Weather The Winter With Wonderful

Louis Vuitton AW 2018 P1

After last season’s boxer-shorts-as-interesting-piece-of-fashion, it lifts the spirit to see that Nicolas Ghesquière does not need to resort to such cheap styling tricks for Louis Vuitton’s autumn/winter 2018 collection. In fact, it is nice to witness Mr Ghesquière going back to what he does best: design. Pure delight are the details that draw the eyes, stir desires, and, as important, engage the mind. This, to us, is the Nicolas Ghesquière that made us love Balenciaga under his watch. Some memories don’t fade. This time, watching the LV show online was like drinking iced coffee after sucking on a mint drop.

Mr Ghesquière’s best collection for LV yet? We think so. He has dug deep into his love for old military uniforms and sporty shapes (but now paired with elegant other halves), a beguiling sense of contrast, the unexpected mix of garments, and a welcome love for creating panels/pieces and joining them to parts of the bodice normally not considered for application. More exquisitely, he made the clothes totally and acceptably wearable.

Extreme wearability has been the main thrust of many fashion houses in recent years. By this, we don’t mean that unwearability had dominated prior. Rather, wearability that edged closer to the banal and almost nothingness has taken centre stage, and many brands have taken that as cue for their products to be desired, to be successful. Now that that approach has slowly failed to grip, designers are choosing to go meretricious, as evidenced by the chronic loudness among many of the Italians.

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Louis Vuitton AW 2018 G2

Mr Ghesquière had come rather dangerously close to just-retail-ready when he took over LV from Marc Jacobs in 2013. His debut collection for the house in the following year (as well as those subsequently), while a clear departure from Mr Jacob’s tired over-design and a thrill to many fashion editors, did little to draw LV to us. Perhaps he was adrift with the winds of change at that time, when looking un-designed was aesthetic du jour. It did not have the clutch of the little extras, the sprinkling of quirkiness, and the dash of defiance that characterised his work before LV. It seems to have taken some time (from the start at LV, he wasn’t a young man in a hurry), but Mr Ghesquière has found his place in the house that, until 1998, did not boast a fashion line.

This season, there is so much to love, just as there is much to hold us rapt. For us, it has the definite kick that brings to mind the Balenciaga of autumn/winter 2007, which Mr Ghesquière had described as “a big mix—a street mix.” It was a collection that imbued Balenciaga with all the constituents of cool. A decade down the road, his work for LV has that similar jumble, only now it does not project the insouciance of girls dressed for school, or a date after class; it collates the sleekness and the confidence of the assuredly fashionable of yore with the swagger that has a whiff of today’s street style, one that is less linked to Lafayette Street, NYC, and more to Avenue Montaigne, Paris.

We’re particularly drawn to the shoulder treatment of many of the tops and blouses—those horizontal panels across the collarbone, shaped like a capelet over the shoulders, but appear to us, to be inspired by the shoulder panels of the gaktis tunics of the Sámi men of Lapland. There is, of course, nothing literal about Mr Ghesquière’s take (if it is so) since there is clearly a sportif treatment to his panels, particularly the extra, contrasting diagonal bands in some of the blouses that contrast the natural curve of the armscye, and, in particular, on one top that looked like an extra-long epaulettes rising from mid-upper arms. The graphic elements are not indistinct, and they highlight the skills of the LV pattern-makers, as much as the wealth of technical ideas dreamed up by Mr Ghesquière.

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Sold too we were to the corsets (that could pass off as a waist-shaper from a fitness supply shop), appearing when they are least expected—as base on which the tiered ruffles of a halter-neck top shimmer somewhat incongruously, or the asymmetric overflow of fabric of the garment beneath; the textiles and prints that don’t appear to match (a clash that, conversely captivate rather than confuse; the angles, seams, and drapes that juxtapose happily; and the irrepressible desirability of the collage-like sum effect. Looking at the ensembles, you’re not merely seeing a dress or a blouse: you’re gazing at clothing of hardly ever seen complexity.

Mr Ghesquière has sometimes been called an avant-garde designer. In light of what is happening elsewhere in French fashion, perhaps he is. But avant-garde as we once knew it, pitched to Japanese or Belgian deconstructionism, has left the popular consciousness, so much so that we don’t really see unorthodoxy and experimentation in clothes anymore; we see ‘looks’. But Mr Ghesquière has not really abandoned the spirit of the avant-garde. Rather, he has stayed closed to it, applying his unconventional ideas within identifiable forms and graceful silhouettes that do not attempt to distort the shape of the body. The clothes, for instance, veer not towards the ultra skinny or the outsized, except for the dresses which, we suspect, are made somewhat big and baggy to goose interest among those weaned on the apparent size-disregard of Vetements.

You sense that with these clothes, the wearer belongs to a certain élan, one not kept afloat from the bubble-up effects that have put pressure on much of today’s fashion houses. To be sure, Louis Vuitton has always been a commercial brand. Nicolas Ghesquière makes it less so.

Photos: (top) FF Channel/Youtube, (catwalk)


Short-Time Supremacy

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

LV X Supreme pic for SOTD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Illustration: Just So. Photos: Zhao Xiangji. 

Up In The Mountains

The cruise 2018 collection of Louis Vuitton was shown amid the splendour of Japan’s Shiga Mountains, but this was no highland fling

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Louis Vuitton shang shan (上山 or went up the mountain) for its latest cruise collection—on the red pine-forested yama in Japan’s Shinga Prefecture, not far from the once-capital Kyoto. Many mountains in Asia—China, Korea, Japan—are sacred. Going up a mountain is usually associated with retreating to seek spiritual well-being. In ancient China, men roam the mountains in search of immortality and to purify the spirit. In Japan, Shinto shrines dot mountains to honour kami, the divine force of nature perched high.

LV’s staging of a fashion show in one of the most beautiful verdant peaks of Japan—at the stunning I.M. Pei-designed Miho Museum, next to a temple dedicated to the messianic sect of Shinji Shumeikai—is consistent with designer Nicolas Ghesquière’s love of uncommon architecture in exotic locales. It is no coincidence that adherents of Shumei, as the religion is mostly known, believe in the pursuit of beauty through art and celebration of nature, and the erecting of splendid buildings in secluded places to restore the balance that Earth has lost.

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This is the first time a fashion show is held on this spiritual ground. It isn’t clear if the expense—likely staggering—will bring the cruise collection to new heights, but as a standalone season, the cruise is becoming more and more important, so much so that Prada has joined the fray with its first cruise show (Miuccia Prada was reluctant to call it that) after a 5-year hiatus, staged in Milan last week.

Prada sent out a Prada collection—almost standard issue, you don’t sense that these are clothes for travel, not a whiff of holiday. This was not a wow one had hoped from a come-back event. Louis Vuitton, on the other hand, offered clothes that seem much more interesting, to the point that it is more impactful than its recent fall/winter 2017 collection. This is Mr Ghesquière in his element. It brought to mind his fall 2007 collection for Balenciaga that had so impressed us. We can’t say for certain why. Maybe it’s the layering, the patterns, the mix-and-match, the youthfulness, and the joie de vivre. Ten years on, Mr Ghesquière still enthralls.

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This collection is not, by any means, a hush as in the quiet of the mountain. In fact, it edges towards loud—not a ripple in the leaves, but crackle and pop on the ground. Showing in Japan, it is to be expected that Mr Ghesquière would be inspired by Nippon art and culture. But this isn’t an obvious dalliance with anime; this was, in part, collaboration with the master of print and patterns Kansai Yamamoto. Mr Yamamoto was a towering fashion figure in Tokyo in the ’70s and ’80s, with an international reputation hemmed by his designs of costumes for David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust.

Both designers do not revisit those outlandish threads of the British singer nor any of the bombastic embroidery that was seen on Mr Yamamoto’s past designs (hairdresser to MediaCorp stars David Gan was a fervent collector in the ’80s, so is Mr Ghesquière today). In fact, there is nothing retro in their take on traditional mask on sequined dresses and kabuki-esque eyes on handbags: these would just as easily float across the Cote d’Azur or Nusa Dua as any of LV’s Twist. This collaboration does show that the spirit of past designs can be revived without the need for evident homage or, worse, mindless ostentation.

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What the Cruise 2018 has going in its favour is the welcome ease of every outfit and a good dollop of street. Sure, this is one of Mr Ghesquière’s most visually busy collections for LV, but you don’t sense that even when you wear the look wholesale, you would appear decidedly foolish, or as parody of some TV sitcom, say, of the ’70s, the way it is with some OTT labels of today. Expectedly, Mr Ghesquière, like many designers of his generation, was inspired by the ’70s—this time, Stray Cat Rock, a five-part, go-go-era Japanese film that starred the major femme fatale Kaji Meiko (Japan’s Chan Po-Chu?) as a kick-ass heroine (her titular role in Toshiya Fujita’s Lady Snowblood reportedly inspired Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill). Her cool style—including wide-brim hats that she wore in Stray Cat Rock—and nonchalant chic are obviously identifiable to Mr Ghesquière. This is definitely not the Japan of Cio-Cio-San.

We are drawn to the layering that yearned colour-blocking , the landscape prints and brocades (in some pieces, they were pants paired with punk-ish tops), comic patterns that could have been coloured wood-block prints, vest that seemed informed by Samurai armour (we now fondly recall Issey Miyake’s “rattan body” of 1982), the off-beat pairings (such as evening dresses worn with T-shirts and leggings), the oddly proportioned blazers (oversized, rounded shoulders, and nipped-in waists!). As we saw, some stray cats do rock.

Photos: Louis Vuitton

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

The Venue, Too, Makes It New

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At one time, it was impressive to see a steam locomotive chugging into a fashion presentation. Marc Jacob’s Louis Vuitton autumn/winter 2012 collection was such a show. It’s not surprising that you thought that would be hard to top. Since the ’80s, fashion shows have oftentimes been spectacles, but in the ’00s, they look more like movie sets designed by Hollywood studios. If a train through a station-as-runway wasn’t enough, Karl Lagerfeld opened a Chanel supermarket back in the autumn/winter 2014 and, for last year’s showing of spring/summer 2016, an airport, served only by one carrier: Chanel Airlines, of course.

However spectacular, a fashion venue is traditionally a confined space, even if it’s the palatial Grand Palais in Paris. For even more stunning setting, designers of cash-rich labels are looking beyond the interior of buildings and setting their shows against actual buildings. This month alone, two shows for the cruise 2017 season attempted to outdo each other in the staging stakes with catwalks set in the outdoors of South America, but both are as different as land and sea. Twenty-first century French fashion imperialism saw Chanel in Cuba and Louis Vuitton in Brazil.

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Chanel’s flirting with Cuban exotica may be intoxicating for some, but it is Louis Vuitton’s salute of modernist architecture in Rio de Janeiro that made the Vuitton show striking. Staged at the Niterói Contemporary Art Museum, which is situated on a cliff side in the sun-soaked city of Niterói (reputed to be Brazil’s richest city) with the Atlantic Ocean as backdrop, the presentation is a continual expression of designer Nicholas Ghesquière’s love for show-stopping architecture. Last season, it was the equally space-agey former Palm Springs house of Bob Hope designed by American architect John Lautner that set the scene. This time, the flying saucer-like building by Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer dwarfed the models and the LV logos, but in the shadow of the towering, it was Louis Vuitton that stood taller.

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Is this luxury brands’ way of saving themselves from waning elitism by showing in faraway locales that many of us would not see ourselves going to in our lifetime? While air travel has brought the world closer, it is long-haul, continent-spanning travels, not regional escapades reachable by low-cost carriers that are are seen as jet-setting. Distant lands with unfamiliar cultures and unexplored attractions—not over-visited Hong Kong—are where the customers of the cruise collections likely seek pleasure. Watching the Louis Vuitton show on YouTube is like watching an episode of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, minus the unrushed, cartoon-like voice of Robin Leach. With drone-aided cameras swooping up and down showing models, building and sea—all distant and unattainable, you begin to wish and dream “champagne wishes and caviar dreams.”

Luxury fashion needs this sense of beyond your reach. For a long time, it has been too accessible, too targeted at the middle-class, and too emphatic on the entry-level. Luxury needs to get back its aspirational value, its only-in-my-dreams appeal. The cruise show, once a poor cousin of prêt-a-porter, has risen in importance and its staging in uncommon locations not only put the clothes in context, they put the awe back in increasingly ho-hum luxury branding.

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It is believed that Karl Lagerfeld was the first to romance far-flung lands when he staged the Fendi autumn/winter show 2007 at the Great Wall of China. Not only did the event boost intercontinental first-class air ticket sales, it improved, more importantly, the brand’s luxury standing. At that time, it was reported that the Italian house paid USD10 million to produce the show, no doubt much to the delight of China’s inland revenue department. Since then, Mr Lagerfeld has presented the Chanel pre-collections in Salzburg, Edinburgh, Shanghai and many more places—yes, they include Singapore in 2013—and each has been headline-grabbing. Cuba, for many, was the icing on the cake.

Chanel in Cuba did, however, spark a cultural backlash for the house. Global capitalism now pouring into socialist Cuba, detractors felt, ignore the country’s widespread poverty to create an artificial glamour that locals can’t consume. French fashion in a socialist nation, in fact, has an antecedent: Dior in Moscow. Back in 1959, Christian Dior, under the stewardship of Yves Saint Laurent, showed in what was then Union of Soviet Socialist Republics or USSR. While the new Russian regime at that time welcome Western fashion designers, in particular la mode française, it did so while the country was not in an era of business oligarchs.

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Mr Ghesquière was probably aware of Brazil’s current problems when he chose Rio for LV’s cruise collection. It is difficult to resist the allure of the Americas now that the southern neighbours of the US are drawing world attention, but since Cuba was taken, Brazil made sense as the Summer Olympics Games is heading that way. Mr Ghesquière has always had a love for spaces that are not conducive to standard catwalk shows since he has, from the start at LV, eschewed traditional linear presentations for something more sprawling. Additionally, the Niterói Contemporary Art Museum allowed the show to spread skywards, through the building’s spiralling ramp. As seen in his designs, Mr Ghesquière is adept at spatial manipulation.

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As for the collection, the clothes are looking more in sync with the designer’s own aesthetic. The sportswear details applied in unexpected ways, the abstract cutouts on unlikely places, the leaner silhouette, the modern art references (this time, Brazil’s Helio Oiticica and Aldemir Martins), all point to the Nicholas Ghesquière we love and remember. As he confidently remakes LV’s fashion division started by Marc Jacobs, Mr Ghesquière is creating new codes that are intriguing and, at the same time, unashamedly wearable and seductively fresh. The present cruise line may have nothing intrinsically Brazilian, but, showing in an iconic site is, as he told the media, “a sensorial experience”.

These days, the venue makes the collection new as it makes the news, too.

When Louis Vuitton Flaunts

 The first two of the Louis Vuitton consumer exhibitions, simply known as ‘Series’, overlooked our little red dot. Now, Series 3: Past, Present, Future is here, and it’ll ensnare you into the brand’s world of heady luxury. If you’re hooked on the drug of their hype, this one’s for youLV Series 3 Pic 1

Louis Vuitton Series 3 exhibition for autumn/winter 2015 is the epitome of consumer goods posit as art. There’s a good chance you won’t sense it, caught, as you may, in a very persuasive narrative of the brand’s genesis, and what is deemed “iconic”: primarily the trunk, a sizeable suitcase secured by latches. These days, if any of us were to travel with such a capacious case/coffer, we’ll likely be mistaken for moving treasure, or loot! The trunk, however, remains a mascot of sort for the company, and it is this rectangular box of incredible girth and depth that welcomes you to the world of Louis Vuitton.

Everything about the exhibition, described by LV as a “sensorial journey”, is sleek. Even the short ride through the booking for (free) tickets (presumably for crowd control) is smooth and easy-to-navigate. You can do it via the LV website or event booking portal, where you’ll be offered e-tickets for either ‘entrance only’ or ‘guided tour’. When you arrive at the exhibition—in an obscure corner of The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands called Crystal Pavilion South, you’ll be greeted by someone at the entrance way, who will show you to the counter where you register. Here, the staff will whip out an iPad and input your name, which appears on the screen instantaneously. Once you’re confirmed, you’ll be given brochures and told to enjoy the exhibition. From here, you’ll be directed into the exhibition proper. What’s amazing is that although we opted for ‘entrance only’ access, we were greeted at every entrance to every gallery (and even at lift and stair landings) and given personal explanation to every exhibit.

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What happened to Series 1 and 2, you may wonder. They went to cities northwards of us. Series 1 for autumn/winter 2014 wooed the urbanites of Shanghai and Tokyo in September last year, while Series 2 for spring/summer 2015 enthralled fans in Los Angeles, Beijing, Seoul, and Rome early this year. Series 3 debuted in London in September, and it now makes a sojourn here. We did not attend the London exhibition, but going by press accounts of it, Singapore’s version, in comparison, seems smaller. London’s Series 3 spanned 13 rooms, ours takes up no more than 9 (including a café). Have they down-scaled it for Southeast Asia’s only stop? No one at the exhibition could say.

Make no mistake, regardless of size, this is a grand exhibition, but, to be sure, it is not in the same breadth and depth as, say, those staged by The Costume Institute at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, or anything curated by Harold Koda or Akiko Fukai (of The Kyoto Costume Institute). In fact, Series 3 is not curated by a non-LV/LVMH professional. This is an inside job, which prompts one to ask: is this just a fancy way to sell a brand? That question is pertinent when you consider what Swedish ethnologist Orvar Löfgren called the “catwalk economy”—when runway antics influenced the corporate world. While some may consider Series 3 to be crossing the line of conceit, there’s no negating that Louis Vuitton is large enough, old enough, and far-sighted enough to write its own story and tell all of us about it. And relate it does, catwalk experience et al, with aplomb and visual splendour too.

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The first room, ‘Abstract Title’, where the exhibition begins, is dominated by an LED LV logo the size of giant lotus leaves. According to WWD, creative director Nicholas Ghesquière found it in the archives, and was instantly drawn to it. The beaming attendant was eager to tell us that this was originally the seal of the man himself, Louis Vuitton, and it’s now updated to appeal to a modern audience. All the same, it was just an LV logo to us. Sensing that we were not impressed by the nugget of information, he showed us to the next room.

From a dark space barely lit by an LV logo in red, you’re suddenly in ‘Master Mind’, a room that is walled on all four sides by video screens. The images move quickly and somewhat blindingly, showing models strutting (as if moving along the perimeter of the room), or flashing with collages of LV product images. In the middle, a gigantic white trunk takes its pride of place, the cover suspended above it to reveal what seems like a holographic image of an LV bag levitated. If you look ‘inside’ the trunk, another video screen reveals what are supposed to be Mr Ghesquière’s inspirations. The trunk is so huge that it is doubtful Monsieur Vuitton ever made anything this large for the travelling needs of his customers. If you’re all alone in the room, the solitary trunk is more funereal than surreal.

LV Series 3 Pic 4LV Series 3 Pic 5

Exhibition designer, Es Devlin, the OBE-awarded British stage designer who conceptualised the London 2012 Olympic closing ceremony, and who has been behind Mr Ghesquière’s last three runway shows, clearly relished marrying the old and the familiar to the futuristic. Series 3 has been described as an “immersive” experience. While it’s true that you’re almost completely surrounded by images and objects, and in juxtapositions not quite expected, it’s also true that you’re not quite wrapped up in the lore that is Louis Vuitton. The exhibition is designed to awe, but all the visuals are just that, and you’re only a watching bystander.

The most compelling room to us is ‘Artists Hands’, one floor up. Surrounded, again, by moving video graphics on the walls, five tables are placed in a straight line, one in front of the other. On each table are videos of different artisans at work. The visitor is encouraged to sit at the table (you will be told that that’s the best way to experience the room). Seated, and looking down, you will have the perspective of the artist at work—you become that person, and his hands seem like an extension of your own. It is an effective way to remind consumers that much of Louis Vuitton’s leather goods are made by real hands, not robotic ones.

LV Series 3 Pic 7

Once you’re aroused by the artisanal aspect of the brand, it’s time to move to something that will release dopamine and serotonin: the fashion show. Designer fashion is so synonymous with catwalk presentations that it is inevitable that one will be seen here. In this room, it’s called ‘Infinite Show’. As a staffer explained (after asking if we’ve ever been to “a real fashion show”), “this is designed to give you the feeling that you’re watching a real LV show.” We’re not sure if the realness is discernible. Sure, the double-sided vertical video screens are tall enough to project the models with their real-life height, but this is not a 3-D experience—you do not sense the models walking in front of you.

The room is oddly cold, as in a foyer of a civic building, and after a while, the video screens become repetitive in their flashing, static isolation. It is dark, too, which contradicts the actual presentation in the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris—all bathed in light. The attendant asked us to sit down on the stepped platforms to watch the show. It felt anomalous to be seated, almost to floor level, amid what is essentially a video installation. Did we relive the excitement and wonder that is a Louis Vuitton fashion show? Did we feel like we’re under the oft-cited geodesic dome, built for LV’s catwalk performances? Frankly, no and no. If Tony Stark needed a virtual fashion event in his Mansion to amuse Pepper Potts, this could be it.

LV Series 3 Pic 6Accessories

While we’re told that Series 3 showcases Mr Ghesquière’s “creative process and influences” (the entire series, probably), it is also likely that a good part of it is to move merchandise. If not so, why would the next room, ‘Accessories Gallery’, be placed in the path to fashion enlightenment? We thought we had stumbled into a visual merchandising class, or an outsized window display. The most desired LV accessories—displayed on mannequins, all in the likeness of Dutch model Marte Mei van Haaster (Mr Ghesquière’s “muse”, we were informed)—stood out in the whiteness of the room. What’s amazing is, no one stopped us from touching the objects, or taking photographs of them.

In fact, the exhibition is designed to be shared, and photography—which is likely to be selfies for most attendees—is actually encouraged. One of the guides had asked us if we would like to be photographed. This is clearly unlike what goes on in a classic, high-brow exhibition space. Some giggly visitors had themselves shot, draped over a seated Marte Mei van Haaster mannequin, hands all over her school-uniform white body. So in-line with the zeitgeist is the exhibition that it has, unsurprisingly, a hashtag: #lvseries3, which, at the time of this writing, scored 23,415 IG posts (Mediacorp artiste Rebecca Lim’s post alone garnered 8,838 likes). Across all rooms, the guides—not quite docents—are young, chirpy, and eager to expound the values and meaning of Louis Vuitton in fashion as well as popular culture, never mind if they sounded like students who have memorised text to impress their lecturer.

If this is not to enhance brand equity, then LV is in a very generous mood: eager to spend on a temporary exhibition that is designed so that visitors will “be able to feel it”, as CEO Michael Burke was quoted to have said. This is perhaps what chief executive Bernard Arnault meant when he told the media—in 2013 following the announcement that LVMH intended to slow down worldwide expansion—that the company planned to offer customers a more personal relationship.

Walk In Wardrobe 2

The most engaging room to us is the ‘Walk In Wardrobe’. You don’t really saunter into a wardrobe as much as confront a see-through closet. Here, the clothes—pieces from the autumn/winter 2015 collection (some already seen in the store in the same building)—are hung behind clear glass boxes (or trunks, to continue with the LV visual motif) that are juxtaposed to form a large cupboard that Jamie Chua would no doubt approve. We spent the most time here, examining the fascinating details that Mr Ghesquière has incorporated into his designs: many depend less on design acumen than technology and machinery available to the house.

Since this is really about the artisans and their skills, the exhibition wouldn’t be complete without a couple of them engaged in a serious, full-on demonstration, or tell ‘A Tale Of Craftsmanship’. At the reception, we were told not to miss this part of the exhibition, and to ask questions if we had any. We did: we wanted to know what will happen to the bags they were making. We asked if they would be sent to the store to be sold. One of the craftswomen, a forty-something, bespectacled blonde, said in a mixture of English and French, “Non, ce ne sont pas parfaits (No, these are not perfect).” She picked up a piece of canvas on which she was working on and showed us the imperfection: it was warped. She then took a rivet and asked us to have a look at it. We were free to examine anything on the worktop, she said.

LV Series 3 Pic 8

This is the last room of the exhibition, and it is a fitting reminder that at the heart of Louis Vuitton, lies the craftsmanship. But this isn’t the end of the journey. Further ahead, you’ll come to a café. Food to put a period to your visit: Louis Vuitton wants Singaporeans to remember this exhibition! Even if you plan to depart famished and parched, you will not leave empty-handed. Behind the café is a wall of stickers. You’re free to take them: a wall-full to choose from. Is there a restricted number, we wondered. Someone in front of us scored a handful. Question answered. Before we could decide which one we wanted, a gentle voice belonging to an extremely young-looking boy asked if we would like stickers of our initials. He showed us the other side of the wall. There were more! We picked out the letters S, O, T, and D—in the same font as the LV custom monogram service for, say, the Speedy bag. A member of the staff handed the stickers to us, together with a rolled-up poster of the event, and said, “Hope you’ve enjoyed the exhibition.”

Truth be told, we weren’t sure. Perhaps we had expected more, but more is a little too much when Series 3 spanned only the entire season of autumn/winter 2015. While it largely stays true to “celebrating the past, projecting the future”, as Mr Ghesquière told Vogue UK, the exhibition (in retrospect, installation is more apt) would have been more substantial, hence satisfying, if it is not confined to the breadth of one season. Mr Ghesquière has designed for Louis Vuitton since 2013. Sure, it’s not long enough for a retrospective, but it is of adequate length to reveal the minutiae of his craft, no doubt honed at the house of Balenciaga. Yet, Series 3 mostly skims, rather than swoops into the heart of where and how he began. Perhaps the best way to gain more from the exhibition is to view all three of the Series. No serious Harry Potter fan delves into the adventures of the boy wizard from book three—The Prisoner of Azkaban.

LV Series 3 Pic 9

The fashion exhibition as a strategic focus for luxury brands to play up their valuable heritage and boundless creativity has proven to be effective and is likely to continue. In Singapore these past two months, Louis Vuitton Series 3 is not the only exhibition offering free access to creative sanctums. Happening concurrently, and nearby too, is Hermès Leather Forever at the Artscience Museum. The maker of the Birkin bag had previously staged the Gift of Time at the disused Tanjong Pagar Railway Station in 2012. Last year, also at the Artscience Museum, there was Chanel’s The Little Black Jacket, a photographic display of the house’s most iconic item of clothing: less about the garment than the celebrities that endorse it.

The single-brand self-promotion-as-exhibition, although a fairly recent craze, takes its cue from as far back as 1983, from the debut of Diana Vreeland as curator, who orchestrated the Yves Saint Laurent retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. At that time, the exhibition was criticised for glorifying a living designer. In addition, it was thought to benefit the commercial interest of the house, which was becoming a shadow of its success in the Seventies. Ms Vreeland was known to favour and adore and wear the work of YSL, compounding the disdain. The perceived ties to business rather than creativity, too, irked locals when Cartier staged in Beijing’s Palace Museum (home of national treasures, not showcase for commercial merchandise, went the collective grouse) in 2009 Cartier Treasures: King of Jewelers, Jewelers to Kings. This was somewhat ironic considering that the Chinese then were en route to becoming the world’s largest consumers of luxury goods.

LV Series 3 publicity poster

One rather odd omission in Series 3 is the model Fernanda Ly and her unmistakable pink hair. Ms Ly, an Australian-Chinese, co-fronts the exhibition’s communication materials. Her face, with kohled eyes looking pensively at you, is splashed across the Bayfront MRT station leading into The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, as well as at vantage points in the mall. After opening the Louis Vuitton spring/summer 2016 show in March, Ms Lye’s cognoscibility is considerably increased. In a city where her Asian beauty could mean something to many people, her lack of presence in Series 3 is puzzling. Perhaps it is an oversight on the part of the marketing arm of Louis Vuitton, perhaps not. A token representation is sometimes inclusive enough.

Louis Vuitton Series 3 is on at the Crystal Pavilion South, The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands till 23 December. Photos: Jim Sim. Poster: Louis Vuitton


Two of a Kind: The Sole Of The Matter

Prada vs LV

Prada on top of Louis Vuitton’s chunky rubber-soled shoe

By Shu Xie

It’s really not the same as serving coffee in a jam jar: one café does it, and the rest follow. Coffee is common man beverage—with the exclusion, perhaps, of kopi luwak—and a receptacle for marmalades can be an inexpensive and bold, although affected, statement on the virtues of recycling. But fashion at a certain level and price point should ideally not be about the reprocessing of ideas, especially not yours to begin with.

When I saw the shoe in the window of Louis Vuitton’s Ion Orchard store this morning, I thought a Prada shoe ghost was haunting its neighbour. I did consider the said footwear to be a doppelgänger to Prada’s by now recognisable hybrid hunk of a shoe, but, seriously, it looked much more like a fraternal twin. Were they separated at birth? Or a mistake of the cobbler-as-midwife? And why was it making an appearance now? How did the mother react to it aligning itself with the competitor next door?

Like most fashion mysteries, there were more questions than answers.

As I stood there in front of the window with that shoe, conscientiously thinking of a trend that does not bubble up or trickle down, it dawned on me that despite the importance of novelty in a trade that that sees feet walking towards or away from the rage of the day—in a day, it is really all-the-rage that matters more than true newness. The movement is horizontal now since designers cast a more lateral view on trends. They seem to say, anything you can do, I can do too.

When Prada launched its menswear in 1993 (and later the Prada Sport line), footwear was part of their game-changing approach to fashion, which began with nylon bags in the late 70s as a counterpoint to the preciousness of luxury bags of the time. Prada men’s shoes have never been just classic brogues and Oxfords (although they do them well too); they’re always a blend of this and that, a meeting of the unexpected, and, increasingly, crossbreeding that results in both the beautiful and the banal.

While Prada shoes are not really cool-hunted anymore, they continue to intrigue with their myriad soles on which traditional uppers sit. If you care about shoes that are different but not crazily way out—just whimsical, you could be keenly anticipating each season’s what-will-they-think-of-next hybrids. I recall, as I write this, the Wallabee gone to the city as a wing-tip, the espadrille traded up as a brogue, the Oxford half-disguised as a galosh, the lace-up with kueh lapis sole gone decidedly punk… I could go on.

Fusion in food may arouse suspicion, but fusion in footwear has spawned quiet a following, and I mean shoe makers doing the trailing. Some of Prada’s bold ideas have such far-reaching influence that they could be seen in the workshops of shoe-making cities of the world, from Addis Ababa (in Ethiopia) to Guangzhou. And under extreme pressure from producing popular shoes that sell, even top-of-the-line brands are compelled to go window shopping.

I held the Louis Vuitton shoe—called Swirl Derby—in my hand. The sales staff was eager to tell me that what was atop my palm was “the star of the show”. Like Prada’s, it was the heft that struck me. The 4.5-cm sole, too, is made of rubber, molded to form layers and ridges, and includes a gap between forefoot and heel. The seam where the sole grips the upper is similarly undulating—a masculine scalloped edge. Both are lace-ups, but LV’s look more suited for a hike up some mountain at a city’s edge. Twins, as it’s often seen, do have different pursuits.

Prada Lace-Up, SGD1,400, is available at Prada stores. Louis Vuitton Swirl Derby shoe, SGD1,530, is available at Louis Vuitton stores 

With The Write Company

Fourteen years ago, Louis Vuitton launched a series of bags that would dramatically elevate the status of the brand’s staid Monogram canvas. And all it took was to deface the signature fabric with graffiti writing. Today, scribbled text across perfectly respectable surfaces continue to make loud fashion statements

Stephen Sprouse Graffiti on Monogram Canvas

Close-up of Stephen Sprouse’s graffiti on Louis Vuitton’s Monogram Canvas in 2001

Handwriting has a long history, but anthropologists and educators now declare that it belongs to the past. Their proclamation may not be so overstated. Texting with a keyboard—physical or virtual—is, after all, more prevalent than putting pen to paper. Yet, high tech has a knack of reviving the interest in the low tech it replaces. If you look at the resurgence of the long playing record despite the popularity of digital downloads, there’s hope that hand-penned lettering may not entirely be replaced by fonts of electronic lineage. No matter how popular Brandon Grotesque may still be, free-form handwriting is not losing out. In fact, the less orderly, the less uniform, and the less rigid the handwriting, the more appealing they are. And no other industry love scrawls and scribbles more than fashion. Graffiti has a soul mate.

If credit must be given to he who merits it, then Marc Jacobs deserves to be commended for popularising handwriting-as-pattern, bringing toilet-stall shorthand and neon warehouse-wall inscriptions to fashion’s hallowed grounds. Back in 2001, Mr Jacobs collaborated with Stephen Sprouse to breathe new life to Louis Vuitton’s Monogram canvas. Created in 1896 for the making of luggage, LV’s signature patterned fabric had become, a century later, a reminder of faded glories and a way of travel no longer preferred. What Mr Sprouse did to the Monogram canvas with his almost-naïve lettering not only gave it street cred, which LV needed rather badly at that time, it also gave it shock value. No one could imagine such irreverence. The aesthetic blow was a punch to the taste of the soignée set, but to the young consumer group (Gen X?), it was an appealing sock to a design institution. It wasn’t just graffiti writing, it was script in neon, and it was confrontational and attention-grabbing, and to its detractors, it fed into the vacuity of capitalist consumerism.

Louis Vuitton's Graffiti collectionTop left, Louis Vuitton X Stephen Sprouse Speedy 30 bag. Top right, Louis Vuitton store in New York’s Soho during the launch of the Graffiti series. Below: Marc Jacobs posed in the nude for New York Magazine in 2008

Mr Jacobs, installed at Louis Vuitton during the frantic brand revivalism of the Nineties, would later tell the press that he did receive instructions not to defile LV’s iconic motifs, but, unsurprisingly, he wasn’t one to follow decrees. Whether this was an act of disaffection or strutting on a whim, it was hard to tell. Always in tune with the pop culture of any given time, Mr Jacobs would pluck from the zeitgeist of the past with total abandon to infuse his designs with more than a whiff of long-gone vice and excesses. Some think this is his true talent. He told the Guardian in a 2009 interview of the first Stephen Sprouse fashion show he attended in 1984, aged 21: “It was like a rock concert. Deafening hardcore rock… the audience was downtown club-kids sitting next to Vogue and New York Times fashion editors. It was the first time that had happened in New York.” The first is always the most unforgettable, and 17 years later, he would pluck Stephen Sprouse out of obscurity and introduce street lettering to Parisian fashion.

Mr Sprouse was, at that time, an out-of-full-time-practice “cult” fashion designer—trained at Halston, but much associated with Day-Glo (colours) of the Eighties, and known among pop royalty as the designer of rock costumes, such as those for Duran Duran’s 1989 Big Thing tour (interestingly, before he became a full-fledge designer, he made clothes for the punk-pop ingénue Debby Harry, who was a downstairs neighbour). Mr Sprouse may have brought punk and fluorescence and downtown vibe together, but his approach and quality were steep in traditional dressmaking. His friends, who had the privilege of wearing his custom-made clothes, knew, for example, that he used Norman Norell’s tailor. Regrettably, design skill and business savvy wasn’t the downtown cool and uptown chic that Mr Sprouse had successfully paired. In 1985, much to the shock of the disco set that worshipped him, he declared bankruptcy.

Stephen Sprouse

Stephen Sprouse

Under the auspices of Louis Vuitton and with those bags he vandalised, Stephen Sprouse (left) became known as a “graffiti designer”, a title that belied his true legacy as a fashion designer since he used graffiti as an element of design, not quite as a style of art such as those of working graffiti artists Lee Quiñones and Keith Haring. The collaboration emerged at a time when graffiti art was becoming increasingly mainstream; facilitated by the rapid rise of rap music. Graffiti visually expresses rap (and, the related hip hop) just as breaking physically articulates it. The influence of graffiti art on rap music—or pop music—goes as far back as the late Seventies, when in 1979, Blondie’s music video for the single Rapture (in which Debbie Harry raps somewhat unconvincingly) featured Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Vivienne Westwood jacket

A jacket from Vivienne Westwood’s ‘Witches’ collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum

While the result of the Jacobs-Sprouse partnership appeared headily new at that time, fashion observers across the Atlantic thought it déjà vu. In the Autumn/Winter season of 1983, Vivienne Westwood and one-time partner and co-designer Malcolm McLaren hatched a conceptually strong collection with hip-hop overtones called ‘Witches’. The idea came about after meeting Keith Haring in New York. Ms Westwood found Mr Haring’s drawings to be “a magical, esoteric sign language” and was keen to use them as prints for that season’s collection. The separates—characterised by oversized tops—were etched with Mr Haring’s distinctive graffiti. The British design duo was, however, no stranger to defacement graphics. In 1975, they renamed at existing shop of theirs—Let It Rock—to Sex! Situated at the suitably named World’s End on London’s King’s Road, it was fronted by its name in pink rubber letters, 1.2 metres high! Inside, graffiti of pornographic images ravished the walls. It was totally in keeping with Sex’s maxim: “Craft must have clothes but truth loves to go naked”. ‘Witches’ was the last collection jointly designed by Ms Westwood and Mr McLaren.

While fashion and music played down the social nuisance that graffiti represented, on our shores, graffiti in the guise of art did not take a grip of our pop consciousness since it was not condone by our government, at least not in public spaces, where the presence of graffiti would be considered vandalism (since 1994, an American, a Swiss and two Germans have found out the painful way). In 2001, Louis Vuitton changed how we saw graffiti, and illustrated graffiti’s relevance and parity to modern fashion via its bags. In no time, graffiti’s social standing and creative value were elevated. And since it was not unlawful to have graffiti on your handbag (always private property whether in the shop or in your hand), women thronged the LV stores to acquire one (or more), only to be told that there were sold out.

By many accounts, the collection enjoyed a 100 percent sell-through, and it was reported that the Speedy 30 travelling bag alone enjoyed sales in excess of USD300 million in its first year. Mr Sprouse died of lung cancer in 2004, three years after the collaboration, but Louis Vuitton continued to produce the Graffiti series in the six years that followed. Mr Jacobs was so thrilled with its success (including latter reiterations) that he would appear in a series of LV print ads with nothing more than graffiti scrawled all over his body. Only an adequately sized, graffiti-covered Keepall protected his modesty. Who could have known that the defacement of an iconic fabric would prove so wildly lucrative for what, at that time, was still essentially a bag brand?

Longchamp X Jeremy Scott Le PliageLongchamp X Jeremy Scott’s makeover of the luggage label’s best-selling Le Pliage bag

Following in Marc Jacob’s footsteps is Jeremy Scott, whose appropriation of popular icons in madcap ways has elevated him to a position that few designers using classical motifs can reach. His latest in a long collaboration with Longchamp sees the Le Pliage bag that he favours smothered with glyphs of the zodiac in Halloween orange. Rihanna was one of the first to carry this version even before it hit the stores. Le Pliage, one of the most knocked off brand-name bags (just explore Bugis Street market), is Longchamp’s most successful product. Introduced in 1993 by Philippe Cassegrain (son of founder Jean Cassegrain), who also designed the bag, Le Pliage’s success can be traced to two attributes not always evident in luxury products: undeniable practicality and attractive price. The early issues of Le Pliage, if you look back now, were the antithesis of the IT bag, and were attractive to women who did not need her handbag to define her. But the simplicity of its design easily lends itself to counterfeiting. With lookalikes flooding the market, Longchamp’s iconic tote no longer enjoyed the advantage of a charmed genesis.

Jeremy Scott for Moschino SS 2015

Jeremy Scott for Moschino SS 2015

If the Monogram canvas needed a jolt of new life, Le Pliage’s unexciting nylon, too, required creative tempering. Jeremy Scott, the American designer who placed teddy bears on Adidas sneakers and gave Moschino’s cross-body bag the shape of McDonald’s French fry cup, is the guy to do just that. Mr Scott has been prescribing makeovers for the Le Pliage since 2006. True to his penchant for plastering the low brow onto high style, he made Longchamp’s star bag a canvas on which to transfer his goofy graphics: from holiday postcards to the ugly faces of the Eighties’ cartoon series Madballs. But graffiti has always been on the mind of Mr Scott, whose popularity among hip hop stars has never waned. Le Pliage’s latest face is possibly an extension of what he did at the house of Moschino for the current spring/summer season: red-carpet-worthy gowns are fashioned out of fabrics with graffiti that look like it has been transposed from abandoned buildings in certain seedy American neighbourhood. To some, this is the genius of Jeremy Scott: the knack for celebrating his own national identity through sneaky Americanisation of European brands.

Sebastian Lester S

Sebastian Lester’s calligraphic art

The popularity of handwritten text has also been boosted by the viral sharing of the work of the English typographer and calligrapher Sebastian Lester. One of the most popular blogs on YouTube is Mr Lester’s hand-drawn calligraphy, in particular the one that shows him illustrating recognisable logotype with a broad-tip pen (at last check, the post hit 1,276, 049 views, not counting the reposts and shares). That a video that’s not about a pop star twerking or someone’s pet doing something painfully silly could ensnare more than a million hits attests to both Mr Lester’s amazing skill and the elegance of lettering by hand. Mr Lester has shown that unadulterated handwriting can make beautiful art. Technology may make work for most of us easier, but, in the end, our hands still easily make the best work.

Longchamp X Jeremy Scott ‘Zodiac’ Le Pliage travel bag, SGD440, is available at Longchamp stores

Two Of A Kind: Which Is More International?

Nike vs LV 3Clockwise from top left: Nike Internationalist running shoe, Louis Vuitton ‘Run Away’ sneaker, Nike Internationalist running shoe, Louis Vuitton ‘Run Away’ sneaker

By Shu Xie

Have certain sneaker styles become so generic that they can appear as standard across brands? Fashion, as we’re told, changes so quickly that we’re not always catching up. Yet, some things do not really change; some things, such as sports shoes, get re-interpreted. A recent re-interpretation really had me wondering: should luxury brands leave the producing of sports shoes to specialist makers or take it on themselves? Is paying tribute really emulating some shoes in their cultural significance? Is following the leader fashion’s silent march to wider acceptance as brands expand product categories to create monumentally profitable businesses?

When I saw Louis Vuitton’s ‘Run Away’ sneaker last year, I thought it would be a one-season shoe. But when I spotted them in different iterations yesterday (and the sales person was quick to point out to me—gleefully, no less—that they were “new arrivals”), I had a nagging feeling that the ‘Run Away’ isn’t loping off anywhere any time soon. Its prominence (there were at least six versions) on the shelves heightened its similarity to Nike’s Internationalist, which I was willing to ignore previously, but not anymore.

Nike’s shoe designs have been inspiration central for so many non-athletic shoe brands that it’s hardly surprising that the Oregon-based company’s best—and best-selling—would be duplicated. For a long time, I didn’t get myself too bothered when the Air Force 1 Mid was the serial flavour of the month for luxury brands since I am not a big fan. Happy to be loyal to kicks normally trailing in the looming shadow of, say, Roshe Run, I reassured myself with the belief that less flashy shoes were not going to get noticed in the first place, and less likely the targets of discreet or over-enthusiastic homage. I couldn’t be more wrong.

The Breakfast Club stillAnthony Michael Hall (middle), wearing the Internationalist, played Brian Johnson in 1985’s The Breakfast Club. Photo: Universal Pictures

The Internationalist first appeared in 1982, making it a rather established 33-year-old shoe. Back then, sneaker launches weren’t what they are today (no pre-release buzz and certainly no pre-orders!). Still, the Internationalist was Nike’s star design. Created for long-distance running, it debuted with marathoner Alberto Salazar in the 1982 New York Marathon, in the same weekend that Nike aired its very first TV commercial (a general branding exercise rather than promoting any particular shoe). Mr Salazar is currently the head coach of Portland’s Nike Oregon Project, a group created by Nike to promote long-distance running in America. The Internationalist’s destiny in popular culture was sealed when it was worn by the bookish Brian Johnson (played by Anthony Michael Hall) in John Hughes’s 1985 teen brat-pack classic The Breakfast Club. Costume designer Marilyn Vance had wedded khakis to running shoes, and the marriage, as it turned out, was perfect. Geek chic, as proponents would say, had an early start.

While Nike’s follow-up, the Air Pegasus, released in1983, seemed to have upstaged the Internationalist, it was the latter that would, more than two decades later, attract those with a passion for early-Eighties running shoes. I didn’t pick up a pair of Internationalist until 10 years after its debut, and I have not stopped loving and wanting them, particularly those soled with Lunarlon foam cushioning. In recent years, I have enjoyed wearing the mid versions as much as the low-cuts even when plain—particularly all-white—tennis shoes were (and still are) the rage.

Nike has constantly released updates of the Internationalist and in colour waves the industry calls “packs”. I can hope against it, but it is a matter of time before these kicks get noticed. LV’s reiteration is evidence that even not-quite-out-there shoes can be so inspiring that they get “interpreted”. The “Run Away” sneaker, to be fair, is handsome. It has all the quality of a luxe sports shoe that’s not destined for sports or Usain Bolt’s track wardrobe. To satisfy my curiosity about its comfort and fit, I tried on the “Run Away”. It was not easy to get into the shoe (due, perhaps, to the overzealousness of the person who tied the laces), but once inside, my sockless feet felt utterly coddled. The interior comfort is obvious. The collar is generously padded, augmenting the luxuriousness of the shoe, but they wrap the lower ankles a little too snugly. In place of the Swoosh, LV has worked in a large cut of their instantly recognisable Damier pattern, embossed in leather. This is flanked by seam work similar to the Internationalist’s.  The upper, which also includes mesh, sits atop a bi-coloured mid-sole with the back spotting an Internationalist-like heel base—LV’s, expectedly, shinny or ultra-bright. The sum effect is not vintage in appearance. Looking down, the “Run Away” sneakers did not sport an old-school silhouette. Is this, for LV, the ultimate accentuation of a classic running shoe?

Nike Vs LanvinLeft: Nike Air Moc and right: Lanvin neoprene sock mid-top

Perhaps it’s not quite fair to single LV out, since so many top-end brands, too, are as inspired by classic sneakers. Just look at one of Lanvin’s spring offerings: a neoprene sock mid-top, which, to me, looks like a barefaced take on Nike ACG’s cult classic, the Air Moc, first seen in 1994. I didn’t expect Nike’s shapeless, sock-like shoe to inspire a supremely elegant fashion house, yet it did. Lanvin has placed the toggle in front rather than at the rear, and given its version a shapelier, boot-like form and fancier sole. However, when I gave them a second look, as I should, I really saw Skechers!

Any sports shoe, it would seem, can attract interpreters. It is understandable when fellow sports brands create their version of the competitor’s best-sellers. The Roshe Run, as fans will point out, has spawned many look-a-likes.  But when top-end fashion houses do too, it smacks of a sell-out. In recent years, the bubble-up effect is effervescent to the point it’s over-aerated, pushing originality out of the cup. With the exception of Rick Owens (and, maybe, Raf Simons), which luxury label has truly created a unique sneaker silhouette? To say trainers are having a moment in fashion is understating it. Designers were once happy for you to couple your favourite sneakers with their trendiest looks, but now they want you to be shod in a pair of their interpretation. When brands that have no association with sports—Chanel, here’s looking at you, tweed—produce sports shoes, it’s clear no category of footwear is sacred.

The irony of it all is that sneakerheads don’t care. Those who collect or covert limited-editions (or any collaboration involving, say, Mita Sneakers) isn’t the least concerned with what’s displayed on LV’s shelves. To them, designer sneakers do not speak their language—a lingo that draws from pop culture than Fashion Week, from Tinker Hatfield than Riccardo Tisci. If luxury brands need to return to their heritage to rebuild their credibility (after years of trying to sell just about everything to just about everybody), then they should consider authenticity too.

Both shoes are available for men and women. Nike Internationalist, SGD 108, is sold at Nike stockists while Louis Vuitton ‘Run Away’ sneakers, SGD1,200, at Louis Vuitton stores

Yeezy’s Released

Adidas Yeezy 750 Boostadidas Yeezy 750 Boost as seen at

By Shu Xie

Kanye West is a monster of a hypebeast. Few can dispute that. Fashion-wise, his shoes—those that he wears as well as those he designs—repeatedly generate the kind of buzz usually associated with the magazine covers on which his wife Kim K, deservingly or undeservingly, appear. Failed (and derided) as a fashion designer, Mr West obstinately sticks to his other passion: designing sneakers, a product category he had insane success with. His Nike-produced Yeezy line of sneakers has a huge following: the kind that encourages overnight queues and mugging-for-shoes. The anticipation was, therefore, no less intense for his latest release, the first since Mr West decamped to Adidas after two hugely successful collaborations with Nike.

Called Adidas Yeezy 750 Boost, the shoe was given not one, but two previews. The first, Instagrammed by his barber Ibn Jasper last week, and the second, made public by the man himself during a pre-Grammy appearance at the annual Roc Nation brunch this past weekend. Earlier today, Adidas released a photo via Instagram to confirm the existence of such a shoe. By now, Kanye West-adoring sneakerheads would have been delirious. But does the third version of the Yeezy live up to past-6-months worth of hype?

Yeezy 750 BoostThe profile of the Yeezy 3 posted in Ibn Jasper’s Instagram page

I should state that, like the rest of you, I have not seen the shoe except for what’s published on-line. But, as expected, it’s a bombastic piece of footwear. Mr West is partial to what Nike calls “sneakerboots”, so it’s no surprise that the Yeezy 3 (as it is also known) is not a low-cut sneaker. Before I am corrected or someone calls me a “squid brain”, it should be stated that the two previous versions of the Yeezy produced with Nike (and officially known as Air Yeezy) were hi-tops too. It’s, therefore, also not surprising that Mr West will continue with the rise-to-the-ankle shape. Only this time, they look like malformed desert boots for Yeti, which, immediately reminds me of those pony-haired MMM boots he wore during his Yeezus concert tour of 2013/14.

I expected some kind of broad straps too, and I expected right: a wide band stretches across mid-foot, partially obscuring the lacing. The 3-Stripes, interestingly, resides beneath (why Adidas allows the branding to be hidden is open to conjecture, but it’s possible that one man’s ego is bigger than a company’s trademark). Given the on-Kanye’s-feet images seen so far, it’s easy to gather that the cool way to wear the new Yeezy is to have them secured with the strap, while the side zip is unfastened. I remember the guy who came to service my air-conditioner, just last week—he wore his boots in similar fashion.

K & KMr & Mrs Kanye West arriving at the Roc Nation brunch. Photo: All Access Photo

I have looked at all the pictures that went viral, yet the attractiveness of the latest Yeezy escapes me. These are not cheerful shoes just as Mr West is (mostly) unsmiling. I won’t say he did not try (there’s enough effort for his fans to describe his design as “forward”), but I do not put him on the same league as Ronnie Fieg, who has been able to do for Asics what Tom Ford did for Gucci. Mr West may be a passionate sneakerhead and may have, “in fourth grade, designed Jordans” (as he revealed back in November 2013 in an explosive interview for New York’s hip-hop and R&B station Power 105.1 FM), but the tirade-prone artiste is no Tinker Hatfield. Sneaker design, I suspect, is Mr West’s vanity project, something with which to push his name deeper into the fashion universe, all aglow like the North Star. How else would you explain his suggestion of a name change for promoting the shoes he did in partnership with Louis Vuitton in 2009: a bizarrely grandiose Martin Louis the King Jr in place of Kanye Omari West?

I am glad LV did not bite.

Adidas Yeezy 750 Boost is reported to be launched during New York Fashion Week later this week. Apparently, only 3,000 pairs will be available. Speculated retail price is USD350 each. There’s no doubt you’ll be able to get a pair on E-Bay at triple the price