Long Live Issey Miyake

April 16, 2017

by Gracia Ventus

"I was always interested in making clothing that is worn by people in the real world." - Issey Miyake.

The appeal of Issey Miyake goes beyond aesthetics and his adventures in fabric technology, extending to his focus on creating egalitarian garments and steadfast humility despite being one of the most influential designers in modern fashion history. Set against the chaos of a typical old Shanghainese neighbourhood, I made a set of editorials to celebrate the vibrance of Issey Miyake's enduring pleated works. All featured Issey Miyake garments are available here.

Issey Miyake Pleats Please
"From the beginning I thought about working with the body in movement, the space between the body and clothes. I wanted the clothes to move when people moved. The clothes are also for people to dance or laugh."

Issey Miyake Pleats Please

"We can also cut by heat - heat punch. And we also can cut by cold - extreme cold. When you cut with heat, it makes a mark. With cold, no mark. It depends on the fabric."

Issey Miyake Pleats Please

"Well, what I'm doing is really clothing. I'm not doing sculpture."


Anonymity of A Trench Coat

April 14, 2017

by Gracia Ventus

Issey Miyake Vintage Trench Coat

When I grow up I want to be a Rembrandt painting

Ah the classic trench coat. A ubiquitous garment with a rich history we now take for granted.

Issey Miyake Vintage Trench Coat

It was the start of the First World War and the British Army had a major fashion problem. Modern long-range weapons were invented recently which replaced close-range muskets and cannons. Previously, soldiers wore bright colours so commanders could identify their troops, think Napoleon jackets in vivid navy blue. This way they would also avoid being stabbed by their fellow soldiers who might have mistaken them for the other team. With the invention of long-range weapons, soldiers dug trenches and stayed in them most of the time. Once in a while they would go over to shoot a few enemies, then back to the trenches if needed. Bright colours made way for khaki and dust that allowed soldiers to blend into their environments. However, the squalid trench conditions - often wet and brimming with human waste and dead people not too far away - became the perfect breeding ground for bacteria and diseases which seeped into the lice-infested woollen great coats that the soldiers wore. The visiting officers found this to be very problematic as the coats impeded mobility, especially in wet conditions. In came the trench coat, inspired by the Macintosh but refurbished by Aquascutum and Burberry with waterproof fabric - the gore-tex of the day. To this day no historians have come to a proper conclusion with regards to the sole inventor. What was known for certain was that the typical waterproof cotton gabardine we now use in trench coats was developed by Burberry - a name now solely associated with the garment.

The officers soon adopted the waterproof double-breasted coat as a uniform staple. Every component of the jacket was dripping with practicality, from the deep pockets to the shoulder straps that allowed officers to show off their ranks. Even the small cape at the back - a feature I'm particularly fond off - has the purpose of letting water slough off the coat. Because it was shorter and lighter than great coats, they were well suited to deal with the difficulties of newly-modernised warfare that often required spending days in dirty trenches - hence why it became known as the trench coat. But ah, a foot soldier was not allowed the privilege to wear one of these garments. Instead they still had to make do with lice-infested great coats that soaked up water like a sponge. Trench coats were only reserved for officers, who incidentally also consisted of the upper classes of the English society. Until the day they realised that they too became easy targets for snipers who could identify them by their coats. Long story short, officers were gradually picked from the lower classes who now had no choice but to kit themselves in fancy gears like their upper class counterparts. Stores up and down the high streets of London pandered to these newly-minted military leaders by offering the sought after trench coat. It wasn't long before civilians of all genders adopted the coat for themselves. Some did it to connect with their loved ones at the front, for many others it was fashionable to wear sombre, masculine clothing that reflected the harsh realities of war.

Issey Miyake Vintage Trench Coat

Wearing: Issey Miyake trench coat; Comme des Garçons trousers; Ann Demeulemeester belt; Margiela boots

The popularity of trench coats didn't die out with the end of the world wars. Thanks to its prevalence in Hollywood movies such as Casablanca, The Big Sleep and Blade Runner, it was cemented as a signifier of men about town and femme fatales. They have places to be and dangerous business to take care of. Over the years, its ubiquity provided a cloak of anonymity that sinks into the humdrum, the primary characteristic that gives the coat a permanent spot in Japanese sararimen wardrobes next to their dark suits. The collectivist nature of the Japanese workforce does not value the colourful crayon amidst a pack of monochromatic box. Much like the signifier of masculinity that is the suit, the coat shifted from a mark of world-weary, knowing personnels to meek docility in the face of giant bureaucracy.

Perhaps its also this anonymity that makes the trench coat a flasher's favourite mode of concealment.

Issey Miyake Vintage Trench Coat

"Friday night on Ninsei. He passed yakitori stands and massage parlors, a franchised coffee shop called Beautiful Girl, the electronic thunder of an arcade. He stepped out of the way to let a dark-suited sarariman by, spotting the Mitsubishi-Genentech logo tattooed across the back of the man's right hand. Was it authentic?" - Neuromancer, by William Gibson.



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Unmasking The Bullshit of Empowerment in Consumerism – Part 3

April 3, 2017

by Gracia Ventus


In her short non-fiction book ‘A Room of One’s Own’, Virginia Woolf lamented that women had always been poor. And being poor was not a conducive condition to be creative. Hence they never had the opportunity to create meaningful literary work. When one does not sup well, one does not do well. When one does not sleep well, one does not think well. And that was the reality for most women until recent history.

Many of us in the 21st century no longer had to endure the appalling living conditions experienced by Victorian working class. We are given opportunities we take for granted such as basic education, legal protection, human rights and liberty (or at least the illusion of it), as well as access to life’s necessities.

Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.


To Consume is Human

We need food, clothes, education, skills and technology – software and hardware - in order to partake in the capitalist system of the 21st century, with the hopes that we can earn a proper living that will at the very least put us in a comfortable place to pursue the elusive goal of self-actualisation. Some might even argue that owning a mobile phone and access to the Internet is now more important than having a roof over one’s head.

Aside from meeting the basic needs of existence, there are other facets of consumption that are potentially enriching and empowering. In light of the horrendous plight that Victorian women had to endure, these facets of consumption have been significant in giving women opportunities to improve their lives, such as education, technology and access to the vast wealth of knowledge available on the internet, affordable healthcare, exercising legal rights to pursue freedom from physical and emotional harm (ie, divorce), and exercising one’s rights to choose when to be married and utilising contraceptives. I would even argue that being able to go to the gym is empowering for women, now that sharing the same space with men is no longer frowned upon. For many women, the act of attaining education and access to information has emancipated them from a restrictive life that was previously highly dependent on men. To paraphrase Bill Nye, in order to change the world, we need to educate women worldwide. Most women no longer feel the need to define themselves solely as walking human ovens; we are free to seek employment that feels meaningful to our individual selves – though still within some implicit social and economic boundaries – or create one without the need to seek permission from our male counterparts.


The Birth of Consumerist Culture

One can safely conclude that the act of consumption is neither inherently good nor bad. Yet today it has received a bad reputation, because consumption has evolved into a culture of consumerism – defined by sociologist Colin Campbell as a social condition in which consumption becomes the purpose of people’s existence. Consumerism is a modern phenomenon that occurred just a few centuries ago. When wages started to rise for the working class of Europe in the industrial era, people began to purchase small luxuries, like extra pairs of underwear or a mirror – what we consider everyday necessities now – then it snowballed into rugs, carved furniture, wigs – things that only the upper class could afford just a hundred years prior. The more they spent, the more businesses grew, the higher the employment rate, expanding Europe’s monetary prosperity exponentially. And thus began the consumer revolution – running the capitalist world as we know it. Today, we have things like brunch, botox, and bricks from Supreme.

While consuming is not inherently detrimental to our well-being – having things can expand our welfare after all – it has become the primary moral compass of our lives that is sinking ever deeper to the lowest common denominator in order to garner the highest amount of external validation. We seek happiness and fulfillment through the very act of consuming; it becomes the basis of our identity and sense of self, often a therapy to life’s ills and a means of overcompensation for self-inadequacy. If we seek to compensate for life’s woes by consuming inspirational objects of the higher order that prize intelligence, rewarding social life and meaningful labour more frequently than inane, dull things (which can be necessary but should be limited really), then I say, what’s wrong with consumerism? However, these are the useless nonsense which is glorified today.

Polish sociologist Zygmant Bauman put forth the argument that consumerism now shapes the entire social system in which we exist through our consumptions habits. These habits define the way we view ourselves, how we affiliate with others, and how we are valued as a person, by others and ourselves. A recent BBC podcast highlighted that older women are going under the knife and opting for botox in order to look good on social media. We are so transparent that Facebook algorithms can guess our age range, educational background, political affiliations, and possibly how dissatisfied we are at work. In other words, we define our sense of identity through the things we consume.

With the permanent existence of social media, the culture of consumerism has squarely implanted itself in our lives. Like it or not we are now subconsciously consuming beyond utilitarian and/or aesthetics purposes. In most instances, the brands we pick to the lifestyle we have chosen are the façade we want to project on instagram in order to cover up our deep insecurities and anxieties. It’s a self-serving decision to separate ourselves from the haves and have-nots, and to identify with the social tribes we want to belong to.

Can Feminism Align Itself with Consumerist Culture?

Consider the complexity of these scenarios. At any given time, somewhere in Shanghai, tens of thousands of Chinese factory workers who migrated from poor villages hunch over their work stations for over twelve hours a day in order to make iPhones, many of them used by lawyers who fight for the rights of women and children. Every summer, the children of Uzbekistan are forced to pick cotton during school holidays by their government who is supposed to protect and foster their wellbeing. It’s more than likely that this cotton, picked under slave labour conditions, would make its way to one of Lululemon’s numerous sub-contracted manufacturer (Lululemon does not practice vertical integration) that produces gym clothes for many women who would wear them to a de-stressing yoga class or a liberating pole-dancing session.

The act of consumption becomes problematic when it involves the exchange of money. In the 21st century capitalist society, some people inevitably have more money than others; this money is earned through the exploitation of a large group of people somewhere really, really, really far down the food chain. What began as a liberating economic system for the masses during the industrial revolution quickly became a self-perpetuating formula for wealth inequality.

And then there’s femvertising - a growing trend in which marketers, usually large corporations, bid for women’s money and attention by creating advertising messages specifically portraying the emancipation of women from social restrictions. These ads target women who are upwardly mobile, affluent and highly educated. Empowerment became something for women to buy. Many of these companies simply pay lip service through their taglines and positive visuals, but their products still perpetuate gender norms and beauty stereotypes. They also gloss over the reality that their products are not necessarily ethically-made, and often contributes to environmental degradation. Aside from correlating empowerment to a person’s buying power, underlying these femvertisements is the message that women – now with disposable wealth and emancipated from explicit patriarchy – has every right to take advantage of their individualistic freedom to varying degrees of selfishness, i.e. it’s my life I can consume whatever I want. Think of Kim Kardashian and her faux-empowering justification of her nude selfie. ““I am empowered by my body,” she wrote. “I am empowered by my sexuality.” Yes let’s continue glorifying women for their bodies, Kim, and not for our brains or our abilities in shattering the glass ceiling. With one photo and one sentence, empowerment has been trivialised - robbed from women who made extreme sacrifices by selling their bodies to feed their family - in order to to pad up a useless instagram account.

The culture of consumerism paints a bleak picture of the path humanity has taken; from self-absorbed social media usage to a rampant consumption of material goods. It is thus very tempting to say that the culture of consumerism and feminism are mutually exclusive because the former fosters inequality and individualistic selfishness devoid of empathy for the common good. And yet because of consumerism, the very same overworked factory proletarians are now able to send money back to their families back in their hometown so they no longer starve. They can afford to send their children to universities with the hopes that they can have a better future. In the last thirty years, an estimated 500-600 million Chinese have hoisted themselves out of poverty through the act of state-controlled capitalism and consumption, an unprecedented scale that no other country has ever carried out within a single generation. There are still many poor people in the country, but they are less poor than the previous generation.

While there is no black and white answer to the question, it is evident that the consumption of technology and education has been empowering for women young and old, every person rich and poor. Poverty will not be eradicated any time soon, but access to technology has given the impoverished opportunities to lift themselves out of dire situations. Mobile phones, now as cheap as they come (thanks to overworked Chinese), provided their fellow countrymen with access to Internet to find jobs, seek out friends, access (censored) information, and buy goods that will make them marginally happier. When they move up the social ladder, someone even poorer will take up the vacuum they have left behind. It is simply the reality of our capitalist society today. It’s not the healthiest of situations, but the globalised world has not been able to offer a better solution because we have sunk so far down in this toxicity that it’s far too difficult to imagine a different scenario.


A Compromise

Let’s face it, we are constantly bombarded with advertising messages that promise empowerment – most of them superficial. But it’s also foolish to dismiss them outright just because it’s de rigueur to be outraged at everything. The most empowering form of consumption is the kind that brings about opportunities to individuals and communities. Women of the 21st century have plenty to be grateful for, thanks to the feminists of the Victorian era who fought for our right to education and voting, even if our work is far from over. We also need to recognise that what is empowering on the surface to a certain group of individuals is not necessarily beneficial to large swaths of communities in the long run.

Consumption doesn’t necessarily have to be carried out on the back of frivolous, unhealthy products. We can vote with our wallet but we also need to be mindful that no matter how ethical we try to be, the economic system we are in will not eradicate the division of wealth. We are invariably standing on someone else’s shoulders so we can have our necessities and luxuries in life. Keeping that in mind, we should pass on the compassion to others with the hopes that the downtrodden would eventually lift themselves out of poverty, a dollar at a time. We can also support industries that generate profits from helping consumers and producers fulfill deeper needs of our lives – think pursuit of knowledge, science and technology, artistic endeavours, meaningful designs, empathetic social connections and awareness of our flaws while fostering relationships with others. While I do think that there is no such thing as truly ethical consumption under capitalism, until we can actually find a practical and sustainable economic system of production and consumption, the least we can do is to develop a new culture of consumerism.

Wearing vintage French army coat and trousers; Alexander Wang x H&M top; Ann Demeulemeester trousers and boots. Special thanks to Israel Sundseth for this series of photographs taken in Tokyo

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Introducing ROSEN’s First Prototypes

March 18, 2017

by Gracia Ventus


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.



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.


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.


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


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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