This story could start by saying menswear designer ‘Brian Huynh has an eye for fashion’. Given he started his career by studying optometry, this would be a suitable introduction. However, the quietly spoken Melbourne-based fashion designer has already been noticed in the fashion arena, recently being a finalist at the National Design Awards. Many in the fashion industry would have seen Huynh present six outfits for this event, comprising 20 individual items. This writer, however, discovered his fine menswear label MNDATORY (MNDATORY.COM) at the pop-up store Curated Workshop, in St. Collins Lane in Melbourne. Sponsored by The Australian Fashion Council, Huynh was one of the emerging designers represented on the steel racks.

Life could have been quite different for Huynh if he stayed with optometry, a profession his Vietnamese parents endorsed. However, a year-and-a half into the course at Melbourne University, Huynh, now 31, decided optometry was not exactly the career he was looking for. “I realised early in the course that it wasn’t for me. I’ve always had a passion for fashion design,” he says.

Although Huynh’s parents (now retired) had professions, his father in IT and his mother in finance, all their siblings, 10 in total, worked in the clothing business in Vietnam. His parents also ran a clothing store before establishing their professional careers. Although only a toddler at the time, Huynh still recalls wandering around the racks of the women’s clothing in his parent’s store in Prahran. It wasn’t until he moved to Sydney in 2007, initially working in fashion retail, that his interest in fashion reignited.

When Huynh returned to Melbourne in 2014 with his partner, now his fiancé, he enrolled in the Whitehorse Institute of Design, majoring in fashion. To support himself, he worked with a men’s tailor, learning skills that unfortunately are disappearing. “University is great for developing concepts and ideas, but you still need to learn the practical side of cutting a garment to ensure it fits perfectly,” says Huynh.

Unlike some designers who oscillate between designing for women and for men, Huynh was clear from graduation that his focus would be menswear. “I didn’t feel I had any real expertise with women’s fashion, particularly given my experience was with a tailor. I also saw myself as the person in my mind who I was designing for, men roughly between the age of 25 and 35. But really anyone who appreciates design,” he adds.

Although Huynh has his own distinctive signature, he admires fashion designers such as Rick Owens, Paul Harnden and the brutalist aesthetic of architects such as the late Louis Kahn. Those figures in fashion have a strong artisan feel and appreciation for craft, while architect Louis Kahn presented a seminal university lecture that centred on a conversation with a brick. “Kahn asks the brick what it wants to be, answering ‘I’d like to be an arch’.

In response, Kahn tells the brick ‘arches are expensive, so why not be a concrete lintel instead’. “But the brick still wants to be an arch, knowing that it has the innate design qualities to be an arch,” says Huynh. “It’s knowing about how to use materials,” he adds. Huynh starts his design process by searching for the appropriate materials, many of which are sourced from Italy and Japan. The cotton for a shirt with a slight washed out feeling was sourced from Japan and known as “Tempi Boschi’, loosely translated to ‘dried in the sun’.

This fabric, produced in small batches, was pegged onto wooden clotheslines, with the weather producing distinctive creases. Then there’s his ‘Robe’ coat, also designed for Autumn/Winter 2018. Featuring a shawl-collar and loose-slung belt, this coat has a relaxed bathrobe feel. “This latest collection was inspired by social media, ‘Myrornas Krig’, Swedish for static on television,” says Huynh, running his fingers along the boucle fabric embedded with a metallic thread.

“With the proliferation of social media, we’re much more connected to each other, but in many ways, we’re also disconnected, losing the sense of touch,” says Huynh, who was inspired by the analogue signals from television for his colour palette of predominantly grey, black and charcoal. His ‘Black Noise Blazer’ for example, in wool and nylon, references the static on television screens. “I also like to give a twist to some of the classic pieces in a men’s wardrobe,” says Huynh, reaching for his ‘Mackintosh’ coat, bonded with two layers of fabric, merino wool and polyester, to ensure that it’s waterproof.

One of the highlights in the Myrornas Krig collection is the ‘Analogue Blazer’ and matching shorts with dropped crotch. The tailored jacket, comprising panels of grey and charcoal mohair wool, can be worn with the long pleated shorts, evocative of an English school uniform, but with a contemporary silhouette.

So like the brick that wants to be an arch and not a wall, Huynh starts with fabrics before starting to sketch out his ideas. “I make the first pattern and sample myself, and often outsource production,” says Huynh, who is hoping to move into wholesale in the next year or so.

Although many fashion designers starting out have ‘stars in their eyes’, Huynh is realistic about the fashion scene in Australia. “The Australian retail market is challenging, but retailing Australian fashion is even more so. And when you go that next step and look at menswear, it becomes even harder,” says Huynh, who sees the acceptance of luxury-end labels more widespread in Asia and in Europe. And although he has well and truly moved on from optometry, Huynh still finds a connection to his earlier years of university study. “With optometry, there’s a mathematical and rational approach to problem solving. Some of that approach filters into the fashion industry,” adds Huynh.

Brian Huynh –MNDATORY can be reached on 0409 950 049


Text by Stephen Crafti. 

Lifestyle & Design

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