Built on centuries-old craft traditions such as lacquerware, silk weaving, and ceramics, with remnants of a colonial and war-ridden past, Ho Chi Minh City could easily be defined by its complicated history. But a community of young creatives is carving out a new identity for the city.
One is Tuan Le, founder of The Lab, a multidisciplinary design studio. Born in Vietnam and raised in Los Angeles, Le has lived everywhere from San Francisco to Dubai and Tokyo—but in 2013, he repatriated to set down some roots. "There are a lot of people in Saigon who, like me, came back from abroad," Le says. "Previously, Vietnamese culture had been put on the back burner because the country was trying to globalize. Now, everybody wants to rediscover their roots—I think that’s why the city has a great design scene right now."
Le cites the Pham Viêt Chánh neighborhood in the Binh Thanh district as one of the city’s most dynamic areas. Neighboring Districts 2 and 3 are also quickly developing creative enclaves. "Tons of bars, cafes, and studios are opening up," Le says, "and young designers are organizing into little cliques, or ‘houses.’ There’s a crew called 42 the Hood with local fashion designers and models. They just opened their own concept store and cafe called OBJoff, where they brought in their ceramicist, sculptor, and painter friends."
On a typical night out (before the pandemic), you could find the city’s young designers and artists at Que by Kaarem, a pop-up hosted by its namesake New York– and Ho Chi Minh–based fashion designer in a small bar above his studio. "When he does a pop-up, everybody will come through," Le says. "It’s a very narrow building in an alley, and the upstairs area looks out over a bridge with highway traffic. While people hang out, you can see the trucks passing by. That whole scene is like a microcosm of Saigon."
"Everyone in Ho Chi Minh City’s design community helps each other. There isn’t a lot of money going around for the younger creatives, so they band together."
—Tuan Le, The Lab
Tay mó Amateurs
Rong Daybed by Tomas Tran
Credit: Photo captions written by Adrian Madlener
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