(2017) Winters Style 4: The Bib-Hoodie

COS padded hood AW 2017

Jackets and coats with a hoodie are, for many, winter staples, but they may look a smidgen too street. But sometimes, a hoodie is useful, such as during times of inclement weather or when you need to be really bundled up to feel warm. What if you can add a hoodie to any outer you already own without actually buying one that comes attached?

When we first spotted this at the COS store in ION orchard, a sales assistant helpfully told us that this is a “fake hoodie”. Quite amused by the on-trend description, we wanted to see how forged it was. In essence, this “padded hood”, as COS officially calls it, is a hooded, zip-up bib, so compactable that it’s really a very handy extra to carry in even a handbag.

The sleeveless top comes cropped—ending slightly below the bustline—which, to us, makes it more fetching than a vest. It, too, allows for much more interesting layering since you can play with different lengths as counterpoint to a heavy and possibly ponderous overcoat.

The same assistant also told us that a man’s version is available as well—reason to look like a romantic twosome! When we asked if the “fake hoodie” is filled with down, the reply was simple: “polyester”. Were we expecting too much?

COS ‘Padded Hood’, SGD115, is available at COS stores. Product photo: COS. Collage Just So

As Unsexy As Ever

And that is a good thing

COS pic 1

By Mao Shan Wang

COS has never been big on selling the kind of clothes that makes you feel like Kim Kardashian or the women who walk too regularly at night outside Orchard Towers. And that’s one of the reasons why I am a fan. But more than that: COS offers clothes that do not make you look foolish. In this age of some very strange antics and bodily representation on Instagram, I do think appearing sensible is a boon to one’s sanity. But sensible does not have to be boring. This has nothing to do with normcore, if that icky word is still in use. COS has proven again and again that minimalism can be compelling. Minimalism need not be pigeonholed.

This is the 10th year of business for COS, and, since its inception in 2007, has been producing eminently wearable clothes that do not remain on the side of dull. As if proof is needed, they have just released (actually, yesterday) a limited-edition, 10-piece (five for men, three for women, one for boys, and one for girls) collection to celebrate their anniversary and it clearly illustrates the advantage of clean that is COS. Good design, it is often said, lets the cut and the fabric do the talking, and what voluble and vivid message this is.

COS pic 2

As COS tells it in its eponymous magazine for spring/summer, “Every item… started life as a continuous rectangle of material. During an exacting design process, the space between individual pattern pieces was minimized, raising the bar for precision garments whose smart elements fit together like a puzzle.” Smart: everyone desirous of using smart gadgets in a smart city would appreciate that deceptively simple, but surely rigorous approach to design. I sure do. Okay, I am not speaking for all of you.

Appealing is the working with the one-dimensionality of fabrics, and using geometry to create something that can be worn on a clearly 3-D body. This would involve a highly-skilled patterning team, and the one at COS is. They would not shy away from toying with the space between the body and cloth, creating clothes that are not bashful of their roominess and boxiness. There is particular attention paid to symmetry so that every item has the beauty of balance. There’s also the play with lines, such as the curve on the side of the double hem of the men’s shirt-jacket. It takes after the curvature of the sleeve head, again underscoring the geometric interplay that is central to the design approach of this capsule.

COS pic 3

COS has likened the silhouette and softness of the collection to Japanese clothes, especially the kimono. While it is true that body-contouring is less a design element in Asian dressmaking (the kimono, for example, is fashioned without taking into consideration the contours of the body) than it is in the European’s, but to me, the un-bandaged silhouette of COS is also synonymous with those of other lands, such as the Middle East—the ancient Israelites, for example, wore robes in the shape of the T, known as kĕthoneth, of which Joseph’s colourful one is possibly the most known, being central to the Biblical stories of the Old Testament.

The less-structured form that COS has adopted is in line with the hitherto somewhat discreet push for a more relaxed approach to dress that has rather Oriental overtones (but not, obviously, the bluster of Gucci). Proponents include Craig Green, Rick Owens, Nakamura Hiroki of Visvim, Hirata Toshikiyo and Kazuhiro of Kapital, and Alexandra Byrne, whose costume for the 2016 Marvel film Doctor Strange is no doubt inspired by the garb of kungfu masters of yore.

I’d be the first to admit that the minimalist style (and styling) of COS has its limits. Amid ceaseless online and offline visual stimulation and provocation, these clothes, though powerful in their purity, are just too impotent to arouse. Is this why at yesterday’s opening-day sale of COS 10 (as the capsule is referred to in the store), there was no queue, no rush, no rack-side mayhem? Or was it because this was a no-big-name effort? Quiet begets quiet, and, unsurprisingly, calm came to sit alongside the clothes.

COS ‘10-Piece Capsule’ is now available at COS, Ion Orchard. Photos: COS

(2016) Winter Style 3: The Hybrid Jacket


Sometimes, for your winter holiday, you want neither a puffer jacket nor a tailored overcoat. Perhaps you want something that is as relaxed as a sweat top, but isn’t one (enough of those!). This is where this oversized jacket with military flourish by COS comes in.

We’re attracted to the tented shape: it’s cape-like, but not as fly-away as an actual cape. This outer comes with sleeves: not one pair but two. The top-layer sleeves are extended from the dropped shoulder (which makes the overall shape more relaxed) and reach just past the elbow, while the inner sleeves are slimmer and cover the wrist, which is what you want in the cold. We especially like the illusion it gives: there seems to be two article of clothing here when, in fact, there’s only one. That’s what fashion editors would call clever layering and what your suitcase will call, happily, one item less.

When worn, it has the fit of a parka, which means it is roomy enough for you to don a thick fisherman’s sweater under it, or even a bubble coat. The rear of the jacket is cut longer than the front, and is lightly elasticised to gently hug the hips—practical detail for windy conditions. Talking about wind, there are also those oversized pentagonal pockets, the perfect repository for a smartphone, a camera, and your freezing hands.

This jacket, which zips in the front like a blouson, is light too. Made of a spongy synthetic fabric that looks and feels like the love child of neoprene and French terry, it is an outer that won’t put undue pressure on the weight limit of your check-in luggage. This holiday season, we sure can live with that.

COS women’s oversized jacket with detachable hood, SGD275, is available at COS stores. Product photo: COS. Collage: Just So

A Simple Thing That Makes A Big Difference


COS fabric covered necklace AW 2015

It really does not have to be complicated. A line and a curve—two simple forms can be combined for striking effect. That’s what COS has done with this unassuming necklace. Taking the basic shape of an unadorned band, it has created a piece of jewellery that looks like the outline of a necklace fused to a disc pendant.

Up close, the tactile quality is surprising and alluring. The entire necklace—essentially a partial ring pendant attached to a ball chain—is sheathed in a stretch, tubular sweater-knit. It’s unabashedly simple, yet there’s something incredibly arresting about it. It’s not at all hard to visualise it against a white cotton tee; or a cream, silk shell-top; or a heather-grey, cotton jersey turtleneck pullover. It’s really that straightforward. And therein lies its beauty.

Simplicity has always been a COS hallmark. The ease of style that it adopts for its clothes is extended to its jewellery too. Geometric shapes play a big part in the design of necklaces, earrings, cuffs, bracelets, and rings, but they are never overly bold and clumsily chunky. This necklace exemplifies COS’s flair with fine lines and off-kilter shapes.

Sometimes the best things in fashion are black, matte, and simple.

COS fabric covered necklace, SGD49, is available at all COS stores. Photo: COS

COS And Effect

COS interior 1An unsuspecting woman walking into COS will not likely guess its parent company is H&M. Visually, COS is such an antithesis of her fast-fashion distant relation (surely they can’t be parent and child!) that even on the level in Ion Orchard shared by brands such as CK Calvin Klein, Marc by Marc Jacobs, and Red Valentino, it looks apart from the rest. Inside, almost everything looks right, even the customers. In this orderly store, where the clothes sit comfortably spaced among themselves, those who zero in on the unembellished and monochromatic pieces are like the merchandise: calm and collected.

We always imagine people who like quiet fashions to not have zesty personalities. True, COS is not where you’ll find Kim Kardashian shopping, but so many women who go through each garment on the racks with the same reposed interest as those picking up teacups in an English china shop are dizzyingly stimulating in speech and style. These are shoppers who connect to the clothes with both heart and mind, knowing that what they pick will outlive the “fast” and that, contrary to what they’ve been seduced to believe by the retail tribe led by H&M, is not a bad thing.

COS interior 2Among brands of similar positioning, COS is really an anomaly. It is the Jasper Morrison of high-street fashion. Its designs are skewed towards form and function (with a visible relationship between the two). Simplicity is at the heart of its appeal, but it’s a simplicity that’s spontaneous than studied. This, in fact, for many women (and men, too) who don COS clothes, is the label’s true trump card: an effortless stylishness that not only appeals but has impact. You look good in these clothes and few can tell why.

Lest it’s mistaken, COS do not offer clothes of extreme simplicity. Today’s minimalism, fronted by Celine, Jil Sander, and Raf Simons, is not just about a clean surface and dull palette. Rather, it is concerned with clever solutions that can give the most straightforward shape interesting—even witty—details that flatter the body. With COS, this is now mostly seen in their use of pleats, darts and unusual seam placements that yield volumes and proportions in sums rarely seen among mid-market brands such as Zara (interestingly, even Zara is traipsing the minimalist route: check out their current collect). To put in another way, COS is simply refreshing.

COS MagEven their in-house publication is unlike any catalogue you’ll find in a fashion store. With paper and binding that suggest an old-school notebook, it contains as much about the minimalist clothes as the designs, scenes, artists and technicians sharing the brand’s clean-line aesthetics. This is a magazine the discerning will read and collect.

COS, which stands for Collection of Style (not exactly a terribly stylish name, but consider H&M’s newest label, & Other Stories! Or the former’s own house brand, L.O.G.G. or Label of Graded Goods!), is only 6 years old. In Asia, Singapore is the third city to open after Hong Kong and Beijing. For those who derive national pride in such trivia, we’re ahead of the US, which will only see its first COS store in New York in March next year. How much this expansion outside the brand’s initial target of Europe will impact global mass-market fashion is not as clear as its design sharpness.

If history can throw up some clues, COS may not be as big as H&M. Minimalism, as we know it, first appeared in the Nineties as a reaction to the earlier decade’s excesses. But it did not become formidable as consumers were influenced by a particularly potent pop scene that advocated showiness over substance and by luxury brand conglomerates that encouraged conspicuous over discreet consumption. Similarly, as trends today are propelled by uninhibited social media, and fashion isn’t fashion until it shouts, screeches, and screams, the backlash that is the minimalism of COS may be only a temporary respite from the din. A look at the languid traffic in the store, one can foresee COS marching to its own drumbeat rather than leading a war.

COS debuts in Singapore at Ion Orchard on 03-23