Welcome to the world of an Asian bad guy. In Vietnamese, LỰU ĐẠN translates to ‘bad guy.’ The mission of the brand is to showcase the Asian bad boy to the world. The Western perspective often limits the portrayal of Asian male figures, but Hung La aims to revive an interesting, lively, and slightly wild image of the Asian bad boy through the medium of fashion. Having traversed numerous Asian cities, the vibrancy of the youth deeply impressed Hung and convinced Hung that it is crucial to continue establishing a prominent presence for Asian identity in the fashion industry.
As only of the only Asian designers who has worked at CELINE and Balenciaga in Paris, Hung, although raised in the West, constantly explores his Asian identity and showcases its diversity through fashion. Even in a time when diversity is celebrated, there is still a need for change and a need for voices to be heard, such as the scarcity of Asians or women in positions at LVMH. Despite the challenges ahead, we must speak up, be seen, and create a community, a fashion language system that belongs uniquely to Asia.
What motivated you to start your brand and named it “LỰU ĐẠN” initially?
Hung La: LỰU ĐẠN means grenade in Vietnam. LỰU means pomegranate and dan means bullet, but it actually is kind of slang for dangerous man. So, when someone is LỰU ĐẠN, it means dangerous men. For me, there is a specific type of man in Asia or from the east that he drinks too much, he gambles, he’s a bit sleazy, is dodgy. He goes to Karaoke late at night. It’s his character. He wears a lot of floral prints or animal prints. He’s a little bit too much. The name comes from that.
I felt like there were no brands that really spoke to this except WACKO MARIA does a little bit. Because I’ve always grown up in the west and lived in Washington, Paris, Antar, Milan, London, so most of my points of view are either from a Western lens, and in the West, we have this polarization of the Asian male. It’s either demasculated, means someone who’s not very sexual or hyper masculine like Kung Fu or explosives experts. For me, there’s a whole wide spectrum of storytelling that’s not done about Asian men. I know there’s a lot of kind of fun characters of Asian bad boys in Asian culture. I wanted to create a brand around that.
What kind of person do you envision when you think about someone wearing LỰU ĐẠN?
Hung La: My dream for LỰU ĐẠN is always to dress a transcendental iconic figure.
When you look at stars like Bruce Lee. For me, there are these iconic figures that transcend like all spectrums of culture such as music or cinema, fashion, culture. They become these figures that are imprinted in our brain in terms of when we think of a certain period of certain style, and everyone has their different interpretations.
But my ambition is to dress the next Asian to a transcendental figure that captures the audience in terms of every aspect of their life. They have a 365 ° view of their lifestyle, their brand, their culture, the food they eat. It is part of that world.
Fashion can be such a powerful vehicle in terms of galvanizing people and when music and cinema and fashion come together, it becomes such a powerful force in terms of bringing people together. And for me, that’s always the ambition of the dream is to kind of be the vehicle part of that machine. But the people who actually wear LỰU ĐẠN are amazing. It’s fun people when they wear it, they change their personalities, they become a little bit sleazier, or a little bit more of a bad boy, and it’s a fun brand to wear.
How do you describe your brand in three words and why?
Hung La: We’ve established three foundational pillars for our brand, each encapsulating distinct elements.
Firstly, Asian Identity: Despite my experiences at CELINE and Balenciaga, and my recent venture into women’s wear with Kwaidan Editions alongside my partner, I had never explored Asian identity in my work. The wake of COVID-19 and the George Floyd incident prompted a reevaluation. During this time, authenticity became paramount. People craved genuine narratives, whether about gender identity, sustainability, or, in my case, Asian identity. I had once distanced myself from my Asian roots, considering it too specific, but the authenticity movement compelled me to embrace and showcase the diverse facets of Asian identity through my fashion.
The second pillar is ‘Villains’: Personally drawn to bad boys and villains in films, I find them intriguing with their better dress sense, compelling stories, and psychological depth. While I don’t endorse violence, I appreciate the complexity and allure of a well-crafted villain or bad boy, often preferring them over the clean-cut hero.
The third element is ‘Me’: In today’s landscape, the audience seeks a brand deeply connected to its creator. My personal journey as the lone Asian in rooms at Balenciaga and CELINE has shaped my perspective. I aim to embody my inspiration and connect communities through Asian identity, understanding the nuances of being an Asian male or female. Asian identity is multifaceted due to diverse countries, religions, histories, and cultures. While each identity is unique, there’s a shared cultural thread in food, music, and film. I believe in the power of presenting Asian identity collectively, amplifying our voice as a community. My story is that of an Asian designer advocating for the Asian community.
As a brand with a global presence, are there any noteworthy Asian fashion trends or brands that you’d like to highlight for our readers?
Hung La: There are so many beautiful movements in Asia. Recently, I was in Shanghai, and the energy among the young kids is incredibly hopeful. It’s like a plea, ‘See me, recognize me.’ I resonate with it, and it’s generational. My parents’ generation had a different mindset, emphasizing hard work and avoiding attention. There’s been a shift, and now there’s this awakening.
I’m aware of the amazing music scene in Chengdu, and Bangkok is currently exploding with cultural vibrancy. Thailand, too, has a vibrant music scene. I’m planning to visit Vietnam later this month for a shoot. And it’s fascinating how in Seoul, there’s an incredible explosion of creativity, with numerous pockets of energy in young culture.
What is truly beautiful is that we organize something called city tours, which underscores the idea that one’s identity is often rooted in a specific geographical location. We’ve conducted city tours in New York and London, and I had the desire to extend it to Shanghai. And my next plan is to do one in Manila. The process involves reaching out to local creatives, including a photographer, and conducting a photo shoot. Following that, we engage in an interview where we discuss topics such as role models during their upbringing and their feelings about representation. What we’ve discovered is that the city or location where these individuals reside significantly shapes their identity. Conversations about Asian identity in New York, for instance, differ from those in Tokyo. In Tokyo, there’s no shortage of representation since Asian faces dominate social media. However, the dynamic shifts in Asia, where there’s a genuine desire for representation and recognition. I believe that success in Asia, coupled with recognition in the West, signifies a broader acknowledgment. The conversation thus involves different nuances.
How do you feel about the representation and the creative dynamics between the East and the West?
Nana: That’s a challenging question because I have always contemplated the connection between Asia, the West, and the East. But I believe that in Japan and South Korea, there is a notable distinction compared to other Asian regions. Even though successful designers from places like Singapore and Malaysia acknowledge and fully respect what’s happening in Harajuku Street, there’s a difference. In Japan, and especially in South Korea, due to the burgeoning streetwear movement, they now wield significant influence in the fashion industry.
So, Westerners might still perceive Japan and Korea as cool, but I presume that individuals from mainland China or Hong Kong, as well as Singapore, might find it challenging to achieve success and recognition, as you mentioned, when compared to those in Tokyo and South Korea.
How do you discover inspiration, and what is your process for conceptualizing each collection?
How was the collaboration with CLOT recently, and could you discuss any notable collaborations that LỰU ĐẠN has undertaken in the past?
Hung La: It’s a Japanese Santoku life that we collaborated with these artisans in Japan, drawing from the samurai tradition to create the knife launching today on SSENSE. That’s our second collaboration. It’s a really beautiful story because we work with a lot of young Asian talents, as you can see on our Instagram.
We invite individuals who are training to be stuntmen, practicing with swords. For me, as we discuss bad boys and villains, a knife is a fun object to create. It’s kind of cheeky because, again, I’m not promoting violence, but I think it’s a fun object. During the pandemic, I found myself cooking a lot. Growing up in America with an American family, I couldn’t go out much, so I cooked a substantial amount of Asian food. One of the Japanese dishes I enjoy cooking is Nikujaga. I love preparing Japanese pork belly, chicken ramen with a light chicken broth. Additionally, I cook a lot of Vietnamese, Japanese, and Taiwanese dishes. I love to cook. It aligns well with the pillars – Asian identity, my personal story, and the villainous theme with the knife. We are currently working on several collaborations. In 2025, we will have two more collaborations. I can’t reveal the details just yet, but think about the three pillars.
What are some of the challenges you encountered while building your brand?
Hung La: I love being a brand builder. Building a brand is really challenging because it’s almost like every kind of brand has its unique growth journey. It’s as if you need everything to align and establish a strong foundation. Sometimes a brand excels in communication, or sometimes it excels in marketing, or sometimes it excels in sales. You need all those elements to align. It’s like dealing with a child with a giant head and no legs—awkward, yet it’s a beautiful process.
But when I look at LỰU ĐẠN, I see it as an Asian minority—a brand that wants to be seen, wants to be heard but is used to being in the shadows. So, how can I use that as a vehicle to empower? If I look at LỰU ĐẠN as a minority, it needs to be seen, it needs community, it needs to be heard, and it needs to stand out of the shadows and be seen. For me, I want LỰU ĐẠN to be a very big, thriving community that speaks not only for Asians but also for people of color and everybody through its authenticity. But first, I want the Asian community to feel represented.
Some of the biggest challenges lie in a space where people are craving diversity, but they’re not always choosing diversity. For instance, during fashion week, if you walk outside Louis Vuitton, there is a queue, right? I would say the majority of those people are Asian. They want to buy that product, but my goal is, can I make LỰU ĐẠN something where we feel like we’re supporting each other? Because ultimately, the goal is to have more Asian creative directors, more agency leaders because those in power can bring about change, especially on a global level.
It’s about being seen and taking small steps so that the community comes first. We’re helping each other in a way that there’s more balance and more visibility towards diversity, with diversity including more aspects of Asian identity. That’s the whole purpose for me. If you look at my posts, like carrying an LVMH in 25 positions, there’s only one Asian creative. There’s an imbalance, and there are two women in those positions so there’s not a lot of diversity. When that rebalances, and it will, because there’s so much creative energy, currently, certain structures are in place that gatekeep.
If you look at it, in the first year of many fashion schools, the majority is Asian. Asians have the passion we want. But if you look at those who graduate, many Asians aren’t able to navigate structural challenges. They aren’t able to prosper, and this continues to another level—they struggle to secure their first jobs as easily as other races, and afterward, they face challenges in advancing due to structural obstacles. There are many challenges, but I’m ready for that.
Do you have any advice for our readers for seeking to find a way to start their own brand or career in a fashion industry or for Asians who want to stand out in the fashion industry?
Hung La: For me, I worked with Phoebe Philo, and she would always talk about a kind of authenticity. Authenticity is when your true self, your voice, and your identity are aligned.
It’s always challenging when you start a brand, is that you have to sell your product. You have to offer something that resonates with people. But I think the only way you can do that is to be your authentic self. You have your own specific experiences.
That’s what I learned by starting new, having worked for all these other people. I had to start another brand before I really understood what being a creative is about. It’s my true voice is my identity, and it’s what I want to share with the world. When you’re designing to make the next best-selling thing, it lacks authenticity.
Nowadays, we consume so many images, see so many things, and we can immediately tell when something is off or insincere. So, my advice is always to stay true to who you are and where you came from. If the story is authentic, people will see it, and it will resonate with many.
But the challenge today is that you need to make a lot of noise to be seen and heard. The rules of the game are not always fair because the more money you have, the easier it is to tell your story. I believe a lot of it is about being seen and heard, and nowadays, it is more democratic, but it’s not always fair. Building a community and finding bonds that tie us together, instead of separating us, can make us stronger. Historically, Asians have been comfortable in the background, and Asian creativity has been ripped off for centuries. Everyone claims they invented pasta, but Asians might have done that first. Nowadays, it’s not about being in the background. It’s about being seen and recognized. It might sound selfish, but I think it’s important. The younger generation wants to be seen in a different way.
Stay true to who you are and where you came from.
Text by Yiyao Zhang