When designer Prabal Gurung hit the Met Gala red carpet with his crew of famous ladies on Monday night, he was doing more with his gowns than just trying to top best dressed lists: He was officially launching Atelier Prabal Gurung, his made-to-measure collection. Though known primarily for his ready-to-wear, Gurung tells Fashionista that his red carpet work has helped build up a steady list of clients prepared to spend on custom work. After nearly 10 years in the business, he felt that now is the right time to launch this special couture line.
"Ever since I started, I have always had this couture-like approach to what I make, even in ready-to-wear, whether it's hand-rolled buttons or the best fabrics," Gurung explains. "When the Met Gala's happened in the past, there's been a lot of interest; the minute they see it, we get orders. It's been happening for a couple of years, and we have a big private client business as well. I thought at Met Gala was the perfect place to have this be launched, because it's fashion's biggest playground."
The gowns Gurung designed for the Met Gala make up the first collection, which is on view at Bergdorf Goodman in New York City through May 14, and available for pre-order on Moda Operandi until May 29. These being couture garments, they come at couture prices: The entry point is $11,995, and gowns go all the way up to $37,995 for Diane Kruger's stunning blue minidress with a long train. It may seem risky to debut with a collection already so seen globally — custom clients can be notoriously picky about having one-of-a-kind items — but Gurung isn't worried.
"I thought it was the perfect time to really talk about what we stand for; what we stand for, and what we do besides the ready-to-wear, is this incredibly high-end, uncompromised, considered clothing for a woman who has places like this to go to," he says. "I thought the Met Gala was the perfect place to have this be launched because it's fashion's biggest playground."
But even more important than making a fashion statement was celebrating a diverse range of women. Gurung handpicked the ladies who would sit at his table with Tasaki — the pearl jewelry line for which he serves as creative director — to show that fashion no longer has one single definition. He wanted his ladies, and his first official Atelier Prabal Gurung collection, to represent his vision of what fashion could be and what he stands for: "A celebration of complete diversity and inclusivity." Even the colors of the gowns were carefully chosen to make a visual impact when set together — a physical manifestation of one of Gurung's favorite hashtags and statements, "Stronger in Color."
Of course, the night did also have a theme, and Gurung worked carefully with each of his dates to determine how their dresses would turn out. In a preview of what one might expect from his custom business, his priority was asking how each woman wanted to feel on the red carpet. "I can't just force them to be like, 'Okay, eight girls, a collection, and just wear it' — it was not about that," he says. It's that level of intimacy and thoughtfulness that Gurung wants to keep imbued in his couture line, which is why he says he has no future plans to show it on a runway or turn it into another huge project.
"It allows me to truly interact with my customer," he says. "One thing that I really truly enjoy about fashion, besides the glamour and stuff, is also really learning the personal stories of each and every one of our clients whenever I get an opportunity to talk to them, I love trunk shows, I love meeting them; some of them have become real good friends."
For Gurung, who trained at Bill Blass, expanding his custom line is also an opportunity to keep the tradition of American ateliers alive. He notes that 90 percent of the clothes he designs are made here in New York City, and that giving back to those businesses is very important to him. "I may sound too ambitious here, but my hope is that it helps the factories around here; those factories that have worked with bigger companies — Bill Blass, Oscar [de la Renta], Carolina Herrera — I hope I'm able to contribute to them and give them work, so we can keep the New York Fashion District alive" he says.
It's certainly a big goal. But for Gurung, the work has already paid off. He described getting ready to leave for the Met Gala: All of the women had gotten ready in their respective rooms at the Peninsula, and came up to Gurung's suite for a champagne toast before they'd head off for the red carpet together. There was a moment, he says, where he took a step back and watched as all of his chosen ladies immediately got along and began chatting. They were helping put on finishing touches, catching undone buttons and holding trains, and Gurung got to see his vision of a diverse, more friendly fashion industry come to life.
"I kid you not, I was like, 'My God, this is what I want to see,'" Gurung says of his dates. "They look amazing and they feel it, and they're also tough girls. Each and every one of them that we chose to be invited and be part of this thing have their own story to tell, and I admire their courage, I admire their integrity."
And also, "They looked fucking fabulous," he adds with a big laugh.