Designer Brands

There was once a scarcity of international brands available in Saigon, and you had to make do with sketchy counterfeit items at the markets. Today, fashionistas can shop until they drop at Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Versace in HCMC's upscale malls and designer boutiques. If you don't want to shell out for the real deal or have a thing for ersatz goods, copies are still available. Occasional spelling mistakes or crookedly stitched tags included for free.

These days Ho Chi Minh City's shiny happy shopping malls carry products from all the big name players including Armani, Jimmy Choo, Mango, Casio, Converse, Gap, Levi's, Chanel, Polo Ralph Lauren and Swarovski.



HCMC's L'usine is a haven for everything the rest of the world forgot. A loft cafe, vintage racing bike and Lomo heaven, L'usine also sells clothes to go along with your espresso. Don't know what Lomo is? Visit L'usine. The Champs-Elysees meets Bleeker Street in classic Saigon style. While away the hours or buy some hip gear. Whatever makes your day go easier is sure to be found at L'usine. Brands found at L'usine include AIAIAI, Baxter of California, BoAime, Clae, Moleskine and Yumaki among many others.

More than just a fashion boutique, café and art gallery, L'usine is a contemporary Vietnamese experience in the heart of Saigon. L'usine's founders have designed a space that not only showcases global fashion but celebrates modern Vietnamese creativity, inspired by the timeless elegance and enterprising industry of the Indochina era. The boutique's bricks and mortar physical space suggests a 1930s French garment factory. Enjoy freshly cut sandwiches and home-style cakes made with quality ingredients.


i-MEGANE: Glasses that Last

When Shinichi Suzuki, the owner of two eyeglasses shops in Hokkaido, Japan, first visited Ho Chi Minh City in 2011, his intention wasn’t to open a business in Vietnam. However, as he visited local shops to check their wares, he wasn’t satisfied. The quality of the frames and the choices available weren’t what he expected from a rapidly growing city like Saigon.

Rather than expanding his business to Tokyo like he originally planned, Suzuki decided to head south. Today i-MEGANE glasses boasts locations on Dien Bien Phu Street in District 3 and Le Thanh Ton Street in District 1, and more locations are soon to come. There are two reasons for this rapid expansion: i-MEGANE has a huge selection of high-quality frames, glasses and contact lenses, and employees who take pride in customising every pair to fit each customer’s individual lifestyle.

Image source: i-megane

Quality Matters

One of Suzuki’s primary concerns when he first visited Ho Chi Minh City’s glasses shops was the quality of the products. Although frames were cheap, he noticed that there was a reason

for it: the lifespan of many local frames was just one to two years – something that becomes

costly as a customer keeps replacing an easily damaged product.

By contrast, in true Japanese fashion, glasses at i-MEGANE transcend typical spectacles and become works of art and design. The materials are better, stronger and more flexible; the lenses are more precise, durable and thinner; and the frames are elegant, sophisticated and subtle.

Many of the 4,000 frames i-MEGANE has in stock help rethink the comfort of traditional glasses. For example, when a person wears a pair of normal glasses, there are three points that allow the glasses to rest on the head: one on each ear and the third on the bridge of the nose. This model has worked well for hundreds of years, but Japanese designers have discovered that it can be done better.

meganeImage source: i-megane

Some of the premium frames offered at i-MEGANE are made of a new, highly flexible titanium that increases the amounts of “resting points” on the head. For those who wear these new designs, the difference is clear: the glasses feel lighter, don’t shift as often as traditional

glasses and don’t break as easily.

Tai Kitamura, the Assistant Director of i-MEGANE, explains the new technology and adds, “If it’s not made in Japan, it’s probably not made like this. Rather than a lifespan of one to two years, these glasses hold up five or six times as long.”

Here’s a challenge for you: try wearing a premium Japanese brand of glasses like Line Art, Banerina or 999.9 for a month and then go back to your old glasses. Chances are, you won’t be able to.

Finding Glasses for Every Lifestyle

Here’s the undeniable truth: with glasses, one size definitely does not fit all. The success of a good pair of glasses depends primarily on the lifestyle of the person wearing them and what they want to use them for: while a pair of glasses might be perfect for one person, it might be completely unsuitable for another. And when you’re looking to buy something that you use every minute of every day, there’s no room to mess around.

Tai lists the many factors that go into choosing the right glasses for a customer: “Our doctors will ask you questions about your work, your lifestyle, how many glasses you have, what you’ll use the glasses for… If you go to other stores, they can measure the power of your eyes, but they don’t think about your lifestyle. Plus, there’s our lenses. We can order a full line-up of made-in-Japan progressive lenses to make sure you have the best products available.”

meganeImage source: i-megane

At i-MEGANE’s Le Thanh Ton location, English-speaking optometrists and employees have become trusted and artful long-term vision consultants and every customer gets the warm welcome and friendly service that’s become a trademark of Japan. Although i-MEGANE’s Le Thanh Ton store opened in 2015, the professionalism of this company goes back decades. The flagship store in Hokkaido, for example, just celebrated its 86-year anniversary.

“Our customers will buy two or three glasses for different purposes. We often see customers who come back after four or five years just to change the power of the lenses,” he says. “That’s how good our glasses are.”


122 Le Thanh Ton, D1 | +84 28 3823 7200  | Hours: 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. 

285B Dien Bien Phu, D3 | +84 28 3930 3025 | Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.



Banner image source: i-megane



Future of Fashion in Saigon

Fashion has exploded in the last decade. Reality shows like Project Runway and Next Top Model have intrigued young designers, and a design revolution has been brewing for some years now.

Vietnam Fashion Week is in its third year and is incredibly successful. There is a higher demand for quality products. And with the advent of the new Takashimaya mall, international brands have suddenly poured into Vietnam in droves. But is it all sustainable? One of the country’s most recognised young designers, and founder of Vietnam Fashion Academy, Huy Vo, believes not so much; at least, not yet.

Photo: Edi Luong, Model: Kim Nha, Designer: Ivan Tran, Makeup: Minh Chu

In 2007-2010, the boutique fashion scene was thriving. Shops sprang up like wildfire, and the rich Vietnamese found wonderful new clothes to buy. But after the stock market plummeted, sales slowed, and the short burst of success gave way to a more revealing truth: the trendy young designers who started strong now realised they had little foundation to support themselves. Shops began to close, giving way to big name retail spaces.

Big Brand Dilemma

The fashion scene is still growing, but the question still remains: how can domestic designers and brands compete with the wave of big brands jumping on the bandwagon? Huy Vo mentions three crucial factors for any designer’s success in the marketplace: brand identity, customer service and quality.

Photo via Pixabay

The first two - brand identity and customer service - are easy. Many young designers are inherent digital marketers, and naturally use Facebook and Instagram to promote their products in ingenious ways. Serving their customers doesn’t seem to be an issue either. But when quality comes into question, there’s a noticeable gap. What good is a trendy blouse if it doesn’t look great after two washes? Or a nice pair of jeans if they fall apart after six months?

Vendors in Saigon Square kept producing faker fakes for profit, killing themselves in the process. On the other side, many young designers started out curious and ambitious, but without the foundation of knowledge required to build a sustainable clothing business.

True Domestic Quality

With malls you get the surface - the presentation, the brand, the space - but not what people actually want to buy. Where do people actually shop these days? Social media is a powerful tool for young designers, and chat apps and social networking sites like Zalo and Facebook have everyone from teens to middle-aged adults selling their wares. Then there are the corner shops near home, and online Amazon-like sites like Lazada and Leflair.


Photo via Pixabay

True domestic quality comes in the form of passionate designers with sustainable brands - thinkers who think forward. Notable names include Antonio De Torres, Lam Gia Khang, Huy Tran, Do Manh Cuong, Adrian Anh Tuan, Li Lam and Cong Tri, among others. Some examples of good fashion boutiques are Nosbyn, Cashew, Wephobia, Ren, The Blue T-Shirt, Thuy Design House and Annacoco.

Huy Vo says the problem with any industry in Vietnam is that many upcoming players think in trends, not sustainability. When the question is posed, will it last in the next 5-10 years? There are blank stares. When asked whether the brand will ever make it overseas, the question is likely dismissed.

To see what happens next just look at coffee shops: there seems to be a new cafe popping up every day, and another closing the next. Investors pump money into the cafes, the owners sell, the staff are secondary, and eventually the project goes bust. There’s a common thread here.

The Missing Factor

Huy Vo stresses the need for education, how knowledge creates a solid foundation. What if you know how to draw a beautiful piece of clothing, but don’t understand how it’s constructed? And then there is the question of history. Some young designers figure they don’t need to know the history of fashion in order to design - but you ask them what were the styles of the 20s and 40s and they come up with surface-level answers, says Huy Vo. They don’t understand the background of the time, the trends, the political situation, the movements of the era that influenced the style.

World Class

This doesn’t mean the shopping scene in Vietnam, and particularly in Ho Chi Minh City, is lacking in world-class products. Almost anything handmade in Vietnam is beautiful. Lacquerware, embroidery and textiles are of first rate quality. Items like these have much potential, with enough culture and craftsmanship behind them to create an excellent story. In this case, the brand identity is missing, but the quality (and sometimes even the service) is there.

 Photo: Edi Luong, Model: Kim Nha, Designer: Ivan Tran, Makeup: Minh Chu

Marou chocolate and Vietnamese rice - both quality products that come from Vietnam - have reached international attention because of their quality and outreach. Vietnamese clothing can reach this potential, but there is a lot of work ahead for designers and business owners - mainly in the form of education and planning.

Huy Vo heads the Vietnam Fashion Academy at 14 Ton That Dam, 2nd Floor, Hotline: 09 2303 1188.

Header photo via Pixabay


Ginkgo T-Shirts Ho Chi Minh City

From their Ho Chi Minh shop, Ginkgo sells quality products inspired by Vietnamese culture. The shop uses high quality and sometimes organic cotton fabric. Each article of clothing is manufactured in-house, by dedicated local people.

Ginkgo Concept Store Saigon

No matter what the Ho Chi Minh City weather, you will look great in their terrific t-shirts, made for both men and women. They source fabrics from Thailand, Bangladesh and India, but all cutting, printing, embroidering and sewing is done here in Vietnam.

Ginkgo has been a part of the Ho Chi Minh City business scene since 2007 and is fully committed to only entering into partnerships with people who share their vision of fair and environmentally friendly trade. Ginkgo also has shops in Hoi An, Hanoi and Nha Trang.

The funky t-shirt designs depict things like Vietnam’s famous tangled telephone wires, as well as stitched designs of the national flag’s gold star. Ginkgo ensure the highest standards of quality are met for all their products. Drop in to take a look for yourself.

Visit Ginkgo with our latest map to get a cool discount!


Passion for Fashion in HCMC Part 2: Uyen Ly

If you cut fashion designer Thi To Uyen Ly in half like fabric, you’d end up with two parts: one is a trained artist with an eye for concept fashion made with daring, expressive design; the other is a commercial fashion designer working for garment creative collective Asmara International Vietnam. Asmara offers design and production services to clothing brands around the globe.

fashion designerPhotographer: Mimik Photography  -  Designer: Uyen Ly

On a rainy evening in her kitchen, Ly shows off a drawing of project she’s been working on: a bomber jacket for Zara’s menswear collection.

Artistic Differences

Ly is a trained artist with a master’s in fashion design and a taste for the abstract, but there’s not much on the jacket that belies her practised talents and wilder habits – and there’s no place for it in a mall-friendly outfit like Zara. Her more occult sensibilities are in check on what looks like a standard jacket except one feature: a large rectangle – a “badge”, as designers call it – and a small pocket over the left abdomen.

fashion designerPhotographer: Mimik Photography  -  Designer: Uyen Ly

It’s size as well as the visual rhyme, parallel to the pocket, makes the eye immediately drawn to it. Even when working with the most conventional product like a simple jacket, “I always think, how can I top it? How can I make people care about it?” Ly said. And that’s her mark.

The typical jacket is seemingly designed to accord with a simple wish: not to cause too much of a stir while keeping warm. But the itch to innovate and improvise is what drives Ly to exercise her talents outside of her day job. By day, she’s a menswear designer. By night, she is Exuvie Gallery, the fashion brand that she created as a bachelor student of fashion design at Reutlingen University in southern Germany.


Image source: instagram

The pieces she makes while in this mode are a strong contrast to her commercial work. While her output for retailers hems closely with classic designs, Exuvie Gallery features designs that don’t immediately connect with existing ideas of what clothing is or should be. Ly shows a picture of what looks like a woman wearing a forcefield. She describes the appearance as “like an astronaut”. The outfit is made of a sheer fabric called organza, an ultralightweight material with a synthetic recipe that has an almost a creamy appearance under certain light.

For Exuvie Gallery, “I only want to do pieces that … you look at them and you don’t know what is it about,” she said. “I would like to make people think about it.”

Pulling the Thread from Both Ends

From a closet she pulls out a the piece that won her an award in an Asmara International Competition. At first glance, it looks like a collar missing the rest of the jacket. She joins the two ends of the collar with the velcro around her neck and the world seems to tilt slightly when she opens a previously unseen slit and out falls a big, black, light polyester jacket. “Exuvie is very free and weird,” Ly says. “Let’s say, art.”

It might come from her unique upbringing as a Vietnamese woman who spent her teenage and early adult years with relatives in Germany. She returned in April 2016. Ly is a European-trained designer, but her initial inspiration is located much closer to home.

“Since I was a kid, I wanted to be like my mom. Mom was a tailor,” Ly said. “I thought it was very interesting that she made a beautiful dress out of anything. I liked to draw all the time, paint, sewing. It has been following me since I was a kid,” she said.

Fashion, being duplicitous, reflects the metaphor of dualism: it’s both beautiful and useful. The beauty of clothing is in part its use, and seeing or imagining how it would enhance the otherwise naked human form.

fashion designerPhotographer: Mimik Photography  -  Designer: Uyen Ly

Similarly, Ly asserts that Exuvie Gallery and the work she does as a commercial designer are related practices. “I don’t think that Zara is completely away from Exuvie,” she says. In both the conceptual as well as the commercial fashion, “it’s [all] coming from me.”

Speaking about her earliest inspirations as a fashion designer, Ly recounted a bizarre-sounding experience she had while eating prawns. She suddenly took notice of the shells the creatures leave behind when you take the food out.

“They’re kind of like clothes, right?” Ly says in an uncanny observation that seems to register the porous wall between categories: Eastern and Western, fast fashion or high concept, it is beautiful and can you use it.

Banner image source: instagram



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