(2017) Winters Style 4: The Bib-Hoodie

COS padded hood AW 2017

Jackets and coats with a hoodie are, for many, winter staples, but they may look a smidgen too street. But sometimes, a hoodie is useful, such as during times of inclement weather or when you need to be really bundled up to feel warm. What if you can add a hoodie to any outer you already own without actually buying one that comes attached?

When we first spotted this at the COS store in ION orchard, a sales assistant helpfully told us that this is a “fake hoodie”. Quite amused by the on-trend description, we wanted to see how forged it was. In essence, this “padded hood”, as COS officially calls it, is a hooded, zip-up bib, so compactable that it’s really a very handy extra to carry in even a handbag.

The sleeveless top comes cropped—ending slightly below the bustline—which, to us, makes it more fetching than a vest. It, too, allows for much more interesting layering since you can play with different lengths as counterpoint to a heavy and possibly ponderous overcoat.

The same assistant also told us that a man’s version is available as well—reason to look like a romantic twosome! When we asked if the “fake hoodie” is filled with down, the reply was simple: “polyester”. Were we expecting too much?

COS ‘Padded Hood’, SGD115, is available at COS stores. Product photo: COS. Collage Just So

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(2017) Winter Style 1: Couture Shape For The Cold

The brrrr-weather travel season is upon us. Here, our annual pick of what we truly like…

 

Rick Owens coat

The puffer jacket is such a popular item these days—thanks to brands from each end of the price scale, Vetements and Uniqlo, and all those between—that the first thing many women pack into their suitcase is an insulated jacket  from the likes of The North Face. But a padded outer need not look like one destined for Mount Everest or the farthest reaches of Greenland. It can look like a stylish coat ready for an après-ski party or a night at the theatre.

This thigh-length coat by Rick Owens is one of those rare pieces that easily encourages love at first sight. The major pull here, for us, is how un-sportif it looks. There’s a clear nod to the ’60s—the round collar and the rounded shoulders, but there’s also an embrace of Orientalism: the wide cuffs of the sleeves that are reminiscent of those of the hanfu, and the origami folds that make the lower-half of the bracelet sleeves look like panniers for wrists!

What makes this coat even more interesting and decidedly modern is the use of the two fabrics. There’s the matte of the wool-blend gabardine of the upper body and the semi-shine of the nylon shell of the lower half. Together, they’re finishes that could mimic dusk and night, giving this coat a dressy edge, all the more welcome in the present era of perpetual casual dress. To be sure, this is part of Rick Owen’s pre-fall 2017 collection, which means it isn’t that new. But for winter, we tend to buy investment pieces, and this is one coat that is ready for the cold, for many winters to come.

Rick Owens wool-blend gabardine and nylon coat, SGD2,760, is available at Club 21. Photo: Farfetch. Collage: Just So

Underrated: The A-Line Skirt

Despite the popularity of denim cut-offs, women do love wearing skirts. But these days, most of them prefer either a full (or circular) skirt or a snug, hip-hugging one. Between them, there was once a very easy to love skirt shape known as the A-line. In fact, the A-line skirt is so uncomplicated to understand and such a simple starting point that it is often the basic skirt taught to first-year fashion design students learning to draught and sew their first skirt.

It is, therefore, rather despairing that the A-line is increasingly cast into the shadows of more voluminous sisters, picked for their ‘couture’ shapes, or sidelined by the ultra-mini minis. Thankfully, at Red Valentino (as at, we should note, Prada), they’ve not abandoned the A-line, offering, for the current season, a version that is not only eye-catching, but totally debunks the belief that the A-line is uninteresting and old-fashioned, and is for school teachers and librarians, therefore so frumpy that the A-line has to be relegated by many hipsters to the “no-go zone”.

What we see here with the Red Valentino A-line, especially in this khaki/black combination, is a skirt that has lost much of its ‘basic’ leaning, and takes on a façade that a gallerist or art pundit would not reject. The two panels, with their scalloped edges, seemed to have transmogrified—in a good way—what would have been a very vanilla skirt. To amplify its art cred, a length of black narrow lace is used to trace the perimeter of the panels, giving each a charcoal drawing quality when seen afar. They could even be markings on draughting paper! This arts-and-craft vibe is, to us, totally appealing.

For certain, this isn’t a skirt the Hadid sisters would wear. It does not show off curves, it is too opaque, and it is too modest. If, however, fashion is judged on how a fabric—adequate amount of it—is handled and manipulated, then this indeed is a fashionable article of clothing.

Talking about fabrics, this skirt is made with what Red Valentino calls “Tricotine Tech”, with the “tech” suggesting a technical, possibly blended fabric. Tricotine is essentially cloth that has a double twill rib on its surface, and what is used here is akin to a finer calvary twill, and has a terrific hand feel.

Comfort and flair: what a winning pair.

For reasons unknown, the midi-length skirt pictured here is unavailable in Singapore, but can be purchased online at the Red Valentino e-store). A mini version, SGD880, is available at Red Valentino, Takashimaya SC. Photo: Red Valentino

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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