Not Looking Back, But Looking Forward

This was posed to us many times at the start of 2019: which new (or newish) brand do we think will be exceptional this year? To us, there may be only one: Ader Error


Adererror in Siam DiscoveryAder Error pop-up in Bangkok’s Siam Discovery in October 2018

We have always resisted making lists. This is no exception. We won’t, therefore, be looking back at the last twelve months of 2018 and tell you what we think was good, or what, regrettably, was not. But of all the new or new-to-market labels that came (and, for some, languished), perhaps one deserves mention, not because of how big they are here since no retailer brought them in, but for their very conspicuous absence.

We think that the Korean streetwear label Ader Error deserves attention even when we have never blogged about them. Although they have not received mention here, you probably have seen their wares in those social media posts that tout the very latest and hottest. Or, seen your fave K-pop stars wearing them. After all, Ader Error is reported to be “”the top choice of K-pop royalty”, such as Jin and V of BTS. They are also know for their Instagram posts, of which they have not one, but three handles, totaling 743k followers, as of now.

adererror x pumaAder Error X Puma at Robinsons at the Heeren

At this point, perhaps we should correct ourselves. It is not entirely true that Ader Error is not retailed here. In November, Robinsons at the Heeren carried the brand’s collaboration with Puma: a tiny, two-style buy of sneakers and slides. That went largely unnoticed, and are still available at Robinsons when elsewhere in the world they have been reported to sell out within days of launch. Could this be indication that we, as retailers and consumers, are slow to trends, as is the common charge? Or, simply uninterested?

While we have read of Ader Error’s meteoric rise and followed them on IG, we have not seen their designs up-close until October last year. One of Bangkok’s more forward stores Siam Discovery—once a shopping centre, now a department store—had put together an Ader Error pop-up, complete with the Korean brand’s own fixtures. It was striking and unmissable, and an opportunity for us to examine the beguiling merchandise up close. Did they live up to the hype?

ader error coatOver-sized double-breasted wool coat: classic tailoring with street cred

Hype, as we all know, is often 80% social media build-up and 20% design finesse— sometimes, for the latter, less. Hype is the engine of consumption. Hype takes us for a ride. It can be either an enjoyable one or a dud that leads to nothing. Ader Error is, without doubt, built on hype, much of it its own making (rather than, say, through third-party or fan hashtags). It is hard not to see three IG pages (excluding website, Facebook, and Twitter) put out by one brand as hype, but the noise—thankfully, not bluster—they create is commensurate to the high grade of the products they sell.

It is encouraging, therefore, to see that Ader Error has quite a healthy percentage of design flair to the equation, more than a healthy quarter, as we see it. Sure, theirs is a path well-trodden: Supreme and its ilk have ambled on with repetition and, sadly, lacklustre offerings that bank quite solely on hype. Ader Error, more than most streetwear brands, conversely use design to fuel the hype, not the other way round.

ader error pop-upAs Ader Error intended, their sleek first pop-up in Southeast Asia

Ader Error was formed in Seoul in 2014. A collective of individuals from different fields, the brand is not led by any specific design director. One Kevin Lee is reported to be the group’s spokesperson. According to Mr Lee, the group got together because they had wanted to do something totally creative. Coming from trades as different as graphics and food, they produced clothing quite unburdened by what a street wear label should be. So steep in method, as well as madness that WWD called the work they do “intellectual street wear”. However, Mr Lee prefers to call it, as he revealed to Highsnobiety, “a culture brand based in fashion”.

What we found especially appealing is the polish of the designs, with the right balance of exclusivity and mass appeal. The pieces look like there are the result of thought (much if it), not afterthought. The retro vibe, like what dominates street wear now, is unmistakable. Yet, it is subtle enough for the brand to call their hark-back “futro”. That, to us, appears to be looking at shapes and designs of the past, but with the eyes unsquintingly gazing at the present. Additionally, you sense that the people behind Ader Error are sharing a private joke, but you aren’t sure what’s funny, except the obvious: on the bottom layer of the fly of a pants, the scribbled “not yet”!

ader error merchMore than just clothing, Ader Error offers a selection of fun accessories 

While Ader Error is touted as a unisex label, it is obvious that their strength is in men’s wear. The clothes are not designed to alienate. By that we mean there’s accessibility factor to the output. Yet, you don’t dismiss them for being too commonplace. A position that will attract otaku types, fashion-leaning gamers, and even the fashion-consuming CFOs. For most, there is appeal—and comfort—in clothes that, well, look like clothes. And smart to boot.

At present, Ader Error releases only two collections a year, and, unsurprisingly, in somewhat small quantities (which possibly bait collectors the way Supreme’s encourage long lines). According to the brand’s Kevin Lee, their sell-through is more than 90 percent per collection, which is not unexpected, considering that they sell in rather small number of stores, of which only one in Seoul is their eponymous outlet, a free-form space that could easily be a karang guni man’s den.

adererror in siam discovery l2From pop-up to permanent space in two months

Apart from garments, Ader Error offers small goods or what are known as “lifestyle items”. These include cups and caddies, key chains and kerchiefs, and everything else that allow you to show those around you that you buy into their “culture”. And people do. Two months or so after their Bangkok pop-up debut in Siam Discovery, they were given a permanent corner in the men’s department on the second floor, next to Club 21. A sales staff told our Thai eyes, Nah Kwamsook, that the brand is doing well (“kai dee mak” or sales is very good), and is especially popular with “fashionable young men.”

With only one store and crackling multiple social-media pages, the brand is doing something so right that British GQ wondered if Ader Error is “the world’s coolest brand”. We don’t quite know yet, but it is rather apparent to us that Ader Error is no mistake.

Photos: Jagkrit Suwanmethanon and Zhao Xiangji

Club 21 Shines Anew

Club 21 @ Siam Discovery

Singapore’s purveyor of fine fashion has opened a new store. It’s not somewhere on Orchard Road, as you might aspect; it is not even near there. In fact, it’s not at all on our island state. The new Club 21 is in Bangkok: a fashion god in the City of Angels.

This isn’t the Club 21 we know. This is big. Massive is no over statement. Housed in the newly refurbished Siam Discovery, two units away from Siam Paragon, diagonally across from Mahboonkrong Shopping Centre, the boutique-no-more Club 21 is so expansive you don’t know where it starts and where it ends. We’re not sure how big the space is, but it does appear to be at least twice the size of Club 21 men’s and the women’s store (at The Four Seasons hotel) combined. It’s discreet too—there is no marquee-style signage to tell you that you’ve walked into the Thai outpost of Singapore’s biggest upmarket multi-brand retailer.

Club 21 Women 1

And it’s somewhat confusing too. At first sight, you’d think that Siam Discovery, closed a year ago for the refurbishment, has turned the mall into a department store. And you won’t be wrong. As you enter from the Siam Center-facing access, the first thing that hits you is the duplex Issey Miyake store (here, it’s known by the somewhat grandiose “World of Issey Miyake”). Pass that and it gets a little disorientating, but that’s not a bad thing. There are only few shops—certainly not in the form of shop lots that made up the former Siam Discovery.

You will recognise the atrium as the old mall’s but that’s all you will make out. The space on the two sides of the first floor is now mostly opened up, un-demarcated by boundaries to contain brands. Yes, like a department store, but something tells you it is not quite. There are the labels: if you’re familiar with who carries what in Southeast Asia, you will immediately identify the curation (bad word choice, maybe, but fashion these days are picked and displayed with almost the same élan as the curatorial approach of an art gallery) as those typical of Club 21. The leaning to Japanese names—Sacai, Kolor, Y’s, Miharayasuhiro, etc—is clue enough.

Club 21 Women 2Club 21 Women 3

This, however familiar, is, at the same time, not entirely recognisable. This is too varied, and the variety is too interesting. When you move further inwards, it dawns on you that the scale and range may not be within the business plan of a foreign company known to be cautious in its expansion plans. If you look hard enough, you’ll see this it is not entirely Club 21. Price tags are a tell-tale sign—they use different ones. And some sections welcome the Club 21 loyalty card, some don’t. The guessing game becomes uninteresting as the merchandise seduces.

It is possible that the newness of the mall, so overwhelmingly fresh, overtakes one’s curiosity about proprietorship. Opened just last Saturday, the new Siam Discovery is the latest retail sensation that is transforming the area just beneath and around the Siam BTS station into a shopping hub Orchard Road should seriously study. When describing it as a sensation, we aren’t being glib. The mall is sensational and it arouses the senses. If shopping centres think taking on e-commerce is not possible, Siam Discovery is proof that reinventing the physical shopping experience is achievable. You start by providing stimuli from the environment.

Club 21 Women 4

Siam Piwat Co, owner and operator of the mall, calls the USD112-million born-again Siam Discovery the “biggest arena of lifestyle experiments”. Thai marketing lingo defies deciphering (and is often mostly grand-sounding), but, as pretentious as that is to the ear, this is quite a showground, and some of the brands in stock could be test merchandise. So many labels—more than 5,000 brands are said to be available—clearly fall under the radar that it is hard to see their overwhelming take-up rate.

Club 21’s stable of labels and some more dominate the first two floors. Until now a conservative retailer in terms of store planning, its gamble on Siam Discovery sees it in a space unlike any other, including its last swanky emporium, sited in a hard-to-locate corner of Kuala Lumpur’s Pavillion. Here, it’s rather like a grand magasin, but more in the vein of Lane Crawford than heritage stores such as Galeries Lafayette. The mix of brands and the juxtapositions in a playful setting are calculated to excite and, more importantly, surprise.

Club 21 Men 5Club 21 Men 4

Has Club 21 finally understood “experiential”, the much talked about requisite of social media-age brick-and-mortar retailing that’s rarely seen or felt on Orchard Road? Peddar on Scotts, opened in October last year, would be considered a pioneer in this area, but so far, none has taken their lead. Club 21 is on the right footing, but unfortunately, its well-shod feet are on another city’s welcome mat.

For too long, our favourite multi-label designer store has been languishing in its safe haven of quiet—far too quiet—elegance in the rear of Orchard Road. Despite talk that it is faring dismally and that young shoppers would not step into what they perceive as old and cold, they have persevered. Indeed, Club 21 has outlasted them all: Glamourette and Men and His Women, two of Singapore’s most distinguished but ultimately short-lived luxury retailers. In Bangkok, it has remained strong while even Hong Kong’s Club 21 equivalent, Joyce, had to make a hasty retreat in the wake of the Asian financial crisis of 1997, and, according, to reports, lost USD7 million as a result. But longevity sometimes encourages complacency and lack of innovation. Since its move into the Four Seasons Hotel in the mid-Nineties, Club 21 has looked mostly the same. Age, as many women know and will say, tends to make you look tired.

Club 21 Men 3

To be sure, it tried to do something different with the offspring Club 21B, started in 2011 as a remake of Blackjack, a store conceived in 1996 that targeted the young with a mix of street styles and edgy looks. However like its parent, Club21B’s store planning stands on conservative ground even when the merchandising does not. For some, its position at the back row of Forum The Shopping Mall, near the toilets, makes it a tad downbeat.

While Singapore has to contend with the Club 21 that we’ve always known, Bangkok has been seeing new stores and concept zones popping up. Its numerous corners and islands on the first floor of Paragon Department Store started three years ago were a foretaste of its stunning entrance in Siam Discovery today. Perhaps we can then be hopeful that the Club 21 that Bangkokians now find sanook, we, too, will be enjoying in the coming future.

Club 21 is at Siam Discovery, 989 Rama  I Road. Additional reporting: Tae Dee. Photos: Jagkrit Suwanmethanon