Interviews, The fashion story of… Christine Phung's first times By Inès Matsika Photo report: Dario Holtz The flow is fast but the look is gentle. When Christine Phung talks about fashion, she is immediately driven by a passion that has inhabited her since childhood. This great lover of clothing answered her call by working within houses like Chloé, Lacoste and Christophe Lemaire, before launching her eponymous brand from 2011 to 2016. Five years during which the Franco-Vietnamese designer invents a vocabulary that resonates powerfully the words “color”, “print” and “nature”. Highly noticed, her organic wardrobe earned her the ANDAM prize in 2013 and an appointment as artistic director of the Leonard house, which she will manage by refreshing its codes, until September 2020. Today, the book event Christine Phung retraces ten years of creativity by presenting the best of her label's fashion shows and those orchestrated for Leonard. The opportunity to meet the designer at her home in Vincennes, for an inspiring dive into her past. On her dining room table, she spreads out her sketchbooks, fabric samples and the book, to tell in a lively way, all the significant first times of her journey. The first emotions about fashion. At what age, before what, thanks to whom? I received a fairly traditional education and culture from my parents. As a child, I remember visiting many castles with them. At 10 years old, I discovered the one in Vaux-le-Vicomte. I was taken aback by the costumes worn by certain members of the court of King Louis XIV. The clothes, very structured, outlined the silhouettes perfectly. There was something alive emanating from them, as if they were still inhabited by bodies. I was captivated by the strength of clothing that spans the centuries. My second fashion emotion was in 1998, watching a Jean Paul Gaultier Haute Couture fashion show which took place in the basement of the Louvre museum. I was overwhelmed by the meeting of tradition and modernity, perfectly mastered by the former “enfant terrible of fashion”. Barely 20 years old, I finished my fashion design studies. I experienced this parade as a great lesson which later influenced me when I launched into the profession. The day you chose to train as a stylist. What was the trigger? There really wasn't one because I always knew I wanted to do this job! It was like a vocation. After a literary baccalaureate, I did a preparation for Fine Arts and I entered the Duperré school, in applied arts. Fashion was the most general subject which allowed you to approach different disciplines such as graphics, communication or sculpture. I loved this opening. During this training, I nourished my passion for textiles and prints. I like the strength of the patterns which I liken to a form of mysterious writing. I am particularly touched by the constructivist motifs, which nod to architecture, by the artist Sonia Delaunay or members of the Bauhaus movement. The first motivations for setting up your label. What clothing proposition did you want to defend? Casting Christine Phung was a necessary step to push the artistic exploration to the end. After having cut my teeth in big houses, I felt ready. Even if my strength is understanding brand identities and inserting myself completely into them, I needed to know what was in my gut and take the risk of speaking for myself alone! The hardest part of this adventure was taking on several hats. Being a fashion designer also means being an accountant, manager, delivery person and communicator! It's not just the glamorous side (laughs). We also had to find the means to keep going. Developing a brand is a real long-distance race and the road to achieving it is long. The phenomenal successes of Jacquemus, Isabel Marant or Christophe Lemaire were not built in a day! The first time you felt proud of your work as a stylist. What is the best compliment received and by whom? That of Didier Grumbach, the former president of the Fédération du Prêt-à-porter, who complimented me on the strength of my universe when I had just completed the first Christine Phung collection. He is one of the founders of Designers apartment, a showroom supporting young designers that I was lucky enough to join. Having the positive outlook of this great man in the fashion industry on my work gave me enormous confidence for the future. I knew that I was not wrong in defending an “effortless” femininity, constructed from hybrid clothing, both comfortable and sensual. As illustrated by the teddy, one of my key pieces constantly revisited in my collections. The first thought you had when you learned that you were taking over the creative direction of Leonard I was blown away by their decision and by the speed of the recruitment which was done in eight days! I loved the excitement of the meeting and the fact that they trusted me. What's great about being an artistic director is that you have time to do the heart of your job: namely, creation. I was able to completely concentrate on it and delegate other aspects of the work to very competent teams. The day you delved into Leonard's archives. How did you feel about this heritage? Total dazzling. Leonard built his reputation on the richness of his prints. The archives of the house, founded in 1958, contain 5,000 drawings, which clearly illustrates their importance. It was therefore natural to continue to place them at the heart of the collections. My obsession was to make relevant choices of prints, which fit the period, both in their style and in their coloring. The challenge was to bring them contemporaneity, in particular thanks to sportswear cuts. I had to choose five per collection. And each time, my challenge was to immerse myself in this imposing heritage and detach myself from it. I had fun tackling it for four and a half years, then the arrival of the health crisis – which caused a great moment of reflection for me – sounded the death knell for the adventure. I felt the need to renew myself from a creative point of view and to experiment with other codes. I was spotted by a headhunter for a position as artistic image director which I have held with pleasure since September 2020. The day you held in your hands for the first time the book which compiles your most beautiful fashion shows, for your label and for Leonard. What did you feel ? Gratitude towards an object that will leave a trace of my work. And that is very important to me because fashion is fleeting! I had the chance to produce this book in the best possible conditions. I collaborated with the photographer Vincent Lappartient, the graphic designer Agnès Dahan and Nathalie Dufour, the founder of ANDAM, did me the honor of prefacing the book. It is the result of a long archive work by Vincent Lappartient who has immortalized all my fashion shows for ten years. The photos taken bear witness to the adrenaline behind the scenes, the joy and attitude of the models, the moments of emotion... 10 years of creativity are spread across these pages. I'm so proud to have dared to share my point of view on fashion. The day you became aware of the major changes that the fashion industry is experiencing. What struck you the most? The fact that fashion is no longer the art of cutting but that of communication. From now on, everything goes through the image. Also, it is no longer possible to base a project on a nice concept. Without the means of production and financing, it is impossible to develop it. You need a solid business model, coupled with an art of communication. The day you felt the urge to relaunch a label again…has it already arrived? I think about it every day. But I don't see which product would still make sense today. The health crisis reminds us that this profession cannot be built on social and environmental violence. I am looking for a project that respects people and nature. But this is very difficult as soon as you produce on a large scale! Added to this is my desire to take time to watch my child grow. Running a label requires a lot of personal sacrifice, especially for women. Whereas today, it is essential for me to maintain a balance in my life and to also flourish with my loved ones. Book Christine Phung, by Vincent Lappartient and Christine Phung, on sale on