On this rainy Friday, I walk into Les Ateliers de Paris, a very special building in the heart of Paris that became a creative incubator and welcomes around 20 fashion designers, graphic designers and other talented designers. I go up a few floors and knock at a heavy metal door. Fashion designer Christine Phung opens it. And she is just like the clothes she designs: beautiful, elegant and stylish.
* Where it all began
Christine Phung graduated from the Duperré School of Applied Arts in 2002 and entered the prestigious Institut Français de la Mode (French Institute of Fashion) the same year. During her school years, she was an intern with Kenzo and the famous French fashion designers Sonia Rykiel and Jean-Paul Gaultier. With such a background, she successively (and successfully) worked for top fashion designers Chloé, Veja, Vanessa Bruno, Lacoste and Dior after graduation.
She launched her signature label in 2012 and the quality and creativity of her work were already recognized by prizes, such as the Grand Prize of the City of Paris.
* A brilliant first collection…
Christine Phung’s Autumn/Winter 2012 collection is all about light diffraction. The collection tells the story of a girl who falls into a red diamond mine. The different prints on the clothes were inspired by the shapes of diamonds, the diffusion of light and its movement from white to all colors on the spectrum. They were designed for more than 100 hours on a computer and digitally printed on silk. This first collection is a magnificent expression of Christine Phung’s style; fresh, elegant, both colorful and sober.
* …closely followed by a second one
Her second collection was designed in only two months, during which Christine Phung worked full time with her assistant, Lucile. She kept the theme of light diffraction but deepened the story by creating new volumes, brightening colors and playing with textures and transparence. The dresses are feminine, effortless but also functional.
For this collection, she worked again in close collaboration with Mr. Lognon, a professional tucker holding a workshop in the 1st arrondissement of Paris and specialized in haute couture and fashion accessories. The pleats he realized on each of the collection’s pieces brings to mind earth’s folds and mines’ stratifications.
* A whole original 3rd collection
Ms. Phung’s Autumn/Winter 2013 collection tells the story of a traveler flying over the circular fields of Nevada. Playing with the concepts of tension and release, straight lines and curves, all the dresses, skirts, jackets and coats of this collection express, sometimes in a very subtle manner, the idea of roundness. For this collection, she adopted a completely new approach to digital printing and modernized the patchwork by sewing together different fabrics and colors, creating refreshing, sophisticated and colorful pieces.
After graciously presenting her three collections to me, Ms. Phung opens a huge binder on the table. It contains all the ideas she gathered during her school years and the 10 years working for other designers. A creative portfolio looking like a Pandora’s box, overflowing with colorful fabric samples, pictures from magazines, photos, sketches and elaborated drawings. She explains me how important it was for her to develop her own ideas while working for other designers; free from any obligation, she was then able to let her creativity and imagination run wild and develop her own style.
During these years, she designed a shoe collection with her friend and former classmate Marion Hanania. She also designed a collection made of a few original pieces for the International Design Biennial in Liège. For this project, she hired a professional photographer who walked through the city of Liège and took pictures of the most unusual and atypical buildings. Based on the shots she preferred, Ms. Phung designed dresses reproducing the buildings’ characteristics such as triangulations, red bricks or twisted windows. One of the most surprising projects is certainly the outfit she designed for the harness race Grand Prix d’Amérique in 2007. Inspired by the picture of a jockey covered with mud after a race, she customized a jockey’s outfit and helmet, on which the unpleasing mud turned into refined Swarovski crystal and pearls.
Christine Phung finds inspiration in nature, geology, geometry, architecture and graphics. She gathers on her Tumblr all kinds of pictures that inspire her (or just make her laugh).
While designing a collection, she keeps on collecting and pining up images and fabric samples that inspire her on big white boards all around her workshop. A few months after, they become a story that will serve as a base for her new collection, like words put together to shape a beautiful, exquisite sentence. Each clothing line is built around a story, working as a spinal column of the whole collection and the underlying theme of each piece.
When designing her collections, Christine Phung likes to work with silk, wool, cashmere and cotton. She chooses these fabrics for their suppleness, lightness, eternal modernity and technical properties. She has a predilection for silk, its moves, vibrations, and ability to come to life and follow the moves of the person wearing it. She continuously works on each fabric by cutting it, patching it or creating graphics on it.
Ms. Phung designs the clothes she wears and wears the clothes she designs. She creates elegant, refreshing, modern but also functional clothing lines. She takes her inspiration from active and independent women such as architects or physicians, who need to be respected by their peers and managers but want to keep and claim their femininity. All the pieces of her collections reflect this subtle balance between sophistication and discretion.
Her favorite outfit? An ample and protective coat unveiling a loose and graceful dress.
* The Cambodian touch
Christine Phung’s uncle lives in Cambodia and works as a psychiatrist in a day hospital. When he saw that his designer niece was fighting to find craftsmen who would accept to produce her clothes in small quantities and for a decent price, he decided to set up a sewing shop in one of the rooms of his hospital. She travelled all the way to Cambodia four times to bring her clothes and work with three local sewers in this improvised workshop. As she did not have the time to travel to Cambodia this year, her third collection will be 100% made in Paris!
One of Ms. Phung’s biggest challenges has been to launch her signature label in 2012 and to find her way in the fashion world, after having worked for some of the most famous French designers. This work experience aside top designers was both frustrating, as she could not design her own pieces, and essential, as she learned to avoid some mistakes and work with increasing efficiency and precision among the best of the best.
Christine Phung will be an artist in residence at Les Ateliers de Paris until 2014. She enjoys a spacious room to design her collections as well as support to elaborate a business plan, manage her label and develop its presence online. She is now working on the next exhibition of her creations that will take place at Les Ateliers de Paris’ own art gallery, from June 4th to June 9th, 2013. For this project, she is working in close collaboration with the designer Tzuri Gueta.
She is also producing her 3rd collection while already gathering ideas for the fourth one (Autumn/Winter 2014), to be presented during the Fashion Week in September.
Christine Phung looks forward to the opportunity to present her collections during a Fashion show again, as she did in 2012 in Budapest, Hungary, for the “Elle” magazine.
And the last step? Going international and exporting her wonderful French savoir-faire and élégance around the world. Some pieces of her collections are already sold on the American website ModeWalk, among the creations of other top designers such as Vanessa Bruno and Vivienne Westwood.
Christine Phung is definitely one of the rising stars of the French fashion world. To be watched.