Bach Mai Is Bringing Couture to American Fashion

The designer was just nominated for a CFDA award, 11 months after starting his brand.

Bach Mai

Amber Gray / Getty Images

For most people, "American fashion" means something specific. Usually, it's ready-to-wear, preppy, and bright, led by brands like Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, and Diane Von Furstenberg. Couture isn't generally on the list, and that's why designer Bach Mai started his brand in the U.S. The Texas-born and raised fashion designer went to Parson's for fashion design and then quickly made his way to Paris, where he became John Galliano's first design assistant focusing on Artisanal Haute Couture. While this was a defining point in his career, he knew he'd be back in New York. 

Bach Mai S/S 2023 Gown

Amber Gray

"I always wanted to be an American designer," Bach Mai says on a Zoom call from his Manhattan studio. He's excited as he explains this because a week before we spoke, he was nominated for CFDA's Emerging Designer award. In the past, Christopher John Rogers, Emily Adams Bode and Sander Lak of Sies Marjan have been the recipients of the coveted prize. It's pretty remarkable, considering his eponymous brand is only 11 months old.  

"For me, it's about championing American craftsmanship. We make everything here in the garment district in New York. And I work side-by-side with all these ateliers," he says. "There are people who love to make beautiful things, complicated things. My clothes are a bit difficult to make sometimes, but plenty of people love that challenge and being able to push themselves and their craft." 

Bach Mai S/S 2023

Amber Gray

During New York Fashion Week, Bach Mai showed his Spring/Summer 2023 collection in a presentation in his showroom-turned-venue. Guests walked through three sets of models wearing elaborate gowns made from intricate fabrics, like velvet and silk, and rompers underneath organza dresses that, when under light, look like oil slicks. The collection was inspired by Bach Mai's father, who worked at an oil refinery and would wake up early in the morning to go to work wearing a blue jumpsuit. That's why most of the pieces featured some variation on a bright blue hue.

During the show, models would slowly move, making hand gestures that mimicked things like slowly wiping something off your hand.

"I was a dance major at [New York University's] Eugene Lang, where I also got a B.A.," he explained. "Movement is important to me, and that's why I worked with House of Bambi to choreograph the show." He wanted the models to feel and look powerful — and they did. 

Bach Mai S/S 2023 Presentation
The designer and models at Bach Mai's S/S 2023 presentation.

Amber Gray

As he moves into the next year of his solo career, the designer has a lot to look forward to. His collections are available in Neiman Marcus; they have been worn by Lucy Liu, Minnie Mills, Tessa Thompson and more celebrities on the red carpet, he is an interim member of the CFDA, and of course, he is continuing to build his team while uplifting craftsmanship right in New York City. "I'm so honored that people see what I'm doing. It's not just a job. I do it because I love it," he concludes.

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