Ong Shunmugam: A Conversation

Last week, Ong Shunmugam showed their Cruise 2018 collection at Violet Oon Satay Bar and Grill. Contrary to what the comments that followed designer Priscilla Shunmugam’s Facebook post suggest, not every woman liked it

Priscilla Shunmugam has eschewed fashion weeks to go about on her own. Last Thursday, she revealed her Cruise 2018 collection, Love Letters, for Ong Shunmugam at Violet Oon’s present pet project, the eponymous Satay Bar and Grill—a seven-month-old, fantasy colonial-era, E&O Hotel-ish, British-pub-gone-posh establishment in Clark Quay—that, to Ms Shunmugam’s fans, “is such a perfect location” for her “beautiful collection”.

This time, however, “beautiful” isn’t the cultural campur that puts eye, brain, and heart in throbbing disagreement; this time, the collection seems to pick up from where the now-defunct brand Raoul left off—vaguely retro, feminine fluff, so much so that we thought she had hired the latter’s design team.

If we were to take to the town’s tittle-tattle, the brand has fallen out of favour with some organizers of fashion events. Perhaps, this may work to their advantage. A small closed-door affair means keeping the showing to only those who will augment their business, who will likely desire than disparage, who will rave even for no reason. Despite the feel-the-love message that the brand was communicating, some observers were audibly not impressed.

Chance does work in mysterious ways. We were having lunch yesterday at Encik Tan in Bugis+ with those who regularly contribute to SOTD when we heard, between mouthfuls of stewed cartilage pork noodles, the prattle of two voluble women in kind of fashionable attire. They had our full attention.

Woman 1: Did you see the Ong Shunmugam’s Cruise 2018 collection?

Woman 2: Are they serious? Nothing in the collection gave me the impression they know how to even pull it together.

W1: They’re like satay, lah: not necessarily quality meat.

W2: I bet they do not even know how to make satay.

W1: Many people who sell satay don’t know how to make satay.

W2: And people still love their satay.

W1: It’s easy to be skewered! Anyway, just eat, lor. I doubt they know what good satay is.

W2: Still, the accolades that followed! Did you read the comments? “Stunning”?!

W1: They were stunned, lah!

W2: So was I! I better stop my ranting; maybe I am outdated.

W1: There are women with dubious taste: enough to keep Ong Shunmugam in business. Just because I won’t wear their things does not mean others won’t too.

W2: It is no wonder retail is in the state that it is in. I rather wear my old M)phosis for the rest of my life.

W1: Polyester jersey is your destiny!

W2: Better that than cotton poplin batik! Does she think she’s Dries?

W1: Yah, lor. Surely not Batik Keris.

W2: Then I am Phoebe Philo!

W1: You’re Maria Grazia Chiuri!

W2: Oh no, please! She’s so hokey. Actually, I think she’s Francis Cheong!

W1: That’s a compliment.

W2: Thank you, but I’m sorry, I can’t begin to fathom. What’s her appeal? Her clever use of print?

W1: There’s nothing clever about her use of print.

W2: I was being sarcastic.

W1: I was being truthful.

W2: The truth does not always mar anything.

W1: The prints are too busy covering up the truth. No one will know if you can’t sew a straight line. Actually, on paper, she seems to have the concept pat, but the clothes, they are something else. Can’t translate?

W2: Exactly.

W1: Some women fantasize about flowers, but, poor thing, they end up on the dirt.

W2: Eeeee…

Photo/screen grab: Priscilla Shunmugam/Facebook

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Up In The Mountains

The cruise 2018 collection of Louis Vuitton was shown amid the splendour of Japan’s Shiga Mountains, but this was no highland fling

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Louis Vuitton shang shan (上山 or went up the mountain) for its latest cruise collection—on the red pine-forested yama in Japan’s Shinga Prefecture, not far from the once-capital Kyoto. Many mountains in Asia—China, Korea, Japan—are sacred. Going up a mountain is usually associated with retreating to seek spiritual well-being. In ancient China, men roam the mountains in search of immortality and to purify the spirit. In Japan, Shinto shrines dot mountains to honour kami, the divine force of nature perched high.

LV’s staging of a fashion show in one of the most beautiful verdant peaks of Japan—at the stunning I.M. Pei-designed Miho Museum, next to a temple dedicated to the messianic sect of Shinji Shumeikai—is consistent with designer Nicolas Ghesquière’s love of uncommon architecture in exotic locales. It is no coincidence that adherents of Shumei, as the religion is mostly known, believe in the pursuit of beauty through art and celebration of nature, and the erecting of splendid buildings in secluded places to restore the balance that Earth has lost.

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This is the first time a fashion show is held on this spiritual ground. It isn’t clear if the expense—likely staggering—will bring the cruise collection to new heights, but as a standalone season, the cruise is becoming more and more important, so much so that Prada has joined the fray with its first cruise show (Miuccia Prada was reluctant to call it that) after a 5-year hiatus, staged in Milan last week.

Prada sent out a Prada collection—almost standard issue, you don’t sense that these are clothes for travel, not a whiff of holiday. This was not a wow one had hoped from a come-back event. Louis Vuitton, on the other hand, offered clothes that seem much more interesting, to the point that it is more impactful than its recent fall/winter 2017 collection. This is Mr Ghesquière in his element. It brought to mind his fall 2007 collection for Balenciaga that had so impressed us. We can’t say for certain why. Maybe it’s the layering, the patterns, the mix-and-match, the youthfulness, and the joie de vivre. Ten years on, Mr Ghesquière still enthralls.

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This collection is not, by any means, a hush as in the quiet of the mountain. In fact, it edges towards loud—not a ripple in the leaves, but crackle and pop on the ground. Showing in Japan, it is to be expected that Mr Ghesquière would be inspired by Nippon art and culture. But this isn’t an obvious dalliance with anime; this was, in part, collaboration with the master of print and patterns Kansai Yamamoto. Mr Yamamoto was a towering fashion figure in Tokyo in the ’70s and ’80s, with an international reputation hemmed by his designs of costumes for David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust.

Both designers do not revisit those outlandish threads of the British singer nor any of the bombastic embroidery that was seen on Mr Yamamoto’s past designs (hairdresser to MediaCorp stars David Gan was a fervent collector in the ’80s, so is Mr Ghesquière today). In fact, there is nothing retro in their take on traditional mask on sequined dresses and kabuki-esque eyes on handbags: these would just as easily float across the Cote d’Azur or Nusa Dua as any of LV’s Twist. This collaboration does show that the spirit of past designs can be revived without the need for evident homage or, worse, mindless ostentation.

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What the Cruise 2018 has going in its favour is the welcome ease of every outfit and a good dollop of street. Sure, this is one of Mr Ghesquière’s most visually busy collections for LV, but you don’t sense that even when you wear the look wholesale, you would appear decidedly foolish, or as parody of some TV sitcom, say, of the ’70s, the way it is with some OTT labels of today. Expectedly, Mr Ghesquière, like many designers of his generation, was inspired by the ’70s—this time, Stray Cat Rock, a five-part, go-go-era Japanese film that starred the major femme fatale Kaji Meiko (Japan’s Chan Po-Chu?) as a kick-ass heroine (her titular role in Toshiya Fujita’s Lady Snowblood reportedly inspired Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill). Her cool style—including wide-brim hats that she wore in Stray Cat Rock—and nonchalant chic are obviously identifiable to Mr Ghesquière. This is definitely not the Japan of Cio-Cio-San.

We are drawn to the layering that yearned colour-blocking , the landscape prints and brocades (in some pieces, they were pants paired with punk-ish tops), comic patterns that could have been coloured wood-block prints, vest that seemed informed by Samurai armour (we now fondly recall Issey Miyake’s “rattan body” of 1982), the off-beat pairings (such as evening dresses worn with T-shirts and leggings), the oddly proportioned blazers (oversized, rounded shoulders, and nipped-in waists!). As we saw, some stray cats do rock.

Photos: Louis Vuitton

Prada Cruises Into The Familiar

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Five years is a long time to take a break. Prada last showed a resort (also known as cruise) collection back in 2013, as part of the men’s autumn/winter show. One suspected that Prada sailed into the cruise season because many luxury labels were showing post-fall collections, not because Prada really desired too. It could also be boosting the product offerings to better position its stock prices to rise.

For her first standalone cruise collection, Miuccia Prada did not deviate from what she had done before. In fact, according to media reports, she told journalists backstage that “a show should just be a show.” Ms Prada is not one to bend to industry norms, so none of the superfluous descriptions—whether cruise or resort—for her. Milan is, therefore, good enough for the show, not some far-flung place as preferred by the likes of Dior. This is just home-turf Prada, pure and simple.

And it was. Just as the cruise of five years ago was Prada unadulterated (those geeky suits and poor-taste colours), the cruise-now-gone-solo is reprise of those designs elements that Ms Prada have come to love, or, perhaps, have been selling well for the brand. If you’re looking for conceptual brilliance, such as in the spring 2013 collection, you may be disappointed. This is Prada giving you what Prada has always offered.

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What are obvious are the pantsuits or samfus, as we know them: exactly two, both with marabou cuffs on the tops that are similar to those we first saw in the presentation for the current spring/summer season. Only now they’re glammed up with neck pieces and hemlines of chained metallic discs that from a distance have the same effect (and possibly appeal) as paillettes. Glittery pyjama style for holidays taken by Carrie Bradshaw and co, or for the opening of Oriental-theme exhibitions attended by the likes of Grace Coddington.

Second time round, too, is the illustrations of James Jean. Back in 2008, Mr Jean’s fairy-like illustrations were used to stunning effect for the spring/summer collection, which, somewhat unusual for Prada then, was rather ethereal. This time, Mr Jean’s curly lines, flowers and rabbits are intertwined with the brand’s name, and they appear on accessories as well as bags. For those who missed the James Jean collaboration the first time, there’s now a chance to revisit it.

Also reprised is the Prada ID: versatile black nylon that earned it its status and fortune. But they do not come in the form of bags. Ms Prada is not that kind of revivalist. The fabric she made famous is fashioned into sporty garments: blouson-like outerwear, as well as pants. It is interesting that rather than using the nylon for blazers (as she had done for the men’s wear in the past, and still does), she gives this gender-neutral fabric a feminine flourish—the tops are worn off-shoulder and the sleeves hang like deflated leg-o’-mutton.

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Typically Prada, few things are left as you’d expect. We like the play on different fabric weights: the sheer over sheer or completely opaque. Optical, too, are how the embellishments contrast each other, such as bejeweled sheer tops backgrounded by the blurred appliqués of the pieces below. This interplay of densities also yielded, in quite a few looks, multiple necklines in one outfit. It is tempting to dismiss this as a styling trick, but we’re inclined to believe that this is very much a deliberate design move, even if Ms Prada has always made her mixes uncalculated.

Relooking at the collection as stills, we thought that, while there is no doubt Prada is Prada, there is also some Miu Miu thrown in the mix—such as the off-beat girliness and the fondness of wearing coats with neckline splayed. It’s tempting to think that somehow bridging the season means bringing the sibling brands together. The Prada customer is also very likely a Miu Miu customer.

And it did also cross our mind that holidaymakers may find what Prada proposes to be too effort-driven. Assuming this is targeted at the resort-bound market, we’re not sure there are that many women who would spend precious time putting on these delicate layers and multi-strand neck wear instead of frolicking on the beach or exploring the hillside. Or maybe there are. Anna dell Russo, we suspect, enjoys her holidays—make-up, get-up, et al.

Photos: Prada