Designer without artistic pretensions creates works of art for the everyday woman
Phuong My’s 2013 Fall Winter collection inspired by the ‘exquisite virtue’ of Asian women. The clothes, made using wool silk, opaque organza, and silk lace in elegant colors, have come in for praise from both local and international fashion critics.
Phuong My’s first flagship store at the Pasteur - Le Thanh Ton crossroads is just like Phuong My herself: captivating.
Singaporean architect’s Tan Hok Beng’s high-contrast black-and-white catches everyone’s attention.
And catching attention is just what 25-year-old designer My has been doing ever since she won “Discarded to Divine” in 2010, a San Francisco project that raises fund for the poor and homeless by selling wearable piece of art transformed from unusable donated clothing.
My’s dresses made of used men shirts and window curtains were then displayed at De Young Museum. She’s been popular with the media and industry insiders ever since.
She also won the Women’s Mafia’s “Are You Runway Ready” contest in New York the same year, and participated in the New York Fashion Week, Macy’s Fashion Night Out, Tokyo Fashion Fuse. She got there by becoming a popular stylist with magazines like Elle, Harper’s Bazaar, Astonish Magazine, Haute Magazine, Asterisk Magazine and Truxury Magazine.
It was her decision to be a stylist and not just a designer that ignited her career, she says. It was a way to become a part of the industry from the inside out, rather than trying to push her designs in from the outside.
“It is really a hard to engage in this [fashion] industry on your own, without any help. It’s really a struggle for your designs to be recognized. I used to spend a lot of money on delivery costs whenever they [stylists] called to borrow my clothes, without knowing whether they will be used or not. Then I realized that it is better to be part of the process, so I became a stylist,” My told Vietweek.
“Being involved in the field for a few years gives me experiences and rapports with photographers, models, make-up artists, fashion editors - the best of them - and I learned the process of organizing an event or a brand. When I launched my brand, these contacts supported me a lot and everything came more easily. I call that my luck as well.”
25-year-old designer Phuong My
After making a name for herself in America, Europe and the Middle East, her homeland is her next target. But “caution” is the keyword in My’s dictionary of life and business.
“I spent nearly four years doing market research and working with local magazines before entering Vietnam. There is no good or bad market, just advantages and disadvantages. Vietnamese have great purchasing power. In the States, if you earn two thousand dollars a month, you can just spend ten percent on clothing. Vietnamese people, and most Asians, can spend more on things they like.
“However, a hurdle for designers and trend researchers in Vietnam is that the customer does not know what they want, unlike American or European customers who know their needs exactly. Moreover, they [Vietnamese] are under public influence and pressure of criticism. However, for a smart brand, this is a strong point, as the brand can guide the customers towards trends more easily.”
Mesh of civilizations, something for everyone
Looking at My’s designs, it is easy to see the graceful combination of Eastern and Western culture, a mixture of perfection and haphazardness. Providing unique, chic and elegant garments is any brand’s goal, but My also wants to make clothes for the everyday woman.
“I create dresses for women above 30 who are not models, not in their prime of youth and are feeling unbeautiful about their bodies. That’s why my garments focus on the creating sophisticated cuts creating form to enhance woman’s shape.”
My said she loves to sit in her store and talk to the shoppers.
“They do not know that I am the owner, so they will tell the truth. I learn from every customer daily.”
My also says that she is a realistic, not artistic, person.
“I think that if you want to survive in the art world, passion is not enough. Devoting all your time and doing whatever you can for your career is the main point. I used to work in New York and there, money is the last thing artists consider. But it’s different when you start to run a business. If you cannot do anything to nourish and save it, who can?” she said.
But still, My uses art in new and creative ways. She has been working with San Art Studio’s artists to create displays for her store that are works of art in and of themselves.
“I think the project is a good deal for both sides. I offer a platform in the city’s heart for the artworks, including Bich Phuong’s silk painting and Bao Chau’s lacquer, while they will make my showroom more personally appealing.”
She’s done similar collaborations with local artists in her stores around the globe. The young charming designer now says she will open a store in Hanoi around mid-year and enter the Chinese market later this year.
For My, the journey has been about finding her own path.
She was a serious math student before enrolling in the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, to her parents’ chagrin.
“My parents were mad at me, when I announced that I will quit the math school to pursue my fashion dream. They think that fashion is something vain and seductive. Well, they are right, but their daughter is steadfast in her aspiration. Now, they are still worried about me, but not mad anymore...”
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