National Costume Naught

Does this Mister International Singapore contestant’s near nakedness prove that the emperor’s new clothes equal our “national costume”? Or, the other obsession, “national dress”?

Mr International Sean Nicholas Sutiono in our “National Costume”. Photo: officialmisterinternatinoal/Instagram

No costume is the costume! You can’t say that is not genius. By now, you’d have seen this picture. The male beauty competition Mister International has shared it on social media, and Netizens have decried the clothing of choice as “nothing”, not the touted “national costume”. This is such an apt look to announce that we are still searching—even in vain—for one. Bare chest (and muscles) can take the place of a set of clothing. And we are in line with trends in fashion. This year’s winner to represent our nation at the finals in Manila this Sunday is Sean Nicholas Sutiono, an accounts associate and The Straits Times’s ‘Hot Bods’ honoree last October. Mr Sutiono also shared this photo on Instagram, adding the comment: “If you’d understand, it was a statement I had to make and the only thing I had.” Many people were confused—did he mistake the swimwear round for the national costume segment? That would make a statement! And what was he referring to by saying that that was the only thing he had? Did he mean the Singaporean flag?

If Mister International can pass that off as national costume, then Mr Sutiono is often wearing one on his IG page. Responding to the sharp comments on their IG post of Mr Sutiono in the brief-as-boxers shorts posing as if he has just won a medal at some global games, Mister International wrote, “Sean’s National Costume is in the works”. So close to the competition day and not completed? Does it not sound like last year’s Miss Universe Bernadette Belle Wu Ong with her last-minute national costume? But at least she had someone in Manila to whip something up for her. Mr Sutiono, as it appears, had to assemble one for himself. Do pageant organisers not learn from each other? Mister International then explained why the costume was still in the works on the day of the photo shoot: “Due to the unfortunate tragic passing of our Singaporean owned National Director (sic) – the late Alan Sim. This was fitting at the time.” Fitting! Someone dies and the man strips? Our national costume is now apropos salute to guys who run shirtless on Holland Road outside the Botanic Gardens on any given day.

Sean’s National Costume is in the works”

Mister International

The passing of Singaporean Alan Sim was announced by Mister International on 16 October. The cause of death is not known. Mr Sim, 50, founded Mister International Organization (MIO) in 2006. A 23-year male beauty contest veteran, he considered himself “a great fan of the Miss Universe Pageants” and counted Miss Columbia 1986, Patricia Lopez Ruiz, a favourite. With his unmistakable, tattooed, arched eyebrows, Mr Sim was himself also a frequent contestant of the pageant circuit—most of the competitions regular guys won’t know if they are not pageant fanatics: Mister Young Singapore and Mister Young International. His passing has not deterred MIO from carrying on with the staging of their latest edition—the 14th—“as a tribute to our founder”, the company announced on IG. It is not known when Mr Sim became ill and why he was singularly responsible for Mr Sutiono’s costume. Or, why, given the urgency of the matter, something could not be found or stitched up for the SG rep to wear, more than a week after Mr Sim’s demise was publicly made known.

At the 2019 Mister International, also held in the Philippines, Singaporean rep Famy Ashary wore a pale green baju Melayu that his mother would likely find too tight for Hari Raya, but it was a baju—an outfit, modest to boot, although, to be sure, as with Miss Universe, national costumes can be and often are scanty affairs. They are, however, not quite like the afterthought that the unfortunate Mr Sutiono, also last year’s Mr World participant (he’s an experienced pageant boy!), had to pull off in what Mister International had described as “National Costume portrait”. How is Singapore really depicted? Or the Singaporean male? Lazy oafs? One New York-based Singaporean designer wondered why, till today, we cannot get this right. He told SOTD: “Enough. It’s so ridiculous. Or, when designers try to mesh cultures together to create a national dress.”

Mr Sutiono’s no-clothes national costume, in fact, appeared just a few days after the newly-named Singapore Fashion Council (SFC, the former TaFF or Textile and Fashion Federation of Singapore) sent out a guide to attendees of the upcoming Singapore Stories 2022 presentation with suggestions of what they could wear to go with the dress code of the evening, Singapore Glamour: Black Tie or National Dress. SFC helpfully informed that black tie is “semi-formal attire convention” while national dress is an “alternative to black tie and entails formal attire from diverse cultures”. National dress and national costume are often used interchangeably. If Sean Nicholas Sutiono’s pageant-worthy national costume of shorts and boots can make the cut, male guests gracing Singapore Stories 2022 can take inspiration from him. As SFC also suggested, ”feel free to bring your own interpretation”. How about free of clothes?

“Kicked Out”!

That was in the NBC News headline. Kanye West made an ”uninvited” visit to the Skechers HQ and was “escorted” out of the building. Is this a sign of out-of-control or desperation?

With Adidas out of the way, is Kanye West looking to co-brand his precious Yeezy again? Friends in the US (and a Malaysian reader too!) have been enthusiastically sending us reports all morning of Kanye West’s alleged trespass into the headquarters of the Southern Californian sneaker brand Skechers. The company later released a statement to say that the disgraced rapper “arrived unannounced and without invitation at one of Skechers’ corporate offices in Los Angeles”. According to CNBC News, Mr West was with other unidentified people. They were, according to Skechers, “engaged in unauthorized filming”. What they were filming is not known. “Two Skechers executives escorted him and his party from the building after a brief conversation”. There was no report of unfriendly exchange.

Skechers was also certain to say that it “is not considering and has no intention of working with West”. This is likely in anticipation of the speculation that Mr West is looking for a sneaker brand to replace Adidas. You know by now that he was dropped by the Three Stripes, after a considerable period of “review” (which turned many customers impatient, asking for a boycott of Adidas), for comments considered “anti-Semitic and hateful”. Skechers, too, showed that they are willing to censure what he has repeatedly said. “We condemn his recent divisive remarks and do not tolerate antisemitism or any other form of hate speech.” There clearly would not be Skechers Yeezy!

Mr West has already been called out and dropped by three fashion brands. There are not many corporations he could really turn to now, if they are not the likes of Parler. While his clothing line can possibly wait, his sneakers cannot. With Adidas, they have created what is considered one of the most successful shoe partnerships in modern footwear history, making him a billionaire—he no longer is, as Forbes was quick to declare after the Adidas split with him. It is unsurprising, therefore, that the rapper would need to find another company to continue the Yeezy drops. He has previously announced: “I need a shoe company like how Jaimie Salter bought Reebok. Or I’ll take over some shoe factories.” Was what happened at the Skechers compound an incursion?

Mr West being turned away by Skechers would augment the brand’s corporate standing and show that they are willing to do what’s right, and swiftly. One PR professional told us, “It is PR value that costs Skechers nothing.” The shoe label known for their memory foam technology currently has Korean actor Pak Seo Jun as their regional ambassador (for Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong, and Macau). Cedrick Tan, Skechers SVP, told Marketing Interactive last year that “with the shorter and fragmented attention span of consumers today, it is important that a brand ambassador, besides having a positive, well-liked image, is a role model who is multi-dimensional, driven, and inspiring”. They would not find that person in Kanye West.

Which brand will he go acalling next? LA Gear?

File photos: Chin Boh Kay for SOTD

It’s All Gone

The Yeezy Gap website is taken down, along with all the merchandise

The final new item from the Yeezy Gap line that was touted online

By Lester Fang

The last mail that I received from Yeezy Gap was last Saturday. In it, they tried to seduce my consumer self (but, unfortunately for them, not a Yeezy-fan self) with a “long round jacket”, an around-the-knee length take of the first item “you-can’t-manage-me” Kanye West released under that collaboration. Nothing in the minimalist, copy-lite mail said anything about Engineered by Balenciaga as this outer was not. I subscribed to their e-mail notification not because I have anything to buy there, but because, as a contributor to SOTD, I wanted to keep abreast with what’s happening in the Yeezy cult. By now you would have read of all the pull-outs by the brands that Mr West had aligned himself with. In fact, The Gap was the first to want to disassociate themselves with the man who, I am sure, was not worth all the trouble and online rants. There is so much even a resilient company such as The Gap can take.

I revisited that mail this morning. When I clicked on the link to yeezygap.com, I landed at Gap’s own chirpy website. There was no yeezygap.com, not even a landing page that says something like “this site can’t be reached”. At gap.com, there were links at the top to other Gap brands: Old Navy, Banana Republic, and Athleta, but there was nothing that said Yeezy Gap, not anywhere on the page. Everything vanished. Yeezy Gap has been obliterated, just like Pharaoh Akhenaten was. As I understand it from my friends in San Francisco, the clothes and accessories were not available in the stores too. No more of those ridiculous bulk bags. I would think that The Gap has a lot of merchandise to clear. Yeezy Gap did not enjoy typical Gap price points. Five days ago, they were discounting the Yeezy Gap hoodies. But now they are taking everything off the market. It is not clear if there is anything else in production, but clearly no more “cheap Balenciaga” tops to be had.

The Gap announcement on Instagram not long ago, Screen shot: yeezyxgap/Instagram

The Gap’s action is rather swift. It came as soon as Adidas announced that they would end their partnership with Mr West. On Instagram, three days after they shared that “YEEZYGAP AVAILABLE IN📍ATLANTA MORE GAP STORES CONTINUE TO GET YEEZYGAP ITEMS” (yes, in full caps, sans punctuation, just like how Mr West would text), it posted a “Statement On Yeezy Partnership”. The two paragraph notice stated that they “are taking immediate steps to remove Yeezy Gap product (sic) from our stores and we have shut down YeezyGap.com” after explaining that their “former partner’s recent remarks and behaviour further underscore why” the partnership had to come to an end. It added, “Antisemitism, racism and hate in any form are inexcusable and not tolerated in accordance to our values. On behalf of our customers, employees and shareholders, we are partnering with organizations that combat hate and discrimination.” But unlike Adidas, it did not say how much of a loss it would incur by this action.

To me, Yeezy Gap will not be missed. Nor Adidas Yeezy. While I think there was an aesthetical point in what Kanye West did, it was not for me. I have never found anything associated with Yeezy to be attractive. Or the people who wore Yeezy going about as if they were the epitome of cool. When I tried the US$220 Yeezy Boost 350 V2 ‘Zebra’ for the first time back in 2017 (I did not buy it. Someone I know had a pair; he later sold it for double the retail price. The shoe was tried on, but not worn), I thought to myself what an ugly piece of crap. It looked like something died on my feet. (Apparently, Adidas intents to continue selling Yeezy designs with the second name.) When it came to the Yeezy Gap, I was of two minds. While I did like the boxy silhouettes of the T-shirts, Engineered by Balenciaga, I was not too enamoured with the price: from US$140 a piece. And that they were very thick was a deal breaker for me too. But, more than anything, the fact that they were linked to Yeezy and the man behind it, just turned me away. I never saw him as a designer, never did, never will. Rapper—yes, social agitator—yes, anti-Semite—yes; designer, definitely no.

And Adidas Makes Three

After more than two weeks of reviewing, Adidas has finally decided to drop its partnership with Yeezy, joining The Gap and Balenciaga to turn their backs on one rapping almighty

Yeah! Or is that immoderate a reaction? Adidas has finally decided to follow the footsteps of The Gap and Balenciaga (even Vogue, if that is considered a fashion name) and disassociate themselves with Kanye West. The German brand has just announced that they would drop their Yeezy partnership with “immediate effect”. This is what so many people have been waiting for, as calls grew exponentially this month to “boycott Adidas”. The brand with trefoil had remained largely silent throughout the many times Mr West upchucked his anti-Semitic views online and to whoever was willing to hear, or cheer.

In a statement released to the media moments ago, the producer of Yeezy 350 (considered the collaboration’s best-selling shoe) said that “after a thorough review, the company has taken the decision to the partnership with Ye immediately, end production of Yeezy branded products and stop payment to Ye and his companies. Adidas will stop the Adidas Yeezy business with immediate effect.” As we post this, Kanye West has not responded to Adidas’s action although he did say, prior to Adidas’s announcement, “the thing about me and Adidas is like (notice how he placed himself first?), I could literally say anti-Semitic shit, and they can’t drop me.”

Well, obviously Adidas can. In the opening paragraph of the announcement, the Three Stripes said, “Adidas does not tolerate antisemitism and any other sort of hate speech. Ye’s recent comments and actions have been unacceptable, hateful and dangerous, and they violate the company’s values of diversity and inclusion, mutual respect and fairness.” Which does beg one question: Did Adidas not share with Mr West their “company’s values” prior to working with the guy in 2013? Or is Mr West’s controversial rhetorics and conspiracy theories part of his appeal and a major pull for everything Yeezy? Adidas may be the last fashion brand to say no to the rapper, but it did also make clear that they are the “sole owner of all design rights to existing products as well as previous and new colorways under the partnership”. Does that mean Yeezy 350 and its siblings will make a comeback in the future, even without the name associated with one anti-Semite?

Illustration: Just So

The Prime Minister Wears Prada

The United Kingdom’s latest PM likes the same label as one particular Devil

Rishi Sunak. Photo:rishisunak.com

If The Devil Wears Prada, why not the prime minister? The United Kingdom’s latest PM, the fifth in six years, Rishi Sunak, is not only dominating the headlines for being the first person of colour to be appointed PM (he’s of Indian Punjabi descent); with a religion that’s not Christianity (Hinduism); at 42, the youngest PM to occupy 10 Downing Street or; according to Reuters, the wealthiest occupant, with the estimated net worth of £730 million (about S$1.18 billion), believed to be more that any British royal, even the late Queen; but also a rather stylish politician. His style is even more striking considering the mono-tone and rather frumpish choices of his predecessor Liz Truss, and the frankly shockingly messy turnout of her predecessor Boris Johnson.

Liz Truss, now famous for being the shortest-serving PM in the history of the UK, is, of course, no Theresa May, Britain’s second female PM (2016—2019). Ms Truss’s dress sense is electorate-correct: neither too bland nor too conspicuous, but her tailored single-coloured dresses and suits (her faves are from Karen Millen) could stand out in Instagram posts, even if they lack noticeable élan. Boris Johnson, he is quite another beast altogether. Throughout his shambolic tenure, we’ve never seen him looking neat. The messy clothes—shirts with collars that won’t behave and ill-fitted, crumpled suit—aside, there is that irritating mop of hair that looks like it has never met a comb in their life cycles, except, perhaps, the owner’s fingers. The total package is always unkempt, top to bottom. No one needs a prime minister who consciously preens, but neither one who comes off as frowsy.

Rishi Sunak and his wife Akshata Murthy. Photo: PA Wire

Mr Sunak, in contrast, cuts a sleek, dashing figure. But his critics seem to believe that a well-dressed political leader is out of touch with his voters. They drew attention, for example, to his £3,500 custom-made suit by Henry Herbert (an almost indie brand compared to those on Savile Row) and his £490 Prada shoes when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer (Minister of Finance to the rest of us non-Brit lay people), and equated that with a lifestyle no ordinary folk will appreciate. Or, is it just difficult for them to accept a dapper Asian politician? And, especially one who is well-educated and wealthy? It is not quite comprehensible that, with today’s access to well-made clothes—they don’t have to be expensive—and the importance of looking well-groomed in a professional capacity, we still prefer our politicians to look like they can barely afford to buy anything to wear, even at Uniqlo.

If it shouldn’t be said that Mr Sunak has innate style and the means to express it, is it acceptable to think that his wife Akshata Murthy has something to do with his welcome nattiness? A fashion designer (and a business woman and “software heiress”, whose father, N,R, Narayana Murthy, is the founder of Infosys), Ms Murthy started her own clothing business Akshata Designs in 2010. Vogue India described her designs as “more than just stylish; they’re also vehicles to discovering Indian culture”. It is not known if the line is still in production (the website does not appear to be functional: a click on ‘Collections’ revealed nothing). The pair is noted in British social circles as a stylish couple. No reason to believe that Mr Sunak needs to abandon smart elegance now that he will work and live in 10 Downing Street. Surely he does not need to follow his former boss Boris Johnson? Begrudge him not his style or his Pradas if he can restore order to what appears to us a rather disunited United Kingdom.

Is Adidas Dragging Their Yeezy-Shod Feet?

There could be too much at stake to drop the partnership with Kanye West. And the rapper knows it, and brags

It has been more than two weeks since Adidas announced that they “have taken the decision to place the partnership under review”. But nothing seems to have come out of that. Not the decisiveness that Adidas fans were expecting, definitely not the resolve of Balenciaga—last week, the Kering-owned brand released a statement to the media, saying that “Balenciaga has no longer any relationship nor any plans for future projects related to this artist”. There is nothing ambiguous about that statement. And they did not have to explain why. By now, it is very clear why it’s to any brand’s interest to distance themselves from collaborators who make controversial statements, especially anti-Semitic ones, and simultaneously insisting that they are right.

In new video clips from the pulled-out Drinks Champs podcast now shared on social media, Kanye West said—with startling confidence: “The thing about me and Adidas is like, I could literally say anti-Semitic shit, and they can’t drop me.” And he repeated himself with glee, “I can say anti-Semitic things and Adidas can’t drop me. Now what?” Yes, now what, Adidas? Or is Mr West implying that he can’t be cancelled by the brand that has made his Yeezy sneakers one of the best-selling in the world? The Washington Post reported that “Yeezy generates an estimated US$2 billion a year, close to 10 percent of the company’s annual revenue”. Adidas themselves declared that “the Adidas Yeezy partnership is one of the most successful collaborations in our industry’s history.” Is Yeezy too hot to touch?

“The thing about me and Adidas is like, I could literally say anti-Semitic shit, and they can’t drop me.”

Kanye West

It is likely that despite the objectionable words that repeatedly and stridently come out of Mr West’s mouth across all media, he is too important a name to pull away from for some consumer brands that need his fame to reach out to his ever-willing-to-spend fans. While JP Morgan and the booking agency Creative Arts Agency have also announced the disassociation with Mr West, Adidas, has made a meek comment about merely “reviewing” their professional arrangement with him, even when he had derided the company’s CEO. Mr West appears impervious to cancel culture, and Adidas’s slow reaction to his anti-Semitic arrogance corroborates with the increasing belief that we tolerate bad behaviour by popular public figures, and their outbursts, no matter how extreme, will quickly not be. For every person who disapproves the hurtful words of Mr West, there are just as many who support him.

Just look at the latest video shared on YouTube by The Hollywood Fix. When asked what he thought of Balenciaga dropping him, Mr West said, “I ain’t lose no money. They never paid me nothing… The day when I was taken off the Balenciaga site, that was one of the most freeing days.” And then he was asked if he thinks Adidas is next. ”We’re going through legal right now, so anything can happen,” he replied. But it was not what he said that is disturbing. It’s the reaction of the crowd surrounding him. Many were supportive. You can hear them saying “we are behind you”, “they can’t cancel you”, “god is on your side, man”, “he is the master controller”, “you are going to be the catalyst that brings us forward”, “can we get some Yeezys?”, “Kanye, will you sign my shirt for me here?”, “have a good one, Kanye”.

On Twitter, someone reacting to the welcomed news that Mr West was ”DROPPED by his longtime talent agency”, wrote, ”I don’t understand the obsession with getting someone cancelled. Some of you treat it like it’s a job.” Not everyone is ready for a punitive response, however vile Mr West’s utterances are. Or, willing to see a brand for the company it keeps. Adidas could be watching and convincing themselves to ”let’s wait and see”.

Update (25 October 2022, 17:00): According to a Bloomberg report, Adidas “plans to end its partnership with Kanye West following a rash of offensive behavior from the rapper and designer that turned a once-thriving shoe brand into a lightning rod for criticism”. The Adidas announcement will be made soon. Stay tuned.

Illustration: Just So

Yeezy Come, Yeezy Go

Balenciaga is fleeing from Kanye West

We thought we have given enough juice to the rambling disturbance known as Kanye West. Frankly, we are quite bored with his BS (ostensible mental condition aside) and his desperate need to be taken seriously in fashion, and the destructive path he has created in order to secure some recognition. And the people he will hurt—even the dead—to do all that. We have enough of how every little thing could disquiet him, how everyone else has done him wrong, how he cannot be blamed, tamed, and managed. Some people say that we cannot deny that he has talent. So, we won’t: His is to overstate his own.

Disastrously for him, his talent has turned the brand Mr West deeply admires away from him. By now, the news is raging like bush fire, but it still merits sharing. Balenciaga, whose designer Mr West deems the greatest and who was instrumental in the early conception of the Yeezy clothing line, has announced that they want nothing to do with the raving rapper. According to WWD, Kering has issued a statement (after the media wondered why the parent company has remained audibly mum?) to announce their position: “Balenciaga has no longer any relationship nor any plans for future projects related to this artist”. The New York Times reported last month that Yeezy Gap Engineered by Balenciaga would go no further than what was completed.

Balenciaga has no longer any relationship nor any plans for future projects related to this artist”

Kering

This dramatic end, or what Mr West might call being cancelled, is perhaps not surprising after it was reported last week that Balenciaga has edited the video of their spring/summer 2023 PFW presentation shared online in which Mr West opened the show, tromping through the muddiest runway Paris ever saw by trimming his part off. The brand has also removed images on their social media showing Mr West in the said show as model, even on the widely-viewed Vogue Runway. And then on the Yeezy Gap website, you no longer find the “Engineered by Balenciaga” selling catchphrase spelled out at any point or corner. Balenciaga is getting serious about the break, even if, at first, surreptitiously.

The brand distancing themselves from Kanye West, however, is no indication that Demna Gvasalia needs to do the same. Mr West and Mr Gvasalia are thought to be “very close”. Their “bromance” is well documented. Last Week, The New York Times, citing “one insider”, reported that the Donda artiste “has been known to refer to himself as Demna’s straight husband”. Both men wanted to be called by their mononym at about the same time. After Mr West opened the Balenciaga show last month, Mr Gvasalia attended the YZY SZN 9 presentation in Paris. The Georgian designer told Vanity Fair last year following his first couture outing for Balenciaga, “There are very few people that I know, especially of that caliber, who really understand what I do.” The relationship between those two, although not entirely clear beyond the professional, is probably harder to untangle.

Update (22 October 2022, 15:00):

Anna Wintour And Vogue’s Turn

Looks like the world’s most powerful editor and her just-as-mighty magazine are taking a stand too: away from Kanye West. According to the New York Post’s Page Six, a Vogue spokesperson told the gossip site “exclusively” that Anna Wintour and her almost-synonymous title do not “intend to work with Kanye West again after his anti-Semitic rants and support for the White Lives Matter cause”. A “source” quoted by Page Six said, “Anna has had enough. She has made it very clear inside Vogue that Kanye is no longer part of the inner circle.” As of now, Vogue online has removed the review of the YZY SZN 9 show. A search on the website turned up the message: “Oops. The page you’re looking for cannot be found”. Writer Luke Leitch’s feature on Mr West seems to have been extirpated too. Ms Wintour has yet to state her position with regards to Mr West’s controversial comments and rants. She was last seen with John Galliano and Demna Gvasalia at the YZY SZN 9 show, but had reportedly left early. It is not known if she was in touch with Mr West after that.

Illustration: Just So, based on Line characters

Dilemma: Black Tie Or National Dress?

Can one take the place of the other? And is black tie “semi-formal attire”?

A week before the annual design competition Singapore Stories reveals the winner at the Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM), Singapore Fashion Council (SFC, or the former Textile and Fashion Federation), sent out (still under TaFF) a follow-up to the invitation (received one week earlier). The accompanying digital handout was a photo-aplenty explainer to the dress code spelled out in the invitation: “Singapore Glamour (Black Tie or National Dress)”. SFC assumes the invitees would not know what the dress code demands, so they sent out this curious guide, explaining what they meant by the oxymoron ”Singapore Glamour”, although they did also say: “Feel free to bring your own interpretation of Singapore Glamour to the celebration.”

According to SFC, Singapore Glamour is either black tie or national dress. As it turned out, we do learn something new every day. And black tie, in case you have not already grasp, is “a semi-formal attire convention typically represented by a dinner suit or dinner jacket (tuxedo)…”. In the latest issue of British GQ, the magazine states that “first of all, the dress code suggests a formality that transcends the standard suit and tie of the business/lounge/wedding suit”. Transcends, GQ says, which means it rises above the semi-formality of the suit guys wear to a high-powered bank meeting, to the opening of an art exhibition, or your best friend’s nuptials. Sure, black tie isn’t as lofty as white tie, but it is not “semi-formal”. SFC has clearly their own (Singaporean) ideas.

And the national dress? Many of us assume that no one is concerned with the national dress any more since the attempt in the ’90s to establish one—the Singapore Dress, morphing to the Orchid Dress, both met with an unfortunate demise in 2002—yielded no definite results. National dress is now mostly taken to mean traditional ethnic dress as those listed in sg101.gov.sg. But, as SFC puts it, the “national dress is an alternative to black tie and entails formal attire from different cultures”! Could they be saying that, for the guys, you can substitute a “formal” batik shirt for a “semi-formal” black-tie suit? Or are we too daft to comprehend this Singlish of fashion? When a dress code is so unclear and boldly flippant, why bother with one?

Images: Singapore Fashion Council

Persuasive Pastels

Some light colours just beckon. New Balance knows it

The thing about colours for sneakers is that neither-vivid-nor-pristine tones don’t score massively among hypebeasts. It’s usually either all-white or all-black, or an amalgamation of staggering brights. With the release of New Balance’s newest collab in the form of the 993 silhouette, the chromatic story is a little different, and a little surprising, especially when we’re entering what is the fall season or, for many here, the ghoulish festival of black and orange—Halloween. NB has paired with the Chicago designer Joe Freshgoods and the result is rather pale. The two brands call the colors—a blue and a green (the pink will launch later)—“pastel”. We like and feature here the blue, which comes with the strangely soft “vintage rose”. Don’t get us wrong, this pair of Made in USA kicks is as handsome and virile as they come.

First released in 2008, the Boston brand’s 993 is a mashup of the 991 and 992 styles that arrived earlier. And it still looks like the runner of its time, even with the new colours, unlike the neo-vintagey XC-72—“the past could only imagine the future” as NB touts it. As hyperbolic as it sounds, the sum of the mesh and suede upper is described as “Performance Art”, and the characterisation even appears on the underside of the cover of the shoe box. Truth be told, we have not taken this 993 through the requisite paces, but we have no doubt it will perform, whether for running or for running errands. And it seems that the colours are aimed at those with a fashionable bent, not just street-style aficionados. Or, the more gender-neutral inclined. We keep thinking they would go with something from Fendi.

Joe “Freshgoods” Robinson (who also goes by the abbreviation JFG) draws from his home city to put out merchandise that has been said to reflect his home culture. Some call him “poet of merch, king of collab”. He describes himself on his webpage: “I’m crazy. I’m all over the place. I randomly collab with friends. I release clothes when I feel like it. I have no structure.” Might this also mean the “unmanageable” that another Black bro/designer described himself not too long ago? This is Mr Robinson’s fourth collaboration with NB. But his work isn’t restricted to footwear. Back in April, New Balance appointed him as the brand’s creative director for the ”Conversations Among Us” campaign.

Despite his alleged craziness and randomness, Mr Robinson did not go quite wild with his makeover of the 993. It is, to us, even subtler than Junya Watanabe’s pairing with NB through the 573 ‘legacy’. But there is something undeniably sweet about the colour choice. And in the still pro-bombastic sneaker world, something this understated, looking like a real athletic shoe, does stand out. New Balance, of course, isn’t averse to more eye-catching collabs. Just look at the 574 with Miu Miu or the latest just-as-torn-looking 2002R Protection Pack by the new creative director Teddy Santis. But a silhouette that looks trim and slowly moving out of the dad sphere may be what many of us need for our next rotation.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

New Balance X Joe Freshgoods Made in USA 993, SGD329, Is available at DSMS from today, or at the New Balance web store. Photo: New Balance

Some Collabs Just Look Patpong

Palace Gucci: a tad sad

By Ray Zhang

When an Italian luxury label meets an English streetwear brand, the result is not unexpected: a “hit”, which reads to me, crass commercialism. Not that that would be a problem with so many of these high-low collaborations. Nor, a turn-off to the still-many who are enchanted by such hype-over-substance pairings. But, as it appears to me, Palace Gucci is positively beng in their abstinence from subtlety. This is not Gucci’s first attempt at enticing sports brands to be part of their can’t-miss-it style. There was The North Face last December and, this year, Adidas. And it has been unequal in the aesthetic balance, with Gucci quite overwhelming the other—possibly in the pursuit of star billing. It isn’t clear why Palace needs Gucci; it isn’t to me. Even with considerable effort, I really can’t see the point when a visual high is not the result of two brands coming together.

I think it’s just me. I am seriously bored with these collaborations, just as I am with film stars/celebrities going into the beauty business. I have to keep reminding myself that such alliances are formed for brand recognition than design. This is the only way to explain the cheap-looking Gucci logo on the “track jacket” I’ve selected for the photo-illustration above. What struck me most is how similar it looks to the plethora of knock-offs you’d find in, say, Patpong. This night market and entertainment district in central Bangkok came to mind because it was here that I have encountered garment of such ilk. It was some time between 2016 and 2018. It was at the end of the year, I remember. A friend from Shanghai was visiting the Thai capital for the first time. And he wanted to acquaint himself with Patpong.

What struck me most is how similar it looks to the plethora of knock-offs you’d find in, say, Patpong

No more than ten minutes after we entered the street from the Silom Road side—with the four rows of vendors and a walkway between each of the two, forming narrow parallel passages—when someone, standing in front of a well-stacked store, pulled out a thick black sweatshirt and thrust it into my face. He said to me immediately, “cheap, special price”. It was definitely no less 32°C that night and I was sure I didn’t need what he was hawking. But what caught my eye was the text emblazoned across the chest of the garment: Burberry. It was three-dimensionally embroidered in different colours for each of the eight letters. It was a garment scarily garish, just as it clearly did not radiate authenticity from where it was peddled.

Gucci has, of course, always been a gaudy grabfest of the retro—patently so. Even their collabs with sports brands (including the use of fabrics and patterns) point to times past, not present, most definitely not the future. And a brash and garang expression of self-confidence by way of their five-letter, serif logotype, which, together with their kitschy camp, make up what the die-hards like to call Gucciness. The masthead-sized brand name on the chest is clearly for them. On me, it’d look like I am trying too hard. The question is, how would I feel about myself with that embroidered and appliquéd name on me? A fake from Patpong! This collab, interestingly, is touted with the Palace brand that comes before Gucci, which describes it as “a Gucci collection designed by Palace Skateboards”. And, that one-way partnership to Gucci means “something miraculous truly happens”. I wish it was something beautiful instead.

Gucci X Palace is available at Gucci Vault. Photo: Gucci

This Is A Bank

At the new OCBC Wisma Atria branch, deposits, withdrawals and such are not quite the main business of the day

When is a bank not quite a bank? When it’s the OCBC Bank Wisma Atria branch. To be certain, this is still a bank as we know it, with both retail and ‘premier’ banking facilities available, but not one we can immediately take notice. The bank’s financial business is tucked discreetly away, and what would usually be the main banking hall is conspicuously occupied by a bookshop, and rather stunningly too: curvilinear, ceiling-to-floor, pale wood shelving units that afford exceptionally generous browsing space between. This is a delightful surprise, like finding renowned sculptures in the CBD, only here you can spend more time or browse, and in welcomed air-conditioned comfort.

When we came up to the top-most floor of the Wisma Atria shopping centre (popularly referred to as Wisma) via the escalator from the lower levels of this side of the thirty-six-year-old building, the first thing that caught our eye was the light box on the ceiling, with the OCBC logo of a roundel in which a Chinese junk (as it appears to us) is framed. We have not been to this part of Wisma Atria for a long while, and the first thought was that OCBC bank has taken over the one-floor level-four space vacated by a gathering of Japanese food shops, known as Japan Food Town (it closed abruptly in 2020, a month before COVID-19 was declared a pandemic). But as we emerged and looked around us at the invitingly-lit space, we wondered where the bank was hidden.

This end of Wisma Atria, the space across five floors is—in an unusual arrangement—owned by Isetan (as far as we’re aware, it still is. Seventy four percent of the whole building belongs to SGReit). In 2015, the Japanese department store (in Japan, they merged with Mitsukoshi in 2008), stopped operating their retail business at the very spot that, since the opening of Wisma Atria, is very much associated with them, much to the surprise of regular shoppers. The five levels were converted to leasable space, but had been, on a whole, weak in terms of retail concept. While Japan Food Town was a draw for the 16 eateries it brought together, it was not an experiential offering. On other floors, assorted retailers (including pop-ups, such as Workshop Elements) came and went. The only constant is the Sony store. Last August, Isetan looked for investors to purchase the space, but found none. After Japan Food Town shuttered, the fourth floor was hoarded up, until 15 August, when this fascinating OCBC branch started with what staffers described as a “soft opening”. Are things looking up at this almost-forgotten corner of “A Great Street”?

OCBC wanted something more than a banking hall for their newest Orchard Road branch. According to one of the bank’s newly-created “lifestyle ambassadors” Sherman Sim, “the new concept” is to “integrate lifestyle products with those offered by the bank”. In fact, unlike at most banks, the first person on staff to approach us did not ask what they could do for us. Rather, an OCBC’s ebullient lifestyle ambassador enthusiastically introduced the entire space, “adding if you need banking service, we do have that too” (coincidentally, we had an inquiry about an OCBC card that was to be discontinued, and the information was forthcoming). When we met Mr Sim later, he even offered to show us around and explain each corner to us. When we told him that we were off to a lunch appointment, he said cheerfully, “if you come again and have more time, look for me, I’ll guide you around”. We had to remind ourselves we were in a bank.

The approximately 1,860m² mixed-retail space comes with a straightforward name: OCBC Wisma Atria branch. Prominent and probably the bank’s pride is the bookshop, operated by the Malaysian online discount retailer BookXcess (they’re also behind our favourite discounter Big Bad Wolf Books), takes up a considerable section (in area known as the Spiral), and is so stylishly appointed that it is easy to not notice those installations principal to banks—ATM machines. Mr Sim helpfully, and truthfully, told us that if we were to compare the books here with those in Kinokuniya, “Kino has newer books” and quickly added “we have more than 5,000 titles, we think people can find something they like. It’s just that if you want the latest release, we may not have them.” Despite his humble introduction, we did see some fashion tomes (usually not a popular category in book stores here) that beckons a return visit.

The bookshop is just one of the retail offerings within the bank. Incorporated, too, is what could be a home decor/gift shop, featuring table ware and decorative items, including those by such specialist manufacturers as Japan’s Kanazawa-based Hakuichi gold-leaf handicrafts. There are also items by indie retail darlings Scene Shang and Crane Living. For those who prefer a cup of java over printed matter, there is a hipster-ish café by Orange Mocha. In sum, this is probably a bank you’ll visit despite the many recent complains of the pains of visiting one. Visually, it brought to our mind bookstores Tsutaya and Muji Books in Japan and Eslite (誠品) in Taiwan, although on a far smaller scale. While a café fronting a bank is not new (DBS and UOB have tried it too, with indeterminate success), a space where banking seems secondary is.

It is not immediately understood how this retail-cum-banking model works. In many banks, retail banking appears to be waning in its business appeal, so much so that the strategy seems to be to turn customers off, to the extent that they would then minimise visits to the branch. OCBC has shown that it is possible for retail banking to be a pleasant, even enjoyable experience, complete with truly affable frontline staff. When we asked Mr Sim if the handsome fit-out is borne by OCBC or if the retail participants are operating on a sub-lease basis, he was not able to say, suggesting we speak to the person in-charged. The branch is clearly purpose-built, and this, on many fronts, is a bold move by OCBC. It is unlikely that the nearly ninety-year-old bank is diversifying into the brick-and-mortar retailing of consumer products, but what they have conceived easily puts them as a progressive against other banks. Just as UOB, for example, goes retro with its public image, OCBC is looking rather forward.

Photos: Chin Boh Kay

A Name Change

The Textile and Fashion Federation of Singapore has a new moniker

The Textile and Fashion Federation of Singapore or TaFF is no more. In its place is the Singapore Fashion Council (SFC). The name change was announced in July and the new moniker took effect on the 28th of that month. But TaFF has kept relatively low-key about its rename. As of now, the TaFF website remains as it is, although under ‘About Us’, they have started identifying as SFC. Their social media accounts continue to sport the old name. Email communications are still sent out under TaFF. We were told that there would be a media announcement some time this month. Until then, one of the official events that comes under the new name is the upcoming Singapore Stories—the ‘Finale Runaway’ will be staged under the banner of SFC at TaFF‘s favourite museum, Asian Civilisations Museum, on 28 October. Presumably, this would allow SFC to be inaugurated with a major, museum-worthy show.

The renaming of the 26-year-old TaFF came two months after their “retail showcase” Design Orchard was “relaunched”, following a cosmetic makeover of the space in May. Now, with the SFC, it is likely that the former TaFF is looking to refresh its positioning, and show both members and the public that the organisation is keeping abreast with the times. The name change, to some industry observers, is overdue. TaFF was formed in 1996, the year our once-laminated NRICs (‘boomers’ might remember) was no longer usable. In the present, nearly post-pandemic era, when the ‘textile’ component of the industry is wanting, the old moniker was not only unwieldy, it sounded rather bygone. It didn’t help that TaFF was referred to as a federated body, which has a decidedly pre-1990s ring. One designer told us that whenever he referred to TaFF in its full name, he would think of lianbang (联邦, especially in Hokkien), which means federation, in particular, the Federation of Malaya (1948—1963). Some years back, when we attended Bangkok Fashion Week, a Thai designer asked us if the garment industry on our island was so big that it came under the stewardship of a federation. We could not provide a convincing reply.

One designer told us that whenever he referred to TaFF in its full name, he would think of lianbang (联邦, especially in Hokkien), which means federation, in particular, the Federation of Malaya

Our island’s sole “trade association”—as TaFF referred to itself—that supports the industry was, in fact, the result of the 1996 merger of the Society of Designing Arts (SODA, co-founded by Dick Lee in 1975) and the Singapore Textile & Garment Manufacturers’ Association (STGMA, founded in 1981). While both bodies did organise fashion events during the hey days of SG fashion, such as the hugely popular SODA Shows and STGMA’s Singapore Fashion Week (the first, not the 2015 version, staged by Mercury M&C), co-organised with the Singapore Tourism Promotion Board [pre-STB]), their influence appeared to be waning. By the time TaFF was formed, the fashion industry here was quite different from what it was in the ’70s and ’80s: manufacturing was rapidly facing what the media then called a “sunset”. STGMA likely found itself to be an extraneous entity, especially when, according to DOS figures, manufacturing output has declined, so had global export. Between 1980 to 1999, we went from 19th biggest exporter of apparel in the world to the 28th.

TaFF has largely been a relatively quiet industry supporter—at least in the public eye—until in recent years, when it began to manage the Cocoon Space at the Design Centre in 2018, and create the annual design competition Singapore Stories, an event “to promote, support, and develop the local fashion industry”. A year later, it launched The Bridge Fashion Incubator (TBFI) to “groom early stage fashion, beauty brands and related tech startups to refine and validate their products, services or solutions, and commercialisation strategies”. In 2020, after the failure of its predecessor Naiise, TaFF was appointed as the operator of Design Orchard Retail Showcase. Thereafter, they launched their first e-commerce site, the One Orchard Store with merchandise found in the Design Orchard retail space (it is not known why Design Orchard did not get its own e-shop). There was also TaFF Talks, “a series of intimate conversations” with known industry names, such as Guo Pei, Joe Zee, and Andrew Gn. TaFF had been really active.

Singapore Fashion Council, the former TaFF, is housed in Design Orchard. File photo: Chin Boh Kay for SOTD

Now as Singapore Fashion Council, the organisation has not really released its mission statement, although on the current TaFF web page, it does say that SFC will “bring together leaders across multiple sectors to bolster the fashion industry both in Singapore and internationally” (such as facilitating the Singapore Stories 2020 winner Carol Chen’s Paris debut?). In addition, it “actively works to develop the entire industry, positioning Singapore as a key partner in Southeast Asia centred in technology and innovation, sustainability, and Asian craftsmanship”. For all the industry-speak, the name change still aligns with their marketing language heard before and frequently used by its executives. The question that many of those we have spoken to is now asking: Will there be real change?

The Singapore Fashion Council could be mistaken as a part of DesignSingapore Council, the Singapore Economic Board agency—established in 2003—“that promotes design”. While those that DesignSingapore Council’s support is multi-disciplinary, with eyes mainly on architecture and urban design, it does acknowledge fashion, as seen through the prestigious President*s Design Award (P*DA)—past recipients of the Designer of the Year category include Andrew Gn (2007) and Alfie Leong (2013). It is also tempting to see Singapore Fashion Council modelled after the British Fashion Council, the organiser of London Fashion Week. Therein lies the poser for SFC: Would a fashion council do without a fashion week that showcases the talents it purports to support? Or, is a sole retail outlet and an e-shop sufficient? It is unlikely that anyone in the industry here would hold SFC against the BFC or compare Singapore Stories with P*DA. Yet, how would they address the skeptics? One industry veteran said to SOTD, when asked about the new name, “it’s like giving a crumbling house a fresh coat of paint without repairing its foundation.” Perhaps, as in the business of fashion, all it matters is that someone buys a new dress.

Illustration: Just So