Fashioning the Future from the Past

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Welcome to Hanoi, where beauty is everywhere and fashion follows its own bubbling rhythm. For the fashion maven in search of a few treasures, the Vietnamese capital offers rich pickings. You’ll find everything from contemporary pieces that would look at home on Net-a-Porter and tailoring shops that create bespoke pieces in gorgeous silk to densely embroidered textiles made by Vietnam’s myriad hill tribe communities.

For Niki Groom, the British creator of the Miss Magpie Fashion Spy blog, Hanoi is a rich source of inspiration. Whereas some places have lost their intrigue, she says, Hanoi fashion is full of variety and the unexpected. A former fashion designer, Groom has spent the last 20 years visiting Asia, but she has a particular soft spot for Hanoi. “It’s so refreshing coming from the UK where everyone is doing a very similar kind of thing, and it’s solely based on trend,” she explains.

A Diverse Heritage of Fabric Design

A world away from what’s trending, traditional designs are what fascinate Donna Bramhall, founder of Haute Culture, a fashion-based travel company — and Hanoi’s rich textile traditions are a part of the city’s present-day landscape. For Bramhall, one of the most interesting things about Hanoi is “being able to have the access to the different ethnic minority fabrics.” That access, she says, gives visitors an insight into Vietnam’s diverse culture.

There are officially 54 different ethnic groups in Vietnam, she explains, but there are many different subgroups who speak different languages and wear different attire. “There are more likely to be closer to 100 different ethnic minority groups in the highlands of Northern Vietnam,” she says. That great cultural variety laid the foundation for Hanoi’s diverse fashion sense to this day.

Image courtesy of Kilomet 109

Vietnamese Fashion Coming of Age

As the world’s fourth largest exporter of clothing, Vietnam is more commonly associated with manufacturing than design.

That may soon change, with the emergence of designers like Nguyen Cong Tri, whose fantastical designs are worn by likes of Katy Perry, Rihanna and Gwen Stefani. He and Phuong My are the first Vietnamese designers to be invited to show at New York Fashion Week. Many others have studied or worked abroad, and whose work is as sophisticated as anything you might find on the catwalks of Europe’s fashion capitals, such as Do Manh Cuong, who previously worked at Christian Dior in Paris.

“Fashion is growing and growing. There’s a lot of talent,” says Vietnam-born designer Xuan-Thu Nguyen, who grew up in the Netherlands and now lives in Paris, where her poetic designs are a fixture of the Couture shows. In 2017 she presented a collection as a guest of honour at Vietnam International Fashion Week, and was impressed with what she saw. “The creativity there is amazing,” she says.

Image courtesy of Kilomet 109

Hanoi’s Place in Vietnam Fashion

While the majority of designers are based in Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi attracts its own talent. Where Ho Chi Minh City is considered creative and outgoing, Hanoi is more entrepreneurial; it’s where the deals are struck.

Some of that cultural difference is reflected in its clothes. Vietnamese fashion is resolutely feminine, delighting in colour, patterns and texture, with many designers creating contemporary riffs on the Ao Dai, traditional Vietnamese dress. But in Hanoi, designers tend towards minimal, modern lines with a street-sharp edge.

Hanoi fashion benefits from its proximity to the many hill tribes who live in Northern Vietnam. Their rich expertise with textiles nourishes much of Vietnam’s couture scene. “There’s so much opportunity there to create a collection because there’s so much craftsmanship,” Nguyen says.

Image courtesy of Kilomet 109

Hanoi’s Must-visit Fashion Destinations

Both Bramhall and Groom are fans of Kilomet 109, a Hanoi brand created by designer Thao Vu, who creates contemporary, ready-to-wear fashion featuring locally made indigo fabrics. Community investment and sustainability are central to her ethos, and visitors can even visit the workshop upstairs where the clothes are made.

Groom also recommends Chula, created by a Spanish couple, Laura Fontan and Diego Cortizas. Their handmade clothes, created by local craftspeople, feature bright silks and graphic-printed, appliquéd or embroidered patterns.

Xuan-Thu Nguyen recommends the “classy, elegant street style,” of Devon London, a designer of Vietnamese origin who studied in London and went on to work for Mary Katrantzou before setting up her first boutique in Hanoi a few years ago.

Other local designers include Ngo Thai Bao Loan, whose minimalist tailoring has a three-dimensional quality inspired by architecture and polyhedrons, and Dang Hai Yen, whose simple clothes offer exquisite tailoring and colours that flatter the wearer.

For ethnic minority textiles, Groom recommends a visit to the Vietnamese Craft Guild, (1a To Tich) and Van Tribal Heritage (26 Hang Be) where you can find museum-worthy pieces, in addition to more affordable items.

Finally, for those with an interest in Vietnam’s textile heritage, no visit to Hanoi would be complete without a morning spent in the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology or the Vietnamese Women’s Museum.

The InterContinental Hanoi Landmark72 and InterContinental Hanoi Westlake offer luxurious starting points for a fashion-focused tour of this unique Vietnamese city. Concierges at both locations can suggest even more local destinations for truly authentic tour of Hanoi’s fashion industry.

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