Prabal Gurung Returns Home (Sort of) for Singapore Fashion Week

We chat business, the Met Ball and streakers with the lovely Singapore-born, New York-based designer.
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Dhani Mau
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We chat business, the Met Ball and streakers with the lovely Singapore-born, New York-based designer.

One only needs to do a quick Google search to find out that beloved New York-based designer Prabal Gurung was born in Singapore. Even Kate Middleton knows this. However, he was born to Nepalese parents and left Singapore for Nepal while he was a toddler. So, when he opened the sixth annual Audi Fashion Festival Singapore (part of Asia Fashion Exchange, which consists of Blueprint (a tradeshow), Audi Fashion Festival, Asia Fashion Summit and Audi Star Creation) on Wednesday evening, it was actually his first time returning to the country as an adult.

Before he showed his fittingly Asian-inspired fall 2014 collection to a new audience of Prabal-clad socialites, consumers—tickets to the Audi Fashion Festival are available for purchase — and at least some media…I think…we chatted backstage about this homecoming of sorts, why Singapore is important for luxury designers and, of course, that absolutely darling Met Ball dress he made for Hailee Steinfeld.

Why did you decide now was the right time to "return" to Singapore for Audi Fashion Festival?

They had approached me a few years ago and I toyed with the idea but it didn't feel right at that time. But now...there were several factors: One was the fact that Singapore's been such an important market for the luxury brand and since I'm at a luxury designer price point...Singapore has a very sophisticated client and it also has the highest number of billionaires in Southeast Asia. So my team had been talking with them about it and my mentor, Carolina Herrera, came last year so when she came back, she told me, 'You have to go there, they asked me about you.' Everything fell into place, and the collection I did last season was about coming home, so I felt it was the thing to do.

Do you think it's important for American and international brands to have a presence here right now?

I think so, without a doubt. If you look at who all has shown here, Chanel, Calvin Klein, it's huge. Everybody has realized that. It no longer works for a European brand or an American brand to just stay within their realm. Chanel just showed in Dubai...so I think what everyone's realizing now and even for a new designer — we're just in our fifth year — is the world is your playing field.

What other markets are you focusing on or hoping to expand into? 

For me, [the strategy is] to see where there's a desire for a luxury price point new designer brand — not just the usual suspects. Places I would like to go are obviously the Middle East — I sell there so I'd like to go there. And also China. China's been a big focus for me and Korea, Indonesia...

Have you been surprised by your fan base here?

Yes. There are a lot of people who are very eager and excited that I'm here and I'm back. It is really heartwarming because for me, the whole concept of having fans hasn't registered to me yet because I'm relatively new to this so I'm always really surprised and excited to meet them as well. I've been doing all these TV interviews with BBC and Star World (a local TV channel) and it just hasn't registered to me. You know, you live in New York, I live in New York, there are a lot of designers, and it's almost like when you're in day-to-day work mode with deadlines and everything you tend to forget the bigger picture, so coming here just to see my name on the streets and everything, it's given me some solace and confidence that whatever I decided to do five years ago to launch my own collection in spite of all the naysayers was actually the right decision.

That's awesome. So can we talk a bit about the Met Ball? Hailee Steinfeld was one of my favorites. How did you end up dressing her and what was your inspiration for the gown?

I met Hailee when she was nominated for "True Grit" for the Golden Globes . It was her first big nomination and we talked about it and I made something for it. It was my first big awards moment and ever since then I've seen her grow up. She was 13 then and now she's 17, about to be 18, and I've seen her grow up really beautifully. I've met her parents, and in this day and age, with teens trying to get attention and the angst and everything — she doesn't have that. 

So I said, "Listen, in honor of Charles James, I want to make something really beautifully for you, but I want to keep it modern." And I said I also wanted it to be a place where the world recognizes and sees her and sees she's growing up really gracefully and beautifully because, like I said, there are so many others who are going crazy, you know? Even though it was a ball gown, I wanted to keep it very modern so there were no corsets involved — the front and the back had a very modern, sporty feel with pockets. I just wanted to keep all pf those elements and her reaction to it during the fittings was priceless. She was like, "Oh my God, I've never worn a big gown like this," and she was so thrilled. When I went to pick her up, I was really taken aback by how beautiful she looked and calm and it made her feel really good.

Another interesting story from the Met Ball was the return of the streaker from your New York Fashion Week show. Did you confront him?

I didn't even see him! But I heard and I was like, "Oh my God, what is he thinking?"

What's next after Singapore?

I'm going to Langkawi in Malaysia. My family's coming from Nepal — my mom, my sister, my brother my nephew and my niece, they're all coming to Malaysia then I'm flying there for a holiday. I need one so desperately.

We hear ya.