“Why didn’t you come when I was still young and beautiful?” The words of Lo Van Bau, 93, the village elder, still resonate today. She revealed a common sentiment shared beyond boundaries and cultures. She is nonetheless the kind of beauty that keeps inspiring my Ageless Beauty project.
I met the Lu in July 2017 in the Lai Chau area, where they live in one of the best-preserved villages I’ve ever visited. There, the atmosphere is peaceful and joyful, the traditional stilt houses have been kept intact and each household still makes their traditional costume, including the younger women. The Lu’s passion for their own culture is obvious and they’ve developed ecotourism, which I believe, participates positively to its conservation. The cotton costume, dyed in indigo and embellished with bright embroidery, is still worn regularly. The skirt is worn every day and the jacket, which is tight around the hips and flared (both feminine and sophisticated), is only worn occasionally. The distinctive Lu headdress is actually a scarf, always knotted on the left side of the face. These days, it’s reserved only for special events due to the complexity and time required to put it on. As for jewelry, the belief is that the earrings keep them in good health and ensure a long life, so women wear them from an early age and throughout their whole lives.
In 2020, I returned to try to reconnect with Madam Bau. Unfortunately, I learned that she had passed away. I offered her daughter a copy of the portrait I had taken and she was moved to tears. It was the only photograph she had to remember her mother by.