From British Royalty to the First Family, Naeem Khan holds court

by hunt ethridge • photos by Jackie Zhang / Courtesy of Naeem Khan

As anyone in the arts or creative world knows, there comes a time when one (hopefully) says to oneself, “I have arrived!” For Indian-American designer Naeem Khan, that moment keeps happening and happening.

“After I left my apprenticeship at Halston at around age 23, I opened my own studio and had these mega-stars coming in,” he recalled during an interview from his studio. “Frank Sinatra came in with his wife…Gregory Peck came in as well. I was featured on Eye on L.A., and it made me so happy. I thought to myself, in my youth and naiveté, ‘I have arrived!’”

It turned out that was but the beginning for the designer.

Jackie Zhang Courtesy of Naeem Khan2

As a child, Khan, “learned by osmosis,” he explained, by watching his father and grandfather (who designed textiles worn by Indian royal families), as well as by observing his mother’s atelier. “An artist was born,” he said. “Growing up around all of this, I was interested in fashion as young as 8 to 10 years old. It was like arts and crafts for me. I would see things made and I would just start playing around. I then wanted to take the world I lived in and make it glamorous.”

After moving to NYC in 1978, Khan apprenticed at Halston and learned the craft of draping and cutting fabric. In 1981, he launched his first fashion house, Riazee, named after his mother. In 2003 he debuted his own line and began showing his collections at Fashion Week.

MA Spread

Khan quickly caught the attention of stars like Taylor Swift, Jennifer Lopez, and Beyoncé, and it wasn’t long before he had transcended the ranks of Tinseltown royalty to include the first family. In 2009, Michele Obama chose his dress (a gold strapless gown adorned with sterling silver-plated appliques) to wear to the new administration’s first state dinner. The reaction was immediate. (“The next day I was the third-most Googled person in America. It was unbelievable.”) After that, his outfits were worn by Queen Noor of Jordan, and most recently by the Duchess of Cambridge and style icon Kate Middleton on her 2016 state trip to India.

When Khan began debuting his line at Fashion Week, his dresses, while lovely, were a bit muted and monochromatic. As the years progressed, he brought in more color, embroidery, and needlework—moves that were in part a tribute to his Indian style roots

Khan explained further that his inspirations usually come from culture, history, and art. For his current collection, he draws on the history and culture of ancient Rome.

Jackie Zhang Courtesy of Naeem Khan

“I wanted to focus on the Roman period during Cleopatra’s reign,” he said. “I’m taking cues from North Africa, Egypt, and Rome during that period in history.”

He launched his first bridal collection in 2013 and it grows in both breadth and recognition each year. In one of his more striking pieces, he deconstructed the traditional veil into two mini veils that were inspired by none less than Star Wars’ Princess Leia. Further expansions are in the works, too.

“We’re getting into day wear, when our ladies need to go to glam lunches or for cocktails,” he said. “There’s a collaboration with undergarments, too, as well as a fragrance and cosmetic line.”

As we then discussed the wonderfully riotous colors men often wear in India, he opined, “I find that menswear can be very boring here [in the U.S.]. I’d love to give them some gold and color! One day I’ll have a men’s collection…”

Jackie Zhang Courtesy of Naeem Khan3

Well, when he does, Khan will have arrived…again.

Naeem Khan