From Dover Street To Dempsey Road

It’s been a long journey, across three cities/continents, but it’s here at last. Dover Street Market, the retailers’ retailer, opened last Saturday to the delight and the spending power of its fans, but is it a twin of the famed London, Tokyo, or New York store?

DSMS entranceDSM interior 1

The queue to get in on opening day of Dover Street Market Singapore (DSMS) in Dempsey last Saturday was reported to be so long (“longer than the Chanel queue at Ngee Ann City”, according to one irate shopper) that those not desperate enough to get in were texting friends to say they were waiting at nearby PS Cafe for the throng to thin. We received such a message at about four in the afternoon, five hours after the store opened to the public. A day earlier, a preview for VIPs, “special Club 21 members”, and members of the media also saw a snaking line outside the main entrance of the building, prompting one guest to say it was “sheer madness”.

The queue also started to form at midnight before the store’s opening on Saturday morning. It was known then that DSMS was to release some limited-edition sneakers, such as those by Clot X Nike Air VaporMax and the Nike Mars Yard 2.0. Sneakerheads and E-bay resellers, not necessarily Dover Street Market fans, were prepared to camp overnight—as though outside Supreme or Kith, New York City—in what was once a military camp even when they were told that numbered coupons will be issued so, as a staffer said, “they can all go home”.

We visited the store yesterday, thinking that the craze would have died down and that, being a Monday afternoon (made stifling by the punishing heat), there wouldn’t be a crowd. We were wrong—dead wrong. This was not a clientele we had expected. There was a conspicuous absence of Comme des Garçons (CDG) groupies. Sure, stores such as Dover Street Market has lost much of its snob appeal the moment street wear became part of their merchandise mix and communication vernacular. But we were a little taken a back that many had come as if they were going to Sungei Road’s Thieves’ Market on its last day or to tell us they spent most of their time in void decks.

DSM interior 2

DSMS’s general manager Fiona Tan was overheard telling a bemused customer, “Even this morning, I was bowled over by the amount of people.” Who were they, inquired the interlocutor. “They’re generally young—many in their teens—and they buy brands such as Vetements and they pay in cash.” Are these the usual Club 21 shoppers—his curiosity aroused. “No, they’re not.” Yesterday, a friend of SOTD told us that a staff member, temporarily installed at DSMS from a Club 21 Hilton Shopping Gallery shop (in fact, many familiar Club 21 sales personnel were working in DSMS over the weekend), said, “I’m so excited that there’s a new group of shoppers.” But, according to him, she did not mention that they were, as he saw that very moment, “the T-shirt-shorts-and-flip-flop crowd”.

What did these terminally casual dressers come to this temple of forward style to see?

The Singapore store, like in London and New York, is housed in a historic building, but unlike the latter two, isn’t an edifice and not conceived for grand purpose. This block was part of the former MINDEF and CMPB camp that occupied what was known as Tanglin Barracks. Dempsey has been a military installation since the 1860s when the British bought the 213-acre site from the owner of what was then a nutmeg plantation to build a defence HQ. It is part of three clusters (the other two: Minden and Loewen) of commercial space, and, since the mid-2007, has been a thriving F&B neighborhood.

DSMS’s entry here is a little at odds with the area’s rustic and verdant lure. It is a striking oddball among un-lovely retailers of mostly curios and antiques. This is retail disruption, if you need an example. The building itself is made plain and white, and only distinguished by its thatched roof that gives its interior a ceiling height not seen in the other DSMs. This is the first DSM store in a single storey. The others are spread over several floors (London: five, Tokyo and New York: seven). Its façade, nondescript as the building is architecturally sound, somehow reminds us of a now-defunct, compact, 2-storey Comme des Garçons in Tokyo’s Aoyama district—a stone’s throw from Blue Note Tokyo and no more than a kilometer from the CDG flagship—identified only by an orange door. True to CDG’s scream-not exterior, DSMS’s walls are plain to a fault. Perhaps, therein lies its pull.

The away-from-the-maddening-shopping-crowd location is consistent with DSM’s provenance, and also (once) a regular surprise of CDG locations. When DSM first opened in London’s Mayfair on Dover Street, more noted for heritage hotels, such as Brown’s Hotel—known in the 19th century as a “genteel inn” that was opened by Lord Byron’s valet James Brown—than fashion retail, the store was a standalone that attracted mostly those in the know and fashion editors looking to buy clothes that would score with photographers such as Scott Schuman. Dempsey isn’t quite a hideaway, but it has low traffic noise and a neo-kampung vibe that is best exemplified in DSM’s signature collage of a ‘hut’ (pictured above), touted to be the tallest among all DSMs.

DSM interior 3DSM interior 4DSM interior 5

As with all the other DSMs, the interior of the Dempsey store is designed by CDG’s reclusive (or ascetic?) Rei Kawakubo, who had dabbled in furniture design in the mid-’80s (the collectibles now, unsurprisingly, command astronomical prices). She was reported to be on site during the course of the renovation, but had remained unseen, leaving the public-face role to her husband Adrian Joffe. There’s no perceivable methodology in Ms Kawakubo’s scattered design and not-standard fixtures. If she could deconstruct clothes, she certainly could do the same with interiors. These unrelated visual amalgams come together as what Ms Kawakubo famously called “beautiful chaos”, cleverly choreographed and contained in what is akin to a mess hall.

With such a horizontal expanse, we had expected semblance of a maze, as seen in the vertical Ginza store. DSMS is surprisingly rather linear in its layout—the straightness broken by pockets of space put together to reflect the various brands’ own identities. The store guide is, therefore, not identified by floors. Instead it goes by “spaces”. There’s less of an exploratory component here since one does not get to meander into unexpected corners or hidden recesses. It is more like walking in a corridor flanked by rooms.

In the inner-half of DSMS, a fenced-up zone called “Wire Fence Labyrinth”—which is more a menagerie—makes one feels caged in. Perhaps, as one shopper suggested, Ms Kawakubo is more adept at putting together a space stretched across multiple floors. Used to starting the exploration from the top level of DSMs, we found the elongated oblong, while large, quickly comes to the opposite end. DSMS is easily covered in one lap.

DSM interior 6DSM interior 7DSM interior 8

Even more straightforward is the merchandising. DSM has always banked on its flair for assembling products with both emotional and design value. This is a store that easily elicits a response from visitors—rare is the shopper who leaves without a deep impression. For Singapore, that emotional connect seems a little feeble. There is a rather large supply of tees, a product that surely does not raise temperatures in our T-shirt-aplenty city. These are instantly understandable items: no explanation required. Despite its “no planning” claim, DSMS clearly had a game plan. They know from the start who’s going to come and what they’re going to buy. The shoppers this Monday afternoon proved them right.

Sure, sneakerheads and streetwear devotees will be thrilled with the skate/sports offering, but the absence of Supreme and Palace may not move true aficionados. If you’re here for the sneakers, then you’ll be rather surprised by the smallness of the area dedicated to your fave kicks—for now, essentially a corner given to Nikelab, which, incidentally, offers the best value for the softest cotton jersey T-shirts in the store, at S$79 a pop. This lack of immediate visibility for sports shoes is a dramatic contrast to DSM London, where a big chunk of the basement level is dedicated to some of the most desirable trainers that easily rival those of indie retailers such as Footpatrol.

DSMS’s surprising surfeit of T-shirts is, perhaps, a reflection of our fashion-consuming masses than the store’s buying direction. It’s symptomatic of how we only want to dress “comfortably” because it is always too hot for anything more than a tee. Serious fashion folks were naturally not immediately bowled over. Said one product development manager: “the buying seems strangely safe for DSM. They plan to make the most money out of T-shirts?” A retired fashion stylist was not impressed. “The merchandise is similar to Comme,” he lamented, “Same-same, but different. It’s like I am a fan of Miyake’s pleats and there are other labels showing pleats as well.”

DSM interior 9DSM interior 10DSM interior 11

To understand the perceived sameness in the merchandising of DSMS, it is necessary to consider that the store is, foremost, a “curated” space and that it is possible that the buyers were aiming at aesthetic cohesion. Or, a similarity that serves to augment CDG’s above-the-common standing. Rei Kawakubo’s vision for DSM is likely the vision she has for CDG and, as such, she tends to be drawn to those labels that traipse the same path as she does. Yet, that may not be entirely the case. If DSM is home to the best of the avant garde, what are Gucci and The Row doing here?

The thing is, CDG, as a group of labels, does not resist the commercial. It never has. If you look at their free-standing stores in Tokyo, from Omotesando to Marunouchi (where there are two), accessible sub-brands such as the wildly successful Play, the distilled-to-the-essence Black, and the pop culture-friendly Edit allow the main brand to achieve mainstream appeal, which, in turn, allow Rei Kawakubo to do the work that, while incomprehensible, gets museums a-calling. Good Design Shop (in Singapore for the first time at DSMS)—a collaboration with Tokyo lifestyle outfit D & Department—is an outlet for CDG to flaunt, well, CDG, the three letters that appear on the clothing and bags produced exclusively for the Shop, all irresistible to those who need to wear brand names on their chest, or back. At DSMS, Gucci and The Row are the saleable names that allow moneyed shoppers’ fast track to fashion credibility.

The talk among industry watchers is that DSMS will change the scene here by injecting hitherto missing excitement into an increasingly bleak retail landscape. This we hear, and read, with a tinge of sadness. Can only foreign businesses rescue us from the doldrums that the selling of fashion has become on our shores? Back inside DSMS, the answer is a yes. Whether you are rejoicing among the shelves and racks of T-shirts or cavorting with CDG’s own mind-boggling clothes, non-native Dover Street Market is a veritable fashion playground. It’s well-lit, fine-looking, and fun to wander through.

Dover Street Market Singapore is at 18 Dempsey Road. Photos: Galerie Gombak

Muji’s Mighty Magic

The Muji flagship opened in Plaza Singapura last Friday, occupying the 1,896-sq-m expanse that was vacated by the doomed John Little’s last year. Is the Japanese specialty store set to take the place of traditional department stores, such as Tangs and Metro, which have become increasingly lacklustre?

Muji PS pic 1Muji’s new flagship store at Plaza Singaura

Muji is many things to many people. To some, it is a fashion store. To others, it’s a beauty bar, and, many still, a furniture seller. There also are those who consider it a mini-market. If you visit its new flagship store, it’s manifestly all of the above and more, so much so that it, despite its comparative smallness, easily surpasses the offering of any department store in Singapore today.

This is Muji you’ve not seen before. Not even the ION Orchard store, already considered sterling by so many of its fans, is as expansive, wide-ranging, or atmospheric. This is Muji built on some performance-enhancing magic bullet. It is stocked to the rafters to entice, to arouse, and, ultimately, to encourage spending.

That Muji is able to do all this with merchandise that, for some, is just too bashful in design is testament to the brand’s skill at pulling deceptively simple things into a rather grand whole. There’s a sense of authenticity—an unabashed Japaneseness—and an unwavering minimalist aesthetic that has kept them in good stead indeed. No matter how wide their product offering, they’ve kept to their DNA of uncomplicated, and indeed straightforward, designs that are augmented by their welcome usefulness.

Muji PS pic 2Muji Labo: a more forward collection that pays particular attention to fabric and cutMuji PS pic 3There’s athletic wear now, presumably to take advantage of the athleisure trendMuji PS pic 4A new jeans section that is so extensive it easily rivals Uniqlo’s

The new store is reported to be the largest flagship in Southeast Asia. Designed by Super Potato, the Japanese ID firm of Takashi Sugimoto that is noted for its impressive list of hip stores and restaurants designs such as the Grand Hyatt’s Mezza9 and Straits Kitchen, this is a Muji conceived for discovery, zoned to bring you from one corner to another, not quite knowing what to expect. Those “Mujirers”, as they’re known, who are compelled to visit every Muji store in the cities they operate in will see the similarity with the Shanghai flagship in Huaihai Lu (淮海路) than, say, the Tokyo store in Shinjuku—one neo-rustic, the other white-steel-modern.

This is not a one-look-and-see-all approach to store layout, which, in many ways, had been Muji’s preferred floor-plan treatment until the arrival of Muji Yurakucho (Tokyo) store, a multi-floor behemoth that strikes awe with its warehouse-like space in which pockets of visual merchandising delightfulness are erected. The Plaza Singapura store is, perhaps, a lot more atmospheric (the differentiated lighting, for example, is a lot warmer than their other outlets here, and really recalls the Muji Chengdu flagship) and visually more engaging, with much of the store’s merchandise employed in its imaginative, tactile decor.

The focus is clearly on customer engagement, which accounts for the new areas in the store such as Found Muji in which items sourced from around the world is picked for their shared aesthetic values with the brand, and “re-tailored” to sit suitably alongside other Muji products. This includes an exhibition area, Open Muji, done pasar malam-style to show that regardless of provenance, good and functional design is border-less when it comes to usefulness and beauty.

Found MujiOne of the new concepts seen in Singapore for the first time is Muji Found, a collection of wares selected from different parts of the world

Found Muji pic 2Open Muji showing the various products from all over the world that inspire Muji designsIdeeIdée shows off a more ‘designed’ aspect of MujiMuji wall hangingIdée is stocked with unexpected items such as this wall hanging by Los Angeles ceramic artist Heather Levine

This belief is also exemplified in Idée, a line of merchandise described by Muji as “based on the theme of ‘Life is about everyday’”. But there’s nothing really “everyday” about these products since a knowing customer would immediately see the everyday-ness as ‘elevated’. Idée started as collaboration with emerging designers for furniture a few years back, but soon grew to cover table ware, textile, and decorative accessories that include art and even wall hangings. This, to us, is one of the most alluring parts of the new store.

In fact, furniture and furnishings now make up nearly half the store’s offerings. This may pose some competition to Ikea, although, admittedly, Muji’s prices are not as wallet-friendly and can, in fact, match those of stores such as Conde House in Millenia Walk. And as with Ikea, the new store offers interior decorating service, as well as custom-order for rugs and such. Customisation is, in fact, a crowd charmer, with shoppers drawn to the customised embroidery service available to those who purchased clothing in the store.

The thing about Muji is that no matter how wide the product categories or varied its in-store services, there’s an aesthetic oneness that does not arouse the senses for the sake of getting your buying urges in a knot. It makes one sometimes ponder, and, many a time, enjoy. For naysayers, Muji makes very plain and basic products. This plainness and elementariness do indeed make their success all the more beguiling. Is it saying that our appreciation of good design is finally seeing some semblance of sophistication?

MUJI furniture and furnishingAn impressive selection of furniture and furnishing is available in the new Muji Muji furniture and furnishings 2Bedding, always a strong product category, is now even more alluringMuji food 1Food remains a strong offering and now even more strikingly presented

It is ironic that Muji has occupied the space where John Little’s has failed. Since 2013, Singapore’s oldest department store has been relegated to the annals of our island’s retail history as a forgettable relic. Despite its heritage (174 years in business), John Little’s simply could not keep up with the changes that equate modern retailing. Muji opened in Singapore in 1995, four years after its first overseas store in Hong Kong. Its debut in Liang Court proved a little too premature as local shoppers didn’t quite understand the brand’s striking, chic minimalism and found the “plain things” (now dubbed “commercial zen”) too expensive. It exited Singapore after the Asian financial crisis of 1997 (also known as the tom yum goong crisis as it started in Thailand) and returned in 2003 in then Seiyu department store (now BHG) to a staggeringly warm welcome. From that point there’s no stopping Muji, which now numbers 13 stores island-wide.

Muji, an abbreviation of the full name Mujirushi Ryohin, or “no brand, good quality” in Japanese, is now a staggering enlargement of the 40 products it started with in 1980, when parent company Seiyu created the private brand for their eponymous supermarkets as a way to lure shoppers tightening their purse strings during the economic downswing of that era. According to media reports, Muji presently retails more than 7,000 products, covering nearly every aspect of the urban lifestyle, with many of them having won awards in the category of design.

Some industry observers state that Muji is able to do what they do because they create everything under their own brand. Department stores, especially those here (Japanese ones too), have long forsaken the model of producing house brands that can be differentiated from those of competitors’. Instead, much of the space in department stores these days is leasable space, which inevitably means stores are no longer ‘curating’ their offerings the way they used to. Department stores are landlords the way mall operators are.  Additionally, according to London-based BMI Research in a report last year, department store’s declining popularity, “can be attributed to an outdated approach to demands of local consumers”. That Muji’s customers are forming long queues at the cashiers’ even five days after the opening high perhaps indicates that the brand knows how to appeal to shoppers. This, even without industry admission, is likely the envy of trad stores such as Tangs and Metro.

Muji flagship store is on level one, Plaza Singapura. Photos: Galerie Gombak

When They Say July, It’s Really The End Of The Month

DSMS homepage 22 Jul 2015

The suspense is over. Finally, we have a date. After weeks of checking at the Dover Street Market Singapore (DSMS) website, we get a confirmed day on the calendar of the store’s opening: this coming Saturday, the 29th.

The sole photo used in the homepage is a hint at what DSMS looks like, but we can’t quite make it out. Watch this space to see what we think of DSM’s first Southeast Asian store, or where Comme des Garçons die-hards can reach nirvana.

These Fraternal Twins

Onitsuka Tiger X Anrealage

Sometimes it’s more interesting if a pair of shoes is not identical. Sure, you risk making the wanbao headline, wondering if you’ve succumbed to some mental stress, or colleagues and friends speculating that it was still dark when you left your flat in the morning, but with everyone going for the same NMDs or Yeezys, wouldn’t that be a bit of fun?

And fun is, perhaps, the operative word for this Onitsuka Tiger and Anrealage collaboration. This pair (of two styles dropped, both known as ‘Tiger Monte Z’) is touted as the world’s first “augmented reality sneakers”.

Frankly, we’re not sure if AR for sneakers is any use other than some limited visual fun. We tried this pair but weren’t impressed by the AR component enough to download the app required to give it a spin. Somehow, we sense that our relationship with the digital link to the shoe would end up like that of Pokemon Go: no play.

But if you’re intrigued enough, this is how it works. Download the app (a surprising 300MB!), and through the screen of your handphone directed at the shoe (online reports state that only the left side works), the logo of Anrealage “pops”. As this draw your attention, mixed tape of music put together by the Hokkaido band Sakanaction is temporary replacement of your Spotify playlist. Yes, a little low on the excitement factor.

We’re, therefore, more enticed by the unalike uppers of this pair of ‘Tiger Monte Z’. True to Anrealage’s off-centre aesthetic, their kicks with Onitsuka Tiger is a step in the direction of the less ordinary. The sock-like shape with a pronounced tongue could be a truncated, Frankenstein cousin of the Chelsea boot.

What’s a boon to those who like to customize things is the lacing (not required to secure the shoe), which allows one to create any pattern on the gradated perforation. Perfect for boring plane rides?

Onitsuka Tiger X Anrealage ‘Tiger Monte Z’, SGD229, is available at Onitsuka Tiger, Suntec City. Photo: Zhao Xiangji

The Wordiest Logo?

Or do you prefer less?

TNF Junya logo

It’s a collaboration that spawned one of the biggest logos we have ever seen, with an unusually large amount of text. There are a total of nine words, 14 syllables, and 43 letters! And both brands seem like a match that has to be made: their logotype is in still-a-fave Helvetica!

It is, of course, a mouthful to say. There’s a reason WeAretheSuperlativeConspiracy—just just five words but chock-full of 24 letters—is known as WESC, making the one-time lengthy Fruit of the Loom, with a now-modest line-up of 14 letters, a breeze to say. But The North Face Junya Watanabe Comme des Garçons Man isn’t, thankfully, quite a tongue-twister even when boasting three languages. That is unless you have a dreadful relationship with French pronunciation.

In fact, the coming together of the two brands (since we’re counting, three, if you consider CDG in there as a separate entity) is missing the typical X, as in the upcoming Erdem X H&M (designer Erdem Moralıoğlu’s full name may, indeed, be the tongue-twister here), which means Junya Watanabe’s collaborative work for autumn/winter 2017 would otherwise have 44 letters. But who’s counting? Okay, we are.

TNF Sacai

On the other extreme is Sacai, a brand that, interestingly, also collaborated with The North Face for the autumn/winter 2017 collection. But the logo is so succinct that you may miss the Japanese name. Comprising just four words and a grand total of 17 letters, The North Face Sacai is almost minimalistic. Similar to Junya Watanabe’s, it is absent an X. Perhaps it’s a Japanese quirk. Whether long or short, are we getting more or less with the respective brands?

With these Japanese burando, especially these whose designers are alumni of the school of Comme des Garçons (Sacai’s Chitose Abe was, in fact, a member of Junyta Watanabe’s pattern-making team before she struck out on her own), you are not likely to get less. Sacai’s collection dubbed “Cut Up”, does not spare any design their distinctive slicing and splicing, which means less is not part of their DNA. In addition, their collaboration is available for women as well.

In the end, a label with many words may look intriguing and, hence, alluring, but it really isn’t a matter of which. We say, why have one when you can have both?

It isn’t certain if Junya Watanabe and Sacai stockist Club 21 will bring the two brand’s collaboration with The North Face. We suspect the soon-to-open Dover Street Market Singapore will carry both capsules. Watch this space for updates. Images: the respective brands

Short-Time Supremacy

A day after the madness that was the launch of the Louis Vuitton X Supreme collaboration, the concourse outside the LV store in Ion Orchard is back to its usual tourist-dotted calm

LV X Supreme pic for SOTD

There’s enough queuing in our life, so we decided to sit this one out. Barely before 9am yesterday, a message came to us via WhatsApp: news from the ground that the crowd outside the Louis Vuitton store in Ion Orchard was “crazy”. We were not surprised, just as we were not impressed. Sure, there’s something amazing about such large numbers eagerly waiting the release of a fashion collection like those waiting for the new season of Game of Thrones. Louis Vuitton X Supreme for the autumn/winter 2017 was destined, the minute it was shown in January, to be bigger than anything Yeezy. But just as with the latter, our mind went into a silent yawn.

LV’s latest collaboration is devoid of the freshness, surprise, and rebelliousness of its first, 16 years ago: the Marc Jacobs commission of Stephen Sprouse’s neon, graffiti-style scribble, used to deface the LV Monogram, which until then, was thought to be sacrosanct, hence untouchable. It was very daring, which explained its appeal. As our contributor Mao Shan Wang recalls, “I was in Paris that year, and it was madness at LV’s Champs Élysées store. I was with a friend at that time. People snatched the bag off her hand when she merely looked undecided.”

By the second collaboration—with artist Takashi Murakami, the idea of the LV monogram overlaid with patterns from non-in-house designers became less novel, but Mr Murakami’s motifs were cute and endearing (and he enjoyed higher name recognition that Stephen Sprouse), making the joint output another massive success for the still in reinvention mode LV.

All quiet the day after the Louis Vuitton X Supreme launch17-07-15-21-15-09-743_decoScreen grab of IG post by The Straits Times

With the recent Chapman Brothers collaboration, initiated by LV’s men’s wear designer Kim Jones (who also linked up with Supreme), the surface rejuvenation of classic LV bags became appealing only to those who consider anything produced by the brand to be objects of desire. Even the latest ‘Masters’ series with Jeff Koons just look tacky, like something out of a museum shop, not the least wearable art.

Supreme is the streetwear label du jour, but LV is not the first designer name to align with Supreme, itself a serial collaborator. This past April, the increasingly accessible Comme des Garçons launched a new capsule with Supreme, having paired with the New York label since 2012. The line was supposed to be available at the Dover Street Market Singapore’s E-Shop, but it seemed like it was a no-show. Or, perhaps, it really sold out the minute it was available.

When was the last time LV drew a crowd (not counting the short queues outside their stores, created to give the impression that it’s really busy inside)? When the ‘Twist’ bag was launched in 2015? Handbags, as it’s often reported these days, no longer have the irrational lure they once had. The thing is, even a giant of a luxury brand such as LV needs a crowd puller—literally. Their executives are probably aware of the long lines each time Supreme launches a collaborative effort, from London to New York, and how willing to spend the Supreme addicts are.

On Saturday, signs at the entrances of the Louis Vuitton store in ION Orchard to inform the hopeful

Singapore fans and speculative resellers are lucky. Just four days or so ago, there were on-line reports that LV was closing their sales channels (so-called ‘pop-ups’) of the (so far) one-off. No actual reason offered and the provocative online talk was that there was fallout with Supreme as the New York brand did not feel that they had as much to gain from the collab. The discontinuation of the line was later said to be untrue, with LV announcing that it will be available later. Whatever the case, it’s considered a major fashion coup for our island since we are the only city in the whole of Southeast Asia to get this Supreme, never mind that even when you are ready to spend top dollar you’d have to participate in a raffle in order to get a chance in copping the goods. Yet, as reported, the masses went crazy, including 13-year-olds. We have no idea why any child just crossing into puberty should need to carry a USD$1,800 LV crossbody bag (the Danube PPB), but it is pointless to ponder.

While we are not keen on the LV and Supreme collaboration, we appreciate the irony in the pairing. Back in the early days of Supreme, the brand was force-fed a cease and desist for patterning a skateboard with the florals of LV’s Monogram Canvas. Does the present collab mean LV bears no grudges or does it indicate that luxury fashion and streetwear are now on equal footing?

This is consumerism in its most blatant (and unappealing?) form, which means these clothes are not going to add anything to the design legacy of the French house—let’s say they won’t make LV great, or any conversation about bringing newness and innovation to fashion. There is really no challenge to either LV or Supreme in producing the brand-blaring merchandise. This only illustrates unequivocally that no matter how sophisticated fashion consumers have allegedly become, logos and brand names must stand out and speak for the wearer.

Illustration: Just So. Photos: Zhao Xiangji. 

Demise Comes As The End

Ominous as that sounds, come December, what is often considered the coolest store in Paris will come to the regrettable fate called closure

ColetteColette at 213 rue Saint-Honoré in 2011. Photo: Jim Sim

By Raiment Young

To be honest, I am not terribly saddened by the recent news that Colette (Paris, not Orchard Road!) will close. A sense of regret, perhaps, but I am not about to create a Kickstarter account to save Colette from Yves Saint Laurent wanting its prime space. I am, however, dispirited by the reality of yet another retail casualty. In the present retail climate, and not just on our island, the closure of an “iconic” store (Forbes called it “the trendiest store in the world”) is heart-breaking. It is especially so if the store has made an impact on a “glocal” level.

Colette, opened in 1997, is first of its kind not just in Paris, but much of Europe. But for many of us in Asia, a multi-label store such as Colette is not really a big deal when our very own Club 21 and Hong Kong’s Joyce, and later, I.T (at first known as Greenpeace) have been at the game much longer. What made Colette stand out? A merchandising approach that is synonymous with museums: curation.

At Colette, the curationship fell under its founders Colette Roussaux and her daughter Sarah Andelman (who eventually became the store’s sole buyer). They conceived the three-story boutique very much in their own taste, selecting—or curating, as it were—merchandise to reflect their lifestyle or, perhaps, life in Paris. In fact, they were not the first retailer to put together a space that reflects the proprietor’s quirk and keen eye for the au courant. In neighbouring Italy in 1990, former Vogue Italia editor Carla Sozzani started a little art gallery in Milan that, a year later, would become 10 Corso Como, the hipster haven, arguably the precursor of Colette.

Balenciaga in ColetteSpace currently dedicated to a specially commissioned Balenciaga collection. Photo: Colette

While 10 Corso Como was, in its early years, a fashion insider’s address (since it’s located in what could be considered a “hidden” place and not on the city’s main shopping drag of the time), Colette enjoyed mainstream exposure as it is prominently situated: on rue Saint-Honoré, not, however, near the temples of style such as Hermès, about 800 metres down the street, into the faubourg. Favoured by editors who descend on the City of Lights during fashion weeks and buyers who hit the store for ideas, Colette very rapidly turned ultra-hot.

While Colette may be trendy, it is not off-puttingly high-brow. In fact, fans laud its high-low mix. How high? How about Chanel? How low? How about Uniqlo?! In fact, the store is known for collaborating with designers and brands to launch exclusive merchandise or to bring in the first, such as the Apple Watch, which to me is how it ameliorates itself to a wider audience. Indeed, I feel it is better with merchandise that has mass appeal than those that do not. The Rihanan pop-up in there last year spoke volumes.

Why am I then not moved by Colette’s impending closure, despite its standing among the fashion elite (apparently it is the only store that Karl Lagerfeld visits with some regularity)? The thing is, Colette does not feel new to me the way Dover Street Market, conceived much later in 2004 by another woman with very exact tastes, feels novel, even now. Sure, the merchandising is an intriguing mix, but it is mostly the books, and sometimes, the gadgets and digital peripherals that I find have more pull.

Colette colonThe announcement of their coming closure via Colette’s logo. now, unsurprisingly, trending. Image: Colette

In one of my visits, a substantial corner of the second floor was converted into an all-white Maison Martin Margiela space: why would I want to explore this when the main MMM store is not far away? Colette is an ardent supporter of Japanese labels, and they stock, for example, Comme des Garçons, but why would I be enticed by the relatively small collection when CDG—itself a multi-label emporium, even if it stocks mainly kindred brands under the group—is a stone’s throw from the said Hermès store?

If you ask me, I find L’Eclaireur far more interesting (for some reason, it reminds me of Tokyo’s Loveless, or is it the other way round?) and it’s been peddling its avant-garde merchandise since 1980. Sure, L’Eclaireur is a lot less friendly in terms of merchandise and it’s interior design than Colette, but if you want to see and experience fashion, not necessarily something you’d buy for a date that very day or a flight the next morning, this store has more to engage passion and desire.

My first time in Colette was in the early Noughties. It was, by then, such a visible blip on the fashion radar of Paris that it was inevitable that I would end up there. I remember how surprised I was when I stepped past the entrance. Right before me was a glass ‘room’ lined on both sides with a rack of T-shirts (once, next to this was dedicated to Billionaire’s Boys Club!). It seemed like I had stepped into a gift shop of some design museum. Behind that felt like I had stumbled into Tokyo’s Bic Camera meets Rome’s Bookabar.

But what surprised me even more were the shoppers. These were not fashion folks; these were the future voters of Donald Trump! They came by the busload, just as they did at the nearby Louvre. In France’s most famous museum, you go to view antiquities. Here, you go to see cool. Colette, especially in its latter years, has become a tourist attraction—a must-stop, much like Paris Disneryland, only here, it’s a fashion Disneyland.

On 20th December, Colette will open its doors for the last time. This, however, may not be the end of Colette. As we know, the dead do come back.

Google Doodle Salutes Eiko Ishioka

Google Doodle 12 Jul 2017

Movie fans, especially film costume aficionados, would know Eiko Ishioka. Therefore, if you use Google Search today, you may recognise the five illustrations that appear on Google Doodles: Ms Ishioka’s costumes from 2006’s The Fall, a film so fantastical, outlandish, and unlike any out there that Roger Ebert calls it “a movie that you might want to see for no other reason than because it exists”. In fact, it is in the genre of fantasy films that Ms Ishioka made her mark.

Ms Ishioka passed away in 2012. Today would have been her 79th birthday. And Google—a salute to them—decided to honour one of film’s most creative costume designers. If The Fall is unfamiliar to you, consider Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula of 1992. It scored Ms Ishioka an Oscar for best costume. We remember quite vividly the outlandish ruff worn by the coquettish Lucy Westenra (played by Sadie Frost) and how it stood beautifully even in the midst of an exorcism.

This is not the first time Google Doodles pays tribute to fashion figures. Back in 2013, there was also homage to another film costume name: Edith Head. Last December, there was animation to celebrate the work and invention of Charles Macintosh, whose namesake outerwear is synonymous with rainwear. Since its introduction in 1998, Google Doodles has celebrated the works of giants of design such as Sir Norman Parkinson and Zaha Hadid.

Eiko IshiokaEiko Ishioka. Photo: Brigitte Lacombe

The choice of Eiko Ishioka proves that Google does not hide from less conventional fashion figures or those not immediately identifiable by the average Google user. Ms Ishioka did not share Colleen Atwood’s fame and vast body of work; she did not, in fact, have her start in films. She was trained as a graphic designer, began with Shiseido, and later made her mark in the advertising scene in Tokyo, where, for those old enough to remember, her work for the retailer Parco caught the admiration of her peers. In one of Parco’s television commercials, Ms Ishioka art-directed a chiselled-face Faye Dunaway to do nothing other than crack, peel, and eat an egg!

Her Oscar win led to other film projects. Apart from Bram Stoker’s Dracula and The Fall, there’s also Paul Schrader’s Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (her first film in 1985) and those by her partner-in-crime Tarsem Singh: The Cell, Immortal and Mirror Mirror (not just The Fall). She also designed for the stage, garnering two Tony nominations in 1988 for M Butterfly. Proving that the art director in her never left, she won, a year earlier, a Grammy for the Miles Davis album Tutu.

While her creative output was varied, including the monochrome and minimalist music video for Bjorg’s Cocoon which showed almost no clothes (a break from costume design, or, as Tarsem Singh told WWD, “Eiko had only two gears: full-out or no gear at all”?), it was her costume work for strange worlds that continue to capture the adoration of fans. These included Cirque du Soleil’s Varekai and the massive stage wear of Grace Jones’s 2009 Hurricane tour that only the singer can pull off.

Many of Ms Ishioka’s fans note that she made a success for herself in an industry dominated by men. But we think it is more remarkable that she had left such a legacy in show business that was, and still is, the domain of the West. Eiko Ishioka, you are missed.

Close Look: Depression’s ‘Berlin Collection’

Depression AW 2017 Pic 1

Six months after the Depression boys—as Kenny Lim and Andrew Loh are affectionately known—sent out their autumn/winter 2017 collection during Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Berlin early this year, about a dozen pieces or so from that showing were launched at the designing duo’s multi-label store Sects Shops in Orchard Central last evening. This, as with Depression-related events, is a fan club greet-and-meet, with a token fashion show thrown in, not quite the gathering of the pugilist world (武林大会) that is part of the brand’s neo-Eastern image.

It is admirable that Depression, now in its 11th year, is able to capture the interest and purchasing power of its fan base despite what is willed to be unchanging aesthetic—heavy on darkness and bleakness, but light on cleverness and technical finesse. Called Vol 2: Dragon Vs Tiger, the collection may boast less T-shirts now than blousy tops, but the clothes have not (and probably will never) shed their Goth leaning. Depression is one of very few Singaporean labels that have stayed tenaciously true to its brand DNA: visual cheerlessness. And for that, we’d say the Depression boys have been triumphant.

Depression show at Sects Shop

By now, it is, perhaps, pointless to talk about Depression being unable to escape its propensity for the depressing. They are not going to go jolly suddenly, not at all. Surely in all the gloom, there is a bright spark. Amid the ‘wrongs’, they must have done something right—right enough to come this far. Lest you think we’re going to have a go at them, we are, in fact, going to look at the brand in a way that, as a cheery attendee at the launch party said, “could encourage the boys.”

So encourage we shall. Let’s egg them on to seek therapy in order for them to get out of their decade-long despair. And point to them the maxim “the power to change one’s life lies entirely within oneself”, as stated in their online ‘About Us’. Darkness, you see, does not have to be eternal, just as black as a colour need not project misery, or the macabre. Even if you are, as a Turkish saying goes, “keeping each other’s company on the way to hell”, do stop and smell the roses. But not black ones.

Depression shirt

We’ll cheer them on for the visual tact built on Chinese expressions that are evocative of the literary and cinematic genre of wuxia (武侠 or martial arts) and the brand’s apparent appeal to the wuling (武林 or the pugilists’ circle): a small sect of fashion warriors who dress like the Depression boys. This season, their use of the saying 十面埋伏, (shi mian mai fu or ambush from ten sides) is played up prominently—it takes up the entire bodice of one shirt, for example. But there is no surprise attack, visually. This is not the chromatic splendour of the Zhang Yimou film of the same name (known as House of Flying Daggers in English); this is Depression’s usual hack (such as 2014’s 心魔 or evil in the heart)—patently manga, no subtlety or subtitle.

They also need encouragement in the use of more fetching typography. Chinese fonts need not only be in bold face to be effective. They need not appear as if they’re being employed for the movie poster of some cheap Chinese zombie flick. Perhaps the B-grade quality is deliberate or salutary, since Andrew Low is the graphic designer of the two, both having started out in advertising. Still, the people around need not be visually waylaid by the wearer of 十面埋伏. But the font choice is not only problematic for the Chinese text. Depression would like you to believe that what you have bought is “made from a mad dark place” and that proclamation is embroidered noticeably on parts of the garments. Sure, we’re not expecting the embroidery of François Lesage, but must they look like something done in a baseball cap shop in Queensway Shopping Centre?

Depression did, in fact, show some rather eye-catching embroidery other than their usual hard-edge, bad-ass decorative treatment. In keeping with their Dragon Vs Tiger theme, they’ve included a monochrome pair of the heavenly and earthly beasts, each in the shape of a paisley. The keen eye would see that their use is a little belated, considering that the souvenir jacket, on which such embroidery are commonly found, is passé, and a little too Gucci to be relevant or even interesting to their wushu (武术 or martial arts) garb sensibility. And the placement of the motifs—symmetrical and opposite the other, with no animalistic tension—is completely devoid of surprise or edge.

Depression hemThe hem of a Depression top

We, too, like to encourage them to get a quality control head and a product development manager, assuming they have not hired any, or can’t do either jobs themselves. We have repeatedly expressed our dismay with the make of Depression garments, the finishing, and the choice of fabrics. It is disheartening to still see, after these many years of their existence, uneven hems that refuse to sit flat, seams that pucker (and those that bunch up under the arm), and fabrics that are mostly associated with low-cost garments. It challenges comprehension that pullovers fashioned out of a knit fabric with loopback underside (generally comfortable even if the fibre is synthetic) should require thick-ply polyester lining, and only on one side—either front or back, resulting in a lopsidedness that yields saggy hems.

These problems are compounded by the presence of other clothes from Korea and the US that are sold alongside Depression in the Sects Shop. Next to the imports, Depression looks decidedly slapdash. Beneath the distraction of the exaggerated shapes, Oriental embroidery, and Chinese text, the clothes still show their shaky foundation. Perhaps the other Chinese character used this season is instructive: 忍 (ren, or endure). In view of Depression’s design progress, we really have to bear with the slowness.  Haste, in this instance, cannot be encouraged.

Sects Shop is at level 4, Orchard Central. Photos: Zhao Xiangji

G Dragon Goes For Gabrielle

G Dragon models Gabrielle Pic 1

G Dragon does not tire of Chanel, nor Chanel him. Both are collaborating again. This time, for the unspectacular Chanel shoulder bag, unimaginatively named Gabrielle Bag. G Dragon, aka Kwon Ji-Yong, appears in a video released by Chanel two days ago, showing him walking briskly in what appears to be a hotel hallway as he heads for a concert venue. He makes very little eye contact with the camera, and the bag appears less often than his face. To the ignorant, this could be a commercial for a G Dragon performance.

To launch a bag, they make films these days. They cast the coolest stars with massive following, and if their model of choice is unable to come for the filming, they sent a film crew to him. G Dragon reportedly shot this video while on a concert stop in Macau. This was part of his third solo world tour called ACT III, M.O.T.T.E. In fact, he performed at the Indoor Stadium this past weekend to a 7,500-strong crowd. While it was reported that he wore Chanel and carried the Gabrielle Bag during this latest concert as part of his garish stage costumes, it was not certain if this was the case for his show here. Do Singaporeans fans even care?

Perhaps they would if the Gabrielle Bag filming was conducted during the leg of his tour here. But Chanel, priding themselves on the vastness of their marketing budget, sent their crew to Macau instead. In the end, it isn’t quite clear which really gained from the exposure: the bag or the concert, if at all.

Chanel Gabrielle Bag

But Chanel does score when they’re able to associate an unremarkable bag with a very remarkable Korean hip-hop star. G Dragon is, of course, not the first popular male singer to help Chanel market the Gabrielle Bag. In April this year, Pharrell Williams won the distinction for being the first male to avail his whole being to a Chanel handbag campaign (although he isn’t the first man to be associated with the brand). Pharrell brought his usual I-can-wear-Chanel-if-I-want-to stance to the video in which he was seen—with Chanel chains and pearls, no less—skating atop a crate across a warehouse in a guys-do-these-sort-of-things way.

It is G Dragon, however, that is far more gender-bending in his fashion choices for the Chanel short. And we’re not just talking about what looks like a lace scarf thrown over his shoulder and the ultra-skinny tweed pants (interestingly both he and Mr Williams wore plain T-shirts in their respective videos, as if that will help retain some masculinity a la James Dean, should doubt arises) and the posing and preening. There’s his full makeup and the painted fingernails: this is a get up that, in more conformist, less hip-hop dominating times, would be considered drag.

Despite his tendency to cross into female territory in dress, G Dragon’s maleness is rarely question, at least not among his female fans. In fact, all the lace and nail polish seem only to augment and underscore his all-male, oppa appeal. In allkpop.com, a fan ItsKDay commented on a report of G Dragon’s Gabrielle Bag video flaunt, “Gawd he has such a sexy manly body.”

G Dragon models Gabrielle Pic 2

The thing is, in South Korea, people seem less fixated on gender norms. Selling music or cosmetics to consumers is not gender-led. Just look at the casting for the skincare and makeup ads from the big players such as the AmorePacific Group (Etude House and Innisfree). Guys with strangely dewy skin dominate, making G Dragon’s foray into women’s accessory advertising no oddity. In fact, the lead singer of Big Bang seems to be utterly comfortable in what would be mostly (at least for now) considered female domains. Just look at the covers of the two issues of Vogue that featured him last year: China (August 2016, two covers, in fact, with Bella Hadid sharing the space in the second) and Korea (also August 2016, not two, but three covers!) And both editions with him sporting looks mothers usually do not expect of their sons.

G Dragon may use the Gabrielle Bag in the video ad, but will he really put it to use in his everyday life? The Gabrielle Bag looks like a practical bag, for sure, but so is Ikea’s Frakta—so practical, in fact, that it spawned a luxury version of it. Also known as the Hobo Bag, the Gabrielle Bag (not just Gabrielle) is believed to be unisex, but not quite a man-bag. Its regular looks and rigid form may just be unexceptional enough to attract those not in the pop music business to adopt one for their fashionable life.

Chanel is really pouring a hefty sum into the marketing of what could easily become a forgotten sibling of the 2.55. Kristen Stewart was the first to star in the series of Gabrielle Bag films, followed by Cara Delevingne and Caroline de Maigret. Reportedly Liu Wen is next, augmenting Chanel’s predisposition towards inclusiveness.

However, we do wonder: does the casting of a black and an Asian man for a primarily women’s wear label mean that non-Caucasian men are less fashion-forward and not amenable to fashion without the confines of gender? Or has men’s wear been so limiting in terms of variety that guys are looking across the divide for more to excite and to express with? Or, maybe, in Chanel, G Dragon has simply found his phoenix.

Chanel’s Gabrielle Hobo Bag (as seen on G Dragon), from SGD5,460, is available at Chanel stores. Video stills and product photo: Chanel