We Need A Break From Kim Jones Collabs

Air Dior is done and sold. Kim Jones doesn’t need to milk that success. His collaboration with Nike shows it

By Ray Zhang

Kim Jones can’t do any wrong. From his bringing together Louis Vuitton and Supreme to Dior and Nike, everything he touched had turned to gold. What’s next, I wonder—Fendi and whoever, whatever? But before there’s that, Mr Jones has put his own name to sit alongside Nike’s in a collaboration that many had thought might be as exciting as the shoe for Dior, probably the most hyped sneaker in the history of luxury-brand collabs. Nike X Kim Jones is the coming together of two big names in an iteration of streetwear that overplays hoopla, not design. If the publicity material and the merchandise are not identified by Mr Jones’s name (or in the case of the logo used on the clothing, the initials KJ), these could be any merchandise in Nike’s regular drops. Or something you might consider at ASOS… when they are offering a store-wide 20% discount.

Perhaps I have overlooked something here. Were these put out for kids who missed out on the Dior collab, or those who could not afford the (from) S$3,100 a pair shoes? And those who are happy to just wear anything as long as they are associated with a trending name? Frankly no one needs to pay S$149 for “classic nylon bottoms”, as Nike describes a pair of very standard-issue track pants. Or, $69 for a “short-sleeve (sic) tee” that is accompanied with a curious description: “Neon hues are combined with a reflective design Nike Air graphic to give this top an essential feel”. Or (I cringe mentioning this), the socks (S$29), with the Nike Air logo on one side and KJ on the other. Seriously? Even the sole shoe, an Air Max 95 (S$299), with orange highlights and, on the upper, “Morse code-like pattern” (I, and so many of us here at SOTD, prefer the sound), is probably one of the most uninspired interpretations ever.

…one is well thought-out and thought-through for both design and performance, while the other is basically commercial fluff

Mr Jones has had quite a track record in making athletic clothes somewhat cool and mind-bogglingly desirable. Since his work for the UK brand Umbro back in 2008, with its references to British football culture, he has been known to have an eye to sift out sportif and cultural reference to bring something to whoever. But they have never been, to me, as crave-arousing as, say, those by A-Cold-Wall*. I won’t even bring up Gyakusou, Nike’s successful, eleven-year-old pairing with Jun Takahashi, for comparison, since one is well thought-out and thought-through for both design and performance, while the other is basically commercial fluff.

In many ways, Mr Jones’s output reminds me of the equally lacklustre Nike collaboration with Riccardo Tisci in 2017, which also featured the initials of the designer. Given that there is increasingly more design-driven pairings between sportswear and designer labels, I would have thought that Mr Jones might have tried a tad harder. Sure, I did not expect him to do a Sacai, but neither did I regard such bland take to happen. Even the placement of the Nike Air logo on the apparel suggests to me a what-the-heck, just-plonk-it-here approach. If Nike’s pairing with Kim Jones can’t yield even a fraction of the design savvy in the former’s own truly appealing and often fascinating Nikelab or the ACG (All Conditions Gear) line, they should really not bother. Nike—and all of us—deserves better.

Photo: Nike

Boring As Real

Kim Jones’s RTW debut for Fendi is all about realness to better capture the mood of the moment. That means abandoning excitement

It is the most anticipated show of the season, but we are not holding our breath. And true enough, nothing to hold for. Kim Jones, the maestro of hype, delivers “real clothes” for his ready-to-wear debut at Fendi, as the media reports. And how he is inspired by the Fendi sisters. Or, how, as he tells WWD, “I want all my friends to go, ‘I want that straight away,’” Real, of course, comes in many realities. What is real for Mr Jones’s friends, such as Kate Moss, or the Fendi sisters, may not be the same real for the rest of us, the non-friends. It seems the Dior Men designer has assembled wardrobe essentials for this very coterie that share an aesthetic with a provenance that can be traced to different points/moments in the ’70s, an era many designers reviving heritage fashion houses tend to revisit. The ’70s was also when Fendi’s women’s RTW began (1977, in fact), and it would seem that back to that decade is a good place to start Fendi anew, even when, to be fair, the looks aren’t immediately obvious. But does the Roman house need this comfortable position or do are they better served if they are moved a little further forward?

This return-to-the-past-to-find-the-present approach tends to yield a certain aegis against the shifting winds of trends or the risk of innovation. You know Mr Jones isn’t going for groundbreaking when the Fendi show opens with the first 12 looks in different shades of camel, a colour that often brings to mind furs of a particular era—and, oddly and possibility problematically, there are quite a lot of furs. This bathing in browns (except a break in off-whites and an occasional pink) seems to directly challenge what merchandisers and buyers have been saying for many years: such colours don’t sell. Not chestnut, mocha, not even chocolate. But, perhaps, Fendi sees colour differently. One tone, head to toe, might just be the chromatic wow that their customers need as shoppers surrender to the practical and Mr Jones succumbs to the pragmatic. Remember real.

Separates are key. Mr Jones’s approach to line development seems akin to what he does for menswear: dispense with the unpredictable, forgo the capricious. There are blazers, trench coats, dusters, pants, pencil skirts, cropped shirt-and-pants combo (a la silk satin pajamas), and even a boiler suit. Is this traipsing into Max Mara territory, even if more luxuriously realised? Many looks will thrill those pining for the return of executive wear, which perhaps go hand in hand with what we see as the golden age of commercial luxury fashion of the past 10 years, beginning with Hedi Slimane at Saint Laurent (second tenure) in 2012. Mr Jones is aware of keeping the books healthy and sales buoyant at Fendi, just as he was just as alert at both Louis Vuitton and Dior Men. His merchandising stunts with Supreme and Air Jordan were masterful money-making strokes. For most of his time at LVMH, his sense of highly approachable fashion was largely supported by his close cadre of chums. The Fendi RTW seems to reflect his friends—maturing—wanting matured looks, but not too. The thing is, his pal Victoria Beckham turns out a more convincing and charming real!

Designing real clothes to spread their reach brings to mind a similar strategy that Riccardo Tischi gave Burberry in 2018. We can’t say with certainty that Burberry is headlining anything now, just coasting. Today, at Fendi it’s similarly a rock-not-the-boat “evolution than revolution”. To be sure, Karl Lagerfeld himself was a designer with sharp commercial instincts, but his output, at least for Fendi, was mostly free of the burdens of the past or house codes. Kim Jones’s designs seems to be on collision course with his predecessor’s near-morbid disdain for reprising the past, so much so that he called his debut RTW a “palette cleanser”. Is that like saying people are jelak (tired) of the old Fendi?

Photos: Fendi

Underwhelming

Perhaps, for once, Kim Jones does not live up to the pre-show hype?

Did we really think Kim Jones was going to astonish us with his debut couture collection for Fendi? Frankly, no. But we were hopeful. People can surprise. Mr Jones, for sure. He is known as a man of immense talent, a voracious reader, with a curious mind, and a deep knowledge of fashion—the craft and the history. It is with this erudition, know-how, and awareness that, we suspect, scored him the enviable position at Fendi. He doesn’t need the job, we feel, but it allowed him one key thing in his career that he never was able to proof: a flair for designing womenswear. Would this be second nature as it has been for him incorporating the sportif at both Louis Vuitton and Dior? No one would have guessed the truth to that when the news broke that he’d be joining Fendi; nor confirm it now. Despite an increasingly large menswear market, it is in the women’s lines that the glamour is found and absorbed, and from which a designer would win acclaim and, in many cases, be remembered. Mr Jones, it appears, need this. As Vanessa Friedman from The New York Times astutely noted, just days before the Fendi couture show, “Kim Jones Wants to Rule the Fashion World.”

Staged in what looks like a co-working-space-turn-fashion-showroom, which also looks like a glass menagerie (actually showcases that, when you look from the top down, are in the shape of Fendi’s interlocking F logo, designed by Mr Jones’s predecessor Karl Lagerfeld), the show featured models unanimously described as “A-listers”. These include (an unrecognisable) Demi Moore, who opens the show, and (an also unrecognisable) Kate Moss and her daughter, as well as Bella Hadid, Cara Delevingne, Adwoa Aboah, Christy Turlington, and, unsurprisingly, Naomi Campbell, who closes the presentation (surprisingly, no Victoria Beckham!). As both Ms Moss and Ms Campbell had walked Mr Jones’s final Louis Vuitton show in 2017, it seems apt that both models would do the same for his first with Fendi. If nothing else, to root for him. It is so thick with congenial friends-for-friends vibe that the media reports that emerge very quickly after the presentation in Paris are headlined with who appeared on the runway, not what.

The what, in fact, is the real point of interest for many who watched the live stream, rather than, say, the strangely unfamiliar eyes of post-Topshop Kate Moss. But Mr Jones’s friends may be the reasons why his debut couture collection looks the way it does: it is conceived for women who lead very specific lives. It almost seems like the clothes are made just for them. All the talk about referencing Virginia Woolf’s Orlando—and the kindred Bloomsbury set, a collective of intellectuals in the early 1900s that included Ms Woolf, and their lives and creative works (that had earlier influenced other designers such as Christopher Bailey and John Galliano)—is just talk to lend cultural heft to the clothes. As the show goes on, it is not certain Mr Jones has an immediately clear aesthetical direction for Fendi couture. Despite the feminine flourishes, sometimes just half of the outfits, it is hard not to say the collection isn’t at least in part informed by his long experience in menswear, and in the last three years, introducing couture elements to Dior for men. The addition of a trio of guys do not convincingly share the thinking of Pierpaolo Piccioli, who also showed men’s recently for Valentino, “couture is for people. I don’t care about gender.”

So what do Mr Jones’s friends need or wish to wear, whether in lockdown or not (many of them are obviously still able to travel)? A sheer cape to blur the lines of a halter-neck gown? A bosom-defining dress with a rosette to punctuate the cleavage? A half-suit-half-dress, with half a fichu? Shoulder-augmenting capes that are more royal than superhero? And, if you’re young enough, panty revealing skirts? In all the polished feminine allure, conscious good taste do not block out boring. Or, have we been let down by expectations not met? Are we simply perceiving Kim Jones’s couture incorrectly? Oh, would we also be wrong if we see, especially in one white gown with encrusted neckline and long fluted sleeves and those bosom-dusting earrings, Andrew Gn?

Screen grab (top) and photos: Fendi

Priming The Pomp

Dior salutes “the masculine extravagance of ceremonial garb”, as the show notes state. Are you ready for band leader schtick?

For the latest Dior collection, Kim Jones collaborates with yet another artist—Scot-in-Trinidad figurative painter Peter Doig, contemporary of the milliner Stephen Jones (they where schoolmates at Central Saint Martins). The Guardian’s art critic Jonathan Jones’s impression of Mr Doig: “Amid all the nonsense, impostors, rhetorical bullshit and sheer trash that pass for art in the 21st century, Doig is a jewel of genuine imagination, sincere work and humble creativity.” In the first part of Mr Jones’s comment, he could have referred to fashion as well, but we are not sure if Kim Jones (no relation to the critic) is offering anything in his work for Dior that can be characterised as “humble creativity”. If anything at all, the Dior designer has infused the brand with considerable measure of grandiloquence, which is really how some luxury brands are moving forwards theses days, as counterpoint to the the mundane and the necessarily practical that have come to dominate the world, much of it in various guises of lockdown and reduced social interaction. Dior projects that this will all be over by Q3, and we’re all ready to rally around the bandstand and watch society and everything around us bounce rhythmically back.

According to Dior, the collection is a nod to “the ceremony of the everyday”. That is, of course, diametrically different to what we’re used to these days since formal activities conducted in public with some measure of solemnity—or importance—are far and between, or even discouraged. Many pieces in the collection allude to uniforms of brigades ready for a parade. Or, intended for evening dress. Mess dress redux? Our NS men would recognise them as No. 1 dress, although the silhouettes are a lot more relaxed, and the details more akin to the less regimental versions of Calvary uniforms, be they reiterations of the shell jacket or the frock coat. The details—without lapels in some instance (stand collar instead), contrast piping, and brass(?) stud buttons—have the air of the ceremonial, but where do they stand if the occasion were to be decidedly less, say, inaugural, to cite one recent event that’s still fresh in our minds?

These are nothing like those military uniforms that rock stars of the past used to wear—clearly ceremonial, such as the red Grenadier drummer’s jacket that Mick Jagger wore in the ’60s or the authentic hussar’s uniform (believed to date back to 1850s) that former soldier Jimi Hendrix wore, or those braids-aplenty sets adopted by the Beatles during the Sgt. Peppers era. These are, of course, more modern, more cool, as Mr Jones designs are usually tagged. And to augment these two crucial elements, he has added extended/exposed pocket bags to the front of the jackets and appliqued ribbons and stars emerging from the yoke, and tweaked the traditional stripes down the outside leg seams of military trousers—also known to the Germans who popularised them as lampasse—by leaving them stitched up to the knee or up to the calf and flapping like the ends of notched or pointed ribbons respectively.

Yet, theses could be the look of teenagers incorporating drum major uniforms into their anti-establishment stance. Or, as we see them, the mimicking a bell hop’s at-work look. Seeing the clothes this way may obliterate their haute couture bearing (Dior’s petit mains are, again, involved in some of the pieces), but it is precisely this perception that, to us, takes the haute out of the equation. To be sure, these Dior ceremonial coats are, according to Mr Jones, inspired by what artists in France wear during the ceremony when they’re inducted into the Academie des Beaux-Arts in Paris. But how many of us enjoy occasions such as those these inductees partake? Or, the chance to just play dressed-up in looks reminiscent of military folk of yore?

And there is the art collaboration; art being the incorporation in luxury ready-to-wear now that attempts to elevate the ho-hum to high art. Mere graphic design isn’t enough (although Issey Miyake Studio has done wondrous work with the estate of Ikko Tanaka, with such well-received output that there’s an Ikko Tanaka Issey Miyake sub-brand). Art has a long history with haute couture (at present, we’re thinking of Yves Saint Laurent and George Braque). Mr Jones’s previous pairing with Ghanaian artist Amoako Boafo, Portrait of an Artist, yielded a “celebration of identity, of power of creativity”, visibly, not necessarily or convincingly, so. This time, with Peter Doig, the application of the artist’s distinctive brush strokes is more subtle, less plonked-on, less museum shop, and, in some outerwear, the monochrome washes, more textile than canvas, distinguishing themselves as wearable rather than exhibitable. It is not yet clear how successful such collaborations are. Artists, for most, do not paint with the aim of being assimilated into fashion design, which, in the end, is destined for the body, not the easel.

Photos: Dior

The Tassel’s Moment

One 2021 trend for guys is the use of tassels. Yes, the pendant ornaments. You ready to dangle one?

One of the danglies shown at the recent pre-fall 2021 Dior show is not some Kid Cudi-esque necklace or chain. Rather, it is a tassel—the pendant ornament (we’ve never heard it referred to as accessory or jewellery) that is essentially a column of quite tightly packed strings (referred to as a ‘skirt’) topped with a fancy knot or cap. Dior’s (left), fastened to what could be a belt (or waist bag?), has the girth of Chinese ink brush and the length of a man’s forearm. This particularly thick one is gradated, as if the yellow of monks robes is dipped into a vat of purple cabbage. It is fancy, for sure, and, an IG-worthy exaggeration. They are nothing like those leather tassels sometimes affixed to the vamp of loafers. From our perspective, Dior’s seems to glean from the world of Chinese wuxia, or perhaps scholars.

For those with less progressive leaning, we are, admittedly, putting a more masculine spin here. Since the Dior tassels look Chinese (or Oriental, definitely not those on English academic caps—Oxford or Cambridge, take your pick), we’ll look at China, where Kim Jones engaged local embroiderers to create the two-thousand-year-old seed embroidery (繨子绣 or dazixiu) for the Dior collection. Whether this was to expressly cater to a Chinese market or Mr Jones expressing his love for Eastern craft and exotica, it is hard to say.

Anyway, tassels were once used ornamentally on swords (剑 or jian). Broadly speaking, the sword tassel (剑繐 or jian sui) appeared at the end of the hilt of what was known as the scholar’s sword (文剑 or wen jian), used mainly for self defence and dancing, rather than at war, or to project an elegant image—possibly the same motivation as Pharrell Williams in pearls. The tassel was less evident on the martial sword (武剑 or wu jian), which was used on the battlefield. Historically, the tassel mostly hung from the scholar’s sword. If a sword was designated for offensive use, it unlikely came with a tassel, since it would get in the way of a duel. However, the swordsman blessed with cunning might use a long, deceptively limp tassel to target his opponent’s eyes!

But the Chinese tassel did not only hang on the hilt of the sword, it dangled from the waists of men too. These were known as waist accessories (腰佩 or yaopei)—the Dior belt above certainly qualifies as one. In ancient times, both men and women wore carved jade pieces from which hung a tassel (but never as thick as the Dior version). These were known as jinbu (禁步) or ‘forbidden steps’, which, in the case of women, may make sense, since the jinbu was used to hold down the skirt (including the men’s) and possibly preventing the wearer from striding. How this eventually became a check on female deportment isn’t clear. The men did not, however, appear to need to be held back (guys today who wear extra-long canvas belts left dangling from the box buckle could be mimicking the wearing of a jinbu). Apart from the jinbu, both men and women also wore the xiangnang (香囊) or a fragrance pouch. Made of silk and embroidered, they were often attached to a tassel. The xiangnang was usually stuffed with cotton and aromatics, and were used as personal perfume, air-freshener, and even to ward off evil spirits.

A few days after the Dior show, Nike announced the release of the Air Jordan 1 for Chinese New Year 2021 (no drop date was revealed). This basketball shoe—that Dior (again?!) made massive in June—sports one of the style’s most popular colour combo: ‘university red’ (and just as hongbao bright) and black. That the upper would partly come with a brocade fabric sporting oxen is hardly surprising, but that the shoe comes with a tassel is quite unexpected. The cord, red, is fasten along the collar of the sneaker, like a choker, and the tassel, gold, hangs to the side, near the eyestay, like an earring. This tassel, unlike Dior’s is really quite small. Its short fringe body is topped with what looks like a Chinese button knot. Pendant to a necklace. A neat way of wearing an anklet without actually wearing one?

Photos: Dior and Nike respectively. Collage: Just So

“How Do You Say Dior?”

Kim Jones’s masterstrokes at heightening the allure of Deee-or

Kim Jones is undoubtedly a master at name building. Or, strengthening brand equity. He has continually and successfully used the Dior monogram as a visual affirmation of the label’s desirability. And now, he has also done it in song. For his pre-fall 2021 presentation, he has commissioned a soundtrack that leaves you in no doubt as to who has the money to pay for the equivalent of a commercial jingle. The show opened to a campy feline growl of “Diorrr” (and, later, a kittenish “How do you say Diorrr?”) and a familiar electro-riff and driving base: Deee-Lite’s 1990 club hit What is Love, from the New York group’s debut album World Clique, which spawned the massive dance hit Groove is in the Heart. Thirty years later, What is Love returns to the Dior sound stage, through the auspices of serial collaborator of LVMH brands, DJ Honey Dijon (2017’s The Best of Both Worlds). He was able to get Deee-Lite’s lead singer Lady Miss Kier to re-record the vocals for the remixed What is Love, with parts of the single Pussycat Meow thrown in for good measure. It’s all, as Lady Miss Kier would say, “deee-groovy”.

To make it more far-out, the show, originally planned to be shown in Beijing, is set in what appears to be deep space. The space theme happens twice in a row this week. Two days earlier, Balenciaga’s autumn/winter 2021 fashion video game, Afterworld: The Age of Tomorrow, too, alluded to outer space. The Dior models, although less avatar-like, similarly appears to be walking in front of a green screen. Much of the show, then, is a result of some really neat post-production. It delightfully (pardon the pun) contrasts with Deee-Lite’s old-school soundtrack that celebrates good old-fashioned Chicago house with New York pertness. Opposite nature too was seen in the hair of the models. Many wore small plaited buns on each side of the top of their heads. They’re neither especially masculine nor cosmic. Was it because the show was originally destined for Beijing, they were paying tribute to the Chinese protection deity Nezha (哪吒)? Or, if outer space is in mind, maybe a remade and re-scaled Princess Leia coil?

The clothes themselves are not as galactic too. Mr Jones, the prolific collaborator, has chosen the American artist Kenny Scharf this time. Mr Scharf is a giant in the New York art scene of the ’80s and the friend of the now-gone celebrity-artists Keith Harring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. His paintings, generally categorised as ‘street’ or ‘graffiti’, capture a naive kind of joy, especially in his alien-like characters, such as the one depicted in the 1983 portraiture The Fun Inside. In this respect, perhaps Dior this season pays tribute to the cosmos. Mr Jones has incorporated the artist’s globular and jaunty patterns into his clothes, with results that vary on the scale of loud. Mr Scharf’s cartoonish depictions of whatever creatures they are even appear (unsurprisingly) on the Saddle bag and even as a fancy belt (or is that a waist pack?), shaped in part like the characters it depicts. To make the collection couture worthy, some of the art are created using Chinese seed embroidery (繨子绣 or dazi xiu), confirming again, its intended audience.

If you take away the art-as-fashion-print/needlework, the clothes are Mr Jones’s usual straight-on men’s wear, the kind worn in another era, by older urban tribes. These separates (there are 45 looks) do not sport youthful shapes, but since they are targetted at the young, the mature vibe does not matter. Take the balmacaan outerwear, for example; they smack of avuncular pride, even (or especially?) when made in a patterned fabric. Or, the shirts: they’d be just any regular ones if not for the Kenny Scharf print. For details to differentiate, Mr Jones expectedly applies feminine touches: butterfly wings on collars of coats, fringing on shirt tails, massive tassels that hang like pendants on lanterns, or sash-belts tied to the rear as pussy bows. We sometimes sense that Kim Jones designs with K-pop stars in mind. Don’t be surprised that BTS will be outfitted in Dior at the Grammy’s next month.

Photos: Dior

Does Kim Jones Need A Second Job?

Fendi’s Karl Lagerfeld replacement is, like the late designer, already gainfully employed at the point of hire

The breaking news earlier today was the appointment of Kim Jones at Fendi. Mr Jones will not be leaving his post at Dior Men. He will be holding two positions: his current duties at Dior and as Fendi’s “artistic director of haute couture, ready-to-wear, and fur collections for women”, as described in a media release. This arrangement is not unlike that of his predecessor Karl Lagerfeld, who, among many other projects, including his own line, designed for Chanel and Fendi. Mr Jones’s dual role won’t be a professional challenge for him since back in his early years at Louis Vuitton, he was also designing for Dunhill and, if we remember correctly, his eponymous line.

But, does Kim Jones need two jobs at present? This was the first thing that struck us. Or, is LVMH—in wealth-protection mode—not hiring from outside of the company? Many good designers—both from the old guard and new breed—are unemployed. With the pandemic not satisfactorily mitigated, unemployment among fashion designers would likely remain significant. Could Mr Jones and LVMH not have given others a chance when design positions are dwindling? Could Mr Jones not have recommended someone to Fendi as he did to LV, resulting in the appointment of Virgil Abloh? Or, is Fendi a real catch?

As posted on Mr Jones’s Instagram eight hours ago, “working across two such prestigious house is a true honour as a designer and to be able to join the house of Fendi as well as continuing my work at Dior Men’s is a huge privilege.”

The privilege is, of course, easy. Fendi, founded in 1925, was partially acquired by LVMH in 1999, with Prada being the other partner. After Prada sold their shares to LVMH in 2002, the latter is now the majority owner of Fendi. It’s not surprising that Fendi would look to other LVMH subsidiaries (Tiffany’s now unlikely to join the stable) to find the brand’s next artistic director. And if so, the target is obvious.

Hedi Slimane at Celine has the carte blanch to do as he pleases. It is unlikely he’d want to take on another brand, one that is still watched by a matriarch. Kris Van Assche at Berluti isn’t a commercial wunderkind that Mr Jones is to be able to keep Fendi’s sale performance glowing. Matthew Williams at Givenchy was just appointed and has not proved his mettle. Felipe Oliveira Baptista at Kenzo is too new to test, so is Guillaume Henry at Patou. Maria Grazia Chiuri? Nah. Rihanna? Nah. Marc Jacobs? He’s across the pond. Or, Nicholas Ghesquiere at LV Women? He’s not a right fit. As for Jonathan Anderson at Loewe, he is too right for the Spanish house for Fendi to touch.

For too long Fendi has been steered by Mr Lagerfeld. Now, they clearly want what Mr Jones is able to give to Dior Men. As Fendi CEO Serge Brunschwig, shared on IG, “Kim will bring his contemporary one of a kind point of view into the world of Fendi”. Hyped sneakers, to start with?

Illustration: Just So

The (Humbler?) Beginning Of Air Jordan

 At the start, Air Jordan 1 was not the light-coloured shoe that the Air Dior is, nor as madly hyped

 

Air Jordan 1 MidNike’s most popular shoe right now: Air Jordan 1 Mid

By Ray Zhang 

Trending last week was the reveal that Virgil Abloh had gifted Kim Jung Un’s friend Dennis Rodman with a pair of customised Off-White X Air Jordan 1 sneakers. This generous act could be the result of the current obsession with the shoe named after another basketball star that was co-created by Mr Abloh’s colleague Kim Jones. I do not know what was the occasion that required a gift—and a customised one—to be offered to Mr Rodman, thought to be an “informal basketball diplomat of sorts”, but it sure did direct another spotlight on a shoe already enjoying dazzling exposure. Hot cakes really can’t get hotter than this. And more so, after the broadcast of the Michael Jordan documentary, The Last Dance, in April.

No matter the iteration, Air Jordan 1 attracts many who feel deeply connected to the OG. Despite the designer name now associated with it, the AJ1 did not boast a bombastic design (not, at least, by today’s standard) at launch. I can’t say later versions of the shoe kept to the simple lines and graphic composition of the very first. Collaborative ______________(choose your favorite name) X Air Jordan 1s tend to up the game by adding superfluous elements to an already handsome shoe, such as Virgil Abloh’s take (including a Swoosh cut-out, bar-tacked to the upper, as well as some charm-like danglies), which Mr Rodman now has and, probably, will wear.

Air Jordan 1 lowThe Air Jordan 1 Low, although more comfortable for our weather, is not considered less OG than the mid

The early history of the AJ1 is rather shrouded in mystery. There were no 5 million desperate people showing their covetous interest online, mostly just the followers of NBA games, in particular those that Michael Jordan had played. They did, of course, eventually buy a lot of AJ1s. But the unanswered question till today is, did he or didn’t he or, perhaps, did they or didn’t they? I am no basketball player and I do not follow the NBA, so what I know is what have been said. And a lot have been uttered, and they depend on who did the uttering. Even staunch basketball watchers can’t entirely agree on what actually happened. And Nike was happy to not stop the myth-making in its track.

The AJ1s were apparently banned at its debut. Nothing works better for a marketing department than a ban. As the story goes, Michael Jordan wore the shoes and was immediately told not to as the colours—red and black—went against the league’s uniform rules. But he endured, and every time he wore them, a reported USD5,000 fine was imposed on him. Nike, it was said, happily paid for those fines. The league apparently even wrote to Nike in 1985 to explain that those colours were prohibited. “Banned” was good for the AJ1, and in particular the offensive red, which led to the nick name “Bred” Jordan 1, a moniker that added to the forbidden-fruit allure of the shoe.

Farfetch ad

Farfetch ads that disrupt social media news feed showing the ridiculous prices (in USD) of Air Jordan 1 Low in various colours

What made everything more confusing is that there have not been any photo posted showing Mr Jordan in the said colourway during an NBA game of those early years. Some speculated that he was wearing the similar-looking, little-known, hence grailed, Air Ship. To add fuel to that speculation, veteran sports agent Aaron Goodwin posted his pair of the black and red Air Ship from 1984 on Twitter in April, after the broadcast of The Last Dance, encouraging the believe that the sneaker that kicked off the red/black colour craze was possibly another shoe altogether. That’s hard to follow, I know.

Whatever the truth, including the alternative, Air Jordan 1 in the “banned” colours started what we today surrender to and know as hype. No to be outdone—although in less striking colours—was the recent launch of Dior’s take on it, conceived by Kim Jones. I suspect that the drastically toned-down colour story of the latest, luxury version is deliberate, so as to create the kind of madness the brash OG did back then. It is doubtful that anyone who bought the Dior version of the kicks care about the backstory of the original AJ1, but with the hype machine cranked up, hypebeasts would lust after them. To me, the Air Dior, to call it by its official name, built on the solid design of the first version and did little else. Even if money was no issue, I’d stick to the OGs. Better value, too.

Air Jordan 1 Mid P2The Air Jordan 1 Mid is now the sneaker to be seen in

I have never been big on basketball kicks. In fact, the only ones I own have been the older Air Force 1. But I am now looking at the Air Jordan 1 with renewed interests. This could be due to a desire to return to more streamlined footwear after the ridiculous dad shoe craze of the past seasons. In fact, when Nike re-issued the Daybreak a year or more ago, and with this season’s Killshot, I sensed that sneakers closer to the shape of our feet will be making a huge comeback. Back in the early ’80s, the AJ1s were probably Nike’s first colour-blocked sneakers, therein lies their appeal to me. Sure, colour-blocking is no longer special now, but back then, when sneakers were either white or black, or grey, the AJ1 colours were a symbol of defiance, or as they like to say now, attitude.

If you look at the later Air Jordans of the last ten or so years (34 versions and counting!), attitude meant bigger form factors and bolder colours. In fact, admiring the AJ1s now, it is hard to believe that they had, in fact, a far less bombastic design language than today’s wearers are used to. The ‘1’ was a rather simple, sneaker-looking shoe, not the ship-load that it became in later iterations, which may explain their appeal today. People could simply be sick of wearing sneakers that scream for attention for the sake of screaming for attention. The irony is that the AJ1, with its past-era simplicity and innocence, now garners attention for its clean-cut looks. In the present, I am not shouting, and certainly, not my kicks.

Air Jordan 1 Mid, from SGD179, and Air Jordan 1 Low, from SGD159, are available at select Nike retailers. Photos: Zhao Xiangji

Guys Get Theirs Too

The Dior ‘Saddle’ bag was John Galliano’s contribution to the era of ‘It’ bags. ‘It’, 20 years later, it still is, but now, conversely, among men

 

Dior Saddle Bag

By Ray Zhang

It was during the Lunar New Year holiday season that the Dior Saddle bag for men was brought into sharp focus for me. I was at a dinner party whose host had just moved into a smallish Geylang apartment, designed to be achingly modern, with a massive marble dinner table that was the talking point, until someone spotted a Saddle, lying lifeless like dismounted saddlery, on an ottoman. One uninitiated guest asked, no one in particular, what it was. The owner of the bag, a middle-aged guy with a serious weakness for luxury bags, lifted the subject like a trophy and said, “it’s a Saddle”.

“What’s a Saddle?”

“It’s a Dior bag”.

“Oh. For guys?”

Never mind the last redundant question. A bag once the domain of women is now arousing curiosity and adoption, among—not a few—men. The It bag has crossed into men’s wear, and by most accounts and observation on the street, acquisition rate is high (unfortunately, figures are not available, but one ION Orchard store clerk told me emphatically that the Saddle is their “best seller”). I’d like to see what it’s like strapped on the body, but the owner of the said bag held on to it as a clutch.

Dior Saddle Bag 2

The Saddle bag made its runway appearance in the third year of John Galliano’s media-dominating stewardship of Dior, during the spring/summer 2000 presentation of punk cowgirls leaving some bordello for a purposeful stride into the sunset. The bags, when they were launched was an instant hit and enjoyed a second wave of popularity after Carrie Bradshaw carried it in Sex and the City. When the trendiness of the Saddle eventually left the Dior stable, its production run ended too. But as with many ‘iconic’ fashion accessories, they were eagerly rediscovered by generation influencer. Not surprising, as many Saddles were ready to be picked up in vintage shops around the globe and on-line at collectible stores such as The Real Real. Then in 2018, Dior did the unforeseeable: it permitted Maria Grazia Chiuri to bring the Saddle back for a ride. Aided by freebies to KOLs who, naturally, IG-ed it, the Saddle was extolled as “an instant hit”.

A year later, Kim Jones re-imagined the Saddle for men. What was once a bag secured under the armpit, with thumb hooked unto the D-shaped charm that was fastened to a front-facing strap—like a stirrup, the guy’s butched-up version is a bum bag wannabe with a broad, single strap that sports a chunky Matthew Williams-design clasp. Like the original, the men’s Saddle is not a terribly capacious bag. Bulky items such as battery charger or even a fat wallet stored within may cause bumps to appear on what should be a flat case. Think not gym gear. When I did eventually strap the Saddle on in a Dior store, I was tempted to re-christen it Holster. In the end, its victim-encouraging trendiness immediately— and totally—discouraged adoption.

Photos: Zhao Xiangji

Really, Why Bother?

Some collaborations simply don’t stir, but they can get away with it 

 

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By Ray Zhang

My friends know I am a Nike fan. And they were quick to ask me what I thought of Nike’s recent collaboration with Dior (or is that the other way round? Or, Kim Jones’s pairing with the Swoosh). Frankly, think I did not. Why mull over something this bland, even when it’s been trending as madly as the Saddle bag’s pointless return that was bolstered by the fervent posts of taste-lite influencers gifted with one?

Sure, I understand that after a period of ‘dad’ shoes that stretched a little too long (and with more late adopters than for any other trends of recent memory, and with adoption still unabated), designers are keen to return to shoes that are less OTT and closer to the OG. But what does Dior’s take on the Air Jordan 1 High, featured at the Miami show early this month, really say about sneaker trends? Or the direction designers are taking for the new decade?

I had a clue when images of the Adidas X Prada Superstar first appeared. It bothered me that ‘normcore’ might return even when many members of the media, impressed by the collab, tried to convince us that the design distills what is “ultimate luxury”: best material and craftsmanship. Now, plain is plain, no matter how luxurious. What does it all say to me? Why try so hard when it’ll all be landfill feed in no time?

To be honest, I am not expecting a Nike X Undercover’s Daybreak moment. Even Jun Takahashi may not top that again. But did Dior’s reiteration of the Air Jordan 1 High enjoy the briefest or skimpiest moment of re-imagining? Frankly, I do not know since picking Dior grey for the upper and filling the Swoosh with vintage, repeated-monogram print hardly require the frontal cortex to go into overdrive. Or is that just Kim Jones doing an Hedi Slimane?

So if you ask me, can we not encourage brands to be this lazy by succumbing to the hype and opening up our wallets?

Product photo: Nike

Two Of A Kind: Strap Something Onto The Left Torso

It’s no longer enough to carry a messenger bag across the body. You’d also want a “harness bag” or what could be half a garment

 

Yuki Hashimoto vs Dior.jpgLeft: Yuki Hashimoto’s biker jacket half added to a trench coat. Photo: Yuki Hashimoto. Right: A Dior “harness bag” worn over a suit jacket. Photo: Isidore Montag/gorunway.com

Fashion brands are constantly finding something other than what they already make to sell to you. Extra revenue streams do not only come from tempting you with useful wares such as a satchel, but also from creating newness with either former successes or, sometimes, with, frankly, use-limited items to seduce you.

Some bags, of late, fall in the latter category, such as this one-sided front-pack from Dior (right), featured in its recent, still talked-about presentation in Miami. It looks like a Japanese one-shoulder bag, popular with the less fashion-oriented: a flat,single strap (in the case of Dior, and extra one to wear around the waist) case usually worn across the bag until recently, in front. Dior calls its version a “harness bag”, and it’s co-designed with Matthew Williams, the guy behind Alyx and the chest rig craze.

The bag nearly obscures the house’s new-classic “oblique jacket” and is worn almost like half-a-vest. It is hard to imagine how much one can store in it or how much weight one might wish to carry on one side of the torso. Surely, no that much can be carried even by the looks of it, a notebook can sit comfortably in it.

Designers, it seems, are constantly finding newer ways to wear or carry a bag. The bum-bag has its place across the chest and under the belly button. The supermarket bag, now used as a tote, is carried under the arm. The sacoche, inspired by the chest rig, is hung from the neck to rest right on the solar plexus.

Unconventional bag placement on the body could have started—on a smaller scale—with the holster bag that appeared in the first Virgil Abloh men’s collection for Louis Vuitton, designed for Insta-likes than utilitarian value. After all, why does anyone want to wear something that feels like a pistol is within reach?

Perhaps, more compelling is Yuki Hashimoto’s one side of a bike jacket (left) from the autumn/winter 2019 season. It caught our attention because the garment feels more authentic and less a bag trying to be something else. We also like the pairing of what’s essentially an item of rebellion with an article of elegance, even when the trench has roots in the military—a sum which captures Japanese fashion’s predilection for the unexpected, not just the new.

Mr Hashimoto, although a fresh name in the Japanese design scene (the eponymous brand debuted with the spring/summer 2019 collection) has an impressive résumé. He did his overseas studies at the Antwerp Royal Academy of Fine Art after graduating from Kyoto University of Fine Art and Design, and served as design assistant to Raf Simons, Kris Van Ascche, and at Maison Margiela before striking out on his own. His label seems poised to follow compatriots such as Junya Watanabe and Jun Takahashi in leading men’s wear innovation further into the new decade.

For that, we’re looking for creativity beyond carrying bags across every part of the body until there’s none left to explore. Our body deserves better.

Dior’s Floridian Escapade

It’s Miami for Dior menwear’s super early autumn/winter 2020 show, and it is neither spice nor vice

 

Dior AW 2020 P1.jpg

It must be a thing with LVMH: associating themselves with USA. They’ve just acquired Tiffany and, last month, Louis Vuitton made a showy appearance to open their state-side factory in Alvarado, Texas. Now, fashion’s favourite son Kim Jones is staging his Dior men’s wear collection for autumn/winter in the unlikely, sun-drenched city of Miami. That does not include other associations with America, such as the appointment of Virgil Abloh as creative director of Louis Vuitton’s men’s wear and the backing of Rihanna (sure, she’s Barbadian, but also an American citizen) to launch her own RTW, Fenty. It’s uncertain what all this means, or if anything at all.

As noteable: the timing of the Dior show is not only outside of the Paris men’s fashion week calendar, it is also unusually early. On that point, we’re a little confused. Dior’s website dates the show as “Fall 2020”, and Kim Jones himself posted on IG visuals that showed what is possibly invitations that said “Fall 2020”, but some media reports tagged it as “Pre-Fall 2020”. Come January, perhaps we’ll know for sure. In any case, fashion seasons are, of course, getting more confusing, possibly inconsequential: couture in November (Valentino, Beijing), fall drops in June, end-of-season sales in October. But who’s tracking? If fashion is increasingly trans-border, it too can be trans-season.

Dior AW 2020 G1.jpg

Dior AW 2020 G2.jpg

Kim Jones’s interpretation of fall is specious as well. Nary a thick coat (sure, they’re mostly cashmere) and plenty of shorts, it isn’t surprising that some thought it to be a pre-season collection, sometimes also known as ‘cruise’, but usually nothing to do with what you might pack for one. Could it be because of its Miami location that Mr Jones conceived a collection that seems to be a nod to the eroding shores of the city, it’s laid-back vibe of the day and hedonistic excess of night? Those running shorts (already explored by Nicholas Ghesquière in the Louis Vuitton spring/summer 2018 collection) and printed tops could certainly be worn to any of Miami’s swinging bar and club.

Towards the last part of the show, a model emerges in a T-shirt emblazoned with a thought bubble that says “I want to shock the world with Dior”. Can fashion still shock? Kim Jones is not a known shocker. Among the British designers, he does not have the quirkiness of JW Anderson, not the edge of Craig Green, nor the disquiet of Gareth Pugh. Mr Jones is a commercial designer, who uses hype with the same flair as others using off-placed seams. Often times, his clothes are rather basic, repetitive too, but on the runway, they enjoy the sly advantage of enthusiastic styling.

This season, the models are well kitted out and accessorised. There is a bag on almost every arm (or chest, in the manner of the chest rig)—the Saddle Bag again prominent. Not missing, too, are neck wear, head wear, and even drop earring of cowrie on each left lobe (not right—they’d be too gay, we were told). While this is not a showy collection, there are prints that can be considered fancy to keep things interesting: African-ish patterns of psychedelic fervour matched with animal prints, the usual repeated logos (also scribbles), and florals and checks. And beaded camp shirts (and, yes, camp)! There is nothing stern in the looks, and therein, perhaps, lies the appeal to those who are partial to such affected cheeriness.

Dior AW 2020 G3

True to form, Mr Jones is playing up the King of Collaboration accolade to the hilt (for Dior, there has already been KAWS and Raymond Pettibone, just to name two). This time, it’s with Shawn Stussy of the surf-wear-turn-streatwear brand Stüssy, which the founder has not been involved with since 1996. It isn’t clear what part he plays in the collaboration, and it requires tremendous scrutiny to discern his touch—reimagining the Dior font and bee. Stüssy’s early offerings were dubbed “Californian lifestyle” clothing, which may have had the same ring as “Calabasas style”, but how does the deeply casual augment Dior’s couture sportswear (or should that be streetwear)?

Apart from a certain feeling that has less to do with a historic city such as Paris than the pleasure-seeking rush of Miami, there is nothing obvious about the duo’s ho-hum output. Point is, the streetwear bubble isn’t going to burst any time soon and the bubble-up effect is still, well, bubbling. The fashion pack is too into it. Dressed-up have found a chum in the casual. About his brand, Mr Stussy said, in 1992, that “everybody calls it surf wear, or urban streetwear, or surf street… I don’t name it, and I don’t name it on purpose.” That must be strategic. Or he wouldn’t end up pairing with Dior.

Photos: (top/screen grab) Dior/(runway) Isidore Montag/gorunway.com