Long Nguyen ’84 was a student of history, at Princeton and in his professional life as an influential figure in the fashion industry, but he couldn’t stand to see it repeated.
“It sounds a little bit like a contradiction, but it really isn’t. He had such a good understanding and memory for past collections, and he used that to set a bar for designers,” says Robin Givhan ’86, a Pulitzer Prize winner who covered the fashion industry and is now senior critic-at-large at The Washington Post. “They should know their history, and they should be building off of it, and they shouldn’t be repeating it, they should be constantly moving forward.”
Nguyen, 59, died by suicide on Sept. 29. In this issue, the 11th annual “Lives Lived and Lost,” we pay tribute to Nguyen and other Princetonians who died in 2022.
Born in Vietnam, he fled with his family in 1975 to Europe and Boston before attending Princeton. Upon graduation, he almost instantly became a fixture in the fashion industry as an editor and stylist and later co-founder of Flaunt Magazine. He was a stylist for Madonna and NBA star Russell Westbrook and a driving force behind the controversial 1990s style “heroin chic.”
“He was interested in work that moved fashion forward, that reflected changes in society and culture around him. And that often is uncomfortable or shocking. If you don’t see it, things don’t change,” says Vanessa Friedman ’89, fashion director and chief fashion critic for The New York Times.
If you’re wondering why it seems there are so many Princetonians working in the fashion world, so did Nguyen, Givhan, and Friedman, all of whom met each other after leaving Princeton. Nguyen kept close ties with the University, attending Reunions last year and interviewing two prospective students who eventually joined the Class of 2026.
“There are a multitude of pictures with Long wearing a Princeton T-shirt or Princeton sweatshirt. He really loved the University,” Givhan says. “He was so thrilled that two of the students he interviewed had gotten accepted, and one of them had invited him to come to campus.”
Nguyen told those close to him in 2019 that he had been diagnosed with cancer. In the weeks before his death, he sent friends books and pictures, his way of saying goodbye.
“There was not a decision that was made by him in the heat of emotion,” Givhan says. “He had been very orderly about things and sending books and notes and pictures to friends that he wanted to make sure they had. … That’s who he was, someone who maintained relationships and who very much valued connections, even until the end.”
Editor’s note: If you or someone you know may have suicidal thoughts, you can call the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline or chat online at 988lifeline.org.