Wild West Wang

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

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

Note: this post contains potentially offensive language and descriptions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two Of A Kind: Wide Shoulders, Narrow Waists

Fenty 2019 Vs A Wang 2020.jpgLeft: the suit jacket at Fenty. Photo: Fenty. Right: The suit jacket at Alexander Wang. Photo: Alexander Wang

Hers came first if only because she sold hers first. And is for the current season, not spring/summer 2020, a far-off six months or more later. Rihanna’s Fenty jacket, worn as a dress by the singer herself at the opening of her first store, a pop-up in Paris, has a silhouette not unlike Alexander Wang’s, shown in New York last Friday, as part of a segment purportedly homage to the now defunct fashion line of Donna Karan.

That the broad shoulders and nipped-in/shaped waist are finally expressed by hype-driven designers perhaps attests to the proportion’s mass acceptance… at last. Balenciaga under Demna Gvasalia’s watch somehow escaped American designers’ inspiration… until now. Is it uncanny that one Barbadian designer’s Parisian debut is echoed back in North America, where European aesthetics have always been dreamy aspirations, not commercial reality?

The similarity is truly remarkable: wide shoulders with enough padding so that they do not droop, the fairly large armhole, the natural-waist emphasis, and, in particular, the vertical lines below the bust used to accentuate the waist—boning for Fenty and reverse darts for Alexander Wang. Rihanna styled hers as a dress, and although Mr Wang teamed his with turtle neck and what appears to be jeans, the jacket looked like it, too, would work sans bottom.

This jacket shape looks to us to be without a dotted line that can be traced to European couture. Rather, it appears to be related to black tailoring of the Forties: the jacket half of the zoot suit, a garment that was, as Smithsonian magazine noted, “unbranded and illicit”. It explained further: “There was no one designer associated with the look, no department store where you could buy one. These were ad hoc outfits, regular suits bought two sized too large and then creatively tailored to dandyish effects.”

There is, of course, nothing “unbranded and illicit” about Fenty and Alexander Wang (who is now using his name as Calvin Klein did and does) and their suit-jackets are clearly not provisional nor standard-issue. It is perhaps easier and more convenient and less provocative to say that they both tap into the zeitgeist emerging from black America, and is going (gone?) mainstream.

Rihanna is today not only a high priestess of fashion, she is, as CNN puts it, “a godsend for curvy women”. Riri does not have the same body as the lass who released the debut album Music of the Sun in 2005. Now bigger, she considers herself her muse, who presumably represents the many women out there that designers, such as fellow LVMH employee Hedi Slimane, do not cater to. That her first male customer is reportedly British Vogue’s Edward Enninful substantiate her social enterprise spirit of wanting to design for non-traditional body shapes that fashion is not partial to, just like the Savage X Fenty underclothing line.

Alexander Wang may be Asian, but he’s American in every way. His Europeanisation of self via Balenciaga (2012—2015) was essentially a parody of what European couture looks like from across the Atlantic. His heart has always been in Harlem; his strength in streetwear. That a jacket of uncommon proportion should appear in his collection indicate that, like other American designers, Mr Wang is addling our understanding of what is street-influenced fashion by taking the tailoring-as-confirmation-of-arrival route.

For now, Rihanna and Alexander Wang are marching to the same drum beat, but who will march on?

Is Adidas Desperate?

yeezy-season-4-g1Kanye West’s Yeezy Season 4 shown last week during New York Fashion Week. Photos: Yeezy

Everyone’s keeping up with Kanye (too), so let’s not talk about the Yeezy Season 4 show (or what some members of the media called “a hot mess”) that was staged last week. (In case you’re allergic to hoodies and really don’t know what happened, it was, by most accounts, a “disaster”.) Let’s discuss, instead, what Adidas is doing with Yeezy.

Back in June, Adidas made a public announcement of the formation of adidas + KANYE WEST, an “entity” that the German company sees as “the most significant partnership ever created between an athletic brand and a non-athlete”. That, marketing students, is an example of puffery. What we shall see, expectedly, is more of Yeezy sneakers, clothing, gear, and even eponymous stores. 

It was also widely reported that Adidas bankrolled the Yeezy Season 4 show after keeping away their cheque books for 3 and 4. Staged on New York’s Roosevelt Island and so poorly managed that it fanned the chagrin of those who attended, it isn’t clear how the show could benefit Adidas in the long term.

Sure, there’s publicity to be had from the media grumble, but is this the kind of foundation for adulation an established brand would lay with a potentially successful collaborator? Added to the incomprehension are the Yeezy clothes that have, hitherto, not escaped the bland and uncreative designs, first seen in Season 1. Has the man been so busy with blinding his followers with his publicity antics that they cannot see that he’s in a fashion rut?

yeezy-season-4-bootsThe Yeezy boots that caused more than one model to trip. Photo: Nowaygirl

Perhaps Mr West knows that he can’t push Yeezy any further. In an interview with Vogue.com just hours before the Roosevelt Island show, he said he prefers to substitute fashion for “let’s say ‘apparel,’ especially for the style of clothes I make.” A seductive euphemism if there ever was one. He then qualified his word choice by claiming, “I’m not saying that this is a fashion proposition, I’m saying that this is a human proposition.”

That sounds pretty close to Adidas’s game plan for the collaboration. As the brand’s chief marketing officer Eric Liedtke said to the media when the pairing with Kanye West was announced, “This is what Adidas has always been about, empowering creators to create the new.” Or giving celebrities, rather than sportsmen, what they have always been good at doing: ring up the noise.

It is often said that, unlike Nike, Adidas isn’t big in the sporting arena—at least not in the US of A, where success there often means global recognition. For Adidas there is also the niggling problem of Under Armour closing in. Adidas probably had to rethink endorsements after a series of failed partnerships with sport stars. These include the high-profile but still-not-rising NBA player Derrick Rose, who, in 2012, was awarded a “lifetime deal” rumoured to be worth around USD260 million over 14 years. Then he got injured and injured and injured, and Derrick Rose fronting Adidas became less and less and less visible.

yeezy-boost-750The first sneaker launched by Adidas and Kanye West in spring last year: the Yeezy Boost 750. Photo: Sneakernews

Big-name athlete association is integral to sporting goods brands. Nike had their money on the right guy when they signed with Michael Jordan, a Chicago Bulls star player. That pick was so spot-on that in no time, Air Jordans became a legit sub-brand under the Nike umbrella in 1985, and the launch of each style, till today, is still closely watched by sneakerheads and collectors alike. That the shoes were associated with Nike’s celebrated designer Tinker Hatfield didn’t hurt either. Adidas closest sport-celeb offering is the Stan Smith (named after the tennis player of the ’70s), a basically one-product category that’s been flogged to death.

So Adidas had to look outside of sport to raise its profile among consumers. Turning to celebrities—especially singers—isn’t a surprising move. The Three Stripes have always had the support of rappers as early as the ’80s, culminating in the RUN DMC single My Adidas of 1986. In the music video, not only were the trio decked in Adidas, they were even shown emerging from a RUN DMC/Adidas chopper! Street fashion, brought to music television by rappers, was on its way to being a multi-million business.

It was reported that the Adidas mention was completely self-initiated. Regardless, that song led to a USD1.6 million endorsement deal signed between Run DMC and Adidas. Hardly unexpected when you had rapped to the world, “my Adidas and me, close as can be/we make a mean team, my Adidas and me.” Their Adidas referred specifically to the Superstar, worn without laces. As if to relive those glory days, Adidas release a RUN DMC-co-branded line this year. Are we to expect a Missy Elliot collection? Maybe not, since we already have the Yeezy. Kanye West, the hip-hop star, will now change the fortunes of Adidas as RUN DMC did. Sport can wait.

run-dmc-adidas-teeRun DMC Adidas T-shirt, featuring the two names’ original logo. Photo: Adidas

The retreat of sport in the Adidas branding became more palpable with the push of adidas Originals (no idea why they prefer to spell it with a lower-case ‘A’), as part of a new division conceived in 2000 to advance the emerging popularity of “sport style”. It is under adidas Originals that Stan Smith was reborn and aggressively promoted. Yeezy too benefitted from the marketing might of Originals, but Kanye West isn’t the only rapper it has tapped. Others include Mr West’s G.O.O.D. Music label mates Big Sean (e.g., last year’s ZX Flux) and Pusha T (e.g., EQT Running Guidance ’93, also last year).

Do rappers have a particularly appealing taste that other singers in, say, rock or jazz do not? Or is it their visibility, as well as what can be heard from them that entices? One of the most audible (and still remembered) is Mr West’s very public outburst directed at his ex-collaborator Nike. It built up to the concert rant of 2013, when the rapper taunted Nike via the audience in a packed Bridgestone arena in Nashville, Tennessee: “Do you know who the head of Nike is? No, well let me tell you who he is: his name is Mark Parker, and he just lost culture. Everyone at Nike, everyone at Nike, Mark Parker just let go of culture.”

There must be something appealing about publicly berating the hand that once fed you, so much so that Adidas is willing to risk the same thing being done to them to go into partnership with a known hothead. It does look like it is true that publicity of any sort is better than no publicity. Let them talk about you, never mind if it’s a rant. Since its launch, Yeezy has spawned equal parts rant and rave. Or maybe it’s something else. Maybe Adidas is keeping Mr West so happy that they will not receive the same treatment if things should turn sour between them.

adidas-x-alexander-wang-ss-2017Revealed this week, Alexander Wang’s pairing with adidas Originals. Photo: JP Yim/Getty Images

adidas-x-alexander-wang-ss-2017-editorialadidas Originals by Alexander Wang editorial for Vogue. Photo Juergen Teller/Vogue

Why has Adidas become so bent on banking on celebrities to push their wares or elevate their brand? Because, these days, it is the thing to do, even if the best you can get is Rita Ora. Tommy Hilfiger, too, was once preferred and endorsed by rappers, but look at where the brand is today. They’re so threatened with irrelevance that they’ve (re)aligned themselves with celebrity—this time, the K-clan mirror image Gigi Hadid. And it isn’t enough that she is their face; she has to have a collection purportedly co-designed with her. Celebrities these days have more clout than designers. Designers have to be celebrities or use them to yield similar influence. Just ask Olivier Rousteing.

While Adidas continues its on-going collaborations with designers such as Stella McCartney, Yohji Yamamoto—Y3 is considered to have presaged the current love for athleisure—and Kolor’s Junichi Abe, they have not quite earned the cred and clout that Nike has with Junya Watanabe, Undercover’s Jun Takahashi (who, a runner himself, created the running-centric label Gyakusou), and recently Sacai’s Chitose Abe (a stunning collection conceived with Nike Lab). Nike has generally been rather judicious with their designer collaborations. Up next is Louis Vuitton’s men’s wear designer Kim Jones, whose last sport-brand collab was with the British label Umbro ten years ago. Nike has mostly paired itself with those considered the crème de la crème of the fashion business—champions of design, rather than seekers of fame.

Not to be outdone, Adidas has gone to team up with Alexander Wang, who showed an all-black capsule collection with the Trefoil logo given the dao treatment—turned upside down—during the recent New York Fashion Week (now considered season-confused since there were designers who showed autumn/winter 2016). Adidas latest choice is, of course, far from unexpected. Mr Wang had given the Stan Smith top billing when he designed a whole range of clothes inspired by Adidas’s most-known sneaker in 2014.

barrack-obama-in-adidas-2016An undated picture of Barack Obama wearing Adidas tracksuit circulated on Twitter this year. Photo: Kristoffer Tripplaar-Pool/Getty Images

His latest is homage to the Adidas tracksuit, all black, as most fashionistas desire. But do they bring anything new to the table, or, if you like, jogging track? Yes, he has toyed with the logo, but so has Junya Watanabe for Lacoste. He has outlined the three stripes, but so has Y-3. Mr Wang’s take on the tracksuit picks up after Gosha Rubichinskiy’s resuscitation of those by Sergio Tacchini and Kappa (even the Juergen Teller-lensed communication material featuring Madonna’s son Rocco Ritchie shares Mr  Rubichinskiy’s eastern-bloc aesthetic). And the all-black get-up? Even Barack Obama has worn his version, Adidas no less.

The thing is, Alexander Wang, whose own design does not distance itself from the aesthetics of fast fashion (that’s why his collaboration with H&M was a better fit than that with Balenciaga), need not have to try that hard. Adidas isn’t known to excel in the marketing of design-centric lines such as the critically-acclaimed but doomed sub-brand SLVR (launched in 2009 and discontinued in 2014), last designed by Dirk Schönberger, Adidas’s creative director for its Sports Style division. With Mr Wang, Adidas can simply let the former’s online and offline cool do the work.

Adidas’s ardent embrace of Kanye West also attests to the prevalent sentiment that design doesn’t matter. Mr West may offer what, in New York parlance, is “dope shit”, but it’s the shit that seems to rile observers such as Project Runway’s Tim Gunn, who, in a taped interview with Access Hollywood Live two days ago, called the outfits “dumb basic clothes” and the designer behind them “a sphinx without a riddle”. Mr Gunn deserves more fans.

Do Call Her M, For Magnificent

Best Night: although the track was not included in her Rebel Heart Tour show in Singapore, it pretty much summed up the evening for SOTD. More significantly, it was a concert of captivating choreography and coutureMadonna descending in a cage

Madonna, wearing Adrianne Philips’s pop-kimono, descending in a gilded cage

So few artistes in the YouTube age are able to merge audio and visual into a seamless whole, and really revel in the spectacle live that Madonna’s concert in Singapore last night was going to go down the history of visiting pop acts as the most powerful performance we’ve ever seen on our shores. Yes, even surpassing the Michael Jackson’s Dangerous World Tour stop here in 1993.

From the onset, it was a show worthy of MGM productions—brought forward to the 21st Century. Sometimes you forgot you were watching a pop concert. It had the rousing choreography of West-Side Story and the acrobatic flair of all the dancers that make Marilyn Monroe’s camp-moves-as-dance intoxicating. In fact, the routines had the glamour quotient of pioneering jazz-dance choreographer Jack Cole’s work with the one who convinced so many that Gentlemen prefer Blondes, as well as the classical grace of Alvin Ailey, whose dance theatre was where Madonna received her training.

As if that wasn’t enough, there were the stunning and wow-inducing acrobatic moves on sway poles that recalled Cirque du Soleil, but, to us, were more in common with the Pole Cats of the Oscar-winning Mad Max: Fury Road. As Madonna told Michigan State’s Macomb Daily last year, the Rebel Heart Tour performances will be a “characteristically theatrical spectacle”. And she meant it: the spirited singing and dancing unfolded in front of a huge back screen that projected some of the most arresting and intoxicating video graphics seen outside MTV.

Body Shop segmentMadonna in Alexander Wang stomping in her inimitable way

Although, conceptually, Madonna played a big part (as she told the Rolling Stones she likes “to create personas and then the persona changes and grows into other things”), credit must also go to creative director Jamie King, the writer and director behind Cirque du Soleil’s Michael Jackson: The Immortal Tour. Mr King’s tableaux for the Rebel Heart Tour had the enthralling mix of story-telling, vivid characterisation (who could forget the black, clearly-male dancer channeling Jospehine Baker?), and dramatic visuals. Together with the inspired choreography of Megan Lawson and Jason Young, every set was calculated to stimulate the senses and stir the soul, even those interludes without Madge singing (when she had to undergo costume change) were a thrill to watch: definitely those dancers’ bungee jumping down a tilt-till-near-vertical rear stage!

What may have escaped the notice of concert goers, especially those seated at the back and too mesmerised by the overall visual glory to notice prancing dots, were the costumes, and not just Madonna’s but the dancers’ and back-up singers’ too. In a rare display of creative unity, the singer’s dance and singing mates weren’t clad in nondescript black leotards (or anything as bland), but in individually designed ensemble that had in common with cinematic, rather than concert tradition. It was really no wonder at all that the dancers appeared to enjoy what they did since they knew they looked good and fashion-correct.

Madonna has once again worked with her long-time costumer Adrianne Phillips. Ms Phillips, also a film costume designer (she was nominated for Oscars for Walk the Line and W.E.) is, thankfully, no Nicola Formichetti, who presently helms his own gender-dubious fashion line Nicopanda now that he’s not intimately connected to Lady Gaga’s costume choices. Madonna’s trust in Ms Phillips is apparent since the latter had designed the costumes of the Material Girl’s past five world tours. For the Rebel Heart Tour, Ms Phillips enlisted designers that are currently the rage, including Gucci’s Alessandro Michele, Moschino’s Jeremy Scott, and once-Balenciaga’s Alexander Wang. No doubt a motley group, but with the dissimilarity required for Madonna’s multiple-persona show.

Bullfight segmentFor the breathtaking ‘bullfight’ segment, Madonna wore Fausto Puglisi

What impressed those who could still be impressed by such things is that Madonna used clothes, not no-clothes, to enhance the visual strength of her performance. There’s something strangely and comfortingly old-school about the presence of costumes and the act of costume change now that we’re in an era when singers have hardly anything on (Arianna Grande, Nicki Minaj, et al) or are badly dressed (K-pop stars!). But these are get-ups with so much fashion-speak that calling them ‘costumes’ somehow recalls Bob Mackie or, for Canto-pop die-hards, Eddie Lau. There were nothing as long-ago as that, not even anything resembling the iconic conical brassiere that Jean-Paul Gaultier designed for her for the Blond Ambition Tour in 1990 (although the bra made its catwalk debut in 1982). These clothes are contenders for a fashion museum rather than, ironically, Instagram.

There were four sets (five if that one encore were to be considered) and four main costumes. Some were themes Madonna had explored before such as that with the toreador jacket and knickerbockers, or the one with the ’20s shimmy fringed dress designed by Jeremy Scott (reportedly taking a huge chunk of the 2,500,000 Swarovski crystals that adorned the stage clothes). The most compelling for us at SOTD was the Spanish/gypsy ensemble designed by Alessandro Michele. This was unlike anything the singer has worn before: rather Elisa Doolittle residing in Seville. All the Michele details were there: the lace, the embroidery, the colours, the kooky romance. It was a softer Madonna that the younger set would probably (and regrettably) consider grandmother-ish.

What fashion observers got a kick out of, too, were the video projections accompanying the latter segments. The medley of Living for Love and La Isla Bonita (yes, two different styles but they paired beautifully!) were accompanied by sumptuous, monochromatic split-image visuals of Spanish fans, ruffles, fringes, lace, bangles, and castanets, all depicted smoothly in a Mary Katrantzou-gone-minimalist way. Not to be outdone were the swirling embroideries, chez Michele, during Dress you Up and Crazy for You, that turned the backdrop into a hypnotic kaleidoscope. Even if you were bobbing up and down way back and couldn’t marvel at the couture needlework of Madonna’s shawl, you would be mesmerised by the digital needlework on the rear screen.

Latin_Gypsy setThe ‘Latin/Gypsy’ set that opened with Dress you Up was mardi gras for a staid Singaporean audience

In GucciMadonna in her most colourful get-up by Alessandro Michele for Gucci

The Rebel Heart Tour concert is clearly a movable fashion spread. Sure, Madonna does not approach fashion as beguilingly as Björk; she does not embrace it as trashily as Lady Gaga; she does not wear it as girlishly as Talyor Swift. She’s no pundit of irony. One cannot, however, say she brings nothing new and visually exciting to the stage. She is a performer and she knows that every button, every bead, every binding (and that ultra-long barège of the ‘wedding’ sequence!) matter, and the sum effect is what makes a singer a performer.

Although her moves, at age 57, were not quite the dance-prance-cavort of the past (she was half-Vogue-ing her way through the sets), there was no denying the consummate artiste that Madonna still is. It is puzzling, therefore, that there were those—stage habitués themselves, no less—who thought that she sold out when the songs Holy Water and Devil Pray were omitted in response to MDA’s outdated restrictions. It isn’t quite clear if these individuals felt short-changed, but to equate Madonna with only controversial songs that bait the church is as reductive as associating religion with only violence.

Sexuality and erotica may be part of her repertoire—like Jack Cole, she F-bombed inveterately (surprisingly to the discomfort of not a few attendees)—but fashion will not be underplayed in her quest for musical dominance and relevance. Madonna is too powerful and savvy an image maker, and too ardent a fashion lover to minimise the communicative value of clothes. She may rip her top off, but she will not rip us off.

Photos: Zhao Xiang. Editor’s note: We apologise for the less-than-desirable quality of these photographs. SOTD did not attend the concert as a member of the press corp. The conditions where we stood unfortunately were not ideal for the kind of pictures we would like to publish here