A newcomer of the Haute Couture fashion week, XUAN is a fashion label of Dutch-Vietnamese designer Xuan-Thu Nguyen. Xuan is known for evocative stories that her clothes tell. Their aesthetics and constructions work together to convey intimacy, surprise and fragility that underlie her personal experiences.
1. What did your fashion adventure start with?
I graduated from Amsterdam Fashion Institute in 1999 and shortly after, in 2001, I launched my own label. I was always making a prêt-à-porter but, since the finishing was done by hands, there was always a couture philosophy behind it. For me there is no strict border between prêt-à-porter and haute couture. I presented my first couture show in 2008 followed by 5-6 more afterwards. The current spring-summer 2017 collection is a mix of prêt-à-porter and haute couture. I prefer not to label, but since we have to name it, I would call our design “prêt-à-couture”.
2. Do your Vietnamese roots influence your work?
I believe they do but perhaps subconsciously than purposely. It is probably up to our clients to say if they can perceive any Asian touch in my work.
3. Why did you choose Paris to show your collections?
We opened a store in Le Marais [Parisian district famous for its art ateliers and bohemian habitants] in 2005, which existed until 2011. We were considering Amsterdam first but then the idea of Paris came to our mind. I was young and told myself: why not try? Thus, we took a chance and moved to Paris 11 years ago. Paris was and still is a source of a constant inspiration and admiration for me. It is one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
4. How would you describe your customer?
From the very beginning back to 2005 it was very interesting to observe who was coming in to our Paris store and eventually becoming our clients. They varied in age from early twenties to 60-70 years old. They were looking for something specific. Everyone could find what she wanted because the collections were designed in an open’ way. You could play with the pieces by mixing and matching them. There is no one particular type of a client. It could be any woman. What I find inspiring is that sometimes she ’discovers’ herself via our collections, adopting some new elements of a style, which she did not consider as hers.
5. What does haute couture represent to you?
Haute couture is a world of handcraft and traditions. It is an ongoing process of creation when you take something old [techniques, know-how] and transform it into something new and interesting. Haute couture is also about people who are involved into this process. They all have passion for what they do. I am happy and proud to be a part of this amazing world.
6. Your signature in few words.
It is all about the details. I like the hidden details. There are like the small treasures which you cannot see from the first sight but which I put here and there in the cloths. I am quite technical on the one hand, though I use a lot of handwork on the other. Thus, my signature is a mixture of the technique, handwork and personal touch that I am giving to my design.
7. What are the sources of your inspiration?
Sometimes it is a color, sometimes it can be just one line, or a feeling.
8. Your brand is known for the evocative stories that your clothes tell. What story are you telling us in this new spring-summer collection?
This time it will talk about senses. Every look refers to one sense, one universe. In general as well as in this summer collection, I create the key pieces. I prefer to show one idea instead of 10 variations of the same look in different colors and lengths. This collection includes only 11 looks, each of them is unique and represents a certain idea. It is also about different volumes and shapes. This time I was inspired by a movement. The key words are flexibility and decentralization. Asymmetry or imperfection expressed in so-called ‘destroyed [not straight] cut’ if you prefer. I like the concept of ‘perfect imperfection’ and find the perfection boring.
9. While drawing a collection, do you consider some looks to be more ‘commercial’ and other more art or haute couture?
We are here to dress a woman. Thus, whatever we create, it should be wearable. Even in the couture the clothes should be functional. It is a crucial point of my work.
10. What are your favorite fabrics and colors?
I prefer noble fabrics like different sorts of silk and wool. We use polyester only to stiffen the shapes as for example in the inside layer of a coat. My favorite color is off-white. However, the color palette depends on the collection: in general, it remains quite neutral in order to show the details and handwork.
11. How did the idea to frozen the garments in ice cubes come to your mind [Spring-Summer 2017 prêt-à-porter collection exposed in the atelier Néerlandais last September]?
I was inspired by summer heat and the ice cubes in your cocktail glass. Instead of thinking ‘hot’, I was thinking of something refreshing that at the same time would capture the moment. We were working with an ice sculptor for whom the idea to freeze the cloths appeared to be new and original. What was exciting is that we almost could not control the shape the cloths were taking inside the cubes. He [the sculptor] worked layer-by-layer waiting one layer to freeze before pouring water for the next one. The result turned out to be a beautiful surprise for everybody: the noble fabrics took perfect shapes, ‘floating’ inside the transparent cubes. Thus, it took one month to frozen the pieces and 10 days to melt the cubes after the presentation.
12. What do you think about Demna’s Gvasalia work in Balenciaga [Demna Gvasalia is a creative director of Balenciaga fashion house in addition to his own French brand ‘Vêtements’, which evokes many discussions in the fashion world]?
Well, I think, you can like it or not, it remains personal. However, I always consider the context. Balenciaga is an old French house. The business strategy of its owners was probably to put at the head of this house someone who would represent the opposite of what everyone expected from this traditional brand. This decision surprised everyone. And I’m very curious to see what would come next.
13. Are there any trends in haute couture, which the prêt-à-porter lines would follow?
I think that when we are talking about haute couture and ready-to-wear lines we are talking about different levels of fashion. Haute couture is the highest level. Designers get inspired from it to create ready-to-wear collections. In my opinion, haute couture could go into the extremes, free creation and provide ideas to more democratic commercial lines.
14. You entered the official program of the haute couture fashion week this season. Was it hard to achieve such an honorable nomination?
We are undoubtedly very happy to join the official program. Though it is not that easy since the ‘glory’ comes together with the responsibilities that somehow might be challenging for a young and independent house like ours. At the same time, this nomination represents more freedom to create what I want and a larger access to the different couture artisans. This is an access that we did not have before. Like for example the hat maker who created the hats for this collection. He is probably the last one in the world who still uses the wooden molds to create his hats. Though he collaborates with the big houses like Dior and Jean-Paul Gaultier, he is enthusiastic to work with a new house as well, and thus, it is interesting for both sides.