Growing up in traditional homes, Asian American children basically have three career options: lawyer, doctor or engineer. But Hung La strayed from the path of the ideal Asian child and blazed his own trail. The London-based designer worked under Nicolas Ghèsquiere at Balenciaga and Phoebe Philo at Céline before co-founding avant-garde womenswear brand Kwaidan Editions with his 18-year-old wife. Now, La is going solo by expanding into menswear with LỰU ĐẠN, which loosely means “dangerous man” in Vietnamese.
“Lockdown, when Stop Asian Hate and George Floyd were really on our minds, was a catalyst for me to re-examine my own journey,” he says. “Growing up in the 80s in Rockville, Maryland, I rejected all of my culture.” Even working as a designer at major fashion houses, La felt like he wasn’t using his voice to connect and speak to his community until now. Her new label LỰU ĐẠN, launched in January 2022, is the product of La’s significant reconnection with her roots.
Above all, the brand is rooted in the shared experiences of Asian men. Equally important are the clothes — snake-print silk pajamas, ’70s-inspired suits, and wide-collared dress shirts — and storytelling. “There is an underrepresentation of Asian men in fashion, so I want to shine a light on those stories,” adds La.
That’s why it’s introducing City Tours, a new community-building initiative showcasing local talent in cities around the world in the form of gritty imagery paired with serious panel discussions that live on the brand’s site. . New York City kicks off with Bowen Goh of Brooklyn nightclub Mood Ring and Jae Kim, a photographer and motorcycle enthusiast, photographed by Danny Lim.
“While there is a common history among Asian people, LỰU ĐẠN gives voice to nuanced stories from different cities with their own unique flavor,” says La. “New York is about a mindset of non-conformity, and it’s a good starting point to talk about ‘East meets West’.”
Both Goh and Kim lived between Asia and New York and grew up in traditional homes. “A lot of first-generation Asian Americans have a conflict between Western values and the values that our parents brought,” La explains. “We’re told to be a good Asian kid, but Jae and Bowen chart their own path in terms of identity and career; they are iconoclasts. LỰU ĐẠN speaks to these “Asian bad boys who own their identity”, and the larger ambition of City Tours is to show the many intricacies and untold stories about what it means to be an Asian man today.
The visual DNA of the brand shamelessly takes up the codes of yakuza culture and Asian gangsters. When La was younger, he revered the images of 90s movies and Hong Kong triad crime dramas like Sonatina and young and dangerousas well as 2001 slasher Ichi the killer. It is not necessarily violence that Her tolerates, but rather force. “What’s engaging about LỰU ĐẠN is that our images show these tattooed, hard-shelled exterior types that are also modern,” La says. “They talk about vulnerable and difficult subjects; they are sensitive and have stories to tell beyond what people see them on the street.
The footage is both intimate and raw, accompanied by interviews hosted by La. The New York trio discuss individuality, Asian masculinity, vulnerability, creating space for conversation and the how the brand fits into all of this.
It’s a similar story for many immigrant children, bearing the brunt of parents who struggled to survive in a white supremacist society while struggling with their own issues of personal fulfillment rather than assimilation. “I wouldn’t see my story in [Western] media, and there would be no representation for people like me,” Kim told La. “I said, ‘Fuck it. I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing, and hopefully something will catch on. Projects like this prepare and pave the way.
“We can actually be cool in our own unique way,” Goh adds. “We don’t have to respond to other people’s cultures. It’s just how we are and what we look like, and that’s cool in itself.
The plans to take City Tours to places like Manila, Chengdu and Taipei – “creativity goldmines” – in the future. He hopes to connect men in every city and give them space to have conversations they may not be actively having within their own communities.
While La may not have all the answers about what community and representation mean or where the conversation is going, he is comfortable with uncertainty. He knows that what emerges from this cultural calculation today is sensitivity, emotionality and vulnerability. “We can talk more about our struggles and challenges,” La says. “It’s not about running away from those difficult emotions. It’s about welcoming them. »
City Tours is now online on the LỰU ĐẠN website. Read the full interview with Hung La, Bowen Goh and Jae Kim here.
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Courtesy of LỰU ĐẠN photographed by Danny Lim