(VNS) A collection of ao dai (the traditional Vietnamese long dress) designed by Le Thanh Phuong will represent Viet Nam at a festival held at the American Museum of Natural History in New York to celebrate the coming Lunar New Year.
Born in 1970, Phuong is a graduate of the HCM Fine Arts College. He won a special Viet Nam Collection Grand Prix in 1999 for impressing the judges with one of his early ao dai collections .
He spoke about his career and his new collection, which will be on display from January 25-27.
Could you explain what makes an authentic ao dai ?
Our country's original ao dai costume is beautiful and known all over the world because of its simplicity and elegance. It is also charming.
The most important thing though is that when wearing an original ao dai every woman is equal. The outfit does not and should not discriminate. The wearer can be rich or poor; a city dweller or a rural women, well-educated or a manual labourer.
Its practical design is also important. Women can ride a bicycle, enjoy street food and go to a wedding or funeral ceremony while wearing ao dai. It suits many purposes.
I think the original ao dai is perfect because it was created by well-educated people who absorbed a knowledge of aesthetics from French schools. If a contemporary designer does not understand the original ao dai and its perfection as a design, they can only make it worse.
I think this has been true in recent years, with many Vietnamese designers competing to make ao dai designs as different and noteworthy as possible. These designs have been too sexy or too ornamental, with designers using feathers and other materials. It spoils the perfection, but these recent ao dai have been much favoured due to these strange designs, but I think it is not fair.
If you think the original ao dai is already perfect and should be copied, why is it necessary to have ao dai designers?
I agree, you may have a point. However, I still think we need designers for ao dai as although we should follow the original style, we can use our creativity and imagination to seek perfection following the original blueprint. Merely tailoring a beautiful ao dai is not enough.
It took me some time to discover how to follow a classic design. I remember the first time I tailored one it was too tight around the waist. The second time, I made a pyramid-shaped bosom. I was finally successful at the fourth attempt after carefully researching the original ao dai in old file photos.
The ao dai collection which earned you the award at the Viet Nam Collection Grand Prix in 1999 was also acclaimed for its sophistication. However, your designs weren't following the original design. What do you think now, looking back on it?
At that time I didn't know anything about fashion. I was sent to the contest while I was a third-year student at the HCM Fine Arts College, doing graphic design. The theme of the contest was nationality and modernity. I had infantile thoughts that nationality must be ao dai and modernity must come from western designs. I ludicrously combined the two factors in my ao dai collection. But the colour arrangement of the collection was fine because I was studying to become a painter not a fashion designer.
Could you explain why making a beautiful ao dai is very tough work?
Almost all of the designers of my generation didn't study fashion design. We are from the fine arts college. As a result, it is not easy for us to understand clearly about fashion and ao dai in particular.
Cultural managers should feel guilty because they have not helped people understand national costume in the right way. They have not been involved in costume design for Vietnamese representatives at world pageant contests, whose costumes have instead been created freely by designers looking to make a name for themselves. — VNS