From growing up in a gang in the hood of Columbus, Ohio wearing do-rags and XXXL tees to becoming an NYC fashion designer in a shawl collar vintage cardigan and dove gray Toms, Nary says that he really hasn’t changed that much as a person – he’s as real as he’s ever been. Nary means “the only one” in the language of his Laotian heritage, and he possesses a uniquely knowing aura and unpretentious good taste that can serve as a mirror to us all.
Nary says, “In the gangs, it was a big deal the way you dressed. It showed which gang you represented.” Sound familiar? I think there could be a whole study on how gang culture mentality lives almost everywhere throughout society, from fraternities and sororities to the highly stratified seating at the fashion shows. He goes on to say, “There is almost an art to gangs. There is a style of writing…the Crips (which Nary was a part of), the Bloods, the Folks. It’s like an art form…you can’t wear red, you can’t wear purple… There’s a hierarchy… and I was more at the bottom.”
It’s notable that a similar bully mentality prompted Nary’s grandparents escape to America from the Vietnam War in the late ’60s, followed by his parents in the early ’80s. Here, his family lived in government housing, and overwhelming personal problems led to Nary and his three siblings having to fend for themselves and seek any form of family that they could find. There were almost daily occurrences of guns pointed at Nary’s head, going to school with broken ribs and attempts at suicide. When he decided to leave the Crips and move to New York to pursue his dreams, the aggression against him heightened, resulting in ten to fifteen people beating him up at once. Today, Nary’s friends love his smile, though he is very honest in admiting that it is often masking a great deal of pain.
From baggy to tailored, he never took no for an answer and with two hundred dollars in his pocket, Nary has gone from starving to a cup runneth over. A documentary on his life called Dressed was recently released, and he is presenting a fashion show of his new collection, NAHM, during Fashion Week along with partner Ally Hilfilger. Nary says that he’s always felt like he has a guardian angel, but it seems like his passion for creating, his extraordinary refusal to fail and most of all, his courage to free himself from his oppressors, is what has given him wings.