The Bandung Suit: Here And There

Elvin Ng wore the ombre suit at the Star Awards, so did one Kori Rae at the recent Oscars. And others even earlier

The Alexander McQueen “bandung” suit on Elvin Ng (left) and Kori Rae (right). Photos: Mediacorp and Getty Images respectively

By Ray Zhang

Many people had a go at Elvin Ng (黄俊雄) after this year’s inert Star Awards. Or, to be more specific, they bashed his inoffensive Alexander McQueen suit. The jacket, in a gradation of pink at the top to bordeaux (as the brand calls it) at the bottom was compared by many viewers, even fans, to a glass of unstirred bandung—yep, that usually too-sweet coffee-stall drink made of rose syrup and evaporated milk. Online, there was even a photographic, side-by-side show-and-tell. And that was the kinder comparison. The more wicked commentators likened the blazer to a particular sanitary plug that some women use, which Mr Ng, rather forgivingly, considered “a bit offensive”. Only affable Fairprice, in a Facebook post, saw raspberry parfait in his red-carpet look.

I do not know if Mr Ng or his stylist Darryl Yeo or both of them picked the said garment, but, frankly, I didn’t see those humorous and nasty similitudes. Maybe it’s my imagination: it isn’t so vivid. To me, he was much better attired than, say, the now-disgraced Shane Pow, who, in ill-fitting Berluti two-piece, looked like he was costumed for a K-drama in which he appeared as a bratty, wealthy scion on his first day in his father’s boardroom. Whatever those many people did notice has brought much attention to not only the garment, but the brand name too. Alexander McQueen is no Alexander Wang here. So the publicity did give the former a rather big boost.

Colour gradation on Wang Yibo (left) and Kevin Hart (right). Photos: sina.cn and Aspictures/Chloe Le Drezen respectively

Mr Ng was, however, not the first or only person in the entertainment industry to wear the ombre (also described as “gradient-effect”) jacket, part of Alexander McQueen’s spring/summer 2021 collection. The tailored garment appears to be attracting a lot of admirers. A week after his TV appearance, another person wore the same outfit, 14,112km across two oceans. In Los Angeles, Pixar producer Kori Rae attended the Oscars in identical suit (not, interestingly, the version available for women). But she took it two steps further—she included a matching shirt and tie, in case the colour effect on the jacket alone was not enough for you to think bandung, or the other thing! I was surprised she didn’t colour her hair to match. Perhaps it was the setting Californian sun, but Ms Rae’s suit did look rather saturated. Forgive me, I am thinking of what Donald Trump, if he had watched, might say!

The ombre effect of the silk-wool jacket (priced at S$6,450) is, according to the brand, an “engineered dip-dyed print”, which means that the jacket or the fabric used was not actually partially submerged into a vat of dye (which may offer the assurance of no colour run). Some people think that the pink and the red do not make a good pairing; some also said the pink is too feminine for Mr Ng, who has never really concerned himself with fashion colours and details that are thought to be binary (look at the boat-neck Prada nylon top that he wore on the Channel 8 talk show The Inner Circle [神秘嘉宾]). Following the bandung alert, some Netizens pointed out that Chinese actor and former member of Korean boy band Uniq, Wang Yibo (王一博), too, wore a McQueen bomber jacket with identical chromatic print. No one questioned Mr Wang’s fashion choice. Nor, in fact, Kevin Hart’s. The comedian/actor also wore what Elvin Ng (and Kori Rae) did for a Fashion Bomb Daily fashion editorial, his masculinity clearly not threatened by sweet, unstirred-beverage colours.

The Blah Awards

Did Changi Airport and Jewel make for a better Star Awards show?

By Mao Shan Wang

This year’s Star Awards. (红星大奖) was supposed to soar, but it seemed to have gone as high as a paper plane could. Broadcast live yesterday from Changi Airport T4 and Jewel, the show felt like a bird in a wrong tree. Only here on our island is where an airport is also a leisure site. Or, an entertainment broadcast point. But, hard as I tried, I could not fathom why an airport terminal is an ideal location for an award ceremony that the stars decribed as 盛大 (shengda or grand). Would the Chingay be there next? National Day Parade? Or was T4 designed to be so admirably adaptable that it could be passenger building, vaccination centre and award ceremony venue? Or was this Mediacorp’s interpretation of using SingapoRediscovers Vouchers, while Changi Airport and Singapore Airlines was in enthusiastic marketing mode, in case we have forgotten about them?

It must have been hard for the attendees and the nominees appearing on the unmissable red carpet. I, of course, speculate since I wasn’t there, neither, in all likelihood, were you. But you and I can imagine. First, there was the weather. I live in the east, so I experienced what the attendees and participants must have had. It was blazing hot in the morning, which kept everything dry, but toasted the tarmac. Then the sky turned grey after noon, not the expectant grey of storm clouds, but the hoary expanse that just makes everything below muggy and so unfavorable to an afternoon of red carpet arrivals at the airport. You did not have to be in the stars’ shoes. If you had covered the anterior Jurassic Mile in such a day, you would not know what I mean.

Red-carpet hosts Desmond Ng, Vivian Lai, Lee Teng at the driveway of T4

Then there was the red carpet—not one but two! First encounter was a stretch on the driveway of the entrance to the departure hall and another, ridiculous as it was, on the airport apron, with SIA aircraft as backdrop. Not everyone got to walk in the front and the rear. You needed be a top star to be granted both. Or not either (Fann Wong and Jeanette Aw! Why were they exceptional, I wondered). All of them (those who mattered, anyway) did arrive on the driveway (which I only now realised is red asphalt—already a red ‘carpet’), but some did not alight kerbside. Zoe Tay suddenly appeared, with the top end of the red carpet behind her, with no car in sight, and with no companion. Did she take a bus? I hope not. Wearing a strapless, massive bow-front Caroline Herrera gown with a train, she gamely walked a considerable distance to the first of two platforms to be interviewed. No one was on hand to be chivalrous and to help her up the three-step platform, not even those around to open car doors for other stars. Her steady climb prompted host Lee Teng to say that Ah Jie “真的很有风范,完全是国际巨星的范儿—really has an air of stylishness, and it’s totally in the style of international superstars.”

Other luckier ones were allowed to alight closer to the two stages. I guess I have to count myself lucky too; I have never in my travelling life seen anyone in gowns and tuxedos dropped off at the entrance of an airport—not in Heathrow, not Charles de Gaulle, not Malpensa, not Pudong, not Narita, not JFK, not even LAX! It is fascinating—and horrifying—to see these stars navigate the red carpet in evening wear and towering heels that they get to wear only once a year (or, once since 2019, the year of the last Star Awards broadcast). But not everyone received the same memo. Some, I saw, were dressed as if they were attending a gala, some a wedding, others to perform on a getai, and one, to some debauchery involving paying customers. There were those who treated the event as the Oscars (or perhaps the Golden Horse Awards) and those who imagined it was the Grammys. What was really there on the driveway? Frankly, I don’t know what to call it.

Stars being interviewed on stage that overlooks Airport Boulevard

Star Awards is always touted as Mediacorp’s most glamorous event, but it has always been just a razzle-dazzle. No substance—this year especially. Right from the start, the union of Star Awards and Changi T4 was awkward and, as it turned out, not gratifyingly rewarding. We have so few events here that allow us to look at strikingly attired individuals who are more physically blessed than you and I are that we always fall for Star Awards (other annual events, such as the Tatler and Prestige balls are closed-door events). But when you have to take in the familiar airport locations—two boarding gates and a spot in the long departure lounge—in which the stars try to appear star-like, while socially distanced and their movement thwarted, you’ll be wondering when you can travel again, not who’d win what. Frankly, I struggled to reconcile gowns and airport lounge chairs.

What I was more at pains with was making sense of the pre-recorded runway performance earlier, on the airport apron that no regular passenger would have the privilege to prance on. Some selected (kena-arrowed?) stars were doing what has been described to me as a fashion show, right before a parked plane—an SIA Airbus A350-900. (Who could have guessed Mediacorp was out to beat two Karl Lagerfeld-era Chanel shows?!) Many of them would normally struggle to walk on an actual runway, but there they were, performing on the red-carpeted tarmac as if it was the most natural thing for them to do or part of their job description. Even former model Zoe Tay looked uncomfortable and embarrassed. Desmond Tan, in Alexander McQueen, appeared as if he was there against his will. Only Ian Fang, in Beng mode of his own design (did he don the same suit as the one worn in the 2019 Star Awards?) and the likely-borrowed-from-the-missus Chanel brooch, strutted as if he was already an award winner.

Two major stars Zoe Tay (top) and Desmond Tan performed before an SIA plane

For quite a few actresses, homage was paid to the Hollywood tape. Since so many gowns curiously did not perfectly fit, it was left to the sticky wonders of the double-sided adhesive to secure the edges of plunging necklines. No wardrobe malfunction for a conservative audience that we are. Only high slits on skirts were allowed to gape. One leg exposed, but with the thigh obscured by unsightly shorts. Vivian Lai was devious enough to wear, under the bustier-dress by Australian designer Alex Perry, a skin-coloured pair that was so close to the skin tone of her limbs that army boys in the coffee shop near my home, I heard, were cheering her on whenever she appeared as they viewed the show on their smartphones. Luckily she wasn’t in the running for the Top Ten Most Popular Female Artistes award. She’d pale in comparison to poor Ann Kok, whose Dolce and Gabbana gown seemed uncompleted due to insufficient fabric for the top left. But I suspected Ms Kok was most agreeable to exposing one side of her corset for all to appreciate.

It is sad and disappointing to me that after 26 years of the Star Awards (not counting last year’s hiatus), we are still witnessing attendees unable to understand what is dressing suitably for a special occasion, without looking like they were wearing yet another costume or blindly accepting the recommendation of their over-eager-to-make-a-fashion-statement stylists. Or, to make it easier for all the hosts to stick to the only two descriptions they know, year in, year out: 公主 (gongzhu or princess) or 女神 (nushen or goddess). Once again, it takes foreign artistes, invited to present, to show us how devoid of style many of our stars are: Gigi Leung in a sleek column with metallic bodice, Sandra Ng in an asymmetric dress and a half-cape, and Ella Chen in a gold long-sleeved gown. They wore the clothes, not, as the still-true cliche goes, the other way round.

😓😓😓😓😓

Screen grabs: Mediacorp/YouTube

Star Awards 20 Red Carpet: Where Was The Twinkle?

Grp 1

Was it the heat during last night’s outdoor red carpet parade that caused so many stars walking on the catwalk to look less than fresh, more than flustered? Or were they just not in a mood to saunter down a scarlet track that did not lead to the Dolby Theatre, Hollywood?  It was hard to tell. The annual Star Awards, now into its twentieth show, was a curious display of star awkwardness, flanked by a thin crowd of not particularly keyed up fans. This was an important night for Mediacorps stars, but few appeared raring to go. The younger ones, not visibly ferried into the Suntec City venue in fancy cars, clearly looked like they were walking their final walk during a deportment class.

The red carpet tradition prior to the commencement of award ceremonies is quintessentially Western and a recent one. Back in the days of the ancient Greeks, a carpet in the colour of blood was only laid out for the gods, who, being immortal, must not step on bare ground should they wish to visit their earthly domain. The first mention of the red carpet in text is reported to be in the play Agamemnon by Aeschylus, written in 458 BC, but unlike those who walked on the red carpet last night, the title character’s reluctant stroll (he being man, not a god) led him not to an award ceremony, but to his death, perpetrated, no less, by his scheming wife!

Later, the red carpet was associated with royalty and nobility, and it was only the royals and nobles that walked on the red carpet laid out in castles. This regal amble was a formality to put power out on display, and in the centre. Onlookers—and there were many—would scrutinise the walkers dressed in courtly splendour. In recent centuries, this practice is extended mostly to heads of state and their wives, who, like their precursors, were observed for their public manner and their glamourous dress.

Similarly, observing those or gawking at them on the Star Award carpet is perhaps a natural reaction to such a formal and splashy display. However, it would be absurd to consider what the MediaCorps stars wore last night as courtly styles; unless you consider the event they were attending the court of entertainment, which is not flippant since many fans see royalty among the stars. Perhaps it may be more apt to deem what was worn as ceremonial dress since the wearers were attending a ceremony, just as a bridal gown is a ceremonial dress, put on for a very specific ritual, and not after that. Red carpet ceremonial finery is best exemplified by Nicole Kidman in Dior Couture and Uma Thurman in Prada, both at the Academy Awards, and both never to be seen in those gowns again.

On the red carpetThe Star Awards did not always require the entertainers to walk a very public red carpet. Until 2010 (with a couple of exceptions in preceding years), the ceremonies were held in Caldecott Hill. The introduction of a pre-show red carpet ritual, it would appear, corresponded with a growing commercial culture, a culture of dreams that held an alluring, Instagram-worthy promise: anyone—good-looking or not, talented or not—could be transformed into a more striking, more appealing version of themselves. Until the night of the event, so many of the chosen had not worn such high fashion, nor considered the implication of showing off what they were seduced to wear. Aided by a band of image makers from different camps, these normally ordinary-looking stars were able to morph into avatars with a high glamour quotient. The red carpet is a microcosm of makeover, rebirth, movement, drama, popularity, notoriety, seriousness, artificiality, beauty, and, of course, fashion.

That leads us to one question and, maybe, the only one that matters: how many of the outfits worn by the stars last night merit a red carpet parade?

Perhaps it would be more pertinent to count those that did not. There’s a misconception (and it isn’t unique to our shores) that flounces, poufs, layers of silk chiffon, lots of lace, fish-tail skirts, bustiers, fringing, beading, all have a confirmed place on the red carpet, and once worn by a celebrity, become the epitome of style. The regrettable thing is, the celebrities (and their stylists) feel the same way too. There is a getai attitude to this: you so rarely get to dress up to wow and when you do, you go all the way out, sometimes, way, way out. Consider, too, the competitive nature of such displays. Newer and younger entertainers strive to look as good as the established artistes, while the older ones don’t wish to appear outmoded—a match-up, ironically, modulated in such a way as to be conventional.

Li Teng, Guo Liang, Quan Yifeng, Desmond KohLast night, the clothes were, at best, predictable, except Quan Yifeng’s. She wore a black-and-white three-piece skirt-suit designed by her daughter! You couldn’t say Ms Quan did not take a risk. To put her untested kid out there could either be punishment or humiliation for the lass, both, in stricter societies, would be considered child abuse. Fortunately, the black jacket thrown over the shoulder like a cape; the black V-neck bustier with a pair of broad, white Vs below the neckline to underscore the mother’s ample bosoms; and the high-waisted white pencil skirt were not offensive, but this was a runway, not a walkway somewhere in tai-tai land.

Cleavage baring and starlets are such obligatory pairing that you would be disappointed if they did not show up on the red carpet. Chris Tong strutted, hand-in-hand, with Priscelia Chan, and both were decked out in floaty dresses with very low-cut necklines and very exposed backs. Ms Chan, in Diane Von Furstenberg, basked in a neckline that plunged to her waist, opening up the grateful eyes of males waiting for the night to suddenly turn windy.

And there were those who trusted their stylist enough to not wear a real dress. Joanna Peh, whose confidence was boosted by boyfriend Qi Yuwu’s presence, was sheathed in four pieces of Hermes scarves with the sum of colours akin to parrots’ tail, tied and stitched together as a halter-neck number. She might as well have worn four pieces of Hermes handkerchiefs. Or towels—it won’t matter since she appeared ready to walk down a beach to view a setting sun. On the beach, a scarf goes by a humbler name: pareo.

Grp 6Some just wanted to look grown up. Julie Tan ditched her usual sweetness for something almost dishevelled: shaggy silver jacket-as-shrug over a black fringed dress by Frederick Lee Couture. Unsteady in red heels, she looked like the Little Match Girl garbed by the Salvation Army to go to a prom hosted by Elvira.

Two of the stars were counting on hongbao red for an arresting turn on the red carpet. Rui En, engulfed in crimson, swished in a big gown by New York wedding dress designer Romona Keveza. The bodice with an asymmetric neckline had a shape that was reminiscent of decorative items fashioned out of  hongbaos during the Lunar New Year. Chen Liping, outfitted by 3-year-old local brand Zardoze, was in a torso-hugging lace dress with fringing that could have come from a lantern.

However hard these artistes tried, they were a sleeve’s length away from impressing. So near yet so far. While they provided sensory delights, they were a distance from delightful. Some people think the Star Awards red carpet will always be lacklustre because we do not have provocateurs such as Cher, goofballs such as Bjork, and eccentrics such as Helena Bonham Carter. But neither do we have sophisticates such as Cate Blanchette, Tilda Swinton, and most recently, Lupita Nyong’o.