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Seeing through the fabric of fashion

Strike a pose: Model Christina Mariolyn wears two outfits by designer Ngo Thai Uyen. — VNS Photos Thanh Hai
HCM CITY — Fashion designer and outfitter to the stars Ngo Thai Uyen made an unusual choice recently when she undertook a six-month course at the Massachusetts College of Art in the United States.

Instead of studying fashion design, she opted for textiles. She says that even though she didn’t receive a certificate, a knowledge of fabrics is much more important.

"After reading through the curriculum of the fashion design class, I found it didn’t offer much more than I already knew or could learn from books," Uyen says.

"Half a year is not really long enough to study fashion design thoroughly, so I decided to switch to textiles, which is something I need to know more about."

She says that now she knows more about how fabrics are made, she can have more control over her designs.

"With the knowledge I gained in the US, I can tell the weavers exactly what I want," Uyen says.

The biggest limitation facing fashion designers in Viet Nam is the types of fabric available.

"Sometimes it is very difficult to find the right material for my designs, and I have to import the fabrics even though I know local weavers are quite capable of making them," she says.

Uyen, now 27, started designing when she was 22 and is a graduate of the HCM City Fine Art College.

She won a special prize for colour at the Fashion Connection contest in Singapore in 1997, and made it into the final round of the Makhuhari Grand Prix ’98 in Japan.

Uyen has also worked as a costume designer for many video clips and several films, including Viet kieu director Ham Tran’s The Death Anniversary and local director Luu Huynh’s Ha Dong Silk Dress.

Both of these films were set prior before she was born, and she even scored a role as a mother of two in The Death Anniversary.

Uyen was picked up by these directors because of her experience on the set of The Quiet American, directed by Australia’s Phillip Noyce.

"I applied to work with the film because I wanted to have the chance to witness a film crew at work," Uyen says.

"In my application, I mentioned my design work and asked for employment in the costume room."

Uyen at a fashion show in the US
As she had never worked as an actress before, she was offered the job as an interpreter in the costume department.

"I worked directly with Norma Mariceau, the film’s main designer, and later became her assistant," Uyen says.

Thanks to a flash of inspiration by the director, Uyen had the chance to create the costume for singer Hong Nhung, who had a small role in the film.

"I learnt a lot about the importance of designing the works quickly and efficiently."

Uyen is also kept busy as the owner of Nature, a fashion outlet in HCM City. The designer says she named the shop after the style of her clothes.

"I appreciate the natural factor in my designs, and I use curves, not straight lines.

"I also attach special importance to colour, and stress the contrasts between them. I like to play with colours," Uyen confesses.

Uyen’s creations are often worn by foreign models, who she says have a standard shape and need no make-up.

"I wish Viet Nam will open an official training school for fashion designers, to give the local industry a boost. What we have achieved recently in fashion design is worthy of encouragement, but we can do more," Uyen says.

Reprinted with permission from VietNam News Agency.


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