When a 16-year-old student passed out of Kathmandu’s premier St. Xavier’s School 22 years ago, none of his classmates could have guessed that he would metamorphose into Nepal’s most prominent export to the world of fashion till date. But that’s exactly how the story took shape.
Not the toppers kind: Prabal Gurung was an average student, with less inclination towards academics and sports. He was drawn towards elocution, dancing, plays, and drawing. “He wasn’t very good in studies and didn’t take part in games, but was artistic and creative,”recalls Hira Krishna, his vice-principal in the missionary school’s junior section. A nine-year-old Prabal had joined the school in class four in 1983 after his family shifted to Kathmandu from Singapore.
Bullied in class: Both Prabal and his elder brother Pravesh, a year senior in school, took active part in plays and drama in school. “Since ours was an all-boys institution then, they used to play girls’ roles,”says Devendra Khanal, Prabal’s Nepali teacher in school. Some of his classmates used this as an excuse to call him names. “Since he didn’t conform to norms, he was ridiculed,” remembers Deep Rana, Gurung’s best friend during those years. “Prabal used to strike at his tormentors, at least verbally,” he adds.
Giving back to Nepal: Prabal and his siblings started the Shikshya Foundation Nepal, an organisation that raises funds to sponsors education of Nepali girls from weaker sections of society. The foundation is sponsoring 23 girls, children of women prisoners lodged in Nepal’s jails.
He is hot on the New York runway, he is dressing up fashion’s leading ladies, and now, Prabal Gurung is getting some royal attention too with Kate Middleton making heads turn in his sexy purple dress. Loved for his dramatic silhouettes, and bold abstract prints, here’s the designer telling us about his girl, his days as a struggler and what he misses most about Delhi.
The girl he creates for-
The Prabal Gurung girl is aware, intelligent, confident and has an understanding and appreciation for fashion.
His struggling days-
What I remember most about my struggling days was the irony of how simple life was. Not that it’s too complicated now, but the romanticized notion of a struggling artist was melodramatic. There was nothing like seeing the support from my friends and family and having them serve as my motivating force. There was an excitement that came along with the uncertainty of future.
His key to success-
Go with 100% clear integrity, intension and passion. Keep your head to the ground with an occasional glance up for inspiration.
On former boss Manish Arora -
He lives life with such vigour. I learnt taking risks and pushing the limits from the norm from him.
On Indian fashion-
The biggest strength of Indian fashion is its heritage and craft. It’s unparalleled.
He would have loved to dress-
I’d have loved to dress up Maharani Gayatri Devi. The women I design for are intelligent with integrity and awareness. They are the thinking man’s sex symbol.
His fashion icons-
Yves Saint Laurent, Alexander McQueen and Azzedine Alaia.
His personal style-
It’s simple: jeans and a tee.
Unwinding after work-
I meet my close friends for dinner. I also meditate, and the gym always helps to blow off some steam.
Prabal Gurung, 38, born in Singapore, of Nepalese origin
Academics: NIFT, New Delhi, Parsons School of Design, New York
Career: Interned with Manish Arora and Donna Karan, became design director at Bill Blass. Launched eponymous collection in 2009 during New York Fashion Week
Awards:Best Designer at the annual Parsons/FIT competition, the Ecco Domani Fashion Fund Award, runner-up for the 2010 CFDA Vogue Fashion Fund
Gurung’s style tips-
One fashion blooper he just can’t stand: Both heavy eyes and strong lips together or clothing that is just too tight.
One fashion must have for all women: A sheath dress.
One trend that will be big in 2013: A dress over pants.
one fashion advice for indian women: Don’t be afraid to take risks.
The good old Delhi days...
Gurung, who did his fashion design diploma from NIFT, Delhi, misses "the colour, smell, and sound of the city". “The vibrancy and vivacity of life there is unforgettable,” he says. He loved the dosas he used to have at Sagar Ratna restaurant. “Their dosas were incredible. I also enjoyed the Chinese restaurant at the Hyatt hotel. For more casual options, the roadside vendors were wonderful,” he recalls. Gurung’s favourite place to shop in Delhi was Fab India. He was also an old Delhi addict. “I always enjoyed the time I spent hanging out with friends in Chandni Chowk,” he says.
“Prabal Gurung is a fabulous person. I’ve known him for a long time now. His designs are fantastic and I wish him all the best for his future. He is very dedicated to his craft as a designer.”
-Manish Arora, designer
“He has a very elegant and eclectic personal style. Prabal has perfected the art of beautiful dress making. We hung out together for a long time post NIFT. He has a great sense of humour.”
-Rajesh Pratap Singh, designer
Celebs’ fashion crush:
Kate Middleton Gurung’s purple dress worn by the duchess sold out in just an hour
Michelle Obama donned his red outfit to the White House Correspondents’ dinner in 2010
Oprah Winfrey wore his design for the cover of December 2009’s O magazine
Anne Hathaway in a Gurung gown at the premiere of The Dark Knight Rises in New York
Lady Gaga wore his black coat with a peplum as she visited Harvard earlier this year
Sonal Kapoor in a draped bustier dress at Tom Cruise’s welcome bash in Mumbai last December