A firm fixture in the city’s modern-industrial movement, Darren Chew's simple, dignified aesthetic has taken his various brands into the global consciousness of visitors and customers around the world, shining a light on all the cool that Saigon has to offer. We had the chance to talk shop with Darren, builder extraordinaire, as he reminisced on his journey and the Saigon he first discovered nearly 20 years ago.
In District Eight’s factory, blackened steel frames stand in stark contrast to tactile leather. “I’m definitely more analogue myself, I’m very much into the making of the furniture,” says Darren of his lifelong obsession with how things are made.
“My dad was an engineer, a material scientist, so I think I got that manufacturing brain from him,” he explains. “Back when I was a teenager, I was making furniture here and there with friends. I was always interested in architecture and construction.” His first foray into making things was in the clothing business with Un-Available, the garment manufacturing company he developed with a partner in the mid-2000s not long after he landed in Vietnam. Devoted to making clothing that lasts, the factory has worked with Prada, Perry Ellis, and Saturdays NYC to name a few. Then, in 2009, he turned his hand to design as part of the collective that built L’Usine, an Indochine-industrial café and concept store located in an old walkup opposite the Saigon Opera House that went on to become one of the city’s hippest hangouts, rolling out into further locations and much loved around the world for its equal parts authentic and chic vibe. “L’Usine was meant to look like an old clothing factory left in time,” he explains of its much-imitated look. “Most of the furniture was originally made out of wooden weaving looms. That was the spark of inspiration for District Eight.”
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Award-winning furniture designer John Reeves sheds light on his lifelong obsession with an object’s cultural individuality during an intimate talk at the artist haunt known as Salon Saigon.
The winner of the ELLE Decoration Design Award and other international accolades, furniture designer John Reeves has called Saigon his home for the last 14 years. Driven by the conviction that the design we surround ourselves with speaks not only of our character but also our culture, he has made a name for himself as a creator of pieces seen all over the world that tell a story of their time. At a recent talk given at Salon Saigon, a restored French-colonial mansion turned exhibition space, he shed light on his processes and productivity.
“I’m a son, a brother, a friend, who happens to also design furniture,” Reeves answers when asked to describe himself. Born into a vicarage in northern England, he grew up steeped in a spiritual and cultural heritage that spanned generations. “I questioned the worldly nature of objects,” he remembers. “Handed down furniture, in all its poignancy, is full of sentimental touchstones imbued with stories from a distant past.” Drawing on shintoism — which is based on the belief in kami: the sacred or mystical element which is in everything — Reeves’s work today continually searches for the soul of the object. It’s a quest he puts in large part down to one of the biggest influences in his life, his time spent with a Sudanese refugee who traversed the world from Cairo to England before turning up on Reeves’s doorstep. Reeves – then just a 14-year-old boy – enlisted his help in making “the absolute best bow and arrow,” the elegant object treasured by civilisations worldwide, learning life lessons and principles from the real-life warrior and huntsman that never left him.
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The alchemist behind mind-bending visuals for nightclubs, art installations and assorted events of revelry, Le Thanh Tung – Saigon’s experimental visual artist who goes by Crazy Monkey – talks us through his creative approach.
Having represented Vietnam at Cannes Young Lions and London’s Design Biennale, visual artist Le Thanh Tung has shown his immersive, audio-visual installations at global exhibits and events in Denmark, Taiwan, Japan and more. He invited Hive Life to visit him at his studio in Saigon, home to a vibrant group of artists known as The Box Collective, to tell us his story from a traditional upbringing in Hanoi to one of his country’s most experimental artistic minds.
For Le, what sets his work apart is its daring juxtaposition of opposites: sacred symbols intertwine with futuristic phantasmagoria, age-old traditions flourish in the form of psychedelic holograms. In ‘Hau Dong Ca,’ a collaboration with artist Ngoc Nau being shown in her latest exhibition at Cuc Gallery in Hanoi, Ngoc Nau is seen performing a trance-like dance based on the traditional "Hau Dong" ritual, in which the dancer becomes a spirit medium for deities. For it, Le captured her form using a Kinect camera to produce a wireframe of the artist dancing in a 3D environment.
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Tom Trandt’s design was exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City when he was still a junior at Parsons School of Design. Saigon-based Moi Dien, his flagship brand, has been featured in fashion magazines such as Harper’s Bazaar, Elle and L’Officiel. Before entering the International Fashion Showcase 2019 in London, Tom Trandt sat down with Hive Life to talk about fashion’s narratives.
With a languid and architecture presence, Moi Dien is a testament to Tom Trandt's infatuation with textures and drapery. Made of materials ranging from shimmering fine silk to furniture fabrics, his designs carry an aura that is eccentric, soulful, and sharply individual. “The wearer, or our audience, is part of the making process. They can complete the story on their own,” Tom Trandt talks about the deeply intimate relationship between fabrics and the human body. With Moi Dien (“moi”: lips, “dien”: crazy in Vietnamese), he refuses to let garments overpower the wearer’s personality: “I don’t want to tell them a story that’s finished. The work in progress is what holds the appeal. A raw hem, to me, is something very romantic. I like a creation which you may think is lacking something, because that something is what really inspires me.”
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Rice Creative is the branding & creative powerhouse behind Marou Chocolate, the world’s most exquisite chocolate bars, as well as daringly original and searingly vivid works for Uber, Fred Perry, and CocaCola among others. The recipient of dozens of international awards, Rice has been featured in MONOCLE, Taschen, and Wallpaper* Magazine. We sat down with co-founder Chi-An De Leo to talk about the creative process and the essence of Saigon.
A life unbound by borders gives De Leo a multifaceted lens, one that allows him to see Saigon as she is, and also with an infinity of reflections. “My first language was Mandarin. Then I moved from Taiwan to Vietnam, learned Vietnamese and forgot my Chinese; then I was learning French while trying to keep my English,” De Leo remembers. All of that happened before the age of 8. Born in Germany to Vietnamese-French and Italian parents, De Leo “made a point not to be that international kid.” Authenticity is at the heart of everything he does.
“In 1999 I moved from a liberal French school in Hanoi to a very strict boarding school in England. I rebelled as a kid; I had to.” After 10 years studying and living in the England, De Leo moved to Vietnam and founded Rice Creative with Joshua Breidenbach. And rebel they did. A collective of Promethean pioneers, Rice Creative is ambitious beyond the scope of any individual project. The works are vibrant, raw, sensorially pleasing and emotionally expressive. They steer clear of cliches, yet embrace the abstractions of life’s multitude. When Wallpaper* Thai edition asked Rice Creative to create a Vietnam-themed cover for the magazine, De Leo worked with the craftsmen himself to present a neon metropolis, steeped in thousands of years of cultural heritage. The artistically profound and philosophically rigorous piece is among many that earned Rice Creative the reputation as the brand storyteller.
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Song Lang is deferential in its poignancy and magnificent in its emotional heft. Richly hued in nostalgia, the movie is an ode to the glamour of things past and devastating human desires.
To bask in the same moonlight with your loved one, to the feeble human heart, may be the most transcendental kind of intimacy. It’s also the cheapest that money still cannot buy. If Linh Phung finds solace in the full moon on the anniversary of his parents’ death, Dung lives on in his memory of that glowing sky.
Throughout the story, Linh Phung and Dung keep leaving the unsaid to the light. On the Sinco rooftop. Under the warm, all-encompassing, all-forgiving lamps of the noodle stall. In the kitchen. On a bike zipping through the empty streets, rows of forlorn street lights, a trancelike space between silence and the pulsing heartbeats of the city.
Introducing the official third wheel: this fucking lamp
more lamps somewhere else
symmetry and wholeness. also lamp
The most tender scene is full of (more) devastating emotions: Linh Phung pretending to sleep under the morning sun--his profile on the pillow, an exposed wrist without the watch, as open as his heart. Here’s all that is pure and good in Dung’s life. What the actors lack in chemistry, the plot makes up for in visual eloquence. You know it’s going fucking nowhere, because this is a movie about cai luong. When Dung picks up the song lang, he’s ready to acknowledge his dual nature and transcend the boundaries within himself. Thug and artist, the bully and the abandoned, the rejector and the prodigal son of cai luong.
Ambitious in both scope and depth, the movie handles deftly the dichotomy between religions, while introducing theater as another kind of religious haven itself. Song Lang is magnificent in its portrayal of an art form long past its prime time: the incense offering, the elaborate rituals, the transcendental synergy, the regal costumes, characters as deities, the subsumption of individuals, etc. People love going to cai luong for a glimpse of something larger than life. Yet with all its archetypal characters and age-old legends, cai luong is an abstraction of life. My Chau’s feathers, in a beautiful moment, blossom on stage as the orchestra crests to a climax. They are vestiges of wretched, everlasting, pitiably human emotions: pieces of us we leave behind in the name of love. It it offers any solace, Linh Phung did bring hope into Dung's life. He in turns gave the singer the greatest gift. The aftertaste of Song Lang is like an empty stage after the show: poetic, haunting, verging on the spiritual.
Honorable mention: Subway series - Bruce Davidson
First published in 1986, Subway translates the collective subconscious of New York City into documentary photos as mentally agonizing as they’re hauntingly romantic. Bathed in the eerie radiance of Davidson’s flash, commuters in the car expose various stages of defeat, fatigue, anomie, or demented joy. Gritty and thumping with the city’s heartbeat, Subway captures New York in the 80s in all its violence, its madness but also its ever-inspiring humanity.
From Versace’s regally kitschy home collection to Margiela’s egg door stop, the feat of human engineering that is designer furniture stands at the crossroads of sculpture, mercantilism and inherently performance arts. While the world is waiting for IKEANYE to happen (yo let him furnish), I wrote about some of the collections that have been crushing the purse and minds of designer cultists worldwide.
Honorable mention: Yayoi Kusama, Compulsion Furniture (Accumulation)
Surrealism, Art Brut, wretched obsessions and demented fear collide in a series of Kusama’s sculptures, whose insignia is Accumulation No.1 - an armchair exploding with phallic protrusions stuffed with cotton and sprayed in white paint. First exhibited in 1962 along works by Warhol and Oldenburg, Accumulation No.1 was the prototype that spawned Kusama’s microcosm of soft sculptures, one that materialized from the artist’s endlessly compulsive obsessions and mental suffering. Excruciating to look at and comforting to the dweller, the Accumulation series is as intimate as connivance between an artist and dark corners of their souls.
Designer Rei Kawakubo's latest Comme des Garçons collection, which the cult figure herself described as a "ceremony of separation”, was presented during Sunday's solemn show in the Mineralogy Gallery at the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle.
The mutants that Kawakubo has engineered bring back memories of her notorious Dress Meets Body, Body Meets Dress 1997 collection - the "Bump collection" that shook the canons of Western tailoring to the core with bulbous tumors of down. The dreary decadence drips through narrow shrouds bound with ruffles and bows, overblown cocoons, patch-worked or tied into bundles and engulfing models’ frames in a tomb-like fashion. John Waters, in his 2012 CFDA Fashion Awards speech, addressed Kawakubo as "the Saint Teresa of fashion": "I always imagined her locked in a self-imposed, deconstructed cell, like, massacring hemlines for her next season’s “no-dimensional” outfits that will be mocked, brilliantly reviewed, and worn by the brave." Although she doesn't take invisibility to theological extremes like Martin Margiela, Kawakubo rarely gives an interview and no longer takes a bow after her shows. (There's only one photo of Rei smiling that floats around the internet, and if you can find another one, you're a more devoted crow than I am).
Lace was the material predominantly used for these silhouettes, ornately embellished or built with bows—another leitmotif at Comme des Garçons alongside crushed frills, wilted tulle, eyelet and fraying ruffles. Imbued with a patina of ghostly delicacy, the ensembles, despite their sovereign refinement, appear to have been ravaged by moths; the linings come adrift from their scaffolding, the mourner wears their tethered souls on their sleeves.
Kawakubo has pieced together what I imagine the Dickensian Miss Havisham would wear, from her wedding day until her death, mourning a maidenhood abandoned along with its illusions. Ceremony of Separation, in its desolate melancholia, captured the tension between morbidity and the fragile human existence, a vanitas artwork amidst the modern Parisian scenes.
Without a touch of sensationalism, the pose in Cattelle’s photos is never flashy or provocative; instead, the nude figure becomes one with the space she inhabits. The effect is powerful, not just because of the eroticism, but also because her nakedness seems to emphasize excruciating human vulnerability. The contrast between the texture of dead, abandoned industrial spaces and the soft, quiet vivacity of the bare human body could be described as both mentally agonizing and hauntingly romantic.
Black and white photography, one that started since Cattelle was in high school, has turned into the artist’s life-long obsession. Cattelle’s virtuosity with the format hasn’t truly manifests itself until his BARE-USA project, in which Cattelle juxtaposes nudity against industrial decay and urban ruins. He is in the course of travelling and shooting local models in each of 50 USA States, and June Ann of GEMINIJUNEMOON has had the chance to collaborate with Cattelle when he made a stop at Missouri this summer.
As part of an international subculture of urban explorers, Cattelle spends a lot of time surveying the decaying skeleton of urban cities. Beyond the thrill of seeing what others have not seen, or dare not see, and the sense that it should be recorded for future generations, urban explorers are driven by other motives, among them romance.
For Cattelle, the draw is the uncultivated, feral beauty that can be found in the broken-down landscape of industrial-age America. And that’s when nude photography came into the picture. With Bare-USA, Cattelle was able to depict the city as a living organism, dissect it and look into its unseen layers. The human figures manifest themselves as dwellers in the darkest rooms in the collective subconscious of all modern cities. Yet the project is not so much about the figure as it is about the triumph of decay and entropy, and the human resistance against it. This sense of communicating with the city on a secret frequency may be what is most appealing to the artist and viewer alike.
The photos have a spooky, voyeuristic quality not unlike the feeling you get from looking at Weegee’s crime-scene photos. Beyond the forbidden nature of urban exploration, it is impossible to visit some of the spectacular haunts without experiencing a touch of the sacred. Concrete columns lined up in perfectly symmetrical order, creating a dreamlike procession of naves whose architectural rigor stands in stark contrast to rotting ruin and decay on the floor. But what really gave the building its rarefied air was the silence. Amid the daily cacophony of the city, where every place is packed with a scrum of people, this space stood empty, a still counterpoint to everything around it. And thus Cattelle has accomplished more than what he set out to do: the photos are not only aesthetically beautiful, they’re narrative, poetic, spiritual.
looking at fashion as fine arts, architecture, anthropology, an extreme form of human performance.