|Celebrity clientele: The tailor has made custom garments for famous personalities, including Jacques Chirac and John Kerry.
Between wooden shelves packed with hundreds of silk bolts, Camille Lavergnas looks happily into the mirror.
Standing next to Lavergnas, dressmaker Hoang Kim Thuy examines the dress to make sure that every detail is perfect.
"Do you want the train a bit shorter? Do you feel comfortable at the shoulder and waist?" Thuy asks.
If her client wanted any adjustment, Thuy would make it. She wants her clients to be completely happy when they leave her shop, Thuy An, which she named after herself and her daughter An.
Among Ha Noi's thousands of tailor shops, of which several are nearby on the same street, many people choose Thuy's to get custom-made clothes.
"When one of my friends wore a tartan taffeta jacket, she received many compliments. She revealed it was tailor-made in Ha Noi. So when I planned a trip to the city, I asked her about the tailor shop where she made the order. And now I'm here," explaines the French tourist.
However, instead of getting only a jacket as she intended, Lavergnas also purchased a skirt suit, a silk dress and a Vietnamese ao dai.
"I couldn't stop myself when I saw so many beautiful taffeta and silk fabrics at the shop," she says. "I made the right decision to visit this shop. When I came out of the fitting room in this beautiful ao dai, I felt I had become another woman – very chic and beautiful."
Located on Hang Bong, one of the most bustling streets in down town Ha Noi, the shop has greeted many foreign customers. The first ones came in the 1990s: Thai and South Korean expats who passed by the shop on their way to church every Sunday morning.
"They brought many beautiful silks to my shop. It was the first chance I had to work with such top-tier fabric," Thuy says.
Realising that such fine fabric could create chic clothing items, Thuy decided to focus only on this gorgeous material.
"While most other tailor shops in Ha Noi at that time purchased popular fabric from China and South Korea, I wanted to find my own fabric supplier. However, it was hard to find such quality cloth in Viet Nam," says the couturier, who looks much younger than her age of 49.
Van Phuc Village, the only silk village on the outskirts of Ha Noi, has far fewer weavers than in previous years. But Thuy managed to find artisan Trieu Van Mao, the only craftsman in the village who could weave van silk, which was used to make outfits for Queen Nam Phuong of the Nguyen dynasty in the middle of the last century.
"Instead of the standard fabric that he usually created, I asked him to produce high thread silk. In addition, I required that it be colourfast," Thuy said.
|Vivid colours: Thuy An's designs have captured many foreign customers' hearts.
However, the manual weaving method limited the number of patterns that could be produced with Van Phuc silk.
To enrich her tailoring materials, Thuy travelled to the Bao Loc silk region in the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong, where quality silk and chiffon in various designs and colours are produced.
"Silk producers in Bao Loc always get up-to-date information about international fashion trends, so they produce fabric with trendy patterns," Thuy says. She also expanded her network of fabric suppliers in Da Nang, which, she says, "has the best taffeta".
Her shop currently offers about 500 different types of silk, including shantung, organza, taffeta, chiffon, sateen and muslin.
In addition to the diverse collection of silk, Thuy's tailoring skills, which she has honed since she was a teenager, have turned her customers into devoted clients. On the walls of the shop hang large photos featuring Thuy together with many famous people. Ton Nu Thi Ninh, former Vietnamese ambassador to Belgium and the EU, was a regular customer for more than 10 years before she moved to HCM City.
"In addition to providing very good service, she offers the best quality and broadest variety of silk with both traditional and contemporary designs and colours," the former diplomat said.
Ninh chooses silk for most of her clothes because the natural cloth "allows the skin to breathe".
However, she is also on a mission to display Vietnamese silks to the world. It seems to be working, as foreign visitors and officials often inquire about the silks she wears.
"Many of them are surprised to hear it's Vietnamese silk," she says. "They associate silk only with China, Thailand or India."
Ninh recalls taking the spouse of speaker of the US House of Representatives Dennis Hastert, who was visiting Viet Nam, together with female members in the congressional delegation to Thuy An to have silk clothes made within 36 hours.
"Needless to say, they were very happy," says Ninh.
Other personalities Thuy An welcomed include French president Jacques Chirac, US Senator John Kerry, and their wives.
"I often have to work for the whole night to complete a customer's order before their flight the next day," Thuy says.
After many years, Thuy now has a significant number of loyal customers.
"I have some extra kilogrammes, but I feel completely confident whenever I wear clothes tailored by Thuy An," said Vu Thi Lieu, a client for nearly 10 years.
Thuy's eldest daughter, An, who spent four years in Paris studying fashion design, makes an efficient assistant.
"While I have many years of experience in tailoring, my daughter has very good taste in fashion, so we support each other," Thuy says.
An seems to have inherited her mother's passion. She recently opened her own boutique, featuring silk designs she creates with young people in mind. — VNS