NAMI NGUYEN HAS LONG BEEN a fixture of Melbourne’s eclectic menswear scene. We’re not talking about the city’s knack for fast or luxurious fashion—Collins street has either end aptly named the ‘Paris’ and ‘New York’ end, after all. But rather, slow fashion with an unwavering appreciation of details; fine tailoring, beautiful fabrics and meticulous craftsmanship. These are the areas of menswear and men’s fashion that Nami involves himself with.
And over the years, he’s seen it all.
Through the rise of the #menswear era through to the development of Melbourne’s now-iconic department stores—he was the Tom Ford manager at Harrold’s and the boutique manager at Masons—Nami has asserted his penchant for individualistic style and flair in ways often unassuming. You may have have caught him taking a break from his duties as Masons’ boutique manager dressed to the nines. Or perhaps you’ve seen him jotting around town looking incredibly stylish and comported, a non-negotiable for the 39-year old.
Now, Nami is giving back to the menswear world that has given him so much, having worked quietly behind the scenes for many years on his personal brand, NAMIMAN, which is ready to make its grand debut in the months to come.
“I wanted to create a brand that was a true representation of the varying facets of my life. It has taken me some time to work out how to translate that clearly but now I’m ready to pull the trigger,” he explains.
“NAMIMAN draws inspiration from many things; time worn pieces, movies, landscapes, places travelled, as well as roads less travelled. Nature and music is huge for me. And being in my own mind.”
Always a pleasure to catch up, Nami! Thanks for joining us for this week’s Five Fits With. So you’re not originally from Melbourne but rather sunny Queensland. What was it like growing up in the north and what did you consider “cool “stylish” or “cool” during your childhood?
Thanks for having me, team! Well, growing up in Brisbane and being in my teens across these periods were interesting to say the least! For me, my personal style was still very much in its experimental stages, as they usually are in your teens and I was really into skate culture at the time. Towards my late teens, I ventured heavily into hip-hop—so really, I went from finding band t-shirts, vans and surplus finds (I still do) to baggy jeans, Timberlands and wife beaters (can we say that?) style! It was extremes but that’s part of the joy of it all—it’s a good laugh for me now.
What did you love most about home?
I’ll always consider Brisbane home and whenever I go back, it has, and always will be, very much about family. Family is what is front of mind when thinking about that city.
And where do you call home nowadays?
Despite all my travels, I now live in Melbourne and have done so for many years. It’s very much my home base, now.
Can you remember when and how you first fell in love with menswear/tailoring/fashion?
My grandfather was a tailor—growing up, I have fond memories playing around his cutting table, curious to discover all of his tools and equipment—and he would always have Boney M or ABBA blaring in the background as he worked; he loved his music. But it wasn’t really until I started working in my late teens/early twenties that I started to dive a little deeper into the world of tailoring. It was an incredibly powerful world to dive into, in many aspects.
There was a romance with the old world, so many do’s and don’t and a look that brought on a different level of cool compared to my earlier years and what I thought I knew about fashion and menswear. But it’s not until you start breaking the rules that it becomes really fun.
Today, there’s no doubt you’re one of the most renowned and respected menswear figures in Melbourne, especially among the circles closely tied with men’s tailoring. I’m curious to know, what informs your fashion choices today? What inspires it?
These days, you are so easily connected with everything, every brand, and everyone and it is amazing. People, individuals and their own interpretations inspire me a lot. But my fashion choices comes down to my vision for NAMIMAN; I’m deeply connected to the brand’s aesthetic and reference points.
Given that you have been a prominent fixture in the Melbourne menswear scene for many years, can you talk a little bit about Melbourne’s evolution in style (specifically tailoring) over the last decade or so?
It’s unbelievable to think how quickly time goes—when I first moved to Melbourne (now 13 years ago), it was very much a small community within the ‘menswear’ scene. It was fantastic! It was great to be on a journey amongst some really cool cats and it was about sharing the journey of this important evolution together. Menswear has always been there, but around a decade ago it really started to make a turn and become something super cool and interesting and exciting. It has gone from a crazy addiction to the finer details to taking styling to the absolute extremes and now dialling everything back to nailing specific silhouettes.
Menswear (and specifically tailoring) in Melbourne has come along way—and it’s such a great things to see that it holds a permanent place to a much wider audience now.
What’s your background in menswear, Nami?
I’ve involved myself in menswear specifically through retail: I was the manager of luxury men’s department store ‘Masons’ for many years, but have also worked with an array of incredible brands over the years, from luxury to artisanal makers. Now, my focus is purely on the creative direction of my own menswear brand, NAMIMAN.
Who were your style icons growing up?
As mentioned, I’ve gone through many phases, and as a result, many style icons through the years! I guess they all have a common theme; authenticity! But bringing back to menswear/tailoring, specifically in my earlier years, I would say, as cliché as it sounds, the likes of Cary Grant, Clarke Gable to Gianni Agnelli and Serge Gainsberg, just to name a few. I also admire the individuality and the signature lens of certain individuals like Bunker Spreckels and Nick Cave, who have a unique way of applying their style.
Have you always found it easy to express yourself through clothing?
To be completely honest, it has probably been the only consistent way I’ve ever had to truly express myself…
How has your relationship with fashion changed since the start of your career?
I guess the journey has been to gradually see and understand the industry from a 360 degree point of view. My continual love and interest for it all comes from just that, from appreciating it from a consumer’s perspective, to a retailer’s perspective, to a designer’s perspective and to the business operations side of things. It’s been an honest joy and a great learning experience.
Given what we know about your style and experience in menswear, how would you describe your own style, Nami?
Ah, how do I put this; I guess it’s a mix of heritage design, a mix of tailoring, workwear and military pieces, all mashed together and styled my own way, which has sort of become my own signature style.
NAMIMAN: how did you come to start your own menswear label and where do you draw inspiration from as a designer?
This is a project that has taken me a little while—probably more so due to my perfectionism— but I wanted to create a brand that was a true representation of the varying facets of my life. It has taken me some time to work out how to translate that clearly but now I’m ready to pull the trigger. Today, I’m excited to be on this great ride and I truly consider it as a life project.
The brand draws inspiration from many things; time worn pieces, movies, landscapes, places travelled, as well as roads less travelled. Nature and music is huge for me. And being in my own mind.
Does your personal style ever differ or stray from your brand?
Not really—it’s really an extension of my personal style. From time to time, you may catch me in some something different to the brand’s overall aesthetic but it’s a mood thing; the brand covers a lot of my moods (laughs).
How would you describe Australian style/menswear in 2023?
Fast… and slow. I find that there’s room for confidence in experimenting and personal expression. Yet, there’s a great portion of people really doing some really cool and interesting and things in the space. Overall, I think it’s heading in the right direction, especially where it has come from.
Are there any trends that you currently rate, and perhaps some you don’t care for as much?
I can appreciate all trends; particularly with the surge of the 90’s and Y2K trends circling back at the moment—it’s nostalgic. But if it supports your self-expression and styling journey, I’m all for it. On the back of that, the pace of things, constant pressure of ever changing trends can lead to less thought through or unnecessary purchasing habits.
You’re a fan of vintage clothing: what’s your advice for those looking to get into the vintage scene?
I love referencing my designs with authentic, period pieces. It can be a bit of a nightmare to sift through and find something that speaks to this, particularly in Australia. It’s about understanding the importance of pieces and the role the piece played in the history of fashion and design. And based off this, you may recognise and appreciate vintage pieces more easily.
Do you have a favourite vintage store in Melbourne?
One of my favourite places is Kennebec American Vintage—more for haberdashery and furniture.
And your favourite menswear store in Melbourne right now?
I would say Masons as it holds a place in my heart but the brand mix and direction is carefully curated and thoroughly considered.
If you had to wear one outfit for the rest of your life, what would it be?
It would have to be a pair of military trousers and a blazer – if you’d allow me to change shirt options, I can take this anywhere (laughs).
Is there one item of clothing you’re currently on the hunt for?
If I could find a vintage 1950s USMC Ball Shirt in pretty good condition, I’d be extremely happy.
As a proud Melburnian, tell us: where’s your favourite coffee spot?
Udom House in North Melbourne.
And your favourite restaurant in town?
We’re extremely lucky here in Melbourne to be able to have exceptionally good culinary experiences. Whilst I love to visit new venues and experience collaborations within this world, a go-to is Marion, which is a really great experience all round—it’s hard to fault! I’m a huge fan of Andrew McConnell’s venues.
While your wardrobe must be packed to the rafters with menswear goodies, out of curiosity, what is the most sentimental item you own and why is it special?
Although it’s newly acquired, I’d say my 1980’s Rolex Datejust. I bought it to mark a personal milestone and an important period in my life.
Check back for another edition of ‘Five Fits With’ next week.