22 May 2014


Is there to be no end to the indignities to suffered by the chronically clued-in? As the new “Normcore” trend breaks into our collective consciousness, here are some notes on how to be, or not to be.

1. Firstly, don’t worry too much about precisely defining Normcore; Just take it that a silly fashion director somewhere decided to spell Hipster with an ‘N’, and go on making your lunch. It’s only fashion jargon and you have a living to make.

2. The guiding principle for fashion jargon seems always to be on a need to know basis and you, a mere non-fashion professional, need only know this: The fashion pendulum has swung yet again, and now, the epitome of cool is the anti-cool.

3. Normcore is about affordable, bland, functional anti-style. It’s conventional and nondescript drag, stuff you can pull out of your dryer drum anytime and wear with devastating buff nails. 

4. Examples given of this trend seem marked by white sneakers, dull zip-ups and not-skinny jeans, in other words, stuff you wore when you were in NUS. A Normcorer dresses like an undergrad seeking to blend in, rather than stand out. 

5. According to "experts", Normcore is a reaction against the aggressive coolness that relies on vivid difference (studded trophy platforms, K-pop type synchronized dancing, nail art) to a post-cool of authenticity and sameness. To me, this “sameness” thing is troubling. If all around you are synchronized dancing in studded and screaming prints, the Normcorer will not fit in – she will stand out in her discreet denims, plaid shirt-dress and trainers. Is Normcore grunge spelt with an N?

6. The horribly termed Normcore was coined by K-HOLE, a New York-based trend forecasting group. They define it as “a desire to be blank.” But this concept and its assumption that the average hipster isn’t blank would immediately present a challenge for those for which this is relevant. What if you were already blank, as so many hipsters naturally must be? What if you didn’t fundamentally have any identity or persona at all and studied fashion in Perth? What if shopping at Givenchy actually gave your life purpose? Then how do you adopt the Normcore?

7. Who are you if your clothes are brand-free and logo-less? Wouldn’t you be a complete nonentity without a single label signifier? Since Normcore has nothing to do with flashy fashion and more to do with character, it would present a particular challenge to those who would most want to embrace it. The Singapore fashion scene is after all filled with an inhuman army of the vacuous. 

8. So. Instead of scratching your head over every last trend, perhaps you should take a cold shower and then go out there and do something useful with your life.

A version of this piece appears in Style: June 2014.

12 May 2014


Vesak Day, celebrated by Buddhists around the world commemorates the birth, enlightenment and nirvana of Siddharta Gautama Shakyamuni Buddha.
However, the date of Vesak Day varies around the world depending on the lunar calendars used in different cultures. In countries following the Western Gregorian calendar, it will happen in May. However, in China, Japan and Korea, Vesak Day is celebrated in April. In Thailand, it is celebrated much later.
On Vesak Day, devout Buddhists will usually visit their temples for prayers and offerings of candles and flowers. Other rituals include bathing of the Buddha statue, sharing in vegetarian meals as well as listening to teachings by monks.
Releasing caged birds and animals is a common practice. It symbolises liberation. But in recent years, eco awareness has resulted in more restraint as most tame animals let into the wild might not survive and those animals that do survive might upset the ecosystem in the wild.
In Singapore, Vesak Day was made a public holiday in 1955. To all the readers of this blog, have a serene and joyful Vesak Day 

08 May 2014


The Audi Fashion Festival this month kicks-start Singapore’s busy roster of fashion festivals. But do these retail-centric events make Singapore a true fashion hub? 
There are times when it seems the shows are staged just to make it harder for you to run your errands. If you have a legitimate reason to be in the mall, say to pick up your dryclean, or pop down to the supermarket to forage for food, there’s bound to be women’s magazine editor blocking your path and insisting that you look at how she’s balancing her Blackberry and Starbucks while clutching her trophy handbag and stumbling on her bizarre platforms. 
She can’t walk properly because she's not wearing her prescription glasses and can’t Whatsapp through her gigantic shades while simultaneously pretending there are street-style bloggers snapping at her heels. 
This caricature of a fashion creature is just symptomatic of the derivative nature of our fashion festival scene. They saw it on a blog, and then it slowly dawned on them that they could borrow that sample and toss it together with something from River Island. Same concept writ large: Our fashion festivals are retail events that have all the sound and fury of a real fashion week (read: season-making ones in Paris and Milan) signifying nothing more than our ability to furiously self-promote, and maybe sell a dress or two.  
Surely to be a truly influential fashion capital you need to show newsworthy, influential and groundbreaking collections and not just glorified trunk shows no matter how many red carpets you roll out for C-list celebs and “couturiers”? Peopling the front row with socialites dressed to attend a gala and “editors” whose only ability is shopping, at ticketed consumer events with warmish sponsored cocktails, does not a fashion hub make. It does make for a busy shopping mall, and a great hindrance to real shoppers but that’s about it – otherwise any city with a fashion week (and its attendant pretentious fashionista) can call itself a fashion hub. Bear in mind that places as far-flung as Mongolia and Dakar have fashion weeks too. OK, they probably do call themselves fashion hubs, just as their denizens have Blackberrys and Starbucks.
According to organizers, our shows are in part (a big part) staged for consumers who otherwise might not get a chance to attend a show in London, New York, Milan or Paris. In other words, our fashion shows are obviously ticketed entertainment — just like rock concerts or the circus (if it looks and sounds like a circus, then it probably is one). It is time that our fashion festivals take fashion seriously and promote the local designers and labels that need to be recognized by the tiny pool of influential international editors. We have the talent. We just aren’t pushing them enough. Originality, intelligence and creativity make fashion, not an ability to emulate and “recreate”. Zeal is wasted on pushing that lowest-rung recognizable name as if a gift was being bestowed on the city. So-and-so will close the festival at midnight after a heavy prolonged black-tie supper. Such and such a celebrity will grace the catwalk. How much was he paid? Really? Who cares? Anyone who cares about fashion, any professional whose business it is to care about fashion, would have seen the original show a few months ago, probably in sweatpants on his sofa.

For the rest, there’s Cirque du Soleil Amaluna. 

A version of this essay appears in the May edition of Style magazine. 

07 May 2014


Still Life by William Bailey
"Mrs. Bates, let me propose your venturing on one of these eggs. An egg boiled very soft is not unwholesome. Serle understands boiling an egg better than any body. I would not recommend an egg boiled by any body else—but you need not be afraid—they are very small, you see—one of our small eggs will not hurt you. Miss Bates, let Emma help you to a little bit of tart—a very little bit. Ours are all apple tarts. You need not be afraid of unwholesome preserves here. I do not advise the custard." - Mr Woodhouse, in Emma by Jane Austen

05 May 2014


Calm down. 
It isn't what you think, although it sounds like it: A shrine to the 'costumes' worn by Ms Wintour, although I'm sure something of the sort is in the offing (shudders - imagine an endless archive of those stiff tai tai print dresses and heavy crystal chokers). 
The famous Cecil Beaton photo of a group of Charles James ballgowns

No, instead, the Anna Wintour Costume Center is part of the The Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of New York. The inaugural exhibition, politically correctly American, is Charles James: Beyond Fashion (till August 10); First Lady Michelle Obama cut the ribbon officially opening the Anna Wintour Costume Center, which has just undergone a two-year renovation. 

04 May 2014


I'm so happy to note that this is extracted from her last column. According to Vanessa Friedman, the outgoing fashion editor of the Financial Times, this is why fashion matters:

"If anyone ever challenges me about fashion and its legitimacy, I have a very simple answer – one that I wish I had had in that long-ago job interview, and one I would like to leave with you. Why does fashion matter? The world is not run by naked people.
Beyond that is an even more basic truth about why this subject is worth so much investment of time and attention: everyone has to get dressed in the morning. Everyone, on some level, thinks about clothes; about how they want others to see them, metaphorically as well as literally. It is one of the few universal subjects."

I have to say that I'm not a fan of the American Ms Friedman; I disagree with most of the columns she's written for the paper (which I really like and read regularly) over the 11 years she's been there. She's going to join the New York Times, to replace the revered Cathy Horyn, and I shudder to think how strangely boring and irrelevant the fashion coverage will become at that title.

03 May 2014


The last time I was in Bangkok was literally the eve of the anti-government demonstrations last November; the hotel manager called me that morning soon after breakfast and instructed me to pack my bags and leave just as I can because he had received advance information that demonstrators had begun to move towards the road leading to the hotel and would close it to traffic; he couldn't say if things would get violent but was advising guests to evacuate. Something in his tense voice over the phone made me pack my bags at once, and within an hour, I left in the hotel car. Turning back for one last look, I saw the crowd of demonstrators marching in, flags waving, with something of a festive air, but guards were beginning to bar entrances with barricades, and the streets were noisy with shrill whistles and clappers.
I felt like Sigourney Weaver in A Year of Living Dangerously.
Fast forward to (more or less) six months later and I'm simply longing to visit Bangkok again. As you know, for most Singaporeans, Bangkok is simply an obsession and a habit. I have not heard of any Singaporean who didn't like Bangkok; and according to my luxury brands PRs, the local press are always keenly enthusiastic about Thailand press junkets (as opposed to those to Hong Kong and etc ones, although arguably the press here salivate like a komodo dragon at any mention of a junket, with eyes bulging and ropes of sticky drool, cankerous tail waving). I wonder if it is thus for your country?
This last weeked I was reading 2011's Thoughtful Gardening by Robin Lane Fox, one of my favourite (living) writers and amongst the riveting chapters on cuttings and pests, Mr Fox remembers his visit to Bangkok as a young journalist. In particular he mentions the Phukae Botanic Garden, a gigantic park in Saraburi, some 60 miles outside Bangkok. Within the city, Mr Fox remembers Wang Suan Phakket (Lettuce Farm Palace), the lovingly tended garden of the late Princess Chumbhot. He took the bus number 3, which delivered him to the door of this "tranquil retreat". 
Reading about these gardens made me simply long to visit Bangkok.

I called my Thai sister Ms O. All my visits to Thailand are preceded by calls to my Thai sister.
She was busy making T-shirts.
What for?
Ms O was involved in what promises to be the mother of all demonstrations; she was making T-shirts for the anti-Thaksin army. Ms O said: "Honey please don't come between 5 May and 17 May. Millions of people are going to demonstrate to oust Yingluck. May not be that peaceful. Come after." 
Sure enough, the papers are full of dire reports on the impending demonstrations which will climax with new, and surely contested, elections in July. 
With this wearying warning in mind, it could be months before I see Mr Fox's Thai gardens.