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Who Gets to Be American?

September 9, 2019, 6:37 PM UTC
Victor Virgile/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

At a recent meeting, Nepalese-American fashion designer Prabal Gurung mentioned he wanted to define a new America and was challenged by somebody in the room: “Well, you don’t look American.” It was crystal clear, he said, “what the implication was.”

That’s what set him thinking about “what does America mean? America to me is the sum of all things,” said Gurung, who produces 80% to 90% of his designs in his home base of New York. “Everyone coming together, and that’s the America I came for.”

At New York Fashion Week, Gurung’s runway show on Sunday featured models with flower crowns and beauty pageant sashes labeled with the fundamental question of the day: Who gets to be American?

Further defining America’s diversity, there were hanging bouquets mixed with flags from around the world, and models who were plus-size, nonbinary, and those of all colors.

Flowers festoon Prabal Gurung’s spring/summer 2020 collection.
Victor Virgile/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

Gurung, whose customers include Michelle Obama, celebrated some standards of American fashion as well, cowboy boots included, juxtaposing denim, sportswear influences, and grand colorful gowns for evening.

“I wanted to explore this idea of what America looks like, what Americana looks like, who does America belong to? For me, as an immigrant who came here almost 20 years ago, I came here to chase the American dream of hope, of possibility,” he told The Associated Press backstage. “I’ve been able to contribute to the American economy.”

Tie-dye prints were featured in Prabal Gurung’s runway.
Victor Virgile/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

For spring/summer 2020, his show finale included the sash-draped models. Floral prints dominated, specifically the rose.

“It’s my favorite flower and also America’s national flower,” said Gurung, whose high-end clothes are sold in specialty retailers such as Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus, but who’s had lower-priced collections sold at discounter Target.

Models wore his crowns of flowers and also carried bunches in baskets and bouquets, as if the blooms were “welcoming different kinds of people in this world, in this country,” Gurung said.

He put roses of purple, red, and yellow on everything from sashes and his statement gowns to men’s trousers and shirts. There was an optimistic shine to many of his looks. Others were adorned with loose feathers.

Floral imagery is a sign of welcome.
Victor Virgile/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

Gurung mixed his celebratory roses with tie-die prints. One men’s look in denim included open red lace at the shoulders and black cowboy boots. Another pair of cowboy boots came in red, worn with jeans, and a sleeveless white cotton T-shirt.

New York fashion designer Prabal Gurung.

It wasn’t all about the flowers. One sleeveless dress with a high-side slit was a sparkling patchwork of green, purple, pink, and yellow squares and triangles.

“There’s the pragmatism of T-shirts and jeans and there’s the fantasy and beautiful glamour of the eveningwear,” Gurung said. “I wanted to marry those two and really question, who does this country belong to?”

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