Prabal Gurung

“I have no delusional grandeur,” Prabal Gurung told Women’s Wear Daily in 2009, on the brink of launching his career. “I have always wanted to start my business really small, very humbly and modestly. I want the clothes to speak for themselves.”

Well, he got one of his wishes, anyway. At his debut show, Gurung’s distinct brand of lady cool came through loud and clear. Already in evidence in that first, polished collection: a clever hand at draping, a comprehension of graphic color, and a boldness that banished any notions of nicey-nice.

“A thinking man’s sex symbol,” Gurung later said of his ideal customer. “A beautiful woman with brains, a lethal combination.” No surprise, then, that two of Vogue’s It girls, Carey Mulligan and Zoe Saldana—among the new breed of red carpet trailblazer who put self before stylist—started wearing the label. In 2011, Rooney Mara, star of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, flashed her dark side at the film’s New York premiere in a sexy-sharp Prabal Gurung LBD with killer cutouts.

Topping off Gurung’s talent is his nice-guy reputation. Raised in Nepal, his heart is strongly connected to home: In 2011, Vogue spotlighted his Shikshya Foundation Nepal charity for the education of young girls, funded in part with his CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund prize winnings. “[T]hrough clothes—as little as it may sound in terms of the bigger picture of humanity—my interest has always been about empowerment,” he told the magazine. Given that Gurung has said he believes the world would be a better place if more women were in power, his humble endeavor sounds pretty grand indeed.

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