I was born in Singapore and educated in Europe. Now, living in New York, I work as an art consultant, helping collectors to build their collections of Asian antiques. I also work as a fashion and interior designer and occasionally as a guest chef. Because of the many blessings in my life, I am able to travel extensively. So I promise myself that, no matter how busy I am, every year I will explore the wonders of a developing country.
Despite the many books and photographs of Vietnam I had seen as a result of cataloging a private collection of photographs in New York five years ago, seeing Vietnam in person was a new and awe-inspiring experience.
I made my first trip to Vietnam about two and half years ago. Ho Chi Minh City: sitting on a motorbike, I felt safe and light, as if I were floating among moving clouds. The sound of bike horns seemed calming and rhythmic. Then I flew to Hue, which was once Vietnam’s imperial capital.
Immediately, I felt the rustic freedom of the mountains and neighboring ocean. The guides I hired could barely speak English but were so friendly that we had fun. One driver invited me to his home for a family dinner specially prepared by his wife. He volunteered to drive me north to Hoi An, where I spoiled myself with four nights at the Riverside Hotel, which is built on a river overlooking dazzling green rice fields. I thoroughly enjoyed this small, 15th century town with its extraordinary Chinese architecture.
Hanoi was my last destination, a busy and peculiarly special town where everyone seems to know everyone. I delighted in meeting some local artists, a handbag designer, gallery owners, and journalists.
Since that first visit, my fashion designs have somehow been inspired by my experiences in, and feelings about, Vietnam to such an extent that I am thinking of manufacturing my second line of clothes there.
My inspiration comes from the daily scenes I witnessed: the street food vendors squatting (a very charming Vietnamese habit), nurturing their food over charcoal burners; fruit vendors in every corner piling up colorful fruit like Buddhist offerings; heart-moving lotus flowers and temples; mai (plum) and dao (peach) flowers that signal the prosperity of spring; and young female students with shining, long black hair, dressed in simply cut white ao dai that take your breath away.
I sensed the openness, dignity and integrity of the people, like the deep roots of trees. These qualities are beautifully revealed in Vietnam’s astonishing works of art, especially in its old ceramics. Indeed, I felt both curious and connected to this place. A Swiss friend once told me that if you gain a Vietnamese friend, he or she is a friend forever.
DESIGNER RICHARD GIEN
DESCRIBES THE INSPIRATION
HE’S DRAWN FROM HIS VISITS