Can Products Be Overbranded?

Apparently not. Dior shows that there really can be no limit to the use of their name and initials

Kiasuism has hit luxury brands, in particular Dior. Sure, we have seen before the unceasing use of their logos and monograms on much of what they make, but we have yet to see branding so concentrated in a single product, as the above sunglasses, the Blue Dior Oblique Pilot, also known as the CD Link A1U. When paired with their Sunglasses Cord and the Dior X Kenny Scharf T-shirt, as shown in the photo above, you’ll have the full Dior, visually. Or, full of Dior? Is nothing too much? Or, too obvious? Discreet is not fashionable, Dior seems to be telling us, and the world needs not to know what you are wearing, but who. Not even the ’80s and ’90s were there such overuse of logos. It is no longer your good ’ol logomania. Dior is paving the way for hypermania.

We thought the proliferation of logos peaked at the end of the ’90s. We were so wrong. The love of logos never went away, but it has, in recent years, become more pronounced and the presence of the attendant products overwhelming. And even more so during a pandemic. We remember going to the Dior men’s store last year, shortly before Christmas, and was really taken aback to see virtually no product without a visible font or symbol of their trademark. We remember asking ourselves, will designers be hired if they are not good at using logos other than for labels? Is fashion design increasingly about logo placement?

Just look at the pilot sunglasses. The CD Link A1U would look like most aviators if not for its patterned lenses. Do people love Dior so much that they wish to be seen with the Dior Oblique monogram for eyes? Apparently so. According to the brand’s marketing material, the “blue lenses feature a silver mirrored Dior Oblique motif to complete the urban sunglasses”. Motif? Branded! We do not know, if looking through them from the other side, we’d see the possibly headache-inducing logo feast, but this shade sure goes with B23 high-tops. More to match if they are crucial to the look. (Despite the tonal difference on the lenses, they offer 100% UVA/UVB protection). If the logo-ed up lenses is still discreet, the metal arm of the glasses sport “an openwork ‘CD’ signature”. So that no one would mistake it for LV?

Of course to strengthen the branding and to “lend the finishing touch to any pair of glasses”, you’d have to attach the eyewear to the Dior Sunglasses Cord. And in case no one knows what ‘CD’ stands for, it is all spelled out in full caps with clear reverse-white, sans-serif font on the polyester nylon jacquard lanyard. On the “silver-finish metal lobster clasp”, the four-letter brand name is engraved on it. If even that is not enough, set both against a cotton T-shirt with ‘CD’ embroidered on the left top corner of the pocket. The look is now complete. More, not less.

Photos: Dior

Music Cred To Boost Whatever That Needs Boosting

Dior has enlisted Travis Scott for input. Is Kim Jones showing off just how well connected he is?

Why do it alone when you can do it with someone else? Serial collaborator Kim Jones is at it again. Just fresh off a design partnership with Sacai, he has paired with Travis Scott to give the hip-hop star, considered one of the most stylish of them all, a jab at designing luxury clothes. Mr Jones’s Dior is increasingly a community club for people he appreciates to come and lend their voices. Many are not from fashion, but the art world. Sacai’s Chitose Abe was the second fashion professional after Shaw Stussy (the collabs with Alyx and Yoon Ahn yielded only accessories) to be invited. Ms Abe is considered a mountain of a talent and will soon present her debut haute couture for Jean Paul Gaultier, yet she was asked to collaborate on a 57-piece, off-season capsule Dior collection. Mr Scott, whose fashion talents are as a “style icon”, with a “cool wardrobe” and prolific drops in sneakers and other streetwear items linked to his name, gets to do the main line of a main season.

It is not likely Travis Scott’s input is the same as Chitose Abe’s, yet the Dior spring/summer collection features him as their star collaborator. For those in doubt of Mr Travis’s skill level (admittedly we are among the many; we still are), Dior released a video clip on Instagram, showing La Flame working (er, looks to us he was struggling) at a sewing machine. But that perhaps doesn’t matter as fans of the brand and the man would likely find that cute. What matters is the name—also the father of Kylie Jenner’s daughter (we do not know if the parents are married or if they are even together). Perhaps, just as importantly is Mr Scott’s standing as a fashionista and a fashion impresario. The collab is known as Cactus Jack Dior, so named because of the support to youngsters that Mr Scott’s Cactus Jack Foundation, a spin-off of his Cactus Jack Records (there is also a books division Cactus Jack Publishing), offers to those seeking fashion education. There were initial problems with the use of the Cactus Jack name—even the WWE tried to stop it being trademarked as the professional wrestler Mick Foley shares the same (nick)name—but Dior presses on with the association.

The image that the cactus often brings to mind is a desert, and it is in this (make-believe) setting that Dior’s show was staged. (Arid lands are themselves a recurrent set theme this menswear season.) This desert tableau is, according to the house, to “celebrate” Christian Dior’s first visit, in 1947, to the United States, where his first port of call was Texas (Mr Scott is Texan!), “whose grand canyons and huge dusty deserts made a lasting impression”. But the runway now isn’t quite that arenaceous vastness; it is prettified—to better frame what pre-show publicity had the media called a “blockbuster collaboration”. Everything is oversized: the desert roses, the cacti (naturally), fungi and a cattle skeleton head. So is the star power. Following the show, the press called it “the first major celebrity fashion moment”. The clothes? Just watch what Travis Scott wears!

In a 2017 interview with GQ Australia to promote his collaboration with the Aussie brand Ksubi, Mr Scott said, “I’m not like a fashion designer, but (the output of the collab) is like a piece of my brain.” In all likelihood, fashion for surviving the desert is the furthest from the designing duo’s minds. It is not immediately clear what is Mr Scott’s contribution to the partnership (other than the graphics such as the cartoonish Dior logotype), but styling tricks are more apparent than disruptive designs. Recurrent are the jackets, worn with the peaked-lapels upturned to reveal their bi-coloured underside. Other lapel shapes are given similar treatment so that the look is near-Edwardian primness and slimness. The lapels, with the left over the right, are held up together with brooches, designed by Dior’s resident jewellery designer Victoire de Castellane, that are attached to a chain and secured to the left ear, just like an Indian nose chain, except fastened to a spot on the jacket just below the collarbone. Every model in such a get-up looks affected. More dressed down are the oversized T-shirts, pulled over tailored looks (lapels worn conventionally), like a teen mistakenly wearing a concert tee instead of a sweater, over a suit instead of under. There are, of course, sweaters, but what their specific place is in fashion, set in a desert is not quite clear.

Not to be left out are the feminine silhouettes seen elsewhere during these past fashion weeks. Floaty poncho-shirts with busy scribbles by American artist George Condo, bell-bottom pants and those that could be unzipped from the hem of the outseams to give a wider leg opening, and layered shorts that could give the impression of skirts at a quick glance keep to the overall mood of the moment. Accessories are similarly less mannish. Apart from the jewellery (and whatever those sparkly danglies swinging from belt loops are), there are the getting-smaller-by-each-season bags (is the man bag still of popular usage?). For once the Saddle bag—now even with a saddle handle!—seems be to be set in the right context. Giddy-up! This is perhaps a cross-border triumph of inclusivity for Dior: a British designer collaborating with an African-American designer from Texas. The brand has a Black-creative ally. At last.

Photos: Dior

Two Of A Kind: Breastplates

Now that the chest rig is so 2018, perhaps its time for something else to protect the torso?

It’s rather curious to us that warm-weather (or cruise) dressing would require additional gear to trap air to the torso, while arms are totally uncovered. Isn’t it true that with the heat (year after year not letting up), many prefer not to layer? So the suddenly popularity of the breastplate is rather curious. Okay, so far it’s just from two labels: first Dior for cruise 2022 and Burberry for spring/summer 2022, but would these armour-like extras be prelude to a wider trend? Sure, these are not really an outer layer. Do you even consider them clothes? Surely not accessories! But since they are worn and would likely remain on the body throughout the duration of their stay (unlike a bag, which are frequently parted with the body), they might be considered garments?

Breastplates, sometimes also known as chestplates have, in fact, been around for a long time. Often associated with battle wear, they can be traced to antiquity, as seen on Greek warriors, such as the Athenian hoplites. As the elite hoplites had to provide their own panoply or full suit of armour, they had theirs custom-made. This included the breastplate—mostly made of leather and bronze. Only wealthy Greeks, therefore, could be a hoplite. Breastplates slowly fell out of fashion until their resurgence in the Middle Ages. By the 14th and 15th centuries, they were basically very much part of the standard battle order, and remained so all through the Napoleonic wars in the 19th century. In Asia, breastplates were worn too. There were the Chinese xiongjia (胸甲) Japanese do, although both were more like a cuirass—it covers the back as well. Closer to our shore, there was the Majapahit Empire’s karambalangan, sometimes reported to be lavishly gold-embossed! Today, the bullet-proof vests that the police use are believed to be directly descended from the breastplate.

Do Dior’s and Burberry’s breastplates have any protective quality? Frankly, we do not know. Dior’s bib-like versions—although shown in Athens—aren’t quite like those worn by the hoplites or even the goddess Athena (often depicted wearing one over her peplos). Their version looks like chestplates Amazons of Themyscira (later known by the more familiar Paradise Island) might wear—more Queen Hippolyta than Princess Diana. The abstractly-shaped and loose version at Burberry appears more like a shrunken apron with a rather shapely hem that recalls the bottom edge of the bodices worn by Italian women of the 16th and 17th Century. Whichever you’re drawn to, wear these equivalent of a face-mask-for-the-torso with something sleeveless underneath. And breathe.

Photos: Dior and Burberry respectively

Dior Goes Sporty

At the cruise show, Dior shows pieces that you could go to gym in. Will you?

Dior packed their 2022 cruise collection and sent it to Athens, Greece to be shown at the Panathenaic Stadium, an ancient site where the first modern-day Olympics took place, in 1896. This show isn’t, of course, the first fashion presentation to take place in a sports arena. Last October, Hedi Slimane showed his spring/summer 2021 collection in Monaco’s Stade Louis II, a track and field stadium that’s also the home of AS Monoca, the national football team. But the Panathenaic has a far more ancient history—it was first built in the late 5th century BC (it was rebuilt many times before), and the present stadium—refurbished in 1890s and opened in time for that first Olympics—that Dior picked for its show only hinted at what it was before. But the touristic monument’s ode to sports is commensurate with Maria Grazia Chiuri’s latest (feminist?) pursuit: “clothes as a way of giving freedom of movement”.

Although, ironically, only men participated in the sports of the precursor to the Olympics in 566 BC till the 3rd century AD, women too were involved. In fact, the Panathenaea, as it was known, was largely a festival that also involved religious worship (to honour the goddess Athena), cultural events (poetic and musical competitions), and the prize-award ceremony, all held in the stadium (originally the greek word stadion, a measure of length said to be roughly 600 feet, or 183 metres). According to the show communique, “the choice of this venue, creating a prodigious bridge between sport and culture, ancient heritage and contemporary youth, is highly symbolic for Maria Grazia Chiuri, notably through its connections to the body and the freedom of movement she cherishes, but also through the motifs that inform the collection and its sportswear spirit…” Operative word: “freedom”, the exemption from the old believe that sports clothes are kept apart from couture.

Sportswear, it should be noted, is not necessary sporting clothes, just as athleisure has very little to do with athletics. Ms Chiuri’s garments for fitness pursuits are really puttering with the idea of looking sporty and not for the specific engagement in rigorous activities of the athletic kind. These in a gym would have a look-at-me side effect that no serious gym goer would desire (they rather have trimness or musculature be appreciated). The print-heavy pieces would appeal to, say, tai-tais who like to amuse themselves and their friends with the believe that they’re fitness fanatics. Healthy is the new wealthy. This is, however, not Undercover’s Gyakusou line. The pieces are, at best, ‘activewear’ for running around, not for raising the heart rate or meeting the 10,000-step health quota. Or, what sports brands call “lifestyle” options. Luxe Lululemon? Ms Chiuri also appears to target her sportswear at hip-hop artistes, who often blur the line between sporting clothes and those worn for performing—looks that make a statement, fashion that serves as status symbol.

Ms Chiuri’s idea of modern is to pair sneakers with nearly everything, even red carpet-ready dresses. Despite the many pairs of trainers worn, there is something overly dressed-up about her sports ensembles (you’d need time to pull everything together), which may reflect the sartorial mood at the Panathenaea, maybe not. In ancient times, the Panathenaic Games comprised athletic and equestrian contests, and contestants required no footwear (at least in the beginning. Athletes who wore sandals—the daily footwear then—were seen as novel, even parochial). Perhaps the most delicious irony of Dior’s layered and gaudy looks at the Panathenaic stadium is that the men who participated in the sports here, back in those early, early years competed in the nude.

Screen shot (top) and photos: Dior

West Meets East: Dior X Sacai

Kim Jones shows how much he admires Chitose Abe as Sacai becomes his latest Stussy

Dior is on a collaboration roll. Sacai is on a collaboration roll. It’s really a matter of time when the two brands will find each other. We’re surprised it was not sooner. Dior’s Kim Jones wrote on Instagram that Sacai’s Chitose Abe “has been a friend for about 15 years”. It’s amazing that in this time, Mr Jones has not thought of pairing with Ms Abe. Until the pandemic strikes and he misses “friends and travel”; until he could no longer visit Japan, where he and his team “visited a lot”. “We started a conversation about working together,” he wrote, “and did this collection over a period of lockdown, sending samples and sketches back and forth.” Collaboration has, for a long time, the sense of cooperating in close proximity. Now, that may only be feasible by connecting remotely and digitally. It does make us wonder if the partnership would have yielded a stronger result if they had, in fact, been able to be in each other’s company and allowed the proverbial ideas to bounce off each other.

The images that Dior made available to the media do not really reveal a lot. Sacai’s clothes are always more complex than they appear, but how much of that complexity is absorbed into the Dior aesthetic isn’t immediately discernible. Mr Jones isn’t the kind of designer that Ms Abe is—a brilliant and tenacious technician. He tends to play it straight. Hybridisation is not his forte. Nor, are unusual cuts (Ms Abe was a pattern-maker at Comme des Garçons before starting her own label). Compare Mr Jones’s ‘remake’ of Nike’s Air Jordan 1 for Dior (which is still asking five-figures sums!) to Ms Abe’s Nike Blazer for Sacai (we’ll just stick to basketball shoes). And the difference is clear. One is happy to go with the as-is, while the other is eager to see what are other possibilities, such as ripping apart and redoing. Or, perhaps, the mere pairing of Dior and Sacai is hybridising itself?

With a touch of Sacai, Dior is looking better than ever. The 57-piece capsule still bears the touches of Kim Jones, for sure. The clothes definitely is still amped-up to hit luxury’s high notes—for example, the fabrics are still heavy—but they look less couture-fied, as if Ms Abe had, at her end in Tokyo, relaxed this and that. There is the clearly casual ‘shacket’ (shirt-jacket that is more a Japanese obsession than French), with zipped pockets that might have been plucked from an MA-1 bomber jacket, which Ms Abe often reinterprets or adapts from. In fact, no Sacai anything is complete without it and the MA-1 makes it Dior appearance, slightly longer and with a two-zip fastening. Another Sacai detail is the draw-cord hem on shirts—Dior didn’t omit that. Nor, the Sacai two-layer shirttails that contrast the woven with the knit. Re-looking at the images, what struck us as possibly clever is that Dior fans will see Dior and Sacai followers will be able to suss out Sacai.

And there are the accessories. The Diorness is unmistakable, as in their structured forms. And, of course, the Saddle Bag, but now, not offered in its original (reintroduced) shape. A Prada-ish tote, for example, comes with the signature leather flap of the Saddle. A D-ring attached to one end of the handle allows a water bottle and its nylon/leather sleeve to be attached. The side of the bag also sports lacing that is reminiscent of backpacks that have similarly fastened cords to hold skateboards. These function-first details, often seen in Sacai designs, is very much a Japanese design vernacular and is often seen in the work of Sacai’s compatriot label Kolor (Ms Abe is married to its founder/designer Junichi Abe). But perhaps the most coveted will be anything with the new logo: the Dior text with Sacai stretched out on the ‘i’. And if one, emblazoned across the back of a top, is any indication, Dior is going to have another Stussy in its hands.

Photos: Brett Lloyd/Dior

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.