- Associated Press - Thursday, August 19, 2010

NEW YORK (AP) - As cliches go, designer Prabal Gurung is the first to say he’s living the American dream: Kid from Nepal is now dressing first lady Michelle Obama on a regular basis.

Top fashion magazines heap praise on his work, celebrities call to borrow dresses, orders are flowing and surely his runway show next month at New York Fashion Week will be one of the hot tickets.

Yeah, Gurung says, life is good.

He takes issue, however, with being called an overnight success. Gurung has been sketching since he was a young boy and left Nepal for India to work as an apprentice, and then went to Australia and London assisting stylists. He flew clear across the world _ alone _ to land in New York, a place he’d never been before, attended Parsons The New School for Design, interned at Donna Karan and worked for Cynthia Rowley all before getting his big break as design director at Bill Blass.

Last fall marked his first formal collection presentation for editors, retailers and stylists under his own label, and he staged his first runway show in February.

“For 10 years, I’ve paid my dues, but everything has just now fallen into place,” he says.

Not that he’s unappreciative. During a recent interview, Gurung several times talked about the generosity of an industry that too often gets a bad rap for being cutthroat. As he gains success, he pledges to share his knowledge with even younger designers _ he won’t give his age, only saying he’s “young enough” _ and to try to keep busy the struggling old-school artisans who can do with feathers, beads and bows things that a machine can’t.

He applauds the work ethic he has found in the U.S. “I’m not a believer of luck. I think opportunity and hard work becomes luck.”

OK, well, he’ll allow one lucky thing: He tasted bacon for the first time within the first few days of his arrival in Manhattan. Now he’s hooked, joking it’s the one thing he probably couldn’t live without.

But what pushed him here in the first place? Bergdorf Goodman couldn’t be the end goal of too many young Singapore-born boys growing up in Nepal.

Oprah Winfrey made him do it.

“I was toying with doing something big like coming to New York. I watched `Oprah.’ I didn’t know who she was, but the show was about living your dream. I decided if it was going to be a mistake to come to New York and try and make a career in fashion, then it was going to be my mistake. … But the American dream is real. I’m living it. “

Gurung has thought about fashion for as long as he can remember. Sketching gave him peace, when, as a student at an all-boy Catholic school, he realized he wasn’t into all the games, sports and interests of his peers. He loved to watch his mother get ready for an evening out. He loves the ritual that women go through to get dressed, he says. “Women are so complex and layered. I’m fascinated by the colors they wear and how they’ll be transformed in clothes.”

He adds, “There is one universal truth: All women, all over the world, want to look beautiful. That is always the theme of my designs.”

Men, he says, stealing a quick glance at his own button-down shirt and jeans, aren’t nearly as interested.

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