Have you been to the Eiffel Tower? What about the Grand Canyon? London’s Tower Bridge? All questions you might reasonably be asked by a travel-obsessed friend. You might even be able to answer positively to many of them. But what exactly did you do there? There are few in the world who would be able to answer these questions in as dramatic a fashion as Jessica Minh Anh.
Jessica Minh Anh – Hoover Dam USA
Jessica has made a name for herself by organizing and starring in some of the world’s most spectacular and idiosyncratic catwalks: shows have taken place on London’s Tower Bridge, the One World Trade Centre in New York and the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur. She’s also created ‘catwalks on water’ on the River Seine, the Hudson River and on sundecks of cruise liners. In 2013, she broke the record for the world’s highest catwalk with a show on top of the Grand Canyon’s observation deck.
Jessica Minh Anh in Rami Kadi & Satellite Paris
They say she’s a visionary who’s reshaping the fashion world. They say that for her, nothing is impossible, and that she represents the fashion world of the future. But who really is Jessica Minh Anh? A girl who was born in Hanoi, Vietnam, before moving to Russia at aged three; who studied in Malaysia before doing a degree in IT in Birmingham. How did someone doing such a generic, run-of-the-mill course become a progressive beacon of haute couture?
We meet at the Metropole, one of Hanoi’s oldest and most opulent hotels. In some ways, she’s exactly what I expected: confident, immaculately welldressed and slightly late. She’s wearing a pink jumpsuit and coat, designed by Vietnamese designer Ha Linh Thu. Her hands are glittering with golden rings, courtesy of Cristina Sabatini. And yet, when we get down to talking, she immediately surprises me.
Jessica Minh Anh on the 63rd floor of One World Trade Center
I ask her about her years studying in Malaysia and the UK and how she got into fashion in the first place. “I studied IT,” she says, smiling. “I am a programmer. I’m good with databases and I can do corporate finance.” Perhaps not the answer you would expect. But then, there’s a lot about her that you wouldn’t expect.
Jessica became a brand in the fashion world almost overnight. As soon as she graduated from university she set up her own company. She talks about decisions she’s made with such clarity, it’s as if, despite the risk, it was always an obvious thing to do. “I wanted to move to London. And in order to make a big move and for people to know who I am, I couldn’t just go small. So I put all the money I had into the first show, and that was a show at the Savoy. We had the BBC there, the Independent… everyone was there. You see, you have to take risks. Even the biggest designers don’t dare to use the Savoy, you know. I didn’t wait to test the water—I just did it. “
Jessica Minh Anh in Sydney in Azzi & Osta’s design – Photo John Oakley
For anyone else with similar ambitions, a show at the Savoy would probably represent a remarkable start to a career in fashion. For Jessica, the show was just the first step of her journey. The perspective she gained from the experience convinced her that she should never do a show less impressive than the one she had just finished.
“There was nothing, at that point, as good as the Savoy. Then I looked up and saw London’s Tower Bridge. I realized I wanted to do a show there. It was a crazy idea. Everyone thought it was crazy. I thought it was crazy… so I spoke to the Tower Bridge people and they were like ‘yeah, not going to happen.’”
One can only assume she has a particularly galvanizing pitch, or a certain self-belief that inspired people to have faith in her. Within only a few months, the situation in London had changed. She was told that in order to hold a catwalk on the bridge, the whole event would have to be set up in two hours—including the lighting, the sound, the chairs and the entire back stage. “We managed to do that. We cooperated with a very good production company in London called Penguin and they managed to do everything accurately, and the show was a huge success. It was also a history-making event—nothing like that had happened in London before.”
Jessica Minh Anh on top of Le Jean Bruel in Paris
Fashion With A Cause
Since then she’s gone on to create catwalks all over the world in equally unique settings. She’s also observed many other shows, and the relative dullness of some of these seem to have encouraged her as much as the success of her own events. “I’ve been to so many fashion shows and so many of them are really boring. It’s just in an empty room or they include superficial things to create an environment. It’s interesting but if I want to have a show in the forest, I’ll bring people to the forest. And that’s what I did, I brought people to the Grand Canyon skywalk. I didn’t want to create something fake.”
In 2014 she starred in a fashion show at the One World Trade Centre. It was the first event ever held there, six months before it officially opened. Her résumé is obviously impressive, but I can’t help wondering how she can possibly continue to surprise people, to keep pushing the boundaries. I ask what she’s got planned next and she’s uncharacteristically coy. “I can’t possibly tell you about them,” she says with a grin, “but I can tell you that this year I’m going to Hong Kong, Tokyo and possibly the Maldives.”
J Summer Fashion Show 2014 at 1WTC by Jessica Minh Anh
I notice that Vietnam, the place of her birth, isn’t on that list. “I’ve only done two jobs in Vietnam. I was a judge of a supermodel competition. I haven’t done much here, I haven’t even done a proper fashion show here. I’m looking into a venue in Vietnam so I can do a show here, but I want to be really well prepared. This is my country. I want to make sure it’ll be a blast.” I suggest a catwalk on top of Long Bien Bridge. She thanks me, but doesn’t seem completely convinced just yet.
I also get the sense that she’s searching for destinations that offer something that Vietnam might not be able to offer just yet. Her 2015 catwalk at Gemasolar, a concentrated solar power plant east of Seville, and a catwalk on the Hoover Dam, happened for a reason. “Sustainable energy. I’m very into it. Which is why I’m also very interested in the Maldives, because of the environmental issues there. I think when a fashion show combines with a meaningful cause it’s a lot more powerful. But my shows are not just about fashion, they’re also about combining and promoting different cultures and styles and ways of thinking. That’s what makes it exciting, otherwise I would be bored.”
Jessica Minh Anh in Sydney wearing Paolo Sebastian
Throughout our entire interview there’s one thing that’s been on my mind more than anything else. There’s an undeniable uniqueness to her events, but I can’t help thinking that the spectacle of her shows must distract from the fashion on display. She laughs… “I’ve been asked this many times. I believe one element will never overshadow another. The clothes will be presented in such a way that they are highlighted. Why do fashion stores put on beautiful displays? The surrounding brings the beauty into sharper focus. The grandness of the venue makes the clothes look better. They complement each other. The most beautiful designs should be displayed in the most beautiful locations.”
I’m not entirely convinced, and others probably aren’t either if she’s been asked so many times. But that’s beside the point. Catwalks, she says, are “my life,” and it seems beyond reasonable doubt that spectacular shows of this genre are something she was born to take part in. “I’ve always been an extrovert. I can’t remember the last time I had stage fright. I just wasn’t born with it. The bigger the crowd the better.”
It’s almost time for her next appointment, at the Pan Pacific Hotel in Truc Bach. I mention their sky bar on the 20th floor and she seems interested. Perhaps it won’t be long until both Vietnamese and international news channels are suddenly interested in that space, or the sky bar atop the Lotte Tower or, if I’m really lucky, the rusty heights of Long Bien Bridge. Vietnam will only be so lucky if venues here are as remotely proactive as Jessica is. One of the last things she said is still ringing in my ears: “If you think about things for too long, the opportunity will pass you by.”
Images Provided by J model management