A banker by accident, a shoemaker by inclination
Dominic Price explains the return to his early interest in art and design after a career in bond trading.
It was 1973 when I arrived at The Grange to follow in the footsteps of several generations of my family. My great grandfather, William Price, began the connection with King’s in 1884, fresh from his graduation at Trinity College Dublin. He is believed to be the young master Rice, “who had only taken his degree the year before”, mentioned by Somerset Maugham in his novel Of Human Bondage. William, who was born in Bombay in 1853, went on to teach at King’s for over forty years and his sons and nephews, grandsons and great- grandsons, including my brother Quintin, were all educated at King’s.
After an inauspicious academic career, which peaked in my first year, I decided to follow my father into banking, straight from school. My interests in art and design were not encouraged, as they were not considered to be what constituted a sensible occupation. I therefore pursued my creativity in my spare time. Trips in my early twenties to a London shoe fair and to shoe factories in Northampton led to the production of my first designs. Frustrated by insufficient capital and unreliable delivery, I decided to pursue a bond trading career, hoping to generate the means to return to my passion for shoes later in life.
An aptitude for numbers led to an opportunity to work for CSFB, one of the leading bond trading houses of the 1980s. Eight years into my new career as a bond trader, after honeymooning in Asia, I was offered a job in Singapore, where I live today. My wife Aloise and I leapt at the opportunity to head east and have lived in Asia ever since. Employment by JP Morgan, initially in England and subsequently in Singapore, India and Vietnam, enabled me to work in several of the countries in Asia in which I had lived as a child. However, it was the inclination to revisit my birthplace of Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City, in 2008 that led to the rekindling of my passion for shoemaking.
Having volunteered to move with JP Morgan from Mumbai where I had set up their first wholly- owned operation in India in 1988, my wife and three children, Halcyon, Horatio and Ottilie, left India for Vietnam at the end of 2007. A chance meeting with an old Saigon cobbler named Ngoc led me to dust off my early shoe sketches. Ngoc, a French-trained artisan, who was almost eighty when I first met him, helped make my designs, initially for me and then for close friends too. This led to the birth of a shoemaking business once I retired from full-time employment after twenty-five years with JP Morgan at the end of 2012.
Together with a fellow Englishman and a brilliant young Vietnamese, I founded a
brand called Dominique Saint Paul, named after the Clinique Saint Paul in Saigon, where I was born. Adopting the French gender-neutral spelling of my name allowed the brand to make shoes and leather goods for all genders. One of my co-founders had worked in the shoe industry for many years, and our Vietnamese partner provided the ingenuity and creativity needed to set up a new shoes and leather goods brand in Vietnam. Dominique Saint Paul has evolved into an authentic Vietnamese fusion brand.
Our shoes and leather goods are made from high- quality European leather, over many painstaking hours of handwork. We begin with crust leather, supplied from the tannery in its raw form, unclouded and unfinished. Traditional Italian processes are used to create either a solid colour or a hand dip-dye process or tone and patina by applying layers of one or more colours by hand.
A similar process is followed to apply colour to the soles, heels and edges. Our leather goods are treated the same way, to provide identical or contrasting colours. Our customers routinely present us with the challenge to create their own individual colour. The turquoise lining of our products is an homage to my late mother.
The contrast of creativity in a manufacturing business was a welcome attraction after over thirty years in finance. While I continued as a senior advisor in the investment banking space and sat on the board of a leading Vietnamese conglomerate, the appeal of producing a high- quality product that one could see, touch and wear was too tempting. The stereotypical view that quality manufacturing is confined to the West has been outdated by the emergence of the powerful new economies of Asia. To experience first-hand the industry and confidence of the Vietnamese is a particular pleasure. For a country that suffered so appallingly at the hands of Western invaders, it is remarkable that the Vietnamese bear few if any grudges and are focused almost entirely on their future success.
The strong work ethic of the Vietnamese, combined with a strong sense of identity, sets them apart from many other countries. Their desire to be themselves rather than imitate others elevates their enterprise.
This sense of identity and industry under- pins a manufacturing platform in Vietnam which I believe will enable it to match if not exceed that found in the more entitled and less hungry, earlier-industrialised countries of Europe.
Vietnam is a young, exciting, vibrant economy that has a bright future for its fast-approaching 100 million population and is well worth experiencing first-hand.
If you find yourself in Vietnam, please spare the time to pop into Dominique Saint Paul at 29 Dong Du, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City where our friendly staff will take care of you and offer a special King’s alumni discount.
I also run a consulting business based in Singapore, www.halracott.com assisting clients working in Asia or wishing to work with Asian partners. We have an online shop at dominiquesaintpaul.com and we’re on Instagram and Facebook.