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. Issan is considered to be Thailand’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, muay Thai boxer. 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: Suitable For Hydra

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

For You And You And You… And You

Is catering to as many as possible helping Burberry’s image?

 

Burberry SS 2020 P1

Two days before the Burberry show in London, we were in the ION Orchard store, looking at the AW 2019 pieces when a tall, Chinese, hipster-looking man walked in. He was dressed in an oversized shirt that sported the recognisable Burberry Nova check (once known pejoratively as the “chav check”—chav is just about the British answer to our beng/lian). His pants were possibly divorced from a track suit and his shoes, a designer hunk of kicks. He took a quick spin and left the store in less than three minutes from the time he strolled in. It is not immoderate to assume that he is a super fan of Burberry (he seemed to know the space like his living room), but later, outside Gucci, we heard him telling his female companion, when asked about his visit to the English label’s swanky store, “没什么” (there was nothing).

It is, of course, not possible to say that the man spoke for all who walked into Burberry, but we were there at the same time as he was, and we saw what he saw, and to some extent, we concurred. We didn’t know what he was looking for or wishing to buy (perhaps more of the check—this season, in different shades and then colour-blocked, but may not outdo the T-B logo designed by Peter Saville), but we did know what we did not receive/feel: a thrill, not even a tinge of a tingle that might have made us put our hands out to perform a shopping ritual such as touch.

Burberry SS 2020 G1Burberry SS 2020 G2

It is quite hard, even after three seasons, to determine if Riccardo Tisci has revved up the strength and thrust left behind by predecessor Christopher Bailey—a momentum that The Guardian noted early last year as Mr Bailey was to leave the company he spent 17 years with, “had a halo effect on the rest of British fashion”. Even just a year on, times are different, and London Fashion Week continues to see strong showing by J W Anderson, Richard Quinn, and Craig Green. It is, therefore, hard to imagine that these designers would need to stand on the strength of Burberry to build or project theirs.

This season, as in the past three, there is a lot to see and unpack, but the 109 looks (not the most, compared to Mr Tisci’s first of a staggering 135) don’t encourage repeat viewing. But we did look again: to see if, perhaps, there is now a perceptible Britishness to the styling that we had come to associate with the Burberry before Mr Tisci’s tenure. Trench coats aside, it was hard to place what was sent out on the runway as anything that might suggest Britannia, cool or not. In fact, the designer seems to have crawled back into his Italian shell, reminding us that he once designed for Givenchy, while throwing in some Hermès (-like scarves) for good measure.

Burberry SS 2020 G3

The tailoring is sharp and on point (the trousers and pencil skirts will be winners in the store and the men’s suit will attract the likes of entertainment lawyer Samuel Seow). The statement sleeves make a strong come-back. The rugby shirt (for both sexes) get star billing. The gingham check takes the place of the Nova. The white Victorian lace (and some in dove grey), with one dress saying “B, I am a unicorn” will not appeal to the straitlaced. On the other hand, the permutations of the T-shirt, with some sporting a blunt, pointed bottom similar to a bodysuit’s, will no doubt win over street-style devotees. Not to be outdone are the hijab and the sparkly-mesh face veil for men, both with firm places in a world of fashion now characterised by diversity and inclusiveness. In all, they suggest that Mr Tisci is having a field day bringing together a bit of everything for everyone. Does Burberry need to be so crowd-pleasing?

Since the discontinuation of the Prorsum collection in 2015 so that Burberry is one unified brand rather than separate sub-lines (London and Brit are the other two), the name once associated with trench coats has veered towards catering to the just-affluent, not only the ultra-affluent—including those not quite (or yet) wealthy, but wish to appear so; which, to us, sounds suspiciously like Louis Vuitton territory. This constitutes a large part of today’s luxury consumption: fashion for the multitude. If nothing, it would be fascinating to see how Burberry can reach one and all, and far and wide, including, as inclusivity requires, the chavs—Cara Delevingne and Harry Styles already counted.

Photos: Burberry

Oh, Another One!

The mainland Chinese are annoyed; they are complaining that the new Burberry Chinese New Year ads are mirthless and rather ominous. They obviously have not seen the British brand’s creepy Christmas campaign

 

burberry cny 2019 p1Why so glum? Even 小燕子 (xiao yanzi, little swallow) Vicky Zhao (right) can’t lift the Burberry CNY 2019 ads from gloominess. Photo: Burberry/Weibo

Burberry ended last year with a weird ad; they started this year with another just as weird. Or, eerie, as some Netizens felt.

In China, Burberry’s yet-to-be-fully-launched Chinese New Year campaign is eliciting remarkable dismay and disapproval. The advertising stills that were first posted in Weibo last Thursday surprised many when it was revealed by Burberry to be for CNY. As fashion ads go, they’re frankly unremarkable, but as those targeted at a very specific occasion, one considered to be the most important on the lunar calendar, they stood out for their stupendous gloominess.

The Burberry ads suggest a family coming together for a portrait, or possibly some wefies. They appear to be unwilling participants, photographed against their better judgment, surrounded by people they are unhappy to be near: a tableau of the inauspicious. Two Chinese stars are enlisted to give the pictures the glamour factor that luxury brands typically require of their visual presentations, but even Vicky Zhao (赵微) and Zhou Dongyu (周冬雨) are not able to bring a mood of 喜气洋洋 (xi qi yang yang or full of joy) to the set with a backdrop that, for most Chinese families, should have been tossed out with the spring cleaning.

burberry cny 2019 p2Unhappy family? Or is this how CNY has become these days? Photo: Burberry/Weiboburberry ad @ ion orchardThe same ad, as seen suspended from the ceiling and perpendicular to the Burberry store at ION Orchard. Photo: Zhao Xiangji 

Or, is Burberry smarter than what they have led us to believe? Could this be Burberry saying something about how the young luxury consumers of today are reacting to Chinese New Year? Are we looking at a typical of Chinese family celebrating CNY now?

In the close-crop photo of Vicky Zhao and Chou Dongyu, the women look like distant cousins confronting other relatives that have come with danger (or dagger?!) rather than good tidings (aka ang pows), with the older holding the hands of the younger protectively before they run for the safety of the panic room (aka the toilet). Ms Chou wears an expression that, when brought to any CNY visit, would be considered ku (苦 or bitter)—best left at the door.

Yet, increasingly, this is what many families, especially the older folks, see during Chinese New Year, when they open their front door. So unhappy and unwilling are the young to go CNY visiting these days that many of these reluctant folks have opted to go abroad during this season, a trend that encourages those who are staying put to not answer knocks on the door or the ringing of the phone so as to pretend they are away.

burberry cny 2019 p3Evil intent? The creepy photo that prompted one Weibo user to suggest that there was a plot here to kill the grandmother for her riches! Photo: Burberry/Weibo

Could this then be Burberry reflecting the sign of the times (that’s why the ad campaign is named “摩登新禧” or Modern New Year)? Or the other sign—that western luxury brands will continue to market to Asia with little or no understanding of the market?

We resist comparing this to the Dolce and Gabbana fiasco of two months ago. To be fair, both incidences are very different, but 新浪财经 (Sina Finanical News) may be on to something when they headlined this poser: “Dolce & Gabbana 之后 Burberry 或也将‘败’在广告”. Or, “after Dolce & Gabbana, Burberry may be defeated by advertising”. It sounds like the Chinese media (and Sina isn’t alone) is saying that Chinese consumers, perhaps more than their Western counterparts, pay attention to adverts, and that brands should be mindful of what they communicate to the Chinese.

Or, have the mainland Chinese for too long projected themselves to be a rather uncultured lot when overseas that there are brands who think that, back in the motherland, culture is inconsequential to the world’s most populous nation? Or have the Chinese become, as some say, unduly sensitive when they themselves have been culturally unaware when on foreign soil? Insensitivity begets insensitivity?

burberry cny 2019 p4Something’s going on? The evil and the snubbed! Photos: Burberry/Weibo

It is rather puzzling that following the Dolce & Gabbana uproar, brands are still not taking into consideration the textual and visual implications of the messages they deliver in markets not their own. We wonder if it can be narrowed to one thing: an Italian failing. Like Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, Burberry’s Riccardo Tisci is Italian, so is the company’s CEO Marco Gobetti. To be sure, we are not playing the nationality card here, but it did have us wondering if this is a possibility: that there is scant understanding of China and much of Asia among present-day Italians.

This is glaringly ironic considering that compatriot Marco Polo, the 13th century merchant, is known to be a serious Sinophile and had written much about zhongguo. But he isn’t the only one who held the Chinese in high regard. Later, in the 18th century, the Jesuit priest Giuseppe Castiglione served as court painter to three, not one (!), Qing emperors: Kangxi, Yongzheng, and Qianlong. In fact, Italy’s bilateral relations is believed to date back to the times of ancient Rome.

For some, to make sense of all this, we have to take into consideration that we live in a confused—and confusing—world. These are times when we can do and say anything we want just as we can wear whatever we desire, even if it’s an affront to the decency or culture of the person in front of us. Fashion has become less about design than the need for the wearer to be intrusively, even inappropriately, expressive. Blare without care.

burberry christjmas 2018 p1Burberry’s earlier gloom. A dining hall and Kirsten Scott Thomas divorced from joy in Burberry’s Christmas 2018 video commercial. Photos: Burberry/Weibo

Since Riccardo Tisci’s appointment at Burberry, there is a certain gloom when it comes to the brand’s big, holiday advertising. Just last month, their Christmas ad, specifically the “fashion film” format, showed stars of the movie, music, and modelling worlds in their Burberry festive finery. But no one seemed happy, not even the dog under the table, on which a most un-festive meal was laid, in a hall with as much Yuletide cheer as a funeral parlour.

Even with big names, such as actors Kirsten Scott Thomas (looking spectacularly despondent) and Matt Smith (looking disconcertingly evil), and hip-hop artiste MIA (looking positively bored), the advert has such a lack of merriment that this could easily be a trailer for some slasher-in-a-sanctuary movie. Or, has Westerners’ attitude towards Christmas turned to the unrecognisable just as Chinese people now look at Chinese New Year so rather differently?

None of the cast members of the Burberry Christmas ad looked more sinister than Naomi Campbell, who sat on the ground like a broken doll, with her head on her mother Valerie Morris-Campbell’s lap, both looking blankly at a TV screen in front on them, in a chillingly blank room. With an eldritch half-smile on both faces, the Campbells appear no different from the Hewitts—Leatherface’s crazy family in 2003’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. That, we think, is pretty creepy.

Burberry’s New Jumble

Riccardo Tisci told The Guardian that he wanted his version of Burberry to “celebrate eclecticism”. Does that mean anything goes?

 

Burberry SS 2019 P1.jpg

The show was basically split into two parts, or maybe three, for both the men’s and the women’s collections, suggesting that designer Riccardo Tisci wishes to cater to more than one group of customers: those moneyed individuals who see Burberry as a traditional brand and still desire to buy traditional styles, those indefatigable influencers who hope to acquire ‘statement’ pieces, and those who have red carpets to walk on. That means catering to a broad base, which is already there, as evidenced by the reportedly close to USD3 billion annual sales, as well as creating a Burberry that is less tied to its English roots. Or, at least the Englishness that Christopher Bailey had once so seductively evinced.

In fact, to us, the new Burberry emanates a rather Italian aesthetic, Roman even—sunray skirts (or trench coat if inclement weather) for prancing at the Piazza Navona and vaguely street style for the rest, hanging out in Piazza Trilussa. To be sure, we weren’t hoping at that late hour of the live stream for anything that would bring back Mr Bailey’s Bloomsbury brio (or sorcery since many women were under its spell for quite a while) and we’re glad there was no return, but there was something lacking in its glorification of a British house.

Burberry SS 2019 G1

Sure, the Burberry check was there (as well as the stripes); the unmissable trenchcoats too, but these seemed like products taken from the shop floor to supplement otherwise incomplete merchandising rather than design-led garments destined for a direction-setting runway. Otherwise it would be hard to explain the pussy-bow blouses, even in the house tartan; pencil and bubble shirts; a baby-doll dress that looked oddly drab; blazer-skirt combos that wouldn’t be out of place in the confines of Marks & Spencer. Perhaps, Riccardo Tisci was doing Brit style after all.

Some people are thrilled that Mr Tisci is “bringing back elegance”. It’s a strange elegance, if you can call it that. Proper, too, especially in the first half. It was, as if Mr Tisci was deliberately going against the grain of the surge of street style, like so many designers are now doing, rejecting, as a matter of course, the ‘ugly’ too. That this should be the track he chose to take is not surprising, but that he should put out such kosher designs that’s reminiscent of one-time office wear is. Perhaps Mr Tisci is tired of dressing the likes of the Kardashian/Jenner clan, conspicuously missing in the front row of the show?

Burberry SS 2019 G2

Burberry SS 2019 G3

Just as we thought the now-uncommon prim will dominate, Mr Tisci ditched the Town and Country look for something more in keeping with what he was known for at Givenchy: clothes, although not “darkly romantic”—the favourite description among the media and KOLs, that his followers would definitely wear. These had a whiff of the sporty, the military, and the punk, all calculated to appeal to a generation that grew up through Mr Tisci’s Givenchy years (2005—2017). So, if you want accent sleeves, you got accent sleeves; even cold shoulder, yes, those cold shoulders you see around you that won’t go away. There was even a Virgil Abloh moment, three letters on a T-shirt that read COW, in case you did not know that the top was paired with a skirt of bovine print.

It may be a little severe to say that the most anticipated show of London Fashion Week turned out to be disappointing, but a let down it was even if the failure to fulfill our expectations was partly of our own making. We had hoped that Riccardo Tisci would go to London to place Burberry in a leadership role, the way Christopher Bailey had during the brand’s heydays. It would not, at present, be that.

Photos: Burberry

Is Bailey Blasé About Burberry?

Christopher Bailey showed his final collection in London two days ago. It was not the swan song of swan songs

Burberry Feb 2018 P1

This could be the most anticipated show of the London season, but we could not have known. Christopher Bailey bowed out of Burberry with his final presentation, but it wasn’t a give-it-to-them collection. It wasn’t even a best-of throwback. No one stood up when the models strutted their stuff for the finale. Only when Mr Bailey emerged for his customary runway bow did the audience rose to its feet. The man drew a standing ovation, not the clothes.

As farewell shows go, this one was rather low on moments. Sure, people were thrilled to see the rarely-on-catwalk-these-days Cara Delevingne close the show, being goofy, but what was that she was wearing? Costume from a school production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat? And what was Ms Delevingne wearing beneath that? Something to go to bed with, or to pick up the morning paper? Or was this deliberately anti-knock-out last dress, just as the show was anti-exit-with-a-bang display so that it will resound in the pages of final-show history?

Burberry Feb 2018 G1

This was meant to be a salute to LGBT+ youths everywhere, but it could easily be thumbs up to the “chavs” and “chavettes” (loosely, the British bengs and lians) that had once made Burberry many rungs below classy and deserving a makeover, which had led to Christopher Bailey taking the creative reigns of the 162-year-old British house. The checks that the chavs made crass were back in full glory (including those infamous caps). But it was the decidedly low-brow styling—boys and girls going about their mundane day in, possibly, east London, or even Ang Mo Kio—that made the clothes a tad too difficult to digest. Add those tired-by-now supermarket bags and you have a picture of a hipster heartland that is too much a parody to be cool and desirable.

Mr Bailey has long abandoned cool. The London cool associated with his Burberry (trench coats ruched at the shoulder), the English Rose and “Garden Girls” (full-lace tea dresses and floral prairie dresses), the ’60s edge (the autumn/winter 2011 collection inspired by Jean Shrimpton), Mr Bailey has ditched them. Like everyone else, he’s doing street, good and bad street. How else do you explain the (still) oversized Harrington jackets or Yonex-would-be-proud windbreakers? He’s also looking back at the ’90s. How else do you elucidate those multi-coloured embroidered logotype, so done-to-death by Kenzo’s Humberto Leon and Carol Lim, and so reminiscent of the knock-offs that once festooned the night market stalls of Bangkok’s Silom Road?

Burberry Feb 2018 G2

It did seem to us that Mr Bailey was doing a Marc Jacobs: He mined chav culture the way Mr Jacobs mines black culture or disco past. The hotchpotch was certainly there, so was the ’80s/’90s references and the sub-culture tags. Even the vast, somewhat bare show venue at the Dimco Building of West London was reminiscent of Mr Jacobs favourite Park Avenue Armoury. Even the music: No more live performances; just good old gay disco, courtesy of The Communards and Jimmy Somerville and a generous dash of the ever listenable Marc Almond.

Yes, they’re for the kids who have never seen and worn and dance in them before, we hear you say, but where does that leave the rest of us—we who do not want to muse over the past; who desire even the moderately new, the irreverent, the witty, the complex; we who think that, while fashion is cyclic, the cycle should take much longer to come full circle; we who think there’s too much fashion and much of it is like the other, so why bother? We understand that Burberry has to cater to those not yet bored, not yet satiated, not yet inducted, but isn’t there enough grassroots gaiety at Topshop?

Burberry Feb 2018 G4

Oh, the LGBT+ bit. “My final collection here at Burberry is dedicated to—and in support of—some of the best and brightest organisations supporting LGBTQ+ youths around the world,” Mr Bailey had said to the media. “There has never been a more important time to say that in our diversity lies our strength, and our creativity.” The recurrent motif in about half-a-dozen outfits was the rainbow flag/stripe. And if they seemed a little reductive in view how far gay people and their kindred kinds have come, it’s because there was something very gift shop by way of the Castro in San Francisco or the Chelsea in New York, circa 1988, in those bubble vest, coat, jacket, dress, bags, and trainers. You sort of half –aspect ‘Does Your Mother Know’ jokes emblazoned on T-shirts. We’re not sure if any of them is a good look, for gay or straight.

It could be that Mr Bailey was already in bow-out mood when assembling the collection, which, to us, was just a pastiche of stuff—a rambling thought, flashes of reflections, not the attentively conceived collection dedicated to Henry Moore (same time last year) that thrilled us so. Perhaps, he has indeed lost steam, as some observers had previously posited. This February collection is likely to remain linked to this month, to the end of a designer’s 17-year reign, and would date the moment we forget his departure. Maybe this wasn’t just Christopher Bailey’s last Burberry show; maybe this was his last laugh.

Photo: (top) Burberry/Youtube and (catwalk) Indigital.tv

Plastic Makeover

Burberry SS 2018 Pic 1

The forecast for spring/summer 2018 at Burberry appears to be inclement weather. We don’t remember seeing so many pieces of rain wear in a Burberry show before. Or is this just a statement about the notorious English showers? Or, the hurricane season in the Caribbeans? It sure isn’t quite the reflection of the climate of Asia. In fact, the clothes looked a bit un-summer like, with so many outers—even a coat that looks like shearling —and rather chunky knits. Or, has Christopher Bailey chosen to remain largely in calm, bearable spring? But this isn’t a spring showing; this is The September Show!

Anything that can be made out of water-repellent “soft-touch” plastic, they were out there: raincoats, dusters, ponchos, anoraks, hoodies, and even skirts! It is not entirely opaque plastic, which means there’s quite a bit of flesh to flash and the only-fashion-types-get-it interplay of translucency (softly coloured!) and textures. It’s as if to deliberately blur the more interesting bits underneath—lovely knitwear, for example. Or, staying with the weather, is that saying something about London’s fog?

Burberry SS 2018 G 1

The shower curtain material must have disappointed animal rights activists, reported to have made a spectacle of themselves, shouting outside the show venue—Old Sessions House, a former London court—and causing delay to the start of the presentation. Will it be eco-warriors next to be up in arms in demanding that the plastic be bio-degradable?! Mr Bailey, a win is hard.

But for many fans, the media included, this is a winning collection, if not for its protection against precipitation, at least the revival of the Burberry heritage check, which, at one time, was considered unfashionable when it was associated with British bengs known as ‘chavs’. But it’s all very British—this part of the brand’s history and Mr Bailey isn’t afraid to confront it head on. He has, of course, made it all a lot more current, even when wearing baseball caps of the said check or the knitted sweater-vest (worn alone) that hinted at past chav style, by not being terribly serious about how things are paired and worn.

Burberry SS 2018 G 2

It is, therefore, likely that the collection is aimed primarily at the young, as chavs tend to be. The proportions of the clothes—including details such as large collars and lapels— parallel sizes popular in the ’70s and ’80s. This may be in keeping with the prevalent shape of things, but it’s not immediately discernible that the anti-fashion, working-class silhouette and mix of things (cocktail waitress on the way home after work?) will win the love of those of a certain age.

Targetting the young is also augmented by the clear nod to streetwear, a move few designers can afford to avoid these days—“a little street, sophisticated” the designer told Vogue Hommes. Although there’s something to be said of a 46-year-old Christopher Bailey designing for kids less than half his age (“it’s their world”, he conceded to Edward Ennful in a video interview for British Vogue), the sighting of Mino and Hoony of the Korean boy band Winner in the front row attests not only to Burberry’s intended audience/shopper, it bolsters the brand’s youth-oriented image and keeps up their strive for relevance in an age of the young and restless.

Photos: (top) Burberry and WWD

London Continues To Charm

Brexit looms, but the Brits are showing that creativity has not left the fold

christopher-kane-aw-2017Christopher Kane

The just-concluded London Fashion Week isn’t like New York Fashion Week: boring. The city, like New York, is where many designers—not necessarily from London—feel the creative pull. Yet, unlike the Big Apple, London designers aren’t attached to a certain English aesthetic the way US designers are stuck to American sportswear, including those designers in the east coast—if the reported rise of Los Angeles is to be believed. The English are more freewheeling that way, allowing the city’s plurality of culture to inform their design directions. They are not wedded to predictability.

Indeed, London designers are not hung up about adhering to a certain English look. Although Burberry’s Christopher Bailey paid homage to English sculptor Henry Moore, the collection is far from depicting a certain English ideal. Many London designers do not appear shackled by the need to keep the flame of Englishness alive. Indeed what is English today isn’t quite the same as what it was in the Sixties, when London was called “swinging” and positioned as the centre of the “youth quake” of that era. Sure, there’s always the influence of the past—royalty, Victoriana, punk, the New Wave, the Scottish Highlands, the old garbs of fishing folks of the bleak coasts—but English designers tend to look ahead, drawing from urban miscellany to forge a more progressive whole.

j-w-anderson-aw-2017J. W. Anderson

You don’t get British designers revisiting to death Mary Quant or Biba, but you do see American designers returning to Studio 54 time and time again, as if the ’70s can never be left behind, as if the Battle of Versailles was not proof enough that American designers are able to march to a new beat. That the past may influence the present is understandable. Some of Britain’s great designers, such as the late Alexander McQueen, drew heavily from what went way before. The past is, however, a platform to springboard to the future, or, at least, delineate the present.

That was what we sensed at Christopher Kane this season. There’s something vaguely and deliciously old-fashioned about the collection. Mr Kane is not, of course, a trad lad, but his approach to designing seems born of dressmaking of the past. Still, there is none of the British frumpiness, or maybe there is, just cleverly subverted with spiffy cuts and shiny fabrics. We like his flattering, feminine silhouettes too, within which he makes his magic. That’s where his unpredictability lies. Contained in near-conventional forms, Mr Kane incorporates fold, tucks, and slits within. The look isn’t wayward, yet there’s something unusual about it. Appealing, too.

erdem-aw-2017Erdem

Similarly, J. W. Anderson, created some rather compelling clothes. While media eyes are mainly on his work for the Spanish house Loewe, fans are keeping a close watch on the developments at his eponymous label. Mr Anderson is not terribly concerned with Britishness, but he is adept at reaching into the mixed bag that is modern-day England and pulling out quite a remarkable jumble. It’s not easy to pin-point the typical J. W. Anderson silhouette, but that’s precisely why his work is so beguiling. His autumn/winter 2017 collection shows draping, asymmetry, and gently puffed-up shapes, and in-between, something plucked from Qing China.

One of the London collections that made us re-focus on the line is Erdem. This is supremely feminine, not something we normally would pay close attention to, but Erdem Moralioglu has created a smashing output based on so many desirable dresses that are, to us, post-Duchess of Cambridge. There is a certain artistic aspect to the way he mixes fabrics and prints, all the while keeping the silhouettes rather controlled—not-too-princess-friendly. We were thinking that if ever (and, really, just if) Pierpaolo Piccioli should ponder leaving Valentino, Erdem Moralioglu should be considered for the job.

joseph-aw-2017Joseph

Throughout much of London Fashion Week, under-appreciated English labels are doing more interesting work than over-exposed American names across the Atlantic. One that deserves a bigger audience is Joseph. Although once a fairly conventional brand, Joseph has, under the stewardship of Louise Trotter, steadily evolved into a line that straddles confidently between sophistication and edginess. Ms Trotter does not shy from unconventional shapes, nor quirky details that give her designs character. We appreciate her pairing of prints, placement of pockets, and the push-pull of masculinity and femininity. It’s the creative tension that gently tips her work outside basic. It gives you reason to make space in the wardrobe.

British designers are re-defining femininity without having to underscore it. In fact, it is heartening to see them not succumb to the commercial appeal of the fit-and-flair dress shape that many of today’s women cannot seem to break away from. Constant is their exploration of the spatial relationship between fabric and the body, so that the basis of the silhouettes is not the hourglass shape, or a figure that adhere to the vulgar sexiness consistent with those frequently witnessed on social media. These are not clothes to show off Victoria’s Secret underclothes. For that reason, we’re keeping our eyes on London.

Photos: indigital.tv