Nepalese born designer Prabal Gurung has only been showing at New York Fashion Week since February 2009, but he’s already achieved more in that two years than many designers do in a decade — or ever. His line sells at top stores like Saks Fifth Avenue and has captivated the attention of powerhouses like Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey. This week, he was officially inducted as a member of the CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America), a fashion honor roughly equivalent to winning a Grammy. Gurung also is breaking new ground for designers, presenting his first ever Resort collection as a bonafide music video starring his mutant pop diva of choice, M.I.A. protégé Rye Rye.
Even as the current crop of young designers seem especially inclined to speak a musical parlance, and pop performers are urged to strategically align with stylists and megabrands, there’s something refreshingly organic about this particular designer/singer partnership. Perhaps it’s because it was almost a happy accident.
“We were Twitter friends,” Gurung says. “I’d been enjoying Rye Rye’s music and we’d tweet back and forth. Suddenly it hit me she’d be perfect to fit the bill for the video concept I imagined. I emailed her right away.”
Fortunately, Rye Rye was just as enthused as the designer was, and soon, the collaboration was under way. The result is an exuberant short film clip that acts as Gurung’s Resort 2012 presentation as well as the singer’s official video for her single, “New Thing.” Throughout the Kenneth Cappello-directed clip, Rye Rye performs in standout looks from the collection, which include resplendent, exotically patterned sweaters, hand-embroidered metallic shifts, and a showstopping cocktail dress with dégradé sequins that were “singed by hand“– a process that took months.
“He already had an idea set,” Rye Rye says of the collaborative process. “He just wanted to do different looks: a classier look, a more casual look, a crazy look.” She adds that she loved the way Gurung’s aesthetic made her feel “vibrant and classy– it’s two personalities in one”.
In an exclusive interview for Rolling Stone, the designer talks about the immortal union of fashion and music, where he’s heading next (and why we should pay attention), and why being dumb is never cute.
On making a music video: “Every house does a big fashion show for every season, as do I. But the Resort season is a unique opportunity to do something different: it’s the longest-selling season, which is great for business. It’s also a place where a designer can make stuff that’s not so focused on what works for the runway, but on the girls who can wear it. For this, I knew I wanted to do something different that would get people excited.
I wanted to avoid the usual fashion video clichés — girls in angst. I thought, ‘wouldn’t it be cool to just do a music video?’ A video inspired completely by fashion, by a specific collection, but that could function outside of that. We had zero budget, and at first people thought I was crazy for even thinking I could do it. But I said, ‘let’s try it.’ I loved Rye Rye’s music, so I reached out to her to see if she wanted to be involved. She was immediately up for it. The next thing you know, we’re in Los Angeles on a 90 person shoot. Suddenly, my idea was a real thing — a new thing for both of us — and now it’s an actual video called ‘New Thing.’ [Laughs]. ”
On expanding his (and his industry’s) horizons: “Fashion is so creative, but it can be so rigid in its presentation. Music is obviously a huge inspiration to so many designers, including myself. I’m hoping to help change the dialogue in the industry — that you can present clothing in a way that really gets people as excited as they do about music by experiencing it through music. It’s a new kind of conversation.”
On what being a member of the CFDA means to him: “The CFDA and Vogue give you the tools to thrive — what you do with them is up to you. The only reason I can do Resort this year is because of the CFDA and Swarovski award money I earned. As a member of their Incubator program, I’ve been given an amazing support system: [I have] a work space and have been able to hire a mentor (Carolina Herrera) to strengthen my business model and long-term plans. I’d never have survived this long without their support. I started this line with literally $4,000 and no outside help.”
On his relationship with music: “I love so many types of music. My dad was a guitar player, so I grew up listening to The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, that kind of thing. Then in the Eighties, it was all about Duran Duran, Madonna, and A-Ha for me. I also had a massive Nirvana and Radiohead phase. But I also could listen to MC Hammer. It depends on my mood, what phase I’m in. What I can say is that I’m really not fond of Autotune. I’m trying to learn how to appreciate it, but I guess I’d like for singers with real chops to be played on the radio.”
On his ideal muse: “I’ve always loved intelligent girls, no matter how they look. To be able to hold a conversation with someone is so important. The moment someone acts dumb, I lose interest. I think about the subtext and layers of a person when I design. I design for someone who has interest in the space around her, who is aware of her relationship with the world, someone a little evolved, a little concerned. I think putting more women in power will help solve a lot of problems in the world. It troubles me that the media celebrate women acting like bimbos on TV — it’s not cute, it’s ridiculous. I call it “Paris Hilton Syndrome”; there’s a place for that superficiality — but it must neutralized by an equally powerful, intelligent counterforce in culture. I don’t want to perpetuate the wrong ideal. For integrity’s sake, say no to a lot of people who ask to wear our clothes!”
On New York design: “It’s a very business driven fashion city, but that can be the beauty of it. You can be creative and commercially viable — that’s the challenge that keeps everyone here. With no investor, it’s so hard. But it’s worth it; every day you feel alive, trying to make it work. That’s why people love New York. I do believe this is the only city you can survive as a young designer. In Paris, there aren’t really any new, emerging designers; it’s very couture driven. In London, there’s a youthful vitality and creativity, but there’s often a ceiling on the impact you can have outside the country.”
Watch Rye Rye’s Video for “New Thing”:
• Video: Rye Rye Performs “Shake It to the Ground,” “Bang” and “Sunshine”
• Artist to Watch: Rapper Rye Rye Updates Baltimore Club Music
• Listen: Rye Rye’s First Mixtape is a High-Energy Intro to M.I.A.’s Protégée