Tiger Beat: Happy Family

The lanterns for this year’s Chinese New Year light-up in Chinatown is about the alpha male and his family. Endearing, even when it reminds us of some scary beasts in a ’70s theme park along Pasir Panjang Road

When the Chinese-style lanterns in the shape of tigers (虎) were lit this evening, a throng had gathered outside Chinatown Point to take photographs of them. In real life, tigers are the largest living cat species known. On the road divider between Eu Tong Sen Street and New Bridge Road, the tigers appeared to be live-sized. They struck an imposing figure. Most of the spectators across the intersection were pointing the camera on their smartphone at the subject; some were more seriously equipped—with DSLRs and tripods. The silent tigers were a clear draw, like those in a zoo. However, a woman, not snapping, was heard saying, “一点都不可爱 (yi dian dou bu ke ai, not cute at all).”

Unlike in Japan, we have never placed a premium on cuteness. We do not have or enjoy a culture of kawaii—where in the land of Pokémon, is itself a pop culture phenomenon. Through the years, the light-ups in Chinatown have banked mostly on a conventional Chinese aesthetic that borders on the run-of-the-mill. It has not been an interpretive depiction that conveys a sense of the adorable. Better be zhun (准, accurate) than cute. In their seriousness to be culturally on-the-dot (although not specifically appealing to any elite currency), the organisers of the Chinatown light-ups have frequently drawn criticism for their aesthetic faux pas, such as the manly and pregnant moon goddesses during the Mid-Autumn Festivals.

Before the LED lights did their controlled magic, the tigers looked— from a distance—grey, stony, and somewhat menacing, even when the adult beasts were standing on clouds and the brood frolicking with a gold coin and an ingot. In the light of an overcast day, the trigonal set-up was rather evocative of those hellish dioramas in Haw Par Villa (虎豹別墅, aka Tiger Balm Gardens) of the ’70s, then a major local attraction (without the influence of a pandemic) and now considered a cultural heritage. As dusk approached, the shadowy creatures looked the antithesis of an approaching festive season.

There are five tigers in the main display. We wondered if the quintet is to show the size of a family that is now encouraged in view of our shrinking population. Or, to match the number of people allowed in social interactions or to dine out. Could it also be to denote the five elements in Chinese philosophy: wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. Come 1 February, we will be welcoming the year of the water tiger (and so that you are not mistaken, blue ripples underscore the scenes of posing and prancing tigers along Eu Tong Sen Street and New Bridge Road). As soft as that sounds, the tiger of the Chinese Zodiac is a symbol of strength and confidence. The water tiger is not a tamed beast; it is believed to possess a self-esteem that is considered strong. Perhaps, that is why the organisers of the Chinatown light-up have avoided cute?

But soft is the pull elsewhere in Chinatown. Away from the light-up, inside the shopping streets, large quantities of bulaohu (布老虎 or stuffed cloth tiger) are available in many gift shops and those offering CNY decorations in staggering bulk. These made-in-China toys bear a cute countenance, compared to those now populating the main street outside People’s Park Complex. The bulaohu is a traditional folk handicraft that has been made and used in China since ancient times. Aesthetically, these seen in Chinatown may look different from those of the past, but its feline form is unmistakable, and is deliberately simplified to trot out its facial adorableness, and that grin!

The tiger, placed third in the Chinese Zodiac, was both worshipped and feared in ancient China. Known as bai shou zhi wang (百兽之王, king of beasts), it was also considered to be efficient in warding off the three domestic disasters of more rural times: fire, burglars, and evil spirits. But in the pandemic era of an urban world, the fierceness and courageousness of the tiger are somewhat played down. From tiger buns at Ikea to T-shirts emblazoned with “Gucci Tiger”, the king of beasts is not quite kingly, and is taking on a decidedly less ferocious role. Do they even roar anymore?

Photos: Chin Boh Kay

Collaboration To Close The Year?

Gucci and Adidas are reportedly up to something

With Christmas round the corner, you’d think that it be a quiet time for fashion. Not quite. Ringing louder than church bells is the news that Gucci is hitting the collab road with Adidas. According to the “first look” offered by Twitter account @hypeneverdies two days ago, there is now a double-G monogram, in which the Adidas trefoils share the space with the repeated twin 7th letter of the alphabet. The not-quite-sharp image posted has a patina of blue. Looking like a screen shot, it does not really tell us if its a product or, for all we know, an NFT! Anything is possible. If Gucci can “hack” Balenciaga, they can surely do the same to Adidas. We were thinking shoes, but that’d be too obvious. With their second The North Face collab just released, what in the sphere of outdoor/sportswear has Gucci not explored?

Of course, this brings to mind Adidas’s rather quiet pairing with another Italian brand: Prada. We were, admittedly, underwhelmed by that output. But both brands deemed the collab a success—enough to have a second (not quite memorable) attempt. Gucci, naturally, won’t go the discreet route (just as Lady Gaga won’t play it safe). We already had a taste of what it might be, if The North Face affair was any indication. Monogram-mad might actually be putting it mildly.

The above illustration is just that, not an official logo from the brand. Watch this space for confirmation of the collaboration. Illustration: Just So

Gucci: Hollywood’s Costumer

Alesandro Michele brought the Gucci spring/summer 2022 collection to where it belongs: the world’s movie capital, right on Hollywood Boulevard itself

Gucci and Tinsletown are meant for each other. When Gucci arrived this particular night, it was a gilded key in the right key hole. That is why when Gucci sent their dressed-to-the-nines models down Hollywood Boulevard, the key turned and opened the door to a display so flashy that even the best Hollywood gala night could not rival. It was a trip not down memory lane, but a cruise to where it can call home; the motherland. After all, Gucci and movie makers and their stars have always had a chummy relationship. The impressive part was the action on the very street that many associate with Hollywood, the now-closed-to-Gucci Hollywood Boulevard—tourist attraction and home to some of the most famous theatres in the world, including the El Capitan, the Dolby (once the Kodak theatre, now aka the home of the Academy Awards), and the TCL Chinese Theatre, where the models emerged to begin their bored walk on the sidewalks. There is nothing laid-back or cool about this part of Los Angeles. It’s pure kitsch, often bordering on questionable taste, and Gucci, through their clothes reflected all that.

Alessandro Michele is a storyteller, a knowledgeable raconteur. The evening’s Hollywood street feature was homage to the entire cast that makes this town as it is: colourful, like the meretricous souvenirs sold that inevitably make their way into a tourist’s bag. Not the likes of Blanche Dubois or Holly Golightly for the high-minded. But every other character you can think of, every B-grade actress still unable to hit A; every starlet still aspiring; every former child star clutching to bits of their former glory, every off-duty waitress waiting to be discovered; every weirdo thinking they are part of this movie town; every flashy, cocky executive managing just as flashy and cocky stars; every cowboy hoping to be hired as a grip crew; every wide-eyed, here-to-soak-it-all-up visitor hoping to meet their idol; every member of the hidden mafia, possibly still ruling the town; right down to the hookers from South Los Angeles (if you thought we were imagining things, consider the sex toy accessories!), even their pimps—they were all there, out and about, with nowhere to go, but right there. Oh, yes, even she who was hoping to audition for Cleopatra!

The 30-minute-long show, featuring 115 looks, and soundtracked by the music of Björk (not, surprisingly, one of the 22,705 songs that mention Gucci, as highlighted in the brand’s 100th anniversary travelling show) was dubbed the Gucci Love Parade. But it was less a procession than a walk-past. Not a carnival either, but the clothes were right for carnaval. Each look was deliberately considered: from headwear to eyewear to footwear, every piece in its place to effect something not quite ruly. Sure, there were some gowns that were right for a tidy red carpet, but for many of the separates, the sum is Calabasas meets the costume department of Columbia Pictures, including the pasties some rapper must have recently discarded. It is heady stuff, no doubt. Beautiful chaos, fans would say, but is the disorder not rather repetitive? To be fair, the clothes increasingly resist the anti-fit of Mr Michele’s earlier years in Gucci. Yet, they all looked somewhat familiar, whether we were thinking of Aria or Guccifest, or much earlier. What goes around comes around?

Shortly after the Gucci livestream, social media commentators were agog with excitement. Some thought it the most entertaining runway presentation ever. Perhaps all the showiness is deliberate, never mind the parade seemed overwhelmed by the boulevard itself. Ridley Scott’s House of Gucci, starring Lady Gaga, will hit the big screen in two months’ time. The Gucci family has disapproved the film’s casting, describing the leads as “horrible” and “ugly” (no mention of the costume). This has aroused even more interest in the film. The latest trailer shown on YouTube has enjoyed 4.9 million views in five days. Gucci the brand has always been Gucci the movie-in-the-making. And Gucci parading on Hollywood Boulevard will, no doubt, benefit brand and movie, mutually.

Screen grab (top) and photos: Gucci

This Is How It Looks

The latest iteration of the Comme des Garçons X Gucci bag is uncharacteristically simple

The bag’s released was teased on Gucci’s Instagram page and on the brand’s new e-store Vault. On the webpage, the illustration of the latest iteration of the Comme des Garçons X Gucci tote, simply called the Shopper, sported flashing stripes in yellow, red, green and purple as mock-up of the print/pattern to come. We had expected something very much in the vein of what Gucci has been doing: flowery. But, as it turns out, it is something far more in common with Balenciaga’s Paper Bag tote. It is in plain black and could look somewhat sinister. The recognisable red-and-green Gucci Web stripe runs vertically down the middle of the bag, obscuring the centre portion of the Comme des Garçons logotype, printed in white. It is a smart-looking bag that bears more of the CDG aesthetic than Gucci. But, according to CDG’s own description, “the limited-edition tote represents the perfect embodiment of two mutually distinctive aesthetics driven by the desire to explore innovative visions”.

To us, the placement of the striped strap requires no nerve-wrecking exercise in design. The CDG bag itself is one from the special edition that was created for the 2017 Tokyo pop-up event called Black Market. The retail event, which was later brought to London, featured products and collaborations (no, Gucci is not in the picture for this one) that are only available at the Black Market. One of them is this black shopper, itself an update of the original that was first introduced a few years back, in the exact light brown typical of shopping bag, but totally encased in PVC. It was rather typical of CDG to use materials so associated low-cost merchandise and elevate them to something altogether more deluxe. The style was so popular that it was later also extended to the Comme des Garçons SHIRT line, this time as a north-south tote.

Left to right: the three versions of the same tote, 2018, 2019, and 2021

The first Comme des Garçons X Gucci shopper appeared in 2018, as part of the year-end Friends and Comme des Garçons holiday collection. The tote took quite a few by surprise since it was not thought at the time that the two brands were a natural fit. But it was soon sold out. A year later, the collaboration was reprised. The form of the second bag remained the same, but this time the brown paper inner, behind the clear PVC shell, was printed in rows of floral motif that looked like pencil drawing. It is also rather evocative of vintage wallpaper. Now, the bag looked like it did finally bagged half of some semblance of Gucci-ness.

According to the communication material of the collab, the latest black tote “closes the circle of this experimental process”. Does it mean that this is the last of the pairing? If you’ve missed the earlier two, do you need to rush off somewhere to get one? When we saw the new version previewed, so to speak, on Vault, we thought this would not be available to those who are not living in one of the 25 countries that Vault ships to. But it is available here at the CDG store, as well as DSMS. Question is, at S$820 a pop, would it be too much to pay? When the first CDG solo-branded plastic-wrapped shopper was introduced half a decade ago, it could be had for S$200+. Even last year’s version, a collab with Futura, went for S$580. Have prices all round really shot up? Or are we just being budget conscious in times of a still-ranging pandemic?

Comme des Garcons X Gucci shopper, SGD820, is now available at Comme des Garcons and DSMS. Photos: Comme des Garcons

They’re Pairing Again

Gucci and Comme des Garçons are teaming up once more. Who’s thrilled?

They are back in the act. The on/off union was just teased on Gucci’s Instagram Stories, with the announcement that the Kering super brand is pairing with indie Comme des Garçons on a tote bag. This will be available exclusively on Gucci’s dedicated online store, Vault, where its merchandise is presently not available to the shoppers in a massive part of Asia, except—unsurprisingly—Japan. A collaboration with a Japanese brand, therefore, makes sense. In fact, Gucci has engaged Japanese customers rather actively even when the country was under a state of emergency due to COVID-19 . In August, they opened a pop-up in Kyoto, sited in a historical house. Then, there was the final Asian stop of the exhibition Gucci Garden Archetypes (after Hong Kong and Shanghai) in Tokyo. And later this month, the capital’s first Gucci restaurant Gucci Osteria da Massimo Bottura Tokyo is slated to open on the 28th. The makers of the Marmont has been busy in the Land of the Rising Sun.

And now the tote. This is not the first time that CDG is collaborating with Gucci on what’s essentially a shopping bag. Back in 2018, as part of the year-end Friends and Comme des Garçons holiday collection, the two brands released an east-west tote based on the CDG plastic-encased paper bag that had enthralled fans of the brand, and was soon very much copied (even compatriot Beams later did a version with Disney!). Gucci’s part of the coupling is the house’s red and green stripes, applied vertical in the middle of the bag, which quickly sold out. Unsurprising then that there is a repeat, this time available through Gucci’s own (online) retail outlet. It is not not known yet what graphic the bag would sport this time, other that the stripes (the flashing illustration on IG, we believe, is just a mock-up). This collaboration has, in fact, been rather baffling to us. What is the likelihood that a serious/enthusiastic CDG follower would at the same time be just as mad about Gucci to want something—anything—with the name or logo of the two together in one item? Or, are we living in truly not-quite-discerning times?

Gucci X Comme des Garçons bag will be available at The Vault from 15 Oct 2021. Screen grab: Gucci/Instagram

Visited: Vault

Gucci’s all-new, all-dancing e-store may change the way online shops are conceived in the future, but not everyone gets to buy what’s up for grabs

Gucci describes its fresh digital platform Vault as a “new experimental online space”. The website is primary an e-store, but it is also an e-mag. When you arrive at the homepage, there is surprisingly not an immediate call to view the merchandise. No cart symbol could be seen in the top right-hand corner (instead, it reads “Edition #1”). Click the ‘hamburger’ menu icon on the left, and it drops down to reveal a very short list of three items: Join Vault, Current Country (SG isn’t listed), and Language. No shop and items. The main image—not animated—featuring Gucci fashion is not even clickable. Below the photograph, you are told to “Discover More”. But you scroll further down. The site is highly visual and the images are mostly full-bleed, which lend the webpage the feel of a vertically-flowing magazine. And it’s quite a way down to the end: 28 swipe-ups later, in fact.

The experiential component of the space is, therefore, not over-stated. There is considerable content to discover, apart from stuff to buy (we’ll come to that later). What you are entering is a totally Gucci world. If their mostly retro-heavy images are not your cup of kombucha, or are overwhelming, there is a good chance you may not go to the subterranean end. But the website’s content developers are eager to engage you. And Gucci wants to foster “an imaginative relationship that goes beyond the purely transactional”. It is a strategy that will make you stay as long as, if not longer, than you would at Net-A-Porter and the like. Gucci is serious when they say Vault is “a time machine, an archive, a library, a laboratory, and a meeting place”.

That a project associated with Alessandro Michele should facilitate time travel, cast a light on the archival, the librarial, the experimental, and the social (can any online enterprise be without this component?) is unsurprising. Gucci under his watch is all of the above. And Vault is a flashy showcase of how imaginative Mr Michele is or, as the intro to Vault states, how much a reflection of “the Creative Director’s passion for experimentation, showcasing restored and customized archive pieces alongside the creations of emerging designers through a poetic and coherent editorial format.” Restoring? Is that a stab at sustainability? Yes, there is talent discovery too. And designers you would not have heard of elsewhere are given a space in Vault.

Even esoteric music (yep, there is a tune to “discover”), which, according to Gucci, is the “sound of style”. Or, if a more learned description is required, the “captivating delights of autonomous sensory meridian response”, per the brand. What in the world of pussy bows and Kingsnakes is that? Sound engineers call it a “perceptual condition”. There is an example in Vault: a ‘music video’, if you will. A model is seen with a vintage GG Plus bag (presumably “restored”). She squeezes the body to yield crunchy sounds, then she strokes the straps and then taps on the distinctive handle of the Bamboo bag, generating more sounds. A teaspoon is seen grinding the rim of a Gucci coffee cup. A bag buckle snaps. These sounds and others more come together to create a percussive chorus. And there you have music. Or, as Gucci calls it, “sensory overload, where objects can inflame or provoke, placate and subdue”.

Mr Michele is clearly creating a world not yet imagined as a welcome and doable sphere for online retail. But this is not the same as Raf Simons’s History of my World (now inactive, but quite the precursor to Vault). This is far more immersive, even if it borders, in parts, on the pretentious. But do visitors want to go through this much in a site visit that begins with transactions in mind? So what Gucci merchandise are there to buy after you have enjoyed the “sound of style”? Almost nothing. Before you can click on the past-era products temptingly photographed, you will meet the message, “All vintage items are sold out”. There is a top, one unexceptional Aria T-shirt that is a limited edition and a Vault exclusive. If you are open to the products of the new designers Mr Michele has selected (13 of them), then perhaps the credit card you have on standby would be useful. If, however, you are in Asia but outside Japan, all you could do is browse. Vault has shut you out of their merchandise.

Shortly after Vault went online, an SOTD reader wrote to us, rather with a huff: “It’s such a stupid site,” his message read. The vexation is palpable. “You cannot buy if you are not living in those few countries they want to sell to. So few countries for members to select. We can’t buy cos (we are) not among the 20+ countries on the list.” There are, as of now, just 25 countries that Gucci ships to, including Romania! Italist, to compare with a compatriot business, ships to 216 countries. It is understandable why this reader fumed. “Waste of my time to join (as member),” he wrote in conclusion. Apart from writing to us, he also sent a missive to Gucci. And, rightly, there was a reply, which was shared with us by the SOTD reader.

A written reply from Gucci Customer Services

“Thank you for contacting VAULT,“ one client advisor called Hiroko from Customer Services replied (presumably, Gucci had their Tokyo office respond since they are in a time zone closer to ours), addressing the male complainant as “Ms“. She continued: “Unfortunately, Singapore, Hong Kong and China are not eligible for Vault product delivery and cannot meet your needs.“ We suspect Google translate is at work here. “Thank (sic) for your interest in Vault products and we apologize for not meet (sic) your expectations. If you have any questions, please reply to this e-mail or contact VAULT Client Service (sic).”

The mail does not say if things would change or if purchases on Vault can be made by shoppers in Singapore, Hong Kong, and China beyond “currently not”. There is something final about “not eligible”, so too “cannot meet your needs“, since there is no attempt at assuaging this Vault visitor’s disappointment with more positive news. It is unknown if Gucci sees limited shipping as strategic advantage. But if e-commerce market size in Southeast Asia alone is reported to be around USD62 billion now, why is it favourable for Gucci to keep part of its online retail vaulted from the rest of us? Sticking to “beyond the purely transactional”? Rather mind-boggling, isn’t it?

Screen grab: Gucci Vault

Potent Pairing

In a collaboration that no one saw coming, Gucci seems to finally be shifting gears

Did the Gucci show really happen? Is Gucci really 100? Why was Balenciaga the elder (104!) roped in to celebrate? Is this a tap-thy-stablemate’s-mind Gucci for the next century? Did your head not spin? Does Gucci need Balenciaga to—finally—look this interesting? Are they not able to reinvent themselves on their own? Is this Balenciaga doing Gucci? A sort of guest editor? Or Gucci in homage mode? Or an expression of Alessandro Michele’s desire to do Balenciaga? Do we need a Balenciaga ‘Hourglass’ bag with Gucci monogram? Or Gucci jackets with Balenciaga shoulders? Or Gucci-Balenciaga suits with the logotype of both brands littered on them, like department store gift wrappers? Or the familiar printed leggings-cum-boots chez Balenciaga? What’s a coat fastened to the extreme left a la Balenciaga doing in a Gucci collection? Or an asymmetric dress with a draped hemline so evocative of the B appearing in a show (still) typical of the G?

Is the world we are living in now not confusing enough?

The action takes place in supposedly London’s Savoy Hotel, imagined as a club with a catwalk and a secret garden. The music is not house (as has been the choice of the season at other houses), but a mish-mash that is a narcissistic bang at Gucci as narcotic, from Lil Pump’s yo-bro chorus of “Gucci gang” to Tita von Tesse’s tease on Die Antwood’s “Gucci coochie”. And there is a lot to analyse and unpack. But we may risk misreading everything. Mr Michele is, of course, no stranger to collaboration (the allegedly sold-out collab with The North Face, the most recent). He is also quite the plunderer of the past and cultures not his own. This collection, conversely called “Aria” (essentially an operatic solo), although a “pop” version, looks to the past, to self, and to contemporaries in a show that seems to salute whatever deserves to be hailed. A greatest hits of Gucci’s own legacy, the now fashion culture that the house is largely part of, and the design contributions of another equally iconoclastic, if not more, label. As Mr Michele said, post-show, to the media, “I have been an excellent thief, a robber.”

This is not the Gucci we are used to. It’s less geeky (except some of the models), less foolish (except, maybe the accessories), and even less irreverent (except, again, the accessories). Could this be Mr Michele’s tame side; he on the periphery of reasonableness? The clothes do not look too vintage-y (the retro vibe cannot, of course, be totally rid of) nor do they deliberately look as though sourced from the Salvation Army. We keep seeking out Balenciaga, but the partnership is not so much the two designers coming together to design the collection as one expressing love for the work of another. This is not the same as, say, Dries van Noten and Christian Lacroix in 2019. Or, contemporaneously, Valentino and Undercover. And definitely not Miuccia Prada with Raf Simons (no way!). Rather, Mr Michele “quoted” Demna Gvasalia, according to the show notes, not copied. Euphemistic talk no doubt, but it makes the results very much Mr Michele’s singular doing. Apparently, he was granted permission by his Georgian Kering associate to create hacks of Balenciaga’s distinctive silhouettes for both the ready-to-wear and the leather goods. This truly speaks of the creative culture of today, when Balenciaga can be treated like Ikea. Replete with rhinestones and marabou!

The references make for absorbing viewing. For so long (it has been more than half a decade of Alessandro Michele’s tenure!), Gucci has been frustratingly predictable that we wanted to really not dislike this collection. Sure, we do not expect Gucci to suddenly become unprovocative. We want their fans to go on being enamoured. It is inevitable there is enough camp to keep both Harry Styles and Jared Leto delighted and sufficient logos and indeterminate forms to keep Billie Eillish coming back for more. And adequate 70s disco glam (glittered cowl-neck top for men!) to get night owls ready for the day when bars and club can open. At the same time, it is refreshing to see that some of the tailoring is ‘classic’ and that the clothes sit well; the oversized is not actually ill-fitting. And the return of equestrian details, even if they are harnesses for chests or saddles for shoulders—not so barefaced since Dawn Mello was hired to revive the brand in 1989. But we are not sure if we are used to seeing Balenciaga’s extraordinary (less so now), offbeat (that, too) shapes within the kooky universe—including a near-obsession with body parts held in the hand, such as this season’s glittery minaudières of anatomically-correct heart—that is the only Gucci that fashionistas know.

But Mr Michele did not only pay homage to Balenciaga, he also saluted fashion’s patriarch of sexy who changed Gucci forever, Tom Ford (totally snubbing John Ray, Alessandra Facchinetti, and, unsurprisingly, Frida Giannini). The first suit that appeared will always be associated with Mr Ford: in red velvet, and worn with a baby blue shirt, with two buttons deliberately undone. Thankfully, none of the pre-wokeness “porno chic” was revived. That Mr Ford’s designs could be easily riffed—er, hacked—is understandable: Mr Michele and the Texan designer/film maker have a maximal love of the ’70s, even when both dance on opposite ends—one with a deep reverence for the elegance of Halston, the other with the ardour for the hipness of the hippies. The Tom Ford-era suits, now with reshaped shoulders, have the sexed-up dapper cool associated with the oddball individuality of Balenciaga, rather than something akin to those in forgotten wardrobes of Haight-Ashbury. Mr Ford is relevant again.

In most cities, dance clubs are closed, but luxury fashion seems eager for them to open or to be looking forward to the mirrored ball spinning again. The just-concluded Dior pre-fall 2021 show in Shanghai is illustrative. At Gucci, the models, flanked by flash lights, finish their catwalk routine and move to a holding area (gosh, we are thinking of Prada. Again!). But rather than ending their job there, they are led by one of them, who opens a massive door, into a garden. There, they danced among white horses—interestingly, without saddlery—and albino peacocks. Very soon, as the frolicking suggests, the world can parallel Peter Pan’s. Perhaps, Alessandro Michele, in his mind, is singing I will Survive.

Screen grab (top) and photos: Gucci

Next Collab: Gucciaga?

Two brands, totally unrecognisable from the original, are said to be teaming up. Yikes!

The pairing of Gucci and Balenciaga as we imagine it. Illustration: Just So

Alessandro Michele is on a collaboration roll. According to WWD, he and Demna Gvasalia are rumoured to be bringing Gucci and Balenciaga together. Not unimaginable since both brands are luxury conglomerate Kering’s cash cows. They are destined to make more money together. Gucci will be showing its new collection Aria on Thursday and that’s when the said collab will be unveiled. Both designers have kept mum about their partnership.

A brand that was once a couture house now joins with another that was started as a leather goods shop: that’s an interesting alignment. Would this be fashion’s ultimate high-low pairing? The coupling of royalty and Hollywood (and a spill-all to follow)? Mr Michele has said that “seasonalities” are “worn-out ritual(s)”. Collaborations, apparently not. Will this show that Michele Alessandro is better at sussing out hot collabs than Kim Jones?

Stay tuned to find out.

US$12 Dollars For A Pair Of Gucci Sneakers?

What you pay is real, what you get is virtual

By Shu Xie

Are you so desperate to own a pair of normally expensive Gucci kicks that you are willing to part USD12 (approximately S$16) for a Net version? It seems many are. Or, Gucci seems to think so. They have just ‘launched’ virtual sneakers so that you can wear them on your digital hooves for slightly less than, as I discovered, the McDonald’s 2X Sausage McGriddles with Egg Extra Value Meal (+ French Fries). The avatar fashion for feet, even if un-pedicured. And you can then post the superimposed sneakers on your social media pages and appear as if you’ve been to a Gucci store and bought a pair yourself, at a mere fraction of the boutique price. There must be some draw in that?

Yet, I don’t understand the potential appeal of these untouchable digital-only sneakers. Maybe I am just not aware that Gucci is now truly the first love of geeks and increasingly discovered by gamers (no longer unique to Burberry?). The shoes—just one style—look to me like they might have been designed by the programmers behind Neon Tiles Space Hop. Called Gucci Virtual 25 (apparently Michele Alessandro’s fave number), they probably look fetching on Buzz Lightyear too. You put them on as you would an AR face filter, but instead of rabbit ears, you get Gucci kicks.

The key feature of the sneaker appears to be the double-G logo-ed bottle cap-like dial just above the laces (you can’t miss it) that presumably allows the wearer to auto-lace up. This bears no resemblance to the US-born BOA Fit System, which saw New Balance among the early adopters back in 2017. Everything about the virtual shoe just looks cartoonish, and likely more so on 4K-filmed feet!

Gucci has, of course, embraced everything virtual enthusiastically. Not content with dressing the characters on Zepeto (including footwear), they want to help us get virtually shod. And throughout our digital life (do we now participate in Zoom meetings with our feet up?). Our online appearance at feet level must be so slack that Gucci sees a money-making opportunity to improve the appearance of our chosen footwear. Surely, they’re better off at creating finer-looking real shoes than making those that exist in apps or in the cloud?

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Screen grab: Gucci app

Millennials Made Gucci

At the Grammy Awards, Billie Eilish and Harry Styles surprised no one when they turned up in full Gucci, illustrating, again, boys and girls their age group love the flashy Italian brand

Billie Eilish and Harry Styles in unmistakable Gucci outfits. Photos: Getty Images

The head-to-toe look is the to way dress among many of today’s young pop stars. And dedication to a single brand is the ideal. The easiest way to be camera-ready, we suppose. Just look at two of the biggest entertainers at the recent Grammys: Billie Eilish and the dress wearer Harry Styles. They were both outfitted by Gucci, down to, in the case of Ms Eilish, the bucket hat, face mask, and fingerless gloves, and, in the case of Mr Styles, the Mae West-worthy feather boa. It was as if they had turned over the entire exercise of dressing to a fashion house. Their own wardrobes non-existent, or redundant. Of course, most stars don’t look at their existing armoire anymore. They go with what fashion houses present to them, and if the final look is missing something—anything, there’s always the atelier’s sewers to custom-make. If they can sew a dress, they can sew a face mask. It’s all—as you can see (or maybe not)—very orchestrated.

This sounds very much like how they managed movie stars during the heydays of Hollywood. Only now, the current stars aren’t told how they are to be styled, or how to behave, or who to be seen with that is deemed suitable. The more anti-whatever they look, the better. And even more preferable, be linked to a brand (or a few). Bring your own take to how the sponsor wants you to look, it says to us. Billie Eilish certainly has. Until she dons Gucci the way she has been, no one thought the brand once associated with extreme sexiness under Tom Ford’s watch could be so bo chap baggy. She is not, as far as we’re aware, Gucci’s brand ambassador, unlike Harry Styles. She has more aesthetic room to navigate. Mr Styles is a Gucci model, appearing in their ads and video presentations; he is expected to embrace the brand wholesale, with a tad of pop-star insouciance.

…the pair helps Gucci appear as a label that’s “celebrity-approved”

Expectedly, their followers too. It is debatable if Mr Styles and Ms Eilish are leading the pack or wearing what others of their generation are wearing. Interestingly, if you combine, as we had, the first and second parts of their family names respectively, you would get “Stylish”. That’s enough to automatically grant them the upper hand as leaders than followers. To the many young fans who are enamoured with Gucci and can only feel confident—or validated—when they wear the label on their backs (or on their chest), the pair helps Gucci appear as a label that’s “celebrity-approved”, a marketing advantage and a sure crowd-puller. Together with their fans and followers, the Stylish stars have made Gucci the bubbling brand of the millennials, a group the Financial Times identified in 2018 as “the world’s most powerful consumers.”

Although Gucci reported a drop in global sales during their earnings report in February, they have, in fact, enjoyed startling growth for years and had been the growth accelerator of parent company Kering. Annual revenues reported in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic, was an impressive 10 billion euros. Their success has been linked to how appealing Gucci is to millennial consumers, under 35. Technology that resonates with this savvy group (as well as teaming up with digital games such as Zepeto) is part of their multi-prong strategy. The products, across categories, are calibrated to offer millennials born-again retro looks that are new to them, as well as the chances to experience what they could not ever have: past goofiness transmuted as present geekiness. The whole visual context of Gucci is companionably banal. To better suit the phenomenon and practice—sharing, and to fabulously costume colourful online life.

Upside Down You Turn Me

When glasses can’t be left right side up

By Mao Shan Wang

It’s a topsy-turvy world, that much I know. But, I’m not head over heels for it. In case I and those of you who share my feelings are in doubt that the world is disarranged, Gucci has released a pair of glasses with cat-eye frames, set upside down! Okay, I am sure there are those out there who can’t wait for gravity to do its work on their eyes, and would wear these to hasten the effect, but seriously, my peepers are not—or ever will be—ready to be this droopy. Or, to look like I’m suffering from a severe case of two-side ptosis. Even my grandmother, with cognitive decline, wouldn’t wear her glasses the wrong side up.

That this pair of glasses needs to be flipped so as to make an upright statement about style perhaps indicates that we have come to a stage of existence when the virus of the year has somehow affected our creative judgment. Gucci calls this pair “inverted cat eye sunglasses”. How about the bottom half of butterfly wings? It is not clear why Gucci chose inversion. Did someone leave a regular pair upside-down on a table, and the design team decided it was great and “an unconventional take on the ’50s and ’60s inspired cat eye frames” that could win the heart of fans? Have they not considered how sad the whole face looks with the glasses worn?

Sometimes I feel fashion is at the stage where being different for the sake of being different has taken precedence over not looking bonkers. Even if I choose appearing unbalanced, I am stable enough to know that I won’t spend this amount—more than S$1,000 (RRP: US$755)—to suggest that the corners of my eyes are heading south with accordance to the shape of my eyewear. And since, the lenses of the sunglasses are not the least dark, there is no way I can use it as a disguise. Or, to blend in with the rest of the shades-wearing crowd. Or, to simply look cool. Perhaps looking uncool is the game plan. I wonder then how little inverted cat eyes will look perched on a face mask?

Photo: Gucci

Oh, Harry

So a man can’t appear on the cover of Vogue without wearing a dress?

By Ray Zhang

American Vogue is taking diversity seriously. Two covers back to back with black stars—Lizzo in October and Naomi Campbell in November—and then, on the December issue’s, the first-ever solo male in their 127-year history: Harry Styles. A guy as part of Vogue’s cover has been done before. There was, as I recall, LeBron James and Gisele Bündchen in 2008, Kanye West and Kim Kardashian in 2014, Zayn Malik and Gigi Hadid in 2017, and Justin Beiber and Hailey Baldwin in 2019. But Mr Styles up there all by himself—that’s clearly not done before. Looks like tumultuous 2020 has really got Vogue thinking and doing.

Harry Styles has style (or, as his second name suggests, styles), we’re constantly reminded by the media, and non-binary at that. It seems to me that Vogue is also telling us that Mr Styles has what it takes to appear unaccompanied on its cover: the willingness to don a dress. The others before him sure did not. Mr James was in a basketball tank top, Mr West in a blazer, Mr Malik was all suited up, Mr Beiber wore only his tattoos. Fashion was the responsibility of the women. Even Mr Malik, still the most dressed-up among them, was somewhat obscured by his then girlfriend (now mother of his child), although the cover blurb was certain to tell us that they “shop each other’s closets”. And if you were still in doubt, the editorial feature informed you that the couple was “part of a new generation who don’t see fashion as gendered.”

In the old days of fashion magazines, covers gave women a reason to buy an outfit that was deemed fashionable, or a look that might inspire, for example, those who sew their own clothes. I am not sure if any woman might rush out to buy the Gucci dress that the former member of One Direction wears on this Vogue cover, as they were once inclined to in, say, 1988, or 10 years later (more recently?), when this now forgotten name, Carrie Bradshaw, said, “…sometimes I would buy Vogue instead of dinner. I felt it fed me more.” The traditional (okay, that’s not the new normal) cover hopes that women might actually cop a cover outfit after seeing it. I’d be fed, somewhat, to know if it’d be the same with this one.

I feel Vogue didn’t quite go all the way with Harry Styles. Both Lizzo and Naomi Campbell were shot full-length: We saw the whole dress. The photograph of Mr Styles, who reportedly identify as cisgender, was, conversely, cropped, and we witness only the upper body in vague half-drag. At a glance, we might not have guessed that the singer/actor wears a dress. I mean, it could have been a tunic, such as a thawb, but with a smocked upper body and lace-trimmed neckline. Would Alain de Botton-quoting Mr Styles—Beng as he appears to me—look just as fetching as the other two cover girls if he were captured with the dress in full length, which, as one photograph in the editorial feature did show, was a frilly, tiered tulle gown Mae West might have worn in her day?

The sight of a man in a dress, long or short, is not quite that unusual in the age of repeated Billy Porter flaunts. Never mind the muscularity of MAGA maleness. As one fashion observant friend said to me just this morning, “(the cover) is quite unremarkable. Men in women’s clothing for fashion shoots, gender-bending etc, etc—quite done to death. W’s editorials have been doing it for a few years. UK magazines, too.” In fact, frock wearing among pop stars—not just for magazine features—go as far back as David Bowie who, in the ’70s, wore what he called the “man-dress” (Michael Fish was a favourite designer). Yet, Vogue chose to go easy on the eyes of their readers, which is immensely ironic if you consider how religious in their zeal Americans have been in pushing for obvious inclusiveness.

If appearing on the cover of Vogue is a career high for many models, actresses, and reality TV stars, it could be one, too, for Mr Styles. Could he still be a cover boy sans dress? This has not been a great year for many of us. The singer, too, had it hard: the postponed world tour, the halted filming of the Olivia Wilde-directed film, Don’t Worry Darling, and the more mundane lockdown. While he admitted in the Vogue article to wearing mostly sweatpants when confined at home, he has not, as with so many less well-placed individuals also WFH, cast fashion aside. He has, in fact, embraced it in all its myriad forms. I’m all for guys to blur the lines of fashion—heck, even erase them—but Mr Styles, a Gucci model and their willing rep, doing so is really instinctive than disruptive. On the cover of Vogue, Harry Styles in a dress is not ground-breaking. If it were Jason Statham, that would be.

Photos: Tyler Mitchell/Vogue