After an inauspicious academic career, I decided to follow my father into banking. My interests in art and design were not encouraged, as they were not considered a sensible occupation. I pursued my creativity in my spare time. Trips in my early twenties to a London shoe fair and to shoe factories in Northampton led to the production of my first designs. Frustrated by insufficient capital I decided to pursue a bond trading career, hoping to generate the means to return to my passion for shoes later in life.
An aptitude for numbers led to an opportunity to work for CSFB. Eight years into my new career as a bond trader, after my honeymoon in Asia, I was offered a job in Singapore. My wife Aloise and I have lived in Asia ever since. Employment with JP Morgan in Singapore, India and Vietnam, enabled me to work in several of the countries in Asia in which I had lived as a child.
However, it was the inclination to revisit my birthplace of Saigon in 2008 that led to the rekindling of my passion for shoemaking.
A chance meeting with an old Saigon shoe maker named Ngoc led me to dust off my early shoe sketches. Ngoc, a French-trained artisan, who was almost eighty when I first met him, helped make my designs, initially for me and then for close friends too. This led to the birth of a shoemaking business once.
Together with an Englishman and a brilliant young Vietnamese, I founded the brand called Dominique Saint Paul, named after the Clinique Saint Paul in Saigon, where I was born. Adopting the French gender-neutral spelling of my name allowed the brand to make shoes and leather goods for all genders. Dominique Saint Paul has evolved into an authentic Vietnamese fusion brand.
Our shoes, bags and leather goods are made from high-quality Italian leather, with many painstaking hours of handwork. We begin with crust leather, supplied from the tannery in its raw form, uncoloured and unfinished. A traditional Italian process is used to create either a solid colour or tone and patina by applying layers of one or more colours by hand.
Our customers routinely present us with the challenge to create their own individual colour. The turquoise lining of our products is an homage to my late mother.
The contrast of creativity in a manufacturing business was a welcome attraction after over thirty years in finance. The stereotypical view that quality manufacturing is confined to the West has been outdated by the emergence of the powerful new economies of Asia. To experience first-hand the industry and confidence of the Vietnamese is a particular pleasure.
The strong work ethic of the Vietnamese, combined with a strong sense of identity, sets them apart from many other countries. Their desire to be themselves rather than imitate others elevates their enterprise.
Vietnam is a young, exciting, vibrant economy that has a bright future for its fast-approaching 100 million population and is well worth experiencing first-hand.
If you find yourself in Vietnam, please spare the time to pop into Dominique Saint Paul in District 1, Ho Chi Minh City where our friendly staff will take care of you.
We have an online shop at dominiquesaintpaul.com and we are on Instagram and Facebook.