Can the little red dot stand shoulder to shoulder with the little black dress? A native islander and friends look at fashion (and such) in Singapore, and, occasionally, among her neighbours, and a little further afield
At the Dior Cruise 2024 show in Mexico City, it rained, but the show did go on, unsensationally
Dior chose the wrong day for their cruise show in Mexico City. It rained. While the international guests sat sheltered from the shower, the model had to walk in the open—in the courtyard of los Pasantes of the Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso, where the subject of Maria Grazia Chiuri’s inspiration Frida Kahlo went to school to study art in the 1920s (it’s now a museum)—and let the heavy clouds do their thing. We do not known if the models’ contract allowed them to continue working alfresco, even when the weather is clearly inclement, but the girls sure looked unhappy, as if they were under the rain against their wishes. At the Jil Sander presentation during the label’s spring/summer 2023 show last September, they knew they could not avoid the rainfall of that day. When the time came and the clouds could not hold back, the models were each given an umbrella to saunter in the downpour. No such luck for those walking for Dior. They carried on calmly, the clothes seemingly impervious to the water.
As with the Dior cruise 2023 shown in Seville, Spain last June, or the fall 2023 show in India two months ago, the latest cruise collection left you in no doubt as to which country the maison is paying homage to. Not that doing so is a bad thing, but, increasingly, these shown-in-distant lands collections, conceived to reflect local aesthetical traditions, as well as to showcase their crafts are just exercises to let the indigenous voice do much of the talking. While supporting those craftspeople whose work would otherwise not enjoy the platform that is synonymous with Dior’s marketing might can be viewed as corporate social responsibility of sort, Maria Grazia Chiuri’s dalliances with folksy dress have been, at best, surface treatment. Oftentimes, they could be merchandise destined for gift shops, for tourists who want a pinch of local flavour—holiday clothes that the Sex and the City girls would wear when exploring exotic bazaars or partying the night away. They are mostly alluring in the settings they are shown in. Take them home, and they are just holiday finds.
The clothes Ms Chiuri sent out that wet evening were not habiliments that museums would queue to buy, but unsurprising canvases on which to adorn the decorative applications of Méxican dress that she found appealing. The silhouettes too were familiar—traditionally and safely feminine, to the extent that some appear mumsy, such as the tented blouses with butterfly (a motif) sleeves (reimagined Mexican blusas?) that brings to mind the seu kor krachao (literally basket-collared blouse) that elderly Thai women in the countryside love wearing, especially in the pre-monsoon heat. There, too, were sundresses and summer frocks with puff sleeves that would not look out of place at Kate Spade, augmenting Dior’s penchant for accessible styles, especially for the cruise season. They would not be out of place in The Love Boat. To make the collection seemingly more modern, or Euro-urban, Ms Chiuri included sportif elements and denim separates that felt token and torpid.
The collection was, therefore, not agog with the exuberance and colour of, say Tehuana, as one might imagine. Which meant this was less transportive than it might have been. Some of the brand’s enthusiasts called the Dior cruise collection a “cultural celebration”. Fashion is so global now that it must go as far as it could to spotlight dead artists or lesser-known sartorial tribes, complete with grand narratives told through the lens of zesty feminism. But did the Mexicans really need the Europeans to momentary celebrate their culture or promote their artisan traditions? The thing about luxury brands supporting these crafts and the hands behind them: It is usually a one-time, one-season affair. After Dior left the colegio, will the clothes that were shown there be remembered? Or just the rain?
On the red carpet of the Hong Kong Film Awards yesterday, Michelle Yeoh chose a long shirt-dress that bordered on the too-casual
It was widely reported in the Hong Kong press that Michelle Yeoh Choo Keng (杨紫琼) was the last to arrive at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui for the 41st Hong Kong Film Awards. That she hit the red carpet after Sammi Cheng—tipped to be named the best actress (she was) for her role in 流水落花 (Lost Love)—was testament to Ms Yeoh’s new-found status as Oscar winner and Asia’s most prominent actress. She arrived alone, traipsed the red carpet with the confidence of a cat in her own backyard, and even, at some point, surprised Andy Lau (刘德华) and film director Ann Hui (许鞍华) when she crept up to them while the two were about to have their photographs taken, and joined them for the snap without appearing to be asked. Everyone, presumably, wanted their turn with the Malaysian owner of the world’s most famous gold statuette.
Did Michelle Yeoh, in fact, modelled herself as an ethereal she-Oscar? She was togged in a sheer, gold, long-sleeved shirt-dress by her go-to label, Dior. But unlike her red carpet appearances outside Asia in the past two months, she chose to arrive looking decidedly breezy, as if she was attending a wedding in Bali. Sure, what she wore was long—near floor-length, but she did not look dressed to the nines. The Dior looked far less splendid than what the other attendees were fitted with. Or were we simply reminded that Hong Kong was no Hollywood? The startling casualness was compounded by the pushed-up sleeves (to her elbow) and the disconcerting black belt, which provided a strange hard line across her waist (could it be something that had gone with a pair of jeans moments earlier, in the car, perhaps?). She wore her hair in loose curls, which looked like it was just towel-dried. To us, she came as a wealthy actress, not a recent Oscar winner.
Or was this the usual sentiment that back in Asia, you don’t have to try too hard. There were no more White folks to impress. She made her fashion mark. Time for post-Oscars prudence. It is possible that since Michelle Yeoh has received the highest award an actress can hope to have, she was now ready to be rid of the pressures to be worthy of any red carpet best-dressed accolade. 靚就得啦 (beautiful is enough in Cantonese). Hong Kong, even the city that launched her career, did not require her extra effort in getting dolled-up. At the Oscars last month, she wore a semblance of a wedding dress (by Dior too), but that was at least special-occasion wear. Now, she no longer needed to make a splash. Casual was comely, just as an Oscar to her name was enough. Michelle Yeoh, the last to step onto the red carpet at the Hong Kong Film Awards, whether deliberate on the part of the organisers or not, was plain anti-climatic.
Dior may take their collections outside France to show, but the design narrative barely shifts
Mumbai’s Gateway of India monument could easily be Paris’s Arch du Triomphe, but it has one up on the French capital now: a Dior fashion show staged in its presence. Synonymous with the city formerly known as Bombay, the Gateway was built in 1911 to welcome King George V and Queen Mary to the city, but, apparently, the royals did not get to walk through the 26-metre arched entrance—it was not built in time for their arrival. In place of the yellow basalt structure for that occasion was a “cardboard” version. The royal visitors had to content with that. But the models of the Dior pre-fall 2023 show were more fortunate; the attendees too, reportedly 850 of them. All saw the very gateway itself. But rather than that alone as the backdrop, the monument was partially blocked by another shorter archway (possibly, cardboard-backed!), placed before it. The fabric surface—a toran, which is also a frieze hanging—was an ardent expression of Indian textile craft, comprising appliqués, embroideries, beading, inlays of mirrors, and other surface embellishments. It was an impressive structure, flanked in the front by two ramps festooned with flowers, screaming with colours that were evocative of the land of holi.
This was a glorious moment for India. The fashion world has long looked to the country for not just inspiration, but for fabrics, for trims, for dyes, for patterns, and for the decorative handwork that Dior has been so enchanted with and was now celebrating. A fashion show of a French brand in a bustling Indian city could be the ceremonial affirmation of Indian’s poly-cultural influence on what has been acknowledged as the fashion capital of the world—Paris. That Dior would openly and enthusiastically call Indian artisans their allies was far more homage-paying than anything non-luxury brands have declared, even when Indian factories have been producing considerable quantities of clothes for much of the fashion-consuming world. The Times of India proudly enthused, “Maria Grazia Chiuri mixed her garments and patterns with Indian traditions for her Fall ’23 show. She blended her ingenious proficiency by incorporating Indian rituals in the most austere and genteel manners.” But if you took away the fine handwork, was this really any different in spirit from Uniqlo paying homage to Disney?
The use of colours in the Dior collection was a joyous celebration of Indian chromatic brilliance—such as those that were identified as peela (a yellow, even a green) jamuni (a purple), and neela (a blue). But it was the use of rani, a rather bright, assertive pink that prompted quite a few commentators and reporters to quote Diana Vreeland: “pink is the navy blue of India.” Ms Vreeland had made that proclamation more than a few times (when she first said it, it isn’t quite clear). In a 1980 Washington Post profile of the editor, the paper considered that quip “her most frequently quoted statement” (it appeared in Ms Vreeland’s memoir DV, too). And she had said that of pink to many figures of the fashion world while she was alive. One of them was the late Gianfranco Ferré, a former Dior designer (1989—1996) and an Indophile who had spent the early years of his fashion career in India. His reply to that Vreelandism was purportedly, “Naturally, pink is the navy blue of India because it is the cheapest dye.”
While Dior’s Gateway to India presentation trained the spotlight on Indian artisanship, specifically those of Chanakya International (a vocational school in Mumbai that describes itself as a “global export house”), as well as an affordable pigment, it offered little on the designs of Dior. Ms Chiuri chose to play it safe for her celebratory sense of Indomania, sticking to stock shapes of Indian dress for the 99 looks, authenticated by (a majority of) local models similarly made up to illustrate an indolent take on smokey-eye bridal make-up. This excluded the curious multi-strand pearl chokers that appeared on many of them, like misguided maharanis, just returned from a holiday in the decadent West. Perhaps ground-shifting design was not the objective. The Business Times, running a Bloomberg article, ran the headline, “World’s richest man eyes India’s luxury market with landmark Dior show”. In the end, to regale in Mumbai was likely a business decision than an artistic one.
Michelle Yeoh, in Dior, accepting her Oscar. Photo: Getty Images
To be sure, the continent of Asia is, as we post this, deliriously proud of Michelle Yeoh Choo Kheng (杨紫琼), not merely her small hometown of Ipoh. Malaysia is, of course, lauding their daughter, who has never starred in a single Malaysian film production, as their “大马之光 (damazhiguang or Malaysia’s glory)”. Just hours ago, Tan Sri Yeoh became the first Asian to win an Oscar for best actress, and only the second non-white to be awarded the title after Halle Berry for her role in 2001’s Monster’s Ball. She went on stage, resplendent in bridal Dior Couture, to accept her award and encouraged “all the little boys and girls who look like me watching tonight, this is a beacon of hope and possibilities (sic).” And like so many other recipients, she thanked her mother: “I have to dedicate this to my mom, all the moms in the world, because they are really the superheroes and without them, none of us will be here tonight. She’s 84 and I’m taking this home to her.”
We have no doubt that the Yeoh family was over the moon. Matriarch Janet Yeoh, decked in matching bridal white, was watching the telecast live with her family in Kuala Lumpur, in a cinema at the Pavilion mall. “I’m proud of my daughter. My daughter is a hardworking girl,” she said in a video circulating online. Those unable to attend the family viewing, such as nephew Justin Yeoh, who resides in Singapore, sent good wishes through their Facebook pages. Even Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim congratulated the Oscar winner with a honorific, saying she “carries the hopes of Malaysians”, the New Straits Times reported. BH (Berita Harian) enthused that her win “menepati ramalan ramai (met many predictions)”. Ms Yeoh’s triumph was, therefore, not surprising. Backstage at the Oscars press room, Ms Yeoh said, “This is something we have been working so hard towards, for a very long time… I’m still here today. Finally after 40 years I get this.” Forty years is a long wait. Other actresses have waited longer, and have not won. She found gold at first strike. The cheers she has garnered are expected.
But we, on the other hand, are not as thrilled as we thought we’d be. Michelle Yeoh’s performance in EEAAO as Evelyn Wang is credible. But was it a great one? Was it a tour de force? We are not able to say with confidence. Nothing Mediacorp’s Aileen Tan (陈丽贞) or Chen Liping (陈莉萍) can’t play. Surely the Academy should award exceptional performances? EEAAO, also the Best Picture, is not easy to understand, even to sit through (an unnecessarily lengthy film of 142 mins). It’s been called messy just like the private-quarters-behind-the-laundromat of the Wangs, but some messes are just that: 乱七八糟 (luanqibazao) or disorderly. And getting the multiverse involved—in which unfunny sausage fingers exist—is just pretext for throwing everything everywhere at the manic film and already convoluted plot, made worse by the inexplicably garish overproduction. It’s all a bit too keh kiang (假腔, Hokkien for hollow or unconvincing cleverness). Many Western critics had called EEAAO “original”, but just because such absurdist excess, bordering on the puerile, had not made it to the big screen before—or, gasp, Oscars—did not necessarily make it good.
Of the four acting awards, three went to EEAAO. From left, Ke Huy Quan, Michelle Yeoh, Brendan Fraser, Jamie Lee Curtis. Photo: ABC
Michelle Yeoh is one of those actresses who is okay to watch if she wasn’t aiming for film-making’s top award (e.g. her turn in Crazy Rich Asians). Her performance in EEAAO as the too-much-to-do Asian-American wife gunning for, well, too much, which The Star delightfully called a “complex take”, is not exactly to-be-studied character acting for acting class. She could have imagined herself as an auntie type back in Ipoh. The long-suffering wife is nothing novel or groundbreaking. What newness, indeed, did she bring to Evelyn Wang? We felt that we were watching Michelle Yeoh, still as feisty (even OTT?) as Inspector Ng in 1985’s Yes, Madam (皇家师姐) or Inspector Yang in 1992’s Police Story 3: Super Cop (,警察故事三：超级警察). Her Evelyn Wang sounds exactly the same as her Mameha (Memoirs of a Geisha, 2005) and Eleanor Sung-Young, the later slightly more posh-sounding. Cate Blanchett inhabiting her role in Tár did not bring along her Australian accent. Ms Yeoh, even in the AAEEO’s Asian-American household, was unable to shake off sounding Anglo-Malaysian.
It, too, is hard to understand why directors insist on her speaking Mandarin when she, by her own admission, is not proficient in the language. She was criticised for her 普通话 (putonghua) in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Chow Yun Fatt, too) despite, reportedly, having received training from an accent coach. That shaky Mandarin was repeated in EEAAO. But what was ironic is that the characters Evelyn and Waymond Wang are supposed to be from China. (The casting of Ke Huy Quan, a Vietnamese-American with his American English, too, was bizzare.) Add to that, Evelyn Wang speaks Cantonese! And only moderately better than her Mandarin. The communication in English between she and the people around her rings with an FOTB inflection, just in case you needed to be reminded that the Wangs are immigrants. The do-not-sound-alike husband and wife are seemingly not from the same part of China, which are not identified when we know their laundry business is in California.
Her Oscar win is, to us, an alignment of the stars. The year 2022, as it eased out of the pandemic, has been good to Michelle Yeoh. Time named her ‘Icon of the Year’. EEAAO arrived when there was (and is) demand for minority “representation” in Hollywood, including, in the case of EEAAO, the immigrant experience. The film is repeatedly hailed as “a breakthrough for Hollywood diversity”. In other words inclusive, purposely inclusive. Imagine how Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (卧虎藏龙) would have fared if it is a work of the present. This is the year for Asians actors and film-makers to shine. EEAAO’s award season success attests to that. And the Academy wanted to ensure that a win for the Michelle Yeoh vehicle will keep them in line with the overall mood and drive in the US. Ms Yeoh’s controversial Instagram post last Tuesday, just hours before Oscar voting closed, in which she shared—and then quickly deleted—a Vogue think-piece wondering if Cate Blanchett needed another of the gold statuette since she already has two, was overlooked. The Malaysian appeared to share Vogue’s sentiment—at least initially—until someone from her team probably reminded her that she could have violated Academy Awards guidelines. One of them states that “any tactic that singles out ‘the competition’ by name or title is expressly forbidden”.
The cast and crew of EEAAO receiving the Best Picture award. Photo: Getty Images
To us, Michelle Yeoh won the Oscar, not because of her exceptional, moving performance (some Malaysians, including those from Ipoh, shared with SOTD, that her part in EEAAO “说不上演技 (shuobushang yanji)” or isn’t about acting skills. It is possible she is surrounded by the right people to ensure that her time, although forty years late, would come. It is also tempting to consider the influence of the recently elected—last August—president of the Academy of Motion Arts and Sciences Janet Yang Yanzi (杨燕子). She is the organisation’s first Asian-American female president and it is possible that the born-in-Queens, New York film veteran wanted to make her mark at the Academy by witnessing Michelle Yeoh become the first Asian to get the best actress nod. What is also interesting is that she and the Malaysian Oscar winner share the same maiden name. We are not suggesting that there were improper behind-the-scenes arrangements. But everything—and everyone—everywhere just fell into place all at once for Michelle Yeoh.
It is hard to imagine that EEAAO, even if entirely spoken in Mandarin, would even be considered for the Golden Horse Award (金马奖), yet they made a staggering sweep at the Oscars, winning a total of seven awards out of 11 nominations: three acting awards, best editing, best original screenplay, best director, and best picture. The best is, of course, not always the best. Not since 2005’s Slumdog Millionaire (with eight awards), has there been EEAAO’s enviable haul. As they made more gains later into the award season, more pundits believed that the US$25 million movie (compared to another best film nominee Avatar: The Way of Water’s estimated US$250 million!) would dominate at the Oscars. The film’s success is thought to speak for Asians but we think that’s too grandiose an ambition to consider. EEAAO is intensely Asian-American in its leaning and narrative; doubtful, therefore, that it is, laundromat et al, a “beacon” for Asia, even if the Asian experience could be that multiversal. Asia is huge and it is diverse, possibly more than what is experienced or seen in California. Surely even Michelle Yeoh cannot profess to be the archetypal Asian actress.
She may have won an Oscar, but it can’t be said that Ms Yeoh scored big in the style stakes. We have often thought that Dior on the red (or champagne) carpet is frequently anti-climatic for even the most seasoned presentation attendee. For the grandest award ceremony (and the most watched), she placed her trust in Dior and it turned out to be the weakest of all her red carpet looks of the past months. Decidedly underwhelming (perhaps intentionally, in case she had to leave empty-handed), the gown could have passed off for one from any of the bridal shops along Tanjong Pagar Road. It seemed that it could have originally been a strapless number, but turned out to be something else—the tiered, feathered bustier-gown, for some reason, had to be attached to a sheer upper bodice. We weren’t quite able to make out the silhouette either: was it a tented dress or was it meant to be waisted? A safe bet to avoid the puzzlement that followed her choice of that Schiaparelli dress at the SAG awards? She was not, of course, the first to don bridal wear to an award ceremony. K D Lang wore one at the first-ever Juno Award in 1985. Michelle Yeoh has come a long way from the time of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, when she attended the Oscars in Barney Cheng. These days, Hong Kong qipao is no longer on her mind. She has walked on various red carpets in Gucci, Schiaparelli, Chanel, and Dior. When an Oscar win beckons, only European names will do, even if it could pass off as anyone’s wedding dress.
While waiting for the Dior autumn/winter 2023 livestream to begin two hours or so earlier, we thought of Abby Choi. If she were alive, it is possible that she might appear on our screen, and we would be able to see her stand before the photo wall, like so many of the guests (such as Jisoo) did, and allow the photographers to happily snap away. This would be totally up Ms Choi’s street: the celebrities, the clothes, the atmosphere, the show. This season, Dior walked away from the old format of a long wall, on which massive paintings or photographs hang, in front of which the models walk; their profile, their side facing the audience seated as if in a gallery. Now, the models seemed to walk randomly, definitely not on a linear path, among the audience clearly not in a gallery. But it wasn’t the route or the dressed up but bored saunterers, or the mostly front rows that beckoned. It was what was above them.
The set was designed by Joana Vasconcelos, the French-born Portuguese artist known for her massive installations of colorful, fertile, pinata-like shapes, usually suspended from the ceiling. For the Dior runway, Ms Vasconcelos created just-as-colourful, wildly-pattern, abstract mammoth of a centrepiece—also hung from above—that could have been pieced together with giant maracas, some with dramatic stalactitical drops beneath. Each rattler-like piece is elaborately patterned. Between them are colour-saturated, cruller-like lengths of fabrics snaking through the installation like ruffled dragons of a dragon dance. This could be some Eastern bazaar; this could also be some fey bandid’s hideaway. But, to Ms Vasconcelos, it was Valkyrie Miss Dior. Could this then be the Valhalla. Where was Odin?
The Dior presentation was likely not intended for any male god, Norse or not; least of all, male gaze. As with all Maria Grazia Chiuri shows, the latest was a visual paean to the females she admired—another women for women celebration. Only this time the celebratory spirit was not in the clothes (they were usually not). Sure, they celebrated the woman’s body, but could there have been more by way of design? There has always been something repetitive about Ms Chiuri’s output. Perhaps these were her ‘signatures’ for the maison, but it’s hard not to say they were on repeat, insistent even. The white shirt and the high-waisted pleated skirt, the shirt and tie and slouchy trousers, the spaghetti-strapped dress, and sheer, panty-showing skirts—they were all there, some in different fabrics, some rumpled this time, but they were there. For sure.
Ms Chiuri has, no doubt, found her groove. And stuck with it. She’s been with Dior for seven years now, longer than most designers not working for their own house. Alessandro Michelle ended a seven-year run at Gucci last year. Analysts thought that Mr Michele had been doing the same thing for too long. “Brand fatigue” was bandied about. Ms Chiuri has not exactly rejuvenated Dior (more Book totes!), even after her fifth year. She makes “classic” clothes with just-as-“classic” silhouettes (more from the ’50s!) that we are often told exactly what women want. Feminine to the nth degree, for the nth time. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with that. But season in, season out of the same things mean one thing—repetitive. Is that why the massive, scene-stealing set was required? So that we would be distracted from the same-same? Clever.
Who was the slain, haute couture-wearing HongkongerAbby Choi?
Abby Choi, wearing Elie Saab, in Paris early this month. Photo: xxabbyc/Instagram
Warning: This post contains description that some readers may find disturbing
She is on the news in Hong Kong daily since last Wednesday when her dismembered body was found in Lung Mei Tsuen (龙尾村), Tai Po (大埔), in the New Territories (新界), north of the SAR. “Reality is more gruesome than fiction” was a repeated comment on Weibo when the news broke. Abby Choi Tin-fung (蔡天凤), a model and an influencer who has been constantly referred to as a socialite, was found mutilated in a mysterious village flat. The grisly murder has been very much covered by the local media, including the discovering by police of cooked body parts, as well as a mincer and an electric saw at the crime scene. According to the South China Morning Post, “body parts were discovered in two soup pots police retrieved” and “two female legs were found in a fridge at the house” in a search that stretch to the Chinese Permanent Cemetery in Tseung Kwan O (将军澳), some 27 kilometres away from the Tai Po. In what has been described as 一家落网 (yijialuowang or one family netted), police have arrested four related individuals in connection with the case: first husband Alex Kwong Kong-chi (邝港智), his elder brother, and their father for murder, as well as their mother for perverting the course of justice. In addition, a “lover” of the father was also arrested. Reportedly, Mr Kwong was apprehended by police while waiting for a speedboat to abscond to the mainland at Tung Chung Pier (东涌码头) on Lantai Island. He was found with cash of HK$500,00 (or about S$85,857) and luxury watches, including a Patek Philippe, all estimated to worth a total of HK$4 million (or about S$686,858).
The backstory to the murder that emerged is, given the consistent glamour that Abby Choi projected, inconsistent with a fashion personality who has been a couture week fixture. In Paris, just this past January, she was seen lavishly dressed at Dior and Chanel, two labels she seemingly adored, as well at the shows of Giambattista Valli, Zuhair Murad, Elie Saab, and the Greek designer Celia Kritharioti. She also attended the Dior and Chanel dinners after the respective presentations. At 28, she was considered one of the youngest customers of French high fashion. Ms Choi loved ultra-feminine styles, and her adoration of all those maisons was not surprising. She was also seen on the front row at the Louis Vuitton men’s presentation, shortly before the start of couture spring/summer 2023 season. And just last Wednesday, Ms Choi shared on Instagram an image of her on the (digital) cover of L’Officiel Monaco. The e-mag described her with considerable enthusiasm as “a fashion icon and media personality who has taken the world by storm with her impeccable sense of style and her unbridled passion for fashion” and “a true trendsetter, with fans from all over the world following her every move”. And on that same day, she was reported missing after she was not contactable the day before. Two days later, police made the gruesome, partly-cooked find.
In Chanel at the Grand Palais Éphémère for the Chanel couture spring 2023 show in January
The flat in a quaint, nondescript four-storey block, where the body parts were found, is believed to have been rented by Ms Choi’s former father-in-law Kwong Kau (邝球) just a few weeks ago. The latest reports state that Kwong Kau’s mistress, a mainlander who works as a masseuse in Sham Shui Po (深水埗), Kowloon (九龙) and is known only by her surname Ng (伍 or wu) to media and Yung Yung (容容) to her customers, was the person who facilitated the rental of the flat. Police believes she also harboured Alex Kwong in another flat in Tsim Sha Tsui (尖沙咀). The rented residence where the dismemberment was carried out sits in a beach-side village—half an hour drive’s from the city centre—that tourists do not generally associate with the gleaming metropolis: verdant surroundings of the New Territories and the Pat Sin Leng (八仙岭 or ridge of the Eight Immortals) mountain range for a backdrop. Those who choose to live here generally prefer to get away from the manic heart of the city or to adopt a seriously quiet life. The village, by many accounts, “look(s) like forever holiday”, and it is in this tranquility that a brutal crime could easily be carried out. Tai Po is, ironically, home to the world’s tallest bronze Goddess of Mercy, and just three kilometres to Lung Mei Tsuen is a river that leads to a plunge pool, known locally as 新娘潭 (xinniangtan) or the Bride’s Pool.
According to the HK news site Mingpao (明报), Ms Choi’s petit body was discovered by the police in parts, separately. Two stainless steel pots found in the unfurnished flat contained a skull in one and bits of ribs, hair, and “small amount of human tissue” amid green and red carrot chunks in the other, as well as soup dregs. According to one Reuters report published after the body parts were found, a refrigerator apparently was where her legs were stored. At the time of this post, Ms Choi’s body was not completely found. Her torso and her hands are reportedly still missing. The police have not explained why searches (two, apparently) were required in the Tseung Kwan O cemetery or if clues pointed them there. It was also revealed that a 6.5 cm by 5.5 cm hole was found on the skull, behind the deceased’s right ear. Followers of Ms Choi on social media cannot reconcile the description of the dismembered body with images of the fashionista/influencer frequently seen on social media or society pages of magazines. “Who hacks a beautiful woman like that?” Or any body? Were the slayers so consumed by rage in whatever Ms Choi did or said to want to murder and mutilate?
The Lung Mei Tsuenflat where the gruesome mutilation took place. Photo: EPA/Shutterstock
Hong Kong news reports posit that the murder was set in irreversible motion by squabbles between Ms Choi and her former in-laws that related to a luxury property in Kadoori Hill (加多利山), a historic-enclave-turned-residential-neighbourhood-of-the-wealthy, south of Kowloon Tong (九龙塘). The hill is named after the prosperous Mizrahi-Jewish Iraqi family that is widely linked to Hong Kong’s oldest hotel The Peninsula in Kowloon. Kadoori Hill scores favourably among the rich—Andy Lau (刘德华) is an esteemed resident—for the many good schools in the area (known as the “Prestigious School District), as well as grand mansions and swanky low-rise flats, earning the area the reputation of the “address of the elite”. It is reported that back in 2019, Ms Choi purchased the disputed Kadoori Hill flat for HK$72.8 million (about S$12.5 million). Full payment was completed three months later, purportedly leaving behind no mortgage records. Her former father-in-law was apparently the name in the sales contract, witnessed by lawyers. It is not certain if this was a gift to the old man, but the media speculated that Ms Choi was trying to save on stamp duty that amounted to HK$7 million (about S$1.2 million). Hong Kong real estate portals estimated that the unit could fetch HK$67 million at current prices.
Her long-time unemployed ex-husband and his family lived in the luxury flat located on up-hill Kadoori Avenue. Most accounts claimed that Ms Choi continued to support Mr Kwong and his family financially even when the marriage was over. Even her brother-in-law, Alex Kwong’s older sibling Anthony Kwong Kong-kit (邝港杰) was employed as her personal driver. It is not known when she and the younger Kwong brother were divorced (common guesses place the year in either 2015 or 2016). She apparently met him in school when she was 15 and married him three years later, in 2012, and bore him two children. It is not known why she chose to wed at such a young age, if her parents agreed to it, or even if she was still in school at that time. Little is also known about her married life or why she chose someone “not her economic equal”, as Netizens had said. The Chinese edition of the BBC shared that Alex Kwong has a criminal record, having been charged in the past for seven counts of theft. China’s Sohu News (搜狐) claims it was fraud that involved deceiving four men into investing HK$5 million (about S$859,022) in a non-existent gold business. He disappeared after receiving the money. Financial crunch and trouble plagued the Kwong family. Both brothers were, at various times, hauled to court for credit card debts that included a purported HK$1.576 million (or about S$270,730) that Alex Kwong owed to American Express. Although their mother Jenny Li Ruixiang (李瑞香) was a retiree, she mysteriously filed for bankruptcy in 2016, presumably due to overwhelming debt. Despite this chronic familial financial debility, Abby Choi continued to support the Kwongs, who probably saw in her their chance to rewrite their fate.
In Dior couture with pal Moka Fang (right) at Ms Choi’s 27th birthday party last year. Photo: Photo: xxabbyc/Instagram
Sometime at the end of last year, Ms Choi made an unexpected decision: she wanted to sell the multi-million Kadoori Hill flat. Apparently her lawyers had told her that she could keep the proceeds of the sale if proof that she had paid for the unit could be produced. The possibility of the Kwongs no longer being able to use an “address of the elite” enraged the family. Ms Choi and her ex-husband reportedly were at loggerheads as a result. According to Hong Kong media, the elder Kwong, also known as 球哥 (kao gor in Cantonese), was infuriated too, and so incensed that one day he threatened his former daughter-in-law: “[如果] 你卖楼，不安置我哋，我会杀你 ([if] you sell the flat and do not find a replacement and settle us down, I will kill you)”. It was not expected that he would carry out his threat. Kwong Kau, who was a former police officer, but resigned after “being involved in a rape case” (he was allegedly the perpetrator, but was not known to have been prosecuted), was noted for his foul temper. Police believed that he plotted the murder based on his knowledge of criminal investigations in the Hong Kong police force, although he had left 18 years ago. The plan was to get Ms Choi to pick her daughter, born to her ex-husband, up from school, but that trip would be intercepted and she would end up in a seven-seater car in which she would be bludgeoned before arriving at the Lung Mei Village flat to be butchered. That part went according to plan. The Chinese have a perfect expression: 谋财害命. To plot and kill for the victim’s property/wealth.
Abby Choi was born in 1994 in Hong Kong to a family believed to be wealthy. The extent of their riches is not established, nor the source. Similarly, there is no mention in the media about her childhood, where she grew up, her teenage years, or her academic pursuits (no information about her school either). But it is said that her parents, business people with commercial interest in China, specifically Hainan Island (海南岛), brought up Ms Choi and two other sisters (both are younger, with the youngest only 17 this year) in a “富裕环境 (fuyuhuanjing) or well-to-do environment”. Her mother, Zhang Yanhua (张燕花), known as 五姐 (wujie) or fifth sister in the mainland, where she’s seemingly based, is from 文昌 (wenchang), a city in the northeast of Hainan Island that is famed for being the ancestral home of the Chinese political figures, the Soong sisters (宋氏三姐妹). Little is known about the mother of the deceased except that she maintains a Douyin (抖音) account and have been, according to mainland Netizens, ‘liking’ commentators’ consolatory messages. She has offered to take care of her grand children in the wake of her daughter’s death. Curiously, there has been no mention of Ms Choi’s father; his identity has not been disclosed.
With Pharrell Williams at a 2018 Chanel party in Hong Kong. Photo: xxabbyc/Instagram
In 2016, Abby Choi, reportedly worth HK$100 million (or about S$17.2 million), married her second husband Chris Tam (Chinese media, including those here, in Hong Kong and Taiwan, refer to him only as Chris), whose father 谭泽均 (Tan Zejun) is behind the popular TamJai Yunnan Mixian (谭仔米线) restaurant chain. Little is known of Mr Tam, but as the heir apparent of his father’s company (until it’s sold in 2017 to Japan’s largest operator of noodle shops Toridoll Holdings), is called “谭仔米线太子爷 (crown prince of TamJai Mixian)”. Although the couple’s nuptial celebration was described by local media as a lavish event, their marriage was, in fact, not registered. They are parents to two children, a boy and a girl. Friends consider Mr Tam a good husband, who is not concerned with his wife’s—in hindsight—complicated past, and loves the two kids born to her and Alex Kwong as if his own. As she found stability in wedded bliss, Ms Choi slowly began her social media career as a fashion influencer. For a social media star, however, she was relatively late in joining Instagram and Facebook. Her first IG post on 12 July 2012 was of a green, snake-skin Lady Dior bag, while on FB, it was even later—on 1 January 2017 of herself sunbathing; both posts had no comments. It is not known when she started attending the European fashion weeks, but an IG post in February 2016 showing her at the Dolce & Gabbana show in Milan, which could possibly be her first.
Her social media posts soon showed more expensive fashion (especially in tulle) and, unsurprisingly, celebrities (it isn’t clear if Ms Choi knew them before). In January 2018, there was the pose with Pharrell Williams, who, like Ms Choi, was admirer and guest at a Chanel show (presumably couture, given the date) and the expected after-party. Mr Williams, as well as Ms Choi, probably didn’t know then what laid ahead for the singer. Even Bryan Boy was quick to Tweet that she was “an acquaintance”. One name that was often mentioned this past week is Moka Fang (方媛), Aaron Kwok’s (郭富城) model/influencer wife of six years and mother of his two daughters. Ms Choi, who has been called “温柔 (wenrou)” or gentle by those who know her, has described Ms Fang and her as “情同姐妹 (qingtong jiemei or deeply close sisters)”. Both women do look rather alike, with their straight, long hair; bright almond-shaped eyes; delicate lips; and pointed chins. The two friends were known to attend fashion events in Hong Kong together although, interestingly, there are practically no photos of the duo in Ms Fang’s IG page. In a recent IG post of a black-and-white photo of a white rose, Ms Fang wrote in Chinese: “Feeling extremely sad. For now, still can’t accept this as fact. The sadness in my heart is unspeakable; there are only a thousand whys. The great sorrow still can’t be subdued.” Reality is more gruesome than fiction.
Lovers of this seasonal buy must know that the advent calendar is no fukubukuro
It’s hard to comprehend the intense desire for advent calendars put out by luxury brands. They are expensive and offer little by way of real, full-size, tangible products, yet they seem to draw considerable desire until the acquirer discovers that what she has purchased holds very little that can be considered evident value. You’d think that after last year’s Chanel advent calendar controversy (stickers were offered!), consumers would make more circumspect choices when spending on seasonal items. Apparently not, as more are lured by the over-the-top packaging of these frankly useless barely-one-month calendars. And then to find out way before the last day that every item that helps countdown the days till the 24th are not as great as they were thought to be. Regret comes earlier than Christmas.
The latest brand to be called out for offering products that are disappointing is Dior. American TikToker Jackie Aina has been unboxing Dior’s USD3,500 La Collection Privée Trunk of Dreams calendar with “24 Dior surprises”. (The one in the above photo is a different advent calendar, available here for S$845). And the brand meant it, the surprising part. Ms Aina, even with enthusiasm intact, said, on the 12th day of opening the drawers of the calendar, “so far it is what is is” and “it ain’t that great”. On the 16th day (she opened more than one drawer each time), the soap she found was “very underwhelming” (earlier, there was even a coaster!). It didn’t seem that Ms Aina was enjoying the “marvelous, miniature universe”, that Dior calls the sum of items in the calendar. The reactions to Ms Aina’s post are, as imaginable, far from restrained.
Unless you are an influencer who received the advent calendars as a gift from the brand, there is the very real possibility that you would not feel you have got your money’s worth. Many Western consumers of these fancy but feeble boxes-as-calendars have probably not encountered the Japanese fukubukuro, a New Year tradition of grab bags filled with items that, in total, are usually higher in value than the whole package that is paid for. Like the advent calendar, buyers of the fukubukuro do not know what is inside. In China, these bags are known as fudai (福袋), and the practice is similar to that in Japan, with content mostly worth more than what is charged for the stuffed bag. But in the marketing stratagem of luxury brands, perceived—rather than substantive—value is good enough. The advent calendar is perhaps just a metaphor: Ha, we got you!
Dior’s fall—pre-fall?—2023 presentation was a theatrical affair at the Great Pyramids of Giza
Dior staged their latest men’s show at an Egyptian necropolis—on the Giza Plateau, home of the three 4th-dynasty pyramids. The four-sided structure appeared in the background, their outlines illuminated by lights. Dior proudly declared that this was their first presentation in Egypt. But the Italian label Stefano Ricci beat them to it when they staged their autumn/winter 2022 collection at Luxor’s better-lit Temple of Hatshepsut, this past October, making that Egypt’s first fashion show on their arid land. Neither was Dior’s the first presentation in a desert. Back in July, Saint Laurent staged its Spring/Summer 2023 event on the Agafay desert, outside of Marrakech, with just a single man-made structure, a massive monolithic ring, for the set. And in December 2020, a womenswear spring/summer 2021 runway on a dune, somewhere in the Sahara. If not for the pyramids in the background, Dior’s show could have been on any sandy acreage.
“My interest in ancient Egypt is about the stars and the sky,” Kim Jones said about the choice of Egypt as show venue. “It’s that fascination with the ancient world and the parallels with what we look at today; what we inherited from them and what we are still learning from the past.” There is no mention of sand or sand dunes, or this famous part, west of the capital Cairo. “In both the collection and the show there is an idea of ‘guided by the stars’ and what that can entail in many ways.” The pyramids were incidental; just theatrical scenery. And as there were no mention of the land, Lawrence of Arabia (although the film referred to Syria) did not appear, except those floaty capes or headwear that are not the keffiyeh. Mr Jones likely wanted to avoid the obvious. The universe, including Dior’s, is expanding.
In fact, there is, as far as we could discern, nothing that could be linked to Egypt, not that the collection—titled Celestial— needed to be. The soundtrack of a relentless techno thump already indicated the negation of North Africa or Bedouin exotica. This is modern fashion for urbanites much further away, with concrete rather than sand underfoot. There was a street vibe, a paring down of the formality that Mr Jones had initially reintroduce to his Dior Men. These were separates, almost travelcore, for the more adventurous fashion consumers, those keen on pairing the sportif with the elegant and a touch of the camp; these were not for the likes of Zahi Hawass of his younger self. Mr Jones put aside for now literary references (not even T.E. Lawrence?) for the exploration of what’s up there. Does it not sound like now-out-of-the-picture Alessandro Michele’s Gucci Cosmogenie?
There were, of course, the prints of the universe, in colours most of us came to be aware of through the cinema. They were on pullovers, leggings, windbreakers, and other outers that happily flap in the cooperative wind. Unexpected this season were the sheer gauzy pieces that, in some, included a few very bee-keeper-looking face/head protectors. Talking about those, there were also helmets with glass face shields. No driver/rider/vehicular needs were evident. In preparation for a stand storm? And what about those openwork (featuring the Dior motif Cannage) breastplates? For the modern charioteer? This season, Mr Jones finally explored skirts for men—sort of. There were many pleated halves, worn like you would an apron, but to the side. If they were full skirts (and, especially, paired with those sporty tops), might they have reminded us of what were shown at Louis Vuitton before? Could Kim Jones be positioning himself as the next Virgil Abloh?
This season Maria Grazia Chiuri brings up her country of birth again, and reconnects with an Italian woman in history for Dior
It has been a while since Dior had dancers get in the way of the models’ display of Maria Grazia Chiuri’s fussy, re-imagined Dior. The last was shown two years ago, during the Resort 2021 collection, staged in Puglia, Italy, where ten local dancers performed as a throbbing mass while the models walked on as if they were no obstacle. This time, Dior engaged a Dutch dance troupe formed by the siblings Imre and Marne van Opstal, dubbed “the hottest new dance choreographers in Netherlands”. The dancers, in nude-coloured costumes of tank tops painted with torsos, paired with plain underpants, executed a primal, writhing routine that could be seen as carnal. In the latest issue of Purple, the sister Imre van Opstal told the magazine, “We like to speak about the human body”. So does Ms Chiuri, who, through her love of sheerness, communicates her idea of body image, however the ideal body is framed for her culturally.
This season, with her woman-for-woman Dior, Ms Chiuri looks at the reputedly diabolical Renaissance proto-feminist Catherine (also Caterina) de’ Médici (of the powerful Florentine banking family). Like her, Catherine de’ Médici is an Italian transplanted to France, only in the latter’s case, by marriage—to King Henry II, a union few in court were thrilled with as the Médicis were of merchant class, not royalty. As Queen of France, she—not known for her beauty (she has been described as “homely”)—was patron of the arts and a fashion consumer, who, being “plump”, made corsets quite the fashion, as well as heels to make her look taller. When she left for France at age 14, she reportedly brought along a large retinue, including dressmakers, jewellers, and perfumers. While she was the embodiment of the dress politics of the time, it is arguable if she was a major contributor to French fashion the way Marie Antoinette later was (or her husband’s mistress Diane de Poitiers), unless the scented gloves she introduced in court is counted. The Sovereign was better known as a manipulative, even vicious regent (her three sons were consecutive rulers), who was hated by the Protestants for her supposed role in France’s religious civil wars of that era, in which many were assassinated. She was, to put it mildly, the political force behind the reigns of her sons. When she died in 1589, France mourned her with the same outpouring for a slaughtered hen.
It is understandable why Catherine de’ Médici would appeal to another Italian woman who designs for a company named after a Frenchman. According to the show notes, “women know how to explore magical territories since they have a privileged connection with nature and its vital force”. Thus blessed, Ms Chiuri establishes the link to the past, but however modern her attempts, the results bordered on the costume-y made current by today’s midriff-baring must. The corset is brought back, but not with the constriction of those that tightened Catherine de’ Médici’s waist. Ms Chiuri made them loose so that you can wear them like you would a singlet (oh, that, too, appears) with the shape of a stomacher curve at the bottom end (and what’s more modern than wearing them with elasticised-waist pants?), giving you the chance to boast a flair for sartorial historicism. And perhaps find kinship with the unconventional sisters of the past?
And then there are the mini hooped skirts (we already hear many say cute) in the shape of table food covers, showing off how exquisite Dior is with lace, also a Catherine de’ Médici fave. Clearly Ms Chiuri does not reference the past the way her predecessor John Galliano did. It appears that she went to the cutting table without humour or a vestige of wit. Still, rather funny are those flimsy skirts with hooped uppers that made them look like lanterns, or bird cage covers, or worse, mosquito netting over a baby’s cot. Pretty skirts means there are dirndl versions (in floral patchwork!), cheerleader skirts with smocking across the stomach, and those to be worn over shorts like capes for bottoms. To enhance the overall femininity, there are lacings for sides of bodices as well as neckline, or down the length of skirts; lace borders as seen on négligée: gathered trims like those on the edges of French maids’ aprons: and more open-work fabrics to delight your dry-cleaner. Oh, there’s also that much lauded print of the map of Paris., so you’ll know Maria Grazia Chiuri is putting Paris on the map.
The supposed ban on the use of English names by Chinese artistes and celebrities, could mean that Dior may have to give up using the 4-letter word in place of Han characters. And other foreign brands too?
Could this be how a Dior store in China would look in the future? Photo illustration: Just So
Much to the disappointment of Chinese stars who like using a Western name in addition to their Chinese moniker, there is now a rumour that non-Han names would not be allowed in China. According to one Chinese screenwriter Wang Hailin (汪海林), who shared the news on Weibo, the Chinese National Radio and Television Administration (NRTA) had “requested” that local stars not use “foreign names” or any that ”sounds foreign” to identify themselves in—probably—public or during public performances. He gave an example: Shanghai-Hong Kong model/actress “Yang Ying (杨颖) can no longer use Angelababy”. It is not known if her name can be uttered in private or if her family and friends can call her by what most fans know her by. Nor did Mr Wang say why NRTA made that unusual—and likely, unpopular—request.
We know Chinese artistes and celebrities like to use non-Han appellations, even if it is one not shown on their identity card. Or, especially when not. It isn’t understood why a Western name would pose a problem in China or why the authorities would think so, or how the use by stars would diminish anything, whether personally, professionally, or socially. Does the prohibition include those English names that sound like given Chinese names (or Cantonese, as it is the case in Hong Kong), such as Eason that precedes Chan Yick Shun (陈奕迅) or Hacken that comes before Lee Hak Ken (李克勤)? The use of a moniker associated with the West is, for a long time, not uncommon. In fact, the more uncommon the name the better. Whether drawing from fruit and vegetable (rather popular), the animal kingdom (the choice among the Chinese themselves, although mostly in the past), or the gaming world (a Gen-Z love), unusual determines the choice.
Presently, the prohibition (or discouragement) is not confirmed. Yet, Chinese influencer-turned-actress Lamu Yangzi (辣目洋子) announced on Weibo that she would revert to her original name Li Jiaqi (李嘉琦) henceforth, even when her self-chosen moniker does not sound especially English or Western. But if Chinese authorities are allegedly asking private individuals not to use whatever version of Western proper nouns they have adopted, would they, we wonder, request the same of Western brands? Would we soon see 爱马仕 (aimashi or Hermès, not to be confused with 赫耳墨斯 [heer mosi], the name of the Greek god), 巴伦夏卡 (balun xiaka or Balenciaga), 圣罗兰 (shengluolan or Saint Laurent), 宝缇嘉 (baotijia or Bottega [Veneta]), 古琦 (guqi or Gucci) or 迪奥 (di ao or Dior)? In the case of Dior, the maison was one of the earliest to encourage the use of Chinese characters on their products when they ran the ABCDior personalisation service for the Book tote in 2020. The two-word 迪奥 appearing appearing above store entrances may, therefore, now even look cool.
In China, most lovers of luxury brands use the respective Western names (pronounced with varying degrees of accuracy, but that is the same here, too) rather than those in hanzi (汉字). Most foreign brands, if not all, register their Chinese names as trademark. They are often displayed, although somewhat discreetly, on store-front windows. It is not known if shoppers there seek brands out by their Chinese moniker since it is likely that most would recognise English alphabets even if they are not always able to read them. Purists and branding professionals do think that brand awareness—and to a large extent, their appeal—is tethered to their foreign moniker. Even the Hermès-backed Shang Xia (上下) has yet to enjoy the same cachet as its French endorser. Semantically, the Chinese language is different to the Western names that desire a Sino-form, and indelicate naming, there are those who argue, may dilute brand value. Some of these Chinese names may sound odd too, even silly. And when uttered, they could phonetically be unlike how they’re pronounced in their native language. But, in some cases, the Chinese names may help with, for example, the silent ‘s’ in French. The Chinese characters of Louis Vuitton 路易威登 (luyi weideng) could, perhaps, allow some to simply say the first name as loowee.
In Paris, Chinese students, wearing hanfu, want Dior not to claim a skirt as the maison’s “hallmark silhouette”
Chinese students in hanfu protesting outside the Dior Champs-Élysées store. Photo: 小红书
In February 2018, Dior showed the autumn/winter collection inspired by the student demonstrations that shook Paris in 1968—the models walked through a show space lined with wallpaper, as well as those for floor, of catchy slogans and ripped protest posters. Little did they know that four years later, they would witness a real protest right on their very doorsteps. About two weeks ago, consumers in China were deeply unhappy that Dior had described a “mid-length pleated skirt” that the brand sold online as a “hallmark Dior silhouette”. They considered the said skirt to be too similar to the Chinese’s own ma mian qun ((马面裙) or horse-face skirt and considered Dior’s a “plagiarised” product. The unhappiness rumbled through Chinese social media, but Dior probably did not expect that Chinese students furthering their education in Paris and elsewhere would take it further: To the street—the famed Avenue des Champs-Élysées, no less—in front of Dior’s flagship/headquarters.
Last Saturday, when they were not attending class, about 80 to 100 students (as well as those not studying in France) dressed in hanfu (汉服) fineness—traditional Han Chinese dress (but not necessarily historically accurate)—protested on one of the busiest and known avenues in the French capital. The student organisers, according The Observer, had expected about 20 to turn up, but the support was more encouraging than they had anticipated. According to them, even the locals were supportive of their action. Reportedly, a Frenchman who had previously participated in hanfu-promoting activities and and had worn a ma mian qun himself “understood what the students were doing”. One of the three organisers, surnamed Liu (刘), who apparently flew to France from China to see if Dior is still selling the offensive skirt in their stores in Paris, told the media: “Cultural reference (文化借鉴, wenhua jianken) we support—we are willing to share good things—but cultural appropriation (文化挪用, wenhua nayong) is absolutely not allowed.”
Protesters showing a ma mian qun. Photo: 小红书
The protesters held up cardboards and notices that read “Dior plagie la conception” (Dior plagiarises design), “stop appropriation culturelle (stop cultural appropriation)”, “C’est la tenue traditionnel Chinoise (this is traditional Chinese clothing)”. They chanted non-agressively: “Please stop cultural appropriation and respect Chinese culture”. The rather mild demonstration was livestreamed on Weibo and Wechat, according to Chinese media reports, and attracted more than 500,000 views. Online, Chinese outrage was also directed at how Dior, for the opening of its new store in Seoul and where the brand’s fall 2022 collection was stage to coincide with the event, acknowledged Korean influence in their work, sharing on Instagram that the store “fuses French and Korean culture, incorporating important and innovative digital dimensions”. Dior, those who oppose the brands action say, did not take into consideration the Chinese influence in their creative output, but would give a nod to the Korean’s. In the brand’s show notes of that season, it was stated that the collection, including the skirt, was inspired by school uniforms, hence—it could be assumed—the choice of Ewha Womans University as the show venue.
Some outside China consider the students’ action to be weakly-sighted cultural pride. And that there are other bigger issues to consider. One smaller group positioned themselves opposite the Chinese protestors with their own signs that read “les driots del’homme comptent (human rights matter)” and “裙子 〉人权 (skirts greater than human rights)”, likely referring to the still-problematic issues with the Uyghurs and the Xinjiang region in which they live, where the West believes crimes against humanity is committed by the Chinese government. It is tempting to see that perceived cultural appropriation can be used to divert the scary realness of human rights violation. A Chinese counter-protester was quoted by the press: “these people have the right and freedom to march, but they are discussing whether a skirt is plagiarized, rather than discussing June 4th, the Uyghurs, etc.” Ms Liu’s stand was that plagiarism and cultural appropriation cannot be ignored. She said, “Today, if you—an influential international brand—appropriate our culture, and we do not speak up, then in the future, no one would know that this, in fact, belongs to traditional Chinese culture.” As with most things now debated online, other counter-arguments have emerged. Some in France are now joking that the Chinese are finally aware that plagiarism is not good—the realisation, they say, is “a big improvement”.
Update (26 July 2022, 9am): The Dior “mid-length pleated skirt” is still available on their SG website
A Singaporean man and his Thai-born wife, who are wanted by the police here after failing to deliver luxury goods they bought on behalf of customers, have turned international criminals, now that an Interpol warrant is issued against them too
They are believed to have left our island. A Dior-loving married couple, wanted for failing to deliver S$32 million worth of paid-up luxury goods that they allegedly bought on behalf of individuals, has fled, although both of them were earlier involved in police investigations. Their passports, according to CNA, were impounded last month. Shin Min Daily News (新明日报) ran a cover story earlier today with the couple’s full-face photo. In previous reports, their eyes were pixelated. The Straits Times (online edition) has also identified both of them as Pi Jiapeng (皮佳鹏) and Siriwipa Pansuk in response to the authorities who have “revealed their identities”. The Singapore Police Force wrote on its website: “The Police are appealing for information from the public on their whereabouts.” But even before this, a few of those who believed they were ruthlessly cheated had posted photos of the couple on social media and pleaded to be notified if anyone saw both or either of them.
As it has been circulating for more than a week, Mr Pi and Ms Pansuk had scammed a staggering amount of people (including, it is believed, Thais), who thought the couple was able to purchase luxury goods for them at attractive, lower-than-retail prices. Unlike, say, MDada (the live-streaming company of Addy Lee, Michelle Chia and Pornsak), the couple’s methods were not made public or immediately clear. The police received “at least 180” reports against the two of them. Many claimed that advanced payments for Rolex and Patek Philippe watches and high-end bags such as Chanel and Hermès were made, but no goods were delivered. When they tried contacting the couple, they could not reach them. A Telegram group was set up, comprising about 200 members, who shared similar stories of paying and not getting. Following the police reports filed and revelations on social media, Mr Pi was arrested last month and was released on bail. It is not clear if Ms Siriwipa was arrested, but media reports said she was “assisting” in the investigations. And then, as they were to their customers, they were “uncontactable”. According to CNA, a 40-year-old Malaysian man allegedly hid the fraudsters in a lorry in assisting their escape on 4 July across the Causeway. He was arrested and charged. It is believed that the absconders are now in Thailand.
Twenty-six-year-old Pi Jiapeng, as Shin Min Daily News reported, is a former 鞋店仔 (xiedianzai) or shoe shop chap. According to information posted on the Interpol website, he was born in Fujian, China. An only son from a single-parent family, he met his “wealthy” Thai wife through an unidentified dating app. It is not determined if they met here or in Thailand. He is known to those he allegedly scammed as ’Kevin’, while she is referred to as ‘Ann’. The Chinese paper cited those who are familiar with Mr Pi’s situation, saying that he became “富贵 (fugui or rich)” after knowing Siriwipa Pansuk, a (now) 27-year-old, originally from Roi-Et, Issan, but has a registered address in Nonthaburi, a municipality that is so close to Bangkok that it is regarded a suburb of the Thai capital. On social media, a repeated comment on her posts (discontinued) had been suai (สวยยย) or beautiful. It is possible that it was this chiobu (Hokkien for a female that’s especially attractive or hot) image that drew the geeky-looking Mr Pi to her.
That and, as speculated, her supposed wealth. It was reported that Ms Pansuk had gifted him with a sports car, (it isn’t clear if this was before or after they were married). No one knows the source of the woman’s riches or are aware of her propensity to offer expensive gifts, but some suggested that her mode of operation was evocative of Anna Delvey (real name: Anna Sorokin), the Russian-born German con artist and fraudster who became the subject of a recent Netflix series, Inventing Anna. Mr Pi’s new-found prosperity came so suddenly that he was described to have 飞黄腾达 (fei huang teng da or shot up meteorically). The couple is believed to have last lived in a house with a pool on Holland Road. A photograph of the forsaken residence shared online showed two sports cars parked in the porch.
Pi Jiapeng and Siriwipa Pansuk, Photo: Facebook
Coming into sudden wealth apparently raised no red flags among the people who knew the couple or did business with them. Nor, the two’s supposedly unceasing supply of some of the most expensive watches and coveted handbags in the market. A few of the victims who spoke to Shin Min Daily News claimed to have spent tens—even hundreds—of thousands of dollars through the couple’s social media operations. One of them, who contacted the duo through Instagram, paid—in full—SGD$700,000 for seven luxury timepieces. It is not clear why he was willing to spend that amount and yet chose not to get the corresponding service and assurance at an authorised retail store, other than that “the price they offered was about 10 per cent lower than the market price”. Another victim, a recent graduate, paid SGD40,000 for “branded bags”, with the intention of reselling them for a profit—a common practice. That pecuniary gain was never seen—the goods at no time arrived.
It was reported that the Pis started their buying-for-others activity on Carousell and IG. A year ago, there was a “shop” in Tanjong Pagar (for collection only, apparently), now reported to have shuttered. They told their victims that they travelled often, and, in the case of watches, to Switzerland, where the prices are, the pair assured their targets, cheaper. In police reports, two local companies that they started were implicated: Tradenation and Tradeluxury. Tradenation, according to its IG description, is a “Singapore-registered company (now suspended)” that deals in “AUTHENTIC (in caps) luxury timepiece (sic)” while Tradeluxury is a “one stop (sic) place to shop your favourite bags”. Despite the online negativity now, Tradenation and Tradeluxury did receive favourable reviews on Telegram, although it is not possible to confirm if they are genuine.
When the news of their possible crimes and daring escape broke in Thailand, chatter began to emerge on Thai social media that Ms Pansuk had previously gotten herself into similar hot soup in South Korea, where, before she met Mr Pi, she supposedly dated a Gangnam bar owner. Photos shared by her in late 2017 and early 2018 did show that she was in Seoul for a while, even offering to show visitors around the city because, as she wrote, “I’m also very free”. During that time, despite a seemingly comfortable life, she allegedly “tricked Thais into investing in a fake company (what it deals with is not known)”, even leading them to believe she had studied in the UK (according to her own social media profile, she attended the 75-year-old Catholic school Pramaesakolsongkroh [that goes by the regrettable abbreviation PMS!] in Nonthaburi, an institution that does not offer tertiary education). Someone who seems to know her wrote in Thai on Facebook, “Are you dead yet? Give me back my money.” It was beginning to emerge that Ms Pansuk was a likely serial cheat.
In the one photograph of the couple widely circulated online and used by the press before the pair’s names were revealed, bespectacled Pi Jiapeng was seen in possibly a Thai holiday resort, wearing a black-and-white jumper with what appears to be all-over Dior ‘Oblique’ monogram. He was shod in a pair of black Gucci Princetown Horsebit mules. His wife, who stood partly behind him, as if knowing her place, wore a black Chanel belt and carried a grey Lady Dior bag. They seemed the much-in-love and much-in-business husband and wife, living the life that their customers could relate to or may have even envied: Materially blessed. The better to not arouse suspicious transactions and to ensnare more bargain hunters into their well-baited trap. A considerable con job.
Update (11 August, 6.30pm): The Straits Times just reported that both Pi Jiapeng and his wife Siriwipa Pansuk were caught in Johor Baru and were brought back to Singapore to face charges tomorrow