for within the parameters of domestic walls that are now work spaces, but also for moving in and, when the time permits (or a future that is held in high hope comes), dancing in, wherever you choose to be. The clothes move with the wearers unbounded, and with the same high and free spirit that the free-form moving projects. There’s a tender feeling of the tribal, the nomadic, the celebratory.
The whole presentation is, in fact, a frolic of some unknown jubilation. Watching it, you’d feel like moving along with the dancers (not models, right? Since they groove so well?). The clothes are not skimpy or body-hugging. They offer cold-weather coverage with massive yardage of fabrics, but we do not sense the clothes are encumbering. They turn and shift and stir as if gravity has minimal hold on them. They gesticulate as expressively as the wearers cavort in them joyfully. We want be part of the play-action, in those as-comfortable-as-blanket wraps and outerwear. Mr Baptista, in this presentation, seems to share the Japanese penchant for lively shows that show off the abstract or organic shapes of the clothes when in kinetic articulation. Issey Miyake comes to mind.
The clothes are not archive-driven, but they are evocative of the joie de vivre that the late Kenzo Takada himself brought to the runways of much of the ’70s. In fact, as Mr Baptista told the media later, the collection is dedicated to Mr Takada, whose designs—Oriental but not quite, with folksy details that didn’t necessarily trace to his native Japan—took Paris by storm for their untypical ease and roominess that contradicted the more soigné leanings of French couture. (Even those on the Yves Saint Laurent camp in that era, such as Loulou de la Falaise, were known to wear Kenzo.) For now, the nomadic and the folkloric are put through the lenses of the sporty and outdoorsy, concurrently amenable to strong colours (tone-on-tone!), unmissable stripes, and all-over flowers (hydrangeas!) that Mr Takada himself was partial to. But the effect is not a jumble. In fact, to describe the collection as kaleidoscopic might be overblown. These clothes have their own distinct personalities, not possessed by the ghost of its namesake founder, but expressed by a designer who clearly appreciates what the brand stands for and what it brought to fashion at the height of its popularity. It is refreshing that Mr Baptista embraced as much as he could a creator’s past once thought to be visionary, rather than leave it in the forgotten realm of long ago.
These are roomy clothes, but not the exaggerated over-sized shapes of some follow-the-trend houses, or those that deliberately churn out the anti-fit. That they are a-cultural and a-historical give them a decidedly contemporary power. We are particularly drawn to those pieces that can transform from bag to clothes and from clothes to other clothes. Or capes that can do so many different things. Versatility should be the new black! Even the menswear has an undefinable adaptability to them, being so gender-neutral. Captivating too are the dresses that really evoke the OG Kenzo—boat-necked, and seemingly cut flat and joined as if two rectangles (or three), or those quilted, full-skirted coat-dresses that hint at distant lands than familiar cities. If Zhang Yimou’s 1993 film The Story of Qiu Ju (秋菊打官司) were to be remade in a more fashionable setting, these could be what whoever shall play Gong Li’s role would wear. How delightful that would be.