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 “Most of the furniture was originally made out of wooden weaving looms.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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looking at fashion as fine arts, architecture, anthropology, an extreme form of human performance.