Designer Prabal Gurung on What America Means to Him

Intro Deck: 

InStyle Fashion News Director Eric Wilson chats with designer Prabal Gurung in a series titled American Voices. Watch the above video and read the Q&A, below, to learn about his heritage, what America means to him, and his most recent design collaboration.

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 has teamed up with Toms to launch exclusive designs to raise funds for Nepal's recovery from the 2015 earthquake. For each pair of shoes from the collection sold, $5 will go to Gurung's Shikshya Foundation to support education and relief efforts.

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 [New York City] 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.

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.

RELATED: Ashley Graham & Olivia Palermo Wow at Prabal Gurung’s NYFW Show

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.


[MUSIC] I love everything, all the good stuff that comes with fashion. Whether it's the events, the shows, the models, the hair and makeup. I love all of it. I live for it. But that was not enough. [MUSIC] I'm Prabal Guring and I'm a Fashion Designer. I want to create a brand, a luxury brand that are soul and soul to me is an ability to see someone else, diverse opinions, lifestyles, everyone's voice matters. That is a fundamental principle that I work off of In everything that I do. This is actually my spring collection. [UNKNOWN] flowers just looks like letters and everything, but these are all these feminist speeches from Harriet Tubman to Gloria Steinem, and we put it as a print. I was born in Singapore, I grew up in Nepal. I came here knowing no one, and I immediately knew that this was home. To me, America means land of opportunity, but opportunity with a responsibility. But it is a place where passion grit determination becomes a reality. And it is a place where a story like mine is possible. [MUSIC]
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