Prabal Gurung is a man who needs no introduction. As one of the Indian subcontinent’s most visible faces in international fashion, the designer has dressed everyone from US First Lady Michelle Obama to Sarah Jessica Parker, Kate Middleton, Oprah Winfrey and many more in his signature style. He’s also one of the more outspokenly political and feminist designers, a fact that is reiterated in his Spring 2017 collection that’s been inspired by writer Gloria Steinem’s My Life on the Road as well as artworks by William Kentridge, photographs by Taryn Simon and neons by Tracy Emin.
Though Gurung studied at NIFT Delhi and even lived in New Delhi and Mumbai, this is the first time he’s retailing in India and has chosen Mumbai’s Le Mill as the venue for his trunk show. We caught up with him for a quick chat to find out about the show and discuss life beyond fashion.
ELLE: Tell us about your mother – why have you dedicated this collection to her? How has she influenced your work?
Prabal Gurung: While this collection is definitely inspired by creative works, it is my mother to whom I dedicate this collection because everything I’ve learned is thanks to her— my entire idea of equality, feminism and basic decency comes from the lessons that she taught me growing up.
ELLE: Why have you waited this long to retail in India? Do you feel like the Indian market wasn’t ready for your clothes till now?
PG: It wasn’t. Frankly, it wasn’t ready for anyone’s clothes. Let’s be honest, India as a market is extremely price conscious. Accessories are definitely big, but the market for high-end luxury designers is only really starting to take off now. As a result, patrons too are evolving. They’re no longer seeking validation by the brands they’re carrying. It’s no longer about loud logos, but rather, a more muted, understated display of luxury, and that’s something that I can relate to, that’s where I come from.
ELLE: What made you decide to partner with Le Mill?
PG: It’s one of the best stores out there for designers—and I don’t just mean in India. I think it’s the perfect place to have my brand represented.
ELLE: What can viewers expect at the show?
PG: Exquisitely, discerning well-made clothes that speak volumes without screaming.
ELLE: As one of the more outspokenly political and feminist designers, what’s your take on feminism in India?
PG: There’s a clear demarcation between women’s and men’s rights, equality and the role that each of them play—or are expected to play—in society. It’s not as bad as some parts of the world, but if India wants to be taken seriously as a global player, it has to uplift its women. It’s like Michelle Obama said: the measure of any society is how it treats its women.
ELLE: Why have you chosen to describe this collection as ‘modern feminism’?
PG: There’s a misconception that feminism in a ‘traditional’ sense means that you have to hate men, or that you have to be more like men. You don’t. That’s not what feminism is about. I’ve always maintained that a woman’s biggest strength comes from embracing her femininity and being unafraid of the way she is. More importantly, no longer are fashion and intelligence mutually exclusive. The reason I term it as ‘modern feminism’ is because I want it to be obvious that as a woman today, you have a choice. Having a choice, a voice, a vote…it’s the most important thing and cuts across all fields.
ELLE: Tell us about Shikshya Foundation Nepal and your humanitarian efforts. Do you think fashion as an industry should have a larger social responsibility?
PG: I started Shikshya Foundation Nepal with my siblings and a few friends as an effort to give back. Our primary focus is to educate children by opening schools, libraries and reading centres all over the country. I think that anyone who has an audience or a platform has a responsibility to give back. The very fact that we’re able to sit here and discuss this is because we’ve been fortunate enough to be given that chance—to be born in a certain family, to go to school, to learn, to have a certain privilege—a lot of people aren’t. And it’s our duty to help others achieve the same. The reason I’m here today is because somebody opened the door for me. I want to make sure I leave it ajar.
ELLE: What do you say to detractors who claim fashion is anti-feminist?
PG: I think that they’re foolish. To trivialize fashion by saying it’s anti-feminist is one of the most ridiculous and unintelligent things to say. Not only has fashion given the world some of it’s most incredible influencers and shapers—people like Coco Chanel, Donna Karan, Diane Von Furtesnburg—but as designers, we’re giving women choices of how they want to dress. The very fact that they have that is one of the hallmarks of feminism: the element of choice.
ELLE: Fashion is probably more diverse right now than it has ever been, with the inclusion of trans/gender-nonconforming models — but what about diversity in size?
PG: I think it’s very important. In fact, I’m currently collaborating with Lane Bryant and we’re doing a collection that focuses on plus-sized women. I also recently wrote a piece on Lenny Letter that talks about the importance of diversity in fashion. It’s very important for me. Part of the reason I’m in fashion is to have a conversation on inclusion—of gender, identity, sexuality and more. As a brand, I have always offered size zero to 22 but retailers don’t buy it. With Lane Bryant we’re going to be able to reach out to a lot more people and keep that conversation going. It’s important for people to realise that fashion can be inclusive, that there’s something for everyone.
ELLE: How do you think your time in India shaped your career?
PG: It’s made me the person I am today. It let me find myself and helped me realise that yes, I can turn my passion into a career. India also gave me the ability to work my senses and opened my eyes to a world of inspiration—most of all, Bollywood. It gave me the ability to dream and allowed me to soar.
Prabal Gurung’s trunk show is on display at Le Mill between 11am to 7pm. The collection will be available to shop, by order, till the end of Spring/Summer’17.