EFusion fashion designer Bach Mai has been on a wild ride lately. Vogue praised the 33-year-old Houston native as “an upcoming American fashion designer” and Venus Williams, Tessa Thompson and Kate Beckinsale all recently appeared on the red carpet in glamorous sculpted dresses from her debut collection.
It’s pretty exhilarating for Mai, who grew up in West Houston as the son of Vietnamese immigrants and graduated from St. John’s School in 2007 before heading to New York to study at the. Parsons School of Design and Paris, where he worked for John galliano at Margiela House. In 2019, he returned to New York to launch his own brand, which won rave reviews during its recent pandemic-delayed launch.
“Fifteen years (later) and I’m in VogueMai marvels with a mixture of wonder and bewilderment over a glass of 13 degree Celsius wine while in Houston on a brief vacation visit with his family.
Mai’s new collection plays on the theme of ‘irreverent glamor’, with sculpted jackets with kimono collars, bias-draped lurex dresses and voluminous, low-waisted ball gowns in luxurious moiré fabrics (her new brand has the support from Hurel, the first French textile company). While his work is riddled with references to his idol Galliano, the great American fashion designer Charles Jacques and French fashion designer Cristóbal Balenciaga among other things, Mai says her biggest influence on fashion was her education in Texas.
“I started making girls’ clothes in high school, but I still dress the woman from Texas,” he says. PaperCity. “This understanding of glamor is very Texan, because it’s not a unique thing in a blue moon. Texas women wear event clothing all the time. There is a very real understanding of glamor and evening wear here that I think people from other walks of life don’t have.
“That’s why you see quite a few evening wear designers from Texas – Brandon Maxwell, (Creative Director of Schiaparelli) Daniel roseberry, Tom Ford. This vision of American glamor is really easy to understand when you come from Texas because we live it and breathe it.
“You can wear glamorous, amazing and stylish clothes without taking it too seriously. It’s about being able to go out after 5 p.m. and you don’t need to have a moment on the Met Gala’s red carpet every time you put on a dress. It’s about being beautiful and having a good time. I think the women here understand it and have experienced it. And having grown up around that, I understand that too.
Mai’s love for high fashion clothing began when she stumbled upon a spring / summer online screening of Galliano Egyptian collection Dior haute couture in 2004 and became fascinated by the fashion world.
“Fashion shows were just starting to get published online and I remember watching this show on my little dial-up computer in the suburbs of Houston and thinking it was beyond anything I could imagine,” he said. “It was so amazing.”
The modest start of Bach Mai
Mai took sewing lessons at Haute Couture Fabrics and started making clothes for his cousins and friends – “they weren’t tailor-made,” he laughs – and even put on a parade in the St. John’s School theater.
After working with Oscar de la Renta and Prabal Gurung after graduating from Parsons, Mai moved to Paris, where he obtained a master’s degree in la French Institute of Fashion and became Galliano’s first design assistant, focusing on Maison Margiela’s artisan sewing collections. In addition to learning the craft of his idol, Galliano taught him that each collection has its own life and “you just have to let creativity happen, give it space to breathe and let it come to life” , said Mai. .
Mai’s first collection, slated for 2020, has been delayed by COVID considerations, who, in hindsight, believe it was a blessing in disguise as it gave her time to refine her thoughts on the collection and focus on shapes
“I didn’t have to rush because I had time,” he says. “In addition, the atmosphere has become really good. People were thrilled to dress up again and it created a wonderful atmosphere for the kind of clothes I make.
The history of the Bach Mai collection is a summary of her fashion journey so far, ranging from iconic black and white photographs of Richard avedon and Irving Penn who Mai fell in love with as a teenager in a picture of Sarah Jessica Parker from an episode Sex and the city that he can’t get out of his head.
” She’s wearing a Oscar de la Renta pink dress and she passed out at Lincoln Center with Baryshnikov, then they go to McDonald’s, ”he says. “It’s an example of irreverent glamor. This is one of my favorite dresses of all time so I paid tribute to it.
“Fashion is such a lineage. This dress is Oscar’s homage to Balenciaga. Everything is so circular.
Not only should a garment be beautiful, Bach Mai believes it should be pleasant to the touch, which is why he puts special emphasis on details, such as lining his clothes with plush fabrics.
“The liner is what touches your body. It should be the most luxurious thing, ”he says. “With this digital age it has become so much about looks, Instagram, photos, but when you put on something that makes you feel amazing, it’s a power that clothes have that’s really special.
“When you see a woman putting it on, she feels like she can take over the world. It’s the most amazing thing a designer can do. I like to give women that feeling.
Mai is hoping to build on her early start with a second collection to be unveiled at New York Fashion Week next month. And, of course, he will have a connection with Houston.
His current collection includes thread-cut organza jacquards based on two works by renowned artist Cy Twombly: Triumph of Galatea and the Green paints by Cy Twombly. Mai remembers visiting the Cy Twombly Gallery at the Menil Collection often when he lived in Houston and it had an impact on his life and work.
“The next collection is even more Cy Twombly,” says Mai. “There is always something related to Menil in my collections. If it’s not Cy Twombly, it’s Mark Rothko or a Magritte.