Mining “The Land Of The Free”

Junya Watanabe takes on the icons and symbols of Americana—specifically pop-Americana

“Americanos—blue jeans and chinos/Coke, Pepsi and Oreos/Americanos—movies and heroes in the land of the free/You can be what you wanna be”

Americanos, 1989, Holly Johnson

America’s influence on fashion is not just the denim jeans worn almost everywhere. Or, the Americans helming European fashion houses and those showing their eponymous line in Paris (or Milan). It’s also the US cultural-visual identity that non-Americans find appealing and relatable. Junya Watanabe is a known admirer of authentic American fashion brands and has previously collaborated with ‘iconic’ names such as Levi’s, but this time, he wears Americana on his sleeves. He takes some of the most recognisable images and worked into his designs, often as pieces that form the boro or Japanese art of patchworking (as seen on the denim jeans, in particular). This mended fabric or garment is not new at all to Mr Watanabe’s output, but this time the restitched parts comprise patches of images of American brands and recognisable art.

In 1989, Holly Johnson sang in the catchily sarcastic Latinate dance-pop of Americanos (from the Dan Hartman-produced album Blast): “blue jeans and chinos, Coke, Pepsi, and Oreos, movies and heroes, you can be what you wanna be.” In view of the recent overturn of Roe vs Wade, it is irresistible to see Mr Watanabe’s newest menswear as ironic—a poke at the superficiality and materiality of the American dream. Jeans and chinos are, of course, almost de rigueur in his collections, and now Coke (not Pepsi or Oreos) join other brands and names through which America propelled its popular culture, globally: Campbell’s Soups and Marilyn Monroe made vivid by Andy Warhol, Girl with Hair Ribbon painted/dotted by Roy Lichtenstein, as well as the graffiti and scribbles of Keith Haring and Jean Michel Basquiat. It is, interestingly, not “’bout leather, leather everywhere”, as David Bowie sang earlier in 1975’s Young Americans, a song that has been compared to Americanos for its dig at US youth culture.

In Japan, Mr Watanabe embodies the melting of pop culture divided by oceans. His embrace of Americana is, of course, not precedential. But, he is constantly mixing and mixing in ways that, even if no longer surprising, is still charming. Some people consider his work as entry point to the more confrontationally avant-garde designs of his mentor, Rei Kawakubo, even saying that his are clothes for primarily fashion-consuming heterosexual males not willing to venture into, say, Gucci territory: There will never be skirts. Even those patchworked shirts of the finale are reminiscent of the Comme Des Garçons Shirt line. But for most fans, the sustained appeal of Junya Wantanabe’s work is his category-free approach to making desirable clothes. Just as you thought that work wear is what you saw, once on the body, the effect could be vastly different.

The crux of Mr Watanabe’s design is the Japanese concept of making things—monozukiri, which broadly means production or manufacturing. But it also embodies not just technological advantage, but also technical know-how, the embrace of tradition, and a relentless pursuit of innovation. In Mr Watanabe’s case, it has always been more than the amalgamation of the above, but also how he melds seemingly different visual cues—or cultural references—into a seamless whole. So those who do not require a regular blazer will be happy to see hybrid versions and those with unusual cuts. Or those averse to standard-issue jeans will find those with the said boro patchwork or with different washes for the front and back. If Americana is your thing, all the better. But with Uniqlo also featuring familiar corporate logos and the recognisable works of Warhol, Haring, Lichtenstein, and, definitely, Basquiat, are Junya Watanabe’s unique enough, even with monozukiri firmly intact, for us to part with considerable money to own his versions?

Photos: Junya Watanabe

East Meets East Meets West

Junya Watanabe explores the farther reaches of a continent he is part of, and the result is spellbinding

How much of our own front and backyard can we explore without trampling on the same patch of grass or knocking into the same row of trees? For designers, how often can they revisit Orientalism without ending up using the mandarin collar? Or, putting out yet another wholesale repeat of the qipao? Or, escaping into the folds of a sarong? For his spring/summer collection, presented as an audience-less phygital show, Junya Watanabe discovers the farther reaches of Asia that is not necessarily on the east of the continent in which he is based. And he did not have to use a single qipao ling (旗袍领) to say something about the aesthetical and creative wealth of the region. The designs, while recognisable for their Eastern sensibilities and cognizant of the minority ethnic group they seem to come from, bear the distinct Junya Watnabe way with fabric mixing, texture pairing, asymmetry and draping. In each outfit, a collage of contrasts—a Ming-vase-as-scull meets school-girl prim-and-proper, calligraphic graffiti meets deconstructed denim, sari-like drapes meets negligee-sheer. And those are just the first three looks!

For most of the collection, it is part II (or the feminine expression) of an exploration that began with the menswear shown in July. Mr Watanabe once again looks at the work of British photojournalist Jamie Hawkesworth. These are photographs from 2019 that were shot in (mostly) northern India, as well as Kashmir and Bhutan. The designer told the press that he then “became nostalgic for Asia” and saw “the pure heart of people”. For others (Westerners, for example), this casting of sight on a region some six thousand kilometres away may arouse what, for them, is exotic, but to Mr Watanabe, the images associated with the land and people so far away from him serve to find synergy in his own sense of what is mixable and what is pairable. Against the unplugged version of Yellow Magic Orchestra’s Tong Poo from their 1978 eponymous album—specially rearranged for the show by co-founder of the group Ryuichi Sakamoto—the clothes look delectably serene and light, like pray flags of the Nimalayas, swaying in the gentle breeze of tranquil mountains.

But that is not to say that Mr Watanabe does not exoticise the looks at all. In fact, the styling seems to cater to a more Western perception of what is Eastern exotica. The hooped hair on the sides of the head, for example, is evocative of the pierced and stretched ears of the women of the Karen ethnic group of the Myanmar-Thailand border. Peculiarly Asian, too, are the wigs in the shape of the Vietnamese non la rice hats (or 斗笠, dou li in China) and the unadorned liangbatou (两把头) headdresses of Qing Chinese women that could be homage to the Story of Yanxi Palace (延禧攻略). Even the platform sandals have a whiff of the cunzi shoes (寸子鞋) of the ancient Manchus, in particular those with 元宝底 (yuanbaodi or ingot bottom) soles. Perhaps these are to augment the Asianness of the clothes, which are, in themselves, less derivative, and more in tandem with Mr Watanabe’s penchant for montaging shapes, patterns, and textures.

And to strengthen the connection to Asia further, collaborations with Asian artists—as seen in the men’s spring/summer 2022 collections—continue. There is the abovementioned calligraphy of Wang Dongling (王东龄), the Hangzhou-based zihua (字画) master and director of the Modern Calligraphy Study Center at the China National Academy of Arts, as well as two from the July show, Ang Tsherin Sherpa, the California-based Nepalese artist and Phannapast Taychamaythakool, the Thai illustrator now trending in her native Bangkok and much of the fashion world. Ms Taychamaythakool’s floral prints recall those of Chinese blankets, but they are made fantastical by the inclusion of Thai mythical beasts, gaudily coloured like tourist-friendly tuk-tuks. This, perhaps, sums up the collection: there are no creative boundaries, just as, in an ideal world, there are no territorial borders. ‘Asian’ does not have to mean looking at your fast-changing backyard. And it definitely does not require going to a kampong that is a mere shadow of its former self, sarong or not intact.

Screen grab (top): Comme des Garçons/YouTube. Photos: Junya Watanabe

Junya Watanabe’s ‘Exploracore’

Inspired by the works of British fashion photographer Jamie Hawkesworth, Junya Watanabe’s spring/summer 2022 collection is peppered with alluring neo-ethnic touches that are ready for some unknown quest

Enticingly wearable and irresistibly fab have always been how fans of Junya Watanabe view his effortless melding of work wear and the artistic, incorporating into the line collabs with heritage brands across the globe. In many ways, Mr Watanabe is a fashion vagabond. There is no fixed point on which to stay put. This season, he looks at the travel photography of Jamie Hawkesworth (specifically the Bhutan photos, such as those published in Holiday), admired by fellow Brit J W Anderson, who paired with the former for both Loewe and his collaboration with Uniqlo. In the accompanying collection notes, Mr Watanabe quoted the photographer saying, “It’s such an incredible feeling turning up to a place with no ideas or expectations, and just walking and exploring and taking photographs—it’s incredible what you find.” The same feeling can perhaps also describe encountering Mr Watanabe’s designs: you do not know what to expect, but you won’t be disappointed. For those familiar his work, Junya Watanabe may be destination familiar, but there would always be unexplored territory and untasted fare.

Mr Watanabe’s work this season riffs on Asian motifs, prints, and details, which he has intermittently done in the past. More pronounced now are his use of visuals by Asian illustrators: Chinese illustrator/artist, Shenzhen-based Rlon Wang; Japan’s pop art fave Keiichi Tanaami, Nepalese artist/Californian resident Ang Tsherin Sherpa, Thailand’s fashion darling Phannapast Taychamaythakool, and Vietnamese children’s book illustrators Phung Nguyen Quang and Huynh Kim Lien. But rather than just use them as patterns on fabrics, he has employed them as he would with parts of his favourite garments. The prints are used on yokes—like bibs, some are in grid form, some as repeated patterns, some as a single delineation of, say, a head. There are prints used as linings of jackets too. A surprising large number of T-shirts with those artists’ illustrations are shown. In fact, this seems to be the summeriest collection of the menswear season, even when there considerable outers too.

Presented against what looks like a makeshift art gallery, randomly placed with Mr Hawkesworth’s photographs, and accompanied by a soundtrack featuring Ryuichi Sakamoto’s Ma Mere L’Oie (from 1984’s Ongaku Zukan) and Thousand Knives (from 1978’s same-name album), the collection seems to be focused on—as Mr Sakamoto also sang in Ongaku ZukanSteppin’ into Asia. The original opening track features a chorus of children singing, which sounds suitably Bhutanese, although in the album, references were made to Tibet and Paradise Lost. While Mr Watanabe is not susceptible to the obvious, the Asian-ness is seen in the fabrics, some evocative of Bhutanese textiles made into the national costumes of gho and kira for men and women respectively, as well cropped and draped trousers with shapes that recall the Thai sarouel (fishermen’s pants). In fact, the whole collection comprises separates that are truly approachable and commensurate with the present desire for clothes that are relaxed (we resist using the word ‘lounge’!). The silhouettes suggest something more for the outdoors than a corporate meeting room, but Junya Watanabe has never been a business wear label, and those who succumb to it’s charms tend to be individuals in the creative business, and the many unshakable diehards.

As usual, there are collaborations galore, including his on-going work with The North Face, Levi’s, and New Balance. Others include Ark Air (blousons!) Dickies (work pants), Brooks Brothers (shirts and blazers), and also the Harajuku vintage outlet BerBerJin, which Time Out calls a “classy vintage store”, from which select pieces are printed with Mr Watanabe’s choice images from those illustrators mentioned above (not sure how those can be produced in large quantities). There is clearly a sense of sartorial adventurism here. Regional prints meet the Tokyo-urban, folk costumes convene with work wear, hipster sandals stride alongside hypebeast sneakers, all in an unmistakably happy convergence. We call it ‘exploracore’.

Photos: Junya Watanabe/Comme des Garçons

Burgers Are Big

Are you buyin’ it?


Junya Watanabe burger teeJunya Watanabe Man T-shirt featuring a Diego’s Burgers, at DSMS. Photo: Zhao Xiangji

By Gambier Tan

I have never really been a meat guy. Sure, I do have a weakness for bak kut teh and bak kwa, but not to the point where, if I were to open a restaurant, I would name it The Meathouse. I am also not a burger guy, a lot less so after watching the 2004 Academy Awards-nominated documentary Super Size Me in which director Morgan Spurlock subjected himself willingly to a full month of subsistence on nothing but what’s in the extensive menu of McDonald’s. I enjoy food too much, anyone who knows me will tell you, to put myself through such punishing restrictions.

Which means you may understand my grappling to grasp the current fascination with burgers as motifs to gussy up clothing or items to grace a pad. Of course there’s nothing wrong with announcing to the world a love for food that allows you to be gastronomically inclusive by accumulating fat in the liver. Well-piled burgers, now redeemed by the prefix wagyu, with their layered goodness are so much sexier than a bunch of celery. Its all rather reality-discombobulating to me—I feel like I am waking up to a Michael Chiang play-turn-TV-series in which the real mixed signal is the protagonist, still from Batu Pahat, persisting to cook fried rice when she’s really better at kong bak pao.

One burger-themed T-shirt that caught my eye recently was a crew neck by Junya Watanabe (above). On the chest was a happy, personified burger that looked like an illustration one would find among the many offerings in Bugis Street that are stacked to appeal to souvenir hunters on a budget (and understandably so—if you’re travelling on the world’s most expensive city). But what’s Diego’s Burger or who’s Diego? Since, for expensive burgers, I know only of Shake Shack and the soon-to-be-here Five Guys, I decided to feed my curiosity by allowing Google to cough up what it knows about a chap who is not Dora the Explorer’s eight-year-old cousin. As it turns out, Diego is fake. Or, Diego in Buenos Aires is fake. There is a burger man Diego in Rotterdam, Netherlands, which Google also served up, is 11,384 km away from Argentina.

Madstore burger lamp.jpgMadstore burger lamp produced by Medicom Toys. Photo: Undercover/Madstore

Closer home and less to do with wearables is the Hamburger Lamp at Undercover’s Madstore. Conceived together with Medicom Toys of BE@RBRICKS fame, the table illuminator first appeared in 2002 and revived in 2015 (and again last fall), with rarity characterising every release. And those fangs too. So in demand was the lamp when it was made available here last week that Club 21 (the retailer behind Madstore’s much awaited entrance here) restricted the purchase of a total of 25 pieces to 25 individuals by stipulating that “a minimum spend of $300 will guarantee each customer the opportunity to purchase only 1 lamp”. Quite a condition for a model that is not nearly “two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, on a sesame seed bun”.

When it comes to hamburgers, the most recognisable name on earth, despite its celebrated standing with dietitians, is McDonald’s. Here, even after forty years of selling Big Macs without any decline in popularity, McDonald’s saw that it needed to be in the fashion game as well. On the 3rd of last month, the home of the discontinued Quarter Pounder (since December 2017) made an announcement on Instagram that they’ll be taking the wraps off “a new collection that’ll make nights in even better”. What could that be, I wondered at that time, other than new chicken burgers for supper?

It was soon revealed that McD was to release “loungewear sets” for both men and women with orders of, interestingly not burgers, but McNuggets and McWings that are dubbed McDelivery Night in Bundle. As unsexy as that sounded, the response was overwhelming, with one IG commentator posting on McD’s page, “better than Gucci”! He clearly knows his fashion. Or perhaps the bundle is sexy, because the disappointment with not being able to score those lounge sets was so palpable that McD placated the unsuccessful with a second release. If that sounds like limited sneaker drops, I’d say you know your stuff.

McD pajama topMcDonald’s pajama top, part of the fast food giant’s ‘Loungewear Bundle’

McDonald’s didn’t even have to try too hard. The tops were in a micro-print of hamburgers and packs of French fries. This was accompanied by shorts in the yellow that is the Golden Arches, which on the shorts was so saffron, they could have been worn as part of a PT kit in a monastery. I have always wondered why McD won’t resurrect the Hamburglar, that potentially creepy McDonaldland urchin whose burger-pilfering ways were always foiled by pal Ronald. Or any of his pals such as Grimace and Birdie. Hamburglar could work on T-shirts, just as Pillsbury Dough Boy still does.

But the burger—when did it debut in fashion? I don’t know, to be honest. If you really looked, food and fashion are, of course, intertwined. What’s good on the lips, as it usually turns out, is nice on the hips (or the feet, if you go by a certain pair of H&M socks). From the time Josephine Baker wore a skirt of 16 rubber bananas (during a 1926 performance of La Revue Nègre) to 1937, when Elsa Schiapparelli worked with images of the lobster (painted by Salvador Dalí, who, according to rumours at the time, wanted to spread real mayonnaise on the crustacean!) to the MTV Music Awards of 2010 when Lady Gaga donned a dress of real and very raw beef (which was later preserved as jerky and displayed at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame!), and everything between and after, anything that can be eaten can also be worn.

What will they think of next—a bubble tea skirt?

Pocket/Storage, Centre-Front

We may not be marsupials, but some of us do need a pouch right in the middle of our chest for things that need to be reached easily. Or, quickly. Or, so it seems


Chest Nike pic 4Nikelab iPSA Air cotton T-shirt with nylon pouch pocket

By Raiment Young

I am not sure how much stuff an average guy carries with him on a daily basis, but I am beginning to suspect that the quantity is not insignificant, based on the receptacles now beginning to appear on clothes and those that are designed to be worn in front, across the thorax, above the belly button. It’s not exactly the best place for anything since anything placed against the chest tends to trap heat, but I am not an expert on thoracic needs, utilitarian or decorative.

Sartorially, bags for the centre of chests, if I am correct, first appeared in Matthew Williams’s 1017 Alyx 9SM collection of last spring—chest strap-ons so desirable that the bags turned out to be Alyx’s best-selling accessory. Mr Williams, a Californian football-player-turned-designer and a member of the inner circle of Lady Gaga and Kanye West (he was once their stylist), is also a consultant at Kim Jones’s Dior, where he has created a signature buckle for the house.

Chest rig P1bZara polyester canvas chest rig

Around the same time of the Alyx bags, Junya Watanabe also introduced a few of his own, worn in his characteristic anti-OG ways: outdoor gear with beach wear! Mr Watanabe’s chest bags, as the label calls it, are pretty serious stuff: they come with what NS men would know as webbing, which is what I like about these bags. Unlike so many from other brands that I have tried on, the straps of these are designed to go over the shoulder and cross the back, with no discomfort under the arm, as felt by those that follow the shape of the armhole.

As it turns out, these bags do have a name—they are known as chest rigs and, like the field pack, is associated with the army, especially land forces. According to military historians, the chest rig can be traced to those used during the Vietnam war. Apparently, the canvas rigs that were worn then were Chinese-made and mainly for carrying magazines supplied with the main rifle issued, the notorious AK-47. American forces were known to pilfer some of these chest rigs so that they could be copied or worn to blend in.

Chest Timberland P5.jpgTimberland ‘Ecoriginal’ anorak

As with many things of military origin, the bags may not be the most comfortable to strap on, even if they have been adapted for leisure use. Which perhaps prompted garment designers to adopt the idea on clothes instead. I don’t mean one little pocket on the shirt that looks like a cyclop’s eye; I mean big, full-on pouches, capacious enough for you to put smartphone, battery pack, and everything else that would usually go into a bump-bag. One of the earliest I saw was Nikelab’s T-shirt from the iSPA Air project (top-most pic). A fairly heavy-ply cotton tee, the front is affixed with a massive flapped, pouch pocket (as large as those on cargo pants, if you ask me) that comes with a drawstring to secure its contents. That it is available with the inconspicuous yellow pocket (there’s a black version too) that almost obscures the Swoosh adds to its appeal.

Not long after, I came across the Timberland ‘Ecoriginal’ anorak (above). Now, this would not normally have made me bat an eyelid since its pocket would not be unusual for such an outerwear. But, look twice I did because of the size of the pocket and its placement—right there in the middle of the chest. Made of 100% recycled polyester, including recycled cords and buttons (the eco-warrior among you would delight to know), the anorak comes in fashionable colour blocking that, to me, is rather unusual for Timberland garments not destined for Japan.

Chest rig P3.jpgChest rigs worn by both men and women

The first off-catwalk piece that caught my eye was a small Nike chest rig worn on a woman at a private event hosted by Bangkok’s coolest home-grown sneaker store Upperground (by the same people who started Carnival in Siam Square). What I found exceptional was that rather than play up the chest rig’s military beginnings, the woman turned it into a study in contrast, teaming the bag with a simple tank top and very feminine, full maxi-skirt. Quite the opposite of how Mackenzie Davis-as-Grace wore hers in Terminator: Dark Fate. Not long after, amid the unrest that took place in Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay, I saw a guy crossing a not-yet-tumultuous Hennessy Road wearing a Junya Watanabe chest rig with the stylish confidence of someone with a fanny pack strapped across the torso instead. On the multiple straps of the bag, he had assorted carabiners attached, reminding me of those seen on the accessories of White Mountaineering.

On home turf, my encounter with a chest rig-wearing individual was at the recent Club 21 Bazaar. The guy, accompanied by a male friend, stood out, not only for his effortless stylishness, but also for the fact that his bag was able to pass security without being wrapped in that awful plastic bag that they used, and secured with zip ties (also known as cable ties). He was probably the only person carrying a bag that was not hassled and contained, which was a good thing for me as I could finally see a local fellow fashionably togged, affirming that trends don’t always circumnavigate our island.

Puma X Les Benjamins chest rig.jpgPuma X Les Benjamins chest rig

Chest rigs are, in fact, now so popular that even Prada—belatedly—has their own version. Called the ‘harness bag’, it is made using what the brand calls a “technical fabric” but looks and feels to me like the regular Prada nylon, it is given a downplay of its war-front provenance by a kooky print that is described as “inspired by the graphic art of horror films”. If price is of concern (and they usually are for single or double-season craze), Zara can always be relied for something on trend, but do consider what I think is really fetching: the Puma X Les Benjamins chest rig (above) that the partners called ‘sacoche’. Misnomer aside, Puma and the Istanbul-based streetwear brand’s collab resulted in one of the cutest chest-rigs I have seen in the research for this post. I find the lightness of the whole bag a plus, and the hi-vis lime green a nice shot of fresh air.

It is tempting to blame Matthew Williams for the trend of take a bag or pocket to the chest. The signs for such a place to position storage spaces were, however, evident with the return of the bum-bag a few seasons back. Rather than site the pouch where they usually rest—above the posterior, hence the somewhat inelegant name, designers styled them as an accessory for the front, across the body. These days, from the coffee shop beer ladies to the dragon-boaters after practice, assorted bags are strapped across the chest like a parent would with an infant in a baby carrier. The task-specific chest rigs’ appearance as a fashion accessory is, therefore, really a matter of time, but have we not always like taking things to heart, if not wearing stuff close to it?

Photos: Chin Boh Kay, AB Tan, Jagkrit Suwanmethanon

The Wordiest Logo?

Or do you prefer less?

TNF Junya logo

It’s a collaboration that spawned one of the biggest logos we have ever seen, with an unusually large amount of text. There are a total of nine words, 14 syllables, and 43 letters! And both brands seem like a match that has to be made: their logotype is in still-a-fave Helvetica!

It is, of course, a mouthful to say. There’s a reason WeAretheSuperlativeConspiracy—just just five words but chock-full of 24 letters—is known as WESC, making the one-time lengthy Fruit of the Loom, with a now-modest line-up of 14 letters, a breeze to say. But The North Face Junya Watanabe Comme des Garçons Man isn’t, thankfully, quite a tongue-twister even when boasting three languages. That is unless you have a dreadful relationship with French pronunciation.

In fact, the coming together of the two brands (since we’re counting, three, if you consider CDG in there as a separate entity) is missing the typical X, as in the upcoming Erdem X H&M (designer Erdem Moralıoğlu’s full name may, indeed, be the tongue-twister here), which means Junya Watanabe’s collaborative work for autumn/winter 2017 would otherwise have 44 letters. But who’s counting? Okay, we are.

TNF Sacai

On the other extreme is Sacai, a brand that, interestingly, also collaborated with The North Face for the autumn/winter 2017 collection. But the logo is so succinct that you may miss the Japanese name. Comprising just four words and a grand total of 17 letters, The North Face Sacai is almost minimalistic. Similar to Junya Watanabe’s, it is absent an X. Perhaps it’s a Japanese quirk. Whether long or short, are we getting more or less with the respective brands?

With these Japanese burando, especially these whose designers are alumni of the school of Comme des Garçons (Sacai’s Chitose Abe was, in fact, a member of Junyta Watanabe’s pattern-making team before she struck out on her own), you are not likely to get less. Sacai’s collection dubbed “Cut Up”, does not spare any design their distinctive slicing and splicing, which means less is not part of their DNA. In addition, their collaboration is available for women as well.

In the end, a label with many words may look intriguing and, hence, alluring, but it really isn’t a matter of which. We say, why have one when you can have both?

It isn’t certain if Junya Watanabe and Sacai stockist Club 21 will bring the two brand’s collaboration with The North Face. We suspect the soon-to-open Dover Street Market Singapore will carry both capsules. Watch this space for updates. Images: the respective brands

Girls Gone Good

Good Girls G1Good girls wear long(er) skirts: (from left) Junya Watanabe, Kolor, Comme des Garcons Comme des Garcons

Given how much the posterior pervaded our lives last year, it is a relief that this autumn/winter season, quite a few designers are short on the skimpy. It is not sufficiently clear if it is a Kim K backlash, but it is possible that once the backside appears on the front side of a magazine (see Paper, winter 2014), modesty could be very much missed. Are we then seeing a return to clothes that, well, serve to clothe?

This season, the Japanese designers are leading the way, although it is pertinent to acknowledge that they have never left the path. Junya Watanabe, Junichi Abe of Kolor, and Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons—to these purveyors of dress, clothes can be sexy, even a substantial amount of clothes, not the lack of them. The Japanese clearly love cloth, and are adept at manipulating a piece of fabric to cover the body in often unexpected ways. Despite the baffling construction that is worked into a dress, the result is mostly practical silhouettes that can be adapted for the everyday.

We’re partial to the wide, knee-grazing skirts that appeared on the catwalk of the above-mentioned designers. With the continued popularity of severely cut off denim jeans and micro-anything, these skirts could be considered prissy, or, worse, a reminder of the (supposedly) sexually-repressed Victorians. Yet, there’s something elegant, refined, and uninhibited about their shape and length that could provide emancipation from the pressures of expressing sexuality through scantiness. The relationship sexiness has with bare skin can be redefined through the skirt.

The fact that the Japanese’s stay on the side of modesty draws no attention attests to the insidiousness of barely-there dressing. The Italians, however, have always had a sophisticated view. In the Baz Luhrmann-directed video for the Metropolitan Museum’s Spring 2012 Costume Institute exhibition, Schiaparelli & Prada: Impossible Conversations, Muccia Prada said, “Instinctively, I refuse the usual conviction that you have to be beautiful from the waist up… so many things are happening from the waist down…” Yet, Ms Prada has never played up the role of the skirt by drastically reducing its length or deliberately minimising its opacity. The Prada skirts, 100 of them so magnificently displayed at the 2004 travelling exhibition Waist Down, validate the old belief that short is not always sexy.

It would also take Gucci to push forward the idea of prim-as-desirable. Designer Alessandro Michele (before his appointment last year, a relative unknown) has been lauded for making the brand “cool again”. It is odd—but, perhaps, a relief for the show-no-ass lass—that it would take new Gucci’s geeky looks rather than the entrenched sexy-to-the-max aesthetic, first delineated by Tom Ford, to revive the house. Whether looking like a librarian or school teacher, perhaps, in the end, women just want clothes that allow them to get on with their lives, rather than be too sexy for their skirt.

Dots: How Big Will They Get?

SS 2015 Dots G1Spring/Summer 2015 dots. From left: Kenzo Men, Marc by Mark Jacobs, Junya Watanabe, and Dolce & Gabbana

Not since George Clooney’s appearance on the cover of W in December 2013 as Polka Dot Man (well, not quite DC Comic’s supervillian) has polka dots been headline fashion news. How did things get so dotty is a little beyond our comprehension, but we think it has a lot to do with today’s weak preference for plain fabrics in solid colours. Of late, the fashion-consuming public seems to be enamoured of patterns, from floral to abstract shapes. We’re tempted to blame Givenchy’s Ricardo Tisci for it: thanks to him, stars (especially those that encircle the neckline) have led the way, peppering garments with repeated geometric shapes in the same vehemence once reserved for vintage illustrations.

The current fate of polka dots is sealed when Pharrell Williams introduced them to the Stan Smith, which, sadly, has lost much of its humbler looks since the pop singer re-styled the classic tennis shoe into sneakers that seem destined for the streets of Legoland. This is, to us, ironic as the Stan Smith’s appeal is in its inherent plain simplicity. Hipsters took to them as a stand against the over-designed excesses of designer kicks. Mr Williams’s initial dalliance with the Stan Smith saw him working bright colors into the shoe. Then he had them covered with micro-dots before spotting the current ones with those the size of doll-house saucers.

SS 2015 Dots G2Clockwise from top left: Kenzo Nylon backpack, Pharrell Williams X adidas Originals Stan Smith, Hellolulu Ottilie backpack, Fred Perry Mini Classic Bag, Nike Roshe Run NM “City Pack” QS “NYC” and Comme des Garçons leather zip-top case

To us, polka dots are evocative of Mini Mouse’s dress and, inevitably, the oversized bow on her hair: clearly a cartoon celebrity in need of Smurfette’s stylist! They, too, remind us of Comme des Garçons, a label that has made repeated dots attractively modern. In all sizes (big, apparently, is better),  they have been very much a part of the CDG graphic arsenal, and they appear in almost everything, such as those Croc-like slip-ons in collaboration with Native Shoes back in 2013 as well as those season-less Play cardigans worn by stars such as Justin Timberlake. That’s why, to us, Pharrel William’s new iteration for adidas Original’s Stan Smith (above, top right) is nothing new (the dots are embroidered on the leather upper, an idea first seen in Dior Homme shoes last season). It is really not beyond the ken of the average fashion follower that he took a page from the CDG playbook (perhaps to score extra points so that those shoes can be carried in Dover Street Market) rather than dream the pattern up.

IT Beijing MarketPolka dots are to CDG what rectangles are to Mondrian. In fact, CDG loves them so much that black-filled circles, sometimes way larger than dinner plates, are used in their visual merchandising or as decorative motif for shop fronts or building facades. In 2010, when I.T Beijing Market (left), an offshoot of the brand’s retail business Dover Street Market, opened in Sanlitun of the Chinese capital, the blockish building’s façade was half-covered with oversized dots. In a neighborhood of ultra-sleek luxury brands such as the Euro-chic Miu Miu next door, I.T Beijing Market stood like a defiant upstart, striking as it is cheeky—a Damien Hirst in a sea of unadorned glass and severe concrete.

The thing about polka dots these days is that they have become rather gender-neutral. When once mostly women embrace them (the odd bow tie favoured by a few fellows did not mean they were popular with guys), today they are not conspicuously absent from men’s wear. Even blokes’ label Fred Perry has embraced them, introducing polka dots—noticeably large—with such regularity that they have become as recognisable as the brand’s laurel wreath (interestingly nearly as circular as a dot). Has the repeated dot then clearly become a sign of change for men’s attitude towards patterns? We’re not sure it’s clear enough.

Prints For Your Back

Backpacks SS 2014Are backpacks this season’s clutch? It appears to be if you look at what some designers are churning out. Now that a sheath of a bag offers a capacity not quite adequate for what you may need to get through a day, the rucksack’s new prominence is very much welcomed. But, it should be noted that these are nothing like those you remember from way back: school. Not since Prada’s nylon knapsack and Gucci’s leather version with bamboo handles has the humble backpack been so truly back. And this time, they have prints on their side, charming or not!

Loewe X Junya Watanabe

Loewe AmazonaBack in March, during the Paris season, Junya Watanabe showed some bags he designed with the Spanish house of Loewe. Not really known for his accessories, Mr Watanabe put out a biker/punk-leaning collection that overshadowed the somewhat lady-like bags, which were soon a fading blimp on the fashion radar. Fast forward six months, the bags can soon be seen (and had) at the Loewe boutique, where they have been concealed until the launch this coming Monday.

Mr Watanabe is not new to collaborations. He’s one of the earliest designers to align himself with established brands to re-imagine some of their iconic designs. These included Levis’s 501 jeans as well as the Lacoste polo. He has a penchant for work wear, teaming up with such unlikely brand as Laboureur and Duvetica, turning what is traditional to these labels into forms quite unexpected, yet not entirely stripped of their original identity.

With Loewe, Mr Watanabe has taken the signature bag Amazona and given it the patchwork treatment he is known for. Since the “African Collection” of S/S 2009, he has intermittently showed clothing of deconstructed denim with some kind of patchwork, revealing himself to be adept at updating a hippie style without traipsing into parody. Unfortunately for Mr Watanabe, this treatment has been popularised by many other brands, and turned into such indiscriminate hotchpotch (and available at street-level price points) that patchwork now has a rather patchy reputation.

This Amazona will be coveted, but will it be snapped up in a feeding frenzy? We’ll know soon.

The Loewe + Junya Watanabe Amazona denim patchwork bag (from SGD3,590) will be available at the Loewe boutique at Takashimaya S C from Monday

Photo: Loewe