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

Advertisements

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?

TS LWYMMD 1

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.

TS LWYMMD 2

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?

TS LWYMMD 3

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.

TS LWYMMD 4

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

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

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

Clothes Become Her

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

Miley Cyrus (Malinbu) 1

By Mao Shan Wang

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

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

Miley Cyrus (Malinbu) 2

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

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

Miley Cyrus (Malinbu) 3

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

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

Miley Cyrus (Malinbu) 4

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

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

Miley Cyrus (Malinbu) 5

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

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

Miley Cyrus (Malinbu) 6

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

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

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

Two Pairs Of Sisters: No Blood Ties But So Alike

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Met Gala 2017: A Cop Out

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

By Mao Shan Wang

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two Of A Kind: Flounce To Trounce

Pan Ling Ling in Francis Cheong & Zuhair Murad CoutureLeft: Pan Ling Ling in Francis Cheong. Photo Facebook/ Pan Ling Ling. Right: Zuhair Murad Couture SS 2017. Photo: Zuhair Murad

Whatever is said about imitation and flattery, it is not always flattering for the wearer of the look-a-like.

Pan Ling Ling must have been elated with the Life declaration that she was one of the best-dressed actresses at Sunday night’s Star Awards (红星大奖). But would knowing that her gown, designed by Francis Cheong, looked too much like a Zuhair Murad diminish the elation for the Star Awards 2011 Best Supporting Actress?

Mr Murad showed his in January this year in Paris during Couture Week spring/summer 2017. An asymmetric gown for gala nights, its resemblance to the one Ms Pan wore made the accolade bestowed on her rather interesting. Should wearing a less-than-original design qualify the wearer for the best-dressed honour? Or can her likely ignorance and a big smile be her saving grace?

The version in red that appeared on Channel 8 (like most of you, we saw the presentation from the comfort of home) was familiar perhaps also because it’s typical of those you would see in gown conventions such as the Icon Ball (also known as fenghua wanyan or 风华晚宴): never too ang, never too flouncy, never too sexy.

Mr Murad makes statement gowns to be worn on red carpets or under chandeliers. His latest couture collection, named ‘Fires Waltz’, seems to be conceived with very specific customers in mind: debutantes, prom queens, beauty queens, and ball regulars. Mostly bearers of standard evening glamour, these women, like Pan Ling Ling, easily succumb to swishy gowns that can’t help looking dated or from another era, another stage. Mr Murad, in fact, admitted to Vogue.com that the silhouette of the collection was inspired by Dynasty—that ’80s TV homage to glamour and excess.

Thrilled by what Life proclaimed, Mr Cheong thanked The Straits Times early today in his Facebook page “for voting my pre fall (sic) 2017 Couture vermillion Duchess Satin gown that Pan Ling Ling wore as one of the Best Dressed List (sic)…” What was curious about the post was the accompanying photograph, which was a shot of a part of the Life article. The adjoining picture of fellow best-dressed pick Jesseca Liu was deliberately defaced, to the point that she was obliterated. Amusingly, Ms Liu was wearing Zuhair Murad. The discomfort of seeing one’s creation appearing next to the real deal must have warranted the blotting out!

Francis Cheong's post on FBScreen grab of Francis Cheong’s Facebook post

Life’s Alyssa Woo first called Ms Pan’s dress a “column gown”. We have no idea how the shapely form could be mistaken as that of a pillar’s. She later described it in the photo caption as a “gown with exaggerated ruffles”, which sounded like she was referring to the traje de flamenca. But there’s nothing about Mr Cheong’s design that is evocative of the costumes of Andalusian dance. The “ruffles” look to us to be a flounce, one that fell like the ends of valances of stage curtains, so different from the much softer and petal-like folds of Mr Murad’s design.

In the online edition of Elle Singapore, Ms Pan was described as “a vision”. The theophany escaped us, but, as with Ms Liu and Julie Tan (in a strangely bridal number with also a left-side flounce by Jessicacindy Hartono), Ms Pan’s conventional glamour was perhaps a lovely picture, even when the photographs that circulated online, including those of other Star Awards attendees, were mostly shot against bare walls that look like the corridor between the changing rooms and the MES Theatre at Mediacorp.

One make-up artist did not mince words: “All should be in the worst-dressed list.”

Model Behaviour: Soda Pop Peace Offering

Kendall Jenner Pepsi 1

Pepsi wants their cake and eat it too. Or, maybe, a can of soda and drink it too. In their latest commercial, they’ve engaged model du jour Kendall Jenner to do what Ms Jenner does: model. That is all rather swell until suddenly, in the commercial, she leaves her assignment at hand to join what appears to be a protest. That’s when things get a little iffy.

Encouraged by a passerby who communicates by tilting his head, she abandons what we assume to be paid assignment to join the action on the street. And why are they protesting? We don’t know. Anyway, Ms Jenner goes through a protesting crowd (inexplicably young and attractive), reaches the front line, and confronts a row of policemen. Instead of raising her hand in defiance, she singles out a handsome law enforcer and offers him a Pepsi. Peace, as it turns out, can be had in a can.

Social media blared with disapproval after the commercial was posted on Pepsi’s YouTube channel a day ago. Loudest was the charge that a “privileged, white” woman saving America from its civil-rights woes slights the real attempt to resolve race issues that plague the US. But is this really so startling—or new—when white America, on screen, has always saved the world, if not herself?

Kendall Jenner Pepsi 2

Pepsi pitches its latest commercial as a “global ad that reflects people from different walks of life coming together in a spirit of harmony.” And how “global” might that be? Or how “different”? Include an Asian cellist and a photographer in a hijab as key players among the throng of people with no anger or angst registered on their faces and you get diversity? If this is meant to reference recent confrontations, such as the Black Lives Matter protest in Baton Rouge, Lousiana, last year, how will a recognisable model who, according to Forbes, earned USD17 million last year (and continues to make more with this Pepsi commercial), diminish the anger that still simmers?

One of the earliest models to appear in a Pepsi ad was Cindy Crawford in 1992. In that version, she was all sex symbol, emerging from a vermilion sports car in the presence of two young boys who would become completely mesmerised by her sipping from a can of Pepsi. A sexy woman using her sex appeal to sell a product: that was it.

We’re now living in different times. A model’s beauty alone isn’t enough; she has to tell us that she’s socially aware and willing to go out there to take up a cause, even in the middle of a professional engagement, photographer and crew be damned. You see, the reality-TV-star-turn-model has a sense of right and wrong, and she can temper the tempest with an effervescent drink.

Kendall Jenner Pepsi 3

The Pepsi campaign may shout ‘Live for Now’ but its protagonist does not seize the moment since she, unlike the cellist and the photographer, has time to change out of her clothes to look like she could be a part of the crowd. When social justice calls, blond wig and Vamp-like lip colour are not protest material, nor metallic mini-dress, sheer duster coat, hoop-earrings, and black killer heels.

Suddenly she’s no longer a glamour puss; she’s a model who walks out of her work to follow a functioning conscience. That means joining the marching masses in nude make-up and in a cropped jacket, white T-shirt, and tri-tone denim jeans—an off-duty-model-pretending-to-be-an-ordinary-girl look that is completed by the perch of sunglasses on her head.

Like Diana Prince, she instantly changes from a fashion plate to a figure of justice. Only thing is, Kendall Jenner is no Wonder Woman. And Pepsi is no Coke—it can’t teach the world to sing, and definitely not in perfect harmony.

Screen grabs: YouTube/Pepsi

Update (6 April 2017): Pepsi has pulled this ad from circulation. It’s no longer available on its YouTube channel