Hungry For Luxury

Chanel has refused to sell to Russians overseas, who intend to use their merchandise back on home soil. Despite the ban, there are Russians who are determined to buy their fave bags, failing which, they take to social media to denounce the perceived Russophobia

Is it true that Chanel is presently Russophobic, as charged by some Russians online, after they failed to secure their desired items, even when abroad? According to media reports, Chanel stores across the world have stopped selling to Russians who reside in their native land (the French brand has, like their counterparts, stopped operating in cities such as Moscow). Chanel has stated that they are merely acting in accordance with EU sanctions that forbid the export of luxury goods to Russia costing more than €300 (or about S$445), as well as the sale of these goods to shoppers who intend to use them there. Bloomberg quoted a Chanel spokesperson: “We have rolled out a process to ask clients for whom we do not know the main residency to confirm that the items they are purchasing will not be used in Russia.”

Unhappiness over the drastic Chanel move was expressed swiftly on social media. Russian influencers were the first to condemn the purchase ban, as if it they were prohibited from buying sugar. One of them, Liza Litvin, who was shopping in Dubai, was quoted in many news reports to have posted, “I went to a Chanel boutique in the Mall of the Emirates. They didn’t sell me the bag because (attention!) I am from Russia!!!” The outrage was expressed by wealthy Russian fans of Chanel not only in words. Some went even further. Marina Ermoshkina, actress/TV presenter/influencer, was reported to have cut up her Chanels in disgust, and posted a video of the destruction, saying “If owning Chanel means selling my Motherland, then I don’t need Chanel.” It is not known if Chanel has calculated the cost of incurring the wrath of Russian influencers.

Customer browsing at the Chanel store in Takashimaya Shopping Centre

The Russians who were able to score Chanel merchandise were reportedly told to put their signature to an agreement that they will not use—or wear—their new purchases in Russia. Ms Litvin confirmed this by sharing on social media that Chanel “has a new order that they only sell after I sign a piece of paper saying that I won’t wear this bag in Russia.” The company has admitted to the press that “a process” is in place to ensure that what they sell do not cross into Russia. Many Russians call this need for signed assurance before a transaction can be completed “humiliating” and a slap to the staggering amounts they had been spending in Chanel stores.

It is remarkable that Chanel remains so desirable that some Russian women are willing to face painful loss of pride to buy something from the house. Despite repeated price increases globally in the past two years and, now, this ban, these Chanel measures have not put a damper on Russian enthusiasm for Chanel, or the die-die-must-have stance that many women here would relate to. This surprised many observers: “Chanel is not that exclusive to be this desirable”. Wherever you go, from neighborhood shopping centres to Orchard Road malls, you’d see someone carrying (rather than wearing) something with the familiar double Cs, they noted.

Curious to know if the ban is extended to these parts (or SEA), we asked a member of the three-person staff manning the queue outside the newly refurbished Chanel store in Takashimaya Shopping Centre. She said she wasn’t aware and would have to ask her manager. Before she disappeared inside, we wanted to know as well if a Singaporean buying for another Singaporean residing in Russia is allowed. In less than a minute, she was back. Cheerily she said, “All are welcome.” We expressed surprise. And she repeated, “All are welcome. Everyone can buy.” Two women, who had just scanned the QR code on a tablet held by another staffer to receive a queue number, heard our query. One of them asked the other, “Got ban, meh?”

Illustrations: Just So

All That Tweed

What is Chanel channeling?

A fashion collection may be conceived six months or so earlier, but at the time of its showing, it is hard not to put it in the context of what is happening around us. When the general mood reflects a troubled world, where, in one corner, a war rages, however upbeat the clothes are, they would just look unconvincingly optimistic. Chanel’s autumn/winter 2022 collection (not the models) tries to project a certain joie, but it falls flat under the weight of one of its own ‘codes’: the tweed. So enamoured with this fabric Virginie Viard is that the entire show venue—the temporary exhibition hall Grand Palais Éphémère in the greenspace Champ de Mars—is done up in tweed. Unsurprisingly, the collection is an unsubtle, effort-lite homage to this cloth that was once associated with menswear until Coco Chanel rattled the status quo in the mid-1920s.

The house calls it “a luminous tribute to the landscape of the River Tweed so dear to Gabrielle Chanel”. A natural stream, River Tweed (also Tweed Water)— however beloved to Coco—is not, in fact, directly connected to the history of the woolen fabric. As the story goes, it was an accidental name. In 1826, in the town of Hawick, a label on a shipment of the wool to London read “tweel”—the word the Scots used for twill (one of the weaves of the fabric; the other plain). It was misread and confused with the name of Scotland’s famed river, and the moniker stuck. Tweed, according to some lexicographers, is also an old Brittonic word meaning “border”, which makes sense as the river flows through the Anglo-Scottish border, also known as the Borders region.

Any mention of ‘border’ these days, unfortunately connects us to territorial security (or insecurity?) and conflict—in particular, the one now seen in Ukraine. Sure, Chanel’s colourful tweeds this season does not bring to mind the besieged nation (Ms Viard told the press she’s inspired by London in the ’60s), but the aesthetical sum seems to point to the dress preference of certain women of means of the attacker state. While tweed is a symbol of Scottish culture, it is also a show of immense wealth—the Chanel tweed jacket a veritable status symbol. That in itself does not stir much thought until one sees in the designs that Ms Viard has dreamed up for those undeniably sumptuous tweeds. Hard as we tried, we could not decipher who this collection is for other than the unquestioning die-hards and the paid muses. Could Chanel still be thinking of the wives (or mistresses?) of oligarchs, even when the company has stood alongside other French brands to pause their retail operations in Russia?

The platitude that Ms Viard is increasingly tacking Chanel to is hardly unnoticeable. Her designs appear to seduce the purchasing might of those with money but not taste, with power but not influence. Compounding that, the pieces are inexplicably frumpy! And, suppressing the urge for a rude modifier, boring. Apart from the tweed jackets, coats and dresses in relaxed shapes that would appeal to grannies (but truly those for whom brand name and celebrity endorsement could easily supersede brilliant design), there are those curious cardigans that could have been swiped from a Salvation Army. Or, that pink sweater with appliques and scarf borrowed from a GUM department store sales girl! Sure, an attempt is made to style them young, but even denim shorts and knit leg warmers under Wellingtons can’t distance the clothes from any pile marked stodgy.

Screen grab (top) and photos: Chanel

Sock ’Em In The Eye?

Do women really want to look this battered?

Photos: (left) Chanel and (right) Shutterstock

By Mao Shan Wang

Beautiful eyes. Who doesn’t want them, especially those of us not especially blessed, and need some tools of colour for enhancement? But I really can’t make out the make-up du jour. From Chanel’s single blacken eye to Julia Fox’s total black out, what is really going on? Why, at a time when we really want to look healthy and unscarred by a unrelenting virus, does any woman desire to give the impression that she was abused? Willingly! Or, is this some self-pummeling as a beauty expression I—and, presumably, you—know not of? If I were to leave my home looking like that, people I know (and do not) would be very worried. Either my eye make-up skill has gone to the dogs, or domestic violence—no laughing matter—has roosted in my home.

The Chanel models I can understand. They did not have a choice in the colour of their eye makeup, nor the intensity of the make-believe bruise. But for Julia Fox, a woman then dating the most powerful man in music and fashion, the indefatigable Kanye West (they reportedly broke up in the middle of this month), and attending the Kenzo and Schiaparelli shows with her beau, the black eyes offered not quite positive optics for the actress and the man next two her, known to be somewhat misogynistic (how do you call his attack of Taylor Swift and Billie Eilish?). Could this be Mr West’s doing—a compulsory makeover of the women he dates? Or was Ms Fox trying to look as sexy as Diggs of Cats and Dogs?

I am tempted to see this trend as makeup brands attempting to sell more eye colour. Chanel’s runway looks certainly impacted their makeup division bigly before—remember the nail colour Vamp? Or was 1994 too long ago? Dark nail polish (and it would get darker), while totally new then, was not suggestive of violence (Vamp would go on to be so successful that it was ranked fifth all-time best-selling nail colour of the previous century) willfully inflicted on women. But a black eye socket? So that fashionable women could appear as though there were physically assaulted? Or, in the case of Chanel, like they fell off a horse? I give up.

Chanel: Calendar And Couture

Their marketing drive via an advent calendar is drumming up even more news, for the wrong reason. Sadly, the their latest métiers d’art collection won’t take the heat off quickly enough

Who would have guessed that a seasonal calendar could create so much noise. Chanel’s certainly did. A week ago, not too long after the release of the brand’s highly commercial and expensive—and sold out(!)—advent calendar (above), also labelled on the front as Le Calendrier, social media was abuzz with chatter that the said object, in the shape of a Chanel No. 5 bottle, is not worth the asking price. It was really a ringing complain, and it started with one beauty influencer Elise Harmon in the US, who TikToked her disappointment with the item, for which she paid an eye-watering USD825 (approximately SGD1,110). Her post was not a single entry, but at least half a dozen of them! Although she did not really slam Chanel, it was clear she did not find her purchase a best buy. “When you try to get festive by buying a (sic) advent calendar but are left with shattered hopes and dreams,” went one post, showing her clutching her pillow-sized calendar in bed, crestfallen.

This is Chanel’s first advent calendar (usually issued by brands at this time of the year to amp up their standard offering of festive beauty coffret), which was created to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Chanel No. 5 this year. It is not clear why Chanel, always touted as a premium luxury brand, would want to partake in such a mass marketing exercise, but it could have been a good opportunity to boost the grand standing of the French house. Rather, many of the products found in those 26 individually-boxed items, marked 5 to 31, inside the calendar are not quite the stuff as desirable as Chanel camelias. To be sure, we’ve only seen them online—the non-standard Chanel items looked like they were sourced from Taobao. As Ms Harmon said, when she found some stickers in one of the boxes, “this is a joke”. Or, the all-plastic snow globe: “this mess (sic) me up because it looks like it came out of a gumball machine”. Or, the temp tattoos: “I’m done”.

Miss Harmon is not the only shopper to be disappointed with the festive purchase. In China, Netizens have been complaining about the Chanel advent calendar since last month when, on 2 November, one Weibo user, @淦诗岐 (Gan Shiqi) shared a 开箱视频 (kaixiang shipin, unboxing video) and said that some of the item were “ridiculous (太扯了吧!)”. A voiceover even countered, utterly deadpan, “14 无价之宝 (wujia zhibao, priceless treasures)”. But Ms Gan was rather jovial about her bad luck. Over in Hong Kong, just five days ago, a TikToker with the handle @ideservecouture, went all ballistic and WTF-cursed (and in Cantonese expletives too) her way through the video post when she found those things that she, like so many others, did not consider worthy of occupying a Chanel advent calendar (known in China as a 盲盒 (manghe or blind box). With Ms Harmon’s videos going viral and global, Chanel offered a media statement, saying that they are “sorry that this calendar may have disappointed some people” (clearly not those who received them from Chanel as a gift). They described what’s inside as “original content” and the calendar “a true collector’s item whose value cannot be summed up by the products it contains alone”. Is Chanel really listening to the very vocal disapproval?

But Chanel was not only dismaying followers with the debut advent calendar. The statement came just a day before their Métiers D’art collection in Paris. The show left some observers wondering what was happening with the metiers, now housed in their own headquarters, Le19M, a purpose-built, seven-story complex in the 19th arrondissement, where the craftspeople would be less fournisseurs (suppliers) and more the employees of a formidable employer. Conceived to “celebrate craftsmanship”, as it’s oft-repeated, Métiers D’art straddles the gap between Chanel’s pret-a-porter and haute couture. But the latest, staged at Le19M, seemed veered towards the former. Designer Virginie Viard has ditched the (sometimes kitschy) thematic approach of the past, telling the New York Times that working with the mains in Le19M, “there are no rules.”

And indeed there were not. Anything goes seemed to be the guiding ethos. A sum that Chanel calls “a metropolitan attitude”. Striving to modernise the work of these craftspeople (which probably went beyond the French official 35-hour work week), Ms Viard chose what seniors in the creative field often associate with modernity—and youth: sweatshirts and graffiti! Yes, a tweed bomber now featured “sweatshirt pockets with graffiti-embroidered sequins” (really sequinned graffiti) that form the name Chanel! But one proper noun is not enough. Logos, still de rigueur, must appear too, so she really got the embroiderers working by making them sew sequinned double-Cs on cardigans! Perhaps even such overkill could be overlooked. At odds with the believe that exquisite clothes by the métiers should be elegance sans vulgarity are the over-washed denim pants with, gasp, elasticised waists! Ang Mo Kio Central hack?

Sure, Chanel is repositioning itself for a new era. Even Métiers D’art—in its 20th year—has to be reimagined and reset to distance itself from the explicit refinement of the Karl Lagerfeld years. Perhaps the street invasion at other luxury houses legitimises Chanel’s willingness to go with petrifying “graffiti-embroidered sequins” and the like. And an advent calendar that contained what could be a fridge magnet. One editor told us that in the past Chanel was very strict about what extraneous items were bundled with their famous products. “They would never pass of flimsy Christmas tree hangings as exclusive.” The inevitable: even Chanel has to squeeze within the confinement of modern apparel conception and the conundrum of monoculture. If fake news is very real, is mock modernisation just as existent?

Screen grab and photos: Chanel

Taste: It’s Good When It Isn’t

Refined and impeccable taste: Have they become so boring that going the opposite way is now far more appealing? Recent trends—and events—have made us wonder: is bad really better?

In a recent article about the rise in the popularity of wellies, the Guardian described the boots mostly associated with rain wear as “bad taste”. And it’s in the headline! Wellington boots, to call them by their proper, more tasteful English name, have a long history—whether illustrious or not, we can’t say. They go back to the early 1800s, and are associated with the British aristocracy. The footwear is, in fact, named after the 1st Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley. The good Duke was a military man and a Tory statesman. In fact, the chap served as prime minister not once, but twice. We do not know if he was an aesthete, but since he ruled over a dukedom, he probably had refined sensitivity towards his sartorial choices. Yet, the trusty wellies that he popularised, as well as their descendants (Bottega Veneta calls theirs by the positively low-brow ‘puddle boots’) are now associated with taste that’s not anywhere near good.

It does not require deep knowledge of current affairs to know that ‘ugly’ is, for more than half of the decade, not the ugly that we know. Ugly, the cousin of bad taste, is attractive; ugly is good; ugly is cool. We were even told that ugly wasn’t a passing fad. And it is true; it is still a trend! Ugly has redefined what is flattering just as much as it has changed what is considered attractive. In fact, chances are attractive is really not. Yet, it now encompasses so many aspect of contemporary tastes that even awful is in the jumble. And there is a word for it: inclusive. Or, the fake synonym, diverse. Both let ugly into the club. Ugly is dancing and winning. Now, if you refer to ugly in the negative, you’d have ugly-shamed! Ugly is so influential (in digital life, is influential synonymous with ugly?), it brought bad taste in too.

The thing about bad taste is that it needs it’s competitor good taste. Without good taste, bad taste won’t be that bad. One isn’t the mirror image of the other, but one can see what the other is not. It isn’t the bad that’s so bad it’s good. It’s bad that makes good look its part. What would Cinderella be without the bad—er, ugly—stepsisters? Would Cinderella stand out? Was it not the Fairy Godmother who gave her everything she needed that had some semblance of good taste? But what the Fairy Godmother created for her so that she could go to the good-taste ball came from the opposite of good: the footmen from mice, the driver of the coach from a frog, and the ball gown from rags! Oh, there is, of course, the coach; it was a pumpkin transformed, not a Yubari King melon!!!

Graphics om the Balenciaga ‘The Simpsons’ T-shirt. Product photo: Balenciaga

Fashion these days is hemorrhaging so much bad taste that it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore it as aberration that will vanish the next season. More and more, we can’t wish it away. It keeps coming at you, like mosquitoes on warm and humid days. Sometimes in ways you won’t expect. We are not hyperventilating. The Simpsons of every-town America, Springfield, for example, are not fashion darlings. As Matt Groening told the Smithsonian magazine in 2012, “I thought Simpson was a funny name in that it had the word ‘simp’ in it, which is short for “simpleton’”. But thanks to Balenciaga—the fearless bender of taste, the family of five are fashion icons. Is any of the Simpsons, now in Balenciaga and on Balenciaga, the epitome of good taste? Even poor Lisa Simpsons looks like a misguided 2nd grader who spends too much money on Shein, pearl choker intact. The Simpsons in Balenciaga seem to suggest that taste, like mood and marriages, can change overnight.

Balenciaga of the present, of course, straddles good and bad tastes, but oftentimes with one foot firmly planted in the latter. Their pairing with the Simpsons maybe irony at its highest order, but is it good taste? Or is this a sure reminder that so many people, like Homer Simpson, simply have no taste until someone comes along and gives them some. Not that Homer Simpson would be able to tell what is good or bad taste. In the case of the Balenciaga makeover of the residents of Springfield, it really depends on luck. But Balenciaga is increasingly able to make make bad taste better, so much so that it becomes good bad taste, or, as some might call it, “impeccable”. Example: Crocs. And recently it shows that on the runway or red carpet, bad taste can walk both. But with their haute couture revived, who’d dare say that Balenciaga is the arbiter of bad taste? Just badder?

Sometimes bad taste comes in the clever guise of ‘eclectic’. This eclectic is a parody of bad taste, often with kitsch as a partner in crime, and the devil around the two. That it might be steep in historicism does not take away bad-taste-as-eclectic’s parodic heft. The pied piper of this constantly jokey, retro-tinged pastiche is Gucci. Like stablemate Balenciaga, Gucci has made bad taste impossibly good, even gauche, galvanising the glaring and the glamourous into action. But few drawn to Gucci see the parody, nor, to be sure, the bad taste. When overexposed to such bad taste, we become immune to it. Bad-taste eclectic has a special—even sexual—power over those seeking fashion that looks like fashion. The nouveaux, like part of China’s social class tuhao (土豪), as well as the new-to-fashion are especially drawn to eclectic, like the proverbial magpie to shiny things. Or, a scene we get to see, flying termites to street lamps!

Chanel’s attempt at bad taste as seen on Lily Rose Depp in a recent campaign

When Balenciaga leads others follow. Bad taste is so potent that many can’t resist its pull, like boba tea. Chanel, once the epitome of good taste, is now moving away from it, baring so much underwear (above), just to name one transgression, that it would be considered bad taste just three pandemic-unheard years ago. Even Lily Rose Depp in the fall campaign couldn’t reverse the course. In fact, none of them nubile young things could. Blackpink’s Jisoo in the promo video Exploring Dior with Jisoo, expressed no taste, good or bad, when she saw the clothes; she was only able to utter, “I love this… I love this… Oh my god, I love this”. Is good taste daft? Chanel and its ilk joined the circus, but others have always been the ringmasters from the start. All-out bad taste at Dolce & Gabbana (including their marketing communication) keeps it in the spotlight. Others may fare less triumphantly but are no less trending, such as Roberto Cavalli and Virgil Abloh’s also-designer/DJ pal Heston Preston. Even to be named the “King of Bad Taste”, as Philipp Plein has, is an accolade. Zoolander, it seemed, saw the future.

To be sure, the Guardian isn’t the first to have ‘bad taste’ in its headline. Vogue, ever the seer of the future, already declared in 2018 that “Bad Taste Is the Best Thing to Happen to Fashion”. It did not conceal its enthusiasm for looks that were “about the hodgepodge style of looking like you don’t care at all coming into fashion”. But of course they cared (and still do), and the media continually shines a spotlight on bad taste, sending it on its inexorable rise. They do this by featuring the many artistes and celebrities, for whom bad taste is also the passport to ‘cred’, such as the Beibers, as well as so many American artistes-turned-whatever. Hip-hop stars have a big part in the rapid rise of bad taste. Whether by designing stuff or wearing them to effect insider advantage and cool, the sum of which frequently courts bad taste. But it isn’t just American stars who succumbed to taste aligned with bad. The Berlin rapper UFO361, a proponent, who attended the Balenciaga couture show, enthused in Stay High, “Nobody rocked Balenciaga. Crazy man. Long live Demna”. Ditto bad taste?

Perhaps bad taste is still taste, and in the world of fashion, it is increasingly better to have some taste than no taste. As the English novelist Arnold Bennett wrote in the Evening Standard in 1930, (even back then) “good taste is better than bad taste, but bad taste is better than no taste”. Although Mr Bennett was commentating on literary taste, what he said is just as applicable to much of today’s culture, not just fashion. In fact, bad taste is so much better that we have become used to it, and to the point it isn’t bad anymore. For many here, bad taste is who are: this is how we dress and behave. Accept it! And who even calls out bad taste when they can wallow in the repository of bad taste—TikTok, even YouTube? Has social media accelerated the consumption of bad taste? Its widespread use has certainly put bad taste persistently visible online. Bad taste manifests in not just what we wear, but in how we behave, in how we speak, in how we write, in the expletives we prefer, in the division we sow, in the crassness we consume, in the asinine jokes we rollick through, and in the private lives we expose—all delightfully. Even the most ardent among the promulgators of bad taste have become the arbiters of good taste. And our appetites only grow. And grow.

Illustrations by Just So

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