Two Of A Kind: Cock-A-Double-Do

Staying at home means spending more time online. Not necessarily a bad thing: You get to see a lot, including, like it or not, accessories in the stylised shape of the male genitalia

JW Anderson Vs Vivienne Westwood

By Ray Zhang

Let it be known, I am no prude, but that is not to say I am partial to accessories that depict the male sex organ. Lockdown, a noun I have not heard of until four months ago, is motivating us to go online for all our amusement and entertainment. E-shopping, I hear, isn’t quite a major pursuit, but bored stay-at-homers are spending considerable time parked between HTMLs. If buying—for adornment, especially—is stricken by limited appeal, online viewing may not translate into offline wearing. Besides, who really cares about what is worn within the four walls of home, or when snuggling in bed with a notebook, or when you start to wonder, as the popular beng retort goes, “wear to where”? Yet, these dick danglies are out there.

They were likely conceived before daily grind and telecommuting merged (not mingle!), when some of us still had the habit of looking into a closet, or accessory drawer. One is in leather, the other in steel, and both depict an organ not in flaccid state, which is understandable since a limp phallus would be a downer if it were to arouse even the mildest shock. On the left is a JW Anderson charm that looks like something destined for a handbag, not likely a Birkin. On the right is a Vivienne Westwood keyring with the carabiner shaped like a boner. Nothing exceptionally shocking here as Ms Westwood has already released a larger penile likeness in 2014, in the form of the Penis Clutch Bag.

I’m not sure who these are designed for. Would a man buy either piece for himself or for a lady friend? Or for another man? Would a woman buy for herself or for a male friend? What does succumbing to its appeal say, even if both do not correspond to sexual excitement? Could they have pride of place next to Line’s popular Brown or Coney, frequently in charm form? Or has buying and gifting conventions changed so much that products need to come under the umbrella of porno-suggestive to be buyable and giveable? Is this timely, considering that even the BBC reported, while debunking its immune-boosting advantage, acknowledged that, during masturbation, “men had higher white blood cell counts when they were sexually aroused, and during orgasm”? Frankly, I really don’t know, but do click and add to cart.

Product photos: source

Watched: Vivienne Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist

The first of two fashion films for this year’s Design Film Festival, Vivienne Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist is not a compelling exploration of the designer’s three colourful personae


VW 1

Reluctance is no indication of reticence. In the 2018 documentary Vivienne Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist, the designer may appear unwilling to open up—“just let me talk, just get it over with,” she told director Lorna Tucker—but she does eventual speak out, the urgency in her voice, although somewhat measured, carries through the film with the same creative consistency of her designs. This is “a woman with a mission”, as she identifies herself, but the documentary does not necessarily state it so expressively.

When it appeared on the big screen last year, VW was announced by the media as a film “Vivienne Westwood doesn’t want you to see”. In a no-nonsense post on the brand’s Twitter account, it was stated that “Lorna Tucker asked to film Vivienne’s activism and followed her around for a couple of years (the film took three to make), but there’s not even 5 minutes of activism in the film”. We didn’t bring a stopwatch into the cinema with us, but the work Ms Westwood has done outside the scope of fashion was captured only in short snatches and provided little that showed her true passion in those causes—environmental was touched on, but political, nary a squeak—that she believes in.

You see, activism does not a compelling movie make. Who wants to see a by-now aged (78), although still-feisty, woman—and a Dame no less, call attention to a controversial issue such as the environmentally problematic practice of fracking (it is doubtful that many in the audience in the Capitol theatre yesterday afternoon knows what that is). Rather, hearing her get all annoyed about a small seam that she claimed she did not ask for and disliked intensely makes for watchable anecdote, one that the audience found so funny that not a small number laughed out, from-the-belly loud.

VW 2

It is, of course, likely that the curious come to watch a documentary about a fashion designer to witness foibles and flare-ups and the fussing over what to many are probably of no consequence, such as the width of a hem. To pander to the audience seeking clichés to confirm and to remind us that the subject is, foremost, a fashion designer with exacting standards, Ms Tucker resorted to those “inside” takes that offer a wink-wink affirmation that the Dame is no different from those who approach their craft with hawk-eye obsession and near-couture habits.

Throw in found footage of past fashion shows (including recognisable models) and a couple of interviews with members of the family and authoritative voices such as Victoria & Albert Museum’s fashion curator, Claire Wilcox, as well as the ’80s TV appearance with host Sue Lawley, who prodded the audience to laugh at Ms Westwood’s tricky-to-grasp clothes (“You design not because they’re witty but because you believe they’re attractive and that they make people more attractive?”) and you have a heady brew of a designer’s dismay and the derision levelled at her.

Ms Tucker seems quite unconcerned about the punk, the icon, nor the activist of her subject, with the three probably coming together at post-production. The spotlight is on Ms Westwood as designer of (outrageous) clothes. To make it an absorbing fashion story, she was sure to throw in the juicy bits already noted in even the scrappiest biography of Ms Westwood: her heels are designed to be so towering that even Naomi Campbell fell walking in them, the hands on the clock fronting her shop Worlds End ticks backwards, and that she went to collect the OBE awarded to her by Queen Elizabeth without wearing panties.

VW 3

Lorna Tucker reportedly knew Vivienne Westwood for five years and spent three making the documentary. Despite all that time, the film was unable to show us what Vivienne Westwood is like as a punk, which, in the guise of a musical movement, shocking attitude, and a social anomaly, Ms Westwood did not originate nor spearhead, as suggested (she and her then-partner Malcom McClaren were active members of the sub-culture, especially through the clothes they sold in the shop Sex). Or, what makes her an icon (Ms Wilcox was filmed showing a piece from ‘Pirate’, but no further elaboration on how this first collection would influence the punk off-shoot, the New Romantics, and that it identified with ’80s artistes such as Duran Duran and Adam Ant). Or, where her activism took her, if it made light of serious issues, or how it influenced her designs (apart from the slogan tees, which, admittedly, were sometimes messy and hackneyed).

Something got in the way of our watching the film. It dawned on us that Ms Tucker, the filmmaker, is a millennial (she’s thirtysomething), who, although was once a model, is not necessarily equipped with the knowledge or depth to go beyond the obvious and the titillating. VW reflects the ethos of Ms Tucker’s generation: the influencer culture and approach to fashion that prefers surface and ‘looks’ than complexity and meaning. Bickering, to her, is artistic temperament that stokes creativity and losing one’s total calm in the presence of international buyers is having a grip on one’s business. All designers, too, are creatures of the heart and considerable reel time is given to failed affairs and inexplicable marriages. There is no attempt at penetrating the layers that make Ms Westwood, just getting under her skin.

One thing has to be said of Vivienne Westwood: few designers (excluding John Galliano) dress as though they are in the business of fashion and the selling of dreams. Or, believe in what they design and peddle. In all her appearances—specifically shot or on video clips, Ms Westwood, even in activism mode, does not dress down, appearing to enjoy the clothes she wears as much as designing then. It’s certainly not the same with the current crop of taste-makers: not Virginie Viard, not Maria Grazia Chiuri.

Stills: Dogwoof

With The Write Company

Fourteen years ago, Louis Vuitton launched a series of bags that would dramatically elevate the status of the brand’s staid Monogram canvas. And all it took was to deface the signature fabric with graffiti writing. Today, scribbled text across perfectly respectable surfaces continue to make loud fashion statements

Stephen Sprouse Graffiti on Monogram Canvas

Close-up of Stephen Sprouse’s graffiti on Louis Vuitton’s Monogram Canvas in 2001

Handwriting has a long history, but anthropologists and educators now declare that it belongs to the past. Their proclamation may not be so overstated. Texting with a keyboard—physical or virtual—is, after all, more prevalent than putting pen to paper. Yet, high tech has a knack of reviving the interest in the low tech it replaces. If you look at the resurgence of the long playing record despite the popularity of digital downloads, there’s hope that hand-penned lettering may not entirely be replaced by fonts of electronic lineage. No matter how popular Brandon Grotesque may still be, free-form handwriting is not losing out. In fact, the less orderly, the less uniform, and the less rigid the handwriting, the more appealing they are. And no other industry love scrawls and scribbles more than fashion. Graffiti has a soul mate.

If credit must be given to he who merits it, then Marc Jacobs deserves to be commended for popularising handwriting-as-pattern, bringing toilet-stall shorthand and neon warehouse-wall inscriptions to fashion’s hallowed grounds. Back in 2001, Mr Jacobs collaborated with Stephen Sprouse to breathe new life to Louis Vuitton’s Monogram canvas. Created in 1896 for the making of luggage, LV’s signature patterned fabric had become, a century later, a reminder of faded glories and a way of travel no longer preferred. What Mr Sprouse did to the Monogram canvas with his almost-naïve lettering not only gave it street cred, which LV needed rather badly at that time, it also gave it shock value. No one could imagine such irreverence. The aesthetic blow was a punch to the taste of the soignée set, but to the young consumer group (Gen X?), it was an appealing sock to a design institution. It wasn’t just graffiti writing, it was script in neon, and it was confrontational and attention-grabbing, and to its detractors, it fed into the vacuity of capitalist consumerism.

Louis Vuitton's Graffiti collectionTop left, Louis Vuitton X Stephen Sprouse Speedy 30 bag. Top right, Louis Vuitton store in New York’s Soho during the launch of the Graffiti series. Below: Marc Jacobs posed in the nude for New York Magazine in 2008

Mr Jacobs, installed at Louis Vuitton during the frantic brand revivalism of the Nineties, would later tell the press that he did receive instructions not to defile LV’s iconic motifs, but, unsurprisingly, he wasn’t one to follow decrees. Whether this was an act of disaffection or strutting on a whim, it was hard to tell. Always in tune with the pop culture of any given time, Mr Jacobs would pluck from the zeitgeist of the past with total abandon to infuse his designs with more than a whiff of long-gone vice and excesses. Some think this is his true talent. He told the Guardian in a 2009 interview of the first Stephen Sprouse fashion show he attended in 1984, aged 21: “It was like a rock concert. Deafening hardcore rock… the audience was downtown club-kids sitting next to Vogue and New York Times fashion editors. It was the first time that had happened in New York.” The first is always the most unforgettable, and 17 years later, he would pluck Stephen Sprouse out of obscurity and introduce street lettering to Parisian fashion.

Mr Sprouse was, at that time, an out-of-full-time-practice “cult” fashion designer—trained at Halston, but much associated with Day-Glo (colours) of the Eighties, and known among pop royalty as the designer of rock costumes, such as those for Duran Duran’s 1989 Big Thing tour (interestingly, before he became a full-fledge designer, he made clothes for the punk-pop ingénue Debby Harry, who was a downstairs neighbour). Mr Sprouse may have brought punk and fluorescence and downtown vibe together, but his approach and quality were steep in traditional dressmaking. His friends, who had the privilege of wearing his custom-made clothes, knew, for example, that he used Norman Norell’s tailor. Regrettably, design skill and business savvy wasn’t the downtown cool and uptown chic that Mr Sprouse had successfully paired. In 1985, much to the shock of the disco set that worshipped him, he declared bankruptcy.

Stephen Sprouse

Stephen Sprouse

Under the auspices of Louis Vuitton and with those bags he vandalised, Stephen Sprouse (left) became known as a “graffiti designer”, a title that belied his true legacy as a fashion designer since he used graffiti as an element of design, not quite as a style of art such as those of working graffiti artists Lee Quiñones and Keith Haring. The collaboration emerged at a time when graffiti art was becoming increasingly mainstream; facilitated by the rapid rise of rap music. Graffiti visually expresses rap (and, the related hip hop) just as breaking physically articulates it. The influence of graffiti art on rap music—or pop music—goes as far back as the late Seventies, when in 1979, Blondie’s music video for the single Rapture (in which Debbie Harry raps somewhat unconvincingly) featured Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Vivienne Westwood jacket

A jacket from Vivienne Westwood’s ‘Witches’ collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum

While the result of the Jacobs-Sprouse partnership appeared headily new at that time, fashion observers across the Atlantic thought it déjà vu. In the Autumn/Winter season of 1983, Vivienne Westwood and one-time partner and co-designer Malcolm McLaren hatched a conceptually strong collection with hip-hop overtones called ‘Witches’. The idea came about after meeting Keith Haring in New York. Ms Westwood found Mr Haring’s drawings to be “a magical, esoteric sign language” and was keen to use them as prints for that season’s collection. The separates—characterised by oversized tops—were etched with Mr Haring’s distinctive graffiti. The British design duo was, however, no stranger to defacement graphics. In 1975, they renamed at existing shop of theirs—Let It Rock—to Sex! Situated at the suitably named World’s End on London’s King’s Road, it was fronted by its name in pink rubber letters, 1.2 metres high! Inside, graffiti of pornographic images ravished the walls. It was totally in keeping with Sex’s maxim: “Craft must have clothes but truth loves to go naked”. ‘Witches’ was the last collection jointly designed by Ms Westwood and Mr McLaren.

While fashion and music played down the social nuisance that graffiti represented, on our shores, graffiti in the guise of art did not take a grip of our pop consciousness since it was not condone by our government, at least not in public spaces, where the presence of graffiti would be considered vandalism (since 1994, an American, a Swiss and two Germans have found out the painful way). In 2001, Louis Vuitton changed how we saw graffiti, and illustrated graffiti’s relevance and parity to modern fashion via its bags. In no time, graffiti’s social standing and creative value were elevated. And since it was not unlawful to have graffiti on your handbag (always private property whether in the shop or in your hand), women thronged the LV stores to acquire one (or more), only to be told that there were sold out.

By many accounts, the collection enjoyed a 100 percent sell-through, and it was reported that the Speedy 30 travelling bag alone enjoyed sales in excess of USD300 million in its first year. Mr Sprouse died of lung cancer in 2004, three years after the collaboration, but Louis Vuitton continued to produce the Graffiti series in the six years that followed. Mr Jacobs was so thrilled with its success (including latter reiterations) that he would appear in a series of LV print ads with nothing more than graffiti scrawled all over his body. Only an adequately sized, graffiti-covered Keepall protected his modesty. Who could have known that the defacement of an iconic fabric would prove so wildly lucrative for what, at that time, was still essentially a bag brand?

Longchamp X Jeremy Scott Le PliageLongchamp X Jeremy Scott’s makeover of the luggage label’s best-selling Le Pliage bag

Following in Marc Jacob’s footsteps is Jeremy Scott, whose appropriation of popular icons in madcap ways has elevated him to a position that few designers using classical motifs can reach. His latest in a long collaboration with Longchamp sees the Le Pliage bag that he favours smothered with glyphs of the zodiac in Halloween orange. Rihanna was one of the first to carry this version even before it hit the stores. Le Pliage, one of the most knocked off brand-name bags (just explore Bugis Street market), is Longchamp’s most successful product. Introduced in 1993 by Philippe Cassegrain (son of founder Jean Cassegrain), who also designed the bag, Le Pliage’s success can be traced to two attributes not always evident in luxury products: undeniable practicality and attractive price. The early issues of Le Pliage, if you look back now, were the antithesis of the IT bag, and were attractive to women who did not need her handbag to define her. But the simplicity of its design easily lends itself to counterfeiting. With lookalikes flooding the market, Longchamp’s iconic tote no longer enjoyed the advantage of a charmed genesis.

Jeremy Scott for Moschino SS 2015

Jeremy Scott for Moschino SS 2015

If the Monogram canvas needed a jolt of new life, Le Pliage’s unexciting nylon, too, required creative tempering. Jeremy Scott, the American designer who placed teddy bears on Adidas sneakers and gave Moschino’s cross-body bag the shape of McDonald’s French fry cup, is the guy to do just that. Mr Scott has been prescribing makeovers for the Le Pliage since 2006. True to his penchant for plastering the low brow onto high style, he made Longchamp’s star bag a canvas on which to transfer his goofy graphics: from holiday postcards to the ugly faces of the Eighties’ cartoon series Madballs. But graffiti has always been on the mind of Mr Scott, whose popularity among hip hop stars has never waned. Le Pliage’s latest face is possibly an extension of what he did at the house of Moschino for the current spring/summer season: red-carpet-worthy gowns are fashioned out of fabrics with graffiti that look like it has been transposed from abandoned buildings in certain seedy American neighbourhood. To some, this is the genius of Jeremy Scott: the knack for celebrating his own national identity through sneaky Americanisation of European brands.

Sebastian Lester S

Sebastian Lester’s calligraphic art

The popularity of handwritten text has also been boosted by the viral sharing of the work of the English typographer and calligrapher Sebastian Lester. One of the most popular blogs on YouTube is Mr Lester’s hand-drawn calligraphy, in particular the one that shows him illustrating recognisable logotype with a broad-tip pen (at last check, the post hit 1,276, 049 views, not counting the reposts and shares). That a video that’s not about a pop star twerking or someone’s pet doing something painfully silly could ensnare more than a million hits attests to both Mr Lester’s amazing skill and the elegance of lettering by hand. Mr Lester has shown that unadulterated handwriting can make beautiful art. Technology may make work for most of us easier, but, in the end, our hands still easily make the best work.

Longchamp X Jeremy Scott ‘Zodiac’ Le Pliage travel bag, SGD440, is available at Longchamp stores