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Cultural Trends In Vietnam 2019: Seven Experts Share Their Opinions

This post is also available in: Vietnamese

Inspired by the dramatic cultural shifts in our home country, last year we asked five experts to tell us about cultural trends in Vietnam. The Lab’s Tuan Le, architect Dam Vu and others helped us sift through events in 2017 while making predictions for the year ahead. Our cultural kingpins were hyped about the international launch of locally-born labels like Super Vision, about Vietnamese design identity evolving “into something unique, harder to explain, but impossible to ignore,” and in architecture the increasingly “sophisticated use of local materials and construction techniques.”

But the year exceeded even the most optimistic predictions. The restaurant and bar scene blew up, homegrown indie and rap scenes matured, a bridge in Danang became a global viral news story, and the love story between two girls on The Bachelor Vietnam got the world’s attention and turned them into LGBTQ icons.

The pace of cultural expansion continues this year. So, for 2019 we’ve expanded our reach to include seven experts in film, music, travel, branding, and the creative industries to lend us their insights into what really happened in 2018, and what we can expect in the year ahead.

#1. Director Charlie Nguyen On Movie Trends In Vietnam

We’ve been predicting the appearance of more Vietnamese art house movies in mainstream cineplexes for some time. And 2018 witnessed the release of a film that’s gone on to feature at international film festivals. “Song Lang” was a softly autobiographical tale of the relationship between a debt collector and a traditional musician told with the backdrop of Saigon in the 1980s. Besides that, big names continued to dominate—like the “million-dollar duo” of director Charlie Nguyen and actor Thai Hoa. Their mistaken-identity movie “My Mr. Wife” (Chàng Vợ Của Em) was another in a string of hits with the film becoming one of Vietnam’s top-five highest grossing movies ever. Here, Charlie Nguyen looks back on 2018 in film in Vietnam, and looks ahead to 2019.

Charlie Nguyen
Vietnamese-American film director Charlie Nguyen.

What trends dominated Vietnamese movies in 2018?

A number of successful movies came out—there was “Tháng Năm Rực Rỡ” (Go-Go Sisters) by Nguyen Quang Dung, “Lật Mặt 3” (Face Off 3) starring Kieu Minh Tuan, Huy Khanh, and Song Luan, and then this Tet “Cua Lại Vợ Bầu” (Chasing My Pregnant Ex-Girlfriend) broke the box office record. Plus, in August last year we released “Chàng Vợ Của Em” (My Mr. Wife). And the common denominator between them all? They were all comedies.

What was the most meaningful moment for you in 2018?

Actually, the most meaningful moment of the year for me wasn’t related to film at all. It was helping my daughter to write her personal statement for grad school…

How do you think 2019 will be different for Vietnamese cinema?

Because of the trend towards comedies, and the massive success of “Cua Lại Vợ Bầu,” we will undoubtedly see lots more of the same kind of movies in 2019. But for me personally, my body-swap movie with Thai Hoa and Kaity Nguyen was out in December, ”Hồn Papa, Da Con Gái,” so my next project will be a heist thriller with a sci-fi element to it. It’s my first time to make this kind of film, so I’m really excited about its release.

How would you like to see Vietnamese film evolve in 2019?

A lot has been made of the number of Korean remakes in Vietnamese cinema. But I think the major trend in 2019 will be the growth in the number of locally made films, and an expanding number of theaters in which they will be shown. But for me, I only wish for more quality releases with stronger storytelling…

#2. Acting Independent Art Space Director Tra Nguyen On Curatorial Trends In Vietnam

While the creative industries are thriving, the art scene has endured mixed fortunes over recent years due to issues like licensing. And the arts took a major hit in 2016 when Sàn Art ended their successful residency program.

However, 2018 witnessed a number of promising developments. Phan Thao Nguyen scooped the Signature Art Prize in Singapore. Nguyen Art Foundation, San Art, and Mot+++ jointly launched the A. Farm arts and residency space in District 12. And to end the year, Sàn Art found a new home where they can show work in District 4. With such a momentous year for Sàn Art we asked acting director, Tra Nguyen, for her thoughts on art trends in 2018, and what the future holds for art in Vietnam in 2019.

Acting director of San Art, Tra Nguyen, at A. Farm, one of the platform’s sucessful 2018 initiatives. | Image: Cuong Hoang

How was 2018 for yourself and Sàn Art?

The most momentous news was that we found a home, downtown. We wasted no time packing 2019 with plans for ambitious exhibitions, archival projects, a co-programmed residency, and the continuation of our curator training. Plus there’s a sparkly new initiative based around the idea of “collections.”

Did any particular moments stand out for you personally last year?

We had a meeting with our Sàn Art founder, artist Dinh Q. Le in October two months before our reopening. What he said then is a huge inspiration. He declared Sàn Art a space to experiment; a place to refresh what we do but also to refresh who we are. That showed trust in this bunch of youngsters gathered together at Sàn Art…not that we plan to make too many mistakes.

Tra Nguyen at Tuyen Nguyen’s studio during A.Farm’s recent open day translating the artist’s talk for the public.| Image: Cuong Hoang

What general trends were most significant to you in Vietnamese art last year?

The most prominent trend, for me, was the re-imagination of Vietnamese heritage. The focus wasn’t new, but the year saw a number of projects of that kind presented to the public—and highlighted by the media. Phan Thao Nguyen is a good example. So is the work of Art Labor—many of their works are informed by the J’rai people and their customs. Another example is the Cải Lương workshops hosted by Yume Project and led by one of the most famous Cải lương artists, cô Bạch Tuyết. The artform also inspired the movie “Song Lang.” I really appreciate that movie director’s efforts in bringing this cultural treasure to a wider audience.

Did any projects by other artists or galleries stand out? Why?

Tricia Nguyen’s independently produced “Wintercearig” stands out. The concept encompasses exhibitions, performances, talks, workshops, and more—all drawn together through their exploration of mental health issues and coping with mental disorders. I admire her energy building what could become a powerful platform for the cause.

Then there was “The Curatorial Fest” by Zero Station that saw the realization of three curatorial projects—including my own. The project pushed emerging curators to deliver, from conceptualization to production and sustainability.

Tricia Nguyen
The poster for Tricia Nguyen’s “Forest” that was part of the broader “Wintercearig” project that aims to raise awareness of mental health issues.

What do you foresee the key art trends in Vietnam being in 2019?

Undoubtedly the will be lots more collaborations, some new, some continuing the work of previous years. Personally, I’ll be looking forward to projects that link theatre, fashion, and visual art.

Performance will be another focus with some major projects coming to town that will boost the vibrancy of our scene here.

Imagine it’s the end of the year. Give us 2019 in review.

It has been exuberant! A project mapping key art and culture venues and events continues…and the list is long. Plus, mobility is high—people move between initiatives and projects producing fruitful collaborations. And the spotlight shines even more brightly on indie musicians, filmmakers, and performers who are supported by educational enterprises and who, true to their indie spirit, tell us honest stories that demand our attention.

Finally, reality keeps getting stranger. But I think our imaginations will return to the fore carrying us into 2020…

#3. Fashion Designer Tom Trandt On Fashion Trends In Vietnam

Besides the influx of global brands into Vietnam—including the imminent arrival of Uniqlo—homegrown labels evolved in a number of ways. Sustainability became a buzzword with labels like Super Vision, Profile Man, and TimTay all aligning themselves to sustainable ideals. And although they’re outliers in the garment production industry, manufacturers like Evolution3 are showing a nurturing commitment to the productivity of their teams. Unisex style, exemplified by Tom Trandt’s Môi Điên label was another trend, as was the rise of made-in-Vietnam streetwear with cafe-concept stores and local labels gaining a larger audience. Here, Tom Trandt gives us his take on fashion trends in Vietnam in 2018 and makes some predictions for 2019.

Tom - Moi Dien
Tom Trandt earned a certificate from the London College of Fashion led by industry experts while at the same time building up the Môi Điên brand in Saigon.

What trends stood out in fashion in Vietnam in 2018?

A young audience began supporting local brands. That’s the most significant trend of 2018 and it’s one I subscribe to as well.

What was the most meaningful moment for you personally? And for your brand?

Last year fulfilled my most ambitious goal ever—I was sponsored to earn a certificate from the London College of Fashion for a one-year business development program led by industry experts. At the same time, I was building up my business in Saigon. And I saw the whole thing through…

My brand Môi Điên also featured in the media and at London Fashion Week, written with Vietnamese diacritics—exactly as a Vietnamese would write it. Seeing the brand name written on press releases and in official records of Fashion Week was a dream.

MOI DIEN
Part of Tom Trandt’s “The Road Home” collection for his Môi Điên label.

Which projects by other people in your industry stood out?

I really admire the work of the brand Kilomet109. I keenly followed their journey at the London Design Biennale 2018. Last year, my appreciation for fashion curation and installation grew and so that made me admire their work at London Design Biennale even more.

Styles from Kilomet109, a Vietnamese eco-fashion brand which was founded by fashion designer Thao Vu.

How will 2019 be different? What will the key trends in fashion be?

I don’t think 2019 will be very different for local brands. The challenges and competitiveness will be the same, or maybe even more intense. But there will always be opportunities for designers and brands that think outside the box. Because fast fashion delivered by international retailers has become easily accessible in Vietnam, it will be tough for local brands to break through without strong identities.

I do feel this game will be wildly different if we have a concept store or a boutique store that supports young Vietnamese talent or any designers that are based in Vietnam. It would change how things run in terms of our fashion calendar and it would introduce a wholesale approach to local designers too.

Imagine it’s the end of the year. Give us 2019 in fashion in review.

More local brands will have turned to Instagram instead of Facebook. An exciting concept store will have emerged with strong support from the local audience. And Môi Điên has opened its first physical store before coming back to London Fashion Week…

#4. Writer And Researcher Ly Truong On Creative Trends In Vietnam

If any doubt existed that Vietnam’s creative industries were exploding, a report published in 2018 by the British Council ended the debate. The organization mapped the growth of creative hubs in Vietnam. And their findings were astounding. In only four years, the number of creative hubs—defined as any physical or virtual space that fosters creativity—had grown from 40 to over 140. In the process of compiling this and previous reports, and thanks to her work with Hanoi Grapevine, the project’s lead, Ly Truong, is an expert on the creative scene in Vietnam. Here are her insights into creative trends in Vietnam last year and this year.

Ly Truong Vietnam s Creative Hubs
Ly Truong, thanks to her work with Hanoi Grapevine, the project’s lead, is an expert on the creative scene in Vietnam | Credit: Leslie Penunuri

Which trends in creative fields stood out for you in 2018?

I feel that 2018 saw an exploration of traditional techniques and Vietnam’s cultural heritage in many different creative fields. In art spaces and exhibitions there’s Art Labor Collective’s “Jrai Dew.” There’s Bui Cong Khanh’s Xe Ra Mit studio in Hoi An—you have to check out his new carved wooden bed. And there’s Ha Manh Thang’s “Circle of Time” and Tran Thu Van’’s “Xe Dap Oi” both at the Vincom Contemporary Art Center.

A painting from Ha Manh Thang’s “Circle of Time” series.

In fashion, the designer Thao Vu attended the London Design Biennale with the sustainable label, Kilomet109. There’s Chula, the fashion brand run by Diego and Laura who take endless inspiration from Vietnamese culture. And in music, the Hanoi New Music Meeting festival 2018 was a significant event. All these examples demonstrate the a desire to learn from the past recontextualizing it into meaningful narratives. The question is always how to tell a compelling story combining past elements with modern thinking.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=992z3VsHHDI

Did any other specific projects impress you?

There were more and more collaborations between people of different backgrounds. And, I think, the boundaries between artists who are self-taught and those who are formally educated blurred. In terms of a specific project, I really like the idea of the Dance and Music Summer Camp project by the Goethe Institute.

How will these ideas evolve in 2019?

I’m really excited about the possibilities for cross-genre collaborations. The other area that I’m interested in seeing evolve is creatively imagined sustainable products.

Imagine it’s the end of the year. Give us 2019 in review.

Our cultural heritage will continue to be presented in modern ways. And at the forefront of creativity in Vietnam will be powerful individuals and environmental projects.

#5. Creative Agency Co-Founder Alan Cerutti On Advertising Trends In Vietnam

Like fashion’s embrace of unisex styles, creative agencies are using their platform to present non-traditional narratives about relationships and gender roles—it’s advertising as a tool for social good. A good example is Ki Saigon’’s “Close Up” film about love. Creative agencies have also embraced the idea of storydoing, rather than just storytelling, like award-winning creative agency Happiness Saigon. Their “Beauty Beneath” campaign for Bosch followed a crew scaling the side of a building in Yangon and using Bosch power tools to etch-out a message about road safety.

The company view themselves as a “creative connectivity agency” co-founder, CEO, and strategic director Alan Cerutti told us last year. Here, he updates us about trends in the industry last year and this year while highlighting some key projects upcoming.

Happiness Saigon’s Alan Cerutti whose “creative connectivity agency’s approach is built on the belief that there is a drastic shift needed: from customer-centric communication to customer-journey centric communication.”

Which advertising trends in Vietnam were most significant last year?

I would say that the global rise in the need for better performance through faster delivery manifested even more in 2018. Our creative connectivity agency’s approach is built on the belief that there is a drastic shift needed: from customer-centric communication to customer-journey centric communication. That way there are tailored creatively-inspired touchpoints on the consumer journey—and more meaningful connections support the (over)achievement of our performance goals. It’s rewarding to see this trend catching on…

Locally, I’m happy to see brands looking to build, rather than focus solely on short-term sales results. We know KOLs (or “key opinion leaders”) don’t achieve the same results as long-term brand building does. Brands are investing in the future, for example through CRM (customer relationship management) platforms through which they collect data and apply those data-driven insights to future communications.

How did those trends reflect in your projects in 2018?

Our work for Pepsi was a good example. The PepCoin loyalty scheme implemented a system where engagement with the brand converted into cool Pepsi items or discounts. The scheme rolled out last year and continues with new activities driving new point-redemption opportunities for consumers. It’s a win-win.

What was the most meaningful moment for Happiness Saigon?

We measure success in two ways—great ideas…and people caring about those great ideas. Although we won hottest agency of the year for a second time and a silver award for creative agency of the year, the most meaningful moment for me was our bold idea for Sunlight.

We created a unique bottle for Sunlight in the shape of a dumbbell to counter the perception that housework is women’s work. Men participated and women received it very positively. But the biggest win was that a discussion started about equality in the home.

Which projects by other creative agencies stood out in 2018?

Super Bowl used to be the highlight of creativity in advertising. The last few years have been disappointing, but Burger King took the crown this year—no pun intended—by daringly using 45-seconds of documentary footage from 1982 for their ad. The clip is of Andy Warhol eating a BK Whopper…his way.

How will 2019 be different? What will the key trends in advertising be?

I think Vietnam will experience a creative revolution. You can feel it. I predict more creative ideas and more daring, purposeful work that drives greater results. And it will happen to a backdrop of the continued rise of A.I. and tech taking an even more all-encompassing role in our lives.

Imagine it’s the end of the year. Give us 2019 in review.

I’m dreaming of this explosion in creativity. Vietnam can build a global reputation for creativity…with Happiness Saigon leading the way. That’s important. But it will matter to me a little less once my baby girl is born in seven months. So, I also dream that my parenting skills will exceed my expectations.

#6. Travel Blogger Ly Thanh Co On Travel Trends In Vietnam

Vietnam’s tourist industry is growing with revenue up by a staggering VND110 billion in 2018 over 2017. In fact, an estimated 15.5 million tourists arrived in search of the country’s “3000 kilometers of coastline, pristine beaches, dynamic growing cities, mountainous highlands, and diverse cultural and historic sites.”

But with established tourist destinations, like Hoi An, straining to hold the influx of visitors guests are beginning to look beyond those places to less-visited locations. Places like Quy Nhon have been capturing global media attention. The Guardian named it a top winter 2018 location—even if they might have read the weather forecast wrong as temperatures dip and the wind whips up in December. Still, Quy Nhon is undoubtedly on the rise as signified by the recent opening of the “lush, undiscovered, and luxurious” Anantara Quy Nhon Villas.

Vietnamese tourists are also becoming more adventurous, looking beyond traditionally popular destinations like Thailand and Singapore to places less traveled. So, we asked travel blogger Ly Thanh Co about travel trends inside and outside Vietnam.

Travel Blogger Lý Thành Cơ
Vietnamese travel blogger Ly Thanh Co, “In 2018, East-Asian destinations like Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan saw a dramatic increase in traffic and talk.”

Did you notice any major shifts in travel habits of Vietnamese in 2018?

Using traffic to my blog, Venturology, as a measure, there was a shift. Previously Thailand and Singapore had been the most read and discussed destinations for Vietnamese travellers. In 2018, East-Asian destinations like Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan saw a dramatic increase in traffic and talk. Loosening visa policies for visits to Taiwan and South Korea may have helped, as did the popularity of the pop culture of both countries here. And local airlines offered more affordable prices to those destinations.

What trends stood out for you in Vietnamese travel last year?

Definitely the rise of young lifestyle travelers. And they traveled not only for the sake of travel but also to present their beautiful journeys on social media. Travel fused with fashion which fused with food—a more contemporary take on traditional travel. Numerous travel bloggers emerged. Bloggers armed with photography, photo-editing, and even videography skills. This produced some shiny Instagram feeds.

What was the most meaningful moment for you personally in travel in 2018?

I published my first travel book “Tuổi Trẻ Trong Ví, Bạn Mua Được Gì?” I think it helped to position me as an established writer rather than simply a traveler with a story to tell. It was the most significant milestone for me last year; a beautiful conclusion to my first three years traveling.

Ly Thanh Co’s first book “helped to position [him] as an established writer rather than simply a traveler with a story to tell.”
### Which Vietnamese travellers and travel bloggers inspired you in 2018?
Nhi Dang and Tam Bui both inspired me. They dive deeply into their genre travel videography and travel photography respectively. Plus, they travel to unique places and keep on producing quality content that inspire more and more people to travel. One of them is me.

“[People like Tam Bui] travel to unique places and keep on producing quality content that inspire more and more people to travel. One of them is me.”
### How will Vietnamese travel in 2019 be different? What will the key trends be?

I think East-Asia might begin to decline in popularity. Seasoned travelers will look for more unique destinations—places like Switzerland, Morocco, and Peru. I foresee a boost for the travel industry as a whole with lots of other new destinations appearing. Plus bloggers will continue to promote more diverse Vietnamese destinations.

I think slow travel will be another trend. Rushed itineraries and speedy check-ins are a thing of the past. People would love to spend more time in one place.

Imagine it’s the end of the year. Give us your 2019 in review.

The year has been a great one to explore unique places. I captured Africa for the first time and spent more time exploring and writing in more depth about single destinations…

#7. Artist And Agency Co-Founder Kumkum Fernando On Trends in Art And Creativity

Although he took a brief hiatus with the birth of his first child, Kumkum Fernando has returned to creating the kind of artworks exhibited in his 2014 “Mr Bastian The Time Traveller” show, and at the “Imaginarium—A Voyage of Big Ideas” and “Kiko’s Secrets” shows in Singapore. So, we asked Kumkum Fernando for his take on art trends in Vietnam, and for a progress update on his work as co-founder of the award-winning boutique creative agency, Ki Saigon.

Artist and creative agency co-founder Kumkum Fernando with the plan for one of the robots being made for the “Robots and Flying Machines” show.

What trends stood out in your industry and in art last year?

We saw that clients are looking beyond traditional ad agencies. They’re working with specialist content makers, companies that specialize in mobile and digital, craft studios, and more. Plus there’s been a steep rise in the number of smaller boutique agencies like ours.

Also, brands and companies are becoming more environmentally conscious—and they are trying to impact positive change.

What was the most meaningful moment for yourself and your company?

For our company, Ki Saigon, it was winning Campaign Asia’s Independent Agency of the Year Gold Award and the bronze award for Southeast Asia’s best boutique agency. We also won Vietnam’s only London International Award for design…which we really appreciated.

For projects, it was the Closeup film we made—it stands for love in all its forms. The result was bold, authentic, and meaningful.

What do you have upcoming in 2019?

The best, I hope, is yet to come. The “Robots and Flying Machines from the 13th Dimension and Beyond” project from our conceptual art studio, Reborn, opens at the Vin Gallery and travels to Hong Kong and maybe a few other countries too. Reborn brings back to life through contemporary artistic expression ideas, objects, art techniques, stories, and architecture, that have been forgotten or left behind through contemporary art forms.

This show was inspired by walks through some of Vietnam’s old alleys—in Saigon, Dalat, Hanoi, Bien Hoa, and Hue. There we found hidden treasures: window grills made of metal in a variety of unique patterns. The motifs were inspired by a mix of European and Oriental designs.

The first step was to spend almost a year documenting the patterns. Each grill was photographed and its address recorded, and their pattern turned into motifs that we wanted to give a future to. What’s interesting is that the patterns look modern and futuristic—almost coming from a dimension beyond time. We envisioned the patterns on robots and flying machines which became these ethereal sculptures.

One of Kumkum Fernando and Reborn Design’s robots from the “Robots and Flying Machines” show.

What will the major trends of 2019 be?

There is something interesting happening where international and inspirational brands like Dior are working with contemporary artists like Hajime Sorayama. Or take Adidas and them working with Keiichi Tanaami. We will see more of this happening.

Besides that, I think the trend towards environmental consciousness will continue to surge. And Vietnamese creative talent will gain greater exposure on regional and global stages. But, to be honest, I have no idea how 2019 will be, nor do I care very much about trends.

Imagine it’s the end of 2019. Give us the year in review.

I just hope it’s been a year of peace and love….

Related Content:
[Article] Cultural Trends In Vietnam: Five Experts Share Their Insights
[Video] Why Vietnam’s Global Brand Needs More English Marketing

This post is also available in: Vietnamese