02/10/2011 08:46 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Nary Manivong, Formerly Homeless Fashion Designer Opens Closet, Discusses Gang Past (PHOTOS, VIDEO)

Having grown up in a gang in the 'hood of Columbus, Ohio wearing do-rags and XXXL tees to becoming an NYC fashion designer in a shawl collar vintage cardigan and dove gray Toms, Nary says that he really hasn't changed that much as a person -- he is as real as he has ever been. Nary means "the only one" in the language of his Laotian heritage, and he possesses a uniquely knowing aura and unpretentious good taste that is almost shaman-esque and can serve as a mirror to us.

Nary says, "In the gangs, it was a big deal the way you dressed. It showed which gang you represented." Sound familiar? I think there could be a whole study on how gang culture mentality lives almost everywhere throughout society - North and South Vietnam, fraternities and sororities - even down to the highly stratified seating at the fashion shows. He goes on to say, "There is almost an art to gangs. There is a style of writing... the Crips (with whom Nary was associated), the Bloods, the Folks....It's like an art can't wear red, you can't wear purple.... There's a hierarchy...and I was more at the bottom."

It's interesting that a cult or bully mentality prompted Nary's grandparents escape to America from the Vietnam war in the late '60s, followed by his parents in the early '80s. Here, his family lived in government housing, which was the ghetto, and overwhelming personal problems led to Nary and his three siblings having to fend for themselves and seek any form of family that they could find. There were almost daily experiences of guns pointed at Nary's head, going to school with broken ribs and attempts at suicide. When he decided to leave the the Crips and move to New York to pursue his dreams, the aggression against him heightened, resulting in ten to fifteen people beating him up at once. Today, Nary's friends love his smile, though he is very honest in admiting that it is often masking a great deal of pain.

He never took no for an answer and with two hundred dollars in his pocket, Nary has gone from starving to a cup runneth over. A documentary on his life was recently released, titled Dressed, and he is presenting a fashion show of his new collection, NAHM, this Friday along with partner Ally Hilfilger. Nary says that he's always felt like he has a guardian angel, but it seems like his passion for creating, his extraordinary refusal to fail and most of all, his courage to free himself from his oppressors, is what has given him wings.

If you love Nary, you may also like Leon Bing, Justin Guinta and Koos van den Akker.