The Glory Days of Ancient China


April 28, 2016

by Gracia Ventus

Comme des Garçons Bad Taste

Ah, the summer palace of Beijing. Ye olde grand holiday spot for ye olde emperors of China. Whenever the royal family got bored of their wee little home in Forbidden City, they just clippity-clopped to their second home, if they didn't decide to go to the other Summer Palace, that is.

But Ma, it's so old and outdated, let's go to this new one, they just dug a lake and made a hill next to it!

It even had its own rows of shops so the royal family could do their shopping without leaving the compound. Must have been great to be a Chinese emperor, not needing to leave his estate to get a daily dose of bespoke robes. I do not envy being a female member of the harem though. If Chinese period dramas have taught me anything, it is that they simply ended up depressed, deranged, or dead.

Comme des Garçons Bad Taste

Looking at these beautiful halls, pavilions and endless greenery, I couldn't help but wish that I could live in the good ol' days of China. The days when some lucky men were granted the Mandate of Heaven on the basis of being born first into the right family. Not born into THAT family? No problem. Be a palace eunuch and you could nip off some of the royal riches. Just be prepared to have something else nipped off from you though. Peasants had it so good too; they needn't worry about class issues and tribulations because they were going to stay poor as hell with no prospect of social mobility anyway. And women! How I envied their lives! They never had to go through a Millenial's dating problems because they didn't get a say in who they were marrying to begin with. Oh to have one's life options taken away! That's a good load of burden removed from one's shoulders. Don't even get me started on not being allowed to leave the house. Don't we all crave for the days when we can just chill and Netflix for days on end? These ladies were ordered to chill at home all day and all night. Granted they didn't have Netflix, nor books, nor the ability to read books, but think of all that chilling a woman could have done back then. Especially after having one's feet bound and deformed.

The all-wise Confucius did say women's greatest responsibility was to churn out a son, to hell with having any other ambitions or one's own life (his words, not mine). So them lucky ladies, all they had to do was just to make sure their faces were nice-looking and feet deformed enough to score an arranged marriage, then off she went to assume the role of a human oven.

Ah, what I wouldn't do to live the good ol' days of Ancient China.

Comme des Garçons Bad Taste

Comme des Garçons Bad Taste

Comme des Garçons Bad Taste
Wearing: Comme des Garçons coat and trousers; Issey Miyake dress

Comme des Garçons 'Bad Taste' coat was released in the Fall/Winter 2008 collection. Shop for the skirt version here. Shop for Comme des Garçons archive collection here.


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ZhuChongYun – China’s Beacon of Hope


April 22, 2016

by Gracia Ventus

zhuchongyun ss2016

Try going to a website of a Chinese fashion label. Chances are it's choke full of outdated flash, html codes that break outside of Internet Explorer, or simply non-existent.

If there's one lesson I've learnt about China so far, it is that hardly any valuable information gets posted on traditional websites. Everything that is important can be accessed via mobile phone apps, notably WeChat. Before coming to China, I had the impression that WeChat was simply a combination of Facebook and WhatsApp, a way to communicate amongst one's network of friends and families. And I was sorely mistaken. From this single app alone, one can pay the bills, call a cab, make payments to vendors online and offline including airline tickets, transfer money between friends, just to name some. Few businesses in China can succeed without a WeChat presence.

Which is why we hardly hear about the burgeoning and vibrant fashion industry growing within the modern Middle Kingdom. Whenever one speaks of fashion relative to China, most people think of knockoffs on Alibaba and Taobao. Taobao itself is an amazing marketplace (side note: I bought an amazing antique reproduction working desk from there), but that's another story altogether. We hardly see the full extent of Chinese fashion on the mainstream press. Due to the Great Firewall blocking access to Google, most Chinese companies do not see the need to work on their SEO - which proves especially problematic when they pick names that consist of common English words - nor maintain a fancy website for their largely localised customer base. As a result, international press faces difficulty in accessing information about Chinese fashion companies. Once in a while we come across Uma Wang's artisanal garments, Guo Pei and her superfluous gowns, or Chinese graduates from prestigious fashion schools in New York and London. However, the amount of information to be found on the traditional Internet 2.0 websites pales in comparison to the conversations that take place on everyone's mobile phones. Labels disseminate the latest updates on Chinese social media platforms while leaving their own websites almost untouched.

That was what happened when I googled for the official ZhuChongYun website. My first attempt was thwarted by a landing page reassuring me that a new one would be launched soon. And it wasn't even on the first page of the Google search results.

Zhuchongyun
ZhuChongYun


Zhuchongyun, the owner and designer of her eponymous label, would be considered an extremely successful businesswoman. She has several hundred stores worldwide, and recently acquired an Italian label called Krizia. Yet her name hardly comes up in the fashion presses. Zhuchongyun - the label - belongs to the parent company Marisfrolg which Ms Zhu also owns. In contrast to Zhuchongyun the label, Marisfrolg has a more youthful and contemporary approach to fashion. It's to Zhuchongyun what Miu Miu is to Prada, except the parent company is the former. Imagine if Marc Jacobs falls under Marc by Marc Jacobs. You get my point.

My first discovery of Zhuchongyun occurred in Singapore. The store drew my attention from afar because of the large photographs hanging in the store, a series of imagery that provoked the ancient orient. It was hard to find more information on the label online months ago, so I did not pursue it further until I had arrived in Shanghai. In my attempt to learn more about the city I remembered the Chinese store I had sorta kinda liked, and decided to give it a visit.

And boy what a great flagship it was. That ribbon on the store front was beautifully sculpted. Hey, here's a little gift for yourself. Go on, you deserve it. Never mind that every piece costs several hundred dollars to a couple of grands. I had fallen head over heels in love with the beautifully-embroidered cocoon coat from the current Spring/Summer 2016, which unfortunately fell into the upper limit of their price range. I couldn't help but to admire every piece that hung in the store. Magnificent long coats made from textured fabrics of muted colours, elegant dresses that fall to the floor yet strangely practical for the needs of modern women who brunch and sip coffee on the go, not to mention chunky platform sandals that would easily rival those of Marni's.

But the thing that impressed me most was her pride in the Eastern heritage emanating from the clothes. Many Chinese designers talk about how much they're inspired by their heritage, but their final works tend to look no different from other European labels. In the midst of young Chinese graduates pursuing the sculptural, oversized and embellished Minimalism/Maximalism aesthetics, here is one person who has unabashedly tapped into the opulence of the Orient. I say Orient because there are hints of traditional Japanese and Korean garments juxtaposed with intricate Chinese motifs and embroideries. While the collection was meant for women, there is nothing stopping men from donning these lush garments. These clothes are generously proportioned for bodies of various shapes and sizes, upholding the long-standing East Asian construction of the body dictating the clothes, as opposed to the other way round so prevalent in European tailoring.


ZhuChongYunZhuChongYun

I shifted the focus of my search away from my browser to WeChat. True enough, Zhuchongyun's WeChat account is much more informative and up to date. I could finally see proper runway photos and brand campaigns. It's true what they say about the power of Marketing. Being able to immerse oneself in the universe that a company occupies creates a sense of attachment within the consumers. I found myself becoming a fervent supporter of this amazing brand, so much so that I spent hours scouring for every morsel of details of this company. Suffice to say I have become a self-appointed brand ambassador for the label, preaching the gospel of Zhuchongyun to anyone who has an interest in Chinese fashion. At the time of writing this, the official website has finally launched, and it is rather marvellous.

It's high time that the Chinese fashion industry gets the recognition it deserves. I can only hope that Ms Zhu would be the role model for China's future fashion stars, encouraging them to look inwards for the richest sources of inspirations.

PS. Should anyone wish to acquire any piece of garment, feel free to contact me. I might be able to offer some assistance.

ZhuChongYun SS2016

ZhuChongYun SS2016ZhuChongYun SS2016ZhuChongYun SS2016


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One Time in Beijing


April 20, 2016

by Gracia Ventus

Comme des Garçons Wonderland

As a city, Beijing has had a notorious reputation for its perpetual smog curtain, massive traffic jams as well as its suspicions towards foreigners due to the communist party's policies. I'm happy to report that none of that happened while we were there for a weekend trip. However, since it a long weekend, the city was packed to the brim with domestic tourists. The traffic had moved from the roads to the pavements and famous landmarks, so much so that there were massive bottlenecks at the Great Wall. Yes, the Great Wall of China experienced its own traffic jam.

Thankfully there were traditional alleyways - or hutong - in Beijing one can always escape to. They provide a glimpse into Beijing's bygone era, a time when the rich owned massive estates. Each entrance consisted of at least three carved doorways before opening into a garden or living room. Unfortunately many of these hutongs have been demolished to make way for modern buildings. Some have been preserved by their owners, others were converted into hostels and courtyard hotels. We have had the pleasure to stay in a fine specimen of the latter, right next to the Forbidden City.

This is the view from the rooftop, one bright morning. Note the blue sky, a rarity for Beijing.

Beijing

Comme des Garçons WonderlandComme des Garçons Wonderland

So on the rare occasion Beijing had a sunny day, we made our way over to China's largest antiques market. During the weekends, hundreds of sellers from all over the country congregate here to sell old baubles and intricate antique reproductions. From clay sculptures, jade trinkets, brass coins, glazed pottery to old books and arts and crafts materials, from the smallest beads to the largest garden statues, the sheer number of things you can see, touch and buy is staggering.

Antique Market Beijing

Antique Market Beijing

Antique Market Beijing

The horse that came back with me

Me: How much for the horse please?
Seller: 1500 Yuan
Me: No way I'm not paying that much
Seller: How much are you willing to pay
Me: I will consider buying if you said the price was 700 Yuan
Seller: Uh no. 1000 Yuan

I decided to walk away.

Seller: Alright 700 Yuan!!
Me: I'll think about it

I came back an hour later, having made sure that there wasn't anything else I'd like to buy.

Me: Okay I'll give you 500 yuan
Seller: ...but you said 700 earlier
Me: I said I'd consider buying
Seller: Fine. 600. No lower.

And that's how I came home with an anatomically incorrect horse that has no mane nor tail.

Antique Market Beijing

The propaganda is strong in this one

Comme des Garçons Wonderland
Wearing: Comme des Garçons Wonderland coat; Yencha trousers (local Chinese label); Jil Sander boots

Pan Jia Yuan Antiques Market is located at No.18 Huawei Lu (华威里18号), Panjiayuan Road, Chaoyang District, Beijing 100021


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Sukajan in Saigon


April 4, 2016

by Gracia Ventus

I am writing this on the high speed train from Beijing to Shanghai, in which an inconsiderate tourist (most likely French) has been blasting his playlist for the last five hours. I despise people who think so highly of their own music taste that they have to announce it via loudspeaker in public spaces. If you've passed your sweet sixteen you should stop thinking that blasting Metallica make you seem cool. Sadly this dudebro is probably twice the age limit.

Rosenrot in sukajan in Saigon
Wearing: Sukajan; Comme Comme culottes; Adidas tubular sneakers

Some time back I travelled to Saigon for a weekend of food and travel debauchery on a motorbike. While Vietnam is known for its pho and spring rolls, I must say my favourite spot would have to be the so-called Snail Street, where one can feast on seafood and various types of snails. We took the idea from Anthony Bourdain's No Reservation episode in Vietnam, in which the sight of cooked snails reminded me of a dish my grandmother used to make. It's the perfect spot to savour beautiful mix of sauces and spices, accompanied with cold beer while watching the locals go out and about on their bikes. Seeing the number of people they could fit on a single Yamaha scooter was absolutely remarkable

Rosenrot in sukajan in Saigon

If you had been to Vietnam or watched Top Gear's special episode on it you'd have seen the sheer number of motorbikes on the road. The traffic is chaotic, yet the road users are courteous enough to look out for each other, and honks are barely utilised unless absolutely necessary. Accidents seem to lurk in every corner, but they really are far and few between. For bike rides around tropical cities, I would highly recommend wearing a sukajan. The soft and silky material keeps one warm on chilly nights on the bike without causing one to sweat.

On the streets of Beijing where I had spent the last couple of days, I saw several variations of subtle sukajans being sported by the fashionable crowd. It's highly probable that sukajans have always been around on the streets outside of Japan, or that it really is gaining in popularity. One thing's for sure though, I still think that the best sukajans are the loud and gaudy ones.

Rosenrot in sukajan in Saigon

Rosenrot in sukajan in Saigon

Rosenrot in sukajan in Saigon


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Rei’s Ribbons


March 16, 2016

by Gracia Ventus

Comme des Garçons ribbon coat
Wearing; Comme des Garçons coat and trousers; Yohji Yamamoto Y's dress; Ann Demeulemeester boots

When I was a child I hated ribbons. I hated girly dresses, those hideous pink pouffy things that my mother made me wear. I hated anything that weren't trousers and t-shirts, and everything else that was remotely girly. In my childhood days I associated all feminine clothes with discomfort because taffeta and polyester just do not work in humid tropical weather.

Most parents would want the best for the children. They project their preferences, insecurities and knowledge on their children, which get translated in the form of their children's clothes, haircuts, which school they go to and the type of pets they have. The problem arises when children are made into extensions of their parents, or worse, accessories to boost parents' self-esteem. The needs, desires and personhoods of their kids become secondary. Children are forced to get As not for the sake of their future, but as a bragging right for parents. Girls and boys have to don outfits they hate so parents can show them off to other fellow cooing parents (cues Honey Boo Boo). These children grow up to perpetuate the vicious cycle of psychological nightmare until someone down the chain breaks it off. It's no wonder that plenty of people harbour unresolved childhood issues that cast a wide unsavoury shadow on our society.

And then Comme des Garçons comes along with reinterpreted children's clothes so some of us can relive our childhood nightmare. From the doll dresses of Fall/Winter 2012, to the roses-on-roids motifs that were in full bloom for Fall/Winter 2013, there's no such thing as too infantile or extravagant. One just have to look at the various iterations of tutu skirts she has released over the years. I'm absolutely amused by my own preferences today which my eight-year-old self would abhor.

I would very much like to point out that Comme isn't the only one making grown up versions of children's clothing. Think girly twee, Modcloth and Zooey Deschanel. Unlike twee however, there is no hint of sexualised innocence in Comme des Garçons. The bulbous, disproportionate, and grotesque clothes are unlikely candidates to be first date material, unless mutual interest in ugly clothing has been established prior.

It would be fascinating to find a correlation between a person's childhood experiences and likelihood of becoming a fan of Comme des Garçons, or simply attempt to establish the existence of that correlation. Wait no, perhaps this is far too limiting of a scope. A substantial study would be to demonstrate if one's degree of freedom in clothing option or what one wore at adolescence will impact what one chooses to wear in adulthood. I can imagine that grants could be obtained from fashion conglomerates like Inditex and H&M, who will then use the result of this study to further manipulate our shopping behaviour to their advantage. From the day we were born, we would be cajoled into forming consumption habits that will impact future generations to come (remember the vicious psychological cycle). There's certainly no better time to be alive than now.

Comme des Garçons ribbon coat

Comme des Garçons ribbon coat

Comme des Garçons ribbon coat

Comme des Garçons ribbon coat


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