While it’s getting late and the sun has been down in New York for several minutes, I won’t be the least bit surprised if Prabal Gurung’s spring/summer 2016 runway presentation is still trending on social media come morning. Rarely does a designer’s personal history and lineage come directly into play in their designs. Tonight, however, Gurung threw open the doors with a lengthy note that went beyond explaining the inspiration for his collection. The 36-year-old Nepalese-born designer who was raised in Kathmandu expressed the emotional devastation he felt in seeing the destruction of his homeland from the earthquake that occurred April 25 of this year:
“With visuals of destruction and despair flooding in after Nepal’s devastating earthquake, I could not help but feel that the world in which I grew up had crumbled. It seemed as though part of my identity was unraveling with it… I felt helpless halfway around the world, and I was compelled to do something beyond raising money for my foundation. I wanted the world to experience a glimpse of what Nepal means to me.”
With designer’s notes so raw with deep feeling, no one would have been surprised by his choice of red, orange, and yellow palette, nor would anyone have found the sweeping curves and folds of his silhouettes out of place. Even the bare shoulders, which are very much a trend for this season, seemed to fit.
What took everyone by surprise, however, and set a very unique tone to the presentation, was when the lights came up at the beginning of the show and we saw not a model in a dress, but a chorus of some thirty Buddhist monks. Fashion people are rarely quiet, but at that moment every tongue fell silent. Then, the monks began to chant. I would be surprised if more than a dozen people in attendance understood a word, but the effect was palpable as a very physical sense of peace made its way from the front of the stage to the darkest corners of the room. By the time they finished, a pin dropping would have sounded like a giant gong.
The clothes were Gurung at his best: feminine, soft, and flowing. His use of prints was dramatic in the first few pieces, as though expressing power and upheaval, then calmed as the collection grew. The simple color palette was more than sufficient to provide brightness where it was needed, and softness where that suited best. His marriage of fabric with specific silhouettes was precise so that nothing felt stuffy or forced.
Yet, this isn’t a collection full of robes or draped fabrics. Gurung’s dresses are quite feminine. Necklines often plunge, skirts are often slit, and backs are frequently open. There are plenty of bare midriffs and sheer panels to give the collection a sense of sexiness and sensuality. There is plenty of texture as the fabrics move from chiffon to tweed. There are sequins and cut-outs and ribbed knits. He even tosses in some large-frame sunglasses for fun. Even if we had known absolutely nothing about the inspiration behind this season’s clothes we would still find them exciting.
As far as runway diversity goes, seven of the 36 models were non-caucasian, which seems to be a standard for this season’s casting, and I would normally give that a four on our diversity scale. However, the man brought an entire chorus of chanting monks with him. For that move alone we’ll give him a 9.5.
People in the fashion industry rarely talk about religion or any form of spirituality, but Gurung brought a sense of universal oneness to his audience, unlike anything I’ve ever seen. There is no duplicating this moment, so I hope those who experienced it cherish what happened.
For the people of Nepal, we hope for Peace and restoration; may their country and their people grow and heal.