Oct 20, 2023
French designer Christine Phung is the new guest of the LuxurynsightXFashionNetwork podcast series. Phung, who graduated from the Duperré academy and the French Fashion Institute (IFM), talked to Olivier Guyot, editor-in-chief France of FashionNetwork.com, about her career in fashion, and the challenges she has faced being in charge of style at a luxury label, working as creative director for a mass-market brand, and running her own label at the same time.
Phung graduated in 2001 from the Duperré academy and the following year from IFM, and has extensive experience of the French fashion landscape. She apprenticed at Christophe Lemaire, where she worked in 2003. “At the time, [Lemaire] was one of the first to divide his efforts, having his own designer label and at the same time being the creative director of another label with a separate identity,” said Phung.
“I decided to work alongside him and learn this approach, which seemed to me quite innovative. The designer-couturier model à la Martin Margiela in the 1990s was still prevalent then, and [Lemaire] was going a step further, while many were complaining about how tough it was to survive as a designer, with the obligation to succeed in making a creative business viable in the long run,” said Phung.
Phung broadened her horizons making new experiences as a designer at Chloé, Vanessa Bruno and Dior Children, and also as a consultant for Veja and Lacoste, until she finally founded her eponymous label in 2011. She has been running the Christine Phung label in parallel with her freelance work, and her stints as creative director of Georges Rech (from October 2015 to May 2016), and creative director of Leonard (from March 2016 to May 2020).
Reconciling different traditions
How to juggle the different styles and traditions specific to each label? “I start from the client’s DNA, I dissect it and I analyse each of its codes, to broaden their scope,” said Phung, rather enigmatically. “When I joined Leonard, its codes were: the orchid, fuchsia pink, and silk jersey. So I told them that I would not include any of them in my first collection, and I focused on using high-tech, innovative fabrics, and a much more architectural textile approach,” she added.
Taking charge of style at Leonard was a significant step in Phung’s career. “I’d launched my own label five years before, in 2013 I won the ANDAM prize, an award set up by Nathalie Dufour and Pierre Bergé, and this was the ninth collection in my name,” said Phung.
“I’d reached a stage where I had to find financial backing because I was still operating on an artisanal scale, and I wanted to expand on a more industrial one,” said Phung, adding that “it’s a stage that’s extremely hard to achieve on one’s own. When you have your own label, you feel you no longer have to time to function as a designer, you need to take care of accounting, human resources, deadlines, invoicing, sourcing, etc. So I decided to join Leonard to work at my core business, fashion design.” She did a quick apprenticeship at “a major name with a strong heritage” and “5,000 designs in its archives.”
Phung then went in an entirely different direction, taking charge of style at a popular brand with a widespread presence in the mass-market sector. In autumn 2020, she was hired as creative director of the lingerie and homewear brand Princesse Tam Tam (owned by Japanese group Fast Retailing), where she worked for two years. Like in her luxury career, Phung’s mission there was to “spark a dream, loyalty and strong values, because we don’t sell the product alone, but everything around it,” she said. Phung tried to reconcile the codes of lingerie, “an object of desire and pleasure,” with “a functionalist lifestyle” and the commercial imperative of “making products that are permanent fixtures on the shelves.”
In October 2022, Phung took on a new challenge, that of relaunching sophisticated knitwear label LaFrançaise, as well as re-energising her eponymous label.
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