the evolution of leroy nguyen
The go-getter designer talks exclusively with i-D about his love of film, secret to success and getting lost in Taiwanese mountains.
Photography Daniel Gurton
The first thing you notice on meeting Leroy Nguyen - apart from a tall, thin frame and trademark black spectacles - is his laugh. It's hearty; somehow musical and full of ebullience, lingering in the conversation long after the jokes are done. Since winning the Fashion Design Graduate of the Year Award in 2012, the Sydney-based designer has good reason to feel euphoric. He's opened The Innovators show at Australia's Mercedes Benz fashion week and followed it up with a runway of his own.
A physiotherapy student turned fashion fanatic, Nguyen is quick-witted, charming and super chic. He learnt the art of smart, tailored dressing from the best of them, telling us: "My mum and sister have always instilled in me that you have to be presentable: wear your best shoes, comb your hair!" With MBFWA madness well and truly over and the launch of his e-boutique approaching, we got acquainted with Nguyen, the designer taking the world in his stride.
Do you come from a creative family?
My parents were boat people - they escaped the war in Vietnam, spent a couple of years in a refugee camp in Malaysia, came over to Australia and I was born. It was a very strict household - always do your homework, no sleepovers. I had really beautiful older siblings though that encouraged me to paint, go to art galleries and see films. They were the really nurturing family for me. My parents were the providers, like "Here's some money, go buy some books!"
So were they nervous about your forays into fashion?
They were, but they were still supportive. I remember my dad saying, "As long as you give it 150% then I'll be happy."
For your last collection, Blue Rose, the influence of Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth seeped through everything. What films are you obsessed with right now? Do you have a go-to director?
At the moment, and totally unrelated to fashion, my mate and I have a guilty pleasure for all things James Wan. I love a good horror movie.
What's taking up your time now, post Blue Rose? Are you on to the next season already?
Yes, the next season is well underway. It's all about travel and adventure and looking cool as hell.
Do you feel like your design process is maturing?
Definitely. For me, it's about finding the right balance. I've always wanted to approach my designs with the idea of youthful maturity. When I first came onto the scene I was like 'Yeah, let's go hard! Big, bold colours, big, bold prints, psychedelic everything!' And now [I'm thinking] 'Ok, what does the Leroy Nguyen girl actually want to wear? I'm slowly learning the balance between wearability and fashion edge.
So much of your work reminds me of a clean, modern building: strong lines, very structured, with subtle subversions of standard form. Obviously disciplines like film feed directly into your work, but what about architecture, or art?
I'm quite inspired by Picasso… I translate [elements of his work] into panel lines and boxy, angular lines. I also love the art of Francis Bacon, it's so beautiful but incredibly dark.
Are there still significant barriers to entry for young designers in Australia?
For me, I was very lucky that Vogue chose to come to the [first] show… The industry is incredibly supportive but it's a bit of a waiting game. They want to see if I'm a one-trick pony and what else I have up my sleeve. Which is very fair, I'd do the same in their position! It's looking great though - as covetable as Céline and Alexander Wang are, Australians are always on the lookout for new Australian designers.
I already know the answer to this, but are you competitive?
What's your secret to success?
My sister always tells me: "Don't stress. You know you have it. Just sit down and fucking get the job done." And I think that really is the secret to success: believing in yourself, knowing you have the tools to do it. Quit complaining, quit stressing and knuckle down.
Can you remember one time when you've been frightened?
I was in Taiwan, [exploring] some rocky mountains with beautiful lakes, valleys and stuff. But I hadn't looked into it at all. It's basically a track that is for tour-guides only. I didn't know that and was literally stranded in this series of rocky mountains with no way to get out and no end....by myself! Luckily one of the construction workers drove past and took me on board - that was also kind of scary. I was thinking, 'If he attacks me, what could I attack him back with?'
What did you have for breakfast today?
A coffee. This is my second!
Can you tell i-D your biggest vice?
Crisps. In the past month I've eaten more crisps than ice cream.