Journalist-turned-fashion guru Jean Paul Cauvin has been involved in the process of making Vietnam International Fashion Week (VIFW) in Việt Nam since day one. He gives his insight about the show and other perspectives of designing garments. The fashion guru from Atelier Chardon Savard spoke to Inner Sanctum before leaving Hà Nội for Paris.
Inner Sanctum: Can you recall how you were introduced to Việt Nam?
I was approached by Ms Trang Lê (Founder and President of Vietnam International Fashion Week) in Paris. I was preparing for Singapore Fashion Week. I was preparing for a show of the Haute Couture House I was working for, called Julien Fournié in Singapore, and I also had a show for the school I worked with, Atelier Chardon Savard in Singapore, and also for a local retailer in Singapore, Love Bonito by Julien Fournié. So I had three shows. Then Ms Trang Lê approached me because she was working on her TV show ‘Vietnam’s Next Top Model’. She wanted to shoot a programme in Singapore. She asked me and I said, "Yes, I can use your models. I know what TV is about because I worked in television in Paris for a long time. I still have some TV shows in Paris, so I said, Okay, let’s do these shows." That’s how we met.
It was my first introduction to Việt Nam and it was a big success. I had a kind of sequence of 20-minute run of the shows I had done in Singapore and I met these young models from Vietnam’s Next Top Model for the first time. I was very surprised with the TV programme she had produced. Then she wanted to come to Paris. That’s when she met the school where I was working, and how she became more deeply involved with Julien Fournié, a budding house, not a start-up. Now it’s recognised among short-listed couturier houses including Dior, Chanel, Givenchy… We belong to this group of fourteen houses in the world. It’s a small group called Paris Haute Couture.
Later Ms Trang was thinking about organising Vietnam International Fashion Week, and since that day, I’ve been trying to help her achieve this goal. I’ve come for every edition. Before that, we met a lot in Paris and Milan. Then I came to Hồ Chí Minh City three times, and this is my first time in Hà Nội because Vietnam International Fashion Week is here.
What impressed you most about the collections at VIFW?
How can I put this? A young designer performed right before Atelier Chardon Savard. I’m sorry I don’t remember her name. But she’s young and she had a very colourful collection. I liked it very much. The problem is, you know. There’s no real problem actually. VIFW is developing through the years, through the editions. Now it has two editions a year: one in Hà Nội, one in Hồ Chí Minh City, which is very good. At the same time you have the local understanding of fashion and the international criteria. In the team behind VIFW, everybody is getting closer and closer, little by little to the international criteria for a fashion week.
Among the designers, I’m not sure if Việt Nam is yet at the right level for young designers to show two collections a year. Because I’ve seen that the designers have shown the last season and this season, I think, in my opinion, they are not renewing themselves sufficiently. But it’s a very difficult balance to keep your DNA (the code of your brand) and find another expression every six months. It takes time before you can do this. So of course, we’re learning with every season. And I must say the organisation is getting much better every time including here in Hà Nội, where it was held for the first time and it was so well-organised. But the criteria for what is fashion and what is a collection is not yet at the same standard internationally.
Ms Trang knows that because she has travelled the world. I know that because I covered fashion for many years around the globe. I mean the four big fashion capitals London, New York, Paris and Milan. Each of them has their own identity. But they all have the same level of fashion.
This time, what I found very interesting in Hà Nội, is for the first time we had seminars and talks. This is only the beginning but it’s very good because it’s putting the designers with the stylists, the show producers together with the industry, with international experts, and this creates an awareness of the level required for the designers and also raises good question like “Do you show pieces on the runway that you would sell?”, or “Do you show on the runway pieces that should be your image?”, “Is what you see on the runway wearable? Should it be? Should it not be?” These questions are key for people wanting to do business in fashion.
I also had the pleasure, with the support of Hà Nội Tourism, to meet a lot of craftsmen. I think there is a really good heritage in Việt Nam. And I think there are many possible developments to be made in this, including teaching creativity. Because I’ve been to the (Hà Nội-based) London College of Design and Fashion this morning, I also went to the Art University (Hà Nội University of Industrial Art), which had a Fashion Department. I met very interesting professionals and teachers and very good teams. But I think all of these schools must do better in the way they are teaching people how to be creative. For instance, on every mood-board, I see silhouettes from the runway shows, because they need to explain their inspiration. But I don’t care about this. I would forbid this to designers. If they are inspired by already existing fashion, this is no longer fashion.
Fashion arises, when you prefer what is new, and what is innovative to what has always been considered beautiful.
This should be the key word, written in gold letters, put everywhere for every designer.
If you are a fashion designer and you want to be a creative fashion designer, and you’re inspired by someone else’s fashion designs, you’re no longer a creative designer. You are someone who makes a copy. We have to prevent ourselves from making copies. And this is why I personally disagree with all the systems that propose trends. When you do trends, you don’t do fashion anymore. Fashion designers are not trend followers; they should be trend-setters.
So this is what’s at play here: People say “I love fashion, for instance, because they think, Oh I love to get nice clothes, good quality clothes, and I like to live in luxury, and I like my look. It’s okay. That’s fine. This is already a level of being clothed and having a style. But the other level is about finding something interesting for me, for my silhouette, for my proportions? Am I finding something new? Am I bringing art in my every day life in the way I choose the garment I wear, in the way I have them made. And that’s the higher level of consciousness about fashion. So little by little, people get educated. Not only the designers, not only the industrialists, but also the general public. And they understand what fashion is about. Fashion is applied art. It is about bringing art into our daily life. You can like painting, and you can buy a painting that matches your couch, or your living room. But you can also like painting, just for the sake of art, and that’s better.
Inner Sanctum: You’ve been to all the fashion weeks around the world and they are associated with one city. Do you think Vietnam International Fashion Week needs to take place in one city, instead of in HCM City one season and in Hà Nội the other?
Should VIFW stay in one place or two, I think there is no rule. And I think Việt Nam has a very particular situation. Việt Nam has its particular culture, and its culture is divided between two cities. There’s no criticism in this. The two cities are different in their culture, flavour, the way of life. So little by little, both cities will find their fashion identity. I’ve seen three seasons in HCM City. The young people are very much aware of the way they look, the way they dress up for fashion week. Whereas I must say in Hà Nội, the atmosphere for this first edition is more formal, classic, established. Maybe here you feel more what a real winter is . I think that’s why Ms Trang here was right. To show Fall-Winter season in Hà Nội and Spring - Summer in HCM City. Maybe the flavour of Hà Nội is more directed towards luxury and evening wear. Maybe the flavour of HCM City is more about daily creative wear. Maybe it’s not only due to the designers or the institutions who decide on it. But it has to find a response and it depends very much on the audience. I believe it will be very different in the future.
Inner Sanctum: Now it’s winter time and we’re having a Fall-Winter fashion show. Usually the show would be one season ahead, so it should be a Summer – Spring 2017 show. Nguyễn Công Trí and Phương My were the only two designers who presented their SS 2017 collections. What do you think?
When I look at a collection myself, I do not look at what season it is. I don’t care what season it is. What I’m looking for is “Is it new?” For the moment, the fashion I see in Việt Nam is not new enough. So the question of the season is secondary to me. The designers are getting there. They are getting to international standards. And they are very good designers here in Việt Nam. But they are not daring enough to do something new, something different. For the moment they don’t dare to impose something totally new and creative. This is why I keep bringing the students from Atelier Chardon Savard every season because though they are young and inexperienced designers, they are more daring.
Maybe the audience here does not understand why this is fashion in respect to evening dresses. But their collections are very personal and they bring something of what’s happening now in the world, not of what will find a customer. They are bringing in new styles, so this is the first step of fashion design. I try to bring the spirit of novelty, of daring to Vietnamese fashion designers. Especially with young designers, we are having more success with that. They don’t care if this is going to be sellable.
I hope that graduates from a fashion design school do not care if their designs are sellable. Because if they do at that time, it will be their only concern. We need them to be conscious that if they can make some garments that are new, then they can make them sellable. But if someone is only concerned with designing sellable garments, they will never make anything new.
Inner Sanctum: Thank you.
There’s one thing I’d like to add. My goal ..., in France, and worldwide, in Bermuda, in Russia, they call me by a nickname fashion guru, ... and I would like to give one advice to Vietnamese businessmen …
Inner Sanctum: … and women?
And women, of course. Many of them are doing business in fashion. There are many women, and the women are very brave in this country. That’s one of the things I really like about Việt Nam.
Many people handling fashion businesses here do not know how to manage creative designers. So a number of problems arise because they do not understand each other. I’m ready to help anybody who wants to learn how to manage fashion designers, when I’m here and even when I’m abroad. I think the authorities will need to organise a seminar on who are the key people in fashion. — VNS