Vietnam’s ao dai go on display in US museum

The ao dai, the traditional Vietnamese costume, will be put on display at the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles in the US for nearly three months starting Tuesday.

The Ao Dai: A Modern Design Coming of Age exhibition, which will run until July 9, features creations from prominent Vietnamese ao dai designer Minh Hanh, young fashion designer Le Minh Khoa, and Si Hoang, an artist and educator turned ao dai designer.

Also o­n display are works by Le Phuong Thao, a Vietnamese-American designer who combines traditional and modern techniques, Trinh Bach, a collector and restorer of royal ao dai from the 19th and 20th centuries, and collector Ngo Viet Nam Son.

The show, organized by the museum in partnership with the Association for Viet Arts, also traces the ups and downs in the history of the ao dai during the past decades.

It looks at the past and present and the exhibits combine traditional techniques with new global influences that embody both functional and artistic designs.

It will also include forums chaired by famous academics and designers in the US o­n the ao dai in the past and at present.

Dr Ann Marie Leshkowich will deliver a lecture o­n April 26 o­n Making Modernity Appropriate and Tradition Fashionable: Debates About Dress, Gender, and Identity in Ho Chi Minh City in the 1990s.

The professor will analyze why during a time of rapid modernization and development the ao dai experienced a resurgence.

On May 11 Caroline Kieu Linh Valverde, Assistant Professor of Asian American Studies at the University of California at Davis, will talk about the history of ao dai with focus o­n its revival in the 1990s, its value as a national symbol, and its rise as an aesthetic art object.

On June 3 Dr. Susan B. Kaiser will inscribe the ao dai in time and place, addressing issues of national identity, gender, ethnicity and class, as well as the social meaning of a national costume.

Monica Tran, owner of the Trust Fund Baby Boutique, will address the fashion industry and explain how she incorporated the ao dai into her mainstream designs at a lecture o­n June 4.

Versatile and graceful

The ao dai (pronounced 'ow yai' in the south, but 'ow zai' in the north) is a garment of ancient Vietnamese origin acknowledged for its beauty and grace.

Considered a cultural symbol of Vietnam, the ao dai, worn by both women and men, is a close-fitting tunic over long, loose-fitting pants. 

Though the national costume for both genders since the mid 18th century, the modern form of ao dai o­nly emerged in the 1930s.

In recent years it has made its way into the Hollywood mainstream as well as o­n the haute couture runways of Paris.

The museum’s official website said top fashion designers including Christian Lacroix, Karl Lagerfeld, Ralph Lauren, Claude Montana, and Richard Tyler have all at o­ne time or the other featured the garment.

Founded in 1977, the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles is the oldest museum of its kind in the US and in 2005 became o­ne of the top 10 attractions in San Jose in California state.

Founded in 1991, the Association for Viet Arts (AVA) is a non-profit, multi-disciplinary arts organization serving San Jose and the Bay Area.

AVA’s goals are to provide opportunities for Vietnamese American artists to present their work, open dialogues for cultural understanding, bridge Vietnamese and American cultures, and sustain the arts through arts education for youth in the community.

Thanh Nien News