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Friday Fashion: Columbus fashion designer uses shirtdress to impress

I thought I was dreaming when I noticed the half-inch image of a man wearing an Ohio State hoodie that appeared in my daily fashion alert from “New York Magazine’s” The Cut a few weeks ago. After all, hoodies rarely make a fashion article, let alone a scarlet and grey one.

I wasn’t dreaming. The formally homeless Columbus fashion designer, Nary Manivong, had been announced as a finalist for a Fashion Group International award. Manivong’s line, in partnership with Ally Hilfiger (daughter of notable Tommy Hilfiger), was a finalist of the 2012 Rising Star Award. The duo, whose collection of shirtdresses has taken the New York City fashion scene by storm, is showing their third collection in New York Fashion Week Friday at Milk Studios.

Born a twin in Painesville, Ohio, into a traditionally strict Laotian household, Manivong, a first-generation American whose parents immigrated to the United States in the 1980s,had a rough childhood. His alcoholic, abusive father and unprotective mother abandoned him at age 14, leaving him to live on the street.

“His family lived in government housing, which was the ghetto, and overwhelming personal problems led Nary and his three siblings having to fend for themselves and seek any form of family they could find,” a Huffington Post article wrote. “There were almost daily experiences of guns pointed at Nary’s head, going to school with broken ribs and attempts at suicide.”

Manivong, who was an active member of the gang The Crips, lived on the east side of Columbus and graduated from Walnut Ridge High School after his teachers and principal pushed him to stay in school.

Taking up an interest in fashion after discovering “Vogue,” he hosted his first fashion show in Ohio at age 17. After visiting New York City several times, Manivong knew where he belonged and moved to the city with $200 in his pocket. The self-taught designer found an investor and, while living from hostel to hostel and crashing on friend’s couches, he debuted a collection at New York Fashion Week in 2005.

“When I arrived in New York, I was still trying to figure out myself as a designer, solidify my vision and learn as much as possible about fashion and my surroundings,” he said in an interview with The Lantern. “Although I was adjusting to a new place, I knew what I wanted and everything else was secondary.”

The documentary, “Dressed,” which features Manivong’s struggles, was released in February 2011, and, after connecting with Hilfiger, the designers launched their first collection for Fall 2011.

“NAHM is a combination of our initials and also means water in Laotian,” he said. “Our business evolves everyday. We’re already sold internationally in Japan, London and Dubai and at various specialty boutiques and high-end department stores across the country.”

NAHM’s asymmetrical shirtdresses fill a void in today’s fashion scene by emphasizing a woman’s desire to be effortlessly chic while comfortable in her demanding life. The Spring 2012 collection features crisp white lines, pleats, collars and buttoned fronts. The simple fabrics emphasize simplicity and ease.

I am excited to see the release of the Fall 2012 collection on Friday, and look forward to identifying with Manivong’s Ohio roots as he continues to take on the New York City fashion scene. His past triumphs in life have proved that he refuses to let anything stand in his way.

While his collection with Hilfiger has earned him the title of a Rising Star finalist, there is no greater success than rising past the difficult realities he has faced while turning his story into an inspiration to all.

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