Couturier Possessed

A high-fashion designer claimed he was under demonic influence when he was unable to show up at an arranged meeting to execute a paid job, and then he disappeared, as the client chased him to have her money back

Scandal to start the year: a S$1,000 photo shoot that did not materialise, the victim who reached out to The Straits Times to expose the service provider—a self-proclaimed “couturier” who seemingly vanished. The tale is not the equivalent of The House of Gucci, but it is still a story with cinematic potential, one that might interest Mark Lee (although it is unlikely he would cast himself as the main man). According to the ST report, admin assistant Katrina Rawther approached the paper with her story/grievance in October last year, claiming that the Singaporean “couturier” Dicky Ishak had not honoured the thousand-dollar photo shoot they had agreed to do and for which she had paid in full in two payments. Ms Rawther had, apparently, not been able to reach him after November last year. It is unclear why the ST report appeared only yesterday.

Dicky Ishak, who calls himself “Mr Dicky” (even in Malay, he is referred to as “Encik Dicky”), is a “bespoke” high-fashion designer, known for gowns and special occasion wear, in particular, baju nikah (wedding dress). Reportedly a professional since 1990, he claimed to have “designed the wardrobes for the Miss Singapore World contestants (yes, in plural)”, as well as those of “international beauty pageants such as Mrs Global, Miss World and Mrs Asia Pacific” although ST stated that he only “once designed a dress for the Miss Universe Pageant”. That single dress, according to a 2020 Berita Harian report, was supposed to have been made for Miss Universe Singapore Bernadette Belle Wu Ong of that year for the National Costume segment at the delayed staging of the event last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But as we know now, Ms Ong wore a dress designed by Filipino Arwin Meriales, with a cape that had “Stop Asian Hate” written on it.

As Mr Dicky told the Malay-language paper, national director of Miss Universe Singapore Valerie Lim had sent him a letter with the “opportunity to sponsor the national costume, evening gown and cocktail dress, accessories and shoes” that Ms Ong would don at the finals in Florida. He said that, in the midst of the pandemic, designing the Miss Universe costumes: “ia bak bulan jatuh ke riba (it’s like the moon has fallen on your lap)”, by which he meant something good unexpectedly happened to him. With Ms Ong’s red-and-white dress making the news globally, she revealed on Instagram that she “reach(ed) out” to Mr Meriales “to create a design of my own”, It is not known what happened to the gowns Dicky Ishak had agreed to design or if he completed them at all. But, according to Low Hwee Lee of Red Carpet Invite (a “models and talents agency”), who shared on FB, “Designer Dicky Ishak is the key sponsor for most of MUS gown (sic)”.

Designing the Miss Universe costumes: “it’s like the moon has fallen on your lap”

A month after the Miss Universe staging and telecast, Mr Dicky met his potential client, Katrina Rawther. According to ST, Ms Rawther had organised a photo shoot of herself in “traditional costume” with “a local bridal services company”. Mr Dicky was reportedly hired as a stylist for the session. It is not certain if they spoke in person, but he told Ms Rawther that he was a fashion designer, experienced in dressing contestants of pageants, and “suggested that she hire him in the future”, To bolster his creative credentials, he allegedly showed Ms Rawther media coverage of his work (presumably the Berita Harian story was shown, although Mr Dicky himself claimed on Facebook to have been “mentioned” in The New Paper and the now-defunct Lianhe Wanbao [联合晚报]) and identified the talk shows he was on (these were not named).

About a month after that (and the traditional costume shoot we assume to have taken place), Ms Rawther was contacted by the baju nikah designer with a seemingly attractive overture: for S$1,000, he would organise a shoot and “loan her three costumes he had designed for her to be photographed in”, according to ST. It is not understood why he had three dresses “designed for her” when she did not ask for them, but she seemed to be happy with the fee and agreed to the service offered. Apparently, she thought the makeover would be a lovely birthday present to herself. The photos were to be ready by her birthday—16 September. To initiate the agreed project, Ms Rawther revealed to ST that she transferred, via PayNow, S$300 to him as a deposit on 17 July, followed by the rest of the payment eight days later. They now agreed to a shoot scheduled for 6 September.

When that day arrived, Mr Dicky called to postpone the photographic session. He told Ms Rawther the “photographer had tested positive for COVID-19” (then, before the emergence of the Omicron variant). It is not known if the S$1,000 that was paid included the photographer’s fee or those doing the hair and makeup. Stylists that we have spoken to said that the quote Mr Dicky offered to his client was likely a “package price” and that it was “competitive” if “a top photographer is not used”. It is, therefore, unlikely that he considered backing out for under-quoting her. He told Ms Rawther that he would get back to her for a new date for the shoot by 16 September. He contacted her on her birthday.

Image from Dicky Ishak’s last FB post on 10 September 2020. Photo: Akram TheLove

This was when the story took a comedic turn. Not only did Mr Dicky fail to deliver the photographs by the anniversary of his client’s birth (as initially agreed), he called her again on that day, this time offering a bomo hokum: he was “possessed”! It is not stated what possessed him, but as he told Ms Rawther that he needed “spiritual healing”, it might be safe to assume that a supernatural power was involved. Aware that the excuse this time might sound utterly foolish, he provided her with “proof” of the control of his body by spirits (we do not know if they were malevolent): “pictures, videos and an audio file”, all purportedly ST was privy to. Once again, Ms Rawther agreed to a postponement. As fate would have it, she saw, on the same day of the possession reveal, activity on Mr Dicky’s IG page, and proceeded to text him on WhatsApp, but was ignored. Afraid of a bad outcome, she tried all social media options to reach him, but met a blank.

As many Singaporeans would, Ms Rawther filed a report with the Small Claims Tribunals, but was informed that there was no business license in Mr Dicky’s name, although BH did report of a “studio” in Prestige Centre@Bukit Batok Crescent that he was working out of last year. Clearly at the end of the road now, Ms Rawther went to the police, and then spoke to ST about her case in October last year. When the paper tried to contact Mr Dicky, he did not respond. On the same day, he reached out to Ms Rawther and offered to reschedule the shoot, again. But in November, he changed his mind and supposedly cancelled the entire project and offered to return the S$1,000 he received from her. That was the last she heard from him. When we called the one number linked to Dicky Ishak Couturier, we were met with totally no response, not even a ring tone—it appeared to be an unused number.

In a hilarious “Details about Dicky” entry in FB, he stated that (and we quote verbatim) “Mr Dicky is one of the designer in Singapore today. Since 1990, it has developed a unique style of its own, reflecting the Fusion craftsmanship in a contemporary vocabulary. Mr Dicky understanding individual designs and the innovative use of modern crafts has created a new classicism. Today his name is renowned for its distinctive use of colors, quality of fabrics, intricate embroideries and a gloriously rich Wedding wear.” It was perhaps this fame that landed him, alongside eight others, in the semi-finals of last year’s Singapore Stories design competition, organised by TaFF (Textile and Fashion Federation), also the operator of Design Orchard. He did not advance to the final.

It is not stated what possessed him, but as he told Ms Rawther that he needed “spiritual healing”, it might be safe to assume that a supernatural power was involved

Not much is known about Mr Dicky’s training in fashion. According to some media reports, he “was born into a family of dressmakers”. He told BH that his mother was in the busana pengantin (bridal wear) business and that he helped her from an early age, allowing “bidang fesyen mendarah daging dalam dirinya sejak kecil (fashion to be ingrained in him since young)”. He revealed almost nothing about his formal education. According to him, he began his vocational training in hairdressing at Toni & Guy before taking up a makeup course at Cosmoprof as “he believe it takes a package to make all happen to make them look good, From head to toe (sic)“. Somehow fashion design came into the picture, and he “started full blast into Fashion World once the time strikes right for him to express his goal”. Wedding dresses in both Western and Malay styles seem to be his forte. By most online responses, his output was much appreciated.

An earlier BH story from 2018, reported that Mr Dicky expanded his fashion business into Malaysia a year before. Butterworth native, “Mrs Most Elegance Malaysia Global United 2017” Sally Ong, shared a photo on FB of her wearing a Dicky Ishak dress at the Dolby Theatre in LA, “walking on the Oscars red carpet”, she wrote, in July! He was soon dressing celebrities there, according to BH. They included actress Rita Rudaini and singers Aiman ​​Tino and Ziana Zain. Malaysia had been especially appreciative of his designs. In 2015, prior to his supposed venture into the peninsular to our north, Mr Dicky was the winner of the MEFA Malaysia (a “wedding festival“) Best Designer Award. This was followed by other accolades, mainly targeted at a Malay audience. In 2016, Mr Dicky participated in the Johor Fashion Week, held at the Persada Johor International Convention Centre. A year later, he started an eponymous online store on Carousell.

Although Mr Dicky generally receives positive responses online, he and his brand have minimal digital presence now, possibly a reaction to the ST report. On FB, which he joined in 2014, only one post from 10 September 2020 was left. There is nothing on IG or Tweeter. His TikTok account is set to private. Quite a few of his fans are unhappy with the ST report, commenting on the daily paper’s FB page that this is a “private matter” and that, based on a “single accusation”, the paper’s coverage is excessive. Moreover, he is, as one commentator, gripped by irrationality, pointed out, not “a serial cheat”. Sure, he is no Elizabeth Holmes, but now that the police are apparently involved, let them decide who is or not on the right side of the law. Perhaps, to quote BH, there is in this “pelangi selepas hujan”—rainbow after the rain.

Illustration by Just So

Recommended: For Him, For Her, For Them

More clothing brands are going gender-neutral, but most are really just saying a woman can buy a man’s shirt, even when many already have. Question is, are guys ready to shop in the woman’s department?

At Uniqlo, a tag offering men more options

By Raiment Young

Last year. What do we remember of it other than the arrival of Omicron? Or, the return of physical fashion shows? Or, the collaborations between luxury brands? One of the style issues trending into 2021 was the visible advent of non-binary styles. Men, especially, we were counselled, should be able to adopt traditionally-feminine fashion if they choose to. Gender-neutral and gender-inclusive brands were talked about alongside those that chose the sustainable and were aware of garment manufacture’s impact on the environment (other than using cottons from non-controversial regions). Leading the adoption of clothes that do not shout out their traditional masculinity are pop stars, such as Harry Styles and Troye Sivan. To them, wearing a dress is okay. Even lexicography is seeing a re-definition of dress by not ascribing it to gender. The Oxford Learner’s Dictionary defines the noun form of ‘dress’ as “a piece of clothing that is made in one piece and hangs down to cover the body as far as the legs, sometimes reaching to below the knees, or to the ankles”. That’s it.

At Uniqlo’s global flagship store during the festive season, two guys in until-recently-MIA office attire were looking at a long, loose, lapel-less knitted coat right in front of me. One of them, in a fitted and darted shirt, was holding up the hung garment to give it a proper look, as if to understand it better, rather than to consider buying it. The other then said, somewhat incredulously, “men can wear, meh?” This disbelief seemed to be a reaction to a little sign, clipped to the chest of the coat to draw attention. It read, in full caps, “RECOMMENDED FOR MEN TOO!”—the exclamation not just to denote vehement enthusiasm, but also to seemingly say “believe you me”. The guys looked at the soft and drapey outerwear from top to hem. There was a moment of silence. Then, the one still holding the hanger asked—in comfortable Hokkien—disbelievingly, “汝知嗎 (li zai bo, do you know)?” As Uniqlo intended, now both do.

Women’s clothes outrightly recommended for men is really a recent occurrence. I was only seeing the guidance with some regularity last year. Sure, some guys are now wearing what would be indisputably designed for women, including accessories such as pearls, but these individuals are not traipsing the town in numbers large enough to be considered normality. Even with the seeming popularity of skirts for men—now also championed by Louis Vuitton, I doubt that for many (most?) guys, shopping would not still be a gendered experience. The fact that male shoppers needed to be told that specific styles merchandised for the women’s department are suitable for them indicate that they still draw the line between his and hers, bifurcated and not. Uniqlo, mostly seen as a traditional, even family-oriented, brand, is, admirably, taking the lead, suggesting that gender-neutral is going mainstream. But, are guys ready for stores that disrupt gender norms, even mildly?

Seen on a Urban Revivo hanger in the men’s department

Whether retail is welcoming more non-binary customers or not, women have never needed prompting to shop men’s clothing for themselves. They have, for a long time, not been constricted by gender confines. And that can be said to go back as far as Yves Saint Laurent’s Le Smoking of 1966. One buyer-friend told me that he is seeing more women purchasing menswear—especially tops—as “many now prefer larger and looser cuts that they do not find in the women’s department“. The oversized T-shirt, adopted so that the wearer looks like she is pants-less, has been visible for many years now. That is just one example. Increasingly, oversized shirts and denim truckers are preferred over those cut specifically for women. At the Nike store in Jewel on Boxing Day, I saw a trio of girls—dressed like paddlers after a training session—choosing a fleece hoodie from the Jordan men’s collection. The one purchasing said, with palpable glee, “good, they have my size.“

Such satisfaction is not uncommon. It was, therefore, to my surprise when I saw, in the men’s department of Urban Revivo recently, a wood hanger which accommodated a washed denim happy coat, proudly tagged “RECOMMENDED FOR WOMEN TOO”. I was not sure if it was really a statement of the garment’s gender-neutrality or that the masculine-not style isn’t incorrectly situated. The similarly-worded tag has been deployed at Uniqlo’s men’s department too, even when many women already shop there. While such recommendations are laudable, it does, to me, arouse the question: are we only taking baby steps towards gender-fluid fashion retail? Despite the growing social awareness of non-binary inclusion, we are still led to believe that, as Asians, we are conservative by default. And as long as retailers still stick to the binary departmentalising of their stores—and their merchandise, non-binary clothing, by design or not, is still uncommon.

One of the truly few retailers that appear to be positively gender-inclusive is Muji Labo, a brand that especially appeals to those for whom binary classification (that includes “recommended for”) is a turn-off when deciding what to buy and what to wear. According to Muji, the Labo line “aims to get rid of the unnecessary ‘fashion waste’, riding on the principle of unisexuality, producing basic wear that overrides age, sex and body size, demonstrating the versatility of Muji’s garments at every occasion.” Describing their clothes by the somewhat retro-term “unisex” (circa mid-’60s), Muji is adopting the more moderate and less activism-tinged approach to retailing clothes that are suitable for any gender (in the current climate, ‘them’?”). But gender, however neutral, is not such a simple and straightforward construct. Clothing, in whatever shape and form, does not inherently relate to gender. What I see as truly groundbreaking would be when Uniqlo tags an Ines de La Fressange dress with “RECOMMENDED FOR MEN TOO!”

Photos: Chin Boh Kay

Happy, Happy New Year

What a year it has been. 2021 was tumultuous, and what would likely remain dominantly problematic is the still-raging pandemic that is getting many people quite fatigued by it. One good thing for us at SOTD is that, with more people spending time at home, weather working or just avoiding the crowds outside, more are reading our posts. These past 12 months have been the best for us—we see the highest viewership in all of our nine years of bringing fashion news to you. And it shows us that many people still enjoy reading, no matter how dated some are making blogs in general out to be. Or, saying that no one wants to read in-depth analysis or back stories of fashion and such happening around us. We like to thank all of you for your tremendous support and encouragement, and for continuing to believe that this is where you would always find something informative and enjoyable to read. From all of us here, a better and healthful 2021 to you. And, great style, too.

Photo illustration: Jim Sim

Closures: The Top Three Reads Of 2021

It appears that the closing of stores permanently is what many like to read

We have never really been too concerned with figures or looking back, but it’s interesting to see, as we look back at this past year—still pandemic-stricken, that the top three reads of the year are those about brands and businesses closing here. It is always regrettable and sad that good businesses close down despite their best efforts to stay afloat. The many closures this past year, not just these three mentioned in this post, suggest to us that other than real economic factors, retailers are indeed facing declining shopper numbers. No real study has been conducted to understand why people are no longer shopping at physical stores other than the general belief that most consumers prefer to do it online, as attested by the popularity of Shopee and the rising tide of livestream selling.

At the top of the list, and sitting way above the second and the third, is the closure of Pedder on Scotts in September. The “it’s hard to say goodbye” closing down sale of Pedder on Scotts, after five years operating on the entire second floor of Scotts Square, surprised many. On Pedder at Takashimaya Shopping Centre remains open. Also totally unexpected was the closure of AW Lab. Headquarted in Italy, AW Lab has considerable presence in Europe. On our island, they had four stores. They closed all of them at the end of November last year. The least unanticipated permanent shuttering was the closure of Temt. Sitting on the third place of the most read post, the Australian fast-fashion brand seemed to enjoy a heathy fan base, but that was not sufficient to keep them buoyant and alive.

It is hard not to see that many of our shoppers here are attracted to reports of stores that would no longer exist, as if they have been placing wagers on who would go next. Interestingly, our top read last year was about the closure of Topshop (and Topman) here. The subsequent media coverage was about how “fans mourn” the passing of an era. With the pandemic still very real, it does appear that shopping in a physical store would increasingly look like an activity of an age past and forgotten. No one is too concern with the rapid vanishing of real spaces in which you are able to see, touch and feel tangible merchandise (since, as the common refrain goes, “you can get anything online”). We have lost our position as a shopping destination a long time ago. It does not seem we would be reclaiming that status any time soon.

File photos: SOTD

Not Against Type

…but still appealing. Beyond the Vines introduces cotton canvas sneakers

Beyond the Vines has done good things with the humble cotton canvas. Their Carryall 01 in this fabric, for example, is an east-west tote that deserves much more attention than it really gets. It’s simple and smart, and those are the qualities that the brand has extended to their debut line of footwear, Type 01 (never mind that Nike, too, has a ‘Type’), also made with similar cotton canvas. In view of the unceasing love of bombastically-designed footwear, these lace-ups may look a tad too low-key, even juvenile, but their classic construction would stand them in good stead, in the face of constantly shifting trends.

Made of a 12-oz plain-weave canvas, also known as cotton duck, these sneakers are available only in one style, but it is the colour-blocked pair that spoke to us. Sure, they are nothing like the more daring chromatic schemes of Moonstar X Fennica kicks (available at Beams, Japan). Or the whimsical Comme des Garçons Play X Converse All-Stars, with the now-recognisable smiley-hearts, or the ‘Converse Addict’, which is N.Hoolywood reimagining the Chuck Taylor with archival fabrics of Undercover. Or, for those with edgier taste, the more advanced silhouette of the OAMC ‘Inflate’, with the exaggerated rubber corridor. Nope, Type 01 is not cast against type. They are, without doubt, classic plimsolls, but the subtle colour blocking does set them apart. And with the nicely rounded, slightly pointed toe box, perhaps the ideal shoes to strut into the New Year.

Beyond the Vines Type 01 canvas sneakers, SGD139, are available for men and women, in stores and online. Photo: Chin Boh Kay

Postponed: Dior X Travis Scott

It is reported that the launch of the doomed collaboration would be deferred. Nope, not cancelled

That one of the most hyped collaborations has to come to this is not surprising. As announced on WWD, Dior’s collaboration with Travis Scott—dubbed Cactus Jack—is “postponed”, the news site emphasised, and “indefinitely”. As stated in the report, based on an “exclusive” statement that Dior availed to WWD: “out of respect for everyone affected by the tragic events at Astroworld, Dior has decided to postpone indefinitely the launch of products from the Cactus Jack collaboration originally intended to be included in its summer 2022 collection.” They were careful not to use the now-divisive and unpleasant word “cancelled”.

As we understand it, the men’s spring/summer collection is almost “entirely” conceived with Mr Scott. For many, it is inconceivable that a complete collection would not be available to purchase. WWD reported that Mr Scott’s team shared that the postponement was a mutual agreement. Dior did not say what merchandise plans would be in place for their spring/summer 2022 season. This is their first time pairing with a musician, and reports had predicted it to be “major”. Merchandisers we spoke to told us that at the time the Astroworld tragedy struck, it is likely that the clothes were already in production. And that is very possible since spring/summer drops can take place as early as this week, or next.

Many of those who commented on the emerging reports of the postponed collection felt that Travis Scott is wrongly blamed for the Astroworld deaths and that the brands were too quick to disassociate themselves with him, once a star who could do no wrong. One commentator wrote in response to a Hypebeast post, “He isn’t responsible for the actions of thousands of fans, even if they can prove he incited raucous behavior.” Die-hard Travis Scott fans are also burning with curiousity: What would become of the already produced merchandise. Burn them? Or let them be available at a discount store?

Runway photo: Dior. Photo illustration: Just So

Growl: The Tiger Cometh

Japan’s Onitsuka Tiger can’t wait for the Lunar New Year to arrive

You would expect that, with 2022 being the Year of the Tiger (from 1 February, of course), many brands will be releasing tiger-themed products. And you’d expect rightly. One of the earliest to announce their adoption of the tiger for a capsule collection is Japan’s Onitsuka Tiger. But that is not surprising. In five days’ time, it’d be what the brand calls the “Year of the Onistsuka Tiger”. As it coincides with the Chinese zodiac tiger, this occasion comes only once every 12 years. A symbol of the brand, the tiger—confident, brave, and thrill-seeking—would be seen not only on shoes, but in a limited range of fashion items for those born in the year of the tiger or those who consider the panthera tigris its spirit animal. These include tees and hoodies, socks, and bags.

But the most eye-catching and desirable would likely be the Serrano sneaker with the tiger-stripe upper. At first glance, the interpretation looks a tad too literal to us, even for Chinese New Year! But we are not, admittedly, big fans of animal prints. However they are used, they frequently would result in a form that borders on the camp. And to us, the Serrano of the Year of the Onitsuka Tiger is no exception. In fact, the more we look at it, the more it reminded us of another shoe: the yellow and black Mexico 66. Yes, the pair worn by Uma Thurman in Kill Bill, a movie with such deliciously intense artifice that even the gory revenge and growling violence cannot dial the camp down.

It is not yet known when the Year of the Onitsuka Tiger capsule would be launched. Watch this space for updates. Product photo: Onitsuka Tiger. Photo Illustration: Just So

When Céline Paid Homage to Joan Didion

Orbituary | The American writer was, at age 80, a style icon, thanks to Phoebe Philo

Joan Didion as model for a Céline advertisement in 2015. Photo: Céline

In reports bursting all over the Net like opened Christmas presents, we learned that Joan Didion, the high priestess of American “New Journalism” and literature, and a former Vogue writer, has died. Her publisher Knopf said in a statement that the cause of death was Parkinson’s disease, a brain disorder that often sees sufferers shaking or walking with difficulty. Ms Didion passed away at aged 87 (as did Coco Chanel), in her home in Manhattan, New York. It is not known how long the disease ailed her. Regular readers of her work would know that Ms Didion had a nervous breakdown in the summer of 1968, as she recounted in The White Album. Consultation with a psychiatrist revealed that she was ill with vertigo and nausea, and multiple sclerosis. She was also suffering from migraine—so frequently and so badly that she was inclined to write about it. “Three, four, sometimes five times a month,” she described in the 1968 essay In Bed (also published in The White Album), “I spend the day in bed with a migraine headache, insensible to the world around me.”

But the world did make sense of her. Or, many women of the ’60s and ’70s did. Unafraid to express what was in her mind, Joan Didion spoke for her peers—hippies, liberals, English majors, especially would-be writers. She was born in 1934 in Sacramento, described as “the dowdiest of California cities”. Yet, Ms Didion herself said, “It kills me when people talk about California hedonism. Anybody who talks about California hedonism has never spent a Christmas in Sacramento.” Her forebears came to Sacramento in the mid-1900s, and their pioneer experiences affected her growing up, which informed her debut novel Run, River, about the coming apart of the marriage and family of a Sacramento couple whose great-grandparents were pioneers. Ms Didion would, in the book of essays, Where I was From, censure her first novel as the work of someone “homesick”, and considered it spun with false nostalgia, creating an idealised picture of life in rural California that she would say did not exist.

According to her, she did not dream of a profession in writing. “I wrote stories from the time I was a little girl,” she told The Paris Review in 1978, “but I didn’t want to be a writer. I wanted to be an actress. I didn’t realize then that it’s the same impulse. It’s make-believe. It’s performance. The only difference being that a writer can do it all alone.” But write she did. In her final year in the University of California, Berkley, where she read English, Ms Didion participated in a writing contest, ‘Prix de Paris’. It was sponsored by Vogue. She came in first, and was offered the position as a research assistant at the magazine, then edited by Jessica Davis. She moved to New York to take up the job. In the beginning, she wrote mostly captions (then, not the one lines they are today), but she would eventually have her pieces published in the magazine (it was during her time at Vogue that Run, River was written).

Joan Didion in her signature black top. Photo: Everett/Shutterstock

Much of the dates are quite muddled now. But reports suggested that she was with Vogue from 1956 to 1963. Ms Didion, apart from writing the caption, also had duties that “involved going to photographers’ studios and watching women being photographed”, as she recounted in Esquire in 1989. We can’t be certain if she had worked under the inimitable Diana Vreeland, but if Ms Vreeland joined only in 1962 and was made editor-in-chief a year later, it is possible they were at least colleagues, if not superior and subordinate. Ms Didion did not cover the fashion beat, but she did, as we understand it, contribute—sometimes, without byline—to the column People are Talking About, and she profiled stars, such as Woody Allen and Barbara Streisand (who did not appear on the cover of Vogue until 1966), and even reported on the death of Marilyn Monroe, whom Ms Didion described as “a profoundly moving young woman.”

She eventually left Vogue. Some reports suggested that she was “fired” for panning the 1965 screen musical The Sound of Music, which she described as “more embarrassing than most, if only because of its suggestion that history need not happen to people… just whistle a happy tune, and leave the Anschluss behind.” (If true, she was not the only one whose review cost her her job—Pauline Kael of McCall’s too was dismissed at the time for calling the film “the sugar-coated lie that people seem to want to eat”.) One good thing came out of New York: Joan Didion met Time staffer John Gregory Dunne (younger brother of author Dominick Dunne), whom she married, at age 28, a year after she left Vogue, and in whom she found a sparing partner in writing. The couple moved to Los Angeles and would stay for more than two decades, during which, they adopted a baby girl, their only child.

In LA, the Dunnes would come to be known as “Hollywood insiders”. Not surprising since Ms Didion’s brother-in-law Dominick Dunne was a Hollywood type, having started his career in television in New York and was later brought to Tinseltown by Humphrey Bogart to work on TV productions there. The younger Dunne socialised with the likes of Elizabeth Taylor (and would draw on his Tinseltown experiences for his later novels). The brothers collaborated on the 1971 romantic drama The Panic in Needle Park. Ms Didion and her husband wrote the screenplay and Dominick Dunne produced the film which had Al Pacino in his first leading role. The writing duo (and director Frank Pierson) also wrote the 1976 remake of A Star is Born that starred Barbara Streisand and Kris Kristofferson.

Joan Didion pictured on the cover of her book of essays. Cover photograph Hencry Clarke/Conde Nast via Getty Image. Photo: Jim Sim

While Hollywood appeared to suit them and their adopted kid, the movie town in Ms Didion’s writing was rather mercilessly dissected. In We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live, she wrote: “California is a place in which a boom mentality and a sense of Chekhovian loss meet in uneasy suspension; in which the mind is troubled by some buried but ineradicable suspicion that things better work here, because here, beneath the immense bleached sky, is where we run out of continent.” She told Vogue UK in 1993 that “Los Angeles presents a real culture shock when you’ve never lived there. The first couple of years you feel this little shift in the way you think about things. The place doesn’t mean anything. Los Angeles strips away the possibility of sentiment. It’s flat. It absorbs all the light. It doesn’t give you a story.” As she wrote in A Trip to Xanadu, published in the collection of essays Let Me Tell You What I Mean, “Make a place available to the eyes, and in certain ways it is no longer available to the imagination.” She was even more scathing when it came to the film industry and, in particular, film criticism, calling the latter—which she had previously done—in her 1973 essay Hollywood: Having Fun, “vaporous occupation”.

Apart from her style of writing, she was also noted for her style of dress. The Guardian, in what could be a fan-motivated homage, recently called her “a luminary of California cool”. It is doubtful that Ms Didion would describe herself that way or relate to that praise. And she would likely attribute her getting the job at Vogue to her writing, not her dress sense. It should be stated that the 5-foot-tall (about 1.5 metres) Ms Didion was an attractive young woman and it was possible that her appointment at Vogue had something to do with her looks. The magazine had a reputation of hiring mostly attractive lasses. But she must have had sartorial verve for her editors then to send her to watch women being photographed by—to name one—Robert Mapplethorpe. In fact, in one such session, an unidentified subject was so displeased with what she saw in the Polaroids that Ms Didion had to offer her what she had on. As she recalled for Esquire, “I lent the subject my own dress, and worked the rest of the sitting wrapped in my raincoat.” That had to be an agreeable outfit.

The dresses that she seemed to like were often long and loose. And sometimes, typical of the hippie era, floral-printed. She would wear them with flip flops, reflecting, perhaps, the Californian predilection for the unapologetically casual, as exemplified in the cover photo of her on Terry Newman’s 2017 book Legendary Authors and the Clothes they Wore. She had on a long-sleeved tee-dress; barely covering her thonged footwear. Her hair was slightly dishevelled; her left hand was holding what looked like a purse, and the forearm was folded across her waist; her right hand was on her left thigh, a cigarette barely noticeable between her thumb and index finger. These could possibly be one of the looks that inspired Phoebe Philo, who—during her time with Céline in 2015—had chosen Ms Didion, then 80, as the face of a Céline campaign. The New York Times would call the casting “prophetic”: Not long after, Saint Laurent, under Hedi Slimane’s watch, released their own ad with a geriatric beauty, the singer Joni Mitchell.

Joan Didion (right) with daughter Quintana Roo Dunne in a Gap ad from 1989. Photo: Gap

Céline’s image of Ms Didion was photographed by Juergen Teller. It showed her, from a somewhat top view, in a black dress that could have been from her own wardrobe. She wore a pair of oversized sunglasses that recalled what she used to wear in the ’60s/’70s and that obscured much of the top half of her face; the blackness of the shades contrasted with the paleness of her skin and underscored her thinning greyish hair. She also wore a necklace with an ember/copper-coloured pendant. Miss Didion told NYT that she “did not have any clue” to the chattering interests—online and off—with regards to her striking Céline appearance. Not everyone was that impressed. In her column ‘Ask Hadley’ for The Guardian, Hadley Freeman wrote, “It’s depressing to see your idol used to sell expensive clothes.” In fact, it is not known if Ms Didion herself wore expensive clothes, however iconic her looks were. Recently, The Cut opined, “Clearly, she had great taste and a point of view. But was it that special?”

In fact, the Céline modeling assignment was not Ms Didion’s first. Back in 1989, she was photographed by Annie Leibowitz for Gap’s ‘Individuals of Style’ campaign. She appeared with her daughter Quintana Roo Dunne (who died in 2005, just two months after her father John Gregory Dunne passed away). Both women were in USD19.50 black turtlenecks, with the mother sporting a barely visible chain. At the bottom of the image, the copy read: “Original. It’s how you twist the fundamental into something new.” That “Original” styling of Ms Didion would be reprised—not “twisted”—26 years later in the Céline ad. Many of her fans associate the writer with black turtleneck (or the mock sibling) tops, and she in them had transcended time. Even with grey hair, the look spoke of no zeitgeist. It was not that special.

“Style is character,” Joan Didion said in the1978 interview with The Paris Review. Although she was referring to writing, she could have been alluding to her own sartorial choices. Many women relate to Ms Didion’s famed itemised packing list, as described in The White Album. “This is a list which was taped inside my closet door in Hollywood during those years when I was reporting more or less steadily,” she wrote. “The list enabled me to pack, without thinking, for any piece I was likely to do. Notice the deliberate anonymity of costume: in a skirt, a leotard, and stockings, I could pass on either side of the culture.” Or, between Gap and Céline, either side of fashion.

Balenciaga’s New Kicks

…is a monster truck of a shoe. Let the ugliness go on

Balenciaga, it seems, is bent on sticking to ugly and freakish sneakers. Their soon-to-be-released style, known as the Defender, presumably tries to reprise the Triple-S and Track’s ridiculous massiveness and their busy overlays (also seen in the Tyrex), and, in doing so, also duplicate their just-as-large success. First seen during the brand’s red-carpet-as-runway spring/summer 2022 presentation in October, the Defender appears to be the hunkiest of Balenciaga’s footwear releases, in line with the still large silhouette of their apparel. There is no reversing the course for Balenciaga: the bigger the better. Only now for the new shoe, avuncular is cooler than dad-like.

But is the overall shape of the Defender really new? When we first saw the profile images of the shoe, we thought of MBT immediately! Yes, the Swiss(!) “physiological footwear” brand known for their chunky shoes and curved soles. According to the company’s sales literature, their shoes and the unique soles—such as those seen in the brand’s Kibo GTX—offer “your body benefits from (the) extensive MBT technology” which “ensures a complete rolling movement (that) improves your balance and posture.” Such curve-soled footwear are also popular known as “rocker bottom shoes”. It isn’t known if the Balenciaga Defender offers any physiological benefit, but they will likely provide psychological advantage to those for whom being ostentatiously shod is comfort to their very being.

Balenciaga Defender is expected to launch next year. Price TBC. Photo: Balenciaga

Collaboration To Close The Year?

Gucci and Adidas are reportedly up to something

With Christmas round the corner, you’d think that it be a quiet time for fashion. Not quite. Ringing louder than church bells is the news that Gucci is hitting the collab road with Adidas. According to the “first look” offered by Twitter account @hypeneverdies two days ago, there is now a double-G monogram, in which the Adidas trefoils share the space with the repeated twin 7th letter of the alphabet. The not-quite-sharp image posted has a patina of blue. Looking like a screen shot, it does not really tell us if its a product or, for all we know, an NFT! Anything is possible. If Gucci can “hack” Balenciaga, they can surely do the same to Adidas. We were thinking shoes, but that’d be too obvious. With their second The North Face collab just released, what in the sphere of outdoor/sportswear has Gucci not explored?

Of course, this brings to mind Adidas’s rather quiet pairing with another Italian brand: Prada. We were, admittedly, underwhelmed by that output. But both brands deemed the collab a success—enough to have a second (not quite memorable) attempt. Gucci, naturally, won’t go the discreet route (just as Lady Gaga won’t play it safe). We already had a taste of what it might be, if The North Face affair was any indication. Monogram-mad might actually be putting it mildly.

The above illustration is just that, not an official logo from the brand. Watch this space for confirmation of the collaboration. Illustration: Just So

Bag This Outer

Undercover pairing with Eastpak is not unusual. But the apparel they produced is

Eastpak has collaborated with designers on what they specialise in: bags. Names they have shared on the labelling of their wares include Raf Simons, Vivienne Westwood, and most recently, Margiela. But all these collabs yielded only bags. Until Undercover comes along. Shown during Undercover’s charming autumn/winter 2021 collection in January, the two brands offer not bags per se, but outerwear that constitutes some of the most fetching of the season. This is the first for Eastpak: clothing. And by the looks of it, this may not be the last.

Incorporating bags or fabric used in their manufacturer is a particular area of collaborative design that the Japanese do so well, as previously seen with The North Face and Junya Watanabe, as well as Nanamica for the The North Face Purple Label. In that respect, what Undercover has done with Eastpak is rather late in the game, But, as it is often said, better late than never. And it is hard to imagine the never after seeing these wearing garments with the quirky ‘bag’ details. Should they really be there? Can you store anything in them?

There are at least six styles in the capsule. From a bomber to a parka to a car coat, each comes with bag-pockets of varying sizes, as well as short handles—as seen on the top of backpacks—under the rear of the collar, above the yoke (one even emerges from there). The outers come in some strong colours too, such as the above Wellington yellow, as well as a bright red and a dark green. A real pity that we are not likely in need of one of them. Many of us are not travelling, only dreaming of it.

Undercover X Eastpak launches on Christmas Day at Undercover stores, Tokyo. Photo: Undercover

Up, Up, And Away

Chanel is increasing the prices of their handbags. Again. They know they can, and the very many who continue to buy are encouraging, rather than deterring the hike

For many women, the dearer Chanel bags are, the more desirable owning one is. It has to be, or it’s hard to explain the bags’ puzzlingly massive appeal. The price increases are not attributed to inflationary pressures, but are, according to a spokesperson, cited by Bloomberg recently, “in response to unspecified exchange-rate fluctuations, changes in production costs and to ensure its handbags cost roughly the same around the world”. This is not the first time, nor the second, in the past two years that Chanel has upped its prices for their bags. As stated in the Bloomberg piece, prices for the classic styles have been raised by “almost two-thirds since the end of 2019”. That, to us, is staggering. But our—and kindred folks’—reaction to the price hike matters not to Chanel who seems to only want to target those for whom prices matter not. Their latest price increase is a staggering fourth in these past two years. That averages a rise of twice a year.

One marcom executive told us, “This is so ridiculous. Pricing a Chanel bag closer to an Hermès does not make it an Hermès!” But for many women, especially the young, a Chanel bag is the most covetable, and, as a gift, is considered a measurement of the depth of the love shown by the romantic partner. One twentysomething we know, reacting to the news of Chanel jacking up the prices of their bags, said to us, “It’ll not change anything for me. I will still buy. And I want no other bag. And I don’t expect my boyfriend to buy anything but Chanel for me.” Conversely, a “former lover” texted us to say, “25 years or so ago, a Classic (one standard size) with lambskin and lined in burgundy leather sold for S$3,500. That was princely. But now!!!🙀” Many observers consider Chanel’s pricing move a way to keep their bags exclusive. Even after so many are appearing in the secondhand, not to mention bootleg, market? Or, has price, more than the bag itself, become the real confidence booster?

Chanel does not make better leather bags than, say, Delvaux, the world’s oldest luxury leather goods maker. But somehow the very mention of Chanel sends eyes quite lit up. To us, Chanel bags can look frumpy, but even women dressed in Balenciaga-ish oversized togs would carry the recognisable bag, not because they are especially on-trend, but because the double-C lock (never seen in the original that Coco Chanel designed) is the ultimate status symbol. You almost never witness a woman carry her Chanel 2.55 or whatever Flap Bag there are (let’s not get into the taxonomy) with the outside facing inward, against her body—the logo totally blocked. That Chanel did not start (or have a long history) in leather goods, as Hermès primarily did, is no disincentive to the women (and men) so desirous of a Chanel bag. Coco Chanel created her first bag for practical need, rather than materialistic demand: so that, with the shoulder strap, women can keep their hands free while carrying one. These days, women want more than their hands free. And they don’t mind paying for whatever else is associated with carrying a Chanel bag. And the bag maker knows. Only too well.

Photo: Zhao Xiangji