New York Fashion Week

Designer deeply affected by Nepal earthquake, as was his spring collection

Fashion designer Prabal Gurung says his life was 'forever changed' by April earthquake that devastated his homeland. It made him reflect on his impressions of Nepal - impressions he drew on for collection he presented in New York

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 September, 2015, 9:59am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 September, 2015, 10:23am

Fashion designers wander through museums taking notes. They attend countless movies. They rifle through rare books and listen to esoteric forms of music. They love eccentric personalities and fictional characters who have inconceivably impractical wardrobes. They hunt for inspiration from myriad sources and sometimes the explanations for their collections read like a dense dissertation on post-modernism or the history of Le Corbusier.

And what does all of that intellectualism do for the clothes? Often, not much.

As designers unveil their spring 2016 collections in New York this week, they have posted inspiration as diverse as Brutalist architecture, Nina Simone, psychedelic trips and Goa in India. But ultimately, some of the most beautiful clothes have resulted when designers simply allowed the personal to guide their hand - and the clothes are a reflection of who they are and how they relate to their world.

Prabal Gurung, whose collections Harvey Nichols carries in Hong Kong, opened his show with the solemn and soothing chants of a chorus of Buddhist monks. As the audience waited in a darkened loft with its high wooden beams soaring overhead, the monks silently assembled at the top of the catwalk. With soft lights illuminating their saffron robes, the low rumble of their voices moved gently across the room.

When they finished, they left silently. The audience was silent, too. And then the show’s music rumbled to life and the first models appeared dressed in flowing dresses in shades of saffron, burnt orange and gold.

The collection reflected what has been a difficult year for Gurung. The designer grew up in Nepal and felt the devastation of the earthquake there deeply. As he wrote in his show notes, "Saturday, April 25, 2015 changed my life forever." Gurung has family and friends in Nepal, and the images of the destruction there left him reeling. He set out to raise money through his foundation to help the victims. So far, he has raised more than US$613,000 via online charitable fundraising site Crowdrise.

As he worked to do what he could for loved ones on the other side of the world, he also began - as so many people would - to reminisce about his childhood, about the Nepal landscape, about the sounds and smells that immediately make him think of home. And he created a collection that recalls those daydreams, as well as the depth of the country’s history.

The result is a collection that is full of ease and beauty. At times, Gurung’s work can feel constricted and overworked - too much technique getting in the way of creative expression. There were none of those hiccups in this collection. The clothes moved with grace; the embroidery was rich but not overwhelming; and he created subtle variation in colour by playing with the density of the fabric.

The show was, in some ways, Gurung’s thank you to the fashion industry for supporting the people of Nepal - for supporting him. His gift was in sharing a bit of what he holds dear. For an audience that considers a trip to Brooklyn a far-flung adventure, Gurung’s inspiration might have felt exotic and distant. But because his collection was rendered with such intimate emotions, the impact of his presentation was soulful and familiar.