Dior’s Tale Of Lesbian Awakening

Another side of Dior, even if only in a tarot-based fantasy?

Are we taking everything too literally when we say that this is a tale of same-sex discovery? Or are we narrowing our thinking, the result of staying too much at home? There is the bath scene. What was that all about? What is it doing in a fashion film? Or, perhaps some might say, why shouldn’t it appear in a fashion film? But isn’t fashion about putting on clothes, rather than taking them off? And what fashion can be discerned when making out in a bath tub? Where the two characters, male (er, masculine should be the better word) and female, played by the same actress, the Italian-French Agnes Claisse (most recently 2017’s Blue Kids) really, in the end, just a union of the ying and the yang, the opposites that exist in us all? Is it possible that loving both our masculine or feminine side is, in fact, just the narcissism we have always denied? Or, is this the love that dares not speak its name—forbidden colours, to quote Yukio Mishima? If the non-utterance and forbiddance is so not now, isn’t it because the film seems to depict medieval times? Don’t you hate it when films, long or short, leave you with more questions than answers?

Fashion is, of course, about fantasy, the faraway, the stuff that exist in dreams until some designer takes it out of there. In hard times, fantasy and dreams are good, some seem to think. While many designers have reacted to the current still-pandemic-stricken situation by reflecting what the mood among fashion adopters is, Dior’s Maria Grazia Chiuri prefers to take the contrary position. Her latest outing takes us to an imaginary Le Château du Tarot (actually a Tuscan residence) in a time that is believed to be when the tarot cards were invented and used the way we know them now. Divination is not alien in the history of the house, as, reportedly, Monsieur Dior himself had often resorted to the reading of tarot cards to help him move forward in hard times. This superstition and the illustrations found on those cards, in particular, the ancient ones, are the basis of the visual positioning of Dior’s spring/summer 2021 haute couture collection.

For now, Ms Chiuri has retired her political/social/feminist statements. The replacement is a moody dreamscape/fantasia that is alive with assorted characters found on tarot cards: the women and feminine representations, such as the High Priestess, Temperance, Justice, and, inevitably(?), Death, appearing in the film by Italian director Matteo Garrone, who had also directed last season’s Dior couture presentation, set among nymphs and fairies in the woods. The dreaminess and soft focus are, therefore, visually recurrent to better recreate a magical realm and, as Dior states, “tarot cards are among the keys to accessing” it. The storyline, as you watch the film, is not immediately clear. It takes place among the many rooms of the said château. The protagonist arrives, she goes in, and is led through multiple rooms by different inhabitants (or are they, like her, visitors too?), one of them laughing dementedly (or eerily?). She sees a masculine character and is lured into seeking him-her. She is given directions by the splendidly-attired that she meets. A few have head-dresses to equal Maleficent’s. Apart from playing ushers, what were they really doing? The climax is the bath, where she who seeks finds he-she who lures. There was the disrobing and then the inevitable kiss. Two become one, to paraphrase The Spice Girls. The masculine absorbs the feminine, and the change of hair colour confirms the union.

The clothes—it’s always about the clothes—hint at her years with her former employer, Valentino, where she co-designed the collections with Pierpaolo Piccioli, whose “reign in the House of Valentino,” Frances McDormand wrote in Time, “has been a lesson in grace.” Ms Chiuri has brought a vestige of that grace to Dior couture, specifically the decorum linked to medieval times, which both designers explored when there were colleagues. There is a palpable modesty to it all, as if to negate the skin bearing or hinting that she has introduced to the RTW. Or are all that fabrics necessary to show off the skills of the atelier? The luscious gowns, without doubt, represent the epitome of dressmaking done mostly by hand. The recherché classicality deliberately illustrates the exquisiteness of couture, in case you didn’t know. It is difficult to position custom-made collections these days. Does a house celebrate craft or design? Can both coexist? Despite the dreamy and fanciful filmic musing, Dior has not really answered the question.

Screen grab (top) and photos: Dior

Priming The Pomp

Dior salutes “the masculine extravagance of ceremonial garb”, as the show notes state. Are you ready for band leader schtick?

For the latest Dior collection, Kim Jones collaborates with yet another artist—Scot-in-Trinidad figurative painter Peter Doig, contemporary of the milliner Stephen Jones (they where schoolmates at Central Saint Martins). The Guardian’s art critic Jonathan Jones’s impression of Mr Doig: “Amid all the nonsense, impostors, rhetorical bullshit and sheer trash that pass for art in the 21st century, Doig is a jewel of genuine imagination, sincere work and humble creativity.” In the first part of Mr Jones’s comment, he could have referred to fashion as well, but we are not sure if Kim Jones (no relation to the critic) is offering anything in his work for Dior that can be characterised as “humble creativity”. If anything at all, the Dior designer has infused the brand with considerable measure of grandiloquence, which is really how some luxury brands are moving forwards theses days, as counterpoint to the the mundane and the necessarily practical that have come to dominate the world, much of it in various guises of lockdown and reduced social interaction. Dior projects that this will all be over by Q3, and we’re all ready to rally around the bandstand and watch society and everything around us bounce rhythmically back.

According to Dior, the collection is a nod to “the ceremony of the everyday”. That is, of course, diametrically different to what we’re used to these days since formal activities conducted in public with some measure of solemnity—or importance—are far and between, or even discouraged. Many pieces in the collection allude to uniforms of brigades ready for a parade. Or, intended for evening dress. Mess dress redux? Our NS men would recognise them as No. 1 dress, although the silhouettes are a lot more relaxed, and the details more akin to the less regimental versions of Calvary uniforms, be they reiterations of the shell jacket or the frock coat. The details—without lapels in some instance (stand collar instead), contrast piping, and brass(?) stud buttons—have the air of the ceremonial, but where do they stand if the occasion were to be decidedly less, say, inaugural, to cite one recent event that’s still fresh in our minds?

These are nothing like those military uniforms that rock stars of the past used to wear—clearly ceremonial, such as the red Grenadier drummer’s jacket that Mick Jagger wore in the ’60s or the authentic hussar’s uniform (believed to date back to 1850s) that former soldier Jimi Hendrix wore, or those braids-aplenty sets adopted by the Beatles during the Sgt. Peppers era. These are, of course, more modern, more cool, as Mr Jones designs are usually tagged. And to augment these two crucial elements, he has added extended/exposed pocket bags to the front of the jackets and appliqued ribbons and stars emerging from the yoke, and tweaked the traditional stripes down the outside leg seams of military trousers—also known to the Germans who popularised them as lampasse—by leaving them stitched up to the knee or up to the calf and flapping like the ends of notched or pointed ribbons respectively.

Yet, theses could be the look of teenagers incorporating drum major uniforms into their anti-establishment stance. Or, as we see them, the mimicking a bell hop’s at-work look. Seeing the clothes this way may obliterate their haute couture bearing (Dior’s petit mains are, again, involved in some of the pieces), but it is precisely this perception that, to us, takes the haute out of the equation. To be sure, these Dior ceremonial coats are, according to Mr Jones, inspired by what artists in France wear during the ceremony when they’re inducted into the Academie des Beaux-Arts in Paris. But how many of us enjoy occasions such as those these inductees partake? Or, the chance to just play dressed-up in looks reminiscent of military folk of yore?

And there is the art collaboration; art being the incorporation in luxury ready-to-wear now that attempts to elevate the ho-hum to high art. Mere graphic design isn’t enough (although Issey Miyake Studio has done wondrous work with the estate of Ikko Tanaka, with such well-received output that there’s an Ikko Tanaka Issey Miyake sub-brand). Art has a long history with haute couture (at present, we’re thinking of Yves Saint Laurent and George Braque). Mr Jones’s previous pairing with Ghanaian artist Amoako Boafo, Portrait of an Artist, yielded a “celebration of identity, of power of creativity”, visibly, not necessarily or convincingly, so. This time, with Peter Doig, the application of the artist’s distinctive brush strokes is more subtle, less plonked-on, less museum shop, and, in some outerwear, the monochrome washes, more textile than canvas, distinguishing themselves as wearable rather than exhibitable. It is not yet clear how successful such collaborations are. Artists, for most, do not paint with the aim of being assimilated into fashion design, which, in the end, is destined for the body, not the easel.

Photos: Dior

The Tassel’s Moment

One 2021 trend for guys is the use of tassels. Yes, the pendant ornaments. You ready to dangle one?

One of the danglies shown at the recent pre-fall 2021 Dior show is not some Kid Cudi-esque necklace or chain. Rather, it is a tassel—the pendant ornament (we’ve never heard it referred to as accessory or jewellery) that is essentially a column of quite tightly packed strings (referred to as a ‘skirt’) topped with a fancy knot or cap. Dior’s (left), fastened to what could be a belt (or waist bag?), has the girth of Chinese ink brush and the length of a man’s forearm. This particularly thick one is gradated, as if the yellow of monks robes is dipped into a vat of purple cabbage. It is fancy, for sure, and, an IG-worthy exaggeration. They are nothing like those leather tassels sometimes affixed to the vamp of loafers. From our perspective, Dior’s seems to glean from the world of Chinese wuxia, or perhaps scholars.

For those with less progressive leaning, we are, admittedly, putting a more masculine spin here. Since the Dior tassels look Chinese (or Oriental, definitely not those on English academic caps—Oxford or Cambridge, take your pick), we’ll look at China, where Kim Jones engaged local embroiderers to create the two-thousand-year-old seed embroidery (繨子绣 or dazixiu) for the Dior collection. Whether this was to expressly cater to a Chinese market or Mr Jones expressing his love for Eastern craft and exotica, it is hard to say.

Anyway, tassels were once used ornamentally on swords (剑 or jian). Broadly speaking, the sword tassel (剑繐 or jian sui) appeared at the end of the hilt of what was known as the scholar’s sword (文剑 or wen jian), used mainly for self defence and dancing, rather than at war, or to project an elegant image—possibly the same motivation as Pharrell Williams in pearls. The tassel was less evident on the martial sword (武剑 or wu jian), which was used on the battlefield. Historically, the tassel mostly hung from the scholar’s sword. If a sword was designated for offensive use, it unlikely came with a tassel, since it would get in the way of a duel. However, the swordsman blessed with cunning might use a long, deceptively limp tassel to target his opponent’s eyes!

But the Chinese tassel did not only hang on the hilt of the sword, it dangled from the waists of men too. These were known as waist accessories (腰佩 or yaopei)—the Dior belt above certainly qualifies as one. In ancient times, both men and women wore carved jade pieces from which hung a tassel (but never as thick as the Dior version). These were known as jinbu (禁步) or ‘forbidden steps’, which, in the case of women, may make sense, since the jinbu was used to hold down the skirt (including the men’s) and possibly preventing the wearer from striding. How this eventually became a check on female deportment isn’t clear. The men did not, however, appear to need to be held back (guys today who wear extra-long canvas belts left dangling from the box buckle could be mimicking the wearing of a jinbu). Apart from the jinbu, both men and women also wore the xiangnang (香囊) or a fragrance pouch. Made of silk and embroidered, they were often attached to a tassel. The xiangnang was usually stuffed with cotton and aromatics, and were used as personal perfume, air-freshener, and even to ward off evil spirits.

A few days after the Dior show, Nike announced the release of the Air Jordan 1 for Chinese New Year 2021 (no drop date was revealed). This basketball shoe—that Dior (again?!) made massive in June—sports one of the style’s most popular colour combo: ‘university red’ (and just as hongbao bright) and black. That the upper would partly come with a brocade fabric sporting oxen is hardly surprising, but that the shoe comes with a tassel is quite unexpected. The cord, red, is fasten along the collar of the sneaker, like a choker, and the tassel, gold, hangs to the side, near the eyestay, like an earring. This tassel, unlike Dior’s is really quite small. Its short fringe body is topped with what looks like a Chinese button knot. Pendant to a necklace. A neat way of wearing an anklet without actually wearing one?

Photos: Dior and Nike respectively. Collage: Just So

“How Do You Say Dior?”

Kim Jones’s masterstrokes at heightening the allure of Deee-or

Kim Jones is undoubtedly a master at name building. Or, strengthening brand equity. He has continually and successfully used the Dior monogram as a visual affirmation of the label’s desirability. And now, he has also done it in song. For his pre-fall 2021 presentation, he has commissioned a soundtrack that leaves you in no doubt as to who has the money to pay for the equivalent of a commercial jingle. The show opened to a campy feline growl of “Diorrr” (and, later, a kittenish “How do you say Diorrr?”) and a familiar electro-riff and driving base: Deee-Lite’s 1990 club hit What is Love, from the New York group’s debut album World Clique, which spawned the massive dance hit Groove is in the Heart. Thirty years later, What is Love returns to the Dior sound stage, through the auspices of serial collaborator of LVMH brands, DJ Honey Dijon (2017’s The Best of Both Worlds). He was able to get Deee-Lite’s lead singer Lady Miss Kier to re-record the vocals for the remixed What is Love, with parts of the single Pussycat Meow thrown in for good measure. It’s all, as Lady Miss Kier would say, “deee-groovy”.

To make it more far-out, the show, originally planned to be shown in Beijing, is set in what appears to be deep space. The space theme happens twice in a row this week. Two days earlier, Balenciaga’s autumn/winter 2021 fashion video game, Afterworld: The Age of Tomorrow, too, alluded to outer space. The Dior models, although less avatar-like, similarly appears to be walking in front of a green screen. Much of the show, then, is a result of some really neat post-production. It delightfully (pardon the pun) contrasts with Deee-Lite’s old-school soundtrack that celebrates good old-fashioned Chicago house with New York pertness. Opposite nature too was seen in the hair of the models. Many wore small plaited buns on each side of the top of their heads. They’re neither especially masculine nor cosmic. Was it because the show was originally destined for Beijing, they were paying tribute to the Chinese protection deity Nezha (哪吒)? Or, if outer space is in mind, maybe a remade and re-scaled Princess Leia coil?

The clothes themselves are not as galactic too. Mr Jones, the prolific collaborator, has chosen the American artist Kenny Scharf this time. Mr Scharf is a giant in the New York art scene of the ’80s and the friend of the now-gone celebrity-artists Keith Harring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. His paintings, generally categorised as ‘street’ or ‘graffiti’, capture a naive kind of joy, especially in his alien-like characters, such as the one depicted in the 1983 portraiture The Fun Inside. In this respect, perhaps Dior this season pays tribute to the cosmos. Mr Jones has incorporated the artist’s globular and jaunty patterns into his clothes, with results that vary on the scale of loud. Mr Scharf’s cartoonish depictions of whatever creatures they are even appear (unsurprisingly) on the Saddle bag and even as a fancy belt (or is that a waist pack?), shaped in part like the characters it depicts. To make the collection couture worthy, some of the art are created using Chinese seed embroidery (繨子绣 or dazi xiu), confirming again, its intended audience.

If you take away the art-as-fashion-print/needlework, the clothes are Mr Jones’s usual straight-on men’s wear, the kind worn in another era, by older urban tribes. These separates (there are 45 looks) do not sport youthful shapes, but since they are targetted at the young, the mature vibe does not matter. Take the balmacaan outerwear, for example; they smack of avuncular pride, even (or especially?) when made in a patterned fabric. Or, the shirts: they’d be just any regular ones if not for the Kenny Scharf print. For details to differentiate, Mr Jones expectedly applies feminine touches: butterfly wings on collars of coats, fringing on shirt tails, massive tassels that hang like pendants on lanterns, or sash-belts tied to the rear as pussy bows. We sometimes sense that Kim Jones designs with K-pop stars in mind. Don’t be surprised that BTS will be outfitted in Dior at the Grammy’s next month.

Photos: Dior

The Clutch

No, we don’t mean the handbag; we’re referring to the way Raf Simons likes his models to hold on to the lapels of their coats, as if buttons don’t exist

From left: Prada spring/summer 2021 (photo: Prada), Jil Sander autumn/winter 2012 (photo: gorunway.com), Christian Dior Couture autumn/winter 2015 (photo: indigitalimages.com)

The way to secure a coat, it seems, is to clutch it. At the opening, just about where your solar plexus is. Ignore the buttons or the zip, or the Velcro. If they are there, they’re decorative details. Hold on to the opening in the form of a grab, but not as if for dear life. Designers like to say that there is a way to tie a sash so that the wearer looks chic. The same goes for your palm-as-fastener. You don’t grip as if to choke (nothing so violent), not even to clench (nothing so threatening). This is not prelude to some Masonic handshake. You curl your fingers to gently hold some fabric, the bend of your arm as if ready for a pet cat tired from walking. Or, at least that is how we think Raf Simons wants us to secure the opening of coats.

For his debut Prada collection that was co-designed with Miuccia Prada, Mr Simons (and Ms Prada) sent out models holding their coats in the said manner. It did not even require the sharp-eyed to see that this is a recognisable Raf Simons gesture. We were transported back to early 2012, at the autumn/winter swan song of his collection for Jil Sander. Those pastel double-faced wool coats, held as if the wearers had just emerged from a shower, clutching the ends of the towel close. We didn’t think much of that. Then came July of 2015, when Mr Simons, then steering Dior, had models do the same with the autumn/winter couture outerwear. Still, it would have been presumptive to consider that signature.

Of the four seasons Mr Simons showed at Calvin Klein, no model—not even one—ever held the opening of either coat or jacket together with one hand, and close to the chest. Many things happened during Mr Simon’s tenure at CK, but coats were left to their respective fastening to do their job. Then came his opening act for Prada a week or so ago. That clutch again. We did not forget. But now we are seeing a pattern. Clearly repetition can be discerned (thrice is enough to qualify), and, while Ms Prada herself had taken the end-of-show bow with hands similarly placed, she had not sent models down the runway doing so. This had to be Mr Simons’s doing. A gestural flourish. He was making a mark—his mark. As with everything these days, will it become a meme?

The (Humbler?) Beginning Of Air Jordan

 At the start, Air Jordan 1 was not the light-coloured shoe that the Air Dior is, nor as madly hyped

 

Air Jordan 1 MidNike’s most popular shoe right now: Air Jordan 1 Mid

By Ray Zhang 

Trending last week was the reveal that Virgil Abloh had gifted Kim Jung Un’s friend Dennis Rodman with a pair of customised Off-White X Air Jordan 1 sneakers. This generous act could be the result of the current obsession with the shoe named after another basketball star that was co-created by Mr Abloh’s colleague Kim Jones. I do not know what was the occasion that required a gift—and a customised one—to be offered to Mr Rodman, thought to be an “informal basketball diplomat of sorts”, but it sure did direct another spotlight on a shoe already enjoying dazzling exposure. Hot cakes really can’t get hotter than this. And more so, after the broadcast of the Michael Jordan documentary, The Last Dance, in April.

No matter the iteration, Air Jordan 1 attracts many who feel deeply connected to the OG. Despite the designer name now associated with it, the AJ1 did not boast a bombastic design (not, at least, by today’s standard) at launch. I can’t say later versions of the shoe kept to the simple lines and graphic composition of the very first. Collaborative ______________(choose your favorite name) X Air Jordan 1s tend to up the game by adding superfluous elements to an already handsome shoe, such as Virgil Abloh’s take (including a Swoosh cut-out, bar-tacked to the upper, as well as some charm-like danglies), which Mr Rodman now has and, probably, will wear.

Air Jordan 1 lowThe Air Jordan 1 Low, although more comfortable for our weather, is not considered less OG than the mid

The early history of the AJ1 is rather shrouded in mystery. There were no 5 million desperate people showing their covetous interest online, mostly just the followers of NBA games, in particular those that Michael Jordan had played. They did, of course, eventually buy a lot of AJ1s. But the unanswered question till today is, did he or didn’t he or, perhaps, did they or didn’t they? I am no basketball player and I do not follow the NBA, so what I know is what have been said. And a lot have been uttered, and they depend on who did the uttering. Even staunch basketball watchers can’t entirely agree on what actually happened. And Nike was happy to not stop the myth-making in its track.

The AJ1s were apparently banned at its debut. Nothing works better for a marketing department than a ban. As the story goes, Michael Jordan wore the shoes and was immediately told not to as the colours—red and black—went against the league’s uniform rules. But he endured, and every time he wore them, a reported USD5,000 fine was imposed on him. Nike, it was said, happily paid for those fines. The league apparently even wrote to Nike in 1985 to explain that those colours were prohibited. “Banned” was good for the AJ1, and in particular the offensive red, which led to the nick name “Bred” Jordan 1, a moniker that added to the forbidden-fruit allure of the shoe.

Farfetch ad

Farfetch ads that disrupt social media news feed showing the ridiculous prices (in USD) of Air Jordan 1 Low in various colours

What made everything more confusing is that there have not been any photo posted showing Mr Jordan in the said colourway during an NBA game of those early years. Some speculated that he was wearing the similar-looking, little-known, hence grailed, Air Ship. To add fuel to that speculation, veteran sports agent Aaron Goodwin posted his pair of the black and red Air Ship from 1984 on Twitter in April, after the broadcast of The Last Dance, encouraging the believe that the sneaker that kicked off the red/black colour craze was possibly another shoe altogether. That’s hard to follow, I know.

Whatever the truth, including the alternative, Air Jordan 1 in the “banned” colours started what we today surrender to and know as hype. No to be outdone—although in less striking colours—was the recent launch of Dior’s take on it, conceived by Kim Jones. I suspect that the drastically toned-down colour story of the latest, luxury version is deliberate, so as to create the kind of madness the brash OG did back then. It is doubtful that anyone who bought the Dior version of the kicks care about the backstory of the original AJ1, but with the hype machine cranked up, hypebeasts would lust after them. To me, the Air Dior, to call it by its official name, built on the solid design of the first version and did little else. Even if money was no issue, I’d stick to the OGs. Better value, too.

Air Jordan 1 Mid P2The Air Jordan 1 Mid is now the sneaker to be seen in

I have never been big on basketball kicks. In fact, the only ones I own have been the older Air Force 1. But I am now looking at the Air Jordan 1 with renewed interests. This could be due to a desire to return to more streamlined footwear after the ridiculous dad shoe craze of the past seasons. In fact, when Nike re-issued the Daybreak a year or more ago, and with this season’s Killshot, I sensed that sneakers closer to the shape of our feet will be making a huge comeback. Back in the early ’80s, the AJ1s were probably Nike’s first colour-blocked sneakers, therein lies their appeal to me. Sure, colour-blocking is no longer special now, but back then, when sneakers were either white or black, or grey, the AJ1 colours were a symbol of defiance, or as they like to say now, attitude.

If you look at the later Air Jordans of the last ten or so years (34 versions and counting!), attitude meant bigger form factors and bolder colours. In fact, admiring the AJ1s now, it is hard to believe that they had, in fact, a far less bombastic design language than today’s wearers are used to. The ‘1’ was a rather simple, sneaker-looking shoe, not the ship-load that it became in later iterations, which may explain their appeal today. People could simply be sick of wearing sneakers that scream for attention for the sake of screaming for attention. The irony is that the AJ1, with its past-era simplicity and innocence, now garners attention for its clean-cut looks. In the present, I am not shouting, and certainly, not my kicks.

Air Jordan 1 Mid, from SGD179, and Air Jordan 1 Low, from SGD159, are available at select Nike retailers. Photos: Zhao Xiangji

Fashion Week Or Commercial Break?

With the third digital fashion week since LFW last month, a trend is clear to see: there are no fashion shows, just an interruption in normal programming to broadcast advertisements

 

LV Men SS 2021LV men’s ‘show’. Screen grab: Louis Vuitton/YouTube

Fashion week. What fashion week? By now, it is clear: There are no fashion weeks. We’ve been duped. Following Paris Men’s Fashion Week that wrapped up moments ago, no deep analysis is required to see that there are not only no shows, there are no clothes. Okay, that’s admittedly an exaggeration, but brands in general seemed to be displacing an event that offers the possibility of discerning fashion trends with a digital hub for a massive branding exercise. After London Fashion Week and Haute Couture Fashion Week, and now Paris Men’s Fashion Week, it is obvious that the “front-row seat” we were promised was there for us to watch mostly inane advertisements, one after another. Its been, for us, three long commercial breaks and little else.

If not, what would one call Louis Vuitton’s screening, The Adventures of Zoooom with Friends? Oscar contender it may not be, but it’s a live action/animated short, conceived to wean the young on LV, an approach akin to McDonald’s marketing strategy. Virgil Abloh may not be a brilliant designer, but we’d still like to see what ho-hum collection he’ll put out, what “changes” he will still introduce to men’s wear. There was nothing. We sat through the three-and-half-minute video featuring two porters carrying a trunk (sounds familiar?), loading it onto an intermodal container and allowing motley animated characters that did not appear to have the EU’s Category C1 licence to take over the driving of the LGV. Other vehicles soon joined this one. They arrived at the Seine and the containers were loaded on a barge that subsequently sailed down the river (sounds familiar?), led by a tugboat. There was no destination and the rest of the video showed the animated animals doing their groovy thing—dance. And somewhere in there, champagne was smashed. Talk about product placement!

Dior SS2021Dior’s Portrait of an Artist. Screen grab: Dior/YouTube

If not advertisements, they are pseudo-docus, such as Dior’s. Mr Abloh’s colleague, Kim Jones, expressed his timely inclusiveness in the wake of BLM by collaborating with Amoako Boafo, the Vienna-based Ghanaian artist known for his exploration of blackness and identity in such works as the Black Diaspora portraits. The Dior video, Portrait of an Artist, opened with an intro of the painter and some his friends as models wearing the collection (the recent highly-hyped kicks were seen too). It was a 21st century newsreel shot with better cameras. There was the so-called fashion show segment at the end, but with the focus-and-then-out-of-focus treatment, the clothes worn by only black models barely registered, and, by the end of the 10-minute film, it was hard to remember what was seen. The Dior couture video was called out for its lack of diversity in the casting. The same could be said of Dior men’s.

There was an unmistakable and conscious attempt to salute blackness. It was perhaps woke and necessary for the image of the brands, and understandably so, but it was fragmentary that the support of one should be at the exclusion of others. And was it just a reaction or a token? Thom Browne featured a solo black man, the American singer-songwriter Moses Sumney in nothing except a pair of white sequinned wrap-skirt, with a pair of black stripes placed diagonally across from waist to hem. Mr Sumney sang, so this could be destined for Vimeo or the Grammy. The hot Belgian brand Botter by the duo Lisi Herrebrugh & Rushemy Botter, showed, after a one-and-half-minute intro in which they admitted “to trying to express our humble yet positive vision towards the Black Lives Matter movement and other large issues we have been facing all together at once”, parts of their collection on two black models pretending to be models. To be sure, Botter has been a woke brand. The spring/summer 2018’s Fish or Fight collection was dedicated to Caribbean immigrants.

Lemaire SS 2021The usual effortless ease of Lemaire. Screen grab: Lemaire/YouTube

There were attempts at fashion shows. Despite the earlier lockdowns that resulted in the digital version of (many) things, some designers have been busy at work. And they have the output to show. Semblances of a runway presentation were, therefore, tried out. Christophe Lemaire’s was the most obvious. The models—quite many of them—walked across what appeared to be a disused portion of a warehouse. There was no accompanying message from the designer, or explanation of how he came to do what he did, just the clothes. At CMMN SWDN, the married Swedes, Emma Hedlund and Saif Bakir, presented a catwalk flanked, not by an audience, but troughs of dried wheat. With just three models, they were able to show 21 looks. Yohji Yamamoto, too, presented a fashion runway—possibly the world’t shortest. Yet, the dreary show of video footages and slides was nearly 15-minutes long; it did not engage for more than five minutes before boredom set in. It was the monotony of both the choreography and clothes.

If viewers were put to sleep by Mr Yamamoto’s runway, would a fashion follower, then, sit through the Dries Van Noten show where there was nothing to follow, except a model playing an imaginary drum in headache inducing lighting? Or be poised enough to ignore the social-distancing-be-damned vibe of the 10-year retrospective video of Pigalle Paris? Or have the patience to watch a video of what could be a deeply unhappy model (actually) followed by someone wearing a switched-on action cam, such as at Études? Or is this merely a reflection of life during a lockdown?

Berluti SS 2021At a Berluti fitting with Kris Van Ascche (rear). Screen grab: Berluti/Youtube

Berluti’s Kris Van Assche is the only designer who truly allowed us to go behind his inspiration that led to the collaboration with the ceramicist Brian Rochefort. A revealing and compelling documentary that showed a designer and sculptor at work, one doing a fitting, one bringing his art to life, told with clarity and through dialogue that was sincere. Amiri, too, showed designer Mike Amiri, at work, presumably in Los Angeles. The reveal was voiced by industry types, such as buyers from Bergdorf Goodman, Mr. Porter, and the Hong Kong multi-label store Joyce, as if to approve the American-Iranian’s work. Mr Amiri himself also joined the conversation, saying, “When I arrived (in Paris) just a few years ago, it would be easy to assume that a Los Angeles designer would be out of place within the conversation of global luxury.” He also added, as if to self-validate, “However, with each collection and every season, it seems that we are actually perfectly within our place.” Acceptance and inclusion continued to run through this fashion week.

Only one brand truly demonstrated, literally, how their clothes are to be worn. Y/Project’s Glenn Martens showed his Transformers fashion soundlessly, but engagingly. The screen was split into 3 panels. A model appeared on each panel in one look and, with the help of dressers, morphed into another, usually by unbuttoning and re-buttoning or untying and re-tying. It is compelling to watch how the looks/clothes are transfigured—not transmogrified—since on the runway we mostly see the end results. Or how silhouettes can change or details can be revealed when there were none at first. This may be helpful to those who have never been able to figure out how their two-as-one (sometimes three) garments should be worn and to yield what effect.

20-07-14-15-58-44-652_decoY/Project in full demo mode. Screen grab: Y/Project/YouTube

Few designers worked outside the range of excess cleverness or deeply dull. It may be immoderate to expect enlightening, even immersive, but for most brands, the experiences offered were, at best, superficial. The whole Paris Men’s Fashion Week felt like a fringe event, not the real deal. The addition of “exclusive” this and that—interviews mostly—added to its peripheral sub-current. The one advantage of watching an online presentation is the option of moving the forward button on the timeline slider bar. Oftentimes, 30 seconds into a video, it can be decided if we wanted to sit through it. Perhaps it’s too much to expect a designer, however good in story-telling, to also excel in content creation, since we wouldn’t expect a film director to be equally excellent in costume design.

While it is true that fashion shows can’t return to pre-pandemic excesses (yet), we didn’t expect three fashion weeks in a row to be like this. Many seasoned journalists say “a computer screen can’t compare…” True, for the rest of us who have always been watching the shows live-streamed to our flat screens, those previous times were better than what’s currently available. Fashion shows, in the form before COVID-19, now seem poised for a necessary comeback. If that happens, not only would those behind the scenes of a runway presentation get back their jobs, trend-chasers too could reinstate themselves, as well as fashion critics (and, gasp, influencers). And fashion show reviews, too! In the Berluti video, Kris Van Assche said, “I really love fashion shows; I love the emotion. There is this one thing you can’t do in fashion shows which is put pause…” To that, we’ll add: Let them halt not.

Dior Does Dolls

Homage to the fashion dolls of the 14th century? Dior’s couture collection during a pandemic is sized-down, dreamy, and nymphs-of-the-woods unreal

 

Dior couture Jul 2020 P1

As expected, Dior’s presentation of its autumn/winter 2020 haute couture collection comes in the form of a film. The fashion film, not a new medium, has always been supplementary in the communication of themes of collections, not the main means in which ideas are conveyed. During a time when social distancing is not only encouraged, but mandated in some places, fashion shows are mostly cancelled. An audience is no longer expected. Yet, the story of fashion has to be told. And tell Dior does. The film is otherworldly and the clothes are created in miniature on a doll—diminutive dressmaker forms, in fact—and then transported in a doll house to its potential clients—in the woods.

In the 14th century, when fashion was the domain of the royal courts, dolls, not little tailor dummies, were once exchanged among the ladies of aristocratic households. This was before the advent of the fashion magazine. These dolls were dressed in the latest styles; they showed what the latest trends were in France, and were sent across Europe. According to Marianne Thesander  in The Feminine Ideal, “the earliest fashion dolls date from the late fourteenth century when Isabella of Bavaria sent fully equipped dolls to the Queen of England to demonstrate the fashions at the court of Burgundy.”

Dior couture Jul 2020 P2

Dior’s film, Le Mythe Dior (The Dior Myth), by the Italian director Matteo Garrone, is less about history than mythology. The couture dresses in miniature (they aren’t tiny as all of them are taller than the seamstresses’ forearm) are fitted on the mannequins and sent to prospective customers, in this case, nymphs. The setting is some idyllic unknown woods, with a verdant sumptuousness that nymphs deserve to dwell in. Nymphs are from ancient Greek folklore and they are thought to personify nature, and were represented by lovely maidens. The film depicts what appears to be the Naiads, freshwater nymphs; the Meliae, tree nymphs; and others of a mysterious divine retinue, including the odd, not particularly lustful satyr.

The dresses are transported in a trunk that depicts a building, one that bears an uncanny resemblance to the maison-as-dress shown in Dior’s haute couture autumn/winter collection last year. This trunk is carried by two porters who also serve as salesmen who, talented as they are, could take measurements of the nymphs—in one case of a woman who lives in a conch, in the nude. If she doesn’t need clothes then, why suddenly the desire for haute couture? The nymphs very quickly get the dresses they chose, and the rest of the film shows the delight of the nymphs wearing them, one frolicking in, strangely, a bamboo forest! We were expecting Zhang Ziyi’s Yu Jiaolong character in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon to fly among the trees!

Dior couture Jul 2020 P4

There are ten gowns in the trunk. It isn’t clear how Dior will sell an entire couture collection of a reported 37 looks (the last, numbered 77) based on ten red-carpet dresses. These featured frocks seem at odds with the present mood, when large public gatherings are disallowed and when all award ceremonies have, as far as we’re aware, been cancelled or postponed. Even weddings are given the pause. It isn’t certain who Dior thinks might need to be attired in this manner now, or in the next six months. Grecian dresses, poufy gowns, and tiered confections may be pretty to the evening wear seeker, but unless she’s collecting, there is scant reason to buy them presently.

If fashion is about dreams, perhaps Dior is creating one. It encourages the couture wearer to look into groves and grottoes, marshes and riverbanks to see nymphs transform from wearing their near-naked non-fashions to gowns with a post-war, ready-to-live-again sense of excess. A woman can be as ethereally beautiful as a nymph. And then you realise that the porters (or are they bellboys?) look like they are of the present era, and the dresses for a Trump-era prom. The magic is no more.

Screen grabs: Le Mythe Dior

Much Ado About Shoes

Dior has set up a microsite for the launch of its collaboration with Nike’s Air Jordan 1. What was the “exclusive online experience” like?

 

Dior microsite

It was supposed to be the most anticipated sneaker launch. And then it was announced that scoring a pair would be possible online only. Less than an hour before the first-come-first-served arrangement (in fact, a registration exercise) was made known. Dior was certain to emphasise the “exclusive online experience”. In fact, in a press advisory, it stated:

Please use this exact wording for the launch: “exclusive online experience”

We are, unfortunately, unable to highlight the text within the inverted commas in fluorescent yellow to illustrate how it appeared in our inbox. Believing that it would be an experience, we clicked on the link to explore.

Rare is the website that is monochromatic—Dior’s is. Created to spotlight their collaboration with Air Jordan, it is entry into a flat, soundless world. The experience, which would be no more than five minutes, is low-key to the point of  blandness. If you are hoping for song and dance, you’ve arrived at the wrong shoe store.

In the main page, the star sneaker Air Jordan 1 OG—first released in 1985 and is touted by Nike as “the one that started it all”—is spotlighted in two out of the three sub-windows. In the first, photos of four angles of the sneakers and two close-ups of the the monogrammed Swoosh detail; in the second, some stills of the making of the shoes, and in the third, four pictures of the Air Dior capsule collection.

Dior microsite 2

If you are not interested in the marcom of the shoe, you can just click ‘enter’, and you will be linked to the page where you can choose which of the two available styles you desire. Then another page appears, and you select the size of the shoe, and fill in your personal details. Payment is not (yet) requested. You’ll receive an SMS notifying you when you can go to the ION Orchard store (only one) to drool at your kicks.

That’s it. No more experiential than ordering from Nike’s website. In fact, the Swoosh’s own SNKRS app is more explorable (unfortunately the said shoe isn’t available here). Dior’s emphasis on the “experience” aspect of a mere reservation exercise is an over-sell.

We visited the microsite at midnight, five hours after reservations opened. It looked to us that all sizes were still available. About an hour or so after, when we returned to the bookmarked page, we were greeted by a large box above ‘Enter’ that read: “reservation closed”. That was fast! Perhaps an experience prolonged is no experience at all.

Screen grabs: capsule.dior.com

The Shoes That Will Sell Out Before You Know It

Dior launches the pandemic period’s most-hyped shoe. Before talking about it, we have to be sure not to upset “very particular” Paris

 

Dior X Air Jordan 1 OGs

The Dior press office in Singapore recently sent a two-part press release pertaining to two pairs of sneakers that will launch today. The e-mails were distinguished by their stern, instructional quality—the second especially so. Although the follow-up, just received, stated clearly that information provided is protected by an embargo (a restriction evocative of media advisories issued by government ministries), the writer/sender of the directive counselled that “no articles should be out before this timing”. This was 40 minutes before the allowable published hour of 7pm this evening, our time. It did not say what will happen if the rule is flouted.

Getting the news out at the exact moment they wanted was not sufficient. Anyone penning a piece about the online launch event, and sharing “the pictures of the (name of photographer) shooting” (yes, in bold, and yes, as in the Rayshard Broooks shooting), has to use words prescribed by the brand. “Paris is very particular on the wordings used and to avoid any use of wrong words, we strongly recommend for you to stick to the press text shared in the e-news for digital stories,” the order went. It was followed by ‘Press Guidelines’ that came in bullet form, with five points to follow, including words that must be used, highlighted in hi-vis colours.

It is hard to be sure that this isn’t written instruction preceding an O-level exam paper. Not wanting to risk the wrath of Paris and fearing “any use of wrong words”, we decided it is best not to name the event nor the product in this digital story. By now, many readers would know which shoe will be launched (major sneakerhead websites have already published the news days earlier. CNA Luxury ran it six hours ago) and that it’s a strictly online activity (Google for the microsite). The photo above may assist if you are unsure what the shoes in question are. If this is a must-buy for you, we wish you the best of luck. Oh, prepare S$3,500 for the high-cut or S$3,100 for the low.

Product photos: Dior. Collage: Just So

 

Two Of A Kind: These Doodles

Serial imitator Philipp Plein is one daring guy to do Dior. If you want to see the real deal, go to ION Orchard and ride an escalator

 

20-06-20-21-30-05-716_decoThe escalator plastered with repeated text of Dior, at ION Orchard. Photo: Zhao Xiangji

By now, you’d have read about one designer who had the nerve to put out something clearly associated with another. Philipp Plein, a German lawyer-turned-designer was recently called out for sharing an image of typographic play on his name which bears an uncanny resemblance to what Shawn Stussy has done for Dior in the current season. For some, it isn’t enough your clothes are not original, your communication material has to be too.

The similarities (see below) are not vague. The text, in flowy/wavy hand-drawn style, placed side by side with Dior’s is as different as Brie and Camembert. Mr Stussy’s flowers are replaced with skulls (its use itself is in clichéd territory), but that differentiation is a stroke of futility. Yet, Mr Plein, a noted bling “king of crass”, to paraphrase Bloomberg, sees his neoteric version good enough to stand on its own without immediately evoking the very recent work of someone else, a noted and just-celebrated illustrator/designer, whose influence is acknowledged by Kim Jones in his pre-fall collection for Dior.

Dior vs Plein June 2020Variations on a theme: (clockwise from top left) Dior, Philipp Plein, Dior. Philipp Plein. Photos: Dior and Philipp Plein, respectively

If you need a close encounter of the original, your best bet is to go to ION Orchard and ride—or look at—the escalator on the first floor, just outside the Dior men’s store. This is striking brand communication. Although advertisements stretched across the balustrade panel of escalators are nothing new (these days, almost anywhere can be ad space), Dior did not use this part of the moving stairway. Instead, it employed the much wider skirt panel (inside which the entire system under the steps is hidden) for the textual pattern that, when seen in its entirety, is almost installation art. No selfie-serving-as-fashion-shoot required.

But for Mr Plein, there may not be the need to concern himself with art, let alone art already created by someone else. For as long as he can amplify what is already illustratively stated, he will do so, and it will be consistent with the label’s inherent crassness. Mr Plein, of course, has a different—not necessarily cognizant—sense of what is refine or sophisticated. His eponymous label, including a men’s wear line branded ‘Billionaire’, represents the excess of wealth and embraces what to many others is plain tacky. Bloomberg quoted the designer saying, “Philipp Plein is a brand that’s very polarizing—you either hate it or you love it.” Which side to take isn’t a hard decision to make.

阿莲 On The Book Tote?

In China, you could have it if you wanted to. But Dior’s personalisation for one of its most popular bags may have an unintended effect: could it be fake?

 

ABCDior in Chinese fontABCDior personalisation in Chinese font. From left, the bags of actresses/celebs Zhang Xueying, Jing Tian, and Wu Jinyan. Photos: Dior/Weibo

Dior’s bag personalisation service, ABCDior, has arrived in China with the option of having the Book Tote, to name one, embroidered in logosyllabic Chinese characters. According to some local media reports, ABCDior as embroidered-name-on-bag has been met with lukewarm response. Despite celebrity endorsement and a feverish return to shopping after the COVID-19 lockdown has been lifted, women are not biting. Surprising?

To be sure, the Book Tote is, by most accounts and inane unboxing videos, still a popular bag, but would hanzi (汉字) of your choice enhance its appeal? For the Chinese, the height of prestige and sophistication is association with a European name, spelled out in letters of the Latin alphabet. Luxury brand’s snob appeal would be considerably, if not entirely, reduced if Chinese characters take the place of anything from A to Z and back again, so much so that, with the exception of the press, Chinese consumers rarely, if ever, write Dior in its Chinese script: 迪奥 (pronounced dí ào).

One major complaint, it appears, is the font choice. According to reports, as well as posts on Weibo, many (even Dior fans) are horrified by the plain and generic typeface, believed to be Source Han Sans, a sans-serif gothic type conceived by Adobe and Google, first released in 2014. This was clearly picked to match Dior Book Tote’s serif-free, unidentified typeface, that has the minimalism of the-still-popular Helvetica, but none of the latter’s relaxed cool nor the elegance of the original font, designed by the Parisian typographer Georges Peignot. In English, or French, the full name of the creator of the New Look, while unnecessarily busy-looking in full caps, still evokes widespread admiration and respect. What does the name of actresses—or the regular Dior consumer—call up?

Personal branding to augment luxury branding is merely the sprinkles on an already fancy cake

 

To be certain, the brand name of the unlined, Oblique-patterned Dior Book Tote is still kept since its already embroidered as part of the jacquard canvas. For the ABCDior service, the customer’s name is embroidered on the opposite, (for most users) body-facing side, which, in the end, may not front the public as much as Monsieur Dior’s full name. Although Dior has engaged actresses—looking like they are out to the supermarket—such as Zhang Xueying (张雪迎, due to appear in the new Chen Kaige film Flowers Bloom in the Ashes) and Jing Tian (景甜, in a nearly wordless role in 2017’s King Kong: Skull Island) to show off the bag with their names on it, the effort smacks of pretentious display. Personal branding to augment luxury branding is merely the sprinkles on an already fancy, good-to-look-at gateau.

There is also the thought that the Dior with Chinese characters, featuring a bland font, look like fakes, an unimaginative Qipu Lu (七浦路) Market—if you’re in Shanghai—spin-off. We also see another fake—personalisation as fake customisation. This is, in fact, merely identification, rather than personalisation that reflect one’s personality. Placing your name on a bag is the same as inscribing your initials on the back of a watch, on the body of a pen, in the inside of a ring—it does not make the watch, the pen, and the ring any different from when you first chose either. It does not become more you.

And there’s a third fake: an unreal sense of superiority—that because one’s bag now comes with one’s name could be better than another without. The thing about such personalisation is that one person’s name is not another’s titular treasure. If, as it is commonly known, tai tais and society ladies sell their bags to acquire the next newest, would a tote that spots a name such as 阿莲 (Ah Lian) have appeal, let alone resale value?

Of course, the personalised Book Tote was already carried by stars such as Rihanna and the KOL Chiara Ferangni way before ABCDior embroiderers travelled the world. The service was available here last June at the Dior store in The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands. The personalisation, as we understand it, was not available in Chinese characters then. Dior had not made known the total number of bags—in the Oblique monogram style only, including the Diorcamp messenger (and the Walk‘n’Dior sneakers)—that had been embroidered. We may, therefore, never know of the personalisation’s popularity here. In the end, our names, like any child knows, should be, at most, used as icing on birthday cakes.

Collage: Just So