The twenty-eight-year-old fashion designer, Lam Gia Khang, got his first break when he became assistant to another Vietnamese designer, Do Manh Cuong. He went on to feature on Vietnam’s Project Runway show in 2013. “That competition was stressful,” Lam Gia Khang shakes his head. “We had 24 hours to make a gown including finding the materials, sketching, making the dress and fitting.” Shortly after that, he attended the London College for Design and Fashion in Hanoi before launching his LAM GIA KHANG label in 2014. The following year, his “less is more” aesthetic earned him the title Elle Designer of the Year.
After the success of his LAM GIA KHANG label, the fashion designer has launched GIA STUDIOS. “It’s the accumulation of all my experiences with my first label,” he explains as Vietcetera takes a seat in his current showroom. He’s closed his store on Ly Tu Trong and—besides spending time at his production house in District 7—he’s basing himself at the Park Hyatt Saigon until he opens his new flagship store in the near future. “This is a new shopping experience for Vietnam—it’s appointment only and the whole room belongs to my guests where they can meet friends and engage with fashion,” the award-winning designer begins.
How has your style evolved? And how many collections are you creating per year?
My style developed organically. I experimented with different styles until my own emerged. Altogether, I have produced 11 collections. That’s given me the confidence to start GIA STUDIOS and launch my first collection “L’ete sans fin” or “The summer never ends.”
Every year, I launch four collections—two of which I classify as major, and two as minor. The minor ones are less conceptual. But all my outfits are designed with wearability in mind. They should feel accessible. When a customer sees my collection on the runway, they should be able to imagine themselves wearing it…I want to remove the preconception that my outfits only look good on models.
What challenges or advantages are there as a male designer creating womenswear? Will there ever be a Lam Gia Khang menswear collection?
Many people argue male designers have an advantage because they understand how to enhance the female form to make it more seductive. My perspective is different. I don’t want women to be beautiful for men, I want women to be beautiful for themselves. Honestly, I can’t pretend I understand their thoughts and desires. Instead, I listen to their stories. Even the most mundane anecdotes give me inspiration.
Many people have asked me why I don’t do menswear. For me, three to five years is a very short period of time for a brand to develop. Normally, a stable brand takes ten years to develop. But an upcoming GIA STUDIOS line will include menswear, accessories; even furniture and a perfume line…as well as womenswear.
As you grow, how can you maintain a consistent aesthetic vision around your Lam Gia Khang and GIA STUDIOS collections?
Having core values is key. We maintain our spirit of simple, elegant sophistication. So, new lines like our perfume should be imbued with the same philosophy.
How does your “see now, buy now” philosophy reflect the needs of Vietnamese consumers?
“See now, buy now” has existed in Vietnam for a long time—well before it became a global trend. The idea is that people can order the designs the second they see them at our shows.
So far, Vietnamese designers have been focused on serving their local audience. Vietnamese people don’t want to wait until, for example, June, to access a new collection. This consumer tendency is both good and bad—good because designers have immediate orders, but bad because of the unpredictability of orders which can be overwhelming.
Is there a typical Lam Gia Khang woman?
The typical Lam Gia Khang woman is modern, often with a busy working life. She understands her own style, and what clothes work to enhance her personality.
How can a Vietnamese label like GIA STUDIOS break into the international market?
Expanding internationally requires a strong team. Last year, my collection at Lane Crawford Hong Kong sold out. I also featured in the pages of Vogue China. Working with overseas stores, however, requires much more planning. They usually require collections a year in advance—not three or six months like in Vietnam. Then they can create effective marketing and merchandising plans around the brand and collection. For now, I want to consolidate my new label in Vietnam. If I do target another foreign country, it will have to be with a clear long-term strategy.
How do you identify talent and grow your team?
I encourage my team to move away from the idea that fashion is entertainment—a fluffy dream job. Fashion is serious business, sometimes even harder than other businesses. When choosing employees, I seek people who I feel will be completely committed to the job. For me, the most important trait is hard work, not just in fashion but in all occupations.
With such an intense production schedule, how do you personally stay grounded?
Besides meetings and magazine shoots and interviews, I’m in the studio the rest of my time. Cooking helps me to de-stress. For me, there’s a strong correlation with fashion—both require heart and care. Food should be cooked and seasoned with the same meticulous care it takes to design an outfit.
When I feel I’m overloaded, I also take time to remember why I started this. And I have a rule: when I’m drained of ideas, I stop. I take a break and physically and mentally detox…then begin again.