Monday, 11/12/2023 16:52

Designs from the heart

By Lê Hương*

Clothes made with traditional fabrics from ethnic minority groups.

Jewellery inspired by the country’s sun-kissed beaches.

Unique ceramics with exquisite traditional Vietnamese patterns.

All these and more you’ll find in the treasure trove of Australian designer Cynthia Mann, whose name has become popular among expats and fashion lovers in Hà Nội.

She has combined Western creativity with the traditional fabrics of ethnic minority groups in the northern mountainous region of Việt Nam to make unique clothes that have conquered even the most demanding customers.

Cynthia’s love affair with Việt Nam began when she first visited 20 years ago.

“My mother was a fashion designer and my father was a graphic designer,” she told Việt Nam News. “So I kind of grew up with design. And I think I learned to sew at the same time I learned to walk. My mother instilled in me our love of textiles and detail. On that first trip to Việt Nam, to Hà Nội in 2003. I did a side trip up to Sapa and I just loved the textiles.”

She is determined to keep ethnic traditions alive through her work.

Cynthia works on traditional embroidered fabrics made by ethnic minority groups in the north of Việt Nam. VNS Photo Lê Hương

“I love the ethnic minority textiles,” she said. “I think part of the reason I set up Future Traditions was because some of the textile traditions were being lost. The older women would be doing the weaving or the embroidery, but the younger generations were leaving the villages, understandably I guess, to get an education and maybe come to bigger cities to get jobs. But it also meant that the villages were losing that expertise and those traditions.”

Cynthia creates patterns for local artisans to make ceramics with her designs.

“They put the patterns on by hand as well. So it's a real collaboration, but also a kind of labour of love. Everything about it is special and unique,” she said.

Her designs are proving popular among locals and expats.

Cynthia travels a lot to gather traditional fabrics and find inspiration for her creations. 

Marina Slewka, a customer from South Africa, could not deny her love for Cynthia’s creativity.

“Very different and unique,” she said. “The way she puts the design, the glass, the silver and every piece is just different. If you buy a piece, nobody else will have that same piece, which I really like about it.”

Willre Vroege, from Netherlands, admitted that what really impressed her about Cynthia from Future Traditions is her jewellery, the really beautiful ideas that she came up with.

“And another thing not so old is her ceramics,” she said. “She makes very beautiful cups and plates. If you know that the designs are not just from her head, but she asked the local people to come and help her design those cups. I think that is really unique.”

Cynthia works with a local goldsmith, who turns her jewellery designs into reality. Photo Courtesy of the designer

Melanie Blacker, another customer from London, said her first purchase was a beautiful shirt that she bought for her mom, which is velvet with silk backing, absolutely exquisite.

“My second purchase is this jacket, which I am really excited to be able to buy because I imagine myself walking in London where I live in a place called Crouch End,” she said. “The one and only was made for me. I’m really proud of it. I absolutely think it’s a piece of art.”

Cosy home

Việt Nam really has been a second home for this Australian designer for the past 15 years.

“I love the atmosphere, I love the people,” she said. “I love the landscapes; I love the crafts and the traditions. I probably like the traffic, even though people will think I'm crazy. But I love the speakers that come up in the morning. Not that I can understand everything, but hearing, you know, what's going on in the neighbourhood.”

Besides her passion for design, Cynthia has also worked as a trainer of English teachers and an active member of the Australian Chamber of Commerce.

A part of her collection. VNS Photo Lê Hương

“I think the thing that I love the most here is the vibrancy,” she said. “There's this kind of sense that the place is alive. There are people out on the street. I know my neighbours, we say hello and we, you know, chat, and people will say hello to me, even though I don't know who they are.

“It doesn't matter because we're all kind of part of that community. I spent the Mid-Autumn Festival here; I was really delighted because the neighbourhood had some lion dancing. I wandered around the streets following the lion with all the other neighbours and the kids, it was great.”

She said living in Hà Nội has enabled her or given her the confidence or the freedom to do things that maybe she would not have gotten around to doing in Australia. VNS

Cynthia collects broken glass and ceramic on beaches for her jewellery designs. Photo Courtesy of the designer

(* with an additional interview by Nhật Hồng)

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