(2017) Winter Style 2: The Knit Outer

cavalier-cape-cardigan

When picking out an outer for winter, we often think of a heavy coat. One of the most overlooked articles of clothing is the knit outer wear. And one of our favourites is this poncho-like ‘Spider’ cardigan by the Singapore-born label Cavalier.

We first spotted this last year at Kapok when they were a Cavalier stockist, and are surprised to see that it is still available online. Cavalier, now available worldwide from Australia to Russia, is marketed as a line of kids clothing, but they size up so that adults can wear some of their styles, which, surprised us by their playful, child-like shapes that are not the least kiddy. This cardigan, intriguingly called ‘Spider’, falls Jedi-like (how timely!) over the shoulders, which the brand describes as “urban nomadic drapery”.

Cavalier was launched by designer Angela Chong and her husband/business partner Perry Lam in 2014. Both were heavyweights in the advertising business, but had chosen to leave the industry to “design for a brave and brazen freedom of expression.” This means clothes, even—or especially—for children, that defy the convention that they have to be made with a specific set of rules.

Cavalier Macaw Flight Top

Ms Chong’s approach has hitherto mostly been about play: the slubby ‘Macaw’ flight top (above), for example, is a French terry pullover made good-humoured by ‘wings’ of multi-layered-and-coloured tulle. The almost-2-D graphic approach is reminiscent of a child’s colouring book. Similarly, another version with the more boyish name of Condor has the wings formed with scallop-edged panels of grey tones, arranged for an ombré effect.

As for the Spider cardigan, the roominess and the flattering drape are totally in keeping with the penchant for tented shapes and subtle Orientalism that really wouldn’t be out of place on the set of Dr Strange. The texture and the monochrome of the cotton/wool/acrylic knit, too, are in keeping with a certain grown-up aesthetic that wouldn’t deny the wearer audience with the Ancient One.

It is perhaps odd that while the pre-spring 2018 collections are dropping in stores around the city, we’re recommending something from last year. The thing about winter wear is that an overtly trendy garment may mean you would not return to it the next time weather for layering beckons.

Cavalier is available at Threadbare and Squirrel. The ‘Spider’ cardigan, now SGD73.88 (original price: SGD147.77) and the ‘Macaw’ and ‘Condor’ flight tops, both SGD116.30, are available at cavaliervault.com. Product photos: Cavalier. Collages: 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

The (Still) Sweet And Gentle Side Of Japanese Fashion

If you think that Japanese fashion is the global sway of Comme des Garcons and Yohji Yamamoto, then the newly opened Lumine will offer you the side of nihon no fasshon that is the antithesis of edgy

 

Lumine P1

By Mao Shan Wang

Collectively, Japanese designers have been so effective at marketing themselves as avant-gardists that many consumers sometimes forget that the Japanese have a softer, more saccharine, and clearly conventional side. Two days ago, Japanese mall operator Lumine opened its first overseas retail space at Clark Quay Central, showcasing Japanese fashion that Nanase Aikawa would love, despite her rock-chic leaning: clothes that, when worn, will get army boys go weak in the knees.

Lest I am mistaken, I am not saying Lumine’s offerings here are not up to scratch or plain conservative. They cater to women—and there are many of them—who do not, by any means, want anything other than to enhance their femininity, and in obvious ways. Girl—or little girl—power is well and alive. Even post-modegyaru, these clothes have not entirely shed their ‘cool’-meets-‘cute’ appeal. Truth is, there are really Japanese styles that celebrate this aesthetic, and they are awash with a sweetness that, for those not planning to form a girl band, may be a tad too lovable. Or, syrup-drenched, like ice-kacang.

In other words, if you are inclined to think that this may be a more commercial version of Dover Street Market, think something else—maybe the romance flick Narratage’s city-centre/suburban conventionality or you’ll get your knickers in a knot. My visit when Lumine in Clark Quay Central opened two days ago was met with a mix of mild disappointment and weak surprise. It is approachable a store as, say Iora (in any mall), but, to be fair, it has better visual merchandising, and warm and helpful service that, at least for now (the presence of their Japanese minders?), do kind of remind me of my Tokyo Lumine experiences.

Lumine P4

It is indeed a pleasant shopping space although, by the standard of Lumine in Tokyo’s Shinjuku alone, is disappointingly small. Covering a humble 10,000 square feet of the former Naiise space, it is stamp-sized, as opposed to Lumine’s Shinjuku presence, comprising five glittering shopping centres that are laid out around the world’s busiest mass transit station. And the best part is, there’s a Lumine for every shopper, from the teen bargain hunters who flock to Lumine Est (once known as My City) to mature women (as identified by the mall) of the swanky, barely two-year-old NEWoMAN, situated between Shinjuku station and Takashimaya department store.

That Lumine’s various incarnations sprout like bamboo shoots around train stations, especially in Shinjuku, is very much linked to its ownership. Lumine belongs to JR East, a train operator that’s part of the Japan Railways (JR) Group, the company that has put Japan on the world high-speed transportation map with their Shinkansen bullet trains. The various Lumine malls, or ekibiru (station building) that front Shinjuku station give the otherwise mass-of-steel, 10-platform, 20-track station not only a more palatable façade, but also generate incredible hustle and bustle, as commuters do spend time (and money) in these vertical shopping hubs. While the various Lumines aren’t where you’d go for Japanese labels that show in Paris, they do offer a staggering variety of home-grown brands through multi-label retailers such as United Arrows, Tomorrowland, and Urban Research.

While those familiar with the Lumine name could not quite grasp the Singapore store’s location choice, those who have become tired of Orchard Road’s predictable selection of brands and the shopping belt’s general sameness are quite pleased to visit, for a change, a mall not known for its fashion tenants. Sitting on top of the ground level of Giordano, L’zzie, BYSI, and Island Shop, Lumine does appear a cut above, never mind it isn’t an ekibiru, and the nearest MRT station, Clark Quay, is 250 metres away, below Hong Lim Park.

Lumine P3

I bumped into my friend May, a HR professional, whose first words to me were, “How? Disappointing, hor?” She was hoping to see more from the label and ‘select shop’ (as they are known in Japan) Tomorrowland, her favourite, and where she would shop without fail when in Tokyo, especially the Marunouchi store and the one in Lumine 1. “I am hoping to see Edition (a Tomorroland brand),” I said, “but it isn’t here, Still, it is a good start.” But she seems a little skeptical, saying, “I don’t think many people care about Japanese labels anymore. Look at Lowry Farm.” She was referring to the Japanese chain store that, at its peak, had eight outlets here. It shuttered in 2015, just three years after it opened, with the desire to offer shoppers youth-oriented Japanese styles that would not strain the wallet. The problem was, we didn’t look enough.

Shortly after we parted, a mother was heard telling her grown-up son, “都是女孩子的,没有男孩子的” (“All for girls; nothing for boys”). The poor chap looked like he was going to cry. Seriously! It is rather odd that the Lumine here has decided to omit men’s wear. Perhaps the space is just too small to cater to guys as well. I did see many leaving the store somewhat disappointed. Those who came with their girlfriends/wives/sisters and did not want to hang around racks of lacy prettiness chose to browse in the eyewear corner of Japanese chain Zoff, whose Lumine Est shop in Shinjuku is always swarmed with boys (and girls) in need of prescription glasses that can be had in less than 30 minutes. Yes, much like what are offered at first-to-market Owndays. Shortly past noon, Zoff was busy, and the low staff numbers barely able to cope. Unsurprisingly, it was filled with mostly male customers.

The other corner where you’ll find a disproportionate number of guys is at the Lumine Café, a surprisingly gender-neutral space that serves coffee, tea, and other beverages, and highly Instagrammable towering parfait-like desserts. I saw many chaps, who were likely office staff of Lumine, conducting meetings. Quite a few looked like they were abandoned by their still-shopping companions. The place felt like tea time at one of the coffee places in Raffles Place. The near full-capacity was surprising as Lumine Café does not serve food such as pastries, sandwiches, or salads.

Lumine P5.jpg

The retail concept of Lumine is not entirely new to our island. In the mid-’80s, at a time before Japanese fashion and pop music were overtaken by everything with a prefix K, shoppers here were hungry for clothing and kin from the Land of the Rising Sun. I remember the initial tenant mix of Liang Court, opened in 1983, which had positioned itself as a Japanese-centric mall, with Diamaru as anchor tenant. It was an orange—colour, not shape—building and I was not able to see what the chromatic choice had to do with Japan.

On the other half of the mall opposite the department store, below what was then Hotel New Otani, shops not divided by walls were selling Japanese merchandise that, at that time, where eye-opening rarities. Muji and Kinokuniya both debuted here. But it was the new conflux of Japanese stores that had fashionistas of the day flock to the not-quite-conveniently-situated mall.

On the second floor, I remember that there was an open-concept emporium called Marusho, which sold, apart from the girlish clothes that looked like they were transplanted from ’80s TV/movie/music star Momoe Yamaguchi’s wardrobe, some rather cute/crazy accessories/trinklets and pretty-as-confectionery bags. The merchandise here, while different from what shoppers had seen and gotten used to at the most popular mall of the time, Plaza Singapura (also anchored by a Japanese department store: Yaohan), wasn’t anything like the unusual offerings of the Japanese-labels-only Banzai, happily attracting followers in Lucky Plaza, which was a lot swankier than it is today.

Lumine P7.jpg

I don’t remember having bought anything at Marusho, but some guys I was hanging out with then were regularly improving the bottomline of the adjacent men’s space Mitsumine. My relationship (it was more of that than with those fellows!) with Marusho was clearly that between shop and window shopper, as their merchandise was too pricey for me, even when, occasionally, that had an irresistible pull.

Elsewhere in the mall (it could be on other floors, I can’t quite recall now), there were retailers selling frilly, floral, even more girlish clothes. There was a Tokyo Style, although neither Tokyo nor style comes back to me now, and a Tanako Accent Palour with demure clothes that was probably dessert for Japanese expat wives who convened at the many Japanese restaurants in Liang Court for lunch, but wasn’t able to tackle the end-of-meal sweets although they wanted to, which wasn’t a craving that retail therapy can’t satiate.

Marusho and co’s success paved the way for other Japanese emporiums, such as Meitetsu, which, in 1984, opened its flagship store in Delfi Orchard, in the same building the first entirely-dedicated-to-Singaporean-designers, Hemispheres, wowed young fashionistas. I do recall that the Nagoya-based Meitetsu was known as a “working women’s store”, which meant clothes—lots of white shirts or beige blouses with lace or crochet Peter Pan collars—that the customers picked to feminise otherwise overtly mannish corporate attire. In 1989, Meitetsu closed for renovations and when it re-opened, half of its original space was sub-leased to international brands such as Christian Dior, Mila Schon and Escada. Before the end of the ’80s, the interest in Japanese fashion had waned.

Lumine P8.jpg

Back to Lumine. I looked at every rack and was not able to see anything that wished to look back at me. Sensing that perhaps I may prefer something different, a cheerful sales staff directed me to the front of the store that faces the concourse of the mall. In this area, quite apart from the rest of the space, and zoned as Lumine Lab, distinguished by its bright blue accents and yellow (!) mannequins, customers may acquaint themselves with some of Tokyo’s design-forward pop-culture brands. Two women in front of me were going through the racks enthusiastically. One of them told the other, “The pieces here are more fashion.”

Lumine Lab is reportedly a “testing ground for experimental brands”. But at launch, there were gyaru staples, such as Emoda (mode gyaru’s motherlode of a brand), Mercuryduo (popular enough that in 2014 Sony collaborated with them to release a premium, limited-edition, and very pink PlayStation Vita), and Murua (another classic gyaru name), all interestingly not-new product lines of the Japanese mass manufacturer Mark Styler, whose many labels are now making major inroads into China, possibly to keep mode gyaru alive. The names may perhaps be unfamiliar to post-post-Noughties consumers here, more enamoured with K-fashion, but if you are into the mindless miscellany that is Exhibit, then perhaps you have found your playground.

To me, the really nice touches thoughout Lumine, including the café, were the clear glass vases in which assorted fresh flowers were bunched to evoke an air of insouciant femininity. Perhaps that was all the prettiness and sweetness needed. Lumine thought of spring even when it’s approaching winter in Japan.

Lumine is at level 2, Clark Quay Central. Photos: Galerie Gombak

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

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