Is It Time For Tom Ford To Retire?

Stuck in the disco age and unwilling to skimp on sequins, Tom Ford should consider withdrawing from his own fashion label until he comes up with something truly fresher

Last July, Bloomberg reported that Tom Ford appointed Goldman Sachs to “explore the potential” of selling his company. No reason for the exploration was shared by Mr Ford or CEO Domenico De Sole. But Bloomberg did note that the growth of top-tier luxury brands had been hampered for unsurprising reasons that include inflation, continued lockdowns in China, escalation of energy and logistic costs, as well as those in manufacturing. There was no mention of whether the fashion of Tom Ford is still desirable. Or, if there is demand outside his circle of celebrity friends. That question is even more pertinent after watching his spring/summer 2023 show, staged during NYFW. We sense that Mr Ford is unwilling to move forward amid the hurtling speed of change in our crazy world. He is happy to be caught in the past, in a groovier time that is soundtracked by Studio 54, lensed by Guy Bourdin.

That the former CFDA chairman would go down the disco route is a predictable track and tact that should not baffle us, but we are still, truth be told, disappointed. Dullness maxed out is dullness amplified. How many times do we want to be reminded of the glory days of the ’70s (and early ’80s)? Even the styling isn’t fresh. Gigi Hadid, with the fake blond frizzy hair and pregnant hoop earrings, in that hooker-savvy sequinned dress, is a bad parody of the campy past that Mr Ford adores. Although the soundtrack is a mashup of ’80s pop and latter-day rap, we had Dan Hartman’s Instant Reply in our head. Wasn’t Tom Ford singing, “got to have it… got me floating on a cloud, got me dancing all around”?

Mr Ford has redefined the sexy that is very much his aesthetical lexicon. Of late, it is regrettably meretricious. Perhaps it is in keeping with the prevalent mood in American fashion, which has significantly shifted from sportswear to something more suited for seduction or to express the confidence of an unapologetic sexual self. For the present Tom Ford season, scattered is the focus, from gaudy, sequinned, fringed Western shirts (even gaudier than what they might wear at the gay rodeo) with micro-running-shorts to bras that are just the perimeter of the already skimpy garment to sequins-all-over evening dresses that accentuate the derrière and expose the rump. Eckhaus Latta meets Dolce & Gabbana?

Perhaps there is real interest in the decade (and a little later) that, for some (rather than many), “taste forgot”. Or, the hope that Mr Ford would bring back the hits of his Gucci years. The satin shirt, worn unbuttoned to the navel, certainly did, even if less shiny. If shirts are not worn, underwear must be served. Here, even the guys get the lace in a boxer (Victor’s Secret?) that would make Calvin Klein’s look severely avuncular. Almost every garment shown appears to be for the pursuit of fun under lights that would make each piece glitter. It’s luster that lusts for attention just as the nipple-baring bras begs to be noticed. But these days, vain and shocking are hardly the traits that would make trying fashion striking. Even if he resists going any place without a disco beat, Tom Ford needs to dial down the tacky amid the showy.

Photos: Tom Ford

Shift To West

Does the Los Angeles presentation indicate that Tom Ford is going even stronger on Hollywood glamour and downtown-LA relaxed, whatever the point might be?


TF AW 2020 P1

The sweatshirts with the sleeves hacked perhaps tell us that we’re not in New York anymore. We are in a city where high indeed mingles with low, and where Hedi Slimane once designed Saint Laurent. Los Angeles, we have been told, has a lively fashion scene and its own fashion week. Some of the world’s most recognisable and visible models-by-profession come from here: the Jenners and the Hadids, as well as models-by-accident, the Kardashians, for examples. And Tom Ford isn’t going to alienate the people he has come to woo. He knows what LA wants and he churns out what LA wants: high-octane glamour, even if there are sweat tops with ripped armholes. The purposely insouciant needs to pair with impossibly sleek.

Tom Ford chose to show in LA, presumably to take advantange of the A-listers of the entertainment industry, in town for the Oscars. Surprisingly there aren’t that many award-night gowns in the line-up. These are clothes for everyday—streets of the city need such amped-up straightforwardness. These are for dolling up even when there’s no reason to; for believing that gym clothes can be re-purposed when paired with a silk, bias-cut skirt; for days when a fancy blouse seems uncool at parent-teacher meetings and to show that even if there are those women who pick similar garments, they won’t look the same. Mr Ford has infused so much glamour in them that ripped edges are frays of pizzazz.

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Glamour also means that you’d need a leopard-print coat, worn with a cropped T-shirt and a pair of drawstring pants. You sense that Mr Ford designs with a fixed idea of what his women are like and what they do in their high life, glamour pervading everything they execute, even just to step out of the house for Jamba Juice. It is an idea that probably isn’t rooted in what actually takes place in wherever—and whenever and for whatever—but sounds/appears nice, just like the “crisp white shirt” that some designers still imagine women love to wear for walking their dog. Mr Ford’s sense of glamour is not quite based on the far more beguiling, the remote, the mysterious, the unconventional. Rather, it hinges on conventions of present-day, #metoo-a-mere-memory Hollywood, on actresses who can’t carry a dress if it is not slashed down or slit up to there.

Being a movie man himself—director no less— and one who, in person, personifies glamour, Mr Ford knows not only what it takes to be glamourous, but, more importantly, what’s necessary to create an illusion of glamour. The evening wear segment (and it is segmented, with a pause and change of tempo to the soundtrack), at a time just before the Oscars, is presumably to lure attendees to the biggest award show of the season. Yet, hardly anything was majorly red-carpet worthy, which is perhaps why we later see no one in Tom Ford on the Oscars Red Carpet Show. These are more after-awards party clothes than what actresses would like to wear to emerge from the limo and sashay down the red carpet and do whatever they need to do before participating in the ceremony. 

TF AW 2020 G3

It is hard to imagine, for example, why anyone would want to slip into that dress on Bella Hadid: a sheer, rhinestoned, halter-neck number oddly fastened with a pair of limp velvet bows, and yanked at the left collar bone to one side, exposing half the breast and leaving the neckline gaping. Or, the bondage dress with a bodice that looks like how raffia might be stored in a disorganised bottom drawer. Or, the lace gown that appears to have been dropped on model Binx Walton from a drone, exposing, a la Dior, the complete set of underclothes. 

Curious still is the need to close the presentation with a wedding dress. Is Mr Ford hoping to cash in on LA’s bridal wear business? When it appeared, the dress and the wearer look like an apparition, and could pass off as the sheet-covered (but glamourous, of course) character in 2017’s A Ghost Story. Or, is it Vera Wang costuming for James Wan? When he took the bow at the end of the show, it is hard to remember what was presented before that, except, perhaps, for those ridiculous feathered drop-earrings. Sixteen years after he quit Gucci, is Tom Ford still an accurate mediator of the collective imagination or taste? Maybe only within the realm of Hollywood. Or, the fueled-by-fantasy sprawl that is Los Angeles.

Photos: Alessandro Lucioni/

Two Of A Kind: Body Armour

One of these is 37 years late!

Tom Ford vs issey Miyake

(Left) Tom Ford’s breastplate. Photo: Alessandro Lucioni/ (Right) Issey Miyake’s fibreglass bustier. Photo: National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia

We know which came first. But now, for most present-day fashion consumers, original ideas are so oft-repeated by others that the memory of those that came before the latter becomes hazy. The cover of the latest issue of Harper’s Bazaar features a square-jawed Gwyneth Paltrow in a Tom Ford top that the magazine described as “anatomical breastplate”. Which, we suppose, is the antithesis of what the Scorpion King wears—not body-regardful; no breast, no plate!

What’s interesting to us—actually, annoying—is that Miss Goop, who sells candles called This Smells Like My Vagina (seriously!), appears in Mr Ford’s hard top as if she is some high priestess of style, ahead of everyone else in adopting a cropped cuirass with asymmetric hemline as #OOTD, when she is not, and is really posing as Pepper Potts in an incomplete Iron Man Armor MK 1616 (later known as Rescue). Ms Paltrow may be a red carpet fave when it comes to award-night dressing, but she’s hardly a fashion leader in the same league as, say, actor-added-to-her-resume Lady Gaga.

768February issue of Harper’s Bazaar. Photo: Harper’s Bazaar

The remembrance certainty of our digital life perhaps does not go far back enough. In the subsequent media reports of Ms Paltrow’s “cyborg style”, nary a mention of one Japanese designer, who, back in 1980/81, created a bustier that at that time was inconceivable: it was made of fibreglass. Now a collectible and a museum exhibit, appearing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Masterworks: Unpacking Fashion; 2016/27), the Museum at FIT (Love and War: The Weaponized Woman; 2006), , and an unlikely National Gallery of Australia (museum collection), among others, as well as the 1983—1985 Issey Miyake travelling exhibition Bodyworks, in which it was a star attraction, together with another vest made of rattan by the Hayaman bamboo artist Kosuge Shochikudo..

Sure, breastplates were worn by men since Greco-Roman times, but for women that has this particular aesthetic and sheen, we credit only Issey Miyake. It is not clear if Mr Ford’s version is homage to one of the pioneer Japanese designers who showed in Paris in the ’70s/’80s or his very own idea (yes, hard to imagine), but it is rather puzzling that no one saw the similarly. If Ms Paltrow couldn’t see it, well, could we really blame her? She was eight when Mr Miyake thought of making a bustier with a peplum out of a synthetic polymer; she wouldn’t know what that is, or that clothes, like people, could be just as plastic.

Holding The Ford

Tom Ford can’t help but do Tom Ford. His clients, too, expect him to be himself. Is this season then a good Tom Ford?


Tom Ford SS 2020 P1.jpg

Tom Ford has gone underground. But let’s not think of what that would usually suggest. Mr Ford has always been an atas kind of guy; he always projects an uptown vibe even when he tries downtown cool, stays on top of the game than slips to below par. Which means that even when his latest show during New York Fashion Week (NYFW) is staged in a disused New York subway station, you shouldn’t expect a post-design school moment, or a stride with the subversive. This is not homage to the homeless.

He-who-revived-Gucci-in-the-’90s is a devotee of glamour, not grit. Silk satin speaks louder than cotton twill! Sure, he pairs a satin jacket with shorts—basketball shorts(!), but that is no indication of edge—pluck maybe. And, in just-as-shiny fabrics are jumpsuits, which one suspects is for boogieing on down to somewhere fun than (even) to wear to facilitate the transaction of exorbitant art. The potential verve and irregularity that a location such as this may offer is not exploited. Rather, one senses that the celeb-centric clothes are conceived to be mostly worn to dance clubs, such as former New York landmark, the subterranean passage-like The Tunnel.

Tom Ford NYFW SS 2020 G1Tom Ford NYFW SS 2020 G2

What’s interesting to us is that this time, Mr Ford is leading the pack, so to speak, in the much-talked-about re-making of NYFW. He started in June as the new chairman of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), and, as an important first move, shortened the duration of NYFW and, subsequently, initiated what the media has described as “experiential events”, which, from what we have seen online, exclude Mr Ford’s own show. Now that he is wearing two hats, it is not unreasonable to assume that he would want (a slowly fading) NYFW and his namesake presentation to make a significant mark.

However, venue alone—lit purple (liturgical colour?)—is not quite enough to cast the Tom Ford collection in a different light. There is no doubt that the designer courts a particular customer, man or woman. And that these people wear a certain category of clothing that do not include what most of us don to work and even play. These are clothes with an attitude tethered to sexiness and sundown, and society. Mr Ford can’t resist the halter neck, the bra-top, and the slinky dress even if he still offers sharp blazers, and the odd dress with slim skirt, which could be there to keep the collection within the now less important parameters of realness.

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Mr Ford is disposed to homages too. Consistently, he has showed, through his designs, a deep fascination with Halston, even reportedly bought the latter’s famous apartment in the Upper East Side, New York, designed by American architect Paul Rudolph, whose interior design for the Halston House Mr Ford called “one of the great American interiors”, as told to WWD. It is surprising that no one at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art thought of a second Impossible Conversations, this time between Halston and Tom Ford.

This season, however, rather than influence coming from the man associated with disco and Ultrasuede, we see one that can be linked to Issey Miyake, specifically a fibreglass bustier top, first seen in Mr Miyake’s autumn/winter collection shown in Paris in 1980. Mr Ford’s versions—two of them—are shaped differently, and could be made of other material since we are not yet able to determine what is used, but that they immediately bring to mind a very specific garment from the past is hard to overlook. Even with new  stewardship, this, as we see it, is American fashion: a bit of theirs, a bit of others.

Photos: (top/main) Tom Ford, (runway) Vogue,com/Alessandro Lucioni/

Golding Hits Gold

The first Asian leading man becomes the first Asian cover star. But is Henry Golding too white that GQ has to style him to look unmistakably Asian, a la P Ramlee?


HG GQ December 2018

By Mao Shan Wang

I saw it coming and it has arrived. Henry Golding, from the minute Crazy Rich Asian (CRA) hit the big screen, was destined to be big, if not in the coming years, at least this year. He hadn’t been an actor that long (a year?), or in the global public’s eye that frequently, yet he’s made an effortless leap onto the spotlighted pedestal as one of GQ’s Men (and Women, right?) of the Year (which include three other cover stars: Michael B Jordan, Jonah Hill, and Serena Williams). Contrary to the prediction of my colleague’s here at SOTD, I thought a cover, or two, would be inevitable. In an age of obligatory inclusivity, Henry Golding on the cover of a Western/American magazine was a matter of time, and timing.

Excuse me while I look at this cover closely for a moment.

I applaud this GQ cover, but I am not sure I like it. It’s not bad per se, but I am not attracted to it. To me, there’s no pull: you know, the winsomeness that made countless women fall for Nick Young, or the earnestness of expression that says Mr Golding’s possibly Asia’s biggest movie star. I have seen thirty-one-year-old in person, and he’s handsomer and—judge me not for seeing him for the colour of his skin—fairer. The CRA leading man in GQ is styled to look unmistakably Southeast Asian, not just Asian—more abang than oppa.

Malaysia’s New Straits Times, in a quick-response online post earlier today, described Mr Golding on the GQ cover as “dashing”. Aesthetically, it is a dashing that has in common with the dusky debonair that was P Ramlee, who, according to what Mr Golding told the Hollywood Reporter, has been a source of the latter’s inspirasi. Perhaps it’s the colours and the styling, which in sum also reminds me of the Thai spaghetti Western Tears of the Black Tiger. Or, to refer to something more recent, Indonesia’s Buffalo Boys. It’s also the  pomaded, jet-black hair, and the matinee-idol eyes, both evocative of the cinema of long ago, more Cathay-Keris than Warner Bros.

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Mr Golding’s enhanced Asian-ness is, to me, ironic since, as argued in his casting, it is his not totally Asian looks that got him the part, which means, as some say, the leading man is easier to market to American viewers. The magazine conceded that they chose Mr Golding also because “he’s handsome, he’s suave, and that accent. A nation swooned, and GQ did too.” Looks, naturally, came first, but they were sure to emphasise his accent too. You see, not sounding Asian is also a plus. Of course it helps that he’s handsome and suave, but his handsomeness and suaveness is, to be sure, based on Caucasian standards. And old-fashioned too, which means he’s no Ezra Miller.

Hidden Tiger and Crouching Tiger— the highest-grossing foreign-language (possibly Chinese) film produced outside the US in American history—star Chow Yun Fatt is, to many Asian fans, handsome and suave, including his younger co-star Chang Chen, but the editors of GQ will never see them as cover material. Newer, more exposed, more experienced Asian actors, such as main-lander Li Gengxin (Great Wall and Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon), can be handsome and suave too, but they simply do not look angmo pai enough.

To me, Mr Golding’s CRA co-star, the Taiwanese-Australian Chris Pang is just as handsome and suave, if not more, but, in the end, the two men’s fate, I believe, is also in the Asian-ness of their family names. Golding is clearly a lot less so and more marketable than Pang. Although Pang, (which has an English meaning: sharp, sudden pain or sensation), is more pronounceable than, say, Ng, it is the two-syllable Golding that has more of a ring to it. Interestingly, Chris Pang’s Chinese surname is Wu (吴 and he is named育刚 or Yugang). I have not been able to uncover this discrepancy in the family name: how Wu became Pang. Still, neither shares the high tone of Golding. Also the surname of the author of Lord of the Flies, William, Golding has Anglo-Saxon roots and is thought to mean friend (or son) of gold, the colour of Oscar.

Fashion wise, GQ styled Mr Golding with one goal: so that you can call him suave. Tom Ford, his earliest sponsor, had already aimed for that. The thing is Asian men are rarely described as suave. To play down any perceived lack of suaveness, I suspect GQ deliberately played up the retro-sophistication in those jackets that, to me, recall P Ramlee-as-Sazali’s tuxedo in the 1956 film Anak Ku Sazali. For the cover, Mr Golding is in a maroon Dior and in one of the photos within the pages, a bright blue tux-jacket by Dolce & Gabbana. Few men wear such colours, unless they’re a dandy, which is also a rarer, even non-existent, breed among Asian men. This is keeping him in movie-star mode. I think good fortune is smiling on Henry Golding. There are forces determined to ensure that he remains front-row, red-carpet, and magazine-cover worthy.

Photos: GQ

Golding’s Going Places

Henry Golding with Anna & coPhoto: Tom Ford/Instagram

We weren’t going to talk about Henry Golding. Afterall, that movie he’s in has been receiving so much publicity that jelak won’t be adequate to describe the aftertaste. But now that even Vanessa Friedman mentioned “getting to sit across the runway from Henry Golding” at the Tom Ford show during New York Fashion Week, as if she was right in front of the most powerful sultan in the world, maybe we should also join the hulabaloo.

Here, in crazy rich (SE) Asia, the Malaysian media was quick to bask in the first-time actor’s glory of a front-row appearance, with the New Straits Times inferring that the seating arrangement is a “badge of honour” and, since Mr Golding was also placed next to Anna Wintour, “a coveted spot”. The man of that moment was also to the immediate right of Cardi B and a handshake away from Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson. This is the stuff of national pride—Malaysia Boleh high, an achievement Jho Low, despite his Hollywood ties and international fame, have not been able to bring to the people of Malaysia. This is the recognition our own Pierre Png, not quite leading man material, will for now observe with shrouded envy.

That Henry Golding would be charming enough to secure Anna Wintour’s company at Tom Ford’s show is unsurprising. He has clearly won the approval of women who like their heterosexual leads with an affability that is decidedly old-fashioned, unforced, and, when imagined as boyfriend, easy to bring home to meet mom. And looking dapper in Tom Ford, which happens quite a lot for him these days, helps. So winsome he is that when he appeared on The View, all five hosts, including Whoopi Goldberg (who even took a photo with him off-stage, her arms around him!), betrayed their usual toughness to be captivated.

Henry Golding @ Tom Ford.jpgPhoto: Getty Images

Mr Golding has been on Asian television quite a bit before his big movie break, mainly hosting travel documentaries. Especially compelling was Discovery Channel’s Surviving Borneo in which he completed the bejalai—an Iban tribal rite of passage into manhood, usually performed before marriage—in his mother’s homeland of East Malaysia. But it isn’t until now that people are identifying him by race, with the Malaysian media certain to precede his name or glowing nouns with the adjectival specificity of Iban-English(!)—Malaysian apparently not enough. With torso-baring scenes in the well-hyped film, girls are now adding “hottie” to the geographical affirmation, which may now elevate the home of Dayak head hunters to husband-hunting ground.

To Mr Golding, acting wasn’t answering a certain calling. In the UK of his formative years, he was a shampoo boy after secondary school and worked his way up as a hairdresser before landing a job at Richard Ward Hair & Metrospa, a swanky London salon near the Saatchi Gallery and within walking distance from the Sloane Square Tube station. It was after his return to Malaysia in 2008, when the now-ousted Dato’ Seri Najib Tun Abdul Razak was just a deputy prime minister, that he found himself as a presenter for travel shows on television, including the BBC’s, well, The Travel Show. His telegenic presence did not go unnoticed, and PR types and marketing heads keen to come before his comely face were inviting him to many social events, thus augmenting his celebrity status. To us, Henry Golding recalls another Eurasian: the British-Malaysian ethnobotanist James Wong, who, too, has a certain magnetism on television, and has made a name for himself through TV series such as Grow Your Own Drugs and Countryfile, both shown on the BBC.

Before his debut movie could even consider life as a DVD release in Poh Kim Video store, Mr Golding will soon appear in another movie A Simple Favour, opposite the inexplicable Vogue fave, Blake Lively. It is expected to be released globally next week. Whether this will see Malaysia’s favourite son become a movie sensation or a front-row regular, no one is placing a bet yet.

What? The Cold Hip Is Next?

Tom Ford spring/summer 2018

The cold shoulder, still a stubborn trend, seems to be moving southwards. And it could be cold hips, going by the looks of two high-profile, no-stranger-to-provocation collections.

First Tom Ford and then Rihanna for her full-fledged Fenty by Puma were proposing that you wear your trousers low enough and your inner wear high enough to show hips. It’s the new sweet spot that looks set to provide fast fashion retailers with a cold shoulder replacement.

Both brands showed leotards cut so high at the leg that when worn with low-slung pants revealed substantial skin of what gym instructors will know as gluteus medius. Is this the new erogenous zone, the triangular patch to show the skinny side of the panty, just as the cold shoulder is inevitably a window for the stray bra strap?

Fenty by Puma spring/summer 2018

The one-piece top has been pointed out by many in the media as the French-cut swimwear. The French actually do have a name for it: maillot (de bain). It is doubtful Mr Ford intended his for the beach or pool since they are styled to look destined for a bar (pool bar?) or anywhere such attire might be appreciated. But we may not really know as beach wear often appears in the city centre.

The hip for specific exposure is only a matter of time. It’s as if some designers are putting thumb and index finger of one hand to the corresponding two of the other and through the opening, scanning the body to see what other areas should be marked out next for fabric subtraction and eye-catching display.

The cold knee has had a long exposure, so too, staying on the limb, the cold heel—again (thanks to mules, especially Gucci’s fur-trimmed Princeton “slipper”). The cold breast has been in the spotlight, but the take-up rate appears to be a bit slow. The cold buttocks have had had their time in the sun, not to mention what’s between them cheeks (at one time underscored by the thong). What part of the body next can be framed for attention? We don’t know, we’re not Tom Ford.


Ready-To-Wear Is Now Ready-To-Buy

Are you rushing out to shop?

gigi-x-tommy-hilfiger-windowGigi Hadid X Tommy Hilfiger video screen and window display at the Raffles City store

Like many of you, we saw the live stream of the Burberry show on its website yesterday. This time the staging was called The September Show rather than Spring/Summer 2017 as it would otherwise have been known, and it was a platform for both men’s and women’s wear, devised to encourage and meet the urge to spend. The video was 24.35-minutes long although the length of the actual catwalk presentation was 19 minutes. So fast moving was the video that it was hard to see every style in detail or remember what pieces beckoned. We remember that the first impression that struck us was that this could have been a Gucci show.

The clothes were, perhaps, more compelling now that it is possible to buy them after we saw them—a pro-consumer move that was proposed by Christopher Bailey (who relinquished his CEO position to concentrate on creative direction) in February this year. Despite the initial enthusiasm behind the idea, nobody could say for sure how this approach—so uncharacteristic of the catwalk-to-consumer path and time frame of the past—will work out for both retailers and shoppers.

For the purpose of experiencing what the brand thinks will be a thrill of getting something as soon as it appears on the runway, we identified a Burberry cavalry jacket as a potential buy and decided to see if it shall appear in the store soon after to seduce us into wielding a credit card.

burberry-sep-2016A rack of Burberry clothes from The September Show sat discreetly away from the main selling floor of the MBS store

First stop this afternoon was the Burberry store in Ion Orchard. When we walked in, there were surprisingly more customers than service staff. Despite the filled racks, we could not identify anything from The September Show. When a salesperson was available, we asked her about what we came to see and she was quick to say that the collection was already in the store, but the viewing is by appointment only. She offered to take our name to give us a time slot. We declined and she then said that we could come tomorrow to join a “special event” organized for Pin and Prestige readers. Or, “if there’s a style that you really want, we can help you order online.”

When even that failed to entice us, she patiently went on to say that the collection will then be moved to the Burberry store at The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands (MBS), and make a final appearance back at Ion Orchard before it is dispatched, after 2 Oct, to neighbouring cities. This seems to be a trunk show, we thought. She added, “Singapore is very privileged to be the first country in Southeast Asia to see the collection.” According to her, the clothes will then be sent to Bangkok and Seoul. Is it a full collection? Will we see it again? To both questions, she wasn’t sure.

We tried our luck at MBS. The staff here was more sympathetic and happily showed us to a quiet recess of the store—a private lounge—where a low rack of clothes sat as if in a corner of a warehouse. We immediately identified a pink sweater, but the cavalry jacket we wanted wasn’t there; the cape-coat cousin was. Not willing to let down a pair of keen walk-ins, she suggested that we return on the 23rd for “a special event at the ice skating rink. There will be a screening of the show, and you can buy the clothes afterwards.”

tom-ford-at-mbsAt Tom Ford, one single rack, barely filled, of the collection shown at New York Fashion Week

Since we were in MBS, we decided to pop over to Tom Ford, who, too, is adopting the “see now, buy now” model. The staff here was utterly delighted that we had asked for the “New York Fashion Week collection” (we did not know what to call it). She showed us the rack at the rear of the store. There were exactly ten pieces of just five styles. Sensing our disappointment with the smallness of what was in stock, she said, “there will be more stuff coming in on the 30th, but I am not sure if they’re from the runway show.”

We asked if the men’s collection arrived too. She led us to the adjacent section and pointed to a velvet, mirco-dotted, two-button blazer worn on a mannequin. “For men, we only have this one.” It was a near whisper, with regret breathing clear. When did the clothes arrive? “The New York show was on the 8th,” she pointed out helpfully, “we put out the clothes on the 9th. Of course, the clothes arrived in Singapore before that, but Mr Tom Ford won’t allow us to display earlier.”

Mr Tom Ford’s grip was clearly felt this far. He told Derek Blasberg in CNN Style early this month that he would be doing “something new: you will be able to buy the clothes as they come down the runway.” That’s, of course, not the case for us here since there is a 24-hour time difference between Madison Avenue and MBS, but next-day availability is probably speedy enough for those who buy into Mr Ford’s “grown up” elegance dripping with ’70s glamour. Interestingly, Thom Browne also referenced the ’70s, but that’s like a different planet.

tom-ford-mens-jacketFor men, the Tom Ford store at MBS had only one jacket

Still on planet MBS, by then heady with the smell of over-consumption, we decided to traipse over to Ralph Lauren. Mr Lauren had announced during his show, via a note left on the invitees’ seats, that he was “offering every look, every accessory, every handmade detail immediately in my flagship stores around the world and online.” The Singapore flagship’s window on B1 was homage to the quiet colour beige. Inside, it was as hushed: not a word was heard, not a sound. We approached two sales staff and asked, as we did at Tom Ford, for the “New York Fashion Week collection”. Both women looked at us quizzically. The collection that was shown last week outside the RL Madison Avenue store? One of them said, unsmiling, that “there won’t be any new collection as our store will be closing.”

We had not expected our on-the-ground research to be met with such dismal news. Business must have been so bleak that even Ralph Lauren could not wait for their own potentially game-changing and profit-turning “see now, buy now” approach test-run in its own store. Has simultaneous showing and selling met a premature death in Singapore before the idea can be conclusively said to be a success or letdown?

The purpose of “show now, buy now” is to tap the excitement from seeing a presentation, whether on site or online. Sell while it’s trending could be today’s version of the now infrequently used strike while the iron is hot. Fashion and trends are no longer embargoed till clothes reach stores or circumscribed by the catwalk on which they appear, once to a small coterie of people who care about such things. Let loose from the moment the first model appears on the runway, fashion now is a multi-channel, multi-platform, multi-celeb phenomenon that seems to arouse desires than dampen wants.

gigi-x-tommy-hilfiger-displayGigi Hadid X Tommy Hilfiger store display at Raffles City

The “everywhereness”—to borrow from author Laurence Scott’s description of the digital world—of fashion prior to retail has not enrich sellers and shoppers. A rethink of the flow from concept to consumer is, for many brand owners and their CFOs, as vital as cost control. As Tom Ford put it to CNN, “When you can buy something online and have it delivered the same day to your house in lots of key cities like you can now, it seems odd that you would look at clothes online and they would be everywhere, but you can’t have them for five months.”

Wait was definitely not something fans and followers of the model Gigi Hadid had to do.  Her collaboration with Tommy Hilfiger was available during the New York Fashion Week presentation via touch screens set up on site, a one-time fun fair at Manhattan’s South Street Seaport. On our island, the clothes were available the day after the show. We wanted to see for ourselves how talented Ms Hadid is, so we went to the Tommy Hilfiger store in Raffles City (the collection is also available at Ion Orchard and Vivo City—an impressive three points of sale).

“See now, buy now” was a serious and highly visible proposition here. The store was fronted by an island display full of the results of the collaboration (more than anything we saw at the other brands), the window was dressed with two cardboard cut-outs of the model fully garbed in the nautical-themed clothes bearing her name, and, on their left, a video screen was alive with flashing stills of Ms Hadid in poses that won’t give K-pop princesses a run for their money.

A sales staff did not hesitate to point out to us that two items were already sold out: a cap and a thigh-length, double-breasted, wool-blend cape-coat. “What does the coat look like,” we asked, and she whipped out an iPad to show us a product photo. “How many pieces were sold,” we ventured further, genuinely curious. With delight and will to convince, she said, “One.”

Photos: Zhao Xiangji

Can American Designers Ever Get Over Disco And Studio 54?

The New York nightclub Studio 54 opened from 1977 until 1980. It was, at its heyday, the epitome of hedonism and a hotbed of sexually-charged fashions. Thirty five years after it closed, Studio 54 continues to influence American designers. Often times, the club’s sexy, hang-loose, and attention-grabbing attitude feed the imprint of their DNA. It is as if the Seventies never left


Tom Ford SS 2016 P3You Should Be Dancing: Tom Ford’s fashion video for spring/summer 2016. Screen grab: Youtube

The Seventies is a distant past, but is it really behind us? Taste may have forgotten that decade, but designers certainly have not. The influence of the Seventies in the many years that came after was so relentless that until now, we’re still looking at the period as if Ali Magraw had not been dethroned as fashion icon. Like first love, the Seventies is hard to forget.

Similarly, Studio 54, the epicentre of the era, when nothing succeeded like access, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, has not left the collective memory of so many designers, especially those from or based in New York. Short-lived yet long remembered, Studio 54 was home to the styles and the antics so audacious for the time that many who had lived through it and those who have not, still want a piece of it. One memorable caper, however, turned out to be a fallacy, denting the club’s mythic standing: Bianca Jagger was reported to have arrived at Studio 54 on a white horse, but as she told the Financial Times in April this year, she had, in fact mounted a horse that was already there. “Mick Jagger and I walked into Studio 54,” she insisted.

With or without a white stud sending guests into the club, equally striking sequins and high shine took centrestage at Studio 54. Robert Isabell—the famed event planner and floral designer who conceptualised more than one Kennedy wedding—was so inspired by it all that he inundated the club’s floor at one New Year’s Eve party with four inches of glitter. That’s the height of heels! As Ian Schrager—one half of the duo that started the club in 1977—told the New York Times, it was “standing on stardust”..

Gucci by Tom Ford's images for AW 2004Louche luxe: Gucci by Tom Ford’s images for autumn/winter 1996/97. Photos: Gucci

Fast-forward to the present: Tom Ford’s fashion video for spring/summer 2016. It was published (and posted—YouTube, naturally) in place of a runway fashion show. While no stardust was sprinkled, the Nick Knight-directed video’s nod to the Seventies wouldn’t escape even those who have never felt the heat of Disco Inferno. The somewhat bare studio in which it was shot, as well as the overall monochrome does not betray the Soul Train inspiration. Flanked by dancers, the models sashayed on a catwalk of lit, moving oblongs to Lady Gaga’s remake of Chic’s I Want Your Love. The singer appears in the video too, dancing in her usual Mother Monster way, circa 2010. It is nothing like what you’ll see on an actual Tom Ford catwalk. It’s all very dedicated-to-the-Seventies-but-let’s-make-it-cooler.

Looking back has always been fashion’s fixation. While fashion tends to vacillate between then and now, increasingly it’s wedged in then and then. To interpret the past is really reliving the past. Tom Ford may have put out a video worthy of more than a million views, but it is hard to determine if the slick performance is salute or parody, or living a dream. Perhaps, it even warrants a “not again” since Mr Ford’s obsession with the Seventies goes back to the early years of his reign at Gucci.

When Kate Moss opened the Gucci autumn/winter 1996 season with smoky eyes, military coat, silk shirt unbuttoned to the naval, and wide-legged pants, you kind of knew what to expect. By the time those velvet suits came out, you’re clear where they would lead you to. As soon as the first of those six white, silk jersey dresses appeared in the end, the deal was sealed. Tom Ford’s adoration of the Seventies was, finally, homage to Halston, the disco-era fashion giant whose ultrasuede shirt-dresses and slinky silk jersey gowns won the admiration of the stars of the day such as Margaux Hemingway and Angelica Huston.

Studio 54 in New York06 Mar 1978: outside Studio 54. Photo © Michael Norcia/Sygma/Corbis

Halston’s legacy, as journalist Robin Givan rightly pointed out, is in Tom Ford, who revelled in the Halston aesthetic and projected himself to be a social prince akin to the nocturnal prince that Halston was. Tom Ford’s bearing pointed to Studio 54, the party central where Halston spent tremendous amount of time with his pals Liza Minnelli and Bianca Jagger. Tom Ford was still a student then, studying interior architecture at Parsons School of Design. He was also known to frequent Studio 54, where he danced out of the closet and was drawn to older men. It is not clear if he met Halston at all—he was more into trailing handsome Calvin Klein, but Halston’s persona and his glamorous clique had a profound effect on Tom Ford.

Studio 54 created an insatiable desire to party. It was a vortex that sucked people in—famous and not-at-all alike. The other regular was Marc Jacobs, who was reported to have had brought his high school books along in order to depart the club immediately the morning after for class. It wasn’t just the catchy danceable music; it was also the cohort, addled by cocaine, that made you feel mighty real, as sung with palpable delirium by Sylvester. Marc Jacobs was energised by what he saw, even when it was reportedly mostly debaucherous behaviour.

Although Marc Jacobs had leaned on the side of Seventies iconography in his post-grunge years, he pronounced “I heart Seventies” most fervently in his spring/summer 2011 collection. With frizzy hair and kohled eyes, the models strutted unto the catwalk as if just released from a Guy Bourdin shoot. While the close-to-peasant-dresses where a wink to Yves Saint Laurent, everything else could have been Studio 54 all over again, intensified for a social media-ready audience. It was all dressed up with, you sensed, somewhere to go… even if it that place existed only in memory.

Marc Jacobs SS 2011Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough: Marc Jacob’s spring/summer 2011 collection.

LV SS 2011 adHot stuff: Louis Vuitton’s ad campaign for spring/summer 2011. Photo: Louis Vuitton

Love can manifest itself as obsession. As if with his own show wasn’t enough, Marc Jacobs projected the vibe of the Seventies onto his advertising campaigns for Louis Vuitton as well. Lensed by Steven Meisel, the photographs showed models Kristen McMenamy, Freja Beha, and Raquel Zimmermann in set pieces that seemed to acknowledge the influence of the marketing of Yves Saint Laurent’s Opium perfume of 1977. The latter, shot in Saint Laurent’s own Rue de Babylone apartment—in the Buddha Room—by Helmut Newton, saw Jerry Hall ensconced in dim surroundings of plush cushions and cascades of white phalaenopsis. It hinted at nothing particularly Oriental or narcotic, but it did suggest a prelude to something carnal.

Marc Jacobs, installed at Louis Vuitton, had become one of the most feted designers in the world. He had no need to play down his love for a decade that spawned one of the most influential dance clubs of all time, even when a decade and a half earlier in Milan, a fellow American had grooved to a similar beat. He celebrated it—revisiting the visual excesses of the era, allowing artifice to override design. Is it a wonder then that some people think Marc Jacobs, like his compatriot Tom Ford, is more a talented stylist than a brilliant designer?

Studio 54, however, wasn’t the only club that made a mark during the peak of disco. Across the Atlantic, in Paris specifically, Le Palace was the discotheque du jour after the success of Le Sept, a spot that drew the glittery set of the Paris beau monde—both the brainchild of “Prince of the Night” Fabric Emaer. Housed in a 9th arrondissement theatre, Le Palace was opened a year after Studio 54 in 1978. While the latter was frequented by America’s top designers—Halston, Calvin Klein, Diane von Furstenberg, Le Palace was honoured by the best of Paris: Yves Saint Laurent, Karl Lagerfeld, Kenzo. And in place of Bianca Jagger riding a horse was a lithe Grace Jones singing La Vie En Rose astride a pink Harley!

Tom Ford SS 2016 P2I want your love: Lady Gaga in Tom Ford’s fashion video for spring/summer 2016. Screen grab: Youtube

Despite the excesses comparable to Studio 54’s, Le Palace did not have the same sway over French designers as Studio 54 did over the Americans. Yves Saint Laurent was influenced by pop culture, so did Karl Lagerfeld, but their work, unlike their New York counterparts’, was tempered by a tradition known as haute couture. Their designs, despite occasionally leaning towards the street, always had an air of elegance, a generous dose of refinement. Today, no French house banks on the sartorial derring-do of Le Palace to forge ahead.

Studio 54, as with most legends, died before its time was up. In 1980, owners Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell were charged with tax evasion. Both pleaded guilty and were sent to 13 months in jail. On the club’s last night of operation, Diana Ross sang for the offenders. Thirty five years after the last dance, Studio 54 lives on in the hands of Tom Ford, Marc Jacobs, and countless others. As Gloria Gaynor sang hopefully in 1978, “I will survive.”