What was supposed to be a momentous highlight quickly turned into a nightmare. When 27-yearold London-based society fixture Nga Nguyen was invited to her first Gucci show earlier this year, she was ecstatic. With her sister Nguyen Hong Nhung in tow, she flew into Milan on 18 February to catch the Italian brand’s fall/winter 2020 collection. A week later, the pair made another whirlwind trip to Paris—this time, to attend the Saint Laurent show. Another week passed before the horrorbegan.
At a routine medical check-up on a business trip to Europe, a mild cough led Nguyen to undergo a Covid-19 test. The positive result that came back marked the start of a harrowing month as the initial fever and cough gave way to su ocating chest pains and breathing complications. “It’s like someone’s pressing on your chest. You can’t even lie on your side. Just breathing or getting up to go to the bathroom was so difficult,” says Nguyen of that episode. It took two weeks of aggressive treatment in a hospital and two negative tests before she was finally in the clear.
As her health was wreaked by the coronavirus, her public persona took a battering as well. Heiress to a property business that spans Vietnam, London and Germany, Nguyen has always been in close proximity to the fashion world. An early stint in the marketing department of LVMH’s perfume and cosmetics division, followed by a role at the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation organising its yearly galas put her in close contact with the glitterati of society. In 2018, she attended the Met Gala—the annual Metropolitan Museum of Art ball that is also known as fashion’s biggest night. She has been a guest at Dolce&Gabbana’s highly exclusive Alta Moda shows— days-long extravaganzas at spectacular Italian locales, where the brand’s clients spend millions on its couture.
Nguyen documented all these experiences and more on her Instagram feed. That same fast, fabulous life that earned her a sizable social media following garnered vitriol when it was revealed that she had contracted Covid-19. With fear, resentment and uncertainty running high, Nguyen came to signify all the excesses of the fashion industry that seemed out of step with the realities of a pandemic—the constant gallivanting around the globe, the endless consumption and display of luxury. The press and the Internet went into attack mode, with Nguyen and her sister pilloried the world over.
“That was a truly difficult episode. Physically, you’re sick, you’re far away from home, you’re alone in the hospital and mentally, you’re not at ease because you’re dealing with all this negativity and cyber drama—it makes the whole experience and recovery much, much harder,” says Nguyen. “I turned off all my social media, just to focus completely on my health.”
In truth, the allegations that Nguyen triggered new clusters in the fashion world were largely unfounded. “I was only in Milan and Paris for 24 hours each. I didn’t go to any parties or after-parties. Right after my diagnosis, I called the brands and they informed all the guests who were seated around me. I haven’t heard of any of them contracting the virus. The people who were with me on those trips—my photographer and my makeup artist—both tested negative,” she explains.
Having recovered from both the virus and the backlash, Nguyen finds herself in a much better place nowadays. “You know what they say; what doesn’t kill you make s you stronger. What I find very important in situations like that is that you remain calm,” says Nguyen on how she got through that period. “Tune out the negativity and the fake news, and just try to find the truth—absorb what’s good or what’s relevant for you. Get to a logical comprehension of your situation: How did you get there and what are you going to do about it?”
For Nguyen, that has meant rethinking the way she lives. “I’ve always lived quite a chaotic life. Now that everything has slowed down, it has been a process of self-reflection. It’s a time to press reset and question not just the way we live, but go deeper. What’s the purpose of doing the things we do? What makes us happy? What’s meaningful to us?”
This new mindset extends to her relationship with fashion as well. “We’re bombarded with this enormous amount of collections. As a fashion lover, I really value the creativity shown, but do we need four seasons? What would be the most efficient way to maintain this showcase of creativity without losing the consumer’s attention and losing sight of the new normal after the pandemic?”
As she ponders how fashion would change post-Covid-19, Nguyen is sure that her behavioural habits, along with those of countless other consumers, would shift. “Before, we like to just purchase, but perhaps now, we’re hungry for more understanding. Not only will we pay more attention to what we buy, but we’re going to focus on the story behind the product, why we’re buying it and what it means—not just the financial value, but also the emotional value. I think we’ll be making smarter choices.”
Determined to turn her traumatic experience into something more meaningful, Nguyen is launching a new venture later this year: Never Go Alone, a line of premium personal hygiene products. Like everything she does, it will be in highstyle; the collection will be marketed as fashionable accessories with a high-performance element. “A lot of research has gone into it, everything will be sustainably packaged, we’re supporting The Hygiene Bank to tackle hygiene poverty in the UK and 20 percent of our first-year profits will go to the World Health Organization’s Covid-19 Solidarity Response Fund,” says Nguyen of the project.
“Before this, I treated the platform I had as a playground—purely for entertainment and never thinking too much about it. Now, I realise that I can use it to promote change and a positive message. I had to deal with the virus completely alone and it made me stronger. But that also inspired the idea behind this project: That wherever you are or whatever your journey, you never have to go it alone.”
From top: NgaNguyen wearing Balmain and Michael Lo Sordo. Nguyen at the Dolce&Gabbana Alta Moda show at Lake Como in 2018. Nguyen in a Saint Laurent blazer and AREA shorts teamed with a Gabriela Hearst bag
"IT’S A TIME TO PRESS RESET AND QUESTION NOT JUST THE WAY WE LIVE, BUT ALSO THE PURPOSE OF DOING THE THINGS WE DO."
From far left: Nguyen at the 2018 Met Gala. Nguyen at the 2018 amfAR Gala in Cannes. Nguyen wearing Commission with Bottega Veneta accessories. Nguyen with Jordan Barrett, Evangelo Bousis, Angelo Gioia, Anna Dello Russo, Peter Dundas and Mohammed Al Turki at a party she co-hosted with Dello Russo inMilan