Two Of A Kind: To Dubai With Love

Michael Cinco & Frederick Lee

The photo (right) of Frederick Lee at work came to us via WhatsApp around 5pm, shortly after it appeared on the designer’s Facebook page. And it was not just once, but twice (from different senders)! It required no prompting for us to immediately think of Michael Cinco, circa 2014 (picture: left). Should we assume that it was ‘inspiration’ at work, as it tends to be these days?

We are in the era of the Trumps: Donald for “fake news” and Melania for “common words”. The latter’s speech at the Republican National Convention last year was called out for its similarities to Michele Obama’s in 2008. Well, better Michele Obama than Barbara Bush, no? While the media was quick to point out the resemblance, no one really called down the wrath of the plagiarism god. Her minders, conversely, passed her word choice off as ordinary and frequently used.

In design these days, work resembling the creation of others is easily and swiftly called inspiration or, just to be certain reverence is noted, homage. Alessandro Michele, he who has made Gucci over-the-top and feverishly loved, was recently charged for making a jacket for the cruise 2018 collection too alike a particular piece made by an obscure-in-these-parts designer Daniel Day, aka Dapper Dan. When Netizens pointed out the similarities and the original owner of the one-off jacket, Olympic gold medalist Diane Dixon, took to Instagram to announce, “As Fashion Repeats We Must Give Credit To The Originators”, Gucci issued a statement to say that the said garment is “homage” to Mr Day “in celebration of the culture of that era in Harlem.”

Similarly, Frederick Lee adulates without a shadow of a doubt when he’s ‘inspired’, not, however, just by birds and flowers, but by the works of individuals in the same trade. It’s not surprising, therefore, that his creativity would be aroused by the work of others, such as fellow designers of the Asian Couture Federation (both Mr Cinco and Mr Lee are members). Keep it within the family since the work of Asian designers is less scrutinized?

Now, he’s gone from China to United Arab Emirates, from omelette to doily. The white, shapely dress in question is, of course, not an exact repro of what we believe to be Michael Cinco’s gown from his couture spring/summer 2015 collection. But you can’t say the colour isn’t similar, nor the placement pattern of the lace/embroidery (here, both had a whiff of the symmetrical patterns of 18th-century damask and brocade upholstery), nor the hip-enhancing silhouette. Sure, Mr Cinco worked his on fine tulle while Mr Lee’s output is realised on netting, but both aesthetics stem from the same sprout.

That there is resemblance may also be less the result of imitation and more the aesthetic similarity between the two designers. Both come from the school of fashion design where adherents love to closely trace the outline of the female body to better define the silhouette. Both have a penchant for dramatic effects and shapes, and both their designs attract women who have no use for the undramatic and the commonplace.

Both, too, have a weakness for dictums and truisms and, more often than not, inanities. Mr Cinco, a Filipino based in Dubai, says, sans irony, on his website, “A Michael Cinco woman is moneyed. She may not be born into royalty but she better be married into one.” Mr Lee loves to assert, as he does on Facebook, similarly stripped of irony, such as: “My brides are a class of their own. What makes you different makes you beautiful.” He is also prone to the lingo of Bryan “I’m so gay I sweat glitter” Boy: “You know you’re putting a good thing out into the universe when you put on glitter.”

Sisters, as the Eurythmics song goes, are doin’ it for themselves. Imitation be damned.

Photos: (left) Ian Gavan/Getty Image, (right) Frederic Lee/Facebook

Now, Fashion For The Blue Bag

Have you ever thought of going to Ikea for clothes? Those who love to visit the big blue box on dates can now buy matching tees or totes

Stunsig ‘Manga Eye’ by P Demirdag/V Renate

Ikea has been enjoying a lot of support from fashion folks lately. With its instantly recognisable Frakta bag a trend and meme, plus a reported re-design by Off White’s Virgin Abloh, it’s poised to take on fashion the way it has has with thin-stemmed wine glasses, making them affordable to the masses and party organizers fearful of drunken mayhem.

Its latest effort in the form of Stunsig is what the furniture giant calls “new artistic prints that are more fun, more unique, and more daring”, which really sounds like what many fashion houses are aiming for these days. Since Ikea does not have a conventional atelier, it offers Stunsig as a collaborative effort. Onboard are print designers such as Steven Harrington (US), Malcom Stuart (US), Frédérique Vernillet (France), Tilde Bay (Denmark), and others.

Stunsig’s dedicated space in the store

Despite the motley mix of participants, the result is rather consistent in its madcap prints—zaniness that would not be out of place in the kid’s department, usually situated at the end of the Ikea maze of a mega-store, near the Restaurant & Café. Instead, Stunsig has its own vaguely Cath Kidston-ish space upfront: a display area, in fact, so cartoon-like (sort of Kaw meets Manga) that it inevitably draws attention. But, when we visited, the offering of soft furnishings as well as tableware and stationery drew less interest than the fashion items. One shopper was heard asking, “Since when did Ikea sell clothes?” According to a staffer, since Valentine’s Day, when they released “very successful T-shirts”.

The thing is, even when Ikea is not primarily a seller of clothing, the store is visited for its textiles (a huge department, we should add) that appeal to the dressmaker as much as the homemaker. Women who sew, or those who have a good tailor, are known to have made all sorts of items from the fabrics it sells, from garments to bags to washing machine covers. These days, we call such enterprising ways “life hacks”.

Stunsig ‘Branch’ by M Grundström & A Gustavsson

For those less inclined to tackle a Singer, there’s Stunsig. We’re not terribly impressed with the home ware (or the totes), so we’ll talk about the clothes—basically just T-shirts. These made-in-China, 100% cotton tops are not designed with an athletic fit that are preferred by so many tee wearers. Instead, they are of a roomy cut with just a tad of boxiness that makes them veer on the side of the fashionable. Because of their wallet-friendly price (a revelation even to the cashier), the construction is not a tubular knit. But you won’t notice that. You will, instead, be surprised to know that it is made of rather fine-gauge cotton. Read: comfortable.

As we on this island like to say, and with increasing frequency, they’re “cheap and good.”

Stunsig T-shirts (‘Manga Eye’ and ‘Branch’, as pictured, among others), SGD8.90, are available at Ikea stores. Photos: Jim Sim

Watched: Wonder Woman

As hypothermia-resistant Wonder Woman, the fights are fast and furious. As man-saving Diana Prince, the fashion is fusty and feeble

They love her: the reviewers. So this one must be good, or, at least, not another DC dud. That’s what we were led to believe until all the CGI scenes and slow-mo action started to bore, and you direct your attention at the titular character.

Wonder Woman the film is watchable, but Wonder Woman the superhero isn’t quite enthralling. Sure, Gal Gadot as Princess Diana is a beauty to behold, but her performance belongs to the Angelina Jolie school of acting. As we sat in Hall 4 of Film Garde Cineplex not quite transfixed, we kept spotting Lara Croft spying us from all corners of the screen.

It does not help that Ms Gadot pouts (actually, frown-pouts) when she wants to be fierce. Which means Wonder Woman, too, works her lips, making us wonder why they weren’t part of her arsenal, like those up-to-the-elbows bullet-proof cuff bracelets. And just like the Tomb Raider, Wonder Woman dodges bullets deftly, using her body as an aerodynamic fighting machine. It’s the costume, you see: that amazing armour/swimwear (the earliest version of the comic had WW wear a skirt!) that allows her body to be a weapon of defence rather than an object of desire.

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Not that the costume adopted by Lynda Carter as the Amazonian—the one we remember most—is great (too campy, too pageant, as many today would concur), but the leather-and-loin-cloth combo of Gadot’s WW, designed by Lindy Hemming (who, also happen to have designed the Lara Croft costumes), led us to think of Sheena Queen of the Jungle. Perhaps the aesthetic/silhouette similarity should be acceptable since Princess Diana grew up on an island that’s forested, even when her homeland (and training grounds) is a take on Rivendell, and a poor one.

What annoyed us somewhat is the lack of explanation to how WW’s costume came about. This is supposed to be her backstory, but the costume just appeared—in the middle of the trenches of war. Sure, she’s similarly dressed back home on Themyscira (more commonly known as Paradise Island), but she did not pack extra clothes when she left with Steve Trevor, whom she rescued earlier, to fight a war that she believes was initiated by Ares, the god of war.

Nope, there is not the famous spin perfected by Ms Carter on the TV series. Wonder Woman of 2017, in a hooded cloak, merely turns with her back to the camera and then faces front with the superhero costume intact. Until then, she does not know she is a superhero and one who needs a costume. How did it become so calculated? Although the script made sure she could speak many languages, including, gasp, Sumerian (can she read cuneiform text, and, therefore, the Epic of Gilgamesh?!), it did not reveal to us that Wonder Woman could cut and sew, unlike, say, Peter Parker.

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When feminism is now worn on the chest, this is the female-empowerment movie of the year. The leather (or PU, or latex?) bustier number should be able to say something about sartorial emancipation. But it seems to revive the body-con ideal that never fails to be the feminine ideal. Less revealing than Lynda Carter’s perhaps, but it is even more perfectly shaped than any costume seen in an action film involving a heroine—clearly requiring sewing technology, which seems at odds with an at-war society that required rescuing from a woman who fights with swords, spears, and bows and arrows.

With much of the action and story taking place in the battle grounds of what is believed to be World War I (which, interestingly, took place before DC’s creation of Wonder Woman), WW’s alter-ego Diana Prince requires almost no fashion, just as she needs no man’s chivalry to feel attractive, desired, or feminine. Maybe just his charity (he had to buy her something decent to wear). Clothes, as her urban contemporaries know them, seem to be hindrance to her as a warrior. In fact, she does not need to hide her identity, morphing from Wonder Woman to Diana Prince and back rather unconsciously and effortlessly. When she fights, she is costumed as WW. When she’s off the battleground, she is an I-have-no-time-nor-interest-in-fashion woman.

In fact, part of the script showed how uncomfortable she was with clothes of the world outside Themyscira. When Major Steve Trevor took her shopping in London (apparently at Selfridges) for a set of garments that would look less like underclothes, she scoffed at the choices offered to her, impressing her minder that no one could fight in outfits that cover so much of the body. Wonder Woman, who grew up in what could be considered temperate clime oddly requires no more than a hooded cape to survive snowfall!

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Diana Prince, Major Trevor’s “secretary”, came by accident rather than as a real character to conceal her superhero identity. Part of the Diana Prince look (disguise?) is her glasses. In the comics, Ms Prince wore many different types, including rimless styles and chunky ’70s frames that would delight Alessandro Michele to no end. Lynda Carter’s was glamorous instead of secretary-conservative, just as Mr Michele’s versions for Gucci are geeky-alluring.

But when Diana Prince was treated to a makeover in London—her first port of call in the movie, she was given a pair of specs that looked like it was hastily picked from Owndays rather than something consistent with those worn in the early 1900s. Those glasses strangely appeared so briefly—during an alleyway ambush—that they don’t even amount to a cameo costume role, just as Diana Prince herself is down-played.

We’re no studious followers of the Wonder Woman comics, but we’re aware that there have been many delineations of the character. No matter how she was and is drawn, there has always been an element of sexual tease in the print versions. There too is humour, whimsy, and, dare we say, camp. But, Wonder Woman, the movie, is a dark, serious, not-fun account of the most known female superhero characters. While director Petty Jenkins has been lauded as a terrific first female director of a superhero movie, it is notable, perhaps, that, in order to gain the accolades, a woman directing a woman needs to stay clear of camp. This is a competent virgin outing, but not one with flair, let alone style.

We’re urged to revisit past print portrayals of Wonder Woman: in some, she even looks like Angelica Huston!

Photo (top): Zhao Xiangji. Movie stills: Warner Bros Pictures

Up In The Mountains

The cruise 2018 collection of Louis Vuitton was shown amid the splendour of Japan’s Shiga Mountains, but this was no highland fling

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Louis Vuitton shang shan (上山 or went up the mountain) for its latest cruise collection—on the red pine-forested yama in Japan’s Shinga Prefecture, not far from the once-capital Kyoto. Many mountains in Asia—China, Korea, Japan—are sacred. Going up a mountain is usually associated with retreating to seek spiritual well-being. In ancient China, men roam the mountains in search of immortality and to purify the spirit. In Japan, Shinto shrines dot mountains to honour kami, the divine force of nature perched high.

LV’s staging of a fashion show in one of the most beautiful verdant peaks of Japan—at the stunning I.M. Pei-designed Miho Museum, next to a temple dedicated to the messianic sect of Shinji Shumeikai—is consistent with designer Nicolas Ghesquière’s love of uncommon architecture in exotic locales. It is no coincidence that adherents of Shumei, as the religion is mostly known, believe in the pursuit of beauty through art and celebration of nature, and the erecting of splendid buildings in secluded places to restore the balance that Earth has lost.

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This is the first time a fashion show is held on this spiritual ground. It isn’t clear if the expense—likely staggering—will bring the cruise collection to new heights, but as a standalone season, the cruise is becoming more and more important, so much so that Prada has joined the fray with its first cruise show (Miuccia Prada was reluctant to call it that) after a 5-year hiatus, staged in Milan last week.

Prada sent out a Prada collection—almost standard issue, you don’t sense that these are clothes for travel, not a whiff of holiday. This was not a wow one had hoped from a come-back event. Louis Vuitton, on the other hand, offered clothes that seem much more interesting, to the point that it is more impactful than its recent fall/winter 2017 collection. This is Mr Ghesquière in his element. It brought to mind his fall 2007 collection for Balenciaga that had so impressed us. We can’t say for certain why. Maybe it’s the layering, the patterns, the mix-and-match, the youthfulness, and the joie de vivre. Ten years on, Mr Ghesquière still enthralls.

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This collection is not, by any means, a hush as in the quiet of the mountain. In fact, it edges towards loud—not a ripple in the leaves, but crackle and pop on the ground. Showing in Japan, it is to be expected that Mr Ghesquière would be inspired by Nippon art and culture. But this isn’t an obvious dalliance with anime; this was, in part, collaboration with the master of print and patterns Kansai Yamamoto. Mr Yamamoto was a towering fashion figure in Tokyo in the ’70s and ’80s, with an international reputation hemmed by his designs of costumes for David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust.

Both designers do not revisit those outlandish threads of the British singer nor any of the bombastic embroidery that was seen on Mr Yamamoto’s past designs (hairdresser to MediaCorp stars David Gan was a fervent collector in the ’80s, so is Mr Ghesquière today). In fact, there is nothing retro in their take on traditional mask on sequined dresses and kabuki-esque eyes on handbags: these would just as easily float across the Cote d’Azur or Nusa Dua as any of LV’s Twist. This collaboration does show that the spirit of past designs can be revived without the need for evident homage or, worse, mindless ostentation.

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What the Cruise 2018 has going in its favour is the welcome ease of every outfit and a good dollop of street. Sure, this is one of Mr Ghesquière’s most visually busy collections for LV, but you don’t sense that even when you wear the look wholesale, you would appear decidedly foolish, or as parody of some TV sitcom, say, of the ’70s, the way it is with some OTT labels of today. Expectedly, Mr Ghesquière, like many designers of his generation, was inspired by the ’70s—this time, Stray Cat Rock, a five-part, go-go-era Japanese film that starred the major femme fatale Kaji Meiko (Japan’s Chan Po-Chu?) as a kick-ass heroine (her titular role in Toshiya Fujita’s Lady Snowblood reportedly inspired Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill). Her cool style—including wide-brim hats that she wore in Stray Cat Rock—and nonchalant chic are obviously identifiable to Mr Ghesquière. This is definitely not the Japan of Cio-Cio-San.

We are drawn to the layering that yearned colour-blocking , the landscape prints and brocades (in some pieces, they were pants paired with punk-ish tops), comic patterns that could have been coloured wood-block prints, vest that seemed informed by Samurai armour (we now fondly recall Issey Miyake’s “rattan body” of 1982), the off-beat pairings (such as evening dresses worn with T-shirts and leggings), the oddly proportioned blazers (oversized, rounded shoulders, and nipped-in waists!). As we saw, some stray cats do rock.

Photos: Louis Vuitton

Clothes Become Her

Even when she’s finally willing to wear something that can be discerned as clothing in her new music video, Miley Cyrus proves she’s a better singer than dresser

Miley Cyrus (Malinbu) 1

By Mao Shan Wang

Unlike many of her fans, I have never considered Miley Cyrus much of an influencer; at least not in the style stakes. You see, I have a problem with women who fashion themselves as style icons but do not use clothes. Or, use very little of them. What was Ms Cyrus wearing in Wrecking Ball? Underwear and, in parts, nothing—she had more fibres in her lashes than on her body. What fashion statement did that make?

Maybe it was what she was riding that counted, such as the wrecking ball and, in the Bangerz tour, the hot dog. Free of outrageous props in her new video for the single Malibu, Ms Cyrus needed fashion to carry a message: I’m no longer the trollop that I once appeared to be; I am again a girl-next-door (thinking of marrying the completely not deviant Liam Hemsworth). Or, as Wendy Williams recently raved in her eponymous show, “cleaned-up Miley”.

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I am not sure if a scrubbed Princess of Twerk can be transformed into a High Priestess of Fashion, but Ms Cyrus seems to be trying. In Malibu, she was in no less than nine outfits, with one strange voluminous, off-shoulder dress that was made even more capacious with the puffiest sleeves and widest train you ever saw—more cloth in one outfit that everything she ever wore in her entire singing career.

So what does it mean now that ex-Hannah Montana is clothed? I don’t know about you, but when I first saw the MV of Malibu, I thought it was Forever 21 that had an arrangement with her wardrobe mistress. Who would have thought Billy Ray’s hitherto provocatively dressed daughter would take to a style more akin to Nashville’s off-stage Juliette Barnes’s?

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I understand that Ms Cyrus’s main audience is young, school-going, and in need of an idol that can provide dress ideas for classes (in the US, they don’t wear uniforms), going to the mall, traipsing the beach, as Ms Cyrus did in Malibu. Ordinariness for every day seems to be the main message. Like you, she need not rely on the weird and crude to be likable.

Her choice of tiered frilled frock, bra top and harem pants, cropped funnel-neck pullover and bikini bottom, lightweight sundress, itsy-bitsy tube top and shorts, beribboned sweater-top and diaphanous shorts, and more sweater-and-briefest-briefs pairing meant that she could make herself more relatable to the Republican-loving girls that now could be her core listeners and admirers. It is likely that this is a Gaga-esque, post-meat-dress sartorial breakthrough; this is also the singer-songwriter at her most heartfelt—no frightfully cute or wildly sexy outfit to distract, or worse, augment. She is not wrecking anymore.

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To be sure, Malibu is not that bad even when many critics think otherwise. For sure, it’s inoffensive, which, when weighed against the Miley Cyrus repertoire, may be the first of her songs that would be welcome at Fairprice. This is clearly conceived for a summer release. Close your eyes and you can feel the sea breeze (or “birds catching the wind”), even taste the salt in the air. The singing is so earnest and un-bombastic that you’re strangely drawn to her confessional: “I never would’ve believed you if three years ago you told me I’d be here writing this song”—a reference, no doubt, to her 2013 break-up with fiancé-once-more Liam Hemsworth.

There’s a sweetness that may not be immediately digestible until you open your eyes and see her—seemingly sans makeup—frolicking on the beach, hand clutching a flying bouquet of balloons, all the while the folk-poppy guitar jangle remind you this is rather serious, songwriter stuff.

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This cleaned-up Miley Cyrus was, in fact, already seen in the past years in The Backyard Sessions (to support her Happy Hippie Foundation)—YouTube posts of her and her band doing some of her favourite covers, which include the impressive rendition of Dolly Parton’s Jolene and James Shelton’s Lilac Wine, with no hint of Auto-Tune at work, only colouring that sometimes makes me think of Amy Winehouse.

In these sessions, she wore a sleeveless skin-toned lace top and a no-nonsense black skirt. Her hair was tied into a casual chignon, as though she had just pulled the curls into shape before hitting the mike. You sense that she wanted you to hear her voice rather than be distracted by her dress. And she certainly wasn’t going to sit astride anything ball-like or phallic.

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The pared-down Miley Cyrus continues her Trump-supporter look in the cover of the latest issue of Billboard magazine on which a pink dress would not look out of place in Alice in Wonderland or downtown Denver. Is Ms Cyrus reprising her Hannah Montana look or embracing her country roots? I’m not sure. Either way, there’s no mistaking the grassroot aesthetics of her new-found, clothes-galore wardrobe. 

This does not seem like a one-off. But how long will she stick to the normal-girly before another clear plastic of a dress, or bits of straps as top come acalling? To me, one thing will never change: those blemish-bits of tattoos on her arms and hands that, despite the Sunday church-worthy dresses, suggest Ms Cyrus needs a bath.

Photos: screen grabs of Miley Cyrus’s Malibu video from YouTube 

Total Recoil

Chanel boomerang 2017

As they say, always be careful with what you throw out because whatever that might be, it may come back to the thrower. Chanel threw a boomerang into the mix of “Other Accessories” in its web store recently and it flew back by way of social media outrage. Netizens, ever on the lookout for the slightest provocation by fashion houses, fervently charged Chanel with cultural insensitivity. Another opportunity to rage against cultural appropriation that seems to plague fashion these days?

The outrage is surprising. What has fashion not appropriated? If Chanel can build anything—such as the rocket at the autumn/winter 2017 show in Paris in March, it can sell anything. And it has. Remember the USD7,500 Chanel X Monster Audio (with sound engineering by Beats by Dre) headphones of 2014? That has nothing to do with what Coco made and sold, yet it was produced and retailed, and loved. Don’t be surprised if there would be a Chanel electric scooter or hover board. After all, there’s already a Chanel surfboard—unpriced, which means, if you’re interested, let’s talk.

Among the wrong sort of attention that the Chanel boomerang courted was this from an irate Twitterer Tara Mulholland: “your ‘boomerang’ is tacky and a gross appropriation of indigenous culture for your own profit.” We’re not sure if that is really a sound charge. If so, Toys ‘R’ Us is just as guilty. Perhaps the ire stems from the outlay needed to pay for the boomerang: a staggering SGD2,020 (it’s sold alongside a SGD2,330 tennis racket and a SGD590 set of four tennis balls)! Who can say this is truly worth its inflated price?

What was once a weapon traditionally thought to be used by an indigenous people and now a toy for those with proximity to a field to throw it, Chanel’s boomerang is rubbing in your face that there are those rich enough to want a luxury version of not quite anything to modern life, reflecting not how the wealthy live, but how they spend.

If personal mobility devices are not down the pipeline, what will Chanel throw out next? A frisbee? Perhaps that would not be “a gross appropriation… for own profit.” It would still be profit nonetheless.

Photo: Chanel

Prada Cruises Into The Familiar

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Five years is a long time to take a break. Prada last showed a resort (also known as cruise) collection back in 2013, as part of the men’s autumn/winter show. One suspected that Prada sailed into the cruise season because many luxury labels were showing post-fall collections, not because Prada really desired too. It could also be boosting the product offerings to better position its stock prices to rise.

For her first standalone cruise collection, Miuccia Prada did not deviate from what she had done before. In fact, according to media reports, she told journalists backstage that “a show should just be a show.” Ms Prada is not one to bend to industry norms, so none of the superfluous descriptions—whether cruise or resort—for her. Milan is, therefore, good enough for the show, not some far-flung place as preferred by the likes of Dior. This is just home-turf Prada, pure and simple.

And it was. Just as the cruise of five years ago was Prada unadulterated (those geeky suits and poor-taste colours), the cruise-now-gone-solo is reprise of those designs elements that Ms Prada have come to love, or, perhaps, have been selling well for the brand. If you’re looking for conceptual brilliance, such as in the spring 2013 collection, you may be disappointed. This is Prada giving you what Prada has always offered.

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What are obvious are the pantsuits or samfus, as we know them: exactly two, both with marabou cuffs on the tops that are similar to those we first saw in the presentation for the current spring/summer season. Only now they’re glammed up with neck pieces and hemlines of chained metallic discs that from a distance have the same effect (and possibly appeal) as paillettes. Glittery pyjama style for holidays taken by Carrie Bradshaw and co, or for the opening of Oriental-theme exhibitions attended by the likes of Grace Coddington.

Second time round, too, is the illustrations of James Jean. Back in 2008, Mr Jean’s fairy-like illustrations were used to stunning effect for the spring/summer collection, which, somewhat unusual for Prada then, was rather ethereal. This time, Mr Jean’s curly lines, flowers and rabbits are intertwined with the brand’s name, and they appear on accessories as well as bags. For those who missed the James Jean collaboration the first time, there’s now a chance to revisit it.

Also reprised is the Prada ID: versatile black nylon that earned it its status and fortune. But they do not come in the form of bags. Ms Prada is not that kind of revivalist. The fabric she made famous is fashioned into sporty garments: blouson-like outerwear, as well as pants. It is interesting that rather than using the nylon for blazers (as she had done for the men’s wear in the past, and still does), she gives this gender-neutral fabric a feminine flourish—the tops are worn off-shoulder and the sleeves hang like deflated leg-o’-mutton.

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Typically Prada, few things are left as you’d expect. We like the play on different fabric weights: the sheer over sheer or completely opaque. Optical, too, are how the embellishments contrast each other, such as bejeweled sheer tops backgrounded by the blurred appliqués of the pieces below. This interplay of densities also yielded, in quite a few looks, multiple necklines in one outfit. It is tempting to dismiss this as a styling trick, but we’re inclined to believe that this is very much a deliberate design move, even if Ms Prada has always made her mixes uncalculated.

Relooking at the collection as stills, we thought that, while there is no doubt Prada is Prada, there is also some Miu Miu thrown in the mix—such as the off-beat girliness and the fondness of wearing coats with neckline splayed. It’s tempting to think that somehow bridging the season means bringing the sibling brands together. The Prada customer is also very likely a Miu Miu customer.

And it did also cross our mind that holidaymakers may find what Prada proposes to be too effort-driven. Assuming this is targeted at the resort-bound market, we’re not sure there are that many women who would spend precious time putting on these delicate layers and multi-strand neck wear instead of frolicking on the beach or exploring the hillside. Or maybe there are. Anna dell Russo, we suspect, enjoys her holidays—make-up, get-up, et al.

Photos: Prada

Two Pairs Of Sisters: No Blood Ties But So Alike

Do the Hadid and Jenner sisters come from the same model-making womb?

The Hadid sistersThe Hadid sisters, Gigi and Bella, in Tommy Hilfiger and Alexander Wang respectively. Photos: vogue.comThe Jenner sistersThe Jenner sisters, Kylie and Kendall, in Versace and La Perla respectively. Photos: vogue.com

There are sisters, and there are sisters. As we know, sisters are not created equal, but some sisters, linked by fame, reality TV families, and the very public lives they lead, rather than blood, can be quite equal. Fashion’s most visible model-sisters, the Hadids and the Jenners, share commonalities of behavior and style that are rather uncommon in the age of fierce individualism. As the Hokkiens would say, they seem to come from the same ang koo kueh mould.

Just look at them at the Met Gala. They’re not your usual sisterhood, characterised by something mutual; this is kinship, characterised by sameness. Not only do they look alike, they dress alike. Swop one sister from one twosome for the other, can you tell them apart?

They sure have the same taste; one pair a mirror image of the other. Is Gigi the Kylie of the Jenner duo and vice versa, or Kendall the Bella, vice versa? Surely this is calculated when one pair of sisters is in the same colour coupling as the other? Even the silhouettes seem deliberate: Gigi and Kylie in sheer, flowy skirts; Bella and Kendal, both in lingerie fabrics that were so see-through and back/posterior-baring that you wonder why they even bothered with clothes.

Are they the present-day equivalent of the Bennet sisters, only just more lian? They like to attend galas (in the 19th century, they were balls, with the Netherfield ball being especially irresistible) and they like to dress up to attract the attention of camera lenses (in the 1800s, it was notice and interest of a potential husband). We do not know for certain if the Hadids and the Jenners like to dance (we can only assume they do—“every savage can dance”, noted by Mr Darcy), but unlike the era of the Bennets, we think the model-sisters totally dispense with propriety. Near-nakedness to express twentysomething muliebrity is the Hadid/Jenner lure.

Kendall Jenner IG PostGoing low: Instagram post of the BFFs in derriere-accentuating pose during the Met Gala. Screen grab: Kendall Jenner/Instagram

The deliberate display so thrilled the media that the Daily Mail ran in their headline, “fashion’s new darlings: Gigi and Bella and Kendall and Kylie were fawned over at Vogue‘s Met Ball” (now, who’s really fawning?). They may be fashion’s current favourite, but are they really anyone’s “darlings”? Sure, the number of IG followers of just one of them easily exceeds the population of our nation—with Kylie Jenner’s at a staggering 93 million (as of today)—but “fawn over”? The Queen of England has about 65.14 millions subjects in the UK (significantly less than the online adorers of Kylie Jenner), but are there people who actually “fawn over” her?

It seems that it is not enough to gauge young women’s success—professionally or socially—from her social-media following, you have to take note of those inclined to secure the former’s notice by servile behavior or by cringe-worthy flattery. The Jenners and Hadids may reign for now, but why do we have to fawn over them? Isn’t their individual omnipresence enough, the collective overbearing? Or do we need the excess, ostentation, dizziness, self-importance, self-promotion, tawdriness, predictability, visual disturbance… times four? And marvel at how not stiff, how not self-conscious, and how not sanctimonious they are as they stare back at you from your smartphone?

And who are these millions who supposedly derive pleasure from looking at them? It beggars belief that there are this many followers so utterly inadequate in their own being and their own style that they should follow every move, every dress (or no dress), every vapid utterance of this quartet to support the certainty that there are those who need to behave like a pet to enjoy dubious fashion taste. It does not require mature perspective to see that photos of youthful prettiness in glamourous settings offer, by way of returns, very little long-term satisfaction for the amount of time spent tracking and looking at them.

It’s probably tiring to read our having a go at these young women’s empty showiness. For many IG junkies, our criticism is almost certainly socially naff and not original. This is not hater’s rant, just something to get off our chest, while Kendall, Kylie, Gigi, and Bella walked down some pavement in Los Angeles, four-abreast, encouraging tabloid-press and social-media delight.

Met Gala 2017: A Cop Out

Rihana Met GalaRihanna bursting with Comme des Garçons fabric petals. Photo: Neilson Bernard/ Getty Images

By Mao Shan Wang

I knew it was going to turn out like this: disappointing. The Met Gala, despite its standing as the “Super Bowl of fashion”, is really a chance for attendees to relive their teen-year prom night, not to honour a designer, living or dead. They turn out to outdo each other—a conference of gowns. Glamour reigned and glamourous is a gown.

I did not think there would be enough women woman enough to don Comme des Garçons, and true enough, few bothered with the theme The Art of the In-Between. There were no in-betweens, only princess-like dresses or lackluster counterparts. This year’s Met Gala, as in the year of Punk: Chaos to Couture, saw a parade that was not in tribute mode. It was a classic red carpet (which turned out to be white and blue) affair, and the bedecked guests walked down the passageway or climbed the stairs in something that stunned, something that elicited the response “how gorgeous.”

That, of course, is antithesis to the whole Comme des Garçons aesthetic or design thinking. Ms Kawakubo, the subject of this exhibition, once said, “For something to be beautiful it doesn’t have to be pretty.” Try telling that to the homecoming queen Anna Wintour. She wore Chanel and she only does pretty! Sure, I can’t imagine “the most powerful woman in fashion” in Comme des Garçons, but if she, also the chairwoman of the Met Gala, wasn’t going to observe the theme, who needed to? Just look, as the invitees always have on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, glamour-stricken.

Tracee Ellis Ross Met Gala 2017Tracee Ellis Ross, daughter of Diana Ross, in Comme des Garçons. Photo: Benjamin Norman/The New York Times

And that is perhaps the inherent limitation of the Met Gala. I say do away with the red carpet, and maybe—just maybe—the women will not sense something amiss if they do not feel fabric hugging their hips or cloth swirling around their feet. Or, the drag of a train behind them—the ultimate red-carpet inconvenience. In fact, there were many trains this year, more than the globular blooms and stark bandages associated with Comme des Garçons that one had hoped to see.

I suppose women think they should reprise Rihanna’s ponderous Guo Pei omelette to gain social media stardom. How else do you explain the massive sweep of Priyanka Chopra’s Ralph Lauren trench coat with a personality disorder?

Hollywood actresses, being Hollywood actresses, will always approach the red carpet the way they always have, even if they’re on a different coast: sexy or pretty, never mind if they look insipid (Jessica Chastain and Diane Kruger, both in Prada), predictable (Halle Berry in Versace), va-va-voom (Blake Lively in Versace), fairy-like (Elle Fanning in Miu Miu), and confused (Priyanka Chopra in Ralph Lauren). The choice of dress added to a sartorial resume that will, I suppose, help them score an invitation to the next Oscars.

Pharrell Williams and Helen Lasichanh Met Gala 2017Pharrell Williams and Helen Lasichanh, both in Comme des Garçons. Photo: Getty Images

Did anyone wear Comme des Garçons on the red carpet? I woke up at seven this morning to watch Vogue’s 360° livestream on Facebook, hoping to witness true homage. It was such a yawn that I counted, as I usually do, the dried cranberries in my muesli to stay awake. In the end, I spotted six (there could be more, but I did not see them). Of a reported 600 guests invited, that only six were photographed wearing the brand they had come to honour seemed to me a little sad and pathetic.

Ms Kawakubo had earlier indicated that she may not attend. I hope she did not. To see what I saw could be very depressing for her. In fact, I can imagine the reaction of the Japanese watching this in Tokyo (or anywhere throughout the country). They must have felt let down. What do these gown wearers know about one of their nation’s most revered designers? Why were they there to celebrate her work?

As expected, Rihanna stood out again, even when she looked like she was wearing a project her grandmother did not get to finish. Her pick was a dress from the fall 2016 collection which Ms Kawakubo was reported to have been “imagining punks of the 18th century” when conceptualising it. Rihanna is, of course, a very 21st-century woman with very digital-age taste. Whether she too was imagining an imagined sub-culture—or nor, she baffled me with the shoes: those red strappy heels. Comme des Garçons is heels-averse. A pair of sneakers from her Puma/Fenty line would have been a better fit, but that would not be ideal or glamourous enough for scaling the steps of the grand old Met.

Anna Cleveland Met Gala 2017Anna Cleveland looking fresh in Comme des Garçons. Photo: W magazineMichele Lamy Met Gala 2017Michele Lamy in Comme des Garçons arrived with her husband designer Rick Owens. Photo: Associated Press 

Surprisingly, Tracee Ellis Ross, the daughter of Diana Ross, turned up in Comme des Garçons, and she looked rather good in the dress that I think is from the 1996 ‘Flowering Clothes’ collection. I thought Anna Cleveland, another daughter of a famous name—the model Pat Cleveland, looked fresh in her beribboned ensemble, showing rather convincingly that Comme des Garçons can be wearable.

A big letdown was big-time fan Pharrell Williams, who, although attired in Comme des Garçons Homme Plus (save the jeans), looked way too casual, as if he was on his way to a recording studio. If he could wear Chanel’s women’s clothes, why could he not have put on a Comme des Garçons women’s number? That would have been ‘In-Between’. His wife, the model/designer Helen Lasichanh, was more in keeping with the spirit of the event. She wore a sort of union suit that seemed to have restricted hers arms to within the garment—constraint that is very Comme des Garçons of recent years.

To me, the most authentic was Michele Lamy, wife of the designer Rick Owens. She wore a panelled dress with a rather bulbous hemline (in the middle, something that looks testicular!) that could be from the very red spring/summer collection of 2015, and appeared every bit the part of the dark master’s spouse. Ms Lamy, in fact, looked like she wore something assembled at the last minute, in the limo, on the way to the party. And therein lies the appeal: she didn’t look too precious. Here was one unafraid woman, unshackled by the imposition of the unnecessarily ceremonial red carpet. 

These were indeed some of the brave, even if they constituted, to the embarrassment of the Met Gala and its organising committee, only a handful.

Weird Eventually Is No Longer

People who understand and love Comme des Garçons talk about the “transformative power of the clothing”. On the eve of the Met’s latest spring exhibition The Art of the In-Between, SOTD looks at how CdG, in particular, its designer Rei Kawakubo, has transformed our perception of what can or cannot be clothes and how the unconventional becomes conventional

Rei KawakuboRei Kawakubo (centre) in Paris. Collage: Just So

People break rules all the time, but few are serial rule breakers. To smash established notions of anything, for some, leads to emancipation. In fashion, liberation from the past era’s, century’s, decade’s, previous generation’s, yesteryear’s idea of what is wearable, can-face-the-day clothes has been effected for as long as garments are made and worn. From Paul Poiret to Coco Chanel to Yves Saint Laurent to Mary Quant to Helmut Lang to Raf Simons to Demna Gvasalia to so many more, fashion codes have been rewritten, and clothing has, in many ways, become the freeing of oneself from the constraints of the markedly contemporaneous.

Comme des Garçons’s Rei Kawakubo is a serial rule breaker. Some designers challenge the zeitgeist long enough to see the desired changes and then revolutionise no more. Ms Kawakubo constantly contorts our view of what can be considered suitable to the body and what can be construed as clothes. As she told WWD in 2012, “The more people that are afraid when they see new creation, the happier I am.” If this fashion outsider’s success—culminating in the Met spring exhibition opening on 4 May in New York City—is any indication, Ms Kawakubo may be rather less happy these days.

Perhaps she is. “It’s a Met show for Comme des Garçons, not a Comme des Garçons show at the Met,” she told the media recently, in the few, possibly reluctant, interviews she granted to market the exhibition. And they detected or deduced that she likely had to compromise, something possibly unheard of in the modus operandi of Rei Kawakubo.

The Met 2017 exhibition catalogueThe Met spring exhibition catalogue by curator Andrew Bolton. Collage: Just So

But it wasn’t this way in the beginning. From the start, Ms Kawakubo was really the ready radical, a petite Oriental woman who dared to go to Paris in 1981 to show in the same city as then-newsmakers Thierry Mugler and Claude Montana. But hers wasn’t like the powerfully feminine clothes of her French counterparts; hers were new creations that she likes people to be afraid of, and they were, so much so that the media of that time described what she did disparagingly as “Hiroshima chic”.

She was not the least fazed, and has stuck to showing in Paris till today. Despite the coldness of her designs—mostly in black—people warmed up to them. By the mid-Eighties, CdG, though still odd, funereal, and boyfriend-repelling, appealed to the taste of women for whom ‘power dressing’ encouraged aversion. These were largely those who worked in creative fields, individuals not compelled to dress in the way corporate environments demanded.

Holes in pullovers, tops and shirts with puckered armholes, skirts with unfinished—meaning un-sewn—hemlines that did not accentuate the hips, dresses that could have led a double life as a sack for potatoes, these were novel to a new generation of consumers of designer labels not yet weaned on the elegance of the day. Torn and rough and imperfect, as opposed to refined and smooth and perfect, were visual cues to communicate the message that women were now dressing for themselves rather than for the opposite sex. Visually and obviously feminine styles took a back seat.

CDG Mode et PhotoPoster of the Comme des Garçons photo exhibition in Paris in 1986. Photo: Jim Sim

The growing success of CdG indicated to other designers—established, emerging and those waiting in the wings—that desirable designs need not follow the footsteps of French couturiers such as Yves Saint Laurent, who, in fact, preceded Ms Kawakubo as the first living designer to be honoured by the Met with a solo exhibition in 1983. Ms Kawakubo was in her third year showing in Paris at that time, and probably did not imagine that, 34 years later, she would share Mr Saint Laurent’s good fortune and be selected by the Met to display 150 pieces, as many as the latter, of her designs for public viewing.

Even Marc Jacobs, who does not deny that he’s inspired by CdG, has worn CdG to the Met Gala—a lace tunic shirt to the 2012 Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations. Mr Jacob’s coping of CdG not only makes the label a designer’s label, it also elevated the brands visibility. By now, Comme des Garçons, although not an instantly recognisable name as Louis Vuitton, has become what rivals would call successful. Ms Kawakubo is still considered by her peers to be an iconoclast, but the label that she started in 1969 has gone somewhat mainstream too, with pop stars such as Lady Gaga wearing CdG to the delight rather than bafflement of her fans, and with fast fashion imitating their house codes of mixed fabrics/patterns, asymmetric hemlines, and strange proportions.

CdG was not conceived for the masses. It’s disavowing of conventions set it apart, pulling those who are not seduced by the ordinary to the brand. Yet, it has become a bit of a victim of its uncommon success. To be sure, CdG is, in the end, a business, and the company has to survive, and they did so rather well with commercial “non-fashion” items such as those of the popular Play line. Because Ms Kawakubo makes clothes unlike her contemporaries or creates looks ahead of them, her clothes seem to defy time—they don’t date. Vintage CdG is still so in demand (just look at Tokyo’s Rag Tag) that even the company reprises their past pieces in the ‘Evergreen’ collection.

Stalwart supporters of CdG will continue to embrace Ms Kawakubo’s what-will-she-think-of-next designs. For the uninformed, CdG clothes may not look “designer”, but as John Walters once said, “Only you know you spent money when you wear Rei’s creations.”