Independent gender-fluid label Yvette LIBBY N’guyen offers nostalgia teamed with timeless sophistication and elegance, which draws inspiration from its Vietnamese roots and Parisian style.
Centring around the motto: “treasure the past, enhance the present,” Yvette LIBBY N’guyen is redefining fashion with a passion for outerwear and a focus on sustainability, using natural fibres and dyes, and offering consumers something unique with only two pieces of each style per size produced.
Founder and creative director Lib N’guyen shares the inspiration behind the Paris-based label, her fashion journey, and the importance of designing gender-fluid styles.
Can you tell me a little about Yvette LIBBY N'guyen Paris and your fashion journey?
I was born in Vietnam in a small village near Saigon (Ho Chi Minh city). I grew up in a household that believed fashion was vanity, and when I started sketching a lot and dressing up my dolls and even my cat, my parents weren't happy. They wanted me to spend more time reading and studying to become a businesswoman, rather than becoming a couturier or a designer.
For my family, I gave up making clothes and studied business, hiding my passion for fashion. I went on to study business in Singapore, Japan, and the U.S., while doing part-time jobs in fashion. It wasn't until I worked for an international pharmaceutical company in Vietnam that I really thought twice about my fashion dream.
At the same time, by coincidence, I found a photo of a young mixed-race girl in my family photos. My grandma told me that “the girl” was my great-grandma, Yvette N’guyen and she was a couturier while adding that the family weren't proud of her story and that I should ignore it.
After quitting my job at the pharmaceutical company, I spent the next 11 years starting over, learning and working in every corner of fashion. I studied fashion at CNAM (Conservatoire national des arts et métiers) and ESMOD Paris, and in 2016, I launched Yvette LIBBY N’guyen Paris.
How did the name come about?
Yvette is a souvenir from my great-grandma's name, who lived her life in couture design, and Libby is my nickname. I also couldn't forget my Vietnamese roots and that it comes from Paris.
Yvette LIBBY N'guyen Paris combines Parisian style, your Vietnamese roots with outdoor sensibility - where do you draw your inspiration from?
I'm a daydreamer. That’s what most of my friends say about me. I could drink hot chocolate in a café in Paris today and imagine what was happening at this place in the 1920s.
Vietnam and France had a connection during wartime, and in some Vietnamese vocabularies, we use only French. I’ve always sensed this connection from my family culture and business, and I've felt a responsibility to Paris, to experience the life of my great-grandma as a daydreamer. I can’t help it, I have a nostalgic feeling in my blood.
There are numerous cinematic references throughout your collections - what is it about movies that inspires you so much?
My mom worked for a local theatre and cinema when I was a kid, and I grew up following her to work and watching movies for free on a giant vintage screen while waiting for her to finish her work.
I watched movies from everywhere - Vietnam, Hong Kong, Japan, China to the US, Mexico, and France. I couldn’t understand most of the movies at that age, but I was fascinated by the outfits and costumes. That kicked off my passion for costume design.
What interested me in the costumes was how they portrayed the different characteristics and even the destinies of the characters wearing them. That motivated me to learn more about costumes and I believe that everyone also has his own “costume” nowadays, in this cinema of life.
Yvette LIBBY N'guyen Paris prides itself on being a gender-fluid label - why is that important to you?
When fashion is gendered, it does not allow you to choose according to the silhouette you want but according to the ones you are offered. By re-examining this code, Yvette LIBBY N’guyen gives our clients the freedom to adopt the line in the way they want, allowing them to be themselves. This is why a large part of the range qualifies as unisex pieces.
Outerwear is a major focus, what is it about the trench coat that you love?
I've always been obsessed with the detective character Hercule Poirot as a fashion icon and the trench coat as a re-definition of functional elegance. It is a timeless wardrobe staple worn across the decades by sleuths of all ages, sexes and nationalities. The authoritarian allure of the trench means it's become the coat of choice for detectives, and no wonder.
A trench coat can enhance your personal styling while being weather-functional, saving you a lot of time in daily life. If, like me, you have ever experienced “four-seasons” within one day during a Californian summer, you would understand, going from a warm sunny morning to being caught in the rain, and then a chill in the evening. I believe that the high-tech waterproof fabric trench coat from Yvette LIBBY N’guyen makes your day more beautiful and convenient.
You only ever do two pieces of each style per size. Why is that?
Part of this is due to the scarcity of material sources, either it’s from dormant stock fabric with no repeating production, or from limited certified materials.
More importantly, all styles are made by our qualified artisans' team, each piece is like an artwork. Sometimes 2 pieces are not exactly the same, but they’re all nice. We want all our clients to experience uniqueness, and each piece is named after a different inspiration with its own story.
I believe that when you can't find the same exact second piece, you keep it more carefully and this is a fresh take on consuming behaviour to 'buy less, and buy better quality'.
How do you ensure that your label is sustainable?
Sustainability might be a buzzword, but at Yvette LIBBY N’guyen we've followed the motto of being ecologically friendly and ethical from the very beginning. If it’s not, we have no motivation to go further.
It is simply about respect - for people and their living environment, and we can’t ignore it.
This is why most of the techniques we use allow us to reduce the impact of the manufacture of clothes from using natural dyes to natural and organic fibres, such as hemp, cotton and linen, as well as using dormant stocks. All of our buttons are also made from natural shells and horns.
Yvette LIBBY N'guyen also donates revenue each year to local and international non-profit organisations to support their green planet projects.
We also believe that the human link is essential in the quality of the finished product and that is why Yvette LIBBY N'guyen opened its own clothing workshop in Vietnam (Saigon). We ensure that working conditions are above the country's standards, and we fully support all members of the company.
You’ve worked for brands like Furla and Geox, as well as being a costume designer - has that experience helped you?
I’m grateful for the opportunity to work in very different fashion environments and with long-history brands, from a bespoke workshop to costume projects for movies. Thanks to these different experiences, I recognised what I’m better at and learnt how to move on with Yvette LIBBY N’guyen Paris.
As well as continuing to inspire the label, Madame Yvette, your great-grandmother and couturier from the 1920s - 1950s, has inspired a novel - what is it about and why did you want to share her story?
It’s simply because I love her and I have learnt more about the beauty of feminism from her story that I feel is discussed today. She was homosexual, which was not accepted in her time, and she was courageous enough to live her life independently when pursuing love and a career.
I don’t live an exact life like her, but the message from her story is important to me: “Living the game, deal with what is dealt”. You might not be able to change the ingredients, but you could make your unique “cake” from those. I think this is a timeless mindset.
What does the future hold for Yvette LIBBY N'guyen Paris?
To keep our DNA in this complex society - by being retro-cool, unisex and eco-friendly, while also promoting the message of 'buy less and buy more quality'.
We've also just kicked off the 'Yvette Community' campaign to support and promote more artists from different industries, such as music, dance, and painting, to showcase hidden talents to a wider audience.
Read more about Yvette LIBBY N'guyen Paris on the brandpage: fashionunited.com/companies/yvette-libby-n-guyen-paris
Source: Fashion United, "Yvette LIBBY N’guyen and its homage to retro-cool", Sep 10, 2021, https://fashionunited.com/news/business/yvette-libby-n-guyen-and-its-homage-to-retro-cool/2021091042030