Giddy, Glittery, Garish Glory

SAint Laurent Couture AW 2016 G1

With the second autumn/winter showing of Saint Laurent in Paris two days ago after the co-ed display in LA last month, things are getting a bit confusing. Is there a need for a two-parter in one season? Or is this something else altogether, maybe haute couture? No report can offer a definitive that this is the high fashion collection that design director Hedi Slimane had previously expressed interest in doing. So far it’s been guesses (amid the rumour that this could be his swansong), based on what was on the invitation card, the venue of the show—a 17th Century hôtel particulier now converted into the quarters of Saint Laurent Couture, and its format—sans music with a voice calling out numbers to each of the 42 looks, a throwback to the heyday of haute couture.

The all-dressed-up-with-somewhere-fancy-to-go visual intemperance of the collection suggests that perhaps these are special clothes indeed. They’re all heightened by a vivid luridness and a trash-as-dash sensibility that seemed to be on the side of self-conscious. Could this be a ruse to play down the clothes’ serious couture foundation? Offer the craftsmanship of yore but it must be resplendent of the cheap styling tricks that will amuse an alien-to-self-consciousness audience that will take anything spat at them. Maybe those “cool kids” welcomed as “friends of the house” who would have paillettes as breakfast cereal.

While we have always resisted the clichéd and convenient use of Dynasty for any comparison, we have to succumb and say that these seem like costumes for version 3.0 of the American soap opera if the Carringtons were to be played by the Kardashians. A disco narrative can be discerned too, or, rather, the ’80s looking at a decade earlier as retro. Just as we thought French designers are not influenced by the Paris discotheque Le Palace the way their American counterparts are by Studio 54, Mr Slimane plucks down a mirrored ball and gives it a giddy spin. Not coincidentally, the ’70s was also the glory days of Yves Saint Laurent. DNA, once again, the sure-fire way to connect to people. Mr Slimane proves that he can out-shorten, out-heighten, out-amplify, out-sequin, out-lamé the best of them.

SAint Laurent Couture AW 2016 G2

Perhaps this has to do with the Americanisation of Hedi Slimane, a process that could have started when, in 2012, he moved the Saint Laurent design studio to Los Angeles, American capital of flash and flesh. In fact, the 47-year-old Frenchman has lived in LA since 2008 (carving a small name for himself as photographer), giving him a four-year lead time to absorb not just the music of the West Coast that he seems to enjoy and eager to promote, but also its sartorial jumble that for many—particularly those of the East Coast—is at odds with superlative good taste. In fact, much of American fashion now is rather like American politics: high-key, showy, and brash. Mr Slimane seems to have caught the bug.

At the start of his tenure at Saint Laurent, Mr Slimane was a divisive figure. No one seems to remember that now. Suddenly, all that trolling and taunting of the past years are over. Buoyed by the retail success of Saint Laurent, he’s now some kind of fashion saviour. Swiftly, Hedi Slimane is a designer who can do no wrong, who; according to a psycophantic, “instinctively gets what girls, young and not-so-young, want”. Is that saying Saint Laurent is commercial? Surely that is stating the obvious, but what could be stated is that the fashion-consuming base anywhere in the world is larger than it’s ever been. The mind, however, boggles: who’d be desirous of these supposedly couture clothes? If you’re not living alone, would you not be inviting censorious questioning, when leaving your home: “Where are you going, dressed like that?” What would the taxi driver think as he catches you from afar flagging down his cab down?

The collection goes by the description La Collection de Paris, but it could have been The Hooker Who Made It (Rue Saint-Denis Mix). Camp and kitsch share as much body space as fur and sequins. Shoulders peak like an exaggerated shrug. Waists held in with belts so tight and wide, they could easy be buckled bandages. Skirt lengths rise up to where underpants would normally end. There’s a strange obsession with the one-sleeve: one of them long with a stiff, wavy flounce running the entire length of the arm like the vertebrate plates of the stegosaurus. Could Mr Slimane have been consuming some psychoactive plants in the studio during the design process? If you look at the “dairies” at, you would perhaps understand the designer’s aesthetic obsessions.

SAint Laurent Couture AW 2016 G3

These garish get-ups will no doubt appeal to the young, such as those that appear regularly on Mr Slimane’s own website—youths completely unconcerned with what others think of them.  How much of it then is alluring to women of a certain age and stature, such as show attendees, YSL muse Betty Catroux and ardent supporter Catherine Deneuve, both who have lived through the original designer’s best years? Is there anything either could be seen in at a Saint Laurent fashion show without looking like the show itself? Is there anything they can wear on the street without being harassed, even only visually?

For a very long time, fashion is no longer categorised into day wear, evening wear, casual wear, work wear, (we don’t even think the last exists anymore since women do don shorts to the office). In addition, consumers are re-coding what is considered elegant and chic, two words hardly ever used in describing the well-dressed. These days, you “rock the look”, and you’re fashionable when you’re “edgy and provocative”, and definitely more so if you look “hot”. It would seem, therefore, that Mr Slimane is voicing the visceral feelings of those who fervently consume his attention-grabbing garb.

Let’s not forget the fixation with ugliness, the opposite of beauty that has been worked into the modern sense of what is fine-looking, first by Muccia Prada with her off-beat prints and quirky styling (“Ugly is attractive, ugly is exciting. Maybe because it is newer,” she had pronounced), then by confessional labels such as I Love Ugly with their cheeky rifts on traditional men’s wear. Mr Slimane is an agitator who clearly enjoys sticking the unlovely in your face, and in doing so, spawn a profitable, persistent following. Perhaps Pablo Picasso was right after all:  “The chief enemy of creativity is ‘good’ taste.”

Photos: WestonArnold/

When Will The Pussy Bow Bow Out?

The Pussy Bow Stays

By Mao Shan Wang

Tell a straight man that you’ll be wearing a pussy bow top and see how delighted he would be. This was overheard in a lift a week ago:

Woman, who looked like Daria and sounded like Chen Liping: “I’m going to wear my pussy blouse (sic) for tomorrow’s dinner.”

Man, who looked like Ben Yeo and sounded like Chua Enlai: “Is that what they’re called these days. Dear, I’m cool if you don’t wear any.” A grin followed.

No, I didn’t laugh, but I was, admittedly, amused. Some words are indeed indispensable when the wrong idea is not desired or solicited. Never have I thought that a floppy bow—considered the epitome of femininity—can be the object of cheeky, masculine delight. Fashion nomenclature: an update is in order?

It is unfortunate that one of the most popular styles of recent times has to share a name with domestic cats and, goodness forbids, a woman’s you-know-what. I have been warned by more than one dictionary that “when referring to a woman, pussy is perceived as insulting”. It’s understandable why flowers such as Rose and Daisy and Violet are frequently picked as girl’s names, even Cherry Blossom, but never Pussy Willow.

I am not quite sure how the bow really got such a moniker even when people have tried convincing me that it is named after bows tied round the necks of cats. If so, why not kitty bow? I mean, no one calls a cat’s latrine pussy litter!

Okay, there will be no end to this. Personally, I prefer tie-neck, but that sounds like strangulation, or, seriously, erotic asphyxiation. So, for this article, and to be consistent with what everyone else calls it, I shall stick to pussy, er, pussy bow.

YSL thru the agesFrom left: Yves Saint Laurent’s pussy bow blouse from 1966, the pussy bow again in 1968, and Hedi Slimane’s take in 2013. Photos: Yves Saint Laurent and Saint Laurent Paris

When Hedi Slimane (re)introduced the pussy bow for his debut collection at Saint Laurent—spring/summer 2013, followed by others, I had thought that it would not be a long-lived trend. The said bow has appeared season after season since. After watching the live stream of Marc Jacobs’s autumn/winter 2016 show, I know I was very wrong about its brief cheery life. The pussy bow is becoming a style cliché faster than you can tie one.

How long does a trend last before it dims? I am not sure anyone really knows anymore. Trend forecasters typically say a year, but look at cut-off denim shorts or skinny jeans: they’re still around, aren’t they? Hasn’t it been 10 or more years since they appeared? Wasn’t Kate Moss a child when she wore and popularised them? Demand—also weather, some will say, in the case of those ubiquitous shorts—certainly keeps some trends screen-on always.

It is not surprising that Marc Jacobs would introduce the pussy bow post-Louis Vuitton. Mr Jacobs has always flirted with the ’70s and mined the era’s fashion staples as people would with gold, a habit as regular as it is unsurprising. Fashion’s unrelenting romance with retro or the ‘vintage-y’ helps keep the practice alive. Retailers are happy to play along because, as one buyer told me, it’s giving  those who did not have the opportunity to indulge in items such as the pussy bow blouse the first time round (since they were not born!) a chance. She didn’t say that it is also to give their business another stab at selling to the now-larger critical mass.

Gucci AW 2015Gucci’s Alessandro Michele showed pussy bows for men before women for autumn/winter 2015

The pussy bow really caught on because of Gucci. Alessandro Michele first hinted (not at all discreetly) at its resurgence when he showed them on men at his very first collection for the Italian house, presented in January last year, reportedly designed in less than a week. (His appointment was not officially announced until after that show).

I’m not sure if Gucci’s pussy bows help men cut a dashing figure, but on guys, they are nothing terribly new, given that its predecessor, the cravat, has been around since the 17th Century—its genesis can be traced to a military unit called Croats or Crabats that fought against the Ottoman Empire. There was even a style that went by the rather masculine name Steinkirk, worn deliberately messy, as if as a badge of undisputed machismo.

The Gucci shirts that Mr Michele showed were thought to be ‘blousy’. That, to me, is quite in keeping with the Gucci DNA. Since Tom Ford’s silk shirts of the mid-’90s, worn unbuttoned as if men have deep-set cleavage, Gucci has been making chemises that women have no qualms wearing too. Blousy is not a post-Noughties trend; it’s a renascent interest.

Gucci men's pussy bow shirtAn Instagram screen grab of Gucci’s autumn/winter 2015 campaign featuring a man’s pussy bow shirt

Gucci pussy bow blouse ss 2016Gucci’s spring/summer 2016 campaign with more pussy bow blouses posted on Instagram

Mr Michele’s follow-up women’s collection, too, featured pussy bows, and the clothes were so successful that CEO Marco Bizzarri told Business of Fashion that the line will not be marked down. Not on sale: now, that’s news! Gucci pussy bows were protected from ending up on indiscriminate necks.

Despite the pussy bow’s connection to an iron lady and its association with ’80s suit-wearing careerists, its appeal has not been jeopardised by its own old-fashion bearing. This is, in part, due to Gucci’s interpretation—mainly in diaphanous fabrics that do not appear to choke you up in a bunch of fabric, and, also owing to the continual love for all clothes ultra-feminine. There isn’t really a modern take on sartorial femininity, so we plunder our grandmother’s wardrobe.

Even without a sale at Gucci, the demand for pussy bows increased. The filter-down effect was accelerated into a gush. Just as I thought the ‘It’ blouse was not going to survive another season, Marc Jacobs sent more out so that the pussy bow won’t renounce its catwalk prominence. This craze has gone beyond reasonable optimism. When will it come to an end, like all good things do? Well that depends on you, doesn’t it?

Two Of A Kind: Zip Codes

Saint Laurent Vs Givenchy

Some minds do think alike, but whose thought of it first? To be fair, these two tops are not identical, but the zips running on the diagonal seams of the raglan sleeves look to be the same idea.

The one on the left is from Saint Laurent Paris. It’s a sweatshirt in French terrycloth of a nice weight and even nicer hand feel. The zip runs on each side from the back up to the seam of the collar. They’re workable zips, which means the sleeves can be unzipped to reveal the underarms. Useful if you seriously wear the sweatshirt for sports.

The one on the right is from Givenchy. This is a good-weight wool-knit sweater with the zips running from the edge of the collar in front, passing the chest, going under the arm, ending diagonally at the hem in the rear. Once unzipped, the front panel comes undone completely, leaving the wearer with a bolero!

To some, the Givenchy sweater maybe a better buy because you get two for the price of one.

The Saint Laurent Paris sweatshirt is available at the boutique in Ion Orchard for SGD1040. The Givenchy boutique at Paragon does not stock this sweater, but a white cotton dress-shirt with the same zipper idea is available for SGD1650.