July 4, 2008
Si Hoang, now firmly ensconced at the top of his field, was one of the first designers to give the traditional Vietnamese tunic a makeover by adorning it with paintings.
His art ranges from elegantly embroidered symbols to paintings inspired by nature – pictures of the sun and flowers for children, and abstract symbols, dragons and other needlework for adults.
Hoang completed his first work in 1989 when a contestant at the Miss Ao dai Ho Chi Minh City, one of Vietnam’s first beauty pageants, commissioned him to beautify her white ao dai.
He painted flowers all over it.
His patron won second place in the contest and the painted ao dai was born.
Tailors in the city soon began asking him to decorate their ao dai, and women wearing his works won top prizes at beauty contests.
Hoang’s designs have since been displayed at major shows around the country.
Several of his collections have also been shown abroad, including one for Song Moi (New Vitality) at Thanh Nien’s Duyen Dang Viet Nam (Charming Vietnam) charity gala in Singapore last year.
Out of fashion
Hoang is concerned that people are showing less interest in the traditional outfit these days.
“When I was a child, my mother, sister and other women often wore the ao dai,” he said.
Ironically, this is happening even as the number of ao dai designers is rising.
“The garment is now worn mainly on formal or festive occasions, which is really a sad thing,” he said.
“I’m so worried that someday it will entirely disappear from everyday life.”
Ao dai for children
Hoang is also passionate about nurturing a love for ao dai among the younger generations.
“I wouldn’t be what I am today if my parents had not supported and guided my interest in fashion design since I was six,” he said.
Kids have not traditionally had any creative input in the clothing they wear and their ao dai have merely been a miniature version of the style worn by adults, he said.
“If children feel like wearing the dress now, they will certainly grow up to be ao dai lovers,” said Hoang.
His first children’s ao dai collection went on display in 2004.
He used children’s paintings to embellish the dresses and the collection was a huge hit.
He then assembled more paintings from children, including several from disabled children, into his Mat troi be con (The little sun) collection one year later.
“A lot of kids love painting, so why don’t we give them a chance to express themselves in pictures?” Hoang asked.
Being a part of the creative process will help enhance kids’ affection for the traditional costume, he added.
“They now wear ao dai because they love it, not because their parents want them to,” he said.
Following the success of his second kids’ collection, Hoang launched an
annual competition titled Tai nang thiet ke nhi (Kid designers) in coordination with Me yeu be magazine and The He Viet (VietGen) media company.
This year’s competition, themed Ao dai con ve (The ao dai I paint on), will be held on International Children’s Day today at the Independence Palace in HCMC.
Hoang is also working on a host of other projects to showcase ao dai and traditional Vietnamese culture to both locals and foreigners.
Hoping to popularize the ao dai on the international scene, Hoang has created jeans, T-shirts and chemises influenced by the tunic.
The trendy designer is planning to open a shop at the Independence Palace featuring his ao dai and a diverse collection of Vietnamese cultural items.
A cultural complex is also in the works, says Hoang, to be built in Long Phuoc Ward in HCMC’s District 9.
The 20,000-square-meter complex, nestled amongst lush foliage, will be constructed entirely of wood and stone.
The complex will include a 300-seat theater modeled on the Duyet Thi Duong theater at the Hue Royal Palace.
There will also be an ao dai showroom, and shopping and dining areas.
All aspects of the center will highlight traditional cultural traits, Hoang emphasizes.
Hoang also owns his own company, Si Hoang, and runs a factory which produces theatrical costumes.
“Plays and films are the most effective and easiest approach to culture,” he said.
The active entrepreneur says he spends two thirds of his time researching clothing styles from different historical periods to ensure the costumes he designs are historically accurate.
Designing costumes, says Hoang, helps him in yet another area of his busy life – teaching at the HCMC Architecture University.
Despite his hectic schedule, Hoang always remains focused on his one true goal – sharing his love of Vietnamese culture and tradition with the world.
Hoang’s company, Si Hoang, is located at 36-38 Ly Tu Trong Street, District 1, HCMC.
Reported by Diem Thu