The Wordiest Logo?

Or do you prefer less?

TNF Junya logo

It’s a collaboration that spawned one of the biggest logos we have ever seen, with an unusually large amount of text. There are a total of nine words, 14 syllables, and 43 letters! And both brands seem like a match that has to be made: their logotype is in still-a-fave Helvetica!

It is, of course, a mouthful to say. There’s a reason WeAretheSuperlativeConspiracy—just five words but chock-full of 24 letters—is known as WESC, making the one-time lengthy Fruit of the Loom, with a now-modest line-up of 14 letters, a breeze to say. But The North Face Junya Watanabe Comme des Garçons Man isn’t, thankfully, quite a tongue-twister even when boasting three languages. That is unless you have a dreadful relationship with French pronunciation.

In fact, the coming together of the two brands (since we’re counting, three, if you consider CDG in there as a separate entity) is missing the typical X, as in the upcoming Erdem X H&M (designer Erdem Moralıoğlu’s full name may, indeed, be the tongue-twister here), which means Junya Watanabe’s collaborative work for autumn/winter 2017 would otherwise have 44 letters. But who’s counting? Okay, we are.

TNF Sacai

On the other extreme is Sacai, a brand that, interestingly, also collaborated with The North Face for the autumn/winter 2017 collection. But the logo is so succinct that you may miss the Japanese name. Comprising just four words and a grand total of 17 letters, The North Face Sacai is almost minimalistic. Similar to Junya Watanabe’s, it is absent an X. Perhaps it’s a Japanese quirk. Whether long or short, are we getting more or less with the respective brands?

With these Japanese burando, especially these whose designers are alumni of the school of Comme des Garçons (Sacai’s Chitose Abe was, in fact, a member of Junyta Watanabe’s pattern-making team before she struck out on her own), you are not likely to get less. Sacai’s collection dubbed “Cut Up”, does not spare any design their distinctive slicing and splicing, which means less is not part of their DNA. In addition, their collaboration is available for women as well.

In the end, a label with many words may look intriguing and, hence, alluring, but it really isn’t a matter of which. We say, why have one when you can have both?

It isn’t certain if Junya Watanabe and Sacai stockist Club 21 will bring the two brand’s collaboration with The North Face. We suspect the soon-to-open Dover Street Market Singapore will carry both capsules. Watch this space for updates. Images: the respective brands

Short-Time Supremacy

A day after the madness that was the launch of the Louis Vuitton X Supreme collaboration, the concourse outside the LV store in Ion Orchard is back to its usual tourist-dotted calm

LV X Supreme pic for SOTD

There’s enough queuing in our life, so we decided to sit this one out. Barely before 9am yesterday, a message came to us via WhatsApp: news from the ground that the crowd outside the Louis Vuitton store in Ion Orchard was “crazy”. We were not surprised, just as we were not impressed. Sure, there’s something amazing about such large numbers eagerly waiting the release of a fashion collection like those waiting for the new season of Game of Thrones. Louis Vuitton X Supreme for the autumn/winter 2017 was destined, the minute it was shown in January, to be bigger than anything Yeezy. But just as with the latter, our mind went into a silent yawn.

LV’s latest collaboration is devoid of the freshness, surprise, and rebelliousness of its first, 16 years ago: the Marc Jacobs commission of Stephen Sprouse’s neon, graffiti-style scribble, used to deface the LV Monogram, which until then, was thought to be sacrosanct, hence untouchable. It was very daring, which explained its appeal. As our contributor Mao Shan Wang recalls, “I was in Paris that year, and it was madness at LV’s Champs Élysées store. I was with a friend at that time. People snatched the bag off her hand when she merely looked undecided.”

By the second collaboration—with artist Takashi Murakami, the idea of the LV monogram overlaid with patterns from non-in-house designers became less novel, but Mr Murakami’s motifs were cute and endearing (and he enjoyed higher name recognition that Stephen Sprouse), making the joint output another massive success for the still in reinvention mode LV.

All quiet the day after the Louis Vuitton X Supreme launch17-07-15-21-15-09-743_decoScreen grab of IG post by The Straits Times

With the recent Chapman Brothers collaboration, initiated by LV’s men’s wear designer Kim Jones (who also linked up with Supreme), the surface rejuvenation of classic LV bags became appealing only to those who consider anything produced by the brand to be objects of desire. Even the latest ‘Masters’ series with Jeff Koons just look tacky, like something out of a museum shop, not the least wearable art.

Supreme is the streetwear label du jour, but LV is not the first designer name to align with Supreme, itself a serial collaborator. This past April, the increasingly accessible Comme des Garçons launched a new capsule with Supreme, having paired with the New York label since 2012. The line was supposed to be available at the Dover Street Market Singapore’s E-Shop, but it seemed like it was a no-show. Or, perhaps, it really sold out the minute it was available.

When was the last time LV drew a crowd (not counting the short queues outside their stores, created to give the impression that it’s really busy inside)? When the ‘Twist’ bag was launched in 2015? Handbags, as it’s often reported these days, no longer have the irrational lure they once had. The thing is, even a giant of a luxury brand such as LV needs a crowd puller—literally. Their executives are probably aware of the long lines each time Supreme launches a collaborative effort, from London to New York, and how willing to spend the Supreme addicts are.

On Saturday, signs at the entrances of the Louis Vuitton store in ION Orchard to inform the hopeful

Singapore fans and speculative resellers are lucky. Just four days or so ago, there were on-line reports that LV was closing their sales channels (so-called ‘pop-ups’) of the (so far) one-off. No actual reason offered and the provocative online talk was that there was fallout with Supreme as the New York brand did not feel that they had as much to gain from the collab. The discontinuation of the line was later said to be untrue, with LV announcing that it will be available later. Whatever the case, it’s considered a major fashion coup for our island since we are the only city in the whole of Southeast Asia to get this Supreme, never mind that even when you are ready to spend top dollar you’d have to participate in a raffle in order to get a chance in copping the goods. Yet, as reported, the masses went crazy, including 13-year-olds. We have no idea why any child just crossing into puberty should need to carry a USD$1,800 LV crossbody bag (the Danube PPB), but it is pointless to ponder.

While we are not keen on the LV and Supreme collaboration, we appreciate the irony in the pairing. Back in the early days of Supreme, the brand was force-fed a cease and desist for patterning a skateboard with the florals of LV’s Monogram Canvas. Does the present collab mean LV bears no grudges or does it indicate that luxury fashion and streetwear are now on equal footing?

This is consumerism in its most blatant (and unappealing?) form, which means these clothes are not going to add anything to the design legacy of the French house—let’s say they won’t make LV great, or any conversation about bringing newness and innovation to fashion. There is really no challenge to either LV or Supreme in producing the brand-blaring merchandise. This only illustrates unequivocally that no matter how sophisticated fashion consumers have allegedly become, logos and brand names must stand out and speak for the wearer.

Illustration: Just So. Photos: Zhao Xiangji. 

Now, Fashion For The Blue Bag

Have you ever thought of going to Ikea for clothes? Those who love to visit the big blue box on dates can now buy matching tees or totes

Stunsig ‘Manga Eye’ by P Demirdag/V Renate

Ikea has been enjoying a lot of support from fashion folks lately. With its instantly recognisable Frakta bag a trend and meme, plus a reported re-design by Off White’s Virgin Abloh, it’s poised to take on fashion the way it has has with thin-stemmed wine glasses, making them affordable to the masses and party organizers fearful of drunken mayhem.

Its latest effort in the form of Stunsig is what the furniture giant calls “new artistic prints that are more fun, more unique, and more daring”, which really sounds like what many fashion houses are aiming for these days. Since Ikea does not have a conventional atelier, it offers Stunsig as a collaborative effort. Onboard are print designers such as Steven Harrington (US), Malcom Stuart (US), Frédérique Vernillet (France), Tilde Bay (Denmark), and others.

Stunsig’s dedicated space in the store

Despite the motley mix of participants, the result is rather consistent in its madcap prints—zaniness that would not be out of place in the kid’s department, usually situated at the end of the Ikea maze of a mega-store, near the Restaurant & Café. Instead, Stunsig has its own vaguely Cath Kidston-ish space upfront: a display area, in fact, so cartoon-like (sort of Kaw meets Manga) that it inevitably draws attention. But, when we visited, the offering of soft furnishings as well as tableware and stationery drew less interest than the fashion items. One shopper was heard asking, “Since when did Ikea sell clothes?” According to a staffer, since Valentine’s Day, when they released “very successful T-shirts”.

The thing is, even when Ikea is not primarily a seller of clothing, the store is visited for its textiles (a huge department, we should add) that appeal to the dressmaker as much as the homemaker. Women who sew, or those who have a good tailor, are known to have made all sorts of items from the fabrics it sells, from garments to bags to washing machine covers. These days, we call such enterprising ways “life hacks”.

Stunsig ‘Branch’ by M Grundström & A Gustavsson

For those less inclined to tackle a Singer, there’s Stunsig. We’re not terribly impressed with the home ware (or the totes), so we’ll talk about the clothes—basically just T-shirts. These made-in-China, 100% cotton tops are not designed with an athletic fit that are preferred by so many tee wearers. Instead, they are of a roomy cut with just a tad of boxiness that makes them veer on the side of the fashionable. Because of their wallet-friendly price (a revelation even to the cashier), the construction is not a tubular knit. But you won’t notice that. You will, instead, be surprised to know that it is made of rather fine-gauge cotton. Read: comfortable.

As we on this island like to say, and with increasing frequency, they’re “cheap and good.”

Stunsig T-shirts (‘Manga Eye’ and ‘Branch’, as pictured, among others), SGD8.90, are available at Ikea stores. Photos: Jim Sim

This Power Pairing (Updated)

Streetwear biggie Supreme and Japanese designer powerhouse Comme des Garçons collaborate and the world goes mad

 

Supreme X CDG shirt

By Ray Zhang

Frankly, I don’t quite get Supreme. Perhaps it’s because I am more of a Palace guy. But it’s Supreme we’re talking about, so let’s stick to the label that always makes me think of a particular Motown girl group. Let me admit: I am a bit of an authenticity snob. I like streetwear labels to stay close to the street, and I don’t mean Avenue des Champs-Élysées. Yes, I am referring to Supreme dipping into the high fashion pond fed by the head water Louis Vuitton.

What was once skater kids’ go-to label, Supreme is now, to me, a lackey of luxury. LV is going to sell loads of that bag, the Supreme box-logo alive as a Speedy or could that be the Keepall—entirely bleeding red and screaming. But does that make Supreme more desirable? Unless, of course, they’re not so pleasing to begin with. Still, it’s Louis Vuitton as partner, which means the goods end up on rich kids with no taste than on cool kids with edge. While GQ gleefully calls it “a collaboration of dreams”, for real fashion folks, this sort of high-low partnership is somewhat—and sadly—déclassé.

Supreme X CDG shirt tees

My first (and belated) encounter with Supreme was in Tokyo last summer in its Shibuya store, situated in the hipster neighbourhood of Jinnan. It was a disappointment so huge I was totally consumed by it. Perhaps it was because Supreme was my last stop in the area that is home to some of the most exciting retail concepts in the whole of Asia, such as the indescribable WARE-mo-KOU and the always intriguing Beams. I was quite intoxicated with seeing so many things I do not get to see here—to the point that a glimpse of plain tees with some mindless graphic on the chest was like being smothered with chloroform.

Supreme is in a side street with nothing but its own silent company. The façade is a concrete sea with the familiar red logo afloat like a life buoy in the ocean. It was close to sun down when I arrived and the coveted logo was illuminated by two lamps above it in such a way that the light formed a heart-shaped halo around it. The exterior hints at a minimalist interior and, true enough, it was a space as plain as a warehouse, save a blue, Sphinx-like creature prostrated right in the middle of the shop. The clothes were on racks that were lined up against the walls. I flipped through the mainly T-shirts and thought how much nicer Stussy in Daikanyama was. The Supreme store was empty except for a Thai couple who was buying the 3-in-1 pack of Supreme/Hanes Tagless Tee.

Supreme X CDG shirt suit

So what does it mean when Supreme now pairs with Comme des Garçons, the label that, in less than a month, will be saluted at the Met Gala, the prelude to this year’s spring exhibition Art of In-Between? Okay, I am conflicted with this one. I am tempted to say that Comme des Garçons deserves more. The label does not need to validate itself with this alignment. No one will go to the Metropolitan Museum to see the streetwear adjunct of Japan’s leading designer brand. To be sure, this is not the main CDG line at work. It’s the sub-brand Comme des Garçons Shirt, which, in part, sometimes has a whiff of street sensibility. Still, CDG will not be less desirable if it does not adopt something so blatant as sharing Supreme’s name. After all, it’s has Gosha Rubchinskiy in its stable of brands.

But, I know better. This is really a commercial venture, as much to elevate the CDG brand as making Dover Street Market, where the collab will be available, an attractive emporium for another group of wealthy consumers with pretensions to skate style. Supreme and CDG have been partners since 2012, when both came together to produce a capsule for the opening of DSM in Ginza. It was, by most accounts, a wildly successful output, with Supreme fans going quite frenzied trying to hunt down the limited pieces out there. Every Supreme X Comme des Garçons Shirt release since then has been a baffling, queue-forming global phenomenon—Supreme’s hometown New York City the centre of the madness.

Supreme X CDG shirt shirt

I am, of course, inclined to sit this one out. Supreme is a brand I have been reading about and seeing on social media for years, but somehow it’s always not on my radar. Yet, I am curious, because I want more for CDG. So, I visited DSMS’s E-Shop last night at about eight. The site was not accessible, with the error message “This page isn’t working (or HTTP Error 503)” appearing repeatedly enough to see me get quite vexed. Finally at about ten, I had access, but nothing was for sale yet. Then the same error message again. Okay, according to an earlier blurb on DSMS’s main page, the Supreme X Comme des Garçons Shirt 2017 release will be available in Singapore on 15 April, which is tomorrow. I was early, I admit; I just wanted a sneak peek.

Although we don’t get to buy, images of the collection are available to arouse temptation. There are the destined-to-be-sold-out T-shirts with a newish logo reportedly inspired by the Comme des Garçons Shirt 2010 spring/summer campaign featuring the distorted images of conceptual artist Stephen J Shanabrook, hoodies with said logo, a trio of rayon shirts with repeated patterns, some suits, a fish-tail parka, a Nike Air Force 1 Low, and some wallets—clearly for die-hards. So who’s copping?

Supreme X Comme des Garçons Shirt is available at Dover Street Market Singapore E-Shop from tomorrow. Photo: Supreme X Comme des Garçons Shirt

Update (16 April 2017, 9.30am): Comme des Garçons Shirt X Supreme is taken off the listing on the DSMS E-Shop. SOTD checked the site at one minute past midnight on 15 April, but was unable to find anything from the collaboration on sale. Six hours later, it remains the same. One last check on the launch date at 10.30pm saw the situation unchanged. More than 24 hours later, it seems that the line is no longer available for sale in the E-Shop

Art In Street Style

Surrender collab pic 1

Whether fashion can be considered art is a constant debate among practitioners on both sides of the divide. There may not ever be real consensus over the matter, but that has not deterred Surrender from presenting fashion as art. To augment its status as Singapore’s premier outlet for street style, the store has put together a display of nine one-piece-each-only jackets, the DRx Romanelli X Cali Thornhill De Witt Capsule Collection for Surrender as evidence that art is very much alive in street wear.

And they are priced like art—S$4,750 each, a sales person told us. Well, that may not be so staggering if you consider the price of a Gucci denim jacket embroidered with flowers, butterflies, and birds: US$4,950. Who are Surrender’s collaborators to daringly ask for such a handsome sum?

DRx (Darren) Romanelli is an LA-based designer and marketing wunderkind associated with the 2014 revival of the New York sneaker brand British Knights although his shoe collaborations go back to 2010 when he paired with Converse to amp up the Chuck Taylor All Star And Stripes. Those familiar with Japanese street wear may know Mr Romanelli as the designer behind Sophnet’s F.C.R.B Collection, also known as Football Club Real Bristol—only thing is this club is an imaginary one dreamed up Sophnet’s founder Hirofumi Kiyonaga. But so credible and legit is F.C.R.B Collection that Nike has an on-going collaboration with the brand.  Interestingly, Surrender had been a stockist of both Sophnet and F.C.R.B Collection, which may explain the rather cliquish approach to their merchandising.

Surrender collab pic 2

Cali Thornhill De Witt is a Canadian who was relocated to Los Angeles when he was three. As a teenager, he was linked to Courtney Love’s band Hole after touring with them. And has largely been a part of the music scene in LA, having worked for Geffen Records and, later, his own record company Teenage Teardrops. He has also directed music videos and designed album art, and is known as a “cult artist”, with works that seem to mirror skate life and lean heavily on text, such as “Crying at the Orgy”: an all-round, multi-tasking creative type. But the largest feather to his cap was designing the wildly successful merchandise for Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo tour. Unsurprisingly, both he and Mr Romanelli are friends.

The jackets, therefore, have a whiff of the hotchpotch perspective of US West Coast music, fashion and art scene (which Hedi Slimane was—notoriously?—smitten with), calculated to be visibly and achingly cool. All reversible, they are made from different clothing, or what the original Maison Martin Margiela Artisanal called “found pieces”. It is not clear if these are used clothes, but if they are, it is not surprising: Mr Romanelli is, as Hypebeast calls him, “the mad scientist of vintage clothing.”

Each of them—from hoodie to blouson—sports a white letter painted conspicuously on the back and they come together to spell the name of the store. Hence, the nine. Placed together, they do make a rather compelling installation piece. But are they really art? We leave that to you to decide.

Photos: Galerie Gombak

One And Only

elle-my

People love first times, even if they’re the umpteenth firsts. One of them is Elle Malaysia’s managing editor Emma Chong Johnston, a brave soul forgoing sleep to live-Tweet her overnight experience outside Kuala Lumpur’s Lot 10 and, the next morning, seize hold of her favourite pieces from the Kenzo X H&M collaboration.

Ms Chong Johnston, of course, it was the first time! Question is, was it as good for you as it had been for them?! Now that it’s daylight hours, H&M should be chided. They can produce such a striking paper bag that you so triumphantly display, but they can’t communicate clearly to you that Kenzo has never collaborated with H&M before. As with any H&M collaborations to date (frankly, we’ve lost count), it would have been the first time for anyone, even if she had queued for all of them!

Webmd.com is not wrong when they say “sleep loss dumbs you down.” 🙂

The Queue Begins… Perhaps Not

hm-ion-orchardAll quiet at H&M Ion Orchard on the eve of the Kenzo X H&M launch

By Raiment Young

I had expected snaking humanity but this was so quiet I could hear myself breathe. The H&M X Kenzo collaboration releases tomorrow, yet the storefronts did not look like a prelude to mayhem, such as the one seen at last year’s issue of the pairing with the house of Balmain. Maybe it was because of the rain that so few people were making the narrow space behind stanchion and belt overnight home. “If only this was tomorrow morning”, I heard a corpulent girl say to her friend as they walked past the Ion Orchard store, clearly not willing to commit herself to a night on a shopping centre corridor.

This was supposed to be one of H&M’s hottest collaborations (didn’t they say that about Alexander Wang and Balmain as well?). Surely Kenzo’s Carol Lim and Huberto Leon—who are acknowledged to have rebranded a Kenzo that taps into the zeitgeist—have a considerable following here? When I stopped by at the Ion Orchard outlet at 4pm, I was so surprised by the presence of only passersby that I wondered if they had omitted this branch this year, until I saw one solitary figure seated outside, preoccupied with his smartphone, clearly no source of trouble for the hovering security men. No fashionistas, no Instagrammers, no influencers.

I was tempted to ask the guy if he was alone or if he was choping spaces for others (there were no tissue packs or umbrellas to be seen), but he did not look like he wanted to be disturbed. About ten steps away, a guy in a Jordan ‘Aquas’ tee, Uniqlo ‘joggers’, and Havaianas look-a-likes peered intently into the only store window dedicated to the collaboration, and quizzed his female companion, who was dressed like him: “Are they seriously selling these things? Who’s going to buy?”

hm-grange-roadA short line that looks like a queue at H&M Grange Road. Those waiting were using the H&M-issued umbrellas to shield against the rain

An hour later, at H&M’s Grange Road store, I saw a semblance of a queue. There were twelve young people in it. Again, this was so unlike last year. At the head of the line, two twenty-something girls told me that they had started queuing since 8pm last night. Did they think that was too early? “No lah, I’m so used to it; I do it every year!” Why? Is it because she thinks the collection is good? “It depends on what you like,” she replied, as if she studied diplomacy all her life. “I like the colours,” her friend chimed in, “You should join the queue. It’s an event, lah!”

It’s understandable that with fashion within the reach of so many these days, collaborations at H&M, even now no longer a novelty, is an “event”. I don’t consider what Ms Lim and Mr Leon do for Kenzo as catalyst for adrenaline rush. Sure, they’ve tried to revive the original spirit of Jungle Jap, the first Kenzo boutique that opened in a former vintage clothing store in Paris’s 2nd arrondissement, but what would truly put me ahead of the queue would be H&M joining forces with Kenzo Takada himself. Mr Takada is still hale and able, and should still have the vim and verve to design a collection the way Jil Sander did when she was coaxed out of retirement to design for Uniqlo.

The thing is, no one outside H&M at Grange Road early this evening is aware of the real story or legacy of Kenzo. A young man in a striped T-shirt and khaki shorts, seeing the short row of seated shoppers, politely asked me if this was the line “for the Kenzo thing”. I told him that, yes, that was where he was to wait for admission the next morning to buy the result of the collaboration. “Who is Kenzo,” asked his accompanying buddy. “A famous designer,” he replied. “Famous for what?” “I don’t know. You want to queue?”

It was six years ago when I queued for the first time at an H&M store. Well, I didn’t really join the line; I stood by it for a short while. This was in 2010 and I had arrived in Shanghai for a meeting two days before the Lanvin X H&M collection was launched. The day before Alber Elbaz’s designs were to hit the store on Huaihai Zhong Lu, I dropped by to see what I had to do to partake in the grab fest. Upon seeing the line that went round the block, I thought I’ll try again the following day.

hm-ion-orchard-windowThe striking window with auto-sliding rear panels at H&M Ion Orchard

When I arrived the next morning at around half past nine (not aware that the store had, in fact, opened at eight), the queue was not long, so I joined it. In a matter of minutes, a spiffily-dressed young man approached me and asked, “要买腕带吗?便宜卖给你” (do you want to buy a wristband. I’ll sell it to you cheaply). And he went on to explain that admission is by wristband and with the one he was offering me, I would be able to get in at ten o’clock. “不需排队” (no need to queue), he assured me.

Without thinking if anything could be amiss, I asked him how much he was asking. He said, “五十块” (fifty dollars), and then quickly followed by “三十好了” (thirty is enough). I took out the exact cash and gave it to the guy, who quickly handed me the wristband when suddenly, out of nowhere, another fellow—this one burly—pushed both of us apart and said to my seller, “不可以。 不是说好了吗,不可以低价卖” (you can’t do this. Didn’t we agree not to sell cheaply?). What ensued was something out of a Stanley Tong movie.

The smaller chap was pushed and pushed until he hit the Sinan Lu-facing window of the H&M store with a loud bang. Fearing that I might be drawn into the potentially out-of-control brawl, I quickly joined the moving queue to enter the store, which, by then, had started admitting those bearing the wristband for that time slot. Suddenly I wasn’t sure I would be let in with what was acquired from a scalper. But I was not denied entry. Even then, I was still shaken by what had happened. Peace was not my companion when I shopped that morning.

By then, most of the items were sold out. I was only able to grab an ultra-supple trench coat, a cardigan-soft blazer, and a pair of wool, drawstring track pants (yes, they were already on-trend back then). When I left H&M just fifteen minutes later, the combatants were nowhere to be seen. In their place, a few youngsters, bearing the distinctive Lanvin heart H&M paper bags, were laying out their very recent purchases right there on the kerb of Huaihai Zhong Lu to be hawked. Yes, pasar malam style! In front of the store!

Unlike those ready to camp overnight outside H&M at Grange Road, I’m sitting this one out. Once, even without sacrificing sleep, as you may agree, is enough.

Photos: Zhao Xiangji

Little Black Box

karlbox

Art, as in life, is about the haves and the have-nots. There are artists who get to work with the best tools and there are those who manage with what they have. The same can be said of fashion designers who have the skill to draw and love doing it. Some use whatever pencils and pens they can find in the likes of Popular, while others such as Karl Lagerfeld employ the tools that are the equivalent of the materials used by Chanel’s métiers d’art partners—special illustration instruments from the house of Faber-Castell.

The pencils and such that Mr Lagerfeld employ must be of such commercial appeal that Faber-Castell has launched an illustrator’s kit—called unsurprisingly Karlbox, with the tag “Colours in Black”—that contains water-colour and coloured pencils, pastels, brush and fine-liner pens, graphite pencils, crayons, and attendant accessories (an astounding 350 pieces in all). This is a limited-edition kit, with 2,500 sets available worldwide. According to the sales staff at the Fabel-Castell store, there are “about 40 in Singapore.” How many wealthy Karl-loving artists do we have?

karlbox-open

The handsome housing alone will probably be a big draw, forgive the easy pun. Launched early this month, the Karlbox is no ordinary artist’s tool box. The box itself is probably worth a good portion of the cool four-figure price asked of the kit. Made of beech and lacquered in black (“inevitably”, according to Faber-Castell with no explanation) the doors are affixed with 36 pyramidal studs or “diamond point headed pins” that when closed shape up into a square formation. It is, to us, evocative of cabinets with pyramid-block facing, rather than “a Chinese wedding cabinet” that Vogue sees. This is serious stuff, produced by a 255-year-old art supply manufacturer, not the kitschy Jean Paul Gaultier coloured pencils sold as memento for the travelling exhibition From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk.

Inside the Karlbox, it’s a dollhouse for pencils and kindred instruments. There are seven tiers and six drawers, all organized by colours. What’s fascinating is the close-ups of the Karlbox in its promotional video—shot like a fashion film, but looks more like a cosmetic commercial for eye pencil colours. This is clearly pitched at fashion illustrators rather than artists. If Andy Warhol were still among us, maybe he’ll be enticed by designer pencils.

Karl Lagerfeld X Faber-Castell’s Karlbox, SGD4,588, is available at Faber-Castell, Ion Orchard, and Tangs. Photos: Faber-Castell

 

Is Adidas Desperate?

yeezy-season-4-g1Kanye West’s Yeezy Season 4 shown last week during New York Fashion Week. Photos: Yeezy

Everyone’s keeping up with Kanye (too), so let’s not talk about the Yeezy Season 4 show (or what some members of the media called “a hot mess”) that was staged last week. (In case you’re allergic to hoodies and really don’t know what happened, it was, by most accounts, a “disaster”.) Let’s discuss, instead, what Adidas is doing with Yeezy.

Back in June, Adidas made a public announcement of the formation of adidas + KANYE WEST, an “entity” that the German company sees as “the most significant partnership ever created between an athletic brand and a non-athlete”. That, marketing students, is an example of puffery. What we shall see, expectedly, is more of Yeezy sneakers, clothing, gear, and even eponymous stores. 

It was also widely reported that Adidas bankrolled the Yeezy Season 4 show after keeping away their cheque books for 3 and 4. Staged on New York’s Roosevelt Island and so poorly managed that it fanned the chagrin of those who attended, it isn’t clear how the show could benefit Adidas in the long term.

Sure, there’s publicity to be had from the media grumble, but is this the kind of foundation for adulation an established brand would lay with a potentially successful collaborator? Added to the incomprehension are the Yeezy clothes that have, hitherto, not escaped the bland and uncreative designs, first seen in Season 1. Has the man been so busy with blinding his followers with his publicity antics that they cannot see that he’s in a fashion rut?

yeezy-season-4-bootsThe Yeezy boots that caused more than one model to trip. Photo: Nowaygirl

Perhaps Mr West knows that he can’t push Yeezy any further. In an interview with Vogue.com just hours before the Roosevelt Island show, he said he prefers to substitute fashion for “let’s say ‘apparel,’ especially for the style of clothes I make.” A seductive euphemism if there ever was one. He then qualified his word choice by claiming, “I’m not saying that this is a fashion proposition, I’m saying that this is a human proposition.”

That sounds pretty close to Adidas’s game plan for the collaboration. As the brand’s chief marketing officer Eric Liedtke said to the media when the pairing with Kanye West was announced, “This is what Adidas has always been about, empowering creators to create the new.” Or giving celebrities, rather than sportsmen, what they have always been good at doing: ring up the noise.

It is often said that, unlike Nike, Adidas isn’t big in the sporting arena—at least not in the US of A, where success there often means global recognition. For Adidas there is also the niggling problem of Under Armour closing in. Adidas probably had to rethink endorsements after a series of failed partnerships with sport stars. These include the high-profile but still-not-rising NBA player Derrick Rose, who, in 2012, was awarded a “lifetime deal” rumoured to be worth around USD260 million over 14 years. Then he got injured and injured and injured, and Derrick Rose fronting Adidas became less and less and less visible.

yeezy-boost-750The first sneaker launched by Adidas and Kanye West in spring last year: the Yeezy Boost 750. Photo: Sneakernews

Big-name athlete association is integral to sporting goods brands. Nike had their money on the right guy when they signed with Michael Jordan, a Chicago Bulls star player. That pick was so spot-on that in no time, Air Jordans became a legit sub-brand under the Nike umbrella in 1985, and the launch of each style, till today, is still closely watched by sneakerheads and collectors alike. That the shoes were associated with Nike’s celebrated designer Tinker Hatfield didn’t hurt either. Adidas closest sport-celeb offering is the Stan Smith (named after the tennis player of the ’70s), a basically one-product category that’s been flogged to death.

So Adidas had to look outside of sport to raise its profile among consumers. Turning to celebrities—especially singers—isn’t a surprising move. The Three Stripes have always had the support of rappers as early as the ’80s, culminating in the RUN DMC single My Adidas of 1986. In the music video, not only were the trio decked in Adidas, they were even shown emerging from a RUN DMC/Adidas chopper! Street fashion, brought to music television by rappers, was on its way to being a multi-million business.

It was reported that the Adidas mention was completely self-initiated. Regardless, that song led to a USD1.6 million endorsement deal signed between Run DMC and Adidas. Hardly unexpected when you had rapped to the world, “my Adidas and me, close as can be/we make a mean team, my Adidas and me.” Their Adidas referred specifically to the Superstar, worn without laces. As if to relive those glory days, Adidas release a RUN DMC-co-branded line this year. Are we to expect a Missy Elliot collection? Maybe not, since we already have the Yeezy. Kanye West, the hip-hop star, will now change the fortunes of Adidas as RUN DMC did. Sport can wait.

run-dmc-adidas-teeRun DMC Adidas T-shirt, featuring the two names’ original logo. Photo: Adidas

The retreat of sport in the Adidas branding became more palpable with the push of adidas Originals (no idea why they prefer to spell it with a lower-case ‘A’), as part of a new division conceived in 2000 to advance the emerging popularity of “sport style”. It is under adidas Originals that Stan Smith was reborn and aggressively promoted. Yeezy too benefitted from the marketing might of Originals, but Kanye West isn’t the only rapper it has tapped. Others include Mr West’s G.O.O.D. Music label mates Big Sean (e.g., last year’s ZX Flux) and Pusha T (e.g., EQT Running Guidance ’93, also last year).

Do rappers have a particularly appealing taste that other singers in, say, rock or jazz do not? Or is it their visibility, as well as what can be heard from them that entices? One of the most audible (and still remembered) is Mr West’s very public outburst directed at his ex-collaborator Nike. It built up to the concert rant of 2013, when the rapper taunted Nike via the audience in a packed Bridgestone arena in Nashville, Tennessee: “Do you know who the head of Nike is? No, well let me tell you who he is: his name is Mark Parker, and he just lost culture. Everyone at Nike, everyone at Nike, Mark Parker just let go of culture.”

There must be something appealing about publicly berating the hand that once fed you, so much so that Adidas is willing to risk the same thing being done to them to go into partnership with a known hothead. It does look like it is true that publicity of any sort is better than no publicity. Let them talk about you, never mind if it’s a rant. Since its launch, Yeezy has spawned equal parts rant and rave. Or maybe it’s something else. Maybe Adidas is keeping Mr West so happy that they will not receive the same treatment if things should turn sour between them.

adidas-x-alexander-wang-ss-2017Revealed this week, Alexander Wang’s pairing with adidas Originals. Photo: JP Yim/Getty Images

adidas-x-alexander-wang-ss-2017-editorialadidas Originals by Alexander Wang editorial for Vogue. Photo Juergen Teller/Vogue

Why has Adidas become so bent on banking on celebrities to push their wares or elevate their brand? Because, these days, it is the thing to do, even if the best you can get is Rita Ora. Tommy Hilfiger, too, was once preferred and endorsed by rappers, but look at where the brand is today. They’re so threatened with irrelevance that they’ve (re)aligned themselves with celebrity—this time, the K-clan mirror image Gigi Hadid. And it isn’t enough that she is their face; she has to have a collection purportedly co-designed with her. Celebrities these days have more clout than designers. Designers have to be celebrities or use them to yield similar influence. Just ask Olivier Rousteing.

While Adidas continues its on-going collaborations with designers such as Stella McCartney, Yohji Yamamoto—Y3 is considered to have presaged the current love for athleisure—and Kolor’s Junichi Abe, they have not quite earned the cred and clout that Nike has with Junya Watanabe, Undercover’s Jun Takahashi (who, a runner himself, created the running-centric label Gyakusou), and recently Sacai’s Chitose Abe (a stunning collection conceived with Nike Lab). Nike has generally been rather judicious with their designer collaborations. Up next is Louis Vuitton’s men’s wear designer Kim Jones, whose last sport-brand collab was with the British label Umbro ten years ago. Nike has mostly paired itself with those considered the crème de la crème of the fashion business—champions of design, rather than seekers of fame.

Not to be outdone, Adidas has gone to team up with Alexander Wang, who showed an all-black capsule collection with the Trefoil logo given the dao treatment—turned upside down—during the recent New York Fashion Week (now considered season-confused since there were designers who showed autumn/winter 2016). Adidas latest choice is, of course, far from unexpected. Mr Wang had given the Stan Smith top billing when he designed a whole range of clothes inspired by Adidas’s most-known sneaker in 2014.

barrack-obama-in-adidas-2016An undated picture of Barack Obama wearing Adidas tracksuit circulated on Twitter this year. Photo: Kristoffer Tripplaar-Pool/Getty Images

His latest is homage to the Adidas tracksuit, all black, as most fashionistas desire. But do they bring anything new to the table, or, if you like, jogging track? Yes, he has toyed with the logo, but so has Junya Watanabe for Lacoste. He has outlined the three stripes, but so has Y-3. Mr Wang’s take on the tracksuit picks up after Gosha Rubichinskiy’s resuscitation of those by Sergio Tacchini and Kappa (even the Juergen Teller-lensed communication material featuring Madonna’s son Rocco Ritchie shares Mr  Rubichinskiy’s eastern-bloc aesthetic). And the all-black get-up? Even Barack Obama has worn his version, Adidas no less.

The thing is, Alexander Wang, whose own design does not distance itself from the aesthetics of fast fashion (that’s why his collaboration with H&M was a better fit than that with Balenciaga), need not have to try that hard. Adidas isn’t known to excel in the marketing of design-centric lines such as the critically-acclaimed but doomed sub-brand SLVR (launched in 2009 and discontinued in 2014), last designed by Dirk Schönberger, Adidas’s creative director for its Sports Style division. With Mr Wang, Adidas can simply let the former’s online and offline cool do the work.

Adidas’s ardent embrace of Kanye West also attests to the prevalent sentiment that design doesn’t matter. Mr West may offer what, in New York parlance, is “dope shit”, but it’s the shit that seems to rile observers such as Project Runway’s Tim Gunn, who, in a taped interview with Access Hollywood Live two days ago, called the outfits “dumb basic clothes” and the designer behind them “a sphinx without a riddle”. Mr Gunn deserves more fans.

When There Are No Cars, The Clothes Come Out

park-ing-ginza-pic-1

In what was a car park, two floors beneath ground level of the Sony Building in Ginza, a mini fashion emporium has opened. The subterranean space is unadorned, which is rather at odds with the mostly swishy stores above ground. This is one of Tokyo’s swankiest shopping districts. Is this why Hiroshi Fujiwara’s new retail concept is placed under the glitz?

In The Park.Ing Ginza, a two-level store, Mr Fujiwara is perhaps bringing street wear back to the street, or, in this case, underground concrete parking lot. This is Tokyo retail quite unlike others. In spirit and in the product mix, it brings to mind Dover Street Market Ginza, just three blocks away, but the similarity ends there. Park.Ing, by contrast, is closer to the term ‘market’, which is then similar to Comme des Garçons’s Good Design Shop (in Omotesando), a veritable general store much like a chap huay tiam (杂货店).

park-ing-ginza-pic-2Movable industrial fixtures for The Park.Ing Ginza

Mr Fujiwara has given the space a jumble that is jaunty. That is to be expected since his approach, to many street style watchers (even those in his native Japan), is more with it than his former personal assistant and pal Nigo’s, now ensconced at Uniqlo (but still with the benefit of his own retail outlet, Store by Nigo in Laforet, Harajuku). Park.Ing is a showcase of Mr Fujiwara’s curatorial flare. You don’t only find Park.Ing-branded products; you’ll also find those that seem to share the retailer’s sense of sensible street wear that can be sensational.

In this regard, fans see Park.Ing as the next chapter of the POOL aoyama, Mr Fujiwara’s previous concept store, which closed shortly before the former opened in March this year. The POOL aoyama was a veritable headquarters of Japanese cool. Its collaborators—from Undercover to Uniform Experiment—speak as much about the founder’s eye as the clout he enjoys. The ‘Pool’ T-shirts—clearly cooler than an obvious ‘Cool’ and a clever jibe—was one of the most coveted garments during the store’s reign, and they still are.

park-ing-walkman-sweat-topPark.Ing’s Sony Walkman tribute in a form of a sweat top

For Park.Ing, Mr Fujiwara continues to work with people who shared his vision for Pool (is the initial P in both names deliberate?). He has kept the original creative team and continues to collaborate with Kiyonaga Hirofumi, the man behind SOPH and Uniform Experiment. In the already potent mix is Daisuke Gemma, the creative director at one of the hottest Japanese labels today, Sacai. This really means a steaming brew of products only the Japanese can bring together with such conviction and panache.

And there are the inevitable T-shirts, which remain deliciously anti-cool and borderline cultish. What is really interesting to us is his take on corporate/consumer-name branding, a trend started by Uniqlo and validated as haute by Vetements. In conjunction with Sony’s 70th anniversary (and the building’s 50th), Mr Fujiwara has created a couple of short-sleeved sweatshirts bearing the logo, right in the centre, of Sony’s nearly forgotten product range Walkman—in its original font to boot. There’s also another version featuring DAT, Sony’s much snubbed Digital Audio Tape (SOTD tech contributor Low Teck Mee was thrilled beyond words at the sight of them!). These may be lost on the Tidal generation, but for many there is something alluringly retro and snobbishly other-gen about them.

the-park-ing-ginza-paper-bagThe white paper is as plain as a grocery bag

Therein is the appeal of Park.Ing. The store is stocked with street wear, but they aren’t predictably cute as A Bathing Ape, hardcore (and expensive) as Mastermind Japan, repetitive as Neighborhood, art-core as OriginalFake, or work wear-centred as Freak Store. Mr Fujiwara, 52, approaches fashion retail like the DJ that he is: sampling from only the most captivating sources. We can’t say for sure, but perhaps age has grounded him to output the practical without sacrificing wit and fun. It is really street wear for older customers (especially those who have shed their bond with business attire). And mostly with the important hint of exclusivity.

Mr Fujiwara is indeed the one to play pied piper to the matured crowd (more so since Ginza is no Shibuya). Once a Harajuku habitué who had worked in World’s End, the London store opened by his idols Vivienne Westwood and Malcom McClaren, he later embraced hip-hop and was considered the first to introduce rap music from the US to Japan, even teaching fellow DJs the turntablist technique of ‘scratching’. Fashion came later, in 1990, in the form of his own label Goodenough, thought to be the country’s first street wear label and a key player in the burgeoning street scene centred in Ura Harajuku, or the “back of Harajuku”.

park-ing-hang-tangThe Park.Ing Ginza hang tag in the form of a car park ticket

T-shirts have always been a consistent part of his output since Goodenough (a couple were reprised for Park.Ing), and his aesthetic sense can be traced to Stüssy. Mr Fujiwara was a member of the International Stüssy Tribe—in fact, the group’s first Japanese member. The influence of his early days never really left him, and he has been able to take the visual cues of surf (as opposed to skate) culture and throw in dashes of hip-hop, pop, and whatever is capturing the imagination of cool-cat urbanites to generate approachable products that speak of the mood on the street.

Hiroshi Fujiwara is also very much connected to Fragment Design, a one-stop, multi-discipline studio he started in 2003 that does not really produce anything other than put out judicious collaborations. That runs the gamut from Louis Vuitton to Off-White to Nike to Levis (the Japan-only Fenom line): projects that strengthen his standing as street style’s Zeus, who also happens to play the guitar and sing.

The Park.Ing Ginza proves, just as the POOL aoyama before it did, that with the right mix, in an unexpected location, and awash with attitude, retail can be viable and, as they call it in Pokémon Go, a lure.

The Park.Ing Ginza is at Sony Building, B3F, 5-3-1 Ginza, Chuo-Ku, Tokyo. Photos Jiro Shiratori