Forever 21 Not

Their last store—in 313@Orchard—closed two weeks ago

File photo of Forever 21 after last year’s Circuit Breaker

It isn’t easy to be known as “forever”. Eternal is extremely distant and never ending is wishful thinking. Forever 21 is proof that it is hard to live up to such a name. Their storefront at 313@Orchard was completely hoarded up this week. No sign was posted to announce their closure or who the next tenant might be. “They have closed down since two weeks ago,” staff of a nearby store told us. A search for Forever 21 on 313@Orchard’s website, yielded this message: “Whoops! We can’t find that store”. The name is also no longer listed in the shopping centre’s directory, online and in-mall. On Google Map, the store is marked “permanently closed” (the nearest store it offered was in Kuala Lumpur!). Two girls approaching the former 313@Orchard store on a Wednesday evening were heard saying, “Huh, really died?” For some, Forever 21’s obituary was already written in 2019, when the company was reported to have filed for bankruptcy protection in the US in September that year. One leasing manager told us, “It wasn’t if the SG store will close, it was when.” Next to the store’s entrance inside the mall, a very tall poster was erected, telling shoppers to “forget the rules: wear what you want.” Perhaps Forever 21 is hard to think no more of?

Founded in 1984 by South Korean immigrants in Los Angeles, Forever 21 was popular among teens who love the accessible trendiness and pocket-friendly prices. In addition, new products were stocked frequently—quick-turnaround designs were their key strategy. You could visit a store every other week, and there would seem to be new things. Success encouraged rapid expansion in the US and in no time, the retailer became known as “king of the malls”. According to Business Insider, global sales peaked at $4.4 billion by 2015. They operated 480 stores that occupied enormous prime spaces in malls across America. When the privately held company filed for bankruptcy protection four years later, news headline typically preceded with or followed by “fashion fail”. Business analysts quickly attributed Forever 21’s downfall to a glut of stores and an anemic response to e-commerce.

Storefront of the Forever 21 unit early this week

Forever 21 opened in 313@Orchard in 2009. At the height of its popularity, there were four stores across our island. The two-storey 313@Orchard store remained their most popular (they had menswear here too), even when their keenest competitor, H&M, operates a flagship less than 500m away on Grange Road. Shortly after the news of the filing for bankruptcy protection emerged, we visited the 313@Orchard outlet, which had by then looked a sad dump of its former self. Many shoppers had visited, thinking the store was to close. Reports in the press stated that the down-to-one SG store was “not affected”. When we spoke to the staff then, they told us they didn’t know what would happen. Sharaf Group, a conglomerate based in the United Arab Emirates that is involved in numerous industries, was licensed to run the Forever 21 store here. The company later issued a statement to the media: “Forever 21’s partners in Singapore, United Arab Emirates, India and the Philippines are not impacted by the US filing and it continues to be business as usual in those markets.” They didn’t say for how long.

Forever 21 was bought out of bankruptcy by Authentic Brands Group (ABG) last year. The New York City-based company also owns mass-market labels such as Aéropostale and Izod and fashion brands such as Geoffery Beene and Herve Leger, and the luxury department store Barney’s New York. Nick Woodhouse, president and chief marketing officer of ABG told Forbes in April, “there’s permission to make Forever 21 a lifestyle brand again” and that “there’s a lot of room to grow in Eastern and Western Europe and Southeast Asia…” Meanwhile, in this tiny part of SEA, despite increased competition, Forever 21 did not significantly set themselves apart. Or, made significant moves to establish themselves as what marketers like to call “top-of-the-mind brand”. They may have had an impressive level of inventory, but regulars were beginning to see “variations of the same things” and “just racks and racks of clothes”. Read: they had not changed. Another constant—their paper bags, under which were printed clearly “John 3:16”, referring to the biblical verse that ends with “…shall not perish but have eternal life”. It’s hard not to see the irony in that.

Photos: Chin Boh Kay/SOTD

’Ow Do You Hybridise That?

Chitose Abe’s take on Jean Paul Gaultier couture for autumn/winter 2021 is all singing and dancing Sacai

It’s certainly a masterclass on “’ow to do dat in a new way”, as Jean Paul Gaultier rapped in the soundtrack of his Michel Gaubert-remixed 1989 “house couture” single, How to do That. In the original track, Mr Gaultier spoke-sang through the song and answered his own question: “Bring some technic… idea…” (which spun into another song Technic Idea, with the catchy refrain “How to do that”!). And techniques and ideas were certainly what Sacai’s Chisato Abe brought to JPG in her debut collection for the French house—indeed, her first attempt at haute couture. Fans of JPG were thrilled that the brand could be fashioned in such and haute and outre manner. All JPG’s favorite visual themes (or ‘codes’) were there, but turned upside down, inside out. This is the Frankenstein love child of Sacai and Jean Paul Gaultier that you could adore—born immaculately— since this is not Sacai X JPG (or vice versa). This is JPG by Sacai. And what jumped out at us are Sacai hacking JPG; this is less homage than let’s put Sacai on the JPG stage.

To be sure, it is a momentous take on JPG by Chisato Abe, and a testament to her astounding technical ability to bring together different parts, indeed different garments, together by stitching that could possibly be beyond even JPG’s most advanced metier (how do you join so many shoulders-looking parts to a waist to form a skirt?). But Ms Abe cannot divorce herself from her RTW roots. While Sacai seems to be paring down the splicing and the conjoining (as seen in the spring/summer 2021 and the recent autumn/winter collections), she is amping up the melding (not necessarily unifying) at JPG, as if to show off what she can do. Must every look be an obvious draughting challenge or a technical marvel? It was also sometimes difficult to see the difference between this couture and her own pret-a-porter. Or, whether the clothes were assembled in Paris or Tokyo (for it to qualify as haute couture, they have to be made in Paris, although “guests designers” can work outside the city. But you get our point). The beauty of having carte blanche to do as one pleases!

Chisato Abe told WWD Japan: “I loved his collections since I was in my twenties, and what I was conscious of was the feeling of happiness and the freedom of breaking preconceived ideas. However, it is not the same as the old Gaultier. I wanted to make clothes that are just like Sacai.” And that she did. Ms Abe is a maximalist designer, but not in the Dolce & Gabbana school, or, closer home, Guo Pei. Encrusting and bejeweling is not her vernacular—not in a major way (when she did decorate—metallic embroidery, no less, she obscured them with profusion of tulle!), yet she could astonishingly create a sum so much more than its unlikely parts or extrusions. We think even Mr Gaultier himself has never assembled this many components in a single garment (excluding embellishments).

She interlaced and intertwined, wed and weaved recognisable JPG codes until they were not quite. An outfit might look like an identifiable bustier corset (less pointy than those Madonna wore, more Cardin than Gaultier) on the top, but if you allowed your eyes to marvel further down, it looked like a trench coat mis-worn. What you see in front is not what you’Il get in the back: a denim trucker-and-skirt-onesie is, in the rear, a jacket and bustle-skirt. No part of a garment cannot be undone and decamped for somewhere else. The shoulder of a military jacket can be repositioned so that there would be a one-sided pannier to the right hip. She used denim jeans (Levi’s upcycled, unlike Balenciaga’s custom-woven in Japan using vintage American looms, more like Maison Margiela’s “found pieces”? Or Junya Watanabe?) not as pants; she joined multiple pairs at the waist so they formed cartridge-pleated skirts. Nothing was what they seemed, even the prosaic could have the guise of historical homage.

She didn’t only pick the JPG pieces Madonna wore to reimagine, but also what Bjork modelled, in particular the jerkin coat with the massive JPG logo for the autumn/winter 1994 Le Grand Voyage collection, one inspired by Tibetan sherpa’s garb that surprisingly has not been tagged cultural appropriation (not in 1994, but presently?). Mr Gaultier famously put men in skirts. Ms Abe put them in dresses. Wasn’t this a first, too, for her? By now, of course, there is nothing subversive about men in non-bifurcated garb, as it was in the mid-’80s. Nor, respectable Breton stripes made of layered, ripped fabric strips, nor sneakers (extending Sacai’s collaboration with Nike) in couture. While there was indeed a lot to take in, we really wanted something more agitational, something that would blow us away. That truly didn’t appear.

Screen grab (top): Jean Paul Gaultier by Sacai. Photos: Gorunway

BTS In An LV Show

On Wednesday evening, the boys appeared in a special Seoul edition of Virgil Abloh’s autumn/winter 2021 collection for Louis Vuitton. This was really one for the Army

By Colin Cheng

Why do you need to show autumn/winter twice? Because you can. And you must finish telling the story. Louis Vuitton was not quite done with their autumn/winter 2021 narrative, so they took it to Seoul to complete it, together with additional 34 new looks. And if you were going to Seoul, you might as well get what CNN called “the biggest boyband in the world to model”, all seven of them. Yes, BTS was the star of the (officially) “spin-off show” and the main draw. The septet was installed as LV’s brand ambassadors just last April, but unlike others similarly appointed, the boys were asked to perform (LV calls it “integrated”) in the fashion show (Blackpink’s Rose didn’t have to strut for Saint Laurent, not yet anyway), and, strangely, a rather static one. And, boring too.

It was quite a rush for me yesterday evening. I was watching the Balenciaga couture show on my smartphone, ensconced in a sofa seat at Starbucks. The show was running late, about 20 minutes or so; it started only after Bella Hadid arrived, tardiness for the world to see. The live streaming of both shows was only 30 minutes apart (5.30pm, our time, for Balenciaga and 6pm for LV), but because Balenciaga was late (and I did want to see the presentation till the last outfit appeared—a beautifully ghostly apparition of a wedding dress), I could not switch to LV. And I do not, as many others seem to be, especially the Pokémon Go-playing ones, carry more than one phone. As my best friend and I WhatsApped, “isn’t this like those days when we had to rush from one show to another, and hopping that the one we were on the way to see had not already started?” When I was finally able to go to LV’s webpage some 15 minutes or so later, the show had already begun, but not by much.

Clockwise from top left: Jimin, RM, Suga, Jin, Jungkook, V, and J-Hope

Directed by South Korean auteur Jeon Go-woon (Microhabitat, 2017), the Yeezy-ish, pseudo performance-art film was set in Bucheon Art Bunker B39, just outside of Seoul. The building was once a complex of incinerators. This time, a different fire was burning, and it was smoldering through seven hot-blooded Korean males. Only the BTS boys were walking through the space (which included one central scaffolding/structure). The rest of the models just stood (or sat) still. Like so many of Virgil Abloh’s recent artsy presentation, this is painfully pretentious. With a small hot-air balloon—emblazoned with the word “Hope”—hovering ominously, I was not sure anything was going hopefully forward. Where were the overly made-up boys going to? Or where they seeking Permission to Dance? Why was V (Kim Tae-hyung) wondering aimlessly with a LV-logo-ed coffee cup?

This collection/presentation is a Black-American embracing Asian sex appeal by way of a French brand. Internationalism and inclusivity have never made such visually striking bedfellows. I am not going to say anything about BTS’s usefulness in all this because, as so many have found out, one never says anything about the boys, even if one is right, as the stans or the BTS Army will wage war against anyone who dares put their biases in any perceived-to-be-negative light. The clothes have a Black aesthetic about them, and for fervent Asian rappers could be amusing, even ideal, to wear. According to LV, “the collection re-appropriates the normal through extreme elevation” and “employs fashion as a tool to change predetermined perceptions of dress codes”. I am not sure any of the BTS boys are such alert thinkers.

Photos: Louis Vuitton

Zara Closed

…its Ngee Ann City store

The entire shop front, about 30-metres long, on basement one of Ngee Ann City is boarded up. The messages on the hoarding, printed against a pink background, read “business as usual while we reignite your experience”, offering no information to what (or who) will come next. Inside, workers can be seen dismantling fixtures. On NAC’s website, the store is no longer listed in its directory. It’s the same on the in-mall digital directory. Zara’s own homepage still shows the existence of the NAC store, but when you click on “opening times for the next few days”, you’ll see “closed” indicated on each of the next seven listed. Google Map still shows the NAC store, and states that it is open and will close at 9.30pm. A call to the accompanying phone number went unanswered. The line is not disconnected yet.

In front of the former Zara, a security guard walked past. We asked him what happened to Inditex’s star brand. He grumpily told us the store “was closed on Sunday”. Which Sunday? “Last Sunday.” Verifying that were the salespersons of the MAC store opposite. “They closed four or five days ago,” we were told. Were they not doing well? “Don’t know, leh.” Could they be closed for renovation? They had no answer to that either. At the information counter, the cheery attendant said that the “store is closed permanently.” Do you know why? “Don’t know. Maybe they have too many stores in Orchard.” Then she helpfully told us to “go to either 313 or Wheelock”.

Screen grab of Zara’s homepage showing the opening times of their NAC store

Zara was one of the earliest fast fashion brands to open here—in 2002, 47 years after its debut in the port city of Coruna in Spain. (Topshop opened earlier—in 2000, but they exited the market here earlier too—last year). Inditex entered the Asian market with the first store in Tokyo in 1999. We were the first in Southeast Asia to have a Zara store, then operated by Royal Clicks, formerly Royal Sporting House (it reverted to RSH in 2003). It was at NAC that the first Zara store welcomed delighted fans as well as the many who thought Zara’s arrival to be late. The space was originally a single unit until it doubled (it was originally the unit adjacent to Guess), with a separate menswear store. It would become the go-to store for reasonably-priced, on-trend clothes. At last count, Zara had eight stores throughout our island.

In 2012, former owners of Robinsons, Al-Futtaim Group, invested in RSH for a sum never publicly disclosed. Four years later, they acquired the distribution rights to Zara (as well as RSH’s other brands, such as Mango and Bebe). Despite news emerging last June that Inditex was planning to close 1,200 stores globally, a spokesperson for Al-Futtaim Group told The Straits Times, “our stores are planning to open as usual in Phase 2 in line with the government measures.” Open as usual does not mean—especially with the end of the pandemic nowhere yet in sight—indefinitely. We saw that in Robinsons. Zara’s closure, even just one store, does not bode well for our shrinking fashion retail industry.

Photo: Chin Boh Kay

Two Of A Kind: The Floor-Length Padded Coat

Who wore it better?

Balenciaga isn’t quite the first to design it. But perhaps that does not matter as much as who wore it first. Andre Leon Talley, the connoisseur of the caftan, loves a large, floor-length coat too. Back in 2015, Mr Talley posted on Instagram a selfie and an OOTD that featured a long, ripe-red Norma Kamali puffer that is popularly known as the “sleeping bag coat” (Ms Kamali reportedly conceived it in the mid-’70s). He added the puffery “Luxe! Total Luxe” to the comments too. Apart from that, he would post photos of the coat another six more times—on IG alone. The tubular covering seemed to be his go-to outerwear for that season. He was photographed in front of his White Plains house wearing the said coat and, urghs, UGGs as the face of the American-own, born-in-Australia footwear brand. That photo was used countless times, other than for marketing communication purposes, even as illustration to articles that reported on his real-estate woes of early this year. And he appeared in the same glorious redness in the 2017 biographical movie, The Gospel According to Andre. The colour of chilli seems to be his favourite for outers in recent years: preceding the Kamali coat was an equally scarlet, just as omnipresent Tom Ford “kimono”.

Balenciaga’s Demna Gvasalia, of course, loves to base his designs on what certain characters might wear, oftentimes also the supposed underbelly of society, as well as the regular blokes—accountants and athletes, even galactic folks. His red padded coat for the debut couture collection could very likely be for statuesque rappers to wear on stage (Jay-Z?) or whoever might appreciate the extra volume that such a well-girthed coat affords. It is not likely Mr Gvasalia had ALT in mind when the coat was on the drafting table, but surely he wasn’t only looking at the archive? Was it a coincidence that they picked a Black model to wear it? Truth be told, when it appeared silently during the livestream earlier, we did think of the unforgettable Vogue ex-staffer. Surely, the portable-bedding-as-outerwear he adores needs replacing by now, or next fall? Could Balenciaga then be his new Norma Kamali or Tom Ford? That’d be tres luxe, no?

Photos: (left) Balenciaga and (right) andreltalley/Instagram

Balenciaga Couture For The Young

…and hip-hop stars. Is this the collection to change haute couture’s trajectory?

It’s at least two years in the making. This is Demna Gvasalia’s first couture collection ever and Balenciaga’s first after 53 years. And the first featuring menswear. The house closed its doors in 1968, and slammed the door shut on its haute couture division for more than half a decade. Now it’s back with a bang, but hushed by the cream carpeted floors and matching drapery of its restored salon in their haute couture quarters on 10 Avenue Georges V, Paris. Half way across the globe, we were paying close attention to our PC monitor screen for the presentation to start (it was late, and kicked off after the arrival of Bella Hadid!). The opening screen at first showed what appeared to be a label, set (not stitched) against a beige background. Below, it said, “Welcome to the Salon”, not show. When the livestream began, we saw a room (and later a corridor) and people were mingling, waiting for the show to start. For most of the day earlier, social media was heavy with expectation. Balenciaga’s ready to wear is enough to get people talking. This was predicted to break the Internet.

But it didn’t. Balenciaga’s social media pages were restored around the time of the live-streaming of the couture show, or at least Instagram and Twitter were. But was it all the rave it was expected to be? Sure, there would be those for whom Balenciaga couture can do no wrong. But, unlike in the past, there would not be the likes of Mona von Bismarck—who, according to Diana Vreeland, did not leave her room in her villa in Carpri for three days when Cristóbal Balenciaga closed his atelier in 1968—to buy and wear his clothes and visually rave about them. How many influencers can afford couture? Now, it is quite a different clientele, or audience. Men were many—James Harden, Lil Baby, Kanye West (face mysteriously concealed, but everyone knew it was him!), and others. The presence of these men, predominantly hip-hop stars, strengthen the believe that streetwear has arrived at couture houses. Once it was the aesthetics of the couture that trickled down to the pret-a-porter. Now the reverse is true. Haute couture can’t be that high up anymore.

It isn’t quite clear yet if streetwear needs further elevating or if couture needs to be less rarified. Or if streetwear, like Black designers, still needs validation. Should we call it streetwear now that even the T-shirt has a place in Balenciaga couture, although not the least a simple one? But Demna Gvasalia has not entirely distance himself from the DNA of the house known for not creating clothes that follow the lines and shapes of women’s bodies. Mr Gvasalia, adept at using negative spaces in clothes to striking effect, continues Balenciaga’s manipulation and exaggeration of shape. Continuing is key here. He called the show the “50th”. He is reopening the doors that stayed shut, and within the hallowed and hush grounds (the show was sans soundtrack, like in the old days—you could hear the rustling/swishing of the clothes. Silk taffeta!), continued showing where the last great collection was presented. And Mr’s referential and confident nod to the man whose name he now leads is exciting the wealthy young who are unable to yoke themselves to the stubbornly old-school houses such as Chanel.

But is it the great collection we have been waiting for? Or, a refresher course? We have mixed feelings. This does not have the WTF-are-those punch in the gut of Mr Gvasalia’s first outing with the house after Alexander Wang’s totally unsurprising departure in 2015. It certainly has the spirit; it has the shapes, it has the proportions; it has the textures, but does it sing—or rap? We thought we heard a hum, but only what Mr Gvasalia could intone. Is the anorak, with a back of Watteau pleats, the new opera coat? Is the cable sweater, woven with chaîne gourmette by the textile design atelier of Jean Pierre Ollier, the new hoodie? Is the bathrobe, in super-fine micro-knifed leather (actually, ciseaux-ed. Is it heavy?), the new trench? Is the floor-length padded coat, oversized and tented, the new Andre Leon Talley’s beloved “sleeping bag coat”? Is the pieced-together-by-hand leather, made into a flounced skirt, the new embossed leather? Is Demna Gvasalia, hidden away in the atelier while the guests applauded, the new “master” of them all?

Screen grab (top) and photos: Balenciaga

“If You Want A Pair, You Have To Buy Two”

From the look of the box, you’d never guess, there’s only one shoe inside

By Shu Xie

The cheerful salesperson at the Lego store was very quick to tell me, even before I could complete my question, that there is only one shoe in the box with the flip-up lid, not a pair. Frankly, I didn’t know that. I have never bought a single shoe before, nor do I know that shoes are sold singly! The recognisable blue boxes—stacked on the floor, as you might find in a shoe shop—certainly look like the regular ones: there is room in each for two. As if to placate my disappointment, she added helpfully, “you can choose right or left side”. Choose? They come as right or left? “No, but you can fix it as a right shoe or left.” Such thoughtful option! But when I looked at the built-up sneaker, placed on top of a shoe box in the acrylic showcase, I couldn’t tell if it was the left or the right (there is apparently a separate bag with the right parts for you to get the side you want). Despite the “real shoelaces” that Lego proudly announced, it appeared as it was—unwearable.

The Lego Adidas Originals Superstar is the toy maker’s first sneaker that is built with their plastic bricks, and conceived for adults. Adidas and Lego have collaborated before. There were shoes and even clothing (for kids, if I remember correctly), but never has there been the toy footwear. Like most of their special-edition items, Lego’s take on the Superstar is for display only. It is massive for a toy shoe—at least men’s size 15, I thought! But since it’s 27-centimetres in length, they are really a very common US size 9 (UK 8 or Euro 42.5), which would sit nicely on top of a book case. It comes with all the logos and trademarks to make it look “authentic”. And, you can even customise it with whatever bricks you already have so that they do not need to look monochromatic. It also comes with a clear stand so that you can prop up the heel (as seen in the photo above). A small plaque with description is also issued, so that the less informed will not mistake it for a Stan Smith!

At S$149.90, the one-sided Lego Adidas Originals Superstar (with a total of 731 pieces) is actually more expensive than the wearable version. I didn’t think it would be, but it is. At the Foot Locker, the regular Superstar in the same colour combination can be bought for S$139. An enticing bargain? But, soon to be released is a very real iteration of the Lego-fied Superstar—in a synthetic upper, but with no buildable parts. The Adidas Superstar X Lego costs S$200, or S$100 a side. A replica of a replica! And a price to match, but still cheaper than its plastic cousin!

The Lego Adidas Originals Superstar, SGD149.90, is available at Lego stores. Photo: Chin Boh Kay/SOTD

A Lifetime Less Ordinary

Undercover has not gone Madstore bonkers. Their latest offerings are not as street-bent as the brand is known for. Are these clothes for some secret commune?

In troubled times, do people dream of a monastic life? Or something close to that? Undercover’s first set of photos from their pictures-only presentation of their spring/summer 2022 collection suggests a retreat to some place less manic, more bucolic. This is not the setting we imagine Jun Takahashi, stalwart of the Harajuku street scene of the early ’90s, would place his designs in. But there they are, shot against lush hillside greenery, with a foreground of wooden decking that looks like a verandah of someone’s country home. Or, some monastic hideaway. Perhaps it is the hat that each of the first ten models has on—something akin to what a Taoist priest might wear?

The collection is called Once a Lifetime. It is not immediately clear what Mr Takahashi is alluding to. Could it be the pandemic? The WFH? The difficulties in putting a collection together during such a time? Or that maybe, for once in a lifetime, we need clothes that are a reflection of assuring and positive realness? Like the output of so many of the Japanese menswear designers this season, there’s an outdoorsy vibe to the clothes (outside is safer than inside?). But these are not really trekking togs although they wouldn’t be out of place anywhere on a trail (you’d need the right shoes, though). What’s appealing is that they look ready for any rough-and-tumble, for any weather condition, for serious use, not just for leisure pursuits. They are are not challenging clothes, but they have a lure that says, with their addition, you don’t need to revamp your wardrobe.

“No more street style,” Mr Takahashi told Highsnobiety in 2019. He has largely kept to his word. Since his spring/summer 2020 show, Undercover has put out pieces that can add variety to one’s closet, to go beyond what many guys consider comfort clothes. For close to 30 years, Mr Takahashi’s streetwear (not entirely an accurate description since he has offered more than that), with its own conceptual heft and visual flair, was what many aspiring designers look to for some old-fashion inspiration. Mr Takahashi has an uncommon eye for graphic uniqueness that so impressed Valentino’s Pierpaolo Piccioli that the latter initiated a collab with Undercover for spring/summer 2020, featuring Mr Takahashi’s somewhat otherworldly visuals (flying saucers!), placed in not-the-usual spots on the clothes (this collab, to us is the “pinnacle”, not the one with Off-White in 2019!). While there is now a moving away from those elements that make Undercover the brand among those who truly know and are cool at the same time: the beloved graphics remain: T-shirts, roomier than ever, come with colourful shapes that wouldn’t be out of place in a Alexander Calder mobile.

As usual, the outers are alluring. Japanese designers simply have a way with them, and even the unassuming windbreakers show the Undercover predilection for the progressive, and in a sheer nylon the colour of amber. The blazers are beautifully relaxed in silhouette, quite the antithesis of the couture versions shown in Paris that men are now thought to lust after. There is also the hoodie/cargo jogger sets with bag label Eastpak to make the regular customers happy. But this post can’t be complete without mentioning those comforter-like robe-coats—two appearing at the start of the photo set. How these will find their place in a guy’s regular wardrobe is not immediately clear. There is something utterly relaxed about them, and protective. They defy the need to be paired with anything that says ‘fashion’, holding up on their own with positive elan. Perhaps this is the continual appeal of Undercover—they just make handsome, desirable clothes.

Photos: Undercover

Balenciaga Has Done A Bottega

The brand’s contents on all social media channels have been deleted

Balenciaga’s Instagram page yesterday evening

We were caught unaware; we didn’t think there would be other fashion houses following the track left by Bottega Veneta. Balenciaga is going back to a clean slate. Some time this week, the house whose haute couture division is being brought back by Demna Gvasalia after 53 years, has removed all its content on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. No explanation is given. No statement from Balenciaga yet. Has the cultural and commercial value that brands supposedly derive from social media declined to the point that some may just choose to opt out of Facebook and the like entirely?

People are speculating that this is in preparation of the haute couture show, scheduled for 7 July. But why would the reintroduction of high fashion require the removal of social media content that has been there for a considerable while? Whatever the reason (marketing stunt included), does it not seem a little impertinent to just suddenly wipe out all content when there are still active followers—in the case of Balenciaga’s IG, 11.6 million? And these people don’t care that they’re simply ignored? (Balenciaga already did not bother about what followers had to say when the comment feature was turned off on IG.) Or, have we simply no understanding of how social media works between fashion brands and followers, nor realisation that decorous behaviour doesn’t belong here?

Screen grab: Balenciaga/Instagram

These Stripes Won’t Do

Adidas is at it again. This time, they’re suing Thom Browne

They are four rows instead of three (at least seen in the above photo), yet Adidas thinks Thom Browne’s parallel lines are exactly like the former’s. The German brand is suing Thom Browne for “selling athletic-style apparel (also seen above) and footwear featuring two, three, or four parallel stripes in a manner that is confusingly similar to Adidas’s three-stripe mark,” according to the trademark infringement claim filed in New York and reported in the media. It is understandable that three lines, even of different widths, could be “confusingly similar”, but two or four of them will cause confusion, even when everyone not living under a rock knows Adidas never use less than three? That’s confusing! Or is this because lawyers under Adidas’s payroll need to justify their existence? Don’t you dare!

Trademarks, of course, need to be protected, but is it possible that Adidas does not seem confident of their unmistakable, although unremarkable, graphical branding even as they say, “for over half a century, [they] extensively and continuously [have] used and promoted the three-stripe mark in connection with apparel and footwear”? Despite holding fast to the three stripes, Adidas does not consider it adequate or long enough since “confusing” is apparently the result when similar marks appear. And the only way to make things less “confusing” is to take a litigious approach. According to a 2017 Bloomberg report, Adidas had, by then, filed nearly 50 lawsuits to secure its trademarked stripes.

The suit also stated that, previously, there was mediation between Adidas and Thom Browne, beginning in November 2020. Nothing was resolved, it seems. But in a statement responding to Adidas’s charges—quoted by WWD—a spokesperson claimed that they did their part and “acted honorably for all this time”. He added that “Adidas consented for 12 years and now they’re changing their mind. The court won’t allow that. And consumers won’t as well. It’s an attempt to use the law illegally.”

We do not know that the illegal use of the law exists. But as consumers, we are definitely not confused by Thom Browne’s use of the stripes, which, graphic designers will agree, are themselves generic lines and are “devoid of any distinctive character”, as the EU Intellectual Property Office, which had rejected Adidas’s trademark application, said in 2016 (a ruling upheld by an EU court in 2019). Many of us do no think that the Adidas stripes look anything like Thom Browne’s. But never mind what the rest of us actually think. It only matters what Adidas think we may think, stupid us! Will Adidas sue Kit Kat next?

File photo: Zhao Xiangji/SOTD

Will These KAWS Another Mad Rush?

Uniqlo has announced another KAWS collaboration even when the last was supposed to be the final

The Uniqlo UT X KAWS collaboration was supposed to have ended two years ago, but it’ll soon be bouncing back. Looks like the crashing of Uniqlo store shutters will happen all over again as the young (mostly) rush and trip over themselves to get a piece of the merchandise for either personal consumption or—very likely—to resell online for a ridiculously inflated price. The craze for anything KAWS has not died down since its association with Dior at the start of Kim Jones’s stewardship of the brand’s menswear. KAWS—aka Brian Donnelly— isn’t just known for his own caricatured characters such as the beloved loner Companion, but also cartoon characters such as those from Sesame Street, as seen in another Uniqlo collab. There is no denying the cross-market lure of KAWS, especially in the form of illustrations on fashion items.

We understand that the latest Uniqlo X Kaws pieces will be available only in Japan for the moment. This will be released two weeks from now to commemorate the first major KAWS exhibition in Tokyo (at the capital’s Mori Arts Center Gallery), titled KAWS Tokyo First. The T-shirt (three styles) and tote bag (one) collection, featuring Companion, will be made available as exhibition merchandise at the show venue first, followed by a country-wide Uniqlo store release later. There is no news yet from Uniqlo’s local office if the commemorative merchandise will be available here. Reach out to a kind friend in Tokyo!

Uniqlo X Kaws will be available in Japan from 20 July. Product photos: Uniqlo

American Avant-Garde?

Marc Jacobs returns with a new collection of gigantic hoods and snoods. And, surprisingly, there’s nothing ’70s about it

After a longer-than-one-season break, Marc Jacobs is back, showing—really, really late—autumn/winter 2021 in his native New York. Every time we thought we have seen the final anything for this year, then we wouldn’t be. Americans are naturally thrilled. Mr Jacobs’s collections are the only ones during New York Fashion Week, even now off-calendar, that, as one buyer told us, people actually see. Now that he’s showing at his own pace, fans and observers are even more curious. Will he stand out without his compatriots to compare to (remembering what Tom Ford showed in February now could be hard)? Will the looks in Europe filter down to his runway’s? Will he be the darling of the global press? Mr Jacobs has always known how to make the news, from desecrating the monogram of one luxury brand to starting fashion shows unreasonably late, he has done quite enough attention grabbing. Even his not showing last season was major news. His name is, in fact, rarely not, which makes this collection’s use of his moniker in bold, san-serif font and near-neon colours in place of a monogram a bit of a puzzler.

Perhaps Mr Jacobs does not want you to forget him. The name, therefore, must be masthead-large (and repeated in lines) to be noticeable, just as the clothes are crazily massive to be noted. Would the Marc Jacobs store (or all other stockists retailing his line, such as Bergdorf Goodman) be required to make even more capacious paper bags than usual? These are seriously oversized garments. The 101 ways with Sleeping Bags? In the case of the outers, they look large enough to fit two wearers. In fact, you actually see more clothes that the persons in them. We’re thinking of South Park’s Kenneth “Kenny” McCormick! Mr Jacobs chose to have the runway—in the New York Public Library, rather than his usual Park Avenue Armory—photos shot to see the side of the models. This could be better to highlight the chunky, vaguely ’60s silhouettes, but they give little to how the clothes would look front-facing. A view of the show is, therefore, necessary. The front, too, obscures the body in many instances, sometimes even faces. There could have been droids in those padded cocoons.

For the present, Mr Jacobs has left the ’70s, even if momentarily. He, too, has allowed the usual Yves Saint Laurent and Rei Kawakubo grips to weaken. Despite the outre shapes and the unwieldy proportions, there seems to be semblance of looking back—to the ’60, first, in what has been described as “space age-y”—those outerwear and their attendant hoods or padded balaclavas, vaguely recalling the futurism of André Courrèges, and secondly, the dresses with medallion-sized paillettes, vaguely bringing to mind Paco Rabanne. Mr Jacobs is a master plunderer of the past, positioning what he acquires at points just past the present. He has taken the vintage-y out of the space age-y by pumping up the volume of the clothes or elongating sleeves and skirts. Exaggeration of shape is not exactly new these days, but New York designers have not been enthralled by the practice. Mr Jacobs knows, therefore, that he can draw attention with the goofy enlargement, and re-establish himself as the American who can.

So the practicable is replaced by the outlandish, as he sends out massive jackets and coats (their size augmented by the skinniness of the pants or the outrageous girth of their legs); some hooded coats placed over heads like wearable tipis. Even Mr Jacobs’s prim jackets with rounded collars are upsized. The puffer jackets are even larger, some with hoods the size of African elephants ears, and one, with a hooded snood as tall and wide as a 20-litre water dispenser bucket. The puffers are so bulky, they come with straps so that you can carry them like backpacks. Whatever cannot be made excessively larger are lengthened: shoulders and sleeves, skirts and pants (so long that they require platform Mary Janes to prevent them from dragging). Veil-like hoods (in sweater knit) are so long, they look like chadors from afar. Paillettes destined for discotheques appear on skirts and dresses, and granny cardis, or are shaped into bib-sized neckwear. The collection also shows Mr Jacobs to be an avid colorist: brights are paired with more brights, sometimes with vintage-looking graphic patterns in the richer shades of ecclesiastical robes. All in all, lots to see, but how much of them will really arouse desire? Marc Jacobs is hopeful; he calls the collection Happiness.

Photos: Marc Jacobs