Fashion designer elevates hand-quilted jacket

February 25, 2024 - 09:50
Việt Nam News reporter Trần Khánh An chats with Trịnh Bích Thủy, a fashion designer, about her career and her latest collection.

Trịnh Bích Thủy is a fashion designer, specialising in áo dài (long dress) and áo trần bông (cotton quilted jacket) with custom hand embroideries. As the owner of Trịnh Fashion, she brings customers creative outfits while still preserving traditional cultural features. Việt Nam News reporter Trần Khánh An chats with her about her career and her latest collection.

Fashion designer Trịnh Bích Thủy. – Photo courtesy of Trịnh Bích Thủy

Inner Sanctum: What is the story behind your latest collection Chín Tầng Mây (Nine Layers Of Cloud)?

After more than 20 years of working as a fashion designer, I realised I had a lot of excess fabrics in my workshop, so I decided to experiment a little bit with them. I realised I could put cotton linings inside the leftover cloths and sew all these small pieces together to make a cotton quilted jacket, besides quilting it from large pieces of fabric in the traditional way.

The special feature of these cotton jackets in the collection is that each piece in the jacket is made from entirely different fabrics and colours based on the amount of excess fabric I have. They look like a chín tầng mây cake (Vietnamese nine-layer cake) with numerous layers of different colours, so I named the collection Chín Tầng Mây (Nine Cloud Layers).

The three-layer quilted jackets in the collection bring new silhouettes and colours, while still preserving traditional cultural features.

A three-layer quilted cotton jacket in the 'Chín Tầng Mây' collection is made from different pieces of fabrics and colours. – Photo courtesy of Trịnh Bích Thủy

Inner Sanctum: How do you bring new, contemporary silhouettes and colours to traditional three-layer quilted jackets?

In the past, the Vietnamese traditional three-layer quilted jacket was made of two layers of cloth with cotton linings in between, and held in place by lines of stitching. The traditional quilting techniques include stitching simple square and lozenge shapes. In a three-layer quilted jacket, the buttons are also important. They make the connection point to quilting the jacket and also create decorative lines and highlights for the jacket.

Besides traditional quilting techniques, I also apply new techniques to create new buttons in the shape of traditional images associated with Vietnamese culture and traditions, such as lotus flowers. These creative techniques not only generate a unique visual application for the design but also evoke the gentle and meticulous beauty of traditional embroidery.

So the jacket does not get monotonous or feel outdated, I have made a range of creations thus far. My goal is to elevate three-layer quilted jackets to the level of other contemporary product lines, giving consumers the impression that these coats are in line with current fashion trends.

Thủy's collection brings new silhouettes and colours, while still preserving traditional cultural features. – Photo courtesy of Trịnh Bích Thủy

Inner Sanctum: How do you develop your fashion brand sustainably?

The sustainability of my fashion creations lies in the quality of the textiles I use – they are sustainable fashion materials, from organic fabrics made by Vietnamese artisans from traditional craft villages, especially, in the Nine Cloud Layers collection where every piece of leftover fabric is used.

People think sustainable fashion items are more expensive than fast fashion items. However, a fashion item made from sustainable textiles can last longer than a fast fashion item. The lifespan of a sustainable item is extremely long, and it can follow you for almost your whole life. It can accompany you for nearly your entire life. A few of my clients informed me that they had owned my jacket for more than a decade.

Additionally, all of my creations are handmade by Vietnamese artisans. Sustainable fashion is also a way to create jobs and livelihood opportunities for traditional artisans. I also cooperate with the Hà Nội Disabled People's Association to train and provide jobs for people with disabilities.

Thủy also applies new techniques to create new buttons in the shape of traditional images associated with Vietnamese culture. – Photo courtesy of Trịnh Bích Thủy

Inner Sanctum: What inspired you to become a fashion designer specialising in Vietnamese traditional hand-quilted jackets?

When I was a child, I wore a three-layer quilted cotton jacket every winter. It almost feels like a throwback to the most lovely and cosy years of my youth. After the state economic subsidy period, a large number of clothing stores opened up for business, and a wide variety of fashionable clothing was brought to the market. Even my mother thought the quilted jacket was old-fashioned. The shops displaying quilted jackets were seemingly forgotten and covered with dust.

Because of this, I want to keep the traditional jacket of the past while simultaneously designing new versions that are more fashionable and appropriate for today's world.

My father is a researcher of ancient artefacts and art motifs, and he is the one who inspires me to apply traditional motifs to fashion.

I studied Textiles and Garments Technology at the Hà Nội University of Science and Technology. Following my passion for fashion, I continued studying at the School of Industrial Fine Arts. I started a small street-side store as soon as I started my second year at school. My initial design was a quilted jacket with three layers. I have been designing three-layer quilted cotton jackets ever since. VNS