Two Of A Kind: Pleated Are The Bags

With her new customisable pleated bags, Gin Lee won’t be the first nor the last to be inspired by the pioneering work of Issey Miyake

Pleats plenty: (left) Ginlee Make Bag. Photo: Ginlee Studio. (Right) Issey Miyake Crystal Rock Pleats Bag. Photo Issey Miyake Me

Some elements or details in fashion design are so connected to a particular designer that it’s almost impossible to disassociate one with the other. And vice versa. Take pleats, for example: one inevitably thinks of Issey Miyake. Sure, there is also the Spanish couturier Mariano Fortuny, but the works of both are not only decades apart, their outputs are worlds apart. Mr Miyake’s pleats, now attributed to the Issey Miyake Studio, are primarily effected as a finished garment, rather than product made from a pleated fabric. Through the years, Mr Miyake has introduced many innovations (and new technologies) in pleating, including curvilinear and bias pleating, as well as advances in micro-pleating, also known as plissé. And he does not only pleat clothes, he creates permanent folds on accessories and bags, too.

One of the fashion names here that appears to be taking a similar route is Gin Lee. The Singaporean, who overseas the creative output of the company, Ginlee Studio—co-founded with her Israeli husband Tamir Niv in 2011—didn’t incorporate pleats into her early output. In recent years, however, pleated garments seem to be the mainstay of her collections. There are the usual tented dresses, shell tops, and pajama-style pants that have become typical of pleated clothes, and now, in addition, bags. Just totes for the present, these were launched last month as part of a new sub-label called Ginlee Make, available at the brand’s flagship store in the refurbished Great World City.

The immediate reaction to these bags when seeing them for the first time could be best summed up by what two women at the store one weekend said, “so Pleats Please!” But that response has not only been evident with these bags. Similar comments were heard of her dresses, sold at Design Orchard. But the seeming similarity to the work of Issey Miyake was also apparent in the name of her new sub-label. Back in 1998, the year the A-POC (A Piece of Cloth) line was launched in Tokyo, Mr Miyake staged an exhibition at the Jean Nouvel-designed Foundation for Contemporary Art in Paris titled, Issey Miyake: Making Things. Uncanny? Or, coincidence?

How long must a recognisable design, fabric treatment, retail concept, or branding exercise remain or circulate in the market before mimicking them can be accepted and not considered a copy?

The Ginlee Make bags are the manifestation of the in-store service Make In Shop, a retail concept that offers “last-mile production” of those items that can be finished before watchful shoppers. As Ms Lee told the press last month, “When a customer places their order for a pleated bag, we’ll proceed to make it for her there. They can see it being made and customise their own version of it.” In Tokyo last year, at the world’s largest Homme Plissé Issey Miyake store in Aoyama, the brand availed its pleating process for customers to witness. Three times a week, over a relatively short time of an hour in the afternoon, engineers (they are specialists indeed) from the company’s Internal Pleats Laboratory show how the clothes are made: a massive machine swallows a sewn T-shirt, for example, cut 1.5 times the completed size, and in ten minutes, reveals the pleated garment. This, too, is last-mile production. How long must a recognisable design, fabric treatment, retail concept, or branding exercise remain or circulate in the market before mimicking them can be accepted and not considered a copy?

Sure, on the same note, we could also say, for instance, that Mary McFadden mimicked Mr Fortuny, but if you examined her pleats closely, the effect, as one Singaporean designer told us, “is more liquid”, and her silhouettes more boxy. Technologies in garment manufacture do become widely adopted, and the onus is upon the adopters to output designs that are distinctly theirs. Issey Miyake certainly did not invent pleating (and he wouldn’t claim he did), but what he undeniably introduced was a whole new way of working with—and on—the pleats. And there is tremendous conceptual heft and mathematical calculations involved. Much of the output require origami-like folds, as well as ingenious geometry. More importantly, to fans, he was the first to introduce the pleats that we now mostly associate with his brand, especially Pleats Please Issey Miyake, the line introduced in 1993, after the exhibition of the same name at the Tokyo Museum of Contemporary Art in 1990.

That Issey Miyake’s pleats would inspire Singaporean designers isn’t surprising. Pleating services here go as far back as the ’80s. Back then, there were primarily two major players: Mong Seng Pleats Garment, founded in 1974, and Owen Trading Company, launched in 1980. Between the two, Owen Trading was, as one designer told us, “at the top of its game”. The popularity of pleats rose in the mid-’80s, after Issey Miyake debuted a sub-brand Permanente in 1985, featuring the early forms of his distinctive creases and folds that culminated as the capsule Pleats in 1988. By the time Pleats Please was launched five years later, capturing the imagination of the world, many local designers were experimenting with pleats too, and many were doing so through the services of Owen Trading, owned and operated by three Tan brothers. One of them, Paul Tan, was the go-to guy for anything that can be pleated, even a scrap of fabric that can be turned into a small scarf.

Gin Lee at work in her Great World City store. Photo: Ginlee Studio

But towards the early ’00s, when pleated garments and accessories, and Pleats Please knock-offs were easily found, first in the fashion wholesale centres in China and, later, online, pleating was a dwindling business. In 2011, Owen Trading was sold to a young Raffles College of Higher Education fashion graduate Chiang Xiaojun, who renamed the company Bewarp Design Studio. With full access to pleating machines, Ms Chiang created Pleatation, the label totally dedicated to pleats, and a moniker—similar to Ginlee Make—unabashed of its alluding to Issey Miyake, in particular, Pleats Please and the older Plantation, introduced in 1981, and now part of the Issey Miyake subsidiary A-net, which produces brands such as ZUCCa and mercibeaucoup. The quality offered by the old Owen Trading, which counted some of our design luminaries, such as Thomas Wee, Frederick Lee, and the late Tan Yoong as customers, evaporated, according to some who have used the services of the renamed pleater. “She couldn’t keep up,” one of them told us, “she does only basic pleating. Nothing fancy.” Despite the skepticism, Ms Chiang opened two standalones for Pleatation: The Compleat Store, which, like Ginlee Studio, sold pleated totes. Both The Compleat Stores have closed. Even their website’s e-commerce component is now free of merchandise and activity. On the SGP Business website, the status of Bewarp Design Studio is marked “cancellation in progress.”

The sale of Owen Trading Company, after three decades of existence, to a then unknown individual, who is unable to protect it from total closure, perhaps serves as a cautionary tale. It is not quite clear why many brand owners choose pleating as the main design feature of their products. Is pleating an easy way to create a fashion line? Does it provide a differentiating factor to the clothes—or bags? Or, allow products categories that are more cost-efficient to produce (Pleats Please, being mainly made of a specially-produced polyester, is still less expensive than the main line)? If pleated garments and accessories offered low barriers to entry, why did Pleatation not take off? Some designers who had worked with Paul Tan in the past thought that he could have been retained by Bewarp Design Studio as a technical advisor. No one now knows what was the nature of the transaction. Mr Tan was last seen driving an SBS Transit bus.

It is possible that Gin Lee’s foray into pleated clothing and bags is the result of reduced competition. Based on the Make Bag alone, it isn’t difficult to see where her inspiration comes from. In a 2017 Financial Times interview, Issey Miyake, who is no longer actively involved in the designs of his numerous lines, said of his pleats: “It is my gift, my legacy, and if other designers look to Pleats Please for inspiration, I feel honoured and happy—it is a great compliment.” Whether that is Japanese niceness or diplomacy, or just resignation to the truth that he is widely copied, we may never know. But, as written on one decal we once saw in an atelier, “You can copy all you want, you’ll always be one step behind.”

Big-In-Japan In Paris

What did the Japanese show in digital Paris Men’s Fashion Week?

 

Kolor SS 2021The strange camera angles of Kolor. Screen grab: Kolor/YouTube

Like all the designers showing in this season’s digital Paris Men’s Fashion Week (PMFW), the Japanese designers submitted videos, all from Tokyo. One name was conspicuously missing: Comme des Garçons. We are unable to find out why the label has opted out of the digital showing. Designer Rei Kawakubo, as most know, works in mysterious ways. Her brand breaks rules; it does not even have a fully working website, just a landing page (this does not include the sub-brand CDG, whose website is essentially an e-shop). Even the offspring Comme des Garçons SHIRT, usually shown in a small tight space, was out of PMFW. Similarly, the brand under Comme des Garçons, Junya Watanabe MAN, has gone AWOL. As of now, it is not known what Comme des Garçons and its related brands are up to. Nor, Sacai, whose designer Chisato Abe was supposed to have been the guest designer of Jean Paul Gaultier’s couture collection, but nothing has yet come out of that.

Also not in sight/site was Issey Miyake’s main line. The brand only showed Homme Plissé via a cheery video, called Meet Your New Self, that approximated the optimism typical of its IRL staging. It opened with a model in a sanatorium-like room (there’s a square window that afforded a view of the sky), watering a small plant. A symbol of growth and renewal? Then, eerily, two garments out of a dozen on a rack in a corner started to move untouched. The model was drawn to them, took them down, and danced with them. He then slipped the clothes on and continued dancing. Meanwhile the plant bloomed: two flowers were seen. Spring? Colour? Life? The flowers (more) were later revealed to be made of the house’s signature plissé fabric. This concept of dancing model and freak blooming was repeated through two other models until a last dance, featuring, presumably, the full collection.

Issey Miyake SS 2021A truncated snap of Issey Miyake’s film. Screen grab: isseymiyake.com

The positivity and buoyancy at Issey Miyake was not shared by his compatriots. Japanese designers, often more avant garde (or downright weird) than other designers showing in Paris, seemed more restrained in the digi-sphere. We were hoping that they would be the ones to create the online experience so far eluding us in the fashion weeks thus far. Unusual, boundary-pushing, or even bawdy (as in late-night Japanese TV), we did not see. The designers succumbed to what was expected of them: different. But that was not necessarily engaging.

Strange did appear. Doublet’s Masayuki Ino offered the film Strangest Comfort, hosted by a man dressed as a teddy bear made of knitted patchwork. As stated in the narration, this was “a story of a bear who loves Christmas, birthday, and Valentine”, who, with nothing to do in summer, decided to celebrate “a very happy unbirthday”. As it turned out, this bear is a talented pattern-maker and sewer. The result was a fashion collection. The man-as-bear packed and gift-wrapped the clothes he made, and delivered to some people, who, rather than be shocked by the delivery person in such a get-up, received the gifts gleefully. And every recipient was happy. “Fin.”

Doublet SS 2021The strange man-as-teddy bear of Doublet. Screen grab: Doublet/YouTubeMihara Yasuhiro SS 2021The puppet show at Mihara Yasuhiro. Screen grab: Maison Mihara Yasuhiro/YouTube

More creatures in the form of puppets were seen at Mihara Yasuhiro who delivered a fashion show, More or Less, attended by rag puppets! All as madcap as the Muppets, they were even unable to resist taking selfies. (Far cuter that the kitschy Barbie and Ken-like dolls at New Yoker Colm Dillane’s jokey KidSuper.) The runway presentation was straightforward enough, with models of the human kind doing their turn, but with head obscured by a square-faced emoticon. In this way, how the models looked was truly immaterial. We could concentrate on the clothes, which remain in the domain of hybrid styles with details that will catch you by surprise.

Odd rather than weird was Teppei Fujita of Sulvam’s show. The video captured a couple posing, if you could call standing around that, in front of his undisclosed atelier, on a road divider, under an elevated highway, with only the hum of the traffic for the soundtrack. This could, of course, be budget constraints turned into alt-art, but if there is one thing the former pattern-maker at Yohji Yamamoto needed for his striking clothes, it is context, not hints of homelessness, especially when he told the viewer, “I have no specific concept for each season”

20-07-15-17-06-50-198_decoAuralee’s quiet elegance in an equally quiet setting. Screen grab: Auralee/VimeoFumito Ganryu SS 2021Fumito Ganryu’s meaningless film. Screen grab: Fumito Ganryu/YouTube

Of course, the lack of concept, or a compelling one, struck the whole PMFW. If conceptual heft cannot be offered (understandable, given the conditions), why not just show the garments? Auralee’s Ryota Iwai did. The clothes on our side of the screen looked good, but the hi-def cameras dwelled lovingly a little too long on the faces and hands of the models. We are sure that followers of Japanese fashion would appreciate looking at details up close rather than at the make-up free models, however lovely they are. One of our favourite brands Junichi Abe’s Kolor showed clothes too, but it isn’t clear why the video’s head-spinning camera-work looked like the result of a toddler inexplicably given a GoPro, all seven-plus minutes long. Although many of us will subsequently look at stills and look-books, it is, nevertheless, annoying that, at first encounter with the collection, we were left wanting more, not to mention with motion sickness.

As we have mentioned before, the digital fashion week is used to augment a brand’s image. But these are no newbies and their brand image have not been vague. Sumito Ganryu, as a label, is fairly new. And his need to make a powerful visual impact is understandable. Unfortunately, Mr Ganryu’s video, like so many others featured during PMFW, was slapped with such a heavy dose of pretentiousness, that the stop button was screaming to be clicked just 10 seconds into the screening. The star of the show is a stack of CRT televisions showing unremarkable scenes. When two models organising a clothes rack and shelf appeared, we started asking ourselves if the one-and-a-half minutes spent on the film were better used watching something more meaningful.

White Moutaineering SS 2021

Such as White Mountaineering. Designer Yosuke Aizawa’s simple but striking film married a fashion show to the marvels of digital graphics. Is this what “phygital” looks like? The starting point was simple enough: the pattern block. From here, clever use of CGI allowed the cut fabrics to fly off the table, and fall on the model, emerging from a border-less space. The pieces landed on his body in the correct sequence, and the fashion show, as close to a real one, began. The pattern motif was repeated visually like electric charges, perhaps underscoring the importance of the technical block and the fact that many Japanese designers are master patterners themselves. The presentation was filmed in hi-res, and the close-ups truly allowed us to see the details of the garments. The seam tapes on the underside of jackets were clearly revealed, even the threads on a quilted bomber! Conceived with the Tokyo-based digital design firm Rhizomatiks, the film was possibly the first truly riveting one to watch. Not only was it presented as a runway event that we’re familiar with, it was edited in such a way as to truly allow the viewer to marvel. And, like an IRL fashion show, it has a finale!

That out of the ten Japanese designers who participated in PMFW this season, only one stood out, is as dismal as it is true that all joined as novices. They, like their European counterparts, are newcomers to this digital game. And all, as well as names from the largest luxury conglomerates, stepped out into the digital domain with less confidence and creativity than what we had positively hoped for. We understand it is difficult to create good content during a time as bad as the present. But would a blurry video with no meaning hold anyone’s attention if it were screened in front of an actual audience in, say, an auditorium? To be sure, the physical fashion show has to be on hiatus, but, in the mean time, do we need to watch videos that neither entertain nor enlighten? If designers want to make clothes that people want to wear, why shouldn’t they create videos that people want to watch? Fashion, now, more than ever, deserves better.

 

Two Of A Kind: Body Armour

One of these is 37 years late!

Tom Ford vs issey Miyake

(Left) Tom Ford’s breastplate. Photo: Alessandro Lucioni/Gorunway.com. (Right) Issey Miyake’s fibreglass bustier. Photo: National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia

We know which came first. But now, for most present-day fashion consumers, original ideas are so oft-repeated by others that the memory of those that came before the latter becomes hazy. The cover of the latest issue of Harper’s Bazaar features a square-jawed Gwyneth Paltrow in a Tom Ford top that the magazine described as “anatomical breastplate”. Which, we suppose, is the antithesis of what the Scorpion King wears—not body-regardful; no breast, no plate!

What’s interesting to us—actually, annoying—is that Miss Goop, who sells candles called This Smells Like My Vagina (seriously!), appears in Mr Ford’s hard top as if she is some high priestess of style, ahead of everyone else in adopting a cropped cuirass with asymmetric hemline as #OOTD, when she is not, and is really posing as Pepper Potts in an incomplete Iron Man Armor MK 1616 (later known as Rescue). Ms Paltrow may be a red carpet fave when it comes to award-night dressing, but she’s hardly a fashion leader in the same league as, say, actor-added-to-her-resume Lady Gaga.

768February issue of Harper’s Bazaar. Photo: Harper’s Bazaar

The remembrance certainty of our digital life perhaps does not go far back enough. In the subsequent media reports of Ms Paltrow’s “cyborg style”, nary a mention of one Japanese designer, who, back in 1980/81, created a bustier that at that time was inconceivable: it was made of fibreglass. Now a collectible and a museum exhibit, appearing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Masterworks: Unpacking Fashion; 2016/27), the Museum at FIT (Love and War: The Weaponized Woman; 2006), , and an unlikely National Gallery of Australia (museum collection), among others, as well as the 1983—1985 Issey Miyake travelling exhibition Bodyworks, in which it was a star attraction, together with another vest made of rattan by the Hayaman bamboo artist Kosuge Shochikudo..

Sure, breastplates were worn by men since Greco-Roman times, but for women that has this particular aesthetic and sheen, we credit only Issey Miyake. It is not clear if Mr Ford’s version is homage to one of the pioneer Japanese designers who showed in Paris in the ’70s/’80s or his very own idea (yes, hard to imagine), but it is rather puzzling that no one saw the similarly. If Ms Paltrow couldn’t see it, well, could we really blame her? She was eight when Mr Miyake thought of making a bustier with a peplum out of a synthetic polymer; she wouldn’t know what that is, or that clothes, like people, could be just as plastic.

Take A Bao

That single Bao is deliberate as Issey Miyake’s newest Prism Pouchette under the Bao Bao sub-brand is really half the size of its usual totes

 

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By Emma Ng

No sooner had the must-visit Madstore vacated its spot in the pop-up-galore main atrium of ION Orchard, a new one, also by Club 21, instantly appeared. This time, it’s another Japanese name, also known for their alluring retail concepts: Issey Miyake’s Bao Bao in the form of the Cloud pop-up. According to Club 21’s media communique, the Bao Bao Cloud on our shores is the very first that has floated out of Japan.

Despite their ubiquity and the rampant copying, Issey Miyake’s 19-year-old Bao Bao has resisted blandness and repetition (and others being inspired by it), and survived road-side knock-offs, from Bangkok to Baguio to Bandung. The Cloud, which looks like a lab, showcases unambiguously that there’s still kick in one of the most recognisable and saleable bags in the world. Bao Bao’s latest is a little envelope of a bag that’s as capacious as the Fanny Pack, and called the Prism Pouchette. Perhaps, more importantly, it’s customisable—a ____________ By You moment.

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Based on initial visuals of the bag, I didn’t expect that it’d be more interesting than the Prism Tote, but once up-close and personal (and after the explanation by the unenthusiastic staff, upon querying), it is, in fact, as desirable as the Pixel series, which, to me, is the most enticing in the brand’s entire line-up because of how it really expands on the original Bao Bao idea—at its most basic, is really geometry and mesh.

The Prism Pouchette comes in only one shape (oblong, north-south orientation) and one size, but is available in seven colours. You pick the colour of the pouchette that you like, add a bar (from a separate selection of 12 colours) that will be afixed at the opening, and you’d have yourself a nifty little colours-by-your-choice carrier that can be used as gender-neutral shoulder, cross-body, and hand bag. Neat indeed!

Issey Miyake Bao Bao Prism Pouchette, SGD360, is available at Bao Bao Cloud, level 1 Main Atrium, ION Orchard till 29 Nov 2019. Photos: Zhao Xiangji

Club 21 Shines Anew

Club 21 @ Siam Discovery

Singapore’s purveyor of fine fashion has opened a new store. It’s not somewhere on Orchard Road, as you might aspect; it is not even near there. In fact, it’s not at all on our island state. The new Club 21 is in Bangkok: a fashion god in the City of Angels.

This isn’t the Club 21 we know. This is big. Massive is no over statement. Housed in the newly refurbished Siam Discovery, two units away from Siam Paragon, diagonally across from Mahboonkrong Shopping Centre, the boutique-no-more Club 21 is so expansive you don’t know where it starts and where it ends. We’re not sure how big the space is, but it does appear to be at least twice the size of Club 21 men’s and the women’s store (at The Four Seasons hotel) combined. It’s discreet too—there is no marquee-style signage to tell you that you’ve walked into the Thai outpost of Singapore’s biggest upmarket multi-brand retailer.

Club 21 Women 1

And it’s somewhat confusing too. At first sight, you’d think that Siam Discovery, closed a year ago for the refurbishment, has turned the mall into a department store. And you won’t be wrong. As you enter from the Siam Center-facing access, the first thing that hits you is the duplex Issey Miyake store (here, it’s known by the somewhat grandiose “World of Issey Miyake”). Pass that and it gets a little disorientating, but that’s not a bad thing. There are only few shops—certainly not in the form of shop lots that made up the former Siam Discovery.

You will recognise the atrium as the old mall’s but that’s all you will make out. The space on the two sides of the first floor is now mostly opened up, un-demarcated by boundaries to contain brands. Yes, like a department store, but something tells you it is not quite. There are the labels: if you’re familiar with who carries what in Southeast Asia, you will immediately identify the curation (bad word choice, maybe, but fashion these days are picked and displayed with almost the same élan as the curatorial approach of an art gallery) as those typical of Club 21. The leaning to Japanese names—Sacai, Kolor, Y’s, Miharayasuhiro, etc—is clue enough.

Club 21 Women 2Club 21 Women 3

This, however familiar, is, at the same time, not entirely recognisable. This is too varied, and the variety is too interesting. When you move further inwards, it dawns on you that the scale and range may not be within the business plan of a foreign company known to be cautious in its expansion plans. If you look hard enough, you’ll see this it is not entirely Club 21. Price tags are a tell-tale sign—they use different ones. And some sections welcome the Club 21 loyalty card, some don’t. The guessing game becomes uninteresting as the merchandise seduces.

It is possible that the newness of the mall, so overwhelmingly fresh, overtakes one’s curiosity about proprietorship. Opened just last Saturday, the new Siam Discovery is the latest retail sensation that is transforming the area just beneath and around the Siam BTS station into a shopping hub Orchard Road should seriously study. When describing it as a sensation, we aren’t being glib. The mall is sensational and it arouses the senses. If shopping centres think taking on e-commerce is not possible, Siam Discovery is proof that reinventing the physical shopping experience is achievable. You start by providing stimuli from the environment.

Club 21 Women 4

Siam Piwat Co, owner and operator of the mall, calls the USD112-million born-again Siam Discovery the “biggest arena of lifestyle experiments”. Thai marketing lingo defies deciphering (and is often mostly grand-sounding), but, as pretentious as that is to the ear, this is quite a showground, and some of the brands in stock could be test merchandise. So many labels—more than 5,000 brands are said to be available—clearly fall under the radar that it is hard to see their overwhelming take-up rate.

Club 21’s stable of labels and some more dominate the first two floors. Until now a conservative retailer in terms of store planning, its gamble on Siam Discovery sees it in a space unlike any other, including its last swanky emporium, sited in a hard-to-locate corner of Kuala Lumpur’s Pavillion. Here, it’s rather like a grand magasin, but more in the vein of Lane Crawford than heritage stores such as Galeries Lafayette. The mix of brands and the juxtapositions in a playful setting are calculated to excite and, more importantly, surprise.

Club 21 Men 5Club 21 Men 4

Has Club 21 finally understood “experiential”, the much talked about requisite of social media-age brick-and-mortar retailing that’s rarely seen or felt on Orchard Road? Peddar on Scotts, opened in October last year, would be considered a pioneer in this area, but so far, none has taken their lead. Club 21 is on the right footing, but unfortunately, its well-shod feet are on another city’s welcome mat.

For too long, our favourite multi-label designer store has been languishing in its safe haven of quiet—far too quiet—elegance in the rear of Orchard Road. Despite talk that it is faring dismally and that young shoppers would not step into what they perceive as old and cold, they have persevered. Indeed, Club 21 has outlasted them all: Glamourette and Men and His Women, two of Singapore’s most distinguished but ultimately short-lived luxury retailers. In Bangkok, it has remained strong while even Hong Kong’s Club 21 equivalent, Joyce, had to make a hasty retreat in the wake of the Asian financial crisis of 1997, and, according, to reports, lost USD7 million as a result. But longevity sometimes encourages complacency and lack of innovation. Since its move into the Four Seasons Hotel in the mid-Nineties, Club 21 has looked mostly the same. Age, as many women know and will say, tends to make you look tired.

Club 21 Men 3

To be sure, it tried to do something different with the offspring Club 21B, started in 2011 as a remake of Blackjack, a store conceived in 1996 that targeted the young with a mix of street styles and edgy looks. However like its parent, Club21B’s store planning stands on conservative ground even when the merchandising does not. For some, its position at the back row of Forum The Shopping Mall, near the toilets, makes it a tad downbeat.

While Singapore has to contend with the Club 21 that we’ve always known, Bangkok has been seeing new stores and concept zones popping up. Its numerous corners and islands on the first floor of Paragon Department Store started three years ago were a foretaste of its stunning entrance in Siam Discovery today. Perhaps we can then be hopeful that the Club 21 that Bangkokians now find sanook, we, too, will be enjoying in the coming future.

Club 21 is at Siam Discovery, 989 Rama  I Road. Additional reporting: Tae Dee. Photos: Jagkrit Suwanmethanon

Top And Bottom, Front And Back… A Pretty Picture

Issey Miyake X Ikko Tanaka bag T&BJust as we thought Issey Miyake’s bags will forever be the Bao Bao series, madly beloved throughout Southeast Asia, out comes something completely poles apart. Here’s a handbag that has less to do with the avant garde and more a reflection of tradition and art. That’s not saying the Bao Bao isn’t artistic, but Miyake’s use of graphic designer Ikko Tanaka’s illustrations for this hard bag of non-changing shape has more in common with silk kimonos, even paper fans, than pleated shifts.

Here, the ‘Carapace Sharaku’, as it is called, is an apt description. Firstly, the bag comprises two hard vinyl-chloride resin shells that belie its rather capacious interior. Secondly, when completely unzipped to its hinge, it can hang vertically as upper and lower pieces, depicting the full length of Mr Tanaka’s charming illustration: a stylised Japanese kabuki actor, shyly hiding behind what appears to be a shield (possibly a fan). This is Mr Tanaka’s take on the work of Toshusai Sharaku, a ukiyo-e print artist from the 18th century hitherto still not conclusively identified. In this version, the delineation is flatter and devoid of extraneous symbols, or what Apple users will identify as the flat UI on their screens, starting from IOS 7.

Issey Miyake X Ikko Tanaka bagThe front and back of a closed ‘Carapace Sharaku’

Ikko Tanaka is one of Japan’s most known and illustrious graphic designers. He was part of the trio—including writer/marketer Kazuko Koike (who wrote Issey Miyake: East Meets West) and Super Potato Design’s Takashi Sugimoto—that conceptualised and designed Mujirushi Ryohin, or what we know today as MUJI. Mr Tanaka, who died in 2002, was recognised for his unabashed Japanese-ness in graphic design that was communicated in a Western vernacular, especially minimal, geometric shapes. The East-West aesthetic was so powerful in its arresting simplicity that it drew admirers such as Issey Miyake, who worked with Mr Tanaka on the former’s advertising for much of the ’90s.

In 2012, past collaborator Kazuko Koike curated the “Ikko Tanaka and Future/Past/East/West of Design” exhibition at 21_21 Design Centre, a museum and research facility—part of the Tokyo Midtown complex—that was initiated by Issey Miyake and designed by Tadao Ando. Fast forward to 2016, the house of Miyake pays its own tribute with a capsule Pleats Please collection that features Mr Tanaka’s unique Japanese countenance. In the world of video-telephony (and amid the omnipresence of front-facing smartphone cameras), the ‘Carapace Sharaku’ and plissé dresses will no doubt connect to a generation that grew up on FaceTime.

Issey Miyake X Ikko Tanaka ‘Carapace Sharaku’ handbag, SGD730, is available at Pleats Please, Forum Galleria. Photos: Issey Miyake

Is Nike Doing A Bao Bao?

Nike Blazer GeometricPhoto: Nike Sportswear via Instagram

This is a little unanticipated. Well, at least we’re not expecting it, not in 2015, not ever. If there’s going to be Bao Bao shoe (and why not?), we expect the house of Issey Miyake to release it, not Nike. Well, America’s largest shoe brand has beaten the Japanese at the latter’s own unique aesthetic. Perhaps it’s true: to flatter, one must emulate.

Nike’s Blazer Mid ‘Geometric’ was announced via Instagram a couple of days ago, and it sure made us gasp. Is this Nike’s New Year present to the world of fashion by taking a dip into the Bao Bao’s USP? We, too, wondered if it was meant to coincide with the launch of Bao Bao’s debut men’s line in Tokyo just last month. The ‘Geometric’ is too similar too Bao Bao’s to be comforting, especially the Platinum 1 series.

Bao Bao vs NikeLeft: Bao Bao’s new men’s C series ‘Weekender’ tote and, right: Nike Blazer Mid ‘Geometric’

To be fair, Nike’s isn’t entirely like Miyake’s iconic pattern. Well, they look alike, but it isn’t made the same way. Nike calls it “a molded TPU geometric pattern”. TPU, for those who would like know, is a hybrid material that’s part plastic, part silicone. So the entire shoe is made of this, with the geometric pattern as a surface texture. The Bao Bao’s, on the other hand, are small geometric shapes attached to a mesh fabric, which allows the sum material to be pliable.

In fact, such geometry was explored before by Nike. We saw it in last year’s Roshe Run, but somehow that looks less like Bao Bao than the current iteration even when we could see the similarity. The thing about this particular repeated pattern is, many of us are quite sick of it. Bao Bao has, perhaps, become a victim of its own massive success. Nike has come close to their heels a little too late. As one brand manager we know said, “Noticed I have not use my Bao Bao bags for a long time?” But for those whose footwear must match their carryalls, there’s now a shoe to go with your hoard of Bao Baos!

The Nike Blazer Mid ‘Geometric’ will be launched in limited quantities at selected global retailers in two weeks’ time. No news if any store in Singapore will carry it.