Vietnamese fashion with Spanish touch globetrots in style

Chula, a fashion label created by a Spanish couple living in Hanoi, has captured the fancy of Vietnamese women and is touring the world with its designs that marry the subtle elegance of Asian fabrics with distinctly Spanish colors.

Chula, presently considered one of the top 100 representatives of Brand Spain, was born 12 years ago, when founder couple Diego Cortizas and Laura Fontan traveled to Hanoi for the first time for a long vacation.

With 60 workers and three stores in Vietnam, their designs are now a global sensation.

“We came to Vietnam to stay a while and do something creative, maybe design furniture, but once here, we fell in love with the fabrics and Diego began to pen some beautiful designs,” says Fontan in the Chula store in Ho Chi Minh city.

Explaining they were taken in by the “energy” of the country, she says Diego, a trained architect with no prior experience in fashion or business, was inspired.

“He is very creative, he is not your typical fashionista; he is interested in art and fashion serves as a canvas on which to express his concerns. This helps create a unique line of clothing, with an unmistakable seal. Our clothes emit warmth and is something for life,” she stresses.

The sales and growing demand for their creations prompted them to register a company and hire a team to help with production, although unlike a majority of fashion brands, the couple steered clear of mass production.

They also turned their main office on Hanoi outskirts into a cultural center where fashion is just a pretext to organize cultural events, and especially to facilitate a rendezvous between the Vietnamese and western culture.

Their creations, marked by a “happy and bold style,” which earlier sold mainly among tourists and expatriates, are now popular among the locals too, especially since 2011 when they were chosen to participate in the Vietnam fashion week in Hanoi, held every six months.

The defining moment, however, came at the Venice Film Festival in 2014, when the director and lead actress of the Vietnamese film, Flapping in the Middle of Nowhere, received an award, dressed in Chula creations.

Today the company makes a maximum of 250 dresses annually and boasts of a team, 80 percent of whom are differently-abled.

“When we were hiring, we tested a deaf and dumb girl, trained in sewing and embroidery by a local nonprofit. We liked the experience so much and her performance was so good that we asked her to bring other friends to expand the workforce,” recalls Fontan.

The disability of their initial team, however, proved to be a blessing in disguise for the two foreigners who found themselves at a disadvantage when it came to communicating in the local language.

“We are now one big family,” says Laura Fontan.

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