NHU DUONG is a Vietnamese-Swedish fashion designer based in Berlin. The daughter of a Kung-Fu Master and a tailoress, Duong founded her eponymous label in 2010. For her A/W 2014 look book, American artists CALLA HENKEL and MAX PITEGOFF photographed the collection during rehearsals at New Theater, the performance space run by the duo. The images combine backstage documentation and fashion photography, using both models and artists from the community surrounding the space. 032c premieres a selection from the collaboration as well as an interview with the designer.
032c: What were your references for the collection?
NHU DUONG: The transition from one collection to the next is often quite organic and aspects from previous collection reemerge. As with my previous collection I am working with patches and the layering of transparency, but pushing it further. This time I have concentrated on the patterns themselves, starting with oversized patterns, shrinking them through a process of heat-press pleating or patching leftover fabric from the cutouts. In a sense it is an abstract way of sketching or collaging directly onto the body.
You’ve been working out of Berlin since 2008, having left Stockholm almost immediately after winning a major Swedish design prize. Was this an attempt to distance yourself from Scandinavian fashion?
It was more curiosity than a conscious attempt to distance myself. Sweden has definitely influenced me to a certain degree, but my points of reference have always been rather complex and fragmented. Moving to Berlin was an attempt to explore these different influences and has allowed me to situate my work in a larger cultural field and a younger generation of artists, musicians, and designers.
How much does your background play a role in your design sensibility?
When you move to a new country as a child – as I immigrated from Vietnam to Sweden – you naturally try to adjust to your new surroundings and reinvent yourself to a certain degree. 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.
How important is location in terms of your branding?
Berlin is like a blank canvas. People have lots of positive associations with Berlin, but nothing specifically connected to a fashion style or a certain aesthetic. In this regard it is pretty good to reinvent yourself, as I would rather be known for my designs than my location. National labels have only limited relevance today. In some respects I feel closer to designers of my generation in other cities such as Eckhaus Latta, Anna-Sophie Berger or Arielle de Pinto than local Berlin designers. But this is more of an organic development that has more to do with personal relationships than a strategic decision.
How much do you consider wearability and commercial viability in your designs? What do these terms mean to you?
It’s an amazing feeling when you first see people buying and wearing your clothes. Rather than commercial viability, I like to look at the in the way people actually wear my clothes and integrate them into their wardrobe. I am interested in this transformative power of fashion.
You also consult and collaborate on commercial collections for other brands. How important are these projects to your work as a designer?
Commercial projects not only help me to finance my own collections, but also allow me to do things I would otherwise not be able to do. You have to find a way to translate your own personal aesthetic into a completely different context. In a way each of my collaborations brings out a different aspect of my work. This also pushes me to be more abstract and experimental with my own designs.
Tell us about the collaboration with New Theater and Calla Henkel and Max Pitegoff.
Calla Henkel and Max Pitegoff are two American artists who work between the fields of photography, performance, and sculpture. We already worked together on my last collection, where they photographed my clothes on the French artist Juliette Bonneviot. This time the images were taken during rehearsals in the New Theater, the performance space the two have been running in Kreuzberg since last fall. My collection was launched in concurrence with the play Apartment for which I designed the costumes. The theater kind of becomes a backstage for the collection and the shoot itself, mixing documentation of the artist community with fashion shots of a professional model. In the images it is quite ambiguous what is staged and what is real.
It seems to me that you’ve worked to position your brand more within the art world than the fashion world. How do these two worlds interact with each other when it comes to your designs?
I think it’s more a question of experimentation than strategy. Most of my friends are artists, musicians, or writers. There is a natural exchange of ideas and sensibilities, which often leads to some kind of cross-over or collaboration. For me it is about opening myself up to new influences and a field where the boundaries between different forms of expression blur. I am fascinated how the context can change the perception of your work.
Photography CALLA HENKEL & MAX PITEGOFF
All clothes NHU DUONG
Jewelry ARIELLE DE PINTO
Hair & Make-up JANA KALGAJEVA
Models GEORGIA GRAY, SARA@Stockholmsgruppen, & DENA YAGO