Hai Au 

Young designers are looking to Vietnam’s imperial past to find inspiration for their contemporary works.


From royal attire of the Le Dynasty to jewelry draped in Ly Dynasty-inspired decorative patterns, it’s not hard to find images of imperial Vietnamese influences in contemporary designs and artwork. A younger generation in Vietnam is growing increasingly interested in their country’s long history and are incorporating elements from the past into their own creations or simply learning more about history as a way to strengthen their own identities.

Young artist Thanh Huyen was inspired by the elaborate patterns on the tasseled royal caps of Emperor Le Thanh Tong and Empress Truong Lac and worked to reproduce historically accurate extravagant royal robes and caps. To produce these designs from sketches to implementation, Thanh Huyen has had to diligently research artifacts on display at national museums while researching documents from that era and consulting with historians. One invaluable resource for young Vietnamese fascinated with ancient designs has been the 2013 book “A Thousand Years of Robes and Caps” by Tran Quang Duc.

The work of artists like Thanh Huyen has been a boon to publishing houses and filmmakers. Costume designers can be confused by a historical drama script because reliable documents are largely absent. With the zeal of the young, members of the online group “Ancient Traditions of the Grand Viet” have little by little ignited the passion among the community with their depictions of costumes of the imperial court and even of commoners. These demonstrated how aesthetics changed over time, and how outlook on life was revised.

It’s fascinating to trace the distinctive regulations on costumes introduced by each dynasty over course of 2,000 years. For instance, reformers in the early 20th century initiated giving up the hair-growing tradition of the Nguyen Dynasty, while those in the Nguyen Dynasty who wore turbans and headbands disparaged the loose natural hair and folded robes of the Le Dynasty.

Another delicate pursuit is the crafting of jewelry modeled after ancient decorative patterns and themes. Replication proved quite challenging for designer Cao Tung Lam, who decided in 2015 to start a close cooperation with Cao Tung Nghia and Nguyen Duong Dat in a group called Forest Studio. Their employment of 3D techniques to program the initial design, then set the mold and complete golden bracelets banded with dragon patterns of Tran Dynasty or golden bracelets featuring the Ly Dynasty dragons has captivated their clients at the first glance of their designs. Every single frame on the dragon’s back, their fins and whiskers cast out of gold emanate indomitable pride and regal poise that make any owners of these little treasures proud. One standout product is a belt buckle modeled after Le Dynasty patterns, which is cast in gold and carved with marble. With an aim to adapt traditional culture to ordinary items from furniture and jewelry to ornaments, young members of the group are bringing forth glittering and reminders of forgotten golden ages.