Prada Cruises Into The Familiar

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Five years is a long time to take a break. Prada last showed a resort (also known as cruise) collection back in 2013, as part of the men’s autumn/winter show. One suspected that Prada sailed into the cruise season because many luxury labels were showing post-fall collections, not because Prada really desired too. It could also be boosting the product offerings to better position its stock prices to rise.

For her first standalone cruise collection, Miuccia Prada did not deviate from what she had done before. In fact, according to media reports, she told journalists backstage that “a show should just be a show.” Ms Prada is not one to bend to industry norms, so none of the superfluous descriptions—whether cruise or resort—for her. Milan is, therefore, good enough for the show, not some far-flung place as preferred by the likes of Dior. This is just home-turf Prada, pure and simple.

And it was. Just as the cruise of five years ago was Prada unadulterated (those geeky suits and poor-taste colours), the cruise-now-gone-solo is reprise of those designs elements that Ms Prada have come to love, or, perhaps, have been selling well for the brand. If you’re looking for conceptual brilliance, such as in the spring 2013 collection, you may be disappointed. This is Prada giving you what Prada has always offered.

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What are obvious are the pantsuits or samfus, as we know them: exactly two, both with marabou cuffs on the tops that are similar to those we first saw in the presentation for the current spring/summer season. Only now they’re glammed up with neck pieces and hemlines of chained metallic discs that from a distance have the same effect (and possibly appeal) as paillettes. Glittery pyjama style for holidays taken by Carrie Bradshaw and co, or for the opening of Oriental-theme exhibitions attended by the likes of Grace Coddington.

Second time round, too, is the illustrations of James Jean. Back in 2008, Mr Jean’s fairy-like illustrations were used to stunning effect for the spring/summer collection, which, somewhat unusual for Prada then, was rather ethereal. This time, Mr Jean’s curly lines, flowers and rabbits are intertwined with the brand’s name, and they appear on accessories as well as bags. For those who missed the James Jean collaboration the first time, there’s now a chance to revisit it.

Also reprised is the Prada ID: versatile black nylon that earned it its status and fortune. But they do not come in the form of bags. Ms Prada is not that kind of revivalist. The fabric she made famous is fashioned into sporty garments: blouson-like outerwear, as well as pants. It is interesting that rather than using the nylon for blazers (as she had done for the men’s wear in the past, and still does), she gives this gender-neutral fabric a feminine flourish—the tops are worn off-shoulder and the sleeves hang like deflated leg-o’-mutton.

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Typically Prada, few things are left as you’d expect. We like the play on different fabric weights: the sheer over sheer or completely opaque. Optical, too, are how the embellishments contrast each other, such as bejeweled sheer tops backgrounded by the blurred appliqués of the pieces below. This interplay of densities also yielded, in quite a few looks, multiple necklines in one outfit. It is tempting to dismiss this as a styling trick, but we’re inclined to believe that this is very much a deliberate design move, even if Ms Prada has always made her mixes uncalculated.

Relooking at the collection as stills, we thought that, while there is no doubt Prada is Prada, there is also some Miu Miu thrown in the mix—such as the off-beat girliness and the fondness of wearing coats with neckline splayed. It’s tempting to think that somehow bridging the season means bringing the sibling brands together. The Prada customer is also very likely a Miu Miu customer.

And it did also cross our mind that holidaymakers may find what Prada proposes to be too effort-driven. Assuming this is targeted at the resort-bound market, we’re not sure there are that many women who would spend precious time putting on these delicate layers and multi-strand neck wear instead of frolicking on the beach or exploring the hillside. Or maybe there are. Anna dell Russo, we suspect, enjoys her holidays—make-up, get-up, et al.

Photos: Prada

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Fashion Is The Thing With Feathers

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Has Prada bought a plumasserie? You would have thought so. Last season’s marabou and this season’s ostrich: Miuccia Prada must have been conducting her own Conference of the Birds. For certain, these are not the feathers favoured by Frederick Lee. Still, there are a lot more feathers in this collection than usual, no?

It’s not just the sway of feathers. There is the shake of leather fringes and the beaded ones too: visual distraction that are more akin to what showgirls wear than what Prada used to propose women don. These attachments are not just ornamentation since they are not static. Clothes have always had a kinesiological aspect to them. Prada thus adds more movement to garments with embellishments that swing and swag: the feathers bordered seams and hems, and trimmed shoes. They’re very much a part of the drag queen’s playbook. Or a coquette’s arsenal of tricks.

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Is this then a statement on the relationship between frou-frou and femininity? Prada started its ready-to-wear line in 1988 with fairly lady-like looks. However, rather than go all ‘femmey’, to borrow an L word, the brand has banked on its penchant for the offbeat—namely fabrics that have come to be known as awful since they seemed to be based on ’70s wallpaper and the colour of puke. Then came ornamentation usually associated with women for whom baubles and bling mean a womanly ideal. Paired with Prada’s gawky silhouette, the look is far from, say, Michael Kor’s lady-like, or glamour.

At the same time, Miuccia Prada has not let up on the ugly-pretty (or pretty ugly, if that’s how you see it) aesthetic that the brand has built itself on. Over-sized jewellery and now double rows of feather and fringes (oh, and furry belts) may seem to be on par with Gucci (ornamentation is always big in Italy), but the near-excess is mostly tempered with Prada’s pairing of prints and shapes. This season, there’s the illustrations of bombshells (isn’t that very Dolce & Gabbana?) by Robert E, McGinnis, who’s known for his cover drawings for the James Bond books of the ’60s and the movie poster of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. We’re not clear who really likes wearing an illustration of a person on her body, but Prada is fond of incorporating icon-like images in their clothes.

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Then there are the deliberately not-sleek shapes. Of the latest collection, to note is the proportion of the lapels of the coats (in corduroy, no less!). The drop notch lapel is large, with the upper half so huge that it falls like a sailor’s collar in the rear. One of the ensembles that we find very appealing is the twin set, a-sweater-and-cardigan pair that is very much associated with early Prada. Here, the return is dotty granny, but with the charm of little sister playing with mom’s clothes. That means the pairing isn’t matchy-matchy, as twin sets are known to be, but as diverse as pulling things from the wardrobes of two different people. We like the a-tad-too-big cardigan—beaded too—that is teamed with cowry-shell necklace. How deliciously gauche is that?

Despite media reports that Prada isn’t doing well on the stocks exchange and on the shop floor, Miuccia Prada isn’t succumbing to market demands. This is not to say that what she does isn’t commercial. In fact, Prada fans will be able to find those items that they have always loved in the collection, and still be able to uncover those pieces they do not own. Although she stays true to her aesthetic convictions, Miuccia Prada knows how to have a bit of fun, too. And, simultaneously, have a tease at well-loved—or frown-upon—feminine frills.

Photos: Prada

Oh, Prada, Ong Shunmugam’s Been There, Done That!

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A Singapore-based label showed it before an Italian. How about that!

At its recent spring/summer 2017 presentation in Milan, Prada sent out five sets of samfus, distinguished by kitsch and a healthy dose of camp. For fans of Ong Shunmugam, Prada’s take on the samfu (衫裤 or shanku in Mandarin) is as new as frog buttons since their preferred homegrown brand had shown the Oriental top-and-pants combo before—in 2014 and 2015. See, Prada, Ong Shunmugam is ahead of you.

Why does it matter? Because Ong Shunmugam’s designer/founder Priscilla Tsu-Jen Shunmugam is the darling of the local media, not to mention the Singapore Tourism Board, all completely charmed by her revivalist approach to modern sartorial reinterpretation. It isn’t really known if her popularity (or 2015 Her World Young Woman Achiever award) has been good for business. Yet, this Malaysian daughter of Singaporean fashion can now be affirmed as the visionary that so many inexplicably think she is. Prada’s samfus, several seasons later than Ong Shunmugam’s, validate the latter’s “rethink of traditional garments”, and, possibly, posit the brand was right all along.

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The remake of the samfu cannot, of course, be considered new. Designers of the West—Giorgio Armani, one among many—have looked at the cheongsum’s much dismissed (and dissed) sister when they cast their source of inspiration to China, or when they think they can sell noodles to the Chinese. The thing is, for many here in Singapore, the samfu is closely linked to the early years of our country’s founding and not the later boom years of stupendous economic growth. The samfu was mostly worn by the working class—amahs (or majie) and Samsui women, not primarily by ladies of leisure or admirable financial standing. Until Ong Shunmugam came jauntily along. It is, however, uncertain if their samfus enjoyed widespread adoption.

One of the most visible samfu appearances on the world stage of recent years was the USD1,190, limited-edition Michael Kors version worn by Grace Coddington at the 2015 Met Gala to celebrate the opening of China: Through the Looking Glass. The “pajama set”, as the US media called it, stood out in a glittery sea of sheer and body-hugging gowns that have become gala-night standards of red carpet habitues. To the Americans, Ms Coddington’s choice of dress for “the Super Bowl of social fashion events” may be exotic or, according to the Hollywood Reporter, “dreamy”, but to many of us in Asia, it was, at best, underwhelming.

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So the Italians now show the Americans how to do what is essentially an outfit of Chinese origin. Ong Shunmugam could have assumed the mantle, but maybe it is not easy to manoeuvre from Chip Bee Gardens. Moreover, to go in front is possibly not on the cards for the 6-year-old brand that, until recently, operated like an alteration service in the basement of Hong Leong Building, mainly an office tower. Prada, on the other hand, has always been the pied piper of fashion, and they have led many a willing into their unconventional but charming, surprise-filled world. To followers, Prada always plays a hypnotic tune.

More importantly, Prada has Miuccia Prada, Ong Shunmugam does not. One ignores convention, the other sticks to the commonplace. The difference between the two—not that comparison is in order—is really chronology: Prada is about what’s next; Ong Shunmugam what’s now. Where wit and whimsy are characteristic of Prada (check out the flared cheongsum with breast pocket!), it is, even if it sounds censorious, the opposites, banality and nothingness, that has clung to Ong Shunmugam.

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Prada’s introduction of a two-piece very much associated with southern China, though now outmoded, is not cultural revivalism, but in the wake of Marc Jacob’s recent New York Fashion Week show of white models with dreadlocks, a do that quickly spawned unwelcome online backlash and Internet memes, is Prada as guilty of what the Americans deem “cultural appropriation”? The Europeans, familiar with the adapting of design codes not from their own culture for re-imagining, knowledge, and expression—Chinoiserie, dating back to the 18th century, comes to mind—are probably less concerned with American sensitivities born of US race-relations woes. The thing is, fashion has always intersected with other fields—art, for one, not just culture. In a globalised world, cross-pollination—the way the sanguine among us prefer to call it—can yield happy hybrids and ethically diverse entities.

And beauty too, such as Prada’s take on the samfu. Yet, for the brand that pitches “ugly is attractive” so seductively, there is subversive sophistication as well. Sure, it is hard to imagine any Chinese woman wanting marabou fringe for the seams of sleeves and pant legs (“Because it was the most silly piece to put with reality,” Ms Prada told Suzy Menkes), unless she is Fan Bingbing, a diva who could carry herself with the delicacy of a songstress of yore, who would not look too self-indulgent, as she lounges, between sets, in a backstory-filled changing room. Prada, in Milan, can evoke the bygone extravagance of a faraway world, even if it is more Pearl S Buck than Pearl River Delta.

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However appealing their samfus, Prada does not share Ong Shunmugam’s noble intent of restoring the distinction and conspicuousness of ethnic dress. It does not crusade for the tag of “an Asian label, by an Asian designer, for Asian women”. In fact, it mines from dress styles that span continents for consumers everywhere. It does not trumpet the need to use cloths of historical importance, but those fabrics that speak of its past dalliances with ugly prints and unappetising colours. It does not need to cross Asian lands to score traditional textiles to lend authenticity to its experiments with Asian dress forms.

Unlike Ong Shunmugam that wears Asian-ness like a badge, authenticity obviously isn’t Prada’s main aim. Although the tops of the samfus—worn belted—are beautifully cut close to the actual garment (the piping and button treatment are graphic counterpoint to the busy print of the fabric), the pants are veritably too tailored, which, of course, run counter to the pyjama-bottom-like floppiness of Ong Shunmugam’s fus. Prada’s foray into the past fashions of Chinese womenfolk is possibly a token embodiment of Asian modernism while Ong Shunmugam’s is so steep in cultural references that they have a contrived anthropological ring to them.

Prada, you’ll never surpass Ong Shunmugam’s deft hand for the hackneyed.

Photos: Prada

It’s The Face That Matters

Eddie Redmayne for Prada AW 2016The Craig McDean-lensed Prada Men’s autumn/winter campaign just up outside the Prada store at ION Orchard. Photo: Galerie Gombak

Eddie Redmayne may not make the most beautiful face of a girl, Danish or not, but he sure has the visage of a guy that could elevate men’s wear that, for others, is difficult to pull off. His first-time pose for Prada’s autumn/winter 2016 images speaks volumes, for both actor and brand.

His is not the rugged handsomeness of the Hemsworth brothers, nor the adorability of Zac Efron; his is somewhere between. Although media outlets such as Pop Sugar has called him “really, really, ridiculously good-looking”, Mr Redmayne does not have the look that promps one to compare him to a Greek god.

Still, he has an attractiveness that makes him compelling to watch, or take home to meet the matriarch. The expressive eyes that twinkle and the nearly-a-smile that can calm rage: just those are enough to communicate fashion that has, for many men, still remained somewhat on the fringe. Prada is, after all, not Hugo Boss. With Mr Redmayne, you sense that his unconventional looks is a charming counterpoint to Prada’s country-gentleman-meet-worldly-adventurer, one with an active Instagram account.

Eddie Redmayne for Prada AW 2016 Pic 2Eddie Redmayne gives Prada’s distinctive looks a boyish charm. Photos: Prada/Craig McDean

Prada’s thespian-as-model is not a new casting direction. For the last autumn/winter season, they’ve worked with Scoot McNairy (Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice), Michael Shannon (Elvis and Nixon), and Tye Sheridan (X Men: Apocalypse). If you go further back, there were unconventional faces too: Adrien Brody (The Pianist) Joaquin Phoenix (so Prada-ish in Her), and Matthew Beard (The Imitation Game). And actors don’t only appear on screen. On their catwalks of the past, there were Gary Oldman, Jamie Bell, and Tim Roth.

In their casting choice, Prada has been known to favour face over body. Even with professional models, they prefer a countenance with speaking, soulful eyes to a body with seductive build. To be sure, Prada is no Eros-saluting Versace! It is not beyond imagination that Muccia Prada—with a PhD in political science from the University of Milan—would be drawn to men with a face that suggests intellectual might. Strength of mind, as many women will say, is as appealing as potency of clothes.

The first drop of Prada’s autumn/winter 2016 collection is in store

The Comeback Of The Crew Neck

Prada crew neckPrada’s basic tee with a high crew neck. Photo: Jim Sim

During the pre-Chinese New Year shopping season in January this year, Prada discreetly released a few T-shirts with Oriental graphics to welcome the Year of the Monkey. There’s nothing extraordinary about that considering that Prada has been rather receptive to the needs of its Asian customers. What was interesting, however, was the style of the tee, particularly the neckline. Prada brought back something we had not seen for a while—not since the ’80s: the crew neck.

Once associated with basic T-shirts from basic wear brands such Anvil, the crew neck lost its appeal some time in the ’90s during the rise of the fashion tee—a style that has a slimmer fit (hence, also known as fashion fit). At that time, makers of undergarments such as Jockey were shifting the high neck line of the crew neck downwards to cater to those who prefer the tee unseen when shirts worn over them are not fastened to the last button at the neck.

When designers started introducing T-shirts as part of their merchandise mix, the crew neck went through a redesign too. As it became fashionable to wear the tee fitted—oftentimes tight—it was no longer attractive to sport the traditional fit that is snug around the neck. The rib-knit of the circular neck—once an inch wide (2.5cm)—became skinny or as narrow as 0.4 inch (1cm). In addition, the neckline is enlarged so that the round spreads over the shoulder. Towards the Noughties, as the Rick Owens aesthetic gripped a generation of Goths eager to shed the tight-fitting T-shirts of a previous era, the crew neck seemed destined for obscurity as the stretched, loose, and skinny-ribbed tee became a popular choice.

Uniqlo Crew Neck TeeUniqlo’s crew-neck T-shirts. Photos: Uniqlo

It requires no reminding that the T-shirt started as an undergarment and was worn beneath the shirt. Its popularity was augmented in the 1930s by American military men who saw them as a comfortable second skin beneath their uniforms. So meant to be worn under an outer that even as late as the ’60s, it was unusual to see G.I.-issued T-shirts worn alone, so much so that in Japan, during the Occupation, the locals were given to giggles when they saw American soldiers walking around simply in tees clinging to torso.

Just as we thought the traditional high-neck, crew-neck T-shirt is fast fading from popular styles and our fashion consciousness, it’s made a conspicuous comeback. And you know it’s here to infiltrate our wardrobes when even mass labels such as Uniqlo are introducing them (kudos to the Japanese label for being on trend). Uniqlo’s one-inch wide crew neck, although placed relatively high does not hug the neck uncomfortably. What’s especially fetching is that this classic neckline is paired with the new loose and boxy silhouette—the shape to have and to wear.

The crew neck’s re-appearance makes sense. Aesthetically, it is attractive when seen on the baggier, almost scrub-like shape of the tee, and is proportionately right in relation to the wider bodice and, unsurprisingly, wider and longer sleeves. In fact, with the drop-shoulder—a style of shoulder that has its seam shifted to the upper arm rather than positioned at the end of the shoulder—on tees now prevalent, the crew neck makes for a smarter-looking casual top. It’s time to resurrect those old Fruit of the Loom T-shirts and pretend the ’80s never left us.

 

The Slip-On Sneaker Slips Into The Big League

Slip-onsThe comfortable ease that the slip-on sneaker projects. Shoes: Flesh Imp. Photo: Jim Sim

By Shu Xie

The first cotton-canvas slip-ons bought for me was in my first year of primary school. The giver, my mother, called them “lazy shoes”. When I was curious enough to know why, she told me that only people who are too lazy to tie shoe laces wear them. Whether that was directed at me, I wasn’t sure. Certain, too, I wasn’t if that made sense, but it was lazy shoes for me outside school throughout much of my pre-pubescent years. When I was old enough to think that perhaps what my mother said was baloney, I was informed by a magazine article that, in fact, any footwear that allows one to only slide the feet into them is considered “lazy”. Somehow, I was still not convinced. Why humiliate the shoe when it is the wearer who is lazy?

These days, while shoes such as the loafer can be classified as lazy, they’re known by their better-regarded names even when, in the case of the loafer, one would usually think of an idler. In fact, the moniker has very much lost its ring in an age of even lazier footwear such as Crocs. These days, the cotton slip-ons that so many of us have worn when we were young are elevated to “sneaker” status. If you know your kicks, and I believe you do, cotton-canvas slip-ons—almost synonymous with summers of the West—have been upgraded to “premium” versions. Online and among knowing consumers, they’re “slip-on sneakers”.

However highly perched they may seem, these easy-to-wear shoes have, in the past two years, become increasingly ubiquitous, even when the tennis shoe—defined by Adidas’s Stan Smith—seems more visible than any other casual footwear. If the tennis shoe is the ultimate plain sneaker, than the slip-on—best represented by the skate wear brand Vans—is the country cousin, untethered to urban fabulousness, bare to the point of boring. That, however, wasn’t how things played out.

Dienme slip-onsSlip-on sneakers don’t only come in plain cotton canvas; they’re now attractively patterned too. Shoe: Diemme; jeans: Uniqlo. Photo: Jim Sim

Two years ago, when I revisited the slip-on sneaker and bought a pair of Diemme ‘Garda’ in woven leather (tight ketupat style), I realised that the “lazy shoe” was no longer indolent on the design front. By then, brands such as Kenzo were putting on retail shelves their versions in eye-popping prints. Increasingly, more shoe makers climbed aboard the bandwagon, from Christian Louboutin with full-on studs to Saint Laurent with gaudy leopard spots, illustrating, once again, the bubble-up effect that has washed over luxury fashion.

The slip-on sneaker’s resurgence can be attributed to the persistent presence of Vans’s classic slip-on. And the design has not changed much. Comprising a vamp and tongue as one piece (and usually piped with the same or contrasting fabric near the ankle) and a quarter that goes under, the slip-on sneaker is best characterised by the side elastic inserts slot between the two. These allow the foot to be slipped in easily and also to help secure the shoe. Other details include a usually padded ankle collar, heel counter (or a heel tab, but never two together), and a foxing stripe (a mark of vulcanisation when heat and pressure is applied to bond the upper to the sole). The sole is usually made of rubber and is about 3-cm thick (women’s version can come in platform height). What amazes me is the slip-on sneakers’ ability to escape massive technological advances that have affected almost every athletic shoe. It has not even embraced air soles.

Slip-on sneaks in the MRTSeen in the MRT train: if even a pair of slip-on sneakers with a strong graphic upper is still too plain, bejewelled turn-up cuffs will do the trick. Photo: Jim Sim

If looks can be deceiving, then the slip-on sneaker is. It may appear comfy on the outside, but when worn, the internals can be annoyingly abrasive. It does not matter if under the vamp, it is lined or not. The main problem, in my experience tracking down the best pair, is in the way the elastic insert is attached to the vamp and quarter. When it is sandwiched between the upper and the lining, you won’t feel anything scratchy (and that still depends on the stitching). If it is stitched directly to the underside of the vamp and is exposed to the skin of the foot, there’s no guarantee you won’t feel anything. This is a problem not exclusive to cheaper shoes. A pair of MSGM slip-ons that I love was hate at first wear; its bite worse than an annoyed, temperamental terrier. While the hitch can be solved by a pair of low socks, or what Muji calls “foot cover”, finding a pair that doesn’t slide underfoot is another charmless challenge.

The Vans Classic Slip-On (or style #48, as it’s known to retailers) has a rather brief history. It was introduced in 1977 although the company was started in 1966. In less than 5 years, a revolutionary checkerboard pattern was introduced and it soon became “iconic”. But it was the 1982 film Fast Time at Ridgemont High that set the shoe on its upward trajectory. In the movie’s trailer, the character Jeff Spicoli, played by Sean Penn, memorably hit himself in the head with a pair of Vans, the checkerboard version, no less, and with the shoe box prominently placed on his lap, allowing the brand message “Off the Wall” to talk to the audience directly. I didn’t know then as I know now: that could be an early form of product place.

The slip-on sneaker has since refused to go into obscurity, lasting till now, even when they may pale next to a pair of Ultra Boost. Their popularity is enhanced when so many other brands are willing to work with Vans to release collaborations. In the end, it requires no styling skills to challenge Rachel Zoe to make a pair work with jeans, chinos, shorts, skirts, dresses, or just swimwear. The SOTD editor and I went shopping recently, and these caught our eyes:

Flesh Imp Laird Black

Flesh Imp Laird Black ShoeFlesh Imp, one of Singapore’s better known and oldest streetwear labels, has taken the classic slip-on a notch up by introducing a mock-croc version with a finish that belies, to my surprise, its pocket-friendly price. Unfortunately, the sizes do run a little small.

SGD65, available at Flesh Imp, Orchard Cineleisure

Sperry Top-Sider Striper Chambray Slip-On Navy Palm

Sperry Top-SiderThis is not exactly new since it was launched last season, but since palm prints are so on-trend, this pair by boat shoe maker Sperry Top-Sider has to be included. What’s also interesting is the cotton chambray upper, so perfect with a shirt (or dress) of similar fabric, minus the print, of course.

SGD89, available at Tangs at Tang Plaza

Supra Cuba Navy Stripe-White

Supra Cuba Navy White Stripes

I am not sure if this cotton slip-on by skateboard shoe label Supra is meant to look nautical, but I am attracted to the brushed-on stripes. More appealing, in fact, is the two-in-one. At first look, you see a pair of lace-ups, but then you notice a small discreet loop at the side—above the elastic insert—that allows the laces to be removed so that you’ll get a pair of classic canvas slip-on.

SGD109, available at Bratpack, Mandarin Gallery

Patrick Muret.M

Patric MuretIn 1990, French shoe label Patrick started a made-in-Japan production line and this pair, the Muret.M, is one of the recent outputs. On the white canvas are quirky drawings of people at leisure that capture a certain joie de vivre. This shoe is, unfortunately, sized for women only.

SGD199, available at Star 360, Wheelock Place

Closed Cotton Slip-On Allover Print

Closed slip-onThey’re known more for their jeans than their footwear, yet this season’s small drop of slip-ons, to me, just cuts it. Closed, the Italian label now owned by Germans, has incorporated Japanese wave graphics onto this canvas shoe without heady Oriental overtones.

SGD239, available at Robinsons at the Hereen

Spingle Move SPM 179

Spingle MoveHiroshima-based Jap brand Spingle Move is known for incredibly comfortable shoes that only came about after the maker “studied the foot type of the Japanese”. It’s quite safe, then, to say that the shoes will suit generally broader Asian feet. While they make familiar-looking slip-ons, this is the one that caught my fancy. I guess I am attracted to the unusual vulcanised rubber outsole: they say Zaha Hadid to me.

SGD239, available at Star 360, Wheelock Place

Converse Deck Star ’67 Woven Suede

Converse Deck StarConverse is so associated with the cotton-canvas Chuck Taylor All-Stars that I find it strange holding a pair of rather premium looking woven suede slip-on from the brand in my hand. But shoes don’t perch on palms, so I slip them on. The moulded sock liner does its job beautifully: they’re supremely comfortable.

SGD279, available at Star 360, Wheelock Place

Disney X Master of Arts Mickey Portrait MD 07

Master of Arts X DisneyAlthough this is part of the fall 2015 collection, it is still a warm-weather shoe, made more adorable with Mickey’s countenance blown up large over both sides of the leather upper. This Florentine brand is known for their extreme patterns and vivid colour palette, but it’s with Disney’s most loved mouse that they have brought their leather slip-ons down closer to earth.

SGD259, available at Robinsons at the Hereen

Y-3 Laver

Y3 slip-onYohji Yamamoto’s partnership with Adidas is never about the straightforward. Even with a shoe as basic as the slip-on sneaker, Y-3 offers one of the rare few that looks technically advanced. The mesh accent is a nice contrast if the neon, computer-generated graphic is not enough. The perforation on the rear of the outsole reminds me of another architect: Tadao Ando.

SGD469, available at Y-3, Mandarin Gallery

Bottega Veneta Blue Cotton Denim

Bottega Veneta slip-onWhile Bottega Veneta’s slip-on may look the plainest among those featured here, they are appealing because they’re made of a cotton that will never lose its appeal: denim. Here, the denim is rather raw, cut as a one-piece upper, and luxuriously finished on the top edges with leather piping. Those who must have Bottega Veneta’s signature intrecciato woven leather will be glad to know that it appears as an inset within a four-leaf clover shape, located at the centre of the heel counter.

SGD800, available at Bottega Veneta boutiques

Gucci Tian Slip-On Sneaker

Gucci sneakersJust as you thought the double-G logo-ed Gucci canvas is a distant memory, Alessandro Michele has revived it. The recognisable fabric is, however, not plain as the unadorned original. Here, used on its ‘Tian’ slip-on, the canvas is painted with Oriental fowl, flora and fauna. I find the designs alluring and imagine Zhang Yimou’s costumer to use them if the director would film the lives of the rich, Chinese bourgeoisie rather than the fashion-deprived proletariat.

SGD800, available for men and women at Gucci, Paragon and The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands

Prada Ben-Day Dot-Print

Prada slip-onFrom the side profile, Prada’s slip-on has the elegance of a loafer, making it moderately dressier than the casual others. Befitting the brand’s kooky graphics is the print on the calf-leather upper: arrows and bunnies, delineated from Ben-day dots. It smacks of art, rather than street cred, and it’ll be especially meaningful for those who appreciate the legacy of Benjamin Henry Day, Jr, I reckon.

SGD1,070, available at Prada boutiques

Dior ‘Happy’

Dior slip-onsThis comes hot on the heels of last year’s crystal-encrusted “Dior Fusion” (shoe that a 21st century empress dowager, I imagine, would certainly wear!) With a name that suggests high spirits, this season’s slip-on sneaker is truly a joyful shoe to behold. The back half of nappa seems to embrace the front half of dark denim, on which crystals flowers are stitched as if strewn.

SGD1,250 (women’s only), available at Dior boutiques

Christian Louboutin Roller-Boat Flat Toile

Christian Louboutin Roller-BoatIf someone took a bunch of iced gems—those biscuits topped with sugar swirls that we ate when we were kids—and threw them over a pair of Louboutin slip-ons, this is what you’ll get! Instead of the usual silver, gold or black studs that has made Louboutin footwear so incomprehensibly desirable, coloured points in Crayola colours are now enticing those who can’t get enough of all-over micro-hardware on their shoes. And over on-trend Hawaiian print to boot!

SGD1,700, available at Christian Louboutin, Takashimaya S.C.

All product photos of shoes courtesy of the respective brands

Go Inside

Prada cartoons AW 2015

If you’ve always thought that there’s a secret world inside Prada, you’re not wrong. Not quite the Pandora of James Cameron’s imagination, but still as mesmerising are the strange microcosms in the new animated shorts that were released in their entirety on Prada’s website last week. Titled Inside Me, which also happens to be their new bag-within-a-bag handbag, they’re nothing like what you’ve seen orchestrated by the Italian house. By our books, they’re sublime.

Conceived and filmed to go with the new Inside Bag release, the film is a six-parter (of which A Kind of Light truly stood out for its Inception-style cityscape). They are, however, not Prada’s first attempt at fashion films. In fact, it’s not even the first dedicated to bags. That honour goes to The Makeout episode of Autumn de Wilde’s The Postman Dreams, released early this year to promote the Galleria bag. Nor are the six the debut of animated films. In 2008, Prada released the stunning, collage-y, painterly, 6-minute Fallen Shadows by director James Lima that articulated their autumn/winter collection of that year.

Digital fashion film has been the new-media genre of choice for the brand since its winning foray into shorts in 2005 with Ridley Scott’s Thunder Perfect Mind that launched its new eponymous fragrance. Since then, our favourites have been Yang Fudong’s First Spring, with models levitating and tight-rope walking above a Shanghai street and Roman Polanski’s A Therapy, starring Helena Bonham Carter and Ben Kinsley in a strange treatment session.

And now, it’s Inside Me. Once again directed by James Lima, these animated escapes are captivating, whimsical, and dreamy—reasons to take a break from staring too long at an Excel sheet on your notebook screen.

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 

Dress Watch: The Bows Make The Frock

Prada bow dress

This season, bows are big. It is a wonder that they haven’t reached their present popularity sooner, given women’s predilection for girlish looks. A bow, as Margaret Thatcher supposedly said, is “rather softening” and she should know, having adopted the pussy cat bow as part of her Downing Street uniform for years. For a public figure who did not downplay her iron lady persona, the irony is not lost. This softening effect could also be the reason Alessandro Michele at Gucci adopted the collar-tied-as-a-bow to give the Florentine label its new-found cool. Hedi Slimane may have revived the pussy cat bow for his Saint Laurent debut in 2013 as anti-chic statement, but its present-day cousins are more in concert with the all-pervading good-girl aesthetic. Prettiness, like femininity, has a long life.

However, the bows we’re more attracted to are not the floppy ones, but the firmer bows seen in quite a few of the dresses from Prada’s Autumn/Winter 2015 collection. Miuccia Prada has always treated surface embellishment in unconventional ways, but her bows are quite simply unlike anything you’d expect from something nearly always associated with hair accessories or Ferragamo’s ‘Vara’ pumps. In fact, hers are more akin to courtly regalia. So eye-catching and unusually placed are Prada’s bows that the dresses affixed with them have become a September-issue cover favourite.

Prada slip dress on mag covers AW 2015

Prada’s slip dress with bows on the bodice appears on the September issues of British Harper’s Bazaar (featuring Rosie Huntington-Whitely) and Vogue Japan (featuring Katy Perry)

The bows appear in pairs on shoulders and on the bodice; they impart a whiff of royal elegance, if not pomp, yet they seem rather girlish, too—debutante-girly. Up close, you’ll see that not all the bows are made of grosgrain ribbon as one might expect. Some are in the same fabric as the dress, some are in fur! Regardless, the bows are fashioned in such a way that they’re not entirely flat. In effect, they’re triple layers of confection. We’re partial to some of the colours used such as the one in the main photograph (top)—an off-beat green only Prada will use, and on that dusty blue!

The bows may distract a viewer from the dress, but it’s the dress that deserves attention too. Miuccia Prada makes simple shapes arresting, and she deftly incorporates the subtlest detail to make even a shift shine. Here, the waist is placed near the bust line, and that dimple of a pleat on the waistline to replace the vertical bust dart—that’s not only clever, it’s cute, augmenting the overall sweetness of the dress, even in the form of a cleavage-baring slip. Not surprising, then, that the UK’s Telegraph called the series the “dress that’s defining the new season”.

Prada bow dresses, from SGD4,670, are available at the Ion Orchard boutique

Hello To The Hawaiian Shirt

Prada Hawaiian shirt SS 2014

Prada’s Hawaiian shirt from Spring/Summer 2014

Inside an MRT train on the east-west line, two young guys sharing an iPad Air were looking at Hawaiian shirts on the ASOS website. Their fascination was at odds with their geeky get-up. “Nice, hor,” said one. “Will I look good in this?” he asked, genuinely interested. “No,” said the other, “you’ll look very uncle.” Let’s just ignore the lack of deference for the generation probably over-influenced by Elvis Presley in Blue Hawaii. When youngsters seek fashion advice from other youngsters, they get as much help as Lilo got from Stitch (on the Hawaiian island of Kaua’i, no less!). In a quick, nearly rude reply, a very real, appealing, and practical trend was knocked down.

Let’s just assume that the second guy had not seen the current profusion of shirts with Polynesian flowers or tropical fruits. To him, we owe this intro.

This season’s trend is really led by Prada. Their Hawaiian shirts are classic short-sleeved dress shirts, but the prints are all picture postcard. Prada is never known to do anything so vanilla; their interpretation takes the casualness of old-fashioned aloha shirts down several notches by fashioning them with a dressier collar (instead of a stand-less spread), and rather than repeated patterns of tropical blooms, theirs, such as this (above), is a compelling composition of islanders rowing malias, as if off to a confrontation with an unseen tribe. And those painterly clouds, they’re heavy with art-cred!

Uniqlo tee & shirt SS 2014Uniqlo Iolani Hawaiian Classics comprise of shirts and tees

Prada’s Hawaii high is destined to trickle down to the masses. Right on cue is Uniqlo. Taking to collaboration rather than innovation, they paired with 61 year-old Hawaiian shirt maker Iolani Sportswear for a collection of tees, shirts, and shorts that sport the manufacturer’s vintage prints. While Uniqlo’s marketing images are a tad too literal in their interpretation of the current aloha cool (leis on the head? Surely not!), the co-branded separates can be put together to effect the print-on-print look so evident in fashion mags these days.

Hawaiian shirts, also known as aloha shirts, were really souvenir buys American holiday makers to the island brought back home with them in the 1950s. (If you need a parallel, it’s like Singaporean men going to Bangkok for the first time and returning with Singha Beer singlets). The shirts have, in fact, been around since the 1930s, but it wasn’t until the Fifties when pop stars—from Elvis Presley to Frank Sinatra—wore them with such regularity that a trend was spawned. It is, therefore, not hard to understand why some of the young today associate the Hawaiian shirt with avuncular tastes. But the fate of the Hawaiian shirts did change in the spring-summer season of 2000.

Jil Sander, in a departure from her usual solid colours, introduced Hawaiian shirts for both men and women that year. The women’s pieces in barely-there colours teamed with skirts in aloha prints of pastel shades were especially well received. They generated a mad search for vintage Hawaiian shirts, especially those by RJC (Robert J Clancey) who made some for the Japanese market with the fabrics inside out so that they yielded a much softer colouring. It was a make-over for kitsch, and one that brought to the wearer a smile as wide as a tribal Tiki’s.

Prada cotton Hawaiian shirt, SGD1,250,  is available at Prada stores. Uniqlo Iolani Hawaiian Classics, SGD 29.90 for shirts and SGD 24.90 for tees, are available at Uniqlo Bugis+