Met Gala 2017: A Cop Out

Rihana Met GalaRihanna bursting with Comme des Garçons fabric petals. Photo: Neilson Bernard/ Getty Images

By Mao Shan Wang

I knew it was going to turn out like this: disappointing. The Met Gala, despite its standing as the “Super Bowl of fashion”, is really a chance for attendees to relive their teen-year prom night, not to honour a designer, living or dead. They turn out to outdo each other—a conference of gowns. Glamour reigned and glamourous is a gown.

I did not think there would be enough women woman enough to don Comme des Garçons, and true enough, few bothered with the theme The Art of the In-Between. There were no in-betweens, only princess-like dresses or lackluster counterparts. This year’s Met Gala, as in the year of Punk: Chaos to Couture, saw a parade that was not in tribute mode. It was a classic red carpet (which turned out to be white and blue) affair, and the bedecked guests walked down the passageway or climbed the stairs in something that stunned, something that elicited the response “how gorgeous.”

That, of course, is antithesis to the whole Comme des Garçons aesthetic or design thinking. Ms Kawakubo, the subject of this exhibition, once said, “For something to be beautiful it doesn’t have to be pretty.” Try telling that to the homecoming queen Anna Wintour. She wore Chanel and she only does pretty! Sure, I can’t imagine “the most powerful woman in fashion” in Comme des Garçons, but if she, also the chairwoman of the Met Gala, wasn’t going to observe the theme, who needed to? Just look, as the invitees always have on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, glamour-stricken.

Tracee Ellis Ross Met Gala 2017Tracee Ellis Ross, daughter of Diana Ross, in Comme des Garçons. Photo: Benjamin Norman/The New York Times

And that is perhaps the inherent limitation of the Met Gala. I say do away with the red carpet, and maybe—just maybe—the women will not sense something amiss if they do not feel fabric hugging their hips or cloth swirling around their feet. Or, the drag of a train behind them—the ultimate red-carpet inconvenience. In fact, there were many trains this year, more than the globular blooms and stark bandages associated with Comme des Garçons that one had hoped to see.

I suppose women think they should reprise Rihanna’s ponderous Guo Pei omelette to gain social media stardom. How else do you explain the massive sweep of Priyanka Chopra’s Ralph Lauren trench coat with a personality disorder?

Hollywood actresses, being Hollywood actresses, will always approach the red carpet the way they always have, even if they’re on a different coast: sexy or pretty, never mind if they look insipid (Jessica Chastain and Diane Kruger, both in Prada), predictable (Halle Berry in Versace), va-va-voom (Blake Lively in Versace), fairy-like (Elle Fanning in Miu Miu), and confused (Priyanka Chopra in Ralph Lauren). The choice of dress added to a sartorial resume that will, I suppose, help them score an invitation to the next Oscars.

Pharrell Williams and Helen Lasichanh Met Gala 2017Pharrell Williams and Helen Lasichanh, both in Comme des Garçons. Photo: Getty Images

Did anyone wear Comme des Garçons on the red carpet? I woke up at seven this morning to watch Vogue’s 360° livestream on Facebook, hoping to witness true homage. It was such a yawn that I counted, as I usually do, the dried cranberries in my muesli to stay awake. In the end, I spotted six (there could be more, but I did not see them). Of a reported 600 guests invited, that only six were photographed wearing the brand they had come to honour seemed to me a little sad and pathetic.

Ms Kawakubo had earlier indicated that she may not attend. I hope she did not. To see what I saw could be very depressing for her. In fact, I can imagine the reaction of the Japanese watching this in Tokyo (or anywhere throughout the country). They must have felt let down. What do these gown wearers know about one of their nation’s most revered designers? Why were they there to celebrate her work?

As expected, Rihanna stood out again, even when she looked like she was wearing a project her grandmother did not get to finish. Her pick was a dress from the fall 2016 collection which Ms Kawakubo was reported to have been “imagining punks of the 18th century” when conceptualising it. Rihanna is, of course, a very 21st-century woman with very digital-age taste. Whether she too was imagining an imagined sub-culture—or nor, she baffled me with the shoes: those red strappy heels. Comme des Garçons is heels-averse. A pair of sneakers from her Puma/Fenty line would have been a better fit, but that would not be ideal or glamourous enough for scaling the steps of the grand old Met.

Anna Cleveland Met Gala 2017Anna Cleveland looking fresh in Comme des Garçons. Photo: W magazineMichele Lamy Met Gala 2017Michele Lamy in Comme des Garçons arrived with her husband designer Rick Owens. Photo: Associated Press 

Surprisingly, Tracee Ellis Ross, the daughter of Diana Ross, turned up in Comme des Garçons, and she looked rather good in the dress that I think is from the 1996 ‘Flowering Clothes’ collection. I thought Anna Cleveland, another daughter of a famous name—the model Pat Cleveland, looked fresh in her beribboned ensemble, showing rather convincingly that Comme des Garçons can be wearable.

A big letdown was big-time fan Pharrell Williams, who, although attired in Comme des Garçons Homme Plus (save the jeans), looked way too casual, as if he was on his way to a recording studio. If he could wear Chanel’s women’s clothes, why could he not have put on a Comme des Garçons women’s number? That would have been ‘In-Between’. His wife, the model/designer Helen Lasichanh, was more in keeping with the spirit of the event. She wore a sort of union suit that seemed to have restricted hers arms to within the garment—constraint that is very Comme des Garçons of recent years.

To me, the most authentic was Michele Lamy, wife of the designer Rick Owens. She wore a panelled dress with a rather bulbous hemline (in the middle, something that looks testicular!) that could be from the very red spring/summer collection of 2015, and appeared every bit the part of the dark master’s spouse. Ms Lamy, in fact, looked like she wore something assembled at the last minute, in the limo, on the way to the party. And therein lies the appeal: she didn’t look too precious. Here was one unafraid woman, unshackled by the imposition of the unnecessarily ceremonial red carpet. 

These were indeed some of the brave, even if they constituted, to the embarrassment of the Met Gala and its organising committee, only a handful.

Weird Eventually Is No Longer

People who understand and love Comme des Garçons talk about the “transformative power of the clothing”. On the eve of the Met’s latest spring exhibition The Art of the In-Between, SOTD looks at how CdG, in particular, its designer Rei Kawakubo, has transformed our perception of what can or cannot be clothes and how the unconventional becomes conventional

Rei KawakuboRei Kawakubo (centre) in Paris. Collage: Just So

People break rules all the time, but few are serial rule breakers. To smash established notions of anything, for some, leads to emancipation. In fashion, liberation from the past era’s, century’s, decade’s, previous generation’s, yesteryear’s idea of what is wearable, can-face-the-day clothes has been effected for as long as garments are made and worn. From Paul Poiret to Coco Chanel to Yves Saint Laurent to Mary Quant to Helmut Lang to Raf Simons to Demna Gvasalia to so many more, fashion codes have been rewritten, and clothing has, in many ways, become the freeing of oneself from the constraints of the markedly contemporaneous.

Comme des Garçons’s Rei Kawakubo is a serial rule breaker. Some designers challenge the zeitgeist long enough to see the desired changes and then revolutionise no more. Ms Kawakubo constantly contorts our view of what can be considered suitable to the body and what can be construed as clothes. As she told WWD in 2012, “The more people that are afraid when they see new creation, the happier I am.” If this fashion outsider’s success—culminating in the Met spring exhibition opening on 4 May in New York City—is any indication, Ms Kawakubo may be rather less happy these days.

Perhaps she is. “It’s a Met show for Comme des Garçons, not a Comme des Garçons show at the Met,” she told the media recently, in the few, possibly reluctant, interviews she granted to market the exhibition. And they detected or deduced that she likely had to compromise, something possibly unheard of in the modus operandi of Rei Kawakubo.

The Met 2017 exhibition catalogueThe Met spring exhibition catalogue by curator Andrew Bolton. Collage: Just So

But it wasn’t this way in the beginning. From the start, Ms Kawakubo was really the ready radical, a petite Oriental woman who dared to go to Paris in 1981 to show in the same city as then-newsmakers Thierry Mugler and Claude Montana. But hers wasn’t like the powerfully feminine clothes of her French counterparts; hers were new creations that she likes people to be afraid of, and they were, so much so that the media of that time described what she did disparagingly as “Hiroshima chic”.

She was not the least fazed, and has stuck to showing in Paris till today. Despite the coldness of her designs—mostly in black—people warmed up to them. By the mid-Eighties, CdG, though still odd, funereal, and boyfriend-repelling, appealed to the taste of women for whom ‘power dressing’ encouraged aversion. These were largely those who worked in creative fields, individuals not compelled to dress in the way corporate environments demanded.

Holes in pullovers, tops and shirts with puckered armholes, skirts with unfinished—meaning un-sewn—hemlines that did not accentuate the hips, dresses that could have led a double life as a sack for potatoes, these were novel to a new generation of consumers of designer labels not yet weaned on the elegance of the day. Torn and rough and imperfect, as opposed to refined and smooth and perfect, were visual cues to communicate the message that women were now dressing for themselves rather than for the opposite sex. Visually and obviously feminine styles took a back seat.

CDG Mode et PhotoPoster of the Comme des Garçons photo exhibition in Paris in 1986. Photo: Jim Sim

The growing success of CdG indicated to other designers—established, emerging and those waiting in the wings—that desirable designs need not follow the footsteps of French couturiers such as Yves Saint Laurent, who, in fact, preceded Ms Kawakubo as the first living designer to be honoured by the Met with a solo exhibition in 1983. Ms Kawakubo was in her third year showing in Paris at that time, and probably did not imagine that, 34 years later, she would share Mr Saint Laurent’s good fortune and be selected by the Met to display 150 pieces, as many as the latter, of her designs for public viewing.

Even Marc Jacobs, who does not deny that he’s inspired by CdG, has worn CdG to the Met Gala—a lace tunic shirt to the 2012 Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations. Mr Jacob’s coping of CdG not only makes the label a designer’s label, it also elevated the brands visibility. By now, Comme des Garçons, although not an instantly recognisable name as Louis Vuitton, has become what rivals would call successful. Ms Kawakubo is still considered by her peers to be an iconoclast, but the label that she started in 1969 has gone somewhat mainstream too, with pop stars such as Lady Gaga wearing CdG to the delight rather than bafflement of her fans, and with fast fashion imitating their house codes of mixed fabrics/patterns, asymmetric hemlines, and strange proportions.

CdG was not conceived for the masses. It’s disavowing of conventions set it apart, pulling those who are not seduced by the ordinary to the brand. Yet, it has become a bit of a victim of its uncommon success. To be sure, CdG is, in the end, a business, and the company has to survive, and they did so rather well with commercial “non-fashion” items such as those of the popular Play line. Because Ms Kawakubo makes clothes unlike her contemporaries or creates looks ahead of them, her clothes seem to defy time—they don’t date. Vintage CdG is still so in demand (just look at Tokyo’s Rag Tag) that even the company reprises their past pieces in the ‘Evergreen’ collection.

Stalwart supporters of CdG will continue to embrace Ms Kawakubo’s what-will-she-think-of-next designs. For the uninformed, CdG clothes may not look “designer”, but as John Walters once said, “Only you know you spent money when you wear Rei’s creations.”

This Power Pairing (Updated)

Streetwear biggie Supreme and Japanese designer powerhouse Comme des Garçons collaborate and the world goes mad

 

Supreme X CDG shirt

By Ray Zhang

Frankly, I don’t quite get Supreme. Perhaps it’s because I am more of a Palace guy. But it’s Supreme we’re talking about, so let’s stick to the label that always makes me think of a particular Motown girl group. Let me admit: I am a bit of an authenticity snob. I like streetwear labels to stay close to the street, and I don’t mean Avenue des Champs-Élysées. Yes, I am referring to Supreme dipping into the high fashion pond fed by the head water Louis Vuitton.

What was once skater kids’ go-to label, Supreme is now, to me, a lackey of luxury. LV is going to sell loads of that bag, the Supreme box-logo alive as a Speedy or could that be the Keepall—entirely bleeding red and screaming. But does that make Supreme more desirable? Unless, of course, they’re not so pleasing to begin with. Still, it’s Louis Vuitton as partner, which means the goods end up on rich kids with no taste than on cool kids with edge. While GQ gleefully calls it “a collaboration of dreams”, for real fashion folks, this sort of high-low partnership is somewhat—and sadly—déclassé.

Supreme X CDG shirt tees

My first (and belated) encounter with Supreme was in Tokyo last summer in its Shibuya store, situated in the hipster neighbourhood of Jinnan. It was a disappointment so huge I was totally consumed by it. Perhaps it was because Supreme was my last stop in the area that is home to some of the most exciting retail concepts in the whole of Asia, such as the indescribable WARE-mo-KOU and the always intriguing Beams. I was quite intoxicated with seeing so many things I do not get to see here—to the point that a glimpse of plain tees with some mindless graphic on the chest was like being smothered with chloroform.

Supreme is in a side street with nothing but its own silent company. The façade is a concrete sea with the familiar red logo afloat like a life buoy in the ocean. It was close to sun down when I arrived and the coveted logo was illuminated by two lamps above it in such a way that the light formed a heart-shaped halo around it. The exterior hints at a minimalist interior and, true enough, it was a space as plain as a warehouse, save a blue, Sphinx-like creature prostrated right in the middle of the shop. The clothes were on racks that were lined up against the walls. I flipped through the mainly T-shirts and thought how much nicer Stussy in Daikanyama was. The Supreme store was empty except for a Thai couple who was buying the 3-in-1 pack of Supreme/Hanes Tagless Tee.

Supreme X CDG shirt suit

So what does it mean when Supreme now pairs with Comme des Garçons, the label that, in less than a month, will be saluted at the Met Gala, the prelude to this year’s spring exhibition Art of In-Between? Okay, I am conflicted with this one. I am tempted to say that Comme des Garçons deserves more. The label does not need to validate itself with this alignment. No one will go to the Metropolitan Museum to see the streetwear adjunct of Japan’s leading designer brand. To be sure, this is not the main CDG line at work. It’s the sub-brand Comme des Garçons Shirt, which, in part, sometimes has a whiff of street sensibility. Still, CDG will not be less desirable if it does not adopt something so blatant as sharing Supreme’s name. After all, it’s has Gosha Rubchinskiy in its stable of brands.

But, I know better. This is really a commercial venture, as much to elevate the CDG brand as making Dover Street Market, where the collab will be available, an attractive emporium for another group of wealthy consumers with pretensions to skate style. Supreme and CDG have been partners since 2012, when both came together to produce a capsule for the opening of DSM in Ginza. It was, by most accounts, a wildly successful output, with Supreme fans going quite frenzied trying to hunt down the limited pieces out there. Every Supreme X Comme des Garçons Shirt release since then has been a baffling, queue-forming global phenomenon—Supreme’s hometown New York City the centre of the madness.

Supreme X CDG shirt shirt

I am, of course, inclined to sit this one out. Supreme is a brand I have been reading about and seeing on social media for years, but somehow it’s always not on my radar. Yet, I am curious, because I want more for CDG. So, I visited DSMS’s E-Shop last night at about eight. The site was not accessible, with the error message “This page isn’t working (or HTTP Error 503)” appearing repeatedly enough to see me get quite vexed. Finally at about ten, I had access, but nothing was for sale yet. Then the same error message again. Okay, according to an earlier blurb on DSMS’s main page, the Supreme X Comme des Garçons Shirt 2017 release will be available in Singapore on 15 April, which is tomorrow. I was early, I admit; I just wanted a sneak peek.

Although we don’t get to buy, images of the collection are available to arouse temptation. There are the destined-to-be-sold-out T-shirts with a newish logo reportedly inspired by the Comme des Garçons Shirt 2010 spring/summer campaign featuring the distorted images of conceptual artist Stephen J Shanabrook, hoodies with said logo, a trio of rayon shirts with repeated patterns, some suits, a fish-tail parka, a Nike Air Force 1 Low, and some wallets—clearly for die-hards. So who’s copping?

Supreme X Comme des Garçons Shirt is available at Dover Street Market Singapore E-Shop from tomorrow. Photo: Supreme X Comme des Garçons Shirt

Update (16 April 2017, 9.30am): Comme des Garçons Shirt X Supreme is taken off the listing on the DSMS E-Shop. SOTD checked the site at one minute past midnight on 15 April, but was unable to find anything from the collaboration on sale. Six hours later, it remains the same. One last check on the launch date at 10.30pm saw the situation unchanged. More than 24 hours later, it seems that the line is no longer available for sale in the E-Shop

Does Rei Kawakubo Now Mostly Design For Museums?

comme-des-garcons-aw-2017-pic-1

With the Comme des Garçons retrospective, Art of the In-Between, starting the first Monday of May (exactly seven weeks from now), it is not unexpected if you thought that the just-shown CDG autumn/winter 2017 collection was conceived for for a date with New York’s Metropolitan Museum.

According to The Met’s Costume Institute, this year’s aptly-named spring exhibition—traditionally kick-started by the Met Gala, where, as Bret Easton Ellis would have said, “the better you look, the more you see”—“will examine the work of Japanese fashion designer Rei Kawakubo, known for her avant-garde designs and ability to challenge conventional notions of beauty, good taste, and fashionability.”

Ms Kawakubo is, of course, the agitator-designer behind the label Comme des Garçons. While CDG is gaining massive grounds in terms of popularity, Ms Kawakubo has remained largely unknown, a long-term mystery. Until a couple of days back, there were hardly any recent photos of her in the public domain. Few have spoken to her except her staff, and even then, that privilege reportedly goes to only a handful. This enigma no doubt augments the brand’s appeal. That what she has shown on the runway in the past ten years have been largely unpractical and unwearable only ups CDG’s alternative-therefore-desirable cachet and prestige.

comme-des-garcons-aw-2017-pic-2

The Future of the Silhouette, her latest collection (and, indeed, not just this one) begs the question: “Are these clothes?” If clothes are what we wear to cover our body, then indeed they are. But if they are items worn to enhance, expose, or beautify the shape of the body, and in doing so, allow the wearer to fit into a society that shares this definition, then CDG may not have offered clothes. And if they are not clothes, what are they? The question is harder to answer when so much of Ms Kawakubo’s output defy the present-day anatomy of what constitutes good-looking garments, with holes for neck, arms, and legs.

Rei Kawakubo once said, “Fashion is something you can attach to yourself, put on, and through that interaction, the meaning of it is born.” Attach? As in pinning a brooch to a blouse, or clipping a carabiner to a belt loop? Put on, as you would with a shoe, an article of clothing that does need to take the shape of the part of the body in which it encases? Ms Kawakubo’s avoidance of the word ‘wear’ possibly refutes the notion that clothing has a functional role as much as proposes the idea that, as attachment, our clothes need not follow the contours of our body. The body is a base on which any shape can be attached to.

And that was what she conveyed at the show many attendees thought would be a prelude to The Med. The first outfit could have been an uncoloured, oversized tennis ball distended to cover the body, arms confined within. A bulbous paste-on of a dress looked like it was made of insulation material. A cocoon of rough and speckled fabric with a face peeping out an opening was akin to a child pretending to be a tree. And the transfigurations did not stop, or the textural anomalies. While others use the likes of sequins for surface decorations, Ms Kawakubo employs what could be suckers of cephalopod limbs.

No form was too impractical, too strange, or too at odds with the body. In the past four seasons, CDG has ceased to show clothes that match any semblance of what all of us have in our wardrobes. Sure, before that, there were her characteristic oddities, but a dress still looked like a dress. Now, they are mutant fabric shapes, as if designed by pre-schoolers for imaginary beings with face, lower arms, hands, lower limbs, and feet like humans but not the rest of their fantastic forms.

comme-des-garcons-aw-2017-pic-3

These clothes are composites of alien yet organic shapes—conjoined protuberances. Ms Kawakubo has always been partial to bulges and distensions, a love affair that can be traced to the spring/summer 1997 collection called Body Meets Dress, Dress Meets Body, popularly referred to as Lumps and Bulges. While clothes from that season were largely seen as an attempt to exaggerate female curves, her present silhouettes are more than Quasimodo-peculiar. These strange, not immediately recognizable forms are beguiling because no one makes them. And no one knows how they are to be worn.

Other questions abound. How are these clothes made? Are there any paper patterns involved? Are the clothes designed directly on the body? How does one get those shapes to hold? How does it feel inside one of them? These questions are as intriguing as those directed at the clothes’ wearability or the admirers’ sanity are unrelenting. In searching for answers, we sometimes wonder if the construction of these un-clothes-like clothes shares the same base or framework as those worn by individuals playing SpongeBob SquarePants. Fashion really need not only appeal to the heart; it can appeal to the mind too.

The CDG aesthetic is so established and so appreciated by diehard fans that Rei Kawakubo no longer needs to show what to her is mainstream fare. Instead, she uses the main Paris catwalk as focal point to showcase what for others are inconceivable, or, maybe, to parody herself. In doing so, she has again and again vividly illustrated that there is no limit to creativity. To regard her designs, as some do, with the same eye one sees Gucci, or the same benchmark one applies to Chanel is like Impressionist fans disparaging the work of the Cubists. Totally understandable why The Met went a-calling.

cdg-aw-2017-nike-sneakers

Despite garments that make many wonder who would buy them, Ms Kawakubo still offers something that are wearable and, indeed, covetable: footwear. These rather conventional shoes for autumn/winter 2017 are counterpoint to the way-out, armless blobitecture of what is worn above them. Since none of what she proposes as clothes would look appropriate in heels, Manolo Blahnik or not, Ms Kawakubo has again chosen to collaborate with Nike to birth the oddly feminine Nike Lunar Epic Flyknit (above), a trainer with a bow just above the toe box. Is that not commercial and wearable?

That, for some, is the genius of CDG: leave the wearable stuff to the sub-lines and collaborations. The effectiveness of this strategy cannot be underestimated. CDG has such a distinct aesthetic that it transcends trends. Most CDG garments are so unusual that they either look of the present time or so extraordinary that it has nothing to do with time except the wearer’s own chronological perception of what is current and what is not. Lines such as Comme des Garçons Comme des Garçons, Tricot, and Black carry the CDG torch without even a flicker, and they continue to perform extremely well for the brand.

The main Comme des Garçons collection that enthralls those lucky enough to see it in Paris will thus continue to be creative expressions untethered to design conventions of the day. Rei Kawakubo had said that she is inclined to “make clothes for a woman who is not swayed by what her husband thinks.” Maybe now, that includes a museum where she would go, no matter what runs through her spouse’s head.

Photos: indigital.tv

A Foretaste Of Things To Comme

dsms-online-storeBefore Dover Street Market (DSM) Singapore opens next year (some time after Chinese New Year, a source tells us), we get to see and buy some of the merchandise that it will carry via their E-Shop. The online shopping site of DSMS—not, as many have assumed, DSMSG—launched this week to no fanfare, which is not unusual when it comes to projects under Comme des Garçons’s watch.

It is exciting, of course, that DSM is going to be here soon, after London, Ginza (Tokyo), and New York, and that there’s even a homepage (below) that pertains to the Singapore store. But if you hope to score the Vetements X Reebok Pump Supreme DSM Special Grey sneakers (available exclusively in the DSM L, G, and NY sites), then you shall be disappointed. In fact, the hungry you will not be able to buy a lot of stuff… not yet.

dsms-landing-pageWhat are available are the tops from the Play line (no Holiday Emoji), the Play Converse shoes, and a range of Comme des Garçons wallets, nothing more. These are non-seasonal items, and are part of what the other sister sites sell all year round. In fact, the only brand listed in the ‘Items’ column on the left of the page, where there is usually a far longer listing, is Comme des Garçons. For fans, that may just be enough to whet the appetite.

Although the DSMS E-Shop looks like the others, it seems, for now, like a test site to us. If you want to know about delivery and shipping charges, for instance, it requests that you “ask the DSM E-Shop” (via e-mail). We did not ask, but at check-out, it is indicated that standard shipping (1—3 days) costs S$15, while same-day shipping is S$30.

After less than five minutes of browsing, you’re inclined to visit other fully-stocked DSM E-Shops. The spring 2017 opening of DSMS, as the website reveals, is just too far away.

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

Craft, Heart And Soul

cpcm-1CPCM in Tokyo, touted as the city’s first “craft and culture shop”

By Raiment Young

There’s a general lament that fashion retail is so boring in Singapore that it is, in fact, quite dead. When I ask friends to go shopping, the response invariably would be downbeat. Why? “So sian” is the top refrain. “All the same” takes second spot, followed by “What’s there to buy?” Are we as consumers really jaded by the offerings here or have retailers willingly placed an equal sign between them and the achingly dull?

I sometimes wonder if it really just boils down to our business owners’ lackadaisical approach to retail. I say this because the retail slowdown is not unique to Singapore. In Tokyo, the scene is clearly not rosier than ours. Bloomberg reported in June this year that Japan’s second quarter sales were “flat” and that “consumers aren’t loosening their purse strings.” Sounds familiar? Yet, if you walk down any one of the city’s major shopping thoroughfares, you’d think that people are spending and the shops have not given up on wooing.

Case in point: CPCM or Craft and Permaculture Country Mall. The 10,000 square foot behemoth of a space took me my surprise when I encountered it two months back, during what the locals told me was once of the hottest summer seasons the city has experienced. This isn’t so much a “mall” as a store on steroids. It’s huge, for sure, but it has conceptual heft—a point of view that clearly, deftly, and vividly says to consumers: “We are introducing a new shopping experience that everything you see in the store is for sale,” as they have expressed to the Japanese media.

CPCM 2.jpgThe wooden signage on the shop front of CPCM, reflecting the store’s country and craft theme

Dubbed a “craft and culture” store, CPCM is conceived by Takashi Kumagai, a photographer, a stylist, an art director, and a fashion impresario—essentially a multi-hyphenate who, together with the likes of Hiroshi Fujiwara, has paid much thought to how retail, as an experience, can be energised. And it is through efforts of these forward, risk-taking individuals that the retail landscape in Tokyo has not given in to the defeatist belief that the selling of fashion is presently a bleak business, a position so many store and mall owners in Singapore seem to adopt with resignation.

To be honest, I nearly missed CPCM as I walked down Meiji Dori, on the Jingumae side (considered to be part of Shibuya), in search of the Japan-only North Face Standard store. The heat was getting to me, and the smell of coffee-in-the-brew lured me into CPCM, where on the left side of the entrance, a coffee bar wuth the unlikely name of Garden House Crafts was set up. Once inside, I thought I was in a trading-post-as-Hawaiian-gift-shop, put together by some textile designer who has lived too long in John Wayne’s Wild West.

It was such a jumble inside that I wasn’t sure at first what I was confronting. Yet, there was a visual appeal that soon became apparent once the ripples calmed: craft and folk was clearly a main theme. It was also unmistakably Japanese, or an insouciant muddle that only the Japanese could pull off. Apart from their own CPCM label, there were other indie names that, in some cases, happily melded the forward and the country with hippy edge. For some reason, I thought immediately of Tangs’s failed label Island Shop—this is what Island Shop should have been, but could never be: a joyful melange of yesteryear details such as fagoting and smocking and easy-to-wear shapes such as tunics and pyjama-pants. Why, even the label has a joyous name: Happy!

cpcm-3In CPCM, a part of the store is apportioned to the American brand KTH

CPCM is not, despite its native vibe, solely a showcase of Japanese labels. Like most “curated” spaces in Tokyo, American labels are included and they sit seamlessly with their Japanese equivalent. Two names stand out. One is Simon Miller, with their Old West and Navajo sensibility, but interpreted in such a way that it won’t stick out in the coolest corner of the world. Designed by the duo Daniel Corrigan and Chelsea Hansford, the line, with its tough-wearing fabrics, offer softness that seemed to be squeezed from a hard place.

The other is RTH, an LA-based (surprised I was) line developed with details and techniques and fabrics that pays homage to the past. Conceived by René Holguin (whose hometown El Paso probably influenced the brand’s DNA), RTH’s design direction is so obviously special and unique that for its current season, they’re able to entice the equally inimitable Erykah Badu to front its campaign.

This was my third day in Tokyo, and what I saw in CPCM brought lucidity to my earlier sensing that something refreshing, if not entirely new, was afoot. A couple of hours before, I had visited Ships and Journal Standard in Harajuku, and both shops were interspersed with clearly craft-like styles—a bit Japanese rural (45 RPM comes to mind) and a bit 19th century Californian gold rush (Ralph Lauren’s now defunct Double RL?), with 1950s Ivy League-preppy thrown in for good measure. I was not sure if what I saw constituted a retail/design trend. Then I stumbled into CPCM.

shirt-and-teeLeft: Clip-spot cotton used in a RTH shirt. Right: Bandana print on a Rage Blue T-shirt

It was not just the trims and decorative elements that I had observed in these shops. There were also the fabrics: one of them, clip-spot cottons that I had not seen for a very, very long time. When I brought this up with a Singaporean product development and textile specialist based in Hong Kong, he said to me that such tactile fabrics “are the current trend, especially the clip jacquard.” Why then do we not see them on our shore? A buyer with a department store later filled in: “Here, we do not think of fabrics in terms of texture, only print.”

If that is the case, why then are we not seeing this print that is prevalent enough in Tokyo to constitute a trend: that of the bandana? The actual neckwear does not appear as a trendy item, but the square in which the paisley pattern appears in swirls or as repeated dots is adapted on many garments. The bandana print seemed to be the print of the moment, appearing on tops as well as bottoms. What surprised me was a T-shirt at the mass-market label Rage Blue, which, at its Jinnan store, is far from mass-looking. That T-shirt is, in fact, a cotton Fruit of the Loom crew-neck on which a bandana print is silk-screened across the chest, over the breast pocket, using actual Japanese indigo dye, aizome (which, because of its tendency to fade, requires the T-shirt to come with an extra, care hang tag.)

It looked to me that Tokyo’s fixation with craft was less to do with the arts and crafts movement that emerged in Japan in the 1920s, and more to do with the re-adopting of simple forms on which folk styles of decoration could be applied. This was possibly an extension of their designers’ near-obsession with work wear and classic styles of old America or a deliberate contrast to the avant-garde (still strong in Japan), or a romantic remonstration against the machine-made/dominant world of athleisure fashion.

visvim-gyreVisvim flagship store with its solid-wood cupboards and fixtures. Photo: Visvim

good-design-shop-cdgGood Design Shop and Comme des Garçons in Gyre Omotesando

I found it all very alluring. It reminded me of things from long ago, of life not defined by things digital, of circumstances that had soul. It was a return to simplicity, but not simplicity devoid of sophistication. These clothes were not minimal in styling, yet they were not bombastic in expression. It recalled Sunday best, dressing up for dates, and the extra but not outrageous bits that encourage the response, “that’s beautiful.”

A store that has a sense of craft about it is, however, not a new idea. One of the earliest brands to speak the language of craft was Visvim. At its handsome and solid flagship (timber aplenty) in Gyre Omotesando, a small, MVRDV-designed shopping centre on one of Tokyo’s swankiest streets, Visvim has showed successfully designer Hiroki Nakamura’s modern interpretation of craft and old-clothing style, such as the yukata, which is reiterated as the highly coveted ‘Lhamo’ shirt. Visvim, despite its failure in Singapore (closed about a year after it opened in 2012), Visvim is highly sort-after by stars such as John Mayer, dubbed “the Visvim king” by Complex.

Craft-centric as well is Comme des Garçons’s Good Design Shop, also in Gyre Omotesando. This is a veritable zahuo dian (provision shop), as SOTD’s editor likes to call it. Opened in 2011, Good Design Shop is as oddball as its neighbour Maison Margiela is asylum-like. Co-curated with Kenmei Nagaoka, whose own D&Department Project is a home ware store that combines craft, retro-styling and modernist leaning with infectious charm, Good Design Shop broadens CDG’s own predilection for the quirky. What you get are pieces of furniture and home accessories that would not be out of place in a HDB flat, circa 1972, and CDG’s fashion that are not shy of trims that seemed to be picked from the hill-tribe costumes of the Guianas.

super-tml-market-newomanSuper TML Market is anything but a supermarket. Photo: Super TML Market

Among the newly opened retail enterprises in central Tokyo, another enchanting space is the new concept store by Tomorrowland inside the spanking complex opposite Shinjuku Station, NEWoMan, opened in April this year. Odd name notwithstanding (but not un-Japanese), NEWoMan is unlike what for many are already Shinjuku’s ultra-sensory malls: Lumine 1 and 2. The latest addition (interestingly, also conceived by Lumine, and targeted at those in their thirties and forties) to the neighbourhood encourages tenants to offer what isn’t yet seen in the vicinity. And the result is a store such as Tomorrowland’s intriguing Super TML Market.

Curatorial finesse characterises Super TML Market. Jumble, too. Like the parent store, the Super TML Market is not only a showcase of their own goods but those selected locally as well as from abroad. What I found utterly beguiling is a capsule of women’s wear that gives fairly basic clothes—such as a white shirt—a delirious spin. It was as if a child was entrusted the garment and allowed to run amok in a haberdashery! The result: trims and decorative bits that are given pride of place on garments with seemingly no consideration to symmetry or orderliness.

The need for innovation and newness in times of dreary retail performance is now more urgent when shoppers are happily ensconced at home and buying via the smartphone. I am not sure if online shopping can be considered enjoyable, but it is, for so many, certainly addictive. Japanese brick-and-mortar stores are not unaware of the competition; they are willing to take on the competition by staying awake to what can be churned out to capture the attention of the curious. Clearly, Japanese retailers are more conscious than their Singaporean counterparts that when you snooze, you lose.

Photos (except where indicated): Jiro Shiratori

It’s All Brand New

nike-x-cdg-vapormax-white

It’s not every day you see a brand-new sneaker design. When so many sports brands are re-issuing or re-iterating tennis classics or models from the past (the ’70s is a fave decade), the recent showing of Nike’s VaporMax, presently designed with Comme des Garçons, is as refreshing as Vicks VapoRub.

Revealed at Comme des Garçons’s spring/summer presentation during the recent Paris Fashion Week, the VaporMax, in either black or white, appeared to be a sensible shoe consistent with the collection. Given what CDG was showing, it was not likely that the models would have appeared in stilettos—CDG isn’t that kind of brand anyway. The VaporMax, with its full-length, visible air soles, is the ideal footwear to bear the weight of what seemed to be heavy sculptures-as-clothes.

nike-x-cdg-shoes-catwalkScreen grab of the Comme des Garçons spring/summer 2017 show on YouTube, featuring the Nike VaporMax (left)

Nike’s air soles are doubtlessly one of the brand’s most compelling shoe features, and the new version will attract staggeringly enthusiastic response when it’s launched in February next year. The VaporMax was, in fact, announced some seven months back, but it was only last week that we got to see them in monastic motion.

Despite its new silhouette, Nike fans will recognise the aesthetic of the brand’s air sole, here still much along the lines of the Air Max, a sole technology that debuted in the Air Max 1 in 1987. The innovation has not ceased and has spawned close to ten iterations with no diminished appeal to the original Air Max, which stills enjoy yearly updates and is a collector favourite.

Nike X CDG VaporMax black.jpgThe black version of the Nike X Comme des Garçons VaporMax

nike-vapormax-soleThe sole structure of the new VaporMax

On the VaporMax, the air sole is now a complex of air pods in various shapes that are placed at key points that correspond with the vital areas of the underside of the foot for increased support and flexibility. We have not test run a pair, but it is reported that these shoes, with their Flyknit upper (that allows you to slip into the shoe like a sock), are incredibly light, a boon to sneaker fans who are used to and prefer the buoyancy of the Roshe Run.

But CDG did not only show one shoe branded as a collaboration. Two styles were worn on the catwalk—the other is an all-white, high-top take of the Air Moc. This is a major collab between Nike and CDG if you include the Dunk High shown during the men’s show in June. For Nike-wearing CDG fans, 2017 will be a boom year.

Photos: Nike

A Fornasetti Moment

Dior AW 2016 windowDior’s autumn/winter 2016 window at ION Orchard. Photo: Galerie Gombak

Lips are in. Rows and columns of them. Redden, scarlet with a hint of sensuality, non-speaking, they’re here. Luscious or not quite full, parted or sealed, they are the symbol of the season (and the next). Lips may suggest sex, but those in the limelight now have little in common with a Monroe pout. They’re Fornasetti’s vermillion zone—emphatic but not quite seductive.

Dior’s current window displays are backed by such lips set against black and white discs, as in Fornasetti’s plates—the roundness accentuating the crimson curves. This repetition of lips, lenticular too, may not arouse carnal thoughts, but there is an erogenous vibe that would never have surfaced if Raf Simons were still the helmsman of the house. What does it mean? A break from the romantic, not sexual, leaning of his past tenure?

CDG Homme Plus spring summer 2017CDG Homme Plus spring summer 2017 Pic 2Comme des Garçons Homme Plus spring/summer 2017 featuring Fornasetti prints. Photos: Indigital

A window display once taken down may be forgotten. But the Dior window is a foretaste of things to come. Just last month, in the spring/summer 2017 presentation of Comme des Garçons Homme Plus, Fornasetti prints—those distinctive red lips set within a circle—appeared conspicuously as repeated patterns. This is Rei Kawakubo reprising dots, the shape she loves as much as squares, usually arranged as checkerboard.

Like Yayoi Kusama’s dots, there’s almost no sensuality in the all-over Fornasetti lips, even less on rather unsexy men’s wear. Repetition, it would seem, diminishes the lip’s sensual appeal. Even if the lips are not encircled, such as those on Prada’s pleated skirts from spring/summer 2000, they offer no seductive allure. The skirts are pretty, for sure, but they’re hardly sexy. Prada, of course, does not do sexy and obvious symbols of sexiness are just too banal for the label. Obvious ugliness is often desired, obvious sexiness, no.

Prada lip skirt close upPrada’s lip print from spring/summer 2000. Photo: Prada

Gucci heelsGucci pumps: irreverent or sexy? Photo: Gucci

However, lips with another brand could be of different service. At Gucci, those on the Mouth Embroidered Leather Pumps pucker for a different reason. The open-toe, T-strap heels, on which an embroidered pair of pink lips outlined in black is placed inches above the toe cleavage, are a calculated composition of elements designed to amplify sexiness. If the wearer has seduction in mind, these Gucci shoes—sexy by virtue of brand history and branding and, therefore, by default—will have something to say. Lifting a foot coddled in this shoe could be an invitation to a kiss!

The use of lips in fashion, whether as detail or pattern, did not usually encourage such raciness. One of the earliest adopters of the lip as a motif on dress was Elsa Schiaparelli. A jacket from the mid-1930s was given lips to frame the opening of the besom pockets. For Schiaparelli, a friend of Salvador Dali, however suggestive a pair of mouth on the waist may be, it really was more an expression of surrealism than sex.

Fornasetti scarf and trayFornasetti’s Occhi scarf and Bocca tray. Photos: Fornasetti (left) and Polyvore (right)

Similarly, while Piero Fornasetti’s famous lips were based on an actual woman’s, they were not drawn as reflection of lustful desire, even if their repeated use bordered on the obsessive. He never even met his subject. Born in 1913, Fornasetti grew up in Milan, but had gone into exile in Switzerland at the start of World War II. It was here that Fornasetti saw the face of Lina Cavalieri—the beautiful Italian soprano who had sung with Enrico Caruso—in a 19th-century French magazine (by then Cavalieri was well into her sixties). It was the visage that launched a thousand plates. When Fornasetti died in 1988, he left behind over 350 iterations of Cavalieri’s by now recognisable face on dinnerware, glasses, paperweights, cushions, chairs, and side tables.

Like Mona Lisa’s beguiling smile, Fornasetti’s drawings of Cavalieri’s lips (not always painted red) do not seem to say anything—they’re not even particularly emotive. Present-day viewers unaware of who the lips belong to may not even tell that from between them, a voice once entranced audiences at the Metropolitan Opera. Whether on a dinner plate or on a Comme des Garçon jacket, they seem to state what The Go-Go’s have said (or sung) in 1981, “Our lips are sealed.” And, unlike Jon Pasche’s logo for the Rolling Stones, no tongues, please!

Sometimes You Forget And You Think It’s New

CDG Homme Plus jacketComme des Garçons Homme Plus jacket from the early Nineties. Photo: Jim Sim

By Ray Zhang

In a recent WhatsApp conversation about the men’s spring/summer 2017 collection by Balenciaga, my chat regular wasn’t spiteful when he said the collection “is quite vile”; he really thought so. I sense that in SOTD’s last post, rave was not exactly what the blog was communicating too. Similarly, GQ wasn’t so positive when their website said of the suits, “they were designed to look awkward as hell”. There was even the comparing of the jackets to the one David Byrne wore in the 1984 concert film Stop Making Sense, directed by Jonathan Demme. Known simply as the “big suit”, the cream-coloured ensemble was designed by costumer (now mosaic tile artist) Gail Blacker.

As a Talking Heads fan, I saw that film back in the day when clothes were fast becoming less secondary to music. Mr Byrne’s suit was strange just as the band he fronted was sometimes odd. I still think so, which sees me agreeing with GQ and all of them above. It thus escapes me when Vogue.com says of Balenciaga’s strong shoulders—“They look fantastic”. We don’t always have to see what Vogue sees.

To be honest, I want to like Demna Gvasalia’s debut Balenciaga collection for men, but wanting is not strong enough. While I have a soft spot for heritage brands and I’m all for pushing design a little further, I am not sure I want it to go that far—or, in the case of the Balenciaga jackets, distended. So, how far? I can’t say for certain until I see what’s being done to the line.

Layout 1The movie poster of Stop Making Sense. Photo: Cinecom/Palm Pictures

For sure, I have not seen the clothes up close. Even then, the exaggeration of proportion does not escape cursory viewing. The collection looks a little retro to me too. It is, of course, not the geeky-cool retro of Gucci. Yet, there’s a throwback—not to the ’70s with its social tribes such as the hippies, but to the ’80s with professional groups such as accountants. Therein, for me, lies the irony: Balenciaga Men’s suits, if built on the tailoring tradition of the house, should look anything but the less-refined mass manufacture of a past era.

The more I look at those suits, the more I see something familiar. In the outerwear section of my mostly disorganised wardrobe, I found a wool Comme des Garçons jacket bought some time in the ’90s. On me, then and now, it has the silhouette that is deliberately coaxed to not follow the contours of the body. It is clearly not Daniel Craig as James Bond in Tom Ford. Four years ago, after seeing an editorial spread in i-D magazine shot by Hedi Slimane (just before the start of his tenure at Saint Laurent) that featured a boyish model in an oversized Juun J blazer, I thought I might revive the CDG for a trip to Paris that December.

It was, on hindsight, a bad decision. The time wasn’t right as it is now (or would be in 2017). I remember that as I was walking down Rue Etienne Marcel, I was seized by self-consciousness when all around me guys looked like they had just stepped out of The Kooples ads. Sure, the CDG jacket I had on isn’t that big and its shoulders are not that pronounced, but it is loose-fitting, the way Japanese jackets are rarely ever tight. But there, with Place des Victoires behind me, it was not aligned with the prevalent slimness of silhouette that Hedi Slimane would continue to pursue with Saint Laurent. As fashionistas might have said, I did not get the memo.

Juun J coatA Juun J coat that was oversized back in 2012. Photo: i-D/Hedi Slimane

I have since retired the jacket, but now, after the Balenciaga show, I wonder if it’s time to give it another chance to meet the world. The thing is, I don’t wear such tailored outerwear unless in (far much) cooler climes. And a jacket has little appeal to me these days, let alone the suit, as I filter the admission of unnecessary items into my already bursting wardrobe. Layering, if required, does not mean a suit jacket when there are other more practical alternatives. As we become increasingly casual in our turn out, a jacket tends to encourage the annoying question: “why so dressed up?”

I understand what Demna Gvasalia is trying to do with Balenciaga men’s wear by way of tailoring. Not only has he aroused the interest of those curious about constructed garments, Mr Gvasalia has also debunked the rigid belief that a man’s suit—relatively unchanged for centuries—must conform to a certain shape that is aligned to formal swagger. In doing so, he’s also teasing (jacket with knee-length “pants”!) the suit’s intrinsic sobriety. But vaguely grotesque (or “vile”) today may be the seductive swank of tomorrow.

In addition, creating something blown up (or condensed) and different from what we imagine change could be speaks directly to the voyeurs of cyberspace (do we still call it that?), where there’s immense room for self-invention. Or self-promotion. We see it all the time, in different shapes and sizes, on the crazed and the quiet, for the charmed and the indifferent. The appeal of the exaggeration of Mr Gvasalia’s calculated silhouettes can, therefore, be discerned. Maybe now, if I wear the CDG jacket again, I don’t need to wear self-consciousness on my sleeve; I’ll just conceal it behind the roomy body.