In the show notes for his Spring 2022 collection, Prabal Gurung writes: "America has always been a woman — but she has not always been treated beautifully. What does it mean to be the most essential person in this country? What is feminine? What is American? And who gets to be it all — or none of it?"
These are just some the questions the designer was wrestling with as he prepared for his latest outing, which examines, celebrates and at time subverts this idea of femininity — of shaping what's considered beautiful despite being long portrayed as weak, of embodying vulnerability while fighting against and breaking down patriarchal paradigms — and uses it as a starting point for every garment.
Take, for instance, the "power suit," an increasingly important sartorial symbol, especially when it comes to influential women. He writes about how, for it to truly be impactful, it's important to conceptualize it with femininity first, as opposed to simply fitting a man's suit to a female form. Gurung would know about this, as his "power suits" have become a staple for some of the most powerful women in the world — namely, Vice President Kamala Harris.
"My job as a designer is to provide options. I give them the option of a suit that a woman needs, and also, I present an idea of how we look at a shape and a silhouette," Gurung tells Fashionista backstage. "It's subversive to take an existing silhouette — a women's silhouette that was already there — and call it new, and make people think about, 'What does power mean?'"
Beyond these silhouettes that have historically fit the mold of "power dressing," this means creating looks that allow their wearer to fully step into their sense of self, through expressive colors, eye-grabbing fabrics and embellishments and liberating cuts.
"I always listen to all my girlfriends. They tell me, 'This is what we want.' And for the first time, the majority of my girlfriends said, 'We want to feel sensual. We want to look sexy,'" Gurung says. "I realized, for the first time in my career, I felt like women were having an agency about their body — it didn't matter of you were a size 0 or a size 14, 16, you walk around the city and you see it. They were feeling it. That, to me, was so inspiring. My goal here is to provide sensuality and femininity in everything, within my lens."
"I always feel femininity and women in their full feminine glory is the most unnerving thing to the patriarchy," he continues. "It's really important that we get in the forefront and start having this conversation, because we need to redefine patriarchy — look at the state the world is in right now. We need more matriarchal energy. This is a celebration of that. It's a celebration of any woman or anyone feminine-leaning, however they identify."
The collection — and its presentation — is also a celebration of New York, where Gurung has built his company and his community. Fittingly, the show was staged by the water on the southern tip of Manhattan, in Battery Park, with the Statue of Liberty lit in the distance on one side and the skyscrapers of the Financial District on the other.
Gurung titled Spring 2022 "American Girl," and it's not just a clever play on words: The designer is actually partnering with the American Girl, creating a limited-edition "Stronger in Colour" T-shirt for girls and dolls that will be available for sale and a handful of custom dolls sent out to Gurung's friends and muses.
It's fun to go through the Spring 2022 collection and imagine which original dolls would wear which looks. But don't ask Gurung who his favorite American Girl is: "I can't do that!," he says. He does, however have big dreams for this partnership, telling Fashionista, "I do hope to expand more storytelling through there. I have some ideas about where I want to explore even more and what that means. We'll see."
Like how he quotes Robin Givhan in the show notes: "To be girlish is to be powerful, because power is redefined."
See the full Prabal Gurung Spring 2022 collection in the gallery below.