Monthly Archives: June 2011

Skirts For Men

When it comes to bottoms, skirt not the issue. To wear or not to wear the skirts that were shown in Paris during the just-concluded fashion week? I can’t answer for you, but I sense there’s something in the air. So prevalent were these non-pants that guys are, for once, encouraged to discuss (or dis) hemlines. It’s not just only about whether they’re willing to wear skirts but, if they are, of what length? Would it be the mini, A-line ones at Givenchy? Or the knee-lengths at Comme des Garcons? Or the heel-grazing tunics at Rick Owens?

What’s clear is that none of these pieces are man-friendly kilts or sarongs or dhotis or wannabes. To me, they are doubtlessly skirts, those that women are partial to. Is their undisguised appearance the shattering of the last sartorial taboo for men? Or a shift in masculine aesthetics by, er, dress? Or a silly trend?

In Thailand, or, specifically Bangkok, where society is polarised by political affiliation rather than gender identity, men are perhaps less proned to disparage those who prefer skirted garments. Fashion in Thai culture is more likely to be fashionable when you break rules. Going by many Thai men’s proclivity to feminine styles, skirts for poochai may not be that outrageous. In fact, I think they could be highly adoptable!

The Twitter generation only recently exposed to live streaming of fashion shows is not likely to be aware that skirts for men are really not that new. It has a modern history that can be traced to Jean Paul Gaultier, who introduced the “man-skirt” as early as 1985. Not long after, skirts or skirt-like shorts (or, horrors, skorts!) started to appear at Comme des Garcons. Even then, these skirts, although controversial, were not a cross-dressing statement. For Gaultier, they were, and have been, a male wardrobe option.

While there are those designers who put out skirts during Men’s Fashion Week and don’t wear them, there are those who do not show skirts but wear them. Marc Jacobs, we have seen, is fond of taking his catwalk bow and attending fashion events  in a kilt. As shown this past week, why pretend to be a man of the Scot when, naturally, you can be a man in a skirt?

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Charity Tee

I have my reservations about Uniqlo’s latest collaboration not because its Save Japan tees seem a little belated, but because I am not so sure the partnerships, heavy on movie stars, add any creative element to the fashion+charity cause.

The t-shirts are out today at select Uniqlo stores worldwide. Out of the 10 people asked to particpate in what is essentially a CSR exercise (supported by Vogue publisher the Condé Nast Group, with the money going to the Japanese Red Cross), only two are fashion designers: Karl Lagerfeld and Alber Elbaz. Victoria Beckham is in the mix, but I do not consider her a fashion designer. The rest are movie stars and pop singers, all US Vogue cover girls except Victoria Beckham, Cyndi Lauper and, of course, Orlando Bloom.

Okay, I’d be the first to admit that I find Gwyneth Paltrow’s GOOP-ish message on a chest as appealing as bumper stickers on a car. That goes for Blake Lively’s too. For me, when you want to contribute to any fashion project, you really should bring fashion to it, not some scribbles that looked like they were penned by a personal assistant mimicking your longhand.

But I am pro-charity. So, this morning my money went to Alber Elbaz’s hearts-aplenty tee.

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Smells Like Teen Spirit?

Not yet 18, Justin Bieber is already following the scent-trailing footsteps of Elizabeth Taylor or J Lo or Beyoncé. His first fragrance ‘Someday’ was launched yesterday in the US, apparently to countless screaming girls. Was it floral oils at work, or pheromones?

The Biebs (sounds to me like ‘the plebes’ or some disease) is not new to the beauty business. Early this year, he offered ‘One Less Lonely Girl’ range of nail polish to fans of an age group that should not be considering cosmetics in the first place. It is, however, not the age, but the product category that is rather intriguing to me. Perfume, is understandable, but teen-focused nail polish is so Barbie-esque that it is really amazing that any guy mindful of his machismo (fully developed or not) would even consider it.

Justin Bieber is not the first male popstar to do a fragrance. In 2005, Sean Combs (or P Diddy to some of you) launched the indefensible ‘Unforgivable’, followed, three years later, by the egomaniacal ‘I Am King’. In 2007, Usher gave us the gender-unambiguous ‘He’ and ‘She’ and then the insipid UR, not forgetting the unimportant ‘VIP’. By so many accounts, these fragrances ended in discount bins, alongside, dare I say, “classics” such as Jōvan Musk!

At the moment, I have no way of smelling ‘Someday’, but if names can arouse olfactory curiosity, then Someday isn’t it. I mean, what kind of name is that? Visualise: a girl asks her BFF, “Do I smell nice?” and the friend exclaims, “Someday!” A fragrance can be appealing if you can’t quite figure out what it is evocative of, but if the name suggests uncertainty, where’s the pull? Imagine a champagne called Perhaps!

Once, as early as the days of Shawn Cassidy or as recent as Jonas Brothers, if songs alone were not enough, pop stars availed signed photos of themselves to fans. Concerts were the ultimate treats, of course, but these could not be had frequent or close enough. In present times, even Tweets are insufficient for followers who must cling to a star’s every word, or be connected unbroken. Now, as seen in the launch of ‘Someday’, the girls seemed to be saying to their idol, just as Gwen Stefani did with her fragrance ‘L’: “I want you all over me!”

To which I would add, constantly.

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In Politics, Do You Really Need To Leave Style At Home?

Just as beauty can come with brains, substance can be swathed in style. However, in Thailand, once you enter the political arena, you do not want to stand out from those eligible to vote. Running for elected office, while not always about pressing issues, is neither about pressed clothes. To connect fashion with politics may seem frivolous when policies are as strong as a broken stitch, but clothes are not altogether without their uses. It is, therefore, disappointing to see Yingluck Shinawatra dress the way she does as she goes around to woo the electorate, more so when, as a business woman, she was not this dull a dresser.

I am not expecting her to be like the Armani-clad Nancy Pelosi who wore a vintage Mugler suit to a recent State Dinner, or Hilary Clinton’s aide Huma Abedin (Mrs Weiner!) who favours Oscar de la Renta, or even Sarah Palin who can shift between soccer mom and sassy politico, all the while wearing those rimless glasses!

(Notice I did not mention Michelle Obama or Carla Bruni as both, to me, are not really in politics. They don’t get their hands dirty enough. Mrs Obama digging up a patch in the South Lawn of the White House to plant a vegetable patch does not count!)

Given the political scenario, I risk sounding flippant talking about Ms Shinawatra’s fashion sense, but now that she is constantly in the public eye, the uniform—black suit and white shirt—she has adopted is so unauthentic that you begin to wonder if what she has been presenting is genuine. Before politics, as president of SC Asset Co., Ltd., she was seen wearing colour-saturated clothes (sometimes of Thai silk) that were anything but dull, and the complete opposite of her present look, which seems an appropriation of a bank clerk’s. As a potential head of the country, she can surely do better.

Yingluck Shinawatra in colourful garb

Not wanting to stand out in politics by way of dress is really a recent, public relations-motivated strategy. In the past, rulers of most lands, near or far, were outfitted to augment their position and power. From Cleopatra to Empress Wu Zetian to Queen Victoria, court dress was designed for them to, well, hold court!  (In the case of Queen Victoria, a fashion era was named after her.) No sovereign was expected to dress like her subjects. It was unthinkable for a supreme ruler to reject clothes that befit her high standing. Now, as politics do not include court rituals, politicians are not inclined to use dress to assert rank or status. In an effort to not appear too distant from fellow members of the party and parliament, and, especially, voters, politicians feel obliged to dress “neutral”, bordering on the lacklustre. This is also one way of appearing approachable.

If Ms Shinawatra’s wardrobe choices are to align her with the guys, I do not see the advantage of being on par with her political opponents such as Abhisit Vejjajiva, who has the same sartorial finesse as a hotel manager on night duty. If she wants to conform to the constituents, then she has perhaps failed to see that even if she dresses like them, it does not mean she can be one of them. Everyone knows she is rich. She need not look otherwise; she need not stay away from fashion to play down the class difference. She can never be proletarian even if she tried!

The thing is, I do not want her to be like you or I. I want her to be better, far better! Heck, she is gunning for leadership of this country; she should look and dress the part. A potential prime minister dealing the populist card has the same allure as a top likay performer. People do not only hear her speak, they see her speak too. Her clothes can, therefore, convey political as well as social messages. Fashion is a personal form of communication. It can be, and have been, used to communicate, among many agendas, nationalism, justice, or unity.

Of course, fashion in Thailand is not a unifier. The on-going colour divide, for example, speaks not only of the effectiveness of colour symbolism, but also the codes that can visibly segregate the opposing masses. They make good footages for TV coverage, of course, but with the grassroots, there’s another kind of immediacy: colours win hearts, or break them.

Party wear for the campaign rounds

Ms Shinawatra’s appointment as Pheu Thai’s leading candidate with the potential to be Thailand first female prime minister reflects social progress and gender equality in the country. While her appointment shows what barriers have broken in Thai politics and the strides Thai women have made in society, what she wears (and how how well she wears them) may put the spotlight on what power or confidence can look like. Moreover, if there’s anyone who can promote Thai fashion (a theme, if you remember, once explored by her brother), shouldn’t she be a leading politician?

It is ironic that Ms Shinawatra chooses to dress so plainly when the majority of her fans are beguiled by her beauty, with so many, especially men, who think she is “cute”. Does this mean that she and we are uncomfortable with attractive femininity as physical representation of political ability?

I am not suggesting that Ms Shinawatra should push the fashion limit—real or imagined—expected of people in public office and dress in such a way as to overawe her audience. But hiding behind the dark suit not unlike those her male counterparts are inclined to wear won’t make her more electable.

In the end, even if what Yingluck Shinatwatra wears will not affect the outcome of the polls, it may bring about an increased awareness of politics, allowing new followers to keep up to speed in what’s going on in the corridors of power. If there is enough interest in her mode of dress, there may be interest in what she stands for or what she will do for the country. Do give people a reason, if not more, to go to the polling station.

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From China With Style

When it comes to fashion labels, few Thais consumers think of those from China. Chinese fashion for so many people is like Isaan food: best in the place of origin, not so good elsewhere. The problem, if it should be so called, is compounded by the fact that so few home-grown Chinese labels are exported.

The Middle Kingdom is, sadly, mostly associated with cheap clothes and knock-offs, so much so that Made-In-China remains embroidered on care labels, never uttered. In fashion terms, ‘good’ and ‘China’ are mutually exclusive. They are not bedfellows.

Thais who have not been to China may not imagine that in a country of more than one billion people (or 20 percent of the world’s population!), there are credible local brands that cater to their own. And now, to the world too.

Menswear brand Croquis is one of them, and an early bird (its sister brand JNBY or Just Naturally Be Yourself actually came a little earlier) that is spreading its wings in Bangkok, unfortunately without much attention. The first outlet is in Paragon Department Store, in a zone shared by Thai labels, leaving the uninitiated to assume that Croquis is Bangkok-born.

Launched in the scenic lakeside city of Hangzhou in 2005, Croquis is one of the more visible and noted Chinese labels with a distinctive fashion aesthetic. The more experienced eye can trace the look to those put out by the Japanese. This is significant as most Chinese menswear labels such as Me & City and Jack Jones take their design cue from the Europeans or the Americans. Croquis avoids the more conventional path, and its designs are as bold as they are directional. They are partial to unusual fabric parings, unexpected seam placements, and cuts that challenge traditional patternmaking. There is in all a rawness, an organic quality, a technical edge I find rather appealing.

Croquis’s sister line JNBY  has slowly and quietly penetrated the international market, with stores in New York, Barcelona, Vancouver, Singapore, and others (last count, 500 worldwide!). Like Croquis, the line avoids the straightforward, embracing, instead, architectural forms and that bit of surprise that makes each garment more unique, but not too much.

I learned recently that sales at both labels are slow, but I suspect it won’t be long.

Croquis is available at level 3, Paragon Department Store. The sister line JNBY for women is at level 3, Siam Center. Photo: Stealing Glances

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One or Two?

As soon as tablet PCs became available not so long ago, it was clear that the future of mobile computing is in touch-screen “pads”. Apple paved the way, and now it seems that at least 80 percent of portable PC users in any given space, whether in a plane or at StarBucks, use a tablet. But, just as so many mobile phone user have a couple of handsets, will tablet PC consumers go for two? Or two-in-ones?

If what are currently available and soon to come are any indication, some of us may prefer notebooks that look like Nintendo DS on steroids. Acer’s Iconia 6120 Touchbook (left), launched last month, is one such beefed-up clone, followed by Kyocera’s Echo (top, out in the US in collaboration with Sprint) and Sony Vaio’s S2 (bottom, to be realeased in September). Although they come in different screen sizes, they are similar in that they’re all tablet sandwiches with the same filling: Android.

Having fiddled with the Acer Iconia, I am not certain the additional screen has any real allure. Yes, the bottom half can be turned into a touch keyboard. Sure, both screens can be used as one large viewing panel. And certainly, the two can take on different tasks. However, the additional screen is definitely extra weight, not to mention extra bulk, thus defeating the purpose of carrying around a handy one-panel tablet. But when it comes to touch screen, perhaps two is better than one, and twice the fun.

Acer Iconia 6120 Touchbook is available at Pantip Plaza and Powerbuy for 49,900 baht

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Fave Pics | Love In Siam

Does it take a foreign mag such as Arena Homme Plus to show us the real Bangkok? In the latest issue, AH+ features a fashion spread shot in an unidentifiable Krungthep location rather than at some wat, or talart, or some other exotic locale. Nonedescript it may seem, but it is the everyday-ness of what is projected that I find so appealing. If fashion is attitude and dash, rather than magnitude and cash, AH+ has made our city quite the fashion gem it is yet to be.

While I was picking up the magazine at Kinokuniya earlier this evening, a gaggle of  half-drag school boys were flipping through the same title and commented—without disguising their dismay —when they spotted the said spread: “Why did they choose these boys when we have such cuties as Mario Maurer?”

If setting the shoot against a familiar site such as Wat Arun is predictable, then choosing another pretty-faced model such as those favoured by Lips is as engaging as Ken Teeradej in yet another romantic comedy.

These boys in the spread are perhaps nobody, but there’s a naturalness about them and the setting in which they are placed that sets them apart from the usual over-styled, over-made-up models found in Thai fashion magazines. As a lawyer friend of mine is fond of saying, “They’re not even blue-collared; they’re unskilled!”

For some of us, therein lies the appeal!

Photography: Sean & Seng. Styling: Tamara Rothstein

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