CDG Laughs Along With Yue Minjun

But Comme des Garçons Shirt’s latest collection may not necessarily let you in on the joke

It is not just a smile; it is clearly a laughter. And not just one, but a sea of them. Chinese artist Yue Minjun’s (岳敏君) xiaolian (笑脸, literally laughing face in Mandarin) is probably one of the most recognised icons to emerge from the Chinese art world of the post-Open Door Policy era. Now, Comme des Garçons Shirt has collaborated with the Beijing-based painter, featuring the distinctive pink laughing heads in a small capsule that comprises blazers, shirts, tees, pullovers, pants, shorts, totes, and sneakers, all in designs far less contorted than the depicted countenances. We may be in a time that deserves a good laugh, and we may wish to be seen expressing mirth, but how much should that be worn on our body?

Yue Minjun’s famous faces are those of his own. These were painted before ‘selfie’ was a nomenclature. By his admission, the choice of depicting his own laughter under a receding hairline and closed eyes was inspired by the late artist, compatriot Geng Jianyi (耿建翌), whose paintings of laughing faces, such as 第二状态 (dier zhuangtai or The Second State) Mr Yue would later say “were not quite right, in which meaning had been inverted, and expressions turned upside down.” It is hard to say if Mr Yue’s own cackling expression is one of pleasure or derision. Some of his earliest xiaolians were featured in the painting 枪决 (qiangjue or Execution). which, when sold in 2007 in London’s Sotheby for USD5.9 million, was the most expensive work by a Chinese contemporary artist. The laughing faces seemed to be mocking—and somewhat remorselessly—while being fired at (rifles were not painted in).

The faces picked by CDG are far more jubilant and appear to have less political reference. But the signature pink-skin countenances still fill the entire surface of the fabric (like they would have on canvas). And the laughter, still untraceable to a cause, hits you upon first viewing. This is not the first time that CDG has collaborated with a Chinese artist of immense standing. Back in 2009, when the CDG Hong Kong store on On Lan Street moved to its current location on Ice House Street, commemorative T-shirts were created with the controversial Ai Weiwei. The images then, too, seemed apolitical. But we’ll never really know, such as with Yue Minjun’s xiaolians now, the garment creator’s true emotions when placing them.

Comme des Garçons Shirt X Yue Minjun capsule is now available at CDG, Hilton Gallery and DSMS. Product photos: Comme des Garçons Shirt/DSM. Collage: Just So

Sneakers: Play Some More

Comme des Garçons sub-brand Play has released a new series of their popular Converse collaboration. It’s destined to sell out

Has Comme des Garçons Play co-created another winner? The CDG sub-brand—with that unmistakable heart logo, distinguished by a blunt chin—has been a hit since its inception in 2002. Their new kicks with Converse (a partnership that has spanned more than a decade) is likely going to be another sell-out at launch—this morning. For the latest, Play has worked its cheery logo into the side of the Jack Purcell, as if a pair of Hello Kitty-like mouthlessness is peeping from behind a wall. There is that bold line on the mid-sole that seems to underscore its sneaky appearance. The current iteration seems to us, the most fun since the born-in-Poland logo debuted on the 86-year-old Jack Purcell in 2011. Yep, a neat ten years ago.

CDG die-hard fans have generally ignored the “entry-level” Play, which to some is disagreeably commercial (there are even clothes for kids!), and usually not adopted by those who could pull CDG off with panache. The Play line has not changed much within its various product categories, T-shirts being perennial best-sellers. But the Converse kicks have the rare quality of being both cute and cool at the same time. In 2019, Sneaker Freaker magazine calls the Chuck Taylor version “the decade’s most influential sneaker”. Despite its obvious charm, the sneakers, also seen in the Chuck 70, have been resisted by some sneaker fans, such as SOTD contributor Shu Xie, who told us that she has not bought a pair for herself because the plain canvas sneakers “are reminiscent of school.” In addition, “most versions are in white (or off-white), which say to me, ‘nurse’!”

That would not be the reaction with the current release. The base colour of the still-cotton canvas kicks is now grey, a perfect tone and density for those find white too ‘nurse-y’ and black too harsh. The logos—three altogether (two on each side and one, dissected, on the back)—are big and bold, and available in black or the OG red. In addition, the silhouette of the Jack Purcell is closer to smart than anything by Vans, and far more flattering for feet than anything by Yeezy. To quote a particular cyborg, resistance, this time, is possibly futile.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Comme des Garçons Play X Converse Jack Purcell sneakers, SGD220, are available from today at Comme des Garçons and DSMS. Product photos: Comme des Garçons Play. Collage: Just So

Guys And Pearls

…no longer like chalk and cheese

When Pharrell Williams wore pearls and not just a strand, but, as Coco Chanel preferred, “ropes and ropes” of them, many guys here thought him to be an advanced specimen of American culture. Mr Williams, a known heterosexual fashionista and a regular Chanel jacket wearer too, has not taken the Harry Styles route and worn a dress, but his penchant for jewellery is far more ardent than an average woman’s. Lest this becomes a binary gender issue, we should point out that the wearing of multi-strands of necklaces is not unique to Mr Williams. Mr Styles wears them too. It was prevalent among male hip-hop stars, going back to the ’70s, when rap was born, when Kurtis Blow, considered the first commercially successful rapper to have a record deal with a major label, wore strands of gold chains on the cover of his 1980 debut eponymous album. Since then, almost all hip-hop stars, from LL Cool J to Notorious B.I.G to Jay Z, have put multiple necklaces on their necks. But strands of pearls were slow to catch on.

And when they did, we didn’t think it’d be this fast. Here, social media posts of society chaps wearing a strand of pearls at various gatherings in the past few months were not signal enough of an impending trend since they are fashion types (“guru” for one of them, we were corrected), forward enough to not suggest anything extraordinary. But on one blistering day, on a barely-cool west-bound MRT train of the East-West line, we spotted a young fellow—not particularly spiffy—with a strand of white pearls set against the black crew-neck T-shirt he was wearing. The neatness of the row of pearls was broken by the colour-matched white cable of his earphones. He was not attired to augment the inherent elegance of the pearls. If not for the pearls, you wouldn’t give him a look. Two weeks later, a similar get-up was seen on a chap on an escalator in Bugis+. The pearls were, again, at odds with the fellow’s oversized Palace tee and Carhartt bum bag. But he seemed unconcerned with the jewellery and the skate aesthetic being as compatible as meat in a vegetarian meal.

Perhaps that’s the whole point of pearls these days: to not fit in. Surely they can be styled to bear street cred, just as much as they can be part of any guy’s tailored best. Just look at the pearl collection of Comme des Garçons, conceived with the 128-year-old Japanese house of Mikimoto (above) since last season. It could be discerned that Rei Kawakubo has introduced something punk and subversive into otherwise very conventional strands of pearls. CDG does not indicate which gender the jewellery is targeted at, but in the joint marketing campaigns by the two brands, male models wore the pearls, with one fellow sporting a double-strand over a tie and under a suit jacket with peaked lapels. The aesthetic base is still elegant, but the saltwater akoya pearls seemed to turn away from the conventional, like wildly patterned socks under pin-striped trouser legs. CDG, as we know, doesn’t really do anything vanilla. With a ‘classic’ material such as pearls, they’d want to introduce a counterpoint to the poshness. So there are the sterling silver hardware, such as chains (which are rather Virgil Abloh, even Yoon Ahn, and have been similarly employed at Maison Margiela), studs, and safety pins, all used as decorative trims, like in CDG’s RTW, but presently looking less fierce than they had been.

The circular pearl strand we have been seeing guys now wear could, therefore, be influenced by CDG. They are not long strands as in Pharrell Williams’s Chanel nor are they those made more masculine with black Tahitian pearls. These small off-white spheres circle the neck in a rather delicate fashion, like ruffs, but not quite twee as the latter. It’s been hard to design and market pearls to men. In 2002, Australian Olympic swimming star Ian Thorpe collaborated with compatriot brand Autore to create a high-profile line of neck and wrist wear featuring South Sea pearls—mostly just one bead apiece—for both men and women. Single pearl worn like a pendant might perhaps have been more acceptable back then, when David Beckham was known to be partial to one, or when Pierce Brosnan wore a solo bead on the cover of Italian Vanity Fair in 2005. It isn’t certain how Mr Thorpe’s pearls panned out, but some observers thought the line was premature. Few people now remember Mr Thorpe’s association with pearl jewellery. The line was eventually discontinued a few years later. Even the Olympian would not have guessed that men will graduated from one pearl to a whole strand.

Photo: (top) Zhao Xiangji and (product) Comme des Garçons

Four Years Ahead

Comme des Garçons introduces the snake for its line of small leather goods, way earlier than other brands

The Year of the Ox has yet to arrive, but that has not stopped Comme des Garçons from looking ahead, and letting the snake come to the fore, slithering across and into its range of wallets. We know, of course, that the small leather goods of Comme des Garçons Wallets does not follow the typical aesthetic of wallet design, nor release date/selling season. They march to their very own taiko beat. Putting the enigmatic snake before the mighty ox is, therefore, both marketing smarts and design freshness.

While the printed curves on the exterior of the leather wallets are clearly serpentine, Comme des Garçons does not give these wallets a name that is evocative of it that tempted Eve. Rather, the capsule is called Ruby Eye (even if in some of them, a pair). But these gleaming red eyes are nowhere found on the exterior of the wallets. They are hidden (snakes are great at hiding) within the wallets, some inside the coin pouch. The bulbous eyes look a tad sinister, and with the forked tongue sticking out, as if sensing the presence of a prey.

If we look at the Chinese Zodiac, we are told that those born in the Year of the Snake are creative, sophisticated and eloquent. Sometimes, even trendy. They are also affluent and materialistic. The Ruby Eye, does seem to fit the description of the typical snake man or woman. It’s creatively delineated, with different colours to suggest the many facets of the complex snake. Although just a snake on each wallet, open one of them, it appears you’ve revealed a total den! If you are an ophidiophile, you might wish to collect all the four styles, and arrange them on your dresser to get a nest.

Ruby Eye seems to be a progression from the earlier Black Rainbow collection, with a surface treatment that seems to be psychedelic snake skin. This came after the spongy Fat Tortoise! It appears that Comme des Garçons Wallets is having a good run with picks from the reptilian kingdom, without actually having to use exotic skins. Swell.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Comme des Garçons ‘Ruby Eyes’ wallets are available at Dover Street Market Singapore. Product photos: Comme des Garçons. Collage: Just So