(2017) Winter Style 6: A Bomber Re-Imagined

Christian Dada Jinbei Bomber AW 2017

A military-style bomber jacket, also known as a flight jacket, has in recent years been de rigueur, thanks to its omnipresence in the street style choices of pop and Instagram stars, so much so that retailers everywhere are pressured into selling at least one, although likely a totally uninspired version.

When we encountered this bomber jacket, we were enamoured. Regular readers of SOTD realize how much we love hybrid garments and this one by Christian Dada is in top form. The front is especially appealing because of its semblance to traditional Japanese jinbei (甚平) top, essentially a summer garment (that also includes a pair of shorts, which, therefore, is not like the yukata, which is more of a summer kimono), mostly worn at home and, if outside, usually no further than the gate to collect mail or newspaper.

Christian Dada’s take is, without doubt, meant to be worn much further than the front yard. In place of the tradition ribbed collar and zipper closure, the quilted nylon body has a front with the eri (衿or collar) of the jinbei and is fastened by tape of similar fabric as the jacket. The left sleeve sport a utility pocket no different from a standard-issue bomber jacket. It even has the orange (polyester) satin lining that is usually associated with rescue missions. The padded jacket, we were told, is reversible, but we doubt anyone would want to turn out with the bright orange as a front (although, if you do, you’ll be wearing on the upper left chest sans-serif black text that says ‘nirvana’ in English and Japanese).

To be sure, this is not a Japanese flight jackets worn by kamikaze pilots. This is very much the punk/military idea of designer Masanori Morikawa, who is never afraid to mash things up to yield an effect that is aligned with street sensibility. There’s an element of surprise in this too, which is often missing in clothes that mostly serve to bundle their wearers. Sometimes, it really is not that cold, and you don’t have to zip up to the chin.

Christian Dada ‘Jinbei’ bomber jacket, SGD850, is available at Christian Dada, 268 Orchard Road. Product photo: Fake Tokyo. Collage: Just So

A Rose By Any Other Bag Is Still A Rose

Christian Dada SS 2016 rose 2-way bag red

Although we’re in what is considered a summer selling season, many shops are eager to draw your attention to their “new arrivals”—merchandise that mark the start of the autumn/winter calendar. So, it is perhaps a little past-season to talk about products that should have received column space back in January. Bear with us. This bag by the Japanese label Christian Dada didn’t make its appearance till May when the eponymous boutique opened at 268 Orchard Road.

Sitting on a shelf contained in an oddly shaped structure, the rose bag draws your attention immediately. Larger than a football, it easily dupes you into thinking it’s a prop. If you remove this flower of a bag from where it is displayed, you’ll notice a two-way zip at the end of where the calyx should be. Clearly this bloom can be unzipped.

Follow your fingers and let the zip unfasten. The base opens up to reveal a hollow inside, like a secret nook in an ornate armoire. It’s not capacious within, but an organised woman will be able to fill it with urban necessities: smartphone and purse, and a lipstick or two.

Unsurprisingly, the bag is rather heavy. The whole corolla is made of leather, with each petal an individual double-sided piece assembled to form a complete bloom—much like paper flowers. The base of the rose is affixed with a handle, which allows the user to carry it as a handbag. Attach the provided strap to loops on the edge of the base and it can be slung as a shoulder bag. Either way, it’s an attention grabber.

Christian Dada ‘Rose’ leather bag, SGD2,350, is available in red and black at the Christian Dada boutique, 268 Orchard Road

From The Banks Of Chaos In The Mind

Christian Dada shop frontThe first shop to open at the hirtherto desolate 268 Orchard Road. Photo: Galerie Gombak

By Raiment Young

The name reminds me of a song by The Police, the one that tells of our inability to resist the persuasiveness of “poets, priests and politician… ’cos when their eloquence escapes you/their logic ties you up and rapes you. De do do do, de da da da…” At the same time, I am recalling the ‘logic’ of the bourgeois capitalist thinking of the mid-1910s that, together with the onset of WWI and the opposition to it, led to the Dada art movement. I remember, too, what Tristan Tzara, one of the founders of Dada, said: “Dada puts an artificial sweetness onto things, a snow of butterflies coming out of a conjurer’s skull.”

That suggestion of surrealism is not at all incongruent with the newest brand to take its street-view place in Orchard Road: Christian Dada. First things first, this isn’t a brand that has anything to do with what the proper nouns in the name suggest. Well, maybe half of it does. The label is, in fact, the brainchild of Japanese designer Masanori Morikawa. As I suspected—since this is so typical of Japanese naming convention (John Lawrence Sullivan, for example, is really Arashi Yanagawa, not the American boxer aka Boston Strong Boy, but being a professional boxer before, it’s not surprising who inspired him), Mr Morikawa had deliberately picked a name that sounds Western. As he told The Japan Times last year, “I started out by wanting to parody a French house’s name. Christian Dada was my respectful riff on Christian Dior and Dada being a reference to my own love of the anarchy of Dadaism.”

Christian Dada SS 2016Christian Dada spring/summer 2016 women and men. Photos: Christian Dada

So I wasn’t off the mark in my thoughts. Mr Morikawa added, “I really didn’t think about potential Judeo-Christian misunderstandings or that, further down the line, people might assume the brand isn’t Japanese.” He really shouldn’t have to worry about that since no one ever thinks Hello Kitty is not a la Nippon! And what can be more Dada than the “artificial sweetness” of the mouth-less cat purported to be a British school girl (itself “a snow of butterflies coming out of a conjurer’s skull”)? In the same vein, the religious suggestion joined to the anarchy of a certain art movement can be Dada too, no?

Mr Morikawa has not claimed to be a Dadaist, yet it is tempting to seek evidence in his work, and I did. In the first look of his women’s wear spring/summer 2016 show, the model wore a white shirt under a black tee with the words in full caps “NO LOVE LOST”. The idiom is repeated in the sole neck wear (a sort of scarf-as-choker) worn by the models.  If Dadaism in its earliest and basic form was an anti-war stance, then perhaps the message of animosity is a declaration of Mr Morikawa’s own undeclared battle. I am, admittedly, being needlessly pedantic. The clothes themselves pay no obvious homage to the likes of Jean Arp. In the juxtaposition of shapes and the pairing of beading and embroidery to sporty/biker silhouettes, I do, however, see the spirit of Kurt Schwitters. Or, by the brand’s own admission, “the rejection of perfection, reason, and logic… a feeling of deconstruction and mystery.”

Christian Dada interior 1Christian Dada’s mostly monochromatic interior dotted with strange perforated shapes. Photo: Galerie Gombak 

This is, however, not the deconstruction or the mystery that we have come to associate with the Japanese since the early ’80s. Mr Morikawa does not overhaul garments the way Yohji Yamamoto does although his sense of mystery can faintly be traced to the latter’s. Unlike many of his compatriots, he is not quite resistant to the use of embellishments to lend extra dimension to his clothes, which, unsurprisingly, are highly visual. I was drawn, for instance, to the sprays of blue appliqué flowers on a trio of blouses (and also gold on a quartet of dresses), blooms that happily recall the cherry blossoms he introduced in the last spring/summer season. They are a chromatic aberration from his mostly black collection, suggesting, perhaps, that Mr Morikawa does not only dwell in darkness.

What’s interesting to note, too, is that Christian Dada is the first Japanese brand to be situated on the first floor—in fact, upfront by the entrance of a shopping centre, in this case the still forsaken-looking 268 Orchard Road (formerly Yen San Building) that is owned by Ngee Ann Development. That a prime spot could go to a rather obscure brand, I was told, is likely due to favourable rentals, given the oft-repeated gloomy retail scene, a sad state that was also reported somewhat gleefully by Life of The Straits Times two Thursdays ago. And the space was not cinched by a conglomerate such as LVMH or Kering, but by a Singaporean company, D’League. What’s little-known is that D’League, proprietor of what some consider to be the best men’s wear store on our island, Surrender, is also an investor in Christian Dada.

Christian Dada interior 2The 1,700-square-foot interior of the store. Photo: Galerie Gombak

It was reported that with D’League’s take-up of 51% in Mr Morikawa’s company in 2013, Christian Dada was able to make its Paris debut a year later, during the spring/summer 2015 season. A relatively small retail player investing in a fledgling designer label is rather striking, at least to me, since the only Singaporean fashion company to have done something similar, as far as I can recall, is the much larger Club 21. In 2000, the Christina Ong-owned corporation invested over £7 million (or about 30%) of Mulberry’s equity, landing it a controlling stake in the brand. D’League—once associated with Jamie Chua (and her maiden retail venture Cloud 9 Lifestyle) and ex-husband Nurdian Cuaca and consequently their complicated divorce—first stocked Christian Dada in its luxury store, Salon by Surrender in the Shoppes at Marina Bay. It surprised many that, among the edgy labels the boutique retails—including the supremely pricey sneaker label Buscemi, Christian Dada should be singled out for investment.

Christian Dada’s prominent presence on Orchard Road should be seen as a good sign for less mainstream brands. Amid top-tier European luxury labels with duplex stores now fronting ION Orchard, I was thinking Singapore’s most important shopping street may not entice those without the marketing muscle of, say, the Prada group. Christian Dada’s quiet entry offers others of its breed hope that our oldest retail belt isn’t quite adverse to brands not in the first twenty pages of Her World. Its eye-catching store—designed by Fumiko Takahama Architects, whose eponymous founder was formerly with Herzog and de Meuron—speaks in the vernacular of retail design not with plush carpets and costly wood, but with sheets of perforated metal stained black and formed into rock-like shapes that echo those of Zen gardens or karesansui. Like the building that houses it, Christian Dada sticks out, but it does so beautifully.

Christian Dada is at level one, 268 Orchard Road