Fashion designer comments on immigration during runway show: 'Who gets to be American?'

Designer Prabal Gurung made a different kind of fashion statement on the runway during his New York Fashion Week show on Sunday, sending models down the catwalk with beauty pageant-style sashes that asked “Who gets to be American?”

"I wanted to explore this idea of what America looks like, what Americana looks like, who does America belong to? For me, as an immigrant who came here almost 20 years ago, I came here to chase the American dream of hope, of possibility," Gurung, a native of Nepal, told The Associated Press backstage.

The designer shared that he recently mentioned during a meeting that he wanted to define a new America before someone else in the room challenged him with the reply: "Well, you don't look American."

Gurung said it was crystal clear "what the implication was." In a larger sense, the encounter got him thinking.

The Prabal Gurung collection is modeled during Fashion Week, Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019 in New York.

The Prabal Gurung collection is modeled during Fashion Week, Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019 in New York. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

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"What does America mean? America to me is the sum of all things," he said. "Everyone coming together, and that's the America I came for."

In the NYFW presentation, which marked the 10th anniversary of his eponymous brand’s showing, Gurung hoped to examine “the root of American identity” and sent models down the runway in denim, white poplin fabrics, patchwork prints, cowboy boots, juxtaposing sportswear influences and grand colorful gowns, Harper’s Bazaar reports.

The designer said that the show was “deeply personal” on many levels.

The designer said that the show was “deeply personal” on many levels. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

Floral prints dominated, specifically the rose.

"It's my favorite flower and also America's national flower," he said.

In the NYFW presentation, which marked the 10th anniversary of his eponymous brand’s showing, Gurung hoped to examine “the root of American identity.”

In the NYFW presentation, which marked the 10th anniversary of his eponymous brand’s showing, Gurung hoped to examine “the root of American identity.” (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

Models sported flower crowns and also carried bunches in baskets and bouquets, as if the blooms were "welcoming different kinds of people in this world, in this country."

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Gurung also decorated his runway with hanging bouquets mixed with flags from around the world and celebrated diversity in size and ethnicity, casting plus-size models, nonbinary walkers and people of all ethnicities to display his newest creations.

The epic show concluded with every model walking the runway with a pageantlike sash that read "Who Gets to be American?" in blue letters.

“Amidst the deep wounds that are severing the unity of our country, I continue to seek the America I came here to be a part of — the America that I know is still there," the designer said.

“Amidst the deep wounds that are severing the unity of our country, I continue to seek the America I came here to be a part of — the America that I know is still there," the designer said. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

All in all, the designer said that the show was “deeply personal” on many levels, as per Bazaar.

"This is all deeply personal to me. Though my roots lay with my family in Nepal, this country is my home. America is where my heart is. I am an American,” he mused. “As immigrants continue to birth this ‘new America,’ we must remember all versions of our history and take ownership of our past while forging a new legacy.”

Models sported flower crowns and also carried bunches in baskets and bouquets, as if the blooms were "welcoming different kinds of people in this world, in this country."

Models sported flower crowns and also carried bunches in baskets and bouquets, as if the blooms were "welcoming different kinds of people in this world, in this country." (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

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“Amidst the deep wounds that are severing the unity of our country, I continue to seek the America I came here to be a part of — the America that I know is still there. And so, with the Spring 2020 collection, we seek to celebrate hope, courage, and present an ode to the true American dream,” he concluded.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.