Fashion Designer Bao Tranchi Went From Sweatshops to Red Carpets
Danny Liao

Fashion Designer Bao Tranchi Went From Sweatshops to Red Carpets

Bao Tranchi has one of the most uniquely sensual clothing brands around, her body-conscious designs melding elements of lingerie, fetish and couture-level detail into pieces that show skin in a strategic way that's both edgy and powerful. Tranchi's style is so eye-catching that it's what Jennifer Lopez chose to wear for her 46th birthday party; her revealing look was seen across the globe, sparking cultural conversation about age-appropriateness and what is sexy.

Ever since "the birthday dress," Tranchi's signature pieces have been worn by celebrities who want to be noticed: rap star Nicki Minaj, model Gigi Hadid, plus-size sensation Ashley Graham. Her clothes are worn by women who want to make a statement; they're being chosen over the biggest names in high fashion.

But things weren't always so glamorous. Tranchi left her native Vietnam when she was 10 months old, escaping a refugee camp with her family and coming to America for a better life. Growing up in Granada Hills, she watched as her mom spent years working in sweatshops in downtown L.A., which is how Tranchi learned to sew.

"One of my first memories was actually sitting by my mom's foot pedal on the sewing machine at the factory and just, like, hearing the constant sound of machines," Tranchi says. "I think I just knew from the get-go — like 4 years old — that I wanted to make clothes."

After graduating from Otis School of Design, Tranchi was offered a job at Anne Klein but opted for styling and wardrobe gigs, working with Madonna stylist Arianne Phillips on films such as Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Charlie's Angels. In 2003 she was a featured designer during the first big L.A. Fashion Week sponsored by Mercedes Benz at Smashbox Studios, showing her first line alongside Jeremy Scott and House of Field.

Tranchi's work has always been provocative and very rock & roll, but "what I'm doing now is totally different than what I was doing before," she says, adding that the evolution was sparked by changes in her life. "My mom passed away in 2010 and it made me reprioritize everything. I worked on a bunch of movies after that, and then I met Brandon."

Photographer Brandon Showers is Tranchi's partner in business and in life. When the couple moved to Vietnam to work on movies and photography, it became a full-circle turning point. Tranchi gave birth to their daughter, Sadie, and had success in the film industry there, while Showers became the creative director of Hearst Vietnam's fashion publications.

Tranchi's success in the homeland she escaped as a baby was meaningful, of course, but the United States and her life in L.A. beckoned, and the family returned a few years ago. She says the time away, and her changing body during pregnancy, helped hone her now-signature curve-enhancing aesthetic.

Selena Gomez was one of the first to give Tranchi major exposure, donning her strappy black bodysuit for Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood" video. After that, her line exploded. In addition to her instantly recognizable skin-baring cutouts and bondage-esque use of straps and lacing, Tranchi has been experimenting with new colors and textures, adding velvet to the mesh, elastic and lining materials she's known for.

In another full-circle moment, J-Lo donned Tranchi's latest, featuring velvet birds on mesh that beautifully and bodaciously cover the breasts, last year for her 48th birthday, and she looked hotter than ever.

"I call it 'intellectual sexy,'?" Tranchi says. "With the cutouts and sheer materials, it makes you do a double take. It's a little bit more thought-provoking. I realized that before, I was designing sexy from the outside in — like how the world views 'sexy' — so I started designing from the inside out, and that's what I continue to do."

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