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Mac Duggal’s Universe
Tall, Short, Big, Small – All Women Have a Place on the Fashion RunwayWho is Mac Duggal? You could say he’s the world-famous designer you don’t know anything about – although Americans from celebrities to prom queens swear by his creations.
Gwyneth Paltrow, Eva Longoria, Jennifer Beal and Carmen Electra have headlined the stage in his couture; Tina Turner, Bette Midler and Aretha Franklin have been seen on the red carpet in Mac Duggal, as have Carrie Underwood, Shakira, Khloe Kardashian and Paris Hilton. His clothes are in major stores from Nordstrom to Lord & Taylor. He’s dressed beauty queens across the world, including Miss America and Miss USA, and his gowns have been seen in films like Titanic and Oceans 11.The Mac Duggal multimillion dollar fashion house, based in Chicago, is at the apex of the women’s special occasion dress market and includes eleven different collections sold in countries from the US to Dubai to Russia and Japan. It has carved out a sizable chunk of the fashion formal wear market and is the top name in the prom and pageant wear industry. At any given time he has over 100,000 gowns in his warehouses.
During New York Fashion Week in February, Duggal for the first time brought his 2017 collection to the beautiful art deco Angel Orensanz space downtown, to a packed audience, with crowds still waiting to get in.
So who is the man behind the Mac Duggal brand?
America is all about reinvention and Duggal’s is the refreshing story of an enterprising immigrant who boldly re-imagined himself from a desi engineer into the American creator of women’s slinky dresses, “ changing the world one dress at a time.” In the process he has built a thriving business empire, creating a hugely successful American company with international links.In fact, Duggal will be honored by the prestigious Smithsonian at the permanent exhibit Many Voices, One Nation, which opens at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington, DC this summer. It highlights citizens who have impacted America with their contributions. Along with Abe Lincoln’s hat and Dorothy’s ruby red slippers from Oz, a memento from Duggal and other noteworthy immigrants will also be on exhibit.
If Mac sounds All-American, his real name is Manmohan Singh and he could be any smiling, humble Sikh gentleman from Patiala or Jullundur. He was actually born in New Delhi in 1960. “I grew up in a very spiritual, loving family with my respected grandfather, father and elder brother who were spiritual teachers and taught meditation to millions of people,” he says. “So meditation was a key part of my upbringing and helped me to connect with my inner self.”So how did he come to America? He says: “I never wanted to come to America – my soul belonged to India. I was an engineering student (where did he study) and wanted to start my own business and carve my own path, make my own mark. I never wanted to work for anyone and to this day I never have – not even for one single day. However, my father wanted me to join my brother in Chicago and complete my studies there.”
In Chicago Duggal saw a lot of opportunities to be the entrepreneur he had always wanted to be. Hand beading was a trending fashion in India and he and his brother started importing women’s evening wear, investing $300 in renting an exhibition booth at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago. Buyers had never seen anything like these embellished gowns and the response was overwhelming. The next he knew he was showing in New York where a chance meeting with a buyer for Home Shopping Network led to sales on the channel and to major stores .
Remembering those halcyon early days, Duggal who was in his 20’s when he started, says, “I had this special energy bottled inside me. I could work 22 hours a day and I felt unstoppable! Soon I was known for my flamboyant styles. It was the mid-80’s and people were intrigued by the mystique of India I had brought with me.”When he started in 1984, the business took off like a dream, and everything he touched was gold. Until it wasn’t. After 10 years of heady success, came the collapse, when styles changed and the flamboyant beading was out of favor.
“I had to struggle to keep afloat,” Duggal honestly admits. “I sat up nights thinking about new things, innovative things – but nothing worked. Loans were piling up and everything seemed gloomy but I never gave up. I had to practically start all over again with new strategies.” It took five long years to turn things around and in the process Mac Duggal the brand became stronger and more resilient for when he made his comeback.
Learning from mistakes and always believing in himself are two factors Duggal credits for his success but also the fact that he was able to embrace both the design elements and the business strategies necessary for a business to be in the black.
Indeed, in America the two most important gowns in a woman’s life are the prom gown and the wedding gown – and Mac Duggal has them both covered, and offers them a quality stylish product at a price point that all women can afford. This niche market is Duggal’s strength.Duggal may be an American success story but he has kept his Indian roots intact. He has been happily married for 30 years to his wife Bubbly who has stood through all the ups and downs, far from her beloved Kashmir where she was born and brought up. Their daughter Ieena collaborates with her father on her own line while their son Yuvraj is studying apparel merchandising and plans to join the business. There are plans to find partners to bring Mac Duggal with its young and forward evening wear to India.
Mac also has a max heart, giving to many causes. Recently he presented free prom gowns to all the students at a school in a low-income area where the prom was about to canceled. He did it anonymously, and says: “I believe this is the circle of life. I might be gone but I am sure one of these 200 girls will give back thousands some day. This philosophy has worked all my life.”At the recent New York show, models took to the ramp one after, and you noticed something significantly different from other designers’ shows which only flaunt tall Amazons who are all size 0 or 2. Duggal’s models are a reflection of the real women he dresses – some are tall and skinny but others are petite and short and yes, there are also plus size women all on the same runway. In fact, when a big-built model in a gorgeous ball gown entered the space, there was huge, delighted applause. Women are finally getting to see women like themselves on the fashion ramp, and they feel validated.
“I truly think all women are beautiful and size should not define who they are,” he says. “You don’t have to be a Size 0 to be beautiful. Girls come out crying from dressing rooms in boutiques when they actually find a gown that fits them perfectly! Just as the Higher Power has all sizes and shapes on the planet, I want to integrate all sizes and shapes on the runway.”
(This article was first published in India Today’s Spice magazine)
I don’t have to look for fashion inspirations – it is all around me. It’s in the fine details of life.
* Bold, empowering women of today.
*Traveling and understanding flavors of different cultures.
*Vibrant, high energy of the younger generation.
*Nature itself – most beautiful fusions of colors and shapes
*As my life is on the go – my best ideas come in stillness.
- Culture expressed through vibrant colors
- Intricate hand embroidery
- Crowns and jewels of the 16th century
- Draping of the traditional yet sensual Indian sari