Lessons I’ve Learnt Upon Turning Thirty


April 18, 2018

by Gracia Ventus

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1. My cat is a troublesome companion.

Not sure why I put up with him. Oh right he’ll die if I leave him outside.

2. There is a lot of sex, drugs and hip hop in fashion

The first two is nothing new, the third changes according to the era.

Fashion is a world filled with attractive looking people. Combine that with unequal power dynamics, it’s a recipe for consensual casual sex as well as a bubbling cauldron of murky situations ripe for sexual assaults.

Many things in fashion are influenced by music, and music loves to immerse itself in fashion, especially now that a musician’s image is becoming increasingly important in the social media era. Models are now moonlighting as DJs, music producers are best friends with stylists and photographers. Everyone’s snorting white powder in the bathroom.

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3. Authenticity is a myth

Everything you see is curated, filtered, veiled. We can do our best to be sincere in our thoughts and actions, but there will never be absolute authenticity. Firstly, we don’t truly know ourselves, partly because we lie about who we are - to ourselves and others - so we could feel better about our shortcomings and ignorance. Secondly, the world is a stage, and we are all players putting our best foot forward so we could be accepted and understood by the people whose validation we seek - parents, friends, lovers, any peer group we want to belong to. We manipulate ourselves in order to manipulate other people’s perceptions of us. Whether it’s done deliberately or unconsciously is not relevant. We are all doing it, one way or another. It is simply human nature to want to present a good façade despite our shortcomings, because a sense of belonging and acceptance is the panacea to loneliness.

In the words of Michel du Montaigne, “kings and philosophers shit, and so do ladies.”
No matter how rich, beautiful, or famous someone gets, or how high up the pedestal social media crowds place them, we are all subject to the madness of our brains and the limitations of our physical condition. We mustn’t be fooled by these superficial signifiers, because underneath all of those lurk the inner demons that go by the names of insecurity, anxiety, depression, amongst many others. Our bodies break down and we fall ill despite our best efforts. We are also verging towards death everyday.

It would be thus rather wise to remember that nothing we see on the internet is ever all that great.

4. We are all children on the inside

No matter how old we get, there is an inner child lurking underneath. No matter how mature we grow, the moment we find someone we can be vulnerable with, there will be instances in which we sulk, cry, throw a temper tantrum, and be a difficult person to get along with. To the recipient of such child-like behaviour, this may seem like a nuisance, but we should find comfort in knowing that there is someone who sees us as a secure source of comfort; someone whom they can truly be themselves with - exposing their vulnerabilities and insecurities that stemmed from childhood trauma. And I take solace in knowing that the times I falter as an adult and revert to my inner child, I will not be abandoned by the person whom I’ve revealed my vulnerabilities to. What separates maturity from pure childishness is how both parties deal with the situation when it arises.

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5. Most people are too tired or too stupid to develop the capacity for critical thinking

And we are ill-equipped to navigate through life because we don’t possess the scientific literacy nor philosophical intelligence, or at least enough to have the wisdom and knowledge to make important decisions in life. We struggle everyday to make ends meet, to juggle responsibilities, to pursue our dreams, not to mention dealing with debilitating modern illnesses such as depression and anxiety. All of these leave us with little to no energy to read, write and think. Hell I know people who don’t even like to read. Like mice in a maze, it is instinctual to take the easy way out, thus we find ourselves opting for activities that numb our mental struggles and dumb us down. Instagram, Wechat, Facebook have thus become the go-to options for escapism. Maybe Plato was right. This is why democracy is not living up to our expectations. Plato feared that our freedom will be the downfall of society because we will strive to appease our desires (for wealth and fame especially) rather than uphold morality. He thought that a just and functional society is only possible when governed by a select few who only strive for wisdom plus a set of other virtues that he had defined. The society he envisaged also doesn’t have a monetary system. Clearly those ideals would never be achievable for the time being, since we are deeply entrenched in the capitalist system. It is perhaps the main goal of capitalism to create ignorant masses so they can continue to consume and not think for themselves. When one does not possess the capacity to develop critical thinking, one is not able to make wise decisions for oneself and the greater good. We would be more prone to listen to our biases, rumours and preconceptions.

6. Which brings us to the fact that we’re not as open-minded as we think.

Given an evidence that contradicts what we believe, we buckle down further on our opinions. I chalk it up partly to the backfire effect, and partly to our superiority bias. The former is a type of confirmation bias in which, when presented with evidence that contradicts our beliefs, we do mental acrobats to circumvent that and buckle down on our existing position, letting our emotions take over instead of evaluating the new information critically. The latter is the belief that we are smarter than average, on the whole or on a particular subject. Combining both, we think the the person who challenges us is stupider, hence incapable of making intelligent opinions for us to even reconsider. That, or we think we are someone with above-average intelligence who has valid and valuable opinions, so a person who doesn’t share the same opinion as ours is probably not as smart as us, hence not to be given serious consideration.

This applies to both the liberal left and conservative right.

7. Consumers seek self-esteem through the material things they consume

Be it clothes, music, food. You name it, someone’s going to defend the hell out of it as soon as a criticism is thrown at a subject matter they have emotionally invested themselves in. It’s one thing to defend with reason, it’s another to feel butthurt and take criticisms as a personal attack. This is why we have football hooligans and cliquey fashion communities. Underneath the seemingly innocent consumerist façade lies catty fashion sub-groups. I remember once writing a scathing opinion about streetwear which was reposted onto Reddit. I do believe the word ‘bitch’ was thrown about a few times in the thread, but none dared to tell me directly.

8. The path to a fulfilling life begins from reading, and reading well.

“There is only one good, knowledge, and one evil, ignorance.” - Socrates.

Regardless whether Socrates really exist, I am biased against people who don’t read. I’m not saying that the habit of reading, or lack thereof, makes someone good or evil. As I’ve said previously, the act of reading should be done in the pursuit of knowledge. Knowledge is important to hone our critical-thinking skills and make the most rational choices for ourselves and our society. Humans are often governed by our irrational emotions. To have the capacity for love, kindness, anger and melancholy is a beautiful aspect of our sentience. But there are many times when emotions have to take a backseat, and let logic and rationality lead us in our decision-making process. We cannot vote for the future of our nations and children when we cannot overcome our tribal tendencies, fears and insecurities.

Even if we are not reading for a noble cause, we read to learn from our predecessors; hear their thoughts; absorb their wisdom; avoid the mistakes they’ve made. Personally I have used reading as a coping mechanism during hard times. In the midst of melancholic solitude I take refuge in knowing that my experiences have been shared by brilliant minds. The ghosts of history speak through time to console me when confronted with the sad realities of our existence.

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9. Everyone has their own battlefield.

Life is hard. Some of us struggle to eke out a living. Some of us struggle to love and be loved. We will always be plagued by insecurities. We struggle to reconcile our disdain for capitalism and joy in consumerism - I love clothes and relish the rush of completing a checkout process, despite knowing full well that the fashion industry is exploitative; I still eat meat despite my inability to trace how the chicken was raised before it arrived on my plate.

We will never know the full extent of every individual’s hardships, and how these hardships have shaped them. A person who snapped at us when we accidentally knocked into them was probably dealing with his broken dreams. Some guy who bumped into us and didn’t apologise probably just found out his wife was cheating on him. All we can do is be kind, forgive and forget, because we hope that other people would do the same with our transgressions.

10. “Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made.” - Immanuel Kant

Humanity is inherently flawed; we know very little about our reality. What we know we don’t know, amounts to much less than what we don’t know we don’t know. We are ignorant, foolish animals with eyes that aren’t designed to perceive our universe on a microscopic and cosmological scale, prone to make unwise decisions because we are ruled by our emotions. It’s a miracle that every generation manages to progress further than the last.

And so with this knowledge in mind, I step forward into another year of my life. Thank you for reading, as always. All photographs were taken by @xeoniq.


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The Story So Far


March 31, 2018

by Gracia Ventus

Issey Miyake Techwear
Photography: @xeoniq

Another flight, another essay. Sitting on the plane seems to be the only chance I get these days to pen down my thoughts. The plane was taking me down under, this time for a vacation that I had not had since September, especially not one that lasted for more than four days. I had to make up for the lack of breathing space on account of working through Christmas, New Year and Chinese New Year. As a result, it was taking a toll on my mental capacity - not that it was in its best shape to begin with. I could feel myself turning into a multi-tasking robot who was going through a memory dysfunction and losing information every few hours.

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It had been a hectic week once our tailors have come back from their Chinese New Year holiday. ROSEN went into full gear to produce samples for our next Spring/Summer 2018 collection. With barely enough time to spare, we took our newly minted samples to Suzhou, a city known for its historical gardens and canals. We invited a fellow fashion enthusiast - Dylan Knight - all the way from Beijing to be our photographer and model, having only known of his works from the photographs he had put up on Instagram. I decided on the city of Suzhou as our meeting point, which would be the backdrop for our Spring collection. It’s an ancient city that boasts spacious gardens, historical water canals and the rare eclectic Chinese neighbourhoods which haven’t been torn down to make way for new pseudo-ancient suburbs. As much as I love the modernity of Shanghai and the architectural wonders of Beijing, I have a personal preference for the historical and natural side of the East. Whether in China or Japan, I would gravitate towards forests and old architecture that bear signs of age and patina.

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Our AirBnB was situated squarely within the ancient part of the city, in an old neighbourhood mostly inhabited by older folks who were very much enamoured by the presence of Dylan and Daniel. It was also full of short-legged dogs that these residents are keeping as pets. Over the course of a few days, we shot our editorials in this neighbourhood, as well as in the famed Humble Administrator’s Garden - which is actually not all that humble considering the 52,000 square meters of land it covers, and the myriads of lavish treasures housed in the mini pagodas, pavilions and halls. It was humble in its purpose - as the grounds for a retired government official to do some gardening and contemplate on life. Six hundred years later it became one of the most famous garden in the Middle Kingdom.

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Photography: Dylan Knight

In all my years of doing this fashion business, I have always been the photographer as well as creative and art director. It was thus a pleasure to work with Dylan who brought his own perspective into our editorial. I am usually averse to working with new people because of my stubborn personality and my reluctance in letting go of control to someone else. Fortunately Dylan was easy to work with, and it helped that we both share similar visions. The end result is that, despite going through such a hectic week, I was very happy with the quality of images that we produced, so much so that the stress and time pressure we faced was worth the while.

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Two nights after we got back from Suzhou, I hopped on the plane and made my way to the Southern Hemisphere for a new adventure.

ROSEN's new Spring 2018 collection is now available on ROSEN-STORE.COM


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Mao’s Disappointment – A Look into China’s Materialism


March 11, 2018

by Gracia Ventus

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13th February 2018

The time is two in the morning. I am sitting on the plane as I am typing this, unable to fall asleep possibly due to the iced coffee I had just some hours ago. The scenery outside of my window is surreal. Dim specks of lights peppered the horizon. I cannot tell where the sea ends and the sky begins. I am not sure whether I am looking at passing ships, or the sight of a hundred galaxies, both so rarely seen in my day to day life.

The screen shows that we are passing over Ho Chi Minh City. I’m ever closer to the place I spent fifteen years in. A city I like but have never been in love with. Cold and sterile, it’s like marrying a boring dentist. That’s the answer I give people whenever they ask me what Singapore is like.

I return to editing these photos. The boy next to me is wide awake, curious as to what I am doing. “Big sister,” he quips all of a sudden, “are you studying photography or fashion design?”

“Both.” I responded in surprise. “I design clothes but I also shoot them myself.” He is accompanied by his older sister, who reminds me of me in the way I took care of my own younger brother - with tough love to whip him into shape.


Being back in Singapore presented an interesting contrast against China. Most of the island nation-state have been developed; there is very little room for further creation and construction, unless destruction is involved. In contrast, China is still building itself, though at a much slower pace than when it first opened its doors to foreign investors in 1978 with the dawn of Deng Xiao Peng’s Open Door Policy. Within a span of four decades, over 600 million people (the magic number often thrown about in statistical reports) were lifted out of poverty - that’s twice the size of United States. The average Chinese person is more than twice as well off now as they were twelve years ago.

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I live in one of the oldest neighbourhoods of Shanghai, once upon a time built and run by the French. Despite its antiquity and the local municipality’s quest for preservation of historical sites, anything that wasn’t built between the 18th and 20th Centuries gets torn down every decade. Those that escape destruction get gutted out every few years or so whenever the lease changes hands. Change happens as quickly as the 300km/h high-speed rail that moves this nation.

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Growth and prosperity are almost always good for the welfare of a nation. The idea of a poor farmer now able to feed his family and send his children off to school warms our cold, distant hearts. That young women from poor villages can go to universities and find jobs that pay a living wage make our feminist souls flutter with pride. But when the growth of prosperity far surpasses the development of sociocultural dimensions of a country, a different set of cultural phenomena bubbles up to the surface.

A little over a year ago as I was searching for an apartment, I had seen my fair share of living conditions and attitudes that - despite being in an expensive city - are barely different from the working classes of Jakarta. Mountains of belongings piled up in a mess in the doorway; Toys are strewn all over the floor (do children really need that many things?); Cumbersome redwood furniture are a common sight for living rooms that are disproportionately too small.

Not only that. Just because a condominium looks super fancy from the outside, it does not imply that the interior is equally well-built. Whether in Shanghai, Nanjing or Suzhou, real estate developers erect shiny structures that completely neglect the interior. Lobbies are left to rot and deteriorate, common spaces are badly managed. The next best option for a compound that is well-managed requires a jump in social mobility, from being a typical middle class to earning the salaries of the upper echelons. And by today’s standards in China, that’s a massive jump. To most real estate developers, the living experiences of the inhabitants do not matter as much as the sales of the properties. What’s important is selling a gold-plated façade.

It is from these observations I have made over my short years living in China that became my starting point into researching how the consumption practices of the urban class have developed.

Bolstering Materialism and Conspicuous Consumption

“Of course, the Chinese have always used material display as a surrogate indicator of worth. But since the 1990s, things have spun out of control. The quest for prosperity, unattainable chimera for the vast majority of penny-pinched mainlanders, has turned into a rat race. Apartments, now a prerequisite for marriage, are so stratospherically expensive they require multi-generational pooling of resources.“

When I first moved to Shanghai, I was taking private lessons to refresh my Mandarin. My teacher was a Shanghainese lady in her late thirties and single. By China’s standards she would be considered one of the leftover women - so am I - being over twenty five and unmarried. She spoke of how parents of young Chinese men would give major financial assistance to their sons so they could buy a home in order to attain a wife. We also discussed on the topic of matchmaking services. Men and women are ranked according to their looks, financial wealth and educational background. Gender norms come into play as typically men would accept women of the same or lower rank than them, and women would not consider men who are of lower rank. The higher the ranks attained, the higher the fees on both parties. Though these may be anecdotal hearsay, it is corroborated by the information being advertised on the real life Tinder market in Shanghai. Parents and grandparents put up umbrella ‘stands’ to advertise their unmarried children and grandchildren. The most common information that is offered is age, height, education and work background. Photos are only available upon request.

In China, the quest to have a relatively satisfactory life is full of challenges. Like a typical collectivist society, keeping up with the Ah Lings and Ah Mings is more important than carving one’s personal definition of success. And one’s self-worth is dependent on financial status and building a family. The former to impress society, the latter to appease one’s family. For the urban men of China, without a home under one’s name, one cannot find a wife. Without a wife, one cannot start a family. Without a family, one cannot appease one’s parents and relatives. Women on the other hand are pressured to marry by early twenties. If they are from a poorer background, they strive to find a husband that earns enough to guarantee a financial security. The growing number of highly-educated women who are financially independent may be able to stave off the parental pressure for a few more years, but gender norms still apply so they too would search for a husband who is of the same social status or higher. And in China it equates to wealth and upbringing.

A Knee-Jerk Reaction

The pace of economic change is so massive that the attitudes have not adjusted as quickly as the economies. Prosperity have come so rapidly that they behave with the hunger of societies that are poor even though they have already become rich. Public welfare system has not adjusted to reflect the needs of the current crop of workforce, thus many older people are still working extremely hard, and do not take the future for granted. They have less faith in the future as they have experienced the Great Leap (back)wards, the tumultuous economic reforms that left a death toll of 30-50 million people. Because of this historical trauma, a common trait of hoarding can be observed amongst the older generations. One never knows when one could get a particular knick-knack from overseas again, or when the need for a plate bearing one’s portrait taken on a touristy spot comes up.

It has been pointed out that the Chinese people’s single-minded focus on financial security can be traced back to the majority of the population’s experiences with poverty and the country's lack of social welfare system in place. From this vantage point, becoming materialistic or desiring wealth may seem like a rational after-effect. But there is also a traditional side to it, and that is the Chinese concept of face. One's ability to have 'face' in an ordinary Chinese community is dependent on the brands that one can afford.

It is actually the younger generations of working Chinese, those who didn’t live through the poverty that their parents and grandparents did, who are living beyond their means. Frugality is a traditional Chinese trait that is becoming obsolete because the younger generation has grown up in prosperity, hence not seeing the long-term need to save for rainy days. At the same time, they are pressured by their parents and society to be successful and acquire wealth. One cannot also discount the huge influence that media has on consumer attitudes.

Milking Money from The Ignorant Masses

Tribe leaders always exist any strata, but their influence is more strongly felt in collectivist societies. Within China, that power shifted from the emperor, to the communist and community leaders, to the parents, and now to online influencers, known-locally as key opinion leaders.

Take for example the beauty industry in China. Young women in their early 20s are targeted by companies to care about ageing skin so they would spend beyond what their monthly salaries can afford them. From serums to creams, oils and pills, magic pseudo-science slogans are thrown about so that ignorant women would consume these products, further perpetuating the myths of how our skin actually works and the extent to which chemicals would affect our face. Chinese consumers may have wisened up to fake eggs, fake milk and fake rice, but they are still falling for fake science. Nefarious international companies (here’s looking at you L’oreal) target Chinese women by using online influencers as advertising vehicles, knowing that local regulations do not require disclosure of paid ads. Chinese women have greater faith in online personalities whom they have emotional investments in. Combine that with the power of word of mouth marketing from their peer groups who are more than likely to be following the same group of online personalities, companies found the perfect recipe to sell the solution to women’s insecurities and image issues in the form of overpriced chemicals.

It’s a common sight to see Weibo beauty queens advertising an identical product within the same period, resulting in a massive sell-out, from China to Hong Kong, from Taiwan to Seoul. Young Chinese consumers do not hesitate to buy from overseas proxies or search high and low for the advertised product while traveling. Young college women have resorted to borrowing money by using their nudes as collaterals, with invariably disastrous consequences. While some borrowed for legitimate reasons such as college expenses and abortions, many are suspected to be funding their make-up addictions. The thirst is very real.

Keeping Up with The Ah Mings and Ah Lings

IPSOS poll in 2013 showed that 71% of Mainland Chinese thought that success is gauged by the things that one owns, while the global average lies at a meagre 34%. It is no surprise then that the face-conscious Chinese are not shy when it comes to material pursuits; amassing objects and status symbols that denote that they have arrived at the land of prosperity and wealth.

Bain and McKinsey consumer reports eagerly stated that Chinese consumers are getting more picky in their consumption, weaning off Louis Vuitton and leaning more into discreet luxury products. That, and wanting to spend more on experiences and bringing happiness to their families and friends. What they fail to explicitly mention is that both are still a form of status-driven consumption. The super rich are trading their run-of-the-mill Mercedes for a Maybach, their BAPE for Rick Owens. And much like their Western counterparts, the Chinese are more eager to document their travels than to experience the experience. Any tourist spots within China are full of domestic tourists with their arms outstretched holding on to their larger than life phone screens. Some intellects say that technology shapes us. It might not be too farfetched to say that technology will teach babies how to take selfies first before they can walk. For the urbanites, aesthetically-pleasing cafes are full of young women taking endless selfies while letting their expensive coffees get cold. Some months ago, I accidentally ended up in a newly-opened cafe that plans to change its theme every month. The goal: to entice the youths to drop by for selfie sessions frequently. It was owned by a Shanghainese middle-aged lady who owned a football team. She was wearing a pair of Vetements socks and Gucci shoes.

The quest to keep up with the Ah Mings and Ah Lings is very real and very draining. Young people are constantly driven to make money to have a sense of belonging in the tribe they wish to be seen in. The culture of materialism creates a society that is too ignorant and/or too tired to do a critical examination of one's behaviour. The weary masses then look down on their phones to open a notification sent by Taobao, reminding them that they are missing out on a pair of ‘super hot’ shoes. And so the cycle continues.

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This behaviour is no different from the self-absorbed consumption practices of industrialised Western nations. China is merely following the same trajectory of countries who had walked down the path of economic development within the last century. The Chinese seek out self-worth through wealth and possessions. Western individualised cultures once went through that phase. Now they seek out self-worth through personal achievements and number of followers on social media, the latter which involves its own set of problematic consumption patterns.

Rampant consumption is a problem regardless of how it manifests in different cultures, because they way we consume is still environmentally unsustainable. It also preys on the worst of humanity’s shortcomings, targeting our insecurities and vulnerabilities. The result is a whirlpool of social ills that permeate individuals and society on the whole. As I am typing this, the gap between rich and poor are widening at an alarming rate within China.

The problem of conspicuous consumption is far more obvious in the land of the Middle Kingdom because of the ‘face’ culture that demands high visibility of one’s wealth. Collectivism in China can potentially be used for the greater good, keeping each others’ greed in check while making sure the country prospers together. But in this materialist country, it is now being used as a basis of comparison to attain one’s sense of achievement. The current working generation of the country has to prove to their neighbours, families and friends that they have arrived - preferably in a Ferrari 599.

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Wearing: Balenciaga shearling coat; ROSEN Brontë shirt and Ingvar trousers; Margiela tank boots


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So You’re Thinking of Buying The Triple S


January 11, 2018

by Gracia Ventus


Issey Miyake Beetle Coat

When it comes to sneakers, I prefer to be the benchwarmer than a key player. Watching the game from the sidelines allows me to observe the industry without getting too entrenched in the consumption habits. Clunky lego sculpture assembled by a kindergartener is usually my go to choice for them. My relatively modest collection comprises mostly of Adidas tubulars - for exercising - and various collaborations with Raf Simons and Y-3. However I do find the game itself quite interesting, from a consumerism and capitalism perspective.

The sneakers industry is a behemoth. A sought after pair can command multiple times of what they retailed for in the second hand markets. The most anticipated ones are now only available for purchase by winning raffle tickets. Some menswear stores have set up safeguards to prevent bots from swiping their entire inventory within seconds of a sneaker release. Every year, the creme of the crop are ranked by sneakers news outlets Complex, Footwear News, Hypebeast and HighSnobiety. They have panels, they have discussions, they argue back and forth, but it is not science. It will never be science, because noone can quantify all the variables that they have taken into consideration. Footwear News, HiSnob and Hypebeast look at various factors such as rate of engagement on social media, polls since the beginning of the year (may I remind you that memories should never be trusted completely), and extent of influence across industries (I assume that means how many copycats were spawned). Complex simply asked a few selected people, no numbers no nothing. Basically everything comes down to hype.

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Wearing: Issey Miyake iridescent coat (shorter version available here), Issey Miyake Pleats Please trousers, Raf Simons x Adidas sneakers

What goes on offline in my neck of the woods is a completely different story. Here in the trendy city of Shanghai (as opposed to the more sartorially-informed city of Beijing), the most visible sneakers on the streets today are Nike's VaporMax, and Balenciaga's Triple S, that is, if I'm not counting the leftover carnage that is the Yeezys. Perhaps their high visibility could be attributed to their distinctive designs. However what's more noteworthy is that the Triple S cost four times as much as the VaporMax, yet they're both equally ubiquitous. Even my hairdresser wears the Triple S.

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Fig. 1, Girl on Shanghai subway in Balenciaga Triple S, authenticity unknown, photo taken by me

When the Triple S was first featured on the runway, I fell head over heels in love. I waited for its release like a squirrel eager for a ripening chestnut. As the scheduled launch was slated for autumn, there was a gap of several months. In between, a stylist friend of mine living in Shanghai showed me a Taobao listing for the much-awaited sneakers. At a cost of under US$100, I suspected it would only turn out to be a terrible replica. After all these factories only had images for references, unless they had an insider leak that is. I did not think it will have much of an impact considering the Triple S were widely available months before the shoes were even released. I had this idea that the shoes would be far too difficult to knock off completely, especially when compared to the Yeezys.

Well I was wrong.

Some weeks after the release of the shoes, I decided to check up on the Taobao situation, feeling rather smug with my prediction.

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Fig. 2, The endless offerings of the Triple S on Taobao

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Fig. 3, Sellers doing comparisons to showcase the quality of their reproductions

There are now hundreds of Triple S on Taobao, each outdoing another on who makes the most authentic-looking pairs. At an average cost of 300-800 yuan(US$50-$125), they are a lot more accessible than the real deal, especially considering that the real ones were sold out during pre-orders in February. The result is that I am seeing them almost every other day, on both men and women. It only goes to show that fashion consumption has become a daily sport for young Chinese consumers. Taobao has the best shopping algorithm in pushing what consumers might want - and end up purchasing - even if many of them weren't aware of the existence of the Triple S to begin with, nor of Balenciaga. While it has a terrible interface on the desktop, its mobile version is extremely addictive and almost idiot-proof. Don't speak Chinese? It allows searches with the use of image reversal, photos or bar codes. The e-commerce logistics is so efficient that anyone who lives in major cities can receive their parcel the next day. Most offer free shipping, and return shipping can be as low as $2. As a result, I am seeing reviews of people who claimed to have tried and tested several pairs from different retailers with the hopes of finding the most authentic-looking pair. Due to the discerning tastes of these consumers, many manufactures are pushed to be even more innovative with their reproductions in order to garner the most sales, so much so that I can no longer differentiate what was real or fake. It is late-stage capitalism at its finest.

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Fig. 4, Don't let the spelling fool you. Brand names are often misspelled in photos for legal purposes. The products themselves bear the original logos

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Fig. 5, Reviews from buyers

As of 2016, China has surpassed all the other markets in footwear consumption, over 3 billions pairs in total, while the US and India trailed far behind with over 2 billion pairs. The former will only increase over the years as young urban Chinese consumers are growing more affluent and their thirst is unrelenting. Considering that sneakers are de rigueur amongst the youths from all social classes, it would be a folly to come up with a yearly list of 'Top Ten' sneakers without taking into account the purchasing power and behaviour of the Chinese market. I would suggest that HiSnob and Complex etc send a team into China with clipboards to do primary research on the streets, while surfing Taobao during their breaks.

In the meantime, I will leave you with this.

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Fig. 6, These are so rare I saw them first before Balenciaga even thought about them


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The Tale of Tony Takitani – Part 2


January 10, 2018

by Gracia Ventus

Read part one here.

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As the summer heat gave way to the cool breeze of autumn, Tony Takitani grew more eager every day. Perhaps it wasn’t an exaggeration if I were to describe his high spirits as one that an expectant mother would have towards the birth of her child. Every morning he would wake up and look out of the window to see if there was any progress. Any fine gardener would tell you that chestnuts are only ready to be harvested when the burrs have fallen off the tree.

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Though the trees around Tony Takitani’s dwelling had turned red, the spikes of the burrs remained stubbornly closed, and most importantly, still hanging on the branch. There was nothing he could do but to wait patiently. His excitement was not eased by the fact that his other chestnut tree had remained barren. He could not remember any other occasion when he felt this surge of strong emotions, other than the first time he laid eyes on the only woman he had ever fallen in love with. Many years had passed, yet he was still able to recall the first time she visited his office. He could feel his heart beating faster and the small beads of sweat forming on his temples. It was a perpetual adrenaline rush involving trips to hell and back that barely subsided through the subsequent dates and eventual wedding. That rush evolved into contentment as the couple settled into their marital bliss. Even when he was disturbed by her clothing addiction, he loved her so much that he built a new wing in their house to make room for her ever-growing collection. He still blamed himself for talking her into dealing with her addiction - she had enough dresses to change outfits twice a day and still not repeat herself for two years - though any one would be able to see that her behaviour was not normal. He had always been alone for most of his life - his mother had died giving birth to him, his dad was perpetually absent - but he never knew loneliness until she came into his life. If he had known of the crippling sorrow that would befall him like the everlasting mists of Sleepy Hollow, he would have built a new mansion just to house her clothes. He would have done anything to prevent that single moment in time from happening. But he also knew life does not work like that.

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Tony Takitani was putting on his trusted grey jumpsuit for his usual weekend trip when the phone rang. A villager was at the other end of the line, distraught while spewing a torrent of earnest apologies before begging him to come to his house urgently. It seemed that his pregnant wife was on the verge of giving birth - a few weeks earlier than expected - but his car had refused to start. The workshop was closed and the ambulance would take some time to come. He could not think of anything else but to call up Taki-san who had been so kind to the villagers. Naturally the reliable hermit-slash-odd-jobber was already in his car before the man hung up.

As Tony Takitani pulled out of the gravel path on to the tarmac road, he gave his chestnut tree a quick glance out of habit, not expecting further developments from the tree. This time however, he spotted the burrs on the ground. He wasn’t sure whether his eyes were playing tricks on him. In the split second between wishing to get out of the car to pick up the precious chestnuts, and helping out villagers in dire need, he decided that he could get back to his chestnuts later. His compassionate spirit urged him to get to the distressed family as quickly as possible. And it was also this compassionate spirit that kept him in the car, on the verge of stepping on the accelerator, when a squirrel scampered in and stole the chestnuts away.

Tony Takitani’s feet met the pedal. As he drove away, watching the squirrel run off with his long-awaited fruits of labour, he could only muster a bittersweet smile.

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The Tale of Tony Takitani


December 20, 2017

by Gracia Ventus

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Tony Takitani was by no means a remarkable man from his outwardly appearance. He lived simply, ate simply, dressed simply. It was his choice of dwelling that usually raised eyebrows whenever his name passed through the lips of villagers. Not that they knew his full name to begin with. There’s too much mystery surrounding himself. He didn’t need to add another one or he’d have to keep explaining why he had an English first name despite being completely Japanese. They simply knew him as Taki-san.

Tony Takitani lived on his own on a hill above the village. His simple wooden dwelling stood in a large clearing. He had found it abandoned some time back on one of his explorations. After a round of investigations in the village he concluded that noone had lived in it for a while, and due to its inconvenient location, noone had desired to inhabit it. He asked the head of the village for permission to take over it. No objection would be raised as long as he promised to keep the grounds tidy. Not a difficult promise to deliver since Tony Takitani just wanted to build a secluded home away from people. He then proceeded to fix the crumbling wooden structure and its various sheds.

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Tony Takitani was a sharp, logical man. Combine that with the technical nature of his previous profession, he had the knowledge and skills for carpentry that would impress an Amish. Slowly but surely, he rebuilt the wooden house and furnished it simply. A single bed, a portable gas stove, a record player, and a shelf for his books. He hired a contractor to rehaul the plumbing in the outhouse. Though he desired to be a hermit, Tony Takitani would like to maintain a basic level of hygiene. As they worked, he asked the contractor some questions so he could fix simple plumbing issues that might surface.

Tony Takitani also had the foresight to grow a vegetable garden before moving in so he would be less reliant on village supplies over time. He even bought two chestnut trees - yes two, any gardening enthusiast will tell you no nuts will bear from a single chestnut tree - from a nursery not too far outside the village. He loved chestnuts dearly and thought he might give himself the little bit of luxury of watching his favourite trees grow and bear him sweet chestnuts as he got older.

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For the most part, Tony Takitani’s hermit life went on uneventfully, just the way he had planned it. Ever since his wife’s unfortunate sudden death, and his father’s passing soon after, he didn’t have anyone tying him back to the city life. If anything, he felt repulsed by it. He had no energy left to form new friendships nor relationships. Besides, he had always been alone most of his life, with a brief punctuation of his marriage with a woman he had loved dearly.

Every morning at sunrise, Tony Takitani would don a simple tunic and wide leg trousers to tend to his vegetable garden. Once done, he would go on an hour-long uphill run. It was his chosen method to empty his mind and focus on his physical self. He enjoyed the simple meals he cooked with the ingredients he had grown himself. In the evening, he would retire listening to old jazz records, the only influence from his estranged dead father . You and I might feel that this is the most boring life anyone can ever lead, but that was exactly the way he wanted to live the rest of his life.

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Tony Takitani’s routine passed seamlessly, day after day, with the exception of occasional phone calls from the villagers seeking his help. His old school Nokia brick was the only form of communication with the outside world he had retained, just in case there was an emergency. But over time he found it ringing a little more often than he would like as fellow villagers wanted to make appointments with him to see them over the weekend. Ever since they found out he was good with his hands, he became the village’s favourite odd-jobber. It all started when he helped to fix a car that had stalled down the hills as he was heading towards the village. Soon after he started receiving calls for help. One or two at first, usually during the weekend when the village’s car repair workshop was closed. Then they started to ask for gardening advice, woodworking, and even ikebana - something he had to profess ignorance for it was verging on the creative arts. As long as the task involved concrete technical process, he could logically deduce the problems and find a solution.

Although Tony Takitani lived his life mostly as a hermit, he didn’t mind his weekly expedition to the village, especially since he had to procure supplies for himself. He also thought it might be better this way than being known as a complete recluse that everyone would speak of in hushed tones. The less mystery surrounding himself, the better, though he would never really reveal much of his past to the villagers no matter how nosy they could get. Besides, he was a kindly man who loved to offer assistance. Every Saturday morning he would put on his faded grey jumpsuit ready to help a villager in need, before picking up some rice and gas canisters at the supermarket.

As I’ve said before, Tony Takitani was an exceptionally sharp man. Even if he didn’t possess all the necessary technical knowledge in his head, he could easily comprehend complicated instructions available on the Internet, accessed through his old brick of a phone. Ever since he moved into his new dwelling years ago, the lights in his house never flickered, the plumbing never clogged, the garden flourished. But there was one thing that he was still not able to do. Try as he might, he could not coax the chestnut trees to bear fruit. Both had refused to show any signs of the green spiky burrs, despite the fact that he had followed instructions religiously. Well-spaced trees, check; blight-free, check; patience, check. Still, the chestnuts refused to give him what he had hoped for. Being a magnanimous man, he did not hold any grudge towards the trees. After all, life had hurled giant lemons at him. Two barren chestnut trees could barely compare against the tragedies that had befallen him. Perhaps he was simply unfortunate to have picked these infertile trees. Slowly, he let go of his wish for chestnuts and remained grateful for the leafy foliage that provided shade for him in warmer months.

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On the eighth day of the eighth month of the eighth year of his semi-hermit life, Tony Takitani took a rest under the foliage of the chestnut tree nearest to his vegetable garden. He tilted his head upwards to admire the sunny blue sky through the leaves, when suddenly he spotted a small bunch of prickly green burrs. He stood up to get a closer look, not daring to hope, but sure enough, there were two clusters of chestnut burrs hanging from a branch.

Now Tony Takitani was not the sort of man who got excited too easily. But this was not the sort of occasion in which one should remain reserved. He could feel the elation swelling up faster than the summer heat rising from the ground. He entertained all the myriad of possibilities he could do with these precious chestnuts. He didn’t see too many burrs - two at most - which meant there were less than ten chestnuts. No matter. One could do plenty with that amount, especially for one self. Perhaps two to make a kuri gohan, two more in a wagashi, and the rest roasted over a fire. Just imagining its fragrance alone put a smile on his face.

To be continued.


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