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At New York Fashion Week, 48 Hours With Prabal Gurung

By Laura Neilson

Eli Schmidt
 
An Afternoon of Fittings | Saturday, 12:15 p.m.

The designer Prabal Gurung and the stylist Alex White (in red) reviewing one of the looks from his fall/winter 2018 show, which would take place the following evening. It would be a long day of fittings and appointments given the number of looks — approximately 45 — in the show.

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Eli Schmidt
 
The Mood Board | Saturday, 12:20 p.m.

A showroom wall lined with pictures of women from the Mosuo tribe, a small matriarchal society living in parts of China near Tibet, provided the collection’s inspirational backbone. “What I really found fascinating — especially in today’s time when we’re talking about solidarity and women coming together — is that in parts of the world, it’s been an existing part of life that we don’t even think about,” Gurung said.

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Colourful Cues | Saturday, 12:25 p.m.

The model Vincent Beier, wearing one of the collection’s looks. This season, Gurung wanted to celebrate femininity and feminism through colour. “When I see women wearing all black, I respect that solidarity,” he said, in regard to the all-black wardrobes at this year’s Golden Globe Awards — for which he dressed a few attendees. “But I also don’t ever want to forget the power of colour. It can be quite impactful.”

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Dressing Up | Saturday, 12:30 p.m.

Gurung and White adjust the tie belt on a silk dress worn by Beier. “There’s a lot of wrapping,” Gurung said of the Mosuo influence on this collection. There were references to Indian saris and other familiar dressing customs from Gurung’s childhood in Nepal as well.

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Sand Art | Sunday, 7:35 p.m.

An hour before the show’s start, the NYC-based sand artist Joe Mangrum meticulously created the presentation’s only set design: a series of colourful sand paintings that sprawled down the runway. Gurung had first come across Mangrum’s work in Washington Square Park. It reminded him of Nepal, where he grew up. “Buddhist monks spend hours and days creating something like this, and once it’s done, they blow it away. It’s this idea of not holding onto anything,” he said.

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A Run-Thru | Sunday, 7:45 p.m.

Gurung, intensely watching the rehearsal with his team, the makeup artist Diane Kendal (far left), Alex White (left, arms crossed) and the hairstylist Anthony Turner (right). Remembering his first small-scale presentation when he independently launched his label nine years ago, Gurung described how the stage where the models stood was barely the size of this evening’s photographer’s pit.

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Way to Walk | Sunday, 7:45 p.m.

Backstage, the show’s producer Etienne Russo explains the show’s finale, which veers from the atypical single-file walk down the runway. In this case, models will step out and parade down to the end of the runway together as a full ensemble. Given the inescapable political climate, especially this fashion season, Gurung intended the silent procession to speak volumes. “Everyone’s been asking if I’m going to do another T-shirt. You know, I’ve already done it,” Gurung said. “Especially this time around, especially as a man, my job is to listen. If any man or men are to learn anything from this, it is to really listen to women. That’s it.”

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Temporary Reflections | Sunday, 7:50 p.m.

Gurung gazes over one of Mangrum’s completed pieces. During the show, the models would walk the perimeter of the runway, keeping the artworks intact, before stepping through them for the finale. The season prior, models took to the stage wearing T-shirts bearing feminist slogans. This season there would be no music, no T-shirts, just the models holding bouquets of white flowers. “I wanted the finale to be a little more subtle, maybe a little more impactful,” Gurung said.

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Preshow Interviews | Sunday, 8:15 p.m.

Backstage, Gurung meets with journalists for interviews. The next hour will be an intensely social one for the designer, especially immediately after the show, when he’ll welcome a stream of guests and well-wishers, including Tarana Burke, who founded the #MeToo movement, and the rapper Cardi B. To prepare for the busy night ahead, the designer said he took some moments to himself earlier that day. “For me, solitude is my temple, my best friend. Because work can be so much about people, and I need some solitude before the show.”

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A Little Sparkle | Sunday, 8:30 p.m.

The collection’s vivid palette is a reference to the Mosuo’s own dress codes — the embellishments, too. “That’s how they wear it. Full-on embroidery and bejewelled,” Gurung said, regarding the tribe’s traditional ceremonial garb. He had been interested in the Mosuo for several years, but when it came to this season’s inspiration, the messaging felt especially timely. “What I really love is the absolute celebration of the femininity and empowerment that comes with it.”

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Bella’s Moment | Sunday, 8:30 p.m.

The model Bella Hadid, wearing one of the show’s final looks, stands in front of a wall plastered with inspirational slogans for the collection’s look book.

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Looking On | Sunday, 8:50 p.m.

Gurung watches closely as Hadid closes the show. She’ll be the last model to walk before the finale. In a year, he’ll celebrate the 10-year anniversary of his brand, a moment that isn’t lost on the designer. “Not a single day goes by when I’m not grateful for it.”

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Parade of Colour | Sunday, 8:53 p.m.

Models holding bouquets of white flowers take to the runway in one sweeping assembly for the show’s finale.

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Greetings and Photos | Sunday, 9:10 p.m.

“Every personal, professional impact in my life has been because of women,” the designer said (backstage posing with Gigi Hadid and several other models).

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Front-Row Flash | Sunday, 9:20 p.m.

The rapper Cardi B, one of the show’s high-profile guests, with Gurung backstage following the show.

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It was a dreary late Saturday morning in New York, but Prabal Gurung’s garment district studio — where the designer was conducting fittings for the next day’s show — was bursting with vibrant hues and textures. Design assistants buzzed around as models arrived one after another, each to be fitted into their look for Sunday’s show. But Gurung himself was calm and upbeat. “I’d say, it’s never been that frantic. We plan in advance,” he said, noting that the season before was an exception: “Certain things didn’t show up — embroideries from India that didn’t make it into the show at all, so we had to think quickly.”

The following night’s runway presentation showcased a collection largely inspired by the Mosuo, a small matriarchal tribe living in parts of China near Tibet. “What I really found fascinating — especially in today’s time when we’re talking about solidarity and women coming together — is that in parts of the world, it’s been an existing part of life that we don’t even think about,” Gurung said, pointing to a nearby wall scattered with images of Mosuo women swathed in layers of bright fabrics, cinched and secured with thick belts.

Gurung, who grew up in Nepal, had known of the Mosuo for some time. “When I started working on the fall collection, they just spoke to me,” he said. “What I really loved was the absolute celebration of the femininity and empowerment. There is no suppression — it’s full on,” he said, referring to their customary colours and textures.

Gurung’s own collection is full on, too. And a striking contrast to the designer’s all-black gowns worn by Kerry Washington and Issa Rae at the Golden Globes in January, in solidarity with the recently formed Time’s Up movement. “When I see women wearing all black, I respect that solidarity. But I also don’t ever want to forget the power of colour. It can be quite impactful,” he said.

As this week marks the first fashion season in the wake of the #MeToo movement, there’s been much speculation over how designers would address the current climate. But for Gurung, feminism and female empowerment have always been core ideas since before the launch of his brand in 2009.

Raised by a single mother, and surrounded by strong female figures throughout this life, Gurung credits his upbringing and a group of close girlfriends for how he’s always designed with empowered women on his mind. His fall 2013 collection, for example, drew inspiration from Ukraine’s Asgarda, a modern-day tribe of female warriors. On Saturday, he wore a sweatshirt printed with the phrase “Love is the resistance,” similar to the T-shirts bearing feminist slogans worn down the runway for his finale last season. This time around, the models would hold white roses, a gesture to invoke the act of listening as a necessary counterpart to vocal declarations. “Everyone’s been asking if I’m going to do another T-shirt,” Gurung said. “You know, I’ve already done it. Especially this time around, especially as a man, my job is to listen. If any man or men are to learn anything from this, it is to really listen to women. That’s it.”

It is now Sunday evening at Spring Studios in TriBeCa. As frenzied hair and makeup preparations take place upstairs, Gurung is seated in the main gallery where the show will take place, silently watching the sand artist Joe Mangrum, create the show’s only set design: three intricately detailed “sand paintings” sprawled across the runway floor. “It’s about the idea of impermanence, which I’m really fascinated by,” the designer says. “Buddhist monks spend hours and days creating something like this, and once it’s done, they blow it away. It’s this idea of not holding onto anything,” he said, explaining that the models would walk through the sand for the show-ending finale.

Then there are those things one does hold onto. A year from now, Gurung will celebrate his company’s 10-year anniversary. “Not a single day goes by when I’m not grateful for it,” he said. Across the room, a wall of windows revealed a twinkling skyline of the city’s West Side, and in less than an hour the gallery would fill with an audience that included Cardi B, Whoopi Goldberg and #MeToo founder Tarana Burke. “Ten years is going to be an emotional one for me. All this — Gigi opening, Bella closing, Ashley Graham … all the people who are here,” he said, looking around. “All I wanted to become was a designer, and this is all bonus.”

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