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


Zhu Chongyun’s Steadfast Nomadism

December 23, 2016

by Gracia Ventus

I had always had a problem with my water heater ever since I moved into my own flat over four months ago. It shut itself off within a minute, so to get hot water again I had to switch it off and wait for two minutes for the water to be heated up proper. I had put off calling a repairman because the weather had been rather bearable. Not knowing where to find anyone trustworthy – as my last two experiences with handymen had been troubling (another story for another time) – also made this a daunting task. Do I call my landlord whom I really not want to see? Or do I call the various numbers plastered all over the walls of my apartment’s corridors? But as winter took over, the chills in between the waits became unbearable. The final push came knowing that one of my best friends was flying over within 48 hours. As I didn’t want to be a terrible host that provided intermittent hot water in the middle of winter, I finally texted my real estate agent – a sweet lady younger than me from a small village - for a reputable repairman. Two hours later as promised, an old man with a heavy-duty tool box - the kind that looked more like something mafia men transport a million dollars’ worth of notes in - knocked on my door. Between his heavy regional accent and my English-inflected southern Mandarin accent I was well-pleased to find we could understand each other for the most part. Thirty minutes and twelve dollars later, I finally had the luxury of uninterrupted hot water in my very own place for the first time. I thanked him profusely and sent several more grateful texts to my agent. Then wondered why I hadn’t done this earlier.

Despite the astronomical rents in Shanghai and the high prices of Veblen goods and activities, everything else in China is still relatively affordable. With so many people vying for a slice of the pie, business owners and the self-employed are forced to undercut each other, resulting in sub-par outcomes on many occasions. Finding a trusted real estate agent and handyman becomes a chore, and the same goes for a tailor or Taobao vendors. Despite the uncertainties and inconsistencies, most of my experiences in engaging with service providers have been heartwarmingly positive, from my real estate agent, to my part-time ayi from Anhui who is very much like my own grandmother now, as well as knowing which reputable Taobao store to buy for potteries.

ZhuChongYun FW2016

ZhuChongYun FW2016

ZhuChongYun FW2016

So where am I going with this? My intention with the long-winded introduction was to stress on the importance of finding a trustworthy Chinese label that is consistent with their offering, and that one particular label is Zhu Chongyun.

I first wrote about Zhu’s eponymous line early this year here after discovering the store in Singapore. I had the pleasure to attend the Fall/Winter 2016 show in Shanghai – a lucky coincidence considering that previous shows had been held in Beijing. The venue and setting were grander than those of the typical Shanghai Fashion Week shows, with a large projected screen and a long narrow strip of water that separated the runway from the audience. Nomadic solitude in winter immediately comes to mind.

ZhuChongYun FW2016

The Chinese fashion scene is still in its infancy, so young that you can smell its rebellious attitude from a mile away. And as with any teenager still trying to find its identity, a large percentage of the burgeoning fashion names is easily swayed by the cool Parisian and English zeitgeist, which is why Zhu Chongyun’s steadfast aesthetic stands out amongst the crowd. Much like her demeanour, the garments are modest but regal, subdued yet rich and poetic.

For her Fall-Winter 2016 collection, Zhu showed her trademark luxurious outerwear made with three-dimensional textured fabrics that reminded one of moss-covered rocks on the banks of a shallow creek hidden deep in evergreen forest. Her love for red shone brightly as she shifted from muted ruby to fiery dark vermillion. She’s always had a preference for high collars while showcasing the rigid, voluminous cocoon silhouettes that moved ever so subtly in motion, a tailoring feat that is not easy to achieve.

ZhuChongYun FW2016

ZhuChongYun FW2016

What was apparent in Zhu’s designs is the profound respect for craftsmanship and history. She continued to harness the rich cultural past of the East, from distinct floral embroideries to her special textile treatments. The painstaking amount of work that went into each garment was evident even from a distance away. It’s no wonder her coats and dresses cost upwards of a thousand dollars. Relatively speaking it is still cheaper than a typical offering from luxury French labels, many of which are overpriced coughSLPcough. You might also like to know that runway items are available for purchase in store. Aside from her eponymous line, she also heads the sister label Marisfrolg that leans more towards modernity, as well as the recently revived Krizia, an old Italian label that is now back on the catwalk. One can only wander how she is financing her very expensive endeavours, considering that she has over ten flagship stores in China, and many more overseas.

Immediately after the show I spotted Uma Wang who got up to congratulate Zhu on the stage. One swathed in ivory – a gentle, shy figure surrounded by fans, the other clad in floor-length ebony – by now a powerful name on the international stage, both lighting the torch together for the rest of China.

ZhuChongYun FW2016

ZhuChongYun FW2016

ZhuChongYun FW2016

ZhuChongYun FW2016

ZhuChongYun FW2016

ZhuChongYun FW2016

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Introducing The Latest Designer Throwing about The Word Artisanal

December 8, 2016

by Gracia Ventus


Greg Lauren FW2016 Collection

When the CFDA (Council of Fashion Design America) called Greg Lauren to tell him Banana Republic wanted to do a collaboration with him, he joked, 'Yeah of course they would. I make great clothes.' Lauren's aesthetics is hand-distressed and artisanal, without admitting that he had taken Paul Harnden's unoriginal approach to clothing design by copying Victorian peasants' lack of sartorial choice. But in his case, with Americana - which is what Banana Republic is all about. “We have so many similar reference points, even if we’re on completely opposite ends of the spectrum - them doing mass market tailoring for preppy wannabes, me doing overpriced military reinterpretation for the preppies,” Lauren says. Another reason the collab makes sense? Lauren was already thinking about expanding his business and how to reach more people. "My uncle didn't want to give me more money, so I have to find other ways to fund myself now." In case you haven't heard, Lauren is the nephew of the lacklustre Americana designer with the same surname who makes bank on polo shirts.

All 16 pieces are hitting Banana Republic's stores tomorrow. “I didn’t want to take my most creative [runway] pieces and dilute them into something that was suddenly affordable by using cheap materials or without the handmade approach. I mean, H&M already did that with Margiela. Look where it got them - massive pile-up of unsold stocks that made it to clearance racks very soon after,” Lauren explains. “The first idea I had was the stonewashed twill tuxedo. It’s exactly the way I like to approach black tie. No one even wears black tie to events anymore, but it fits beautifully and you can roll it up in your bag to wear to a beach wedding or mixed with other pieces.” The tux has silk faille lapels for just a touch of the traditional, and comes purposefully rumpled—no steaming required. It was an idea he had seen Comme des Garçons, and subsequently Paul Harnden, does to their jackets. "People hate steaming their clothes. Not everyone can bring their helpers on their trips to iron their clothes."

Greg Lauren Banana Republic

Greg Lauren x Banana Republic

Softness is key for Lauren, so he tapped his Los Angeles resources to stone-wash and hand-distress many of the pieces so they felt lived-in. “Guys don’t want to sacrifice comfort for fashion, but at the same time, they want to update their look more than ever,” he says. “They want a different version of the pieces they already have. So it was important to find that balance and make comfortable clothes with a little bit of an edge. Especially when they are not ageing very well due to the unhealthy diets and sedentary lifestyles they tend to choose. But at the same time they still want to go after women much younger than them so they have to look cool, " Lauren, quipped. "We still have hand-stitched details, a few patches, distressing, and we washed things multiple times so it feels like you’ve had it forever. People don't really wear their clothes more than once anymore you know, plus they tend to buy clothes that break down within a few washes anyway, if they happen to wear them more than once. But they seem to like the lived-in look. I don't know why."

What guy doesn't want to look like they've just stepped out of Mad Max? There's no better way to capture that tryhard, rugged vibe while living in Nolita than with pre-distressed hoodies in military green. "These guys, they have fantasies of adventures in far yonder, but at the same time they don't want to leave the comfort of their air-conditioned homes they go back to after a hard day of work at the snazzy open plan offices. I think this collection brings out the rebellious spirit of individuality in guys by looking the same as the other guys who thrift in milsurp stores."

“We don’t need more clothes out there, but there’s always room for a unique approach and to change the way people think about things. And so I'm going to keep making more clothes to fund my workout regime and potential need for botox despite whatever I've just said a sentence ago.”


The Enduring Feminism of Rick Owens

December 6, 2016

by Gracia Ventus

Rick Owens SS2015

Friendship with women is different from that with men. Personally I find it easier to navigate around a larger group of male friends because we’re different from each other. With women, we share similar fears and insecurities, which becomes a reflection of our inner demons that we may not necessarily want to be reminded of. But once in a while, we transcend the petty rivalry and squabbles. Out of the many casual friendships we form with women, one or two would burst forth like a butterfly out of its cocoon, into the realms of sisterhood in which we share a higher level of understanding through similar life experiences and trauma bonding. Upon reaching that level, we can support each other wholeheartedly without the presence of envy nor judgment. We shower praises on our sisters sincerely without expecting anything in return, and we love them enough to call out their unwise decisions.


- Rick Owens with Dazed

Rick Owens SS2015

We know what Rick Owens looks like. Sculpted torso, long straight hair, chiseled face, the epitome of primal masculinity. Hidden beneath this severe exterior lies a soft-spoken demeanour and gentle outlook that have shaped his direction for womenswear. Here is a designer who put women on pedestals, giving them the due respect many other designers, especially ones who are far removed from the realities of women and their daily lives, fail to acknowledge.

I was hesitant about showing women under strain, but we show women as sugared dolls enough. Women can also be athletes that go to another physical level to achieve an aesthetic ideal. And these women did that with a powerful serenity, which is something we can all hope for in ourselves.

- Rick Owens with New York Times

Rick Owens is a designer whose idea in beauty does not lie in frou frou, who can see that women are not just pretty things strutting to the next champagne brunch and dinner parties. In the last couple of years, his womenswear have become much more functional. Gone are the needle-thin heels and impractical floor-length gowns. Instead they have been replaced with shoes women can run around in, and clothes that allow for natural movements. He understood that women of the 21st Century no longer dawdle. The powerful women who wear Rick have things to do, places to be, sisters to support, people to love, and butts to kick if necessary.



- Rick Owens with Another


Granted he does not do pussyfooting, preferring to be direct, loud and controversial when addressing social issues. In light of this, he has stepped on some delicate toes in the past, especially those who don’t seem to understand where he’s coming from. He plays between severity and compassion, with an austere vision that may grate on soft sensibilities, but ultimately, he meant well. And he’s unafraid to be politically incorrect so that we as the audience would jump on the discourse while coming to terms with growing pains.

It is with this high regards for women’s bond with each other, stronger than the most Brutalist concrete furniture, that Rick Owens’s legacy endures.

Rick Owens SS2015


Kurokawa and Humans As Walking Bags of Contradictions

December 1, 2016

by Gracia Ventus

Some days ago I almost died on the road. Twice. A bus sped through the pedestrian crossing, and a bike raced past the red light. But that's Shanghai for you and it's something that I've learnt to accept and navigate around. The city is rowdy, obnoxious, raw and vibrant. But there's no better place for a person to learn to survive in the 21st century metropolis than right in the middle of this beautiful chaos.

Despite the intense feelings I have for this city, sometimes I have to escape to a serene place where I can hear my own thoughts, preferably with a dose of fresh air and comfortable amenities. Some place where I feel okay with being disconnected from the online world because I'm far too distracted by nature. Which is why I found myself back in Kurokawa - a small hot spring village up in the mountains of Kyushu.

Yohji Yamamoto

Wearing vintage poncho; Issey Miyake blouse; Yohji Yamamoto trousers; Ann Demeulemeester boots

I saw a shiba inu right outside the first ryokan I stayed in – Ryokan Wakaba. She belonged to the owner of the place. Such a friendly little critter she was, basking in my attention as I scratched her head. Between the both of us I wondered who was happier being up here. I know I’ve missed this place tremendously.


It was good to be back.

Dinner was a quiet affair – a full course Kaiseki, each dish artfully arranged in its intricate pottery bowls and plates. I was ushered into my own little private dining room, which was a pleasant arrangement not necessarily found in other ryokans. There was a low table in the middle and I sat on the floor. I began with the first course – a grape-flavoured aperitif. As I worked my way through the deliberately tiny portions, I picked out a slice of red marbled raw meat sprinkled with spring onions, and dipped it into a sweet and salty soy sauce next to the bowl.

You know, Rei Kawakubo used to hire models of colour. When I watched her 80s runway shows, there were powerful black women strutting down the runway. The ones walking for her today are young white girls - each one with make up that made them unrecognisable from the last – as if they have become blank canvases for Rei to display her artwork on. In the age of social enlightenment across cultures (the good) intermingled with a competition for moral superiority (the bad), it seems like she’s going out of her way to remove herself from the discourse of identity politics.

I chewed the meat gingerly to savour its taste. Mmmm this is pretty soft for beef, and tastier too. I compared it to the other set of raw meat which I knew for sure was beef that I had to grill. How odd, they have slightly different marbling. I glanced at the menu for clues. Recognising a few Kanji words on it, I realised that I had just eaten raw horse sashimi, which happened to be a Mount Aso delicacy. To say that it was a thoroughly enjoyable surprise was an understatement.


I found myself on my laptop after dinner trying to pen down my thoughts. There was no better place to be doing some reading and writing, sitting on the tatami floor as the sounds of the river became my soundtrack for the night.

I stepped gingerly into the hot water after washing myself. There was no one else in this indoor bath. That’s always been the appeal of Kurokawa to me, never having to share a bath with more than 2-3 people at any one time. Too often I found myself alone, just the way I like it.

I scooted over to the far side of the bath, opening the window to let in some fresh air and watch the outside world stand still as I let steaming water warm me up. There was a bridge not too far away with a few people coming and going. The night view was serene with barely any light.

Is it a form of American Imperialism and arrogance when people point out cultural appropriation in fashion outside of the country? After all, non-Western societies did not share the same troubled relationship nor historical contexts as white people with other racial groups, even if Asia does grapple with its own respective versions of racism irrelevant to their arguments. Why are American liberals so eager to play the same blame game on the rest of the world where the contexts are vastly different? Why are non-Americans expected to conform to American sensitivities while many American liberals remain myopic to the histories and cultures outside of the West? I have seen smug Asian-Americans on their moral high ground telling Asians how to feel, how to behave. Your culture is being exploited, you must feel indignant and stomp your feet. I believe that every person has a right to feel offended as much as the right to not feel offended. To command one to feel otherwise comes across as another form of oppression.

I walked back to my room, ready to tuck myself into the futon bed that has been laid out for me earlier when I was having my dinner. It’s the little details like this that make lodgings in traditional ryokans so memorable.

Yohji Yamamoto

I left Ryokan Wakaba after breakfast to have a bit of a stroll before checking in to a different one nearby called Ryokan Shinmeikan, but was distracted by a small café just a short walk away. I sat down with a steaming mug of black coffee, which I've only learnt to enjoy only recently, on a bench right outside the shop accompanied by a book that I was finishing. It was a William Gibson – a rather inappropriate choice considering the rustic, peaceful village setting. The one place I felt comfortable not being connected to cyberspace.

I’m addicted to my phone. It has to be with me at all times or I feel incomplete. It doesn’t matter if I couldn’t access the Internet. I’ve poured so much of my life, my memories, and my work into it that it’s become an extension of myself. Without it I feel like I’ve lost the use my thumbs.


I left the café to continue my walk. The roar of the river and the majestic evergreen trees guarded the peace and tranquility that permeated the village. Up in this mountain, Mother Nature commands respect from her visitors.

Masculinity, for all its fixation on power and dominance, is actually very much like its physical symbolism the testicles, i.e. fragile and must be protected at all cost. Every time masculinity faces a threat, whether it’s from words written by women, gender-bending clothes, laws that protect women and minorities misconstrued as infringement on men’s rights, angry males would retaliate in anger and violence, never mind that most of those issues are irrelevant to them personally. If anything the phrase ‘grow some balls’ would mean an increased surface area for exposure to pain and accidents. Sometimes humans don’t make much sense.

After my stroll, I went for lunch in this Japanese curry place that looked like a cross between a log cabin and a speakeasy. Rows upon rows of copper mugs were arranged on the shelves alongside dainty teacups. Their specialty was the horse meat curry, but I chose my annual dish that was black pork curry. As small as the village of Kurokawa was, it did not have a shortage of delicious food choices. From sashimi to udon, even desserts such as glutinous rice balls in sesame paste accompanied by the most delicious homemade pickled radish, there was nothing disappointing high up these mountains.

We humans are either too lazy, tired or distracted to fully engage in the pursuit of knowledge that would equip us with the tools to make the best decisions in our lives. The very act of earning sustenance leaves us physically and mentally drained, and we alleviate that fatigue by consuming material and experiential goods to distract ourselves, some of which are good, many of which are detrimental to our wellbeing. We are incapable of seeing the long-term implications of our actions, so we make decisions that do not maximise our welfare. Couple that with the irrationality of our emotions that rule our decision-making processes, it’s no wonder we are constantly doing a waltz with self-sabotage. This leaves us to depend on Leviathans to guide our lives. Whether we want to or not, we have learnt to trust that they would do what is best for us. These Leviathans used to be governments. Yet trusting them to do the right thing has not always yielded the most fruitful of outcomes, because governments consist of people who are prone to irrationality. As big governments become less trustworthy, corporations step in to fill up that growing need for a moral compass. They become the ones who guide our way of thinking, preferences, behaviour and patterns of consumption. We don’t trust them any more than we do most governments, but we have quietly resigned our privacy rights and self-control to them without putting up much of a fight.


Another short morning run, followed by half an hour of hot soak in the outdoor area. At half past seven in early winter morning, no one seemed to share my enthusiasm for an open-air bath, hence I found myself alone again, thankfully. This particular bath was what pulled me back to this ryokan. Beautiful roof covered a shallow stone pool, surrounded by sturdy bamboo trees. In the midst of the cold breeze I had never felt warmer than this, physically and mentally.

To be free of life’s troubles and the reality of human condition, even for an hour, is a luxury that I truly cherish. In the grander scheme of things, we don’t know how our act of consumption, no matter how well-meaning and selective, will benefit humanity on the whole. But we like nice things and pleasant experiences. I know I do. It feels good to be able to support smaller companies and individuals that continue to put forth their different ideas in an increasingly corporatised world. I say this with my fullest awareness as someone who wears Craig Green with Adidas, while using Instagram and Facebook to communicate with people from all over the world.

Yohji Yamamoto

After my last breakfast in Kurokawa, I walked down to the bank of the creek, hoping to read a few more pages before I had to board the bus back to Fukuoka airport. This time it was a Murakami. The sky was slightly overcast. There seemed to be more tourists than yesterday. I kept glancing up at the looming evergreen trees that surrounded this area, knowing that I would miss this place as soon as I left. I hope to be back for another pilgrimage next year.