“Femininity with a Bite”: Why Prabal Gurung Gets Political

The Nepali American fashion designer sat down to chat about dressing everyone from Kamala Harris to Deepika Padukone, why strong women inspire him, and the enduring fashion of 'Rangeela.'

Snigdha Sur

June 2, 2021

“Femininity with a Bite”: Why Prabal Gurung Gets Political
Courtesy of Prabal Gurung, based on images by Shravya Kag

When Prabal Gurung was younger, he would run around his house in his underwear and a towel as a cape. He wasn’t channeling Batman or Superman. Rather, he was besotted with Wonder Woman. “For some reason, I was really drawn to her, and I thought she was beautiful,” he told me. “But more than that, it felt like in the world of superheroes, there’s always men, and she was the only woman.”

Since Gurung landed on the New York — and international — fashion scene with his eponymous label in 2009, he has dressed many, many powerful women (Wonder Women, one could say): former First Lady Michelle Obama, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, Oprah, Never Have I Ever star Poorna Jagannathan, comedians Tiffany Haddish and Tina Fey, actor Issa Rae, the Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton. Gurung dressed both Bollywood superstar Deepika Padukone — in a stunning red gown — and Reliance Industries scion Isha Ambani — in a lilac ensemble — for the Met Gala in 2019. He counts Sarah Jessica Parker among his closest friends (the duo recently ate out in Flushing, Queens, to celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month). The better question is, who hasn’t Gurung dressed?

The designer’s couture celebrates classic cuts, bold colors, pattern, and movement. Some pieces are as structured as a gown or a smart pantsuit, while others are loose and comfortable. He nails a solid burgundy dress as immaculately as a colorful, shimmery number. During the pandemic, Gurung released his first wedding collection. And, throughout all his work, he’s also known for speaking out: against anti-Asian hate, for #BlackLivesMatter, about COVID-19 in Nepal, on his Asian American identity, and about the women who inspire him. Gurung wouldn’t have it any other way — after all, he’s here to smash the patriarchy. “We are victims of toxic masculinity and patriarchy,” Gurung told me. “Ever since I had a sense of myself, I wanted to dismantle patriarchy — through my work, through my conversation, through people I dress, through every opportunity that I have.”