Cultural Appropriation or Appreciation?
The last time I wrote about a designer borrowing cultural elements was for Jean Paul Gaultier’s Mens SS13. At that time, it was a moment of glory that the Sikh turban was being given the rightful spotlight and appreciated along with other cultural bits - from kilts to mandarin collars.
Looking back, I’m not so sure it’s appreciation as much as it’s blatant appropriation. Considering the Sikh turban is worn as a religious symbol, to then popularize it as a trendy must-wear item of clothing in the exact shape becomes contentious.
More so because it perpetuates the idea that if non-Sikh were to don it, they would look ineffably cool but perceptions toward Sikhs who wear it on a daily basis remain unchanged. Sikhs in turbans are still seen as backward or even unkempt. Sikhs are still being targeted as potential terrorists and ridiculed for wearing ‘balls on their head’.
So should the very simple act of a fashion designer ‘borrowing’ an item of clothing from a culture be applauded or shamed? Especially when the said article of clothing is traditionally worn as signifier of the Sikh faith.
It’s great that the turban is receiving the attention, it is one step closer to understanding the Sikh culture. But it deserves rightful appreciation, extended to the wearer as well.
There exists a fine and rather blurry line between what is cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation. After all, where would fashion be if not for the vast variety of cultures, with their own traditions and why should they not have their voices expressed in an increasingly Westernized world. Many designers have used this and created brand new works and stunning designs but others have not.
Just recently, my news feed imploded with Paul Smith’s Robert Sandals. To the uninformed, the shoes may be a stroke of genius, with its classy neon piping and rather unique form. Everyone else who have been to our neck of the woods will know that the ‘Robert’ sandals are essentially Peshawari Chappals which were given a western makeover. Very much like the Outside-of-India Born Indian.
Here’s where the issue gets tricky because while it could be cultural appreciation, it wasn’t appreciated right. I would have been contented if Paul Smith named the shoe Peshawari Sandals. Or gave some form of recognition to where the idea came from (they did eventually after a concentrated attempt via social media and South Asian press), even if I believe an argument can be made for ‘inspired’ and ‘rip-off’.These are essentially shoes that Pashtun men have worn for the last 200 years so it’s most definitely not new.
The fashion industry has always been snarky to manufacturers who produce fakes and now we’ve got a luxury brand doing the exact same thing. So just because the Peshawari sandal doesn’t belong to any one brand, does it then become a free-for-all for designer brands lacking creativity, to re-appropriate something for themselves?
Fashion’s Social Good | Sarah’s Bags
Enter a poignant back story to any fashion label and you would have arrived at an almost instant success story. All you then need is a covetable collection to add weight.
Sarah’s Bags is one such label who has hit the nail right in the eye and head. Based in Beirut, Lebanon, Sarah Beydoun stumbled upon her now hugely popular label while doing her Master’s thesis on prostitution and women prisoners who often face social stigma. That ought to hook you in, it’s also apt material for that weekly cogitation. Through her work at a local NGO (Dar El Amal) and at the suggestion of the NGO’s director, Hoda Kara, Sarah took 12 beaded handbags that were made by the ex-prisoners there and sold them at an antique and craft fair. The bags sold out. And this swift little move gave her the much needed push to establish an entire label with the promise to only hire ex-prisoners in an effort to give them an optimistic start outside of prison.
Her clutches gained prominence over the years, mostly for her pop art references, kitschy designs and exquisite traditional beading techniques. The bags are quirky for sure and take inspirations not only from Lebanon but all over the world including Mexico, Egypt and Africa. While carrying stories of Sarah’s experiences with art, music, cinema and her travels, each of these bags are full of life and bursting with vivacious and permeating energy. A fair warning though, toting one of these around will definitely get you stares - the good kind, none of that creepy i-want-to-stalk-you-forever kind. That’s just eurgh.
Also, for the shy and meek, these are efficient conversation starters for that awkward party you always want to escape from. Don’t deny if you’ve never been to one. Don’t.
It’s rather rare to see a designer so compassionate and passionate (rhyming not intended) about her purpose in fashion - an industry so aligned with shrewd capitalism. So whenever a fashion label seeks out to pursue a social purpose, it ignites hope into the industry. Hope that the industry is not just a well-oiled profiteering machine, hungry to take over at the expense of the worker’s and nature’s well being.
Sarah Beydoun was determined to empower these women and found the best way she knew how. Today, she has given opportunities to over 150 female artisans.
Here’s the great part, for the first time, Sarah’s Bags are being stocked in South East Asia and that too in the always relevant boutique, MYthology. Prices ranges from SGD$250 - $1200. Next stop, MYthology guys.
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The Passage | Saloni Rathor A/W 13
Who has watched The Great Gatsby? Is it too much for me to expect anyone reading this to be raising their hands, right, about, now. Or unless, you’re like me - waited for everyone else to watch it, rate it and then decide whether you’re going to drop money on a movie that’s half as good as the book. Stay calm, F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Even if it was highly anticipated, the film fell so short that it was free falling. If not for the elaborate 20s set up, I would have zoned off in a minute and a half. Wouldn’t you?
Speaking of, the 20s was a compelling and transitional period for women. In terms of fashion and style, it was a time of sheer freedom from the clutches of suffocating corsets and thick umbrella gowns. The late 20s especially, celebrated dresses without waists and slinky flapper dresses, which (unfortunately for men) flattened the bust instead of accentuating it.
Saloni envisioned her Autumn Winter 13/14 collection to be reflective of an enigmatic and bold dream, inspired by the roaring twenties and a beautiful, mysterious woman, Mata Hari.
Mata Hari, a dutch dancer was lauded for her sensuality and captivating personality. She was a provocative woman and executed her exotic flair in a free-willed manner whenever she danced. As she weaved stories with her movements, she blazed a passage of sheer chutzpah and charisma. Although the 20s saw the decline of Mata Hari’s popularity as a dancer, her mysterious aura continued to intrigue while suspicions of her being a spy crept up on her.
Taking heed from Mata Hari’s gutsy spirit, Saloni’s collection is a heady mix of exquisite fabrics, including Indian silk, Indonesian lace and Japanese cotton. While the inspiration may have been the yesteryears, the modernistic realisation was impeccably crafted through structured silhouettes and digital prints, mostly in the form of free-spirited butterfly motifs. As with most Fall collections, the use of colours were muted to blacks and greys but contrasted with the occasional infusions of emerald green, orange and purple.
Laden with history’s cryptic stories and complemented with ethereal fabrics, the collection is a proud depiction of Saloni’s strength as a designer. Her competence to seamlessly intertwine history and tradition with today’s sensibilities and design elements is titillating or rather, not for the faint of heart.
Pre-Loved Fashion | Chic Stash
Singapore has recently been growing in the online shopping scene and more so in the you-sell-stuff-you-dont-want-and-I-buy-them arena. Fast fashion and fleeting trends have given birth to a whole new phenomenon in shopping. What used to be months before one went on a shopping spree has been reduced to mere weeks. The credit cards keep swiping and the bank accounts keep weeping. It’s a vicious, vicious world.
Then came along the idea of selling your pre-loved goods in hopes of re-claiming some cash that was once dropped on it. The item goes along to another happy customer and this ultimately keeps the wastage of fashion in check.
Founders and sisters, Denise & Diane, envisioned an online marketplace to sell and buy pre-loved clothing and accessories. Aptly named, Chic Stash, it’s a platform to sell off your chic clothing stash. While, that isn’t particularly new, the sisters added a twist by allowing users to create a style profile and essentially market products with other users (with a similar style) from Asia and beyond. In the process, learn about some very intriguing backstories attached to the products, Gucci bag given by Tom Ford or luxury bag bought on your first salary, it’s all there.
At times you would open your closet, stare at it and immediately close it for fear of starting a war with yourself as you rummage through it. After all, they say, out of sight, out of mind. In that (messy) case, take on Chic Stash’s Closet Detox service which will aim to seamlessly edit down your wardrobe to neat little piles of ‘keep’ and ‘sell’.
To further sweeten the deal and make online shopping a tinge less guilty, Chic Stash donates a part of the sales to beneficiaries like Caring for Cambodia, Star Shelter, Make a Wish and the Malala Foundation. Now to go ahead and shop with a peace of mind (relative to when consuming fast fashion). By the way, it’s free delivery in Singapore and $15 flat worldwide, how’s that for temptation?
The launch at their villa was nothing short of luxurious and so were the clothes, with Gucci pants going at $200+ and Louboutins going at $300+. Prices like those make luxury a little more reasonable and definitely reachable. While, I couldn’t get pictures of the pieces on display (dim lighting), I did get one by their poolside, where we also spent most of our time dreaming up future homes.We had to.
(Shoes were by The Shoemaker’s Elf, which is yet another great enterprising venture)
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A Custom Dream | The Shoemaker’s Elf
Mass production has given fire to a new desire, desire for something unique and it’s been growing brighter as H&M, Topshop and Zara release collections in record speed. People no longer want to ‘fit in’, they want to be the ‘odd one out’ in a fashionable manner of course.
While it has always been an easy feat to custom design apparel, shoes and handbags, not so much. Here’s where The Shoemaker’s Elf comes skedaddling in.
These guys are raring to go and by that I mean they’re set to fulfill every girl’s dream - designing your own unique pair of heels. How’s that for a beautiful custom dream?
It isn’t even a daunting task. Go on to their site, play around with the type of shoes you want (heels, sandals, flats), further customize them according to colour, fabric, heel height, sling back, peep toe or even add a little knotted bow. Check out and you’re done.
It’s very possible that you’ll be able to design a pair of heels that you truly love, for less than what you would typically dish out at Zara and that too for the same quality. Never again throw ridiculous hard-earned cash at corporations out to suck from your girly desires of wanting shoes and more shoes.
Now, if you’re not comfortable with virtual designing and you would like to actually feel the fabric and play around with options physically, simply make a booking with the elves and they’ll tot all the necessary tools to make magic happen right in the comfort of your home. A personal appointment is recommended as they’ll have more fabric options than what is available on the web. Or if you’re completely unsure, select from pre-designed shoes and tweak the colours a little to suit your fancy. Easy peasy.
Finally, brides-to-be, take heed. The Shoemaker’s Elf will be your perfect companion to getting the perfect wedding shoes to match your gown. Instead of scouring store after store and meddling through racks, all you need is an appointment with these guys to complete a dream wedding.
Hassle free wedding preparations right there.
In terms of comfort, these shoes are ticks all the way. They aren’t going to be your run of the mill $10 quality shoes. These are well crafted and completely prancing-around-in appropriate. With that, I’ll be skedaddling away now, honours paper isn’t gonna write itself.
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Dyadic | Jeetinder Sandhu
A dyadic relationship is like having a partner in crime or someone with a best friend forever tag. One who tells you one half of the plan and allows you to solely handle the next half - a well oiled machine of sorts. The mutual thoughts and ideas that float around results in the two co-existing in a cyclical world where each other’s influence is inescapable. Ideally, there’s no cause for drama & no cause for hatred.
Jeetinder Sandhu’s film explores that idea of reaching a dyadic spirit, in which there’s the ability to split yourself and still stay within yourself. You’re very much separated into two of the same unit, giving yourself room to listen and room to speak. Conceptually, it's an introspective tale, one which addresses a person's constant search for themselves, within themselves.
It’s not just your run of the mill trippy film, it has a couple of interwoven stories to jog the mind, if you allow it to.
Read up on Jeetinder’s runway show here and cozy up to the entire Instituto Marangoni show below.
SEMPRE | Bringing Pakistan to Singapore
While there’s a multi-label boutique celebrating Indian designers, Singapore doesn’t have one that solely focuses on Pakistani designers. To fill that void, Sempre, a multi-label Pakistani boutique opened its doors along the already bustling Haji Lane.
Ethnic Indian wear has always been a part of me ever since I could remember tripping over floor length lehngas at Indian weddings. Even the most simplest of frocks tend to be sprinkled with embroidery of some sort and I’d remember my mom refusing to leave a cloth alone till it had sequins or lace on it. To cut it short, vibrancy is its middle name and over the top is nonexistent in its dictionary.
Pakistani wear is no different. Deal with it.Stepping into Sempre reveals every little girl’s dream - a walk in closet. Rails of apparels and a luxurious curtained fitting room creates a warm and inviting atmosphere for the shopper. It’s almost like being sucked into a fashionable wormhole without a foreseeable escape.
Beyond visually stunning and extravagant pieces, the store also boasts a good selection of more down to earth, wearable kaftan-like silhouettes, proving to be popular with tourists who’ve stumbled into the store. To keep the luxe vibe flowing, expect new arrivals every week or so along with new designers being heralded into the store.
Housing Pakistani designers like Sania Maskatiya, Nomi Ansari and Mina Hasan may be the first inviting feature but the real pleasant surprise was seeing glimpses of Sempre’s debut line. Owner, Mahjabeen Zameen plans to expand her personal brand in the coming weeks while taking carefully calculated steps along the way.
Tirelessly working in the banking industry for the last 10 years has its perks for Mahjabeen did not jump into the multi-label bandwagon without thought. Moving from a home based model to a full scale store was possible only after much persuasion and trial and error. As with any business, there has to be a right time to strike and this couldn’t have been better.
Sempre is bound to have a few tricks up their sequined sleeves as it’s set on being the strongest voice for Pakistani designers in Singapore.
30 Haji Lane
Like a Maharajah | Jeetinder Sandhu
Whenever someone makes the mere mention of ‘indian’ and ‘designer’ in a sentence, without doubt, others would expect ‘sari’ or ‘embroidery’ to ensue at some point of the conversation. Not that, we’re not proud of our critically acclaimed prowess in the field of the traditional garb but there needs to be more attention on what else Indian designers are capable of.
Which is precisely why I’m absolutely torn with the renowned designer, Sabyasachi - he has amazing eye for craftsmanship but simply refuses to progress in design (just bring to mind actress Vidya Balan’s look for Cannes). Ultimately staying stuck in time and proudly lauding that over everyone else who wants to embrace the modern. And…that will be for another post.
Jeetinder Sandhu, a native of India moved to London to pursue a BA in fashion design at Instituto Marangoni and showcased his graduate collection at the recent Graduate Fashion Week (GFW). Fashion design was an ‘instant calling’ for Jeetinder as he grew up being exceptionally privy to details.
When an Indian (native) designer ventures overseas, almost instantly you’d expect an India inspired collection - some do it seamlessly well, others become too literal. Jeetinder took a more homogeneous approach and integrated the colours and prints reminiscent of India into a collection of suits with a rhapsodic range of innovative cuts and prints. Together, the collection is a portrayal of a strong, leonine man embracing the vibrance of being - like a maharajah (king)
Like Heliogabalus’s guests, maharajahs were smothered in the most expensive of jewels and the most exquisite of fabrics, not only lavishing in excess but were celebrated for their bravery and pride in the regions they ruled over. It may have been a thin line to balance upon but taking that as inspiration, Jeetinder revealed a vivid representation of a contemporary maharajah.
As the models marched down the runway, you’d notice the majestic elephant print taking centerstage. These strong Indian elephants were vital in gaining victories during war time and have been revered by the Indian culture since then, even Alexander the Great feared them.
The models with tattoos added a nice edgy touch to the overall look, bringing home the idea of a badass maharajah.
Playing with shades and altering the patterns within the elephant resulted in various seamless incorporation of the elephant into suits, coats and a bag range done in collaboration with Jas M.B. Hand-tied turbans in matching shades and jewelry from India further accentuated Jeetinder’s vision of a modern decadent man.
GFW’s plethora of designers were an alarming indication of the number of hopeful fashion graduates yearning to enter Fashion’s ivory tower. The over saturation of designers then demands a keen distinguishing feature between each and every designer and Jeetinder is clear as crystal on that note.
We can only wait with bated breath to witness Jeetinder’s next foray in fashion - will it be more Indian inspirations or will there be increasing sprinklings of London’s sensibilities? For now, all I know is that I need to get my sticky hands on a doctor bag with the elephant print. Somehow.
Also read how Sikh men are influencing Western designers.
The Bag Speaks For Itself | Desti Saint
You may think it’s wildly impossible to find a tranquil location for drinks in the perpetually crowded Orchard Road. I thought so too, till I was told to meet at the poolside café of Hyatt Hotel. Seated and sipping on an iced lychee tea, I found my peace amidst the chaos and it was evident that the evening has hit the right note.
Then came Desti, Desti Saint. Her warm and glorious personality injected the atmosphere with radiating exuberance that the tiresome workday was gone in split seconds. Plunging into a discussion swiftly, Desti quelled my questions on the signature tassle, dubbing it as nothing but “a fun thing to have”. Which garnered furious nods from me. There’s just no reason to not fondle (for lack of a better word) with a tassle. No reason.
Desti’s infectious smile and personality got me hooked on her every word especially so when she affectionately spoke about Asia, design and creating. Throughout her collections, you’ll notice a keen Asian predilection for the people, the culture and the colours inspire her immensely.
With a background in finance and a current footing in fashion, Desti shrugs and claims that there is nothing else she would be doing, she has found her thing, her calling - ‘creating is it’.
Since her beginning, Desti Saint’s collections have always been rather monochromatic, decadent and classic such as these Artisan pieces. Craftsmanship as you would notice is the whole focal point, from incorporating goat hair to hand-braided leather, the bags breathe of pure skill of precisely that, skilled artisans of Bali. For an inkling of how much work goes into the clutches, get this, each clutch takes about a day and a half to complete. How’s that for effort?
At times, I lament at how ridiculously marked up designer pieces (think 50-100 times over) can be but independent labels like these, which are operating on a much smaller scale have done their calculations and avoided inane profiteering. Instead, these bags are bang for your buck because not only are they created by the patient and nimble hands of artisans, they’re not being done in overcrowded factory conditions of fast fashion labels. Time is money, so factor in time to source for the perfect materials and you’ll arrive at your own justification for their fair price points (USD$110 - $488).
With her current collection, Viva, Desti may have just explored the other end of her creative spectrum resulting in pieces reminiscent to what Desti Saint is as a person - vibrant, colourful and exquisite. Ranging from party clutches, iPad cases to bucket bags, this collection celebrates what is essentially a perfect summer accessory. Nothing too big, nothing too small and always something for the iPad.
Photo: Xiufen Silver
Fortunately for Desti, Singapore’s small market has not fazed her for she has received tremendous support from Singapore’s Design Council and through word of mouth, the label has proved its worth. The irresistible spirit behind Desti Saint handbags lies in creating a bag that asks for no explanation, where the marketing is done by the bag itself. Essentially becoming the ideal companion for a woman who appreciates excellent quality and creative design. The bag will speak volumes without words and grow with the wearer throughout the years.
Desti Saint’s name alone carries connotations of luxury, exclusvitiy and a certain mythical splendour and that charm was exactly what Desti brought to the table. That evening, 2 hours of conversing and sharing felt way too short but alas, I left with ‘wear it, live it, love it’ in mind and Lesley’s (marketing manager), ‘Prove them wrong’ stuck like honey.
India’s Evolving Fashion Industry | M.O.D.A Issue 2
By now, it should be clear that I’m very much into India, from the diverse culture to the people that make up the country. At times, its bipolar nature - gross divide between the obscenely rich & unfortunate poor - may be slightly unsettling, so much so that you wouldn’t quite know how to embrace the country. Yet, the beauty is there, yearning to be discovered.
The sheer creativity and ingenuity existing in the hands of Indian artisans, craftsmen and designers is enough to floor anyone. Without fail, their impeccable skill has left me dumbfounded every time. That explains my recent foray into covering more Indian designers, which then led into an article for Singaporean e-zine, M.O.D.A.
In a quick summary, the article is all about how Indian designers are moving away from their needless to be told perfection in traditional wear to weaving more modern aspirations into their design philosophies.
The path has already been paved with designers like Masaba and Manish Arora, now the journey simply needs to be told.