Tell me a bit about yourself. Where did you grow up? How has where you’ve lived influenced your design aesthetic?
I was born in Ho Chi Minh City and immigrated to Sweden with my family when I was seven years old. When you move to a new country as a child, 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 into another. I think there is a performative element to fashion that has interested me since childhood. On one hand, there is the possibility of playing different roles, and on the other, there is the chance to play with existing associations, norms and codes.
You started your own label in 2010. What was your vision when you began?
I moved to Berlin after graduating fashion school. I wanted to be independent, so I started working on my own collections. Berlin is like a blank canvas. People have a lot of positive associations with Berlin, but nothing specifically connected to a fashion style or a certain aesthetic. There is no real fashion industry in Berlin—or rather, maybe there is, but it’s just very fragmented. For me, this creates a certain distance from the industry and allows me to approach my practice in an open manner—connecting with other practices and scenes such as art and music.
You often collaborate with artists: you designed uniforms for Sean Raspet’s installation at Société Berlin during Frieze New York, and for or an upcoming project, you will be creating a scent with Norwegian artist Sissel Toolas. Can you expand on how these unique collaborations come to fruition?
Moving to Berlin has allowed me to situate my work in a larger cultural field with younger generation of artists, musicians and designers. Here, boundaries between different forms of expression blur, which often leads to collaborations. Some come directly out of me working on a specific topic for my collections, but often people approach me with an idea to do some kind of garment. In the case of Soylent, it was Sean’s gallerist Daniel Wichelhaus who approached me about the project. He asked if I wanted to design uniforms for the Soylent employees to wear at the Société booth. I have always been interested in the dichotomy of artificial and natural materials, and Sean is really taking it to the next level. At the same time, the idea of efficiency and uniformity was quite fascinating to me, as fashion basically promises to be about the exact opposite: individuality.
The collaboration with Sissel started from my interest in fragrance. A lot of fashion brands make most of their money with perfumes, often promising mainstream ideas of romance and beauty. I was interested in making a fragrance that plays with more deterrent ideas such as anxiety and paranoia—topics Sissel is more than familiar with.
The brand seems to be positioned within the context of the art world more than the fashion industry. Is this deliberate? How do you balance the commercial aspect of fashion with your artistic sensibilities?
I think it’s more a question of experimentation than strategy. Most of my friends are artists, musicians or writers, so there is a natural exchange of ideas and sensibilities, which often leads to some kind of crossover. For me, it’s about opening myself up to new influences and fields where boundaries between different forms of expression blur. I like the fact that the changing of context can create new readings of my work.
Your collection titles—“knot,” “compression,” “displace,” “looped,” “interference”—bring to mind movement. Where do you draw inspiration from before you create a collection?
The starting point for most collections is some kind of technique or craft that I am interested in at that moment. I often appropriate a certain craft and push it towards the point of abstraction. I like this idea of transformation or clothes as activity. Words such as “compression” or “displace” directly relate to the materiality of the clothes, and at the same time open up a psychological dimension.
What are you currently working on?
For my SS17 collection, I’m collaborating with Berlin-based Swedish artist Karl Holmqvist, whose text-based works runs through and over the collection. A lot of the garments are unisex and based on performance outfits I designed together with Karl. This fall, I am opening a retail space called NEW ARRIVAL on Kluckstrasse in Berlin to showcase new international designers and artists.
Nhu Duong is a Swedish-Vietnamese fashion designer who lives and works in Berlin. She is currently working on the opening of NEW ARRIVAL, a retail space on Kluckstrasse in Berlin, showcasing new international designers and artists, and developing a perfume scent with Norwegian artist Sissel Toolas.
Christie Chu is a writer, art director and jewelry designer based in New York.