On the cutting edge

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French fashion designer Sofie Bas at her office in Ho Chi Minh City.

Two weeks ago, Sofie Bas, 40, featured her new line of Vietnamese-made designer clothing at Traders Restaurant and Bar in Ho Chi Minh City.

The show had been organized by The Collective - a group of mostly French designers working in HCMC.

The Parisian had a unique take on classical styles: floor-length, iridescent wedding dresses and layered voile and organza evening gowns.

The light, bright folds of her chiffon formalwear shifted elegantly as the models strode down the catwalk.

Nguyen Thuy, a Vietnamese fashion designer, took note of the impressive work.

"The price sounds good," she said. "For such a sophisticated wedding dress, US$850 is a strikingly good deal."

When the show ended, Bas was approached by several women, interested in her inspiration and ideas.

"I like (to design) wedding dresses which are light, comfortable and move smoothly," she told the group.

For Bas, her arrival in HCMC has proven a dream come true.

A special relationship

Bas moved to Saigon last August and partnered up with Fair Fashion a workshop in HCMC that helps rescued prostitutes develop life skills and reintegrate into society.

The non-profit tailoring house has already turned her sketches and drawings into a full line of clothing. At the moment, she's looking for a place to sell them.

The Parisian continues to design her own clothing and hand-pick her fabrics.

"It's not easy to find fabric in Vietnam," she said. "I found a good shop near Ben Thanh Market. But sometimes I return to find the cloth which I saw during my last visit is no longer available."

Bas, who used to hand make her clothing at home, says she's very happy to be working with the young women at Fair Fashion.

"There is a girl who does the cutting (for my designs)," she explained. "She is a good tailor and we share something special: she has a special ability to translate my imagination into reality. Even though she cannot speak English and I cannot speak Vietnamese we understand each other through my drawings."

And her work is now in high demand.

"Now, there are shops in Hanoi and HCMC asking me to send them clothes," Bas said.

A dream deferred

Bas recalls coming to fashion by chance.

At the age of 27, she quit her job as a nurse after getting married. "I am too sensitive to watch people dying," she said.

After she got married, she spent a year working at a friend's fashion workshop. After that, she enrolled in a one-year course in drawing, cutting and dress making at Vauclair academy in Paris.

In the meantime, she began a family and set aside time to design, cut and sew clothing at home.

But her husband's work as a healthcare provider in developing countries took her and her children all over the world.

"Sometimes, I lived in three countries a year," she said.

The moves weren't always easy and sometimes family life and the stresses of her environment strained the energy she could put into her fashion career.

She recalled living in Algeria and not being able to do much in the way of design.

"It was a hard life there," she said. "After a bombing I returned to Paris with my three children alone."

Her husband returned soon afterward.

Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City

In 2009, her husband accepted a job at an SOS International clinic in Hanoi.

She feared that life in Vietnam would force her to, once again, abandon her passion for design.

But she found the capital inspiring and experienced a kind of creative awakening.

"At the Fine Art University in Hanoi, I studied how to draw what I saw," she said.

"After that I learned how to join all my ideas and feelings and then express them with a pen," she said. "And then I designed what I wanted to express in volume and colors."

Now, in Ho Chi Minh City, those ideas are finally being realized in a large-collection.

"Coming to Vietnam has only made me wish I'd started my fashion career sooner," she said.

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