In the spirit of Dr. Seuss’s wise words, “philanthropy is always in fashion,” The Globe Guilders of San Diego presented a fabulous runway show featuring Naeem Khan’s Fall 2013 Couture Collection. In conjunction with Neiman Marcus and the Hilton San Diego Bayfront Hotel, the event featured special guest Naeem Khan, as well as a live auction to benefit The Old Globe’s art and educational programs.
A designer who’s name is synonymous with glamor and luxury, Naeem Khan has cemented his place in the world of fashion with impeccably cut dresses, sophisticated gowns and chic separates – all embroidered and beaded by hand. Having grown up in India, he learned the craft from his father and grandfather whom each had designed for the royal families. It was a fateful meeting with Halston during Naeem’s teenage years that brought on a life-changing move to the United States. As Halston’s apprentice, Naeem learned the secrets of draping and the methods of cutting fabric in order to create the perfect, elegant silhouette.
Fast-forward to today and the same signature craftsmanship can be seen in every garment getting sent down the runway. It was an honor to meet Naeem backstage and—coincidentally—greet the designer a very happy birthday. He was a warm man, candid with his advice and inspirational in sharing his story:
Q: Looking back now so many years later on your encounter with Halston, do you think your career path would have been different if you hadn’t worked for him?
A: Definitely very different. Fashion is not just about making clothes, it is an entire experience, a lifestyle, it’s how you live and how you interact in society. What Halston taught me, apart from designing, is that his time spent with Liza Minelli, Elizabeth Taylor, Martha Graham, Andy Warhol etc. created his own unique era. And so now I am making my own statement with all this drama around it. If you look at my life right now you will notice that it is comprised of movie stars, famous people, glamorous clothes, which collectively create a bigger picture. A bigger picture makes a brand.
Q: I know that all your designs and patterns are created in the United States but all the hand embroidery and hand beading are done in India. Have you ever considered creating a school in the States to teach local designers this incredible craft?
A: This is hardly a craft you can teach in a school. There are only a few countries in the world that can make this product. And the way this product is made is an art that has been handed down from father to son. It is otherwise very difficult to teach it because it is something you have to gather on your own. I personally learned it on my own. There is no school that can teach you this craft. Yes, you can learn the basics of the art but there are so many ingredients, so many techniques and different combinations that you really cannot fit it in a book.
Q: In looking at your collection, it is apparent that your work has a significant cultural component to it, can you tell us about that?
A: Growing up in India, I would see the women working in the field wearing embroidery, while the royal families wore embroidery as well. It is ingrained in me to see embroidery in all different layers of society. The techniques are very complex, from the thread you put through the beads to the millimeter of the beads which determines the fall of the dress. There are many little details to account for in order to get the right textures, weight, combinations, the restraint required for the perfect glamor touch, or when to pull back. It’s all through trial and error and it’s taken me 30 years to get it right. I am also lucky that my family back in India has a large workshop with over two thousand craftsmen, so it definitely helps when I have to deliver fast.
Q: After launching your Naeem Khan Collection in 2003, how did your collection catch the attention of such iconic department stores like Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue and Harrod’s?
A: It’s a lot of hard work and dedication. I started working as an assistant carrying bolts of fabrics, and doing whatever it took to become a designer. I did it for passion, I didn’t do it for the money. I learned the craft over the years. I had been working for 20 years already before I was picked up by such iconic stores. So you have to pay your dues first.
Q: Do you have any advice for young designers who aspire to work with iconic department stores and showcase their designs worldwide?
A: You have to work super, super hard and you have to train your mind to constantly design. You are on the train or you are at a party, maybe with your boyfriend or girlfriend, your mind must always be shaping and reshaping until it becomes a constantly designing engine. I launched my collection in 2003 but I didn’t do a runway; I only did my first runway in 2005. Between 2003 and 2005 I only made dresses and experimented with them in stores to see how to sell them and learning my market. Young designers must understand that having clothes on the runway costs a lot of money. Otherwise what happens with many designers is they borrow money to put on a runway show, they create debt and go out of business or end up selling cheap. So I made my money before I even went on the runway.
We hope you enjoy the runway photos below from the Fall 2013 collection inspired by the Byzantine Empire and Erté’s illustrations from the ’20s. This collection is now available for purchase in fine retailers nationwide.