19 Feb Feature: Saigon Style / Vogue.com
If you’re willing to brave the swerving motorcyclists of Ho Chi Minh City, a short journey into the central district reveals a city that wears its checkered history on its sleeve. There are the wide boulevards, bakeries, and colonial architecture from its period as a French colony; the monolithic gray cube of the War Remnants Museum, a sobering reminder of Saigon’s position as the Vietnam War’s final frontier; the gleaming skyscrapers and shopping malls that reflect (quite literally) the developing nation’s increasing business and financial clout, and the city’s position at its epicenter.
But for the visitor of today that’s willing to dig a little deeper there’s another attraction, albeit one largely taking place on social media or in underground clubs: a new wave of fashion-conscious youth, quietly refreshing the eclectic tapestry of Saigonese culture for their generation.
“I think the city’s music scene has been really important,” says Le Thuy Uyen, a singer and artist who sits as a central figure within this new guard. Citing style inspirations including Vietnamese alt-pop musician Naomi Roestel and Dolly Parton within the same breath, Le epitomises the blend of past and present that defines Saigon style today. “Since there’s a language barrier, people in Vietnam have historically held the bias of listening to foreign songs. But I love music from all over the world, and young people are forgetting about that barrier. My goal is to become an artist who brings the world together.”
She isn’t alone in taking a global outlook. “I don’t really have any specific style icons—it’s more of a mix of 1980s and 1990s actresses and models from all over the world,” adds Vu Thiên, an Instagrammer who has harnessed the power of her 83,000 followers to cultivate a small-scale clothing resale business, trading in her own hybrid looks of thrift store finds and streetwear. Even if this attitude reflects the pick and mix nature of Gen Z style anywhere in the world, hers still maintains an East Asian frame of reference. “I don’t know much about style in Hong Kong today, but I’ve always loved watching movies made there in the 1990s and been inspired by the clothes the actresses were wearing.”
Vu’s cultural touchstone of Hong Kong’s Second Wave filmmakers feels apt, given the nostalgic instincts of auteurs like Wong Kar-Wai and Stanley Kwan—not just in their art direction and costume design, but also with their broader riffs on the dégagé realism of the French New Wave. Despite the dissolution of the French colonial rule in 1954, its cultural impact held strong in South Vietnam for many decades. Images from 1960s Saigon show women in mod shift dresses and Courrèges-inspired A-line skirts, or sleek form-fitting takes on the traditional áo dài, reflecting the lingering influence of French tailoring on these conventionally looser garments.