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Mar. 10, 2015 - Updated 04:16 UTC

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Nurturing Beauty in Vietnam

Oct. 31, 2016

Hoang Ngoc Su has gone from a wartime childhood to being the chief arbiter of high-fashion in dynamic, modern-day Vietnam.

The fashion industry in his country has undergone a major facelift in recent years, and as the number of up-and-coming designers has grown, so has the demand for models.

Su is known as a pioneer in the industry, and is considered the king of model trainers in Vietnam's fashion world.

Ho Chi Minh City is home to some 20 modeling agencies and Su's “Viet Star” is one of them.

"Gentle grace is what I like most about Vietnamese beauty," Su says.

Vietnam’s apparel market has doubled in the past decade. Today, it is approximately a $3 billion annual business as demand for fashion models rises.

Su takes one of his models to a specialized shop that stocks a traditional Vietnamese dress called "ao dai."

"The traditional Vietnamese 'ao dai' brings out the gentle grace of feminine beauty. That's what I cherish the most," Su says.

Su's childhood was overshadowed by the Vietnam War. He was born in 1964 in Haiphong, a city that was the target of intense bombing raids because it was a military stronghold.

"I was just four at the time," Su recalls. "My parents packed our household belongings in a wagon and pulled it. We escaped to the neighboring province on foot."

The Vietnam War ended in 1975 and after the war, Su and his family struggled and lived hand-to-mouth. Amid such hardship, Su found his calling.

"I was in the fifth grade when the war ended. That year, someone began teaching traditional dance near where I lived. I loved to dance, so I joined the class," Su says.

Then Su began taking tango and ballroom dancing classes. He earned his teaching credentials, and opened his own dance studio in Haiphong.

Su then began training fashion models. Beauty pageants were becoming major events that took place in many parts of Vietnam and Su decided to enter his students.

"I’d watch beauty pageants on TV and think, 'I can do this,'" Su says. Ballroom dancing is difficult and takes time to learn, but walking comes naturally to everyone. To become a model, all you need to do is practice your expressions and learn how to walk gracefully. That was why I started training models."

Su lives in a blue-collar neighborhood of the city. There's not much furniture in his one-room apartment, where he has lived since moving from Haiphong 16 years ago.

"It’s just me, so this is convenient. I don’t need much else," Su says.

He spends every moment thinking about how to make Vietnamese women appear more beautiful.

Pham Huynh Thuy Tien, 20, was discovered by Su 2 years ago in the city and he has high hopes for her. She'll make her debut as a fashion model soon.

"I’ve trained models for many years. The moment I saw Tien, I felt an aura. She is more than just tall. She has something special about her. I have confidence she is going to be a big success," Su says.

For 25 years, Su has nurtured Vietnam’s models and now he is ready to take on the world.

"I’m going to do my best to make Vietnam’s models the equals of any in the world, cherishing their gentle grace," he says.

Su's goal is to train more models who want to make it on the world's runways.