May 30, 2006
Designer Si Hoang earned his reputation for putting a new twist on Viet Nam’s traditional dress, the ao dai, over a decade ago. Since then Hoang’s ao dai have been seen on catwalks worldwide.
How did you begin designing ao dai and why have you continued to do so for so long?
I decorated my first ao dai in 1989, when a contestant in Miss Ao Dai HCM City, one of the country’s first beauty pageants, asked me to decorate her white ao dai.
I looked at the plain cloth and painted flowers all over it. She took second place in the competition and the trend of painting ao dai was born.
Tailors throughout the city called on me to decorate their ao dai and most of the girls who wore my designs in beauty contest took top prizes. Before I knew it, I was an ao dai designer.
I like the ao dai because it is capable of changing with the times. People can wear ao dai not only to festivals and diplomatic meetings but also in daily life.
The costume is perfectly suited for a dynamic daily life.
People say you are a lucky person. When you touched silk, you created a successful ao dai trademark. When you touched denim, your jeans became incredibly popular and when you touched ceramics, they too became best-sellers. Is there more to it that just luck?
Well, if my success is just luck, than it will not last long. If someone really wants to be successful, he should figure out what he wants and decide if he has enough wisdom, enthusiasm and experience to achieve it.
As I became experienced at decorating ao dai a few years ago, I turned to painting and embroidering blue jeans.
Later I would see American youth enhancing their jeans in the same way.
I was happy to know that my aesthetic sense is not very different from international trends.
But luck is certainly part of it. By chance I discovered the wonderful result of combining the rough surfaces of Cham ethnic minority ceramics with glass bead decorative patterns.
I’m most proud not of creating so many popular works of art but that I’m among a small group of people trying to save this rare ceramic art form from being forgotten.
Many poor local artisans now have jobs producing ceramics for my designs.
In your opinion, what is your responsibility as a fashion designer?
A fashion designer should always remember for whom he is designing clothing. Clothing should make the customer feel and look more beautiful and respectable.
I have never imposed what I want on my customers because I understand that clothing reflects the wearer’s style, ideas, and position.
How do you intend to expand your business this year?
Apart from continuing to design ao dai, jeans and ceramics, I recently set up a tea shop on the third floor of my company’s office building.
People can come and learn about Vietnamese culture through tasting authentic Vietnamese teas, while enjoying fashion shows and traditional folk music every night. I plan to open another tea shop in the city.
Si Hoang Company headquarters and tea shop are located at 36-38 Ly Tu Trong Street, District 1, HCM City. — VNS
May 30, 2006
by Ngo Thu Hue
What started out as something to do for peasants between the rice harvests has become a symbol of the romantic city of Hue, and the key to one village’s economy.
The people of Tay Ho village, on the banks of the Nhu Y River outside Hue, recall that Bui Quang Bac was the first to make non bai tho (poetry hats) back in the 1660s.
These look like the conical hats available throughout the country but when held up to the light, silhouettes of verse can be seen.
The villagers say Bac adored poems which captured the soul and beauty of Hue and so stuck the verses on the inside of non so he would always be able to read them.
His idea has been built on by subsequent crafts-people so now the hats include poems as well as pictures of Hue landmarks such as Linh Mu Pagoda and Trang Tien Bridge.
Centuries of toil
The village’s non tradition began when farmers were ruled by a feudal system which forced them to look for other ways to make extra money.
During the wars for the country’s independence, the village’s women diligently kept their non making skills alive while the men went to the front.
People still believe that the village’s non stand out from others available because of the women’s skill and pride in their craft.
When the men returned from war, the production of the hats became segregated so men now tend to make the hat frames and prepare the materials while the women undertake the more difficult tasks of ironing and polishing the leaf and ensuring the tautness of the finished product.
Tay Ho hats are known for their glossiness as well as the ring threaded around the top which is said to make them stronger than other non.
Girls from the village have continued making non when they marry and move away, ensuring the tradition has been spread throughout the central province of Thua Thien Hue.
But Tay Ho still has a stranglehold over the market.
Only seven of the village’s 307 households don’t make the hats and the craftspeople manage to send tens of thousands of non to markets every month.
Selling for an average VND5,000 to VND7,000, the Tay Ho non have managed to hold their own against the increasing competition from other villages.
It’s not a particularly profitable craft though, most people only earn VND10,000 a day for their labours. But for Tay Ho villagers the process of transforming the coconut leaves has taken root in their daily lives.
Most of the residents spend the evenings sitting with their family and crafting the hats.
Truong Thi Be, 80, who has been involved in the business for as long as she can remember, said the village’s hat makers are able to put a bit of their soul into their creations, ensuring they are more desirable than the competition.
Non are popular with local and foreign tourists who head to the city’s central Dong Ba market to bargain with the many sellers for their own slice of Hue.
Young women in the area grow up with a love of the hats and go to all lengths to find the trappings which will make theirs more noticeable. It is common for them to have hats made up incorporating their favourite verse and pictures.
Non have become so entrenched as a symbol of Hue that it is now impossible for Vietnamese people to imagine the city without thinking about women in their ao dai and the ever present head covering. — VNS
May 30, 2006
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To celebrate these magnificent achievements,and to praise the excellence of all Vietnamese women, we proudly present The Fourth Annual Miss VIETNAM U.S.A. Open Pageant 2006-2007. The grand extravaganza will take place in Las Vegas on Saturday September 2, 2006There will be as many as 60 of the most beautiful Vietnamese women from all over the United States and the world arriving in California to compete for the prestigious honor of being named the most beautiful Vietnamese woman in America. Included with this high honor, our winner will receive a grand prize of $10,000 and a brand new Mercedes Benz along with many additional prizes and job offers.
Please join us to celebrate the Fourth Annual Miss Vietnam U.S.A. in Las Vegas, and every year there after. Fifty years from now, you can tell your children that you attended this event. Your input is greatly appreciated, so please contact us if you have any comments or suggestions.
May 30, 2006
Nguyen Huu Hung is a cultural ambassador – this year he is organising a festival that treats Italians to a little taste of Vietnamese culture. My Ha reports.
For one month from June 16 to July 16, The Dragon and Butterfly Festival treats audiences in Rome to a feast of food, fashion, film screenings and art exhibitions. Helping to make it happen is Nguyen Huu Hung, who has lived in Italy for 24 years. Hungactivities range from promoting Vietnamese trade to culture, education to sport and tourism to the arts. Awarded the Knighthood by the President of Italy for his work on promoting the relationship between Viet Nam and Italy, Hung spoke about the sweet and elegant Vietnamese "invasion" of Rome’s Spring festival.
Inner Sanctum: What is the weather like in Rome in June?
It will be very nice with temperatures at 25oC, while June is the hottest month in Ha Noi.
Inner Sanctum: How did you come up with the idea for such a big cultural event for Viet Nam?
Well, it is actually a two-sided story. First, journalist Corrado Ruggeri fell in love with Viet Nam. He also has a good relationship with the Roma Province government. Second, the Italian Embassy in Ha Noi is giving tourist visas to participants for free and I added my personal lobby efforts to this as well. It took one year for all our efforts to finally come together. The festival is called Dragon and Butterflies representing the country (dragon) and the ao dai (butterflies), as Ruggeri visualises.
Inner Sanctum: Besides the war with the US, what impression do Italians have of Viet Nam?
Italians don’t know Viet Nam well at all. During the war in Viet Nam, Italy as a country with a non-communist government sided with the Vietnamese people. In Italy, the Communist Party was very strong at that time for a non-communist country. I once saw a photo of a demonstration in 1968 in Rome, where I saw so many yellow starred and blue and red flags.
The students who took to the streets to protest against the war in Viet Nam were then called the sessantotini (the sixtiers). They are now in their sixties and many of them have had successful careers. They had lived with Viet Nam during the most beautiful years of their youth and now they would be delighted to visit the country in person. Many of them want to go to Viet Nam, but they still don’t know how.
Our company once participated in a tourism exhibition and many Italians were very surprised to see our booth. They asked when had Viet Nam opened to international tourists. They wanted to know if it’s safe to travel in Viet Nam and whether they could find bread to eat.
For all these reasons, we are very enthusiastic to prepare for this event.
Inner Sanctum: Besides the cultural activities, what tourism activities are you looking at?
There will be seminars on economic trends and tourism and investment opportunities in Viet Nam. Those who have some interest in Viet Nam were very delighted to hear General Giap’s speech during the 10th Congress of the Communist Party in Ha Noi. His call for rejuvenating the leadership and proceeding with further reforms received considerable approval among the sessantotini.
Inner Sanctum: The Roma Spring Festival attracts about three million tourists. What do you hope to achieve at the festival?
We hope to leave a positive image of Viet Nam not only with Italian people but also international tourists who visit Rome during this time. We also hope that Vietnamese artists get a chance to display their works in the heart of the world of art, and will therefore be more confident with their works.
With the food presentation at the Theatro della Cucina (Cooking Theatre) in the Citta del gusto (City of tastes), we hope that Vietnamese food will be tasted by Italy’s best food critics, who could recommend Italian wines to accompany the dishes.
I think at this series of events, many Italians will find out that Italy and Viet Nam has a lot in common. One of the ingredients used in ancient cooking called gacum comprises of anchovy and salt and it tastes exactly like nuoc mam, or the fish sauce of Viet Nam.
Inner Sanctum: What can you tell me about the films that will be shown during the festival?
The films are the last things we add to the programme. As you can see they are mostly directed by overseas Vietnamese directors. We want to include films made by directors who live in the country, but the films did not have English subtitles, so we could not show them. It is a pity.
Inner Sanctum: The former Italian ambassador once said that archaeologists have found in the Hong (Red) River Delta an ancient coin of the Roman Empire two thousand years ago. What do you think of that comment in correlation with today’s "invasion"?
It’s like getting into the cave to catch the tiger. (Hung quotes a popular Vietnamese saying).
Inner Sanctum: What do you think of the saying "When in Rome, do as the Romans"?
Well, it is true. But for one month, you can do as Vietnamese do. — VNS