|Nose to the grindstone: Designer Jovana Benoit works on her sketch at her newly-opended boutique and atelier Jovana Louis in Hà Nội. — VNS Photo Trương Vị
HÀ NỘI — Before moving to Việt Nam five years ago, Jovana Benoit – wife of the current Haitian Ambassador to Việt Nam Jean Lesly Benoit, surfed the Internet to learn about the country. However, not everything she read was positive.
“At that time, I was very nervous about the trip to Việt Nam. I had no idea how our life there would be. In Haiti, we know very little about Việt Nam. We also never had been in any Asian country. My feeling then was like ‘we are going to the hell’,” said fashion designer and former model.
Benoit couldn’t let her man go to hell alone, so she accompanied him to the Asian country, without knowing she would eventually fall in love with Việt Nam.
It wasn’t love at first sight though. Days after the couple arrived, they were invited to a State-level reception on the occasion of Tết (Lunar New Year Festival).
|Dressing the stars: Jovana Benoit poses at her at her boutique and atelier Jovana Louis in Hà Nội. In the background are photos of her celebrity customers including Beyonce, Melanie Griffith, Sanaa Lathan and Garcelle Beauvais. — VNS Photo Trương Vị
“As all my personal stuff, including my shoes, has not arrived yet, I had to find a pair in shoes shops on Hàng Dầu Street. I was quite shocked when all the sellers at all the shops we stepped in waved their hands and said ‘no’ to me. At that time, I really didn’t understand why I was not greeted by them. I told my husband ‘Oh, I want to go home,” Benoit recalled.
Benoit didn’t yet understand Vietnamese people and their culture.
“Finally, I learned that sellers in Việt Nam believe that the first customer can decide the luck of their trading day. And because my shoes size was unavailable in most of shoes shops in Hà Nội, the sellers were waving their hands, referring that they don’t have my size,” she said.
Despite the fact Benoit had lived in France, Spain and the US for several years, it took her a year to adapt to her new life in Việt Nam.
Day after day, she learned more about the country, and was seduced by every small detail of the vivid and colouful life here.
“I like everything here, the full-flavoured food, people and culture. I also have a special affection to the Hà Nội’s Old Quarter and Vietnamese traditional áo dài,” she said.
|Creative: Designer Jovana Benoit displays her creations at her newly-opened boutique and atelier Jovana Louis in Hà Nội. — VNS Photo Trương Vị
A model when she lived in the US, Benoit was also invited to model in several fashion shows in both Hà Nội and HCM City. She has also have been featured in prestigious magazines in Việt Nam such as Heritage Fashion and Wanderlust Tips.
“I am a fan of Vietnamese áo dài. I feel that I am a queen in that charming dress,” she explained.
Alongside the traditional dress, Benoit also has great interest in traditional Vietnamese music.
“It’s hard to describe but the sound of some Vietnamese musical instruments such as monochord, zither and t’rưng [a bamboo musical instrment of the Central Highlands region] are amazing. I have been taken to a peaceful land whenever I hear those melodies,” Benoit said.
Not only a former model, Benoit also graduated from a fashion school in Paris 10 years ago.
“Actually, my first intention was not being a professional designer. I just want to design for myself because I always want to dress nice and unique. There are two things that I can do very well – cooking and fashion,” she said.
Her unique creations gradually got more and more orders, before celebrities like Beyonce, Melanie Griffith, Sanaa Lathan and Garcelle Beauvais were ordering them.
“That was how my fashion brand Jovana Louis was born. However, at that time, I just accepted made-to-order requests,” the designer said.
|Cross pollination: Jovana Benoit presents a creation by herself that was inspired by the Vietnamese áo dài. — VNS Photo Trương Vị
Since Benoit moved to Việt Nam, her creations have started featuring some Vietnamese elements.
“Because I am a fan of Vietnamese áo dài, I got a lot of inspiration from this magical dress. Vietnamese ethnic costumes are also another endless inspiration for my creations. My brand is a mix of Vietnamese, French and Haitian,” said the designer.
Fascinated by the vivid life of Hà Nội, Benoit recently opened her boutique and atelier Jovana Louis on Lê Ngọc Hân Street – a small street packed by street vendors and food stalls on its pavements, because “the ambience makes me feel that I’m a part of the local life here”.
At the moment, Benoit is busy completing her latest collection that she will unveil at the upcoming Vietnam International Fashion Week next week.
“My collection, which consists of 30 designs, has been inspired by music. Music is the life because it can bring joy, happiness and colours to your life. The audience can see all those features in my collection,” she revealed.
The designer is very optimistic about her brand’s potential in Việt Nam, a place that she now regards as her second home. — VNS