Life in Shanghai, Thus Far

October 19, 2016

by Gracia Ventus

Issey Miyake HaaT

Some days ago I was wearing black billowy clothes - this Issey Miyake Haat coat over a floor-length black linen dress - that would look appropriate while flying on a broomstick. It's too bad such magic doesn't exist so I took a short neon orange bike instead at a cost of US$0.20 a ride, thanks to a thriving bike-sharing system in Shanghai. Though the bikes are clunky and hardly considered efficient, they do get one across short distances rather well. So there I was, cycling along absent-mindedly when I spotted the traffic police stopping an unsuspecting rider on an electric bike. That was when I realised I am on a no bike road. In a split second I took the decision to make a very ungraceful U-turn to escape the dreaded fine. As I cursed and panted to avoid getting caught, the incongruence between my clumsy exertions and elegant clothes were hilarious to say the least.

It's been ten months since I first moved to Shanghai. Despite being ethnically Chinese and knowing how to speak the language to a certain extent, immersing oneself in this city has not been a walk in the park. Implicit rules are more important than explicit ones, so one needs to learn how to navigate through them like the locals do. Every small victory achieved here feels like big accomplishments elsewhere, such as negotiating on the amount of my traffic fine (yes I was caught once!), or negotiating, reading and signing rent contract in Chinese; this after looking at more than ten flats which gave me a glimpse into how Shanghainese shape their homes. It's been a steep learning curve with a long way to go, but there's no better place to grow than in a foreign land outside of one's comfort zone.

Issey Miyake HaaT
Wearing: Issey Miyake Haat coat; random shirt dress; can't remember the trousers; Jil Sander shoes

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The Dysfunctionality of Fashion

October 14, 2016

by Gracia Ventus

Junya Watanabe Parka

Junya Watanabe N-3B parka and sweater; Comme des Garçons trousers

I spend a lot of time waiting at airports. It used to bother me but now I've come to accept it as a part of my life. I have learned to enjoy the sights and sounds of humanity passing by, strangers from wonderful foreign lands on their way to other foreign lands; observing how us humans, despite all our flaws, are able to put aside our differences to work together. We have invented airplanes, hangars, motor vehicles, and majestic architecture while making sure that a million and one things operate smoothly so we can defy gravity to traverse through the skies. Watching the plane I'm supposed to board taxiing into the hangar gives me a slight sense of joy. Oh it's here on time! Oh no it's late, ah well that's normal. When one flies frequently in and out of China, an hour of delay is miraculous. Two is almost normal. Once I was even stuck on the tarmac in Hong Kong for three hours, waiting for the plane to be given clearance to fly into Shanghai. Not having a choice but to wait allows me to focus on writing, which seems to be how most of my essays are churned out these days. However, there are times when waiting and letting things take its due course still make me feel anxious because they represent things that fall outside of my control.

We know that change is the few constants in life, but we have difficulty accepting the kind of change in life that is not in line with our expectations. This is especially true in fashion, where people always want change at the quickest possible pace. To let time pass aimlessly is to let dollars and cents slip out of our fingertips. Dare I say that this is how our beloved capitalist system has shaped our mindset.

Comme des Garçons Ribbons

Comme des Garçons Crushed vest, ribbon trousers and sneakers

Fashion strives to innovate at the quickest possible speed, buckling under the pressures of the commercial system in the age of social media. As the pursuit of money dominates the power dynamics between commercialism and creativity, the relationship between them begins to turn toxic. Money is the angry guy who has no patience for the undulating course of creativity; it ignores the fact that as with all artistic endeavours, there's bound to be ups and downs. It manipulates and abuses creativity for its own benefit because creativity is at its mercy, ie. We can’t make clothes when we don’t have money. In reality, money is desperately dependent on creativity in order to continue existing.

As the tolerance for this dysfunctionality grows, this toxic relationship becomes the new normal. Hence why we feel it’s perfectly okay to have six seasons a year, or that Zara is producing new (unoriginal) designs at such a fast pace. When money rules the game, commercialism takes the driving seat. This toxic codependency between money and creativity has resulted in the game of revolving door in which designers are booted out or voluntarily quit every other season, and this door is spinning ever quicker. Designers are not given any room to breathe or make mistakes lest sales figure falls. The circus of who’s in and who’s out becomes the must-watch spectacle, and brands are using it as a way to gain eyeballs instead of empowering design teams and fixing problems from within. Every corporate fashion house hopes to snag a Philo or a Slimane, but more often than not it becomes the tragedy that is Justin O’Shea and Brioni.

How do we even begin to slow down? We have been conditioned to expect new ideas every six months from fashion brands in order for them to stay relevant. Considering the exponential increase in fashion labels out there, our limited attention span will never be able to process everything that is presented. It is no wonder that there are many fresh ideas from young labels that go unnoticed. They do not have the marketing resources to build the right brand image that will cater to the right audience every single season.

Imagine a scenario where brands can choose to showcase their work whenever they feel the need to. Designers would have more time to refine their ideas and recuperate. And as consumers we can focus our attention and engage with individual brands on a deeper level. It’s a system that is similar to another commercially driven industry like music. If musicians are allowed to dictate their own schedules, wouldn’t it be possible for fashion to do the same? Designers should be given the right to take part in or skip shows whenever necessary. Some have chosen to do so, but this is more of an exception than the norm.

There are certainly potential downsides to be considered when overhauling a broken system. While independent designers can choose to dictate their own schedules, creative directors are still under the thumbs of their corporate overlords. The idea of skipping a season would be seen as a dent in their yearly revenue, and no shareholders would be happy to hear that. And if an independent designer is only able to produce a collection annually, would that be an economically sustainable strategy? All of these concerns highlight the modern corporatisation of fashion and the influence of money over creativity. One way to get around this problem is to release an entire year’s collection one small batch at a time, which would help to keep the designer in the spotlight a few times a year. Much like how a musician releases music videos several times a year to keep album sales going.

Let’s not forget the proverbial elephant the fashion industry is still unable to address. The main driving force of fashion’s ever-increasing pace is to counter Zara’s knockoff effects. As soon as an idea has been copied and circulated a thousand times on the interwebs, it becomes dated, forcing designers to come up with the next new thing. For corporate houses, this becomes a fight for revenue. For independent designers, it’s a fight for survival. The solution that I can think of is to amp up the See Now Buy Now concept. Designers and manufacturers would have to work hand in hand so only collections that can be produced within a week or two would be shown. It requires innovative production strategies and value chain management that can rival that of Toyota’s. The current situation is such that, instead of making technology work in our favour, we have abused it in a way that works against us, speeding up the pace of change that we can no longer cope with. If creativity were to assert itself in this game, garment manufacturing would be one of the areas to apply itself in. We are still sewing t-shirts the same way since its invention - by manually-operated sewing machine. While I’m not advocating for the complete automation of all areas production, such as hand embroideries or lace making, we can learn to be less dependent on conventional materials and methods.

Yohji Yamamoto Y's For Men

Y's for Men jacket; Yohji Yamamoto trousers; Comme des Garçons shoes

I am aware that these ideas are no more refined than the first sketch on a napkin. So many pitfalls, yet so much to gain. How broken does the system needs to be before everyone considers counter-intuitive ideas? We've gone so far down the rabbit hole that we are unable to imagine what a healthy relationship between profit and artistry would look like.

When I was lamenting the time wasted waiting for flights, my attitude led to unproductive behaviour stemming from agitation and impatience. But when I began to accept it, I learned to appreciate that space in time that allows me to slow down and observe, to read and write. In a similar way, slowing down the pace of fashion requires an adjustment in our entitled attitude. We as creators and consumers should push aside the pursuit of immense profit to make way for long-term economic and environmental sustainability. Most importantly, we need to advocate for an equilibrium in which designers are incentivised to do their best work while allowing consumers to engage with their creations in a meaningful capacity.

All items are available on ROSEN

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The Myth of Fashion As Self-Expression

September 8, 2016

by Gracia Ventus

Issey Miyake Bergdorf Goodman Ombre Coat

When I was younger I used to think that displaying one's tastes externally was cool, despite knowing that deep down inside I risked being uncool by wanting to be cool. However the compulsion was strong. I wore my Tool shirt with much pride, paired with the skinniest of jeans and the most hardcore of Harley Davidson boots. Ideally they should destroy someone's naked toes if I step on them. While my outlook remained the same, my interest gradually switched to fashion. I made sure people know of my hobby, which in itself is probably not a bad thing because every human craves for validation. But I was also secretly judging people for being unadventurous with their clothing choices. Instead of letting people be who they want to be, or wear whatever pleases them, I'd instinctively be tut-tutting their choice of clothing silently (she's wearing t-shirt and shorts with her birkin?!). I was an awful, despicable snob.

I was reminded of my old self because recently someone I spoke to complained of a girl who chided his preference for J. Crew. Her exact word was 'GROSS', before going off on a rant about how clothing is a way to express one's personality. To choose nondescript clothing labels to wear was a sign of a lack of it.

Her words echo this popular notion that fashion is a form a self-expression, that it is a genuine way of showcasing our inner self. I say it's utter nonsense.

Dress is an important dimension in the articulation of personal identity but not in the sense of voluntarism, whereby one's choice of dress is freely-willed, expressive and creative. On the contrary, this 'personal identity' is managed through dress in rather boring ways because societal pressures encourage us to stay within the bounds of what is defined as a 'normal' body and 'appropriate' dress. Too much attention has been given to self-expression and individuality, while ignoring the implicit constraints that we face every day (Enwistle, 2001, available here and here). In fact, we often make sartorial decisions based on practicality, whom to impress, whom not to offend, which fashion tribe to align to, what our heroes are wearing, and how we want the world to perceive us. There's also budgetary, class and social constraints that we have to adhere to. If fashion was truly a form of carefree self-expression, many of us would choose to be naked, and men would not feel insecure about their fragile masculinity when confronted with feminine clothing. The external pressure to dress a certain way is most evident in the realm of fashion blogging and street style, whereby the need to be recognised or conform to certain aesthetics (Southern prep anyone? Or the cool kids of Vetements?) often trumps other hidden desires. Even yours truly still falls prey to that. I know I love the clothes that I wear, but I'm also aware of the external influences of the zeitgeist, which is why my favourite shoes currently are my Rafdidas.

There are several reasons for one to feel the need to express their identity and these mainly revolve around issues of social status, economic class, gender, sexual orientation, age, race, ethnicity, religious condition, recreation and individualism. With the creative use of fashion, individuals are able to either confirm or subvert several of these facets about their identities, consequently transmitting culturally coded, visual messages about themselves. This personal identity that is often tied into fashion is a created self that has to be crafted through social interactions. While one can argue that we internalise these influences to make them a part of our existence, there are still plenty of other external forces that play a strong role in our decision-making processes, as mentioned above.

So why then are we so hung up on the idea that fashion is an authentic form of self-expression and personal identity? It's a romantic idea that is as clichéd and unhealthy as the line 'You complete me.'. Do we really believe that Justin Beiber is a big fan of Metallica when he wore their t-shirts? Should we care? Why do many of the most creative people in the world choose to wear black t-shirts all the time?

At the end of the day, we have to stop swallowing this myth because it turns us into judgmental creatures. It shouldn't matter whether a person dresses normal, lavish, outrageous, subtle, boring, so long as they're appropriate within the context of the situation (again, bowing down to external forces). We do our darndest to not judge a book by its cover, and we should do the same for fellow human beings.

Issey Miyake Bergdorf Goodman Ombre CoatIssey Miyake Bergdorf Goodman Ombre Coat

Issey Miyake Bergdorf Goodman Ombre Coat


Is New Necessarily Better?

August 22, 2016

by Gracia Ventus

Wearing: Céline dress; Issey Miyake dress; Jil Sander shoes

Are the days of Céline over? We don't seem to be excited over Pheobe Philo anymore. I remembered the days when Fashion was obsessed with stark Minimalism. All white everything! Absence of details! Desaturation! The uniform of the day was a big camel coat with Adidas stan smiths. I too, was swayed by Philo's magic. I loved her play with proportions and juxtapositions of mismatched colours. Fast forward to today, the new hot name is Demna. Love him or hate him, his influence is rather visible on the streets of Paris to Beijing. Bold graphic prints, oversized jackets, strong emphasis on reworked utilitarian and vintage clothing. I may not be a fan of Vetements anymore, but his first season of Balenciaga is something I'm looking forward to seeing in person.

At the end of the day, I'm reminded that no matter how obsessed we are about something, we will never stick to it forever. Something else is bound to capture our attention, regardless of whether the new is better than the old.

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Issey Miyake’s Golden Moment

August 4, 2016

by Gracia Ventus


Modern Issey Miyake collections as we know it began in the 90s. While his fashion career had spanned two decades by then, it was during this period where he plunged deep into fabric technology. The result was the beautiful collection of Spring/Summer 1995.

issey miyake pao coat

Issey Miyake Pao Coat - Spring/Summer 1995

In the midst of an urban jungle that is Shanghai, therein lies a beautiful park in the middle of the city. Aptly named People's Park - the government has a thing for adding 'People' in everything - it's the perfect spot to take refuge from the sun and enjoy the well-pruned greeneries. Unlike most parks though, this is the place where Tinder comes to life. In a corner called Shanghai marriage market, this version of Tinder involves elderly parents putting up information of their unmarried children (mostly their age, height, qualifications, salary, and what they want from the other person) on an umbrella. No tiger selfies nor dick pics involved fortunately. When one has 'swiped right' (or is it left? I forgot), one can then request for a photo of the person being advertised.


As an Asian raised in a conservative society, the importance of marriage and producing an heir for the older folks is well-understood on my part, but I still found this display quite amusing. Children are the pride and joy of the grandparents, even more than for the parents themselves. Millenials in Chinese urban cities are slowly shunning marriage and child-rearing, focusing their energy on career, independence, and finding the right person to marry even if it places them in the ranks of 'Leftover Men/Women' - a highly controversial and derogatory term in Chinese society. The desperation is very real for the older generation, which often creates discords between their children and them. But like it or not, times are a-changing. Societal norms are evolving as literacy rate and economic opportunities rise across the nation. It is undoubtedly a dynamic period for China where the old traditions and new values are attempting to find peace with each other.

Issey Miyake too, was in a state of flux in the 90s. His occasional dip into textile innovation since late 80s gained traction in early 90s, which leapt in full force in his Spring/Summer 1995 show. One of the most lauded - and documented - collections in contemporary fashion history, the 140-look collection was a celebration of fun, of life in the ordinary and extraordinary, of textile technology and the future of the label's aesthetics for many years to come. This collection offered a glimpse of what Miyake would offer before his retirement. The architectural pleated garments we are now familiar with took centre stage, suggesting an experimental and jovial future. His subsequent successors have ensured that this vision was realised, as can be seen by an equal mix of conceptual and practical garments we see today.

Set against 8th century Pan-Asian live music, the show opened with uncomplicated outfits made of natural materials such as linen and cotton (it was for summer after all), followed by tailored suitings made of textured fabrics which he was already well-known for. Seventy looks later, models walked out with the diagonally-pleated cocoon coats with sharp edges. Dresses followed the coats, but they were no ordinary pleated dresses. The diagonal seams across the body and sleeves interrupt the natural flow of the dress, creating disjointed torso and arms.

Issey Miyake Blouse 1995Issey Miyake Blouse 1995

Left: Pleated blouse on ROSEN (sold out); Right: Look 104 from S/S1995

Then lo and behold, the Minaret dresses glided down the runway gracefully like moving sculptures. One can't help but to think of Poiret's slinkified Lantern dress . When the 90s were all about bodycon dresses and exposed midriffs, Miyake's bottom-heavy silhouette was a big middle finger to the normality of the decade. Though that was probably far from his intention, they were nevertheless refreshing in an age ruled by spanx and Britney Spears.

Issey Miyake Minaret Dress Spring/Summer 1995 The pleats we are familiar with today differed considerably from the early 90s version, notably in the tactility of the fabrics, treatment and patterns. Most basic Pleats Please are lighter, finer, and also tend to be pleated vertically. The Minaret dresses on the other hand, have horizontal seams, and coats were pleated horizontally. This resulted in garments that expanded up and down, instead of side to side, creating a bouncy effect which can be seen when models were bobbing about in their Minaret dresses.

Then came the Pao coat. It might be safe to say that this is the most famous garment in the history of Issey Miyake's career - judging from its prominence in museum exhibits and ranking on google. The sharp seams down the sides and back create a three-dimensional silhouette that resembles a shark's fin. Despite the sheer size, it is rather lightweight and as amusing as the Minaret dresses, bouncing slightly with every step.


Issey Miyake Pao Coat

"Designers should bring good news to people. There's so much depressing news today, and I believe clothing is the one place in life where we can be positive and uplifting," - Miyake, 1993

It's hard to emphasise this pivotal moment of Issey Miyake's works, in which he shifted away from natural fabrics to technology-driven textile manufacturing process. Pleats Please was introduced in 1993 - although the architectural pleated works are still labeled under mainline or FÊTE. Since then the march towards innovation has never faltered, while at the same time maintaining the playful spirit, embodiment of space and freedom of movement. This 1995 show was the epitome of fusion of art, architecture, tradition and technology for many years to come.


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An Interview with Me

July 31, 2016

by Gracia Ventus


Margiela Tabis, now available on ROSEN

Some weeks ago I answered a series of questions for The Voyager store, who has kindly taken the time to read through my blog in order to come up with insightful queries.

On the reason for creating the blog:
My fashion journey started when I was working in a fashion magazine. I made The Rosenrot to write about vintage fashion. [...] The focus of my writing shifted from vintage to conceptual fashion as I started collecting designer pieces.

On my buying process for ROSEN:
My buying process is rather straightforward - bringing beautiful items to people who appreciate them. When I sell something it’s my way of saying, hey this is really nice, I think you’d enjoy wearing it.

On the possibility of opening a physical store:
I would like to bring the joy of second hand shopping and conceptual designs into China. I might do a physical store one day, but probably centred around second hand thrifting rather than specific designer goods.

On the confidence to wear conceptual clothes:
Fake it til you make it. Also strangers care about you way less than you think, which is a comforting thought.

On uniforms:
My uniform can be a black suit or a black dress, as long as they are roomy and have pockets. Got to have the pockets for my phone and passport whenever I travel

Full interview can be found here.

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