A Leading Force in Fashion’s New Guard

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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