Introducing ROSEN’s First Prototypes


March 18, 2017

by Gracia Ventus

ROSEN Shirt

I like big shirts and I cannot lie. So I had a few shirts made with minor variations to my own specifications, namely a unisex fit, A-line flare with exaggerated high collar and extra long sleeves that end with reinforced cuffs. The back is longer than the front, and it has side splits so that I can easily grab things out of my trousers pockets, but mostly so that I can put my hands in them for extra style points when I walk.

I tested one of the shirt prototypes in the bamboo forest of Hangzhou's West Lake district. Shown here is the longer version made of thinner smooth cotton fabric. Having concluded that this might be too thin for cooler weathers, I had another one made in medium weight cotton twill with visible weaves - cool enough for summers on its own, warm yet loose enough for thermal layering in winters. Now that was a winner for me. It was the perfect understated shirt that would complement various oversized and often complicated outerwear from our favourite Japanese designers. Or on its own with wide trousers.

ROSEN Shirt

ROSEN Coat

Walking through the bamboo forest in Hangzhou's West Lake district

And then there's this coat - another ROSEN prototype - modelled after a simple workwear/painter coat made of heavy cotton twill. Rather like the shirt, this too has a stand collar and large reinforced cuffs with slightly flared silhouette. And most importantly - deep functional pockets. I am usually hesitant in wearing white but I had this one made in such a fragile colour nonetheless as a practical coat that I will gravitate to almost everyday, made in a humble yet hardy material so that there isn't a need to mollycoddle it. I expect that random coffee stains and scratches would only enrich the coat. Both the shirt and the coat were made with utilitarian aims in mind as I am constantly on the move. Running around a city or flying becomes a lot less troublesome when clothing is loose and I can put my valuables in my pockets instead of a bag.

ROSEN Coat

Should you be interested in purchasing any of these two pieces, please drop me an email at gracia@the-rosenrot.com. I will put you on a mailing list and when I have taken detailed photographs of the pieces that I can reproduce, including measurements and the nitty gritty, I will send out a newsletter informing you how to purchase it on ROSEN. It'll be on a first come first serve basis because the fabric roll is limited, perhaps 5-8 pieces in this first run. The price for the shirt is $129 and the coat is $189. You'll hear back from me 2-3 weeks from now.

hangzhou-5

West Lake on a foggy winter morning

Hangzhou West Lake

Quiet roads at night time provide the perfect setting for contemplative walks


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A Place of One’s Own – Finding Respite in Hangzhou’s West Lake


March 15, 2017

by Gracia Ventus

Hangzhou

As the sun was setting, fog soon descended. Walking down the dimly-lit roads lined with tall trees and thick bamboos shrouded in heavy mists, one couldn't help but be transported into the setting of Sleepy Hollow à la Chinois. I could imagine the ghost of Kublai Khan and his horde of barbarians bursting through the bamboo forest, only to disappear across the waters into the thick, damp air. Ah, winter in Hangzhou's West Lake; cold but eerily peaceful, the perfect setting for contemplative long walks into the depths of night.

Issey Miyake Beetle Jacket in Hangzhou

Issey Miyake Beetle Jacket in Hangzhou

My first visit to Hangzhou took place three months ago. I had no clue what to expect, as I was just thinking of hitting another Chinese city within an hour or two by train from Shanghai when my best friend was visiting. Before this I had visited other touristy cities such as Suzhou, Nanjing and Guilin which are famous for its cultural and natural landscapes, but nothing prepared me for Hangzhou.

The city of Hangzhou is a sprawling metropolis boasting sky rise buildings that rival those of Shanghai's, though to tell you the truth I've never been to the city centre. Instead, I headed over to Hangzhou for the second time to enjoy the scenic West Lake region. For all its pursuit of modernity and growth which comes with many failings, the Chinese government has done a great job in preserving the UNESCO-appointed World Heritage Site; not only of the lake itself, but its surrounding parks, hills and dwellings. Walking through this preserved spaces felt rather otherworldly, not quite China, not quite 21st century either; imagine if medieval China, Korea and Japan had converged into a single union with the availability of modern conveniences. The tree-lined roadsides are occasionally punctuated by small pagodas and pavilions for resting. And unlike the other parts of the city, the number of cars that can pass through this zone is restricted by the number plates which makes a huge difference in maintaining the tranquility. I cannot stress this enough because Chinese drivers are quite liberal with their honks. When the hordes of buses and local tourists have retired for the evening (they tend to do so early, thank goodness!), the hidden parks provide a respite where it is possible to not meet another soul for a stretch of time, not a small feat in a metropolis. A wooden bench overlooking the waters turns into an ideal reading spot in the midst of a hushed atmosphere sweeping through the night.

Hangzhou West Lake

Walking on Su Causeway (苏堤) across the west side of the lake

Winter in the eastern seaboard of China is usually a damp affair. Although the sun does provide a photogenic backdrop for the landscape, it was the mists over the waters that enthralled me. Walking on the Su Causeway felt like watching a painting coming to life. For the first time I understood why Chinese scholars wrote the poems they had written many moons past. Their loneliness and longings, hopes and dreams were reflected in the view that I was seeing there and then, transcending history, a millennium after their deaths. The swaying leaves whispered their thoughts, the ripples their sadness.

Hangzhou West Lake

"上有天堂, 下有苏杭"

Shang you tian tang, xia you su hang. Loosely translated, it means paradise above, Suzhou and Hangzhou below. Marco Polo described Suzhou as the city of the earth, and Hangzhou as the city of heaven. One finds much difficulty in arguing against that statement. Having influenced garden designs across the country and in Korean and Japan, West Lake is a cultural landscape that displays the highest ideals of Chinese aesthetics espousing harmony between man and nature.

Issey Miyake Beetle Jacket in Hangzhou

Issey Miyake Beetle Jacket in Hangzhou
Wearing: Issey Miyake jacket (available here) Issey Miyake FETE trousers (available here); Guidi boots


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The (Im)Practicality of Craig Green


February 22, 2017

by Gracia Ventus

Craig Green FW2016
Wearing: Craig Green jacket; Comme des Garçons vest; Issey Miyake blouse; COS trousers

Winter in Shanghai can be dreadfully rainy and grey, much like London. The rain never falls heavily but it lasts throughout the day. Depending on one's mood it can be a time of serenity to enjoy hot coffee on the couch, or a day to drown in melancholy, both of which can be mildly comforting. Being so far away from the main cities of fashion makes me forget that fashion weeks are in full swing. I'm beginning to think that a twice yearly fashion affair is inducing a fashion fatigue that I have been experiencing for the last year or two. I do appreciate what designers have to offer, it's just taking me a much longer time to be excited, usually a little later into the season, no earlier than Paris. I don't know how designers are able to keep up with this mad pace, year in year out. If anyone has any tips to share on maintaining a healthy level of enthusiasm for fashion every season please let me know.

A note on Craig Green's jackets, and garments in general. They are utilitarian and impractically ornamental at the same time. While I love that the this parka is a good outerwear for transitional weather, the strings and ties get in the way of daily practicalities if you spend time running around, especially when one needs to cycle and/or carry a number of things in hand. It feels like the jacket might fall apart at any time, a classic case of function following form. Otherwise it's a fine piece of work, very cool, much like his other lace-up outerwear.

The third part of the 'Empowerment in Consumerism' essay is in progress. Be right back.

Craig Green FW2016


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Unmasking The Bullshit of Empowerment in Consumerism – Part 2


February 9, 2017

by Gracia Ventus

Balenciaga Aviator Shearling

Since the dawn of the Internet in the public sphere, people have always poked fun at angry feminists. They’re easy targets for public ridicule because a large base of the Internet users are men and women who did not have to face misogyny and sexism on a frequent basis, and are largely unaware of the extreme discriminations women had faced over the course of history. I haven’t thought of myself as a feminist for a long time, and personally had never properly understood the root of the feminist anger until I read in depth into the history of women’s rights.


This essay is a continuation of a three-part article looking into the validity of empowerment in consumerism. What started out as a noble idea to equip minorities and the oppressed with opportunities to help themselves became an oversold marketing buzzword, mainly targeted towards women. While it is easy to denounce all 'empowering' marketing exercise as a neoliberal pseudo-feminist by-product, at the heart of these empty messages is a history overwrought with gender discrimination and women's oppression. By looking in-depth into historical evidence, we can then make a more nuanced conclusion regarding various consumerist activities and avoid getting swept-up in self-righteous indignation that has become the go-to reaction in order to generate clicks. Read the first instalment here.


All throughout history, women weren’t allowed to do many things that men could. The extent of women’s rights waxed and waned, depending on historical periods and places, but they were almost always beneath their male peers. The Greek, Roman, and Byzantine men held the steadfast opinion that a woman’s place was at home. Women were not allowed to have a public voice or a public life. In some blips in history, women were allowed to inherit properties and own land. In extreme cases, women were not even allowed to exist, such as the preference for male heirs in China which led to the abortion of female foetuses until very recently. Even the wise Confucius himself thought that a woman's role in middle and upper class society was simply to be a human oven, as they were thought to have no capacity for education.

One doesn’t have to go as far back as the Roman times to find injustices inflicted upon women. The Victorian era (1837-1901) was the perfect example of sexism gone mad. I have decided to zoom in on this period for its vast trove of evidence, and its widespread practices that have permeated a large part of the world until today, thanks to British colonialism.

m 19th B20070 08

The Victorians loved to write about the rights and roles of every individual in society. For every man and every woman, from the rich to the poor, rest assured that every person had specific duties to fulfil. And they were very clear about what a Victorian woman was entitled to. She had every right to take care of the family, to be the caregiver in times of need, to be the comforter for all who was weary, and it was her right to ignore her own needs as a human being with desires and emotions that her male peers possessed and had the liberty to pursue.

Sexual desires wasn’t a thing that women harboured. They were supposed to be pure and chaste until they were married, after which they became objects that men had sex with. Bachelors were allowed to have sex with prostitutes; single women couldn’t even be in a room alone with a man. For married men, it was okay to have affairs, a social norm that wasn’t extended to their wives. During the dating period, you could only flirt with your fan, but none of those touching his shoulders or thigh business. It was blasphemous for women to crave for sexual interactions purely out of feelings and desires like men had the luxury of.

And speaking of sex, prostitution was the go-to profession for poor Victorian women. Due to their lack of education and prevailing gender discrimination, jobs were difficult to come by for women, let alone one that provided some semblance of a living wage. They could either be a housekeeper or a seamstress, but those were often insufficient to support their families. Many resorted to selling their bodies just to survive, falling prey to syphilis and the loss of social standing from their more privileged peers. Ironically, women were vilified for selling their bodies when they had to do it out of survival, while the act of buying sex by men were seen as a normal practice before and after marriage. Such notion continues until this very day, when the broader general public still maligns female prostitutes instead of addressing the underlying issues of human trafficking, poverty and the archaic idea of sexual puritanism.


"What would you do if your son was at home
Crying all alone
On the bedroom floor,
Cause he's hungry and the only way to feed him is to
Sleep with a man for a little bit of money?
And his daddy's gone in and out of lock down,
I ain't got a job now,
He's just smokin' rock now,
So for you this is just a good time
But for me this is what I call life

Girl, you ain't the only one to have a baby,
That's no excuse to be living all crazy
So she stared me right square in the eye
And said, "Everyday I wake up, hoping to die"
She said, "They're gonna know about pain
'Cause me and my sister ran away,
So our daddy couldn't rape us,
Before I was a teenager
I done been through more shit
You can't even relate to"
- What Would You Do?

Education for Victorian women consisted of knitting, embroidery and learning to play coy in order to attract suitors. No respectable women wanted to be seen doing intellectual pursuits. Tut tut. You’d be called a blue-stocking if you understand calculus, and no men would want you because you’re usurping their intellectual superiority. Yegads! Victorian masculinity was so strong it couldn’t even face competition from feminine, graceful women. Some doctors went so far as to claim that too much studying could damage the ovaries, turning beautiful women into dried up prunes. I knew I shouldn’t have gone to university!

"If we help an educated man's daughter to go to Cambridge are we not forcing her to think not about education but about war? Not how she can learn, but how she can fight in order that she might win the same advantages as her brothers?" - Virginia Woolf

Bound by societal pressures, young women grew up to be the ideal Victorian wives and snagged herself proper husbands. Whether or not they'd had their fill in brothels prior to marriage was none of the wives' business. Lads will always be lads eh. Sooner or later the marital bliss became less rosy. Husbands gave their wives syphilis from their various affairs (and let me reiterate, which was a-ok for men by Victorian standards), sucked away their wives' hard-earned income and abused them and their children. Physical abuse and marital rape were very much tolerated so long as noone died and the ruckus didn't bother the neighbours. If women wanted to get out of this mess, well tough luck for them. While men could get out of marriages on grounds of adultery, women didn’t have those rights unless there were other life-threatening reasons. Even if by some miracle they managed to obtain a divorce, they could forget about being accepted as a normal member of society. The stigma of being a divorced woman was so strong that its remnants still persist in modern times.

While the Romans allowed women to inherit properties and own land, all of these rights were rescinded by the dawn of the Victorian era. For women of the working class, they had no right to financial independence. Their husbands would automatically control the income they earned. They weren’t even allowed to open their own bank accounts. If their husbands were no good, deadbeat losers, they didn’t have the liberty of leaving the marriage because the women would be left penniless. For women of the upper classes, they were left utterly dependent on the husbands for finances as no respectable ladies were allowed to take up employment. Monetary generosity on the husband’s part was often a matter of showing off to fellow neighbours, because this money was to be used for the running of a Victorian household, from paying cooks, gardeners, butlers and coachmen, to paying for clothes that Victorian wives had to wear for various occasions and times of the day. It was ironic that Victorian men made fun of the frivolity of fashion and banished it to the realm of femininity when they needed their wives to take up the roles of status symbols to boost their own pride.

All of these societal norms, with minor variations throughout history, was based upon the pre-historic days when men and women indeed had different roles to fill in the hunter-gatherer tribes. But as civilisations started to form, this outdated notion persisted well past its sell-by date and seeped into religions and other prevailing human doctrines of the respective times, the major pillars that shaped societies throughout the world. Social theories about gender were based on biological determinism. Essentially, men were stronger in all aspects of human nature except for care-taking and everything to do with gentleness, which was considered a feminine trait, because they were born that way.

The theory of biological determinism proved problematic on many levels for both men and women, especially when it reached its peak in the Victorian era. Even though women faced various forms of oppression due to a misguided sense of reality stemming out of patriarchy, men fell victim to societal pressures because their peers judged them based on a strict set of rules that revolved around material success and social status, as well as fixation on masculine ideals of the day such as finding a chaste wife. Not being able to build and support a family financially was seen as a failure for men, yet they would feel emasculated if their wives were to find work. Biological determinism postulates that masculine and feminine traits are inborn, and not surprisingly, the qualities embodied by the male species are tied into the ability in being the provider in a tribe/group/family unit, namely strength and intelligence. Victorian books proclaimed that men were the fighter, protector, the doer and the thinker, while women are the caregiver and provider of gentle respite for the wounded bodies and souls. These ideals, though not inherently harmful nor completely inaccurate in reality, were stretched beyond measure, so much so that it dismissed the overlapping characteristics which men and women do share. It implied that women had little faculty for intellectual pursuits and physical prowess, while men are insensitive robotic clots that absolve them from being an emotionally mature partner and parental figure. Modern reality has shown that men are capable of being caring fathers and women have as much capabilities to be pilots as men, but even these ideas still have to be fiercely fought for by feminists and academics (both not mutually exclusive).

Although women in most regions are no longer barred from chasing after their dreams, modernity sweeps many of these existing biases under the rug, such as implicitly making it difficult for women to hold high-ranking positions, whether in the public or private sector. In many ways these invisible forces and biases make it harder for women to point out covert discriminations.

Balenciaga Aviator ShearlingJust about a hundred years ago I wouldn't even be allowed to wear trousers

Having explored the recent history of women's rights, I began to think twice about the validity of empowerment claims in consumerist activities, or rather not dismiss them outright. While I maintain that some remain preposterous, such as the Dior campaign I mentioned previously, there are others that we have now taken for granted. In the last segment of the article I will attempt to separate empty pitch-speak from genuinely empowering commercial pursuits. You can read part one here.

Balenciaga Aviator ShearlingWearing: Balenciaga shearling coat; Alexander Wang x H&M bra; Taobao shirt; Ann Demeulemeester trousers and boots (available here)


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Staying Warm in Rick Owens


January 23, 2017

by Gracia Ventus


Rick Owens Stag FW2008

Wearing: Rick Owens 'Stag' shearling; Ann Demeulemeester trousers and boots

I'm currently in the midst of solidifying my research into women's history for the next part of my essay. Can't be pulling out random facts out of nowhere, which is why writing is such a slow process for me. That and having to run around the city taking care of various other aspects of my life and work. Here's me on a day out lugging metres of fabric on a cold winter day in Shanghai. Pro tip: when one gets tired of wearing sneakers, Ann Demeulemeester's boots are good alternatives in terms of comfort. Several options are available on ROSEN.

Rick Owens Street Style

One must tousle one's hair for a complete editorial look.

Rick Owens Street Style

This is messy hair for real.


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Unmasking The Bullshit of Empowerment in Consumerism – Part 1


January 12, 2017

by Gracia Ventus


Junya Parka Parachute
Wearing: Junya Watanabe parka (available here), wool shirt and parachute jacket, Y's trousers (available here), Margiela tabi boots, Alexander Wang bag

I sat on my bed finishing another Murakami. My literary choices were rather predictable these days, though I did plan to spice it up by throwing Hawking into the mix. It was only half past nine at night, but fatigue was slowly dawning upon me. A long day of traveling from Singapore to Shanghai some days after the holiday season, lugging 30kg of clothes and food, mixed with the comfort of snuggling under the duvet after a long hot shower, had made me a very sleepy but happy camper. Happy that I could finally enjoy some alone time again, even though I had enjoyed spending the last few weeks with my family and friends. I thought of a repetitive soundtrack to play as I wrote. My choice fell on Jóhann Jóhannsson.

It had only been a little over a month ago that I was in Tokyo. Having moved to China, flying to Japan becomes much less tedious. It so happened that a few friends from around the world were converging in the city at the same time, some without my knowing. Had it not been for Instagram, these new and old friends would not have known that I was in the city, nor I of them. Despite all the downsides of social media and the Internet in general they do bring people closer together when used wisely.

Junya Parka Parachute


As I was writing this I scoured the web for various other reading materials when I chanced upon this article about Dior’s ‘empowering’ campaign. I laughed.

Dior Campaign SS17

Dior Campaign SS17

First of all, it’s just another set of boring pretty clothes that doesn’t defy any beauty norms. The choice of models, pretty as they are, doesn’t inspire anyone to make a change, not even to be a patriarchy-smashing keyboard warrior. There’s literally nothing in those images that stirs up the imagination, let alone give anyone the faculty to change their life situations. What baffled me most was how Dior’s PR team allowed such blatantly empty copy to be used for a lackluster set of images. Either they were taking their customers for fools, or their audience isn’t as intelligent as I’d like them to think they are.

And what in their definition is empowerment? Really, what is empowerment anyway? The word has been used so often it has lost its purpose like a dull knife that can barely cut through butter. Especially when it’s been slapped on every lackluster product in the market, Dior’s pseudo-feminist T-shirts included.

In my quick research I found an article that decried the word all the way from 1991. That’s twenty-five years ago! The difference between that article and the hullaballoo we are getting now is that back then the word ‘empowerment’ was used to give the oppressed and/or minorities the individual power to change their economic and social standing, by politicians of the left and right. Today, it’s been coopted by marketers who have noticed that since the 90s, the biggest growing group of consumers are, you guessed it, women.

Dove did it. Aerie did it. It is not surprising that today the concept of empowerment is sold mostly to the female market by corporations. In the words of a BCG executive, “I have literally invented billions of dollars of product that is based on listening to women.”

On one hand it’s great that corporations are trying to tune into what women need. Today I am grateful that Nike makes amazing sports bras that keep our breasts in place while we do strenuous physical activities, that it’s easier and more hygienic to use tampons that come in plastic casings, and that sanitary pads are thinner than ever. All of these inventions have enabled women to pursue our ambitions and attempt to equalise the playing field between men and women in a patriarchal society. As a side note these empowering products are invented so long as they don’t impede on the liberties of men. So far male birth control pills are still non-existent.

The worst culprits are the ones who slap 'empowering’ slogans on empty campaigns purely to move products off the shelves. Yes, trousers were once a nifty invention that moved Victorian women from their domiciles to the outdoors on bikes and horses, but most of society whom marketers sell to have moved past that now. To use that on clothes that have become ubiquitous, nay, have to be mollycoddled even, is just blatant laziness. Empowerment has become another buzzword co-opted by consumerism, such as buying diamond ring for oneself (De Beers, 2004), never mind that the diamond industry is oppressing the labourers. It provides women with a moral superiority to consume beyond a simple, ‘yes I need this’ or ‘yes I want this’. Just call a spade a spade.

Between diamonds and tampons there are various acts of consumption that are not exactly black or white in the empowerment camp. Is it empowering to be sexually promiscuous, or to be aggressive on the internet, or to take up pole-dancing classes because women are doing these for themselves? Are they really? The answer is never a straight yes or no. In the next two segments I will be exploring the fluctuations of women’s rights and social status throughout history, and in light of this, I’d like to argue that while it’s tempting to dismiss all consumerist activities that tout empowerment, there may be a grain of truth in this rhetoric.

Junya Parka Parachute


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