- Silvia Buonpadre
With over 54 tribes and a long history in trading, textile and tailoring, Vietnam is a creative playground for designers. Rich in traditional and natural production processes, many local and international designers have flourished over the years in creating unique products that merge eastern craftsmanship with contemporary aesthetics. Here are ten of the best product, fashion and interior designers to check out on your next visit to Vietnam.
Linda Mai Phung
Inspired by her travels around the world and by the craftsmanship of Vietnamese ethnic minorities, French-Vietnamese fashion designer Linda Mai Phung started her own brand in Ho Chi Minh City in 2010. Graduated from ESAA Duperre in Paris, the designer was drawn to Vietnam from her passion to promote tribes’ textiles and artisanship. All her collections are strictly connected with her journeys through remote areas in the country and her encounters with the traditional practice of the minorities. For her collection Fall-Winter ’14-‘15, she collaborated with one of Saigon’s most prolific creatives, Japanese artist Ayano Otani, who drew a map of Saigon for the collection. By sourcing her materials directly from the villages, all the clothing is handmade, eco-friendly and supports the livelihood of the tribes. She was awarded the Eco-fashion Designer Award by Néoplanète Magazine in 2011 (France), the Creativity Prize of the Ethical Fashion Show in Paris in 2011, and the Innovation Source Award 2012 of the Ethical Fashion Forum (London). Since she first started her own label, the young designer has steadily growing and she is becoming one of the hottest fashion designers to follow in Vietnam.
Founded in 2010, District Eight Design started from the passion for preserving old historical buildings, objects and warehouses. Shortly after the founders started a unique line of furnishings inspired by the industrial age and the French colonial factory aesthetic, bringing a flavor of the industrial history into today’s spaces. The reclaimed hardwood, used in their products, is locally sourced from Vietnamese farmhouses and factories. One of the company’s distinct design features are the cast table legs, made from parts of vintage machines (mainly weaving loom), which can be found in the majority of their furniture. District Eight’s team is composed entirely of Vietnamese designers and local experts in metalwork and woodwork. The company has participated at some of the most important furniture and designs fairs and showrooms across the world, such as the IFFS in Singapore in 2012, High Point in North Carolina and Maison Objet in France. Aside from Vietnam, District Eight Design can be found in shops around North America, Japan, Australia, and the UK.
Hanoi Design Center
Born from the cooperation between Vietnam Handicraft Exporters Association (VIETCRAFT) and the School of Industrial Design, Lund University and supported by the Swedish Embassy, the Hanoi Design Center promotes made-in-Vietnam crafts with contemporary designs and sustainable production practices. Vietnam is home to over 2000 craft villages, whose traditions and histories are at the core of the Center’s practice, which aims at establishing national crafts on an international market. With a team of European designers and local artisans, the Hanoi Design Center’s aesthetics form a harmonious blend between east and west, modern and traditional. From wrapping bamboo birdcages in ethnic textiles to casting wax in hand-folded origami moulds, the designers focus on creating products that are functional, contemporary and that encompass the rich history of Vietnam.
French-Vietnamese Audrey Tran has been running Saigon Kitsch since 2009, turning the gift shop into a creative and dynamic spot in Ho Chi Minh City where visitors can find propaganda and wartime artworks and souvenirs – notebooks, bags, mouse pads, posters and more – showcasing the history of Vietnam. Despite not having studied design, Tran’s ideas and designs have transformed traditional Vietnamese propaganda images into unique, trendy pop art-like products. It is difficult in Vietnam to find original design, especially when it comes to souvenirs, and Saigon Kitsch has successfully filled that gap, so much so that Tran has recently doubled her production.
Located in the newly founded 3A Station – an area dedicated to shops, galleries and art – Sadec District specializes in products from the Mekong River. The team of Vietnamese designers creates traditional pieces, such as tablecloths, kitchenware, bags, furniture and homeware, which are inspired or have been acquired from villages along the Mekong, and subsequently re-designs them by adding a sleek-contemporary look. Sadec District also relies on international designers to incorporate different technical knowledge to regional crafts. The philosophy of the company is to preserve Southeast Asian artisan practices that have been disappearing over the years due to the globalized market and historical events that are making it hard for local villages to sustain their traditions.
Dragonfly, lotus and indigo rice are some of the prints recurrent in Metiseko’s clothes and homeware. Situated in the heart of the UNESCO heritage site, the brand is imbued with Hoi An’s silk traditions and Japanese, French and Chinese influences. Meiseko follows environmentally friendly manufacturing processes and utilizes only organic cottons by working with GOTS certified cotton producers, and 100% natural silk sourced from Vietnam’s highlands. Inspired by travels and Vietnamese iconic symbols, the designers merge the two by applying vibrant, colorful and chic designed prints on their fashion and home products.
Tan My Design
Since 1969, Tan My Design has expanded and established itself as one of the must-go-to shops in Hanoi. Started as a family business during the war period, in which the family was making hand-made embroideries on handkerchiefs and tablecloths, Tan My Design flourished over the years, relocating from the original small shop in Hanoi’s old quarter to the large store of today. It has broadened its product range, which now includes jewellery, fashion items and housewares. Today, a team of international designers from different fields are associated with the brand, contributing to the contemporary collection. Tan My Design continues the preservation of its embroidery tradition, for which it is famous, that was handed down by the family members, by developing its own line and by training skilled designers.
Valerie Cordier’s Bag
Graduating from ESMOD France (International Fashion University Group), Valérie Cordier began her career in fashion as a theatre costume designer. She has been living in Vietnam for over seven years, where she has established her own bags and jewellery brand, Valerie Cordier Paris =>Hanoi. Strongly influenced by her travels in Australia, Mexico and Asia, the French designer incorporates the emotions, photographs and sketches that she has recorded during her journeys with the craftsmanship and materials from the visited regions.
The designer’s collections reflect the colors and pattern traditionally associated with both Mexico and Vietnamese villages and she often creates unique pieces that cannot be replicated due to the use of recycled materials or leftover leather skins. Valerie Cordier’s bags are available in cities around Vietnam, including at L’Usine in Ho Chi Minh City and Tan My Store in Hanoi.
Mekong Creations is part of the NGO Mekong Plus, which aims at promoting development programmes in isolated villages in Vietnam and Cambodia. Mekong Creations’s line of products varies from furniture, housewares, bags and, their best seller, bamboo bicycles. All the designs and items are hand-made by women from remote villages, with the assistance of professional trainers and professional designers. A large portion of the materials used come from natural and renewable resources, such as bamboo and water hyacinth. With eight stores in Vietnam and Cambodia, Mekong Creations has successfully managed to attract international buyers as well as provide employment and support for families in disadvantaged communities.
Born in 2012, Lucy’s Dream is formed by a group of young Vietnamese artists sharing a common concept: to turn art into wearable art pieces. Their collections have focused on art themes, such as Đông Hồ painting culture of Vietnam, Vietnamese ethnic beauty, Surrealism and photographic sceneries, Greek mythology and typography. All pieces of clothing are hand-drawn, digitally manipulated, printed and then sewed, ensuring a highly skilled level of production and care. Alongside their fashion line, the collective also runs a sewing workshop for young people. In less than two years, Lucy’s Dream has grown from an online store to a real one in Hanoi, with a substantial group of followers and buyers that share the same value in the arts and fashion.
By Silvia Buonpadre