The transformative power of fashion
Berlin-based designer, Nhu Duong has a masterful way of weaving diverse elements into her fashion. It’s this raw yet refined aesthetic that makes her stand out. Her vision is heavily inspired by her own multicultural background, a narrative aura she channels in her designs, whereby fashion becomes a vehicle for storytelling.
This made her a perfect match for HOODOO. The show is a raw concept, which pooled creatives from all over the world in the fields of dance, music, theatre and art to create a utopic experience of Southern Lousiana in the middle of Berlin. These diverse disciplines were missing an intrinsic link, a versatile designer who could complete the show – and there was no one better suited for this collaboration than Duong.
Duong’s costumes blur the line between the show and real life, and delve deeper into the theme of transformation, which she explores in much of her work. At HOODOO fashion is worn and shed like skin, by dancers and performers. Each layer revealing a chapter of the story, with a Nhu Duong signature.
Interview spoke to the designer about how her history inspires her and what it means to design clothes that play many roles and put on a show.
SARAH OSEI How did your journey as a designer begin?
NHU DUONG I was born in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and immigrated with my parents to Sweden when I was seven years old. I studied Fashion Design in Florence and Stockholm and now I am based in Berlin. As I immigrated at a young age, the question of fitting in and living between different cultures has shaped my experience. In a way it is about bringing together the contrasting parts that exist both in different cultures as well as yourself. For me fashion has always been a sort of role play through clothing.
SO What is your vision and voice as a designer?
ND I believe in the fluidity of culture, gender, body types and class and explore this in my work. So the process of transformation is something that has always interested me.
SO What do you want to realise through your work?
ND I wish that my work can help people to elevate their true self or explore different versions of themselves. I am interested in this transformative power of fashion.
“the process of transformation is something that has always interested me.”
SO How did you approach the concept of HOODOO and creating theatrical pieces as these?
ND I wanted to create costumes that are performative and a contemporary abstraction of the diverse mix of cultural influences of Southern Louisiana and New Orleans such as hoodoo, Mardi gras and creole music. The design vocabulary of the costumes was based on material collaging, deconstruction, patch work and distressed surfaces, rubber dipping and colour-fading. I was thinking of the changes of nature, processes of destruction and renewal, natural forces such as coastal erosion are prominent in the area of Southern Louisiana.
SO What inspired you to embark on this specific project?
ND The process of putting on clothes is always performative and transformative for me, so I’ve always been interested in the creating costumes. For me, it is also about opening myself up to new creative influences like choreography, scenography and music – where the boundaries between different forms of expression blur. Also the project brings people from different places of the world together, in a way it feels nomadic, creating a universe of its own in the middle of Berlin. I love how the changing of context can create new readings of my work.
“HOODOO feels nomadic, creating a universe of its own in the middle of Berlin.”
SO HOODOO is steeped in Creole culture and the history of the American South. How did you make sure to portray these elements authentically?
ND I started the process through research into the history of Hoodoo as well as personal conversations with other members of the team who share this background. Historically Hoodoo evolved from an appropriated version of other cultural forms, mixing and reinterpreting influences from voodoo. My vision for the costumes was not to create a historical depiction of the topic, but rather an eclectic and performative translation for the Berlin audience, yet respecting and honouring the heritage.
SO Does the show engage with any particular social issues that inspire you personally?
ND In a way the vast mix of cultural influences of the show remind me of my own upbringing and my own experience of growing up between different cultures, taking things from one cultural context and putting them into another.
SO What do you want us, the audience, to experience and take away from the show?
ND The show is an open-ended, creative experiment that blurs boundaries. As an experience this makes it hard to categorize. It is this interdisciplinary, multicultural nature and excess that makes the show special for me.
Interview SARAH OSEI
Cover photo ROB KULISEK