By Thúy Hằng
While studying at university to become an architect, Hà An, owner and chief creative figure of the Hà Nội-based Veene Studio, probably dreamed of designing grand houses and epic constructions.
She never would have thought she'd end up devoting her career to creating sophisticated and pleasing miniatures.
A few years ago, to earn some extra money as a student, An decided to become an art tutor for children.
“I started to get involved with craft-making to teach children how to create craft objects from paper,” said the young woman, who still looks like a fresh student rather than an art studio owner.
Depending on the size and how sophisticated the item is, it takes about a week to two weeks to craft. Photo courtesy of Veene Studio
At the time, the twenty-something woman also had a great passion for baking.
“Actually, I had the intention to pursue this work [baking]. However, at that time, cake baking was a hot trend for young women. Too many people were in the field, plus with the high cost of ingredients I had to give up the idea,” An said.
Although she set aside ambitions of becoming a professional baker, An still had the chance to bake her elder sister's wedding cake.
“It was the first cake that I baked for others. Of course, it was for such an important event, so it had to be very beautiful,” said An.
As well as trying her best to make the cake, An also spent time meticulously carving a miniature wooden doll of a bride and groom to top the cake.
The cute statue was loved by her sister and all the wedding guests.
Soon after, An started to receive requests for similar customised dolls, which led to the birth of the art studio Veene. The studio was founded in October 2015, shortly after she graduated from the Hà Nội Architecture University.
“However, as the price of customised craft products was still quite high, most of my first customers were my friends,” An said.
A customised music box created by Veene Studio. Photo courtesy of Veene Studio
At the end of 2017, An introduced a music box topped with customised dolls, which by that stage had been taken to a new level of quality.
An said she no longer had any trouble carving the dolls but to meet the desires of customers, instead of the originally painted statues, she created the new versions with hand-sewn clothes.
The lively dolls wearing fashionable outfits sold like hotcakes. Veene received its largest-ever number of orders and An had to hire more staff. Now, her studio employs five ‘craftswomen’ who are architecture students.
Every day, the Veene crew gathers on the fourth floor of a building in Hà Nội's Hai Bà Trưng District to handcraft miniature items, including wooden dolls, custom music boxes and brooches.
An (third left) seen at Veene Studio together with her 'craftwomen'. VNS Photo Thúy Hằng
“We work tirelessly every day to create pleasing items. At Veene, no two items are exactly the same,” An said.
To create goods that satisfy all requirements, her team takes time to communicate with clients “to understand our customers’ wish, then can select suitable materials and design”.
“It takes time to complete any item because our signature reflects in the high level of every detail in each product,” An said proudly.
Phở bò is among miniature Vietnamese dishes created by Hà An. Photo courtesy of Veene Studio
“We do not believe in rushed work,” she added.
Depending on the size and how sophisticated the item is, it takes about a week or two to craft.
Last year, Veene implemented its biggest project so far – the miniature 'Bakery Town' for a bakery company in Hà Nội.
The 8.5-square-metre town features a lovely bakery with hundreds of different kinds of beautiful confectionaries, a shop selling baking tools and even a confectionary factory with trucks carrying ice cream.
“Veene had to brainstorm the ideas for the town before turning them into 3D sketches. For a month, 14 members of Veene painstaking built the town which is now on display at the company’s lobby in Cầu Giấy District,” An said.
The best of Vietnamese cuisine
After completing the project, the studio’s chief creative continued to challenge herself by making something more sophisticated – famous Vietnamese dishes.
An decided to start with some of the best of Vietnamese cuisine, including phở bò (beef noodle soup), bánh mỳ (Vietnamese baguette) and cá kho tộ (caramelised fish in clay pot).
An said that the chè cốm took her a lot of time and meticulosity. Photo courtesy of Veene Studio
The flavourful kho quẹt (Vietnamese caramelised dipping for vegetable) and the delicate dessert chè cốm (young sticky rice sweet pudding) have also been replicated.
It took An two months before she could debut the completed products.
“There are hundreds of steps to create these miniature dishes, from colour mixing to moulding, baking and painting. I also use polymer clay – the main material of the products – imported from Japan and Germany,” An said.
She said that the most challenging step was to create the exact colours she wanted.
In the phở set, you can see the light pink poached beef slices and a few sprigs of spring onion topped on white phở noodle threads, bathed in a clear broth. Additional condiments such as lime, chilli, and quẩy (fried stick bread) are also included in the set.
The set chè cốm features a blue-painted ceramic bowl containing the light-green-coloured pudding topped with white coconut threads. An said this dessert took her a lot of time and concentration to make as she had to mould hundreds of tiny rice grains as well as weave a decorative rattan mat, together with lotus flowers and leaves.
Mooncake trays featuring the salted-egg mooncakes and the traditional bunny mask. Photo courtesy of Veene Studio
During Mid-Autumn Festival, her studio also makes miniature mooncake trays featuring the salted-egg mooncakes and the traditional bunny mask.
An expects miniature food will become Veene’s signature products.
“However, due to the high meticulosity, the price of these items are still quite high. So far, we have had very few clients purchase these sets,” she said.
In the near future, An will start to create a miniature collection of Vietnamese women's clothing through the ages.
She also wants to open craft workshops where “attendees can challenge themselves at different levels of meticulosity”. VNS