Ahhh, But Does It Bite?

CDG Teeh and Tongue wallet P1

We know Comme des Garçons has a unique take when it comes to their wallets. But a sense of the cheeky? That’s not quite expected, but there it was—the Teeth and Tongue staring back at us, like ready-to-devour jaws, minus the cavities.

It is double thumbs up to the design team of the CDG small leather goods unit to visually pun on the ‘teeth’ of the zipper—a fastening very much associated with their wallets. As you’ll agree, we sure need more imagination in fashion. Hitherto, CDG has mainly toyed with the surface of their wallets, not quite the insides, which have remained mainly plain, even unlined. Now, there is an orifice to not only peer into, but also to guzzle your money with, assuming a wallet is something you still use in the creeping popularity of Apple Pay.

CDG Teeh and Tongue wallet P2The double-teeth wallet comes in two styles (one of them in two sizes). They’re made of cowhide, and lined with cowhide. The surface is in black, with the inside in red, pink, and white. Uncommon is the contrast zipper—red with gold teeth, a colour finish that could possibly be a nod to a certain hip-hop tribe. Pry open this set of gold teeth, and you’ll see another row: perfect pearly whites baring at you. Interestingly, the tongue does not stick out (is it even there?), but the tonsil does look like it’ll warble!

Comme des Garçons wallets—one among the staggering 17 lines of the company—was reportedly formed in 1980, the year before the brand debuted in Paris. Considered CDG’s best “starter points”, the wallet line comprises six basic styles, with what is commonly known as “half-zip” (the zip goes only two sides of the oblong-shaped wallet) considered the most popular among both men and women. While the CDG wallets do look quite different from the offerings of mainstream purveyors of leather goods, the Teeth and Tongue also illustrates that beneath the severe, inscrutable surface of the brand lies a softer heart—not quite Anya Hindmarch, but just as fun.

Comme des Garçons ‘Teeth and Tongue’ wallets, from SGD320, are available at Dover Street Market, Dempsey Road. Photos: Dover Street Market


Is This The World’s Tackiest Belt?

By Ray Zhang

The recent Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor 12-round fight is over and you know who won. Apart from the reported “at least USD100 million” that each of them will receive, Mr Mayweather will also walk away with the champion’s belt, a flashy waist clincher that, to me, beats any trophy or Olympic medal in lurid ostentation.

Don’t get me wrong. Winners of any competitive sport deserve to be bestowed tokens of triumph. But in this boxing match, winning the Super Fight (why any of the competitions that Usain Bolt raced in aren’t known as the Super Run beats me) means you get the “Money Belt”, so called presumably because it is supposed to cost more than USD1 million, but more likely because it is a predictor of Money Mayweather’s win!

A monstrosity that is shaped like a wrist watch for the torso, the Money Belt (how does one say that without referring to a travel accessory mostly associated with budget travel or, worse, sounding crass?) has, according to the World Boxing Council (WBC) president Mauricio Sulaiman, “3,360 diamonds, 600 sapphires, 300 emeralds, 1.5 kilograms of solid, 24-karat gold, and alligator leather that comes from Italy.” Doesn’t that sound like something that will thrill Rosmah Mansor (also known as Mrs Najib Razak), even if it is small change compared to the USD$27.3mil, 22-carat, pink diamond necklace she is reported to have bought? And, did you know there are alligators in pasta land?

But maybe I am missing the point (to be noted, I am no boxing fan). This is the comeback fight of the decade: an un-retired Floyd Mayweather boxing to retain his undefeated record. Professional boxing, unfortunately, is not unlike pro-wrestling—both are flashy events and the flash augments the excitement of the fight. Mr Mayweather himself is not exactly the epitome of Normcore (nor his opponent Mr McGregor). Don’t tell me gold boxing gloves are nondescript.

The Money Belt, spelled out in emeralds (!), matches the hoopla. And the sleaziness—how else do you explain the Corona-sponsored bikinis worn by the two models who presented the Money Belt during its introduction at a WBC press conference? Even if it is doubtful Mr Mayweather will wear the belt as part of his everyday dress (you never know!), its existence is a reminder that today, flashiness is part of many sports.

Photo: Steve Marcus/Reuters

Fragrant And Loud Jumping Jack

Mr & Mrs 'George'

By Low Teck Mee

What are the chances that you may need a room fragrance diffuser and a Bluetooth-enabled speaker all concealed in one figure of a Jumping Jack. A pair of Mr & Mrs Fragrance—aka Massimo Esposito and Simona Guerini—apparently thinks it’s high.

Meet George, a cute emoji-ish figure that’s as much a hybrid device as lamps that are also USB hubs. Unlike most multi-use gadgets, George is a lot cheerier, nicer-smelling, and perpetually stands with open arms. If you’re not getting such a welcome at home from the hubby, George may be a delightful substitute.

As an aroma diffuser, it is backed by the expertise of environment perfuming experts Mr & Mrs Fragrance, an Italian couple who started in the business of selling handcrafted candles in the shape of animals made in Swaziland (yes, Swaziland, not Switzerland). After a meeting with product designer Luca Trazzi, who was able to interpret the couple’s aesthetic preference for something modern, useful, and playful, Mr & Mrs Fragrance was born.

The scents are produced in Italy and France, and are free of artificial additives and colouring that influence the smell and appearance of the liquid aromas. More importantly, these electronically-dispensed fragrances are diffused in receptacles that are amusing and attractive to place in a room. For George, capsules are inserted into a tray that ejects from his torso. The capsule idea is not unlike that of Nespresso’s, which explains the former’s moniker: George Clooney is the face of the coffee machine!

As a wireless speaker, George is less compelling. While it produces a decent sound (possibly too bright for those who like palpable bass), it may not be captivating enough for you to want to listen to Kendrick Lamar on repeat while doing housework. But the fragrance it diffuses more than makes up for the sound it emits. If only Amazon Echo or Google Home smells as sweet.

Mr & Mrs Fragrance ‘George’ (with sound system), SGD268, is available in Robinsons and other authorised dealers. Photo: Mr & Mrs Fragrance

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

From Maxi-Cash To Maxi-Dash

Local pawnbroker Maxi-Cash goes into luxury business, offering merchandise that are distinguished by the euphemism, pre-loved

Maxi Cash store @ Lucky PlazaMaxi-Cash at Lucky Plaza

The selection is impressive: a major-league medley of Chanels, Hermèses, Pradas, Guccis, Rolexes, Cartiers, Panerais, Audemars Piguets, and all the gold jewellery that you would need to make a very impressive trousseau. These were all available at the launch of LuxeStyle, a new brand by pawnshop chain Maxi-Cash. This, however, isn’t the pawnshop of your grandmother’s time; this is the pawnshop of today, one with verve, if not persuasive style.

And it was with palpable vigour that Maxi-Cash launched their sub-brand at the Grand Hyatt’s function rooms called Residences yesterday, accompanied by visual merchandising and styling workshop calibrated to impress. The major high-end brands were represented with such force that you would have thought that this was preface to the International Luxury Conference. Many of the items were in such pristine condition that it was hard to guess, at least initially, that they were second-hand. Could this be why Maxi-Cash is creating a parallel luxury shopping experience for those less inclined to pay full retail? Re-sellable is without doubt a very attractive condition for a pawnbroker.

LuxeStyle is, according to Maxi-Cash’s CEO Ng Leok Cheng, the company’s “latest pre-loved luxury retail line.” Despite what that suggests, LuxeStyle is less a line—such as their own brand of jewellery LeGold—than a retail concept that caters to an economic climate generating desirous wants and the appetence for material goods with appreciable value. Mr Ng added, “the objective of LuxeStyle is to provide more than just a transaction, we aim to be the leading styling resource in Singapore.” But when the members of his staff were asked where the displayed luxury items were from, they would only say, “we have our sources”, at the same time refuting the suggestion that the merchandise is unredeemed items from their pawnshops.

Maxi Cash store @ Lucky Plaza pic 2Maxi-Cash is also a retailer of their own jewellery brand called LeGold

Truth be told, we’ve never stepped into a Maxi-Cash outlet before. So we visited one—a branch on Victoria Street. Unlike the pawnshops of the past, at Maxi-Cash (and a host of others) you won’t be approaching a counter and peering through the grille. Here, glass-top display units, recalling those in department stores of the ’70s, line both sides of the store and house the stuff for sale in a manner as inviting as any jewellery shop. We did not see a single handbag or timepiece. Maybe it’s the store’s location: just next to the New Bugis Street (aka Albert Street), a veritable day-and-night pasar malam. So we thought we should check out what is touted as “the first-ever pawnshop to begin operations in Orchard Road” instead.

Contrary to its moderately high-brow show-and-sell at the Grand Hyatt, Maxi-Cash’s Orchard Road store—specifically in Lucky Plaza, about half a kilometre away from the hotel—is a modest shop and a very small depository of luxury goods. The interior is similar to that of the Victoria Street branch; only here, one of the two store windows was filled with what LuxeStyle is about: bags, watches, and jewellery from the major fashion houses. Inside, no more bags were seen, but watches and jewellery were hard to miss.

Despite its small selection, passersby were enticed by the Maxi-Cash window. Although during the time that we spent observing, no one took the attention beyond the shop’s door, it is clear that there is considerable interest in pre-owned Chanel Classic Flap bags and the like. The selling of used luxury goods has, in the past five years, become big business, if the success and growth of brick-and-motar stores such as the American chain What Goes Around Comes Around and Fashionpile are any indication, or online sites such as the hugely popular Paris-based Vestiaire Collective, now boasting over five million members worldwide and offices in five countries.

Maxi Cash watchesWatches are a key product category in the offerings of LuxeStyle

Also known as “re-commerce”, previously mainly associated with the bigger luxury markets of the West, this trade is quickly gaining ground in Asia, where China, despite the political clamp-down on ostentation, is leading the growth in the sale of luxury goods. Consumption, as we have seen in mature markets such as Japan inevitably gives rise to disposal, which itself leads to more consumption. And there have been companies such as the Nagoya-based Komehyo—a second-hand luxury goods dealer with more than a dozen stores throughout Japan—that have led the way in retailing used products. According to the Nikkei Asian Review, Komehyo has recently announced a joint venture to expand into China, underscoring the very real potential of peddling the pre-loved.

Here, Maxi-Cash’s entry into prime vintage, which according to CEO Ng Leok Cheng “was formalized this month”, is seen as somewhat belated. Competitor Money Max has introduced Love Luxury, a marketing initiative that even piques with programs such as “Learn How to be a Smart Fashionista”. Before pawnbrokers came into the picture as a serious player, brick-and-mortar operators such as Madam Milan and The Attic Place, and online portals such as Bagnatic were taping into the slow but steady acceptance of used designer bags. But unlike many of the physical stores, the public-listed Maxi-Cash enjoys a visibility that comes with 41 outlets on our island. LuxeStyle, although not present in every one of them (13 for now), has the advantage of leveraging this network.

Pawnbroking as financial service has a long history in Singapore. In the 1800s, when it slowly enjoyed economic visibility, a pawnbroker was considered somewhat condescendingly to be a “poor man’s banker”. According to reports, Singapore’s first known Chinese pawnshop Sheng He Dang (生和当) opened in 1872. By the mid-1900, pawnbroking was a thriving business that, interestingly, saw mostly Hakka proprietors. The pawnshop that many remember from their younger days took its form and look from those that emerged in the ’70s, when the pawnshop was starting to be seen in more places. At that time, registered pawnshops totalled 50. Despite the advent of modern credit products, pawnshops have not succumbed to the threat of obsolescence. In fact, according to the Ministry of Law website, there are presently 224 registered pawnshops here.

Maxi-Cash launch product displayThe product display at the launch of LuxeStyle

That pawnshops such as Maxi-Cash have to change is part of the shifts that have affected all manner of retail. These days, people not only pawn but sell their prized possessions as well at a pawnshop. The re-selling of unredeemed pawned items or those sold outright to the pawnshop should move to the same momentum as any modern retailer. Yet, none (as well as specialist re-sellers) has approached the sale of luxury items the way Komehyo and their Japanese counterparts have: set the goods in a surrounding that they deserve.

Instead, the luxury bags, watches and jewellery share space with existing merchandise in display confines that are not initially built for their more posh inhabitants. It would seem, therefore, that the target audience of many pawnshops-turn-purveyors-of-luxury-goods is more attracted to the lower price (in the case of Maxi-Cash, “at least”, the staff chirpily pronounced, 30 percent less than regular retail) than the trappings of luxury.

At Maxi-Cash’s Lucky Plaza outlet, flanked by a minimart that goes by the name Asagao and another pawnshop, the competitor Money Max, the presence of LuxeStyle is not discerned, except for what is seen in the Orchard Road-facing window. Inside, members of the staff are friendly enough, but amid the loud chatter of a seller trying to get a good price for what could be his wife’s valuables, it is easy to forget that it was bags—maybe watches—that you had come in for.

LuxeStyle is in Maxi-Cash stores islandwide. Photos: Zhao Xiangji

Cable In Disguise

By Low Teck Mee

It’s amazing how frequently devices and peripherals are now given a touch of fashion. I’m not talking about the odd iPhone case made more desirable when marketed as designer product. Or the digital bits and pieces given the tech colour of the season (don’t you remember “rose gold”?). I’m talking about those that are rightfully a fashion item, such as this Kyte and Key bracelet, under which lies a very useful charging and data cable.

The question I am hearing now is, don’t we already carry such a cable? Of course we do. Most portable devices that we buy come with an OEM cable—on one end, either a lightning or micro-USB connector, but, in practice and everyday life, do we remember to bring it along when we are not at home or in the office?

A friend of mine has a forgetful boyfriend (their relationship is, thankfully, not quite 50 First Dates). When not desk-bound, he carries along without fail a portable battery charger in his scruffy Eastpak messenger, but somehow, the charging cable is prone to be left behind. Kevin McCallister will know what that feels like. To make matters a little perplexing for my friend, her lover’s smartphone is an iPhone 4s with an equally aged 1,432 mAh battery that goes flat faster than a can of Coke. Since the battery charger and the cable are frequently not a twosome, he often finds himself with the former, but not the latter. Until she decided that he has to find away to strap the cord on a part of his body. That’s where the Kyte and Key wrist wear comes into the picture: she bought him one.

Kyte & Key Cablet

Kyte and Key is known as a maker of “luxury” connectivity units posing as fashion accessories that easily become your personal devices’ BFF. Fashioning cables as wearables is, of course, not a new idea. If you go to Sim Lim Square, where it is not quite the PC and cellular haven it once was, you’ll be able to find all manner of USB and lightning cables that are in the form of bracelets (bangles even!) and key holders and such. Many of these look more suited to sit among your daughter’s play things than to peak from under your sleeve during a board meeting.

These days, many of our gadgets are no more single-purpose devices (when was the last time you used your phone to make a phone call?). It is, therefore, not unexpected that our connecting and charging implements (already dual use there) serve more than what they have come to be used for. And since USB OTG (or by the full name, universal serial bus on the go) has become a mobile standard, allowing your smartphone (or other digital devices) to ‘talk’ to each other, you can basically add peripherals to it, such as a card reader or fan. The cable is more necessary to our digital lives than before.

This cable-ID bracelet, which Kyte and Key calls a “cablet” not only looks, but feels like a premium product. The cable is concealed within a braided leather bracelet and the connectors are hidden under the ‘hood’ designed as a quick-to-open hatch. I’m impressed that they have even bothered to acquire MFI certification for the lightning version. As a luxury item, the cablet comes with a carry tray that slips out of the packaging like a drawer. This tray, which looks like something you might find at Hermès, is also ideal for those stuff you also tend to lose when not assigned proper storage: more cables, memory cards, USB drives, cufflinks, or earrings.

Founded by Antonio Bertone, former chief marketing officer of Puma, in 2013, Kyte and Key alludes to the experiment that scientist/statesman Benjamin Franklin purportedly conducted in 1752 to understand the nature of lightning. The makers of the cablet may not have struck on power that can change the world, but they sure have created some very handsome and useful things indeed.

Kyte and Key Cavoletto Cablet for iOs and Android devices, from SGD19.90, is available at Robinsons and Tangs. Photos: Kyte and Key

(2016) Winter Style 4: The Blanket Wrap

uniqlo-2-way-stoleUniqlo’s handsome blanket stole. Product photo: Uniqlo. Collage: Just So

As the drapey silhouette is increasingly preferred over the structured, some of us are retiring tailored outerwear such as the Chesterfield coat until they are road-worthy again. One of the easiest ways two lend softness to the outline of any outer is to throw on a shawl. This season, the blanket wrap (also known as a stole) is making a splashy entrance like never before. Oddly, though, few retailers are offering them in addition to the standard scarves.

That’s why it is surprising to us that such a stylish piece could be found in the stores of mass retailer Uniqlo. Thanks to Japan’s biggest fast fashion brand, those bound for wintry lands are now owners of at least one down jacket, and, this season, perhaps also the blanket wrap. Uniqlo’s version, called the stole, is especially appealing because it can be worn on both sides, each a different colour or colour-block. To make this an even bigger draw, Uniqlo has called it a “2-way” and touted its versatility as a wrap and a scarf.

journal-standard-blanket-shawl-aw-2016Journal Standard blanket stole for men. Photo: Journal Standard/Baycrews

Scarves, as a practical accessory, are gender-neutral, yet, puzzling as it may be, the brand is peddling this blanket wrap only to women and has availed them only in the women’s department. Perhaps the problem lies in the name: men don’t wear stoles! The striking thing is, none of the pieces available are particularly feminine. And with a size that’s no different from an airline blanket’s, these are not exactly filmsy-bitsy pieces to be tucked away in a handbag until you need it when the MRT train is unusually cold.

Interestingly, the blanket wrap is also available in Muji and, similarly, is stocked in the woman’s department, possibly due to the how-to-wear hang-tag with a figure that’s clearly female. This seems to us at odds with what many retailers in Japan are doing. One of them is Journal Standard, and they’ve made their mono-tone versions (above) a must-have of the season to update the winter wardrobe of both men’s and women’s. If a friend is in Tokyo now, do ask a favour.

Uniqlo acrylic knit 2-way stole, SGD29.90, is available at Uniqlo stores


Bamboo Strong, Bamboo Square

In the Chinese classic The Twenty-Four Filial Examplars (二十四孝), compiled and written by the Yuan dynasty scholar Guo Jujing (郭居敬), one exemplary act of parental love was from the military-man-turned-magistrate Meng Zong (孟宗), who also made literary appearances in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms (三国演义). Meng Zong was so filial that no less than five stories described the selfless acts he did for his mother. Among them (and the most famous) was the incident in which he was able to move the heavens so much that he was bestowed a life-saving gift.

Meng Zong’s mother, as the story went, was suddenly seriously ill and had requested for bamboo shoot soup to make her feel better (some Chinese texts told of 笋尖湯 or soup of bamboo shoot tips). Always giving his mother what she wanted, Meng Zong set forth to look for bamboo shoots. There was, however, a problem: it was the middle of winter. Undeterred, Meng Zong continued his search, but it was to no avail. Thinking of his ill mother’s wishes unfulfilled, the fellow cried. But it was no ordinary tears of disappointment. According to one account, “tears began to fall in rivers to the ground”.

Such a watercourse must have been visible to the gods above. In no time, Meng Zong stumbled upon shoots among the bamboos and was able to gather enough to make his mother’s desired soup, which, consequently, made her well. The story not only impressed the neighbours who believed that filial resolve moved heaven to ask earth for a favour, it produced the four-character Chinese idiom 哭竹生笋 or crying to the bamboo sprouts shoots.

c-blu-stacked-ringSilver stacked bamboo ring

Creator of the new jewellery brand Chinoiserie Blu, Way Tay, did not have to cry into bamboos to encourage the shoot of his label to sprout, but it has been a near-tears experience. The birth of C Blu (as the brand is affectionately called among members of the media) is the result of hard work, not miracles—diligence and drudgery in equal measure as Mr Tay is not a jewellery designer by profession.

Until jewellery design came a-calling, he was (and still is) a graphic designer. Mr Tay, a graduate of Massachusetts College of Arts & Design, runs a successful creative and PR agency he co-founded in 2002, yet he gives in to the passion that has consumed him for a long time: making beautiful tactile things. The journey began two years ago, meandered through courses in computer-aided design, metal-smithing, jewellery design, as well as understanding of gem stones, before coming to the naissance of C Blu.

“From young,” Mr Tay said, connecting the dots between the two-dimensionality of his prior work and the three of the present, “I was always making and building with Plasticine. In school, I took sculpting classes and made models that were derived from 2-D drawings during ‘live’ drawing classes.” The recall is made with palpable pride just as the showing of his new jewellery collection is made with considerable satisfaction—the contented father and his commendable brood.

SONY DSCGold-plated silver bamboo square within a square pendant

Launched last Wednesday, C Blu’s debut is a small collection of five pieces in either rhodium- or 18k-gold-plated silver, all inspired by the panda’s favourite food: bamboo. Essentially a grass, the evergreen bamboo has 700 years of history and is sometimes the stuff of myth, which perhaps explains the endless fascination it elicits among designers.

In fact, the bamboo, although a plant of Asian origin, has been copped by European brands, such Gucci, who has made the bamboo handle and the toggle closure identifiable details of its signature bag. So successful has the bamboo been for the brand that bamboo-shaped jewellery— bangles, no less—are in store too.

The bamboo’s linearity and distinct Orientalism are especially well-suited to jewellery design and they show. From the storied American house of Tiffany to the trendy British jeweller Dinny Hall, and in China, from the Hermès-backed Shang Xia to the Richemont-owned Shanghai Tang, bamboo is not to be missed. Mr Tay is well aware of the bamboo’s popularity among designers, noting that it, too, appears in the works of Bali-based John Hardy, but he is unfazed by the possibility that it may be a design cliché. “A designer’s challenge,” he maintained, “is always to innovate from a basic concept and create something unique or unexpected. Otherwise, one can always say everything has been done.”

c-blu-banglesChinoiserie Blu’s distinctive pieces, the square bangles

Furthermore, “the point of difference is in our design and pricing. Our pieces bridge the market and target those looking for high quality, hand-made jewellery, in limited pieces, with a very accessible price range. This is a new luxe available to all,” he enthused. Accessibility, while a necessary starting point for a competitive business and a purse-tight customer base, is, perhaps, secondary to design. C Blu’s refined pieces are striking at first encounter because they speak a relatable modern vernacular, even if the source of inspiration is as old as flowers.

The square is the main shape of the entire collection. Using this rather than the obvious and omnipresent circle could bode well for the brand. The square, to the Chinese, is, interestingly, not quite the same geometrically as it is perceived in the West. In the Chinese language, a four-sided shape is known by the basic word fang (方) and a square is known as zheng fang (正方), while the rectangle is chang fang (长方). The word zheng also means straight and denotes uprightness, both qualities associated with the bamboo.

c-blu-pull-quoteThe pieces, sensuous to the touch, are all individually handmade in Singapore of three-percent palladium-enriched sterling silver (an alloy known for its strength that, for some jewellers, is the same as that of 14k white gold, and, in the case of jewellery, appreciated for its definition and durability) to better mimic the toughness of bamboo, and rhodium-plated to maintain shine and prevent tarnishing.

Despite bamboo and the West’s unceasing love affair, Way Tay is certain his interpretation won’t cut the plant’s inherent aesthetic appeal or, conversely, exoticise its charms. “When luxury brands create products with Chinese motifs,” he laments, “they become cool and are in demand, but when local brands do the same, it takes time for the market to accept. That’s the irony.” Undaunted, he says, “I hope to re-shape the thinking and perception in this area through Chinoiserie Blu.” As with Meng Zong, the gods may just be looking kindly down from above.

Chinoiserie Blu’s debut ‘Bamboo 1 Square’ collection, from USD70, is available at chinoiserieblu.com. Photos: Jim Sim

Offline Emojis, Wearable Smileys

By Mao Shan Wang

SOTD got me into a smiley (and smiling) mood. No sooner had I downloaded the Comme des Garçons Holiday Emoji than I realised I wanted a smiley to wear, not to send via an app installed in my smartphone. I don’t want something on a T-shirt—an easy-to-fade digital print—either, but a physical thing that can swing and be twiddled with, like a pendant.

This matter of keeping the fingers busy is the unfortunate result of a childhood habit of pinching and twisting the corners of my pillow case, a preoccupation left curiously unchecked by my mother. The love of smileys is an on-going affair with adorable circular things delineated in an age when cuteness was a lot simpler, if not innocent. We don’t easily lose the fixations of our growing-up years, do we?

I first saw this Ruifier smiley bracelet on the wrist of a friend’s mother who had just returned from a “conjugal refresh” in London. I thought it looked totally charming on her, especially when she had paired it with a Breguet watch that looked like it was born in the Belle Epoque. For many her age, a jade bangle is the preferred wrist adornment. But as SOTD had pointed out before, women of a certain maturity are susceptible to cute. Smileys really don’t recognise age or marital status just as they know no gender.

Ruifier is marketed as a “fashion and fine jewellery brand”, which I surmise, is for grown-ups with mature taste, but its designs are contrary to anything as staid as those of, say, Tiffany’s (even when Holly Golightly’s favourite jeweller has fine-tuned their image with the help of Grace Coddington). It’s reported that G Dragon is a fan: that should cast an interesting light on the label. There’s no denying that fine, as with luxury, these days has to look accessible even when they may be unattainable. Ruifier’s smiley accessories may perhaps look entry-point to some, but they belie the brand’s high-end quality and points of sale.

Conceived by founder, Central Saint Martin’s alumna Rachel Shaw (a Londoner of Asian descent), Ruifier jewellery seems to extol the belief that a smile is infectious. A happy countenance is, in fact, Ms Shaw’s design constant. Especially alluring are the rings set with either eyes (represented by Xs) or lip (represented by a stretched U), and when the two are worn together or “stacked”, as the brand describes it, they form an expression of catching gladness. I definitely second that emotion.

Ruifier bracelets and other jewellery are available at Club 21 e-store and Pedder on Scotts. Photo: Ruifier

They Come in Pairs


A single pendant is a lonely pendant, and a lonely pendant is likely to remain so. As Charlotte Brontë once said, “The trouble is not that I am single and likely to stay single, but that I am lonely and likely to stay lonely.” So that loneliness does not become the pendant, the British men’s jewellery label Northskull London makes sure theirs come paired.

It might be said of the buying of jewellery for a man that few would consider the undertaking to be as worthy of encouragement as the buying of a PlayStation for him. And since the world still has no “courage to raise sons like daughters” (although daughters are raised more like sons), as Gloria Steinem noted, we are less inclined to bestow upon men the gift of jewellery.

The thing is, even if your friend is no Niffler (Fantastic Beasts and Harry Porter fans know what we mean), pieces for the neck, wrist, and fingers need not be the stuff of feminine charm to make them guy stuff. Military dog tags, although not ornamental by function, are jewellery nonetheless, and some dramatically impact the life and identity of the wearer, among them James Howlett, aka Logan, aka Wolverine.

This Northskull London twosome is, in fact, like ID tags in that they come as a pair, although not identical. Two silver-plated discs (the brand calls them “medals”), one with an arrow cutout and the other a chevron pattern, meet, not as Jekyll and Hyde, but fraternal twins. In them, we see long-term, handsome friendship with T-shirts.

Only seven years old, Northskull London already calls themselves “the world’s leading retailers of men’s jewellery”. Marketing speak aside, the brand does offer some very appealing pieces for men. Their Legacy signet ring, for example, is reason enough to not wait till the nuptials to consider dressing the finger—any finger.

Northskull London Mantz necklace and pendants, SGD420, is available at Pedder on Scotts. Photo: Northskull London