Alan Truong - Self-Confidence & Style
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When I first saw Alan Truong's clothing in a showroom about 6 months ago, I was so struck by their uniqueness and beauty that the memory of them never left me. I've been wanting to do a story on Alan since.

I'm so very pleased to introduce him to my readers, and I'm also so very honored that someone of his caliber is the first men's wear designer who will have appeared in Fashion Finds.

Alan was in his native Vietnam when we put the story together, so we conducted the interview by fax. You will find his story fascinating, and his fall collection stunning.

Alan Truong: I lived in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) until I was 8 years old. My family had a beautiful house there, and I had a very happy childhood, with a big family and many friends, until the years following the end of the war. In 1979, my parents decided that it would be best for the family to escape Vietnam and seek a better life. Together with friends and relatives, we bought a small boat and fled. It was such a powerful experience that I still have vivid memories about the night we departed. During our journey we were robbed twice by pirates. Up until then, I thought that these nightmare people existed only in comic books and movies!

To make a long story short, we landed in a jungle island in Indonesia, and lived there for almost two years, until the International Red Cross rescued us. Living on this island gave me one of the best childhood experiences you could ever dream of. Because our parents protected us, we had no understanding of how desperate our situation was; we really had to be brave, and learn to start from ground zero.

During this time, our lives were filled with play and adventure. With the other kids, I spent days swimming in the ocean, going from one island to another, fishing, exploring, and having fun. I was fascinated by the huge variety of plants and animals in the forest and ocean, and I think some of my esthetic sense comes from the rich and varied natural colors and forms I experienced then.

So natural beauty was a big influence on me; also a sense of fun and playfulness, which dates back to my early days in Vietnam, but which continued among the other refugee kids on that Indonesian island.

Music has always been a big part of my life, too -- popular music from Vietnam and Hong Kong, which I've always listened to, and which I love to sing. I don't know how that influence has affected my work, but it's definitely in there!

Artistically, the biggest influence I experienced was when I came across the art of the Impressionists, Monet in particular. I loved the immediacy of the effect of his colors, and I love Monet's artistic freedom; often his colors just seem to float freely, without having to represent anything except themselves.

Gina Pia Cooper: When did you know you wanted to be a designer, and why?

Alan Truong:  I first knew I wanted to be a designer when I was 14 years old. I got interested in fashion because my older sister and I loved to spend our spare time shopping and browsing in department stores like Macy's and Bloomingdale's. She usually asked my advice about what looked good on her (anyway I gave my advice, whether she asked for it or not!) I also liked the idea that I could take a design from the past, and play with it to make it more modern and interesting.

Gina Pia Cooper: I know you attended FIT here in New York, and that you designed women's wear for a time. What made you switch to men's wear?

Alan Truong: I discontinued working on women's evening wear several years ago, but I definitely would be interested in going back to this field in the near future. I stopped the women's wear line because there was very little growth in the field back then. The moderate price market was really happening at that time, and I was interested in designer evening wear. Plus, I wanted to take time off to travel. After that, I went to work as a production manager.

The men's wear line started off with my own needs. Because I have a small waist, it was impossible for me to find nice pants that fit me. So I began to make them for myself. Then people, friends or sometimes just people on the street, would ask me where they could get trousers like that! Anyway, I was full of ideas about men's wear at that point; I wanted to make things that were unique and special, but wearable, and above all, saleable. And I saw that I could make clothes that people were really interested in.

My men's wear line is fashion-forward, sporty but elegant. It's young and fun. There are some unexpected details that you might not think would work in men's garments -- details like pleating and feathers, combined with silk organza and cashmere. About the Fall 2000 collection, I usually don't like to limit myself by setting a theme for each collection. I will promise you, though, that each collection has its own very elegant sporty look.

The way I start work on a collection is by going through hundreds of fabric swatches, and selecting fabrics that work together in terms of color, texture and silhouette. Overall, the most important part of creating a line for me lies in making the fabric choices. I believe my fabric choices set my work apart from the work of other young designers. I'm always drawn to fabrics that most designers would not think of using for a men's line.

Gina Pia Cooper: Tell me a little about how and why certain luxury fabrics, and other textiles, inspire and intrigue you, and so compel you to incorporate them into your clothing.

Alan Truong: Sometimes it's very frustrating to go shopping and find that women can enjoy buying clothes which have such diverse styles and fabrics. For example, I love the light weight and elegant look of silk chiffon, but as a man, I don't think I have the courage to wear such a feminine fabric. In order to make a men's shirt that works in this fabric, I layer it with a cotton gauze to make it opaque, styling the shirt with the right silhouette, and using subtle color to make it more masculine.

I favor using luxury fabrics because the "hand," or touch, of the fabric is very important to me. Clothes should have an easy, soft touch to one's body, especially for spring and summer. Most importantly, clothes have to last. Unlike women, men donít buy a new wardrobe every other season. Men want their clothes to be wearable for more than two years. When I look into my own clothes closet, some of the clothes I like best and feel best in are clothes I bought more than five years ago!

I myself am the customer for whom I create my line. I want clothes that have great quality, a classic look with an edge, and not so trendy that I won't be able to wear them past this season. When I'm visualizing a new collection, I always keep in mind that I can't be too trendy or too edgy. Men digest new ideas very slowly. But at the same time, I want to push the envelope as much as the market allows.

Gina Pia Cooper: I've heard you use the phrases "cool graciousness of Vietnamese style," and "urban Manhattan-inspired edge." Can you explain them for me?

Alan Truong:  Last July was the first time I returned to Saigon for more than 20 years, and I didn't have high hopes for the quality of life there. As it turned out, life was much more pleasant than I could have dreamed. The people more sophisticated than I had imagined, and the atmosphere friendly and upbeat. To me, "cool graciousness" describes an attitude of self-confidence and style, even surrounded by the heat and bustle of a big city, whether Ho Chi Minh or New York. It says that the person is cool and self-possessed, even if their environment is pressured and stressed. The "Manhattan-inspired edge" of my style comes from the stimulation of my environment in New York, where self-confidence battles with self-consciousness, and a designer has to find ways of making people feel cool and confident even while they're embracing new ideas.

I do think my choices of fabrics, and my interest in interpreting feminine-associated detail in terms of a masculine aesthetic, is historic in a sense. It's all part of the historical moment we're in, where gender constraints and expectations are breaking down, and we're feeling a new freedom in the lifestyle choices and consumer choices we can make. Maybe my clothes express an aspect of this historical moment. They're certainly masculine, but theyíre not limited by any preconceptions about what masculinity is -- they explore masculinity.

Gina Pia Cooper: Tell me a little about we'll be seeing for spring 2001.

Alan Truong: I've found some fabrics that I'm really excited about for Spring 2001. The fabrics are from Europe (Italy and Austria), and they include a very wide range, from cotton weaves to silk chiffon to embroidery and even light weight leathers. Here in Vietnam, my inspiration comes from the craftsmanship skills of the people, the level of care and quality they bring to their work. This inspires me to focus on detail, to become even more demanding about quality; and it makes me want to keep on making more clothes. My fall collection is a big one; Iíve tried to edit my ideas for spring, but that collection is going to be big as well, very appealing and commercial I think, but with the strong point of view that buyers and stylists know they can expect from me.

Next, more of Alan Truong's fall collection.
Alan Truong's clothing will be available
in September 2000 at Barney's New York and Zao in New York.

Contact for Alan Truong: (212) 226-8510.

Photographs courtesy of Alan Truong.