Prabal Gurung works out five days a week, three with a trainer and two on his own or in a class at the Equinox gym in Soho. He’s been committed to this routine since giving up smoking three years ago. “Work is very demanding,” says Gurung. “I kind of want to be prepared.” He defines stress not as a sensation, rather an unexpected occurrence. It’s a thoughtful approach to a business that might unravel a less assured character. An example of Gurung’s take: When he was design director at Bill Blass and heard the house may be closing its doors, he didn’t lament the loss. He decided it would be the prompt to set out on his own. Around the same time, his friend, Tiina Laakonen, took him to lunch, sat him down and said, “I believe in you. Let me know if you need any help.” She’s now his stylist and the two remain close, often catching up during dinners at Indochine or Omen. Says Gurung, “She’s so insanely smart and generous.”
Gurung is himself generous having established a foundation in his native Nepal to educate and support twenty-three orphan and underprivileged women. His sister runs the organization there while working towards her graduate degree in English Literature (his brother works in Bollywood). “When you empower a woman, the whole family is empowered,” says Gurung. “They are the key to a better world. I firmly believe that.” He loves strong ladies like Oprah Winfrey, Indira Gandhi, Zadie Smith, Tilda Swinton and his dear friend Maggie Betts who has just released the documentary film The Carrier about the prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV. “Point of view is interesting,” Gurung says shouting out other favorites such as Sally Singer and Laakonen. Odds are they value a designer with an opinion too.
Doo-Ri Chung is serious about keeping things straight. “People in the industry feel ‘Oh, it’s fashion, it can be disorganized,’ but it’s a business,” she says. “Having a child made me realize that everything could be running so much more efficiently.” Chung and her husband just welcomed a little boy named Kip, but that hasn’t held her back. She recently moved across town to Murray Hill where she can walk to her midtown office each day. When she first started
her business in 2004, she was pulling a reverse commute to her parent’s basement in New Jersey. Now, Chung’s workspace has her sensibility all over it. There’s a mural by her husband, window shades with words in her handwriting, and a colorful illustration that she says will turn up in a future collection. Chung began her fashion studies as an illustrator and the starting point of this season was the work of English talent Aubrey Beardsley. It’s only a starting point though; Chung doesn’t go for nostalgia. “My girl is modern. I don’t like retro,” she says. She’s also very busy with her line of designs in less expensive fabrics. Underligne was inspired by seeing one of her collections knocked off sometime ago. “So, I thought we should knock ourselves off,” she says of her most popular jersey pieces. “We have all the patterns.”
Lucky for us, Billy Reid flunked out of his Physical Education studies and found himself behind the clothing line William Reid in 2001. Three years later, he started Billy Reid, the Florence, Alabama-based label he runs today. It’s just before his S/S 2012 presentation and he’s in the New York office before flying back down South. Savannah, a member of his team with a charming accent, is tending to the studio. She too is in town for a limited amount of time. Reid may be showing in New York, but he has a business to run with shops in Dallas, Houston, Nashville and Charleston. The Billy Reid collection was at once available only in its own freestanding stores. It may have been this uncommon approach that caught the eye of the CFDA / Vogue Fashion Fund, which awarded Reid it’s top honor last year, a prize that included the mentorship of J. Crew’s Jenna Lyons. “She gave me the best advice,” says Reid. “‘Be more confident about what you’re doing!’” He admits to feeling a little unsure as he made his way into womenswear. Enter the lovely stylist, Kathryn Neale, who Reid is working with this season. “We start with a very classic American base and try to put our spirit into that,” he says of the design process. This spirit is on full display during Reid’s annual Shingdig, a three day bonanza held the first weekend of June in Alabama. The music and food festival always features special talent like band The Civil Wars– singer, John Paul White lives around the corner from Reid–and Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys. “The fun thing about it is to watch everyone from out of town mingling with everyone who lives there,” Reid says of inviting his New York crew. Good thing he never became a gym teacher.
Richard Chai plans to finally get some vacation time after he presents his collection. Where’s he going? “Maybe somewhere I can actually look like someone in my show,” he says laughing. He’s been unable to make it the beach all summer. Chai will present both his men’s and women’s spring/ summer collections together today for the first time. “Tons of color, kind of an eye explosion” is how he describes the clothes, a break from last year’s more sombre palette. Chai’s been loving Korean pop, like the girl band 2NE1(look them up!) and he’s also more confident than ever before. We find him amid castings, taking a break on the fire escape.
This go around, he’s excited to look for some new faces. “It used to be about major girls to give your show credibility. Now, it can be about the message, about the point of view being right.” This means championing thoughtful beauties with substance. Chai cites his friend Pace Gallery’s Nicola Vassell as example. There’s one more thing he wants to champion and that’s the diversity among New York’s fashion talent. Sometimes, everyone’s quick to try and categorize a moment with a generalized heading like, say, Asian designers. Chai says we can lump together the Antwerp Six, as they all came from the one school, and the same may be said of the Junya-Comme clan, but this group isn’t a similar “collective.” Chai points out even the subtle difference in that Phillip Lim and Alexander Wang are from the West Coast while he grew up on the East Coast. “It’s great to be recognized,” he says, “but not as a movement. We’re all so individual with different backgrounds.”
Venditti knocked off two years of industry experience, including assisting Lori Goldstein for the first Galliano show—the one set in a circus tent—Italian Vogue shoots with Steven Meisel, and working with “Kate, Naomi, all those girls,” before settling on casting. “I wanted to collaborate on fashion projects, but my way in became character,” Venditti says. She found her niche when Dennis Freedman asked her to put together an editorial shoot with more than models. “I loved it: the beauty of real people in high fashion stories,” she says of the line up that included a sixteen year old Stella Schnabel. Early freelance assignments included a stint in Budapest looking for gypsies for a Yohji advertisement. “People would run away from me in the street,” she says. “At this point, I hadn’t found my philosophy or my rhythm.” That changed, as cast shows like Rick Owens, Louis Vuitton, and Rodarte while slowly veering into film, beginning on a trip to Maine to cast locals for the short film Bug Crush starring Donald Cumming.
Venditti went on to create the acclaimed movie, Billy the Kid, about a young boy with Asperger’s syndrome that she met while working on Bug Crush. “If you can get past differences, we’re all looking for the same thing,” she says of embracing random encounters. “You might miss meeting this awesome person because of your discomfort.” Venditti still contributes to commercial projects, as well as cinema, sustaining an impressive balance of both. Next up is the website entitled, Human Kinds (www.human-kinds.com). Says Venditti, “I realized the most important thing is intention. If you believe in it, others will, as well.”