Thursday, May 28, 2009

There Will Be Beauty

This article from the recent Vanity Fair (May 2009 issue) is written by A. A. Gill, currently a restaurant reviewer  with London's Sunday Times. It is in tribute to the beauty - indeed the relevance - of couture as inspiration, aspiration, and imagination.  Couture also protects cottage industries, fading traditions, almost-extinct skills and craftsmanship.  Enjoy...


There Will Be Beauty

May 2009

It’s one of the great metaphysical mysteries of our equal-opportunity, post-feminist, oh-god-is-that-the-time lives—Why do men’s and women’s buttons do up differently? Or, rather, why do women wear their buttons the wrong way round? 

Well, a long time ago, in a land far away, it was decreed that men’s buttons should do up the easiest way for a right-handed chap on the inside of a shirt, but women’s should do up for the convenience of a right-handed girl on the outside of a shirt. It was assumed that all ladies would forever and always be dressed by their maids. (Who dressed the maid?) And the silent, servile, pursed mouth of a girl’s buttonhole still judges her a fingers-and-thumbs failure for having to do herself up. It is a ghost of couture, a reminder that once all clothes were bespoke, handmade.

This season’s couture shows bloomed like gardenias in the monastery of the new austerity. The collections blew kisses at our plastic-belt-tightening in these dressed-down, hard times. Couture laughed extravagantly at the bonfire of banking, the end of ostentatious consumption. It was, let’s be frank, a let-them-eat-cake moment, and we asked, Who on earth is going to wear this stuff? Who has the gall? Where is the ball? The galas, the dinners, the soirĂ©es? Where are these yards of elegant swank going to be appropriate? Where is all this expensive good taste going to look tasteful? These were the wrong questions. 

We should have asked: Do we really and truly want a world without couture? Are we willing to throw away what we have on top of what has already been lost? Is there no place for the exclusive and the beautiful? For the hysterically indulgent? And the superbly crafted? You have no idea how sensational a couture frock is until you’ve held one, or worn one, as Emily Blunt does with Victorian insouciance here. The skill in making them, the satisfaction of the stitching, the delicacy of the beading and the lacing, the softness and the stiffness, the fall and the rustle and the silhouette. It is the perfect detachable cosmetic surgery. 

The ateliers that fabricate these clothes are the repositories of centuries of prestidigious patience and acute, minute observation passed from thimbled, nimble fingertip to fingertip. Couture is a promise to the future from the past: There will be entrances and orchestras again, carriages and candelabra again, parties and seasons again. There will be glamour again. Throughout the history of civilization, doom, doldrums, depression, and disaster have descended to paint the town gray. But they will also recede, leaving little but a shudder. What is left, what abides, is beauty.

The button thing. Of course, it also means that a lady is more easily undressed by a right-handed man. Need you ask? It was probably all instigated by the French.

A. A. Gill is a V.F. contributing editor.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Apology to Women Over 40

Even though this "apology" is not actually spoken by Andy Rooney and is an e-rumour, I thought the sentiment was worth posting and gives me something to look forward to as I approach 40 :)

For anyone who's interested in the originator, it's Frank Kaiser - the writer of Suddenly Senior -

Presenting the e-rumour that has been flying around the internet.
From 60 Minutes Correspondent Andy Rooney (CBS)...

As I grow in age, I value women over 40 most of all. Here are just a few reasons why:

A woman over 40 will never wake you in the middle of the night and ask, "What are you thinking?" She doesn't care what you think. If a woman over 40 doesn't want to watch the game, she doesn't sit around whining about it. She does something she wants to do, and it's usually more interesting.

Women over 40 are dignified. They seldom have a screaming match with you at the opera or in the middle of an expensive restaurant. Of course, if you deserve it, they won't hesitate to shoot you if they think they can get away with it.

Older women are generous with praise, often undeserved. They know what it's like to be unappreciated. Women get psychic as they age. You never have to confess your sins to a woman over 40. Once you get past a wrinkle or two, a woman over 40 is far sexier than her younger counterpart.

Older women are forthright and honest. They'll tell you right off if you are a jerk if you are acting like one. You don't ever have to wonder where you stand with her. Yes, we praise women over 40 for a multitude of reasons. Unfortunately, it's not reciprocal.

For every stunning, smart, well-coiffed, hot woman over 40, there is a bald, paunchy relic in yellow pants making a fool of himself with some 22-year old waitress. Ladies, I apologize.

For all those men who say, "Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?", here's an update for you. Nowadays 80% of women are against marriage. Why? Because women realize it's not worth buying an entire pig just to get a little sausage!

Thursday, April 30, 2009


On the 19th of April 2009, Prince Philip - the Duke of Edinburgh and consort to Queen Elizabeth - made headlines around the world as the longest-serving royal consort. 57 years and still going strong.

That in itself was an interesting factoid, but what caught my attention was Queen Elizabeth's speech made during their golden anniversary celebration ending with simple, touching words:

"He is someone who doesn't take easily to compliments, but he has, quite simply, been my strength and stay for all these years..."

In this fast-paced and increasingly borderless world that we live in, our choices in life keep expanding and it often becomes confusing, even difficult, to develop and maintain a love such as theirs. Couples form, walk together for a little while, and eventually part ways for a variety of reasons.

Yet I take heart when I hear news of long-lasting relationships. They inspire and spur us to seek this ideal of love that provides a shelter from the storm, a respite from hectic routine, and a peaceful sanctuary of retreat.

In hac spe vivo.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

RAWdance at the Singapore Fringe Festival

Many years ago, my good friend Michelle invited me to a modern dance performance by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Company. It was visually impactful, but it didn't leave much of an impression on me other than "Huh?". Since then, I've always demurred when asked to come along for modern dance performances. It always seemed too abstract and distant from my own world.

Last night, a friend of mine dragged me to a modern dance performance citing that his friend from San Francisco was performing and I just had to come and give my support. I agreed, and this time my eyes were opened to the possibilities of modern dance.

The dance company we saw was a young company called RAWdance - helmed by Ryan and Wendy, two (in my opinion) really talented and self-effacing artistic directors. The 2009 Fringe Festival explored themes of family - broken families, family tensions, and so on. And RAWdance debuted "Fallout" - a scrutiny of 1950s nuclear family structure going through cultural changes due to pressures from within and externally.

Many things were great about this performance, not least the intimate size of the Theatre Studio at the Esplanade - which lent itself very well to a modern dance performance like "Fallout".

What struck me first was how similar to a play without words the performance was. It started out on a dark note: a man attempts to pour himself a glass of water (or perhaps it's alcohol) that is resting on the belly of the woman as if she is a table. The growing tension - a mix of passion, resentment, the struggle between the sexes - was encapsulated in the almost-violent push and pull of the opening dancers' duet.

Now I realise how much more impactful a dance performance can be when you're up close enough to see the expressions on the faces of the dancers, and how much meaning can be packed into a gesture of the hand, a twist of the torso, and the arch of a foot.

The piece was painful, tackling dark themes about family life behind closed doors. During the post-performance talk, someone asked the question if Asians in the audience could relate to what might seem a very American theme - struggles of the nuclear family in the 50s. At times, it was also very humourous - with a scene reminiscent of the Stepford Wives fencing with kitchen utensils over who's the better housewife played out against a sugary-sweet song from the 50s. I particularly liked the creative way the women were "transformed" into large weapons (Uzis and anti-aircraft missile launchers) through which families hurt each other.

Some in the audience felt that they couldn't relate because Singapore has large extended families rather than nuclear families, and certain themes of family struggle was over-dramatised. In fact, I believe quite the opposite. All the tension between the sexes, the struggle to be free yet being held down by the people who supposedly care about you - this is possibly more true in an Asian context than in America where people are more free to express themselves. The internal nature of the family tension and discontent couldn't have been better expressed in "Fallout" - effectively a silent, reflective struggle expressed through the medium of dance.

In Asia, the tension still simmers beneath the surface because no one ever talks about it even if they feel it. There is self-censorship to keep the peace. Parents who are married for decades don't really communicate or speak to each other. They want different things from each other, but neither know how to express it with the tenderness of truly knowing each other. Certain topics are completely ignored or glossed over, while deep inside - emotions are boiling over.

Complex issues about parent-child tension also exist in most Singaporean families. I'll pick the easiest example: The son wants to be a musician but is forced by his parents to be a lawyer instead. The oldest child wants to leave the family nest and become independent, but is held back due to family obligations.

While none of this is deliberately spelt out and is obviously my own interpretation of the dance, the main elements are very strongly expressed in the dancer's increasingly desperate and frenzied attempt to dash through the other dancers who kept holding him back, throwing him down, stifling him but with a mix of tenderness and reproach.

It finally ended on a slightly upbeat note. The "family" watches on as a single member breaks off into a conventional white picket fence life and truly struggles with it. They slowly gather around her to give support in a way that seems slightly menacing, only to extend a flower of sympathy. Whether she accepts it is open-ended.

I never knew that dance could say so much and be so open to interpretation. And now that I have seen what I've seen - I will definitely be back to see more dance performances in the future.

Thank you Michelle, for starting me out. And thank you RAWdance, for convincing me :)

Check out RAWdance at: