Adidas Presses “Pause”

…on the collaboration with Balenciaga. Has recent controversial events pertaining to the latter led to this decision?

They have already cut ties with Kanye West. It took a while, but they did. Now, Adidas has apparently decided to “pause all product launches” with Balenciaga. Like Kim Kardashian, the maker of the Stan Smith has decided to “re-evaluate”their relationship with the creator of the Triple S. In a very recent report by Sneaker Freaker, customer service emails by Adidas were sent out last week in response to pre-orders of the US$800 ‘destroyed’—and, consequently, derided—Balenciaga X Adidas Stan Smith. Adidas wrote: “We have taken the time to re-evaluate our partnership with Balenciaga and we have decided to pause all product launches until further notice.” As such, they added, “we are unable to fulfill your pre-order of the Balenciaga/adidas Stan Smith.” They did not specify why there was a need for this re-evaluation. We have not been able to establish the veracity of the said email.

Could this, if true, be a preemptive move? Balenciaga was, as you remember, embroiled in a scandal involving the injudicious use of questionable objects in their advertising. It led to considerable online outcry, even compelling Ms Kardashian to make a statement—although somewhat vague—about her future commitments to Balenciaga. It didn’t help that Balenciaga wanted to sue the companies that oversaw the production of the ads, and then… withdrew. In the wake of the unceasing Kanye West social media rant that led to the demise of his collaborations with both Adidas and Balenciaga, could Adidas be doing the right thing before they are accused, again, for being slow to act in severing ties with those who are deemed offensive, even incendiary? Can they afford to wait until the situation at Balenciaga gets better or when people, if they do, forget?

The Balenciaga X Adidas collaboration is a full-line affair (including a water bottle!), and now out in Balenciaga stores. Contrary to a vogue.com report in May, it is not “already selling out”. Not even presently. We saw the collection in-store (admittedly not in its entirety) and we went away thinking we won’t suffer without a piece. It wasn’t that hard to come to that conclusion after seeing the advertising campaign, shot in an office. The bagginess for most of the pieces is not exactly the component of an extremely smart turnout. Nor, the embroidery of the Balenciaga logotype on some of the tops. The Stan Smith was not there, but the S$1,650 Triple S with the triple stripes was. We were told by a staffer that they “have not received the stock for the Stan Smith”. In fact, it is no longer listed on the Balenciaga website. That is, as it appears, just one item that Adidas is holding back from the collab. Or, are they saying that they are re-evaluating the two’s future partnership? Are they finally treading cautiously after losing a projected US$246 million by cancelling Yeezy, as they traverse a deeply complex world of fashion?

Illustration: Just So

Balenciaga Ads: “Wrong Artistic Choice”

Demna Gvasalia finally reacts and apologises

In the past, European luxury houses could not get their advertising right for Asia. Now they can’t do it well for their own audience. For Balenciaga, the misstep struck twice. And the reactions to them have been by no means mild. Fans of Kim Kardashian were quick to point out how she, a Balenciaga fan and model (or the better-sounding “brand ambassador”), had been slow to say something. She eventually did, claiming she had been “re-evaluating” her relationship with the house. Five days after one of the problematic ads ‘Balenciaga Gift Shop’ was launched (16 November) and the disapproval (sometimes rabid) that followed, Balenciaga posted on Instagram, “We sincerely apologize for any offense our holiday campaign may have caused…” In the mean time, country singer Jason Aldean’s wife Brittany Aldean was one of the first celebrities to show her unmistakable disapproval: she shared a post on IG showing her taking out the garbage in clear plastic bags. In them were Balenciaga merchandise. The comment read, “It’s trash day @balenciaga.” No one could be certain if she really discarded those items or if it was just a social-media stunt. The post was quickly deleted. Two days ago, Mrs Aldean shared another photo of herself in a leather jacket with the message: “A little fringe and Dolce never hurt nobody”.

And now Demna Gvasalia, like other designers before him, has apologised. On IG, he wrote under the header “Personal Message”: “I want to personally apologize for the wrong artistic choice of concept for the gifting campaign with the kids and I take my responsibility. It was inappropriate to have kids promote objects that had nothing to do with them.” This came more than two weeks after the backlash unfurled. Still, it is a welcome move as no one in the industry that we spoke to believed that Balenciaga was not aware of “unapproved items” used, as stated in an earlier apology, or that no one in the company knew what was disseminated. And that they should be so aggrieved by the sum fallout that they initiated a USD25-million lawsuit against the companies that produced the advertisements for another campaign (Spring 2023 collection) containing those “unsettling documents”.

After Mr Gvasalia’s post, Balenciaga CEO Cédric Charbit apologised too, calling what happened in the past weeks “our mistakes” and sharing a list of corporate actions—“with the objective to learn from our mistakes”—that the company has instituted, including reorganising “our image department to ensure full alignment with our corporate guidelines”. Mr Charbit also revealed that Balenciaga “has decided not to pursue litigation”. No reason was given to the rescinding. Provocation is, of course, part of Balenciaga’s present-day appeal. But things could go unnecessarily far. Now, there is even the hashtag #CANCELBALENCIAGA (on TikTok, more than 120 million views have been clocked). Mr Gvasalia also said in his personal message, “As much as I would sometimes like to provoke a thought through my work, I would NEVER have an intention to do that with such an awful subject as child abuse that I condemn.” Another day in the world of fashion. And the route to redemption.

Photo: Zhao Xiangji

No Kidding: S&M Teddy

Has Balenciaga crossed the line with their holiday ads that feature children holding bears in “bondage gear”?

It is not clear why Balenciaga, the brand that dropped Kanye West, chose to be controversial in their holiday advertising campaign. In one series, called Balenciaga Gift Shop, children were photographed holding bags in the shape of bears. Usually, the choice of handheld would be deemed cute, but these were not Care Bears, nor those akin to Ralph Lauren’s Polo Bear, also dubbed Preppy Bear. Balenciaga’s were kitted in what many has described as “S&M bondage gear”. There are even those going as far as calling the end result “depraved” and “virtual child porn”. Any advertising that involve the underaged is always a tricky affair, so it is not clear why the children were placed amid merchandise for adults and those only adults could afford to buy. Balenciaga has, of course, pushed the boundary of taste during much of Demna Gvasalia’s tenure, but this time, could they have thrusted themselves just that much too far?

Following the public outcry, Balenciaga withdrew all the unseemly ads, saying in a statement on Instagram: “We sincerely apologize for any offense our holiday campaign may have caused. Our plush bear bags should not have been featured with children in this campaign. We have immediately removed the campaign from all platforms.” In one photo, a child stood before a quartet of wine glasses, among other things associated with grownups. Kids and the things arranged orderly in front of them are reportedly a take on photographer Gabriele Galimberti’s Toy Stories, in which children from all over the world are photographed with their play things. In an earlier press release, Balenciaga described the images as “exploration of what people collect and receive as gifts”. Yet, in the apology post, it stressed: “We take this matter very seriously and are taking legal action against the parties responsible for creating the set and including unapproved items for our Spring 23 campaign photo shoot.” They must have seen the images before issuing the PR kit. It is hard to imagine that no one in Balenciaga sent out those item for the shoot, or knew what was loaned.

Indeed, how did the “unapproved items” appear in an ad that Balenciaga commissioned? Mr Galimberti was quick to respond on IG: “I am not in a position to comment [on] Balenciaga’s choices, but I must stress that I was not entitled in whatsoever manner to neither chose the products, nor the models, nor the combination of the same. As a photographer, I was only and solely requested to lit (sic) the given scene, and take the shots according to my signature style.” One fashion photographer here told us that Mr Galimberti is not wrong. “We don’t decide what to shoot. Clients do, even the props. Sometimes, the clients work through a stylist, who will then bring the clothes and accessories to the shoot. We won’t know what’s approved, what’s not. Or, even, who the models might be.”

Soon after the S&M bear rebuke, those on the lookout for missteps of luxury brands spotted one more oversight, in another Balenciaga ad—this time for the house’s Hourglass bag, bearing the Adidas Three Stripes. In the image (above), put together during the shoot for the collab’s campaign, the S$4,790 bag was placed atop strewn documents. Perhaps to come across as officious (the campaign, in fact, was shot in an office). One of the sheets is purportedly a page off the document from a Supreme Court decision that prohibits the distribution of pornography involving children. What was the set stylist thinking of? Whatever it was, Netizens could not help but wonder if Balenciaga thought that two controversies are better than one.

“We apologise for displaying unsettling documents in our campaign,” Balenciaga posted on Instagram. “We take this matter very seriously and are taking legal action against parties responsible for creating the set and including unapproved (again?) items for our spring 23 campaign photoshoot.” The legal action, as it turned out, was to file a lawsuit against production company North Six, Inc. and its agent, Nicholas Des Jardins, who was reported to have designed the set for the shoots. And Balenciaga said it will seek at least US$25 million in damages for what they called “false association” between Balenciaga and the “repulsive and deeply disturbing subject of the court decision.”

Meanwhile, ardent friend of the house Kim Kardashian, who is also their couture model and who always has first dibs of their key looks, has remained curiously silent. Even her fans were wondering why she had not taken a stand, considering that her kids could be the target audience of the teddy ads. Then on Sunday, she made an announcement, claiming that she has been “re-evaluating” her relationship with Balenciaga. She explained why she did not say something sooner: “I wanted an opportunity to speak to their team to understand for myself how this could have happened” even when she was “shaken by the disturbing images”. Has she understood and was she satisfied? Balenciaga had already found themselves in a predicament with Ms Kardashian’s ex-husband and his shocking anti-Semitic rants. They quickly disassociated themselves with him. And now, those disquieting ads. Not quite the festive edit, not at all.

Photos: Balenciaga

Balenciaga And Adidas

…kill the office wear that we are familiar with

Track wear is now suitable for the office. Or so Balenciaga and Adidas would have us believe. There is no longer any boundary between the running track and the boardroom. Sure, we have shifted away from office dress codes for quite a while now. But this is truly bringing tracksuits into a space that once expects its occupants to look spiffy. The images for the latest Balenciaga X Adidas collaboration is shot in the confines of an unmistakable office, one that looks like the headquarters of, say, JP Morgan Chase than the design studio of gaming giant Electronic Arts. Yet, the pretend office users are all outfitted in track wear with the distinctly oversized silhouette of Balenciaga and the conspicuous three stripes of the German sports brand.

Even when office wear is now redefined, very few people can get away with wearing tracksuits to their work place, let alone those that are this baggy. Fewer still will be able to afford these priced at a staggering S$3000, up. But with Kim Kardashian, Madonna, and others adopting them for nearly every occasion, it is possible that the ultra-relaxed look may win hearts among average office workers. They only need to buy the cheaper Adidas version, or pick one suit from a thrift store (where for, some reason, they tend to end up to die, or reborn). In today’s office, where hot-desking is increasingly preferred, Balenciaga’s and Adidas’s proposal may not look out of place in a workspace system conceived to encourage interactivity, community, and creativity. Casualness rather than formality is preferred, which may see four-figure tracksuits find their places between the open workstation and the equally open water cooler.

To be sure, Bella Hadid in the ads (top right) does not look as scary as the face-concealed models who wore similar outfits during the brand’s cruise reveal at the New York Stock Exchange in May. She tried to appear soignée, but there is something quite incongruous about her, the outfit, and the surroundings. It isn’t clear if women who work in offices would find tracksuits agreeable to wear. They are, in fact, not the epitome of comfort. The Balenciaga X Adidas tracksuit comes in “techno poplin” (a blended fabric of cotton and polyamide), cotton terry jersey, or polyester nylon, all of which, in the collaborative version, are rather thick. Given the oversized silhouette of both track jacket and pants, the weight of both is not exactly light. Can they be truly comfortable in the office? Or are we being captious? If Balenciaga can get you to buy Crocs with heels, distressed-to-death sneakers, and leather clutches that mimic the packaging of Lay’s potato chips, they can, we suppose, quite easily entice you to wear tracksuits to the office.

Photos: Joshua Bright/Balenciaga X Adidas

Yeezy Come, Yeezy Go

Balenciaga is fleeing from Kanye West

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

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

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

Kering

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

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

Update (22 October 2022, 15:00):

Anna Wintour And Vogue’s Turn

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

Illustration: Just So, based on Line characters

Two Of A Kind: Mud Landing

In two cities, it’s fashionable to frolic in the muck

Mud in Paris versus mud in Singapore. Photos (left): Balenciaga and (right): TikTok

Whose mud is better; whose is muddier? And whose can really muck up? Balenciaga has shown at the recent Paris Fashion Week that, when it comes to fashion show grounds, bog is better than pile. For their spring/summer 2013 presentation, held at the Parc des Expositions, the French couture house created a runway that was not carpeted, but muddied. Yes, earth of the very wet kind. We, too, had our own runway last weekend, during the comeback F1 Night Race, at the parc de City Hall, aka the Padang. It was near-identical, the mud, but we did not have to create the guck. It was there all along, compacted soil waiting for a downpour and excited F1 attendees to whip it up into a deliciously sticky and slimy mess.

According to The New York Times, 275 cubic metres of mud was dumped onto the Balenciaga show venue. But this was no ordinary mud; this was black dirt “harvested from a French peat bog”. Definitely more atas than the common earth on our historic Padang, all 43,000 sqm of it. And Balenciaga had the Spanish artist Santiago Sierra dump and “arrange” the guck there. The only artist we had was good ’ol Mother Nature and her showers. And to make sure their sodden runway smelled right, Balenciaga had a scent specially concocted—dubbed by NYT as “eau de peat”. It was sprayed into the air of the site. Seriously. A perfume to intensify the fragrance of wet soil. Very high-end, indeed. All we had was Mother N’s own bau—geosmin and, consequently, petrichor—and they didn’t have to be spritzed to odorise the Padang.

Balenciaga is known to show their collections outside Paris, even in unlikely places such as the New York Stock Exchange. They are, therefore, not opposed to decamping to foreign soil. If they had asked, we’re sure the Singapore Tourism Board would be happy to arrange for them to have a field day at the Padang, and allow their expensive sneakers and silk gowns trudge through our free and foul mud. According to the show notes, the Balenciaga Paris set was a “metaphor for digging for truth and being down to earth”. We do not for certain if they can do that here, but we are quite sure that the Lion City is as good a venue as the City of Lights to muddy a fashion show.

(Still) Bleak At Balenciaga

A dark, dark, and muddy world, with a parade led by a self-destructive egomaniac

In a four-season world that is facing increasingly warm summers (with some cities reportedly skipping spring altogether), it is strange that at Balenciaga’s spring/summer 2023 show, the first model sent out is Kanye West (rumoured to be in Paris to present a Yeezy collection), bundled up like a ranger on some frigid war-torn settlement. In fact, on his multi-pocketed flak jacket, a label on the left chest reads “SECURITY”. Despite the hoodie over a cap which casts a shadow over his face, the bearded Mr West is still identifiable. He looks as he has been these past year, mostly dressed as if the places he visits are below zero degrees Celsius, even when it’s blazing. As he has explained before, he has the predilection to “dress like winter when it’s hot”. Perhaps that may explain why on Demna Gvasalia’s TikTok account, which shared a short video showing Mr West’s duration on the runway, the caption reads, “Ye is walking for Balenciaga winter 23”!

A friend of SOTD’s said that it could be a “typo”. Perhaps, but unlikely (the Balenciaga social media team won’t make such a mistake). Could it be an autumn/winter outfit made specially for Mr West to wear in summer that can serve as a preview for the season after? This is one Balenciaga customer/“friend of the house” with exacting needs, including a desperate one to be taken seriously by the fashion establishment. Mr West, in fact, looks like he could well be ready for the next Mad Max movie. A Black Road Warrior? And the set of the show matches: a wasteland of very wet mud. After last season’s snow, could this be what happens when the deep freeze thaws, but the war has not ended? In fact, Balenciaga calls this presentation The Mud Show. The set, with real mud dumped into a stadium (in the darkness, it could be a pile of dung), is designed by the Spanish performance/installation artist Santiago Sierra. A waterlogged path is created and on this boggy ground, the indigent-looking bunch (including dads with babies—they look fake—close to the chest), some of the models appear bruised (bashed?), trudge or march on, the hems of their gown and pants, and shoes, quickly dirtied by the muck.

The muddying is consistent with Balenciaga’s recent slew of ‘Destroyed’ garments and footwear. And there are more rips-as-destruction this season to better fit the misery and squalor of the world, seen through Demna Gvasalia’s eyes. If everything around us is falling apart, why not the clothes? The first victims of the tattering are, expectedly, the jeans; this time, also with severe rips in the rear, so extreme, some might consider them unwearable. There is defacement too—graffiti on the hoodies. All the disfiguring, according to Mr Gvasalia, required a “couple of days” more than making clothes that are not damaged. Just as there are the seriously destructed, there are those left whole and untarnished, until the mud gets to them. The dresses, which have won the brand consistent approval and yielded considerable influence, come in slinky jersey with the simplicity of a T-shirt or in fluid plissé that wrap the body protectively like a cape, stand out. However wrecked the world, there are those who chose to dress splendidly. Or in a patch-up of old handbags. In the last dress, a man (or a flat-chested woman?) wears a gown made of Balenciaga’s once sort-after Lariat bags. This could have appeared in the couture collection (along with those clothes made of old belts), but here it is, an unyielding outfit probably too difficult for a woman to wear.

As the models tread, some carry stuffed animals with handles (are they filled bags?) that could have been dropped as children flee whatever/whoever they were escaping from. These are carried by the strangely under-dressed: in hooded tops with scanty running shorts. Or those wearing belts with the width of cummerbunds. Some of the bags look like sacks or pillows, and others like trash bags (already a trending Balenciaga item). One style was most striking. It continues Mr Gvasalia’s passion for conjoining disparate things, such as Kim Kardashian’s favourite legging-boots (this season, there are trouser-heels!). New is the squarish, tote-glove or a tote with holes on the upper half through which the arm can slip into a single full-length glove attached. The models carry them on the shoulder, with arm-in-glove as one. This is perhaps an innovation that befits our penchant for the hybrid, the mixed up, the remixed, the crossbreed. No one wants to look coordinated this days when tattered complexity is a lot less restraining. As one SOTD reader texted us about the Balenciaga collection, “I think this is truly fashion for our times”. Kanye West agrees too. That’s why he is in the show. Better than walking for Dolce and Gabbana?

Screen shot: Balenciaga/YouTube. Photos: Balenciaga

More Bad News For The Gap

After Kanye West announced the end of the Yeezy Gap partnership, the three-letter brand has announced the elimination of jobs as margins shrivel

Gap has been stricken with one bad news after another, all in less than three months. In July, reports emerged that the Indian-born Canadian CEO Sonia Syngal was dismissed after a mere two-year tenure, with Bloomberg describing the move as somewhat unceremonious: She was “fired after failing to rescue struggling retailer”. The Gap has not announced a replacement. Then last week, the announcement that “Gap and Kanye West are Ending their Partnership” was made by The Wall Street Journal. Few people were surprised by that news. And now The Gap has said that they would be laying off staff—up to 500 corporate jobs—in offices in San Francisco, New York, and in Asia. Was Mr West’s bowing out timely for The Gap?

It has been speculated that the once-loved San Francisco brand was not terribly thrilled with what Ms Syngal had done, including signing up Mr West to bring about Yeezy Gap, and that what she put in place was taking too long to see real results. Ms Syngal was previously with The Gap’s sister brand Old Navy, having arrived at Gap Inc in 2004 with no background in fashion (before that, she was with Sun Microsystems and Ford Motor Co.). Yet she was considered to be instrumental during the family-centric Old Navy’s admirable height of success, escalating the brand’s revenue to more than double The Gap’s. But just because she was able to realise the potential of one sibling did not indicate that she could bring to fruition the aspirations of another.

Just because she was able to realise the potential of one sibling did not indicate that she could bring to fruition the aspirations of another

For a while, The Gap as a fashion player has been languishing. The world has basically moved on and on, and without The Gap’s washed chinos and straight-legged jeans, and, most definitely, their logo-ed tees. Did the 53-year-old clothier ever consider that their all-American fashion, often described as “laid-back style”, has lost considerable appeal, especially since Donald Trump took office in 2017 and the US is a different place. But critics say that The Gap’s lost its punch even earlier, in 2004, a year before Uniqlo, who does American laid-back better then the Americans themselves, opened their first store in New Jersey. That year, when a chap Mark Zuckerberg launched The Facebook (later shortened to Facebook), The Gap scored Tommy Hilfiger alum Pina Ferlisi to tweak the retailers offerings so that things could look up again after two years of decline. Few remember The Gap from that period and later, and the brand continued to fizzle.

When they had Mr West onboard in 2020, it was thought that The Gap finally took a close look at their merchandise, and realised that a major refresh was desperately needed, and Mr West was their guy even when his own Yeezy clothing line was not the epitome of brand success. So convinced they were that they signed a 10-year deal with him to birth Yeezy Gap. But the first year was not all rosy for the new brand. News emerged that back of house, things were messy. Mr West’s pal Demna Gvasalia was called in to help and very quickly Yeezy Gap was “Engineered by Balenciaga”. Despite the added edge, it is not clear if the collab is making pots for The Gap. But one thing is obvious: many shoppers did not like buying merchandise out of bulk bags. Rapidly, Mr West revealed that he wanted out and had his lawyers make it happen, claiming The Gap did not open Yeezy Gap stores as they agreed to. According to Forbes, “Gap president Mark Breitbart immediately shot off an email to all Gap Inc. employees suggesting it was a mutual decision”. Still, it appears that Kanye West had The Gap in his grasp. We’re not near a cliffhanger yet.

File Photo: SOTD

Visited: Yeezy Gap

The Kanye West-steered sub-brand of the Gap has its own space in a Gap store at last. But there is no shelf, no table, no rack. Everything is placed in bulk bags. Like merchandise to be discarded, or incinerated

The Gap store in Times Square, New York

Kanye West is paving the way for the Gap, literally with bulk bags. At its inaugural IRL retail run, a “pop-up” inside the Gap in Times Square, the space dedicated to Mr West’s much-hyped partnership with America’s most recognisable mall brand is nothing like what you might expect. Outside, at the corner of Broadway and West 44th Street, the blue façade and its lighter blue box-logo are all unmistakably the Gap. On the roof, above the large three-letter name are two billboards—one of a dove in flight, the other, a still, dark spectre—that stand ominously. Inside, it is just as sinister: In a narrow space the width of a hospital corridor, it is all black and dimly lit (low-light ambience even Abercrombie and Fitch has abandoned), like an entryway to a secret lair. Only this is not an unremarkable passage. This is where the hottest and most anticipated collaboration is sold, shockingly in those typically one-ton (here, they seem more capacious) receptacle of polypropylene for packing and moving goods, all two dozens of them. This could be easily a receiving bay, if not a dump site.

After two years of considerable hype, inconsistent drops, and online-only availability, the Yeezy Gap, presently “Engineered by Balenciaga”, retail space opened last Thursday to long queues. To avoid the possible crush, we visited the store on a Monday afternoon. It was not busy. But it was not the lack of a crowd that hit us immediately, like a slap (such as this one); it was the strange grimness. This is the highlight of summer shopping? This is the Gap? There is more cheer in a Yohji Yamamoto store. We knew there would be a predominance of black, but this drabness and gloominess? And what’s worse, those waist-high, black sacks on the floor! Walk into the store and they are on the right, placed in two rows, like oil drums, in the middle of the passage. It’s like visiting a wholesale market for secondhand clothes. You walk around the bags and look inside them to find what you want. And you have to rummage to find your size. This is worse than excavating a sales wagon at the OG Orchard closing down clearance.

Two rows of bulk bags in which you are encouraged to dig into

We were not the only ones shocked by the refuse point. One Black guy was heard saying to his buddy, who looked like he stepped out of the rooftop billboard: “Are they kidding? Trash bags?” Our photographer, who visited the store earlier said, “it was very unnerving for me to see the black bags in the black surroundings. Can you imagine what it would be like for the tourists?” The containers already looked a mess when we approached, even when there were six staffers folding the clothes and arranging, and returning them to the rightful vessel, tagged with images of the garment that reside in it and the price, after customers have finished with one and moved to the next. There was an unmistakable lack of allure, but since we were there, we thought we should just join the unconventional way of shopping for clothes and just dig, like everyone else. But, we kept thinking of meigancai (梅干菜, dried pickled Chinese mustard) in Albert Centre Wholesale Market. There is something menial about going through the clothes in this manner, too. No pleasure.

We looked at a mock turtleneck T-shirt with a surprisingly tiny white Gap logotype right in the centre, about 5 cm below the neckline. For some reason, the tees are made of very thick cotton jersey (and it was 28°C outside). A pile of, say, five of them is heavy to lift. A woman, frustrated by the hard work she had to do, muttered, “why is everything so fucking heavy?”. To see what what we were digging, we had to bend over the bags’ massive opening. After three minutes, it was too much. One of us decided to try a T-shirt, for the heck of it. At US$140 a piece (or more for other styles), they were rather hard to swallow. We picked the simplest: the mock turtleneck. The fabric was disturbingly thick. No one around us, we noticed, wore anything that heavy, except the staff. When we pulled the top down over our head, it was stuck; when we yanked harder, we thought we popped the stitching on the neckline! Why was it this tight?

Each bag is tagged with illustrations of the style of the garment as well as a number—the price

When we managed to remove the T-shirt, we noted that the neck was ribbed, but why was there the poor “stretch and recovery”, to borrow from production speak? The problem, it appeared to us, was technical: Somehow, Mr West and his team decided on this heavy fabric, and the rib on the neck had no Spandex in it. With possibly mis-calibrated knitting tension, the rib is limp and won’t stretch sufficiently. When we brought this up with a former Gap merchandiser, he was surprised that that could happen. “Is this the Gap we’re talking about here? They do the neck stretch test there (they invented it!), even for children’s clothes!” As for the heavy jersey, one designer told us that this has been the fabric choice—the dry-touch compact jersey that is rather ’70s—for many brands wanting to appear “luxe”, but “luxe,” he added, “does not need to be heavy.”

We did not want to look into the other bags—they were all equally uninviting. There is so much you’d wish to do if the Gap made you feel like you’re at a quartermaster’s retrieving uniforms. It is possible that Mr West wanted to create uniforms for his tribe of eager followers and, in due course, improve the sagging fortunes of the Gap. But these clothes are not the one-time uniforms of teens craving the Gap’s ubiquitous jeans and graphic tees. A far cry from what the Times Square website describes on it pages: “clean, classic and comfortable clothing”. When we first saw the pieces on the Yeezy Gap website, it is clear the line is aesthetically apart from the 52-year-old American brand to which it owes half its name. The Gap has lost its mojo for so long that even fans do not remember when they last brought anything from them (all Gap stores here closed in 2018). The brand needed a life buoy and it was tossed one. Kanye West could, apparently, be to the Gap what Alessandro Michele is to Gucci. So he got the job.

Quite a sea of clothes dumped in those bulk bags

But in the first 18 months of the collab, just two products—one puffer and one hoodie—were made available and only online. Compounding that, the e-retail model was troubled by missed datelines, low stocks, and late deliveries. Mr West seemed to need a life buoy too. So pal Demna Gvasalia came to the rescue and became co-conspirator, an unsurprising turn as the two desire to dominate the fashion world with their oversized, body/face-obscuring clothes. Additionally, Mr West announced on social media not too long ago that he had already spent US$4 million at Balenciaga so far this year (how much more before this is unknown. The former wife’s and daughter’s bill were not tallied either). Why not allow Balenciaga to make more by getting them to “engineer” Yeezy Gap? Speaking to The New York Times recently, Mr Gvasalia revealed that he wanted “to create a solid foundation for Ye’s aesthetic on which they can now build”. The paper also reported that Mr Gvasalia was “engineering the prototypes in the Balenciaga studios in Paris and Zurich”. Most of us already knew the clothes were based on Balenciaga blocks.

Kanye West might have been too busy to see Yeezy Gap through. After the partnership was announced, he ran for the US presidency, saved his marriage (tried to), insulted his ex’s boyfriend, and put out the album Donda, whose overall visual was co-conceived with Demna Gvasalia. Was he too busy to handle Yeezy Gap on his own unaided? Or was he, as the rumours flew, really unschooled in fashion design for a mass brand? According to the photographer Nick Knight, who also spoke to NYT, “if he wants to spend a year looking into the colour blue, we’ll spend a year looking into the colour blue, which is extremely inspiring when so often schedules take priority over creativity. He doesn’t see himself in any way constrained by deadlines or seasons. I don’t think he would even use the word ‘collection’ for what he is doing.” Mr West, in other words, marches to his very own Roland drum beat.

Digital screens to welcome you: The Yeezy Gap metaverse that apparently is taken from a related computer game

Moving to the back of the dedicated space for Yeezy Gap Engineered by Balenciaga, we saw that provision was made for the line that was expected to form at the cashier’s counter, which was just as black as the rest of the store. The rear wall, where a video screen was installed, was dark this afternoon (another two screens to the left of the entrance were aglow with some sky-like background, in front of which two avatars were dancing/spinning in mid-air). We stood comfortably in the quieter rear and sized up the near-monochromatic tableau before us. The shoppers were mostly male, dressed unmistakably in what Mr West desires them to: oversized tops and bottoms. Many gravitated to the T-shirts, with which they could probably at last enter the expensive world of Balenciaga, whose very temple of cool is about 1.5 kilometres away on Madison Avenue. This was far more accessible, and the clothes could be binned when desire, for some reason, was not aroused.

As we were leaving the store, more people dashed in excitedly, like they were approaching some concert merchandise. Would they leave as disappointed as we did? Stepping out into the afternoon warmth, we thought of that thick jersey T-shirt again. For the higher-than-the-Gap prices that Yeezy Gap charges, what incredible experience did the store offer or was it just the letdown that was indelible? It was hard to imagine that this would be how the Gap intends to move forward or ensnare the unconverted. One Singaporean working in New York later told us that he was “completely turned off by the experience” and that he could see a “stark disconnect with mainstream Gap”. When we asked him if it could be just some high concept that escaped him, he replied, with palpable disdain, “high concept, my pantat!”

Yeezy Gap is at the Gap, 1514 Broadway, New York City. Photos: HL See for SOTD

They Like To Be Taped

Bound like this, walking is difficult, never mind about using the toilet, but it does not matter to these women. Fashion counts

Who wore it better? Or, should that be, who was more comfortable? Both are women who have an intense love of their own bodies, often wearing little to show off their well-tended skin and admirable curves, yet both have chosen to be mummified from the neck down, not with some linen strips, but by rolls of caution—actually, packing—tape. This is Balenciaga’s doing and it is all done under the auspices of the maison’s couture studio. The wrapping is completed by hand (!), fans of bandage-as-catsuit would remind us. Getting fitted for a dress can be a joy, but can the same be said of being bound by sticky, non-porous tape? Yet, Kim Kardashian and, now, Lisso is showing us that it’s okay to endure for fashion’s sake. Just as we thought that the latest cover of Vogue, with Emma Corrin lifting her right arm to show armpit hair, is the final visual frontier magazines will cross, Elle UK, not to be outdone, shows Lisso all wrapped up like the proverbial bak chang (rice dumpling). About Damn Time?

Fashion has to be inclusive. Every woman can be taped if she chooses to, if she is willing to put up with the discomfort, the restriction, the debilitation. To Balenciaga, this may be the art of ligature, but it isn’t known if the two women feel the same. Do they, in fact, consider this severe severe swaddling as sartorial emancipation? Although looking very much the antithesis of fashion (3M-Core?), Kim Kardashian was the first to allow herself to be this wrapped-up last March for the Balenciaga autumn/winter show in Paris. She could not walk properly to her seat and was afraid the supposedly low-tack tapes might rip after her posterior kissed the chair. Perhaps Ms Kardashian did not share her experience with Lisso.

To be sure, the Grammy winner did not look uncomfortable in that cover shot. But, in a video posted on Instagram, she tried dancing to About Damn Time, but could barely. She was as agile as C-3PO doing the Macarena. As she moved, it is clear that the Balenciaga wrapping specialists could not conceal her crotch (or was it mean to be crotchless?) And as she moved to her sides, you could see that her buttocks could not be properly covered (or was it mean to be peek-a-boo down there in the rear?). Even Balenciaga couture could not produce the perfectly taped backside. Polyethylene has more limitations than cloth, but to Balenciaga and their compliant friends, making a statement is infinitely more important. Or, as Lizzo sang in Truth Hurts, they simply “needed something more exciting”.

Photos: (left): AB+DM/Elle UK. (Right): Balenciaga

The Only One

Is Balenciaga’s Demna Gvasalia the sole modernist in the still-rarified world of haute couture?

Shortly after the Balenciaga couture presentation ended, the Twittersphere was abuzz with delight that walking the runway were Nicole Kidman, Dua Lipa, and, not admirably, Kim Kardashian and, even less so, Naomi Campbell. Like many watching the sole show of the season that was worth waiting for, we took it in in front of our PC monitor (smartphone screens are too small for couture!). We were enraptured up to the segment where full face-visors (the show opened with them) were not used, and models bared their foreheads to chins. Even that was fine, until Ms Lipa appeared, followed by Ms Kardashian, and Ms Kidman, and, almost towards the end, Ms Campbell. Before these women sauntered in, we were able to concentrate on the clothes and to marvel at the rigours of Mr Gvasalia’s sharp lines and silhouettes. Then the celebrity appearances interrupted our concentration. We were not expecting to see them and, as we wondered what they were doing on the show floor, we were distracted, in particular by the half-smiling but blank-faced Kim Kardashian, who looked like she should be seated viewing than ill at ease (cat)walking.

Dubbed the 51st, but only Demna Gvasalia’s second, Balenciaga’s single-season couture collection roused the imagination made torpid by other shows of the week that were contented with the tiresome duo of fantasy and romance. Mr Gvasalia returned couture to its place on the pedestal (and why should it not be there?), on which his stark artistry was augmented with cuts (precise and, sometimes, brutal), the outré (but, by now, not quite), and the drama (missing in couture, and much welcome). His is work so exact and exceptional that it is anomalous in the present desire among those who design with “practical considerations” for the “pragmatic needs” of their clients. In couture, you don’t know what you truly require until you see them. You don’t know the desirability of a sumptuous carapace-like cape until you witness it, in sensational form on the runway. Or the want of a T-shirt, crushed and with the hem rough-hewed upwards, even to wear to go buy milk, until you look at it in its typhoon-swept suspension. When the imagination is fed, the need is found.

The show started with some very stark looks—eight of them, all black—that second-skinned the body. The sculpted tailoring was almost extreme, made possible by a new form of neoprene (itself a very mouldable fabric), very smooth, based on limestone and created by the Japanese to be Mr Gvasalia’s own Gazar, the silk once exclusively made for Balenciaga in 1958. The shoulders of the pieces were beautifully rounded and the waist just nipped-in—effecting a silhouette that was almost traditional, but looked futuristic in its imperturbable sleekness, and especially when worn with those face-visors, developed with engineers of the Mercedes-Benz racing team that would not be out of place in the game Cyberpunk 2077. A suitable oddity (that, too, has been missing in couture) to pair with those face wear were the Bang & Olufsen X Balenciaga Couture “speaker bag”, petite boom box that plays music, we suspect, wirelessly from your smartphone, stashed away on the opposite side of the speaker that opened like a conventional handbag!

With Mr Gvasalia, couture was not just about techniques, embellishment, or man hours, it was about precision too. The exactness of form is compelling. One red dress, with a T-shaped dart in the centre to yield a beautifully fitted bodice (it was repeated for a few of the dresses), flared in the rear with cuneate extensions, like wings, but they barely budged, which made them appear more like vertical airplane flaps. Elsewhere, a hot pink gown, with a striking symmetry in the front, was fashioned with a top of the back that opened like a half-cone, but looked like a hoodie—the slanting dorsal line ending just above the hollow behind the knee. It was triangular-angular of immense mathematical flair. Even the outerwear were not the obligatory trench coats: mackintosh-looking with spread collars turned-up to frame the cyborg face. To align with the existent call for environmental-friendly dressmaking practices, upcycled denim were used to express Mr Gvasalia’s on-going preoccupation with the upsized silhouette, but within which, all the painful couture handwork could be circumscribed. And in case you were too delighted by the street leaning, he pulled you back with massive crinoline skirts, so huge that even one model nearly tripped navigating the by-then treacherous runway. Perhaps the beauty of Balenciaga couture is that you teeter in the clothes. And when you do need them, you, too, require a certain posture, a certain élégance, a way with carrying the veritable sculptures. Such is the joy, even from mere watching.

Screen shot (top): balenciagacouture.com. Photos: Balenciaga Couture

She Did It Too

Madonna did not change her face; she covered it

If Madonna is doing it, there is a possibility that women, even not a celebrity, would be adopting the full face mask, too. In a recent outing with her son David Banda in New York City, the pop star showed her much changed face covered with a full-lace headgear that exposed only her eyes and mouth. Although not quite as severe as Kim Kardashian’s take on the look that Demna Gvasalia conceived for Balenciaga, it is face fashion that is expected to take off massively, even if the look is thought to be intimidating. The balaclava’s popularity is of such great potential since Ms Kardashian made a statement with it at the Met Gala last year that even Gap has allowed Kanye West to introduced it for Yeezy Gap under the guise of a further collaboration with Balenciaga—the brand that appears to be ruling the world.

That Madonna, after making sure everyone is familiar with her new young face, is willing to have it nearly completely covered is indication of the power of the extreme end that fashion endears itself to these days. But while Madonna’s whole head is covered, she is not that unrecognisable, just as Ms Kardashian is not indistinguishable when completely suited up. The balaclava may obscure the face, but it does not blank out the personality under it. We know it is Madonna (although, to be certain, her face mask was not that hardcore since it was made of openwork fabric). What surprised us was not the encased head, but the extremely baggy tracksuit that the author of Sex wore—Balenciaga X Adidas, no less. Was it to better co-ordinate with her son David in a Gucci X Adidas T-shirt dress?

The drastically different ends that women stand in terms of fashion are thought to be the opposing reactions against the pandemic that has deprived many the opportunity to dress up, to express, especially publicly. So either go nearly nude or totally covered. Clothes are now mere shreds of fabric or a complete bale. Anything in-between is too old normal, too ancien, too dull. Our avatar is no longer an online proxy. It is here among us, tangible and tantalising. We really do not need the metaverse to reshape fashion. It is already happening in this protoverse.

Photo: madonna/Instagram