Two Of A Kind: Cloud Over The Head

The recent Oscars presentation showed that there is a market for head covering that’s not a tudung

Left: Gaurav Gupta dress shown at Paris Couture Spring/Summer 2023. Photo: Gaurav Gupta. Right: Tems in Lever Couture. Photo: Getty Images

The red carpet, must trod-on walkway of award shows, has always been a fashion trap. The colour may make those standing on it appear important, but it is, in fact, insidious by nature, ready to ensnare the fashion-clueless star and underscore how foolish they look. In the past, screen idols—and they were—needn’t depend on fashion to the point that their popularity at the award ceremony depended on what they wore. These days, things are, of course, vastly different. So many individuals in the fashion ecosystem are involved. A star cannot simply go to their favourite store and pick what they like. They are expected to make this the opportunity to keep otherwise unoccupied couturiers busy. Or avail themselves as a walking billboard. An what is worn now must shout F.A.S.H.I.O.N. As much is at stake, red carpet newbies try harder, often unaware of what they are really wearing because powerful stylists have more say. As long as you stand out, even if to the detriment of others around you, you have made it. One of them who had us thinking (yes, still) is the singer-songwriter Tems.

Yes, we’re revisiting that dress. Tems, aka Temilade Openiyi, wore a white gown that provided shelter for her head. The partly ruched dress with a thigh-high slit was by the just-over-a-decade-old label, Lever Couture, whose designer is Ukrainian-German, Lessja Verlingieri, known for her over-the-top “hand-sculpted” gowns. What Ms Openiyi wore was part of the label’s spring/summer 2023, revealed last September at the Rakuten Fashion Week in Tokyo. It is similar to the dress—also by Lever Couture—that Cardi B wore on the cover of Essence’s May/June 2022 issue. Ms Verlingieri’s style is hard to define, but she seems to like to manipulate her fabrics by fashioning them directly onto the body’s form. She is partial to extravagant over-the-head extensions, such as the cumulous canopy seen on Tems. Extraneous and distended parts are very much a part of the couture language. But what framed Tems’s head was already seen elsewhere—a continent apart.

In India. But that’s not quite exact enough. To be more precise, Paris, during the couture spring/summer 2023 season. Designer Gaurav Gupta showed for the first time—as a guest member—during the official Haute Couture Week. The collection comprised his signature curvilinear swathes in Indian handloom tissue that swirled around the body and over the head. He, too, called his way with fabric “sculpting”. This dramatic aesthetic was best worn on Aishwarya Rai Bachchan at last year’s Cannes Film Festival in May. The back of that dress that soared skywards was taller than Tems’s head cover. It is not known if the former beauty queen wore the dress at any of the festival’s screening and if she did, if anyone’s view was blocked. Times of India described the Indian actress in the Gaurav Gupta dress as “a phenomenon” while the Delhi-based designer portrayed her as “new-concept Venus” after Botticelli’s famed mid-1480 painting, minus the shell. Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s gown was mostly covered by the Indian media. Conversely, Tems’s look went viral. In the end, that’s all that matters.

Oscars 2023: Dress To Obstruct

It was not a night of many outstanding dresses, but in the audience one did stick out, literally

The single most obvious dress. Photo: ABC

Like some of you, we watched the Oscars telecast on television, a set that has not replaced our smartphone. We woke up early to catch the red carpet segment (this year it was changed to champagne after more than six decades of the colour of chilli). There was, unfortunately, little that could keep us from going back to snoozing. The sight of Michelle Yeoh looking like a bride at Ipoh’s Pusing Public Restaurant (布先民众海鲜酒家) did not. Someone did catch our eye even when she wasn’t interviewed on the pale carpet. We snagged mere snatches of a black woman in a white gown. Later, reading reports on the arrival of the A-listers and the Bs and Cs, we learned that it was Nigerian singer-songwriter Tems (name on passport: Temilade Openiyi). Many had thought she looked good as she posed for the cameras. No one foresaw the problem her dress—with the hood (the other hooded attendee was Malala Yousafzai), directed upwards and surrounding her head like the naga Mucalinda—would create when she was seated in the Dolby Theatre.

As the award ceremony proceeded and when the camera panned across the audience, Tems and her clouded head could not escape notice. In her seat, she looked like she had a roof of a heavenly carriage over her head (or was it an incomplete transformation of a pumpkin?). The dress, reportedly by Lever Couture, a German label by Ukraine-born designer Lessja Verlingieri—with a whiff of Gaurav Gupta?—could easily be seen to obstruct those seated behind her. The 27-year-old seemed unfazed by the inconvenience she caused (inflicted was more like it) to those around her. Her defenders were impressed by how “ethereal” she looked. Question is, at whose expense? Tems’s seeming indifference is, perhaps, consistent with the behaviour of those of her generation—there is no need to be aware of your immediate surroundings and to take note of how your behaviour may affect/annoy others. And when fashion is in the equation, that comes first. Tems, a nominee (who co-wrote the best song contender Lift Me Up with Rihanna for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever), not only wanted to be noticed, she desired that her presence felt, too.

Unmissable Fan Bing Bing on the champagne carpet. Photo: AP

Fan Bing Bing, recently out of hiding as a result of a tax scandal in China and ready to make an entrance, had extended parts to her dress as well. Although her massive, distended, barrel-like sleeves might not have blocked anyone’s view, it could have irritated the two people seated beside her. The dress by Lebanese-Italian Tony Ward comprised of a slim, beaded, halterneck gown with an ‘outer’ attached to the main dress. It is not known if the much larger green part is removable, but if it isn’t, we do not envy the seated individuals flanking her. If they weren’t able to sit higher than the 1.68m tall actress, might their view of the stage be obscured too? Would they remain quietly and patiently throughout the evening’s proceedings, just as the guy to Tems’s left did? Is it ever right to tell a woman that her mighty gown is obtrusive?

Netizens have called Tems out for being “rude”. But impertinence that is the result of preference of dress is no longer so. Stars have long thrust their fashion choices into our field of vision whether what is before us is acceptable or not, without considering if they might come across as insolent. Visually intrusive looks have dominated not just the red carpet or the audience, but the stage too. And it has trickled down to everyday life, when, for example, commuters in public transport, too, pay no heed to the encroachment of extraneous parts of clothes upon other commuters. Tems, in her frothy sumptuousness, validated the disregard of being mindful of public spaces. Obtrusive dressing, like loud conversations or profanities, must, therefore, be tolerated. Compared to The Slap, perhaps this fashion inconvenience, while also unmannerly, was nothing?