When Catherine Denoual moved from Paris to Vietnam in 1995, she brought with her years of tradition in embroidery and artisanal linen-making. After working as a stylist for fifteen years, her hope was to create a universe of traditional yet modern luxury bedding in Vietnam.
Her boutique brand, Catherine Denoual Maison, is based in and produced in Vietnam by local craftspeople, rattan weavers, embroiderers, and other artisans. Catherine Denoual Maison’s (CDM) workshop is located here in Saigon, where employees skillfully produce the linens known for their detailed hand embroidery.
Since opening its first boutique in 2006, CDM now has four boutiques throughout Asia, two located in Saigon, as well as retail shops in department stores and multi-brand concept stores worldwide. As one of the first to establish the market for luxury bedding in Vietnam, Vietcetera sought to speak with Catherine about the origins of her brand, what it means to produce luxury linens in Vietnam, and the future she sees for Catherine Denoual Maison.
You immigrated to Vietnam with your family only a short while after the country had opened its doors to foreigners. What made you leave France for such a different kind of place?
My husband is half Vietnamese and he started a business in Ho Chi Minh City, he was flying back and forth every other month. After a while it just seemed the best solution to move our whole family to Vietnam full time. It was also a good time for me to make a change in my life, and here we are 25 years later and still enjoying our life here.
What kinds of similarities and differences have you witnessed between artisan products and manufacturers between France and Vietnam?
When I first arrived in Vietnam, artisan products were still very much made on a family style level where the whole family would get involved at home to create hand made products. In France artisan products are made from a much large a scale now and mostly only caters on the luxury market. This can be seen in luxury leather work or Haute Couture in fashion. Now artisan products in Vietnam are starting to develop beyond the home, in boutique workshops which are very high quality and aimed also at luxury markets. This ability of developing high quality products is a great asset for Vietnam, and I believe it will be even stronger in the future.
Moving to Vietnam, not knowing the language and not being fully familiar with the culture, what got you through the first few years? What were some challenges you faced, and how did you overcome them?
I took Vietnamese language classes so that I could at least communicate and get around independently but still today I struggle with the Vietnamese tones, it’s so hard! When first moving here, I didn’t know anyone so it was difficult adjusting without support from friends or family but then I made lasting friends who made the transition smoother. While for culture shock, I guess everything was different from France. Especially in 1995 when we first moved here it was mostly cyclos and bicycles so it really was another world. I saw it as very romantic and quiet and at the same time I was caught by the ambient energy. It seemed that everyone was aiming at something great.
Where did you first get the idea of creating luxury embroidery? Did you have experience working with fabrics prior to starting your company?
Working in Paris I was a fashion editor for women’s magazines. I spent my whole career working with textiles. I have always had a love for textiles. Embroidery came a bit after. I actually started self-teaching myself embroidery when I had kids as I wanted to embroider clothes for them. From there I expanded to other linens. When I moved to Vietnam and saw the incredible skill some women had in embroidery, I hired one lady to help me embroider some items for my new home in Saigon. This is how eventually it led to me developing my own designs, but at the beginning I never had in mind to start a company of luxury embroidered linens. It was after I started selling my first designs and seeing that people really liked them that I decided to create my own brand.
Tell us what makes your brand stand out from other luxury linen brands. Why buy from Catherine Denoual Maison?
There are a lot of beautiful home linen brands around the world each with their own personality. What we specialize in is high quality embroidered linens for the home. We aim to provide our customers with high quality fabrics which are durable and have an incredible hand feel. This is then married with unique designs that are carefully embroidered by machine or hand by our skilled artisans. Embroidery can sometimes be seen as ‘old-fashioned’ but we keep our designs contemporary so that the beautiful art of hand embroidery can live on and still be appreciated and relevant today.
Describe the typical Catherine Denoual Maison customer. What kinds of individuals, firms, or resorts tend to purchase your product?
Women between 25-65 who care about their home and value a good sleep experience. They are often women who are newly married, family oriented or successful business women who appreciate finer things in life. And also luxury five-star and boutique resorts and hotels who make a difference in offering their guests quality linens.
How did you find the right skilled people to work in your Ho Chi Minh City workshop?
Some of our artisans and workers have been with us since the beginning, a lot of the women I worked with 20 years ago are now team leaders in the factory like Quality Control Manager or Pattern Maker. For the hand embroiderers, it takes incredible skill to embroider so we have also started a scheme where the older ladies who have a lot of experience can teach younger women in our workshop who want to learn the skill. This ensures we keep the embroidery art alive through generations.
Which materials do you use in creating your product, and why did you choose them? Where are they sourced from?
We import our fabric from overseas and have had the same suppliers for the last 10 years or so. They weave the fabric custom made for us, according to our specifications and demand of quality. For our bed linen collections, we source 100% Long Staple Cotton Satin, long staple cotton is the most important determining factor in making a good quality bed linen fabric. Then for our table linen and home collections we source 100% Stone Washed Linen which I love for its super soft and fluid properties. We also curate 100% Silk and Velvet for our other range of products like bed covers and more.
Five years from now, what is your vision for Catherine Denoual Maison?
I would like to open a store in Hanoi and also have our brand on the European market. To have some new store locations in luxury department stores like Le Bon Marché in Paris and also high end multi-brand stores internationally. We offer a style that can appeal to many markets so I hope that we can continue growing and for people to discover our brand, the work behind the creation of each product and our signature designs.
Finally, who should we interview next?
I would personally recommend Hanoia, a luxury Vietnamese lacquer designer brand. Hanoia is an artisan brand that has Vietnamese craftsmanship at its heart, making high quality lacquerware. A Vietnamese art that the emperors of old used and have been lost through time. The lacquer you see at Ben Thanh Market has 5 to 6 layers of coating, Hanoia uses up to 25 layers, taking months to create each piece. Safeguarding Vietnamese heritage and also innovating at the same time, this is the sort of beautiful and unique story that I find inspiring.