Madame B


June 20, 2019

by Gracia Ventus

First published on October 15, 2015

Issey Miyake Madame T

Bov left the house shortly after her husband had departed for work. It was a chilly morning but her iridescent blue Issey shawl cocooned her in its warmth. The occasional gusts of wind caused it to ripple majestically like an ever-changing sculpture. She was off on a deplorable journey that called for discreetness. Her flamboyant choice of dress was inappropriate for the occasion, not that she cared.

She was tired of hanging about with that milksop Len. It was nice to get away from the godawful sleepy town, that much she could admit. But if she had to listen to him yap one more time about the next upcoming writer penning another piece of existentialist philosophy, she swore she'd smack him square on the lips with a giant trout.

It wasn't always like that, Bov reminisced bitterly. Three years ago she had fallen head over heels for Len. The romanticised version of him, that is. They were both young and starry-eyed, a perfect match for their idealistic selves that probably would not stand the test of time. Young people never cared for that sort of thing; not in this century, never in the last one either. Chemistry first, real life later. But Bov was also wedded to a prim and proper doctor whose reputation she was reluctant to jeopardise. So Len, being the wimp that he was, did not aggressively pursue Bov and left her for the big city soon after. Had he sent a dozen roses, some Comme shoes perhaps, she'd have cracked.

As it turned out, some years later the planets were aligned in her favour and Bov got lucky for the second time. While in a jazz concert with her husband, they met dear old Len. He was done with school and most importantly, not as wimpy anymore. Her bosom heaved above her Yohji corset. Clearly Len could see what she wanted, even if her husband was blind to it. It was thus arranged that their affair would take place outside of her small town, away from prying eyes under the guise of taking 'ukulele lessons'. At this point it is perhaps necessary to mention that Bov had come to the conclusion her husband was denser than mercury. She had no fear of him ever finding out.

Issey Miyake Madame T

What she did not suspect was how quickly she would get bored of Len. All those years studying law only to end up living a middle class lifestyle. Why wasn't he going to any fancy parties which she could invite herself to? She didn't learn to read about the bourgie life to be stuck in the rut like everyone else; wearing off-the-rack clothing any wench could afford.

Bov spotted Len's cheap scruffy boots from the distance, the boots he donned outside of work. I think they were from uhh.. Asos or something, she recalled. She put on a half-hearted smile as she approached him.

"So what's the plan today?"

"I thought we could have a pleasant tête-à-tête over coffee this fine morn, my poppet, before taking a saunter by the river."

Oh great, Bov muttered under her breath. If he mentioned focken Foucault again he'd better wish that there isn't a rock hard baguette within reach.

Issey Miyake Madame T


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The Toxicity of Celebrity Culture And BS That They Make Women Believe


June 14, 2019

by Gracia Ventus

A week ago a US senator decided to tackle the rise of detox tea promotion on social media, citing the product to be useless at best and dangerous at worst. From Kardashians to Cardi B to Amber Rose to Demi Lovato, these girls are touting the benefits of detox tea to keep their body shapely and trim.

Detox teas claim to help you lose weight by flushing toxins. What they didn't really say was that they rely on senna which is a form of laxative. Essentially it makes your body lose water and waste weight - everything that the the liver and kidney are already doing - but not burn fats. Therefore any weight lost would be temporary. And as with any other weight loss supplements, it is advised that the tea should be taken with balanced diet and a good measure of exercise, the two things that medical practitioners have been harping on and on for decades to keep oneself in good shape.

This detox tea is no different from detox juice or detox salad, all using the word 'detox' which means nothing in everyday life because the body is already flushing the chemicals that it doesn't need. No external help is needed unless you have a liver and/or kidney failure, in which case, go to a bloody hospital, not a salad bar. The only correct usage of the word detoxification is in situations of drug poisoning whereby medical intervention is needed to flush out the toxic chemicals or you'll die.

Yet the bastions of pop culture continue to fly the flag of misinformation. They did not disclose the army of personal trainers and dietitians, nor the rounds of cosmetic surgeries and liposuctions needed to produce their glorified bodies. Women who are already plagued with insecurities over their physical appearance flitting from one snake oil to another jumped on the latest detox fad hoping to attain the body their genes, and possibly lack of correct exercise and diet program, were not built for. The part which I find even more insidious is that these influencer women refuse to be held accountable for harmful misinformations they area spreading to the millions of people looking up to them. They are redirecting time, money and effort away from long-term lifestyle changes and a journey of self-acceptance. I am even more disgusted by the corporations selling bullshit pseudo-science that take advantage of women's insecurities and emotions by harnessing the power of celebrity culture.

In marketing there's a term called the 'mere-exposure effect' - a psychological phenomenon by which people tend to develop a preference for things merely because they are familiar with them, ie. the more you see something the more you start liking it. That familiarity leads to adoration and trust and bogus sense of friendship. Now that we have our own personal screens with us 24/7 it is hard to escape the clutches of celebrity influence. Celebrities are not infallible, yet people worship them like deities. I do believe that many of them have earned the right to stand on artistic pedestals through their craft, like musicians and artists. But when we look up to them to guide us in the difficult journey of love, mental and physical health, we have given them the right to stand on other pedestals they have not earned.


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Clothing Serves A Need. Fashion Serves Desires.


May 27, 2019

by Gracia Ventus

I went for a morning jog in Moganshan, up an ascending footpath in the middle of a bamboo forest, which unfortunately led to a dead end. I turned back, saw the top of another mountain somewhere in the distance jutting out of the sea of bamboo foliage, against the backdrop of a clear blue morning sky. So I decided to sit down and enjoy the view.


Ten years ago I was interning as a graphic designer at a clothing manufacturing company in Singapore that produced garments for their in-house brand and a large sportswear company. When I first made my rounds, the assembly lines were producing two batches of clothes that bore little differences. The batch that was stamped with an additional familiar logo, I was told, would fetch a higher retail price.

We live in an age where most people don’t buy clothing just for protection.

If you’re reading this then chances are you belong to a large subset of the global urbanised population that are interested in clothing as a personal expression, an outlet for creativity or as a tool to enhance various aspects of your life, be it psychologically or emotionally. However some have pushed it even further to the point where it becomes the foundation upon which their self-esteem is built. For clarification purposes, I will use the definition of self-esteem as a sense of worth cultivated within us in the process of navigating the world and external experiences.

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ROSEN-X 3.0 Blouson; Callisto trousers in summer ripstop

Two weeks ago I went to one of many Balenciaga stores in Shanghai. With the exception of tailored suits and coats, everything else was plainly-designed items bearing a large logotype; plain leather wallets, plain bowler bags, plain caps, plain denim jackets. If we were to remove the branding, it would be more than likely that the products will not hold the same value to us. Unfortunately, Balenciaga is not the only brand that is slapping logos on fashion products that hold no additional design nor material quality merits compared to other unbranded products that were made in the same factories.

Once upon a time, products were advertised based on their inherent qualities. Today, the capitalist marketing machine has learned that it’s far easier to appeal to emotions to move products. An oven was once sold as a cooking paraphernalia; today it’s the key to a warm loving home and happy marriage.

It’s not logos that consumers want. It’s love and acceptance; respect and admiration. A logo is a visual announcement to tell the world that one belongs to an exclusive fashion stratum, and also possess the financial means to consume expensive goods. Armed with signals of cultural taste and wealth, they gain access to people’s hearts and minds. The chase for external validation is now strengthened via likes and hearts on social media, which in turn create a dopamine hit every time the phone lights up. The logo-laden wares that global corporate brands are hawking have transcended their status as objects of consumption. They are now the panacea to loneliness, insecurities and inadequacies.

Then there are brands that do make beautiful clothes, such as Rick Owens and Yohji Yamamoto. Unfortunately there are subsets of the fans that are using the brands as status symbols and signifiers of one’s identity. Although the clothes are often logo-less (with the exception of Play CdG), their design language is so strong that it’s easy to identify the brands that make them, so it functions as signifiers like a logo would. A telltale sign that one buys into the brand for external validation is a disregard for how the clothes fit in to one’s lifestyle, physical appearance and grooming style, as well as social context. Clothing stops being a tool to enhance one’s life; it becomes a shortcut to an inauthentic self-worth. We are letting the brands do the hard work of affirming our existence and value; we are letting the brands define our identity.

An identity built on brands is similar to tribalism. We are more biased towards people we identify with, and are antagonistic towards those whom we view aren’t in our tribe. In the old days, we clung to religion, skin colour, language or place of birth as a mark of identification relative to other people. Today, many of us are of mixed heritage, religion isn’t something we take seriously, some speak several languages, and many more grew up in several countries before adulthood. This displacement forces us to create identities through other means. Some choose music, some clothes, others video games or football teams. Basically any form of consumption is now usurped as a foundation for identity, so that we can form kinship with other people who share the same interests as us. LVMH knows this. So does Esteé Lauder, Nike, FIFA, EMI, Fox Network and The Kardashians.

In all my years that I spent participating in fashion forums, which began close to a decade ago (special shout out to StyleZeitgeist), I have seen my fair share of animosity that clothing consumption has invoked. What is supposed to be a hobby becomes a basis for petty arguments and a ground for exclusions. The act of purchasing, using, showing off those objects designed and made by other people becomes a source of pride to cover our personal insecurities, childhood traumas and loneliness. When we invest our worth and craft our identity based on our consumption, we get easily triggered when a criticism is hurled at the object of our interest, or the brands we wear give us a false sense of superiority to look down on others who don’t conform to the same view. This does not just happen in fashion. There is football hooliganism, fan culture over fictions, obsession with celebrities, and participating in Youtube drama that frankly offers no contribution to the good of society in any way.

Human beings crave for a sense of belonging and a well-nourished self-worth, all of which should be cultivated within ourselves notably through our own efforts. Not only is it a difficult goal to achieve, we have to do it on top of our daily struggles of putting bread on the table. Equipped with the very few working brain cells that is left at the end of the day, or on a Sunday evening when we can finally be alone, it’s not too difficult to choose consuming pop culture over exploring the root causes of our emotional immaturity.

Many of the problems with humanity does not lie in buying beautiful clothes, watching fun tv, or winding down with video games occasionally. What I am absolutely terrified by is the extent to which we have surrendered to market forces, giving them the power to dictate how we live our lives, relate to other people, achieve fulfilment and self-actualisation. Consumption should be the tool that assists us in doing the hard work of finding our authentic self and caring for our physical, mental and emotional health so we can bond with other people in healthy ways, not the end goal that form our relationships, identity and authenticity.


Being solitary in the middle of nature was a welcome change from my typical daily hustle and bustle in one of the largest cities in the world. As the warm sunlight lit up the beautiful bamboo foliage, I am reminded of the one true constant of our existence; that we are all a sack of meat, fat and water standing on a speck of solid dust whizzing through space in a universe that does not care about us.

Moganshan-1


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Moganshan – In Search of A Room of One’s Own


May 10, 2019

by Gracia Ventus

It’s hard to remember the last time I found solitude - the kind of solitude that allows me to switch off from work; from worries and anxieties; from forgotten goals and neglected dreams; from thoughts that creep in at four am when my subconscious wakes me up and decides to have a pity party.

When the pressure gets overwhelming, I pull myself out of the city and head towards the mountains. Having heard of Moganshan recently I decided to skip my usual Hangzhou retreat and try this new place.

While paved roads do snake up the slopes of the mountain ranges, most of Moganshan is still shrouded in bamboo forests. There are a few built up areas with large scale hotels, but for the most part, this region is dotted with clusters of villages. I was well aware that the boutique hotel I had chosen would be in a remote area, but I was not expecting what the surrounding man-made environment would be like. Aside from several lodgings, most of the houses were derelict. They were either boarded up with chains and padlocks, or has wide open doors with very little furniture inside. This is unusual for many Chinese. Compared to the typical Shanghainese homes that are completely covered with belongings wall to wall - a hoarding mentality is commonplace - these villagers lead austere, almost ascetic lives. The average age of the residents I’ve come across during my walks is fifty. Though these concrete houses seem to be built in the last ten or twenty years, they are reminiscent of the bygone Maoist era fifty years back; of a time when the bourgeoisie were exiled for re-education through manual labour. These old residents were the ones who stayed behind while their younger counterparts ran away to the cities to participate in modern capitalist China.

Tenzing-3

Tenzing Coat

Moganshan-2

And of course it’s the same capitalist mentality that drove the young back to this region. Amidst the old villas are lavish Mercedes, Audis and a cornucopia of SUVs, flocking to this mountain range when the cold winter has loosened its grip. The hotel I am staying in is a testament to what New Money is capable of building. Much like other boutique hotels built in the last two years that I’ve stayed in, modern Chinese interior design is firmly rooted in industrial Minimalism; exposed concrete, bath tubs outside of the washroom area, and semi-concealed toilets. A wall is an outdated concept for the young generation. The choice of furniture could be art deco, Ming-style Minimalism, or even Japanese, all tastefully arranged in an open floor plan. I spent three days researching the perfect room in a perfect setting, one that allows me to take hot baths - a luxury for me as I do not have the space for one at home - surrounded by the view of lush greeneries. And so I settled on one that has the style of Japanese art deco fusion.

Tenzing

Linen Tenzing coat; Charcoal sandwashed silk Plato suit; available soon for ROSEN's summer collection. Email to order in advance.

Most new developments take place in the lower slopes of the mountain. Large, grand mansions are in the midst of construction, although many more villas remain lifeless. The higher up the slope I walked, the further I plunged into the past. Doors closed, windows broken, houses long forgotten by their previous occupants. The dogs are less friendly because they don’t come across people as often as the packs that roam the streets on the lower slopes. As I passed by more dilapidated villas, I could smell strong stench of manure and ammonia. They were from freshly planted saplings in small patches of gardens, probably one of the few signs that local life still goes on in this ageing village.


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Clothes vs. Physical State – Which Matters More?


April 30, 2019

by Gracia Ventus

A week ago I held an informal poll on my Instagram story. The question I posted was:

What's more acceptable to you or what you see on other people:
A. immaculate grooming and/or makeup but little attention to clothes, or
B. immaculate clothes and accessories but little attention on grooming and/or makeup.

Out of almost 400 votes I've received, 38% voted for A. So a solid two third chose immaculate clothing, which was not surprising considering that my instagram content is centered around luxury fashion and not beauty nor grooming nor fitness. What was most surprising was the number of constructive responses that I have received, many of whom have voted for A. While I cannot be sure of their motivation to justify their choice - perhaps being in a minority group warrants them to explain themselves, it was also noteworthy to mention that there were a few who first chose B, then changed their mind to A.

Needless to say I am taking this informal poll with a grain of salt. However it provides a glimpse into gender-based perspectives. From the articulated responses that I've received, most of them are mostly men and a few women who believe that a good foundation to looking presentable begins from the body. A couple of people even threw in the infamous Rick Owens reference with regards to sculpting one's physical state. The ones who answered B seemed to be mainly women who wrote in with the believe that makeup is not important as clothing when it comes to self expression and making a lasting impression on others, with little references to fitness nor physical state. I believe that we tend to speak from our own experiences, thoughts and exposures. I think it is safe to assume that everyone who gave their responses would be speaking from (mostly) a reflection of the habits of the gender they belong to.

Fashion, beauty, and body are all a larger part of one's personal expression that we cultivate to feel good about ourselves before we can face the world to attract a mate, relate to other peers and be accepted in a wider social context. It is very much influenced by the norms of the day. As much as we would like to think we are far more progressive than we have ever been, heteronormative practices are still alive and well. There are some changes that are more visible in the last decade or so. Although men is now the fastest growing segment in the clothing market and women are increasingly more conscious about looking fit and healthy, many of us are still bound by implicit social contract that enforces gender traits we are born with, especially in formal places like the workplace. Perhaps it is not surprising that when it comes to making quick judgment calls about people, we fall back on familiar cues that we apply to ourselves and habitual practices within our own genders.

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"Working out is modern couture. No outfit is going to make you look or feel as good as having a fit body. Buy less clothing and go to the gym instead." - Rick Owens

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This question was posted as a precursor to a larger matter that I've been pondering - namely, how much we actually value synergy between our looks and our clothes, and how much effort is put into enforcing that coherence. A few popular clothing brands require a rigorous sculpting of the body (Rick Owens comes to mind again), some others require a certain outward appearance that conforms to the lifestyle portrayed by the brand (any one that has been tainted by Hedi Slimane). Failure to consider and incorporate these factors often result in a disjointed overall image, often described as the 'clothes wearing the person'. This is only the beginning of the discourse. I hope to delve more into this if and when time allows.


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BALENCIAGA’s Instagram – Genius, or Shortsighted?


April 18, 2019

by Gracia Ventus

As someone who thinks a lot about social media marketing strategy, I have to observe what other fashion companies are doing on Instagram. In general, most brands stick to a few general rules, which include posting an update once a day, being informative, and presenting the most beautiful imageries that appeal to their audience. Think Prada, Gucci, Nike, Zara. The constant aim for perfection in social media content is a priority.

Not for Balenciaga however. Since last year, the brand is now considered a meme page. Hardly any of the images are well-lit, well-focused nor well composed, at least not by industry standards. Gone is any semblance of opulence, nor Leibovits-tier aesthetics that people have come to expect from a luxury brand. Instead it looks like a private account of someone who parties at Berghain, only has coke and two year-old cheese in his fridge, often stays awake for 48 hours straight, and probably doesn't know where he will live a month from now because he had spent his pay check on wine, makeup and three pairs of thrifted lurex pants to match his 90s dad sneakers.

Balenciaga Meme IG

It is however, highly engaging. The constant shitposting of low quality, off-the-cuff selfies-tier images are getting people worked up and passionate about the brand. For a luxury brand that has 3 million followers, getting almost 1% number of likes is far higher than the average number its contemporaries are getting. In comparison, Gucci, Prada and Nike receive an average of 0.3%, a measly third of Balenciaga's engagement. The plunge into this aesthetics reminds me of Instagram's users back when the app was in its infancy. People were taking selfies with their potato-quality camera phones. There was a sense of authenticity and imperfection that the audience can relate to. That was ten years ago. Influencers now have professional photographers tailing them to take beautiful images because that's what their audience respond to the most. However it comes at the expense of spontaneity and genuine experiences. Instagram is almost a decade old now. The constant search for perfection is perhaps no longer relatable to young yet jaded Instagram users that are growing immune to staged imageries.

Balenciaga Meme IG

I can't even

Make no mistake. The social media team knows exactly what they're doing. Amidst the badly composed shots - which in actual fact are actually highly contrived and calculated to look bad - are Balenciaga's signature tailoring, knife heels and neon spandex that Demna champions. They know exactly what the internet savvy Gen-Z wants: cats, shoes, irony and some semblance of post-modern authenticity. Even if they have received flak all over the Internet - yours truly is certainly not a fan of this marketing direction - the younger crowd fell for the meme-bait hook, line and sinker. 65% of sales came from the young Millenial crowd. On the streets of Shanghai, the young and old are wearing the Triple S regardless of its authenticity.

Balenciaga Meme IGBalenciaga Meme IG

Balenciaga google trends

Google trend for search term "Balenciaga" worldwide in the last five years

Balenciaga hashtags

Under Demna Gvasalia, interest for Balenciaga has risen sharply, thanks to the hype machine he has created. Its bad taste aesthetics is perfectly in line with Balenciaga's strategy in glorifying banal goods - think IKEA blue bags and canvas touristy totes, slapped with recognisable logos. The total disregard for any rules of photography that compromises the brand's luxury positioning has worked in their favour. Balenciaga has seen a sharp rise in interest all over the Internet, with sales figures to back it up. Although the social media marketing team may have resorted to a genius differentiation move, the longevity of its strategy remains to be seen. If a brand is built on explosive hype to appeal to consumers with short attention span, it's very likely that their interest will soon dissipate and they will have to constantly reinvent the wheel to remain relevant.


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