Michelle Chong Spoofs Vogue’s 73 Qs

Michelle Chong for Dorothy Perkins

By Mao Shan Wang

You have the opening scene of 7+3 Q’s with Sonia: Michelle Chong, reprising the character from her cheesy little S$1.5 million film Lulu The Movie, walks in akimbo; her back to the camera. A guy with a Caucasian voice calls her and she turns around—deliberately, pretending to be surprised. I thought I heard the perfunctory applause. She then talks to the unseen male and proceeded to indulge him in what would be a Q&A involving a set of “7+3” questions. I thought I was going to sleep.

This is no doubt a spoof of the Vogue.com series 73 Questions—cheery interviews that make the interviewees shiny examples of my-life-is-perfect-that’s-why-I’m-so-contented celebrity, all set in domestic bliss or professional calm. Even the reputed ice queen Anna Wintour, in Season 1, appeared to be in high spirits although still playing up her to-be-expected coldness. An un-wintry Anna Wintour would be a letdown. Although the questions were posed to her in her Architectural Digest-worthy office, she offered no hint of editorial stress, let alone semblance of editorial work. Stilted and aided by minions, she revealed inconsequential and trite details about herself such as the fact that she’s not a discerning coffee drinker (breakfast = Starbucks).

Participants of 73 Questions are, in fact, often made to look so unshackled by the woes of life, but fettered by the insipidness of a positive video persona that they appear positively dull, even when flipping on a trampoline. It is, of course, all harmless fun, but not quite fun enough to beguile a long, lazy, humid afternoon. The questions themselves are to be blamed: “What’s the best piece of advice your mom has given you?” and, repeatedly, “What’s your spirit animal?” I have more engaging conversations with the Hubei fellow who sweeps the void deck of my block.

Why 73? According to Joe Sabia, the creator and director of the series, the figure came about after a process of elimination from the original 100 proposed questions. And “it sounded like a good number”. Why “7+3”? Because it sounds better than 10? But, perhaps more significantly, do you want to hear inane answers to inane questions for an insane 10 minutes? Not from Sonia!

Michelle Chong for Dorothy Perkins 2

Michelle Chong’s soporific turn as Sonia is a lame counterpoint to the Shanghainese lian Lulu, first fleshed to life in the TV series The Noose. Or her lian pang counterpart Apple Tham. Sonia gives me the impression that she might be the sister of Nida Goodwood, the newscaster, also from The Noose, who speaks with an accent that sounds like she had been schooled somewhere in the Philippines, but, as I later learned, is supposed to be slightly RP (received pronunciation or, simply put, what you hear on the BBC). In Lulu The Movie, she is scripted to be haughty and go-getting, and a fierce spelling police (“How many times have I said that fashion is spelled with an H?”) and, thus, unlikeable, but in the 7+3 Q’s with Sonia, she’s shown to be sisterly, BFF-worthy, and—perhaps open to dispute—fashion-y.

In the YouTube post, Sonia wears an ill-fitting black, long-sleeved blouse with an unmissable pussycat bow that, by now, should have been relegated to a recess of the wardrobe where so little light comes in that it’s a fashion graveyard. The top is tucked into a slim gingham skirt with a peplum in the front. Whether irony is intended or not, it deserves notice: In the film, fashion personality Sonia berates a couple of assistants presenting the outfits they have picked for her on-screen appearance. “Do these clothes,” she thundered, “look like they belong to a fashion program? Or, is this the rack for the 9 o’clock news?” Maybe this is payback time. In 7+3 Q’s with Sonia, she looks like she is dressed for the 1 o’clock news! Some people will call it karma.

Ms Chong has made a name for herself out of spoofing, especially the many stereotypes that exist among us. I don’t find her jibes particularly humorous, but, apparently, many do. Therein lies her success: she has a common touch. Not that that’s a bad thing. Look at Jack Neo and his protégé Mark Lee. They’ve become moneyed by poking fun at our foibles and flaws, using mannerism and language that is part of our foibles and flaws. Ms Chong has chanelled her parody skills into money-churning advertising appearances, sometimes playing multiple roles in one screen, as Eddie Murphy did, or a more contemporary example, as Tyler Perry does. But unlike these guys, she vacillates between two domains: one called funny, the other not.

7+3 Q’s with Sonia is, unsurprisingly, an ad of sorts. It’s conceived for the brand Dorothy Perkins, which, by the way, is not a designer name. Now owned by the Arcadia Group (Topshop/Topman’s parent company), it is apparently named after the rambling rose of the same moniker. That the video was commissioned to score with social media-struck Millennials isn’t a marketing coup. There’s no ambiguity to where between the points of high and popular culture it attempts to pivot. That, I suppose, is where Sonia comes in. She’s suitably mild and middle-of-the-road. Let’s just say, don’t expect Saturday Night Life. Michelle Chong’s initials may be MC, but her other name is not Melissa McCarthy.

Screen grabs: YouTube/The Michelle Chong Channel

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A Colourful Life

Obituary | Few hairstylists working on our island, indeed anywhere, could count Lee Radziwill and Christie Brinkley as clients. Fewer still had worked on their hair in the celebrities’ residence. Shunji Matsuo was one

Publicity shot of Shunji Matsuo in 2016. Photo: 大色影师

Yesterday morning, it was revealed by staff of Shunji Matsuo Hair Studio that the Japanese hairstylist/founder of the eponymous salon, has passed away in his hometown of Kobe. Mr Matsuo died of cancer; he was 67.

Considered one of our city’s most successful hairdressers, Mr Matsuo owns (or co-owns) 10 salons in Singapore. The number does not include branches in Kuala Lumpur and Yangon, which had prompted The Business Times to call him “a veritable salon mogul”. The 18-year permanent resident had become one of the biggest players in the business, beating even David Gan, arguably the most famous celebrity hairstylist here, by the sheer number of salons under his name.

Yet, Mr Matsuo did not share Mr Gan’s staggering client roster of famous local and regional names. He did, however, enjoy many moments working with some of the most noted personalities in international fashion, especially in New York City, where he started in 1974. Among the many names associated with the New York beau monde of the ’70s and ’80s, one stood out for Mr Matsuo: Lee Radziwill, the sister of Jacqueline Kennedy. Mr Matsuo liked to regale willing listeners with this particular story. He was at Ms Radziwill’s apartment on New York’s Fifth Avenue one day, working on her hair, when he accidentally spilled water on the floor. Mortified by his own clumsiness, he immediately asked for a dirty towel to mop up the mess. She replied, and he often retold this with relish, “We do not have dirty towels.”

Shunji Matsuo styleShunji Matsuo’s 2008 version of the layered cut, styled with a gentle beehive. Photo: Rui Liang/Lightspade Studio, Styling: Vik Lim, Makeup: Yuan Sng

Shunji Matsuo’s reminiscences of the early days of his career were often spiked with comedic incidences and name-dropping, all the while full of the wonder of a small-town boy made good in a big city. He claimed that at the start, he did not know who the people he had attended to were, such as model Karen Graham, model/actress Lauren Hutton, and Victoria Newhouse, the wife of Condé Nast Publication’s Si Newhouse. But, interestingly, when it came to Polly Mellon, he knew who she was, enough at least to be disappointed that she did not invite him to do a shoot with her for Vogue. He would later recount that “although she told me, ‘you’re a genius’, she had never asked me to work for her”, unaware that the affectations of New Yorkers shouldn’t be taken seriously. However, Mr Matsuo’s scant knowledge of the society which he served was brief for he soon knew he was onto bigger things when he assisted in a shoot lensed by Richard Avedon.

Like many successful Asian hairdressers, including the Segamat-born David Gan, Mr Matsuo rose from humble beginnings. Born in Kobe to a restaurateur father and housewife mother, he was not academically inclined, nor, by his own admission, “a lover of sports or anything”. At age fifteen, shortly after his father died of liver failure, he chanced upon an article in a woman’s monthly Joeseishin that featured a Japanese man who was known to the local media as “Widow Kennedy’s Hairdresser”. Jackie Bouvier Kennedy, even in mourning, had always looked immaculately groomed and her Oleg Cassini for hair was a petite New Yorker from Tokyo named Suga Yusuke.

Known simply as Suga, Mrs Kennedy’s go-to hairdresser probably inspired many young Japanese eager to leave their country for the much-admired USA. Born in a Japanese colony close to Beijing, Suga and his family moved back to Japan after his father died in a car accident when he was 10 months old. The Yusukes finally settled in Tokyo, where Suga later studied and worked. Unmotivated in the capital and in love with everything American (“I loved chocolate kisses and Bazooka bubblegum,” he told the press), Suga moved to New York and quickly found employment with hairdresser-to-the-stars Mr Kenneth. Through hard work, determination, and no small measure of luck, he soon became the widowed Mrs Kennedy’s hairdresser.

Suga & ShunjiSuga and Shunji Matsuo in New York in the mid-’70s. Photo: Shunji Matsuo

Mr Matsuo was completely taken with Suga’s success story and was so inspired by it that he made up his mind instantly to be a hairdresser—the decision no longer requiring the blessing of a paternal figure. That article, an eight-page spread, was so central to his resolve that he had it laminated for posterity. A former journalist who had seen the preserved, yellowed black-and-white tear-sheets told SOTD that “Shunji was quite obsessed with that magazine profile of his idol. He was a rather sentimental person, and he won’t forget that editorial piece because it really changed his life.”

In 1968, he left Kobe for Tokyo and enrolled for a hairdressing course in Yamano Beauty School, unsurprisingly Suga’s alma mater. Three years later, Suga visited Tokyo to scout for new talents to staff his first salon in Manhattan. Mr Matsuo, who had by then graduated and returned to Kobe, was beyond ecstatic when he read about it in a magazine, and, without hesitation, applied for the selection and left immediately for Tokyo. 

Although he was picked after a surprisingly simple selection process, nothing came out of it. Suga had left the city. Undeterred, Mr Matsuo made his way to Los Angeles in 1973, first, to receive an American license at the US branch of Yamano Beauty School so that he could work, and second, to somehow reconnect with his idol. He called Suga, who had not forgotten the young man, and immediately invited him to New York to work. In 1974, his Big Apple adventure began.

Two years after he relocated to New York, Shunji Matsuo was to witness Suga enjoying his most intoxicating professional high. The place was Innsbruck, Austria in 1976, and figure skater Dorothy Hamill’s double axels and stupendous spins had won her Olympic gold. But the audience that day witnessed more than just sporting excellence; they saw a short, lively hairdo dubbed the “wedge” and fell in love with it. The “wedge” would forever be synonymous with Suga, opening more doors for him than he had ever hoped to open.

A tear sheet of the Christian Dior ad featuring Kelly LeBrock

Mr Matsuo began to reap Suga’s success, assisting the latter on both commercial and editorial shoots. One of these was with Richard Avedon, who was just commissioned by a very young and new Gianni Versace to helm the campaign for his first boutique in the US. Gianni Versace was the breakout star of 1981, but Mr Matsuo wasn’t aware of that, and recalled that he “had to work very fast because there were so many models”. In fact, during this period, Mr Matsuo did the hair of some of the best models of the time: Iman, Kelly LeBrock, Janice Dickinson, and Pat Cleveland. But all this while, he had only been an assistant to Suga.

Things changed in 1983. Suga had to go to Tokyo to discuss a business partnership with haute couture designer Hanae Mori. According to Mr Matsuo, he was not aware of what that was about. He was only a little upset that the boss had not asked him to go along. As it turned out, Suga was in talks with Ms Mori’s son Kei to set up Studio V, a chain of salon cum boutiques. During Suga’s absence, Shunji Matsuo was asked to attend a Richard Avedon shoot on his own and the client was Christian Dior. That became the turning point for Suga’s young assistant.

“Although he never said if both of them really got on (they had a professional relationship rather than a social one), he was full of respect for the guy,” the former journalist told SOTD, “but in the end, he did not want to walk in Suga’s shadow.” In 1984, Shunji Matsuo decided to part ways with his mentor/idol Suga Yusuke. After he left, he did not immediately set up his own salon. Instead, he chose to freelance, a professional arrangement common among hairdressers. He soon met Christiaan Houtenbos, a Dutchman working the New York fashion circuit and was known as the “Master of Short”.

Shunji Matsuo with Andre Leon Talley. Photo: Shunji Matsuo

It is not hard to see why Mr Matsuo found himself drawn to Christiaan, as he was called. Like Suga, Christiaan preferred short, ‘sassy’ hair, and was behind some of the most iconic looks of the ’80s, such as Debbie Harry’s messy locks and Grace Jones’s flat top (later so strikingly paired with a Giorgio Armani jacket for the Jean Paul Goude-designed cover of her album Nightclubbing). In 1986, Christiaan invited Mr Matsuo to Paris to assist the former in his work during Paris Fashion Week. The designer show that the Japanese found himself doing was that of a compatriot’s: Comme des Garçons.

Through Christiaan, Mr Matsuo found himself working more on fashion shows, such as those by Calvin Klein and Donna Karan, who became a mentor of sorts; and socialising with up-and-coming editorial stars, such as the stylist Paul Cavaco (who mostly teamed up with Bruce Weber) and the fashion journalist Andre Leon Talley (then with Interview). In 1986, Mr Matsuo accepted a print job, which turned out to be a high point of his career since going solo. Shot in Big Sur, California, the photograph of model Kirsten was selected for the cover of the December issue of Harper’s Bazaar, his first American title. Covers beget covers, and he was soon commissioned to work on more Bazaar covers, as well as those of New York and Interview.

All through the latter half of the ’80s, one photographer was a constant in Mr Matsuo’s attempts to align himself with fashion bigwigs of the time and to score editorial features: Gilles Bensimon. Credited for assisting in the launch of American Elle in 1981, Mr Bensimon—what 21st Century New Yorkers call a ‘modelizer’—married Elle Macpherson after his first divorce. Mr Matsuo met model Christie Brinkley in a shoot lensed by Mr Bensimon, and the model and hairdresser, by Mr Matsuo’s account, hit it off. Soon he was asked to visit the residence Ms Brinkley shared with then husband Billy Joel to do her hair. These were happy times, as he recounted, but things took a turn when he made an unwise request. Mr Matsuo had asked the model’s agent if it was alright that in accepting no charge for his services, he could announce that he was Christie Brinkley’s hairdresser. He got his answer when she did not called him back again.

A lover of wigs, Shunji Matsuo posed with his creations before a show in 2016. Photo: 大色影师

It was never really discussed if, despite his high-profile clients of the ’80s, Shunji Mastuo was a truly talented hairstylist. People do choose hairstylists the way they choose bartenders: based on inclination to listen. Fashion folks here who have worked with him consider him a good “shoot stylist”, but no one could recall if he, like Suga and Christiaan, had created anything memorable with cuts. From the bob to balayage, he has done them all, often under the guise of “Japanese techniques”. No one, however, could confirm if they were. To be sure, he is a competent hairdresser, but nobody would say for certain that he was extraordinary. His work in recent years, as one of them noted, was about dreaming up all sorts of effects on hair using hair (sometimes with hair pieces), the effect much like flower arrangement or ikebana.

Mr Matsuo’s love of hair pieces, usually coloured like kueh lapis kukus, came about at the time he had some hair designs photographed for the biographical book, Mane Man, which he was preparing in 2007. He wanted to create some rather over-the-top looks, but was limited by the length and thickness of the hair of the models he had booked. Someone suggested that he could cut hair from wigs, colour them, and attached them onto the models’ head in any fashion he wished. The idea fired his imagination, and he would from then on work with lengths of coloured hair that could be piled like Lego bricks. Unhindered (unhinged, some would say), he laid heaps of them on heads with gusto.

It is not clear if this penchant for the dramatic was a belated expression of what to him was real creativity, or if he was compensating for what he was not able to do in the salon. It is also plausible that this was to show that he had come into his own, no longer eclipsed by Suga or anyone else to whom he was a mere assistant. The creative outburst was less about leaving behind an artistic legacy than simply doing what he wanted to do without being told that he could not. He once said, “In America, I always had a boss or a partner. In Asia, I am my own boss, and I could do anything my own way.”

IMG-20171009-WA0027.jpgShunji Matsuo working on a model during a hair show. Photo: 大色影师

As the ’90s unfolded, Mr Matsuo may have realised that he was not going to leave a mark on New York fashion the way others before him did. America had taught him to survive the fashion system there, and to play the publicity games and manoeuvre the social circuit to stay afloat, but it had not fostered the innovation that would elevate him to the iconic status of those he had admired. As a former stylist remarked to SOTD, “During those days, being an Asian in America wasn’t easy. There was only room for one Suga.”

In 1990, Suga—the reasonMr Matsuo went to America—passed away, and the news deeply affected his one-time assistant. Mr Matsuo realised that an era had passed and he sensed that a new chapter of his life had to be written. After opening two moderately successful salons—37.57 on 57th street and Salon Ziba, a precursor to today’s ‘quick cuts’—Shunji Matsuo decided, in the mid-’90s, to leave New York City.

His next port of call was Jakarta. Odd as his choice might have been, he was certain that the Indonesian capital was where he would rebirth the glory he had experienced in New York. Tokyo would have been a logical choice, but he would be, as he told friends, “just a Japanese working among Japanese.” He felt Jakarta would be where he could stand out and be outstanding. Sadly for him, just a year after his salons opened (he moved from one location to another), Indonesia experienced the worse political turmoil of its modern history. The capital city was descending into chaos, an inevitability that resulted from the resignation of President Suharto, whose regime was not able to escape the contagion effect of the East Asian financial crisis of 1997. Mr Matsuo had to leave—“escape” was how he put it.

He arrived in Singapore in 1998, part of a hastily put together plan to flee a city in disorder that he had thought to call home. After a month holed up in the YMCA on Stamford Road and unable (or unwilling?) to do anything (“I was depressed,” he had admitted), he decided to return to Kobe upon the urging of his family. Two weeks later, he was back in Jakarta, then on the road to recovery, but things were not going to be the same. He then decided to rebuild his professional life in Singapore. It was here that he finally found success and recognition, and, more significantly, a salon that bears his very own name. In 1999, Shunji Matsuo Hair Studio opened in Wellington Building, right in the heart of Orchard Road.

In 2010, after Shunji Matsuo Hair Studio vacated Wellington Building, where the first salon was opened, it relocated to Takashimaya Shopping Centre. Photo: Zhao XIangji

But Singapore was not to be his next New York. The market was too small and the celebrities that he had hoped to charm were ensnared by others such as the ebullient and ambitious David Gan. Moreover, most of his target customers had not heard of him. His spanking new salon at Wellington Building was no Passion, a sweeping anchor at Palais Renaissance. Mr Matsuo understood the need for publicity and he was determined to be the celebrity hairstylist he had come to consider himself to be. Accept for the executives of hair product brands, he knew very few people here. His best bet was to seek a conduit, and he found it in Jennifer Dunbar, a PR old hat who was not a fashion industry staple, but was able to get her client into magazines, such as the now defunct NTUC Lifestyle. Mr Matsuo was disappointed that he was not doing the high-profile jobs that he desired, but he did not let on. He was grateful for the opportunities, and he soldiered on, as he had before.

A breakthough of sorts presented itself in 2008 when Mr Matsuo did the hair of the models of Thomas Wee’s comeback show during Singapore Fashion Week of that year. “I think he is good,” Mr Wee had said, “With his many years of experience and with old-school training, he is not your average ‘Orchard Road Salon’ hairstylist. I like to think that he has a lot of energy to be creative.” Bitten by the local fashion show bug, Shunji Matsuo would position his salon as a major sponsor for many of our city’s catwalk presentations.

But his love of fashion shows was not restricted to what went on backstage or the mayhem among the models. He liked it upfront, on the runway, in full view of an audience. A keen participant in hair shows, he would organise his company’s annual dinner and dance as a hair show too, with competing teams creating outlandish styles that encouraged boisterous cheers. He would invite industry folks to serve as judges. It was fun and it was serious, and it reflected his belief that the hair-styling business is glamourous.

Shunji Matsuo Makeover Magic Kobe in Apr 2016Shunji Matsuo with his ‘models’ before the Makeover Magic in Kobe last year. Photo: Shunji Mastuo

In 2013, a new idea for a show emerged. It would put not only his hair designs on stage, but also the creator in the limelight. Following his fixation with hair pieces, Mr Matsuo came to know a wig maker who wove pieces out of real hair. So impressed by these wigs was he that he decided that he would do a hair show by styling the wigs on those who needed them most: cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. Makeover Magic was thus born and the first show was staged in Kobe. It would become an annual event (in Singapore too), and it would be extended to elderly ladies who wanted a chance to look simply extraordinary. Modern business practices would have called this corporate social responsibility, but Mr Matsuo did not describe it as such.

Makeover Magic was well received in Japan, bringing accolades to its Japanese creator, who, prior to this, did not think he had made it in his home country. But skeptics found what Mr Matsuo did to be too over-the-top to be a makeover in the conventional sense. He was not working with wigs alone; he added those hair pieces he had come to love. Some attendees thought the old ladies looked victimised—a ridiculous remodeling that was the vain indulgence of one man than the true enjoyment of the duped. In Singapore, some called it “搞笑行动” (gao xiao xing dong) or comedy routine, but conceded that for many of the participants, it was the fun rather than the fantasy that was magical. Mr Matsuo was unfazed by his critics, and he believed in his mission of making people happy, even for the brief moment they were playing dressed-up, more so after being diagnosed with the dreaded disease cancer.

An admirer of Lee Kuan Yew (and other dogmatic personalities such as his favourite author, the “god of business consulting” Yukio Funai), Mr Matsuo considers Singapore very much his home. It was only in the last two years that he started going back to Japan frequently, partly to stage Makeover Magic, partly to seek treatment for his debilitating illness. Against the odds, and against an industry dominated by an influential few, he was able to produce Shunji Matsuo 2.0. Although he did not create anything akin to the “wedge” of his first employer in America, nor left a legacy that would be invaluable to the annals of Singapore fashion, Shunji Matsuo will always be remembered as the one who came and conjured.

Beautiful Balance At Balenciaga

Like many of you, we were initially rather perplexed by what Demna Gvasalia did at Balenciaga. Admittedly, it took us a while to get used to his idea of what Diana Vreeland referred to as “devastating”. “One fainted. One simply blew up and died,” she said of her favourite designer’s work. We’ve since died other deaths. Mr Gvasalia not only resuscitated Balenciaga, he brought us from the brink… of what, it is hard to say other than something associated with excess. He opened us up to possibilities, such as oddness, plainness, or the fit of garments—they don’t have to cling; they can fall away from the body. And they can look good.

He has made us realise that we do like fashion that is not easy, that makes us think, that makes us wonder how it’s all going to sit into the general scheme of things or fit with the rest of our wardrobe. Perhaps, by now, we’re used to his less-than-ordinary proportions and the jab at femininity, with results that baffle the opposite sex. Mr Gvasalia understands irony and subtlety and the non-so-subtle (such as logos) and how all can come together with as much lure as Facebook feeds, dissonant as they may be. And some of us are—eventually—sold.

The first look, so appealingly worn by Stella Tenant, immediately drew us into its un-Balenciaga androgyny. But there is something else at work here: something lowbrow. The striped shirt is ordinary-looking (buttoned-down!); it’s unadorned and it looks large enough to belong to a guy at home or work (the accounts department?). And the skirt—what our mothers used to call the “tight skirt”—is as unassuming as they come. We won’t be surprised if a school teacher or a HR manager lays claim to it. For added interest, a charm belt fastened with a key chain is hung low across the waist. “Re-purposed office wear”, they call it, and we thought office wear, as a product category, has all but disappeared.

Balenciaga SS 2018 G1Balenciaga SS 2018 G2

The shirts may have the appeal of Van Heusens, but those with prints of international banknotes could have been from Japan’s Don Quijote general store! If one charm can be attributed to Mr Gvasalia, it is in the unpredictable high-low stir that keeps many a fashion editor fascinated and craving. His modus operandi seems to suggest a deliberate avoidance of the Balenciaga archives; he gives the impression that he procures solely from the karang guni, or the French equivalent of the rag-and-bone man. Maddening and, at the same time, delightful is this mixed bag, this disparate sources of influence: you never can know where he’ll glean from next. Even when he tackles the crass and the kitsch (and he does), the method in his calculated madness (invariably considered “cool”) makes us reconsider the elegance we were brought up with—chuck it out of the window.

To date, this is Mr Gvasalia’s most elegant collection for Balenciaga, and a wearable one to boot. Elegance as sum effect may be meaningless to Millennials, but before we scoff at it as dated grace and style or fixation, we should consider the point that effortless ingenuity will eventually take the place of vulgar overkill. Sure, the Balenciaga of today can no longer be the “very soul of discretion”, as writer and chief curator of fashion and textiles at the Musée des Arts Décoratfs in Paris, Pamela Golbin, said, but it can still be looked to as arbiter of style with strength. Balenciaga today has captured the shape of things now, and possibly, to come.

On the surface, Mr Gvasalia may have disregarded the traditional Balenciaga shapes, but he has not abandoned shapes. Not one bit. Sure, these are not forms associated with the couture of yore, but they are those that ring as alluringly as a cocoon coat, only now they fall with an insouciance that is in step with a preference for the relaxed and the less studied.

Balenciaga SS 2018 G3Balenciaga SS 2018 G4

Despite the redefined shapes and the refreshing oddness, we sense a jolt of déjà vu: the newsprint pattern, which, although used differently, reminds us of John Galliano’s Dior and those coats that look like another is layered on top of each, a visual extra that has been seen at Comme des Garçons on more than one occasion. We are, however, not dismissing them as facsimiles. On the other hand, they make anew what’s been successfully birthed in much the same way his own Vetements breathed new life to trashy labels such Juicy Couture.

The fear-not-of-the-banal at Vetements is certainly brought along to Balenciaga. Just as you think that the haute bearing of the brand will be untarnished, out comes platform shoes by the crassest of crass footwear: Crocs. Its appearance towards the end of the show seems to give the collection the exclamation mark it does not need, but is fun to have—a ‘screamer’, as the exclamation mark is also known in the printing world. No one could imagine a campy Balenciaga, but no one expected it to be this delightfully twisted. We now wonder what it would be like if Demna Gvasalia takes over the house of Chanel. Now, that would be fun to witness.

Photos: Balenciaga

Lanvin’s Lost… Again

Lanvin SS 2018 P1

On a Saturday afternoon, about a week before the Lanvin show was going to be staged in Paris, we passed the eponymous boutique at the Hilton Shopping Gallery. It was terribly quiet inside. Not a soul was spotted, not even a salesperson. The clothes in their usual places looked untouched, unimpressive, unwanted. It’s premature to say if new guy Olivier Lapidus will be able to bring the customers back, but looking at what he showed, we’re afraid for the brand, once so desired for the romance that Alber Elbaz had infused it with.

Mr Lapidus—son of Ted, the French couturier who cut his teeth at Christian Dior and had introduced military styles to high fashion in the ’60s—probably had a tough time putting the collection together since, according to reports, he came on board only in August. Undoing the blah that former design director Bouchra Jarrar had left behind in a couple of months can’t be easy, let alone create a new, laudable aesthetic for the brand.

No one can bring back the whimsy and the joie de vivre that Alber Elbaz had introduced to Lanvin. And we may not want it back either. It’s been two years since Mr Elbaz left the house, the same the year Alessandro Michele joined Gucci, which has since dominated fashion conversations around the world. Mr Elbaz’s elegance now seems oddly old-fashioned, possibly too soigné for current tastes. What should the new Lanvin look like then?

We sense that Mr Lapidus wanted to do tarty clothes, but held himself back because it occurred to him that the Lanvin customer is more Natalie Portman than Kim Kardashian. Still, we can’t help but think that sexual provocation was on his mind, especially when there is more than a couple of short, hip-hugging dresses with an inverted-V of a front hemline, as well as those with plunging V necklines that threatened to meet the sibling below point to point. Some pieces just look, for a lack of better word, cheap.

Fashion has become so street-oriented that it is, for many women, lacking in good old sexy, body-clinging dresses. Mr Lapidus may be plugging this gap in the luxury market, but he too wanted to capture the hearts of the young, in particular those charmed by Supreme and the brand’s logo that other luxury labels want to associate themselves with. To strike a chord with these young people, he put out logo-ed dresses, only these look too much like those imitations that think they can pass themselves off as Chanel by repeating the moniker throughout the garments. Lanvin is not exactly known for its logo, except perhaps the mother and daughter symbol, created by the French illustrator Paul Iribe, so strikingly applied on the Arpège perfume bottle. Mr Lapidus’s logo overrun is sadly far removed from the refinement associated with Lanvin.

There is some seriousness though. A trio of solid-coloured coats has rounded shoulders and voluminous sleeves, perhaps hinting at Mr Lapidus’s couture lineage, but do they communicate a sense of surprise, a finger of freshness, or an intimation of ingenuity that was palpable when Morinaga Kunihiko showed similar styles for his label Anrealage? The answer is quite simply no. But Bouchra Jarrar had a second season, so will Olivier Lapidus. So, let’s see.

Photos: (top) Lanvin/Youtube and (catwalk) Indigital. tv

The Dior That Does Not Dare

Dior SS 2018 P2

The moment the slogan tee appeared, we knew the collection is best missed. This time, “Why have there been no great women artists?” was the poser. Seriously, Maria Grazia Chiuri? Firstly, you can’t say it in your own words (instead, you quote American art historian Linda Nochlin, as you did last year Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie). Secondly, you repeated yourself. We know you have broken the glass ceiling when you were installed at Dior, but one year on and you’re still harping on the lack of opportunity and recognition for women? Can we get on with fashion?

These are socio-politically sensitive times, we know, and what is said (even well-meaning; even in fashion criticism) can be construed as anti-feminist. Lest we’re seen as non-feminist, we should state unequivocally that we’re all for prospects and respect for women. But if Ms Chiuri wants to use fashion as a platform for her political convictions—valid as they are, then show us that she is made of sterner stuff: that she can be a great woman artist. Don’t just ask rhetorical questions emblazoned on the front of T-shirts. Is that not the same as including a hoodie in a collection and calling it street, or hip hop? Ms Chiuri stands alongside many, such as Donatella Versace, who want women to be recognised for their power and their ability. Nothing wrong with that, just don’t spell it out.

Create great fashion. That unfortunately did not happen at the Dior spring/summer 2018 collection. Ms Chiuri did not change the dialogue one bit since her debut at the French house. Instead, she sticks to her preference for clothes that supposedly appeal to women, or girls, who want real, woman-for-woman clothes, but at the same time also those that are transparent enough to reveal the power underneath—underpants. This contradiction (perhaps not for those who think that power means one can wear anything, even if they unravel conventional notions of modesty) is the undoing of the collection. Ms Chiuri’s design is as banal as Sumiko Tan’s writing is trite, Sunday or not.

Dior SS 2018 G1

We wanted to be fair to Ms Chiuri, so we looked at the clothes—from the show videos and the stills—five times. (Prior to that, we examined her pieces up close in the store, to see what they really are like. Truth be told, we were quite shocked by the jumpsuit in the Takashimaya store window. And the ordinariness of design and make that are similar to what Hedi Slimane first introduced at Saint Laurent.) And we came to the conclusion that this is not in any way a collection that dares to be different, that dares to up the ante, that dares to engage our desire to go beyond powerful and pretty.

To please is the main thrust. And this could be delight to any feminist, from Ms Ngozi Adichie to Beyonce to Emma Watson. Ms Chiuri wants feminism to be worn on the sleeves, rather than speak from the heart or transmit from the head. Her clothes offer no suggestion of intellectual rigour and definitely no delectable wit; they pander to desire for unmistakable femininity, quasi-cuteness, and blatant sexiness. And somewhere amid all that, the vapid sporty cool of Alexander Wang!

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Repeated viewing reveals to us what appears to be juvenile, almost like term work—rather than graduation collection—of design students. The inspiration is the French artist Niki de Saint Phalle (whose most famous work appears in the Stravinsky Fountain in Paris, the one next to Centre Pompidou), a woman who was no stranger to child abuse, or Dior, having worn Marc Bohan’s designs in the ’60s (Ms Chiuri has said that she does not only look at Christian Dior’s Dior but also the Dior of subsequent Dior designers). She plays up the cute/weird creatures and shapes that the artist was known for by way of surface embellishments, but she does not transmute Ms de Saint Phalle’s misshapen-as-anger images to exposition of the challenges women face today.

The diaphanous skirts—now we know Ms Chiuri loves them—appear again, possibly to underscore their popularity than to establish them as part of the house code. The idea of the exposed shorts (or underclothes?) has as much newness as T-shirts with slogans. Puzzling is the addition of bumble-bee stripes (in the form of a leotard, with shoulder straps that read, gosh, Christian Dior repeatedly!) since parallel lines that alternate between yellow and black seem more the domain of Jeremy Scott. The heart shape that is positioned at the crotch (of a knitted romper!)—shape and placement Mr Scott is likely to do—escapes our understanding too. We think it’s possible that Ms Chiuri is adhering to the minor (and lame) trend of the vulva as motif. Love ’em, not grab! Digestible and commercial feminism?

Dior SS 2018 G4

These are indeed clothes that easily lend themselves to duplication for the high street. Slogan tees, pleated tulle skirts—entry-level clothes—and sequined rompers are not the stuff of nightmare at factories that cater to H&M and the like. They are the very garments that facilitate rapid production for dizzyingly fast fashion. You don’t even need to wait till the first drop for spring in December to partake in Dior-ish feminist fashion. The floodgates could open next week. 

It has been suggested to us, by a woman designer no less, that women designers tend to be more emotional when it comes to designing as they take into account the various aspects of their multi-faceted lives (motherhood a particular milestone), all the while not wanting to lose the sex appeal that is considered modern and empowering, and central to womanhood. This could be said of Maria Grazia Ghiuri, “feminist designer” at Dior. She’s connecting to women with accessible clothes, and referencing the art of a female artist, but not by answering the very question she poses. That is clever.

Photos: (top) screen grab from Dior and (catwalk) indigital.tv

Still Quiet At Jil Sander

Luke and Lucie Meier

The new husband-and-wife co-designers at Jil Sander have decided to keep the quiet at the house they’re now in charge of, so much so that momentarily you sense it’s on the verge of the monastic. Not that that’s a bad thing. Luke and Lucie Meier (above) offer such a palate refresher of a collection in the wake of eye-popping clothes at other major Italian houses that their debut truly stands out for being able to do more with less.

Does it matter then that, for many fashion consumers presently, these clothes may risk coming across as boring? Probably not. The Meiers are so determined to stay true to the by-now-forgotten minimalism of the brand that they reportedly met Heidemarie Jiline Sander, the German founder herself, before putting the spare-but-not-quite collection together.

The presentation opens with rather ascetic white, as well as back and white sets. The suits have a familiar silhouette and cut, although many would associate it with Raf Simons who was at Jil Sander for seven years; and the white shirts, once so much a signature of the brand, have a lightweight appearance about them—more appealing now that global warming is not only real but palpable. Just as you thought the show would be monochromatic all the way, the Meiers introduce shots of colour, not quite the bold chromatic outings of Mr Simons, but colours that show a particular taste, and possibly quirk: one indescribable blue and those mustardy shades.

We are enamoured with the possibility of the nightshirt as day and evening dress (even if, admittedly, Raf Simons had explored the idea at Dior), the treatment of sleeves and the unusual volumes (particularly the puffed version with the wide cuff deliberately unbuttoned), and the colour-block knitwear (clearly ‘easy’ but also ‘designed’). We also noted the playful elements such as blanket stitching (on the men’s wear) and the ultra-long fringing that tails what looks like macramé-style knit tops.

Jil Sander SS 2018 G2

Now based in Milan, Jil Sander was established in 1968, the same year Calvin Klein opened a coat shop under his name which, consequently, enjoyed the description “and the rest is history”. Jil Sander the brand saw its founder serve three tenures as designer before finally bowing out. After the Queen of Less, as Ms Sander was often called, three other designers have tried to restore the brand to its former glory before the Meiers were brought onboard, but it was Raf Simons who was able to convincingly give the label the intellectual rigour it gained under Ms Sander, masterfully maintaining the brand’s heritage while elevating its poetic femininity when he held the creative reins between 2005 and 2012.

Although the first successor Milan Vukmirovic, former Gucci design director under Tom Ford, created a commercial collection, he did’t quite make Jil Sander sublime enough for an audience that had begun to gravitate towards something less spare. Before the Meiers, Rodolfo Paglialunga, ex-Prada, rejuvenated Jil Sander and had, to us, created a very appealing interpretation of the brand with rather imaginative cuts and styling. “He is the most fitting designer to write the Jil Sander story,” said CEO Alessandro Cremonesi at that time, but sadly, in about a year’s time, few wanted to read that story, fewer still when Gucci’s came to overshadow it.

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It is possibly a better time for the Meiers now. The protracted flashiness of the Milan season seems opportune for the emergence of a counterpoint, an opposite of ostentation. Minimalism has been so regulated to the annals of history that some people associate it with ‘normcore’, that short-lived trend when fashionistas became bored with fashion and adopted something un-flashy and deliberately everyday in order to stand out from the competitive peacocking that has come to be synonymous with modern style.

We like what the Meiers is proposing for Jil Sander: the near-hush of the collection, the off-beat colours that are rather Milanese, and the sometimes playful sum of parts that hints at a more intelligent and less brash approach to dressing.  There is a reason why the casting of the show did not include any Jenner or Hadid. Yes, we like.

Photos: (top) Indigital.tv and (catwalk) Jil Sander

Flashy Ode To Gianni And His Girls

Supermodels @ VersaceWith Dontatella Versace, (from left) Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, Claudia Schiffer, Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, and Helena Christensen

In many ways, it is not unexpected. The time is right for a throwback to Gianni Versace’s heydays. It’s the 20th anniversary of Mr Versace’s murder and it’s been twenty-odd years since his florid prints and clashing colours took the fashion world—then smaller than what it is today—by storm. The reprise of the flamboyance associated with the house is also well-timed because fashion is again truly in love with the visually commanding—Gucci presently the Pied Piper.

Furthermore, the supermodels of the ’90s, made super and then über by Mr Versace himself, are in the news: Claudia Schiffer was to launch a book published by Rizzoli; Cindy Crawford has been reliving her modelling days vicariously through her daughter Kaia Gerber, who was in the same show; and Naomi Campbell, still an active model, now a contributing editor at British Vogue.

That the recent Versace show in Milan closed out with supermodels of the 1990s is not surprising. That the quintet did not appear to have budged from the 1990s is. It’s perhaps fascinating to see the 16-year-old Ms Gerber don clothes similar to what her mother wore two decades ago. However, on a woman, once a host of MTV’s House of Style (wearing Gianni Versace, no less), who should know better than compete with her child on the same catwalk—that seems to us a little pitiable. There must have been reasons why truly original Versace girls Linda Evangelista and Christy Turlington gave what Huffington Post calls “an epic reunion” an observable snub.

Versace SS 2018 P1

Donatella Versace was thought to have given up her design duties after the last show, but she recently dismissed them as “rumours”, which means, now more than ever, she has to keep the spirit and aesthetics of Gianni Versace alive even when there’s no doubt to the parentage of the mayhem of colours and prints that emerged during the post-Cold war years to dispel the notion that black was the colour of fashion. Ms Versace herself has not contributed anything of real substance to the brand other than augment its ‘Glamazon’ appeal. So it’s possible she thought it best to train the spotlight on what her brother did to buy her some time (assuming she’s really not quitting) for a next collection that can truly re-express the Versace name.

It is convenient to tap into Gianni Versace’s ’90s design oeuvre. They’re so loud, almost strident in their boldness, that you can’t really make them any louder. Or, quieter—that would defeat the purpose. In addition, the baroque prints, the medusa heads, the gold frets: they have never really gone away or been put aside long enough for people to miss them; they have been there—in the Versace stores and hotels, in their home wares, and even in the knock-offs that still exists in shops in Little India and Bangkok’s Mahboonkrong.  The era that Gianni Versace dreamed up before his demise and the attendant icons: it’s still potent even when they remind us of a very specific period in time as the world raced towards the 21st Century.

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It took Dior almost 40 years to finally evolve and reflect changing times when John Galliano took the reins at the French house, considered by many to be the most storied of couture houses. It’s only been two decades since Gianni Versace’s death. It’s going to take many more before the ostentation that he built can take on something else, something less than total recall. And even then, maybe only after the one-time muse Ms Versace completely relinquishes creative control.

Donatella Versace had, in fact, hinted at things to come. Back in June, when she took the customary stride down the catwalk during the men’s spring/summer 2018 presentation, she wore a silk shirt-dress with prints that did not conceal limbs or its identifiable extraction. But a near-wholesale revisit did not occur to us since we thought she had presented her best Versus collection to date in London just a couple of weeks earlier. But we were fooled.

Everything that people remember of Gianni Versace at his prime was sent down the catwalk, but not, interestingly (or, unfortunately)—since we’re in look-back mood, those from his formative years, such as the “sporty” spring/summer 1981 collection that was, to us, truly memorable. Those white and khaki ensembles, those jodhpurs, knee-length bloomers and harem pants, and, especially, the earth-tone capsule with the blade-of-leaf motif and the rope-and-tassel belts—a dozen-or-so pieces that was later so stunningly photographed by Richard Avedon for the brand’s advertising campaign.

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The thing is, if we really needed to see all of Gianni Versace’s signature designs, there’s always the depth of Youtube’s pool. And for anyone who has the urge to buy one of those vintage pieces, Ebay and the like are opened 24/7. Looking at these Versace re-issues, as they appear to us, is as satisfying as watching a movie remake that suffers from hopelessly bad casting.

It bears noting, perhaps, that in SEA—here, no less—Gianni Versace’s florid homage to Greek mythology, dead Hollywood icons, and the “world’s fashion bible”, particularly after the introduction of the Versace Jeans line, has gone from novelty to beng/lian must-own, or obsessions of ageing pop stars.

Going back to past glories has really become, ironically, the nature of our advanced world. In fact, it’s been an obsession of the sneaker business since 2013. Think Adidas’s Stan Smith: how many versions are there now; how many do you really desire? We have always been reminded that there will be a generation that has yet to enjoy certain joys the first time round, and that it is for them that brands re-varnish the faded glory of once-popular styles. Everything and, indeed, everyone deserves a second chance. Gianni Versace, too.

Photos: (top) Getty Images and (catwalk) Versace

Tote Of The Season

If the latest Burberry collection is any indication, the tartan tote is the bag to have now. Joining the fray is this love child of JW Anderson and Uniqlo: a padded, nylon version that is totally able at playing cabin carrier or baby bag.

The partnership between JW Anderson and Uniqlo is launched today. It is one more to add to Uniqlo’s growing collaborations that adhere more to the Japanese brand’s strive for beautiful practicality than practically beautiful.

Lest we’re misconstrued, there’s nothing unlovely about this collaboration. Everything is very Uniqlo. That’s where it risks being a non-event. Mr Anderson is currently one of the UK’s most beloved designers and a much lauded innovator at the Spanish house of Loewe. With such an evocative name, more—reasonably so—is expected, but, as we know, rain doesn’t always come after thunder and lightning.

This is supposed to be a take on British classics. It is, however, no more English than Ines de la Fressange X Uniqlo is French. Inevitable are outers and sweaters that suggest country (or collegiate) life, shirts (for men and women) that won’t enliven a wardrobe, and scarves that look positively part of the uniform of Hogwarts. One skirt stood out, though: a flounced, maxi piece that wouldn’t be out of place on a flamenco dancer.

Back to the tote, this is one of those that we can never have enough. A roomy and light carryall (also available in red and black) that’s not too big, it is as ready for the gym as a weekend jaunt in Bangkok.

What’s especially useful is the little PU patch on the bottom right. In roughly one and half times larger than that found on the right of the rear waist band of jeans, it not only allows the JW Anderson logo—a stylised anchor— to be identified, it is also a pocket that’s perfect for totally wireless ear-buds or the CEPAS card. Now, that’s nifty.

Update (11.30am): all the tartan bags are sold out.

JW Anderson X Uniqlo tote, SGD49.90, is available at Uniqlo, Orchard Central and online at uniqlo.com.sg. Photos: Zhao Xiangji

Note: A previous version of this report incorrectly stated that JW Anderson X Uniqlo is available at Uniqlo ION Orchard. This is has been corrected

The Glam Of Gucci

Even if we don’t say a word, you’ll still know what Gucci showed

Gucci SS 2018 show

It was reported that the latest collection was inspired by Rocket Man Elton John (not Kim Jong-un!). But it could have been Liberace, for all we know. The flashy jumble with a ’70s vibe that fans have come to love and expect cannot be missing in a Gucci show. And for that reason, it’s become increasingly hard to say anything different from what has been said before. Given its still-raging appeal, the season-to-season similitude is perhaps calculated—for the same reason brands are milking Rihanna’s fame for whatever it is worth.

“I think it’s no longer time to just talk about the clothes,” Alessandro Michele told members of the media. Shifting the attention away from the clothes is a clever move. Whatever can be said has been said. Or, could it be because Mr Michele has modest newness to offer, so the show, as with last autumn/winter’s, was presented in pertinacious gloom. Even their live stream did not factor the illumination needs of the videographer. The darkness and the relentless flashing of the strobe lights used was a test of the strength of eye muscles and of patience for clarity. How unbearable it must have been for the attendees or, maybe, charming for the adherents!

Gucci SS 2018 G1

But the clothes still matter. Squint hard enough and you’ll see the usual light-catching obsessions now associated with Gucci, as well as the goofiness that has placed the brand firmly in the man/woman-repellent category of clothes that challenge conventional sex appeal. We gave some thought to the unfading Gucci optics. To reconcile the flashiness and our penchant for designs that are less flamboyant, it should, perhaps, be said that the ostentation Mr Michele is partial to has a long tradition in post-20th century dress.

The taste-indeterminate leaning of his designs against the tailored refinement of the Italian establishment is as old as Paul Poiret’s Eastern-inspired exotica in a climate of haute couture tastefulness. As the man famed for hobble skirts said in his biography En Habillant l’Époque (Dressing Up the Era), “The faintest of pinks, lilac, swooning mauve, light hydrangea blue, watery green, pastel yellow, and the barest blue—all that was pale, soft, and insipid was held in high esteem. So I decided to let a few wolves into the sheep’s pen…”

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Mr Michele lets in more than mere wolves; he unleashes dragons and serpents; birds of incredible plumage and insects of conspicuous brilliance, and the odd cartoon character (e.g., a Bugs Bunny that’s camp than cartoonish); not to mention—in the current advertising campaign—Ultraman-age dinosaurs and monsters. Unlike Poiret’s colour preferences, selected to “raise the voices of the rest”, Mr Michele’s creatures, big and small, attempt to silence.

The Gucci look—and it is a look—is less one complete picture than the sum of individual images established in one item, assembled or styled, if you will, to tell a story that’s not necessarily coherent. And the look is as much aesthetic and strategic: stay with it until it is no longer weird or annoying to the majority, and desirable to the initially-skeptical. Fans, besotted from the start, consider this Alessandro Michel’s personal language. The communication, therefore, does not need to be changed every three months. Just let the chatter flow.

Photos: Gucci

Do We Need It This Fast?

Amazon announced a first-of-its-kind service during London Fashion Week: delivery within an hour of your see-now-buy-now order. Is this rush or rash?
Amazon UK

By Mao Shan Wang

Are we moving inexorably into the instant gratification of see now, wear now—or in the next hour? That seems to be what Amazon is suggesting when they paired with the millennial-baiting label Nicopanda to deliver the brand’s merchandise, during the showing at London Fashion Week, within an hour (only in London). That’s faster than going from Jurong West to Changi Airport!

I don’t know about you, but I can wait. There’s never anything I need immediately. Food maybe—goreng pisang (so scarce these days)—when the craving hits, you just one right away, or two. Like this instance! And you never have banana fritters sitting in the fridge, ready to be popped into your mouth. But clothes, you always have something to wear.

Sure, it may not be the T-Shirt or jeans you feel for at that moment, but you do have T-shirts and jeans that can be worn, too many to warrant counting probably. I know there’s nothing I don’t already have in my wardrobe, or require in a jiffy. But if Amazon’s flash delivery (only available to their Amazon Prime customers) for Nicopanda—by the stylist-turn-designer Nicola Formichetti—is any indication, someone needs one of their hoodies… at once.

Nicopanda SS 2018

This urgency sounds to me like a dash to (Nico)pander to millennial rash. Understandable. Someone out there had to be the first on Instagram to wear the newest Nicopanda. What rewards come to those who can’t wait? Logo-ed sweat top or a long-sleeved tee, a bomber jacket (that’s what they call it), a pair of leggings, a scarf, and a clutch: seven items for adopters of a complete Nicopanda look. But don’t Instagrammers always have a solution if they are short of something to wear for the camera of their smartphone? Like Kim Kardashian, don’t they go without?

These Insta-items are easy and fast to produce and are proven to be saleable, ideal for a platform like Amazon. If the pre-show buzz isn’t enough marketing bark, the packing boxes stacked as backdrop in the Nicopanda’s London show erects the obvious just as the clothes advocate the ostentatious. Mr Formichetti—believe it or not, appointed creative fashion director of Uniqlo in 2013—has a wholly playful, gila take on fashion, and Nicopanda (reportedly his nickname) offers mostly wacky merchandise that would sit comfortably in always-madcap Superspace, where anything remotely mainstream is banned.

What I saw behind my glasses with lenses that cut blue light was Nicopanda for Nickelodeon fans. Question is, are they Amazon Prime’s customers?

Nicopanda photos: Indigital.tv