Over the years, designers have found countless sources of inspiration for their creations, from the golden age of rail travel (Louis Vuitton, fall/winter 2012) to science-fiction fantasy (Gareth Pugh, always) and everything in between. Often, these themes reflect the designer’s fascination du jour, usually something fun and aspirational—less common is it to see a collection informed by personal trauma.
New York–based designer Prabal Gurung began creating his spring/summer 2016 collection last April just as Nepal, the country he grew up in, was devastated by the most violent earthquake to hit the region in 81 years. “I was watching everything I grew up with crumbling right in front of me,” says Gurung, who fondly recalls time spent roaming Kathmandu’s city squares and visiting monasteries scented with juniper incense. “It was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever experienced.” Inspired by permutations of nostalgia precipitated by grief, Gurung dedicated his entire spring/summer 2016 collection to Nepal. “I never realized that memories come back in bursts. Memories are not linear; you don’t think, ‘Well I grew up here, then moved there…’ [As I watched the news coverage of Nepal] these thoughts of jewellery or temples or the colours, they came to me.”
In the earthquake’s immediate aftermath, Gurung was able to mobilize the fashion community, raising over $1-million in aid through the non-profit Shikshya Foundation Nepal. His collection, which showed at New York Fashion Week this September, commenced when a chorus of 30 Buddhist monks incanted a prayer of gratitude. “I wanted to let the industry know I was very grateful,” says Gurung, who received special permission from the Dali Lama in order to secure the monks’ participation, “… and I wanted to re-focus on the devastation, which is still going on even though the world has since turned its attention elsewhere.”
The show opened with mist-light separates embellished with luminous brushstrokes inspired by the abstract canvases of Nepalese painter Laxman Shreshtha. Vibrancy built from there, with body-skimming gowns in sunset hues. “Saffrons and reds are very much the neutrals of Nepalese clothing,” says Gurung. “All the fabrics I used were custom done; one is a lace patterned on the intricate jewellery Nepalese women wear.” Gurung adores what he terms “femininity with bite”, a sharp and conclusively powerful incarnation of womanhood, epitomized in his spring/summer 2016 show by a sleek frock in dark, goddess gold. Yet this time while designing, Gurung had no tangible muse. “I was not thinking about a woman, per se. It was more about an essence,” he says. “This collection was about my childhood.”