From The Straits Times    |

Credit: Fanci Club

Duy Tran has never been to the United States, but his dresses have.

His clothes have been worn by young female celebrities such as model Bella Hadid and singers Olivia Rodrigo and Doja Cat, often going viral for blending so-called Y2K aesthetics with tight silhouettes and ultra-sheer fabrics.

But the man behind these popular outfits has remained largely invisible outside of Vietnam, where he lives.

Tran, 24, who is from Long An province in southern Vietnam, started Fanci Club as an e-commerce label in 2018, after dropping out of fashion school. He was bored with his studies, he said. The brand was conceived as an online second-hand clothing seller before it began upcycling some of its clothing into new creations.

In 2021, Tran pushed the brand into its current iteration, releasing his first collection of original designs. “I want to empower anyone who wears my clothes to feel feminine and self-confident,” Tran said in Vietnamese. “Fanci girls are the ones who can dare to dress as they please.”

Fanci Club’s organza dresses, skirts and corsets mix mesh, spandex and nylon. Tran’s inspirations include designers John Galliano, Jean Paul Gaultier and Vivienne Westwood, he said, and those influences are apparent in his clothing.

The pieces are available on the brand’s website.

The dresses – the most expensive items, ranging from US$80 (S$106) to US$500 – are often accented with details such as dainty bows, flowing ruffles and elegant flowers, and the effect can be whimsical and coquettish.

Tran said he often imbues his designs with the ideas of power and femininity. And he noted that his materials are elastic and tight, but still comfortable.

Mr Brett Alan Nelson, a stylist for American rapper-singer Doja Cat, contacted the brand for samples in June 2021, said Tran. At the time, Vietnam was in the midst of a wave of new Covid-19 infections after containing the coronavirus in the beginning of the pandemic. Tran said his company was understaffed, and he had to pull all-nighters to make his deadline for Doja Cat.

It did not stop there.

Weeks later, Tran received an Instagram message directly from Hadid: “You are just amazing.” “I was so surprised and blown away,” said Tran, who then sent her a few custom pieces. Hadid posted several photos of herself wearing the brand’s looks, including one featuring its signature ruffled mesh-spandex top and matching pants.

That moment was a turning point. Soon, Tran said, he received requests from media personality Addison Rae, model Hailey Bieber, singer Dua Lipa and K-pop group Blackpink. One of his outfits was worn by both American singer Rodrigo and K-pop girl group Twice’s Nayeon.

“Fanci Club embodies femininity – it’s sexy, it’s nightlife with a princess personality,” said Ms Beverly Nguyen, a Vietnamese-American stylist in New York. It also pairs well with vintage trends that we have been seeing for quite a few seasons now: the oversized Dior glasses, the Fendi baguette bag, the Manolo sparkly sandal.”

Ms Nguyen felt especially nostalgic, and proud, to see her culture reflected in Fanci Club’s outfits. “The silhouettes and colours remind me of my mum’s style in the early 1990s,” she said. “I love that the designs are rooted in nightlife culture that stays true to the city girl of Vietnam.”

On Saturday, Fanci Club will drop its latest collection, Colour Of Unadulterated Insanity, which leans more into a different feminine persona: the dark, rebellious and scorned woman.

Bows and ruffles remain, though this time with corset strings and metal spikes. “In previous collections, we imagined a woman who looks at life with rose-coloured glasses and dreams of love,” he said. “However, there are moments in life where she will encounter the darkness of jealousy or betrayal, and bloom dazzlingly.”

Tran hopes to open a store in the US, but he does not want to lose sight of his original customers – Vietnamese women. “I want them to know there is someone here making clothes for them,” he said.

This article was originally published in The Straits Times.