Exclusively Interview: Naeem Khan
Naeem Khan featured in FADDY MAGAZINE issue 34 “WONDERLAND ISSUE
Is there a thrill of designing for individual bodies?
The reality of the women we dress, the woman who really wears my clothes is not a fashion model. She may be voluptuous, but she is a normal woman. Designing clothing for women takes a bit of an understanding, because the normal woman in Japan is different from the normal woman in Texas or Los Angeles
How do you design for the world?
It comes with many years of experience. It’s like being both scientist and engineer. You must understand the body and know the nature of various materials and what they can do.
There you were, a teenager in the middle of such an exciting time in the history of New York fashion scene, working with Halston. Looking back on that moment, how were you able to focus on the work when you were surrounded by the decadence of the era?
It was the love of my mother and heroes like my father and grandfather which kept me in place. As I grew up, I studied myself and wondered why I didn’t go the route of getting involved with drugs or hanging out with the wrong people. Even though I was very young and tempted, I did not want to become a black dot on my family. To hear them say, “we put him in the right place, and he was a failure,” ensured there was no failure for me.
You designed a gown for Michele Obama with two weeks’ notice. Please tell us how that went down behind the scenes.
That was the opportunity of a lifetime. When I got the phone call the White House wanted me to design a dress for Michelle Obama, I totally panicked, because two weeks in my world is nothing. Everything must be done by hand.
When I first started working in fashion, I was a kid. I was working for Warhol, and we used to hang out and draw poppies together, making flowers for Halston’s clothes.
Inspired by Andy Warhol’s poppies, I drew the embroidery and designed a textile which had this history for me.
As I sent it to my factory, I remembered that in my grandfathers’ time there was a technique for making sequins of pure gold and silver. Imagine taking a gold wire and twisting it in a circle around a nail, removing the nail, and then hammering the round wire to flatten it into a sequin. That technique and the noise: the tick, tock, tock, tock, has been in my head since I saw my grandfather do it when I was five years old.
I wanted those Andy Warhol flowers to be created in that same technique. These handmade sequins were sewn onto the Andy Warhol inspired flowers on flesh colored tulle. Over a hundred people worked on it. It was sent back in a week.
But there was a problem. The White House did not want to provide the First Lady’s measurements, for her privacy. I created a corset that could be several sizes, it could overlap or be let out. Then I constructed a wired, strapless dress on top of the corset. It was all done on the bias cut, so the fabric could move and stretch in different ways. Even the tulle had a bit of stretch to it. This dress could be a size four or a size 10! It fit her like a glove. I know that two other designers were also asked to make a dress, but I had to win. I won!
Is there a location on the planet that continues to inspire you?
I love going to places where there is no fear of color. Where this is no fear of gold on green or adding a layer of purple on something.
I’m inspired by places that have history and culture. What I take from countries is their history, and how history changes food, how history changes fashion, how history changes art. When
cultures meet, new things come to life.
You’re a wonderful chef and fabulous host. If there was an impromptu dinner, what would we eat?
This week I’m having a few people over for dinner at home. It’s going to be a festive Indian evening, but with things like caviar served in the style of street food. Taking the simplest of street food and making it super luxurious, that’s the dichotomy, whether it be food or fashion. It’s how we put it all together that makes it interesting.
FADDY MAGAZINE USA is a global fashion & luxury lifestyle publication headquartered in New York City.
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