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A French designer takes the alleyways of Vietnam to the boutiques of the West

French designer Valerie Gregori Mckenzie is inspired by her lifestyle in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City

It started with an image in a film: a young and seductive Jane March in a classical silk Chanel style dress traverses the rice paddies of the Mekong Delta and wanders the back streets of Cho Lon, Saigon's Chinatown.

March was portraying Marguerite Duras in the adaptation of the French author's semi-autobiographical novel "The Lover." It gave a lasting impression to French designer Valerie Gregori Mckenzie, who came to Hanoi 12 years ago and was thus inspired to put her impressions of the country onto silks and fabrics of all kinds via her fashion line Song.

Mckenzie says it was that sultry but not necessarily scandalous look of a beautiful western girl in the humid tropical climate of Vietnam that inspired the line.

"With Song I was interested in translating a way of life into a brand, inspired from my own lifestyle in Vietnam, first in Hanoi then Saigon," says Mckenzie. "That is why, maybe, Song speaks to so many Vietnamese, as they identify with it and feel emotionally attached."

She says she was far more interested in telling a story with Song than just designing shapes and outfits. "I was more interested in inspiring a reminiscence of emotions than just being a plain fashion and home brand."

With a degree form Esmod fashion school in Paris and years of experience in both the French and Los Angeles fashion scenes, Mckenzie wanted a fusion of east and west, new and old.

Song's collection of fashion items include outfits for the evening, travel, and at home, as well as home decor with natural silks and linens from Vietnam, and fabrics made by ethnic minority communities in the northwestern mountainous province of Sapa. The line is infused with traditional silk and embroidery patters found in local Vietnamese communities.

With seven boutiques in both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, and Song products also sold by famous retailers in over 20 countries, Mckenzie's Vietnam-inspired designs are some of the most widely distributed in luxury hotels and resorts worldwide.

From traditional value to luxury price

In June 2009, Vogue Magazine included some Song items in a cover story featuring film star Cameron Diaz

In Vietnam, where cheaper products still rule the market, a Song silk dress goes for up to a whopping US$500.

Song fashion collections have been featured in many international fashion magazines such as Vogue, Elle, Glamour, Marie Claire, Harpers Bazzaar and Asia Spa. Hollywood superstar Cameron Diaz has even modeled for the line.

And local celebrities love it too.

"Song is all-natural from material to color," Vietnamese pop star Hong Nhung told local TV program Suc Song Moi. "Song designs have both the luxury and the mystery of the combination between Eastern and Western values."


The first collection of Song that Mckenzie created in Hanoi was inspired by her life style there. "It is a collection of embroidered pieces in garment dye," she says.

"Since I arrived in Vietnam, embroidery has been at the center of my creativity and even if I did not know anything about it before I came, I have developed a love for this incredible source of embellishment."

She says Song employs a different embroidery style in each collection. She has traveled to some of Vietnam's most remote regions to find the most skilled local embroidery craft masters.

Her new and more reasonably priced line, Valerie Paris, targets the younger generation of Vietnamese. And Song's new yoga collection will be in stores on September 5.

"It is made of a cotton bamboo mix, it is elastic and quick-dry as well as stylish," says Mckenzie. "For me a good yoga collection has to be both sexy in class as well as suitable for breakfast with friends after class."

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