Designer to the Stars

Nguyen Cong Tri reveals how he became a fashion guru for some of the world’s biggest entertainers.

Photographer: Dannyson Pham

Nguyen Cong Tri was born and raised in Da Nang in a family with eight siblings. In 1996, he attended the University of Architecture, Faculty of Fine Arts in Saigon and graduated in 2001. Cong Tri was the first Vietnamese fashion designer to become an official member of the Asia Fashion Federation in 2014. He is not only the favorite designer of A-list stars in Vietnam such as Thanh Hang and Ho Ngoc Ha, but also international stars such as Rihanna, and super model Naomi Campell. Katy Perry wore Cong Tri’s designs during her world tours in 2017 and 2018. In addition to being a designer, he has also judged design contests and beauty pageants and acted as an advisor to entertainment, art and reality shows.

Before starting your own brand, what jobs did you do? How did they support your fashion career?

After graduating from architecture school, my first job was as a graphic designer. At that time, I designed CD covers for artists such as Phuong Thanh and Minh Thuan. I accidentally entered fashion contests and won prizes, which encouraged me to continue learning about fashion. I won two first prizes at the Vietnam Collection Grand Prix 2000 and the Asia Collection Makuhari in Japan in 2000, and second prize in Singapore Fashion Connection 2001. My designs at the time were just eye-catching on paper –not too difficult for a graphic designer. I had to learn from scratch about embroidery, cutting and sewing techniques, fabric and materials. The work of designing CD covers gave me the opportunity to consult the artists about the costumes, colours, and styles. Gradually I became in charge of designing costumes for their shows and public occasions. This helped me step into the fashion world.

Every designer has his or her own design style. How do you describe yours?

I love the youthful and civilized style of Fendi, Prada and Valentino. My style comes from being a self-taught person with 20 years in this career. That is why I like the quote “I am who I am.” Each person’s style is formed from their own experience.

Unlike your creations, your personal style is very chic yet simple. Why is this the case when you can easily create unique designs for yourself?

I often joke that I want to be as simple as possible to focus all that is special and sophisticated for my customers and products.

Since the start of your career, you have introduced many collections. How do you manage to stay fresh and creative? Where do you get your inspiration? What are some of your most memorable collections?

The inspiration for my collections comes from my own experiences. That may be the simplest thing in life. I always try to look at normal things with an”unusual” perspective to make a difference from one collection to the next. Every collection is a process of self-discovery and each marks a growth milestone in my fashion career and in my life.

My 10th collection, Em Hoa, is one of those “unusual” inspirations. The designs are inspired by the women selling flowers on the streets in Ha Noi and Sai Gon, who add beauty to life. These women inspire not only me but also other artists.

Coco Yeu Dau is a diverse and harmonious fusion between Eastern aesthetics and Western fashion. Please tell us more about it. What made it successful?

The Coco Yeu Dau collection is a sweet marriage between Bao Loc silk in Vietnam and tweed, a signature material of Chanel. I think Coco Yeu Dau can attract attention because it is the combination of a classic fashion icon with our simple traditional dress (ao dai). This collection honors the beauty of Vietnamese women in an elegant and classy manner.

Elle Vietnam published an article of your personal journal entries which traced the process of creating the Coco Yeu Dau collection. Is this something you do with all your collections?

I do not have the habit of writing a diary or sharing my feelings with people. Only really special collections inspired by the most beloved things can help me write such sincere confidences. Coco Yeu Dau was an exception because Coco Chanel is one of the most influential figures for me. There are no words that can best describe this collection than the words in my diary.

What are your favourite pieces from the collections?

I put all my mind into each piece of my collection. Each product is a piece of puzzle, creating a picture, a separate story. Without any piece, the collection will not become a complete masterpiece. I am very proud of my work.

How did you get to work with some of the world’s biggest stars – Rihanna, Katy Perry and most recently, Naomi Campbell? Is there any difference working with Vietnamese celebrities?

It was a great fortune when Rihanna’s crew knew about Em Hoa during Tokyo Fashion Week and contacted me to order designs for a photoshoot project. For Katy Perry, it was a wonderful opportunity when her crew wanted me, a Vietnamese designer, to design the costumes for her concert tour Witness: The TourWe continue to collaborate on projects.

The opportunity to work with international stars is a big challenge for my whole team. For example, when designing clothes for Katy Perry, I had to make two to three prototypes for each design, in case of trouble. All stages had to be thorough, from drawing, selecting materials and accessories, receiving measurements, meeting security requirements, to shipping to the United States. It was a hard but enjoyable experience.

How can Vietnam’s fashion be propelled into the global scene?

I often have a joke with my staff that, in order to reach out into the world, work 18 hours a day.

The fashion industry in Vietnam has evolved very quickly in recent years. Where do you see it going?

The Vietnamese fashion industry is becoming richer and more diverse. There are many young designers who bring new life to the domestic fashion market and more choices for consumers. At the same time, Vietnamese consumers are also more attentive to the way they dress and style. This urges domestic designers to work harder to deliver quality products and to compete with international fashion brands.

What are some of your future projects?

One of the projects that I spend most of my time on at the end of 2018 is a personal fashion show marking my 20-year career. This includes 10 exhibition areas corresponding with 10 collections and 100 sets of clothes, with various layouts and presentations.

I have had opportunities to do fashion shows in Italy and England. For example, in 2013 and 2014, I participated in Fashion Dialogue and Pure Pattern during London Fashion Week, Second Nature at PM Gallery in London, and Passion & Belief in Vicenza, Italy. So, this time, I want to exhibit 10 collections in our home country. The first exhibition is about haute couture in Vietnam. It is a gift and a show of gratitude to the public and colleagues in my country. This is an important event in my career. I call it a tribute to self-education and self-discovery during the past 20 years.

The exhibition is also a milestone that opens a new path to conquering the fashion capital of the world. In February 2019, I will participate in a show in New York Fashion Week.

Along with the above projects, I continue to design costumes for international stars whose names I will reveal in the future.

This post is also available in: Tiếng Việt

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