And There Are Panniers

Puffed and draped hips at Louis Vuitton. Is Nicolas Ghesquière (still) in social-distancing mood? Or status asserting?

Nicolas Ghesquière seems to derive some perverse delight in mixing up eras, decades even, a gleeful time traveller who can’t stop bringing the past back to the present, like some 15th century adventurer returning to Europe with crops from the New World. And he is doing it all again for spring/summer 2022, taking us back in time, although, according to the Louis Vuitton show notes, “time is of no consequence.” But they are also quick to add, “yet time is everything. It dissolves functions and codes. It unites wardrobes. Day becomes night. The humble uniform becomes sumptuous.” In the hands of Mr Ghesquière, nothing is ever that humble, not even a tank top. Under the row of packed chandeliers in the Louvre, where the show is, again, staged, near-costume clothes are shown, as if a party season is approaching, and the models are going to some extravaganza at some place not less dazzling than the Hall of Mirrors. Yes, we are thinking of the Yew Ball (le bal des ifs) of the 18th century, the mask dance where King Louis XV and his male courtiers reportedly turned up as topiary yew trees!

To be sure, in Mr Ghesquière “grand bal of time”, none of his models strut as plants clipped into fantastic shapes. But there are the harlequins. Or, those designed as eyewear, which seem to belong to bals of more extravagant times. And, undoubtedly, the panniered skirts, seemingly out of a Velázquez painting, only far much lighter. These could be what Maria Luisa of Parma (later the Queen of Spain in 1765) might have worn if she were the equivalent of today’s punk princess or crazy KOL. These are not the stiff, sofa-like contraptions of yore. Some of them look like flapper dresses given side hoops underneath. They bounce and swish with a lightness not quite evident in anything worn in the court of Versailles and the like, and are ankle-length to show off metallic-coloured, laced-up, open-toe boots, also not quite pre-Revolution France. Mr Ghesquière’s transposing of the robe à la française to (nearly) post-pandemic present-day is far more whimsical and technically challenging than other designers adapting, for example, the Greek chiton for modern use. Impractical these dresses are for sure, but the intrepid should give them a spin before they end in museums somewhere.

The ancien silhouette does not stop at the hip-extended skirts. There are details such as ruffles, too, like skirts for the neck (they aren’t exactly ideal for a date night of curry dinner!), as well as the staggering and striking use of passementerie, especially on the bodice, such as braiding and cording, galloons and gimps, showing the skills and artistry that the French were—and still are—known for: their elaborate and sumptuous metallic thread work. Such ornate ornamentation recall the clothing of the elite, especially before the 18th century, when royals, aristocrats, the military men, and the clergy required costumes of visible social distinction. Mr Ghesquière is bringing these back for the coming months, when social life, especially the fun-seeking, fashion-asserting fraternising, returns, presumably with a vengeance. These are decorative styles, no doubt, although they are not aesthetically in the same league as Fendace. Is Louis Vuitton suggesting that fashion not only returns to stand alongside pleasure and entertainment, but also wealth and status?

Other looks, too, suggest patrician life or those of the well-born. There are what seem like equestrian styles (or is it just the headwear?) worn with denim pants (jeans?), the mark of humbler status—a necessary pairing to temper the over-sumptuousness? In fact, denim goes with a tweed jacket and a cropped le smoking, and a laced slip dress. There are many capes too, with fabric manipulation (or treatment) on the surface, and they—like the pannier and the passementerie—were once worn to denote rank or occupation (think: a king or queen’s ermine-trimmed red velvet cape). Mr Ghesquière’s mixing and matching across centuries, and the social classes associated with clothes are not new. But this time, he seems to propose, let’s go all hip-sticking out. Let’s not hold back. After all, as Harry Winston said, “People will stare. Make it worth their while.”

Screen grab (top): Louis Vuitton. Photos: gorunway.com

It’s A Menagerie!

With Louis Vuitton now joining the zoological race, ‘It bags in the shapes of animals seem to still hold petting appeal

Clockwise from top left: Nigo X Louis Vuitton Duck bag, Loewe Bunny bag, Loewe’s Mini Elephant Anagram bag, and Thom Browne’s Hector bag that started it all

Photographs of a new Louis Vuitton bag were supposedly ‘leaked’ a few days ago. They showed a new bag, purportedly conceived with one of Virgil Abloh’s favourite collaborators, Nigo—now ready to join Kenzo. The bag, made of the unmistakable brown LV monogram canvas, comes in the shape of a duck! Apparently an airplane bag is not enough, now they’ve moved from a hangar into the animal kingdom, specifically a pond. It is not clear why Nigo chose a member of the Anatidae that looks to us like a common mallard rather than, say, a swan. But what other animal comes to mind when we think of Louis Vuitton (at least Hermes can be linked to a horse)? Certainly not cousin of Donald? Perhaps for ease of design, the duck makes practical sense—the wings easily provide for two zippered side pockets (as shown in the photos). And the body capacious enough for present-day necessities. But is the duck cute? Or, sexy?

These are, of course, not insipid, flat bags in the silhouette of an animal (e.g. an owl. Or, Hello Kitty!), easily found anywhere, and online. We are not even referring to Loewe’s elephant-headed raffia basket bag, attractive as it is. We are pointing to those that are fully fleshed-out, in three-dimensional forms, such as those in Loewe’s very own increasingly large animal farm. These are mostly not predatory animals, and are designed to accompany the user like a pet. But the real advantage of these is that, unlike a companion animal, the LV duck and the Loewe rabbit can be carried anywhere, even on a plane (when the time comes). Or, to a restaurant, Michilen-starred or not. And you don’t even have to feed it, except with whatever you want it to stomach!

The creature that started it all is Hector, the canine-carrier Thom Browne first showed in his Autumn–Winter 2016 collection, based on his actual pet, a dachshund named, of course, Hector. The realistic-looking bag caught on so quickly that even grown women were smitten by it. Like most designers’ dogs, Hector has his own Instagram account and, as you can imagine, is extremely famous, but is outdone by a cat—the late Karl Legerfeld’s Choupette. Although Hector typically costs around USD4,000 to USD5,000, depending on its hide, one of its early forms—in crocodile—was asking for USD35,000! The price of LV’s duck is not yet known. But it’d be less dear, we suspect, and a one-time payment. No additional grooming costs and charges from visits to the vet. This is no quack!

Product photos: respective brands. Illustrations: Just So

BTS In An LV Show

On Wednesday evening, the boys appeared in a special Seoul edition of Virgil Abloh’s autumn/winter 2021 collection for Louis Vuitton. This was really one for the Army

By Colin Cheng

Why do you need to show autumn/winter twice? Because you can. And you must finish telling the story. Louis Vuitton was not quite done with their autumn/winter 2021 narrative, so they took it to Seoul to complete it, together with additional 34 new looks. And if you were going to Seoul, you might as well get what CNN called “the biggest boyband in the world to model”, all seven of them. Yes, BTS was the star of the (officially) “spin-off show” and the main draw. The septet was installed as LV’s brand ambassadors just last April, but unlike others similarly appointed, the boys were asked to perform (LV calls it “integrated”) in the fashion show (Blackpink’s Rose didn’t have to strut for Saint Laurent, not yet anyway), and, strangely, a rather static one. And, boring too.

It was quite a rush for me yesterday evening. I was watching the Balenciaga couture show on my smartphone, ensconced in a sofa seat at Starbucks. The show was running late, about 20 minutes or so; it started only after Bella Hadid arrived, tardiness for the world to see. The live streaming of both shows was only 30 minutes apart (5.30pm, our time, for Balenciaga and 6pm for LV), but because Balenciaga was late (and I did want to see the presentation till the last outfit appeared—a beautifully ghostly apparition of a wedding dress), I could not switch to LV. And I do not, as many others seem to be, especially the Pokémon Go-playing ones, carry more than one phone. As my best friend and I WhatsApped, “isn’t this like those days when we had to rush from one show to another, and hopping that the one we were on the way to see had not already started?” When I was finally able to go to LV’s webpage some 15 minutes or so later, the show had already begun, but not by much.

Clockwise from top left: Jimin, RM, Suga, Jin, Jungkook, V, and J-Hope

Directed by South Korean auteur Jeon Go-woon (Microhabitat, 2017), the Yeezy-ish, pseudo performance-art film was set in Bucheon Art Bunker B39, just outside of Seoul. The building was once a complex of incinerators. This time, a different fire was burning, and it was smoldering through seven hot-blooded Korean males. Only the BTS boys were walking through the space (which included one central scaffolding/structure). The rest of the models just stood (or sat) still. Like so many of Virgil Abloh’s recent artsy presentation, this is painfully pretentious. With a small hot-air balloon—emblazoned with the word “Hope”—hovering ominously, I was not sure anything was going hopefully forward. Where were the overly made-up boys going to? Or where they seeking Permission to Dance? Why was V (Kim Tae-hyung) wondering aimlessly with a LV-logo-ed coffee cup?

This collection/presentation is a Black-American embracing Asian sex appeal by way of a French brand. Internationalism and inclusivity have never made such visually striking bedfellows. I am not going to say anything about BTS’s usefulness in all this because, as so many have found out, one never says anything about the boys, even if one is right, as the stans or the BTS Army will wage war against anyone who dares put their biases in any perceived-to-be-negative light. The clothes have a Black aesthetic about them, and for fervent Asian rappers could be amusing, even ideal, to wear. According to LV, “the collection re-appropriates the normal through extreme elevation” and “employs fashion as a tool to change predetermined perceptions of dress codes”. I am not sure any of the BTS boys are such alert thinkers.

Photos: Louis Vuitton

Two Of A Kind: Riddle This!

One green costume is showing up as a bag

The Riddler vs Louis Vuitton

Virgil Abloh is good, very good. He can reference anything, and the results would be lauded and loved. In just one spring/summer 2022 collection, he can go, with considerable ease, from the winner of the inaugural Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design’s unmistakable wrapped-up heads to comic super-villain the Riddler’s distinctive costume with those questions marks against that green. But only now, at the maison of Louis Vuitton, the Riddler’s onesie is still his. Mr Abloh has, without question, taken the question marks (in similar font and in different sizes) and the extreme green, but has turned them into a Keepall Bandoulière! It went almost unnoticed among the many other bags shown if not for the very bright colour and the very black interrogation points.

DC comic fans are familiar with The Riddler (aka Edward Nygma), the computer-genius and former employee of millionaire Bruce Wayne. In the comic, the Riddler was convinced by a prostitute he met in a bus that he could be a super villain! When he first appeared as the Riddler in 1948’s Detective Comics, he was kitted in what was commonly referred to as a unitard—essentially a catsuit. It was green (but not as bright as later versions) and littered all over with questions marks in different sizes. He also wore a purple domino mask that matched a rather wide belt with a squarish buckle. The Riddler’s costume went through several changes through the years. A suit, too, was introduced (so that he’d be better dressed when meeting Mr Wayne?). The onesie was tweaked frequently, some time appearing with one single punctuation mark, right in the middle of the chest.

The unmistakable five-sided side of the Keepall Bandoulière

in 1995’s Batman Forever, the Riddler, played by the inimitable Jim Carrey, wore what was then described as a return to the “original costume”. It was a leotard that Mr Carrey was surprisingly able to pull off well. Costume designers Ingrid Ferrin and Bob Ringwood gave the union suit a rather youthful fit (no doubt still tight), with more question marks, placed in graphically fetching randomness. Mr Carrey’s the Riddler had other costumes too, mainly a jacket (not blazer) in the style of the Stalin tunic (some might think it looks like a Mao suit!) that was also green and floridly logo-ed, but it was the leotard that most movie-goers remember. And it is this outfit that seems to be the inspiration behind the Louis Vuitton bag.

The Keepall is considered one of LV’s most popular weekenders. Introduced in 1930, it has been made in different colours and fabrics, and has enjoyed interpretations by the American brand Supreme and the Japanese artist Takashi Murakami. Mr Abloh made the Keepall the must-have when his first remake at his debut season with LV was an iridescent version in transparent embossed Monogram PVC, attached with a chunky cable chain. There has been many versions since, but none we can remember that can be traced to what super-villains wear. We can really hear the Riddler questioning: “Riddle me this, Louis Vuitton. Why won’t you leave me ALONE?”

Photos: Warner Bros/DC Comics and Louis Vuitton

Two Of A Kind: Full Head Covering

Hide, hide, hide

Richard Quinn Vs Louis Vuitton

Since his full fashion presentation for autumn/winter 2018, Richard Quinn has obscured his models’ entire heads. Never mind that the Queen of England was seated in the front row (she was there to present him with the inaugural Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design) and the models looked like they might mug the unsuspecting attendees. At first, Mr Quinn covered his models heads and faces by cleverly tying a scarf over every inch above the shoulder—rather Cristo for head—and then graduating to full-on custom balaclavas that often matched gloves and leggings. It is his, for a lack of a better word, signature—one look and you know it’s Richard Quinn. But these days, one man’s signature is another man’s hack! Or the beginning of the buzzy discourse on who’s copying who. Or amen-breaking!

For Louis Vuitton’s spring/summer 2022, Virgil Abloh, too, covered the head of a few of his models. The balaclavas are there as well, but it is the total head covering and the matching gloves that very much raised our eyebrows. Mr Abloh’s presentations for both LV and his own line Off-White have always been watchable for what would be riffed. He has no qualms of being so very clearly inspired, so aroused by the ideas of others. It is very much a part of the hip-hop culture that he grew up in, where sampling and re-sampling across genres among artistes are the norm and widely practised. Why waste a good beat or bass?

Just as one can’t claim ownership to blond hair, so one can go from brunette to flaxen or similar, it is perhaps tempting to say that the head totally enclosed in a scarf belong to no one particular créateur, and, therefore, can be adopted by anyone. But it is disconcerting that Mr Abloh’s shrouded head appeared only recently, long after Mr Quinn made it very much his aesthetic guise, even if he may say his was inspired by the men (面, the protective head guard worn kendo competitors). Or, is Virgil Abloh merely adopting what Pablo Picasso is widely thought to have said and Steve Jobs had delightfully quoted, that “good artists borrow, great artists steal”?

Photos: (left) Richard Quinn and (Right) Louis Vuitton

In Praise Of Excess

Call it medley or pastiche, there is a lot going on at Louis Vuitton menswear for spring/summer 2022. But their fusion of influences and gimmickry, and a nod to Japan are, at best, pretentious

One white girl wearing a qipao (旗袍) to a prom is cultural appropriation, but a black man wielding a katana (かたな or samurai sword, also 打刀) for no apparent reason is not. Such is our complicated and unbalanced world. Louis Vuitton’s spring/summer 2022 collection once again explores other earthly divisions and cultures unfamiliar, and Virgil Abloh is the uniter, bringing together differences—aesthetical, visual, racial, ethnical, and sexual. Through his designs, he is “dialoguing” with opposites and is serving as “conduit” between poles, two of many key words he shared with WWD. And the katana? Why did it appear first, after shoes and a skirt? And why did the end featured it? Some online commentators linked it to the kendo demo seen in the second half of the video-show. But in kendo, the participants use a shinai (竹刀 or bamboo sword), not a katana. The katana is considered a symbol of Japan. Its much admired blade is seen as embodiment of what the mysterious samurai stands for: mannered, refined, and if need be, swiftly ferocious. Is Mr Abloh using the katana to cut through the conflicts of the world? Token exorcism!

The show/collection is loaded with so many symbolisms and obscure references and strange body movements that, after just five minutes of an unnecessarily long 16.44-minute video, we’re tired out. Called Amen Break, it is not a recess from the utterance used after a Christian prayer, but a drum break (a short drum solo that is commonly used as a sample loop) from the B-side of the 1969 track Amen, Brother by the soul group, the Winstons. We know not as much about hip-hop music as we should. According to hi-fi specialist Cambridge Audio, this “six important seconds in music” are extremely ”popular amongst producers over the last thirty years”. For the rest of us, listen to Amy Winehouse’s You Know I’m No Good for an idea (those who need something more obvious, try The Prodigy’s Firestarter) or the soundtrack of the show. Amen Break is considered one of the most sampled drum beats of modern music, yet, unbeknown to many listeners, the original band never received any royalties for that snatch of percussion, until recently. In a woke society, a debate about copyright in music was aroused, It is clear Mr Abloh, himself a musician, is using this to mirror what is happening in fashion and to ask if its really that bad to ‘sample’ design since the practice of sampling and consequently re-sampling is so widespread and blatant—even appreciated—in music. Similarly, isn’t Black culture just as widely appropriated, wondered Virgil Abloh, now the vanguard of Black-aesthetic globalism?

As with the LV autumn/winter 2021 show, Mr Abloh has created a multi-tableau set-piece with a massive model-cast—in pandemic-is-over close proximity. At times, they are all packed as if in a bus station, even writhing together. It is hard to make out what the stylised movements mean, or the physical nearness to each other. Do they make the clothes look better? Give it some context? We couldn’t tell. But desolation seems to be the preferred state these days. LV, too, chose the same, starting with a rocky grey terrain and then into a mock forest of birch (with canned thunder and strobe-light lightning), and then onto a wood-walled auditorium in which a game of chess is played, oddly undisturbed by people shuffling (and, again, as in a bus station) and a kendo session. According to LV’s own description, the presentation is “an abstract interpretation of the story of artist Lupe Fiasco (the American rapper)” that “depicts a father and son united by an unnamed loss, crossing a dream world to deliver a message to the other side.” Operative word: “abstract”, and it’s so abstract that it is disruptive to the enjoyment of the filmic pitch. The show may be a metaphor for whatever metaphor the world now needs, but if it requires the oft-cited forty-odd-page book (sent to the media) to explain it all, then perhaps there are too many metaphors and symbolisms and the superfluous for one event.

Usually, seasonal collections reflect, well, the seasons. But increasingly they mirror whatever you can glean from the things you see around you and the people you meet. LV’s busy proposals are a lot less summery than what we are used to (as we write this, our news feeds are filled with reports of Russia suffering one of their hottest summers in memory) for a season characterised by heat (even, more and more, in spring). What throws us off track at the start are—seriously—the ear muffs! Or, are they some powder-puffs-as-UV shields that we have yet encountered? And then more to make us sweat: the padded, gambeson-like vests (including a long version and even ones in the form of maxi-skirts), bulky (fake?) fur coats, outers and pants worn as if they are PPEs, puffer jackets with hoodies that look like helmets, the thick layering—sweater (with hoodie pulled up to completely cover the head), top coats, padded vests, and gloves, and the said ear muffs (were they thinking of the South Pole or similar?). And if all that do not make you feel that you might need cold-weather dressing, there is even a suit with images of the Alps and and kindred Alpine splendour!

The lack of lightness for a season associated with airy clothes aside, there seems to be a deliberate attempt to do away with conventional line planning so that off-season items can be included to expand the product offerings and bloat the SKU. Apart from the padded gloves, there are the fluorescent ushanka (the Russian fur cap with ear flaps), the stuffed animals (covered with LV monogram, of course), and the almost-knee-high calf-warming snow boots. Belts are aplenty too, not only leather belts with decorative buckles, but also soft fabric belts (worn tied rather than buckled) that go with many of the outers. Would they be sold individually? And there is no forgetting the many bags you do not yet own (a guitar bag or, better still, a back pack in the shape of a koinobori, the Japanese carp-shaped windsock?). As one product development manager remarks to us, “Virgil Abloh’s doing for LV bags what Marc Jacobs was never able to do during his entire time there.” We look out for the equivalent of last season’s massive aeroplane bag (after failing to spot the city-scape top), but there is nothing as useful to encourage social distancing.

The lightest-looking outfit is a track top and bottom in sheer and somewhat iridescent fabric (worn over an opaque tracksuit, which makes the sum less light!). In fact, the tracksuit—very much associated with rap culture: think Wu-Tang Clan, whose founding member GZA, the “spiritual head”, is featured in the show—are central to the collection. It’s styled with a tailored vest. The high-low pairings (only now, we can’t really call an LV tracksuit low) are characteristic of Mr Abloh’s melding of styles and cultures. Belts, treated like a martial arts obi, are tied around the waist of tailored garments, as if securing one’s kenogi (uniforms worn by kendo competitors), ready for a fight—even vests are similarly tied at the natural waist with a belt. This emphasis on the waist is perhaps consistent with the overall feminising of the aesthetic that Mr Abloh is increasingly adopting for LV now that men, too, can wear whatever they what.

As if targeting Lil Nas X and Billy Porter, the collection boasts a staggering amount of skirts. Even when skirts and dresses for guys are now part of popular culture, are they de rigueur in today’s male wardrobe? To be certain, Mr Abloh has shown skirts before, but not 18 of them in one show. Do men need this many of them to choose from? Even a tiered pouf that women are buying a lot less, or the padded variety? Because if there’s anyone who can make skirts for men mainstream, it’s Virgil Abloh? The feminising includes the scallop edges of a no doubt striking white top coat and a spiffy blazer. Men can now wear tailoring that’s sharp and pretty as well. Perhaps fashion that emerges from the fog of the pandemic is to see who can say something, if not shout the loudest. Mr Abloh’s LV (now in its seventh collection, as hinted on the banner of the kendo match ground that reads in kanji, “第七回国際発表大会 or 7th International Presentation Tournament”) is a visual rojak of checks, stripes, tie-dye, colour gradation, image-less jig-saw, decal disorder, Slender Man, and (what appears to be) photo prints. These and the staggering jumble of garments may show that the LV atelier is truly able, but what’s Mr Abloh, in the end, really trying to proof?

Screen grabs and photos: Louis Vuitton

Cruise To Nowhere?

Louis Vuitton is hopeful that people will be travelling and holidaying again. Its Cruise collection is suggesting that dressing up is part of the return to exploring the world for leisure. But are fashion folks thinking of vaccination or vacation?

We can always turn to fashion for hope. In a world fraught with fears that the next COVID virus mutation may be even more dangerous, fashion provides optimism that, in other parts of our life, isn’t so embraceable. Luxury brands call it the selling of fantasies, even dreams. And Louis Vuitton, with a history steep in travel, is offering at least the feeling, if not the assurance, that what we desire can soon be had or that the bad of the present will turn out for the best. As Nicolas Ghesquière told the media, “It’s a very optimistic, joyful collection”. The show notes expanded on that: “…proud, positive looks that advance straight ahead, serenely.” LV, under Mr Ghesquière’s watch, has mostly reflected a favourable view of the world around them—fashion makes the world go round, cross boundaries, cross eras. We don’t recall anything dark or sinister or dwelling in a gloomy place. It has been clothes to be seen in, and in which you’d wish to go somewhere.

But even LV isn’t really travelling, at least not to some far-flung locale typical of its Cruise collections. It is still shown in a monumental place, only now in their own homeland. This season, the show is staged in the relatively-un-known-outside-France attraction Axe Majeur (or Major Axis in English), in Cergy-Pontoise, a languid suburb northwest of Paris. Often described as “an architectural masterpiece”, the Axe Majeur is part outdoor sculpture museum and part urban walkway that may vaguely remind you—in spirit—of Henderson Waves. Designed in 1980 by the late Israeli artist Dani Karavan and the Spanish architect Ricardo Bofill, the Axe Majeur is huge; it is 3.2km long, and boasting a panoramic view of Paris (it is said you can even see La Défense). The show opens with a frame of the obelisk-like columns on one end of the installation and moves through with the models as they walk on a red pedestrian bridge held up by repeated frames, each looking like a minimalist take on the Japanese torii gateway, often found at the entrances of shrine compounds that mark the start of the sacred spaces.

This season is, as in the last, full of this and that—disparate elements that still beautifully come together, as if this has been the arrangement of the cosmos (there’s even an illustration that seems to suggest exploration of outer space). Mr Ghesquière’s LV output is so ideas-driven, they’re not easily absorbed in a moment or by the end of the show. The clothes do not only have the main body, but parts to them. This isn’t the splicing of one garment and adding another to it so that the final whole is matrimony of two—typical of the Japanese; this is a compositional exercise not unlike a pre-schooler playing with shapes—assembling and un-assembling them. And how they come together always provides the surprise and newness, even when the exercise itself has become quite the formula Mr Ghesquière has drawn up for LV. In this way, the seasons seem to flow from one to the next: an ongoing dialogue. Mr Ghesquière has conceived his own aesthetical timelessness.

Many pieces have the requisite It-ness to warrant a space in the already full wardrobes of fans. If LV were to organise another fashion show here, they would one more sell-well collection in their hands. We see attendees (with nowhere else to go) drawn to the waisted dresses with a draw-cord hem, gently pulled to create a slight bubble of a skirt; asymmetric tops with equally skewed placement of print; the band-leader jackets that Michael Jackson would have loved; the square-shouldered blouses, worn tucked into the rear waistband of skirts/pants; and those outers with sleeves that looked like they were moulded from Cathedral ceilings. It appears to us that for a cruise collection, these do not seem to be clothes that those who like to pack light could cheerily bring along—they would take up a lot of space, unless, of course, they’re packed in a Louis Vuitton trunk.

Screen grab (top) and photos: Louis Vuitton

No Press

Naomi Osaka has refused to meet members of the media at the French Open despite contractual obligations. Can she do the same to Louis Vuitton as the latter’s brand ambassador?

Naomi Osaka with Nicolas Ghesquière, January 2021

Japan’s biggest tennis star has spoken: she won’t speak. The news that rocked the tennis world these past few days was that Naomi Osaka has cancelled her requisite meeting with the press, citing “mental health” issues. She was insistent on sitting the press conferences out even when she was contractually obligated to fulfil her duties. As a consequence, she was fined US$15,000 by the tournament organisers. (According to Forbes, she earned US$37 million in 2019.) They also threatened to expulse her. A four-time major champion at only 23 and presently the world number two, Ms Osaka reacted to that possibility of being shut out by choosing to leave the competition midway. This would be the first time a major star, as AP notes, “walked away from a major tournament without a visible injury”. In a statement posted on Twitter, the tennis player wrote, “I think now the best thing for the tournament, the other players and my well-being is that I withdraw so that everyone can get back to focusing on the tennis going on in Paris.” She added, “I never wanted to be a distraction and I accept my timing was not ideal and my message could have been clearer. More importantly, I would never trivialize mental health or use the term lightly.”

Ms Osaka stepped out of Roland Garros to step into the spotlight that had nothing to with winning a game. That she has chosen to adopt Megan Markle’s approach of revealing her struggle with mental health issues is not surprising now that mental health has taken centre court and is what stresses famous persons or why they wouldn’t do what they do not wish to. We, too, are not trivialising mental health issues, their realness, and their prevalence, but it is apparently becoming easier to allow mental health to speak for one’s woes. Last March, in a CBS interview hosted by Oprah Winfrey, Ms Markle famously talked about suffering from depression and having suicidal thoughts while pregnant. It was a revelation. Ms Osaka’s speak-out was too. The rallying behind her “power move”, as The New York Times called it, came as quickly as it did for Ms Markle. The Guardian reported that “Japanese athletes and sponsors voice support for” her. Serena Williams, who was defeated by Ms Osaka in the controversial 2018 US Open championship, in which the former broke into what appeared to be a tantrum that cost her a point, said, “I feel for Naomi.”

We are not trivialising mental health issues, their realness and their prevalence, but it is becoming easier to allow mental health to speak for one’s woes

Will her action have far-reaching effects, even outside sports? Naomi Osaka is not only a star in the tennis world, she is also a star in the fashion world. In January, she accepted the brand ambassadorial role at Louis Vuitton. Ms Osaka appeared in LV’s spring/summer 2021 campaign photos, lensed by Nicolas Ghesquière. Some reports described Ms Osaka in those images as “perfectly incarnating the Louis Vuitton woman”. What if it was far from perfection? We do not know what is in the contract between LV and Naomi Osaka, but, as a brand ambassador, surely she has to deal with journalists too. Will she be tempted to do to LV what she did to the French Open? Or perhaps there is less impact on her mental health when she answers questions about dresses and her other love apart from tennis, fashion? And it isn’t just LV that she’s a face of. Ms Osaka is also in partnership with Nike, Comme des Garçons, Shiseido and, others, and has recently appeared as a model for Levi’s. She was also appointed co-chair of this year’s Met Gala. Will she turn down all attendant press interviews arranged for her?

Sure, being placed in the middle of a press conference is not the same as being in the centre of a tennis court, even if the pressures affecting mental health can exist on both. Curiously, no one asked if Ms Osaka’s desire to avoid the press was because she found post-match media sessions to be plain tedious. The press pack can be predatory and a player who had not performed may not be in a state of mind to take the tough questioning. Successful athletes—like successful artistes—facing the media is, for better or worse, a part of their job, but increasingly, those in the limelight do not need the press to speak to their fans or the simply curious; they have social media. So, they opt out. Or, use their platform to divert the spotlight to pet woke causes. In lauding her bravery shown at Roland Garros, we may have forgotten that Naomi Osaka is just 23 years old. She is also a member of Gen Z. And like those before her, the Millennials, she has been weaned on the believe that she can do whatever she wants, or not do. No one can tell her otherwise, not even the powers of the French Open. Or dutifully working sports journalists.

Photo: Louis Vuitton/Instagram

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