High Street Fashion

Ho Chi Minh City is opening up to international brands, and Esprit, Accessorize and Mango, among others, are already in Saigon. The stores along Nguyen Trai and inside the big shopping centres stock a range of trendy clothes. There a number of shops in HCMC that cater to buyers of mid-range threads - just don't expect cutting edge designs and materials. For lower prices, head to Blue Exchange, Ninomaxx or PT2000 along Hai Ba Trung or Le Van Sy.

Check out Zen Plaza, a multi-story shopping centre on Nguyen Trai close to Pham Ngu Lao in Ho Chi Minh City's backpacker area. Nguyen Trai is home to many of Saigon's top shelf international brands and smaller independent boutique stores. Local designer boutiques are sprouting up quicker than rooftop herb gardens and are a good bet if you want a novel dress or shirt. There are plenty of designer fashion boutiques along Dong Khoi, the north part of Ly Tu Trong and at Hai Ba Trung north of Nguyen Thi Minh Khai.Ton That Thiep in central Saigon is also home to many clothes shops.

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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.

dishes

Image source: instagram exuvie.gallery

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 exuvie.gallery

 

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Passion for Fashion in HCMC Part 1: Sinhtolina

Bohemian Rhapsody

Before To Trinh – better known as Leo – started selling Sinhtolina’s line of expressive and unapologetically fun dresses, she was a young woman cutting sleeves and holes in her clothes to create new and original looks. This cultivated a spirit of liberty that informs her fashion practice today.

fashion designer

“It aims to bring the free spirit culture,” Leo says. “We have a lot of fashion brands here but nobody is actually doing, like, bohemian style.”

Sinhtolina’s dresses tend to have a Coachella, music festival vibe. There’s lots of colour and a lighthearted attitude about the clothes, which would look good with a seashell necklace and a folded beach towel, all on their way to some undisclosed good time. The exuberant patterns are like a wearable good mood.

fashion designer

Leo’s fashions are also distinguished by the liberties they take in revealing the human form. Both Vietnamese clothing brands and customers – at least in polite company, Leo says – shy away from clothing that trifles with modesty. Leo’s designs tend to be open at the reverse and display the wearer’s back, a favourite part of the human body for her.

Cultivating the Aesthetic

Leo is an interior designer by training, a practice that she explains makes her approach oriented to the materials rather than design. Traditionally, the hierarchy is reversed and clothing elements will accord to the design. “And then from (material selection), we will come up with shapes, we will come up with designs, function,” she says.

fashion designer

For her, fashion design is fabric and pattern first. Cotton and silk are her preferred media – “Light fabric, as light as possible because here in Vietnam it’s super hot,” she says. “This [method] is completely opposite of a fashion designer.”

fashion designer

Leo began selling her clothes about three years ago in private sales to customers. Today, the Sinhtolina fashion brand of dresses, tops and bottoms is sold at two stores: D2 restaurant-cum-retailer Kokoïs, and a seller in Nha Trang called LIVINcollective. Leo’s dresses start at $40. For $70, she offers custom-tailored pieces.

Image source: Leo HuynhTrinh - Sinhtolina

 

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L'Usine

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.

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Ipa Nima HCMC

A colourful arrangement of fashion and function, Ipa Nima Boutique shop is the brainchild of Christina Yu and has been creating accessories full of invention and flair since 1997. Focusing on purses, the design-first mentality leads to pieces that reflect style and symmetry, all steeped in a heavy dose of soul. Their support of Saigon non profits brings social responsibility to the table. In Vietnam they have four locations, two in Ho Chi Minh City and two in Hanoi.

Looking for funky, original handbags with flair? Head to Ipa-Nima in Ho Chi Minh City. There are two locations in the city. Although the Saigon stores are not as big as their flagship shop in Hanoi, you'll still marvel at the selection on offer. Shop amidst a violet, boudoir-esque interior and pick out an edgy handbag designed with vintage flair. Ipa-Nima is open daily from 9am to 9pm.

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Thai Tuan Silk

As one of the leading Vietnamese brands in the fashion textile industry for more than 23 years, Thai Tuan’s products are trusted by local and foreign customers alike thanks to their prestige and feel for fashion trends. Aspiring to become an "International brand globally providing fashion fabric", award-winning Thai Tuan makes a constant effort to use the latest technology to launch more breakthrough products that meet the needs and tastes of fashionistas all over the world.

thai tuan fashion

Driven by the desire to offer a high-end fabric shopping space of the best quality to women who love tailor-made clothes, Thai Tuan Silk officially opened their showroom at 222-224 Le Thanh Ton, District 1, on April 2nd, 2017. Their Identity is Ao dai made up of different materials such as Digital-printed fabric, a top-notch Jacquard fabric that adds a luxurious look to every creation, and stretching silk that ensures the greatest comfort.

thai tuan fashion model

Thai Tuan also cares for the environment and strives to protect the health of their customers. After many years of research, Thai Tuan has introduced two new products containing health protection features: Antibacterial fabric and UV resistant fabric.

Beside a wide range of fashion products, Thai Tuan also offers an Ao dai tailoring service at their showroom that provides you with the most beautiful custom-made ao dai to be had in Ho Chi Minh City less than three days.

 

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