It’s been said that today’s stylish man only needs about 20 items in his wardrobe built on timeless principles: classic colors, patterns and styles paired with a good fit for master interchangeability. Alice Lehoux, the creative designer behind Leo, is out to dress today’s Modern Man with her “ready-to-wear plus” line featuring a marriage of French design and Vietnamese craftsmanship.
Arriving in Vietnam in 2013, Alice noticed that there was a gap in the market for well-made yet reasonably priced menswear. “People couldn’t find anywhere to buy a pair of nice chinos,” the young designer remarked in her sunny D3 workroom. Back in her native France, Alice earned a Masters in Textiles and spent eight years in the industry developing fabrics, working with raw materials in the factory and accessorizing. After falling in love with Saigon, she worked with a French company to execute their designs using Vietnamese- made textiles before deciding to strike out on her own. “I thought that I’d like to make my own stuff, something really nice. After all, I love seeing a guy really stylishly dressed.” With the help of flatmates, friends and new acquaintances, Alice launched her first collection last year, comprising of casual t-shirts and shorts and work- chic button-down shirts and fitted pants in a combination of linens and cottons. Alice describes the Leo aesthetic as “chic, comfortable and basic.” But “basic isn’t negative,” she clarifies. “It’s a piece you can keep for a long time and can mix and match.”
The desire to dress guys well in what Alice terms ‘slow fashion’ was the impetus behind the brand. “I want people to know where their clothes came from, both in terms of production and the people behind the clothes. If you have fabric made in Italy or the US then produced somewhere else then shipped to a third country, what’s the point? It just wastes time and causes pollution.”
To that end, Leo incorporates fabrics made in Vietnam and other Asian countries, and is sewn in Vietnam, all with a certain French flair. “At the beginning, everyone told me I’d never find good Vietnamese fabric,” says Alice. “Denim, canvas and linen were being made in Cambodia, China or Hong Kong before being shipped to Vietnam. But I think the Vietnamese realize the potential they have to make their own fabric. More and more machines are coming here and I’m excited to see what it’ll be like in 10 years”.
On any given day, Alice and her design team will scour the city’s cramped markets searching for the perfect fabric, trying to trace the textiles back to their local manufacturers. “Researching fabric is like a game,” she says. “Sometimes it’s really hot and you’re really tired, but when you find [the perfect fabric], it’s like Christmas!”
According to Alice, sourcing local textiles and craftsmanship benefits everyone. “The Vietnamese are very good at patternmaking, shaping and volume. I can show them what I want and technically, they’re very good. For me, the most important advantage is being here and working directly with the artisans, tailors and seamstresses. I give them my style, they give me their craftsmanship. It’s a win-win!” Consumers also reap the benefits of sourcing local with no item in the Leo 2016 collection costing more than VND1 million. Beautifully made pants come in at just VND700,000, linen shirts are around VND500,000 with scarves and other accessories even less.
“The goal of the brand is to produce clothing that is stylish, smart and comfortable, but also affordable for most people here. Originally, we designed for expats, but we’ve widened our target to include local Vietnamese men.” The Leo aesthetic is known for being basic but daring, pairing bold, colorful prints with more traditionally-cut styles – perhaps a flash of color in a pocket lining or a bold pattern on an inside cuff. Alice says her second collection is more “calm” than her first. She said au revoir to the bright, floral shorts, but last year’s pink linen shirt is staying, along with the addition of a few new items like a long-sleeved linen shirt with a Mao collar and a paisley print in the inside collar. “Some Vietnamese were scared when they saw all the prints. But then they saw foreigners and Viet-Kieus wearing it well, so they thought, ‘Why not me?’ The Leo man needs to be just a little daring.”
The 2016 Leo Collection launches on December 2 and brings back all the well- loved basics with Alice’s trademark pops of color. The more fashion forward can opt for the oversized cotton scarves with names like “Exotic” and “Peacock.” Leo is currently available at Kokois (24 Thao Dien, D2) and at Leo-part. – James Pham