Food fashion a piece of cake for designer

December 05, 2021 - 09:47

Fashion designer Nguyễn Minh Công has turned different kinds of traditional cakes in the Mekong Delta region into fashion designs out of his love for his hometown cuisine.


Designs made from cakes. Photos courtesy of Nguyễn Minh Công

by Vũ Thu Hà

When it comes to Mekong Delta cuisine, it would be remiss not to mention the variety of bánh (cake) on offer. The likes of bánh xèo (crispy Vietnamese crepes), bánh lá mít (rice dough wrapped in jackfruit leaf), bánh bèo (steamed rice cake), or bánh bột báng (tapioca and coconut milk cake) have become famous for their tasty flavour and unique look.

But hardly anyone could imagine that these signature southwestern dishes would become a fashion collection.

Turning this seemingly surreal idea into reality is exactly what HCM City-based fashion designer Nguyễn Minh Công has done.

His mini-collection of designs made from different kinds of traditional cakes has just seen him awarded a record by the Vietnam Record Organisation. 

The idea came to him during social distancing at the peak of the fourth coronavirus outbreak in the country in late April.

Back then Công, a familiar face of Việt Nam’s fashion industry, had left HCM City for his hometown in the Mekong Delta province of Vĩnh Long.  While staying at his parents' house, Công had nothing to do so he cooked to kill time and relieve stress.

“This idea came to me when I was making cakes with my mother,” Công told Việt Nam News. “My mother knows how to make many kinds of traditional cakes. She also told me stories about the cakes and recalled the fond memories our family had had.”

“I was born in this land. I grew up with those unique and typical dishes. That’s why I decided to use my strength as a designer to make a fashion collection to honour these specialties.

"It not only helps me reminisce about my peaceful and happy childhood, but I hope it will help southwestern cuisine become more familiar with younger generations.” 

An evening gown made from crispy yellow layers of bánh xèo (crispy Vietnamese crepes).

Công said creating fashion designs from unconventional materials like food was challenging. It took him a lot of time to come up with ideas, prepare materials and make the food.

The biggest difficulty was sketching designs corresponding to each dish as when he returned to his hometown, he didn't have drawing tools or sewing supplies. Finally, he decided to use paper to make miniature mannequins and arrange the food on top.

A dress made from bánh tằm khoai mì (steamed silkworm-like cassava with coconut cake).

One design takes him one or two days to finish. His initial collection consists of seven designs.

"I finished my initial collection of seven dress designs in a week. I was very happy that I could express my love for fashion in such an interesting way amid the pandemic," he said. 

The highlight of the collection includes a dazzling evening gown made from crispy yellow layers of bánh xèo (crispy Vietnamese crepes), with the bottom of the skirt decorated with the green colour of lettuce, herbs and bean sprouts.

In another design, Công created a five-layer evening gown by assembling colourful pieces of bánh tằm khoai mì (steamed silkworm-like cassava with coconut cake). The white grated coconut was sprinkled as feathers to make its appearance more softly and feminine.

The transparency and vibrant colours of the materials for the widely popular chè sương sa hạt lựu (Vietnamese rainbow dessert) were also used to create a sexy and elegant dress.

Công used banana leaves as a backdrop for the designs when taking photographs of his collection, embellishing his delicate work.  

A design made from Chè sương sa hạt lựu (Vietnamese rainbow dessert).

After posting the photos of his designs online, he received much positive feedback which motivated him to keep going. He ended up with a collection of 20 designs from 20 types of cake.

Introducing the collection named "Những vệt màu loang của thời gian" (The faded colour streaks of time), he wrote: "Just by catching a glimpse of these designs, you will be awakened with sweet childhood memories that may have gradually faded away amid the modern life. Understanding that, I wish these beautiful memories would last forever. I have told my childhood stories through the language of fashion as a reminder to everyone not to miss out on these wonderful things." 

Nguyễn Minh Công (left) is awarded a record certificate for being the first person in Việt Nam to create a mini fashion collection from Mekong Delta region specialties.

Công was recognised by the Vietnam Record Organisation on November 16 as the first person in the country to create a mini fashion-collection from Mekong Delta region specialties.

"I am so happy and proud to be awarded the record. It is beyond my expectation," Công said. "I have decided to turn these designs into real costumes and will hold a fashion show, hopefully early next year.”

"The real collection will, of course, no longer be made from food, but will still retain the soul and spirit of the mini collection. I hope it can bring a feeling of sweetness, romance and nostalgia about childhood to the audience." VNS