Viet Nam News
by Thiên Hương
For French designer Valerie Cordier, travelling is more than a hobby. It is an activity where inspiration waits to be discovered.
Cordier is already well known among Vietnamese and expatriates in Việt Nam for the bags she designs, often using second-hand food containers.
“A friend of mine told me: discovery is an accident that bursts into a prepared mind,” she said, “This is exactly how I feel about designs for bags. I open my mind and make myself available for exploring without following a plan. I give free reign to the possibilities and then anything can inspire me.”
One place that she seems to have found a lot of inspiration is Việt Nam. She can spend hours at wholesale material shops in the outskirts of HCM City, sweating in the hot sun, as she chooses promising materials from dozens of leather rolls.
In fact, the avid traveler has been “stuck” in Việt Nam for 14 years now, and in the process, developed her “Valerie Cordier – Paris to Hà Nội”.
“Việt Nam brings me happiness and inspiration! I love the flexibility of the people here. People are most of the time happy and smiling. I also love all the work from minorities,” she noted.
Cordier usually goes to choose materials before settling in with the idea for catologues and the design textures.
“Sourcing is the most exhausting process,” she said, “It takes vision and a sense of balance at all times.”
She said the success of choosing materials is well worth all the effort, because the process itself gives them a new breeze of life. It also means: tapping into skills, cratfmanship and art.
Cordier has traveled a lot to ethnic minority tribes in the mountainous areas of Việt Nam. She finds their woven fabrics the most beautiful and delicate in the world.
“I love ethnic art. There is a lot of it to be found in Việt Nam,” she said.
She guided a group of Tày women in the northern province of Sơn La to modernise some of their patterns by changing their traditional colours.
“This is a perfect way to create my own exclusive, exquisite fabric and a good way to support the community. I like their traditional skills.”
Cordier has created her special material from used food containers, which are cheap, unusual and sometimes recycled.
She finds animal feed bags a particularly good material with very nice colours, cute patterns and long-lasting.
“I got the idea in Cambodia, when I saw some local people using this sackcloth as a bag, very cheap and with no details, no leather, no lining. I thought I can make something more trendy, solid and practical.
The pattern is very important, she said. She chooses sacks with eye-catching colours and patterns.
“I lay out all my materials, then I play with them, group them. It can take a long time, searching for a perfect combination, because, at this stage, the material is still guiding the creation.”
She washes all the sacks carefully before painting on them to create special decorations.
“I started to use recycled materials because it’s technically interesting to use something already existing and try to find how to use it and what to do with it,” she said, “I don’t order something and then make it. I find something and use it. You don’t need to order, to produce more things on earth.”
Cordier has all her bags handmade at a workshop in the outskirts of Hà Nội.
She said she was lucky to have a skilful team of people who are also passionate like her.
“I chose them for the expertise and experience,” she said, “They trust my creative mind.”
Trần Khánh Cường, director of Da Việt JSC, said their workshop has produced many kinds of products for many brands. And Cordier’s products are extremely hard to make.
“They require meticulousness and numerous small details on each item,” he said. “We need more time and we need to be patient when producing her bags.”
Cordier combines photographs and sketches that she has gathered during her trips with the craftsmanship and materials from Việt Nam to create her products.
She said she faced increasingly less difficulties because she’d been working with the team for a long time, and they have “adopted” each other.
The most difficult thing for her is to find good quality material all the time, Cordier said.
Her products are sold at five shops in Việt Nam and four shops in other countries.
Nguyễn Hồng Ngân, sales manager at Tân Mỹ Designs shop, one of the first shop offering Cordier’s bags in Hà Nội, commented that Cordier’s designs were different.
“Every single item is a unique piece from inside to outside,” she said. “Recently, she has been using recycled materials, which are fascinating to foreign customers. She uses these materials in a clever way, so that the products look special and very Vietnamese. We sell her products very fast.”
“As I often say, I didn’t choose Việt Nam, Việt Nam chose me,” Cordier said. “When I first came it was for a 6-month internship, and I have stayed for 14 years.
“Việt Nam and Vietnamese were not easy to adopt in the first place, but I learned, and now I consider it my second home.” — VNS