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Dress featuring Vietnamese altar causes stir at Miss Universe costume design contest

Thursday, May 30, 2019, 17:27 GMT+7
Dress featuring Vietnamese altar causes stir at Miss Universe costume design contest
'Ban tho' sparked serious controversy after being posted to Miss Universe Vietnam’s official Facebook page. Photo: Tuoi Tre

A design submitted as a proposed national costume for Vietnam’s representative at the Miss Universe 2019 pageant has raised eyebrows from concerned locals who worry its representation of a traditional Vietnamese religious altar will spoil the country’s cultural values.

Within an hour of being posted on Miss Universe Vietnam 2019’s official Facebook page, the “altar" outfit received 12,000 comments and 5,000 shares, most of which disapproved of its likeness to one of Vietnam’s ancient cultural icons.

The design, entitled Ban tho (altar), was submitted by Pham Quang Minh, who drew inspiration for the outfit from Vietnam’s tradition of commemorating and worshipping familial ancestors.

The design depicts a traditional altar complete with a photo, incense container, flower vase, and offerings – all necessary components of a traditional Vietnamese altar.

On Miss Universe Vietnam 2019’s official Facebook page, the organizing committee provided a detailed description of the outfit, as well as explanation for each item placed on the altar, claiming the design is representative of Vietnamese culture and tradition.

The online community, however, were quick to chime in with opinions that spiritual relics should be treated as sacred, not as haute couture.

“An altar with an incense container should not be placed on one's butt or breasts,” one commenter posted. “These are sacred and spiritual items so they should not be used as cheap gimmicks.”

“I cannot digest this type of creativity, especially the picture frame. The organizing committee should carefully reevaluate this,” another wrote.

Beauty queen Hoang Thuy, the first-runner up in the Miss Universe 2017 pageant and Vietnam’s representative for Miss Universe 2019, shared the post with the sarcastic caption, “So you are putting me on an altar so early."

Traditionally, the photos put on altars are of deceased family members and ancestors, and many agree that using a live person borders on sacrilege.

“At first sight, the outfit may seem funny because the images the designer used are not cliché lotus flowers, bamboo, and food,” A.T., a Facebook user, said.

"But after taking another look at the outfit I wanted to cry because the design placed the model’s face in a frame, making it a photo on an altar.”

Meanwhile, others expressed their concern that the design has already received too much attention, increasing its odds of becoming one of the top 15 designs that could be worn by Thuy at Miss Universe 2019.

Possible winning design

The designs uploaded on the competition’s official Facebook page were all submitted as part of a contest aimed at identifying the most creative, unique, and impressive outfits to represent Vietnamese culture at the pageant.

The organizing committee will choose ten finalists from the submitted designs and the public will vote on an additional five, said CEO of Unicorp Tran Viet Bao Hoang.

Unicorp is a Ho Chi Minh City-based company that organizes one of the most well-known beauty pageant contests in Vietnam - Miss Universe Vietnam.

“If the Ban tho design receives enough votes it will be considered for the top 15,” Hoang said.

Designer Pham Quang Minh also voiced his opinion amid the harsh criticism and judgement surrounding his design for the national outfit.

“I expected the design to spark controversy but I did not think it was going to be this serious,” he said. 

“If my outfit makes it into the top 15, I will listen to advice from others in order to finalize the design,” he added.

While many have expressed disapproval and concern, Thuan Viet, a member of the organizing board for the design competition, stated, “This is only one of the ideas submitted and is not a final selection, so everyone should remain calm.”

The top 15 designs will be presented to the judges to choose as a national outfit for Vietnam’s beauty to wear at Miss Universe, one of the “Big Four” international beauty competitions.

So far, the contest has received nearly 100 submissions and will remain open until June 15.

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