Prabal Gurung Talks Dressing Kamala Harris and Fulfilling the American Dream

Sometimes life is sympatico, as was the case with Vice President Kamala Harris’ decision to wear a dress and coat designed by Prabal Gurung to Thursday’s virtual national prayer service.

The fact that the garnet-colored, double-faced wool crepe tailored ensemble was made in New York City was one of the footnotes in the Harris-Gurung connection. Born in Singapore and growing up in Nepal, the New York-based designer has taken a worldly view since starting his company in 2009. Gurung said Thursday, “I came here literally to fulfill the American dream. I came here knowing no one and went to Parsons. Having the first woman, a Black woman, a South Asian woman, from my part of the world, taking one of the highest offices in the world, it is really inspiring.”

Gurung also suited up Harris for the Democratic National Convention last summer, and he has known her niece Meena for a few years, after connecting on social media over shared values. The younger Harris also wore a Prabal Gurung design for a virtual event Tuesday night.

Looking at images of Harris and her mother wearing saris, and considering who Harris and her family are, reminded Gurung of his own nieces, sisters, cousins and extensive family. “Now it seems possible that we can all dream big. After four years of an absolute torturous regime, [we] see this new hope. Even since yesterday there is a renewal of hope, optimism, and the America that I came for — the land of the misfits, the land of hardworking people achieving their dreams. It means a lot,” he said.

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The designer declined to say how he connected with Kamala Harris’ team.

This is not Gurung’s first political rodeo. He recalled how after he dressed Michelle Obama for the first time, his mother told him, “Your success is no longer yours. It can no longer be yours. It’s for Nepal, for America and for millions of people, who are like you from far, far away lands who thought it couldn’t be possible. This is what America represents so you have to be very thoughtful about that,” Gurung said. “Kamala Harris wearing my stuff really reaffirms my belief in that.”

Additionally, the designer said his longest mission in life has been dismantling patriarchy, which he believes is “the root of the majority of the problems in this world.” Noting how female empowerment, leadership and energy are being sought, Gurung said timely topics like sustainability, caring for each other and vulnerability used to be associated with women and weakness. “To see Kamala Harris in this position defies everything. She is the epitome of hope, optimism and resilience. That is what we need to resist the patriarchy and all the divisive rhetoric.”

Global-minded as he is, Gurung was energized by the number of New York designers represented in the inaugural festivities. “To see New York designers at the forefront, some known, some unknown, some up-and-coming and incredibly talented, really sells a lot to the world. Yes, we may not have a conglomerate but what American fashion is all about is soul. It is independent designers and entrepreneurs who are living their dreams often without investments. When I saw all of these designers — Christopher John Rogers, Kerby [Jean-Raymond], Jonathan Cohen, Markarian — I was so excited. This is what New York is. We walk the fine line between politics and style, style and substance. That has been the mantra for my brand from Day One and is also who I am as a person.”

After last summer’s social movement, designers are getting well-earned recognition, he noted. Passion only goes so far and grit is what is needed from his point of view. “How long are you willing to be in the game and do it with intention?” is the question from his point of view.

“This particular moment is more a celebration of success or recognition with conscience, and intention is what the world needs right now. That’s the leadership the Biden-Harris administration has.”

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