Listening to the Stories of Ao Dai

The Toucher Arts project is a series of seminars, concerts, exhibitions, and workshops celebrating Vietnamese culture in French schools. This event is especially significant as it commemorates the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations and 10th year of strategic partnership between Vietnam and France.

Attending the event were Elodie Le Floch, the mayor of Kervignac, and Stephanie Do, the first Vietnamese-born politician to serve in the French Government, accompanied by nearly 100 French people who were interested in learning more about Vietnamese culture.

At this event, the online exhibition “Ao Dai tells stories” was also launched for the first time to the French public. It chronicled the stories of characters from around the world, recounting memorable moments in their lives that held the presence of the traditional Vietnamese dress, áo dài.

Young photographer Thao Nguyen introduced the photo collection “Dreaming Hoi An”, which will be on display at Kervignac City Hall from May 13th to 28th.

The seminar and exhibition “Listening to the Stories of Ao Dai” is organized by ART SPACE Association and Vietnam Bretagne Sud Association, in cooperation with APPEL Lorient Association, and with the support of Kervignac City. This project is completely non-profit and aims to raise funds for orphanages and disabled children in various regions of Vietnam.

Three speakers with diverse backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives have come together to discuss their unique experiences with and appreciation for the traditional Vietnamese garment, the áo dài. From personal anecdotes to thoughtful reflections, they share how they have been able to promote the image of this special clothing to international friends.

The first speaker, a Vietnam-born fashion designer, begins by discussing how the áo dài has been a part of their life since childhood. They reminisce about the memories that the garment has brought, such as spending time with their grandmother, and how this has shaped the way they view the áo dài. The speaker is passionate about introducing the áo dài to the world, and has been able to do so by creating custom designs for their international clients.

The second speaker, a foreign student who has recently moved to Vietnam, speaks about how the áo dài has opened their eyes to the country’s culture. They share how they felt instantly connected to the garment and its symbolism, and how it has allowed them to feel at home in a foreign land. The speaker also explains how they have been able to promote the áo dài to their friends back home, and the conversations they have sparked about the garment.

Finally, the third speaker, a businessman who frequently travels to Vietnam, reveals how he has witnessed the áo dài’s growing recognition in the international market. He explains how the garment has become more popular amongst foreign visitors, and how it has become a symbol of Vietnamese culture. He also shares how he has been able to promote the garment to his business partners abroad, and the positive response they have had to it.

These three speakers demonstrate how the áo dài is being embraced internationally, and how it is becoming a source of pride and appreciation for many. Through their stories, they have shown how the garment is not only beautiful, but a powerful representation of Vietnamese culture and heritage.

The seminar on “Ao Dai: A Historical Witness” invited three special speakers to present their unique perspectives on the traditional Vietnamese costume. A French artist, a Vietnamese teacher, and a Vietnamese boy who grew up in France all shared their insight into the role of Ao Dai in Vietnamese people’s lives, particularly for women. They drew attention to the fact that Ao Dai is not only a traditional costume, but also a living testament to many of the most important milestones in Vietnamese history. This seminar offered a unique opportunity to gain a greater understanding and appreciation of the cultural and historical significance of Ao Dai in Vietnam.

During the talk show, Dominique Penhhoat, a French-Vietnamese sculptor and writer, author of the autobiography Les Trois Cousines en Indochine, shared a deep memory with áo dài that she loved the most. It was a gift from relatives in Việt Nam that she had just found during her journey back home after more than ten years.

The second speaker from Vietnam, Nguyen Thi Cuc, is a teacher with over two decades of experience in education and cultural exchange, having impacted the lives of thousands of Vietnamese and French students.

At the talk, Cuc shared with her French friends the story of the Vietnamese dress and the connection with the image of teachers and students. She also took the opportunity to introduce the French people to the traditional Vietnamese costume, the Ao Dai, through a workshop entitled “Drawing Ao Dai”, which was conducted using watercolours.

Despite being the youngest speaker, 12-year-old Kevin Nguyen has two years of experience in conducting workshops to promote Vietnamese culture in numerous schools located in the Loire Atlantique region of France. With his unique access to both French and Vietnamese cultures, Kevin has been able to bring interesting stories about the image of áo dài from the perspective of second-generation Vietnamese children born and raised in France.

Kevin Nguyen shared his memories of the first Ao Dai he ever saw and the journey of introducing Vietnamese culture to French students. He described how the French children went from surprise to falling in love with the traditional national costume of Vietnam.

At this event, the virtual art exhibition Toucher Arts at was officially launched to the French public as well as international friends. The exhibition features three collections: “Dreaming Hoi An”, a photo exhibition by the young artist Thao Nguyen, “Listening to the Stories of Ao Dai”, and “Connections”, an exhibition of children’s paintings from around the world which will open in June 2023.

At the event, the French audience was moved by the stories they discovered in the online exhibition, “Listening to the Stories of Ao Dai”. This project was designed to interview over 100 people from around the world of varied ages and living conditions to gather memories and experiences related to the traditional long dress. This exhibition, in particular, included stories from many characters living abroad.

The TOUCHER ARTS project series presents stories in three languages: English, Vietnamese, and French. The stories are aired on a weekly basis, beginning on May 13 and concluding on July 15.

All French attendees of the event “Listening to the Stories of Ao Dai” were rewarded with a Vietnamese long dress as a special souvenir. In response to the gesture, those who appreciate the dress and Vietnamese culture have chosen to donate to help disadvantaged and disabled children in Vietnam.

Hoang Thu Trang, president of the ART SPACE Association and head of the organizing committee, said, “We want to introduce to the French public and other international friends a deeper and more impressive image of Vietnamese áo dài than they know before.”

Through the memories of the traditional dress told by nearly 100 people around the world, diverse in age and place of residence, international friends can feel the love and respect of the storytellers for Ao Dai, not only as a cultural symbol of Vietnam, but also as a historical witness of most of the most important milestones in a person’s life. Many French people have told me that this event has allowed them to gain a deeper understanding of the dress, both vividly and emotionally, which has in turn enabled them to develop a stronger appreciation for the costume and Vietnamese culture as a whole.”