Two Of A Kind: Jet Set

Before Mediacorp’s Star Awards 2021, there was Karl Lagerfeld’s Chanel 2008, 2012, and 2016

An airport created inside the Grand Palais for Chanel spring/summer 2016. Photo: Chanel

The attendees at the Star Awards 2021 held inside the terminal building of T4. Screen grab: Mediacorp/YouTube

We are an island of many firsts. Mediacorp’s recent Star Awards, curiously staged at Changi Passenger Terminal T4, is one of them. It included a “fashion show” with a short runway on the tarmac, in front of an SIA jet. Another first. And stars strutting their stuff in front of an the aircraft—a first too. For the uninitiated, this must have been the grandest event Mediacorp has ever put together, and with more fashion than an average TV/MeWatch/YouTube viewer will get to see in their lifetime. But the aviation theme is hardly new in the world of fashion/entertainment. Watching the unreasonably long broadcast of six-and-a-half hours, with no real content in the first three, we started to stray and think of the grand sets of the old Chanel shows under Karl Lagerfeld’s watch that included an airport and aircraft. Grand. Monumental. Splendid. Stupendous! The descriptions came easily, but we struggled to find similar for Mediacorp’s dalliance with Changi Airport.

Outside their studios, Mediacorp was rather lost—a 孙公公 (sun gonggong, Eunuch Song!) in 21st century Singapore with a four-terminal, two-runway international airport. T4 is not the most attractive among all of Changi’s dissimilar terminals, and Mediacorp made it even less telegenic. From the “red carpet” on the red asphalt of the driveway to the plush, but utilitarian interiors of the departure gates, the show venues had the ambience of an MRT station during the Circuit Breaker. And to see the stars on both driveway and airport apron in sometimes laughable clothes that contradicted the spirit of red-carpet fashion (Chen Hanwei ridiculously over-fashioned by Q Menswear, for one) was really both highlight and downer of the whole event. It might be alright for us to laugh at ourselves, but thinking that the other regions with similar and far more polished award nights having a national giggle was pain-inducing. So, it was best to think of other memorable events.

Chanel cruise show in 2008 featuring a Chanel private jet from which models appeared. Photo: JKLD

Zoe Tay in Carolina Herrera at Changi T4. Photo: Mediacorp

Chanel’s over-the-top shows are, by now, legendary. No idea is too audacious or too unachievable for the house and their budget, and that includes creating a departure lounge and naming the check in counter Chanel Airlines. In fact, there was even a Chanel Line. Back in 2008, Chanel staged a couture show on an airfield in Santa Monica, Los Angeles. The audience was seated in a hanger and two planes—the Bombardier Challenger 601 (considered “business jets”, hence for private travel)—arrived to allow the models to alight. So spectacular the whole staging was (including a first-class departure gate set up in the hanger, complete with cocktail bars) that guests reportedly gave the show a standing ovation even before the first model, Raquel Zimmermann in an airport-ready navy jumpsuit, could deplane. So outstanding the presentation was that jet-setting attendees, such as Victoria Beckham and Demi Moore were duly impressed. If watching the action outside the aircraft was not quite enough, for the spring/summer 2012 couture collection, Chanel brought the show inside the cabin, with a set that allowed members of the audience aisle or window seat!

The house of Chanel had a long connection to aviation. In 1966, Coco Chanel herself even designed the uniforms—featuring her signature boxy jackets—of the flight attendants of Olympic Airways (now Olympic Airlines) of Greece, which was, at that time, marketed as a luxury airline owned by the shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis (who married the widowed Jackie Onasis). Back then, flying was a stylish affair. And an airport was not a place for T-shirts and shorts and flip-flops as it is now. In bringing back or remembering the romance of travel, Karl Lagerfeld had an airport terminal built in the Grand Palais for the Chanel spring/summer 2016 show. Models appeared as passengers ready to check in at the Chanel Airlines counter, manned by just-as-impossibly-good-looking staff. The flight information display system above (interestingly, not a split-flap) showed the final destinations of Chanel Airlines: Dubai, Seoul, Tokyo, and, amazingly, Singapore! We needed another country to show that we are worthy.

One Colour Each

Tone-on-tone is the chromatic choice among the women attending yesterday’s US presidential inauguration

Topcoat day: (from left) Jil Biden, Kamala Harris, Michelle Obamam, and Jennifer Lopez. Photos: Getty Images

It looks like the women attending the inauguration of the 46th US president Joe Biden received the memo: go in a single colour. And wear a topcoat. That’s certainly the case with the office-holders and high-profile women who attended the Washington DC event. Could they have also been inspired by one of the key trends at the recently concluded Milan Men’s Fashion Week—monotone? Or, is a single colour a lot easier to deal with than coordinating with different colours and prints? National-level political events are probably not the time to take a gamble with fashion. Staying safe in a single colour not considered challenging (or worse, controversial) is the best strategy. Few women have the sartorial guts of Lady gaga, who sang the national anthem in a custom-designed Schiaparelli (by Texan Daniel Roseberry, for those nationalistic fashion watchers!) of fitted, navy, wool, lapel-less jacket and froth of red silk-faille skirt. Oh, there was also that distracting gold dove.

Peace may have been on Lady Gaga’s mind, but unity seemed to be on the other women’s. A single colour is perhaps an unambiguous message about how good it looks to be united. As the president himself said, “without unity, there’s no peace.” And to show unanimous support for America (or to express national pride?), they wore American designers, all largely unknown, at least outside the US. Jill Biden wore Makarian, the four-year-old New York label by Alexandra O’Neill; Kamala Harris wore Christopher John Rogers, the New York-based black designer-du-jour, who founded his eponymous label in 2016; Michele Obama wore Sergio Hudson, another black designer, whose seven-year-old label had a kick start at Bravo channel’s Styled to Rock, the reality fashion TV, executive-produced by Rihanna. Well, except for Jennifer Lopez, who sang in, surprisingly, total Chanel.

Outgoing FLOTUS Melania Trump, too, was in a single colour. But it surprised no one that the one-term Slovenia-born first lady emerged from the White House for the final time in not a shred of designed- or made-in-America. She was in telling, mourning black—the separates comprised a Chanel jacket and a Dolce & Gabbana dress. It was a silhouette that was similar to the Ralph Lauren suit that she wore to her husband’s inauguration four years ago. But now that she no longer needed to show that she supported American labels (not that she really did; the relationship was mutual), it was back to her usual enthusiastic nod for her favourite European brands. Towards the end, as with everything Trump, disconnected she happily stood.

Is Digital Better?

Although concerted, it is hard to say that Haute Couture Fashion Week is a compelling online event

 

HCFW Jul 2020From top left: Alexis Mabille, Naomi Campbell, Azzaro, Guo Pei, Julien Fornié, Iris van Herpen, Margiela (centre)

Naomi Campbell opened Haute Couture Fashion Week (HCFW) from her home, somewhere. Wearing an un-couture black T-shirt with a message “Phenomenally Black”, she showed a political side not many have seen. She urged for change in the fashion business and to draw attention to the lack of representation in fashion. As she said, “the time has come to collectively call the fashion world to task regarding inequality in our work spaces and in our industry.” We did not expect a fashion week to open on such a sombre note, but these are, for many, gloomy days.

Yet, the just-concluded autumn/winter haute couture season chose not to reflect the gloom. Fantasy is still at the crux of couture, the style and attitude of indie pop stars too. Chanel’s Virginie Viard had her mind on the halcyon days of disco, saying in the video-show notes that she was inspired by those times when she went with predecessor Karl Lagerfeld to Les Bains Douches and Le Palace in Paris, both popular discotheques of the ’80s. Was she saying that she was missing the sybaritic night life now that nightclubs are not (yet) opened?

Of the 34 designers listed in the official calendar (strangely, Balmain is not named), none presented an entire collection, although some showed enough to provide an idea of what the season’s looks might be about. Guo Pei, in a video shot in Beijing, provided eleven from a collection called Savannah. Unsurprisingly, images of animals appeared as realistically as possible. The “sustainable couture” brand Aelis showed 15 looks in a weird and wonderful video that featured extraordinary dresses, some modelled by men.

For some brands, it was an opportunity for image building or enhancing. Iris Van Herpen, in a beautiful short film titled Transmotion, showed only one white dress. A single piece too was offered by the Lebanese designer Rabih Kayrouz who made a dress entirely with grosgrain ribbons. Margiela, too, showed one outfit, but you could not make out what it was in the barely-anything-to-discern colour-negative video posted, which could have been shot via a temperature scanner.

The Hedi Slimane domain of alt-music seems to be preferred by couturiers… unconventional vocals and strange beats, not necessarily the design seemed to drive the message of modernity

 

If one was not few enough, Valentino’s presentation takes the cake: The house showed none! Unless a fabric floating can be considered a dress. In fact, it was less a presentation than an invitation—soundtracked by FKA Twigs—to a later event in Rome involving the photographer Knick Night. It was the same with Elie Saab—the house showed their bejewelling and embroidery processes, spliced with scenes of nature that probably inspired the work, but there was no dress.

Songstresses shared the limelight with some of the dresses. There was the French singer Yseult, singing on a floating catwalk at Balmain. At Azzaro, Olivier Theysken’s first couture collection for the house was revealed in what could be a music video, featuring the Belgian musician Sylvie Kreusch. From the five outfits, it is hard to say if this could be the big comeback that has so far alluded him. The Hedi Slimane domain of alt-music seems to be preferred by couturiers. From Mandy Takes a Gun at Christophe Josse to Acid at Chanel, unconventional vocals and strange beats seemed to drive the message of modernity. There was, however, one without music: Adeline André’s soundless slideshow.

Humour and wit are almost entirely missing, except at Viktor & Rolf. Shot against a doorway of an empty room, the video was voiced by the musician Mika, who described the nine-piece capsule as “three wardrobes for three mindsets in these extraordinary times of change.” Of one sweeping, full-length coat, he said, “social-distancing never felt so sweet in this white faux-leather manteau.” The first and only video to bring on a smile.

Given that masks are accessories du jour and many, many more jours to come, only two designers showed them: Rahul Mishra—festooned with butterflies— and Viktor & Rolf, noting that the face mask has “won global acclaim as the smartest new accessory of the season”. There were face shields too. At Xuan, Vietnamese designer Thu Nguyen made them out of flowers; they totally obscured the face, while at Aganovich, entire heads were more completely covered than they would be with a balaclava!

Many couture houses claim they have ways to connect with their clients directly, to inform them of their latest collections. This digital HCFW, therefore, isn’t necessarily for those who have this special relationship. Touted as an event that gives everyone a front row view, it tallies with the notion that fashion is entertainment. But the video presentations are uneven, with some lost in their own artsiness. Sure, couture has always had its share of affected creativity, but how this can lift spirits and convince viewers that couture is good and necessary and to be supported, even if only voyeuristically, we really don’t know.

Screen grabs: respective brands/Youtube

Chanel Chooses Canny

The house of the interlocking Cs shared a video of the latest haute couture collection on its website. Need Chanel be this frugal? 

 

Chanel HC July 2020

Put the models in front of a camera and let her do her own thing. And the rest, post-production will take care of it. For all the money Chanel had spent in the past, creating those amazing sets in the Grand Palais, it is rather shocking that, for its haute couture presentation, the brand has decided to do it easy—really easy… and plain. At one time, Chanel could afford to hire the best set builders and decorators, but now they can’t even engage a scene painter or a CGI designer. Before we’re reminded, they did raise the prices of their handbags.

We understand that times have unimaginably changed and that in the lead up to this season, it was not easy to put together an haute couture collection that would culminate in a show. But if there is “creativity in a time of crisis”, as Vogue said encouragingly on its June/July cover, Chanel is not expressing it, although on its website it declares “limitless creativity and sophistication”. It is regrettable that Chanel has to resort to such puffery.

Unexpectedly, they chose the simplest way, and played it straight, creating a one-and-half-minute video for its haute couture collection that is worse than the cruise. A stretched-out roll of white paper as backdrop (footprints in one frame was included) for models that are no Pat Cleveland (or, to be more Chanel and a tad more current, Cara Delevingne) to execute what might be considered a dance. If this was a Hollywood casting call, not one would get a job.

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It can be assumed that the video is conceived to just show the clothes. What is shown? Nothing much. It’s hard to see when the editing is frenetic and lighting capricious. Astonishing it would be if anyone thought Virginie Viard would surprise. We know the designs would be as expected, so we don’t pitch our hopes high. She’ll likely add more sequins, and she does, she will play with tweeds, and she does, and and she’ll work with ruffles and gathers, and she does—this time in a light-grey, two-piece that could be homage to Princess Diana’s wedding dress.

The thirty-look collection (not all were shown in the video) of nothingness is apparently “marked by a desire for shimmering opulence and sophistication (that word again!)”, according to their self-sell. The culture of couture is, if we understand it correctly, consistent from the first sketch to the last image, everything by default had to be haute. It requires quite a stretch of imagination to place an unimaginative video within the realm of the sophisticated.

Screen grabs: Chanel

Break Free, Shop Now

On the first day of Phase 2, Orchard Road was not as manic as many thought it would be. Conspicuous consumption isn’t so obvious. Yet

 

Phase 2 Day 1 P1Zara welcomes you back at ION Orchard

19 June 2020. It is probably the biggest day of the year, when so many people cooped up at home for the past eleven weeks are let loose, when retailers unable to open because of  Circuit Breaker measures recoup lost sales of the past two months, when the thirsty—and not—are able to drink all the bubble milk tea in the world. This is not only going to make the news this evening, it’ll be the stuff to delight historians. A prelude to how fashion will resurge, how retail will revive, how our economy will recover. Cautiously, we joined happy shoppers in Orchard Road to observe the expected and expectant crowd, to witness merchandise fly off the shelves, to see history in the making.

The MRT train ride was unexpectedly quiet until two young women, getting off at Orchard station, yelped: “At last!” The palpable enthusiasm did not, surprisingly, reflect the relative calm on the platform. There weren’t that many people. It was half past eleven and at this relatively early hour of the retail day, there was no beating-the-crowd, no I-can’t-keep-the-mask-on-anymore, and no I-don’t-care-if-I’m-not-one-metre-apart. There was no rush exiting the ION Orchard side of the station, nor entering the mall. SafeEntry screening held up the line moving in a little, but it was, surprisingly, not corrupted by impatience and hustle. Simply the calm before the storm?

Phase 2 Day 1 P2Still-quiet ION Orchard at noon

Once inside ION Orchard—the mall that had a head start on publicity the moment CNA told us before Phase 2 struck “what to expect when ION reopens”—the mood was even more restrained. Perhaps what the 87,490-square-metre complex did not expect was the surprising trickle of shoppers, at least before one in the afternoon. The place was not teeming. Most of the shops had opened by now, but short lines were seen outside only four stores: Daiso, Muji, Sephora, and Zara. There was no queue at Louis Vuitton. If you looked inside, there were more sales people than shoppers. We were not sure if this had anything to do with LV requesting customers to “schedule an appointment”, as stated on their website. Next door at Dior, a set of stanchion and belt was set up beside the entrance, but no one was behind them. Inside, one teenager was trying on sneakers. Directly across, Gucci’s stanchion and rope also had no company while behind the windows, we could make out less than a handful of customers.

An hour later, it seemed to us that the anticipated “revenge shopping” and the attendant cause, “pent-up demand”, were much muted, even if they materialised. Do people still buy with a vengeance? We saw no one laden with shopping bags, except a dressed-alike couple with massive ones containing what appeared to be polypropylene storage cases. The other one that caught our eye was a shopping bag as fashion statement—the Virgil Abloh X Ikea brown carrier emblazoned with the word “sculpture” and, yes, flanked by inverted commas. Has online shopping really diminished the lure of what a mall can offer? Has it prevailed? A woman we had seen earlier looking at the LV window was leaving ION Orchard at the same time we ‘checked out’. Curiosity got a better of us: “Didn’t buy anything?” She was cheerful: “No, lah. I get (sic) everything online now. Just wanted to get out of the house.”

20-06-19-22-29-11-533_decoLouis Vuitton at ION Orchard, with no queue outside

The queue-less store fronts extended to Takashimaya Shopping Centre too. A short while ago, one SOTD follower WhatsApped us a photo of the main concourse, showing a long queue to get into Takashimaya Department Store, where we later learned, Versace was causing considerable excitement with 50% discounts on their merchandise. When we got here, the queue was not evident. By the end of our excursion, we observed that if there were lines getting into malls, they were there due to the requisite SafeEntry—scanning of QR codes or ICs took time, and some shoppers were more dexterous than others. A few here were heard grumbling that they had already scanned upon entering Taka (the mall), and it was “wasting time” to scan again going into Taka (the store), probably unaware that both are not technically the same place.

When we arrived via the entrance between LV and Chanel, the line visible was composed of shoppers getting into the mall. There were three people outside Chanel going through the new-normal, triage-like, pre-entry procedures (we saw three members of the staff involved in this operation). Opposite, at LV, there were five waiting. It is debatable if a trio or a quintet is a line, but one audible delight—“Wah, no queue, leh”—outside Chanel was indication that the relative breeze in getting in was an unusual but welcome sight. One mother told her daughter, “quick, take picture.” Past these two sentinel-like stores to this entry point of the mall, fewer queues were seen. There was none at Celine, Dior, and Fendi. Most surprising was the longest line at that time: the one outside Tiffany. Jewellery was missed. Either that or the gifting season has arrived.

Phase 2 Day 1 pCIt was clear enough of people outside Chanel at Takashimaya SC for posed pictures

Further down what Orchard Road Business Association (ORBA) calls “a great street”, the crowd seemed to be gravitating towards 313@ Somerset. Before we got there, we were surprised to see an impressive line outside Victoria’s Secret at Mandarin Gallery. Whatever it was they had inside, it was clearly not undisclosed. In contrast, Surrender in the building across, identified only by its number—268, saw no one awaiting to be let in. Its neighbour Off-White, too, had no shoppers lined up. Similarly, the H&M flagship store opposite of Victoria’s Secret, looked like it was still closed to business. There was no line to be seen and the inside looked strangely dark. With only one glass door ajar, it was easy to think they were only just opening or exercising some stringent checks. From here, looking towards the side entrance of 313@Somerset, it was within sight that getting into the mall would require getting in line.

Past the screening, it wasn’t as bustling as what the outside suggested. The busiest spot, unsurprisingly, was at a bubble tea shop—Chicha San Chen on level three, where the scene was reminiscent of those before 21 April, when all bubble tea shops were disallowed to operate during the rest of the duration of the Circuit Breaker. A queue was seen at Zara, as it was at their stores in ION Orchard and Takashimaya SC. A staff explained that it was not busier than usual, but that they were controlling the number of shoppers in the store. Surprisingly no line was spotted outside Limited Edt and its sister L.E. Underground (it was empty here when we past it at around three). In fact, earlier at JD Sports in ION Orchard, it was relatively quiet too. Similarly, there were few shoppers at AW Lab in Wisma Atria. Ditto for Nike in Paragon.

Phase 2 Day 1 pIGCIn Good Company not ready to receive shoppers

Over at Orchard Central, Uniqlo was, as they announced yesterday, closed. All their stores were actually lit, and the staff was clearly busy at work. No disinfecting activity was seen, but there was the stocking of merchandise and acceptance of delivery. At ION Orchard earlier, one woman was clearly disappointed. “why liddad,” she exclaimed, and went to a gap in the drawn and shut folding glass doors and asked the staff, who was organising clothes on a shelf, why wasn’t the store opened. We could not hear what the guy said. She walked away, muttering “waste my time.”

If a big Japanese chain store such as Uniqlo wasn’t ready to open, it was not surprising that local stores weren’t too. In Good Company’s flagship at ION Orchard was not opened. So was Love, Bonito at 313@Somerset. Even the benches in front of the store—usually husband and boyfriend central—were unoccupied. It is true people are “dying to get out”, but not necessarily to shop. For many out this afternoon, by now on the verge of enough of a crowd to make personal space a rare commodity, the Circuit Breaker is over. That isn’t quite accurate since we are in Phase 2, without an official declaration that all forms of restrictions are lifted. As we left Orchard Gateway to go into the MRT station, a stern security staff asked for our phones. She wanted to see if we had ‘checked out’.

Phase 2 Day 1 pHBThe direction of traffic is clearly marked out at all Hugo Boss stores

This ‘checking in’ and ‘checking out’, required by SafeEntry , the “national digital check-in system”, was not adopted consistently across all the malls we visited earlier. While checking in is a must and is ensured by security personnel, checking out is not regulated. Only at Orchard Gateway were we halted and asked for proof of having done so. While this requirement is acceptable at designated entry and exit points of malls, it was not implemented in a manner as to speed up, in particular, entry. The QR codes were placed or erected, in most cases, all over the place. During what for most was the first visit after the Circuit Breaker, many did not instinctively know where to look. At 313@Orchard, posters bearing the QR code were plastered onto the glass door of the entrance, along which was also where the queue had formed. Enthusiastic visitors stretched out their hands so that their smartphones were able to capture the matrix barcode, all the while their forearms were in front of your face.

For those of us who still consider the experience known as shopping to be fun, the need to check in and out at every single store after first entering the mall quickly diminishes the enjoyment. Frankly, it bordered on the annoying. And was disruptive to the rhythm of what many appeared to do—leisurely shopping. For that reason, we did not enter any store (we were, after all, observing). But for those who did, not every outlet offered the semblance of a nice, purchase-in-hand time. A few clothing stores reportedly had plastic sheets covering their merchandise, and disallowed the trying on of garments. The common reaction: isn’t see-no-touch just window shopping? This normal we were seeing will soon be new no more.

Updated: 20 June 2020, 10:35

Photos: Chin Boh Kay

Chanel’s Prelude To Fashion Shows Of The Future

In a film that showcased the house’s latest cruise collection, the bouclé jackets had their close-ups in hi-res glory. Was it fun to watch?

 

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To be sure, this is not a fashion show. It isn’t a live stream. This is a catalogue on film. It is stagey; it is studied; it is boring.

At seven-odd minutes long, it felt like one over-stretched commercial conceived without a storyboard. This could have been shot in a movie studio. Even the cloudless blue sky in parts looked fake. The sunset looks simulated.

Although the setting was the seaside, it was a seaside in lockdown. Just models and sea. There was no white-sand beach. It was the water’s edge with ominous grey pebbles. Even the water looked eerily still. Up on the terrace of, presumably, a hotel, the models hung around as if waiting backstage of an actual runway show.

They looked bored out of their wits. With whatever action they tried, bonkers came to mind. Sometimes they glared at the camera, sometimes they looked vacuous. Sometimes their eyes asked, why are you making me do this?

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The models barely looked like that had makeup on. The hair didn’t seem styled. Or, makeup and hair looked like the result of a Zoom tutorial. The clothes didn’t appear styled either. They could have been worn according to original sketches.

The whole production was not a distraction from difficult times. Not a moment to dream. This was a reminder of what fashion presentation has been under lockdown. This was social-distancing in Chanel.

Their planned showing in Capri was cancelled. Still, the Méditerranée theme remained. The sea may be evocative of the Mediterranean, but the clothes not so much. Roman without the holiday.

To be sure, these are clothes for cruise—a word, a thought, a mode of travel currently fraught with dread. These are going somewhere threads. They are predictable; they are contrived; they are boring.

Update (9 June, 10:25): According to news report emerging, the film was shot in a studio.

Screen grabs: Chanel

Bags: Louis Vuitton Vs Chanel

Which is at top of the food chain?

 

LV vs Chanel

A week or so ago, we were brought to the attention of the post of a disgruntled, anonymous NUS student on the Facebook page, NUSWhispers*. In that 214-word “confession”, as the page admin calls the entries, the dismayed complainant said that “LV is for poor people who want to look rich.” How she came to that conclusion isn’t clear. But her thought on Louis Vuitton was spurred from not receiving the brand she wanted: Chanel.

As her straightforward telling went, “Recently my boyfriend bought me a Louis Vuitton wallet which costs around $700 for my birthday. When I saw the wallet, I felt really upset and disappointed. Because earlier this year, my sister’s bf got her a Chanel wallet which costs at least $1000 for her birthday. Chanel is so much nicer than LV.” Price, the world noted, equals nice.

That was not the only comparison she made, but we won’t explore them as they aren’t related to luxury bags/wallets, and will detract from the main thrust of this post (you can read about her grievance here). She concluded with clearly self-absorbed unhappiness: “Sometimes I really feel like a loser.” It, naturally, garnered no sympathy, certainly not from the commentators on NUSWhispers.  It did, however, make us wonder: which is indeed more desirable—Louis Vuitton or Chanel?

There is, surprisingly, no definitive ranking of luxury handbag brands. According to one price-based list offered by the luxury shopping service The Luxe Link, Chanel ranks third, after Hermès and Delvaux. LV is fifth. In a listicle posted by the website Who What Wear on the “the 10 most popular designer bags ever” (and shared by Yahoo News in March), Chanel ranks 2nd (for quilted bags) and Louis Vuitton, 3rd (for the Alma). First goes to Hermès (for the Birkin).

While luxury-brand snobbery is rarely discussed among shoppers of expensive bags, it does exist

 

In an unscientific, un-representational, and unorthodox poll that we recently conducted among (admittedly small number of ) 12 fashion folks, we asked our interviewees one very simple question: “If you were to buy a handbag, LV or Chanel?” The answers were almost unanimous. Eleven chose Chanel, while one insisted on selecting Hermès. On why LV repeatedly ranks behind Chanel, one observer told us, ”LV is Coach for those with just enough money”. Still, “not for poor people who want to look rich.”

Once, as we walked past a line outside Chanel at Takashimaya Shopping Centre, we overheard a young woman tell her friend, while looking across at the LV store, “I’d rather die than queue opposite.” While luxury-brand snobbery is rarely discussed among shoppers of expensive bags, it does exist. Hermès fans know, for example, that you don’t buy a Birkin off the shelf (assuming you could); you join a wait list.

A fashion insider we spoke to noted that, despite the recent price hikes, many tai-tais who carry luxury handbags do prefer Chanel. LV is for “smallish bags”. Apparently some of them have recently been disappointed with LV for selling them what was touted as a limited edition: the S$2,570 “hybrid cross-body” Multi Pochette Accessoires. “But strange thing is,” the puzzled person continued, “that every lady said it was limited, and yet all of them have it!”

20-06-03-02-11-07-258_decoJamie Chua showing the bags that she “regretted buying”. Screen grab: Jamie Chua/YouTube

Socialite Jamie Chua, who bought her first Chanel—the 2.55—when she was 17, could be a reliable person to shed some light on luxury bag ranking. We turned to her Youtube channel for guidance. In one of her videos that has chalked up an impressive 1.5 million views, she listed five bags that she “regretted buying”, and all of them are from Chanel: a gold mini ‘Boy’, a two-tone Lucite evening ‘Watch’ bag, a ‘Belt Buckle’ minaudière (small, decorative handbag), a pink (“that Jamie loves”) ‘Round as Earth’ patent leather bag, and a La Pausa ‘Life Buoy’ bag.

And the five she likes most? “I really feel kind of bad,” she said. “All my favourites are Hermes.” But that’s hardly surprisingly when you consider the 200 over Hermès bags she has collected—believed to be the largest in the world by a single individual—and displays in a famous, viewed-by-many, 700 sq ft, walk-in wardrobe. Although most of what she wished she hadn’t bought were deemed impractical due to their smallness, she was happy with one S$22,000 Chanel ‘Rocket Ship’ bag, as it “value-adds to the beauty of this closet”. Clearly there are women who don’t wait for their boyfriends to buy them bags, and be disappointed.

*Despite the page title, what’s posted in NUSWhispers is not even remotely academic or shared in hush tones. From acute friendlessness to jilted hearts to “really obsessed with boobs” to “girls need to improve their online dating app conversation starter skills”, one can’t escape the rather juvenile quality of the “confessions”, many so inane, they’re hard to read for longer than it takes to close a double-C clasp. There is chatter that the post we have been discussing here is just the person trolling. Even so, it could be troll mimicking life.

Illustration: Just So

 

Chanel Challenged

Not in anyone’s wildest dreams could this be imagined of the house associated with tweeds and camellias, and refinement

 

Chanel Soho 2Chanel in Soho, New York, on Sunday night. Screen grab: Bedford+Bowery/Twitter  

Chanel, for many, is a temple of high fashion and the unattainable, and a brand with probably the most “house codes” that not only are the symbols of exclusivity and badges of honour, but also the tangibles with which the label can leverage to protect and grow its wealth. Regardless of what Chanel means to individuals, it is the epitome of supreme elegance, and its stores are where many women go through the shopping rites of passage that signify financial freedom and adulthood, leading to the clubby feeling that one has arrived. It is, therefore, shocking to see images and video footage of the Chanel Spring Street store in Soho, New York, smashed and looted.

According to press reports, “looters seized Soho” (a shopping district in Manhattan known for its expensive restaurants and luxury stores) on Sunday night, shortly after 11pm. At Chanel, some, having laid their hands on the merchandise, “distributed the goods to groups” to the soundtrack of raging sirens. It isn’t clear why the store’s security features were so easily compromised and why there was no police presence. In one news broadcast by News 12 Brooklyn, the mostly male perpetrators, hooded and masked, were seen entering and leaving the store as if it was a normal day’s activity, all in the presence of seemingly unconcerned onlookers. The reporter noted “looters breaking windows and running out with bags of stuff.”

Chanel SohoChanel in Soho yesterday morning. Photo: Today News Post

The next day, Soho is, according to a Tweet by New Yorker Kevin Rincon, “just block after block of graffiti, broken glass and boarded up shops”. The visual of Chanel ransacked—even when boarded up—is going to be hard to forget. While it’s not Rue Cambon (heaven forbid there should ever come such a day), a Chanel store so terribly wrecked is, as one marketing exec said to us, “like the classic flap bag hurled into an incinerator”. More than that, it boggles the mind because, as the actions were played out online for all the world to see, other than greed and entitlement, there is no comprehensible reason for the attackers to target usually apolitical fashion businesses.

It has been said recently that “there is never a right way to protest”. Is that ditto for the wrong way too? Does freedom in the American context, including freedom to live and freedom from police brutality, include the freedom to exercise free-for-all? Can it be said with certainty that when protesting one can take anything one pleases, even by breaking in, in the exact same way that the police in Minneapolis can take the lives of men? Does that mean that the homeless who protest can just walk into anyone’s home and stake it as his own? Isn’t violence in all its guises still violence?

Chanel SS 2015The protest-march-as-finale at Chanel spring/summer 2015. Photo: Getty Images

There is, in all this destruction, a cruel irony. Back in September of 2014, the late Karl Lagerfeld showed the Chanel spring/summer 2015 collection with a finale that mimicks a protest—in this case, to further feminism. The Chanel-clad paid-models-as-protestors, led by Cara Delevingne wielding a megaphone, chanted for freedom down the street-scene runway, complete with crowd-control barriers. Despite the authenticity, it isn’t clear how seriously the guests at the show took to the staged protest, but some were questioning Mr Lagerfeld seriousness since the designer was known to fan off concerns, such as that over size-zero models by suggesting that there were instigated by “fat mommies with bags of crisps”.

Chanel’s single-show urging for change and, as seen on the placards, freedom and rights, did not lead to further actionable plans. Looking back, we wonder if Mr Lagerfeld, regardless of the show’s tinge of frivolity (“Tweed is better than Tweet”!), was prophetic. Did he know that protests will be characteristic of the next decade’s social/political strife? That his model demonstrators would pave the way for others across the Atlantic in their quest for justice and equality? One thing’s different and vivid: at his show, the protestors had no need to loot a Chanel store.

Your Fave Bags Cost More Even Before The Pandemic Ends

At Chanel, the only way is up

 

Chanel Classic handbagChanel Classic—the 11.12— handbag created by Karl Lagerfeld in 1983 reinterpreted the 2.55 designed by Coco Chanel in 1955, hence the name. Illustration: Just So

The house of Chanel wasted no time. The moment lockdown eases in Europe and North Asia, prices of their bags and kindred leather goods went up. What they now charge are significantly high enough that in Seoul and Shanghai (and other Chinese cities) shoppers queue at the Chanel stores to cop their favourite bags before the new prices set in. So long the queues have been in Seoul that city officials are reportedly now pondering if they should ask Chanel to close. It is amazing that despite what Seoul (or South Korea) went through, there are those who could return to the consumptive life prior to lockdown, as if their present world is reset to that time. While it is widely said that life will not be the same before the pandemic ends, for some, it’s back-to-before with such haste and vigor. Along this social emancipation, Chanel resumed operations with a swift price hike, while other fashion businesses are waking up from a nightmare, struggling with managing inventories, and pondering closure.

The rush to buy seen in Seoul is understandable. This is as much revenge as desperate spending. COVID-19 has allowed us to realise that ‘essentials’ are different things to different people. Oftentimes they have nothing to do with staples and sustenance. Chanel knows that too. Their bags, more expensive than a fridge or a PC, are as essential now as before, perhaps even more—the apparent result of pent-up demand and aching despair. Sales, therefore, will likely be bloated than dented. Yet, making them dearer seems like a good strategy, never mind that Chanel will continue to sell the same quilted bags for many years to come. The 2.55 and its later reincarnation the 11.22 (also called the “Classic”, re-imagined by Karl Lagerfeld in 1983, the first year of his tenure), for examples, wouldn’t go out of fashion and will continue to sell in the multitude for decades to come. Regardless, a price increase is deemed necessary as if the cash cows shall be no more, as if two months of store closures will bring the great house down.

Chanel @ Taka Apr 2020Chanel at Takashimaya Shopping Centre shortly before the Circuit Breaker

According to Chanel, as quoted in the press, “The price adjustments only regard Chanel’s iconic handbags, 11.12 and 2.55, as well as Boy, Gabrielle, Chanel 19 bags, and certain small leather goods.” And the purpose of the exercise? “These adjustments are made while ensuring that we avoid excessive price differentials between countries, in line with our commitments regarding price harmonization.” We are not in the luxury business, so we won’t know with certainty if that justification makes sense. But the timing of these “adjustments” seems add odds with the prevalent consumer mood. It sounds insensitive and opportunistic, more so when Chanel’s brand value this year, according to the annual ranking BrandZ Top 50 France, is worth USD43 billion, below number one Louis Vuitton’s USD$53.4 billion. For many average (if that’s not belittling) Chanel customer, it’s quite unfathomable that Chanel, with USD11.12 billion worth of sales in 2018, can’t stomach two months of no sale and attendant costs without resorting to making their popular products more expensive. Or is that naive?

“Harmonizing” of prices is, of course, not new. Chanel, proud of its practice and considers itself a transparent pioneer in this area, typically adjust their prices bi-annually to, according to the brand, “avoid excessive price differentials between countries”. We do not know of the percentages of past adjustments, but the current highest of 17% (in Euros) is described by some observers as “audacious”. Chanel, of course, can afford not to be cautious or modest. They are a luxury business. However, years before earnings were first announced in 2018, it was known that the privately-owned company made “subtle adjustments that were reflected on the price tags, not announced like that”, as an industry veteran told us. Welcome, we hear many say, to the school of Apple retail.

Chanel @ Taka 2 Apr 2020Despite the long queue outside Chanel, it’s always relatively calm inside—more conducive for bag buying regardless the price

No matter how the news broke, the surprise and dismay to many were palpable online. The common refrain, as uttered by an English YouTuber known for her unboxing videos, is that it “feels like the most insensitive time to be whacking your prices up, particularly by such a large amount.” What’s intriguing is that it’s not as if Chanel was not able to anticipate the quick return to form. There was already indication that their bag business was probably not going to be affected severely. It would bounce back. On 6 April, the day before our city went into lockdown that is euphemistically called Circuit Breaker, a snaking line was seen outside the Chanel store at Takashimaya Shopping Centre. The demand then was Circuit Breaker-defying and it’s not unreasonable to assume Chanel wouldn’t lose its brand value and ranking when social distancing measures are eased or lifted. Price hikes of anything on any day is hardly welcome news. Chanel’s prices, like those of its competitors, are expected to climb, but during an inadequately mitigated pandemic, with the very real threat of a second wave of infection, the increases smack of corporate indifference.

Diehard fans and those referred to as “elite customers” (presumably with direct access to a VIP room than the need to join a queue) will probably take the new prices in their stride, but others are miffed. It is understandable why people are. As one designer told SOTD, “it will only impact those who save their lunch money to buy the bags. The rich cannot be bothered, I’m sure.” The British YouTuber, too, said, “There’s so much uncertainty: People might have lost their jobs, people are not on full pay, people who are self-employed in the UK not getting any help… of all the times to put your prices up, now is not it.” It is doubtful that in deciding to raise their prices, Chanel had considered the jobless, those who suffered pay cuts, or the income-insecure part-timers. Which stirs the speculation that the brand is trying to weed out a particular group of queue-willing fans. If you have to worry about keeping your job or buying your next meal, Chanel is really another planet.

Photos: Zhao Xiangji

The Dragon Does Auntie

Is looking like your mother’s sister the next big thing for guys?

 

00-high-fashion-fib-pins-men-wearing-brooches-gq-february-2020

By Ray Zhang

Amid news that Big Bang has renewed their contract with YG Entertainment, I came across, for the second time, this photo of the band’s lead singer G Dragon. I look at his make-up and get-up, and I found myself wondering why.

Of late, in fact, I have been seeing some strange looks adopted by my fellow men. At first it was the handbags. These clearly refute the prefix that once made fashionable carryalls acceptable for guys to be seen with: man. From the Hermes Roulis to the Loewe Heel to the Jacquemus Le Petit Chiquito to the Dior Saddle, I’ve seen them strapped on male shoulders and bobbing on male hips. Sure, Dior now has saddle bags for men and, prior, Fendi has made masculine the Baguette, but these sacs can’t escape their handbag genesis.

Then came the clothes. I am not referring to unisex garb with strong feminine vibes or even skirts or fake skirts—skorts. These days, it appears that men are not only raiding their sisters’ closet, or their wives’ (which the observant could tell is so last decade—but early adopters do go back to the ’80s, such as Stanley Zbornak, Dorothy’s former husband in the Golden Girls), but also helping themselves to a wealthy aunt’s expensive, barely-visited  wardrobe.

When I came across this photo last month of G Dragon expressing his fashionable self, I thought the poor guy was suffering from some post-army traumatic-stress condition (he completed his national service last October). Then I saw it again recently, and I sensed he’s communicating something. He was at the Chanel couture show in late January, and was photographed wearing Chanel in a way old ladies of means in the ’70s might have. Call my thinking outmoded—and this is where I get incendiary—but this look is frumpy. I’m unsure of the silhouette too. Could you have guessed that a (presumably) trained soldier inhabited these matronly clothes?

G Dragon in Chanel is, of course, no longer news. By now a young man in clothes once associated with women of a certain age is as much a dichotomy as guys in make-up. Apparently joining all that is looking dowdy. Back in 2017, Big Bang’s lead singer was a model for the Gabrielle, a bag that was designed to be a ‘classic’ and breathed, in all honesty, moneyed matriarch. But I didn’t think he’d go this far. I can’t decide if this was a mimic of the entrants of Golden Age Talentime (黄金年华之斗歌竞艺) or just an embodiment of Chanel’s materteral aplomb in the springtime of life.

Photo: Getty Images

Two OF A Kind: These Fancy Crosses

Would Karl Lagerfeld be this inspired by Christian Lacroix?

 

Two crosses

One appeared in 1988, the other, two days ago. Thirty years apart and the crosses aren’t that different, but the designers behind them are.

The cross on the left, worn by Israeli model Michaela Bercu, is attributed to Christian Lacroix, the designer whose very surname means ‘the cross’. The gem-studded cross, which is neither a Latin cross (four equal arms) or a Greek cross (base stem longer than three upper arms), on a collarless couture jacket came to prominence when, in 1988, a young Anna Wintour chose the above left photograph for her first cover of Vogue, which till this day is considered “iconic” as the image saw the poles-apart pairing of a couture top with what would have been sacrilegious then: denim jeans. To make it worse (or controversial, at least in 1988), it was a not-quite-seemly make of jeans—Guess.

Mr Lacroix was, by then, a couture star. A year earlier, The New York Times wrote, “People who follow fashion are saying…  Lacroix has come out of the Paris couture, that rarified old world of made-to-order clothes for super rich women, but they are certain his ideas will be copied everywhere. They contend his influence will be evident soon in the stores, no later than this winter, when millions of women will begin to dress his way: in clothes that are unabashedly glamorous and theatrical.” Less than 12 months later, the Vogue cover, pedestrian as it looked, confirmed that.

And now, some three decades after, we’re led to believe, firstly, that women still want to “dress his way”. Last September, there was the surprise collaboration of Christian Lacroix, the man himself, and Dries Van Noten for spring/summer 2020 shown during PFW. It won rave reviews. Still, no one thought of a Lacroix revival. Then in January this year, British label Rixo—unmistakably flashy and unapologetically vintage—paired with the house to release a capsule collection. And there’s also Dutch brand Blanche’s autumn/winter 2020 collection that would also see a capsule with Christian Lacroix. It isn’t known if these are sanctioned by Mr Lacroix as the house that bears his name is now in the possession of the Falic Group, conglomerate behind the duty-free chain Duty Free Americas (after original owners LVMH sold the company to them in 2005), and is helmed by a different creative director. And, secondly, that his ideas still beg to be “copied”. That’s the cross on the right.

042-christian-lacroix-fall-1988-couture-CN10053654-anne-rohartThe original jacket seen on model Anne Rohart during Christian Lacroix’s autumn/winter 1988 show. Photo: Condé Nast Archive

That cross, worn by French model Othilia Simon, was seen at Chanel’s autumn/winter 2020 show two days ago. Its “iconic” status, however, isn’t certain, if at all possible. Designer Virginie Viard has created an intarsia-knit cross, with the suggestions of gem stones as seen in Mr Lacroix’s, on a jumper. Although not quite a facsimile, the idea is there, and so obvious that it requires no scratching of the head to join the dots. Ms Viard was 26 and was already working for Chanel in the embroidery unit when that cross appeared on the Vogue cover. She would have seen it and remembered it. But presently, she may have thought that others—Chanel’s new-gen customers for whom those pants with press studs that can be unfastened to show limbs are probably designed for—won’t recall or even know.

Chanel was called out for “copying” before. In 2015, knitwear designer Mati Ventrillon, a French-Venezuelan who is based in the Scottish island of Fair Isle, with a grand population of 55, brought the world’s attention to one of the sweaters that look uncannily like hers, seen in Chanel’s Métier D’art collection that was staged in Rome earlier. Chanel did not hesitate with an apology, and concurrently credited Ms Venteillon. Fair Isle is far off the beaten track. It is possible the house didn’t think their indiscretion would be linked back there. Or, presently, to a non-practising couturier. The world is small these days. And is shown to be even smaller when it is instantaneous to see Ms Viard’s source of inspiration. In fashion, time can make us remember more than forget.

This episode is amazing to us, not only because we do not expect such directness and lack of disguise, but also the audacity. The house of Lacroix closed in 2009. It had never, in 22 years of business, turned a profit. LVMH, which backed it since 1987, was reported to have “suffered heavy losses” at the time of its sale to the Falic Group. Although a suffering LVMH is hard to imagine, their pull-out of Mr Lacroix’s business surprised many at that time. The business of high fashion was believed to be on shaky ground until what was thought to be the arrival of a saviour, the house of Lacroix. It is not certain if this Chanel cross is homage to Christian Lacroix or a salute to Anna Wintour, who put the jacket on that Vogue cover and who is also a long-time customer of Chanel. Or merely “translated”, as Hamish Bowles, in his review, tried to kid. Whatever the case, it’s best to resist playing into the translation justification or, worse, the imitation-is-flattery baloney. An idea copied is an idea not one’s own.

Main photos: (left) Vogue/Conde Nast and (right) Alessandro Lucioni/gorunway.com