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What ’90s kid didn’t wake up early on Saturday morning to sneak into the living room before their parents woke? Like many, I’d park myself in front of the TV to make sure I didn’t miss one episode of Dragon Ball Z. For years, all I wanted was to teleport into their universe to be a sidekick to Goku and Bulma, hunting all over the world for those elusive starred orbs.
That was Paris-based art director and Pièces Uniques founder Edmond Luu’s childhood, too. We both had a stealthy Asian relative who would crawl up onto the roof and tweak the satellite prongs just right to capture channels in our mother tongues that otherwise weren’t offered through local providers.
“How do you know that?” Luu laughs, explaining how his dad used to hack the TV. Like most kids of immigrants, we recognize the story of our parents just needing that little bit of home. While everyone at school might have been able to watch dubbed versions of DBZ or Pokémon, we Asian kids had access to mangas otherwise not available in the West. It’s these cartoon characters and their bold outfits that remain a key influence for Luu and his brand Pièces Uniques today.
Luu’s dad is Cambodian, his mother Vietnamese. He grew up listening and learning to speak Teochew, the southern Chinese dialect his parents spoke. They escaped post-colonial French Indochina, which was caught in a wave of destitution and conflict throughout South-East Asia in the 1980s. They met in France after fleeing their home countries, finding connection through a common language and culture. First arriving in Strasbourg, North-East France, the family later settled in a suburb on the outskirts of Villepinte, Paris, where they still live.
In Villepinte, Luu grew up surrounded by other immigrant families and partook in their cultures and customs. He asserts his childhood home is “famous” for being the most dangerous part of Paris: “Nothing there was supposed to lead me to work in fashion. But it’s a strength growing up in the suburbs, to be connected to every kind of culture.”
Back then, his mother worked as a seamstress in the atelier of a fast fashion brand alongside her father, who worked there as a fabric cutter. With every immigrant parent wanting more for their kid than the life they led, Luu’s mother discouraged him from working in the same industry.
“When I told them that I wanted to do fashion, my mother was like, ‘No, don’t do this. It’s really bad. You’re not going to make money.’”
With his parents working tirelessly, he was often left alone. Luu found escape through watching anime and reading manga. “My whole childhood was about playing LEGO BIONICLE, Pokémon, Power Rangers, and watching anime from the ’80s and ’90s, like GTO: Great Teacher Onizuka, Captain Tsubasa, and then Naruto and Bleach later on. My parents went out so much, so I used to stay at home in my own world.”
That world was an amalgam of Naruto’s Elemental Nations, the underbelly of Tokyo from any number of manga, and the pastoral landscapes of a Studio Ghibli film. Luu longingly remembers how his greatest wish was to become a mangaka, an animator of these dreamscapes. “I feel because I didn’t become a mangaka, I’m trying to now put all my creativity of what I wanted to do before into my brand Pièces Uniques.”
After secondary school, Luu studied advertising at the École Supérieure de Publicité, where he became deeply interested in how consumers read images and, alternatively, how an image is sold to the consumer. “Advertising is like a Da Vinci painting. They put the logos here,” he says pointing, “so your eyes read from this to that. The face of the model is backlit because your eyes are attracted to it. I really like this way of interpreting an image.”
That mindset got him onto the sets of Lancôme and Yves Saint Laurent, clients of Publicis 133, the ad agency where Luu worked as an art director before he was 20. Later, Parfums Christian Dior, the cosmetic subsidiary of the couture maison, poached him to be an advertising creative director, where he continues to work today. Working on Pièces Uniques is still reserved for evenings, weekends, and holidays.
“When I was a teenager, I was obsessed with Kanye West’s style. I became interested in fashion thanks to him, to be honest.” At 19, Luu began reworking and selling thrifted Levi’s, putting the cash toward producing a coat inspired by West’s 2014 collaboration with A.P.C. “The coat I did had a kimono collar. I wanted to produce it because I didn’t like the shape of the Kanye and A.P.C. design — it looked a little bit too European. It’s maybe cheesy to say, but I just didn’t recognize myself in what I wanted to wear.”
Soon after, Luu started making collections under the name Pièces Uniques. “It’s a cinematic brand,” he explains. “It’s not connected to a country or to a culture. It’s more like a mix of everything that I saw when I was young, plus anime and pop culture. But it can also be a witch’s or a magician’s fantasy. It’s a dream to me.”
At times, Luu will use cosplay outfits as the base for his patterns, adapting the exaggerated silhouettes of anime into real life. Take a double-breasted suit, for example, which Luu says is inspired by Spike Spiegel, the protagonist of the Japanese space jazz manga Cowboy Bebop, and which is a reworked mix between an iconic Christian Dior Oblique suit with that of the character. “Even if you don’t know that reference, it’s just a beautiful suit.”
Pièces Uniques proposes a unique range of possibilities. In Luu’s words, it allows someone who “wears Dior to be as protected as wearing Arc’teryx.” He continues, “In our world, we need to dream. I want people who wear Pièces Uniques to feel they can recognize themselves as another character. I want my clothes to be like Tony Stark’s Iron Man armor, which brings you strength for your day. It’s about finding a balance between fantasy and reality — and being able to sell, because it’s a business.”
At 26, Luu works with the same “small family” that he started Pièces Uniques with at 19, including Bilal El Kadhi, the photographer and director who has shot each collection since the start. “In my films, I don’t give a shit about showing the clothes. It’s all about the universe. People have to dream.” Luu wants to leave behind a “legacy of value,” rather than simple imagery. “My dream is to one day be a costume designer for [Hayao] Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, because Miyazaki shares values and an aesthetic in his movies. His films are like a two-hour anime fragrance campaign.”
Each Pièces Uniques collection comes from a narrative drawn by Luu, making himself the protagonist — whether it’s looking at the life of a new civilization on the moon or the everyday life of a military leader in a fictional country. These fantastical stories structure his imagination and process. “Take Naruto, whose universe has several countries: the Land of Fire, Lightning, Water, Earth, and Wind. Power Rangers is the same: blue, black, yellow, pink, red, green. Everything I watched when I was young was structured like that.”
For a long time, Luu has wanted to draw his own map of the Pièces Uniques world, where each collection corresponds to a distinct territory. His map isn’t associated with any earthly geography, but an otherworldly concept. So how do we get there? Luu points to the Pièces Uniques logo. “It’s called a clé, a key, because one day it’s going to open something.”