Two Ps In BKK

More proof that the Thai capital is beating us to being the shoppers’ paradise of SEA


Porter X Pokemon P1

This is not bashing, but there is more and more evidence that our island is fast becoming one of the most boring places in the region to shop. Retailers/stores/malls are either too lackadaisical to go seek new merchandise and experiences to share or simply uninterested in selling anything more than what they already have before them, or deemed sellable. Despite constant complaints that retail has become painfully dull and that shoppers are increasingly choosing online stores to satisfy there shopping needs and curiosity to know what’s out there, many here in the business of selling, especially fashion-related merchandise, don’t care to listen. 

Which brings us to Bangkok. The city’s fast becoming serious shoppers’ must-stop destination. The more we gripe about our situation, the more the Thais are making their capital city better than us. Take the latest collaboration: Porter X Pokémon. First launched in Japan last month, the bags and such featuring Pikachu were a smash hit in its country of origin. Unsurprising, considering how Pikachu and co are still popular there, and, frankly, everywhere, Asia in particular. Now they are available outside of Japan, and, as far as we are aware, only Bangkok is offering this limited-edition collection in its entirety, complete with exclusive for-BKK-only merch, not even in Hong Kong where they have their own official Porter store, Kura Chika.

Porter X Pokemon P2

Porter X Pokémon is a pop-up in Siam Discovery, one of the most forward-looking department stores, not only in Bangkok, but in much of SEA, and, yes, Singapore. Siam Discovery is also where our own Club 21 has their largest retail space in Thailand. In 2017, a Porter pop-up was set up in Siam Discovery, featuring the Japanese bag brand’s staples such as the Tanker series. Not long after, a full-fledged corner was opened on the second floor when the lease of the temp space expired, proving, perhaps, that the brand was doing encouragingly well.

Initially, the Porter offering was a conservative buy, but the corner soon expanded its collections to include seasonal wares, as well as collaborations, such as the one with Teva. By our own observation, while Porter seems to be doing well (among Singaporean tourists, too), theirs is still a relatively small business, compared to, say, Hong Kong. For sure, the prices here are about 20—30 percent higher than in Japan, but if your budget does not allow a ticket to the land of Mt Fuji, buying Porter here is not unthinkable. And now that one of the world’s favourite anime characters appear on Porter bags is just a two-hour plane ride away, the temptation might be even harder to resist.

Porter X Pokemon P3

We don’t know why retailers here are unwilling to bring in what is arguably Japan’s most known bag brand (apart from Bao Bao). Sure, there are those small collections at Surrender and Club 21, and one or two at Kapok, but those are not the same as having expanded merchandise sold in a free-standing spaces. Although unlikely, we were hoping for Isetan to do the honours since, in the ’90s, they started a corner in the now-closed Wisma Atria store for another biggish bag brand Sazaby, which sadly lost steam a few years after the launch. Isetan did also stock budget label Rootote at their Scotts store, but that too was discontinued a year (or two) ago (a Rootote corner has opened at Takashimaya, Iconsiam, Bangkok). Perhaps we just don’t have the appetite for bags with Japanese labels, except Anello(!). Robinsons at Heeren have discontinued their Buddy range (“too expensive for Singaporeans”, a staffer told us), and Masterpiece, another popular name in Japan, seems to be facing the same fate. Mass-appeal Samantha Thavasa, opened in 2010 in ION Orchard, is no longer available, except online in Zalora.

The opening of the Porter X Pokémon pop-up in Bangkok indicates not only the potential success of the collab there, but reflects Thai retailers willingness to gamble on trending items, even when local consumption may be small (Siam Discovery carried the Outdoor X Raf Simons collection, too even when that collab is generally thought to have less commercial appeal). To provide product differentiation is pertinent to creating a retail environment that is both exciting and experiential, if not to maintain fashion leadership. Sure, we hear you say that we have a Pokémon flagship here and they do not, but is that a fashion destination if you are not a pre-primary schooler? Or a Pokémon Go addict, playing the game with two phones?

Porter X Pokémon pop-up is opened at Siam Discovery, Bangkok till 30 September. Photos: Porter. Collage: Just So

Two Rode Together

One of the oddest pairings this season is Fendi and Porter


Fendi X Porter AW 2019The Fendi X Porter Baguette (top) and Peekaboo (below). Photos: Fendi

There have been calls in recent years for less collaborations, but not many brands heed the recommendation. Two names, preferably poles apart, coming together for one purpose—hyped-up merchandise—don’t always yield desirable results. Examples are too numerous to warrant space here for honourable mention. Yet, so numerous and persistent have collaborations become that over-collaboration is more real than results with value and usefulness. Some brands exist on product collaboration, rather than product development. Collab fatigue has been reported, but that’s hardly a deterrent. Have we not heard enough of Supreme with this or that, yielding meaningless non-clothing products—shovel, just to name one? To paraphrase Andy Warhol, perhaps, fashion (not just art) is what you can get away with.

One of the most don’t-know-what-to-make-of-this collaborations this season is that of Fendi and Porter. By strange, we don’t mean weird, but as likely as Gucci teaming up with Goop—it could happen, but really shouldn’t. Fendi, which CNN calls “one of Italy’s most powerful and storied luxury fashion houses”, are already bag makers with their own bag-making unit, but this could be onward march for them to go more street, in tandem with many Italians brands play catch-up. It is, however, not the same for Porter, already an established and respectable name in Japan for bags that don’t count the hard attache case as chum.

It is possible that to the young, I’ll-buy-anything Fendi fan, the pairing does not really matter. Fendi could have collaborated with Anello (that would be irony making a comeback!), and they would rush to pre-order, which, in the case of Fendi X Porter, was available more than a month earlier, thus ensuring that the limited-edition bag shall be sold out when they eventually hit the store, unbeknown to the casual shopper.

Porter pop-up in TokyoIn the Porter Omotaesando, Tokyo store, an installation dedicated to the products from its collab with Fendi. Photo: Porter

In Tokyo, those who do not personally receive phone calls from their regular salesperson for pre-orders are a lot luckier than us, as Porter has set up what they call an “installation” at the brand’s Omotaesando store, showing the styles in all colours and sizes. When we arrived at Fendi at ION Orchard this morning, a very late two days after the bags became available, we were met by a sales girl who happily declared that the bags were “all sold out, except these two”, showing us the black Baguette and and gray Peekaboo with a capaciousness clearly created for men (later told to us by a Chanel collector that they are known as XLs), both still in their protective plastic bags, which were eventually removed for our inspection.

The bags have a familiar hand feel as they’re made of Porter’s signature nylon used in their popular Tanker series. And like the Tanker bags, the insides of these two come in contrast-coloured lining of orange, purportedly known as Indian Orange. The Peekaboo, less appealing to us, look like a work bag that won’t really be carried for work. More interesting was the Baguette. The original was introduced in 1997 and its extreme popularity lasted into the early 2000. The latest version we were holding is designed for men—a direction Dior took with its Saddle Bag. But guys do not have the tendency to carry bags under their upper arm, which was how creator of the Baguette, Silvia Venturini Fendi, saw women using the bag as if securing roti perancis (hence its name). The XL Baguette, with XL logo-clasp, now comes with the masculine addition of straps on its sides so that it can be used as a bum-bag!

It isn’t yet certain if this pair of “iconic” Fendi bags given the Porter treatment will enhance the Japanese brand’s already strong international standing, but it may shine a light on Fendi’s increasingly visible target of the younger—a lot younger—customer. Yet, the remake of once popular bags is not quite the same as pairing with a brand to take advantage of its unique design voice: this does not match Marni’s and Missoni’s collaboration with Porter, both with resultant products that had a certain edge and quirk that enchanted. We left Fendi no longer thinking of the bags we came to see. Rather, we’re wondering who we could call to help us score the Kolor X Porter bags, presently available only in Japan. Even if they only appeared in our dreams, we’d be happy.


West Goes Eastwards? Or Is It The Other Way Round?

American classic courts Nippon innovation: Timberland pairs with Porter. Should the Japanese have budged?Timberland X Porter 2-Way Boston BagBy Ray Zhang

Who proposed first? That is the question, but it’s probably inconsequential to those who consider this a marriage in heaven. To me, the Japanese bag brand Porter is so strong in its designs and its branding that it really requires no collaboration with an American brand to elevate the former’s standing among serious bagaholics. Yet, it is with Timberland that one of Japan’s most recognisable bag brands has chosen to co-output a capsule collection.

However I see it, the pairing is still a little mismatched. Sure, Timberland has attained cool status among those who let their footwear do the talking, and its 6-inch boot is still considered an ‘icon’. But Porter could possibly be on a higher rung of the status ranking, considering that the parent organisation Yoshida & Co (also known in Japan as Yoshida Kaban) are the go-to manufacturer of bags for many of Japan’s high-end labels, from Sacai to White Mountaineering. Outside of Japan, the eagerness by designer brands to collaborate with Porter—from Marni to Christopher Ræburn—has made the bag maker well loved to the level of cultish.

Admittedly, I am a Japanophile and I do have a weakness for Porter bags. Going to the B Jirushi Yoshida store in Tokyo’s Daikanyama—concept space conceived with the retailer Beams—is like a child stepping into Kiddy Land in Harajuku: it’s a bewildering experience and you cannot go against the urge to spend. Everything in there is, to me, worlds apart from and more covetable than anything seen in an LV store. It’s really how Yoshida & Co is able to make Porter totally practical and yet aesthetically appealing. Long-time collaborator Beams has a simple but on-point description: “basic and exciting”.

The Timberland X Porter collaboration yields two styles of bags in two colours (black and olive): The Boston (above) and a knapsack called a ‘daypack’. I was not too impressed with the latter, so I gave the carryall closer inspection instead. Face to face, you can’t mistake the silhouette: it’s a Porter standard seen in such styles as the Black Beauty ‘duffle’ and even the slimmer take in the form of the Master Navy ‘brief case’. To me, the all-time favourite in the Porter cache wasn’t given an imaginative makeover, not even the colour-blocking, already a Porter signature. Yes, I see it: the natural shade on the side and handle is possibly a nod to the Timberland’s “original yellow”, but elsewhere in and outside of the bag, the Porter signatures are too strong to let anything “Timb” stand out: the bright orange lining details and the unmistakable black and white Porter label discreetly stitched to the left-hand (or right, if you’re looking straight at it) bottom corner, but still conspicuous.

I guess, for many, that little rectangle is reason enough to cop one (or both) of the two bags. As for me, I can wait till Tokyo’s energetic streets are again beneath my feet.

The Timberland X Porter capsule collection of bags (SGD529 for the backpack and SGD599 for the Boston)  and 6-inch boots (SGD399) are available at Robinsons The Hereen. Photos: Timberland/Porter

The Coolness Of Joe

More Snoopy

Just as we thought retailers in Singapore are not reacting to the Peanuts anniversary that drew many fashion labels to Charlie Brown and gang, Isetan brought in two items we had mentioned in a previous blog post, but did not show as we thought they weren’t available here.

One: The gingham shirt by Japanese label Digawel. It is emblazoned on the chest, in bold, black font, the cryptic name Joe Cool. Snoopy fans will know this is Charlie Brown’s pet as a college student. Joe Cool, therefore, has the same appeal as signs and symbols to the semiotics student. The charm of Snoopy is not his imaginary friends, but imaginary selves!!!

Among the many alter-egos that play leading roles in Snoopy’s fantasy lives, the Flying Ace is the most recognisable. However, a World War I aviator is not going to enthrall the present generation of fashion consumers. Joe Cool may: that very name could resonate with those seeking a persona that is bursting with awesomeness.

Two: a wallet that has Snoopy adopt a character that happens to be a brand name that is big in Japan. Last year, Porter celebrated its 80th Anniversary, making the bag label 15 years older than the Peanuts gang. That, we’re sure, isn’t going to stop the beagle from his imaginative role-playing. To Joe Cool and Flying Ace, we can now add the Porter.

Digawel Joe Cool shirt, SGD499, and Porter X Peanuts Snoopy wallet, SGD269, are available at iEdit, Isetan Scotts