In Which I Write About A Series of Adventures in Japan – Part One

July 19, 2017

by Gracia Ventus

Issey Miyake Madame T

I sat by the window typing these words, accompanied by the gentle roar of the river blending with the harmonious beats of Bonobo. Compared to Tokyo, the air up in the mountains of Gunma was cool and fresh even at the height of summer. My travel companion was fast asleep. Midnight, the world was adrift and at peace. I dug deep into my memory and wrote.

Issey Miyake Madame T

Gunma Adventure - Part One

Words don’t come easily to me, though incoherent thoughts are relentless. We had spent the day on a bullet train and two buses, making our way from Tokyo to a remote onsen up the mountains of Gunma. I had never been here, but I held on to the faith that the ryokan and mountains would be worth the stress of the journey.

One aspect of myself that I constantly try to improve on is time management while traveling. And there’s no better way to do that in a country as pedantic as Japan. I thought I had given ourselves enough time to make our way from our lodgings in Omotesando Hills to Tokyo station where we would catch a bullet train, but we got carried away loading up on lunches and snacks. As a result, we had to race across subway stations, probably did a hundred meter sprint midway, while both of us were lugging 20kg and 30 kg of goods respectively. No guessing who packed the heavier one. I lost my grip on the luggage handle mid-sprint as we were transferring from the subway to the overground. It cracked upon hitting the pavement. Stairs had to be climbed, people to apologise to. Several station gates through Tokyo station and profuse sumimasens later, we caught the right shinkansen with two minutes to spare. As we took our seats on the duck-billed train - struggling to catch our breath - my companion blurted out, “HIIT has nothing on this.”

End of Gunma Adventure - Part One

Issey Miyake Madame T Margiela Tabi Boots

Kyoto Adventure - Part One

As someone who travels quite often to Japan, I had wondered why I hadn’t gone to Kyoto almost immediately. It was after all the ancient capital of the country, now its cultural capital, where the concept of wabi sabi was born. If you have been reading my essays you will know how much this philosophy permeates the way I think and consume; the beauty of imperfection, the ageing process of people and material goods, the signifiers of usage - these are all embodied in the clothes I wear, the wares I sell, the photographs I take.

I decided to give Kyoto a try when I found out that Japan’s low-cost carrier Peach Airlines has a Shanghai-Kansai route at a relatively affordable cost, though it involved taking a six am flight. I had no idea what to expect, other than a vague idea of the cultural significance of the city. My motto in life has evolved to “have zero expectations from new experiences in order to avoid disappointment”.

Issey Miyake Madame T

Kyoto itself is by and large an industrial town. Sitting in the train that whisked me away from Kansai airport on an hour-long (or was it two?) journey, the view outside wasn’t what I would call picturesque. Yet it’s still quintessentially Japan - angular suburban homes intermingled with well-pruned greenery, elderly people tending to a patch of gardens at a random car park, chimney stacks not too far off in the background, small practical cars weaving in and out of narrow streets. The view remained unchanged even when the train pulled into Kyoto station. A touch of familiarity mingled with the excitement of arriving in a new city; PA system announcing train departures and arrivals in a friendly voice, sararimans careering around dawdling tourists trying to navigate the complexities of a large Japanese train station. As I dragged my typically heavy suitcase from the station to my Airbnb lodging along the city’s systematic grid-like road system, I began to notice the exceptionally old age of Kyoto homes - ubiquitous wooden structures bore the mark of ancient history, snuggled between modern flats.

The closer I walked to the central district, the older the homes became. The city was a lot easier to navigate around than Tokyo as the roads were named numerically relative to the Kamo River that runs from the north to the south - the beating heart of Kyoto. I passed by a cafe that overlooked the embankment, which I knew would become one of my favourite working spots.

Issey Miyake Madame T

More old wooden homes built alongside narrow streets. I finally arrived at my Airbnb somewhere in a tiny block of flats. I did my best to carry my 20kg suitcase up a narrow flight of stairs. I keyed in the code for the door to my rented flat, opened the door, and saw the tatami and futon bedding arrangements. Minimal, clean and cosy. I knew I’d sleep well that night.

End of Kyoto Adventure - Part One

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An Ending, A Beginning

July 3, 2017

by Gracia Ventus

Rick Owens Sphinx Biker Jacket

There is a real contrast that I love between the layered voluminous styling, the high end labels and the dilapidated stagings where you shoot. There is a way you democratize these impossibly avant grade clothing in a way that is refreshing. Its clear that you are an “otaku” of these labels you write about. Are you trying to connect with people like you? To find other “nerds” of these obscure and difficult labels? or are you trying to do something different with your blog, retailing, writing?

I don’t necessarily write to connect, but it has become a wonderful result that I wasn’t expecting when I started. My writing is a declaration of my love (or disdain) for specific topics and labels, and through my reading, research, and collecting, I hope to spread the things I have learnt to my audience.

Talking about dilapidated, messy wabi-sabi backgrounds do you think this is something of having grown up in the tropical Asia?

Possibly. Who knows what my preference will be if I had grown up in Oslo.

Some early photos showed you in a sort of emo/goth style that currently has evolved into something more refined and minimalist but still quirky and wild. Were you subversive or interested in underground cultures growing up or currently? I’m curious having lived in Singapore/Malaysia in these sort of regimes how that might have influenced you? How is being in China changing your attitudes to that?

Before I found fashion my energy was focused on music and competitive sports. I played the drums and listened to mostly angsty music. My choice in clothing was pretty literal in showcasing my music preference. Growing up I had developed a rebellious attitude in which I disliked the mainstream (eg. choosing rowing over football). I’m less snobbish now, but I still prefer ideas that stimulate my thinking process, be it social issues or creativity. Being in China has been an eye-opening experience. Beneath the authoritarian regime and the quest to keep up with the joneses, China is the bubbling pot of creativity with its own distinct flavour; thousands of years of history, ready to be drawn out and reinterpreted for modern times.

An excerpt of my interview between Robert Patterson and me, from one fellow entrepreneur to another. For the full version, please click here.

Rick Owens Sphinx Biker Jacket
Wearing: Rick Owens sphinx biker jacket and samurai shorts; Ann Demeulemeester pirate boots, available on ROSEN here

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Knotted and Disjointed in Rick Owens

June 7, 2017

by Gracia Ventus


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

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

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

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



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

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

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



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Championing Solitude in The Instagram Era

June 1, 2017

by Gracia Ventus


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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Going Utilitarian

May 23, 2017

by Gracia Ventus

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

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


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.


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