Short-Time Supremacy

A day after the madness that was the launch of the Louis Vuitton X Supreme collaboration, the concourse outside the LV store in Ion Orchard is back to its usual tourist-dotted calm

LV X Supreme pic for SOTD

There’s enough queuing in our life, so we decided to sit this one out. Barely before 9am yesterday, a message came to us via WhatsApp: news from the ground that the crowd outside the Louis Vuitton store in Ion Orchard was “crazy”. We were not surprised, just as we were not impressed. Sure, there’s something amazing about such large numbers eagerly waiting the release of a fashion collection like those waiting for the new season of Game of Thrones. Louis Vuitton X Supreme for the autumn/winter 2017 was destined, the minute it was shown in January, to be bigger than anything Yeezy. But just as with the latter, our mind went into a silent yawn.

LV’s latest collaboration is devoid of the freshness, surprise, and rebelliousness of its first, 16 years ago: the Marc Jacobs commission of Stephen Sprouse’s neon, graffiti-style scribble, used to deface the LV Monogram, which until then, was thought to be sacrosanct, hence untouchable. It was very daring, which explained its appeal. As our contributor Mao Shan Wang recalls, “I was in Paris that year, and it was madness at LV’s Champs Élysées store. I was with a friend at that time. People snatched the bag off her hand when she merely looked undecided.”

By the second collaboration—with artist Takashi Murakami, the idea of the LV monogram overlaid with patterns from non-in-house designers became less novel, but Mr Murakami’s motifs were cute and endearing (and he enjoyed higher name recognition that Stephen Sprouse), making the joint output another massive success for the still in reinvention mode LV.

All quiet the day after the Louis Vuitton X Supreme launch17-07-15-21-15-09-743_decoScreen grab of IG post by The Straits Times

With the recent Chapman Brothers collaboration, initiated by LV’s men’s wear designer Kim Jones (who also linked up with Supreme), the surface rejuvenation of classic LV bags became appealing only to those who consider anything produced by the brand to be objects of desire. Even the latest ‘Masters’ series with Jeff Koons just look tacky, like something out of a museum shop, not the least wearable art.

Supreme is the streetwear label du jour, but LV is not the first designer name to align with Supreme, itself a serial collaborator. This past April, the increasingly accessible Comme des Garçons launched a new capsule with Supreme, having paired with the New York label since 2012. The line was supposed to be available at the Dover Street Market Singapore’s E-Shop, but it seemed like it was a no-show. Or, perhaps, it really sold out the minute it was available.

When was the last time LV drew a crowd (not counting the short queues outside their stores, created to give the impression that it’s really busy inside)? When the ‘Twist’ bag was launched in 2015? Handbags, as it’s often reported these days, no longer have the irrational lure they once had. The thing is, even a giant of a luxury brand such as LV needs a crowd puller—literally. Their executives are probably aware of the long lines each time Supreme launches a collaborative effort, from London to New York, and how willing to spend the Supreme addicts are.

On Saturday, signs at the entrances of the Louis Vuitton store in ION Orchard to inform the hopeful

Singapore fans and speculative resellers are lucky. Just four days or so ago, there were on-line reports that LV was closing their sales channels (so-called ‘pop-ups’) of the (so far) one-off. No actual reason offered and the provocative online talk was that there was fallout with Supreme as the New York brand did not feel that they had as much to gain from the collab. The discontinuation of the line was later said to be untrue, with LV announcing that it will be available later. Whatever the case, it’s considered a major fashion coup for our island since we are the only city in the whole of Southeast Asia to get this Supreme, never mind that even when you are ready to spend top dollar you’d have to participate in a raffle in order to get a chance in copping the goods. Yet, as reported, the masses went crazy, including 13-year-olds. We have no idea why any child just crossing into puberty should need to carry a USD$1,800 LV crossbody bag (the Danube PPB), but it is pointless to ponder.

While we are not keen on the LV and Supreme collaboration, we appreciate the irony in the pairing. Back in the early days of Supreme, the brand was force-fed a cease and desist for patterning a skateboard with the florals of LV’s Monogram Canvas. Does the present collab mean LV bears no grudges or does it indicate that luxury fashion and streetwear are now on equal footing?

This is consumerism in its most blatant (and unappealing?) form, which means these clothes are not going to add anything to the design legacy of the French house—let’s say they won’t make LV great, or any conversation about bringing newness and innovation to fashion. There is really no challenge to either LV or Supreme in producing the brand-blaring merchandise. This only illustrates unequivocally that no matter how sophisticated fashion consumers have allegedly become, logos and brand names must stand out and speak for the wearer.

Illustration: Just So. Photos: Zhao Xiangji. 

Demise Comes As The End

Ominous as that sounds, come December, what is often considered the coolest store in Paris will come to the regrettable fate called closure

ColetteColette at 213 rue Saint-Honoré in 2011. Photo: Jim Sim

By Raiment Young

To be honest, I am not terribly saddened by the recent news that Colette (Paris, not Orchard Road!) will close. A sense of regret, perhaps, but I am not about to create a Kickstarter account to save Colette from Yves Saint Laurent wanting its prime space. I am, however, dispirited by the reality of yet another retail casualty. In the present retail climate, and not just on our island, the closure of an “iconic” store (Forbes called it “the trendiest store in the world”) is heart-breaking. It is especially so if the store has made an impact on a “glocal” level.

Colette, opened in 1997, is first of its kind not just in Paris, but much of Europe. But for many of us in Asia, a multi-label store such as Colette is not really a big deal when our very own Club 21 and Hong Kong’s Joyce, and later, I.T (at first known as Greenpeace) have been at the game much longer. What made Colette stand out? A merchandising approach that is synonymous with museums: curation.

At Colette, the curationship fell under its founders Colette Roussaux and her daughter Sarah Andelman (who eventually became the store’s sole buyer). They conceived the three-story boutique very much in their own taste, selecting—or curating, as it were—merchandise to reflect their lifestyle or, perhaps, life in Paris. In fact, they were not the first retailer to put together a space that reflects the proprietor’s quirk and keen eye for the au courant. In neighbouring Italy in 1990, former Vogue Italia editor Carla Sozzani started a little art gallery in Milan that, a year later, would become 10 Corso Como, the hipster haven, arguably the precursor of Colette.

Balenciaga in ColetteSpace currently dedicated to a specially commissioned Balenciaga collection. Photo: Colette

While 10 Corso Como was, in its early years, a fashion insider’s address (since it’s located in what could be considered a “hidden” place and not on the city’s main shopping drag of the time), Colette enjoyed mainstream exposure as it is prominently situated: on rue Saint-Honoré, not, however, near the temples of style such as Hermès, about 800 metres down the street, into the faubourg. Favoured by editors who descend on the City of Lights during fashion weeks and buyers who hit the store for ideas, Colette very rapidly turned ultra-hot.

While Colette may be trendy, it is not off-puttingly high-brow. In fact, fans laud its high-low mix. How high? How about Chanel? How low? How about Uniqlo?! In fact, the store is known for collaborating with designers and brands to launch exclusive merchandise or to bring in the first, such as the Apple Watch, which to me is how it ameliorates itself to a wider audience. Indeed, I feel it is better with merchandise that has mass appeal than those that do not. The Rihanan pop-up in there last year spoke volumes.

Why am I then not moved by Colette’s impending closure, despite its standing among the fashion elite (apparently it is the only store that Karl Lagerfeld visits with some regularity)? The thing is, Colette does not feel new to me the way Dover Street Market, conceived much later in 2004 by another woman with very exact tastes, feels novel, even now. Sure, the merchandising is an intriguing mix, but it is mostly the books, and sometimes, the gadgets and digital peripherals that I find have more pull.

Colette colonThe announcement of their coming closure via Colette’s logo. now, unsurprisingly, trending. Image: Colette

In one of my visits, a substantial corner of the second floor was converted into an all-white Maison Martin Margiela space: why would I want to explore this when the main MMM store is not far away? Colette is an ardent supporter of Japanese labels, and they stock, for example, Comme des Garçons, but why would I be enticed by the relatively small collection when CDG—itself a multi-label emporium, even if it stocks mainly kindred brands under the group—is a stone’s throw from the said Hermès store?

If you ask me, I find L’Eclaireur far more interesting (for some reason, it reminds me of Tokyo’s Loveless, or is it the other way round?) and it’s been peddling its avant-garde merchandise since 1980. Sure, L’Eclaireur is a lot less friendly in terms of merchandise and it’s interior design than Colette, but if you want to see and experience fashion, not necessarily something you’d buy for a date that very day or a flight the next morning, this store has more to engage passion and desire.

My first time in Colette was in the early Noughties. It was, by then, such a visible blip on the fashion radar of Paris that it was inevitable that I would end up there. I remember how surprised I was when I stepped past the entrance. Right before me was a glass ‘room’ lined on both sides with a rack of T-shirts (once, next to this was dedicated to Billionaire’s Boys Club!). It seemed like I had stepped into a gift shop of some design museum. Behind that felt like I had stumbled into Tokyo’s Bic Camera meets Rome’s Bookabar.

But what surprised me even more were the shoppers. These were not fashion folks; these were the future voters of Donald Trump! They came by the busload, just as they did at the nearby Louvre. In France’s most famous museum, you go to view antiquities. Here, you go to see cool. Colette, especially in its latter years, has become a tourist attraction—a must-stop, much like Paris Disneryland, only here, it’s a fashion Disneyland.

On 20th December, Colette will open its doors for the last time. This, however, may not be the end of Colette. As we know, the dead do come back.

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

Keeping It Loose

adidas - XbyO Seven-Eighth Pants

By Ray Zhang

Skinny and skin-tight pants have so dominated the wardrobes of Singaporeans that it is a wonder anyone would be interested in Adidas’s latest iteration of the sweatpants availed under the new sub-line XYBO. Well, I am wondering.

Last year, at the launch of Uniqlo’s U line—helmed by Frenchman Christophe Lemaire—in their Orchard Central flagship, a couple was seen picking a pair of sweatpants. The guy tried on what he chose and when he emerged from the fitting room, looking pleased, his other half said audibly while shaking her head, “Nope, too baggy.” And the guy retreated, defeated.

Don’t ask me why sweatpants have to be fitted, but there are men and women who wear them limb-hugging as if the legs of the pants are one extended ribbed cuff! So you can imagine how surprised I was when I spotted this pair at the Adidas Originals store. I really like them, but as my friends are wont to say, when I like them, they won’t sell.

But let’s give the Adidas pants a chance.

adidas - XbyO Seven-Eighth Pants pic 2

First, XYBO. Not sure what it means. Or if it is even written in this manner: full caps. On the Adidas website, it’s spelled in both lowercase and uppercase sans spacing: xbyo (or XBYO), which prompted me to read it as X.B.Y.O. But on some online reports, the name is spelled XByO and XbyO, which could mean it’s collection X by an unknown entity O. Perhaps it is not an abbreviation (surely it does not stand for X, Bring Your Own!), just a random mix of letters—not dissimilar from Japanese naming convention. (For this post, I shall stick to XYBO.)

And the Japanese-ness of the line is unmistakable, especially the cuts. So it surprised me not to learn that XBYO, conceived for both men and women, built its design cred on the skill of Japanese pattern maker Satomi Nakamuri, an accomplished technician who has cut for Comme des Garçons and the denim label Johnbull. Pattern making is, of course, not the same as designing. While Adidas has been enthusiastic in touting Ms Nakamuri’s contribution to XYBO (an unusual marketing angle), its US website is careful to state that the brand “revisited the archives with expert pattern maker Satomi Nakamura to bring an artisan approach to Adidas heritage. Designed in Germany and crafted in Japanese-made Yamayo terry…”

And that’s another highlight feature: the terry cloth used is from Japan’s “premium terry cotton manufacturer” Yamayo Textile that, I suppose, could be considered the Kurabo Mills of fabrics for sweatshirts. So vital is this distinction to XBYO’s USP that the fabric mill’s name is identified in one of the garment’s hang tags. And truth be told, this fabric is extremely comfortable to the touch, and Adidas is not exaggerating when they describe it as “luxe”.

adidas - XbyO Seven-Eighth Pants pic 3

Well, so far, so clear. But in case you thought that this was some wayward Japanese fantasy for world athleisure domination, or Y3 part 2, Adidas would have you know that XBYO is essentially a “street style”. But I’m not sure if the collection is street by way of Harajuku or Copenhagen’s Strøget. The minimalism of the look is evocative of Danish designs, yet there’s something rather Japanese in the styling, especially the cropped length of the sweatpants (which explains the name: ‘Seven-Eighth Pants’). They remind me of those Red label engineered jeans launched by Levis in the ’90s, reportedly conceived, if I remember correctly, with Japanese consultants.

Perhaps it’s in the side seams: they meander forward around the knee before going backwards, forming a veritable less-than (or more-than, depending on which side you’re looking at) symbol. More exaggerated than those engineered jeans, I say. Will it fall nicely when worn? I had to try them on to find out.

These have to be the easiest to wear sweatpants I have ever tried. Perhaps it’s because of the absence of cuffs. There is, of course, the roominess (and the surprisingly generous crotch): you won’t feel like you’ve slipped into a pair of ‘jeggings’. And the unconventional seam placement does not affect how the pants hang and move with the body. Now that joggers are jostling with jeans for prime position in our wardrobe, the XBYO Seven-Eighth Pants may be the one to take on the alpha role. I’m all for that.

Adidas Originals XBYO ‘Seven-Eighth Pants’, SGD129, is available at Adidas Originals stores. Photos: Adidas Originals

Not Quite Café Society

Coco Cafe

We knew this was going to happen: that Chanel would open an F&B outlet to tempt the tam chiak among their customers. The supermarket set for the fall/winter 2014 show in Paris was prelude enough (and how many people tried to swipe the products on the shelves?!). And now, we get to see and experience a Coco Café in our island. Nope, Chanel has not lost the plot. They still make expensive clothes, bags, shoes, jewellery, watches, perfume, face lotions, make-up, and, occasionally, USD5,000 headphones. For nine days, they’re just serving coffee—and cakes—to sell cosmetics.

Before you get too excited, this is not Paul, or anything that will remind you of Café Flores or Les Deux Magots, or those cafés in the Quartier Latin that capture the charm of Paris. This is essentially the Visual Arts Centre in Dhoby Ghaut Green, above the MRT station, that’s transformed into a Chanel pop-up, or more accurately, “café-themed beauty pop-up”. In Asia, Coco Café first appeared in Tokyo last month, in a swankier address than Singapore’s: Omotaesando.

Coco Cafe 2

In fact, retailers are surprised that Chanel has chosen this spot for its pop-up. You know what they say about “lower Orchard Road”. That Chanel is willing to be Plaza Singapura’s neighbour is both unanticipated and contrary to the belief that this area is too close to the education sprawl of Bras Basah and Bendemeer to be beneficial to luxury branding. On the bright side, this could bode well for this part of Orchard. If this stretch is good enough for Chanel, it could be good enough for retailers with less marketing muscle.

And marketers are amused by a café that does not actually sell coffee or attendant comestibles. Yes, they’re serving, just not selling. What they do sell is Chanel’s newest lip product Rouge Coco Gloss. Well, that’s the star. Others include those from the skincare line Hydra Beauty, as well as make-up and fragrances, a happy mix that will no doubt allow you to partake in Chanel’s intoxicating luxury in case you can’t really bear to stress your credit card to acquire their bags such as the just-launched Gabrielle.

Coco Cafe 3

Inside, nothing will remind you of Rue Cambon. Coco Café (two Cs that pairs with Chanel’s interlocking ones) is a pop interpretation of a beauty store disguised as eatery that looks more Harajuku than Dhoby Ghaut. The watchful, oversized café logo, fashioned out of neon lights, could be something dreamed up by Hello Kitty. In other words, the café’s cute rather than hip.

Did Coco Chanel ever imagine her name lit up for a café? We doubt she did, but she would not have pictured either that the brand she built would one day have to seduce Millennials into spending with coffee and cake on the house.

Coco Café opens today till 16th April 2017, from 11am to 8pm. You need to register to visit the café. Unfortunately, all slots are taken. Photos: Zhao Xiangji

From Maxi-Cash To Maxi-Dash

Local pawnbroker Maxi-Cash goes into luxury business, offering merchandise that are distinguished by the euphemism, pre-loved

Maxi Cash store @ Lucky PlazaMaxi-Cash at Lucky Plaza

The selection is impressive: a major-league medley of Chanels, Hermèses, Pradas, Guccis, Rolexes, Cartiers, Panerais, Audemars Piguets, and all the gold jewellery that you would need to make a very impressive trousseau. These were all available at the launch of LuxeStyle, a new brand by pawnshop chain Maxi-Cash. This, however, isn’t the pawnshop of your grandmother’s time; this is the pawnshop of today, one with verve, if not persuasive style.

And it was with palpable vigour that Maxi-Cash launched their sub-brand at the Grand Hyatt’s function rooms called Residences yesterday, accompanied by visual merchandising and styling workshop calibrated to impress. The major high-end brands were represented with such force that you would have thought that this was preface to the International Luxury Conference. Many of the items were in such pristine condition that it was hard to guess, at least initially, that they were second-hand. Could this be why Maxi-Cash is creating a parallel luxury shopping experience for those less inclined to pay full retail? Re-sellable is without doubt a very attractive condition for a pawnbroker.

LuxeStyle is, according to Maxi-Cash’s CEO Ng Leok Cheng, the company’s “latest pre-loved luxury retail line.” Despite what that suggests, LuxeStyle is less a line—such as their own brand of jewellery LeGold—than a retail concept that caters to an economic climate generating desirous wants and the appetence for material goods with appreciable value. Mr Ng added, “the objective of LuxeStyle is to provide more than just a transaction, we aim to be the leading styling resource in Singapore.” But when the members of his staff were asked where the displayed luxury items were from, they would only say, “we have our sources”, at the same time refuting the suggestion that the merchandise is unredeemed items from their pawnshops.

Maxi Cash store @ Lucky Plaza pic 2Maxi-Cash is also a retailer of their own jewellery brand called LeGold

Truth be told, we’ve never stepped into a Maxi-Cash outlet before. So we visited one—a branch on Victoria Street. Unlike the pawnshops of the past, at Maxi-Cash (and a host of others) you won’t be approaching a counter and peering through the grille. Here, glass-top display units, recalling those in department stores of the ’70s, line both sides of the store and house the stuff for sale in a manner as inviting as any jewellery shop. We did not see a single handbag or timepiece. Maybe it’s the store’s location: just next to the New Bugis Street (aka Albert Street), a veritable day-and-night pasar malam. So we thought we should check out what is touted as “the first-ever pawnshop to begin operations in Orchard Road” instead.

Contrary to its moderately high-brow show-and-sell at the Grand Hyatt, Maxi-Cash’s Orchard Road store—specifically in Lucky Plaza, about half a kilometre away from the hotel—is a modest shop and a very small depository of luxury goods. The interior is similar to that of the Victoria Street branch; only here, one of the two store windows was filled with what LuxeStyle is about: bags, watches, and jewellery from the major fashion houses. Inside, no more bags were seen, but watches and jewellery were hard to miss.

Despite its small selection, passersby were enticed by the Maxi-Cash window. Although during the time that we spent observing, no one took the attention beyond the shop’s door, it is clear that there is considerable interest in pre-owned Chanel Classic Flap bags and the like. The selling of used luxury goods has, in the past five years, become big business, if the success and growth of brick-and-motar stores such as the American chain What Goes Around Comes Around and Fashionpile are any indication, or online sites such as the hugely popular Paris-based Vestiaire Collective, now boasting over five million members worldwide and offices in five countries.

Maxi Cash watchesWatches are a key product category in the offerings of LuxeStyle

Also known as “re-commerce”, previously mainly associated with the bigger luxury markets of the West, this trade is quickly gaining ground in Asia, where China, despite the political clamp-down on ostentation, is leading the growth in the sale of luxury goods. Consumption, as we have seen in mature markets such as Japan inevitably gives rise to disposal, which itself leads to more consumption. And there have been companies such as the Nagoya-based Komehyo—a second-hand luxury goods dealer with more than a dozen stores throughout Japan—that have led the way in retailing used products. According to the Nikkei Asian Review, Komehyo has recently announced a joint venture to expand into China, underscoring the very real potential of peddling the pre-loved.

Here, Maxi-Cash’s entry into prime vintage, which according to CEO Ng Leok Cheng “was formalized this month”, is seen as somewhat belated. Competitor Money Max has introduced Love Luxury, a marketing initiative that even piques with programs such as “Learn How to be a Smart Fashionista”. Before pawnbrokers came into the picture as a serious player, brick-and-mortar operators such as Madam Milan and The Attic Place, and online portals such as Bagnatic were taping into the slow but steady acceptance of used designer bags. But unlike many of the physical stores, the public-listed Maxi-Cash enjoys a visibility that comes with 41 outlets on our island. LuxeStyle, although not present in every one of them (13 for now), has the advantage of leveraging this network.

Pawnbroking as financial service has a long history in Singapore. In the 1800s, when it slowly enjoyed economic visibility, a pawnbroker was considered somewhat condescendingly to be a “poor man’s banker”. According to reports, Singapore’s first known Chinese pawnshop Sheng He Dang (生和当) opened in 1872. By the mid-1900, pawnbroking was a thriving business that, interestingly, saw mostly Hakka proprietors. The pawnshop that many remember from their younger days took its form and look from those that emerged in the ’70s, when the pawnshop was starting to be seen in more places. At that time, registered pawnshops totalled 50. Despite the advent of modern credit products, pawnshops have not succumbed to the threat of obsolescence. In fact, according to the Ministry of Law website, there are presently 224 registered pawnshops here.

Maxi-Cash launch product displayThe product display at the launch of LuxeStyle

That pawnshops such as Maxi-Cash have to change is part of the shifts that have affected all manner of retail. These days, people not only pawn but sell their prized possessions as well at a pawnshop. The re-selling of unredeemed pawned items or those sold outright to the pawnshop should move to the same momentum as any modern retailer. Yet, none (as well as specialist re-sellers) has approached the sale of luxury items the way Komehyo and their Japanese counterparts have: set the goods in a surrounding that they deserve.

Instead, the luxury bags, watches and jewellery share space with existing merchandise in display confines that are not initially built for their more posh inhabitants. It would seem, therefore, that the target audience of many pawnshops-turn-purveyors-of-luxury-goods is more attracted to the lower price (in the case of Maxi-Cash, “at least”, the staff chirpily pronounced, 30 percent less than regular retail) than the trappings of luxury.

At Maxi-Cash’s Lucky Plaza outlet, flanked by a minimart that goes by the name Asagao and another pawnshop, the competitor Money Max, the presence of LuxeStyle is not discerned, except for what is seen in the Orchard Road-facing window. Inside, members of the staff are friendly enough, but amid the loud chatter of a seller trying to get a good price for what could be his wife’s valuables, it is easy to forget that it was bags—maybe watches—that you had come in for.

LuxeStyle is in Maxi-Cash stores islandwide. Photos: Zhao Xiangji

Nike Goes Luxe

It’s about time

Air Max 90 Royal

For too long, luxury brands have barged into sports shoes territory by outputting their own take of popular sneaker styles. Right now, we’re thinking of the persistent intruder Louis Vuitton. Then there are designers who put their spin on their favourite kicks under the invitation of sports brands. We’re thinking of Riccardo Tisci and Olivier Rousteing, both giving Nike shoes a makeover—the Air Force 1 and Free Mercurial Flyknit X respectively, just two among other styles that both have worked on.

Now, Nike’s fighting back. Last year, for Air Max day (which, this year, fell on 26th March, three days ago, with the campaign tag “kiss my airs”), the world’s most popular shoe brand released an Air Max 1 dubbed ‘Royal’ that sneakerheads were quick to call the most luxurious ever while the media hailed it a “stellar release”. Then, five months later, came the Air Safari, also given the Royal treatment. SOTD did not get to see the Royals until the end of last year, when we came face to face with the Air Max 90 Royal, not once but twice—in London, at Dover Street Market and Footpatrol.

As the name suggests, Royals receive a rather regal treatment when it comes to materials and finishes. Supple suede, as the main upper, is a material of choice and here, Nike made it one-tone (the Swoosh and other branding look embossed). This is further enhanced with leather details that truly augment the built’s premium feel and look.  Indeed, the Air Max 90 has never looked this fine.

Air Max 90 Royal Pic 2

The softness of the suede somehow tones down an otherwise hunky shoe, so much so that the normally thick tongue is now a thin skin that sits very comfortably atop the foot—even when you’re sockless. The typical padding of the Air Max 90 seems reduced too, which makes the Royal version rather streamlined. But more unique (and the pull is clearly here) is the quadrilateral that frames the visible air sole near the heels: it’s now in a piece of leather that goes right under the outer sole, sitting firmly among the grips. Perhaps because of this, the Royal is a tad heavier than even the leather versions: 6 grams more.

A piece of leather is also slipped between the upper and the midsole, forming a corridor, on top of which the quadrilateral sits and is top-stitched. The natural tan of both immediately brings to mind Hender Scheme’s take of sneaker classics, such as Nike’s very own Air Presto, in which designer Ryo Kashiwazaki re-imagines the world’s favourite kicks in hand-crafted, natural and unstained leather. The irony of this is not lost: even a giant such as Nike cannot escape the influence of the indie-shoe maker.

That Nike would forge a path alongside luxury brands is not surprising. Through the years, they have been releasing shoes that go beyond the USD200 threshold, culminating in the self-lacing HperAdapt, which was sold at USD720—not counting what you’ll find on eBay. In fact, since the introduction of NikeLab in 2014 (with only a few boutique-like stores around the world—last count six), Nike has been offering “exclusives” way beyond their typical price points. Sure, all eyes are on the Nikelab VaporMax—launched 3 days ago—but that being completely new is, as expected, sold out. The Air Max 90 is the most elegant in the Air Max family and a luxurious version is always welcome.

Nike Air Max 90 Royal Cool Grey, SGD359, is available at Limited Edn Vault, 313@Sommerset. Photos: Chin Boh Kay

As Unsexy As Ever

And that is a good thing

COS pic 1

By Mao Shan Wang

COS has never been big on selling the kind of clothes that makes you feel like Kim Kardashian or the women who walk too regularly at night outside Orchard Towers. And that’s one of the reasons why I am a fan. But more than that: COS offers clothes that do not make you look foolish. In this age of some very strange antics and bodily representation on Instagram, I do think appearing sensible is a boon to one’s sanity. But sensible does not have to be boring. This has nothing to do with normcore, if that icky word is still in use. COS has proven again and again that minimalism can be compelling. Minimalism need not be pigeonholed.

This is the 10th year of business for COS, and, since its inception in 2007, has been producing eminently wearable clothes that do not remain on the side of dull. As if proof is needed, they have just released (actually, yesterday) a limited-edition, 10-piece (five for men, three for women, one for boys, and one for girls) collection to celebrate their anniversary and it clearly illustrates the advantage of clean that is COS. Good design, it is often said, lets the cut and the fabric do the talking, and what voluble and vivid message this is.

COS pic 2

As COS tells it in its eponymous magazine for spring/summer, “Every item… started life as a continuous rectangle of material. During an exacting design process, the space between individual pattern pieces was minimized, raising the bar for precision garments whose smart elements fit together like a puzzle.” Smart: everyone desirous of using smart gadgets in a smart city would appreciate that deceptively simple, but surely rigorous approach to design. I sure do. Okay, I am not speaking for all of you.

Appealing is the working with the one-dimensionality of fabrics, and using geometry to create something that can be worn on a clearly 3-D body. This would involve a highly-skilled patterning team, and the one at COS is. They would not shy away from toying with the space between the body and cloth, creating clothes that are not bashful of their roominess and boxiness. There is particular attention paid to symmetry so that every item has the beauty of balance. There’s also the play with lines, such as the curve on the side of the double hem of the men’s shirt-jacket. It takes after the curvature of the sleeve head, again underscoring the geometric interplay that is central to the design approach of this capsule.

COS pic 3

COS has likened the silhouette and softness of the collection to Japanese clothes, especially the kimono. While it is true that body-contouring is less a design element in Asian dressmaking (the kimono, for example, is fashioned without taking into consideration the contours of the body) than it is in the European’s, but to me, the un-bandaged silhouette of COS is also synonymous with those of other lands, such as the Middle East—the ancient Israelites, for example, wore robes in the shape of the T, known as kĕthoneth, of which Joseph’s colourful one is possibly the most known, being central to the Biblical stories of the Old Testament.

The less-structured form that COS has adopted is in line with the hitherto somewhat discreet push for a more relaxed approach to dress that has rather Oriental overtones (but not, obviously, the bluster of Gucci). Proponents include Craig Green, Rick Owens, Nakamura Hiroki of Visvim, Hirata Toshikiyo and Kazuhiro of Kapital, and Alexandra Byrne, whose costume for the 2016 Marvel film Doctor Strange is no doubt inspired by the garb of kungfu masters of yore.

I’d be the first to admit that the minimalist style (and styling) of COS has its limits. Amid ceaseless online and offline visual stimulation and provocation, these clothes, though powerful in their purity, are just too impotent to arouse. Is this why at yesterday’s opening-day sale of COS 10 (as the capsule is referred to in the store), there was no queue, no rush, no rack-side mayhem? Or was it because this was a no-big-name effort? Quiet begets quiet, and, unsurprisingly, calm came to sit alongside the clothes.

COS ‘10-Piece Capsule’ is now available at COS, Ion Orchard. Photos: COS

Dapper in Duxton

Monument exterior

By Ray Zhang

Everyone keeps saying retail is dead. Let them say it often enough and you start to believe it. I sure did, until I stumbled upon this surprise of a store. Monument Lifestyle is a first-storey shop-house boutique/café in Duxton Road. It handsomely negates the belief that the business of selling is over. Not only is Monument Lifestyle, opened just two weeks ago, in the tricky trade of fashion retail, it’s in what is considered one of the slowest in sales: men’s wear.

With its minimalist, glass-fronted exterior and a stylishly placed store name—full-caps, sans-serif, sitting above the descriptor “Goods and Café”, I thought I had past a shop transplanted from Tokyo’s Daikanyama. Duxton Road despite its potential as a shopping street in the same vein as, say, London’s Mount Street in Mayfair has mostly become a stretch where eateries—some good, some not so—come to roost. Monument Lifestyle is likely good news for the neighbourhood if the full capacity of the café on a weekday afternoon is any indication.

Cafe @ Monument

And that, perhaps, is the crowd puller: the coffee. Amazingly, I did not detect the aroma of Arabica when I wafted in. But the clink of the joe being made was definitely heard. My curious palate was keen to savour the coffee, touted at the store front to be sourced from the San Francisco roaster Four Barrel (trendy-name affectation: no plural noun!). I gravitated towards the source of that familiar sound and found myself at the white-tiled service counter that said, not unambiguously to me, hipster cool. I was delighted to spot in the menu a cold brew, but when I asked for it, was told that they did not have that, denting my initial enthusiasm. I ordered an iced latte instead. I was then asked if I would like something to eat. A trio of limp pastries under a clear cake cover did not beckon, but before I could say no, I was told that “the toast is very good”.

And it was. As befits what many would call an atas coffee joint, the toast here isn’t made from plain white bread—nothing so prosaic. Rather, it is a thick slice (yes, just one, cut diagonally into two) of brioche (in loaf form) that has a brief affair with the toaster. Thankfully, it didn’t stay there too long and the characteristically richer-than-bread texture did not dry out, which would otherwise have been very Ya Kun. Although I like brioche toasted, I am not sure the French would do that to Viennoiserie. I was later told by a member of the staff that the brioche is sourced from an “artisanal baker”.

What I particularly like is the topping: cinnamon (from a selection of other flavours I now cannot remember). But rather than the vapid stuff in a pepper shaker you find sitting on the service units of coffee chains, this is cinnamon-flavoured Masarang sugar, a sweetener made from the Arenga palm (grown mostly in Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines) that is mellow in taste, not cloying, and, for those mindful of the glycemic indices of food, is blessed with a moderately low G1 of 35.

Monument interior 2

A café within a space designated for the sale of clothes is not, of course, a new business pairing. Before PS Café became a free-standing operation, it was part of a store known as ProjectShopBloodBros. And there was Front Row at Ann Siang Road—in 2005, the store sat above Singapore’s first Dean and Deluca café on the first floor. There’s also the always busy Tanuki Raw (that took over Café Kapok) at Kapok in the National Design Centre. Some have miraculously survived, such as the frightfully kitschy Latulle in Wisma Atria, while others did not, such as Parlour, that doomed campy in-store café by Ashley Isham in Orchard Central.

The problem—admittedly, for a lack of a better word—with two-in-ones is that one may be overlooked for the other. Even with not-unattractive visual merchandising of Monument Lifestyle, there’s a very real chance people will past the sartorial offerings—the “goods” parts that flank the store—and head for the food and beverage. So enjoyable was toast and coffee that I nearly missed what at first glance were very ordinary, Shenton-Way-types-on-a-weekend-jaunt clothes.

The merchandise mix is unmistakably American surf country. I quickly saw spring break. If that was not immediately discernible, there was the broadcast of Katrina and the Waves singing Walking on Sushine! In fact, the store seems to reflect the backstory of proprietors Dustin and Iris Ramos, both Filipino-Americans who have spent a great deal of time in the West Coast of the States. Dustin Ramos, one of the staffers told me, was an avid surfer.

Monument interior 3

So this is not Surrender or Colony Clothing. With its pale wood panels above painted walls that, in some parts, were stripped to reveal the original masonry of the building and the use of erected surfboards (here, a quartet served as a partial divider between dining area and retail space), the store reminded me of the Tokyo and Sydney outposts of the New York brand Saturdays, only busier. And the clothes too have the same laid-back vibe, which is akin to that of such typically American brands as Rag and Bone. In fact, I rather saw it as Brooks Brothers minus the business wear, put together by a design team who spent an inordinate amount of time by the beach watching surfers backsiding and bikini babes watching them watching.

I suspect the casualness of the selection is deliberate. Since many guys don’t wear business shirts to work if they don’t have to, a store such as this will appeal to their dress-for-start-up-networking sensibility. In other words, this is not the place for anything edgy or can be mistaken as Off-White. But if you can’t get enough of basics—those that will help you score with the general female population, you will find something to buy in the mix of (over?) washed-for-comfort shirts of Alex Mill, created by CDG Homme Deux-wearing Alex Drexler (son of J Crew’s Mickey Drexler); ready-for-the-mall T-shirts and shorts of Faherty, dreamed up by the surf-loving dude-brothers Mike and Alex Faherty; standard surf wear by Katin, conceived by the boat-cover-sellers-turn-beach-wear-retailers, husband and wife duo of Nancy and Walter Katin; and the flip-flops of Dallas-based Hari Mari.

And I also suspect that average Joe won’t be able to tell the brands apart. The aesthetic is so uniform that despite a content of different labels, all the clothes in Monument Lifestyle look (and feel) like they came from the same factory floor. On the other hand, for many guys, this could be a plus as there’s comfort in uniformity—an assurance that can be had when things are not too different from another, or from their existing wardrobe. Perhaps with such a homogeny, retail won’t die. This little store in sleepy Duxton Road could be successful, if not monumental.

Monument Lifestyle is at 75 Duxton Road. Photos: Galerie Gambak

Art In Street Style

Surrender collab pic 1

Whether fashion can be considered art is a constant debate among practitioners on both sides of the divide. There may not ever be real consensus over the matter, but that has not deterred Surrender from presenting fashion as art. To augment its status as Singapore’s premier outlet for street style, the store has put together a display of nine one-piece-each-only jackets, the DRx Romanelli X Cali Thornhill De Witt Capsule Collection for Surrender as evidence that art is very much alive in street wear.

And they are priced like art—S$4,750 each, a sales person told us. Well, that may not be so staggering if you consider the price of a Gucci denim jacket embroidered with flowers, butterflies, and birds: US$4,950. Who are Surrender’s collaborators to daringly ask for such a handsome sum?

DRx (Darren) Romanelli is an LA-based designer and marketing wunderkind associated with the 2014 revival of the New York sneaker brand British Knights although his shoe collaborations go back to 2010 when he paired with Converse to amp up the Chuck Taylor All Star And Stripes. Those familiar with Japanese street wear may know Mr Romanelli as the designer behind Sophnet’s F.C.R.B Collection, also known as Football Club Real Bristol—only thing is this club is an imaginary one dreamed up Sophnet’s founder Hirofumi Kiyonaga. But so credible and legit is F.C.R.B Collection that Nike has an on-going collaboration with the brand.  Interestingly, Surrender had been a stockist of both Sophnet and F.C.R.B Collection, which may explain the rather cliquish approach to their merchandising.

Surrender collab pic 2

Cali Thornhill De Witt is a Canadian who was relocated to Los Angeles when he was three. As a teenager, he was linked to Courtney Love’s band Hole after touring with them. And has largely been a part of the music scene in LA, having worked for Geffen Records and, later, his own record company Teenage Teardrops. He has also directed music videos and designed album art, and is known as a “cult artist”, with works that seem to mirror skate life and lean heavily on text, such as “Crying at the Orgy”: an all-round, multi-tasking creative type. But the largest feather to his cap was designing the wildly successful merchandise for Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo tour. Unsurprisingly, both he and Mr Romanelli are friends.

The jackets, therefore, have a whiff of the hotchpotch perspective of US West Coast music, fashion and art scene (which Hedi Slimane was—notoriously?—smitten with), calculated to be visibly and achingly cool. All reversible, they are made from different clothing, or what the original Maison Martin Margiela Artisanal called “found pieces”. It is not clear if these are used clothes, but if they are, it is not surprising: Mr Romanelli is, as Hypebeast calls him, “the mad scientist of vintage clothing.”

Each of them—from hoodie to blouson—sports a white letter painted conspicuously on the back and they come together to spell the name of the store. Hence, the nine. Placed together, they do make a rather compelling installation piece. But are they really art? We leave that to you to decide.

Photos: Galerie Gombak