Inspired by Ocean’s Vuong’s letter to his mother in the New York Times, this is for mẹ lives online as a borderless mailbox for Asian identified people to share stories rooted in mothers, motherhood, motherlands, mother-tongues and family.
In this photo series, Jess Trần Boyd reflects on the power of design and drapery when she dresses four generations of her family in clothes loving designed and made by Kaarem, a brand with Vietnamese roots.
When I first came across Kaarem, I felt like I had found a brand that reflected parts of myself back to me, both the aesthetics and the multiple identities. Kaarem describes itself as having strong ties to California and New York, with roots in Vietnam that are living and growing. As a Libra, whose life is built upon a mess of homes, roots and identities, Kaarem’s designs resonate deeply; they are simple and clean, cocooning the wearer in pieces that simultaneously balance both fluidity and crispness.
Kaarem is a brand inspired by craft, community and its Vietnamese roots; collaborating with them has been a true experience of community and care in motion.
I remember being a teenager and standing in my parents’ bedroom as I tried to squeeze into my mother’s ao dai. I held my breath and looked into the crooked floor length mirror as my mother fastened endless clasps. The high collar, the vibrant colours, and the scent of my mother made me feel simultaneously claustrophobic and empowered. As long as I didn’t breathe or move too vigorously, nothing would break.
Younger versions of myself felt untethered and insecure. Wearing ao dai often felt like a navigation of femininity and softness, and thus created tension in my body, a tension which was further compounded by the fact that I only got to wear my ao dai at awkward events like “multicultural day” at school.
I wish that I could tell my younger self that ao dai was not just a dress that my mother would lend me, but the dress of my motherland. I have often daydreamed of gifting my past selves the space to relax into the softness of Vietnamese silhouettes, draping her body in fabrics that move, and breathe, and echo of her mother, her bà ngoại.
Kaarem gave me this gift when they sent me clothes to adorn four generations of women in my family: my daughter, myself, my mother and my bà ngoại. Little did I know that I was also pregnant with a child that I would miscarry, making the photographic series that ensued even more precious. These photos give me comfort that the soul I briefly shared my body with got to be draped in hope and history, and that I forever memorialised the (big and little) matriarchs of my family in this way.