The First Ao Dai Show in Paris


In 2001, for the first time, models presented the Vietnamese women’s .ao dai – a graceful, fitted tunic with flowing panels worn over simple wide-bottomed trousers – at the UNESCO House in Paris before hundreds of guests, including forty ambassadors from the Asia-Pacific region. Designer Huong Lien took the .ao dai to the west. “This was the happiest event in my life,” she said upon returning from the exhibit.

Mr. Pham Sanh Chau, the Vietnamese ambassador to UNESCO, had invited Ms. Huong Lien to bring the exhibition. The delegation arrived in France on 28 May and went immediately to Tours to begin work. The team spent two days getting acquainted with the stage and the models. “The stage presented no problems,” Ms. Huong Lien said, “but the models did. They were Filipinos, Chinese, French, Koreans and Overseas Vietnamese. We had to retailor over fifty ao dais to fit them! That took time and energy, but we finished on schedule.”

The Ao Dai fashion tour in tours city and at UNESCO house - Paris - France
The Ao Dai fashion tour in tours city and at UNESCO house – Paris – France

The first exhibition opened on 31 May at the L’Univers Hotel in Tours. The Vietnamese delegation presented two collections – a traditional one, “Vietnamese Ao Dai Through the Century,” and a modern one, “Stylised Ao Dai.” The team collaborated with Vietnamese-French designer Ms. Pascal Valery Tung Lam, who had sponsored the trip to France and had even postponed a show scheduled for April in order to work with the guest designers. “We had to return to Paris immediately after the show in Tours, arriving at 9 AM,” Ms. Huong Lien continued. “That left us with only twelve hours of rehearsal time before our opening. We were all so nervous! Mr. Pham Sanh Chau had told us that this exhibition was important both as an opportunity to introduce the .ao dai to international friends and also to demonstrate the value of the .ao dai to the cultural heritage of the world. This would be part of UNESCO’s campaign to promote and protect intangible forms of world heritage and the first fashion show held at UN ESCO House. The programme, which allowed forty minutes for the Vietnamese exhibition, also included music and dance from Korea, Japan and India.”

To demonstrate the beauty of the .ao dai, the Vietnamese delegation presented three collections: “Vietnamese Ao Dai Through the Century;” “Wedding Ao Dai:” and “Ao Dai with the Country’s Name Written in Characters.” All the outfits were made of Vietnamese silk. The delegation also handed out fliers in French and

English outlining the history of the .ao dai. “As our models stepped onto the stage,” Ms. Huong Lien added with pride, “the audience exclaimed in surprise and pleasure. The spectators broke into spontaneous applause. We had worried whether the international models could convey the soul and beauty of the ao dai, but they succeeded in showing the garment in a new light. Mr. Kochiro Matsura, Director General of UNESCO, enjoyed reading the characters. ‘Very beautiful!’ he exclaimed, applauding enthusiastically. Overseas Vietnamese showed approval and support. After the exhibition we burst into tears of happiness!”