Pizza 4P’s Attitude of Authenticity: Indigo Dyeing In Hanoi
Authenticity is one of Pizza 4P’s core brand values. It’s a policy the founders adhere to but also a question they constantly challenge themselves with.
What does being authentic mean? For Pizza 4P’s it means creating pieces of work that went through a complete process of creation, eschewing superficial imitations and copies of an existing thing. When deciding on collaborations, the brand is attracted to businesses and individuals that share their approach to creativity. In a series of articles titled “Attitude of Authenticity”, Vietcetera brings you stories of creators contributing to Pizza 4P’s pursuit of authenticity through inspired collaborations.
Hanoi’s shibori master
Takeshi Yoshizawa, a native of Japan, has made a name for himself in Hanoi as a shibori master (as indigo dyeing is known in Japan). Impressed with his creativity, Pizza 4P’s invited Takeshi and his wife and assistant Thanh to collaborate on an indigo dying project at Pizza 4P’s new Da Nang location that was opening December 2019.
When indigo curtains draping the row of floor-to-ceiling windows at the back of the restaurant were revealed on the opening day, the customers were blown away. Over time, the walls were painted deep indigo too – a labor-intense process that requires multiple applications to achieve the desired degree of saturation. Indigo being Pizza 4P’s corporate color, the project was infused with symbolism and feeling from start to finish.
We’ve never seen walls dyed in deep indigo on such a scale before – how was this achieved?
Yoshizawa: I was very surprised and happy to hear that Pizza 4P’s wanted me to paint 100m2 of the walls at their new restaurant. The concept of the venue is “fermentation of the place” which, in turn, is inspired by the fermentation of the yeast for the pizza dough. I knew that the restaurant focuses on natural and recycled materials in order to express the concept and was honored that natural indigo was considered for the collaboration.
At the same time I was worried, because for my project with Pizza 4P’s I wasn’t using indigo on a cloth as a dye, but as paint on an inorganic wall, something I have never done before. It was a big challenge for me, because I was not able to grasp the whole picture even after lots of research. There was a very real chance of it going wrong. The only thing I could do is try my best to get it right.
So it was a challenging situation with no precedents?
Yoshizawa: There is a big difference between dyes, such as indigo, and pigments, such as paint. In the case of dyes, the coloring matter is combined on a molecular level with the fibers of a cloth to create the state of what we know as “being dyed”. With pigments, on the other hand, the color is applied to the surface and is left to dry to create the state of “concealing the color underneath”.
At the first trial, I simply applied the dyeing liquid to the concrete wall, but the color didn’t stay nor did it develop. I expected such an outcome, as it couldn't permeate the wall. Then, I mixed it with plaster which is often used as an ingredient in wall paint. But even then indigo didn’t develop its color because it didn’t oxidize properly.
My experiments with different combinations of dyeing liquid and plaster continued for days and finally, less than four weeks before the opening date, I happened upon an idea that seemed feasible. But it was at the same time very frustrating.
Did things go according to plan?
Yoshizawa: Well, not really because the color just wouldn’t stay. I tried muddy indigo from Hanoi to increase the concentration and decided to apply twice as much dye as during my experiments. Then I let it rest for a few hours and started painting the walls. And I had to apply many many layers.
It was a time- and labor -consuming work. Luckily, I was blessed with good weather and had enough sunlight and the right temperature, resulting in the perfect color. I worked until the morning of the opening day applying layer after layer of indigo.
Was the process different for the indigo curtain?
Yoshizawa: Indigo is a very assertive color. It defines the whole space and sets the tone especially when it is used in interior design. Strong indigo makes the room seem dark, while the light one makes management of uneven dyeing difficult. Indigo is vulnerable to sunlight and gets sunburnt as well. With these limitations in mind, I wanted to create a design appropriate for a minimalist, modern restaurant.
Originally, gradation was suggested for the curtain, but I proposed alternating indigo and unbleached lengths of fabric instead, with a combination of tie-dye patterns visible when a curtain is drawn. I used different patterns for all 14 sections of the curtain: many are traditional ones from ethnic minorities in Vietnam, such as Sapa and Lolo.
What inspired you to incorporate traditional patterns of Vietnamese ethnic minorities?
Yoshizawa: I had been working with textiles for a long time and visited textile-dyeing sites in Asian countries. For traditional textiles, artisans use elaborate handicraft techniques that have been handed down for many centuries and are a precious cultural asset.
Unfortunately, these valuable skills started to disappear when Vietnam’s economy began to modernize in the 1990s. I saw an impending crisis and started a project with original organic products made by Sapa, an ethnic minority living in a mountainous area in the north of Vietnam. Since my wife was born and raised in Sapa, I thought I could truly understand and treat their culture with respect.
Where does your interest in ethnic minorities and their cultures stem from?
Yoshizawa: When I first visited Sapa, I was quite surprised by the fact that all men and women, young and old, wore ethnic costumes the way they were intended to be worn, to protect their ancient animism and traditional beliefs. Here, textile-dying culture is intertwined with the community’s sense of value. It’s ingrained in their religious beliefs, it’s like breathing.
Ethnic minorities living in Sapa such as Black Hmong, Red Dao, Zai, Black Tai and Safo have their own distinctive cultures, religious worlds and costumes. It was wonderful to see how proudly they wear their traditional garments and what humble and self-sufficient lives they live, surrounded by nature. They all have big smiles on their faces, despite being very poor. I wanted to bring their stories to the world.
Sounds like a challenging undertaking. Do you think it’s possible to hand down such cultural values?
Yoshizawa: Although there are only a few villages left intact now, in some of them where we started working with the artisans early on, handicraft techniques are being successfully handed down from senior skilled workers to the next generation.
We are seeing the young generation discovering new economic possibilities that come with mastery of such traditional crafts. We try to teach them how to take pride in what they do and show them the value of their work. We do this through giving them respect, motivation, appreciation, and by listening to them when they struggle.
It’s an ambitious and noble goal. How do you want to develop the project?
Yoshizawa: I believe that ancient textiles and dyeing techniques that have been in existence for many centuries can’t be compared to mass production that can be easily achieved with modern technology. The time and effort, the prayer and thoughts, the various colors and smells are woven into the cloth together with the climate of Northern Vietnam itself.
But big changes are afoot. Sapa, which used to be a quiet village, is now one big tourist destination with numerous upscale hotels. Changes that transformed other countries are now happening here. And it would be naive to think that we can stop the trend. Lifestyle changes will over time make wearing traditional garments less and less common. Which means techniques will go into decline. Now that there are only a few skilled craftsmen left, it is no longer easy to take back what is gone.
But you are hopeful?
Yoshizawa: There is a growing interest in organic materials, globally. It is likely to reach Vietnam soon. Some young Vietnamese urbanites have started to reassess their relationship with their own culture and have discovered a new sense of value in it. They wear traditional costumes as fashion items and try to create a new demand in Vietnam.
Today, harnessing the power of social networks, we can share these values with like-minded people in other countries while trying to reach Vietnam’s young creatives. If we succeed in rekindling their interest in such crafts, traditional cultures have some chance of surviving the breakneck development of modern Vietnam. In preserving them we see our purpose.