One of my value-based resolutions this year is to be a little more…err…discerning…about what I spend my money on. Things that bring me joy (thank you Marie Kondo), things that will last a little longer. That whole less things, more experiences philosophy that probably invaded your newsfeed a few weeks ago.
But then I went to Saigon, got fuelled by a lot of coffee and discovered a hidden gem of minimalism amid all the garish synthetic bling that first greets shoppers in Asia. And when I say hidden, it’s actually hidden. Up old world apartment blocks with elevators that harken back to the roots of a craft. In abandoned warehouses that have evolved into pedestrian only design spaces. All within blocks of each other, speckled with cafés to help maintain your beat. This was bliss.
In order to access all the possibilities at 26 Ly Tu Trong (at the corner of Dong Khoi), you have to first walk through the craft of your typical unassuming painter of Asian-kitsch. Formerly known as the Catinat Building, the structure might date back as far as the late 18th century. The perfect place to house a number of rising Saigonnaise design houses; with with each collection bathed in the kind of light that comes from wall-sized Roman arched windows. You know there’s a history of the atelier when you walk in here.
My first stop was the Libé Workshop (3rd floor), which specializes in “basics du jour.” And it was this first stop that really helped to summarize the minimalist, simple, style that runs across the Saigon design scene. Seamless, stripes, textiles that know how to deal with 40°C temperatures and great simple craftsmanship.
With a view that looks over the Notre Dame Cathedral, how could you not want to spend an hour or two trying everything on at Xéo Xọ? Their collection of a simple aesthetic, this time mixed clean lines with Japanese influences. The gorgeous light filled space offered tea and tiny sesame cookies to shoppers. I couldn’t be happier.
After a locally bespoke cocktail or two at neighbouring Cộng Cà Phê, one should definitely go shopping for ball gowns. And that’s exactly what I did with Claire and her girls at Thank Goodness I’m Fabulous. And the best thing is that spritely young designer Tu-Anh will even hand deliver gowns that she’s re-tooled for you by midnight so you can bring home your goodies on that 5am flight.
The As over at 3A Station stand for Alternative Art Area. It’s exactly the kind of graffiti-filled area where it’s not unusual to see simultaneous music video-street style-lookbook shoots happening on a very hot Friday afternoon (and you should attempt your own mini-shoot too). Yes, minimalist fashion aesthetics still rule at stores like Nosbyn, but you can also get your dose of Vietnamese whimsy at Floral Punk and gorgeous embroidery inspired by local tradition at Safari and the coolest goods from a local ceramicist at Sadec.
Oh right, and don’t forget about all your coffe and goodies at L’Usine.
And the obligatory map!
All photos by Tiffany Tsang. Please request permission for use.