The sedge mat costume worn by Nguyen Thi Ngoc Chau in the 2022 Miss Universe Vietnam pageant received negative feedback after a change of the emblem on the sleeves.
The organizers of Miss Universe Vietnam ordered the costume change at the last minute, just before Chau flew to the U.S. on December 26 to prepare for the 2023 Miss Universe competition, after feedback criticzing an emblem on the sleeve that represented wealth and prosperity.
Not wanting to represent Vietnamese culture that way, organizers had the costume redone so that the sleave was adorned with a lotus instead, a less controversial promotion of Vietnamese culture.
The sedge mat costume of the 2022 Miss Universe Vietnam Nguyen Thi Ngoc Chau before and after modification. Photo by Unimedia
But then critics said the new symbol was awkward and didn’t match the original concept of the dress’ design.
Miss Universe Vietnam director Huynh Tan Phat said that the lotus seemed out of place aside from the other details on the corners of the sleeves. Without the original symbol, which often adorns traditional Vietnamese sedge mat, the costume lost its meaning and value, they said.
But it wasn’t just the detail modification that raised eyebrows, the costume itself also received negative feedback. Some critics said that the sedge mat is not something that should be incorporated into an outfit.
Amid the controversy, designer Le Long Dung, who selected the “Chieu Ca Mau” (Ca Mau sedge mat) costume for Chau responded by saying that the costume was supposed to be reminiscent of Vietnamese people, the southeastern region and the typical colors of the area’s traditional craft villages.
Dung said the sedge mat is associated with human life from birth until death. Therefore, the sedge mat not only means the end, but also the beginning. There’s nothing wrong with a designer using the sedge mat as inspiration, he argued.
Regarding the detail change on the sleeves, Dung said it was “acceptable”. He said innovation in design is often controversial because not everyone can easily accept new things. Dung also encouraged young designers to be creative by using innovation based on original cultural values without losing their identity.
The organizers of Miss Universe Vietnam said they had consulted a number of historical researchers about the costume. According to these experts, symbols of prosperity and wealth on costumes has been a part of Vietnamese culture for a long time.
But they admitted that changing the symbol was always an option, as deciding which designs to present at a beauty pageant is entirely subjective.
Many also pointed out that Chau’s traditional costume performance at Miss Universe was only 15 seconds long. To fully express Vietnamese culture on the international stage in such a short time, the Miss Universe Vietnam team decided to change the symbol to the lotus.
It took designer Nguyen Quoc Viet nearly 24 hours to make the change. He had to shape the lotus, purchase materials and undertake a laser cutting procedure. He shaped lotus petals with velvet fabric, then attached 400 decorative beads. Viet said that compared to the original version, the new costume was more “streamlined,” “lighter,” and did a better job of embracing Chau’s figure.
The sedge mat costumes that Chau wore won the traditional costume event at the 2022 Miss Universe Vietnam in June. The costume was a traditional Vietnamese ao dai.
Viet added a stainless steel frame, bent each piece of the sedge mat over the wearer’s head, and connected it all on the back of the dress. He attached a group of processed sedges and dyed them like fireworks to add more flair to the outfit.
The sleeves and pants were made of fabric, but they were lined on the outside with sedge mats made from raw, environment-friendly materials that overlapped like a fan. Chau’s hat was made of finely woven rattan. A star symbol on her crown was adorned more than 200 Swarovski crystals.
Chau is currently in the U.S. She is training in English speaking and communication skills with an expert for a week.
The Miss Universe pageant will be held on January 14 in New Orleans, Louisiana, United States. Harnaaz Sandhu, the 2021 Miss Universe from India, will crown the next queen.
Chau, 29, won Vietnam’s Next Top Model in 2016. She was crowned Miss Supranational Vietnam in 2018 before winning the crown at the 2022 Miss Universe Vietnam.
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