Potent Pairing

In a collaboration that no one saw coming, Gucci seems to finally be shifting gears

Did the Gucci show really happen? Is Gucci really 100? Why was Balenciaga the elder (104!) roped in to celebrate? Is this a tap-thy-stablemate’s-mind Gucci for the next century? Did your head not spin? Does Gucci need Balenciaga to—finally—look this interesting? Are they not able to reinvent themselves on their own? Is this Balenciaga doing Gucci? A sort of guest editor? Or Gucci in homage mode? Or an expression of Alessandro Michele’s desire to do Balenciaga? Do we need a Balenciaga ‘Hourglass’ bag with Gucci monogram? Or Gucci jackets with Balenciaga shoulders? Or Gucci-Balenciaga suits with the logotype of both brands littered on them, like department store gift wrappers? Or the familiar printed leggings-cum-boots chez Balenciaga? What’s a coat fastened to the extreme left a la Balenciaga doing in a Gucci collection? Or an asymmetric dress with a draped hemline so evocative of the B appearing in a show (still) typical of the G?

Is the world we are living in now not confusing enough?

The action takes place in supposedly London’s Savoy Hotel, imagined as a club with a catwalk and a secret garden. The music is not house (as has been the choice of the season at other houses), but a mish-mash that is a narcissistic bang at Gucci as narcotic, from Lil Pump’s yo-bro chorus of “Gucci gang” to Tita von Tesse’s tease on Die Antwood’s “Gucci coochie”. And there is a lot to analyse and unpack. But we may risk misreading everything. Mr Michele is, of course, no stranger to collaboration (the allegedly sold-out collab with The North Face, the most recent). He is also quite the plunderer of the past and cultures not his own. This collection, conversely called “Aria” (essentially an operatic solo), although a “pop” version, looks to the past, to self, and to contemporaries in a show that seems to salute whatever deserves to be hailed. A greatest hits of Gucci’s own legacy, the now fashion culture that the house is largely part of, and the design contributions of another equally iconoclastic, if not more, label. As Mr Michele said, post-show, to the media, “I have been an excellent thief, a robber.”

This is not the Gucci we are used to. It’s less geeky (except some of the models), less foolish (except, maybe the accessories), and even less irreverent (except, again, the accessories). Could this be Mr Michele’s tame side; he on the periphery of reasonableness? The clothes do not look too vintage-y (the retro vibe cannot, of course, be totally rid of) nor do they deliberately look as though sourced from the Salvation Army. We keep seeking out Balenciaga, but the partnership is not so much the two designers coming together to design the collection as one expressing love for the work of another. This is not the same as, say, Dries van Noten and Christian Lacroix in 2019. Or, contemporaneously, Valentino and Undercover. And definitely not Miuccia Prada with Raf Simons (no way!). Rather, Mr Michele “quoted” Demna Gvasalia, according to the show notes, not copied. Euphemistic talk no doubt, but it makes the results very much Mr Michele’s singular doing. Apparently, he was granted permission by his Georgian Kering associate to create hacks of Balenciaga’s distinctive silhouettes for both the ready-to-wear and the leather goods. This truly speaks of the creative culture of today, when Balenciaga can be treated like Ikea. Replete with rhinestones and marabou!

The references make for absorbing viewing. For so long (it has been more than half a decade of Alessandro Michele’s tenure!), Gucci has been frustratingly predictable that we wanted to really not dislike this collection. Sure, we do not expect Gucci to suddenly become unprovocative. We want their fans to go on being enamoured. It is inevitable there is enough camp to keep both Harry Styles and Jared Leto delighted and sufficient logos and indeterminate forms to keep Billie Eillish coming back for more. And adequate 70s disco glam (glittered cowl-neck top for men!) to get night owls ready for the day when bars and club can open. At the same time, it is refreshing to see that some of the tailoring is ‘classic’ and that the clothes sit well; the oversized is not actually ill-fitting. And the return of equestrian details, even if they are harnesses for chests or saddles for shoulders—not so barefaced since Dawn Mello was hired to revive the brand in 1989. But we are not sure if we are used to seeing Balenciaga’s extraordinary (less so now), offbeat (that, too) shapes within the kooky universe—including a near-obsession with body parts held in the hand, such as this season’s glittery minaudières of anatomically-correct heart—that is the only Gucci that fashionistas know.

But Mr Michele did not only pay homage to Balenciaga, he also saluted fashion’s patriarch of sexy who changed Gucci forever, Tom Ford (totally snubbing John Ray, Alessandra Facchinetti, and, unsurprisingly, Frida Giannini). The first suit that appeared will always be associated with Mr Ford: in red velvet, and worn with a baby blue shirt, with two buttons deliberately undone. Thankfully, none of the pre-wokeness “porno chic” was revived. That Mr Ford’s designs could be easily riffed—er, hacked—is understandable: Mr Michele and the Texan designer/film maker have a maximal love of the ’70s, even when both dance on opposite ends—one with a deep reverence for the elegance of Halston, the other with the ardour for the hipness of the hippies. The Tom Ford-era suits, now with reshaped shoulders, have the sexed-up dapper cool associated with the oddball individuality of Balenciaga, rather than something akin to those in forgotten wardrobes of Haight-Ashbury. Mr Ford is relevant again.

In most cities, dance clubs are closed, but luxury fashion seems eager for them to open or to be looking forward to the mirrored ball spinning again. The just-concluded Dior pre-fall 2021 show in Shanghai is illustrative. At Gucci, the models, flanked by flash lights, finish their catwalk routine and move to a holding area (gosh, we are thinking of Prada. Again!). But rather than ending their job there, they are led by one of them, who opens a massive door, into a garden. There, they danced among white horses—interestingly, without saddlery—and albino peacocks. Very soon, as the frolicking suggests, the world can parallel Peter Pan’s. Perhaps, Alessandro Michele, in his mind, is singing I will Survive.

Screen grab (top) and photos: Gucci

Next Collab: Gucciaga?

Two brands, totally unrecognisable from the original, are said to be teaming up. Yikes!

The pairing of Gucci and Balenciaga as we imagine it. Illustration: Just So

Alessandro Michele is on a collaboration roll. According to WWD, he and Demna Gvasalia are rumoured to be bringing Gucci and Balenciaga together. Not unimaginable since both brands are luxury conglomerate Kering’s cash cows. They are destined to make more money together. Gucci will be showing its new collection Aria on Thursday and that’s when the said collab will be unveiled. Both designers have kept mum about their partnership.

A brand that was once a couture house now joins with another that was started as a leather goods shop: that’s an interesting alignment. Would this be fashion’s ultimate high-low pairing? The coupling of royalty and Hollywood (and a spill-all to follow)? Mr Michele has said that “seasonalities” are “worn-out ritual(s)”. Collaborations, apparently not. Will this show that Michele Alessandro is better at sussing out hot collabs than Kim Jones?

Stay tuned to find out.

People, Press Play

Balenciaga’s video-game-in-place-of-fashion-show is, for now, gimmicky

Fashion shows—are they not pre-autumn/winter 2020 season? That seemed such a distance away. Since the last shows of that time (in Paris, to us), things have changed drastically for fashion, both for businesses and the people who consume them. The runway, while still important for many luxury brands, is less the ideal platform to deliver and to watch when you know that, for now, models are waking as if for a dress rehearsal, since no audience is present (at Chanel’s Métiers D’art, there was one—never lonelier Kristen Stewart). Brands are looking at other ways to present their seasonal collections. Film is the platform of choice, especially at Gucci, with their pretentious seven-parter that is now mostly forgotten (who remembers what Harry Styles wore?).

Balenciaga, the first to present the autumn/winter 2021 season, has opted to show the new collection as a video game, The Age of Tomorrow (that would be, according to their press material, the year 2031). Now, this is not targeted at those whose closest companion is their Razor hardware, since it has barely the thrill and force of an actioner. Fashion has always been a game (there are always winners, aren’t there?), but this time it’s really one. Being a Pokemom Go deserter, we need an actual gamer to tell us how good the Balenciaga game is. Okay, this is no Grand Theft Auto, but we didn’t think it’d be this slumberous. As with role-playing games, you can choose your own avatar to move through the five “zones”. There are 50 of them avatars, as there are 50 looks (and each exactly like the character models), but for some reason we are not able to pick any. There is no selector button, or key.

The opening scene is a Balenciaga boutique “in the future”, sparsely stocked, designed as if for a dystopian world (it’s rather evocative of the brand’s Rue St. Honoré store in Paris). There are no sales people to welcome or help you. Just unspeaking (it’s all soundless here), unreacting models that turn to give you a 360-degree view of what they wear. We navigate this space on our own, with the guide of illuminated arrows on the floor. When we encounter a rack of clothes, we could not tap on it to see what items are hung on it. In fact, practically everything in this game is unresponsive. We enter a cold world, and we’re left cold. It is odd that a video game has such impassivity. Hoping for more excitement, we leave the boutique (after some hard navigation) and are brought to a backstreet that is worthy of Batman’s Gotham. All the while, we pass Balenciaga-clad people. Many get in our way. Then we are shown a bus stop. A bus arrives, and we’re whisk away. By now, we feel we have been taken for a ride.

You probably guess that we didn’t finish the game. Truth be told, as much as we were, at first, excited to play it, we lost interest barely minutes into into the first zone. The thing is, it’s kind of mindless. We don’t know what the purpose is, what the target is, or what to look out for. We’re just walking. To make matters worse, navigating it is not so simple (or instinctive). On the smartphone, there are two buttons for you to move forward and to look around. Both did not work smoothly. If you play the game on your PC, there are designated keys—W, A, S, D—for you to move in the rather dark world of the game. And your mouse will be temporarily disabled (you’d be told to press the ‘ESC’ button to bring back the cursor). Once you try to use the mouse during gameplay, the screen goes bonkers, or the action moves at warped speed. The game really feels like a test run.

Curious, and for us to be able to post this report, we decided to go back to the game to finish playing it. But we were greeted with a screen that seems to depict a galaxy. There is a digital timer in the middle that appears to be counting down. At the bottom, a discreet message reads: “You ended the game prematurely. If you’d like to start again, please come back later.” Returning to the game means an hour later. If you played to the end, a different message appears: “Congratulations, you have reached the highest level of digital enlightenment. If you’d like to start another game, please come later.” Despite the puffery, it all seems very dour to us. Balenciaga shows under Demna Gvasalia have never been chirpy and buoyant affairs. This game is even less so—in fact, somewhat downcast. We’re surprised Balenciaga did not do something along the lines of the #crabdance challenge, presently with 56 million views on TickTok.

It is too much work to just make out what is fashion. Is there such a thing as too immersive? The irony (it’s Balenciaga!) is, we didn’t really get to see the clothes. Unlike select editors and clients (reportedly 200 around the world), we were not privy to a virtual-reality runway show, viewed through a set of Oculus. We had to click on the lookbook link on the Balenciaga website to have a clearer view of the clothes. And these displayed what Mr Gvasalia has been doing for the house: loose silhouettes, low-brow-high-brow pairings, sportif shapes, fitted turtles necks and loose skirts or wide pants, jeans of ripped knees (and, now, torn posterior), more exaggerated puffer coats (floral too), and more Balenciaga-branded T-shirts (and some with the PS5 logo). We sense that because the clothes are meant to be in the context of a video game, with the somewhat futuristic description The Age of Tomorrow, the clothes have to be at least moderately sci-fi, which may explain some of the metallic guards for limps, as well as armour, and armour parts. Afterworld or afterthought, we don’t know.

Photos: Balenciaga

Balenciaga, As The World Nears Its End

In an already complicated, weather-changing existence, Demna Gvasalia continues to make clothes that boggle the mind. They are not easy to grasp or immediately likable, and therein lies his strength. And appeal

 

Balenciaga AW 2020 P1

It isn’t clear what the flooded runway means. Or the submerged front row. Is it a suggestion that fashion is now too inundated with the murky-good, or is it just Demna Gvasalia’s commentary on global warming and that cities, such as much-noticed Venice and overlooked Jakarta, are sinking? Perhaps he has more time to think of such things, now that he’s not designing Vetements. If so, he is showing, not telling, which seems wonted at other houses. Maybe, it’s best not to read too much into it and concentrate, instead, on the clothes. The staging at Balenciaga is always a conversation starter, but the clothes, more than that, encourage thinking, inspiring wonder and WTFs in equal measure. Last season’s parliamentary delegates seem to have given way to mourners and celebrants of the end of the world.

The show opened with dark, dark clothes that are a tad on the eerie side (some of the models wear red contact lenses, like Vin Diesel in Bloodshot!), so much so that some even called it “apocalyptic”, all fourteen (a number here in Asia considered inauspicious) are black until a brief shot of colour and then it’s mournful again and then hopeful, and the alternating rhythm continues. The solid blackness forces one to look at the clothes: the shapes, the silhouettes, or the fall (and the raised). Mr Gvasalia is a master of the silhouette. He goes from what in China was once proletarian to what in France is now the nostalgic-bourgeoisie. Between them, global left/right whatever. It can be hard, it can be soft, it can be punk, it can be pretty, there’s a dark edge to them all. This might have been Yohji Yamamoto if the designer stops coasting along.

Balenciaga AW 2020 G1Balenciaga AW 2020 G2

Mr Gvasalia’s designs not only make you consider the metaphors, they also urge you to look at them a little closer, like you would with art not rendered in the usual strokes, with the usual pigments. And like any work of emotional power, there are details that perhaps only you see and are delighted by. He’s also a tamperer, which means that what we expect to be at their usual places or placements are not: shoulders swoop, sleeves droop, neckline gape, plackets askew, cuffs hang. All within the silhouettes that are seriously clerical (monastic sounds too drab and abstemious), obliterating the wearers’ natural outlines and curves, like the robes of those who dedicate their lives to religion prefer to wear. Yet, one can discern a swash of couture: the collar that is also a hood and part of a cape, the generous gathers that forge the tented volumes, the oversized bows in the rear that do not tell if they hold the outfit or are there for effect.

But just as you thought this is going to be homage to the cassock and the like—contorted, they may be, Mr Gvasalia takes his usual off, off-centre route. The earlier shrouding in blockish shapes slowly gives way to the near-fantastical, an exaggeration that not only accentuates the body, but also, in the case of shoulders, forms acuminate shrugs. How they can stay up there, even on cable-knit sweaters, is a feat of cunning construction (not to mention the need for padding that won’t be found in your usual haberdashery). Pagoda shoulders have become veritable bargeboards akin to lamyongs at the end of Thai gables (especially true of the dresses). And just as there are those who want their bodies cloaked or who enjoy feeling undistinguished (when, in fact, they do), there are those who have no objection to the body-accentuating and the slinky—body stockings of perverse modesty.

Balenciaga AW 2020 G3Balenciaga AW 2020 G4

It is, in fact, in the tailoring that we find Mr Gvasalia express himself to a high degree. Is this a prelude to the proposed haute couture he will present in July? It is already known that he has a way with tailoring, especially in bending it—quite literally—to his will, often testing the limits of the lapels, its nape, and the shoulders this time: how far they could go. Or to what previously unexplored proportion, or to what extent of stress he can inflict on, say, the fulcrum of a jacket, traditionally positioned at the top button, below where the ends of the lapels meet. His pant or skirt suit, with the upturn of the lapel—even peaked—that can turn the jacket into a Nehru, with their pocket flaps affixed like Band Aid, with their rounded shoulders and judiciously padded hips make Maria Grazia Chiuri’s Bar suits decidedly child’s play.

For the guys, it’s a collection that will make Billie Eilish one happy customer. If you like looking hunched over, there are overcoats that afford such an effect with no effort. If you like mimicking the spines of the porcupine/hedgehog, there is a jacket with similar to protect you against predators. If you like satin shorts over track pants a la Superman’s undies over tights, there are those that will amuse your mates to no end. If you still like the logotype of Balenciaga, there is an abbreviated version minus all the vowels to make you still a collector. And if you like looking no more than your favourite football star, there are enough jerseys and shorts to make you appear like you perpetually camp out at Wembley, always close to footballers, only now, you carry clutches that look like jewellery boxes for your mother’s heirloom pieces or bento boxes for nori-whiskered Hello Kitty onigiri rice balls.

Photos: Alessandro Lucioni/gorunway.com

Balenciaga For After Brexit?

A commentary on Britain and Europe or just alluding to political theatre, Demna Gvasalia’s Balenciaga is probably winning at the polls as he disports with bold shapes and runs with it

 

Balenciaga SS 2020 P!

Whether fashion should have a blatant political voice is debatable, and whether Demna Gvasalia’s “Balenciaga parliament or assembly,” is shrewd or spoofy needs further examination. Yet, with so many components to both clothes and show that hint at politics and personalities, it is possible that Mr Gvasalia has affairs of state(s) in mind. We’re told he is exploring “power dressing and fashion uniforms”, both not necessarily related, but can pair up, which may explain those models kitted out as delegates of forgotten EU states. But, at first look, they appear to us parliamentary ushers, security personnel, Mdm Goh from accounts, the janitor on the way to work, even the Grab Food delivery person!

Mr Gvasalia, of course, has been partial to archetype, one rooted in the mundane and even nothingness. Under the guise of what the rest of us wear and consume, he modifies and refines familiar wardrobe pieces and gives them his spin on what Balenciaga means and constructs them in shapes not necessarily Balenciaga-eque, but shapes nonetheless. That they can be independent of the lines and curves of the body, with shoulders extending to there, add to their appeal. (Those old enough may recall a certain French designer called Claude Montana.) That, mostly, a small number of women consider these clothes attractive or enhancer of their femininity make them even more desirable.

Balenciaga SS 2020 G!.jpgBalenciaga SS 2020 G2.jpg

As usual, there is a lot to unpack, and what you get may not be immediately understood. By now, we know Mr Gvasalia does not make things easy for us (that could be his gift as a designer). Apart from the said archetypal styles, he seems enamoured with the clearly less haute, bent on re-expressing what should have been the ordinary. The puffer jacket (its current popularity in winter months can be attributed to the first he introduced for Balenciaga back in the long ago of 2016), for example, appears again. That it is for spring, no one really wonders why. That it looks like something a Shenyang road sweeper might wear to mimic the condition similar to Quasimodo’s, no eyebrows are raised, when they should be.

Irony is still the hallmark of Mr Gvasalia’s work and he does not hold back. While there are none similar to the DHL T-shirts he sent out for Vetements as its former designer, there are those that allow the wearer to declare that they’re “X-Rated”, “18+”, or a “Top Model”. Taking after familiar commercial logos, he fashions a new Balenciaga framed by two circles similar to Mastercard, which appears on clothes as well as credit-card-like earrings. An assurance that even after no longer designing Vetements, which he co-founded with his brother, Mr Gvasalia can still infuse Balenciaga with quirky banality.

Balenciaga SS 2020 G3

However, does parodying logos that identify products and such also include fabric treatments we have come to associate with a particular brand? There are those Issey Miyake/Pleats Please/Homme Plisse-looking dusters and blazers and shirts, slipped on as if the wearer has just picked one of them up from a suitcase of equally unpressed clothes (and ironing is not today’s habit!), that we aren’t sure are trenchancy or homage. More certain to us are the fluid dresses (by now a staple) of not-quite-simple prints: they have the potential of becoming the house signature the way the blazers (and the puffers) are so aligned with Mr Gvasalia’s vision for Balenciaga, nostalgic romaticism included.

For many influencer-attendees of the show, the last five dresses “stun”. These are ballgowns, quite literally, or almost half-balls, crinoline-supported skirts, moving with the rigidity of umbrellas designed to withstand the typhoon. In solid colours and devoid of decorations, they are nothing like their Victorian versions, which this quintet is possibly modelled after. The modernity is clear, even men can wear them, which would probably delight Billy Porter to no end. Somehow, the final three remind us of Grace Jones’s gown in the Jean-Paul Goude-directed music video for Slave to the Rhythm. Ms Jones emerged from the top of a black rotunda of a skirt with large coloured dots that seem to take after those on rainbow globe lights. Then and now share one common feature: simple, long-sleeved, upper halves. Could this be Demna Gvasalia returning to classics?

Photos: vogue.com/Filippo Fior/gorunway.com

Ugly: An Absurd Comedy

The buffoon Balenciaga has made of us, one year after the launch of the Triple S

 

Balenciaga Triple S originalThe shoe that started it all: the Balenciaga Triple S

By Raiment Young

I see it so often on Instagram that it is, in all honesty, starting to wear me down. Some observers think that the Balenciaga Triple S is cresting. A year after it was launched, it should be, but it isn’t. The shoe that started the craze for what would become dad—and then ugly—shoes, is still too big, too visible and too attention-grabbing, and a teller of how trendy you are, and how you are able—and willing—to spend four figures on sneakers.

I didn’t realise what an impact this one shoe style has had on people’s sneaker choices until a friend of mine rejected a suggestion I offered when he finally succumbed to dad shoes by saying that my humbly-priced pick “wasn’t chunky enough” (did he also mean inadequately ugly? To be fair, he still bought it in the end). Not long after, at the Fila store in ION Orchard, a skinny girly flatly rejected her boyfriend’s selection of the Disruptor II, telling him flatly “my friends’ Balenciagas are more bigger (sic)”. Looks like Balenciaga has set the standard for big, ugly shoes just as Kim Kardashian has for ample, round posteriors.

More Triple Ss.jpgMore pairs of the Triple S, including the Half & Half (middle), this season, as seen at Dover Street Market Singapore

I am not certain where this will lead to. Backlash is certainly not yet in sight. You’d think that by now, the second autumn/winter season after it was launched, the popularity of the Triple S would have waned, or mocked. But Balenciaga has released new colour ways for this time of the year, and people are still buying them, indicating that the market is yet to be satiated. But one silhouette may not be enough (even when there was the Half & Half colour iteration in June). To make sure you get your fill of horrifically chunky sneakers, the brand that Demna Gvasalia has made bigger added the even more bombastic Track to tempt. Or, fool.

I am not sure if the chunky sneaker rose in tandem with the general ballooning of fashion silhouettes seen some years back, but I do suspect that it is has everything to do with fashion’s near-obsession with going to the dumps to look for scraps that can be used to cook up a storm that can cater to a feeding frenzy. Sneaker designs have traditionally veered towards the sleek (aerodynamic?). Sure, Nike has had success with relatively hunky silhouettes (excluding basketball shoes) such as the Air Max 90 and the Air Huarache, but Balenciaga’s not-destined-for-court-or-track sneakers are deliberately designed to make anything Common Projects offers look anorexic.

Balenciaga TrackThe follow-up to the Triple S, the Track

The deformed chunkiness of these shoes have led them to be described as ugly. But ugly, by then, has lost much of its original meaning, and is suffering from an identity crisis. I remember once ugly was not desirable; it was not nice to look at; it was disagreeable to our sense of what beautiful was. Then I see ugly is ugly no more. It is not aesthetically- or optically-challenged. Ugly is declared so ugly that it is no longer so. Fans negate ugly’s former ugliness so that it can be embraced as wearable loveliness. Ugly has not gone astray; it’s simply gone, just as there is, today, no more ugly past, ugly behaviour, ugly choices.

Or ugly shoes. Fashionable folks took to kicks of what should have been unsightly looks as if the wearers’ feet, too, have transmogrified in tandem with the transformation of ugly. Women no longer want to have dainty feet (or the “incredibly narrow”, as we’re told, pair of Fantastic Beasts’ Porpentina Goldstein); they want to look clumpy at ground level. I once heard a diminutive girl in Gucci asking for a Rhyton, described by one e-tailer as “satisfyingly chunky”, in one size larger than her usual so that the sneakers will “look heaving”. When told that she may trip if she ran in them, she said disdainfully, “I never run.”

Gucci RhytonGucci Rhyton, another ugly shoe that stays stubbornly popular

Ugly sneakers now constitute such a legit category that shoppers refer to them unhesitatingly as such: I often hear even non-sneakerhead men and women say, “I need to get myself ugly shoes.” But ugly, as I recall, did not visit sneakers first; it went to heels—Alexander McQueen’s “Armadillo” boots come to mind. Surprisingly, ugly/clunky heels didn’t take off, perhaps because they did not look comfortable or sturdy. Sneakers, however, did. As the ugliness rest on the foundation of thick, fortified-looking mid-soles, it give the impression of robust built. Teetering versus grounded: it’s not a tough choice.

As with clothing, adopters of ugly sneakers take their pick with no consideration to suitability or proportion in relation to, say, limbs, specifically ankles. These catamaran-as-shoes often hold up mast-like ankles, making the wearer look like they are unable to manage the sneaker’s mass. In Starbucks one Saturday, I saw a woman, who looked like an Oriental Olive Oyl, seated with her legs crossed, the foot in the air was partially relieved of her Chloé Sonnie sneakers, exposing the heel of rather dilapidated socks. Of course, ugly is now inadequate and inappropriate to describe what I saw. What should I call it then? Pretty? In the hope that pretty will one day become so pretty that it is, well, ugly?


If current shoe trends are any indication, ugly alone may not be quite enough.

Decorations: Now, we need to adorn our kicks

Gucci Flashtrek (embellished)Love or reject? Gucci Flashtrek made more pronounced with dazzling embellishment

Ugly by itself, as expected, is not going to be adequate when you need striking sneakers. In the good old days (before 2017?), when we wanted something different for our kicks, we changed the laces. At most, to the laces we added cute snaps and latches. Later, those with the means (and the right service addresses), will have them customised. But now, sneakers come with their own jewellery! From Giuseppe Zanotti’s sneaker with studded straps that look like bracelets to Nike’s collaboration with Comme des Garçons that sees a chain bearing the CDG logotype strapped across the Shox’s upper (spring/summer 2019), shoe jewellery appears to be the next, er, big thing.

Leading the charge this season is Gucci. Their Flashtrek, already a flashy shoe, now comes in colour-blocked versions strapped with jewel-topped harnesses. Based possibly on S&M accessories but designed to project glamour rather than kink, the latest embellishment proves that sneakers are the most opened to any kind of influence, even from the wardrobe of a burlesque performer. Christmas, like before, arrives early this year.

Branding: Now we need to identify sneakers by its label

Fendi Logo Mania sneakers featuring a Fila-logo-like initial letter

The Swoosh or trefoil (or three stripes) must have been considered so discreet these days that brands, even non-designer ones, are stretching logotypes across any visible surface of the sneaker’s (possibly already fancy) upper. Even Nike, not usually a shouter, has emblazoned its four-letter name across the sides of the Air Max Plus TN as if text is better at crying out than symbols. Of course, if Nike can be so shameless, why can’t those with a billion-dollar brand name to boast and bluster? Over-branding is, in fact, so commonplace and such a virtue that Nike sees it fit in calling its latest Air Max Plus with an additional Swoosh by the side ‘Overbranding’. Or, is this self-mocking?

To me, it started with the Gucci Rhyton, both the word and word/logo versions. Those four letters are so alluring that the once mighty double G is now literally halved by its full name’s magnetic appeal. Not to be outdone, Fendi, working with the Instagram-published artist Hey (resounding exclamation?!) Reilly, produced a logotype with the initial ‘F’ similar to Italian sports label Fila’s logo. This spawned a capsule collection, that includes both sneakers and handbags, called Logo Mania. Obvious, just like ugly, is having the best time of its life. And both, I suspect, are having the last laugh.

Photos: Zhao Xiangji, Chin Boh Kay, and AB Tan

Two Of A Kind: Something’s Smelling Similar

If you can copy others, others can copy you too

 

Balenciaga vs Balenciaga.jpg

In fashion today, being ‘inspired’ by the work of others is quite a regular occurrence. Sometimes, designers slap the descriptor ‘irony’ to their ‘inspired’ work as aesthetic validity of nothing better to do than to embrace the banal. Reviving—or reliving—the past, an unceasing designer obsession, can be considered a stab at irony too since, oftentimes it is deliberate rehash. The ironic has become, sadly, as tired as the eclectic.

Demna Gvasalia, in recent memory, brought irony to the attention of a new generation of fashion consumers when he introduced the DHL T-shirt that can be had for at least half the salary of the courier man. That was in 2016. Irony has since become a bit tired, and rather meaningless, we dare say. Yet, Mr Gvasalia continued marching with irony, introducing, one after another, it’s-cool-because-it’s-not-cool items, the recent one being the above Balenciaga key ring with a pendant in the shape of a Christmas tree-shaped air freshener usually hung in cars.

At first, Balenciaga was getting a lot of social-media buzz for the key ring. Then, it was reported by TMZ that Balenciaga is being sued by The Car Freshener Company—maker of air fresheners that looked like shaped cardboard coasters—for using the company’s Little Trees shape without official consent. This is not an Ikea Fraktar moment for Balenciaga.

Not long after that, it came to our attention the existence of Little Trees-like, die-cut air freshener in the form of Balenciaga Triple S sneakers that included the brand’s logo. Can a cardboard cutout be considered a copy? These are marketed as a “collectible” by Indonesian company Hey La. Sold proudly as a home-grown product in such made-in-Indonesia-only stores as Localstrunk in Jakarta, the air freshener could be considered a product of the age of irony.

To be sure, the Triple S, in ‘Strawberry Bliss’ (not quite a scent you’d associate with expensive designer kicks), is not the only shoe silhouette air freshener manufacturer Hey La offers. There is the Adidas NMD and Stan Smith, as well as the Yeezy. So this could be a serious business that peddles irony. Not sure about the rest, but was Balenciaga’s permission sought? If not, will Kering sue? Or, will irony triumph in the end?

Photos: (left) Antonioli/Highsnobiety, (right) Zhao Xiangji

Not Better, Not Badder

Demna Gvasalia did not let up as he pushed forth with the old-world and dramatic shapes once associated with Balenciaga, but he appeared to be repeating himself. Or, were we seeing too many all-over-agains to tell the difference?

 

Balenciaga SS 2019 P1

What is it about passageways that designers love? (One more would later appear in Louis Vuitton’s presentation in the grounds of the already stunning Louvre.) It would seem that the catwalk, like the clothes, can also be trend-generating. And this season, a long, meandering passageway, first brought to our attention at the Gucci 2017 autumn/winter show, is the way to go. Video software-aided designs projected on walls appear to be on-trend too. Must fashion presentations these days be so immersive an experience that clothes by themselves wouldn’t be enough to engage the viewer? Sure, fashion has always been theatre, but there’s a nagging suspicion that stylistic content is so lacking that we now need visual aids (or distractions?) to augment the clothes. Sounds like the National Day Parade, does it not?

Balenciaga’s tunnel of dizzying, moving graphics designed by Jon Rafman, the Canadian digital artist known for using random Google Street View images for his somewhat bleak online exhibition of photo essays 9-Eyes, maybe awe-inspiring at first, but would, three minutes into the show, proved to be unnecessarily distracting. Did the invitees come to watch a fashion or video show? If the first five identical jacket-dresses were any indication, perhaps Demna Gvasalia was using the clothes as canvas for his personal message/visual noise, rather than the runway as the setting for the clothes. Could the flicking, changing, and disorienting images (including what appeared to be sea water, bringing to mind Calvin Klein at New York Fashion Week) be telling us that in confusing times, we need uncomplicated clothes?

Balenciaga SS 2019 G1

Those suits-dresses (that could possibly double as a topcoat and worn unbuttoned to look less stuffy) shared a similar silhouette to the skirt suits that Mr Gvasalia introduced in his debut for Balenciaga in 2016. Now, however, the models were a lot less hunched forward in them, and the shoulders were a lot wider—being straighter, and a lot stronger—being squarer—literally. This tinkering with traditional tailoring has always been Mr Gvasalia’s strength, especially the skillful silhouette-shifting of at-first-look conservative, even old-fashioned, clothing into shapes that hint at couture, but minus the potential stuffiness.

To be sure, this was not the country-club tailoring for women who adore Ralph Lauren or tai-tai who admire Eleanor Young’s love of Giorgio Armani. It is in this fear-not of angular shoulders, rounded hips (but not constricted), and past-the-knee length that gives Balenciaga jackets, suits, and coats their immense, although man-repelling, pull. This may be be subversive to what constitutes tasteful and feminine tailoring, but it proposes that the tailleur need not be stuck in time or taste. This is not a conscious reaction against street style; this is not even merely re-writing the house codes. This is design, pure and simple.

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In addition to strong shoulders, there are the Balenciaga labels that you can have, perched on them. Labels, for a long time, are not obligated to remain on the inside of the centre-back of a garment. Mr Gvasalia has give them a pride of place where pirates of the past would have placed a faithful parrot. The logo has been a crucial part of Balenciaga’s current success, and the house will not forgo the opportunity to appeal to the post-adolescents who have been instrumental in making it a bastion of cool. So the name repeated all over a fabric seemed like an obvious option, but if you prefer something more fun and knowingly kitsch, there’s always the repeated pattern of the Eiffel Tower. You don’t get more French than that.

What could be touristy motifs aside, the complex cuts and draping ensured that there is nothing quiet about MrGvaslia’s collection. Some people consider these only moderately expressive clothes. And it is understandable when elsewhere, other designers prefer to holler than to hum. But even if the volume wasn’t turned up, it didn’t mean the collection was mute. The shirt-dresses, for example, had the smartness of what some might call office wear, but, with a drape of a sarong on one side, offered another possibility: resort ease. Diane Von Furstenburg could have been cursing that she didn’t think of that.

Photos: (main) Balenciaga live stream/(runway) indigital.tv

Three-Cornered Bag

Balenciaga bag AW 2018

By Mao Shan Wang

The triangle may not be the most obvious shape for a bag, but in the case of Balenciaga, that’s probably the point. So far, the brand that Demna Gvasalia has remade releases bags that seem to take a dig at regular carriers such as shopping bags. Their latest triangular handbag, conversely, appears to be inspired by something a lot more playful.

Such as a kid’s satchel? I remember seeing a rather similar shape at a housing estate trade fair, one that usually appears during in the weeks that lead up to a holiday, such as Christmas or Hari Raya. The bag that I now recall is in pink vinyl, with a scene from Frozen printed in the front. It hanged next to a ponderous-looking backpack in the same colour and of the same theme. Surely the stall-keeper must have thought that a girl who desires a backpack for school would like a matching handbag for after-school hours with her friends.

I can’t be sure that Mr Gvasalia saw the bag I did and was inspired, but I wouldn’t put it past him to single out something so kitschy or banal for ideas. Ikea’s Frakta carrier, I am sure, is still fresh in your mind. In fact, people are still carrying it as their regular tote, as if a season’s trendy irony never went away. Perhaps it did not, for the latest Balenciaga bag, known as the Triangle Medium Duffle, is in the same Ikea blue!

The bag feels a little strange in the hand, not because it is shaped like a photo corner and not because it is surprisingly rather light, but because it is stiff and small. In volume, it is probably as capacious as the 25-cm Hermès Kelly. In looks, however, it shares the same seriousness as a pair of platform Crocs that Balenciaga issued for the spring/summer 2018 season. Both are to be worn with humour and as counterpoint to the street style excess that’s getting a little too serious for its own good.

As it is a triangle with one point for the base, your prized possessions such as smartphone, battery bank, wallet, compact and such won’t lay flat at the bottom. They would have to be organised diagonally, which may cause some orientation problem when retrieving them. Ill organisation really means you have even less space to carry your life along with you. Do also note, the bag does not sit upright.

This bag reminds me of another bag: the almost-rectangular-but-quadrilateral Comme des Garçons X Beatles ‘Boat Bag’. The Balenciaga version is, of course, symmetrical, but both share something in common: they come from createurs who do not make fashion easy for their fans and users. Not that I mind.

Balenciaga Triangle Medium Duffle, SGD3,070, is available at Dover Street Market Singapore amd Belenciaga, Paragon. Photo: Jim Sim

The Superfluous Extra

What’s that hanging from your neck, a dead stingray?

By Ray Zhang

So, another Balenciaga item has outraged the online community: the T-shirt with a bibbed-on shirt. How thrilled Balenciaga’s social media managers must be. I mean, why bother to post when you don’t gun for a reaction, preferably one that borders on extremely strong disapproval. Censure has its advantages. It is what those who think they’re truly fashionable thrive on since wearing something the rest frown upon is deemed uncommon stylishness, or the stuff of fashion-week oomph. Besides, fashion for many—adopters or observers—isn’t quite fashion unless it is something outlandish, something you and I will point at and giggle at and scoff at, but won’t have on our backs.

I don’t know about you, but I feel we’re too easily provoked by these marketing ploys, these haha-I-got-yous. Balenciaga isn’t a greenhorn in the space of the #OOTD; they don’t post inane influencer photos to illicit “you’re so cute” gushiness. They want to provoke; they want to rouse vehement reactions. And you’ve given it to them. In turn, public reaction, even negative—better still, negative, becomes reason-to-buy for those who think nothing of scoring an over a thousand (SG) dollars sweatshirt so that people won’t miss the Balenciaga logo emblazoned in the back like a reclining Buddha.

Having said that, I do feel there’s something here that deserves more than casual observation or Twitter bitchery. The shirt on a T-shirt idea is not terribly new. Fans of Comme des Garçons will remember that the Japanese label has had two-in-ones (and hint of), as well as two-as-one in their collections before. Why, even our own Depression did not resist the temptation to mount one garment on another and sold them as single items.

Of course, in the case of Balenciaga, designer Demna Gvasalia has to have a point of differentiation. He made both of the two pieces—T-shirt and the connected-at-the-neck-shirt—wearable. Unlike Siamese twins, these are meant to be permanently conjoined. For the wearer, this is literally two-as-one (price wise, it is, naturally, two-for-two!): you can wear the tee and let the shirt hang out meaninglessly in the front. Or, wear the shirt and let the tee dangle at the back, like a child’s limp superhero cape. The truly imaginative will, of course, be able to think of the extra clothing’s usefulness: shirt in front can be handy when eating chilli crab; tee at the back perfect for those unfortunate times when the back of kopi tiam chairs are inexplicably dirty.

I am all for the two-in-one (or the idea of a two-in-one, as in a twofer), but I don’t see the creativity in the Balenciaga twinning except the needless contrariness. Nobody needs an extra piece of clothing hanging in the front or at the back. But, I suppose one impotent and ordinary shirt hanging on a T-shirt is less offensive than any of those downright rude messages slapped on tees that people now wear with such head-up pride.

Balenciaga T-Shirt Shirt, SGD1,800 is available at Balenciaga, Paragon. Photo: Balenciaga/Instagram

Big In Balenciaga

Balenciaga AW 2018 P1

How many coats do we need? Not that we, living near the equator, would really know, but if Balenciaga’s latest collection is to be accepted, quite a few. And not just for different days, but for wearing them at one go. Kiasuism (or should that be kiasiism?!) is well and alive, and has found its way to Paris, and is happily expounded by Demna Gvasalia. As it appears, you may not be warm enough until you look warm enough.

Or, perhaps, there aren’t that many. It’s just an illusion, as the Imagination song goes. Maybe they are simply more-than-twofers. It is possible they are fourfers, or maybe fivefers! We couldn’t tell from in front of our Surface Pro. The streaming was too well edited, and we were too amused, borderline entranced: Can outerwear look so delightfully monstrous— malformations that will do Victor Frankenstein proud?

Mr Gvasalia understands the importance of keeping the shapes of Balenciaga intriguing. The house was built on that. In fact, he has always made a statement in body-obscuring outerwear, the way other designers underscore the histrionic possibilities of gowns. Remember the oversized anoraks of his debut women’s collection around this time in 2016, or the weird, boxy, rigid coats of his first men’s wear collection not longer after? Big is key to Mr Gvasalia’s Balenciaga, misrepresenting the size of the body is the idea. Not Fernando Botero-big, but certainly Niki de Saint Phalle-distorted. The outerwear immediately gave the show (and subsequent ones) the imprimatur of youthful, if geeky, hipness.

Balenciaga AW 2018 G1

The distortion, in fact, can be likened to Cristobal Balenciaga’s imagining of silhouettes that broke away from what was considered appealing at that time. Looking back, the cocoon must have been rather shocking for women who were used to what came after Dior, but it was pivotal to the couturier’s exploration of the spaces between body and garment, which in itself can be traced to the east—to Japan, where the kimono, too, embody this complicated, ultimately sensual, relationship.

It is hard to resist the temptation of joining the dots between Mr Gvasalia’s outsized, warped outers and developments in the east. The over-layering seems to challenge the very notion that looking like a country-bumpkin cousin of the Michelin man is not really stylish. In fact, the idea of Uniqlo’s winter-travel must-have Heattech is to allow one to don fewer pieces or to trim down the volume, but that preference for bulk-reducing sleekness is now delightfully barred from Balenciaga’s doors.

In addition, those big jackets, teamed with scarves covering the head, truly remind us of the 1992 Zhang Yimou film The Story of Qiu Ju (秋菊打官司) in which Gong Li, playing the protagonist, goes to the city from her rural home in what, to her, must have been her finest threats, but were, in fact, her version of maternity wear, styled for the sophistication and snobbery of the city. Qiu Ju, as it appears now, was rather ahead of her time! What must costume designer Tong Huamiao, who was also behind Raise the Red Lantern (大红灯笼高高挂), be thinking now?

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The shape shifts/enhancements are also applied to blazers and overcoats—fairly straight forward styles with stiff, almost linear shoulders, but with rounded, unnaturally pronounced hips, a silhouette that debuted in Mr Gvasalia’s first collection for Balenciaga. We admit that, back then, we didn’t take to this strange constriction, as well as the exaggeration with delight. They appeared, at first gawk, like subjects of Velázquez’s painting adopting waist-down bumps for their riding coats. It truly looked odd, as if of another era, Spanish or not. The modestly panniered jackets appeared once more, but this time, they are like selfies—you get used to them.

Even the men’s jackets and coats have exaggerated hips, as if they’re some kind of cardboard cutouts for a new hour-glass ideal of the male species. Designers have been feminising men’s wear for many years, using fabrics and colours usually preferred for clothes with bust darts, and giving guys skirts—in some extreme cases, dresses—to wear. But nothing is perhaps more feminine that according a man prominent hips! A diminishing of conventional musculature, of primal motivations, and a visual leveler of the power between sexes that’s part of Balenciaga’s ‘agender’?

Perhaps, therein lies the newness: the man with child-bearing hips. Stud not! Sometimes, with Mr Gvasalia, you wonder if this is really a gag, or a detail to draw the sexes closer. Unisex designs have, till now, largely been about making clothes that align with men’s aesthetics rather than with women’s: that’s why unisex clothes have largely been shirts, T-shirts, hoodies, and pants, sized to accommodate the girls. It is rarely, if ever, the other way round: there are unisex shirts, but no unisex blouses. Is Mr Gvasalia making a point about gender rather than sex?

Balenciaga AW 2018 G3

For sure, it’s hard to say that Balenciaga is sexy. This season, however, the show opened with six short, body hugging dresses, but when the “Time’s Up”, it’s hard to look at these dresses and think that the wearer wants more than to look good. These are likely more merchandising anomaly than sexual aggression. Mr Gvasalia has made quirky-stylish-norm so much a part of Balenciaga that it is hard to imagine he’s doing an Anthony Vaccarello here. Sure, these clothes are not for clambakes or curry chicken potlucks, but they are far from taking the Tatler Ball by storm.

From the dad look to one that is mom-sy, Balenciaga sometimes appears to be Mr Gvasalia’s private joke. Take those pencil skirts, for example. The primness is underscored by their high-waist and past-the-knee length, yet the front overlap slit reveals an additional panel that looks like exposed, unlined inside, which, if one remembers, were once considered so unsightly that women had to wear petticoats under their skirts to conceal exposed hems and over-lock stitches. It’s now a design feature and it has a rather home-sew feel to it; yes, mom.

Balenciaga, in its new aesthetic form, was, admittedly, hard to digest in the beginning. The turning point for us here at SOTD was the spring/summer 2018 collection, now seen in the stores. We were sold on those seemingly plain work shirts and were even more taken, seeing them up-close, with the collar—button-down in the front (to the disapproval of the office sex pot, we’re sure), but gently scooped in the rear. That’s the beauty of Balenciaga now: it’s not so straightforward black and white, and, certainly, not front and back.

Photos: Balenciaga

Le Sac Plastique Fantastique

After last year’s Fraktar bag hack, is the nondescript and omnipresent plastic supermarket bag the next big thing?

Actually plastic bagStylish, extra-large and extra-thick plastic bag offered by Actually @ Orchard Gateway

By Ray Zhang

Ten years ago, a dear friend of mine gave me a birthday gift that came bundled in a pink plastic bag, typically used by vegetable sellers—yes, the wet market staple. To be sure, he wasn’t a fashion forward type although he worked in fashion his whole life. And he definitely did not have a crystal ball to see a decade into the future, when anti-fashion fashion has taken root in fashion, and spawned fashionable bags with a provenance that can be traced to sellers of fresh comestible.

That the lowly plastic market (and supermarket) carrier can now have fashion cred may be attributed to our predilection for choosing low to yield high. Does the T-shirt not come to mind? Let’s, for convenience, put the blame on Demna Gvasalia, that provocateur-in-chief at the house of Balenciaga. He had picked common bags—for example, those usually associated with mainland Chinese moving vast quantities of city goods back to their rural homes during festive seasons such as the Lunar New Year—to make them into high-end, covetable carriers. It culminated in the re-make of Ikea’s Fraktar tote—in leather, of course—that could be seen as Mr Gvasalia doing a DHL for the equally humble shopping bag.

Muji shopping bagMuji’s nylon shopping bag can be folded flat and fitted into an attached slip case that comes with a loop at the top in case you’d want to add a carabiner to it

But that wasn’t the last of the common bags that Mr Gvasalia has given a luxury spin. Last month, his Balenciaga launched the “supermarket shopper”, an undisguised shopping bag not normally associated with fashion once steeped in the tradition of couture. The thing is, it isn’t yet clear if a leather “supermarket shopper” will have the same impact on popular fashion the way Celine’s leather shopper did back in 2009 (which predates Balenciaga’s own leather ‘Shopping Tote’ by eight years).

Brands are following Balenciaga’s lead. But rather than leather, plastic is presently king. Phoebe Philo, as a parting shot perhaps, created plastic supermarket bags to be sold as merch rather than for you take your in-store purchases home in one. Just a month ago, Raf Simons, too, got into the act, and released a see-through version (called, what else, RS Shopping Bag!) with Voo Store, one of Berlin’s most progressive multi-label fashion retailers. Mr Simons’s version is clearly pitched as a collectible, not to be used when you next go shopping and you want to play eco-warrior. The plastic supermarket bag has achieved It bag status, which, admittedly, now sounds rather quaint.

MMM cotton shopping bagThe nondescript store bags given to shoppers at what was once Maison Martin Margiela. Their version is not tubular, with stitched hems on both sides of the folded gusset

The nondescript store bags given to shoppers at what was once Maison Martin Margiela. Their version is not tubular, with stitched hems on both sides of the folded gusset
Like many fixations of fashion designers, this one isn’t terribly new. For the longest time, Maison Martin Margiela, pre-John Galliano, packed your purchases into supermarket-style shopping bags in white cotton that was akin to calico. (A leather, for-sale version was also released under the sub-line MM6.) I can’t tell you convincingly enough (now that such bags are a fashion item) how surprised I was many, many moons ago when I was presented with that bag after buying an MMM leather jacket at its Rue de Richelieu store in Paris. Surely they could do better, I had thought. But there was something decidedly appealing about the idea of a luxury item housed in a non-luxury bag that I found myself traipsing the City of Lights for the rest of the day in this plain and un-labelled sac with some satisfaction that I can’t quite describe now. A wink-wink moment perhaps. Was this how Mr Gvasalia had felt when he thought of the shopping bag for Balenciaga? Or was he being nostalgic of his days at the influential house?

The supermarket shopping bag—not as article of fashion—has a rather long history. According to popular telling, the grocery bag that we know so well was invented by Swedish engineer Sten Gustaf Thulin in the early 1960s. What Mr Thulin had in mind was a one-piece bad that can be formed by folding, welding and die-cutting a flat tubular plastic. This he did for Celloplast, a Swedish company known for producing cellulose film and for processing plastics. Celloplast was quick to patent the making of the plastic shopping bag and the rest, I think you’d agree, really requires no detailed recounting.

Bag in TokyoShoppers in Tokyo are often seen with shopping bags attached to a carabiner that’s hooked to a belt loop. Here, a velvety plastic bag from retailer Bayflow that’s printed with a message: “Respect nature, respect fashion. Stay healthy and simple, comfortable and beautiful.”

Oversized shopping bags—carried over the shoulder like a tote—are often spotted in Bangkok where shoppers carry them to house large purchases

While the bag of our current interest has been mostly associated with the wet market and the supermarket, versions in more durable nylon and with attractive prints started to appear when retailers discourage shoppers from using the plastic versions as they are not biodegradable and will add to the woes of inadequate landfills. Some cities such as Hong Kong and Taipei started charging customers when a plastic bag is required for their purchase. With demand for bring-your-own-bags rising, many bag manufacturers started producing reusable, washable, and long-lasting nylon shopping bags that can be folded neatly into a little package no bigger than a wallet.

In Japan, Tokyo especially, not only are these attractive bags available in supermarkets, they are sold in stores such as Muji and Uniqlo and trendy shops such as Beams and Urban Research. The basic shape is the same no matter where you find them, but there’s where the similarity ends. Patterns are almost always the eye-catching part, but, for me, it is how the Japanese carry them that I find so fascinating. Many guys have them secured to their waist with a carabiner. Some would tie them to their bag straps in a way that can only be described as fetching. Once, in Tomorrowland, the multi-label store, I saw a woman with a black nylon shopping bag. Nothing terribly interesting in that except that she had one handle looped over the other, which was slipped on to her wrist. There was something terribly artful in the bag-and-wrist composition. It reminded me of the Japanese azuma bukuro, a traditional cloth bag that—at least in Japan—is anything but ordinary.

Aland bagsThe myriad colours and patterns cheerfully offered at Seoul retailer Åland, as seen in their Bangkok flagship store

Today, fancier shops call them “marché (which is really French for market) bags”. At Muji, their version is labelled as “tote bag”, which adds to the mild confusion. The thing is, these fancy takes on the supermarket bag are not likely going to be seen in the likes of Fairprice. But where would you carry them to, then? Except at Ikea, home of the Fraktar, few retailers in Singapore discourage you from expecting a store-issued shopping bag, for free. In fact, at many supermarkets, shoppers are known to ask for more than they require. When will this habit be shaken off? When will the use of our own unique shopping bags be a common sight?

Or perhaps the structured, hardware-festooned bag of unambiguous designer standing is over. Who even remembers the Baguette now? Isn’t 1997 a long time ago? This is the era of Vetements, the time of looking at seemingly commonplace, unremarkable things to make them objects of desire. This is, after all, the age of the sweatshirt made good.

Photos: Chin Boh Kay and Jagkrit Suwanmethanon