Trotter Trots On

Louise Trotter@Lacoste.jpg

We have always been partial to Joseph under creative director Louis Trotter’s watch. We learnt that she had left the British brand around the same time we were told of the closure of Singapore’s only Joseph store (at the ill-fated Capitol Piazza), in early August: two pieces of bad news. Now with reports that she has joined Lacoste, things are looking up, not only for those of us who have enjoyed Ms Trotter’s work, but also for the Swiss-owned French brand Lacoste, somewhat languishing under Portuguese designer Felipe Oliveira Baptista, who succeeded Christophe Lemaire in 2010.

Miss Trotter may seem like an odd choice for Lacoste, given her latterly not-too-commercial work for Joseph, but she had been at sportswear-oriented Gap and Hilfiger before, as well as the British high street label Jigsaw. Joseph, founded by one-time hairdresser Joseph Ettedgui, was initially a multi-label store before it branched into the highly successful knitwear line Joseph Tricot. When Ms Trotter came on board in 2009 from Jigsaw, she immediately positioned Joseph’s ready-to-wear as a wearable, several-notches-above-basic label that moved towards the fashion-forward, but not in an alienating way. This came a year after Phoebe Philo’s appointment at Céline, allowing Joseph to move in tandem with the French brand’s aesthetic that was clearly coming on apace.

Ms Trotter kept to Joseph’s reputation for championing young designers by infusing a youthful vibe into clothes that have always been associated with the British wardrobe, such as the trench coat and the fisherman jumper. She’s not shy of extreme proportions, pairing boxy jackets with wide-legged pants, nor of eye-catching details, such as pleated ruffs, oversized pilgrim collars, and pockets large enough to house an iPad. Her solid hand with shapes and an eye for the unusual will be advantageous in restoring Lacoste the edge it had lost with the departure of Mr Lemaire. The alligator needs a new keeper.

Photo: Cyril Masson/Lacoste

London Continues To Charm

Brexit looms, but the Brits are showing that creativity has not left the fold

christopher-kane-aw-2017Christopher Kane

The just-concluded London Fashion Week isn’t like New York Fashion Week: boring. The city, like New York, is where many designers—not necessarily from London—feel the creative pull. Yet, unlike the Big Apple, London designers aren’t attached to a certain English aesthetic the way US designers are stuck to American sportswear, including those designers in the east coast—if the reported rise of Los Angeles is to be believed. The English are more freewheeling that way, allowing the city’s plurality of culture to inform their design directions. They are not wedded to predictability.

Indeed, London designers are not hung up about adhering to a certain English look. Although Burberry’s Christopher Bailey paid homage to English sculptor Henry Moore, the collection is far from depicting a certain English ideal. Many London designers do not appear shackled by the need to keep the flame of Englishness alive. Indeed what is English today isn’t quite the same as what it was in the Sixties, when London was called “swinging” and positioned as the centre of the “youth quake” of that era. Sure, there’s always the influence of the past—royalty, Victoriana, punk, the New Wave, the Scottish Highlands, the old garbs of fishing folks of the bleak coasts—but English designers tend to look ahead, drawing from urban miscellany to forge a more progressive whole.

j-w-anderson-aw-2017J. W. Anderson

You don’t get British designers revisiting to death Mary Quant or Biba, but you do see American designers returning to Studio 54 time and time again, as if the ’70s can never be left behind, as if the Battle of Versailles was not proof enough that American designers are able to march to a new beat. That the past may influence the present is understandable. Some of Britain’s great designers, such as the late Alexander McQueen, drew heavily from what went way before. The past is, however, a platform to springboard to the future, or, at least, delineate the present.

That was what we sensed at Christopher Kane this season. There’s something vaguely and deliciously old-fashioned about the collection. Mr Kane is not, of course, a trad lad, but his approach to designing seems born of dressmaking of the past. Still, there is none of the British frumpiness, or maybe there is, just cleverly subverted with spiffy cuts and shiny fabrics. We like his flattering, feminine silhouettes too, within which he makes his magic. That’s where his unpredictability lies. Contained in near-conventional forms, Mr Kane incorporates fold, tucks, and slits within. The look isn’t wayward, yet there’s something unusual about it. Appealing, too.


Similarly, J. W. Anderson, created some rather compelling clothes. While media eyes are mainly on his work for the Spanish house Loewe, fans are keeping a close watch on the developments at his eponymous label. Mr Anderson is not terribly concerned with Britishness, but he is adept at reaching into the mixed bag that is modern-day England and pulling out quite a remarkable jumble. It’s not easy to pin-point the typical J. W. Anderson silhouette, but that’s precisely why his work is so beguiling. His autumn/winter 2017 collection shows draping, asymmetry, and gently puffed-up shapes, and in-between, something plucked from Qing China.

One of the London collections that made us re-focus on the line is Erdem. This is supremely feminine, not something we normally would pay close attention to, but Erdem Moralioglu has created a smashing output based on so many desirable dresses that are, to us, post-Duchess of Cambridge. There is a certain artistic aspect to the way he mixes fabrics and prints, all the while keeping the silhouettes rather controlled—not-too-princess-friendly. We were thinking that if ever (and, really, just if) Pierpaolo Piccioli should ponder leaving Valentino, Erdem Moralioglu should be considered for the job.


Throughout much of London Fashion Week, under-appreciated English labels are doing more interesting work than over-exposed American names across the Atlantic. One that deserves a bigger audience is Joseph. Although once a fairly conventional brand, Joseph has, under the stewardship of Louise Trotter, steadily evolved into a line that straddles confidently between sophistication and edginess. Ms Trotter does not shy from unconventional shapes, nor quirky details that give her designs character. We appreciate her pairing of prints, placement of pockets, and the push-pull of masculinity and femininity. It’s the creative tension that gently tips her work outside basic. It gives you reason to make space in the wardrobe.

British designers are re-defining femininity without having to underscore it. In fact, it is heartening to see them not succumb to the commercial appeal of the fit-and-flair dress shape that many of today’s women cannot seem to break away from. Constant is their exploration of the spatial relationship between fabric and the body, so that the basis of the silhouettes is not the hourglass shape, or a figure that adhere to the vulgar sexiness consistent with those frequently witnessed on social media. These are not clothes to show off Victoria’s Secret underclothes. For that reason, we’re keeping our eyes on London.


(2016) Winter Style 5: The Big Sweater


The sweater is often overlooked when packing for winter hols. Sure, women love their soft and snugly cashmere jumpers (often part of a twin set), but that’s too Charlotte York (Sex in the City, incidentally, ended in 2004—yes, 12 years ago!). What’s more current and less New England relic is the chunky, funnel-neck sweater. Better still if it’s oversized, such as this hunk by the London label Joseph.

Part of the critically-acclaimed autumn/winter “catwalk” collection (the sales staff will be eager to tell you) by designer Louise Trotter, this sweater is especially appealing because of its craft-like vibe. The uncut yarns, left dangling on the bodice like tassels, recall something rustic. A well-used quilted blanket perhaps? We’re also partial to the dropped, contrast sleeves, on which the right side comes with a cute appliqué of the freedom-eye—just below the elbow—and the off-beat front pattern that is based on fruits.

Joseph describes the sweater’s yarn type as “heritage yarn”. It’s wool for sure, but, based on the hand feel, we do not think it’s made of unscoured wool or wool that has not been washed (typical of, say, the Aran jumper) so that the fibre’s natural lanolin is retained to keep the garment water repellent. Still, this is a beautiful sweater, which, even without a coat, can be the star of the winter wardrobe.

Joseph lambswool handknit ‘Fruit’ sweater, SGD 1210, is available at Joseph, Capitol Piazza. Product photo: Joseph. Collage: Just So

Quietly (And Brilliantly) Goes Joseph

Joseph pre-Fall 2016 G1This pre-fall collection is truly a gorgeous intro to Joseph’s newly tuned direction. Designer Louise Trotter has upped the stakes in an increasingly difficult retail climate by offering an autumn/winter 2016 season that leans on the whimsical, but is still so wearable—the hallmark of this retail-turn-design house. Before we get to that (and we certainly shall later), a close look at the pre-fall to help fans ease into Joseph’s new dream coats.

Firstly, there’s something to be said of the model picked for the brand’s look book. At a time when long, luscious, and certainly bouffant hair is still preferred, it is surprising that Joseph has cast the buzzcut of Lina Hoss for its latest communication material. Ms Hoss really caught our attention three months ago, on the cover of i-D magazine, on which her hair was longer and more visible, but still short. For Joseph, she wears it even shorter, a style Mindef would be very glad to introduce to its new recruits.

Lina Hoss for Joseph

Ms Hoss reminds us of Persis Khambatta, the Indian actress who played Lieutenant Ilia in the 1979 film Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Ms Khambatta’s head was completely shorn for the part, but both star and Joseph’s model have a beauty impervious to the lack of luscious locks. Ms Hoss also reminds us of Irish singer Sinéad O’Connor (we love the cover of the 1992 jazz album of Am I Not Your Girl? on which the singer with the crew-cut wore a fitted shift and high heels), but not Demi Moore, not even as G.I. Jane. Or Natalie Portman for V for Vendetta!

There’s something right about Ms Hoss’s unadorned, low-key, bare-faced look. It’s a near-natural—blank canvas, if you will—that elevates Joseph’s simple, but dramatic shapes into stunning clothes. The volumes, in particular, are in keeping with the current mood of the season, and work especially well with hair that’s not fussed with and make-up not deliberately painted on.

Joseph pre-Fall 2016 G2Joseph has, of course, mostly trekked the minimalist route, but this time, Ms Trotter has made it less pared-down with touches that amplify the emphasis on chic with a palatable edge. We love the oversized sweaters (and extra long sleeves), the mannish jackets, and the A-line skirts with massive patch-pockets on the sides. Joseph has always been strong with pants, and this time they have reworked classic shapes to yield slacks that are superbly slouchy and valiantly voluminous.

All these are fine for fashion, but will it translate into dollars at retail? We certainly hope so. It would be such a pity if these fine clothes don’t end up on more bodies; sadder still if, due to a lack of appreciation, Joseph won’t continue to trade on our island.

Joseph pre-fall collection is out now at the Joseph flagship store, Capitol Piazza. Photos: Joseph/Raf Stahelin

(When) Simple Is Sublime


Joseph, according to the Bible, had a “coat of many colours”. In the 20th Century, Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Web upgraded the garment to an “amazing technicolour dreamcoat” In the case of Joseph, the London fashion retailer, their coats are a lot more subdued. In merchandising parlance, they’re “muted”. When loud—not necessarily voluble—still speaks volumes in the world of fashion, hushed tones do stand out.

Just as quiet was the entry of Joseph into Singapore’s fashion retail scene in October. It surprised some observers who thought the brand was going to give our island a miss—it opened in Bangkok and Manila first. But came it did, even at a time when not many people associate aesthetic perfection with discreet elegance. Joseph is one of those rare breed of labels that has not succumbed to the extreme changes in fashion. It’s presence in Singapore is very much welcomed. At the Capitol Piazza store’s official opening yesterday, a fashion stylist known for his not-so-conventional style said approvingly, “This is one of the most beautiful labels to open recently.”


At first sight, Joseph appears to be one of those neutral-hued, discerningly stocked, and simply laid out boutiques that are so tasteful all round that they border on the unapproachable. Far from being standoffish, the store, in fact, allures with its deliberate insouciance and clothes that are devoid of excess. These are designs that salute form and function with a confident nod. While it may seem like dwelling on the previous decade to note and praise the clean lines, Joseph’s stripped-down-to-the-essential elegance is significance rather than anomaly in a culture that admires those who dare to express themselves, via dress, flashily, even overbearingly. It’s a sophisticated minimalism that predated COS, now gaining traction among the fashion-literate.

The name Joseph comes from an actual person: Joseph Ettedgui, a man so far-sighted that his vision still lives today. Mr Ettedgui died of pancreatic cancer aged 74 in 2010. In an obituary, The Guardian called him a “fashion legend” who “understood that fashion and lifestyle were interchangeable”. As it turned out, Mr Ettedgui was an accidental clothier. Trained as a hairdresser, he started selling clothes in the late 60s by displaying in the window of his King Road premises, Salon 33, a few sweaters designed by his chum, the Paris-based Japanese designer Kenzo Takada. By the 70s, Mr Takada had become the toast of Paris after opening his first boutique in the mid-19th Century Galerie Vivienne in 1970 called, with hippie verve, Jungle Jap. Two years later, in London, Joseph the standalone fashion store opened.

Joseph Women 3

Although not a native Londoner (Mr Ettedgui was born in Casablanca, Morocco), he was very much a part of London’s fashion retail aristocracy that includes Brown’s Joan Burstein. Like Mrs B, as she is known in the trade, Mr Ettedgui was able to single out talents that would later prove to be commercially successful. In his shops he stocked John Galliano, Margaret Howell, and Katherine Hamnett, just to name three of the very British names he favoured. But selling the designs of others weren’t entirely enough for the entrepreneur and budding designer. In the 1980s, Joseph Tricot, a knitwear collection was introduced, and by the mid-90s, Joseph retails its own fully-merchandised ready-to-wear line. So desirable were its own-name goods, that Singapore women were known to go to London to buy their “incredibly-cut pants”, as one fan enthused.

Although Mr Ettedgui had an eye for more forward-looking designs and was eager to promote them, his own aesthetic was far more subdued. Joseph’s multi-label stores may house the likes of Alexader McQueen, but the eponymous label is never unsettlingly off-kilter. Even today, the brand has not forsaken the supplementary role it plays to modern attire: “An entire wardrobe can’t be made up of only designer clothes”, as Mr Ettedgui once said. Joseph was sold in 2005, and is now own by its Japanese licensee Onward Kashiyama, yet there was never an attempt to rewrite its DNA. At the Capitol Piazza store, superbly designed and made shirts, pants, and knitwear—for both men and women—that the Joseph emporia has come to be known for are all there, in updated shapes and volumes that no doubt will complement any wardrobe. These are clearly clothes that will outlive many of the others in any closet.

Joseph Men

The question is, do consumers care about the longevity of clothes like they once did? Do they even want their clothes to last over many seasons when it’s so easy to just go purchase something new? Why do they want clothes to hang indefinitely in a wardrobe when something inexpensive somewhere is waiting to be bought? According to Joseph’s Paris-based creative director for women’s wear Louis Trotter, “The JOSEPH woman is defined by her attitude and style. She wants well-designed clothes that work with her lifestyle; that she can wear every day. She wants clothes that are unfussy, with a sense of ease. She has confidence on her own style and is intelligent in her decision making.”

We’re not certain if this is the Singapore woman, but we’re sure that even inured to outré styles, there will be those who want to come home to what may be considered comfort clothes, just as they would like to seek solace in comfort food. Sometimes, even if not every day, straightforward pieces that you put on and do not think about thereafter are what you need in a world of frantic shifts in trends. The understated, as Joseph knows, should’t be underrated.

Joseph is at level 1, Capitol Piazza. Photos: Jim Sim