I am not into either fashion or the people who work in the fashion field. I didn’t even know who Dzung Yoko was when my colleague mentioned him. She is interested in his work and couldn’t stop talking about him in answer to my question — “Who is he?”
Meeting him at his shared M2C café on Dong Khoi, Dzung Yoko looked younger than his 40 years. Despite arriving in Saigon as a young child, he still has a strong but friendly Hanoi accent.
In the early 2000s, Yoko Café & Bar on Nguyen Thi Dieu became a phenomenon. A pioneer of the live rock café and music bar industry, the watering hole was named after John Lennon’s wife, Yoko Ono. To this day, portraits of Yoko survey all parts of the bar.
“I opened Yoko with a friend after graduating from the Ho Chi Minh City University of Architecture in 1998,” says Dzung. “But I sold it a long time ago.”
His admiration for Yoko Ono and the name of his bar caused the name Dzung Yoko to stick. It gets printed in his credit in Vietnam’s version of Elle Magazine and now L’Officiel, where he holds the position of creative director.
The Final Passion
After graduation, Dzung Yoko spent a year working in architecture. He even took on a teaching job, but eventually moved away from it because he couldn’t find any inspiration.
“I just couldn’t like it,” he recalls. “I couldn’t feel the passion for it. So I dropped teaching. My friends and family didn’t get it, they tried to stop me.”
Graphic design was his next move.
“It was something better,” he says. It gave him more room for his imagination to shine. Although he created 20 album covers for popular Vietnamese singers, he didn’t receive recognition until the release of the 2004 album My Nhan Ngu by singer My Le.
“I still couldn’t find the final passion,” he says. “It was a job that relied on clients’ demands more than I wanted. In 2012, Vietnam’s Elle came to me and offered me a job. I took it.”
He adds: “My job is creating concepts for fashion shoots — I sketch them out. I can sketch whatever I want and I really like that feeling. I think I have found my calling.”
After 15 years working in the graphic design and fashion industries, Dzung had his inaugural solo exhibition last July. Considered to be the first fashion photo exhibition in Vietnam, it was a collection of his best photos, best album covers and achievements over the last 15 years, with the original sketches sat next to the final products. The exhibition also included new artworks that he and his team had gone to a lot of effort to put together.
“It was never planned,” says Dzung. “A friend just came and asked me if I want to do an exhibition. I quite liked the idea so I did it.”
His first book was not planned, either. Published in January 2016 with a print run of 2,000 copies, the 200-page book, Daydreamers, is a four-year collaboration of dozens of people including well-known Vietnamese fashion designers, photographers and models. Looking at the copy lying on the table, it reminds me of Alice in Wonderland.
“I think people who work in the fashion field are usually daydreamers,” says Dzung. “People say fashion is expensive and fake, so only daydreamers can work in fashion.”
Now working as the creative director of Vietnam L’Officiel, Dzung has to get five fashion shoots completed every month. That’s not counting the magazine’s product shoots, other freelance jobs and his café. He is in charge of every stage of the process, from generating ideas to sketching it out, styling the shoot and supervising the retouch to make the final perfect product.
“Yes, I am busy as hell,” he says, “but I’m happy with that as I can feel the love and passion for the work running through my veins.”
I asked him what he wanted to convey to people through his fashion artwork.
“I want viewers to consider fashion as an art form and people who work in the field as artists. Beautiful outfits express their designer’s taste, creativity and uniqueness; therefore, they deserve to be honoured as works of art. So my role is helping people gain a multidimensional view and feel the soul of each fashion product through my visual stories.”