Nepalese-American designer to the A-list Prabal Gurung poured his heart onto the runway with a deeply personal New York show paying tribute to his homeland following the devastating earthquake.
His spring/summer 2016 edition, one of the top highlights on day four of fashion week, opened with meditative chants from 30 barefoot monks dressed in red robes and pressing their hands together in prayer.
It closed with a raw cover version of "Be My Baby" — a song that Gurung said he had loved since watching hit movie "Dirty Dancing."
In between was a stunning show in classic Gurung style: timeless yet effortlessly modern clothes drawn from a palette of saffron, vermilion, oranges, blush, black and white in beautifully cut, floaty fabrics.
"Everything I did today was very, very personal, I kind of laid my heart out there, so we'll see," he told AFP backstage after the show.
Watching it all was Oscar-winning actress and singer Jennifer Hudson, stunning in a black dress, reality star Kylie Jenner, and the Bush twins — Jenna and Barbara — daughters of former president George W. Bush.
There was a mesmerizing orange sequined dress, delicate form-fitting knits in orange and yellow stripes and plenty of fringing — a key look on the New York catwalks this season.
To finish, he showed beautiful sequined evening dresses and billowing orange and yellow evening gowns with full skirts falling in soft folds.
The Nepal-raised designer, who dresses the likes of First Lady Michelle Obama and Britain's Duchess of Cambridge, was almost in tears backstage as he recalled the devastating loss in the April 25 quake.
The 7.8-magnitude disaster killed nearly 8,900 people and reduced some 600,000 houses to rubble across the impoverished Himalayan nation.
He remembers his utter panic, desperately trying to reach his family — all of whom live in Nepal. It was an agonizing wait before his sister was finally able to text.
Resilience and gratitude
"The minute it happened, I reached out to my friends and I was like I needed to do something. I was going insane because I felt so helpless, just to see my own identity kind of crumbling," Gurung said.
He instantly set up a relief fund, thinking he would maybe raise US$5,000 to $10,000, but donations have climbed to more than $1 million.
"It's been a cathartic experience, I would have gone insane if I hadn't done that," he said.
The Council of Fashion Designers of America pitched in, so did Michael Kors and Gurung says he has been overwhelmed by their love and support.
"That's why I wanted to do this collection and pay tribute to the resilience of the Nepalese people and to show my gratitude to the fashion industry, they've saved me several times," he said.
Gurung credits fashion as his savior — rescuing him the first time by offering him a future when his creativity felt stifled in Nepal.
"What I wanted to do was take collages of my childhood and my memories, and blend it with things that I've come to love in New York," he added.
Nepal inspired not only the colors, but Nepalese jewelry formed patterns in lace and the knits were made in Nepal.
Neither was it difficult to persuade the monks, who came from different monasteries including in Nepal and upstate New York, to take part.
"They were like 'no, thank you' for representing Nepal because Nepal is a small country, it often gets so neglected and forgotten in the whole bigger picture," Gurung said.
"They were so encouraging, because I was skeptical as to should I do it or not, and they themselves were like no you have to do it."