Watch, Not Buy

One Orchard Store, the Textile and Fashion Federation-initiated e-commerce platform joined the first E-Great Singapore Sale today with a shop-by-video access. Only thing is, it isn’t shoppable… yet

The Textile and Fashion Federation’s (TaFF) e-shop One Orchard Store (OOS) launched a video today that allows viewers to shop what they see, but it was met with a glitch: like that, buy not. The video, showing models in pairs and filmed at various local tourist spots, is supposed to have the added function of allowing viewers to immediately access the “looks” that they like and desire to buy. A discreet “Shop this Look” link is provided on the bottom-right side of the video, but click on it, and no pop-up page opens that allows viewers to shop the desired garment. It was later reported on CNA that “due to a technical error, a video without the function has been uploaded.” CNA also said that according to TaFF, the operator of OOS, “this was a loss of direct purchasing opportunity.”

Whether there is calculable loss is not yet known. For the debut of the e-Great Singapore Sale (e-GSS), many retail platforms have included live-streaming to make online shopping more engaging, but OOS has opted for a video format instead. Titled “Step into a World”, the video is “Specially Curated for You”, and comes with the possibility of instantaneously buying what catches your fancy. We were not tempted, but curious to know how this would work, we clicked on the link when we saw a cheongsam by Lai Chan. The link offered no other action than pausing the short film. As the video is powered by YouTube, the bar of ‘suggested video’ (based on your viewing habits) appeared at the bottom of the screen. Nothing bore any relation to OOS.

We repeated this at other points on the two-minute-plus video for the next two hours, and the same result kept surfacing. This, in fact, was not the only glitch that we experienced on OOS today. Earlier, we tried accessing the video on our smartphone, but was met with an error message: “Webpage not available.” SOTD contributor Mao Shan Wang later messaged us to say that she too encountered the same problem on her Galaxy Note 20. We took to our notebooks and only then, did we land on the webpage with the yet-to-fully function video—possibly the first technical snag of the e-GSS.

The technical fault was easy to overlook since we were not really here to shop. But what we found rather curious is the direction of the video. Was this, in fact, from the Visit Singapore website? We had no idea why the selling of Singaporean fashion labels via an e-commerce page has to be a video recommendation of our island’s places of interest—National Gallery, Asian Civilisations Museum, Treetop Lofts, S.E.A. Aquarium, and Gardens by the Bay. What is surprising is how lacking in fervour the video was filmed. This may have worked as a TaFF video annual report, but for the retailing of clothing, was it saying that OOS is a mere cluster of brands? And a Singapore Tourism Board (STB) vehicle too?

We are not sure if clothes and locations are equally enticing when shared in one promotional material. Sure, the e-GSS is part of the STB’s impressively-budgeted S$45-million marketing splash to get locals to explore the island’s many attractions in lieu of holidays abroad. But must the film project an image of our city’s offerings as grassroots rather than worldly, average rather than exceptional? To be certain, the video is consistent with the content now being generated in a COVID-19 world, when models/subjects with zombie smiles are unable to benefit from professional hair and makeup services, when visuals have to look decidedly homespun, when clothes have not the benefit to meet an electric iron.

It is not known how much sales One Orchard Store has generated since its launch in June. Or, if the labels in its fold have been able to generate sufficient interest with the bland product visuals submitted by the respective brands for use on the OOS site. The video is possibly aimed at creating not just a less static platform, but also one with which OOS is able to project a vestige of image consistency for the online store. Sensory stimulation to counter OOS’s till-now one-dimensional and dull product presentation is a positive way forward. But a mere moving version of those unimaginative photos really won’t do very much.

Screen grabs: One Orchard Store

London Fashion Weak

The all-new, all-digital London Fashion Week could be many things, but none was a fashion show

 

LFW June 2020 P1

We landed on londonfashionweek.co.uk to view the shows of LFW, but we did not know where to start. And that, to us, was not a good thing. We were led to believe that all shows would be streamed—live or not—on the LFW portal, but we seemed to have stumbled upon a fashion-themed multi-media class in session. Expecting vogue.com’s Runway or SHOWstudio’s Collection page we were not, but hoping for an experience that augured well for the future we did. Instead, we were greeted by a curious opener called “My Non-Essential London”. Was this just an ironic teaser, fronted by the omnipresent face of singer Ella Eyre, clearly captured at home?

We weren’t aiming for a song (in fact, she didn’t sing). Instinctively, we scrolled downwards or, where applicable, swiped right or left, but we did not arrive at anything resembling a fashion presentation that we, up till now, recognise. Arranged chronologically, the shows scheduled within each day of the three-day event were organised in slots featuring videos not long enough to aid in the understanding of the collections or the brands. No fashion show, no runway, no 50 to 80 or so looks of before.

Hussein Chalayan & Elise by Olsen

Hussein Chalayan and Elise by Olsen

Oddly there was no immediate access to LFW, the event. We had to scroll down and past three other appetiser crossheads, before we arrived at “Collections”. This was Sunday afternoon (our time), but not all of the shows scheduled thus far (London time) seemed to be posted. We could not say for certain. It did not appear to us that there was any live streaming either. Or perhaps we missed them. Events were reportedly scheduled, so we looked for them. There was a horizontal box-list of names, almost all unfamiliar. Not every box offered a fashion show video clip. Some were links to profiles, some were Q&As involving designers, such as the one familiar name Hussein Chalayan, who was interviewed by the Oslo-based publisher Elise by Olsen in the now recognisable split-screen of two people in their own habitat. Where were the collections?

After 20 minutes, we weren’t sure what we had been watching. There were scant compelling shows to watch—or those that mattered. Sadly, navigating the site was clicking forward into frustration. Clicking any spot on the boxes of the menu did not automatically pop up a page or a window. We had to click on the specific tag “Watch”, before another window appeared. There was a play button in the right-hand corner to activate, then the familiar YouTube’s own appeared in the centre, indicating a link was established. Press that play, then we were able to watch the show. Perhaps auto-play is too pre-COVID-19? When we clicked on the back button to get out of a video that we did not find interesting or revealing, the click inexplicably returned us to the top of the home page. We scrolled back down to “Collections”, but the last viewed show was mysteriously no longer there on the scroll-horizontally menu!

Looking at the line-up, we had, at first, thought that this was not the main event. There were no recognisable names such as pre-pandemic LFW regulars Burberry, JW Anderson, Christopher Kane, Molly Goddard, or Simone Rocha. Instead, we saw many new monikers interspersed with a few of the familiar. Very little clothes were shown and hardly any trend could be made out. Most videos could have been designers making the MTV music video they’ve always wanted to create, and the recent lockdown was the perfect time to produce them. Others could pass off as extended commercials.

LFW June 2020 6 DesignersClockwise from top left, Zander Zhou, Ka Wa Key, Roksanda, Preen by Thornton Bregazzi, Teatum Jones, Stephen Jones

We clicked on the first familiar name that appeared—the Chinese-in-London Xander Zhou. His video was described as “Xander Zhou AW20 Critical Update/SS21 Public Beta Version”. The app development lingo perhaps hinted at the pseudo sci-fi feel of the narrative. There were six showcases, each voiced-over by a robotic/synthesised male monotone, delivering, at times, incomprehensible commentary that made us unnervingly anticipate “Danger: The emergency destruct system is now activated. The ship will detonate in T minus five minutes…” Abstract and artsy were the way to go for many of the designers. Most of the videos were very free-form and free-hand; very design school students given free reign.

The most captivating—even magical—was the animated short by milliner Stephen Jones. It featured the beloved, created-in-Munich, manga-eyed “fashion avatar” Noonoouri, identified as “special guest star”. She donned hats that showed the end result of Mr Jones’s creative process, from sketch to sample to actual article. Titled Analogue Fairydust, the film charmed in the same way old Hollywood motion pictures did and still do. Perhaps, more significantly for us, this was clearly a product of fashion, and, while wordless, it spoke the language.

Most of the videos didn’t come close to Analogue Fairydust. It is, of course, likely that due to mandatory social distancing and other attendant obstacles, designers had precious little to fall on that could generate compelling fashion stories. Creativity during isolation might not have been as potent as it could be in a design studio buzzing with activity. With insufficient fashion to offer, the digital edition of London Fashion Week was, in part, a conference of opinions. There was a lot of chatter, but, in the end, little content.

Screen grabs: londonfashionweek.co.uk

So Now We Know

Cotton comes from sheep!

 

Cotton Sheep SG

Social media is having a blast! We finally learned that, since the beginning of time, we’ve been duped. Cotton, in use as fabric since at least 2,300 BC, is now believed to be derived from the quadrupedal and ruminant mammal we know merely as sheep. According to one learned minister in a video interview published yesterday, we “don’t have too many sheep in Singapore to produce cotton”. Does that mean wool grows as a boll and comes from a shrub? The truth. At last!!!

Wait! The belief that cotton comes from sheep, isn’t a recent one. Apparently, back in the Middle Ages, trending were stories, including possibly the songs of the goliards (the young who wrote satirical Latin poetry) of a fantastical part-lamb, part-plant living thing that produced cotton. This creature, it was said, helped sell the travel tales of writers often referred to as “fabulists”. Known as “vegetable lamb” or barometz, they fuelled the imagination of those who were unaware of the genesis of cotton. Did the minister read one of these books and was duly informed?

Looks like all the nursery rhymes we have learnt in kindergarten have been mis-written! We have been fed alternative facts all our lives! Oh, Ba Ba Black Sheep, have you any cotton? Mary’s Little Lamb, are your cotton as white as snow? Thank you, minister, for clearing that up!

Illustration: Just So

 

Chromatica: An Oddly Retro Album

Lady Gaga’s just-released new material sounds like a pastiche from the past

 

Lady Gaga Stupid Love videoLady Gaga suitably attired for a pandemic-era music video. Screengrab: Lady Gaga/YouTube

Lady Gaga does move fast. She has gone from Bad Romance to, now, Stupid Love. She’s switched from dueting with Tony Bennett to, now, Elton John (both consistently still older—much older—men). She’s pushed from dance-pop to lounge jazz and, now, back to dance-pop. She has electrified from blond to, now, pink. One thing is certain, though: Lady Gaga is always there with you in your darkest hour, when you’re down, rejected, prejudiced against, and with the kind of clothes that, as usual, threaten to overshadow her message, if not her music. In addition, now, there are the “kindness punks”!

Watching her newest music video, Stupid Love, is like viewing a sci-fi B-movie, complete with schlock-y story line, fake planetary sets, vinyl-plasticky costumes, but without an Attack of the 50ft Woman. Lady Gaga looked like Ariana Grande doing Lady Gaga doing Ariana Grande. (Incidentally, Ms Grande duets with the former in the track Rain on Me.) The Born This Way chart-topper dances with the same energy that she always projects, but now with a cheerfulness and bounce once associated with Debbie Gibson.

20-05-31-23-48-53-670_decoSoaked during inclement weather, Lady Gaga in Rain on Me. Screen grab: Lady Gaga/YouTube

A Lady Gaga performance is enjoyed for both songs and costumes, and in Stupid Love, fans won’t be disappointed. Chromatica is not a about colour nor, in the case of the singer’s profession, about modifications of normal musical scales. The title of her sixth studio album is apparently the name of a planet that “rots on conflict”. And on it, inhabitants, formed by “many tribes”, dress and dance fabulously, “while the Spiritual ones pray and sleep for peace” and the Kindess Punks fight for Chromatica”. It is not clear who Lady Gaga is in this motley population, but she does dress to look like some futuro-chieftain. Her dancers—fellow Chromaticans?—surprisingly nearly threatened to outdo her. Accessorised to the hilt, they are in Victoria’s Secrets fabulousness, Mad Max madness, eco-warrior juggle greens, and, incongruently, a few shower-curtain caftans Andre Leon Talley would definitely approve.

Lady Gaga’s albums are not known for their conceptual heft. Visually, perhaps, but not musically. The Fame is indeterminate reputation than solid output, Artpop is more pop than art, just to name two. All along it’s her image (as before, conceived and styled by partner-in-crime Nicola Formichetti) and the danceability of her songs that conduce to her success. Chromatica is a clear extension of what she has been doing, save the rather protracted jazz interlude (with the Sound of Music thrown in for good measure). For those seeking the moderately experimental from an artiste that’s musically straight-forward, this album is the vanilla among tubs of cookie dough/cherry/chocolate snap-studded.

Chromatica cover art work

Cover art of Chromatica. Photo: Lady Gaga

Perhaps we were hoping for a tad more. With repeated listening, the album sounds uneven, as if begging for a remix. A nod to disco—between 1980 to 1995?—is clear enough, but the sonic imagery swings from the droning beat/base of Lipps Inc.’s Funky Town in 911 to the faint Shibuya groove of Sour Candy (with Blackpink guesting and its vogue-able chorus). Lady Gaga, as critics have constantly reminded us, can sing. Yet, most of the tracks depend, again, on what sounds like vocoder-tweaked vocals to ventriloquially transmute her singing into some robo-high expression. Repeatedly heard too are bass lines and electro-riffs that we have come to associate with a certain anthemic, hip-swaying, head-bobbing pop that the tribe of Bengs and Lians enjoy.

Albums drenched in dance beats could be an antidote to the present climate. “This is my dance floor I fought for,” Lady Gaga sings on Free Woman (with a chorus that reminds us of Ultra Naté’s 1997 hit Free). At a time still a lock down for many, listeners may share her dance floor too. Chromatica is, for a generation of quarantined party-goers, the soundtrack of Zoom happy hours. 

When Bored Models Strut In Their Living Rooms

Do we really need fashion entertainment when staying at home? CR Fashion Runway just told us we do. Or is it a narcissistic exercise by a selected few for the not-select many?

 

Models CR RunwayModels applauding their own ‘runway’ performance

By Raiment Young

Being by oneself is so undesirable and unbearable during what Pierre Png calls on television “these trying times” that we seem to be in a state of desperation. The stay-home order across the world has been so hard to endure and detrimental to persons or families alone that people want to break free like caged animals. Home may be where the heart is, but it isn’t where fun and gratification reside. People need to be—must be—entertained, more so the confined. Survival is not part of the equation, entertainment is. Our digital life is characteristically one huge orgy of providing and being provided with all that amuses us or deems enjoyable. This has become, online or offline, instinctive need. Self-isolation has only amplified our requirement for entertainment, however unimportant, however stupid or banal.

CR Runway with amfAR Against COVID-19 Fashion Unites broadcast on YouTube earlier taps into this beastly desire. Touted as YouTube’s first fashion runway show, the digitally stitched up video of models sashaying in their homes (or surroundings) is spearheaded by Carine Roitfeld. After leaving her job at French Vogue in 2011, Ms Roitfeld has been re-inventing herself, with varying degrees of success. Her unimaginatively named CR Fashion Book, from which this show draws its title, is an attempt to keep her finger in the publishing pie and, at the same time—with publisher Stephen Gan—create an overly-thick title that merely crawls in the shadows of Mr Gan’s far artier Visionaire (now folded) and fashion heavyweight Italian Vogue (the partnership with Mr Gan ended in 2016). CR the runway, just as with the magazine, is ensnared in a fashion rut.

CR & DB

To borrow from a popular quarantine activity, half-baked is how this YouTube show appeared to me. Now that live fashion shows can be watched on video streaming’s favourite platform, as well as on not-video-centric sites such as Twitter and Instagram, any event titled as “runway” or, as host, YouTube’s head of fashion and beauty, Derek Blasberg called it, “a high fashion runway show entirely from home… essentially supermodels supporting superheroes (medical and front-line staff)”, needs to appear at least delightful. On the surface, it sounds glamourous, but when the show began, it streamed like other society-rousing, social-message patchwork, broadcast to galvanise the grassroots into action or support, now popular online. This was, at best, talk-show savvy. “Many of the beloved faces from the world of fashion” can’t save it from being what might be seen on The Wendy Williams Show.

CR Runway is a fashion effort not for a fashion audience. This is not even targeted at the Victoria’s Secret Show crowd. A crisis can spawn both the critical and inconsequential. CR Runway, also a charity effort, falls with the latter. Its pedestrian presentation and a perfunctory use of technology won’t do anything for the image of fashion, already considered out of touch and in dire need of hitting the reset button. I am not sure what Ms Roitfeld hopes to achieve with this lacklustre reveal. To be fair, she did not claim credit for the idea. She attributed the fashion show to her son Vladimir Restoin Roitfeld, president of the company that publishes the magazine with his mother’s initials on it. This, as it turned out, was a family affair—his sister Julia walked the “runway” too.

Natasha Poly CR Runway 2020Natasha Poly in Paco Rabanne

CR Runway was not, of course, a catwalk in the traditional sense. It was more playtime than showtime, girls having fun than at work. Confined at home, the models were only mimicking what so many others have been already doing when bored and the fashion bug bit. After watching the ridiculously lengthy show, I found The Pillow Challenge oddly more compelling. Irreverence, wit, and irony were not choreographed into CR Runway, nor fashion. The nugatory quality of the show and the ensuing blandness was assured when, out of the roughly half-an-hour broadcast, 17 minutes were used up for mutual admiration and expression of gratitude among its participants. Tiresome bunkum! Each frame was so unimaginatively filmed that I wondered why the CR brand needed to be stitched to it. Even Carine Roitfeld, a stylist of some repute, could not light herself well enough to look the fashion doyenne she is supposed to be. Whatever it was that the show attempted to communicate, the approach was very IG, very influencer with a smartphone, very shoot-your-next-campaign-via-Zoom.

Now that models and, indeed, modelling have been demystified, what is there about models even at home, that is fascinating to watch? Worse, when un-styled and un-directed? We now learn and can ascertain that models away from an actual runway, without the hands that make them, well, models, are just like most girls who follow them: They dress similarly (so what if the models wore their own designer togs), they can’t do their hair, and—believe it—not even their own make-up. The collective sigh among fashion folks: “Even a nearly-bare face does not have be a I-just-woke-up look!” To be sure, everyone working in the front line against COVID-19 deserves support and encouragement. Would it not be more convincing and moving if models were in the act of actually doing something for those workers. Surely that would play down the belief that the fashion industry is predictably self-absorbed and self-indulgent?

Photos: CR Fashion Runway/YouTube

The Daring Duo And The Gaffes A People’s Republic Won’t Forgive

Hacked account or not, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, in particular, have a history of hitting out with controversial words

 

D&G IG P1The first of two: apology by Dolce & Gabbana posted on Instagram

Note: this post contains what some readers may consider offensive language

It was supposed to be a spectacle, but it quickly descended into a debacle. Italian brand Dolce & Gabbana has cancelled a headlining, 500-look, one-hour-long fashion show in a 20,000 square meters space in the Shanghai Expo World Museum that was supposed to open at 9 o’clock this evening (forty-five minutes before the scheduled start, they posted what is presumably a backstage clip on their FB page). This came after the online circulation of screen shots of a shared IG post in which Stefano Gabbana, in a chat with one Michaela Phuong (reported to be a fashion business student), was widely considered to have insulted an entire nation when he allegedly wrote, “the country of 💩💩💩💩💩 is China” (recalling Donald Trump’s comment on African countries) and “China Ignorant Dirty Smelling Mafia”.

Known as 杜嘉班纳 (dujiabanna) in China, the brand had earlier already upset Netizens after three 40-sec promotional videos were posted on Weibo (they are still on Dolce & Gabbana’s IG and FB page at the time of this posting) that showed a Chinese model, dressed like a tuhao (土豪 or uncouth rich), using chopsticks to eat Italian food—pizza, pasta, and cannolo—with difficulty. This bad light was compounded by a male Chinese narrator pronouncing the names of the two designers as “Dols and Gaberner” and calling chopsticks 小棍子形状的餐具 (xiao gunzi xingzhuang de canju). Little, stick-shaped eating implements! Admittedly, there’s nothing funny or charming about the videos, ironically hashtagged #DGLovesChina. Whether timed to provoke or generate interest, this came not long before what was to be the brand’s The Great Show.

DG on IGDG on IG: screen grab of the first video of three that Dolce & Gabbana posted on their Instagram page

Dolce & Gabbana responded with an IG apology, considered by Weibo users to be insincere. Understandable since it sounded like it was written by a lawyer than someone banging on bigotry’s door. Why, we had thought, was there no in-person daoqian [apology] for something of this magnitude? Dolce & Gabbana explained that their IG account had been “hacked”. Convenient an excuse, no doubt. To be sure, the veracity of the alleged disparaging chat was not ascertained and Ms Phuong (if she exists) did not say if she knows the two Italian designers personally and explain why she was chatting with one of them that led to the offensive comments. If Dolce & Gabbana’s social media account was hacked so that the hacker could put the brand and its designers in bad light, does that mean that they have more haters than Dolce & Gabbana imagined?

Controversy involving words that should not have been said or sent is not new to Dolce & Gabbana. Increasingly, provocative proclamations put the brand and duo in the news rather than the flamboyant clothes. There was the 2015 spat with Elton John that resulted from the two calling IVF babies “synthetic”. And, in June, there was Mr Gabbana’s fan-enraging online remark about Selena Gomez: “she’s so ugly”. Last year, reacting to those who expressed their dismay at the two designers for enthusiastically willing to dress Melania Trump, the brand released, somewhat arrogantly we thought, a USD295 T-shirt emblazoned with #BOYCOTT DOLCE&GABBANA, which is still available in their online store.

D&G IG P2A little too late: Dolce & Gabbana reaching out via IG the second time in a couple of hours

Culturally insensitive social media images, too, seem to be their forte. The present videos came after last year’s spring/summer images tagged “DG loves China” that Chinese Netizens thought belittled their homeland with a “stereotypical” depiction of a place that fashion stars such as Sun Feifei and Liu Wen call home. In the ads, models in flashy clothes and ridiculous head and eye wear pose with locals that appeared to be less privileged and sophisticated, and in settings that suggested third-tier cities instead of those such as Shanghai or Beijing (ironically the city in which the ads were shot), where the inhabitants are more likely to be Dolce & Gabbana customers.

Anger with the latest videos is understandable too. Dolce & Gabbana had picked a gangly model who, for most Chinese, is not mei (pretty) enough to front a major campaign targeted at them. As one former marketing head who had worked in China told SOTD, “the Chinese view beauty very differently from the West. What is beautiful to D&G may not be so to the Chinese. For that matter, what is clever to the Italians may not be clever to the Chinese.” To make matters worse, the model was made to handle chopsticks in a manner that the Chinese from young would have been told is never acceptable. If that wasn’t enough, the narrator asked suggestively, when she tried eating the unusually large tubular canollo (a sweet Sicilian pastry), 对你们来说这是太大了吗?(dui nimen laishuo zheshi taida le ma). Is this, to you, too big?

Huang Xiaoming IGActor Huang Xiaoming was not ambiguous about where his loyalty lies. Photo: Huang Xiaoming/Instagram

The outrage came fast and furious. Dolce & Gabbana first reacted by removing the videos from Weibo. Then came those remarks. It was just too late to reverse course. Public outcry was so serious and palpable that The Great Show, said to be the largest in the brand’s 33-year existence, had to be called off. The cancellation (as first reported), then postponement (later corrected, but no one is certain which is correct since Dolce & Gabbana have not responded to media queries) came when celebrities due to attend and models due to participate had pulled out unequivocally. Models and actors alike took to social media to express their disapproval and dismay, with many expressing clear support for the 祖国 (zuguo or motherland). The China actor Huang Xiaoming, also Tissot ambassador and London, Paris, and Milan Fashion Weeks regular, posted succinctly on his official IG account, “祖国第一!毫无疑问 (zuguo diyi! haowu yiwen).” Motherland first, no doubt.

Were the Chinese over-reacting? Or, crucially, were Dolce & Gabbana over-reaching? Did the Italians think their brand of Eastern exotica and taste-dubious visual and video communication would charm the Chinese? Did they really consider themselves so culturally superior that they could teach the Chinese how to 起筷吃饭 (qikuai chifan)? That in the land of chopsticks, the people had to be schooled on how to “lift a pair of chopsticks to have a meal”? Or, is the fashion design community of Italy so tone-deaf that they ignore the attention they have drawn to the delivering of messages that ignore racial, cultural, and religious sensitivities, such as those by compatriot Gucci?

Dolce & Gabbana @ IONSilent night: not a soul on the women’s floor at Dolce & Gabbana, ION Orchard. Photo: Dawn Koh

Earlier this evening, we dropped by at Dolce & Gabbana, ION Orchard to see for ourselves if the China fiasco had any impact on the consumption here. It had been hours since the indignation on Weibo, and it is not immoderate to assume that people here, apathetic as they can be, had an inkling of what happened and may be disconcerted enough to avoid the store if they were not inclined to say something in disapproval. On level one, a few men—tourists we assume since they spoke in a different language—were browsing. Upstairs, where the women’s wear and accessories are offered, it was as silent as a churchyard at sundown.

It isn’t clear yet what brand damage this fallout will cost Dolce & Gabbana or what losses will be incurred in the cancellation of the show (the last dispatch on the show that we read before we hit the sack: it was “cancelled by the Cultural Affairs Bureau of Shanghai”). According to reported estimates, the brand, in 2016, enjoyed 30% of total sales in the Asia Pacific region—China alone has Dolce & Gabbana stores in 25 cities. Boycott is now the rallying cry in dealing with the foolish, unthinking duo. Or could a higher road be an option? As one SOTD follower commented, “Aiya, they’re just a couple of angmo bengs; they don’t know any better.”

Photos (except where stated): Dolce & Gabbana/Instagram

Look What We Did To Taylor Swift!

Taylor Swift’s latest music video, Look What You Made Me Do, appears self-satirising (or, as her fans say, self-referential). But is she really mocking herself or laughing at her mockers?

TS LWYMMD 1

At 27, the “old Taylor” is dead, so goes the declaration in Ms Swift’s latest single Look What You Made Me Do. But it isn’t just one of her old selves that died. How many old Taylors were there? Quite a few, apparently—all deserving a grave.

And that’s exactly where she emerges in the MV track that debuted at yesterday’s MTV Video Music Awards, looking like she is auditioning for Night of the Living Dead, or, maybe, paying homage to Michael Jackson’s Thriller (both cemeteries look strikingly similar). Ms Taylor willing to look ghoulish is of course a bit of a surprise. She is, after all, the American Beauty.

TS LWYMMD 2

But that cartoonish living-dead look lasted for a grand total of 14 seconds. (It is preceded by an aerial view of tombstones that form the letters T and S: her reputation, as it were, may be dead, but not narcissism). For the most part of the video, she is her glamorous self: the white, blond, and blue version of attractiveness that Americans find especially appealing and digestible, in clothes that every prom-goer can identify with. Taylor Swift is the perennial homecoming queen. And she’s offered her viewers, in more than a dozen costume changes in the video, a greatest hits of the dresses she’s worn on stage and screen.

The video of Look What You Made Me Do was screened in lieu of her stage appearance. The media made sure to note her no-show. Of course it was a no-show. Can you imagine the more daringly-dressed host Katy Perry introducing the Shake It Off singer? Who knows if the Bad Blood is diluted?

TS LWYMMD 3

A music video, even in 4K, is also less a moving target for disgruntled fellow singers to go on stage to upstage the star, proclaiming her undeserving. This is all very harmless and it encourages more on-line viewing and appreciation. Unsurprisingly, it spawns another record for Ms Swift: at the time of this writing, YouTube announced that the MV, directed by Joseph Kahn (aka Ahn Jun-Hee, the Korean-born wunderkind of music videos), broke record for the most-viewed in a 24-hour period. Reportedly, at one point, it was drawing more than 3 million views per hour!

Is it any good? Well, Taylor Swift is not Björk. She’s merely traipsing the path well trodden by Britney Spears, wearing more clothes and affability than the Toxic singer (whose video of that song was also directed by Mr Kahn). It switches from (unconnected) scene to scene, augmenting the fact that, like Donald Trump, Ms Swift needs to live from one drama to the next. Look What You Made Me Do has the bombast needed for today’s MVs to hit the most-viewed spot, but it is as engaging as a cat doing her business in the kitty litter.

TS LWYMMD 4

Talking about cats, felines make their appearance in the video. Not groundbreaking there. Ms Swift’s love of cats, especially Scottish Folds, is no secret. In Look What You Made Me Do, she dons a white full-head mask of a cat alongside dancers with faces similarly obscured. There’s another cat: the face of a tiger on a black Gucci (but, in a flash, could be Kenzo) pullover. As if to reflect the animal’s fierceness, she swings a baseball bat a la Beyoncé in Hold Up.

Then there’s also the leopard print coat (above), and an actual leopard in a car-crash scene which seems to be taking aim at archenemy Katy Perry, a leopard print-loving pop-singing rival whose fans are known as “Katy Cats”. What seems to confirm our suspicion more is the conspicuously placed Grammy award in that scene. We know Ms Perry has never won one even with multiple nominations. Surely, that’s not a mere hint. Funnily, there’s something old-school about that: taking your grievances to music television rather than social media!

Now, remember Taylor Swift is a vengeful lyricist, and she does not forget. She draws much from her pain, and her resentments are hardly a subtle subtitle in what she writes and sings. “You”, you would have guessed by now, isn’t just one of her lovers (here’s looking at you Calvin Harris and Tom Hiddleston). You is employed in plural form and you are the nosy, noisy multitudes.

Calling out her detractors, Ms Swift seems to be including people in the industry: Kim Kardashian (that bathtub with diamonds and pearls); DJ David Mueller (the one-dollar bill, also in the bathtub, that could symbolize the USD$1 she sought for damages); and people who have allegedly betrayed her, such as Kimye (in one scene of the throne and the snakes, a serpentine couple serves her tea!). In the end, even with a scene (above) that brings together the past Taylors in a mutual verbal attack (only Taylor Swift can criticise Taylor Swift?), she’s really having a go at all of us.

Photos: screen grabs of the music video Look What You made Me Do on YouTube

G Dragon Goes For Gabrielle

G Dragon models Gabrielle Pic 1

G Dragon does not tire of Chanel, nor Chanel of him. Both are collaborating again. This time, for the unspectacular Chanel shoulder bag, unimaginatively named Gabrielle Bag. G Dragon, aka Kwon Ji-Yong, appears in a video released by Chanel two days ago, showing him walking briskly in what appears to be a hotel hallway as he heads for a concert venue. He makes very little eye contact with the camera, and the bag appears less often than his face. To the ignorant, this could be a commercial for a G Dragon performance.

To launch a bag, they make films these days. They cast the coolest stars with massive following, and if their model of choice is unable to come for the filming, they sent a film crew to him. G Dragon reportedly shot this video while on a concert stop in Macau. This was part of his third solo world tour called ACT III, M.O.T.T.E. In fact, he performed at the Indoor Stadium this past weekend to a 7,500-strong crowd. While it was reported that he wore Chanel and carried the Gabrielle Bag during this latest concert as part of his garish stage costumes, it was not certain if this was the case for his show here. Do Singaporeans fans even care?

Perhaps they would if the Gabrielle Bag filming was conducted during the leg of his tour here. But Chanel, priding themselves on the vastness of their marketing budget, sent their crew to Macau instead. In the end, it isn’t quite clear which really gained from the exposure: the bag or the concert, if at all.

Chanel Gabrielle Bag

But Chanel does score when they’re able to associate an unremarkable bag with a very remarkable Korean hip-hop star. G Dragon is, of course, not the first popular male singer to help Chanel market the Gabrielle Bag. In April this year, Pharrell Williams won the distinction for being the first male to avail his whole being to a Chanel handbag campaign (although he isn’t the first man to be associated with the brand). Pharrell brought his usual I-can-wear-Chanel-if-I-want-to stance to the video in which he was seen—with Chanel chains and pearls, no less—skating atop a crate across a warehouse in a guys-do-these-sort-of-things way.

It is G Dragon, however, that is far more gender-bending in his fashion choices for the Chanel short. And we’re not just talking about what looks like a lace scarf thrown over his shoulder and the ultra-skinny tweed pants (interestingly both he and Mr Williams wore plain T-shirts in their respective videos, as if that will help retain some masculinity a la James Dean, should doubt arises) and the posing and preening. There’s his full makeup and the painted fingernails: this is a get up that, in more conformist, less hip-hop dominating times, would be considered drag.

Despite his tendency to cross into female territory in dress, G Dragon’s maleness is rarely question, at least not among his female fans. In fact, all the lace and nail polish seem only to augment and underscore his all-male, oppa appeal. In allkpop.com, a fan ItsKDay commented on a report of G Dragon’s Gabrielle Bag video flaunt, “Gawd he has such a sexy manly body.”

G Dragon models Gabrielle Pic 2

The thing is, in South Korea, people seem less fixated on gender norms. Selling music or cosmetics to consumers is not gender-led. Just look at the casting for the skincare and makeup ads from the big players such as the AmorePacific Group (Etude House and Innisfree). Guys with strangely dewy skin dominate, making G Dragon’s foray into women’s accessory advertising no oddity. In fact, the lead singer of Big Bang seems to be utterly comfortable in what would be mostly (at least for now) considered female domains. Just look at the covers of the two issues of Vogue that featured him last year: China (August 2016, two covers, in fact, with Bella Hadid sharing the space in the second) and Korea (also August 2016, not two, but three covers!) And both editions with him sporting looks mothers usually do not expect of their sons.

G Dragon may use the Gabrielle Bag in the video ad, but will he really put it to use in his everyday life? The Gabrielle Bag looks like a practical bag, for sure, but so is Ikea’s Frakta—so practical, in fact, that it spawned a luxury version of it. Also known as the Hobo Bag, the Gabrielle Bag (not just Gabrielle) is believed to be unisex, but not quite a man-bag. Its regular looks and rigid form may just be unexceptional enough to attract those not in the pop music business to adopt one for their fashionable life.

Chanel is really pouring a hefty sum into the marketing of what could easily become a forgotten sibling of the 2.55. Kristen Stewart was the first to star in the series of Gabrielle Bag films, followed by Cara Delevingne and Caroline de Maigret. Reportedly Liu Wen is next, augmenting Chanel’s predisposition towards inclusiveness.

However, we do wonder: does the casting of a black and an Asian man for a primarily women’s wear label mean that non-Caucasian men are less fashion-forward and not amenable to fashion without the confines of gender? Or has men’s wear been so limiting in terms of variety that guys are looking across the divide for more to excite and to express with? Or, maybe, in Chanel, G Dragon has simply found his phoenix.

Chanel’s Gabrielle Hobo Bag (as seen on G Dragon), from SGD5,460, is available at Chanel stores. Video stills and product photo: Chanel

Clothes Become Her

Even when she’s finally willing to wear something that can be discerned as clothing in her new music video, Miley Cyrus proves she’s a better singer than dresser

Miley Cyrus (Malinbu) 1

By Mao Shan Wang

Unlike many of her fans, I have never considered Miley Cyrus much of an influencer; at least not in the style stakes. You see, I have a problem with women who fashion themselves as style icons but do not use clothes. Or, use very little of them. What was Ms Cyrus wearing in Wrecking Ball? Underwear and, in parts, nothing—she had more fibres in her lashes than on her body. What fashion statement did that make?

Maybe it was what she was riding that counted, such as the wrecking ball and, in the Bangerz tour, the hot dog. Free of outrageous props in her new video for the single Malibu, Ms Cyrus needed fashion to carry a message: I’m no longer the trollop that I once appeared to be; I am again a girl-next-door (thinking of marrying the completely not deviant Liam Hemsworth). Or, as Wendy Williams recently raved in her eponymous show, “cleaned-up Miley”.

Miley Cyrus (Malinbu) 2

I am not sure if a scrubbed Princess of Twerk can be transformed into a High Priestess of Fashion, but Ms Cyrus seems to be trying. In Malibu, she was in no less than nine outfits, with one strange voluminous, off-shoulder dress that was made even more capacious with the puffiest sleeves and widest train you ever saw—more cloth in one outfit that everything she ever wore in her entire singing career.

So what does it mean now that ex-Hannah Montana is clothed? I don’t know about you, but when I first saw the MV of Malibu, I thought it was Forever 21 that had an arrangement with her wardrobe mistress. Who would have thought Billy Ray’s hitherto provocatively dressed daughter would take to a style more akin to Nashville’s off-stage Juliette Barnes’s?

Miley Cyrus (Malinbu) 3

I understand that Ms Cyrus’s main audience is young, school-going, and in need of an idol that can provide dress ideas for classes (in the US, they don’t wear uniforms), going to the mall, traipsing the beach, as Ms Cyrus did in Malibu. Ordinariness for every day seems to be the main message. Like you, she need not rely on the weird and crude to be likable.

Her choice of tiered frilled frock, bra top and harem pants, cropped funnel-neck pullover and bikini bottom, lightweight sundress, itsy-bitsy tube top and shorts, beribboned sweater-top and diaphanous shorts, and more sweater-and-briefest-briefs pairing meant that she could make herself more relatable to the Republican-loving girls that now could be her core listeners and admirers. It is likely that this is a Gaga-esque, post-meat-dress sartorial breakthrough; this is also the singer-songwriter at her most heartfelt—no frightfully cute or wildly sexy outfit to distract, or worse, augment. She is not wrecking anymore.

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To be sure, Malibu is not that bad even when many critics think otherwise. For sure, it’s inoffensive, which, when weighed against the Miley Cyrus repertoire, may be the first of her songs that would be welcome at Fairprice. This is clearly conceived for a summer release. Close your eyes and you can feel the sea breeze (or “birds catching the wind”), even taste the salt in the air. The singing is so earnest and un-bombastic that you’re strangely drawn to her confessional: “I never would’ve believed you if three years ago you told me I’d be here writing this song”—a reference, no doubt, to her 2013 break-up with fiancé-once-more Liam Hemsworth.

There’s a sweetness that may not be immediately digestible until you open your eyes and see her—seemingly sans makeup—frolicking on the beach, hand clutching a flying bouquet of balloons, all the while the folk-poppy guitar jangle remind you this is rather serious, songwriter stuff.

Miley Cyrus (Malinbu) 5

This cleaned-up Miley Cyrus was, in fact, already seen in the past years in The Backyard Sessions (to support her Happy Hippie Foundation)—YouTube posts of her and her band doing some of her favourite covers, which include the impressive rendition of Dolly Parton’s Jolene and James Shelton’s Lilac Wine, with no hint of Auto-Tune at work, only colouring that sometimes makes me think of Amy Winehouse.

In these sessions, she wore a sleeveless skin-toned lace top and a no-nonsense black skirt. Her hair was tied into a casual chignon, as though she had just pulled the curls into shape before hitting the mike. You sense that she wanted you to hear her voice rather than be distracted by her dress. And she certainly wasn’t going to sit astride anything ball-like or phallic.

Miley Cyrus (Malinbu) 6

The pared-down Miley Cyrus continues her Trump-supporter look in the cover of the latest issue of Billboard magazine on which a pink dress would not look out of place in Alice in Wonderland or downtown Denver. Is Ms Cyrus reprising her Hannah Montana look or embracing her country roots? I’m not sure. Either way, there’s no mistaking the grassroot aesthetics of her new-found, clothes-galore wardrobe. 

This does not seem like a one-off. But how long will she stick to the normal-girly before another clear plastic of a dress, or bits of straps as top come acalling? To me, one thing will never change: those blemish-bits of tattoos on her arms and hands that, despite the Sunday church-worthy dresses, suggest Ms Cyrus needs a bath.

Photos: screen grabs of Miley Cyrus’s Malibu video from YouTube 

Model Behaviour: Soda Pop Peace Offering

Kendall Jenner Pepsi 1

Pepsi wants their cake and eat it too. Or, maybe, a can of soda and drink it too. In their latest commercial, they’ve engaged model du jour Kendall Jenner to do what Ms Jenner does: model. That is all rather swell until suddenly, in the commercial, she leaves her assignment at hand to join what appears to be a protest. That’s when things get a little iffy.

Encouraged by a passerby who communicates by tilting his head, she abandons what we assume to be paid assignment to join the action on the street. And why are they protesting? We don’t know. Anyway, Ms Jenner goes through a protesting crowd (inexplicably young and attractive), reaches the front line, and confronts a row of policemen. Instead of raising her hand in defiance, she singles out a handsome law enforcer and offers him a Pepsi. Peace, as it turns out, can be had in a can.

Social media blared with disapproval after the commercial was posted on Pepsi’s YouTube channel a day ago. Loudest was the charge that a “privileged, white” woman saving America from its civil-rights woes slights the real attempt to resolve race issues that plague the US. But is this really so startling—or new—when white America, on screen, has always saved the world, if not herself?

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Pepsi pitches its latest commercial as a “global ad that reflects people from different walks of life coming together in a spirit of harmony.” And how “global” might that be? Or how “different”? Include an Asian cellist and a photographer in a hijab as key players among the throng of people with no anger or angst registered on their faces and you get diversity? If this is meant to reference recent confrontations, such as the Black Lives Matter protest in Baton Rouge, Lousiana, last year, how will a recognisable model who, according to Forbes, earned USD17 million last year (and continues to make more with this Pepsi commercial), diminish the anger that still simmers?

One of the earliest models to appear in a Pepsi ad was Cindy Crawford in 1992. In that version, she was all sex symbol, emerging from a vermilion sports car in the presence of two young boys who would become completely mesmerised by her sipping from a can of Pepsi. A sexy woman using her sex appeal to sell a product: that was it.

We’re now living in different times. A model’s beauty alone isn’t enough; she has to tell us that she’s socially aware and willing to go out there to take up a cause, even in the middle of a professional engagement, photographer and crew be damned. You see, the reality-TV-star-turn-model has a sense of right and wrong, and she can temper the tempest with an effervescent drink.

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The Pepsi campaign may shout ‘Live for Now’ but its protagonist does not seize the moment since she, unlike the cellist and the photographer, has time to change out of her clothes to look like she could be a part of the crowd. When social justice calls, blond wig and Vamp-like lip colour are not protest material, nor metallic mini-dress, sheer duster coat, hoop-earrings, and black killer heels.

Suddenly she’s no longer a glamour puss; she’s a model who walks out of her work to follow a functioning conscience. That means joining the marching masses in nude make-up and in a cropped jacket, white T-shirt, and tri-tone denim jeans—an off-duty-model-pretending-to-be-an-ordinary-girl look that is completed by the perch of sunglasses on her head.

Like Diana Prince, she instantly changes from a fashion plate to a figure of justice. Only thing is, Kendall Jenner is no Wonder Woman. And Pepsi is no Coke—it can’t teach the world to sing, and definitely not in perfect harmony.

Screen grabs: YouTube/Pepsi

Update (6 April 2017): Pepsi has pulled this ad from circulation. It’s no longer available on its YouTube channel

Still Carrie Bradshaw

SJP narrates for Vogue

In season 4, episode 2 (also called ‘The Real Me’) of Sex and the City, Carrie Bradshaw said, “When I first moved to New York and I was totally broke, sometimes I would buy Vogue instead of dinner. I felt it fed me more.” Vogue was so much a part of Ms Bradshaw’s life that it had a cameo role in the six-season, 94-episode TV series; leading to an episode in season 4 called ‘A Vogue Idea’. It is unsurprising, therefore, that Carrie Bradshaw’s alter ego Sarah Jessica Parker was asked to narrate the e-series The History of Fashion in Vogue for the title’s online edition.

Vogue and Carrie Bradshaw were so intertwined that despite the shorts’ title credit that read “narrated by Sarah Jessica Parker”, the voice-over sure sounds like Ms Bradshaw. In the first of what Vogue calls “a series of ‘five points’ videos by decades”, SJP opened the peek into the late 1800s and the 1900s by saying “Start-up wasn’t part of the vocabulary of 1892, when Arthur Baldwin Turnure started a weekly journal of fashion and society called Vogue.” This could have been “Once upon a time, an English journalist came to New York…” of the debut of SATC, minus the close-up of the text appearing on the computer screen and the vibraphone tune of the main theme before that.

Sex and the City was very much a self-narrated account of Carrie Bradshaw’s New York life, which included three of her friends. The gossipy unfolding gave the series much of its authenticity and intimacy, and it made Carrie Bradshaw the protagonist so many rooted for, even when her neurosis and self-inflicted pain were sometimes too much to bear. That voice, that pitch, that urgency—all so identifiable as prelude to Sex and the City’s celebration of sex-as-you-wish liberty and blatant consumption that even on a program about the history of one of the world’s most recognisable publications you sense that maybe there’s going to be who slept with who after who bought what.

Thirty seconds into the first episode of Sarah Jessica Parker Narrates 1892-1900s in Vogue, SJP says that Vogue was a “journal of society, fashion, and the ceremonial side of life.” She may be referring to another era far removed from the one she’s in, but she could be describing the world of Carrie Bradshaw, minus the sexual escapades and tearful heartbreaks. When SJP revealed with such wonder that “crackerjack” Condé Nast purchased the publication in 1809, she could have been referring to Capote Duncan (the publishing executive who nearly bedded Charlotte York), or Mr Big.

These short videos were conceived to celebrate Vogue’s 125th year, but they’re not exactly a broad look at the past. In the face of debates over whether Vogue is relevant, they only serve to remind us that the magazine has come this far and will go further, much further.

Screen grab from vogue.com

The Quiet Master

Film | In a new untitled documentary, the fashion insider’s designer Azzedine Alaïa is revealed, but only just

Azzedine AlaiaAzzedine Alaïa at his drafting table. Photo: Joe McKenna/Consulate Film

There are designers and there are designers, but none so unconcerned with the drama of the fashion world and its pursuit of excess as Azzedine Alaïa. His refusal to genuflect to the fashion system, whether in Paris or elsewhere, sticking to his own world in his atelier in the Marais, a historic part of the capital in the 4th and 5th arrondissement, makes him as much a mystery as a marvel.

In this new, 26-minute, black and white short made by the Scottish stylist Joe McKenna, considered one of the most respected in the business, who once published his own now-very-collectible and hard-to-find, two-issue (1992 and 1998) magazine called Joe’s, Mr Alaïa is put in the spotlight, but it is friends, models, journalists who are doing the shining. Filmed over a few years in the designer’s atelier during Mr McKenna’s free time, the film feels like an extended trailer than a major oeuvre, snap shot than biography.

Yet, it’s a pleasurable film, if only because there is no moving picture material out there on Mr Alaïa. Any reveal is better than none. Much has been said of the designer’s skill—how he drafts and cuts his own patterns, how, at one time, he even sewed the dresses himself—and why those who wear his designs become life-long fans, but very little is offered about the processes behind those undeniably beautiful clothes, or about the thinking of a quietly defiant man. In this respect, we still know very little of Mr Alaïa’s motivation and inspiration.

Azzedine Alaïa Couture 2011Two of the outfits from the couture 2011 show that appeared in the film. Photos: Azzedine Alaïa

Although the lens trails its subject, the camera does not capture Mr Alaïa saying anything to it. Instead, designer Nicholas Ghesquiere (the only male interviewee), stylist Carlyne Cerf de Dudzeele (who styled Anna Wintour’s first US Vogue cover in 1988 that saw a Christian Lacroix couture top paired with jeans), the ex-stylist, ex-fashion editor (British Tatler and Vogue), and now architect Sophie Hicks, still-practising stylists Grace Coddington and Katie Grand, journalists Cathy Horyn, Vanessa Friedman, and Suzy Menkes, and models Naomi Campbell (who calls Mr Alaïa “papa”) and Veronica Webb do the talking.

These are people who doubtlessly and ardently admire him and are intensely protective. Ms Campbell even revealed that Mr Alaïa took her in after she lost her possessions during a sojourn in Paris in 1989, and that he still avails a room in his residence to her. Although we’re told that Mr Alaïa “has a temper”, like many passionate artists, we’re not shown an instance other than his throwing a hanger at an assistant, when he lost composure to rage. Or, if fury or self-control has influenced his designs. Through these intimates, we are seduced into believing Mr Alaïa has no shortcoming.

This is a film strictly for followers of Mr Alaïa’s work—a celebration of the female form and an extolment of sexiness with none of the perverse expression seen in fashion today. It is also for fashion culture buffs who may be thrilled to see some rare footages of old Azzedine Alaïa shows (“another echelon” for Cathy Horyn)  in which supermodels of the ’90s gravitated (somewhere in there is also the now-reclusive Grace Jones). It sometimes feels like a knowing nod among friends for more friends rather than a vivid disclosure for the uninitiated, of the man and his creative output. And a substantiation of the already known fact that very much of Azzedine Alaïa’s designs start at the drafting table—a mark of a true couturier.