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

Time To Get Used To This

Nicki Minaj attending a fashion show with one breast exposed and, on our side of the world, the mother openly breastfeeding her child in an MRT train mean one thing: we’re witnessing a new norm… and, possibly, the death of outrage

Nicki Minaj, Paris Fasion Week’s hottest front-row celeb. Photo: gq.com

Fashion is a mirror image of the times, we have been constantly told. And that was what Anthony Vaccarello held up for Saint Laurent last month (actually, also last year): the reflection of the style of our time. How wrong we were to think no woman would wish to have her breasts feel the warmth of sunshine and the caress of afternoon breeze, unhindered by the presence of cloth, in full public view.

The first to prove us wrong was Nicki Minaj. Her constant scantiness makes Madonna’s bra-as-outer-wear antics look positively vestal. Now, Ms Minaj is into showing a whole breast—its entirety not the least diminished by the use of a pasty. This was clearly one bare bosom at the Haider Ackermann show in Paris last week, and one uncovered for maximum social media impact. At first, she was accused of copying Lil’ Kim. Possibly indignant, the Anaconda singer then did something very clever; she came out saying that she was, in fact, inspired by Pablo Picasso’s work (reportedly the 1908 painting Femme a l’éventail). That dirty old man!

The thing is, art has always depicted women with one exposed (mostly left) breast (as if two are over-expressive and titillating). Ms Minaj did not explain why she picked Picassso. She could have been inspired by so many other painters of one exposed breast, from Francesco Melzi to Auguste Renoir to Paul Gauguin, but she chose a leading Cubist known for eroticism in his work. It is possible that in directing her motive to something related to art, Ms Minaj was saying that her exposed breast was an artistic expression. Life never used to imitate art this way. Wasn’t it all in the artist’s vivid/weird imagination? Surely women didn’t think such exposure inspirational?

Picasso femme à l'éventailPablo Picasso’s Femme a l’éventail. Photo: Musée de l’Ermitage, Leningrad

The second was the woman breastfeeding in an MRT train, and now in the middle of the furore that has divided Netizens this past week. She should have taken the cue from Nicki Minaj. Her exposed breast was a nursing breast, and art is full of bosoms as source of infantile sustenance. Her rejoinder to the post on Stomp could have gone something like this: “I was inspired by Hans Baldung, specifically Virgin and Child.” Surely that would not have caused quite such a stir as the rebuke: “Those who suggest using a cover should try eating or drinking under a cover and see if you like it or not.” Or, the rant: “Anyway, it’s just a breast. We all have it. Be it female or male. It’s meant to be used to feed a baby, I don’t see anything wrong with using it to feed a baby… Maybe girls should stop eating bananas/popsicle in public as some might find it sexual too”both from her Facebook post, which was defiantly accompanied by more breastfeeding photos.

(Let’s leave aside the fact that men do not usually lactate for now.)

As noted by historian Margaret R. Miles in her book A Complex Delight: The Secularization of the Breast 1350—1750, bosoms were considered religious symbols. Of the Virgin’s symbols: “in early modern Western societies in which Christianity was the dominant religion,” Ms Miles wrote, “her bare breast, appearing in paintings and sculptures, signified nourishment and loving care—God’s provision for the Christian, ever in need of God’s grace.” Who would want to incur the wrath of our National Council of Churches (NCCS) by criticising a woman who merely exposed her breast the way Mary did?

Without the religious advantage, it is, of course, naïve of that woman to think that she was not going to get a secular reaction to her very secular (and public) display. There are basically three ways to respond to this: negatively, neutrally, and positively. Interestingly (perhaps, hearteningly?), many reacted positively—even encouragingly, with some saying it is the most natural thing for a woman to do. The breast’s provision to the child, so many in the pro camp seem to say, obliterates its very nakedness, so much so that you see—if you did see—nothing more than a mother feeding.

Hans BaldungVirgin and Child by Hans Baldung. Photo: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

But that trending photograph revealed something else. In her substantial FB post, that woman also said, “I just want to dress up and be a normal woman…” Here, if one were to equate “dress up” to what she wore on that fateful MRT ride, one could see that being in one’s best clothes meant one need not don very much of a dress (according to Lianhe Wanbao, she was on her way to participating in Mrs Singapore. Now you see). She was, therefore, dressed up since dressing up with little that constitutes an outfit is now a normal-womanly thing to do. Her easy-to-pull-down strapless top and a skirt (possibly shorts)—so brief that it is not unreasonable to suspect that both are of equal lengths—bear out the observation that, increasingly, it takes very little cloth to make clothes.

If so much of what we see online is not fake (catchword of the year), fashion is not about clothes. How much you cover is immaterial. Materials, in fact, are secondary just as coverage is no longer the real reason to wear clothes since so little is covered. As more and more celebrities and stars have shown, fashion can exist without garments, or, with incomplete garments. Once the stage personae of more audacious performers—from Josephine Baker to Gypsie Lee Rose to Dita Von Tesse—whose rectitude of motives were never really questioned since their dare-to-bare ways were mostly restricted to the theatre, the exposed body is today very much a part of everyday dress.

As it turns out, the uncovered buttocks of the past years weren’t the last fashion frontier (Azealia Banks, you’re passé!) Now, we aren’t even sure if the bare breast is. The fine line between decency and indecency strangely sits on not much expanse of space—the nipple. Unblocked, it causes offense in the same way the narrow border between the glutes seen will crack the barrier of politeness. The obscuring of the areola, within which the nipple lies (the exit point of breast milk), therefore, lessens the lewdness of the breast bared and, in many nations, stays within the confines of the law. Whether covered by a pasty or the mouth of a hungry infant, the areola unseen, it appears (or suggested by the MRT woman), strips away the sexual aspect of the sole naked bosom. You must appreciate, instead, the epitome of womanhood or, baby in sight, motherhood. Or a fashion statement.

Lil' KimRapper Lil’ Kim pre-empting Nicki Minaj at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards.  Photo: Getty Images

For a long time, fashion advertising has allowed us to wean on the normality of the barely covered breast. Who can remember a time when Guess models did not appear to be on the verge of full exposure? But there has always been the divide of they-are-models/we-are-real-women. It’s quite different now. In today’s fashion, familiarity does not always breed contempt. Rather, it fosters assimilation, more so than in art. With social media adherents willing and eager to push fashion messages further towards the extreme, women are willing to follow whoever they follow under the security blanket called “in charge of my own destiny”. Or, as Ivanka Trump says, “Own your femininity”.

Even self-confessed feminist Emma Watson has no qualms of exposing—even not in their entirety—her breasts, as seen in the latest issue of Vanity Fair. To the disapproving masses, she would later say, “They were claiming that I couldn’t be a feminist and have boobs. Feminism is about giving women choice… It’s about freedom; it’s about liberation; it’s about equality.” And she meant not just the freedom, liberation, and equality of the mind, but the body too. She added, “I don’t know what my tits have to do with it”. Which sounded like: I can flash my chest as men can, and do. The interesting thing is, her leading man Dan Stevens had not had to pose in a shirt completely unbuttoned in any magazine to promote Beauty and the Beast.

Ms Watson’s position seems consistent with the agenda of Free the Nipple, the 2014 American docu-film and campaign that not only pushed for gender equality, but also put forth the argument that women be allowed to bare their nipples in public if they choose to. This goes swimmingly with what women have, of late, been told they can do with their bodies, regardless of shape and condition: as you please. They can emulate models or social-media stars, even when they are neither models nor social-media stars. They can show any part of their body on Instagram, even when the world will bear witness to their display and there could be backlash. Eff those who can’t deal with this reality. If dominance is part of what constitutes popularity, then the increasing visibility of bare breasts is going to point, if it has not already, to how we shall dress, and how undisrupting to social norms it shall become.

Saint Laurent SS 2017A one-bare-breast-dress by Anthony Vaccarello for Saint Laurent, spring/summer 2017. Photo: indigital.tv

A dress or blouse or jacket that does not require the portion that covers or enhances the bosom is perhaps also indication that the bust of the garment is redundant. It is quite possible that designers want to do away with that part of the dress, just as many seem to want to rid the area where the shoulder meets the sleeve, allowing it to go “cold”. Anyone with knowledge of dressmaking knows that the bust is often tricky to construct. Fashion students in pattern-making class are known to hate pivoting darts, so much so that many do away with them. The result is often a cut-away bodice comprising two pieces of cloths simply for front and back. Either that or a stretchy fabric such as jersey to cling to every curve and protuberance.

It would be wild speculation to think that Anthony Vaccarello was trying to shirk from creating the most beautifully formed bust on the Saint Laurent dress by not including one, even if it was only on one side. Although in that outfit Mr Vaccarello did not quite “free the nipple”, his predecessor did. In 2015, Hedi Slimane created a permanent and irreversible wardrobe malfunction with a dress that literally covered only half the body, exposing a starkly naked breast. No member of the media seemed particularly disturbed, with vogue.com calling it “fall’s hot topic on the runway”. It must have been, for Olympia Le-Tan even designed a dress with a trompe l’oeil left-breast-exposed—just in case there were those who wanted to bare, but did not dare.

It is suggested that the present fixation with exposing the boob is really backlash against too much easy androgyny and minimalism bordering on the monastic. There’s nothing wrong with an aesthetic that is expressly and visibly female. However, there are no half-measures in fashion. If we look back, we’ll remember that the décolletage soon gave way to the plunging V; the peeking thigh soon gave way to the glaring rump; the blushing crack—left open by the “bumster”—soon led to the full-moon derrière; and the buttocks soon gave up the seat to the bosom. If today is one breast out, will tomorrow be freedom for the other side?

Able Models: They Shoot Too

If you don’t need to be able to sing and dance to star in a musical, and win an Oscar for the role, you don’t need to be a photographer to shoot an ad campaign

Versus SS 2017 ad

Fashion has always been about chums. The more sociable you are, the more likely you’ll get into everyone’s good books. You are not only a friend to designers, their friends, stylists, make-up artists, hairdressers, fellow models, and just about anyone who matters in the industry; you’re also a friend to the world. Social media makes sure of that.

Social media is also where you launch your career. Gigi Hadid and pal Kendall Jenner have exploited social media well. They have not only used it to kick-start, but advanced their profession. Now, Gigi Hadid has taken it one step further. Her Instagram posts have become the basis for an ad campaign. Or, if online Harper’s Bazaar is to be believed, “The model stepped behind the camera to shoot the Spring 2017 Versus Versace campaign.”

Model-turns-photographer: how refreshing! Ms Hadid is, of course, not the first Instagirl to lens fashion shoots. Her BFF Ms Jenner has already shot an editorial (including the cover) for Love magazine. The jury’s out on whether that’s any good, but one thing is clear: the pictures do not look any different from entries in the shooter’s IG page. And that, too, can be said of the Ms Hadid’s photos for Versus, which features boyfriend Zayn Malik (a Versace collaborator) and Adwoa Aboah. Like everything else you see on IG, they will be forgotten tomorrow.

You will forget because these are photos you’ve seen before: a couple of beautiful people bored out of their wits in a not particularly attractive room (here, celebrity-magnet Chateau Marmont). These are individuals behaving naturally in their natural habitat, but no, these do not Juergen Teller make.

Why does Versace need advertising that looks like Ms Hadid’s IG posts? Why can’t they just pay her to upload selfies of her and her gang in Versace in both their accounts? Is the iPhone camera to be blamed? Is traditional studio photography dead? Has Mario Testino become too expensive, or too overused? Is there a shortage of professional photographers?

And you thought immigrants are out to steal your job!

Photo: instagram/gigihadid

This Is Not About Taste

olivier-rousteing

Olivier Rousteing’s Balmain has, by and large, been a little difficult to stomach. This season, it doesn’t get that far before we feel something unpleasant coming out of our throat. The problem could be because we’re not a Kardashian, or one of Mr Rousteing’s 4.3 million IG followers. We just don’t have the constitution that’s strong enough.

You’d think that with so many fans, Mr Rousteing would have had fashioned Balmain into an inspirational and aspirational brand. But if you Google “Balmain is ”, the result may surprise you. Google’s recommendation in the completion of that sentence is as follows: “…owned by”, “…tacky”, “…expensive”, and “…overpriced”. He who oversees the branding of Balmain should be quite concerned.

In the October 2015 review of the Balmain spring/summer 2016 collection for The Washington Post, Robin Givhan wrote that “The French fashion house is always ostentatious and sometimes vulgar.” She also rightly noted that “Those aren’t clothes on the runway, they’re a social media moment.” On his love for ’70s silhouette and ’80s hues, she said, “Other designers mine those decades, but Rousteing does so in a manner that capitalizes on the era’s middle-brow, mass culture.”

If that collection—a hint at what he was to do in his collaboration with H&M (that later proved to be wildly successful)—did not win Ms Givhan’s heart and praise, we’re curious to know what she thinks of Mr Rousteing’s latest. Has the “middle” shifted? Or is tacky still pronounced?

balmain-aw-2017-pic-1

It’s become impossible to talk about Balmain without sounding like we really saw the dregs of Paris Fashion Week. Balmain at the present state reminds us that just because it’s French does not mean it’s fetching. While we maintain that French elegance—indeed, elegance anywhere today—isn’t what it was before (and it shouldn’t be since fashion evolves), Balmain’s brazen and meretricious ways with form and decoration are not pushing French forward the way Jacquemus’s controlled and gentle teasing of proportions is. Balmain’s predecessor Christophe Decarnin may have set in motion the excesses now associated with the house, but it is Mr Rousteing who is driving past the speed limit.

How else does one explain the craziness that went into one outfit? Even the humble T-shirt was given an upgrade, like so many gadgets crucial to our digital lives, with the addition of washing machine-unfriendly chains, beading, sequins and so much more. Mr Rousteing was telling us that piling on is the way forward—the complex and intricate pastiche of animal print and hide, eye-popping jacquards, the never-enough appliqués, the where-to-begin embroideries, the by-now-clichéd metallic studs, and those everywhere fringing. There’s so much fringing (even belts are fringed)—they came in beaded strains, metal chains, leather cords as well—that even curtains in a brothel pale in comparison. Could this be Mr Rousteing showing off what the atelier can really do—his own métiers d’art?

balmain-aw-2017-pic-2

We really wanted to see the art in all of it. But, with some of the jackets, for example, we saw Lucky Plaza, where budget-conscious mamasans go to be outfitted for an evening at the yezonghui (夜总会) or the nightclub. And there were the colours: variations of browns, including what some members of the media optimistically call caramel—shades many store buyers tell us women just won’t look at. Read: can’t sell. The thing is, collectively, everything looked like they’ve spent too much time in mud and sun. Sure, we understand it has to do with the tribal vibe that Mr Rousteing was communicating and you’re not wrong for thinking of Africa, but this was the Serengeti by way of Calabasas!

That Mr Rousteing is creating Calabasas chic in Paris is understandable: you know where his biggest fans come from. Sometimes we feel bad for Mr Rousteing. He’s put so much effort into the outfits (these are not simple cut and sew) and they still turn out wanting. All that excess and still deficient. What’s missing? Maybe it’s that modern rarity called class.

Photos: indigital.tv

Legs Fashionably Up

Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

On the last day of February, photographs of Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway kneeling comfortably on a sofa in the oval office have gone viral. Twitter came alive again, as it does when her boss President Trump posts something that sounds like a primary school teacher berating her charges. People are alarmed that a woman of Ms Conway’s calibre—highly educated (she’s a qualified lawyer, no less)—could ignore the decorum expected in the presence of the president, in the White House, by being seated with her legs up, feet tucked under her posterior.

News organization AFP Tweeted the photo that showed Ms Conway kneeling on a sofa to photograph the president and his guests—leaders of historically black universities. As you would have thought, the online response came faster than it takes to go down on your knees. That Ms Conway had made the office of the president as relaxed as her own living room was probably more disconcerting than her sitting on her heels. This didn’t appear to be instinct to genuflect to power or academia and higher education; this was taking the weight off her feet simply because she could.

There is, of course, deep irony in all this. In January, she said to The Hollywood Reporter “I told him (the president) when he offered me the job, the very last thing I said to him was I don’t consider myself to be your peer, and I will not call you by your first name. And some of the feminists may go crazy… but it’s called respect, and it’s called deference, and it’s called hierarchy.”

The collective dismay (disgust, in some instances) is, to us, a little surprising if only because women seated with their legs up on their seat is as common as the shaking of the hands of someone you meet. Ms Conway may be pro-“alternative facts” but there’s nothing alternative about the way she chose to sit. In fact, there’s nothing unusual about it at all. These days, women do not have the habit of sitting even with their legs closed—let’s not talk about crossed. Many have taken a lackadaisical approach to presenting themselves when seated in public: feet anywhere but on the floor.

A Twitter user “Ms. Maggie” wrote that “KellyAnne (sic) clearly was not taught to sit properly in a dress…” With due respect to Ms. Maggie and those who share her sentiment, women are rarely taught the ‘proper’ way to sit in a dress—or in any article of clothing, for there’s no such thing as a proper way to sit, as feminists will tell you. They do not receive pointers on deportment anymore, just as they are not taught to cook anymore. In a world where women—very young girls included—are told that they can do anything they want, many are indeed doing as they desire. When seated, feet not meeting the floor but rested on seats or as support for buttocks are so common that they no longer raise eyebrows the way they used to during our mother’s (or grandmother’s, for you millennials) time.

feet-upHow women like to sit in public. Photos: Zhao Xiangji 

Like many things in our modern life, there’s a fashion aspect to this. Clothing may reveal our personality, but it may also influence our behavior. In many ways, fashion has allowed women to sit any way they wish. This isn’t the Sixties, so we’re not blaming behavioral ills on the mini-skirt, but with hemlines these days mostly above the knee, there is a similar emancipation. The bringing of knees up when seated has become as effortless as pulling up the sleeves. The brevity of skirts means that women don’t need to hitch their skirt to be seated in the kneeling position or any other that is deemed comfortable. The preference for shorts—very short shorts—makes sitting with the feet up even easier.

It is also about what clothes are saying to us these days. The dresses of the Fifties, for example, communicated a certain womanly ideal that required a rather fixed manner and conduct when worn. A calf-length, full-skirted dress immediately told the beholder that she had to bear herself in a certain way, and that included how she was to sit. With more women later adopting trousers, restrictions slowly faded. When jeans came into the picture (and jeans are made for almost any seat and surface, feet up or down), restraints were gone. And when those jeans are cut to the present, panty-revealing lengths, inhibitions are erased.

The severity is compounded by the blurring of lines between what we wear at home and what we wear out on the streets. There is really no difference between sleep wear, lounge wear, and casual wear. Indeed, the casualisation of fashion has encouraged casual behavior. Not only are we seeing women seated with feet close to their derriere on the bus, in MRT trains, in the plane, in the cinema and concert hall, but also in cafés, restaurants, board meetings, and yes, the Oval Office. What’s disconcerting for some is how commonplace such a preferred way to sit is among young women. As one fashion buyer we know exclaimed, “Have you been to any of the NUS libraries?”

How women arrange their legs when seated is also a reflection of the redefinition of elegance. Anything goes may hardly be the epitome of elegance, but the hotch-potch, I don’t-care-so-why-should-you approach to dressing today means there’s less need to follow up with what is considered decorous—even pleasing-to-look-at—posture. These days, when you point out a woman’s aesthetic shortcomings, chances are, she’ll retort, “I am too busy juggling so many things in my life to bother. Mind your own business, misogynist!” The way she sits, too, is the result of the present times. As Kellyanne Conway said at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) just last week, “I look at myself as a product of my own choices.”