And It Rhymes With Coarse

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So, this is strengthening the brand—in line, we suspect, with their acquisition of the now one-name Versace. One lian to another lian aside, Michael Kors is not exactly the label of exquisite luxury although, to be fair, they have tried. Now that the optics associated with luxury fashion have shifted, it looks like Mr Kors is moving away from his post-Celine-years high style (“luxury sportswear”‚ as he calls it) for something everyone else is doing with gusto: blare your name as if your life depends on it.

This photo and others of the sub-brand called #MKGO (launched in July) were recently posted on the brand’s IG page with one image accompanied by the comment, “Spell it out.” Oh, is that what they’re doing now? Because we, the masses, can’t give the letters to that name? Just as Alexander Wang did when he collaborated with H&M because the denizens similarly need four-letter monikers spelled out loud and clear for them? Or, if you go back earlier, Dior?

#MKGO, as it turns out, is “inspired by the insouciance of early 1990’s New York street style”, according to the brand’s marketing fluff. This second drop is called Bold. There is nothing insouciant about a brand name screaming out in bold, sans-serif font but, perhaps, versus some Italian brands that are louder, this is nonchalant. But, at the risk of imitating a troll, this is not just unexciting, this is insipid. If not, what do you call the use of unmissable, self-affirming family name to sell lacklustre clothes, footwear, and accessories? Narcissistic? Vainglorious? Insecure? All three?

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One bag, the Mott, is emblazoned—in the colour of gold, no less—with the word “cool” (replacing what would have been MK). We hazard a guess: a lesson in antonyms (since you asked, what is the opposite of Kors?), or euphemisms (a nice way of saying blah?). Is this not quite like businesses who are so desperate to be world-class, they describe themselves as such? If your customers disassociate you with cool, calling yourself cool doesn’t make you so. Not even when Anna Wintour wears you. This is, simply put, crude.

Such an approach to product design could, of course, be attributed to the prevalent culture of putting oneself socially in the most delightful setting, using the most self-validating terms. On IG, a bag visibly named “cool” could save you from calling yourself that in the comment line. Michael Kor’s use of the hashtag preceding MKGO (MK go?) is consistent with how Instagrammers love making their text unreadable by the excessive use of hashtagged descriptions. In other words, very Millennial-friendly.

It is not clear yet where Michael Kors intends to take #MKGO other than bank on the ‘logomania’ currently not loosening its gripping of the fashion world (or, from the first collection, Graffiti—the tired standby designers of a certain vintage turn to when doing ‘young’). But, given the main brand’s moving-no-where designs, who knows if it can go the distance.

#MKGO Bold is in store. Photos: Michael Kors

Just Kors

Michael Kors

Now that Michael Kors has a “Southeast Asian flagship” on our shores, we’re told that he’s an important player in the fashion retail scene here—important enough that he has a local hybrid orchid named after him. So we thought we should have a look at his catwalk presentation—something we don’t do. The last time we took occasional notice of what Mr Kors did was during his 6-year tenure at Céline, the 72-year-old French house that dressed Rene Russo for her role as the stylish Catherine Banning in the 1999 remake of The Thomas Crown Affair, a film, at that time, considered to be “a fashion orgy”.

Presently, Michael Kors is, of course, not only a fashion designer, he’s also a multi-brand business owner, having just added Jimmy Choo to his bulking-up company, that, according to Forbes, has a market cap of USD20 billion. The label, however, isn’t roaring like it used to, with planned closure of stores in the US, up to 125 of them by the end of this year, according to Fortune.

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Still, Mr Kors is a buzz-maker during New York Fashion Week, and we suspect it’s to do with the front row than the catwalk. The show opened with Carolyn Murphy in a tie-dye sweatshirt-dress, something so shockingly underwhelming that knowing it’s made of cashmere won’t save it from blandness. Even Ms Murphy couldn’t make it look less Kuta and more Capri. Is that really fashion? Or is that the hailed wearable ease that has firmly placed the brand in the “casual luxury” category?

To show you how informal and laid-back things can be, Mr Kors offered a light-as-a-sea-breeze collection that’s heavy on the suggestion of “somewhere on the beach”, as pal and fan Anna Wintour told vogue.com. That means styling a white shirt with same-tone lei! Or, offering prints that are tropical fronds, such as those you see on the sand and don’t bother picking up. There are more dresses for a romantic seaside dinner than we bothered to count and the obligatory flip-flops that are best left to the likes of Havaianas.

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We wondered, therefore, if the collection would have been more appropriate for the Cruise season. But for the brand’s core customers, it probably does not matter. Despite the collection’s usual lack of fashion elements that can put it on par with, say, Céline—Mr Kor’s former employer, the luxury basics, as fans prefer to call the merchandise, that he churns out are the wardrobe fillers that can satisfy those willing to pay for a pricier but just-as-accessible Banana Republic.

Michael Kors dresses a very specific woman: she’s successful; visibly feminine; not girlish; married (or wants to be); glad to always talk about her beau or husband; considers strolling on beaches most romantic; spends a small fortune on aromatherapy candles for her home and office (where she wants her dress to just about stand out); and declares she loves fashion, but, really adores Lululemon more. If this, to you, sounds like Blake Lively or, gasp, Sumiko Tan, you’re not off the mark.

Screen grab and photos: YouTube and indigital.tv

Oh, Prada, Ong Shunmugam’s Been There, Done That!

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A Singapore-based label showed it before an Italian. How about that!

At its recent spring/summer 2017 presentation in Milan, Prada sent out five sets of samfus, distinguished by kitsch and a healthy dose of camp. For fans of Ong Shunmugam, Prada’s take on the samfu (衫裤 or shanku in Mandarin) is as new as frog buttons since their preferred homegrown brand had shown the Oriental top-and-pants combo before—in 2014 and 2015. See, Prada, Ong Shunmugam is ahead of you.

Why does it matter? Because Ong Shunmugam’s designer/founder Priscilla Tsu-Jen Shunmugam is the darling of the local media, not to mention the Singapore Tourism Board, all completely charmed by her revivalist approach to modern sartorial reinterpretation. It isn’t really known if her popularity (or 2015 Her World Young Woman Achiever award) has been good for business. Yet, this Malaysian daughter of Singaporean fashion can now be affirmed as the visionary that so many inexplicably think she is. Prada’s samfus, several seasons later than Ong Shunmugam’s, validate the latter’s “rethink of traditional garments”, and, possibly, posit the brand was right all along.

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The remake of the samfu cannot, of course, be considered new. Designers of the West—Giorgio Armani, one among many—have looked at the cheongsum’s much dismissed (and dissed) sister when they cast their source of inspiration to China, or when they think they can sell noodles to the Chinese. The thing is, for many here in Singapore, the samfu is closely linked to the early years of our country’s founding and not the later boom years of stupendous economic growth. The samfu was mostly worn by the working class—amahs (or majie) and Samsui women, not primarily by ladies of leisure or admirable financial standing. Until Ong Shunmugam came jauntily along. It is, however, uncertain if their samfus enjoyed widespread adoption.

One of the most visible samfu appearances on the world stage of recent years was the USD1,190, limited-edition Michael Kors version worn by Grace Coddington at the 2015 Met Gala to celebrate the opening of China: Through the Looking Glass. The “pajama set”, as the US media called it, stood out in a glittery sea of sheer and body-hugging gowns that have become gala-night standards of red carpet habitues. To the Americans, Ms Coddington’s choice of dress for “the Super Bowl of social fashion events” may be exotic or, according to the Hollywood Reporter, “dreamy”, but to many of us in Asia, it was, at best, underwhelming.

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So the Italians now show the Americans how to do what is essentially an outfit of Chinese origin. Ong Shunmugam could have assumed the mantle, but maybe it is not easy to manoeuvre from Chip Bee Gardens. Moreover, to go in front is possibly not on the cards for the 6-year-old brand that, until recently, operated like an alteration service in the basement of Hong Leong Building, mainly an office tower. Prada, on the other hand, has always been the pied piper of fashion, and they have led many a willing into their unconventional but charming, surprise-filled world. To followers, Prada always plays a hypnotic tune.

More importantly, Prada has Miuccia Prada, Ong Shunmugam does not. One ignores convention, the other sticks to the commonplace. The difference between the two—not that comparison is in order—is really chronology: Prada is about what’s next; Ong Shunmugam what’s now. Where wit and whimsy are characteristic of Prada (check out the flared cheongsum with breast pocket!), it is, even if it sounds censorious, the opposites, banality and nothingness, that has clung to Ong Shunmugam.

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Prada’s introduction of a two-piece very much associated with southern China, though now outmoded, is not cultural revivalism, but in the wake of Marc Jacob’s recent New York Fashion Week show of white models with dreadlocks, a do that quickly spawned unwelcome online backlash and Internet memes, is Prada as guilty of what the Americans deem “cultural appropriation”? The Europeans, familiar with the adapting of design codes not from their own culture for re-imagining, knowledge, and expression—Chinoiserie, dating back to the 18th century, comes to mind—are probably less concerned with American sensitivities born of US race-relations woes. The thing is, fashion has always intersected with other fields—art, for one, not just culture. In a globalised world, cross-pollination—the way the sanguine among us prefer to call it—can yield happy hybrids and ethically diverse entities.

And beauty too, such as Prada’s take on the samfu. Yet, for the brand that pitches “ugly is attractive” so seductively, there is subversive sophistication as well. Sure, it is hard to imagine any Chinese woman wanting marabou fringe for the seams of sleeves and pant legs (“Because it was the most silly piece to put with reality,” Ms Prada told Suzy Menkes), unless she is Fan Bingbing, a diva who could carry herself with the delicacy of a songstress of yore, who would not look too self-indulgent, as she lounges, between sets, in a backstory-filled changing room. Prada, in Milan, can evoke the bygone extravagance of a faraway world, even if it is more Pearl S Buck than Pearl River Delta.

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However appealing their samfus, Prada does not share Ong Shunmugam’s noble intent of restoring the distinction and conspicuousness of ethnic dress. It does not crusade for the tag of “an Asian label, by an Asian designer, for Asian women”. In fact, it mines from dress styles that span continents for consumers everywhere. It does not trumpet the need to use cloths of historical importance, but those fabrics that speak of its past dalliances with ugly prints and unappetising colours. It does not need to cross Asian lands to score traditional textiles to lend authenticity to its experiments with Asian dress forms.

Unlike Ong Shunmugam that wears Asian-ness like a badge, authenticity obviously isn’t Prada’s main aim. Although the tops of the samfus—worn belted—are beautifully cut close to the actual garment (the piping and button treatment are graphic counterpoint to the busy print of the fabric), the pants are veritably too tailored, which, of course, run counter to the pyjama-bottom-like floppiness of Ong Shunmugam’s fus. Prada’s foray into the past fashions of Chinese womenfolk is possibly a token embodiment of Asian modernism while Ong Shunmugam’s is so steep in cultural references that they have a contrived anthropological ring to them.

Prada, you’ll never surpass Ong Shunmugam’s deft hand for the hackneyed.

Photos: Prada

Two Of A Kind: Handling Transparency

Dior Vs KorLeft, Christian Dior Autumn/Winter 2014 and right, Michael Kors Spring/Summer 2015

In a post bursting with delight, HerWorldPlus was over the moon, declaring that “Michael Kors approves of our favourite 5 looks from his SS15 show”. One of the looks is, according to the website, “how Kors wants you to wear transparent pieces—the embellished see through skirt was ideally conservative with a tucked-in dress shirt so long that it covers all your lady parts.” And the thigh and knee are no lady parts? But that’s beside the point.

A season earlier, or on 28 February in Paris, the house of Christian Dior, led by Raf Simons, showed some evening wear that were sheer embroidered tank-dresses over sleeveless T-shirts—also embellished. The beautifully fitted tees were fashioned to be long, with the hemline going way past the hip so that by themselves, the T-shirts were really dresses too. What was exceptional here wasn’t so much the design of the two separates (although the graphic interplay of the deep scooped neckline of the dress against the adorned oblong of the tee is no less design!), but the proposal of pairing a sheer dress over an opaque inner that had the right length to guard a woman’s modesty.

Mr Simons’s Dior would never be considered “ideally conservative”, yet it embraces traditional dressmaking in the sense that the finished designs are never improper, no matter how Mr Simons juxtaposes or layers fabrics of different textures and densities. This evening ensemble for the current AW 2014 season isn’t classic red-carpet dressing, but its take on sportswear shapes is acknowledging how younger women like to dress on a glamourous night out: with no fuss, and with the ease of slipping on a tank top for a weekend trip to the suburban mall.

Mr Kors’s long shirt (not a “dress shirt” since a dress shirt would not have sleeves that are too long) worn under the diaphanous skirt may appeal to those unable to reconcile fashion and the potential exposure of “lady parts”, but in essence, the idea comes six months too late. Putting the two outfits side by side, one looks decidedly present, the other, belonging somewhat to the past.

Photos: vogue.it