Making traditional materials anew

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Young designer Vũ Tá Linh from Hà Nội has just won the annual Designed by Việt Nam contest’s fashion category with his creations from old clothes.

Lê Hương chats with the designer about his passion.

Designer Vũ Tá Linh. Photo courtesy of the designer

How did you know about the contest? How did you prepare for that?

I heard about Việt Nam Design Week, which is a series of events seeking distinguished designs in practical fields that serve everyday life like Food & Beverage, Living, Fashion, Souvenir, and Public Art. I decided to wait until this year, the second season, to join in.

Due to the social distancing period, I spent most of my time in the contest themed “Awakening Tradition”, which suits my interests.

I’m an introvert but staying inside four walls during social distancing for months was still a huge challenge for me. The limitation of physical space for a long time left me exhausted and sometimes feeling drained of creative emotions. One day when I was rummaging through my boring repetitive space for motivation and looking for an idea to help me to participate in this contest, I found something: my wardrobe.

Besides the clothes I love and wear often, I realized there were many other items that I’d never or very rarely touched. But I didn’t have the heart to throw them away because they were still very good or had some interesting details that made me hesitate or had certain memories attached to them. I dragged them out on the floor, turned them inside out, put them on and took them off, looked at them, and studied for a while to see what I could do with them. Eureka! My wardrobe saved me. And so the idea of N.A.M. collection quickly formed.

I used my own old clothes and accessories combined them with embroidered cloth from the Thái ethnic minority group in Nghệ An that I had found in a shop in Hà Nội’s Old Quarter a long time ago. I also applied a few more Vietnamese traditional handiworks to support the old cloth such as hand quilting, hand-stitching, patch-working and crocheting. I crafted the whole outfit myself.

With N.A.M., I wanted to tell a creative story of limitations. Limitations can be a barrier, but they do not prevent creative aspirations or desires being transformed to adapt to new living conditions. And in my particular case, they brought up a strange emotion that I had never ever experienced before. I call it a form of metamorphosis.

Graduating from the Hà Nội Theatre and Cinema College’s Fine Arts Faculty in Costume Design in 2009, I wanted to take advantage of my knowledge of the traditional five-part long dress for the creations.

In this collection, I think I have reminded people to use up old products and aged clothes, which can be utilised with new realistic values.

Most of the materials are from natural fibres such as cotton, silk and rough embroidered linen.

The name N.A.M. can be paraphrased as Việt Nam or Năm (five) as in the five-part long dress, or An Nam (the old name of Việt Nam).

How did you make this collection?

I did all the stages for one of six designs. For the contest, I submitted drawings of six designs but completed only one.

The first step is processing materials. I chose materials and put the colours in proper portions. Then I sewed them together with thread. Then I put some cloth layers onto another to create attractive visual effects. I carefully sewed the layers together so that the outline was kept unchanged.

I stick a layer of cotton on the cloth material.

For the final stages of putting an inner silk layer on, making buttons and button holes, it took me lots of time.

I have no sewing machine at home, and I didn’t want to use any machine, so I made all of the designs by hand.

A design in the collection. Photo courtesy of the designer

Tell me more about your background?

After graduating from the Hà Nội Theatre and Cinema College in 2009, I studied at the London College for Design & Fashion and graduated in 2013. I won the Audi Star Creation in 2012 and went to work in Singapore for a year before returning to Việt Nam in 2014.

I have joined various fashion shows in Việt Nam like Việt Nam Fashion Week, Vietnam International Fashion Week, Elle Fashion Show and the British Council Fashion Show. I have also joined various shows in Laos, Hong Kong and Singapore.

I have experienced working in a diverse fashion environment from big groups, small and medium-sized companies to domestic boutique like Vingroup and foreign ones in Singapore. I found the working environment in and outside the country almost the same in term of working procedure. The only differences are culture and language, which I can manage as I am equipped with enough knowledge and skills.

What genre of fashion do you follow? Why?

I prefer sustainable fashion as I want my creations to have long-lasting value. Products should be used for a long time with “green” and user-friendly designs, which help save money, waste and protect the environment.

What’s your plan in the upcoming year?

I will continue my work as a lecturer at London College for Design & Fashion. I will produce a collection every year with a sustainable theme.

How did you choose this career?

It’s difficult to explain why I chose it. I started from passion for drawing, and for embroidered linen material. I have used the material up to now.

Who are you influenced by most?

My designs have been much influenced by traditional culture. I adore the designer Minh Hạnh. I also like creative, emotional and contemporary designs by noted Japanese designer Yohji Yamamoto.

What do you think the future of fashion will be?

When technology is more and more advanced, fashion will become much faster and more convenient in terms of application. Besides, traditional handicraft villages will be promoted more to preserve traditional identity together with artificial intelligence. VNS

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