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.

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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.

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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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Why I Was Not Disappointed by The Met Gala


May 6, 2017

by Gracia Ventus

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The key to avoiding disappointments is to not have expectations.

Which is why the Met Gala's lack of appreciation for Comme des Garçons hardly bothered me. It is to be expected that most of the celebrated attendees would ignore the theme, especially one so conceptual and focused. We have to see the Met Gala for what it is - a circus of sponsorships, fundraising, and ultimately, money.

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I love the Harry Potter book series. I've read all seven books, some of them twice. When the first movie came out, I was incredibly excited. Unfortunately I found myself leaving the cinema feeling less than thrilled with it. The movie felt like a poor summary of the book despite the beautiful visuals. I gave the second installment a chance, and by the third I was tired of being disappointed. From then on I decided to skip the rest of the franchise, opting to catch glimpses of them on various corners of the internet.


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This is how I feel about the Met Gala. Despite being given broader themes to experiment with in the past few years, invited celebrities did not bother to stick to them. Given that this year's theme is very specific, the blatant disregard was even more glaring. Fortunately I also didn't bother to invest my expectations in it.

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To understand why the VIPs were treating this event as another run-of-the-mill red carpet party, we need to look into the history of the Met Gala.

First and foremost, the Met Gala is the single biggest fundraiser event for the Costume Institute - the only wing of the Met which has to finance its own exhibits and activities. When it began hosting these dinners in mid 20th Century, the invitees were mostly the elites of New York. In the 70s, Diana Vreeland - one of fashion's most celebrated icons and thinkers - took over the leadership of Costume Insitute, bringing the quality of the exhibits to new heights. Anna Wintour took over the position in the 90s, shifting the focus from the exhibits to the star-studded annual dinner party, much like what she has done for her own Vogue.

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Every year, only 600-700 people are allowed to attend this party. If you have plenty of spare cash, a seat at the table would cost you $30,000. However, being able to fork out the money doesn't guarantee a name on the guest list. Not only is there a queue, Anna Wintour has the final say on the list of attendees. She is thus solely responsible for the abhorrent and irrelevant herd of celebrities whose contribution to fashion, design and culture is none other than perpetuating the objectification of women and the fixation of youth in the form of Hadids and Jenners.

If you're wondering why many of the attendees were wearing the same brands, that's because these brands have bought tables - costing as much as $275,000 - and invited their chosen personas to their seats. If one accepts this invitation, one must wear the brand's clothes. The non-negotiable contract forces the celebrities to double as walking billboards. This is why, ladies and gentlemen, you should not have expected anyone famous to wear Comme des Garçons. Instead, what we saw was a throng of prom kings and queens dressed up for a fancy shampoo commercial.

The Met Gala in its entirety has been transformed into a glitzy marketing exercise for the Costume Institute, as well as Anna Wintour's Vogue. Comme des Garçons is simply the sideshow - something which Rei Kawakubo and Adrian Joffe were well aware of. It is a celebrity-driven media circus whose sole purpose is to attract wealth and eyeballs by pandering to the lowest common denominator. The unfortunate consequence is that the celebrated guests consisted mostly of sensationalist individuals who cared more about the camera than the exhibits or goals of the Costume Institute.

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Sources:

http://edition.cnn.com/2017/04/28/fashion/met-gala-2017-red-carpet-history/

https://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/03/fashion/what-is-the-met-gala-and-who-gets-to-go.html?_r=2

For more critical writing please click on the 'Musing' category below. Don't forget to subscribe - link on the left for desktop version, at the top for mobile version


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Undercover’s Mysterious Partner


April 17, 2017

by Gracia Ventus

Vandalize Bomber Jacket

Wearing: Vandalize jacket; Comme des Garçons curved seam trousers; Adidas Tubular Dooms

I've only started fully appreciating Undercover when its designer Jun Takahashi released the Borremans collection in Fall/Winter 2015. It is a label that I've personally found to be more popular amongst the boys despite the fact that he's been producing adventurous yet polished womenswear in the last few years, no less impressive than Sacai and Marni. Diehard UC fanboys can be found throughout various corners of the Internet, sporting Joy Division prints, hand-printed bombers and embroidered moto jackets. What's unknown to many is that Undercover was not founded by Takahashi alone. He once had a partner, and his name was Hironori Ichinose.

Ichinose and Takahashi met each other while they were studying in the world-renowned Bunka Fashion College, which boasts famous alumni such as Yohji Yamamoto, Junya Watanabe and Tsumori Chisato. Takahashi went on to open his first store with Nigo - the founder of A Bathing Ape - in Harajuku in early 90s, but it is unknown whether Ichinose was still a partner in the business by then. The latter subsequently founded his own line called Vandalize, though very little information can be found about it on Google since its website is no longer in operations. What is certain is that throughout the years, both UC and Vandalize had done joint collaborations. Vandalize reprinted UC's early t-shirts, while they both worked together to reproduce an MA-1 bomber that was a key garment from Vandalize.

Undercover x Vandalize

Unlike the collaboration, the original Vandalize bomber is neither hooded nor fleece-lined. However the central components remain the same - chiefly the reversible cargo vest fastened to the body with hidden velcro. The jacket is fitted with two sets of zippers so that it can be closed with the vest in or outside. And these zippers are hefty yet smooth. It's a garment dripping with utilitarian intention, except perhaps the giant metal Vs attached on the sleeves - small aesthetic details that I can appreciate.

For more examples of the collaboration, here's a Grailed listing for one of the jackets, an image I stole from Superfuture, and a listing sold by a Japanese store ten years ago.

Vandalize Bomber Jacket

Nakano Broadway

Nakano, September 2016


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