Moganshan – In Search of A Room of One’s Own

May 10, 2019

by Gracia Ventus

It’s hard to remember the last time I found solitude - the kind of solitude that allows me to switch off from work; from worries and anxieties; from forgotten goals and neglected dreams; from thoughts that creep in at four am when my subconscious wakes me up and decides to have a pity party.

When the pressure gets overwhelming, I pull myself out of the city and head towards the mountains. Having heard of Moganshan recently I decided to skip my usual Hangzhou retreat and try this new place.

While paved roads do snake up the slopes of the mountain ranges, most of Moganshan is still shrouded in bamboo forests. There are a few built up areas with large scale hotels, but for the most part, this region is dotted with clusters of villages. I was well aware that the boutique hotel I had chosen would be in a remote area, but I was not expecting what the surrounding man-made environment would be like. Aside from several lodgings, most of the houses were derelict. They were either boarded up with chains and padlocks, or has wide open doors with very little furniture inside. This is unusual for many Chinese. Compared to the typical Shanghainese homes that are completely covered with belongings wall to wall - a hoarding mentality is commonplace - these villagers lead austere, almost ascetic lives. The average age of the residents I’ve come across during my walks is fifty. Though these concrete houses seem to be built in the last ten or twenty years, they are reminiscent of the bygone Maoist era fifty years back; of a time when the bourgeoisie were exiled for re-education through manual labour. These old residents were the ones who stayed behind while their younger counterparts ran away to the cities to participate in modern capitalist China.


Tenzing Coat


And of course it’s the same capitalist mentality that drove the young back to this region. Amidst the old villas are lavish Mercedes, Audis and a cornucopia of SUVs, flocking to this mountain range when the cold winter has loosened its grip. The hotel I am staying in is a testament to what New Money is capable of building. Much like other boutique hotels built in the last two years that I’ve stayed in, modern Chinese interior design is firmly rooted in industrial Minimalism; exposed concrete, bath tubs outside of the washroom area, and semi-concealed toilets. A wall is an outdated concept for the young generation. The choice of furniture could be art deco, Ming-style Minimalism, or even Japanese, all tastefully arranged in an open floor plan. I spent three days researching the perfect room in a perfect setting, one that allows me to take hot baths - a luxury for me as I do not have the space for one at home - surrounded by the view of lush greeneries. And so I settled on one that has the style of Japanese art deco fusion.


Linen Tenzing coat; Charcoal sandwashed silk Plato suit; available soon for ROSEN's summer collection. Email to order in advance.

Most new developments take place in the lower slopes of the mountain. Large, grand mansions are in the midst of construction, although many more villas remain lifeless. The higher up the slope I walked, the further I plunged into the past. Doors closed, windows broken, houses long forgotten by their previous occupants. The dogs are less friendly because they don’t come across people as often as the packs that roam the streets on the lower slopes. As I passed by more dilapidated villas, I could smell strong stench of manure and ammonia. They were from freshly planted saplings in small patches of gardens, probably one of the few signs that local life still goes on in this ageing village.

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Clothes vs. Physical State – Which Matters More?

April 30, 2019

by Gracia Ventus

A week ago I held an informal poll on my Instagram story. The question I posted was:

What's more acceptable to you or what you see on other people:
A. immaculate grooming and/or makeup but little attention to clothes, or
B. immaculate clothes and accessories but little attention on grooming and/or makeup.

Out of almost 400 votes I've received, 38% voted for A. So a solid two third chose immaculate clothing, which was not surprising considering that my instagram content is centered around luxury fashion and not beauty nor grooming nor fitness. What was most surprising was the number of constructive responses that I have received, many of whom have voted for A. While I cannot be sure of their motivation to justify their choice - perhaps being in a minority group warrants them to explain themselves, it was also noteworthy to mention that there were a few who first chose B, then changed their mind to A.

Needless to say I am taking this informal poll with a grain of salt. However it provides a glimpse into gender-based perspectives. From the articulated responses that I've received, most of them are mostly men and a few women who believe that a good foundation to looking presentable begins from the body. A couple of people even threw in the infamous Rick Owens reference with regards to sculpting one's physical state. The ones who answered B seemed to be mainly women who wrote in with the believe that makeup is not important as clothing when it comes to self expression and making a lasting impression on others, with little references to fitness nor physical state. I believe that we tend to speak from our own experiences, thoughts and exposures. I think it is safe to assume that everyone who gave their responses would be speaking from (mostly) a reflection of the habits of the gender they belong to.

Fashion, beauty, and body are all a larger part of one's personal expression that we cultivate to feel good about ourselves before we can face the world to attract a mate, relate to other peers and be accepted in a wider social context. It is very much influenced by the norms of the day. As much as we would like to think we are far more progressive than we have ever been, heteronormative practices are still alive and well. There are some changes that are more visible in the last decade or so. Although men is now the fastest growing segment in the clothing market and women are increasingly more conscious about looking fit and healthy, many of us are still bound by implicit social contract that enforces gender traits we are born with, especially in formal places like the workplace. Perhaps it is not surprising that when it comes to making quick judgment calls about people, we fall back on familiar cues that we apply to ourselves and habitual practices within our own genders.


"Working out is modern couture. No outfit is going to make you look or feel as good as having a fit body. Buy less clothing and go to the gym instead." - Rick Owens


This question was posted as a precursor to a larger matter that I've been pondering - namely, how much we actually value synergy between our looks and our clothes, and how much effort is put into enforcing that coherence. A few popular clothing brands require a rigorous sculpting of the body (Rick Owens comes to mind again), some others require a certain outward appearance that conforms to the lifestyle portrayed by the brand (any one that has been tainted by Hedi Slimane). Failure to consider and incorporate these factors often result in a disjointed overall image, often described as the 'clothes wearing the person'. This is only the beginning of the discourse. I hope to delve more into this if and when time allows.

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BALENCIAGA’s Instagram – Genius, or Shortsighted?

April 18, 2019

by Gracia Ventus

As someone who thinks a lot about social media marketing strategy, I have to observe what other fashion companies are doing on Instagram. In general, most brands stick to a few general rules, which include posting an update once a day, being informative, and presenting the most beautiful imageries that appeal to their audience. Think Prada, Gucci, Nike, Zara. The constant aim for perfection in social media content is a priority.

Not for Balenciaga however. Since last year, the brand is now considered a meme page. Hardly any of the images are well-lit, well-focused nor well composed, at least not by industry standards. Gone is any semblance of opulence, nor Leibovits-tier aesthetics that people have come to expect from a luxury brand. Instead it looks like a private account of someone who parties at Berghain, only has coke and two year-old cheese in his fridge, often stays awake for 48 hours straight, and probably doesn't know where he will live a month from now because he had spent his pay check on wine, makeup and three pairs of thrifted lurex pants to match his 90s dad sneakers.

Balenciaga Meme IG

It is however, highly engaging. The constant shitposting of low quality, off-the-cuff selfies-tier images are getting people worked up and passionate about the brand. For a luxury brand that has 3 million followers, getting almost 1% number of likes is far higher than the average number its contemporaries are getting. In comparison, Gucci, Prada and Nike receive an average of 0.3%, a measly third of Balenciaga's engagement. The plunge into this aesthetics reminds me of Instagram's users back when the app was in its infancy. People were taking selfies with their potato-quality camera phones. There was a sense of authenticity and imperfection that the audience can relate to. That was ten years ago. Influencers now have professional photographers tailing them to take beautiful images because that's what their audience respond to the most. However it comes at the expense of spontaneity and genuine experiences. Instagram is almost a decade old now. The constant search for perfection is perhaps no longer relatable to young yet jaded Instagram users that are growing immune to staged imageries.

Balenciaga Meme IG

I can't even

Make no mistake. The social media team knows exactly what they're doing. Amidst the badly composed shots - which in actual fact are actually highly contrived and calculated to look bad - are Balenciaga's signature tailoring, knife heels and neon spandex that Demna champions. They know exactly what the internet savvy Gen-Z wants: cats, shoes, irony and some semblance of post-modern authenticity. Even if they have received flak all over the Internet - yours truly is certainly not a fan of this marketing direction - the younger crowd fell for the meme-bait hook, line and sinker. 65% of sales came from the young Millenial crowd. On the streets of Shanghai, the young and old are wearing the Triple S regardless of its authenticity.

Balenciaga Meme IGBalenciaga Meme IG

Balenciaga google trends

Google trend for search term "Balenciaga" worldwide in the last five years

Balenciaga hashtags

Under Demna Gvasalia, interest for Balenciaga has risen sharply, thanks to the hype machine he has created. Its bad taste aesthetics is perfectly in line with Balenciaga's strategy in glorifying banal goods - think IKEA blue bags and canvas touristy totes, slapped with recognisable logos. The total disregard for any rules of photography that compromises the brand's luxury positioning has worked in their favour. Balenciaga has seen a sharp rise in interest all over the Internet, with sales figures to back it up. Although the social media marketing team may have resorted to a genius differentiation move, the longevity of its strategy remains to be seen. If a brand is built on explosive hype to appeal to consumers with short attention span, it's very likely that their interest will soon dissipate and they will have to constantly reinvent the wheel to remain relevant.


Rose in Comme Revisited

April 14, 2019

by Gracia Ventus


Some weeks ago I turned 31, marking an ever closer milestone to a decade-long dive into the universe of Comme des Garçons. On the day of my birthday, I wore a suit from my favourite collection - the Infinity of Tailoring. It represented the perfect balance of whimsy and romanticism that meets pragmatism, comfort and practicality delivered with absolute precision in pattern drafting and cutting. The suit - and two other matching suit sets that I have with me - are part of a small Comme collection that is left in my possession, and have remained with me for six years. As my business grows, the opportunities to wear outré clothes has inversely dwindled to almost nothing. Most days are spent lugging my laptop, gym gears and clothing samples all over the city. Wearability takes precedence. The subject of wearability has sparked many heated debates across forums and comments sections. But in the world of Comme, I would define wearability to mean being able to lift my arms, while carrying some type of bag on my shoulders.

Shortly after this FW2013 collection, Rei Kawakubo launched a full-scale rebellion against wearability that lasted for five years. If it wasn't for the models' heads and feet protruding, the clothes could easily be mistaken for moving sculptures. Noone questions why Rei Kawakubo went down this direction, and even if some of them tried, she would never give a proper answer. She no longer bothers to. Every year, she gives less interviews, and for every question her answer grows shorter. Not that anyone would ever complain. She is such a revered name in fashion that she is the first living designer to have an exhibit done in her honour in the Met Museum. By then, she would have been making clothes for almost five decades. Very few names in fashion can boast such legacy.


Left: Fall/Winter 2014 collection; Right: Fall/Winter 2018 Collection


The constant search for something new, abstract and unthinkable drove Rei Kawakubo to where she is today. When it comes to designing garments, we are constrained by the human anatomy. For any designer with less than twenty years of experience under their belt, that gives room for a thousand and one permutations. By her thirtieth year in fashion, Kawakubo-san has moved beyond garment design to redefining the metaphysics of beauty and clothing. She introduced the concept of wabi sabi to Paris (1983), deconstructed gender through suitings (1992) and deformed the human body (1996). Eventually that too gets old (by her standards), and she shifted to a new horizon to address the most basic question of all - what makes clothes, clothes.


Rei Kawakubo was not the first person who attempted to address that question. Final year fashion students have the luxury to push boundaries of clothing because they have no reputation nor finances to lose. It's the kind of freedom that established fashion houses do not possess because they have sales quotas to meet. Not for Comme des Garçons however. As a privately held company, Kawakubo-san has no Arnaults nor Pinaults to answer to. And thus she is free to do as she wishes. Unlike fashion students, she commands an army of the most skilled pattern makers and cutters, with advanced production capabilities in Japan. It was only a matter of time before her persistence with abstraction rubbed off on other designers, or dare I say, give them the courage to do their own versions of 'not clothes'.


Rick Owens SS2018



Left: Margiela FW2018 Couture; Right: Comme des Garçons FW2009. It seems like Galliano had been scouring some archive Comme too

By the fourth or fifth season, critics no longer raised their collective eyebrow when she sent another 'not clothes' collection. Then all of a sudden, the music stopped.

“I felt this approach was no longer new, and I looked for what is new, what is new. But I could not find it.” - Rei Kawakubo

Ahead of the Comme des Garçons fall/winter 2018 show, an announcement had been emailed by Kawakubo’s husband, Adrian Joffe, saying that she was ceasing her 10-season practice of challenging boundaries of fashion by showing abstract forms. Her clothes had sleeves again. The wearers can move their arms once more.

Fashion on its most basic, mainstream level is a signifier of one's sexuality nested on a spectrum of dominance and submission. We can simply look at the most popular red carpet events such as the Oscars or BAFTAs to gauge what's considered sexually attractive for men and women. Taken down several notches, their outfits are a reflection of what the majority of the population will wear on a special night out, in the office environment or any setting that involves social interactions. The world of designer fashion, however shuns mainstream judgment aside for an hour every season to revere Comme des Garçons - the brand that makes people look unsexy, unglamorous and and in many instances, non-human. Luxury is often equated with excess wealth and indiscriminate consumption. And then there's also Veblen's definition of luxury - which is to be so rich that one barely has to work; I'm imagining lunching ladies in Lanvin who can change outfits five times a day. Perhaps Comme des Garçons represented the highest form of luxury, which is to be in a position where one does not feel insecure or threatened - physically and mentally - when going against cultural norms.


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The Melancholy of Modernity – A Look into ROSEN’s Inspiration

March 26, 2019

by Gracia Ventus

I am by nature a visual person, so plucking ideas from personal experiences and turning them into clothes is by far a much easier process than writing. As long as I am emotionally positive, I can envisage a garment - a seam here, a lining there, and pockets everywhere. Writing is a completely different process. I have to be mentally calm to string words together, no matter my emotional state. If anything, melancholy propels me. I am most prolific when immersed in gloomy solitude. A dark winter morning, a long transit in the airport, an empty cafe, a long walk home.

Melancholy is by no means a positive emotion. It is rooted in sadness and loss, sometimes a sense of longing for something that's missing. Brian Eno and Ryuichi Sakamoto encapsulates this well, as with many other musicians like Bjork and Agnes Obel. In the world of cinema there's Lars von Trier. When it comes to writing however, noone else comes close to Haruki Murakami. Kafka did well in depicting hopelessness, but it is not the same as subdued melancholy that Murakami is so accomplished in portraying through his mundane protagonists that are highly functioning in their day-to-day lives without much allusion to depression. One should not read his books for the plot, but for the pace, proses and analogies. In fairness I may not have read enough to discover other authors in the same vein. Perhaps I will get to the Russians one day and have my views changed on this subject.

Mongolian nomad herding his livestock, KATIE ORLINSKY for National Geographic

Once when I was on a solitary plane ride, I came across a documentary about Mongolian nomads. Strong men and women riding horses graced the screen herding sheep and goats, while children as early as adolescent age helped their parents astride beasts much larger than their small bodies. They wore colourful clothes that showed little influence from the outside world. Vibrant fabrics donned bodies - some lithe, some sturdy - of these weather-beaten descendants of what used to be one of the most formidable armies in ancient history. Though the focus of the film was the lifestyle of the nomads, I was deeply captivated by the clothes they were wearing. Their typical clothing consist of an outerwear called 'del' or 'deel', paired with loose trousers. They carry the same signifiers as the Western suits and jeans - denoting seasons, occasions, genders and tribes through the use of different materials and colours - that is, normal everyday clothes for their way of life. I was so captivated by the imageries that they inspired ROSEN's first collection in 2019.

Top: Mongolian herder family; Bottom: ROSEN's 2019 collection

Top: Mongolian herder family; Bottom: ROSEN's 2019 collection

As someone who is far removed from a nomadic lifestyle, I admit I am completely ignorant on what being a pastoral nomad is like. I've never even been to Mongolia. I wanted to learn more about the people whose clothing culture has broadened my perspective on colours and textures. Further research into my source of inspiration yielded a less than romantic picture of the land of eternal blue sky. The idyllic documentary hides the harsh living environments that these herders face. Beneath their stoic exterior lies the hardships presented by modern challenges, from global warming that is affecting their livestock survival, to severe air pollution.

21st Century Mongolians, David Levene for the Guardian

Centuries ago, Mongolians had to worry about dying in wars or foreign invasions. Today, the post-Soviet country faces problems that were created within and outside of their control. Climate change has affected the livelihood of nomads. Shorter rainfall in summer means that less grass grows for grazing, and also less fodder to be stockpiled for winter. And then there's the harsh winters that are unique to Mongolia, known locally as dzuds. 700,000 animals perished in the winter of 2018. These include sheep, goats, cows, and horses. For reference, a small lamb can feed about thirty hungry footballers. A loss that large led to the complete obliteration of the income of several hundred families, with no hopes of recovery to their old livelihood.

Altansukh’s milk pail stands empty. There is no horse for him to saddle. His cattle are dead. And this tent, which once stood in the countryside, is now on the fringes of the Mongolian capital, Ulaanbaatar, surrounded by pylons, rubble and the husks of old cars. Altansukh, his wife and their four children may live among rural paraphernalia, but following a disastrously cold winter a few years ago, they were forced to move to the city to survive [...] “We lost all our animals,” the 38-year-old says. “Thirty-nine out of 40 cows, almost 300 sheep. The cows wandered far away in the snow and never came back. And when we got up one morning, all the sheep had frozen to death. We had lost everything – so we decided to leave immediately for Ulaanbaatar."

Living in the capital city Ulaanbaatar provides access to basic convenience that we take for granted. City dwellers have access to running water and central heating. They don't have to relieve themselves in the outhouse at minus forty degrees - a temperature so low there's no need to discern between Celcius or Fahrenheit. Children can go to school. Public hospitals are within the vicinity. Yet for these newcomers, running away to the city presents new problems. When the country was run by a Communist government, immigration rate was kept under control so as to prevent overcrowding. But since the country has adopted democracy, such rules have been abolished. The city is now unable to cope with the large influx of rural migrants that had swelled the city three times the size of what it was planned for. Their addresses may have changed, but not their homes. Two thirds of the city's population live in traditional makeshift gers with no central heating nor plumbing. Some complained of the stress of city life, from the complete and utter dependance on monetary system for basic necessities, to lack of space.

These temporal gers have no access to electrical heating system. In order to cope with winter in the coldest capital city in the world, they burn fuels in their indoor stoves. The richer ones burn coal and wood; the ones scraping by, tyres and plastic bottles. As a result, the city of Ulaanbaatar is now more polluted than Beijing in winter.

On the coldest days, the stoves of hundreds of thousands of ger district homes burn in unison. There's no blue sky nor green steppes to be found in this reality. Zhang Chi for TIME

Lung cancer is now a common disease. Babies develop respiratory problems within months of being born. Despite the increased likeliness of developing cancer, many are enduring the air pollution for as long as it takes before their children graduate with a university degree, working menial jobs as janitors, dishwashers and illegal coal miners. While there are a minor subset who prefers the convenience of city life, many longed for the freedom and fresh air of the undulating grasslands, the comfort of solitude, the slowness of time. To say that Mongolians are a tough race is probably an understatement. Schopenhauer would have a field day seeing their determination to endure life-threatening conditions for the sake of continuing our lineage.

A Mongolian family in Ulaanbaatar; Zhang Chi for TIME

Beneath every picturesque image belies the struggles and hardships of life. The farmer worries for his animals; the metropolitan woman her crippling depression and anxieties. Life is all about deciding which cake to eat and mourning for the rest that we can't have.

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In Pursuit of Eudaimonia

January 24, 2019

by Gracia Ventus

It's 6 AM and I've been awake for two hours, again. I sat up in bed and opened up my laptop. My fat ginger cat got up from the foot of the bed and sauntered over to me, putting one paw on my arm to indicate his intent on climbing up to my lap. And so there I was, typing these words with a purring furry friend headbutting my chin gently, half blocking my view.

There are very few little pleasures to be found in life these days. But if it happens at 6 AM, I'll take what I can get; the company of an unruly feline, the sound of rain, a passage in a Murakami novel that stirs deep melancholy.

I have come to realise that being an entrepreneur is a very lonely life. It's not dependent on the frequency of social interactions, but how little everyone around you truly comprehends the trials and tribulations that come with the territory; the limitations of what one person can do in any given day, the helplessness when situations spiral out of my control, the anxiety that stems from not knowing what I don't know, mistakes to apologise for and fix when they happen no matter how hard I try to look out for them, the physical toll that manifests from mental stress, the prolonged fatigue that eventually saps away my mental energy, the inevitable slide into depression with no help in sight.

Every person's battles are different. It's what makes us unable to truly understand other people. I could talk to other entrepreneurs, and perhaps find that they too share some aspects of this hardship, but no one has the same exact experiences. The path to complete and utter empathy of each others' plights are - let's face it - probably non-existent.

Though happiness seems to be far from my grasp at this point, I take solace in finding a sense of fulfilment whenever I channel my creativity into making clothes, especially the kind that make people happy when they wear them.

ROSEN 2019

ROSEN 2019 collection, coming soon