The Vietnamese-born stylist and critic, a longtime staple of fashion’s front rows, passed away on Thursday after a long illness. He was 59.
For about two decades starting in 1998, Nguyen was the co-founder and style director at independent fashion magazine Flaunt, known for its provocative and ambitious editorials. In its heyday, the magazine featured unconventional models and avant-garde concepts, such as elderly women in high-fashion ready-to-wear, shot by Taryn Simon, or models in a disease-induced apocalypse, shot by David LaChapelle. Nguyen announced his exit from Flaunt in 2019 when a former assistant sued the magazine’s CEO Luis Barajas for workplace harassment, according to WWD. (The suit was later dropped). At that time, Barajas said Nguyen’s role had been terminated four years earlier.
Before co-founding Flaunt in 1998, Nguyen was the style director at Detour magazine, when its imagery was central to the “heroin-chic” style that dominated the mid-to-late 1990s. The magazine published photographs of gloomy models shot by Davide Sorrenti that caused an uproar outside fashion, seen by many as glamourising drug use.
“If photography is to mirror life — no matter how, or under what circumstances we live — then this mirror has many faces,” Nguyen wrote in Detour in 1997, responding to the backlash. “These types of fashion pictures scrutinize our cultural, social and even political barometers — they ask questions instead of just requiring readers to look at clothes.”
Nguyen began his career in fashion in the late 1980s, when a chance meeting with Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana at a restaurant led to a job. He opened the first US office for the Italian luxury brand in 1988, establishing relationships with the likes of Madonna and other celebrities.
In more recent years, Nguyen published runway reviews for The Impression and Fashionista. At the time of his death, he was working on a book about the “golden age of fashion” from 1994 to 1999.
He graduated from Princeton University in 1984 with a degree in history.