Can the little red dot stand shoulder to shoulder with the little black dress? A native islander and friends look at fashion (and such) in Singapore, and, occasionally, among her neighbours, and a little further afield
Kim Kardashian is a fan of Balenciaga and a friend of Demna Gvasalia. Since August last year, she has been helping the brand and its créateur preview what would become the key look of the current Balenciaga cruise collection
All covered. (Clockwise from top left): Kim Kardashian at the Met Gala in September 2022, three days earlier, a possible sneak peak at what she was to wear, the earliest head-to-toe body suit in August 2021, and in Prada, February this year. Photos: kimkardashian/Instagram
The recent Balenciaga cruise 2023 showed how “terrifying” the world that we currently inhabit is when Demna Gvasalia sent out models with latex head/face coverings that were once associated with luchadors (Spanish for masked pro-wrestlers). Everyone on the runway in the New York Stock Exchange had their faces completely covered (some even their eyes when sunglasses were worn) as if they were performing in a wrestling ring. While this obscuring of the face became the talking point (more than the clothes, except those from the collab with Adidas), it was not without precedence in the shifting shape of pandemic-era fashion. In fact, Kim Kardashian has been ahead of the curve. With the help of Mr Gvasalia and—no less—her ex-husband Kanye West, Ms Kardashian availed herself as model experiment to push Mr Gvasalia’s ideas of representing the world’s multi-form terror, including, possibly in fashion.
Ms Kardashian made the most news when she showed up like an apparition, all black and ghostly and faceless, at last year’s Met Gala in a Balenciaga get-up. She stole the show. No omelette dress could come close to the stark spectral showiness. Despite its news-making outcome, Ms Kardashian told Vogue in February this year that she “fought against it”. It is understandable that she would. “Why would I want to cover my face?” The reality star is known primarily for her leave-nothing-to-the-imagination outfits. This total cover-up was more extreme than what the Taliban would have expected. According to her, “Demna and the team were like, ‘This is a costume gala. This is not a Vanity Fair party where everyone looks beautiful‘.“
Her reluctance, while comprehensible, is puzzling too. In August last year, a month before the Met Gala, she shared on Instagram a photo of her in a Balenciaga all-covered look, seen at a Donda event (she even had her kids with her). Three days before her appearance on the stairs of the Met, she was out in an outfit that would turn out to be very similar to those revealed at the Balenciaga cruise show. Was she already wearing the sample pieces then? After she debuted as host on Saturday Night Live, looking upholstered, Ms Kardashian was photographed in a set of hot pink coveralls, with her face again obscured (even the heels attached to the legging are by now familiar), suggesting that breathing, for her, seemed increasingly secondary. Close to half a dozen (or more) similar outfits were noted. In the business of digital gadgets, what she did would be considered “leaks”.
Even the Balenciaga autumn/winter show, despite its visual commentary on the Russo-Ukrainian war, did not give a clue of the reflection of terror to come, or total face covering. While Mr Gvasalia is not known for the bare-skin sexiness associated with, say, LaQuan Smith, his latest proposal for Balenciaga is the total opposite of sartorial emancipation, the antithesis of free-the-nipple enthusiasm, and contradiction to the believe that women really want to show more skin and exaggerated makeup, a la Julia Fox. Or, is this a sign that Mr Gvasalia never left the sphere of irony that he built, one that could be traced to the halcyon days of Vetements? Now that covering half the face is commonly seen, is the total concealment of the head the next new normal? Balenciaga would be truly prescient then.
Demna Gvasalia showed his Balenciaga cruise show at the New York Stock Exchange to the suggestion that the brand’s strength is still on the rise. More face/body obscuring looks, anyone?
On Friday, the day before the New York Stock Exchange closed for the weekend, during which Balenciaga could prep for their show on Sunday morning (New York time), Wall Street teetered disconcertingly to the rim of a bear market. The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq both showed figures that were their seventh straight week of losses—their most protracted defeating streak since the end of the dotcom bubble in 2001. But inside the NYSE two days later, the mood was rather different, bullish even. The Balenciaga cruise show was staged here, on the trading floor, with their attendant screens ominously flashing what appeared to be trading numbers, as if hackers had struck. Some screens showed the logos of enterprises as diverse as The Disney Company and Pfizer. Whether this was a commentary on wealth or greed, it is hard to say. Or a vote of confidence in the US market? The music pulsing through the space was not the usual clatter of a trading day. Rather, it was urgent techno thrust (there was the opening bell, of course) sandwiched between what sounded like Carey Mulligan’s rendition of New York New York on the 2012 film Shame.
But it was not guilt or humiliation that emanated from the models’ totally obscured faces, via full-cover masks or bodysuits. It was a show of terror. Or, as Demna Gvasalia said to the media, “We live in a terrifying world, and I think fashion is a reflection of that.” On a regular trading day, we doubt anyone so extremely covered would be allowed into the NYSE building, let alone the trading floor. But there they were, in full-face/head masks, not mere balaclavas, strutting to the pulsating beat, like a bunch of rookie robbers filing into a bank to execute a heist. Or, walking mannequins. Has fashion become so visibly accessible and democratic that we must now obscure the wearer’s very being in order to stand out, and be apart from every pretty face on social media? Or do we now have to look macabre and menacing (even pussy bows could not soften the looks) to forge an elegance that’s so terrifying that fashion can be really reckoned?
By now, what Mr Gvasalia proposes for Balenciaga is, of course, not frightening. Or even threatening. His severe aesthetics have, after all, survived the red carpet. At the Met Gala last year, Kim Kardashian, you’ll remember, “rewrote the red carpet’s rules” (were there any?), according to Vogue, when she appeared in a Balenciaga-conceived, (literally) head-to-toe outfit that covered every centimetre of her unmistakable body. Three days earlier, she, too, was just-as-encased in a leather bodysuit with attached face/head cover under a matching trench coat. If Ms Kardiashian, who has no qualms about baring her body publicly, would be willing to be so tightly sheathed, it is possible that many women would just as gladly be so utterly covered. So Balenciaga, anticipating its influence, put out similarly wrapped looks for its latest collection. The clothes really require no description or introduction. All the Balenciaga tropes that Mr Gvasalia have introduced, from shoulders to shoes, that you are familiar with are there. They continue with the designer’s conviction to anti-fashion, ant-fit, anti-genteel, anti-subtle, anti-girly, anti-sexy.
And then there was the more real and less intimidating Balenciaga X Adidas. It is not known what deal Adidas has struck with Kering, but this would be the second of the conglomerate’s brands to collaborate with the sports name, after Gucci. While Mr Gvasalia remained true to his preference for the oversized and the baggy, and the less retro, the pieces do share something common with Gucci: the look-at-me sportiness, now considered the true achievement of performance wear. Even sports clothes need to be elevated. And just in case interests in these wane too quickly (and they just might), some 34 pieces from the collaboration are available for pre-order, from now to 29 May, with the lowest asking price of SGD275 for a pair of socks (the cheapest T-shirt, you may wish to know, is USD995). These days the ‘entry-level’ is shown alongside the main. Marketing cleverness has a legitimate space next to design excess. That is seriously bullish. In a money pit, no less.
Screen shot (top): Balenciaga/YouTube and photos: Balenciaga
You can pay Balenciaga to wear out your shoes before even wearing them. Is pre-mature ageing the new cool?
Why wait till your sneakers get dirty and beaten up to wear them vis-à-vis current trends? With the rotations we give to our kicks, few— if ever—get really worn beyond fixable or recognisable. If you want your shoes to look like that have barely survived everything thrown at them, Balenciaga has just the pair for you. Their latest iteration of their Paris high-cuts are deliberately dirtied and ripped in the manner similar to how some new jeans looked severely soiled, like they were retailed after first allowing mechanics to wear them in their grimy workshops. Or, in the case of the Paris kicks, a chance with contestants in a dirt bike race! That Balenciaga would do this to its otherwise unblemished sneakers is understandable: They have a recent history of making ugly cool.
To be sure, Balenciaga is not the first to offer new dirty shoes. Back in 2016, Raf Simons released a pair of Stan Smith in collaboration with Adidas that was intentionally unclean. But they were not this soiled and tattered. Balenciaga’s remake of the cotton canvas, made-in-China Paris trainers are self-touted to be “fully destroyed”. For certain, the actual shoes do not look as down-at-the-heels as those seen in the publicity images now doing their obligatory online rounds. The worn-out pairs for sale are actually more descent and in a wearable state, although we do find the destruction a tad too calculated, even meticulous. That the Balenciaga name had to be inscribed on the mid-sole like a graffiti by a novice, and then smeared is really rather studied.
It is interesting, though, that Balenciaga has chosen the Paris sneakers to soil. The French capital was, from the 17th to 19th century, a filthy city, by many accounts of the time. According to Holly Tucker, author of City of Lights, City of Poison, “The filth of Paris was inescapable. It attached itself ruthlessly to clothes, the sides of buildings, and the insides of nostrils.” Why was this so? “Slosh from chamber pots thrown from windows mixed with dirt in the city’s unpaved streets to form a sulfurous-smelling stew”! The rues of the city were such an indiscriminate brown that even fashion was inspired by it, as well as the bugs that lived happily in the nasty grime. As one story went, a chestnut brown was popular in the summer of 1775. When King Louis XVI saw it, he exclaimed, “That is puce!” Or, (the colour of) fleas. Puce became the veritable fashion. And, now, Balenciaga’s Paris too.
Balenciaga ‘Paris’ sneakers, SGD895 are available in stores and online. Product photo*: Balenciaga. Photo Illustration: Just So
Kim Kardashian was all wrapped up, in Balenciaga tape no less
Which is a crime scene? Left: Kim Kardashian. Photo: Backgrid, Right: tree. Photo: Getty Images
Why would anyone want to look like a walking crime scene or a strutting barricaded site? Sure, we are seeing less of these yellow and black strips now, especially those used as barrier tapes, since massing and mingling are allowed and, if you are masked, social distancing is not required(!). Could this be why desperate-to-be-single-again Kim Kardashian wished to make a fashion statement—no matter how uncomfortable the binding would be—since the polyethylene tape is now not often used in public? Or did she, being pandemic smart, want to catch the attention of onlookers so that her outfit could be impediment to anyone going near her, and, therefore, had the added effect of enhancing the general safety of the front row?
She may have smiled, but the body covering looks to us uncomfortable, like a kind of modern mummification. Except that this mummified being kept her face and hair—and hands—unwrapped. And from the waist down, the wrapping was thoughtfully bifurcated! Even her shoes and handbag were mummified (is that the right word to use when the process is applied to things you can’t call dead, or alive?). According to eager media reports, it was not tear-proof plastic tape (believed to be Balenciaga packing tape) on bare skin. Ms Kardashian wore something underneath that Vogue described as “an athletic top and leggings”, not underwear. We assume they were Skims. It reportedly took thirty minutes to get Ms Kardashian bandaged—all by hand, according to Balenciaga. Would that actually be faster than sewing a bodysuit and letting her wear it herself?
All photographs of her in the shiny, stuck-on, second-skin getup showed no opening on the chest or the crotch, in the rear, or on the sides. How does she relieve herself when answering nature’s inevitable call? NYT’s Vanessa Freedman helpfully informed us on Twitter that a squeaky—or “sticky tape-y”—sound was heard when she walked. Where was Kanye West? She was also heard saying, “I’m scared it’s going to rip when I sit down. Should I just let it rip?” And this is emancipation, with International Women’s Day round the corner?
Models are still fashionably togged, but can they escape artillery shelling in spiked heels?
As the Balenciaga show goes on in Paris, news reports comes forth that Russian artillery attacks continue to rain on Ukraine’s residential areas throughout the country. Agreements with Russia earlier on a humanitarian corridor have largely fallen through, and residents are evacuating in droves. Reflecting this grim reality is the Balenciaga presentation, staged in Halle d’Expositions in Le Bourget, the northeastern suburb of Paris. Models brave machine-created snowstorm and gust, trudging, even in heels and above-knee boots (who has time to put them on under the threat of approaching attack?), through a scene originally created to be a warning about climate change. But with the war, the set becomes a timely discourse and, to a considerable extent, memoir of treacherous escape from military conflict. As Demna Gvasalia (now preferred to be known mononymously by his first name), told the press, “But it turned into something else, which often happens with my shows, somehow.”
The audience sees the presentation behind a see-through panel/shield. Looking on, what stands before could be a massive snow globe, but there is no fairy-tale or festive cuteness within. Instead, a diorama of people in peril, with a soundtrack of Slavonic piano to augment its bleakness. It is tempting to say that fashion is inclined to make light the gravity of things, but we do not sense that here. Demna himself said, “To me, fashion somehow doesn’t matter right now.” But fashion, like any show, must go on. The designer was a victim of war—at ten years of age, a refugee fleeing Abkhazia, Georgia in 1993, and was sheltered in Ukraine, where he went to school and learned to speak the language. At the beginning of the show, in total darkness, he reads a poem in Ukrainian. It roughly translates as “your sons will save you”. Although the words are intended for those who understands the language, Demna does intone, “the message is love, always. And fashion has to assume that, at least in terms of taking a position on it.”
But the allusion to war is not an equivocal one. It it can be seen and felt. And many do see and are touched, such as Bryan Boy, who quickly Twittered, “I don’t think I’ve ever bawled in a fashion show until now”. The show may be about evacuation, but it was about defiance too. Demna wrote in the show notes that cancelling the show to say no to the war would have been “surrendering to the evil that has already hurt me so much for almost 30 years”. The authenticity—a less-hackneyed word may be preferred aside—of putting together a show by someone who had been through what is happening concurrently perhaps adds to the poignancy of the production, and to the clothes that are not entirely visible in the precipitative blurriness. Still, there is a tad of incongruity, when freshly-single, always-visible Kim Kardashian, “friend” of the house, sat in the front row, all bound up—in caution tape, labelled Balenciaga no less!
It is not a show that’s easy to watch, not only because of what it evokes, but also because what is seen are mostly the teetering, and the mere silhouettes. These are identifiably Balenciaga silhouettes: beautiful but, at times, ghostly. In the fog of war and inclement weather, bagged-up shapes and floating trains could be either the bourgeoisie in escape or the peasantry in flight, or both. The models, with wet hair, appear to have just taken their last shower. There are the half-naked, covered by a blanket (or is that a towel?), plodding through the snow. Some of the outerwear look like there are taken off a neighbour’s clothesline. But others—the dresses—could be a refugee’s finest because even in fleeing, you’d want to look your best. Many of them carry bags that look like black versions of those used by hotels for laundry. Perhaps better to contain everything you wish to bring along at the last minute. As Demna told the press, he “made everything less madame, less bourgeois, less upper-class”. It is not hard to second that.
Balenciaga defaced by Gucci. Welcome to the new wonderful
On both corners of the Orchard Road-facing side of Paragon, Kering brands occupy the spaces: Balenciaga and Gucci. Although both are in mutually hacking mode, it is Balenciaga, replacing Gucci as the most searched brand on Lyst, that is drawing attention. On its second-level glass façade, Gucci is scribbled in what looks like spray paint across the width of the window. As nothing blocks this side of the shopping centre, it is hard to miss the defacement art (‘graffiti’ would be too low for Balenciaga), especially when you are walking on the opposite side of the road, right in front of Ngee Ann City. It does look like the work of a vandal, determined to let Gucci overwhelm Balenciaga, even when the name of the latter, appearing twice on the front of the store, is in the recognisable full caps.
Inside the mall, as we stood at the entrance, blocked by a pair of stanchions with a black tape stretched between, waiting to catch the attention of the staff to let us in, a guy, dressed totally in black, who sat at the entrance earlier to ensure that visitors were scanned in, approached. Without going beyond the barrier, he waved at a male staff inside, who was similarly dressed, but had his shirt untucked. The first fellow lifted his smartphone and showed the other something on it. “Is it supposed to be like that?” The reply was swift. “Ah, yes. It’s like that. We’re doing an event here.” And to be sure he was not really the kaypoh one, the inquirer added, “Oh, customers were asking if something was wrong.” Unsmiling, the Balenciaga staff informed him, “It’s a collaboration with Gucci“.
The wait for us was at least 10 minutes long. There was no one else in the line. Paying attention to the Gucci monogram with the double B plastered on the windows flanking the entrance was a way to pass the time. Inside, there were three customers, none in any obvious transaction. Finally a guy let us in. He apologised for keeping us waiting. We were tempted to say that he didn’t have to make us stand there and not tell us how long more before we would be let into an empty store. But, we did not. A tote with the scribble, “This is not a Gucci bag”, caught our attention, but it was not speaking to us. There was really nothing to it.
The Hacker Project, as this “collaboration“ is dubbed, was presented hushly. Before us, the breadth of the merchandise available was not quite on the same scale as the desecration somewhere up there above us. We looked around for clear signs, but they were mostly hidden in drawers: SLGs and socks. Is this all there is to The Hacker Project? The same guy who showed us in was now showing us out. “Some item (sic), we keep,“ he said. Why is that so? “We don’t display everything. Is there anything you want?“ He was beginning to sound impatient. “If you want, I can take it out to show you”. He was now sounding irritable. “The launch already four days.” Should we apologise for not being enough of a fan to rush here on the first day? “We sold out many things.” Was he trying to convince us or tell us not to bother looking? And how much was sold? “About 60/70 percent sold out,” he intoned conclusively. He was not planning to bring out what was kept. We weren’t hoping.
Refined and impeccable taste: Have they become so boring that going the opposite way is now far more appealing?Recent trends—and events—have made us wonder: is bad really better?
In a recent article about the rise in the popularity of wellies, the Guardian described the boots mostly associated with rain wear as “bad taste”. And it’s in the headline! Wellington boots, to call them by their proper, more tasteful English name, have a long history—whether illustrious or not, we can’t say. They go back to the early 1800s, and are associated with the British aristocracy. The footwear is, in fact, named after the 1st Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley. The good Duke was a military man and a Tory statesman. In fact, the chap served as prime minister not once, but twice. We do not know if he was an aesthete, but since he ruled over a dukedom, he probably had refined sensitivity towards his sartorial choices. Yet, the trusty wellies that he popularised, as well as their descendants (Bottega Veneta calls theirs by the positively low-brow ‘puddle boots’) are now associated with taste that’s not anywhere near good.
It does not require deep knowledge of current affairs to know that ‘ugly’ is, for more than half of the decade, not the ugly that we know. Ugly, the cousin of bad taste, is attractive; ugly is good; ugly is cool. We were even told that ugly wasn’t a passing fad. And it is true; it is still a trend! Ugly has redefined what is flattering just as much as it has changed what is considered attractive. In fact, chances are attractive is really not. Yet, it now encompasses so many aspect of contemporary tastes that even awful is in the jumble. And there is a word for it: inclusive. Or, the fake synonym, diverse. Both let ugly into the club. Ugly is dancing and winning. Now, if you refer to ugly in the negative, you’d have ugly-shamed! Ugly is so influential (in digital life, is influential synonymous with ugly?), it brought bad taste in too.
The thing about bad taste is that it needs it’s competitor good taste. Without good taste, bad taste won’t be that bad. One isn’t the mirror image of the other, but one can see what the other is not. It isn’t the bad that’s so bad it’s good. It’s bad that makes good look its part. What would Cinderella be without the bad—er, ugly—stepsisters? Would Cinderella stand out? Was it not the Fairy Godmother who gave her everything she needed that had some semblance of good taste? But what the Fairy Godmother created for her so that she could go to the good-taste ball came from the opposite of good: the footmen from mice, the driver of the coach from a frog, and the ball gown from rags! Oh, there is, of course, the coach; it was a pumpkin transformed, not a Yubari King melon!!!
Graphics om the Balenciaga ‘The Simpsons’ T-shirt. Product photo: Balenciaga
Fashion these days is hemorrhaging so much bad taste that it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore it as aberration that will vanish the next season. More and more, we can’t wish it away. It keeps coming at you, like mosquitoes on warm and humid days. Sometimes in ways you won’t expect. We are not hyperventilating. The Simpsons of every-town America, Springfield, for example, are not fashion darlings. As Matt Groening told the Smithsonian magazine in 2012, “I thought Simpson was a funny name in that it had the word ‘simp’ in it, which is short for “simpleton’”. But thanks to Balenciaga—the fearless bender of taste, the family of five are fashion icons. Is any of the Simpsons, now in Balenciaga and on Balenciaga, the epitome of good taste? Even poor Lisa Simpsons looks like a misguided 2nd grader who spends too much money on Shein, pearl choker intact. The Simpsons in Balenciaga seem to suggest that taste, like mood and marriages, can change overnight.
Balenciaga of the present, of course, straddles good and bad tastes, but oftentimes with one foot firmly planted in the latter. Their pairing with the Simpsons maybe irony at its highest order, but is it good taste? Or is this a sure reminder that so many people, like Homer Simpson, simply have no taste until someone comes along and gives them some. Not that Homer Simpson would be able to tell what is good or bad taste. In the case of the Balenciaga makeover of the residents of Springfield, it really depends on luck. But Balenciaga is increasingly able to make make bad taste better, so much so that it becomes good bad taste, or, as some might call it, “impeccable”. Example: Crocs. And recently it shows that on the runway or red carpet, bad taste can walk both. But with their haute couture revived, who’d dare say that Balenciaga is the arbiter of bad taste? Just badder?
Sometimes bad taste comes in the clever guise of ‘eclectic’. This eclectic is a parody of bad taste, often with kitsch as a partner in crime, and the devil around the two. That it might be steep in historicism does not take away bad-taste-as-eclectic’s parodic heft. The pied piper of this constantly jokey, retro-tinged pastiche is Gucci. Like stablemate Balenciaga, Gucci has made bad taste impossibly good, even gauche, galvanising the glaring and the glamourous into action. But few drawn to Gucci see the parody, nor, to be sure, the bad taste. When overexposed to such bad taste, we become immune to it. Bad-taste eclectic has a special—even sexual—power over those seeking fashion that looks like fashion. The nouveaux, like part of China’s social class tuhao (土豪), as well as the new-to-fashion are especially drawn to eclectic, like the proverbial magpie to shiny things. Or, a scene we get to see, flying termites to street lamps!
Chanel’s attempt at bad taste as seen on Lily Rose Depp in a recent campaign
When Balenciaga leads others follow. Bad taste is so potent that many can’t resist its pull, like boba tea. Chanel, once the epitome of good taste, is now moving away from it, baring so much underwear (above), just to name one transgression, that it would be considered bad taste just three pandemic-unheard years ago. Even Lily Rose Depp in the fall campaign couldn’t reverse the course. In fact, none of them nubile young things could. Blackpink’s Jisoo in the promo video Exploring Dior with Jisoo, expressed no taste, good or bad, when she saw the clothes; she was only able to utter, “I love this… I love this… Oh my god, I love this”. Is good taste daft? Chanel and its ilk joined the circus, but others have always been the ringmasters from the start. All-out bad taste at Dolce & Gabbana (including their marketing communication) keeps it in the spotlight. Others may fare less triumphantly but are no less trending, such as Roberto Cavalli and Virgil Abloh’s also-designer/DJ pal Heston Preston. Even to be named the “King of Bad Taste”, as Philipp Plein has, is an accolade. Zoolander, it seemed, saw the future.
To be sure, the Guardian isn’t the first to have ‘bad taste’ in its headline. Vogue, ever the seer of the future, already declared in 2018 that “Bad Taste Is the Best Thing to Happen to Fashion”. It did not conceal its enthusiasm for looks that were “about the hodgepodge style of looking like you don’t care at all coming into fashion”. But of course they cared (and still do), and the media continually shines a spotlight on bad taste, sending it on its inexorable rise. They do this by featuring the many artistes and celebrities, for whom bad taste is also the passport to ‘cred’, such as the Beibers, as well as so many American artistes-turned-whatever. Hip-hop stars have a big part in the rapid rise of bad taste. Whether by designing stuff or wearing them to effect insider advantage and cool, the sum of which frequently courts bad taste. But it isn’t just American stars who succumbed to taste aligned with bad. The Berlin rapper UFO361, a proponent, who attended the Balenciaga couture show, enthused in Stay High, “Nobody rocked Balenciaga. Crazy man. Long live Demna”. Ditto bad taste?
Perhaps bad taste is still taste, and in the world of fashion, it is increasingly better to have some taste than no taste. As the English novelist Arnold Bennett wrote in the Evening Standard in 1930, (even back then) “good taste is better than bad taste, but bad taste is better than no taste”. Although Mr Bennett was commentating on literary taste, what he said is just as applicable to much of today’s culture, not just fashion. In fact, bad taste is so much better that we have become used to it, and to the point it isn’t bad anymore. For many here, bad taste is who are: this is how we dress and behave. Accept it! And who even calls out bad taste when they can wallow in the repository of bad taste—TikTok, even YouTube? Has social media accelerated the consumption of bad taste? Its widespread use has certainly put bad taste persistently visible online. Bad taste manifests in not just what we wear, but in how we behave, in how we speak, in how we write, in the expletives we prefer, in the division we sow, in the crassness we consume, in the asinine jokes we rollick through, and in the private lives we expose—all delightfully. Even the most ardent among the promulgators of bad taste have become the arbiters of good taste. And our appetites only grow. And grow.
Looks like Prada has embraced the love for bags that won’t stand right side up
Back in 2018, before anyone could imagine a pandemic approaching, Balenciaga issued an oddity of a bag. It had the shape of a cut sandwich, and, if you held it the right-side up by the handle—as you would—and placed it on, say, a table, it won’t sit straight down. Unless you are especially adept at balancing an object on a point, chances are, the the bag would rest, as gravity does its job, on either one of its flat sides. Or fall forward, or backwards, assuming you do not mind a rude jolt to its content. Despite the problems with keeping such a bag upright, Prada, too, has released their own version of the the three-corner bag, some three years later. Shape, as it turns out, trumps practical considerations.
That Prada would fashion a bag after an impractical polygon is understandable. Under the creative co-stewardship of Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons, the house’s inverted triangle that was originally used in the company’s handbags has been imaginatively reinstated by the designers in versions not seen before. Now, the triangle comes in unbranded sweater-knit pieces used on clothing, as well as in the form of little purses and pouches that could be attached to anything, from gloves to sneakers. Or, more dramatically, on this striking bag as just a padded shape in the same nappa leather as the bag itself, and without the crest of the original logo, just the name, embossed in silver.
This triangular flap-top (secured to the body by zips) handbag is lightly padded, and comes with a handle and a shoulder strap, which is reminiscent of the Balaenciaga too. But while Demna Gvasalia’s version had a sportif vibe about it, Prada’s emanate the quiet elegance of its popular Cleo shoulder bag. It may not be the obvious choice for those picking a new bag, but the fact that it can’t sit up the way we are used to in handbags might augment its oddball appeal. For pandemic-era revenge spending, why join the crowd?
Prada padded nappa leather handbag, SGD3,200, is available at Prada stores. Product photos: respective brands
So that you’ll know she’s pretty wrapped up in herself?
By Mao Shan Wang
Kim Kardashian has so many firsts that I stopped counting. Her debut as host of Saturday Night Life this past weekend is certainly one. But watch I did, not count. As her performance went rather smoothly and on-script, it didn’t have the same impact as the sex tapes (2007) or the Vogue cover (2014), or the time she broke the Internet (also 2014, a vintage year). I think it has to do with the jelak factor. Even when she is totally shrouded in black for an event that one attends to be seen: the Met Gala. Can Ms Kardashian, 41, surprise anymore? Sure, she is a savvy businesswoman and, to her fans, a style icon, but can there be more to her that would cause our jaw to drop? In that confidently handled SNL monologue, she already ruled out the possibility of being an American president. However hard I tried, I could not think of anything else I want to see her do except not to see her. Or, to see less of her.
When she walked down the stairs of the set of SNL, I thought it was a stagehand gone rogue, beating her to it by appearing as Miffy with a remade body in the shape of Kanye West’s still-legal-wife. But it was not so. As she moved towards the camera, one question immediately hit me. Why would anyone who would not hesitate to share naked selfies of herself on social media now want to look like a upholstered love seat, removed from a love hotel? And in lurid pink! I am serious. Or, after the Met Gala, should I say re-upholstered? Ms K loves nudity, but now she preferred covering every part of her body—more completely than a sofa. Yes, even her fingers and her toes. Why the strange modesty? Is this a divorce-in-the-process look? The fIngers covered so that no one can see that she is no longer trapped by a wedding ring?
The pink velvet(?) catsuit is designed by Demna Gvasalia of Balenciaga. We sort of had a preview of Ms K’s total-onesie in the Paris Fashion Week animated short of the Simpsons walking a Balenciaga show. She was seated in the front row, looking vacuum-sealed. Her face for SNL, however, was not covered. But as with the black outfit—also by Balenciaga—that she wore for the Met Gala, there was no mistaking who the silhouette belonged to. A body with such a defined and smooth shape had to be enhanced by some shape wear. It is, of course, expected that she’d wear one to promote her own Skims line (initially called Kimono!), however successful it already is. The Balenciaga second skin needed the Skims for sure. So why let Balenciaga have all the publicity? Now, that to me is a symbiotic relationship. And what better place to show it than on YouTube-bound television, on Saturday night?
Balenciaga’s IRL show is a red carpet event, complete with shouting paparazzi. Be ready to dress like stars next season. Or, one cartoon family
It’s the red carpet of the Met Gala, the Oscars, the Bafta, the Emmys, the Tonys, the Razzies, the Grammys, the BMAs, the VMAs, the BET, all rolled into one. Outside Le Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, Balenciaga staged a fake red carpet arrival, strictly in Balenciaga, of course, and complete with hordes of gawkers and a throng of photographers, shouting for the attention of arriving ‘stars’. Is red carpet fashion a valid category? Apparently, at least to Balenciaga. Designer Demna Gvasalia was, in fact, recently at the Met Gala, making sure Kim Kardashian’s outfit looked right and was ready for the camera. Could the Met Gala experience have been the inspiration behind the presentation for spring/summer 2022? Fashion and celebrity as one, conclusively? This could, of course, be social commentary, but also a reflection of the state of fashion consumption? The red carpet is still the runway (and it is often set up as one) to look to. What goes on on a red carpet does not stay there. Eventually, it will be picked up for the streets and will boost the participating brands’ red carpet and—and not far off—street cred.
Models and celebrities (they’re models too!) arrive as if E! Entertainment is covering this live (which makes the vibe more Hollywood than Paris). A motley group that includes gender non-conformers, hip-hop moguls, screen and music stars, one rapper-couple, one everywhere-he-is photographer, one powerful (still?) editrix, and even a pregnant redhead (or should that be carrot?). They are definitely dressed to the nines, even in street style. They cover the gamut, from couture-worthy gowns to shopping/dating/loafing-ready jeans. What could be different from the average red carpet could be that the guests are carrying handbags. There are even shoulder bags. Who’d think any of them would need one at a gala? Meanwhile, inside the theatre, invited guests were watching the outside proceedings on the big screen, reportedly appreciating what is looking like a “joke”. When the red carpet walkers finally take their seats inside, the audience is treated to a show: The Simpsons! A special screening, as it appears, with Homer and company invited to Paris to walk the Balenciaga runway. Marge Simpson, high on Balenciaga, has never looked so good (not even in that pink Chanel suit), in a gold gown from the spring/summer 2020 collection, with a bow in the rear, the size of a giant Sagami kite!
Marge Simpson trying her first Balenciaga dress
Mrs Simpson on the runway
Demna Gvasalia tells the media that the whole exercise is about having “fun”, something so missing and missed in our COVID-stricken lives that fashion is now placing the seeking of entertainment and mirth as prime. And in Paris, the Simpsons certainly are enjoying themselves. And the whole of Springfield, even if they are fish out of water. Homer, the last fashionista, wears his red Balenciaga jacket like a postman his uniform. Thankfully, outside toon town, the style is more sleek, ever kooky, Balenciaga standard. The charm (and now star quality?) of the brand is its ability—irony still dripping?—to compact both red-carpet elegance and off-kilter street style into a single look with rigour and discipline. Sure, these aren’t dresses a Bond girl would wear on a date with Double-O-Seven (nor are they the stuff of his wardrobe for jet setting and licence to kill), but for those who need to be validated as perversely cool, and directly connected to Mr Gvasalia, such as he who conceives Donda. In Balenciaga, one is not under-dressed or over-dressed, just dressed, statement unequivocally made. How convenient for most fashion-craving rappers and their inner circles.
Now that the Balenciaga couture is shown, and the house’s know-how, although never in doubt, is updated and proven, there seems to be a general sense of heightened raffinement. The dresses are less thrift-store, more cocktails-after-a-fashion-show. The hoodies less sportif, but still hoodies. The suit jackets still hunched, and still too big for most body types. The denim jeans still overwashed, but more up-cycled. And, the Crocs less unusual (now), but much harder… clompers! They are all still composed to better position Balenciaga as the unwavering height of subversive-simultaneously-worn-out cool. The look, by now, is no longer outré, but still unconventional enough for covetous eyes. Just one thing: enough of Naomi Campbell. In whatever.
Balenciaga isn’t quite the first to design it. But perhaps that does not matter as much as who wore it first. Andre Leon Talley, the connoisseur of the caftan, loves a large, floor-length coat too. Back in 2015, Mr Talley posted on Instagram a selfie and an OOTD that featured a long, ripe-red Norma Kamali puffer that is popularly known as the “sleeping bag coat” (Ms Kamali reportedly conceived it in the mid-’70s). He added the puffery “Luxe! Total Luxe” to the comments too. Apart from that, he would post photos of the coat another six more times—on IG alone. The tubular covering seemed to be his go-to outerwear for that season. He was photographed in front of his White Plains house wearing the said coat and, urghs, UGGs as the face of the American-own, born-in-Australia footwear brand. That photo was used countless times, other than for marketing communication purposes, even as illustration to articles that reported on his real-estate woes of early this year. And he appeared in the same glorious redness in the 2017 biographical movie, The Gospel According to Andre. The colour of chilli seems to be his favourite for outers in recent years: preceding the Kamali coat was an equally scarlet, just as omnipresent Tom Ford “kimono”.
Balenciaga’s Demna Gvasalia, of course, loves to base his designs on what certain characters might wear, oftentimes also the supposed underbelly of society, as well as the regular blokes—accountants and athletes, even galactic folks. His red padded coat for the debut couture collection could very likely be for statuesque rappers to wear on stage (Jay-Z?) or whoever might appreciate the extra volume that such a well-girthed coat affords. It is not likely Mr Gvasalia had ALT in mind when the coat was on the drafting table, but surely he wasn’t only looking at the archive? Was it a coincidence that they picked a Black model to wear it? Truth be told, when it appeared silently during the livestream earlier, we did think of the unforgettable Vogue ex-staffer. Surely, the portable-bedding-as-outerwear he adores needs replacing by now, or next fall? Could Balenciaga then be his new Norma Kamali or Tom Ford? That’d be tres luxe, no?
Photos: (left) Balenciaga and (right) andreltalley/Instagram
…and hip-hop stars. Is this the collection to change haute couture’s trajectory?
It’s at least two years in the making. This is Demna Gvasalia’s first couture collection ever and Balenciaga’s first after 53 years. And the first featuring menswear. The house closed its doors in 1968, and slammed the door shut on its haute couture division for more than half a decade. Now it’s back with a bang, but hushed by the cream carpeted floors and matching drapery of its restored salon in their haute couture quarters on 10 Avenue Georges V, Paris. Half way across the globe, we were paying close attention to our PC monitor screen for the presentation to start (it was late, and kicked off after the arrival of Bella Hadid!). The opening screen at first showed what appeared to be a label, set (not stitched) against a beige background. Below, it said, “Welcome to the Salon”, not show. When the livestream began, we saw a room (and later a corridor) and people were mingling, waiting for the show to start. For most of the day earlier, social media was heavy with expectation. Balenciaga’s ready to wear is enough to get people talking. This was predicted to break the Internet.
But it didn’t. Balenciaga’s social media pages were restored around the time of the live-streaming of the couture show, or at least Instagram and Twitter were. But was it all the rave it was expected to be? Sure, there would be those for whom Balenciaga couture can do no wrong. But, unlike in the past, there would not be the likes of Mona von Bismarck—who, according to Diana Vreeland, did not leave her room in her villa in Carpri for three days when Cristóbal Balenciaga closed his atelier in 1968—to buy and wear his clothes and visually rave about them. How many influencers can afford couture? Now, it is quite a different clientele, or audience. Men were many—James Harden, Lil Baby, Kanye West (face mysteriously concealed, but everyone knew it was him!), and others. The presence of these men, predominantly hip-hop stars, strengthen the believe that streetwear has arrived at couture houses. Once it was the aesthetics of the couture that trickled down to the pret-a-porter. Now the reverse is true. Haute couture can’t be that high up anymore.
It isn’t quite clear yet if streetwear needs further elevating or if couture needs to be less rarified. Or if streetwear, like Black designers, still needs validation. Should we call it streetwear now that even the T-shirt has a place in Balenciaga couture, although not the least a simple one? But Demna Gvasalia has not entirely distance himself from the DNA of the house known for not creating clothes that follow the lines and shapes of women’s bodies. Mr Gvasalia, adept at using negative spaces in clothes to striking effect, continues Balenciaga’s manipulation and exaggeration of shape. Continuing is key here. He called the show the “50th”. He is reopening the doors that stayed shut, and within the hallowed and hush grounds (the show was sans soundtrack, like in the old days—you could hear the rustling/swishing of the clothes. Silk taffeta!), continued showing where the last great collection was presented. And Mr’s referential and confident nod to the man whose name he now leads is exciting the wealthy young who are unable to yoke themselves to the stubbornly old-school houses such as Chanel.
But is it the great collection we have been waiting for? Or, a refresher course? We have mixed feelings. This does not have the WTF-are-those punch in the gut of Mr Gvasalia’s first outing with the house after Alexander Wang’s totally unsurprising departure in 2015. It certainly has the spirit; it has the shapes, it has the proportions; it has the textures, but does it sing—or rap? We thought we heard a hum, but only what Mr Gvasalia could intone. Is the anorak, with a back of Watteau pleats, the new opera coat? Is the cable sweater, woven with chaîne gourmette by the textile design atelier of Jean Pierre Ollier, the new hoodie? Is the bathrobe, in super-fine micro-knifed leather (actually, ciseaux-ed. Is it heavy?), the new trench? Is the floor-length padded coat, oversized and tented, the new Andre Leon Talley’s beloved “sleeping bag coat”? Is the pieced-together-by-hand leather, made into a flounced skirt, the new embossed leather? Is Demna Gvasalia, hidden away in the atelier while the guests applauded, the new “master” of them all?