He Brought The Street Right Into The Studios Of Louis Vuitton

Orbituary | Virgil Abloh also showed that being black is no barrier

We woke up to highly OMG news this morning: Virgil Abloh is dead. The revelation that “shocked” even his employer at LVMH, Bernard Arnault, has been flooding our news feed with the same urgency as the passing of a head of state, with his eponymous Instagram account announcing six hours ago, “We are devastated to announce the passing of our beloved Virgil Abloh”. It also revealed that Mr Abloh “battled a rare, aggressive form of cancer, cardiac angiosarcoma”. He was diagnosed with the illness in 2019, just a year after he was named artistic director of Louis Vuitton’s menswear collections. Cardiac angiosarcoma, according to John Hopkins University, are tumours that form in the heart. Mr Abloh was 41.

So determined was he to make a deep mark in the world of luxury fashion, and fashion at large, that he kept his diagnosis secret and soldiered on. Even a three-month break that he took before the autumn/winter 2020 show was not clue that he was seriously ill. Under his watch, the menswear of Louis Vuitton was more successful than it ever was, even when the collections were designed by his friend and mentor Kim Jones, who reportedly recommended Mr Abloh to the LV position when Mr Jones vacated it to go Dior. The American designer was already making waves stateside with his own label Off-White, but it was the LV role that brought his “elevated take” (the oft-repeated description) of streetwear to the hallowed corridors of Louis Vuitton and the attention of the world. Even Mr Jones’s collaboration with Supreme (the one that got it all rolling) paled in comparison to Mr Abloh’s I’d-be-damned-if-I-don’t attitude towards luxury menswear.

The emotional hug between Virgil Abloh and Kanye West at Mr Abloh’s debut collection for Louis Vuitton’s menswear in 2018. Photo: Getty Images

His appointment at LV shocked the world then as his death does now. It was not that he was the first black American to hold the design reigns at a French house. The general consensus was that Mr Abloh was not quite the designer that many have come to associate with those helming a storied fashion label even one without an haute couture heritage. We too were not certain he was the right choice, and we are still conflicted about his output for LV. Yet, he would come to be described as the “Karl Lagerfeld of the millennial generation”, courtesy of Vanessa Friedman, whose 202O New York Times article compared him to the late Chanel designer. Mr Abloh was not delighted with the parallels drawn. He responded via Twitter, “i’m going to do an academic lecture about this article one day. just figuring out which one. riffing online is far too low hanging fruit for such an easy and massive “case & point”, igniting, unsurprising, a Twitter war among fans and not.

Virgil Abloh was born in Rockford, Illinois in 2018 to parents who immigrated to the US from Ghana, West Africa. His father was in the paint business and his mother was a seamstress, and from her, Mr Abloh learned to sew. Despite this initial interest in a component of dressmaking, he chose to graduate in civil engineering and, later, with a masters in architecture. According to him, it was during his second time in university when he came face to face with an on-campus building that was being constructed. It was designed by Rem Koolhas, the Dutch architect who had been behind many Prada stores, including the first-ever US flagship, the Prada Epicentre in Soho, New York City. It is not certain if Mr Abloh had then seen any of the Prada stores, but it was generally excepted that his love for fashion took root at that time.

Virgil Abloh’s first clothing label Pyrex Vision. Photo: wehustle.co.uk

According to one Vogue report, it was rumoured that on the day of his first tertiary graduation, Mr Abloh skipped the ceremony to meet Kanye West’s one-time manager John Monopoly. It is not known what was discussed, but soon after that, the rapper and the young graduate worked together. A fast friendship took shape between the two men and dreams of conquering the fashion world began to appear. In 2009, three years after gaining his degree in architecture, Mr Abloh and his mentor-turn-pal Mr West would find themselves interning at Fendi in Rome. A year later, he would become the creative director of Donda, the creative agency, not the tenth studio album (2021), that Mr West started. Concurrently, both fellows would make their presence felt in fashion, appearing, for instance, in Paris Fashion Week, and be photographed—at Comme des Garçons, no less and by Tommy Ton, who sent it to (the now defunct) style.com. Mr Abloh told W’s Diane Solway in 2017, “We were a generation that was interested in fashion and weren’t supposed to be there”.

But, there they were, and in no time, they caught up. In 2011, a Grammy nomination started the ball rolling. Mr Abloh was asked to art direct Jay Z’s Watch the Throne album. He enlisted Riccardo Tisci, then at Givenchy and who was thick with the community of hip-hop stars, as well as the Kardashians, to design the cover. A year later, the Grammy attention led to Mr Abloh’s first clothing line Pyrex Vision—the now-famous gathering of deadstock Ralph Lauren shirts silkscreened with the massive number 23 (as homage to his fave basketball star Michael Jordan) and daringly hawked for US$550 apiece. Pyrex Vision lasted for about a year. And then Off White c/o Virgil Abloh was born, in, unexpectedly, Milan. He made quotation marks the most desirable punctuation. And soon Off-White products with textual indentification became a thing. When we look back now, it is hard to remember design distinctions of Off-White other than those words in sans-serif font. Even his debut store here had “WINDOWS” for a shop name.

Fan tribute: this morning, a pedestrian wears an Off-White X Nike football tee from 2018. Photo: Chin Boh Kay for SOTD

Mr Abloh has up till now approached his clothing design with the flair of a graphic, rather than fashion designer. Much of the text-as-motifs used in Off-White recall those of Pyrex Vision, themselves rather post-Junya Watanabe and Undercover. When he added those massive, arrowed crosses to the rear of the Off-White tops, they became more desirable than any monogram then. Text-emblazoned garments, both bottoms and tops, became the brand’s hot-sellers and established Mr Abloh as the designer to watch. But just as important, his rise as a black man in fashion was far more rapid that his fellow intern at Fendi, Kanye West, who debuted Yeezy Season 1 in 2015, two years after Off-White’s founding and a year after the later’s womenswear line was showed during Paris Fashion Week. In 2017, his partnership with Nike—The Ten, which saw him re-interpret the Swoosh’s 10 “iconic” silhouettes—sealed his destiny as the designer who could do no wrong. And the main man to lay the path for other Black designers to follow suit. Not even Pharrell Williams, with his association with Chanel and Karl Lagerfeld on one end and Adidas on the other, could be close.

In 2018, Louis Vuitton came acalling. By then, the brand had already dipped its toes into the bubbling streetwear pool with the Kim Jones-initiated collaboration with Supreme. The launch here at their ION Orchard store amounted to a near frenzy, with shoppers from the region coming specifically for the event. That would be a foretaste of what was to come of Mr Abloh’s unexpected appointment. Streetwear was a burgeoning retail category and luxury fashion would not want to be excluded. Mr Abloh’s debut LV show, had hype and hoodies to delight those for whom, a snazzy sartorial existence could not be so without them, as well as tailoring and utility vests to delight the dandies and Alyx fanboys alike. On the prismatic runway set in the grounds of the Palais Royal, on which Black models dominated, streetwear devotees saw their god-man rose to the occasion.

The fibreglass image of Omari Phipps, Virgil Abloh’s personal pick to represent the LV man at the launch of Mr Abloh’s collection for the French house. File photo: Jiro Shiratori for SOTD

Mr Abloh took his position at LV proudly and seriously, wearing his Blackness on his sleeves. His subsequent LV shows amps up the Black aesthetic, not just in the clothes, but also in their presentation, as well as in the environment in which the buzzy products are sold, as evident, for example, at the LV pop-up stores in January 2019, erected to give fans and followers a heads-up over Mr Abloh’s first looks for the brand. The store in Tokyo’s Harajuku had a massive structure of the model Omari Phipps stretched across two floors of the glass building. It was unmistakable that a Black man had come to revive LV, just as inclusiveness and street style came to the fore simultaneously among the fashion conscious and the community of hypebeasts who considered everything he did unquestionably “genius”.

Despite the massive global fame that his supporters said were equal parts passion in his work and the self-belief that he had come to change things or, at least, shake them up, Virgil Abloh’s career was riddled with industry doubt of his design talents, charges of hype-dependency, and, more seriously, a string of supposed plagiarism. Just last August, the Belgium designer Walter van Beirendonck alleged that his designs/ideas were knocked off by the LV artistic director. This, and other similar accusations, Mr Abloh flatly denied. In responding to Mr van Beirendonck’s accusation, he issued a statement to say, “They are a hate-filled attempt to discredit my work”, which, to some, played the thinly-veiled race card. Despite the industry’s distrust in the provenance of his design ideas, consumers would not be discouraged, or uninfluenced. Louis Vuitton remained hugely popular and profitable. The pertinent and urgent question is, who will take over Virgil Abloh? Will it be another Black man? If that’s crucial to the brand identity of LV, who would that guy be?

Illustration (top): Just So

😷😷 The Mask-Have 😷😷

Now that we’ve been told, after conflicting professional opinions, that even a cloth face mask may help in the fight against COVID-19, supported by the issue of one to every citizen by the government, a lot more people are indeed wearing them. Will fashion masks, once a novelty, now be very much sort after?

 

Mask 1The government-issued cloth mask

Cloth masks: Who’d think they would be so approved that they are now worn as barrier between us and one dreaded coronavirus? Although many experts have said that cloth masks are as effective as a placebo, they are now adopted as a better-than-nothing shield, encouraged by our government who has started issuing a black, suitable-for-the-cinematic-baddie piece to its citizens since last Sunday. So villainous-looking they are, it would be surprising that just two weeks ago, banking halls would allow any visitor into their premises without its removal. Now, many are wearing the freebie at points of transaction, from Fairprice to Gong Cha, yes, to POSB, with more diligence than actresses and their Book tote at the grocers’.

Up close, there is something strangely underclothes-like about these masks. Made in Indonesia, of a fabric that is 95 percent (not 100) cotton credited as BCI (Better Cotton Initiative, or “global not-for-profit organisation and the largest cotton sustainability programme in the world”) and five percent Spandex (for stretch), they are essentially leotard for face. And the ellipses, with a dart in the top-centre (to accommodate the nose), fit like one too—skin-tight, unless the front of your head is narrow across the cheeks and incredibly V-shaped at the chin. But for many—guys especially—these cloth masks slip on too closely like gloves. So fitted they are for some, that there are those who thought they had received masks for kids! Sure, these are not akin to compression wear, which could be of up to 30 percent of Spandex, but the considerably thick three-ply mask may cup too effectively, like good brassieres.

Washing them actually makes them a tad softer, and repeated use will render them a slight looseness (we’ve put ours for a five-day trial). If you wear them daily, and wash them as often (recommended), chances are, you’ll end up with a mask that will give your dish cloth tough competition in the looking good stakes. We tested the cloth mask during the day and at night. There is no tangible difference—the face will be heated up, whether at sun up or down. Not recommended for making a dash to 7-Eleven, unless you are a qigong master who has mastered the art of breathing slowly, minimally, or not breathing at all. As the straps are in the same cotton-blend fabric and not adjustable, they may be too tight for some wearers, even tugging the ears, which could mean that wearing for long hours would be uncomfortable. Comfort is, of course, subjective. Don’t take our word for it. Try them.

Mask 2BP hires copyDouble the protection?

We have seen, since the distribution of the mask (already on sale at Guardian prior), individuals personalising them. The ubiquity of that one black mask (apparently there are others issued with those not in solid black, such as green and white awning stripes. We have not been able to independently verify this talk) unsurprising spurs individualists to make theirs less stark and less evocative of a dystopian world. Often seen is the use of a bandana, folded into a triangle, and worn in a manner that would not be inconsistent with the face coverings of robbers in a John Wayne western. It isn’t certain if this is to double the protection or give the black mask an attractive outer. We have also witness guys wearing a balaclava or a snood over the said mask. Why create more of a heat trap is not immediately understandable.

Now that we have to wear a mask on public transport, as well as in malls and markets, it is likely that what we have amassed, when the single-use were still available, would soon run out. And one free cloth mask will, in no time, be worn till torn. Those with a flair are starting to sew their own. Even if you have never touched a needle in your life and can’t tell the difference between a spool and a bobbin, you can make your own mask, or so we have been told. Countless tutorial are now posted on line, with some blogs offering printable paper patterns too, which would surely delight those for whom such precision matter. Even Wired ran an article entitled “How to Make a CDC-Approved Cloth Face Mask”, if the (US) Centres for Disease Control’s approval makes a difference or is added inducement.

Then there are the no-sew face masks, essentially a handkerchief or the like, folded in a very specific way, to which hair ties are attached to be looped behind the wearer’s ears. Even filters (such as coffee filters, apparently) can be folded inside for added protection. This may be more popular among DIY-ers as they can use whatever fabric (recommend is 100% tightly woven cotton), in their preferred print or pattern, to fashion face masks. We heard that some socialites have been using their Hermès scarves for this very purpose. While T-shirts, too, can be used, we weren’t told of those who have gleefully sacrificed their Balenciaga tees since that would require the cutting up of the garment. What we found more interesting are cloth slipcases sewn by certain individuals in the hair and make-up fraternity, and shared among members of the fashion media. These are essentially for use with the surgical mask, which is slipped into slipcase, itself sans elasticised ear loops, but are pleated to match and stretch open like the mask within.

Mask 4BPretty is the point: Some masks just look better than others

Expectedly, the fashion set has been building a wardrobe of masks, in particular, from three brands known to offer striking (not necessarily virus-repellent) ones: Off-White, Marine Serre, and Marcelo Burlon County of Milan (unsurprisingly, most stockists, such as Ssense, will show ‘Sold Out’ under the product photos). Masks are also made by luxury giants such as Prada, Dior, and Louis Vuitton (there’s even a video showing LV seamstresses at work in the presence of strategically-placed products), but these are destined for medical facilities not their respective flagship stores. It is not fathomable that fashion is so vital now that we would need a few masks fetching enough to go with one’s on-trend togs. Who is thinking of fashion when going out is not fashionable? 

Apparently quite a few, enough of them, in fact, to allow local company Hwa Seng Textiles, a fabric distributor that also offers bespoke tailoring service and professional instruction in tailoring, to see a business opportunity and a new product category: masks. Promising “low running cost”, HST Masks (as they are branded) are CAD-designed and sewn in their facilities here, using their own (mainly) shirting fabrics. The result are masks that invite the description “handsome”, if not for the fabric choice, at least in the decidedly 3-D form factor. Aware of their cloth masks’ potential appeal among the fashion conscious, Hwa Seng Textiles even hashtagged their products “#designermask” in their social-media marketing. At S$30 a pop, these are by no means cheap, but they do look attractive, even if wearing one makes no difference to pandemic viruses that have no appreciation of the aesthetically superior, just as they have no respect for national borders.

Cloth masks may not offer the same protection as surgical masks, but they may, according to the CDC, block large particles ejected from sneezing and coughing. COVID-19 isn’t fading or yesterday’s news. We need to blunt this very real threat. Get—or make—yourself a cloth mask.

Update (14 April 2020, 9.00pm): it was just announced that the “public must wear mask when outdoors in Singapore from now on”. Please take heed.

Photos: Zhao Xiangji

Fashion’s Fondness For Identifying Things

Towards the end of the last decade, fashion proved that we need to know what the things we wear or used are called. Either that, or we’re terribly unintelligent

 

Off-White Quote “TOTE BAG” as seen on an evening commuter

Regular readers of SOTD know that, at the start of the new year (or, now, end of a span of ten years), we do not have the habit of looking back. Not for us, a recall of the “The Top Ten Items that Changed Fashion in the Last Decade” or “The Ten Looks of the Last Ten Years that should not Return in the Next Ten”. To rejoice or regret the past is, to us, a little pointless if you consider the speed at which things move forward, and the pleasure to bear witness to such a sweep. In no time, the Twenties shall not refer to the 1920s, but the 2020s. Today’s current will quickly become tomorrow’s retro. Yet, some things that happened in fashion need a looking back not because of their design value, but because of how they reflect our collective cleverness and, perhaps more importantly, discernment.

One thing that stood out for us rather glaringly (and annoyingly) is the predilection for identifying things as if we know them not. We aren’t referring to the oddly popular Nike T-shirt from a few months back that said “Freak” on the chest—people can describe themselves as whatever aberration they want (even if one “Greek Freak”, Giannis Antetokounmpo, already has). It is something more insidious, starting as a small text on the out-step of the mid-sole of a sneaker and becoming full-blown naming of anything, from tops to totes.

We have no idea why we need to be told or reminded of what we wear or its constituents. We can only surmise that designers are bored with monograms and logos, and clever turn of phrases. To stay with text on garments, accessories, and footwear, they turn to bold identifying without going into full anatomy mode. How unaware, unschooled, unknowing are we? Or, how clever is the instigator?

20-01-03-19-28-47-844_deco.jpgThe “WINDOWS” at Off-White, 268 Orchard Road

It took an architect/engineer/DJ bent on conquering the fashion word to tell us that we do not know our fashion. Virgil Abloh, the designer, likes pointing out to us what should be common knowledge. We aren’t sure when it all started, but when Off-White first opened here in 2016, we remember the window labelled at the top, “WINDOWS”, in his signature font that is bold, all-caps (he isn’t shouting, it has been said), and sans-serif, and captured between double inverted commas. What could that glassed opening be if not one of windows? (That currently appears on top of the door-less entrance, which could be a “WINDOW” into the Off-White world, now offering more than just clothing, shoes, and bags).

We remember that not long after the store opening, we started noticing the “AIR” on the side of the mid-soles of shoes he created in collaboration with Nike (that began with the Air Jordan I, released in October 2017). And the three-letter word continues to appear in subsequent-sneaker collabs. What is the likelihood that an Off-White “SUPERFAN” who is also a Nike die-hard would not know that the Air Jordan I is not fitted with Nike’s air sole technology? Hack, it is even in the name of the shoe!

Off White X Nike Air Presto Black 2018Off-White X Nike Air Presto from 2018

Those partial to Mr Abloh’s work will be quick to point out that the text is an attempt at humour and irony, and is a reflection of street culture, and a clever way of setting his (otherwise ho-hum) designs apart. Forget about show, not tell. Obvious is the new black. Spelled-out is the new loud. Just as you thought “AIR” was a one-off, he gave us “FOAM” and “VULCANIZED”; yes, “VULCANIZED”! A Vibram sole so branded is understandable, but vulcanized? Oh, let’s not discount “SHOELACES” too, just in case you forgot what your mother taught you when she dressed you for play school. And, if that’s the case, Virgil Abloh offers free flash cards with your Nikes and Converses!

Of course, brands were eager to follow. We’ve seen COLLAR (yes, minus the quotation marks. Who’d be that blatant?) and SLEEVE, and COTTON, and even on top of a tear at the knee of jeans that said RIP (we think the creator meant RIPPED, or perhaps Rest In Peace, un-disfigured pants!). Meanwhile, Mr Abloh’s gone on to accessories, telling you that a backpack is a “BACKPACK”, a name card holder is “FOR CARDS” and, in case your’re still uncertain, on the other side, “FOR CARDS”, again. Perhaps more crass is the bi-fold wallet that informs you it’s “FOR MONEY”, outside and inside. And, you probably guessed it, there’s really a bi-fold duly and boldly identified! Even graffiti on a handbag has to say WOMAN (no, inverted commas this time)! Frankly, how much is inane and how much is education?

20-01-03-22-14-34-877_deco.jpgOff-White “FOR CARDS” holder

“I don’t come from where I’m supposed to come from,” Mr Abloh once proudly said to W magazine. Which could mean—and we already know this—his background isn’t in fashion. Did he infer that he could, therefore, flout tasteful convention? It is possible that Mr Abloh had to learn everything about fashion and its many parts from a blank slate, even memorising components so as to understand the whole. But isn’t it presumptuous of him to think many people need to be similarly taught? Or, know not any better?

After a decade of fast fashion and street wear, we thought fashion consumers are better informed now that even Uniqlo gives it products proper descriptions and labeling (Harrington Jackets, for example, not just any jacket. There’s even Smart Shorts for women—nothing tattered or too short!). Or, in the case of sustainable brands, hang tags that announce their socially responsible design and business practices, such as the US label Outerknown’s (which are also dissovable in the wash, eliminating even the need for recycling). Shoppers have no use for useless information, we believed. Yet, there are “TOTE BAGS” that need to be known in indiscreet text—its self-identification strangely not thought of as affront to our intelligence nor casting aspersions to an elevated consumer culture. Perhaps, we’re not so sophisticated after all. And it takes fashion designers to tell us so.

Photos: Zhao Xiangji

Inside Sole Superior

What is it like at our very own (and the largest ever) version of Sneaker Con?

 

SS 2018 P1b

By Naike Mi

Sole (now also Street) Superior (SS) is big, but not massive. The place is huge, though—a 70,000 square feet expanse that looked to me to be as large as an Olympic-sized pool  complex. If you’ve been to Wheeler’s Yard (although, to be sure, not as large), you’d perhaps know what kind of place this. The merchandise hawked—new and newish—are, however, a little lean on variety, more geared towards the hyped than true collector value.

An annual event since 2013, SS is our own little Mecca for sneaker fans. Formerly at Zouk (even when the club was in Jiak Kim Street), it was a cosy, almost intimate affair, with sellers and shoppers in what was a socially-aware setting, much like a get-together of gamers. This year, the event is held, for the first time, at the Pasir Panjang Power Station (specifically power station ‘A’), decommissioned in the early ’80s and largely disused—perfect ground for haunting stories. Adjacent to Labrador Nature Reserve and with the waters of the Singapore Straits lapping nearby, this is as close to the southern tip of our city as you can get, without going to Sentosa. Although the Labrador Jetty is within reach, I don’t know of any boat service that will bring you here. Your best bet is the Circle Line of the MRT, which will take you to Labrador Park station, and the venue is about a ten-minute walk from there.

SS 2018 P2.jpgView from the other end of the Pasir Panjang Power Station

From the outside, the former power station is monumental and I suspect there would be more space to fill than there are sneaker sellers with unique merchandise to dispose of. I shall soon see that the organisers availed areas to kindred trades people, such as those that sell shoe laces or shoe cleaning liquids, creams, and wipes, as well as those that deal in clothing, and unexpected haberdashery such as iron-on patches. As this is no way within a hop of discernible civilization, SS also includes food and drink vendors. Which perhaps explains why this year’s Sole Superior is suddenly branded as Street Superior—an inclusive stance to better accommodate those whose offerings have nothing to do with soles.

I arrive early, at eleven thirty (no opening hours were given in their publicity material or social media shout out, or perhaps they escaped me), but others are earlier. The line, organised under a tented holding area, is not long enough to be considered staggering. In front of me, a teenage boy is engrossed with updating his friends, via a group chat, about SS. Behind me, a thirtysomething woman in a camo unitard above white Air Force 1 with fancy tongue that I can’t identify discovers that she has left her wallet at home. She asks her Caucasian male companion if he has brought credit cards. He shows her the cards in his wallet and she promises him, “I won’t buy two-thousand-dollar shoes.” Diagonally across from her, a young chap, Balenciaga-clad and Converse X Undercover-shod, tells his attentive—and equally young—female companion, “my father will give me the money to buy any sneaker I like.” Quickly, my ears again pick up from the wallet-free woman, “I can’t wait; I want to see my babies.”

SS 2018 P3Those with adequate stock have their table tiered

We are finally allowed in at noon sharp. Inside, the cavernous space seems to overwhelm the stalls in the distance. From the slightly elevated entryway, they look like the aftermath of a badly attacked buffet. But the first thing that hits me is the heat. Zouk, for all its shortcomings as a retail platform, I now miss. I am soon greeted by a display of shoes entombed in clear domes (read: not for sale) that are the output of sneaker customiser Mark Ong and his brand SGBT. The selling buzz ahead, I admit, is a bigger pull.

In the central stretch, sellers are installed behind four rows of tables. These comprise online-shops-turn-momentary-hawkers, as well as those, I am told, that are “grassroots sellers”, individuals who are not retailers by profession. Flanking this main area are separate lots assigned to sponsors and, presumably, the more VIP of seller-participants. Within this premium spaces, there is, oddly, a “trading pit” where it seems anyone can walk in to peddle what they have. I see three unsmiling boys seated on the concrete floor with their wares before me. It is hard to consider them enterprising when they really should be worried about grades, not glum about sales.

SS 2018 P6Bored boys waiting for buyers

It takes me less than an hour to acquaint myself with the stalls. I am not here to buy, but to see, and, with the quantity overshadowed by the space, it does not take long to satiate the eyes. This is a veritable market—in a pasar malam sort of way, or, for those who frequent Bangkok, with a Chatuchak vibe. I am not sure if that’s a good thing or a draw, but I hardly feel that sneakerheads are geeking out here. In fact, I sense that many attendees are using the opportunity to swagger in kicks of considerable cost than to uncover sneakers that they are deeply passionate about. Or just to walk-walk, as many do at Comex.

I am no collector; I wear what I buy and discard them when they are no longer wearable. So, I am not here for the rarest of the rare or the most trending of the trendiest. I am a sneaker fan who simply love beautiful sneakers, preferably unusual. But this feels too much like Salvation Army (on steroids!), and while there are some new shoes that are probably targets of those with too much disposable income or an unhealthy fixation with Sneaker Freaker, most of the “hot” items I see do not surprise me, such as the Yeezy 700 ‘Mauve’ and the black Nike X Off-White Air Presto, which, for S$1,150 one seller is asking (though not near the two thousand my queue companion had earlier vouched not to spend), is the kind of money I have never parted with at a market stall.

SS 2018 P3Getting rid of personal footwearSS 2018 P7An attempt at visual merchandising even if feeble

One grassroots seller Dimitri, in a Vetements tee, tells me he is selling to “make space”. What caught my eyes is his selection of size-12 sneaks, which are not common in the con. “Yah, I know I am not tall,” he adds, “but I have big feet”, stepping out from behind his table to show me what he means. Size twelves are ruthless space occupiers, and it’s understandable that he needs to free up real estate for more shoes. But others sell because of reduced desire. One chap tells me, “I have no feelings for them anymore.” And is quick to say, “but don’t worry: these are only worn once, or twice.”

Not every stall sells the pre-loved. Chris from DistriSneaks, an online destination for sneakers that tempt and collabs that matter, offers a staggering (compared to the rest anyway) selection and quantity of Nike React Element 87, all above S$300 a pair. This is his second time selling at SS. “I am a sneaker fan,” he tells me, “I even went to KL for Sneaker Lah.” On where he sourced for his React Element 87s when they are even hard to find on Nike’s legit points of sales, he would only say, “from all over the world.”

SS 2018 P5Clothing is a big part of Sole/Street SuperiorSS 2018 P8The interior of the Limited EDT’s stuffy store called Le ConvenienceSS 2018 P9Queuing for a stab at a ballot for an Adidas kick. You’d be forgiven for thinking these guys were buying a 4-D ticket!

I read that Limited Edt is here, but I am unable to spot them, until I see a queue in the far end of the hall, across from a dedicated karaoke room. True to form, Limited Edt has positioned themselves above—and away—from the rest, with their own little shop they called Le Convenience. There is, however, nothing convenient about getting in. You need to get in line to get inside, like you would outside an LV store. Once inside, it isn’t as packed as you’re led to believe. Unless you were in urgent need to buy something only they carry, which isn’t the case with me, you might be better off exploring the main grounds.

There is surprisingly a large amount of clothing, both new and used. As expected, Supreme tees top the selection, both new and used, followed by Off-White, both new and used. Their large numbers, on racks that threatened to collapse, and in boxes that looked like they once held bundled toilet paper, immediately diminish their perceived value and coolness. With prices ranging from S$150 to S$500, they cost as much as the sneakers. Several pieces of Louis Vuitton X Supreme T-shirts are spotted: I see two prices, one seller asking for S$980, while another boldly hopes to trade for “1.5K”, as indicated on a sticker placed above the familiar, desire-arousing box logo. No, my eyes didn’t fail me.

Shoes seen @ SS 2018The trendy and trending kicks seen at SS 2018: each of these sneakers appeared on at least 5 individuals during the 2 hours I was there

But I am here to look at sneakers. Frankly, I would be happier to see-shop in JD Sports. Surprise is what I seek, but, here, surprised I am not. I understand that many of the sellers are here to make a sale, and would stock what they think will sell, but this is a fair with Superior as moniker. I finally know where the Nike X Undercover Element React 87s went: snapped up to be traded here, for a neat sum of S$480 (original price around S$250). Interestingly, I see more of Nike than Adidas, and, unsurprisingly, more for men than women, except for one stall dedicated to Fila, in particular, the Disruptor II.

Sole/Street Superior isn’t vague about its target audience. One exhibitor stood out: Contiki (Tours). It hides not its ageist leaning, announcing unequivocally that they offer “TRIPS FOR 18 – 35 YEAR OLDS (sic)”. Old-bloke me can only turn away. SS is clear about the financial standing of its attendees too. Unlike at electronic fairs, admission fee is payable. If you’re planning to buy something, the S$20 (S$15, if you book online) charged to get in would probably mean nothing, but if you’re, like me, there to only see, the entry price is higher than a movie ticket and it may not be as entertaining as a film on the big screen. To make it less pleasant, no air-conditioning!

Sneaker/Street Superior is on till tomorrow (noon to 10pm) at the Pasir Panjang Power Station. Shuttle bus is available from the Labrador Park MRT station. Photos: Gallen Goh

Off-White In Cement Grey

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The hitherto quiet building 268 Orchard Road is slowly turning to be a centre for alt-brands. Now, the all-glass entrance is flanked by two stores featuring labels that visitors to its neighbours—Robinsons Department Store on its left and the soon-to-open Apple flagship on its right—are not likely to desire with relish or open wallets. Joining Christian Dada, which opened about five months ago, is the luxury street-wear brand Off-White.

Born in 2014, Off-White is considered an Italian label by place of birth—Milan—rather than by nationality of its founder/designer Virgil Abloh, who is American. In Europe, the Chicago native is credited for upping the game for street wear by introducing the “luxe” (or, as Vogue described it, “elevated”) version of a category that, until now, has largely been snubbed by the couture-guarding establishment. In his homeland, Mr Abloh is possibly recognised more as a DJ/art director than a fashion designer. His art direction for the 2012 Jay Z and Kanye West album Watch the Throne received a Grammy nomination for Best Recording Package. He’s also known to be part of Kanye West’s inner circle, as well as on his payroll as creative director, a position that no doubt, influences the outcome of his employer’s Yeezy line.

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It is perhaps to be expected then that you might think that Off-White is a blood brother of Yeezy. Thankfully, despite a shared genesis that can be traced to hip-hop, there’s no discernible spill over of the Yeezy aesthetics. It is also different from Mr Abloh’s first fashion venture, the mostly-T-shirt Pyrex Vision. Still, the reliance on rapper-preferred staples such as hoodies, track pants, and army-surplus separates feeds the average shoppers’ understanding of what Drake and Rihanna and co like to wear, however narrow the comprehension might be. While there is, to the fashion design purists, no real ‘design’, Off-White does pay considerable effort to product development. The clothes enjoy post-production effects such as washes and artificial ageing—the distresses that, for so many, are where the appeal of athleisure can be found.

The thing is, Off-White’s main man has yet to show convincingly that those designers related to the hip-hop scene rather than fashion can produce consistently innovative designs. These days, ‘design’, of course, needs to be redefined. The fundamentals may have not changed much but the approach has. Fast fashion is part of the re-writing of the definition, and many young designers who consume the end products lap up design seen through fast-fashion lenses. Mr Aboh’s “elevated” designs share much of this dynamic. Being a DJ, he can’t disconnect remixing from designing. The allure of bringing together disparate elements is so strong even outside music that many in the hip-hop business go into fashion as a natural progression of their careers.

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The Off-White store at 268 Orchard Road also goes by the barely detectable moniker Window. Whether this is a window into a world of anything depends on what you desire to see. If it’s incredible newness that you’re hoping to uncover, then perhaps this is the wrong window to open. If it’s to witness what more can be done to street-wear standards, then perhaps, there’s something here that will titillate your yet-to-be satiated desire. The store was surprisingly busy on the Wednesday that we visited, and those that came did not come for what could be worn to a boardroom meeting or a wedding. A guy trying on a loose T-shirt clearly has a collector’s loot of HBAs at home.

The store, jointly designed by Mr Abloh and the New York architectural firm Family (that also, perhaps not coincidentally, designed Kanye West’s set of his 2013–14 Yeezus tour) and operated by D’League (the company behind the soon-to-be-revived Surrender),  is essentially a space barely seduced by paint brush. Exposed concrete all-over is, of course, not new, but here, you feel that the interior is inspired by the set of Saw. From the main entrance (at the atrium of the building rather than from the street), you walk into a shoe-box shape sectioned into what could be rooms in full, bare-concrete glory. If you do not look beyond your immediate space, you’d miss them. These out-of-sight recesses have the advantage of luring you into believing that there are hidden gems to be found.

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Counterpoint to the warehouse-bareness and greyness is a stretch of greenery in the middle of the store, where bamboo has a starring role under a make-belief skylight. A central park, if you will; an oasis, a sign of life, even when it looks clearly placed than planted. The hotel ballroom approach to greening may appear artificial, but it gives the severe and rather symmetrical space a softness that perhaps the clothes alone cannot.

Could this dense foliage be metaphor for something more natural and calm? For sure, fashion, of late, has not been that way. But maybe we’re reading too much into it. Beyond the bamboo, there are really just clothes—elevated, maybe, but not way up anywhere.

Off-White is at 268 Orchard Road. Photos: Galerie Gombak