In 2005, the City of Houston, just after inviting Hurricane Katrina victims in, had to prepare for their own terrible Hurricane Rita just weeks later. I helped prepare the home against high winds the best I could by taping a giant, meaningless X on the window and my mom brought all the precious photographs of childhoods and portraits, imported from Vietnam, to the second floor and placed them in the linens closet, so they would in theory, be protected by all the bath towels.
Nowadays, we take pictures for granted. You can take a five photos of the same exact thing and keep them all because digital space is boundless and you can recall them anytime because everything resides inside of at least four different clouds. But no, not these photos my mom saved. If these portraits of my grandaunt were ruined by floodwaters, they’d be gone forever except in our memory and can only be exported to a forensic sketch artist.
After Hurricane Rita turned out to be highly sensationalized (within the City of Houston), I decided I’d never want to lose these pictorial memories, not just of the pictures of my childhood and when we went to Disneyland, but of my parents, aunts and uncles when they first came to America in 1975, so I went to work and began scanning every photo album I could find.
I’d go through the photo albums and flip page after page of my sepia parents living their new American life in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1975, wearing three-piece suits, going on road trips to Memphis, Washington DC, and San Francisco. Every now and then, I’d see pictures of them standing in front of the business they opened with my aunt and uncle in 1976, Oriental Tailor Shop.
Now listen. We all know that you can’t say “Oriental,” and I 100% can, but the 70s were a different time when anyone could say “Oriental,” and that’s the name my family chose, so we just gotta go with it. You can mouth along if you want.
In the oral family history, my parents heard there was a big Vietnamese population in Houston, so they put my big brother in a car, moved down south and opened a new Oriental Tailor Shop in southwest Houston. This tiny shop is where I spent my childhood. Where I’d play with wooden blocks and watch Sesame Street and do homework and play with Battle Beasts on the sewing machines and get in trouble for messing up their table settings.
I mean, I can go on and on about how much Oriental Tailor Shop means to me, but I don’t think I could ever do it justice. There’s a little mat my parents keep around that my brother and I napped on. It’s where my brother and I were reading Garfield on the floor and my dad walked by and drew Garfield freehand almost one-for-one and I never saw him draw anything ever again, so that was quite a flex.
You get the idea. I grew up here the way JFK Jr. grew up, hiding under the Resolute desk while his dad was doing stuff.
My parents watched my brother and me grow up in the shop and looking back at these old photos, I can now see how much my parents grew in their own shop. It’s remarkable how they opened a store in Little Rock with the English they learned in Vietnam, and stayed on top of fashion trends from the 70s to the 2000s (which I think is the weirdest sartorial decade), to today.
Earlier this year, my mom told me that my dad would be retiring in 2019. That caught me by surprise. No, not my dad. I’ve seen a lot of my favorite basketball players retire, but not my dad, who can draw a perfect Garfield without tracing.
Seven years living in New York away from family can really sneak up on you, I guess. It’s bittersweet, and no one deserves it more than my dad (my mom deserves it as much, truthfully), whose number needs to be hung in the rafters of the Town and Country shopping center.
Thinking back, after many years of being in advertising, studying from 2005 to 2007, looking for an advertising job from 2007 to 2011, to working from 2011 to today, I never once thought about making any advertisements for Oriental Tailor Shop. I’m not sure why and I feel guilty! So I got to work.
The concept was to take old photographs from antique stores, sew on sequins, or embroider them, or do some sort of art and craft on them. But then I realized I had an entire cache of old, personal, vintage photographs that told a better story of how they’d been around since 1976 and seen fashion cycle in and out and evolve and innovate.
In addition to all of that, they could have helped innovate dress pockets, too! How’d it take so long for someone to sew on pockets onto a dress? I don’t know. But I’m certain my parents could have done it then years ago. I’ve seen them make, fix and adjust so much stuff that I know anything is possible. My mom made my pumpkin costume FROM SCRATCH. Oh, and she also made the clown and dinosaurs costume from scratch, too. They can make anything they want.
So these are the ads the address those facts about Oriental Tailor Shop:
The choice to use old photo album pages as the background was to show the history of the shop, and since this was its last year, it’s meant to be a retrospective as well, add a sense of nostalgia while showing how fashion-forward they are.
I started with my dad’s picture since that was both the easiest to photoshop. The tricky part was figuring out which part of the suit was going to be altered. Here are the different options:
Ultimately went with the lapel because that’s what’s hot in 2018.
Next was the picture of my mom in a green dress. I knew I was looking for a picture of my mom where her hand would be on her hip or something, but this was the closest I could find.
Bending my mom’s arm inward and into a make-believe pocket was tricky, but that’s a hand in a dress pocket, all right.
And finally for the last piece, and third piece, I wanted to keep the embroidery aspect from the original concept, but didn’t have time to learn how to master the craft, so had to resort to Photoshop instead.
The first thought was to make it a dragon wrapped around my mom’s jacket but thought that might be too much for my mom, so I made it into something a little more Vietnamese. In a vertical layout, it was hard to see exactly what was altered in the image, so then I had to move my mom inward to crop out that car.
I did some research to buy some full-page ads in some local papers and magazines but turns out, that’s like thousands of dollars, so I’m getting them printed at Adorama and giving this to them for Christmas instead.
Oriental Tailor Shop! If you’re in town, swing in and say hello!