Boasting local pioneers like The Blue T-Shirt and Nosbyn, the Vietnamese fashion industry is poised to define a new era of style in the region with its thoughtful designs and community-oriented branding.
While well-known brands like Headless, PUSW, and Coco Sin reign in the streetwear world, boutique brands such as Lâm Gia Khang and Nguyễn Hoàng Tú stand out as jewels in the market for higher-end goods.
Today, Subtle & Simple stands as yet another testament to the evolution of the Vietnamese fashion industry. Mature and graceful, the brand caters to women by providing plain yet feminine silhouettes.
Founded by Lê Thùy Giang and Nguyễn Nhật Việt in 2015, Subtle & Simple embraces refined femininity while accentuating the modern woman’s insouciance. The brand’s iconic linen gown has made appearances in major fashion capitals of the world, while its cinched-waist dresses, pleated-hem blazers, and bell-sleeve tops have brought storms upon both Instagram and the chic-est cafes in Saigon.
To hear about the inspiration behind the brand and its plans for future designs, Vietcetera sat down with Thùy Giang, Subtle & Simple’s 24-year-old founder.
Tell us more about yourself and your partner in Subtle & Simple, Nhat Viet.
I’m a founder of Subtle & Simple. I’ve always been interested in both finance and fashion design, and both my partner Nhật Việt and I have wanted to start a new business since college. This combination of interests allowed us to come together and found Subtle & Simple.
We haven’t strictly divided our roles into businessman or designer. For us, the most important thing is for each of us to strive to be the best in both areas.
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Why did you choose the name Subtle & Simple?
I wanted our name to reflect our attitude toward design. We strive to bring simple yet fashionable pieces to the market, and we captured this in our name.
Tell us about the Subtle & Simple got started. When did the brand really start to take off?
Everything began in 2015 when Nhat Viet and I opened a small studio, took on all the operations ourselves, and created the first designs for Subtle & Simple. Back then the brand had not officially launched. Our designs were still quite basic, focusing mostly on the materials. After a year of operating online with decent exposure, we went ahead with the official launch.
In addition to running our flagship store in Hanoi, we have done pop-up events at Floralpunk to explore the Saigonese market.
Finally, in September 2017, Subtle & Simple’s second store opened at 34 Đặng Thị Nhu in Saigon. We recently launched the Subtle & Simple website with the goal of gaining even greater reach than ever. We don’t want people to be limited by geographic proximity to our physical stores. So, our products ship both within Vietnam and overseas.
Subtle & Simple has appeared to change a fair amount in its moods and designs since its founding. Is this the brand maturing, or changing direction?
To me it’s both. Creativity, spontaneity, and an ever-evolving design philosophy have always been at the heart of the label. Each collection we put out not only reflects the trends of a given moment in time but also our desire to bring truly beautiful pieces of clothing to our customers.
In time, we’ve allowed the more quiet minimalism of our early days to give rise to our current, more feminine aesthetic with a contemporary edge.
How often do you release a new collection, and how many designs each?
Each year we release four collections. Our Spring-Summer and Fall-Winter collections are the two main events, which we complement through our smaller Pre-Spring and Pre-Fall collections.
For each collection, we create about sixty designs total and select forty to prototype. Only fifteen to twenty designs end up in production, and some of these stay reserved for our next collection. As of right now, my personal favorite is Spring-Summer 18.
Where do you find inspiration? Let’s talk about your creative process.
Every creative has their own forte as well as their own fountain of inspiration. I know many people in fashion who draw inspiration from culture, architecture, and natural geometry.
Both Việt and I have tried at points to adhere to overarching concepts, but after a period of experimentation without much success, we decided that a more liberating and independent creative process should be the way forward. That means skipping concept development and going straight into our designs. Our designs are shaped freely by previous collections and things we’ve seen along the way.
Each collection takes about two to four months to produce. We try to work mostly with cotton, linen, and silk to provide comfort to our wearers, especially in the heat of Vietnam!
The hardest parts might be prototyping and production since each sample requires many adjustments before it is ready to put on the market. Luckily for us, Subtle & Simple now has its own studio to accommodate all of these procedures and ensure our product quality.
Your lookbooks and photography have always been inspired and original. How do you make this happen?
After wrapping up production we begin working on a lookbook for a collection. We start with imagery featuring concept pieces prominently in the foreground. To do this well, we must fine-tune our rough original concept into a more unified idea and adapt it to the current season.
Subtle & Simple has also been supported by an amazing crew, including stylist and photographer Thu Lê of Electrified Studio, Lê Tuấn Anh of Lieta Studio, and makeup artists Phương Psi and Cao Quý Dương.
How did people react to your style evolution from just simple to more conceptual and modern?
When Subtle & Simple started exploring a more unconventional style, we didn’t receive a lot of positive feedback from customers. Many even questioned the new direction. But for us, being in the fashion industry requires constant evolution in style and creative vision, and so we know we have to take risks. Instead of worrying about convention we’ve decided to embrace risk-taking and express ourselves boldly in every single collection.
Our audience eventually warmed up and embraced this new direction.
Today, Subtle & Simple not only appeals to women as a brand of clothing but also aims to inspire a community of visionaries and creatives: people who appreciate arts, culture, and lifestyle, people who refuse to be restricted by any convention.
Now for one of the toughest questions in the fashion industry: How do you balance the label’s creative and commercial sides?
Some might say artistic integrity is present in reverse proportion to commercial viability. At Subtle & Simple we beg to differ. Viet and I are both striving to carve out our own niche in the fashion industry, where clothes are not merely garments but artistic creations with commercial value. And our audience has taken to this.
We believe that once you’ve put thousands of hours into materializing your honest artistic vision, your audience will recognize and appreciate both your products’ artistic and commercial values.