Kim Nguyen took over Chinatown with a guerilla fashion week show, turning out her first fully realised collection on a bunch of NY dolls

At some point across the summer, sitting in her downtown New York studio, 31-year-old designer Kim Nguyen was watching an old YouTube video of Kim Gordon’s 1994 X-girl show. Produced by Sofia Coppola and Spike Jonze, with models like Chloë Sevigny and baby Padma Lakshmi walking, she decided she wanted to recreate the energy in the same NY streets with her own fledgling line Nguyen Inc.

Born in the throes of the pandemic and named for obvious reasons, the label is a love letter to her Vietnamese heritage and her skate and street adolescence. Bold colours, poppy fonts, and her love of crochet make it into the mix, with her signature corset tee becoming something of an Instagram buzz item, with styles selling out within hours. 

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This week, in the twilight hours of NYFW, Kim introduced the world to the rest of the Nguyen universe with a guerilla show that took over Chinatown. There were panelled babydoll dresses in sugar-rush shade of pink, barely-there minis, and floor-sweeping dresses studded with black sequins, alongside the shrunken logo tees that made her name. Smudged, dark, Karen O eyes and worked-in rocker hair spoke to a devil-may-care spirit, even if you don’t happen to live in Dimes Square. 

The collection, entitled Ham Choi, a Vietnamese term for doing too much, speaks to the grey area in-between exhibitionism and YOLO energy. Speaking to Dazed, Kim breaks down how Nguyen Inc. has been her whole life in the making.

What’s your first memory of fashion? 

Kim Nguyen: When  I was growing up, my mum worked at a nail salon. She still does. I always went to work with her because she was working all the time. I would sit there for hours in the reception area looking at fashion magazines, so that’s how it started. I remember pronouncing Harper’s Bazaar, “Harper’s Bay-zare”. I think I was around eight years old and drawing dresses to show her clients and ask if they wanted to buy them. How cute is that? So that’s how it started. 

I see so many influences in your clothing. It’s the first insight into your world. What were you into when you were younger?

Kim Nguyen: I think as far as fashion goes, Marc Jacobs was always my favourite designer growing up. I always said I want to work for that man. Then in high school I hung out with like all the skaters and that probably had a bit of an influence on me. I grew up watching a lot of music videos too, every morning before getting driven to school, I always had MTV on. I did that every morning.

You ended up working for Marc as well as Supreme. I want to talk about both of those experiences, because I think it’s really interesting to understand how they set you up for what you are doing now.

Kim Nguyen: The first time I interned for Marc Jacobs was my second year [of college] in 2012 or 2013. I was interning for the shoe design team, and then I worked there as an assistant for shoe design. Out of all of the people that I’ve interned or worked for, I really consider Marc Jacobs an artist, more so than a fashion designer. It wasn’t necessarily about “what’s going to make us a lot of money”, he was more concerned with what was visually appealing to him, and did it convey his vision. That was really important for me to see. The late hours before the runway show, working non-stop. The hand-sewing things and sketching. 

With Supreme, I was seeing someone at the time that had mentioned they were looking for designers at Supreme. I’m telling this story because I don’t think I ever really sought out to work at Supreme. It just sort of happened. And l I’m so grateful that it did. I would’ve never even imagined that was a possibility for me. It’s such an iconic brand and in some ways unattainable? And you know, rightfully so. 

Why did you decide to start your own brand?

Kim Nguyen: I was at Supreme for a couple years and I worked really hard there. It was a small team and I really wanted to get my voice heard. I felt I was evolving and if I had stayed there it would’ve been fine like for the next five years to be working at Supreme. But I just realised I didn’t want to be doing this for someone else for this long and I thought I would like to start my own brand.

And now you’ve decided to go against what most people do, in that you’ve drip-fed little glimpses of stuff on your Instagram. Obviously your collaboration with Ganni got your name out there, and they’ve been incredibly supportive of you as a designer and your way of thinking. But your show is going to introduce a lot more people to your brand. Why was now the time? 

Kim Nguyen: I just think it was intuitive. It really felt like I had to do this now. Maybe I should be a little more calculated in the things that I do, but a lot of what I do is based on intuition. I feel like the universe has really been able to provide me with the right amount of support for this very moment. 

What is this collection about at large?

Kim Nguyen: The collection is called Ham Choi, which is Vietnamese for “you play too much” essentially. It’s not a direct translation but loosely that’s what it is. My parents are polar opposites. My mum is a homebody and my dad is 75 and still likes to have fun with his friends and so I asked them what joy means to them. They had such different responses and I wanted to capture those responses within the show. 

The collection itself is broken up into three sections, the first category being all white outfits, and then the middle section being super multicoloured, very bright, punchy saturated colours. And the ending category of outfits are all black. The white represents a blank canvas, colour the energy I’ve accumulated since I started, and then black is where I think I am going. 

I started the brand in 2020 with the fitted t- shirt, and with my experience working in streetwear, it felt like a natural place to begin making my own thing. Now it’s evolved, and for this collection I wanted to really push and only use upcycled t-shirt material. I thought of it as a challenge. And I also remember listening to an interview with Gaetano Pesce where he discusses some of the stigma of using colour and how it can be seen as low-class. I want to show that colour can be elegant. There’s always something about my work about proving something wrong.

The fabric is all upcycled but do you consider yourself a sustainable brand? Are you comfortable with that label?

Kim Nguyen: There’s a great quote from Rei Kawakubo about the brands they choose to carry at Dover Street Market and she mentioned she admires brands that just do the same thing and keep it consistent. I’ve really been thrifting and making things into different items for years. Going to Goodwill because I don’t come from a lot or have a family who knows a lot about fashion or art. We were more about “let’s try to survive and put food on the table”. 

New York has a lineage of amazing Asian American designers who have brought their own culture to the forefront of US fashion. I think your story will be a part of that as well. I’m interested in why it was so important to you to bring your culture into what you were doing?

Kim Nguyen: Well, my parents both escaped Vietnam. My dad fought in the war and had to escape or else he’d probably have been arrested. They came to America for a better life and so while I am maybe more American-ised than other Vietnamese brands, I can say I am learning something new about my culture everyday. I am getting a little emotional even talking about it because through making this collection, I’ve become so much closer to my parents.

Finally, who would you say Nguyen Inc is for?

Kim Nguyen: Do you remember when Alexander McQueen said he wanted people to be fucking  terrified of the women he dressed because they were so powerful? I see a part of that in what I want to do. I just want the girls to look powerful and good. And fucking cool!