Hue at heart

22/07/2019 09:54

Tran Thien Khanh brings the authentic spirit of imperial Hue to his áo dài designs.

Among the many styles of áo dài found in Vietnam, the traditional form from Hue has always been regarded as the most poetic and dreamy. Designer Tran Thien Khanh, a Hue native, has established his name with authentic designs inspired by the culture of the city and patterns and decorative prints of the former imperial realm.


Khanh started his career as a makeup artist, and then began studying design to nurture his passion for the áo dài. In 2010, he rose to fame nationwide as two Miss Vietnam pageant candidates from Hue, Le Nha Uyen and Ton Nu Na Uy, wore áo dài designed by him. When asked about this endorsement, Khanh was still deeply touched: “I still have the áo dài worn by Nha Uyen and Na Uy. At the time, although the dresses were not so outstanding, they somehow brought a glimpse of Hue to a national audience and motivated me further to preserve the enchantment of the imperial áo dài.”

In 2015, Tran Thien Khanh was invited to England to present an áo dài collection featuring decorative prints and patterns of the imperial Hue citadel, which impressed and surprised an international audience. His collection “Mysteries of the Orient,” drawing inspiration from lotus flowers, was put on display in the 2016 Hue Festival and won more fans. Success prompted him to participate in various major events, such as the Vietnam-Italy Fashion Week (2018) and the US Áo Dài Fashion Festival (2018). Most recently, he launched his collection “The Golden Age” at the 2018 Tourist Beauty-Miss Vietnam pageant.

Tran Thien Khanh’s áo dài accentuate feminine curves with moderately high collars, loose sleeves and a figure-fitting waistline. The dresses are meticulously cut and sewn and are embroidered with exquisite decorative patterns by skilled artisans of Hue for an authentic and beautiful result.

When do your creative inspirations come from and how do you transform these into your designs?


My ideas for a new collection often come from my journeys. I’m at my most creative when I delve deep in the cultural stories of the destinations I travel to. Hue culture never ceases to wash me with inspiration. No matter where I go and what I learn about, it is further enriches the beauty of Hue in my heart. Therefore, my designs over the years, despite new additions, still maintain the core imprint of my home city. I have traversed the Imperial Palaces to steal a glance and sketch every single detail on handles, gates or roofs to successfully portray the long-forgotten splendor of our history, and the magnificent beauty of imperial architecture. Day by day, with patience and resilience, I seize the fleeting moments of cultural stories and deliver the inspirations to my own áo dài designs.


In recent years, the áo dài is coming back into favor as an everyday outfit with a variety of revisions. What are your thoughts about this trend?

The áo dài represent a unique Vietnamese aesthetic. And aesthetics are meant to change over time. In fact, the Vietnamese áo dài has undergone substantial revisions and breakthroughs over the decades. In recent years, revised áo dài are increasing in number and getting bolder because demand for them are on the rise. I am truly pleased to see people increasingly fond of this costume. However, I’m still rooted in the reserved and demure beauty of Hue. I always think that revisions are good, but never the ones to radically alter the form and ageless charm of the costume.


After more than 15 years in the field, what advice do you have for young designers who want to follow in your footsteps and design áo dài?


If you truly love the áo dài, spend as much time as possible learning about culture. In this profession, difficulty is the driving force for success and if you are discouraged, you will lose. I think that it’s very important to always keep learning and improving. Nothing is impossible if you are truly committed to your passion.  

Thuong Nguyen

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