(2019) Winter Style 2: The Two-Tone Trench

A classic trench coat that’s not quite

 

Bottega Veneta Trench.jpg

Daniel Lee has done things for Bottega Veneta that women of very specific taste adore, so much so that not only is the maker of the famed intreccio leather now trending madly, its designer is winning more fans after being awarded thrice at this year’s British Fashion Award: Designer of the Year, British Designer of the Year—Womenswear, and Accessories Designer of the Year.

The accolades perhaps explains the “Bottega effect”, accelerating its trickling down to the high street. Mr Lee, former director of ready-to-wear at Céline under Phoebe Philo, has not transformed Bottega Veneta the way Nicolas Ghesquière has for Louis Vuitton, for instance. Yet, the effect is apparent, even palpable. Mr Lee called it by the vague “done-up elegance”, which is, in essence, gently tweaking what is considered classics, such as this single-breasted trench coat.

What is, perhaps, appealing for many women, is that the coat comes in a recognisable form, including details such as epaulettes and cuff straps. Nothing too out there. But the British designer is able to make small adjustments that at one look, one knows this is an outer with a difference. He has simplified the trench by making it single-breasted and by removing the storm flap, even at the back. And instead of knee-length, he has chosen to bring the hem near the calves.

But the most striking feature has to be the bi-coloured, bi-textured effect. The base of the trench coat is in a grayish poly-cotton gabardine, and the top half of the body bonded with black leather (which leaves the underside of the collar untreated, yielding an appreciable two-collar effect). But this is not the horizontal separation of colour (usually split at the waist). Mr Lee, instead, chose a diagonal diversion, which give the trench an appealing duality: part cool-classic, part rebel-tough. In the presence of the abundance of oversized track tops and ever-larger puffers, this is definitely more desirable and spot-on chic.

Bottega Veneta trench coat, SGD6,750, is available to order in stores and online. Photo: Bottega Veneta

 

The Awful Feeling Of Feeling Nothing

Hedi Slimane’s first men’s wear collection for Celine is in store. Who’s excited?

By Ray Zhang

I did not want to dismiss the hottest debut this year. Not just like that, not prematurely, not without first seeing the clothes, close-up. You may want to know I am not an Hedi Slimane fan ( I don’t think any of us in SOTD are), never have been. What I feel about his Celine for men is not going to be, for his die-hard followers, fair, but this was what I saw. It was not a cursory glance, but a close examination, as close as it gets.

While I had expected Mr Slimane’s aesthetic repetition, I came away certain again that he was telling me what I’ve seen before is what I shall and should see again. Newness is not new, as he communicates through familiar “Teddy” jackets. Don’t expect change. By now you should know he isn’t giving any. If you thought this was a reprise of his Saint Laurent, which then divided fashion opinion, you did not think wrongly or unreasonably. In the Hedi Slimane l’opera mode, one note is the best note.

Even the interior of the store is a throw-back to the years before his current tenure. Now, somehow the rigidity seemed intimidating. The stone walls, the harsh lighting; the minimal metal-frames-as-racks, suspended from the bare ceiling; the floating shelves, protruding from walls; the sterile glass cabinets; the industrial boast; the deliberate coldness that hits you like a slap—they stubbornly told me, to hell with my expecting things to be different.

In the end, it was the first Celine men’s collection that I have come to view. A Web browser might be useful in seeing the clothes as they were shown—in full swagger, but it is in a retail setting, where the clothes do not gain from the deceptive art of styling and the bodies that match those of Mr Slimane’s rock world, that I get to see the collection as individual pieces. Do they hold up individually? Lest I am mistaken, these are not badly made clothes; they just don’t fall into a category I can confidently say ‘designed’. Reprise, yes. So, as shirts go, as jeans go, as blazers go, they hold up to Uniqlo.

This, of course, risks being called comparing apples to pears. But what crossed my mind when I saw a viscose Western shirt in shadow check (that I later learn is part of a “classic shirt” range) with nothing a design lecturer might be able to point out to her students as creative, was “Gap”! After what Raf Simons did to the Western shirt at Calvin Klein, you’d think the bar for such a chemise (if there’s still demand for it) was raised. Mr Slimane obviously does not care about raised bars, which, to me, still suggests an indolence of approach, more so if you concur that there’s considerably more effort at Levi’s Made & Crafted.

Even the T-shirts, today an important entry-level category, can’t evoke a hint of admiration; their graphics made Off-White’s arrows look exceedingly artistic. The one with the oversized Celine logo, printed wholesale—it could have been Converse! Surprising were the shape of tees, which appeared to be for those who have spent considerable time in the gym and need tops that can allow the fabric’s tensile strength to be tested. The sleeves were so abbreviated, they seemed capped—the better to emphasise biceps! Sure, Mr Slimane most likely did not intend for them to be worn as a muscle tee, but they look decidedly from a time when clothes needed to give extreme musculature definition.

It is understandable that during the time he was at Saint Laurent, doing clothes that sat just above the humdrum, customers were into ‘looks’ rather than designs. As separates, those pieces were simple and easy to wear, evoking a rock-cool sensibility that is understandably appealing. But don’t people tire of what in Thailand is called same-same? There is, of course, nothing wrong with doing simple. The offerings of Lemaire, Jil Sander, and OAMC are oftentimes the antithesis of complex, but they don’t cross into the spirit-dampening space of nothingness. Pick anything in the Celine store, hold it up, and you are likely to return it to the rack than bring it to the fitting room.

But it was the fitting room that the sales staff was trying to persuade me to go to. When I stood before a plain white skinny shirt in an admittedly seductive cotton poplin, he asked me what my size was. When I took a tuxedo jacket in wool crepe to have a closer look and a surer touch, he pointed to the nearest mirror and told me I could slip it on. When I stroked a pair of dark denim jeans that looked totally linear from waist to hem, he said that “the store has only skinny”. Was that criticism of the old Ganryu jeans I was wearing? When I moved away from the clothes, he looked at me with what I thought were pupils of pity.

By then, I concluded that the sleek and stubbornly forbidding interior camouflaged the clothes’ total lack of warmth and allure. As quickly as I went in, I left. Not even a shirt cuff tugged at my interest. I didn’t feel a thing.

Photo: Galerie Gombak

Sassy At Celine

Celine W AW 2019 P1

You know what is going to be big come July (or whichever month the autumn/winter 2019 collections will drop)? Culottes. Seriously, culottes. Hedi Slimane has revived for Celine a garment that has for decades laid low, cery low. This is not to be confused with skorts. Mr Slimane’s are clearly “split skirts”—bifurcated, if you must get technical, or trousers cut to resemble a skirt, something that would remind those old enough the original Charlie’s Angels. Or, in our mind—imagination, really, Miuccia Bianchi Prada going to a political science class at the University of Milan.

For his second Celine women’s collection, Mr Slimane seems determined to prove to his detractors that he can do more than skinny or body-hugging. As reported in the media, Mr Slimane took a peek into the Celine archive. And this was the output—not a re-imagination, not a re-construct, but a facsimile, as the clothes appear to us. Mr Slimane has never had any use for irony or twist; he won’t either now. This could have leapt out of the pages of How to Dress like a Frenchwoman, if it was published in 1975.

Celine W AW 2019 G1.jpg

To be honest, we don’t know what Celine really looked like in the ’70s (except for some old ads we found online), when it rose in popularity. Founded in 1945 by Céline Vipiana as a made-to-measure children’s shoe store, it became, by the ’60s, a sort of Biba of the time, but more atas. The brand slowly projected the cool it was known for in the mid-’70s. Then, Ms Vipiana was still designing the line and she continued to do so until her death in 1997, aged 84. When LVMH took Céline into its fold and Michael Kors became the first designer to revive the brand, Céline was destined to be Celine, a hugely global French brand towards 2020… and much talked about, but not because of its content. Phoebe Philo was a minor extended distraction. Ironically, Mr Slimane’s approach seems to go back full circle, to where Mr Kors started.

How Mr Slimane changed the direction of the brand when he came on board and how he disappointed many is, until today, still discussed. The aesthetical shift now, we sense, is less about reacting to criticism than to once again reach back, a habit that had affected every fashion house that Mr Slimane steered. It appears to us that when he looked at the old output of Céline, thought to be those of the mid-’70s, he was really casting his mind to the past—as he did at Saint Laurent—to rehash. How else does one explain the obsession with pussy bows?

Celine W AW 2019 G2

Celine W AW 2019 G3

Mr Slimane’s Celine, therefore, seems to be joining the dots to reveal to us a picture that explicitly say FLASHBACK. Again, we can’t be sure this is close to Celine of yore (was Ms Vipiana mad about culottes?), but it does reflect an era. Some dresses looked like what Karl Lagerfeld did for Chloe in the ’70s. Or, perhaps what Alessandro Michele has been doing for Gucci, only Mr Slimane’s are better fitted. Some blouses looked like his take of what YSL muse Loulou de la Falaise might have worn back in the day, and already seen in Saint Laurent, circa 2013. And those below-the-knee schoolteacher skirts—your grandmother would know. Or, Diane Von Furstenburg. Hedi Slimane would be a worthy contestant against Marc Jacobs for the Look Back King of the Year.

Or course, Mr Slimane could not totally abandon skinny—he built a career on them pencil silhouettes. So, some pants are still reed-thin, the denim jeans too. But he did abandon baring skin. This is modest dressing! More? If you look closely, how many silhouettes are there? Three, maybe? Will this be the new merchandising norm? We had to again remind ourselves that Mr Slimane is not a designer like John Galliano, nor Demna Gvasalia, nor JW Anderson. Karl Lagerfeld, maybe. Frankly, we thought the Celine autumn/winter 2019 show was Butterick come alive.

Photos: (top) Celine/(runway) indigital.tv

Oh, Hedi!

What’s your point?

Celine M AW 2019.jpg

Is Celine Men designed for Hedi Slimane himself? If so, that shouldn’t surprise anyone. Our comments here then risk being redundant, but bear with us.

Recently, we looked, again, at Hedi Slimane’s last show for Yves Saint Laurent Homme (titled Black Tie), his first and last show at Dior Homme, and his first and last show at Saint Laurent and we came to the conclusion that having reshaped the silhouette of men’s wear as early as 2000 (that Black Tie collection at YSL was prelude to everything he did at Dior Homme later and further down the road), Mr Slimane probably has no desire to change what he was responsible for: that certain leanness and rock ‘n’ roll edge. That skinny jeans (even skinny track pants!!!) still dominate the male wardrobe is testament to his aesthetical influence.

Unsurprisingly, his first stand-alone Celine presentation for men could have been a Dior Homme show or Saint Laurent. The models walk similarly, if not look similar. The Celine collection is, we were told, called “Polaroids of British Youths”, but, to us, it really is Pete Doherty all over again. Or, even Liam Gallagher (sorry, chap!). Mr Slimane’s brand of indie-rock cool has always veered towards England, never mind if he himself lives in Los Angeles, and is known to be into the music scene there. The English just does it better.

Celine M AW 2019 G1.jpg

Hedi Slimane is not Hedi Slimane if he does not do slim—boyish to boot. To be fair, for Celine Men, the skinniness is not so extreme. The boys are still lean, maybe not quite skin-and-bones as before, but they are primarily boys, unlike the models at Junya Watnabe, who cast grown men, middle-aged and above, for his Silver Swagger collection. Mr Slimane has his signature down pat: the silhouette is compact (nothing oversized) and the line straight. As with his women’s wear, he is not partial to ample space between body and cloth.

On a whole, the clothes look rather basic despite their rock musician posturing. One duffel coat is so unspectacular that you are sure that if you wish to ape the look, a very similar version available at Uniqlo can be had for a song, pun intended. You sense, too, that you may have seen some of the items elsewhere. A couple of the leather jackets look like they have appeared at Saint Laurent during Mr Slimane’s tenure there, while others such as the trim blazers with narrow lapels, now already commonplace in TopMan.

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An unapologetic designer, Mr Slimane is not about to explain why he took the path he has with Celine Men. He dishes it, and fans will lap them all up. Some members of the media say he is firmly helping men to return to an elegant way of dressing; they point to the collection’s missing sneakers. We’re not sure that many guys will abandon their T-shirts and their joggers at Mr Slimane’s catwalk command. This does not sing of his Dior Homme moment. Additionally, other brands, too, are signalling the shift away from streetwear. What then will be his Celine’s allure?

It is hard to say. These days, fashion also includes the power of social media not just the dictates of the runway. Or, one trending shirt (yes, Jeff Goldblum’s!) We can’t be certain that those who educate themselves about fashion via the Net won’t say this is an uninspired variation of a theme. It’s been seen and if we didn’t do them then, we’re not going to do them now. Or next fall.

Photos: (top) Youtube/(runway) indigital.tv

Phoebe Philo Fans, Some Possible Alternatives

In one fell swoop, the new Celine was effectively telling former, less-attenuated fans and customers to eff off! But all is not lost. Until the return of Phoebe Philo (or not), some names to consider

 

Celine SS 2018 adSpring/summer 2018, Phoebe Philo’s last collection for Céline, shot by Juergen Teller. Photos: Céline

By Mao Shan Wang

Enough of harping on what Celine is today or, come January, when the new collection drops, what there is nothing to buy. Trends come and go, so do labels: Look at Lanvin. Besides, loyalty is not as valued as it was before. Only tech companies appreciate loyalty. Apple wouldn’t be where it is today if customers were fickle about why they like the brand. But if there’s something that can be gleaned from the world’s second largest smartphone maker (okay, third-largest since Huawei has overtaken them in August, according to media reports), consistent aesthetic identity is key. An iPhone will always look—and feel—like an iPhone.

Fashion is, of course, not the same as communication devices. It does not have to be user-friendly and it’s a lot more manic and far more mutable, having to update itself up to six times a year, and, now, with monthly drops. But, perhaps due to this need for constant renewal or, rather, refreshment in most cases, some kind of brand consistency is necessary. Unfortunately, for fashion—the luxury business, brand recognition alone is enough, not nearly substance and not nearly astonishment. And since egomaniacs are often installed as creators of the brand’s products, they would like to obliterate what came before. It’s a matter of how ruthless.

Sure, we’re all going to move on to something else. No one died a sartorial death after Michael Kors decamped Céline to continue his own label. I don’t remember anyone knowing at that time that they desired the unsexy but alluring shapes that Phoebe Philo introduced until she did. Fashion is variegated, and there will be others, while not entirely the same as the Céline that, as The Gentlewoman rightly noted, “cut through fashion’s tired fantasy… for sharp reality and hyper-luxurious clothes”, are surely just as genial, pleasing, and intelligent. These are my pick.

Dries Van Noten

Dries Van Noten SS 2019Photos: indigital.tv

I was resistant to adding Dries van Noten to this list, but in his spring/summer 2019 show, I saw quite a few pieces those willingly labelled Philophiles would find compatible with their wardrobe: the loose-hanging jackets, the easy-fit shirts, the modern-sporty outers. Mr Van Noten did not always design like this, but his designs have a certain romance that is increasingly missing in today’s clothes, and an artsiness similar in spirit to what Ms Philo introduced in her latter years at Céline, a welcome flourish at a time when minimalism was being redefined for the post-Helmut Lang era customer.

Haider Ackermann

Haider Ackermann SS 2019 G1Photos: indigital.tv

This may not seem like an obvious choice. The designs of Haider Ackermann is, however, on track to welcome former Céline fans. The non-body-defining shapes, a slouchiness that suggests I-don’t-care androgyny, and a palette that has more in common with the holy than holi are, to me, the sensibilities that Philo followers can relate to and would desire to buy. What I consider a plus, too, is that Mr Ackermann, who, in 2010 was tipped by Karl Lagerfeld as a possible Chanel designer should the latter bow out, constructs in such a way as to never let the clothes look too dressed-down.

Jil Sander

Jil Sander SS 2019 G1Photos: indigital.tv

It’s hard not to be lured by Luke and Lucie Meier’s clean lines for Jil Sander, arguably the Phoebe Philo of her time. Amid all the noise that fashion now rides on, the Meiers’ quiet tones and gentle shapes are as refreshing as a palate cleanser. Some people think their aesthetic is minimal to a point that it’s almost suited to conventual life. But it is precisely the serenity that the clothes—with quirky details such as extra-wide, inside-out seam allowance and ungainly cuffs for sleeves—project that the more and less restrained Philophiles will adore.

Lemaire

Lemaire SS 2019 G1Photos: Lemaire

Christophe Lemaire and designing partner/wife Sarah-Linh Tran have a chemistry between them that fans and the media alike call poetry. Together, they have created a Lemaire that has more oomph than when Mr Lemaire soldiered on alone under his earlier eponymous label while simultaneously designing for Lacoste. Comparing the duo’s work with Ms Philo’s is probably not fair since Lemaire offers more intriguing details, such as odd pocket placements and alternatives to traditional fastening positions, which, in marketing speak, could be considered value-added. And what value!

Loewe

Loewe SS 2019 G1Photos: Loewe

While Cathy Horyn thought that Loewe “might be getting too relaxed”, I thought that Jonathon Anderson did it, if true, for the right reasons. As counter stroke to the onward march of street fashion, other designers are pushing for tailoring, sometimes extreme tailoring that encases the body too closely and with shoulders that look ready for war. Mr Anderson, on the other hand, has guided Loewe on a different path. There is dressiness and crafting to the clothes, but with ease in mind. I don’t mean “relaxed” though, I mean freedom from constriction, from efflorescence, even the zeitgeist. Individualism doesn’t mean one has to forgo discernment.

Out With The Old, In With The Old

Relieving Celine of its accent above the ‘e’ is minor change compared to dropping Yves from Yves Saint Laurent, and that perhaps was the point: Hedi Slimane was not planning to reinvent the sewing needle at Celine. Instead, he brought unfinished business at YSL along

 

Celine SS2019 P1

We guessed it, and yet we were still bothered, perplexed, annoyed. It’s like the end of a romance. You know it’ll soon be over and yet when he/she is gone, you feel the pain, or anger. Hedi Slimane was not expected to expand the look Phoebe Philo left at Céline (as spelled when she was there) the way his successor at Saint Laurent, Anthony Vaccarello, continued Mr Slimane’s rock-chick-waif-groupie look. Yet, we were still dismayed. Perhaps it was the late hour of the live stream (2.45 am!), but mostly it was the annoyance of having to view his last, by-then-repetitive Saint Laurent collection all over again.

We weren’t sure but was the collection about a true singular vision? Mr Slimane is no visionary and his Celine is regrettably short-sighted. Or, was he pleasing an already sizeable fan base of an increasingly commercial rather than innovative fashion business climate? Surely there are those who have remained with Saint Laurent and those who have moved on. Or is this output of a designer that hitherto is, for the most part, one-note? This seemed like indolence at design level: he could have simply bring along the paper patterns from his previous tenure. He was at Saint Laurent for a mere four years (2012 to 2016). Sure, he not only made a huge impact to the fortunes of the house, but also promulgated the idea that luxury fashion can look like fast fashion, which may mean he did not have enough time to really conquer and rule, although divide he arguably did.

Celine SS 2019 G1

Celine SS 2019 G2

The skinny jeans and pants that he popularised at Dior Homme still bolstering ascendancy over other silhouettes in both women’s and men’s wear (even their office clothes!) today is probably not enough. If he wants to leave a lasting legacy, there has to be a persistent aesthetic singularity to better overrun an over-shared world. When Mr Slimane took over Dior Homme in 2000, fashion editors spoke of how he “idolised” teen-ish, waifish rock musicians or such a look. Eighteen years later, at 50, his kind of idolisation could be construed as bordering on the paedophilic, yet it did not bother Mr Slimane or his supporters, including one Karl Lagerfeld, because fashion is, since the advent of pret-a-porter, about youth. He continued with Celine’s debut men’s wear the skinniness and gangliness that he first mooted 18 years ago, as if times have not changed, as if men’s taste have not altered. He even told the media that Celine men’s clothes are unisex, and women are free to buy, which harks back to the female interest in his Dior Homme. Interestingly, he didn’t say that the women’s clothes are unisex and available to men. Remember Phoebe Philo’s Celine appealed to guys, with Pharrell Williams her number one fan?

With a casting that would have the black community cry out tokenism, Mr Slimane again made sure that not only was the Caucasian face his ideal beauty, body diversity was not part of his universe. In fact, these clothes—their smallness, slimness, and shortness—were really for adolescent boys and girls: the boyishness and girlishness augmented by the skinny ties that men past a certain station in life stay clear of and the little dresses with a very fixed waist that women of a certain age normally avoid. Is Mr Slimane’s Celine the new Gap for the children of the wealthy whose numbers are rising all over the world—for certain in Asia? Or is this fashion’s own Peter Pan syndrome?

Celine SS 2019 G4

Some members of the press have taken to justifying Mr Slimane’s design direction than saying that it is lacking in, say, newness (a bad word in fashion these days), among other things. He has proven himself to be a commercially successful designer, they reasoned. Celine, as most people know, is part of LVMH, one of the most powerful luxury conglomerates in the world, if not the most powerful. So there is fear of commercial reprisal. Or, the denial of invitation to future shows. God forbid that a fashion editor should watch live streams like the rest of us! Mr Slimane was known to take umbrage at members of the media who did not share his view or who were not keen in what he did. The relationship between the press and luxury brands has always been a complicated one, and the love-hate relationship, for a lack of better description, is mostly concealed by love, no matter how dismal or disappointing the output of the brands. Love lost, as some journalists—including prominent ones—have learnt, is not nearly recoverable.

At the end of the Celine Hedi Slimane show, there were audible screams of approval. These can’t be construed as anything but love, which means we shall see more of what may be teetering close to ennui: little dresses—black aplenty—and those, equally compact versions, with flourishes such as flounces; boyfriend jackets that, when worn over said dresses, made the latter look even shorter; biker jackets for serious rock cred; and skinny suits that, any skinnier, would be compression wear. Mr Slimane is not the least vague about where he intends to take Celine under his charge. Just because you were given a name at birth and trained to be a lady does not mean that someone, further down the road, can’t lead you astray, and make you a tramp.

Photos: (top) screen shot/Celine live stream, (catwalk) indigital.tv

Another Elegant Bag To Add To All Those Elegant Bags

Lady Gaga bagged a Céline to help Hedi Slimane hint at what he’ll be doing for the house Phoebe Philo departed from. But, does it really say much?

 

The thing that struck us first was the quick show of gratitude. It was reported that Lady Gaga was “gifted” a new Céline bag, and it wasn’t enough that she flaunted it across Paris in the welcome presence of the paparazzi, she wasted no time in posting the said bag on her IG page with the social media savvy of a KOL, product in full-frontal glory. These days, of course, there’s a name for all this: influencer marketing.

Effective splashiness aside, we have no idea what that kumquat-coloured extra-long and form-fitting singlet has got to do with that ebony handbag (very Halloween colour combo, we’d say), but it is possible that Lady Gaga was trying a chromatic counterpoint to what appeared to be a very black, very dull, very easy-to-ignore bag. Three months down the road, you’ll not remember it existed, except perhaps that Lady Gaga was the first to carry Hedi Slimane’s debut Céline bag.

No name as yet was ascribed to the structured bag. If we weren’t told this was a Céline, we would have thought that this was something from the Belgian bag maker Delvaux or Valextra, the FJB-distributed Italian brand that was doomed to close here. Lady Gaga’s arm candy of a bag looked a tad too conservative for a songstress who dares to challenge the conventional wisdom of what can be worn on the body. If Margaret Thatcher were still alive, she’d probably be very delighted to carry it to 10 Downing Street.

Hedi Slimane’s Céline bag, as Netizens have pointed out, walks the path paved by the Hermès Kelly. Trapezoid in shape and with a flap cover secured by a gold latch-and-lock, it is far more traditional and conservative than anything Mr Slimane’s predecessor introduced for the house. In fact, Mr Slimane is not known for his bag designs even when he chose to adopt Phoebe Philo’s bags-first strategy (which Saint Laurent bag do you remember now?). This isn’t the Trapeze; this isn’t the Luggage Tote, and this is definitely not the Puzzle, so successfully designed by Jonathan Anderson for Loewe. Another bag to have forever? Fashion deserves better.

UPDATE: It’s been reported after our post that Hedi Slimane has redesigned—unsurprisingly—the Céline logo and the name is now spelled without the acute accent on the second ‘e’, as in Celine.

Photos: Lady Gaga/Instagram

Le Sac Plastique Fantastique

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

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

By Ray Zhang

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos: Chin Boh Kay and Jagkrit Suwanmethanon

Plain Flat Clunky

Doc Martens Aggy sandalsDoc Martens ‘Aggy’ sandals with patent leather straps

These are man-repelling shoes, and mothers frown on them too. Still, women are willing to embrace them even after being weaned on towering Blahnik stilettos or dainty Vivier heels. The almost-sudden love for styles that look like orthopaedic footwear, however, is not really a new affair. For as long as there have been Birkenstocks and Teva river sandals, women (and men) have loved being clunkily shod.

Since we have been talking about Kate Moss in the previous post, it is, perhaps, interesting to note that the popularity of Birkenstocks has never really waned since she wore them in one of those iconic pictures shot by Corrine Day. And that was in 1993! Those double-strapped, thick-soled ‘Arizona’ slip-ons with the generously ample toe-box (perfect for wearing to the pedicurist) are still available today, and any time at the Birkenstock boutique in Wheelock Place, you’ll see them being snapped up.

Kate Moss by Corrine Day

Corrine Day’s shot of Kate Moss from the 1990s

While Ms Moss’s clothes received much of the world’s attention, especially those unsightly cut-off denim shorts, her choice of footwear too had far-reaching impact. Indeed, throughout much of the mid-Nineties, Birkenstock sandals (including those from the sister line Papillio) and similar were the deliberate choice of many savvy souls who could make the unattractive attractive, a proposition quite often witnessed at the house of Prada. Challenging conventional notions of what is beautiful does not have to start at the face or the body, it can, as Birkenstock has shown, begin at the feet. Prada, too, had made their share of so-nasty-they’re-cool shoes. As Miuccia Prada told T Mag last year, “The investigation of ugliness is… more interesting than the bourgeois idea of beauty”. That search has never ceased and can still be exemplified in the current line of sporty sandals, some festooned with faux gem stones (to augment its kitsch value?).

Prada sandals black SS 2014Prada’s canvas sandals

Back in the Nineties, the Birkenstock allure came hot on the heels of Doc Martens, a brand closely associated with grunge. Grunge—“a hippied romantic version of punk”, as defined by its proponent Marc Jacobs—may have largely exited the scene when Mr Jacobs was ousted from Perry Ellis in 1993, but the penchant for unfeminine thick-soled shoes was so pervasive that many designers wondered aloud if women will ever know how to wear heels again.

Today, Birkenstock sandals may not be everyone’s cup of bubble tea since the dubious beauty of their designs does not seem to commensurate with the steep prices they charge, but theirs is a lack of appeal that has, through time and one model endorsement after another (lately, Miranda Kerr), changed perceptions. They are able to do this by remaining unattractive, serving as counterpoint to the surfeit of ‘prettiness’ that has, for too long, prevailed in women’s wear. They predate, for foam resin clog lovers (!), similarly girthed and wide-toed, but covered Crocs. These shoes, unfortunately, are not “pretty ugly”, a deliberately oxymoronic compliment paid by Vogue in describing Birkenstock and its kind when the mag sang the shoes’ praises last July. With Crocs, a name that clearly alludes to a certain hideous-looking reptile, they’ve forsaken beauty for the beast.

Celine sandal SS 2014Celine cross-strapped sandal in patent calfskin

Lest we have been giving too much attention to Birkenstock, we should also point to Celine for those only concerned with recent developments. Phoebe Philo first introduced her take on Birkenstocks with those fur-lined ones, seen in the SS 2013 collection in Paris in the fall of 2012 (and now also reinterpreted by Givenchy as seen in the ‘Barka’ sandal). By Christmas that year, fashionistas were spotted on Orchard Road with their Birkenstocks in anticipation of an idea burgeoning into a trend. As we saw with Ms Philo’s first bag—the Paddington for Chloé, it was really a matter of time.

A year after the Celine debut, flat and clunky sandals have yet to retire to an ignored corner of the shoe cabinet. As the popularity of these shoes hit a high point, here at SOTD, we’re partial to the Doc Martens ‘Aggy’ sandals. We like the thick sole, the wide white corridor (with orange stitching!), and, as with a Birkenstock, the long-wearing comfort. Call us boring. We don’t care.

Prada sandals, from SGD1,250, available at Prada, Ion Orchard. Doc Martens Aggy sandals, SGD259, available at the Doc Martens, Wheelock Place. Birkenstock Arizona sandals, SGD99, available at all Birkenstock stores