MAC has a reputation for spearheading some unusual collaborations (The Simpsons, anyone?), but its latest collection with Prabal Gurung makes perfect, beautiful sense. The brand has been working with the designer for the past five years on his runway shows since he was a relative unknown, so this is a natural progression of that relationship. The collaboration is two years in the making and a chance for the designer to dip his toe into beauty, a category he has said he's very interested in adding to his own line eventually.
The 14-piece holiday collection launches on November 26 in the U.S., at prices ranging from $20 for an eye pencil to $70 for bronzing powder. The prices are slightly higher than usual for MAC, but that's a result of the packaging and also Prabal's luxury point of view. The packaging was inspired by 1920s jeweled minaudieres, and also by the art of Damien Hirst, Sylvie Fleury and Nick Knight.
Last night at a party at the Boom Boom Room at the Standard Hotel in NYC to fete the collab, I got to chat with the designer about the collection and the future of his business. The conversation got off to a promising start when he said Fashionista was his favorite site. (Let it be shown on the record that this writer has always had a teeny crush on Prabal also.) Here, his thoughts on starting a lower priced line, why he thinks his high price point works, and the way his women friends influenced the beauty collection.
Fashionista: So is this the next step to launching beauty under your own name?
Prabal Gurung: It is. When I started my collection five years back, it was with this idea and concept about creating beauty. Not just about clothes or dresses, it was the concept and idea of creating something beautiful. From ready-to-wear, this was a natural progression.
What was the most surprising or challenging thing about doing beauty, and how is it different from fashion?
The challenging thing about this was the lead time. In ready-to-wear, we’re used to churning out collections four times a year, so it was more about, 'OK, are we on that timeline or not?' Since I wanted to change the packaging, which was the big thing I wanted to have, it took time. It took two years before we could launch this.
Wow. Why did the packaging hold it up?
Normally if you look at collaborations they’ve done before, it’s within the framework of what they already have. What I wanted to do was create this really beautiful object of desire. Whether it’s on the bathroom counter or in your bag, when you use it, you feel good. It’s not like a utilitarian thing. It’s extremely important. I felt personally that the getting-ready process, whether it’s 10, 15 minutes or one hour, is such a time for yourself and I wanted to create this moment for this woman that I imagined. When she pulls the makeup out and puts it on the counter, she feels good. There’s an aspiration to it.
Did the women in your life give you feedback?
My earliest memory about fashion and makeup has always been about my mother. I would look at her beauty products and how she would dab [things on] and spread time in front of the vanity mirror. It would transform her. So I was very fascinated with that. But I’m a big observer of women. I talk to them and I watch them. It's why I wanted to create a really amazing product. I’ve had an experience where my girlfriends and I would be at a restaurant or we'd be in a cab and they’d take out a makeup product from their bag and it would be like some big dusty thing! I would watch them and think, 'What if that came out and it was a beautiful, magical looking thing?' That’s why I wanted to do this. You pull it out of a bag and it looks beautiful. It was very important for me.
You’ve mentioned that since you design a luxury fashion product that you wanted this collection to reflect that.
I wanted it at the same level, and it’s slightly more expensive than what MAC has done. But it’s also what I really wanted. The reason I started doing a luxury price point, it’s not a snobbery thing or anything. I wanted to create this idea of aspiration. I think [this collection] is aspiration that is attainable. But it's very inclusive. Yes, you might not be able [to afford my clothes now], but you can one day. I've never been that kind of person, 'Oh, you can’t sit with us.' That’s not my mentality.
You've designed the Target line and you design for ICB, but do you anticipate ever doing a contemporary line for your own brand like some of your peers do?
As the brand grows, you think about different categories and distinctions. I do want to get into handbags, shoes, makeup. And definitely a ready-to-wear line at a different price point. But it has to be at the right time. I have a general sense of what I want it to look and feel like. But it has to also be something that’s not already out there. We do make clothes — everyone makes clothes! At the end of the day a jacket has two sleeves. But the point of view has to be yours.
This interview has been edited and condensed.