Can the little red dot stand shoulder to shoulder with the little black dress? A native islander and friends look at fashion (and such) in Singapore, and, occasionally, among her neighbours, and a little further afield
While sexy (and sexed-up) continues to be a big theme this season, Versace is not following a trend. They can’t be when they have been doing that all along
This fashion week season in Milan, celebrity is major. But not any personality known locally. Rather, Italian brands are using American stars of the West Coast, who made their name in reality TV, to headline their collections. Most talked about was Kim Kardashian at Dolce & Gabbana earlier. But a day earlier, it was Paris Hilton at Versace. Ms Hilton may not be as big a contributing fashion figure as Ms Kardashian (although she appears as a runway model frequently enough) and had no part in the Versace collection, but she is recognisable a name to let any label get cooking. And she is considered “a fashion icon”, at least in the US, where, as CR Fashion Book noted last February, “she fearlessly leaned into the fashion trends of the day, taking them to the next level and ensuring their prominence in fashion history”. Well, we have been living in a cave.
So there she was, the former “most iconic y2k teen” closing the Versace spring/summer 2023 presentation. On the runway, she sashayed with a distinctive gait as she normally does, and in a sparkly and drapey dress (chainmail, in fact) not terrible different from what she wore for The Blonds in New York last year, or even her show Cooking with Paris. Donatella Versace talked about the women she designs for in the show notes: “I have always loved a rebel. A woman who is confident, smart and a little bit of a diva. She wears leather, studs and frayed denim and she has enough attitude to mix them with chiffon, jersey, and a tiara! She is a strong liberated woman; she is gorgeous; she knows it. She is the Goddess of Freedom.” Was Ms Versace also referring to Kim Kardashian, if not herself?
What are clothes for goddesses, specifically “dark gothic goddesses”? If they are extraordinary women, not deities, they’d need the extraordinary—specifically those that celebrate sexuality, not demonise it; show more skin, in the process, not hide it. We know Ms Versace likes her goddess-pals to be sexy—not deific, so every garment you can imagine that would radiate sexiness were there on the runway. But the mini-est skirt, so brief that the front pouch pockets were longer, was not enough to communicate the rigorism that Ms Versace employs in her designs. Women need more than boudoir fashion outside (even if empowerment means she could wear those too, anywhere). So, added to the lingerie this-and-that were slinky slashed-across-the-torso dresses; layered frocks over skirts, over pants; every pair of slacks except sensible ones: cargo pants, motorcross pants, leather drainpipes, jeans with repeated slashed Xs; and shirts—sheer, of course, and laced and blinked-out with iron-on crystals. A gothic goddess needed to dazzle too.
Just as you want to notice her, you want to sense her. This season, Ms Versace desired a lot of movement, or, to be more specific, superfluous stuff that swing and sway around the body. There were considerable fringing—on almost every spot you can add the decorative border, including bags (when fringes were too much, there were the rolled-up versions—tassels). To make sure that there was a consistent show of these dangling lengths, there were cording and lacing too, all left too long so that they can hang and swing, and lash, at the slightest movement. And to be certain that you were looking at those descended from the pantheon, the strutting idols wore bracelets that identify them as “GODDESS”. Surprisingly, Paris Hilton did not find her place among those so worshipped during the finale, or take the customary end-of-show bow with Donatella Versace. Perhaps, two “Goddesses of Freedom” are not at liberty to stand side by side.
Versace has given the Medusa head of Greece a mate—a death mask of Pompeii. More gaudy historic icons to enjoy?
Is Donatella Versace creating the fashion equivalent of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79 with this explosion of a spring/summer 2023 collection? Staged in the brand’s Via Gesù headquarters, the presentation is a detonation of colours, prints and more prints. If Mount Vesuvius exploded “with a force greater than an atom bomb” according to modern-day reports, then the Versace show blew up with the impact of the virtual fulmination of the contents of social media. And one of the prints that will no doubt be virally shared online is that of a death mask (above), apparently an archival image that Ms Versace thinks is timely to bring back. This is not nearly the same as the prettified Medusa head that the house has been using. Rather, this is gargoyle-like and made more garish against luminescent chartreuse.
Ms Versace told GQ in 2018 that the brand that she steers is “a dream that people want to be part of.” Dreams are like meat—they can be another man’s poison, or nightmare. It is often said that Versace provides fantasy in a world that is increasingly devoid of it. The only thing is, the fantasy seems to exist only in a very pop realm, or hip-hop music videos. In fact, sometimes we suspect that Versace puts out clothes in the hope to appear in yet another Migos MV. A part two of the 2013 blatant homage Versace? “Cheetah print on my sleeve, but I ain’t ever been in the jungle” does sum up the current snake skin too. Versace, Versace, Versace… goes the rap, as if Migo was hoping for a lifetime supply of Versace. And if the next video needs to be drowned in Versace too, there are the home accessories that the models carry and wear.
For Versace fans (and there are many, including our own Dick Lee), this is a celebratory show, an emersion into the next best thing after music videos. We see it as an IRL Beng-dom, now under the watchful eyes of busts (or death masks) of the ancients, perched on pedestals. Donatella Versace, herself repeatedly called a “pop culture icon”, is the ultimate hostess of this visual symposium, which in old Greek societies, was, according to William J. Slater in Dining in a Classical Context, “a place for the ostentatious display not just of gilded ceilings or inlaid floors, Ionian couches, exotic entertainment, or luxury vases, but also of the cultural quality of host and guests”. Sounds familiar? Luxury vases! The models weren’t carrying urns!
But it is not entirely high luxe at the show. There are the other printed shirts, for example: Those black ones blaring all over with the Migos refrain “Versace, Versace Versace…”, which look unapologetically entry-level or, as one on-and-off Versace fan told us, “for Fendace lovers.” And, the tacky singlets too, shaped to cling to every muscle of the torso, baring the sides of the abdomen, and abbreviated in the back to look like a sports bra. Perhaps, this is where the allure of Versace’s meretricious designs lies: they appeal to the guilty pleasures that many of us succumb to. One thing nags at us: We are not sure if it feels current, let alone au courant.
Up close with the curious collab: It is as terrifying as imagined, even when not much is available
Fendi and Versace equal Fendace, a name that rings of Pantpong of the past. We still do not know what to make of this collaboration (we were, in fact, reminded not to call this as such. It is a “swap”). Is it a joke that we do not understand and, therefore, can’t laugh along? To be sure, Fendace speaks to a very specific target: those who are nostalgic for Versace loudness pied-pipered by the house’s Medusa head, those who have never enjoyed the ostentation, and those who would wear anything that scream something. For those who have lived through the garish-florid excess of the ’90s (before the demise of Gianni Versace), this is very much a revisit. It certainly was for us.
We went to the Fendi store at Takashimaya Shopping Centre this afternoon to view the brand’s take on the Versace aesthetic (we skipped the Fendi looks at Versace as they are, to us, too Donatella Versace). Except for two mannequins flanking the entrance, there were no others in windows featuring the Fendace merchandise, nor any lightbox announcing its launch today. The two mannequins—female on one side and male on the other—were not togged to the nines, as we had expected, just simple pieces you’d have missed if you, walking pass, did not pay attention to the dummies’ attire. There were stanchions and rope outside, but a queue had not formed. We walked straight inside.
A beaming sales staff came to ask if we needed any assistance. The only Fendace merchandise we could identify were the bags, so we asked her if the full collection was in store. “Is there anything you want?” She sounded eager to help. Not specifically, we want to see the pieces first before we decide. “Actually,” she continued with a hint of regret, “most of the items are sold out.” We were taken aback. She then showed us a rack the width of a large armoire: Only three items were hung there. “Is there anything you want? Do you have a picture?” We were really surprised they were this low on the Fendace stocks, this soon. “We brought in very few pieces each—one or two.” Why is that so? Is it because our market is too small? “Yes,” she agreed with a smile. “We think the prints may not do so well here. Our buyers feel they will do better in China.”
Not long after the Fendace show in Milan last September, the hashtag #Fendace was followed by 80 million Chinese on Weibo, according to Chinese media reports. In a Jing Daily (精奢商业观察) editorial, it was noted that netizens were divided when it came to how appealing the high-high coupling was: “Some believed it was simply a marketing stunt and even found them “ugly,” yet others saw them as great value.” China is a huge market, even if there are more of those who find Fendace unattractive, those who think not would still be a larger number than any sum here. The sales staff added, as if sensing our skepticism, “it is also popular with the Chinese (residing) here.”
If the proclaimed sell-out is based on the “very few pieces” availed to the store, it would be an exaggeration to say that the collection was met with great success here. But with so little to see merely four hours after the store opened, it was perhaps good optics for Fendi and Versace. “Sold out” is the best marketing strategy and catch phrase. We were also told that there was a private session for VIP customers to pick their Fendace; we were, naturally, not privy to that. Without much on offer, the salesgirl tried to interest us in the few bags left on the shelf, including a SGD4,850 Baguette in the printed silk designed for the collection (and for the bag’s braided handle), although we were intrigued by the much smaller Mini Sunshine Shopper. When we did not seem keen in either, she told us there were some scrunchies we could look at. Presumably we appeared to have only SGD375 to spend.
Tried as we did, it was hard to distinguish between Fendi and Versace in the products. Perhaps, that’s the whole idea: to look indistinguishable. However new and fresh the pairing of luxury labels, the melding of two high-end brands has its precedence: the Chinese knock-off market. In the heydays of affordable bootlegs, to appear without outright copying, some producers of pirated goods bring together unlikely names and aesthetics to blur the lines, so to speak. Fendace, to us, had that spirit, but now the smudging of aesthetical borders is legit and blessed with the finesse of Italian craftsmanship. But does it make Fendace really covetable now matter how gaudy it looks? Or is Fendace really too hot to be anything but?
Fendace is launched today.Most items are sold out. Good luck.Photos: Chin Boh Kay. Illustrations: Just So
Away from Changi Airport, is this year’s Star Awards a better, sleeker affair? Were we hoping for too much?
Ah jie Zoe Tay, in purple silk chiffon, floating down the Walk of Fame. Photo: The Celebrity Agency/Instagram
By Ray Zhang
The Star Awards 2022 is a very long show, if you take into consideration that ‘Backstage Live’ segment, screened three and half hours before the ceremony proper on MeWatch and YouTube. At more than seven hours duration in its entirety, it was long enough for me to be on a flight to Tokyo. Since last year, MediaCorp has decided that the annual show generates enough interest to warrant extra broadcast of not only the anywhere-is-a-red-carpet segment, Walk of Fame, but also a look at the stars getting ready, presumably from around or after noon. But while the award presentation, now back at the MediaCorp Theatre, veered dangerously towards dull, it was Backstage Live that was utterly unbearable to watch, even more so than last year’s. If any glamour was to be expected, as promised by Mediacorp, all was lost in the loud, grating, uninformative banter that dominated this painful prelude.
Juvenile and boisterous, in all its youth-grassroots glory, it was as if all the hosts—all six of them—cut their teeth at a qiyue getai (七月歌台 or the ‘song stage’ of the 7th lunar month, aka Hungry Ghost Festival). When asked by hosting partner Seow Sin Nee (萧歆霓) what he liked to watch at each Star Awards, apart from the main presentation, the 1.91-metre tall Herman Keh (郭坤耀) mentioned the “红地毯 (red carpet)” because of the stars’ attire, which he referred to as “制服 (zhifu or uniform)”! And he would go on to say that at least five times more, including referring to the Hugo Boss suit that he wore as zhifu, too. And, even when later, Priscelia Chan (曾诗梅) was curious about his word choice while being interviewed by the noisy duo, he did not appear to be aware of the embarrassing faux pas.
The new-gen Channel 8 hosts: (left) “uniform”-clad Herman Keh and (right) Seow Sin Nee with resident stylist Annie Chua (middle). Screen grab: Mediacorp/YouTube
I know not if Mr Keh was on script, but bumbling and blundering his way through his set was only part of the pain in watching this segment of MediaCorp’s biggest night. When the same pair presented one of the six debut My Pick awards (for Favourite Male Show Stealer, which Xu Bin won), Ms Seow was asked “哪一个是你的pick (who is your pick)?”. She replied, “it’s all my picks”! The appalling command of both Mandarin and English on a broadcast believed to be one of the most popular for Channel 8 (the main event of last year’s show at Changi Airport shockingly won the award for Best Entertainment Special!) is embarrassing, to say the least. Later, when Mr Keh won the Most Attention-Seeking New-Gen Host, he said, “感谢我爸爸妈妈把我养成这么高 (grateful to my parents for raising me until I am so tall)“. There is a difference between “古灵精怪 (weird or bizarre, as Mr Keh described himself)” and trite. Throw in their mission to find the “female star with the highest heel” and the “guy with the tallest hair”, I knew nothing begged further viewing.
The Walk of Fame at five o’clock brought me back to the show. After last year, the struts and poses this time returned to a real but somewhat short red carpet, although it was obvious that all the stars waited behind a backdrop to emerge. No one was seen coming out of a luxury car (sponsorship was hard to score this year?). As with her appearance on the Changi Airport Terminal Four driveway of the entrance to the departure hall in 2021, Zoe Tay had to walk alone. Wearing a silk chiffon dress by Gucci with a cape that floated behind her like a parachute (I’m not sure about the curiously chunky black platforms), she commanded the red carpet like a seasoned pro, lifting nary a pinch of her floor-length skirt to navigate the Walk of Fame, while other younger actresses lifted their distended skirts as if they were avoiding dog excrement. I had to remind myself that for most of the actresses, this was probably the only chance in the entire year when they could wear an evening gown, and possibly towering heels. And since they had to return the the borrowed dresses in saleable condition, they had to content with lifting while parading to avoid an embarrassing frock-ripping, if not nasty fall.
Best actress and actor favourites Chantalle Ng and Xu Bin. Photo: The Celebrity Agency/Instagram
On the red carpet, the most anticipated, I suppose, were the My Star Bride leads Chantalle Ng (黄暄婷) and Xu Bin (徐彬). Ms Ng is the daughter of old-timer Lin Meijiao (林梅娇, winner of the evening’s Best-Supporting Actress). She wore a red, sequinned Bottega Veneta gown, which appeared a tad too large for her and clearly too long. Frequently, she had to hold one side (or both) of the dress to help her walk less uncomfortably or so that her platform compers won’t cause her to trip. Contrasting her, colour-wise (or to express some National Day fervour?), was Mr Xu in an off-white Dolce & Gabbana suit that was tackily tacked with what could be earrings, bearing the letters ‘D’ and ‘G’, all over—yes, on the pants too, without which he would be too close to an albino peacock? Mr Xu had earlier, in the Backstage Live segment, said that when he saw the suit, he knew immediately that it was the one he wanted and had instructed his stylist to get it for him. I wish someone had told him he could pass of as a window display at Chomel.
In fact, the guys seemed to have tried harder this year. Many came in suits—some of a better fit than others, many curiously semi-casual, and few down-right not dressy. Elvin Ng (黄俊雄), in a Versace suit, was the first joke of the day: he went from kedai-kopibandung to Fanta orange. Or, was it F&N? To be sure, I don’t know if Mediacorp ever stipulated a dress code or whether it was merely a given that attendees would don evening wear, but it was unlikely that black tie, as many had thought, was expected. Still, odd choices abound: Desmond Tan (陈泂江) in a cream, zips-for-darts Alexander McQueen coat, which he wore sans shirts a la Timothée Chalamet at the Oscars (I do not know why there persists this love of substituting outerwear for a blazer at an awards night), only that the American actor did not go shirtless under a coat; Dennis Chew (周崇庆) in a cartoonish white suit, with hand-drawn tracing of the perimeter of the outfit, designed by, gasp, Chen Hanwei (陈汉玮) and made by Q Menswear; or Nick Teo’s shaggy, kungfu-master, Yohji Yamamoto layers. And those in non-solids: Romeo Tan’s Etro suit with geometric patterns gleaned from carpets, Bryan Wong’s also-Etro blazer with Savannah print (feline included), and worse, Pierre Png’s too-small, too-day-yet- too-prom-night gingham jacket.
Formalwear interpreted: (from let) James Seah, Desmond Tan, and Teo Ze Tong. Photo: The Celebrity Agency/Instagram
There were other trends among the men—possibly what Herman Keh obliviously, gleefully, and toothily called zhifu—if you consider, like I did, their omnipresence. Most discernible were the dinner jackets with peaked lapels in black (sometimes part of it) to stand out from the main fabric. At least half a dozen of them embraced this small chromatic contrast. Even Desmond Tan could not resist the pull, when he changed into a different suit for the award presentation (he was a best actor nominee). Was it to show that the stars paid attention to details? Also, the persistence of sneakers peeking out from the hem of tailored trousers (many annoyingly not altered to the wearer’s height). Is this really considered cool, even on tuxedo-clad sexagenarian Zhu Houren (朱厚任)?
But what really caught my attention were their faces, which I usually do not scrutinise (nothing surgical intervention won’t hide). I should be more specific—this year, the eyebrows or the many stars who had theirs darken or drawn to augment the density. The unnaturalness really jumped at me. Those of Jeremy Chan (田铭耀, among those who wore a tuxedo jacket with contrast-black lapels), for one, were especially intense and oddly linear and light brown, as if they were shaded with a template; they were even thicker and denser than wife Jessica Liu’s (刘子绚), as if he was trying to impress her as Zayn Malik!
The long and lean: (left and right) Cynthia Koh, and Rebecca Lim. Photos:The Celebrity Agency/Instagram. And (centre)) Joanne Peh. Screengrab: Mediacorp/YouTube
The women, in contrast, seemed more measured in their attempts to make a massive impact. I consider this year a lull year. According to Mediacorp’s principal image stylist & costume designer Annie Chua, what she prepared for 23 of the stars revolved around “old Hollywood glamour” or, if you missed it the first time, “very glamorous old Hollywood glamour”. I wonder if the emphasis was on “old”. Quan Yifeng (权怡凤) wore a front-heavy, fussy, old-looking, black (and some white) strapless number: Ms Chua may not have realised that someone’s Hari Raya valances were missing. The opposite to that dated fussiness was Sheryl Ang’s (洪丽婷) yellow Sportmax crush of fabric. Was there not a single iron in the dressing rooms of Mediacorp? And what were the opera gloves about?
In the end, it was clean lines, as well as neatness that attracted me. Although many viewers consider the actresses who could stop traffic in their manner of dress of the past to be “boring” this year, I do think that they stood out for their unfussy turn out: Cynthia Koh (许美珍) in Moshino, Joanne Peh (白薇秀) in Ralph Lauren, and, most striking, Rebecca Lim (林慧玲) in Louis Vuitton. Sure, what they wore could be the epitome of modest fashion (at least from the front), but the dresses (including special guest, Taiwanese Pets Tseng’s [曾沛慈] red Rebecca Vallance dress, I should add) communicated a certain elan and class, both of which the Star Awards still lack, in spades.
It’s dubbed The Swap, but in a world with too many labels and too much clothes, are the Fendi and Versace I-do-you, you-do-me collections necessary? Are they at all nice?
It looks like Milan Fashion Week has its climax show to end the festivities. The “unexpected” Fendi and Versace or Fendace collaboration, or “hack”, to steal from present-day, pandemic-poised parlance, really took place after the initial rumour grew more heads than on Medusa’s. And rather than a reprisal of the Gucci/Balenciaga manoeuvre in April (or vice versa), Kim Jones (and design partner Silvia Venturini Fendi) traded places/brands with Donatella Versace to “interpret” the other house’s aesthetics and codes. The result is high on the marketing potential of the idea than the ideation itself, more brash than dash, more Versace than Fendi. It isn’t clear yet, which brand will stand to gain. Versace, fresh from a showing just three days earlier had already jog one’s memory about those ideas that make the house instantly recognisable, do they need another splashy retelling? Or, is this Fendi trying to go hipper, playing down Mr Jones’s banal muliebrity in his reimagination of the brand?
It is like his Shein moment, her Boohoo, all TikTok-ready, influencer-approved. Sure, we understand that we are living in such times, but must we see Fendi go from soignée a week earlier to meretricious now, Versace go from Versace to Versace Max? It is understandable that brands love mash-ups and, possibly, their customers too, but is it really time to blur aesthetic lines when no side gains? One SOTD reader was clearly dismayed when he texted us this morning about Versace’s interpretation of Fendi, “In the end, it just looked like two Versace shows; one better than the other! Apart from the monogram, there was sadly, no Fendi to speak of.” Make that three if you count the spring/summer 2022 show of the main line. “It’s the first in the history of fashion,” Ms Versace said through a media release. On both front, yes.
No one is mistaken that this is Sacai’s Chitose Abe doing Jean Paul Gaultier and certainly not, if a pop reference is preferred, Lady Gaga doing Cole Porter! It is all about the hype. Do we still remember that? Or has hype been so over-hyped that we are more immune to it than one relentless virus? Is hoopla so blah that we need to revive it. And throw in some old-time catwalk excesses (a revolving Medusa logo reveals the double F?) and other-era models to up the surprise factor (since there are none in the clothes)? Sure it is a delight to see Kristen McMenamy playing Donatella Versace, Mariacarla Boscono still looking good, and Kate Moss looking not, but when it comes to Naomi Campbell closing the show, it really is a bit jelak. Did she not just appear in the earlier Versace show, in the same swagger?
There is the laughable name too. Sure, the project can be cheekily referred to as Fendace (the lazy conflation of Fendi and Versace), but when it is actually spelled out as a real brand, it sounds like something you would find in Mahboonkrong Centre in Bangkok, among the Armanee jeans, Frid Perry polos, Adibas kicks, and Relax watches. Clearly ‘Verdi’ is not allowable—a national icon deserves far greater respect. Perhaps this is a dig at the Chinese counterfeiters who can’t spell. Still, could they not think of something less Qipu Lu, Shanghai? We have no idea if this would appear as a label on the back of the clothes, but since Fendace is already there as a belt buckle and on the bags (including those Book wannabes), so expect nothing less. According to reports, the project was brewing since February although the news broke that it would be a sudden coming together of the brands only this week. Designers taking over as new creative directors of other brands have precocious less to work with. A waste of resources, just to feed the empty hype?
The show opens with Kim Jones and Silvia Venturini Fendi doing Versace. One senses this is really the job Mr Jones was after, rather than the Fendi appointment. Loud is waiting to jump out of him, and he creates the chance to allow it to radiate, but could he do loud better than Versace has been? It is not hard to see that Mr Jones is not particularly adept at handling or mixing prints. Or squeeze out more. The florid Versace silk dresses and separates look like they could come from a lame season of the now-defunct Versus. Donatella embracing Fendi, a house so unlike the one her brother founded, conversely, appeared the more triumphant among the trio, leaving every identifiable Versace hallmark where they can be left, like a canine marking her territory. Even the Fendi monogram is treated to Versace-esque colours. No garment is free of Medusa heads, animal prints, Oriental frets, Baroque swirls… whatever could be squeezed onto a silk screen. If not, there is always the chain mail.
Is it because the show took place on Versace’s turf? Would it be different if it is staged at Fendi’s headquarters? Will it be there next? Would there be a next? Where would the clothes and accessories be sold? Both lines at each other’s stores? Just as the show was live-streamed on both brands’ website, on visually similar pages? High-high pairings (in this case, one French-owned—LVMH and the other by American upstart Capri Holdings) may be trending now, but how Fendace will pan out is perhaps too early to tell. The idea may not have been explored before, but the execution is nowhere near radical. And, it is hard to see the sustainability (in every sense of the word) of The Swap. It is a showy novelty set up to wane.
Returning to the live presentation format, Versace shows what stagecraft (or runway craft?) could be, with Dua Lipa upstaging even Naomi Campbell
Lipa Dua closing the Versace spring/summer 2022 show
Donatella Versace really knows how to stage a show. In Versace’s comeback IRL presentation, things don’t just happen on the runway. At the start, a group of masked men, shirtless to reveal extreme musculature, struts down the catwalk and then disappears into the audience. The camera zooms in on the men standing in the rear. With their hands gripping on a thick black rope, they begin to yank it downwards. At first you might think they are operating manual fans. Then you realise what they are doing. On the ceiling, two row of colourfully-printed squares of silk foulard—like giant Versace scarves—swell and billow, and ripple. Are they improving the ventilation or air quality of the indoor venue? Or, are they, as one SOTD reader texted us this morning, “efficiently moving COVID over everyone”? Maybe for now, let’s pretend that the show is set under a tent and it is very windy outside.
And it is surging under the canopy too—with excitement. The show opens with Dua Lipa walking—not performing—to her disco-dynamite Physical. Reportedly, the livestream was so massively watched around the world that it crashed at some point (it affected us not)! We didn’t know who would be appearing, but many, it seemed, did and had tuned in to catch Emily Ratajkowski and Lourdes Leon (yes, Madonna’s daughter is a model!) as well, and to a small extent, Naomi Campbell (if you are, er, above 45). Ms Versace certainly knows who she is targeting and ensnaring. Sure, she has worked with pop stars before, but they may have not appealed to the right demographics (remember Jennifer Lopez? Before the return of Bennifer?). This time, it is clear that Versace also needs to tether less to the “supers” who have made the brand famous, save the present-everywhere, host of her own show/YouTube channel, Baby Woman, Ms Campbell.
Elsewhere in Milan, designers are doing sexy. Donatella Versace does not have to do sexy—it comes to her naturally. And sexy has never left the house. Body-con dresses may not presently be a thing, but if they are, the house of Versace can be counted on to do them fittingly, fittedly, and flatteringly. Few designers can shape, say, a bustier as perfectly as Ms Versace. Ditto for the one-slit, figure-hugging, ankle-length dress. In chain-mail, too. Especially for a full-figured Lourdes Leon (in silver, above). High-octane sexy is undeniably the result, but they never need to elicit the response, trashy. In that respect, the designer does not quite get the credit that she deserves. To have the sexiness stay alive, even when fashion was nearly consumed by loungewear (and athleisure before that), is no easy task. Ms Versace has kept sexy burning, just as the vestal virgins had kept the perpetual fire unextinguished.
This collection also explores, as is the case in recent seasons, the Versace DNA, including those little things that have been associated with the house, but may have been forgotten, such as the once ubiquitous safety pin. Back in 1994, when Liz Hurley wore that dress—the slit up the right rump and the V-shaped opening on the right side of the bodice were held together with gold safety pins—it was considered scandalous. These days, many women work it with a lot less fabrics and even less opacity, as sexy is even more in your face. But rather than test the safety pin’s versatility and, consequently, a fabric’s tensile strength, Ms Versace has opted to use the pins in decorative ways, just as she does with buttons and the house silk foulards as ruffles or edging to peek from hems. Judicious use is, of course, not a house trait, just as timid colours are not too, but somehow, by marrying visual excess to pop culture’s predilection for the wildly eye-catching, Versace is able to convince the next gen of stars and their followers that that much may not be so. It is a win when it is Dua Lipa, rather than Naomi Campbell, who closes the show, and takes the post-finale bow with Donatella Versace. They, as Ms Lipa sang in the soundtrack, “created something phenomenal”.
At Versace, the Medusa head is upstaged by La Greca
Pandemic or not, monograms sells. Logos too. And definitely the east-west tote. Bring them all together and across all clothing and accessory categories, you have Versace doing whatever others are doing. This is a monogram launch with a vengeance. You know what the house is newly offering and that you will be seduced by it, so the latest collection bombards you with everything that can be plastered with the repeated pattern. “The new print,” according to Versace, “is a modern 3D maze that feels like you can step right into it and features the iconic Greca pattern along with the Versace logo in various color combinations.” The three-dimensionality of the design does not play down the fret very much associated with Versace (and is presently used on the side of the mid-soles of their chunky shoes), but it also seems to be on the same aesthetical foundation as Balmain’s Labyrinth, introduced in the ’70s, which Olivier Rousteing, a week later, wore during during a panel discussion with Vanessa Friedman of The New York Times.
It is understandable why Versace needs a monogram. More than ever, a pattern such as La Greca helps sell products as much as a logo, boxed or not. Additionally, identifiable patterns are more effective than unique prints. But not only is the house following the path of others, it is also using the monogram in very recognisable forms, such as the omnipresent east-west tote. Versace’s follow the antecedents set by brands such as Goyard (with the similar Chevron, year first seen unknown), or Moynat (with just as comparable Ms, introduced in 1925), but looks to us more in line with Bonia’s, or the like you’d find on Via Francesco Crispi in Rome. In fact, all the bags now sporting the new monogram seem destined to quickly find bootleg variants in Patpong. To be sure, Versace has never been strong on bags. They don’t have their own Saddle or their own Puzzle.
La Greca does not only appear on the bags, it is fashioned into everything, literally for head to toe, babushka to leggings, and obviously to hawk ostentation as the alternative to fashion, pandemic times or nor. Versace has never been a subtle label. Under the watch of Donatella Versace, even less so, as she courts celebrities, such as hip-hop stars, to wear her meretricious designs. Over the years, Ms Versace has amped up the sexiness associated with the house; her target audience, the nubile. Season after season, it’s variation of the same theme. Although there were times when one sensed that she tried harder, but there are others too, such as the present, when it seems she’s running out of steam, falling back on, for example, mini-dresses in one-tone brights. But who notices the lack of depth? People who buy Versace seek the comfort of the familiar. Now, more so with the new monogram. Or, mono culture?
The live-streamed show is a sleek affair. Part ad, part fashion show, part TikTok video, it does confirm one thing: many of us are unable to travel (or unwilling, even afraid to), but not a particular pair—the Hadid sisters. The siblings are able to be in Milan to strut their stuff—in Versace, strut they must. Versace is about a certain fierceness, the girl power that has now somewhat lost its potency, but can, as admirers like to declare, “slay”. Gigi Hadid has just given birth, and she’s back to work. Motherhood has not toned her down. She is in fine post-natal form and with a proud post-natal silhouette, can communicate Versace’s dated looks to kill.
Sure, in the age of e-fashion presentations, lines are often blurred. Since fashion and music go hand in hand like a needle and thread, they do often come together to make some noise, although if the music is sweet is another matter. Versace, like other brands, have decided to play this easy pairing up. They chose to work with the British rapper from Ladbroke Grove, AJ Tracey and the Sudanese-American model Anok Yai (who considered Carine Roitfeld writing in an Instagram post about her—“Anok is not a black woman, she is my friend”—as “insensitive”) to create a music video. And in doing so, they targeted two birds with one stone, simultaneously shining the spotlight on black creatives—an on-trend theme.
AJ Tracey and his companion arrived at the filming venue, both already togged in Versace, which raised the possible that the music video was backed by the brand. He got to pick whatever he wanted to wear and proceeded to meet the other participants of the video, primarily Anok Yai. The singing and recording proceeded, he doing his thing, she doing hers, both with no contact that can be considered friendly nor communication electric. The video might lure fans of the rapper, but fashion folks won’t be impressed by the model. We were suddenly nostalgic for George Michael’s Freedom! ’90.
Versace has always had a deep relationship with hip-hop stars that goes back to the late Tupac walking the brand’s runway, even singing, in the 1995 Hit Em Up, “now it’s all about Versace, you copied my style”. A year later, he wore a black double-breasted Versace suit with pronounced shoulders to the 38th Grammy Awards. And then everyone else that mattered, from Jennifer Lopez to Kanye West to P. Diddy, were linked to the house of the Medusa head. Even Vogue declared back in 2015 that “Versace and hip-hop have the ultimate love affair”.
When a fashion season is bereft of fashion, what Versace showed only augmented that perception. Music, however catchy, even sung by the latest rap hottie, will not be able to stand in for the clothes—or the lack of them. Presented was a “Flash collection”, showing the few (preview number?) pieces that would be available for sale online next month. Donatella Versace appeared in the video to welcome the star artiste, but not to introduce or explain the ideas behind the collection. Personal appearance is always useful in advertising, and she knew it. Perhaps, with the designer showing up, we can add one more look to the video’s sad total of less than a dozen.
As calculated moves go, Jennifer Lopez taking to the Versace runway could be one of the most unforgettable sashays in catwalk history. Can the brand Gianni left behind only make news by pulling such stunts?
By now you would have seen Jennifer Lopez in that dress, based on the one she wore in 2000 for the Grammy Awards. Such a closing high it was for the Versace spring/summer 2020 presentation that every news report on that show began with how “stunning” Ms Lopez looks (with some dedicating the full report on the single gown). If you thought that the original “jungle dress”, as it became known or as Donatella herself calls it, was a daring piece of dress-making, then the latest would confirm that anything is possible with pieces of fabrics for as long as you have Hollywood Fashion Tape.
In a video interview with vogue.com later, Ms Lopez admitted that back in 2000, “it was all taped down”. Twenty years after, the new take on that dress appears to require even more securing by clear, double-sided adhesive. The first may have been, as the singer said, “cut up to here and cut down to there”, it did, as we look back, appear somewhat modest, especially if the wearer was not taking huge strides, and wind, natural or machine-generated, was not an issue. The dress had sleeves (long!), and even when the back was partially exposed, showed skin to the extend that, by then or six years after Janet Jackson’s infamous “wardrobe malfunction”, was not shockingly daring. Understandable, therefore, why Ms Lopez does not think, as she stated in the interview, that the dress “was all that risqué”.
Just as JLo has a thing for green dresses that leave little to the imagination (remember the Oct 2018 InStyle spread which showed that nothing comes between her and the Valentino one-side-unseamed column?), Donatella Versace has a weakness for the finale surprise. She pulled one off during the spring/summer 2018 show, when five of “Gianni’s Girls”, aka supermodels of 1990s, appeared, also together with the designer herself, to take the end-of-show bow. Ms Versace is possibly one of the most connected fashion designers of her generation and she knows how to use her powerful/influential/attractive friends to full marketing advantage. Appearing side by side with JLo, the optics is one of a girl-club, girl-strong moment. Or, as both women said in unison to the camera for all visitors to vogue.com to hear and approve, and applaud, “women’s power”.
To us, the publicity coup is overpowering as it overshadows what is a strong Versace collection, even the strongest to date under Donatella Versace’s watch. Apart from her usual amped-up sexiness, the collection shows what a Versace customer might wear when not on the red carpet: power suits and power dresses (some recalling her attempt at reviving the Versus line), compelling shirt-under-bustier-dress combos, outers with not-quite-Donatella leg-o-mutton sleeves (there’s even a khaki trench!), and sleeveless tops with padded shoulders that won’t be lost on those with a taste for Balmain minus the fierce Glamazon posturing.
Ms Versace, like her brother, has always been unafraid of colour—the collection is not short of bright shots, such as chartreuse, orange, and pink; their intensity only tempered by a generous serving of black. Apart from the solids, the forest/garden-verdant print that made the last dress, appeared in other forms too, affirming that it could be the pattern (“prints charming”?) of next spring. We saw similar at Christopher Kane (LFW), and, at the time of this writing, witness more at Dolce & Gabbana. But it would be Versace’s foliage-dense that the world will remember. If not, there’s always Google Image, its creation in 2000 attributed to the “original jungle dress”, searched too often.
Interestingly, Amber Valletta, who first modelled that dress to close the Versace spring/summer 2000 show, is back on the brand’s runway, but this time, in a black, bust-cupped gown that is reminiscent of Elizabeth Hurley’s safety pin dress, minus, thankfully, the safety pins. Just as noteworthy is that Donatella Versace appeared with Jennifer Lopez in a LBD that brings to mind the dress worn by another woman associated with Gianni: the late Princess Diana, who wore a similar cocktail dress to the premiere of the Ron Howard film Apollo 13 in London in 1995. As it’s often said, and true of fashion and, perhaps, more so, Versace, it always comes back.
Versace, Coach, Givenchy, and Swarovski recently had to apologise for their missteps in Asia, joining an already shamed Dolce & Gabbana in a growing list of brands with a deplorable sense of cultural—and geographical—awareness
The Versace T-shirt that riled mainland Chinese Netizens. Photo: Weibo
By Raiment Young
Many years ago, at a media event that I attended in Monte Carlo, I came face to face with the now-out-of-favour, former Vogue editor-at-large, companion to Diana Vreeland in her final years, André Leon Talley. Mr Talley was not a caftan-wearing man at the time, as he became, up till the 2017 release of The World According to André. Still, he was imposing in a dark suit, speaking in that loud, clear, and urgent voice of his, sounding exactly the way he sounded, years later, while observing—and commenting on—the stars at the Academy Awards for a TV audience. When I came before him that night on my way to the patio of the palatial grounds on which the soiree took place to enjoy the cooler outdoors, he looked down at me, smiled, and gleefully offered, “konbanwa”. I returned the greeting by saying, “Good evening, Mr Talley”.
If this was the present, and it happened not to me, but someone else—say, a ‘woke’ person, now one to be, offence could have been immediately taken. A scolding might have ensued or an online rebuke quickly posted. But this was then. I was used to Caucasians mistaking me for every nationality or race in this part of the world except Laotian. Or, Dayak. The Japanese, powerful consumers like the Chinese are today, were frequently travelling to Europe. I understood that it was easy to mistake me for someone from, say, Tokyo or Toyota since it was likely that the Asians many Europeans and Americans encountered then were nihonjins, just as many today are zhongguoren.
In my early travels to the US, Americans would frequently ask, upon learning that I am from Singapore, “are you from China?” So often was this question posed that it soon dawned on me that this was going to be a tiring cliché for as long as I was in a place where not that many people owned a passport. It was said to me then that most Americans, whether in the heartlands or hub cities, consider Asia as one homogeneous place. How they came to that conclusion I had no clue. Few knew Samarkan from Samarinda. If they heard of Singapore, even if in their mind we weren’t a sovereign state, we were lucky.
There are Chinese in Singapore, which is not in China?
“There are Chinese in Singapore, which is not in China?” Sometimes, I became lazy and just said, smilingly, “Yes, I am from China, 你这个笨蛋 (you fool) or bodoh (stupid)”, depending on my mood. This was, of course, way before Donald Trump met Kim Jong Un here last year and, as a consequence, shone a brighter spotlight on our island. (Interestingly, even then, the US State Department was mistaken: they made Singapore part of Malaysia.) This was also way before people heard of such expressions as cultural racism or racial profiling. But I think, back then, we were a lot less sensitive to the cluelessness (carelessness?) of others and we did not, even after repeated encounters, take the insensitivity seriously or personally; we were not easily riled up; we were less emotionally fragile, and we were more forgiving. And we had better things to do, such as see the country that we had come to see.
You’d imagine things would have changed now that the Internet is connecting the world. And Google has answers, frequently than not. But, more than a decade after my encounter with Mr Talley under a midnight-blue sky in Monte Carlo, there are Westerners and, indeed, Western brands that still can’t get Asia right. They can’t see the vastness of the continent and, hence, its plurality. Now that even once-less-visited countries such as Vietnam is on the verge of over-tourism, it is surprising and, frankly annoying, that there are those Westerners who think Hong Kong is a country. Does the city’s contingent at the Olympic Games mislead those outside Asia to think that the SAR is a sovereign state not connected to the mainland?
The recent case of Versace and Coach producing similar T-shirts with near identical blunders bolster the believe that Western brands are still not looking at Asia closely and carefully enough. There are those who think that no matter what they produce, however tone deaf or fact blind, we Asians will snap them up as if they’re another cup of boba milk tea. But I do wonder: is it mere oversight to not know China’s hard-lined stance on its sovereignty and territorial rights? A provocation to garner maximum online reaction and, hence, to project newsy appeal? Or, is it sheer, inexcusable ignorance?
The Coach T-shirt that, too, angered mainland Chinese Netizens. Photo: Weibo
I had thought that the Dolce & Gabbana faux pas less than a year ago was bad enough—so bad, in fact, that other brands would start to become mindful of what they will say, communicate, or project. But one brand’s mistake is not necessarily another’s learning curve or awakening. While many brand owners acknowledge that Asia is an important market, if not the most important (China alone accounts for a third of the world’s luxury sales), they would not tread cautiously. Or, preemptively. Popularity, as movie/pop stars could tell you, may inure you to apathy, but that’s never good enough a reason to believe you won’t traipse a cultural minefield.
It appears that just because a brand has found favour among a sizeable number of spending consumers in Asia, it can step away from cultural, territorial, or political sensitivity. It is ironic that while brands are hiring ‘diversity chiefs’ to make sure they don’t exclude the non-Caucasian in product development and communication, none thought to appoint someone with the knowledge or interest in knowing that, for example, Taiwan is not, and likely never will be, a country.
It has become more apparent to many that admirable creativity in the atelier does not necessarily commensurate with awareness in marketing. It is often said that brands should decentralise their marketing, but few do. Away from Asia, some of the brands have become intellectually lazy and incurious. And willing to only state the obvious to underscore the brand’s global reach. In the case of the above T-shirts, I think it is superfluous to juxtapose—in the show-off list—the city in which the brand is available with the corresponding country to which the former belongs. It is strange that any marketeer would imagine that those who buy Versace or Coach need to be informed that Paris is in France. How many people would equate the City of Light with Lamar County, Texas?
The recent Versace pre-fall show in New York pointed to the return of the once-scandalous safety-pin dress. But we already knew that the house Gianni built is back in a big way when Zara started selling Versace-ish prints and (polyester) silk shirts months ago. But sneakers? Well, looks like Versace are having that moment too
By Shu Xie
It’s hardly surprising that Versace has joined the race to create the next Triple S. Or ugly shoe. I am only surprised that they’ve taken this long. To be sure, Versace has always had sneakers in their footwear repertoire, but they weren’t exactly the stuff that will excite Yeezy fans or convert the Flashtrek die-hard. But things may change now. The house has never done anything in half measures, as you and I have seen. So their kicks are, as expected, bolder, flashier, taller. And the Chain Reaction is all of the above.
Back in February, when they showed the new, already-leaked shoe silhouette during the autumn/winter 2018 presentation, I was a little skeptical about what Donatella Versace could do with sneakers. After all, she allegedly (thus famously?) said, on her way to treatment to kick her cocaine addiction back in 2004, “I can give up anything, but not my high heels.” But women do change, even 1.65-metre tall women.
I was unconvinced by Versace’s foray into sneakers also because Gucci’s Flashtrek had a head start in June this year. Louis Vuitton’s Archlight even earlier—February, around the same time the Chain Reaction made its appearance on the runway. Although the Chain Reaction first retailed in stores and the Versace e-shop in April, its for-sale appearance came seven months later than Balenciaga’s Triple S, which took the designer-sneaker world by storm last year. You’d think Versace had merely jumped on the bandwagon.
Now, the Chain Reaction has made such an impact with their distinctive flashiness and bulk and height that even the Japanese, who usually eschew the over-the-top when it comes to shoes, have looked to the Italian house for something that can be trending. Yesterday, Tokyo’s United Arrow & Sons that I once considered a conservative clothier teased followers of their IG account with an illustration of a collaboration (left) that features a “Versace family pack”, presumably a new colour/fabric/print story for the Chain Reaction.
Naturally, Donatella Versace had help in this sneaker gamble and it came, surprisingly, not from an old hat, but an unknown product designer called Salehe Bembury. As Mr Bembury told GQin May, he had reached out to Versace’s people with a design idea through LinkedIn. Intrigued, they invited him to Milan where Donatella was so impressed with his proposal—a 3D model that would become the Chain Reaction—that she immediately offered him a job. The rest was, additionally, right timing and influencer hype.
The Chain Reaction, despite its go-with-the-trend chunkiness, is the kind of shoe that elicits the response: interesting. That’s what I thought anyway. You can’t dismiss it as crass, but you can’t say it’s stirringly beautiful either. The showiness is not unexpected since no one would expect the brand with the Medusa-head logo to go for the likes of the Stam Smith. That Versace would do an attention-grabbing shoe is not only consistent with trends, but with the brand image.
One thing that impressed me is Versace’s not-immediately obvious embrace of ugly—now a shoe category itself. Sure, the height of the shoe at certain angles reminds me of MBTs, but that does not mean that Mr Bembury deliberately played up the Chain Reaction’s potentially unattractive appearance so as to fit in with market demands. Instead, he worked on the usually not seen. The ‘chain’, for example, is a neat little detail. It appears on the underside of the sole as a molded shape of links of a chain that presumably affords traction. Although it reminds me of the VaporMax’s, it is rather well thought-out and does hint at Versace’s love of hardware. The uppers, too, resist succumbing to the many layers other brands prefer. While classic Versace motifs of frets and curlicues are the ones many shoppers go for, it is the understated blacks, as well as the whites that give the Chain Reaction a vaguely classic appeal.
It has to be said that these are heavy kicks, which for some may be appealing because they’d feel grounded in them. But, perhaps, for the four figures that Versace asks for a pair, the heft may mean wearers are getting huge bang for their buck.
The Versace Chain Reaction, SGD1,480 for women’s and SGD1,500 for men’s, is available at Versace stores. Illustration: United Arrows and Sons. Photos: Zhao Xiangji
According to Versace’s own description on their website after the autumn/winter 2018 show was posted online, the latest collection is “Strong. Loud. Confident. There are no compromises. A clash of cultures between past and present, old and new, sneakers and stilettos”.
Yes, it is classic Versace, but there is something else, something that expresses Donatella Versace’s in-your-face, I-can-wear-anything-I-want feminism. And, the man-baiting sexuality. It is Ms Donatella coming into her own, a confident assertion that this is how she now sees the brand her brother built. She is making Versace in her own image.
It is as if, after marking the 20th anniversary of the death of Gianni Versace with an homage show, she is finally able to purge all the obligations held to keep his memory alive and the expectations of her as a designer she could never be. Ms Donatella was finally able to breathe easy. And she did. And she came up tops.
Earlier suggestion and viral rumours that she contemplated stepping down was conventional smoke. Now that we know for sure Riccardo Tisci has gone to Burberry after persistent news that he would zip to the house of the Medusa head, we can lay all talk of Ms Donatella not designing the label she inherited a rest. This autumn/winter season is her strongest and compelling collection yet—a sure-footed discourse on what the Versace woman is today and a deft hand at melting the house codes into visuals that connect to the present time.
There is the obligatory lian-ness, of course, such as the over-patched Western shirt seen on Kaia Gerber, who is able to pull off such a top because she is very young. Sometimes you sensed that Versus has crossed over to the main line and some of the effects do throw back to Ms Donatella’s early years with the diffusion line, which she had led. The tartans were especially fetching—they did, however, remind us of how Christopher Kane, one time Versus designer, would have handled the highland checks. Gingham corset over tartan blazer!
There seems to be a need to pull the collection into street territory too. One outfit stood out only because it is un-Versace: a body-obscuring, studded (like a Chesterfield) puffer coat styled with an oversized padded scarf and worn with a short skirt that matches the former’s lining is a walk on Demna Gvasalia territory. It is, to us, a stray that could be seen as testing the waters. Versace could do with larger support from youths even if they have admirably seduced the young of the Chinese market.
Other times, you sensed a Versace for the careerist. Gigi Hadid looked Wall Street-bound! Ms Donatella has always called herself a working woman. And has often claimed to cater to those who have a career path to track and who desire powerful sartorial images of the height of corporate conquest. Her work clothes are not meek and secretarial; they’re unyielding and dominating. Her coats and jackets project power and the shirts and blouses that go with them just as fierce.
Fierceness has always been a Donatella trait—now, the intensity tempered with girlishness, often in the form of short, pleated, as well as flouncy skirts that straddle the narrow divide between school uniform and otaku fantasy. The suggestion of adolescent at play, too, can be seen in the pairing of T-shirts (some looking as if there were made from two halves) to huge, poufed skirts—a styling trick possibly gleaned from the Sharon Stone playbook.
Don’t get us wrong: Donatella Versace has not abandoned the very essence that has endeared her brand to stars such as Jennifer Lopez: sex. There is, in fact, a healthy dose of it: sex as empowerment, ironically pronounced in a time of anti-sexually-predatory behavior. But what would Versace be without accenting the hips and flashing a limb? Simply put, no zest.