Beware! You’re about to get numb-chucked by the all-girl sneaker powerhouse known as Saigon Customs. Originally from Vietnam, mackstress Miss Saigon gained knowledge in the art world through a unique forum, which laid the foundations for creating a customizing sensation. Not content with going it solo, Miss Saigon has built a movement that is well on its way to a worldwide takeover, courtesy of a sexy yet refreshingly witty outlook. We caught up with the first lady literally minutes after receiving another custom trophy for the pool room!
Hey lady, how’s tricks with you?
Awesome. Just went to the I.S.B. (International Sneaker Battle) to grab a trophy real quick with Miss Edla (my super right-hand Aussie lady) along with our amazing manager Cedra. We had a ball - we went full throttle and it really paid off.
Congrats! Can you give as some insight into the sneaker customising powerhouse that is Miss Saigon?
Well I was born in Vietnam and adopted by a couple living in France. I've been lucky to live in some of the most culturally dynamic cities in the world: Paris, London, LA and New York. I fell into the world of customising because I've always customised my life to suit me without even realizing it. Customizing is taking something and making it yours, whatever it may be.
You’ve obviously had some sort of experience with the paintbrush before! What were you doing before you started to bang out such amazing customs and how did it lead to where you are today?
I’ve worked in a whole lot of different jobs in fashion production while attending college with a Fine Arts Major. I've helped designers with production from the bottom up, and although it's tougher to learn a business that way, it's really good if you want to get a solid understanding from the inside. I've done hand painting for Miskeen, a New Jersey-based company that is very big here on the East Coast. But quite frankly I learned the most when I was a model for art schools in NY – for example, the School of Visual Arts, F.I.T, Parsons and the Pratt Institute. Those are some of the top art schools on the East Coast, in the world even, and I feel as though I got to go to class for free (and get paid at the same time) while compiling a whole lot of knowledge on different techniques. When you pose, you're stuck having to listen and observe. But one of my favorite things to paint are portraits, as I am fascinated with human universal behaviors.
Well, you certainly live up to your moniker in your designs – how important is it for you to adopt an Oriental flair to your customs?
It's important for me to represent my Asian heritage through my art. Although the family that raised me was Caucasian, I am extremely proud of my ancestry. For years now I have incorporated the Vietnamese hat into my art. It's my way of paying dues to my wonderful culture and exposing it to the rest of the world - and in a different light than all the clichés, like all the Vietnam War movies out there!
It seems a nice touch considering most customisers steer clear of originality in order to sell product. What standards have to be met before you will consider about doing a custom order, or in fact your own designs?
It has to be something I would definitely be happy to show. As an artist, the whole point is to showcase my skills, because I like to push my own boundaries. I like to sit at my desk with a computerized image of my design and question whether I can reproduce it by hand - it's like a battle with my Mac! Maybe I sound self-centered saying that I don't think much of people when I produce a pair of kicks - I just make sure I paint something I'm really feeling at the time. For custom orders, an artist has to be super-skilled so that the client feels comfortable enough letting us take initiative and control in designing something that will suit them. Of course there are always instances when a client can be difficult to please, but then again, as a customiser you have the option to not take the job!
Most artists struggle to find the balance between creating work for the love of it, and selling it to generate a career out of it. How thin is that line for you and how difficult is it to make a living out of this art form?
It's difficult not to sell out sometimes! We all get hungry. But what matters most to me is respect amongst my peers - my artist peers that is. If I can gain and maintain that throughout my career, finances will follow accordingly. It's hard to make a living at anything you do on your own, and working for others does offer some stability and a sense of security for most, but I would like to define my own success as I go I guess.
Speaking of success, you won the ‘Best Custom Themed Sneaker’ at Funkmaster Flex’s International Sneaker Battle Comp last year – what shoe won that for you and how much prep time did you put into getting it perfect for the event?
Well I'm pleased to say that we also won for Best Custom this year! That was a great experience for all of us, especially Aussie Girl - she's totally the sneaker fiend of the team (read: most knowledgeable, well-informed head in the crew). We definitely had a blast and want to give big ups to the judges. But as for '08, I won the competition with a pair of Stan Smiths I entitled ‘Three Headed Ellie’. I was inspired by the Laotian flag while creating a pair for a Laotian guy I knew. I found out that in the ‘70s they stopped using the flag that bore ‘Ganesh’, the three-headed elephant God. I spent probably about four and a half hours straight on each shoe and it was one of the last two pairs I completed right before the I.S.B.
How significant are these competitions in furthering not only your name but also your skills?
Bragging rights are important (haha) but it's also super important to stick to your skills: you can't be arrogant or cocky if you're not going to bring it! But those competitions are important platforms to showcase your skills and your products. It's also fun to get a chance to see other customiser’s work, and get inspired by the sneaker fiends - their responses are what keep us going hard!
You’ve said in the past your canvas of choice is the adidas Stan Smith. We actually got to meet the man last year. Top bloke, but not a lot of people know the history about the shoe. What is it about the Stan Smith that gets your palette whet?
I love the Stan Smith for its totally uninterrupted canvas space. Stan Smith is a total legend and we would love to have him as a stallion - oh my, if it's okay with his wife, of course. I would like to ask him in person what he thinks of his shoe not being tailored for the modern tennis player - I mean what's up with that? We were thinking of driving to South Carolina to ambush him with his own custom pair of sneaks. What do you reckon?
Go for it! For those in the dark, tell us about the Saigon Stallion…
Ah, you mean the Saigon Stable. We simply like using great models for our sneaks. The thing is, every girl has a stallion or two in her life, it's just that they don't organize it well. They're all fixed on the idea of finding that ‘one’ perfect man, when a stallion fits perfectly into just one part of your life. We have artistic stallions, we have extreme sport stallions, we have computer programmer stallions, but the one thing they all have in common is that they have great respect for us and we respect them also. They are all great company and they know how to treat a Saigon Girl. I always wanted to be like Hugh Hefner with his bunnies, but I'd much rather own more noble animals - the Saigon Stallions are only half of the story. We are now signing up girls that are skilled in their field to be down with the Saigon Way. We are happy to say that Mafia, we would like to invite you to become an official OG Saigon Girl. We've attached the certificate for you and everything.
Aw shucks! Well I’m in very good company aren’t I? Give us the 411 on the rest of the Saigon Custom team…
We have Cedra our manager, Edla who is a Saigon Customs artist and for the summer we have a little dynamo working with us called Christina - plus myself. We pride ourselves on being an all-female crew. We're aiming to build a crew where egos are out, and eventually that team will include our lawyer and more artists, all of them female. So far it's a winning formula for us. As for the future? I was hoping eventually to have my own reality show with my Stalllions, ha ha. But seriously, sign up now at kickassdumpling.blogspot.com. We were thinking of buying a real stallion and racing it in the Kentucky Derby so we can wear those ridiculous hats to match our wonderful sneakers. Edla wants to buy Tasmania and dissolve it and incorporate it into mainland Australia because she's tired of people thinking she's an albino from Tanzania, Africa. And Cedra will be on a cruise ship in Jamaica with her own stable. We plan on visiting her a lot, as long as she puts in the runway because otherwise I won't have anywhere to park my jet.
I like that you think big! Where we will see the business in the next five years?
We don't talk much about the future until it happens, except to say that the outlook is overwhelmingly positive. We have a great team and that's how pretty much how great things happen. Speaking of which, we want to give a big shout out to photographer Marlon Lawe, Kondor and Jamez Smith our hairstylists, Phelena Jean our stylist and true Saigon Girl and makeup artist Aretha Evans for all their help in making the photos you see here a reality. Signing off! The SC Crew
Thanks Miss Saigon!