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Prabal Gurung Enters the Beauty Realm

During a break from putting the finishing touches on his spring collection, the designer turns animated as he shows off his first cosmetics line.

During a break from putting the finishing touches on his spring collection, Prabal Gurung turns animated as he shows off his first cosmetics line, which he hopes will be the initial step in building a thriving beauty business.

A collaboration with MAC Cosmetics, Gurung’s 14-stockkeeping-unit collection, will launch Nov. 26 in MAC stores in North America and in December in all of the brand’s international stores except China — although those who attend the designer’s show on Sept. 6 will get a preview of it.

The 35-year-old Gurung, who was born in Singapore and raised in Nepal, can still describe every nuance of his mother’s cosmetics case during his formative years, and talks fondly of saving her compacts after she’d finished with them. “My love of fashion and beauty began when I was a kid,” said Gurung, during an exclusive interview in his Midtown Manhattan showroom. “It was my comfort, my escape. I didn’t know the beauty brands or the big designers when I was really young, but I was fascinated by the packaging and the beautiful boxes. It was almost magical. I’d see my mom come home from work and put on all this makeup and it would be a total transformation happening, and [I saw] the confidence that came with that.”

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While Gurung always dreamed of going into fashion, pursuing it as a career wasn’t a dream he, as a child, was sure would be fulfilled. “Nobody thought fashion designing was a career path in Nepal,” he said ruefully. “But being able to make a living from it gives me the utmost joy.”

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Gurung started his own label in 2009. He was quickly recognized for his work, winning the Ecco Domani Fashion Foundation Award in 2010 and receiving a nomination for the 2010 CFDA Swarovski Womenswear Award. He was also chosen for the CFDA Fashion Incubator for 2010-2012, and in November 2010 was awarded runner-up for the 2010 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund award. Despite his rapidly ascending status in the fashion world, Gurung was surprised at the speed with which the beauty opportunity happened.

“I’ve always wanted to do this kind of stuff and I never thought it was going to happen in my fifth year [in business],” he said. “This package holds a lot of emotions. I can’t wait to give [the collection] to my mom. It’s almost like a full-circle thing for me, because that’s where my fashion dream started.”

MAC, which began supporting Gurung’s shows early on, was the most logical partner for the endeavor. “We support young designers — such as Prabal and Proenza Schouler early on, and then later we do collections as they mature and gain stature,” said James Gager, MAC’s senior vice president and creative director. “We nurture people along and help them — that’s built into our DNA.”

“The relationship [with MAC], from Day One, has been amazing,” said Gurung. “So when they came to me with this opportunity, I jumped at the chance. I’m really sensitive and emotional, so I really need to feel that connection with a brand. And MAC has a philosophy I believe in. The one universal truth I really believe in is that every woman — no matter her shape, size or race — wants to look beautiful. I wanted to create that. I wanted the packaging to be beautiful — so beautiful that when a woman takes it out of her purse, it becomes a topic of conversation. I design [apparel] at a luxury price point, and I wanted to make sure that the product that I came out with — particularly as this is my first foray into beauty — was in sync with my brand.”

The weighty, detailed gold pieces in Gurung’s lineup push the boundaries price point-wise for MAC. A bronzing powder, a cream color base and a square-handled buffer brush each retail for $70, while three eye-shadow duos will cost $40 apiece, and three lipsticks and three Lipglasses will sell for $30 each. Rounding out the collection are a black eye pencil, $20, and a Chromagraphic pencil, also $20.

For his line’s packaging, Gurung noted that he was also inspired by artists Damien Hirst and Sylvie Fleury and photographer Nick Knight. “There’s always a slightly subversive view to their beauty,” Gurung said. “I wanted to create something really beautiful that has that little bit of edge.”

Gurung intends for the collection to be buildable. “Take a lipstick — [a woman can] dab a bit on earlier in the day, and as the day progresses, turns into evening, turns into night, she darkens it and maybe puts a Lipglass over it and a little bit of shimmer on the cheeks.

“I always feel, whether it’s getting dressed or putting on makeup, it’s ritualistic, a very spiritual process that a woman has,” Gurung continued. “We men don’t have the opportunity to do that. As time-consuming as it might be, it’s really a time for you and yourself, deciding how you want to feel, how you want to look. Whether you have 20 minutes or an hour to get ready, I wanted that moment to really be something that makes a woman feel beautiful.”

While Gurung and MAC executives declined to discuss sales projections, industry sources estimated the limited-edition collection could do upward of $2 million in its six weeks on counter.

Gurung is eager to take a deeper dive into beauty. “This was sort of a testing ground, and what an amazing testing ground it is,” he said of the MAC collection, adding that he’d love to do a fragrance, as well as additional color cosmetics.

But through it all, Gurung doesn’t forget where he comes from, and gives back to his home country with Shikshya Foundation Nepal, a foundation that provides education to underprivileged children. “What I love the most [about succeeding in fashion] is that it’s given me the opportunity to touch other lives back in Nepal, to help in a very small way,” he said.