Top notch regal finery made to order

Published: 18/04/2009 05:00



Tailor Nguyen Van Xoan teaches his granddaughter to sew a traditional costume for participants in the Hung Kings Temple festival which falls on the 10th day of the 3rd lunar month.

Thanks to one ‘knight of the needle’ who has been toiling away for the last 64 years, the theatre, and the nation, will never have to do without the traditional costumes of the Hung Kings Dynasty.

Nguyen Van Xoan, 77, was born to a poor family who mainly survived by farming in the war torn country. A degenerative illness caused the muscles in his left leg to atrophy when he was young and he has been moving on limp legs for more than 70 years.

But within this frail body is the mind of scholar. Xoan can speak French fluently and is proficient in writing the Han script.

“Fate directed me towards the career when a well-known tailor from the northern province of Thanh Hoa named Pho Ca drifted to my area. He was my respected teacher and contributed to the happy life I lead now,” Xoan said.

To learn his craft, Xoan went through a trial by fire.

“During the war, my house was a secret outfitter, which provided padded waistcoats to the army,” said Xoan.

“When I was still young, I was strong enough to measure, tailor, sew and iron waiscoats for a regiment of soldiers [100 soldiers] in one day, while a normal tailor could only do this for a battalion, one third the size of my ability,” he said.

In Hien Da Commune, there were many tailors at that time, but only Xoan knew how to sew the traditional costumes of the Hung, Ly, Le and Tran dynasties. Xoan became fascinated by the legends from these times and began sewing stylised costumes for the stage.

“I did my best to collect documents relating to traditional costumes, but all of them were swept away in a great flood in 1971. But their images are still imprinted on my mind,” he said.

Traditional costumes are an important element of national character.

“Traditional costumes from the Hung Dynasty symbolise the nation’s costumes in the past. They are bare to the waist and worn with a loin-cloth. Furthermore, kings wore a dragon-head cap and other high ranking madarin wore phoenix-head caps,” he said.

“In ancient times, Vietnamese used leaves and bark to create a skirt around their bodies and during the bronze age they learned to grow and germinate silk for cloth.”

The name Hung Vuong (Brave King) was a title bestowed on the head chieftain of Van Lang, the elected official of the community of rice farmers.

The Vietnamese government recently announced that there will be a new holiday in Vietnam to celebrate the Hung kings. It will be on the 10th day of the 3rd lunar month.

Xoan said he wants to pass on his knowledge to the next generation. Two of his four daughters have become tailors, just like their father.

Xoan and his daughters are preparing for the annual Hung Kings festival with hundreds of costumes to showcase the country’s heritage.

“Maintaining the nation’s traditions is my desire till death,” Xoan said.


Provide by Vietnam Travel

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