Saigon Take-Homes: Communist Kitsch and Post-Modern Fashion. Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam. Copyright © 2023 Terence Carter / Grantourismo. All Rights Reserved.

Saigon Take-Homes: Communist Kitsch and Post-Modern Fashion

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Interestingly, the subject that seems to most inspire Saigon’s contemporary designers is the past – the tumultuous historic events of the 1960s and 1970s, along with Vietnam’s traditional culture, heritage, arts, and crafts.

The story of Vietnamese-Australian designer, artist and entrepreneur Mai Lam is similar to others we met in Saigon: after losing a brother and sister to the Vietnam War, Mai and her family fled to Australia in 1976 by boat on vessels that were far from sea-worthy. The bravery and resilience that journey and the war inspired is probably what helped Mai achieve business success. And Mai’s creative output, her postmodern fashion, could be seen as a way for her to come to terms with the past.

For souvenir-hunting visitors to Saigon – or more appropriately in this case, Ho Chi Minh City – all of this means you’ll find plenty of communist kitsch and, thanks to the likes of Mai Lam, pockets of post-modern fashion that are imbued with Vietnam’s history and culture. Here’s where to look for it and what to look for.

Saigon Take-Homes: Communist Kitsch and Post-Modern Fashion

Mai Lam

In Saigon’s most striking boutique – it looks like a cross between an art gallery and fashion store – you’ll find plenty of what I’m going to call Saigon’s ‘postmodern fashion’ – everything from exquisitely detailed appliqué and hand-sewn embroidery stitched onto vintage US army jackets to funky khaki caps and bags made from recycled parachutes. Many of the clothes feature the signature motifs of designer/owner Mai Lam, such as the embroidered dragonfly or the lotus flower bronze buttons, that draw on traditional Vietnamese cultural symbolism.
132-4 Dong Khoi Street, District 1 (D1), Saigon.

Saigon Kitsch

Less than a year old, Saigon Kitsch was started by 26 year-old, French-Vietnamese Audrey Tran, who left her home in Paris to return to Saigon, where she now lives with her grandmother. “I came here for a holiday two years ago and I never left!” she tells us when we meet her at her vibrant shop where we admire the retro-cool, communist-kitsch gifts she has designed herself: notebooks, coffee cups, purses, mouse pads, and even scented candles featuring vintage designs from the French colonial period and familiar propaganda images.
43 Ton That Thiep, District 1 (D1), Saigon.

Dogma ***

It’s tempting, but try not to spend all your money at Audrey’s shop so you can pop upstairs to Dogma. This hip boutique is owned by Saigon-local Tran Thi Kim Loan and her British partner Dominic Scriven, a Saigon resident since the early 1990s, who are passionate collectors of communist propaganda posters and art. All of the funky clothes –dresses, t-shirts, jackets, and bags – boast striking propaganda designs. They also have some striking posters, postcards and art.
43 Ton That Thiep, District 1 (D1), Saigon.

***Update October 2017: Dogma has closed and Saigon Kitsch has taken over the upstairs floors as well. We’ll be updating this post very soon.

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A travel and food writer who has experienced over 70 countries and written for The Guardian, Australian Gourmet Traveller, Feast, Delicious, National Geographic Traveller, Conde Nast Traveller, Travel+Leisure Southeast Asia, DestinAsian, TIME, CNN, The Independent, The Telegraph, Sunday Times Travel Magazine, AFAR, Wanderlust, International Traveller, Get Lost, Four Seasons Magazine, Fah Thai, Sawasdee, and more, as well as authored more than 40 guidebooks for Lonely Planet, DK, Footprint, Rough Guides, Fodors, Thomas Cook, and AA Guides.

4 thoughts on “Saigon Take-Homes: Communist Kitsch and Post-Modern Fashion”

  1. Lovely Saigon. I think it’s my favourite city in Asia. The best food, the best shops, the loveliest things. I loved Dogma. I’m sitting here now looking up at the wall behind my desk, where the three propaganda prints I bought in there hang. One is of a woman picking coffee beans. It says – I think – ‘The earlier you pick coffee beans in the morning, the more you can export’ – or something along those lines. It’s quite beautiful. Is there more than one Dogma though? I don’t remember it being upstairs. Maybe it’s changed, was a few years ago..

  2. Interesting! Nice stuffs. There is a market which is called Dân Sinh by the local also sell these stuffs, but be careful with the two prices system, things are actually 3 times cheaper than they actually tell you, if they recognize you’re foreigner.

    But it’s worthy and cheaper, a lot. You can find real items which were literally used in the war. The market is located in the area around Yersin street.

  3. Whoops, just saw this comment, sorry! I’m so glad to learn you loved Saigon as well. LOL, love the sound of that print! I really wanted to buy some prints from Dogma too, but it’s just so difficult to carry around prints. Our luggage was already over-weight at the time and I didn’t have any hands free. Next time…

    Dogma was on two floors of that building apparently, but due to rents going up, they moved or stayed upstairs and rented out the bottom floor space, part of which now belongs to Saigon Kitsch, also above. They said they do have plans to open another store, but I’m not sure if they’ve done that yet or not. My guess is you visited the space where Saigon Kitsch is perhaps.

  4. Hi Tom – thanks! That’s the ‘War Surplus’ market, isn’t it? I heard about that. I wanted to go but we didn’t have time. Next trip. Thanks so much for the tip! Much appreciated. And thanks for dropping by!

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