Blogger and traveller Louise Hawson walks into a cult tailor in Hoi An with $900 and walks out with a new wardrobe – and breathing difficulties.

cc. Flickr.com / John Brennan

Image www.flickr.com / John Brennan

I feel drugged and out of control. On the other side of the room I can see my friend is breathing hard, trying desperately to stay calm and focused. But it’s no use. We are goners. All we can do now is surrender to a notoriously dangerous gang operating on the coast of central Vietnam – the tailors of Hoi An.

When my friend had told me she wanted to visit the quiet seaside village of Hoi An I pictured us ambling down charming streets filled with glowing lanterns and beautiful Vietnamese women gliding gracefully on bicycles. With our children happily ensconced back at the hotel kids club we would be able to relax, taking in old heritage buildings and lively markets. Maybe we’d even learn how to whizz up fabulous dishes such as Pho Bo and Cha Ca at the famous Red Bridge Restaurant and Cooking School.

My friend, it turns out, had no such thoughts. Her goal in visiting Hoi An was to make a beeline for one place and one place only – A Dong Silk, one of the best dress-makers among the hundreds on offer. Here she planned to stock an entire wardrobe with every basic she could think of – skirts, dresses, trousers, jackets, shirts, tops. The lot, in a variety of summer and winter weights and colours. We did share one desire, to meet and talk with the locals. But whereas I wanted to find out what life was like in their part of the world she had only one question – do pockets on the back of trousers really help slim down a generous backside?

I only learn all this on the first morning of our stay in Hoi An. But fair enough, I decide, and after dropping off her son and my daughter to the kids club we make our way to A Dong Silk. As soon as we walk in I realise I have absolutely no interest in the hundreds of materials on display and quickly wave off the girls working in the shop when they approach me, measuring tape at the ready. No, no I tell them, I’m just here with my friend, I don’t want anything made.

Eventually they give up and leave me in peace to plonk down on one of the shop’s old wooden benches. My friend is in full flight, whirling around the shop pointing feverishly at different bolts of fabric and gesturing madly to the girls that she wants her shirt collars to be exactly this high and the pant legs precisely this wide, jackets cropped to this point. The girls shuffle quickly behind her, heads down, scribbling furiously to try and capture the non-stop list of commands. But as soon as they look up, pens at rest, my friend stops, looks off into the distance and shakes her head. No, NO! Not high collars, not cropped jackets, not wide leg, wrong, WRONG! And off she goes again: make the jackets long, to here, the collars short, the legs can’t be wide, they need to be snug. And tell me, do you think pockets on the back of my trousers would make my bottom look smaller?

I snigger quietly, feeling oh so superior. How embarrassing to be so out of control, gripped by material desires, literally. I wonder how many others have fallen prey to the stack of ‘inspiration’ books on the table in front of me, filled with lithe models draped in ridiculous designer garb. I count only one jacket that is wearable. I like the green wool felt it seems to be made of. Or is it corduroy. If I had to choose a fabric from this shop to have it made up in, which one would I pick I wonder. Not that one, no, not that one. Wait, hang on, what – if – hi, excuse me, see this picture, could you make it in that fabric over near the door, yes, that one – would it work?

And that was it, that’s how it happened. One inquiry about a green jacket turned into two hours of frenzied activity that left me sweaty and light-headed. To this day I can’t explain it. When I walked in I was genuinely uninterested in getting a single item of clothing made. I left knowing I would have to buy a new suitcase to carry back home the armfuls of clothing I had just ordered.

Moral of the story: You have been warned. Stray not into the tailor shops of Hoi An unless you are prepared to lose control of your senses and stumble out hours later, your head spinning and your pockets lighter. (And speaking of pockets, according to the ladies of Hoi An, the answer is yes, they most definitely do help to reduce the appearance of the larger derriere.)

Place: A Dong Silk Tailors, 62 Tran Hung Dao, Hoi An.
Cost: A Dong is not the cheapest tailor in town but you get what you pay for. I had made four pairs of trousers, two waistcoats, three jackets (one green) and one dress. Three of these pieces were made out of beautiful cashmere wool. Total bill? AUD$900. Check out Trip Advisor for more details about A Dong Silk.
Other things to do: (if you can drag yourself away from the tailors): Red Bridge Restaurant and Cooking School, Thon 4, Cam Thanh, Hoi An.
Accommodation: There’s good budget accommodation available. We splurged a little and chose the Victoria Hoi An Beach Resort and Spa. A club for kids is also available.

Image – Flickr


Louise Hawson

About Louise Hawson

Louise Hawson has been involved in various forms of visual communication for more than 20 years, including advertising (as a copywriter/art director), independent documentary making and TV producing. In 2009-10, she embarked on her first photographic blog project, 52 Suburbs around Sydney, which became a book (published by New South Publishing) and exhibition at the Museum of Sydney in 2011. In 2012, she did a follow-up project, 52 Suburbs Around the World, which also evolved into an exhibition at the Museum of Sydney (July-November 2013) and her current book.