Inside There VND Then The Saigon Concept Store And Cultural Hub

There VND Then on Nguyen Hue is a concept store. Barbershop. Event space. Frozen yoghurt and dessert spot. But most of all it’s a cultural hub according to three of the team who are giving us an inside look at this groundbreaking project. 

Read on in Vietnamese

“Everything just came together. The store. The Barbershop. Blackyard. During this unique time for Vietnam economically, socially and culturally,” Montreal-born co-founder Boule Nguyen smiles. We’re in There VND Then’s sneaker room surrounded by kicks mounted on strip lights like art installations. International media have called the opening of There VND Then “a watershed moment for Vietnam’s fashion scene.” Looking around at the pairs of Common Projects, Filling Pieces and Raff Simons you can believe the hype. 

{From left to right] Jimmy John Spicer, Boule Nguyen and Mino Nguyen.

There VND Then spreads out over four floors of this prime 99 Nguyen Hue location. On the ground floor is the Blackyard frozen yoghurt and dessert store, on the first and second floors apparel, then the Barbershop and sneaker room. The top floor is the sprawling The Heights bar and event space.

We’re being shown around by two other people from the There VND Then crew joining Boule today, Jimmy John Spicer who runs the There VND Then Barbershop, and Mino Nguyen – who the night before DJ-ed at Saigon’s first Boiler Room event – and who will join the dots between fashion, music and parties upstairs at The Heights. Huy, Boule’s business partner, is here too, but he’s prefering to stay out of camera shot.

“So There VND Then is a lifestyle concept store delivering an interpretation of modern living,” Mino says looking around proudly, “we’re trying to redefine luxury needs in the most sophisticated way and that includes art, fashion, lifestyle, and more…”

Mino surrounded by racks and racks of apparel.

The Making Of There VND Then 

Their website modestly calls it “a concept store in the heart of Saigon”. But climbing There VND Then’s dramatic stairs to the first floor feels like entering another world. Sleek neo-industrial fittings. Stylish staff. Lines and lines of highly desirable streetwear brands. 

But we start off with the name, There VND Then. “It’s a reference to coming back, whatever coming back means anyway,” Boule shrugs. “Back we meant it as to ‘there’, Vietnam, and ‘then’, this time in its history. It’s also a reference to the place as a hub for swapping ideas. Meeting up. Being inspired.” 

A view into the Barbershop.

Backtracking even further, the idea came from Boule’s sneaker digging trips a decade ago. “Back then, sneaker companies hadn’t worked out their security yet. I found stores around Ben Thanh Market selling real and unreleased Nike Alphabet Stabs,” Boule recalls. Besides landing some highly desirable sneakers, it gave Boule a perspective on the retail market here, “and what it lacked, at least in my opinion”.

Fast forward. And Boule takes a trip to Vietnam again to research the opportunity to open a store. Calls his business German-Vietnamese business partner, Huy, and pitches him the idea for There VND Then from a swimming pool in Bali. “Another benefit of being in Asia,” he laughs. Soon after they set about “taking the multifaceted and complex idea of There VND Then and putting a heartbeat inside this beautiful space.”

Blackyard And The Barbershop

Behind the already iconic staircase is Blackyard. Dessert shop. Shakes. Lemonade. Frozen yoghurt bar. The team developed recipes in Germany – like their black frozen yoghurt base (and its vegan coconut version). “There’s our Black Velvet, Matcha Colada, Black & Berry, Oreo Mango…” the sales assistant says listing off their signatures. 

Jimmy John Spicer breaking down what it takes to elevate the barbershop experience.

Back upstairs with our Black Velvets we enter the Barbershop. There Jimmy John Spicer is getting deep about the connection between hair cuts and fashion. “Barbering and streetwear have evolved and will continue to – but the end goal is the same, to make you look and feel good…whether they do it through a haircut or clothing.”

But the Barbershop looks to add something to the usual experience. “The best way to elevate a haircut is with care. When your barber cares about how you look it makes the difference,” he adds. “Once you train your eyes for that one hair out of place, that’s what makes you better then the next barber…

“The best way to elevate a haircut is with care. When your barber cares about how you look it makes the difference.”

A Hub For Vietnamese Streetwear And Culture

If the prices might seem a little prohibitive – Common Projects sneakers for around 11m VND and 9m VND Mastermind World t-shirts that’s not the intention. “We don’t want to ostracize anyone,” Boule says firmly. Besides, there’s lots of average-priced apparel and they have plans to inject more local brands and international streetwear brands (as well as their own label they’re reluctant to talk about for now) as soon as possible. 

“Everything just came together. The store. The barbers. Blackyard.” – Boule Nguyen

“But visits to There VND Then should also be a dynamic exploration of things you know you wanted and things you never knew made sense in your everyday life,” Boule smiles. “I hope people leave the store thinking in a certain way…”

Events will play a big part in expanding the There VND Then universe according to Mino Nguyen, who DJs as Minoto. He relocated from Berlin – a city Saigon is being compared to more and more. “Basically Saigon and Berlin have nothing in common,” Mino disagrees, “Berlin is the city of rebellion, intellectuals and artists, Saigon is fast-living, food, people who smile (no one smiles in Berlin). It’s great how it is. Berlin will never be Saigon and Saigon will never be Berlin.”

Mino: “Our main purpose is to create a collaboration between both worlds – between international and Vietnamese artists.”

He’ll plan events at the rooftop space called The Heights. The idea for the first year is to add international artists to this platform where young Vietnamese are encouraged “to create, express, collaborate.” “Our main purpose with that is still to create the collaboration between both worlds,” Mino smiles. 

Photos by Khooa Nguyen and Nam Tran Duy.

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