Vietnam Fashion Industry

ART: Vietnam Fashion Industry after Doi Moi

That, since Doi Moi, fashion in Vietnam has become an industry with accelerated growth, to the point, where the industry is beginning to make a mark in the international fashion design circles.


The aim of my Extended Essay is to investigate that since Doi Moi, fashion in Vietnam has become an industry with accelerated growth, to the point, where the industry is beginning to make a mark in the international fashion design circles.

To further investigate this topic, I have chosen to look closely at the history of fashion in Vietnam, and identifying and examining different effect from other cultures to the Vietnamese fashion industry. These influences are ways for the designers to develop their skills and learn from each other. Fashion design is within the ability to learn skills and techniques from each other to form a distinctive and original style.

My study on the contemporary fashion in Vietnam focuses on three successful fashion designers in Vietnam with an analysis of their works in the context of the fashion trend in the 21st century. There are various styles of fashion in Vietnam but to an extent Vietnamese people tend to get attracted by foreign designed apparels. Due to the shortage of consumers, local designed clothing is not growing rapidly compared to other countries. Local fashion designers now do have a firm position in the Vietnamese fashion industry, however, their designs are too specialized for stage wear and some have ignored the traditional aspects of fashion for a modern style of fashion. Audiences from the international fashion stages are attracted to the traditionalism of Vietnam and that the designers have managed to create an artwork out of a plain fabric. This style of fashion in Vietnam has always had positive attention from the world's fashion critics.

There is a constant change in trend each year that some designers may find it hard to follow the trend but they are trying and will try to maintain the traditional aspect of the Vietnamese culture.

In this investigation, I have used the designs from two top fashion designers in Vietnam and a primary source and have examples of the works they have done.

Vietnam, in the 21st century, fashion is now accessible to all classes of Vietnamese society. Prior to Doi Moi, Vietnamese people now have a different perspective on fashion as it is not a medium to express their external appearance .The Vietnamese fashion industry has developed rapidly with the influences from different cultures. Vietnam's fashion industry today has competitions within and outside of Vietnam. To further understand the art of fashion in Vietnam, we need to examine the fashion in the past and the present and that fashion exists at all in Vietnam was because of the introduction of the Doi Moi Policy. The Doi Moi policy was at the period when Vietnam accepts international trades and this has brought Vietnam to a new developmental stage.

The opening of the new Vietnam, Doi Moi, in 1986, has paved a new path for the Vietnam fashion industry. It was marked as its first year for international trade; however, fashion stayed quiet and low-profiled. Vietnam's fashion industry is nothing compared to the world's fashion industry even though Vietnam has opened up for international markets. Fashion has developed slowly in Vietnam due to the limited understanding of the importance of fashion. However, in 1989, Vietnam has marked its year for the commencement of its garment industry. Initially, fashion was a low-profiled form of art that not everyone was aware of. Vietnam has finally found its position in the fashion industry; however, it was not until 1993 that fashion really became a modern aspect of the Vietnamese culture. With the lack of knowledge on the art of fashion, Vietnam does not have a firm position in the fashion line. Most of the local designed garments are rather identical to the western style and have lost their originality and cultural image. Another problem has arise during those days were the number of successful designers. There were only a few designers who wish to follow this career but find it hard to survive as they were poorly taught and they have limited experience in this line. Thus, there were very few designed garments and it hardly caught the eyes of international audiences. The factors that determine their survival in the fashion industry are their ability to create original but tradition garments with style.

Before Doi Moi, garments were insignificant in the aspect of the Vietnamese people's lives, due to the constant turmoil. The garments for the women during this period are ordinary that fit their living condition, for battling and farming. By comparing the Vietnamese clothing style, before 1986, to other parts of the world, Vietnam is relatively behind in style and interest. This is a very important factor for the garment industry to start. This was the only problem in the past, although there were various style that have been adapted such as the “Ao ba ba”, “Ao Tu Than”, “Ao Yem” and the “Ao Dai”. Through the years of the past five decades, there were drastic changes in the “Ao Dai” such that people alter the style. Despite changes in the Ao Dai, the fashion industry didn't commence in those periods but waited a few years after Doi Moi in 1986 to start. The “Ao Dai” has always been the traditional fashion of Vietnam and has been an important outfit for school and meetings. It was the Vietnamese daily fashion that every class has access to. There were minor changes in the fashion style of the Vietnamese people but they did not have the opportunity to go on international stage due to the restriction of foreign trade.

With the introduction of fashion, Vietnam looked at other countries for inspirations with styles and sewing techniques. In the early days, there were only two fashion colleges in Vietnam and that is the Fine Arts University in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Here, the curriculum for training fashion designers was rather old and based on the Soviet Union's fashion curriculum. Therefore, there were a lot of styles and techniques that the local designers have now, are mostly adopted from the then Soviet Union. Although there were designers who have graduated from the fashion department of the Fine Arts University but it was difficult to survive in a sunrise industry. There were only a few designers who were able to enter this fashion line, but they have had tough times. In 1999, Vietnam has officially opened this form to art to the public by allowing potential fashion designers to express their talents through the ‘Collection Grand Prix'. This is a competition which has given opportunities for young designers to illustrate their designs and ideas but has also enabled them to learn from each other and improve their techniques, choice of materials and styles. This competition has found more talented fashion designers for Vietnam. Nevertheless, the most remarkable year for the growth of locally designed apparels was not until the launch of the “Vietnam Fashion Week” in the summer of 1999.

Although today there are signs for growth in the fashion industry in Vietnam and clearly there are some differentiations of Vietnamese Fashion art such as its traditional element in their designs. Nonetheless, compared to the world and other Asian countries, Vietnam is rather slow in the development of its fashion industry. While France celebrates their 100th annual years of their fashion industry, Vietnam has only started to have a go in to this new industry. It was only in Ho Chi Minh City that this form of art was initially introduced and that is in their “Legamex” centre. In the capital, Hanoi, there were minimal movements for the fashion industry until in the late 1993. Fashion shows are often in between singing performances and are just minor events. At the end of 1993, a French fashion designer, Pierre Cardin came to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City to reveal his collection. He was the very first person to initiate the Vietnamese desire to organize a grand fashion show. As well, he inspired and encouraged a lot of young designers during that period to develop a fashion art that is originally from Vietnam. This is the reason, as of today, Vietnam's fashion industry has achieved some major accomplishments and is able to compete world-wide. This has also brought them the invitation to join the Asian Fashion Federal along with major fashion countries such as Japan, Singapore, Korea, Thailand and China.

One of the early designers who became domestically and internationally recognized is Dang Thi Minh Hanh. She is also a fashion critic in the Vietnam's fashion line and is also the head of the Fashion Design Institute in Ho Chi Minh City. She is one of the top local fashion designers who is able to fuse the traditional element and the western element together in her designs. This is one of the main reasons why her designs have been impressively well recognized on international stages. Minh Hanh is also the one who initiated the fashion of Vietnam of today and more importantly she is the major icon of Vietnam's Fashion. With a vast amount of fashion experience on her hands, which she reflects the look of a Vietnamese women's figurative image. She has once said that “Fashion is our external personalities”[1] and to create a good image, our culture is the most important. This has also motivated the young designers who wish to pursue their career in fashion to be more creative in their designs and use a wide range of traditional cloths but fuse it with western style. This has resulted in the Vietnamese fashion today where there is originality in every piece of garment.

Vietnam's fashion industry is currently merging in to the world's fashion circle very well. It has never been this hectic and voluntary, that annually, there are fashion fairs and fashion competitions throughout Vietnam. There are also constant fashion shows held at almost every season. This has given Vietnamese fashion designers an identity in the Vietnamese fashion industry but as well internationally. Styles and trends come in different forms and they are constantly changing to suit the world's fashion trends. In both major cities of Vietnam, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, some designers are able to fuse the western factors in their traditional designs which make it unique and they are the designers who are well acknowledged internationally. With the impact from a very traditional culture where fashion isn't a so-called proper form of art but the constant confrontations in Vietnam have made Vietnam more open to the outside world. The openness of Vietnam towards different styles and sewing techniques has made Vietnam's fashion industry accepted by a lot of Vietnamese people. This has eventually initiated the local fashion designers to learn and use what they have learned to create their own identity in the fashion line. However, there are still negative aspects of the Vietnamese fashion industry that they have yet to overcome such as the shortage of professional fashion designers, the low level of collaboration between the garment factories and the designers, and the lack of cultural instinct of the garments.

Fashion is divided into many different styles and it varies in each region of Vietnam as designers adopt a different style for their garments design. In the North, the growth is slower compared to the South, where they are more open to changes. Designers have fewer opportunities to develop their styles and sewing techniques. Therefore, they are often too caught up with the new trend in other parts of the world and forget about the traditional style they have got. This discourages them to produce garments that are original. Nevertheless it's their surroundings that are to blame. Vietnamese fashion critics have commented that “designers here simply copy or improvise Western and Chinese patterns”[2]. In the South, the fashion industry is blooming more than it has ever been. High-fashion shows are often showcased and there are significant exposures of designers in the South. Professional fashion designers in the South have been exposed to a large number of foreign influences which therefore, they tend to adopt the traditional elements in to the westernized style. This has enabled the fashion designers in the South to have more originality but flow with the current trends. Many designers who are able to make their name well-known on international stages are mostly designers from the South as they are able to bring their culture into every design. Today, the North is catching up with the South and is trying to fuse the traditional element and modern element in their designs.

Both the North and the South have faced similar problems in the past but to identify the differences between the designers in the South and the designers in the North, we have to look at what have these designers contributed to the Vietnamese fashion industry. Vietnamese local fashion designers have been able to fuse traditional factors with western factors so that it can keep up with the world's fashion industry, there are two Vietnamese fashion designers, and whose have their shops opened in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City respectively. They are designer Minh Hanh, Minh Tien and Thuy. To an extent they have contributed a reasonable effort to the local industry by having their designs being well-known across the globe.

Designer Dang Thi Minh Hanh is from Hue, however she was born and raised in Pleiku where she was inspired a lot by the colourful dresses in this rural area. However, she was majored in graphic design at Fine Arts University of Ho Chi Minh City. She has never gone through garment studies but her inspiration came from her home town, her culture and the memories for her past. Luck came to her in 1994 when the Legamex centre specially invited her to be a member. She was popular for her designs of the Ao Dai and has won various prizes such as the “New Talent Award” which she has received in Tokyo, in 1997. She is also the person who encourage fashion designer to use traditional motifs. She is able to create an innovative image of her designs. This has honored her to be the first Vietnamese fashion designer to join the international fashion circle. However, she finds it difficult for Vietnam in the international circle. In an interview with the “Xa Luan” online magazine, she said “Vietnam has one disadvantage compared to other countries and that is the human factor”[3] Vietnam prioritizes the manufacturing of fashion but forgot about the human factor which is the designers.

”Ancient embroidered Ao Dai”[4] collection – 2005 - Designer Minh Hanh- Natural dyes on fabric such as velvet, voan and silk.

The main element which has made up this piece of garment is the basic colours from the traditional art by dye from the tree leaf, flower and roots to form harmonious details. Traditionally, an ‘Ao Dai' is made from materials such as silk, silk worm, Voan, velvet and taffeta. The details on this ‘Ao Dai' are from traditional form of paintings in the ancient times of Vietnam. Images of lotus, birds, phoenix, peacock and oleander are embroidered on the arms of the Ao Dai. The designer has brought an overview of the Vietnamese cultural aspects by depicting the traditional Vietnamese art of embroidery on cloths. This is a traditional Ao Dai, with a simple beauty, luxurious, elegant and unobtrusive yet attractive.

Minh Hanh has introduced the use of traditional cloths for all the westernized style to the local fashion designers as she does not want to leave the traditional factor out of her clothing designs. As seen in the above clothing from Minh Hanh's collection that brought her to Italy in 2006, “Dragon and Butterfly”. She has used the hand sewn embroidery motifs, such as patterns of butterflies, dragon and flowers, which have significant meaning to the Asian culture. It reflects the “strength and thoughtfulness of Vietnam and the potential beauty of the Vietnamese women”[6]. However, it is also very unique from the other pieces of clothing in other cultures. It is original but very caught up with the current trend.

In this collection, it is compelled of traditional cloths and materials such as tho cam, organza, satin, snake skins and crocodile skins with motifs such as apricot blossom and apple blossom camellia. These are all the traditional aspect of Vietnamese traditional culture. Thread-laced material is one of Vietnam's traditional craft. It is originated in a small village of Khoai Noi, Thuong Tin District, Hanoi. These materials are hand sewn which has become an important aspect of the Vietnamese culture. The patterns however, are derived from the Chinese culture but Minh Hanh has been able to recreate the style so that it is traditional but not lacking influence from other cultures.

The fabric used to complete this collection is tho cam which is originated in the Northern rural areas of Vietnam. It is reflective on the lives of the people who live in the mountain areas such as the image of the steps of rice field on the mountains, the beast, the sun and the moon. In this design, the fabric was hand-made and dyed with natural dye. This makes the apparel looks authentic but yet with a touch of a new creation. It's very cultural but well assorted with the current fashion trend.

Designer Cao Minh Tien is younger than Minh Hanh and however, he is another designer who doesn't have a background in fashion studies but instead he did Interior Design at the Fine Arts of Hanoi. He has had access to opportunities to convey his talent to the audience, such as the “Collection Grand Prix” competition in 2003 where he was awarded one of the top designers in the competition. He is one of the few designer who have a status in the Vietnamese fashion line as being a designer in Hanoi, he has less opportunity to His inspirations are from the western fashion design circle where he is interested in a different style compared to Minh Hanh and that is Pop Art Fashion. Having only a few years in this fashion line, he has a great potential to become a well-known in the fashion circle.

A lot of his designs are fantasy-like which show the modern aspect but they have shadowed the traditional factors. However, it is not an appalling fault as he is innovative for the younger generation compared to Minh Hanh, who belongs to the preceding generation.

A lot of Minh Tien's garments are inspired from popular form of dresses in other countries. Nevertheless, in the above there is a traditional factor which the neck part of the dress is inspired from the vietnamese traditional “ao yem”, which is also known as a traditional bodice. The “ao yem” is known as an indispensible garment for the traditional Vietnamese women.In the past, this is used as an undergarment for women and it resembles to the western halter top. These days, fashion designers has been able to develop the traditional “ao yem” and turn it in to different style of neck line dresses. Despite being a young designer, he is still able to bring the traditionalism and his culture in to his designs which young designers these days may find it hard to adopt. This is a representative of the feminenity of the Vietnamese women but modern.

Contemporary fashion is not always about the traditional factors within a garment. It is the combination of break-through of a designer creation in order to create something new and attractive for the wearer. Designer Minh Tien is one of them who create garments from his inspiration of the influence from other cultures. With this collection, he was brave enough to work with Pop Art fashion while it is not very familiar with most of the Vietnamese People. The main element of Pop Art fashion is the colours and they have played an important role in this collection as Minh Tien explores the combination of colours. It is a representative of the dynamic life of modern women in a cultural society.

In this piece, Minh Tien was inspired from the Chinese traditional dress. This is because Vietnam has been influenced by the Chinese tradition and therefore, there are a few details that is similar to the Chinese traditional costume. Although it is an inspiration from the Chinese traditional outfit, Minh Tien has been able to create a distinctive feel that is it modern and elegant but still has its traditional effect. With the help of the silk from Hangzhou, China, he has been able to create the cultural apparel.

Designer Thuy is very new to fashion however; she has been interested in fashion ever since she was a teenager. She has just started the designing garment business for over two years and therefore, she does not have a lot of confident in this line. “Being in an unprofessional fashion designer, there are a lot of difficulties and it is the materials and the designs which is important for the consumers.“[9] She has some disadvantages as there are very few garment designers in Hanoi who are able to fuse the traditional factors in their designs.

She is interested in the Vietnamese strong sense of fashion for teenagers; therefore, a lot of her designs are based on what teenagers are most likely to wear.

In this design, she has adopted the use of flower prints on the traditional round-necked t-shirt. This is one of the designs which Thuy was inspired from the teenager's trend but however has adopted the style of the traditional Vietnam t-shirt, worn by the female workers in the past. There are very little originality in this design, however, Thuy is able to create an image that is cultural yet fits the style of the 21st century.

In this design, Thuy was inspired from the Chinese traditional costume however; she has made it look young and fashionable for the teenagers. This is because the main element is the flower prints with calm colours that don't make the overall outfit look too overdone.

The patterns and neckline of this dress are suitable for most of the Vietnamese people but fashion critics have said that most Vietnamese fashion designers lack the tailoring techniques and this is shown in the above close-up images of the dress. This means that, there are very few opportunities for designers to go on international stage.

Fashion designers in the south tend to concentrate on the traditional factor of their designs however, in the North of Vietnam, the outfits are too westernized that it is very difficult for them to compete in the fashion circle. As seen from the three collections from designer Minh Hanh in 3 years respectively, there have been drastic changes in style and fabrics however, they are still traditional. From Designer Thuy and Minh Tien, there are more western factors in their designs.


Each of the three designers is a part of the new Vietnamese fashion industry that has and will find a voice in the cultural life of Vietnam. However, they also wish join the international fashion circles. There are now fashion colleges in both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City such as the London School of Design, Raffles College, Hanoi University of Industrial Fine Art and Dong Nai College of Decorative Arts. With a variety of international experienced designers, the fashion students are able to have access to different typed of clothing style and improve their techniques. Despite the slow movement in to the fashion design industry after Doi Moi, Vietnam is now rapidly competing with other countries in the fashion circles. Local fashion designers are now more open with new techniques and designs which have offered them a variety of opportunities for further development. Some designs of the local fashion industry are making their way to impress the international audience with their great reflect on the cultural life of Vietnam.

There is a consistent change of styles in Vietnamese fashion design, however the traditional factor hasn't change much although there are changes that has not been changed for a long period of time due to their traditional factors. However, there are a lot of designers who have been focusing a lot on the western influenced styles that they have left the traditional value they already have. Due to the shift in to western designs, Vietnamese designed clothing is not always well received in the fashion circle. There are several reasons behind this, such as its distinctiveness and traditionalism, as they have been forgotten by the designers. However, there are only a few designers who are able to bring in the traditional factor in to their clothing designs. This has been the case for the past few years when the first fashion designer were invited to fashion shows in the Western countries such as Italy, Japan, France and the USA.

Fashion is not an identical piece work. It is a work with skills and the effort of the designers bringing in the traditional factors that determine their culture. It is a piece of artwork where the designers express their culture, memories and environments. As quoted from Oscar Wilde, “One should either be a work of art, or wear a work of art.”[10] There is no way to determine a piece of art but in fashion, it is the originality and uniqueness that count.


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