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Prabal Gurung's Collection at Nordstrom: Smart luxury with Soul

Nordstrom : Look at the sorts of things some fashion designers expect you to wear, and you’d be forgiven for thinking they must hate women. But not Prabal Gurung. When the celebrated New York-based designer visited the Vancouver Nordstrom store recently, it quickly became apparent that he loves women — all sorts of women, of all shapes, sizes, ages and backgrounds — and his collections show it. “I’m very intrigued by women of substance,” says the 36-year-old designer, adding that his ideal customer is “the kind of woman I’m interested in sitting down and having a conversation with.” He describes his style as “femininity with a bite; sportswear with a feminine edge; smart luxury with a soul.” Think luxurious knits, flattering day pieces and easy evening wear, all in mouth-watering colours and elegant patterns. Think, too, fashion that is eco-friendly and ethically produced. 

If that sounds a like a perfect fit for Vancouver’s traditional blend of relaxed comfort with luxe fabrication, personalized style and well-honed social consciousness, well, it is. “Prabal appeals to a vast range of customers and there are great transitional pieces within the collection for the working woman — an abundance of options to carry her from day to night,” says Sahar Sokhandan, the fine apparel buyer for Nordstrom Designer. “We love his modern sportswear with couture ideals.” Gurung developed those ideals on a global route to the top of the fashion world. He was born in Singapore, but raised in Nepal, a country whose culture still influences his creative vision every day. “I consider myself very much a global citizen whose roots are in Nepal,” he says. “The way I see colours, the way I see women, the way I see design, it was steeped in the culture. The grace and the beauty and the culture of Nepal is steeped in my DNA.” From Nepal, opportunity swept him to India, where he began his career as a designer, then to Australia, London and, finally, New York. 

There he completed his design studies at Parsons School of Design, then worked for designers Cynthia Rowley and Bill Blass before launching his own label in 2009. Since then, Gurung has won or been shortlisted for numerous awards, including the Ecco Domani Fashion Fund Award and the CFDA Swarovski Award for Womenswear. Not only does he create beautiful clothing, he creates clothing with integrity. Gurung insists his clothing be made locally, by well-paid workers, not in exploitive Third World factories. And, unlike most designers, he makes sure that his pieces are available in sizes up to 22, rather than stopping at a size 10 or 12. He hasn’t forgotten the folks back home either: He has established a foundation to promote education for underprivileged children in Nepal, and raised nearly US $1 million to help thousands of Nepalese who lost their homes in a massive earthquake earlier this year. Indeed, he dedicated his Spring 2016 runway show to Nepal, featuring dreamy, floating chiffon dresses that referenced traditional monastic robes in sunset hues of ochre, saffron and rose. 

We’ll likely see those gorgeous frocks on some of Gurung’s famous celebrity clientele, who have included Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama, the Duchess of Cambridge, Lady Gaga, Sarah Jessica Parker and Jennifer Lawrence. When asked if he could design a dress for one woman who hasn’t worn his clothes yet, he says it would be, not some starlet or supermodel, but U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. “I really admire her for who she is and who she’s become,” he says, then grins suddenly. “I’d love to make the inaugural gown.” Presidential aspirations aside, Prabal Gurung’s biggest desire is to keep working “until I die,” making women look and feel beautiful. “The biggest strength that women have is their femininity,” he says. “You can rule the world without compromising the way you look. Fashion is an accessory. It’s not the main focus. Good fashion gives you the confidence that allows you to go out and rule the world.”

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