Educator and fashion designer Valentine Vu spends most of his time arming his students for the realities of the fashion industry
Valentine’s family left Vietnam in 1993 with very little to try for a new life in Canada. Both parents worked tirelessly with ambitions their son would become a doctor or a lawyer, a future Valentine quickly realized wasn’t for him. Despite earning acceptance into medical school in Canada he had fallen in love with a Vietnamese fashion show he witnessed while vacationing in Vietnam. But perhaps what influenced him most in his decision was his sexuality. “After coming out, I bloomed, and although it took me a while to find myself, I realized intensive studying and a nine to five just didn’t suit my personality. On one hand fashion is an escape and accepting of gay people, and on the other it’s technical and hardcore.”
His father was furious, “What are you going to do with your life. Pick up garbage? Hem people’s trousers for a living?!” Valentine quickly realized that drafting patterns, sewing and everything else involved in producing garments were solid skills he could use to support himself, and his choice soon paid off with a string of internships and employment with companies such as Club Monaco, LaSenza and Winner’s Apparel Inc., all eventually leading to his first collection for L’Oreal Fashion Week. After much indecision, and a potential return to education to complete his masters, Valentine applied and was accepted to Raffles Vietnam. The prospect of traveling and returning to the country of his birth was too good to pass up.
Five years later Valentine Vu is a teacher at ADS International Design & Art Center. He took a break from his busy schedule to share with us what he’s learned from teaching fashion… Are your students prepared for the realities of the fashion industry? I find there are two kinds of students: one group is really green, the dreamers, as I like to call them, and the others are already established in family businesses or have been sewing for 20 years, owners of boutiques and manufacturing plants. This group usually wants to catch up to international standards. With the trend in manufacturing at the moment, everyone is outsourcing, even the design labor. If they are manufactured here, with an international concept, they might as well do it as a package deal and design them in Vietnam as well to cut costs. The future of manufacturing is here. It is for this that one needs good business acumen as well as design skills to make it big. When they leave ADS what should they remember when preparing themselves for the real world of fashion? They should take their technical skills with them. It doesn’t matter how ambitious you are as a designer, if you aren’t grounded with a good foundation in technical skills then you won’t make it very far. I can only support them with enough knowledge and technical skills, give them a sword and a shield, and let them go and fight for themselves.
Many designers here are actually from other areas of business and have the money to outsource all of these jobs. Money for fashion is good, it speeds up your road to fame, but it doesn’t guarantee you success, just a smoother ride. They are lucky to live in a wealthy family, they can travel. For me, fashion is culture; you need to be exposed to other cultures. Money doesn’t guarantee success though. How do you balance your life as a designer and your role as an educator? I’m very greedy! Sometimes, I thank my ADD personality! I have a random process, anything can inspire me, and there is no logic to it. I deal with emotions. I need all these outlets to put all this energy into. I can teach in the week, design on the weekends, I can write articles, manage brands, launch labels, be a stylist, and even teach models how to walk. I’m greedy and I’m ambitious. Here, everything is available, you just need to put it together and go and get it. Flexibility and adaptability is the key.
What does the Vietnamese fashion industry need most right now? A good education. Fashion is influenced, and is a reflection of what’s current in a society. It’s like food, to understand our culture, see what we eat on the street. The same goes for fashion. The government needs to support new designers through funding, or by zoning certain areas of the city so that only Vietnamese designers and boutiques are allowed in. Not just international brands. We shouldn’t just focus on tourists, but really celebrate Vietnamese identity. The fashion industry needs to step up its game and stop being so superficial about fashion. You need talent to back it up! Real designers are too busy to be fake and superficial. Enjoy the process, the A to B of it all. I believe when designers produce less “entertainment” fashion that’s completely unwearable and start thinking more outside of the box, and expose themselves to different influences, then the fashion industry here will get global attention.
Moonface by Valentine Vu can be found in the Samuel Menswear Boutique located at 77 Dien Bien Phu, D1. Watch this space for an exclusive menswear collection created by the students of ADS’ (www.adsvietnam.edu.vn) fashion department later in the year. Go to Oi’s Facebook page for more information.
Living in Saigon since 2009, James Allen has become steadily obsessed with the Vietnamese fashion industry, eager to promote homegrown talent through his work as a stylist.