Many young fashion designers today find themselves transplanted to New York or London where they join the hoards of young hopefuls, learning the ropes of the trade and all its machinations. One designer who decided not to jump into this mix is Nhu Duong, a Vietnamese-Swedish resident of Berlin who created her eponymous label in 2009 after a stint as a design assistant as Acne Studios in Stockholm.
Nhu Duong isn’t one to feel hindered in her pursuits by location, and while she travels frequently, she believes that distance from the major fashion centers allows her more creative freedom in her practice. Not adhering to traditional trajectories is something Duong is already familiar with: born in Ho Chi Minh City – “the daughter of a Kung-Fu master and a tailoress” — she emigrated to Sweden with her family at the age of seven and studied fashion construction in Florence before attending Beckmans College Of Design in Stockholm. Her senior year collection received high accolades and her work has since garnered much attention, making her the first recipient of the Mercedes Benz Young Fashion Industry Award in Sweden. Her extensive background informs her designs with a multidisciplinary quality, producing garments that marry sportswear and sophistication, all the while developing a definition of modernity that is thoroughly her own.
Can you tell me about the references for your latest collection?
Most of my collections come from a direct experimentation with a specific technique or materials rather than a specific "theme". With this collection I am taking up certain elements from previous collection such as patching as well as layering of transparency and pushing them further. This time I am interested specifically in the patterns themselves, using oversized patterns and shrinking them or using leftover fabric from the cutouts and re-patching it on the fabric. In a very abstract sense I am sketching directly onto the garments.
How long have you had your own label? What were you doing beforehand?
I have been working on my own collections and independent projects since I graduated from Beckmans College of Design in 2009. I received a prize and got some attention for my graduate collection, so I started with my own label directly out of school.
What are some of the pros and cons of being a fashion designer in Berlin?
There is no real fashion scene in Berlin – or rather maybe there is, but its just very fragmented –for me this creates a certain distance from the industry and allows me to approach my practice in a more free manner in connecting with other practices and scenes such as art and music. There is a natural exchange of ideas and sensibilities, which often leads to some kind of cross-over or collaboration. In a way, moving to Berlin has allowed me to situate my work in a larger cultural field and younger generation of artists, musicians and designers, where boundaries between different forms of expression blur.
Do you feel like your cross-cultural background plays a role in your design sensibility?
When you move to a new country as a child, as I moved immigrated you naturally try to adjust to your new surroundings and to a certain degree reinvent yourself. Fashion can be a very direct expression of that, taking things you may know from one cultural context and putting them in another. This is where my interest in imitation lies: synthetic materials that look natural, organic shapes rendered artificial or garments that look like they should have a different function. To imitate is not simply to copy something, but to create something new.
What is your favorite stage of designing and realizing a collection?
Styling is a crucial and final moment with my collections, where everything comes together, and each garment assumes its intended meaning. Creating a certain look, or the way you wear the clothes is a really important part of my design. Before that, my process is very open until the very last moment.
Name a designer who has greatly influenced you, and describe how.
Rei Kawakubo for the way she combines high and low culture. And Helmut Lang, for his sustained influence on fashion, and the courage to stop when he did.