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5 unique souvenir gifts from Vietnam

Finding something different and unique is a challenge. Mass production, cheap materials and reused ideas you find everywhere. Living in Vietnam since 2000, I have seen the progress and changes to the country over the years. I still believe Vietnam can do a better job promoting its beauty and I wanted to contribute with what I know best. That is photography.

Photographers tend to publish books and postcards. My graphic design background has always made me think in different ways. I always liked lacquer as a craft. There is something about handmade process that adds a difference to a product. It is not just stamped out from a machine in the hundreds, it is actually crafted by hand.

I started experimenting with the ancient lacquer making technique and modern print technology. From that our photographic lacquer coaster sets were born.

1. Lacquer coaster sets

O&M Coaster Set

Photographed with an old vintage Kodak camera, the Kodak Duaflex II. From the 1950’s, this camera brings a distinct style to the images. Printed on hand plated silver base, then several rounds with lacquer coating, also done by hand.

Each coaster set is handmade and unique. From O&M.

 

From printing on hand plated silver to fabric. Pillows were the next step. Featuring motifs from around Vietnam, these pillows make the perfect present:

2. Decorative pillows with photographic print 

O&M Decorative Pillow

It has never been easier to ship a slice of Vietnamese heritage to your living room. As seen above, a set of Vietnamese water puppet dolls photographed in the ancient city of Hoi An. Each tote bag gets produced on demand and assembled by hand before shipping. From O&M Collection Store.

 

Then we applied the printing techniques to t-shirts. A full print t-shirt is wearable art. Truly different.

3. T-shirts with sublimation prints, full coverage

O&M T-shirt

Anyone walking the streets of Saigon have seen the cable and wire madness. Standing at most street corners, it is easy to spot the cable monsters above. Printed on both sides, these t-shirts take you straight into the cable jungle. Each pillow case gets produced on demand and assembled by hand before shipping. From O&M Collection Store.

 

Expanding our option with wearable art, we started a tote bag range. Simple, elegant and functional. Different photographs for different occasions. Below is one of our favourites.

4. Tote bags with French cement tiles patterns 

O&M Tote Bag

The French brought with them their cement tiles making techniques. You can walk on their heritage throughout Vietnam. These tile patterns I found deep in the Mekong, at one of the eldest Khmer pagodas. A variety of patterns cover the floor and I documented most of them. Any trip you take around Vietnam will reward you with photographic opportunities. Vietnam is indeed a hidden charm. You need to seek out in order to find. From O&M’s Collection Store.

 

We also offer the traditional photographic print. Wearable only for walls, they do add character to where ever they hang on display. For other size, please get in touch.

5. Framed poster prints shipped to your doorstep

O&M Square Poster Print

An affordable alternative to our silver plated lacquer prints and silver plated canvas prints. Each poster prints on Epson Ultra Premium Luster Photo Paper. 

​A detail from one of the stunning rooftops seen in Hue city. The emblems are unique for the area and I have only spotted them outside of Hue at Hue restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City. From O&M’s Collection Store.

 

Want to know about new releases? Sign up for our Newsletter at the O&M Collection Store website or follow our Business Page on Facebook. We release new products on a regular basis. 

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Design, Photography

The Circle of Life, Art Direction revisited

Word Magazine, HCMC edition, February 2013 issue, cover photography and design by Mads Monsen

Word Magazine, HCMC edition, February 2013 issue, cover photography and design by Mads Monsen

Word Magazine, Hanoi edition, art direction by Mads Monsen

Word Magazine, Hanoi edition, art direction by Mads Monsen

Just off the presses, Word magazine’s HCMC and Hanoi edition for February 2013 are now available. It took the team a lot of work to make it happen, but we did. Regular readers may notice the design changes that we rolled out for the February editions. Yes, I am involved in magazine design again. For those who know my work as a photographer, it may come as a surprise that I also do editorial design. The ones who knew me from my period as art director at Sun Flower Media (SFM) were equally surprised that I also do photography. To me, design and photography is my Yin and Yang.

After I left SFM in 2008 and set up Studio MadsMonsen (SMM), I was involved with the editorial design of Duyên Dáng Việt Nam – Charming Vietnam Magazine in 2011. Editorial design samples can be seen here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/thuvamads/sets/72157632549798800/

Now, in 2013, I am involved with the editorial design of Word Magazine, both HCMC and Hanoi edition. Editorial design samples can be viewed here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/thuvamads/sets/72157632549911976/
Also added below a few selected samples for the first blog post of the year, and with that, I do hope to be blogging at my weekly rhythm once again. Happy New Year! Chuc Mung Nam Moi! Godt Nyttår!

Editorial spread. Photography and design by Mads Monsen.

Editorial spread. Photography and design by Mads Monsen.

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Fashion spread 1 of 3. Photography and design by Mads Monsen.

12_fashion_02

Fashion spread 2 of 3. Photography and design by Mads Monsen.

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Fashion spread 3 of 3. Photography and design by Mads Monsen.

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Design, Photography

The ice cream store and why a combo is better than a single strike

Advertising for Nia Bella ice cream store. Photography & design by Studio MadsMonsen.

A combo is better than a single strike. I realised that when playing karate kid arcade games. The combo move was always better than the single kick or punch. Advertising agencies often have an art director/copy writer team. A killer combo of visuals and words. They realise that the team can be more creative than an individual.

Starting out as an apprentice, I realised the perception amongst my peers was to get a “proper” photography degree if you wanted to succeed as a commercial photographer. An apprenticeship was ranked lower. When I started on a photography degree course, I realised that I would spend my time and money on something I already knew very well. I still remember my evaluation meeting with the head of photography department where I raised my concerns and realised that the only thing they had taught me was a split toning technique for black and white printing. I realised that I was in the wrong place.

I asked my graphic design tutor, as we had a weekly two hour graphic design class as part of the course, which school she would recommend for me to apply to, as graphic design was something new and it had caught my interest. I received a list of names, some I heard of, some I hadn’t. Then I asked about a school that I had a friend of mine attending. She looked at me and then told me flatly to forget about that one, I would never get accepted there, it was out of my league.

I could have listened to her, but then I would not be where I am today. I realised that nothing is impossible if you really want to achieve it. I managed to arrange a meeting with the other school. I was given a chance. I got accepted. I still remember the expression of her face when I told her that I got accepted at Central Saint Martin’s College of Art & Design. Gobsmacked is an understatement.

Graphic design and photography. That is a good combination. I am grateful that I ended up with what Isaiah Brookshire calls a +1 skills combo.

Those skills are handy when your business partner propose that you invest and start up an ice cream brand.

Naming a business is similar to naming a child. Being a parent I already know how time consuming that process can be. On the other hand, a very tight deadline puts the brain in creative hyper drive and delivers faster than mother nature. Thus, Nia Bella was born. Prematurely? Maybe, born nonetheless and screaming for a logo. Time for a coffee break. Armed with a Artline pen and a drawing pad, various options were tested and discarded until one was deemed worthy of exploring.

Concept drawing. Giving a gift and cartoon cuteness galore.

Concept drawing. Deciding on shape, working on element options.

Concept drawing. Final route to explore further.

Only when I had a direction worth exploring, it was time to put to use an iPad application that another graphic designer introduced me to, Paper.  I realised that it eased up the colour exploration and design process tremendously. Once the overall look and feel of the logo had been achieved I could email myself the result.

Paper in action.

Only then it was time to start Illustrator and do a refined vector version as seen implemented on the business card image.

Nia Bella business card.

Now it’s time to enjoy a scoop of ice cream, that I just realised. As our slogan says: “Life is uncertain. Eat dessert first.”

 

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Design, Photography

Duyên Dáng Việt Nam – Charming Vietnam, the new magazine

It started with a phone call. Most of the time it just does that. A ring. Some vibrations. Then a “hello”, as a command line interpreter, spelling out “Hello World”

It was an old colleague of mine. In need of some help. Design help. They had a new project, a magazine, and they wanted a different direction and thought of me.

I was humbled and flattered, it would be my third magazine to art direct and my first since I started my own studio. In the three years since I left my art director position to focus on photography, the studio has moved on from providing initially editorial services to a full service production house for advertising campaigns.

Want us to photograph only, yes, we still can do that. Want us to provide talent/wardrobe/props et al, yes, we can also do that. High end retouch services, yes, that too. Need a video, yes, we have a collaboration team to help us out on that, just like we did here for Mindshare Vietnam

Life seems to go in circles. I started out as an art history student, getting lured into the student newspaper as a photographer. Securing an apprenticeship with a commercial photography studio before setting up my own studio collective. Moving to London and studied graphic design at St.Martin’s. Working both as a designer and a photographer before moving to Vietnam. Art directing magazines and running an in-house photo studio for almost six years. Setting up my own studio again and now back into editorial design, expanding again, we just hired an in-house designer and are designing “Charming Vietnam” on a monthly basis.

Like Yin and Yang, my career is interlinked with design and photography. For the first issue I was commissioned to do the fashion article. I became my own art director. One of the things in life that you will only realize the hard way, is that besides from trying to make darkroom prints at night when you are exhausted after a full day work is 99% a waste of time, is that multi tasking is overrated. Focus matters.

So on the day of the fashion shoot we arrived at the showroom of the designer. That was our venue. I had been given “The Quiet American”, 1950’s as reference. That translates into vintage feel.

The showroom on ground floor was long and narrow. Not many angles to work and fortunately not the place where we were going to shoot. We headed up the stairs. More space and more people. On a set it can easily build up to be quite a crowd, however, this was clearly the wrong kind. Construction workers. Cutting metal bars and welding the bits together made any rave party look and sound like a quiet church teatime session.

I had two areas with daylight access and approaching rain clouds on the horizon. About an hour, an hour and a half tops, to cover eight outfits. Initially ten, however, we only had six pages at disposal, so eight leaves enough room. As a layout designer, the more options, the better. As a photographer, limited time plus limited suitable working angles to make a coherent look and feel equals less outfits to shoot.

Sometimes it is good to be your own boss.

We managed to finish off the session as the rain started hitting the building and swallowing the ambient light and it was time to wrap it up as a photographer and start making selections as an art director.

Once I had narrowed down to 2-3 images per outfit, I could start working on the page design. It is a puzzle without a visual reference to follow. The bits are put in place and moved around until they feel right. Sometimes it is easy, other times it takes a lot of time. I finished the first option, not completely happy and having learned my lessons the hard way in the darkroom, I left it at that. At the point of creative fatigue.

Continued the next day. Reworked the flow and order again and again until I this time, felt confident that this was how it was going to be presented. Left it again for the next day. Still the same feeling. Did not change it more.

Here is the session; six pages spread.

Spread 1 of the fashion story

Spread 2 of the fashion story

Spread 3 of the fashion story

 

Here is the poster for the cover, taken from the fashion session.

Charming Vietnam cover poster

Here are sample spreads of the layout.

Inside spread 1

Spread 2

 

The best part, our client is happy and took us out on celebration lunch today, yay!

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Review, SaigonCreative

Let’s talk about fashion – Saigon Creative May event

Gen starting the presentation.

That’s what we did. We got the inside scoop. A journey of tales. Starting in Milan, where we learned that fresh graduates are being picked up by the fashion houses on next to nothing wages. €200-400 a month and a one year contract. Renegotiable upon end of year. Except that the contract will not be renewed and another fresh student will take that spot as well as having to find a part time job to sustain a life in the city. By life, it means food and shelter for most of your time will be spent working.

"What is fashion?"

All the glamourous images and smokescreens came tumbling down. Being a fashion designer is not glamourous at all. Hard work and true love and almost an obsession for fashion will take you further down fashion street, anyone else will get lost and have to find another path to walk on.

Very brutal. Very competitive. A business. A money making business. Money. It’s all about the money.

Graduates are leaving with ideas of how they want to change the world with their designs. We all have been there, young and naive and then we met the established system. Some can make it work by being a rebel, by being different, but they don’t sell well. Success is measured in sales.

Creativity within defined key elements based on the heritage of the brand. All brands change slowly and use their old designs for reference and modify them, but hardly will they do an all over re-design. Too much at stake. Nobody wants to lose sales and earnings and for prices, prices are set based on the perception of the brand value. For example, a €900 garment at wholesale price, will most likely retail at €1800, and cost only €30 to produce. You pay for your brand experience.

Gen showing samples of her work.

We learned about the trade shows, their mood booths and future trends. Everything you see is two years ahead.

We learned about a job title has many positions baked into to it. People are expected to help and get the job done. Such as when you are prototyping and your fashion show is only a few weeks ahead and your boss decides to scrap everything for a new vision and your staffs are hiding because of the scream they heard when the news broke.

2-3 hours sleep on average per night in the run up to fashion week. Having a show and the garments are still not ready. Getting the receptionist and the cleaners to help getting button holes done on time. Sewing decor elements directly onto the model the minute before stepping out on the catwalk and having to tear it all after the show.

Photographers photographing every piece of the collection on the day of the show, delivering images and the printers are working overnight to produce the look book that is delivered to all the buyers on the morning after the show.

While you are selling your current collection and dealing with buyers, you are researching and producing your next collection, the cycle never stops and Gen is traveling onwards, still in love with fashion, just like her heros, such as Jean Paul Gaultier: “I live fashion. I breathe fashion. I am fashion. Fashion is my passion.”

Thank you Gen for your inspirational speech!

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Photography

A New Year needs a New Calendar…

…And what would be more fitting for this blog than to introduce the jewellery calendar we photographed for CAO Fine Jewellery before year’s end. Off to a flying start with the butterfly necklace, my favourite from the session.

The butterfly necklace from CAO Fine Jewellery.

Here’s a view of the calendar and below more samples from the year to come. Enjoy!

CAO Fine Jewellery's calendar 2011.

CAO Fine Jewellery.

CAO Fine Jewellery.

CAO Fine Jewellery.

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Review

Blue elephants at Saigon Zoo

The Big Show at Saigon Zoo 2010

Yes, the images are from the morning after, but no alcohol induced elephant visions, only cardboard prints of the mascot for The Big Show.

The Big Show has been around for some time. I remember the first show I went to hosted at Pierre’s former restaurant at Thai Van Lung street. Back in the old days. Work was pinned up on dividers set up in the restaurant and the creative community mingled. It has moved around to various venues. Sometimes indoors, sometimes outdoors, sometimes both.

The Big Show has gotten bigger over the years. Recently Sun Flower Media, my former employer, have been improving the show in some aspects.

Last year, the show was located at the cinema and sports complex at Nguyen Du, district 1. This year it was at the Saigon Zoo. Fitting place for elephants, even purple ones.

The opening evening draws the crowd and this year was no exception. I had not received any invite for the event, however, security staff handed out extras at the entrance, no worries, free for all. Great. We entered.

Sponsored booths at the entrance.

More corporate sponsors had been brought in, samples handed out freely, including snack to eat and liquid to drink.

Viewing the artworks.

Anyhow, the show must go on. For the first time, the works on display were actually unified in presentation style. All branded and printed out. It looked impressive compared to the previous events.

To view the work you needed to do a bit of walking as they were all displayed on long rows. At the end you had the big screen. Most people did not sit down, they chose to stand at the back. Sometimes it makes sense to hang at the back as you can make small talk without getting your ears blasted by the normally loud volume.

So far so good, or? What struck me was the feeling of fewer participants on display. They had a lot of work up. New work. International work. However, how many of the international campaigns make sense to the local audience if they do not know the culture that the campaign is targeting? I personally loved the ad for nose trimmers as they made used of the cable mayhem that you can see everyday in Vietnam. It is something that relates to here.

What I am trying to say is that sometimes it is not about how much we improve the current product if the product has lost its relevance.

According to Todd at Golden Digital (via David), it took only Vietnam 5 years to get up and going on the Internet. The young generation that is looking for inspiration, the very inspiration the Big Show used to provide, are finding that information easily online. They do not need to wait one year to see it on display.

They have probably bookmarked it several months ago and shared it on Facebook or Twitter or by email to friends. Internet is changing our ways of working and making certain elements and business models obsolete. It is the nature of evolution. Improve or die. Improving the packaging does not mean that the product itself is improved.

To me, personally, by attending an event such as the Big Show, it doesn’t give me much anymore. Except the possibility to actually bump into interesting people. To me, it is more an networking opportunity than an actual learning experience. It didn’t used to be like that. 10 years ago with slow internet access and few book stores, information was highly prized. These days you order on Amazon.com and get it shipped. Some bookstores even will do that for you and deliver to your door these days. Internet has changed Vietnam and it is still changing rapidly. The recent BarCamp gathering is gaining serious traction and more IT companies are relocation to Vietnam.

For a design student, yes, it is interesting to see work on display, however, what you need as a student is not the finished product but a peak at the process. How you got to that idea is far more interesting to know than seeing the final product. What sparks your imagination? What gets you inspired? These are the important questions.

People in the creative industry are complaining how hard it is to find local creative talent and how they wish the local design education could improve. Well, to only see the final product, you feed the industry of copyist that will take what they see and, well, copy that. They will not understand the creative process. They will not be used to do research. They will not be used to do analysis. They will not innovate.

By showing end results only, you will not create the opportunity to learn from the process. In the past, having access to international work was an inspiration as there was very difficult to access that information otherwise, however, technology has made that information so accessible that the need is no longer there.

Next step on the evolution ladder is to understand more about the process and foster an environment that can be creative and innovative. We don’t need more technical jockeys, we need innovators.

One of the remaining strengths of The Big Show is that it highlights the creative industry in the media, but how about extending the current scope and try to look at other ways to bring better value. To evolve and improve.

Watching re-runs.

Walking at the show the day after was sobering. Still a few visitors to the show. Lots of families with kids that did not come for the show but for their weekly family trip to the Zoo. Saigon does not have many child friendly places and activities and the zoo is one of the most popular ones. The biggest crowd gatherer was not the work on display, but the artists drawing portraits for the public. The stage was empty. The screen showing re-runs of the reels. Staff sitting around waiting for the time to pass so they could wrap it all up.

Imagine the effort put into creating the event. The marketing material produced, the advertising of the event, the building of the stage and different booths. All the staff to make it happen. For mainly a one night stand. The opening of the show.

How about using the next day inviting the local agencies for short presentations? Make and publish a schedule. Get people to come and listen and see the work and hear about the process the day after. Get more out of the event than just an evening. BarCamp is successful for the presentations. People come to listen. To learn. There is a real interest here. Evolve and be part of the progress or wither as a dinosaur. The show will always go on.

Critics of BarCamp are saying it is too long between the events. They want it more often. The same I say about The Big Show. Once a year is not enough in the current state. Daily I can access international campaigns as they are published online. What I want is interaction. Human interaction.

As they say, find an itch and fix it. Best way to invent a new product or service. Well, Creative Mornings are about to see the light in Saigon. A monthly get together for creatives. Takes place in the mornings only. A healthy stimuli. Scheduled for launch in January. Stay tuned!

The show goes on.

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Finding inspiration and the desire to create.

Inspirational poster series #001

Twitter and its “Tweets” can be addictive once you start following other interesting contributors. Inspirational quotes are just that, inspirational, and they are one of the bits I fished out of my Twitter stream.

I started enjoying reading positive statements infrequently. Then I started wanting to keep some of them for reference and I emailed the tweets to myself. Archived into my Personal folder, together with lots of other emails. Hidden, neatly out of sight.

Next step was do do a screen shot of the tweets and place the screenshots in an inspirational folder. More organized and still hidden.

Better, but not good.

I wanted to do something more out of them and after some pondering my calendar finally had an opening. I reserved it for myself. My time. Headphones on, Smashing Pumpkins blazing my ears and no interruptions allowed while I am opening Illustrator and start creating a series of posters.

Four posters created, more to come. They are all available, just click the image.

Now, the next step will be to get them printed and onto the walls.

Inspirational poster series #002

Inspirational poster series #003

Inspirational poster series #004

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Photography, Recommended

Scandinavian design from the shores of Vietnam.

Fronterra furniture design photographed by Studio MadsMonsen in Vietnam.

Asia, the heart of manufacturing these days. Ideas can be created anywhere, however, when the ideas are about to be realized and manufactured, then Asia is the place to be. One of my clients, Fronterra, have their designers in Scandinavia, or more precisely, Denmark. The Norwegians and the Danes have a good relationship. Denmark is still a popular holiday destination for Norwegians.

I remember from my childhood days we would get up early in the morning, load the car with suitcases and snacks and hit the road. From Bergen to Oslo and then the ferry to Frederikshavn or the other route to Kristiansand and the ferry to Hirtshals. Either way, we got to see the countryside and pass over the mountain range, have a ferry ride and then entering the almost flat country with the famous red hot dogs. We would visit Fårup Sommerland and of course, being an avid lego builder, Legoland itself, in Billund. Even my firstname is Danish. According to the family history, relatives on my father side emigrated from Denmark to Norway roughly 200 years ago and kept the tradition of naming the firstborn son Mads.

The Norwegian language Bokmål, is based on the Danish language and is commonly used in the south and in particular the larger cities while NyNorsk, the second official language, is used elsewhere in the country. All official communication is printed in both Bokmål and NyNorsk. Total population of around 4,5 million people. Feels like there are more motorbikes on the streets of Saigon than there are Norwegians in this world.

Finally, some more samples of their products that we have photographed for them here in Vietnam.

Fronterra furniture design photographed by Studio MadsMonsen in Vietnam.

Fronterra furniture design photographed by Studio MadsMonsen in Vietnam.

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