Before you take a seat in the chair to get inked at Spade Art Tattoo Studio, before you meet with the artists to draft your one-of-a-kind image, you’ll have to answer to an important first question: why?
“I think tattoo is not fashion”, Quoc “Seven” Nguyen said alluding to the seriousness of putting a permanent image on a person’s body. Whether it’s fashionable, whether the image is in vogue or not, is irrelevant, the 36-year-old tattoo artist contends. Nguyen argued that the most important part of tattoo work is understanding the customer, and what purpose the tattoo serves for them.
“We want to know why you want this tattoo”, the studio’s customer liaison Dean Parker said.
It’s a time-intensive and, frankly, less profitable strategy than a typical tattoo process, which usually involves little more than walking in with an image on paper and walking out with it somewhere on your body.
This, Nguyen said, is among the reasons his business is called a “studio” rather than a “tattoo parlour”.
“Many people know how to do tattoos, but don’t know how to do art”, Nguyen said.
Done with Finesse, Not Speed
Spade Art Tattoo Studio’s collaborative, client-centred tattoo drafting approach is a contrast to the high-metabolism, attention-light way that people typically consume creative work—marketing and commercial communications teams produce images tailored to an ad campaign that will be seen for as long the message is relevant before it becomes junk. A former commercial artist, it’s a system Nguyen knows very well.
Before becoming a tattoo artist, Nguyen spent his days working in a sector known for devouring creative people: advertising.
His more than 10 years creating advertising work included stints at a number of highly-visible firms such as Cheil Worldwide, Dentsu, Y&R, J. Walter Thompson where he was comic artist, visualizer, designer, and then art director. He serves clients such as Panasonic, Samsung, Pepsi ect...
Despite his being a capable commercial artist, Nguyen said it was creatively defeating to see his body of work become trash after it outlived its usefulness.
Inspired by the serious tattoo scene in he saw in Thailand five years ago, Nguyen decided to leave the advertising profession and strike out on his own as a tattoo artist. Four years ago, he founded Spade Art Tattoo Shop in downtown District 1.
Quoc used to host the Saigon International Tattoo Convention in 2016 where gathers the tattoo artists in Vietnam and globally, namely Jess Yen, Tomo Ikarashi, and Josh Lin.
Almost as if in response to the advertising world’s large scale, commodified production and reproduction of single, standard images, Nguyen has trained his staff to work with clients to produce one-of-kind work. The tattoo you get at Spade Art Tattoo Studio will be an individualised, image unique to your body.
Nguyen and his staff have produced hundreds tattoos in this manner so far.
In the Chair
Spade Art Tattoo Studio sits on the first floor of a building overlooking shady Le Anh Xuan street. Newly inked clients at Spade Art Tattoo Studio can sit on the tattoo studio’s small balcony and get some fresh air while they cool down from their ink session.
Client’s who’ve reviewed the tattoo studio on Facebook find the ambience comfortable and even laud the music selection. The staff is consistently described as friendly, knowledgeable, gentle when needle comes to skin and—most importantly—good.
The reviews praise not just the Vietnamese artist’s ability to communicate in English, but their genuine interest in understanding what the tattoo means for the client and designing one-of-a-kind, original and deeply personal work based off that.
Nguyen reported the greatest share of the studio’s customers are foreigners.
Together Nguyen and his staff, fellow creatives that he prefers to refer to as family rather than employees, have about 16 years of combined experience creating tattoos.
Through his work at Spade Art Tattoo Studio, Nguyen has gained stature within the Saigon tattoo community with almost no advertising. The positive experiences the studio’s clients have had beget new business.
Phuoc Truong, a tattoo artist with three years of experience, said he decided to join Spade Art Tattoo Studio because Nguyen treats him like a brother and leads as a peer. More than just just doing tattoos and collecting payments, Truong said the tattoo studio’s staff and clients have grown into a community of art makers and those who have committed to keeping some on their bodies forever.
Truong works with another artist at Spade Art Tattoo Studio also named Phuc Truong who has 6 year-experience in tattoo industry, has chosen tattoo as his career and wishes to convince his parents about his choice and will make it success.
“They are together, they’re there to share and learn, build something for customers,” Tran said translating Truong’s comments made in Vietnamese.
Top shopping experiences in Saigon will usually include any of the typical traditional markets or shopping malls in the city. Rachel tells you more great spots to buy unique products and souvenirs.
For me, living in Ho Chi Minh City I have the luxury of scouring the local markets and the occasional shopping centers whenever I please. I find the value of shopping in this vibrant city to be ever changing. New stores and boutiques are popping up here and there in hidden alleyways, top floors of cafés and more. I am in awe of the beautiful, unique designs that catch my eye on the streets everyday.
When it comes to shopping in this energetic city, the options are endless. HCMC has something for everyone when it comes to quality, handcrafted products. With an array of skills and goods — embroidery, vases, coffee, paintings, woodwork, crafts and more — one can’t go wrong when it comes to shopping here, it is just a matter of knowing where to look.
Ben Thanh Market.
Now, as far as retail shopping here it is not necessarily considered the “shopping city” of Southeast Asia. Yes, there is the Diamond Plaza and Vincom Center shopping malls for the luxury brand names along with the local Vietnamese markets — Ben Thanh Market, Saigon Square and more. However, when one mentions a shopping trip to a friend, HCMC doesn’t generally come to mind.
Normally Bangkok, Hong Kong or Kuala Lumpur are mentioned as more ‘go-to’ shopping destinations for your usual international chains like Forever 21, Gap American Eagleand so on. Although these chains cannot be found here in HCMC, the value of what can be found here is much greater than what most would expect.
As the largest city in Vietnam, HCMC houses a hub of talented artists and designers from near and far. Although it is a new and emerging market, the merchandise quality and value is much higher than what can be found in the larger retailers at the shopping malls.
With the growing emergence of up and coming designers, HCMC has become a much more worthwhile shopping experience. Just last April, Station 3A among other areas around town have given local artists the opportunity to showcase their work.
Photo credit: Station 3A.
Located in a hidden alley off of Ton Duc Thang Street in District 1, Station 3A exhibits galleries, studios, clothing stores, cafés and more — shoppers can find high quality products ranging from fashion accessories, pottery, artwork and more. With a fusion of local art and design, this hub of creativity has brought in high-quality products. Stores such as the famous pottery shop, Sa Dec District features Vietnamese handicrafts inspired by the Mekong Delta in addition to Cushion Art exhibiting home furnishings and accessories inspired by symbols of Vietnam like the lotus flowers, incense and more. The value and authenticity of these shopping experienceshere cannot be found in those major cities mentioned before.
Photo credit: Cushion Art.
This new influx of hot spots has opened up throughout this city within the past few years catering not only to the morepermanent expats of HCMC but also the passer-bys. The café/restaurant/boutique — L’Usine (main location is at 151/1 Dong Khoi St. D. 1) is just one of the many examples of boutique-style cafes opening up throughout the city that have successfully incorporated contemporary global fashion and Vietnamese creativity into one. Although their products are not cheap they are of the highest quality and it is obvious in the designs and craftsmanship of each piece of merchandise. From women’s and men’s clothing to little trinkets such as notebooks, wall art and jewelry — L’Usine is a prime example of the movement that is occurring throughout HCMC in the contemporary shopping scene. A few other cafes that incorporate fashion into their settings include Au Parc (23 Han Thuyen, D.1), Merci Boutique Café (93/15 Xo Viet Nghe TinhSt., Binh Thanh) and more.
On top of the designers and boutiques, we mustn’t forget about what makes Vietnam so distinct and that is thelocal tailors here. Known as one of the leading manufacturing countries — Vietnam houses a handful of skilled tailors who can make almost anything. From shoes to jewelry, dresses, suits and more — the options are endless and the value is much greater than what can be found in a retail chain.
When I was in need of a full-length gown for a last minute event, I turned to a local dress tailor for help. After doing a bit of research I found a gown style online. I then took the picture to a tailor in Phu Nhuan, located just outside of District 1. She took my measurements, I explained to her the type of fabric I wanted and a week later, I had my gown. Simple, right? The gown was an exact replica of the photograph I had shown her. The original design was priced at a retail value of $600 and I didn’t even pay half of that for my custom-made gown. The total price ended up being only $100 for a perfectly fit floor-length gown. This was when I realized how much unique this aspect was to this country in terms of fashion and shopping. Being able to create your own design, choose your fabrics and have a well-crafted final product is a one-of-a-kind experience here. This aspect of HCMC is overlooked when travelers think about the value of shopping in this city. Custom-made products that are made with the highest quality of fabrics and craftsmanship at a reasonable price, this is what defines the real shopping scene in HCMC. So why not take advantage of it during your travels? In as little as 24 hours, the tailors can have a full ensemble made!
Photo credit: L'Usine.
Hunting for Fabric
If you’re the type of person who wants to pick out the fabric on your own some key markets to be sure to stop by include, Fabric Street (located along Hai Ba Trung and the Tan Dinh Market), Soai Kinh Lam Market (545 Tran Hung Dao, District 5), and Craft Market which can be found on the corner of Tran Hung Dao and Chau Van Liem in District 5 as well. It may be a little extra work to go and pick out the fabrics yourself but who better to pick out the material than you since you will be the one wearing it.
Although the list of markets varies, one can find most of what they’re looking for at any of the ones listed above. In addition, keep an eye out for local tailor shops along the streets as one makestheir way through HCMC, from custom shoes, wedding dresses and suit tailor shops on Le Thanh Ton Street to all throughout the city — you may end up stumbling upon exactly what they’re looking for.
Although HCMC may not have international retail chains like Forever 21, etc., this city has something much greater than that. As a fast growing city with an influx of people, new businesses and creativity, the fashion and design realm is on the cusp of taking off. This is just the beginning for this dynamic city. Whether you’re passing through or you live here permanently and you’re searching for a different shopping experience — go on an adventure; get outside of your comfort zone. Design your own suit or gown from head to toe, go to that one market located on the edge of District 5 and find something that speaks to you. Find something that represents the true value of shopping here. Seek out the unknown and find something that makes you feel the inspiration and the culture of this amazing city. The question you must ask yourself first is, “What are you really looking for?”
The Ultimate Buying Guide for Vietnamese Coffee Lovers
Vietnamese Coffee is known for being some of the best available. The country is the top producer of Robusta in the world. Therefore, it is unsurprising that for travellers and expats in Vietnam, coffee is the top sought after souvenir and most often consumed beverage product.
However, with Ben Thanh Market and other familiar tourist destinations filled with hundreds of potentially dubious brands and nameless packets of coffee grinds roasted and left to stand for months and possibly even years, consumers are rightly apprehensive about the quality of what is on display.
A dazzling display of coffee beans and powder at Ben Thanh Market - by Mervin Lee
We’ve put together a concise and simple to understand guide to help you understand java-science so that you can choose Vietnamese coffee of good quality which, hopefully, agrees with your palate!
Definition of ‘Vietnamese Coffee’ and Relieving the Confusion
Vietnamese Coffee refers to both a style of traditional Vietnamese roast and a style of brew. It is possible to brew Italian-style roasted beans with the ubiquitous Vietnamese phin drip filter, and likewise, also possible to brew traditional Vietnamese-style dark roasts with a foreign device such as a French press.
Saigonese street coffee being mass-brewed using Vietnamese phin drip filters - by Mervin Lee
Traditional Vietnamese techniques involve roasting Robusta coffee beans very dark with additives such as butter, salt, whisky, rice liquor or even sugar and fish-sauce. These additives help to elevate the savouriness and palatability of the notoriously harsh and bitter tasting Robusta beans.
Chemical flavourings and fragrances are often added, with the most common being vanilla and hazelnut, the former an age-old cliché aroma sought after in Vietnamese coffee powder.
Fillers such as roasted corn, soybeans and red beans are common and some recipes call for filler content of up to 50%. Fillers are used to thicken, darken and somewhat sweeten the coffee and they also increase profits. Connoisseurs who are seeking pure coffee should note that it is practically impossible to gauge the purity of coffee in Vietnam based on looking at grinded coffee powder. Diligent people should opt to purchase whole beans at shops before requesting them to be grounded on the spot.
When extracted using the iconic Vietnamese phin drip filter, the espresso-like liquid is then served with or without ice, and preferably with condensed milk to offset it’s bitterness. This popular beverage is known as ca phe sua da, the renowned mascot of Vietnamese coffee.
Enjoying a cup of ca phe sua da on a hot Saigonese day - by Mervin Lee
Advancements in coffee farming has allowed the development of higher quality Robusta and Arabica coffee beans. Globalisation and changing preferences has resulted in a trend of roasting pure, additive-free coffee and subsequently brewing them with a wide range of foreign methods such as Italian-style espresso and paper filter. When these coffees are brewed using a phin, the technique remains Vietnamese.
Thus, the first item that you should procur is a high quality Vietnamese phin drip filter if you desire a strong and traditional Vietnamese brew. The phin works by filtering coffee through 2 layers of tiny holes and allowing the coffee to fall with the help of gravity.
City Pass Guide recommends the Trung Nguyen phins made of quality aluminium and available at all Trung Nguyen coffee shops. For connoisseurs who prefer a non-metal solution, Minh Long offers a series of beautiful porcelain Phins handcrafted in Binh Duong Province.
Roast Levels and Blends
Taste preference differs between individuals. Not everyone enjoys bitter coffee without sugar, and although many people do not appreciate light roasted and acidic coffee, third-wave coffee snobs may insist that such qualities are preferred.
“The first wave of American coffee culture was probably the 19th-century surge that put Folgers on every table, and the second was the proliferation, starting in the 1960s at Peet's and moving smartly through the Starbucks grande decaf latte, of espresso drinks and regionally labeled coffee. We are now in the third wave of coffee connoisseurship, where beans are sourced from farms instead of countries, roasting is about bringing out rather than incinerating the unique characteristics of each bean, and the flavor is clean and hard and pure.”
Robusta coffees are generally bitter and harsh in taste, while Arabica coffees are often more acidic, higher in natural sugar content and superior in fragrance. As a general guideline, a medium roasted coffee is a good balance between intensity, acidity, sweetness and fragrance, since ample time has been given for bitter compounds to degrade. Light roasted Arabicas are acidic but preserve the original aroma and flavour compounds, known as ‘origin character’ in third-wave coffee-speak. Dark roasted Arabica coffees are savoury and intense in flavour, having lost most of its acidity through the roasting process and may be bitter if coffee caramels have begun to burn in the roasting process if beans are not roasted with skill and care. French-style roast is an example of very dark roasted coffee.
As such, the skill of the coffee roaster and the art of blending different types of beans at different roast levels becomes extremely crucial for Italian-style espresso and Vietnamese phin coffee since these styles involve extracting coffee with very little water, resulting in highly concentrated and intense brews. Arabicas may be added to a predominantly Robusta blend to introduce pleasant acidity, aroma and to relieve the blend of dullness. Likewise, Robusta may be added to a predominantly Arabica blend to introduce body and crema for Italian-style espresso.
Image source: i.ytimg.com
Common ratios and names of these ratios at specialty coffee shops in Saigon include 20-80, 50-50 and 80-20, describing the percentage ratio of Arabica to Robusta coffee.
Here is a breakdown of the various types of coffee beans and species that may be found by examining the printed contents information on packaged commercial coffee.
Arabica - The most popular and widely consumed coffee species in the world with countless cultivated varieties. It is known for its nuanced, alluring floral and fruity notes, which vary wildly depending on region and varietal. Arabica is disliked by some due to its acidity, which can be mildly sweet and berry or citrus-like in specialty varieties.
Culi (Peaberry) Arabica - In normal circumstance, a coffee cherry contains two coffee beans. Peaberries, known as culi in Vietnamese coffee-lingo, are coffee beans that have developed into a single spherical bean due to the lack of fertilisation of the other bean. Culi Arabicas are very rare and known for a higher intensity of Arabica’s attributes.
Robusta - The underrated Robusta is known for being bitter and harsh but is the choice for daily indulgence in Southeast Asia due to its natural lack of acidity. Advancements in cultivation and coffee processing has improved it’s flavour drastically.
Culi (Peaberry) Robusta - Culi Robustas are known to be more bitter, but also sweeter, and are said to contain considerably more caffeine.
Liberica and Excelsa - Rare and related species of hardy, tropical coffee plants. Liberica is popular in Malaysia and the Philippines and is liked for its attractive and earthy aroma that is often accompanied by a smokey taste resembling dark chocolate, berries and tropical fruits. Excelsa coffee is similar and is known to be tart and fruity with a lingering finish.
When buying ground coffee, It is critical for a buyer to check for the coffee roast date. Dark roasted coffees oxidize faster and light roasted coffees last longer if kept in airtight mason jars. As a rule of thumb, buy coffee that is as fresh as possible! When buying from shops that are able to grind fresh coffee beans, one should choose the grind size based on the intended brew method (e.g.: coarse for French press, medium-fine for paper filter and fine for espresso).
Image source: caphenguyenchat.vn
If you’re intending on becoming a coffee snob, investing in a coffee grinder and relying on coffee beans may be your best bet if you’re a sucker for freshness.
Common Vietnamese Coffee Terms
Bột - Powder Nguyên hạt - Unground coffee beans Hạt Rang - Roasted coffee beans
Cà Phê Nguyên Chất - Pure coffee without additives Cà Phê Rang Xay - Roasted and ground coffee Cà Phê Hòa Tan - Instant/dissolvable ground
Cà Phê Mít - Mít means jackfruit in Vietnamese and Cà Phê Mít has nothing to do with the yellow-fleshed tropical fruit and refers to Liberica and Excelsa coffee. Cà Phê Chồn - Civet coffee. Often known in the western world as weasel coffee. A coffee processed from faeces of civets which consumed coffee cherries. Natural wild civet coffee is very expensive while farmed varieties are more affordable. Most civet coffee in Vietnam is a made with chemical flavouring and/or artificial enzymes.
It is not necessarily a well-known fact, but shoes are the most important articles of clothing that you will ever buy.
Most people don’t realise that the health of your feet sets the tone for the health of the entire skeletal system and therefore your entire body. Wearing shoes that fit properly and support your feet is vitally important in order to avoid or alleviate many common foot problems; however, it goes further than that.
Great Looks Bad Back
Many are tempted to simply wear shoes that they find aesthetically pleasing. Unfortunately, great looking footwear is more often than not the worst choice for either proper foot function or overall health. In addition, about 70% of us have one foot that is bigger than the other by half a size. From that we can assume that literally billions of people are walking around with one shoe that is the wrong size.
Vietnam is one of the largest exporters of shoes in the world. This is a multi-billion dollar industry that sees Vietnamese shoes being worn in more than 40 countries. Standards are high, and Mangii has taken them even higher. Using high-class leather, cork for comfort and metal shanks for strength, the shop handcrafts footwear of incredible style and quality.
“The shoes are assembled completely by hand and crafted into exquisite designs.”
All Mangii custom-made shoes are manufactured in Vietnam, close to the Cu Chi area of Ho Chi Minh City. Andy Nguyen, the owner, bought an existing factory with an already highly skilled workforce. It took him three years to train staff to the standards that he demanded. Five years ago he achieved his goal and opened up his first shop. Now firmly established, he has opened a second shop in Hanoi.
Bespoke Every Step of the Way
Mangii has an incredibly high percentage of repeat customers, and most of the clients come by word of mouth. The great beauty of the way they work here is that all patterns and measurements are kept, so even after people return to their homes, wherever they may be, they can and do still order online and receive their shoes by post. A string of 5-star ratings on TripAdvisor has also helped business growth immensely.
Customers can, of course, buy ready-made shoes and walk away with beautiful footwear in one day. It is, though, the custom-made collection that attracts most. The process is unique. Feet are measured and a drawing is made, then individual lasts are made from which the shoes are modelled. In fact, Mangii first makes a fitting shoe that customers can try on. The customer then says which part of the shoe, if any, is too tight or pinching and the shop adjusts the lasts and builds the real shoes. The customer then chooses the design and the leather that they want to use, and from this the process is completed.
This normally takes about two weeks. Clients end up with shoes that are unique and fit perfectly. This has resulted in the large number of re-orders from people who stay exclusively with Mangii. Most of the clients are business people, though increasingly, young people are demanding high class products.
“Half of Mangii’s customers are expats who, of course, often struggle to find shoes that even fit.”
Mangii custom-made shoes are an excellent investment for anyone who cares about their health while at the same time, wishes to look stylish. They are not as expensive as one would expect, and certainly not as expensive as buying similar shoes in the West. Unique, stylish, affordable, made to measure, and right here in Ho Chi Minh City. What more could you want?
Many colonial buildings are being renovated and turned into hip-looking coffee shops, workshops, co-working spaces and fashion boutiques. They mix the old and the new to cater for the new generation of Vietnamese who love the fresh ambience in these places.
We met up with three fashion designers who own their boutiques and design every item that’s sold there. They all share a young spirit, a deep love for fashion and an entrepreneurial drive.
Nguyen Anh Thi (24) is the youngest. She has been running her “BeUnique” boutique on the 2nd floor of 42 Ton That Thiep for two months and, despite her brief experience, feels confident about her decision. “I have always loved fashion and truly felt the need to design clothes for young Vietnamese like me,” explained Thi, who taught herself everything she knows in design. Most young designers who embark in a small business consider their family’s and friends’ approval a must for their journey, and so does Thi.
“Every time I am about to release a new design, I ask my friends for feedback. My parents supported me from the very beginning because they thought I was capable of succeeding,” she says.
While talking to her, the shop gets a bit crowded. “People coming to my shop range from the age of 18 to 26. This apartment is well-known in Saigon among youngsters, that’s the main reason why I chose this place.”
Rent tends to be the deciding factor for these young entrepreneurs. “I pay between VND 10 and 15 million every month. Even if my sales grew considerably, I wouldn’t consider moving the shop to a street-level location because then I would have to spend more money on rent and cut costs on materials.”
Originally from Korea, Lee Seohyun arrived in HCMC when her husband relocated for work. She opened the Elephant’s Closet (2nd floor at 26 Ly Tu Trong) a year later. Getting settled in a new place plus having two babies probably felt like a full-time job. However, shortly after, she started designing women’s clothes and hired a tailor. Now she caters for Vietnamese moms who look for unique designs for her kids’ closet as well as for theirs. Seohyun’s matching outfits for moms and kids give her a unique edge.
Generally speaking, customers in these boutiques tend to be awed by the affordable clothing but also by the cosy atmosphere. The visually striking setup represents one side of the business; the other part plays on social media. “I make great use of Facebook to showcase my newest creations, and then the word-of-mouth does the rest,” Seohyun says.
The first apartment boutiques in HCMC appeared about five years ago. Tu Anh opened hers, Thank God I’m Fabulous (1st floor at 26 Ly Tu Trong), four-and-a-half years ago, a pioneer in the business. “The concept sprung off of L’Usine, so, based on that idea, we tried to convey a similar shop experience while dealing with the constraints of being an entrepreneur.” Although most of these shops are in the heart of the city, the owners prefer apartments where rents are cheaper than a street-level shop.
Tu Anh studied fashion design in Australia 10 years ago and then enrolled in a business course in Singapore, which probably provided the vision she exhibits these days. “I spent nearly a year in planning out the business. Branding took up most of the time, since I really want to serve my clients’ needs while matching my desires for designing. I would say that’s my vision,” she recalls when asked about her first steps with the shop.
Nowadays, Tu Anh has eight people, including tailors and pattern makers, working at her workshop, which allows her to release a new collection every three months. Her clothes are mainly office outfits for women who have a stable income. “I target ladies who prefer to pay a bit extra for high-quality clothes.” Tu Anh is currently searching for a location in D1 to open her second shop at a regular store space instead of an apartment.
Sidestep Dong Khoi and put down that Burberry bag—whether it’s the real deal or a knock-off.
There’s a new trend in Vietnamese leather accessories and it doesn’t involve paying an outrageous mark-up for a designer name or settling on a copy that will fall apart before you even get it home.
These savvy brands based in HCMC are seeking to change the image of Vietnam-made leather accessories by focusing on the attention to detail and one of a kind customisation that was previously only seen in European luxury houses.
JR Rostaing: The French Savoir Faire in Vietnam
The Brand Story
Maison Rostaing, a family-run leather manufacturer, set up shop in France back in 1789, but the company’s story in Vietnam began more recently when heir to the business Jacques Rostaing decided to bring his family’s knowledge, what the French call savoir faire, to HCMC by founding a tannery in 1994. Since then the tannery has treated and crafted top of the line leather products for many elite French fashion brands.
Image source: JR Rostaing
In September 2017, the company decided to launch their own product line called JR Rostaing.
Walk into the JR Rostaing boutique and you’ll be met with rows of perfectly crafted handbags and accessories. The leather ranges from the opulent—ostrich, stingray, snake and crocodile skins—to the eco-conscious, leather that is tanned using only tree bark and no chemicals.
Karine Rostaing, customer liaison, has been in Vietnam for 24 years. She interviewed with #iAMHCMC in French about how the market for luxury products has changed. Some people buy a bag just for the brand—they’ll buy a plastic bag if it’s made by a prestigious brand, Rostaing explained. Other brands use leather that is not a good quality and then they spray paint it so that the leather looks perfect. But now more and more people are looking for a high-end bag that looks beautiful and lasts.
The animal skins used to make the products primarily come from Europe and are then transported to Vietnam where they are treated in the tannery. Then the leathers are designed, crafted and stitched by skilled artisans. Every haute couture bag the leather artisan makes is lined with a one-of-a-kind French silk scarf and all crocodile skin handbags have an embossed serial number inside the bag, which is the international governmental customs method for proving the origin of the leather. These exclusive touches lift the bag to status symbol level.
Image source: JR Rostaing
Everything in the store can be customised and tailor made. A sunglasses case might set you back VND1 million, while a custom bag depends entirely on the type of leather and the details. The only limit is your imagination and of course your budget.
Address: 100 Vo Thi Sau, D1
Cincinati / Ne-Yuh: Vietnamese Brands for International Tastes
The Brand Story
The doorway that leads into the Cincinati and Ne-Yuh boutique in D1 feels like a secret passage into a vintage leather working studio. Walk inside and the narrow storefront opens up into a bright shop where customers are met with an array of handbags and accessories meticulously arranged by colour and style. From the M.O.O.N. bag, which is crafted into a zen circle to a mini bag called the Saigon Chic clutch, which could have been inspired by the iconic woven bags from Italian luxury house Bottega Veneta, each piece showcases the beauty of the leather with tones ranging from deep jewel tints, brushed metallic finishes, or soft beige leathers.
Image source: Ne-Yuh
As a child Huyen Nguyen, the brand’s founder and designer, had a prized possession: a backpack. At this time, backpacks were still scarce in Vietnam and Nguyen knew how special it was. With her line of meticulously-designed leather goods, Nguyen has brought to life that feeling of owning something rare.
Nguyen began her family-run business in 2008, when she opened her first factory manufacturing leather bags. Every piece that comes out of the factory is entirely handmade by artisans. Nguyen has since launched two distinct leather brands.
Cincinati was the first brand to be created and initially focused on a more masculine aesthetic. Ne-Yuh launched in 2014 and embraces femininity and innovative shapes. Nguyen’s companies have risen to the top of Vietnam-made leather goods because of their ability to engage both domestic and international markets—50 percent of their business is for export—as well as being an ambassador for the fashion and lifestyle of a new generation of Vietnamese businesses.
Some brands use leather composite, which involves taking leather fibres and gluing them together then coating the resulting sheet of leather with varnish. In contrast, Nguyen’s factory uses only whole leather from India or Italy, which has a softer texture and also ages beautifully.
“We are proud to say that all products are made in Vietnam”, Ngon Huynh, export sales director said. “There are very talented artisans here. That’s why all the foreign customers come in.”
“However, the Vietnamese market is different. The Vietnamese people like things that are from abroad. You have to market things differently to them if you’re a Vietnamese brand.”
Image source: Ne-Yuh
One of the ways that Cincinati and Ne-Yuh do that is through customisation. In their D1 boutique, there is a “Build a Bag” workshop. Clients can make an appointment with the store and come in to choose their leather, accessories and style. Initials can be added anywhere on the bag. One new concept is the his & her wallets or satchel bags. A couple can select matching styles and then personalise the pieces with each other’s initials.
Address: 60-62 Mac Thi Buoi, D1
Desino: Youthful Elegance
The Brand Story
Ten years ago Huy Nguyen, general manager of Desino, had an idea.
A technical engineer with a flair for fashion Nguyen had a taste for quality, yet he had a hard time finding what he wanted. “Either the product was right but the price was too high or the price was right but the quality was low”, Nguyen said.
Image source: Desino
Instead of waiting around for the market to change, Nguyen found a leather producer that was willing to create products to serve his vision, and Desino was thus born.
Using the overstock of the leather created for top luxury brands, Desino is able to make bags out of the highest quality leather but at a reasonable price. The products range from candy-coloured tote bags to buttery beige leather satchels.
“We are not aiming to be the artisanal brand. We are aiming for excellent quality with a more commercial purpose”, Nguyen said. “People who want to buy something for daily use can come to us. People who want identity come to us. We can add on all the personal touches.”
People can use a classic bag as a base and then build on top of that with whatever details they desire. An in-house artist can custom paint any product to the client’s specifications. According to Nguyen, Desino’s clients go wild for a cross-body bag that can be customised with painted graffiti-like slogans, beaded skulls, birds or anything they can dream up.
Image source: Desino
“Right now luxury is all about identity”, Nguyen said. “Everyone can have the same quality. Everyone can choose to say ‘the more expensive the better’. But we give them something that they can create.”