TIME FOR A SECOND ACT: After a four-year hiatus, Nary Manivong is back on the scene with a direct-to-consumer signature collection.
The designer decided to hit the reset button, even leaving New York for the better part of 2014, before returning. Interestingly, Manivong said he didn’t jump at the opportunity to start his own label when Handa Fashion’s Jack Shi presented the idea. The duo have known each other professionally for 10 years, but their partnership evolved over time. Not wanting to rush back into fashion full time, the conversation played out over 18 months during which Shi offered to provide all the production services for his signature label at no cost.
Manivong now occupies a floor that serves as a factory, sample room and showroom in a West 35th Street building. His capsule collection — three dresses, a skirt and six tops — will be sold online direct-to-consumer starting Thursday. Aiming to be strategic with his growth plan, he wants to find the right retail partner initially rather than multiple ones. Retail prices will range from $400 to $900 with the higher-end of the spectrum made from Laotian textiles. The Ohio-born designer took the 19-hour flight there earlier this year to meet many relatives for the first time. The “very emotional” monthlong stay inadvertently became work-related after he decided to source fabrics and learn about various craftsmanship.
In 2011, Manivong started Nahm with Ally Hilfiger whose father Tommy financed the collection. After the company shuttered unexpectedly the following year, Manivong “immediately jumped back into my label,” he said. Describing that move as “emotional and the wrong decision,” the designer said he was dealing with the end of Nahm and his grandfather’s death. “A lot of it was that I didn’t want to feel defeated and I wanted to keep going. Then I realized I needed to step away from the city itself.”
After returning to his home state for the better part of 2014, Manivong returned to New York and started doing some freelance production, styling a bit and working in a friend’s family-run home store. “I took that time away from the industry to reset myself. I just wanted to clear my head after so much,” he said.
No longer in touch with Hilfiger, Manivong said, “It just is what it is, what happened. When it happened, I was just blindsided how it came to a sudden close. Again, it also happened when my grandfather was passing. So all around it was just a really tough moment.” In addition, Hilfiger was struggling with Lyme disease.
After regrouping and considering how the industry had changed during his absence, Manivong started to experiment with sample development to fine-tune his DNA. “The scary part is just seeing what the retail landscape is looking like,” he said. “The market is very social-media driven. There are some things that are traditional and some things that are not. I like to be traditional. But a lot of it is just adapting to the new marketplace and how we sell.”
Determined to stick with the slow-and-steady approach to business, Manivong said he is in no rush to sell to five or 10 retailers tomorrow. “I’m bringing a lot of Laotian heritage into the brand with traditional motifs, prints and textiles. There is also a very clean minimalist approach, which I have always had.”
He is already planning next year’s monthlong trip to Laos. “When I arrived, I was just high on life and I could not believe that I was there. It was such an emotional thing because I had been waiting for that moment to visit that country and to know where my family had come from. To get back to learning more about my roots is what I’m bringing into Nary Manivong. Discovering this rich heritage of textiles and handmade things is going to be part of what I’m doing.”