Peter Cornish profiles a selection of fashion designers helping to accelerate the vibrant, young scene here in Saigon.
In the last week of April, Ho Chi Minh City hosted the country’s fourth annual Spring/Summer International Fashion Week, building on the success of previous years with shows of the latest Spring and Summer collections from Vietnamese and international designers. Many of the inspiring collections were both edgy and avant-garde. The week’s events gave Vietnamese designers a platform to showcase their own unique styles to the world, and people are paying attention.
Recent years have seen a marked change in Vietnam’s emerging fashion scene. The industry is developing rapidly and designers are presenting increasingly competitive, inspired and innovative collections, both at home and internationally.
While the launch of the country’s own international fashion week is playing a key role in this change, so too is a growing middle class, no longer satisfied with prominent, mainstream commercial brand names and eager to express themselves
through what they choose to wear.
AsiaLIFE caught up with Linda Mai Phung, a Saigon based French-Vietnamese designer who has been part of the city’s emerging fashion scene since founding her own label here in 2010. We asked her views on Vietnam’s growing fashion industry from the perspective of someone who comes from France, the home of fashion’s haute couture.
“As a French designer I was unsure I would see anything new here, but it’s been very exciting watching the scene grow” Linda explained. “An expanding middle class has given people disposable incomes. International magazines, such as ELLE, Cosmopolitan and Harper’s Bazaar have entered the country, influencing people’s understanding of fashion and contributing to the developing movement.”
Leaders of the emerging scene, such as Dieu Anh and Cong Tri, were pioneers as they launched their own boutiques and helped the local market start to take off. At a similar time, small shops popped up in Phu Nhuan selling imported clothes from Thailand and China, affordable and appealing to the young and hip. L’Usine opened the first concept stores, giving platforms for local designers to showcase their collections and reach an international audience. Shopping malls brought in better known international brands and opened Vietnam to the wider influence of global fashion.
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“People are no longer satisfied buying cheap knock-offs from Ben Thanh market. Kids in their 20s are looking at what’s happening elsewhere and interpreting this in their own, unique Vietnamese style”. Phung told me. New influences are defining lifestyle and personality and we are seeing levels of creativity that is drawing attention from outside the country and holding local designers to critical acclaim.
As the young, home-grown scene starts to establish itself, there is increasing competition from international brands, keen to break into a new and potentially lucrative market, and questions are being voiced about sustainability. Are young designers able to compete with these large, international companies, especially in terms of brand recognition and product quality?
Frequently targeting a market they are familiar with, young local designers are succeeding in building local brand recognition, especially through social media and digital marketing. Customer service expectations are being met with increasing regularity as the younger generation adopt Western standards.
But is product quality up to international standards, or will this be the downfall of locally produced clothing brands? Although undeniably innovative, there is a trend among the country’s younger, less experienced designers to focus on current trends.
With a cultural reluctance to look long-term, there is uncertainty that sustainability can be achieved, or that Vietnamese brands will make strong inroads in overseas markets.
Although still emerging as a destination for creative clothing, Vietnam is expected to make its mark on the international fashion circuit in the next years. Despite little in the way of formal training or support for aspiring designers, there is commitment from industry leaders to establish a strong presence, both nationally and globally.
As the industry establishes its footing in Vietnam, designers are being invited to show their collections internationally with increasing frequency. Names such as Phuong My, Le Hoang Anh Khoa and Quynh Paris are familiars on the international fashion circuit with shows in America, Europe and Japan.
Here, we take a closer look at just some of the design talent emerging from Vietnam, including those who have lead the way and others who are just starting to make their mark. The list is by no means exhaustive.
Cac Lam was born in Vietnam but spent her formative years growing up in America. Taking diverse influences from both cultures, her designs are described as a harmonious mix of East meets West. From an early age, she was fuelled by a ‘passion for fashion’ and launched her design career under the brand of CACDEMODE, an amalgamation of her first name with a symbolic nod to the fashions of France.
Cac cut her design teeth at Dallas Fashion Academy where she explored her love of design and honed the skills needed to launch and build her career. She describes her driven passion as the “critical motivation for helping confront and overcome the obstacles faced in life”.
Her designs are distinctly feminine but strong in personality, full of self-confidence yet exuding a mystique of sexiness. Her amazing swimwear collections are sexy and exclusive, revealing skin, but not too much. Flirtatious, but always classy.
Cac draws on broad artistic influence, particularly from fashion, to connect people and draw them towards unity through her designs, overcoming differences of perspective and aesthetic. She describes he brand’s mission as “making women of every age and every walk of life strive for perfection”, and in particular the women from her home country, Vietnam.
Le Van Thao
Born in 1992, Le Van Thao is one of the youngest designers to feature in our list. Graduating from the College of Arts and Culture, Ho Chi Minh City, he joined the Project Runway competition in 2015 where his clever tailoring and extraordinary energy won him designs recognition and acclaim.
Although eliminated from the competition early on, he gained more motivation to nurture his creativity and further develop his own design style.
Now designing under his own name, he continues to create collections with a broad appeal, and clothes that are accessible to the wider public. His client base is growing quickly as he proves popular with young celebrities, models and singers, both in Vietnam and internationally.
Nguyen Minh Duc
Designing under the name Duc Vincie, Nguyen Minh Duc graduated in 2012 before quickly attracting attention in the country’s fashion industry. He had his first television showing in 2014, and opened his flagship store the following year, successfully building his personal brand and becoming a favourite among Vietnamese models and celebrities. Duc describes the style of his designs as a mix of ready to wear and haute couture, not based on his personal characteristics or inspiration, but being drawn from the women that surround him in work and life. The greatest inspiration for his collections he describes as “honouring and expressing the fragile feminine beauty of Asian women.”
His recent 30 design collections, ‘Shine in the Night’, combines sophisticated materials, cutting techniques and elaborate engraving. With inspiration taken from Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, the collection uses delicate silks and lace to capture the eye and bring the shine to where the wearer is.
His ambition is for a fashion brand, built on sustainability and showcasing the beauty of Asia and its people.
Dieu Anh is an established name in Vietnam’s fashion scene, having launched her design career at the early age of just 16. The first milestone of note came in 1998, when she won Seiko Award at Asia Collection Makuhari Grand Prix in Japan.
After completing studies at L’ecole de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne in France, she launched her own label, dieuANH in 2006, and continued building her reputation for combining traditional Vietnamese influences with bold, modern designs.
Constantly inspiring with fresh looks and new cuts, her designs accentuate the wearer’s inner beauty and play gently on their natural femininity.
Taking natural origin fabrics, such as wools, silks and cotton, she harmonises the reinvented spirit of tradition with touches of modern influence to create bold yet elegant designs cut along gentle, subtle lines.
Devon Nguyen launched her renowned fashion label, DEVON LONDON, in 2011 as one of the youngest Vietnamese designers of the time, marking a prominent position for herself, and for the emerging fashion industry of Vietnam.
After early success, her attention attracting designs drew public acclaim as the opening designer for Vietnam International Fashion Week Autumn/Winter 2015.
Her latest collection takes inspiration from travellers and the stories told through the pages of their passports. Using British fabrics of wool and silk from the cloth makers of Huddersfield, she combines images of airplanes, clouds and passport stamps in simple silhouetted designs, capturing the spirit of spring and summer and inspiring wearers to take a journey of their own.
Hailing originally from the north of Vietnam, Tran Hung’s romantic inspirations brought him attention as a fresh face in the country’s fashion scene when he claimed First Runner Up position in Project Runway Vietnam 2015. Since his success in 2015, he has launched two well received collections, earning him a place as one of the go-to designers for the country’s celebrities and models.
Moving down to Saigon at an early age, he found himself in a ‘promised land’, able to develop his excellent tailoring skills, refine his designs and enhance his creatively aesthetic mind, taking him in a different direction from many of the city’s designers.
His ‘Peaceful Asia’ and ‘Children’s Books’ collections show his childhood influences of growing up in the country’s North West and the impact nature and the environment has had on his work. Combining hand-woven silks and the traditions of Vietnamese hand embroidery from artisans in villages of Quat Dong and Minh Lang, he expresses himself through opaque, penetrating fabrics that accentuate the femininity of his muses.
Believing that “a good fashion designer must know the way to change and renew himself”, Tran Hung’s third and latest collection continues to show the passion of his designs and strengthen his brand, while taking him in a new direction of creativity for nature and culture lovers.
Ha Linh Thu
Using her own name, Ha Linh Thu launched her fashion label in 2006 and spent the following five years creating designs for ‘dynamic’, urban professional women aged from 25 to 40. Since then, inspired by the success and popularity of her collections, she has expanded her range into two distinct lines to capture two distinct audiences.
Her ‘Blue Dahlia’ collection, youthful, seductive and reasonably priced, is aimed at younger women, typically in their 20s. The ‘HanLinhThu Black Label’ collection carries bold, oriental styling and is aimed at the older, higher income professional woman, seeking luxury, sophistication and fine fabrics.
Thuy Nguyen’s artistic career started at an early age. Already a professional painter at the age of 17, she was recognised as one of the most successful up and coming artists of her time for her oil-based paints and experimental mixing of materials. She exhibited as a solo artist in many of the country’s better known galleries, earning a reputation for her juxtaposition of traditional Vietnamese painting techniques, and her interpretations of Western abstract art.
After completing studies at the University of Fine Arts, she sought a new outlet for her artistic creativity and launched herself into the world of fashion, opening her flagship store, Thuy Design House on Saigon’s Dong Khoi Street in 2010. Since then, she has opened at a further two locations in Saigon and Hanoi. Despite doubts that her success as a painter had projected her into fashion artificially, Thuy has gone on to prove herself as a designer worthy of her early collections’ acclaim. With each new collection offered, she continues to set new levels of creativity and inspiration, presenting her designs in shows such as Dep Runway Fashion 2015, ELLE Fashion Journey 2016 and Vietnam International Fashion Week 2017
Her creations continue to appeal to a broad spectrum of women. Their success is her ability to create designs popular among young fashionistas while incorporating traditional elements including silks and brocades. Known as ‘The Woman of Silk’, her current passion is the exploration of women’s inner beauty and the transformation of this into her designs.
Nguyen Cong Tri
Based in Saigon, Nguyen Cong Tri describes himself as a self-taught fashion visionary. After graduating from the University of Fine Arts in HCMC, he hit the world of Vietnamese fashion design in 2000, winning first prize in the ‘New Idea’ section at the Vietnamese Grand Prix with his innovative ‘Green Leaves’ collection.
This success lead to work styling photo shoots and inspiring signature looks for some of Vietnam’s top singers and celebrities. As his reputation for creativity grew, he launched his first ready to wear collection, Kin by Cong Tri in 2009, followed in 2011 by KinConcept, his menswear line.
With a keen eye for detail, combined with his signature aesthetics, he has developed progressive hand-made techniques. His collections include hand-ironed pleating, laser cutting of fabrics, interlacing, knitting and hand-painted designs. He is particularly known for his fondness of jewel and sequin embellished designs.
As his brand developed he has become increasingly avant-garde, moving to the forefront of Vietnamese Haute Couture, becoming the first Vietnamese designer to launch a dedicated house of Haute Couture in 2013. His designs have become easily identifiable due to their elements of traditional identity, combined with a spirit of international contemporariness.
Inspiring and mentoring many of Vietnam’s emerging designers, he works closely with a growing atelier to create his designs and follow his lead in establishing a progressive and viable fashion industry in Vietnam.
Nguyen Hoang Tu
Graduating from Ho Chi Minh University of Industry with a major in fashion design, Nguyen Hoang Tu first achieved recognition as an emerging young designer in 2014 when he was the only Vietnamese candidate to be a Top 12 finalists of Audi Star Creation. In the same year, he joined ELLE Fashion Show showcasing his irregular sewing style applied on minimal form designs.
Describing himself as a ‘new breeze’ in Vietnam’s fashion industry, he strives to create designs that are accessible to the public, manipulating materials, especially silks, into new shapes that follow trends yet pay homage and respect to nature’s values and influences.