Monica Tran

March 20, 2007

After making her way up the Giorgio Armani corporate ladder from merchandiser to vp of merchandising in just seven short years, Monica Tran decided to leave it all behind for her own venture. While at Armani, Tran specialized in knits, and in her spare time made her nieces and nephews sweaters of her own design. As family, friends and acquaintances began to express how much they liked her knit creations, Tran realized she was onto something. Thus, Trust Fund Baby was born.

A self-proclaimed TFB, Tran dabbled in the kids’ wholesale arena for one season before deciding to switch …

Vietnam’s ao dai go on display in US museum


The ao dai, the traditional Vietnamese costume, will be put on display at the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles in the US for nearly three months starting Tuesday.

The Ao Dai: A Modern Design Coming of Age exhibition, which will run until July 9, features creations from prominent Vietnamese ao dai designer Minh Hanh, young fashion designer Le Minh Khoa, and Si Hoang, an artist and educator turned ao dai designer.

Also on display are works by Le Phuong Thao, a Vietnamese-American designer who combines traditional and modern techniques, Trinh Bach, a collector and restorer of royal ao dai from the 19th and 20th centuries, and collector Ngo Viet Nam Son.

The show, organized by the museum in partnership with the Association for Viet Arts, also traces the ups and downs in the history of the ao dai during the past decades.

It looks at the past and present and the exhibits combine traditional techniques with new global influences that embody both functional and artistic designs.

It will also include forums chaired by famous academics and designers in the US on the ao dai in the past and at present.

Dr Ann Marie Leshkowich will deliver a lecture on April 26 on Making Modernity Appropriate and Tradition Fashionable: Debates About Dress, Gender, and Identity in Ho Chi Minh City in the 1990s.

The professor will analyze why during a time of rapid modernization and development the ao dai experienced a resurgence.

On May 11 Caroline Kieu Linh Valverde, Assistant Professor of Asian American Studies at the University of California at Davis, will talk about the history of ao dai with focus on its revival in the 1990s, its value as a national symbol, and its rise as an aesthetic art object.

On June 3 Dr. Susan B. Kaiser will inscribe the ao dai in time and place, addressing issues of national identity, gender, ethnicity and class, as well as the social meaning of a national costume.

Monica Tran, owner of the Trust Fund Baby Boutique, will address the fashion industry and explain how she incorporated the ao dai into her mainstream designs at a lecture on June 4.

Versatile and graceful

The ao dai (pronounced ‘ow yai’ in the south, but ‘ow zai’ in the north) is a garment of ancient Vietnamese origin acknowledged for its beauty and grace.

Considered a cultural symbol of Vietnam, the ao dai, worn by both women and men, is a close-fitting tunic over long, loose-fitting pants. 

Though the national costume for both genders since the mid 18th century, the modern form of ao dai only emerged in the 1930s.

In recent years it has made its way into the Hollywood mainstream as well as on the haute couture runways of Paris.

The museum’s official website said top fashion designers including Christian Lacroix, Karl Lagerfeld, Ralph Lauren, Claude Montana, and Richard Tyler have all at one time or the other featured the garment.

Founded in 1977, the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles is the oldest museum of its kind in the US and in 2005 became one of the top 10 attractions in San Jose in California state.

Founded in 1991, the Association for Viet Arts (AVA) is a non-profit, multi-disciplinary arts organization serving San Jose and the Bay Area.

AVA’s goals are to provide opportunities for Vietnamese American artists to present their work, open dialogues for cultural understanding, bridge Vietnamese and American cultures, and sustain the arts through arts education for youth in the community.

Reported by Dang Ngoc Khoa – Translated by Thu Thuy

Million Dollar Baby

March 20, 2007

ebruary 25, 2005

Million Dollar Baby

Ah, what to do if you’re born with a silver spoon in your mouth?

A. Become a dilettante.
B. Star in your own reality TV show.
C. Find a passion, something you have a talent for, and go for it.

In Monica Tran’s case, the calling was fashion. A former Armani executive and self-proclaimed child of privilege, Tran recently opened Trust Fund Baby, a NoHo-based boutique to outfit mini scions and the rest of us. The shop’s Asian-inspired décor and tranquil setting is a welcome relief for busy parents, as are special touches such as Apple & Eve juice boxes for tots and a changing area and bottle warmer for babies. All proving that you don’t have to have an offshore account to enjoy the finer things here.

Snubbing the conventional pink-and-blue fare, Tran’s newborn and toddler collection aspires for unique, heirloom-quality clothing and accessories with a modern edge. Her high-style holdings include a cashmere hoodie with fur trim and camouflage-print lining, one-of-a-kind mommy and me bracelets handcrafted by an artisan in Hawaii, and kimono knit tunics perfect for expecting moms. The luxurious sweaters include bold stripes, argyles and zip-front styles.

Even if you’re not rearing the next generation of socialites or future Forbes 500s, there’s no reason your little ones can’t look like a million.

Trust Fund Baby, 239 Elizabeth St. (Houston & Prince), 212.219.3600; Hours: Sun.-Wed. noon-6pm, Thurs.-Sat. noon-7pm.

2006 Graduating Student Fashion Show
Professor Barbara Seggio

Industry Critic: Monica Tran of Trust Fund Baby

Critic Award Winner: Stephanie Spangler

Gold sweater with embroidered peacock feather and velvet sailor pants

Monica Tran, 35, left an executive post with Giorgio Armani S.p.A. and opened Trust Fund Baby in October 2004. Ms. Tran used her own trust fund (her father owned a shipping company in Vietnam and now owns commercial real estate in New York) to design a store as comfortable as her grandmother’s living room. She painted the walls in the reds and greens of a lacquer box her grandmother gave her and added soft couches and a table laden with free bottles of juice and designer water. “It’s all so welcoming,” she says, “that people from the neighborhood just come in and sit.”

But customers who arrive don’t sit long. They’re after the tiny cashmere sweaters Ms. Tran designs, with ladybug or argyle patterns and soft camouflage-print linings (prices start at $89) or her $289 diaper bag that’s a bright-hued leather satchel embossed to look like crocodile, with a removable “baby stuff” pouch.

Instead of plush bears, Ms. Tran sells a line of $17 soft dolls of historical figures, including a miniature Van Gogh, complete with a pull-off ear, Socrates, Einstein and Freud. A broadly smiling Buddha seemed like the perfect gift to calm Dean, our grandson in Seattle.