Lifelong love for suit tailoring

February 06, 2023 | 11:13
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Nghiem Van Hung, owner of Van Hung Tailor, boasts nearly 50 years of experience. He spoke to VIR’s Hoang Oanh about his love for custom tailored suits and his desire to preserve the family business.

Tailoring is one of the oldest professions in Hanoi. What brought you to the profession?

I am a second-generation descendant of a family with more than 70 years of working in this area. My father also opened a tailor shop specialising in serving foreigners in the 1950s, when the tailoring profession in Hanoi was still very primitive and the designs and fabrics were monotonous.

Lifelong love for suit tailoring
Canadian Ambassador to Vietnam Shawn Steil visits Van Hung Tailor

Hanoi in the 1980s did not have many tailors. Tailoring as a profession was an ideal choice for young people who do not go to college. I studied sewing technology at school, now the Hanoi Vocational School of Cookery, Tourism, and Fashion. This is also the only training institution in tailoring supported by Germany, with only around 100 graduates per year.

I was honoured to be one of the 10 best candidates to win a contest organised by the Ministry of Industry and Trade in conjunction with the Berlin Fashion Institute of Germany. This was a success and the first turning point in my career. I had the opportunity to study and work at Model Institute Berlin in Germany for five years. However, three years later, I decided to return to the country to set up a tailor shop on Kham Thien street. This is the forerunner of Van Hung Tailor.

For those who have lived for a long time in Hanoi, your shop is a familiar address. What makes your suits different from big modern brands?

That would be the story, the quality, and enthusiasm in each of my products.

Many foreign guests who come to my shop are interested in hearing me talk about the family’s traditional profession. In Europe, handmade sewing shops dating back decades or even hundreds of years are not uncommon, but in a country with a textile industry behind the rest of the world like Vietnam, it is rare to have second- and third-generation tailors who continue to follow the family business like me.

The quality of the product is significant. I have eight interpreters to assist in communicating with customers to be able to understand the requirements and give them honest advice on materials and designs.

Who has left a deep impression on you in your 50 years of work?

All customers who come to my tailor shop are appreciated. In particular, I received lessons about service from some more special customers such as ambassadors and bodyguards of a number of heads of state that I had the honour to welcome.

Former French Ambassador Jean-Francois Giraud is a man of profound understanding, cautious, and fastidious. He ordered up to 20 suits during his tenure in Vietnam to wear on special occasions.

New Zealand’s deputy ambassador to Vietnam Joseph Mayhew, counsellor of the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Vietnam Arkady Druzhinin, and other ambassadors from the likes of the UK, US, Australia, Canada, Denmark and Switzerland have all been special customers.

Van Hung Tailor has received orders to make suits for the US bodyguards accompanying former US President Donald Trump to Vietnam in 2019. Most recently, the head of the Singaporean sports delegation visited the shop to order three suits when attending the 2022 SEAGames.

Foreigners understand their desires very well, and their most important requirements are often quality and convenience instead of price. Many people mistakenly believe that the ambassadors’ suits must be worth tens of thousands of dollars, but the core value lies in the style and fit with several choices for different budgets.

What does this job mean to you, and do you plan to take a break after so many years?

Many people my age quit because they are bored or find it hard. I am not strong enough to stay up until 2-3am working like before, but once I get the job, I devote all my heart to it.

At the age of 64, tailoring is a difficult profession that requires a lot of time to learn and research. Customers are also becoming more and more demanding, but tailoring suits has certain standards and cannot be as creative as other costumes.

I am also handing over and passing on the profession to my son. The third generation has a more open mind, are better at foreign languages, and have the ability to expand and develop the brand. However, I want my successor to focus on developing skills to be able to create good products, contributing to preserving the family’s traditional profession.

By Hoang Oanh

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