Look­ing back at Pra­bal Gu­rung’s decade-long run in fashion

He’s the rock star of New York City’s high volt­age fashion world, the win­ner of count­less awards and the dar­ling of the social circle. His dif­fi­cult name–Pra­bal Gu­rung–has be­come a show­stop­per in the in­ter­na­tional fashion world. This year the boy from Kath­mandu turns 40 and his com­pany com­pletes a decade in the city’s fre­netic fashion scene. His cou­ture has been worn by a clutch of power women in­clud­ing Michelle Obama, the Duchess of Cam­bridge, Oprah Win­frey, Sarah Jes­sica Parker, Anne Hathaway and Deepika Padukone; his very first col­lec­tion was splashed across the cover of Woman’s Wear Daily (WWD) and this year he dressed not one but nine celebri­ties at the iconic Met Gala. His clothes are cov­eted by in­ter­na­tional fash­ion­istas and are sold in over 20 coun­tries. With his le­gion of fans and social me­dia fol­low­ers, Pra­bal Gu­rung has ar­rived. In the

fickle, whim­si­cal world of fashion where trends and brands come and go in the blink of an eye, Gu­rung seems to be a keeper. True, his clothes are colour­ful, gor­geous and glam­ourous, but there’s some­thing much more go­ing on there. Gu­rung is a story-teller and an ac­tivist, and his nar­ra­tive, his dreams, are wo­ven into the gar­ments he cre­ates. In his very first col­lec­tion he used en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly nat­u­ral fab­rics and the colours he used were the ones worn by the Ne­war tribal women of Nepal. In 2017, his show ended with models in tees with phrases like ‘This is What a Fem­i­nist Looks like’ and ‘We Will Not be Si­lenced.’ His fall/win­ter 2017 col­lec­tion featured tees that read ‘I Am An Immigrant” and ‘Break Down Walls.’ The models on his run­way are a mi­cro­cosm of the world we live in—a cel­e­bra­tion of all colours, races and gen­ders in which each per­son is spe­cial, and his creations re­flect that. He says, “Live in colour, lead with your heart, and find peace in the jour­ney.” Pra­bal Gu­rung was born in Sin­ga­pore in 1979 to a fa­ther who was in the armed forces and a mother who was a teacher. His par­ents sep­a­rated early on and he spent his grow­ing years in Kath­mandu where he at­tended an all-boys board­ing school and then moved to In­dia be­fore mak­ing his way to Lon­don, Aus­tralia and fi­nally New York. “The per­son I am now is be­cause of my time spent

Early in his ca­reer, Gu­rung, who is openly gay, re­alised that he viewed the world dif­fer­ently from oth­ers, of­ten through a spe­cial prism. He considers his mother Durga Rana as one of his big­gest in­flu­ences.

in Nepal and in In­dia col­lec­tively,” he says. “I was for­tu­nate enough to be born in a fam­ily where ed­u­ca­tion was a pri­or­ity and my pas­sion for sketch­ing and paint­ing was en­cour­aged.” Early in his ca­reer, Gu­rung, who is openly gay, re­alised that he viewed the world dif­fer­ently from oth­ers. He considers his mother Durga Rana as one of his big­gest in­flu­ences. “I grew up with an ex­tremely strong mother who is independen­t and pro­gres­sive. She had the fore­sight to be un­der­stand­ing of who I was as a child,” he says. “Even though I was teased and bul­lied and taunted in school and con­stantly told that I was dif­fer­ent, she made me feel that my dif­fer­ence was a spe­cial gift. I soon de­cided that if ev­ery­one was telling me that I was dif­fer­ent then I was go­ing to do things dif­fer­ently.” He re­calls his unusual up­bring­ing: “I used to love putting on makeup, and she never once said, don’t. She would say in­stead, ‘This is the way to do it. You’re not do­ing it the right way.’ As the de­signer in him was tak­ing shape, Gu­rung re­lied on his close-knit in­ner fam­ily circle. His older sis­ter is an aca­demic in Ne

pal while his brother works in Bol­ly­wood with directors like San­jay Leela Bhansali and Karan Jo­har. Gu­rung’s move to In­dia fur­ther shaped his world view. “For me, In­dia and Bol­ly­wood films are what truly gave me the freedom to dream. The mu­sic, the vi­su­als, the colours, ev­ery­thing re­ally af­fected me.” He feels his real grow­ing up happened in In­dia and he went to work as an as­sis­tant with de­signer Man­ish Arora in the late 90s. He came to New York in 1999 to study at Parsons School of De­sign and that first taxi ride from JFK is still fresh in his mind: “I vividly re­mem­ber that mo­ment, I felt I was fi­nally home be­cause New York is a city of mis­fits, peo­ple who’ve come from dif­fer­ent parts of the world, and I knew I’d find my tribe here, I’d find my­self here. And I did.” He in­terned with Donna Karan while he was study­ing at Parsons where he won the de­sign com­pe­ti­tion. The next year Parsons asked Gu­rung to do an en­tire show and Cyn­thia Row­ley was the judge. He went on to get his first job with Row­ley who also spon­sored his work visa. It was here he learned the busi­ness side of de­sign. Later he worked as the De­sign Di­rec­tor at Bill Blass and learned all about the in­tri­ca­cies of haute cou­ture and qual­ity. He worked there for five years be­fore launch­ing his own com­pany Pra­bal Gu­rung in 2009, in the midst of a re­ces­sion. Each Pra­bal Gu­rung gar­ment has the best of many worlds— em­broi­dery, crafts, fab­ric and work­man­ship from In­dia, China, Nepal and Italy but the ma­jor­ity of the man­u­fac­tur­ing is done in New York. Says Gu­rung, “I just want to sup­port the lo­cal gar­ment in­dus­try and give back to the econ­omy and to the coun­try that gave me an op­por­tu­nity.” The Pra­bal Gu­rung brand and col­lec­tion is about ‘Fem­i­nin­ity with a bite.’ “I know for sure in any world, and es­pe­cially today’s world, a woman in her full feminine glory is re­ally un­nerv­ing for a lot of pa­tri­ar­chal men. No doubt about it, they can’t han­dle it, you know what I mean?” he says. “And so, that’s what the col­lec­tion and brand is about.” Ate­lier Pra­bal Gu­rung cre­ates cus­tom cou­ture for spe­cial clients but last year he launched his first Ate­lier col­lec­tion at the Met Gala since there was high de­mand for these en­sem­bles. Ac

cord­ing to fash­ion­ista.com, the gowns Gu­rung de­signed for the Met Gala make up the first col­lec­tion and re­tail from $11,995 to $37,995 for Diane Kruger’s stun­ning blue dress with a long train. “What we stand for, and what we do besides the ready-to-wear, is this in­cred­i­bly high-end, un­com­pro­mised, con­sid­ered cloth­ing for a woman who has places like this to go to. I thought the Met Gala was the perfect place to have this be launched be­cause it’s fashion’s big­gest play­ground,” he says. Gu­rung’s myr­iad in­flu­ences in the places he’s lived have in­formed his work. So whether it’s pol­i­tics or gen­der, he takes a stand. Even when he’s cast­ing shows, he wants to be in­clu­sive, be it using trans­gen­der or plus size models. He tried to build this nar­ra­tive into his col­lec­tion and his run­way shows by celebratin­g di­ver­sity. He also found Shik­shya Foun­da­tion in 2016, and got the fashion world to help with ed­u­ca­tion and the arts in Nepal. Gu­rung has dressed the vir­tual who’s who of celebri­ties and made many friends in high places. In spite of be­ing dunked into the high oc­tane New York celebrity world, he main­tains his bal­ance through fam­ily and friends. His mother has moved to New York and hav­ing lunch with her ev­ery day is the high point for him, es­pe­cially when it’s her home made fish curry on of­fer. He also loves Bol­ly­wood films and eat­ing out with his friends, go­ing to high volt­age Sho­lay events, and sing­ing and danc­ing the Bol­ly­wood way. He says, “I be­lieve that a lit­tle ges­ture, a thought­ful ges­ture can shape the world. I’m very con­scious of that. The sat­is­fac­tion of stick­ing to your integrity is the most re­ward­ing thing.”

Pho­to­graph by GETTY IMAGES

MY MOTHER STRONG­EST Pra­bal Gu­rung’s mother, Durga Rana, has played a key role in shap­ing him and his sib­lings (above); Gu­rung took his mother along when he was in­vited to the White House for Michelle Obama’s 50th birth­day

MOOD BOARD A sketch by Pra­bal Gu­rung of the crys­tal se­quinned gown worn by Candice Sawnepoel for the 2019 Met Ball in New York

Photo cour­tesy PRA­BAL GU­RUNG

STAR STUD­DED Pra­bal Gu­rung dressed Isha Am­bani for the Met Gala 2019

DE­SIGNED TO PLEASE The Shik­shya Foun­da­tion in Nepal founded by Gu­rung in 2016 pro­vides ed­u­ca­tion to hun­dreds of children in the re­gion and is his pet project (right); Gu­rung has never shied away from using oversized models or women of colour as di­ver­sity is the cor­ner­stone of his la­bel (be­low)

Pho­tos cour­tesy PRA­BAL GU­RUNG

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