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Silk not only plays a huge role in Vietnamese society, but it has also been integrated as a staple in Vietnamese culture. This luxurious fabric was once used as a type of currency in trade and lent itself as a medium to showcase Vietnamese beauty through art. Silk has played a big part in Vietnam’s history and economic development and still plays a prominent role in the culture today.
WHAT IS SILK?
Silk is a natural protein fiber produced from the silkworm’s cocoon. The silk fibers are collected from the cocoon, wound onto spools and woven into textile. It takes approximately 3,000 silkworms consuming 104 kg of mulberry leaves to produce 1 kg of silk. The process takes approximately 40 hours to produce half a kilogram of silk. It is a comfortable, light weight fabric that possesses the ability to absorb, making it favorable among countries of warmer climates, such as Vietnam.
In 1000-1054, King Ly Thai Tong in an effort to further grow Vietnam’s economic development (as his fathers and forefathers had before him), encouraged silk production in Vietnam. He was aware, in having the ability to produce silk within his own country meant eliminating the need to rely on Chinese merchants for access to the coveted fabric, thus allowing him to be more economically sustainable.
Today, Vietnam is recognized as one of the global silk producing countries.
“Ao-dai”, the Vietnamese traditional tunic is globally well-recognized. It is also one of the few Vietnamese words that appear in the English dictionary.
The long silk trouser and gown were first introduced in 1744. Favored by Lord Nguyen Phuc Khoat, ruler of the southern part of Vietnam during that time, the ensemble was adopted as uniform for all those in his court including aristocrats and other dignitaries. It bore a similar style of the Cham people’s customary costume (the original inhabitants of the land) as a sign of respect towards their culture, and to differentiate himself from the people of the northern part of the country at that time. The “ao dai” during this time was created to be loose fitting in style.
It wasn’t until 1930 that the “ao-dai” became re-shaped by a group of French trained designers to be more form fitting, borrowing from the traditional five panel dress (ao ngu than) design into the recognized outfit we are familiar with today.
The “Ao-dai” is not only worn during traditional ceremonies and special occasions; students often wear these gowns as a school uniform.
When the Vietnamese are not in “ao-dai”, they can often be seen wearing, what westerners may label as “silk pajamas”. These silk pajamas are known as “ao ba ba” and are ideal for everyday wear considering the coolness of the material, ease of washing, along with the modest price tag. Those who are adorned in the “ao ba ba” range from rice paddy workers to restaurant owners to house wives. “Ao ba ba” commonly consists of a pair of silk pants often matched with a silk top.
Vietnamese Silk Painting, most popular during 1925-1945, was unique to the world compared to the popular oil paintings exhibited in Europe at the time. In 1946, the Vietnamese Silk Painting was introduced and awarded two awards at the Salon in France. Vietnamese Silk Painting has been described as having an emphasis on softness, elegance and flexibility and, can be differentiated compared to Chinese or Japanese Silk Painting through liberal and modern use of color, especially during the nineteenth and twentieth century.
Silk is very prominent in Vietnamese history and culture. There are even Vietnamese songs which speak about Silk including the popular melody “Ao Lua Ha Dong”. In fact, the popular Paris By Night, a DVD recording consisting of musical collaborations from more than a dozen artists, once dedicated an entire show to the theme “Silk”.
Pay closer attention, and one will easily recognize the huge role silk plays in Vietnamese society.