What’s After The Tabi Split Toe?

How about the lobster claw?

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

On The Border

The setting is rather otherworldly, a forbidding suburbia, but Riccardo 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.

Photos: (top) Zhao Xiangji and (runway) Burberry

New York Fashion Week: Visible Is The Bra

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 The New 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

Ding Dong, Swell

Joanna rings her knell

By Pearl Goh

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.

I deserved all of it.

Screen grab: Mediacorp/YouTube

One Milestone

We’ve arrived at the one-thousandth post

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.

Illustration: Just So


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.

Screen grab (top) and photos: Kenzo

Happy, Happy New Year!

It’s been a year like no other. And one we can’t wait to put behind us. Fashion, too, has been going through a tough time, with no one—not even captains of the industry—knowing where it is really heading. It’s actually a good year to be thinking about it. Or, reading. We know many of you have. In these past twenty four months—quite a few spent in lockdown—we have enjoyed the second highest readership since our inception in 2013. We like to thank you for your unwavering support and for continuing to believe that SOTD can be enjoyably perused. From all of us here, a better and healthier 2021 to you.

Photo illustration: Jim Sim

We Went To Wego

If you like inexpensive Japan-based brands, Uniqlo isn’t the only one available here

By Ray Zhang and Emma Ng

Uniqlo might be the biggest mass fashion brand from Japan, but they are by no means the only one. Or, to be more specific, the only brand that you can consider here. Wego, one of the many throbbing hubs of what has been known as Harajuku style (really a vague description and opened to interpretation), debuted here last June, in the now-three-year-old Lumine. Considered Japan’s earliest fast fashion labels, way before fast fashion became a dirty word, Wego is part Uniqlo, part Don Quixote (known as Don Donki here), with a dash of Ikebukuro’s Animate (manga emporium). The stores (mostly) can be either hypnotic or chaotic: it really depends on your threshold for the manic. If you are a Mustafa habitué, you might find the digging and discovering totally exhilarating. If you are a Marie Kondo devotee, these stores are no temples of retail zen. If you are mature shopper, you’ll probably walk in and walk out.

Yet, oddly, Wego here is quite unlike their Japanese counterparts. To be sure, it is still retains its trend-bent leaning, or what’s trendy among Japanese fans. But the first thing that struck us when we visited its Lumine space was how uncharacteristically neat it was and how a lot less frenzied-looking than what we’re used to seeing in their Tokyo stores—at least the one in Harujuku, at the corner of Omotaesando and Meiji-dori Avenue, where we go to only because all other stores in Ura-Harajuku and Aoyama are closed. We never found anything to buy, but we would visit, if only to acquaint ourselves with the not quite one-style Harajuku look. Increasingly, the Western media describe Wego as a “street” brand, and it does wear its street aesthetics on its sleeves like showa revivalists do with their ’60s florals. But Wego is also inviting because they are so hard to define.

Wego began life in 1994 as a second-hand clothing store in Osaka’s American Village (Amerika-mura or Amemura), which at that time was a lively mix of small malls, shophouses, and open-air markets (it’s now enjoying what some might called ‘gentrification’). It was not until 2003 that Wego established itself in Tokyo, specifically in Harajuku (we do not know where the first store was exactly), where it took root and captured the attention of shoppers, six years before H&M arrived. When the Swedish fast fashion giant debuted in Tokyo, many young Japanese shoppers already tasted and enjoyed cheap, disposable fashion with Wego. Interestingly, its Takeshita-dori store, considered a must-stop for tourists, did not open until 2008. It is now more a tourist destination than a spot that Harajuku regulars must visit.

That Wego is so identified with Harajuku—“epicenter of street style”—augments its standing as purveyor of what is truly cool among the young (it is identified on Google Map as a “youth clothing store”). To us, however, the brand captures more the spirit of Amerika-mura than Harajuku. In fact, Wego in Japan does not only sell its own namesake brand, it also offers other youth-targeting American labels such as Champion and Carhatt, just to name two, and, at one time, believe it or not, Hong Kong’s Giordano (didn’t figure that one out)! All in quite a jaunty jumble, and reminiscent of American jeaneries of yore, such as the now-defunct Canal Jean Co. in Manhattan, in the 90s. One apt description we were directed to was no exaggeration: “a riot of Japanese and American pop culture”. Simply put, Uniqlo, on their busiest day, is less headache-inducing,

But once here on our ‘fine’ island, the riot is quelled. The Wego store—corner, really—in Lumine is no way in the scale of even Uniqlo’s smallest (Changi Airport T1?). And it’s very bright and neat. When we approached the space from within Lumine, we’re surprised by how un-Harajuku-like it was. This could be one of those new shops in the also-new Shibuya Scramble Square. There was a distinct lack of buzz, in a good way. In fact, it was the orderliness and spaciousness that was a welcome sight. We could see everything at a glance without resorting to digging. Shelves were not piled high, racks were not packed tight—this was so unlike the fast fashion we’re used to. It was as if we were amid an environment that takes into consideration the needs of grown-ups.

The store is divided—but not evenly—into two adjacent areas, featuring womenswear, the larger, and menswear, the smaller. The women’s clothes look somewhat tame, as compared to what we’ve seen in Tokyo. But those who know how to turn seemingly Normcore styles into street-wear major might find the oversized sweater-vests, roomy shirts, peasant blouses, short-sleeved blazers, and wrinkled tea dresses the ingredients to a perfect riot. If you are into the Lolita look or dreaming of appearing on the cover of Larme, you’d have to have exceptional flair for styling to find pieces to test your skills. The stuff for guys, too, are cheerily accessible: huge range of T-shirts (many sized to be worn hanging off the shoulders), vintage-looking track tops, brightly-coloured drain-pipes, and short-sleeved shirts, all with the particular aesthetic that would lure the gangly teen. Approachable edgy, we would say. Unlike in Tokyo, if you’re not sure of how you’d want to look, immediate inspiration is elsewhere: There aren’t members of the sales crew who seem like they’ve just stepped off the ‘staff look’ pages of Seventeen. Sigh.

Wego is at Lumine, Clarke Quay Central. Photos: Chin Boh Kay

Visited: Uniqlo ION Orchard

The third large-format store in Orchard Road, Uniqlo Ion Orchard sees it offering

By Truss Tan

With the opening of its third large-format store in ION Orchard on Black Friday, last month, Uniqlo has shown that it’s probably the only clothing brand here to be expanding so enthusiastically during these times of painful uncertainty, and not only to secure one store along Orchard Road, but three. Sure, there has always been three Unqlo stores on Singapore’s most famous shopping street, but they are now stronger, image-wise, and larger, collectively. The trio of multi-level stores is collectively called Uniqlotown (that nomenclature, to me, brings to mind a certain Nike Town!), which the brand describes as “one shopping destination, three different retail experiences”. Separated between them an average distance of just 900 metres, the three stores are within walking distance, enough to warrant a group naming that hints at a congenial—to me, on the contrary, homogeneous—urban area: a lively expanse in a commercial hub for its LifeWear.

All three stores stay in the same malls they are originally sited, but the Plaza Singapura outlet is relocated from the new wing to the older block, into two units formerly occupied by Marks and Spencer. The Global Flagship Store in Orchard Central remains unchanged. At ION Orchard, Uniqlo is expanded on the upper floor of its two-level space into the area vacated by Topshop in July. The original two-storey ION Orchard store it would seem wasn’t large enough to house more of largely-the-same-as-other-stores merchandise. Amazingly, apart from the area that was once Topshop, there’s a sort of passageway—previously unknown—in the rear that now links the existing womenswear zone to this new space, dedicated to its T-shirt collection, UT.

The UT space looks to me rather small. Nothing like its brethrens in Hong Kong (Lee Theatre Plaza) or Tokyo (Ginza). This isn’t the first here dedicated to the T-shirt line (full name: Uniqlo T-Shirt Project), but while it is similar to those in the regions to our north, the space is rather too small and too packed to be really the same as the other UTs overseas. I remember visiting the first standalone UT store in the world, on Tokyo’s Meiji-dori Avenue (明治道り), in the other half nearer to Shibuya, back in early 2000. The UT interior design has not changed much, but back then, what Uniqlo did at that two-storey store was to give the humble T-shirt not only its own showcase, but also its pioneering place in the history of the casualisation of fashion. One thing I’ll not forget: the plastic tube-cases (now so environmentally unfriendly) that housed those tees deemed special or of limited quantities. I don’t remember any fast fashion label paying such attention to the packaging of a mere T-shirt.

On the day Uniqlo ION Orchard (re)opened, there were long queues at the entrances to the men’s and women’s floors, but not over at this new entrance. A Japanese staff was manning the spot; he happily introduced me to the new areas of the store, and even gave me directions to navigate the space, and told me how to get to the other areas. The identifiable UT zone is a welcome addition to this Uniqlo, but, even after subsequent visits, is hard to make out how different this section is, or could be. As it is packed with shelves and racks of merchandise in the centre, it is does not stand out, or put the spotlight on its T-shirts, even with the rows of windows flanking the space, each housing a cotton jersey top, like framed art. While, during a time when travel is not an option, this really brought me back to my yearly visits to Japan, it did not induce me to pick something up to stress my wallet.

Although Uniqlo tries to give each store a unique identity, regular visitors would be hard pressed to find the dissimilar here. Sure, there is a whole new extended area of the women’s zone, which includes the kids collection, to explore, but very quickly you’d wish it didn’t look this familiar. The ION Orchard store is dubbed “The New Stage for Expression” (Plaza Singapura is “The New Family Hangout” and Orchard Central is “Where You Wear Life”), I sensed that perhaps it is an expanse for underscoring one’s individuality. But, while the mannequins are admittedly well styled (and brimming with ideas for, regrettably, winter), there is a sense that I was ensnared to buy even more of those oversized Uniqlo U tees that practically everyone I know now owns. As the total space is still considerably smaller that the Orchard Central store, and the aisles are blocked by shoppers totally disregarding the neat arrangements of merchandise or the efficient visual merchandising, it takes considerable effort to suss out what might encourage expression.

In Tokyo, Uniqlo’s recently-opened stores come with elements or areas not previously seen in their other outlets in the capital. In Harajuku (where the old Harajuku station stood), the store comes with an interactive wall, while in Ginza (Marronnier Gate Ginza 2), there is a LifeWear Square. It may be too soon for them to introduce these novel retail ideas here, but Uniqlo has been on our shores for 11 years. Their first store opened in Tampines One in 2009, a humble affair that could pass off as one from some quiet neighbourhood in Fukuoka. There are now 26 stores island-wide, and another in Tampines to open (Tampines Mall, where the two-level H&M used to be, to replace the relatively small space of the debut, which, according to staff, is “old”, and will close at the end of this month). But more than a decade later, would Uniqlo be better off with something more compelling? Or is the sameness a reflection of how unadventurous local shoppers are?

The two floors of Uniqlo ION Orchard is, as before, linked by a staircase. It is here that I saw what could possibly be something different: a massive mural by Singaporean artist Michael Ng, aka Mindflyer. Described as “a whimsical visionary depiction of a couple discovering the future garden city of Orchard Road”, this piece takes up the entire wall of the stairway. Mr Ng’s work, to me, has the wonderment of a child, the charm of Crayola colours, the exuberance of Ricardo Cavolo’s characters, and the sense of the cute of the Japanese. The artwork, which invites examination (it’s composed of four parts, representing the past to the future), contrasts with the seriousness of the store and all-the-garments-they-can-sell product overload. And it serves to remind us of the fun we can have with clothes, even if Uniqlo touts wearing for life with considerable seriousness.

I decided to buy an Airism T-shirt as it was on sale. I picked one up from about a dozen hung on the rack. I went to the cashier’s, but was immediately confronted with one truly new thing: self checkout. I experienced this in Tokyo last year, and was delighted with the convenience, ease, and speed of their system, and was happy that they’ve introduced it here. As I was going to pay by using NETS, I was told to go to the regular cashier instead, now reduced to just one till. As I was waiting my turn, one other Japanese staffer came up to me and said, offering to take my still-with-the-hanger-on tee, “So sorry, let me get you another one.” I told him that the piece I had was fine. “This one,” he said, pointing to the crew neck, “is stained.” True enough, there was a faint, blurred mark, like a smear someone with foundation trying the top earlier had left behind. And I, usually watchful for these spots, didn’t notice. I thanked him and he disappeared, and returned as soon as he left, with a new, packaged tee. I thanked him again. He said—with palpable sincerity—“my pleasure.” For a quick moment, I thought I was in Japan.

Photos: Chin Boh Kay

Close Look: Still A Plus

Jil Sander is back with Uniqlo. Launched today, the crowd that turned out was impressive for a Uniqlo launch. Together with the clothes, they proved that the designer, who no longer owns the label that bears her name, still has the touch

Uniqlo has stopped issuing shopping bags to shoppers, but for +J it offers specially designed paper carriers to house your buys

Friends and readers of SOTD have been messaging us these past days to tell of the manic scenes in Bangkok, Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Tokyo during the much anticipated launch of Uniqlo +J. We read in the media that it was no less enthusiastic in many cities in Europe despite the pandemic restrictions and, in some cities, lockdowns. One particular video showing an unbelievably crazy scene in one purported Nagoya store had would-be shoppers worried. Here, however, things were a lot calmer, so much so that it would be tempting to assume that the comeback of the critically-lauded collaboration may come and go without a stir. At 8.25 this morning, only four persons were spotted within the cordoned holding area for the queuing. We spoke to a couple at the start of the line and was told that they had “just arrived”. Clearly, no one had camped out overnight, as initially expected.

By about ten, the queue had become what might be considered long. It filled the two holding areas designated in the main concourse of Orchard Central (OC). By noon, guesstimates placed the figure at about 200. This queue was only for shoppers buying the +J line, which had a dedicated space on the 2nd floor in the women’s department. Other shoppers to the store were allowed to use the regular entryway inside OC, next to Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. We were told by one traffic controller that the total number allowed inside at any one time for both groups of shoppers is 970. Crowd controllers outside the +J selling area told us that only 20 people are allowed. We did notice a staff at the entry point for the +J crowd with a counter and another issuing a numbered ticket. Could this be from the playbook of the time when the Uniqlo mask was first launched?

The snaking line through the thankfully spacious concourse of Orchard Central

The queue, for many, did not end the minute one enters the store. Another short line is seen at the foot of the escalator going up to the second level, where a staff would summon the next customer(s) to ascend when shoppers have left the designated +J space. Once up here, there is still another line to join before one is actually allowed to be in the company of the merchandise. From here—the short bridge that connects OC to Orchard Gateway—the well-adhered-to-social-distancing crowd looked thin. A shopper told us she was in line for “about 140 mins”. Earlier when we asked a gatekeeper how long she thought the waiting time was and she told us, “100 people (were) allowed in within 2 hours”.

If you thought online shoppers had an easier time, that was not necessarily so. Past midnight, our two attempts failed—clicks on the photos of the products did not immediately bring us to the page for that very item that could be added to the cart. For some reason, the +J banner does not appear at the top of the page so that we could easily go the desired link. And clicking on the back button of our Huawei phone did not bring us back to the previous page. Instead, we were returned to the home page, where we needed to scroll down to the +J banner to click on it to return to the shopping page. Unwilling to sacrifice sleep, we thought we’d try again in the morning.

A message on Uniqlo’s website when some shoppers tried to access the +J merchandise in the morning

At thirty past six, the light from the Uniqlo website emanated from our phone, casting a soft glow in our still-dark bedroom. Further awaken by coffee, we thought we would be ready for what Uniqlo would offer us this morning. Fifteen minutes to seven, out attempts mirrored six hours earlier’s. But this time, we were digitally ushered to a “Virtual Waiting Room” (VWR). The reason: “due to overwhelming traffic”. Six minutes in here, nothing flashed or flickered. We refreshed the page and was again showed that VWR (do these ever get full?). While getting ready to go to the OC store, we tried again. At some point we could access the product pages, but we could not add anything to the still-empty cart. On the MRT train, many pages of individual items started showing a red “Not Available” across the colour choices of items, which we took to really mean sold out.

As less than two dozen shoppers were within the designated area, it made for a pleasant shopping experience, in that there was no jostling. But, customers, typical of those manic for collaborations perceived to be “cheap”, did leave a rather messy space, with shirts—for both men and women (the most popular items)—thrown on racks, without their accompanying hangers. It was easy to see and understand why these would be the first items to go. Staff in attendance told us that, in order for every shopper to have a fair chance at the merchandise, products were released “in batches”. But when we asked for a particular striped shirt in a size we wanted, we were told there was “no more.”

A dedicated space for the +J collection within the women’s department

The beauty of Jil Sander is, as it’s often said and exemplified by the current designers of the house she founded, is in the details. And for this collection, Ms Sander showed that minimalism need not be that bare tunic that so many millennials seem to associate with a design sensibility that had its beginnings in the ’90s. Sure, her designs could be, to the untrained eye, plain, but these were not in anyway whatevercore. We like how she has reworked the stricter silhouette of former collections for something more relaxed, reflecting the (even) more casual attitude towards dress that many have adopted these days. She has, for instance, dropped the shoulders of shirts (for both men’s and women’s), but not to the point where they hang unpurposefully on the body. She makes pockets special by using details on blunted edge of flaps, by making the pockets themselves capacious (on the coats, they’re roomy enough for winter gloves). These are practical considerations and welcome necessities.

The outers are really appealing too, especially the puffers. The women’s versions are sensible and given shapes—even in the sleeves—that are flattering and not linear. Understandably, the shirts (and shirt-dresses) in Supima cotton will do well here since we are able to actually wear them, as opposed to the coats. What is perhaps a little of a let down are the pants. These could have come from Uniqlo’s own collections, and are far more basic looking—neither wide-legged nor slim—than any of the kindred tops and knit dresses that are so seductive. But the pants’ lack of excitement may just be just the perfect underscoring of the beguilingly shaped shirts and outers. That’s the beautiful balance. And Jil Sander nailed it.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Update (21 November 2020, 12.12): As shoppers throng the OC store to cop the +J collection, the new, opened-on-the-same-day Plaza Singapura store is stocked with some of the +J merchandise, such as the much coveted shirts and a few of the outers

Uniqlo +J is available at Uniqlo Global Flagship, Ochard Central. Photos: Zhao Xiangji

Is The Cropped Tank Top For Men Really A Thing?

It’s either been very, very hot, or a guy’s navel is the next sizzling zone

By Jagkrit Suwanmethanon

For quite a while, photos (and videos too) have been circulating online, purportedly showing one Asian monarch going about his life in public in cropped singlets, on at least four different occasions. These were not regular singlets, rolled up to cool the navel on a hot day, as some elderly men are still inclined to do. These were actually sleeveless tops hacked to extremely short lengths, covering the chest and little else of the upper body. It was probably no longer than 30 centimetre from the shoulder to the hem. Or, about the length of a mini skirt. Donald Trump’s tie is clearly longer.

Now, I am not one to judge or begrudge. These days, it is, of course, acceptable that a man can wear whatever he chooses—even a skirt, which is, frankly, not the least unusual. Fashion is no longer binary, the media keeps reminding us. Even monarchical style. But the said photos raised eye brows because in kingdoms across the world, subjects do expect the male—even female—members of royal families to dress in a conservative way. If not modestly, at least not in a manner that puts the torso out for show, like a belly dancer’s.

It seems that this monarch doesn’t concern himself with kingly style. No one I know could explain to me why he would be partial to so little fabric, except to say that he has “quirky” tastes. It is appreciable that a king does not adhere to the dictates of exalted convention, but such extremes are eye-brow-raising, even among the most liberal of any company. But it seems that this royal’s particular preference for cropped over crown isn’t unusual among some of males far away outside his court.

More cropped tops. Photos: (from left): Lazada, Asos, Lazada

By chance, I came across these very, very short tops on Lazada recently. Eleven eleven had drawn me into the black hole of discount shopping. I have no idea why Lazada thought I might be interested in an abbreviated lace vest that costs an unbelievable S$6, and gob them out as recommendation. It appeared under the category “Men’s T-Shirt”. Have things around me changed so much that ‘T’ is no longer of a shape I recognise? For a quick moment, I thought I had landed on a La Senza store. Or, viewing a Kardashian wardrobe. But the musculature before me was indisputably masculine. Could it be the narrow horizontal strip of lacy fabric that threw me off?

The accompanying description called it a “clubwear top”. I may be deprived of any semblance of nightlife for the past nine months, but I don’t think the lack of alcohol and a relentless beat is making me forget what dressing for the club was like. Perhaps things have changed during my social snooze. But then, I remember one king. And the past, which stretched back to around 1992, when Marky Mark—now, mostly Mark Wahlberg—wore an abbreviated black tank top in a Calvin Klein ad that also featured Kate Moss, held close to the then-rapper. Mr Wahlberg’s cropped piece didn’t look shocking then, as he wore a lot less in the same series, shot by Herb Ritts. Today, that top would be considered long!

I also remember, just two years ago, online retailer ASOS had availed a white cropped singlet (bottom photo, middle) for sale, much to the chagrin of Netizens. It was described as “reclaimed vintage inspired extreme cropped vest”. At least, ASOS didn’t mince words: Any top for men that ends just below the nipple is not only extreme, it’s radical. I always wonder why guys in the gym succumb to stringy singlets with armholes that open to the hips. Much of the body is exposed. One need not look hard at all. There must be something really pleasurable about clothing the body so minimally. When will it be that even the chest, too, won’t deserve cover? Unsurprisingly, Lazada has something for that look as well: it’s called a harness.

Photo: (top) Vgobuy/lazada.sg

All Of This And Nothing

Singaporean fashion, as the pandemic prolongs, culminated in one design award this month. This came after a major digital event and a re-imagined store in August. What high point did we see or experience? What inspiring creativity? Or, was it all hokum?

The winning collection of Singapore Stories 2020 by Carol Chen. Photo: Carol Chen/Instagram

Events of the past months have led us to believe that Singaporean fashion is on an inexorable journey to meet its demise. Yes, die out. As we write this post, news is out that the 162-year-old Robinsons will be shuttered. Orchard Road—A Great Street (still?)—is going to be deprived of a department store, a historic one at that. Other retailers, big and small, too, are struggling, or have put an end to the struggle. Fashion retail is in such a dismal state and Singaporean fashion so woeful now, anything can take its place in a “retail showcase” or be viewed from “the front row”. We are putting things on a pedestal when they should be on a back burner, at best.

Textile and Fashion Federation’s (TaFF) self-feted Singapore Stories capped three months of spotlighting the design offerings and climate of this red dot after the Circuit Breaker lockdown was eased in June. Singapore Stories is the single citation from the annual Singapore Fashion Award, now with dwindled budgets—and ambition. The result out last Thursday, it crowns a Singaporean name or Singapore-based label for the yarn he/she is able to spin, based on a theme decided by TaFF. It is odd that despite years of failed attempts at pivoting Singaporean designs to our island or the region, from The Singapore Dress first mooted by then Deputy Prime Minister Ong Teng Cheong in 1989 to the Asiatropics of ’90s Singapore Fashion Week, we are still hoping that great design can emerged from a collective national identity.

A mock catwalk at Design Orchard to promote the designs of the finalists of Singapore Stories

There is something factitious about such a design requirement. We live in difficult times and we each have our own stories to tell, but we should not have to be circumscribed by geographical or cultural boundaries to express ourselves in the most creative way. Sure, creativity can emerge from limitations, from parameters, but as a nurturer and promoter of talent, TaFF should encourage award nominees to be more global-minded, not think within shorelines. Indeed, the design exercise should be spontaneous, especially when executed specifically for an award, rather than restrictive. Even connecting the winner to Paris Fashion Week (PFW) as part of the prize (TaFF was careful to state that that does not include the air ticket and accommodation!) is not, as the results of the final proved, inducement for the participants to offer designs in the context of a changing world or, at its most elemental, those that could show alongside others who have been part of PFW for years.

This, to us, reflects the organiser’s lack of imagination. Or, understanding of the motivation behind and potential of a design competition. TaFF said they took more than six months to put Singapore Stories together. The result does not commensurate with over half a year’s work. To be sure, we were not expecting the LVMH Prize or the ANDAM Prize, or China’s recently announced Yu Prize. TaFF does not offer a prize money, but, this year, it did dream big, boldly announcing that they were “inspired by the 2020 Met Gala theme About Time”. It led them to “invite designers to examine the timeline of Singapore fashion—celebrating the past and interpreting the future.” Hats off to Andrew Bolton.

We noted that celebration was key, rather than design. Perhaps we have totally misunderstood the intention of Singapore Stories. Maybe the award isn’t about design, which, apart from skill, requires imagination and a certain mindset. Or about creativity, which is not necessarily innate. Possibly, it is, as the name suggests, about the tales, the fables, or the anecdotal. TaFF CEO Ho Semun seemed to have affirmed that when she told the Business Times in April, “As for the fashion itself, I think having a strong narrative and being able to tell a unique story are very important.”

Four windows at Design Orchard featuring four of the finalists: (clockwise from top left) CYC by Claire Chiang, Martha Who by Mette Hartman, Nida Shay by Nida Tahir Shaheryar, and Nude Femme by Adelyn Putri

Participants of Singapore Stories would likely dispute our observation that there’s a lack of design in the competition. The finalists have put in considerable effort, drawing from so many influences: there are Peranakan motifs, Mandarin collars, the “strength and values of samsui women”, our garden landscape, Chinese paper cutting, zardozi embroidery (Singaporean?); there’s even the “beauty” of our sky, and, between all that, “strong and powerful women”. These make up a compelling narrative, surely? But could there be more than these obvious images of our stories, images that, even when hackneyed, we still turn to, and so easy and accessible that some of the finalists share similar inspirations with those who dressed Mickey Mouse when the rodent was invited to Go Local?

We tried to find design flair and creative ferment in the five finalists, but we came to a dead end. It is disconcerting to think that digital printing on a plain shirt (possibly cut from an existing block), a reversible baju panjang, Mandarin collar atop a halter-neck dudou (肚兜, or underwear, and offered by two designers, no less!), surfeit of metallic embroidery, and profusion of netting are thought to be the height of good design. For sure, we weren’t looking for a Thebe Magugu (winner of LVMH Prize 2019) or Christelle Kocher (winner of ANDAM Prize 2019; we did not even try, but it was a massive let down that the sole design prize for fashion excellence on our island seeks not to honour imaginative abstraction of cut, technical finesse and inventiveness, or strategies of concealment, which clothing is ultimately about. Instead, it is impressed by the clichéd, the conventional, and the colourless. For a design competition, lacking was what Carmel Snow called “a dash of daring.”

It is not difficult to understand why Carol Chen won the top honour. She is a former beauty queen and, as named by E!, an “International Style Icon”. She has a following on social media. She is, by default, (re)presentable. She owns her own evening/special-occasion wear business, Covetella. Hers are not challenging clothes; her winning designs are familiar: Save one netting nightmare (or maybe not), you’ve already seen such outfits on Instagram, on the wealthy subjects who appear on CNA Luxury, at parties where the girl squad gathers to quaff champagnes and show off clothes; you may even have seen them in Ms Chen’s showroom. Perhaps with more bling than you’re used to. It is not easy to resist the temptation of calling the collection pageant fashion.

Up close with great designs? From left: shirt by CYC’s Claire Chiang, face mask by Carol Cheng, coat by Nude Femme’s Adelyn Putri, embroidered top by Nida Shay’s Nida Tahir Shaheryar, strapless top by martha Who’s Mette Hartman, and dress by Carol Chen. Product photos: One Orchard Store

The brief to the designers, according to the Singapore Stories micro-site, is for them to “examine the timeline of Singapore fashion”. We imagine that the design process would involve some element of backwards/forwards tension, but these clothes are as straightforward as the T-shirt you’re now wearing to read this. Which is, of course, entirely in tandem with what is happening, design-wise, at The Editor’s Market or The Closet Lover: it’s general currency; the aim is not sartorial high. But, this contest, based on our understanding, is to suss out the best fashion designer, not just a clothing label. The finalists—every five of them—should be good enough to show in Paris (part of what the prize facilitates), but sadly, none are, not even the winner. How does all this enrich Singapore’s fashion capital? Or, does it contradict what minister Sim Ann had said in support of the competition: “Singapore Stories came as efforts of people who all care about the advancement of Singapore fashion”? Are we too stagnated to advance?

What is totally curious too is the duration of access of the digital event itself; so difficult to view, in fact, that you’d think you’re gaining access into a secret cult. Registration was required (not even PFW has that restriction!) and, although the initial announcement was that the presentation/show was for viewing between 29 Oct at 8pm to 31 Oct to 9pm, access was halted on the second day, and on the final day, on which a notice stated that the video will be available till 10 pm, nothing was for us to watch before we were told to “tune in next year!”. Adieu. It is inexplicable why access to viewing the clothes should be this limited. If TaFF thought that the finalists are excellent, would the Federation not want more consumers to be better acquainted with them? Would extended publicity not be useful to the designers? Or, is the event only for the exclusive “TaFF community”? Just as hard to make out: TaFF’s last IG entry for Singapore Stories was posted on 28 October with the message, “The winner will finally be announced tomorrow night”. Ditto Facebook. That announcement never came.

Finalists get their own Orchard Road-facing window at Design Orchard

Since August, local fashion has enjoyed considerable exposure. Traditionally, the month of National Day was a time to pay homage to Singaporean fashion and labels. But this had not been the usual August and nothing can be conducted the traditional way. Still, we were treated to, in addition to Singapore Stories, the born-again Design Orchard and the protracted digital fashion week, The Front Row. A productive month! Yet, little could be discerned of what has become—or is becoming—of fashion dreamed up on our island.

There is a persistent belief that just because you have clothes to sell you are selling fashion. Or that when you have a label to your name, you are a designer. Increasingly, the profession ‘designer’ is bandied about with a loose definition, with ‘good’ even harder to qualify. Liking clothes does not make you a good designer. A love to shop does not make you a good designer. An influencer with a clothing line is not a designer. A cheongsum maker is not a designer. To make clothes because there’s nothing out there you like does not make you a designer. To want to promote culture and lost clothing styles does not make you a designer. To enjoy brush painting and hoping to see the output on a dress does not make you a designer. Conversely, having talent does, so do technical know-how. And a clear distinctive voice certainly communicates a design and aesthetical standing.

If we do not call them designers, what do we call them? Creators, the trending choice? Interestingly, social media platform TikTok and Byte call their participants “creators” too, never mind if what has been posted are mostly as creative as an egg being boiled, or a husband breaking wind in the face of his wife, or a mother squashing her baby’s cheeks to make a funny face. Sure, creativity, like fashion, is changing and being re-defined (increasingly by social media), but creativity must never be euphemism for the inane or the vapid. Fashion needs to be framed in better light. It is admirable that there are individuals who, and organisations that, believe Singaporean designers worthy of an award or a catwalk—even virtual—exist, that they can see what we, regrettably, are not able to discern. Singapore is still the proverbial melting pot and from within we may be able to offer a rojak of looks, but, let it not be the same, sticky rojak.

Photos, except indicated: Zhao Xiangji