Her Cami-And-Slip Get-Up

Billie Eilish’s négligé style for our equatorial heat

Billie Eilish in Kampong Glam. Photo: Billie Eilish/Instagram

Before her performance at the National Stadium last night, Billie Eilish took time off to take in the sights of hipster-cool-lost Haji Lane and, the surrounding back alleys. In an Instagram post, Ms Eilish wore a black camisole and a slip-skirt with a wide lace border and a left slit that shot up her thigh. Déshabillé lorong! The get-up, we presume, was chosen with consideration for our uncomfortably warm weather (which made the National Stadium so heated up that a few concert-goers were reported to have fainted, necessitating the singer to call security at one point). Above her straight neckline, she wore multiple silver chains, flanked by black bra straps. She was cuffed with a black bracelet on her left wrist and had multiple rings on both hands. In sum, it was nothing like the baggy-tee-and-shorts combo that she loves and her fans, too.

To contrast with the delicate two-piece, Ms Eilish was shod in Uggs-like, lace-up boots by Moon Boot. They appear weighty, wintery, and worn. In a TikTok-ish video shared in the same IG post, in which Ms Eilish was prancing in a drizzle, the boots looked a little ungainly as she clomped happily towards the camera. While she clothed her body to embrace the sweltering heat, her feet, curiously, are cozily padded with what are usually worn in winter. Could it be a deliberate choice so that there would be a noticeable contrast between outfit and footwear? (Was it also contrast that she was after when, in the video, she cavorted with the Sultan Mosque behind her?) After all, it is hard to imagine Billie Eilish in heels, even kitty heels. But ankle-high clomper-hoofs are the stuff that would engender influence. Even in the dumpster-lined back alleys of Kampong Glam, fans are clearly not far from her mind.

She Won’t Be Guilted 👏🏼

Kanye West demands a public apology for Travis Scott from Billie Eilish. Who does Ye think he is?

By Lester Fang

Kanye West is truly admirable. I think so; I do. No role he has played is too much, too bold, too absurd. He has styled himself as the arbiter of taste and the barometer of the zeitgeist, on top of whatever else he does in music. Oh, that is the wannabe president of the United States as well. Now, he’s a demander of apologies too. Not for himself, as you might expect, but for his presumed pal Travis Scott, the fellow now laying low after the Astroworld Festival tragedy. If you have not availed yourself to the entertainment (and entertaining) news of the week, it goes like this.

Billie Eilish was singing during a concert in Atlanta when she spotted someone in the crowd struggling to breathe. She paused her performance, and drew the attention of the crew to assist the person. (Ms Eilish, it should be said, is known to stop mid-performance during her shows to check on fans seeming unwell.) In videos shared on social media, Ms Eilish was seen pointing to the crowd with a hand holding a bottle of water and heard saying, “Do you need an inhaler?” And she did not go right back to singing. Wearing a baggy T-shirt and cycle shorts, she told the audience, “Guys, give it some time. Don’t crowd. Relax, relax, it’s okay… We’re taking care of people. I wait for people to be okay before I keep going.”

It sounds to me that Ms Eilish was explaining to the excited many who have come to watch her perform what the hold up was about. But Mr West read that very differently. On social media, he wrote in full caps, sans punctuation, as if barking: “COME ON BILLIE WE LOVE YOU PLEASE APOLOGIZE TO TRAV AND TO THE FAMILIES OF THE PEOPLE WHO LOST THEIR LIVES NO ONE INTENDED THIS TO HAPPEN TRAV DIDN’T HAVE ANY IDEA OF WHAT WAS HAPPENING WHEN HE WAS ON STAGE AND WAS VERY HURT BY WHAT HAPPENED…”

So, what in Donda’s name was he thinking?

In response to Mr West’s post and demand, Ms Eilish wrote on IG somewhat conciliatorily, “Literally never said a thing about Travis. Was just helping a fan,” So, what in Donda‘s name was he thinking? According to some reports, Mr West was reacting to one RapseaTV news report that ran the headline “Billie Eilish dissed Travis Scott at her concert after she stopped the show to give her fan an inhaler!” on IG (the post is removed now). And he bought it? This is irony in its highest order when Mr West had attacked journalists, mid-concert, in a 2014 show in New Jersey. “Write that motherfxxxxxg headline when you try to make me look like a maniac or an animal,” he admonished. That was not the only time, of course. Some people suggested that his present fragile state is due to problems with his ex-wife. And Ms Eilish conveniently becomes another target of his easily-triggered acrimony, just as Taylor Swift was once before?

It is tempting to treat Mr West’s demand as facetious—just like his presidential bid—but he has threatened to pull out of the Coachella Music Festival. Should the organisers be intimidated? He and Ms Eilish are slated to be the festival’s headline acts. And Mr West did say on that IG post, “TRAV WILL BE WITH ME AT COACHELLA BUT NOW I NEED BILLIE TO APOLOGIZE BEFORE I PERFORM”. Did he, therefore, think that Ms Eilish had spoilt Travis Scott’s comeback bid while La Flame is still thick in lawsuits worth billions of dollars filed by the victims (and their families) of the Astroworld tragedy? Would Coachella really be worse off without eruptive Kanye West?

The estranged husband’s reaction is not surprising, even for someone whose ninth studio album is titled Jesus is King. Outbursts are almost synonymous with the star and designer. He rants as often and as passionately as he raps. But why, I wonder, is a 44-year-old censuring a woman of 20, doing nothing more than getting someone the help they need, not bullying? Or, are we to believe, like so many of his supporters do, including the many, many brands eagerly aligned with him, that the face stocking-wearing Sunday Service leader Kanye West can really do no wrong?

Collage: Just So

Happy, Not Happy

Coping with fame or romantic relationships, as Billy Eilish croons, isn’t easy, but are we still enthralled by more confessions of the tough and the dark?

It’s retro-tinged, it’s melancholic, it’s tuneful, and it is destined to be a successful follow-up to 2019’s When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?—the album that worn Billie Eilish’s (and her brother Finneas O’Connell) five Grammies. It’s quite a feat for what Mr O’Connell called “home-made cookies”. The sophomore Happier than Ever, released two weeks ago, boasts more refined and rarefied song craft, and is, therefore, poised to repeat the feat in the next music award season. Ms Eilish creates music far more sophisticated than other recording artistes much older than her. She expresses emotions the average late-teen rarely emotes or so ardently. Her songs, woke and ever so anguish-filled, are not about musical trends; they are song-writing that tugs at heartstrings. On the cover of Happier than Ever, the newly blonde Billie Eilish is in tears.

Teen confessional-pop is, of course, (still) a thing. Singing about growing-up pains is the stuff of the rapid rise to stardom these days, and if you do it all with a smidgen of alt posturing, all the better. Ms Eilish packages herself vocally as an old soul. She offers not Meghan Trainor’s vibrant pop or Olivia Rodrigo’s Sour-ness, but they all share the need to express periods of their lives affected by heartbreak and whatever now—and then—ails young women embracing the adult world, including, in the case of Ms Eilish, her objections when watching porn. In Male Fantasy, a guitar-driven track that would actually appeal to guys, she recounts: “home alone, tryin’ not to eat/distract myself with pornography” and continues to point out the untruth of such performances since, as she believes, the actresses in them “would never be/That satisfied, it’s a male fantasy”.

On the whole, Happier than Ever encourages you to put your player (or streaming service) on loop. It is not manic; it’s nicely paced, and, in parts, it makes for the listening you’d keep for between you and the four walls of your bedroom. It’s ideal for listening alone, whether streamed through your smart speaker or via wireless earbuds. Our problem—if it’s right to call it that—with this album is Ms Eilish’s singing. Don’t get us wrong, she can sing. In fact, we like her voice: the clarity, the roundedness, the warmth, the not-girlish vocal styling. But it is how she used that voice that can sometimes annoy. In this album, Ms Eilish sounds as if she is singing to herself, as if testing a tune. The words won’t come out wholeheartedly, the phrasing too manipulated in the throat. She metronomes between amusing herself and seducing you. It is appreciable that she does not scream, she does not show off in unnecessary vocal gymnastics, but sometimes it is better not to let the singing get in the way of the song.

Many of her fans say her style is “intimate”. Since she sings almost entirely in the first person (except in GOLDWING), it is “natural” that she sounds as if she is in your attentive company. Happier than Ever is, therefore, ideal for solo listing, whether streamed through your smart speaker or via a pair of wireless earbuds. Perhaps it is with such intimacy that you’ll know she’s Getting Older (“I wish someone had told me I’d be doin’ this by myself”) and, in the talk-not-sing, Anne Clark-ish Not my Responsibility (“If I wear what is comfortable, I am not a woman/ If I shed the layers, I’m as slut“), that criticisms of her body bothers, if not hurt, her. Some songs augment her indie cred, including the stand out Your Power (“Will you only feel bad when they find out?”). There are a couple of tracks that beg to be remixed for the dancefloor or your bedroom, such as the excellent Oxytocin* (“I wanna do bad things to you… You know I need you for the oxytocin”)—how many young women use such a lovely word?!—and GOLDWING (“They’re gonna tell you what you wanna hear/Then they’re gonna disappear/Gonna claim you like a souvenir/Just to sell you in a year”). Pretty hardcore stuff from a fresh post-adolescent.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

*Oxytocin is a neuro-hormone that plays a part in the emotions we feel and the sensations in the body. It is also popularly known as the love hormone as it is released while we kiss and hug, and get heavy in sexual activity

Screen grab: Happier Than Ever/YouTube

Her Power

Billie Eilish’s new single from her upcoming second album has immense force and pull

By Ray Zhang

Every time I listen to Billie Eilish I have to remind myself that she’s nineteen. Barely out of her adolescence, she’s not supposed to sound like this. Way past my adolescence, I am not supposed to like her (!), or specifically, her music. But I do. Ms Eilish is not, image wise, my cup of teh C kosong. I do, however, like her songs—they have a pull that, by convention, I shouldn’t now enjoy—when I am supposed to be in reminiscent mode and collecting old Kean albums in vinyl! Her first album When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? of 2019 really caught me the way teens releasing first albums almost never do. Like my colleague Mao Shan Wang, it took me quite a while to intensely enjoy Miley Cyrus, and it wasn’t until her much later, later albums and The Backyard Sessions that really got me hooked. That girl can sing. And Billie Eilish too. And neither just for the tween-aged.

The voice is always important to me. I am never into voices that scream, roar, or belt. Or that are desperate to be cute. I like it when they don’t sound forced, as if in participation of some vocal Olympics or a jam session where the crooners are clearly out of their league. I understand why there is so much hooha about Joanna Dong’s (董姿彦) performance at the Star Awards. She over did everything—impress took the place of express. Subtlety is not her style, showing off is. Ms Eilish, by contrast, sings as if to you only, in her ballads, especially. There is an intimacy that is rather uncommon in the Idol-era bombast. She does not make dramatic note leaps, but within the gentle coos of an ungirlish-sounding tone, I can hear that she uses her voice in a skillful and nuanced way. Her vocal ability does not attempt to outpace the music, and it works rather well with minimal arrangements. Such as her latest single.

Early this week, Ms Eilish announced through social media that she will be releasing her sophomore album Happier Than Ever in July. Since then fans have been expecting a teaser by way of a single. They didn’t have to wait long. Your Power is for the woke generation, a ballad with folksy undertones that draws you in. Against a rather spare arrangement, with strummy guitars, rather than fierce electronica, Your Power is for waking up to, for drive time, and for going to bed with. It is not for pre-club hours or to get you moving your hips while readying to go out or while doing housework. I find its simplicity not quite so simple, and extremely refreshing, as in her Bond theme No Time to Die. Both Ms Eilish and producer/co-writer brother Finneas have a flair for tunes. The lilt and the legato are nothing like what’s recorded these days; the hummability is easy to catch on, but maybe not; the accessibility not quite Taylor Swift. I feel I am listening to a follow-up to the lush Everything I Wanted. While much of When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? was tethered to teenage angst, Your Power is a far more grown-up confrontation with the real difficulties and threats young women have to navigate in the world of entertainment, and beyond.

Lyrically, Ms Eilish, now all-blonde and big enough to let a python curl around her, sounds like she grew up too soon in the glare of the spotlight and in the company of music-exec creeps. Your Power broaches the IRL prevalence of sexual abuse, especially by an older, abler person. The words suggest a scumbag in similar business that Ms Eilish is in: “Will you only feel bad if it turns out they kill your contract?” If only more women—the way-to-young as well: “She was sleeping in your clothes/But now she’s got to get to class”—will take the senior, more powerful person on! And to protest sooner than later: “How dare you and how could you?” Despite the dismay and anger, she is aware of her own vulnerability (as well as others in similar positions): “I thought that I was special, you made me feel/ Like it was my fault you were the devil”. This isn’t being only woke, it is being awake too.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Screen grab: YouTube

Millennials Made Gucci

At the Grammy Awards, Billie Eilish and Harry Styles surprised no one when they turned up in full Gucci, illustrating, again, boys and girls their age group love the flashy Italian brand

Billie Eilish and Harry Styles in unmistakable Gucci outfits. Photos: Getty Images

The head-to-toe look is the to way dress among many of today’s young pop stars. And dedication to a single brand is the ideal. The easiest way to be camera-ready, we suppose. Just look at two of the biggest entertainers at the recent Grammys: Billie Eilish and the dress wearer Harry Styles. They were both outfitted by Gucci, down to, in the case of Ms Eilish, the bucket hat, face mask, and fingerless gloves, and, in the case of Mr Styles, the Mae West-worthy feather boa. It was as if they had turned over the entire exercise of dressing to a fashion house. Their own wardrobes non-existent, or redundant. Of course, most stars don’t look at their existing armoire anymore. They go with what fashion houses present to them, and if the final look is missing something—anything, there’s always the atelier’s sewers to custom-make. If they can sew a dress, they can sew a face mask. It’s all—as you can see (or maybe not)—very orchestrated.

This sounds very much like how they managed movie stars during the heydays of Hollywood. Only now, the current stars aren’t told how they are to be styled, or how to behave, or who to be seen with that is deemed suitable. The more anti-whatever they look, the better. And even more preferable, be linked to a brand (or a few). Bring your own take to how the sponsor wants you to look, it says to us. Billie Eilish certainly has. Until she dons Gucci the way she has been, no one thought the brand once associated with extreme sexiness under Tom Ford’s watch could be so bo chap baggy. She is not, as far as we’re aware, Gucci’s brand ambassador, unlike Harry Styles. She has more aesthetic room to navigate. Mr Styles is a Gucci model, appearing in their ads and video presentations; he is expected to embrace the brand wholesale, with a tad of pop-star insouciance.

…the pair helps Gucci appear as a label that’s “celebrity-approved”

Expectedly, their followers too. It is debatable if Mr Styles and Ms Eilish are leading the pack or wearing what others of their generation are wearing. Interestingly, if you combine, as we had, the first and second parts of their family names respectively, you would get “Stylish”. That’s enough to automatically grant them the upper hand as leaders than followers. To the many young fans who are enamoured with Gucci and can only feel confident—or validated—when they wear the label on their backs (or on their chest), the pair helps Gucci appear as a label that’s “celebrity-approved”, a marketing advantage and a sure crowd-puller. Together with their fans and followers, the Stylish stars have made Gucci the bubbling brand of the millennials, a group the Financial Times identified in 2018 as “the world’s most powerful consumers.”

Although Gucci reported a drop in global sales during their earnings report in February, they have, in fact, enjoyed startling growth for years and had been the growth accelerator of parent company Kering. Annual revenues reported in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic, was an impressive 10 billion euros. Their success has been linked to how appealing Gucci is to millennial consumers, under 35. Technology that resonates with this savvy group (as well as teaming up with digital games such as Zepeto) is part of their multi-prong strategy. The products, across categories, are calibrated to offer millennials born-again retro looks that are new to them, as well as the chances to experience what they could not ever have: past goofiness transmuted as present geekiness. The whole visual context of Gucci is companionably banal. To better suit the phenomenon and practice—sharing, and to fabulously costume colourful online life.

Mask: A Fashion Statement

Looks like wearing a surgical—even industrial—mask is now fashionable, besides being a sickness-spreading-prevention necessity


Mask 2020 P1Given the present situation, masks are not a hindrance to fashionable turn out

Without sounding flippant, even frivolous, masks are now a fashion statement. Consider this: we were in the MRT train (the Downtown Line, to set the scene) and two girls suddenly appeared before us, leaning, as many girls are inclined to, on a grab pole. One of them, her young face was shielded by a mask that was too big for her. It did not, in fact, look anything like the gov-issued ones; it was nice-looking, it was fashionably black. Her friend, totally unmasked, asked her why she bothered wearing one when she was not ill. The reply was swift: “You don’t know, meh? Aiya, it’s now the trend, mah”. To their credit, they were dress fashionably (which should not be taken to mean well). The mask on that girl is face accessory as, some time, veils are, and she looked like she was doing what’s increasingly the thing to do among some lasses: obscure the body and, now, the face.

If one has to go through such trouble to don a mask, one might as well make it look great. As a matter of fact, some do. Billie Eilish has, as you’re probably aware, made mask-wearing her signature style, although, for hypochondriacs, it should be said that hers have no protective function other than a decorative, statement-making one. On those occasions Ms Eilish’s face isn’t blocked, we see a young Scarlett Johansson with shades of Patsy Kensit, and Miley Cyrus brushed in for good measure. We don’t know why we see the triumvirate; we just do. Nothing good or bad. A mask just makes it even harder to take a side.

Masks 2020 P6Masks are looking less and less destined for the operating theatre

To be sure, masks—specifically surgical masks—today should not be regarded lightly or be worn carelessly, no matter the prevailing winds of fashion. They do not constitute a trifling matter. Its shortage—not just locally, but globally—is a serious problem, especially in cities that are experiencing insufficiency and among people who need them urgently, such as hospital staff. The situation, as we have unfortunately seen, is made more severe (and ugly) by those who worsen the scarcity by stockpiling, as well as those who seek to profiteer by selling at higher-than-usual prices, sans guilt. This makes talking about masks used as fashion accessory possibly facetious. Yet, there are those who would wear the nose-and-mouth covering as a style statement.

If you Google ‘surgical mask’ and choose the Images option, above the expected photos of actual surgical masks (some modelled by individuals who look like medical professionals) is a tab that reads ‘fashion’. This is the first among 30 to choose from, and it appears before ‘nurse’, ‘anime’, ‘wearing’; way before ‘n95’ (the 7th)! It isn’t certain if the fashion mask coming before all others is a reflection of what’s trending or furiously searched, but the appearance of those masks in assorted colours—even in prints—is indication that mask wearers are as concerned of contracting a coronavirus as wanting to look good in something usually associated with hospitals or, increasingly, with the annual haze in the second half of the year.

Masks @ LV storeStaff and customers are similarly masked at Louis Vuitton

Things have changed. No need to go into details or quote published figures to substantiate how masks are now an urban necessity, regardless of what our government (or the WHO) has emphasised: “Do not use if you are well”, as seen on the literature that accompanies the pack of four distributed to residents early this month. Despite what many in this city calls a “scary” situation (so frightening, in fact, that masks were reported to be sold out island-wide even before the Lunar New Year), an increasing number of wearers are making surgical masks (and their industrial siblings) a part of fashionable expression. If you are, we suppose, going to be in a heavily monogrammed T-shirt by your favourite brand, a govt-issued one won’t cut it. As fashion folks repeatedly told us, “the minimum is all-black”.

While mask-wearing has become common in many cities in East Asia, it has not been widely seen on Singaporean faces, not even after the SARS outbreak of 2003. Like everything else we wear or do not, the weather is the root of all our sartorial shortcomings and physical ills, which include coughs and colds. Cities such as Taipei, Hong Kong and Bangkok could be unbearably hot, but the high temperatures have not deterred the folks to forsake a mask when there is a need to wear one. At one Kopitiam food court a few days ago, we heard a middle-aged woman tell her companion, presumably in response to MOH’s urging that a tissue should be used to cover the mouth when when one coughs (or sneezes), “Aiya, want to cough, got (sic) time to take out tissue, meh?” It is, therefore, eye-opening that masks are presently more visible than they have ever been.

Masks 2020 P2The wearing of masks is not necessarily a solo. choice

In Asia, the Japanese have, for a long time, worn surgical masks in public even when their cities are not under the equivalent of DORSCON orange. The habit (rather than trend) goes back even before the SARS outbreak, and is believed to have become more visible after the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster of 2011. City dwellers, subsequently, wore what is today known as “courtesy masks”, usually used when one is unwell (or even when merely thinking that one might be ailing), a practice that has become as much acquired behaviour as social etiquette. We have read in reports that, increasingly, Japanese women are wearing surgical masks to shield their makeup-free faces from the world (rather than apply colour on the way to work?), which may explain the striking range of masks in non-traditional colours available in cities such as Tokyo and Osaka. And not at street-side stalls, but in proper retail outfits such as the 88-year-old Matsumoto Kiyoshi chain pharmacy.

Masks in Japan are used by both young and older wearers as accessories, and very much a part of good grooming. Or, a shield to make some wearers more attractive, or even to, we were told, “block off communication with others” (Match-JP called it “struggling with social awkwardness”). One poll conducted in the same year of the Fukushima mishap by Japanese news portal News Post Seven found that, among 100 individuals—aged between 10 and 30—surveyed in Shibuya, the bedrock of Japanese youth culture, 30 percent of them chose to wear masks for purposes completely unconnected to health. Medical-grade masks for non-surgical use have since become so popular that its production in Japan has risen staggeringly. According to data by the Japan Hygiene Products Industry Association, in 2018, more than 5.5 billion masks across all categories were produced for a population of 126.8 million people (as of 2017). Of these, 4.3 billion were for personal use. And possibly, more than half of that for expressing individual style.

Mask 2020 P3Surgical and anti-pollution masks now come in trendy patterns such as the camo

As expected, the Koreans, too, were soon seen shielding their nose/mouth area of the face for no medical reason, with the boys of BTS (Suga and Kim Tae-Hyung are frequent wearers) making redundant usage trendier and seductively imitable. Even US stars, such as rap artistes Ayo & Teo—check out their music video for Rolex—and Future (the now pre-mature Mask Off) followed. The wearing of masks caught on in China too, especially in Beijing, where dust storms can seriously choke the city, making surgical masks and N95s comprehensible necessity. A new level of popularity of mask use was reached last year when during the protracted Hong Kong anti-extradition-bill-turned-political-protests, surgical masks—especially in black—became both a symbol of defiance and a way to conceal the wearer from police identification.

At some point, fashion has to be worked into the equation. We have noticed, when we were abroad, surgical masks of not just different colours, we, too, have seen and were amused by those in assorted patterns. The Japanese have not only created those of considerable fashion wow, but also pieces that are extremely well-designed and comfortable to wear (we came across one with an additional flap as bridge that cups the nose, eliminating the need to pinch the stiff upper edge of the standard-issue surgical mask to ‘seal’ the top). On home ground, it isn’t clear if the shortage of masks at legitimate retail outlets is forcing mask seekers to look elsewhere for them. Of late, masks are no longer the three-ply, one-side green (or blue) ones that you see hospital staff use or what many generally wear.

Masks street stalls BKKDespite reports of surgical masks sold out in pharmacies, Bangkok streets still see many of them sold, especially those in colourful prints

We hear that many of these “fancy” masks*, as one fashion stylist calls them, are bought overseas, or online. Despite the reported shortage, China—in cities such as Guangzhou in the south and Shenyang in the north—is apparently where for-fashion surgical masks are available to buy, in hospitals-will-likely-frown-upon colours, such as lime green, and prints, such as tartan, which in themselves raise the question, how legit are they?  Even popular e-commerce sites Qoo10 and Shoppee offer no assurance for those sold on their respective platforms. So shady have the proliferation of masks been that videos have appeared on YouTube instructing viewers how to tell the real deal from the fakes. Unsurprisingly, they do exist, like bootleg, well, almost anything.

In Bangkok, a city that is still welcoming mainland Chinese tourists with open (and sanitised) arms, fancy masks are hawked on the streets and in markets—night and weekend—and snapped up by locals and tourists alike. There are coloured, 3M-branded (but not identified by their model number) N95s, surgical masks in cute repeated patterns, filter masks with beak-like fronts (some marked PM2.5, which is meant to be good against bacteria and viruses); Pitta masks minus any visible filters; and dystopia-worthy respirator-masks with indescribable attachments. Many urbanites, a local source told us, now have a wardrobe of masks so that there would “always be one in the right look, shape, and colour to go with the OOTD”.

Masks 2020 P5Assorted masks send to us by SOTD contributors when we said we were researching to do this post

From our own (admittedly unscientific) local observation, more men wear fancy masks than women, who tend to prefer the standard-issue-looking, but in pastel pink. Especially popular (hence, even harder to find) among fashion types are Pitta masks. “They look sleek,” one wearer on a Bugis-bound bus told us shortly after the DORSCON orange announcement. Pitta mask derives its name from the Japanese word pitari (ピッタリ), which means perfect fit. The snugness (face-con?) of the Pitta mask is its appeal and their popularity among celebrities gives them the all-important fashion cred. Despite their good looks, Pitta masks are not thought to offer adequate protection against the microscopic. To be fair, on the packaging, the manufacturer claims “99% effectiveness” for filtering pollen and dust particles.

One Singaporean chemical engineer Neo Kang Wei conducted testing on the Pitta for his employer Smart Air, a creator of “clean air tools”, and found that these masks “captured an astounding 0% of 0.3-micron particles and only 64% of larger 2.5-micron particles,” he concluded in a blog post. In other words, the “data shows that the Pitta mask is not effective at capturing small particles… it won’t do a good job filtering things like PM2.5, viruses, bacteria or fine particles.” Still, its popularity is unaffected. The preferred colour, we have been repeatedly told, is black (we, in fact, like the gray more—it isn’t so hard). The bus passenger told us that dark colours are preferred because “those close to nude look like Uniqlo’s Wireless Bras!” So, now we know.

Masks 2020 P4The many faces of surgical masks

As for actual ‘fashion’ masks, rungs below ‘fancy’ masks on the virus-shielding effectiveness scale, they have been around for a while. What comes immediately to mind are those by Marcelo Burlon, County of Milan, in particular the ‘Wings’ fabric masks and the Heron Preston “pollution mask” with para-cord serving as straps for the ears, as well as for framing the mask. Off-white die-hards will add to that Virgil Abloh’s loosely fitted ‘Arrow’ masks and Bape fans will, in response, include the brand’s popular ‘Shark’ mask. We, too, recall Marine Serre’s R-PUR filter-included masks from last year that were fashioned in a stretch-weave, sporting her signature double-registration, crescent-moon repeated pattern.

But it was, perhaps, Chinese designers who had initiated the trend much earlier, likely as a visual statement to respond to worsening air pollution in their capital city. In 2014, Xander Zhou and compatriots Qiu Hao and Masha Ma collaborated with Yoox to create stylish masks under the e-tailer’s Yooxygen initiative. Probably buoyed by the project’s success (which drew international attention), Ms Ma sent models out, for her spring/summer 2015 collection shown in Paris, in masks that were delicately embroidered and also encrusted with virus-fears-not Swarovski crystals. The potential of masks as fashion items may explain the recent proliferation of mask brands that marry fashion and function, such as Shanghai-based Airpop, Australian-owned AusAir, and California’s Vogmask.

Masks 2020 P7Mask-less, the odd one out?

With the novel coronavirus (now better known as COVID-19) rising and air quality plummeting, surgical masks and the look-a-likes (hopefully, work-a-likes) will become as prevalent and accepted as baseball caps. For the present, perhaps safety should supersede style. While much is said about its use by both authoritative and scripted voices—from physicians to stars, there is insufficient guidance on the safest way to dispose these single-use masks (not to be worn for more than a day, we’re told, and definitely not when they become wet). How they should be worn—and when—seem to have overshadowed what needs to be done when you’re done with them.

A used mask, however attractive or beautifully patterned, must be rid of in a sanitary way; it must not be placed in pockets or bags, or, worse, secured under the chin. Microbes do collect on the surface of the mask and can be spread by careless disposal or inappropriate/needless storage. The mask is best removed from the face by holding the ear loops or straps to avoid accidental touching of the surfaces. It should then be placed in a plastic bag and discarded in a covered garbage bin. No single-use mask can have a second life, not even after steaming it, as per one suggestion making the digital rounds. As with its disposal, there is no mention about how we’re going to manage these masks at the end of the outbreak. Are they environmentally friendly? That’s another issue altogether, but one thing must be clear and encouraged: say no to scalpers!

*Editor’s note: we cannot vouch for the safety or efficacy of these fancy masks or those not bought in, say, a pharmacy. We, therefore, urge purchase with caution. 

Photos: Zhao Xiangji, Iconiq Samsuddin, and Narak Kornkanok

Is This The Most Beautiful And Heartfelt Bond Song?

Billie Eilish delivers what’s possibly the most gorgeous 007 theme. And one to likely go beyond the limitations of the OST



By Emma Ng

Billie Eilish has really been in the news since winning four Grammys last month. Aside from the strides she has made in fashion, we have noted here in SOTD how lovely her voice is. And to that, I want to add: she sings, not scream. And that appealingly just-sing vocal is what makes her work in the latest Bond (25th) theme song so captivating. At the first listening of No Time to Die, what struck me—and beautifully so—is how free of histrionics the track is, not just vocally, but musically too.

I am now having trouble reconciling No Time to Die with the typical opening title sequence of Bond films, with their swirling graphics and the suggestively naked woman (women?) dancing as if the audience would not imagine she has no clothes on, or is near-nude (never mind if on occasions, body-con dresses could be discerned, or heels). How is Ms Eilish’s mellow sound and unrushed phrasing going to soundtrack what’s traditionally a visual expression that leans on art-as-titillation posturing? I try to imagine and all I can come up with is oversized, boxy Chanel pantsuit! Will Ms Eilish work into her contract that any visual accompanying her music must obscure, especially in the depicting of silhouetted women, any overt sexiness and sexuality (her own outline a perfect example)?

No Time to Die plays like Bond themes of yore coming together, but that would be simplistic, even if the chorus harks back to the melodic preferences of the past. To me, there’s something suitably Brit about Ms Eilish’s sound, made more alluring with a lo-fi warmth. It opens softly—almost a hush—with the piano, and then she intones, “I should have known/I’d leave alone/just goes to show/that the blood you bleed is just the blood you owe”. Ms Eilish turns 18 this December. Does that sound like a teenager to you? The opening lines set the mood and theme of the song: balladic, bleak, brill.

How is it that Bond himself and the numerous screen writers have never thought that “licence to kill” could pay back, and that it takes a teenager (and her co-writer-brother, Finneas O’Connor) to see the deserving turn? I don’t profess to know what every line means even having heard the music on loop all afternoon (or try to see if the lyrics foretell what is going to happen to Mr Bond in the upcoming film), but there is something too mature and too true and too heartfelt when someone so young sings, “Are you death or paradise?/Now you’ll never see me cry/there’s just no time to die”. It really hit me. Or, maybe, it’s Valentine’s?

I have never been so drawn to a Bond theme, not even Adele’s grand-sounding, jazz-sure Skyfall. And I don’t even remember what Sam Smith’s Writing’s On The Wall sounds like. Ms Eilish’s pull is as much her close-mic singing as her ability to draw you in: she seems to be directing every word, every note at you, alone. She does not get pitchy; she does not belt, she doesn’t try to impress; she does not over-colour. (Doubters should listen to her sing Yesterday at the Oscars.) I, too, like that the arrangement of the track is lush, a compelling counterpoint to the writing duo’s often bleak, melancholic, and off-kilter style. The sum: tasteful. Never thought I’d say that about a Bond theme song.

Photo: Universal Music Group

So, Chanel Can Now Look Like This!

You know, for sure, times have changed if the house that Coco built, too, succumbs to the anti-fit. Who would have thought of that?



Mao Shan Wang

What would Coco have said; she who had perfected the perfect-fit skirt-suit?  Or Karl Lagerfeld, he who updated it? I don’t know about you, but I can hear the sounds of turning in graves, whatever that sound might sound like, which at present, is a shuffle as regrettable as frightening. I am, of course, referring to Billie Eilish wearing to the Oscars the Chanel pantsuit that appeared to have been designed for Rebel Wilson. As my grandma—pray she isn’t churning in her urn in Jalan Senyum—would have said (or asked, without even a hint of a senyum), “How many chickens are you planning to steal tonight?”

I am all for Ms Eilish establishing her own look and daring to appear at the Grammys not as a sex kitten or goddess, or whatever form that little bits of clothing on such a platform can be evocative of sexy, but her turning luxury threads into luxury rags with deplorable fit is, frankly, getting to me. If all attendees—even ushers and journalists—are expected to wear formal attire, exceptions not accepted, why are emerging stars allowed to go into the event dressed as Auntie Suzie at her last grandson’s wedding in a suit of the wrong size?

Admittedly, Ms Eilish stood out among the other fitted-for-cleavage-to-be-deep stars. There is no denying that she made many look decidedly yesteryear, appearing with as much panache as attendees at a staid affair, such as a state dinner. I can’t say—happily so—she obligingly played by the red carpet rules that had served actresses well for so many, many years. Yet, being different isn’t necessarily being the height of glamour, old or new, traditional or forward. At best, she was the awkward teenager still grappling with the idea of comfortable swish and was to be understood. It was, after all, her first Oscar appearance. Still, why an 18 year old would take inspiration from Hilary Clinton is anyone’s guess, assuming one bothers.

Don’t get me wrong. Nothing terrible with wearing a suit. Look at British costume designer Sandy Powell’s (best costume nominee for The Irishman) white double-breasted, with all-over autographs of several “high-profile Hollywood figures”, I read somewhere. She looked good—perhaps with Al Pacino’s and Robert De Niro’s signatures, among many others, the two-piece had more gravitas than that the tweed one in question, randomly affixed with double-C brooches that looked like someone was on a buying spree in Patpong.

Billie Eilish going to the Grammys, then Oscars and from Gucci to Chanel is, to many fans, double upgrades. She probably dressed for them than a statuette she was not meant to get. Yet I don’t consider the sack-like suit spiffy, which ironically, is no longer even required among the men: look at Timothée Chalamet; he could have been on his way to work at the Whole Foods warehouse! There was some style reversal, too. While Ms Eilish had forsaken ball gowns (she probably couldn’t carry herself in one), Billy Porter embraced them, with gusto and naturalness, I should add. Sartorially, there was more than just gender re-definition; in the end, it was about choice. On the red carpet these days, you could choose whatever you wanted to wear. Regrettably, the dubious, too.

Photo: Getty Images

Billie Eilish: Future of Youth Fashion?

If the Bad Guy singer was not at the Grammys, she might have been a resident of Suzhou, an eighteen-year-old punk-auntie taking a walk in the city in jammies


Billie Eilish Grammys

Billie Eilish, it’s not enough that you won four Grammys, you had to turn up in that outfit. You had to align yourself with Gucci; you had to get them to make you a set of pyjamas to strut the red carpet. In fact, head-to-nail-to-toe Gucci. Sure, we get it: this is a luxury take on what you’re used to. And yes, Gucci’s fastest-growing slice of the business is consumers like you: 24 and under—what marketeers call Gen Z. We get it. You have made some unconventional musical choices, why did you make a conventional fashion pick? We don’t mean just the get-up; we mean the brand too. Seriously, how much more anti-fit clothes do we need to see, how many more logos-as-repeated-patterns?

You’re known to wear figure-obscuring clothes, but we didn’t think that you’d don your dad’s nightwear to the Grammys. Or, obnubilate what were later revealed to be not unattractive eyes and mouth, from which you had sung so captivatingly. We know you like to dress to avoid being tagged babe or sexy. We know. But must modesty be this covered-up? Must not-following-the-contours-of-the-body be this baggy? Must taking attention off the female form be this androgynous?

Sure, it’s different, what you’re doing/wearing/showing. You don’t have Lisso’s heft to need to prove that sexiness can come in other shapes. You don’t have Ariana Grande’s pony tail to show that cute can negate curly, flowing locks. You don’t have Lana Del Rey’s retro vibe to wear things in a certain way and, as a result, look not of the present. But, you don’t have to obscure your youth to downplay it or diminish it. You don’t have to succumb to the persistent convention that ugly can be pretty.

As a performer, you’re compelling to watch. In the Bad Guy MV, it is a joy to see you prance about—the infectious synths and bass so divorced from your soft, almost whispery near-monotone vocals that soundtrack your don’t-give-a-damn play with the camera. You bring to mind Janis Ian (Mean Girls), but you make her look lame. Even your yellow hoodie and jogger make The Bride’s (Kill Bill) similarly hued track suit pale in comparison. It helps that all the while, you sing that you’re the “make-your-girlfriend-mad type/might-seduce-your-dad type.” In baggy clothes? What sexual powers are hidden in them?

Your debut album, last year’s beautiful oddity When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? include the standout track, the seductive/hummable/tender Everything I Wanted, which sounds like it is in the process of being written… in a corner of a dance club… with the EDM in the background. Or, something Miley Cyrus probably wished she had composed. In the accompanying self-directed MV that seems like a snap of a suicide attempt, you sing mostly in an ominously dark car. Your clothes cannot be discerned; they may not even be there. We saw only your anguished face. Fashion doesn’t matter. Billie Eilish, you’re no Taylor Swift. Thank goodness for that.

Photo: Amy Sussman/Getty Images