Thuy Nguyen is a fashion designer who is renowned for her bold East-Asian style. Before becoming a designer, Nguyen was a successful painter. Her designs include interesting combinations of colours, unique patterns and hand-binding techniques. She believes that to go far in your career, besides knowledge and skill, people must have a great support team and a strong direction.
Recently, Thuy and her team finished an installation art project, The Silver Room, located in Chateau La Coste (Provence, France). She was the first Vietnamese person to have her work included in this exhibit. Recently, Culture Magazin had a chance to chat with Nguyen and delve into her passions.
People have called you “The Woman of Brocade.” Is this appropriate? If so, why?
I have always appreciated this name because brocade is not a new material, and many designers have tried to work with it. Maybe it was meant to be – my name is remembered and mentioned along with this material. It is a milestone on the pathway of creating art. This is something for me to cherish as well as to remind me not to be satisfied with my current results. I must try to find new things and reach other goals. I have a special love of Vietnamese cultural values, not just for brocade. Although I achieved a hallmark with brocade, I hope my creations are flexible enough for other materials, as well.
What brought you to fashion?
Fashion was a turning point while walking on my creative pathway. I love beautiful things and wanted to expose them more often. I chose fashion to help me be able to create work that people could hold, wear and feel.
After studying and working eight years in Ukraine, you achieved a Master of Fine Arts in Kiev. Did your painting skills help you in your design career?
For me, painting and fashion have the same elements – colours and shapes. The difference is that one is created on a 2D plane and the other is 3D. In painting, I paint with my feelings. In fashion, besides being an artist, I have to do business, understand customers’ needs, learn how to work in a group and continuously release new products. The pressures in each field are different, and the fun is different, too.
Why did you choose to design ao dai and ao yem instead of other types of clothes? What do you think about Vietnamese ao dai?
I chose these designs because they were close to me. I grew up with these kinds of costumes, so I feel attached. They have special values that can be renewed, live forever and be relevant in everyone’s fashion life. For example, people thought ao dai had stopped developing, but so far, the dresses have been renewed and innovated, not only by me but also by many other designers. They are proof of a long-standing value and not synonymous with backwardness.
Your collections are very Vietnamese, such as Coc Cach, Lung Lieng, Mong Mi. What are the inspirations for these names? Do you have a favorite collection?
These names all come from my love for the mother tongue. Vietnamese is a highly descriptive language. With only one or two words, listeners can imagine a whole picture or a sound. Those words are the spirit of the collections. For me, every collection has its own joys and lessons. However, I am still not fully satisfied with any of them.
It seems that the main focus in your works and designs are women. What is the charm of Vietnamese women?
My work, including my designs, is inspired by Asian women in general and Vietnamese women in particular. Women in Vietnam are conservative, gentle yet still strong, harmonious, willing to learn and flexible in their thinking. Those characteristics form the charms of modern Vietnamese women.
As a successful woman, could you share your thoughts about women’s position in society today versus in the past?
Women now have more space and opportunities to develop themselves in all areas. We understand what we want and what we need to do to achieve it (not just wish). Women today also have stronger voices, to convey their own thoughts as well as to protect and lead other women.
The concept of sustainable fashion is probably still quite new to some consumers. What steps are you taking to have less impact on the environment?
The concept of sustainable fashion is still new in Vietnam, but not for the world. Many environmental issues are getting more and more attention. In fact, traditional Vietnamese fashion is quite green due to environment-friendly dyeing techniques and natural materials. I love these techniques and am taking the time to research them more so I can create designs with these fabrics. At Thuy Design House, during the tailoring process, we often try to cut to save as much material as possible. The leftover fabrics are often used to make accessories.
As one of the top female Vietnamese designers, what do you think about the wave of feminism in the fashion industry?
The feminist wave in the fashion industry is getting stronger and stronger. Many designers have been supporting women. The costumes based on women’s beauty or fighting for women’s rights appear more often. These are good signs. I hope this wave will continue and develop to a new stage.
The fashion industry in Vietnam has attracted many young people. How is the competition? What is your advice for those who want to get into this field?
If you know how to grasp your potential, you will never lack opportunities to develop yourself. The competition is always fierce, whether in the fashion industry or any other field. As long as you know who you are, and understand your strengths, you can move forward. This helps you feel confident enough to accept challenges and allows you to keep loving your job.
If someone wants to work in this industry, where should they start?
Ask yourself a lot of questions. Are you really passionate about it or is this just a momentary joy? Are you willing to learn under any circumstances? A positive attitude, diligently improving and updating your knowledge is also important if you want to come into this profession.
What are your future plans?
In the near future, I want to focus more on art in order to continue on the creative path that I have always pursued. Besides the name Thuy in fashion, there will be another one named Ti-a Thuy Nguyen focusing on the art of new ideas and plans. About specific projects, time will tell.
Do you have anything else you want to share?
I hope that my sharing can help people have a closer and clearer view of the Vietnamese fashion industry, or merely give people the joy and motivation to start appreciating art and fashion.
I wish everyone a new year of peace and happiness, full of laughter. Don’t forget that art and fashion is always around us.
This post is also available in: Tiếng Việt