When Michelle Obama turned up at the 2013 Oscar show in a dazzling silver gown by Naeem Khan, the Mumbai-born, New York-based fashion designer “freaked out”. It was a historic moment for him, no doubt, but in the 10 years of his label ‘Naeem Khan’, the sharply- dressed, bespectacled, affable designer has draped not only the US first lady but a string of other celebrities like Beyonce, Eva Longoria, Jennifer Lopez and, closer home, Sonam Kapoor, Freida Pinto, Deepika Padukone.
Currently the “fashion darling” of the international media and toast of the fashion universe, he is India’s most visible fashion designer on the global front. And not for nothing. Khan has made his mark with an eye for classy embellished and embroidered dresses, striking metallic outfits, eye-catching silhouettes and dramatic couture gowns in classic hues.
“I’m in the business of making and selling clothes, I am not here for theatre and drama—my clothes create drama.”
You could say that Khan had it in his genes, given that both his grandfather and father were in the textile business in Mumbai. At 20, Khan moved to New York to study fashion, but joined American designer Halston instead, before launching his own label in 2003.
India, however, continued to flow through in his creations. “India always inspires me,” Khan told the New York Times in 2011 at a show in the city. “The spring collection I’m showing, for example, has colours like blue, yellow and pink which are typically Indian. And many of my dresses use old Indian embroidery techniques. In fact, much of the embroidery is done in workshops in Mumbai. I use traditional practices to make modern wear.”
His ties to India run deeper; he visits his parents at their Peddar Road home in Mumbai twice a year. Khan is currently “testing waters” here and may open a store soon. As for all that glitter around his high-powered profile today, he credits the power of star patrons for propelling his brand.
Which is something he let go off at the Lakme Fashion Week in Mumbai this year, in which he participated for the first time. Khan’s show had no celebrity show-stopper: “It was done deliberately,” he said. “I am here in the business of making and selling clothes. I am not here for theatre and drama...my clothes create drama.”