Berlin-based designer and restaurateur Huy-Thong Tran-Mai on questions of beauty and rituals.

“As a designer I focus on people”

A graduate of London’s Central Saint Martins College, Huy-Thong Tran-Mai has designed collections for fashion houses such as Maison Martin Margiela and Strenesse and has made a name for himself as an interior designer and restaurateur with vegetarian restaurants in Berlin such as Ryong and Oukan Dining. All this has also informed his concept of beauty.

How has your work informed your perception of beauty?

As a designer, I focus on people in their environment because I work with space. People are always in context, with the light, colours and shapes of their environment. Through my work with aesthetic concepts, I see beauty much more in the way someone interacts with their environment. 

How does that express itself in their look to your mind? 

The more closely you examine the overall picture, the more the individual’s appearance shifts into the background. For me, this means that I find natural looks more beautiful, that I find muted colours in both the outfit and the make-up more pleasant than garish tones or flashy highlighters. But beyond that, the look also has something to do with how people move, whether they enter a room and immediately take centre-stage, dominate everything, or are considerate of their surroundings.   

Male beauty ideals are currently changing – how do you perceive this change?

A lot has happened in the past few years. What male beauty means has become more diverse and is no longer defined only by heteronormative standards. If you take a look at Instagram, for example, you see men with make-up, with jewellery or in dresses. It’s no longer “traditionally masculine” guys with beards and muscles, but also men with more refined features who are passionate about fashion, sometimes flirting with things that were previously seen as feminine, donning daring colours and cuts. I welcome that very much. On the other hand, the pressure to please has increased. You have to tread very carefully here. 

Designer Huy-Thong Tran-Mai prefers natural looks and muted colours
Speaking of pressure, how important is inner balance for beauty?

We humans are very easy to manipulate, and the greater your inner balance, the easier it is for you to perceive the environment and deal with everyday life. For me, that doesn’t have anything to do with beauty itself in the first place, but, of course, it has a certain attractiveness if you feel good and are confident in your approach to the world. 

What are you doing to promote that? 

I grew up with the Buddhist community under Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh and I still try to spend time at the Plum Village monastery every year and meditate. This helps me in everyday life because I can draw strength from this wealth of experience. 

Are there any rituals that you always come back to?

I’m on the road a lot for my work. I don’t manage to meditate every day, but every time I get into the car, I take a brief moment to pause and reflect. It can simply be a short breathing exercise. That helps me to regain balance even on hectic days.

What role does nutrition play for you as a restaurateur? 

I’ve been a vegetarian since childhood and try to avoid dairy products and sugar. As a vegetarian, you invariably eat seasonal and often regional products, and that alone is good for your health. In addition, my partner and I try to grow a lot ourselves in the garden in the summer. Our morning ritual features a coffee, and the rest of the day we drink tea. 

What about beauty rituals? 

I keep it to a simple routine with cleansing and a moisturiser in the morning and evening and sunscreen during the day. As an Asian man, my beard care is not particularly time-consuming. As I have little beard growth anyway, regular trimming does the job.

This article was first published in the Fall 2022 print edition of 30 Grad.