After presenting a sportswear-driven collection for spring 2010, Prabal Gurung delivered an about-face with his Valentine's Day show inspired by Miss Havisham, the jilted spinster from Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations. The glamorous fall collection — complete with corsetry, ostrich feathers, fur, and washed silk — was a critical success for its fabric treatments and gorgeous draped gowns. Off the runway, it's been a busy year for Gurung: He was nominated for the 2010 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund prize (Billy Reid took home the award) and has outfitted everyone from Hailee Steinfeld at the Golden Globes to Michelle Obama on Oprah. Tonight, he’s being featured as one of USA Network’s inaugural Character Approved recipients (11 p.m.) alongside ten other creative visionaries, including chef Grant Achatz and writer Nicole Krausse. But despite acclaim, the designer remains modest. “I do what I love the most — that’s the biggest award, indulgence, and luxury,” he says. “So when I get success and attention, it can’t just be for myself. The more you give, the more it comes back to you.” After the whirlwind of Fashion Week, he’s taking a break for his annual trip home to Nepal this month before diving into his next collection. We caught up with the designer to discuss his fall show, famous muses, and high-top collection.
After showing clean sportswear for spring, your fall collection was a return to glam eveningwear. What prompted the shift?
We’ve seen the clean sportswear trend a lot now — I wanted to go back to fashion that evokes an emotion. The collection was based on the character of Miss Havisham from Great Expectations. I was trying to create that feeling of being in love and obsessed with someone and literally letting that take over your entire existence. When I was doing research, it was all about creating this disheveled, perfectly undone look.
How did the Miss Havisham inspiration come about?
Great Expectations was one of my favorite books from childhood. At the time, I thought she was this crazy old lady. But love isn’t always about having it — it’s about losing it as well. There’s something really beautiful about that situation; it’s so tragic and sad. I want to protect her. It felt relevant in the wake of all the stuff happening right now. We’re so quick to put everyone on a pedestal and bring them down. Everything happens with such speed.
Your designs have been worn by women like Michele Obama and Oprah. Who would you love to dress?
There are so many. I just want to keep dressing women who exemplify not just beauty, but intelligence; women who are empathetic to the world around them. I like women who are in control of their own destinies. It’s not a feminist rant; there’s just something so appealing and sexy about women in power.
You’re being featured in the inaugural Character Approved Awards. What do you think sets you apart from your fashion contemporaries?
I’ve always loved fashion, and I left my family to pursue it. Even though it wasn’t the most popular choice at the time, it’s something I can be proud of. I’m also aware of the second nature of fashion — how superficial and on-the-surface it can seem. I’m one of the first people working in fashion from back home, and my success has become a symbol of hope for some people in Nepal. I always conduct myself and behave in a way so that at the end of the day I should be able to look in the mirror and be proud. I want to be a great designer and an even better person.
It’s a pretty impressive title.
I know, I love the name ‘Character Approved.’ I called my mom and told her, ‘Hey, guess what Mom, I think I turned out okay.”
Who are your favorite designers?
I’ve always loved Yves Saint Laurent and the late McQueen: their singular point of view, their conviction, and their lack of fear. They broke the mold and never followed the trends. When YSL was at Dior, he did collections that the press hated. He did what he wanted to do and his work withstood the test of time.
Do you read your own reviews?
I do. The stellar ones are great and the not-so-stellar ones are good too. It’s about your work, and I think it should be critiqued. If not, they can say you’re fabulous and you start believing your own hype. As long as they’re not attacking me personally, I don’t call it negative. Life is too short to rejoice too much in the good reviews and cry over the others.
How would you describe your personal style?
It’s very effortless; I don’t think about it. I usually wear jeans and a T-shirt, but when I went to Carolina Herrera’s show I wore a suit and tie. You have to be respectful of where you’re going.
What trends are you appreciating for spring?
Brighter colors and longer lengths. I’m from a place filled with color, so it’s great to see more color on the runways.
Are there any trends you’re ready to see retired?
Too short, too tight dresses and those aggressive shoes we’ve been seeing. I like tall shoes, but I think they should be chic.
What’s one item you’re saving up to buy?
I love to buy art. It’s my dream to collect great works of art. I recently saw the George Condo exhibit at the New Museum; I love, love his work. I also saw an opening for Ben Blatt at Half Gallery on the Lower East Side. I wish I could buy it.
What’s one item every woman should have in her closet?
A perfect sheath dress. If you’re a downtown girl, you can wear it with jeans and heels and disheveled hair; if you’re uptown, you take off the jeans and clean it up.
What about men?
A good, classic pair of jeans. You would think that it’s something all men would have, but you walk around and see these horrible choices, with over-designed back pockets and stitching over everything. I love Raf Simons, Acne, and APC for jeans.
What’s one thing you never leave the house without?
A smile, that’s it. Listen, I’m not trying to come across as a cheerleader — I’m just happy.