Sacai Does Soignée

Is Chisote Abe in a couture state of mind?

It’s five months after the last autumn/winter presentations during menswear fashion week in Paris, and we’re still seeing the season’s collections being shown. It is clearer than ever that fashion weeks as we know (knew?) them don’t matter much anymore. Nor if showing in Paris, traditionally the most important city in which to unveil a collection, really matters, even when the city, as a fashion capital, is still important. In stores, such as our Club 21, pre-sale of the spring/summer collections have already begun. It is, therefore, hard to place Sacai’s latest show, unmistakably broadcast from Tokyo, in the scheme of things and the selling season. Surely, the clothes were available to buyers much earlier? Or is Sacai pursuing some form of see-now-buy-now model?

In fact, designer Chisote Abe’s Parisian haute couture debut is near. In July, she will be showing her debut collection for Jean Paul Gaultier as the latter’s first guest designer to interprete Mr Gaultier couture. This was supposed to take place last year, but as with so many partnerships and events in fashion due to the pandemic, it didn’t happen. But no designer is turning back on their pairing, and Ms Abe will show in Paris in the month after next. It is a much anticipated couture collection, just as Balenciaga’s return to couture under Demna Gvasalia is (also for July). Which makes us wonder if the Sacai autumn/winter season is a foretaste of what Ms Abe might produce for JPG? It is, after all, remarkably elegant, almost to the point of special-occasion dressing.

That the outdoor show suggested nightfall (in Tokyo) rather than the time-non-specific of a staging in a neutral interior space seemed to say that the clothes are indeed for when dressing up under dim lights or atmosphere that suggests glamour is possible again. And that the models emerged from a Sacai private helicopter heightened the specialness of the occasion. These outfits are not just for a date at the deli; these would not be out of place at the opera. In fact, some could easily fit and stand out on a red carpet. Ms Abe has always been in touch with the part in her that loves a pretty and dazzling and enchanting dress, but she had always tempered those ultra-femme styles with elements that were off-kilter and definitely military. Her approach is known as ‘hybridising’, or bringing different—often opposing—ideas together, not just seen in those two-in-ones, but also the many-in-ones. She has made this so much her aesthetical signature that in recent years, she seemed to be coasting. Even ardent fans are saying she has become somewhat predictable.

The latest looks, while identifiably Sacai, have a certain beguiling glamour about them, and seemed conceived for women than girls, for keeping than trending. The military-inspired outwear is not surprising, but what is delightful are those dresses with their strength in the way they flow and flatter (the body), not how strangely they distend or tent out. It is the overall sleekness that makes every ensemble eye-catching. Pity the models did not remove the coats to reveal the dresses underneath. Just as it was regrettable that the show was filmed on a set that mimicked Tokyo’s famed Shibuya Crossing, rather than the pedestrian intersection itself. But perhaps this is indication that Sacai is now able to play alongside the big league. The last time a fashion label was able to have their own-branded aircraft, it was Chanel.

Photos: Sacai

They Stick Out, Don’t They?

More and more, heels now come as shelves

 

TheSoloistXConverse vs SacaiXNikeProduct shots: (left) Converse and (right) Nike

By Ray Zhang

Two sneakers are launched this week, and both share a common feature: the heel sticks out. Or, to be more precise, the upper half of the rear mid-sole protrudes. Like a shelf. Or, like the mountain ledge of Trolltunga in Norway. Okay, I’m off track. Running shoe lingo has it as “flared heels”. I don’t know about you, but when heels jut out like that, they don’t increase the shoe’s appeal. Yet, this seems to be the trend. Maybe it’s rather like jacket trends: shoulders stretch to there. Anyway, succumbing to my limited knowledge, I checked with my friends who run and an instructor at my gym, and they say these stick-out points may delight the fashionista, but they do nothing for the athlete. That’s what I thought.

The two kicks with similar heels are the Converse X TakahiromiyashitaTheSoloist All Star Disrupt CX (yes, a mouthful) and the highly anticipated Nike X Sacai LDV Waffle, which, you would have guessed, is sold out as soon as it’s launched, which is today (my fellow SOTD contributor Shu Xie tried scoring a pair for more than 2 hours since midnight, but came up nought). Other similarities, I should, perhaps, add: both are by Japanese brands collaborating with shoes from the same American company: Nike. Could that explain the similarities in heel detail?

20-03-11-15-40-40-263_decoLeft: Converse X TakahiromiyashitaTheSoloist All Star Disrupt CX. Right: Nike X Sacai LDV Waffle. Product photos: Converse and Nike respectively

Between the two, I choose the TakahiromiyashitaTheSoloist’s take on the Converse, if only because the said protrusion is shallower in depth. The Sacai remake of LDV Waffle scores less because it is basically a reissue of the “reconstruction”—hybrid, actually—of the Nike classics LDV and Waffle Racer, now with nylon uppers. Both the All Star Disrupt CX and the LDV waffle are, in terms of silhouette, fetching, but since the Sacai became the most hyped and desired and, as a consequence, the most jelak shoe of last year, another release doesn’t send my pulse racing. And not that back corridor. Despite its peplum rear, the All Star Disrupt CX looks sleek, with the clever declaration “I am the Soloist. Since 2010” on the lateral and “Hello! I am the Soloist. Since 2010” on the medial. Admittedly, I have a weakness for text.

The big-welcome-to-MRT-commuters-to-step-on-your-heel sneaker is, to be sure, not a new trend. If I remember correctly (nowadays, there are, of course, other more important things to remember, such as regularly wash your hands and do not touch any part of your face!), Rick Owens was the earliest to introduce them protrusions in his collaboration with Adidas. At first, it was the Runner, introduced way back in the spring of 2014. The shoe with the split mid-sole has a rear that looks like a pebble is affixed to trip the person who walks too closely to you. And then later that year, the Tech Runner, with a mid-sole that’s a catamaran. Was it not asking other shod feet to come onboard?

Adidas X Rick Owebs Tech Runner 2014Adidas X Rick Owens Tech Runner. Photo: Adidas

Truth be told, I have never tried any of the Adidas X Rick Owens Runners or the Nike X Sacai LDV Waffle. But I have worn kicks with kindred soles. Okay, not as prominent as those two out now. I once took the Nike React Infinity Run for a stroll in a mall, and even when the amble required no heel striking (unlike when you run), I could feel something back there. As I got off the MRT train on my way home, a corpulent woman stepped on the left heel and as I moved forward, the shoe came off. It all happened in a split second. When I turned back to look, another dozen passengers had stepped on that footless sneak, isolated on the station platform.

I thought my feet would be less of an obstacle if I wore the Nike Vapor Street Peg SP, with less of a flared heel (but flares, no less). Again, the rear attracted those who like to pull up to the bumper. Toe box on mid-sole: could that be some kind of Tinder pick up line? Fed up, I finally put the Nike X A Cold Wall Zoom Vomero 5 to the test. Now with this pair, it was not so much a protruding mid-sole that was the problem. What the shoe came with was an AirPod case for the heel counter! Walking down a staircase was hard because I kept scraping against what was the front side of the steps. When I made it to the concrete pavement, I felt a smack: someone had kicked my heaving heel!

Converse x TAKAHIROMIYASHITATheSoloist All Star Disrupt CX, SGD200, is available from 12 March at Club 21 and DSMS. Nike X Sacai LDV Waffle, SGD239, was available at DSMS, and sold out

Dress Watch: A Sweater Top

The Sacai X John Smedley collaboration ticks all the right boxes for easy-to-wear

Sacai X John Smedley sweater

Fine and delicate is this sweater, not the rugged, almost fishermen-styles of those aligned with the trending homespun, craft-centric looks favoured by some designers. Sacai’s take on a classic turtleneck sweater, conceived in partnership with the revered knitwear firm of John Smedley is a study in modesty that’s tilted towards the Gibson Girl than Audrey Hepburn: it can’t get more feminine than this.

And perhaps that is key. Also known as the polo neck (as polo players wear them almost like uniforms), this sweater risks being just a garment Steve Jobs (and his female followers) used to wear (as uniform!) if not for the sheer panel on the bodice and the equally filmy sleeves. Sure, it’s a little restrained for a Sacai garment considering how designer Chitose Abe loves all manner of insets and add-ons afixed to what would otherwise have been fairly basic garments. Case in point: her latest collab with Nike, featuring separates that look like amalgamations of more than two items.

That the sweater is produced by John Smedley may add to its appeal. There is, after all, a predilection for brands to work with heritage knitwear manufacturers. Touted as the “oldest knitwear factory in the world” (into its 235th year!), John Smedley is one of those British labels with a deep sense of the past that especially appeals to hip brands—even those not aesthetically heritage-leaning, such as Ms Abe’s former employer Comme des Garçons and colleague Junya Watanabe. Typical of how Japanese designers approach classic designs, Chitose Abe has allowed the turtleneck sweater’s silhouette to be recognisable, but within that, tweaks that allow for distinction that may stand the test of time. It was once called mileage. Sacai shows us we could use some of that.

Sacai X John Smedley sweater, SGD900, is available at DSMS. Photo: DSM/Sacai

At Sacai, Tweed Goes Sporty

Sacai AW 2017 Pic 1

Some people might think it is inappropriate, even sacrilegious, to employ high-end fabrics in a non-high-end way. You would not take silk gazar, for example, and turn them into casual clothes, even if there’s no rule against such a use, except perhaps aesthetic consideration. For Sacai’s Chitose Abe, there are no such self-imposed limitations. She uses fabrics as artists use paint; she mixes them up. In doing so, she gives some of the oldest cloths new purpose. For autumn/winter 2017, tweed, a traditional Irish/Scottish fabric in use before the 19th century, for example, in her hands were fashioned into outers so type-breaking they made Chanel jackets look rather frumpy.

Sacai is known for her aesthetic hybrids, and the results often defy characterisation. For her recent show, she crossbred high-brow tweed with outdoor wear and the result is deliciousness only skilled mixologists can offer. How does one describe her not-country-club tweeds? It’s tricky, but we’ll try. One of them that we really like is a navy and green parka-meets-anorak, within which bouclé tweed was worked into (top). Not quite what you might pick for a climb in the mountains, but it’s certainly for tranquil days tending to your resort in the Swiss Alps.

Sacai AW 2017 Pic 2Sacai AW 2017 Pic 3

And would you add openings to tweed skirts the way they create slits in the knees of jeans? Ms Abe knows women like gashes in their bottoms, and she obliged, but these were not mindless rips, calculated to titillate, or repulse. Instead, they’re side openings with zips, which means the skirts could be customized to fall in a certain way, based on how zipped up they are, or not. The same idea was applied to pants. Yes, those pants! They have the attitude of a pair of cotton cargos and the swagger of the nicest wool crepe slacks. But they are in tweed!

Her cross-breeding does not only bring disparate garments from different categories of clothing together, which she frequently does, but also within a dress type or style. Take military wear, for (another) example. Ms Abe is fond of the field jacket, but this time, she’s created something that looks like the navy and the armed forces happily co-exist: a peacoat married to a parka!

Sacai AW 2017 Pic 4Sacai AW 2017 Pic 5

From the start of the Sacai show, we saw designs that took into consideration the femininity women will always return to despite the vagaries of fashion or the gender-ambiguous leanings of street style. Case in point: the first look should really have been pyjama dressing except that the composition—cut, fabric, and embellishment—looked destined for a front-row seat of a fashion show than under a comforter in a bedroom, or, for the more adventurous, a bar-side stool in a pub. If Grace Coddington was really bent on wearing pyjamas to the Met Gala of 2015 (China: Through the Looking Glass), she really should have picked something like this.

What we find so inspiring is that Ms Abe is able to project a vestige of cool without sacrificing the advantage of craft, beauty, humour, intelligence, and modesty. Her clothes are not overt in any of those qualities that make the wearer ooze sex or trickle foolishness. Despite the possibly frenetic mixing within just one garment, each piece is a charming confluence of clever design and palatable novelty.

At one time, there were rumours that Chitose Abe was asked to go to Dior. If only it were true.

Photos: indigital.tv

Sacai: The Waves Get Bigger

sacai-aw-2016

Not many women designers from Japan get to take the world by storm. Rei Kawakubo did in the early ’80s after facing initial ridicule and derision. The setbacks, if it they can be so called, however, lead the way to the upcoming exhibition dedicated to her at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in May next year. Ms Kawakubo would be the only second living designer in the Costume Department’s history to be given the honour, after Yves Saint Laurent in 1983, following the debut of Comme des Garçons (CDG) in Paris two years earlier. Chisato Abe, the designer behind the label Sacai (actually her maiden name), did not have it quite as hard and daunting mainly because she came into her own in what may be considered the post-Japanese era.

Sacai is no CDG, but Chisato Abe is not an isolated designer working in an obscure corner of Tokyo, selling her wares in a small shop in the hipster neighbourhood of Kamimeguro. In fact, the Sacai flagship, opened in 2011, is in the swanky Minami-Aoyama district where edgier Japanese designers tend to concentrate. The red-bricked building, although situated in an area where Prada, Costume National, the Embassy of the Kingdom of Morocco, and the two-level shopping complex Glassarea are neighbours, looks like an unlikely spot to house Sacai’s eye-catching designs—you’d expect to find a convenience store here. But it is here, far from the maddening crowd that is the nearby Harajuku that fans get an appreciative peek into the world of Sacai.

sacai-man-aw2016

Ms Abe cut her teeth at Comme des Garçons before assisting Junya Watanabe (also under the umbrella of CDG designers) for 8 years, both experiences the ideal springboard to her own line. Sacai was established in 1991, after the birth of her first child (interestingly, Ms Abe is married to another-Japanese-label-to-watch Kolor’s Junichi Abe). Despite her design pedigree (she’s also know to be a talented pattern cutter), she does not create what she described to the media as “typical Japanese design”. She said that what she does is “more international”.

And it is on the international stage that Sacai has won accolades and the loyalty of many a fashion editor. The label debuted in Paris Fashion Week in 2012 with the kind of response her former employer received only after the world realised they were witnessing history in the making. Ms Abe has said that she learnt well at CDG and that Ms Kawakubo herself has told her “to be your own designer and create what you want.” And she did just that, producing striking clothes that, unlike some of her fellow CDG alumni, do not even hint at a Rei Kawakubo hand guiding the designs.

chitose-abe-x-nikeChitose Abe with model in Nikelab X Sacai (2015), shot by Craig McDean. Photo: Nikelab

So confidently executed was her work, so sure her voice and so ardent her audience that in no time, she was collaborating with multi-billion-dollar brands, such as Nike last year, in her first sportswear collaboration. The Nikelab project showed that Ms Abe was ready to take on new challenges. Those pieces, based on classic Nike men’s track wear, turned performance-enhancing athletic apparel into visually stunning Sacai clothes that women were buying not for jogging in a city park (where you would need good-looking clothes rather than regular gym togs), but dancing at the chicest downtown clubs.

That she would chose to pair with Nike was not surprising as her former boss, Junya Watanabe, is a Nike fan and serial collaborator, and his taste could have rubbed off (her husband’s Kolor, interestingly, paired with Nike’s greatest competitor Adidas!). What makes her take on Nike exceptional is her willingness to incorporate her sense of quirky femininity into sports clothes that, by definition and function, have to be frills-free. Yet her tops and jackets have pleated and swing backs that open up like a ballerina’s tutu when in sporting motion.

sacai-aw-2016-p2

Sacai’s appeal is, perhaps, best encapsulated in those unexpected backs. Her clothes, in fact, do not have fronts and backs that correspond to conventional fronts and backs. She designs by looking at every side of the garment, improving and surprising where you do not think improvement and surprise need exist. She likes bringing contrasting elements together and often pairs military and utilitarian details with totally feminine components such as floral silk chiffon fabrics, proving that masculine touches can enhance femininity, rather than overt, skin-baring sexiness. For all her avant-garde tendencies, Sacai looks decidedly approachable; the clothes do look like clothes, wearable to boot.

Ms Abe may claim that Sacai is not “typical Japanese design”, but the brand is Japanese at heart, and the creative output can only come out of Japan. After that first wave of Japanese designers in the early ’80s, many observers think subsequent Japanese designers are not capturing the world’s attention like they used to. Their distinctive aesthetic, after 35 years, is perhaps no longer as particular or idiosyncratic. It’s not even sub-cultural, now that it has crossed so many borders, and aped by so many designers of the West. In addition, neighbouring Korea is attracting awareness with their kooky streetwear. But Japan, ever the relentless re-inventor, is still quietly challenging the standard issue. Sacai is leading the pack, cut by cut, fold by fold.

Sacai’s Autumn/Winter 2016 collection (pictured) is available at Club 21 and Club 21 Men. Catwalk photos: Sacai