Award-winning fashion stylist and photographer Thai-Cong has returned to his home country to launch its first concept store. By Lorcan Lovett. Photos by Jonny Edbrooke.
“I sell everything you do not need but you must have,” declares fashion stylist Thai-Cong amid his unique The Warehouse store in Thao Dien, District 2.
Admitting your products are unnecessary is risky by any entrepreneur’s standards but the 43-year-old award winner has never been one for toeing the line.
Thai-Cong’s parents moved the family to Germany in 1981. His Chinese father and Vietnamese mother, who produced shampoo and hair spray in Saigon, were set to have a big influence on his art.
The young man studied fashion design for four years and began to make his name as a stylist in Hamburg.
Now he’s back in his home country launching Vietnam’s first concept store and selling perhaps the most unusual and striking furniture in the city.
About 80 percent of his customers are foreigners. They come for the restaurant, florist or to simply wander around the two floors of portraits, posters, tables, beds, shoes and every other prosaic item imaginable that are dowsed in quirkiness. It’s like John Lewis has hosted a garage sale for Louis Vuitton.
Everything is either designed by Thai-Cong’s team and made in Vietnam or imported from Europe. He’s expecting the Mercedes bicycle soon. The latest Samsung sound system, Tom Ford sunglasses and limited edition Nike shoes are all in the pipeline, too.
“This place is like a lifestyle magazine but a magazine you can walk in and I’m the editor-in-chief,” says Thai-Cong.
“I’m the person who picks the pieces, follows the trends. I found there’s no place really nice for shopping in Saigon. Shopping malls are boring. Everywhere in the world there’s shopping malls.”
He believes that one day The Warehouse will have barbers, tailors, beauty salons, even a travel agency where people can purchase tailor-made holidays.
“Many things are going on in Vietnam now,” he says. “People are very open to new things, new designs and new products.
“For me, in Germany everything has been done. People have enough furniture, they do not need anything.
“In Vietnam everything is new. I believe Vietnam will be one of the countries in the future which becomes a very interesting place because many Vietnamese people live around the world now.
“All Viet Kieu will come back and influence Vietnam and this makes this country very special.”
The store also has a restaurant called My Mom Made which serves “simple and healthy” food, like Thai-Cong’s own mother makes, he says.
His mother came to Vietnam on June 12 for the store’s opening and has now returned to her home in Germany.
Confucianist principles of reverence for your elders were ingrained in Thai-Cong during his Asian upbringing.
It eventually led to his lauded book ‘Thai-Cong My Parents: A Homage to Fashion, Photography and Life’, released 12 years ago.
He persuaded well-known photographers to spurn their conventional muses, glamorous models who tread the catwalk, in favour of his 93-year-old father and 57-year-old mother.
The couple were draped in the newest creations of world-renowned fashion houses and jewellery designers.
They were photographed in thought provoking and sometimes quite bizarre scenes, posing in the middle of what looks like the Scottish countryside, a post-modern latex riddled punk world and in the dark, holding hands with a tall naked woman, to name a few.
The book’s fresh approach to exploring the cult of beauty earned it the Infinity Award by the International Centre of Photography.
His father was alive to see its success and died at the age of 100.
Warehouse visitors who venture upstairs can flick through a copy of the book and see Thai-Cong’s team at work: a handful of designers engrossed in projects on a line of computers.
Before the store, Thai-Cong and his team were commissioned to design a number of hotels, restaurants and private residences in Germany and Vietnam.
A slideshow in the store displays the latest work, including the layout for a restaurant in District 1 and proposals for a colonial style design in the rooms of Hotel Majestic.
Warehouse plans to work with famous actors, brands and figures in the area. Assistant designer Yves Huy Phan, 25, says they’re hosting an event for Saigon’s German community this month.
Yves, who speaks with clear admiration for his boss, adds: “Business is good and over our expectations.
“The customer comes here and really likes it. They have the opportunity to enjoy, relax together with friends and see the furniture. They are really interested in the concept.”
Yves predicts the store will be there for at least 10 years, giving Thao Dien locals who have ever felt the urge to step into a magazine ample opportunity.