Orchard Fashion Runway: Pointless Street Show

Orchard Fashion Runway Pic 1The Raffles Privato collection, initiated by Raffles Design Institute and supported by Paragon, at OFR 2016

About a week after National Day last year, a postcard was found circulating on Orchard Road. The front of the card, dated August 18, 2015, mimics a tabloid cover of the ’60s and is provocatively blurbed: “Orchard Road—Doomed for the Future?” Other cover lines that suggest equally dismal prospects include “Bored Shoppers”, “Empty Streets”, and “Dopey Retail Stuff”. Flip it over, and you soon realise this is a cheeky little marketing material, distributed to entice shoppers into a deli for a meal to “get a free lemonade daily before 6pm”.

The consumers targeted to receive the postcard did not know then that the cover “story” of this fun title could be so portentous. According to research on Singapore’s retail sector published by London-based real estate services provider Savills, retail sales in the last three months of 2015 were “subdued”. In October, November and December, comparable figures against 2014 were down, with declines of 4.5%, 2.1% and 3.6% respectively. And these are, traditionally, supposed to be good months of the retail calendar. As Q1 of this year comes to a close, things do not look cheerier. On 2 March, The Straits Times ran the headline, “Rents in Orchard Road fall again for the seventh quarter in a row”. It requires no wild speculation then that retail business is, as The Business Times calls it, “anaemic”.

Something needs to be done. The solutions: Fashion Steps Out (FSO) and “signature runway show” and the FSO’s “curtain raiser” Orchard Fashion Runway (OFR). Orchard Road’s less-than-gleaming retail performance is, of course, not a recently recorded gloom. FSO to the rescue is, in fact, into its 7th year, and OFR has transformed 550m of Orchard Road into a catwalk—from outside Tangs Plaza to the Paragon—for 6 years. Our premier shopping belt has been in need of rallying since 2010, “when the Orchard Road shopping belt celebrates the Spring/Summer fashion season with local and international brands, as well as exciting events and shopping promotions”, according to yoursingapore.com, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) visitor-centric website.

Orchard Fashion Runway Pic 2Orchard Fashion Runway Pic 3One-time Kato Jay Chou’s label Phantaci seen on Orchard Road for the first time

No one knows for certain if we “celebrate” any fashion season at all, but many are sure Orchard Road needs to be inspired anew. With the oft-mentioned competition from suburban malls, and, more significantly, online stores, our oldest shopping belt is facing a tough and protracted battle, yet its troubles have been only momentarily solved, with ideas that have no long-term gains. To be sure, the street itself has undergone many improvements—even busking, once frowned upon, is now allowed. The real step up should go beyond the cosmetic and token public entertainment. To give the entire stretch of Orchard Road the appeal it needs, a vibrant retail culture such as those seen in Tokyo’s various shopping districts—Shinjuku, Shibuya, Omotaesando, just to name three—must be fostered.

Instead, the powers-that-be are contented with something as lame as Fashion Steps Out (no prizes for where that name really came from). Touted as “Singapore’s biggest fashion festival” (now that the official Fashion Festival is no more, the description is up for grabs), FSO is a six-week “extravaganza”, according to the SPH Newspaper: Special in ST’s Life that ran last Friday. Whether there’s going to be any lavishness or opulence that’s alluded to, shoppers are none the wiser. A mere six weeks to enhance Orchard Road’s weak retail standing, however, is fodder for detractors to question the value and usefulness of FSO. And what happens during the 45 days? Nothing much. According to ORBA’s micro-site for FSO, from 25 March to 8 May, shopping vouchers and 15 sets of Samsung’s new Galaxy S7 4G+ smartphones could be won. It would take considerable effort to find the “extravaganza” in those.

Orchard Fashion Runway is, thus, the flag bearer of the FSO. Its star billing this year is augmented by the presence of local and, for the first time, regional personalities: singers JJ Lin and Malaysia’s Aisyah Aziz, a couple of models (that did not walk the show), a fashion stylist, and the ever-important “influencers”, five of them (two Singaporeans, a Taiwan-based Malaysian, a Filipino, and an Indonesian). Whether their presence will make a difference (and who the influencers will influence) isn’t quite clear, but the ST supplement seems certain that the important invitees “will make waves”. A day after the event, Instagram was not inundated with selfies shot on Orchard Road the Runway.

Orchard Fashion Runway Pic 4The cute-as-hell, kitschy-like-mad designs of the irrepressible Mash-Up 

Given the dreary shows of the past years, it is admirable that ORBA, supported by STB, has not given up the idea of doing a runway presentation. It is said that, despite retaining the “curtain raiser”, ORBA still desires change. In the past, OFR was put together by the externally appointed creative director, Jeffrey Tay from ModernAge Design & Communication, a company that was involved in OFR since 2012. In his place this year is Daniel Boey, a seasoned show producer known for his theatrical productions and his good relationships with Singaporean designers. Mr Boey told ST that he’s directing the spotlight on local labels (and some Asian).

If that sounds like a familiar refrain, it’s because the show last year—SG50 year—was about local designers too. On the surface, Mr Tay and Mr Boey appear to have tremendous support for our home-grown names. There’s no negating that local brand owners are easier to cajole than their international counterparts, who do not participate in shows that are not at one with their own brand management and marketing plan. There was never any question about involving those names with strong global standing. It would have been more convincing if the organisers simply stated that Singapore’s “iconic street’ is the ideal platform for Singaporean labels.

Not that we have that many deserving a concerted national display, or that there are those willing to share street exposure with a motley group of designers with steeply varying degrees of design flair. It was, therefore, surprising to see Thomas Wee showing alongside those whose references are clearly not in the same line of sight as the veteran designer. Although he closed OFR with a wow factor more suited to a hotel-ballroom catwalk than a torrid tarmac, Mr Wee’s lost-era elegance stuck out, like his white, silk taffeta jumpsuit, against a jumble of jokey costumes conceived to humour the young and stand out, even absurdly, for the sake of standing out, and for the final destination: social media.

Orchard Fashion Runway Pic 5Orchard Fashion Runway Pic 6No clowning matter: Révasseur puts a circus and its principal designer (in harlequin check), Gilda Su, and her dog out there

ORBA’s objective is, therefore, rather clear. The need for influencers and clothes that will turn up well in the likes of Snapchat suggests that Orchard Road is scrambling for a trending makeover. No place along this street, not even the swanky ION Orchard, is uploaded to social media sites with the same frantic regularity as Bangkok’s Siam Paragon, which, in 2013, made it to the Most Frequently Instagrammed place on the planet, and has, hitherto, remained in the top 10. Siam Paragon’s achievement is all the more remarkable when you consider its location; it is not situated on “A Great Street” (in fact, that stretch of Rama I Road is a traffic and pedestrian nightmare!). Orchard Road’s lack of geo-tagged snapshots in the digital media-sphere seems to suggest that whatever is happening (or not happening here), it is not scoring big with youngsters or selfie-eager tourists.

OFR should have been what Mr Boey calls “a fashion Mardi Gras”. And the runway a sambadrome. If you’re assembling a group that mostly communicates via madcap visual antics, stay consistent to the zany miscellany. If Révasseur’s costumes for the non-practising, but ever-posing circus crowd are clothes of the moment, then send in the clowns. If fashion is only so when it is steep in street vibe and drips with way-out (or daft) excess, then strip away the artifice of deportment-class strolling and flood the street with badass, ass-bare individuals who can truly rock the malls down.

Unfortunately, Orchard Road is unable to use humour, wit, and daring for its own betterment. If “retail is stuck in its own mud”, as experts are inclined to say, then Orchard Road is trapped in its own perceived greatness. Still branded as “A Great Street” by ORBA, it forgets that it is the experiential component that determines what is great about a street. “Enhanced experience” is often bandied about on Orchard Road—in the malls too—as the way to differentiate itself, but rare is the enhancement palpable. If ORBA must persist with Orchard Fashion Runway, then it must deliver exhilaration that shopping inside one of Orchard Road’s increasingly dull malls cannot offer. Last Saturday, that, regrettably, did not happen.

Photos: Helena Tan

Gosh, I Wish

DFW 2014 P1Audience getting seated before a show

By Raiment Young

Perhaps it’s a little early to make Yuletide wishes, but if you look carefully enough, it’s really looking a lot like Christmas. So, I’m wishing.

I wish I could like the just-concluded Digital Fashion Week more. I don’t regard it with disapproval or aversion; I just wish it was put (or pulled?) together with flair. It’s not quite comprehensible that three years after the project started, DFW 2014 was still as raw as the first. Opening-show reception mayhem and confusion, guests queuing too long for entry, shows starting hours later than the advertised schedules, the lacklustre staging and the uninspired productions amid gossips of designers unhappy with the hair and makeup teams (The Body Shop for a major fashion event?!) as well as the gaggle of not-the-best models (reportedly, organiser DFW Creative was only willing to pay the lowest rate, much to the chagrin of the modeling agencies), and rumours that main sponsor, the British Council, was keeping a close watch to determine if they will continue to support DFW next year—unfortunately shared the limelight.

DFW’s participation in Bangkok International Fashion Week (BIFW) a few days later only served to amplify what the former lacks: the panache and élan to stage something that was streamed to the world. The Bangkok designers and show choreographers, by contrast, offered their audience runway performances that were enthralling and spectacular, and videogenic to boot (Fly Now’s closing show, despite the shockingly derivative designs, was extravagantly staged!). It spoke volumes that the “Singapore Collective” show on 8 November (part of a DFW exchange program; the Thais designers earlier showed in Singapore too) was not the full-house event Singaporean attendees had hoped it to be. I wish I could have cheered majulah throughout the show; I wish members of the audience were bowled over by what they saw; I wish our designers were able to feel that they had outshone the Thais. I wish.

DFW SG 2014 P5Designers receiving the customary bouquets at the end of their catwalk show

I wish I could rave about our young designers more. I don’t regard them with contempt or disapproval. I just wish they know what it really means to take to the catwalk at the end of a fashion presentation. When you go out bowing and receiving flowers and basking in the applause, you want more than to show a face and a gait that can be identified with your brand; you want to be regarded as a ‘designer’, a title loaded with expectations. Yet, often than not, you are unable to hold up the high standards that come with such a recognition. You are given the runway; you have to deliver. A fashion show isn’t a platform for you to show your narcissistic self. Hubris has to match output: you have to present what is truly worthy of a catwalk show; you have to present clothes of technical finesse and artistic quality. Even if the audience do not demand it, you have to demand it! I wish this isn’t stating the obvious; I wish this does not require mentioning. I wish.

I wish I could like Max Tan’s designs more. I don’t regard Mr Tan’s clothes with shame or scorn. It was disappointing that Singapore’s favourite designing son did not put out a collection that befitted his designer standing. It was enticing fodder for Instagram, no doubt, but it was far from fashion that could garner esteem or respect. It has to be said that, for someone with puny mastery of tailoring to do those absurdly clumsy coats, tremendous courage and nerve were displayed. There was evidence of magnanimity too: Mr Tan shared the stage with his protégé duo, Jac and Zhiying of YouYou, but I wish he didn’t have to share those bootees with the girls too. Both collections did not draw from one aesthetic vision, why then should their models sport identical footwear? I wish Mr Tan had thought of that. I wish.

DFW 2014 P2The bloggers or “influencers”—as DFW called them—were front-row fixtures

I wish I could appreciate Mash Up more; I wish the clothes didn’t look so messed up! I don’t regard Mash-Up with derision, just doubt. Primarily a T-shirt label, Mash Up offered scant answers to why their clothes deserved to be on a catwalk. Like so many young designers of their ilk, the Mash Up trio of Daniela Monasterios-Tan, Nathaniel Ng, and Shaf Amis’aabudin primarily assembled rectangular pieces of cloth as clothes: the T-shirt school of design. They barely worked with darts (since those loose shapes did not require structure and the body-con dresses were made of stretch fabric), they did not concern themselves with armholes (since those drop shoulders did not require well-fit arms), and, not counting two biker-jacket-wannabes, they did not use collars (as that would require some real shirt-making skill). Their strength, it was often pointed out to me, is in their madcap graphics, but I wish they had tried harder. Their Pocahontas-meets-The-Little-Match-Girl aesthetic was completely at odds with a recurrent portrait—plastered over the bodice—that was Cubist in spirit and Gauguin in pose. Mashed up indeed! If the Mash-Up show was meant to buff its street cred up, it did not. I wish it had. I wish.

I wish I could like Pauline Ning more, but it was hard. I don’t regard Pauline Ning with dismay, just discomfort. An earlier review on this blog has already expressed disapprobation of what the brand showed. Still, it bears repeating that a fashion show deserves better-made clothes and the audience deserves more respect. Pauline Ning isn’t a sideline business; it is designer Pauline Lim’s day job. Yet, she was not inclined to impress, as designers are wont to. The impact she made was with the poor finishing of her clothes, which may be palatable to fast fashion consumers, but not to those who must have better. I wish Pauline Ning will find a competent sampling team soon. I am assuming, of course, that she has a sampling room from which her show pieces were produced. I wish her clothes will one day not look like castoffs from an H&M factory. I wish.

DFW 2014 P3Show favours occupied the seats before guests took over

I wish I could like Depression more. I don’t regard Depression with gloominess or repugnance. It’s just that their presentation was deathly cold, so they needed something to heat the runway, but it didn’t emerge, not in the form or wit, not in the shape of sexiness. The sinister-looking clothes, styled to extend their Dark Nature theme of autumn/winter 2014, were, at best, gimmicky. And all the ideas of “fear” swirling around were just a promotional hook, not a design statement. I couldn’t grasp the persistent (or was it leftover?) pseudo-cultish patina, just as I couldn’t perceive Depression in dressier mode. Was it just a spoof of their unchanging aesthetic? Designers Kenny Lim and Andrew Loh like to project themselves with the bravado of what seems to me The Crow in an unholy union with Death of The Sandman, but it is far from organic, far from convincing. In the end, there was no shock—let’s not even mention awe.

The thing is, there isn’t real counterculture anymore, at least not in sterile Singapore, and certainly not when the underbelly of society is mostly a romantic reminder of our more colourful past, not when tattoos are now mainstream adornment and no longer arouse suspicion in national service (when once permanent inking of the body—any part—warranted a strip inspection). Perhaps it is due to our sanitised world, socially and stylistically, that Depression is able to find validation. Authentic or not, theirs is a cult label that can birth a Sects Shop! This is not quite a depressive spiraling in darkness. This is a blackness that stands out because of a generally pristine environment. Against a conventional idea of sophistication and beauty and order, the Depression outfits at DFW looked suitably drab yet imposing. I understand what they were trying to do. I wish it wasn’t all show and tell. I wish it had design panache; I wish it had technique; I wish it had heart. I wish.

CR P1Christiano Burani Spring/summer 2015

I wish the foreign designers—Italian and British—invited to participate in DFW as credence to “European Exchange” had a nice time in Singapore. I wish they didn’t think Singaporean designers strange; I wish they didn’t consider it bizarre that, given the heat of that week—typically 32°C even in the late afternoon/early evening—our designers were sending out clothes for spring/summer 2015 in neoprene and kindred fabrics, and in unrelenting black. How odd, they must have thought, that anyone working in this temperature would want to churn out garments that, even at a glance, appeared like wearable ovens. How peculiar it must have been to them that our designers could be so oblivious to our punishing weather. I wish they did not believe the common remark: that Singapore has two seasons—hot and air-conditioned. I wish.

I wish more of the fashion-buying (not clothes-consuming) public saw Christiano Burani’s light-as-East-Coast-Park-breeze collection. Mr Burani’s clothes were moderately girly, with a touch of sporty, but mostly with a sense of ease that so few designers can muster. You would not think they were a challenge to wear or to match with your excising wardrobe; you would not think they were only for special occasions. Yet, these clothes were rather special, in the use of the light-weight fabrics, in the interpretation of gingham checks, and in the cheerfulness that would take the humdrum out of any mundane life. Practical and stylish, as it were, could be BFFs. I wish Mr Burani could show more. I wish he had a positive influence on the local participants of DFW. I wish.

FG P1Fyodor Golan’s spring/summer 2015 collection

I wish, too, that more of the fashion-buying public—especially those with a fondness for the fancy—saw Fyodor Golan’s high-octane collection. If the Butter Factory was still around, Fyodor Golan would have held their after-show party there. These were highly visual clothes that would connect to club kids and career clubbers such as Butter Factory founders Ritz Lim and Bobby Luo, both presently proprietors of Superspace, a Mash Up stockist, and the kind of shop Fyodor Golan frocks could reside in, happily and contentedly. The London-based designing duo of Fyodor Podgorny and Golan Frydman wedded sportswear to design-school quirkiness, uniting practical shapes with wacky flourishes, such as the cropped jacket that looked country-club proper in front and hippy-shaggy from the back!  I wish our young designers saw the show and learned something from the collection. I wish they realised that a little fun and a little zing in a collection need not look foolish and juvenile. I wish.

I wish DFW will return next year. I wish it will be with a better line-up of participants. I wish there will be concession that content is crucial. I wish the event will, by then, show a coming of age, an elevation of standards. I wish it will be staged for on-site audience viewing as much as YouTube consumption, acknowledging that, either way, it communicates with equal speed, and before it ends, the ideas presented quickly becomes common currency, aided by those flamboyant “influencers” in daily attendance. I wish the presentations could be what The Guardian’s fashion editor Jess Cartner-Morley once said of Dries Van Noten’s: “occasions of grandeur and emotion”, to which he replied, “I put my soul into the shows”. I wish.

I’m still wishing. But the night has turned to day.