by Minh Huong
An autumn chill has enveloped the city, the sunshine has faded and a row of willow trees sways gently in the breeze. A group of girls dressed in ao dai (traditional Vietnamese dress) seem to be floating through the air, the beautiful folds of their garments rippling around them. This enchanting image of Vietnamese girls clad in ao dai has been an inspiration for many poets, novelists, artists and fashion designers.
Lan Huong is a traditional dress designer. She enhances the natural beauty of Vietnamese women with her innovative designs, accentuating their attractive curves, creating a subtle sexiness for her clients whilst preserving the discreet and traditional beauty of women.
She respects the needle-work and beauty of silk but still creates new, original and precise traditional costumes. She loved needlework as a child. When she was accepted into the Ha Noi University of Culture, her mother bought her a sewing-machine as a reward.
As a student, she used to ride a bicycle to Ha Noi’s Kham Thien Street to buy fabric. “I didn’t study design and I had to teach myself by visiting tailors around Ha Noi,” says Huong.
Due to her hard work, she quickly became well known in Ha Noi. She is a meticulous worker and often personally selects her dyes and silk so that every design becomes a work of art that portrays her spirit and soul.
She is now the proud manager of a boutique at 84 Hang Bong Street, in the capital with a wide collection of unique traditional Vietnamese dresses.
Huong has made a great contribution to raising the provile of the ao dai in the international fashion world and her collections have received high accolades at home and abroard. Her Dong Ho collection which debuted at the 2004 ASEAN Culture Week, received critical acclaim from international guests.
“Lan Huong is a young and talented designer” says Pham Quang Nghi, Secretary of the Ha Noi ‘s Party Committee. “Her beautiful Dong Ho collection presents typical Vietnamese culture from the olden days,” he adds.
Her collections have become synonymous with Viet Nam in Malaysia, Germany, Sweden, France and a number of Eastern European countries where she has showcased her work.
Her intricate designs have been used in beauty pageants across the world including Miss Viet Nam, Miss Viet Nam World and Miss Jewellrey, and they have contributed to the mystery and elegant beauty of Vietnamese women.
“I promised to make a dress for a particulary attractive girl who was taking part in a beauty contest. It gave me the motivation to create a dress of grace and luxury befitting her and the outcome was the most beautiful dress in the contest,” she says.
She wants her latest collection to have the beauty of spiritual phenomena and ancient culture as well as the immortal traditions of folk legends so she has selected images of the Van Nien pagoda, the four supernatural creatures Long, Ly, Qui and Phuong (Dragon, Qilin, Tortoise and Phoenix) for their power, the four seasonal trees Tung, Cuc, Truc and Mai (Pine, Daisy, Bamboo and Apricot) for their beauty and grace, and the three Gods Phuc, Loc and Tho (Happiness, Wealth and Longevity) for their wealth and prime.
Lan Huong’s collection ” One Thousand Years of Convergence” was recognised by Guinness of Viet Nam as the largest collection of traditional dresses in the country.
She has also supplied costumes to Viet Nam Jewellery Queen 2005, Miss of Viet Nam’s Imperial Capitals 2006 and Miss Earth 2010.
“Most designers only focus on costumes, while I want to design fashionable dresses that all women can wear. I will make them become more beautiful than the traditional costumes,” she says.
“I like fresh, modern designs with their own character so all of my dresses are different with their own unique beauty, grace and spirit. Drawing is my passion and I am still a long way from running out of ideas,” she adds.
“Each design presents its own challenges. Once I was asked to make an ao dai for a fat foreign woman. I thought long and hard about how to make her appear slimmer. I had to select special silk and sew intricate details into the dress to fit her shape. She was anxious at first but happy when she saw how beautiful she looked in the dress and I shared in her happiness,” Huong reminisces.
Some women think that silk makes them look older but Huong changes that. She makes traditional costumes become more beautiful, soft and soulful.
One happy client, Nguyen Thi Que, says, “Lan Huong is a creative designer who always manages to make her clients look more beautiful with her patterns. When I wear one of her creations, I feel comfortable and more confident.”
“We decided to wear ao dai’s for our wedding photographs and we selected designs by Lan Huong because they are very beautiful and original. The most important thing is that we are inspired by her talent,” say couple Pham Thanh Xuyen and Nguyen Quang Tam, from Ha Noi.
Many foreigners like to wear ao dai designed by Huong.
“She knows how to make women more attractive and impressive with her magical ao dai,” says a foreign client from the Czech Republic.
“I want to have two traditional Vietnamese dresses made for me and my daughter. Lan Huong is a top designer and I only want dresses made by her,” she adds.
Huong is the first designer to change the model of traditional dress and make it more attractive, elegant and sophisticated using sparkling stones and embroidery to enhance her work. Moreover, she wants to recover the age-old techniques of embroidery, the cultural quintessence of Viet Nam, that is still alive today.
Ha Dong silk is known for being special and unique, the best in Viet Nam. “I use this material because it’s soft and has a special beauty. A dress made from this material will make a woman more comfortable and more beautiful. A perfect traditional dress is the right texture, material and colour,” she says.
Huong has a dream of building a museum to present her beautiful long dresses. She has started the construction of the museum in Gia Vien in the the northern province of Ninh Binh. “I want to introduce traditional Vietnamese dress to foreigners and locals to help them understand more about its history,” she explains.
The museum will include a communal area for fashion shows, an area for tourists to relax in the Vietnamese countryside, and a food court where visitors will be able to enjoy typical Vietnamese dishes.
Although Huong was never formally educated in design, her passion, enthusiasm and creativeness have helped her become a success in the industry. She is always full of ideas she gets from sightseeing, especially in the romantic Autumn, when beautiful girls in ao dai continue to inspire her to even greater achievements. — VNS
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