Cover Designer Peter Do at his working table (Photo: Masato Onoda/Tatler Asia)

Vietnamese American designer Peter Do talks menswear, growth and four years of building the hottest brand of the moment

Two days after presenting one of the buzziest shows at New York Fashion Week spring-summer 2023, Peter Do is back in his studio in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park neighbourhood. He is wearing items from his fresh-off- the-runway collection for his Tatler photoshoot, as well as his signature face mask—a habit and preference he’d established way before the pandemic to symbolise his rejection of the fame accorded to designers rather than to their work. The room is filled with sunshine, shoe boxes and fitting boards from the show, working desks full of fabrics, sketches, and a cute photo of Uni, his Shiba Inu.

The show was a blockbuster. Korean boyband NCT’s Jeno opened for Do in a double-breasted jacket over a white shirt—both with a cut-out exposing a flash of muscled back—and platform boots, marking the official menswear debut for the designer’s eponymous label. Seulgi of Red Velvet sat front row, a reminder of the brand’s unexpected collaboration with K-pop giant SM Entertainment. Additionally, Do and his team had partnered with TômTex Co to create 100 per cent biodegradable materials that look like patent leather—made from food waste—for tank tops and pants.

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The brand’s menswear collection may have been a long time coming, but, given the popularity of the womenswear and unisex range, it was a natural development. “I feel like it’s always been here; we have had so many male customers [starting from] the first season,” Do says. Indeed, the number of male friends who would ask Do for a pair of his signature boots in men’s sizes was testament to the demand, and its release was greeted with relief. “‘Oh my God, finally.’ That’s the reaction we generally get,” Do says.

The designer was born in Biên Hòa, Vietnam, and migrated with his family to the suburbs of Philadelphia at the age of 14. As a teen there, he would shop in the women’s section of department stores because he found the designs more interesting. After graduating from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, he cut his teeth at Phoebe Philo’s Celine—he cites Philo as a mentor— and Derek Lam, then launched his label in 2018 to fill a void. “We wanted to make womenswear the way you make menswear, which is more classic and just better made,” he explains, adding that the focus was on introducing the quality and better fabrics associated with men’s clothes to womenswear: “Everything we do here is meant to be worn over and over again; like, forever.”

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Do made a mark with sharp tailoring, statement suiting with sexy detailing and oversized silhouettes; it was menswear for women, and after nine seasons, he felt ready to do menswear for men.

The first two Peter Do NYFW shows were themed “home” and “foundation” and outlined his house codes; the most recent show was inspired by time. “The one thing that I’m constantly running out of is time,” says Do. “I don’t have enough time in the day, to develop [products], to spend time with my family, to be with my dogs ... and good things take time, right?” It’s important to Do that he make each collection personal; guests to the latest show received an invitation in the form of a memory box which included a mix CD featuring K-pop songs the designer listened to growing up. A lot of pieces in the collection represent the passing of years or important moments: colours were made to appear aged over time using techniques such as resin dye; one print used on cape-like shirts and pleated maxi dresses was made up of iPhone photos of the sunset outside the studio when the team first moved into it. “I now have an office with a door; before that we were all in this cramped, small space,” Do tells Tatler. “So it felt like a really important moment to [acknowledge].”

If I don’t love it, I already cancelled it. Everything that you see is what I’m proud to put out in the world
Peter Do

Other pieces are timeless symbols, such as the white shirt, which can be worn buttoned up or wrapped around the waist; it took the team more than three years to develop a version that Do was really happy with. Asked for his favourite piece from the line, Do replies without hesitation: “I love them all. I feel like if I don’t love it, I’ve already cancelled it. Everything that you see is what I’m proud to put out in the world.”

Peter Do was co-founded by five long-time friends; after a four-year meteoric rise, it has become one of the most talked- about American fashion brands in recent industry memory, with more than 80 stockists globally and more than US$6 million in annual sales this year to date according to Vogue Business. The brand launched at a time when the world was looking for the next big thing in minimalism following Philo’s departure from Celine in December 2017. It offered not only wardrobe essentials but also clever functionality and luxury quality, leading to Do being named a co-winner of the 2020 LVMH Prize. 

The team quickly had to learn how to run a business, but they insisted on doing it their own way. “It takes a lot of planning to launch anything that we do,” says Do. For example, while Do wanted to design a bag early on, it took the team a year to develop it; it was a year and a half before they were happy with their first shoe product; it’s taken until this season to develop a hoodie he was happy with, resulting in a cashmere model he believes is timeless. And while it’s taken several years for the menswear line, Do believes the wait was worthwhile. “It’s about time that we take Peter Do to the next level. And I’m really ready for it.”

Despite Billie Eilish and Anya Taylor-Joy sporting Peter Do designs and NCT member Johnny Suh making his Met Gala debut in a satin number, Do has never prioritised celebrity endorsement. “It brings me so much more joy when [I see] a random person on the street, spending hard-earned money on the clothes and living their life through it, and not even posting it, but just wearing them and loving them,” he says. “Because that’s the point of the clothes that we make.” He mentions an encounter with a woman in his building who was wearing his boots: “I was like ‘Oh my God, love your boots.’ And she was like ‘Yeah’, then I was like ‘Oh, yeah, I love this brand.’ And she’s like ‘Yeah, me too.’ That’s perfect. That’s what I want.”

The brand’s popularity has come with commensurate social media success: it has gained a loyal following of more than 500,000 fans won over by its chic aesthetic and genuine sharing of behind- the-scenes posts—from the design process to who worked behind the brand. His design inspiration and process are drawn from daily life: someone in the team or on the subway wearing an interesting piece might capture his curiosity and spark an idea. “If I don’t like something, I try to fix it,” Do says, laughing. “Things that I really hate that everyone wears, I make it my mission to offer something else. You know, like puffer [jackets].”

Brand fans are also attracted to its authenticity. The company is run by a ten-person team that takes care of everything from casting models to operations, and has adhered to the idea of working with “real people” since the beginning: team members starred in its autumn-winter 2021 campaign, the press director served as the fitting model, and the whole team took a bow at the finale. “At first, we always felt like outsiders,” Do says. “People always told us that we’re too European for New York, and when you go to Paris, they say you’re too New York for Paris.” But, now that he calls New York home, he is proud to be in a city where so many new-generation creatives are making their own rules. “I think that what’s so great about New York Fashion Week is that there isn’t a single genre. And it shouldn’t be generalised,” he adds.

It brings me so much more joy when [I see] a random person on the street, spending hard-earned money on the clothes and living their life through it, and not even posting it, but just wearing them and loving them
Peter Do

In June 2022, Do collaborated with downtown New York concept store Opening Ceremony’s founders Carol Lim and Humberto Leon on a capsule collection for the store’s 20th anniversary, in partnership with Farfetch. The Asian American retailers-turned-designers (and former Kenzo creative directors) influenced Do when he was studying at FIT, “and they really opened a lot of doors for people like me to look up to”, he says. “There aren’t so many Vietnamese designers ... but I looked up to Humberto and Carol.

“I’m really, really proud to be a part of the new generations of Asian creative in the industry,” he says. “Things don’t feel so impossible when you see someone who look like you accomplish it.”

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