Designer Nary Manivong’s latest project is an interior one — both personally and professionally.
Manivong, whose parents relocated to the U.S. from Laos in the early ’80s, has been tasked with handling the decor and redesign of the rooms for the Laos UN Mission. The assignment is a meaningful one for Manivong, who along with his twin brother, was born in Ohio in 1982, months after his parents immigrated from Laos through the sponsorship of a church group.
In an interview Thursday, he explained that his parents decided to leave Laos because of the fallout from the Second Indochina war, which is commonly referred to as the “secret war in Laos” as it ran concurrent with the Vietnam War. “Laos is known as the most-bombed [neutral] country in the world per capita, [since the U.S. dropped 4 billion bombs between 1964 and 1973],” he said, noting how daily children still mistake the ball-shaped cluster bombs that had not detonated on impact decades ago as toys, only to have them explode in their hands.
He and other members of the Laos community in New York discussed the project with the Lao People’s Democratic Republic’s deputy prime minister and foreign minister Saleumxay Kommasith and the country’s ambassador to the United Nations Anouparb Vongnorkeo last month in Long Island City, New York. Also on hand was Sarana Development founder Kasey Chaleunsouk, who is also of Laotian descent, and got the designer involved in what is known as the Laos UN Mission Renovation Project. His company’s name references a Sanskrit words that means “refuge” or “shelter.”
Manivong will be redesigning five rooms at the Laos embassy on East 51st Street. Interiors are new territory for the New York-based creative, who is delving deeper into home decor with NM Bahn, a collection of pillows, napkins and throw blankets will be offered direct-to-consumer and through select retail partnerships in the spring. Manivong noted how the line’s name pays homage to the Lao language, since “bahn” means “home.”
Although he is also designing curtains for the Laos embassy in Midtown, that category will not be offered in the home line being sold to consumers. “That’s more specialized and intricate, and requires more work and labor [than other types of home decor]. We’re using some rich silks for the embassy’s curtains. That would be too costly to develop and make [for consumers],” Manivong said.
In addition to this project, Manivong has been focusing on building back his signature sportwear line, since many of the factories and sample rooms that he previously worked with closed during the pandemic. His newest collection will be introduced in the months ahead, he said.
He also has been selling custom pieces and did some art direction and styling for Edn Tech, a d-to-c company that specializes in indoor gardens. The designer plans to continue to spend more time with weavers in Laos to develop textiles in the coming months, setting up the looms that will make the textiles and to work with artisans in the community there.
The redesign project is expected to be completed by the end of next year, and the aim is to build cross-collaborations with people in Laos and mentor talents there. “Once the project is completed, we hope to jumpstart that immediately,” Manivong said.