Gucci Not Good

Gucci AW 2018 P1

Gucci, there’s really nothing more to say about your clothes since there’s little that can be said of your offerings that we have not already expressed before. So, this season, we looked at how your pieces were styled for the catwalk: what (more) theatrics would you succumb to? And, boy, did you not disappoint. High drama made all the more apparent and discernible by your wonderfully bright staging (as opposed to last season’s eye-squinting/straining gloom), so bright that it was actually clinical—operating-theatre clear, as your set was designed to be every (cosmetic?) surgeon’s (or pathologist’s?) pride and delight.

And because all was distinct to see, we could not miss, not for a moment, the daastars—turbans that are unmistakably a physical part of the Sikh identity—placed on the heads of non-Sikhs. If they weren’t attention-grabbing enough, there, too, were hijabs, niqabs, and tudongs, additional headdresses that are traditionally symbols of faith, not fashion (as well as, oddly, what appeared to be a third eye, not perhaps dharmic, but definitely an eye between eyes). If they did not disturb sufficiently, there was the thoughtless (some say “wicked”) and inexplicable pairing of tudong and daatar!

Gucci AW 2018 G1

Frankly, we do not know for sure what Alessandro Michele was thinking at that moment, or moments before that. Or, was he even thinking? We really want to frame this as inspiration, but appropriation comes to mind faster than we could say ‘head wrap’. Why is a daastar (and kindred head wear) important in the communication of a fashion statement? Is it even appropriate given the religious sensitivities/phobia of the present time? Could this be Mr Michele’s version of diversity? Or, are we too serious about something as flippant as accessorising models for a fashion show? Should we just take it as ‘fun’? Can having fun bear no consequences?

Some media reports in the past have noted Mr Michele’s “encyclopedic aesthetic”, but surely even Wikipedea would have informed him of the daastar’s identity to Sikhism, or, that it is men, not women, who wear them. And for sticking to what distinguishes a Sikh male, many have been victims of prejudice and attack, including mistaking daastar wearers for Muslims. It’s fine to live in your own head; it’s not when you trivialise what others put on theirs as identity of self. This, Gucci, isn’t like putting a crown on a head to satisfy some fantasy about royalty or beauty pageants.

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When once, designers depended on make-up and hair styles to augment their seasonal looks, we now have designers making their own wearables (which could then be credited to them, rather than to external collaborators), to replace the artistry of directional make-up (remember the single-line bright eye colours of Raf Simons’s Dior) and hair (remember Julien d’Ys coiffure for Comme des Garçons?). Even wigs and face jewellery are no longer enough.

Are head and face wear, as indicated and seen in nearly every look presented on the Gucci catwalk, really important fashion categories? (Not to mention severed heads!) Or, are the (sometimes outrageous) coverings merely a distracting “newness” to obscure what are essentially again-clownish clothes? The circus association here is deliberate: How else do you explain Mr Michele’s pulling together of the allusions to disparate times, cultures, and religions to yield goofy and OTT looks? Alessandro Michele is the ringmaster of ringmasters. Messrs Dolce and Gabbana, step aside.

Photos: Gucci


The Glam Of Gucci

Even if we don’t say a word, you’ll still know what Gucci showed

Gucci SS 2018 show

It was reported that the latest collection was inspired by Rocket Man Elton John (not Kim Jong-un!). But it could have been Liberace, for all we know. The flashy jumble with a ’70s vibe that fans have come to love and expect cannot be missing in a Gucci show. And for that reason, it’s become increasingly hard to say anything different from what has been said before. Given its still-raging appeal, the season-to-season similitude is perhaps calculated—for the same reason brands are milking Rihanna’s fame for whatever it is worth.

“I think it’s no longer time to just talk about the clothes,” Alessandro Michele told members of the media. Shifting the attention away from the clothes is a clever move. Whatever can be said has been said. Or, could it be because Mr Michele has modest newness to offer, so the show, as with last autumn/winter’s, was presented in pertinacious gloom. Even their live stream did not factor the illumination needs of the videographer. The darkness and the relentless flashing of the strobe lights used was a test of the strength of eye muscles and of patience for clarity. How unbearable it must have been for the attendees or, maybe, charming for the adherents!

Gucci SS 2018 G1

But the clothes still matter. Squint hard enough and you’ll see the usual light-catching obsessions now associated with Gucci, as well as the goofiness that has placed the brand firmly in the man/woman-repellent category of clothes that challenge conventional sex appeal. We gave some thought to the unfading Gucci optics. To reconcile the flashiness and our penchant for designs that are less flamboyant, it should, perhaps, be said that the ostentation Mr Michele is partial to has a long tradition in post-20th century dress.

The taste-indeterminate leaning of his designs against the tailored refinement of the Italian establishment is as old as Paul Poiret’s Eastern-inspired exotica in a climate of haute couture tastefulness. As the man famed for hobble skirts said in his biography En Habillant l’Époque (Dressing Up the Era), “The faintest of pinks, lilac, swooning mauve, light hydrangea blue, watery green, pastel yellow, and the barest blue—all that was pale, soft, and insipid was held in high esteem. So I decided to let a few wolves into the sheep’s pen…”

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Mr Michele lets in more than mere wolves; he unleashes dragons and serpents; birds of incredible plumage and insects of conspicuous brilliance, and the odd cartoon character (e.g., a Bugs Bunny that’s camp than cartoonish); not to mention—in the current advertising campaign—Ultraman-age dinosaurs and monsters. Unlike Poiret’s colour preferences, selected to “raise the voices of the rest”, Mr Michele’s creatures, big and small, attempt to silence.

The Gucci look—and it is a look—is less one complete picture than the sum of individual images established in one item, assembled or styled, if you will, to tell a story that’s not necessarily coherent. And the look is as much aesthetic and strategic: stay with it until it is no longer weird or annoying to the majority, and desirable to the initially-skeptical. Fans, besotted from the start, consider this Alessandro Michel’s personal language. The communication, therefore, does not need to be changed every three months. Just let the chatter flow.

Photos: Gucci

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

Watched: Wonder Woman

As hypothermia-resistant Wonder Woman, the fights are fast and furious. As man-saving Diana Prince, the fashion is fusty and feeble

They love her: the reviewers. So this one must be good, or, at least, not another DC dud. That’s what we were led to believe until all the CGI scenes and slow-mo action started to bore, and you direct your attention at the titular character.

Wonder Woman the film is watchable, but Wonder Woman the superhero isn’t quite enthralling. Sure, Gal Gadot as Princess Diana is a beauty to behold, but her performance belongs to the Angelina Jolie school of acting. As we sat in Hall 4 of Film Garde Cineplex not quite transfixed, we kept spotting Lara Croft spying us from all corners of the screen.

It does not help that Ms Gadot pouts (actually, frown-pouts) when she wants to be fierce. Which means Wonder Woman, too, works her lips, making us wonder why they weren’t part of her arsenal, like those up-to-the-elbows bullet-proof cuff bracelets. And just like the Tomb Raider, Wonder Woman dodges bullets deftly, using her body as an aerodynamic fighting machine. It’s the costume, you see: that amazing armour/swimwear (the earliest version of the comic had WW wear a skirt!) that allows her body to be a weapon of defence rather than an object of desire.

Wonder woman costume 1

Not that the costume adopted by Lynda Carter as the Amazonian—the one we remember most—is great (too campy, too pageant, as many today would concur), but the leather-and-loin-cloth combo of Gadot’s WW, designed by Lindy Hemming (who, also happen to have designed the Lara Croft costumes), led us to think of Sheena Queen of the Jungle. Perhaps the aesthetic/silhouette similarity should be acceptable since Princess Diana grew up on an island that’s forested, even when her homeland (and training grounds) is a take on Rivendell, and a poor one.

What annoyed us somewhat is the lack of explanation to how WW’s costume came about. This is supposed to be her backstory, but the costume just appeared—in the middle of the trenches of war. Sure, she’s similarly dressed back home on Themyscira (more commonly known as Paradise Island), but she did not pack extra clothes when she left with Steve Trevor, whom she rescued earlier, to fight a war that she believes was initiated by Ares, the god of war.

Nope, there is not the famous spin perfected by Ms Carter on the TV series. Wonder Woman of 2017, in a hooded cloak, merely turns with her back to the camera and then faces front with the superhero costume intact. Until then, she does not know she is a superhero and one who needs a costume. How did it become so calculated? Although the script made sure she could speak many languages, including, gasp, Sumerian (can she read cuneiform text, and, therefore, the Epic of Gilgamesh?!), it did not reveal to us that Wonder Woman could cut and sew, unlike, say, Peter Parker.

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When feminism is now worn on the chest, this is the female-empowerment movie of the year. The leather (or PU, or latex?) bustier number should be able to say something about sartorial emancipation. But it seems to revive the body-con ideal that never fails to be the feminine ideal. Less revealing than Lynda Carter’s perhaps, but it is even more perfectly shaped than any costume seen in an action film involving a heroine—clearly requiring sewing technology, which seems at odds with an at-war society that required rescuing from a woman who fights with swords, spears, and bows and arrows.

With much of the action and story taking place in the battle grounds of what is believed to be World War I (which, interestingly, took place before DC’s creation of Wonder Woman), WW’s alter-ego Diana Prince requires almost no fashion, just as she needs no man’s chivalry to feel attractive, desired, or feminine. Maybe just his charity (he had to buy her something decent to wear). Clothes, as her urban contemporaries know them, seem to be hindrance to her as a warrior. In fact, she does not need to hide her identity, morphing from Wonder Woman to Diana Prince and back rather unconsciously and effortlessly. When she fights, she is costumed as WW. When she’s off the battleground, she is an I-have-no-time-nor-interest-in-fashion woman.

In fact, part of the script showed how uncomfortable she was with clothes of the world outside Themyscira. When Major Steve Trevor took her shopping in London (apparently at Selfridges) for a set of garments that would look less like underclothes, she scoffed at the choices offered to her, impressing her minder that no one could fight in outfits that cover so much of the body. Wonder Woman, who grew up in what could be considered temperate clime oddly requires no more than a hooded cape to survive snowfall!

Wonder woman costume 4

Diana Prince, Major Trevor’s “secretary”, came by accident rather than as a real character to conceal her superhero identity. Part of the Diana Prince look (disguise?) is her glasses. In the comics, Ms Prince wore many different types, including rimless styles and chunky ’70s frames that would delight Alessandro Michele to no end. Lynda Carter’s was glamorous instead of secretary-conservative, just as Mr Michele’s versions for Gucci are geeky-alluring.

But when Diana Prince was treated to a makeover in London—her first port of call in the movie, she was given a pair of specs that looked like it was hastily picked from Owndays rather than something consistent with those worn in the early 1900s. Those glasses strangely appeared so briefly—during an alleyway ambush—that they don’t even amount to a cameo costume role, just as Diana Prince herself is down-played.

We’re no studious followers of the Wonder Woman comics, but we’re aware that there have been many delineations of the character. No matter how she was and is drawn, there has always been an element of sexual tease in the print versions. There too is humour, whimsy, and, dare we say, camp. But, Wonder Woman, the movie, is a dark, serious, not-fun account of the most known female superhero characters. While director Patty Jenkins has been lauded as a terrific first female director of a superhero movie, it is notable, perhaps, that, in order to gain the accolades, a woman directing a woman needs to stay clear of camp. This is a competent virgin outing, but not one with flair, let alone style.

We’re urged to revisit past print portrayals of Wonder Woman: in some, she even looks like Angelica Huston!

Photo (top): Zhao Xiangji. Movie stills: Warner Bros Pictures

The Carousel That Goes Round And Round And Round At Gucci


Can you tell the difference between last season’s Gucci and the current’s? And can you tell the difference between this season Gucci’s and the just-shown autumn/winter 2017 collection? No? Ah, you see… that is the point! As Alessandro Michele told Sarah Mower, there’s no need to “tell a new fashion story” each season. Repetition is the new black. Continuity is the new norm.

This is what the SBS Transit calls a loop service. From the start of his tenure, Mr Michele has placed us in a circle line—a carousel, if you will. Each look, right up to the current Milan Fashion Week collection, brings us back to where it all started: in the fall of 2015. And just in case you could tell that the trompe-l’œil sequined bows are replicates or the maxi-dresses reiterations, the models this time are placed at a distance from the audience, in a glass (or maybe acrylic) tunnel, a la Charles de Gaulle airport’s see-through tubes-as-escalators. Did the fish-bowl effect change things?


The staging may be different, but it’s the repetitiveness in the clothes that spells out sameness, so much so that we have run out of things to say about Gucci. Really. We tried. Eclectic came to mind, but that is a lazy description. There’s so much going on in just one look, on one garment that Mr Michelle deserves better. How about cartoonish and freaky? Or overwrought and florid? Or psychedelic and manic? How about xiao ting tong?

Has minimalism had such a long reign that this is payback time for all-out-max? We have nothing against ornamentation and flamboyance (and don’t tell us Gucci isn’t flamboyant!), but must fancy, flowery, and fussy go together in the same way that it was so prominently introduced to us two years ago? After four collections (excluding the pre-seasons), is this much all that Mr Michele can express? Are we still amused, the way so many fashion editors pretend that they are?


It is already appreciated that Mr Michele has given a fashion voice to red light district workers, their pimps, librarians, perpetual hippies, figure skaters, attention seekers, the Tenebaums, the MacDougals, magpies, tuhaos, geeks, nerdettes, the Carrie Whites of the world. Yet, it seems he’s still talking to this group, unable (or unwilling?) to re-draw borders. How many flouncy maxi-dresses does a woman need in her wardrobe if her life isn’t an all-day, all-night carnival, or Rachel Zoe on the job?

Sure, there’s the craft, embroideries, sequins, appliqués: stuff that involves handwork, all beautifully assembled. They come together in what Mr Michele calls alchemy, which could be euphemism for mad mix. Looking at a Gucci garment is like peering into a kaleidoscope for too long—it induces a headache. The first few pieces may be pretty, but they are ultimately bu nai kan (不耐看), as the Chinese would say, or unable to withstand long and careful appreciation.

Oh, one more thing: didn’t the people at Gucci hear that using umbrellas indoors is bad luck?


Cruise Collections: Discreet No More

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The cruise collections have always been about practical, faintly fashionable clothes that can be worn for getaways to faraway lands and nearby beaches, or during what is considered “between seasons”. Perhaps no longer. With Gucci’s recent cruise collection, you sense that perhaps smart pants, proper sundresses, and ever-useful twin-sets are less required to tide you over lean fashion months till the season proper arrives.

Staged in England (this season, fashion’s destination du jour after South America), Gucci’s parading in the 700-year-old Westminster Abbey’s Cloisters last week was a pre-season as extravagant as the main collections. Where monks once gathered for meditation and exercise, models now marched past to tantalise the guests with clothes that stuck out in the monastic surroundings. The cruise collections, formerly a low-key presentation—so much so that some brands content with just issuing look books rather than staging a full-scale showing—is now the equal-opportunity attention grabber. If Cannes is the increasingly visible rival to the Oscars, then the Cruise season is the welcome competitor to the Prêt-a-Porter.

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Naturally, Gucci did not disappoint. Not since Tom Ford’s day has the brand’s every showing been so talked about and editorialised. A thrill, too, it must have been for the newly-found fans—social-media-savvy admirers who are completely consumed by Alessandro Michele’s Insta-genic clothes. It’s hard to say if they’re drawn to Gucci’s continued geeky-goofiness—pitched by Mr Michele when he first took over the creative direction last year—because of the design or styling. The carefully crafted oddities seem more evocative of a movie-world past than a reflection of present-day realities. In the end, some fashion will not leave retro land and Gucci has, since the ’90s, been associated with decades of long-ago.

As his post-debut confidence builds up, Mr Michele pushes his sartorially awkward looks, initially attributed to the librarian, further. Now, it’s more like a five-year-old playing dress up with her dotty grandma. Visually, it seems Mr Michele’s secret muse is Shelly Duval (check out the fashion film—euphemism for extra-long advertising—or “stories” as Gucci calls it: The Myth of Orpheus and Eurydice). In the Cruise at the Cloisters, there’s the hippy vibe too, augmented by a soundtrack of Scarborough Fair performed as choral music. If only we could smell patchouli.

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Online, it is all agog with cries of “so Gucci.” So who’s Gucci? No answer required for Mr Michelle has so effectively and powerfully wiped out all past Gucci associations with his brand of battiness that from now, it’s his Gucci that’s “so Gucci”. The press has called this a “seismic effect”. It’s a shakeup fashion apparently has been waiting for. Mr Michele does it not with new cuts or new silhouettes, but with mixing different elements, textures, prints, and colours as if he’s gone delirious in a forgotten antique haberdashery.

In the Cloisters, the parade—and it was—overwhelmed with frills and flounces, lace and leather, tartans and the Union Jack. There were 96 looks in Mr Michele’s idolisation of Great Britain, and each simply bursting, but whether with ideas or taste, it’s hard to say. The quirky coats, the prim pleated skirts, the floral dresses by themselves seem unremarkable, but when everything came together, the riot is unmistakable. It’s enough to give you a headache. And the cats, those recurrent cats: they’ll make Ellen DeGeneres very happy.

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To be sure, Mr Michele’s homage to Britannia is not the London cool that Burberry has been putting forward (and has now dissipated somewhat). The press calls it “English eccentric” but it has less to do with the British eccentricity of originals such as the Turner Prize-winning artist Grayson Perry (also a mountain biking enthusiasts who cross-dresses!) than the calculated Italian quirk of the late Anna Piaggi, whose strange style was what Bill Cunningham called “definitely outside fashion”. Mr Michele sure knows how to multiply the weirdness to edge his style slightly outside the parameters of good taste. As he told Tim Blanks, “You put more and more just to be crazy because when you are crazy, you have the illusion of fashion.”

And the “illusion”, to Mr Blanks, is a “gorgeous overload”. The fantasy begets one question, how long can Mr Michele carry on in this mode? When will fashionistas tire of the OTTness? Perhaps never, since fashion is increasingly not fashion if it does not look like fashion… an “illusion”. In fact, not only are a new generation of consumers buying into its oddball aesthetic, a past generation weaned on the visual extravagance of designers such as Kansai Yamamoto, too, are taking to Gucci’s new intemperance with equal feverishness.

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Fashion can no longer afford a lull period or a tame transitional collection such as the Cruise seasons of before. Gucci’s ramping up of its already unrestrained offerings attests to the very real, times-have-changed fashion sigh we often hear. If Christmas trees can be erected and decorated in July, as Australians know well, fashion, too, can cross seasons to come up fabulous any time of the year, any time of the day, even on an actual cruise, in the noon-day sun.

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Gucci seems to have found its groove and isn’t jiving to another beat soon, not even momentarily for the pre-season. Fashion, sustenance to many, needs no seasonal break. Never mind if you’re banging on the same drum as long as it can be heard far and wide, and draw the hordes. DJs have, of course, known for a long time the appeal of the non-stop mix: give the crowd no recess and they won’t halt the dancing. Alessandro Michele has completely supplanted what The Telegraph described as “a louche, easy-going, and sporty sexiness” of Gucci’s early years with his brand of aggressive flamboyance and there’s no slowing the assault.

To cover wider ground, Gucci included men’s wear in the Cruise for the first time, ratifying what CEO Marco Bizzarri said in April that the men’s and women’s lines will be shown as one. The fashion system and calendar is, of course, undergoing a major shakeup. Whichever direction the show seasons will head, it is clear that the Cruise collections are marching to the fore with attention-seeking swagger.

Do Call Her M, For Magnificent

Best Night: although the track was not included in her Rebel Heart Tour show in Singapore, it pretty much summed up the evening for SOTD. More significantly, it was a concert of captivating choreography and coutureMadonna descending in a cage

Madonna, wearing Adrianne Philips’s pop-kimono, descending in a gilded cage

So few artistes in the YouTube age are able to merge audio and visual into a seamless whole, and really revel in the spectacle live that Madonna’s concert in Singapore last night was going to go down the history of visiting pop acts as the most powerful performance we’ve ever seen on our shores. Yes, even surpassing the Michael Jackson’s Dangerous World Tour stop here in 1993.

From the onset, it was a show worthy of MGM productions—brought forward to the 21st Century. Sometimes you forgot you were watching a pop concert. It had the rousing choreography of West-Side Story and the acrobatic flair of all the dancers that make Marilyn Monroe’s camp-moves-as-dance intoxicating. In fact, the routines had the glamour quotient of pioneering jazz-dance choreographer Jack Cole’s work with the one who convinced so many that Gentlemen prefer Blondes, as well as the classical grace of Alvin Ailey, whose dance theatre was where Madonna received her training.

As if that wasn’t enough, there were the stunning and wow-inducing acrobatic moves on sway poles that recalled Cirque du Soleil, but, to us, were more in common with the Pole Cats of the Oscar-winning Mad Max: Fury Road. As Madonna told Michigan State’s Macomb Daily last year, the Rebel Heart Tour performances will be a “characteristically theatrical spectacle”. And she meant it: the spirited singing and dancing unfolded in front of a huge back screen that projected some of the most arresting and intoxicating video graphics seen outside MTV.

Body Shop segmentMadonna in Alexander Wang stomping in her inimitable way

Although, conceptually, Madonna played a big part (as she told the Rolling Stones she likes “to create personas and then the persona changes and grows into other things”), credit must also go to creative director Jamie King, the writer and director behind Cirque du Soleil’s Michael Jackson: The Immortal Tour. Mr King’s tableaux for the Rebel Heart Tour had the enthralling mix of story-telling, vivid characterisation (who could forget the black, clearly-male dancer channeling Jospehine Baker?), and dramatic visuals. Together with the inspired choreography of Megan Lawson and Jason Young, every set was calculated to stimulate the senses and stir the soul, even those interludes without Madge singing (when she had to undergo costume change) were a thrill to watch: definitely those dancers’ bungee jumping down a tilt-till-near-vertical rear stage!

What may have escaped the notice of concert goers, especially those seated at the back and too mesmerised by the overall visual glory to notice prancing dots, were the costumes, and not just Madonna’s but the dancers’ and back-up singers’ too. In a rare display of creative unity, the singer’s dance and singing mates weren’t clad in nondescript black leotards (or anything as bland), but in individually designed ensemble that had in common with cinematic, rather than concert tradition. It was really no wonder at all that the dancers appeared to enjoy what they did since they knew they looked good and fashion-correct.

Madonna has once again worked with her long-time costumer Adrianne Phillips. Ms Phillips, also a film costume designer (she was nominated for Oscars for Walk the Line and W.E.) is, thankfully, no Nicola Formichetti, who presently helms his own gender-dubious fashion line Nicopanda now that he’s not intimately connected to Lady Gaga’s costume choices. Madonna’s trust in Ms Phillips is apparent since the latter had designed the costumes of the Material Girl’s past five world tours. For the Rebel Heart Tour, Ms Phillips enlisted designers that are currently the rage, including Gucci’s Alessandro Michele, Moschino’s Jeremy Scott, and once-Balenciaga’s Alexander Wang. No doubt a motley group, but with the dissimilarity required for Madonna’s multiple-persona show.

Bullfight segmentFor the breathtaking ‘bullfight’ segment, Madonna wore Fausto Puglisi

What impressed those who could still be impressed by such things is that Madonna used clothes, not no-clothes, to enhance the visual strength of her performance. There’s something strangely and comfortingly old-school about the presence of costumes and the act of costume change now that we’re in an era when singers have hardly anything on (Arianna Grande, Nicki Minaj, et al) or are badly dressed (K-pop stars!). But these are get-ups with so much fashion-speak that calling them ‘costumes’ somehow recalls Bob Mackie or, for Canto-pop die-hards, Eddie Lau. There were nothing as long-ago as that, not even anything resembling the iconic conical brassiere that Jean-Paul Gaultier designed for her for the Blond Ambition Tour in 1990 (although the bra made its catwalk debut in 1982). These clothes are contenders for a fashion museum rather than, ironically, Instagram.

There were four sets (five if that one encore were to be considered) and four main costumes. Some were themes Madonna had explored before such as that with the toreador jacket and knickerbockers, or the one with the ’20s shimmy fringed dress designed by Jeremy Scott (reportedly taking a huge chunk of the 2,500,000 Swarovski crystals that adorned the stage clothes). The most compelling for us at SOTD was the Spanish/gypsy ensemble designed by Alessandro Michele. This was unlike anything the singer has worn before: rather Elisa Doolittle residing in Seville. All the Michele details were there: the lace, the embroidery, the colours, the kooky romance. It was a softer Madonna that the younger set would probably (and regrettably) consider grandmother-ish.

What fashion observers got a kick out of, too, were the video projections accompanying the latter segments. The medley of Living for Love and La Isla Bonita (yes, two different styles but they paired beautifully!) were accompanied by sumptuous, monochromatic split-image visuals of Spanish fans, ruffles, fringes, lace, bangles, and castanets, all depicted smoothly in a Mary Katrantzou-gone-minimalist way. Not to be outdone were the swirling embroideries, chez Michele, during Dress you Up and Crazy for You, that turned the backdrop into a hypnotic kaleidoscope. Even if you were bobbing up and down way back and couldn’t marvel at the couture needlework of Madonna’s shawl, you would be mesmerised by the digital needlework on the rear screen.

Latin_Gypsy setThe ‘Latin/Gypsy’ set that opened with Dress you Up was mardi gras for a staid Singaporean audience

In GucciMadonna in her most colourful get-up by Alessandro Michele for Gucci

The Rebel Heart Tour concert is clearly a movable fashion spread. Sure, Madonna does not approach fashion as beguilingly as Björk; she does not embrace it as trashily as Lady Gaga; she does not wear it as girlishly as Talyor Swift. She’s no pundit of irony. One cannot, however, say she brings nothing new and visually exciting to the stage. She is a performer and she knows that every button, every bead, every binding (and that ultra-long barège of the ‘wedding’ sequence!) matter, and the sum effect is what makes a singer a performer.

Although her moves, at age 57, were not quite the dance-prance-cavort of the past (she was half-Vogue-ing her way through the sets), there was no denying the consummate artiste that Madonna still is. It is puzzling, therefore, that there were those—stage habitués themselves, no less—who thought that she sold out when the songs Holy Water and Devil Pray were omitted in response to MDA’s outdated restrictions. It isn’t quite clear if these individuals felt short-changed, but to equate Madonna with only controversial songs that bait the church is as reductive as associating religion with only violence.

Sexuality and erotica may be part of her repertoire—like Jack Cole, she F-bombed inveterately (surprisingly to the discomfort of not a few attendees)—but fashion will not be underplayed in her quest for musical dominance and relevance. Madonna is too powerful and savvy an image maker, and too ardent a fashion lover to minimise the communicative value of clothes. She may rip her top off, but she will not rip us off.

Photos: Zhao Xiang. Editor’s note: We apologise for the less-than-desirable quality of these photographs. SOTD did not attend the concert as a member of the press corp. The conditions where we stood unfortunately were not ideal for the kind of pictures we would like to publish here