Contemporary artist Phương Linh and fashion designer Diego Cortizas talk about their collaboration and fashion show.
Chula’s headquarters on the shore of West Lake is dripping with elegant clothing, embellished with traditional Vietnamese details. Sitting in the altar room you catch movements of seamstresses across the courtyard in your peripherals. Here Diego Cortizas, half of the internationally renowned fashion line Chula, and Nhà Sàn artist Phương Linh converse about their decision to work together, the symbolism in their clothes, and the relationship of art and fashion.
Phương Linh: First we didn’t really know how to work together. We sat down and had a drink and just talked. I had the idea of making my clothes with the title Hell. Hell and Heaven. The culture of death. And you came up with a very nice idea, which fit mine, because you have your own death culture in Spain. So finally it just popped and it felt like we should work together.
Diego Cortizas: Yes. You had the idea of using the strong symbolism of death and I use the idea of heaven and hell in western culture. Not just in a tragic way, but with a sense of humor.
Phương Linh: My inspiration came from living with my father who is an antique collector. He has a collection of minority paintings all painted for the altar, for praying, and they’re all about death. I was very impressed with those details and I thought, they should be combined with pop culture because those drawings can be very striking … vivid. So it’s not just about death, but also the culture of the living…
Diego Cortizas: I think that’s what we were talking about – how death is reflected in the culture of the living. Especially in Latin America with all their festivals of the dead, they are not afraid of the dead. In some ways this prepares you for death. I know that my life will be fifty years or forty more years, I am not going to be here forever. I think in western culture we use symbols to not take death too seriously.
But I feel here in the eastern culture there are clearer steps to understand death. In the west there’s heaven and hell, but in eastern cultures there are more layers.
TRANSITIONING FROM ART INTO FASHION
Diego Cortizas: I studied architecture before I moved to fashion design and I really like fashion design more. How is that for you? You’re not making installations for this, but instead dresses you can wear in the street…
Phương Linh: I want to try to make some money out of it, because I haven’t made any money from visual work in the experimental art field. But fashion production is a lot of work. All the details take so much time. and I don’t know if after the show will I still have the energy to continue with fashion.
Diego Cortizas: I think it’s easier to make money in fashion than in art. The market for art is too little, especially in Vietnam. But there is the chance that you lose a bit of your independence. An artist is very independent and a fashion designer is not.
Fashion is still a status symbol for many people. Its value is not artistic, but it’s a statement of, I’m cool, I have more money. The younger generation likes the status symbol of fashion. But fashion is special and I think it’s more than money. I think it’s really powerful. Fashion in some ways is like a performance because it’s something that happens. It’s something that is flat like a painting but gets life when you wear it.
DECIDING TO WORK TOGETHER
Diego Cortizas: We met five years ago. We have some friends in common and of course I know the Nhà Sàn [Collective], as one of the most important places for art. I started to go to Nhà Sàn performances and I started to see you, and the first thing I really liked was that you have a passion for fashion, which is unusual for an artist.
The fashion line we decided to design combines the tradition here in Vietnam [with the west] … there are so many religious images in Vietnam that you can translate into a tattoo or embroidery and I think it’s very interesting what you’re doing with that.
Phương Linh: (Claps and laughs) Oh thank you! That’s everything I needed to say. Your use of traditional silk clothes in combination with imagery from things like New York City and everyday objects like a tennis ball I think is so much fun… It was also Manzi’s idea. I think Manzi really loves us (laughs) and they wanted to do something with us…
Diego Cortizas: Yes, usually art galleries just have pictures or paintings, but Manzi, they offer their space for other stuff. Hanoi is a city of culture in the sense that there are many artists and inspirations, but there is a lack of places for the artists to express [themselves]. There’s still not a market for art and it’s difficult for people who run a cultural place to survive, so Manzi is doing an incredible job.
Diego Cortizas and Phương Linh’s look at eastern and western views of death and the afterlife will be showcased at Manzi on 24 August at an exclusive fashion show.