As a first-generation Vietnamese-American, Lu'u Dan designer Hung La has long been acquainted with ideas of assimilation. As a youth in the 1980s, growing up in a comfortable suburb outside Washington DC, La straddled two worlds – navigating his way in white America during the week, and then immersed in his Vietnamese community on the weekends.
This arc continued as La pursued his career in fashion. Armed with an undergraduate degree in computer engineering, La quietly assembled a portfolio to study fashion design, completing his master’s degree at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp and landing a job in Paris at Nicholas Ghesquière’s Balenciaga shortly after. This was followed by a role in London at Phoebe Philo’s Celine, where La headed up the leather and fur department. Despite reaching such levels of success, La speaks openly about feeling disenfranchised in the fashion industry, when we interview him as part of a portfolio of emerging menswear designers in Wallpaper’s September 2022 Style Issue.
‘It’s difficult to talk about race [in fashion] because you feel so lucky to be in the door and you feel privileged to be working there, but you understand that you’re a minority. You understand that you have to work harder than everybody else,’ shares La, who continues to be based in London. ‘Because I got passed over for promotions many times, I questioned, “maybe I was not vocal enough, or maybe I wasn’t assertive enough”. After I left those situations, I understood better the systems at play. There were only two Asians in the studio; there were no people of African descent. Why is that? And why are the systems at play more slanted towards Caucasians?’
New menswear: Lu’u Dan A/W 2022
After leaving Celine, La established the luxury womenswear label Kwaidan Editions in 2017 with his life partner Léa Dickely, whom he met at the Royal Academy in Antwerp. Built around ideas of being an outsider, specifically Dickely’s experience of not seeing herself within existing female stereotypes, Kwaidan Editions draws from a wide array of cultural references to articulate what the duo calls ‘the uncanny’. The label repeatedly delves into the vulnerable and at times uneasy overlap of traditional binaries to draw out tension and wonder.
The pair’s newest undertaking, a menswear label named Lu’u Dan launched in January 2022, in a similar vein. Loosely meaning ‘dangerous man’ in Vietnamese, Lu’u Dan presents an overlooked take on Asian masculinity – one steeped in defiance, provocation, vulnerability and complexity, as opposed to the usual one-dimensional tropes more commonly seen in Western media.
‘Lu’u Dan was born out of lockdown. In that moment, where we were all stuck at home and [following the murder of] George Floyd, I [began to recognise] this internalised racism. Growing up in the 1980s in America, there weren’t any Asian role models in the media, apart from [comedian] Margaret Cho, or Mr Miyagi [from Karate Kid]. There was nobody a young male could aspire to,’ reveals La. ‘I realised that I had never used my voice or this personal aspect of my identity in my work and I wanted to take part in speaking up. In fashion, what we can control is image. We create clothing, but if we can put forward a strong enough image that speaks to people, then you can slowly change a culture. Lu’u Dan was founded on the principle that the younger generation can feel represented and identify with this imagery.’
With three collections launched in quick succession this year, Lu’u Dan has conjured up a compelling offering that transcends boundaries. Louche tailoring, oversized pyjama shirts and a healthy dose of boisterous, unabashed prints all work in unison to convey a multi-dimensional intricacy and sex appeal, both rarely associated in the portrayals of Asian men. Additional initiatives, like the brand’s City Tours series, further enables the label to morph into a platform that provides space for other Asian male creatives to showcase their work. Accessibly priced in spite of its sophistication, the brand is firmly rooted in inclusivity on all accords.
‘Lu’u Dan is a way for me to put my money where my mouth is, and speak up and try to institute systems of change,’ La concludes. ‘We always use Asian models, photographers, stylists and we always have people of colour on the team. It’s important to have those voices and to enable other Asian creatives to break through.’
A version of this article appears in the September 2022 issue of Wallpaper*, available in print, on the Wallpaper* app on Apple iOS, and to subscribers of Apple News +. Subscribe to Wallpaper* today!
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Pei-Ru Keh is the US Editor at Wallpaper*. Born and raised in Singapore, she has been a New Yorker since 2013. Pei-Ru has held various titles at Wallpaper* since she joined in 2007. She currently reports on design, art, architecture, fashion, beauty and lifestyle happenings in the United States, both in print and digitally. Pei-Ru has taken a key role in championing diversity and representation within Wallpaper's content pillars and actively seeks out stories that reflect a wide range of perspectives. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children, and is currently learning how to drive.
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