Of the high fashion designers working today, Prabal Gurung may be among those most committed to seeing progressive changes across the industry. Not only does he regularly show a diverse range of models on his runway but he's also dedicated to expanding what the concept of beauty is in high fashion, offering up to a size 22 in his own collection and collaborating with plus size retailer Lane Bryant to reach an even broader range of customers.
"I've been offering a size 22 since I started, but for some reason — [perhaps] because retailers weren't buying it or something — it got lost in translation," Gurung tells Fashionista of his Lane Bryant collaboration. "What I realized was that the changes I wanted to see, in the industry and the world, just didn't happen by me doing a show with a few plus size models or a diverse group of models; it needed to continue, and I felt like if lending my voice could move the conversation forward, I want to be part of it."
But Gurung doesn't want to get complacent or pat himself on the back — in fact, as he told audience members at a screening of the documentary "Straight/Curve" on Monday night, "We haven't even done anything" in the high fashion community. The designer admitted that there was "a lot of snickering" when he first announced his collaboration, relaying the story of an acquaintance who approached him at an art opening to ask, "Why are you designing for fat people?" Gurung looks shocked by the question even now.
"She saw my reaction and she said, 'Oh no, I meant it as a joke!" I said to her, 'Clearly, you know it's not funny,'" he recalls. "I said to her, words are very powerful, they impact and affect lives. The majority of American women haven't had a voice, haven't felt like they belong in our world, and I wanted to be sure that they do. It's people like you who make statements like these — there's a reason I wanted to do this."
Gurung silenced the snickers by launching his Lane Bryant collaboration with an Inez & Vinoodh shot ad campaign and a debut in Vogue magazine. By making sure every aspect of the collection was elevated to the high fashion level, he says, he knew he would be speaking the language of those who doubted it. "Our industry is very, very slow at change, and fearful, we are operated by fear; there are a handful of people who operate with absolute courage and guts, but the majority of us, we don't," he says.
One thing is for sure: Gurung isn't going to wait for anyone to do the work for him — and he doesn't think anyone else should, either. He pushed the audience to use their voices, whether via social media or through protests, to go after the changes they want to see in our society and in the fashion industry.
"There have to be people at the decision making table representing you, there's no denying that. If you are sitting in a room filled with white males or white females, and you think that racism is going to be addressed, if you're sitting with size 2 decision makers and think your change is going to happen, you need to wake up," he told the audience. "If you think that someone else is going to come and help you, it's completely delusional."