Prabal Gurung On Being An Activist & Exploring American Identity At NYFW

Photo: Victor VIRGILE/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images.
Prabal Gurung is here to take up space. As one of fashion’s top designers, he’s never shied away from using his platform to ignite change — and sometimes, that means making last-minute decisions that aren’t exactly convenient. 
This season, Gurung originally had plans to mark his 10th anniversary at New York Fashion Week with a show at Hudson Yards in Manhattan. It would have been the first fashion show at the newly opened venue, which has courted all sorts of controversy since its opening in March 2019. But in August, news broke that Stephen Ross — the businessman behind the real estate company that developed Hudson Yards — was planning to host a fundraiser for President Trump in the Hamptons. 
Gurung changed course. The Nepalese-American designer announced on social media that he was ending negotiations with Hudson Yards and would organize his show elsewhere. 
“For me, being an activist is a part of my identity,” Gurung tells Refinery29. “Under our current administration, we are living in a dangerous and divisive time. We all have to make a decision to be on the right side of history. I did this because it was the right thing to do for me.” 
Photo: Sylvain Gaboury/Patrick McMullan/Getty Images.
Despite — or perhaps because of — that abrupt move, his spring 2020 ready-to-wear show went off seemingly without a hitch. The collection encompassed all that we’ve come to expect from Gurung: a kaleidoscope of colors, opulent patterns, multidimensional textures, striking silhouettes. 
Some models walked the runway with lush bouquets in tow, while others wore ornate floral headpieces that looked as though they’d just been freshly plucked from a nearby garden. Each piece was whimsical in its own right, yet not at all caricature-like — a feat emblematic of Gurung’s talent and eye for evocative design. 
“I am so pleased with how the collection has come together,” he says. “As always, this is an exciting time full of adrenaline and creative energy.” 
The real showstopper of the evening was the finale, where models stepped out donning sashes printed with the same question: Who gets to be an American? It’s a question that — for many immigrants and children of immigrants (including this writer) — is both unsettling and urgent. But Gurung, ever the master of balancing both nuance and extravagance, handles the moment with care and reverence. 
“I feel incredibly lucky to be able to do what I love every day,” he shares. “Designing collections for a strong and empowered clientele, and creating impactful designs.” 
This year, he collaborated with NYFW’s official spirit partner, The Glenlivet 14 Year Old, to create a custom flask and flask bag in commemoration of his 10th anniversary of showing at Fashion Week.
Photo: Courtesy The Glenlivet 14 Year Old
“I approached the design similarly to how I approach my collections: with the intention to create something that is equally visually compelling as it is impactful,” he explains. “I find that there is a similar inclination toward craftsmanship between the worlds of fashion and luxury spirits. Whether you are designing a runway collection, or creating a bottle of scotch whiskey, they both involve a high level of skill.” 
So, how does it feel to hit that coveted 10-year mark? 
“I always seek to create meaning and incite emotion with every design,” Gurung says. “As I approach this milestone, I have taken the time to reflect and show my gratitude for being able to realize my American Dream over the course of the past decade.” 

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