The Topic

The Making of a Met Gala Gown: Prabal Gurung on Couture Design and a Diverse Message

by Tatiana Hambro 

SHOP THE FULL COLLECTION

The Topic

The Making of a Met Gala Gown: Prabal Gurung on Couture Design and a Diverse Message

by Tatiana Hambro 

SHOP THE FULL COLLECTION

Monday evening, New York City. Clad in bronze sequins, hand on hip and chin raised, Ashley Graham exudes fierce strength worthy of Joan of Arc. The blonde and blue-eyed Diane Kruger is a picture of divine grace in her cathedral train embroidered with crystal-and-pearl fleur-de-lis. Japanese model Hikari Mori, in a pistachio-green flounce mermaid gown, channels the gentle purity of the garden of Eden—prelapsarian. It was the Costume Institute’s Annual Met Gala—widely-watched for its fashion viewing pleasure—and the women above lived out a fantasy in those dresses that night. However, for Prabal Gurung (the designer behind the magical dresses and five more), the Met represented more than just a single evening. 

Monday evening, New York City. Clad in bronze sequins, hand on hip and chin raised, Ashley Graham exudes fierce strength worthy of Joan of Arc. The blonde and blue-eyed Diane Kruger is a picture of divine grace in her cathedral train embroidered with crystal-and-pearl fleur-de-lis. Japanese model Hikari Mori, in a pistachio-green flounce mermaid gown, channels the gentle purity of the garden of Eden—prelapsarian. It was the Costume Institute’s Annual Met Gala—widely-watched for its fashion viewing pleasure—and the women above lived out a fantasy in those dresses that night. However, for Prabal Gurung (the designer behind the magical dresses and five more), the Met represented more than just a single evening. 

“The Met Gala is the ultimate celebration of fashion and glamour in all of its glory,” says Gurung, who started planning in September, taking a “sentimental” journey through his archives and honing in on signatures and career-defining moments. Landmark “firsts” can be found everywhere. Take the sculptural bow on actress Deepika Padukone’s striking cardinal red gown. It’s pulled from Fall ‘09—a groundbreaking collection which made the cover of WWD and cemented the designer as a standout New York talent. Or look at Hailee Steinfeld. Save for the racy, hip-kissing slit, her otherwise angelic Met Gala dress nods to her first Prabal Gurung red carpet “moment” at the 2011 Golden Globes. (The then-teenager was nominated for her role in True Grit and presented an award alongside a prepubescent Justin Bieber.) 

“The Met Gala is the ultimate celebration of fashion and glamour in all of its glory,” says Gurung, who started planning in September, taking a “sentimental” journey through his archives and honing in on signatures and career-defining moments. Landmark “firsts” can be found everywhere. Take the sculptural bow on actress Deepika Padukone’s striking cardinal red gown. It’s pulled from Fall ‘09—a groundbreaking collection which made the cover of WWD and cemented the designer as a standout New York talent. Or look at Hailee Steinfeld. Save for the racy, hip-kissing slit, her otherwise angelic Met Gala dress nods to her first Prabal Gurung red carpet “moment” at the 2011 Golden Globes. (The then-teenager was nominated for her role in True Grit and presented an award alongside a prepubescent Justin Bieber.) 

“The Met Gala is the ultimate celebration of fashion and glamour in all of its glory,” says Gurung, who started planning in September, taking a “sentimental” journey through his archives and honing in on signatures and career-defining moments. Landmark “firsts” can be found everywhere. Take the sculptural bow on actress Deepika Padukone’s striking cardinal red gown. It’s pulled from Fall ‘09—a groundbreaking collection which made the cover of WWD and cemented the designer as a standout New York talent. Or look at Hailee Seinfeld. Save for the racy, hip-kissing slit, her otherwise angelic Met Gala dress nods to her first Prabal Gurung red carpet “moment” at the 2011 Golden Globes. (The then-teenager was nominated for her role in True Grit and presented an award alongside a prepubescent Justin Bieber.)

“The Met Gala is the ultimate celebration of fashion and glamour in all of its glory,” says Gurung, who started planning in September, taking a “sentimental” journey through his archives and honing in on signatures and career-defining moments. Landmark “firsts” can be found everywhere. Take the sculptural bow on actress Deepika Padukone’s striking cardinal red gown. It’s pulled from Fall ‘09—a groundbreaking collection which made the cover of WWD and cemented the designer as a standout New York talent. Or look at Hailee Seinfeld. Save for the racy, hip-kissing slit, her otherwise angelic Met Gala dress nods to her first Prabal Gurung red carpet “moment” at the 2011 Golden Globes. (The then-teenager was nominated for her role in True Grit and presented an award alongside a prepubescent Justin Bieber.)

Though everyone loves a reimagining, self-referential design alone does not a Met Gala gown make. As the only red carpet to celebrate fashion per se (what the Oscars are to the movie business, the Met Ball is to the fashion industry), it provides a celebrated space for total creative freedom and unabashed craftsmanship—it’s where the magic is truly allowed to happen (no customers to worry about, no buyers to consider). Prime example: Rihanna’s yellow cape from 2015 (you know the one). It may have been immortalized into omelet memes, but no one could deny the staggering beauty of Chinese couturier Guo Pei’s workmanship.

Though everyone loves a reimagining, self-referential design alone does not a Met Gala gown make. As the only red carpet to celebrate fashion per se (what the Oscars are to the movie business, the Met Ball is to the fashion industry), it provides a celebrated space for total creative freedom and unabashed craftsmanship—it’s where the magic is truly allowed to happen (no customers to worry about, no buyers to consider). Prime example: Rihanna’s yellow cape from 2015 (you know the one). It may have been immortalized into omelet memes, but no one could deny the staggering beauty of Chinese couturier Guo Pei’s workmanship.

Accordingly, Gurung—a ready-to-wear designer very much associated with wearability and, dare we say it, practicality—seized the opportunity to adopt a couture approach. "We essentially designed an entire Atelier Prabal Gurung collection,” he says. Characterizing the process as “vigorous,” he worked “tirelessly” to source exquisite fabrics and finesse every detail. For instance, the pearl and crystal embroidery on Diane Kruger’s cathedral-length train required 300 hours of meticulous hand work; it took months of back and forth before the right shade of yellow duchess satin—"Renaissance yellow"— was selected for Gabrielle Union; over 250,000 crystals were individually hand stitched into a cross motif on Mexican actress Eiza González’s column gown. That’s a quarter of a million crystals.

Accordingly, Gurung—a ready-to-wear designer very much associated with wearability and, dare we say it, practicality—seized the opportunity to adopt a couture approach. "We essentially designed an entire Atelier Prabal Gurung collection,” he says. Characterizing the process as “vigorous,” he worked “tirelessly” to source exquisite fabrics and finesse every detail. For instance, the pearl and crystal embroidery on Diane Kruger’s cathedral-length train required 300 hours of meticulous hand work; it took months of back and forth before the right shade of yellow duchess satin—"Renaissance yellow"— was selected for Gabrielle Union; over 250,000 crystals were individually hand stitched into a cross motif on Mexican actress Eiza González’s column gown. That’s a quarter of a million crystals.

With at least eight crowns, countless crosses and even a six-foot pair of angel wings (Katy Perry, we’re looking at you), it was clear the theme Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination served as a strong source of inspiration. There was even a Joan of Arc (a choice by Zendaya we thought was both chic and inspired). However, if you do the math, Gurung began his process eight months prior to the first Monday in May, long before the theme had been announced. And so his starting point became his women. “This was my first time hosting a table,” he explains. “Such a big moment deserves an incredibly strong representation of some of the beautiful and inspiring muses of mine from around the world.”

With at least eight crowns, countless crosses and even a six-foot pair of angel wings (Katy Perry, we’re looking at you), it was clear the theme Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination served as a strong source of inspiration. There was even a Joan of Arc (a choice by Zendaya we thought was both chic and inspired). However, if you do the math, Gurung began his process eight months prior to the first Monday in May, long before the theme had been announced. And so his starting point became his women. “This was my first time hosting a table,” he explains. “Such a big moment deserves an incredibly strong representation of some of the beautiful and inspiring muses of mine from around the world.”

Enter the women: the voluptuous and outspoken Graham, Union as the activist actress, leading Bollywood lady Padukone, the Chinese model and Givenchy poster girl Ming Xi, Latin superstar González, German actress and fashion plate Kruger, Japanese model Hikari Mori and 21-year-old actress-turned-pop sensation Steinfeld. Spotlighting a mix of races, ages, body shapes and talents, this diverse group (who, between them, boast an Instagram following north of 50 million) champion the designer’s politics. And for Gurung—born in Singapore, raised in Nepal and now based in New York—politics and fashion are inextricably linked.“The world I want to live in is diverse and representative, it is stronger in color” he says. “With everything we do, we aim to celebrate these ideals. And this is exactly what we did: we brought together eight remarkable women to have a ‘seat at the table’.”

Enter the women: the voluptuous and outspoken Graham, Union as the activist actress, leading Bollywood lady Padukone, the Chinese model and Givenchy poster girl Ming Xi, Latin superstar González, German actress and fashion plate Kruger, Japanese model Hikari Mori and 21-year-old actress-turned-pop sensation Steinfeld. Spotlighting a mix of races, ages, body shapes and talents, this diverse group (who, between them, boast an Instagram following north of 50 million) champion the designer’s politics. And for Gurung—born in Singapore, raised in Nepal and now based in New York—politics and fashion are inextricably linked.“The world I want to live in is diverse and representative, it is stronger in color” he says. “With everything we do, we aim to celebrate these ideals. And this is exactly what we did: we brought together eight remarkable women to have a ‘seat at the table’.”

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