Long Nguyen, in fact, was a walking tome of fashion history, much of which he had lived through and the rest he had studied. It made him impatient when he felt a designer failed to live up to his expectations on the catwalk. “He definitely thought the track was an important opportunity for people to perpetuate ideas,” Church said. Last February, as he left a New York fashion show of beautifully tailored suits and dresses, Long exclaimed impatiently that he had seen it all before on other catwalks. For Long, nice clothes didn’t justify a show. He was looking to be inspired and recognize something new on those catwalks.
Beyond his remarkable career in fashion, anyone lucky enough to visit the Long family’s abandoned apartment on Boulevard Saint-Germain in Paris, or to grab the Vietnamese food where he made all the orders, knew that he had led a colorful and somewhat mysterious life. Long was a Vietnamese immigrant who casually remembered being airlifted out of Saigon when the city fell in 1975. He and his sprawling family, heirs, he said, to a pharmaceutical empire that was soon to be nationalized , landed all over the world, living in Paris. and in Boston. Long later, he graduated from Princeton University, which led him to wear Princeton t-shirts and hoodies to fashion shows, as well as his collection of college lettered jackets.
Hearing Long talk about his family was often a source of wonder. He has spoken of being the youngest son of the youngest – and therefore least powerful – of his late father’s many wives, despite Vietnam officially outlawing polygamy in the 1950s. Several years ago, he returned with his family to Vietnam for the first time since 1975. He described returning to one of their ancestral homes and finding it, far from decrepit or occupied by foreigners, well maintained awaiting return from his family. It was the first of several visits.
Shortly before that, Long had invited two friends and me to join him in an apartment on Boulevard Saint-Germain that had been owned by his family for many years. Long had recently started staying there during Paris fashion weeks. The sprawling apartment had an elevator that opened into its lobby and encompassed, as far as I remember, four bedrooms. We sat down on the parquet floor of the vast, almost empty living room, whose columns of French windows majestically overlooked the leafy boulevard.