By  on April 29, 2009

The mood at Prabal Gurung’s debut presentation in early February reflected his sculpted and glittery ready-to-wear — a feather-dusted cream cocktail dress; a crimson stunner worked into an enormous bow — which is to say it was glamorous and unrestrained. Cynthia Rowley, a former employer and mentor to Gurung, giddily wrapped the designer in a bear hug, while the actress Zoe Saldana, whom Gurung dressed for events during his years as a designer at Bill Blass, bounced on her heels while in line to greet him, exclaiming to one editor, “I flew all the way from California for this!” For Gurung, in that moment at least, it seemed the recessionary cloud that hovered over so many fall shows had drifted elsewhere.

Skip ahead two months, and Gurung, along with a group of his designer counterparts — fresh names like Bibhu Mohapatra, Matthew Ames and Nima Taherzadeh — are facing the realities of the difficult economy. “I started my business plan nine years ago, and my plan was always to launch in fall 2009,” Gurung explains. When Bill Blass shuttered in November and he left his design director position after five years, Gurung was already working on his own 21-piece lineup (as well as designing for private clients), though he did not anticipate this year’s shattered retail climate, nor the steep drop in wholesale pricing that many buyers are attempting to negotiate with designers. Yet while Gurung added a few jersey column dresses to the collection at the behest of buyers from Bloomingdale’s, where the lineup will be sold in the fall, he has otherwise stuck to his plan to grow slowly and maintain a grand aesthetic. “Tough times are when creativity is at its peak,” Gurung says. “You take everything into consideration and you come up with something that is desirable, aspirational and practical. My clothes are very expensive, but women will wear them for many years.”

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