Knotted and Disjointed in Rick Owens


June 7, 2017

by Gracia Ventus

Rick-Owens-Knot-Coat-FW2013

On the bright blue sky over the lush greenery that is Shanghai's Zhongshan Park, a crescent moon rose over the horizon in the middle of the day. Children ran across the field while every third person with a cell phone was taking selfies. The world doesn't exist if it's not recorded in pixels.

A young man in t-shirt and shorts walked over to interrupt my reading. He didn't heed my pretention that I couldn't speak Mandarin - I do, at least enough to rent a flat and open a bank account, not enough to hold a political conversation - and proceeded to speak in broken English. My biased predisposition took over but not enough to stop him from demonstrating a magic trick. With a few sprays and a wet cloth, he showed me how he turned his dirty soles squeaky clean. I was impressed. Terribly impressed. Buy one get one free, he said, after which he took out his pen, gave a quick scribble on his shirt, then did the same thing again with the magical spray. What is this sorcery?!, I thought to myself as I tried not to stare in wide-eyed wonder.

Buy one get one free
How much?
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eighty renminbi
How can I pay?
Wechat, Alipay, or money

I took out my phone and paid him electronically by scanning his Alipay QR code. For the price of twelve American dollars I cannot refuse these magical potions. I was already drooling at the thoughts of finally having stain-free white shirts and whitening my geobasket soles. He sat for a little longer to ask me where I was from - Indonesia, I answered - while he told me he was from Hubei. Do you know where it is? I shook my head. He proceeded to enrich my knowledge of China's geography. An affable lad. I wished him the best of luck before he went off, searching for the next customer. Throughout the entire interaction I was feeling terribly ashamed of my earlier dismissive discrimination. It highlighted my hyper-vigilant attitude that I have adopted to strangers - useful in some situations, yet potentially cynical and unkind. How does one find a balance?

Rick-Owens-Knot-Coat-FW2013

Rick-Owens-Knot-Coat-FW2013

Wearing Rick Owens coat and shorts; Ann Demeulemeester boots, now available here


These images were taken on my birthday when I took a trip to my favourite place in China - Hangzhou's West Lake - that doubled as a short breather from my daily work in the overwhelming city of Shanghai. Though it may be one of the most touristy spots in the country, there are pockets of quiet reserves one can escape to. I had picked out an inn halfway up the Longjing tea plantation - a short distance away from the lake itself - because it had a balcony overlooking the hills. Every morning I sat on the metal chair accompanied by a steaming mug of coffee, and dived into a book and pen and paper as the sun rose to warm up the cool spring air.


Almost three months later I'm writing this on my couch before I get on with the day's work. Orders to fulfil, books to keep, images to edit. My photographs are often not related to the texts. They could be taken months beforehand because it's far easier to wear nice clothes than do a decent piece of writing.

Manjuelong

Longjing-Tea-Plantation


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Championing Solitude in The Instagram Era


June 1, 2017

by Gracia Ventus

YOHJI YAMAMOTO COMME DES GARÇONS

Wearing: Yohji Yamamoto cardigan; Comme des Garçons skirt; Ann Demeulemeester boots

There's the old cliché attributed to Yohji Yamamoto of black representing the desire to be left alone - 'I don't bother you, don't bother me.'

I can't help but wonder, do we really want to be alone? I am one who enjoys solitude, but it took me some months after a series of traumatic life experience to be comfortable in it. Many people I've talked to are deeply afraid of eating alone, sleeping alone, traveling alone, being alone. In their 20s, men and women need to be physically surrounded by friends, families and/or sexual partner(s). Past that age, the gnawing feeling that one must find a life partner begins to suffocate our lives. Biology dictates that we must pass on our genes, hence the need for a significant other.

We are afraid of being alone, not because being alone is inherently bad. It's that society equates being alone with loneliness, that both are inseparable when in fact they are - despite their correlation - mutually exclusive. We are constantly bombarded by imageries of people having fun surrounded by other people, that if you do things on your own, you are missing out on the best things in life. We scroll through Facebook and Instagram feeds being envious of other people's romantic and social lives, without recognising that they too are not immune to isolation. We get the feeling that doing things on your own make you a loser.

We forget that there are people who are desperately lonely despite being in a relationship or surrounded by friends. One simply needs to read Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway or Murakami's South of The Border, West of The Sun to identify the various types of loneliness experienced within marriages and social circles. We grow up thinking that loneliness will go away if we have a partner, a loving family, or robust social circle - which is incredibly inaccurate in reality. The feeling of loneliness doesn't stem from external circumstances, it is the perceived feeling that the people we care about doesn't care as much about us, or worse, that noone cares about us at all. Loneliness is like a stomach pain. Everyone will eventually get it and more often than not they do pass. But unlike stomach pains, humans aren't taught to work through it. We know to avoid bad food or get the right pills for pains, but we don't learn to recognise incoming loneliness and walk around it. If despite our best efforts it still hits us, we don't learn to be comfortable in its presence, nor take the necessary steps to deal with it. It is no wonder that chronic loneliness is on the rise.

That is not to say that constantly wallowing in solitude is the solution. Humans are wired to form social connections with people. But the drive to avoid being alone at all costs becomes a dysfunctional reason to form terrible friendships and relationships. We form superficial connections, especially sexual ones, in a desperate attempt to have someone next to us. We don't take the time to judge what is good or bad for us because we think that loneliness is just around the corner if we don't say yes to another crazy night out or work on a dysfunctional relationship, or leave, if it has to come to that. The fear of being alone holds us back from making decisions that will be more beneficial in the long run, and thus we descend into a downward spiral, often into a place of depression and desperation.

Literature has been one of the most powerful ways to understand and overcome loneliness. It allows us to form a cognitive and emotional connections with people throughout history and places, knowing that our personal struggles are not unique. At 6 AM everyday with a cup of coffee - whose aroma Murakami aptly described as the separation of day and night - when the world is still and the mind uncluttered, I dive into the agonies of life cloaked behind fiction. Words that spoke through time, words that I can relate to. At night, I would fall asleep to lectures on cosmology and astrophysics. When faced with the sublime it reminds me that we are ultimately insignificant in the grand scheme of the universe - a thought that offers comfort.

On the streets, we put up a façade of being aloof as a self-defence mechanism against the dangers of the world. And it works. But the danger is that we become oblivious to our inner fragile self that hasn't grasped the ability to enjoy our own company. Knowing how to be alone is a valuable tool that will help us form healthy relationships. And most importantly, it is the best defence against loneliness.

YOHJI YAMAMOTO COMME DES GARÇONS

YOHJI YAMAMOTO COMME DES GARÇONS


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Going Utilitarian


May 23, 2017

by Gracia Ventus

Vandalize Undercover Bomber JacketWearing Vandalize jacket; Alexander Wang x H&M bra; Taobao lycra top; Junya Watanabe trousers; Ann Demeulemeester boots

A combination of the need for comfort on the road, frequent gym sessions, the Internet and influence from people in my life have morphed me into this. No it's not techwear, despite the heavy shell jacket, stretchy lycra and water-resistant wools. I do reckon it is more of a re-interpretation of utilitarian wear. It reminded me of my morning jogs in Tokyo, passing by maintenance workers and cleaners; each group marked by the coloured uniforms, all of them distinguishable by their protective gears and high visibility vests. Like an army marching through cities, these people carried out their noble duties for the welfare of the nation.

tokyo-army-1tokyo-army-2

Not too long ago I was listening to a BBC podcast ('Thinking Allowed' - highly recommended if you like Ethnography) that talked about the street cleaners of Britain. Many of them face stigma due to the dirty nature of their work and the low wage they earn. It also points to our capitalist-driven mentality of correlating respect with level of wage. We don't value nor find excitement in the people who make sure that our rubbish is removed in the mornings as much as the self-made millionaire entrepreneurs driving a sports car. That is not to say that all rich people don't deserve our admiration. Many of them have made tremendous contribution to the society through their hard work and talents. The reality is that our current economic system doesn't reward monetary compensation according to social contribution and how meaningful the work is, but is primarily based on the supply of people able and willing to do the respective jobs. Think of the income of teachers and nurses versus that of airline pilots and one can see the injustices of the system. As if that wasn't bad enough, we subconsciously reserve our glorification for the rich and famous simply for being either rich or famous or both.

tokyo-army-3

It is against such odds like this that we should be consciously showing our appreciation for the street armies who are fighting against disrepair, decay and defilement; that they, despite having the odds of society stacked against them, wake up day after day to turn up for their backbreaking jobs. It is hoped that with this mentality in mind, we can fight the urge to correlate our respect with one's monetary assets.

Vandalize Undercover Bomber Jacket
Junya Watanabe Ann Demeulemeester Triple Buckle Boots


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Double, Double, Boil and Trouble: A Look into Boiled Wool


May 19, 2017

by Gracia Ventus

Comme des Garcons Infinity of Tailoring Ribbt

Let's get technical and talk about fabric. After all, I am in the business of fashion retail, not just philosophical rants and airing of capitalist grievances. One of the most commonly used fabric by Comme des Garçons and Yohji Yamamoto is boiled wool. Just what on earth is it and what makes it different from other wools?


Comme des Garcons Infinity of Tailoring Ribbons Coat

Wearing: Comme des Garçons suit; Alexander Wang shirt; Ann Demeulemeester boots

As the name suggests, boiled wool is wool fabric that has been submerged and agitated in boiling water. While many types of wool can be boiled to add this practical qualities, Comme des Garçons and Yohji Yamamoto's go-to formula is almost always 90% wool and 10% nylon. The surface is matted, or what I'd call slightly hairy, with soft little tufts that you can see up close. This process of boiling wool causes the fabric to shrink because the fibres become more compact. It increases the density of weaves as they are wound tighter, trapping air molecules between them. The air bubbles keep the fabric warm yet breathable. And because of the tighter weaves, boiled wool is surprisingly waterproof, which means that it sloughs off water droplets like a champ. The end result is that you get soft, light wools that are useful for inconvenient transitional weathers.

Comme des Garcons Infinity of Tailoring Ribbons Coat


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Introducing ROSEN’s First Collection


May 13, 2017

by Gracia Ventus

ROSEN Collection The Bohr Shirt

The Bohr Shirt

Clothing plays a huge part in making or breaking a journey, whether zipping across town on a bike or flying over continents. The hours I spend on the road have taught me that comfort is an issue and a priority. There are days when jeans and t-shirts are just not going to cut it. Aside from that, I believe many of us do not want to compromise on the aesthetics we have come to love.

ROSEN's first collection focuses on the need for not-so-simple basics in carefully-selected fabrics serving specific purposes - beautiful medium-weight cotton gabardine for the shirts, hardy and heavy denim twill for the coat. These garments are made with comfort and durability in mind, with a genderless silhouette that works on various shapes and sizes. And most importantly, they aim to complement the complicated garments of our favourite designers. All you need to do is pick the colour and length that fit your needs.

ROSEN Collection The Planck Shirt

The Planck Shirt

ROSEN Collection The Woolf ShirtROSEN Collection The Kaku Shirt

The Woolf Shirt; The Kaku Shirt

ROSEN Collection The Hume Coat

The Hume Coat

The Hume coat does not make grand promises. Rooted in its rational simplicity is a brave soul which is not afraid of being tarnished, tainted nor torn. It remains passionately humble despite its Herculean responsibility - which is to protect and serve your needs in day to day life. With pockets large enough to store most of your belongings when you are on the move, and fabric robust enough to weather eventual wear and tear, the Hume just wants to be your cheerful and loyal company.

ROSEN Collection

See the full collection here


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Observing Shanghai – A Year Later


May 8, 2017

by Gracia Ventus

qibao-canal

Outside of central Shanghai lies a small water town called Qibao. A Chinese water town is typically marked with a canal flanked by buildings in the style of traditional architecture, complete with arched stone bridges. Though Qibao is not as impressive as Suzhou and Hangzhou's historic water towns, it presents a change of scenery from Shanghai's typical urban environments.


Vandalize Bomber Jacket Undercover | The Rosenrot - For The Love of Avant-Garde Fashion

Vandalize Bomber Jacket Undercover
Vandalize Bomber Jacket UndercoverWearing: Vandalize bomber jacket; Alexander Wang x H&M bra; Ann Demeulemeester trousers and boots


It is generally not advisable to visit touristy areas during a long weekend as one will be neck-to-neck with a million other domestic tourists. However I decided to take a Sunday off for the sake of keeping my sanity, so I took a chance and cycled for an hour all the way to Qibao, which gave me a chance to see more of Shanghai's suburbs.

Shanghai

qibao-teahouse

Just as I had expected, the narrow alleys of Qibao were packed with visitors, but surprise surprise, the traditional tea houses were much emptier. I managed to find a table overlooking the canal. From my vantage point I could see the opposite buildings, one of them with a set of staircase that leads to the water. People came and went - someone even decided to take a leak in the middle of the steps. It reminded me of the time I looked out of my second-storey window to see an elderly man peeing by a tree, his jewels out in their full and frontal glory. It was not a sight I would wish upon my enemies.


qibao-crayfish

Despite accelerated advancements in modernity and technological innovations - China's e-commerce ecosystem is vastly more futuristic than any I've come across in developed regions - it is still mired in income inequality. A large part of the population struggles to make ends meet even in a city as prosperous as Shanghai. Through my conversations with taxi drivers, I found out how gruelling their work hours are. Some choose to work as much as fourteen hours a day, others work every other day for a full 24 hours each time. Couriers and food delivery boys work six to seven days a week, each day over twelve hours, rain or shine. Old grandmothers collect styrofoam boxes and cardboards, piling them high over their heads on rickety old motorised cart-bike hybrid. Fruit and vegetable sellers peddle produce on wooden carts. They have to be constantly on the move or they might get fined by wardens. At night, after finishing their day jobs, younger couples would park their pushcarts at the side of the road, selling noodles that they fry on the spot while keeping an eye out for the police.

For many people in China, being poor becomes a driving force to find work in the unlikeliest places. For the younger generation eager to eke out their place in the world, it forces them to be crafty entrepreneurs, even if it means illegally selling barbecued skewers at the side of the road.

qibao-bridge

With that said, there is a downside to this can-do attitude and misplaced optimism rooted in the belief in meritocracy. It fosters a dog-eat-dog community that ironically would not gain their revered Mao's approval. A combination of the need to protect oneself and the pride of having made it in the world leaves one with little room to be kind to those who have fallen through the cracks. Many urban youths who have silver-spoon upbringing - and their parents who have forgotten what it was like to be poor - do not have empathy for the struggles of the working class, which manifests in the form of ugly, abusive tantrums directed at service providers.

qibao-cart


I sipped on my steaming cup of tea. The pungent aroma of smelly tofu permeated the air. A cleaner on a wooden motorised raft drifted down the canal to pick up rubbish that have been carelessly thrown about. For a while it distracted me from William Gibson's Count Zero. It's a difficult read, if I can be quite honest.


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