Weaving Tradition with FashionWritten by Mickey L
By blending modern concepts with traditional fabric, Thuy Design House has become a go-to shopping destination for the modern Vietnamese woman.
“In my case, fashion didn’t start out as my passion”, begins Thuy Nguyen, the talent behind Thuy Design House. “Initially, it was just a hobby that I liked to do on the side, but with every new skill that I acquired, the realisation came that I was coming to love my little pastime.” Despite being largely self-taught, she made the decision to take the plunge and open her first boutique in a small apartment on Dong Khoi street in 2011. Since then, through a winning combination of hard work a very distinct aesthetic, Thuy has turned Thuy Design House into an internationally recognised brand that recently showed at Vietnamese International Fashion Week. And besides that, Thuy is also the founder of The Factory Contemporary Arts Center (2016) – one of the few venues in Saigon that introduces modern arts to the Vietnamese public.
Born in 1981, Thuy is originally from Ha Noi, North of Vietnam. Upon graduating from Vietnam University of Fine Arts in Ha Noi in 2006, Thuy went on to pursue a Master Degree in Fine Arts in Ukraine. She continued to work as a postgraduate researcher in the field until her return to Saigon in 2011. The jump from fine arts to fashion design was not an easy one, with the main hurdle being technique. There were so many new things for her to learn, she explains, “from switching from 2D to 3D materials, to learning the ins and out of each type of fabric, to figuring out how to make the right cut.” Drawing on canvas, it seemed, was not quite the same as creating actual wearable pieces on a human. Her lack of experience, however, seemed to fuel her creativity all the more. As a result of not knowing the “proper” steps, Thuy’s creativity was never inhibited by sets of rules imposed by others, meaning her designs more often than not turned out truly unique.
As a painter, Thuy has always carefully selected the most amazing fabric and material that she could get her hands on. Her favorite materials include lace, silk, organza, and brocade, and are nearly always vibrant in colour. When asked about her signature style, Thuy laughs and replies, “it’s very ‘Thuy’, it’s very me”. As an artist, Thuy always wants her individuality to stand out. “Every design I’ve created reflects my perspective on life, on beauty, on traditional values. Every collection has its own story, sprouting from different moments of my life”. One thing that’s clear from Thuy’s work is her commitment to clothing that values comfort over aesthetics. With Thuy’s clothes, you don’t have to “try too hard” to physically fit into the outfits. Every piece ensures comfort, regardless of your daily activities. She adds, “I’ve always pictured myself as the client. If I’m gonna purchase this piece, I need to know if it looks good on me, and if it’s comfortable enough for me to move around.”
It was this tendency to picture herself as the client that actually inspired Thuy to begin designing fashion. She recalls, “I’d been going from store to store looking for a certain dress in a particular style, but was never able to find it. So naturally, as a creative, my solution was to create the dress myself.” The goal for her business, therefore, is to provide like-minded people with a source of clothing that they cannot find in any other retail store out there. Thuy’s clothes are nearly always vibrant and colourful. The majority of her clients tend to be bold and artistic people that aren’t afraid of expressing themselves.
Something that has always been of huge importance to Thuy is her heritage. Whilst she was growing up, Thuy was taught traditional Vietnamese values, and was surrounded by images of traditional Vietnamese beauty. “People nowadays tend to be more Westernized and are seemingly infatuated with foreign cultures”, begins Thuy. “But I want to bring back those traditional Vietnamese images through my designs, hence why most of my most famous collections have featured ao dai, and other traditional accessories.” There is something very dear that comes along with being presented with something that reminds us of our origin and tradition. Thuy has always valued that experience, and wants to provide that same experience through her work. Her acclaimed collection, Lung Lieng, for example, was inspired by popular paintings depicting Women in 20th century Vietnam art. Famous paintings, including Le Pho with Reminiscence, Mai Trung Thu with Two ladies and Tran Van with Hair wash etc. are featured in Thuy’s designs of Ao dai, the traditional costume of Vietnamese women.
Thuy is quick to emphasise the painstaking effort that goes into every individual garment. Fashion design is not for the faint of heart, but instead requires incredible diligence and hard work. “The problem is a lot of people have the wrong idea of their ability to create. In order to be recognized as a professional fashion designer, you should be able to produce at least 2 collections a year.” According to Thuy, each collection ought to contain at least 80 pieces; which means in a year, you should be able to create a whopping 160 different designs. To put it simply, you should be able to come up with 1 design every two days. As a designer, therefore, you need to be able to withstand a tremendous amount of working time, and have the heart to create more, and only then can you claim that you’re a creative. She continues, “Many young designers nowadays tend to over-praise their own creativity; just by the fact that they can design 5 or 10 pieces a year. That’s not enough. In this profession, in order to be successful, you’ll have to sacrifice a lot of your time.”
For Thuy, art has always been a means of communicating, and the only difference between fashion and fine arts is the material, or as Thuy puts it, “they’re only different when it comes to the language”. Aside from fashion design, Thuy has been building up a reputation as a skilled painter, produced a number of films, and has even created a series of art installations for various public events. “To me, all these types of art are just different kinds of artistic communications. So I wouldn’t say that I have been dreaming to become a fashion designer or something. I’m an artist and the main thing I create is art itself.”
With regard to the fashion industry in Vietnam, Thuy believes that there is still room for development. “Back in my parent’s day”, she begins, “there used to be a lot tailoring stores all around the country. Nowadays, people tend to buy ready-made clothes imported from foreign fashion companies. As a result, the national fashion industry has shrunk dramatically, and tailoring stores are becoming nearly extinct in our current society.” Vietnam, she says, has to catch up to the incredibly high standards that are typical of the global fashion industry. Firstly, by training up their remarkably inexperienced labour force, and then through the creation of some sort of fashion organisation or federation that can synthesize capital assets and manage all fashion-related activities across the country.
When she’s not designing or working at the store, you can find Thuy at home with her 4 (yes 4) kids. Be sure to check out Thuy Design House on your next trip to Vietnam.