Underrated: The A-Line Skirt

Women love wearing skirts—that is true. But most women these days 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 comprehensible and such a simple starting point that it is often the basic skirt taught to first-year 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 colour 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. 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 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

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Two Of A Kind: Message On The Neckline

Text on the neckline

By Mao Shan Wang

To say that Dior is going down market is perhaps a bit extreme. But how else can I explain this? Children split at birth?

There I was, shopping at Golden Mile Complex, where the Thai supermarket in that mess of a mall is the place I go to whenever I am out of nampla. Sometimes, you do need to brave disorder and unfamiliar smells to get what you think is the best, and—I am totally with the Thais on this—one does have to get the finest when it comes fish sauce.

As I was leaving the building, bottle of the prized brew in hand, a mannequin, not at a shop front, but more than an arm’s length away from the store, appeared before me. She was fitted in a top that immediately made me think of Dior. Only a couple of weeks earlier, I was viewing the spring/summer show online and I remember, as I confronted the dummy, how unamused I was with the crochet-knit number that Maria Grazia Chiuri had put out.

I could see the two side by side, and how similar they would appear. Sure, they don’t look alike—not one bit—but the texts as decorative element on both are conceptual cousins. I don’t know about the appeal of words running on the neckline, but I thought the repeated ‘love’ had more graphic dash than Ms Chiuri’s scribbles that, in the front of the bodice, sported ‘love forever’ (as part of a longer sentence that I couldn’t decipher) and, on the shoulder straps, repeated, cursive ‘Christian Dior’. While her previous “J’adior” on a T-shirt could be (reluctantly) considered tongue-in-cheek, I am not sure the latest proper noun and simple sentence are as close to irony.

Sure, we’re no longer in an era of stylish restraint, but something not discreet that looks similar to what can be easily produce for a cheap clothing shop isn’t exactly the height of luxury fashion. The salesperson saw my interest in the top and came out to ask me if I liked it. I asked her where the garment came from, and she gladly told me that it was from Bangkok. Well, somewhere in Pratunam, someone beat Dior to it.

Photos: (Left) indigital.tv, (right) Chin Boh Kay

Tote Of The Season

If the latest Burberry collection is any indication, the tartan tote is the bag to have now. Joining the fray is this love child of JW Anderson and Uniqlo: a padded, nylon version that is totally able at playing cabin carrier or baby bag.

The partnership between JW Anderson and Uniqlo is launched today. It is one more to add to Uniqlo’s growing collaborations that adhere more to the Japanese brand’s strive for beautiful practicality than practically beautiful.

Lest we’re misconstrued, there’s nothing unlovely about this collaboration. Everything is very Uniqlo. That’s where it risks being a non-event. Mr Anderson is currently one of the UK’s most beloved designers and a much lauded innovator at the Spanish house of Loewe. With such an evocative name, more—reasonably so—is expected, but, as we know, rain doesn’t always come after thunder and lightning.

This is supposed to be a take on British classics. It is, however, no more English than Ines de la Fressange X Uniqlo is French. Inevitable are outers and sweaters that suggest country (or collegiate) life, shirts (for men and women) that won’t enliven a wardrobe, and scarves that look positively part of the uniform of Hogwarts. One skirt stood out, though: a flounced, maxi piece that wouldn’t be out of place on a flamenco dancer.

Back to the tote, this is one of those that we can never have enough. A roomy and light carryall (also available in red and black) that’s not too big, it is as ready for the gym as a weekend jaunt in Bangkok.

What’s especially useful is the little PU patch on the bottom right. In roughly one and half times larger than that found on the right of the rear waist band of jeans, it not only allows the JW Anderson logo—a stylised anchor— to be identified, it is also a pocket that’s perfect for totally wireless ear-buds or the CEPAS card. Now, that’s nifty.

Update (11.30am): all the tartan bags are sold out.

JW Anderson X Uniqlo tote, SGD49.90, is available at Uniqlo, Orchard Central and online at uniqlo.com.sg. Photos: Zhao Xiangji

Note: A previous version of this report incorrectly stated that JW Anderson X Uniqlo is available at Uniqlo ION Orchard. This is has been corrected

Close Look: Ines De La Fressange Designs Men’s Wear

The embodiment of Parisian chic Ines de la Fressange, together with Uniqlo, is trying to grab the sartorial attention of guys. Are you thrilled?

Ines X Uniqlo AW 2017

By Ray Zhang

There’s always the first time, as the saying goes, but was it as good for her as it was not for me? Ines de la Fressange’s debut men’s pieces for Uniqlo did not get my pulse racing the way the Undercover and (first) Lemaire collaborations did. To make matters less appealing, Uniqlo has to include pieces from their house line into the merchandise mix as the Ines de la Fressange collection was not large enough to fill the space dedicated to its somewhat quiet launch. If there is an essence—Parisian-ness, for example—to be discerned, it is, sadly diluted.

This is Ines de la Fressange’s 8th collection with the Japanese fast fashion giant. To be fair, she’s become quite an old hand at it. The woman’s wear is a confident mélange of the familiar and the ‘elevated’. It is nice to see that she’s not stuck to those tiny floral prints that seemed to suggest far, far from Paris (Alsatian wine country?) and have offered, instead, rather charming prints of small double blooms spaced apart on polka-dots. Nothing terribly sérieuse, you see. Oh, and those shirt-dresses; they make Diane Von Furstenberg’s look positively inspired by thrift-stores and ready to go back there.

Ines X Uniqlo Mens 1

But the men’s! Ines de la Fressange, were you picking up the clothes for your man’s wardrobe? I sense that Ms de la Fressange is like some women: they would look impossibly chic—they have to, but they prefer their male companions to be just about right—conventional, not too branché. How else do you explain the pattern of Fair Isle knitting on sweaters for men while the women get far more modern colour blocking? Or, with the same fabric, the men get a plain shirt and the women a Western shirt?

With Uniqlo’s collaborative efforts, people seek out pieces that are a little different from what the brand normally does. I know I do. The involvement of another entity seems futile if the output does not visibly distance itself from the exceedingly plentiful already seen on the same floor. Do we need yet another black or navy blazer? Do we need yet another check flannel shirt? Do we need yet another slim-fit Chinos (when less than 100 metres away, there’s a roomy, single-pleat-front pair that’s a tad more outre)? I know I don’t.

Ines X Uniqlo Mens 2Clockwise from top left: wool blend blazer, S$149.90; striped cotton shirt, S$49.90; check flannel shirt, S$49.90; cashmere sweater, S$149.90

Lest, I am mistaken, I do take into consideration that with Uniqlo, collaborators have to respect their successful concept of LifeWear, which means clothes have to be user-friendly—fashion, I assume, being secondary. Perhaps Uniqlo thinks that enough of us buy into proper nouns associated with glamour and that alone may be sufficient. Ines de la Fressange’s name may move fashion for women, but it may not do the same for men. Or maybe there are really those who are easily seduced by the Euro-association and its attendant romance, such as ST’s former music reviewer and current director of the Singapore Writers Festival Yeow Kai Chai, who was seen going through the pieces like an eager beaver.

Maybe I am just nostalgic for the good old days of +J. Conceptually, that pairing was the strongest ever for Uniqlo, and successful enough for a greatest-hits drop after the collab ended. There was the discernible LifeWear sensibility, plus Jil Sander’s masterful and subtle twist on things, which years later still communicates a certain sophistication not since repeated. And, dare I add, usable dash.

Ines de la Fressange X Uniqlo AW 2017 collection is available at Uniqlo, Orchard Central. Photos: Uniqlo

Shanghai Tang Lost Its Founding Sifu

Shanghai Tang flagship in Raffles City. Photo: Gallery Gombak

By Raiment Young

Two days ago, it was reported in the British press, followed quickly by the world’s mass media, that David Tang—actually, Sir David Tang—has died. Many people, I think, reacted to the news with regret, but some with relief, and others resentfulness. Mr Tang may not mean much to us here, but in England and Hong Kong, where he split his time, he was quite an eyebrow-raising, nothing-can’t-be-said figure, or “obstreperous”, as the British wit Stephen Fry described his friend, who once proclaimed in mutual admiration that “there’s no greater ‘Emperor’ of Twitter than Stephen Fry.”

An impenitent bon vivant, Mr Tang was born into wealth in 1954, but, according to him, wasn’t entitled to the fortune of the family, considered by those who know of such things to be Hong Kong’s most philanthropic. As he recalled in the Financial Times, a paper in which he had a regular column as “resident agony uncle” (in 2016, the articles were compiled into a book, Rules for Modern Life), “my grandfather was very rich in colonial Hong Kong, [but] he did not like my grandmother, his first concubine, nor her only son, my father. All of us were cast out of the family home and left to fend for ourselves on a very modest income that my grandfather reluctantly provided.”

Still, he was able to go to England to study even when, according to reports, he spoke no English in the beginning. He did well in boarding school and eventually studied philosophy at King’s College and graduated with honours, followed by law at Cambridge, where he received a master’s degree. For a year after tertiary education, he taught English literature and philosophy at Peking University, where he was supposedly paid 600 yuan a month!

David TangA dapper David Tang. Photo: AP

Academia was, however, not really his calling. Cuban cigar-smoking Mr Tang became known, first as the man behind the expensive and private China Club, and then, in 1994, as the unlikely fashion hero behind the emporium revival, Shanghai Tang—a store and “luxury” label that salute Chinese design aesthetic (particularly Shanghainese) with a nod to the modern, predating the Hermès-backed Shang Xia. Both these businesses would quickly thrust Mr Tang onto the international stage, and he would soon make friends and party with fashion luminaries such as Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss.

Without prior fashion cred, Mr Tang’s success, for many industry watchers, was startling —and maddening. In the mid-Nineties, Hong Kong designers such as Benny Yeung, Lulu Cheng, and William Tang barely made a dent in the international fashion scene. Yet, Shanghai Tang’s coquettish cheongsams (in the 2000 Wong Kar Wai film, In the Mood for Love, Maggie Cheung wore stunning versions designed by William Chang and made by the store’s master tailors) and relaxed kungfu jackets with fluorescent-bright lining were drawing attention even more than the glamourous output of established Hong Kong names Walter Ma (husband of the renown retailer Joyce Ma) and designer-to-the-Canto-stars Eddie Lau.

Shanghai Tang was the first store in the Fragrant Harbour that was unabashed about inspiration drawn from Chinese culture and production centred in China (at one time, its label was printed with the tag “Made by Chinese”). It debuted on the first storey of Central district’s Pedder Building, then known for its factory outlets in the upper floors. I remember one particular Label Plus that had Prada and Valentino, among other brands, as well as clinics of GPs as incongruent neighbours. Despite the somewhat down-market tenants, Shanghai Tang, with its (almost) gaudy window displays, is a synergistic match with Pedder Building, the last surviving pre-World War II edifice on Pedder Street, where luxury shoe emporium On Pedder got its name.

Shanghai Tang @ Pedder BuildingOriginal Shanghai Tang store in Pedder Building. Photo: Jing Daily

My first visit to the original Shanghai Tang store was in 1998, less than a year after Hong Kong’s news-generating return to China. Walking in, I was surprised by how ‘pop’ it looked despite its Art-Deco-on-the-Bund elegance, and by the predominantly Caucasian and foreign shoppers. Hongkongers in the mid-Nineties were very much like the mainland Chinese of today. Oriental styles, no matter how modernised, held very little appeal to them. With the Landmark across the street offering the best of French and Italian labels, Shanghai Tang’s style de Chine was, at best, kitschy. It projected very little snob appeal to those who needed and used imported fashion as a symbol of advanced economic and social standing.

I remember buying a pair of cuff-links that were two workable miniature quartz clocks, with Chinese numerals on the dials, which, in hindsight, the white clientele must have found exotic. Apart from the cuff-links, I saw nothing terribly enticing to buy. Truth be told, much of the merchandise were so immodest in their Chinese-ness that even the frog buttons on simple office shirts would appear contrived back home, where Giorgio Armani was the epitome of modern chic. If TVB series were to be believed, changshans and cheongsams were worn on festive occasions in Hong Kong, but over here, I knew that anything that hinted at traditional Chinese dress would only elicit unwelcome comments.

I revisited Shanghai Tang about a year later. It was curiosity rather than desire that dragged me there. This time, it was in New York. The store was situated on Madison Avenue, one stretch of the city that was home to American names such as Calvin Klein, and, possibly to its disadvantage, across from Barney’s. By now, the day-glo zeal of the brand’s colour preference has reached a level only pre-schoolers won’t get a headache from it. And China’s pre-revolution glam sat incongruously with its Cultural Revolution kitsch. I was not sure what Shanghai Tang was bringing to New Yorkers other than a bit of colour Mao’s China did not enjoy. Or, maybe, Mandarin-collared polo shirt! It was, to me, one big, multi-storey, 12,500-square-foot, (reportedly) USD$2.7-million-a-year joke.

The interior of Raffles City’s Shanghai Tang, where the colour lime green is never too far from the corner of the eye. Photo: Gallery Gombak

Not parked on the Hermes side of the retail continuum, Shanghai Tang did not quite score with the Americans. Nineteen months after it opened, David Tang’s beloved emporium was shuttered. Unless you lived in the Upper East Side, I doubt many New Yorkers today remember Shanghai Tang’s sojourn in their city. In Hong Kong, people still remember the Shanghai Tang of the mid-Nineties, to the point that the gaudiness of the past still informs many what the brand is about today, even when it has moved to a more contemporary spin on Chinese designs (the lime green is, sadly, still around). To Mr Tang’s credit, changshans and Mao jackets with fluorescent-coloured lining became much copied. They were even available at Yu Hua Chinese Emporium in Chinatown.

David Tang, by his own admission, ran Shanghai Tang for seven years. It is not quite clear if he designed during those years. The brand continued to maintain its presence in Hong Kong and the mainland. At one point, there were 32 Shanghai Tang stores in the world, including Singapore, Bangkok, and Tokyo. Today, most of it is in China, and the only store in the US is in Miami, in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. I do not think the fashion consuming public took Shanghai Tang seriously, nor, for that matter, the fashion establishment. In 1998, Swiss luxury group Richemont (Cartier, Montblanc, Alfred Dunhill, and others) took a controlling stake in Shanghai Tang, and acquired full ownership in 2008. In June this year, the store was let go to Alessandro Bastagli—mostly described as an “Italian fashion entrepreneur“—and Hong Kong-based private equity fund Cassia Investments.

It isn’t clear yet where the new owners intend to take Shanghai Tang and onto what level (still “affordable luxury”, as the founder himself once described his brand?). I think David Tang wanted to create something more snobby—his China Club certainly was—but Shanghai Tang was too modern-clever and irreverent for it to really go higher than what Mr Tang aspired to. He told Financial Times in a video interview (interesting that they would feature one of their own columnists): “It’s important to be elitist in a way because when you have elitism, the bottom bits can come up.”

Cooking Aid For Feet!

When is a jelly mold not a jelly mold? When it’s a toe mount on Nike Air Force 1 dreamed up by Comme des Garçons 

CDG X Nike Air Force 1

By Shu Xie

I don’t know about you, but I am a little averse to anything with reference to food placed on my feet, or on ground level. Maybe it has everything to do with my mom telling me when I was a kid that although food does come from the earth, there’s no reason to serve it so close to the ground unless I wanted to make friends with germs. Now, germs were a real childhood fear: they kill, or worse, retard growth. I was told that once germs invaded my body, I won’t be able to grow up. What could be more frightening than that? I did not, I should add, have Google search to help dispel that fear.

Fast forward to the present, that fear has turned to dread. Although I am, seriously, not a hypochondriac, and I have, by most accounts, grown up, I still wouldn’t consume food or use a cooking/eating implement that has come near feet or grazed the ground. So, sneakers topped with what appears to be jelly molds—held in place by rivets—are just on the side of disconcerting.

We are, however, living in a time when things can be “re-purposed”, also known by those more enterprising than me as life hacks. When the design team at Comme des Garçons looked at silicon jelly molds, they probably weren’t thinking of the konjac jelly they could cast. The dinosaur shapes are, in their mind, the perfect crown to the Air Force I’s toe box.

I wonder how, in these shoes, does the wearer navigate a crowded MRT train? What becomes of these shaped silicone caps when an unseeing fellow commuter steps on them? Can they be popped back to shape? What does a flattened dinosaur jelly mold look like on the top of a shoe? A squashed agar-agar?

This is not the first time Comme des Garçons added something superfluous and wacky to the top of a Nike classic. As part of the Emoji collection for Holiday 2016, the Air Force 1 sported a band with the heart-smileys of Play stretched across the lacing. Can you imagine Air Force 1 wearer Mark Wahlberg shod in them sneaks secured with a strip of emojis?

Actually, Comme des Garçons did not restrict these dinosaur jelly molds to sneakers. They’re fastened to shirts and jackets, too. Perhaps next to the body, there’s less to fret about floor-level microbes!

Comme des Garçons Homme Plus X Nike Air Force 1 in black or white is available at Dover Street Market Singapore. Photo: Jim Sim

No More Just A Bag Cover

Going beyond its initial function as an all-weather bag protector, Save My Bag (SMB), the accidental fashion holdall, has expanded their range to now include clutches, bucket bags, and this wisp of a carrier called Cloud.

In the shape of what the sports world know as the gym sack, SMB’s version comes with a pair of handles apart from the drawstrings that serve to facilate closure of the bag, as well as allowing it to double as a backpack. In Japan, they call this the 2-way. We see four: grab with hand, hang on wrist/lower arm, strap on the back, or cross it.

What’s perhaps extra appealing about the Cloud is its weight, or perhaps, weightlessness. Made of the same materials as the SMB signature Miss—“Poly-Fabric with Lycra”, it allows you to carry weighty daily essentials without having to deal with a heavy bag to start with. As the fabric is also very supple, an adequately filled Cloud will come in handy when you need a pillow during one of those annoying transits in one of those maddeningly nothing-to-do airports!

The Cloud may also be a delight to those who favour a front pocket for quick access to essentials such as smartphones or battery banks. Those averse to solid colours may be enticed by a printed version called ‘Tropical’, which sets flamingos against vivid fauna, vaguely recalling the floral tote by Adidas Originals latest collab with Farm. Bags to house work-out gear (and more) clearly can be ultra-feminine.

Save My Bag’s expanded range can be seen (and touched, since nothing is behind a showcase) at its flagship in Raffles City, opened about a week ago. Like a box of Crayola come alive, the spirited space touts bags that communicate refreshing happiness—welcome mat to those who dream in colour.

Save My Bag ‘Tropical’ Cloud, SGD179, is available at the brand’s flagship @ Raffles City. Photos: Zhao Xiangji

From Dover Street To Dempsey Road

It’s been a long journey, across three cities/continents, but it’s here at last. Dover Street Market, the retailers’ retailer, opened last Saturday to the delight and the spending power of its fans, but is it a twin of the famed London, Tokyo, or New York store?

DSMS entranceDSM interior 1

The queue to get in on opening day of Dover Street Market Singapore (DSMS) in Dempsey last Saturday was reported to be so long (“longer than the Chanel queue at Ngee Ann City”, according to one irate shopper) that those not desperate enough to get in were texting friends to say they were waiting at nearby PS Cafe for the throng to thin. We received such a message at about four in the afternoon, five hours after the store opened to the public. A day earlier, a preview for VIPs, “special Club 21 members”, and members of the media also saw a snaking line outside the main entrance of the building, prompting one guest to say it was “sheer madness”.

The queue also started to form at midnight before the store’s opening on Saturday morning. It was known then that DSMS was to release some limited-edition sneakers, such as Clot X Nike Air VaporMax and the Nike Mars Yard 2.0. Sneakerheads and E-bay resellers, not necessarily Dover Street Market fans, were prepared to camp overnight—as though outside Supreme or Kith, New York City—in what was once a military camp even when they were told that numbered coupons will be issued so, as a staffer said, “they can all go home”.

We visited the store yesterday, thinking that the craze would have died down and that, being a Monday afternoon (made stifling by the punishing heat), there wouldn’t be a crowd. We were wrong—dead wrong. This was not a clientele we had expected. There was a conspicuous absence of Comme des Garçons (CDG) groupies. Sure, stores such as Dover Street Market has lost much of its snob appeal the moment street wear became part of their merchandise mix and communication vernacular. But we were a little taken aback that many had come as if they were going to Sungei Road’s Thieves’ Market on its last day or to tell us they spent most of their time in void decks.

DSM interior 2

DSMS’s general manager Fiona Tan was overheard telling a bemused customer, “Even this morning, I was bowled over by the amount of people.” Who were they, inquired the interlocutor. “They’re generally young—many in their teens—and they buy brands such as Vetements and they pay in cash.” Are these the usual Club 21 shoppers—his curiosity aroused. “No, they’re not.” Yesterday, a friend of SOTD told us that a staff member, temporarily installed at DSMS from a Club 21 Hilton Shopping Gallery shop (in fact, many familiar Club 21 sales personnel were working in DSMS over the weekend), said, “I’m so excited that there’s a new group of shoppers.” But, according to him, she did not mention that they were, as he saw that very moment, “the T-shirt-shorts-and-flip-flop crowd”.

What did these terminally casual dressers come to this temple of forward style to see?

The Singapore store, like in London and New York, is housed in a historic building, but unlike the latter two, isn’t an edifice and not conceived for grand purpose. This block was part of the former MINDEF and CMPB camp that occupied what was known as Tanglin Barracks. Dempsey has been a military installation since the 1860s when the British bought the 213-acre site from the owner of what was then a nutmeg plantation to build a defence HQ. It is part of three clusters (the other two: Minden and Loewen) of commercial space, and, since the mid-2007, has been a thriving F&B neighborhood.

DSMS’s entry here is a little at odds with the area’s rustic and verdant lure. It is a striking oddball among un-lovely retailers of mostly curios and antiques. This is retail disruption, if you need an example. The building itself is made plain and white, and only distinguished by its thatched roof that gives its interior a ceiling height not seen in the other DSMs. This is the first DSM store in a single storey. The others are spread over several floors (London: five, Tokyo and New York: seven). Its façade, nondescript as the building is architecturally sound, somehow reminds us of a now-defunct, compact, 2-storey Comme des Garçons in Tokyo’s Aoyama district—a stone’s throw from Blue Note Tokyo and no more than a kilometer from the CDG flagship—identified only by an orange door. True to CDG’s scream-not exterior, DSMS’s walls are plain to a fault. Perhaps, therein lies its pull.

The away-from-the-maddening-shopping-crowd location is consistent with DSM’s provenance, and also (once) a regular surprise of CDG locations. When DSM first opened in London’s Mayfair on Dover Street, more noted for heritage hotels, such as Brown’s Hotel—known in the 19th century as a “genteel inn” that was opened by Lord Byron’s valet James Brown—than fashion retail, the store was a standalone that attracted mostly those in the know and fashion editors looking to buy clothes that would score with photographers such as Scott Schuman. Dempsey isn’t quite a hideaway, but it has low-traffic noise and a neo-kampung vibe that is best exemplified in DSM’s signature collage of a ‘hut’ (pictured above), touted to be the tallest among all DSMs.

DSM interior 3DSM interior 4DSM interior 5

As with all the other DSMs, the interior of the Dempsey store is designed by CDG’s reclusive (or ascetic?) Rei Kawakubo, who had dabbled in furniture design in the mid-’80s (the collectibles now, unsurprisingly, command astronomical prices). She was reported to be on site during the course of the renovation, but had remained unseen, leaving the public-face role to her husband Adrian Joffe. There’s no perceivable methodology in Ms Kawakubo’s scattered design and not-standard fixtures. If she could deconstruct clothes, she certainly could do the same with interiors. These unrelated visual amalgams come together as what Ms Kawakubo famously called “beautiful chaos”, cleverly choreographed and contained in what is akin to a mess hall.

With such a horizontal expanse, we had expected semblance of a maze, as seen in the vertical Ginza store. DSMS is surprisingly rather linear in its layout—the straightness broken by pockets of space put together to reflect the various brands’ own identities. The store guide is, therefore, not identified by floors. Instead it goes by “spaces”. There’s less of an exploratory component here since one does not get to meander into unexpected corners or hidden recesses. It is more like walking in a corridor flanked by rooms.

In the inner-half of DSMS, a fenced-up zone called “Wire Fence Labyrinth”—which is more a menagerie—makes one feels caged in. Perhaps, as one shopper suggested, Ms Kawakubo is more adept at putting together a space stretched across multiple floors. Used to starting the exploration from the top level of DSMs, we found the elongated oblong, while large, quickly comes to the opposite end. DSMS is easily covered in one lap.

DSM interior 6DSM interior 7DSM interior 8

Even more straightforward is the merchandising. DSM has always banked on its flair for assembling products with both emotional and design value. This is a store that easily elicits a response from visitors—rare is the shopper who leaves without a deep impression. For Singapore, that emotional connect seems a little feeble. There is a rather large supply of tees, a product that surely does not raise temperatures in our T-shirt-aplenty city. These are instantly understandable items: no explanation required. Despite its “no planning” claim, DSMS clearly had a game plan. They know from the start who’s going to come and what they’re going to buy. The shoppers this Monday afternoon proved them right.

Sure, sneakerheads and streetwear devotees will be thrilled with the skate/sports offering, but the absence of Supreme and Palace may not move true aficionados. If you’re here for the sneakers, then you’ll be rather surprised by the smallness of the area dedicated to your fave kicks—for now, essentially a corner given to Nikelab, which, incidentally, offers the best value for the softest cotton jersey T-shirts in the store, at S$79 a pop. This lack of immediate visibility for sports shoes is a dramatic contrast to DSM London, where a big chunk of the basement level is dedicated to some of the most desirable trainers that easily rival those of indie retailers such as Footpatrol.

DSMS’s surprising surfeit of T-shirts is, perhaps, a reflection of our fashion-consuming masses than the store’s buying direction. It’s symptomatic of how we only want to dress “comfortably” because it is always too hot for anything more than a tee. Serious fashion folks were naturally not immediately bowled over. Said one product development manager: “the buying seems strangely safe for DSM. They plan to make the most money out of T-shirts?” A retired fashion stylist was not impressed. “The merchandise is similar to Comme,” he lamented, “Same-same, but different. It’s like I am a fan of Miyake’s pleats and there are other labels showing pleats as well.”

DSM interior 9DSM interior 10DSM interior 11

To understand the perceived sameness in the merchandising of DSMS, it is necessary to consider that the store is, foremost, a “curated” space and that it is possible that the buyers were aiming at aesthetic cohesion. Or, a similarity that serves to augment CDG’s above-the-common standing. Rei Kawakubo’s vision for DSM is likely the vision she has for CDG and, as such, she tends to be drawn to those labels that traipse the same path as she does. Yet, that may not be entirely the case. If DSM is home to the best of the avant garde, what are Gucci and The Row doing here?

The thing is, CDG, as a group of labels, does not resist the commercial. It never has. If you look at their free-standing stores in Tokyo, from Omotesando to Marunouchi (where there are two), accessible sub-brands such as the wildly successful Play, the distilled-to-the-essence Black, and the pop culture-friendly Edit allow the main brand to achieve mainstream appeal, which, in turn, allow Rei Kawakubo to do the work that, while incomprehensible, gets museums a-calling. Good Design Shop (in Singapore for the first time at DSMS)—a collaboration with Tokyo lifestyle outfit D & Department—is an outlet for CDG to flaunt, well, CDG, the three letters that appear on the clothing and bags produced exclusively for the Shop, all irresistible to those who need to wear brand names on their chest, or back. At DSMS, Gucci and The Row are the saleable names that allow moneyed shoppers’ fast track to fashion credibility.

The talk among industry watchers is that DSMS will change the scene here by injecting hitherto missing excitement into an increasingly bleak retail landscape. This we hear, and read, with a tinge of sadness. Can only foreign businesses rescue us from the doldrums that the selling of fashion has become on our shores? Back inside DSMS, the answer is a yes. Whether you are rejoicing among the shelves and racks of T-shirts or cavorting with CDG’s own mind-boggling clothes, non-native Dover Street Market is a veritable fashion playground. It’s well-lit, fine-looking, and fun to wander through.

Dover Street Market Singapore is at 18 Dempsey Road. Photos: Galerie Gombak

Muji’s Mighty Magic

The Muji flagship opened in Plaza Singapura last Friday, occupying the 1,896-sq-m expanse that was vacated by the doomed John Little’s last year. Is the Japanese specialty store set to take the place of traditional department stores, such as Tangs and Metro, which have become increasingly lacklustre?

Muji PS pic 1Muji’s new flagship store at Plaza Singaura

Muji is many things to many people. To some, it is a fashion store. To others, it’s a beauty bar, and, many still, a furniture seller. There are also those who consider it a mini-market. If you visit its new flagship store, it’s manifestly all of the above and more, so much so that it, despite its comparative smallness, easily surpasses the offering of any department store in Singapore today.

This is Muji you’ve not seen before. Not even the ION Orchard store, already considered sterling by so many of its fans, is as expansive, wide-ranging, or atmospheric. This is Muji built on some performance-enhancing magic bullet. It is stocked to the rafters to entice, to arouse, and, ultimately, to encourage spending.

That Muji is able to do all this with merchandise that, for some, is just too bashful in design is testament to the brand’s skill at pulling deceptively simple things into a rather grand whole. There’s a sense of authenticity—an unabashed Japaneseness—and an unwavering minimalist aesthetic that has kept them in good stead indeed. No matter how wide their product offering, they’ve kept to their DNA of uncomplicated, and indeed straightforward, designs that are augmented by their welcome usefulness.

Muji PS pic 2Muji Labo: a more forward collection that pays particular attention to fabric and cutMuji PS pic 3There’s athletic wear now, presumably to take advantage of the athleisure trendMuji PS pic 4A new jeans section that is so extensive it easily rivals Uniqlo’s

The new store is reported to be the largest flagship in Southeast Asia. Designed by Super Potato, the Japanese ID firm of Takashi Sugimoto, who is noted for his impressive list of hip stores and restaurants designs such as the Grand Hyatt’s Mezza9 and Straits Kitchen, this is a Muji conceived for discovery, zoned to bring you from one corner to another, not quite knowing what to expect. Those “Mujirers”, as they’re known, who are compelled to visit every Muji store in the cities they operate in will see the similarity with the Shanghai flagship in Huaihai Lu (淮海路) than, say, the Tokyo store in Shinjuku—one neo-rustic, the other white-steel-modern.

This is not a one-look-and-see-all approach to store layout, which, in many ways, had been Muji’s preferred floor-plan treatment until the arrival of Muji Yurakucho (Tokyo) store, a multi-floor behemoth that strikes awe with its warehouse-like space in which pockets of visual merchandising delightfulness are erected. The Plaza Singapura store is, perhaps, a lot more atmospheric (the differentiated lighting, for example, is a lot warmer than their other outlets here, and really recalls the Muji Chengdu flagship) and visually more engaging, with much of the store’s merchandise employed in its imaginative, tactile decor.

The focus is clearly on customer engagement, which accounts for the new areas in the store such as Found Muji in which items sourced from around the world is picked for their shared aesthetic values with the brand, and “re-tailored” to sit suitably alongside other Muji products. This includes an exhibition area, Open Muji, done pasar malam-style to show that regardless of provenance, good and functional design is border-less when it comes to usefulness and beauty.

Found MujiOne of the new concepts seen in Singapore for the first time is Found Muji, a collection of wares selected from different parts of the world

Found Muji pic 2Open Muji showing the various products from all over the world that inspire Muji designsIdeeIdée shows off a more ‘designed’ aspect of MujiMuji wall hangingIdée is stocked with unexpected items such as this wall hanging by Los Angeles ceramic artist Heather Levine

This belief is also exemplified in Idée, a line of merchandise described by Muji as “based on the theme of ‘Life is about everyday’”. But there’s nothing really “everyday” about these products since a knowing customer would immediately see the everyday-ness as ‘elevated’. Idée started as collaboration with emerging designers for furniture a few years back, but soon grew to cover table ware, textile, and decorative accessories that include art and even wall hangings. This, to us, is one of the most alluring parts of the new store.

In fact, furniture and furnishings now make up nearly half the store’s offerings. This may pose some competition to Ikea, although, admittedly, Muji’s prices are not as wallet-friendly and can, in fact, match those of stores such as Conde House in Millenia Walk. And as with Ikea, the new store offers interior decorating service, as well as custom-order for rugs and such. Customisation is, in fact, a crowd charmer, with shoppers drawn to the customised embroidery service available to those who purchased clothing in the store.

The thing about Muji is that no matter how wide the product categories or varied its in-store services, there’s an aesthetic oneness that does not arouse the senses for the sake of getting your buying urges in a knot. It makes one sometimes ponder, and, many a time, enjoy. For naysayers, Muji makes very plain and basic products. This plainness and elementariness do indeed make their success all the more beguiling. Is it saying that our appreciation of good design is finally seeing some semblance of sophistication?

MUJI furniture and furnishingAn impressive selection of furniture and furnishing is available in the new Muji Muji furniture and furnishings 2Bedding, always a strong product category, is now even more alluringMuji food 1Food remains a strong offering and now even more strikingly presented

It is ironic that Muji has occupied the space where John Little’s has failed. Since 2013, Singapore’s oldest department store has been relegated to the annals of our island’s retail history as a forgettable relic. Despite its heritage (174 years in business), John Little’s simply could not keep up with the changes that equate modern retailing. Muji opened in Singapore in 1995, four years after its first overseas store in Hong Kong. Its debut in Liang Court proved a little too premature as local shoppers didn’t quite understand the brand’s striking, chic minimalism and found the “plain things” (now dubbed by the press as “commercial zen”) too expensive. It exited Singapore after the Asian financial crisis of 1997 (also known as the tom yum goong crisis as it started in Thailand) and returned in 2003 in then Seiyu department store (now BHG) to a staggeringly warm welcome. From that point there’s no stopping Muji, which now numbers 13 stores island-wide.

Muji, an abbreviation of the full name Mujirushi Ryohin, or “no brand, good quality” in Japanese, is now a staggering enlargement of the 40 products it started with in 1980, when parent company Seiyu created the private brand for their eponymous supermarkets as a way to lure shoppers tightening their purse strings during the economic downswing of that era. According to media reports, Muji presently retails more than 7,000 products, covering nearly every aspect of the urban lifestyle, with many of them having won awards in the category of design.

Some industry observers state that Muji is able to do what they do because they create everything under their own brand. Department stores, especially those here (Japanese ones too), have long forsaken the model of producing house brands that can be differentiated from those of competitors’. Instead, much of the space in department stores these days is leasable space, which inevitably means stores are no longer ‘curating’ their offerings the way they used to. Department stores are landlords the way mall operators are. Additionally, according to London-based BMI Research in a report last year, department store’s declining popularity, “can be attributed to an outdated approach to demands of local consumers”. That Muji’s customers are forming long queues at the cashiers’ even five days after the opening high perhaps indicates that the brand knows how to appeal to shoppers. This, even without industry admission, is likely the envy of trad stores such as Tangs and Metro.

Muji flagship store is on level one, Plaza Singapura. Photos: Galerie Gombak

When They Say July, It’s Really The End Of The Month

DSMS homepage 22 Jul 2015

The suspense is over. Finally, we have a date. After weeks of checking at the Dover Street Market Singapore (DSMS) website, we get a confirmed day on the calendar of the store’s opening: this coming Saturday, the 29th.

The sole photo used in the homepage is a hint at what DSMS looks like, but we can’t quite make it out. Watch this space to see what we think of DSM’s first Southeast Asian store, or where Comme des Garçons die-hards can reach nirvana.