Designer Nary Manivong is Returning to His Columbus Roots

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly
Designer Nary Manivong near his Short North apartment where he's creating a new collection

On a typical Tuesday in New York City, fashion designer Nary Manivong would shift between sketching, shopping for fabrics, creating his mood board and researching trends.

He'd pop into a store, maybe in Brooklyn. "What's your best seller?" he would ask.

He'd stop by Barnes & Noble, grab a stack of magazines and take the scissors to them, trying to piece together an image characteristic of the woman he was designing for that season.

Happy hour was around 8 p.m. Dinner at 10.

And there was a constant stream of meetings and events.

"I felt like you didn't have enough hours," Manivong said. "When I wasn't working or designing, I was out socializing, because it was so important to do that. You never know who you're going to meet."

Such is the life of a New Yorker.

But now, Manivong, 32, is back. The Columbus-born kid whose parents abandoned him as a teen and whose journey from homelessness to the runways of New York Fashion Week was chronicled in the documentary Dressed, is recharging, revamping and reconnecting.

After the passing of his grandfather in March, Manivong says he wanted-no needed-a breather. He left New York in May to come home and spend time with his grandmother, design a new collection and let old wounds heal.

In 2011, Manivong teamed with Ally Hilfiger, daughter of legendary designer Tommy Hilfiger, to launch NAHM. (Read more about NAHM here.) They showed four celebrated collections together before Ally suddenly pulled the plug.

"It was tough," Manivong says. "After that closed down, I was an emotional wreck."

So he returned to his roots, quite literally, when he resurrected his namesake label, designing his modern, upscale looks, but this time with a twist that reflects his Laotian heritage. Using hand-woven silks and intricate prints, Manivong is on a quest to show his pride for Laos.

"I just want to show the craftsmanship that still exists out there," he says. "I'm bringing a lot of that into the mix and trying to refine it to the brand."

It's a big step for him-one of several he's made in recent months. He parted ways with his investor, too, deciding to support the label on his own.

"I've gone through a lot of experiences that have mentally prepared me for it," he says, "and I think I'm ready."

He's made amends with Ally, who contacted him as he was saying goodbye to his grandfather. And he's talked with his parents, an experience he calls both awkward and powerful.

Regardless of how long his stint here lasts, coming home, he says, feels right.

"I'm just going to enjoy the moment of being here," he says. "I've just got to keep putting a great collection out there, and that's that." His change of location seems to matter not, as boutiques in New York, Philadelphia and China are selling his wares.

Manivong's days look a bit different now-busy, yes, but lower key. He designs from an apartment in the Short North and stays in constant contact with his factory in New York. He's on the hunt for ways to reintroduce himself to Columbus. Under consideration? Pop-up shops, trunk show sales and a fashion show.

And every so often, he still gets phone calls for dates he simply cannot turn down.

"Hey, do you want to grab lunch?" his grandmother asks.

"I can't say no," he says, "to her."