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

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Two Of A Kind: To Dubai With Love

Michael Cinco & Frederick Lee

The photo (right) of Frederick Lee at work came to us via WhatsApp around 5pm, shortly after it appeared on the designer’s Facebook page. And it was not just once, but twice (from different senders)! It required no prompting for us to immediately think of Michael Cinco, circa 2014 (picture: left). Should we assume that it was ‘inspiration’ at work, as it tends to be these days?

We are in the era of the Trumps: Donald for “fake news” and Melania for “common words”. The latter’s speech at the Republican National Convention last year was called out for its similarities to Michele Obama’s in 2008. Well, better Michele Obama than Barbara Bush, no? While the media was quick to point out the resemblance, no one really called down the wrath of the plagiarism god. Her minders, conversely, passed her word choice off as ordinary and frequently used.

In design these days, work resembling the creation of others is easily and swiftly called inspiration or, just to be certain reverence is noted, homage. Alessandro Michele, he who has made Gucci over-the-top and feverishly loved, was recently charged for making a jacket for the cruise 2018 collection too alike a particular piece made by an obscure-in-these-parts designer Daniel Day, aka Dapper Dan. When Netizens pointed out the similarities and the original owner of the one-off jacket, Olympic gold medalist Diane Dixon, took to Instagram to announce, “As Fashion Repeats We Must Give Credit To The Originators”, Gucci issued a statement to say that the said garment is “homage” to Mr Day “in celebration of the culture of that era in Harlem.”

Similarly, Frederick Lee adulates without a shadow of a doubt when he’s ‘inspired’, not, however, just by birds and flowers, but by the works of individuals in the same trade. It’s not surprising, therefore, that his creativity would be aroused by the work of others, such as fellow designers of the Asian Couture Federation (both Mr Cinco and Mr Lee are members). Keep it within the family since the work of Asian designers is less scrutinized?

Now, he’s gone from China to United Arab Emirates, from omelette to doily. The white, shapely dress in question is, of course, not an exact repro of what we believe to be Michael Cinco’s gown from his couture spring/summer 2015 collection. But you can’t say the colour isn’t similar, nor the placement pattern of the lace/embroidery (here, both had a whiff of the symmetrical patterns of 18th-century damask and brocade upholstery), nor the hip-enhancing silhouette. Sure, Mr Cinco worked his on fine tulle while Mr Lee’s output is realised on netting, but both aesthetics stem from the same sprout.

That there is resemblance is as much the result of imitation as aesthetic similarity between the two designers. Both come from the school of fashion design where adherents love to closely trace the outline of the female body to better define the silhouette. Both have a penchant for dramatic effects and shapes, and both their designs attract women who have no use for the undramatic and the commonplace.

Both, too, have a weakness for dictums and truisms and, more often than not, inanities. Mr Cinco, a Filipino based in Dubai, says, sans irony, on his website, “A Michael Cinco woman is moneyed. She may not be born into royalty but she better be married into one.” Mr Lee loves to assert, as he does on Facebook, similarly stripped of irony, such as: “My brides are a class of their own. What makes you different makes you beautiful.” He is also prone to the lingo of Bryan “I’m so gay I sweat glitter” Boy: “You know you’re putting a good thing out into the universe when you put on glitter.”

Sisters, as the Eurythmics song goes, are doin’ it for themselves. Imitation be damned.

Photos: (left) Ian Gavan/Getty Image, (right) Frederic Lee/Facebook

Total Recoil

Chanel boomerang 2017

As they say, always be careful with what you throw out because whatever that might be, it may come back to the thrower. Chanel threw a boomerang into the mix of “Other Accessories” in its web store recently and it flew back by way of social media outrage. Netizens, ever on the lookout for the slightest provocation by fashion houses, fervently charged Chanel with cultural insensitivity. Another opportunity to rage against cultural appropriation that seems to plague fashion these days?

The outrage is surprising. What has fashion not appropriated? If Chanel can build anything—such as the rocket at the autumn/winter 2017 show in Paris in March, it can sell anything. And it has. Remember the USD7,500 Chanel X Monster Audio (with sound engineering by Beats by Dre) headphones of 2014? That has nothing to do with what Coco made and sold, yet it was produced and retailed, and loved. Don’t be surprised if there would be a Chanel electric scooter or hover board. After all, there’s already a Chanel surfboard—unpriced, which means, if you’re interested, let’s talk.

Among the wrong sort of attention that the Chanel boomerang courted was this from an irate Twitterer Tara Mulholland: “your ‘boomerang’ is tacky and a gross appropriation of indigenous culture for your own profit.” We’re not sure if that is really a sound charge. If so, Toys ‘R’ Us is just as guilty. Perhaps the ire stems from the outlay needed to pay for the boomerang: a staggering SGD2,020 (it’s sold alongside a SGD2,330 tennis racket and a SGD590 set of four tennis balls)! Who can say this is truly worth its inflated price?

What was once a weapon traditionally thought to be used by an indigenous people and now a toy for those with proximity to a field to throw it, Chanel’s boomerang is rubbing in your face that there are those rich enough to want a luxury version of not quite anything to modern life, reflecting not how the wealthy live, but how they spend.

If personal mobility devices are not down the pipeline, what will Chanel throw out next? A frisbee? Perhaps that would not be “a gross appropriation… for own profit.” It would still be profit nonetheless.

Photo: Chanel

Dress And Behaviour

The recent Toa Payoh food centre incident shows that “smartly-dressed” does not mean one has the smarts to temper an explosive situation with social grace. Clothing, as we know, is—and has been—mostly a façade

Smartly dressed 1

By Raiment Young

People are obviously easily deceived by appearances: the smarter you look, the more intelligent you are perceived to be, or least inclined to succumb to publicly unacceptable behaviour. This, however, was so quickly and easily debunked just last night.

That berating and that shoving of the seemingly harmless elderly gentleman in Toa Payoh Lorong 8 food centre on Friday evening that has gone viral were the responses to the rage of the couple that Netizens enthusiastically described as “smartly-dressed”. Such gossip! Some of them, as well as a report on alvinology.com, portrayed the duo as “well-dressed”. Such fake news!

I’ll be the first to concede that what constitutes smartly-dressed and well-dressed is subjective, and smartly-dressed and well-dressed may be diametrical, and are not necessarily indicators of fashion or trend. But I have seen enough disgraceful behavior on the part of the smartly turned out to realise that just because you look clean and tidy does not mean your manners are as impeccable.

Like the rest of you not at that food centre at that time, I saw the foul-mouth and the assailant in action online. Although the footage was no cinematic oeuvre, I could still discern that the now-infamous couple was no Bonnie and Clyde. Yet, despite the hazy video, it was their manner of dress that people remember, since, for most, spiffiness does not beget insolence. Smartly-dressed, of course, could also refer to the two’s office attire, which, by convention, is supposed to project professionalism, if not civility.

Here’s what I saw: the woman was in a white sleeveless top (battle-ready since she did not need to roll any sleeve up for a fight) and a pair of cream-coloured, high-waist pants. Her prone-to-push companion was in a long-sleeved shirt (so fitted at the torso that it’s obvious it’s darted at the back. Note, also, the pen in the pocket)) and a pair of dark-coloured trousers that formed a (’70s-looking) silhouette to better enhance his samseng stance. The female’s aggression seemed to indicate that she was completely able to hold her own, yet the man saw it fit to come to the expletive-loving maiden’s rescue, in crash and bang fashion. Hantam first, talk later.

Smartly dressed 2Screen grab from the viral video showing a man and woman and their elderly victim

Heroism has a long historical link to the smartly-dressed. In fact, in the annals of comic-book heroism, the superheroes that are dapper in dress when not in life-saving costume have a better chance at liberating the world from evil and saving maidens from tyranny and dramatic death. From Clark Kent to Bruce Wayne to Tony Stark, sartorial smartness enhances machismo and valour. In the case of the food centre Super Shove, people remembered that he was smartly-dressed because he operated in the traditional swank of comic-book superheroes. Rarely do bravery and brutality in a food centre come in such a package, so you keep the image in mind.

Bad behavior at communal dining tables appears to be more associated with the smartly-dressed set than the not so. The habit of choping, which appears to be a factor that led to the Toa Payoh kerfuffle, is more prevalent in food centres and food courts that are visited by the smartly-dressed office crowd. In fact, it has been suggested that it was “office ladies” that started the trend of using packs (one is no longer adequate) of tissue paper to chope seats.

I did a random, admittedly unscientific study and found that makan places such as Changi Village Hawker Centre and Old Airport Road Food Centre see less—a lot less—patrons wielding tissue packs/umbrellas to hold a seat/table than their CBD counterparts, such as Lau Pa Sat and Golden Shoe Hawker Centre (also known as Market Street Food Centre). Where the blue-collar smartly-dressed throng, choping is commonplace. And you’ll likely find a patron ready to attack you should you dare to question the rationale of a pack of tissue representing a living person.

But these days, a pack of tissue is not quite enough to indicate that the seat/table is taken. Last year, at a Kopi Tiam food court, I saw something I did not imagine could happen: a person had placed his OCBC name card on the table in lieu of a pack of tissue. When he returned with his lunch, I could see that, like Super Shove, he was smartly-dressed. I was tempted to write to the bank to enquire if this is how a business card should be used, but I, like many of you, succumbed to whatever-for.

What was even more astounding was this incident in which an umbrella had a starring role. I was with my 77-year-old mother at another Kopi Tiam food court. She spotted an empty table and walked towards it. As she was about to reach her destination, a woman from behind her quickly whipped out and extended her compact umbrella, and placed it across the table. In one swoop, an old lady was denied a seat at a food court table. My mother was stunned. From where did the umbrella shoot forth, she wondered.

Mom, a smartly-dressed woman.

Photo: A. B. Tan. Video screen grab: The Local Society

Sometimes, A Book Needs To Be Dressed

Beahouse book cover

By Mao Shan Wang

I wish for my books what some women desire for their pets: suitable attire. But this has nothing to do with wanting to dress my books to reflect my considering them extension of myself, the way it tends to be with pet owners. (Admittedly, a well-dressed book could point to what the legendary editor Carmel Snow called a well-dressed mind.) Or to present a fancy exterior that tells the world clothing is not strictly a human priority and propriety. Rather, my books are given an outfit only when they’re being read. And because a book in use tends to be exposed to some rather tough conditions, they should be protected. Hands ready for gardening are always happy to see a pair of good gloves.

Truth be told, I have only two sets of clothing for my books, and both for those I tend to carry around than the tomes that mostly reside in my small library. One of them, bought in Beijing some years back, is a simple black jacket in a cotton that recalls those worn by coolies of the past. It’s a simple slip-case much like the plastic versions that were once sold in Popular Bookstore and were used to protect our school books. This one attracted me because of the side designated as the cover. On it are the Chinese characters xiang si (相思 or to yearn) embroidered in red. Next to the two words is a little dot, which could be a Chinese period, but, if you’re alert, you’ll realise that this is, in fact, a pictograph. Collectively, they read xiang si dou ((相思豆), referring to the red lucky seed, the Chinese symbol of love and longing!

The other is a recent purchase. I was drawn to it because it said “free size” on the packaging. Although the description is in Japanese, it was not difficult to make out from the illustration that this cover could fit a lot more books than my old one, which is essentially one size. Produced by Beahouse, a Japanese maker of cloth and leather book covers, it hints at a rather old-world way of carrying books around, much like the book band is associated with a practice no longer prevalent. What is it about the reading culture of China and Japan that makes readers want to protect the covers of their books? I have never seen, if they are to be seen at all, anyone here using a bought book cover; I have only seen books the result of terrible abuse.

Beahouse book cover pic 2

This made-in-Japan wrap, also in cotton, but of rather fine twill, is a 44cm by 45cm near-square that is folded from the top down to the three-quarter mark, and then from the bottom to the half-way point. The top fold is held in place by a vertical stitch in the middle while the bottom is unstitched, which means it can be adjusted to take any book with size ranging from the average paperback to the standard hardback. At each end of the folded rectangle is a Velcro strip that can be fastened to allow the book cover to fit snugly.

Having your own book cover this versatile means you do not have to pay for books to be plastic-wrapped. It is very annoying that in Singapore such a service is charged by booksellers. Kinokuniya makes you pay S$1.00 per book, although their stores in Bangkok offer it for free (no charge at Asia Books as well). Moreover, in this age of green living, a reusable book cover, like a reusable shopping bag, can play a small part in our quest for eco-equilibrium, never mind that we are no eco-heroes.

I am one of those who like to carry a book in my bag. Uncommon such a habit might be these days, I have not given it up, as I do read during my commute on the MRT train—a sight, I suspect, is as often witnessed as a person without a smartphone. Inside my bag, the book is always in communion with the umbrella, battery pack, sunglasses, earphones, digital music player, and the miscellany that inevitably ends up in there. Books, unlike the rest in that community, have a weak body. When properly clothed, they can survive the unwelcome chafing that prolonged close contact may bring. A handsomely jacketed book, too, may spark a conversation with a fellow commuter, pedestrian, or shopper. No fancily-dressed pet required.

Beahouse Free Size Book Cover, SGD26, is available at Tokyu Hands, Orchard Central. Photo: Zhao Xiangji

Cheers, CDG Emojis!

With the launch of Comme des Garçons emojis via the App Store, the brand that Rei built looks set for online domination

cdg-emojiComme des Garçons is not all that weird and bizarre after all. Just like the rest of us, it, in fact, loves emojis! While it isn’t the earliest fashion brand to march forth in the digital world (its IG and FB accounts came on rather late) by engaging those whose lives are more active online than offline, it is, as far as we’re aware, the first to introduce its own emojis. Launched after midnight in Tokyo on 23 November, CDG’s Holiday Emoji pack is possibly the brand’s most commercial and engaging marketing push yet.

For the rest of the world, the Holiday Emoji is available from today (here, a party at the CDG store in Hilton Gallery later this evening will mark the occasion). Each of them is based on the heart-shaped smiley first introduced in the Play line of T-shirts in 2002, then described as “a sign, a symbol, a feeling”. Did CDG already know 14 years ago that the now-too-popular logo will become an emoticon? The cute quirky smiley—first red before black, blue, green, even gold versions were added—was designed by Filip Pagowski, the Polish artist and occasional CDG non-model model (in the ’90s when the brand was heavily into ‘personalities’ such as John Hurt and Lyle Lovett), who had submitted the design for a different project before Play had its day under store lights.

cdg-aoyama-2cdg-aoyama-1The windows announcing the launch of Holiday Emoji at CDG’s Aoyama flasghip in Tokyo. Photos: Meiru Matsuya for SOTDcdg-aoyama-3Merchandise featuring Holiday Emoji and the Play logo in CDG Aoyama, Tokyo. Photo: Meiru Matsuya for SOTD

Play took off as soon as it was born. In no time, it was given its own space rather than sold together with CDG merchandise when Dover Street Market was opened in London in 2004. Its success, however, was scoffed by many a CDG die-hard fan mainly because by 2008, the already recognisable logo was widely copied and available on knock-off havens such as luxury fashion’s green mile Patpong in Bangkok. But strangely, counterfeit for CDG does not lead to demise. Play continues to be tenaciously popular. A visit to the Play box-shop at the lobby of Gyre Omotesando in Tokyo inevitably means a queue (although in the line are mostly souvenir-hunting tourists).

Now that it’s evolved into a smiley with different iterations for different occasions, CDG’s Play logo seems destined for ubiquity since emojis, also known as stickers, are presently preferred to words when we send messages—oddly still called ‘texting’. In fact, there, too, is something old-fashioned about the Holiday Emoji. Looking like they’re drawn by hand rather than with, say, Illustrator, these characters are noticeably one-dimensional and naïve-art-like when compared to Line’s wildly popular animated couple Brown and Cony. Yet, it is perhaps this hand-drawn quality that could make them even more endearing.

cdg-emojis

In giving Mr Pagowski’s icon more than one expression, CDG has also humanised it. In the beginning, you couldn’t really call it a smiley since it did not have a mouth. Now, it is given one to better communicate a range of emotions that an emoji is expected to express. The heart-shaped guy (we’re assuming it is male since it has not really shown feminine traits) is finally able to show happiness, as well as sadness, which, in modern communication is as vital as the thumb down—something Facebook is still unwilling to provide.

Emojis, of course, go beyond communicating one’s thoughts at one moment. CDG’s is supposed to show the gamut of holidays or holiday moods. In the 25-piece line-up, there are also those that indicate the weather, such as thunderstorm. Well, even a feel-good holiday such as Christmas (represented by he in a Santa’s hat) may be a stormy day. As for the one with the broken heart, well, isn’t it good counsel for the brokenhearted to go for a holiday? Put your preferred emoji here.

The Emoji Comme des Garçons app is available for download on the App Store or through the iMessage drawer. Additional reporting: Jun Shimamoto

A Quiet Shade Of Blue

shouten-by-biro-p1

By Raiment Young

The areas flanking Horne Road in the vicinity of Lavender MRT station have, in the past two years, become a hipster hangout much like Tiong Bahru had before. Sure, the young and the arabica– and robusta-aware come here for the cafés (last count, about half a dozen of them) rather than lifestyle or fashion stores. But I think all that may change. Singapore’s still (sadly) under-rated men’s wear brand Biro has just opened their first store and they may do for the periphery of Little India what specialty coffee wholesalers and retailers Papa Palheta did for this part of the city when they opened Chye Seng Huat Coffee Café (CSHCC) in 2012.

Before you think Biro’s store is in another hardware-shop-turn-indie-cool-retail-post, let me say they really have not gone down that path. The brand’s solo brick-and-mortar debut is inside Kitchener Complex, a still-unattractive building that, despite renovations, I think still bears the hallmarks of HDB architecture from the ’80s. In fact, the store is hidden in a corner on the third level of Mahota Commune, a chirpy market/eaterie opened six months ago by the family behind Prime Supermarket (one of their branches was originally at nearby King George Road). Mahota Commune is dedicated to organic produce and what a staff member told me are “raw foods—no processing—and those from sustainable farms.” It may sound a little too new-age-y, but it really isn’t. There’s an old-Jasons-Supermarket-meets-Akomeya-Tokyo vibe about it that I found immensely appealing and comforting.

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The rear-area store that goes with the Commune and yet stands out is known as Shouten by Biro (shouten is shop in Japanese and shares the same characters with Chinese: 商店). Opened just two days ago, it is the brainchild of Biro founders, the brothers Chong Kenghow and Kage. The small space looks like a Japanese transplant from, say the Tokyo neighbourhood of Kamimeguro, and the first thing that beckons is the blueness of the shop. I sensed that it is an indigo-themed space. Standing in front of the store, I knew I was not wrong, and my mind was busy with thoughts, which could be transcribed as “I like this a lot.” Chromatically, this was triumph of mono over poly, especially when the overall tactile and visual qualities seem to suggest rural Nippon craft.

Just to be sure that this isn’t a pop-up store (i.e. temporary), I asked the brothers if the arrangement with the landlord or lessee is permanent or long-term. “Yes it is,” confirmed Chong Keng How. “We were approached by the people from Mahota Commune. They like our stuff, and we like their concept here too. The space is a nice fit.” And just like the multi-use larger floor, Shouten by Biro is not restricted to one product category or what they have come to be known for: men’s clothing. In fact, it goes comfortably with the umbrella term lifestyle. This is a general store and clothing (primarily T-shirts and jeans) takes up a rather small part of the space, which, unexpectedly, is also habitat to accessories, bath products, and stationery.

shouten-by-biro-p3

Kage Chong, Biro’s principal designer, was keen to introduce me to the Tokushima indigo—the ai pigment used in dyeing or ai-zome (believed to have existed since the 10th century)—which gives almost the whole store its alluring patina of blue. Tokushima is a region in the eastern end of the Japanese island of Shikoku, and it is Tokushima, Japan’s biggest domestic grower of the indigo plant, that supplies most of the natural dyes to the jeans factories of Okayama, dubbed Japan’s denim capital, if not the world’s. But what truly piqued my interest was the hardwood floor planks used in the store and on its walls.

These, as I learned, are from the Japanese lumber dealer Dairi Lumber Company (unsurprisingly, from Tokushima) that is known for their indigo-stained exterior and interior building materials, such as those used on the floor that I was standing on. The ai tint of the wood, interestingly, isn’t intense; it appears as if watercolour was brushed over it, allowing the grain of the wood, and its natural colour, to be discerned. The best part is that these cedar and pine planks are available for retail. Kage Chong elucidated, “When we stumbled upon these wood floor planks, we feel they’re so much like our DNA. We just had to do something about them.” And they sure did. At Biro’s shouten, it’s now not unimaginable living in an interior with the blue that gives jeans the colour that we have yet tire of.

Shouten by Biro is in Mahota Commune, level 3, Kitchener Complex. Photos: Galerie Gombak

Flat, Cute, Adored

By Mao Shan Wang

When I mistakenly asked if Craftholic characters are as mouthless as the epitome of Nippon cuteness Hello Kitty, the brand’s designer Ikuko Yamamoto quickly pointed, unsmiling, to the ‘mouths’ of the two indescribable life-size creatures prancing around us on the third-floor atrium of Raffles City. For a moment, I wished I was mouthless.

Ms Yamamoto was here to participate in the opening of the Craftholic pop-up in Raffles City, which has themed its Yuletide celebrations “The Whims and Wonders of Christmas”. Craftholic may be whimsical but it’s hardly wondrous. Still, its popularity cannot be underestimated. As I left Raffles City that evening, I overheard a loud teenager in the standard, outside-of-school uniform of slip top and shredded denim cut-offs telling her companion, “I already have nine of them. There’s no space on my bed for me to sleep.”

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Craftholic’s phenomenal rise is unprecedented. According to the telling of Ros Lee, a Tokyo-based Singaporean product designer behind the ceramic brand Polkaros (available at K+ Curatorial Space at Scotts Square) and photographer who has shot the merchandise of Craftholic’s parent company Accent Corporation, Ms Yamomoto “created a series of characters… that became a big hit in Japan overnight. What was meant to be a print design for a blanket became a series of popular home furnishing characters.”

These characters, recognisable by their basic shapes and nearly expressionless faces, generated massive interest when “a very influential model in Japan” purchased one of them and posted it on her blog page. Her followers went crazy and thronged the Craftholic flagship store to buy the stuffed creatures. In two days, they were sold out. “People were bidding for it online and the prices went berserk!”

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Ms Yamomoto was less fervent in her version of what led to the birth of Craftholic. Through an interpreter, she said that she’s always been interested in designing and craft. I asked her if this has any similarity to a rag doll in terms of how it came about, and she said she does not know what a rag doll is. Her interpreter whipped out a smartphone and Googled it. She was shown a picture of a rag doll and she said, “no.”

I then wondered what accounts for Craftholic’s popularity and her reply sounded totally blasé: “Because it’s simple and fashionable and it can fit any interior and lifestyle.” Are women more impartial to kawaii than men? “Both men and women can accept it.” What’s fashionable about Craftholic? “For example, every season, we have different pattern; every season we launch a new collection.”

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Seasonal collections, thus, give Craftholic edge over, say, Hello Kitty and co, but do people buy dolls the way they buy clothes: with seasonal needs and quirks. That question, I kept to myself, fearing I would have digressed. Instead, I asked her if she has considered making a film of her motley characters (at the same time remembering seeing paper cut-outs of the Craftholic family). Ms Yamamoto smiled for the first time, visibly lightening up.

“I have never thought of it,” she said, betraying a mere hint of amusement. Bent on pursuing the Studio Ghibli track since the two prancing persons-in-a-doll-suit on the grounds of the pop-up store showed the character’s potential as action figures, I asked her who she’ll pick to direct a Craftholic movie if one were in the offing. “No one in particular,” she replied, and then added that it would probably be a female director since “anime is dominated by men.”

paper-craftholic

Fortunately, the world of Craftholic, as Ms Yamamoto said earlier, shows no gender divide. The characters themselves, too, seem genderless although their flatness is, to me, oddly masculine. Some people call Craftholic “hug cushions” even when you’d think that huggable means fully-formed. To me, they’re pillows given arms and legs and facial features, and they remind me of a no-particular-use teddy bear that was given to me when I was a child. It was in the shape of the traditional English teddy; even the colour was traditional, but it was unbelievably flat, and it went by the unsurprising name Pancake.

Flatness is also thinness, which may explain Craftholic’s appeal among young women. Craftholic characters are rather flaccid too, which, could downplay potential sexuality that may be ascribed to the creatures, even when, unendowed, the likelihood is diminished. The tameness can, therefore, be made to appeal to all age groups, and can spawn applications beyond zakka goods (a uniquely Japanese reference to those that enhance one’s home and life). Girls in Japan are reported to sport their favourite Craftholic character (or characters) on their nails. As we know, the Japanese can make kawaii go very far.

Craftholic pop-up store is at Raffles City Level 3 Atrium till 27 December. Photos by Zhao Xiangji

Little Black Box

karlbox

Art, as in life, is about the haves and the have-nots. There are artists who get to work with the best tools and there are those who manage with what they have. The same can be said of fashion designers who have the skill to draw and love doing it. Some use whatever pencils and pens they can find in the likes of Popular, while others such as Karl Lagerfeld employ the tools that are the equivalent of the materials used by Chanel’s métiers d’art partners—special illustration instruments from the house of Faber-Castell.

The pencils and such that Mr Lagerfeld employ must be of such commercial appeal that Faber-Castell has launched an illustrator’s kit—called unsurprisingly Karlbox, with the tag “Colours in Black”—that contains water-colour and coloured pencils, pastels, brush and fine-liner pens, graphite pencils, crayons, and attendant accessories (an astounding 350 pieces in all). This is a limited-edition kit, with 2,500 sets available worldwide. According to the sales staff at the Fabel-Castell store, there are “about 40 in Singapore.” How many wealthy Karl-loving artists do we have?

karlbox-open

The handsome housing alone will probably be a big draw, forgive the easy pun. Launched early this month, the Karlbox is no ordinary artist’s tool box. The box itself is probably worth a good portion of the cool four-figure price asked of the kit. Made of beech and lacquered in black (“inevitably”, according to Faber-Castell with no explanation) the doors are affixed with 36 pyramidal studs or “diamond point headed pins” that when closed shape up into a square formation. It is, to us, evocative of cabinets with pyramid-block facing, rather than “a Chinese wedding cabinet” that Vogue sees. This is serious stuff, produced by a 255-year-old art supply manufacturer, not the kitschy Jean Paul Gaultier coloured pencils sold as memento for the travelling exhibition From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk.

Inside the Karlbox, it’s a dollhouse for pencils and kindred instruments. There are seven tiers and six drawers, all organized by colours. What’s fascinating is the close-ups of the Karlbox in its promotional video—shot like a fashion film, but looks more like a cosmetic commercial for eye pencil colours. This is clearly pitched at fashion illustrators rather than artists. If Andy Warhol were still among us, maybe he’ll be enticed by designer pencils.

Karl Lagerfeld X Faber-Castell’s Karlbox, SGD4,588, is available at Faber-Castell, Ion Orchard, and Tangs. Photos: Faber-Castell

 

Crystal Clear: Music Is Love

Music is Love (White)Elton John Music is Love for Lalique clear crystal Heart ornament

It is hard not to associate Elton John with the showman that he is and the outrageous show clothes that he wears. “I obviously carry it a little far sometimes,” he told David Frickle in January this year during the satellite radio Sirius XM Town Hall interview, to which the host responded with mock incredulity, “A little?” The understatement was not lost on the live audience. At variance to the proclamation, therefore, is the understated elegance of Lalique’s heart-shaped ornament Music Is Love, conceived with the singer in support of the Elton John AIDS Foundation. There is a gentler and, dare we say, cuter side to the Rocket Man.

French crystal/glass maker and jeweler Lalique and Elton John’s upright crystal heart shape is a limited-edition objet d’art that brings to mind perfume bottles, such as that of the iconic Shalimar by Guerlain (the collectible bottle, interestingly, was designed by Baccarat). But Elton John’s version is not a flacon parfum; in its heart, instead of the golden hue of precious scent, lays a veiny intricacy that swirls the centre formed by the musical symbol of the clef. This would not be out of place sitting atop an upright piano, next to a metronome, still or ticking.

Music is Love (Red)Elton John Music is Love for Lalique red crystal Heart ornament

The perfume association is not entirely out of place when it comes to the Alsace-based Lalique, dubbed by Elton John as the “Rolls-Royce of glass”. Like Baccarat, it is linked to one of the most recognisable and still desired perfumes in the world; in this case, Nina Ricci’s L’air du Temps. Created in 1948, twenty-seven years after Shalimar, L’Air du Temps would become so popular that today it is considered a classic. Its attractiveness is, many are inclined to believe, as much to do with the olfactory appeal of the fragrance as the distinctive bottle—capped by a frosted twin dove—in which the scent is kept.

Similar artistry and preciousness can be found in Elton John’s Music Is Love Hearts (part of a seven-piece philanthropic collection) and is ratified by the limited numbers that have been created: 999 of the clear and 499 of the red are available world-wide. In Singapore, three of each colour are available at the Lalique boutique. Ten percent of the sales of the Music Is Love go to the Elton John AIDS Foundation.

Elton John Music Is Love crystal heart-shaped ornaments, SGD2,160 (clear) and SGD3,240 (red), is available at Lalique, Paragon Shopping Centre