Prabal Gurung: Who Gets To Be American?

While some view fashion as an escape from reality, it’s important to analyze dress from a historical point of view. Clothing acts like an artifact in the way that it expresses the nature of the era in which it comes from. Throughout time, fashion has acted as an outward expression of societal values and beliefs. 

Today’s designers are taking an active role in letting their collections act as a voice for the social issues closest to them. Prabal Gurung used his 10thanniversary collection as a platform to shed light on one of the United States most pressing political topics; immigration. Gurung has never been shy in sharing his point of view on controversial issues. In 2017 the brand sent models down the runway in slogan T-shirts supporting feminism. Since then, the brands T-shirt series has grown to cover social injustice issues including female empowerment, support for the LGBTQ+ community, and racial equality. A portion of T-shirt sales are donated to organizations including Planned Parenthood, American Civil Liberties Union, LGBT Center NYC, etc. 

Prabal Gurung Fall/Winter 2017  Photo: Yannis Vlamos

Prabal Gurung Fall/Winter 2017

Photo: Yannis Vlamos

In his show notes, Gurung shares that the divisive rhetoric of America’s current administration inspired him to redefine the faces of America. Gurung immigrated from Nepal to the United States 20 years ago in order to launch his fashion label which has now become the epitome of the American Dream. In his show notes Gurung recalls a business meeting in which he was met with the question, “You don’t look American, so how can you define what America is?”. Although his roots are in Nepal, Gurung considers himself American. He writes “As immigrants continue to birth this ‘New America’, we must remember all versions of our history and take ownership of our past while forging a new legacy”.  With the immigrant experience being core to his identity, Gurung created the Spring/Summer 2020 collection as a celebration of the American Dream. Gurung also highlights the contributions of Jose Antonio Vargas whom the label consulted with leading up to the show. Vargas is the author of “Dear America: Notes of an undocumented Citizen” in which he chronicles the hardships undocumented immigrants like himself experience on a daily basis. 

Prabal Gurung Spring/Summer 2020

Photos: Filippo Fior

Gurung very clearly pays homage to traditional American style. Raw denim and white shirting reimagine the classic t-shirt and jeans combo with a fashion-forward edge. A utilitarian aesthetic is highlighted through jumpsuits and practicality yet, juxtaposed with bright colors, embroidery, and feathers. Many looks were paired with western boots created in collaboration with American-made luxury boot company, Miron Crosby. Gurung shares in his notes that American craftsmanship played an important component in the show as 90% of the collection was made in New York City. Most notable is the collections use of the rose, Americas national flower. While real roses were incorporated throughout the shows styling, we saw rose floral prints layered throughput the collection in bold red and soft pastels. While we see Gurung’s inspiration throughout the show, it’s the finale that really drives his message home. A diverse cast of models proudly walk down the runway wearing sashes that read “Who Gets To Be American?”. The message challenges the viewer to redefine the historically exclusive world of American fashion. The collection was presented in a way that highlighted the voice of minority groups while celebrating the beauty of the multicultural society we live in.


Photo: Alessandro Viero

Photo: Alessandro Viero

Getty Images

Getty Images