A Leading Force in Fashion’s New Guard

Prabal Gurung on May 24, 2016 in New York City.
Daniel Zuchnik—Getty Images Prabal Gurung on May 24, 2016 in New York City.

The designer Prabal Gurung brings a fresh perspective to American style influenced by his Nepali roots

Home: New York City

Age: 37

Profession: Fashion designer

How you know him: Gurung’s label, established in 2009, reimagines traditional textiles with a sportswear attitude. January Jones, First Lady Michelle Obama, and Oprah Winfrey have taken memorable turns in his fiery red gowns.

What’s new: Gurung is teaming up with Toms this month with exclusive designs to raise funds for Nepal’s recovery from the 2015 earthquake. For each pair of shoes sold, $5 will go to Gurung’s Shikshya Foundation to support education and relief efforts.

Prabal Gurung
Courtesy Prabal Gurung

What does heritage mean to you?

When I left Nepal and told people I wanted to be a fashion designer, they thought I was crazy. I didn’t know anyone here. But I still remember coming up to the Midtown Tunnel and seeing all the skyscrapers for the first time, and I finally felt that I was home. I became myself in America, but Nepal gave me my core. The reason I am grounded and pragmatic is simply that I was brought up this way.

Prabal Gurung
Courtesy Prabal Gurung

What was your childhood like there?

I was born in Singapore and grew up in Nepal, where I went to an all-boys Catholic school. I was different and made aware of it. It was a challenging time, but I had an incredible relationship with my family that helped me. Trekking became a kind of escape, and I was always inspired by the Patan Museum, near my house. I still go back for the memories attached.

How is Nepal reflected in your designs for Toms, and also your foundation work?

The ikat pattern is called dhaka, a hand-loomed weave that I wanted to modernize as a digital print. Black, white, and red are very typical of Newari women [from Kathmandu Valley] and my favorite colors, which I used in my first collection. Five years ago, when I started getting all this attention, I started Shikshya with a focus on education as a way to give back. Since the 2015 earthquake, we have raised more than $1 million to help rebuild, but the process is slower than people think, and the world’s attention turns to someplace else. So it’s my job with everything I do to keep awareness alive.

Prabal Gurung
Courtesy Prabal Gurung
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