What women want

Despite what he may have you believe, Adrian Tuan’s fashion designs are quintessentially Vietnamese. But they’re just not Vietnamese in the way you’d expect – it’s rare to see anything in his collections that even remotely resembles an ao dai. Famous for its body-hugging sensuality, Adrian’s Valenciani (26 Ly Tu Trong, D1) brand womenswear – much like the lotus – blossoms gracefully from the impoverished Vietnamese soil. “I think when you’re growing up without a lot of means,” he says, “you don’t have any fashion around you, and the people you see are just trying to survive rather than look beautiful. My mom, for example, is so pretty, but she sometimes forgot that when we were growing up because she always had to try to make money for us. People like that who don’t have any kind of fashion, you just want to give them something.”

At 35, Adrian holds his own against younger designers for his acute sense of the prevailing trends and an uncanny understanding of what women want. His small team releases four collections per year, and there’s not a lot of stock left over after each season. His drive to accentuate the beauty of a woman’s body – and he’s known for consciously catering to all sizes – has been methodical, studied, and passionate. Sexy in a Different Way “When I started, I knew almost nothing about a woman’s body,” he admits. “The more you do it, the more you learn through all the cuttings, forms and fabrics you choose. With this business, because you’re born a guy, you don’t know about women and you have to learn. I don’t sleep with women, so I can’t learn that way, so I have to find another way to learn about them. Maybe there’s a reason why so many designers are gay. You have to see women from a different angle. It’s not sexual. I know how to make women feel sexy without showing too much breast, wearing short skirts. You don’t need that to be sexy. That’s what I mean when I say I know women. “I look at straight international designers,” he adds, “and they always do very, very revealing clothes. Speaking for myself, I think our brand is sexy in a different way – suggestive, through the way we use fabrics or the way we do the cut. It’s not in-your-face kind of sexy.”

With 80 percent of his clients repeat customers, Adrian has come to know the tastes of his niche market very well. “The women who wear my stuff are successful. They know what they want, so we don’t need to give them any suggestions. We just give them the best of what they want. What I put out at the beginning was completely different to what I do now. At first they wanted something more sensual, more fitting. Now, they want something more comfortable that’s easier to wear. I always have a little romance in my collections – the Valenciani brand is all about women who can love and are ready to give love. It’s all about love. There’s always some flair in there.” One of the key elements in the Valenciani design range is the plus-sized fit. “Over half of my clients are plus-size,” he explains. “When you’re sketching and doing the designs, you have to think about who’s coming to the store, not just ‘Oh, I have a good sketch.’ Luckily when I started this brand, there were no Vietnamese designers doing ready-to-wear. They all wanted to get popular, so they did crazy business to get media attention. I didn’t think about it that way. I think you need money to survive. You can’t just be an artist and survive in this market. When you have 50 people under your paycheck, you need to have more responsibility, so you have to limit your creativity and do whatever is best for the brand. “I’ve never wanted to do anything crazy, anyway,” he says. “I just want to make women look beautiful, that’s always been my goal. That’s the key to my success – I know what they want and I give it to them.”

Image by Adam Robert Young

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