Prabal Gurung, S/S 2012

Manifesto to Nobuyoshi Araki

terrorist of emotion
rescuing people from
luxuries of goodness
and reason
self righteous ones!
life is chaos
as it should be
stop pretending like there’s
such thing as safety and stability
they don’t exist
set the bomb, set the explosion
set it in a way that
can’t be predicted
shock is the terrorist’s
highest weapon
rescue people from boredom
rescue them from their schedules
jazz and earthquakes, and
all sorts of movements of currency
break out of all sorts of bonds
long live actions of freedom and coincidence

-Bjork Gudmundsdottir


Prabal Gurung has swiftly become one of the top young designers showing at New York Fashion Week since his debut collection in 2009, dressing such high-profile and comparatively staid clients as Michele Obama, Oprah, and Demi Moore in his meticulously crafted clothes. But he took a walk on the wilder side for Spring/Summer 2012, referencing Nobuyoshi Araki, the prolific artist and photographer best known for his voluptuous flowers and erotic portrayals of the nude female form bound with ropes.

Gurung, with a series of garments that riffed on the artist’s photography series “Sensual Flowers,” kept his references to Araki’s most controversial interests to a minimum. He attached himself to the relatively safe floral motif, though these buds were nothing like the squeaky clean daisies that turned up elsewhere in the SS12 collections. Like Araki’s flowers, Gurung’s blossoms are deep, intense, and so ripe that they are on the verge of decay, bearing the color palette of a two-day-old bruise. In addition to his prints, the designer turned out painstaking three-dimensional flowers that harkened back to a white rosebud-covered bodice from his debut collection in 2009.

Gurung didn’t disregard Araki’s most deviant elements entirely, however. The photographer’s obsession with the traditional Japanese erotic art of bondage came to the fore through Gurung’s use of black harnesses to yoke some dresses, complete with the intricate wrapping and knotting that define Kinbaku-bi, “the beauty of tight binding.”

Kinbaku, like so many other Japanese arts, is defined by an intrinsic elegance of form that elevates it from deviant sexual play to a delicate and powerful ceremony. The ritual follows specific rules about length and color of rope, preparation of the rope for the comfort of the subject, and types of knots that can be used. The most traditional, purist forms eschew knots completely in favor of various wrapping techniques, as knots applied to a person’s body were originally regarded as disgraceful.

As anyone who has studied clothing design and construction knows, this integrity of form, process and material is part and parcel of the high-end apparel-making experience. The way that the body is held and formed by design – the conscious decision to sculpturally contain and even constrain some parts while others are liberated or left exposed – is exactly what makes dressing an art and not simply a device for keeping the cold out. No doubt Gurung found much to relate to in Araki’s utilization of a simple line of rope to transform a body so utterly.

Araki’s images veer between the roughly beautiful and the highly unsettling. Like potent dreams, his images are designed to shock, to discomfit, to force a reaction. In their awkwardness, they speak volumes about raw emotion, sexuality and the human condition. How do YOU choose to be bound? To what dogma, what social correctness, what moral rectitude, what conditioned vision of yourself?

In embracing Araki’s poetic game of subjugation, Prabal Gurung declares his liberty amidst fairly pandemic recent success. Despite a fondness for bows and handmade flowers, he will not be relegated only to the closets of ladies who lunch. He will “cut the sweetness;” he will flirt with the inappropriate; he will throw off the oppression of each previous collection in order to bind himself into the new. Now that’s the kind of knot I can let myself get tied up in.

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