There’s a certain national pride that comes from knowing that Prabal Gurung was born in Singapore. When I trekked to The Sentosa Spa and Resort for an one-on-one interview with the designer, I was prepared to warmly welcome him home, only to remember that the man didn’t spend his formative years here. But he has returned to Singapore to open this year’s Audi Fashion Festival and everyone here, including myself, is excited to meet him.
Prabal Gurung represents the cosmopolitan face that is today’s fashion industry. Born in Singapore, he was brought up in Kathmandu before starting his career in New Delhi. In 1999, the Nepalese designer moved to New York and the rest is fashion history. Gurung is part of the group of young Asian designers, including Alexander Wang and Phillip Lim, making an impact on, and changing, the international fashion industry.
Yes, the designer likes his bubble tea. Credit: Wesley Kow
Despite the sweltering weather, Gurung was cool in his uniform of white V-neck tee and black jeans, munching on the tapioca pearls of a bubble tea drink. When I asked him whether he’s ever thought of climbing Mount Everest that so happens to be in his homeland, he was serious in his reply, “Climbing Mount Everest is a big deal. I trekked a lot but that’s a big challenge. One day and some day.” I guess after conquering the fashion world, no mountain is too high for Gurung.
What are your thoughts on the Asian fashion market?
It’s extremely important for a luxury brand like mine that’s playing in the global field to understand where the power and strength is happening. All these Asian countries are becoming all of sudden powerful and ‘resourable’ [sic] so it’s important that you are relevant in that part of the world. That’s why I’m extremely proud of my own heritage and where I come from – I’ve been unafraid of embracing that. Presence in the right market, especially the Asian market is a priority.
Do you think being Asian gives you an advantage when it comes to breaking into the Asian market?
It might work to my advantage. At the end of the day, what people really respond to is the product and the product has to be good and of quality. That’s what I stand for – the integrity of the product.
From Michelle Obama to Lady Gaga, everyone who has chosen to wear Prabal Gurung’s designs “have impacted my life, my career and me as a person” says the designer. Credit: Wesley Kow
How did you end up dressing and being Hailee Steinfeld’s date for the recent Met ball?
[Hailee Steinfeld] was nominated for the Golden Globes for her first film True Grit and she wore my dress. That was my first Golden Globes moment and also hers. Over time, I’ve seen her grow up and mature into this beautiful young lady. When we decided to go to the Met ball together, I wanted to make her look age appropriate and give her confidence and let the world see the woman she was becoming.
Basically what I wanted to create, [the theme of 2014’s ball was a tribute to designer Charles James], I wanted to respect the incredible architectural designs that Charles James was known for but at the same time mix it with modern relevance. Hence the dress had no corset, was sporty looking on top, the back was a racerback and the big gown had big pockets. What I wanted to achieve was a big ball gown relevant for today’s world.
What was it like to design the ANA stewardess uniform?
I’ve done the costumes for the opening night of the New York City Ballet [too] … What I really love about challenges like the ballet or ANA uniform is, it’s about designing clothes but that’s not the prime focus, there’s a function you have to take into consideration. ANA heard about me, they liked what I did and my aesthetics; they wanted to bring it to their world.
Whether it’s designing for the ballet or a stewardess uniform, Gurung is game to take on any creative collaboration. Credit: Wesley Kow
You’ve collaborated with Target, Linda Farrow [on sunglasses] and more, what else do you hope to design?
I would like to get involved in costumes for a movie or collaborate with an architect. I’m always inspired by different creative people ‒ I love to collaborate.
What are your thoughts about the ‘official’ uniform of Singapore: Tank top, shorts and flip flops?
It’s understandable because of the weather. I always say, you can live without [art, anything creative] but by letting art, good music, fashion come into your life, it enhances your life. With fashion, you don’t need to go overboard but the minute you get too comfortable with what you are wearing, you know you are doing something wrong. I think there should be slight consideration [when it comes to what you wear]. What you wear is your way of introducing yourself to the world and tells the world how much you respect yourself.
Tell us about the Prabal Gurung woman.
[She’s] someone who has modern femininity with a bite, someone who believes in quality, timeless elegance with a modern edge, someone who understand the space she occupies and the relationship she has with the world. I keep on saying, she’s a thinking man’s sex symbol, someone who’s intelligent and a woman of substance.
The Prabal Gurung Autumn Winter 2014 runway show will take place on May 14, 2014 at 7pm at the Tent@Orchard as part of the Audi Fashion Festival 2014 happening from May 14 to 18, 2014. Tickets are available at sistic.com. For more information, go to www.audifashionfestival.com. Get updates on AFF 2014 on Facebook at www.facebook.com/AudiFashionFestivalSingapore, on Twitter @AudiFashionFest and Instagram @AudiFashionFest and by following the hashtag #affsg.