Prabal Gurung on Anti-Asian Violence, Discrimination and the Duties of Success

Prabal Gurung, the Nepalese-American designer, has been a vocal proponent of inclusion and diversity since his first show in 2009. In the wake of the Atlanta shootings and an upswing in anti-Asian violence, he talked to The New York Times about his own experiences and what his work has to do with it.

How do you grapple with what’s going on?

To watch a video of a 65-year-old woman being brutally attacked is triggering and heart-wrenching, not just for me but for my friends and people from my community. We all are so worried for our loved ones. My mother goes on walks every morning and evening. She’s 75-years-old. A couple of weeks ago, I bought a blond wig for her, and I said, “You know, just wear it when you go outside, wear a hat, wear glasses.” She tried it on. But the next day she came over to my place, and she was like: “I’m not going to wear it. Just buy me a big, strong cane.” That is the reality of this.

Is that why you were an organizer of a Black and Asian solidarity march with other designers and activists in March?

We didn’t know how many people were going to show up, but thousands and thousands of people showed up across races and gender: L.G.B.T.Q. friends, Latin friends, Black friends, Asian friends, white friends. What we recognize is that for this particular moment to turn into a movement, we have to have all the marginalized groups and our white counterparts coming together.

Oh, a wave of Asian designers.” Then there’s a wave of Black designers, a wave of women designers. We never say a wave of white designers. We are never considered designers on our own. So that kind of implicit bias, that kind of microaggression, we face it all the time.

Did you experience it when you were trying to get financial backing for your business?

For my 10-year anniversary I was at a potential investors meeting, and one asked, “What does the brand stand for?” I said: “The America that I see is very colorful. The dinner table that I see is very colorful. It’s diverse. That’s the America that was promised to me. That’s why I came here, because I was a misfit back home.” And he says to me, “Well, you don’t look American.” I looked at him, and I was like, “You mean to say I don’t look white?”

“It’s OK,” I said. “I’ve been in business in America for 20 years. I’m a citizen. I make more than 90 percent of my clothes in New York City. I am actively involved in social causes. I’ve contributed to my taxes.”

torrent of hate and violence against people of Asian descent around the U.S. began last spring, in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. Community leaders say the bigotry was spurred by the rhetoric of former President Trump, who referred to the coronavirus as the “China virus.”

  • In New York, a wave of xenophobia and violence has been compounded by the economic fallout of the pandemic, which has dealt a severe blow to New York’s Asian-American communities. Many community leaders say racist assaults are being overlooked by the authorities.
  • In January, an 84-year-old man from Thailand was violently slammed to the ground in San Francisco, resulting in his death at a hospital two days later. The attack, captured on video, has become a rallying cry.
  • Eight people, including six women of Asian descent, were killed in the Atlanta massage parlor shootings on March 16. The suspect’s motives are under investigation, but Asian communities across the United States are on alert because of a surge in attacks against Asian-Americans over the past year.
  • A man has been arrested and charged with a hate crime in connection with a violent attack on a Filipino woman near Times Square on March 30. The attack sparked further outrage after security footage appeared to show bystanders failing to immediately come to the woman’s aid.
  • Part of what you are trying to do with your work is educate people about the nuances of different Asian cultures, right?

    Asian-Americans are the fastest growing immigrant group in the U.S. electorate, with roots all over the world. We are diverse. I look East Asian, right? But I’m from Southeast Asia. I sit in the center of the brown Asians and the other Asians. The wealth disparity between the richest Asian-Americans and the poorest is insanely high. I think maybe the largest of any ethnic group in this country. In spite of that, there is a myth of the model minority, of crazy rich Asians. That’s why “Parasite” is important, why “Minari” is important. Give us the platform so we can tell our stories.

    This stereotyping doesn’t make you angry?

    I’m OK with people making mistakes because it can start a dialogue that leads to a solution. I refuse to cancel people unless there’s something really harmful.

    Fashion is one of the hardest and most arduous industries, but it’s also an industry that can reward you in the most splendid, incredible way. And it is the only industry where in 10 minutes on a runway we can really change the narrative of what the culture can be. That’s the power of fashion.

    I am a living example of it, coming from a country like Nepal where nobody believed I could be a designer. To be able to live that dream and to have this platform. It’s been really incredible.


    This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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    What is Going on with China, Cotton and All of These Clothing Brands?

    Last week, calls for the cancellation of H&M and other Western brands went out across Chinese social media as human rights campaigns collided with cotton sourcing and political gamesmanship. Here’s what you need to know about what’s going on and how it may affect everything from your T-shirts to your trench coats.

    What’s all this I’m hearing about fashion brands and China? Did someone make another dumb racist ad?

    No, it’s much more complicated than an offensive and obvious cultural faux pas. The issue centers on the Xinjiang region of China and allegations of forced labor in the cotton industry — allegations denied by the Chinese government. Last summer, many Western brands issued statements expressing concerns about human rights in their supply chain. Some even cut ties with the region all together.

    Now, months later, the chickens are coming home to roost: Chinese netizens are reacting with fury, charging the allegations are an offense to the state. Leading Chinese e-commerce platforms have kicked major international labels off their sites, and a slew of celebrities have denounced their former foreign employers.

    growing political and economic implications. On the one hand, as the pandemic continues to roil global retail, consumers have become more attuned to who makes their clothes and how they are treated, putting pressure on brands to put their values where their products are. One the other, China has become an evermore important sales hub to the fashion industry, given its scale and the fact that there is less disruption there than in other key markets, like Europe. Then, too, international politicians are getting in on the act, imposing bans and sanctions. Fashion has become a diplomatic football.

    This is a perfect case study of what happens when market imperatives come up against global morality.

    Tell me more about Xinjiang and why it is so important.

    Xinjiang is a region in northwest China that happens to produce about a fifth of the world’s cotton. It is home to many ethnic groups, especially the Uyghurs, a Muslim minority. Though it is officially the largest of China’s five autonomous regions, which in theory means it has more legislative self-control, the central government has been increasingly involved in the area, saying it must exert its authority because of local conflicts with the Han Chinese (the ethnic majority) who have been moving into the region. This has resulted in draconian restrictions, surveillance, criminal prosecutions and forced-labor camps.

    OK, and what about the Uyghurs?

    A predominantly Muslim Turkic group, the Uyghur population within Xinjiang numbers just over 12 million, according to official figures released by Chinese authorities. As many as one million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities have been retrained to become model workers, obedient to the Chinese Communist Party via coercive labor programs.

    The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Axios and others published reports that connected Uyghurs in forced detention to the supply chains of many of the world’s best-known fashion retailers, including Adidas, Lacoste, H&M, Ralph Lauren and the PVH Corporation, which owns Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger, many of those brands reassessed their relationships with Xinjiang-based cotton suppliers.

    banned all imports of cotton from the region, as well as products made from the material and declared what was happening “genocide.” At the time, the Workers Rights Consortium estimated that material from Xinjiang was involved in more than 1.5 billion garments imported annually by American brands and retailers.

    That’s a lot! How do I know if I am wearing a garment made from Xinjiang cotton?

    You don’t. The supply chain is so convoluted and subcontracting so common that often it’s hard for brands themselves to know exactly where and how every component of their garments is made.

    So if this has been an issue for over a year, why is everyone in China freaking out now?

    It isn’t immediately clear. One theory is that it is because of the ramp-up in political brinkmanship between China and the West. On March 22, Britain, Canada, the European Union and the United States announced sanctions on Chinese officials in an escalating row over the treatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

    Not long after, screenshots from a statement posted in September 2020 by H&M citing “deep concerns” about reports of forced labor in Xinjiang, and confirming that the retailer had stopped buying cotton from growers in the region, began circulating on Chinese social media. The fallout was fast and furious. There were calls for a boycott, and H&M products were soon missing from China’s most popular e-commerce platforms, Alibaba Group’s Tmall and JD.com. The furor was stoked by comments on the microblogging site Sina Weibo from groups like the Communist Youth League, an influential Communist Party organization.

    Within hours, other big Western brands like Nike and Burberry began trending for the same reason.

    And it’s not just consumers who are up in arms: Influencers and celebrities have also been severing ties with the brands. Even video games are bouncing virtual “looks” created by Burberry from their platforms.

    one second (there were 100 made). That’s why H&M worked with Victoria Song, Nike with Wang Yibo and Burberry with Zhou Dongyu.

    But Chinese influencers and celebrities are also sensitive to pleasing the central government and publicly affirming their national values, often performatively choosing their country over contracts.

    In 2019, for example, Yang Mi, the Chinese actress and a Versace ambassador, publicly repudiated the brand when it made the mistake of creating a T-shirt that listed Hong Kong and Macau as independent countries, seeming to dismiss the “One China” policy and the central government’s sovereignty. Not long afterward, Coach was targeted after making a similar mistake, creating a tee that named Hong Kong and Taiwan separately; Liu Wen, the Chinese supermodel, immediately distanced herself from the brand.

    Tencent removed two Burberry-designed “skins” — outfits worn by video game characters that the brand had introduced with great fanfare — from its popular title Honor of Kings as a response to news that the brand had stopped buying cotton produced in the Xinjiang region. The looks had been available for less than a week.

    So this is hitting both fast fashion and the high end. How much of the fashion world is involved?

    Potentially, most of it. So far Adidas, Nike, Converse and Burberry have all been swept up in the crisis. Even before the ban, additional companies like Patagonia, PVH, Marks & Spencer and the Gap had announced that they did not source material from Xinjiang and had officially taken a stance against human rights abuses.

    removed their policies against forced labor from their websites.

    That seems squirrelly. Is this likely to escalate?

    Brands seem to be concerned that the answer is yes, since, apparently fearful of offending the Chinese government, some companies have proactively announced that they will continue buying cotton from Xinjiang. Hugo Boss, the German company whose suiting is a de facto uniform for the financial world, posted a statement on Weibo saying, “We will continue to purchase and support Xinjiang cotton” (even though last fall the company had announced it was no longer sourcing from the region). Muji, the Japanese brand, is also proudly touting its use of Xinjiang cotton on its Chinese websites, as is Uniqlo.

    Wait … I get playing possum, but why would a company publicly pledge its allegiance to Xinjiang cotton?

    It’s about the Benjamins, buddy. According to a report from Bain & Company released last December, China is expected to be the world’s largest luxury market by 2025. Last year it was the only part of the world to report year on year growth, with the luxury market reaching 44 billion euros ($52.2 billion).

    Is anyone going to come out of this well?

    One set of winners could be the Chinese fashion industry, which has long played second fiddle to Western brands, to the frustration of many businesses there. Shares in Chinese apparel groups and textile companies with ties to Xinjiang rallied this week as the backlash gained pace. And more than 20 Chinese brands publicly made statements touting their support for Chinese cotton.

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    Chrissy Teigen, Emma Grede and Kris Jenner Launch Cleaning Brand

    And a former Target marketing executive who had been making luxury cleaning products called Caldrea, pivoted to a more accessible brand, named it for her mother, and Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day — plant-based products that smelled like lavender or geranium or basil, not bleach — hit the grocery store shelves. So did Method, designed to match your modernist décor, and which also smelled nice, and the category was forever changed.

    That was nearly two decades ago.

    What is particular about Safely is not its celebrity boosters, or even its contents. I tried all six of its products, from the Hand Sanitizer, $6, to the Everyday Laundry Detergent, $14. They have pleasant, mild scents: the Universal Cleaner, $6, smells like lemongrass; the Hand Soap, also $6, faintly musky, like sandalwood. They did their jobs.

    It is the packaging that is notable.

    The containers are simple, and oversize. There is barely any type; the logo, the only discernible graphic, is a large white water drop shape. The different cleaners come in a medley of glowing, minty greens. The whole is distilled into the kind of generic yet brightly colored minimalism that plays so well on Instagram. The products read like Product, with a design so reductive there could be anything in there.

    Why not, as Ms. Jenner pointed out, have a coherent array of bottles under your sink, instead of “a bunch of mishmash or doodads that don’t go together?”

    I wondered what the greens were. What were their names? Certainly not the Lichen or Mizzles of an English paint company. Or the flat teal that is a foil for so-called Millennial Pink, also known as Baker-Miller Pink or Drunk Tank Pink, from the ’70s-era social science experiment that showed how a certain shade calmed prisoners (and, in 2017, Kendall Jenner, who painted her living room in the rosy hue).

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    The Art of the Vladimir Putin Photo Shoot

    There are photo shoots, there are presidential photo shoots — and then there are Vladimir Putin presidential photo shoots. Rarely has the leader of a global power embraced the staged publicity still with such creative, yet clichéd, fervor, not just feeding the global desire for a caricature of himself, but actually creating it.

    Cue, for example, his latest propaganda foray, released by the Kremlin, as bilateral relations with the United States turn frosty, and with the Russian opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny’s description of Mr. Putin as a “Vladimir, the Poisoner of Underpants” still reverberating through the air.

    “making of” video about his official portrait, depicting himself carefully arranging various symbolic accessories on his desk.

    But Mr. Putin has always opted for a different approach. One that emphasizes the physical over namby-pamby paper-pushing, and speaks to old stereotypes of virility, strength and machismo. Not to mention good health. The kind that allows you to stay in office for a long time.

    It has become a sort of absurdist art form unto itself.

    He was pictured, for example, in a similar sheepskin outfit in 2010 — though without the matching fur hat and mittens — riding through the Siberian snow on horseback, and on a trip to the Russian Arctic, hugging a polar bear. He has ridden a motorbike in black leather (a photo that was so popular, a British company, Matchless London, named a jacket in his honor), played ice hockey (making many goals) and worked out with the Russian judo team.

    apogee in 2017, when Mr. Putin was photographed mostly bare chested while hunting, spearfishing and otherwise pursuing manly activities in the Siberian outdoors. Afterward, he was caught basking shirtless in the sun, eyes hidden by black shades.

    Moscow newspaper asked at the time. It probably only seemed like a rhetorical question.

    By 2019, Mr. Putin had pivoted his image-making to shots that referenced his bond with the earth rather than his dominance of the same, posing while sitting peacefully in a field clutching a bouquet of wildflowers he presumably picked himself, or reclining on a craggy tor. Nevertheless, he remained costumed in shades of olive green and silhouettes that resembled fatigues. The implicit messaging was still tough. It was just more about tough love.

    The new Siberia photos are firmly in line with this tradition. If they are not exactly subtle — indeed, the image-making is so obvious, it has inspired a fair share of social media ridicule and memes — it is also true that when it comes to Mr. Putin, subtlety has never really been part of the … well, picture.

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    Auctions of Cars, Watches and Furniture Heat Up

    Rich people who shopped too much used to be called collectors. Now they — and those belonging merely to the aspirational class — are all investors.

    It’s not just that they’ve spent the last year splurging on stakes in untested, newly formed public companies that have yet to produce products, much less profits. It’s that during the pandemic, seemingly every luxury acquisition has become a so-called alternative asset class.

    Rather than elbowing past each other for reservations at the latest restaurants from Marcus Samuelsson and Jean-Georges Vongerichten, or getting into bidding wars for apartments at 740 Park Avenue, they are one-upping each other in online auctions for jewelry, watches, furniture, sports cards, vintage cars, limited-edition Nikes and crypto art.

    growing wealth inequality.

    sold on the secondary market in 2020 for $30,000 are now going for upward of $50,000 on some resale sites. The Nautilus 5980, a rose gold chronograph sports watch from Patek Philippe that has a retail price of $85,000, can seldom be found on 47th Street for much less than $200,000.

    One reason for surging prices, according to Benjamin Clymer, the editor of the watch site Hodinkee, is that “Switzerland shut down, so demand was there while the supply was dramatically reduced.”

    had sold shortly before the pandemic through the auction site Bring a Trailer (or BaT, as it’s known) for $560,000 but Mr. Clymer figured it might be a buyer’s market. Perhaps he could get it for less.

    He found a beauty from a dealership that hadn’t listed the price on its website. It was in mint condition. Mr. Clymer asked for a quote and nearly fainted upon hearing the answer: $1.2 million.

    “I said, ‘You’re crazy.’ Less than a month later it was sold.”

    By Thanksgiving, auction houses were sending out news releases almost daily touting their record-breaking sales.

    sold in October 2020 for $23,750 through the Chicago auction house Wright. A Mesa coffee table by T.H. Robsjohn Gibbings, a British architect whose name is barely known outside of the furniture world, brought in $237,500 in December; the overall result of the sale was $2.5 million, roughly double what the house did at the same sale a year before.

    In February, a digital artwork of Donald Trump facedown in the grass, covered in words like “loser,” sold for $6.6 million, a record for a nonfungible token, or NFT, so called because there’s no physical piece for the buyer to take possession of.

    Fittingly, the image was paid for in Ethereum, a form of cryptocurrency that, among millennials, is almost as well known as bitcoin. Two weeks later, Christie’s sold another NFT by Beeple, this time for $69 million.

    sold through PWCC Marketplace for $5.2 million. In March, Goldin Auctions, a sports collectible site, held its annual winter auction. “We grossed $45 million,” said Ken Goldin, the founder and C.E.O. “Last year, it was $4.7 million.”

    One of Mr. Goldin’s repeat customers is Clement Kwan, the former president of Yoox Net-a-Porter and a founder of Beboe, an upscale line of cannabis vaporizers and edible pastilles that The New York Times has called “the Hermès of Marijuana.”

    along with her sisters Dakota and Dresden Peters, owns what some believe is the most valuable sneaker collection in the world — had her biggest sale in five years of being in business: a pair of autographed 1985 Air Jordans that fetched $275,000.

    In 2019, the sisters sold 572 pairs of sneakers, at prices that began at $500, Ariana Peters said in an interview. In 2020, they sold 879.

    Ms. Peters actually sounded somewhat surprised talking about all this, perhaps because she and her sisters only got into the business because their father, a retired real estate developer named Douglas Roy Peters, bought so many pairs of sneakers they were running out of places to put them.

    sold one for $408,000.

    Mr. Abouzeid doesn’t have that kind of money, but in a June 2020 “I.P.O.” from Valley Road, he purchased 125 “shares” of one at a price of $25 each.

    vintage whiskey. But Johnson & Johnson and Jack Daniel’s don’t interest him.

    His Merrill Lynch account contains shares of companies like Sarepta Therapeutics, a maker of precision genetic medicines that treat rare neuromuscular and central nervous system diseases. His fridge is filled with rare, vintage Kacho Fugetsu.

    “When my parents saw them in my apartment, they got really worried,” he said. “They said, ‘Is there something we need to talk about?’ But I don’t even open them.”

    Earlier this month, when rising interest rates sent high-flying tech stocks into a tailspin, Kacho Fugetsu provided what Mr. Moses called “the perfect hedge.”

    Of course, he’s aware that the ascent of his whiskey collection also could come to an end, but that at least has an upside. “Then I’ll finally have an excuse to drink it,” he said.

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    What Is the Meaning of Meghan’s Fashion Choice?

    So you think the clothes are beside the point in the Oprah-Harry-Meghan tell-all? You think it’s the vocal bombshells and revelations that matter, and no one is going to give two figs what the former royal couple who is uttering them is wearing? You, my friend, should think again. Costumes are always part of the program.

    Ever since she first stepped into the spotlight not just as an actress on a pretty successful TV show but as a potential British princess, Meghan Markle has proved herself a master of the visual message.

    So whatever she chose for the single-biggest speaking moment of both her career and her marriage thus far — the one that, given the pre-promotion and the public relations warfare being waged by the palace, the Sussexes and the proxies for each, is going to be seen by more people than any other appearance since her wedding — it was not going to be a random, just-because-it’s-comfy schmatta.

    It was going to be a dress with purpose. A dress that would set a tone. A dress that would, after all, be seen and re-seen as the photos from the interview went around the world and down in royal history, much as the photos of Princess Diana in her black jacket looking up from under her bangs at Martin Bashir in her 1995 BBC interview still appear whenever the topic of that royal divorce comes up.

    $4,700 black silk wrap dress by Giorgio Armani with a white lotus flower print spilling down one shoulder.

    According to Town & Country’s royal whisperer, Ms. Markle chose the dress specifically because of the lotus flower symbolism, and the fact the bloom represents rebirth, which was part of what the interview was also supposed represent: The rebirth of Harry and Meghan as an independent entity, authentically themselves apart from the royal family; the rebirth of their voices. Plus, of course, the coming birth of the couple’s next child. Oh — and also the fact that, wrote T & C, the lotus can “flourish despite seemingly challenging conditions.”

    Hint, hint.

    Though there is some irony in a very expensive dress being chosen to partly represent the wearer’s victimhood and resilience in the face of pain.

    Still, worn belted over her pregnant stomach, with spiky black Aquazzura heels and a diamond Cartier tennis bracelet that was once owned by Princess Diana (chosen so that, the couple told Ms. Winfrey, she could be there with them), it was not exactly your run-of-the-mill maternity look.

    Not exactly a “Royals! They’re just like us!” kind of thing. Not even a: “Hey, we’re now in America and we’re going to use all this attention to help an American designer,” kind of thing. Not even an eco-sensitive, or support-the-outsiders kind of thing. (All kinds of things that had been part of Ms. Markle’s public image-making before.)

    first Baby Archie photo-op back in May of 2019, and it ticked all sorts of boxes. Accessible! American! Possibly shopping his closet, which is better for the planet. He may not have realized his clothes contained all that, but his wife probably did.

    All in all, a good thing, really.

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