Wearable Art

22/07/2019 09:58

Fashion meets a passion for preserving and celebrating traditional Hue woodcarving in a remarkable line of shoes

While I was surfing foreign websites specializing in handicrafts, I came across a shoe collection from Vietnam. I was immediately struck by the wooden heels, which were meticulously carved and complimented by vibrant colors and sleek black leather, in a blend of traditional Vietnamese crafts and high fashion.

Lan Vy, who created these wooden shoes, told me about their origin. It turns out that the shoes came from nostalgic thoughts of the wooden clogs worn by her great-grandfather, a native of Hue. The sounds of the clogs echoed in her childhood memories of every time her great-grandfather welcomed his great-grandchildren home.

Vy said the memories stayed with her, even though her great-grandfather passed away a long time ago. She came back to Vietnam to find the clogs that embodied those memories of Hue of the past, but no shoes could bring back the same exact emotions. When she couldn’t find the shoes that could satisfy her, she began making them as a tribute to the traditional Hue woman.

The inspiration for the wooden shoes was culture and art. The first collection of wooden shoes featured carved images of dragons, unicorns, and patterns found on ancient houses. The later, more modern carvings, are the product of Lan Vy’s collaboration with woodcarvers of the handicraft village.

Wood-carving artisans

Sophisticated carvings like 3D patterns of dragon images are handcrafted by woodcarvers in Hue. Often when designing a pair of shoes, designers will work on an original idea, then order the woodcarvers for the finished product, but in the manufacturing process of these special wooden shoes, the artisan will work directly with the designer from the conception of the idea until the finished product.

The woodcarver is the one responsible for the quality of the product and the load-bearing capacity of the wood, and the product’s design will not be accepted without meeting these requirements. The effort and creativity of the artisan are as important as the designers themselves. That is what set the product apart and how the producers pay respect and honor to the handicraft village.

The handicraft village and the community

The establishment that produces wooden shoes – Fashion4Freedom is not only a fashion brand but a social enterprise that helps to support artisans in approaching a new market. Since 2010, Fashion4Freedom has cooperated with over 70 communities. In addition to the project of shoe carving, this social enterprise is running the project of introducing Zeng brocade (of Ta Oi people in Thua Thien Hue) in new, modern forms.

A passion for art

When I asked Lan Vy about her customers, she said: “We don’t have customers, we have art sponsors. They are enthusiasts of the direction of community art that we follow. The users of these products are not followers of any fashion trends; rather, they just follow the calling of art and fully understand that the products are not fashion but a passion.”

With such values, one pair of shoes is currently on display at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London and another is in the shoe collection of James Cameron’s wife.

Giang Le


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