A Vietnamese Berliner
If you allow the massive graffitied face by the front entrance to put you off from buzzing the bell at Eisenbahnstr. 11, you’re missing out immensely. Buried within past several doors, a couple of courtyards and down into a clerestory lit basement is the studio space of one of Berlin fashion elites.
A Vietnamese Berliner
Trading stories of Kreuzberg lives, I learn Hien is one of the rare Berliners raised in this city; his old kindergarten, opposite my former Wrangelstrasse apartment, still exists. A couple of decades later since his childhood, he’s placed his design studio back in the old kiez. It's a studio that gives off auras of “soft whites.” Almost compelled by the nature of the space, I slow down, and calmly take my time with this shoot.
I’m rewarded for the patience. It seems the longer one spends in his studio retracing steps, the more secrets one discovers. First assessment says: orderly, precise, detailed. But far be it for Hien to leave his design studio a sterile hospital. Let's take a peek...
Mr. Vagabond: Let's talk living Berlin. How do you normally start your mornings?
Hien-Le: Long hot shower in winter, long fresh shower in summer.
Mr. Vagabond: Who or what has been your most influential source of inspiration?
Hien-Le: If you mean in general, I think all big cities. I like observing people on the streets while sitting in a cafe. But if you are talking about my upcoming collection, the artwork and the colour adjustments of Mark Rothko in combination with different pleats are the inspirations for my upcoming AW 13/14 collection.
Mr. Vagabond: You’re Vietnamese yet one of the rare Berliners, raised in town. Are there any cultural influences that pervade your designs?
Hien-Le: I would say no. But there are many people who claim my collections are influenced by my Asian roots, which I don’t or can’t see. It’s maybe because I’m too close to my work. But I took it as an inspiration for my third collection showing last summer during Berlin Fashion Week.
Mr. Vagabond: How do you relate to your Berlin-based fashion colleagues?
Hien-Le: I think there are lots of great fashion designers based in Berlin. With some, I am really good friends, some whom I’ve studied with. Many of them I am always happy to see again. Of course we are competitors, but we also address different audiences. What we have in common is that we all are sitting in the same boat or swimming in the same ocean. We all have similar problems and know how difficult it is, so why not help each other.
Mr. Vagabond: You keep a very small team here. Do you see yourself expanding at some point?
Hien-Le: Of course. I think everyone of us would love to expand one day. My label is still young. Growing slowly is totally fine with me, everything is step by step.
Mr. Vagabond: For now, how do you like your studio space?
Hien-Le: Small but bright, even if it’s in the basement. Souterrain and cozy.
Mr. Vagabond: How about a drink - do you have one of choice?
Hien-Le: A fresh artichoke tea, boiled with a shot of agave sirup. Yummy, hot or cold!
Text & Photography: Mr. Vagabond