It was REALLY tempting to title this post with Purple Rain just because a quick scroll through the images below hits you with shades of berry, violet, magenta and just about every delicious word you want to associate with the colour. However, seeing as I've been meaning to do a post on London-based label Thu Thu for a while, I thought I'd hone in on the thing that makes this contemporary label storied and rooted. Contemporary has become a loose-ish category to put every brand in it that comes at a price point that isn't quite high end designer but quite a bit above the high street. Suddenly everything is "contemporary". Everything has become "product" and "easy to buy into". Those things are all well and good but how about individual designers who are creating pieces that do tell a personal tale, has real design merit and also fits that contemporary price bracket.
Enter Thuy Duong Nguyen. Born in Vietnam, she moved to Germany at an early age with her family but her Vietnamese roots have stayed with her. After a trip in 2009 back to Vietnam with her parents and experiencing the mountainous Sapa region in North Vietnam, the vivid skirts and blankets made by the women of the H'mong ethnic group, inspired her to create her first key piece – a biker jacket incorporating this distinctive cross-stitched embroidered and hand-dyed textile. This then led to further trips to Sapa when Thu Thu the label was officially born in 2010.
My personal love of Hmong tribe textiles came about because of a pair of This is Not a Mall wedges, sourced and produced by the hill tribes in North Thailand (similar strand to the tribe in the Sapa region of Vietnam). Love Birds in LA also do their fabric sourcing in Thailand and the Philippines for their worldly clutches. It's my annoying "Gap Yah!" world traveller instinct coming through. I'm reconciled with the fact that I am naturally attracted to textiles of lands far away and will be no doubt be bartering with sellers in Mexico, India, China and countries in Africa, with the help of hand signals until my dying days.
Therefore Thu Thu's work was always going to be right up my street. Nguyen actually uses the textiles, unravelled from metres and metres of pleated skirts, in an nuanced way, inserting them into the shoulders of jackets, into the waistbands of a skirt or the cuffs and collars of a shirt. Building up a solid silhouette language of biker jackets, neat little dresses and co-ordinating shirts and skirts has also put Thu Thu in good stead for scoring those all-important stockists. At present, the label is stocked in Matches and Browns. With the help of her family in Vietnam and the fact that these pleated skirts are so lengthy, Nguyen doesn't experience any problem in shortage or limitations in producing her collections, my first question about the way the label operates. It's a cultural showcase of the Hmong tribe that works and doesn't feel banal or tired.
Still though, Nguyen is aware that she can't keep retreading old ground and keep using Sapa embroidered textiles. Her latest A/W 13 collection entitled "The Unnatural Nature" goes some way to rectifying that. Inspired by the stunningly surreal exposions of purple in photographer Richard Mosse's infrared images. Screen printed corduroy and tie dyed silk add a dreamlike texture without resorting to embroidery. Solid grey outerwear also adds weight to the collection. The Sapa textiles are still there in parts but the collections is accented with it rather than overwhelmed. She was also keen on using darker Sapa textiles, reducing the peppiness that a fabric like this naturally gives off, which is down to the bright colours, the almost-neon lines and the intricacy of the cross-stitching. Hence why Purple Rain descended so beautifully at her presentation druing London Fashion Week at the St. Martin's Lane Hotel giving us contemporary to get excited about.
Presentation photographs, group shots, orchid overlaid images and the photograph of myself were taken by Stephanie Sian Smith