Born into a family of tailors in Vietnam, Thuy Diep seemed destined to become a fashion designer. As a child, under the direction of her mother and father who ran a tailoring school and custom-made clothing shop in her native land, Thuy began honing her tailoring skills at an early age. She developed a love for well-crafted clothes and an obsession with high quality fabrics. Moving to the United States in 1981, Thuy was exposed to a whole new world of diverse aesthetics. Here, she talks to Uinterview about her heritage, designs and turning her back on a corporate job.


Q: Tell us a little about your background: you were born in Vietnam to a family of tailors. What’s your earliest memory of your parents and their tailoring school? Please paint a picture of your childhood for us. - Jessica Cran

It was in post-war Phan Thiet. Their school-more accurately an atelier styled workshop-doubled as our living space. It was spacious with an open courtyard. There were a number of sewing machines, cutting tables and rolls of fabrics. Students came during the day to learn the trade as well as customers who had came for custom made dresses. I was quite young but did what was needed of me here and there. More than anything, it imprinted a deep association between the industry and of purpose.

Q: Was it being under their direction that made you realize how much of a flare you had for design? Or considering your family’s history, do you think you were born to do this? - JC

I don’t know. Design and sewing were two separate things for them and me. My parents sewed clothes and did not design—and had discouraged it as a profession in the US as they knew how difficult it would be to be successful. That is why I took a different path early on. However, there is something to be said about growing up in an environment where your parents are engaged in a certain activity. It more or less becomes second nature to you.

Q: What was it like moving to the States at six years old? Exciting or terrifying? - JC

I think I was a brave child so for me it was exciting, although the journey itself was terrifying. But as my parents told me, the United States is where you could realize your dreams, and they were right.

Q: Growing up you must have been aware of your raw talent for design. So after your time at Brown University, why did you opt for a corporate position, instead of pursuing your tailoring talent? - JC

My parents have always told me that tailoring is a difficult profession. When I was young, I did not know to distinguish sewing from designing. They are obviously related but are two different things. The sewing is the craft part and the design the more creative part. It was the creative part that compelled me to take a different turn– or rather a turn to fashion design.

Q: You credit your move to the U.S., and specifically your exposure to the ‘diverse values and aesthetics’ as being the backbone of your stylistic philosophy. So, when you’re designing a collection, from what or whom do you draw inspiration? - JC

My environment is very important because I don’t design in isolation. My environment and the culture in which I live and participate in inspire me. I’m Vietnamese American so I’m sure I’m influenced by my heritage and the country and places I’ve been. Each season the development starts with what I desire for that particular collection. That is always my starting point. From there, I open myself and evolve the pieces individually and as a whole.

Q: So what should we all be wearing this Spring 2009? - JC

Colors!

Q: And when you’re designing, do you always have a specific woman in mind? Does she have a certain look? Body type? Attitude? Or do consider yourself a universal designer for all women? - JC

I believe that style and beauty transcend a body type. Attitude is definitely important. She is accomplished. She has arrived, but is still evolving. She’s intelligent, beautiful but imperfect. She has a forever-youthful and artistic heart. These traits are realized quite differently by different women.

Q: Do you have a fashion muse either past or present? - JC

My muse changes and evolves with each season. In terms of real present-day woman, Cate Blanchett and Tilda Swinton are a consistent source of inspiration for me.

Q: What is your signature piece in your current collection? The item you feel best defines you or the one you’re most proud of… - JC

Definitely my coats.

Q: How badly is the fashion industry suffering with the economy? In your experience do people always find a way to fund their fashion fixes? - JC

This is a tough time for us as with everyone. That does not mean you can’t continue to be stylish. You need to be more creative and discerning about what you buy. Women I know are still willing to make fairly expensive fashion purchases, although they tend to be for very special and long-lasting pieces.

Q: Have you got any tips for people who want to stay stylish for cheap? - JC

Yes. If you buy, buy an item you could pair a million different times and a million different ways.