The Philippine Terno finds home in Vietnam’s first Ao Dai museum

HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam (MindaNews/15 April) — A Vietnamese rendition of the Philippines’ national costume is one of the featured dresses in Vietnam’s first Ao Dai Museum.

The Terno-inspired Vietnamese dress is created by renowned Vietnamese designer Le Si Hoang. He is the founder and director of the museum, which just opened on January this year.

The designer first showed admiration for the Terno in 2011 when he was commissioned by Vietnamese ambassador to the Philippines Nguyen Vu Tu to specially design dresses to showcase in a celebration that marked 35 years of diplomatic relations between his country and the Philippines. He’s kept the dresses since then.

“I really like the [Philippine] Terno,” Hoang said in this interview. “I like its butterfly sleeves and its elegance.”

Hoang said that aside from the Vietnamese ambassador’s request to (re)introduce the Vietnamese national costume to Manila at that time, he also wanted to create dresses to honor the historic diplomatic occasion. (Hoang is an iconic designer in Vietnam whose creations have been worn by celebrities and politicians in Vietnam and abroad; during this interview, he claimed to have designed dresses for three of the current Philippine President’s sisters.)

The Vietnamese ambassador sent Hoang a sample of the Terno, which he then studied. Seven designs came out of his creative genius–all of these were made of silk and complete with intricate embroidery and beadwork.

The basic elements of the Vietnamese and Philippine dresses harmoniously fused into Hoang’s elegant pieces. The ingenious play of the Ao Dai’s sleek flaps and the Terno’s bold butterfly sleeves both root the gowns in their respective cultural identities. The reconstruction of the Ao Dai’s raglan sleeves with Terno butterflies lends the dress commanding elegance, while subtly keeping oriental flair.

The immaculate white Ao Dai Terno is the one that is currently on display in the museum (this dress proved to be a surprise to an unsuspicious Filipino visitor like this writer).

15ternoThe other Ao Dai Ternos are carefully kept, along with the others, in the Hoang’s archive–a collection of about 500 Ao Dai dresses, with some that date back to the 1930s (a Le Mur dress, or the first-ever reconstructed Ao Dai created by painter Cat Tuong).

“The objects on display have a specific theme, and that theme will be changed every three months,” he said in an interview published in Vietnam News.

Each of the Ao Dai Ternos will take turns in being displayed every season in the museum in a corner that features modern renditions of the Vietnamese dress. That corner also has Ao Dai dresses with Japanese, Chinese, and American inspirations.

Back in the days

The Philippine Terno and the Vietnamese Ao Dai both have come a long way in history–each having their own episodes of change and tension from politics and lifestyle.

The Philippine Terno (from the Spanish word “to match”) evolved from the Baro’t Saya, an indigenous type of dress which comprised four parts: the Camisa (a short blouse with sleeves), the Pañuelo (a shawl worn over the camisa), the Saya (a long skirt) and the Tapis (a short overskirt wrapped around the saya).

Similarly, the modern Vietnamese Ao Dai came from the Ao Tu Than, one of the many traditional Vietnamese costumes from the north that is known to also have four parts (a tunic, an underskirt, an ancient Vietnamese bodice, and a silk sash).

Over time, this dress, historically worn by peasants, became a status symbol (as evident in the display of the number of layers of fabric, despite the tropical Vietnam weather), and eventually shaped itself to fit cultural aesthetics. It then streamlined into everyday life, and, interestingly, took form as a two-part (tunic-pantaloon) dress that is the modern Ao Dai.

How to get there

After 12 years in the making, the Ao Dai Museum opened in January with the purpose of promoting the national dress culture to the public. Over 30 dresses bask in the museum’s spotlight–each having their own characteristics and history (there’s even a dress owned by Nguyen Thi Dinh, Vietnam’s first female major general to serve in the Vietnam People’s Army).

The 100,000 Vietnam Dong (about 210 Philippine Peso) entrance fee makes this museum the most expensive to visit in Vietnam. Its location (20 kilometers from the city center; or a 45-minute ride) also makes it a cultural destination rather than just a touristy itinerary. But all this is made up by a beautiful immersion in fashion and history–you can have your photo taken with an Ao Dai that you can choose from a “walk-in closet” in the museum’s theater hall.

Visitors can also enjoy other amenities: a restaurant, a bookshop, a souvenir booth, a picturesque replica of Hoi An, and open huts along ponds. Located 206/19/30 Long Thuan Street, District 9, the Ao Dai Museum can be reached by taking the #88 Saigon bus from Ham Ngi Street (near Ben Thanh Market).

(Jesse Pizarro Boga is a fellow of FK Norway’s communication exchange program in Asia. He’s currently in Hanoi and oversharing photos of his experiences there in his Instagram: @jesiramoun)