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» » » Vietnam Travel: Culture meets couture in Hoi An

TRAVEL - “It’s like Ali Baba’s cave,” the British woman sighed, eyeing flat bolt after bolt of silk in every shade, finish and pattern imaginable. Around her were similar riches in cotton, wool, cashmere, chiffon, blends and more, stacked on shelves running floor to ceiling. Her husband, less overwhelmed by the experience, waited patiently in a chair. This was going to take a while.

Come to Hoi An for the culture, stay for the couture.

Hoi An, a quaint UNESCO World Heritage Site about 30 km south of Da Nang in south-central Vietnam, stays true to its centuries-long heritage as a trading port. But it’s just as famous for its superb tailors and shoemakers as its historic preservation and Chinese-Japanese roots, a place where custom-made clothes or funky boots are ready within hours, made while you explore the pedestrian friendly old town.

The tailors stay open late, long after dusk when red paper-covered lanterns are switched on to softly illuminate narrow streets. Flat boats, protected from water monsters by all-seeing eyes painted on their hulls, line the narrow Thu Bon River that fronts the town. The boats’ reflections in the water only add to Hoi An’s charms as people release candles in paper lotus holders to float in the river. The atmosphere is romantic and old-world and a perfect antidote to jammed, busy cities like Hanoi to the north, or Ho Chi Minh to the south

With its identical ochre-coloured buildings, the small centre of Hoi An is easy to explore on foot (only locals are allowed to ride motorcycles; the rest of us walk) in between fittings. There are plenty of bars and restaurants to rest weary feet.

There are hundreds of tailors lining Hoi An’s streets. Based on a recommendation from a tour guide who had used the store before, we ended up at Yaly Couture. The large main shop (there are two other branches in Hoi An) was busy with tourists being measured and fitted for everything from suits and jeans, to edgy dresses and chic jackets.

It looked like there wasn’t much the talented seamstresses couldn’t copy or create. I saw some truly gorgeous creations emerge from the curtained dressing rooms, although I don’t know how some women could stand being fitted for heavy winter coats in the steamy shop when outside temperatures were 34C.

I walked in with a web address for just what I wanted — a red cocktail dress from the winter collection of one of my favourite American designers. But I didn’t need to speak Vietnamese to figure out the conversation between the worried-looking saleswoman Isabelle (all the Vietnamese staff have English name tags to help customers better recall who has served them) and the tailor as they looked at the design on one of several laptops available for clients to pick styles.

“Too big,” the tailor helpfully pointed out, trying to find a nice way to say the dress was not just going to work on me. No problem, Isabelle said, let’s find a better option. She handed me a stack of binders filled with photos of dresses from fashion magazines while she searched designer websites she had bookmarked. Between the two of us, we designed a 1940s-inspired cocktail dress. And my boyfriend, Hans, picked the emerald green raw silk for it.

Every possible measurement was taken, plus a photo done of my front, back and profile for the tailor. Hans was measured for a collarless shirt and a jacket and I also ordered two blazers, styles chosen and amended by the endlessly chipper Isabelle.

Within six hours, our clothes were ready for fittings. Isabelle expertly tugged fabrics, marked spots with chalk that she was unhappy with, consulted us on lengths and off went the clothes again to be finished. I needed one more fitting for my dress the next morning, and the whole order was delivered to our hotel. Total cost for three jackets, a shirt and my stunning dress was $315 U.S.

Source: Linda Barnard | The Star

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