That Suit And That Suit

They’re heads-of-state; they don’t have to dress like you and I. They can look worse

 

By Ray Zhang

As you know, even if you’re not a suit wearer, there are suits and there are suits. You probably also noted that none were more unremarkable and unfashionable than those worn by the key players of the Singapore Summit just two days ago.

At one of the most important meetings of modern times and one that, at least on the surface, was “historic”, as Channel NewsAsia repeatedly and annoyingly reminded us, Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump faced-off in what I saw were decidedly old-world clothes. Sure, this was not the IHT Luxury Conference, but neither was it the getting together of village elders. Yet one sensedI didthat although optics did matter, clothing did not. The handshake was what cameras zoomed into and what the media was effusive about.

Despite the 21st Century setting (in contrast, Capella, the hotel in which the meeting was conducted, is housed in a 19th Century building), the two men reminded me of the time, in 1979, when Deng Xiaoping and Jimmy Carter signed diplomatic agreements between China and the US. Like Mr Deng at the White House that day, Mr Kim—41 years younger—wore a dark Mao suit. His partner in the making of history Mr Trump wore a business suit not unlike what Mr Carter wore when the latter jointly signed those agreement papers with his Chinese counterpart. Thirty-nine years later, when new mass production and a renewed interest in bespoke both meant better-made clothes, the leaders of one of the last few communist states and the world’s most powerful democracy adopted fashion that spoke of another era.

I am not sure how we should read this or even attempt to read it. Should fashion, like the church, be separated from the state? Despite judgmental attitudes towards how we view each other in terms of dress, many of us still do not consider sartorial savvy an important part of a politician’s appeal. In fact, I believe many of us still view a nattily dressed MP with suspicion—can the people’s representative spend enough time on policy when he/she takes time to shop, to pick clothes, to groom? Perhaps dubious dress choices make finer politics. Perhaps a dated suit shows a more modern mind or conservative incline. Perhaps a dreadfully long necktie indicates the length in which a president makes strides to better his country and promote world peace. What do I know?

Photo: AP/Susan Walsh, Pool

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Lending Leaders Style

Some Malaysians dream of better-dressed leaders. One of them visualises them

Mahathir Mohamad

Is it so bad to wish that some of our ministers and their spouses are better turned out in public, especially when representing the nation overseas? We wish, for example, that those Singaporeans who go to the White House be better-attired, but this kind of flair would appear to be a tall order. And, to make matters a tad complicated, spiffiness is not considered a political asset, and no one has yet offered a solution to the tendency for eye-raising frumpishness.

Over in Malaysia, an artist has dreamed up alternative looks for the country’s newly elected leaders in what was seen as the biggest election upset last month for the ruling party in the nation’s history. Malaysian politicians are not known to be sharp dressers, but that did not deter some to dare to hope. In a series posted on Instagram called “Minhipsters”, Malaysian artist/illustrator Aizat Paharodzi dreamed of the bridging of the political/generational divide by imagining what the current political champs would look like if they adopted something contemporary, or something with street cred.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, for example, was given a makeover that befits a middle-aged man, not a nonagenarian. Mr Paharodzi (or AP, as he is also known) dressed the good doctor in a palm-print Hawaiian shirt and a pair of slim-fit trousers cropped fashionably at the ankle—a sum of hipster heft that could have come under the auspices of Malaysian label Seed. He also added a pair of red Vans, as if in disapproval of the MYR11.99 Bata slides the “humble Tun” favours that had been trending agreeably among his ardent supporters.

AP illustrations.jpgClockwise from top left: Wan Aziza, Muhyiddin Yassin, Lim Guan Eng, and Mat Sabu

Mr Pahadrodzi’s drawings are, perhaps, a little derivative, but to be fair, he had declared that his work is inspired by Israeli illustrator Amit Shimoni. Unlike Mr Shimoni’s unabashed, in-your-face kitsch, Mr Pahadrodzi has played down flashiness and exaggeration while still catering to popular taste (that Supreme T-shirt on Mat Sabu!). His delineations are approachable and comprehensible, and project a genial disposition, all rather preferred political traits. While his choice of clothes for his subjects are not in the same league as Hong Kong illustrator John Woo’s depiction of Star Wars characters in designer threads (Ja Ja Binks, for example, in Maison Martin Margiela!), they may relate to a rakyat for whom better clothes are really just those that are neat and smart, and the occasional Adidas NMD.

Although our two lands are just divided by a causeway, our neighbour in the north seems a lot more progressive and expressive politically than we are. Sure, Netizens here have been vocal about how poorly some of our political players dress, but often times they are just trolling. For those not concerned with outward appearances, well-dressed is thought unseemly. To be certain, we’re not hoping for a Christine Lagarde or a Justin Trudeau in parliament so that their clothes can be trending, but we do hope some of our leaders can hold up sartorially, just as they do intellectually.

Many of us take pride in what our ministers have done for this tiny nation. That we can play host to the Trump-Kim summit this week attests to the clout, geostrategic smarts, and organisational flair of our top brass. Yet, we seem unwilling to see a stylish political class. Wishing for better dressed politicians seems to be the most unlikely desire we can harbour for our governmental make-up, or the least condoned. But optics matter, and when the West—Americans in particular—still think Singapore is part of China or, funnily, Malaysia, perhaps the way we dress in the company of those who will mistake our provenance should be a priority, not an afterthought.

Illustrations: Aizat Paharodzi

The Difference Between Simple And Plain Is A Fine Line

The wedding dress 1

So, the wedding of the year is over. The media gush has ebbed. The attention has now shifted to Prince Harry’s cousin, the Instagram-hot Arthur Chatto, 19-year-old nephew of Queen Elizabeth. But people’s fascination with the ex-commoner/actress-now-duchess has not ceased; they note enthusiastically how she’s presently receiving a “six-month crash course on how to be royal”. Shouldn’t that have come earlier so that her choice of wedding dress could have been more “royal” too?

Contrary to popular speculation, she opted for simple—a monolith of white. As it turned out, it may not be the most memorable British royal wedding dress, but it would be remembered, if only because one Meghan Markle wore it. In fact, to us who saw the dress on television and in countless media outlets, it was a little anti-climatic, more so when the Duchess of Cambridge’s Alexander McQueen gown from seven years ago is still fresh in our mind. Still, the press raved about it: with many headlines announcing how Ms Markle, the new Duchess of Sussex, “stuns” with the Givenchy dress.

Enthusiastic social-media speak aside; the raves mostly pitched the dress as a symbol of modernity, a sign that Ms Markle will do things her way since its very simplicity is not quite the embodiment of royal bridal-dress tradition. And that gown, they opined, was very much in keeping with the wearer’s “elegant” style although, we noted, Ms Markle’s first wedding dress (worn when she married Trevor Engleson six months after the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s grand ceremony) was not exactly the byword of elegance, but in America, home of the prom dress, there is a different sense of what is elegant. Los Angeles glam transplanted to a Jamaican beach, perhaps?

What Ms Markle wore to St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle last month was without doubt an upgrade of that dress she donned to the seaside of Ocho Rios in 2011. People do progress after a period of close to a decade, alongside taste, in dress and mate. Still, the similarities can’t be ignored. Ms Markle clearly has a thing for exposed shoulders: both dresses reveal the top of her trunk and her neck. For her second nuptials, she sported a bateau neckline that underscored her shoulders and face. The shoulder baring was, of course, in keeping with what continues to trend on IG: cold-shoulder and off-shoulder tops. Both wedding dresses were also not form-fitting: the former (designer unknown) held at the waist with a bejeweled belt recalled Chelsea Clinton’s Vera Wang gown worn a year earlier, while the latest seen across the Atlantic, waisted more naturally, wasn’t cinched by a belt.

The wedding dress 2

Some of her fans—journalists included—praise the Givenchy dress, designed by Englishwoman Claire Waight Keller, for not being snug at the bodice. It is rather odd for a couture gown to escape an immaculate fit. A woman designing for a woman knows women needs to breathe? We certainly don’t mean tight, but it couldn’t be said that this dress was perfectly contoured to Ms Markle’s upper body. With each camera close-up, the undulations beside the bust and beneath repeatedly caught the eye. Even the sleeves seemed missing a neat fit: in many of the photographs seen online, a dimple punctuated exactly at the armpit, on both sides. It is, to say the least, unattractive. Versace-clad ‘angel’ Katy Perry flew towards the truth when she recommended, “one more fitting”.

Joining the fray was British-based New Zealand designer Emilia Wickstead, who claimed that Ms Markle’s dress looked “identical” to the one the former had designed, named Helene. Allegedly looking alike aside, Ms Wickstead echoed the other half of the online chorus that believed the dress suffered from a good fit. “If you choose a simple design, the fit should be perfect,” she told the press unswervingly. “Her wedding dress was quite loose.” Gasp, went the collective response: loose, as we know, is not quite synonymous with wedding dresses, unless the poor bride has to conceal/obscure a baby bump.

Together with lack of a good fit, another similarity to what was worn on the beach that day in Ocho Rios is how off-the-peg the dress looked. It is understandable that Ms Markle desired to introduce modernity to a nuptial staged in a 14th century chapel, but simple that can be confused with plain is perhaps quite contrary to the ceremonial aspect expected of such highly anticipated grandeur. It could have been any woman’s bridal gown; it could have been cousin Chin Choo’s wedding at the Carlton Hotel.

We would be misguided to think that this is not Meghan Markle’s princess-bride moment. She may have brought “change” to the house of Windsor, but a royal wedding isn’t quite the stage for designer dull. She was walking down the aisle of a high-medieval gothic royal peculiar, not a minimal, modernist construction such as Portugal’s Capela de Santa Ana. This was no time to do a Bella Swan wedding. Even teenage-angst–afflicted Amelia ‘Mia’ Thermopolis of the fictional Genovia succumbed to regal finery— incidentally also a gown with a similar bateau neckline.

Could it be that Ms Markle and Ms Waight Keller thought the ultra-long veil (longer than the train of the dress) will make up for the lack of dramatic impact? Choose a modern dress; keep the veil traditional, never mind the embroidery that edged it was so subtle that its thematic significance (flowers of the Commonwealth countries) had to be explained by the media. A bridal veil may no longer symbolize what it did in the 17th Century (or even earlier), but today, it still does—even only superficially—mean that when the veil is lifted, the groom can go into matrimonial and procreative bond with his spouse. Is this obligatory for a second-time bride or is this even more relevant post-#metoo?

Perhaps we did not quite manage our expectations. But what had we expected? Should we have expected? Ms Markle may have chosen Givenchy, but she is no Audrey Hepburn. She may be the second American divorcée to marry into the British royal family, but she is no Wallis Simpson. The Duchess of Sussex (a rural county in the south east of England, where one noted attraction is the beach-side town of Brighton) may be of humble lineage, but she is no Kate Middleton, whose poise and posture have endeared herself to the public.

There’s something to be said about the carriage and bearing of Ms Markle, especially when she stands next to Prince Harry. Some royal watchers think her body language is consistent with her profession as an actor: it’s a performance. The way she cocks her head like an aspara and the way she looks at her prince like a Disney character: they look so feigned that there is a sense that she’s masking guile and secrets. The simplicity of the wedding dress perhaps similarly deflects the complexity of the person wearing it. Just don’t call it the Meghan Markle effect.

Photos: Getty Images. Illustration: Givenchy

She Just Wants To Show Some Skin, So Let Her

Like the rest of us, feminism is confronting confounding times. Jennifer Lawrence, too. She wears a dress with conscious volition and she’s compared not with other women, but male co-stars! Suddenly, out in the cold, it’s all unfair. The men get to cover up, and the lass has to be all sexy, in a dress with a slit that went up to there. The dictates of photo ops?!

Would a woman who is vocal about unequal pay in Hollywood succumb to sexist pressure and don a dress to steal the thunder from the guys? Or have we moved inexorably from fat-shaming to slut-shaming to dress-shaming? When Beyonce wore next-to-nothing, the “naked dress” is hot. When Jennifer Lawrence takes to the sartorial path of Elizabeth Hurley, she is “poor Jennifer Lawrence wearing a small amout of fabric some might call a dress”.

Sure, it’s still winter in London, but some women can take the cold better than others. What’s five minutes (according to Ms Lawrence) of the cold (if it’s at all cold to her) to show of what she thinks is a “fabulous” Versace dress? Conversely, have you not seen girls in neoprene hoodies walking down Orchard Road in thirty-two-degree heat for the duration it takes to get from ION Orchard to Plaza Singapura? Like Ms Lawrence, they do it for fashion.

What’s more intriguing to us is her choice of dress. How did she go from Dior to Versace? Indeed, Ms Lawrence says she loves fashion. But a fashion lover can’t love all fashion, can she? Or are we just a little potted in our thinking, a little too unwilling to see a style star traipse the path of flashiness too easily available to those who need such meretricious looks to win attention, such as the safety-pinned then starlet Liz Hurley?

Ms Lawrence, thanks to her partnership with Dior, was a couture kind of fashion consumer, we thought, tripping/falling spectacularly during the 2013 Oscars presentation in a gown Raf Simons designed. Ms Lawrence, as we see her, is not quite inclined to bare as much as Rihanna; she has too much self-confidence and self-awarenesssmarts and goofiness, tooto need Donatella Versace’s brand of high-octane, sexy-wins glamour.

The red carpet moment, whether on an actual red carpet or not, has always been a chance to show some physical assets. Isn’t it the same for brides? Have you seen a bride in a coat? Which explains why few care for a winter wedding. As Ms Lawrence said in her passionate defence on Twitter, “And if I want to be cold, THAT’S MY CHOICE.”

Choice, that’s a powerful thing to have.

Photo: Getty Images

What Does A Pair Of Nude Sisters Say About Fashion?

Nothing. Zilch. Naught

The naked Hadids for Vogue.jpg

By Wang Mao Shan

The Hadid sisters: Is there nothing they won’t do for attention? Well, I suppose it’s not entirely their own doing if British Vogue wants them to go naked to help improve the magazine’s sales, or its declared inclusiveness (naked girls deserve editorial space in decent publications too). Well, to be clear, I don’t know for sure. I am uncertain if this is editor Edward Enninful’s specific request to communicate a particular hitherto unexpressed heterosexual leaning. I am not sure if this is the result of lensman Steven Meisel’s urging—some photographers are known to be good at making models take off their clothes. For all I know, maybe the stylist did not bring enough threads, and a page had to be filled.

Still, Vogue is a fashion magazine. It is not Treats!. Those of us who still flip a hard copy (how archaic that sounds!) magazine do so for the fashion (that, too, is outmoded, no?). Sure, in the old days, there were topless photos, but at least there were skirts or pants to look at—oh, how wide the waistband. Okay, even panties—look, how skimpy there are! The Hadids didn’t even have shoes on. Or, we could have said something like how fierce the heels are. Nary a pink pussy hat too, or is that too one-year-ago? Is that why Kim K posted a bare-breasted photo of herself on Instagram about the same time the pre-newsstand publicity for the Vogue shot went viral: not to be outdone?

In an age of #dresslikeawoman (primarily a reaction to Donald Trump’s alleged dress code for his female staff), we have a duo ready to spawn #undresslikeawoman. They are, however, not setting the precedent; they are mere followers in an increasingly pornified media-scape. You could boil it down to female empowerment (as per Hillary Clinton’s encouragement, “To every little girl who dreams big: Yes, you can be anything you want.” Anything!), but would assertion of self be less powerful if there were any shred of clothing? Or is bare-all see-all, know-all, understand-all?

It’s not easy to make clear why British Vogue saw the necessity of publishing these two sisters looking pre- (or post-) coital, nor do we want to. Surely this isn’t a sisterly, after-a-shared-shower moment! It’s more problematic because Bella and Gigi, to me, don’t really look related, which gives this same-sex pairing a not-quite-mundane, “creepy”—as the Guardian so succinctly put it—(front) side. Or am I—a damsel from more covered times, who likes seeing clothes on models, not without—just not “woke” enough?

The thing is, people do things that defy comprehension, more so decency. Fashion be damned. In the end, who cares about clothes? Vogue knows you don’t. If you want fashion, go to instyle.com. How about “30 Most Nude Dresses of All Time”?

Photo: Vogue/Steven Meisel/stevenmeiselphoto, Instagram

Fashion From Her Makeup Bag

Veteran makeup artist Pat McGrath has gone from painting faces to designing clothes. Does a flair for pretty pigments mean a talent with paper patterns?

Pat McGrath Labs AW 2017

By Mao Shan Wang

I know there are many people in the creative field who turn to fashion design to express themselves and to make money, but I have yet heard of a makeup artist who takes that route. Sure, there are those who try their hand at retailing clothes, such as Yuan Sng, celebrity makeup artist and one of the partners behind the charming pop-up for K-pop fashion, StyleLoft 3. But a makeup-artist-turn-designer is as rare as permanent lipstick.

Pat McGrath, I presume, likes the appeal of this rarity. In the fashion world, she’s a brilliant, creative, sort-after makeup artist, but she’s not the only one. Her fashion venture may, thus, place her in the firmament of the uncommon. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about her debut ‘Apparel 001’ collection, launched on the multi-channel platform known as Pat McGrath Labs—according to her website, “a playground… to introduce divinely disruptive discoveries”. And how many labs does she have or need? Even Nikelab has only one!

I suppose there could be two: one for makeup and one for apparel. Ms McGrath has already achieved “cult status”—as the media describe it—with her own makeup line, launched in 2015. But her fashion collection does not look like it is going to disrupt the business the way her cosmetics supposedly had. At launch, her first item, Gold 001 Pigment, impressed both pro and novice users alike. An intensely-hued dust that would be more the stuff of Halloween than even the CFDA Awards nights, Gold 001 Pigment can be used for the eye or for sprinkling moon dust on the face and casting starlight on body, or, when blended with an attendant Mehron Mixing Liquid (Mehron is the go-to stage makeup brand favoured by companies such as Cique du Soliel), can give eyes, lips, and nose (according to the Pat McGrath video demo) the gold of gold leaf, so realistic that only when standing next to a Thai Buddha statue will the wearer look like she has applied, well, makeup.

Pat McGrath

In comparison, the 8-piece ‘Apparel 001’ is somewhat underwhelming. However her people may wish to spin it, this is plainly atheleisure in the vein of Alexander Wang’s dalliances with Adidas. Or, the articles of clothing any skate fan desirous of his own fashion line would put out: T-shirts, hoodie, and bomber jacket. So much for variety, or even new category of clothing. The text running down the sleeves of the long-sleeved T-shirts, even with some in Japanese fonts, offers little to ponder over. Neither is there a colour range to talk about since everything, save one white tee, is in black. Seriously, these could be tops supplied by Fruits of the Loom, supported by a good metallic embossing facility.

Sure, the main motif of a golden eye, described to be Egyptian, and could pass of as a wing with an eye, is striking, in the way the logo of Red Wing Shoes is. If marketed well, Ms McGrath’s dramatic eye-logo, already proven to be more than one-dimensional as she has demonstrated its applicability on real peepers, could be the next totally desirable seven-letters-in-a-red-rectangle Supreme trade mark. But to get there, Ms McGrath has to work on the merchandise—for now, appearing unisex. What I see is this: they’re either fashion-y merchandise from the gift shop of a Cairo Museum, or concert merch of a performance (Ms McGrath no doubt excels) that Kanye West is simply better at. Either way, there’s no place, as yet, in my wardrobe for ‘Apparel 001’. And, to be sure, I am no Pat McGrath groupie.

Pat McGrath Labs ‘Apparel 001’ launches in Dover Street Market New York this Thursday. A spontaneous check with a staff member of the DSM here turned up “What’s that? We don’t know”. Admittedly, I should not have asked. The choice of DSM as launch pad is interesting: products sold here are often indication that they’re endorsed by arguably one of the most successful brick and mortar retailers in the world, and may reach a better audience that matters. For those who must cop the line (prices from USD60), click Pat McGrath’s website, and, as printed on the clothing, “Use Without Caution”.

Photos: Pat McGrath Labs

Nicki Minaj: She’ll Break The Internet, Too?

Or should it be ‘they’, since it is a “Minaj à trois”?

Just as you thought “break the Internet” is a one-time thing back in 2014, Nicki Minaj is offering triple the delight in a single page, thrice more than Kim Kardashian’s also-Internet-breaking Paper cover of that year. In addition, the rapper is titillating readers in the upcoming issue with not just full-frontal bum, but full-on boobs too. The thing is, Ms Minaj, as with Ms Kardashian, has lived near-nude so publicly, so unashamedly, and so often that surely by now many of us have seen enough of her bare breasts and buttocks to not consider them shocking or eye-catching?

It isn’t clear how no-clothes can be fashion, but perhaps Ms Minaj’s self-styled composite isn’t about fashion since there is hardly anything resembling clothes that one can be delighted or disgusted with. But it is notable that once-unimaginable sleazy in pink (millennial pink?) is possibly now a chromatic backlash from too much blush-coloured Barbie fashion and Elsa and Anna princess dresses. According to Ms Minaj, you can do pink, but you don’t have to look prim.

You’d think that by now the Internet—broken and mended—has gutted the appeal of female nudity. And that the banalisation of nakedness has reached a zenith that can’t be repeated enough without challenging the domain of pornography. Yet, here is Ms Minaj—not only in dresses that by themselves offer undress, but also in poses that, away from the glare of studio lights and camera lenses, could have constituted sexually predatory behaviour.

How will this brazen display play out in the present explosive exposé of sexual harassment and rapaciousness for sex? Or is the touching and tonguing of oneself, even publicly, self-gratification that does not cross the trammels of decency? Is fashion even part of the communication? What are we missing here? Or are we, ironically, just too prudish for the breakable Internet? Honestly, it’s hard to fathom. These are confusing times, and Nicki Minaj—à trois—adds to the puzzlement, three times more.

Photo: Paper magazine/Ellen von Unwerth

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 out to 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 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 are 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

The Kaiser Does Vans

In aiming to be hip, Vans has aligned itself with an octogenarian. Cool

Vans X KL teeBy Mao Shan Wang

The one thing that caught my attention and that I find intriguing in this latest Vans collaboration is one woman’s T-shirt. It has the up-to-the-torso photograph—although pixilated, still discernible—of the brand’s collaborator: Karl Lagerfeld.

This is not a symbol of the divine. It isn’t Jeremy Scott’s Jesus pants. Yet, the image calls out to me like some tua pek kong. This isn’t the traditional celebrity that we know; this is a force of fashion: narcissistic, omnipresent, inexplicable. Yet, it is Kaiser Karl reduced to a T-shirt, hilariously called the “Boyfriend Tee”! What would he look like in tumble dry mode?

Don’t get me wrong. I believe Mr Lagerfeld deserves to be worshipped as much as Elvis Presley and Mickey Mouse. Except that one would expect the customers of Vans—girls in high school or in junior high, according to Dabney Lee, Vans senior director of global merchandising—to be worship-wearing the visage of Justin Bieber or Harry Styles or, if they like them a wee bit older, Nick Jonas. Or, if fashion icons are imperative, then the cartoon delineation of Karl Lagerfeld, now available in his own Karl Lagerfeld line.

Vans X KL sneaksThe main draw, I suspect, of the Vans X Karl Lagerfeld collaboration is the shoes. These are classic Vans, six of them, such as the Classic Slip-On, given a KL makeover. It is perhaps interesting to note that Mr Lagerfeld may not have had a hand in designing any of these kicks. According to the Vans senior footwear designer, “Working in close partnership, our teams designed the collection to reflect the unique histories of our respective brands.” And she went on to say something about “a tribute to Karl Lagerfeld’s fashion DNA.”

Now, to me, this is the tricky part: Karl Lagerfeld’s own design DNA includes bouclé and quilting? Has Chanel been scratched out of the picture? What appears to be most true to his DNA is the all-caps KARL (with the man’s profile worked into the K) that peeks from between the flaps of the new Old Skool Laceless Platform. That’s DNA, legible and unadulterated.

But, who am I to say? I know the man not.

Vans X Karl Lagerfeld collection is available at Vans, ION Orchard from today. Photos: Vans

Look What We Did To Taylor Swift!

Taylor Swift’s latest music video, Look What You Made Me Do, appears self-satirising (or, as her fans say, self-referential). But is she really mocking herself or laughing at her mockers?

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At 27, the “old Taylor” is dead, so goes the declaration in Ms Swift’s latest single Look What You Made Me Do. But it isn’t just one of her old selves that died. How many old Taylors were there? Quite a few, apparently—all deserving a grave.

And that’s exactly where she emerges in the MV track that debuted at yesterday’s MTV Video Music Awards, looking like she is auditioning for Night of the Living Dead, or, maybe, paying homage to Michael Jackson’s Thriller (both cemeteries look strikingly similar). Ms Taylor willing to look ghoulish is of course a bit of a surprise. She is, after all, the American Beauty.

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But that cartoonish living-dead look lasted for a grand total of 14 seconds. (It is preceded by an aerial view of tombstones that form the letters T and S: her reputation, as it were, may be dead, but not narcissism). For the most part of the video, she is her glamorous self: the white, blond, and blue version of attractiveness that Americans find especially appealing and digestible, in clothes that every prom-goer can identify with. Taylor Swift is the perennial homecoming queen. And she’s offered her viewers, in more than a dozen costume changes in the video, a greatest hits of the dresses she’s worn on stage and screen.

The video of Look What You Made Me Do was screened in lieu of her stage appearance. The media made sure to note her no-show. Of course it was a no-show. Can you imagine the more daringly-dressed host Katy Perry introducing the Shake It Off singer? Who knows if the Bad Blood is diluted?

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A music video, even in 4K, is also less a moving target for disgruntled fellow singers to go on stage to upstage the star, proclaiming her undeserving. This is all very harmless and it encourages more on-line viewing and appreciation. Unsurprisingly, it spawns another record for Ms Swift: at the time of this writing, YouTube announced that the MV, directed by Joseph Kahn (aka Ahn Jun-Hee, the Korean-born wunderkind of music videos), broke record for the most-viewed in a 24-hour period. Reportedly, at one point, it was drawing more than 3 million views per hour!

Is it any good? Well, Taylor Swift is not Björk. She’s merely traipsing the path well trodden by Britney Spears, wearing more clothes and affability than the Toxic singer (whose video of that song was also directed by Mr Kahn). It switches from (unconnected) scene to scene, augmenting the fact that, like Donald Trump, Ms Swift needs to live from one drama to the next. Look What You Made Me Do has the bombast needed for today’s MVs to hit the most-viewed spot, but it is as engaging as a cat doing her business in the kitty litter.

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Talking about cats, felines make their appearance in the video. Not groundbreaking there. Ms Swift’s love of cats, especially Scottish Folds, is no secret. In Look What You Made Me Do, she dons a white full-head mask of a cat alongside dancers with faces similarly obscured. There’s another cat: the face of a tiger on a black Gucci (but, in a flash, could be Kenzo) pullover. As if to reflect the animal’s fierceness, she swings a baseball bat a la Beyoncé in Hold Up.

Then there’s also the leopard print coat (above), and an actual leopard in a car-crash scene which seems to be taking aim at archenemy Katy Perry, a leopard print-loving pop-singing rival whose fans are known as “Katy Cats”. What seems to confirm our suspicion more is the conspicuously placed Grammy award in that scene. We know Ms Perry has never won one even with multiple nominations. Surely, that’s not a mere hint. Funnily, there’s something old-school about that: taking your grievances to music television rather than social media!

Now, remember Taylor Swift is a vengeful lyricist, and she does not forget. She draws much from her pain, and her resentments are hardly a subtle subtitle in what she writes and sings. “You”, you would have guessed by now, isn’t just one of her lovers (here’s looking at you Calvin Harris and Tom Hiddleston). You is employed in plural form and you are the nosy, noisy multitudes.

Calling out her detractors, Ms Swift seems to be including people in the industry: Kim Kardashian (that bathtub with diamonds and pearls); DJ David Mueller (the one-dollar bill, also in the bathtub, that could symbolize the USD$1 she sought for damages); and people who have allegedly betrayed her, such as Kimye (in one scene of the throne and the snakes, a serpentine couple serves her tea!). In the end, even with a scene (above) that brings together the past Taylors in a mutual verbal attack (only Taylor Swift can criticise Taylor Swift?), she’s really having a go at all of us.

Photos: screen grabs of the music video Look What You made Me Do on YouTube