Naeem Khan dressed the first lady for the infamous Indian state dinner, creating a floral poppy dress from a centuries-old technique. He doesn't normally allow press into his studio, so I had unprecedented access watching how he crafted his latest collection.
He grew up in Mumbai to a family that owns an intricate embroidery and beading house. His first memories of fashion are of playing under looms. Halston himself taught Naeem the business. "He was a great teacher and a good man," Khan reflects. At a young age he helped run the house. Naeem Khan makes clothes for the powerful woman, women that run foundations and heads of states. He thinks deeply and with a focused zeal when he creates clothing.
I meet him a week and a half ago, yet it already feels like a lifetime has passed in the fast-paced whirl of fashion. Working with Mary Alice Stephenson as his sounding board, he understands that fashion is becoming "fast food," but delights in the fact that his work is a five-course meal. His atelier is still in the garment district. This is also the first time a publication has been allowed to take pictures in his workspace.
Khan created his latest collection in Miami, or at least that's where the kernel was first planted. Then he started thinking of fabric. It takes him four to six weeks to get it back from India. He has a dedicated staff of pattern makers and seamstresses that make his creations come to life. He uses Mary Alice as a barometer and they keep on working "till I get a yummy feeling," she states. One of the looks I saw in preview was omitted from the final collection.
The studio on the top floor of an old warehouse building is one of chocolate, plush leather and massive lanterns. You feel home in this expansive space. There are rooms to the side - one is a mirrored changing room for the models. To the right is his office, and he often plays everything from Run-DMC to jazz to Ibiza chill-out classics. He was twenty when he walked into a party and spotted one of India's top models. He's been with her for twenty years, and they have two wonderful children. His eyes beam when he talks about her.
When we first meet, he was working on a beaded motorcycle jacket and a feather dress, which drew applause from the audience. I gushed over the mirrored dress in the last show. It takes a team of 700 people to craft his work and get it into 200 stores. He has a strong relationship with Neiman Marcus. Everything is flowers and orchids, because they last, he says. He wants people to have a happy permanence when they see his latest show.
Naeem is warm, confident and a friendly man - sure with making decisions and quick on the draw. Unlike other parlors, his doesn't scramble at the last minute to put everything together. He has a plan. I finally found out why so many shoes are needed: they don't know what model they're going to get, so they need a lot of sizes. The shoes are stunning, with flowers, crystals and high heels. He might just give Louboutin a good fight. There's a table full of jewelry that they pick from. It's all about choices. The more choices the designer has, the more perfect the finished dress and concept.
On Thursday he showed and the tents closed.