When Prabal Gurung speaks, he sounds likes Keanu Reeves via London and comes across as philosophical, even when discussing fashion.
Enlightened surfer manner aside, he has quickly amassed a who's who of devotees, all drawn to his innate ability to marry sharp tailoring with soft draping.
Gurung, who was born in Singapore, grew up in Nepal and studied fashion in India and New York, got his professional feet wet as an intern for Donna Karan and then did stints at Cynthia Rowley and Bill Blass. Launched last year, his namesake label made an instant splash. Yet the first watershed moment came in the form of a Tweet care of Demi Moore, who first wore a Gurung creation in May.
On Monday, the Ecco Domani Fashion Foundation named the New York-based designer as one of seven winners who received $25,000 to put toward their fall 2010 shows. Gurung, who visited Toronto for the first time in November, shared some thoughts on achieving instant fame - and building a sustained brand - in the era of digital publicity.
Do you think the fashion industry is craving fresh blood?
Michelle Obama has been a great champion for young designers so, in that way, it's an exciting time. There was a need in American fashion and fashion in general for young designers who were not just making jeans and T-shirts, who knew the craft. I'm not a designer who makes trendy clothes. I have zero interest in that.
You've been working for 10 years, but to most people you're an overnight success. What are the challenges you're still facing?
I would say the highs and the lows are equally proportioned. I came from Bill Blass, where it was a well-oiled machine and if I said I needed a fabric, it was done. Now, I have to budget everything. I have to take on the role not just as a designer but a business. But I'm a glass half-full kind of guy.
Do you write all your Tweets?
I Tweet myself and do all the Facebook updates. It started off with me wondering whether I was showing off and I was very careful about what I wrote. Then I thought about it and decided that I'm treating this as a business. … It's opened up a wider audience. It has replaced all the millions of dollars I'd spend on advertising.
When women wear your dresses, they look poised and confident and never trashy.
It's my alternative to all the body-con dresses - women can still wear fitted dresses but not everything has to hang out. I love draping; it's less about proportion than fit and the fabric. It's very specialized and I think when women see the construction, they respond to it immediately.
What does contemporaryAmerican fashion mean to you?
It has to address the needs of modern women and the ways that everyone is different. But it also needs to be about well-made stuff. When the design meets the price, then a line really becomes successful.
Do you plan to introduce ancillary products, such as fragrance or bed linens?
Some designers don't feel the need to. I feel the need to and not so that girls who can't afford my dresses can buy a bag. That's the old cliché way of looking at it. For me, it's about beautiful design. I'm fascinated by furniture design and interiors and I want to try designing all that stuff.
Who else would you like to see in your clothes?
Who do you think?
Let me guess: Michelle Obama.
She embodies the woman that I design for: successful, smart, powerful, gracious enough to be her husband's wife but strong enough to put him in his place. That to me is an inspiring modern woman.
Are you enjoying all the attention?
It's great for my business, but it does nothing for my ego. It's fleeting. And you can't take things like this too seriously and let them go to your head and think you're fabulous. As each season passes by and accolades come my way, the end goal becomes clearer. The best thing I can tell you is all those years of hard work and doubts suddenly make sense. Everything falls into place.