Fashion. Sometimes there is no need to say more than one word to accelerate the excitement of our guests. In this case it’s fashion for designer Hien Le. The young creative has already experienced a variety of today’s fashion business and been involved in all aspects of the industry. First Hien successfully completed his apprenticeship in tailoring with the strong belief that fashion is all about craftsmanship. Following up this apprenticeship he studied fashion design at HTW Berlin and led several internships for designers and PR-agencies. Up until that point he could have been just one among many other young and talented creatives in Berlin. But Hien is nothing like that.
The first decade of the 2000s marked a turning point in Hien’s career and creative output. He started the successful story of his own label and presented his third collection in Berlin, having shown previous collections at Collect Showroom For Contemporary Fashion. The press agreed that Hien’s approach and variety of designs mixes of classic German design with young Berlin based impressions defines a new recipe for success. With the acclaim coming from his collections, Hien lost a bit of his natural calmness. Still enthusiasm strikes him in a nice and unpretentious way. And maybe this is Hien’s secret: the conflicting priorities between the hard daily work of being a fashion craftsman and the magical moments of presenting his own collection and obtaining well deserved success that comes along with fostering great designs.
Are you in contact with other Berlin based designers?
I wouldn’t say that I am generally in contact with a lot of them. There are people like Vladi (Vladimir Karaleev) and Sissi Götze with whom I studied and who are good friends of mine. We stay in close contact to each other. But generally I would say that after graduation the contact to other designers is becoming less. But still there are a lot of events where you meet everybody, which is nice.
Do schools like the University of Arts, Weißensee and HTW already mark their students to a certain extent?
That’s a hard question. I always thought that Weißensee is such a case. If you look at the work of Michael Sontag and Peret Schaad you might think that you can figure out a similar handwriting in the collections. But on the other hand there is c.neeon who is also from Weißensee and is completely different. I would say that it depends on the professors. At least this is what I experienced at HTW.
What were you expectations when you decided to become a fashion designer?
I was very young when I made this decision. I think I was twelve years old. I just liked the notion of dressing people and see a piece of fabric transforming into a piece of clothing. Design was the field that interested me the most. I never thought about fashion as something glamorous where I can earn a lot of money. We all know that the reality looks quite different. After a few internships I realized that there are so many interesting fields in fashion, not only design. Everything could have gone totally different. Now I have my own label but that wasn’t actually planned. Having my own label was more like a future vision for me. But then I somehow thought it is the right time and I was proved right. The biggest mistake is probably to wait for the perfect moment. There is no perfect moment.
What is your earliest memory that has to do with fashion?
I was twelve years old and there was this documentary with Karl Lagerfeld about the supermodel era. From that point on I watched every fashion program on MTV – and there were a lot.
How would you describe your collections? Are they influenced at all by your cultural background?
Well, Asia was the theme of my third collection. A lot of people were of the opinion that my collections are influenced by my Asian background. I was actually more than surprised about that because I don’t think that my design is Asian at all. It is very puristic and reminds me of typical German or Scandinavian design. I did a lot of research about traditional Asian clothing for my last collection. I wanted to know what my grandparents were wearing. But no, I don’t think that my clothes are inspired by Asia. I didn’t actually visit Laos until I was 26.
Are there any family role models that inspired you?
My grandfather was a tailor in Laos and I did a tailor apprenticeship as well. But I would say that this was independent from my grandfather. Looking back I am very happy that I did it because it is like an appreciation for my grandfather. He had ten children and about thirty grandchildren but I was the only one who followed his footsteps.
Do you stay in close contact to your family?
Yes, of course. The biggest part of my family lives here in Berlin and the other ones are living in Belgium and France.
After graduating from HTW you started to work in Public Relations. How important was this experience for starting your own label?
I did an internship in Public Relations and then started working in the sales department. It was a great time and experience and in the end crucial for my development. When I was working in the sales department I always thought that all the work I do there, I could actually do for my own label as well. I missed the whole creative process and to work with materials.
Let’s talk about your apartment. Where is your favorite place?
Haha, that’s easy: my bed. I have been there far too little during the last months.
Are you also interested in other fields of design such as interior design or graphic design
Fashion has always been my primary interest but I think it is just natural that you are interested in other forms of design. They serve as sources of inspiration.
What magazines do you read?
That varies a lot. I like to read Ten and Ten Man, Another Magazine, L‘Officiel, L‘Officiel Homme, Man About Town, Slurp and of course Vogue.
Can you think about an object that means a lot to you?
I have an old wooden water bottle that was once owned by my grandfather. When he died all children and grandchildren picked one thing that reminded them of him.
What to you think about the growing importance of fashion blogs?
Of course, I prefer an editorial spread in a print magazine, but on the other hand it is not bad to have a lot of small articles on different fashion blogs. I guess it’s about a good mix of both. These are two completely different mediums.
But it is true that there is a tendency for articles on fashion blogs to be shorter and more superficial than in classical print media.
Do you remember an artistic work that blew your mind away?
A Single Man by Tom Ford. After I saw this movie I was deeply impressed. When I heard that Tom Ford was a movie I was kind of skeptical. I thought it is just going to be another singer who becomes an actor or another actor that starts singing. But he taught us better. The movie is just amazing, it is perfect in every sense and inspired me a lot.
Is the designer Tom Ford a role model for you?
I know his work very well from the time when he worked at Gucci and from his later work with his own brand. I still don’t think that he influenced me very much. There are other designers that influenced me more, like Jil Sander and a lot of designers from Antwerp. Veronique Branquinho, for example, where I did an internship. A lot of designers didn’t influence me directly but I still find their work great. Yves Saint Laurent is one of them and Stefano Pilati or Nicolas Ghesquière for Balenciaga.
Do you think you pay more attention to a person’s appearance than other people?
That’s a tricky topic because you tend to judge people by it, which is just not right. If I like the style of a person I just enjoy looking at it for a while. Most of the time it is the old people that catch my attention. Especially here in Berlin, there are so many old people that are perfectly dressed. I always get the impression that they have no idea of how good they look. They are wearing their old cloths that still look great. This is actually very inspiring for me.
How important is sustainability for you?
I try to only buy materials that are produced in Europe. When I buy cotton from Switzerland I can be very sure that it actually comes from Switzerland! The same applies to silk from France. But you can never be 100% sure about it. It is also important for me to produce my collection in Germany. Although the name is not German, it is a German product.
What is the difficult thing about doing fashion for men?
In women’s fashion you can be far more experimental because women are more experimental in the way they dress. Men are slowly getting a little bit more experimental, too but it’s a slow process. I work a lot with silk that is a feminine material. So I have to find a way that men would also wear it.
More and more designers start to choose more conceptual formats to present their collections. You had your first show at Berlin Fashion Week this summer. How did you like it?
I was very happy with the show and I assume that every designer wants to do show one day. Iris van Herpen did also a show and in her case I thought that a performance would have been nice as well. Her clothes are like artworks. The longer you look at them the more you discover. If my clothes were to just stand somewhere I don’t think it would work out. They need to move.
What were the biggest challenges in preparing the show?
It was a huge amount of extra work. I was already working on my new collection but when I received the invitation to do a show at the Fashion Week I had only four more weeks of preparation. I extended the collection and apart from that I had to deal with all the other things like model-castings, runway order, music and so on.
It was the first time that I worked together with a stylist. Christian Stemmler he is a good friend of mine and it worked out perfectly. My two assistants Pina and Brian also helped me a lot. I had a really great team and I am very thankful for that.
How did you feel when the show was over?
I was a little bit scared of this point but it ended up to be a very positive and energetic time. First of all I felt relieved that the stress was over and apart from that I was incredibly happy. I didn’t expect so much positive feedback. I was very moved and as a result there was no space for any feelings of sadness.
Photography: Torben Höke
Interview & Text: Antonia Märzhäuser