Who’s That Goddess?

The Winged Victory of Samothrace has such high-low appeal

Left: Louis Vuitton show that ended with the last model in front of the statue. Screen grab: Louis Vuitton. Right: The image on a Uniqlo T-shirt. Photo: Zhao Xiangji

When the final model of last month’s Louis Vuitton show came to the end of the runway (set in the Louvre Museum), she came face to face with one of the biggest treasures of the musée: the Winged Victory of Samothrace. She paused and looked at the imposing figure as if in silent worship. What stood before her was the Hellenistic sculpture of Nike—the Greek goddess, not the sneaker brand. Nearly 11,000 kilometres to the east of Paris, the image of the same headless and armless deity was seen on the front of a black, S$19.90 Uniqlo crew-neck T-shirt. The illustration, in a patina of pastels, is conceived by the British graphic designer Peter Saville, in conjunction with the Louvre. It also includes the location of the statue and two letters and four numerals that form the inventory number. Back in Paris, you can buy a good 18-cm reproduction of the goddess that’s patinated by hand for €119. An immeasurable distance away, at the online portal Lazada, you, too, can obtain a similar figurine, cast in resin, for S$35.74. The Winged Victory (the shorter name), it seems, is almost everywhere.

Discovered in 1863 on the Greek island of Samothrace, in the northern Aegean sea, this sculptured likeness of Nike (circa 200 B.C.) is considered one of the finest in the world for its realistic depiction of a body in motion as well as its attractive female proportions. Ironically, the sculptor is unknown. By most accounts, Nike is a winged goddess who flies around as the bestower of victory to those who win wars, as well as peaceful competition, such as athletic games. Although not shown in the statue, she is known to carry laurel wreaths to hand out to, naturally, victors, and bestowing on them the rewards that come with winning. Other than her ability to take to flight, she is also reputed to be a fast runner (the connection to that shoe company again!) and a talented charioteer (which makes her standing atop the prow of a boat in the Louvre rather odd), so good, in fact, she commanded Zeus’s cavalry as the chief charioteer.

Despite her abundant talents, Nike did not seem attractive to possible suitors

No goddess of repute wasn’t connected to Zeus, the god of gods, the all-father, whose throne was in Olympus and whose personal logo is the thunder bolt. Nike was born to the Titan Pallas and the nymph Styx. In the ten-year Titanomachy, a war of egos that saw the Olympians battle the Titans, Styx sided with Zeus and was the first to dash to his aid. She presented him with Nike and her siblings to serve as allies. So pleased was Zeus with this unconditional readiness that he allowed them to use Mount Olympus as their permanent residence. Nike was allowed to remain by his side and receive his eternal protection. Despite her abundant talents, Nike did not seem attractive to possible suitors (she remained unmarried). In fact, there is no mention of her looks unlike, say, Aphrodite, who, although a warrior goddess, was celebrated for her beauty, among many other attributes. Stephen Fry in Mythos, described her as “a face far more beautiful than creation has yet seen or will ever see again”. Nike did not enjoy such a tribute to her physical attributes, although the ancients did describe her as “trim-ankled”.

In the Winged Victory, the goddess is often admired for the draped dress on her forward-thrusting body, both captured with remarkable mastery. This version of Nike wears a chiton, a unisex garment of either linen or wool. Given the lightness in the depiction, linen is likely the fabric represented there. The chiton was mostly rectangular, and held in place and gathered at the shoulders by either stitches or pins. Since its length for women was usually longer than the wearer, the chiton was worn with a belt so that when the top part was pulled up to fall over the cinched waist, like a blouse, the length could be shortened. On the Winged Victory, an additional belt is secured under the bust to further secure the dress. The fabric, possibly because of the wind, gathered between the legs to expose unscandalously the left hip and leg. Around the waist, another garment could be discerned: a himation or a cloak, draped around the right hip and swept open, with a swathe of it caught in the wind behind. Unlike mortals of today, the gods of yore clearly didn’t need a stylist to work their fashion.

Jet Bag

The Louis Vuitton Keepall has a new shape. And it’s ridiculous

A new aircraft will land in a Louis Vuitton store near you. And whether it will then take off isn’t certain yet as the big-ticket item is tagged at—fasten your seatbelt—USD39,000. Or, about the cheapest price of a one-way ticket from our island to the city of Tokyo on a private jet. Or, the COE for a Cat A car. People long to travel, we understand. But yearning is one thing, showing your cannot-be-concealed desire to fly (again) amid a pandemic by carrying a bag in the shape of a plane borders on absurd and, frankly, laughable. Louis Vuitton has just announced the availability of the Airplane Bag to order and its staggering price tag (to compare, the “entry-level” Hermès’s Birkin is reported to be USD9,000). When it was shown during the men’s autumn/winter 2021 show, we had thought that it would not go into production, as it could be just a prop—good for runway, not quite on a city sidewalk. But now that we know it can soon be purchased, it would appear that Virgil Abloh can really do anything.

Looking like it belongs to Fluffy Airport, in the company of Gugu and friends, Mr Abloh’s jet bag is consistent with his increased use of cartoon/stuffed-toy accessories to add interest to his tailoring that has yet become streetwear’s much awaited stand-in. The Airplane Bag brings to mind Thom Browne’s Hector canine carryall, so adorable that mature women are known to go weak in its presence. And to a lesser extent, Hermès’s Bolide Shark Bag, only far less capacious. And, to us, not cute like both. It does not take long to see that it is probably not quite the cabin bag to bring onboard, even in first class: not exactly overhead compartment-friendly. In fact, it is hard to imagine a grown man totting the bag anywhere. This is not a Thomas the Tank Engine lunch box dad has to bring for junior.

Understandably, Mr Abloh is into the present travel-again obsession, like so many people, especially fashion folks. We didn’t, however, quite get the supposedly dichotomic “Tourist-vs-Purist” message he was communicating or how the plane fits into all that. To be sure, the flying machine was a key motif. It appeared as oversized buttons and illustration on sweaters, even on earrings. But this unwieldy jet bag in the recognisable monogram is way too serious and too boys-and-their-toys to be clever or ironic. Mr Abloh, we know, likes to be literal; he is inclined, for instance, to naming things or identifying their function with descriptions in bold font. Is it a relief then that the Airplane Bag doesn’t come with a textual identifier? And in quotation marks?

Leaving on a Jet Plane is not a song to sing these days. Or an action to talk about. What about leaving with a jet plane?

Product photo: Louis Vuitton. Illustrations: Just So

It Rained On Their Parade

At the Louis Vuitton IRL show right here on our island this evening, rain water came down so spectacularly that some attendees said that it wouldn’t be an LV show without the “drama”

Rain-soaked runway at the ArtScience Museum

The weather has been unpredictable these two weeks. Rain spoils the afternoons, not the thunderstorm that was forecasted. Past lunch time today, the sky above many parts of the island was overcast with dark and pregnant clouds, above which a steadfast blue could be seen. Around two today, the unmistakable petrichor that precedes a shower on a scorching day was heady. We were in the east, where we had just finished a late lunch when it started to drizzle. The dense grey clouds did not release its welcome drench. Later, in the CBD, it was dry until it wasn’t, at about six. At Marina Bay Sands and its surroundings, the rain lent a delectable freshness to the air and the area. Except the Apple store, the roofs of the Marina Bay Sands hotel and the kindred Shoppes building in front were aglow with goblin green light, so was the Moshe Safdie-designed ArtScience Museum. Inside, on basement 2, known as Circulation and Oculus, the third part of the most exciting event of the social/fashion calendar since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic was about to take place. From the time the news broke four days ago, the Louis Vuitton spring/summer 2021 “spin-off” show was all anyone in the fashion community—invited or not—could talk about.

Despite the resounding buzz of the evening, what nearly dampened the show was the rain making its way into the venue—like Jewel’s Rain Vortex or the adjacent building’s own Rain Occulus—through the sky well above the (also-named) Occulus, a sort of centre ring that the museum calls, somewhat with foresight, a “giant outdoor water feature”. Guests arriving and those already seated were totally amused, unsure if the presentation would go on. Some even wondered if the affair of the night might relocate to the nearby Sands Expo and Convention Centre. Those in the front row, such as Vogue SG editor Norman Tan, were given massive black umbrellas to the consternation of those seated behind. Uniformed staff emerged to arrange rolled-up rags into a disjointed ring to prevent the water from flow-radiating into the space occupied by the audience. They were desperately mopping the floor dry, but the rain was not in a cooperative mood. In the presence of the cleaning crew hard at work, guests were selfie-ing and posing for cameras to be sure they had, for posterity and for their social media followers, photos set against this wet, wet green. The show opened about 20 minutes after the scheduled time of 7.30. The precipitation persisted. So wet the floor was that even seasoned models slipped or fell, such as Yong Kai Gin, who was “fresh off the Paris runways” of last month. Ms Yong, considered “Singapore’s most successful model today”, later appeared in swimwear, with a bruise on her left knee clearly visible.

Cleaning staff trying to mop the catwalk dry

There were three shows spread throughout today, but all were not equally created, at least not by attendance. The first show at noon and the second at 4pm were thought to be for the “not-that-important”, as one attendee enthusiastically described to us. If you were slotted for the 12pm show, “that’s tragic”. And even seated in the actual space was not enough. If you were assigned a cube-seat placed in the peripheral corridor of the Circulation, you were further south on the LV favourite list. Some not invited to the evening “VVIP” presentation, felt slighted. One society fixture/YouTuber, as the afternoon’s chatter went, was so indignant with the less-desirable show time she found herself in, even when she had shared on social media images of the invite with the time clearly printed, that she could not be placated—LV had to invite her to the soiree. It is understandable why there had to be three shows even if consequent problems could be predicted. Each session could accommodate 112 people (more that the number a married couple are presently allowed to host at their wedding reception), as reported in the press, so that all can be seated safely apart. But logistical problems were no concern of those who only wanted to be seen at the time that mattered, on time or not.

The VVIPs are a different lot, as you can imagine; their standing and spending power (five digits upwards for the current season, we heard, to be invited) commensurate with the treatment offered to them to make attending the LV event easier, smoother. Transport (not Grab!) from their individual residences to the venue (and later back to their homes) were provided. Despite door-step car service, some kept the drivers waiting—an attendee was said to have one stood by for a grand hour! At the drop-off point on the Sand Expo and Convention Centre side of the MBS complex on Bayfront Avenue, these VVIPs were also driven in a golf buggy through the mall to the promenade, where they disembarked to walk to the museum. As many of them were to attend in top-to-toe Louis Vuitton spring/summer 2021 RTW (or had spent that six-figure sum), they were sent makeup artists to help them look their Tuesday night LV best. After the show, dinner at three different locations was arranged for them. It was a heady mix of influencers, members of the media, and Mediacorp stars, such as Zoey Tay, Rebecca Lim, Desmond Tan, and Ayden Sng, all togged in, expectedly (or should that be expectantly?), LV.

Monogrammed swimwear appropriate for the wet, wet, wet presentation. Model Yong Kai Gin continued to walk the runway even with a bruised left knee, the result of a fall earlier

While Louis Vuitton’s CEO Michael Burke told The Straits Times that “the spin-off show in Singapore is a way for Louis Vuitton to cultivate proximity with a global audience by bringing the show to a new location…”, there was talk among the audience that Singapore was, in fact, not the first choice, Bangkok was. But due to the pandemic and the still-to-abate political unrest in the Thai capital, LV decided to stage the spin-off show on our potentially rain-soaked island, much to the delight of our Tourist Promotion Board, reportedly the facilitator that had helped LV “to leverage the country’s talent, infrastructure, resources and luxury consumer landscape to bring about this show,” according to ST. It was not surprising, therefore, that the show director was “godfather of Singapore fashion” Daniel Boey (a return to the physical show after last year’s The Front Row digital fashion week). The Spanish film producer Fran Borgia (Sandcastle, Boo Junfeng’s 2010 feature film), who is based here, was the live-stream creative director.

The 7.30pm online show was touted as a “livestream”, but the version posted on the LV (SG) website appeared to have been filmed earlier. Those who sat in front of their PCs or held their smartphones to watch saw not a performance glitched by a downpour, but a laggy video (that froze repeatedly at start), with sometimes choppy sound, and editing that appeared to deliberately create a low-tech effect that recalled music videos of the early ’80s. At the show venue, the soundtrack was suitably thumping and loud, but that did not drown out the vibe of a presentation that barely trifled with the thrilling, or enthralling. We had to remind ourselves that this was a spin-off, not a reproduction of the striking show held in the French department store La Samaritaine last October. The presentation looked totally unrecognisable. Green (to be keyed out later for video effects that were, at best, superfluous) dominated the space, not Art Nouveau and Art Deco architecture. The clothes—67 edited looks in all—were pieces from the spring/summer 2021 collection and a separate summer capsule, worn on models unfortunately without the experience or the vim to bring out the wondrousness of Nicolas Ghesquière’s designs. If the cascading water was a welcome droll to the show, the Singapore girls’ performance was the veritable wet blanket.

Photos: The Roving Eye

Loads Of This And That

It’s hard to categorise Louis Vuitton’s RTW, and therein lies the charm

The runway’s back at the Louvre for Louis Vuitton. Inside, in fact. In the Michelangelo and Daru galeries of the Denon Wing, where some of the world’s priceless masterpieces reside, including one very famous smile. But the models—only them in the flesh—did not walk past La Gioconda, also known as the Mona Lisa. Although without an audience or museum visitors or fashion show gawkers, they had for company Falconet’s Bather, the Borghese_Gladiator, and the headless angel, Winged Victory of Samothrace, among other ethereal sculptures of antiquity. The clothes, far from classical or classic, share the grandeur of Greek and Roman, and Hellenistic art at its most prodigious. The simple draping on the statues, if dressed, perhaps show how far fashion has come and how complex it has become, in view of the delightful disarrangement of forms that Nicolas Ghesquière has brought to LV.

Flanked by the neutral-coloured treasures and against the additional lighting installation, the imaginative interplay of shapes and patterns are just beguiling. They beg a second viewing, even a third. Or, more. (First time, there he goes again!) To borrow a popular fashion-reviewer description, there’s a lot to unpack. And we don’t mean just the individual pieces, but what’s on them too. Mr Ghesquière, a skilled cross-pollinator, does not leave the singular alone. In his hands, unlikely juxtaposition, with no specific point of reference, become not only destined, they yield such extraordinary results that you know that, if worn, these clothes can bring on the much-touted, but elusive quality: transformative power. A jacket is not just a jacket, it has conversation-starting “statement sleeves”; a sweater is not just a sweater, it’s a tunic with potholes for pockets; a dress with a ’60s vibe is not quite ’60s after all, it is graphically encrusted and looks ready for a time when a pandemic can truly be described with the prefix ‘post’.

Mr Ghesquière tells the press that he wants to convey “hope and joy”. The joy is not only in the clothes, the joy is also in viewing them, in desiring them. How does one resist a bi-coloured bubble jacket that stays true to the name—a globular puff-up that looks as warming and comfortable as it is striking? Or the abbreviated hobble skirts that won’t restrict movements since they end above the knee? Or those cocktail dresses made sportif (raglan sleeves!) that you know will have a long life outside soirees slated for nightfall? These are occasion-blurring clothes. You don’t see which is for the office (who’s going back to the office?), which for economic summits, which for first dates, which for Sunday brunch, which for holidays, which for strolling in the park, which for gala dinners, which for the red carpet (no gowns!). In the world that comes after our present troubles, we should not have to worry about what to wear… for who, for when, for what; we should just wear.

At Louis Vuitton, they have been enthusiastically embarking on art-collabs. This season, Mr Ghesquière teams up with the estate of the Italian artist Piero Fornasetti (1913-1988) to apply the distinctive Fornasetti graphics on clothes and on bags. The treatment on the apparel are most alluring: medallion (or coin?) cut-outs of heads of classical icons placed, collage-like, on a new typography of the brand spelled in full are far much more eye-catching than repetitive monograms. LV, of course, still banks on their monograms, such as that seen on the Damier canvas, to ensure that they are the world’s most valuable luxury brand, but rather than introducing more, Mr Ghesquière opted for a graphical approach, blending images and text in a happy medley of the old(ish) and the current that projects the spirit of pop. Sure, this season, there’s the monogram-like pattern of rows of frets, but they don’t seemed destined for a vapid commercial life. Etore Sottssas wrote of Mr Fornasetti in the introduction of the book Fornasetti: Designer of Dreams, “It is perfectly possible to create a world that has never been, that will never be, using the fragments of a world that has been, a world that one fine day blew up in the sky.” That can be said of Nicolas Ghesquière. In the Denon Wing, that explosion was evident.

Screen grab and photos: Louis Vuitton

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, he 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