Trouble with a P: Interview with Prabal Gurung

On a warm Thursday morning, guests gathered at the third floor Couture Salon of Neiman Marcus San Francisco for an exclusive event to not only preview Prabal Gurung’s Spring 2011 collection, but also  for a chance to mingle with the designer. I was given the unique opportunity to sit down with this much acclaimed up-and-comer.

If you haven’t heard of Prabal Gurung, who suggests to pronounce his name “like ‘trouble’ with a ‘p’”, you must be living under a rock. The designer entered the fashion scene in 2009 with his first runway collection and has been taking the world by storm ever since. He received media attention when Michelle Obama wore his red dress to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, is a CFDA award nominee, and has been praised by Vogue editor-in-chief, Anna Wintour.

Haute Living sat down with Prabal to discuss his new collection, his views on Hollywood celebrities, and the rumors that he may do a line for Target.

HL: Your new collection is absolutely gorgeous. I love it. Especially the color block dresses, which are just amazing. What made you decide to take a more colorful approach with this collection?

PG: Thank you. A) I mean the obvious is that it is spring. B) After seasons on the runway with camels and beige, I just felt like it was time for color. It was time for hope, a time for celebration. With this longer silhouette, like this skimming sort of body, I just thought the idea of color would enhance the idea of sophistication, because a long skimming dress in black beige is done and is really dreary so thought I would celebrate with colors.

HL: Where did you draw the inspiration for this collection from?

PG: It was the combination of the movie “I am Love” Tilda Swinton’s character and this documentary which a friend of mine, Maggie Betts is doing. The central characters, the women in both the documentary and the movie are strong women who in the end take charge of their lives. That is what I am interested in. I think there is a need for women, young or old to kind of realize that it’s ok to be beautiful and intelligent. You don’t need to act like bimbos. And our pop culture is at a point where it’s celebrating bad behavior, putting things on the cover [of magazines] for no rhyme or reason. There are so many other women who are more deserving. For me it’s about sensuality and intelligence. That is such an amazing combination. I love meeting girls, who are beautiful, who are interested and interesting to talk to and have something to say. I am not saying they have to know the world politics, it doesn’t matter, but to have other interests rather than just showing cleavage and T&A as they say.

HL: Keeping that kind of woman in mind, who are some of your favorite celebrities that you think embody all of those qualities?

PG: Oh my God, besides the first lady [Michelle Obama], someone like Demi Moore, Cate Blanchett, Gwyneth Paltrow, Zoe Saldana, and Carey Mulligan. I like women of different shapes and sizes, like Oprah Winfrey. I feel like I’ve dressed every age group, every shape and size, every demographic but the one thing that remains consistent is you look at all of them and there is substance to them. They are not, how should I say, they’re just not famous for being famous.

HL: When it comes to dressing these very iconic women, how do you approach it?

PG: Luckily for me there is a stylist usually, but like I have a close relationship with most of the stylists and you always talk about how it is [going to be worn]. For me, my job is to create and I am not that controlling. I love the idea of putting a dress out there and the way you wear it versus the way someone else wears it is completely different. I love seeing that. It’s very inspiring. I like seeing how they put it together. Sometimes it like ughhh or sometimes it’s exciting. There is nothing more luxurious than freedom. Freedom of choice.

HL: You came onto the fashion scene in 2009 and all of a sudden you seem to be everywhere. How has that quick climb affected your life?

PG: A quick climb that took me ten plus years of preparation. With my time spent at Bill Blass and Cynthia [Rowley] and all over the world. Behind this so called “overnight success” there is a lot of hard work. I have also seen the industry and the rise and fall of a lot of different designers so I am very pragmatic about my success. I am very level headed about it because that is the nature of our lives. What’s hot now, tomorrow won’t be, will be again. So I just take it with a grain of salt and a lot of gratitude. I am enjoying it but I’ve got miles to go. I am taking it all in, but there is so much more that I want to do.

HL: There are some rumors that you might be designing a line for Target. Is this true?

PG: You know I don’t address rumors, first of all. I don’t address rumors at all.

HL: But they are good rumors! People seem very excited for the possibility.

PG: Really? You know nothing has been set in stone yet that I can talk about or anything. When it’s the right time we’ll announce it but any kind of collaboration that reaches the right kind of audience for the right price, it would be exciting to do it.

HL: So that would be something you would consider if the opportunity presented itself?

PG: It the opportunity presented itself and everything has to fall into place. Everything has to be right. The timing has to be right. I am in no rush. I am very patient, extremely patient.

As October 31 was just a few days prior, I had to ask the acclaimed designer if he had dressed up for Halloween. His costume? A kilted Marc Jacobs. “He is my favorite designer. I just love how brave he is in the kilt and he looks great. I hope I looked good.” After informing Prabal that I had dressed as celebrity stylist, Rachel Zoe, he told me “She is not only a friend but a big supporter of me and she is an extremely, extremely nice person. She is kind and a champion if she believes in something.”

In addition to the support he has received from Rachel Zoe, he credits a variety of people in the fashion industry for his success, especially CFDA and Anna Wintour of Vogue magazine. “I think they felt sorry for me because I have been working so hard for all this time.”

Despite his modest personality, this charming designer is clearly a force to be reckoned with. We have just begun to see all the talent and creativity Prabal Gurung can bring to the fashion world.

To view photos from the Neiman Marcus San Francisco’s preview of Prabal Gurung’s Spring 2011, visit the Haute Living Photo Gallery.