In the heart of Hanoi’s Old Quarter, on the old famous Silk Street
of Hang Gai, there are two shops that bear the name Tan My, meaning “New
Beauty”. The original shop is at number 66, and its newer cousin at number 61.
In many ways they tell the story of women in Vietnam, their place in the
country’s history and the fondness with which Vietnamese women are regarded.
The shop began as a small venture selling embroidered goods. In
1969, with war raging in the country, the matriarch of the business, Bach Thi
Ngai, was smart enough to realise that tradition does not stop in times of
conflict. Young couples would always rest their heads on uniquely monikered
pillowcases on their wedding nights. More importantly, soldiers going off to
fight would receive hand-embroidered handkerchiefs from their mothers,
girlfriends or wives. These would carry messages like “I love you”, “I will be
faithful” or “I will wait for you”. They became much valued mementos in a time
of great struggle. Pillowcases and handkerchiefs became the foundations upon
which the business was built.
Soon, Ngai’s daughter, Do Thanh Huong, was helping with the
skilled embroidery as she returned home from school each afternoon. These were
hard times, the family was surviving on food stamps and were permitted only 300
grammes of meat per month. Still, after a full day’s schooling Huong had to
finish two pillowcases.
Over twenty five years ago, Huong took over the reins of the
business, allowing her mother to enjoy some well-earned retirement. She began
to modernise the business and branched out into products other than embroidery.
The original shop was a small windowless area up a small alleyway,
which moved to its current location at 66 Hang Gai in 1996. You will still be
greeted by friendly, smiling staff keen to show you endless examples of
beautifully embroidered work. Seven years ago, the new concept store, Tan My
Design, opened opposite, at 61 Hang Gai. In contrast, this has an almost
entirely glass front and a classic facade. The family has no plans to open any
more shops, preferring to concentrate on exclusivity rather than volume.
When Huong’s daughter, Nguyen Thuy Linh got involved, the matriarchal
family link continued. She is now the General Director of Tan My Design. The
women truly love the business and are fully committed to it, stating that even
if they won the lottery, they would continue to do what they love. Like her
mother before her, Linh is bringing new ideas to the business, with a young and
Linh has a young daughter now, Kitty, who although only five years
old, confidently assists visitors by bridging the language barrier. It would
appear that the future is in good hands. Ever since the head of the family,
Bach Thi Ngai, set up the business almost half a century ago, it has been
managed with quality, customer service and value as its cornerstones. Her daughter
and granddaughter learned well and continued in the same manner. There is no
doubt that the great-granddaughter will carry on the tradition.
With Tan My Design, Huong wanted to showcase the best of Vietnam,
and it has become an iconic destination in Hanoi, featuring many of Vietnam’s
top designers. Huong and Linh are dedicated to Vietnamese products and their
own Tan My Design label fits in perfectly with the other well-known brands. Customers
include locals and visitors alike, with many famous dignitaries and royalty
among the regulars. The cafe
inside adds yet another touch of class, so shoppers and visitors can take a
break and relax.
With such strong family commitment, the future looks bright indeed
for this traditional yet fashionable business that has become one of the most
respected in the country.