Baits And Bites Of A Popular Deception

The spat last month between an Instagrammer who is identified as a “public figure” and a fledgling jewellery brand sadly reflects the deceitfulness and bottom-heading standards of the quickly expanding local KOL community


A sentiment that is shared by many influencers. Photo: Chin Boh Kay

Instagram, the bluff! For all its appeal and draw, and constant role as marketing tool to selves and brands, IG is ultimately a trickster—the great deceiver of the social-media age. Rarely do you get to see the truths behind the posts. Unless you were present during those times the photographs were shot, or when the selfies were snapped, or if you knew the subject personally. Otherwise it’s hard to wipe off the rosy patina.

Most IG posts suppose the subject to be presenting his/her true self. In these days, true, as you know, is subjective and variable, especially when ‘fake’ is tagged to all manner of news. Instagram could possibly be the mother of much of the faking, more so when the app was equipped with truth-blurring filters. These, the Instagrammer tends not to skip—they remove or down-play the less attractive aspects of their posts by using digital lenses with such fancy names as Clarendon and Mayfair. The photos are dramatically enhanced.

Or, elevated. We want so many things in our life to go the next level, why not our photos. Through filters—and and other adjustable settings—Instagrammers-as-influencers hook for positive impressions the way socialites fish for compliments at a charity gala by wearing outlandish clothes. Influencers or key opinion leaders (KOLs), as many preferred to be called (or, media shorthand to distinguish the starlets and stars), including what we’re told is now trending, “the influential influencer”, bait and we bite.

EJHLike all the way. Photo: xelainejasmine/Instagram. Collage: Just So

Sure, we know the real world is not so ideally filtered, not so perfectly cropped, and definitely not so obsessively photographed, yet the reality hasn’t stopped followers of IG accounts to believe the beauties, and also the beasts, that they follow, even buying into their perfect lives or buying what they hawk, both good and bad.

Yet, the positive front does not always hold up. When charges of improper conduct surface, the liable’s anterior peels away, unmasking his/her true self, especially when in hasty self-defence or, worse, with total indifference. The recent rather public trouble of influencer Elaine Heng (aka Elaine Jasmine) with jewellery label By Invitation Only (BIO) is a case in point. It is understandable why many stood with BIO’s owner Trixie Khong when she prefaced her telling of what happened on Facebook with, “The sad truth about why influencers get a bad reputation.”

We’ll try to keep it short, just in case you have just returned from the International Space Station. By Invite Only had identified Elaine Heng, also a part-time actress/Toggle starlet, as an influencer who could influence the 83.7K influenced on her IG account. A deal, as Donald Trump would have called it, was struck. BIO’s Ms Khong arranged for some jewellery to be sent to Ms Heng, as well as for payment for the agreed service to be made. All seemed business as usual until the influencer’s influence went, as Ms Khong described it, MIA. The business owner reached out to the blog-for-a-living Instagrammer, but was not successful. A digital cat and mouse chase ensued.

EH on IGPhotos: xelainejasmine/Instagram. Collage: Just So

According to Ms Heng—who not only refuted Ms Khong’s FB post on FB, but also posted a shockingly sloppy, “actually”-filled video on Instagram Live to negate the former’s charges—when she received the said jewellery, she found that “the products were very poor quality (sic)”. At this point, many members of the jewellery design community were quite taken aback by Ms Heng’s daring claim: it was hard to believe that Ms Khong, herself an ardent Instagrammer—KOL-style, would send inferior merchandise to an influencer that she had considered influential. By Invite Only was, after all, among the winners of the Top 3 Most Popular Brand at last year’s Singapore Fashion Award. It would not have been living up to the accolade and too soon after the honour to go rogue if they had indeed shipped products of questionable make.

The recipient of “poor quality” jewellery went on: “Of course I didn’t want to promote such a product, right?” In case her followers doubted her honour and her dependability, she explained: “Because you all know I value the trust that you guys have for (sic) me and my reviews, so why would I promote something that I don’t like, something that is of such a bad quality?” Ms Heng, who pronounced post as pose (“I’ll pose only when I like the product”, in which case she isn’t wrong) and stressed that she “is not those (sic) kind of bloggers that just want everything to be sponsored just because you pay me over hundred dollars”, was clearly in defence mode even when it escaped her that a sponsorship involving products is possibly not accompanied by payment. She was, as many understood it, not sponsored; she was paid to do a job.

She continued to explain why she did not refund the payment as a consequence of no posts, and was emphatic that she was not avoiding the client’s justifiable pursuit of her. “I was rushing for my Australia trip—because you guys know that before my Bali trip, right, I flew to Australia, and things were very busy that period. So, it’s my fault that I didn’t manage to transfer her (sic) the money before I flew overseas.”

Trixie Khong at SFA 2017By Invite Only’s Trixie Khong holding the award for Top 3 Most Popular Brands at the Singapore Fashion Award 2017. Photo Zhao Xiangji

What followed was a series of why-I-didn’t and why-I-couldn’t: she did not have her ibanking token with her, she was overseas and was unable to transfer the money, she returned but “forgot to pay”, flew off to Bali (reminding her viewers that they knew she “went to Komodo Island”), WiFi was not available on the boat to her “for three days” (when she had “disappeared”), and more because-I-forgots, intermittently swaying the audience with the admission that it was her fault (“I’m not going to say it’s completely her fault”). And, in a moment of unpersuasive frailty, conceded that she is human—“we all make mistakes”.

What Ms Heng offered, if seen in most transactional arrangements, would be mere excuses (upon excuses), and could be considered as avoiding the problem of her own making. It is, of course, possible that she was procrastinating, in view of the fact that she was to be travelling (for what purpose, she did not state, but one could assume to show via Instagram that she has a blessed life). She said, towards the end of the video, that it was a “simple matter” and that she “didn’t expect her to take it so seriously and blow it up.”

Was it really so simple? And was By Invite Only’s Trixie Khong blowing it up? Should she not have taken the episode seriously? Most people saw this as a case of not honouring one’s commitment that deserves censure, and members of the media who reported on the dispute did not appear to be sympathetic towards the defiant Instagrammer. Some of her supporters thought that she was being bullied, with one gung-ho individual, in a display of maiden-to-the-rescue machismo, asking, “What brand? Tell me. I will make them regret.” The xiao yuan zhi hua (校园之花, campus beauty) card always comes in handy. We were inclined to see Elaine Heng’s behaviour as lacking professional discipline, but when we saw that 11-minute-40-second video she posted on Instagram Live, we could not ignore the juvenile outpouring too.

Screen grab Elaine Heng on Instagram LiveScreen grab of Elaine Heng appearing on Instagram Live to explain away. Photo: Elaine Heng/Instagram

And it quickly dawned on us that that was exactly where you can see her appeal and draw. Ms Heng’s behaviour is representative of the girls (and boys) of her generation, and this generation of social media followers understands that her video feed is basically a platform on which she is talking to her fans directly, as if chatting with her BFFs in a kopi tiam. This is how many of them speak and conduct themselves, mostly inured to niceness, its allure and advantages. This is what you hear in the MRT train when a petulant schoolgirl complains about another petulant schoolgirl. This is totally unscripted, as girl talk tends to be; this is not quite serious, flippant even; this is not a show of remorse; this is no apology and, if so, not directed at the person angered by her.

Her spontaneity is her stroke of genius. Her by-the-way approach has an immediate intimacy and her while-I-eat posturing has a non-threatening casualness that people even find cute. She interrupted the video session by talking to her sister (“can you don’t [sic] watch my IG story in front of me like that?”, “I eating [sic] half-way”) and her maid, and then dismissed them (“go, go, go!”); she rocked back and forth as she tried to read the real-time comments appearing on her side of the screen; and—charming to her fans, unbecoming to her haters—she slurped noodles as she banters (“wait ah, I eat first”, “wah, it’s very spicy, leh!”), with the handle of the soup spoon taking up a quarter of the screen; and she concluded her session because “my noodles is getting fat”.

This girl is entertaining!

You would not have known that just by looking at her Instagram photos. By those photos alone, you’d never guess she’s this amusing, this loquacious, and this hungry! Nor, that fashionable, to the point she could sell clothes, let alone earrings. Those posts left you with no clue that while she was having a whale of a time in Komodo Island, a business owner was hunting her down for a commitment she allegedly did not keep. Neither will you think she expects people to “chase” her for the money owed to them. You would not be able to imagine that while she was eager to monitise her follower base, she was unable to see the exigency of returning what she had to pay back. Or, that she would have the gumption to exhort that “all brands should know this: when you engage an influencer, you don’t expect them to write an amazing post about your product unless you are sure that your product is something that they like!”

18-05-19-10-36-05-715_deco.jpgWherever you turn to, there’s a good chance someone is looking at Instagram. Photo: Zhao Xiangji

Perhaps, what Ms Heng, once identified as a “hot bod” in The Straits Times, did not foresee was BIO’s Trixie Khong stealing her spotlight. She did not expect Ms Khong to use the very same platforms to out her (when the dispute went online, she repeatedly called it “childish”). She thought she could have it her way until she came face to Facebook with what was untenable: avoid the situation at hand. She thought the mess could be cleaned up privately via one-to-one WhatsApp messages; she did not realise that she had waited too long. She thought replying with LOLs could defuse any situation, but, since texting acronyms are no cure-all and may be seen as a digital slap-in-the-face, they only exacerbated the situation. Ms Heng has a very specific so-cute-it’s-sexy appeal that makes army boys’ knees go weak. Likely, she thought her chio-ness could continue to front her brand (“You are so pretty” is a common textual reaction to her posts) only to clash with those who believe rectitude counts more.

Regrettably, in the world of #mefirst social media, prettiness can take the place of propriety, cuteness can forgo decorum, ignorance can supplant knowledge. The influencer-sphere is peopled with face/body-worthy pococurantes, cavaliers, and would-be fashion designers. On top of the unceasing, this-is-my-life-but-you’ll-never-really-know appeal, Instagram encourages influencers to comport with vainglory and condense their lives into neat stamps of perfection. The grid of photos is a story board of endless fun and enjoyment. That’s the one thing about many KOLs, and quite a cliché too: they want to give you the impression that they attend the best parties, the most gainful product launches; that they rock in the coolest dress and shine in the most stunning jewellery; that they eat in the hippest hipster cafes, cavort in the most photogenic locales, and are always on the move—overseas!

When more of the veneer cracks or wears off, will we see further decay inside?

Some of those fretful of social media’s compelling force to affect behaviour and action miss pre-digital innocence, if it existed. The past does not always inform the future. And the present is so reliably unpredictable and changeable that what comes next is anybody’s guess. Yet, the comeliest faces are preserved in the cloud as reminder that the visual selves of these influencers have a triumvirate presence: somewhere out there, in the bloggers’ reality, and in our very own. If what the digital world has to offer up till now, including the attendant apps, is habit-forming, would the bad behaviour we see online with numbing regularity become a habit for many too?


A Knit Little Bag

Despite its omnipresence on the catwalk these past seasons, the supermarket shopping bag isn’t shaping up as the bag du jour. At least, not here on our sunny island. They may be the most practical thing you can carry, but when a bag is evocative of mundane contents such as grocery, its appeal may be limited to the trip to Fairprice.

Unless, perhaps, it is made with a fabric akin to sweater knit. It is plain to see that this Hansel from Basel shopping bag is destined to carry more than a punnet of grapes, a loaf of bread, and a block of belacan. In fact, its garment-like quality instantly lends itself to pairing with OOTD, so much so that, hung on the rack in DSMS, shoppers have mistaken them for sleeveless cropped tops!

Held in the hand, this shopping bag is a tad heavy —a minus to some perhaps, with handles that bunch into rather thick rolls in the grip. Its overall bulk, however, is where the appeal lies: no limpness and floatiness to suggest a bag of humble stock.

Hansel from Basel, Euro-affectation aside, is interestingly of a lot less haute provenance. The designer behind the bag is as American as Hansel and Gretel are German. Hansel, as it is reported, is designer Hannah Byun’s childhood nickname and Basel, apart from the fact that it rhymes with the German moniker, is in Switzerland, a country Ms Byun apparently is fascinated with.

Fashion names, as we see often enough, do not have to be meaningful. Just let the merchandise be.

Hansel from Basel knit shopping bag, SGD80, is available at Dover Street Market Singapore. Photo: DSM

This Shoe Is Designed For Instagram

When Instagram was launched in Oct, 2010, it was meant to be a photo-centric alternative to Twitter. Simply put, a social, photo-sharing app to communicate with friends or whoever in the world one wishes to chat with. Little did we know that it would soon become a personal marketing tool and, now, a design-influencing platform

Adidas DeeruptThe new Adidas Deerupt. Photo: Adidas

A matter of time perhaps, but still, it was a little surprising that Adidas has been so upfront with it: their latest shoe, the Deerupt, was designed to look good on Instagram. For something as personal as footwear—or anything used to clothe—it isn’t feet first, but IG foremost. Sneakers have become as camera-facing as the wearer’s visage.

As Global Design Director for Adidas Originals, Oddbjorn Stavseng, told Highsnobiety recently, “we increasingly see Instagram pictures where people shoot their sneakers with their foot planted down, making sure that the toe is pressed down. So when you see Deerupt, you’ll see this same ‘toe-down’ effect which was a purposeful design choice.”

“Purposeful”. That’s the operative word. And the purpose, no doubt, is for the Deerupt to adopt a perpetually IG-ready stance. Before its launch in the stores this week, Instagram was abuzz with news of Deerupt’s impending arrival, communicating sororally to IG followers, just as school chums do when a mean girl is to be transferred from another school to their class.

Adidas Deerupt 360 view.jpg360° view of the Adidas Deerupt. Photos: Adidas

Adidas’s approach does not send consumers rushing to the shopping mall, or their favourite shoe store. You see the product on the brand’s IG page (as well as on those who shared the images) and—as you have another ready in the background—you can, with a click (almost like gesturing, in fact), send your object of desire to a waiting cart, ready for check out. Anyway, who touches a pair of shoes before the purchase; who even tries them on anymore?

The ‘toe-down’ effect that Adidas is banking on supposes that sneakerheads appreciate the admission into their visual world when, in fact, Adidas is occupying a seen-it-before, done-it-already space. Delight is hard to be drawn out in social media of precedents and appeal that mostly makes sense in  the online world is one-dimensional. Adidas can’t be faulted for trying, but our digital footprints, trailed by friends’ ‘likes’ and plodding every purported new stomping ground, mean Netizens are hardly ever on their toes on individuality, let alone originality.

Perhaps this explains why Deerupt isn’t the sneaker to knock the NMD off its pedestal. During the weekend of its launch, we were surprised to find many pairs of the shoe still available at the Adidas Originals store at Pacific Plaza. Of the six customers or so trying sneakers, no one was shod in the Deerupt. Outside, in the window facing Scotts Road, a sole red/blue/black/white version of the new shoe was suspended mid-air, ‘toe-down’ of course, but it did not seem to attract attention the way the Pharrell Williams collab, Hu Holi Blank Canvas collection, did: with a scuffle!

Window displays with the ‘toe-down’ Deerupt at Adidas Originals stores. Photo: Zhao Xiangji

While we were there, we decided to give the Deerupt a try. The shoe does not look as streamlined as it does on those IG feeds. When worn, it makes the feet look rather unattractive. Looking down at them when standing, the Deerupt appears flattened and, with the netting overlay, seems trapped. The packed-down effect is enhanced with a mid-sole that is oddly spread out, creating a rather wide corridor for an already broad shoe. This surely can’t be a joy to wear in a crowded MRT train, especially the NS line at 6pm!

Looks aside, the Deerupt is comfortable as it comes with a knit upper and is overall a light shoe in the vein of Nike’s Roshe. We aren’t certain if this will score with those who buy sneakers specifically for running, but we’re quite sure that in this season of ‘ugly’ sneakers, the Deerupt is perhaps on the wrong side of unattractive: not retro enough and far from forward.

Brand-building based on persona and shtick and social-media following, as well as the tediously dull celebrity hangers-on are unavoidable these days. Among new shoes that flood IG and the like, perhaps those that actually look good when worn will ultimately be winners.

Adidas Deerupt, SGD170, in different colour ways, is available at Adidas Originals stores, as well as Pedder on Scotts

Short Is Not A Cut Above

A Singaporean journalist was booted out of the Oscars press room early this week for not wearing a long evening dress to the event. If only the folks at the Oscars knew: she was just showing them a typical Singaporean

By Mao Shan Wang

That poor girl. She didn’t know, perhaps. Or, maybe she knew but couldn’t be bothered. Formal attire at the Academy Awards is standard. She should have asked me and I would have told her to stick to baju kurong—they’ll definitely let her in. Instead, she chose—and, gosh, felt fabulous—in “knee-length shimmery dress, killer heels and formal blazer”, a combination that, as it appears to me, look right on an auditor attending her company’s D&D, but at the Oscars, could be something belonging to Elisa Esposito on her day off, stumbling onto the red carpet by mistake, minus her love interest, the humanoid amphibian.

That she had survived the kick-out and was keen to tell all about it showed that many Singaporean girls are not embarrassed by their lack of sense of occasion. This is typical of the young today: I am in my best dress—that’s good enough. And it shimmers! That’s evening enough. I pair it with a “formal” jacket! That’s grand enough. And don’t forget my killer heels! They’re high enough!

Just as not all that glitters is gold, all that shimmers is not necessarily evening wear. Short and shimmery, less so, unless you’re headed to 1-Altitude. And just because it’s a jacket—even a double-breasted one—does not mean it’s formal. A blazer, especially in Prince of Wales check (or similar), is definitely not part of a formal ensemble. As for those killer heels, I am sorry to say, the more killer they are, the more they will spell death to red carpet elegance. Girl, this wasn’t the night your boyfriend took you to his mother’s birthday party at a hotel coffee house.

And feeling sorry for yourself is definitely not Night-at-the-Oscars-smart. Even Ryan Seacrest wore a tux! Who cares if you were “nursing jet leg”? Or, that you would leave the day after? Those invitees arriving from London were probably jet-lagged too, and would scoot off just as quickly. It is convenient to blame lack of style on lack of sleep. If you ignore the dress code, you will look like you missed the memo, or the girl who turned up as Olaf when everyone else receiving the right invite came as Elsa.

I don’t know why so many women can’t be bothered with dress codes or think them a bother. Journalists are especially guilty, ST journalists in particular. It’s as if they’re saying, “We’re here to report the news, not to look nice.” And dressing appropriately would impede on their ability to do their job. Or, diminish their credibility. Maybe journalists won’t look nice because no one wants to look like Sumiko Tan? Maybe? As a friend pointed out to me, I have to understand that there are many people who see nothing wrong with attending a stated ‘gala’ event in T-shirt and jeans—they simply don’t care. Even when attending the Oscars in LA, apathy, like the passport, can’t be left at home.

Assuming you “made the mistake of not paying attention” to the “formal attire policy that everybody needs to adhere to at the Oscars”. It’s tempting to ask: Isn’t paying attention part of your job? And, let me add, have you never watched Red Carpet Live? Even the ushers are in evening wear. Did you not, for one moment, desire to not look like you just fell from the bleachers? Those there don’t wear a gown. Did you not know this isn’t the same as the Star Awards?

I have never quite understood why dressing appropriately is so difficult for some women. Is there no pleasure in donning a dress less ordinary? Are special occasions not so special anymore? Nor do I understand why throwing a jacket—any jacket—over the shoulder like a shrug can save them from a thousand scenes. For goodness’ sake, it’s not the le smoking and you’re not posing for Helmut Newton! Kid yourself not. It’s time to graduate from the campus chic (yes, oxymoron!) approach to fashion; it’s time to step up from killer heels that are already a huge misstep. Dress codes are imposed for a reason. Flouting them will not make you a cool fashion rebel; it’ll get you kicked out. This was the Oscars; this wasn’t your sister’s wedding.

Weather The Winter With Wonderful

Louis Vuitton AW 2018 P1

After last season’s boxer-shorts-as-interesting-piece-of-fashion, it lifts the spirit to see that Nicolas Ghesquière does not need to resort to such cheap styling tricks for Louis Vuitton’s autumn/winter 2018 collection. In fact, it is nice to witness Mr Ghesquière going back to what he does best: design. Pure delight are the details that draw the eyes, stir desires, and, as important, engage the mind. This, to us, is the Nicolas Ghesquière that made us love Balenciaga under his watch. Some memories don’t fade. This time, watching the LV show online was like drinking iced coffee after sucking on a mint drop.

Mr Ghesquière’s best collection for LV yet? We think so. He has dug deep into his love for old military uniforms and sporty shapes (but now paired with elegant other halves), a beguiling sense of contrast, the unexpected mix of garments, and a welcome love for creating panels/pieces and joining them to parts of the bodice normally not considered for application. More exquisitely, he made the clothes totally and acceptably wearable.

Extreme wearability has been the main thrust of many fashion houses in recent years. By this, we don’t mean that unwearability had dominated prior. Rather, wearability that edged closer to the banal and almost nothingness has taken centre stage, and many brands have taken that as cue for their products to be desired, to be successful. Now that that approach has slowly failed to grip, designers are choosing to go meretricious, as evidenced by the chronic loudness among many of the Italians.

Louis Vuitton AW 2018 G1

Louis Vuitton AW 2018 G2

Mr Ghesquière had come rather dangerously close to just-retail-ready when he took over LV from Marc Jacobs in 2013. His debut collection for the house in the following year (as well as those subsequently), while a clear departure from Mr Jacob’s tired over-design and a thrill to many fashion editors, did little to draw LV to us. Perhaps he was adrift with the winds of change at that time, when looking un-designed was aesthetic du jour. It did not have the clutch of the little extras, the sprinkling of quirkiness, and the dash of defiance that characterised his work before LV. It seems to have taken some time (from the start at LV, he wasn’t a young man in a hurry), but Mr Ghesquière has found his place in the house that, until 1998, did not boast a fashion line.

This season, there is so much to love, just as there is much to hold us rapt. For us, it has the definite kick that brings to mind the Balenciaga of autumn/winter 2007, which Mr Ghesquière had described as “a big mix—a street mix.” It was a collection that imbued Balenciaga with all the constituents of cool. A decade down the road, his work for LV has that similar jumble, only now it does not project the insouciance of girls dressed for school, or a date after class; it collates the sleekness and the confidence of the assuredly fashionable of yore with the swagger that has a whiff of today’s street style, one that is less linked to Lafayette Street, NYC, and more to Avenue Montaigne, Paris.

We’re particularly drawn to the shoulder treatment of many of the tops and blouses—those horizontal panels across the collarbone, shaped like a capelet over the shoulders, but appear to us, to be inspired by the shoulder panels of the gaktis tunics of the Sámi men of Lapland. There is, of course, nothing literal about Mr Ghesquière’s take (if it is so) since there is clearly a sportif treatment to his panels, particularly the extra, contrasting diagonal bands in some of the blouses that contrast the natural curve of the armscye, and, in particular, on one top that looked like an extra-long epaulettes rising from mid-upper arms. The graphic elements are not indistinct, and they highlight the skills of the LV pattern-makers, as much as the wealth of technical ideas dreamed up by Mr Ghesquière.

Louis Vuitton AW 2018 G3

Louis Vuitton AW 2018 G4

Sold too we were to the corsets (that could pass off as a waist-shaper from a fitness supply shop), appearing when they are least expected—as base on which the tiered ruffles of a halter-neck top shimmer somewhat incongruously, or the asymmetric overflow of fabric of the garment beneath; the textiles and prints that don’t appear to match (a clash that, conversely captivate rather than confuse; the angles, seams, and drapes that juxtapose happily; and the irrepressible desirability of the collage-like sum effect. Looking at the ensembles, you’re not merely seeing a dress or a blouse: you’re gazing at clothing of hardly ever seen complexity.

Mr Ghesquière has sometimes been called an avant-garde designer. In light of what is happening elsewhere in French fashion, perhaps he is. But avant-garde as we once knew it, pitched to Japanese or Belgian deconstructionism, has left the popular consciousness, so much so that we don’t really see unorthodoxy and experimentation in clothes anymore; we see ‘looks’. But Mr Ghesquière has not really abandoned the spirit of the avant-garde. Rather, he has stayed closed to it, applying his unconventional ideas within identifiable forms and graceful silhouettes that do not attempt to distort the shape of the body. The clothes, for instance, veer not towards the ultra skinny or the outsized, except for the dresses which, we suspect, are made somewhat big and baggy to goose interest among those weaned on the apparent size-disregard of Vetements.

You sense that with these clothes, the wearer belongs to a certain élan, one not kept afloat from the bubble-up effects that have put pressure on much of today’s fashion houses. To be sure, Louis Vuitton has always been a commercial brand. Nicolas Ghesquière makes it less so.

Photos: (top) FF Channel/Youtube, (catwalk)

The Scallop Age

Valentino AW 2018 P1

Well, perhaps not an age of the scallop, but the scallop edge has a new edge, and this, we fear, will be the most copied fashion detail in the coming months, especially the scallop edge seen at Valentino. Make a date with Zara—you’ll soon see it there, if not among the dresses, definitely with the skirts, even in the company of T-shirts. This is not the scallop edge of your mother’s time, those hemlines of repeated less-than-half-of-circle or those along the opening of short jackets on which an oversized button is centred atop each scallop to better emphasise the convex curve of the latter.

Rather, designer Pierpaolo Piccioli employs them boldly— deep, half-a-circle scallop (any craft book will tell you that the shallower the scallop, the easier it is to sew)—as if they are Chinese cloud motifs, only a lot less ornate. And the placements are rather unusual: on one one-arm dress, black on more than half of the front side, the over-sized scallop edge is placed against a narrow strip of white to better accentuate its boldness and graphic appeal. Elsewhere, the scallop edge appears on a bib-front (that runs to the hem of the floor-length dress!), on the hems of a diagonally tiered dress, and as perimeter of a cape. And nowhere does it transmute the outfits into something dreadfully girlish, or garish.

Unencumbered by over-femininity, Mr Piccioli has consistently, since the departure of co-créateur Maria Grazia Chiuri in 2016, forged a rather dreamy vision of today’s woman of means and power. It’s quite a pull away from the Victorian primness that the duo was proposing towards the end of their partnership (“too much fabric, too covered up”, as one make-up artist once said to us), yet it does not shirk from the Valentino-esque vision of moneyed dress-up, or the perceived harmony and contentment alit within those who carry themselves in these clothes.

Valentino AW 2018 G1

Today, Mr Piccioli ascribes his aesthetic to “romanticism”. In its post-show communication material, Valentino touts that “romanticism is strength. It places sensibility before rationality, authenticity before stereotypes.” And suggests that “being romantic is a way of living life. Giving form to the freedom of being, subverting clichés.” Non-marketing types may consider all that verbiage, but even if the words don’t give form to the collection, something can be said of Mr Piccioli’s way with putting “authenticity before stereotypes” or “subverting clichés”. He has subscribed to a sense of beauty that harks to an era when magnificence mattered and also takes into consideration what that might mean when seen through a smartphone’s camera lens.

Now that many media outlets are charting “this month’s Instagram winners” to see which brand is getting the most influencer buzz, there is pressure among labels to produce clothes and to style them to generate the optics that today’s online rhapsody is about. Designers ‘project’ clothes so that they can be better seen the way actors project their voices so that they can be better heard. What, to us, is rather amazing is that Mr Piccioli is able to say so much without shouting, without desperately rising above the din that is, quite sadly, current, Instagram-worthy fashion.

That he is able to straddle the online/offline divide (even if that is increasingly narrowing) reflects Mr Piccioli’s natural affinity with the balanced, the proportioned, and the nuanced—a poise of perfection that transcends age. His are clothes that do not veer towards the too-young or the past-their-prime. His is not an overly conscious, try-too-hard attempt at staying on the right side of uncompromisingly now, unlike, say, Karl Lagerfeld, who, for Chanel, must align himself with youth-oriented consumerism or place his finger firmly on the zeitgeist, with the result that’s neither here nor there.

Valentino AW 2018 G2

Valentino AW 2018 G3

Some people have a very performance-linked relationship with clothes—every drop of the sleeve a gesture, every swish of the skirt a dance, which seems to us rather old Hollywood, during a time when stars not filming in a studio had to look immaculate and ready for the paparazzi. Fashion, in its need to be attention-grabbing, seems to have gone that way since many women no longer dress for fun, for friends, but for the opportunityself-offered mostlyto cavort before a camera lens.

Valentino does not negate the likelihood that their clothes will support the popularity of the hashtag OOTD, but they are not, as far as we can discern, conceived for the sake of social-media bang. Sure, this season’s oversized, embroidered and appliquéd flowers and Little Red Riding Hood-worthy hoods are the stuff fashion-hungry IG-ers look out for and will cop, but beyond that, there is salute to the dressmaker’s craft and the blessing of the couturier’s eye. Pierpaolo Piccioli, we are quite convinced, is going to steer Valentino to higher ground.


Big In Balenciaga

Balenciaga AW 2018 P1

How many coats do we need? Not that we, living near the equator, would really know, but if Balenciaga’s latest collection is to be accepted, quite a few. And not just for different days, but for wearing them at one go. Kiasuism (or should that be kiasiism?!) is well and alive, and has found its way to Paris, and is happily expounded by Demna Gvasalia. As it appears, you may not be warm enough until you look warm enough.

Or, perhaps, there aren’t that many. It’s just an illusion, as the Imagination song goes. Maybe they are simply more-than-twofers. It is possible they are fourfers, or maybe fivefers! We couldn’t tell from in front of our Surface Pro. The streaming was too well edited, and we were too amused, borderline entranced: Can outerwear look so delightfully monstrous— malformations that will do Victor Frankenstein proud?

Mr Gvasalia understands the importance of keeping the shapes of Balenciaga intriguing. The house was built on that. In fact, he has always made a statement in body-obscuring outerwear, the way other designers underscore the histrionic possibilities of gowns. Remember the oversized anoraks of his debut women’s collection around this time in 2016, or the weird, boxy, rigid coats of his first men’s wear collection not longer after? Big is key to Mr Gvasalia’s Balenciaga, misrepresenting the size of the body is the idea. Not Fernando Botero-big, but certainly Niki de Saint Phalle-distorted. The outerwear immediately gave the show (and subsequent ones) the imprimatur of youthful, if geeky, hipness.

Balenciaga AW 2018 G1

The distortion, in fact, can be likened to Cristobal Balenciaga’s imagining of silhouettes that broke away from what was considered appealing at that time. Looking back, the cocoon must have been rather shocking for women who were used to what came after Dior, but it was pivotal to the couturier’s exploration of the spaces between body and garment, which in itself can be traced to the east—to Japan, where the kimono, too, embody this complicated, ultimately sensual, relationship.

It is hard to resist the temptation of joining the dots between Mr Gvasalia’s outsized, warped outers and developments in the east. The over-layering seems to challenge the very notion that looking like a country-bumpkin cousin of the Michelin man is not really stylish. In fact, the idea of Uniqlo’s winter-travel must-have Heattech is to allow one to don fewer pieces or to trim down the volume, but that preference for bulk-reducing sleekness is now delightfully barred from Balenciaga’s doors.

In addition, those big jackets, teamed with scarves covering the head, truly remind us of the 1992 Zhang Yimou film The Story of Qiu Ju (秋菊打官司) in which Gong Li, playing the protagonist, goes to the city from her rural home in what, to her, must have been her finest threats, but were, in fact, her version of maternity wear, styled for the sophistication and snobbery of the city. Qiu Ju, as it appears now, was rather ahead of her time! What must costume designer Tong Huamiao, who was also behind Raise the Red Lantern (大红灯笼高高挂), be thinking now?

Balenciaga AW 2018 G2.jpg

The shape shifts/enhancements are also applied to blazers and overcoats—fairly straight forward styles with stiff, almost linear shoulders, but with rounded, unnaturally pronounced hips, a silhouette that debuted in Mr Gvasalia’s first collection for Balenciaga. We admit that, back then, we didn’t take to this strange constriction, as well as the exaggeration with delight. They appeared, at first gawk, like subjects of Velázquez’s painting adopting waist-down bumps for their riding coats. It truly looked odd, as if of another era, Spanish or not. The modestly panniered jackets appeared once more, but this time, they are like selfies—you get used to them.

Even the men’s jackets and coats have exaggerated hips, as if they’re some kind of cardboard cutouts for a new hour-glass ideal of the male species. Designers have been feminising men’s wear for many years, using fabrics and colours usually preferred for clothes with bust darts, and giving guys skirts—in some extreme cases, dresses—to wear. But nothing is perhaps more feminine that according a man prominent hips! A diminishing of conventional musculature, of primal motivations, and a visual leveler of the power between sexes that’s part of Balenciaga’s ‘agender’?

Perhaps, therein lies the newness: the man with child-bearing hips. Stud not! Sometimes, with Mr Gvasalia, you wonder if this is really a gag, or a detail to draw the sexes closer. Unisex designs have, till now, largely been about making clothes that align with men’s aesthetics rather than with women’s: that’s why unisex clothes have largely been shirts, T-shirts, hoodies, and pants, sized to accommodate the girls. It is rarely, if ever, the other way round: there are unisex shirts, but no unisex blouses. Is Mr Gvasalia making a point about gender rather than sex?

Balenciaga AW 2018 G3

For sure, it’s hard to say that Balenciaga is sexy. This season, however, the show opened with six short, body hugging dresses, but when the “Time’s Up”, it’s hard to look at these dresses and think that the wearer wants more than to look good. These are likely more merchandising anomaly than sexual aggression. Mr Gvasalia has made quirky-stylish-norm so much a part of Balenciaga that it is hard to imagine he’s doing an Anthony Vaccarello here. Sure, these clothes are not for clambakes or curry chicken potlucks, but they are far from taking the Tatler Ball by storm.

From the dad look to one that is mom-sy, Balenciaga sometimes appears to be Mr Gvasalia’s private joke. Take those pencil skirts, for example. The primness is underscored by their high-waist and past-the-knee length, yet the front overlap slit reveals an additional panel that looks like exposed, unlined inside, which, if one remembers, were once considered so unsightly that women had to wear petticoats under their skirts to conceal exposed hems and over-lock stitches. It’s now a design feature and it has a rather home-sew feel to it; yes, mom.

Balenciaga, in its new aesthetic form, was, admittedly, hard to digest in the beginning. The turning point for us here at SOTD was the spring/summer 2018 collection, now seen in the stores. We were sold on those seemingly plain work shirts and were even more taken, seeing them up-close, with the collar—button-down in the front (to the disapproval of the office sex pot, we’re sure), but gently scooped in the rear. That’s the beauty of Balenciaga now: it’s not so straightforward black and white, and, certainly, not front and back.

Photos: Balenciaga

The (Possible) Comeback Of Chic

Jacquemus AW 2018 P1

The joy of Jacquemus: This is easily one of our favourite collections of the Paris season, if only for the ease of the clothes—unaffected, consumable ease. Jacquemus has not really been known for such straightforward styles. Sure, they had been largely wearable, and designer Simon Porte had steadily remained au courant, dabbling with concepts more judiciously than those disposed to sprinkling sequins. This time, there’s perceptibly more: no fuss, no excess, no ambiguity. The young label delivers an immensely likeable collection that will be welcomed in many wardrobes.

This season, Mr Porte’s Jacquemus, a moniker that is derived from his mother’s maiden name, took a trip to Marrakesh and soaked up the souks. Back in Paris, whatever Mr Porte had gleaned was given a left-bank spin. This isn’t to say that Jacquemus is handing us Yves Saint Laurent, who, enamoured with Marrakesh, had made this part of North Africa his second home. In fact, it was, to us, exhilarating that almost nothing pointed to YSL, the label or the man. Sure, there was a hint of the Seventies—those shirt-dresses!—but the allusion is hardly the neo-beatnik influence that weighed rather heavily on Mr Saint Laurent’s output in his heydays.

Jacquemus AW 2018 G1

Instead, Mr Porte seemed to build his collection on the definitive Northern African garb: the caftan. But he did not create any self-limitations by restricting himself to one garment. The show opened with a caftan-as-shirt-dress, and, while versions of that did appear later, it did not set the tone for the collection, nor characterise it. Instead, Mr Porte explored the idea of a relaxed silhouette with pieces—dresses, shirts, even coats—that, while roomy, still skim the body in an alluring manner, much like lounge wear, but smarter and deserving a place outside the home.

There’s a refreshing slinkiness to many of the styles, a seductive hang, but nothing too clingy, and certainly not adhering to overly laid-back languor. The generally long lengths are proportionately matched to comfortably fitted bodices and adequately capacious sleeves. No subversive twists! These are clothes that you slip into, forget about them, and go about your day, and you do so without a care about whether you’re going to look too dressed up, or, worse, too foolish. Fashion needs such built-in confidence and locked-in flair so that a woman knows the minute she’s dressed that she is ready to face the world beautifully.

Jacquemus AW 2018 G2

Jacquemus AW 2018 G3

We are partial to the drop-waist shifts; the dramatic cowl-front shirts; asymmetric tops that refocus the otherwise centric openings of the garments; hybrid jackets that seem to be wedded to a cape on one side; knit skirts with fold-down waists that look like skewed corsets; the quirky, floating lantern hemlines of skirts, and so much more that it is hard to say there is anything we do not like. And those shirt-dresses: they would put Diane Von Furstenberg in a re-think mood! The colours, too, captivate. They’re not the spice colours of the souk, as you might expect, but dusty, aged shades of brown, green, beige, and sand that you might find in an old Maghreb book of illustrations.

How well a collection works can sometimes be discerned on the models. The Jacquemus girls emerged genuinely pleased to don the clothes, and there was a palpable sense of pleasure, to the extent that when the girls stepped out in the finale smiling, with a spring in their steps, you, too, wanted to stand up and join them in their sprightly strut. Jacquemus proves that wearable ease is not a bad idea in fashion. And carrying a nifty handbag makes more sense than a severed head. These are, happily, the stuff of sartorial joy. And, perhaps, the making of the comeback of chic. Fingers crossed.

Photos: Jacquemus

Comfort Factor: A Jil Sander Perspective

Jil Sander AW 2018 P1

It was an inspired follow-up. Our excitement with the debut output of Lucie and Luke Meier for Jil Sander was obvious. In their sophomore outing, the Meiers held us spellbound. Again. It was a collection that kept to some of the Jil Sander codes, but yet eschewed thoughtless two-pieces-of-oblongs minimalism trend of the past years for ideas and details that enhanced the duo’s concept of what is comfortable clothing. Comfort, it seemed, had to do with padding, wrapping, insulation, and the spaces between. We wanted to immediately slip into the coats, the dresses, the pants, and feel the fabrics against our skin. This is tactile and aesthetic high, even in front of a tablet screen.

So much of Italian fashion these days have been wanking around weirdness, circumventing comprehension, and dodging discernment that what the Meiers proposed was a veritable feast for the eyes, more so since dress excess has not reached a tipping point. These were immensely desirable clothes in as much as themselves as the feelings they arose. They stood out: we wanted that and that and that… and that, to be sure, was a good feeling.

Jil Sander AW 2018 G1

We sought out the contours and the textures; we wanted to be coddled by the clothes, never mind if the chance of wearing so many of the pieces would be slim when September comes. The Meiers were unapologetic in their pursuit of supreme comfort, a quality we seem to have abandoned in favour of the outrageous and the overwrought. They’ve put comfort centre-catwalk and it beckoned. The clothes looked like bedding transmogrified, blankets re-purposed, and, as Linus van Pelt knows, in them, there isn’t just comfort to be had, there is security, too.

While augmenting the idea of palpable comfort with models carrying what appeared to be folded duvets (but could be oversized clutches) might seem a tad ridiculous, we did find the belted wraps worn by the guys somewhat intriguing. Could they be some kind of side-way, underarm capes? Less effective was the quilt used as a sort of obi belt. You’d have to have to be encased in a corset to look good in it, or be very, very thin.

Jil Sander AW 2018 G2

Jil Sander AW 2018 G3

Something else the Meiers brought back that we, too, thought was alluring: asymmetry. The knitwear sat askew across the neck, across the bodice, across the hips; a dress sported, on one side, rows of what appeared to be darts, but looked like gills; and tulip skirts puffed like slightly deflated lanterns. Under all that comfort was visual discomfort, orderliness disorderliness. The sum effect of comfort need not be perfect or uniform. Comfort can afford creases, folds, and rumples. With them, we’re more comfortable.

In terms of references, there was a hint of Orientalism. Nothing Sino-centric, just Chinese blanket prints visualised on coats and skirts, tunic-like shapes that hinted at Manchurian robes, arm bands that could be the contemporary cousins of those used in Red China, and a shirt opening that followed the meander and direction of the qipao. These were allowed European winds to warp their providence. Obviousness is not a modern trait, evocation is. And Lucie and Luke Meier have certainly evoked something in Jil Sander.

Photos: Jil Sander

Prada’s Feminists Work In A Hazardous Lab Of Sorts

Prada AW 2018 P2

For the Prada autumn/winter 2018 collection, the well-shod models wore heels, boots, and galoshes with cut-off, toggle-secured shoe covers usually seen in contamination-free environments. These girls, it seemed, were going somewhere that needed to be super clean.

This idea of an additional layer of protection was also extended to the clothes, although they were not as obvious as what were seen at ground-level. Some dresses, for example came with sheer outer layers, as if to protect the wearer from incident, contaminant-irrigated or not. And some outerwear looked up-cycled from suits destined for chemical warfare. (Thankfully, nothing as macabre as Gucci’s body bag!)

And the colours: They seemed to warn of unsafe conditions further on. Even a few of the prints looked acid-ruined. This is Prada in pre-apocalyptic, post-#metoo mode. This is Prada shielding and protecting against a world still awash with uncertainty and populated with sexual predators. And what better hues than danger-ahead neons?

Prada AW 2018 G1

Prada AW 2018 P3

The Prada world has always been an alternative one, but it isn’t an alternative universe. It shares our troubles, our intimidations, our humiliations. Miuccia Prada is the Creative Commander-in-Chief of that world. And she knows how to protect her people against the threats of that sphere. She gives them a protective layer for both feet and body, and everything else in between that can empower.

These could be clothes to dress the staff of the high-security government lab in Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water (perhaps not cleaner Elisa and her colleagues, but certainly the likes of Colonal Richard Strickland’s secretary Sally). Or, if we were to look back a year earlier, the NASA-employed women of Theodore Melfi’s Hidden Figures. Ms Prada’s predilection for uniform-like clothes of man-made fabrics in lab-like or retro-sci-fi, even manga-cute, environs is not new. This time, she’s made them more evident, complete with staff security ID, clipped conspicuously to chests.

Prada AW 2018 G2

Prada AW 2018 P4

But, as usual, nothing Ms Prada proposes is as straightforward as they seem. Amid the somewhat strict attire and possibly man-repelling layering, there was much feminine flourish, as if in the corridors of secret government projects, one can still succumb to the lure of fashion; in some cases—embroidered and beaded overlay—to offer pre-cocktail allure. Beneath the hard-to-figure-out mix of hard and soft, textured and sheer, twisted and flat, Ms Prada was still able to underscore the confidence that clothing can protect against the elements, contagion, and unwanted advances.

The thought on hazardous contamination was momentarily disrupted by the appearance of Amber Valletta, a blast from the past in a coat with a print that suggested galactic bangs and bursts. Ms Valletta did not look out of place in Prada’s hallway of germ-battling, science-big, fashion-proud clout-on-show. And the 44-year-old certainly did not look any less confident and attractive than much younger entrants to the Prada world, such as the babyish Kaia Gerber. And that, for many of us, is the irrepressible appeal of Miuccia Prada: inconspicuous feminism with stupendous reach.

Photos: Prada