From Dover Street To Dempsey Road

It’s been a long journey, across three cities/continents, but it’s here at last. Dover Street Market, the retailers’ retailer, opened last Saturday to the delight and the spending power of its fans, but is it a twin of the famed London, Tokyo, or New York store?

DSMS entranceDSM interior 1

The queue to get in on opening day of Dover Street Market Singapore (DSMS) in Dempsey last Saturday was reported to be so long (“longer than the Chanel queue at Ngee Ann City”, according to one irate shopper) that those not desperate enough to get in were texting friends to say they were waiting at nearby PS Cafe for the throng to thin. We received such a message at about four in the afternoon, five hours after the store opened to the public. A day earlier, a preview for VIPs, “special Club 21 members”, and members of the media also saw a snaking line outside the main entrance of the building, prompting one guest to say it was “sheer madness”.

The queue also started to form at midnight before the store’s opening on Saturday morning. It was known then that DSMS was to release some limited-edition sneakers, such as Clot X Nike Air VaporMax and the Nike Mars Yard 2.0. Sneakerheads and E-bay resellers, not necessarily Dover Street Market fans, were prepared to camp overnight—as though outside Supreme or Kith, New York City—in what was once a military camp even when they were told that numbered coupons will be issued so, as a staffer said, “they can all go home”.

We visited the store yesterday, thinking that the craze would have died down and that, being a Monday afternoon (made stifling by the punishing heat), there wouldn’t be a crowd. We were wrong—dead wrong. This was not a clientele we had expected. There was a conspicuous absence of Comme des Garçons (CDG) groupies. Sure, stores such as Dover Street Market has lost much of its snob appeal the moment street wear became part of their merchandise mix and communication vernacular. But we were a little taken aback that many had come as if they were going to Sungei Road’s Thieves’ Market on its last day or to tell us they spent most of their time in void decks.

DSM interior 2

DSMS’s general manager Fiona Tan was overheard telling a bemused customer, “Even this morning, I was bowled over by the amount of people.” Who were they, inquired the interlocutor. “They’re generally young—many in their teens—and they buy brands such as Vetements and they pay in cash.” Are these the usual Club 21 shoppers—his curiosity aroused. “No, they’re not.” Yesterday, a friend of SOTD told us that a staff member, temporarily installed at DSMS from a Club 21 Hilton Shopping Gallery shop (in fact, many familiar Club 21 sales personnel were working in DSMS over the weekend), said, “I’m so excited that there’s a new group of shoppers.” But, according to him, she did not mention that they were, as he saw that very moment, “the T-shirt-shorts-and-flip-flop crowd”.

What did these terminally casual dressers come to this temple of forward style to see?

The Singapore store, like in London and New York, is housed in a historic building, but unlike the latter two, isn’t an edifice and not conceived for grand purpose. This block was part of the former MINDEF and CMPB camp that occupied what was known as Tanglin Barracks. Dempsey has been a military installation since the 1860s when the British bought the 213-acre site from the owner of what was then a nutmeg plantation to build a defence HQ. It is part of three clusters (the other two: Minden and Loewen) of commercial space, and, since the mid-2007, has been a thriving F&B neighborhood.

DSMS’s entry here is a little at odds with the area’s rustic and verdant lure. It is a striking oddball among un-lovely retailers of mostly curios and antiques. This is retail disruption, if you need an example. The building itself is made plain and white, and only distinguished by its thatched roof that gives its interior a ceiling height not seen in the other DSMs. This is the first DSM store in a single storey. The others are spread over several floors (London: five, Tokyo and New York: seven). Its façade, nondescript as the building is architecturally sound, somehow reminds us of a now-defunct, compact, 2-storey Comme des Garçons in Tokyo’s Aoyama district—a stone’s throw from Blue Note Tokyo and no more than a kilometer from the CDG flagship—identified only by an orange door. True to CDG’s scream-not exterior, DSMS’s walls are plain to a fault. Perhaps, therein lies its pull.

The away-from-the-maddening-shopping-crowd location is consistent with DSM’s provenance, and also (once) a regular surprise of CDG locations. When DSM first opened in London’s Mayfair on Dover Street, more noted for heritage hotels, such as Brown’s Hotel—known in the 19th century as a “genteel inn” that was opened by Lord Byron’s valet James Brown—than fashion retail, the store was a standalone that attracted mostly those in the know and fashion editors looking to buy clothes that would score with photographers such as Scott Schuman. Dempsey isn’t quite a hideaway, but it has low-traffic noise and a neo-kampung vibe that is best exemplified in DSM’s signature collage of a ‘hut’ (pictured above), touted to be the tallest among all DSMs.

DSM interior 3DSM interior 4DSM interior 5

As with all the other DSMs, the interior of the Dempsey store is designed by CDG’s reclusive (or ascetic?) Rei Kawakubo, who had dabbled in furniture design in the mid-’80s (the collectibles now, unsurprisingly, command astronomical prices). She was reported to be on site during the course of the renovation, but had remained unseen, leaving the public-face role to her husband Adrian Joffe. There’s no perceivable methodology in Ms Kawakubo’s scattered design and not-standard fixtures. If she could deconstruct clothes, she certainly could do the same with interiors. These unrelated visual amalgams come together as what Ms Kawakubo famously called “beautiful chaos”, cleverly choreographed and contained in what is akin to a mess hall.

With such a horizontal expanse, we had expected semblance of a maze, as seen in the vertical Ginza store. DSMS is surprisingly rather linear in its layout—the straightness broken by pockets of space put together to reflect the various brands’ own identities. The store guide is, therefore, not identified by floors. Instead it goes by “spaces”. There’s less of an exploratory component here since one does not get to meander into unexpected corners or hidden recesses. It is more like walking in a corridor flanked by rooms.

In the inner-half of DSMS, a fenced-up zone called “Wire Fence Labyrinth”—which is more a menagerie—makes one feels caged in. Perhaps, as one shopper suggested, Ms Kawakubo is more adept at putting together a space stretched across multiple floors. Used to starting the exploration from the top level of DSMs, we found the elongated oblong, while large, quickly comes to the opposite end. DSMS is easily covered in one lap.

DSM interior 6DSM interior 7DSM interior 8

Even more straightforward is the merchandising. DSM has always banked on its flair for assembling products with both emotional and design value. This is a store that easily elicits a response from visitors—rare is the shopper who leaves without a deep impression. For Singapore, that emotional connect seems a little feeble. There is a rather large supply of tees, a product that surely does not raise temperatures in our T-shirt-aplenty city. These are instantly understandable items: no explanation required. Despite its “no planning” claim, DSMS clearly had a game plan. They know from the start who’s going to come and what they’re going to buy. The shoppers this Monday afternoon proved them right.

Sure, sneakerheads and streetwear devotees will be thrilled with the skate/sports offering, but the absence of Supreme and Palace may not move true aficionados. If you’re here for the sneakers, then you’ll be rather surprised by the smallness of the area dedicated to your fave kicks—for now, essentially a corner given to Nikelab, which, incidentally, offers the best value for the softest cotton jersey T-shirts in the store, at S$79 a pop. This lack of immediate visibility for sports shoes is a dramatic contrast to DSM London, where a big chunk of the basement level is dedicated to some of the most desirable trainers that easily rival those of indie retailers such as Footpatrol.

DSMS’s surprising surfeit of T-shirts is, perhaps, a reflection of our fashion-consuming masses than the store’s buying direction. It’s symptomatic of how we only want to dress “comfortably” because it is always too hot for anything more than a tee. Serious fashion folks were naturally not immediately bowled over. Said one product development manager: “the buying seems strangely safe for DSM. They plan to make the most money out of T-shirts?” A retired fashion stylist was not impressed. “The merchandise is similar to Comme,” he lamented, “Same-same, but different. It’s like I am a fan of Miyake’s pleats and there are other labels showing pleats as well.”

DSM interior 9DSM interior 10DSM interior 11

To understand the perceived sameness in the merchandising of DSMS, it is necessary to consider that the store is, foremost, a “curated” space and that it is possible that the buyers were aiming at aesthetic cohesion. Or, a similarity that serves to augment CDG’s above-the-common standing. Rei Kawakubo’s vision for DSM is likely the vision she has for CDG and, as such, she tends to be drawn to those labels that traipse the same path as she does. Yet, that may not be entirely the case. If DSM is home to the best of the avant garde, what are Gucci and The Row doing here?

The thing is, CDG, as a group of labels, does not resist the commercial. It never has. If you look at their free-standing stores in Tokyo, from Omotesando to Marunouchi (where there are two), accessible sub-brands such as the wildly successful Play, the distilled-to-the-essence Black, and the pop culture-friendly Edit allow the main brand to achieve mainstream appeal, which, in turn, allow Rei Kawakubo to do the work that, while incomprehensible, gets museums a-calling. Good Design Shop (in Singapore for the first time at DSMS)—a collaboration with Tokyo lifestyle outfit D & Department—is an outlet for CDG to flaunt, well, CDG, the three letters that appear on the clothing and bags produced exclusively for the Shop, all irresistible to those who need to wear brand names on their chest, or back. At DSMS, Gucci and The Row are the saleable names that allow moneyed shoppers’ fast track to fashion credibility.

The talk among industry watchers is that DSMS will change the scene here by injecting hitherto missing excitement into an increasingly bleak retail landscape. This we hear, and read, with a tinge of sadness. Can only foreign businesses rescue us from the doldrums that the selling of fashion has become on our shores? Back inside DSMS, the answer is a yes. Whether you are rejoicing among the shelves and racks of T-shirts or cavorting with CDG’s own mind-boggling clothes, non-native Dover Street Market is a veritable fashion playground. It’s well-lit, fine-looking, and fun to wander through.

Dover Street Market Singapore is at 18 Dempsey Road. Photos: Galerie Gombak

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Nike Goes Luxe

It’s about time

Air Max 90 Royal

For too long, luxury brands have barged into sports shoes territory by outputting their own take of popular sneaker styles. Right now, we’re thinking of the persistent intruder Louis Vuitton. Then there are designers who put their spin on their favourite kicks under the invitation of sports brands. We’re thinking of Riccardo Tisci and Olivier Rousteing, both giving Nike shoes a makeover—the Air Force 1 and Free Mercurial Flyknit X respectively, just two among other styles that both have worked on.

Now, Nike’s fighting back. Last year, for Air Max day (which, this year, fell on 26th March, three days ago, with the campaign tag “kiss my airs”), the world’s most popular shoe brand released an Air Max 1 dubbed ‘Royal’ that sneakerheads were quick to call the most luxurious ever while the media hailed it a “stellar release”. Then, five months later, came the Air Safari, also given the Royal treatment. SOTD did not get to see the Royals until the end of last year, when we came face to face with the Air Max 90 Royal, not once but twice—in London, at Dover Street Market and Footpatrol.

As the name suggests, Royals receive a rather regal treatment when it comes to materials and finishes. Supple suede, as the main upper, is a material of choice and here, Nike made it one-tone (the Swoosh and other branding look embossed). This is further enhanced with leather details that truly augment the built’s premium feel and look.  Indeed, the Air Max 90 has never looked this fine.

Air Max 90 Royal Pic 2

The softness of the suede somehow tones down an otherwise hunky shoe, so much so that the normally thick tongue is now a thin skin that sits very comfortably atop the foot—even when you’re sockless. The typical padding of the Air Max 90 seems reduced too, which makes the Royal version rather streamlined. But more unique (and the pull is clearly here) is the quadrilateral that frames the visible air sole near the heels: it’s now in a piece of leather that goes right under the outer sole, sitting firmly among the grips. Perhaps because of this, the Royal is a tad heavier than even the leather versions: 6 grams more.

A piece of leather is also slipped between the upper and the midsole, forming a corridor, on top of which the quadrilateral sits and is top-stitched. The natural tan of both immediately brings to mind Hender Scheme’s take of sneaker classics, such as Nike’s very own Air Presto, in which designer Ryo Kashiwazaki re-imagines the world’s favourite kicks in hand-crafted, natural and unstained leather. The irony of this is not lost: even a giant such as Nike cannot escape the influence of the indie-shoe maker.

That Nike would forge a path alongside luxury brands is not surprising. Through the years, they have been releasing shoes that go beyond the USD200 threshold, culminating in the self-lacing HperAdapt, which was sold at USD720—not counting what you’ll find on eBay. In fact, since the introduction of NikeLab in 2014 (with only a few boutique-like stores around the world—last count six), Nike has been offering “exclusives” way beyond their typical price points. Sure, all eyes are on the Nikelab VaporMax—launched 3 days ago—but that being completely new is, as expected, sold out. The Air Max 90 is the most elegant in the Air Max family and a luxurious version is always welcome.

Nike Air Max 90 Royal Cool Grey, SGD359, is available at Limited Edn Vault, 313@Sommerset. Photos: Chin Boh Kay

Questing After The Authentic

Gosha Rubchinsky SS 2017Gosha Rubchinskiy spring/summer 2017. Photos: Gosha Rubchinskiy

By D Y Yun

I understand and I totally relate to Gosha Rubchinskiy’s work. I appreciate the severity of his designs. I am into his brand of (retro) Red aesthetic. His spring/summer 2017, shown in Pitti Uomo last week, was a big pull for me.

Detractors may say that his co-opting of old-school sports clothes is humourless and without wit. I on the other hand, consider it an overdue counterpoint to the OTT visual bent of many Italian men’s wear brands that has been feeding the staggering rise of the fashion peacock.

Mr Rubchinskiy was invited to show at Pitti Uomo as a guest designer. In the city of Florence, home of Gucci, he could have tried to outdo them all by presenting something that would have done the the legacy of the Medicis proud. Instead, he went to put on a show that was a nod “To Paolo Pier”.

Italian Pier Paolo Pasolini was a divisive figure during his lifetime. An author-turned-film-maker communist, Pasolini was especially concerned about those he called “sub-proletariat”—the socially- and economically-disadvantaged working class thought not to able to achieve anything and is a possible hindrance to an egalitarian society.

Franco Citti in AccattoneFranco Citti (right), who died in January this year, played the title character in Pasolini’s Accattone. Photo: Arco Film/Cino del Duca

In his debut 1961 film Accattone, Pasolini, together with the then relatively unknown young poet, Bernardo Bertolucci as assistant, showed the dismal lives of pimps and prostitutes, with thieves thrown in for good measure, so as to underscore the sad predicament of the individuals of the title, a slang term that refers to those who do not do well, and are afflicted by indolence and, as a consequence, cannot stay on a job.

The film does not credit a costume designer, but the gritty realism of rough, young men wanting to look good without being too concerned with the vagaries of fashion has its appeal. To me, it pairs with Mr Rubchinskiy’s fixation with a Russian visual style that came before today’s religion of consumerism. Both reflect beauty at its most earnest, just as those Olympics trainees and participants of the past that the designer loves to evoke, who wore what were given to them without self-consciousness, only ready-to-compete élan.

Calling it authentic may be banal to some of you, but I do consider the sportsmen-of-yore aesthetic of Mr Rubchinskiy—so oppositional to the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo—exactly that. These look like actual sports clothes, only worn on non-sporting grounds. Not for Mr Rubchinsky, those purported athletic wear put out by hip-hop stars that have never played enough sports to know what is truly performance-enhancing.

In keeping with his preference for unsung labels, Mr Rubchinsky chose to work with Italian sports brands that have been overtaken by others whose image have presently been defined by celebrities and social media stars. His pick were Fila, Kappa and Sergio Tacchini. These are brands still with house codes that hark back to an era not swayed by “influencers”, when fashion was not a priority.

NIke Tennis ClassicNikeLab Tennis Classic CS “Nai Ke’’. Photo: Dover Street Market

Gosha Rubchinskiy’s pursuit of what I call sportif ancien connects to my own quest for athletic wear that we rarely see nowadays. It explains my attraction to, for instance, Nikelab’s “Nai Ke” (its name in Chinese) reiteration of its Tennis Classic. Released in collaboration with Dover Street Market London, the shoe has a whiff of what I seek: a touch of non-fashion as seen in the old PE uniforms worn by Chinese-medium institutions before SAP (Special Assistance Plan) schools came into being in 1978.

It’s not only the heel tab’s Chinese characters (a language choice still considered by certain quarters as “cheena” while not negating that the term is derogatory) that’s striking, but also a certain honest plainness that I find appealing. Lest I am mistaken, this is not Normcore; this is trend-resistant. Nike can make the coolest Air Jordans, but it chose to output something so Chinese Middle School of the ’60s. That means something.

In Beijing, where I had spent some time a few years back, I would go to old sporting goods stores to unearth basketball jerseys and track tops that had some semblance to what the Chinese athletes wore when China participated in the Olympics as Republic of China (1932 to 1948), not People’s Republic of China as it does now.

Shopping on Taobao may be where the retail action is, but I enjoy digging in “institutional” stores such as Tianyuan Lisheng (利生体育用品商厦) in Wangfujing, a four-story store that, in pre-market economy days, was probably considered mega. Although more than half of its stocks comprise of those by major Western brands, there are plentiful that will probably fail in the eyes of Boost addicts. Here, amid old-school, if not old-time, sports clothes, I feel I could be the basketball captain I never was. Even if briefly.

 

One Flashy Kick: Does Football Need It?

NikeLab X Olivier Rousteing

The visuals of Nike’s latest collaboration are one flashy swan dive into what was once Gianni Versace’s territory in the 1990s. Well, it’s not unexpected when the collaborator is Olivier Rousteing, young master of what the media likes to call “opulent aesthetic”. After all, the Frenchman does share the Italians’ love of ostentation (well, he did kick-start his career with Roberto Cavalli). Now, he’s brought that opulence to, of all games, football!

The collaboration, called Football Nouveau, is done sans Balmain, but not without the OTT punch that Mr Rousteing has brought to the brand. This, in the end, is his code, or to borrow from English football, his “bend it like Beckham”. Question is, will David Beckham, the original metrosexual, wear these flashy clothes and shoes? Becks is an Adidas man (in 2003, he signed what was then the biggest endorsement deal: USD160 million lifetime contract), so it’s doubtful he will embrace the “opulent aesthetic”.

NikeLab X Olivier Rousteing 2

Cristiano Ronaldo, however, endorses Nike, so he will, and he does. In fact, he is cast in the advertising campaign and happily supports Mr Rousteing too. It’s not clear how (or if) this will affect his deal with Giorgio Armani. Considered the “muse” of modern men’s fashion, Cristiano is probably the best bridge between fashion and the beautiful game. Still, it’s hard to see scores of footballers and football types crossing it, but one Tweet from Kanye or Kim may send many excitedly over to the dark—and gilded—side.

To be fair, these aren’t excesses as cringe-worthy as those seen in Mr Rousteing’s Balmain. There’s only the colour gold making its dazzling cameo in a collection that’s all-black. It’s athleisure glammed up for nights under dimly-lit mirrored balls, rather than to watch a match in flood-lit Wembley stadium, or Jalan Besar. Nike hails the pairing as “a golden touch” and let on that the output takes “the lifestyles of professional football players competing in Europe’s biggest championship this summer as inspiration”. Their lifestyles? If The Secret Footballer, writing in The Guardian is not sharing fib, the lifestyles of those in the Premier League are not that inspirational!

Olivier Rousteing

Nike is perhaps trying to emulate H&M’s wild success with the French brand. To be more accurate, this is a project with the division NikeLab, which is known for their technically advanced garments and footwear, much of it predate Alexander Wang’s dabbling of so-called athletic wear. There are very few NikeLab stores globally, and not many stockists either. It shall be interesting to see what mayhem will break out when the line drops on 2 June.

It is always thought that Nike prefers to work with less mainstream designers. One of the earliest to collaborate with the Oregon-based company is CDG’s Junya Watanabe. In fact, till today, Nike offers exclusive pieces in unusual colour ‘packs’ at Dover Street Market. However, after it’s pairing with Ricardo Tisci some seasons back, it seems Nike is now taking the same path as rival Adidas: choose partners whose social media presence can be felt even when you don’t check your IG account incessantly. Problem is, so many of them, such as He Who Loves To Rant, tend to err on the Beng side. Olivier Rousteing, to quite a few of us, is the same.

No news yet on the availability of Nike X Olivier Rousteing in Singapore. Photos: Nike/Nick Knight

Winter Style 4: A Seventies Classic Revisited

NikeLab X Stone Island AW 2015 Windrunner Bright BueNikelab X Stone Island Windrunner jacket in bright blue

By Raiment Young

In my quest for functional winter wear with design edge, I ended up looking at online stores. One of the trending pieces I found myself looking repeatedly at is Stone Island’s remake of the Nike classic, the Windrunner jacket. First released in 1978, Nike claims that “the silhouette has been a fixture on medal stands and city streets ever since — seen on everyone from distance runners to spinning b-boys.”

This, however, is no retro gear. Stone Island has given it such a modern makeover that you’d not likely link the present version with the past. While I have to admit that I am feeling a little nostalgic (including fond memories of the Italian brand Stone Island that was once available in Singapore at the first Tangs Studio), I am also looking at the Windrunner as a piece of very able all-weather gear.

NikeLab X Stone Island AW 2015 Windrunner 2Nikelab X Stone Island Windrunner jacket in other colours

In a hooded jacket, this is what matters to me: lightweight, streamlined, and technically advanced. These qualities do describe the Nike X Stone Island jacket, and the pairing clearly expounds both brands’ expertise in performance wear and flair for forward-looking styles. It’s a result not always evident in collaborations.

The reality is, there seems to be so much more innovation in outerwear among sportswear and outerwear brands. I am not just talking about how two brands can come together to make a difference; I’m referring to the innovation that has become absent among fashion labels who only care about going the safe route to generate looks, rather than design, so that they can sell in massive quantities. This approach can be burnished with, say, rock cred, but that’s just a high-shine veneer. When that peels off, empty is the core.

Nikelab X Stone Island Windrunner jacket is available at stoneisland.com. Photos: Nike/Stone Island