Up On The Dunes

…where it’s all barren, Anthony Vaccarello showed a collection for Saint Laurent alluringly fertile of chic

It has been a looong fashion season. Or, an unusually extended one. In the middle of December, when stores are moving holiday collections, and some are receiving the initial drop from the spring/summer 2021 season (Kolor, for example has announced, barely into the start of winter, that their spring/summer 2021 will launch in their Tokyo store on the 19th), Saint Laurent is showing the latter only now. As far as we can remember, there has never been a spring/summer RTW show in December, at least not by a French house (others are putting out the pre-fall collections). And certainly not one shown in a desert, topping Dior’s make-believe outer space, even Dakar Fashion Week, staged last weekend in a baobab forest. Fashion has always taken us places, but not quite yet to anywhere close to the desolation of dunes.

The Saint Laurent show takes place atop a sand ridge in the Sahara (presumably), perhaps vaguely alluding to Yves Saint Laurent’s own exotic North African roots (he was born in Algeria). However, the house isn’t the first to show in a desert—in 2007, Pierre Cardin showed on the desert of Whistling Sand Mountain in Gansu Province, China. Still, it’s intriguing to see how a runway show could be set up on what appears to be pristine sands, taking into account that they are loose, and likely to shift. Even the YSL logo could be, somehow, worked into the vast slipface of a dune, creating a considerably austere, but no less striking branding of the house. When the models finally appear, emerging from a peak, like Bedouins (perhaps Frank Herbet’s Fremen, too?) coming home, but well socially distanced, we realise this is no mirage: Saint Laurent is bringing its clubby clothes to the desert.

Only thing is, the collection does not seem to be designed with going to the club in mind, or for those occasions when getting dressed-up means a certain dalliance with exaggeration, such as the massiveness of shoulders or the bareness of skin. The models, not quite sure-footed, walking in high heels on the soft sand, are not dressed for a wild night, although much of what is shown may well look good in candle, or strobe light. Rather, what we saw was a relaxed sleekness that veered dangerously close to wearable. Sure, we weren’t looking out for a parade of djellabahs or thawbs, but we weren’t expecting such controlled elegance, not in the sea of sand. These are clothes that have an air of glamour about them, evocative of the ’60s and, partially, ’70s, with a lineage that seems traceable to Christine Keeler’s heyday wardrobe.

Since the setting is a desert, it may also suggest that these are clothes to take on a holiday. But they are nothing like what the women of the Sex and the City 2 film, The Sands of Time, wore: high-camp and a little too fabulous for a desert (or worse, the Real Housewives of New York: Last Call, Morocco!). Anthony Vaccarello has largely (and finally?) stepped away from the shadow of his predecessor Hedi Slimane. The aesthetic is still retro, but it projects an inviting coolness that many might not mind revisiting. The suits are as lean, but a tad loosened-up; the le smoking is edgier, the dresses are not too sheer; the marabou (of the negligee-dresses) are fluffier; the shirts are not Tom Ford-oversexed, the flounces are well-behaved, the two extremes of biker shorts and almost-panties are options for those who likes extremes, and the pussy bows… well, they remain. And there are, interestingly, prints—florals to be exact. But they brought to our mind Richard Quinn, when we were, in fact, in a Jacqueline Susann state of mind.

Photos: Saint Laurent

Staying With Small

Have handbags become empty vessels?

 

Saint Laurent Pyramid Box

By Mao Shan Wang

Looks like the micro bag trend isn’t coming to an end soon. I am not sure if that is swell. I suppose it’s good to know that there are some trends that last longer than the time you take to transfer the contents of your Boy Chanel (even the small) to the Jacquemus Le Petit Chiquito Mini, which, by all accounts, started the crazy for cute but useless tiny bags that would have been more functional as earrings.

The Jacquemus miniature, as you now are aware, is 5cm at its widest—that’s at least 2cm shorter than even a a stick of lip balm. Can you imagine, even the bag’s handles are smaller than the brand’s hoop earrings! When I first saw that minuscule polygon some months back, I thought, gosh, this would not even be big enough to be a xiangnang (香囊 or ancient Chinese potpourri sachet) that (Story of Yanxi Palace’s) Wei Yingluo could give to Fuca Rucheng.

For something as large as the ribbon on Hello Kitty’s head, you’d think that its popularity will soon fade since few women would have actual use for them. A friend of mine did buy one as she thought it would make “a perfect pill box”. And in case I was not convinced, she added, “just nice for two tablets of Panadol Extra”. Bag makers obviously took notice. From Hermès to Bape, brands are producing bags with diet issues for those who like them better as pendants.

Which brings me to this Saint Laurent ‘Pyramid Box’. To be certain, this bak chang-shaped bag isn’t that small, but its mass is in keeping with anything that not only is known as “petite”, but “mini” as well. I was, in fact, surprised by how capacious this sleek lambskin quadrilateral is. You probably could fit five Le Petit Chiquito Minis in it!

What might be appealing to those into the construction of bags, such as I, is the opening. The triangular front can be freed from its magnetic clasp and pulled down. Two more triangular pieces hold the sides of the flap opening so that it would not spill the bag’s content since two magnets holding a bag shut isn’t exactly the most secure. With a slender wristlet hand strap, this is the eye-catching reticule to sit above the hand (alongside a bracelet?) while you happily dance the night away; heels preferred.

Saint Laurent Pyramid Box, SGD2,070, is available in store and online. Photo: Saint Laurent

Does Red Still Matter?

CNY Red 2019Embroidery on H&M sweatshirt

By Mao Shan Wang

Chinese New Year is red no more. Well, not with what I have been seeing. I come from a relatively big, extended family and CNY is very important—red-letter days, if you will— to us. This means that on the two measly days of public hols that we get to guo nian, I have the chance to meet many relatives at my parents’ gaily-decorated xiqi yangyang flat. Most of them I see only once a year, so with each visit, the young gets older, the older gets older, and the oldest gets a walking stick. In years of the distant past, both young and old were always careful not to call on us in sombre colours, but these days, peer into our flat, and you might think our guests have been doused in squid ink.

My parents are not particular about what colours those who visit us during the CNY season wear. My grand parents—both paternal and maternal—were. But since they are no longer around, the juniors are emancipated from what, to them, is a silly, superstitious, and selective chromatic tradition that bears no relevance to fashion’s unceasing love for the deeply dark. Red, even Valentino red, is no match for the light-absorbing black. And, this year, the colour associated with the grim reaper dominated my parents’ living room, as well as many parts of our island, with as much cheer as fatt choy braised in the company of macerated shiitake mushrooms.

The festive-lite window display at Louis Vuitton

When did red lose favour among the Chinese doing their rounds during Chinese New Year? I don’t know, but I did notice some years back, about eight perhaps, that stores were starting to do away with windows dominated by red. Since 2015, I began to seriously observe. Many, including Louis Vuitton, Dior, Prada, and Fendi, have not bothered with a CNY window, just as they have forgone Christmas. There, too, has been little in terms of merchandise that is red or can be considered gaily festive. Sure, brands know they have to cash in during this period, hence animal-themed offerings to the reflect the Chinese zodiac year, for example. But these are mostly gimmicky rather than trendy, corny rather than snappy. And, they are not as heavy with meaning as red.

Like most, I was never told the true significance of red during CNY. My mother was not big on the colour and wore other brights that didn’t blend in with fire engines or anti-riot vehicles, the ang chia. To the young I, red was an auspicious colour, but from whom I learnt that, I have, hitherto, no idea. It was not until much later, as a young adult, did I read about nian the beast of pre-history China (not nian the year), one so ferocious and life-threatening that only fire, cacophony, and the colour red could send it back in defeat to wherever it came from. Red, synonymous with fire and itself a loud colour, became the choice of those who need to be rid of whatever beastly in life or are in celebratory mood.

At mass market label Iora’s Wisma Atria flagship, main store display shows that red is easily outnumbered

About a week before CNY, I saw a young girl looking admiringly at a plain, flaccid, black dress at Iora in Wisma Atria. I asked if she was buying that to wear as a new outfit for the festive season, she said yes. When I asked her if her choice could keep nian away, she replied with a question: “who’s nian?” I rephrased: why not wear red? Because, she told me—with furrowed brows, none of her friends do and that “it is not cool”. For sure, red is a warm colour and usually with enough heat to be considered passionate. But who, in wanting to look cool, is projecting warmth, passion, intensity, zeal, or energy any more these days? For many now, you may agree, CNY visiting is plain boring. Why bother to meet when you can simply send a WhatsApp message or greeting, if you bother? Or partake in your cousin’s festive fun via his/her IG posts, if you’re interested enough? No new dress required, red or otherwise.

According to one store buyer I know, the colour of chilli was once so in demand that “stores can’t stock enough of red. Nowadays, people don’t bother unless it’s the red that’s within the box logo of Supreme”. She told me that buyers now don’t consciously seek out red to stock in the month of February. It would appear that red is not an important colour in the planning of a collection at all. It isn’t the dominant colour at Louis Vuitton, it is shy at Burberry, and it stands away for the colours of night at Saint Laurent. A look at the men’s collection shows no difference. Kim Jones’s Dior has red conspicuously missing. Even the Kaws pink BFF character (called a “a masterpiece” by the media) dons a black suit! And over at LV, Virgil Abloh’s all-white Keepall, sans pop-up store, has its pride of place in the expensive, faintly psychedelic window.

CK Calvin Klein’s dour black boar

Red is also competing against the equally ancient Chinese sheng xiao zodiac, specifically the 12 animals that purport to predict the ups and downs of one’s life. Until the past five years or so ago, few thought of wearing something bearing the creature that corresponds with their birth animal. I know I never have. But this year, for example, retailers are going big on pigs (CK Calvin Klein is possibly the most prolific), not with charm or pull in every case. Those born in the Year of the Pig are not the only ones wearing porcine prints on their chest, or carrying on their bags. Others of other years do too. Frankly, I can’t reconcile a rat wanting to be a swine.

People are also looking at what colours zodiac masters such as Joey Yap tell them to wear, which means even the bleached of hue such as white may bring you luck on the first day of the Lunar New Year. Sometimes, red is not recommended because it may be too bright, too strong, too potent for an individual. Red may be the colour of luck, but it may not be lucky for you. One of my cousin who came and the only one in non-black wore a supremely dull shade of red that her fortune teller declared most ideal, hence auspicious. It was what I would call puce, that old colour with a history that dates back to the clothing of Marie Antoinette. It’s been described as the shade of dried blood. Or, to be more precise, “brown and maroon with only a hint of pinkish-gray”, according to another description. Apparently, when King Louis XVI saw his wife in a silk dress of said colour, he exclaimed “une puce”! That’s flea!

Photos: Zhao Xiangji

Out With The Old, In With The Old

Relieving Celine of its accent above the ‘e’ is minor change compared to dropping Yves from Yves Saint Laurent, and that perhaps was the point: Hedi Slimane was not planning to reinvent the sewing needle at Celine. Instead, he brought unfinished business at YSL along

 

Celine SS2019 P1

We guessed it, and yet we were still bothered, perplexed, annoyed. It’s like the end of a romance. You know it’ll soon be over and yet when he/she is gone, you feel the pain, or anger. Hedi Slimane was not expected to expand the look Phoebe Philo left at Céline (as spelled when she was there) the way his successor at Saint Laurent, Anthony Vaccarello, continued Mr Slimane’s rock-chick-waif-groupie look. Yet, we were still dismayed. Perhaps it was the late hour of the live stream (2.45 am!), but mostly it was the annoyance of having to view his last, by-then-repetitive Saint Laurent collection all over again.

We weren’t sure but was the collection about a true singular vision? Mr Slimane is no visionary and his Celine is regrettably short-sighted. Or, was he pleasing an already sizeable fan base of an increasingly commercial rather than innovative fashion business climate? Surely there are those who have remained with Saint Laurent and those who have moved on. Or is this output of a designer that hitherto is, for the most part, one-note? This seemed like indolence at design level: he could have simply bring along the paper patterns from his previous tenure. He was at Saint Laurent for a mere four years (2012 to 2016). Sure, he not only made a huge impact to the fortunes of the house, but also promulgated the idea that luxury fashion can look like fast fashion, which may mean he did not have enough time to really conquer and rule, although divide he arguably did.

Celine SS 2019 G1

Celine SS 2019 G2

The skinny jeans and pants that he popularised at Dior Homme still bolstering ascendancy over other silhouettes in both women’s and men’s wear (even their office clothes!) today is probably not enough. If he wants to leave a lasting legacy, there has to be a persistent aesthetic singularity to better overrun an over-shared world. When Mr Slimane took over Dior Homme in 2000, fashion editors spoke of how he “idolised” teen-ish, waifish rock musicians or such a look. Eighteen years later, at 50, his kind of idolisation could be construed as bordering on the paedophilic, yet it did not bother Mr Slimane or his supporters, including one Karl Lagerfeld, because fashion is, since the advent of pret-a-porter, about youth. He continued with Celine’s debut men’s wear the skinniness and gangliness that he first mooted 18 years ago, as if times have not changed, as if men’s taste have not altered. He even told the media that Celine men’s clothes are unisex, and women are free to buy, which harks back to the female interest in his Dior Homme. Interestingly, he didn’t say that the women’s clothes are unisex and available to men. Remember Phoebe Philo’s Celine appealed to guys, with Pharrell Williams her number one fan?

With a casting that would have the black community cry out tokenism, Mr Slimane again made sure that not only was the Caucasian face his ideal beauty, body diversity was not part of his universe. In fact, these clothes—their smallness, slimness, and shortness—were really for adolescent boys and girls: the boyishness and girlishness augmented by the skinny ties that men past a certain station in life stay clear of and the little dresses with a very fixed waist that women of a certain age normally avoid. Is Mr Slimane’s Celine the new Gap for the children of the wealthy whose numbers are rising all over the world—for certain in Asia? Or is this fashion’s own Peter Pan syndrome?

Celine SS 2019 G4

Some members of the press have taken to justifying Mr Slimane’s design direction than saying that it is lacking in, say, newness (a bad word in fashion these days), among other things. He has proven himself to be a commercially successful designer, they reasoned. Celine, as most people know, is part of LVMH, one of the most powerful luxury conglomerates in the world, if not the most powerful. So there is fear of commercial reprisal. Or, the denial of invitation to future shows. God forbid that a fashion editor should watch live streams like the rest of us! Mr Slimane was known to take umbrage at members of the media who did not share his view or who were not keen in what he did. The relationship between the press and luxury brands has always been a complicated one, and the love-hate relationship, for a lack of better description, is mostly concealed by love, no matter how dismal or disappointing the output of the brands. Love lost, as some journalists—including prominent ones—have learnt, is not nearly recoverable.

At the end of the Celine Hedi Slimane show, there were audible screams of approval. These can’t be construed as anything but love, which means we shall see more of what may be teetering close to ennui: little dresses—black aplenty—and those, equally compact versions, with flourishes such as flounces; boyfriend jackets that, when worn over said dresses, made the latter look even shorter; biker jackets for serious rock cred; and skinny suits that, any skinnier, would be compression wear. Mr Slimane is not the least vague about where he intends to take Celine under his charge. Just because you were given a name at birth and trained to be a lady does not mean that someone, further down the road, can’t lead you astray, and make you a tramp.

Photos: (top) screen shot/Celine live stream, (catwalk) indigital.tv

Midnight Cowboys

Saint Laurent’s men’s wear under Anthony Vaccarello was presented in New York. Is this another of the brand’s attempt at Americanisation?

 

Saint Laurent P1

When bands in the European continent want to make it big, they record or launch albums in the good ’ol US of A. The Brits, in particular, consider North America the platform for global domination. From the Beatles to Depeche Mode to One Direction, bands see Uncle Sam as the father of immense riches or the repository of accessible pop. In the Trumpian world, could this be America, “the piggy bank that everybody is robbing”?

Fashion designers, like band members, see the allure of the United States too. Anthony Vaccarello is one of them. His spring/summer 2019 men’s wear collection for the house was shown, not in Paris but in the Big Apple, a city that provided, as he told the media, “the idea of New York, the idea of the icons of New York in the ’70s”. If that immediately sounds like a cliché, it is. The Americans have been robbing the accesses of the disco era for a very long time, so much so that many of them can’t forgo the lurid glam headquartered in the nightclub Studio 54. But the French, such as Yves Saint Laurent himself, want to show the Americans how to do it better. Hedi Slimane, Mr Vaccarello’s predecessor, was also seduced by the US. He even showed in—of all places—LA! Even in the West Coast, you can’t say “icons of New York in the ’70s” wasn’t on his mind.

Saint Laurent G1

Since Mr Slimane’s remake of Saint Laurent for men, the clothes have been part lost hippy, part rock star, part flashy pimp. Mr Vaccarello has not dramatically change the aesthetic, but has added to the equation part urban cowboy. At the New York show, he styled a sort of downtown dandy, a nocturnal peacock (in a beaded paisley blazer!) that occupies his time mostly hanging out with band mates (still the Pete Doherty vibe?), in the most underground of clubs, under the cover of darkness or the hypnosis of the strobe. It was not easy to see how the clothes would fit any activity of daylight hours, unless your line of work involves, say, entertainment. The outfits were mostly dark in shade, glittery in effects, and slim in silhouette.

In fact, the silhouette has not changed much. Since Mr Slimane exported hipster lean to Saint Laurent from Dior Homme, his successor has not deviated from the look. In fact, skinniness has remained central—a skinniness that has, by now, made oversized and baggy positively more interesting. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with slim-fit, but for those who have moved on to something less of a cling wrap, what Mr Vaccarello is proposing seems a little, well, narrow, or restrictive. The body of today deserves a variety of proportions.

Saint Laurent G2Saint Laurent G3

Within the overall slimness of the silhouette, he added Western touches that few men of horse and lasso would consider authentic. Then there were those unbuttoned-halfway shirts underneath leather jackets, punctuated by a neckerchief—throwback to the ’70s that appeared lame against the signature excesses at Gucci. In addition, those sheer sequinned shirts and sleeveless tops that would have more in common with men of a certain age unable to pull away from the past than the young living in the present. Noteworthy too were the surprisingly large number of jeans, more permutations than even Diesel would churn out per season. And what was the body glitter of the finale about? A nod to the month of Pride?

Look closely and the collection persuaded one to think that it is isn’t terribly inventive by design. Similar to Mr Slimane’s initially divisive approach, Mr Vaccarello had created looks using rather basic clothes in nightclub-worthy fabrics to effect his vision of what he thinks the Americans would like: styles of the ’70s, considered the breakout decade for American designers. The thing is, this may be the most exciting men’s wear season in a long while. Eyes and social media accounts will be trained on the debuts of Virgil Abloh at Louis Vuitton, Kim Jones at Dior Homme, Hedi Slimane at Celine’s very first season for men, Jacquemus’s own, and Riccardo Tisci at Burberry. By the looks of it, Anthony Vaccarello probably did not aim to be the first among peers.

Photos: Saint Laurent

Time To Get Used To This

Nicki Minaj attending a fashion show with one breast exposed and, on our side of the world, the mother openly breastfeeding her child in an MRT train mean one thing: we’re witnessing a new norm… and, possibly, the death of outrage

Nicki Minaj, Paris Fasion Week’s hottest front-row celeb. Photo: gq.com

Fashion is a mirror image of the times, we have been constantly told. And that was what Anthony Vaccarello held up for Saint Laurent last month (actually, also last year): the reflection of the style of our time. How wrong we were to think no woman would wish to have her breasts feel the warmth of sunshine and the caress of afternoon breeze, unhindered by the presence of cloth, in full public view.

The first to prove us wrong was Nicki Minaj. Her constant scantiness makes Madonna’s bra-as-outer-wear antics look positively vestal. Now, Ms Minaj is into showing a whole breast—its entirety not the least diminished by the use of a pasty. This was clearly one bare bosom at the Haider Ackermann show in Paris last week, and one uncovered for maximum social media impact. At first, she was accused of copying Lil’ Kim. Possibly indignant, the Anaconda singer then did something very clever; she came out saying that she was, in fact, inspired by Pablo Picasso’s work (reportedly the 1908 painting Femme a l’éventail). That dirty old man!

The thing is, art has always depicted women with one exposed (mostly left) breast (as if two are over-expressive and titillating). Ms Minaj did not explain why she picked Picassso. She could have been inspired by so many other painters of one exposed breast, from Francesco Melzi to Auguste Renoir to Paul Gauguin, but she chose a leading Cubist known for eroticism in his work. It is possible that in directing her motive to something related to art, Ms Minaj was saying that her exposed breast was an artistic expression. Life never used to imitate art this way. Wasn’t it all in the artist’s vivid/weird imagination? Surely women didn’t think such exposure inspirational?

Picasso femme à l'éventailPablo Picasso’s Femme a l’éventail. Photo: Musée de l’Ermitage, Leningrad

The second was the woman breastfeeding in an MRT train, and now in the middle of the furore that has divided Netizens this past week. She should have taken the cue from Nicki Minaj. Her exposed breast was a nursing breast, and art is full of bosoms as source of infantile sustenance. Her rejoinder to the post on Stomp could have gone something like this: “I was inspired by Hans Baldung, specifically Virgin and Child.” Surely that would not have caused quite such a stir as the rebuke: “Those who suggest using a cover should try eating or drinking under a cover and see if you like it or not.” Or, the rant: “Anyway, it’s just a breast. We all have it. Be it female or male. It’s meant to be used to feed a baby, I don’t see anything wrong with using it to feed a baby… Maybe girls should stop eating bananas/popsicle in public as some might find it sexual too”both from her Facebook post, which was defiantly accompanied by more breastfeeding photos.

(Let’s leave aside the fact that men do not usually lactate for now.)

As noted by historian Margaret R. Miles in her book A Complex Delight: The Secularization of the Breast 1350—1750, bosoms were considered religious symbols. Of the Virgin’s symbols: “in early modern Western societies in which Christianity was the dominant religion,” Ms Miles wrote, “her bare breast, appearing in paintings and sculptures, signified nourishment and loving care—God’s provision for the Christian, ever in need of God’s grace.” Who would want to incur the wrath of our National Council of Churches (NCCS) by criticising a woman who merely exposed her breast the way Mary did?

Without the religious advantage, it is, of course, naïve of that woman to think that she was not going to get a secular reaction to her very secular (and public) display. There are basically three ways to respond to this: negatively, neutrally, and positively. Interestingly (perhaps, hearteningly?), many reacted positively—even encouragingly, with some saying it is the most natural thing for a woman to do. The breast’s provision to the child, so many in the pro camp seem to say, obliterates its very nakedness, so much so that you see—if you did see—nothing more than a mother feeding.

Hans BaldungVirgin and Child by Hans Baldung. Photo: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

But that trending photograph revealed something else. In her substantial FB post, that woman also said, “I just want to dress up and be a normal woman…” Here, if one were to equate “dress up” to what she wore on that fateful MRT ride, one could see that being in one’s best clothes meant one need not don very much of a dress (according to Lianhe Wanbao, she was on her way to participating in Mrs Singapore. Now you see). She was, therefore, dressed up since dressing up with little that constitutes an outfit is now a normal-womanly thing to do. Her easy-to-pull-down strapless top and a skirt (possibly shorts)—so brief that it is not unreasonable to suspect that both are of equal lengths—bear out the observation that, increasingly, it takes very little cloth to make clothes.

If so much of what we see online is not fake (catchword of the year), fashion is not about clothes. How much you cover is immaterial. Materials, in fact, are secondary just as coverage is no longer the real reason to wear clothes since so little is covered. As more and more celebrities and stars have shown, fashion can exist without garments, or, with incomplete garments. Once the stage personae of more audacious performers—from Josephine Baker to Gypsie Lee Rose to Dita Von Tesse—whose rectitude of motives were never really questioned since their dare-to-bare ways were mostly restricted to the theatre, the exposed body is today very much a part of everyday dress.

As it turns out, the uncovered buttocks of the past years weren’t the last fashion frontier (Azealia Banks, you’re passé!) Now, we aren’t even sure if the bare breast is. The fine line between decency and indecency strangely sits on not much expanse of space—the nipple. Unblocked, it causes offense in the same way the narrow border between the glutes seen will crack the barrier of politeness. The obscuring of the areola, within which the nipple lies (the exit point of breast milk), therefore, lessens the lewdness of the breast bared and, in many nations, stays within the confines of the law. Whether covered by a pasty or the mouth of a hungry infant, the areola unseen, it appears (or suggested by the MRT woman), strips away the sexual aspect of the sole naked bosom. You must appreciate, instead, the epitome of womanhood or, baby in sight, motherhood. Or a fashion statement.

Lil' KimRapper Lil’ Kim pre-empting Nicki Minaj at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards.  Photo: Getty Images

For a long time, fashion advertising has allowed us to wean on the normality of the barely covered breast. Who can remember a time when Guess models did not appear to be on the verge of full exposure? But there has always been the divide of they-are-models/we-are-real-women. It’s quite different now. In today’s fashion, familiarity does not always breed contempt. Rather, it fosters assimilation, more so than in art. With social media adherents willing and eager to push fashion messages further towards the extreme, women are willing to follow whoever they follow under the security blanket called “in charge of my own destiny”. Or, as Ivanka Trump says, “Own your femininity”.

Even self-confessed feminist Emma Watson has no qualms of exposing—even not in their entirety—her breasts, as seen in the latest issue of Vanity Fair. To the disapproving masses, she would later say, “They were claiming that I couldn’t be a feminist and have boobs. Feminism is about giving women choice… It’s about freedom; it’s about liberation; it’s about equality.” And she meant not just the freedom, liberation, and equality of the mind, but the body too. She added, “I don’t know what my tits have to do with it”. Which sounded like: I can flash my chest as men can, and do. The interesting thing is, her leading man Dan Stevens had not had to pose in a shirt completely unbuttoned in any magazine to promote Beauty and the Beast.

Ms Watson’s position seems consistent with the agenda of Free the Nipple, the 2014 American docu-film and campaign that not only pushed for gender equality, but also put forth the argument that women be allowed to bare their nipples in public if they choose to. This goes swimmingly with what women have, of late, been told they can do with their bodies, regardless of shape and condition: as you please. They can emulate models or social-media stars, even when they are neither models nor social-media stars. They can show any part of their body on Instagram, even when the world will bear witness to their display and there could be backlash. Eff those who can’t deal with this reality. If dominance is part of what constitutes popularity, then the increasing visibility of bare breasts is going to point, if it has not already, to how we shall dress, and how undisrupting to social norms it shall become.

Saint Laurent SS 2017A one-bare-breast-dress by Anthony Vaccarello for Saint Laurent, spring/summer 2017. Photo: indigital.tv

A dress or blouse or jacket that does not require the portion that covers or enhances the bosom is perhaps also indication that the bust of the garment is redundant. It is quite possible that designers want to do away with that part of the dress, just as many seem to want to rid the area where the shoulder meets the sleeve, allowing it to go “cold”. Anyone with knowledge of dressmaking knows that the bust is often tricky to construct. Fashion students in pattern-making class are known to hate pivoting darts, so much so that many do away with them. The result is often a cut-away bodice comprising two pieces of cloths simply for front and back. Either that or a stretchy fabric such as jersey to cling to every curve and protuberance.

It would be wild speculation to think that Anthony Vaccarello was trying to shirk from creating the most beautifully formed bust on the Saint Laurent dress by not including one, even if it was only on one side. Although in that outfit Mr Vaccarello did not quite “free the nipple”, his predecessor did. In 2015, Hedi Slimane created a permanent and irreversible wardrobe malfunction with a dress that literally covered only half the body, exposing a starkly naked breast. No member of the media seemed particularly disturbed, with vogue.com calling it “fall’s hot topic on the runway”. It must have been, for Olympia Le-Tan even designed a dress with a trompe l’oeil left-breast-exposed—just in case there were those who wanted to bare, but did not dare.

It is suggested that the present fixation with exposing the boob is really backlash against too much easy androgyny and minimalism bordering on the monastic. There’s nothing wrong with an aesthetic that is expressly and visibly female. However, there are no half-measures in fashion. If we look back, we’ll remember that the décolletage soon gave way to the plunging V; the peeking thigh soon gave way to the glaring rump; the blushing crack—left open by the “bumster”—soon led to the full-moon derrière; and the buttocks soon gave up the seat to the bosom. If today is one breast out, will tomorrow be freedom for the other side?

And You Wonder Why Women Won’t Sit Properly

Saint Laurent SS 2017 advertising

Ugly clothes, it seems, aren’t quite enough. They need to be marketed with ugly images of models in ugly poses too—triple the ugliness. The house of Saint Laurent got themselves in a bit of a spot a couple of days ago when uproar broke out over two of their latest advertising images for the spring/summer 2017 season. We won’t describe the pictures; we let you see what the indignation is all about for yourself.

The photos used in the Saint Laurent ads do open us up to one question: Why is the pose of the model, rather than the clothes she wears, the focal point of a fashion advertisement? It is perturbing to think that this is a reflection of the evolving taste of the consumers of fashion, but it is more disquieting to consider this an indication of how women now see themselves: individuals who can be viewed between their legs, and not face, first.

Of course, a woman seated with her legs apart is so common a sight that no one will think it a show of impropriety. After all, we are no longer in an era when not wearing a petticoat is tantamount to not wearing a brassiere. The panty now cheerfully looking out to the world between the shredded crotch of denim cut-offs is so inoffensive that nobody really cares anymore how a woman sits, or squats, or stoops.

And so she places herself on a chair, seat, or floor as she pleases, legs spread in a way that nearly renders her asunder. Or feet up on the seat so that a heel can cushion the backside, or a knee can serve as chin rest. Comfort is key, we have been told, and that means you do not loll at home, you do it before a camera. You do not kick up your heels when nobody is around, you do it when there is an audience. You do not curl up in private confines, you do so on any chair, anywhere—on the ground, in the air.

The Saint Laurent ad controversy comes just a week after Kellyanne Conway, President “Taped Tie” Trump’s able Counselor, was photographed seated with her legs tucked behind her rear on the sofa of the Oval Office. Ms Conway was, of course, more modestly seated compared to the model in the Saint Laurent ad, but it does draw our attention to the fact that many women now choose to take to a chair in a manner that challenges traditional ideas of lady-like demeanour.

Drawing a viewer’s attention to a woman’s full-frontal crotch is, of course, not new. Just last year, Calvin Klein Underwear put out an advertising image that was framed as an up-skirt shot. Something is also being said when mothers do not chastise little girls for seating with their underpants in full public view, even when unintended. Such indifference and advertising media that has adopted perceptibly suggestive poses in place of nudity to sell clothing allow the young to be weaned on the scanty as standard

Nudity in the media has lost much if its potency. It is a visual marketing device since the ’70s—it has been in use for too long. Yves Saint Laurent himself posed nude in 1971 for his first men’s fragrance in a campaign shot by Jeanloup Sieff. He did not have a shred of clothing on, yet one cannot say he was the epitome of a sex god. As we are now constantly told, just because there are no clothes on does not mean it’s sending out a salacious message. A nude body is no prelude to sex. In order to communicate sex, the message today has to be obviously about sex. Even with clothes on, fishnet stockings too, sex can be the core suggestion when you zero in on the area of the body where sex usually takes place. Better still, the legs positioned like a triangle that frames the other triangle.

But how does making visual the object of another’s voyeuristic or onanistic pleasure help sell clothes? Maybe selling is not the point, controversy is.

Ain’t No Saint in This Laurent

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Last season, there were at least pasties to cover the nipples. This time, Anthony Vaccarello left the areolae fully exposed, as if there were any woman who would not get themselves on the wrong side of the law by going bare mamilla. It’s not certain if anyone looking at the looks Mr Vaccarello proposed as sexy, or tasteless, but he was on track to cover one of two major trends in fashion: extreme sexiness and over-the-top decorative. Are there really so many women who want to look provocative? Or wanton? Or aggressive?

There’s something menacing about Mr Vaccarello’s Saint Laurent. Maybe it’s all that leather (as in the last season). Or maybe it’s the colour or the lack of. Or maybe it’s just these angry times when a certain toughness in dress is too literal a front to tackle social aggression. Sure, we could be reading too much into it. These clothes have no place in the part of the wardrobe a woman goes to when she needs something for work, to take the children to school or meet the mother-in-law for tea in. These are outfits, if the shine of the leathers is any indication, for a certain setting where strobe lights and proximity to a bar lend the wearer an enhanced cool.

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And that could mean a top with just one sleeve. Mr Vaccarello seems to love the single sleeve, and now, a detachable one too that can be worn on the other otherwise exposed arm. But the two are not quite the same, as if unalike due to some genetic aberration. The removable one works like a hybrid sleeve-glove, where the upper portion opens up like a carnivorous fluted flower, exposing a shearling underside, the deltoid consumed. It’s not certain if these one-sleeves will be sold separately, as they do with handbags, but they sure will send very active IG users into a state of delirium.

Unconsciously, we drifted to Louis Vuitton. For spring/summer 2017, Nicolas Ghesquière, too, had some leather pieces, one-sleeve jackets, and a few very sheer dresses. Only thing visibly missing: totally exposed breasts. We know that cover has become totally unimportant in fashion, but is Mr Vaccarello’s insistence on the breast in full exhibition mode fashion design or cheap trick? Surely the Kardashian clan constitutes a very small clientele?

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And there are those angular extensions, which could be his answer to his predecessor’s pussy bows. Mr Vaccarello is creating his own signature, of course, using ruffles in more superfluous ways than possible. Whether extending past the person next to the wearer, or swirling from bodice to skirt like a candy wrapper, his ruffles have the uncanny ability to be both ornamentation, and unneeded—totally selfie-friendly.

Perpetual fans would be able to point out the YSL references, however subtle, which is, of course, not the point since it is doubtful that anyone who has gravitated to the brand since Hedi Slimane’s tenure would notice, or care. We are not expecting any reiteration of the four-button double-breasted blazer that’s nipped in the waist; not the relaxed, belted safari suit; the ruffled peasant dresses. But must Anthony Vaccarello erase everything that we remember Yves Saint Laurent for? Apparently so.

Photos: indigital.tv

Do Pussy Bows Have Nine Lives Too?

melania-trump-wore-pussy-bow-blouseMelania Trump, in a pussy bow blouse, beaming with confidence. Photo: Getty Images

Art, they say, imitates life. Sometimes, fashion does too. This morning (our time), for instance. During the 2nd US presidential debate broadcast, just before the opponents spoke, the camera zoomed in on Melania Trump shaking the hand of former president Bill Clinton. That in itself wasn’t significant. But her outfit caused quite a bit of speculation on Twitter. Are the colour, apparently one of Hillary Clinton’s faves, and the matching top and bottom—although not a pantsuit—together a signal that the wife of the most controversial presidential hopeful in America’s democratic history is casting her approval towards camp Clinton?

Read what you may into her option, what struck us is the blouse, more specifically the pussy bow. Surely when “grab them by the pussy” is trending after her husband’s deplorable 2005 off-camera but hot-mic performance was exposed by The Washington Post, her choice of attire must mean something. Is she telling the world that, even after 11 years of marriage, there is no competition, and she’s still up for Donald Trump’s grabs? Mrs Trump is, by most accounts, a feminine woman. Surely she would not need a detail of dress once associated with Margaret Thatcher and what the latter had called “rather softening” effect in the corridors of power. Or was this merely Melania Trump following fashion?

saint-laurent-ss-2013Hedi Simane’s pussy bow blouse for Saint Laurent shown during Paris Fashion Week in 2012. Photo: Monica Feudi/feudiguaineri.com

As we know, in fashion, sometimes enough is just not enough. Since Hedi Slimane reintroduced the pussy bow at his debut for Saint Laurent back in 2012, this icing on the blouse has not melted or flowed down. You’d think that by now, it’s left out in the rain (excuse us, we’ve been humming the Richard Harris tune!) for too long. But up to the recent fashion weeks, the pussy bow isn’t showing any signs of retirement. We doubt even Mr Slimane had thought that what he revived would stick around longer than his tenure at Saint Laurent.

As if the trickle-down effect of that intro was not enough, the pussy bow was given a glamorous new lease of life by Gucci’s Alessandro Michele in 2015. It appeared in both the men’s and women’s collections, and has flourished happily since then. After so many seasons (and languishing in the likes of Forever 21), you’d think that this floppy bow that shares the disparaging slang name of female genitalia would have gone to its grave. It has not. Melania Trump showed how alive it is, even surrendering it in pink!

Pussy bows SS 2017.jpgJust some of the pussy bows of spring/summer 2017. Photos: Indigital

It is possible that Mrs Trump’s confidence in wearing the pussy bow to a globally televised event is bolstered by its continued appearance on international catwalks. This season, with new creative heads taking over heritage houses, it’s not unreasonable to hope that something that by now is a woeful cliché won’t pop up like post-precipitation mushrooms. Yet it did. At Dior, a pussy bow on a sleeveless blouse really had no reason to be on the runway, but it appeared—the tail ends swinging as gloriously as a flag on a windless day.

What’s the real appeal of the pussy bow anyway? It’s hard to say. Minimalism, together with discretion, has gone into hibernation while decoration and excess are having a magnificent moment. Some fashion items do not retire easily just as some trends have a grip that’s hard to shake loose. Will the pussy-bow blouse be the next denim shorts with shredded crotch? In the case of Melania Trump’s blouse—by Gucci, as reported—could it be intended irony or an allegory of wifely support? Some pussies, as Donald Trump learned with dismay and to his campaign’s detriment, just have more lives.

New Blood, Old Soul, Stale Water

The change of guard at heritage fashion houses is usually an exciting time. More so the debut show of the new creative head. We remember John Galliano at Dior, Alexander McQueen at Givenchy, Nicolas Ghesquiere at Balenciaga, and most certainly Raf Simons at Dior in 2012. Mr Simons’s first show for the French house was haute couture, no less. Looking back at it now, we still feel those sleek suits and ethereal dresses tugging at our heartstrings. Alber Elbaz, who witnessed it all in the front row at that time, later told the media that it “was a beautiful marriage between a designer and a house.”

Three marriages were made in Paris in the past months, but whether there is going to be conjugal felicity, we won’t know yet. Still in the honeymoon period, many would say, the designers for Dior, Lanvin, and Saint Laurent respectively debuted with as much excitement as a brioche turning musty. Were we expecting too much? Were the designers offering too little? Or were there too many familiar phantoms?

dior-ss-2017Was expectations too high at Dior? Photos: Dior

At the house of Dior, ex-Valentino co-créateur Maria Grazia Chiuri preferred not to wow. Instead, she reminded us where her flair lies—diaphanous blouses, skirts, and gowns of a distinctive finesse honed at the atelier of her previous employer. Not that that is surprising. Designers do bring along with them pieces of their past. Not everyone is Karl Lagerfeld. But alongside what you already can do, there should be more—a lot more. This is not Gigi Hadid having a little bit of fun with Tommy Hilfiger.

It was said that expectations should not run high as Ms Chiuri had a mere two months to put together the collection. Her predecessor Raf Simons did not have much more time to prepare for the 2012 fall couture show either. Yet he was able to construct a collection that was as imaginative as it was replete with subtle references to the codes of the house. Ms Chiuri, instead, chose to imbue hers with ideas from past creative directors, including the now-mostly forgotten Marc Bohan. Mind boggling then how fencing jackets got into the mix. The result is a weak, colourless, soporific pastiche.

We’ll risk sounding sexist or anti-feminist (“We should all be feminists” went the pronouncement on a T-shirt): Ms Chiuri is playing the woman-designing-for-women card. As she told WWD, “I want to introduce into the house of Dior a natural attitude, to dress women to feel comfortable, to feel their beauty.” By natural attitude, it is possible that she meant innate feelings only a woman knows, to feel comfortable is to wear what women always wear, and to feel their beauty is to magnify their femininity.

lanvin-ss-2017If this is post-Alber Elbaz, the future of Lanvin looks bleak. Photos: Lanvin

It appears to be the same approach at Lanvin, so much so that if the collections were switched as, say, an act of mischief, we’ll be none the wiser. Lanvin’s Bouchra Jarrar is a commerce-minded designer. “I create to sell,” she told the New York Times. And so she did. Thing is: do women really like wearing sheer this and that over solid-colour underclothes, a pairing also seen at Dior?

Ms Jarrar, to new-gen consumers, is considered to be one of the more promising haute couturières, and that is evident in her sense of luxury that, by her own admission, is calibrated to sync with founder Jeanne Lanvin’s—whose own high fashion aesthetic was highly feminine and decorative. That Ms Jarrar should operate from a woman-for-women standpoint is, perhaps, consistent with the house since Ms Lanvin herself started when she designed for her daughter, Marie-Blanche de Polignac, who married the Comte Jean de Polignac, a nobleman. The younger woman, also known as Marguerite, was a trained milliner and dressmaker, and took over her mother’s business after the old lady’s death in 1946.

Sure, Ms Jarrar provided the satisfaction of individual taste within a wide selection of garments, but there’s still something missing. Mr Elbaz brought joy to Lanvin. Ms Jarrar’s vision of Lanvin is, on the contrary, a joyless one. In some ways, it mirrors what happened at Gucci after Tom Ford left. Frida Giannini did replicate Mr Ford’s sex-infused clothes, but they were arguably not sexy. Lanvin needs the joie de vivre that has sustained it for the past 14 years (for one, we remember the happy painted faces of the mannequins in the store windows). Ms Jarrar has a lot of impressing to do if she were even to catch up with her men’s wear counterpart Lucas Ossendrijver, whose homme collections, in its tenth year, continue to entrance, even post-Alber Elbaz.

saint-laurent-ss-2017Saint Laurent is strutting to the groove set by Hedi Slimane. Photos: Indigital.tv

Similarly at Saint Laurent, nothing sent out on the runway made the heart beat even a tad faster. After Hedi Slimane’s unchanging West Coast of America’s rock-chic excesses, we’re hoping for the brand to move away from that direction. That’s, of course, wishful thinking when many observers already knew that Anthony Vaccarello isn’t going to dial down the extreme sexiness. It was said that he was selected because owner Kering knew he was the guy to pick up where Mr Slimane left off.

The silhouettes and styling were so similar to Mr Vaccarello’s predecessor that it is quite certain that the brand has truly found its groove, or unwilling to rock a commercially successful formula. The slim and the short, they were all out in full force. So were the strong shoulder, the one shoulder, the one sleeve (even appearing as a sort of full-length, modern-day, leg-o-mutton-shaped engageante). Could these be clothes a Peculiar Ymbryne such as Alma LeFay Peregrine might wear if it wasn’t 1943 and she was brandishing a smartphone instead of a pocket watch?

This isn’t about right or wrong, beautiful or not. The definition of elegance—even French elegance—has been re-written so many times in the past decade, and more so recently, that we no longer associate it with women of a certain bearing, living a life of certain rectitude. Mr Vaccarello knows that this elegance does not exist anymore. But rather than take the route of just creating looks or riff on what rockers already wear, he has given his output some elements of design. For that, perhaps he’s taking a divergent path. For some, that is good enough as point of view.

Lace Knows No Gender

Lace shirtsClockwise from top left: the spring/summer 2016 lace T-shirt of Givenchy and shirts of Gucci, Burberry, and J W Anderson

By Raiment Young

Unlike so many of the (by-now-not-so-new) new-media generation, I have a soft spot for magazines. Flipping through the March copy of The Peak in an airport lounge recently, I was intrigued by an editorial penned by the publication’s “Watches & Fashion Editor” Lynette Koh. A pull-quote from her opinion piece was especially pulling: “When I saw the lace tops on the men’s racks, I tittered to myself and thought, ‘What man is going to wear these things?’” You can imagine the delighted smile on my already silly face, which lit up also in reaction to the full-cap sentence, no doubt the misfortune of a lax house style. Naturally, I’d like to quote in similar type, just to be accurate, but you know what that would look like here.

A reaction to her question, however, is in order: what about popes and priests? Perhaps they’re not manly enough since so many are celibate, assuming we believe the papacy. Ms Koh appears to me to have her own definition of what makes a man a man, or more precisely, what clothes make a man. Of course she’s not alone. Many women do subscribe to a certain ideal of masculine dress (the synonym for clothes, not the frocks of Valentino) that goes merely as far back as the Regency period when men were dashing in their military uniforms. Jane Austen fans will know what I mean. Masculinity, with the added advantage of handsomeness, is, therefore, devoid of the frippery and foppishness that the donning of lace suggests. Women, tittering ones I suspect—so many Lydia Bennets among us, have a penchant for men in solid, plain-weave wools and cottons as they suggest strong hands unlike the intricate loops and picots that, quizzically, seem to denote limp wrists.

PassageThe page from the March 2016 issue of The Peak

I suppose Ms Koh is not a Catholic. Admittedly it is bold of me to go there, but such a supposition, even one that asks for trouble, is inescapable since it appears that she is unaware that some of the earliest adopters of lace for clothes were the clergymen of the Catholic Church. Up till now, the liturgical vestment (not to be confused with Vetements!) surplice is still worn with lace trims. In one Christmas mass I attended in Florence’s Duomo some time back, the priests conducting the service wore white surplices with trims and insets of clearly good lace, presumably from Venice, that was evocative of the lace of Dolce and Gabbana, only the priests’ were bridal, rather than Sicilian-widow sexy-mournful.

Lace is associated with kings too, if I may interest Ms Koh. The French king Louis XIV was known to spend heavily on lace for his clothes—fancy fashion clearly could express power as much as a fancy chateau. During his reign, the court demanded different code of dress for each formal occasion. Lace was popular, and unisex, and not at all out of place with the Charles Le Brun interiors of the Versailles. Prior to Louis XIV’s rule, it was on trend for the lords to adorn themselves with lace, which had to be imported from Venice, a dent, I suspect, on French sartorial and national pride. During his time, the luxury industries, lace included, were encouraged to strengthen France’s economic might over its neighbours. And the king led by example. Whether the policy worked, we leave it to the historians to debate. But lace, it did become more fashionable.

Lace shirts 2Lace shirt by Saint Laurent and embroidered lace tunic by Gucci

Gucci may have put lace shirts in the spotlight recently, as Ms Koh observed, but the use of lace in men’s wear goes further back. My earliest memory was of a Jean Paul Gaultier cotton lace pullover with contrast, ribbed cuffs in two layers of black and white. The top was teamed with a pair of extremely wide-legged trousers that, in those days (the early ’90s, I believe), was considered a skirt with an identity problem. Further down, the two Brits that took Paris by storm, John Galliano and Alexander McQueen, worked lace into their respective eponymous men’s wear lines with the same fervour seen in the women’s. Vivienne Westwood, no shrinking violet herself when it comes to delicate fabrics for men, too had lace—in some designs, patchwork, no less—incorporated into rather classic pieces, such as a cardigan.

And it isn’t really Gucci that kick-started the trend this time round. In 2014, Czech designer Vladimír Staněk introduced lace shirts for his own Stinak line, a strategy in sync with a collection that appeared to target what store buyers call “men with advanced taste”. In fact, lace is an open woven fabric, which means that some of Giorgio Armani’s gauzy and similarly textured cloths from the ’90s could be considered the precursor to lace for 21st century men. What, perhaps, could urge the raising of eyebrows is not the use of lace, but in what form they’re used. Dolce & Gabbana’s varsity jacket with lace bodice (and an embroidered owl to take the place of the alphabet used to represent the school—very Hogwarts, of course) is hardly the stuff to cause a snickering stir. Take, instead, J W Anderson’s lace shirts: not only is it sleeveless (too gay?), it is cut as a halter-neck! Will tittering, I wonder, give way to silent shock?

Lace jacketDolce & Gabbana bomber jacket with lace bodice

Lace shirts or “these things”, as Ms Koh calls them (disdain or euphemism, I couldn’t quite tell; a sneer possibly), seem to feed into a fear of a man’s world turning effete. Men have been confined to limited sartorial offerings for so long that breaking free from the incarceration may upset the social balance of things. Men have to be men, as we often hear both men and women say, and they must, as a consequence, dress like men. Women, however, have made great strides; they have been emancipated for so long (thanks, Coco) that they forget what it was like to be frowned upon for even showing their ankles. Or for wearing trousers.

It took a while, but pink is finally not a colour limited to women. Maybe a period of gestation, too, is needed for lace to be seen as a masculine choice. I understand Ms Koh is likely to appreciate men in Danish label Soulland’s gingham button-down shirt with the personification of maleness printed all over it: Gordon Gekko. However, men’s wear is going through a small-scale renaissance, and as designers redefine the definitive item of men’s clothing, the shirt, chances are, they will look at what has worked so well for women. The real beef could be in the crossing of lines. Perhaps men shouldn’t encroach on these last few aesthetic and textural symbols of femininity. If they take lace, also associated with lingerie, what’s there left for the fairer sex to call their own? After all, even the skirt is no longer exclusively female. Lace will possibly not materialize in a woman’s search for her knight in shining armour, but as Denzel Washington said of those idealised mounted soldiers in The Equalizer, “problem is, they don’t exist anymore”.

Is Luxury T-Shirt An Oxymoron?

imageThis T-shirt by Saint Laurent costs S$1,250. Or S$32 more than the RRP of the cheapest iPhone 6S Plus. Or S$8 less than an air ticket to London (as advertised by Cathay Pacific in today’s The Straits Times). Don’t get us wrong. This is a nice expensive tee, even when left on the hanger and relieved of its boutique surroundings, it could be mistaken as merchandise of the Salvation Army Family Thrift Store. It feels good to the touch, not unlike those at Givenchy (priced at a not-too-distant S$1050 for the all-over print ‘Cockfight’ tee). In fact, they could have come from the womb of the same manufacturer-mother. Recurring on souvenir jackets, bags and espadrilles, the print of the Saint Laurent T-shirt has aesthetic and chromatic similarities with those in tourist shops of Oahu. Hedi Slimane sure has an expatriate’s eye for American West Coast kitsch.

It is hard to consider a T-shirt as an investment buy, but the pricing of these designer versions encourages one to see them as such. The irony of it all is that, unlike a suit, a tee is a garment destined for the rough and tumble of an active life, as well as that of a washing machine. Out of 23 people randomly polled by SOTD recently, only two use a laundry net when laundering an expensive tee in a front or top loader. None wash by hand. None “dry flat”, as recommended by many brands. Only one irons. How does a S$1,250 tee survive urban abuse and the lack of TLC?

There are those who buy rather than wash (since cheap tees are aplenty): true, but it is hard to believe that there are individuals who wouldn’t take serious care of their four-figure single purchase. Perhaps they know that the high-priced T-shirt is, in terms of real cost, not different from anything they will find in a fast fashion store. As such, tees can be treated equally. While the chasm between a T-shirt’s production cost (whether from a factory in a Bangladeshi ghetto or Tuscan town) and retail price is not a deep, dark industry-only secret, shoppers are not terribly concerned when they succumb to the seductive call of designer duds.

The cheerful Saint Laurent tee indicates that it is made in Italy. A T-shirt may be made in Italy, but is it made by Italians, using Italian cloth? As the BBC reported in 2013, many factories in Italy are now owned and manned by mainland Chinese. Just in the town of Prato (not far from Florence), around 4,000 factories are Chinese-owned, prompting a local observer to suggest that “there are now more Chinese garment manufacturers than there are Italian textile producers.” In fact, in Prato, it was reported that more than 30% of textile employed is from China. Does the percentage include cotton jersey, the fabric used to make most tees?

It is also, therefore, hard to consider the T-shirt a luxury garment as cotton jersey, however fine, is not a fancy knit. Jersey is so named because it was in Jersey, part of the Channel islands sandwiched between England and France, that the fabric (in wool) was first made in medieval times. While there are luxury silk and wool jerseys, there is, arguably, no luxury cotton jersey, just as there is no luxury denim. The pricing of T-shirts at luxury level is a fairly recent practice since designer brands, at the beginning of the advent of prêt-a-porter, had no real need for plainly basic garments to boost the bottom line. The promotion of the T-shirt as desirable designer wear really coincided with Calvin Klein elevating underwear to dizzying new heights in the ’80s, and later pushed forth by luxury conglomerates creating ever-expanding “entry-level” merchandise, a strategy possibly borrowed from the mobile phone industry.

Brand owners would like us to believe that pricing these days is a complex exercise, especially when managing a brand is costly too. There is also material costs, they’ll add. Cotton, a natural product, is subjected to price fluctuations also experienced by other agricultural goods. If the price of cotton continues to soar as it did in the past five years, the price of cotton jersey T-shirts will only escalate. There’s no turning back now, however humble the T-shirt’s beginnings, not even if you turn your back to Saint Laurent’s coconut-trees-in-the-sunset tee.

Photo: Saint Laurent