“Over 20 years ago, you would never have thought that making someone else look beautiful could become a way to have a career. No one would believe that.”
So says fashion designer Ha Truong. Born in Hanoi in 1978, her career as a fashion designer has brought her fame and fortune. But as a child, it was not something she would ever have dreamed about.
While in other parts of the world, names like Coco Chanel or Yves Saint Laurent were becoming as iconic as the products with which they were associated, so in wartime Hanoi, ‘fashion designer’ wasn’t even a job title. As the 1970s moved into the 1980s, agriculture and heavy industry were seen as the most effective means to shake up the economy.
“My family didn’t have money,” recalls Ha, the brains behind her self-named brand and now the newly appointed art director for Allura. “My father was 50 years older than me. He participated in the French War, so he was already retired when I grew up and couldn’t help me much financially.” Having no money meant no computer, no trips to the cinema and no new clothes. “All I knew about the world came from my television, which had limited channels and only occasionally broadcast foreign movies, usually musicals.”
As a teenager, Ha’s favourite pastime was making clothes for herself and her family out of pieces of cloth she took from her mother’s wardrobe. She would also imitate the kind of ‘punk’ outfit she saw Madonna wear on TV. But, beyond that, making clothes was no more than a hobby.
At the age of 15, she started working as a tutor to earn money to support her family. She chose to major in English at university and started teaching English at a high school after graduation. The turning point came soon after.
“In 2002, through the contact of my [Scottish] boyfriend of the time, I submitted my first fashion collection to the Italian embassy for a special fashion week event,” she recalls. “I’d only made clothes for myself and later for my boyfriend — he liked [what I made]. So I was extremely happy when I was chosen to be the only Vietnamese designer to have a collection on the same catwalk as many of the world’s top brands such as Valentino and Versace.”
Encouraged by the positive feedback of the audience, Ha decided to pursue a career in fashion. She took courses to learn how to sew, cut and design, and in 2003 opened her first brand — Mirrormirror. In 2004 she won the best young Vietnamese designer award at the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Awards in Singapore. Ha then moved to Paris to study fashion and in 2008 opened her second and most successful brand to date, Ha Truong.
Edgy, Clean-cut, & Chic
In Ha’s design, the two most prominent colours are black and white. With her designs regularly featured on the most prestigious fashion stages in Vietnam — Dep Fashion show, Elle and F shows — she has created a bold style of edgy, chic ready-to-wear apparel for men and women. Often praised for their clean-cut, minimalist influences, the designs focus on form and cut, rather than details or decoration.
“I have [strict] standards,” she says. “Everything has to be perfect, from the stitches through to the form — everything.”
Ha’s clothing has also found its way outside of Vietnam, having been exported to Australia, France and Singapore. Sometimes it’s the Chinese neck made of leather that creates waves; sometimes it’s the embroidery on silk that gives her the success.
Conquering the Challenges
What made up for Ha’s lack of material values and opportunities in her childhood was her open-minded personality, or as she puts it, “the hunger to learn new things”. This has always kept her moving forward.
Once judged negatively for hanging out with people who were ‘different’ from what was deemed to be a ‘normal’ set of acquaintances, Ha Truong believes her choice of friends has increased her experience of life. “I had friends who were motorcycle racers. I also had friends who were intellectuals. I knew them as who they are, how they treated me. And that’s how I learnt.”
When asked about the difficulties of working with celebrities in Vietnam — a number of other fashion designers have been caught ‘copying’ designs in order to satisfy their customers — Ha agrees that it is sometimes very challenging.
“Many celebrities are still careless and follow a trend without really knowing what they want,” she explains. “They think that they can make the same clothes [that other people are wearing overseas] at a cheaper price by using local designers. For me that’s insulting. So I always reject those types of orders. And even when they’re difficult to reject, I always give the designs some sort of twist to make them different and more attractive — whether it’s in the fabric or the cut. Luckily, I don’t receive those orders very often.”
And with that honesty, her brands continue to grow. Her most recent spring-summer collection builds up an image of independent, dynamic, sporty and chic women. Perhaps it’s just another reflection of herself — a mother of two, a devoted yogi and a DJ, all in one.