Dressed, a Doc on Fashionista Nary Manivong, Gets Snagged on Cliches


There’s a fantastic movie in the life and struggles of Laotian-American fashion designer Nary Manivong, the subject of Dressed, who taught himself to design and produce clothes by studying fashion magazines. But David John Swajeski, who directed, produced, and edited this documentary on the fledgling fashionista, snags his film on clichés, poor pacing, and an unwillingness or inability to push his subject beyond talk-show pop-psych babble when the topic is interior life and wounds. Kicking off eight months before Fashion Week, Dressed (pressed from the template of fashion documentaries like Unzipped and The September Issue) has built-in narrative tension: Can our overwhelmed hero leap over all obstacles to meet the deadline for the Big Event? Manivong’s hurdles include homelessness, extreme poverty, and an ominously referenced “past” that still haunts him. Too much time is wasted watching the designer stroll somber-eyed down New York streets, attired in a hoodie, leather jacket, and fashionable scarf while making repeated (and repeated and repeated) mention of his horrible early years. When we finally get the details, they’re both appalling and anti-climactic. Still, tension slowly builds in the film, and when a final-stretch incident of bad luck occurs, it’s absolutely wrenching—until Manivong and Swajeski arrive at a “solution” that seems tailor-made for maximum movie-watching impact.

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