Costumes maketh the play
A scene in the dress rehearsal of Ta Quan Le Van Duyet. Designer Si Hoang researched the costumes to make them historically accurate.

Ao dai designer Si Hoang’s latest project is as a costume maker for a play opening at Ho Chi Minh City Theater on September 20.

With over 20 years experience making traditional Vietnamese ao dai, Si Hoang is busy making 135 gowns for a piece called Ta Quan Le Van Duyet (Duke Le Van Duyet) to be performed this month in HCMC.

Hoang accepted the job as costume designer three months ago and immediately went to the country’s old capital of Hue to study the costumes of the Nguyen Dynasty.

The play is about Le Van Duyet (1764-1832), who was a great general of the Nguyen Dynasty, the last monarchy of Vietnam.

From 1813 to 1816, he was the governor of Gia Dinh Citadel, the core of what is now Ho Chi Minh City, and was the main force behind the development of the city.

Duyet was in deep conflict with King Minh Mang, who reigned from 1820 to 1841, which led to the destruction of his tomb by the King in 1835.

The tomb was restored by King Thieu Tri in 1841 and now lies at Vu Tung Street in Binh Thanh District.

As a part of the research needed to make the costumes as authentic as possible, Hoang visited museums and spoke to old ladies who knew about the period costumes but they were to unable to provide him with all the details.

“I have made the clothes in two categories using two contrasting colors – the red one for Le Van Duyet’s party, and the black for King Minh Mang’s party,” Hoang said.

The designer also revealed that each character’s rank was depicted using images of embroidered tigers, lions, and cranes.

Hard working career

Hoang says his greatest challenge so far was designing dresses for last Tet holiday’s cai luong (traditional southern folk opera) performance of Chiec Ao Thien Nga (the swan’s gown), with a cast of 400, costing more than VND2 billion (US$121,212).

The swan’s gown depicts the Vietnamese invasion of Chinese warlord Trieu Da and the tragic love affair between Da’son Trong Thuy and Vietnamese princess My Chau.

The performance’s Vietnamese costumes were inspired by Dong Son cultural costumes in the An Duong Vuong Dynasty (700BC-100BC), but the designer had to study for months and consult the Chinese Consulate General in HCMC to make the costumes for Trieu Da’s Chinese party.

“I always tell myself that I must respect history and facts before beauty,” Hoang said.

Two years ago, Hoang won the record in the Vietnamese Book of Records (Vietbook) for creating the greatest number of dresses for a cai luong opera.

His hard work for one cai luong performance, Kim Van Kieu, helped draw tens of thousands to see the play.

He said he was reluctant at first to accept thejob as the Kim Van Kieu costume designer, because he had to design 435 dresses in three months.

“But director Hoa Ha convinced me,” Hoang said: “Up to 100 staff worked day and night on the project.”

The ao dai and costume designer was a talented painter before he accepted his “fate” and answered the call of fashion two decades ago.

His work designing ao dai brings big money, while costume design for theater barely earns him anything – but he loves it.

He is also hoping to open a tea house specializing in performance of traditional music and dancing in the Independence Palace.

Source: Tuoi Tre

Exploring the birthplace of Dong Son culture
14:08′ 28/03/2008 (GMT+7)

VietNamNet Bridge – Saigontourist is launching a new four-day, three-night tour to the origin of Dong Son culture in Thanh Hoa Province, which is the site of the country’s largest bronze drum and relic restoration project.

Tam Coc – Bich Dong. (Photo:

Dong Son is an ancient culture that developed in Vietnam’s northern and central provinces during the late-prehistoric Bronze Age and early Iron Age. The culture is centered on the Hung King temple and the northern delta’s three main rivers – Red River, Ma River and Lam River.

Tourists departing from HCMC will fly to the city of Vinh in Nghe An Province where they will be transported to Sen Village, the birthplace of Uncle Ho, to spend the night.

The following day, tourists will head to museums in Thanh Hoa Province to view archaeological relics from Do Mountain, which is the cradle of ancient Vietnamese and Dong Son bronze drum culture. Next, tourists will travel to the Dong Son archeological site.

Tourists will then visit Lam Kinh, a national historical relic of the province. Lam Kinh, also known as Tay Kinh, is the second largest imperial city built by King Le Loi the first king of the Le Dynasty.

A trip to Tep Temple will give tourists the opportunity to bum incense to commemorate Le Lai, a hero who saved King Le Loi, the temples of the kings and queens and the Vinh Lang memorial that was created by Nguyen Trai to honor King Le Loi.

On the final day of the trip, tourists will return to Vinh to view the cultural relics of Truong Le mountain range at the Sam Son tourism site.

Tourists departing to Hanoi will travel by bus to see Tarn Coc (three caves), Bich Dong (Bich Cavern), the temples of King Dinh and Le kings and will spend one night in Ninh Binh Province.

On the second day in Hanoi, tourists will head to Thanh Nha Ho in Vinh Loc, which houses the architectural relics of the imperial city of the Ho Dynasty (1336-1407).

The city’s walls are built using five-metre tall and three-meter wide stones that weigh six tons per cubic meter. All four gates to the imperial city remain intact and the southern gate features a couple of stone dragons.

The tour from HCMC is priced at VND4.5mil per person for groups of 15. The tour from Hanoi is priced at VND1.52mil per person for groups of 15.

To promote Dong Son culture within Vietnam, local brands are introducing products featuring patterns typically carved on Dong Son bronze drums to consumers. Thai Tuan Textile & Garment Co. under the Three Season collection, Nino Maxx with their jeans and t-shirt collection and Sy Hoang with their ao dai fashion collection are participating in the project.

Other participants include Future One with souvenir miniature Dong Son bronze drums, Minh Long Co. with a tea set, Kinh Do Corp. with moon cakes, KTG with electronic switches, SJC with jewelry collection, Vinh Tien with notebooks, ToyCity with toy set, Phuong Nam Corp. with picture books, Nguyen Hoang Corp. with computer screens and mice and Bong Sen Corp. and TTT Corp. will collaborate to refurbish the interior of Vietnam House Restaurant.

The cultural night to introduce the new products took place at the White Palace Convention Center in HCMC late last week and attracted many national and international companies and representatives from the local consulate offices. Christophe Desriac, general manager of Microsoft Vietnam, who attended the cultural night, said that it is “a good idea to combine different companies around a common theme.”

(Source: SGT)

Fashion passion

July 4, 2008

Fashion passion
Designer Si Hoang, pictured here in Leon, France, will host an ao dai competition for kids today at the Independence Palace

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.

A child models an ao dai from the Mat troi be con kids’ collection

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.

Cultural showcase

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