Written and dedicated to Spanish artist and fashion designer Diego Cortizas
by Truong Uyen Ly, Director of Hanoi Grapevine
Photo: Phan Dan
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My chest seized in pain for hours as I heard the sudden news of Diego passing away. He was born Del Valle Cortizas Diego, but perhaps the world knows him by the alias Diego CHULA. There is no exaggeration in using the phrase ‘the world’ because the fashion brand CHULA, established by Diego and his wife Laura, has made a name for itself from Vietnam to the global fashion scene. A CHULA dress or áo dài can never be mistaken for anything else: from the material – taffeta silk, jeans, hemp fabric, or linen – to strong and bright color combinations and intricate patterns, always an impressive and artful display of uniqueness. CHULA fashion has traveled to every part of the world together with women from all walks of life: culture specialists, artists, models, diplomats, entrepreneurs, wives, mothers… The fashion brand has also appeared in various famous fashion shows in both Vietnam and the world: America, Europe, Asia, and is steadily growing more and more.
Above all, the most important thing that lies beyond those one-of-a-kind dresses is Diego’s warm love for people and all things around, and the power of his creativity – always playful, always adventurous, always bright.
To me, Diego and his family (his wife and three children) are the most beautiful, happiest, loveliest, admirable multi-talented people on earth, because who else can give these things to Hanoi and the world like Diego did?
The warm smiles
Diego always greeted and made friends with a smile. His smile was a symbol of hospitality, encouragement, and love. I have never seen Diego without a smile on his face. He had a lot of friends and acquaintances, and everybody loved him. From artists, authors, models, diplomats, young people, his customers to the disabled people whom he worked with for many years (around 80% of CHULA staff members are people with disabilities), all of them llove Diego with all their heart.
Diego was always on a quest to expand the boundaries of his creativity
Diego came to Vietnam from Spain with his wife, Laura Fontan, in 2004. Having fallen in love with the country, they decided to stay and began a beautiful adventure with CHULA, which later brought the beauty of Vietnamese culture, art, and craft to the world. Although his specialty was architecture, Diego took the role of a fashion designer with confidence, while his wife was in charge of sales, marketing, and customer services. Since its early days, CHULA’s signature A-line skirts, which were made from taffeta silk and adorned with colorful patchwork in various geometric shapes and gave off a minimalistic but powerful statement, had made a strong impression, and I remember many souvenir shops for tourists in the Hanoi Old Quarter had quickly started selling dresses with the same design.
The architect-turned-fashion designer was also known for his creativity in several other fields. I often saw him with a camera, and there was a time he loved to capture architectural structures and life in Hanoi reflected in water puddles or on car windows. His pictures, along with many other contemporary artists’, had been showcased at renowned exhibition houses, such as The Bui Gallery (now closed). Diego loved playing music and singing as well. I heard he had written thousands of songs, and recently he wrote songs with Vietnamese lyrics that sounded like short poems, simple and intriguing. He has performed these songs at Tadioto bar – a cultural spot in Hanoi and did duets with his daughter in some shows at CHULA and other places. Diego was also a poet and a painter. A day before his sudden death, he happily told everyone that he had sold four of his paintings.
Diego created a gathering home for artists and friends
Ever since its opening on Nhat Chieu Street, CHULA has been an exhibition house to showcase contemporary art, a spot for artists to meet up, and a hall for fashion and music shows. Many events have been held, and many new faces have been introduced to the art scene at CHULA. Many famous artists such as Ha Manh Thang, Nguyen Oanh Phi Phi have had their art exhibited here. Vietnamese and foreign musicians, singers, and contemporary artists have performed or taken part in activities at CHULA. Even now, if not for COVID-19, CHULA would have had its door opened with shows and events to welcome everyone. For the last decade, CHULA has remained one of the most lively cultural spots for the artist community in Hanoi.
Diego’s career has a strong bond with Vietnam, and his family also has a strong bond with the country. Diego and Laura’s children were born in Vietnam. With his creative mind, he had brought out the quintessence of Vietnamese materials and created the global-yet-local beauty of CHULA. His contribution to the global diffusion of Vietnamese culture was so immense he could be seen as a Spanish-born Vietnamese. Apart from his áo dài collection’s frequent appearance in the Vietnam Fashion Week, a series of CHULA’s áo dài with patterns in the shape of Hoi An’s traditional lanterns were selected into the Vietnamese Women’s Museum’s collection. CHULA also showcased áo dài’s beauty at “Áo dài – A Vietnamese Cultural Heritage” – a big diplomatic and cultural event jointly held by Vietnam Women’s Union and Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism on June 28th, 2020 at the Temple of Literature, Hanoi.
Diego never sleeps
It must have been so because he was always doing something. Texting love to his wife on Facebook. Writing poems. Making collages of pictures. Doing preparation for a music event. Designing a poster. Designing a new dress/áo dài. Sketching a new painting. Teaching someone in a workshop. Welcoming friends at home for dinner. Playing guitar. Penning a novel. Sending a message to a friend… Even at midnight or 2-3 am, he was still on the internet writing posts to share his new ideas or the outcomes of his latest creative ventures.
Diego loved to ride on a motorcycle with his children on the back to see football games or hang out. Diego often wore a linen shirt and jeans with Vietnamese patterns. Diego often greeted me with “How are you, Ly?” and a kind, big smile. Diego often reached out: “Ly ơi, let me know if you need some help!”…
Diego gave me a piece of advice in one of our conversations: “… my recommendation is to look to the future. Don’t get stuck in the past.” You’re right, Diego. I will listen to you and look to the future, although my heart says it’s too soon to do so, in order to say goodbye to you, my dear friend Diego!
Read more archives about Diego Cortizas on Hanoi Grapevine:
And many more events, performances, exhibitions, talks taken place at CHULA over the years have also been posted on Hanoi Grapevine.