Interview with Designer Bounkhoung Signavong of Lao Design

Designer Bounkhong Signavong

By Alice Chin

I first met designer Bounkhong Signavong of on the subway.  I noticed his style and immediately asked him if he worked in fashion. As I talked to Bounkhong more, I found that he is a not only an amazing designer who creates luxury menswear and womenswear, scarves, and custom jewelry,  he is also one of the warmest and friendliest people that I know.   Read more below to learn about Bounkhong and his designs.

How did you become a designer?
I remember the first time I designed a shirt.  It was one night in 1990.  I used to worked at the United Nations in the administration division, I had links to high ranking diplomats and needed to be well dressed.  I decided to design one of my shirts that I wore to a reception.  I instructed the patternmaker and it was a hand stitched piece.  So many people were attracted to my shirt and asked me where I bought it. The next morning, one of my supervisors asked me if she could buy the shirt.  So I sold my first shirt to her.   She suggested that I work part time designer.  At that time I wasn’t interested in designer.  But I decided to open a gallery and I collected and sold antiques as well.  I had no training to become a designer.  In Laos, after you graduate from high school, you take an examination to be placed in a certain field.  Your score would determine which institute you had to attend.  I was supposed to go to school to be a doctor.  But something really bizarre happened.  Someone came to my house.  They did not know me at all.  They asked my parents to ask me to switch to become an architect. I asked Why?  He said because he wanted to be a doctor.  So I have some architecture training.

How did your Family Background influence you?
I was born in Vientiane, Laos.   My father works as a construction consultant.  And my mother worked in the village temple as a teacher.  My family was well known in the village and they were always well dressed.  Both my paternal and maternal grandmothers were weavers.  They showed me in their trunks which were filled with huge textile shawls.  I thought the textiles were so beautiful compared to modern day textiles.  My grandmothers told me that in the past, no one expected to sell their textile work.  They would only sell for ceremonial occasions.  Every woman knew how to weave, sew, and stitch.  The men would work in the farm.

Where are your designs sold?
Since I came to NY in 1999, I have been very fortunate.  I met a professional artist at the armory show.  He saw my talent and asked me to join the show and gave me a contract.  From there, I’ve joined a lot of trade shows across the country, including the Washington DC Show, Hamptons, San Francisco.  As a matter of fact, I received the Bellevue Art Fair Award 2011.  Right now I do mostly one of the kind, unique and tailored pieces.

Can you tell me about your concept?
I create my own work.  I love to be one of a kind.  When I first started as a designer I made womenswear, and a few years ago started menswear.  My style is basically Asian style with a Western look made with silk, hemp, linen, or cotton.

Where do you get your inspiration?
My travels, nature, people, everything.  I can use my imagination to create the details and then I put together.  I imagine how a person would look in my designs and imagine a certain color.

Can you tell me about a recent collection?
Three months ago,  I made a whole collection for my special client in Laos.  Winter silk, it was really artistic.  One piece took almost a month.  She wore it and she said she loved it.

Who is your customer?
In America, my customer is very confident and know what they want.  They want pieces by an artist. One of a Kind pieces.  When they touch it, they feel it is really special.  My work has been described as wearable Art.

What is your ultimate goal?
I’m very confident and proud of the Laos people.  I feel like I have a really great opportunity to be here in the United States.  I want to bring my country’s traditions to America and inform American people about Laos.  And I also want to bring back to Laos the American taste.  I always want to be creating new pieces, new looks, and new styles.  Of course, I would like continued recognition in this country and beyond.  I want to have my own store in Soho or Fifth Avenue.  God Willing.

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