Star Awards (2022): Still Not Shining

Away from Changi Airport, is this year’s Star Awards a better, sleeker affair? Were we hoping for too much?

Ah jie Zoe Tay, in purple silk chiffon, floating down the Walk of Fame. Photo: The Celebrity Agency/Instagram

By Ray Zhang

The Star Awards 2022 is a very long show, if you take into consideration that ‘Backstage Live’ segment, screened three and half hours before the ceremony proper on MeWatch and YouTube. At more than seven hours duration in its entirety, it was long enough for me to be on a flight to Tokyo. Since last year, MediaCorp has decided that the annual show generates enough interest to warrant extra broadcast of not only the anywhere-is-a-red-carpet segment, Walk of Fame, but also a look at the stars getting ready, presumably from around or after noon. But while the award presentation, now back at the MediaCorp Theatre, veered dangerously towards dull, it was Backstage Live that was utterly unbearable to watch, even more so than last year’s. If any glamour was to be expected, as promised by Mediacorp, all was lost in the loud, grating, uninformative banter that dominated this painful prelude.

Juvenile and boisterous, in all its youth-grassroots glory, it was as if all the hosts—all six of them—cut their teeth at a qiyue getai (七月歌台 or the ‘song stage’ of the 7th lunar month, aka Hungry Ghost Festival). When asked by hosting partner Seow Sin Nee (萧歆霓) what he liked to watch at each Star Awards, apart from the main presentation, the 1.91-metre tall Herman Keh (郭坤耀) mentioned the “红地毯 (red carpet)” because of the stars’ attire, which he referred to as “制服 (zhifu or uniform)”! And he would go on to say that at least five times more, including referring to the Hugo Boss suit that he wore as zhifu, too. And, even when later, Priscelia Chan (曾诗梅) was curious about his word choice while being interviewed by the noisy duo, he did not appear to be aware of the embarrassing faux pas.

The new-gen Channel 8 hosts: (left) “uniform”-clad Herman Keh and (right) Seow Sin Nee with resident stylist Annie Chua (middle). Screen grab: Mediacorp/YouTube

I know not if Mr Keh was on script, but bumbling and blundering his way through his set was only part of the pain in watching this segment of MediaCorp’s biggest night. When the same pair presented one of the six debut My Pick awards (for Favourite Male Show Stealer, which Xu Bin won), Ms Seow was asked “哪一个是你的pick (who is your pick)?”. She replied, “it’s all my picks”! The appalling command of both Mandarin and English on a broadcast believed to be one of the most popular for Channel 8 (the main event of last year’s show at Changi Airport shockingly won the award for Best Entertainment Special!) is embarrassing, to say the least. Later, when Mr Keh won the Most Attention-Seeking New-Gen Host, he said, “感谢我爸爸妈妈把我养成这么高 (grateful to my parents for raising me until I am so tall)“. There is a difference between “古灵精怪 (weird or bizarre, as Mr Keh described himself)” and trite. Throw in their mission to find the “female star with the highest heel” and the “guy with the tallest hair”, I knew nothing begged further viewing.

The Walk of Fame at five o’clock brought me back to the show. After last year, the struts and poses this time returned to a real but somewhat short red carpet, although it was obvious that all the stars waited behind a backdrop to emerge. No one was seen coming out of a luxury car (sponsorship was hard to score this year?). As with her appearance on the Changi Airport Terminal Four driveway of the entrance to the departure hall in 2021, Zoe Tay had to walk alone. Wearing a silk chiffon dress by Gucci with a cape that floated behind her like a parachute (I’m not sure about the curiously chunky black platforms), she commanded the red carpet like a seasoned pro, lifting nary a pinch of her floor-length skirt to navigate the Walk of Fame, while other younger actresses lifted their distended skirts as if they were avoiding dog excrement. I had to remind myself that for most of the actresses, this was probably the only chance in the entire year when they could wear an evening gown, and possibly towering heels. And since they had to return the the borrowed dresses in saleable condition, they had to content with lifting while parading to avoid an embarrassing frock-ripping, if not nasty fall.

Best actress and actor favourites Chantalle Ng and Xu Bin. Photo: The Celebrity Agency/Instagram

On the red carpet, the most anticipated, I suppose, were the My Star Bride leads Chantalle Ng (黄暄婷) and Xu Bin (徐彬). Ms Ng is the daughter of old-timer Lin Meijiao (林梅娇, winner of the evening’s Best-Supporting Actress). She wore a red, sequinned Bottega Veneta gown, which appeared a tad too large for her and clearly too long. Frequently, she had to hold one side (or both) of the dress to help her walk less uncomfortably or so that her platform compers won’t cause her to trip. Contrasting her, colour-wise (or to express some National Day fervour?), was Mr Xu in an off-white Dolce & Gabbana suit that was tackily tacked with what could be earrings, bearing the letters ‘D’ and ‘G’, all over—yes, on the pants too, without which he would be too close to an albino peacock? Mr Xu had earlier, in the Backstage Live segment, said that when he saw the suit, he knew immediately that it was the one he wanted and had instructed his stylist to get it for him. I wish someone had told him he could pass of as a window display at Chomel.

In fact, the guys seemed to have tried harder this year. Many came in suits—some of a better fit than others, many curiously semi-casual, and few down-right not dressy. Elvin Ng (黄俊雄), in a Versace suit, was the first joke of the day: he went from kedai-kopi bandung to Fanta orange. Or, was it F&N? To be sure, I don’t know if Mediacorp ever stipulated a dress code or whether it was merely a given that attendees would don evening wear, but it was unlikely that black tie, as many had thought, was expected. Still, odd choices abound: Desmond Tan (陈泂江) in a cream, zips-for-darts Alexander McQueen coat, which he wore sans shirts a la Timothée Chalamet at the Oscars (I do not know why there persists this love of substituting outerwear for a blazer at an awards night), only that the American actor did not go shirtless under a coat; Dennis Chew (周崇庆) in a cartoonish white suit, with hand-drawn tracing of the perimeter of the outfit, designed by, gasp, Chen Hanwei (陈汉玮) and made by Q Menswear; or Nick Teo’s shaggy, kungfu-master, Yohji Yamamoto layers. And those in non-solids: Romeo Tan’s Etro suit with geometric patterns gleaned from carpets, Bryan Wong’s also-Etro blazer with Savannah print (feline included), and worse, Pierre Png’s too-small, too-day-yet- too-prom-night gingham jacket.

Formalwear interpreted: (from let) James Seah, Desmond Tan, and Teo Ze Tong. Photo: The Celebrity Agency/Instagram

There were other trends among the men—possibly what Herman Keh obliviously, gleefully, and toothily called zhifu—if you consider, like I did, their omnipresence. Most discernible were the dinner jackets with peaked lapels in black (sometimes part of it) to stand out from the main fabric. At least half a dozen of them embraced this small chromatic contrast. Even Desmond Tan could not resist the pull, when he changed into a different suit for the award presentation (he was a best actor nominee). Was it to show that the stars paid attention to details? Also, the persistence of sneakers peeking out from the hem of tailored trousers (many annoyingly not altered to the wearer’s height). Is this really considered cool, even on tuxedo-clad sexagenarian Zhu Houren (朱厚任)?

But what really caught my attention were their faces, which I usually do not scrutinise (nothing surgical intervention won’t hide). I should be more specific—this year, the eyebrows or the many stars who had theirs darken or drawn to augment the density. The unnaturalness really jumped at me. Those of Jeremy Chan (田铭耀, among those who wore a tuxedo jacket with contrast-black lapels), for one, were especially intense and oddly linear and light brown, as if they were shaded with a template; they were even thicker and denser than wife Jessica Liu’s (刘子绚), as if he was trying to impress her as Zayn Malik!

The long and lean: (left and right) Cynthia Koh, and Rebecca Lim. Photos: The Celebrity Agency/Instagram. And (centre)) Joanne Peh. Screengrab: Mediacorp/YouTube

The women, in contrast, seemed more measured in their attempts to make a massive impact. I consider this year a lull year. According to Mediacorp’s principal image stylist & costume designer Annie Chua, what she prepared for 23 of the stars revolved around “old Hollywood glamour” or, if you missed it the first time, “very glamorous old Hollywood glamour”. I wonder if the emphasis was on “old”. Quan Yifeng (权怡凤) wore a front-heavy, fussy, old-looking, black (and some white) strapless number: Ms Chua may not have realised that someone’s Hari Raya valances were missing. The opposite to that dated fussiness was Sheryl Ang’s (洪丽婷) yellow Sportmax crush of fabric. Was there not a single iron in the dressing rooms of Mediacorp? And what were the opera gloves about?

In the end, it was clean lines, as well as neatness that attracted me. Although many viewers consider the actresses who could stop traffic in their manner of dress of the past to be “boring” this year, I do think that they stood out for their unfussy turn out: Cynthia Koh (许美珍) in Moshino, Joanne Peh (白薇秀) in Ralph Lauren, and, most striking, Rebecca Lim (林慧玲) in Louis Vuitton. Sure, what they wore could be the epitome of modest fashion (at least from the front), but the dresses (including special guest, Taiwanese Pets Tseng’s [曾沛慈] red Rebecca Vallance dress, I should add) communicated a certain elan and class, both of which the Star Awards still lack, in spades.

Oscars 2022: Many Forgettable Dresses, One Memorable Moment

Gowns failed to impress after Will Smith seemingly pulled off a slap-first version of Kanye West at the 2009 VMAs

Will Smith took to the stage to slap Chris Rock for joking about wife Jada Pinkett-Smith. Screen grab: YouTube

Warning: this post contains language that some readers may find objectionable

“Love will make you do crazy things,” said Will Smith in his acceptance speech for the Best Actor award. And crazy it was when the King Richard lead earlier slapped Chris Rock on stage after Jada Pickett-Smith was teased by the comedian. Mr Rock had jabbed at her by comparing her to G.I. Jane, the eponym in the 1997 Ridley Scott film in which Demi Moore plays the soldier-character with a shaved head. “Jada, I love ya. G.I. Jane 2, can’t wait to see it,” Mr Rock teased. Ms Pickett-Smith’s barely discernible hair is the result of alopecia, an autoimmune condition, where the body attacks the cells of hair follicles, causing hair loss. At first, Mr Smith seemed to be laughing, but then his wife, decked in a Glenn Martens for Jean Paul Gaultier Couture gown, showed she disapproved the joke by rolling her eyes. The camera returned to Mr Rock and the next thing we saw was the actor marching up the stage and quickly smacking the presenter. It did not look scripted. Immediately, social media went berserk! “What just happened?” became the question of the hour.

But the on-stage slap was not enough. After swaggering back to his seat, Mr Smith shouted, “keep my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth!” Twice! (The telecast on channel 5 this morning was not censored.) The Academy Awards have its fair share of distasteful jokes, and nominated actors—and their companions—have always been free for all who host (should Jesse Plemmons have lunged at Amy Schumer for calling his wife Kirsten Dunst a “seat filler” and getting her to vacate her chair?). But is a bad gag good reason to attack the joker? At the risk of pointing to the unmentionable “angry Black man”, this was not the first time a Black ‘bro’ took to the stage to express deep unhappiness. Back in the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs), Kanye West leapt on stage during Taylor Swift’s acceptance of the Best Female Video award and said, “Yo Taylor, I’m really happy for you, I’ma let you finish, but Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time! One of the best videos of all time!” Notice the repeat. Only now, Mr Smith had not confronted a White woman or a White man. He laid his hand on a Black guy, which could be “settled”, just as P Diddy said, when he appeared after Mr Rock: “Will and Chris, we’re gonna solve that like family…” On their official Twitter account, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences posted: “The Academy does not condone violence of any form.” And quickly re-focused on the aim of the show: “Tonight we are delighted to celebrate our 94th Academy Awards winners, who deserve this moment of recognition from their peers and movie lovers around the world.”

Will Smith, in Dolce & Gabbana and wife Jada Pinkett-Smith in Glenn Martens for Jean Paul Gaultier Couture gown. Photo WireImage

After the manly outburst, the show moved into surreal territory. While a (mere) heckler would likely be shown the door, Will Smith was allowed to stay and watch the show, and laugh, and go back up the same stage to receive the award for Best Actor, his first. He was met with a standing ovation (Prada-clad Lupita Nyong’o, who sat behind him and was at first shocked by the latter’s open-hand action, stood up to applaud excitedly)! Tearing (or acting?), he said sorry to practically everyone except the guy he smacked. “I want to apologize to the Academy. I want to apologize to all my fellow nominees. This is a beautiful moment and I’m not crying for winning an award. It’s not about winning an award for me. It’s about being able to shine a light on all of the people… Art imitates life. I look like the crazy father…” While he was crying, social media was calling out the slap for a joke as reactive and excessive. And, what if he didn’t win?! This was, however, not the first time Chris Rock targeted Jada Pinkett-Smith. During the 2016 presentation, he joked about her boycotting the award show due to what she saw as lack of diversity. “Jada’s gonna boycott the Oscars?” he joked, “Jada boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna’s panties. I wasn’t invited!”. But the current “attack”, some also said, “was low”. Very quickly, #UgliestOscarsMoment_Ever was trending.

Earlier, on the red carpet, the media described the Smiths to have had “wow(ed) the red carpet”—he in a fussy black three-piece suit (and a tie!) by Dolce & Gabbana and she in a green Glenn Martens for Jean Paul Gaultier Couture gown with a ponderous-looking train. Their comeliness gave no clue that something a lot less attractive would take place soon. But, the red carpet this year did seem like a foretaste of the lacklustre proceedings of a tightly-edited show, up to the slap. The looks easily fell into twos: conservative or sexy, pink or green, easy or trying. Those who opted for a more ‘conventional’, symmetrical choice brought back chic based on a definition we thought was lost. Those who took their style cues from Saweetie looked as slutty. Chloe Bailey’s LVDF dress (by the LA-based Austrian designer Lukas van der Fecht), for example, had a slit up her left leg that went straight to below her breast!

The Better Dressed

Clockwise from top left: Zoe Kravitz in Saint Laurent, Uma Thurman in Bottega Veneta, Cynthia Erivo in Louis Vuitton, Zendaya in Valentino, Timothée Chalamet in Louis Vuitton, Kodi Smit-McPhee in Bottega Veneta. Photos: Getty Images

The Worst Dressed

Clockwise from top left: Megan Thee Stallion in Gaurav Gupta, Penélope Cruz in Chanel, H.E.R. in Carolina Herrera, Kristen Stewart in Chanel, Maggie Gyllenhaal in Schiaparelli, Halle Bailey in Roberto Cavalli. Photos: Getty Images

In the camp of the better-dressed, there was a nod to a specific past: the shirt and skirt ensemble not normally associated with the Oscars red carpet, except for Sharon Stone’s Gap and Vera Wang respectively in 1998. Uma Thurman wore a nicely loose white shirt with a barely flared black skirt, both by Bottega Veneta. The slickest look of the night seemingly channeled her 1994 Pulp Fiction character Mia Wallace. Zendaya, who has embraced this red carpet season in more avant-garde looks, such as those by Rick Owens and Loewe, has opted, just like Ms Thurman, for a shirt (and sparkly and impeccably fitted skirt with a train), only hers was cropped and came with curved shirttails. Such simplicity finally negates the outdated belief that princess dresses stand out more on the red carpet and augment the wearer’s femininity. But, perhaps more memorable would be Timothée Chalamet, who, quite the opposite, went shirtless under his Louis Vuitton cropped tuxedo jacket—not from anything by the late Virgil Abloh, but by Nicolas Ghesquière for the women’s collection!

Those who tried harder just appeared to have, perhaps as evidence that they did experience the Oscars ritual of getting dolled/tarted up. This was, after all, the first mask-free Oscars since the start of the pandemic. Megan Thee Stallion, rather new to the show, looked like she fell into a craft class teaching the making of fabric flowers. Penélope Cruz, no newbie, was dressed by Chanel to look like a woman who went back to high school to be a belated prom queen. Maggie Gyllenhaal, who normally looks pleasing if not smashing, appeared to have worn a chest of drawers, or were the drawer knobs on the Schiaparelli dress unnecessarily evocative of furniture? And then Kristen Stewart appeared in something that could have come from that chest: shorts! Lady Gaga, expected to turn up in a showstopper of a gown, did not walk on the red carpet at all. When she emerged on stage (with Lisa Minnelli in a wheelchair), she was not stealing any scene, at least not in a curiously dated look of a shinny tux by Ralph Lauren. Without a nomination, did the house of Gucci abandon her? Next year, we probably won’t remember her tuxedo, but we would recall those worn by the two guys’, who let this troubled world be distracted from war and pandemic with the Oscars’ first on-stage, man-to-man slap.

Note: Mediacorp censored the expletive in the repeat telecast of the show this evening

Update (28 March 2022, 11pm): The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences issued a statement: “The academy condemns the actions of Mr. Smith at last night’s show. We have officially started a formal review around the incident and will explore further action and consequences in accordance with our bylaws, standards of conduct and California law.” Earlier , it was reported that Chris Rock would not be filing charges

Update (29 March 2022, 9.30am): Twenty four hours after The Slap, Will Smith posted an apology on Instagram, saying, “I would like to publicly apologize to you, Chris. I was out of line and I was wrong. I am embarrassed and my actions were not indicative of the man I want to be”

Let Leather Lead

Bottega Veneta’s new designer Matthieu Blazy allows the fabric used in the house’s signature Intrecciato weaving to pilot the brand he’s now in-charged forward

Leather really commands Matthieu Blazy’s debut for Bottega Veneta. Mr Blazy, who took over the creative reign after the sudden departure of his predecessor Daniel Lee last November, has allowed the supple cowhides to do much of the talking. Even the first two pairs of jeans he sends out, they are really made of leather, not cotton denim, but treated to look like those rather washed to death. And that singlet-looking white top, it is made of leather too. More followed: trench coats, car coats, suits, slacks, skirts (narrow and full), little black dresses—really rather a lot. When the clothes are not in leather, the leather accessories dominate the looks, sometimes in the form of bags as large as and in the shape of an ossuary. Or, in other cases, bedroom pillows. Even with the sheer, lacy looks, it is the thigh-high boots that draw the eye.

That leather should feature so prominently is perhaps unsurprising. Bottega Veneta found immediate fame in 1966 with their now-recognisable intrecciato, a leather weaving technique, used, at the start, on leather goods, mainly bags. Ready-to-wear did not appear until the late ’90s under the stewardship of the English designer Giles Deacon, but it was the German Tomas Maier’s first collection for the house in 2005 that the BV aesthetic of easy, logo-less, sophistication was established and became sought after. In some ways, Mr Blazy’s collection was reminiscent of the 2000s, especially the hunky coats and the re-glorification of the intrecciato, now used even on miniskirts.

Just as with Daniel Lee’s debut, it is hard for us to say now if this collection will go anywhere. We doubt it’d break the Internet, even if social media adherents may enthusiastically embrace some of the more flashy pieces. While an acceptable first season, it isn’t one that effects the proverbial bang. It seems that this is Mr Blazy putting to good use his training and aesthetical absorption at Raf Simons and Céline under Phoebe Philo. A sleek confirmation of his ability to make beautiful coats with the proportion of the day? Or, could this, perhaps, be a foretaste of a bigger, more impactful onslaught later? But with Ms Philo’s forthcoming return, is this some kind of prelude for ‘Philophiles’? To be sure, there are some technical finesse on show—the elevated shoulder strap of the shift-dresses, for example. And appealing ideas—the asymmetric full skirts, under which a fringed sister swishes. But are they enough to bring about viewer exhilaration?

Missing is the ‘parakeet green’ that became an impressive sales enhancer for the brand during Mr Lee’s tenure. Sure there is one dress in a colour that is close enough, but the ombré effect minimises its chromatic impact. Matthieu Blazy uses other greens, but they are not as bright and noticeable from afar as the one named after a bird. It’s the accessories, rather than the cloths, that seem to be conceived to have maximum impact on the retail floor, and to draw attention to their wearers: open-weave clutches, double-ended intrecciato buckets, shoulder bag versions of the Pouch, cushion-like clutches, handbags with branch-like handles, above-knee boots, exotic-skin platform Mary Janes, intrecciato clompers, and impressively more. For some brands, leather goods are still the main driver of sales, so it is possible that the clothes of Bottega Veneta are, at least for now, to give context to the accessories. Like on any stage, all leads need striking costumes.

Screen grab (top): Bottega Veneta/YouTube. Photos: gorunway.com

Two Of A Kind: The Cassette

Did Philipp Plein think that without Daniel Lee at Bottega Veneta, we would forget?

Philipp Plein has released images of his pre-fall 2022 womenswear collection. No news there if it isn’t for this bag that is eye-catching—not for its exceptional beauty, but its similarity to one that many, many women (and men) have come to love: the Cassette. Bottega Veneta’s intreccio weave, even oversized (and especially so) is the object of intense desire and is a design very much associated with former creative director Daniel Lee. The German label’s version is not only imitative; it is a cheap-looking, floppy version of the original. What is especially shocking is the similarity of the colour too—not the Bottega Green, but this pale teal. Plonking the hideous logo right in the centre-bottom of the flap does not indicate that this bag is a work of total newness.

Now, Philipp Plein is not exactly the embodiment of rigorous originality or good taste, but you’d think Mr Plein would at least wait till the shock of Daniel Lee’s departure from Bottega Veneta has died down before attempting such an indiscreet stunt. Did he think that by next year, BV would phase out the Cassette so that his bag would be a timely stand-in? (Someone pointed out that his, pictured above, comes with a gold-chained shoulder strap. BV’s padded Cassette is available in gold-chained versions too!) Or did he believe that amid the collection’s garish, tacky, vulgar clothes that vogue.com’s Luke Leitch called “arresting (he used the word twice in a para!)”—think sequinned tracksuits or animal-print anything—women are not going to notice? Then, Philipp Plein is operating in the absence of shame.

Photos: (left) Philipp Plein and (right) Bottega Veneta

The Guy Who Gave You This Green

.…is leaving Bottega Veneta

The intrecciato weave in the Bottega Green. Photo: Bottega Veneta

We know that in fashion, it’s the coming and going that keeps the business in momentum. But when a designer, credited for reviving an unexciting house, leaves after just three years into his buzzy tenure, it’s hard to say if the leaving will do the the brand any good. Daniel Lee, as you have probably heard by now, is leaving Bottega Veneta. This comes just weeks after his show, Salon 3, staged in—of all places—Detroit. The loud collection was praised to the heavens by the media. It would seem Mr Lee, who posed shirtless on the cover of Cultured magazine for the fall 2020 issue that included the blurb “Prodigy”, could do no wrong. And then this surprising or, to better reflect the sentiment of the industry, shocking news. And just like that, he would be no more. Would the Cassette bag still be cool next month? And that gleefully bright Bottega Green? What happens to the stores given a new coat of paint?

It is not an easy green to wear, for sure. And it was not one to be the new black. Yet, some publications called it “colour of the year”. Fashionistas took to it like the proverbial moth to a flame. If there was one colour that dominated social media it was this green, so saturated that it could be considered too much. This is not Valentino red or Schiaparelli pink; this is green, with a particular brightness and intensity usually associated with goblins, the clothing of Leprechauns, and, of course, St Patrick’s day. No, not Starbucks, but—oh, yes—Grab! We tried to like it, but it was not speaking to us. Bottega Veneta’s spring/summer 2021 had so much of the green that it would make a convert of any green-averse, but we could only stand in a distance and observe, without, frankly, any envy.

The unmistakble and unmissable green that is the façade of the men’s store at MBS. File photo: SOTD

The truth is, we could not quite decide if we really liked the work of Daniel Lee, former ready-to-wear director at Celine, during Phoebe Filo’s stewardship. Not even after this many seasons at BV, not after he won four awards at the 2019 British Fashion Awards, not after the wild success of the crazy green. Mr Lee is no doubt technically skilled and chromatically gifted, but it is hard to describe one overaching aesthetic that could be ascribed to the brand. One tai-tai told us, “He started quite good at BV… but then he got weird. No one can wear his clothes.” We think there is sexy somewhere in his modern take of somewhat traditional shapes, but we can’t pin-point something so amazing that we’ll remember it even after Mr Lee’s Pouch bags and Wellies are long forgotten. Martin Margiela’s stint at Hermès was just three years longer than Mr Lee’s time at BV, but we do remember the house’s vareuse, that deep-V neckline that he had made quite his own, appearing on tunics, for example, worn over jumpers cinched at the waist with wide belts.

Many industry watchers thought Mr Lee’s resignation to be bad news for Kering, parent company of BV. No reason was given for their star British designer’s impending departure, or when his last day would be. Something did happen to precipitate the sudden exit, but we may never know. Although he told Cultured, “I’ve always been a people person and I like to be surrounded by world citizens from a richness of backgrounds”, WWD reported that he “clashed with several people within the company and was defined as ‘uncommunicative’.” In a statement issued to the media, Kering’s chief executive François-Henri Pinault thanked the designer for “the unique chapter” he brought to the house, which said the split is a “joint decision”. In January this year, BV removed all content on their social media accounts, purportedly to start on a clean slate. Could the end of Daniel Lee’s tenure allow Bottega Veneta to do the same with the design and the merchandise? Stay tuned.

After The Puddle

Bottega Veneta releases new Wellies, just in time for the rainy season

We don’t often see fashion folks in Wellingtons even when the weather is terribly wet, as it has been these past weeks. We have witnessed women rush to Cold Storage when it was pouring outside to ask for plastic bags to, well, bag their expensively-shod feet, but not those who chose weather-appropriate, water-repellent gumboots. The better option, really, is to slip into a pair of them Wellies. But many might consider such footwear for kindergarten children or the rubber tappers in Segamat. The good news is that, these days, they don’t look like footwear you’d purchase from retailers of garden supplies. We are referring to Bottega Veneta’s, a firm fave of the fashion set; the first being the Puddle Boot from last season.

This time, there is a new version, one each for men and women. For the fellows, there is the Stride, a mid-cut slip-on, rather than a boot, made from a single piece of rubber that could have come from Segamat! This is an easier to slip on, rather than a tall boot. It’s lined in cotton, which makes the the foot glide in easily. The women’s version, going by the name Shine, takes after Balenciaga’s Crocs: comes with heels—9cm (or 3.5″) to be exact. Although available in five gleaming colours for the men’s style and three for the women’s, including black and ‘sea salt’ (cream, really) for both, we think this blue-green called ‘blaster’ is really a blast!

Bottega Veneta Stride boots, SGD950, and Shine, SGD1,160, are available in stores now. Product photos: Bottega Veneta. Photo illustration: Just So

Magazine Biz

The first issue of Bottega Veneta’s adoption of ‘traditional’ media

Social media, no; magazine yes. So that’s the stand at Bottega Veneta after quitting Instagram and the like in January. The digital magazine, Issued by Bottega, appears to be the work of creative director Daniel Lee. It is a lively mix of content, featuring artists from many disciplines, which could mean that the magazine provided Mr Lee the opportunity to work with those he admires, who are mostly not in the field of fashion. Increasingly, fashion designers are expressing themselves outside of clothing/accessory design, taking on roles that show how much an all-rounded creative they each are—from photography to art to interiors to furniture and, of course, to magazine editing. Interestingly, Kim Jones, too, has put together a magazine—his first—by guest-editing this month’s Vogue Italia. But it is probably Mr Lee who is having the best time editorially. Issued by Bottega 01 is not assembled for paid consumption; it is a marketing exercise with a sizeable budget that tells the brand’s own story or whatever from its point of view, rather than content to inform viewers of the world around them.

This is not a magazine to read, even when it is described by BV as medium that’s traditional. It is heavy with graphical and visual cleverness, and scant of text, witty or otherwise. Words are mostly spoken or sung. It’s presented in a portrait orientation, but is formatted to take on the size of the screen you choose to view (including the PC monitor). The pages, comprising both stills and videos, can be flipped like a conventional magazine (you can swipe left or right, and each time it comes with a highly digitised sound of a page turned). There’s an inverted equilateral triangle on the top left corner. Click on this and you’ll be shown the contents page, organised not by stories and corresponding page numbers, but the names of the contributors of this issue. They include the Polish designer Barbara Hulanicki, most known as the founder of the British store Biba (where a teenaged Anna Wintour once worked); the hip-hop artist always associated with Adidas, Missy Elliot; the Chinese industrial designer and Pratt Institute alum Yi Chengtao (易承桃), and even the unlikely Japanese balloon artist Masayoshi Matsumoto. This is what SPH’s The Life Magazine—published in 2014 and folded not long after—could never look like.

“Lose your head, not your mind,” the magazine says. And how do they make you do that? They don’t, really. It is just page after page of images after images after images. If the now-defunct Visionaire had a digital life, this might be it. But, none of BV’s images really makes you stop to think or marvel. There are videos of parkour in action, roller-skating a la Xanadu, balloon art demo, accessories niftily transformed from before to after shapes, wobbly jellies of boot and bags (our fave), close-up of cello and sax performance (with strategically place jewellery) and photographs of heeled slides made of food stuff (a shoe design competition “challenge”?), folded clothing framed like art, not spectacular fashion spreads (including one featuring art and dress), spoken and written interviews, and a performance (sort of) by Missy Elliot. And like all magazines, the obligatory ads, only these come from one brand. It is quick, in fact, to see that Issued by Bottega is, at the end of all the song and dance and wobble(!), a good, old-fashioned catalogue.

As the flipping is so easy (no licking of fingers necessary), you’d come to the end of the magazine in three-and-half minutes (well, we did). In parts, it has visual heft, but as we flipped, we kept thinking we were on TikTok! What’s the point, we had asked. There isn’t, probably. It all seems to share the content development finesse of the average KOL, only the pages were better shot and, in some, well art-directed. The reality is, many of us are no longer getting the satisfaction out of mags, September issue or not, the way we did. Magazines—or catalogues—have not been able to move to the digital realm with content, nor a pretty picture, that can capture both hearts and minds. With the first, mixed-bag issue, it isn’t clear how Bottega Veneta’s attempt at magazine making will pan out. But, in the mean time, there’s always Gwyneth Paltrow making a fool of herself on vogue.com.

Screen grabs: Bottega Veneta

Off The Radar

Bottega Veneta stays away from social media and the fashion world panics. Is this a publicity stunt?

Bottega Veneta’s Facebook page today. Screen grab: Facebook

On Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, Bottega Veneta is gone. The name is there on FB, but there is no content; no image, not even a logo. All three social-media sites were left with barely a trace of their existence. Sure, there are the fan pages and attendant hashtags, but they’re not the official accounts. It’s like the brand has given up on social media. And the world of fashion is panicking. WWD wondered, “Where has Bottega Veneta gone?” Vogue informs us that the brand “signs off from social media.” Hypebeast sounds less worried, stating that BV “has left” the three biggies of online social interaction. It’s a marvelous vanishing act.

At the moment, there is only speculation as to why BV wants out of the social media circus. Apparently, the Italian company has remained mum in response to media queries. Designer Daniel Lee has been just as tight-lipped. Could this be permanent? BV has been operating rather mysteriously lately. The spring/summer 2021 collection, “Salon 01 London”, was shown in October last year to a very select and limited audience. And, by most accounts, was a rather private affair. The images of the show were released to the media only in December. And now, barely a month after that, another mystery. Perhaps BV thinks luxury brands can afford to be more in the dark (or atas), and less accessible? Or maybe, there’s a very simple reason for the shadow play and pulling out of social media: for good, old-fashioned publicity.

Update /6 Jan 2021, 18:30): It appears that Bottega Veneta is not entirely off social media. Their Chinese pages on Weibo and WeChat are still active. Looks like the important China market can’t be messed with.

Not Quite Near Delicious Perfection

Bottega Veneta is, as most media outlets have dutifully ensured, back in the news. Majorly. Both leather goods and the ready-to-wear are selling like hot cakes, but are they truly baked?

 

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We have resisted writing about Bottega Veneta’s dramatic resurgence. British designer Daniel Lee is very much in the news, of course—the ‘It Boy’. But given the dubious history of the descriptor ‘It’, we did not want to rush into making a firm opinion of his walk with the brand. He’s now only into his third season, and already journalists are saying “he has the goods to back that up”. Has he? Rare is the designer who can grab headlines and hearts when newly installed at a house, but Mr Lee could, cleverly introducing a new bag silhouette as teaser and signature of what he hoped to forge for the house. For Bottega Veneta, the wait was over, sans protracted interim. The fashion world is constantly waiting for the next Boy Wonder—from Tom Ford to Simon Porte Jacquemus—and in Daniel Lee, he has arrived.

We sometimes wonder if we want the old Céline so badly and missed Phoebe Philo so desperately that we’d quickly open our arms to anything that hints at the French brand’s old DNA or anyone who had crossed paths with the once feted designer. Or, are we so eager for Bottega Veneta to return to its former glory that we are keenly willing to pat the shoulders of whoever comes along to revive it? And, as Mr Lee does, amassing fans—consuming and not alike—he has effectively presented himself to be a millennial designing for fellow Gen-Yers. As Female noted in a headline, echoing so many other mags, “Bottega Veneta’s Fall/Winter 2020 Collection Might Be Its Most Instagrammable Yet”.

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This is how fashion is now judged: not on design merit, not on extreme creativity, not, hack, on how good they would look on consumers, but how “Instagrammable”! These clothes would not be sold and worn, and worn by the enamoured; they have a date with IG and following that, a rotational life in Style Theory. As such, they need not bear the weight of designs that won’t be picked up by any one of the four lenses that now come with many smartphones, or be registered on their OLED screens, even if they’re 4K-ready. They need only to be photogenic, appear cool and, in the case of the new Bottega Veneta, seem subversive (a Vogue obsession). Everything else is relative and immaterial; everything else is besides the point.

These clothes may be Instagrammable, but they strain to stand out. You may look good (good is, sadly, good enough) in them, but they jostle with what other influencers, IG regulars, or the minions that make Fashion Week the veritable circus that it has notoriously become tend to wear for attention. Many pieces would not be out of place on an as-amped-up Michael Kors runway. Two sweater-knit shirts and layered fringed skirts certainly are evocative. Or, an open-work shirt with a tank-dress in the same fabric. They share a similar relaxed glamour, involving movable, shimmy parts, that Mr Kors has a weakness for, as well as the halterneck, and the oversized notch lapels commonly seen on fur and shearling coats. One shimmery, high-neck, long-sleeved gown in beige—we totally see Rene Russo falling for. And, yes, Rene Zellweger too.

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This season, one detail stuck out like ripped knees on pants: the deliberate placement of shirt collars over lapels of jackets. It appears a little too newscaster-proper to us—CNA would certainly relate to. The broadcaster might want to consider Kaia Gerber for the afternoon news, whose outfit is memorable only because the wearer looks like she’s strolling, on the first day to work, at a small law firm. Yet, Highsnobiety, was bowled over enough to imagine Ms Gerber a potential rock star: “Your pals have just started a new indie band and have somehow convinced Kaia Gerber to play the bass”. How that look can be evocative of “a lascivious dollop of rock and roll” may be beyond the ken of an average live stream viewer, with No Time To Die playing in the background.

Cleverly, Mr Lee does not crib from his previous tenure. It would be impetuous to say he tried to, but it really does not appear that he did. After all, Céline was not Maison Martin Margiela. It’s been only three seasons, we hear those who differ say. To that, we agree. Let’s not gush yet; let’s wait to see real subversion.

Photos: Alessandro Lucioni/gorunway.com

 

Is The Square Toe The New Standard?

The sharp angles may be at odds with the organic forms of your toes, but it seems many women have no reservations with that

 

By Shu Xie

It’s hip to be square? Since last spring/summer season, apparently. A week ago, just after the New Year, I was at the Bottega Veneta store to see what more new square toes they could come up with when I overheard a shopper telling her rapt companion, who was holding the left side of a flat Lido sandals in Zerox-paper white, that “they are pure ladder”! “Pure what?” was the rejoinder. “Pure ladder” came the high-tone reply. That, I suppose, is what could be called impairing eagerness?

Bottega Veneta has scored big with their square-toed Lido heels. According to Lyst, it was the most searched shoe last Q3, when more than 27,000 online users searched for it each month. How many of these thousands actually bought the shoe, or are sufficiently seduced by it to want an alternative (likely cheaper) is not known. But it appears that this particular toe shape—specifically for the sole of the sandal—is fetching enough that, as we start seeing drops for spring (including leftovers from autumn), it is dominating store windows and shelves.

_20200108_164928.JPGBottega Veneta split-upper slide simply called Sandal

Square is not an easy shape to hold or frame, or underscore the toes that lay above it. If you look at a foot, both ends aren’t squared off. The square toe of a sandal often doesn’t remain hidden under the foot, which most traditionally shaped soles tend to be and stay as much as possible out of clear view. But as exposed bra straps are no longer considered inappropriate or glaring, the brightly hued sole aren’t either or a lapse in what might be considered refinement. They now have the same appeal as good china for fancy finger biscuits.

But the square-toed sole’s problem, for a lack of a better word, isn’t necessarily the sole itself. I have seen women shod in those sandals with straps that don’t snugly hold the toes together, which means the digits at the end of the foot splay across the square front of the sandal, looking like pencils strewn on the edge of drawing paper. The Lido sandal, as I have observed, does not have such a misfortune. The puffed up and exaggerated intrecciato strap is the bulkiest I have ever seen on a sandal, but it’s positioned forward enough to keep the partially-roofed toes comfortably close.

20-01-08-22-32-04-039_deco.jpgSquare-toed soles of heels by Australian label By Far

The square-toed sole, I suppose, is the complete opposite of the pointy-toed cousin, often considered the epitome of femininity and daintiness. But delicately pretty, these days, doesn’t quite cut it. The Lido’s hump of a strap across the dorsum is considered by many as elegant, but, to me, it barely cuts a profile that can be considered trim (the Lido has now a spin-off, the Chanel-ish Padded). Apart from marabou bedroom slippers, outdoor sandals are infrequently this bulky in the upper and front-protruding in the sole.

Entirely new, however, the square-toed sole is not. Historically, it isn’t even associated with royal courts, where fashion was adopted and followed, or the gentry who understood consumption and status, but with the poor. Believed to have existed since the medieval age, the square toe was considered frightfully uncomfortable shoes since they were quite literally wooden blocks strap to feet, not unlike the Japanese geta (下駄), only cruder. Don’t ask me why, but for a moment, I was thinking of what it would like to have iPhones (out of commission, of course)) for soles!

20-01-08-22-33-02-512_deco.jpgSquare-toed ballet pumps by Pedder Red

It is to be expected that the square toe wouldn’t remain as mere sole of sandals but would form the shape of the front of the upper of shoes, from mules to pumps. Shoe brands have not hesitated to jump on Bottega Veneta’s lead. Many may not remember, but Prada had a good run with those blunt-toe fronts in the ’90s, way before chuncky sneakers ruled. While Prada has occasionally brought them back in the past two decades, they did not quite catch on. This season, their platform Square Toe Pumps may give those who prefer their feet covered reason to shop. Talking about pumps, ballet pumps, traditionally blunt at the toe if you consider those really used for dance, is, too, having an OG moment, as seen in Pedder Red’s perfect-for-travel pair.

The men, I quickly saw and with delight, isn’t left out. Bottega Veneta has one quilted Derby that is heart-tuggingly hunky. Sure, the toe box isn’t quite squarish, but the sole sure is. And with a generous corridor that emphasises its blockishness, there is no ambiguity to where the inspiration came from. I think guys would really appreciate the girth that the Derby affords for the front of the foot. But given how so many men wearing leather shoes still prefer pointy toes, perhaps it isn’t so gauche to be square after all.

Photo: Chin Boy Kay

Playful Pyramidal Package

Bottega Veneta of late has been the go-to brand for soft, big bags, but amid all the potential pillows lie a Christmas ornament wanna-be. Or maybe an aroma diffuser?

 

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It’s homage to the ancient Egyptian tombs of the pharaohs, an immediate conversation starter, a centrepiece for dinner tables when there isn’t one, a reflective surface for accurate makeup application-on-the-go (or whatever grooming needs), a “who’s the fairest of them all” teller of truths, a defensive tool against unwanted male advances, a dashboard gadget when the rear view is required, a mobile device when the hind sight is needed to warn of errant PMD riders on a pedestrian walkway, and, oh, it’s a handbag.

We are still unsure if what Bottega Veneta’s Daniel Lee is doing for the house, two seasons after his appointment, is persuasively good, but we do think the accessories deserve their continual trending status. The Pouch bag is, of course, the must-carry-or-you’ll-definitely-miss-out holder of everything dear, with the Shoulder Pouch destined for similar success. But tucked among these huggable clutches is a not-quite-discreet little thing—a mirror-surfaced Pyramid bag.

This is clearly a more striking version than the leather ones, and not at all suitable for squashing close to the bosom. But it is almost like an oversized jewel, which might ensnare those for whom a handbag can double as a light-reflecting precious collectible. It is interesting how the bag opens up on all three sides (the top triangle acts as a clasp) to reveal its white, nappa-lined gut, which, frankly won’t hold even a foldable LCD smart phone, unless it’s the upcoming Motorola Razr.

To be sure, the pyramid-shaped ‘micro’ bag is not completely new. Last year, Chanel’s Egyptian-themed Métiers d’Art collection featured one that looked like the house re-purposed the mask of Tutankhamun. There’s also the logo-large Saint Laurent Minaudière, which guys have been spotted using. Regardless, Bottega Veneta’s version will only make bags that hold little stand as the most desirable.

Bottega Veneta Pyramid Bag in Mirror, SGD7,100, is available for pre-order at Bottega Veneta stores. Photo: Bottega Veneta

The Intrecciato Goes Floreale

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In view of how women these days like clothes that are “edgy” or, in favour of Instagram, over-the-top, pretty is as appealing as granny underpants. In fact, pretty has less a place in fashion now that ephemeral is arguably lost in a sea of sporty get-ups that no longer only dominate in the domain of the athlete. This month’s “Pretty Chic” Vogue may asks to differ, but, on the ground, it really is quite different.

The floral print on Bottega Veneta’s signature intrecciato finish of the above shoe, the ‘Trippie’ pump, is, therefore, refreshing because it appears as you thought pretty has gone back to the prairie. Dainty floral print is, however, having a moment, thanks to Vetements, but this is prettiness that can be connected to the kooky stance of Courtney Love rather than the haughty bearing of, say, Elizabeth Bennet.

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There’s something extra appealing about Bottega Veneta’s child-like flowers—they appear on the unique intrecciato weave which is usually in plain, solid colours, as seen in their ubiquitous bags. In fact, woven leather and florals usually associated with folk art are a pairing that is consistent with the trend towards craft, or craft-like finish.

However, what may not widen the Trippie pump’s appeal is its utterly vanilla shape that the brand describes as “classic”, but women may find a little too yesteryear. The patent calfskin shoes with modest 8-cm (3.1”) heels, for some, may recall those worn by their grandmothers to tea dances of the ’50s. However, a throwback in our present time of looks indeterminate may not be such a bad thing.

Bottega Veneta ‘Trippie’ pumps, SGD1,010, are available at Bottega Veneta stores at ION Orchard and The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands. Photos: Bottega Veneta