Underrated: The A-Line Skirt

Despite the popularity of denim cut-offs, women do love wearing skirts. But these days, most of them prefer either a full (or circular) skirt or a snug, hip-hugging one. Between them, there was once a very easy to love skirt shape known as the A-line. In fact, the A-line skirt is so uncomplicated to understand and such a simple starting point that it is often the basic skirt taught to first-year fashion design students learning to draught and sew their first skirt.

It is, therefore, rather despairing that the A-line is increasingly cast into the shadows of more voluminous sisters, picked for their ‘couture’ shapes, or sidelined by the ultra-mini minis. Thankfully, at Red Valentino (as at, we should note, Prada), they’ve not abandoned the A-line, offering, for the current season, a version that is not only eye-catching, but totally debunks the belief that the A-line is uninteresting and old-fashioned, and is for school teachers and librarians, therefore so frumpy that the A-line has to be relegated by many hipsters to the “no-go zone”.

What we see here with the Red Valentino A-line, especially in this khaki/black combination, is a skirt that has lost much of its ‘basic’ leaning, and takes on a façade that a gallerist or art pundit would not reject. The two panels, with their scalloped edges, seemed to have transmogrified—in a good way—what would have been a very vanilla skirt. To amplify its art cred, a length of black narrow lace is used to trace the perimeter of the panels, giving each a charcoal drawing quality when seen afar. They could even be markings on draughting paper! This arts-and-craft vibe is, to us, totally appealing.

For certain, this isn’t a skirt the Hadid sisters would wear. It does not show off curves, it is too opaque, and it is too modest. If, however, fashion is judged on how a fabric—adequate amount of it—is handled and manipulated, then this indeed is a fashionable article of clothing.

Talking about fabrics, this skirt is made with what Red Valentino calls “Tricotine Tech”, with the “tech” suggesting a technical, possibly blended fabric. Tricotine is essentially cloth that has a double twill rib on its surface, and what is used here is akin to a finer calvary twill, and has a terrific hand feel.

Comfort and flair: what a winning pair.

For reasons unknown, the midi-length skirt pictured here is unavailable in Singapore, but can be purchased online at the Red Valentino e-store). A mini version, SGD880, is available at Red Valentino, Takashimaya SC. Photo: Red Valentino

Advertisements

Small. Wireless. Powerful

Sony WF 10000X earbuds

By Low Teck Mee

Sony is a late comer when it comes to true wireless, in-ear headphones. Sure, there’s the Xperia Ear, but that’s more a personal assistant that lets you do what you want to with your phone without touching the thing. Perfect for Okay-Googling, but, as it’s only for one ear, less ideal for The XX’s I See You.

Truth be told, I gave up waiting for the release of their completely cordless, the WF 1000X. So, in the middle of this year, I gave another pair a chance: the Nakamichi MyEars True Wireless Earphones NEP-TW1 (S$299). I have been looking around for a set that won’t take a chunk out of my bank account, but it was not easy to find anything sensational that’s less than S$300. I have even considered Samsung’s not quite eye candy, the oddly triangular Gear IconX (S$298), but I have never been a Samsung user, and to pair a Samsung earphone with my non-Samsung devices seemed a poor coupling to me. Someone suggested that I try the Apple Airpod (S$238), but the unsealed earphones (sound spill!) fail to impress me as they look like oversized cotton swabs bent from over-vigorous insertion into the ear.

The Nakamichi is a nifty little earphone mainly because it is so small and it comes with a compact charging case that doubles as a battery pack, which you can use to charge any gadget that has a micro USB port, assuming there’s juice left in the case. The neat tubular buds sound a tad too muffled for my liking, but I was happy to have them accompany me on my daily commute to work, on the dastardly, unreliable MRT trains. Until, the dearer S$300+ Sony WF 1000X debuted.

Sony has it displayed in their concept store in Wisma Atria, as well as the flagship in 313@Orchard. Strangely, at both places, they are secured behind clear cases that are clearly a case of see-no-touch. Virtually all Sony headphones are available to try and the staff will urge you to, but the WF 1000X sat haughtily in their confines—out of bounds. Although deep curiosity had a tight grip on me and the WF 1000X seemed to be casting speaking glances in my direction, I was able to walk away from it. A week later, the missus, sensing my unsatisfied yearning, bought me a pair! (An emoji should be placed here, but I won’t say which one.)

Sony WF 10000X earbuds P2

The WF 1000X is now the only set of earphones I use and enjoy. To be honest, when I first held them between my thumb and index finger after extricating them from the case/charger, I was uncertain about their aesthetic attraction as they’re rather big. I had gotten quite used to the compactness of the Nakamichi that these oval shapes seemed like the Hercules in the gym that has the talent of making you feel puny. The WF 1000X are, therefore, not discreet buds that won’t invite wireless headphone virgins from starring into the entrance of your ear canal. When the missus first saw me with them, she said, not without satisfaction, “So, now you have your own ear jewellery.” I am just grateful that, for me, the black was chosen over the gold.

In the end, the pleasure of using them drowned out the self-consciousness that comes with the conspicuous buds plugged in. After the initial pairing with the phone and a music player (I use the Sony Walkman NW-A26HN), I was honestly blissed out by what flowed into my ear. The sound was warm and balanced, revealing a level of detail I had not expected from such a small pair of Bluetooth-connected cans. Could it be because of the 6mm “dome-type” driver crammed somewhere in them? Bjork’s The Gate flowed magically, wrapping my head in some place more splendid than Na’vi-land, Pandora.

What’s also appealing is that the WF 1000X comes with noise-cancelling capability. I do not know of any true wireless earphones that are similarly endowed, so this is a welcome feature for me, especially when I am easily annoyed by train commuters who use their smartphone audibly. The noise-cancelling, however, is not 100% (I’m not sure it’s even 90%), but for me it blocked out more than adequate external audio intrusion without the need to turn up the volume (I mostly kept it at the half-way mark). There is also a choice for what Sony calls “ambient sound”, perfect if you do not want to miss hearing the announcement of which station you’re approaching next.

Like many true wireless headphones, the WF 1000X is not spared connectivity issues. For some reason, the right earpiece is prone to signal drop. It’s worse when your audio source is placed in your bag or even in any one of the pockets of your pants (I assume it’s the same with skirts)—especially the rear. So, I hold it in my hand. Sometimes, when you’re informed that the headphones are on, there’s no connection. To solve this problem, I place the headphones back into the charging case, which turns them off automatically, and then remove them again, which turns them on. The connection is re-established.

If you have fat fingers like I do, then the placement of the two control buttons—one on the bottom of each side—could be a problem. The buttons are tiny, but they are positioned precisely where your thumb will rest when you need to, say, position the buds for comfort or snug fit. This means there is a good chance that you will press them and, consequently, turn the set off, or cancel the enjoyable noise-cancelling peace. Or, maybe, that’s just me: unable to treat sensitive equipment gently.

Sony WF 1000X Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones, SGD349, is available at Sony concept store at Wisma Atria and flagship at 313@Orchard. Photos: Jim Sim 

Time After Time, Hush Is Hammered

Jil Sander vs Dolce & GabbanaLeft: Jil Sander, right: Dolce & Gabbana

By Mao Shan Wang

I admit defeat; I’m not putting up a fight. I’ll be drown out by the din; my quiet no match for the scream. I have been told that fashion is not for those who are scared of being thought as weird. But not desiring Gucci (world’s second most popular brand, according to the 1997 Lyst Index) is making me sense that people think I’m totally strange, out of whack. It was explained to me that fashion is shrill in its tone because people need to express themselves and to stand out. It’s the “cultural Zeitgeist”, they say. But I am expressing myself even when I choose noiseless white cotton tops and opaque pants. Ironically, and to my dismay, I am the one now as conspicuous as the proverbial sore thumb. You bet I’m sore!

Ignore at my own peril? I’ll take the risk. Truth is, I understand the brashness of brands such as Gucci, Versace, and Dolce & Gabbana, but I don’t really care about their ploughing through common aesthetic decency. I know it is not about making a fine-looking dress or about something exceedingly well-made. It’s about designs—actually looks—that reflect the times. As a dear friend of mine said to me recently, “I never care about quality. Even if it was roughly made or badly sewn, I’d still wear it if it spoke to me about how the designer felt about fashion or the world today.”

Understandable. The thing about the Zeitgeist is that it is fleeting. You catch it now, or you won’t. And that is the point, and the thrill, and the reason to consume. Some people don’t want to miss the boat. You’re either sailing or you’re sinking; there’s no treading water. And you either recognise it, or you don’t; there’s no maybe. Some people don’t want to be thought ignorant. Or, slow or, worse, obtuse.

What they say about time and tide—it’s true of the Zeitgeist. Together with much of fashion, the Zeitgeist waits for no one. It does not have the patience of a saint. It is also increasingly confrontational. It does not manifest slowly; it appears with a bang, like a bird on a windscreen. If you don’t accept it, that’s too bad. It goes to someone else who is willing to embrace it with wide open arms. The Zeitgeist does not care about you.

I am not knocking showiness per se. This is the way people communicate now, the way they brand themselves, or how they see the world. It’s just that most ostentation is devoid of pith and idea. I look at Versace’s SS 2018 homage collection and I see a meretricious display—little else, even when it is supposed to be a salute to “powerful women”, the very same women Gianni Versace himself was thought to have supported, even if they were really models. I look at Dolce and Gabbana’s family-friendly, grand-enough-for-the-whole-village gaudiness, and I think of retreating to a cave. Okay, maybe up a remote mountain.

Fashion—what it has become—has turned many consumers into magpies although some would readily admit that they’re magpies to begin with. There is such an increasing dread and distaste for the quiet that if you should adopt simplicity for dress, people think you have not tried hard enough. As a friend I have known since school is wont to point out to me, “Why do you bother to wear designer clothes when nobody can tell that you are?” Does that then mean that designers such as Luke and Lucie Meier of Jil Sander isn’t talking, or saying something about how they felt about the world, or that hush is analogous to humility?

I say turn up the quiet, quietly.

Photos: Indigital.tv

Nicki Minaj: She’ll Break The Internet, Too?

Or should it be ‘they’, since it is a “Minaj à trois”?

Just as you thought “break the Internet” is a one-time thing back in 2014, Nicki Minaj is offering triple the delight in a single page, thrice more than Kim Kardashian’s also-Internet-breaking Paper cover of that year. In addition, the rapper is titillating readers in the upcoming issue with not just full-frontal bum, but full-on boobs too. The thing is, Ms Minaj, as with Ms Kardashian, has lived near-nude so publicly, so unashamedly, and so often that surely by now many of us have seen enough of her bare breasts and buttocks to not consider them shocking or eye-catching?

It isn’t clear how no-clothes can be fashion, but perhaps Ms Minaj’s self-styled composite isn’t about fashion since there is hardly anything resembling clothes that one can be delighted or disgusted with. But it is notable that once-unimaginable sleazy in pink (millennial pink?) is possibly now a chromatic backlash from too much blush-coloured Barbie fashion and Elsa and Anna princess dresses. According to Ms Minaj, you can do pink, but you don’t have to look prim.

You’d think that by now the Internet—broken and mended—has gutted the appeal of female nudity. And that the banalisation of nakedness has reached a zenith that can’t be repeated enough without challenging the domain of pornography. Yet, here is Ms Minaj—not only in dresses that by themselves offer undress, but also in poses that, away from the glare of studio lights and camera lenses, could have constituted sexually predatory behaviour.

How will this brazen display play out in the present explosive exposé of sexual harassment and rapaciousness for sex? Or is the touching and tonguing of oneself, even publicly, self-gratification that does not cross the trammels of decency? Is fashion even part of the communication? What are we missing here? Or are we, ironically, just too prudish for the breakable Internet? Honestly, it’s hard to fathom. These are confusing times, and Nicki Minaj—à trois—adds to the puzzlement, three times more.

Photo: Paper magazine/Ellen von Unwerth

When Flower Meets Mountain

Mountain Flower Yamano sneaker

By Shu Xie

I like the stories behind brands; I like them even more when people of one mind meet and then overcome the odds to realise a dream. Two of them, whose coming together I’m sure many creative types can relate to, are the founders of this new-to-Singapore footwear brand, Flower Mountain. Shoe designers Keisuke Ota and Yang Chao, from Tokyo and Beijing respectively, found in each other a common love of footwear design, mountain trekking, and rock music. In fact, it was during the Fuji Rock Festival (once held at the foot of Mt Fuji, hence its name, but now staged in Naeba Ski Resort in Niigata Prefecture of Japan) when the appealing idea of Flower Mountain was mooted. It’s hard to imagine the fortysomething blokes rocking to Gorillaz or Genshi Shinbo and thinking of broguing and lacing, but apparently they did!

I can’t say who’s the flower and who’s the mountain, but the twain did meet in 2015. As a result, Mr Ota and Mr Yang created some seriously handsome shoes. For sure, the classic sneaker references are there (mid-sole details!), but let’s say there are luxury brands that are far more blatant. What I find charming is that both guys have infused their sneakers with their very own touches and quirks, minus any bombastic branding. The results are so imbued with the spirit of indie, detail-loving shoemakers that Kith New York was enamoured enough to be one of their earliest stockists.

The Yamano sneaker (top) is a case in point. It has a rather familiar form, composed of not terribly unusual details, but the sum of its parts say something about the different aesthetic that the design duo was aiming for. What caught my eyes were the amoeba-shaped, cut-out eyelet guards; the multiple pieces with decorative stitching that form the quarter and the heel counter; and the leather whip stitch that joins the toe and the toe box. When I looked past the collar into the inside of the shoe, I was quite delighted to find an insole that is made of cork (treated with a natural compound known as Agion that has anti-microbial properties to inhibit bacterial growth, which also means reducing unwelcome smells). These are totally caressable kicks, inside out!

Flower Mountain Asuka sneaker

The tactile quality is most evident in the Asuka mid-cut (above). The upper is made from a cotton canvas that is produced in the Japanese town of Kurashiki (Okayama prefecture), known, in fact, for their hanpu—plain-weave canvas that is so durable, they’re used to make sails, a craft that dates back to the end of the Edo period. The canvas used in the Asuka has an unusual texture: it looks suede-y, but could pass off as hand-made paper! The same attention to detail is applied to the rest of the shoe. Given its sturdy looks, I suspect it is more than able to stand against tough terrains. Oh, there is that cork insole too.

In a test-run/walk, Flower Mountain’s Yamano can hold a gerbera (or choose your favourite bloom) to outdoor wear brands such as The North Face. They’re light enough for long treks, and can deal with most weather conditions although I doubt shoe lovers will cross a flooded pathway in them. The cork insole, however, may not be comfortable for naked feet, but because of its anti-microbial effect, it may be ideal for those bent on going sockless. And I do find that the sizes run a little small, which means you may require a pair one size up.

Flower Mountain makes most styles for both men and women, but if the ladies prefer something less rugged, which is understandable, there are the Pampas canvas sneakers. Again, Japanese canvas is used, but what’s eye-catching is the print. Available here, is a sort of camo of Zebras, which I found beguiling. I later learned that this, together with a botanical pattern that is popular in Japan, drew inspiration from the 19th century English textile/wallpaper designer William Morris. Which means that my initial thought of their designs being somewhat Japanese now deserves a strike through.

Flower Mountain shoes—Yamano, SGD339, and Asuka, SGD339—are exclusive to Robinsons The Hereen. Photos: Jim Sim

Fish, They’ve Done It!

The blog-shop-turned-full-fledged-fashion-label Love, Bonito has opened a flagship retail store. Despite the dreary retail mood and a general skepticism of blogshops, Love, Bonito is one of our island’s most successful and visible brands. Will they just continue to bring to the racks the successful formula that has up till now mainly appealed to the Internet denizen? Or, will they do better?

Love Bonito store front

By Mao Shan Wang

Last weekend, two Singapore brands unveiled their newest outlet: PS Café removed the hoarding to their spanking eatery in Raffles City, while Love, Bonito opened the doors of their flagship in 313@Somerset. Sure, both could not be any different—one is in the business of food and the other clothing, but they have one thing in common: neither offers a sense of being that hinges on the future. Their stores are each physical expression of the bygone and it is in them that I saw the stark difference.

When I stood in front of PS Café, I saw an old-fashioned establishment or homage to the past—retro-cool tempered by 2017’s sense of the sophisticated—aimed at a very specific customer. When I stood before Love, Bonito, I saw retro-cool too, but here, there was something else. While the visual merchandising, fixtures, and products seem to reinstate the aesthetics of a past era, the space is conceived to capture the desires of generation now. A photo wall that welcomes selfie-taking and a phone-charging cabinet heighten unapologetically how it caters to the masses, through and through.

Love Bonito queueThe queue outside Love, Bonito in 313@Somerset

And the masses turned up. At the opening of Love, Bonito’s 4,603 sq ft flagship store in 313@Somerset, the queue to have first grab of their merchandise was well anticipated. A poster was erected near the escalator of their second-floor store, designating where the “official queue” was to be. Queuing was allowed at half past ten, thirty minutes before the store was due to receive their first shoppers, but shortly after ten, when the mall opened, a messy, mixed line had already formed along black-rope-linked stanchions, placed to encourage orderliness in the crowd. It was hard to say what these young women (some so clearly only at puberty’s door that they had to be accompanied by their mother) had truly come here for: the irresistible clothes or the opening giveaway of a “goodie bag” worth S$120 with purchases of S$120.

I did not know what to expect. For sure, I did not anticipate a queue, let alone crowd control. What I saw was more impressive—if a brand’s popularity is judged by length of queue at launch day—than the line outside H&M, less than 1km away, formed two days earlier for the launch of the Erdem X H&M collaboration. Two girls, no more than twenty, were studying the posters erected at the start of the line. I heard one of them ask, “Huh, have to queue, ah?” I asked her how she came to know about this, and she happily said that it was through Facebook. And added, looking pleased, “We waited for this store to open a long time, liao.” I wondered if they too had queued for Erdem X H&M. “Er, who?” was the quick reply. I tried again, “Not erhu. Erdem.” “Don’t know.”

Love, Bonito interior 1Love, Bonito’s interior with mannequins amid floor, as well as suspended racks

For those outside the black ropes, without the affinity for Love, Bonito’s mass-market exuberance, this line may be as appealing as the one outside a public ladies’ toilet. The restroom is, however, a necessity; a clothing store is not. Among the fashion cognoscenti, Love, Bonito is a curiosity that you ask about, not buy into. Despite their admired track, rising from blogshop to e-shop to brick-and-mortar store, they have not been able to entice those whose idea of fashion—or what is fashionable—is not trapped in an unending online shopping belt.

Inside the convivial store, which really wasn’t crowded enough to require a queue outside (a line at the entrance always gives the impression that the shop is hugely popular—a tact possibly learnt from Louis Vuitton), I noticed—no, I spied—a young woman emerging from the fitting room with three pieces of clothing and smiling gleefully at her waiting male companion. “Can we go now?” he asked, shaken from the torpor. “No, I want to buy some more,” came the reply. This must have horrified the fellow because he pointed disapprovingly to another queue—outside the fitting rooms (including three make-shift ones among the rack of clothes). She was unperturbed and walked off, leaving the hapless guy standing under a neon sign that read, irony intact, “Discover. Embrace. Be You.”

Love, Bonito interior 3The blazing neon of Love, Bonito’s empowering mantra

Less than ten steps away—behind that pillar, in fact—two girls were vigorously swiping on a tablet PC held aloft on a steel stand just below what looked like a message board, but was in fact an artfully arranged mood board. They were looking intently at the Love, Bonito website. With all the clothes here to see and touch and buy, it was odd that these two preferred the cold and hard and flat surface of the touch screen. Bitten by curiosity, I asked them why they were scanning the online site when they could see everything on the selling floor, as well as feel, and try them on.

“We’re looking for something we wanted, but could not find here.” Do you like this brand a lot? “Among all the blogshops, they’re the best.” Why? “The others sell the same things. Their clothes look like they come from the same factory. Here, their things are more unique.”

It’s interesting that despite “moving up”, as announced in a plastered window of their previous incarnation—a pop-up store (also in 313@Sommerset), Love, Bonito is still referred to by customers as a “blogshop.” This illustrates that what there were in the past had been so successful that fans still regard them by their initial online form, hosted on blog site LiveJournal, even when they have upgraded to a proper dot-com URL. While the blogshop as an online retail set-up has come to denote women—individuals or a group—setting up an e-commerce venture characterised by the casualness of the business and the inexperience of their operators, the initial unsystematic approach has not dented Love, Bonito’s growth potential.

Love Bonito pop-up shop windowA Love, Bonito poster announcing their move, as well as urging shoppers to “hang” with them

Before most women know them by the sign-off Love, Bonito, the brand traded as BonitoChico, or Spanish for ‘pretty boy’. Since Spanish is one of the least familiar European languages here, many, like I, did not make the connection and, instead, thought it had something to do with bonito flakes (or kastsuobushi, the pinkish shavings of dried and fermented bonito fish typically served on top of the savoury Japanese pancake okonomiyaki). Still, the name did not latch on to its F&B association, and was catchy enough to draw the attention of young women attracted by BonitoChico’s inexpensive, homogeneous, and approachable fashion.

That was in 2006. Sisters Viola and Velda Tan, and fellow church-goer Rachel Lim started—at first—a disposal point of the contents of their personal wardrobes to “make pocket money”, as they would tell the media, by putting what they wanted to sell on the SGSellTrade page of LiveJournal, a born-in-America blogging application and online community that is owned by a Russian media company since 2007. Fans of Love, Bonito may have no desire to read this oft-told story, but to some, it’s so inspirational that perhaps it deserves a re-telling. In the year of its founding, BonitoChico was not the only blogshop enticing young women to spend their savings and pocket money on clothes. There was the intriguingly named Love and Bravery, formed a year earlier (and has, since 2011, operated their own brick-and-mortar stores). But the Bonito girls, as they were sometimes called, did more than build a fledgling brand; they created a following. This still amazes, considering that before 2010, social media was curiosity, not compulsion.

Pull quote 1

After a month of brisk business, BonitoChico debuted with their own page on LiveJournal. I have to admit that I have not seen BonitoChico’s LiveJournal page, but I understand it communicated a simple girlishness that many of its fans found relatable. It was a potent mix of “sugar, spice, and everything nice”, to quote Powerpuff Girls’ maker Professor Utonium, and it was a non-threatening and non-judgmental platform that lured young women for whom a physical store could be considerable effort and a tad intimidating.

The initial, unexpected success of BonitoChico soon embolden the three partners to start bringing in clothes from Bangkok and Hong Kong—cash and carry at wholesale centres and markets—to augment their merchandise. These were clothes that fit with the everyday nature of their customers’ lives, not anything that could cross to the realm of special occasions—“cheap and good”, as so many Netizens happily and willingly proclaimed. The sales looked upwards, and the trio decided to try their hand at producing their own merchandise.

The results were not the stuff to encourage the response, impressive. There were considerable online complaints of delivery issues, how the received clothes did not look the same as the versions hawked online, how they were poorly made, and how some came apart just after a few washes. But for reasons that were part Internet mystery and part social media savvy, BonitoChico continued to do well—so well, in fact, that just after three short years, it won ‘Best Blogshop’ in the Nuffnang (“World’s Leading Blog Advertising Community”, according to their website) Asia-Pacific Awards in 2009. By its fourth birthday in 2010, the brand’s celebratory bash/fashion show, hosted by DJ Daniel Ong, at the now defunct Clark Quay club, Zirca, drew a mind-boggling number of over 1000 attendees, with those stuck in the queue texting friends to vent their frustration. The clothes may not have been impressive, but the anniversary party clearly was.

Julien Fournié for Love Bonito 2013Love, Bonito by Julien Fournié at Fidé Fashion Week in 2013

The Zirca venue, as opposed to, say, Zouk, spoke of BonitoChico’s popular positioning and the brand’s understanding of what appealed to their customers. These twentysomethings were enraptured by the twentsomething creators of their favourite brand, and, consequently, a pro-business community spirit was forged—quite unheard of in the growth of a local fashion name. Between Bonitochico and its customers, it wasn’t just a transaction, it was a fellowship.

That year, perhaps encouraged by their palpable success, the Tan sisters and Ms Lim decided to re-brand BonitoChico with a name change and, in doing so, possibly unshackled themselves from what they had identified to the press as “blogshop stigma”. Love, Bonito and its very own e-commerce-enabled website were thus created. Although they were now selling their own clothing line, some industry folks were skeptical of what the girls could really do, since it was not known that any of them could design. This, for some skeptics, was borne out during the launch of Love, Bonito’s first collaboration—with the French couturier Julien Fournié.

Mr Fournié’s haute couture collection closed the now-no-longer-staged Fidé Fashion Week in 2013. On a video screen above the runway, a teaser short-film was shown, featuring the Love, Bonito founders in what could be presumed to be Mr Fournié’s Paris atelier. When the girls got down to work, it did not appear that they were there to collaborate on a collection. Rather, it looked like there were there to socialise. They were seen looking and pointing at the pictures (simultaneously showing off their wrist and finger jewellery) of Julien Fournié look book and occasionally touching the fabric swatches. They did not even appear to be part of the colour selection and pairing process. Someone in the audience pointed to the naming of the collection: Julien Fournié for Love, Bonito, and concluded that it was clear who had to do the work. The collection instantly established arguably Singapore’s most successful blogshop as a full-fledged clothing label.

Love Bonito in Sogo SurabayaLove, Bonito corner in Sogo Department Store, Surabaya, Indonesia

When the Bonito girls came out with Mr Fournié to take the customary bow at the end of the show, there were only two of them. Younger sibling Velda of the Tan sisters was conspicuously missing. It was said earlier than Velda Tan had decided to leave the still-growing brand that she co-founded to “do something different”, as she would later also say to the media. Her conspicuous no-show was confirmation of her departure. It was not certain what prompted her to leave (it has been repeatedly stated till now by the remaining two that the younger Velda Tan is still a shareholder) even when the inevitable talk in the industry attributed the parting to sibling rivalry and goals that, by then, were no longer aligned. A year after her departure from Love, Bonito, Ms Tan left for London and enrolled in Central Saint Martins for courses in business management, visual merchandising, and pattern making. In 2015, she started Collate the Label, and won herself a corner in Tangs, her first stockist.

If there was any fear that a co-founder’s new fashion line would be in direct competition with their then nine-year-old label, Viola Tan and Rachel Lim did not let on. After the collaboration with Julien Fournié, there was a second, intriguingly with Indonesian designer Tex Saverio, launched during Singapore Fashion Week in 2015. By then, Love, Bonito had opened stores in Malaysia, followed by those in Indonesia. Until their flagship in Singapore opened, Love, Bonito went offline here too, venturing into physical retail spaces for the past 6 years. These were pop-ups in temporarily empty units in malls such as Orchard Gateway. Although Love, Bonito markets itself as a brand that takes customer experience seriously, it did not impress some shoppers, who found their pop-ups with conventional displays to be “just another clothing shop”. This suggested that while a pop-up—by definition, a temporary arrangement and not usually lavishly appointed—may not be a foretaste of things to come, it could, as with a blogshop, follow them like a stigma.

Love, Bonito Pop-Up@313.jpg

Last year, at the comeback Singapore Fashion Award, Love, Bonito enjoyed the biggest win of the night. It was not surprising that they would. In the decade of their existence, few brands have enjoyed so much buzz. Viola Tan and Rachel Lim, flushed with thrill, went on stage to collect awards for ‘Top Most Popular Brand of the Year’ (the other two recipients were Beyond the Vine and jewellery label By Invitation Only), ‘The Best Collaboration of the Year’ (with Tex Saverio), and ‘Best Marketing’.

The last award, however, puzzled some fashion marketers. One marketing head was quick to say at the presentation that “quantity rather than quality wins”. On Love, Bonito’s visual communication alone, that charge was perhaps not overly harsh. The brand produces many images and while they may work on a non-static landing page of a website, mostly viewed on a smartphone, they tend to attract the wrong attention especially when even the most minuscule oversight was magnified in a huge ad, in an MRT station.

One of their earliest light boxes appeared at the Somerset MRT station. It had one of three models in a stripe-y dress, with a length of the spaghetti straps—configured as halterneck—accidentally twisted when worn. While it escaped the stylist’s, the CD’s, the photographer’s, and the digital retoucher’s eyes, it did not escape mine. At the opening of the flagship store last week, a poster erected as backdrop for a window display showed a side slit (of a dress) that was unpressed, with a thread let loose from the hem, like a not-neatened bikini line. That, too, did not escape my eyes.

MRT Lightbox ad.jpgOne of the more recent lightbox ad in Somerset MRT station

The Love, Bonito marketing images looked like they were picked from among the countless IG posts of adoring fans. But, perhaps it is true when a fashion buyer later remarked to me, knocking some shame into my disbelief, “but that’s how women wear their clothes. Anyway, who cares?” That, I suspect, could well be how Love, Bonito approaches their marketing, with a sense of detachment that rather speaks of the Whatever! attitude of their horde of followers.

Back at the new store, where it was still drawing shoppers with the same flow as ants returning to serve the queen, I took a close look at the clothes, most, surprisingly, not ironed. A sleeveless dress drew my attention. It, too, caught the attention of a vision in pink—more sugar than spice. She yanked it off the rack. On the hanger, it hung like a not-quite-dry towel. The woman changed her mind and returned the dress to its crowded home. I now noticed the warped armhole and at the spot where it met the side seam, I detected a tiny bump of fabric—a pile that, for a certain price point, was probably inconsequential. In the beginning, Bonitochico churned out clothes that did not disguise their insufficient time on the drafting table and their rushed manufacture. More than a decade later, as Love, Bonito, the making of their clothes does not seem to have enjoyed the benefit of less haste.

Love Bonito selfie wallThe selfie wall inside Love, Bonito’s flagship store

But, “Quality Matters”, goes a Love, Bonito ad copy. A catchy maxim, but tricky target. Love, Bonito’s clothes, like their advertising images, even when they give the impression of excellence, are not meticulously produced. Rachel Lim told The Straits Times in 2015 that they “want to give customers value for money, so we pay close attention to everything, right down to the finishing.” Her business partner Viola Tan added, “We don’t skimp on fabric or workmanship.” Perhaps, Ms Lim and Ms Tan have a different definition of quality, considering that “value for money” and “don’t skimp on fabric or workmanship” are generally on different ends of the quality scale. I do concede, however, that quality, as with elegance, do not have to the same meaning, or ring, as it once did.

I sometimes wonder if I have, in my distrust and disbelief, misread Love, Bonito. The reality is that there is a whole new way of making clothes and selling them that has nothing to do with the rigours of good design. A whole generation of women has grown up on a diet of H&M, Forever 21, and the like, and to them, the hodgepodge—uneven hem et al—in these stores is fashion. They’re weaned on looks, rather than details—whether the devil is in them or not. And Love, Bonito knows they don’t have to do better than that to entice. But rather than join the purveyors of fast fashion, as the Bonito girls has declared that their brand is doing, why not beat them? That then, I would say, and wholeheartedly, is when true love will follow.

Photos: Cooper Koh and Galerie Gombak

What Comes Next?

If Singapore Fashion Week is no more, can a regional event be an ideal stand-in?

SGFW to endSingapore Fashion Week to fade to oblivion?

What we blogged three days ago turns out to be quite true. Singapore Fashion Week (SGFW) has possibly drawn to a close. After a comeback that spans three short years, the 2017 edition will be the last, according to an online report.

In an interview with Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore this past Wednesday, Tjin Lee, founder of Mercury M&C, the company behind SGFW, said, “After 11 editions*, that is my last Singapore Fashion Week. It means next year it will be ‘go big or go home’.”

It isn’t quite clear what she meant by “go big or go home”. Street expression aside, for many observers, increasing the size or duration of SGFW is not tenable since, by Ms Lee’s own admission, the pool of designers who are able to support SGFW is very small. Or even non-existent since, according to her, our “designers can’t fund themselves”. And “go home?” Has SGFW not always been staged on home turf?

The business talk of this morning was that Ms Lee has “registered the Asia Fashion Week URL”.  An online check confirmed that the domain name asiafashionweek.com has been registered to Tjin Lee using the Mercury’s office address, with a “creation date” of “2014-05-14” and an “updated date” of “2017-05-26”. It is, therefore, possible that Ms Lee has entertained the idea of creating a potentially massive Asia Fashion Week as far back as 2014, the last year of Audi Fashion Festival, precursor to her version of SGFW.

In the Yahoo interview, Ms Lee offered little details about the form this new fashion week will take other than her eagerness to “change the format” and “completely evolve and pivot” it. She said, “It’s got to be bigger than Singapore; think regional, think Asia… Whatever I do next, it will either be a bigger Asian focus or it will not be.” And she reiterated, “Go big or go home.”

Pull quote 1

An Asia Fashion Week is a fascinating although frightfully ambitious proposal. With most Asian hub cities—such as Bangkok, Hong Kong, Seoul, Shanghai, and Tokyo—staging their own visible fashion weeks, designers from the continent, young or established, may not see the lure in participating in a Singapore-based (assuming it’ll be held here) event that is a spin-off of a relatively low-key and humble one of debatable success.

Do other Asian designers have money? That was the question asked when SOTD spoke to some in the fashion business. The one issue, as Ms Lee has plainly noted, is the lack of financial means among local designers to pay to be part of a runway-centric event. The production of the collection itself is usually the main cost consideration for designers and, consequently, staging a show that they have to pay for is an unappealing proposition. Does spreading the net wider mean attracting fatter fish?

“The China designers have money,” said a product development manager. That is not entirely true. While there are designers who can be considered financially successful, there are also those who work on their collections with modest budgets, much like their Singaporean counterparts, and are not necessarily able to afford to stage shows. Those who are able, such as Masha Ma and Uma Wang, show in Paris, or elsewhere in Europe. Small, independent designers, as with the social-media/designer darlings, have trifling sums for marketing, let alone participate in a “big” fashion event. It can be said that for most fashion designers anywhere not blessed with munificent backing, a splashy catwalk presentation is not ticked for consideration.

In China, the main fashion weeks are sanctioned by the Ministry of Commerce, and supported by local or municipal governments, and may not be in the form of funding. Rather, it could come as provision of venues or logistical aid. Together with corporate and media sponsorship, the final budgetary burden on show organisers is significantly lighter, and that helpfully relieves the financial load weighing down on designers. China’s fashion (not garment manufacturing) industry is a fairly young one, and it is common understanding that fledgling designers would not be able to stage a massive show without assistance.

There are more fashion weeks in China than film festivals—a situation also seen in India. According to the organizers of Shanghai Fashion Week, there are about 30 fashion weeks throughout China, with Shanghai Fashion Week and China Fashion Week (in Beijing) being the two most important and under international media radar. Chinese designers and those outside the mainland are, therefore, spoiled for choice when it comes to choosing an ideal platform for their collections or a larger, more receptive audience. What then could be the appeal of the suggested Asia Fashion Week? Ms Lee has not made her case.

SGFW audience

Singapore Fashion Week fashioned by Mercury is, as many observers have underscored, a business, and one that has to have a more-than-healthy bottom line. It was shared during the event last week that this year’s SGFW may run a six-figure loss. We have not been able to independently verify this sum, but if true, it is understandable why SGFW has to end, or morph into a remunerative version. Taking into account that Mercury reportedly received no aid from the government, their income prospects had mainly come from corporate sponsorship, charging designers for participation (whether the charges were equitable, no one could say for sure), and ticket sales.

Corporate sponsorship has always been the main means to fund SGFW, but, as Ms Lee wrote in her personal blog, “even big companies are often happy to give product, lots of it, but are often reluctant to part with cash.” It has been said that since the generosity of Audi during the ‘Festival’ days of Mercury’s fashion-show extravaganzas, corporate support has not quite been what it was. Whether that means reduced monetary sponsorship, sponsors are unwilling to say. Money received from charging designers to stage their shows is even more dismal. It is known that Mercury had in the past hook designers up with sponsors—but that did not necessarily improve the ledger. Increasingly, designers were unwilling to pay (chances are, Jason Wu did not, as he was “invited”). And door tickets, despite the high price (up to $250 for a package for the inaugural Zipcode forum), did not sell enough to delight any finance manager.

“If the business opportunity is so gloomy, would a larger fashion week that encompasses Asia really work, and how,” SGFW followers have asked, “and what happens to the raising of the Singapore flag?” Perhaps, in the end, business viability overrides noble causes, whether they’re idealistic or not, especially if they are. It would be a pity to see Singapore Fashion Week, with a history that dates back to 1990 (not since Mercury’s founding, as it seems to be the thought), come to a complete close. While an Asia Fashion Week may continue to shine the spotlight on our island, it will still not change the fate that, as Ms Lee despairingly told Yahoo, “Singapore is too small a country to support its own local domestic fashion”.

For veterans of the Singapore fashion scene, and some newcomers alike, Tjin Lee’s idealism is not without its charm. Her love for fashion weeks, her steely determination, and her dream to embrace all of Asia are reminiscent of the reverie of Ms Lee’s one-time collaborator Frank Cintamani of Fidé Fashion Weeks. Mr Cintamani had sought to bring his fashion weeks—first staged here—across the region to salute Asian designers. His resolve saw the formation of the curious Asian Couture Federation. Following friction with organisers that took to social media during Vietnam International Fashion Week, which he teamed up with in 2015, Fidé Fashion Weeks is rather silent in the past year, except for the “democratically priced couture-infused British label” Couturissimo, which is strangely now doing the pop-up rounds here.

SGFW may not be a stable foundation for a bigger fashion week since it was built on not-completely solid ground, but it is on top of SGFW that Ms Lee will “evolve” the event. Perhaps she’s starting anew, creating a clean slate, from which to better repackage a fashion week. As one PR manager said, “It looks like she’s sinking the ship that she built.” For Ms Lee, it is possible that in order to start afresh, she has to close the door that she opened years ago so that another might be unlocked. Opportunities do come through many entrances, whether they’re narrow or wide, whether they welcome or spurn.

Stay tuned.

Photos: Zhao Xiangji

* The Singapore Fashion Week in the form of the last 3 years began in 2015 as a remade Audi Fashion Festival, primarily a shopping-related event

 

 

Two Of A Kind: Message On The Neckline

Text on the neckline

By Mao Shan Wang

To say that Dior is going down market is perhaps a bit extreme. But how else can I explain this? Children split at birth?

There I was, shopping at Golden Mile Complex, where the Thai supermarket in that mess of a mall is the place I go to whenever I am out of nampla. Sometimes, you do need to brave disorder and unfamiliar smells to get what you think is the best, and—I am totally with the Thais on this—one does have to get the finest when it comes fish sauce.

As I was leaving the building, bottle of the prized brew in hand, a mannequin, not at a shop front, but more than an arm’s length away from the store, appeared before me. She was fitted in a top that immediately made me think of Dior. Only a couple of weeks earlier, I was viewing the spring/summer show online and I remember, as I confronted the dummy, how unamused I was with the crochet-knit number that Maria Grazia Chiuri had put out.

I could see the two side by side, and how similar they would appear. Sure, they don’t look alike—not one bit—but the texts as decorative element on both are conceptual cousins. I don’t know about the appeal of words running on the neckline, but I thought the repeated ‘love’ had more graphic dash than Ms Chiuri’s scribbles that, in the front of the bodice, sported ‘love forever’ (as part of a longer sentence that I couldn’t decipher) and, on the shoulder straps, repeated, cursive ‘Christian Dior’. While her previous “J’adior” on a T-shirt could be (reluctantly) considered tongue-in-cheek, I am not sure the latest proper noun and simple sentence are as close to irony.

Sure, we’re no longer in an era of stylish restraint, but something not discreet that looks similar to what can be easily produce for a cheap clothing shop isn’t exactly the height of luxury fashion. The salesperson saw my interest in the top and came out to ask me if I liked it. I asked her where the garment came from, and she gladly told me that it was from Bangkok. Well, somewhere in Pratunam, someone beat Dior to it.

Photos: (Left) indigital.tv, (right) Chin Boh Kay

A Fashion Week Of Reduced Circumstances

The third outing of the re-branded Singapore Fashion Week is the shortest it has ever been—down from last year’s five days to three. But brevity is only a small part of the sadly diminishing allure of what has been billed as the city’s “premier” event. Will there be a 2018 edition?

SGFW 2017 posterVertical banner of SGFW spotted outside the CBD and Orchard Road, along Havelock Road

The word that went round this year’s Singapore Fashion Week (SGFW), staged at the National Gallery for the second year, was that this could be the last. Even staff of the event’s organizer Mercury M&C was not able to say that the 2018 edition of SGFW will be a certainty. Some attendees helpfully suggested that perhaps it could be just a one-year hiatus so as to allow Mercury to “reorganise and consolidate”.

It is no secret that this year’s SGFW was especially hard to pull off, given the unchanging bleak retail climate and reduced business among Singaporean designers, a reality more complex and far-reaching than the average show-goer would know. Founder/managing director of Mercury, Tjin Lee, aka Lee Huei Tjin, betrayed her fears when she posted in Facebook last month: “It’s been an extremely challenging year as we sought solutions to stay relevant as a fashion week in Singapore. With the digital revolution, retail slowdown, our small market size and difficult fundraising climate, it’s been the most challenging year in all 11 years that I’ve organised the fashion week in Singapore.”

How challenging has it been? It really requires no telling that even malls are pulling back on fashion shows (when was the last time you attended one in a shopping centre?). The Orchard Fashion Runway of Fashion Steps Out is no more, too. If there’s contemplation of ending SGFW, chances are, a marketing head opined, there are “dismal figures in the ledger.” This regrettably encourages cynics to reiterate that Singapore is a lost cause for fashion.

SGFW runwayGuests getting into their seats at National Gallery’s Former Supreme Court Terrace

The possibility of an SGFW financially disadvantaged is surprising. In March, marketing-interactive.com reported that “Mercury M&C and Lumina Live look to merge services”, and had quoted Ms Lee as saying that a merger “brings together an integrated 360 experience for clients in events, PR and marketing”. If confirmed, the merger was expected to be completed in 2018. But it was more than just “look”. A new company Mercury Live has since been formed. Lumina Live was founded in 1999 by David See, an industry veteran whose clients include Burberry, Dior, and Hermès.

The announced merger was a bolt from the blue for many who remembered that in 2009, Miss Lee had found a partner, Jeremy Tan, to put Mercury’s books in order, and to improve the bottom line. She told The Straits Times in 2015 that she was “taken by his style of working and how he managed to have much higher profit margins than me despite operating a smaller business.” At the same time, she revealed that fashion weeks are not a money spinner since “we get little to no funding from the Government and have to push so hard to fund the entire event through the private sector.” And the private sector had been supportive, with Audi as the title sponsor when she ran the precursor of SGFW, Audi Fashion Festival, from 2009 to 2014.

Prior to the merger with Lumina Live, it was shared among industry insiders that the once-lauded Jeremy Tan had left Mercury. Mr Tan had said that it was a business decision to part ways—whether to continue with the company 1Werk that he founded before partnering with Mercury, it isn’t certain, but he does continue to produce fashion events, such as the Heineken X F1 fashion show at the unlikely venue Lau Pa Sat in September. A solo act again at the beginning of 2017, Tjin Lee, it seemed, needed a Jeremy Tan and she found him in David See. How this turn of events is going to pan out or bode for Mercury, or affect SGFW is anybody’s guess.

SGFW opening showGoh Lai Chan, left, on the catwalk after the presentation of his collection on the opening night of SGFW

Despite the challenges and a sponsorship environment that is less than forthcoming with funding, Ms Lee was able to bring together a respectable 20 sponsors, including the National Gallery, where the SGFW was held. But, according to a show producer SOTD spoke to, sometimes even with backing, fashion weeks may not be profitable as many designers get their slots free. “It is hard to imagine very young brands such as Arissa X with the means to pay to do a show,” he said. It is known, in fact, that some young designers/influencers with their own—often dubious—fashion label get “invited” to participate in order to fill empty slots, or to lend SGFW a certain quick-gain cachet that will appeal to the all-important Millennials.

One fashion PR professional said emphatically, while queuing to be admitted to the opening show Laichan, “SGFW has always been a business, not national service, not a platform to nurture young talents. If there’s no business, there’s no SGFW. It’s as simple as that.” That perhaps explains why tickets to the shows are sold—an uncommon practice at fashion weeks. A Singaporean designer earlier shared similar view when asked if he was invited to the shows, “No, lah! She (Tjin Lee) is an entrepreneur. Business is her priority. Associates like us must patronise to support her.”

How much support has Ms Lee received? Not insignificantly. People are still happily attending the shows, she’s still able to entice designers and brands to participate in SGFW (in some cases, even encourage unfledged and untried social media stars to start their own label so that they may be featured in SGFW), and the event has still retained the ‘premium’ tag in which the fashion show-hungry masses allowed her to indulge.

SGFW show about to startWaiting for the Zalora-supported Fashion Futures 1.0 show to start

An encouraging thing to note is that despite what some thought to be an eleventh-hour scramble to get SGFW going (even the press conference was a late affair, conducted a day after ST Life’s first report and three days after our post; 45 days before the first shows), the event proper itself saw improvements over last year’s not-hiccup-free staging. For one, the shows were now sited in one venue—in the National Gallery’s Former Supreme Court Terrace, although, to many, still not an ideal catwalk location. The one-runway site could also be because there were fewer shows, but, for attendees, it was a relief to know they did not have to shuttle between two points in the museum, as they had to last year.

There was also a photographers’ pit, which meant that, unlike the previous installation, which allowed lensmen to roam free, there would be no jostling with iPhone-wielding friends-of-designers eager to put the shows on Facebook Live. But it was still a no-win for many photographers and videographers as they had to deal with front-row attendees who were unable (or unwilling) to retract stretched limps, as well as extended and stationary arms bent on filming the show for whatever reason SGFW needed to be recorded with their smartphone. This was compounded by a relatively narrow catwalk flanked by three-row deep bleachers. It was a runway that was not palazzo pants and ball gown-friendly, as seen at the more-songs-than-clothes presentation of two-year-old Singaporean label Feayn, by graphic-designer-turn-tukangjahit Sufian Hussein.

The opening show of this year’s SGFW enjoyed a few firsts. It was the first time the event opened with a Singaporean designer and the first appearance of The Singapore Dress since its disappearance from stores and public consciousness in 2002. It was Goh Lai Chan’s first opening act and his first showing at SGFW (discounting the 8-piece capsule that he showed during the now-defunct Blue Print trade event in 2010). It was, however, not the first collection to see the marrying of ethnic fabrics and decorative arts in one pageant-style outfit after another.

Ling Wu SS 2018 bagsThe bags of Ling Wu, presented as a catwalk show

Applause to the strong showing of Asian designers is deserving, but the collections regrettably said almost nothing of what Asian designs are about today, or what it means to be designing in this region, or what it comports with showing at SGFW. How the final selection of names came about isn’t certain, but one senses that this could be a knee-jerk reaction to past criticisms that SGFW lacked local and Asian names, rather than a concerted effort to showcase Singaporean and Asian designers who can truly train the world’s attention to our shores and to see us as a critical and inspiring source of fashion design that can truly propel us forward, the way Seoul and Tokyo are regarded as elevating and future-bound.

It is also increasingly unclear what SGFW, beyond its Asian posturing, is really about. Sure, to expect it to be a fashion extravaganza as in the good old days, or as recent as the 2008 Singapore Fashion Festival (a winning comeback for Mercury) may, at this point, seem quaint and old-fashioned and irrelevant. And to hope that it could be a B2B affair, as some have, negates the fact that it never was, and never will be. SGFW is a spin-off of Singapore Fashion Festival; it is entertainment, pure and simple.

But as entertainment, was it first-rate? No one was expecting a Chanel show with sets so magnificent and awe-inspiring, you’d think you were in a movie studio. But a bunch of preening social-media types wanting to be in fashion and thus stage a fashion show is not fashion; it’s a D&D performance. Immoderate it really is not to hope for something more stimulating to the senses. There could have been attendees going to SGFW for the entertainment or to be seen and photographed, but there were many who seriously—or foolishly—went for the fashion. At the end of most shows, particularly the Zalora-supported Fashion Futures 1.0, it was a struggle not to feel insulted. If this was a film festival, Fashion Futures 1.0 would be, at best, a fringe event.

To paraphrase a line from the Steven Soderbergh’s 1999 film The Limey, you’re not specific enough to be fashion. You’re more like a vibe. What many of the SGFW participants were truly offering was just body coverings—so many of the clothes were literally two pieces of rectangles joined at the sides—styled to look influencer-credible and IG-ready, as if to better tag them #OOTD and nothing else. These participants were basically banking on their personal brand. There was no point of view, no voice, and positively no fashion.

SGFW Jason Wu SS 2017Finale of Jason Wu’s spring/summer 2018 collection

The question of a credible fashion week arose on the last day of SGFW. While the hot ticket of the night was Jason Wu’s much-anticipated show, it did not close the event. That went to the one-year-old brand Arissa X, the baby of Arissa Cheo, photogenic Singaporean wife of Taiwanese actor and singer Vanness Wu. In allocating Arissa X that prime slot, it seemed that local celebrity (with a Mando-pop star husband) trumped international star (with connections to the former FLOTUS of the White House), provisional business surpassed complete fashion enterprise, and small-network e-shop outdid global distribution. It was later explained that Mr Wu could not be given the last time slot because plans to take him out for dinner could not be changed—reservations had been made. If he was indeed the last to show, the wrap-up would end too late for a grand feast. In Singapore, what else do you with an overseas guest other than eat?

This year, SGFW was touted as “beyond the runway”, with Zipcode: A Fashion Tech Summit in the bag. Although Zipcode wasn’t the G20, it is commendable that SGFW looked into addressing the inevitable influence of technology on fashion, particularly in marketing and retail (although, ironically, their digital presence was considerably diminished. Since the start on SGFW on 26 October, there have been only one post on their FB page and 18 on IG. Meanwhile, last year’s link-up with Digital Fashion Week has terminated). While at it, Mercury should also consider either completely re-conceptualising SGFW or creating a separate fashion week for Yoyo Cao (of Exhibit) and her cohorts to show. This would perhaps do away with the uneven platform of career designers jostling with look-at-me-now dabblers.

Before it is said that SGFW has been doused with prejudice, it should be noted that many of the young brands, born of an e-shop or social media following, or sheer vanity, truly leapt onto the SGFW runway in a single bound, with almost no experience in the fundamentals of dressmaking, nor exposure to a drafting table and its content, let alone the insides of a factory or the confines of a sampling room. This isn’t discriminatory; this is a new reality. While the rag trade needs to acknowledge the existence of such a fashion category—designer by name, not by practice, a national platform for the promotion of true local (and regional) talent should rethink how it embraces such indeterminates.

SGFW 2017 sponsors' boothsThe sponsors’ booth on the upper floor of the Former Supreme Court Terrace that few went to look

And a national platform should preclude designs that can be joined by dots to the versions of others already in circulation. Dismay with weak shows, it should be noted, soon deepened into indignation when flagrant disregard for originality seized the runway. It can be considered conceit when designers fail to think that viewers of their show are so ignorant that near-facsimiles of other designers’ work can breeze past them without being noticed and noted. No amount of handwork and the hours spent on these clothes can negate the fact that they are not true own-creations.

It is undeniable that getting a group of credible designers together from a pool that is barely wet is a trying endeavour. This is another reality of the state of the industry, if it can still be identified as one. Whoever is selected must not be led to believe that SGFW is platform to instant greatness and once on its runway, he or she is infallible or cannot be met with censure. It is disheartening that despite creative output of disputable finesse, there’s a generation of designers with ego as massive as the sky, but tolerance for criticism as capacious as a snuff bottle. Could this be because our society is increasingly seeing a demographic so emotionally fragile that an honest opinion is immediate damnation? As a lecturer at a local design school remarked, “These days, tell a student that her work has not improved from last semester, and see tears roll down her eyes.”

Criticism is part of the creative universe, and creators can benefit from it. When the Japanese designers—namely Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons—showed in Paris in the early ’80s, they were derided for making hideous and unwearable clothes. But they soldered on, in Paris, no less. More than 35 years later, they are still making waves, together with another generation of designers—also with shaky starts—gathering media raves: the “Japanese designers are by far the coolest at Paris Fashion Week”. We may not have seen anything at SGFW that bowled us over, but we are hopeful that someday, somewhere, at SGFW or not, we will get to say, Singaporean designers are plain cool.

Photos: Zhao Xiangji

Enough Said

Notice

We will no longer be posting commentaries on the shows we saw during Singapore Fashion Week 2017.

We were thwarted in our mission by repeated nothingness.

Even the fashion police know their limits.

Broadcasting the sound of silence means we will be able to dodge the charge of incessant negativity.

There’s no pleasure talking to the hand.

We’ve decided, for now, to withdraw from commenting on:

Whole 9 Yards, Weekend Sundries, Deboneire, Ying the Label, Wai Yang, Nida Shay, Exhibit, and Arissa X

It’s time to go back to tending the dendrobiums.

We would like to thank our followers for your unceasing support, as well as those who have waited eagerly to read our reviews. We know we have let you down; we just hope not too much.

Respectfully,

The editor