11 February 2015

Young Man With A Flower

For Valentine's Day and for Chinese New Year, I give you this quite rare 1981 oil portrait by Gauguin. So pretty!

08 February 2015

Why Smiles Are Good For You

Why are smiles important? Here we explore the power of a brilliant smile.
Let’s begin by stating the obvious, shall we? We smile when we are happy, when things are going swimmingly, when we are having a splendid time. And according to science, behind the purely expressive, smiles benefit your overall well-being in many, many ways.

Quite simply, a smile is probably the best accessory you can have! A smile can make the plainest of people more attractive. If you want to be more attractive, just smile! Research has found that we love smiling faces. Perhaps it’s the sudden flash of white teeth, but picturing the opposite, someone looking down and droopy, brings the point home. How attractive are they? Now picture them with a smile on their face. What does this do to their attractiveness?
Smiles attract because smiles are infectious. We simply gravitate towards people who are beaming a happy vibe. It’s uplifting to be around smiling people; You may not be able to heal the world, but you can calm fear, insecurity and anxiety not only in yourself, but in others just by smiling. Smiling just feels good. You actually use fewer muscles to smile than to frown, and it causes fewer wrinkles too. When you smile, you not only look happier you actually feel happier. Research has shown that smiling releases serotonin – a neurotransmitter that produces feelings of happiness and wellbeing. So even when you’re not feeling great, putting on a smiling face makes you feel instantly better.
Smiling is crucial when it comes to first impressions. Smiling offers encouragement and sympathy to the person that you are meeting. When someone is smiling at you, it means you have their attention. Smiling when you meet someone indicates that you are a positive person. These first impressions are lasting so never miss this chance to impress. One of the first things that successful sales people instinctively do is smile. Who would you rather buy something from? A salesperson who looks bored and surly or someone who’s smiling enthusiastically? Even telemarketers are told to smile when they talk, because a smile is so infectious it can be heard!

06 February 2015

All You Need To Know: Neil Barrett Detailed Update

Menswear designer Neil Barrett uses the most rigourous of traditional tailoring standards to make modern, attractive clothes for the contemporary market. By Daniel Goh

Neil Barrett, 50, is waxing lyrical about his first denim designs for his eponymous label in the lounge of Upper House, during the press briefing for Blackbarrett’s Spring collection (Hong Kong, November 2014). He fairly gushes about his first foray into denim, which he professes to not having worn in the last 15 years, excitedly, and triumphantly extolling his superior take: It’s really dark indigo colour, almost black; it’s pristinely non-washed, even and dense; it stays rigid and creaseless; there’s a stiff body it that gives it that military bearing. “It’s perfect. I tried to make clean denim. It’s super lovely. I was trying to work out how to make it so I would wear it. How do I make it modern? Why would my client wear it? How do I make it relevant to me?” he enthused with evident pride, swiping at the looks on his iPad. This dressy denim is very much a metaphor of what Neil Barrett stands for – he’s all about a certain formality in design and craft, much more about rigour and traditional techniques even though he works very much in the contemporary market, especially with the trendy men’s label Blackbarrett. This purist bent can probably be traced to Barrett being born into a family of English tailors: He’s the fourth generation in his family to follow in those sartorial footsteps. “My family's business began at the end of the 19th century and we specialised in military tailoring. That's the root of my life's passion and inspiration,” he said.
Barrett is a graduate from London's prestigious Central Saint Martins School of Art and Design as well as the Royal College of Art. He entered the Italian fashion industry by working for five years as Gucci's senior men's designer under Tom Ford. Next, he joined Prada (“Miuccia Prada is the only designer I always look at”), where he established Prada's minimalist menswear line in 1995. “Spending more than a decade at both Prada and Gucci moulded me into the designer I am today,” he admits.
Striking out on his own in 1998, Barrett's first stand-alone store opened a year later, in Tokyo. In 2002, he staged his first runway show, at Men's Fashion Week in Milan. In 2007, he launched the diffusion label, Blackbarrett.
How would you describe the aesthetics of Blackbarrett and who do you design for?
I’m just trying to do good, desirable menswear pieces. I design for myself always; imagining myself as the client, in different fits, down to the super skinny – some of the kids over in Asia have snake legs - even our super skinny looks loose, so we had to start doing extreme skinny. We take into account the reality of the markets we sell to. I’m very aware of my markets. I’m very aware and very sensitive to my clients. Colour blocking is a signature, and the jogging pants. I’m not trying to make Blackbarrett crazily gimmicky. Many brands do gimmicks, so it’s very seasonal. My work is recognizable, but not so gimmicky that it cannot be worn in another season. I want my clothes to have longevity. I don’t design throwaway fashion. I’ve never been into instant fashion. I’ve always been believed that men buy garments, they wear them a lot and they become a favourite item, a favorite jacket, a favourite shirt or jeans. That’s a guy thing.
What qualities keep your customers coming back for more?
Most of my clients are repeat clients, which is very stable for us. I’m very attentive to fit and fabric. I always try to create new interest which is appreciated by the discerning. It’s not crazy, silly, gimmicky. I do subtle details which people understand and are happy to wear. I create a balance of wearability and desirability. It’s striking that balance that makes the difference between a gimmicky designer and a designer who has longevity.
Your passion for fashion is obvious; What moves you about this business?
I enjoy the whole wonderful process of fashion. It’s a fun organic process to make the vision in my mind into reality. Fashion is a learning process for me. If you’re a good designer you’re always observing, you’re very discerning about what you take on board. I listen to people who are astute. I love creating new fabrics – that’s one of my favourite things. I prefer to create my own fabrics rather than go around looking. I know what I want in my mind, I go to the best mills and we make it. I know the best mills to do things at the price point we want. 
You define yourself as being a menswear designer?
I’m a menswear designer who designs womenswear with a menswear point of view. I accidentally did womenswear. I had so many people buying small sizes of my menswear.
How would you define a stylish man?
Style should reflect one's character. To me, style is about knowing how to put together a look with nonchalant ease. A stylish man could be stylish in a way that I don’t like or in a style that I do like. A stylish man has enough taste to put something together in an attractive way. Someone who’s stylish takes care in putting themselves together and they look at themselves in the mirror in an objective way and they make an effort. Some people put too much of an effort and they look ridiculous. I like men to look like men.
How big is your team?
I have a 6,300sqf headquarters just outside Milan, with another 6,000 sqf factory. In Milan I employ 65 people; In London I have about five, in the factory I have about 55 people. I have four designers for Neil Barrett, not a very big design team, but I have a very big support team.
For Blackbarrett there are four designers. I basically give the direction for where I want to go in terms of story and theme and then we go into the designing process, then the merchandising plan, what I believe in, and expand on the bestsellers, and cover what you sold well and try to create new fabrics.
What motivates you to keep working?
After more than 15 years in the industry, I'm still always trying to improve on everything. I feel like you can never sit on your laurels and accept that this is the best. There are some things that I feel I can't do better, but there are products that I could do better, so I focus on those. I have a huge wardrobe, but I still wake up and feel like I don't have a specific garment with the right fit. So I'm always creating new stuff. That's why I love my job. My biggest kick in life is this challenge to keep creating something new, modern and relevant. I know that if I don’t like it, and I’m not going to wear it, then it’s not good enough. I could wear all my clothes.

Why do people still shop in this age when there’s just so much fashion?
The whole point of clothes is to make you feel psychologically more confident. Because when you feel you look good and you go out smiling in the morning you get compliments. I try to recreate interest and desire for fashion season in and season out. But for the whole digital era that we're living in, I decided that it was important to make things easier and recognizable from a distance, which has been very successful. I'm expanding the brand by adding these more graphic options. I’m applying that graphic everywhere, but in a way that I would wear it. As for myself, I don’t really have time to shop fashion. I buy furniture, I buy objects. I love interiors so that’s where I spend my money. The problem is I have too many things and I need to edit!
How do you differentiate Neil Barrett and Blackbarrett?
Blackbarrett is a contemporary line that is accessible, but designed. They are original works – not watered down versions of the first line. It’s accessible fashion – not just clothing. There’s lots of clothing companies out there but they are not fashion. Neil Barrett is made in Italy, (95 per cent is made in Italy – knitwear is made abroad), basically using all the new technologies to push new boundaries. It’s entirely owned by me, and the prices are quite high. Blackbarrett is made in Asia, to be sold in Asia. If you start exporting, the prices go crazy because of taxes, that’s why all the first lines from Europe costs so much here. Over the years, I’ve seen so many people who wanted to wear Neil Barrett but they couldn’t afford to buy the clothes, so it was a natural progression to start Blackbarrett. It was to be made available to a wider audience. I wanted Blacbarrett to be sold alongside Neil Barrett, as one concept. Two types of people wear Blackbarrett: People who are attracted to the product, the fit and image, and then there’s the younger ones who have just started their first job who are not interested in spending that money on clothing. It can be any age group.
What are your other obsessions? How do you unwind?
I try to eat well and I try and exercise three times a week at 7.30 in the morning before work. We are all attracted to youth obviously because it’s when we have most vitality, energy and beauty. It’s natural that people are going to be anxious to keep their youth. But I think that as long as you look young for your age, that’s all that counts. I believe I have a young spirit, so however old I become, I will always have a young spirit which keeps me going and keeps me smiling.
My friend are my other passion. Walking in the countryside. I love extreme, isolated places. I was born by the sea in Devon. I’m always trying to get back to the sea. We are always taking weekends away.
Are there plans to do a bags and accessories line?
For Blackbarrett we’ve just put in a jewellery collection this season. Shoes and accessories are in the works for both Blackbarrett and Neil Barrett. The usual reason for making shoes and accessories are when you have more standalone shops. It’s one of those areas that I’ve studied over the years – I designed a Prada men’s bag that I still see now after 20 years. When you have a good bag, you don’t need another. You can change the fabrication but that bag is good. Men are creatures of habit, unlike women. Once you get something that really works you can carry on and carry on. I’m looking forward to expanding into that area. For shoes it’s more about guaranteeing a minimum quantity for production so once there are enough stores then that’s when the shoes will be launched.
What is this obsession with bags?
Bags are objects, like a vase or any object that you have in your home – they are collectible. Clothing seems more expendable. Shoes are also small objects, easy to store and so they are a dream for selling.


22 January 2015

ON MY FIRST RAINY NIGHT

On my first rainy night on the island, when I had been there for about a week, in the ambiguous wet half-dark that was neither day or night, neither warm nor cold, I was picking my way back to the villa when the rain started pelting the broken coral like grains of uncooked rice. The cicadas were not screaming. One just heard water.
I saw Khem clearing up the little bay of the detritus that we have left behind through the week to keep our things from getting drenched. He was wearing scuba suit shorts and an old rag around his head (a wet rag – I wonder why – but I had ceased to ask questions; so few things made sense now). Khem was clearing our little bay, almost like a sandy, outdoor room with boulder walls, and we didn’t take things back into the villa anymore but left books and such lie out in the open, so even had the weather been. Now it rained.
Khem saw me and said: “P’CW lost his spectacles.” He was looking under the brittle plastic chairs. “You wait,” he said, “I take you back in umbrella. Big rain come.”

Then he pulled the chairs into the shelter of the beach bar that had never served as a bar ever, I suspect, and unfurled the canvas blinds that smelled musty. I waited by the narrow path going up the cliff, wondering what the rainwater carried. At least we would not run out of bath water now. Khem opened a faded gold umbrella, squeezed pass me onto the path and I followed him in the shelter of the umbrella; I wondered briefly if I should take his hand – would he mind? Khem seemed to know every rock on this island, every tree and path. The rain had started to fall in sheets and the path was slippery and alive with unseen bugs.  

16 January 2015

THE BEST THAI ESCAPE OF 2014: TRAVEL TALES

SUITE DREAMS (ARE MADE OF THESE)


Just a year old, Point Yamu, COMO Hotels and Resorts’s property in Phuket, delivers its promise of utmost seclusion in style but is this a vision of beach living for everyone? By Daniel Goh
Phuket isn’t off the beaten track for anyone – arguably very few places are now, and especially not Thailand, one of the most touristed destinations in the world – so it’s a challenge for any property seeking to distinguish itself in a location dense with hotels of all sorts. And yet Point Yamu succeeds in being memorable – perhaps this is where the Como style comes in.
Located on the eastern side of Phuket on the tip of Cape Yamu, the resort is miles away from anything, tourist or local, and is approached by driving up a gentle uphill meander through a rubber plantation. If you’re seeking a Victorian rest cure, this gated seclusion is ideal: ensconced in oversized daybeds indoors and out, comfortably propped up in nests of pillows, the serene panoramic views across the bay are a sight to soothe frayed city nerves. Unobstructed, they impose themselves on your psyche, stilling your inner chatter with the UNESCO-protected wonders of the limestone karsts of Phang Nga Bay, stretching into hundreds of islands on the Homeric sea, with the stately grace of a Noh screen that changes through the day in slow motion from slate-grey (early morning), to peach melba (dusk), and Tiffany blue (noon). You forget to wear your watch, and the hours melt into the ozone.
To enter this magical seascape takes something of an expedition. The calm Andaman Sea beckons, but Point Yamu has no direct beach access. Guests take the daily shuttle to the jetty, then a scheduled boat transports you to the beach of Rang Yai Island (a 15 minute transfer). Beach enthusiasts may find this inconvenient, but the schedule actually adds to the calm, imposing form on an otherwise lolling, shapeless day. Similarly a timetable of complimentary activities on a printed card marks the hours – Pilates at 11 am; Old Phuket Town tour at 3 pm; Flower arrangement 4 pm; Bike tour 5 pm. Just studying the timetable feels reassuring, like you’re on rehab or in a posh nursing home. You must take a day tour of the bay, known parochially as James Bond Island (the setting for Man With The Golden Gun), a magnet for divers, snorkelers and kayakers. Tear a rent through the gelatine skin of the sea in a longtail boat with the hotel’s guide Roman, who has been sailing these waters for 20 years, and who knows every ancient cave glittering with minerals, every deserted cove of wild monkeys, every tide, every fable, every pristine beach of every uninhabited island, as well as you know every nook of Orchard Road. His skin is the wet teak of the boat, impervious to sun.
Service staff can make or break a hotel, and at Point Yamu, the service made the experience perfect. Efficient and warm without being mechanically so, nor betraying their training, and without being anything other than Thai charm itself, patient, humourous, discreet, each attendant is Thailand’s USP. From housekeeping to front desk to the ladies serving meals, to the auntie who made ice-cream in an uproar of tinkling bells and clouds of dry ice, to the lakorn-lovely nong (braces, perfect British-accented English) who came to the room to try to fit the TV with cables so that we could watch a DVD, and failed – every one of them made the stay a joy.
The rooms have no DVD players, and the point is probably that those are outdated. Point Yamu is resolutely modern in look and feel. The interiors are contemporary without being minimalist, cheerfully coloured and have some Thai accents.

The result is light-filled spaces punctuated by splashes of aquamarines and oranges. All rooms have spectacular ocean views. Each room maximizes space, and the executive suite is larger than most four-room flats, with a generous verandah. Shorn of all gimmicks, real luxury was brought to the fore in quality fittings, firm beds dressed in the fine Egyptian cotton, a bowl of edible fruit, the bathrooms are clad in jade-coloured tiles and furnished with COMO Shambala toiletries.

Every self-respecting resort must have its spa and the pompously-named COMO Shambhala Retreat takes itself seriously and offers yoga, Pilates and treatments over two stories with a modern European feel. I didn’t try any of the treatments but must say the therapists look almost medical in their purpose so I should say you’d be in good hands (literally).
When you’re marooned in a resort and eat all three meals in - food becomes all-important. At Point Yamu, it’s elegant that there are just the two restaurants here (plus a pool bar that disconcertingly played strenuous dance music at tea – surely jazz or Noh is more suitable) serving excellent food. Located alongside the 100m infinity pool and open on all sides, La Sirena is the checkerboard dining hall where you go to for breakfast, Italian cooking and locally caught seafood. Just across the way, Nahmyaa serves really delicious, finely balanced southern Thai. The calorie-counting health junkie will appreciate the COMO Shambhala menu which is available throughout, designed for those who want their raw foods, living enzymes, unprocessed fibre and morals.
So there you have it: If your idea of escape is a cozy version of house-arrest set in stunning views, Point Yamu is the place for you.

Point Yamu by COMO, Moo 7, Thep Kasattri, Thalang District, Phuket, Thailand. Phone:+66 76 360 100

15 January 2015

WE ARE WHAT WE CONSUME: THE WORLD AS A SUPERMARKET



We consume constantly: We spend every minute of the everyday consuming fuel and fauna and destinations. We also consume ideas, and time, and people. We consume the beautiful, the complex and the simple. Enter the supermarket – the cultural symbol of our vast appetite for all that is natural and unnatural. This is our orderly paradise, an Eden of plenty with the gifts of nature – in orderly, manageable stacks, packed odorless-ly away on foam trays and inside tins, and nestled in paper and clad in glass and cling film and caught in multiple plastic bags. Nature in all its variety and then some – season-less, region-less, hybrid, we want it all! This is how we consume science – cold-pressed, vacuum-packed, vitamin-enriched, flour-less, zero fat, zero calorie, flavoured, coloured, preserved, non-stick, instant. This is where we go to consume the comforting and the familiar, carbs and creams and food from the mega-brands of childhood. It is also where we find the exotic and the delightful – stuff our parents never heard of and never dreamed of consuming. And here, finally, in the supermarket, is where we go to find ourselves, and define our next selves. Better, healthier, thinner, more sophisticated – what we are, or hope to be, is what we consume after all.

08 January 2015

PASSAGE OF TIME: Hermes's Must-See Exhibition

Becoming Again, Ran Hwang’s meditation on transience, is a fitting last exhibition at Third Floor, before the gallery closes for a one-year refurbishment. Launched in 2006, Third Floor is a non-commercial art space that promotes contemporary art by commissioning and presenting works in the Hermes flagship store on Orchard Road. Next month, the iconic Liat Towers flagship store closes for a one-year refurbishment. 
It is fitting then, that the last exhibition to show in that space, South Korean artist Ran Hwang’s Becoming Again, is a meditation on time. For indeed the 10 years since the inauguration of Third Floor (located on the third floor of the store) have flown by in a flurry of shows including works by Takashi Kuribayashi (in conjunction with the Singapore Biennale 2006), Laurence Dervaux, Heman Chong, Flavia Da Rin, Luis Terán, Rei Sato, Ming Wong, Yeondoo Jung, Ranjani Shettar, Christine Ay Tjoe, Shinji Ohmaki, Joo Choon Lin, Nadim Abbas and Aiko Tezuka. 
Becoming Again is an immersive multimedia one-work installation, comprising a curved wall of Plexiglas that forms a shimmering screen studded with buttons arranged obsessively as a conflagration of cherry blossoms. As you watch, the blossoms glow with projected, shifting lights, changing colour and shapes in a kaleidoscope of moods; a golden phoenix unfurls its wings to the left and majestically flaps through the cherry forest to the right before a climax of golden showers. The artist, Ran Hwang, swathed in a grey dotted shawl, guides us through the work, a meditation on the cyclical nature of time, the brevity and fragility of life, which is represented by the evolving flowers, first chastely pale, then prettily pink, then autumnal gold, then fading into the void as the cycle begins again. The mythical phoenix – a symbol of grace, infinity and renewal – echoes the transient nature of existence that is at the core of Hwang’s work.    
Why buttons?
Beauty can be found in the most ordinary, and the humble button is a metaphor for the ordinariness of human existence. I want to encourage an appreciation of the simple things we overlook in the frantic course of everyday.
Your work uses a feminine vocabulary, with materials from fashion such as buttons, pins and needles.
My first memories of art were of my father avidly painting Chinese inks and I must have been five or six, very introverted, grinding his ink stone for him. While he painted, I would be drawing by his side. I spent all my time drawing, all through school and one day I started making paper dolls and making Barbie dresses for them and all of a sudden I found myself with friends! I became very popular, and from that time I became very interested in fashion.
When I went to study in New York, I scoured the flea markets and I would find old Chinese pieces of embroidery, and that fascinated me. I found many beautiful used items that were abandoned, and that was when I first discovered the beauty in found objects. I began to use those to create mixed media collages. My first job in New York was interning at an embroidery company. One day in the office, I found a stash of abandoned buttons in a corner. These lifeless, worthless abandoned objects were like me. I was working for a living in the day and could only work on art at night and I identified with the buttons. And so I decided to resuscitate these beautiful discarded buttons as works of art. I began to work more and more with buttons and now I make my own buttons using a traditional Asian method. Each button is made of seven layers of paper, then varnished, made just for me.
You also utilize traditional Eastern imagery.
My dad, a writer who passed away more than 10 years ago, and who never got to see my works, had influenced me a lot in this. His paintings were traditional scholar’s subjects of bamboo and plum blossoms, etc. And after I moved to New York, I began to feel the pull of tradition and history, especially embedded in vintage objects. And if I need to categorize my work, then I’m a Post-Modernist; even if the visuals may be figurative and traditional, but the techniques and medium are contemporary, so this isn’t exactly traditional.
When did you decide that you would be an artist?
I never wanted to be anything else! Right from the time that I was drawing Barbie dresses with my father, I knew I would be an artist. Now I have a permanent team of 25 working for me full time, in both Seoul and New York. I have so much to tell after surviving some really challenging personal times. I’m really grateful that I can create the art that I do.
How does Singapore and this collaboration with Hermes make you feel?
Before I arrived, I thought I would only find buildings here and I was surprised to find so much greenery! There’s also this combination of old and new, the organic and the man-made that I find really interesting. The Third Floor-Hermes space was inspiring because the sides consist of glass. This potentially makes the projected image different during daytime and night. Due to the low ceiling, the work also fills up the exhibition space, so the viewer solely focuses on the work and gets overwhelmed by the scale of it.

Becoming Again is on till 31 January 2015.  Time: 10:30 am to 7:30 pm daily. Third Floor - Hermès, 541 Orchard Road, Liat Towers. Free admission