Prabal Gurung has scaled some of the highest echelons of the world of fashion, with Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and Michelle Obama, First Lady of the United States, among many others, on his client list. The 37-year-old designer from Nepal, graduated from Delhi’s National Institute of Fashion Technology before moving to New York and the Parsons School of Design in 1999.
“Dressing the Duchess of Cambridge, Michelle Obama and Oprah were my biggest achievements,” he says. “I have always had immense respect for these three ladies. There are certain things you can wish to happen but can never plan. I believe the universe has its own way of rewarding you when you are honest and authentic. I made the clothes and they responded to them. And I am glad they did!”
If you imagine there’s a touch of arrogance in these words, you’re wrong. Gurung is as grounded today as he ever was: you can tell this right away when you first meet him – while exchanging pleasantries he comments, “You know, I really miss the time when ‘How are you?’ was a genuine question, not a statement. But you’d also be remiss to not acknowledge Gurung’s business genius as much as his creative brilliance. His first-ever collection under his own name was launched in 2007, right in the middle of the recession, after Bill Blass, where he had worked as a design director for five years, had to close down.
Where other suddenly jobless people might have dived headfirst into depression or scrambled for any kind of employment elsewhere, Gurung “took that as a sign” and went solo instead, launching his eponymous label guerrilla-style in front of “a few assistant editors from the press.”
Within days, one of the pieces from this collection, a red dress with a Valentine bow on the shoulder, was on the cover of Women’s Wear Daily. Later, Zoe Saldana wore this dress for the Star Trek premiere in Germany, and Rachel Weisz bought one piece from the same collection. Before New York’s fashion leaders knew what hit them, several celebrities had Gurung originals in their wardrobes, especially after Demi Moore tweeted about him, “This is a new designer to look out for – Prabal Gurung.”
Nearly 10 years later, he’s very much a celebrity favorite, with glamorous clients such as Marion Cotillard, Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lawrence, Demi Moore, Zoe Saldana, Emma Watson, Anne Hathaway, Sarah Jessica Parker, Deepika Padukone, Priyanka Chopra, Sonam Kapoor and Alia Bhatt. This, in addition to the future queen of Britain and the current FLOTUS as loyal customers.
Perhaps his client list would not have been quite as strong as it is, in all senses of the word, had Gurung not turned his deepest convictions about women and the world into his creative inspiration. “Women all over the world want to feel beautiful. They want their voices to matter. And that is exactly what I do through my garments,” says Gurung, as he tries to analyze his style.
His fashion is feminist and that comes from his background as the gay son of a single mother in Nepal. “My mother’s biggest passion in life was equality for herself and others. So for me, feminism is not a trending topic on social media or a vehicle to forward my own agenda,” he says. “The more I read about body shaming or slut-shaming, the more I realize that it has little to do with the women and more to do with the men. It is not the women wearing the clothes that are the issue but the men judging them. Feminism has been part of me since day one. It is in my DNA.”
“I am a designer who has much more to say than just fashion stuff. I am very politically aware. I thought this would be the right time for such a collection, with America likely to get its first woman President in Hillary Clinton,” he says. [This interview was conducted before the U.S. election, which was held on November 8]. “I am a 100 per cent feminist and a very vocal one at that. I have always believed that more women in decision-making positions will make the world a better place.”