The Rumours Are True

Daniel Lee will go to Burberry

Just two days after Riccardo Tisci presented his solemn Burberry show, the British brand announced that Daniel Lee would be joining the 166-year-old company. This rapidly confirms the rumours circulating then that it would be Mr Tisci’s last show. Daniel Lee’s name was repeatedly mentioned as the likely replacer. Such gossip rarely is mere chatter, not when journalists were sharing the speculation via Twitter and newspapers were reporting on the possibility of new employ with such fervour. Burberry had earlier refused to comment on what they consider to be speculative talk. Mr Lee now takes over as the brand’s chief creative officer, a position Mr Tisci held close to five years.

According to eager media reports, the new guy will take his post on 3 Oct (next Monday), which means his predecessor will have to clear out of his office this week. The appointment must have been confirmed at least a month ago, or around the time WWD broke the news of the possible new hire, quoting “industry sources”. Burberry CEO Jonathan Akeroyd who picked Mr Lee, said via a statement, “Daniel is an exceptional talent with a unique understanding of today’s luxury consumer and a strong record of commercial success, and his appointment reinforces the ambitions we have for Burberry.” That sounds similar to what the former CEO Marco Gobbetti, who hired Mr Tisci, said of the latter in 2018: “He is one of the most talented designers of our time. His designs have an elegance that is contemporary and his skill in blending streetwear with high fashion is highly relevant to today’s luxury consumer. Riccardo’s creative vision will reinforce the ambitions we have for Burberry.”

It is not known either if Mr Tisci chose not to renew his contract, which expires next year, or if he decided to leave now, rather than finish what could be his final season

There is no mention of why Riccardo Tisci decided to leave (no euphemistic reasons such as pursuing other interests). Was he asked to? It is not known either if Mr Tisci chose not to renew his contract, which expires next year, or if he decided to leave now, rather than finish what could be his final season. Mr Gobbetti and Mr Tisci are both Italians. They were colleagues at Givenchy, where the former was its chief executive. The designer—then relatively unknown—was hired in 2005 to join the French house. It is possible that the new CEO at Burberry wishes to work with someone of his own choosing, rather than inherit a name much associated with the previous top guy. The international press is also of the view that Mr Tisci’s hyper-modern, street-savvy, definitely sexy style, while appealing to younger customers (really? What about middle-aged politicians?), kept their long-time fans, particular those deemed unadventurous, away. Or, was it because Mr Tisci’s unduly expressive designs were just not luring shoppers into Burberry stores?

Looking at what he had achieved, Daniel Lee had a more measured approach at Bottega Veneta that balanced appreciable shapes with sensuality. However, his tenure—just three years—did not provide enough of the salient for us to make out a definitive, bankable style, although, to be certain, his bags, including standouts the Pouch and the Cassette, were refreshingly huggable in the wake of more structured luxury ones that followed the ‘It’-bag years. But, was influencer excitement around the brand sufficient? Mr Lee was born in Bradford, a wealthy city in West Yorkshire, England, where, interestingly, Burberry trenchcoats are manufactured. Before his breakout appointment at BV, he was a “protégé” at Céline, with a résumé that included stints at Balenciaga, Maison Margiela, and Donna Karan. It is often said that he “revived” BV, as if he had plucked it from the clutches of doom. Now, back on home turf, is he expected to bring about another such restoration to Burberry’s lost cool and pull? Let’s see. It’d be fascinating.

Photo: Instagram

Changing The Pilot

Is Burberry pondering if Riccardo Tisci is still the right fit to take the brand soaring?

Riccardo Tisci with pal Kanye West after the Burberry spring/summer 2023 show in London. Screen shot: No Content/YouTube

Since the beginning of the month, there was chatter that the 166-year-old Burberry was looking to replace Riccardo Tisci, the Italian designer at the helm of the house since 2018. When August came to an end, Women’s Wear Daily reported that “Burberry is evaluating its options, and looking for a potential successor to (its) chief creative officer”. Mr Tisci’s contract expires early next year, so it is not premature for Burberry to go ahunting. But why was there not an excited announcement that Mr Tisci would be asked to stay on? Or was it he who did not wish to extend his contract? Despite the WWD story that quoted “industry sources” aware of the label’s executive search, Burberry said it would not respond to speculations.

When Riccardo Tisci was installed at Burberry in 2018, while the UK was messily moving towards Brexit, many observers and commentators were surprised by the appointment. Mr Tisci is not British; he is Italian. It was a time when national pride was palpable and placing a foreigner (one from an EU member state!) at a quintessentially British brand was not particularly ideal, especially after predecessor, the proud local lad Christopher Bailey, had reigned at the house (even serving as CEO) for 17 years (for Mr Tisci, it would be five when his contract ends next year). The Guardian described Mr Bailey as “the most successful British designer of his generation“. And now an Italian, formerly from a French house was taking over? But there was a non-Brit designer at Burberry earlier—an American-born Italian, Roberto Menichetti, from 1998 to 2001. There was never eye brows raised when Brits designed European brands, from John Galliano at Dior and now Margiela to Phoebe Philo at (old) Céline to JW Anderson at Loewe. They brought the brands they worked for critical and massive success.

Riccardo Tisci’s first Burberry show. Screen shot: Burberry/YouTube

Riccardo Tisci was thought to be able to bring a certain romance tempered by a punk sensibility (would the Rottweiler T-shirt for Givenchy influence his new work?) and his Catholic upbringing to Burberry. His first task was to introduce the freshly-minted TB logo (based on the initials of founder Thomas Burberry, and designed by Peter Saville), the brand’s first new symbol in 20 years. That was followed by the TB monogram (also designed by Mr Saville). Mr Tisci’s first collection for spring/summer 2019 was a staggering 134 looks on the runway. Why that many? Mr Tisci was quoted saying after the show that he was designing for “the mother and the daughter, the father and the son”. The plethora gave weak aesthetical clues as to where the designer was taking TB. Evening wear, not really associated with the brand, became a category to promote. By his second spring/summer collection (2020), the looks were modestly trimmed to 101, yet the collection could not scale the height of focus—still conceived to offer something for everyone. But were enough people blown over?

In the last two seasons or so, Riccardo Tisci has recalibrated his approach to interpreting Britishness by adding, rather than subtracting, and by going more outré. But somehow he was not able to effect the cool—London or elsewhere—that Christopher Bailey had so charming conveyed with ease. Now, the talk is that the person to undo Mr Tisci’s over-design or predilection for putting out too-large collections is the Brit-gone-overseas (to Bottega Veneta until he left last November) Daniel Lee. Apparently, Burberry was recently “talking” to Mr Lee, who, was, according to some accounts, asked to leave BV (but Kering, the brand’s owner, said it was a joint decision). Mr Lee’s departure came in the wake of complains by staff members of unreasonable and disturbing behaviour. How this will affect the outcome of the talks is not clear. Perhaps working with his countrymen is a different condition altogether.

Update (28 September 2022, 15:25): It’s confirmed. Riccardo Tisci is out. Daniel Lee goes to Burberry.

Screen shot: No Content/YouTube

Burberry’s Beach-Influenced Bungle

The English label shows in London as Paris Fashion Week starts. Yes, it is disorienting, and the collection is, sadly, muddled

Burberry cancelled their London Fashion Week slot because of the death of Queen Elizabeth II. Their new show opens as PFW begins. Still, guests were keen to go to London—even if it may mean hopping back to Paris almost immediately—because the rumours have been rife for weeks that this could be Riccardo Tisci’s swan song for the brand. Is that why Naomi Campbell walks the runway, her celebrity presence overwhelming the Burberry outfit she is assigned to model? Ms Campbell is known to be an ardent supporter/defender of the designers she adores. This could be her last show for Mr Tisci at Burberry (interestingly, she did not walk Christopher Bailey’s final presentation for the house, although she did attend). The Italian, like his compatriots, does love the company of American celebrities, but there is no sign of one-time devotee of his Givenchy, Kim Kardashian, or equivalent on the runway or off (unless you count Leonardo DiCaprio’s ex, Camila Morrone), although Kanye West, Burberry-clad and shod, did show up for the front row.

If this is truly his final presentation for Burberry, Mr Tisci seems to have returned to where he started. The 81-look collection has something for everyone, as Mr Tisci was fond of suggesting when his early collections seemed to lack focus. This time, the clothes are inspired by the all-sorts who go to a beach, such a Margate, the southeastern coastal town of England (the teasers for the show is filmed here). So beach/swim wear is a theme, or woven into Mr Tisci’s idea of English eccentric. A sparkly triangular bikini top comes with just-as-brilliant arm floats (but are likely bags); a similar but one-piece swimsuit is worn over a pink gown with cut-outs on the crotch, sides, and buttocks; a black bikini set worn under a slinky gown with an ‘X’ for the bodice. These are the obvious references or “codes from the seaside”, as per Burberry. About British beach dressing, Mr Tisci said, “you really see people dressing on the beach, because you never know when it’s going to rain or when there’s going to be sun… Or, you’ll see a wedding, or someone who’s gone there at lunch time to read. It’s all different personalities.”

The show opens eerily quiet in a warehouse with no set, unless you count the curtains, chairs, and platforms on which people stand. At first it seems that the sound of feet and guests coughing, clearing their throats, fidgeting and doing whatever noisy things fashion-show attendees do were to be the soundtrack. Then an operatic voice is heard; it goes on, somewhat forlornly, and then stops. Silence. Three minutes of stillness. And a live orchestra (yes, it is there all along) plays, and the finale begins. One senses that there is an attempt to appear respectful in the wake of the the Queen’s funeral. It’s almost ceremonial. But, is it necessary when the beach is where inspiration is drawn and sexiness is not omitted? Sure, there are all-black clothes, but these are supposedly goth-on-the-beach sombre, not royal-death solemn. If a wedding can be seen on an English beach, then perhaps a funeral too?

In his attempt to reflect the “different personalities” of littoral life and buzz, Mr Tisci shows he has the sand to build the fanciest fashion that the brand’s customers would want. But the result is as muddled as it is futile. He has a tendency to over-design, to pile on, and his latest (and last?) collection is replete with the unnecessarily elaborate, exaggerated, and expendable. One especially unneeded (even useless) detail or styling trick is the long sleeves from the back of dresses or trenchcoats that, in some, appear to be the bottom-halves of upside-down tops tied at the waist or hung loose by the side of the body. One halter-neck denim top comes with the tied sleeves when, above that, there is already a large floppy pussy bow. Even the Burberry check can’t subscribe to judicious tweaks. In one negligée-over-body-stocking look, the check seems to fade into what appears to be a stretched honeycomb pattern.

Last month, we visited the Burberry store at ION Orchard before it closed in the mall permanently. It was deathly quiet inside. There is a visible absence of chartering mainland Chinese tourists. The SAs were so in need of customer contact that two trailed us, doggedly. Nothing in the store called out to us, not even a possible It bag. There was a distinct lack of ambient pull. We sensed that the London cool of the brand that once distinguished its offering has turned quite tepid. The last big-scale promotional event Burberry held was to celebrate the Olympia bag. Nothing in the store then aroused curiosity, let alone stirred desire. If the rumours of Riccardo Tisci’s departure are true (and the chatter that the design reigns will go back to a Brit, such as Daniel Lee), perhaps they are indications that the time is right for a change of creative stewardship. Burberry needs it.

Screen shot (top): burberry/YouTube

Burberry’s Boy Bright

The British brand looks to Asia for their next ambassador and they found him in Thailand

Vachirawit ‘Bright’ Chivaaree, Burberry’s new brand ambassador. Photo: Burberry

Burberry has once again found a male face among the many willing Thais to peddle their wares. This time, as brand ambassador. After the unlikely Issan-born Manchester chap Zak Srakaew for their autumn/winter 2020 collection, they’ve now made a more conventional choice—the Bangkok-based actor Vachirawit ‘Bright’ Chivaaree (วชิรวิชญ์ ชีวอารี)—as the guy to front their campaigns and wear their clothes in public appearances. Unlike Mr Srakaew, Mr Chivaaree—known professionally as Bright—is not pure Thai, or as dark-skinned, or unknown. He is a (preferred) luk khreung (literally ‘half-child’) of Thai, Chinese and American decent, but still unmistakably Thai, a man of adequate fairness, and a radiant star of film and music.

Born Kunlatorn Chivaaree in 1997, in the province of Nakhon Pathom, central Thailand, to Thai-American father and Thai-Chinese mother, he was the only child from a family that has not been described as poor. His parents divorced when he was young and he grew up with his maternal relatives. Answering to the nickname Bright, he spent his growing-up years in a music school owned by his uncle. Although he loves to play music instruments and is able to with several, he has not been regarded as musically gifted. The soccer-loving actor told Harper’s Bazaar Thailand, “I’ve been playing instruments—guitar, bass, drums, keyboard and other Western instruments—since a very young age, as I grew up in a music school”.

Bright Vachirawit as Sarawat playing the guitar in the drama 2gether: The Series. Screen shot: GMM TV/YouTube

He did not, however, mention a broadcasted interview with Elle Thailand in which he spoke of a music competition that he and the mates of a band he formed participated during high school (he attended two, but did not mention which). During the audition that was judged by teachers and seniors, they were not selected. On the day of the finals, Mr Chivaaree and his band members “thought that (their) performance was much more interesting, and (their) friends would want to watch (them) play. (They) then prepared to go up on stage to perform, and asked those guys to leave the stage. Everyone was screaming and shouting. In the end, (they) were sent to the student affairs office.” As shocking as that revelation was, he did not seemed remorseful. Former schoolmates shared online their own take of what happened that day. Many thought that he still did not understand the impact of his actions, and was fervently glamourising it. As with the proverbial opening of a can of worms, more accusations emerged (even a teacher joined in the fray). He was accused of bullying, discrimination against LGBTQ classmates, sexual harassment, body shaming, and even colourism.

All this was little known (or not shared) when, at 22, Vachirawit Chivaaree became an overnight star playing the gay lead in the ’boys love’ (BL) TV rom-com 2gether: The Series, broadcast months before the Elle interview. Adapted from a 2019 eponymous Thai novel, the weekly drama would be so wildly popular that it is thought to have brought the BL genre to global attention, even when Japan was the first to introduce yayoi stories in the form of manga, anime, TV series, and other media. Mr Chivaaree took on the role of Sarawat, a musician and a footballer (nothing surprising in those two selves) in university, persuaded into a pretend relationship with Tine (a fellow student played by Metawin ‘Win’ Opasiamkajorn), who is the target of unwanted attention from another schoolmate. Too much noise (and the not-too-polite Gen-Z speak) and too much makeup characterised the unfolding narrative. Fake, as is often the case in Thai dramas, became real, the hard-to-get turned the unable-to-forget.

Bright Vachirawit as the smouldering Sarawat viewers are madly in love with. Photo: GMM TV

Gay characters are nothing new to Thai TV audiences, but 2gether brought sweet gay romance—not misfortune, repudiation, or indiscriminate sex—to a mass audience. Out of the dozen people we spoke to in Malaysia, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and on our island, all of them except one said it was “predictable”. One Malaysian K-drama fan said it’s very kiddy and is “targeted at teens”. In fact, university is one big social club of clubs. No one ever studies. Yet many fans were sucked into the pull of the simple plot and clichéd comedy (the two actors happily told the media that the drama is “light and easy to follow”). Viewers were talking about getting their “Sarawat X Tine fix”, even when some were saying that “the first half was great to watch but in the second, they were just like friends”. A month after it first aired in February 2020, the streaming platform Line TV reported 50 million views, prompting the online suggestion that it was the concomitant COVID-19 lockdown that was on the drama’s side. When production company GMMTV shared the drama on their YouTube page, the first episode alone garnered 29 million views to date. It was even picked up by Netflix, paving the way to American audiences.

The controversial high school reveal that emerged from the 2020 Elle Thailand interview was more or less confined to Thailand. Although he did apologise soon enough for what he said, he did not escape later, just-as-contentious tweets. Within months of the broadcast of 2gether, the show became a hit in the Philippines, and the massive market, China. In early April, Mr Chivaaree, a photography enthusiast, innocuously liked a post shared by a Thai photographer that featured four skylines referred to as “countries”, and Hong Kong, as fate would have it, was one of them. After a Chinese Weibo user shared a screen shot of that post, Chinese Netizens went quite mad about the actor’s seeming disrespect of China’s sovereignty and demanded an apology. He offered one on, but that wasn’t the end of it.

In Singapore this month for Burberry’s TB Summer Monogram bash at Tanjong Beach Club, Sentosa. Photo: Burberry

Not long after, his supposed girlfriend at that time, the influencer Weeraya Sukaram—aka Nnevvy—shared a Thai tweet that questioned China’s motive in not wanting foreign investigators in the country to determine whether COVID-19 was leaked from a Wuhan lab (and concurrently saying foreigners imported the virus). As with Mr Chivaaree’s retweet, Chinese Netizens were enraged. That was not the final misstep of Ms Sukaram. In one old post that they managed to uncover, she had responded to a question about her clothes she wore in a photograph by saying that the style was “Taiwanese”, again apparently acknowledging another neighbouring island to the mainland as distinct and separate from China. Mr Chivaaree, not yet distanced from her, was also embroiled in the anger she once again aroused among the Chinese. He apologised on her behalf.

The uproarious reaction in China mattered little to the Thais. When, in a tit-for-tat move, the former criticised and insulted Thai politicians and even the king, the Thais were happy that there were others doing the work for them (this was, after all, during the student protest of 2020). It is not known if Burberry is aware that their choice of Vachirawit Chivaaree as their new ambassador may rile the Chinese (still), with implications in possibly the brand’s biggest market, but in Thailand, the appointment is considered a triumph for the kingdom. Some Thais, however, did not think Mr Chivaaree is the best pick, considering him too 2020 and reminiscent of the start of the pandemic. He is, they believe, not as popular as before, even if he is still very recognisable, and well loved among Thai advertisers. There are those who think the current favourites, PP and Billkin—either one of them should have been considered by Burberry.

In the latest Burberry campaign. Photos: Burberry

Although 2gether: The Series was given a second season Still 2gether and the film 2gether: The Movie, with Vachirawit Chivaaree and Metawin Opasiamkajorn in the lead roles, it would be another BL drama, the two-parter I Told Sunset About You and I Promised You the Moon, that found another group of fervid fans. The two male-leads-in-love this time are Krit ‘PP’ Amnuaydechkorn and Putthipong ‘Billkin’ Assaratanakul. Both actors are Bangkok-born and are singers (like Mr Chivaaree, Mr Assaratanakul sings the theme songs of the TV series that he stars in), and both have such on-and-off-screen chemistry that there was persistent “rumours that PP and Billkin were ‘together’ during their school years”, one Bangkok media professional told us. Is it true, we asked. “It’s hard to say,” she replied, “but people like to believe that they were. It’s great for the fandom. That’s why I think what they represent seems bigger than who they really are.”

Perhaps what the actors of extremely popular BL drama represent matters not to Burberry as much as the reach of the brand ambassador they pick. Despite I Told Sunset About You’s huge commercial success—in China, too, where they enjoyed a Douban score of 9.4 out of 10—and critical acclaim—A Bangkok Post review enthused: “At times sensual, at times heartbreaking, Sunset was a well-rounded, coming-of-age drama with good writing, and beautiful cinematography to match”, it would be Vachirawit ‘Bright’ Chivaaree’s shinning star that impressed Burberry’s casting director. In the brand’s images just released, Mr Chivaaree, with those beguiling locks and speaking eyes, looks adequately aloof and moodily romantic—an expression that seems to say, as he did when he, in 2gether, met Tine for the first time, “Keep looking at me like that and I will kiss you till you drop.” Totally “grumpy” Sarawat.

A Prime Minister in Burberry

Should the head of government wear expensive shirts to meet his people?

By Awang Sulung

Malaysian prime minister Ismail Sabri loves Burberry shirts, but his fellow Malaysians are not as enamoured with his baju. A photo shared on the PM’s Facebook page a few days ago showed him in a short-sleeved, buttoned-down, red/pink/white shirt—worn untucked—with a textual print that the British label describes as a “slogan”. As it appears to me: the phrase “UNIVERSAL PASSPORT” in two lines run from the shoulder to the hip, on both sides of the placket. That and the shirt itself are not controversial or offensive, or unflattering, but it did get people talking, including opposition members of parliament. The shirt Mr Sabri chose—in Italian silk organza, no less—costs S$2,190 or RM6,900, according to Burberry/MY. That amount, as the media reported, is “3.3 times median Malaysian salary”. With staggering inflation and rising cost of almost everything, it is understandable why people are so geram. This is this year’s quinoa-gate!

Burberry’s appeal to politicians is not new. I remember that back in the early 2000, Thailand’s then prime minister, the billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra (now in exile), loved Burberry shirts too, and was often seen in the light blue version of their house check before he was overthrown in a military coup in 2006. He even wore matching sunglasses with those shirts when he was out to meet the electorate. The Thais did not make a fuss of Mr Shinawatra’s sartorial choice, probably because his chemise was not thought to cost a bomb. Those check shirts were, after all, often seen for sale outside Burberry stores, from Patpong to Chatuchak. I do not remember how much that shirt cost back then, but Mr Shinawatra would not have bought a knock-off. Despite his wealth, out there among his constituents, he did look acceptably loong (uncle) and very much chun chan raeng ngan (working class)—one of them.

The Thais did not make a fuss of Mr Shinawatra’s sartorial choice, probably because his chemise was not thought to cost a bomb. Those check shirts were, after all, often seen for sale outside Burberry stores, from Patpong to Chatuchak

Perhaps the disapproval of Ismail Sabri’s shirt was not merely about the hefty price that went with it. What he donned was not quite walk-about wear. And, while he looked pakcik (uncle!) enough, he was not one of them; he appeared like one who would fork out more than six thousand ringgit for a shirt, which, I suspect, is rather far costlier than the rakyat-approved baju batiks that even younger politicians, such as the minister of health Khairy Jamaluddin, wears, and with considerable frequency, and, possibly, pride. And, for someone who reportedly prefers his colleagues to use mostly bahasa Malaysia, even abroad, Mr Sabri’s wearing of a shirt with blaring English words is, at the very least, hypocritical. This was not the first sighting of Mr Sabri in a shirt from Burberry. Last month in Tokyo, he wore an even bolder piece when he met with our PM Lee Hsien Loong. That shirt, with a symmetrical “abstract print” that looked like a silhouette of a Maori tekoteko (those carved human-like figures with tongues stuck out) and such, would have set Mr Sabri back by S$1,790. Possibly haram as it was small change?

I wonder, too, if there was ageism involved in the negative views that pervaded social media. Ismail Sabri is 62, and, while he is eight years younger than Mr Lee, is not considered to be of a vintage that should trifle with this thing called fesyen. Mr Sabri did not pick the less current, less ‘statement’ pieces, such as Burberry’s Simpson (or Somerton) shirt, with its familiar, non-threatening checks in “archive beige”. If he did, his choice of clothes would probably not be noticed. And if his pakaiyan is not registered, the empathy so many wishes to see could, perhaps, be discerned. Rather, Mr Sabri took a risk with fashion, and his followers were uncomfortable. As the New York Time’s Vanessa Friedman said to V magazine back in 2017, in a comment about politics and fashion, many people “think fashion is superficial and any association with it automatically denigrates the thing it is being associated with.” Politics! Some Malaysian Netizens even took issue with their PM choosing a “colonial” brand over one that is local. If only they have their own CYC in Kuala Lumpur.

Photo: Nik Nazmi/Twitter

Graceful Is The Giantess

Burberry plants itself right in the heart of Orchard Road with a massive Olympia

There aren’t many places on Orchard Road where a handbag, the height of the nutmeg tree that used to grow here in the 1800s, can sit obtrusively for the pleasure of gawkers and selfie-mad teenaged girls. The open space outside Ion Orchard (adjacent to Paterson Road) is possibly the only one and a spot luxury brands like to market themselves—visibly. Traditionally, this is where a Christmas tree (increasingly sponsored) would be erected during the Yuletide season, but Burberry has, instead, laid their Olympia bag “sculpture” here, following the footsteps of Louis Vuitton with their shipping container display last January. A handbag left in a very public place won’t be there for very long, but the Olympia is too massive to be removed unnoticed. The handbag, at 10m high, is taller than the Merlion (8.6m), and loftier than the ERP gantry it faces (6m). Which means that the Olympics 2020 pole vault gold medalist, Sweden’s Mondo Duplantis, who won by soaring over 6.02 metres, won’t be able to jump over its shoulder strap!

After its debut in London last month, floating on a barge along the River Thames, and then moving on to Dubai, where it sat on a sandy stretch on Palm West Beach of the famed Palm Jumeirah, with the city’s gleaming sky scrapper’s behind it, the Olympia is here, right where Orchard Road’s heart supposedly beats, standing proudly as “the first Asian stop” (we do not know where else on this continent it will land after this). The imposing bag is a crowd magnet, having enjoyed pre-unveiling publicity as an “IG moment”. It seems only women want to pose with the Olympia, with boyfriends/husbands serving as photographers, since it is likely that bag and subject(s) are unlikely able to be entirely framed by a smartphone’s front camera, held with hand stretched to the max. When a woman, standing alone, just below and to the right of the bag’s pentagon zip-puller, felt awkward and asked her male companion to go over and pose with her, he shouted from about three metres across her, “不要啦,很奇怪 (no, lah, it’s very strange)”.

Olympia the modern bag seems to allude to Olympia the ancient site/sanctuary dedicated to the worship of the Greek god Zeus, and home of the ancient Olympic Games. In Greek mythology, there are 12 Olympians of the pantheon, some are female goddesses, such as Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite, but none known as Olympia. At the Burberry store window inside ION Orchard, a row of Olympia the bag is placed against what appears to be the delineation of some ancient Hellenic deity, which is not identified (the staff in the store do not know who she is either). Women’s role in ancient Greece is believed to be somewhat limited, but in their religion, there is a line-up of surprisingly strong female characters, such as the Muses, celebrated for their beauty, as well as their artistic skills, and to whom we owe today’s use of the word ‘muse’—she who inspires a creative genius. However, the actual usable Olympia, launched in May, is, according to Burberry, inspired by their “show venue, Olympia London”, a 134-year-old exhibition space in West Kensington!

Designed by Riccardo Tisci, the Olympia is described by the brand in its publicity material as a “runway shoulder bag” (not handbag) that’s an “embodiment of modern classicism”. Shaped like a wedge of watermelon, the Burberry Olympia is a smart-looking bag. Somewhat unusual is the rigid shoulder strap (yes, it can stand when you sit the bag on a table), which is adjustable to suit the length you desire. The bag is striking in its simplicity of form: fold-over flap with a zip pocket and a zip-puller (on the rear is a a slip pocket—unfortunately not gusseted, so you can’t fit a Trace Together token) that is secured by magnetic closure. What’s interesting about the Olympia is that, while the bag was launched by the publicity visuals featuring Kendall Jenner, FKA twigs, and the British rapper Blaine Muise, better known as Shygirl, it is marketed unabashedly as unisex. For this shoulder bag, men are included (Kohei Takabatake models with it). To our friend above, it’s not strange, lah.

The Burberry Olympia sculpture is open to view until 29 August 2021. The bag itself, from SGD2090, is now available at Burberry, Ion Orchard. Photos: Jim Sim

Thick And Clunky

Is this spectacle lanyard made from a leftover handbag strap or someone’s bicycle security cable?

By Mao Shan Wang

Burberry has just released images of their resort 2022 collection. Among the pieces sporting graphic prints, monograms and camo-on-tartan is this striking spectacle cord. At first, I thought I was looking at a strap of one of their bags, hung upside down. Then I noticed it was attached to the red-lensed wrap-shades. They have to be an eyewear accessory. Besides, Burberry handbags come with far much wider straps—the Olympia and Grace do. I have never seen such thick spectacle cords. Sure, thanks to Virgil Abloh, they are those that mimick his chains for the Louis Vuitton Keepall Bandouliere, but these are, like bicycle cables, really clunky and conspicuous. That is, perhaps, the whole idea?

I can see that to use one, you simply slip the arms of the glasses through the rubber ring on each end of the smooth leather cord. There is a cube of a charm hanging from the other ends of the rings, cinched in the middle like the numeral 8. Looked to me that even arms of eyewear need danglies. Odd to call them earrings. Arm rings perhaps? I wondered if they are heavy, and if they can be easily put away for storage, say, in a bag. I could see other uses for this luxury accessory. Could they be attached to surgical masks so that when one is not in use, they can hang down the chest like a plate-pendant? Or, might they be given the function of defensive—even offensive—weapons? You are, as it’s often said, only limited by your imagination.

Photo: Burberry

Two Of A Kind: Breastplates

Now that the chest rig is so 2018, perhaps its time for something else to protect the torso?

It’s rather curious to us that warm-weather (or cruise) dressing would require additional gear to trap air to the torso, while arms are totally uncovered. Isn’t it true that with the heat (year after year not letting up), many prefer not to layer? So the suddenly popularity of the breastplate is rather curious. Okay, so far it’s just from two labels: first Dior for cruise 2022 and Burberry for spring/summer 2022, but would these armour-like extras be prelude to a wider trend? Sure, these are not really an outer layer. Do you even consider them clothes? Surely not accessories! But since they are worn and would likely remain on the body throughout the duration of their stay (unlike a bag, which are frequently parted with the body), they might be considered garments?

Breastplates, sometimes also known as chestplates have, in fact, been around for a long time. Often associated with battle wear, they can be traced to antiquity, as seen on Greek warriors, such as the Athenian hoplites. As the elite hoplites had to provide their own panoply or full suit of armour, they had theirs custom-made. This included the breastplate—mostly made of leather and bronze. Only wealthy Greeks, therefore, could be a hoplite. Breastplates slowly fell out of fashion until their resurgence in the Middle Ages. By the 14th and 15th centuries, they were basically very much part of the standard battle order, and remained so all through the Napoleonic wars in the 19th century. In Asia, breastplates were worn too. There were the Chinese xiongjia (胸甲) Japanese do, although both were more like a cuirass—it covers the back as well. Closer to our shore, there was the Majapahit Empire’s karambalangan, sometimes reported to be lavishly gold-embossed! Today, the bullet-proof vests that the police use are believed to be directly descended from the breastplate.

Do Dior’s and Burberry’s breastplates have any protective quality? Frankly, we do not know. Dior’s bib-like versions—although shown in Athens—aren’t quite like those worn by the hoplites or even the goddess Athena (often depicted wearing one over her peplos). Their version looks like chestplates Amazons of Themyscira (later known by the more familiar Paradise Island) might wear—more Queen Hippolyta than Princess Diana. The abstractly-shaped and loose version at Burberry appears more like a shrunken apron with a rather shapely hem that recalls the bottom edge of the bodices worn by Italian women of the 16th and 17th Century. Whichever you’re drawn to, wear these equivalent of a face-mask-for-the-torso with something sleeveless underneath. And breathe.

Photos: Dior and Burberry respectively

Sleeveless At Burberry

It’s a season to hack parts of clothes off. Why not sleeves?

If legs of trousers and bottom halves of bodices are superfluous for spring/summer 2022, sleeves are too. You can be quite sure of that when Burberry shows much of their collection sans sleeves. Of the 45 looks (excluding those shown with just pants), 38 feature sleeveless tops or outers. We are not referring to tank tops—those are there or overalls—they are there too; we are pointing to those traditionally made to cover arms, but now not: trench coats, top coats, car coats, bombers, and the list goes on. Riccardo Tisci have decided to do away with the extra fabrics needed to shape the tubular protuberances, retaining not even half of it nor a little capped sleeve. The opening look perhaps sums it up: a traditional Burberry trench coat worn with arms exposes. As the trench coat has raglan sleeves, removing them along the seams means the result is an upper that’s rather halter. To butch it up, the trench is worn with a white sleeveless muscle tee underneath, which makes the getup look like a butcher’s. Is Burberry proposing a new work wear, while others are promoting play wear?

Burbbery’s video presentation was shot in London even when they show during the current Paris Fashion Week. This time, the location is a desert-looking part of a once-derelict Millennium Mills in Royal Victoria Docks, East of the capital. This could be a barren set for a Mad Max movie, and the tough looking lads could be members of a fashion-forward biker gang, navigating post-apocalyptic times. To augment the rawness, the thumping soundtrack (UK duo Shpongle’s oddly fitting Strange Planet) is provided to seem like the viewer is watching the proceedings with headphones that have no noise cancellation. The music drifts in and out, all the while you can hear the shuffling of feet against the sandy ground (regrettably, you can’t really see the footwear). The ambient sounds are so deliberate that you can even hear dogs barking in the distance. Again, unlike others, this is not some conduit to joy. This is like moving from lockdown to desolation.

Despite the arid setting, this could possibly be Riccardo Tisci’s most spirited (fertile is somehow not quite the right word here) men’s collection for Burbbery yet. Netizens are already calling this a return to form—as seen during his time at Givenchy. The face jewellery is certainly evocative (those bridge clips and lip rings are going to find their way to Zara!) and those graphics on shirts and tees. But perhaps most missed is Mr Tisci’s hard-edge treatment of traditional menswear pieces, imbued with a distinctive street wear spirit. This season, there is a sizeable selection of outerwear and they manifest Mr Tisci’s flair for deconstructing/reconstructing military wear (the trench coat was first created for British troops fighting in World War I) and work wear into modern clothes with an edgy undertone. We are conflicted if sleeveless anything makes a good central idea. Not since the sleeveless plaid shirts and denim truckers of the grunge era in the mid-’80s have we seen this much biceps. But this isn’t a nostalgic step back into the past, not a nod to Raf Simons’s sleeveless blazers of his early years (okay, perhaps a tad). This is Mr Tisci exhaling and articulating. Burberry is humming again.

In the past three years of his tenure, the most recognisable British brand had been in a strange place: somewhere between intriguing but not quite embraceable. Oftentimes, when we visit their stores here, they are ghostly quiet. We do not know if its the merchandise or the buying. The menswear frequently appear avuncular desperately trying to be cool (graffiti on checks?!) With spring/summer 2022 collection, we would be happy to have a close-up of the hunky and structured shapes: bodice-and-collar-only trench coats; boatneck outers that could be the trench coat’s hipper cousin; the raglan tank tops with irregular cut-outs (which reminds us of a Louis Vuitton X Comme des Garçons tote from 2014); the breastplates; and those tops printed with a monotone, flat image of them; and the pants with the horizontal straps (what could they secure?). In short, there would be a lot more to see.

Screen grab (top) and photos: Burberry

Atypical Asian Pick At Burberry

He’s too dusky, he’s over-tattooed, and he is half-Laotian, half-Issan. In Bangkok, he wouldn’t normally be cast in any major advertising campaign, but newcomer Zak Sakraew is in Manchester. And luck came a-calling

When Burberry shared two photos of its autumn/winter 2020 campaign in mid-November, the fashion world of Bangkok went wild. Newcomer Zak (pronounced ‘Sak’ in Thai) Srakaew, who doesn’t live anywhere in Thailand, is suddenly the son of the soil, hero of the heartland. Mr Srakaew has not only starred in a fashion ad, “he is a Burberry model”, as one Bangkok-based stylist proudly told us. And he appeared in the same campaign as the Manchester United football star Marcus Rashford. The 25-year-old is the only second Thai (but the first male) model, after the more established Wilhelmina lass Jan Baiboon, to come this far, or to the house of Burberry. Suddenly it was as if the nation’s Loy Krathong collective wishes amid a fierce pandemic have come true.

The thing is, if Zak Srakaew were to be doing his go-see in Bangkok, he may still be looking for a job. But Mr Srakaew lives in Manchester, a two-hour train ride to London. And inclusiveness is presently a major theme among the advertising and branding professionals there. In Bangkok, where most of the casting of local campaigns are conducted, Mr Srakaew’s Northern Thai look would be considered not outstanding enough, even common, and would not have excited those with control over large advertising budgets. One former marketing head told us that “You hardly ever see anyone dark-skinned in major campaigns. Local brands prefer the fairer models—both the men and the women. That’s why Nadech Kugimiya (Lieutenant Commander Dawin Samuthyakorn in The Crown Princess) is still hot and Cindy Bishop (host of Asia’s Next Top Model) still does shows.”

Thai model Zak Srakaew, first from left (and forth), in Burberry’s autumn/winter campaign. Photo: Burberry

That would generally mean the luk khreung (literally, ‘half-child’ in Thai, or mixed race, usually Thai-Western unions), such as model/actor Mario Maurer (half-Thai-Chinese, half-German)—in the just-concluded-on-Channel-U Thong Ake, The Pharmacist of Chaloang—and compatriot model/actress Urassaya Sperbund (half-Thai, half-Norwegian), popularly dubbed as “the first ever Thai celebrity featured in American Vogue”. Or the luk chin, those who are Chinese-looking but don’t have to be half-Thai. For the males, they would be boyish and would ideally look like they come from a wealthy merchant or property development family. Prime example in the Bangkok male modelling scene is the singer (and actor) from K-pop band 2pm Nichkhun Horawetchakun (mostly known by his first name): his parents are Chinese, and his family is wealthy, which, in South Korea, got him the nickname “the Prince.”

Zak Srakaew is/has none of the above. Burberry choosing him would be considered, in Thailand, casting against type. He does not come from a moneyed family and has virtually no presence in the entertainment industry. Mr Srakaew was born in Thailand, in the northeastern province of Roi Et, in an area known as Issan, which shares a border with Laos. The language and culture here is quite unlike the rest of Thailand. Issan is considered to be the Thai nation’s poorest region, and most Issan folks who move to big cities, such as Bangkok, normally go for work, and usually as manual, industrial or construction workers. Or, for the guys, muay Thai boxers. In fact, we are not aware of any Issan individual who has made a name for himself (or herself) in the modelling industry.

Zak Srakaew, first from left. Photo: Burberry

Mr Srakaew did not make it to Bangkok to seek a better life. At a young age, his Laotian father and his Issan mother were divorced, and he lived with father. His mother remarried and moved to the UK. But before he knew anything or understood what being brought up by a single parent really meant, his father died of a heart attack, leaving young Zak at the cusp of puberty without adult care or supervision. At age eleven, he was sent to be with his mother, who had settled down in the northern city of Manchester, home of The Stone Roses. As he told the curious members of the Thai media, his early years in the UK were hard, primarily because he “didn’t look like the other kids in school” and, more unfavourably, he could not speak English.

In fact, Mr Srakaew was illiterate. He told Vogue Thailand, “I have never been educated. I didn’t study; I couldn’t even read and write in Thai.” It is not revealed if his eventual education in the UK bore results. He did only say that he worked in an unnamed fast food restaurant. Modelling was not on the cards, but a photo he took with a model-pal caught the attention of an agent. Although he told GQ Thailand that he didn’t believe there was a model in him, “fate was determined that I had to go by this route.” Early assignments were mostly for sports brands, such as Fila; outdoor labels such as The North Face and Stone Island, as well as the e-tailer Asos. When the quintessential British brand Burberry called, he said, “At first I thought it was not true. (At the shoot) I felt like I was in a room we didn’t own.”

He now speaks with what could be a Northern English accent faintly lilted by an Asian twang of indeterminate origin. While home is in Manchester, Mr Sakraew has been looking towards Thailand. The income from modelling means he could fly his mother home frequently, and also to build a house for her in their Roi Et hometown. As he told, Vogue Thailand, “I lived in a small flat with my mother, struggling to pay the rent. But when I started my modeling career, I was able to pay for a room.” This Asian sense of place and piety, coupled by his Issan bad-boy look do set him apart from the pale and pretty perfection that is the Bangkok modelling scene, so much so that GQ Thailand swooned—Mr Srakaew “proves that the Thai style is outstanding internationally.” Did they take “Thai style” to mean upcountry or baan nork?

He is tall: 1.83m, according to his London men’s-only agency Supa Model Management. And he has those sprawling tattoos, which spread across half his upper body and down both arms. A yakuza would be duly impressed. In many of the photos shared on social media, Mr Sakraew has a pai kia intensity about him and is often dressed in what he calls “sporty look”, but to posh Londoners might be considered a tad chav. Even if not quite major among Bangkok fashion folks, his appeal is gaining traction among those in the gay community who “like them blue-collar looking or na hia hia (natural ‘rough-looking face’, with no makeup)”, as a graphic designer told us, and those who consider Mr Sakraew as aroi (delectable) as som tum (papaya salad), a dish with origins that can be traced to Issan and Laos. Newfound fans find his red-blooded provincial vibe charming as it contrasts with another trait: the guy loves cats!

Photos: Zak Srakaew

Dress Watch: The Hydra Shirt

How many collars, or necks, does a chemise need?

Combining more than one outfit (or parts of) in a single garment is, of course, nothing new these days. We’ve seen it forever at Comme des Garçons and more recently at Y-Project and Balenciaga. Joining (pun, for sure) the rest is Burberry, the British house now still being remade by the Italian designer Ricccardo Tisci. This isn’t a simple one plus one, or one on one. Mr Tisci has made a simple shirt dress, conjoined with two halves-and-full-collars. This is the work of a Victor Frankenstein with an eye for symmetry.

The Burberry chemise-dress is interesting at first encounter. Pull back and it might be less fetching. The stand out parts are the two extra collars that, when worn, frame both ends of the shoulder, which, as a styling effect, is known as the “cold shoulder”. Think: summer of 2016. But the dress has less the sex appeal of those from four years ago. In fact, with the sleeve dangling by the side, it gives the dress a sack-like silhouette that may not be flattering for those not on the side of svelte.

What may, perhaps, be more appealing is to treat the two side collars as armholes. Yes, put your arms through them. It’s a twofer! Bring the sleeves to the middle, knot at the waist. In this manner, the dress would be unusual enough to intrigue even the keenest fashion observer. Is an extra shirt tied over the bodice?

What, to us, is a let down is the fabric used: The winter standard cotton flannel. And in WFH-friendly buffalo check and plaid! Fashion hack: do the same look by picking three flannel shirts from Uniqlo, and getting an able tailor to piece them together. Because that would cost you a total of S$89.70 (minus sewing charge) instead of the eye-watering S$3,950 you’d otherwise have to fork out.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Burberry Contrast Check Cotton Reconstructed Shirt Dress, SGD3,950, and a similar version for men, SGD1,880, are available at Burberry stores and online. Photo: Zhao Xiangji

Two Of A Kind: Rose By Any Other Name

A Burberry rose or a Vogue rose? As a bloom of un-gloom, both are shown to look—or smell?—as sweet, during a time when the whiff of adversity is ever present, even where the roses grow

 

Burberry rose vs Vogue rose

Valentine’s Day is over, yet the rose is still visible as a heart-tugging communicator. A single stalk, shy of a full bloom, spiky leaves not stripped, centrally placed—the rose is now fashion’s pick to symbolise optimism at a time not many in the industry are optimistic about. Or, is it perhaps spotlighting the troubles of flower growers everywhere or what Bloomberg in a headline two weeks ago called “the crash of the $8.5 billion global flower trade”?

Fashion and flowers are often intertwined, the former often inspired by the latter, especially during the spring/summer season. Unless you’re Miranda Priestly—“Florals? For spring? Groundbreaking”. Announcing their support for medical staff on social media, Burberry used a white-pink rose that looks to be of English provenance as floral mascot. “Burberry Supports…” series of communication material puts the spotlight on what the company is doing for the community and hospitals. The rose it chose, suggestive of purity, innocence, and youth in its colour, is for now bleached of its bridal associations.

As stated in its corporate message, Burberry is “repurposing our trench coat factory in Castleford, Yorkshire, to make non-surgical gowns and masks for patients in UK hospitals”. In addition, the company is tapping into its global reach and resources “to fast track the delivery of 100,000 surgical masks to the UK National Health Service for use by medical staff”, as well as funding research into the development of a vaccine, and donating to charities with the main mission of addressing food poverty throughout the UK. How this is best represented by the rose isn’t clear, nor is an explanation offered. Can the rose, with all its romantic associations, negate Britain’s beleaguered start at mitigating the spread of COVID-19?

Across the pond at American Vogue, a red rose is the cover subject, an inanimate—although living—object not usually associated with Anna Wintour’s beloved title (curiously, under the masthead on the right, the text reads Jun/Jul—two issues in one?). The red rose is considered a universal, although cliched, symbol of love. If Andre Leon Talley, in his publicity rounds to promote his new autobiography The Chiffon Trenches: A Memoir, is to be believed, love and the editor of American Vogue are not quite a twosome—Ms Wintour, he writes, is “not capable” of “human kindness.” That might sound like the reaction of a person scorned, but the charge clearly equals not a flower that evokes deep affection.

According to Condé Nast’s head creative director Raul Martine, Vogue’s cover bloom symbolises “beauty, hope, and reawakening”— no love there, and, according to the magazine, “a conduit between Vogue’s past and its present”. This flower-as-channel between eras allows the revisit of one of publication’s most compelling still-life photographers: Irving Penn. The cover photo was originally shot by Mr Penn in 1970 in London, and now makes a posthumous cover art. The rose, Vanda Miss Joaquim of England, is, as they say in fashion, having a moment. Around us we hear Elvis Costello singing, “As the door behind you closes/The only thing I have to say/It’s been a good year for the roses”.

Photos: Burberry and Vogue respectively