While the fashion industry has come a long way toward becoming more inclusive, designer Prabal Gurung, who strives for size and racial diversity in his shows, says there's still a long way to go.
In an interview about his second collaboration with Lane Bryant, which launches Sept. 25, he spoke about the importance of calling out brands that aren't inclusive — and did some calling out himself.
Congrats on your beautiful collection at New York Fashion Week, and now another great collaboration with Lane Bryant. Why did you get involved with Lane Bryant to begin with?
I found our industry to be very myopic. [Fashion] has a one-dimensional idea of beauty. To me, beauty is inclusion — every size, every color — that's the world I live in. It was important to me that thiswoman was addressed ... that she, too, has a seat at the table.
What's your favorite piece from this latest collection?
The coat. It's gray with a faux fur attached to it. I just love it, I based it off my own collection. Come fall, I think every woman needs it. Wear [anything] beneath it, put the fur on, and you'll still look fabulous.
There's been a lot of progress toward inclusivity in fashion recently. What do you think is driving the change?
The fashion industry got away with [its] bad behavior for the longest time. It is very high school, mean girls. [The reason we're seeing this now is because] the digital world made everything transparent and gave the power to the people, and the people called it out, demanded [a change]. It is still far behind, though. I know I'm not the only designer — there's Christian Siriano, Michael Costello — a few of us are size-inclusive. But it's not enough.
We still have a long way to go.
After my first collection with Lane Bryant, a woman came up to me at an art gallery and she was like, "Why are you designing clothes for fat people?" I was just like, [makes a shocked face]. And she goes, "Oh, I'm just joking!" I sat her down and said, "First of all, it's not funny. Also, words have power, they impact lives, and people like you who say [things like that] is why I want to do it. I want you to change your perception."
Who do you think is the biggest offender in this area right now?
Actual change is going to start happening when it happens in Europe. European fashion week is the worst, they are notoriously horrible at including people, and nobody calls it out. It is about time.
Can we expect them to come to this conclusion on their own?
People [in fashion] lack courage. They need X, Y, Z people to do it first to think it's fashionable. That's how the industry works. We can't sit back and think [designers and] decision-makers will make a change. We have to demand it. If I make a mess of myself, call me out! That's when change happens.
Is it possible they think designing for curvy women is harder?
No. [These designers] are lazy. They're lazy! It's not harder at all. Everyone's body is different, even size 4, 6, 8. It's always going to be different, but that's what designing is. It is problem-solving. It's not just adding glitter and embroidery and calling it a day.
Size inclusivity isn't the only issue near and dear to your heart. Why is it important to you to spread positive messages about feminism?
I grew up with a single mother who brought us up. I always look back at my career, and everything that has happened to me is because of the support of women. My mother, my sister, Michelle Obama, Kate Middleton — all these women have believed in my designs and worn them, and given me a platform to increase my visibility.
Immigration is another issue you touch on in your designs and your shows.
I'm an immigrant myself. This country is built by immigrants. To see what's happening in Americaever since Trump has become president is shocking to me, because I always thought it was something that happened in an under-developed country. I never thought I would see that here and I think it is sad. But while it is disheartening to see all this misogyny and discrimination, the flip side to that is that people are talking about — we here are talking about — politics. We are talking about inclusivity, immigrants. So I have to look at the bright side too, whatever little bright side we have. People are awake. I hope this conversation doesn't die down.
When you came to this country, was there an idea that you had about what it was, and has that idea changed?
I came here because I wanted to live the American dream that I had heard of. And I'm a perfect example. I came to New York, I knew no one. I've made a career, a life, so I still believe in that. The thing that I knew, but didn't ever know on this level, was the bigotry and racism that has come to the forefront. That was always hushed. All of a sudden [it's out here in plain sight], and it's a wake-up call for all of us. Fashion has a huge responsibility — in what we show on the runway, what we do in editorial, who we dress — to make sure it represents differences. If we don't, we're giving into the discrimination. That's what I believe in.
This interview has been edited and condensed.