The erotic images of women bound in rope by the photographer Nobuyoshi Araki that decorated Prabal Gurung's mood board this season are about as far removed from Sarah Jessica Parker on the red carpet and Michelle Obama at a White House state dinner as you can get. Gurung has made his reputation on the dresses and gowns he's designed for boldfaced women. What he does is high fashion, but not so avant-garde that it's going to land you on the back page of Us Weekly magazine. Vanity Fair's International Best-Dressed List is more like it.
For Spring, though, Gurung is pushing beyond his comfort zone. Inspired by Araki's Sensual Flowers series, he collaborated with a printmaker in London to create a floral motif at once beautiful and lurid: Close inspection of the purple, green, and black blooms revealed that they were already withering. The engineered print appeared on everything from a silk georgette dress, accessorized with a black leather and silk cord harness, to a fitted wool pantsuit, neither that unlike things he's done before. But when he wasn't using the print, Gurung was tweaking fetish materials—hand-painting and lacquering latex for a coat, or lining a laser-cut leather T-shirt in mesh. It was more than a lot to take in. Peekaboo, too, was a central conceit: Sheer panels were inset at the waist or hips of dresses, and other items were more see-through tulle than anything else.
What does this mean for the SJPs of the world? There were pieces here that the celebrity set will connect with: a long-sleeved, violet lace gown with rubber paillettes; a pair of sharply tailored silk jackets with sculpted lapels. Other numbers could be adjusted to make them more discreet. Gurung gets a cheer for his ambition this time around, but a bit more simplicity wouldn't have been such a bad thing.