If you fed a bot images of Harajuku outfits, dispatches from 90s rave culture, and the androgynous styling of the disco era—then burnt it with blotter acid for good measure—it might produce something similar to “Untethered,” the new project by Vietnamese designer Mai Lê Lan Ý. The outfit is a bubbly color wheel of patches and shapes, with different textures and purposes. It sort of resembles a snow suit if skiing was really a thing in Vietnam.
The project encompasses ideas of inclusivity and sustainability. It’s interchangeable, genderless, and largely upcycled. The pieces are purposefully adjustable and androgynous so that people of all sizes and identity can wear it. The inner shirt is flexible and light, colored in pastels with jersey mesh materials. The windbreaker puffy pants also feature a flexible waist with a drawstring and overall straps. And the corduroy jacket can be turned into multiple kinds of bags.
“I tried to use as many secondhand materials as possible. I strongly believe in sustainable fashion and the reduction of fabric waste in clothing production,” Lan Ý says. “For decades, fashion waste has been one of the highest pollutants in the world.”
“It’s extremely important to be inclusive, in all kinds of industries not just in fashion, because it’s the right thing to do,” she adds. “We should make the world a better place for everybody and ensure the products, services, and values we create can reach and help as many people as possible.”
The 90s influence is a bit subliminal for Lan Ý and the 70s culture references are philosophical, but the Harajuku inspiration is pretty literal. The carnival-live, maximalist youth culture of early 2000s Japan still holds sway 20 years later, especially with the resurgence of Y2K styles. “I especially love how people didn’t focus on chasing trends, but wore whatever they thought was beautiful and true to their own style,” she says. “Every piece was unique and experimental. I also love that people ignored restrictive gender roles and wore whatever they wanted.” In Vietnam, the majority of fashion fans prefer more conservative stuff, but Lan Ý says there are many subcultures thriving there right now. “I think there’s a lot more potential for growth and diversity in the future.”
The “Untethered” shoot was photographed by local stalwart Nguyễn Hoàng Long of AntiAntiArt, and the model is local hip hop dancer Đào Nguyễn Nam from the Last Fire Crew. The custom glasses and ear cuff are from Lan Anh of Aphrodite Studio.