Dương Văn Chương, founder of Chương Tailor. — Photo courtesy of Chương Tailor
Chương Tailor has long been a recognisable brand in many foreign embassies in Việt Nam. Recently, the President of Sierra Leone opted to have suits made by the tailor during his visit and paid compliments to the brand. Dương Văn Chương, the founder, talks with Thu Hường about his story.
Inner Sanctum: What elements of your product attracted the attention of the President of Sierra Leone?
My connection with President Julius Maada Bio began more than a decade ago. This results from a lengthy effort to provide excellent service to around 16 foreign embassies in Việt Nam.
The US Embassy, for instance, has been purchasing suits from my brand, Chương Tailor, for the past seven to eight years. They sign contracts annually and become loyal customers.
Many Ambassadors also invite me to their country's National Day events. I take advantage of such opportunities to promote my products to logistics officers at the Presidential Palace and foreign government offices.
For me, it was an honour to host the President of Sierra Leone after having previously hosted the former presidents of South Africa and Nigeria and Ethiopia's former prime minister.
A typical handcrafted Vietnamese product is popular for many visiting heads of state. Vạn Phúc silk, Bát Tràng porcelain, Hàng Gai embroidery, áo dài, and suits are probably the best-known Hà Nội-made products. I believe my brand has some sway in the men's fashion market.
Inner Sanctum: What is the most challenging part of creating outfits for a national leader?
I have been doing this job for many years, but I must admit, when taking body measures for the President of a country, I'm still really nervous.
President Julius Maada Bio is 58, yet he appears much younger. If you want to make an elegant suit, you must first figure out what the client dislikes about his current attire.
I remember he asked me: "Did you see anything wrong with my outfit?"
I responded: "Your outfit is very nice, although the shoulders are a little sloppy and wrinkled. Based on the former style, I think it should be changed slightly to create a tighter shoulder. Your trouser crotch is large, but their legs are small."
"Since you are tall, I will adjust it by enlarging the trousers' legs to match the measurements. I will also use youthful features to conceal the waistline. Dark colours, such as navy, dark blue, and plaid patterns, suit you better because they make you appear taller and leaner. The material should be a sweat-wicking, ultra-light, and cool fleece."
After getting my recommendation, he was pretty excited. The President smiled and said: "Vietnamese tailors have excellent skills."
I then made the best of that opportunity to introduce him to Vietnamese tailoring culture, the abilities of our country's finest artisans, and the number of steps required to create a suit.
Having listened, he added: "I also visited other places and ordered numerous suits, but Việt Nam is a country with superior craftsmanship. Your attention to detail and sophistication has reached the top."
Chương taking body measurements for President Julius Maada Bio. — Photo courtesy of Chương Tailor
Inner Sanctum: Is President Maada Bio the national leader who has left you with the greatest impression?
Each senior foreign leader left me with a distinct impression. Before President Maada Bio, I had fond memories of making suits for former President of South Africa Thabo Mbeki.
He often wears long and flowy clothes because his country rarely wears suits. When he tried on our suit, he was surprised and delighted. He embraced me and said, "I can't believe how elegant the Vietnamese suit is. Your skills are excellent. If you come to South Africa, I'm happy to help you open a showroom in the capital."
Even though I know that it is merely a word of encouragement, I'm still pleased since it proves that the top leader of South Africa truly enjoys Vietnamese suits.
That evening, President Mbeki invited me to dinner and presented me with a statue of a giraffe, a symbol of Africa, made of precious wood.
I feel honoured to receive such special attention.
Inner Sanctum: What makes national leaders appreciate Vietnamese suits so much when they have travelled to numerous places and worn high-class suits?
When I had the opportunity to travel to Europe, I made a point of stopping on tailoring streets to examine where the Vietnamese handmade suit business stands on the global stage. After many visits, I've concluded that Vietnamese products are equivalent to those of Western countries.
European garments are frequently simple, even though they are created at a price twice as expensive as ours. Everything, including labour, is pricey there.
Inner Sanctum: What is there to be proud of in a Vietnamese suit if the imported fabric and style are European?
Suits are intrinsically European. Hence, they must be in European style.
For some reason, only Vietnamese outfits work for me. Weirdly, even when I buy suits from well-known names like Gucci, Hermes, Valentino, Louis Vuitton and Dolce & Gabbana, I never seem to be able to get a good fit in any of them.
The reason is that Asian bodies are normally smaller, and my measurements are not as standard as those of a model. Ready-to-wear clothes that fit my waist have long sleeves or lengthy bodies.
But I work hard to learn from big fashion brands. I keep about 10 current outfits from some of the world's most well-known brands in my closet to examine what makes them unique in design or fabric. No brand is 100 per cent perfect. Thus, it's necessary to research and bring their finest aspects into their products. VNS