The Dragon Does Auntie

Is looking like your mother’s sister the next big thing for guys?



By Ray Zhang

Amid news that Big Bang has renewed their contract with YG Entertainment, I came across, for the second time, this photo of the band’s lead singer G Dragon. I look at his make-up and get-up, and I found myself wondering why.

Of late, in fact, I have been seeing some strange looks adopted by my fellow men. At first it was the handbags. These clearly refute the prefix that once made fashionable carryalls acceptable for guys to be seen with: man. From the Hermes Roulis to the Loewe Heel to the Jacquemus Le Petit Chiquito to the Dior Saddle, I’ve seen them strapped on male shoulders and bobbing on male hips. Sure, Dior now has saddle bags for men and, prior, Fendi has made masculine the Baguette, but these sacs can’t escape their handbag genesis.

Then came the clothes. I am not referring to unisex garb with strong feminine vibes or even skirts or fake skirts—skorts. These days, it appears that men are not only raiding their sisters’ closet, or their wives’ (which the observant could tell is so last decade—but early adopters do go back to the ’80s, such as Stanley Zbornak, Dorothy’s former husband in the Golden Girls), but also helping themselves to a wealthy aunt’s expensive, barely-visited  wardrobe.

When I came across this photo last month of G Dragon expressing his fashionable self, I thought the poor guy was suffering from some post-army traumatic-stress condition (he completed his national service last October). Then I saw it again recently, and I sensed he’s communicating something. He was at the Chanel couture show in late January, and was photographed wearing Chanel in a way old ladies of means in the ’70s might have. Call my thinking outmoded—and this is where I get incendiary—but this look is frumpy. I’m unsure of the silhouette too. Could you have guessed that a (presumably) trained soldier inhabited these matronly clothes?

G Dragon in Chanel is, of course, no longer news. By now a young man in clothes once associated with women of a certain age is as much a dichotomy as guys in make-up. Apparently joining all that is looking dowdy. Back in 2017, Big Bang’s lead singer was a model for the Gabrielle, a bag that was designed to be a ‘classic’ and breathed, in all honesty, moneyed matriarch. But I didn’t think he’d go this far. I can’t decide if this was a mimic of the entrants of Golden Age Talentime (黄金年华之斗歌竞艺) or just an embodiment of Chanel’s materteral aplomb in the springtime of life.

Photo: Getty Images

G Dragon Goes For Gabrielle

G Dragon models Gabrielle Pic 1

G Dragon does not tire of Chanel, nor Chanel of him. Both are collaborating again. This time, for the unspectacular Chanel shoulder bag, unimaginatively named Gabrielle Bag. G Dragon, aka Kwon Ji-Yong, appears in a video released by Chanel two days ago, showing him walking briskly in what appears to be a hotel hallway as he heads for a concert venue. He makes very little eye contact with the camera, and the bag appears less often than his face. To the ignorant, this could be a commercial for a G Dragon performance.

To launch a bag, they make films these days. They cast the coolest stars with massive following, and if their model of choice is unable to come for the filming, they sent a film crew to him. G Dragon reportedly shot this video while on a concert stop in Macau. This was part of his third solo world tour called ACT III, M.O.T.T.E. In fact, he performed at the Indoor Stadium this past weekend to a 7,500-strong crowd. While it was reported that he wore Chanel and carried the Gabrielle Bag during this latest concert as part of his garish stage costumes, it was not certain if this was the case for his show here. Do Singaporeans fans even care?

Perhaps they would if the Gabrielle Bag filming was conducted during the leg of his tour here. But Chanel, priding themselves on the vastness of their marketing budget, sent their crew to Macau instead. In the end, it isn’t quite clear which really gained from the exposure: the bag or the concert, if at all.

Chanel Gabrielle Bag

But Chanel does score when they’re able to associate an unremarkable bag with a very remarkable Korean hip-hop star. G Dragon is, of course, not the first popular male singer to help Chanel market the Gabrielle Bag. In April this year, Pharrell Williams won the distinction for being the first male to avail his whole being to a Chanel handbag campaign (although he isn’t the first man to be associated with the brand). Pharrell brought his usual I-can-wear-Chanel-if-I-want-to stance to the video in which he was seen—with Chanel chains and pearls, no less—skating atop a crate across a warehouse in a guys-do-these-sort-of-things way.

It is G Dragon, however, that is far more gender-bending in his fashion choices for the Chanel short. And we’re not just talking about what looks like a lace scarf thrown over his shoulder and the ultra-skinny tweed pants (interestingly both he and Mr Williams wore plain T-shirts in their respective videos, as if that will help retain some masculinity a la James Dean, should doubt arises) and the posing and preening. There’s his full makeup and the painted fingernails: this is a get up that, in more conformist, less hip-hop dominating times, would be considered drag.

Despite his tendency to cross into female territory in dress, G Dragon’s maleness is rarely question, at least not among his female fans. In fact, all the lace and nail polish seem only to augment and underscore his all-male, oppa appeal. In, a fan ItsKDay commented on a report of G Dragon’s Gabrielle Bag video flaunt, “Gawd he has such a sexy manly body.”

G Dragon models Gabrielle Pic 2

The thing is, in South Korea, people seem less fixated on gender norms. Selling music or cosmetics to consumers is not gender-led. Just look at the casting for the skincare and makeup ads from the big players such as the AmorePacific Group (Etude House and Innisfree). Guys with strangely dewy skin dominate, making G Dragon’s foray into women’s accessory advertising no oddity. In fact, the lead singer of Big Bang seems to be utterly comfortable in what would be mostly (at least for now) considered female domains. Just look at the covers of the two issues of Vogue that featured him last year: China (August 2016, two covers, in fact, with Bella Hadid sharing the space in the second) and Korea (also August 2016, not two, but three covers!) And both editions with him sporting looks mothers usually do not expect of their sons.

G Dragon may use the Gabrielle Bag in the video ad, but will he really put it to use in his everyday life? The Gabrielle Bag looks like a practical bag, for sure, but so is Ikea’s Frakta—so practical, in fact, that it spawned a luxury version of it. Also known as the Hobo Bag, the Gabrielle Bag (not just Gabrielle) is believed to be unisex, but not quite a man-bag. Its regular looks and rigid form may just be unexceptional enough to attract those not in the pop music business to adopt one for their fashionable life.

Chanel is really pouring a hefty sum into the marketing of what could easily become a forgotten sibling of the 2.55. Kristen Stewart was the first to star in the series of Gabrielle Bag films, followed by Cara Delevingne and Caroline de Maigret. Reportedly Liu Wen is next, augmenting Chanel’s predisposition towards inclusiveness.

However, we do wonder: does the casting of a black and an Asian man for a primarily women’s wear label mean that non-Caucasian men are less fashion-forward and not amenable to fashion without the confines of gender? Or has men’s wear been so limiting in terms of variety that guys are looking across the divide for more to excite and to express with? Or, maybe, in Chanel, G Dragon has simply found his phoenix.

Chanel’s Gabrielle Hobo Bag (as seen on G Dragon), from SGD5,460, is available at Chanel stores. Video stills and product photo: Chanel

Big Bang: Lagerfeld Shoots G Dragon

G Dragon Vogue Korea

By Mao Shan Wang

A guy on a cover of Vogue (any issue in the world) is so uncommon that when one appears, he beckons. Vogue Korea celebrates its 20th Anniversary with not one but three covers of G Dragon for its August issue, all shot by Karl Lagerfeld. The most arresting is this with Kwon Ji-Yong’s back, exposed like a Tang courtesan’s.

To be honest, I didn’t know at first that he is Big Bang’s lead singer. I couldn’t tell since he is not facing me, not beaming a smile. At a quick look, his side profile with the slicked-down hair (in black instead of his usual dyed brights) reminded me of the late Tina Chow. There’s something gamine about his face here, just like that of Ms Chow’s. And the pose with the partially bared shoulder and back is rather similar to how Andy Warhol and Antonio Lopez photographed her.

When Karl Lagerfeld shot this picture, perhaps he too saw in the viewfinder what I now see on the Vogue Korea cover. Mr Lagerfeld knew Ms Chow, and he must have remembered how striking she looked. It’s highly possible that he was feeling nostalgic. And it, too, is possible he was channelling Degas. But this isn’t the 1800s, and G Dragon was not caught After a Bath, so he was clothed in a Chanel cardigan, worn front-to-rear, unbutton to almost the small of the back.

The exposure reveals three of GD’s not-outrageous tattoos. On the nape, the archangel Michael spreading his wings, inked by Anil Gupta, a New York-based Indian tattooist dubbed “the most expensive tattoo artists in the world”. It was rumoured that GD forked USD1,000 an hour to get this piece of skin art. Admittedly, it looks better than Justin Beiber’s pair of mere wings. At a glance, it looks like GD has worn a crochet necklace, like the cardigan, the wrong way round.

Further down, just below the right side of his shoulder, is the partially blocked line of “too fast to live too young to die”. Whether this refers to the book on Sid Vicious or the Malcolm McLaren store that came after Let It Rock, before Sex, it isn’t certain. Further south on the spine, there’s the word ‘GET’, which, according to GD watchers, is part of a trio of words—including ‘TO’ on the left arm, above the elbow, and ‘HER’ on the right side. Whether it’s to form ‘TO GET HER’ or ‘TOGETHER’, I, like you, are none the wiser.

Then there is the curious glove. Seeing it, I thought of Philippe Pottier’s photos for 1950s Christian Dior, as well as the illustrations of Pierre Mourgue, both often showing Dior models with gloves. GD is considered the epitome of modern K-Pop style, yet here, he has on a vestige of elegance that has little following after the New Look faded. There seems to be a deliberate playing down of GD’s own sensational hip-hop togs. Perhaps, an old-world accessory for hands, used not to protect against the cold, can amplify the wearer’s glamour, never mind that the regular front-row seats in Paris Fashion Week already do.

With Big Bang hot on the Forbes list of the highest-paid celebrities (at no. 54), GD probably does not need to strengthen his allure by playing androgyne on the cover of the Vogue of his homeland. But to sit for Karl Lagerfeld is consistent with the unceasing coming together of hip-hop and fashion. G Dragon is clearly in fine form.

Photo: Vogue Korea/Karl Lagerfeld