Listening to the stories of áo dài in France

May 15, 2023 - 04:22
A seminar on Vietnamese áo dài was held at the City Hall of Kervignac city, Morbihan region, France, on May 13.

KERVIGNAC -- A seminar on Vietnamese áo dài (traditional long robe) was held at the City Hall of Kervignac city, Morbihan region, France, on May 13.

Titled "Listening to the Stories of Áo Dài", the event is in the framework of the "Toucher Arts" project, which includes a series of seminars, concerts, exhibitions and workshops concerning Vietnamese culture at French schools, in response to the anniversary of 50 years of diplomatic relations and 10 years of strategic partnership between Việt Nam and France.

French women and children taking pictures in Vietnamese long dress. Photo courtesy of the organisers

Attending the event were Elodie Le Floch, mayor of Kervignac, and Stephanie Do, the first Vietnamese-born politician in the French Government; together with nearly 100 French people interested in Vietnamese culture.

At this event, the online exhibition “Áo Dài tells stories” at, was also launched for the first time to the French public, which chronicled the stories of characters around the world, recounting memorable moments in their lives that behold the presence of áo dài.

Young photographer Thảo Nguyễn also introduced the photo collection "Dreaming Hội An", which will be on display at Kervignac City Hall from May 13 to 28.

The seminar and exhibition "Listening to the Stories of Áo Dài" is organised by ART SPACE Association and Vietnam Bretagne Sud Association, in cooperation with APPEL Lorient Association, with the support of Kervignac City. The project is completely non-profit and is carried out to raise funds for orphanages and disabled children in different regions of Việt Nam.

Three speakers with different experiences and perspectives share how they feel, appreciate and promote the image of áo dài to international friends.

Derived from the idea "áo dài is not only a traditional costume, áo dài is also a historical witness present at most important milestones in Vietnamese people’s life, especially women". The seminar invited three special speakers: a French artist, a Vietnamese teacher and a Vietnamese boy who grew up in France.

During the talk show, Dominique Penhhoat, a French-Vietnamese sculptor and writer, author of the autobiography Les trois cousines en Indochine, shared a deep memory with áo dài that she loved the most, a gift from relatives in Việt Nam that she had just found during her journey back home for more than ten years. 

The second speaker from Việt Nam, Nguyễn Thị Cúc, is a teacher with more than 20 years of experience in education and cultural exchange for thousands of Vietnamese and French students.

Present at the talk, Cúc shared with her French friends the story of the Vietnamese dress and the connection with the image of teachers and students. At the event, the speaker also helped French people discover the Vietnamese costume with the workshop "Drawing Áo Dài" with watercolours.

Despite being the youngest speaker, 12-year-old Kevin Nguyễn, has two years of experience in conducting workshops promoting Vietnamese culture in many schools in the Loire Atlantique region, France. Having access to both French and Vietnamese cultures, he has brought interesting stories about the image of áo dài from the perspective of second-generation Vietnamese children born and raised in France. 

Kevin Nguyễn also shared his memories of the first áo dài, the journey of bringing áo dài and Vietnamese culture to introduce to French students, how French children went from surprise to falling in love with the national costume of Việt Nam.

French people love the Vietnamese long robe.

Also at this event, the virtual exhibition Toucher Arts at was officially launched to the French public as well as international friends. There are three collections on display: a photo exhibition “Dreaming Hội An” by young artist Thảo Nguyễn; an exhibition “Listening to the stories of Áo Dài”; and an exhibition of children’s paintings from around the world, called "Connections" (this exhibition will open in June 2023).

At the event, the French audience discovered touching stories from the online exhibition "Listening to the Stories of Áo Dài". This is a project with the idea of interviewing 100 special characters around the world, of all ages and living situations, about memories and experiences related to the long dress, including many characters living abroad.

The stories are presented in three languages: ​​English, Vietnamese and French, and are aired on a weekly basis, from May 13 to July 15, the end date of the entire TOUCHER ARTS project series.

All French people who attended the event "Listening to the Stories of Áo Dài" were given a souvenir which is a Vietnamese long dress. In return, the French people who love the dress and Vietnamese culture, upon receiving a piece, will agree to contribute an amount to help disadvantaged and disabled children in Việt Nam. 

Hoàng Thu Trang, president of the ART SPACE Association, and head of the organising committee, said: "We want to introduce to the French public and other international friends a deeper and more impressive image of Vietnamese áo dài than they know before. Through the memories of the traditional dress told by nearly 100 people around the world, diverse in age and place of residence, international friends can feel the love and respect of the storytellers for áo dài, not only as a cultural symbol of Việt Nam, but also as a historical witness of most of the important milestones of a person's life. Many French people told me that this event helped them understand more about the dress, vividly and emotionally, making them grow a deeper love for the costume and Vietnamese culture in general." VNS