Post-BLM Fashion?

When black style dominates, are we talking about a fashion moment or a cultural shift?

No matter how delicately we put this, we will be misconstrued. This is not the Louis Vuitton we know or remember. There is no good or bad, no better or worse. It is different and we have to acknowledge it. Under the stewardship of Virgil Abloh, LV is increasingly reflecting what he told British Vogue last year, “My power is to show Black talent, Black people, and Black people inside of my output.” And that power is expressed in full force this season: blackness has not been so obvious in an LV collection, so mightily expressed, so explicitly articulated, so evocatively styled, leaving no doubt that a black American creative director now helms the 167-year-old label. This is, perhaps, response to a burgeoning black clientele, or the ever-more surefooted stride of black creatives. Is LV, however, ready for such a massive aesthetical shift?

It is really hard to say. When Mr Abloh was handed the creative reigns of the house, surely it was foreseeable that he would create a strong identity that deviates not from his own. Mr Abloh has shown talent in deeply referencing from a whole lot of sources, but the exercises always come through from a very specific lens: black experience. This is most evident in the current show or, more specifically, film, shot by the transgender, half-Chinese-half-Swedish, American artist-and-indie-filmmaker Wu Tsang (such as the 2012 documentary Wilderness or 2019’s One Emerging from a Point of View, shown at the Singapore Biennale 2019). At 13 minutes long, this livestream event is an opus, given the general brevity of most phygital presentations now. From its opening snow-covered mountain wilderness to the interior of what looks like a subterranean space that’s evocative of a posh subway station (actually Tennis Club de Paris), with commuters, wanderers, voyeurs, and sleepers—all men—sharing the interior, the film seems to be conceived to appeal to those with a fondness for the pretentious or to video-savvy TikTok stars, such as Noah Beck with a bankable legion of 24 million followers, and now an LV-aligned KOL.

Titled Ebonics (the English spoken by black Americans, and considered to be a language in its own right), the collection is probably Mr Abloh’s most ambitious, covering men in suits, men in skirts, men in bulky sweaters, men in (fake?) fur, men in padded-shouldered shirts, men in hoodies, men in motocross gear, men in Calvary officer uniform, men in work wear, men in gym wear, men strapped with architectural models, men with Carrie-Bradshaw-worthy rosettes, men with Gaddafi drapes. In all, a relatively large collection of 70 looks (Prada showed only 42, and they have two designers working on the collection), which in sum, is a bit (Berry Gordy’s) Motown, a bit off-the-courts NBA, a bit Kanye West and co, a bit RuPaul when not in drag, a bit Laurie Cunningham, a bit Iceberg Slim, a bit Harlem-flashy, a bit Congo dandies, a bit Wakanda royalty; really a whole lot to unpack, and you may not want to.

As with most of Mr Abloh’s designs (or the lack of it, some might say), styling is key to setting the looks. A regular suit jacket, for example, is mis-buttoned to yield an asymmetric effect. Or, topcoats given extra-long tails so that they drag on the floor, like the trains of gowns (to excite Billy Porter?). Aplenty are knife-pleated skirts, but we’ve seen them elsewhere before—even when worn over pants (not that this will make the skirts more masculine). As well as the show-off pieces: urban armours, composed of buildings that could have been made with Metcalfe card construction kits (to better remind us Mr Abloh is a trained architect?) Despite the myriad looks, the black aesthetic is unmistakable. Could this be artistic taste that is palpably and necessarily stronger, following the Black Lives Matter movement? As Mr Abloh told the media, “Within my practice, I contribute to a Black canon of culture and art and its preservation. This is why, to preserve my own output, I record it at length.” He sure did—13 tedious minutes long.

Screen grab (top) and photos: Louis Vuitton

Before Yohji, There Was Another Yamamoto

Orbituary | The master of using bold kabuki graphics on his clothes, Kansai Yamamoto, has died

 

Kansai YamamotoKansai Yamamoto with signature “shout” expression. Photo: source

One of Japan’s less-known fashion exports has died. According to Japanese media this morning, Kansai Yamamoto succumbed to leukemia and passed away last Tuesday. He was 76.

After thirty years of fashion and costume design, and not doing much of the former in his later years, Mr Yamamoto was brought back to the spotlight in 2017, when he collaborated with Nicolas Ghesquière for Louis Vuitton’s 2018 cruise collection. At that time, Mr Ghesquière told Dazed that Mr Yamamoto “was the first Japanese designer to show in Paris (1975)*, so I thought it was really interesting to celebrate that and ask him to design a few things for the show.” There were no reports then that the 73-year-old was ill. His contribution to some of the LV pieces, including the accessories, brought back memories for those who remember Mr Yamamoto’s signature looks of the late ’70s and much of the ’80s, which eschewed the eras’ hippie predictability and the subsequent ‘power’ aesthetics. His work was theatrical and, at the same time, projected an attitude that we today would call street.

Although not always credited, Kansai Yamamoto influenced many designers through the decades, from Jean Paul Gaultier who, for spring/summer 2013, re-interpreted the one-shoulder, one-sleeve, one-leg knit union suit that Mr Yamamoto designed for David Bowie’s 1973 Aladdin Sane Tour to Alessandro Michele, who created similar, large graphics (including their placements) that bore uncanny resemblances to the Japanese designer’s. Much of the oversized shapes we have been seeing this past seasons, and the use of immense illustrations placed in the rear or over shoulder of the garment, as seen at Raf Simons, for instance, can be attributed to what Mr Yamamoto produced for his Paris shows in the ’80s.

Kansai Yamamoto outer

The striking yakusha-e graphic applied on contemporary geometrics, typical of Kansai Yamamoto. Photo: source

Designers were not the only ones who could not erase the indelible impressions left on them by his work. When hairdresser-to-the-stars David Gan wore and posted pieces from the Valentino X Undercover collaboration from last fall on social media, and expressed his love for them, not many of his followers were aware that his preference for strong and conspicuous graphics can be traced to the early days of Passion, when he had a near-obsession for Kansai Yamamoto, alongside his fashion designer pal Francis Cheong. That Mr Gan is, in recent years, partial to Dries Van Noten’s ‘Marilyn’ shirts and jackets, and the London label Qasimi’s oversized denim shirt with the sew-on patch of ‘Kabuki Kiss’ by the American artist Mel Odom indicates that he has never quite pulled himself away from those dramatic images that are larger than he, the wearer.

In the eighties, when Japanese fashion was the rage on our shores, what Mr Gan and Mr Cheong wore stood out because Mr Yamamoto’s designs were not predominantly black, the preferred non-colour of the Tokyo designers showing in Paris then. As one fashion writer told us, “You could spot any one of them a mile away because of their exuberant Kansai jackets.” Of the couple or so retailers at that time that carried Japanese labels, Scene One (at the Meridien Shopping Centre) gave Mr Yamamoto’s kabuki-inspired clothes considerable attention. The shop was opened by the Malaysian (former) designer, Christopher Choo, who was himself a fan of Kansai Yamamoto, as well as the equally attention-grabbing designs of Thierry Mugler and Jean Paul Gaultier, which were all stocked in his store.

Bold was often associated with what Mr Yamamoto did in his early years. But many of his followers saw more than just the upsized graphics and the dizzying colours. One major fan told SOTD, “Others will say the joie de vivre of his early ’80s Paris catwalks, or the exoticism. For me, it’s the opulence, the beading, the riot of colours, the embroidery, the use of metallics—for 3 to 4 years, it was entirely ME!” Yet, much of what is known of Mr Yamamoto’s work is his collaboration with David Bowie following his debut in London in 1971. According to the designer’s own telling, he did not know the singer then. His stylist Yasuko Hayashi, who was working for the rock star as well, had lent the singer some clothes from Mr Yamamoto’s debut London collection. He liked them enough to wear them for a performance in New York’s Radio City Hall. The rest, as convention would have us say, is history,

With Sayoko and capeThe vivid colours: (Left) Kansai Yamamoto at a 1982 fitting with his favourite model Sayoko. Photo: Kyodo/Dpa. (Right): A 1971 cape appliqued with images of kabuki characters and those of mask kites. Photo: Philadelphia Museum of Art

Despite showing in Paris from 1975 until the early ’90s, it seems Mr Yamamoto would only remain in the history of rock ‘n’ roll, rather than fashion. Or, be known as creator of costume, rather than clothes. While his work for Mr Bowie launched him to a wider international audience, his ready-to-wear shown in Paris was to be slowly overshadowed by the unusual, un-Parisian collections and shows of first, Issey Miyake and then, the two behind what was called the “Japanese invasion”, Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons. While his compatriots tapped into their cultural heritage to set themselves apart from the French, Kansai Yamamoto made it his forte. His designs that were loved drew from Japanese theatre, in particular, the kabuki. He was gleefully using images of old yakusha-e, woodblock-printing of famous actors of the day, known in the West as “actor prints”. These, he juxtaposed with delineations seen on mask kites and then employed them against modern patterns in the spirit of his favourite Momoyama period of Japanese art, which is thought to be dynamic and opulent. Fittingly, the results were electric.

Kansai Yamamoto was born in Yokohama in 1944, a year before the Americans dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. The eldest son of a tailor, he lived a good part of his formative years in a children’s home after his parents divorced. He studied civil engineering, and even English, but gave both up for dressmaking. Mr Yamamoto was largely self-taught although he did apprentice at Junko Koshino (one of three designing Koshino sisters) and Hisashi Hosono, a designer of lady-like clothes. In 1967, he was awarded the prestigious Soen prize (that launched many designers, including Kenzo Takada) at the equally reputable Bunka Fashion College. Four years later, still-swinging London beckoned, and he moved to the English capital, staging his first runway presentation there in 1971. Harpers and Queen describe it as “The Show of the Year….a spectacular coup de theatre.” He would continue to show in the city until 1975, when he debuted in Paris, possibly after hearing of the success of Mr Takada’s Jungle Jap, a store in Galerie Vivienne. Two years later, Mr Yamamoto opened his eponymous boutique. In the autumn/winter season of 1992, he presented his last collection.

It is hard to say when Kansai Yamamoto fell out of favour with the trendy set—hairdressers and fashion designers too. By the time he presented his swan song, his designs had lost their theatricality, perhaps as reaction to the preference for more practical clothes in the ’90s. The inventiveness and the playfulness of his early years seemed to have waned. In retrospect, his work in the ’70s was prelude to everything the fans liked about him. To them, his output of this period was modern in a way Issey Miyake’s designers would prove to be enduring. He didn’t go all out with the kabuki stuff; he showed mastery of cut, shape, and proportion too, which reflected the Japanese ideal of not restricting the body. Yet, for all the inventiveness he clearly offered and the subsequent influence that reached others, Kansai Yamamoto, in death, would be, as The Guardian’s headline showed, remembered as the “designer and David Bowie collaborator”.

*Kenzo Takada showed his label Jungle Jap in his small boutique in 1971 and Issey Miyake presented his first pret-a-porter collection in 1973. It appears that Mr Ghesquière was mistaken about Kansai Yamamoto Paris debut

Fashion Week Or Commercial Break?

With the third digital fashion week since LFW last month, a trend is clear to see: there are no fashion shows, just an interruption in normal programming to broadcast advertisements

 

LV Men SS 2021LV men’s ‘show’. Screen grab: Louis Vuitton/YouTube

Fashion week. What fashion week? By now, it is clear: There are no fashion weeks. We’ve been duped. Following Paris Men’s Fashion Week that wrapped up moments ago, no deep analysis is required to see that there are not only no shows, there are no clothes. Okay, that’s admittedly an exaggeration, but brands in general seemed to be displacing an event that offers the possibility of discerning fashion trends with a digital hub for a massive branding exercise. After London Fashion Week and Haute Couture Fashion Week, and now Paris Men’s Fashion Week, it is obvious that the “front-row seat” we were promised was there for us to watch mostly inane advertisements, one after another. Its been, for us, three long commercial breaks and little else.

If not, what would one call Louis Vuitton’s screening, The Adventures of Zoooom with Friends? Oscar contender it may not be, but it’s a live action/animated short, conceived to wean the young on LV, an approach akin to McDonald’s marketing strategy. Virgil Abloh may not be a brilliant designer, but we’d still like to see what ho-hum collection he’ll put out, what “changes” he will still introduce to men’s wear. There was nothing. We sat through the three-and-half-minute video featuring two porters carrying a trunk (sounds familiar?), loading it onto an intermodal container and allowing motley animated characters that did not appear to have the EU’s Category C1 licence to take over the driving of the LGV. Other vehicles soon joined this one. They arrived at the Seine and the containers were loaded on a barge that subsequently sailed down the river (sounds familiar?), led by a tugboat. There was no destination and the rest of the video showed the animated animals doing their groovy thing—dance. And somewhere in there, champagne was smashed. Talk about product placement!

Dior SS2021Dior’s Portrait of an Artist. Screen grab: Dior/YouTube

If not advertisements, they are pseudo-docus, such as Dior’s. Mr Abloh’s colleague, Kim Jones, expressed his timely inclusiveness in the wake of BLM by collaborating with Amoako Boafo, the Vienna-based Ghanaian artist known for his exploration of blackness and identity in such works as the Black Diaspora portraits. The Dior video, Portrait of an Artist, opened with an intro of the painter and some his friends as models wearing the collection (the recent highly-hyped kicks were seen too). It was a 21st century newsreel shot with better cameras. There was the so-called fashion show segment at the end, but with the focus-and-then-out-of-focus treatment, the clothes worn by only black models barely registered, and, by the end of the 10-minute film, it was hard to remember what was seen. The Dior couture video was called out for its lack of diversity in the casting. The same could be said of Dior men’s.

There was an unmistakable and conscious attempt to salute blackness. It was perhaps woke and necessary for the image of the brands, and understandably so, but it was fragmentary that the support of one should be at the exclusion of others. And was it just a reaction or a token? Thom Browne featured a solo black man, the American singer-songwriter Moses Sumney in nothing except a pair of white sequinned wrap-skirt, with a pair of black stripes placed diagonally across from waist to hem. Mr Sumney sang, so this could be destined for Vimeo or the Grammy. The hot Belgian brand Botter by the duo Lisi Herrebrugh & Rushemy Botter, showed, after a one-and-half-minute intro in which they admitted “to trying to express our humble yet positive vision towards the Black Lives Matter movement and other large issues we have been facing all together at once”, parts of their collection on two black models pretending to be models. To be sure, Botter has been a woke brand. The spring/summer 2018’s Fish or Fight collection was dedicated to Caribbean immigrants.

Lemaire SS 2021The usual effortless ease of Lemaire. Screen grab: Lemaire/YouTube

There were attempts at fashion shows. Despite the earlier lockdowns that resulted in the digital version of (many) things, some designers have been busy at work. And they have the output to show. Semblances of a runway presentation were, therefore, tried out. Christophe Lemaire’s was the most obvious. The models—quite many of them—walked across what appeared to be a disused portion of a warehouse. There was no accompanying message from the designer, or explanation of how he came to do what he did, just the clothes. At CMMN SWDN, the married Swedes, Emma Hedlund and Saif Bakir, presented a catwalk flanked, not by an audience, but troughs of dried wheat. With just three models, they were able to show 21 looks. Yohji Yamamoto, too, presented a fashion runway—possibly the world’t shortest. Yet, the dreary show of video footages and slides was nearly 15-minutes long; it did not engage for more than five minutes before boredom set in. It was the monotony of both the choreography and clothes.

If viewers were put to sleep by Mr Yamamoto’s runway, would a fashion follower, then, sit through the Dries Van Noten show where there was nothing to follow, except a model playing an imaginary drum in headache inducing lighting? Or be poised enough to ignore the social-distancing-be-damned vibe of the 10-year retrospective video of Pigalle Paris? Or have the patience to watch a video of what could be a deeply unhappy model (actually) followed by someone wearing a switched-on action cam, such as at Études? Or is this merely a reflection of life during a lockdown?

Berluti SS 2021At a Berluti fitting with Kris Van Ascche (rear). Screen grab: Berluti/Youtube

Berluti’s Kris Van Assche is the only designer who truly allowed us to go behind his inspiration that led to the collaboration with the ceramicist Brian Rochefort. A revealing and compelling documentary that showed a designer and sculptor at work, one doing a fitting, one bringing his art to life, told with clarity and through dialogue that was sincere. Amiri, too, showed designer Mike Amiri, at work, presumably in Los Angeles. The reveal was voiced by industry types, such as buyers from Bergdorf Goodman, Mr. Porter, and the Hong Kong multi-label store Joyce, as if to approve the American-Iranian’s work. Mr Amiri himself also joined the conversation, saying, “When I arrived (in Paris) just a few years ago, it would be easy to assume that a Los Angeles designer would be out of place within the conversation of global luxury.” He also added, as if to self-validate, “However, with each collection and every season, it seems that we are actually perfectly within our place.” Acceptance and inclusion continued to run through this fashion week.

Only one brand truly demonstrated, literally, how their clothes are to be worn. Y/Project’s Glenn Martens showed his Transformers fashion soundlessly, but engagingly. The screen was split into 3 panels. A model appeared on each panel in one look and, with the help of dressers, morphed into another, usually by unbuttoning and re-buttoning or untying and re-tying. It is compelling to watch how the looks/clothes are transfigured—not transmogrified—since on the runway we mostly see the end results. Or how silhouettes can change or details can be revealed when there were none at first. This may be helpful to those who have never been able to figure out how their two-as-one (sometimes three) garments should be worn and to yield what effect.

20-07-14-15-58-44-652_decoY/Project in full demo mode. Screen grab: Y/Project/YouTube

Few designers worked outside the range of excess cleverness or deeply dull. It may be immoderate to expect enlightening, even immersive, but for most brands, the experiences offered were, at best, superficial. The whole Paris Men’s Fashion Week felt like a fringe event, not the real deal. The addition of “exclusive” this and that—interviews mostly—added to its peripheral sub-current. The one advantage of watching an online presentation is the option of moving the forward button on the timeline slider bar. Oftentimes, 30 seconds into a video, it can be decided if we wanted to sit through it. Perhaps it’s too much to expect a designer, however good in story-telling, to also excel in content creation, since we wouldn’t expect a film director to be equally excellent in costume design.

While it is true that fashion shows can’t return to pre-pandemic excesses (yet), we didn’t expect three fashion weeks in a row to be like this. Many seasoned journalists say “a computer screen can’t compare…” True, for the rest of us who have always been watching the shows live-streamed to our flat screens, those previous times were better than what’s currently available. Fashion shows, in the form before COVID-19, now seem poised for a necessary comeback. If that happens, not only would those behind the scenes of a runway presentation get back their jobs, trend-chasers too could reinstate themselves, as well as fashion critics (and, gasp, influencers). And fashion show reviews, too! In the Berluti video, Kris Van Assche said, “I really love fashion shows; I love the emotion. There is this one thing you can’t do in fashion shows which is put pause…” To that, we’ll add: Let them halt not.

Break Free, Shop Now

On the first day of Phase 2, Orchard Road was not as manic as many thought it would be. Conspicuous consumption isn’t so obvious. Yet

 

Phase 2 Day 1 P1Zara welcomes you back at ION Orchard

19 June 2020. It is probably the biggest day of the year, when so many people cooped up at home for the past eleven weeks are let loose, when retailers unable to open because of  Circuit Breaker measures recoup lost sales of the past two months, when the thirsty—and not—are able to drink all the bubble milk tea in the world. This is not only going to make the news this evening, it’ll be the stuff to delight historians. A prelude to how fashion will resurge, how retail will revive, how our economy will recover. Cautiously, we joined happy shoppers in Orchard Road to observe the expected and expectant crowd, to witness merchandise fly off the shelves, to see history in the making.

The MRT train ride was unexpectedly quiet until two young women, getting off at Orchard station, yelped: “At last!” The palpable enthusiasm did not, surprisingly, reflect the relative calm on the platform. There weren’t that many people. It was half past eleven and at this relatively early hour of the retail day, there was no beating-the-crowd, no I-can’t-keep-the-mask-on-anymore, and no I-don’t-care-if-I’m-not-one-metre-apart. There was no rush exiting the ION Orchard side of the station, nor entering the mall. SafeEntry screening held up the line moving in a little, but it was, surprisingly, not corrupted by impatience and hustle. Simply the calm before the storm?

Phase 2 Day 1 P2Still-quiet ION Orchard at noon

Once inside ION Orchard—the mall that had a head start on publicity the moment CNA told us before Phase 2 struck “what to expect when ION reopens”—the mood was even more restrained. Perhaps what the 87,490-square-metre complex did not expect was the surprising trickle of shoppers, at least before one in the afternoon. The place was not teeming. Most of the shops had opened by now, but short lines were seen outside only four stores: Daiso, Muji, Sephora, and Zara. There was no queue at Louis Vuitton. If you looked inside, there were more sales people than shoppers. We were not sure if this had anything to do with LV requesting customers to “schedule an appointment”, as stated on their website. Next door at Dior, a set of stanchion and belt was set up beside the entrance, but no one was behind them. Inside, one teenager was trying on sneakers. Directly across, Gucci’s stanchion and rope also had no company while behind the windows, we could make out less than a handful of customers.

An hour later, it seemed to us that the anticipated “revenge shopping” and the attendant cause, “pent-up demand”, were much muted, even if they materialised. Do people still buy with a vengeance? We saw no one laden with shopping bags, except a dressed-alike couple with massive ones containing what appeared to be polypropylene storage cases. The other one that caught our eye was a shopping bag as fashion statement—the Virgil Abloh X Ikea brown carrier emblazoned with the word “sculpture” and, yes, flanked by inverted commas. Has online shopping really diminished the lure of what a mall can offer? Has it prevailed? A woman we had seen earlier looking at the LV window was leaving ION Orchard at the same time we ‘checked out’. Curiosity got a better of us: “Didn’t buy anything?” She was cheerful: “No, lah. I get (sic) everything online now. Just wanted to get out of the house.”

20-06-19-22-29-11-533_decoLouis Vuitton at ION Orchard, with no queue outside

The queue-less store fronts extended to Takashimaya Shopping Centre too. A short while ago, one SOTD follower WhatsApped us a photo of the main concourse, showing a long queue to get into Takashimaya Department Store, where we later learned, Versace was causing considerable excitement with 50% discounts on their merchandise. When we got here, the queue was not evident. By the end of our excursion, we observed that if there were lines getting into malls, they were there due to the requisite SafeEntry—scanning of QR codes or ICs took time, and some shoppers were more dexterous than others. A few here were heard grumbling that they had already scanned upon entering Taka (the mall), and it was “wasting time” to scan again going into Taka (the store), probably unaware that both are not technically the same place.

When we arrived via the entrance between LV and Chanel, the line visible was composed of shoppers getting into the mall. There were three people outside Chanel going through the new-normal, triage-like, pre-entry procedures (we saw three members of the staff involved in this operation). Opposite, at LV, there were five waiting. It is debatable if a trio or a quintet is a line, but one audible delight—“Wah, no queue, leh”—outside Chanel was indication that the relative breeze in getting in was an unusual but welcome sight. One mother told her daughter, “quick, take picture.” Past these two sentinel-like stores to this entry point of the mall, fewer queues were seen. There was none at Celine, Dior, and Fendi. Most surprising was the longest line at that time: the one outside Tiffany. Jewellery was missed. Either that or the gifting season has arrived.

Phase 2 Day 1 pCIt was clear enough of people outside Chanel at Takashimaya SC for posed pictures

Further down what Orchard Road Business Association (ORBA) calls “a great street”, the crowd seemed to be gravitating towards 313@ Somerset. Before we got there, we were surprised to see an impressive line outside Victoria’s Secret at Mandarin Gallery. Whatever it was they had inside, it was clearly not undisclosed. In contrast, Surrender in the building across, identified only by its number—268, saw no one awaiting to be let in. Its neighbour Off-White, too, had no shoppers lined up. Similarly, the H&M flagship store opposite of Victoria’s Secret, looked like it was still closed to business. There was no line to be seen and the inside looked strangely dark. With only one glass door ajar, it was easy to think they were only just opening or exercising some stringent checks. From here, looking towards the side entrance of 313@Somerset, it was within sight that getting into the mall would require getting in line.

Past the screening, it wasn’t as bustling as what the outside suggested. The busiest spot, unsurprisingly, was at a bubble tea shop—Chicha San Chen on level three, where the scene was reminiscent of those before 21 April, when all bubble tea shops were disallowed to operate during the rest of the duration of the Circuit Breaker. A queue was seen at Zara, as it was at their stores in ION Orchard and Takashimaya SC. A staff explained that it was not busier than usual, but that they were controlling the number of shoppers in the store. Surprisingly no line was spotted outside Limited Edt and its sister L.E. Underground (it was empty here when we past it at around three). In fact, earlier at JD Sports in ION Orchard, it was relatively quiet too. Similarly, there were few shoppers at AW Lab in Wisma Atria. Ditto for Nike in Paragon.

Phase 2 Day 1 pIGCIn Good Company not ready to receive shoppers

Over at Orchard Central, Uniqlo was, as they announced yesterday, closed. All their stores were actually lit, and the staff was clearly busy at work. No disinfecting activity was seen, but there was the stocking of merchandise and acceptance of delivery. At ION Orchard earlier, one woman was clearly disappointed. “why liddad,” she exclaimed, and went to a gap in the drawn and shut folding glass doors and asked the staff, who was organising clothes on a shelf, why wasn’t the store opened. We could not hear what the guy said. She walked away, muttering “waste my time.”

If a big Japanese chain store such as Uniqlo wasn’t ready to open, it was not surprising that local stores weren’t too. In Good Company’s flagship at ION Orchard was not opened. So was Love, Bonito at 313@Somerset. Even the benches in front of the store—usually husband and boyfriend central—were unoccupied. It is true people are “dying to get out”, but not necessarily to shop. For many out this afternoon, by now on the verge of enough of a crowd to make personal space a rare commodity, the Circuit Breaker is over. That isn’t quite accurate since we are in Phase 2, without an official declaration that all forms of restrictions are lifted. As we left Orchard Gateway to go into the MRT station, a stern security staff asked for our phones. She wanted to see if we had ‘checked out’.

Phase 2 Day 1 pHBThe direction of traffic is clearly marked out at all Hugo Boss stores

This ‘checking in’ and ‘checking out’, required by SafeEntry , the “national digital check-in system”, was not adopted consistently across all the malls we visited earlier. While checking in is a must and is ensured by security personnel, checking out is not regulated. Only at Orchard Gateway were we halted and asked for proof of having done so. While this requirement is acceptable at designated entry and exit points of malls, it was not implemented in a manner as to speed up, in particular, entry. The QR codes were placed or erected, in most cases, all over the place. During what for most was the first visit after the Circuit Breaker, many did not instinctively know where to look. At 313@Orchard, posters bearing the QR code were plastered onto the glass door of the entrance, along which was also where the queue had formed. Enthusiastic visitors stretched out their hands so that their smartphones were able to capture the matrix barcode, all the while their forearms were in front of your face.

For those of us who still consider the experience known as shopping to be fun, the need to check in and out at every single store after first entering the mall quickly diminishes the enjoyment. Frankly, it bordered on the annoying. And was disruptive to the rhythm of what many appeared to do—leisurely shopping. For that reason, we did not enter any store (we were, after all, observing). But for those who did, not every outlet offered the semblance of a nice, purchase-in-hand time. A few clothing stores reportedly had plastic sheets covering their merchandise, and disallowed the trying on of garments. The common reaction: isn’t see-no-touch just window shopping? This normal we were seeing will soon be new no more.

Updated: 20 June 2020, 10:35

Photos: Chin Boh Kay

Some Stores Shall Stay Shut

Tomorrow may be break-free day for many people on our island as Phase 2 of the Circuit Breaker begins, but those planning to go shopping will find some stores still closed

 

Uniqlo annoucement

Many people, ready for tomorrow’s resumption of some semblance of social life, are surprised that Uniqlo announced around six this evening on their Instagram page, “We are not open yet.” It continued to say, “Uniqlo is not rushing to open on 19 June 2020, Friday.” No official word was released by the company at the time of this post. Majority of the comments appeared to approve or support Uniqlo’s decision, agreeing that there is no need to scramble to commence its offline business. The brand added, “We will announce our store opening dates in the upcoming few days through our social media channels, website and app.” Some fans, however, are disappointed that this confirmed Uniqlo would not launch their Airism face mask here, as it will in Japan nationwide tomorrow.

While Uniqlo resists opening their physical retail stores, compatriot brand Muji is laying the welcome mat, although one outlet will be shuttered permanently. The brand announced yesterday that they have closed down their Marina Square store. Through IG, it said, “We regret to inform that Muji Marina Square has ceased its operation.” Muji has not officially commented on the closure of the branch, but some observers feel that Marina Square is “not looking good” despite the last centre-wide refurbishment. Still, IG commentators were disappointed that the store is no more. One ‘amsingapore’ wrote, “That was a favorite branch for many of us. Muji shouldn’t have given up that location”.

Store closures were expected even before the easing of the Circuit Breaker measures. Back in April, Esprit announced permanently shutting all their retail operations here. Robinsons ended their presence in the west by choosing not to remain at Jem. But Muji closing down any store is unexpected as it is believed to be one of the most popular Japanese brands here. One representative director of the parent company in Japan told The Business Times last year that sales in Singapore have been rising steadily each year. He added, “We believe in the growth in the Singapore market.”

Muji announcement

Many stores have announced they’re opening tomorrow. Club 21, in the middle of an online end-of-season sale, will welcome shoppers on the first day of Phase 2, according to an IG Story statement. So is the related emporium Dover Street Market Singapore. Surrender, the streetwear headquarters to many, confirmed on IG that they will open tomorrow. Louis Vuitton announced rather discreetly that they, too, will open, but shoppers are told to “schedule an appointment”. It is not unreasonable to assume that if Louis Vuitton will be opening, other brands under LVMH will be too.

All malls, it appears, will resume full operations as well. Paragon made no mention on its website about what will happen tomorrow, but did say one can “Shop & Dine With A Peace of Mind”. ION Orchard announced, “We Are Ready To Welcome You Back”. So did Wisma Atria: “Welcoming You Back Safely”. Takashimaya Shopping Centre communicated no happy news on their website or Facebook page (its last post was on 6 April), but it will likely open since Louis Vuitton did not say that its Taka store won’t. Over at the Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, “nearly 200 stores, including F&B tenanted outlets, will be re-opened at the start”. Mostly happy news, it would appear, for those who have been deprived of retail therapy for this long. It remains to be seen if the revenge spending that seized Shanghai and Seoul after those cities opened will play out here too.

Screen grabs: respective IG page

Bags: Louis Vuitton Vs Chanel

Which is at top of the food chain?

 

LV vs Chanel

A week or so ago, we were brought to the attention of the post of a disgruntled, anonymous NUS student on the Facebook page, NUSWhispers*. In that 214-word “confession”, as the page admin calls the entries, the dismayed complainant said that “LV is for poor people who want to look rich.” How she came to that conclusion isn’t clear. But her thought on Louis Vuitton was spurred from not receiving the brand she wanted: Chanel.

As her straightforward telling went, “Recently my boyfriend bought me a Louis Vuitton wallet which costs around $700 for my birthday. When I saw the wallet, I felt really upset and disappointed. Because earlier this year, my sister’s bf got her a Chanel wallet which costs at least $1000 for her birthday. Chanel is so much nicer than LV.” Price, the world noted, equals nice.

That was not the only comparison she made, but we won’t explore them as they aren’t related to luxury bags/wallets, and will detract from the main thrust of this post (you can read about her grievance here). She concluded with clearly self-absorbed unhappiness: “Sometimes I really feel like a loser.” It, naturally, garnered no sympathy, certainly not from the commentators on NUSWhispers.  It did, however, make us wonder: which is indeed more desirable—Louis Vuitton or Chanel?

There is, surprisingly, no definitive ranking of luxury handbag brands. According to one price-based list offered by the luxury shopping service The Luxe Link, Chanel ranks third, after Hermès and Delvaux. LV is fifth. In a listicle posted by the website Who What Wear on the “the 10 most popular designer bags ever” (and shared by Yahoo News in March), Chanel ranks 2nd (for quilted bags) and Louis Vuitton, 3rd (for the Alma). First goes to Hermès (for the Birkin).

While luxury-brand snobbery is rarely discussed among shoppers of expensive bags, it does exist

 

In an unscientific, un-representational, and unorthodox poll that we recently conducted among (admittedly small number of ) 12 fashion folks, we asked our interviewees one very simple question: “If you were to buy a handbag, LV or Chanel?” The answers were almost unanimous. Eleven chose Chanel, while one insisted on selecting Hermès. On why LV repeatedly ranks behind Chanel, one observer told us, ”LV is Coach for those with just enough money”. Still, “not for poor people who want to look rich.”

Once, as we walked past a line outside Chanel at Takashimaya Shopping Centre, we overheard a young woman tell her friend, while looking across at the LV store, “I’d rather die than queue opposite.” While luxury-brand snobbery is rarely discussed among shoppers of expensive bags, it does exist. Hermès fans know, for example, that you don’t buy a Birkin off the shelf (assuming you could); you join a wait list.

A fashion insider we spoke to noted that, despite the recent price hikes, many tai-tais who carry luxury handbags do prefer Chanel. LV is for “smallish bags”. Apparently some of them have recently been disappointed with LV for selling them what was touted as a limited edition: the S$2,570 “hybrid cross-body” Multi Pochette Accessoires. “But strange thing is,” the puzzled person continued, “that every lady said it was limited, and yet all of them have it!”

20-06-03-02-11-07-258_decoJamie Chua showing the bags that she “regretted buying”. Screen grab: Jamie Chua/YouTube

Socialite Jamie Chua, who bought her first Chanel—the 2.55—when she was 17, could be a reliable person to shed some light on luxury bag ranking. We turned to her Youtube channel for guidance. In one of her videos that has chalked up an impressive 1.5 million views, she listed five bags that she “regretted buying”, and all of them are from Chanel: a gold mini ‘Boy’, a two-tone Lucite evening ‘Watch’ bag, a ‘Belt Buckle’ minaudière (small, decorative handbag), a pink (“that Jamie loves”) ‘Round as Earth’ patent leather bag, and a La Pausa ‘Life Buoy’ bag.

And the five she likes most? “I really feel kind of bad,” she said. “All my favourites are Hermes.” But that’s hardly surprisingly when you consider the 200 over Hermès bags she has collected—believed to be the largest in the world by a single individual—and displays in a famous, viewed-by-many, 700 sq ft, walk-in wardrobe. Although most of what she wished she hadn’t bought were deemed impractical due to their smallness, she was happy with one S$22,000 Chanel ‘Rocket Ship’ bag, as it “value-adds to the beauty of this closet”. Clearly there are women who don’t wait for their boyfriends to buy them bags, and be disappointed.

*Despite the page title, what’s posted in NUSWhispers is not even remotely academic or shared in hush tones. From acute friendlessness to jilted hearts to “really obsessed with boobs” to “girls need to improve their online dating app conversation starter skills”, one can’t escape the rather juvenile quality of the “confessions”, many so inane, they’re hard to read for longer than it takes to close a double-C clasp. There is chatter that the post we have been discussing here is just the person trolling. Even so, it could be troll mimicking life.

Illustration: Just So

 

Looting Luxury

As the unrest in the US over the death of a black man under police arrest rises, arsonists are burning police stations and looters are targeting Louis Vuitton

 

Portland looting

In a luxury mall reported to be in Portland, Oregon, angered rioters-turned-looters have smashed down the glass doors of a Louis Vuitton store and cleared out its merchandise. Videos of the mayhem were posted on YouTube today, and widely shared. People were seen rushing in and quickly grabbing whatever their hands could carry. One woman left with a pink bag (among others) that looked like a Capucines BB, priced above US$6,000. According to KOIN 6 News, Portland’s CBS affiliate, “multiple high-end retailers, including storefronts for Apple, Louis Vuitton and Tory Burch, were breached and looted”.

Some commentators on YouTube remarked that “this is Karma for instigated (sic) rioters in Hong Kong”. Geopolitics aside, it must be said that looting in times of social unrest is not acceptable nor defensible. The US isn’t experiencing a natural disaster and people are not fighting to survive. This is an outburst against social injustice. Outrage is understandable, rioting is not, and looting—a luxury store or any store—is undeserving of comprehension because material goods isn’t behind the motivation for social/ethnic/class eruption. This isn’t stealing food to survive. Sure, stolen LV merchandise can be put on Ebay to generate money for sustenance. But are the looters—mostly masked (as a safety measure because of COVID-19?)—despoiling so that they could buy bread to bring home to their kids?

What happened in Portland does not fall into a moral grey area. The plunderers targeted the LV store. They knew what they were going after. They weren’t just passing by and seeing what could be means of survival. They appeared determined to clear the store out. It took only a few to pave the way. This had nothing to do with supporting the unfair treatment of black people, as the protests that started in Minnesota originally was. The looting of Louis Vuitton, regrettably, shows how luxury—now easily “masstige”—have become a symbol of the accessible unattainable. From exclusive it once was, luxury is now democratic. But is it really? Were the looters being democratic or exercising their democratic right? To free action, not just speech?

The sight of the looting is disturbing, as much as the possible diminishing appeal, henceforth, of Louis Vuitton, a brand that has for a long time targeted those who “aspire” to go higher, but are struggling with their status quo. Luxury brands don’t discriminate; they appeal, regardless of where one stands on the social hierarchy.  And it is known that those trapped in greater inequality are just as keen, if not keener, in luxury. Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said to the press, “There is no value [in the violence] expect the value of self and the desire to steal things and cause destruction in our community”. Moral standing, it appears, has become the luxury no one desires.

Screen grab: YouTube

A Disappointing Close

Louis Vuitton could always be counted on to end the four-city fashion season with a bang. So why the cacophonous whimper?

 

LV AW 2020 P1

We watch the Louis Vuitton live stream once, and then again when it becomes available to view as a post. We are not sure what to make of it. This is a lull season for them, we conclude. Louis Vuitton, closing PFW and marking the end of the four-city rush that makes fashion weeks (in view of the unceasing COVID-19 outbreak, none has cancelled or gone online only), has always been a restorer of our faith in the creativity of fashion when increasingly what’s creative is being redefined or ignored. But what we have thought might be able to reverse the built-up dismay is no longer so. Not this season.

Nicholas Ghesquiere has always been an enthusiastic stirrer of the big fashion pot made increasingly vapid by those who add nothingness into it. Although his debut at Vuitton was not the stuff of fashion legend, he has put his distinctive stamp on the house in these past years: wearable separates that are melanges of fabrics, textures, prints, patterns, all in a delightfully varied mingle of the compulsory past and the fantastic future. But this season, while the blending is still there, they don’t coalesce into anything cracking, certainly not, as before, sublime. Is Mr Ghesquiere saving his better ideas for later by pausing to create a greatest hits, like how it was when sitcoms used to look back at the “best moments” between seasons or when writers were on leave?

LV AW 2020 G1LV AW 2020 G2

To be sure, he’s still up there breathing the rarefied air of luxury fashion—a stratosphere he brought along from his previous tenure at Balenciaga. Mr Ghesquiere is a technically sound designer, far more than many of this peers, even within the LVMH group, and, without doubt, more so than his colleague designing the men’s collection. He understands that no matter what you do to a garment and after what you do it, it must still look like something destined for the body. An ardent proponent of the odd pairing, he works with mostly traditional forms and relatively conventional silhouettes and yet within them he is able to create additional components that render the end result unexpected and, oftentimes, novel. We’ve seen him meld contradictory elements, those that are not meant to match, into breathtaking wholes.

Mr Ghesquiere is still able to do all that, but somehow, in presently messy and complicated times, which LV admits to in a pre-show video posted online, the collection is weighted by its own excesses and, especially, excess of cleverness. While other designers have nothing to pull out from their bag of ideas, Mr Ghesquiere seems to saturate his designs with more. A ton of ideas, however, isn’t necessarily any measure of brilliance. Maybe it’s the mood of the times and the mood we’re in—here in Southeast Asia, much of the collection look to us over-designed; even overwrought. And, worse, repetitive. The smorgasbord isn’t appealing when you’re not hungry. Or, when much of the Paris season has made you lost your appetite.

LV AW 2020 G3LV AW 2020 G4

The collection, according to LV’s PR material is called Anachronism, which may well describe the designer himself. He admits to the media: “I still breathe the past”. Mr Ghesquiere’s anachronistic approach to design, with a weakness for the ’70s and a pull from as far back as the era of the Sun King to a future indeterminate, has seen him excite with more hedonic rewards than all the retro-bent American designers combined. But he should have stopped at last season’s Belle Époque. All this mixing is headache-inducing. Do we need so many eras, so many points of reference in one garment?

Take the inordinately busy outerwear, a result of his predilection for mixing fabrics and patterns: they now seem a tad too Sacai for comfort. As you go on, White Mountaineering comes to mind. Louis Vuitton in a Japanese state of mind? Then those dresses, in particular the sheer baby doll with the four-tier hem (the bouncy tiered skirt is an LV highlight this season). This is worn over a (typically Nicholas Ghesquiere) panelled top and similarly sheer pants. Someone is taking his cue from a fellow LVMH brand.

One curiosity to note. For the past few seasons (we have not been able to trace back far enough), we noticed looks that appear to be for guys. This has been evident even when Kim Jones was still taking care of the sibling homme collection. Two years ago, we asked a staffer at the Louis Vuitton flagship here if Mr Ghesquiere makes a capsule for men. “No,” the affable woman told us, “but men like to buy our womenswear.” Which begs the question, are the boiler suits and motocross pants to attract potential male customers or, as 21st century wokeness demands, for the manly women who have never bought a dress in their life? Wouldn’t Virgil Abloh have taken care of them? Or are we being too binary? Complicated times, no doubt.

Photos: Isidore Montag/gorunway.com

Louis Vuitton Pares Down

Virgil Abloh’s three-month break from work is possibly what he needed for LV

 

LV Men AW 2020 P1

The first thing that struck us about the Louis Vuitton show this season is the vaguely surreal in-the-sky set. Somewhere in the middle, among sewing paraphernalia, is a giant scissors; its blades placed apart, as if about to cut something. We at SOTD are rather traditional and we tend to be mindful of placing sharp and pointed blades in all settings, including stagings meant to show off luxury goods in the hope of generating good tidings. Fengshui practice often encourage adherents to avoid incorporating sharp edges in any given space so as not to bring on sha qi (杀气 or aura of death/the inauspicious). Blades of scissors ajar, it is believed, will cut any good luck or good qi that may be present. An American and a French company, of course, may not concern themselves with such believes, but we noticed.

Perhaps the scissors is symbolic of Mr Abloh snipping off the superfluous, the over-designed, the duds. After a good rest, it appears he has decided to rethink his approach for Louis Vuitton, the ardent embracer of what Mr Abloh stood for. He is playing down garments that he and his pal Kanye West were instrumental in promoting: those that require not the rigours of tailoring. Now, the show opened with slim-fit suits—all seemingly simple, and while they might be refreshing for Mr Abloh’s LV, it was, to us, a revisit. Is it Dior (Homme) under Kris van Assche’s watch? Did the khaki suit not say Jil Sander to us? Or, if we care to go further back, the black-and-white combo Helmut Lang?

LV Men AW 2020 G1LV Men AW 2020 G2

To be sure, Mr Abloh was a proponent of tailoring when he took the creative reigns at LV Men. He did put out suits in what observers thought was an attempt to prove that he could do fashion, specifically at the luxury level. But there was something not quite right about the early attempts. Contrived comes to mind; also tried too hard. The tailoring was, naturally competent, but it was, more significantly, without the youthful insouciance that today’s suits would benefit from. It was not an Hedi Slimane moment.

But Mr Abloh persevered. And the suits are now witnessing some vestige of maturity, the proverbial express, not impress, and a restrain that is welcome when seen against his tendency to subscribe to a grandiose scheme of things. He is, perhaps, only practising what he has recently preached. When asked, in an interview with Dazed last month, how streetwear will evolve in 2020, Mr Abloh said, “I would definitely say it is gonna die”. But does death to streetwear immediately means living to suits? Apparently. While that line of thought might be reductive, we can’t say Mr Abloh does not try to at least be interesting.

LV Men AW 2020 G3LV Men AW 2020 G4

The holster, first accessory, now appearing as part of the suit jacket, will no doubt allow the whole garment be the curious retail joy known as a hit. There is the pants with what should be the end of the vest now appearing as part of the waist, possibly an irremovable cummerbund. And everything between that appears subtle and sleek. All seems fine and dandy until the pieced-together jackets appeared. We don’t want to be too quick to assume, so we waited, and there it was, a coat with a shirt built onto the front. Now, to us, a garment on a garment (and the former mostly decorative), as well as irregular shapes joined to form suits—and ruffles (one formed up as a peplum!)—has more than a mere whiff of Comme des Garçons. Virgil Abloh, tell us we’re reading too much.

After only four seasons at LV, Mr Abloh is considered such a seasoned pro that he probably thinks he does not need to prove that he can—still a contentious point—design. Why even bother? Just do whatever you like, with stops in the past and nods to your idols, and then throw in rapper styles in the form of a shaggy fur coat for good measure. One man’s fur coat is another man’s streetwear. Ditto suits. Thing is, in 2020 will a suit, however pleasing, change the course of history? Perhaps for some, their history-making luck will remain intact. Or, uncut.

Photos: (top) screen grab of LV live stream/(runway) Alessandro Lucioni/gorunway.com

Like So Many Before Him, Gone Too Soon

Obituary|Godfrey Gao’s sudden death, to his fans, means he’ll be “forever handsome”

 

Godfrey Gao in an Earl Jeans campaign in 2012. Photo: 小苏 for Earl Jeans

The news that Godfrey Gao (高以翔) died in a fall while filming the sports-themed reality TV show, Chase Me (追我吧), in Ningbo, China, had members of our local media keep their WhatApp chats abuzz. Mr Gao had worked with quite a few stylists and photographers here, and was known to be a much sought-after subject, even if only for those who profiled him, to be close to someone considered the best-looking Asian male specimen on the planet. The shock is understandable.

Many in the fashion industry here knew him as a model, whose career culminated in the 2011 appearance in the now “legendary” Louis Vuitton campaign, a first for LV involving not just an Asian male model, also one not from Japan or Korea, but from unlikely Taiwan. In it, Mr Gao’s striking looks rivaled any Caucasian male’s; his sharp jawline, unshaped by the likes of Pao Facial Fitness (yes, the one Christiano Ronaldo promoted) and so sharp it could have cut the suit he wore.

His fans (surprisingly only 550K on IG) remember him as an actor, whose career never quite matched not-shoddy-in-the-looks-department Mark Chao’s (趙又廷, of the Inspector Dee series), but it did lead up to a smallish Hollywood part in 2013’s The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, in which he took on Magnus Bane, a flamboyant, bisexual character of Asian descent that Mr Gao played in such a campy manner, observers thought it was risky as a breakthrough role.

Godfrey Gao for LVGodfrey Gao in an Louis Vuitton ad in 2011. Photo: Louis Vuitton

That, however, did not put the brakes on leads heading his way. His biggest role came in the relatively short, 38-episode, 2016 Chinese novel-turn-TV-series Encountering Lichuan (遇见王沥川, aka Remembering Li Chuan’s Past). It sealed his heartthrob reputation as the titular character, also called Alex, is considered so well casted and performed—more turning on the born-for-camera charm than acting—by Mr Gao that fans were convinced he “wasn’t eye candy anymore”.

That he was, at time of death, filming for a China reality TV show indicated that he was big enough a name to be sold to a mainland Chinese audience, who isn’t quite tuned into Taiwan’s male-star offering when they have their own, such as Shawn Dou (窦骁, also a fellow Canadian) and Kenny Lin (林更新) who starred with Mr Gao in God of War, Zhao Yun (战神赵子龙). All that came to a halt in that fall, attributed to (or as a result of, it was not immediately clear) a cardiac arrest, a cause of death not typical of Mr Gao’s 35 years of age or a basketball player, but may be aggravated by the reported “17 straight hours of filming”. As one of his best friends, the Taiwanese basketball player (and one-time actor) James Mao (毛加恩), who was always referred to by Mr Gao as his “brother” (both were last here in September for F1), IG-ed, “This is not how it’s supposed to be”.

What was supposed to be was Godfrey Gao’s face. His was what traditionalists would call classically handsome and what the many young women who are mad about him would consider 帅呆了 (shuai dai le, awesomely suave or, literally, handsome till you’re struck speechless). Mr Gao had an extremely easy to shoot face. Those who had worked with him, make-up artists too, told SOTD he “had no bad angle”. One Singaporean stylist who had collaborated with him on commercials told us that “he doesn’t have a bad photo”, deliberately using the present tense. “I feel it’s the proportion of the head in relation to the body. And of course, it’s also because he has many good angles.”

19-11-28-13-48-27-659_deco.jpg

Godfrey Gao certainly knew his angles and wasn’t afraid to use them, such as in this series of overtly sexy ads for Earl Jeans. Photo: 小苏 for Earl Jeans

Cameras loved him and he loved them back. For some behind the lens, their work with Godfrey Gao was unforgettable, formative years. James Hsu, the Tawainese art director of the ad campaigns for Earl Jeans (the LA-based brand loved by the Hollywood set, now owned by Nautica) that featured Mr Gao for several seasons told us, “I’ve worked with Godfrey constantly for over three to four years. And it’s the time where I started everything (directing & producing). Now saying good bye to him feels more like saying goodbye to my youth.”

Godfrey Gao was the personification of youth— in his case, tenacious youth. He was enigmatic, media-ready, and willing to bank on his face. But, as it’s often said of the photogenic, what the camera sees isn’t necessarily an intimate portrait. In person, we were told, he was not always the personable idol that those who swoon at his mere presence think. One former marketing head, who had worked with Mr Gao in a paid project in Shanghai in 2011, recalled what he wasn’t prepared for: incommunicado and resistance to cooperate.

“He was not friendly, leaving all dealings and speaking to his personal assistant, appearing not for rehearsal, just the event proper, which was to walk out onto the stage at the end of a fashion show, but he didn’t emerge when he was introduced. The upbeat host of the event later surmised that because he was a guo ji ju xing (big international star), he probably didn’t want to appear alongside the other regional celebrities, sharing the same intro. She had to re-introduce him and allow him his own spotlight on stage.

Godfrey-Gao-Esquire-Singapore-March-2015-Cover.jpegOn Esquire Singapore in March 2015. Photo: Chuck Reyes/ Esquire

“We had arranged a dinner for him following the event, which he was told about earlier. He vanished after the appearance on stage, leaving his assistant to inform us that he won’t be joining us for dinner. No reason was given. My Chinese colleagues accepted that as unsurprising of an “international star”. When I later mentioned this to a Taiwanese editor friend, he said in Mr Gao’s defence, ‘He doesn’t speak Mandarin very well.’” Nor write, probably. On his social media accounts, Mr Gao posted only in English. The Singaporean stylist concurred that his Mandarin was “competent at most”.

Godfrey Gao was born in Taipei in 1984 to a Shanghainese father, who was in the auto-tyre business, and a Peranakan mother from Georgetown, who was a 1970 Miss Penang beauty queen. The young Godfrey emigrated to Vancouver with two brothers when he was eleven—his family, like so many Hong-Kongers before 1997, was likely attracted to the pleasant climate and slower pace of life in the Canadian city that was ideally situated on the Pacific Rim. Mr Gao completed his tertiary education in University of Capalino in northern Vancouver, where he was, unsurprisingly, given his 1.93m height, a member of the school’s basketball team. It is not known how well he played (or how Jeremy Lin-gifted), but it was reported that he did consider a career in the sport, but did not pursue it. He continued to play basketball throughout his professional life, counting some members of Taiwan’s national players as friends.

No major reason was offered to the deeply curios about his return to Taiwan in 2004. Some said, as an Asian model, opportunities for him in Vancouver would be few and far between. In Taipei, he did make a mark through modelling, and was part of Fashion F4, a media-bestowed collective, unashamedly named after the attractive clique in the manga series Boys Over Flowers (BOF). The Taiwanese real-life Fashion F4—not to be mistaken for the pop group F4 comprising Jerry Yan (言承旭), Vanness Wu (吴建豪), Ken Chu (朱孝天), and Vic Chou (周渝民), formed after the 2001 TV series Meteor Garden (流星花园, loosely based on BOF)—was a deft self-promotion based on the good looks of those also born into wealth (贵公子).

The Fashion F4: (from left) Victor Chen, Sphinx Ting, Godfrey Gao, and Gaby Lan. Photo: source

Mr Gao, together with fellow models Sphinx Ting (丁春诚, also turned-actor, but continued to be a popular model), Victor Chen (陈绍诚, turned-producer/TV host, but mainly managing his family business) and Gaby Lan (蓝钧天, also turned-actor, as well as member of the hip-hop outfit Maji), became such a high-profile quartet in the Taipei beau monde that the local media initially named them 社交 F4 (Social F4). Their collective good looks and smoulder culminated in a 2008 photo-book Meet Fashion 4, a publication similar to the scores in Japan that cater to vapid pop fandom.

That Godfrey Gao moved among a certain social set wasn’t surprising. Good looks and Western education tend to find company with those similarly blessed (his close friendship with basketballer James Mao, a University of Austin grad who also speaks and posts in English, may attest to that) and attract the attention of influential TV and film producers/ executives. Mr Gao’s early roles were considered small parts in ‘idol’ dramas: forgettable. His first leading character finally came in the to-be-expected sports-themed TV series Volleyball Lover (我的排队情人, 2010), in which he played rich-kid Bai Qianrui (白谦睿), an only-silly-school-girls-will-like Sudoku champ and volleyball player, enlisted by a lass he doesn’t at first love to help train the team she was in, only to find how different things between them will turn out. One regular Taiwan TV series follower at that time called the show “lame” and his acting “strictly for pre-pubescent girls who can’t tell the difference between woods”.

Until his casting in The Mortal Instruments, few thought his acting would go far, let alone to Hollywood. But he was offered a leading role in an American film, 2017’s The Jade Pendant (金山), as an American-born cook caught in the events of the 1871 mass Chinese lynchings in the Old West. It was considered by some to be a “stand-out role”, but did not win him critical acclaim, as the film had a limited release, going almost straight to DVD. His last film, Shanghai Fortress (上海堡垒)—premiered last August—was largely a Lu Han/Shu Qi (鹿晗/舒淇) vehicle. With his part in Chase Me unlikely to be televised, Godfrey Gao had yet, at the time he left this world, shown us the thespian he might become. But, as James Dean, also gone too soon, once said, “If a man can bridge the gap between life and death, if he can live on after he’s dead, then maybe he was a great man.”

Godfrey Gao (Tsao Chih-Hsiang, 高以翔), model, actor, basketball player, and KOL, born 22 September 1984; died 27 November 2019

Nicolas Ghesquière Takes A Stand

Kudos to he who holds a view that risks getting him on the wrong path with those who writes his pay check

 

Nic G IG post

Those who follow Nicolas Ghesquière on IG—to date, 827,000 of you—would have seen this. Mere days after his bosses Bernard Arnault and Michael Burke made a show of LV’s investment in Alvarado, Texas, some 65 kilometres south of Fort Worth, birthplace of Kelly Clarkson, with a pleased-as-Punch Donald Trump, Mr Ghesquière posted on IG the cover of the single of American singer Evelyn Thomas’s 1984 dance hit, High Energy, followed by an unambiguous message—“Standing against any political action. I am a fashion designer refusing this association #trumpisajoke #homophobia”.

This contrasts sharply with what Mr Arnault, LVMH chief’s executive, told members of the media that day: “I am not here to judge his (Donald Trump’s) types of policies. I have no political role; I am a business person.” That is not an affirmation of no political view, which, perhaps, prompted Mr Ghesquière to express one. We are not sure how tolerant French corporations are to opposing thoughts of their employees, but this, from the standpoint of those of us who grew up professionally in a conservative corporate environment, may elicit a strong reaction from the boss that could lead to dismissal. Or, are we being dramatic?

Mr Ghesquière could be riding on a popularity high and may wish to use his platform to say something that other designers won’t. He received a standing ovation during the recent spring/summer 2020 show for Paris Fashion Week and was featured on the cover of T magazine last week, in which he was quoted saying “I was never trained as a businessman and I will never want to be one.” Sure, one does not have to see eye-to-eye with one’s boss, but could all these seemingly contradictory messages be construed as a sign of defiance? Or, does fashion need such opposition of thought for it to encourage creativity?

Mr Ghesquière, who has been Louis Vuitton’s artistic director for women’s wear for six years, has done much to set the brand apart from what is ailing luxury fashion, not just in Paris, but much across the fashion capitals of the world, taking strides in his own distinctive view and speaking in his own singular voice. Just as his bosses Bernard Arnault and Michael Burke have the liberty to do business in Trumpland, he, too, has the right to share his thoughts. Nicolas Ghesquière should be appreciated and applauded.

Who Is Evelyn Thomas?

Mr Ghesquière posted on IG a cover of the single of the 1984 dance hit by Evelyn Thomas, High Energy, which, if we remember correctly was mixed by Victor Flores, an American techno DJ of the ’80s, whose work included remixes for mainstream acts such as Wang Chung (Dance Hall Days) and Joe Cocker (You Can Leave Your Hat On). Mr Flores’s various mixes of High Energy (actually, we prefer the Almighty 12″ Definitive Mix from 2009 for its more stomping—almost Dead Or Alive—rather than the typical pulsating beat) became huge that year (and several later), a big, anthemic chart-topper that was especially popular in the gay scene, which may explain why Mr Ghesquière chose it to accompany the hashtag #homophobia and to underscore Donald Trump’s perceived homophobic leaning.

Ms Thomas, now 66, was already a recording artiste, singing jazz and gospel, when High Energy scored. The track was co-produced by the British/Irish duo of Ian Levine and Fiachra Trench, and it was, in fact, their second collaboration with Ms Thomas after a first single Weak Spot failed to scale the charts. Ms Thomas was credited for creating the dance genre Hi-NRG, the staple of gay clubs in the mid-’80s, but ‘high energy’ was already gaining traction when DJs, declaring disco dead, used the term to describe dance music that played faster than the typical dance track prior to that. Ms Thomas was just singing the right song at the right time.

High Energy opens with a cheesy melodic synth intro that would typify disco tracks of this time and be a clarion call to disco-goers to rush to the dance floor to kick into dance. But this rousing musical device was already heard, a year earlier, in So Many Men, So Little Time, also a Levine/Trench production and another huge club hit and, understandably, also a gay anthem, sung by Miquel Brown, Amii Stewart’s step-sister, and Sinitta’s mom(!). In fact, the frightening catchiness of these songs would eventually transpose from gay clubs to the more mass discotheques that, at the risk of sounding elitist, the bengs and lians patronised with delirious regularity. Regardless, Mr Ghesquière has put a tune in our heads and we can’t get it out!

Photo: Instagram/Nicolas Ghesquière

LV’s Trip Fantastic

Nicolas Ghesquière makes Louis Vuitton a worthy closing journey for Paris Fashion Week

 

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Since the time he was spotlighted at Balenciaga, Nicolas Ghesquière’s designs have the pleasing ability to make us wonder. How does he do it? Why does he do it? How does he come to such an idea? What’s behind his thinking? At Louis Vuitton, he conceives such compelling collections that those questions continue to happily enter our minds. A welcome occupation, musings that won’t come to those queuing to get into an LV store. And that’s okay.

As the media reported it, the inspiration this season is La Belle Époque (beautiful age, a time in Paris when the arts flourished). But it is one that gleefully clashes with the ’70s—no Sarah Bernhardt, no Lina Cavalieri, no La Belle Otero, perhaps Cléo de Mérode reincarnated as Catherine Deneuve, or, more likely, Anita Pallenberg (her “evil glamour” a deal maker!). Even his take on the Gibson Girl is more Katniss Everdeen than Dolly Gallagher Levi. The thing is Mr Ghesquière is not inclined to be so era-specific. He is especially deft at referring without actually pointing to references. Sure, there’s often the nod to the ’70s, as with this season, but it tends not to hum the same tune as others obsessed with that time do, such as Tom Ford or Marc Jacobs.

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If associations with La Belle Époque are obvious, it is mostly in the prints, which seems like Jacques Gruber meets Kasia Charko (the illustrator of Biba’s ads and poster), handled with the delicacy of Antonio Daum’s crystal work and then put through the filters of MeituPic, and, occasionally, camo-fied. In fact, we can’t seem to get enough of the prints, intrigued by their composition, amused by how, in sum, they are less Art Nouveau than Flower Power. When they take the shape of clothes, there is a judicious balance of graphic interest and enhancement of the structure of the garments, which, regrettably, has been missing in brands that market prints as crux to their design.

Many commentators regard Mr Ghesquière as a futurist, but to us, he is more a fantasist with a flair for costuming a fashionable pantomime. The styling, for example, counters the general practice of what is considered tasteful. Wearing the collar outside the neckline of a sweater always felt to us too geekish, or, outside a blazer, like a pimp. Yet, collars, conspicuous and boldly shaped, are placed out of the neckline of the outers. How Mr Ghesquière also plays with curves within certain parameters: the pronounced but arched shoulders and the circular collar and rounded lapels can come together like an interplay of petals, is fascinating and a study of how a tad more is not necessarily superfluous.

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And the colours! They are not quite a riot—somewhat muted, in fact, but they are rich, negating the believe that only black is chic. In fact, black is not central to the collection, no one colour is. Against a video projection of blue sky and the transgender singer Sophie singing (and emoting), the palette projects a happy—slightly off-beat, if you consider the pronounced red and shape of the models’ lips—vibe that is not inconsistent with what the flower generation tried to nurture and communicate through their choice of ethnic-leaning clothes. Sure, LV is not quite that trippy, but in spirit, it’s as anti-conformist and anti-repressive, and beams with embraceable energy.

It is heartening to see that, while Louis Vuitton’s men’s wear is taking a trajectory of no aesthetic certainty, its women’s RTW is marching on extremely nicely under Nicolas Ghesquière. And as other brands under the LVMH umbrella continue with predictable hum (not, to us, buzz) and the usual codes, LV reverberates with much more directional and off-centre aplomb that continues to make the ride jaunty. Mr Ghesquière may need to look back to lurch forward, but some of us are eager to go along. As Joni Mitchell sang in 1970’s The Circle Game, “We can’t return we can only look/Behind from where we came/And go round and round and round/In the circle game”.

Photos: vogue.com/Alessandro Lucioni/gorunway.com