Vague World

Or, when the contents of the Vogue Closet fell onto a street in New York

Serena Williams opening Vogue World with an uninspired stroll

On the Vogue website, there was a black-and-white digital clock that had been ticking for days, counting down to an event that the brand/magazine did not describe in detail, possibly so that curiousity about it could be kept burning. Even Anna Wintour was mum about Vogue World: New York, as it is called, only hinting in the recently shared video 73 More Questions with Anna Wintour that it would involve lots of clothes, so much, in fact, that it required the “Vogue army” to organised them. Not even the venue was disclosed (was it even an IRL event?). It did eventually happen last night (New York time) on a street in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District, a now-“glamourous” hipster neighbourhood (its name gives you an idea of what it was before) that is sandwiched between Chelsea to its north and the West Village in the south. Much of the streets here are paved with cobblestones made of Belgian blocks. That Vogue would stage an event down here on streets that could be high heels’ enemy, rather than at some place glitzier and carpeted is perhaps indication that the magazine is making itself—and the brand—a lot more accessible.

It described Vogue World as a “first-of-a-kind event” and a “global” one. Although staged in New York, it was live-streamed to the rest of us nowhere near that part of the city. The show was also a celebration of the magazine’s 130th year. On account of that, it had to be big and boisterous. (And no one more so than Kanye West, who arrived late enough that, while walking to his seat, he was mistaken as a model.) The show was prefaced—somewhat inexplicably—by a group of runners exercising their legs in the dim light, some with what appeared to be flags flapping behind them, like capes. Then it opened with Vogue’s September-issue cover girl Serena Williams in Balenciaga cape and dress, who looked like she was not quite thrilled to be on the runway, sauntering while a voiceover of her saying how she wants to be remembered could be heard over the apt soundtrack of Arthur Russell’s This is How We Walk on the Moon.

‘Sports couture’ at Vogue World

Brooklyn Beckham and his wife Nicola Peltz enjoying themselves on the runway

Although Vogue World took place during New York Fashion Week, it was not quite a fashion show like the rest that were staged in the city at this time. This was a Chingay approach to fashion presentations. The carnival mood was unmistakable, with street-style performances between each fashion segment to pump up the revelry (the cultural part was there, too, when a trio of sari-clad girls came out to do their Bollywood number). The clothes, purported to show the trends of autumn/winter 2022, were not based on collections. They were single looks from many designers (name them and they were there), but you might not know or remember the styles unless you have an encyclopedic memory of what were mostly shown back in February and March. Who wore what was not identified for the benefit of viewers. Although Vogue had sussed out the supposed trends (there were five main ones, as vogue.com reported later), you can‘t help but feel that they were rather forced (gowns and boots!). And somewhat haphazardly grouped, rather luan (乱 or messy). Perhaps Lil Nas X’s performance (that began with the singer seated next to Ms Wintour) to wrap up the runway extravaganza was designed to play down that shortcoming.

Vogue World was not just a show. As it turned out, what the models and stars wore could be purchased, reviving the old see-now-buy-now model that brands introduced with enthusiasm some years back, but is now largely forgotten. You could go to the Vogue website and find the links to the items that caught your attention and shop away. If you need to try before buying, an AR element, conceived by Snapchat, allows you to virtually put on the clothes no matter where you are. Like its print form, this is to push purchases for their advertisers. Is vogue.com then also sort of an e-store, and did we see additional revenue streams for the multi-platform title? Is the site now into live-stream selling, minus an ebullient host? According to Vogue’s creative editorial director Mark Guiducci, the show is a reflection of “all the ways in which fashion is changing. It comes at a moment when designers have become multi-disciplinary creators, innovating how we engage with fashion—even virtually.”

Shalom Harlow, one of the many ‘supers’ in the final segment of the show

Lil Nas X starting his performance while seated next to a delighted Anna Wintour

Vogue World could be seen as a big-budget, celebrity-endorsed, brand-building exercise. It reminded us of the eponymous Fashion’s Night Out (also launched in New York), the just-as-flashy, get-people-shopping-again initiative that was launched on 10 September 2009, twelve months after the doomed Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy. The year 2009 also saw Barrack Obama sworn in as the United State’s first Black president and the perpetuation of the financial crisis and recession that hit two years earlier, in late 2007. Fashion’s Night Out was Vogue’s contribution to improving the grim retail climate then. It eventually spun off into international editions in different hub cities. Could Vogue World—presently linked to New York—too have other editions in cities where Vogue operates. There was, for example, a Fashion’s Night Out in Tokyo in 2008. In 2013, Fashion’s Night out in New York ended it’s increasingly disfavoured run. But in Tokyo, the event continued until 2020, but, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, took place as Fashion’s Night In—an online affair.

It is hard to say how Vogue World will pan out. The show might be enjoyable to those who were there to see it, but to some (perhaps more?) of us watching on our devices, it teetered discomfortingly close to blah. This was Vogue at its inclusive best. The community-arousing performance, with its strong street culture, would have won the approval of the late Virgil Abloh. But what else could we glean from it? Former British Vogue’s fashion director Lucinda Chambers, after she was “fired” by the then in-coming editorial head Edward Enninful in 2017, now considered the most powerful Condé Nast editor after Anna Wintour, told Vestoj in a revealing interview that “we don’t need any more bags, shirts or shoes. So we cajole, bully or encourage people into continue buying. I know glossy magazines are meant to be aspirational, but why not be both useful and aspirational?” And why not magazines’ promotional events too? This may be a Vogue World, but is it a new, better world?

Screen shots: vogue.com

Graft In High Places

Corruption and scams are not professional choices of the pretty girls who did not go very far with their education. There are also of those who specialises in the law of their land

Two days ago, an incarcerated woman in one of Indonesia’s most followed criminal cases was released from the notoriously crowded Tangerang penitentiary, near the capital Jakarta. Just one year ago, a fire broke out in the 50-year-old prison complex, killing 41 inmates. According to news reports, 122 stayed in the worst hit block, built for 40. Yesterday, one of the country’s most famous convicts was released from the jailhouse that survived the inferno. But Pinangki Sirna Malasari did not walk out quite a free woman; she was placed on parole. The conditional release before the end of her 10-year sentence imposed last year and then curiously reduced to four, however, angered many Indonesians who saw this revised ruling favouring the rich. And, ironically, someone who knows the law deeply well. Ms Malasari was a state prosecutor; she was convicted for taking a bribe from a wanted man who had absconded.

Ms Malasari’s walking away from jail attracted attention to the judge’s reasons for her early release: the guilty’s gender. As the Indonesian newspaper and magazine Tempo reported, “the panel of judges at the appellate level considered that the 10-year prison sentence was too heavy for Pinangki. The judges also assessed that Pinangki was a mother of a 4-year-old who deserved to be given the opportunity to raise her child.” That this could be considered in court brought to mind the argument of the recently sentenced Rosmah Mansor (also ten years, for the moment) who, hoping for leniency, told the judge at her sentencing that she was a “woman taking over a man’s role in the house” (her husband Najib Razak was in jail). Motherly and spousal obligations, it now appears, can be factored in pleas and appeals. Last month, on the day Indonesians celebrated Hari Kemerdekaan (Independence day), Ms Malasari received remission of a three-month sentence cut, which allowed her to walk through the prison gates yesterday.

Pinangki Sirna Malasari in beauty influencer mode. Photo: Facebook

Pinangki Sirna Malasari, 41, once headed the ‘Sub-Section of Monitoring and Evaluation II’ at the Planning Bureau of the Deputy Attorney General for the Development of the Attorney General’s Office in Jakarta. Fame came to her relatively early, as she was considered “the youngest high-ranking officials of the Attorney General’s Office”, where she was employed since 2015. In her LinkedIn profile, she touted herself as an “experienced attorney and lecturer with a demonstrated history of working in the law enforcement industry. Skilled in criminal law, arbitration, legal document preparation, contract law, legal writing, and corporate law. Strong education, with a Doctor of Law from Padjadjaran University”, an institution located in Bandung, West Java. Despite the impressive education and a seemingly sterling career, the “beautiful prosecutor”, as the local media described her, was not able to resist the very rapacious lust, also known as greed.

In 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic hit Indonesia hard, Jakarta’s anti-corruption court found Ms Malasari guilty of accepting a first payment of US$500,000 in a bribe that reportedly amounted to US$1 million from Djoko Tjandra (aka Joko Soegiarto Tjandra or Chan Kok Hin [曾国辉]), an immensely wealthy and influential businessman on the run for 11 years from a jail sentence of two years for corruption. Mr Tjandra famously fled Indonesia to Papua New Guinea just a day before the supreme court was to present its verdict. Somehow, he was able to receive a passport (according to rumours, there was more than one) in the small Oceanian country. With travel documents in hand, he moved to Malaysia and hid in sprawling Kuala Lumpur, where he later met Ms Malasari and offered her a get-richer opportunity. The money was to buy her assistance in securing an acquittal from the Indonesian supreme court. But she would not be the only one caught in Mr Tjandra’s grand scheme: There were other agents of the law too, including a police inspector by the name of Gen. Napoleon Bonaparte, unbelievable but true. The wealthy fugitive was desperate to return home and to do so as a guiltless man.

Pinangki Sirna Malasari when she was a state prosecutor. Photo: Istimewa

With the money in her grasp, the prosecutor was said to be able to indulge her consumptive self, splurging on a sports utility vehicle, the BMW X5; cosmetic surgery (not her first) in the US; and, while she was there, fancy accommodation, reportedly in Trump Tower. Even before this, Ms Malasari was known for her “luxury lifestyle” although she was subsisting on a civil service salary. As The Jakarta Post noted of her financial moves after receiving the bribe, “the total sum of her suspicious transactions (including those with banks and money changers) grossly exceeded the combined monthly salaries of Rp 29 million (about S$2.728) that Pinangki and her police officer husband earned”. Her spouse (of her second marriage) Napitupulu Yogi Yusuf revealed during her trial that she led a ”glamourous life” long before they met.

Looking at her social media posts and photos of her in society magazines, one would not have guessed that Ms Malasari was “working in the law enforcement industry”, as she wrote in LinkedIn. With an attractive visage repeatedly fine-tuned by cosmetic procedures, she often projected herself with the élan of a beauty influencer. Indonesians would recognise her hair cascading past her shoulders, her big bright eyes beaming from under carefully-shaped brows and above pronounced cheeks that peaked aloft a chin so pointy Xia Xue would gleefully approve. The value of the bribe must, therefore, have been truly appealing as it would come in handy when Ms Malasari considered her next facial refinement. This is no speculation. In court, her sister claimed that she accompanied her sibling to the US for “nose surgery” and to “check her breast”. And there was a total of three visits. In one Instagram post, Ms Malasari shared a selfie, shot in a spacious apartment with the view of Central Park behind her.

Relaxing in Central Park, New York. Photo: Instagram

Pinangki Sirna Malasari was born in 1981 in Yogyakarta, a bustling city in the south-central Java that is the only one in Indonesia still ruled by a monarchy (it is still considered a sultanate). Scant information emerged about her family, her childhood, or her youth. In court during her trial, she said she was raised in the city of her birth. What her formative years were like, she did not say, but that was a period, as she described, of “very simple family life”, which could be taken to mean that the household was not financially blessed. She claimed that “at that time, (she) couldn’t even afford college”. But universities (three of them) she did attend—opportunities made repeatedly possible by “the kindness and generosity” of a much older man—the first of two Djokos in her life—Djoko Budiarjo (now deceased), also a prosecutor at that time. The account of her backstory, however, appeared to have been simplified.

According to a 2020 report by the Indonesian news site Grid, Mr Budiarjo met her when he was the prosecutor for a case that involved a pubescent Ms Malasari “caught with drugs” in high school. What came out of that is not known. It is believed that throughout her years in university, he “financed her”. Mr Budiarjo’s nephew Vanda Kusumaningrum told the YouTube news channel Hersubeno Point that “at that time, after college, while in Bogor (a Javanese city 416 kilometres from Yogyakarta), she lived at my uncle’s house”. She continued to reside with him, from whom she would continue to receive financial support for her education, first at Ibn Khaldun University Bogor and then, for her masters degree in business law at University of Indonesia, considered one of the most prestigious tertiary institutions in the country. As Mr Kusumaningrum elaborated, after her second degree, “she asked my uncle to marry her”. But there was a problem: Mr Budiarjo was married.

Ms Malasari conservatively dressed in court. Photo: Dos Antara

She eventually marry him despite a stunning 41 years age difference between them. It is not known if she had the approval of her parents. According to his nephew, Mr Budiarjo left his wife to accede to the younger woman’s request. “In the end, my uncle had to divorce my aunt,” Mr Kusumaningrum said. After tying the knot in 2007, Ms Malasari did not choose domestic life. She wanted to further her studies. Her husband’s family believed that the marriage allowed her to continue her higher education. They came to that suspicion because, according to Mr Kusumaningrum, “during her marriage, Pinangki never took care of her husband, even when he was sick”. The old man apparently had “two prostrate surgeries”. It is not known if he eventually died from illness of the prostrate.

However, Ms Malasari narrated quite a blander story. In court, she said—avoiding insights into her married life—that she was encouraged by her husband to study and, later, to apply for a post in the attorney’s office. She was accepted, and in 2007 was appointed as prosecutor. A year later, she continued with doctoral education in Padjadjaran University in West Java. Apart from her official duties at the attorney’s office, Ms Malasari lectured at various universities. After Mr Budiarjo married her, he retired from his job as a prosecutor, while his wife’s career blossomed. Whether on official duty or as a lecturer, Ms Malasari was noted for her looks. Her nephew-in-law suggested that because of her attractiveness, she often drew male attention, and he claimed that “she seemed to like meeting other men”.

Pinangki Sirna Malasari (second from right) on the day of her release from prison. Photo: VOI

Throughout her trial, Ms Malasari adopted severely conservative attire, complete with the jilbab (here, we know it as the hijab) and, to the surprise and curiosity of those entranced by her case, gloves—in black, no less. This concealment contrasted dramatically with what she wore before her appearances in court. In Indonesia, female head-covering is entirely optional; it is not obligatory. Although Ms Malasari is not known to wear overtly sexy clothes, she isn’t opposed to revealing her neck, her arms, and definitely her hands. Her decision to conceal parts of the body a Muslim woman must not show prompted Netizens to decry that she was merely “gaining sympathy”. It was such an issue that the attorney general declared that those who are not usually seen in “religious clothing” but appear in court looking pious would be “barred”. Ms Malasari’s piety was indeed questioned when, she left the prison yesterday without even a scarf. Her head and wiry hair were totally uncovered. Some observers of the case, however, said that the public was more interested in her clothing than her corrupt ways.

But, perhaps, more than what she wore in court and did not outside is the shocking, yet not—for many Indonesians—surprising reduction of Pinangki Sirna Malasari’s jail term, which an op-ed in The Jakarta Post called “discount”. Their advice to would-be convicts charged with graft: “Do not run away after your conviction. Just serve it, and then you should learn from the experiences of other corruption convicts on how to get freedom much earlier than you should”. Could this case foretell the outcome of Rosmah Mansor’s jail term, also 10 years? As her husband seeks royal pardon, would she choose the same option? As the “First Lady of Malaysia”, she is likely better blessed with privileges than a mere state prosecutor. And she’ll want to enjoy them.

Illustration: Just So

Disgruntled Once More

Kanye West is peeved again. And, he has attacked another business partner, anew. Unrequited love?

Nike must be so thankful that their pairing with Kanye West ended when it did. They must be reading with such relief the news of Mr West’s online berating of his current footwear production partner Adidas. The rap star asserted that the German company has been designing Yeezy products without his involvement. On Instagram two days ago, Mr West boomed: “”The fact (Adidas) felt they could color my shoes and name them without my approval is really wild. I really care about building something that changes the world and something I can leave to my kids. They tried to buy me out for 1 billion dollars. My royalties next year are 500 million dollars alone.”

A buyout! Has it really come to this? Was Mr West surprised that Adidas, producing Yeezy since 2013, is considering ending their partnership? That they had enough of his egomania? The Sunday denunciation was, of course, not his first levelled at the manufacturer of his Yeezys. In fact, since last Friday, his fingers have been hard at work, generating posts that suggested Adidas had done him great wrong, to the point that he threatened to “legally finish with you”, directing that at the brand’s top brass, in particular the senior vice-president Daniel Cherry III (who has not offered a public response).

…his fingers have been hard at work, generating posts that suggested Adidas had done him great wrong, to the point that he threatened to “legally finish with you”

To make things more complicated, the executive board of JP Morgan Chase was also dragged into the one-sided quarrel, with the angry rapper uploading screen shots of the bankers. JP Morgan Chase assisted Adidas in finding a buyer for Reebok in 2021. And on Monday, Mr West posted: “I need a shoe company like how Jamie Salter bought Reebok”. Mr Salter is the CEO of Authentic Brands Group (ABG), the company that acquired Reebok from Adidas. It is curious that ABG was mentioned. Was Mr West hoping Reebok would be the next Yeezy collaborator?

His palpable rage, of course, goes further back—to June, when he accused Adidas of copying his Yeezy slides after the former teased the release of their Adilette 22. And then came “Yeezy Day” in August—some pseudo-important occasion that Mr West called “made up” and claimed he did not agree to, nor the Yeezy sneakers that Adidas was allegedly going to drop. It is not clear why he did not take his displeasure or misgivings directly to Adidas instead of publicly declaiming, “I have no chill. It’s going to cost you billions to keep me, It’s going to cost you billions to let me go, Adidas.“

This is, of course, not surprising. Even Gap was attacked. A week ago, as he had a go at Adidas, he concurrently accused the other half of Yeezy Gap of conducting a meeting without him. He added that they had copied his designs (the ones “Engineered by Balenciaga”). Can a pattern of behaviour be discerned? Not hard. For Mr West, lines are not drawn, not demarcated. Professional and private lives have no borders. Everyone is fair game. Even people close to him—or once were—were not spared. He attacked his ex-wife on more than one occasion (who strangely did not seem too upset by it) and her (now) ex-boyfriend with not a vestige of regret. Does he care how he may appear to his children?

But it was Adidas that he seems to spurn most. In his latest IG fume-post, he even clarified that “billions” mean “2” if Adidas wants to free him from his obligations to them, and that includes the alleged “stealing” of his intellectual property. This and others were no blank rants, even, if in many cases, he would delete them. They have been effectual among his friends, with Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs just announcing on IG that, in support for his mate, he was “done wearing Adidas” after a Ye-like blast: “’Since the era of Run-DMC, @Adidas has always used Hip Hop to build its brand and make billions off of our culture. BUT WE ARE MORE THAN JUST CONSUMERS NOW, WE’RE THE OWNERS. @KanyeWest and YEEZY are the reason Adidas is relevant to culture. WE KNOW OUR VALUE!”

Anger begets anger. And love for the Yeezy brand?

Illustrations: Just So

Another Scammer, Another Thai Girl

And she has fled from Thailand purportedly to Malaysia, like someone familiar. Who is this nasty Nutty?

In her social media posts, she looks rather natty, but she goes by Nutty. Like most Thais, her nickname—rather unfortunate, this one—identifies her. She is an influencer and she is on the run for alleged scams involving a mind-boggling two billion baht (or about S$77 million). That is even more than what our island’s infamous fraudster-duo cheated and then escaped—a whopping S$45 million more. Thai media reports do not indicate that her passport was impounded. The current speculation in Thailand is that she (and allegedly her mother) has escaped to Malaysia, as Thai fugitives are inclined to, and vice versa. At the border (assuming she entered legally), the immigration officers would have been able to read the name Natthamon Kongchak (นัทธมณ คงจักร์) on her passport, aged 29 (there are reports that state 27, even 30). Some news outlets spell her popular name as Natty, but on social media, she uses Nutty (her YouTube channel is called Nutty’s Dairy and a K-pop EP she released in 2014 was titled The Power of Nutty). It is probably a play on the first syllable of her first name Natthanon, pronounce naht. But, as it turns out, she has more than one name (more on that later).

Thai media has speculated that Ms Kongchak is acquainted with Siriwipa Pansuk, the other half of the married swindlers who were arrested on 11 August in Johor Bahru after hiding there for 37 days. According to Phaisal Ruangrit, a lawyer representing some 30 of Ms Kongchak’s victims, the two women were in cahoots—one dealing with luxury bags and the other in “investments”, as Shin Min Daily News reported yesterday. Today, Thailand’s Criminal Court issued a warrant for her arrest, concurrently asserting that her case is linked to Ms Pansuk and her husband Pi Jiapeng. How so, it did not elaborate. The Nation shared yesterday that, according to Mr Ruangrit, she has “defrauded over 6,000 victims”. Shin Min Daily News spoke to one Singaporean duped by Pi Jiapeng/Siriwipa Pansuk, a Mr Tan: He fears that if Ms Pansuk and Ms Kongchak were scheming together, he is unlikely going to see his money returned, as it would have been channeled to the latter.

Ms Kongchak, in her last video post on IG, explaining her actions and charges levelled at her. Screen shot: nutty.suchataa/Instagram

Ms Kongchak’s massive scams involved no luxury watches or handbags (although she did flaunt them). According to Thai reports, and the many complaints against her, she ran a “Forex Ponzi scheme” about five months ago. On social media, especially YouTube, she made herself out to be a successful “Forex trader” and encouraged her followers to invest with her as she acted as conduit to their new wealth. The lawyer Mr Ruangrit told Thai media that “the YouTuber had used her popularity to lure victims with the promise of high returns in a short time.” One of them purportedly deposited a boggling 18 million baht (about S$688,646) straight into Ms Kongchak’s account. In fact, she often coaxed potential investors to transfer the money directly to her personal a/c. And, curiously, they did. As social media chatter went, she had promised 25% returns for a three-month “contract”, 30% for six, and 35% for 12, with the agreement that payouts would be made monthly. In April, things didn’t seem right when she failed to meet her obligations, with some of her payees saying that they had not received anything for their investments. The online rumble grew increasingly palpable.

On 25 May, Ms Kongchak posted a simple video on IG—where she identifies as “trader, singer, dancer, YouTuber, CEO”—to explain her predicament, even cleverly including hashtags, such as #นัตตี้โกงเทรดพันล้าน (or #nutty cheated billions in trading) so that her post could be seen as a negation. There is even #ถ้าคนจะหนีหนีไปแล้ว (or #if people are going to flee), as if to allay the victims’ fears. Speaking in a somewhat girlish voice, she said she made a “big mistake” and had lost all the money, claiming that the error was in “trading with just one broker.” She admitted that everything was her own doing; she was “sorry for causing trouble to many people and making them disappointed in her.” Hoping to shift the anger towards her to sympathy, she added: “There has not been a day that was not stressful. There is no day I do not stop thinking of getting a refund.” But she was certain she would pay the investors back. In a separate post before the video, she wrote that she “will find the funds to return (the money) in every possible way”. Although many Netizens did not consider what she uttered assuring, that post curiously attracted 6,169 likes.

And then she was heard no more.

In happier times (2022), Nutty is like most influencers: She cannot resist a sexy pose. Photo: nutty.suchataa/Instagram

Natthamon Kongchak was born in the northern city of Chiang Mai, in 1993—the year the popular Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden (originally named Mae Sa Botanic Garden) opened in the district of Mae Rim, central Chiang Mai. By most accounts, she spent her childhood in the calm city, attending the co-ed Phraharuthai School, also known as the Sacred Heart College, a 90-year-old catholic institution that, a Chiang Mai native tells us, is “very popular”. Phraharuthai School is a fairly large building, which, from the inside, looks like a composite of village residences. When the students played in the school yard, they would have seen a familiar sight: The Sacred Heart Cathedral, with its distinctive red-brick façade, which in December conducts the city’s grandest annual Christmas mass. Less than two hundred metres away, is the maenam ping (or Ping River), one of the two main tributaries of the Chao Phraya River that flows into Bangkok. Interestingly, her alleged partner in crime, Siriwipa Pansuk, too, went to a Catholic school, in Nonthaburi.

But unlike Ms Pansuk, Ms Kongchak seems to have had a rather privileged childhood. While she had not said much about her younger days or her grades in Phraharuthai School, she did reveal in 2014, during appearances on talk shows (sometimes with her mother), that hers was a coddled life of luxury (she, like China’s last emperor Puyi, did not even have to put on her own shoes!) made possible because of her family‘s considerable wealth. As she regaled, her mother owned a karaoke bar and business was extremely good, with a monthly income of 2 million baht (about S$76,668). At one point, the family (there was no mention of other children) owned 14 cars, and their home had a staff of 22 maids/nannies. Why a small family like hers would require that many automobiles or domestic helpers, she did not say. Although she was pampered, she wanted her mother to spend more time with her. She asked the businesswoman not to go into the bar and let the employees run it. Apparently, this was not a good move, and the business tanked: the mother became a “bankrupt”. It is at this juncture that her back story turned Netflix-worthy dramatic. Thais were riveted to her story as “real life is better than drama”.

Nutty on the talk show At Ten in 2014. Screen shot: 2020 Entertainment/YouTube

Natthamon Kongchak enthusiastically revealed the story of her sensational early life in July 2014 on the Channel 3 evening talk show At Ten (ตีสิบ or tee sip). With financial ruin, the mother decided she could no longer stay in Chiang Mai. Before departing, she divorced her husband as she was too “ai“ (shy) to remain with him, given her economic disadvantage. Not bothered by being a single mother, she took her daughter to Hat Yai, a city in the southern province of Songkla, bordering Malaysia. The divorcée did not say why a bankrupt with a young child needed to flee her hometown for a place some 1,650 kilometres away (24 hours or so by car). In Hat Yai, the older woman met a guy who operates a win-motorsai (or motorcycle taxi). He would take them around Hat Yai (whether he was paid, we do not know). As the mother was looking for work, he suggested to her to consider the other side of the border in the south. When she decided to leave to try her luck, she left her daughter with this man, whom the just-pubescent Nutty called “gaopor”, or “godfather”.

The mother found work in Malaysia as a masseuse. In which city or town, or even state exactly, it has not been established. Soon, her daughter joined her (what happened to the godfather is not known either). According to some reports, she offered foot massage by going door to door with the little girl by her side. Ms Kongchak was then 13 years old (a photo she shared on IG of her at a younger age showed a little girl that probably could not escape the description cute). That would have been in 2006. Nothing is said about her education at this time. In the beginning, they had no place to stay, and would sleep at the homes of customers who took pity on them (others “donated” bicycles—there were two, apparently). A Malaysian man her mother did not identify, but did describe as wealthy (some media reports say a “billionaire”), who owned schools (“universities”, apparently) and other businesses in the country, wanted to marry her child, even when the 48-year-old man reportedly had “several wives”. In agreeing to the marriage, the mother would be paid an undisclosed sum of money. Additionally, he was willing not to touch the girl until she came of age, which, according to the mother, was two years later. Strangely, the single parent did not find the man and his proposal creepy, and agreed to the marriage.

Pre-fugitive days: Mother and daughter in 2018. Photo: nutty.suchataa/Instagram

As no pre-arranged sexual restraint could really be met by those seeking juvenile brides, the man, as Ms Kongchak recalled, “harassed” her. It could be assumed that, by now, the child-wife was living with the fellow. The girl went to her mother to report what her husband (it is hard to use that word here) attempted, but the woman would not believe her. The girl fell into “depression” and apparently “fainted” many times. The mother admitted on camera, between sobs, that it was hard on her daughter, who also teared when interviewed, as the young one did not know what was going on. She then decided to annul the marriage, and had to engage an imam to speak to the man and to act as facilitator. She revealed that she had to pay the man back the money she was earlier given, even when he reneged on his promise. As she had only the equivalent of two million baht (or S$76,673), she was unwilling to gave him all of it; she handed him half of that. She did not explain what she did with the initial sum. It is not known if the man agreed to the amount. After the unfortunate marriage ended, they “escaped” once more, this time to Pattaya.

Again, it is not known why mother and daughter had to flee what would have been home by then (it is not known how many years they were in Malaysia). If there really was a need to, why did they go to Pattaya, the seaside town on the opposite side of the isthmus of Kra, across the Gulf of Thailand, in the east? If they needed to be near the sea, why did they not choose the island of Phuket instead, just 200 kilometres north-west of the northern most Malaysian state of Perlis? The answer may never be made known. Back in Thailand, mother and daughter seemed to have enjoyed a more stable existence. Ms Kongchak claimed she worked as a waitress at this time. In 2014, despite a seeming gap in her education when she was living a married life in Malaysia, she was accepted at and graduated (curiously, she did not share any graduation photos on social media) from the College of Communication Arts at Rangsit University, a private institution in Pathum Thani on the border shared with the north of Bangkok. The province has a considerably high concentration of schools of higher education and Rangsit University, according to EduRank, is ranked no. 1 in the whole of Pathum Thani, where Ms Kongchak’s legal address is registered.

Nutty in school uniform, appearing on a talk show. Screen shot: TikTok

And then the Internet and social media caught up, and Ms Kongchak began fashioning herself as a “web idol”. She was noted for her dancing and for doing covers of Korean pop songs, as seen on social media. She joined Instagram in Dec 2013, and her first post was a twin photo of her in a car. There was no accompanying comment. A month later, she was sharing videos of her confident singing—the first, an English song, no less: Carly Rae Jepsen’s Call Me Maybe. More videos emerged, mostly showing her performing, usually dancing. There was no mention of how she learned to dance so engagingly. Of the 2,301 posts she shared (her account presently shows 310K followers), interestingly only 34 showed food. Like the many who derive an income through IG, she peddled anything, from health supplements to cosmetics (she was a long-time face of local brand Costina) to shoes. It is not known if goods were sold to her fans, who are called “Nutters”. In less than ten months after her IG debut and many dance videos later, she would appear in the talk show At Ten, revealing her colourful past.

She seemed very pleased with the broadcast, having urged followers to tune in days earlier. On IG, she thanked the host, the crew, friends and supporters, and wrote: “I have sat down for interviews and told stories about my life. It’s fun and it’s an honour.” Overnight, she became the “talk of the town”. But a year later, in a post of her mother kissing her, Ms Kongchak shared a lengthy message, in which she wrote, “I don’t have to be afraid of anything. The truth is the truth. Please believe in your child… How many stories in life have we been through? Only our hearts know.” And she went on to say: “Good people don’t fall into water, don’t fall into fire, don’t burn… The child will not allow anyone to do anything, mother, especially over something for which we are not wrong.” Netizens were beginning to speculate if it was her inability to handle her fame. She added, “What’s the story that makes it look bad? If it’s true, Nut (she frequently refers to herself in the abbreviated name) doesn’t care about the image at all. Nut is pure-hearted and ready to face every problem. And you don’t have to organise a press conference, to let it go on TV or something because Nut doesn’t want to be famous in this kind of thing.” What that thing was, she did not say. She concluded with: “If the fact that happens may affect anyone, I apologize here. Nut had to come out and defend herself. Protect mae (mother) Nut in various matters that are being talked about. Because when you protect yourself, you hurt Nut, you destroy her career, destroy all the future that Nut has created for herself.”

On a TV show, Nutty took out huge wads of money to show the audience that with them, she was going to buy her mother a car. Screen shot: TikTok

This could be seen as a regular mother-daughter squabble. But, few believed that was the case. It is likely that, for all the love she showed towards her mother on social media (and she did—a tad excessively), theirs was (and likely still is) a complicated relationship. Many netizens, upon learning of her marriage at 13, and that her mother received money for the “immoral” arrangement, was quick to say that the woman had practically “sold” her daughter. Money and the need to show off cash in the hand seemed to characterise their love for each other. In her third post on IG after she joined the social media at the end of 2013, Ms Kongchak shared a photograph of her presenting to her mother a hamper of bottled bird’s nest and a ‘fan’ of 14 pieces of 1,000 baht notes. Similarity, in 2016, during Songkran (the Thai New Year), she showered her mother with gifts and 1,000 baht notes, fan out so that the viewer could count all 10 pieces of them. Last August, after achieving success as a Forex trader, a TV program—shared on Nutty’s Diary—showed her being interviewed in her car. She unzipped a rather large blue bag, took out a Manila envelope and whipped out thick wads of cash (still bound as if just handed over by a bank teller), informing viewers that with all that money, she was going to buy her mother a surprise gift: A three-million-baht car!

Mae Nut was a constant presence in Ms Kongchak’s life, even when the daughter had to be overseas—in, for example, Seoul. Interestingly, Natthamon Kongchak and Siriwipa Pansuk have something in common: Korea. Ms Pansuk’s scamming career is said to have been seeded in the Korean capital. Ms Kongchak was there to pave a more legit professional path, and, in fact, had arrived three years earlier, in 2014. It is, therefore, unlikely that they ever met there. According to Thai media, Ms Kongchak claimed that her online popularity caught the attention of an “older” fan (gender not specified), who was dating a Korean girl, whose friend, as it turned out, owned a record label. Somehow, he saw “a clip” of Ms Kongchak singing and was convinced she deserved an audition. Things unfolded very quickly thereafter: A contract was signed with a company called Dream Cinema and she debuted in Korea, not as part of a girl group, but, amazingly, as a solo artiste. In October 2014, she went to the city of Incheon, where the airport is located, as one of two Thai guest-artistes to perform at The K-Festival Concert, reportedly organised to foster friendship with Thailand. She shared the stage with the singer/actor Jirayu ‘James’ Tangsrisuk (2019’s Krong Karm or Cage of Karma, shown on Channel U last year). Recorded music ensued, but none made a major impact on the charts.

Dancing days: Nutty not only danced, she taught as well as, with her own dance school. Screen shot: nutty.suchataa/Instagram

Her singing career did not take off as she had hoped. Reports of disputes with her music labels emerged, and Ms Kongchak reportedly terminated her contract. That some kind of agreement cannot be reached in Korea surprised many. Some also wondered why Thai music companies would not sign her up, with a few suggesting that she should perhaps go to Malaysia, where she has a sizeable fan base. Ms Kongchak, in fact, speaks surprisingly fluent Malay (which may suggest that she did go to school in Malaysia when she was there). In one YouTube post, she sang the Malay song Tak Tahu Malu (Shameless) by the Sabahan brother-duo Atmosfera (Atmosphere), including the speed-up chorus that could have been a tongue-twister for a non-bahasa Melayu speaker. It is tempting to assume she lip-synched, but she did release a Malay single Take You Home two years back, in which she even rapped in Malay. In a Q&A with her Malay fans that she shared online, she spoke Malay fluently, revealing, when asked what she likes to eat, that she loves “nasi lemak dengan kicap (with soy sauce, instead of sambal?)”. To endear herself to her Malay fans, she went a dramatic step further: In one make-up tutorial, she showed the end result wearing a tudung!

Back home in Thailand after her Korean stint, she was not quite crestfallen or defeated, determined to strengthen her online popularity, which still remained high. It was at this time that she began legal name changes that would amount to two in total (this excludes her nickname which remained as Nutty). She was, thus, also known as Leeah (spelled with an extra ‘e’) Kongchak and Suchataa (with an extra ‘a’) Kongsupachak (she was, therefore, called Nutty Suchataa sometimes, and also the moniker used on IG). Why these other names were necessary is not known as she still referred to herself as “Nut”, just as Nutters did. Similarly, her K-pop-style dancing and singing continued as before. Even her coquettish posts, which dates back to her university days (such as a photo of her, all made-up like a doll, in a tight school shirt, that went with the message, “Sweet dreams”) were still very present. Some of her photos started to show more skin, which could be a move to push herself beyond being a “cute” singer/dancer. A profile on her in a local magazine even titled the piece “Naughty Pretty”. Little did the editor know how prescient that was.

As she grew older, her dance moves became sexier, so was her dressing. Screen shot: nutty.suchataa/Instagram

Without a music or acting contract, she started looking at other income streams, and dance, she thought, was a sure way to make money. In 2018, she opened a dance school Diva Studio in Bangkok, but that was badly affected when the COVID pandemic struck. She wrote on IG in August last year: “My studio had to be closed. I could not teach dancing. Savings are running out. Many people’s stomachs are waiting for me”. In the same post, she shared that she had received a gift that was a course in “money management” and that she had enrolled, and had been on it for six months. And she let on that she had “studied stock trading before” but had ”just come to trade”. In no time, she was earning massive amounts of money, bragging to her followers that she could easily “make 300,000 baht (or about S$11,448) in 10 minutes”. COVID-era followers were duly impressed. Her mother was a firm supporter of her daughter’s new, quick money-making enterprise, even showing her daughter in action in IG posts, which led to the suspicion that the older woman played a part in the ruse, and had to abscond too.

According to Thai news site Sanook, Ms Kongchak’s daring scams were exposed by victims in April, when many of them reported they had not seen any returns on their paid-up investments. It is reminiscent of the alleged crimes of the now-caught and awaiting-trial Pi Jiapeng and Siriwipa Pansuk. A Thai Facebook page with the fitting handle Drama Addict shared that they received news of Ms Kongchak fleeing to Malaysia—again, sounding similar, although in the latter’s case, from the north of the Malay Peninsular. Thai authorities do not think that is the case, as exit records do not show her departure. That alone may not proof anything as Ms Pansuk had crossed the Causeway with almost not trace of her daring passage. If Ms Pansuk were not caught, would she and Ms Kongchak meet, assuming they knew each other, as alleged by Thailand’s Criminal Court. Ms Kongchak speaks Malay, and is familiar with the land; she would be a good accomplice to hide in Malaysia and lay low. And there is all the nasi lemak dengan kicap she could eat. A two million baht (about S$76,353) reward was recently put up for information on her whereabouts. Whether in Malaysia or Thailand, online or off, that is good money. Natthamon Kongchak—or whatever name she answers to now—could be wishing the Sacred Heart Cathedral of her childhood is nearby.

Note: It is hard to establish events chronologically as Natthamon Kongchak rarely referred to dates

Illustration (top): Just So

This Be The Look

Another fashion week in Malaysia, another sartorial controversy

Barely three weeks after the chest-baring controversy at Kedah Fashion Week (KFW)* that led to nation-wide disapproval and apology from the organiser, Malaysia is seeing another contentious fashion choice that riled up the watchful, not-necessarily-fashion-consuming public, this time in the capital. At the closing day of Kuala Lumpur Fashion Week (KLFW) 2022 last Sunday, the city’s “king of viral fashion” Tan Kel Wen (陳楷文) attended the show of his own label Behati at the Pavilion Kuala Lumpur mall in a self-designed, oversized, ankle-length, quilted happi coat (it was 31°C that afternoon in KL) over a pair of folded-down-at-the-waist, knotted-in-front-like-a-sampin shorts. The 26-year-old l, who has no qualms in casting himself as a model in his brand’s communication material, was shirtless under the outer, but it was not specifically this show of some skin that irked Malaysian Netizens. It was his choice of headwear: A black songkok—traditional, flat-top (atap leper) headgear worn by Malay males throughout the Malay/Indonesian archipelago, Brunei, and the south of the Philippines and Thailand.

Many Netizens took offence to his pairing of the headwear with his “half-naked” self, as one put it, when commenting on the photo he posted on Instagram. Others thought it disrespectful that he would bare part of his chest and limps while donning the brimless, close-fitting-at-the-sides hat that is commonly associated with going to the mosque. In another photo, also shared on IG, Mr Tan took to the stage at the end of his afternoon show with his muse, the beauty entrepreneur/“online personality”/singer of cheesy pop Dato’ Seri Vida (aka Hasmiza binti Othman), wearing another black songkok, now with a pin of his brand’s logo—a stylised image of a man in an oversized baju melayu (traditional Malay dress) striking a pose on bended knees—fastened to the right. To bask in the post-show glory, he donned a massively oversized shirt (with padded shoulders and the outline of the augmentation visible) and a plain black tie, and a waist-high short-sarong-as-mini-skirt.

Designer Kel Wen and Internet star Dato’ Seri Vida on the runway at KLFW 2022

In a lengthy IG post to defend himself against the antagonists, who are referred to as “commenters”—although he is prone to calling them “haters”—and “to educate” them, Mr Tan considers the songkok “a formal cultural headgear, not entirely a religious headgear that’s only worn for Islamic prayers”, adding that “in Malaysia it gets more complicated when different races wear the headgear for different purposes.” He did not say what the purposes were or that his wearing of the songkok was, therefore, to simplify things. Mr Tan, who prides himself as an ardent researcher, with a voracious appetite for his homeland culture, also pointed out to the provenance of the songkok. He claimed that the “Songkok doesn’t originate from the Malay community… Malays do not (sic) wear Songkok in Melaka Sultane (sic)” and “the first Songkok traces back to Ottoman Fez”. It is not known why he thinks the connection is that linear. He does not state the sources behind his assertion.

The fez itself does not have a straightforward history. According to author on Moorish culture Cozmo El, in his book The Secret of the Fez, the hat, which the Arabs call tarboosh, is claimed by some to have originated in ancient Greece, with some even pointing to the Balkans. Similarly, the songkok has a rather obscure beginning. No historian of Malay culture has yet drawn a direct link between the songkok and the “Ottoman fez”. There are similarities between the two, but it is hard to see why a largely tribal community would look to an empire with a capital some nine thousand kilometres away for aesthetic ideas. The popular thought is that the songkok arrived in Malaysia in the 13th century (Mr Tan prefers a later date: “19th century”)—when Islam was spreading in Southeast Asia—by way of India, where the fez-like headwear was improved with the addition of paper between the sides to make it tougher and more rigid. And it is not difficult to see the songkok’s popularity rising alongside the ascent of Islam. That the songkok is considered to be distinctly Malay is also due to the craftsmen of the early years, who refined the shape of the hat into the oval (as opposed to the round of the fez) that is recognisable today.

Behati’s latest collection based on Peranakan dress

Mr Tan is not wrong to say that non-Malays wear the songkok too. In several black and white photographs dated June 1963, shared by the National Archives of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew was seen wearing one when he conducted a walkabout in Ulu Pandan (now part of the Holland -Bukit Timah GRC). On that day, he was attired in a white, short-sleeved, open-neck shirt and loose, dark trousers. There were other occasions as well (on one, he wore a songkok with the word “Malaysia” across its front), and each time, Mr Lee was suitably dressed. While it is not compulsory for Muslim men to wear the songkok, many do, especially with the baju melayu, even the batik shirt. Western fashion can be considered, provided, as one songkok-wearing Muslim friend told us, it is “tasteful or worn tastefully”.

In the age of TikTok, taste is subjective. As he kept to his penchant for viral results and adverse criticisms (in one TV interview, he said, “my work is known to get [sic] viral, to get negative comments”), Mr Tan may have not considered that the songkok has not quite achieved the sebarang (anything-will-do) status of social media, and that many Malays do regard the wearing of one with considerable rectitude. Defiantly, he wrote on IG, insisting on his sense of propriety: “I did not wear Songkok with a sexy underwear or reveal any sensitive parts of my body that shows nudity. Showing my knees like most malay (sic) men out there is a common fashion today.” Curiously, he compares the exposure of nearly half of both of his legs with “a Hijabi who wears the Tudung with their (sic) neck out (sic)“. (Are there such short tudungs?). The race card came in the conclusion: “I’m not Muslim, but wearing a Songkok signifies that I accept and learn the religion in my own personal lifestyle. If you can’t accept, it only means that you’re racist and that’s the real problem here.”

A groom’s outfit for the Behati ‘Peranakan’ collection

Mr Tan did not, however, draw flak for just his personal attire alone. The clothes he presented for Behati on the runway at KLFW attracted unfavourable criticism too. Based on “mixed race, mixed culture, mixed tradition”, the Peranakan-themed collection had all the fervour of a graduate show and the appeal of a cultural village gift shop. Mr Tan’s adoration for his nation’s plural culture is palpable, but he does not consider a judicious use of the myriad things, big and small, that he adores to keep the end result from being laughing matter. Or, worse, the proverbial rojak. There is something naive about his love for the cross-cultural. His critics were not just unimpressed with the baju-panjangs-as-duster-coats, kebaya blouses teamed with cargo joggers, or the 结婚绣球花 (jiehun xiuqiuhua)—wedding ribbon ball—strapped to a white suit worn under a sheer baju panjang festooned with tassels, but for the four model-dancers who performed and strutted their stuff in fake kebaya tops (two were very cropped!) and triangular fabrics tied to the waist like a pareo and exposing considerable rump. Any bibik would say the clothes (and their wearers) are tak senonoh (indecent). Behati fans applauded the social media-worthy liberties taken, but others were appalled, with one IG user going as far as to describe the seeming impropriety as “rape the tradition”.

An alumnus of Raffles Design College in KL, Tan Kel Wen graduated with a diploma in fashion design and then cut his teeth as assistant designer with compatriot Lee Khoon Hooi (李坤辉). Until five years ago, he was working with the veteran. Mr Lee told South China Morning Post last February: “I’ve always been influenced by different cultures because Malaysia has a multinational community.” Sounds familiar? The style of his eponymous label has unfailingly been described as “feminine” or “romantic”, with no discernible visual defiance that would come to define his young protégé, who must have been so influenced by his former employer that he reprised Mr Lee’s use of tassels as repeated motif from 2019 for his current Peranakan collection. Some ten years ago, when he was putting out flounced dresses and one-shoulder numbers, Mr Lee Khoon Hooi was considered Malaysia’s Alber Elbaz.

Behati’s culture-show-as-fashion-show at Pavilion Kuala Lumpur

Mr Tan founded Behati in 2018 as a label—self-touted to be “modern traditionalist”—that brings together the aesthetic traditions of Malaysia, seen through a lens focused on streetwear, while amping up the brand’s ethno-social appeal. He calls it “blending urban and heritage”. Recently, he told L’Officiel Malaysia, “As people say, nothing is original anymore but there’s always something new, and mixing cultures is a way to create.” Born in the historic state of Melaka, he, in fact, grew up, further south, in the coastal town of Muar, Johor. He attended Sekolah Tinggi Muar (High School Muar), housed in a building—erected in 1914—that is not far from the sea, and was a member of the school’s choir. His love for music has never waned and he claimed to have been writing music since he was 15 years old. His mother is a retired school teacher who taught English and music in a Malay school. He shared on IG that “growing up, I always wanted to write like her, sing like her”. Although he moved to KL to further his studies and to pursue a career in fashion, he has not put aside music, and continues to perform under the “stage name” Khai, the first of his two-word Chinese moniker. He has even released a Malay language dance single and an accompanying music video—under Khai + Haus of RN—Demam Cinta (Love Sick).

By his own account, he has “been wearing traditional clothes for Raya since (he) was younger”, keeping his love of Malaysian multi-culturalism, and indeed nationalism, on his sleeve, constantly; not even shying away from naming the previous collection “kampung”—almost another country in the antarabangsa (international) capital of Kuala Lumpur. According to the KL-based news site World of Buzz, Mr Tan revealed that “Behati is a word of African origin, which means ‘blessed’”. And, a female pronoun, such as the name of Namibian model Behati Prinsloo, wife of Adam Levine. It seems rather odd that, being unabashedly proud of his Malaysian identity, he would use an African name for a brand. Mr Tan told the podcast Borak Sini Habis Sini (Chat Here, End Here) that he thinks that behati sounds a little like the Malay word for blessing, berkati. For his latest runway show, no African or Malay text was used—the back drop was an expansive sheet of red, with the Chinese pronunciation of his brand name, 百哈迪 (bai ha di) written in massive calligraphic strokes. Whether this amounts to creative schizophrenia or is just a happy campuran (mix), it is perhaps too early to say, but Behati is exactly the gratuitous pastiche that social media feeds on. Despite its hybridised image, the brand is considered an “Internet sensation”.

Aina Abdul in Behati going to the Behati show

In 2019, one particular garment Mr Tan created evoked both delight and derision: The “oversized baju Melayu”. The press preferred the euphemism “mixed reaction”. This was no re-designing of the men’s two-piece (formerly known by the once gender-neutral term baju kurung, which now only refers to the version for women), comprising a tunic-like baju (top) and loose seluar (trousers), but a re-proportioning of the garments in a similar vein to the exaggerated sizing of early Vetements (now VTMNTS. Behati subsequent tailored suits would, for most, recall Balenciaga’s). Most Malays did not wish for their beloved baju to be so radically up-sized—”this was no French fries at McDonald’s”, one retired Malaysian model told us. Believed to have originated from the court of the Malacca Sultanate (as early as the 1400s), the baju Melayu is already loose-fitting, with virtually no change to the silhouette since its introduction. In a move that supporters consider “ingenious”, Mr Tan made his baju so large that some had such huge armholes that entire tops were, horizontally, almost an oblong, from end to end, when the arms are stretched out. For the images shared on social media, Mr Tan had his models pose like the stylised figures of Taiwanese sculptor Ju Ming’s (朱銘) Tai Chi bronzes. The silhouettes, including that of the logo, were so similar, it’s tempting to say he could have been inspired by the artist’s work. He described the images as “avant-garde”.

Behati and Mr Tan’s online reputations were further enhanced in the past two years when stars and celebrities came to the designer for special commissions. Two most noted are the aforementioned muse Dato’ Seri Vida, who, at the Behati show, modeled a colourful dress that could be seen as a tent made of scraps of 云肩 (yun jian) or cloud collar. And a tagine on her head. “Culturally-mixed fashion”, as Mr Tan described the design on IG, or Gen-Z oriental camp? And, looking even more absurd, Aina Abdul. Also dressed by Behati, the Johor-born songstress (who shared on IG: “I loveeeee how this look turned out 🖤 Major love!”) was entrapped in what could be a mass of deflated, balled-up fabric. As she moved, she looked like a cartoon likeness of a black cloud. Only her face and her hands were shown. In fact, she did not appear to be wearing a dress; she seemed upholstered. Perhaps, in Kuala Lumpur, as one IG user commented, paraphrasing what Tan Kel Wen said on a Jack and Jill Potato Chip TV commercial, “ini(lah) baru fashion show.”

*Not to be confused with Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Kuala Lumpur

Photos: kel_wen and behati.my/Instagram

Dior, Not Again

Chinese Netizens think Dior is guilty of cultural appropriation once more

Painterly parallel: (left) print on a Dior dress and (right) a Chinese painting by Lu Ji. Photos: Dior and collection.sina.cn respectively

Before the first accusation has died down, before an official statement is released in response to the denunciation, out comes another. Dior is not well placed in China this summer. It could be 流年不利 (liunian buli) or that the year has been inauspicious for Dior. Or, it could be that Chinese consumers have been paying the brand with 眼不转睛 (yanbu zhuanjing) or strict attention. After the controversy of the horse-face skirt, the maison is again criticised by Chinese Netizens for cultural and artistic appropriation. As with the previous drama, which saw Chinese students protest in front of the Dior store in Paris, the brand has not responded. They could be hoping that the furore would eventually die down.

Last week, the first complaint emerged on Weibo, when one Netizen sharing a side-by-side photo of a Dior varsity jacket and a traditional Chinese 花鸟画 (huaniaohua) or flower-and-bird painting, with the garment sporting similar blooms and winged vertebrates, even colours. Others started posting photos of a dress and a trench coat with prints that owe their similarity to Chinese paintings that are evocative of those of 10th century (or later) China. It doesn’t help that the choice of the “beige” fabrics is not dissimilar to (now-aged) Chinese paper or silk on which those paintings were executed.

Full view of the Dior shirt-dress with the Jardin d’Hiver motif. Photo: Dior

The Weibo users who disapprove the Dior motif possibly took offence at the brand describing the “Dior Jardin d’Hiver (winter garden)” as its “signature motif”. On the website, Dior states that the print is “a poetic and exotic representation of Mr Dior’s wall tapestries”. We do not know what the founder of the maison exactly had on his wall, or whether the provenance is Chinese. It is possible that what Mr Dior owned was a work in the style of Chinoiserie (also referred in Chinese as 中国风 [zhongguofeng]), a French word that refers to European interpretation—and also imitation—of Chinese (or Oriental) art, especially decorative art. Of course, something that was installed in a residence does not necessarily become a “signature motif” and with its similarity to Chinese artistic tradition, is not hard to understand that it might be thought of as a “copy”. Similarly, Dior considering its horse-face skirt lookalike a “hallmark silhouette” is provocative when, to the Chinese, it cannot be.

But Jardin d’Hiver as motif and inspiration go as far back as the Marc Bohan years. And the print looks quite different on the Book tote and silk scarves. When we studied the version that appeared on the SGD5,200, beige, cotton gabardine shirt-dress, it was, to us, evocative of paintings by the Ming dynasty painter Lu Ji (呂紀), such as the striking piece titled 秋鷺芙蓉 (qiulu furong or autumn heron and hibiscus). It is probable that Dior will remain mum on this new controversy too since it is, as some observers noted, unlikely that the brand will be affected by a few (and possibly not Dior costumers) who seem determined to “find fault”. But this could be seen as the result of consumers being culturally self-aware, and Dior might serve its image better if it can say that it did not just plonk a motif on a dress to lift it from being a nothing-to-look-at without considering how one of the largest markets for luxury goods would react.

Mirror, Mirror On The Stage

Touted as the group to revive Canto-pop, Mirror is now in the news regionally for an uncommon-in-Hong-Kong stage mishap. Who are the boys in this band of merry 12?

The 12 members of MIRROR, as seen in a performance in May, 2021. Photo: MIRROR/Facebook

Warning: video links in this post will show footages that may not be suitable to some

Hong Kong social media and news platforms have been buzzing with discussions of what happened at the pop concert mega-venue Coliseum last night, around 10pm. In the middle of the performance by the hottest boy band of the moment MIRROR, a massive LED screen, suspended mid-air, fell, according to local reports. The horrific incident was caught on video (see links below) and it went viral as quickly as the video panel crashed. According to the Chinese paper Oriental Daily (東方日報), “it fell on two dancers who were performing… and one of them was suspected to have been hit on the back of his head”. It added that “many spectators saw the accident, and screams were let out, and some covered their faces and bawled”. The South China Morning Post (SCMP) later reported that “a local hospital said one performer suffered neck injuries and was in serious condition in intensive care while another was stable.”

Staged in Canto-pop’s performance mother ship in Hung Hom (紅磡, pronounced hong hum), southeast of Kowloon, this was MIRROR’s debut at the Coliseum (香港體育館). Last night’s performance was the group’s fourth of 12 scheduled concerts. As seen in video clips circulating online (such as this and this. Please note that these clips may be distressing to some viewers), two members Anson Lo and Edan Lui performed with several dancers when one of the eight suspended LED screens (for close-ups of the boys) plunged, hitting one dancer and toppling onto another in full view of the already-entrqnced audience who screamed in palpable horror and disbelief. The news quickly travelled beyond the Coliseum. An SOTD contributor, who was on his way home in Tsuen Wan in the north, received news and the video of the incident and told us this morning that he “didn’t, at first, think it was true.” A friend then sent him a clip and assured him that it was “新鮮熱辣 (sun seen yeet lat or fresh and hot)”. “As far as I can remember,” our source said, “nothing this dramatic has happened at the Coliseum before”.

At the point of impact. Screen shot: Ezra Cheung/Twitter

Many Hongkongers woke up this morning to the shocking news. Social media platforms saw heated discussions that expressed anger: This, fans noted vehemently, was not the MIRROR concert’s first incident at the Coliseum. On Tuesday night, group member Frankie Chan, soon to celebrate his 34th birthday, fell when he moved too closely to the edge of the stage while giving a speech. But he was not seriously hurt and the concert continued. After the performance, Mr Chan shared on social media a photo of his scraped left forearm, saying, “令大家擔心sorry (leng dai ga dum sum sorry or sorry to make everyone worry”. The day after the fall, more than 11,000 fans signed an online petition to ask for better safety standards for the performers. Although the question of safety was raised again this time, Hong Kong media reported that production companies involved in the live show have not admitted that they were responsible for the suspension of the problematic LED screen. The rest of the MIRROR concerts are now halted, with the new chief executive John Lee ordering authorities to “comprehensively investigate the incident”.

The staggering popularity of MIRROR in Hong Kong has been dubbed a “social phenomenon”, with SCMP describing it as “fervour unlike anything the city has seen for some time”. The rapid rise of the group is especially significant when the mood in Hong Kong still “reels” after the city-wide protest of 2019, the imposition of the national security law that followed, and the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many MIRROR fans are drawn to “Hong Kong people singing to Hong Kong people about things Hong Kong people understand,” as our contributor explained. The fever has afflicted non-locals too. One Hong Kong-based Singaporean told us, “I follow them fervently; I watch all the TV series they are in.” On our island, there’s even an SG MIRROR Fans Club! Last year, so massive did MIRROR become that McDonalds Hong Kong. almost turned their burger chain into McMIRROR, letting the boys’ poreless faces appear practically everywhere and on anything under the Golden Arches, from restaurant interiors to the food packaging to billboards ads, to self-service ordering kiosks. There were even collectible play cards! The fasfood’s video ad with the boys in it drew more than 3.7 million views on YouTube in the past 11 months. The sudden ubiquity of the boys is mind-boggling when the group was only celebrating their 3rd anniversary in that marketing coup with McD.

Mirror in the music video of their 2018 debut track In a Second. Screen shot: MIRROR/YouTube

Like the original size of the “King of Hallyu Wave” Super Junior in 2005, MIRROR consists of 12 members (we won’t list all their names here. That would be for another post). They did not go to some training boot camp organised by a recording company. Rather, each of them participated in the talent competition Good Night Show—King Maker (known locally as Good Night Show 全民造星), which is clearly inspired by the K-pop star search series Produce 101. Created by ViuTV, the Cantonese entertainment channel of HK Television Entertainment, the King Maker (or Kings as it were for MIRROR) is a reality TV program that seeks out talents from scores who show up for competitions, fighting it out in different performances to show off what they truly have. MIRROR comprises these unique individuals, which means not all of them can sing or that anyone of them has a stand-out voice. But that is not the sole ability fans look out for. Among a dozen of winsome boys from different backgrounds (journalism to sports) who get to do their own thing (such as pursue their solo careers or act in TV series without their mates), fans can choose their perfect idol and fashion icon.

There was less of such a collective with which to enjoy one’s star obsession in the past. Until MIRROR’s almost overnight success, the popularity of Canto-pop has been on the wane. Before them, people were mostly listening to artistes from the “golden era” of Hong Kong music: the ’80s and ’90s (we confess we still have Anthony Wong Yu Meng—and his debut band Tat Ming Pair—and the largely forgotten duo The Raiders on our playlist). Three years prior to MIRROR’s entrance, the live TVB broadcast of the 2015 Jade Solid Gold Top 10 Songs Music Awards ceremony (勁歌金曲頒獎典禮), once dubbed “Hong Kong’s Grammy’s” and compulsory viewing, went by without much notice or discussion the next day. Speaking to some Hongkongers, hardly anyone remembered who won what that Sunday night. And then MIRROR arrived In a Second (一秒間).

Curiously, three of the fours bands that were formed under the auspices of ViuTV have two-syllable names that end with the ‘er’ sound, and spelled in full caps, including ERROR and the girl group COLLAR. While many would say that MIRROR offer nothing that has not been covered by far more successful K-pop groups, they are agreeably sons of the SAR soil. Their appeal, as Tatler Hong Kong put it, boils down to the boys’ “good looks and magnetic personalities”. Attractiveness and magnetism are, of course, subjected to re-definition as time passes, but some Hongkongers observing the evolving pop scene in their city note that these boys are not exactly Beyond. “I think they’re more like the Grasshoppers of their generation, only bigger in numbers” another contact told us. “They’re just a copy of what the Koreans have been doing for years”. On their allure, he replied, ”very MK”, referring to Mongkok, the residential and commercial neighbourhood many similar-looking and similarly-dreaming boys gravitate. On our shores, we may simply call them Bengs.

Protest At Dior

In Paris, Chinese students, wearing hanfu, want Dior not to claim a skirt as the maison’s “hallmark silhouette”

Chinese students in hanfu protesting outside the Dior Champs-Élysées store. Photo: 小红书

In February 2018, Dior showed the autumn/winter collection inspired by the student demonstrations that shook Paris in 1968—the models walked through a show space lined with wallpaper, as well as those for floor, of catchy slogans and ripped protest posters. Little did they know that four years later, they would witness a real protest right on their very doorsteps. About two weeks ago, consumers in China were deeply unhappy that Dior had described a “mid-length pleated skirt” that the brand sold online as a “hallmark Dior silhouette”. They considered the said skirt to be too similar to the Chinese’s own ma mian qun ((马面裙) or horse-face skirt and considered Dior’s a “plagiarised” product. The unhappiness rumbled through Chinese social media, but Dior probably did not expect that Chinese students furthering their education in Paris and elsewhere would take it further: To the street—the famed Avenue des Champs-Élysées, no less—in front of Dior’s flagship/headquarters.

Last Saturday, when they were not attending class, about 80 to 100 students (as well as those not studying in France) dressed in hanfu (汉服) fineness—traditional Han Chinese dress (but not necessarily historically accurate)—protested on one of the busiest and known avenues in the French capital. The student organisers, according The Observer, had expected about 20 to turn up, but the support was more encouraging than they had anticipated. According to them, even the locals were supportive of their action. Reportedly, a Frenchman who had previously participated in hanfu-promoting activities and and had worn a ma mian qun himself “understood what the students were doing”. One of the three organisers, surnamed Liu (刘), who apparently flew to France from China to see if Dior is still selling the offensive skirt in their stores in Paris, told the media: “Cultural reference (文化借鉴, wenhua jianken) we support—we are willing to share good things—but cultural appropriation (文化挪用, wenhua nayong) is absolutely not allowed.”

Protesters showing a ma mian qun. Photo: 小红书

The protesters held up cardboards and notices that read “Dior plagie la conception” (Dior plagiarises design), “stop appropriation culturelle (stop cultural appropriation)”, “C’est la tenue traditionnel Chinoise (this is traditional Chinese clothing)”. They chanted non-agressively: “Please stop cultural appropriation and respect Chinese culture”. The rather mild demonstration was livestreamed on Weibo and Wechat, according to Chinese media reports, and attracted more than 500,000 views. Online, Chinese outrage was also directed at how Dior, for the opening of its new store in Seoul and where the brand’s fall 2022 collection was stage to coincide with the event, acknowledged Korean influence in their work, sharing on Instagram that the store “fuses French and Korean culture, incorporating important and innovative digital dimensions”. Dior, those who oppose the brands action say, did not take into consideration the Chinese influence in their creative output, but would give a nod to the Korean’s. In the brand’s show notes of that season, it was stated that the collection, including the skirt, was inspired by school uniforms, hence—it could be assumed—the choice of Ewha Womans University as the show venue.

Some outside China consider the students’ action to be weakly-sighted cultural pride. And that there are other bigger issues to consider. One smaller group positioned themselves opposite the Chinese protestors with their own signs that read “les driots del’homme comptent (human rights matter)” and “裙子 〉人权 (skirts greater than human rights)”, likely referring to the still-problematic issues with the Uyghurs and the Xinjiang region in which they live, where the West believes crimes against humanity is committed by the Chinese government. It is tempting to see that perceived cultural appropriation can be used to divert the scary realness of human rights violation. A Chinese counter-protester was quoted by the press: “these people have the right and freedom to march, but they are discussing whether a skirt is plagiarized, rather than discussing June 4th, the Uyghurs, etc.” Ms Liu’s stand was that plagiarism and cultural appropriation cannot be ignored. She said, “Today, if you—an influential international brand—appropriate our culture, and we do not speak up, then in the future, no one would know that this, in fact, belongs to traditional Chinese culture.” As with most things now debated online, other counter-arguments have emerged. Some in France are now joking that the Chinese are finally aware that plagiarism is not good—the realisation, they say, is “a big improvement”.

Update (26 July 2022, 9am): The Dior “mid-length pleated skirt” is still available on their SG website

Additional reporting: Rachel Zhou

Is Dior So Small-Minded?

In an unexpected move, Dior is seeking compensation from Valentino for apparently obstructing the business of their boutique in Rome, where in the vicinity, Valentino staged their latest couture show

Dior pop-up store at The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands in April this year. File photo: Chin Boh Kay for SOTD

According to a WWD report shared online a short while ago, Dior has asked Valentino for compensation because of supposed disruption to the operation of their Rome store on Via Condotti, directly opposite the monumental Spanish Steps on which the recent, much-lauded Valentino couture show was staged. WWD reported to have seen the letter that the retail manager of Christian Dior Italia sent to Valentino, asking for €100,000 (approximately SGD142,000) to be paid in 15 days, possibly as recognition of loss of sales. Even when the store front was packed with attendees of the Valentino show, there were apparently no customers inside. According to Dior, they had not been able to “operate from the early hours of the afternoon”—last Friday.

It is not known if the entire Piazza di Spagna on which the famed stairway ends was cordoned off to the public or if Via Condotti was shut too. Or how difficult it was for customers to get to the Dior store as a result of the well-attended presentation, which saw stars such as Anne Hathaway, Ariana DeBose, Florence Pugh, and Kate Hudson show up in their couture finery. Did none of them pop in at Dior, even to just browse? Reportedly, Dior, as well as other retailers in the area, were sent a letter by Valentino that “guaranteed regular foot traffic to the stores”, but the seller of the Book tote stated that the flow of shoppers was “not reflected in any way”.

The Valentino autumn/winter 2022 couture show on the Spanish Steps in Rome. The models would be facing the Dior store to their left as they descended. Screen grab: valentino.com

Many luxury brands, Dior included, have been taking their shows to venues not necessarily ideal for a runway, but would provide the appreciatively spectacular background to a collection as sensational as the couture (interestingly and, perhaps, ironically, Dior’s is designed by a former employee of Valentino). Although, at the Valentino show, models had to make their way nervously down the 138 steps in their tall heels, the elegance of the clothes on the stairway was quite a sight to behold. Did the executives at Dior not see the show from within their store and enjoyed it? Or were they seething with such deep displeasure at being overshadowed by a competitor’s event (and more alluring collection?!) that they wanted some reimbursement to feel better?

Dior’s revenue, according to reports in 2020, has surged so much that it is on track to catch up with Chanel. Morgan Stanley analysts estimated that in 2019, the brand’s sales of both fashion and beauty divisions have jumped by 24 percent, which amounted to €6.6 billion (or about SGD9.3 billion; Dior does not reveal their sales figures). And the number is still growing. It is, therefore, rather curious that they cannot afford a sales recess of €100,000, which, in all likelihood, is small, compared to the losses incurred during the national lockdown in the wake of Italy’s staggering COVID-19 infection in March 2020. It is possible that Dior was not the only brand with weak sales on the day of the Valentino couture showing. Will there be a domino effect or Dior’s demand encouraging others, such as Moncler, who is opposite them on Via Condotti, also facing the Spanish Steps, to follow suit? Would Dior have asked for any money if the show was staged by one of the brands under parent company LVMH, such as Fendi?

Shit, Is Excrement A Thing Now?

From poop on the bed to possibly eating some, women are finding use for fecal matter

By Mao Shan Wang

I have not heard this much shit in such a short span of time. This should have been a load of crap, but it isn’t. A month ago, at the now-concluded-and-Twittered-to-death trial of Johnny Depp versus Amber Heard, the jury was told that Mr Depp one day learnt a clump of faeces was dumped on his side of the bed he shared with his former wife. Ms Heard reportedly admitted to a security staff that turning the bed into a toilet was “a horrible practical joke”, but she denied she said that. Instead, she blamed it on one of their dogs. Court documents seemingly did not provide information on how many day’s worth of turd laid in wait, but according to Mr Depp, the “fecal delivery” was not canine: “I lived with those dogs for many years. That did not come from a dog. It just didn’t”.

And then just two days ago, venerable newspaper The New York Times shared that Kim Kardashian said, “If you told me that I literally had to eat poop every single day and I would look younger, I might. I just might.” Literally jiak sai (食屎, in Hokkien)! And this was a serious interview about her new beauty line SKKN by Kim, and the gunk she hoped you’d put on your face. I assume what she is willing to ingest to defy skin ageing comes from her own defecation. I don’t know about you, but after thinking that the SKIMS founder entertains such a thought (seriously, who does?!), I am not considering the stuff she peddles, no matter how “prestige” she described them to be. Okay, people might be fascinated with her recognisable body, but, I am certain, not what comes out of it.

Never have I thought that there could be individuals for whom the leaving of excreta, human or not, where one sleeps is appropriate, no matter the extent of the failure in love. Perhaps it was, for Ms Heard, the ultimate revenge, since Mr Depp is no Chuck Berry, who was known to dabble in coprophilia (yes, there is a word for it, this love of using poop for some return of satisfaction). And Mr Depp did not tell Ms Heard, “Now it’s time for my breakfast.” Or, that Ms Kardashian would consider coprophagia (yes, there is also a word for it, this feeding on shit!), or, to be more precise, autocoprophagy, the ingesting one’s own, whether deposited (on a bed or elsewhere) or taken directly from the point of exit. In court last month, Ms Heard could not believe that her ex-husband was “going on and on” about the mucked bed. “Our marriage was over and falling apart… I couldn’t believe he wanted to talk about faeces”. I could, and I would.

Illustration: Just So

A Branded Wedding

Kourtney Kardashian married Travis Barker in Italy, at a lavish, “sponsored” event. A win-win for the Kardashian family and the fashion house—Dolce and Gabbana

American bride and groom in Italy: Kourtney Kardashian and Travis Barker, outfitted by Dolce Gabbana. Photo: kourtneykardashian/Instagram

At the Balenciaga cruise 2023 show, staged on the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange last Sunday morning, one supporter/model of the house was conspicuously not present: Kim Kardashian. The SKIMS founder was MIA because she was unable to attend; she was in Italy, specifically the resort town of Portofino, to witness sister Kourtney Kardashian tie the knot with fellow Californian, the Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker. According to media reports, the wedding was to be a weekend-long affair. As expected, the paparazzi attended too (including the fashion photographer Ellen Von Unwerth), ensuring that the Kardashian-Jenner clan in attendance was well shot. For a celebratory occasion, the family members, expectedly, were bedecked to the nines, and tens. Kim Kardashian was not in a semblance of a head-to-toe bodysuit; she was her usual Instagram-worthy self: Sexy. As more photos emerged with accompanying credits, it became obvious that the wedding turned out to be a resort-wide fashion show for a single brand: Dolce and Gabbana (D&G).

Soon, talk emerged that the bride and groom’s big day was “sponsored” by the Italian label, so were the outfits of the couple’s guests. According to an opus of an “exclusive” in the Daily Mail’s digital edition, MailOnline, Dolce and Gabbana and the couple agreed to “a deal set to give millions of pounds worth of free publicity to (the) controversy-hit luxury fashion house”. D&G was embroiled in a series of scandals pertaining to their opinions, as well as their marketing exercises that, in one case, angered an entire nation: China. It is not clear if the brand’s image has been totally salvaged, even when they are still the go-to label among attention-adoring film and pop stars, and revered by journalists such as Suzy Menkes. According to a report by CNN last June, “D&G is still struggling to win back China”, and their store count in the world’s most populous nation dropped to 47 from 58 (before the fallout). But things did pick up, modestly. In March, Dolce and Gabbana opened in Shanghai’s CITIC Pacific Plaza, giving the total in China a boost by one. Jing Daily shared that by the final quarter of this year, D&G would “open new men’s, women’s, and junior stores in fashionable Chengdo”, quoting the brand’s group communication and marketing officer Fedele Usai: “The company has always carefully paid attention to the potential and demand coming from emerging areas (of China).”

It is not clear if the brand’s image has been totally salvaged, even when they are still the go-to label among attention-adoring film and pop stars

It is conceivable that the brand still needs some help, and that the Kardashian-Jenners could be crucial to D&G’s protracted rehabilitation. A D&G-branded wedding for one of the world’s most recognisable family-brands could be the genius stroke in getting the visibility of the meretricious fashion raised, further. But a spokesperson for D&G denied that any sponsorship was offered, telling Business of Fashion that the former was merely “hosting this happy event”. MailOnline said that they “can reveal that the Italian fashion house has been closely involved in organising every aspect of the lavish wedding celebrations”. Apart from outfitting the attendees of the wedding, D&G reportedly had the couple stay in a mega-yacht—the Regina d’Italia, believed to be owned by Stefano Gabbana. The entire entourage was ferried to the wedding venues in Portofino—the L’Olivetta, a villa owned by Dolce & Gabbana and the 16th-century castle Castello Brown—in luxury speedboats by the Italian yacht builder Riva. Published photographs showed the vessels furnished with D&G accessories including cushions, throws, and towels in the house’s flashy animal prints or colourful clash of patterns (think: the D&G X Smeg home appliances). On land, a pop-up store, Galleria d’Arte, offered D&G merchandise for the wedding guests needing to buy a gift or memorabilia, as well as for tourists gathering to watch the Americans-marrying-in-Italy spectacle.

At the prop-like altar, the bride wore a white mini-dress that was unambiguously corset-meets-negligee. It spoke volumes when the the dress was staggeringly shorter than the cathedral-length veil. All around and beyond, it was an orgy of Dolce & Gabbana frocks (including the matriarch Kris Jenner’s one alto moda fluff among other gaudy outfits worn throughout the celebration) and suits, including the children’s. Theme: Italian OTT. D&G’s willingness and eagerness to caparison the whole clan was consistent with the founders’ love of la famiglia and the brand’s repeated depictions of multi-generational families in their advertising. It was reported that this massive exercise was “a first for the luxury and marketing industry”. Those who follow influencers on social media would know that a sponsored wedding is not unusual, although by one brand for practically the whole shebang is less so. In a Dolce and Gabbana/Kardashian-Jenner tie-up, it is hard to discern who needed the publicity more, but there is, in our present day, no such thing as too much hoopla and attention to selves. The brand and the family needed each other, and therein we find the contrived, even crazy happy ending.

Practically Nothing

If little is worn and clothes matter not, is there fashion? Or, will we have another word?

Julia Fox in Alexander Wang out grocery shopping. Photo: Rachpoot.com/Splashnews.com

We call ourselves a fashion blog. But more and more there is treasured little left to write. Fashion is reduced to a veritable nothing. Increasingly, there is more skin shown by wearers than cloth. Fabrics are inconveniences, hindrances, barriers, and, if their use necessary, too opaque. Little bits are a lot simpler. Pasties are easier to design and produce than brassieres! A narrow bandage has more potential than a full-form bandeau. Once-upon-a-time-private parts are no longer completely undisclosed. Free the nipple is very near reality. In fact, if what are worn by many well-followed stars are to be noted, clothing as we know it—with the fundamental purpose of covering (which is sounding oddly dated)—would no longer have a future, or, if we were to be more hopeful, a dim one.

A recent photo of Julia Fox—in head-to-toe Alexander Wang from his recent autumn/winter 2022 presentation—shared online truly made us realise that there is nothing we can say about her clothes: She was not wearing much; she was basically in underwear. Is this fashion? Or, has fashion come to this? Her fans would say she was not entirely nude (she has, of course, worn a lot less). There was the denim blazer, but was that even a jacket worth talking about? Or should we compliment how destructed and crappy it looked? Or that she was carrying a beautiful jurse (jeans-as-purse!)? Ms Fox has, of course, mostly dressed (admittedly, a poor choice of word) like that since she came to public attention for her brief, for-all-to-see affair with Kanye West. And that’s the daunting and unnerving prospect: the near-nudity is here to stay.

As one fashion designer told us when we showed him Ms Fox’s photo, “I am thinking, since so many pop and film stars are flashing themselves for the world, they have, naturally, created a new normal. The public, who looks up to them, will think, if their favorite stars can do it, so can they.” But the question is still unanswered: Is it fashion? The designer replied indignantly, “Of course not, not to me. It is purely styling; it is not Gaultier doing innerwear as outerwear!” A follower of SOTD, who formerly worked for a luxury brand, agreed. She said, “It’s just ludicrous and I think these women wear such rubbish on purpose to get attention. It’s really looney bins and not fashion at all—their own invention of fashion and the press lapped it up.”

“It is purely styling; it is not Gaultier doing innerwear as outerwear!”

We have, indeed, been wondering, too: Has the media encouraged this stripping (not merely revealing)? For every star baring herself—from Doja Cat in gold pasties under mere chiffon at the Billboard Music Awards two days ago to Kim K in nude bra and panty for Sports Illustrated’s current swimsuit issue—the press gleefully say they “rock” or—our extreme peeve—“stun”. If readers needed to be told that a certain actress or singer in close to nothing astounds, they already know she is not predisposed to, without the without. She needs the costume of a stripper. In fact, when she “stuns”, there’s a good chance she is as bare-skinned or as bare-breasted as it is legally possible. And that she is satisfying her (insatiable?) hunger for attention than fashion. Why would a lover of clothes not wear them?

The press not negating the lewdness once associated with strip clubs is operating within present-day necessity: The imperative embrace of inclusivity, now considered conducting oneself in a conscionable manner. Julia Fox in a narrow strip of fabric across her chest must be accorded equal opportunity to raves as Thilda Swinton in Haider Ackermann, if not more. Inclusivity is so compulsory in the business of fashion, as well as among adopters of fashion, that the unattired can be free of disapproval. Criticism is unacceptable because it would be shaming. We can’t say Ms Fox isn’t dressed for she can, as we are often reminded, wear whatever she wants, or omit. All women can, including the expectant. There is so little to say about what is worn these days since hardly any is; it’s no wonder more columns go to sneakers or meta-clothes.

To be certain, we are no prudes. Scanty dress as desirable dress is so omnipresent that anything that does not, in fact, amount to a dress is hardly terribleness of epic proportion. One fashion writer told us, “Nudity, in a post-OnlyFans world, is not sin, it’s just skin. Skimpy clothes is the future. Designers now need to go to school to learn how to make barely-clothes, but we may have soon another word for ‘fashion’. How about unfashion?” Come to think of it, un is a prefix of profound relevance. It’s skimpy too! Just two letters, yet with such descriptive power. So much of fashion today can be described with the simple un and so effectively: unattired, unclothed, undressed, unclad, uncover, unravel, untie, unline, unfuse unzip, unpick, unpin, untack, unsew, unseam, unseemly, unsuited, unfixed, unveiled, unfolded, unfurled, unrolled, untidy, and, of course, underwear and undies. Oh, for sure, unlovely and, definitely, underwhelming.