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Ao Dai Couture

Nha Magazine, Q&A, Roseryn Bhudsabourg Posted: Jun 18, 2008

Before Pham Luong Quang Chanh immigrated to the United States in 1990 to pursue studies in computer science at the University of California, Berkeley, he lived a simple life in Vietnam.

I grew up in Long Xuyen, a small town next to the Mekong River, in the deep south of Saigon, where people are friendly and honest, he said. Today, he lives in San Francisco, Calif., and is known as QC in the fashion industry. QC designs and creates the beautiful ao dai, one of the many traditional Vietnamese costumes worn mostly by women. The ao dai outfits designed by QC are particular to his style, as they explore contemporary themes in a traditional garment. QC exhibits the breathtaking array of colors and fabrics on the runway at nationwide fashion shows, in addition to an international show in Vietnam year in January 2008.

So, how did this artist-cum-entrepreneur blossom from such humble beginnings? QC sets aside some time from his consistently busy day to answer some questions for us.

Nha: Why ao dai?

QC: Im completely fascinated by ao dai history. It has an ability of adopting world trends without having to sacrifice its basic look. In the 30s, designer Cat Tuong introduced the Le Muir ao dai that used lace around the neck and wrist, and included puffy arms, which became a quite unique style worn by many women in Hanoi. As modern-day fashion tends to flatter the body of the wearer, the ao dai is a perfect-fit dress, with French darts and raglan sleeves.ao dai

Nha: How did you begin designing ao dai?

QC: As a child, I drew sketches of ao dai all the time. I did my first design 20 years ago; but I didnt sew ao dai, I just hand-painted calla lilies on them. The dress was a gift for my mom, and I continued to make them for family and friends. I ignored the possibility of success in fashion design and studied computer science in college instead. But in 2003, I was working for a Vietnamese television program on KMTP32 when they accepted my fundraising idea of showcasing my ao dai paintings. The show was successful. I was contacted by other producers to do more shows, and customers began to contact me to design ao dai. I was totally surprised.

Nha: What inspires your designs?

ao dai QC: Fabrics, color, prints on the fabrics, motifs that I catch here and there, world trends. I do collect images of any interesting design.

Nha: Many of your designs have a contemporary edge to the traditional look of the ao dai. How did you accomplish this?

QC: Dont alter the basics of the traditional ao dai: tunic, two flaps, worn over pants. However, other changes can be made to modernize it. The purple goddess dress worn by Lisa Ma [2005 Little Saigon San Francisco Princess] is a good example. The dress used gathering for the upper front bodicethe recently popular goddess look.

Nha: Tell me about your latest obsession.

QC: Lace. It has a different look and feel. I believe youll see more ao dai in lace within the next few years.

Nha: What are goals you are still working toward?

ao daiQC: I want to introduce more couture ao daihigh-end ao dai using the best materials and craftsmanship. While the Japanese kimono or Korean hanbook may cost over $1,000 per garment, the ao dai costs an average of $200 in the U.S. and around $40 in Vietnam. We can make better fabric choices, designs and embellishments to increase the value of ao dai. Id love to join designers in the U.S. and Vietnam whove worked to improve ao dai quality.

Nha: Tell us about your 2006 collection that was featured in Wheel and Grace, a fundraiser that raised 1,500 wheelchairs for Vietnam by Wheelchair Foundation and VNHelp, on Oct. 20, 2006.

QC: It was the second time that Wheel and Grace featured my fashion show and I presented my Royal Collection. The pieces were designed for queens and princesses. I kept many traditional elements like dragons, phoenixes, koi fish, bamboo and cherry blossoms as dress details; but I created a more body-hugging cut as opposed to the traditionally loose fit. It was a great show for a great cause. All models, hair and makeup artists, including myself, volunteered to do this fundraiser.

It was a great opportunity to show traditional Vietnamese fashion to a more mainstream crowd. Its a way of introducing the beauty of the Vietnamese culture.

Nha: What is something that you are really proud of and why?

QC: Multitasking is my daily life. Besides juggling a full-time job, business and other activities, I am proud that I still go to school to learn new things. I love to keep myself updated with new knowledge. Its never enough. The more you learn, the more you feel like you know nothing.

Photos courtesy of Pham Luong Quang Chanh

For more photos go to http://www.myspace.com/qcdesigns

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