Prabal Gurung On His Humble Beginnings and That Time He Asked Fern Mallis If He Could Show for Free

Prabal Gurung's seen so many succesful milestones in his career (dressing the First Lady, being named a runner-up for the 2010 CFDA / Vogue Fashion Fund, an upcoming Target collaboration) it's hard to believe the designer only started his label in February 2009. But he's staying humble. "I have a long, long way to go," he told the crowd at the Ecco Domani Fashion Foundation brunch Wednesday. "This is just the beginning. I want to be around for a long time." And we're sure he will be. Still, if Gurung ever wants to make a career change, he could do a bang-up job as a motivational speaker.
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Leah Chernikoff
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Prabal Gurung's seen so many succesful milestones in his career (dressing the First Lady, being named a runner-up for the 2010 CFDA / Vogue Fashion Fund, an upcoming Target collaboration) it's hard to believe the designer only started his label in February 2009. But he's staying humble. "I have a long, long way to go," he told the crowd at the Ecco Domani Fashion Foundation brunch Wednesday. "This is just the beginning. I want to be around for a long time." And we're sure he will be. Still, if Gurung ever wants to make a career change, he could do a bang-up job as a motivational speaker.
Photo: Getty

Photo: Getty

Wednesday morning at the top of the Museum of Art and Design, Prabal Gurung addressed a group of young designers and industry bigwigs gathered to celebrate this year's winners of the Ecco Domani Fashion Foundation awards--a set of cash prizes awarded to emerging designers. Just two years ago, Gurung was a winner himself. Today he was introduced as a designer whose client list includes First Lady Michelle Obama and the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton.

Gurung's seen so many succesful milestones in his career (dressing the First Lady, being named a runner-up for the 2010 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund, an upcoming Target collaboration) it's hard to believe the designer only started his label in February 2009. But he's staying humble. "I have a long, long way to go," he told the crowd. "This is just the beginning. I want to be around for a long time." And we're sure he will be.

Still, if Gurung ever wants to make a career change, he could do a bang-up job as a motivational speaker. We thought his candid speech about how he got to where he is now and his advice for young designers merited repeating. Like, for instance, this gem about how he ended up showing at the last New York fashion week at Bryant Park: He just asked Fern Mallis for the space...for free.

The highlights:

• "It was 2009 when the house of Bill Blass closed [Gurung was the design director there], and I'd always wanted to do a collection on my own, so the situation kind of forced me to go on my own. But while I had this big dream and desire about having my own line and [being able to say] 'that dress should be two inches shorter,'... the reality is I had zero dollars. So, I still remember I went on unemployment, and thank god for the American government, and bought my 300 square foot studio. That's how I started, me and my intern, a dear friend of mine who still happens to be with me as a business partner."

• "I've always been the kind of person where I say, 'I'll just do it, somehow I'll figure it out.' So when I had my first order I went to the factory and I said, 'Listen, I've got this order, I don't have any money but trust me, things are going to work out.' ... It was time for shipment of these clothes to the store, and the factories, while they were lovely at making them, they weren't willing to release them and this Ecco Domani money came at the right time. I still remember that $25,000 to me at that point was such a huge deal because I never wanted to call back home to Nepal and ask my parents for money. Because while they believed in what I wanted to do, back in Nepal it was considered not a career for a guy to take up fashion design, it was a career for a bored housewife, basically. And when the money came, I went to the factory and said 'Listen, there's money coming, can you release it,' and they did."

• "Some of the [award] money went into my first runway show, which was the last show at Bryant Park. I still remember I was at the infamous Boom Boom Room and Fern Mallis was there, and after my second presentation she said to me, 'So what is your plan?' And I said to her, 'Ever since I came to New York, I've always wanted to do a show, to be part of the Bryant Park community and to be part of that history, and it's the last season.' And then I said to her, "I think it would do you good if you give me the space for free." Then she looked at me, she kept looking at me and she ordered a drink and she said, 'You know, you have some guts. Consider it done.'"

• "I left my family in Nepal 13 years ago and I came here knowing no one. So I've always kind of followed my dreams and followed my own path, and my instinct. I don't know how else to explain it. So that's what I wish for all the designers here, to have a clear vision of where you want to go but also clarity of instinct and thought to be very present... All I want to say to you new designers is dare to dream and live it."