G Dragon Goes For Gabrielle

G Dragon models Gabrielle Pic 1

G Dragon does not tire of Chanel, nor Chanel him. Both are collaborating again. This time, for the unspectacular Chanel shoulder bag, unimaginatively named Gabrielle Bag. G Dragon, aka Kwon Ji-Yong, appears in a video released by Chanel two days ago, showing him walking briskly in what appears to be a hotel hallway as he heads for a concert venue. He makes very little eye contact with the camera, and the bag appears less often than his face. To the ignorant, this could be a commercial for a G Dragon performance.

To launch a bag, they make films these days. They cast the coolest stars with massive following, and if their model of choice is unable to come for the filming, they sent a film crew to him. G Dragon reportedly shot this video while on a concert stop in Macau. This was part of his third solo world tour called ACT III, M.O.T.T.E. In fact, he performed at the Indoor Stadium this past weekend to a 7,500-strong crowd. While it was reported that he wore Chanel and carried the Gabrielle Bag during this latest concert as part of his garish stage costumes, it was not certain if this was the case for his show here. Do Singaporeans fans even care?

Perhaps they would if the Gabrielle Bag filming was conducted during the leg of his tour here. But Chanel, priding themselves on the vastness of their marketing budget, sent their crew to Macau instead. In the end, it isn’t quite clear which really gained from the exposure: the bag or the concert, if at all.

Chanel Gabrielle Bag

But Chanel does score when they’re able to associate an unremarkable bag with a very remarkable Korean hip-hop star. G Dragon is, of course, not the first popular male singer to help Chanel market the Gabrielle Bag. In April this year, Pharrell Williams won the distinction for being the first male to avail his whole being to a Chanel handbag campaign (although he isn’t the first man to be associated with the brand). Pharrell brought his usual I-can-wear-Chanel-if-I-want-to stance to the video in which he was seen—with Chanel chains and pearls, no less—skating atop a crate across a warehouse in a guys-do-these-sort-of-things way.

It is G Dragon, however, that is far more gender-bending in his fashion choices for the Chanel short. And we’re not just talking about what looks like a lace scarf thrown over his shoulder and the ultra-skinny tweed pants (interestingly both he and Mr Williams wore plain T-shirts in their respective videos, as if that will help retain some masculinity a la James Dean, should doubt arises) and the posing and preening. There’s his full makeup and the painted fingernails: this is a get up that, in more conformist, less hip-hop dominating times, would be considered drag.

Despite his tendency to cross into female territory in dress, G Dragon’s maleness is rarely question, at least not among his female fans. In fact, all the lace and nail polish seem only to augment and underscore his all-male, oppa appeal. In allkpop.com, a fan ItsKDay commented on a report of G Dragon’s Gabrielle Bag video flaunt, “Gawd he has such a sexy manly body.”

G Dragon models Gabrielle Pic 2

The thing is, in South Korea, people seem less fixated on gender norms. Selling music or cosmetics to consumers is not gender-led. Just look at the casting for the skincare and makeup ads from the big players such as the AmorePacific Group (Etude House and Innisfree). Guys with strangely dewy skin dominate, making G Dragon’s foray into women’s accessory advertising no oddity. In fact, the lead singer of Big Bang seems to be utterly comfortable in what would be mostly (at least for now) considered female domains. Just look at the covers of the two issues of Vogue that featured him last year: China (August 2016, two covers, in fact, with Bella Hadid sharing the space in the second) and Korea (also August 2016, not two, but three covers!) And both editions with him sporting looks mothers usually do not expect of their sons.

G Dragon may use the Gabrielle Bag in the video ad, but will he really put it to use in his everyday life? The Gabrielle Bag looks like a practical bag, for sure, but so is Ikea’s Frakta—so practical, in fact, that it spawned a luxury version of it. Also known as the Hobo Bag, the Gabrielle Bag (not just Gabrielle) is believed to be unisex, but not quite a man-bag. Its regular looks and rigid form may just be unexceptional enough to attract those not in the pop music business to adopt one for their fashionable life.

Chanel is really pouring a hefty sum into the marketing of what could easily become a forgotten sibling of the 2.55. Kristen Stewart was the first to star in the series of Gabrielle Bag films, followed by Cara Delevingne and Caroline de Maigret. Reportedly Liu Wen is next, augmenting Chanel’s predisposition towards inclusiveness.

However, we do wonder: does the casting of a black and an Asian man for a primarily women’s wear label mean that non-Caucasian men are less fashion-forward and not amenable to fashion without the confines of gender? Or has men’s wear been so limiting in terms of variety that guys are looking across the divide for more to excite and to express with? Or, maybe, in Chanel, G Dragon has simply found his phoenix.

Chanel’s Gabrielle Hobo Bag (as seen on G Dragon), from SGD5,460, is available at Chanel stores. Video stills and product photo: Chanel

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

Is Puma Doing A Chanel?

If Nike can be inspired by the Bao Bao, it’s not so outrageous that Puma is equally influenced by Chanel. Interestingly, both brands take their design cue from bags. In the case of Puma, the Clyde Dressed Part Deux sneaker seems to take after Chanel’s 2.55 bag, so named because it was in February of 1955 that the bag was released.

Now that Chanel’s first bag (actually, the 2.55 was modified in 1954 from an earlier version that came out in 1929) is no longer restricted to women of a certain age and associated with a certain refinement that reigned 60 odd years ago, people are using the distinctive bag as they like, anyway they like. And since the 2.55 is as likely paired with a pair of heels as sneakers, Puma’s Clyde, now available as Dressed Part Deux, is quilted to play its part.

Puma must have known the potential of the upper of the new Clyde: the diamond-shaped pattern, complete with running stitch that resembles Chanel’s, which, apparently (no one is really certain), was inspired by the riding coats of jockeys (Coco Chanel was a fan of horse racing). Although Puma’s quilted upper could be a deception of personality, many women are indeed enticed by the leather surface treatment that is associated with one of France’s most storied couture houses.

Although Chanel makes the occasional sneaker, theirs aren’t exactly kicks women weaned on the likes of the Boost are inclined to wear.  The Clyde is, according to Puma’s own telling, born of the request by the ’70s basketball star Walt “Clyde” Frazier, who had asked for a custom-made pair in suede. Puma obliged. Like so many classic court shoes now brought back to life, the Clyde is given a fashion makeover—presently called “Dressed”, no doubt underscoring it’s likely life outside the court. It seems that the Puma Clyde Dressed Part Deux and Chanel 2.55 are a match made in heaven.

Puma Clyde Dressed Part Deux, SGD170 is available at Puma dealers. Photo: Puma

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

When Clothes are Blah, The Show Has To Be A Blast

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The 35m rocket stood in the middle of the Grand Palais like the Obelisk of Luxor at the centre of Place de la Concorde. Guests arriving to witness Chanel’s fall ready-to-wear presentation must have been wowed by the spacecraft as pilgrims in 1400 BCE visiting the Luxor Temple were when approaching the entrance’s twin obelisks (before they were split, with one arriving in Paris in 1833).

Karl Lagerfeld has been Chanel’s ringmaster since the brand’s fashion shows became more than just a catwalk event. He’s been dreaming up so many of these massive mind-boggling sets so that the audience would be awe-struck that it’s become hazy as the smoke from the Chanel-branded rocket when we recall the number of them. But remember we do: the carousel of fall 2008, the iceberg of fall 2010, the giant globe of fall 2013, the supermarket (or was it a hypermart?) of fall 2014, the boulevard of spring 2015, the brasserie of fall 2015, the casino of fall 2015 (couture), and the airport terminal of spring 2016 (which is the second air travel-related theme after the hangar of resort 2008).

And now, this rocket. “This is what you call one giant leap for mankind,” declared the online edition of Harper’s Bazaar. Really? Is Neil Armstrong turning in his grave? And for vogue.com, “the rocket ship was, of course, the pièce de résistance”. Then, what about the clothes?

Chanel makes garments that please, but they are not exceptional enough for the media to rave about or awful enough for detractors to hate. Bouclé or no bouclé, Mr Lagerfeld offers mostly variations of a theme. It’s what keeps Chanel alive. Even if Chanel omits shows from their image-making thrusts, women will still buy the handbags, camellia brooches, and earrings with the double Cs.

Despite the presence of the rocket, there was nothing space-age or galactic about the collection. If there’s not anything you can say about the clothes without sounding yet again like a deferential fan, then perhaps something can be said about the experience attending a Chanel show. They are smart. And an experience isn’t a mesmerising one if there was only a static ship. That’s why the lift-off during the finale, although, anti-climactically, the Chanel rocket did not shoot through the roof for the stars. But it was dramatic enough. The resultant oohs and ahhs washed over any potentially anaemic reaction to the clothes. For the attendees, this was probably the only rocket launch they’ll ever attend. And that’s good enough.

It’s been said that these big productions with their equally massive sets that could put any West End show to shame may boost a luxury brand’s top-of-the-pack standing. If so, what should we make of Balenciaga showing in a set-free basement? Balenciaga on a budget?

Photo: Chanel

Rudderless: So This Is What It Looks Like When A Fashion House Has No Design Director

Dior AW 2016 finaleFinale at the Dior autumn/winter 2016 show. Photo: DiorTV

Whatever you feel about Saint Laurent’s latest collection, there’s no denying Hedi Slimane is focused. You take away a clear picture, knowing what he wanted to do, where he wanted to take you to. So much of the autumn/winter Paris collections is wearyingly obsessed with wearability—no doubt an approach first popularised by Mr Slimane, but was really there all along at Chanel—and multiplicity that it was all as confusing and forgettable as the “Front Row Only” Chanel show with its staggering 93 looks (90, if you discount the 3 men’s outfits).

So it is really not surprising, even if we risk sounding picayune, that the two, storied French houses left without a captain would steer their respective collections rather without a rudder. Sure, the design team took over, but you sense that different people were tasked with different parts of the collection, and no one was savvy enough to edit or ensure that there would be some unity in the line. There seems to be a belief that if you put out instantly wearable clothes with a certain mood that may be evocative of the past or a certain designer, such as the last one holding fort at the house, you’ll be good to go. After all, when a house is in transition (or disruption), people would understand.

Dior AW 2016 G1Dior autumn/winter 2016/17. Photos: Dior

At Dior, it was a Bill Gaytten moment: spring/summer 2012 season, just after John Galliano was unceremoniously dismissed. While, to be fair, the present interim collection has tried to stick to the house codes, it is undeniably safe and sane, posh and pretty. It couldn’t be other way, some sympathised. To be sure, these are not appetite-churning clothes, but they seem so disconnected with what’s happening in Paris, so different from the gentle rebellion led by brands such as Vetements and Jacquemus, so unable to redefine the Dior aesthetic beyond the Bar jacket and lady-like silhouette.

The design team proves that it’s hard to do Raf Simon’s Dior without Raf Simons. It’s even harder to duplicate Mr Simon’s sense of ethereal beauty with youthful edge. They’ve kept the pop of colour under dark suits, the floral fabrics shaped sensuously, the swing coats, but, strangely, they’ve omitted pants—those calf-length trousers that Cathy Horyn once said was not Mr Simons’s strength when he was at Jil Sander, but was beautifully refined by the pattern makers at Dior. It won’t be a surprise if the clothes sell, but it may not be those discerning women buy to keep.

Lanvin AW 2016 G1Lanvin autumn/winter 2016/17. Photos Lanvin

At Lanvin, as at Dior, it is very likely the design team tried hard, but here’s the predicament: it looks like they did try very hard. It’s not immediately obvious they intended to build on Alber Elbaz’s legacy—14 years, no less. Probably not, since the parting of designer and house was not, by many accounts, terribly amicable. Mr Elbaz had the knack for tempering overtly feminine flourishes with elements that are not encouraged in traditional dressmaking such as unfinished edges. However tai-tai his aesthetic got, it was usually balanced by the designer’s sense of humour and considerable wit.

Instead, these are clothes that trump propriety, good design sense and, what are believed to constitute French elegance and savoir faire: the silk satin dress and her lovely cousin in silk chiffon; the one-sleeve dress that is almost synonymous to Alber Elbaz; the flounces, ruffles and peplums that are, hitherto, crowd-pleasers. These are clothes that will look right in a rich woman’s wardrobe, save perhaps the calf-length coats with elongated contrasting lapels, a cumbersome-looking outer if there ever was one. Of the manifold variety of styles at Lanvin, quite a few will score with Chinese mistresses who must look womanly and kept.

Tweed For Feet

Chanel tweed sneakers AW 2014Chanel gym shoes, anyone?

Some people attribute the current craze for sneakers to Karl Lagerfeld’s Chanel couture kicks, revealed back in January for the Spring/Summer season. Although Raf Simon’s Dior, too, showed footwear clearly derived from sports (we say they look like bejewelled kungfu shoes!), it was Chanel’s that rocked the couture establishment and thrilled the fashion pack. If there’s a place in haute couture for commonplace sneaks, athletic shoes should be doing a victory dance (and they have) for the overdue recognition. The desirability quotient shot up when it was reported that those shoes were not for sale: you got the chance to buy a pair only when you ordered a couture outfit. Made by Massoro Bottier, the century-old French shoe maker behind Chanel’s wardrobe for feet—of note, the black and beige signature styles, the high fashion sneakers were each 30-hours worth of hand work, and were as intricate and lavish as the clothes.

Hanker for them no more as Chanel has released prêt-a-porter versions for Autumn/Winter 2014. These are even more striking than the earlier couture issue: less confections of fairy dust, more concoctions of disco glitter! The happy mix of tweeds and bouclés, among other materials, made us wonder if these were discards from the house’s cutting floor. As eye-catching as they are in the boutique’s window, once held in the hand, these mixed-media shoes look surprisingly conventional and feel as ordinary. It is not clear if they will perform under intense sporting conditions (well, it’s another kind of performance wear!) since it’s hard to imagine any woman wanting to put the near S$2000 shoe to test. Under the rubber sole, Chanel’s double C logo is brightly affixed, waiting for the wearer to create imprints on wet sand.

It isn’t the first time Chanel showed sneakers and certainly not the first in tweed either, but this time, they’re begging to be Instagrammed. And that, perhaps, is good enough reason to join the mad rush for them.

Chanel tweed sneakers, SGD1,820, are available at Chanel boutiques. Photo: R. Zhang

Two Of A Kind: Sock ‘Em!

SS 2014 Sock-Shoes

Hybrid shoes are not new, but socks affixed to soles as sock-shoes are, perhaps, rather. Chanel’s summer shoe range features such footwear. They’re really clear-cut two-as-one: functional cotton-knit socks atop soles akin to those of court shoes (above, left). Chromatically, the cream and black colour combination is in the spirit of Coco Chanel, but visually, the fusion of foot gloves and shoe soles is more Victor Frankenstein!

But who really got there first: giving lazy feet a chance to wear shoes and socks at one go? It is not immoderate to assume that high fashion took a leaf off the pages of athletic wear, like they have before.

In February 2012, Nike introduced the Flyknit, a shoe upper technology that took four years to develop. The idea was to give runners a pair of shoes that fit like socks. The knitting, however, is not quite like those employed in socks—the construction process was engineered in such a way as to yield a seamless tubular upper that has a snug fit while respecting the contours of the feet. This proved to be such a compelling and practical idea that Adidas, too, shortly launched their version: the adiZero Primeknit. But unfortunate for the German brand, Nike was reported to have sued them in September of 2012 for “patent infringement” and applied for an interim injunction against Adidas’s said shoe with the District Court in Nuremberg.

The early versions of sneakers featuring this new material, the Nike Flyknit Racer, did not immediately look like socks sitting on soles. Not until the latest version, the Nike Free 3.0 Flyknit (above, right), that we really get to see the combination clearly, just as with the Chanel heeled interpretation. Regardless, both are really more sock than shoe. We can’t vouch for Chanel’s, but the Nike Free 3.0 Flyknit is an incredible piece of footwear: the fit is amazing, the comfort supreme, and once in them on the track, you can really fly.

The word sock, interestingly, came from old English socc, which means “light slipper”. The footwear reference makes sense since those leathers used in early times to wrap feet were really the most basic form of shoes. The one question that begs to be asked is, how does one wash these Chanel sock-shoes (with the Nikes, you can launder them in a washing machine)? It is reported that the feet produces close to 0.5 litres of perspiration a day. Surely, even the most dry-footed Chanel wearer would want to clean her socks once in a while! And if she does, will she risk missing a sock in the wash?

Chanel sock-shoe, SGD1,390, is available at Chanel boutiques. Nike Free.30 Flyknit, SGD259, is available at official stockists island wide

Prints For Your Back

Backpacks SS 2014Are backpacks this season’s clutch? It appears to be if you look at what some designers are churning out. Now that a sheath of a bag offers a capacity not quite adequate for what you may need to get through a day, the rucksack’s new prominence is very much welcomed. But, it should be noted that these are nothing like those you remember from way back: school. Not since Prada’s nylon knapsack and Gucci’s leather version with bamboo handles has the humble backpack been so truly back. And this time, they have prints on their side, charming or not!