Past Perfect ~ Vietnam

In the spring of 2009, I contacted a group of friends and colleagues to participate in a collaborative project, called Past Perfect, wherein participants would work with me to design a dream garment: items they’d loved and lost or items they’d always wanted. Participants were also asked to write about why the item was important or compelling to them.

In June of 2009, Alix Lambert and I went to Vietnam. I worked with tailors there to create the garments and accessories you see on the following pages. Alix documented this process in Vietnam, as well as photographed the final portraits of the participants in their items. All of the photos in this section of the site were taken by Alix. Tania Bowers did makeup for the Chicago-based participants.

Below is the original email that I sent to participants:

I am working on a new project and would love for you to contribute. I am writing you b/c you have a love for design and a singular style. I want to work with people like you who understand that fashion can express emotions, ideas and one’s identity rather than simply advertise for a designer or conform to a trend.

So here’s the concept: I’d like to go to Vietnam and have some items tailored to spec. I hear they do work that is very quick, accurate, and affordable. Specifically, I’d like to have made:

1. items that exist in your imagination that you’ve never had the chance to realize
2. items that you once had that are now lost or worn-out
3. items that you love so much you want to duplicate them, build on them, etc.

I believe that the strength of this project is not only your design concept, but also the story of the item: how/where you found it, who gave it to you, why it is significant to you, what it says about you and your style, how you lost it, how you felt when it was lost. Or if it is an item that exists only in your mind, why you think this item would be perfect and how you got the idea, what it means to you. Your stories about how/why an item can be meaningful, iconic, timeless, and
singular are what interests me.

I will then work with you to understand the fit, fabric, and design of the item. We can do this through photos, drawings, or verbal descriptions. Of course if the fabric, print or hardware (buttons, clasps, etc) are what makes the item singular, i can’t guarantee what i’ll be able to find in vietnam, so you will have to trust me to create something you will like. And in all items there will be an aspect of the game of “telephone” here, as you will be translating your ideas to me, and then I will be communicating them to the tailor in Vietnam. But I think that is in large part what is compelling about this project – the element of surprise that is intrinsic in every creative project. Then I will return from Vietnam, deliver you your item, and get your reaction to the piece.

The culmination of the project will be to present the stories and items, along with a profile of each person participating.

FYI in addition to clothing, shoes, belts, bags are also game. Let me know if you are interested and we will get started. I plan to go to Vietnam in late spring/early summer so will be moving quickly on this.

With love,


p.s I chose to call this project “past perfect” because I thought this phrase nicely encapsulates my desire to build on past ideas, as well as to emphasize the desire to move beyond the ideal of perfection into something real, live, and tangible.

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