Ye, Something Is Wrong

Has jealousy really consumed Kanye West?

Kanye West interviewed by Tucker Carlson. Screen shot: motherboardtv/FaceBook

At the end of the Tucker Carlson introduction to his interview with Kanye West, televised on Fox News last week, the anchor asked, “Is West crazy?”. The answer might well be a resounding yes (his purported bipolar disorder aside). But Mr Carlson wanted you to believe otherwise. Many of us, “the enemies of his ideas” America’s favourite conservative political commentator said, “dismissed West, as they have for years, as mentally ill. Too crazy to take seriously. Look away. Ignore him. He’s a mental patient. There’s nothing to see here.” Did Tucker Carlson know something we did not or only suspected? Is he pro-West, as he appeared to be, calling his interviewee “a highly-paid and celebrated fashion designer”. Perhaps anything less laudatory but more critical would not be honorary to the man lapping it all up before him? Never mind that when Mr Carlson adulates, as he does when it comes to, for example, Vladimir Putin, he makes many cringe.

As it turned out, Kanye West enjoyed the interview so much that he gave Mr Carlson more than the two hours worth of material that made the broadcast. In fact, the desultory session was much longer. And far more revealing and disturbing. According to Vice, its sibling unit Motherboard TV obtained footages of those parts omitted in the final two-parter. Kanye West can’t stop talking—that’s for sure. But he won’t stop talking about Virgil Abloh—that’s just annoying. Or Mr West’s own massive part in the scheme of things—that’s double the annoyance. Since his mind-numbing YZY SZN 9 show in Paris more than a week ago, the rapper-designer has been gabbing that it was he who made possible Mr Abloh’s rise to the fashion firmament. And, in case everyone has just returned from orbiting Mars, that Mr Abloh was his assistant, a mere sidekick, the one who should not have succeeded, but did anyway. What is that supposed to evoke?

And the sour grapes became even more so. Could this be what consumed by jealousy looks like? He couldn’t reiterate what he already said on Instagram (the platform, as well as Twitter restricted him for allegedly anti-Semitic comments); so he took to the French media outlet Clique TV. And just in case the editing there was too heavy-handed, he found the repeating of himself necessary with Tucker Carlson, the eager listener to those who would give him material to match his view that his own voice is being silenced by intolerant liberals. And Mr West would not be suppressed either. So he said again in the un-aired footage Motherboard TV shared, ”Virgil was hired as my assistant” (he also emphasised later that “he got his line [Off-White], but he’s my main employee”) and, in true Trumpian boast, “we did this fashion show that was the… it was the most seen fashion show in history”. We assume he was referring to Yeezy Season 1.

And then the reminder that LVMH wanted to invest in him. As that show was so widely watched, “Bernard Arnault asked to meet with me. And he offered me a deal. But with the deal, they had to have ownership because they are colonisers… All these people, all these VCs and a lot of this type of companies, they have to have a lot of this kind of ownership. And Louis Vuitton have presented themselves in such a way—they have so much real estate, where a Black man’s dream comes true.” Yet, despite their real estate, their supposed interest in him and what he had done till then, and his willingness “to give them the lion’s share”, Mr West said, that “three months later, they dropped the deal at the board.” And then his “best friend” got the position at Louis Vuitton, “which is, aside from Hermès, one of the most prestigious jobs in the world.”

Despite the acknowledgement of the prestige a job at LV confers, it would be amazing that after this, any fashion company would be willing to work with him. Particularly disconcerting was his assertion that “Virgil was actually the third person to die of cancer in that organisation (LVMH)“ without saying how he came to such statistics, as well as “not just Black men have passed in that organisation, but the third person to die of cancer that was in a higher up position in that organisation”. And then he went on to point out that “Paris is a different level of elitism and racism. And Virgil was the kind of guy that—he didn’t hold it in. And I believe it ate him up from inside.” If you are still not convinced, he repeated himself to underscore that point. “The level of racism, elitism and pressure that he was under, I’m sure, affected his health.”

No matter how often he has blurted about the competition—unhealthy enough to deserve echoing—between Mr Abloh and he, repetition is necessary. “At that point, also me and Virgil had a rivalry because he had taken my place in fashion,” Mr West reminded the viewers. Was his place that low that it could be easily scaled or, to him, usurped? And as before, he had to drag Drake’s name in: “He was now Drake to the radio of what he was to fashion. And we had a strained relationship also.” He did not say exactly what caused the strain. But jealousy, as he had pointed out before, was (and still is) likely the root of all that bedeviled him. And then his other Drake, Bernard Arnault, was brought up again. “I felt what Bernard Arnault—not only did he pull on the deal that contributed to me breaking down, and go back on his word with that, he also went on to hire multiple people out of my organisation.” It is hard even for the “king of culture” to find the courage and the confirmation in a career considered crowned. Even when no one cares.

No Love Lost

Kanye West admits he ”hated” Virgil Abloh’s designs. Intense brotherly affection?

Kanye West (front) and Virgil Abloh (back) hugged and cried at the end of Mr Abloh’s first Louis Vuitton. Screen shot: travisscott/Instagram

In the latest Instagram posts, following his rambling interview with Tucker Carlson of Fox News, Kanye West hit back at Tremaine Emory (of Supreme and Denim Tears), saying that both of them had no love for the work of the late Virgil Abloh. “I hated Virgil’s designs and you do to [sic]”. It is not clear if Mr West was referring to Off-White or Louis Vuitton. Or, if he detested Mr Abloh’s designs because he didn’t think they were as good as the output of his current fave, Demna Gvasalia of Balenciaga (whom he called “THE MOST RELEVANT DESIGNER”) or Riccardo Tisci whose last Burberry show Mr West turned up to support. It is tempting to see his admission concur with the initial thoughts on Mr Abloh’s designs for Off-White (often referred to as an “elevated streetwear brand”, although they did eventually offer “couture”) and later LV. His debut at the French house was met with suspicion—hype aided him, not design. Even after establishing himself as a luxury fashion force to acknowledge, there was still cynicism towards him as an original. In 2020, Walter Van Beirendonck, reacting to designs for the contemporaneous LV show in Shanghai that bore striking similarity to what the Belgian designer put out in 2016, said to the media, “It’s very clear that Virgil Abloh is not a designer. He has no language of his own, no vision. He can’t create something of his own season after season and that is painful.”

Kanye West came to the defence of his friend. He wrote on Twitter, “Virgil can do whatever he wants”, adding “do you know how hard it’s been for us to be recognized?” A struggling or novice creative cannot crib the original work of others, but a recognised designer can, just like a pedestrian can’t ignore the red man at a traffic crossing, but a cyclist can? But now it seems that, while a successful Mr Abloh had the freedom to do as he pleased, what he did was hated. Was Mr West’s support that ardent to begin with? Following the shared-then-deleted flux of IG posts, which Tucker Carlson called “freeform social media posts”, Mr West put out eight screen shots that he referred to as “ABBREVIATED VERSION OF ME AND TREMAINES (sic) CONVERSATION”. Apart from admitting to his intense dislike for Mr Abloh’s designs, he claimed that Mr Emory shared the same sentiment. In previous posts, Mr West had claimed that he hired the latter “because LVMH took Virgil”. Was he saying that he was he left with no one else, but the second best? It is not hard to understand why his followers find his posts gripping stuff.

Designing friends or rivals? From left, Tremaine Emory, Virgil Abloh, Kanye West. Photo: Getty Images

In this fraught triumvirate, Tremaine Emory has worked with both men. He started at Marc Jacobs, where he remained for nine years before being lured by Mr West to serve as the rapper-designer’s creative consultant in 2016 (a position formerly filled by Virgil Abloh) and later became Yeezy’s brand director. He left Yeezy two years after and established his own label Denim Tears, following the formation of the multi-disciplinary creative collective No Vacancy Inn (their T-shirts retailed at Dover Street Market London). Mr Abloh and Mr Emory collaborated on a Levi’s capsule for Denim Tears in 2021. After the LV designer’s death in 2021, Mr Emory was rumoured to be one of those shortlisted to take over at LV (others included A-Cold-Wall*’s Samuel Ross and Pyer Moss’s Kerby Jean-Raymond). He joined Supreme in February this year, where he is the streetwear giant’s first official creative director.

This resume, for the most part, corresponds with what Mr West wrote to Mr Emory in one of the screen shots shared: “We all take jobs at white companies. And wether [sic] we like the fashion or not”, after saying “we as a people have lost the ability to farm ourselves”. Is he suggesting that Black people would not seek employment with the likes of Telfar Clemens? Or is working with White-owned companies, unappealing as it is to Mr West, a Black fate? His current belief is rather ironic, considering that his first fashion job of consequence (certainly for Virgil Abloh) and a choice of his, was that internship with Fendi in Rome. Did he not like the fashion there, even when he reportedly admired Karl Lagerfeld? In an interview with the New York radio station Hot 97 in 2018, Mr West said that it was monotonous: “every day, going to work, walking to work, getting cappuccinos.” Seemingly, there was no work involving design. As he recalled to radio host Charlamagne Tha God, “We couldn’t do anything. We were just happy to have a key card”. Both men were paid US$500 a month, each.

The IG conversations he had with Mr Emory, the designer of the ‘White Lives Matter’ T-shirt wrote: “I was jealous of Virgil.” For many it is hardly surprising that Mr West felt that way. He is the “Louis Vuitton don” and this is old-fashioned resentment against someone else enjoying more success than he. Until Mr Abloh’s death, both were friends for about 14 years. They met some time in the mid-2000s through Mr West’s then manager, the Chicago music bigwig John Monopoly. Mr Abloh was working in a print shop at the time and he could do graphic design, and was able to do it well, digitally too. He was introduced to Mr West, who asked him to collaborate almost immediately. As Mr Abloh told GQ in 2019, “more than any title, I was just his assistant creatively” or, in fancier term, “consigliere”, as the chief curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago Michael Darling described his position. In 2009, the two men’s fashion adventure began when they managed to secure an internship with Fendi in Rome. In just four years after that, Mr Abloh launched Off-White and in another four, he joined Louis Vuitton. His trajectory would have impressed—or aroused jealousy—in the once-more-famous Mr West.

Happier times: Tremaine Emory and Kanye West in 2018. Photo: BFA

When the new LV designer emerged to take his bow at the end of his debut show for the house in Paris in 2018, Mr West stepped onto the runway, walked towards his friend, and both men hugged, and cried into each other’s shoulder. The rapper was clearly emotional. And possibly burning with jealousy? Once a mere “assistant” and then fellow intern, Virgil Abloh was now basking in the glare of the world’s media and the applause of those whose approval and respect he needed. He had quickly achieved more than what Mr West had desired to, even when both of their design beginnings were largely circumscribed by the ternion of T-shirt, hoodie, and sneakers. Although Yeezy shoes (with Adidas) and the clothing line were already launched in 2015 (and the footwear is hugely successful), Mr West was not quite the lauded designer that his friend with two fashion labels under his watch had managed to become. However hard he tried, fashion folks still did not (won’t) take Kanye West seriously. Unable to score a job with a luxury brand, he took another route—quite the opposite, in fact. In 2020, The Gap announced that they had inked a 10-year deal to create the Yeezy Gap line. Last month, Mr West called off the partnership.

Since then, there were also his troubles with Adidas, which promoted the German brand to “place the partnership under review”. Every Yeezy collaborator seemingly could not understand what their main man desired or what was brewing in his head. This contrasted with Mr Abloh, whose work with LV appeared to have had gone swimmingly well. Even after his death, LV staged repeated, lavish tribute shows. Adidas merely designated a Yeezy Day and apparently without Mr West’s approval, as the guy alleged this year (Yeezy Day has been around since 2019). It is not yet known why Mr West hated Mr Abloh’s designs or—according to Mr Emory—said “Virgil’s designs are a disgrace to the black community infont [sic] of all (his) employees at Yeezy”. Addressing Mr Emory, Mr West wondered why “you and Luka (Sabbat, a model/influencer who walked in Yeezy Season 1) not wearing it head to toe”, as if that is necessary to prove one adores another designer’s work. In a separate IG post, he wrote about Mr Emory, “I took you off the streets… only cause you was the struggle version of Virgil”. Even the folks at The Gap and Adidas knew better than to provoke the wrath of “you can’t manage me” Kanye West. But as he told Tucker Carlson, “If I raise my voice, if I express myself on Instagram, it’s a colonic.”

Update (10 Oct 2023, 13.10):

In his latest broadcast interview—with French media outlet Clique TV—Kanye West revealed that the Louis Vuitton Men’s artistic director position was first proposed to him before Virgil Abloh got the job. “No one knows I’d been offered the deal by Bernard Arnault,” he said. “But three months after that, they dropped the deal”, even after Mr Arnault’s son Alexandre had said that his dad “never goes back on his word”. Mr West also claimed that Mr Abloh only called him to share the good news “two minutes before it hit the Internet”. He reiterated that there was “a lot of pain and jealousy”. It is not known why he chose to reveal this only now. Or, if it’s the self-declared “creative genius”, the “unquestionably, undoubtedly, the greatest human artist of all time” in self-affirmation mode.

Update (10 Oct 2023, 23:00):

Kanye West in a supposed meeting with Adidas execs. Screen shot: Kanye West/Facebook

Temporarily shut out of Instagram and Twitter, Kanye West has taken to Facebook to show a 30-minute docu-promo of sort titled Last Week. One of the clips included was a meeting with executives from Adidas that took place in a blank room. At the start of the clip, Mr West was showing one of the men on his smartphone something that caused the latter to ask, “is that a porn movie?” This meeting appeared to have taken place after his separation from Gap. In the conversation (subtitled!), Mr West made sure, again, that those listening knew exactly who he was: “I’m the king of culture… I have to step up as the king of culture (he called himself that at least four times). You’re face to face, eye to eye with the person who does songs with your father-in-law, with the person who discovered Virgil, with the person who discovered Demna, with the person that placed the creative director at SKIMS”. That’s clearly another predilection: taking credit for everything.

Big On Details

Literally. Louis Vuitton shows size in unexpected ways. And impractical too?

Louis Vuitton closes PFW with a flashy purpose-built set in the Cour Carrée by the French visual artist Philippe Parreno. He and the Hollywood production designer James Chinlund (The Lion King and the upcoming The Batman) have built an installation in the courtyard in the Louvre Palace that looks like a giant rosette made of red sails. Nicholas Ghesquière describes it to the media as “kind of a flower, a carnival flower”. The sheltered runway encircles the strange bloom, with the models emerging from the middle and down a ramp. It is huge and is impressive as a pavilion in a World Expo might be. This is the fanciest set seen in Paris this season, rivalled, conversely, by Balenciaga’s also-artist-created mass (and mess) of mud, both no doubt profoundly costly to set up.

These past fashion weeks, mad as some of the shows were, do not seem to comport with what is happening outside of the annual circus. The UN very recently warned the world that rich nations may spark a global recession with their aggressive monetary policies that “could inflict worse damage than the financial crisis in 2008”. Add to that, the ongoing war in Ukraine, unrelenting inflation, spiking interest rates, and we have the global economy teetering on the brink of recession. And perhaps Louis Vuitton is hinting at how big the downturn might be, even if it is possible luxury labels won’t be that badly affected. Nicholas Ghesquière has not retained the still prevalent upsized silhouettes for LV, as others designers continued to have, but he sure has made large—startlingly and comically—what should normally be discreet: fastenings and hardware.

While Kanye West has declared the omission of zips, buttons, and hardware in his clothes for Yeezy, Mr Ghesquière has gone the opposite way, only that he made sure you won’t miss those zips, buttons, and hardware. What would normally not be noticed are now fasteners begging to be looked at. The buttons are the size of Famous Amos’s soft cookie. The zippers are not hidden (no discreet YKKs!) and come with wide tapes, massive teeth, huge sliders and even larger pull tabs, and as a pair, if they’re two-way fasteners. Little Red Riding Hood would have been duly impressed, and cried out, “What big zippers you have!” And there are those hardware, normally used on bags—these are made chunky too: swivel clips and D-rings, in striking gold no less. Utilitarian turns decorative. But, could a large zipper pull tab under the arm (as seen on a dress with side opening) be comfortable? Forgive our vulgar consideration for comfort. Could these clothes be cleaned in a washing machine without scratching the drum? Forgive our prosaic approach to laundering!

Then there are the blow-up (we think they’re filled with air, rather than down) add-ons that mimic airplane neck pillows, but also found on hips. Or, those framing the neck that look like tubular swim floats (actual ones were used at Moschino). Mr Ghesquière has pulled away from the synthesis of historicism for the paste-up of the usually unromantic components of dressmaking—the trims, and the effect is both quirky and quixotic. Which again magnifies his compositional skill of combining unlikely shapes, pairing uncommon textures, and tweaking unexpected proportions, all within recognisable clothing forms. This season in Paris, two unremarkable garments are poised for posterity—a spray-on dress with the design finesse of anything you’d find in Mango and a T-shirt with a slogan deemed inappropriate and offensive. Despite Nicholas Ghesquière’s notable efforts, his complex and astonishing designs would not top the lasting, viral glory of those two.

Screen shot (top): Louis Vuitton/YouTube. Photos: gorunway.com

Luxury Mahjong Set

Does a Louis Vuitton mahjong tile make a more resounding pong?

Increasingly, luxury brands are offering products that are outside the category of fashion. Home ware comes to mind, such as those at Gucci. But, these days, stuff for leisure or recreational pursuits are covered too. Louis Vuitton is well aware that one of their tai-tai customers’ favourites games as a pastime is mahjong. To these women and their friends a good mahjong set is crucial to the enjoyment of the game. And an expensive one is even better, in comes LV’s mahjong set housed in a monogrammed trunk. Not since the 1950s did the house sell a mahjong set. But unlike the first issue, which was a humble and slim “travel-size” case that held the tiles and such, the latest, some 70 years later, is the epitome of luxury. Everything you need to set up a game is contained in a ‘vanity’ unit, except the table.

Those who own the Hermès mahjong set and table (sold separately!) may not require any intro, but those looking to buy their first luxury majiang taozhuang or wanting to have a different one for rotation, as you would with your sneakers, might wish to know that the Louis Vuitton is housed in a handsome leather-trimmed trunk that can be checked in as luggage, for those times you need to travel with your tiles. Inside, there are six green (a shade reminiscent of the felt top of mahjong tables) compartments (drawers, really) for you to store everything you need. The tiles are made of walnut wood and stone. All these come at a mind-blowing S$89,500. How many rounds of mahjong do you need to win to make that back?

Louis Vuitton ‘Vanity Mahjong’ set is available at selected Louis Vuitton store. Product photo: Louis Vuitton

Virgil Vuitton

More and more, it looks like both are inseparable

Seven months after the death of Virgil Abloh, Louis Vuitton is still in memorial mode. Just as we thought that the recent “spin-off” show in Bangkok would be the last blaring of his name, Virgil Abloh is being honoured, again. This time in Paris, at the Cour Carrée of the Louvre, which sees the courtyard fitted with a massive playground, featuring a really long runway snaking round the fountain in the centre. It that has been described as a kid’s train set, but looks, to us, like one of those water slides in, say, Schlitterbahn in Texas or our very own Wild Wild Wet in Pasir Ris, in a colour that is supposed to allude to the Yellow Brick Road. Mr Abloh had a soft spot for The Wizard of Oz, originally a book by the American author L. Frank Baum before it became the famous 1939 film, whose characters appeared in Mr Abloh’s first collection for Louis Vuitton, back in 2018: Dorothy (Judy Garland as the main character, depicted asleep in a field of poppies on one anorak, we remember), the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Lion. Which one was he?

The show, titled Strange Math, opens with an 8-minute long video intro and a performance (described as “rousing” on social media) of a collegiate marching band, Marching 100, from the “historically Black” Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) in Tallahassee. Is this part of a procession of many from the recent Juneteenth celebration in the US that France has probably never seen? Or is this a snippet of the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade? Friend of the late designer, Rapper Kendrick Lamar, wearing a crown of thorns, as Jesus did on his way to the Crucifixion, according to the New Testament, is in attendance to do a live rap-ode throughout the runway presentation. Seated next to Naomi Campbell, who moves to the measured beat, Mr Lamar, performs tracks from his album Mr Morale & the Big Steppers, while he intones and repeats, and repeats: “Virgil, how many miles away?” Gone—we are constantly reminded—but not forgotten.

It is such a warm day in Paris—around three in the afternoon (about 28°C, according to AccuWeather)—when the show starts that guests are seen shielding themselves from the strike of the sun or fanning themselves manically. Ms Campbell, a friend of Mr Abloh and LV, even wears her shirt unbuttoned and braless, while holding a portable electric fan. But, you may not have guessed that summer has begun and that LV is showing the spring/summer 2023 collection. What stands out to us is how layered all the looks are, enough to make us, seated in front of the PC (not smartphone!), sweat. True, Mr Abloh loved outerwear and was credited for augmenting the strength of LV’s tailoring by introducing suits, blazers and coats to streetwear staples. But are the seasons in the northern hemisphere so indistinguishable now that warm-weather dressing requires rather bulky layering? Or are the outers perhaps for protection from the heat? A colour-blocked leather jacket with wavy placket is worn over another similar leather outfit (shirt or dress, it is hard to tell), complete with leggings, leg warmers, and high-tops. A tie-dyed overcoat has furry epaulettes and matching belt; the pocket flaps, and the pouches-as-pockets are as flocculent too. A hooded jacket, with a floral surface treatment identical to that on the shirt Ms Campbell has on, appears padded and is teamed with a heavy-looking drawstring/pleated/gathered ankle-length skirt. One embroidered trucker goes over a turtleneck sweater, so is one melton varsity jacket and one leather shirt. A short-sleeved, thick-looking sweater is not styled with arms bare—the model wears opera gloves that appear to be made of leather. Even a short-sleeved shirt is not left to its own devices—it goes on top another!

The collection, we are told, is not designed by Virgil Abloh. The LV studio that had worked with him did it “in his spirit”, and the team, dressed in symbolic black, took the traditional end-of-show bow. The clothes, appear to us, an overzealous attempt at keeping to Mr Abloh’s ethnicity-proud aesthetics: Throw in as many things he would like to see and see what happens. And we are not referring to the usual fancy skirts and gaudy baseball jackets. Or the place-logos-everywhere ardor. Every decorative element they could think of, they employed. From the smallest fancy buttons—floral!—to the visible paper planes on a black suit to the ridiculously large—boom boxes and sirens strapped to the back, like Nepalese porters and their cargo going up Mount Everest. In place of the hanging stuffed toys that Mr Abloh loved in his latter seasons, the clothes are affixed with what could be Indian tota hangings, but they could also be candies in the shapes of LV monogram florals strung together, very much like cords of alphabet beads of the ’90s. If everything appears somewhat juvenile, however “couture-grade” the clothes are, they are in keeping with Mr Abloh’s favour of child’s play “not yet spoiled by societal programming”. As the show comes to an end, Mr Lamar chants “Long Live Virgil”. Is that Louis Vuitton’s plan?

Screen shot (top): louisvuitton/YouTube. Photos: gorunway.com

Two Of A Kind: Angel Wings

With Louis Vuitton following Victoria’s Secret’s footsteps, now the guys can have theirs too

Louis Vuitton Angel versus Victoria‘s Secret Angel. Photos: Louis Vuitton and Getty Images respectively

When Louis Vuitton’s multi-flap angel wings appeared on the runway back in January, we told ourselves that LV was joking, and happily forgot about them. And then there they were again, in the “spin-off” Bangkok show two days ago. The Thai audience were totally taken by them, recognising the wings’ immensely camp value when they saw it. Some applauded: The show was, after all, appropriately taking place in the City of Angels. There were three sets of the winged outfits. The models did not look happy in them, presumably because they knew they looked ridiculous. They walked as if the flapping appendages were not part of them, and the patterned pennons were simply ridiculous. Were they heavy, we wondered.

(Among the delighted audience, chatter had emerged, prior to the show, that there was “drama mak mak“ with the casting. Non-Thai models were engaged, including some from Singapore, but work permits for them were somehow “forgotten”. The casting team “scrambled”. They had to use inexperienced local models—some of the boys had never walked on a runway before, it was shared. One chap reportedly went for the casting seven times. To make matters worse, five of the models were said to have tested positive for COVID-19 on the day of the show!)

Victoria‘s Secret ditched their angel wings and Louis Vuitton picked them up

Who‘d thought modern menswear would come to this? Victoria‘s Secret ditched their angel wings and Louis Vuitton picked them up. The lightly fluttering rear flaps left the VS catwalk for good, only it seemed, to decamp for the LV runway. While they were no longer “culturally relevant”, as the brand said last year in response to the nixing of their famed Angels, the wings have become germane to fashion for guys now. Or, is menswear so open to the unconventional that it is receptive to what women have discarded and have considered them to be nothing but the constructs of heterosexual male fantasy?

This time in Bangkok, on the slow-moving models, we did have a closer look at the wings. They looked to us more like 京剧背旗 (jingju beiqi) or the rear flags of Beijing opera costumes. These 旗装 (qizhuang) or flag costumes are usually worn by actors playing the part of military generals. The flags are attached to an armour (or coat of plates) known as the 靠 (kao); they are also called 靠旗 (kaoqi) or armour flags. Seen this way, perhaps the late Virgil Abloh intended for the models to be flagged than winged. And what—indulge us—is more masculine than the striking figure of the 战神 (zhanshen), god of war, 赵子龙 (Zhao Zilong)? Never mind that the Louis Vuitton show was no Beijing opera.

Reprised in Bangkok

In the Thai capital, Louis Vuitton’s “spin-off” show reminded many in Asia the greatness—and overkill— of the late Virgil Abloh

It did not rain. Fon mai tok! Louis Vuitton was blessed with dry weather in Bangkok this evening. The Thai capital played host to the brand’s “spin-off” of the Virgil Abloh-helmed autumn/winter 2022 collection, The ∞th Field. This is the second full-season LV show in Southeast Asia. The last was the women’s spring/summer 2021 presentation, staged here in March last year, when, to the dismay of LV, it rained, or, to be more precise, it poured. The Bangkok show was a belated one. Last year’s wet SG affair was, reportedly, supposed to have taken place in krungthep, but our island became the substitute when the COVID and political situations in the City of Angels were not conducive to an IRL show of a French luxury brand. So it’s back to tuk-tuk land, where, this evening, the weather was 28 degrees Celsius, but, according to Accuweather, felt like 33. In this heat, but in air-conditioned interiors, the models donned layered winter wear, so did the guests. But, do not tell the local attendees that there is no winter in their country. The Thais will disagree, vehemently.

The show was staged at Icon Siam, the massive shopping complex across the Chaopraya River from downtown Bangkok, and livestreamed from there. Louis Vuitton has a store here, so it it not surprising that the presentation was sited in the building. Some industry observers had hoped that, with LVMH brands showing in far-flung places this past month (read: cruise), a more local audience might lead to a less problematic carbon footprint for the luxury group. Sure, the usual Thai actors (Metawin “Win” Opas-iamkajorn, Mario Maurer and Pakorn “Boy” Chatborirak, who appeared in the just-concluded TV series on Channel U, Barm Ayuttitham [or Eternal]) and model/actresses (Urassaya “Yaya” Sperbund and Araya “Chompoo” Hargate) were there, together with the usual bedecked hi-so fashion event regulars. But a show in Bangkok must at least be a regional event. So stars from neighbouring lands were invited too. Sighted were the Filipino model/influencer LA Aguinaldo and Singaporean show producer Daniel Boey and the Mediacorp artiste Desmond Tan, but it was the recently-out-of-the-army Korean actor Park Bo-gum (of Love in the Moonlight fame) who made the most watched and cheered entry as he was escorted into the show venue, the mall’s cavernous Suralai Hall.

Like most Virgil Abloh presentations of the past years, the show began with a filmic introduction, this time shot in Thailand by filmmaker Sivaroj “Karn” Kongsakul (of the award-winning 2010 feature Eternity). While the presentation unfolded in the gleaming Icon Siam, dubbed “The Pinnacle” of the city, the short (not costumed by LV) was filmed in a beach-side community with a boy lead that regular Bangkokians will likely call baan nok (country folk). While it hints at the obscure—even pretentious—themes of the version that went with the original Paris show (which the brand says “consolidates the eight-season arc Virgil Abloh created for Louis Vuitton), it was oddly grassroots in its delineation of a boy with dreams. Was this deliberately playing up Thailand’s less-developed aspects, no doubt qualities that lure tourists, who the country now desperately needs? An earlier video teaser shared on social media to publicise the show saw gaily-lit tuk-tuks race through the city’s Yaowarat (or Chinatown)—further exoticising Bangok’s old-world appeal?

This was yet another posthumous tribute, just as last year’s Miami show was, and the many more since—protracting his association with the brand without, perhaps, needing to remunerate the man. Similar to the American event (the first on Mr Abloh’s home ground), it was not a total facsimile of what was seen in Paris four months earlier. Mr Abloh, to his fans, has never brought the world unturned to LV. To underscore how upside down he has made of the house, the Louis Dreamhouse², a surprisingly simple abode of the designer’s imagination to accommodate his fantasies, was erected—actually, hung—from the floor, up. Previously, only the gabled red roof was visible. The models walked out (not danced) from a cave-like opening and onto what seemed like some kind of train track (toy?). This show was far more immersive as a visual treat, with its immense set and movable prop, than the show here, where there was truly nothing at the ArtScience Museum to enthrall, except the downpour.

Louis Vuitton announced earlier that the Bangkok show would feature “unseen” looks. Whether these were omitted in the January Paris reveal to be saved for this evening’s presentation, it was not made known. There were supposed to be nine of them, but it was near impossible to know which ones were the hitherto unrevealed among those already shown if one does not have the habit of committing to memory every single piece of an extensively merchandised collection. By now, Mr Abloh’s pastiche of high and low, the frilly and the plain, elegant and sporty, masculine and feminine, costume-y and elemental, Black and not is so familiar that it would be unfair to test the show goers’ power of recall to suss out the previously not shown. The audience seemed more amazed by the angel multi-wings than anything as prosaic as mere clothes. Bangkokians love spectacles on the runway. It is uncertain if the inclusion of these nine not-yet-seen and not-identified looks would make any difference to the impact of the show.

LV’s golden goose Virgil Abloh has a huge fan base and it is understandable that those who adore his work would want to continue to wallow in his prolific output that sometimes flutters rather closely to visual clutter. But how long more will Louis Vuitton keep his name so alive, so in conversations, and definitely so in shows? Six months after his death, he is still so visibly and splashily honoured. If fashion is urgently about the next, why is LV still hanging on to the before? In times of shrinking trend cycles, some of us are truly ready to move on, khob khun, krab.

Additional reporting: Nah Kwamsook. Screen shots: louisvuitton/YouTube

Louis Vuitton Men’s, Post-Virgil Abloh

A cruise line without the brand’s most-adored menswear designer. Finally. Is anything missing?

At last, a men’s collection not associated with the late Virgil Abloh. But is it really? The cruise or resort (take your pick) 2023 season is not helmed by a single designer. No one has been selected to fill Mr Abloh’s Air Force 1s—not even rumoured to have. According to press notes that LV shared, the latest collection is “conceived” by the house’s favourite designer. Mr Abloh is known to work way ahead of schedule and for his habit of keeping visual notes on what he would do for upcoming seasons. Still, it is not unreasonable to assume that the LV men’s studio would have exhausted whatever Mr Abloh left behind by now, but apparently there has been enough materials and ideas that could be “carried out by the creative teams and collaborators with whom he continually worked at Louis Vuitton”, so much so that they could even discern a “coming-of-age theme”.

That LV wants Mr Abloh’s name linked to the brand for as long as possible isn’t hard to grasp. Mr Abloh was not only LV’s most successful menswear designer, he was their most popular. Since his death last November, there were not only posthumous shows (three now!) or “memorials”, as some call it; but tributes (including store windows); in-store/pop-up events; and the current Nike X Louis Vuitton Dream Now, a fancy, hologram-aplenty exhibition in Brooklyn, New York. We don’t remember any brand, in recent years, so ardently protracts the legacy and memory of a design employee, not even Chanel, following the death of the more prolific Karl Lagerfeld. Mr Abloh was often compared to Mr Lagerfeld, but it is the Off-White founder that is being so eagerly and extensively memorialised.

This is rather a filler collection, one not only for the in-between season, but also for the rudderless interim. Fashion’s success is presently so tethered to a living name (or one in living memory) that the clothes have to sport more than a trace of the aesthetical cheer raged by individuals of the recent past. Virgil Abloh’s hand may not be in the pieces, but the handwriting is not indistinct. And the styling retains the Blackness that he had introduced and was lauded for. One of Mr Abloh’s talents was his flair with using logograms and such conspicuously, which no doubt delighted his employer. This season, that surfeit of identifiable symbols and text, monograms and the Damier check, is augmented by the late designer’s love of cartoons, font play, and patterns—this time, musical notation. The outright branding exercise allows for minimal design push that might be considered curiosity-arousing (put aside, for now, ground-breaking). This is not the LV resort for women.

Surprisingly, there are so few skirts—just two out of the 43 looks. Mr Abloh had made non-bifurcated bottoms, even if belatedly, key to his brand of forwardness for LV, so their cutback is unexpected. It is not known how many skirts for men are sold to date, or how popular they are, but the reduction in quantity now might indicate that the skirt adoption among their customers may not be as high as their increased presence during Mr Abloh’s tenure suggested. For now, the collaboration with Nike will (in fact, has) be in the spotlight, encouraging frenzy and the very real boom in the resale market. Mr Abloh always did know that bombastic sneakers boost brand bottom line. Louis Vuitton is unlikely to change that.

Photos: Louis Vuitton

The Imaginarium of Louis Vuitton

Unfolded between the Brutalist buildings of the Salk Institute, and backgrounded by the setting sun on the horizon of the Pacific Ocean. Other-planetary? The clothes sure are

Chanel’s cruise collection, shown in Monte Carlo last week, marked the return of the inter-season line often staged in far-flung places. But there was nothing to say about that collection. Fast forward to yesterday evening (our time), Louis Vuitton’s cruise is a journey to some unknown desert planet (or known—how about Mandalore or Arvala-7 or Tatooine, for Star Wars nerds?) although the runway was winged with the Brutalist buildings of Louis Kahn’s Salk Institute for Biological Studies in Southern California. Against the stark setting with nary a plant in sight, the models are attired as if filming a scene of some movie not set on this earth or surrounded by earthly tech. Inter-galactic vagabonds, mercenaries, resistance fighters, or even Jedis? Some people say they saw Amazonians, but we doubt Nicolas Ghesquière, who, although reportedly used the word “goddess” in relation to this collection, was thinking of Paradise Island, home of the Princes of the Amazons, aka Diana. Yet, the Bracelet(s) of Submission made their visible appearance!

These are not clothes that many would immediately call “pretty”. There are enough pretty clothes in this world—a surfeit, in fact. What Mr Ghesquière has proposed do not even look like they are destined for a holiday wardrobe (let alone be considered for a cruise). Battle-ready? Or for climate change? Who knows? This isn’t Mr Ghesquière writing the story of LV in plain hand. There is exaggeration beyond the paniers of the current spring/summer season (Gemma Chan wore one of them at the Met Gala, looking somewhat mis-clad and misplaced). Mr Ghesquière has offered aesthetically-challenging clothes before, but this time, they are extreme to the point of being, strange, otherworldly. As one stylist said to us, many women here who buy French RTW are not into such looks as they do not make them look feminine, like Dior does. And the very straight shoulders of the shell tops, for example: “too aggressive”.

The clothes are not hostile-seeming in a way military fatigues (or the mish-mash of them worn on the Mad Max movies) could be. The show opened and closed with three silhouette-curious looks that seem to serve as eye-opening parentheses, within which the more accessible but no less convention-defying outfits arouse the imagination. The first three, with their tented shapes and floor length, are no gowns we imagine any film star would wear to a movie premiere or on a red carpet. But they are no doubt gowns, as well as some ceremonial robes of an unknown religious order. Glamour is not the intended effect. The last three have even less spots to be seen in: the considerable tops with what could be some flying saucer landed on the shoulders, under which a possible geomagnetic storm raged, would be for parties where the stranger you dress among strangers, the better.

Discounting those, the collection has a discernible wearability about them, but probably just so. The above-mentioned shell tops, cropped (to better fit the squares of the Instagram grit, assuming you still crop your photos to that shape?) and looking anything but sexy. A few are composed of ‘scales’, (some matte, some irridescent. The idea appear as trims too), and are draped with scarves or throw-ons (some with one sleeve, worn), all a tad ancien. The are also the X-shaped tops and those dresses and skirts made of strands of assorted shapes that gives off something gladiatorial. To augment the fierceness of the looks, there is a suggestion of something vaguely dominatrix: The grommeted leather belt worn on the bare skin of exposed stomachs (and the loose end hanging between legs) hint at something that might be construed as S&M. It’s hard to pin the looks or decode them, and therein lies the frustration and the thrill (or, perhaps, just a tingle). We are of two minds about the collection: Not (yet) sure if we like it or do not. The dilemma stems from the unnecessary showiness of the designs (or over-designs?). As one headline went, “Eve Jobs Holds Court in Thong Sandals, Bralette and Skirt at Louis Vuitton’s Cruise 2023 Fashion Show”. These days, you don’t hit the scene, you make it. That is annoying.

Screen shot (top) and photos: Louis Vuitton

Star Awards (2022): Still Not Shining

Away from Changi Airport, is this year’s Star Awards a better, sleeker affair? Were we hoping for too much?

Ah jie Zoe Tay, in purple silk chiffon, floating down the Walk of Fame. Photo: The Celebrity Agency/Instagram

By Ray Zhang

The Star Awards 2022 is a very long show, if you take into consideration that ‘Backstage Live’ segment, screened three and half hours before the ceremony proper on MeWatch and YouTube. At more than seven hours duration in its entirety, it was long enough for me to be on a flight to Tokyo. Since last year, MediaCorp has decided that the annual show generates enough interest to warrant extra broadcast of not only the anywhere-is-a-red-carpet segment, Walk of Fame, but also a look at the stars getting ready, presumably from around or after noon. But while the award presentation, now back at the MediaCorp Theatre, veered dangerously towards dull, it was Backstage Live that was utterly unbearable to watch, even more so than last year’s. If any glamour was to be expected, as promised by Mediacorp, all was lost in the loud, grating, uninformative banter that dominated this painful prelude.

Juvenile and boisterous, in all its youth-grassroots glory, it was as if all the hosts—all six of them—cut their teeth at a qiyue getai (七月歌台 or the ‘song stage’ of the 7th lunar month, aka Hungry Ghost Festival). When asked by hosting partner Seow Sin Nee (萧歆霓) what he liked to watch at each Star Awards, apart from the main presentation, the 1.91-metre tall Herman Keh (郭坤耀) mentioned the “红地毯 (red carpet)” because of the stars’ attire, which he referred to as “制服 (zhifu or uniform)”! And he would go on to say that at least five times more, including referring to the Hugo Boss suit that he wore as zhifu, too. And, even when later, Priscelia Chan (曾诗梅) was curious about his word choice while being interviewed by the noisy duo, he did not appear to be aware of the embarrassing faux pas.

The new-gen Channel 8 hosts: (left) “uniform”-clad Herman Keh and (right) Seow Sin Nee with resident stylist Annie Chua (middle). Screen grab: Mediacorp/YouTube

I know not if Mr Keh was on script, but bumbling and blundering his way through his set was only part of the pain in watching this segment of MediaCorp’s biggest night. When the same pair presented one of the six debut My Pick awards (for Favourite Male Show Stealer, which Xu Bin won), Ms Seow was asked “哪一个是你的pick (who is your pick)?”. She replied, “it’s all my picks”! The appalling command of both Mandarin and English on a broadcast believed to be one of the most popular for Channel 8 (the main event of last year’s show at Changi Airport shockingly won the award for Best Entertainment Special!) is embarrassing, to say the least. Later, when Mr Keh won the Most Attention-Seeking New-Gen Host, he said, “感谢我爸爸妈妈把我养成这么高 (grateful to my parents for raising me until I am so tall)“. There is a difference between “古灵精怪 (weird or bizarre, as Mr Keh described himself)” and trite. Throw in their mission to find the “female star with the highest heel” and the “guy with the tallest hair”, I knew nothing begged further viewing.

The Walk of Fame at five o’clock brought me back to the show. After last year, the struts and poses this time returned to a real but somewhat short red carpet, although it was obvious that all the stars waited behind a backdrop to emerge. No one was seen coming out of a luxury car (sponsorship was hard to score this year?). As with her appearance on the Changi Airport Terminal Four driveway of the entrance to the departure hall in 2021, Zoe Tay had to walk alone. Wearing a silk chiffon dress by Gucci with a cape that floated behind her like a parachute (I’m not sure about the curiously chunky black platforms), she commanded the red carpet like a seasoned pro, lifting nary a pinch of her floor-length skirt to navigate the Walk of Fame, while other younger actresses lifted their distended skirts as if they were avoiding dog excrement. I had to remind myself that for most of the actresses, this was probably the only chance in the entire year when they could wear an evening gown, and possibly towering heels. And since they had to return the the borrowed dresses in saleable condition, they had to content with lifting while parading to avoid an embarrassing frock-ripping, if not nasty fall.

Best actress and actor favourites Chantalle Ng and Xu Bin. Photo: The Celebrity Agency/Instagram

On the red carpet, the most anticipated, I suppose, were the My Star Bride leads Chantalle Ng (黄暄婷) and Xu Bin (徐彬). Ms Ng is the daughter of old-timer Lin Meijiao (林梅娇, winner of the evening’s Best-Supporting Actress). She wore a red, sequinned Bottega Veneta gown, which appeared a tad too large for her and clearly too long. Frequently, she had to hold one side (or both) of the dress to help her walk less uncomfortably or so that her platform compers won’t cause her to trip. Contrasting her, colour-wise (or to express some National Day fervour?), was Mr Xu in an off-white Dolce & Gabbana suit that was tackily tacked with what could be earrings, bearing the letters ‘D’ and ‘G’, all over—yes, on the pants too, without which he would be too close to an albino peacock? Mr Xu had earlier, in the Backstage Live segment, said that when he saw the suit, he knew immediately that it was the one he wanted and had instructed his stylist to get it for him. I wish someone had told him he could pass of as a window display at Chomel.

In fact, the guys seemed to have tried harder this year. Many came in suits—some of a better fit than others, many curiously semi-casual, and few down-right not dressy. Elvin Ng (黄俊雄), in a Versace suit, was the first joke of the day: he went from kedai-kopi bandung to Fanta orange. Or, was it F&N? To be sure, I don’t know if Mediacorp ever stipulated a dress code or whether it was merely a given that attendees would don evening wear, but it was unlikely that black tie, as many had thought, was expected. Still, odd choices abound: Desmond Tan (陈泂江) in a cream, zips-for-darts Alexander McQueen coat, which he wore sans shirts a la Timothée Chalamet at the Oscars (I do not know why there persists this love of substituting outerwear for a blazer at an awards night), only that the American actor did not go shirtless under a coat; Dennis Chew (周崇庆) in a cartoonish white suit, with hand-drawn tracing of the perimeter of the outfit, designed by, gasp, Chen Hanwei (陈汉玮) and made by Q Menswear; or Nick Teo’s shaggy, kungfu-master, Yohji Yamamoto layers. And those in non-solids: Romeo Tan’s Etro suit with geometric patterns gleaned from carpets, Bryan Wong’s also-Etro blazer with Savannah print (feline included), and worse, Pierre Png’s too-small, too-day-yet- too-prom-night gingham jacket.

Formalwear interpreted: (from let) James Seah, Desmond Tan, and Teo Ze Tong. Photo: The Celebrity Agency/Instagram

There were other trends among the men—possibly what Herman Keh obliviously, gleefully, and toothily called zhifu—if you consider, like I did, their omnipresence. Most discernible were the dinner jackets with peaked lapels in black (sometimes part of it) to stand out from the main fabric. At least half a dozen of them embraced this small chromatic contrast. Even Desmond Tan could not resist the pull, when he changed into a different suit for the award presentation (he was a best actor nominee). Was it to show that the stars paid attention to details? Also, the persistence of sneakers peeking out from the hem of tailored trousers (many annoyingly not altered to the wearer’s height). Is this really considered cool, even on tuxedo-clad sexagenarian Zhu Houren (朱厚任)?

But what really caught my attention were their faces, which I usually do not scrutinise (nothing surgical intervention won’t hide). I should be more specific—this year, the eyebrows or the many stars who had theirs darken or drawn to augment the density. The unnaturalness really jumped at me. Those of Jeremy Chan (田铭耀, among those who wore a tuxedo jacket with contrast-black lapels), for one, were especially intense and oddly linear and light brown, as if they were shaded with a template; they were even thicker and denser than wife Jessica Liu’s (刘子绚), as if he was trying to impress her as Zayn Malik!

The long and lean: (left and right) Cynthia Koh, and Rebecca Lim. Photos: The Celebrity Agency/Instagram. And (centre)) Joanne Peh. Screengrab: Mediacorp/YouTube

The women, in contrast, seemed more measured in their attempts to make a massive impact. I consider this year a lull year. According to Mediacorp’s principal image stylist & costume designer Annie Chua, what she prepared for 23 of the stars revolved around “old Hollywood glamour” or, if you missed it the first time, “very glamorous old Hollywood glamour”. I wonder if the emphasis was on “old”. Quan Yifeng (权怡凤) wore a front-heavy, fussy, old-looking, black (and some white) strapless number: Ms Chua may not have realised that someone’s Hari Raya valances were missing. The opposite to that dated fussiness was Sheryl Ang’s (洪丽婷) yellow Sportmax crush of fabric. Was there not a single iron in the dressing rooms of Mediacorp? And what were the opera gloves about?

In the end, it was clean lines, as well as neatness that attracted me. Although many viewers consider the actresses who could stop traffic in their manner of dress of the past to be “boring” this year, I do think that they stood out for their unfussy turn out: Cynthia Koh (许美珍) in Moshino, Joanne Peh (白薇秀) in Ralph Lauren, and, most striking, Rebecca Lim (林慧玲) in Louis Vuitton. Sure, what they wore could be the epitome of modest fashion (at least from the front), but the dresses (including special guest, Taiwanese Pets Tseng’s [曾沛慈] red Rebecca Vallance dress, I should add) communicated a certain elan and class, both of which the Star Awards still lack, in spades.

Was He Or Was He Not?

At the recent Grammy Awards, the late Virgil Abloh was described as a “Hip-Hop Fashion Designer”. Stop “downplaying his achievements”, many cried

Virgil Abloh had a long career in fashion—almost two decades. From the early days of Pyrex Vision to his final glory at Louis Vuitton, Mr Abloh, admittedly, more than dabbled in fashion. But was his accomplishments unfairly trimmed when the recent Grammy Awards show labeled him a “Hip-Hop Fashion Designer” during the In Memoriam segment of the presentation? Was ‘Fashion Designer’ not adequate? Mr Abloh still has a huge fan base, possibly larger than some of the night’s nominated artistes. That so many viewers and attendees would be riled up was to be expected when the description does not offer something that suggests Greatness, specifically Black Greatness. But was it, as many insisted, “racially-charged” Or, “disrespectful”? And what, by the way, is a “hip hop fashion designer”?

It didn’t help that the members of BTS wore Louis Vuitton, specifically from the late designer’s last collection for the house—fall 2022. Vogue called the suits that the septet wore “spiffy” although four of the double-breasted (out of the seven two-pieces) were dangerously close to dowdy (let’s risk the wrath of The Army!) if not for the youthfulness of the wearers. But looking at those suits lined up in a row, it is hard to pin “hip hop fashion” to the tailored ensembles, even if hip-hop stars have for quite a while adopted dapper suits for their performances and public appearances (even Rihanna wore his LV!). This was, to so many who watched the telecast, visually contradictory to the description that appeared below Mr Abloh’s name. This had to be the apex of fashion!

Mr Abloh, to many of his supporters, was much bigger than anything that came out of hip-hop: he headed a French house and even dabbled, even if only briefly, in the rather un-hip-hop of crafts—haute couture

There is no denying Virgil Abloh was a titan in the world of hip hop, not only for his association with Kanye West (who attended Mr Abloh’s debut LV show and hugged him at the end of it), but also the work he did for the rapper. Before he created clothes that many people wanted to buy, he was very much a part of that world, and still is. But Mr Abloh, to many of his supporters, was much bigger than anything that came out of hip-hop: he headed a French house and dabbled, even if only briefly, in the rather un-hip-hop of crafts—haute couture. In addition, Mr Abloh was a Grammy nominee. In 2011, he was selected for the cover design (done in partnership with Riccardo Tisci) of Jay-Z’s Watch the Throne (more hip-hop there). Would The Recording Academy not have served the viewers of their award presentation better if they acknowledged the Off-White founder with the prefix “Grammy-nominated” followed by his stature in art and fashion?

Despite the underwhelming description, it is not degrading to be considered a “hip-hop fashion designer” (assuming that’s a valid accolade) when so many Black creatives have effected distinctive and influential aesthetics rooted in their own culture, which includes hip-hop. Sure, Mr Abloh went further than most, but he did draw from the aesthetical legacy of his community and brought international attention to it. He, too, birthed the use of text—within inverted commas—to identify articles of clothing and accessories, and their parts, which is not unlike the words used in graffiti art—considered a part of the quartet most identified with hip-hop that includes emceeing (rapping), DJing (which the designer did), and B-boying (breakdancing). In hip-hop, many do see the positively indomitable spirit of Virgil Abloh.

Illustration: Just So

Oscars 2022: Many Forgettable Dresses, One Memorable Moment

Gowns failed to impress after Will Smith seemingly pulled off a slap-first version of Kanye West at the 2009 VMAs

Will Smith took to the stage to slap Chris Rock for joking about wife Jada Pinkett-Smith. Screen grab: YouTube

Warning: this post contains language that some readers may find objectionable

“Love will make you do crazy things,” said Will Smith in his acceptance speech for the Best Actor award. And crazy it was when the King Richard lead earlier slapped Chris Rock on stage after Jada Pickett-Smith was teased by the comedian. Mr Rock had jabbed at her by comparing her to G.I. Jane, the eponym in the 1997 Ridley Scott film in which Demi Moore plays the soldier-character with a shaved head. “Jada, I love ya. G.I. Jane 2, can’t wait to see it,” Mr Rock teased. Ms Pickett-Smith’s barely discernible hair is the result of alopecia, an autoimmune condition, where the body attacks the cells of hair follicles, causing hair loss. At first, Mr Smith seemed to be laughing, but then his wife, decked in a Glenn Martens for Jean Paul Gaultier Couture gown, showed she disapproved the joke by rolling her eyes. The camera returned to Mr Rock and the next thing we saw was the actor marching up the stage and quickly smacking the presenter. It did not look scripted. Immediately, social media went berserk! “What just happened?” became the question of the hour.

But the on-stage slap was not enough. After swaggering back to his seat, Mr Smith shouted, “keep my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth!” Twice! (The telecast on channel 5 this morning was not censored.) The Academy Awards have its fair share of distasteful jokes, and nominated actors—and their companions—have always been free for all who host (should Jesse Plemmons have lunged at Amy Schumer for calling his wife Kirsten Dunst a “seat filler” and getting her to vacate her chair?). But is a bad gag good reason to attack the joker? At the risk of pointing to the unmentionable “angry Black man”, this was not the first time a Black ‘bro’ took to the stage to express deep unhappiness. Back in the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs), Kanye West leapt on stage during Taylor Swift’s acceptance of the Best Female Video award and said, “Yo Taylor, I’m really happy for you, I’ma let you finish, but Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time! One of the best videos of all time!” Notice the repeat. Only now, Mr Smith had not confronted a White woman or a White man. He laid his hand on a Black guy, which could be “settled”, just as P Diddy said, when he appeared after Mr Rock: “Will and Chris, we’re gonna solve that like family…” On their official Twitter account, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences posted: “The Academy does not condone violence of any form.” And quickly re-focused on the aim of the show: “Tonight we are delighted to celebrate our 94th Academy Awards winners, who deserve this moment of recognition from their peers and movie lovers around the world.”

Will Smith, in Dolce & Gabbana and wife Jada Pinkett-Smith in Glenn Martens for Jean Paul Gaultier Couture gown. Photo WireImage

After the manly outburst, the show moved into surreal territory. While a (mere) heckler would likely be shown the door, Will Smith was allowed to stay and watch the show, and laugh, and go back up the same stage to receive the award for Best Actor, his first. He was met with a standing ovation (Prada-clad Lupita Nyong’o, who sat behind him and was at first shocked by the latter’s open-hand action, stood up to applaud excitedly)! Tearing (or acting?), he said sorry to practically everyone except the guy he smacked. “I want to apologize to the Academy. I want to apologize to all my fellow nominees. This is a beautiful moment and I’m not crying for winning an award. It’s not about winning an award for me. It’s about being able to shine a light on all of the people… Art imitates life. I look like the crazy father…” While he was crying, social media was calling out the slap for a joke as reactive and excessive. And, what if he didn’t win?! This was, however, not the first time Chris Rock targeted Jada Pinkett-Smith. During the 2016 presentation, he joked about her boycotting the award show due to what she saw as lack of diversity. “Jada’s gonna boycott the Oscars?” he joked, “Jada boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna’s panties. I wasn’t invited!”. But the current “attack”, some also said, “was low”. Very quickly, #UgliestOscarsMoment_Ever was trending.

Earlier, on the red carpet, the media described the Smiths to have had “wow(ed) the red carpet”—he in a fussy black three-piece suit (and a tie!) by Dolce & Gabbana and she in a green Glenn Martens for Jean Paul Gaultier Couture gown with a ponderous-looking train. Their comeliness gave no clue that something a lot less attractive would take place soon. But, the red carpet this year did seem like a foretaste of the lacklustre proceedings of a tightly-edited show, up to the slap. The looks easily fell into twos: conservative or sexy, pink or green, easy or trying. Those who opted for a more ‘conventional’, symmetrical choice brought back chic based on a definition we thought was lost. Those who took their style cues from Saweetie looked as slutty. Chloe Bailey’s LVDF dress (by the LA-based Austrian designer Lukas van der Fecht), for example, had a slit up her left leg that went straight to below her breast!

The Better Dressed

Clockwise from top left: Zoe Kravitz in Saint Laurent, Uma Thurman in Bottega Veneta, Cynthia Erivo in Louis Vuitton, Zendaya in Valentino, Timothée Chalamet in Louis Vuitton, Kodi Smit-McPhee in Bottega Veneta. Photos: Getty Images

The Worst Dressed

Clockwise from top left: Megan Thee Stallion in Gaurav Gupta, Penélope Cruz in Chanel, H.E.R. in Carolina Herrera, Kristen Stewart in Chanel, Maggie Gyllenhaal in Schiaparelli, Halle Bailey in Roberto Cavalli. Photos: Getty Images

In the camp of the better-dressed, there was a nod to a specific past: the shirt and skirt ensemble not normally associated with the Oscars red carpet, except for Sharon Stone’s Gap and Vera Wang respectively in 1998. Uma Thurman wore a nicely loose white shirt with a barely flared black skirt, both by Bottega Veneta. The slickest look of the night seemingly channeled her 1994 Pulp Fiction character Mia Wallace. Zendaya, who has embraced this red carpet season in more avant-garde looks, such as those by Rick Owens and Loewe, has opted, just like Ms Thurman, for a shirt (and sparkly and impeccably fitted skirt with a train), only hers was cropped and came with curved shirttails. Such simplicity finally negates the outdated belief that princess dresses stand out more on the red carpet and augment the wearer’s femininity. But, perhaps more memorable would be Timothée Chalamet, who, quite the opposite, went shirtless under his Louis Vuitton cropped tuxedo jacket—not from anything by the late Virgil Abloh, but by Nicolas Ghesquière for the women’s collection!

Those who tried harder just appeared to have, perhaps as evidence that they did experience the Oscars ritual of getting dolled/tarted up. This was, after all, the first mask-free Oscars since the start of the pandemic. Megan Thee Stallion, rather new to the show, looked like she fell into a craft class teaching the making of fabric flowers. Penélope Cruz, no newbie, was dressed by Chanel to look like a woman who went back to high school to be a belated prom queen. Maggie Gyllenhaal, who normally looks pleasing if not smashing, appeared to have worn a chest of drawers, or were the drawer knobs on the Schiaparelli dress unnecessarily evocative of furniture? And then Kristen Stewart appeared in something that could have come from that chest: shorts! Lady Gaga, expected to turn up in a showstopper of a gown, did not walk on the red carpet at all. When she emerged on stage (with Lisa Minnelli in a wheelchair), she was not stealing any scene, at least not in a curiously dated look of a shinny tux by Ralph Lauren. Without a nomination, did the house of Gucci abandon her? Next year, we probably won’t remember her tuxedo, but we would recall those worn by the two guys’, who let this troubled world be distracted from war and pandemic with the Oscars’ first on-stage, man-to-man slap.

Note: Mediacorp censored the expletive in the repeat telecast of the show this evening

Update (28 March 2022, 11pm): The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences issued a statement: “The academy condemns the actions of Mr. Smith at last night’s show. We have officially started a formal review around the incident and will explore further action and consequences in accordance with our bylaws, standards of conduct and California law.” Earlier , it was reported that Chris Rock would not be filing charges

Update (29 March 2022, 9.30am): Twenty four hours after The Slap, Will Smith posted an apology on Instagram, saying, “I would like to publicly apologize to you, Chris. I was out of line and I was wrong. I am embarrassed and my actions were not indicative of the man I want to be”