Alongside the skyscrapers, expensive restaurants and slick bars that appear to be mushrooming on a weekly basis, Ho Chi Minh City has just added another telling indicator of Vietnam's growing prosperity: the concept store, housed in loftlike surroundings and purveying all manner of designer frippery.
Fashioned from a colonial-era garment factory, and replete with wrought-iron window frames and slowly twirling ceiling fans, L'Usine is a café, an exhibition space and a store rolled into one. It is reminiscent of Paris' famed Colette in the artful way with which diverse merchandise is brought together in an aesthetic, enticing whole. Visit for Swedish designer menswear and you might leave with a vintage bicycle. Pop in for Brazilian flip-flops and you could find yourself browsing the Lomo camera display. Naturally, there's plenty of local product on show from homeware by Wetter Indochine to menswear by Marshall Artist and womenswear by 3 Filles. Tib Hoang, one of the four partners in this venture, says, "We want to keep the boutique feeling by working with other boutiques and giving local talent a chance."
Those opportunities extend to fine artists. L'Usine's exhibition space has hosted new takes on the traditional Vietnamese dress, the ao dai, by Trinh Hoang Dieu; a show of ceramics by performance artist Bui Cong Khanh; and street photography by the French-Vietnamese Mayannea, printed on lampshades, candle holders and other household objects. After browsing the artwork, call in at the café for refueling. Designers, architects, singers, actresses all of hip Ho Chi Minh City seems to be there, gathered over cups of Mariage Frères tea and soaking up this city's ever increasing buzz. Further details at www.lusinespace.com.
Got an awful travel gripe? The Avenger may be able to sort it out for you.