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Fashion / Style File

Citizen of the World

Superstar Designer Shares His Journey, His Fight Against Trafficking and His Bollywood Dream

BY // 10.08.15

In just over six years, Prabal Gurung has garnered a lengthy list of awards and accolades, which is no surprise given his enviable résumé and global perspective. Following design stints with Cynthia Rowley, graduating from Parsons The New School of Design, and five years at Bill Blass as design director, Gurung founded his eponymous design house in 2009 and has taken the world by storm. Next month, Gurung arrives in Dallas to accept his award for Career Achievement in Fashion, honored by Fashion Group International of Dallas at the annual Night of Stars gala on Friday, November 13. This is how our chat unfolded …

Home is Kathmandu. Growing up as a young boy, what was life like compared to school kids in America? What’s the comparison?
You know, Kathmandu is such a mystical place. It’s very relaxed, and as a young boy, it allowed me to dream. It allowed me to kind of escape in my imaginations and ideas and stuff. It was no pressure. My surroundings back in Nepal were completely different. I grew up reading English novels, like Miss Marple by Agatha Christie. It’s funny, a lot of my favorite TV shows are about English detectives. I grew up like that — I lived in Nepal, I lived in India, it was very close to the English education. I read a lot. The school that I went to, we got to do a lot of, I would say, social service. From second grade onwards you went to a nearby village to help them for a day, with daily chores, keeping their houses clean. I did go to a privileged school; I was very much grounded by that experience.

Delhi to New York: What did you love? What did you miss?
I was born in Singapore, and I grew up in Nepal (Kathmandu). But I also lived in India, in Bombay (and studied in New Delhi), and my family moved to London and Australia briefly, for less than a year. Then I came to New York. So coming from Nepal to India to New York was something that came easily. However, there were a lot of cultural differences. What I miss the most, I mean right now, is my family. They’re all in Nepal. Besides that, I think having this job and going around the world, I still find the things that I can call home, and when I arrive in New York, believe it or not, I know I’ve finally come home.

How have your designs evolved from designing for other brands to creating your own brand?
From Interning at Donna Karan to working at Bill Blass, both experiences taught me a lot of things: what kind of designer I want to be, and what kind of designer I don’t want to be. If you’re in the design world, which you know is a difficult world, you need to understand the aesthetic in a brand — understanding what someone else needs. With any sort of brand, you need to keep — for lack of a better word — DNA, brand value in mind.

While design director at Bill Blass, what was the biggest lesson you learned?
I think it was truly about understanding and embracing your customer. And understanding that fashion isn’t really about the new, it’s about consistency and it’s about your customer. [Bill Blass] knew who the women were, he knew what they liked, and that is the biggest lesson I learned there, along with the uncompromising philosophy behind quality and the product.

Inspiration for Resort 2016.
I was inspired by Belize. The color palette is absolutely chic. I wanted a touch of Belize, and I also wanted to capture the essence of comfort and glamour, because glamour is always part of the vocabulary — but with textures. If you look at the collection, there are a lot of relaxed shapes.

Holiday Gifting

  • Loeffler Randall - Clutch
  • Bond No 9 - Candle
  • Mariquite Masterson
  • Mariquite Masterson
  • Loeffler Randall - Shoes
  • Oscar De La Renta - Earrings
  • Oscar De La Renta - Clutch
  • Cle Du Peau - Nail Polish
  • Casa di Lino
  • Cle Du Peau - Lip Gloss
  • Bond No 9 - Perfume
  • Nocturne Studio

If you could invite a group of guests to sit together front row of your next show, whom would that be?
Queen Rania of Jordan, Angelina Jolie, Zaha Hadid, Hillary Clinton, Cate Blanchett.

Prabal Gurung
Prabal Gurung Fall 2015

Vacation spots.
My top ones are the Maldives, Finland, Tanzania, Namibia, Egypt, Kenya, Switzerland, Tahiti, Argentina … the world! My favorite hotels are Claridge’s in London and Chateaux Marmont in L.A. — I love it!

Why Bollywood takes the edge off.
I do transcendental meditation. I’ve been doing it for years now — twice a day, 20 minutes in the morning, 20 minutes in the afternoon. I also like Bollywood films. One of the things I really love — and my biggest guilty pleasure — is when I get off work and walk in the door, turn on music, whether it’s Bollywood or English, whatever, and just dance silly. I just love music. I love dancing. And I love Bollywood music. The reason I love Bollywood is that it’s an over-the-top exaggerated version of everything that happens in our lives.

Do we see a future Bollywood career?
When you’re happy, when you’ve achieved the biggest goal you want to achieve, why shouldn’t the entire neighborhood start dancing and singing, and the birds start chirping? Why shouldn’t it be like that, you know? In my head, that is how it is. In real life, it is not. And Bollywood completely allows you to truly go out there and dream, so I love it. And there’s the karaoke, also. I am a fairly okay singer. I’m not good by any means, but I can hold a certain kind of tune. I just love it. I always say trust and levity in a person are two things that I really love. Levity is absolutely important, and a sense of humor is also a mark of an intelligent person.

At home.
My taste is a perfect mix of East and West, modern and historical. I’ve been fortunate enough to collect artists like Elizabeth Peyton, Sterling Ruby, Cecily Brown, Casey Cook and Christopher Wool. I like to mix them with ancient sculpture and handmade artifacts from Nepal and Asia. I love the mix of contemporary art and traditional artifacts.

As Goodwill Ambassador for Maiti Nepal, a nonprofit against human trafficking, what are your thoughts?
As a designer, as someone who started a foundation that educates and empowers girls, I truly believe that with more empowered women, the better the world is. The more educated women there are, they start getting their children educated. I just love the cycle of empowering women and its affects on society. I come from a family with a strong mother and strong women, and I don’t even hesitate to say I’m a big feminist. I believe in the power of women. Part of my foundation was to empower girls. I was just really disturbed by the insane nature of human trafficking, not just in Nepal. Actually, I was just reading about it, and I think that prostitution and trafficking is at an all-time high in America right now. So, I feel really strong about it. It’s truly important to me.

On raising funds for Nepal Earthquake Relief Fund.
Let me just talk about my foundation, Shikshya Foundation Nepal [a foundation to prevent girl trafficking], started in 2011. Because of what I’m doing, I have an audience and a following. I’ve always wanted to do something in Nepal, so why not start now? All of this attention that is coming to me, I could channel it to do something that is far more important than my own ego, you know? When the earthquake happened, I was in New York when I heard about it. My family was there. It’s one of the most devastating things. And that’s why I immediately started the online fund-raising (Nepal Earthquake Relief Fund). Non-action is not an option.

Prabal Gurung, available at Neiman Marcus.

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