The Met Looks At Its Front Yard

“American fashion” takes centrestage at this year’s Met Gala. Really

“Irony is over, oxymoron is next,” one marketing consultant said, when he heard the news. This year’s Met Gala and the attendant exhibition, to be held in September rather than the usual May (last year’s was cancelled), will be in salute of American fashion, according to Vogue. “Homegrown fashion”, as the organisers describe it, could possibly straighten the crumple post-Trump America is still wearing. This year’s event will be a two-parter (second to open in May 2022), and possibly larger than other previous ones. Could this be self-validation after a lame New York Fashion Week in February, amid a gloomy climate for American brands across all price points? Or is this a challenge to the believe that in the US, formulaic dressing and uniform-as-style can be replaced by fine examples of superlative design?

American fashion, two ends of the market and between, seems unable to capture our imagination for the past five years. Or even more. Storied names as Calvin Klein and mass appeal labels as Gap are fading in power, diminishing in influence, and declining in reach. More than ever America’s own needs an affirming boost. The mother telling her child, you are the best. In addition, the Met’s Costume Institute needs to WFA—work from America, now that borders are still not fully opened to facilitate any homage to designers of distant lands. Outside the US, its global standing, as a 13-nation Pew Research Center survey from last year illustrated, has “plummeted”—“majorities have an unfavorable opinion of the U.S. in nearly every country surveyed”. Now is the time to look homeward and champion America.

Who truly represents American fashion? Tom Ford? Alexander Wang? Gosh, Kanye West, the “fashion mogul”? And pal Virgil Abloh? Or flag bearers Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Michael Kors? Or, the retired Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, Todd Oldham, Izaac Mizrahi? Or, to be inclusive, Carolina Herrara, Vera Wang, Phillip Lim, the Olsen twins, Lazaro Hernandez (the other half of Proenza Schouler), Dapper Dan, Kerby Jean-Raymond, Telfar Clemens? Or, to salute the pop world, Rihanna, Beyoncé, Jennifer Lopez, Selena Gomez, Sean Combs, Pharrell Williams? Or, to acknowledge the immigrants, Oleg Cassini, Rudi Gernreich, Fernando Sánchez, Adrienne Vittadini, Ronaldus Shamask, Naeem Khan? Or, to include the dead, Claire McCardell, Lilly Pulitzer, Bonnie Cashin, Mary McFadden, Anne Klein, Halston, Zoran, James Galanos, Perry Ellis, Oscar de la Renta, L’Wren Scott? Or, to take note of the Americans abroad, Mainbocher, Vicky Tiel, Patrick Kelly, Yoon Ahn, Daniel Roseberry? Or, to mark the (now) less-known, Stephen Burrows, Geoffrey B Small, Reed Krakoff, Rhuigi Villaseñor? Or, to rave about the he-who-can-be-anyone, Marc Jacobs?

You get the picture.

Illustration: Just So

Who’s That Goddess?

The Winged Victory of Samothrace has such high-low appeal

Left: Louis Vuitton show that ended with the last model in front of the statue. Screen grab: Louis Vuitton. Right: The image on a Uniqlo T-shirt. Photo: Zhao Xiangji

When the final model of last month’s Louis Vuitton show came to the end of the runway (set in the Louvre Museum), she came face to face with one of the biggest treasures of the musée: the Winged Victory of Samothrace. She paused and looked at the imposing figure as if in silent worship. What stood before her was the Hellenistic sculpture of Nike—the Greek goddess, not the sneaker brand. Nearly 11,000 kilometres to the east of Paris, the image of the same headless and armless deity was seen on the front of a black, S$19.90 Uniqlo crew-neck T-shirt. The illustration, in a patina of pastels, is conceived by the British graphic designer Peter Saville, in conjunction with the Louvre. It also includes the location of the statue and two letters and four numerals that form the inventory number. Back in Paris, you can buy a good 18-cm reproduction of the goddess that’s patinated by hand for €119. An immeasurable distance away, at the online portal Lazada, you, too, can obtain a similar figurine, cast in resin, for S$35.74. The Winged Victory (the shorter name), it seems, is almost everywhere.

Discovered in 1863 on the Greek island of Samothrace, in the northern Aegean sea, this sculptured likeness of Nike (circa 200 B.C.) is considered one of the finest in the world for its realistic depiction of a body in motion as well as its attractive female proportions. Ironically, the sculptor is unknown. By most accounts, Nike is a winged goddess who flies around as the bestower of victory to those who win wars, as well as peaceful competition, such as athletic games. Although not shown in the statue, she is known to carry laurel wreaths to hand out to, naturally, victors, and bestowing on them the rewards that come with winning. Other than her ability to take to flight, she is also reputed to be a fast runner (the connection to that shoe company again!) and a talented charioteer (which makes her standing atop the prow of a boat in the Louvre rather odd), so good, in fact, she commanded Zeus’s cavalry as the chief charioteer.

Despite her abundant talents, Nike did not seem attractive to possible suitors

No goddess of repute wasn’t connected to Zeus, the god of gods, the all-father, whose throne was in Olympus and whose personal logo is the thunder bolt. Nike was born to the Titan Pallas and the nymph Styx. In the ten-year Titanomachy, a war of egos that saw the Olympians battle the Titans, Styx sided with Zeus and was the first to dash to his aid. She presented him with Nike and her siblings to serve as allies. So pleased was Zeus with this unconditional readiness that he allowed them to use Mount Olympus as their permanent residence. Nike was allowed to remain by his side and receive his eternal protection. Despite her abundant talents, Nike did not seem attractive to possible suitors (she remained unmarried). In fact, there is no mention of her looks unlike, say, Aphrodite, who, although a warrior goddess, was celebrated for her beauty, among many other attributes. Stephen Fry in Mythos, described her as “a face far more beautiful than creation has yet seen or will ever see again”. Nike did not enjoy such a tribute to her physical attributes, although the ancients did describe her as “trim-ankled”.

In the Winged Victory, the goddess is often admired for the draped dress on her forward-thrusting body, both captured with remarkable mastery. This version of Nike wears a chiton, a unisex garment of either linen or wool. Given the lightness in the depiction, linen is likely the fabric represented there. The chiton was mostly rectangular, and held in place and gathered at the shoulders by either stitches or pins. Since its length for women was usually longer than the wearer, the chiton was worn with a belt so that when the top part was pulled up to fall over the cinched waist, like a blouse, the length could be shortened. On the Winged Victory, an additional belt is secured under the bust to further secure the dress. The fabric, possibly because of the wind, gathered between the legs to expose unscandalously the left hip and leg. Around the waist, another garment could be discerned: a himation or a cloak, draped around the right hip and swept open, with a swathe of it caught in the wind behind. Unlike mortals of today, the gods of yore clearly didn’t need a stylist to work their fashion.

Oscars Producers: Casual Clothes “Are Really Not” Allowed

A reminder to nominees and attendees, in case anyone turns up in sweats

Oscar at the Oscars. Too casual? Illustration: Xiu Xian

By Mao Shan Wang

You know times have changed when the producers of this year’s Oscars presentation need to send nominees and attendees a letter to remind them to dress to the nines. As reported in the press around the globe, the letter stated that the organisers aimed “for a fusion of inspirational and aspirational, which in actual words means formal is totally cool if you want to go there, but casual is really not.” Wah, Hollywood stars have to be reminded to dress up even when there is clearly an occasion to. Is that like being told to get vaccinated? Or has the pandemic made even the Academy Awards show so unappealing that there might be those tempted to attend the glitzy presentation in their home clothes or without the services of a stylist? Or, as the epitome of luxury bagginess?

It’s hilarious to think about Oscars dress code. The award ceremony is represented by a bald man so in love with extreme casual, he has chosen to remain and appear as if the whole of Hollywood should be a nudist colony, but for the people attending the event to be flanked by him and, for a lucky few, to hold his cold, hard, naked body, they have to be served a reminder to ensure that their attire for the evening can be described as—er, what’s the opposite of casual? There is yet more reason to keep France’s petite mains gainfully employed, in particular during lockdown.

If the world’s fashion media is to be believed, we have been living and working, for the past year, in sweats—the clothes, not the perspiration, although anyone who lives on the equator knows that one tends to lead to the other. It is unthinkable that even for one of the world’s most glamorous event in Los Angeles, attendees are not inclined to make an appointment with their designer friends or their regular tailor, both I do not have, but if invited, would. Do Oscars producers really think the stars would pull out any old rag from their wardrobe? Or do I think too well of those with an awardable movie career?

If the likes of Carey Mulligan and Frances McDormand, both this year’s nominees for Best Actress, need to be made aware to dress in their glittery finest, where does that leave Mediacorp actors attending the Star Awards next month? Or has Mediacorp, in their excitement, already issued their demand? Both thoughts make me quiver.

Millennials Made Gucci

At the Grammy Awards, Billie Eilish and Harry Styles surprised no one when they turned up in full Gucci, illustrating, again, boys and girls their age group love the flashy Italian brand

Billie Eilish and Harry Styles in unmistakable Gucci outfits. Photos: Getty Images

The head-to-toe look is the to way dress among many of today’s young pop stars. And dedication to a single brand is the ideal. The easiest way to be camera-ready, we suppose. Just look at two of the biggest entertainers at the recent Grammys: Billie Eilish and the dress wearer Harry Styles. They were both outfitted by Gucci, down to, in the case of Ms Eilish, the bucket hat, face mask, and fingerless gloves, and, in the case of Mr Styles, the Mae West-worthy feather boa. It was as if they had turned over the entire exercise of dressing to a fashion house. Their own wardrobes non-existent, or redundant. Of course, most stars don’t look at their existing armoire anymore. They go with what fashion houses present to them, and if the final look is missing something—anything, there’s always the atelier’s sewers to custom-make. If they can sew a dress, they can sew a face mask. It’s all—as you can see (or maybe not)—very orchestrated.

This sounds very much like how they managed movie stars during the heydays of Hollywood. Only now, the current stars aren’t told how they are to be styled, or how to behave, or who to be seen with that is deemed suitable. The more anti-whatever they look, the better. And even more preferable, be linked to a brand (or a few). Bring your own take to how the sponsor wants you to look, it says to us. Billie Eilish certainly has. Until she dons Gucci the way she has been, no one thought the brand once associated with extreme sexiness under Tom Ford’s watch could be so bo chap baggy. She is not, as far as we’re aware, Gucci’s brand ambassador, unlike Harry Styles. She has more aesthetic room to navigate. Mr Styles is a Gucci model, appearing in their ads and video presentations; he is expected to embrace the brand wholesale, with a tad of pop-star insouciance.

…the pair helps Gucci appear as a label that’s “celebrity-approved”

Expectedly, their followers too. It is debatable if Mr Styles and Ms Eilish are leading the pack or wearing what others of their generation are wearing. Interestingly, if you combine, as we had, the first and second parts of their family names respectively, you would get “Stylish”. That’s enough to automatically grant them the upper hand as leaders than followers. To the many young fans who are enamoured with Gucci and can only feel confident—or validated—when they wear the label on their backs (or on their chest), the pair helps Gucci appear as a label that’s “celebrity-approved”, a marketing advantage and a sure crowd-puller. Together with their fans and followers, the Stylish stars have made Gucci the bubbling brand of the millennials, a group the Financial Times identified in 2018 as “the world’s most powerful consumers.”

Although Gucci reported a drop in global sales during their earnings report in February, they have, in fact, enjoyed startling growth for years and had been the growth accelerator of parent company Kering. Annual revenues reported in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic, was an impressive 10 billion euros. Their success has been linked to how appealing Gucci is to millennial consumers, under 35. Technology that resonates with this savvy group (as well as teaming up with digital games such as Zepeto) is part of their multi-prong strategy. The products, across categories, are calibrated to offer millennials born-again retro looks that are new to them, as well as the chances to experience what they could not ever have: past goofiness transmuted as present geekiness. The whole visual context of Gucci is companionably banal. To better suit the phenomenon and practice—sharing, and to fabulously costume colourful online life.

Black She Wore

For her interview with Oprah Winfrey, Meghan Markle looked like she was mourning

Meghan Markle was well aware of what she was going to tell Oprah Winfrey in the most touted celebrity interview so far this year. Her tell-it-like-it-is would be so explosive that her words were all she needed to make an impact—no resplendent, In Style-worthy outfit required. So, she wore a matte-black, silk georgette, wrap-dress by Giorgio Armani that did not stand out against the set-like manicured garden of a third-party residence, where the televised chat took place. As she was seated on a patio chair—her back propped up by a large white cushion—throughout the time in front of Ms Winfrey—in Brunello Cucinelli, we could not really see the dress in its entirety. On the right shoulder, some abstract, white, leaf-like motif (reportedly a “botanical print” of lotus flowers) cascaded down to her right antenatal bosom. The not-too-plunging V-neck of the dress framed a small insignificant pendant. On her left wrist, what appeared to be a trio of skinny bracelets, one of them—a Cartier—reportedly belonged to Princess Diana. On her feet, pointed-toe stilettos, once popular among the secretarial profession. The styling was deliberately gloomy.

The Duchess of Sussex wore her hair centre-parted, pulled back to what appeared to be a low chignon. The do—face-framing fringe—looked self-styled, as if she used barbeque tongs instead of curling tongs. Her make-up was for lunch at a burger joint: actress-off-duty smokey eyes, cheeks—in her case, typically—over-rouged, and lips, deliberately not red, so that her words won’t come out flippant, and to better suit the glum she was radiating. It was, of course, going to be serious and she needed to look the part. She was not on Ellen’s set. Cheeriness was not required. The moment you tuned in, you might have thought she was at an appointment with her gynecologist, not a session with the most famous talk show host on our planet. For an IRL appearance on reality TV, Meghan Markle would have benefitted with a tip from one of the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. But, when one is going to put up an affront to the most-known and watched royal families in the world, one would need to look like happiness has dissipated, even if conjugal well-being is intact.

The choice of attire was, therefore, crucial. The outfit needed to underscore her distress, her pain, and her conflicts, but not her anger

When it comes to Ms Markle, it’s hard not to stand on one of divided sides. Was her TV performance-as-discourse noble or vile? The litany of her woes since joining the British royal household—her struggles with the in-laws, the British media (tabloid press in particular) and their criticism of her, and her fashion choices—culminated in the opening up to Ms Winfrey. Was this one-sided account to set the record straight or to air grievances? Or both? The choice of attire was, therefore, crucial. The outfit needed to underscore her distress, her pain, and her conflicts, but not her anger. Black—dead foliage aside—symbolises eternal struggle that seems to characterise her role as a royal, and contrasts with the white of her wedding dress, which might have meant a new, strife-free beginning. Black also relates to racism, an issue that has, as revealed in the interview, affected the Duke and the Duchess deeply. It is connected to mental health and, in the attendant darkness that Ms Markle claimed consumed her, the contemplation of devastating self-harm. No other colour would be as suitable as black, never mind if the wearer could look dour in it, or pity-arousing.

Her colour choice for a global TV appearance may be spot on, but it is hard to say if her incendiary revelations were just as good a decision. Ms Markle is American and an actress schooled in the candidly communicative ways of Hollywood in the post-#metoo era. She told Oprah that during her time in the UK, “there was no class on how to speak and how to cross your legs,” yet she was eager to open up, legs well-placed, about her grievous distress. It is unsurprising and is exemplar of the reason why American talk shows have no shortage of guests wanting to feel how “liberating” it is to “talk”, as Ms Markle put it to Oprah. But, a royal family is not the Kardashians. Members of the monarchy need no such scandalous, press-ready “bombshell” exposure. Or, frankly, any family. Meghan Markle may be wearing a clean dress for her appearance with Oprah Winfrey, but the laundry she aired was what so many could see as dirty. Yes, that’s a conservative stance, but, in this generation of easy exposé, aberrant nosiness, and talk show as psychiatric clinic, the less we lay open our discontent or disappointment publicly and sensationally, the less we divide those around us, familial and societal. Black or not, in black or other.

Screen grab: Harpo Productions/CBS

Must Fashion Use Religious Iconography To Be Cool?

Or is it, as usual, a lapse in the simple process called thought?

First it was Rihanna and now it’s Supreme. The skate brand that apparently can do no wrong has taken upon themselves to use the image of one of Thailand’s most revered monks on the back a camouflaged shirt, described in their website as ‘Blessings Ripstop Shirt’ (above). The icon is of the monk Luang Pho Khun Parisutthon, a well-loved figure, who died in 2015, aged 91. According to media reports, Thailand’s National Office of Buddhism, as well as Wat Ban Rai, the famed Nakhon Ratchasima temple with an elephant-head facade, in which the revered monk was based, asserted that Supreme made no contact with either regarding the use of the image, as well as the sacred text around it. Supreme, as it appeared, made no attempt to be respectful.

It isn’t clear how the use of clearly religious figures and scripts enhances Supreme’s design potency. Their designers—too indolent to research or understand—probably found the effect of the visuals exotic. But for the many in Thailand and outside, who hold the late monk in deep reverence, what Supreme has done is akin to sacrilege. Luang Pho Khun Parisutthon, even in death, is deeply venerated and is almost synonymous with Wat Ban Rai, where there is a museum dedicated to his life and teachings. While his image has been used for charitable purposes, for example, it is unthinkable in Thailand to employ it, even stylised, in such a commercial manner, in particular against a camouflage background, one associated with war. Luang Pho Khun Parisutthon is not Che Guevara.

Is nothing off-limits? Apparently not.

Just days earlier, Rihanna caused an uproar among the Hindu communities of the world when she posted on her Instagram page a photo (so inappropriate, we wouldn’t run it here) of herself totally topless, except for a folded left arm, placed to offer a modicum of modesty, and a host of jewellery to provide fashion interest, among them a pendant of the Hindu god Lord Ganesha. This sat provocatively on her belly button, under a length of tattoo that underscores her breasts. The photo appeared barely a week after reports of Rihanna jointly “pausing” her Fenty fashion line with LVMH. To generate more publicity? It seems that because the torso tattoo is of the Egyptian god Isis (inked, as reported, to honour the singer-in-haitus’s grandmother), Riri thought it was okay to go with Lord Ganesha, totally ignoring the fact that for the 1.2 billion Hindus in the world, he is highly venerable. Or has veneration and respect totally lost their meaning?

Apparently yes.

Photo: supremenewyork.com

One Colour Each

Tone-on-tone is the chromatic choice among the women attending yesterday’s US presidential inauguration

Topcoat day: (from left) Jil Biden, Kamala Harris, Michelle Obamam, and Jennifer Lopez. Photos: Getty Images

It looks like the women attending the inauguration of the 46th US president Joe Biden received the memo: go in a single colour. And wear a topcoat. That’s certainly the case with the office-holders and high-profile women who attended the Washington DC event. Could they have also been inspired by one of the key trends at the recently concluded Milan Men’s Fashion Week—monotone? Or, is a single colour a lot easier to deal with than coordinating with different colours and prints? National-level political events are probably not the time to take a gamble with fashion. Staying safe in a single colour not considered challenging (or worse, controversial) is the best strategy. Few women have the sartorial guts of Lady gaga, who sang the national anthem in a custom-designed Schiaparelli (by Texan Daniel Roseberry, for those nationalistic fashion watchers!) of fitted, navy, wool, lapel-less jacket and froth of red silk-faille skirt. Oh, there was also that distracting gold dove.

Peace may have been on Lady Gaga’s mind, but unity seemed to be on the other women’s. A single colour is perhaps an unambiguous message about how good it looks to be united. As the president himself said, “without unity, there’s no peace.” And to show unanimous support for America (or to express national pride?), they wore American designers, all largely unknown, at least outside the US. Jill Biden wore Makarian, the four-year-old New York label by Alexandra O’Neill; Kamala Harris wore Christopher John Rogers, the New York-based black designer-du-jour, who founded his eponymous label in 2016; Michele Obama wore Sergio Hudson, another black designer, whose seven-year-old label had a kick start at Bravo channel’s Styled to Rock, the reality fashion TV, executive-produced by Rihanna. Well, except for Jennifer Lopez, who sang in, surprisingly, total Chanel.

Outgoing FLOTUS Melania Trump, too, was in a single colour. But it surprised no one that the one-term Slovenia-born first lady emerged from the White House for the final time in not a shred of designed- or made-in-America. She was in telling, mourning black—the separates comprised a Chanel jacket and a Dolce & Gabbana dress. It was a silhouette that was similar to the Ralph Lauren suit that she wore to her husband’s inauguration four years ago. But now that she no longer needed to show that she supported American labels (not that she really did; the relationship was mutual), it was back to her usual enthusiastic nod for her favourite European brands. Towards the end, as with everything Trump, disconnected she happily stood.

Wild West Wang

Alexander Wang has defended himself against some serious allegations that are sexual in nature. Will his brand survive these personal charges?

Alexander Wang in a publicity shot to promote his collaboration with Uniqlo. Photo: Uniqlo

Note: this post contains potentially offensive language and descriptions

Alexander Wang’s autumn winter 2020/21 collection was not presented on a runway. In fact, he announced a year earlier that he was giving the live show a miss, in favour of a massive party that he’s known to throw to celebrate the brand’s 15th anniversary. Last September, photographs of the thirty-nine-look collection were sent to the media. The clothes, as styled, were as party-ready as ever. Amid the still-raging pandemic, they were a dispensable reminder of a time when clubland was very much alive and throbbing. These would, no doubt, have delighted the ever-loyal party animals of the high-profile Wang Squad.

But now, chatter among the gang has been, “did he or did he not do it?” For the past weeks, Mr Wang, 37, was accused by at least eight male models—and, curiously, trans—for non-consensual, sexually aggressive behaviour, and, following that, passing straight vodka for water and offering the alcohol as a “party trick”, according to the singer Florence Welch and the writer Derek Blasberg, YouTube’s head of fashion and beauty partnerships. Although there has been talk much earlier of Mr Wang’s supposed indiscretions that the media noted went largely under the radar (accusers unidentified), one explosive allegation did emerge two weeks ago.

According to a British model/graphic designer/fashion stylist, Owen Mooney, 26, Mr Wang had groped him in a night club, back in early 2017. The indecent sexual advances allegedly took place during the monthly gay rave, Holy Mountain, hosted by the Canadian DJ/events producer Ladyfag, at Slake, a mid-town Manhattan (predominantly) gay dance club known for its hip-hop and EDM playlist. Slake was operated by the legendary New York club Webster Hall; it closed permanently at the end of 2017. During its heydays, Slake welcomed revellers to, as one review stated, “explore the twisting labyrinth with three floors of mystery and debauchery.” It’s in such a setting that the alleged violation occurred.

The alleged victim of Alexander Wang’s unwelcome advances, Owen Mooney. Photo: Owen Mooney/Instagram

Mr Mooney, who has 5,666 followers on Instagram (vs Mr Wang’s 5.5 million) and, in one post in 2015, called himself a “cuntry boy”, revealed the details via TikTok in a form of a (Q&)A: “I was by myself at one point and this guy next to me obviously took advantage of the fact that no one could fucking move. And he just started touching me up. Fully up my leg, in my crotch. It made me freeze completely because I was in so much shock.” Mr Mooney did not immediately extricate himself from the invading hand; he wanted to identify the perpetrator. “Then I look to my left to see who it was and it was this really famous fashion designer and I just couldn’t believe that he was doing that to me. It just made me go into even more shock. I just had to slowly move myself away.”

Mr Mooney did not, in that TikTok post, reveal who the molester was. One of his followers offered a name, and Mr Mooney continued with another post, in which he said, “…and turns out, Alexander Wang is a massive sexual predator. And there has been loads of people he’s done this to… he just needs to be cancelled.” Although he had posted before the big reveal, “Craving those sweaty nights out. Can’t wait to dance again”, the incident affected him massively. “Now, anytime I see his name mentioned, or I see him with celebrities and, like best friends, and whatever, like… it just reminds me of what he did, and it’s just a fucked-up memory to have.” Not long after, Shit Model Agency, an IG account that is touted as a “safe space 4 models”, shared Mr Mooney’s post, as well as other anonymous allegations that recounted supposed spiking of drinks with MDMA (a psychoactive drug) and sexual assaults. Just as quickly, Diet_Prada, with a following of 2.4 million, including industry leaders, too, shared, six days ago, a compilation of the charges, titled “The Internet is exposing Alexander Wang’s history of sexual harassments.” It was the holiday news to digest.

In response, after a brief silence, Mr Wang and his lawyers provided The New York Times a statement. “Over the last few days, I have been on the receiving end of baseless and grotesquely false accusations,” it stated indignantly. “These claims have been wrongfully amplified by social media accounts infamous for posting defamatory material from undisclosed and/or anonymous sources with zero evidence or any fact-checking whatsoever.” There was no addressing of Mr Mooney’s TikTok self-disclosed posts.

Probably off to or emerging from a party. Photo: Getty Images

Alexander Wang was born in the Bay Area city of San José, California. His parents were Taiwanese. According to what he once said to Suzy Menkes, he does not speak Mandarin or the minnan dialect (闽南语), and speculation that he does “is a false background”. Mr Wang’s early education took place in San José. Although some reports claimed he was interested in fashion since young, it was not until a summer design course in London’s Central Saint Martins when he was 15 that marked his formal foray into fashion. He continued his studies stateside at New York’s Parsons School of Design, but famously did not graduate. In 2005, half-way through school, he started his eponymous label. Just three years later, he won the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund, which came with a USD20,000 prize to grow his business. With continued support from Anna Wintour, Mr Wang soon found himself, in 2012, with a job offer from the Kering group: to succeed Nicolas Ghesquière at Balenciaga.

Mr Wang’s debut Balenciaga collection was met with some enthusiasm. But many felt he did not quite live up to the pre-tenure hype. While he did make Balenciaga more commercial, his designs took no one’s breath away. More exciting was how, according to one social media post, Mr Wang and his posse behaved in Paris: ah lians caught in the dazzle of the City of Lights. In 2015, his contract with Balenciaga came to an end. Kering did not renew it. His one-term stint, like a one-term US presidency, did not appear to dent his by-then burgeoning name. When he left Balenciaga, Alexander Wang’s “models-off-duty look”—an amalgamation of athletic styles and nightclub staples—was the downtown aesthetic adopted by many women already abandoning the no-longer-necessary “office wear.”

Mr Wang is known to party hard, just as he has a reputation for throwing hard-core, packed-out parties, where his shindig togs are routinely worn by attendees, proudly. Whatever allegedly happened at the Holy Mountain rave, inspired by indie film maker Alejandro Jodorowsky’s 1973 art house movie, The Holy Mountain, it seems to suggest that Mr Wang is not alien to the gay party circuit, during which men often take off their shirts as they dance through what Owen Mooney called “sweaty nights”. Last year, before Mr Mooney’s accusations, the favourite rapper of the fashion world, Azealia Banks, Mr Wang’s “former muse”, who had also performed at his after-parties (as well as appearing in a T by Alexander Wang ad), shared on IG Stories different anonymous messages claiming Mr Wang’s sexual abuse (they’ve since been deleted). In the beginning, it seemed that these charges will be circumscribed within the walls of dance clubs, left to go off-track in the beat. However loud the music, it’s hard to drown out the din of the anger felt and expressed online by the abused. Hitherto, the accusers are not known to have filed police reports against Mr Wang, but that is not certainty that there won’t be repercussions on the brand, however he Wangs it. His famous “Wangover” could turn out to be Wang over.

Market Izzue

The Hong Kong label Izzue may have failed here, but on home ground, they are still going strong, even introducing a food and home store

Here, Izzue came and went. In 2013, i.t, the Hong Kong multi-label store, opened its first outlet in Wisma Atria with Wing Tai Retail through what the latter called at that time a “collaboration”. That first (of three stores) on our shores culminated in the three-level flagship in Orchard Gateway a year later. Izzue was part of the brand mix of i.t. When i.t shuttered last year, a few of its house brands such as 5cm, and Izzue were available in Robinsons. Now that Singapore’s second-oldest department store, too, shall be no more, Izzue appears to suffer the same fate as other brands linked to Wing Tai Retail, such as Topshop.

But in Hong Kong, where the retail scene is palpably impacted by the present pandemic, the IT Group, parent company behind Izzue and its sibling brands, has re-imagined Izzue as a coffee shop and food/home store. On our island, the most prominent label to go from fashion to food is PS.Cafe (formerly Blood Cafe of the now defunct Projectshop Blood Bros). The first of the Izzue food ventures to open was Izzue Coffee in July, then Izzue Market and Izzue Home in August. Izzue Market presently has two stores, one in the basement of Island Beverly in Causeway Bay and the other in Cityplaza in Taikoo Shing. By most accounts and observation of in-store traffic, the brand’s new grocery store is doing well, despite recent media headlines, “Hong Kong Retailer IT Group Offers To Delist For (US) $168 Million, as seen in WWD last week.

Food, as we’re reportedly told, is recession-proof, and now pandemic-proof too. We don’t associate IT retail ventures with the selling of fine groceries. Yet, here they are offering what to us is reminiscent of Jones the Grocer. For those only now discovering food retail, perhaps a touch of Scoop Wholefood. Some observers think that after more than two decades, Izzue—opened in 1999—needed to reinvent themselves. While, as a fashion label, Izzue caters to the young with a weakness for work wear-meets-military-fatigues-meet-street-style (a feather on their cap: they are the first label in Asia to collaborate with Japanese brand Neighbourhood), the market reiteration appears to target the more matured consumer (possibly the Izzue fans who have grown up). A total transformation. This is City’super for the food aficionado with the economic security of a paid-up apartment.

The space is stylishly appointed and befits the IT Group’s visual strength. At the Taikoo Shing store, assorted tables are grouped together to greet shoppers, in a setting that reminds us of the old Dean and Deluca stores in New York. This is not your regular (small-scale) supermarket. Shoppers are enticed with assorted finds from all over the world that would not typically take up even an inch of space in the likes of ParknShop: premium Japanese rice from Hokkaido and Hyogo, truffle tagliatelle from the UK, corn-fed French poulet jaune, Danish sparkling teas, prepacked tapas platter, and, not forgetting Hong Kong, the artisanal offerings of indie food producer Nicole’s Kitchen, with such unusual mixed jams as lychee/apple/rose. There is also Izzue Market’s nifty, reusable shopping bags. In other words, curated. Here, despite the intense devotion to Fairprice, we can totally see a PS.Market in the horizon.

Photos: K S Yeung for SOTD

Of Course There Has To Be A Bubble Tea Emoji

It’s about time

Better late than never. And only for iPhone users: a new set of emojis and a particular one that will delight the frightfully rabid zhenzhu naicha (珍珠奶茶) fans—the bubble tea emoji. It is not clear why it has taken Apple this long to make this available, considering its smartphones are hot commodities in Asia, where, as we all well know, the bubble tea (or boba tea, if you hail from outside of this continent) was born, but its awakening to our communicative needs and beverage obsessions is very much appreciated.

For the release of iOS 14.2, Apple has made available 117 new emojis, which should really be a great source of happiness for those who text—if that’s the right word—mostly pictorial symbols. These include some rather progressive characters such as two tuxedoed andro-types, one male-looking person in a wedding dress, and one very costumed fella: a ninja. For the non-living things, there is a slipper to delight many Singaporeans, and, if you are inclined to telling people of the hard work you have been doing in the wash room to clear a particularly nasty clogging, you’ll be very happy with the toilet plunger.

For fashion folks, there is still limited representation of fashion items. The dress emoji, for example, is unchanged—too Disney princess for anyone above six to take seriously. And who’d use the blouse except maybe your grandmother?! Sure, there is a pair of jeans, which for those not texting from the front row of (whichever) fashion week, is as exciting as a pair of sweatpants. Some fashionistas are hopeful, though. So we’ll be too: we’re looking forward to the Apple iOS with an emoji for skort!

It’s Over Now, Ivanka

Time for her to leave Washington and retire her power suits and modest dresses, and that fake smile?

By Emma Ng

The stitches have come apart for the second term of the Trump presidency and daughter-to-the-rescue Ivana Marie “Ivanka” Trump is unable to re-stitch it because, despite all the attempts at repairing her father’s irreparable wrong doings, I doubt she has ever held a needle her entire life. The sharpest thing she plays with, it appears, are her stilettos. Mending does not seem to be part of her skill set, or she could have tried to repair the social snags caused by the president’s poor (or non-existent) policies. The many white suits she has worn during her father’s tenure at the White House only showed more stains than a butcher’s apron when she proved to be complicit in her dad’s divisive and dangerous decisions. The senior advisor, it seems to me, has not been advising. Much.

Ms Trump, also the standby FLOTUS, was never qualified to take up the post in the White House, even if she was, reportedly, not remunerated. Of course, being unqualified has never been an issue. In 2011, she launched her namesake fashion label even when she had never been in the business of designing or selling clothes. (Her modelling—if you can call it that—‘experience’ was expendable.) I doubt many remember what it was she peddled; I certainly don’t. She told InStyle that year, “I wanted to build a strong and sustainable collection that is not overly trend-conscious”, adding, “I wanted the price points to be accessible, but ultimately we’re in the business of luxury, and these looks are consistent with that larger messaging.” If that was not attributed to Ms Trump, I would have thought it came from a JC Penney’s buyer.

In July 2018, due to pressures from ethical concerns of the first daughter setting up shop next to her father, Ivanka Trump the fashion label didn’t survive. That could have foretold her political ambition in 2020, or her chances of unrestricted access to the White House, but all the pussy bows she had fastened to her neck might have limited oxygen going to her brain. And all the floral prints she has been wearing were no tea leaves to be read. The pretty penny she has spent on her wardrobe to get her not only to the corridors of the White House and the power nucleus of Washington, but also the world stage, where she had been snubbed, has not been good investment—she won’t be able to continue as the administration’s sweet-faced supremo to defend and blandish the president. A deflated ball, as we know, loses its bounce.

For all the talk and rows of magazine columns that noted fashion has changed, Ms Trump remains trapped in her buttoned-up suits and Sunday dresses, and convinced of her corporate chic and her own fabulousness as counterpoint to her father’s misogynistic propensities

What was Ivanka Trump’s own “larger messaging”? Frankly, I couldn’t read any. Empowering women? Maybe empowering herself. Being her father’s “hot” girl and one he would date (recall: “If Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her”), she was more fembot mascot for brand Trump than the saviour of women in the workforce that her dad couldn’t be. I assume she thinks her fashion reflects the sartorial choices of working women, only they don’t. She is not a working woman like you and I. For all the talk and the rows of columns that noted fashion has changed, especially in the wake of WFH, Ms Trump remains trapped in her stodgy buttoned-up suits and prosaic Sunday dresses, and convinced of her corporate chic and her own fabulousness as counterpoint to her father’s misogynistic propensities.

Throughout her career as a political operative, Ivanka Trump looks the part of tasteful right-wing Trump surrogates (yes, among them, the belligerent Kellyanne Conway) with their less than tasteful assertions that the president was never wrong or never lied. The clothes they wear perpetually look like outfits picked to meet the boyfriend’s mother… for the first time, or to attend a high school classmate’s wedding at the golf course clubhouse. Blandness may serve your base, but they would not move the needle for fashion. Do Ivanka Trump, Hope Hicks, Kayleigh McEnany, Laura Ingraham, and Paula White, I wonder, go shopping together, all heavenly scented, hair flat-ironed so as to reflect the results of a study, as reported by The Atlantic, that suggested, “Republican congresswomen look twice as ‘feminine’ as Democrat”?

Ivanka Trump is, for many of her followers, the epitome of picture-perfect femininity. Or, red-state refinement. I suspect it’s all styled to go along with the popular imagination of what is worn to work in the White House and to meet world leaders. And it doesn’t come cheap. One Rodarte dress she donned to a bash to welcome French president Emmanuel Macron in 2018, the year her fashion label folded, was reported to have cost an eye-watering USD12,888. It was a frilly, micro-dotted, floor-length dress with six tiers for the skirt—sweet but spiritless, fashionable but familiar, beauteous as Barbie. Ms Trump once said, “I’m not a clone, and I’m not a minion”. From a fashion perspective, those are, to quote one former White House press secretary, “alternative facts.”

Illustration: Just So

Fashion Show In The Time Of Revolt

Troubled are current times in Bangkok and with their monarchy, but one fashion brand linked to the royal family has gone ahead to stage a runway presentation at the elite grand dame of a hotel, the Mandarin Oriental, ignoring the rumbling on the ground. But the protestors are not to be outshone

Discontent expressed in street protests has been rumbling throughout central Bangkok since July, like the whir of a troop of sewing machines. Participants of the marches and mass gathering initially made three demands: dissolve parliament, amend the constitution, and stop harassing critics of the government, as reported by The Bangkok Post. A month later, other demands were added to the list. Students of Thammasat University—the campus is near the Grand Palace—came up with more, including reforming the monarchy (highly contentious), and the abolition of what’s considered the world’s harshest lese majeste law against any criticism of the king and the royal family. Monarchy in Thailand is facing a crisis.

These are fraught times in Bangkok, to say the least. Protests are ongoing, people are determined, and the penchant for provocation seems unabated. The displeasure—some say vexation—with the king is out in the open, not cloaked in a vestige of polite ambiguity, or shielded at home. Yet, at a ballroom of a prestigious hotel last night, a member of the royal family, still cracking at fashion, staged a flashy runway show, attended by the city’s “elites”, the ones now despised by the protesting students, of whom, many, unconcerned with filtering, consider her “tone deaf”. Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana Rajakanya’s eponymous autumn/winter 2020/21 collection was indeed shut out, ensconced in an old-world, riverside rong ram, the Mandarin Oriental, touted as “Bangkok’s first hotel.”

Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana Rajakanya

“Bangkok is getting colder with SIRIVANNAVARI Autumn/Winter 2020-2021 Runway show”, the 15-year-old brand announced on social media. Were they predicting a winter of discontent? Or, will the brand’s show simply be a harbinger of dipping temperatures? No one knew. It is, however, obvious that, despite a collection daringly titled French Flair, the princess isn’t keeping to the Paris RTW calendar. One Thai fashion stylist suggested that she was offering a “see-now-buy-soon model”. It would be interesting to know how eager to own any of the show clothes the attendees were, seated dutifully in the Orentan hotel’s Royal Ballroom, the go-to wedding venue of the old rich and the old guard.

French Flair indeed left viewers with no doubt as to where the princess had cast her sight, or gleaned her ideas from. The first six looks would have immediately done Virgine Viard proud: all the tweed that those unwilling to pay the price a certain French house demands would find charming, and in the similar styling that would easily accord them with French flair, even if their provenance was next to the Chao Praya River. That mode Française would be the 33-year-old’s reference point is unsurprising as she had studied at the Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture Parisienne, and is known to spend considerable time in Paris. Coupled with her paternal grandmother’s association with French couture, particularly Pierre Balmain, it is not unexpected—even predictable—that she should pay homage to the capital of France and, as some say, capital of the fashion world.

The full-house fashion show of Sirivannavari at the Royal Ballroom, Mandarin Oriental

Whether Gallic smartness of style was achieved is perhaps immaterial. The princess, as a designer, was connect to France early in her career. Just two years after she founded Sirivannavari at the tender age of 18, she was “invited”—so went the official word—by Pierre Balmain to show in Paris. It is understandable why opinionated Thais were skeptical. The princess had not yet then graduated from Chulalongkorn university, where, according to The Nation, she studied fashion and textile. It wasn’t known why the house that made the clothes of her grandmother, (now) queen mother Sirikit, in the ’60s would request for a novice, not yet twenty one and not known with certainty as a talent, to show in Paris even when she had already scored two shows under her belt at Bangkok Fashion Week. Some media reports later suggested that she was “sponsored” by Balmain, at that time designed by Christophe Decarnin. Her supporters were, however, certain the royal family could afford to pay for her “international debut”, attended by family, friends, and embassy staff. That Paris collection (she would only show again the following year) was so important in the annals of Thai fashion that the Thailand Creative and Design Centre (TCDC) organised an exhibition, Presence of the Past: Love, Contradiction and Fashion, just a month after the staging in the City of Lights.

In the Paris of that September, 2007, Natasha Poly was on the cover of the city’s own Vogue, then 87 years strong. The Russian model wore a waisted leopard print Givenchy haute couture jacket with matching tights, no doubt the aesthetical preference of the magazine’s then-editor Carine Roitfeld. But that season would probably be best remembered for Valentino Garavani’s last collection for his house before Alessandro Facchinetti (of Gucci, after Tom Ford’s departure) took over. On a nippy evening of the 29th, at the Opera Garnier, Sirivannavari “opened” PFW not quite in tandem with what the rest of the city was feeling or would soon offer. The Bangkok Post described the collection as “a marriage of opposites” or “the clash between two fashion cultures—Thai and European”. Although such an approach was taken 47 years ago by the same house that sponsored her, the princess, too, explored the similar stylistic and technical contrasts between distinctly different fashion traditions, but her inexperience showed, and the clothes verged on costume. Did 21st-century Thailand still need to sell its fashion to the west as exotic?

Tweed at Sirivannavari autumn/winter 2020

That season in Paris, the princess was not the only Asian designer to debut in the city. There were two Indians: Manish Arora and Anamika Khanna, and one Japanese: Limi Feu. Mr Arora, presently the most renowned among the four from that year, set up his label in London in 1997 and had been showing in the English capital for two years prior to Paris. By then he was operating five stores in India and sold through 75 doors internationally. His compatriot Ms Khanna, at first a bridal-wear designer, started the Ana Mika label in 2004. A year later, she, too, showed in London, and was selling at 300 points of sale globally. Both of them were experienced designers when they appeared in Paris, so was Ms Feu, who was working for her father Yohji Yamamoto at the pre-Yohji sub-brand Y’s since 1996, before hitting the road on her own four years later and showing in Tokyo from 2000. In comparison, the princess was a fledgling, and, as one fashion stylist said then, “quite lightweight.”

However, the Bangkok press—probably out of words and as a result of habit, or fear, or all three—is wont to talk of her “signature creativity”, even in the Noughties. Back in the early days, the rumour in the city was that she didn’t actually design the clothes. Apparently, each season at that time, the princess would identify the Bangkok brand that she liked best and would have this name and its attendant team and facility “produce” the collection for her. Arrowed labels in the past included the Bangkok mega-brand Fly Now, but virtually none of these producers would talk about their collaboration with the designing royal or how involved she was. When coaxed, the common answer was, “Do you know who her father is?” As she tried to expand her brand in Bangkok, it was known that no store or mall would dare turn her down, even when it was not established if her clothes would sell. One department store buyer who “had to” consider one collection in the late 2000s, told us that it was the most “difficult” buying exercise of her career and that it took a “couple of days” to complete.

Party frock at Sirivannavari autumn/winter 2020

To be sure, Sirivannavari offers well-made clothes or what merchandising specialists would call ‘garmental’. She has a preference for tailored looks and offers competent, if not innovative, cuts. She has a love for intricate details too, which, to her, is a way to show off “Thai crafts”—her couture flourishes. But however superbly produced the clothes are, they don’t necessarily stand out in the area of design. Or, what might be considered contemporary. In fact, through the years, she seems to be designing for herself: compact royal gracefulness in constant need of statement clothes. Or, for attending charity events and hi-so (Thai shorthand for high society) parties, or for the countless ladies-in-waiting of the royal court and the women who are aligned with them—also with the same charity balls, birthday parties, and society weddings to attend. These are clothes to signify wealth and social standing, not to affirm the wearer’s keen eye for fineness and refinement and uniqueness. These days, women want to look like they dressed themselves effortlessly, but these clothes appear to require a lot of effort to get into! They are, on that note, rather retro, bringing to mind the contrived glam of yesteryear designers such as Tirapan Vanarat and Pichita Boonyarataphan. Up till now, no one is able—or willing—to tell us who actually buys Sirivannavari.

Or, if her collections are still produced by a seasonal brand of her choice, as they were in the past. With personal pursuits (she has a love for horses and is reported by Bangkok Post to own 7 of them) and royal duties, she has aroused the inquisitiveness of those who find running a fashion label tough: How does she do it? The compliant Thai media often note that she is “hardworking” and that her “love of fashion” keeps her going. Lest her detractors still think she isn’t the main woman behind her label, a month before her current show, she posted on Facebook, a video selfie of her behind a sewing machine, her fingers, with immaculately manicured nails, easing fabric of an incomplete garment under the presser foot. The princess and manual work, for courtiers and ordinary folks alike, mismatched.

A parallel runway on Silom Road

Even with the sleek catwalk and chandeliers above at the Mandarin Oriental at eight last night, the more compelling show of the evening was elsewhere. A few hours before the Sirivannavari presentation, a parallel event took place a kilometre away from the hotel, outside the oldest Hindu temple in Thailand, the Sri Maha Mariamman (also known to the locals as Wat Khaek), right down Silom Road, and towards the BTS station of the same name. Dubbed the People’s Runway, this event—apparently organised on the fly to thwart the police from anticipating their moves—was another protest activity, this time aimed to mock the royal family. Organised like a street fair, with protest art on sidewalks, the event, to our Bangkok companion “felt like a festive season event”, which was consistent with what has been described as “hybrid protest-festivals”, a uniquely Thai demonstration that can be traced to the Red Shirt sit-ins of 2010. Soundtracked with a cheeky remixed of the tune that typically precede TV announcements of royal news, the “fashion show” had student “democratic models” wear “rubbish” clothes—as one attendee on this muggy Bangkok evening told us—down the street-level runway. This is not a real show, she elaborated cheerily, “This is a protest!”

By the end of the evening, when the energised event-goers cleared out before the police could break their mockery-making with water canons, a short clip of the show was making the rounds on social media. To non-Thais, the two models’ appearances were innocuous enough: the first, a guy in a black singlet, worn cropped to just below the chest. But to Thais, this was to cheer-jeer to; they knew who the reference was. The other, a sweet damsel in pink traditional Thai dress walked down the red-carpeted runway and at a point, fawning well-wishers wai at her sandaled feet. The crowd went wild again. Who this pointed to was obvious as well. Just months ago, no one could have imagined such a flagrant disregard of monarchical respect for the world’s richest king and his queen. Fuelling the day’s tension was an earlier report published in the local media that allegedly listed the Thai national budget for 2020: one of the items, a sum of 29 billion baht (USD929 million) allocated to the monarchy, with 13 million baht for the Department of International Trade Promotion to boost the visibility of the Sirivannavari brand overseas. Did the princess even imagine, when she pressed ahead with the runway at the Mandarin Oriental, that the satirising of her show down in Silom was not out of cheekiness, but disdain and resentment?

The young princess (centre, front) with her whole family during happier times. Photo: source

The princess was born in Bangkok in January 1987. She was the only daughter among four brothers. Her mother was the father’s second wife (he’s into his fourth) and was expelled from the palace in 1996 when the princess was nine. According to what was allegedly transmitted out of the royal walls at that time, her mother had an “affair” with the father’s aide-de-camp, who was his long-time flying partner. This was revealed during preparations of the (former) king’s golden jubilee celebration, to the shock and disbelief of the mostly monarchy-loving Thai people. The mother took her children and fled to the UK, unable to handle the public scrutiny. Not long later, following suspicions wafting throughout the capital that the daughter was abused in England, the prince flew over there and “grabbed” her (some Western reports used a stronger word: “abducted”) and brought her home. It still isn’t clear why he took her instead of any of his sons, as royal watchers noted that he did not really care much about her then.

But returning to Bangkok had been good for the princess, who was since then thrice renamed, reportedly for “auspicious” reasons. By most accounts, she had a relatively easy and happy childhood. She is a sporty girl; she plays badminton and even represented Thailand in the SEA Games. Like Zara Phillips, she is an equestrian, and continues to train and compete to this day. She was admitted to the kingdom’s best university and graduated with a BA after her Paris debut. And, early this month, received an honorary degree from her alma mater that reportedly announced, as she received the award from her aunt—her father’s sister, the princess “is a genius in fine and applied arts and has especially improved the quality of life of the citizens.”

Like her father, she keeps her own residence outside Thailand, specifically France, in the picturesque commune of Bougival, 15-odd kilometres away from central Paris. The village is known for attracting French Masters, such as Claude Monet and Auguste Renoir, when they wanted to paint scenes of the countryside. Hers is clearly a royal life, even when in 2011, it was reported that at an Elie Saab show in Paris, the Thai princess was snubbed by her UK counterpart, Princess Eugenie. This surely can’t be worse then being shunned by a city’s young population or be challenged with a fashion runway in a frankly unremarkable street, with no chandeliers.

Screen grabs: Sirivannavari Bangkok/YouTube. Photos, excepted indicated: Free Youth, Thailand