27 March, 2010
MAR 27, 2010 - Kathmandu Post
Prabal Gurung has become a household name in most of the planet, and yet, ironically, remains fairly unknown in Nepal. After starting his own fashion label titled Prabal Gurung, Prabal is on his dizzying way to dress some of the most famous people in the world. Recently, Michelle Obama was seen wearing his black-and-white brush-painted rose-silk twill gazar hand-draped off-the-shoulder dress. She had a radiant smile, and looked softer and relaxed than she usually did in her tightly tailored outfits. Actress Demi Moore has become a big fan and tweeted about Prabal on Twitter, sending the first wave of news about this new designer across the planet. Vogue Editor in Chief Anna Wintour, who was immortalised for her excruciatingly high standards in the movie, The Devil Wears Prada, recently sat in the front row of Prabal’s show at the New York Fashion Week, giving him the kiss of approval. And yet, he remains to be known in his own home country.
Partially, it’s because the fashion industry is a fledgling one in Nepal, and we have not yet understood its importance. As an example, after Michelle Obama wore Prabal, the Indian press went crazy, but there was very little press inside Nepal. Our country remains insular, slow to learn new things. And Nepal has yet to learn how to celebrate success. Prabal Gurung, surely, is one of Nepal’s greatest successes.
Nepal may appear to forget Prabal, but Prabal never forgets Nepal. Not too long ago, Prabal was not yet a household name in the world of celebrities—he was just a student at the Parsons School of Design in New York. Admittedly, Prabal being Prabal, he was never “just” anything—even as a student he had the look of someone marked for greatness. A certain quality made him stand out from the hundreds of other students who attended the same institution.
In 2001, Parsons’ New School for Design faculty asked Prabal not to compete for the Best Designer Competition. Instead he was asked to open the show with 15 pieces of his own work. I was one of five other Nepali friends he had invited to come to the show. We were wowed by the incredible dresses he put up during this event. At the end, hundreds of people swarmed around Prabal. We were about to sneak out, convinced that he was too busy to meet us. As we headed to the door, Prabal came running out to us. “Hey!” he said, “Where are you going without meeting me?” He sounded clearly hurt. I always think about this moment as a reminder that even when Prabal is at his busiest (note that this must have been the moment when Cynthia Rowley offered him a job), he always finds time for his Nepali friends.
Prabal’s confidence and drive comes, I am certain, from his background—an extraordinarily supportive mother and father, and two siblings who form an unseen trio behind this phenomenon. Prabal’s mother has always been a pillar of strength, pushing him to new heights. Although he is the youngest and gets all the attention, behind him stand two other extraordinary siblings. The trio has never failed to impress me with how well they articulate their thoughts and feelings, and also their incredible flow with communicating ideas. The three call each other every week on the phone, and talk with each other to support life choices, projects and ideas. His sister Kumudini tells me she used to protect her brothers from harassment when they went to school—it must have been comforting to have a sister who looked out for you and protected you at that young age. And the calm and super-thoughtful Pravesh Gurung, who now works with director Sanjay Leela Bhansali, has surely influenced the gregarious younger Prabal with listening skills that come in handy when dealing with celebrities.
In real life, Prabal is a charming and witty man who loves to have fun. In Nepali lingo, he would be known as a “haude” guy. So how did this man achieve the level of greatness in such a competitive industry?
I think, behind the informal, fun-loving energy, is a serious drive to achieve and excel instilled in him from a young age. More fundamentally, even in his darkest days—and I have seen those dark days when the windows were closed and there was a lot of cigarette smoke inside the rooms—Prabal never gave up.
He also never gave up his ties to his identity. A friend of ours recounts the moment when Prabal, she and I went to see Kabhi Khushi, Kabhi Gham at the Eagle Theatre in Queens. She started to cry from the emotional story. Wiping away tears, she looked at me—I was crying. So was Prabal.
Prabal, being a fashion industry celebrity even as a student, rarely put a foot out of Manhattan, the central hub of New York. But one day he got a real craving for noodles he used to eat as a child. He begged me to buy a box for him and bring it over to his house. Seeing the chance to have him come visit my downscaled neighbourhood, I refused. Finally, after much persuasion, Prabal Gurung stepped out of the subway in a maroon outfit, a beret jauntily perched on his head. He made his way straight to the supermarket, bought a giant box of noodles that he used to eat as a child, then made his way immediately back down into the subway again. Prabal had better things to do than hang out in Queens.
The ability to be moved by Bollywood, the ability to sing and have fun, and the memory that never forgets childhood noodles—the ability, in short, not to forget one’s history, is what takes people to great heights. He told me recently he’d been nominated for the 2010 CFDA Swarovski Womens’ Wear Award, the equivalent of the Oscars for the fashion world. The awards will take place on June 7. I never doubted Prabal’s word—and I have no doubts this time too, he will get it.
--> Interview with Prabal Gurung
(Joshi is a columnist for The Kathmandu Post).
I would ask my country to be proud of me for taking a chance: Prabal Gurung
MAR 27 - Prabal Gurung spoke to Sushma Joshi about his recent achievements, and his future plans for Nepal.
Michelle Obama—what was the experience like of meeting her?
Unfortunately I have not yet met the first lady but I hope that at some point down the road I will be lucky enough to have that experience.
Why did you want to dress her? What about her attracted your attention?
She epitomises modern grace while exuding strength and intelligence. These are qualities that you often do not find in one woman but she is able to convey each of these traits almost effortlessly.
How did you feel about Anna Wintour, Vogue’s editor, being on the front row of your show at the New York Fashion Week?
Wintour has a profound effect on fashion so to have her attend my first runway show was an enormous honour. I have a deep respect for her fashion insight, her innovative eye, and her willingness to support those she believes in.
What’s been your best moment so far this year, and why?
There has not been one moment that has influenced me or formed me more than another but rather all of the experiences within the past year have been pivotal. The most recent occurrence that made me incredibly proud was having the first lady wear a dress from a recent collection. That was a definite dream-come-true (moment).
What else needs to be done in your career?
My overall timeline goes on for decades but more immediate goals include expansion of the business through the right collaborations, breaking into markets other than women’s wear and through category extensions.
How would you like your country to acknowledge your achievements—what
would make you happiest?
My hope is that everyone in Nepal somehow celebrates my success as theirs and dares to be fearless. If my story inspires even a few individuals throughout the nation to dream, take a risk and work harder for what they are passionate about, I will be so incredibly proud and honoured. That is all I ask for.
We are all so proud of you. What do you want us to be proudest of?
As a Nepalese citizen I understand that choosing design as a career is not common so I would ask my country to be proud of me for taking a chance. Every individual has different dreams and aspirations so while taking a different path can be intimidating you have to let your passion override that feeling and follow your heart.
What do you plan to do for your country (or are doing already)?
I am working with my brother and sister to establish a foundation in Nepal that aims to create a positive impact on the lives of children throughout the country. The focus is on education, which plays such an integral role in bridging the disparities that are so stark in our part of the world. In particular, we would like to mentor underprivileged girls and ensure that they are not only provided with the proper education but assure that their environment is conducive to their holistic and physical growth and foster their social and emotional needs.
Another way I would love to give back to Nepal would be by eventually producing a line that will create jobs and fashion related opportunities for local craftsmen in Nepal.
What do you want young people to take from your success story?
My message to the youth in Nepal would that life is about growing, learning and finding your niche and there is no way to truly do that if you do not take that jump and just try.