NYC design darling Prabal Gurung paid a visit to Savannah College of Art and Design's Atlanta campus this week, where he sat down with the Council of Fashion Designers of America's CEO Steven Kolb to talk about his brand, whether he reads the reviews of his collections, why he wasn't worried about doing a collection with Target, and more …
On the global nature of fashion: The world is really one playing field, and fashion is global, especially with social media and everything. Your basic attitude about your business and design has to be universal because your audience is more savvy than it used to be, and there is so much more access to fashion than ever before.
On how he got started: At Bill Blass, I was a design director for a few years and it was shutting down. So, I decided to do my own collection. I had saved some money and I moved to a smaller studio to be smart about it. I didn't want to ask for money from my parents, and so, I went on unemployment and used all of the money I had. Everyone told me, 'You want to start a luxury collection in the Fall of 2009 in the height of the recession? Its not a good idea.' But I did it anyway, and if I failed, I was going to blame it on the recession!
On his big break: When I started, I had less than $10,000. I borrowed fabrics from Bill Blass. My first presentation, my 8 friends from school did all of the production backstage and the modeling agencies were great, they gave me the models for free. On the day of my presentation, in the last hour, Cathy Horyn, Bridget from Vogue, everyone from WWD came, and it went pretty well. Everyone showed up and so, you think you're really fabulous. [laughs] The next day, I woke up and on the cover of WWD was my collection. It still is emotional for me and I still remember how I felt, to see that happen and to be embraced in that way. Then a NY Times review came and the Vogue review came. And literally I had no money to produce the collection. Luckily, I was able to get equity to produce and ship the collection. So, that is how it all happened.
On reviews: Yes, I read the reviews. There have been immensely great reviews and not such great reviews. None have been so bad that I've gotten really angry. All of the reviews and the reactions have been constructions. For me, though, reviews are 1/16 of what you do because then you have the stores and you get feedback from them, too.
On his inspiration: I am not a designer that makes outlandish clothes just for museums. My inspiration has always been the women who wear my clothes. So, they have to be wearable. As a designer, I want to challenge myself and push myself in terms of cut or construction, but I have always been fascinated with the idea of making women feel beautiful. That has always been my mantra.
On his CFDA/Vogue mentor, Carolina Herrera: What she did was really make me look at my business as a professional global designer that wants to compete in a global field. She made me understand what kind of designer I wanted to be.
On designers that are peers that he respects and pays attention to: Alex [Wang] and Joseph [Altuzarra]. We are friends and I am glad they are around.
On brands he looks up to: I love Proenza Schouler. I love Derek [Lam]. Derek was actually the one who told me to do Pre-fall. We were at his house on Fire Island and he told me, "Don't be lazy" and boy, it helped me. I love Thakoon. And you know, I love Narciso [Rodriguez], Francisco Costa, Marc Jacobs, and I have so much respect for Michael Kors. His brand is such an incredible example to look up to, and not just in terms of the billions of dollars that the company is worth. It is the ability, the possibility that America continuously tells a story about talent, passion and grit.
On manufacturing in New York: Manufacturing in New York is important to me. This is the country that gave me a chance to live my dream and it is my way of giving back. I would say that 90% of my collection is done in NY and the rest is done in Italy. At the end of the day, the consumer responds to the product. How it fits, how well its made, the aesthetic, the color. Then the other factors: the sustainability, the footprint, where its made are important, too. As the world gets bigger, things are shifting and at my price point, at a luxury price point, I do think made in Italy and made in NY makes a big difference.
On his collection for Target: After the collection, I was 7th on the list of Goggle's most searched brands. So, what it did was help me to reach that audience. It was a one time thing and it was amazing to touch those lives through my designs. To be able to work with a billion dollar company and how they operate and it was a wonderful learning experience.
On whether he was worried about any downsides of doing a collection with Target: I wasn't worried. I had a lot of peace going into it knowing that brands like Proenza Schouler and Alexander McQueen, brands I look up to, did it before me. And, yes, you need an aspirational luxury idea behind your brand, but I think the idea of your brand only being available to a handful of people is a bit antiquated.