Bag This Outer

Undercover pairing with Eastpak is not unusual. But the apparel they produced is

Eastpak has collaborated with designers on what they specialise in: bags. Names they have shared on the labelling of their wares include Raf Simons, Vivienne Westwood, and most recently, Margiela. But all these collabs yielded only bags. Until Undercover comes along. Shown during Undercover’s charming autumn/winter 2021 collection in January, the two brands offer not bags per se, but outerwear that constitutes some of the most fetching of the season. This is the first for Eastpak: clothing. And by the looks of it, this may not be the last.

Incorporating bags or fabric used in their manufacturer is a particular area of collaborative design that the Japanese do so well, as previously seen with The North Face and Junya Watanabe, as well as Nanamica for the The North Face Purple Label. In that respect, what Undercover has done with Eastpak is rather late in the game, But, as it is often said, better late than never. And it is hard to imagine the never after seeing these wearing garments with the quirky ‘bag’ details. Should they really be there? Can you store anything in them?

There are at least six styles in the capsule. From a bomber to a parka to a car coat, each comes with bag-pockets of varying sizes, as well as short handles—as seen on the top of backpacks—under the rear of the collar, above the yoke (one even emerges from there). The outers come in some strong colours too, such as the above Wellington yellow, as well as a bright red and a dark green. A real pity that we are not likely in need of one of them. Many of us are not travelling, only dreaming of it.

Undercover X Eastpak launches on Christmas Day at Undercover stores, Tokyo. Photo: Undercover

Compatriots Collaborate

Following their success with Nike, Sacai and Undercover remain in bed without the footwear giant

After the very recent launch of the Nike X Sacai X Undercover LDWaffle, which, as with others before the present release, is unattainable, the two Japanese brands reveal that they are collaborating on their own. Yes, without Nike. The two are on their own, in their very hometown. This time, they have come together to create a tiny capsule of clothing, specifically hoodie/track top and matching pants, very much a product category Nike covers, and, under the Nikelab sub-label, does so very well. It is not clear why Sacai and Undercover have chosen athletic wear to express their combined aesthetic sense. Undercover has an existing line with Nike since 2010, dedicated to running: Gyakusou. We can only guess that Sacai and Undercover are catering to demand for luxury sports fashion.

But what’s truly unusual is that the items—in one style for the top and jogger, and three colours for each set—are not only exclusive to Japan (available, in fact, to the rest of the world via Undercover’s web store.), but are available to order only. According to Japanese media, they are “made-to-order”, but not bespoke. It is likely that the clothes are made when they have received the order. Both brands consider this retail exercise as “limited sale”. This is unusual as sportswear rarely, if ever, is sold in such a way. Local reports also stated that, “sales will end as soon as the maximum number of reservations is reached”. Thankfully, no raffle!

This is not the first time the two Japanese brands have collaborated. More recently, both worked on a “two-phase” collab that saw both brands spice up the Sacai MA-1 bomber jacket and a leather rider’s jacket. Now, the tracksuits, inspired, according to the brands, by the LDWaffle that was released two days ago, is issued as the two-piece item (sold separately) by the brands. It also sports a new logo that features Underground designer Jun Takahashi’s love for retro space crafts, such as flying saucers. Colour-blocking and a touchy of cartoon-y whimsy are perhaps just the stuff to lure those who can’t get their hands on those shoes. However hard they tried.

Photos: Sacai X Undercover

A Lifetime Less Ordinary

Undercover has not gone Madstore bonkers. Their latest offerings are not as street-bent as the brand is known for. Are these clothes for some secret commune?

In troubled times, do people dream of a monastic life? Or something close to that? Undercover’s first set of photos from their pictures-only presentation of their spring/summer 2022 collection suggests a retreat to some place less manic, more bucolic. This is not the setting we imagine Jun Takahashi, stalwart of the Harajuku street scene of the early ’90s, would place his designs in. But there they are, shot against lush hillside greenery, with a foreground of wooden decking that looks like a verandah of someone’s country home. Or, some monastic hideaway. Perhaps it is the hat that each of the first ten models has on—something akin to what a Taoist priest might wear?

The collection is called Once a Lifetime. It is not immediately clear what Mr Takahashi is alluding to. Could it be the pandemic? The WFH? The difficulties in putting a collection together during such a time? Or that maybe, for once in a lifetime, we need clothes that are a reflection of assuring and positive realness? Like the output of so many of the Japanese menswear designers this season, there’s an outdoorsy vibe to the clothes (outside is safer than inside?). But these are not really trekking togs although they wouldn’t be out of place anywhere on a trail (you’d need the right shoes, though). What’s appealing is that they look ready for any rough-and-tumble, for any weather condition, for serious use, not just for leisure pursuits. They are are not challenging clothes, but they have a lure that says, with their addition, you don’t need to revamp your wardrobe.

“No more street style,” Mr Takahashi told Highsnobiety in 2019. He has largely kept to his word. Since his spring/summer 2020 show, Undercover has put out pieces that can add variety to one’s closet, to go beyond what many guys consider comfort clothes. For close to 30 years, Mr Takahashi’s streetwear (not entirely an accurate description since he has offered more than that), with its own conceptual heft and visual flair, was what many aspiring designers look to for some old-fashion inspiration. Mr Takahashi has an uncommon eye for graphic uniqueness that so impressed Valentino’s Pierpaolo Piccioli that the latter initiated a collab with Undercover for spring/summer 2020, featuring Mr Takahashi’s somewhat otherworldly visuals (flying saucers!), placed in not-the-usual spots on the clothes (this collab, to us is the “pinnacle”, not the one with Off-White in 2019!). While there is now a moving away from those elements that make Undercover the brand among those who truly know and are cool at the same time: the beloved graphics remain: T-shirts, roomier than ever, come with colourful shapes that wouldn’t be out of place in a Alexander Calder mobile.

As usual, the outers are alluring. Japanese designers simply have a way with them, and even the unassuming windbreakers show the Undercover predilection for the progressive, and in a sheer nylon the colour of amber. The blazers are beautifully relaxed in silhouette, quite the antithesis of the couture versions shown in Paris that men are now thought to lust after. There is also the hoodie/cargo jogger sets with bag label Eastpak to make the regular customers happy. But this post can’t be complete without mentioning those comforter-like robe-coats—two appearing at the start of the photo set. How these will find their place in a guy’s regular wardrobe is not immediately clear. There is something utterly relaxed about them, and protective. They defy the need to be paired with anything that says ‘fashion’, holding up on their own with positive elan. Perhaps this is the continual appeal of Undercover—they just make handsome, desirable clothes.

Photos: Undercover

When Art Slips In

Undercover’s Jun Takahashi combines art and fashion so effortlessly

Fashion may not be art (we’re not initiating a debate), but art can sure work its way into fashion. Jun Takahashi has always been a designer with a strong graphic sense, which explains why Undercover T-shirts, with their offbeat illustrations, are massively popular at both the Madstores anywhere and the brands flagship in Aoyama, Tokyo. And, the collaboration with Valentino two fall seasons ago, seducing fans of both labels with a curious and compelling mix of flying saucers, alphabets, Beethoven, and Edgar Alan Poe in thoughtful collages that are really more arty than it is, as some KOLs thought, street. The subversive bent that Mr Takahashi is known for was ever present too.

But there has never really been art, as defined by the art world, until now. For his latest collection, Mr Takahashi collaborates with the Swedish painter, Markus Åkesson, known for his photorealistic portraits of persons completely wrapped, up to the head, in floral fabrics that would give Richard Quinn an orgiastic thrill. The anonymity of the subjects and the fashion-worthy cloths for both model and background makes for compositions that are odd and beautiful, or oddly beautiful, which may also describe Undercover’s unconventional application of graphics in clothes that are, well, oftentimes conventional. This is one of the most synergistic collaborations between artist and designer, something not always evident with those who have previously tried.

Art on clothes—that are often described as streetwear—in the hands of Mr Takahashi is beguiling. Most of the garments are Undercover on familiar territory: pullovers, hoodies, blousons, parkas, and such. But the application of the art, composed without loss of the visual impact of the original, elevates the pieces. as elevation is meant to transmit. The familiar becomes unfamiliar, the everyday becomes occasion-worthy. While not many might wear a poster-size delineation of an unknown on their front or back, there would be those who has no qualms in striking portraiture as part of their sartorial expression. Mr Takahashi, like many of his compatriots, has also a weakness for workwear, for utilitarian details, and this season he does not disappoint. One standout detail: a bag attached to outerwear (in collaboration with Eastpak), which we suspect is used to also house the garment itself when folded for compact transportability.

Undercover is one of the most popular menswear labels in Japan. One of the reasons why they’re so esteemed and followed is the immediacy of everyday usability in their products, without sacrificing design. And all the while not losing the punk sensibility that still filters through from his early days as band member of The Tokyo Sex Pistols. Jun Takahashi may not consciously position himself as a streetwear designer (his underrated womenswear is proof), but fans won’t think otherwise. Accessibility has always been his strength. Even when there is the application of art, as is the case this season, the pieces do not distance themselves as objects so rarefied that they’re untouchable.

Photos: Undercover

DSM Gives Back

A fashion retailer that cares is a fashion retailer that wins


DSM IG announcement Jul 2020

Dover Street Market has announced an initiative that applies to the country/city where it has a physical store. Buy a T-shirt from the “Fearless” collection, and “100% of its proceeds go to charities supporting healthcare workers in each of the six DSM regions”. Here, what you pay for will instead go to Beyond Social Services, described on their website as “a charity dedicated to helping children and youths from less privileged backgrounds break away from the poverty cycle”. Enjoying fashion and serving a good cause feel right (and good?) now.

Fearless involves some of the biggest names in luxury fashion, as well as streetwear, twenty eight of them that DSM considers as “friends”. And the store is well-supported. To look out for are Raf Simons, Sacai, Undercover, and Valentino, and, for streetwear junkies, Awake NY, Bianca Chandon, Clot, just to name three. The objective is as simple as it is charitable: “…to create a simple collection of T-shirts that help to spread positive energy through the wider DSM global community and out into the world,” according to DSM.

DSM tees Jul 2020

Fearless comes hot on the heels of the Social Justice Charity Capsule, conceived by the sub-brand CDG to support the Black Lives Matter movement. What were first designed as uniforms for staff to wear to welcome shoppers back to the store after lockdown have become available for sale, presumably due to the intense interest from customers. The positive messages on the garments along the lines of “Believe in a better tomorrow” sync with the present global sentiment that calls for massive social change.

Prices of the T-shirts are not yet available as we hit the publish button. It is hard to make a guess as DSM does carry tees of a rather wide price range. We suspect they will retail for SGD100 upwards. This may not be considered outrageous since many are from trending brands. We are certain Doublet’s design of a heart shape, composed of Post-It notes with handwritten messages on them will be first to be snapped up. The Fearless Initiative launches tomorrow at DSMS, as well as online. Shop and do some good.

Photos: (main and products) DSM. Collage: Just So

PFW: The Japanese Brands Not Comme des Garçons Or Yohji Yamamoto, Or Issey Miyake

Designers decamping Tokyo for Paris are not just the ones from many moons ago. Here, we take a look at the few that we have been watching regularly and closely… even before their move to the fashion capital of the world 


PFW JapaneseCollage: Just So. Photo: Undercover

Paris has always been the ultimate destination for Japanese designers to show and to sell to the world. Not all who participate in Paris Fashion Week (PFW), however, enjoy the longevity of the Tokyo big three: Issey Miyake, Comme des Garçons, and Yohji Yamamoto. Or the hype that follows the newish names, such as Junya Watanabe and his one-time employee Chitose Abe of Sacai, who was just invited to be the first guest designer for the re-thought Jean Paul Gaultier haute couture collection. It requires no big-data analysis to understand how irresistible it still is to show in Paris. After all, their compatriots have successfully laid the path in the ’70s and ’80s, and wanting to emulate their ways for the attendant success and fame is totally expected, even rational.

Although Japanese designers have participated in PFW for more than four decades, not many show consistently. Some, such as Mihara Yasuhiro, Auralee’s Ryota Iwai, and Kolor’s Junichi Abe (Chitose Abe’s husband, but according to the Tokyo grapevine, “former”) continues only with the Men’s PFW although they design for both sexes. And there are those who have come and gone, such as Masaki Matsushita, Keita Maruyama, Akira Onozuka (or Zucca), and Issey Miyake alum Chisato Tsumori, and Yohji Yamamoto’s former rep in Paris Atsuro Tayama (both Ms Tsumori and Mr Tayama, to be sure, still operate showroom and studio respectively in the city). Paris may be welcoming but that does not mean it is conducive to recognition or propitious to international stardom. 

By the mid-’90s, a Japanese in Paris is no longer novel or necessarily a draw, but the few who stayed and those who continued to come do keep PFW nicely varied, just as their critical acclaim were too. Although the big names are still attracting media attention with their headline-ready collections, as well as massive fan turn-up, the smaller brands are, to us, doing just as challenging (if not more) work that continue to put Japanese design thinking and aesthetical uniqueness in the spotlight. In view of the COVID-19 outbreak, most Chinese designers have dropped out of PFW this season. Conversely, the Japanese have largely stuck to their original schedules. Here, six Japanese names or brands to note and, perhaps, to enjoy.


Anrealage AW 2020Photos: Filippo Fior/

Even in Tokyo, Anrealage is a relatively quiet brand, despite its own compelling flagship, opened in 2016 in the luxury shopping district of Aoyama, off the famed Omotesando, not far away from Sacai’s own. Perhaps things will change for the brand founded by Kunihiko Morinaga. In Paris, Anrealage is increasingly drawing critical acclaim and back home in Tokyo, a new corner within the refurbished Shibuya Parco is drawing more shoppers to this 17-year-old brand. Often described as “strong” and “directional”, Anrealage is especially appealing among fashion folks with a yen for the Japanese avant-garde—in particular among those who are less drawn to the labels under the Comme des Garçons kasa (傘 or umbrella). 

Anrealage debuted in Paris in 2014 with the spring/summer 2015 collection. Yet, only last year was the brand getting the attention it deserves when Mr Morinaga was one of eight finalists for the 2019 LVMH Prize. Although he did not win it (South Africa’s Thebe Magugu clinched the award), he continues to show that Anrealage is not only a label to follow, but to covet as well. In Japan, he was named Best New Designer for the Shiseido Sponsorship Award at the 29th Mainichi (national daily newspaper) Fashion Grand Prix held in Tokyo, cementing his reputation as the one to rise, not merely to watch. Collaborations with Onitsuka Tiger, Dickies, and Bearbrick will only yard-up the brand’s popularity.

Mr Morinaga told Japan House last year: “I’m not interested in making something overly offbeat. My aim is to design clothes that inject a little bit of intrigue in the everyday.” Perhaps a bit of an understatement when one considers that the striking collection of the autumn/winter 2020 season, which continues to see Mr Morinaga bringing together, as in the past, what he calls “the real and the unreal”. Wearability is paired with the seemingly anti-body. The coats, for instance, appear almost two-dimensional, as if animating a paper pattern, which bear a resemblance to the giant clothes that front the Parco store. Unreal, but delightfully so.

Beautiful People

Beautiful People AW 2020Photos: Filippo Fior/

Like many Japanese designer gaining an increasingly audible bleep on the PFW radar, Hidenori Kumakiri of Beautiful People can call the veritable launching pad of careers, Comme des Garçons, alma mater. And like other alums, such as Chitose Abe, Mr Kumajiri was a pattern maker, in his case, for CDG Homme. After six years in their employ, he started his own label. And the preciseness that came with the previous tenure stuck along. A Japanese precision. As he once told Tank magazine, “When you train as a pattern cutter at Comme des Garçons, you always want to make everything perfect.”

Beautiful People may sound like a spin-off of Rachel Ashwell’s Shabby Chic, but the former has way more bite than the latter’s teeth-less chew. His designs underscore Mr Kimakiri’s technical skills—no shape too unmanageable, no seam too unplaceable. The designer describes his kooky elegance “French chic–meets–Japanese pop”. But that is, to us, a little misleading as Beautiful People is more than the coming together of divergent West and East, soigné and Shibuya. From the start, there has been poles apart meeting in the middle. Male and female don’t blur, but happily co-exist, so too are top and bottom, front and back, and even, oddly, child and adult. In fact, Mr Kimakiri’s initial impact was in what he called “Kid Series”—“children’s clothes for grown-ups”. So popular they have been, the Kid’s Series is a permanent sub-collection.

But make no mistake, this is not hybridising as the Japanese are known for and wont to do. As seen in Beautiful People’s autumn/winter 2020 show, the coming together of different components aims for a certain harmony rather than discord. In excess was not military-coat-meets-sundress, jumper-conjoined-to-shirt, trousers-couple-skirts. Or, Y-Project-style amalgamation of individual garments. Rather, Beautiful People, shown in Paris since the spring/summer 2017 season, cleverly pulls opposing forces together in a way that one barely notices until the trench coat, for instance, reveals the appealing rather than disagreeable other side of its Two-Face. In a word, beautiful.


mame AW 2020Photos: Mame

Mame (pronounced mah may, as in ‘bean’ in Japanese) is the brainchild of Maiko Kurogouchi, alum of Bunka Fashion College and, professionally, Issey Miyake. Dubbed “the next Sacai” by Western media, Ms Kurogouchi’s aesthetic is, conversely, unlike the former’s, although at times, they share a certain enhanced femininity—between a wayward schoolgirl and bored housewife—that is uniquely and identifiably Japanese. More significantly, Ms Kurogouchi is not the chronic hybridiser that Chitose Abe is. In fact, among all the designers in this brief list, she offers clothes closest to what many consider conventional and not a fright or challenge to a potential mate. Or, as she calls it—by a rather archaic-sounding descriptor, “timeless”.

The ten-year-old Mame showed in Paris since the fall season of 2019, which makes the label a PFW baby. In fact, at 35, the brand’s Nagano-born founder is the youngest too. Her age, however, belies her experience, especially in incorporating Japanese craft, textile, and age-old techniques in her designs, without going into national-dress territory, or costume-y nostalgia. While those who find pleasure in the alt may consider her designs too straight for expressing their far-out side, many of the label’s fans adore Mame’s familiar silhouettes, within which traditional Japanese elements are judiciously applied, not to pander to Western sense of Eastern exotica (even when she’s showing in Paris), but to extend the longevity of homeland craftsmanship and skill.

This season, Mame’s womanly silhouette and sense of femininity are enhanced with draping, asymmetry, and a strong use of open-work fabrics. Ms Kurogouchi, more than any of her compatriots, seems determined to contradict the belief that Japanese fashion is, by default, outré, never mind that she cut her teeth with one of the most way-out-inventive designers that emerged from Japan: Issey Miyake. In addition, a collaboration with the Italian shoe brand Tods that features clothing and accessories (dropping this month in stores) will likely see Mame as champion of the sanely swish.

Noir Kei Ninomiya

Noir KN AW 2020Photos: Alessandro Lucioni/

As it’s often said about design that is above the ken of the average fashion consumer, Kei Ninomiya’s Noir line, produced by the Comme des Garçons group, is not for the faint of heart. Of all the names linked to CDG, where quite a few of today’s successful Japanese designers with an international reputation graduate professionally, Kei Ninomiya takes to the CDG spirit most closely and ardently. In fact, oftentimes, his designs are more complex and the assembling more intricate than his famous employer’s museum-ready pieces. Mr Ninomiya had admitted to i-D magazine last year that “it is all very tough, to be honest. Even if you have an image in your head, there are cases where it is hard to actually make it.”.

One of three CDG brands that shows in PFW, Noir (as it is mostly known) was born in 2012, when Mr Ninomiya was only 28. The brand made its Paris debut in the spring/summer season of 2016. A graduate of Antwerp’s famed Royal Academy, he was reported to be unable to sew at the time he joined CDG. Mr Ninomiya corrected that perception by telling the media that he did eventually learn to sew as it was taught at CDG. Even with the skill, he conceived Noir to involve little sewing. The clothes in body-obscuring forms are often knitted (not necessarily with yarn), strung together by means of polygonal links, or held together by press studs. With Noir, one never thinks of how the clothes would be stored, washed, or ironed.

Despite naming his brand after the French word for ‘black’, the collections do sport some colour, such as this season’s reds, including their metallic cousins. Or, its opposite, white. Black, however, is still core to the collections. As Mr Ninomiya told i-D, black “is the absence of colour, and without colour you can emphasise the form and technique and create simple and strong designs.” While irrefutably strong rather than simple, these forms and techniques are best appreciated by confronting the clothes upfront (easily in CDG-owned Dover Street Market). One then senses that Kei Ninomiya is really more a proponent of crafting than mere sewing.


Toga AW 2020Photos: Alessandro Lucioni/

A brand’s success could perhaps be assessed by the demands of pieces done in the past. At Toga’s new space in Shibuya Parco, substantial rack space is dedicated to pieces from the Archive, and the interest in them is no less than anything grouped under New Arrivals. Toga may be relatively unknown in the west, even here in the east, but in Japan, Toga is not only covetable, they’re collectable. A sales staff in Tokyo’s most popular vintage clothier Rag Tag told us in December last year, “very hard to see Toga. Every time we put something out, it’s gone.” Such is the response to the brand among the cognoscenti that the rapidly growing awareness and popularity of Toga in Paris is really a matter of time than the influence of social media.

Interestingly, Toga founder Yasuko Furuta had her start in the retailing of vintage fashion, which may explain the existence of Archive—good designs need not be forgotten when the season is over. A graduate of the esteemed fashion school Esmod Paris, Ms Furuta returned to Tokyo and worked as a stylist before starting Toga in 1997. She presented the brand’s first runway show in Paris in 2006, with an autumn/winter collection called Monastic. But if that is suggestion of bleak and spare designs, then the name is a misnomer. Toga, till today, is a technical powerhouse of mixing vintage clothes, couture styles, and what may be considered Shibuya street, and then deconstructed to yield clothes that are different yet unquestionably wearable.

For autumn/winter 2020, Ms Furuta offers pieces, such as shirting and blazers, rooted in men’s wear, but given her unmistakably feminine twist. The sum reveals Ms Furuta’s flair for taking what women already wear or are familiar with and giving them unexpected design elements within those ready confines. Her clothes are not weird for the purpose of standing out strange. Rather, she challenges the notion that appealing, feminine fashion must not differ between those for mother and daughter, boss and co-worker, even just the usual she and her. And the past can certainly join the present in an easy, fascinating alliance.


Undercover AW 2020Photos: Undercover

To be sure, Undercover is not new. Against the rest here, designer Jun Takahashi’s an old hat. Yet, until his stupendous collaboration with Valentino last fall, only streetwear fans seem to relate to what he does, which, for some of us, is a little annoying. We feel that he should be included in this list because his Undercover has been, in our opinion, unfairly considered and labelled as a bona fide streetwear brand, even in his native Japan, just because he has found considerable success with Madstore, the candy shop for casual clothes, bags, and toys; and earlier, in the 1993, the truly streetwear venture Nowhere that he started with T-shirt king Nigo.

Mr Takahashi’s trajectory in the streetwear sphere is a little unexpected, considering that he had received the blessings of none other than the high priestess of the Japanese avant-garde herself, Rei Kawakubo. According to popular telling, Ms Kawakubo had been impressed with Undercover as early as the mid-’90s, and had invited him to Paris, where the now-closed multi-label store Colette was so taken by Undercover that they invited Mr Takahashi to present the 1998 collection ‘Exchange’ in their Rue Saint-Honoré store. Just four years later, Undercover presented their first PFW collection for spring/summer 2003.

Despite his streetwear leaning, Mr Takahashi has shown tremendous design mastery, coupled with astounding imagination that sees his work recall fairy-tale-like characters in what could be tableaux akin to old masters’ paintings. The two-time Mainichi Fashion Grand Prize winner has a way with taking the unconventional garment construction that the Japanese before him were known for, and giving it the streetwear currency that he is able to communicate.

That he can draw from both the popular and the more cerebral, such as Akira Kurosawa’s 1957 film, Throne of Blood—which re-imagined Shakespeare’s Macbeth—for the autumn/winter 2020 collection (surprisingly not shown on a catwalk), is both amazing and admirable. The Renaissance seen through the eyes of, say, street artist Shepard Fairey—underpinnings and ruffles go with khakis, and here and there, prints of roses and razor blades! The Pirates of Penzance for the stomping grounds of PFW! Is it any wonder that The New York Times called him “The Sorcerer of Fashion”?

Mad And Good

Go crazy! The first in Southeast Asia, Undercover’s Madstore is a provision shop that happens to be a hipster hub


Madstore P1

By Gambier Tan

Way before yesterday’s published opening time of Undercover’s debut Madstore in SG, a pop-up in the main atrium of ION Orchard, fans of Jun Takahashi’s label were milling in front of the un-walled and un-glassed-up space, eyeing what to cop. It is not known that any merch stocked here would be in limited quantities, but it looked to me that many of the impatient shoppers weren’t taking any chances.

Their palpable enthusiam is understandable and was to be expected. This is Mr Takahashi doing what compatriot Nigo had done so well with A Bathing Ape many years ago: creating cool fashion products with a streetwear bent that are priced attractively—not too cheap and not too expensive; the sweet spot of S$120 on average for a T-shirt. Although A Bathing Ape was sold to Hong Kong’s IT Group in 2011, its merchandising approach and sharp pricing continue to influence later Tokyo streetwear brands and retailers such as Ground Y and Atmos.

Madstore P2Madstore P3

To enhance the ‘Mad’ experience, Mr Takahashi takes it further by vending not only the clothes with the off-centre graphics that he is known for, but also zany products that enhance the crazy-cool illustrations that are often applied on the clothes, so alluringly that they enticed Pierpaolo Piccioli to commission Mr Takahashi to design beguiling collages for Valentino this season. Whether happy coincidence or deliberate strategy, I couldn’t tell, but the Madstore pop-up sat directly opposite the temporary Valentino shoe and handbag store.

I mention Nigo on purpose. Back in 1993, he opened his first store Nowhere with Jun Takahashi—then also the vocalist of the the cover band Tokyo Sex Pistols—in the yet-to-be-trendy part of Harajuku known locally as Ura-Harajuku (or urahara for short, the ‘back’ of Harajuku, now punctuated with many too-hip sneaker stores). Undercover was born earlier—in 1990, but I suspect Nowhere allowed Mr Takahashi to plant the seed that would eventually sprout as the precursor to the Mad Store, the Mad Market.

Madstore P4.jpg

I remember the Mad Market well. It was initially sited in Undercover’s flagship store in Aoyama, Tokyo, next to what had been the 10 Corso Como Comme des Garçons store. Unlike the unmistakable look of the Madstore, with the red (or green) utilitarian display units, the Mad Market, as the name suggests, was more ichiba in its approach and was an organised jumble of ‘vintage’ (past season, including samples), current, and pre-loved Undercover clothes, collab merchandise, other brands (such as the Spanish head wear label Buff) and assorted knick-knacks, as well as furniture. Somehow, it reminded me of the now-defunct Comme des Garçons Guerrilla store.

Fast forward to 2015, the Mad Market morphed into the Madstore and it debuted in the old Parco Shibuya Part 1, in a space opposite the maze-like Comme des Garçons. This Madstore was curated to weaken even the most controlled shopper into opening up his wallet. The space was a veritable provision shop! You just sensed that there was something to be bought. And it was filled with many products priced at what retail analysts would call entry level.

Madstore P5Madstore P6

But affordable did not mean aesthetically lame. In fact, Undercover merchandise—from T-shirts sporting the iconic teddy bears with blocked-out eyes to purses in the shape of edibles such as celery sticks to home wares such as the fanged burger lamp—communicate a visual language that has its roots in punk, but draws one in with the immediacy of those of Supreme, oftentimes with a dose of irreverence and provocative humour—photo prints of supposed Biblical images with ‘Mad’ printed conspicuously in a corner!

I have always found Undercover’s high-toned casual wear appealing, whether in its own outlets, in an Isetan corner, or in the Madstore. It is in the latter that perhaps one might find browsing—a ritual overtaken by online scrolling—the merch fun. Undercover may be a fashion label, but Madstore lives up to the brand’s motto: We Make Noise Not Clothes. However, this is no clamour; rather, the merchandise mix is a chatter that one might find in a delicatessen, a hum of admiration by those in the know.

Madstore P7bMadstore in Laforet, Harajuku, Tokyo

My observation showed me that the visitors to the Madstore pop-up are well aware of what it offered and the appeal within. I saw shoppers eyeing not only the large selection of tees (the one with the underscored U appeared popular) and the logo-ed windbreakers, but also the sub-brands of JohnUndercover and SueUndercover, as well as the small accessories, such as Medicom Toy danglies, which, at S$30 a pop for the Undercover teddy bear mascot, is the cheapest product to purchase.

According to the staff, this is “the first (free-standing) Madstore in Southeast Asia” (opened in partnership with Club 21, but Isetan in Kuala Lumpur, too, has recently erected a mini-me version) and the largest outside Japan (it looks to me to be about the same size as the one in Laforet, Harajuku). But this is not the first time Madstore appeared on our shores. It was first introduced to us as a small, against-a-single-wall unit in Dover Street Market Singapore, adjacent to the now closed stretch of Good Design Store. Later, some of the Madstore merch was (and still is) available in Undercover’s dedicated space. Wherever it appears, I’d say retail here could really do with going ‘Mad’.

The Undercover Madstore is opened till 12 November 2019 at level 1 atrium, ION Orchard. Photos: Galerie Gombak and Jiro Shiratori

Just As Good Without The Collaboration

Are sneakers sans designer association less desirable or not as worthy? We think not


Nike Daybreak SP opNike Daybreak SP in the newest colour combo following the success of the collaboration with Undercover

Sneakers linked to designer names are getting not only discouragingly expensive but also annoyingly difficult to score. Apart from creating a buying frenzy and enormous publicity for the respective brands, collaborative outputs are known for their scarcity. That is, of course, the intention from the beginning of the coming together of two major brands, but what’s good for them is often a bummer for the rest of us—many, it should be noted, defiantly adverse to the ridiculous resale market. No one can explain satisfactorily why a company such as Nike, this year ranked 14th on the ‘World’s Most Valuable Brand’ by Forbes (just two spots below LVMH), can’t produce enough shoes to meet demand.

Most designers who collaborate with sneaker brands work on existing or old or out-of-commission models. At some point, brands will release said model either simultaneously or after the release of the former, in the wake of the reiteration’s success. Nike’s much anticipated React Element 87 from last year, conversely, was a new silhouette and was first launched with Undercover. The shoes, seen all over the Web in their colourful glory, piqued so much interest that they were never, till this day, available in quantities that can satisfy even a quarter of the demand. When the non-collab version finally came out shortly after, they too were so often sold out that people started to wonder if the React Element 87 were really phantom footwear. But at least those could still be seen, even if infrequently, and you stood a chance to cop a pair.

Nike React Element 87 in the slightly off-beat colours of the latest drop

So many of us are now wondering why we allow ourselves to go weak in the presence of the increasingly mindless hype of collaborative kicks. Enough doubt, in fact, that we are beginning to consider the OG (original release) version rather than be disappointed by the failure to cop the designer-linked. Nike, for one, seems to know that (or plotted such an outcome). Following the success of their second pairing with Undercover, a compelling born-again Daybreak, the Swoosh released the OG version quickly enough in no less appealing colours, such as the latest Ocean Fog/Mountain Blue/Metallic Gold (top). Sure, these are not like what Undercover cleverly and unexpectedly did, but they are no less handsome or covetable.

Merely bringing back a style from the past may not be enough to ensure new interest or relieve consumers from retro-kicks fatigue. Look at Nike’s own Cortez: even the expensive Bella Hadid—in an uninspiring campaign—could not save the shoe from lacklustre retail performance. A “premium product” at the start of the Nike brand, the Cortez now looks merely retro, without the edge that other brought-back-from-about-the-same-time sneakers radiate. Perhaps, what the Cortez needed was a pre-comeback designer touch. Post-collab, the Daybreak seems even more desire-rousing than the React Element 87, proving that it can survive the consumer tastes of 2019. The Undercover spin paved the way for new interest in a shoe that, by itself, may not have returned from forgotten glory, especially in the wake of more bombastic offerings such as the over-the-top Sacai-led LDV Waffle Daybreak.

This month, Adidas Originals released Ozweego with a dedicated window at AW Lab

In fact, OGs following successful collaborations so increase the visibility of the shoes themselves that sneaker brands are now dedicating some brought-back-from-obscurity OGs for major launches. Adidas Originals has had some triumphs with their designer partnerships even if they are not as headline-winning as Nike’s. One of them is their attention-grabbing and wildly successful work with Raf Simons in 2013, in the form of the Ozweego (version 1), a shoe already known for its “aggressive” form (meaning the Balenciaga Triple S of its time), yet Mr Simons was able re-imagine it to stunning and, surprisingly, unrecognisable effects. The results, as expected, are forbiddingly expensive—mostly above S$500 a pair.

With keen interest generated by the more avant-garde forms of the co-branded version and a large base unable to own them because of their discouragingly high price, Adidas rolled out the Ozweego, an update on the 3rd version of the style released in 1998, these past months, in the hope of recapturing the success it had with Mr Simons. Priced mostly at S$160, it is easy and tempting to bite, even if the shoes are a far cry from the designer versions. That these born-in-the-Nineties kicks now come looking geekier than before (and in Insta-worthy colours unfortunately not yet available here) won’t hurt its chances at being wildly popular.

Adidas Ozweego Aug 2019In its latest form, the Adidas Originals Ozweego looks quite unlike the the version conceived in collaboration with Raf Simons that sparked massive interest

Adidas Originals has, of course, a track record with strong designer collaborations and then following them up with even more partnerships while simultaneously releasing original releases and updated versions with the same fire as those (still) playing Pokémon Go to keep Pikachu and company very much alive. What comes immediately to mind is the Stan Smith—probably the biggest reboot success of the decade, so lucrative and gainful to the German shoe maker and so delightful to fans that Adidas is still producing and updating the Stan Smith up till today, allowing the former tennis kicks (and the cousin Superstar) to outsell every Nike sneaker released in 2017, according to media reports.

The Three Stripes showed rather convincingly that classics can become cool and cool can become classic (again). One of the later collaborations that amplified the Stan Smith’s fashion cred is with Raf Simons (check out their odd ‘Peachtree’ Stan Smith). New versions still appear and collectors, it is known, are not satiated yet. The Stan Smith’s undeniable popularity poses problems too, chiefly imitation, not just among Taobao brands, but with luxury names too. Even Gucci can’t resist—their unapologetic take, the Ace, is the conventional, retro-strong sneaker that those not quite into the chunky Rhyton buy with complete and entertaining abandon.

Nike Air Skylon II Armo opNike Air Skylon II is this year’s geek kicks made good, thanks to Fear of God

Not all designer collaborations trump the OG reissues. Some, in fact, look better than the result of partnered tinkering. Nike’s working together with Fear of God in the Air Skylon II resulted in a shoe that did not quite shake the ground on which the kicks would walk on. Sure, there’s the toggle lacing that replaces the conventional laces, but this isn’t quite the heel clip of the Nike X Underground Daybreak. There is, of course, the “luxury” upper, but the ‘Black’ and ‘White’ of the first issues last year, are hardly the colours of post-IG era or the enough-of-basics buying sentiment of today. Drake seen in a pair with his usual I-am-not-wearing-anything-special nonchalance may have brought attention to the collaboration, but not quite enough to subsequently send the kicks must-have soaring.

Yet, it is the designer-free Air Skylon II (debuted in 1992) that we at SOTD find especially appealing. Visually, this is not anywhere near the colourful Air Max 270 React, a shoe that may one day be as remembered as the Roshe Daybreak (who can now recall the Roshe One?!). Still, the Air Skylon II is a charming show of retro silhouette and creative colour story, both coming together to striking and irresistible effects. If only more brands, not only Nike, can whip up such a commercial yet compelling mix. And charge prices that do not match the versions with designer cachet.

Nike Daybreak SP, SGD159, is available at; Adidas Originals Ozweego, SGD160, is available at AW Lab; Nike Skylon II, SGD159, is available at The Foot Locker. Photos: Chin Boh Kay

Close Up: Another Elusive One

Even with a second drop, this well-hyped Nike X Undercover shoe is nearly impossible to cop. Some sneaker-seekers wonder if it actually exits. It does and it’s totally desirable


Nike X Undercover Daybreak P1

Nike and Undercover are playing hide and seek with us again. The second drop of their latest collab, like the hitherto nearly-impossible-to-find Element React 87 (including and especially the Undercover versions), is seen all over the Net, on every social media account you bother to follow, but in stores, both Nike and indie retailers, you’ll be convinced that, unlike the Gyakusou imprint produced by Nike and Jun Takahashi, all releases by the Swoosh and the brand that “makes noise, not clothes” are more holy grail than hot cakes.

The latest is a remake of the 1979 Daybreak, a sneaker Nike proudly calls “old-school”. But Jun Takahashi is never so obvious. Old-school in his hands can be retro-futuristic. And it is his not-quite-running-shoe-looking take that is clearly the draw. Crossing into “luxury streetwear” territory (but nothing as bland and repetitive as Yeezies), the new Daybreak—also known as Dbreak in some reports and e-shops—has all the elements that knowing sneakerheads call cool: a recognisable form factor, daring colour combinations (such as the second drop’s ‘bright citron’ or lemon yellow), and a defining feature—here an exaggerated “heel clip”.


Nike X Undercover Daybreak P2

It is really this heel clip (which looks inserted and can be removed, but not at all) in molded and speckled plastic extending upwards and outwards from the natural curve of the heel that really allows the shoe to stand out, if not stick out. And, win so many fans. While this detail in the rear is more decorative (a frame for Undercover’s underscored-U logo) than functional, it does give the shoe an edge that no other recent Nike release—even the Nike X Sacai LD Waffle Daybreak, with the superfluous double Swooshes—can top.

What is especially appealing to us is the Daybreak’s opposite of the dad silhouette that has belatedly gripped the imagination of the sneaker-buying public here. In your hands, the shoe may appear a tad too early Nike running shoes, but when worn there’s a slim-line sleekness that has been missing in sneakers since the return of the Stan Smith in 2014 or post-Balenciaga Triple S—the kick that really kicked aside all shoes not as ungainly. Who’d thought that crowded-train-unfriendly hippopotamus of a sneaker was going to thrill the trainer fan?

Nike X Undercover Daybreak P3

In fact, Undercover’s Jun Takahashi is not a hypebeast you’d call a trend follower. Just look at everything he has done with Nike for his Gyakusou spin-off brand. Except perhaps the collab with Valentino, there is almost nothing in his arsenal that suggests he is swayed by the most-liked post in Sneaker Freaker. That is, ironically, his burgeoning appeal and possibly why all the Nike X Underground releases are maddeningly limited. Sometimes, brands just don’t love you back.

Second Time Lucky

By Ray Zhang

I have written about my frustration with copping the Nike X Undercover Daybreak. So, truth be told, I gave up. I convinced myself that I do not need another over-hyped sneaker and had, in fact, eyed the Daybreak SP in Ocean Fog/Mountain Blue/Metalic Gold. Then on a Saturday morning, I received a call from a friend. He was in the Nikelab store in Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, and the “luxury” Daybreak was just released. No one in the store, it seemed, was concerned with the raging protest at the city’s international airport. It was a buying frenzy. Did I want a pair? Should he be scolded for the redundant question?

Nike X Undercover Daybreak P4

When I finally was able to unbox them shoes, they did live up to the rave so madly generated. These are rather special kicks. Even in the tissue that they were nestled in, I could immediately discern that one day in the future, the Nike X Undercover Daybreak will be considered one of the most important releases of the present decade alongside the partnership’s React Element 87. Once in my hands, I was overwhelmed by an elation I have never experienced before. Can a mere pair of sneakers basically hauled back from the past do this to me?

The shoe deserves admiration before the feet are placed in them. The heel clip, as it’s called, is really quite something: who would have thought of drawing attention to the sneaker’s otherwise nondescript back side? Apparently Jun Takahashi had. In fact, it appears that he left most of the shoe in its original form, save the rear. When worn, I thought I was looking down at the Tailwind 79. Walking in them, I felt the steadiness and comfort of the Internationalist. These are kicks I’d be wearing often. Only thing is, as of now, they’re too dear for unthinking wear and tear.

The second drop of Nike X Undercover Daybreak, SGD239, is sold out at the Nikelab corner of DSMS, the only known stockist in Singapore. is reportedly re-stocking. Photos: Chin Boh Kay

Another Tough-To-Get

Really tough. Could the Nike X Undercover Daybreak be their React Element 87 of the year?


Nike X Undercover Daybreak

By Ray Zhang

I should have given up. Because in the end, I really shouldn’t stress over a pair of sneakers. Last year’s Nike React Element 87 was hard enough. I didn’t even try the collaborative version with Undercover. Even the regular release, as it turned out, was somewhat of a holy grail, unless you are willing to pay the ridiculous prices months later at Sole Superior.

Similarly, the Nike X Undercover Daybreak was so impossible to cop that I started to wonder if some powerful reseller has direct access to them before the rest of us could even have a glimpse of it, online or offline. The Daybreak by what I consider one of the best sneaker collaborations of the past five years is a shoe of palpable authenticity and, concurrently, Japanese quirk.

The Daybreak has been dead (or, on a positive note, hibernation) for 30 years. All shoes in Nikeland, as we keep seeing, can be undead. In resurrecting the Daybreak, Undercover has mostly kept to its original form—the for-running foam mid-sole and très old-school black rubber waffle out-sole!—except the heel counter, which looks like it came from outer space. Did someone dig his heels in on the garbage planet Saakar?


Nike X Undercover Daybreak P1

These days, heels are where designers concentrate their efforts. From Rick Owen’s pairing with Adidas (which sadly ended last year) for the Runners (2013) to A Cold Wall X Nike’s Zoom Vomero 5, with the blockish heel counter (and idea also seen in Sacai’s hybridising of classic Nike silhouettes), the rear is now more than ever an invitation for unseeing pedestrians/commuters/strollers to kick or step on.

The major lure for me, however,  is how the shoe is decidedly retro without venturing into dad-shoe territory. I find the nylon upper and the suede trim of the toe box and the eye stay a perfect match: classic case of opposites attract. That in Nike’s communication materials for this Daybreak, the sneakers are paired with a pair of corduroy slacks is certainty that it will have retro appeal.

Last night, I started monitoring the Nike website for the release of the shoe. Even at midnight, it said “coming soon”. Looking at the countdown counter, I knew I could go to sleep and wake up to buy it. At thirty minutes to nine this morning, when the Daybreak would be released, I sat in front of my PC and was ready. I readied my smartphone too, just in case. At nine, sharp, I clicked on the image of the shoe, chose the colour (blue!), and size, and clicked “add to cart”. The rejoinder was “Please try again. Sorry, there was a problem processing your request. Please try to add to basket again.” This went on for the next 30 minutes. In the end, I gave up.

Nike X Undercover Daybreak is launched today on and DSMS. It is, as we understand, sold out. Photos: Nike

Update (15 June 2019): After releasing the black and blue Daybreak sneakers, a green version will reportedly be out on 21 June. Good luck!


Is This Nike’s Most Elusive Release?

Nike React Element 87 p1

By Ray Zhang

It’s so hard to cop these sneakers that some people wondered if they actually exist. But since specialty retailers all over the world, except those here, have been publicly awaiting the Nike React Element 87’s drop since June and, in due course, keeping followers updated, these can’t be just an empty tease. While I don’t think so, you can never really know. Is Nike taking the limited release to such an extreme? To stir up some news? To better create pent-up demand?

I should not have been this mad about this sneaker, but I was. Perhaps I’m sick of clompy shoes. The first time I saw photographs of the Nike React Element 87, it was in online reports following the Undercover autumn/winter 2018 show in Paris in January. Those not-quite-sharp runway pictures of said shoes caught my attention, but it wasn’t until the product shots started appeared in IG (interestingly, the shoes didn’t show up in Undercover’s IG until eight days before they’re launched in Tokyo on 13 Sep) that I began noticing them with keen interest.

The bold colour combinations aside, the React Element 87 is, to me, the most compelling silhouette Nike has released in years. I don’t even remember my interest being so piqued when the VaporMax, with its all-new and astounding air soles, was launched. And not the current must-cop drops such as the Nike Zoom Fly SP in collaboration with Gyakusou or Comme des Garçons X Nike ACG’s Mowab.

Nike React Element 87 p2Part of the general release, but still exclusive to select stores: Nike React Element 87 in black/midnight navy

The first place I checked, like most people, was the Nike web page. No information was available. It was July and winter for fashion retailers, but I was not able to obtain release dates. By chance, I stumbled on a news site (I now remember not) that had availed the link to Nike’s own micro-site, SNKRS. This was in late August, if I remember correctly, and Nike even provided a countdown to the day React Element 87 would finally be available. But who follows weeks-long countdowns? As the sneaker god I worship would have it, I missed that day and was met with a photo of the kick of my desire, under which was a discreet but no less disappointing sign: sold out.

Just for the heck of it, I asked a sales staff at an Underground by Limited Edt store two weeks ago if they have this still-unseen shoe, hoping Lady Luck was smiling at me even if the guy wasn’t. Unspeaking, he turned away confidently, and turned back to me with the React Element 55 in his hand! Had I spoken indistinctly? If you’re a Mercedes fan, you know your S class from the C!

Perhaps it would be easier if I know some of the store proprietors personally. I may then have priority over a pair if, or when, the shoes drop. The problem is, I am not a top spender at any of the stores sneakerheads with no objection to price spend. Nor, am I a member of the media or an “influential influencer” who is on the marketing radar of both brands and retailers. I just happened to be a sneaker lover who waits for releases very much like the rest of you who do not go to all lengths to acquire the shoe of your interest. For most of us, our best bet is to shop online, but that, to me, is a little less than ideal because I would like to be able to try on the shoe first before I commit. Still, I gave it a shot. At most online stores, the React Element 87 is prominently featured, but when it comes to size selection, all the squares adjacent to the numbers are struck out, except 5… if I was lucky!

Nike React Element 87 p3The Undercover X Nike take on the React Element 87 seen on a local KOL not long after its release

If scoring a regular release was hard, the collab version was even harder. Just as with the VaporMax, Nike was going to let their designer version hit the market first. Undercover announced on IG, eight days before the launch on 13 September, the few places their iteration of the React Element 87 would be sold, with a reminder that only those who had won an “advance online lottery”, spread over two days, could buy it at the brand’s Aoyama store. News of the Undercover version stocked at Dover Street Market Singapore on the same date came to me shortly after the Tokyo announcement. As DSMS adopts the same raffle draw for a chance to cop the shoes, I was immediately uninterested. I have never even won a bar of chocolate at a D&D!

On Wednesday, a little bird with fantastically beautiful feathers told me that DSMS would stock the shoes I’ve been eyeing that very day. This afternoon, on a whim, I set forth for Dempsey Road to try my luck. The Nike React Element 87 turned out to be everything I had hoped it would be. Without an exaggerated shape, it does not try to be a dad shoe, nor mom, uncle, or aunt. The two colour stories available confirmed my initial suspicion that the Undercover version might have been a little too bright for me.

The shoe is incredibly light, with an upper that’s a semi-transparent, thermoplastic elastomer (TPE—a technical yarn) version of rip-stop and a mid-sole featuring a new foam tech known simply as React foam. While it’s comfortable all round, wearing the shoe sock-less, as you might with any Flyknit-kick, is not advisable since profuse perspiration is a possible bane. And the top edge of the asymmetric tongue, as well as the collar may be a bit abrasive, but that could be due to the newness of the shoe. What’s especially appealing to me about the React Element 87 is the close-to-the-foot form factor. Finally, it’s back to normal. And that, for now, is fresh.

Nike React Element 87, SGD239, is available in limited numbers at Dover Street Market Singapore. Photos: Jim Sim/(Bottom) Chin Boh Kay

No White Flag Even When Surrendering To Closure

Surrender pic 1

One of Singapore’s best men’s wear stores shall be no more. Surrender at Raffles Hotel Shopping Arcade will halt its operations next week, on 23 August, but its closure does not mark the complete end of Singapore’s pioneer men’s wear retailer. According to the company’s farewell message to customers, Surrender will morph into a new project, cryptically named #SRD268, at the end of the year.

It requires no special talent to guess that SRD is Surrender abbreviated, and 268—on Orchard Road—is where the new store will be situated. The Raymond Woo-designed building (unnamed, just 268 Orchard Road) that occupies the former Yen San Building site is already habitat to other brands under Surrender’s parent company D’League: namely Christian Dada and the soon-to-open Off-White by Virgil Abloh. It looks like #SRD268 shall complete the triumvirate that occupies the entire ground floor of the glass-and-steel building.

Surrender’s departure may perhaps signal the fading of fashion cred for Raffles Hotel Shopping Arcade, where the store has made the latter home for the past 6 years. The first men’s clothier with edge to open at Raffles Hotel’s retail wing, Surrender follows the steps of brands such as Prada, Louis Vuitton, APC, Visvim, and Front Row to depart what may be considered one of our city’s most atmospheric shopping destinations. Only L’Amoire now stands (without a fashion-strong neighbour), but for how long?

Surrender pic 2

Surrender’s exit is, perhaps, to be expected. According to those who are familiar with the store’s operation team, the end of the lease was cited as reason, as well as the Arcade’s “slow traffic”. But some observers feel that it would serve Raffles Hotel’s or Qatari owner Katara Hospitality’s interest to retain long-time tenants such as Surrender. Others feel that Surrender should leave as Raffles Hotel Shopping Arcade has been in a dismal state for quite a while, with tenants complaining of poor upkeep.

Some Surrender customers have said that, for them, there’s no reason to visit the Arcade other than to go to their favourite store. Surrender, on level 2, is on the same floor as the Long Bar, where Raffles Hotel touts it as the birthplace of Singapore Sling. In the past year, it is only here that you’ll sense some buzz, as visitors experience what the hotel calls “one of the truest rites of passage of travel”—drinking the Singapore Sling and flinging peanut shells on the floor—grounds which the hotel proudly claims to be “the only place in Singapore where ‘littering’ is permitted.”

Surrender did not enjoy a location this posh when they started. Conceived by Earn Chen, the creative director of hospitality group Potato Head Folk, back in the ’90s, it began as a little skate-influenced fashion and footwear shop in Far East Plaza during a time when the mall had a vestige of cool, unlike now. Mr Chen, who, according to Apple Daily in 2014, was “seeing” the Hong Kong actress Cecilia Cheung, told the media that after a visit to New York City with friends, he was inspired by the “skateboarding, hip-hop, alternative lifestyle” scene there and decided to open a store that Singapore had not, until then, seen. And it was a store with a difference even when T-shirts and sneakers dominated. It was our first taste of refined and elevated urban style.

Surrender pic 3

After Surrender moved out of Far East Plaza, it shifted into a shop-house unit on Devonshire Road before relocating in 2010 to Raffles Hotel Shopping Arcade, where it roosted for half-a-dozen years. It was here, during the Arcade’s grander days, that Surrender truly consolidated its standing as the premier men’s wear store with a difference. The store was eventually sold to Dave Tan, the man behind Richard Mille in Southeast Asia and D’League, and is managed by his 24-year-old son.

What makes Surrender unique in the men’s fashion retail scene here is the store’s merchandise mix—it is unabashedly skewed towards Japanese street wear. When once only an air ticket to Tokyo could connect you to brands such as Neighborhood, WTAPS, Uniform Experiment, Sophnet, and Bristol, Surrender was the vital outpost. And soon even more desirable brands joined the stable: Undercover, Nanamica, and Visvim (which, in 2012, briefly had its own free-standing store, also in the Raffles Hotel Shopping Arcade). When the American artisanal label Geoffrey B Small was added, Surrender’s standing scaled many rungs. All this in a vintage/work-room interior that has more in common with Tokyo retailers such as Journal Standard than the Euro-centric swank typical of our local high-end stores.

While Surrender’s street style strengthened, a pricier Salon by Surrender in The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands opened in 2013 (after debuting in Shanghai at the Mario Botta-designed Twelve at Hengshan hotel a little earlier). Here, refined British labels such as Casely Hayford, luxury street-wear brands such as Hood by Air, and expensive sneakers such as those by Buscemi (“obnoxiously high quality goods”!) grabbed the attention of those willing to pay top dollar. The Japanese leaning of Surrender was not discernible. The Salon was, however, a few steps ahead of Surrender: it closed some months back.

It would seem Surrender is now returning to and concentrating its efforts on Orchard Road. According to the company, “project #SRD268, albeit aimed to encompass an entirely new distinct perspective on retail, fashion, lifestyle and art, will still stay firmly rooted in Surrender’s forward-thinking attitude.” Sources told us that some of the existing brands stocked at the Raffles Hotel Shopping Arcade store will be dropped. It is still hazy which will exit Singapore altogether. Still, hopeful are many that the new Surrender, even when abbreviated to letters and numbers, will not be short of those labels that make them give in to the store in the first place.

For a foretaste of #SRD268, visit its pop-up store at level 2, Mandarin Gallery. Photos: Galerie Gombak