VQ stands for Vu Quan, Professor in the Dark Arts of Fashion Marketing. He left his junior concept store in France to develop a first class concept-store in Vietnam, helping the pionneering project to settle the most desirable brands worldwide on a new market.
For the past 6 months I’ve spent in Vietnam, I’ve been quite surprised at the level of integration of international brands in people’s minds. Research used to state that Vietnamese people were very brand sensitive – thank you Burberry and Gucci fakes. But as far as red carpets are concerned, only local designers are still proving to make an impact. Check these shots taken by Saigoneer at Am Muu Giay Got Nhon “How To Fight in Six Inches Heels” Premiere (latest local production that could be Vietnam’s Devil Wears Prada).
Actress Truc Diem (c) Saigoneer
Actress and Model Phuong Mai (c) Saigoneer
Producer and Actress Kathy Uyen (c) Saigoneer
Their names are Anna Vo, Cong Tri, Do Manh Cuong, Phuong My… and they are showbiz favorites.
But change is coming. A few models and celebrities have been spotted sporting contemporary international designer brands, from Chloé to Balenciaga and Dior. Spearheading this trend are model Mai Phuong Thuy – seen at Chloé and Dior events, and celebrity Ly Nha Ky, seen at Paris Fashion Week and featured in street style shots by Vogue, making the pride of local media.
Supporting this broadened attention for international brands, concept stores Runway are keeping up with the sharpest selections worldwide, bringing in hot and confidential The Row, Proenza Schouler, 3.1 Phillip Lim, Acne as well as french darlings Tara Jarmon or Vanessa Bruno in the past months.
Elle Magazine is an institution everywhere it has settled in the world. Thanks to that status, the publication is now setting new standards of creativity in a new and unexplored market: Vietnam. Following the recent launch of a new web platform, the first media with a decent design (check thesemajornews hubs for a bloodtearing benchmark) has raised the bar of its pionneering Fashion Shows.
Designers with inspirations connecting them to an exciting worldwide new turn in fashion (including hints to Givenchy, Balenciaga, Alexander Wang and Mary Katrantzou) showcased their work under a reversed garden, through sets of electro-pop and even more modern: trap music.
While some professionals are only starting to complain about indistinct trends on the street and lack of general fashion culture, this event showed that things were happening in Vietnam, and as we’re currently observing from the middle of there, we can tell you this: they’re happening fast.
A week ago, we were in Singapore for the International New York Times SEA of Luxury Conference (#INYTLux). Gathered in a refined venue on Sentosa were top actors of the industry as well as a crowd of entrepreneurs with young luxury brands, investors looking for a coup, and of course the usual spin doctors accompanying their speaker (such as your author here) as well as the troop of perfect Italian men.
Highlights of the conference were a subtle speech peppered with french-esque punetry by Grégoire Blanche (Cartier SEA+Australia Director), a humbling story about Luxury Fashion marketing by Jedi Master Domenico De Sole (Tom Ford and former Gucci Marketing Director), an inspiring manifesto about Vogue China by its editor in chief Angelica Cheung, a top-notch market study by Andrew Keith from iconic Lane Crawford / Joyce stores, and some expert insight from digital gurus Federico Marchetti (Yoox Group founder and CEO) and Thomas Crampton (Ogilvy Social Media Director in SEA)…
VQ’s CEO and founder of Runway concept-stores in Vietnam also took the stage along with regional colleagues including Chandra Widjaja from Club 21 or Eman Pineda from Adora (Philippines). Talks about retailing strategies for multi-brand concept stores were led by journalist and consultant Robb Young who definitely hit our right buttons about cities, their spirits and their future developments.
With such a high level among speakers, we could not help but note and note and note down key trends. The whole conference was about South East Asia but here and there gloomed the shadow of China and its unavoidable media weight. A few speakers managed to avoid the elephant in the room altogether, but the shift of focus is only slowly coming to the rest of Asia. The region really offers very various market situations: Singapore is a crazy market for watches and jewelry while Hong Kong is the trendy and fashionable destination. Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines form a second tier while Vietnam seems ready to join the club although off-the-record discussions said it was the most difficult market to read. As a new pionneer to the market, we can’t do but agree.
While a few years ago the very euro-centered Luxury Industry would focus on patrimonial assets, it appears that conquering the Far-East has now pushed every company towards more efforts in catalyzing creativity and supporting cross-channel actions.
The cycle ended with a touching milestone moment celebrating our host Suzy Menkes’ 25 years in activity.
We’re amazed at how the auto-proclaimed “biggest rockstar of all” Kanye West has managed to make a move on the whole media-sensitive creative sphere. As reluctant as the so-called underground scene might feel, Ye is smartly sharing his point to the world. After crying out loud on general media, M. West also took the discreet and subtle time to talk to the ones he says he defends: the creative minds.
Here he is, having a sweet talk to the ears of Harvard Graduate School of Design, waivering some subtle humor: “I’m not a politician, I am – at my best – politically incorrect”, and keeping his cool. No Rant For Once!
Creative genius? Who are we to judge. But Marketing genius? Definitely.
As late adopters, we took Miley Cyrus seasonal story backwards from all the fuss since the VMA 2013 performance, and just went on to watch her “We Can’t Stop” music video. The least we can say is that our perception flipped all over.
The buzz explosion literally buried the whole story behind this new personae of hers. “We Can’t Stop” proves that commentators and other outraged trolls have no idea what this is all about. Miley Cyrus goes on a so-called scandalous trip that has nothing more shocking than Harmony Korine’s Springbreakers. By the way, the whole imaginarium behind “We Can’t Stop” seems sensibly inspired by last year’s most wicked youth manifesto.
Curiously enough, when a legit indie filmmaker drops a bunch of Disney girls into a bath of blood and acid, critics and people alike put a fist under their chin with an interested frown. But when a popstar goes down the stream, she gets slut-bashed. We’re now convinced Miley has all the rights to twerk her way through freedom, whatever Lily Allen may think of it.
Our video of interest, with all its soulful blunt youth aspirations:
As we’ve left Paris for quite some time now for cosmopolitan horizons in London and Ho Chi Minh City, we forgot what a Parisienne was like. And we’re sorry but our beloved Paris Fashion Week crowd is not Parisienne at all. While Isabel Marant is blowing her concept worldwide with H&M, we’re feeling refreshed with this music video from S-Crew called Les Parisiennes.
Far from a naive fragrance commercial cliché, this video packs real charm. Parisiennes are not Kate Moss or Carine Roitfeld knock-offs. They’re cosmopolitan. Blonde, brunette, Asian, Mediterranean. They are natural and even the naturalist take of the video does not fall on the hipster side of raw posing that all indie pop bands are nowadays showing.
Our dear Parisiennes are described as admirable for their adventurous lifestyle, their cocktail pick, but also take a dent because they’d be inaccessible. Like many New-Yorkers and Londoners, she’s become cynical. But S-Crew knows where the fault is: from us guys first-time heartbreakers. “The first boy did not love them” / “They see passion just as a game”.
Yesterday, Sarah Andelman – cofounder of legendary concept store Colette (213 rue St Honoré, Paris), announced that Saint Laurent Paris severed their EUR 400k-worth-per-year business for an anecdotic story of merchandising and hip ironic tees. Fortunately, we are not that dumb to gobble up the “these parody tee-shirts make fun of our brand and destroys its value”. Moreover when it’s obvious that the commercial relationship was better than fine and lucrative for everyone until the drama. So what’s really happening behind these smokescreen business talks? Why did Saint Laurent really trashed their output with Colette?
Saint Laurent creative & marketing teams seem to have gone reckless in their fight against resistance to their “beliefs”. Appointing Hedi Slimane looked like a good decision back when it was confidential and heavy suits clinked champagne glasses to celebrate their ingenious transfer. It sounded like the signing Zinedine Zidane at Real Madrid. But it also meant putting the brand in the hands of a cultural guru / rock star. Mind the words, you’ll get my point soon enough.
In the wake of recent controversy, no sane mind can really believe the fallout between Saint Laurent and Colette is only the result of some merchandising feud. The fact is Hedi Slimane is at war with Kanye West. And rock and roll culture is clinging to life as it can, confronted to the tide of contemporary hip-hop culture now flooding the floors and runways (Alexander Wang, Riccardo Tisci’s Givenchy, you feel me?)
The silent war has started a few months ago, but no serious fashion editor seems to have picked up on it yet. Most of our dear professionals have been doing what they’ve done for a long time: praising designers when necessary, ignoring them in other cases. Here we are looking at the big picture and a chain of events that should have triggered some experts’ curiosity:
1) Hip hop stars started wearing contemporary designer clothes – including slim pants, yes, these same skinny jeans brought back to the market by Hedi Slimane at Dior Homme.
2) Kanye West decided to try his way in Paris Fashion Week, challenging a very conservative milieu tolerant to culture only when it means “celebrities wearing our designs”.
3) Freshly appointed Hedi Slimane moves his studio to America, acknowledging a superior tide of trends coming from there, but keeps his nod exclusively to rock culture.
4) While Lady Gaga crossed minds with Nicolas Formichetti, Jay Z performed in a contemporary art gallery head-to-head with Marina Abramovic and a bunch of children of the rock and roll decades (Jarmusch, Apatow…)
5) As electronic music has had its way with rock music to finally blossom into a mainstream electro-pop industry (hello Calvin Harris, New Order, LCD Soundsystem), it’s now having a huge party of fun with hip-hop influences (hello trap music and dubstep fans)
6) Kanye finally clashes with Saint Laurent over a presence-at-show deal when SL allegedly asked mr West to attend exclusively to their event (thus demanding him to chose sides between them and Givenchy or Balenciaga whom he’s close to already). Which climaxes with a public slap on BBC to Hedi Slimane, basically claiming he’s now way behind. “Rap is the new rock and roll. We’re the culture.” // “Yeah, it’s been like that for a minute, Hedi Slimane!” // “We’re the real rock stars and I’m the biggest of all of them”.
So there we’re back to Colette. In Paris and New York, fashion followers still allow themselves to lean into rock culture but have overlooked the growing influence of street / hip-hop culture. Except Colette, who with always a step ahead has been a super stronghold of street culture x luxury for a while already. Regulars can testify they’ve seen Pharrell Williams and Kanye West hang around there consistently. The sneakers department of the parisian concept store has inspired a whole industry to move forward, and Nike has never been more powerful since the Jordan age.
Now who’s going to act surprised at the schoolboy retaliation played by Saint Laurent Paris and Hedi Slimane? You play with the wrong crowd, we can’t be friends anymore. That’s what it’s been all about.
People of the fashion industry, brace yourselves. War may have just started and these guys are going to take no prisoner.
A 10 000 kilometer-boulevard, that’s what separates and reunites Paris and Ho Chi Minh City. Our cover girls Linda and Florence just made their way with it, drawing new concepts and trends.
Lindais the designer-founder of her own fashion label: Linda Mai Phung. Florence is her partner in the adventure. Here’s their story.
- France – Vietnam, what a trajectory, what brought you here in Ho Chi Minh City?
Florence: I came to settle in Saigon in January 2010 to learn the language of my ancestors and find a job. I was there for other reasons: I love the vibrancy of the city and the opportunities it offers. I love the openness of the people I work with and their entrepreneurial spirit.
Linda: Being of French Vietnamese background, I grew up in the Paris suburbs and have always been intrigued by my heritage. The idea of doing a strength and an asset in my personal and professional life grew rapidly after several discovery trips to Vietnam. Then when I really found out about the richness of vietnamese craftsmanship and expertise, it became obvious that I had to combine my passion for fashion, and move to this city.
Ho Chi Minh City is the land where everything is possible: there is a strong DIY spirit in in Saigon. With little means but a good environment, we manage to get his little mobile carriage of banh mi to earn a little money or create a trendy coffee with friends in an old family house.
Also, 50% of the population here is under 30, so that it is dynamic and that projects spring up everywhere. Basing my label here has not been easy, but the environment was exciting with authenticity and forward-looking people whereas it would have been difficult to build it up financially in Europe .
VQ (UPDATE): Actually this week, creative minds collided. Linda and Marilou, a french artist on a short journey in Ho Chi Minh teamed up to draw a typical vietnamese house to be tattooed. Here’s how it went:
- What are your projects?
F&L: We have showcased our new collection at l’Usine yesterday, L’Usine is the new trendy creative spot in Ho Chi Minh City. Now we’re trying to push the brands further : we’re travelling to Japan and China soon for business… and inspiration!
- Now that trends collide online, what would you say about trends dynamics between Europe and Asia? How would that impact on your brands development?
L: In Asia, European designers are still considered very qualitative and creative. In Europe, we do not give enough consideration to the Asian creative scene, it is still seen through the clichés and stereotypes when there are many designers who offer innovative things.
When I show my creations in Saigon, it is often said that LMP has a chic French style. When I show them in Paris, I’m told that it is very influenced by Asian culture … I think that right now, in a rather unstable socio-economic times, fashion industry likes to reassure itself by putting designers in categories although it would be a bit archaic.
I like to say that the concept of our brand represents a new generation of young optimistic people who love creating, travelling and who are aware and responsible for the world in which they live. There may even be a marketing name to define this group of people: the neo-nomadic eco-happy people? The NNEH,:). (Note: we experts will brainstorm about this and get back to you asap, ok?)
As I started LMP, social networks have allowed me to build brand awareness quickly enough. As I live and work mostly in Asia, it has allowed me to reach out and keep in touch with my clients in Europe.
Also, I could always keep an eye on trends in France and in Europe, and I draw half of my inspirations from there. It is thanks to the internet that LMP is still working today and this global and participative principle has been decisive. Social media allowed me to transmit and communicate the history and image of the brand very quickly.
F&L: It’s a deep question (thanks), let’s have dinner in a fusion restaurant to talk it out!
- So where boulevard wanderers should stop by in the neighbourhood?
In Ho Chi Minh:
Fooding: bun cha gio on Dong Khoi, Hu Tieu at Tan Dinh market and Quan Nem for fried spring rolls.
Partying: Decibel, Broma, Cargo!
Shopping: Cho Ba Chieu Vintage Market, L’Usine and Saigon Square
- Do you miss anything from France?
F: Smooth core cheese! And live shows, music, theatre…