Do We Need It This Fast?

Amazon announced a first-of-its-kind service during London Fashion Week: delivery within an hour of your see-now-buy-now order. Is this rush or rash?
Amazon UK

By Mao Shan Wang

Are we moving inexorably into the instant gratification of see now, wear now—or in the next hour? That seems to be what Amazon is suggesting when they paired with the millennial-baiting label Nicopanda to deliver the brand’s merchandise, during the showing at London Fashion Week, within an hour (only in London). That’s faster than going from Jurong West to Changi Airport!

I don’t know about you, but I can wait. There’s never anything I need immediately. Food maybe—goreng pisang (so scarce these days)—when the craving hits, you just one right away, or two. Like this instance! And you never have banana fritters sitting in the fridge, ready to be popped into your mouth. But clothes, you always have something to wear.

Sure, it may not be the T-Shirt or jeans you feel for at that moment, but you do have T-shirts and jeans that can be worn, too many to warrant counting probably. I know there’s nothing I don’t already have in my wardrobe, or require in a jiffy. But if Amazon’s flash delivery (only available to their Amazon Prime customers) for Nicopanda—by the stylist-turn-designer Nicola Formichetti—is any indication, someone needs one of their hoodies… at once.

Nicopanda SS 2018

This urgency sounds to me like a dash to (Nico)pander to millennial rash. Understandable. Someone out there had to be the first on Instagram to wear the newest Nicopanda. What rewards come to those who can’t wait? Logo-ed sweat top or a long-sleeved tee, a bomber jacket (that’s what they call it), a pair of leggings, a scarf, and a clutch: seven items for adopters of a complete Nicopanda look. But don’t Instagrammers always have a solution if they are short of something to wear for the camera of their smartphone? Like Kim Kardashian, don’t they go without?

These Insta-items are easy and fast to produce and are proven to be saleable, ideal for a platform like Amazon. If the pre-show buzz isn’t enough marketing bark, the packing boxes stacked as backdrop in the Nicopanda’s London show erects the obvious just as the clothes advocate the ostentatious. Mr Formichetti—believe it or not, appointed creative fashion director of Uniqlo in 2013—has a wholly playful, gila take on fashion, and Nicopanda (reportedly his nickname) offers mostly wacky merchandise that would sit comfortably in always-madcap Superspace, where anything remotely mainstream is banned.

What I saw behind my glasses with lenses that cut blue light was Nicopanda for Nickelodeon fans. Question is, are they Amazon Prime’s customers?

Nicopanda photos: Indigital.tv

Advertisements

Close Look: Depression’s ‘Berlin Collection’

Depression AW 2017 Pic 1

Six months after the Depression boys—as Kenny Lim and Andrew Loh are affectionately known—sent out their autumn/winter 2017 collection during Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Berlin early this year, about a dozen pieces or so from that showing were launched at the designing duo’s multi-label store Sects Shops in Orchard Central last evening. This, as with Depression-related events, is a fan club greet-and-meet, with a token fashion show thrown in, not quite the gathering of the pugilist world (武林大会) that is part of the brand’s neo-Eastern image.

It is admirable that Depression, now in its 11th year, is able to capture the interest and purchasing power of its fan base despite what is willed to be unchanging aesthetic—heavy on darkness and bleakness, but light on cleverness and technical finesse. Called Vol 2: Dragon Vs Tiger, the collection may boast less T-shirts now than blousy tops, but the clothes have not (and probably will never) shed their Goth leaning. Depression is one of very few Singaporean labels that have stayed tenaciously true to its brand DNA: visual cheerlessness. And for that, we’d say the Depression boys have been triumphant.

Depression show at Sects Shop

By now, it is, perhaps, pointless to talk about Depression being unable to escape its propensity for the depressing. They are not going to go jolly suddenly, not at all. Surely in all the gloom, there is a bright spark. Amid the ‘wrongs’, they must have done something right—right enough to come this far. Lest you think we’re going to have a go at them, we are, in fact, going to look at the brand in a way that, as a cheery attendee at the launch party said, “could encourage the boys.”

So encourage we shall. Let’s egg them on to seek therapy in order for them to get out of their decade-long despair. And point to them the maxim “the power to change one’s life lies entirely within oneself”, as stated in their online ‘About Us’. Darkness, you see, does not have to be eternal, just as black as a colour need not project misery, or the macabre. Even if you are, as a Turkish saying goes, “keeping each other’s company on the way to hell”, do stop and smell the roses. But not black ones.

Depression shirt

We’ll cheer them on for the visual tact built on Chinese expressions that are evocative of the literary and cinematic genre of wuxia (武侠 or martial arts) and the brand’s apparent appeal to the wuling (武林 or the pugilists’ circle): a small sect of fashion warriors who dress like the Depression boys. This season, their use of the saying 十面埋伏, (shi mian mai fu or ambush from ten sides) is played up prominently—it takes up the entire bodice of one shirt, for example. But there is no surprise attack, visually. This is not the chromatic splendour of the Zhang Yimou film of the same name (known as House of Flying Daggers in English); this is Depression’s usual hack (such as 2014’s 心魔 or evil in the heart)—patently manga, no subtlety or subtitle.

They also need encouragement in the use of more fetching typography. Chinese fonts need not only be in bold face to be effective. They need not appear as if they’re being employed for the movie poster of some cheap Chinese zombie flick. Perhaps the B-grade quality is deliberate or salutary, since Andrew Low is the graphic designer of the two, both having started out in advertising. Still, the people around need not be visually waylaid by the wearer of 十面埋伏. But the font choice is not only problematic for the Chinese text. Depression would like you to believe that what you have bought is “made from a mad dark place” and that proclamation is embroidered noticeably on parts of the garments. Sure, we’re not expecting the embroidery of François Lesage, but must they look like something done in a baseball cap shop in Queensway Shopping Centre?

Depression did, in fact, show some rather eye-catching embroidery other than their usual hard-edge, bad-ass decorative treatment. In keeping with their Dragon Vs Tiger theme, they’ve included a monochrome pair of the heavenly and earthly beasts, each in the shape of a paisley. The keen eye would see that their use is a little belated, considering that the souvenir jacket, on which such embroidery are commonly found, is passé, and a little too Gucci to be relevant or even interesting to their wushu (武术 or martial arts) garb sensibility. And the placement of the motifs—symmetrical and opposite the other, with no animalistic tension—is completely devoid of surprise or edge.

Depression hemThe hem of a Depression top

We, too, like to encourage them to get a quality control head and a product development manager, assuming they have not hired any, or can’t do either jobs themselves. We have repeatedly expressed our dismay with the make of Depression garments, the finishing, and the choice of fabrics. It is disheartening to still see, after these many years of their existence, uneven hems that refuse to sit flat, seams that pucker (and those that bunch up under the arm), and fabrics that are mostly associated with low-cost garments. It challenges comprehension that pullovers fashioned out of a knit fabric with loopback underside (generally comfortable even if the fibre is synthetic) should require thick-ply polyester lining, and only on one side—either front or back, resulting in a lopsidedness that yields saggy hems.

These problems are compounded by the presence of other clothes from Korea and the US that are sold alongside Depression in the Sects Shop. Next to the imports, Depression looks decidedly slapdash. Beneath the distraction of the exaggerated shapes, Oriental embroidery, and Chinese text, the clothes still show their shaky foundation. Perhaps the other Chinese character used this season is instructive: 忍 (ren, or endure). In view of Depression’s design progress, we really have to bear with the slowness.  Haste, in this instance, cannot be encouraged.

Sects Shop is at level 4, Orchard Central. Photos: Zhao Xiangji

Tokyo Won’t Be Added To A “Big Five” Any Time Soon

Despite their best efforts, Tokyo Fashion Week is not quite on par with New York, London, Milan, and Paris (held twice a year in that order), but does it matter when Tokyo itself is still the most exciting city on earth for fashion?

Lithium AW 2017Lithium autumn/winter 2017 show

It’s been a long and somewhat rough journey for Tokyo Fashion Week. The autumn/winter 2017 showing just concluded in the Japanese capital, but it’s not been fodder for media frenzy, viral memes, or ten-trends-to-watch-out-type reports. Most of what has been coming into news feeds have been along the lines of “The Strongest Street Style from Tokyo Fashion Week”. Sidewalk, it seems, was more captivating than catwalk.

Not that they have not tried. It’s been 32 years in the making, yet, somehow, the big league has escaped what has been Asia’s premier and possibly oldest fashion week. Its inability to soar could be the problem with identity. While many insiders refer to it as Tokyo Fashion Week (just as the Big Four have become identified by the city in which the events take place), it, in fact, began life as Japan Fashion Week (JFW), which emerged in 1985, no doubt prompted by the success of the Japanese designers in Paris in the early ’80s. Prior to that, people in Tokyo remember an event called TD6 (or Top Designers 6) emerging in 1977, organized by the show producer and musician Yoshiro Yomo, who has collaborated with Issey Miyake in the latter’s early shows in Paris, where prêt-a-porter, institutionalised in 1973, is precursor to today’s fashion weeks.

Japan Fashion Week remained largely a gathering of a motley group of designers from across the country to show collectively until 2005, when the Council of Fashion Designers restructured it in order to attract the best local names (Japanese designers still preferred to show overseas: Yohji Yamamoto and Comme des Garçons have never left Paris since their respective debuts there in 1981). It was also when the Japan Fashion Week Organisation was formed to guide JFW in the direction that will bring about bigger international acclaim, if not lure more international buyers. In 2010, it went into partnership with IMG Fashion to attract big-name corporate sponsorship and in 2011, unsurprisingly, Mercedes-Benz became the title sponsor until last year when, surprisingly, Amazon Fashion came into the picture, branding it—what else?—Amazon Fashion Week Tokyo. Still following?

House CommuneHouse_Commune autumn/winter 2017

It is not yet clear what Amazon can do for a fashion week. Mercedes-Benz is understandable (although Persil or Tide makes more sense), but Amazon Fashion, a recent sub-brand of the e-commerce behemoth, has mostly been associated with merchandise that’s not quite “fashion”. That’s not the only reason why fashion brands are avoiding them; there’s also their pricing strategy (read: not high end). Amazon has been a (discount) book seller for a good part of their existence and then a general merchandise portal. High fashion is not (yet) a major sell although, if you type Louis Vuitton in their search bar, you do get a list of LV bags sold, not by LV, but sellers such as Chic Designer Bags On Sale.

According to the Amazon Fashion Week Tokyo website, which completely replaces the old pages headlined by Mercedes-Benz, the city has already joined the Big Four: “Out of the world’s fashion weeks, those held in Paris, Milan, London, New York and Tokyo are regarded as having the most potential for disseminating information due to their history and the amount of buzz surrounding them. These five fashion weeks are the most known fashion weeks in the world and have much influence of the fashion world.” The reality is a little different. For many of the members of the media, as well as the buying brigade, Paris is, as Refinery 29 wrote, just three weeks ago, “the final stop on the international whirlwind known as Fashion Month”.

To be fair to the Japanese, they did try to get Amazon Fashion Week Tokyo to a quick start. The first show was on 20th March, one day shy of two weeks from the last Paris show. But that is not quick enough for the international pack if you consider that Paris Fashion Week began immediately after Milan. Even if you factor the time difference between Europe and Asia, no one needs thirteen days to recover from jet lag. Once, you’re outside Fashion Month, which is not lacking in grumbles that it’s too long, it’s going to be tough to get people back into another circuit.

AulaAula autumn/winter 2017

Scheduling aside, people know who they are going to see when they go to New York, London, Milan, then Paris, plus a few they don’t know for good measure. Chances are, you don’t really know what you’re in for in Tokyo. All the names that you are familiar with and that you like, you have already checked out in Paris: Anrealage, Comme des Garçons, Issey Miyake, Junya Watanabe, Kolor, Noir Kei Ninomiya, Sacai, Toga, Undercover, Yohji Yamamoto. So who will you see in Tokyo?

It may seem a little harsh to say that all the strong ones have left the nest, but it is not immoderate to say that those who show in Tokyo are perhaps not quite ready to take their place alongside the world’s best. Having followed the Tokyo scene regularly for decades, it does appear to us that those who remain in their home turf tend to be too Tokyo, which means, they are markedly Japan-centric. That in itself is not a bad thing since it is known that many Japanese labels are quite happy to cater to the domestic market alone. But for those from the outside looking in and hoping to find more of the Nippon artistry that makes Paris Fashion Week more exciting, they may be unraveling the wrong seam.

Members of the media, buyers, and influencers swoop down on New York for the city’s love of sportswear, (further) takes on the ’70s, First Lady-worthy gowns, and, if they must, joke that is Christian Cowan, with Paris Hilton taking to the runway. Then they cross the Atlantic to London to see the stuff that will advance fashion, and all the Brit-classic redux they can take, while wondering where in the happy mix will be the next Alexander McQueen. After that, they fly into Milan to witness Italian tailoring the umpteenth time, and also take in the good taste, and in recent years, the bad too. Then it’s off to Paris for the refinement left over from haute couture, and, since the Japanese invasion, the avant-garde, and, since John Galliano at Dior, sumptuousness and historicism. If there’s anything left in the overseas budget, it’s off to Tokyo, but what can they hope to find in the land of Cosplay?

Hare AW 2017Hare autumn/winter 2017

What Amazon Fashion Week Tokyo has up against it is not so much the other fashion weeks, but the city itself. Tokyo, as regular visitors and first-timers would attest to, is a veritable catwalk anywhere you go in the city centre, even in the neighbourhoods away from Shinjuku and Shibuya and the triumvirate of Harajuku/Aoyama/Jingumae. The most interesting things are also happening at retail level, and not just among designer labels but across chain stores too. Buyers who are attracted to the wares and wears of Tokyo often go straight to the brands to discuss biz op.

The popular brand Beams, for instance, receive constant inquiries from overseas retailers keen on representing it in their home market. Sometimes it’s the fans that go directly to the brand, such as M.L Trichak Chitrabongs from Bangkok’s Heavy Selection. Mr Chitrabongs, a graphic designer by training, has been an ardent fan of the artisanal denim label Kapital. When he became the design director of Heavy Selection, the shoe-maker-turn-fashion-retailer with 200 plus stores throughout the country, he took the opportunity to go straight to the Kojima-based company to seek the distributorship for Thailand.

Amazon Fashion Week Tokyo as middleman is, therefore, somewhat redundant when so much of the city could be walk-in business potential. The 50-odd labels that participated in the catwalk shows could hardly come to represent the staggering variety that is fashion in Tokyo alone. As showcase, it is unneeded since the city too is a living platform for fashion that is actually being consumed. So many of the participating designers bore aesthetic similar to the merchandise in mega-emporiums such as Marui (also known as 0101), which touts itself as purveyor of “world-acclaimed apparel collection of Tokyo styles”, that it is hard to discern what is truly special at Amazon Fashion Week Tokyo.

EthosensEthosens autumn/wniter 2017

The difficulties facing Tokyo is compounded by competition from fairly nearby cities: Shanghai and Seoul. Sure, fashion week in Tokyo has a longer history, but upstarts are not too concerned with the past of those that came before them. Shanghai Fashion Week (8—16 April) is gaining ground even if interest is aroused only because Chinese designers such as Yin Yiqing and Zhang Huishan are making waves in Europe. Seoul Fashion Week (27 March—1 April, immediately after Tokyo) is on the radar due mainly to the unwavering interest in K-pop and K-drama, but what if both are no longer exciting the indiscriminate young? In some ways, Seoul, too, have a problem similar to Tokyo. Buyers have long been visiting Seoul to source for their stores, but the catwalk has not really been the conduit; the packed wholesale complexes of Dongdaemun operating in the dead of night have.

According to AFP, the Tokyo calendar attracts 50,000 visitors, and that, apparently, is “just a quarter of the total number that attend New York’s two annual fashion weeks, and also lagging behind London, Paris and Milan”. Despite its lack of pull, is Tokyo still the place to see groundbreaking designs?  It has not been a given that you will always get to witness the likes of Junya Watanabe, but given the city’s design culture and history, there are opportunities to view things one have not seen before, even if Japanese avant-garde has become somewhat saturated. Watchable names such as Yu Amatsu’s A Degree Fahrenheit don’t necessarily show on runways, and house brands of stores such as Tomorrowland and United Arrows continue to rack up sales without the benefit of fashion week showing.

There are, of course, some interesting, if not totally compelling, shows in this second installment of Amazon Fashion Week Tokyo. We’re piqued by the designs of Lithium, House_Commune, Aula, Hare, and Ethosens, whose respective designers are making wearable clothes desirable without resorting to craziness or indeed the complex forms of their predecessors who have brought Tokyo to the world’s attention. However, this handful isn’t quite enough to elevate Amazon Fashion Week Tokyo to commanding heights. For now, it would have to be Big Four plus one.

Photos: Jiro Shiratori

At Sacai, Tweed Goes Sporty

Sacai AW 2017 Pic 1

Some people might think it is inappropriate, even sacrilegious, to employ high-end fabrics in a non-high-end way. You would not take silk gazar, for example, and turn them into casual clothes, even if there’s no rule against such a use, except perhaps aesthetic consideration. For Sacai’s Chitose Abe, there are no such self-imposed limitations. She uses fabrics as artists use paint; she mixes them up. In doing so, she gives some of the oldest cloths new purpose. For autumn/winter 2017, tweed, a traditional Irish/Scottish fabric in use before the 19th century, for example, in her hands were fashioned into outers so type-breaking they made Chanel jackets look rather frumpy.

Sacai is known for her aesthetic hybrids, and the results often defy characterisation. For her recent show, she crossbred high-brow tweed with outdoor wear and the result is deliciousness only skilled mixologists can offer. How does one describe her not-country-club tweeds? It’s tricky, but we’ll try. One of them that we really like is a navy and green parka-meets-anorak, within which bouclé tweed was worked into (top). Not quite what you might pick for a climb in the mountains, but it’s certainly for tranquil days tending to your resort in the Swiss Alps.

Sacai AW 2017 Pic 2Sacai AW 2017 Pic 3

And would you add openings to tweed skirts the way they create slits in the knees of jeans? Ms Abe knows women like gashes in their bottoms, and she obliged, but these were not mindless rips, calculated to titillate, or repulse. Instead, they’re side openings with zips, which means the skirts could be customized to fall in a certain way, based on how zipped up they are, or not. The same idea was applied to pants. Yes, those pants! They have the attitude of a pair of cotton cargos and the swagger of the nicest wool crepe slacks. But they are in tweed!

Her cross-breeding does not only bring disparate garments from different categories of clothing together, which she frequently does, but also within a dress type or style. Take military wear, for (another) example. Ms Abe is fond of the field jacket, but this time, she’s created something that looks like the navy and the armed forces happily co-exist: a peacoat married to a parka!

Sacai AW 2017 Pic 4Sacai AW 2017 Pic 5

From the start of the Sacai show, we saw designs that took into consideration the femininity women will always return to despite the vagaries of fashion or the gender-ambiguous leanings of street style. Case in point: the first look should really have been pyjama dressing except that the composition—cut, fabric, and embellishment—looked destined for a front-row seat of a fashion show than under a comforter in a bedroom, or, for the more adventurous, a bar-side stool in a pub. If Grace Coddington was really bent on wearing pyjamas to the Met Gala of 2015 (China: Through the Looking Glass), she really should have picked something like this.

What we find so inspiring is that Ms Abe is able to project a vestige of cool without sacrificing the advantage of craft, beauty, humour, intelligence, and modesty. Her clothes are not overt in any of those qualities that make the wearer ooze sex or trickle foolishness. Despite the possibly frenetic mixing within just one garment, each piece is a charming confluence of clever design and palatable novelty.

At one time, there were rumours that Chitose Abe was asked to go to Dior. If only it were true.

Photos: indigital.tv

When Clothes are Blah, The Show Has To Be A Blast

wp-image-114028429jpg.jpg

The 35m rocket stood in the middle of the Grand Palais like the Obelisk of Luxor at the centre of Place de la Concorde. Guests arriving to witness Chanel’s fall ready-to-wear presentation must have been wowed by the spacecraft as pilgrims in 1400 BCE visiting the Luxor Temple were when approaching the entrance’s twin obelisks (before they were split, with one arriving in Paris in 1833).

Karl Lagerfeld has been Chanel’s ringmaster since the brand’s fashion shows became more than just a catwalk event. He’s been dreaming up so many of these massive mind-boggling sets so that the audience would be awe-struck that it’s become hazy as the smoke from the Chanel-branded rocket when we recall the number of them. But remember we do: the carousel of fall 2008, the iceberg of fall 2010, the giant globe of fall 2013, the supermarket (or was it a hypermart?) of fall 2014, the boulevard of spring 2015, the brasserie of fall 2015, the casino of fall 2015 (couture), and the airport terminal of spring 2016 (which is the second air travel-related theme after the hangar of resort 2008).

And now, this rocket. “This is what you call one giant leap for mankind,” declared the online edition of Harper’s Bazaar. Really? Is Neil Armstrong turning in his grave? And for vogue.com, “the rocket ship was, of course, the pièce de résistance”. Then, what about the clothes?

Chanel makes garments that please, but they are not exceptional enough for the media to rave about or awful enough for detractors to hate. Bouclé or no bouclé, Mr Lagerfeld offers mostly variations of a theme. It’s what keeps Chanel alive. Even if Chanel omits shows from their image-making thrusts, women will still buy the handbags, camellia brooches, and earrings with the double Cs.

Despite the presence of the rocket, there was nothing space-age or galactic about the collection. If there’s not anything you can say about the clothes without sounding yet again like a deferential fan, then perhaps something can be said about the experience attending a Chanel show. They are smart. And an experience isn’t a mesmerising one if there was only a static ship. That’s why the lift-off during the finale, although, anti-climactically, the Chanel rocket did not shoot through the roof for the stars. But it was dramatic enough. The resultant oohs and ahhs washed over any potentially anaemic reaction to the clothes. For the attendees, this was probably the only rocket launch they’ll ever attend. And that’s good enough.

It’s been said that these big productions with their equally massive sets that could put any West End show to shame may boost a luxury brand’s top-of-the-pack standing. If so, what should we make of Balenciaga showing in a set-free basement? Balenciaga on a budget?

Photo: Chanel

Awkward Elegance As Balenciaga Turns 100

Balenciaga AW 2017 pic intro

Cristóbal Balenciaga of the golden age of couture was a designer with a fondness for dramatic silhouettes. He created clothes with a sculptor’s eye, and manipulated shapes with a potter’s hand. He made black as chic as any colour (which itself is now the subject of an exhibition at the Musée Bourdelle in Paris). He redefined the space between fabric and the body by creating the tunic dress, the baby doll dress, and the cocoon coat. That daring was seeded 100 years ago when he, then aged 22, opened his first fashion house in San Sebastian, Spain. And stunningly expressed 80 years ago, when his first couture house was established in Paris.

Cut to the present: autumn/winter 2017 season. Demna Gvasalia literally skewed his already off-beat proportion for Balenciaga. He showed outers with a centre-front buttoned to the shoulder, effectively challenging the traditional idea that a jacket’s pivot point (or break point) is in the middle. This, Mr Gvasalia told the media, was in response to many of the old Balenciaga photos that he had seen, in which women often held the front of their jacket that way.

Balenciaga AW 2017 pic 2

How this new way of wearing a jacket feels isn’t clear (unless you’re one of the models of the show) as there must have been a pull at the underarm area considering that the fore seam on one side would have been affected or shifted. From the video of the show posted online, the models did not look uncomfortable, perhaps because of the generous armhole and, in some cases, the oversized shoulder pads that Mr Gvasalia favours. The right side of the jacket worn across the body to the left had the effect of a blanket shawl swept aside. Will this distort catch on?

The off-centre shifts that Mr Gvasalia has made with Balenciaga no longer warp our view of what this storied house stands for. Maybe we’re getting used to them. Or, maybe, some semblance of elegance had pervaded Balenciaga and it was an appealing spread through. Despite the odd way to fasten an outer—also applied to a toggle coat, a pea coat, and a bubble coat (that was styled in such a way that the model looked like a gypsy awaiting the kindness of tourists during winter), Mr Gvasalia showed a surprising number of instantly appealing looks that made this collection his best to date.

Balenciaga AW 2017 pic 3

Balenciaga AW 2017 pic 4

We will be the first to admit that when his Balenciaga first appeared, we were perplexed. But when your lenses are refocused, sometimes things become a little clearer, if not lucid. Now, with homage to hookers of yore rife at other French houses, Mr Gvasalia’s flying off on a tangent seems oddly appealing. We were especially drawn to the oversized pencil as well as pleated skirts, worn—rather, belted—in such a way that the excess fabric at the waist folded forward as a flap. There was a sense of nostalgia in the tented dresses that recall the couture master’s baby doll versions. Is imagining women actually wearing these approachable clothes a no-no? If not, let’s do.

Balenciaga in its heydays was the man to go to for women who wanted something special. The clothes that were made and bought were actually worn. If fashion lore is to be believed, the Countess von Bismarck, former Mona Harrison-Williams, the Kentucky-born socialite, wore only Balenciaga, even when gardening. If fashion legend Diana Vreeland is to be beloved, “The Kentucky Countess” ensconced herself in her Capri villa for three days when Cristóbal Balenciaga closed his atelier in 1968—presumably, to mourn. Wearability was not taboo at the house of Balenciaga. If Mr Gvasalia’s latest season is any indication, he’s restoring Balenciaga’s to its rightful pro-customer place.

Balenciaga AW 2017 pic 5

As if to proof this point, he showed a capsule of nine dresses that was ode to the Balenciaga couture of yesteryear: the icing on the 100th anniversary cake. These would have been familiar to those enamoured with the Balenciaga of the ’50s and ’60s, such as the Countess von Bismarck, if not for the models’ streetwise gait. Although their carriage (did they even know they were wearing couture?) wasn’t the same as those from 80 years, these dresses won’t disappoint the camera-toting horde that is Mr Gvasalia’s peer.

Mainly updates of the baby doll, as well as the flounced and tiered dresses, they were made charmingly irreverent by the pairing of a matching, oversized shopping bag to each, reminding us that this was 2017. One standout design: a take on the Amphora gown of 1959, a totally chic lantern of a dress that deserves to be revived and appreciated. The spirit of Balenciaga lives, even if only momentarily.

Photos: (top) Balenciaga, (catwalk) indigital.tv

Does Rei Kawakubo Now Mostly Design For Museums?

comme-des-garcons-aw-2017-pic-1

With the Comme des Garçons retrospective, Art of the In-Between, starting the first Monday of May (exactly seven weeks from now), it is not unexpected if you thought that the just-shown CDG autumn/winter 2017 collection was conceived for for a date with New York’s Metropolitan Museum.

According to The Met’s Costume Institute, this year’s aptly-named spring exhibition—traditionally kick-started by the Met Gala, where, as Bret Easton Ellis would have said, “the better you look, the more you see”—“will examine the work of Japanese fashion designer Rei Kawakubo, known for her avant-garde designs and ability to challenge conventional notions of beauty, good taste, and fashionability.”

Ms Kawakubo is, of course, the agitator-designer behind the label Comme des Garçons. While CDG is gaining massive grounds in terms of popularity, Ms Kawakubo has remained largely unknown, a long-term mystery. Until a couple of days back, there were hardly any recent photos of her in the public domain. Few have spoken to her except her staff, and even then, that privilege reportedly goes to only a handful. This enigma no doubt augments the brand’s appeal. That what she has shown on the runway in the past ten years have been largely unpractical and unwearable only ups CDG’s alternative-therefore-desirable cachet and prestige.

comme-des-garcons-aw-2017-pic-2

The Future of the Silhouette, her latest collection (and, indeed, not just this one) begs the question: “Are these clothes?” If clothes are what we wear to cover our body, then indeed they are. But if they are items worn to enhance, expose, or beautify the shape of the body, and in doing so, allow the wearer to fit into a society that shares this definition, then CDG may not have offered clothes. And if they are not clothes, what are they? The question is harder to answer when so much of Ms Kawakubo’s output defy the present-day anatomy of what constitutes good-looking garments, with holes for neck, arms, and legs.

Rei Kawakubo once said, “Fashion is something you can attach to yourself, put on, and through that interaction, the meaning of it is born.” Attach? As in pinning a brooch to a blouse, or clipping a carabiner to a belt loop? Put on, as you would with a shoe, an article of clothing that does need to take the shape of the part of the body in which it encases? Ms Kawakubo’s avoidance of the word ‘wear’ possibly refutes the notion that clothing has a functional role as much as proposes the idea that, as attachment, our clothes need not follow the contours of our body. The body is a base on which any shape can be attached to.

And that was what she conveyed at the show many attendees thought would be a prelude to The Med. The first outfit could have been an uncoloured, oversized tennis ball distended to cover the body, arms confined within. A bulbous paste-on of a dress looked like it was made of insulation material. A cocoon of rough and speckled fabric with a face peeping out an opening was akin to a child pretending to be a tree. And the transfigurations did not stop, or the textural anomalies. While others use the likes of sequins for surface decorations, Ms Kawakubo employs what could be suckers of cephalopod limbs.

No form was too impractical, too strange, or too at odds with the body. In the past four seasons, CDG has ceased to show clothes that match any semblance of what all of us have in our wardrobes. Sure, before that, there were her characteristic oddities, but a dress still looked like a dress. Now, they are mutant fabric shapes, as if designed by pre-schoolers for imaginary beings with face, lower arms, hands, lower limbs, and feet like humans but not the rest of their fantastic forms.

comme-des-garcons-aw-2017-pic-3

These clothes are composites of alien yet organic shapes—conjoined protuberances. Ms Kawakubo has always been partial to bulges and distensions, a love affair that can be traced to the spring/summer 1997 collection called Body Meets Dress, Dress Meets Body, popularly referred to as Lumps and Bulges. While clothes from that season were largely seen as an attempt to exaggerate female curves, her present silhouettes are more than Quasimodo-peculiar. These strange, not immediately recognizable forms are beguiling because no one makes them. And no one knows how they are to be worn.

Other questions abound. How are these clothes made? Are there any paper patterns involved? Are the clothes designed directly on the body? How does one get those shapes to hold? How does it feel inside one of them? These questions are as intriguing as those directed at the clothes’ wearability or the admirers’ sanity are unrelenting. In searching for answers, we sometimes wonder if the construction of these un-clothes-like clothes shares the same base or framework as those worn by individuals playing SpongeBob SquarePants. Fashion really need not only appeal to the heart; it can appeal to the mind too.

The CDG aesthetic is so established and so appreciated by diehard fans that Rei Kawakubo no longer needs to show what to her is mainstream fare. Instead, she uses the main Paris catwalk as focal point to showcase what for others are inconceivable, or, maybe, to parody herself. In doing so, she has again and again vividly illustrated that there is no limit to creativity. To regard her designs, as some do, with the same eye one sees Gucci, or the same benchmark one applies to Chanel is like Impressionist fans disparaging the work of the Cubists. Totally understandable why The Met went a-calling.

cdg-aw-2017-nike-sneakers

Despite garments that make many wonder who would buy them, Ms Kawakubo still offers something that are wearable and, indeed, covetable: footwear. These rather conventional shoes for autumn/winter 2017 are counterpoint to the way-out, armless blobitecture of what is worn above them. Since none of what she proposes as clothes would look appropriate in heels, Manolo Blahnik or not, Ms Kawakubo has again chosen to collaborate with Nike to birth the oddly feminine Nike Lunar Epic Flyknit (above), a trainer with a bow just above the toe box. Is that not commercial and wearable?

That, for some, is the genius of CDG: leave the wearable stuff to the sub-lines and collaborations. The effectiveness of this strategy cannot be underestimated. CDG has such a distinct aesthetic that it transcends trends. Most CDG garments are so unusual that they either look of the present time or so extraordinary that it has nothing to do with time except the wearer’s own chronological perception of what is current and what is not. Lines such as Comme des Garçons Comme des Garçons, Tricot, and Black carry the CDG torch without even a flicker, and they continue to perform extremely well for the brand.

The main Comme des Garçons collection that enthralls those lucky enough to see it in Paris will thus continue to be creative expressions untethered to design conventions of the day. Rei Kawakubo had said that she is inclined to “make clothes for a woman who is not swayed by what her husband thinks.” Maybe now, that includes a museum where she would go, no matter what runs through her spouse’s head.

Photos: indigital.tv

Lanvin Lame, Dior Dismal

lanvin-vs-diorSimilar silhouettes at Lanvin (left) and Dior (right). What gives?

Fashion these days is fashion with a capital F. But sometimes, it’s boring with a capital B. Paris Fashion Week is increasingly the embodiment of such extremes. The F is, of course, sometimes B, with the B more and more because of E, the capital initial of excess.

Despite all the high-drama, high-octane, here’s-all-the-sex-you-need-in-a-dress ubiquity, inclement weather et al, some brands are traipsing the now frequently trodden path of the excruciatingly dull. Fashion watchers and armchair analysts attribute it to the need (order from above?) to sell. But on the catwalk, where many of us look to for inspiration and direction, do we need to see clothes conceived to bear the weight of commerce?

In the not-so-distant past, we looked to French houses for leadership and for ideas to lift our wardrobes above the humdrum. With the offerings of fast fashion now legit style currency, labels with history steep in couture need to go above the fray, or, to borrow from business parlance, build higher barriers to entry. Just this morning, a design student was overheard saying, “Nah, Dior has nothing for me to copy.” Fashion plagiarism is a problem and a practice that must be discouraged and frown upon, but if imitation is flattery, what does it mean when no one wants to copy you?

Two of the most storied of French names seem to be in a position that may amount to that dilemma: Lanvin  and Dior. Bouchra Jarrar and Maria Grazia Chiuri, the respective design directors of both houses, have taken the position of not challenging the status quo, our aesthetic sensibility, and their own selves. Instead, they have both adopted the I-am-a-woman-who-knows-what-women-want stance, churning out clothes that, quite frankly, made us yawn.

There is nothing special about these clothes. The thing is, you do not go to Lanvin or Dior for the mundane, or pieces to duplicate your wardrobe. Perhaps buying habits these days are different, but surely, within all those fine exemplars of wearability, some garments can stimulate our appetites with distinction, if not originality?

lanvin-aw-2017Lanvin autumn/winter 2017

Lanvin

The shoes of Alber Elbaz are, no doubt, hard to fill. So, perhaps, Bouchra Jarrar did not attempt to try. Why bother if they will never fit? Slip into those shoes, therefore, she did not. Instead, she took her own mincing steps to create a Lanvin that dares not dream… big.

A first outing for a major brand may be considered easing into the job. But a second season should give us an idea of what is definitively shaping up. So far, it is clear Ms Jarrar isn’t the equivalent of, say, Nicolas Ghesquiere when he took over from Marc Jacobs at Louis Vuitton. Still, we’re hoping to see something that’s a lot more concrete. Instead, we were served with loads of predictably feminine silk chiffon (what’s with the identical opening and closing dresses?), unsurprising satin-and-lace pairings, that sweetie-poo pink, the various necklines of what we call jiaobeijiu (交杯酒 or the lock of the forearms between lovers or newly-weds as they exchange a cup or glass of wine to drink) knot, unspectacular pants and more unspectacular pants, all in a mix that would surely entice hardcore Jamie Chuas.

Jeanne Lanvin was, of course, no Gabrielle Chanel or Elsa Schiaparelli; she had neither the youthful ease of one nor the witticism and humour of the other. Mme Lanvin had ultra-feminine tastes, best exemplified in her preference for the fitted bodice from under which long, full skirts sumptuously bloomed—the robes de style. Ms Jarrar seems to have a weakness for the same silhouette, only now her full skirts were sheer, and the shorts-like panties asked to be looked at. All this could be seen as a 2017 update. But how does one place or understand the lacklustre lace shirt styled with an insipid skinny black ribbon that Sasha Pivovarova wore? Mme Lanvin may have made a mark with understated elegance, but she sure did not design characterless clothes.

dior-aw-2017Dior autumn/winter 2017

Dior

A name such as Dior is always associated with something new, even when we’re not alluding to The New Look (the American description of Monsieur Dior’s debut, the Corolle). Sure, it can be argued that during Marc Bohan’s tenure (1960—1989), newness was not exactly the star of the shows, but it can be said that novelty and innovation were evident with successors such as Gianfranco Ferre, John Galliano, Raf Simons, as well as those for men’s wear, Hedi Slimane and Kris Van Assche, and for fine jewellery, Victoire de Castellane. Even Yves Saint Laurent, who succeeded Christian Dior in 1957 after the latter’s death, dared to be different with the Beat Look of 1960. So what’s new with Maria Grazia Chiuri?

The autumn/winter 2017 collection was not Valentino 2.0, but it was a rather literal take on three qualities always associated with the house of Dior: “romanticism, feminism, and modernity”, also the three qualities she augmented at her previous house of employment. There will always be women for whom these characteristics are essential in their wardrobe, but, at some point—which, for us, is now—boredom would set in. Correct us if we’re wrong, but we sense that Ms Chiuri was communicating a rather political message: now that I am the first woman to design Dior, let me show you how a woman dresses.

So, she offered separates inspired by men’s work wear—denim dungarees and boiler suits! And shirts—very vanilla, slim fit tops—that went with both pants and skirts (pleated, gathered, and ruched for plain is the bane of fashion today). Between embroidered chiffon and velvet, a woman needs to show her tougher side. And when she needs to reveal gentleness, there are always corseted bodices and their see-through cousins, cold shoulders, and tiered skirts to rely on. And to be certain she’s not off the sportswear/hoodie-the-basis track, she is served a relaxed version of the bar suit with a hood! If Kanye West were to design Dior, that would be a touch of genius, but this was Ms We Should All Be Feminist!

To be fair, Ms Chiuri is a lot more surefooted with her second Dior show. The choice of black and darker shades of blue, as well as the pairing of navy and black hinted ever so gently at an attempt at a concept, albeit just chromatic, and, even when collectively, the colours are akin to what Japanese retailers such as Journal Standard have been employing in at least one part of their seasonal collections (let’s not talk about how those inky hues were made popular by the Japanese invaders of Paris in the early ’80s).

But beyond that, what can we say that won’t sound like we’re negative? One thing was glaring to us. Many of the silk chiffon and tulle skirts were worn with solid-colour underpants that look like shorts. Sounds familiar? Indeed, if you were to change Ms Chiuri’s colour palate with that of Ms Jarra’s, the design directors could easily trade positions. Dior for Lanvin, Lanvin for Dior. How about that? Soul sisters unite!

Photos: indigital.tv

Fresh As Spring Air For Fall

loewe-aw-2017-pic-1

It’s just so refreshing to see the work of a designer not duty-bound to trends. Jonathan Anderson does not walk alongside the diffident; he does not need to hold what’s in vogue by the hand to steady his gait. He has a distinct way with tweaking the familiar for smile-inducing results. He has a flair for giving what are considered classics, such as a tea dress, and making them modern, without taking away the insouciance. He has the capacity to offer the unexpected without alienating. All these he does with great élan for Loewe.

Looking back at his brief tenure isn’t necessary; study his latest collection and one immediately sees not only freshness but clarity, not just potential, but a future. Mr Anderson does not depend on scarily extreme ornamentation or meaningless sexiness to forge an identity for Loewe. He looks at what women are inclined to buy (possibly splurge on) and refine those items judiciously, to the point that they there are different and unusual, yet identifiable as welcome wardrobe occupants.

Loewe AW 2017 Pic 2.jpgloewe-aw-2017-pic-4

So, we were charmed: Peaked lapels can truly peak so that they are parenthesis for a beautifully patterned neckline of a sweater. A Bertha collar can have a scallop edge and be embroidered but totally escape looking Victorian or girlish. A tartan dress can appear a little-bit-country, a-little-bit-avant-garde and all-alluring. An bold-stripe dress can, with pleating, be skewed so that there’s nothing linear about the result. A classic sweater can go with a craft-like skirt that’s composed of circles like grandma’s old yo-yo quilts. A one-sleeve can be layered atop a capped-sleeved dress without making the wearer look like she’s marching to some deviant nightclub. This is only the beginning of a list—54, if it were to be numbered.

As Mr Anderson continues to push LVMH-owned Loewe to a new pinnacle, new fans were wondering why they had not known of the Madrid-based brand’s ready-to-wear line before. Until Mr Anderson’s arrival at the house, few people were aware that it had a very sizeable ready-to-wear business established in the ’70s. In Southeast Asia, Loewe is mostly associated with leather goods—the Amazona bag, launched in 1945, a perennial favourite. Despite its hitherto low-key fashion division, some of the rag trade’s most notable designers had contributed to the line. These include Karl Lagerfeld, Giorgio Armani, Narciso Rodriguez, and Stuart Vevers (now at Coach), Mr Anderson’s predecessor.

loewe-aw-2017-pic-5

But what was never attempted before Mr Anderson was to let the brand take a more directional course. Mr Anderson’s appointment is a typical LVMH masterstroke: bringing designers who can rock the boat, but only just, unlike John Galliano who rocked Dior’s so hard he fell off it and was never brought back aboard. Mr Anderson has created a vibration so pleasing that, in the process, spun clothes consistent with the adage, fashion makes me people dream.

Mr Anderson is a two-brand designer, deftly keeping the energy level up for both Loewe and his eponymous label, staying close to an almost otherworldly romanticism without the need for extreme aestheticism. Designers feeding social media frenzy tend not to get the balance right. Thankfully, Jonathan Anderson is not one of them.

Photos: indigital.tv

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