Naeem Khan of the Oscar gowns comes to India to showcase at Lakme Fashion Week.
In the diplomatic room of the White House, when Michelle Obama opened the golden envelope that contained the name of the winner of Best Picture at the 2013 Annual Academy Awards last week, she did that in a silver Naeem Khan gown. The same designer she patronised for a few State dinners previously (including one hosted for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2009). The Mumbai-born, New York based designer has, within a decade of starting his eponymous label, amassed a clientele that could be many a designer’s wish list — Beyonce, Eva Longoria, Penelope Cruz, Brooke Shields… Stacy Keibler, too, wore a metallic grey dress from the designer’s Fall/ Winter 203-14 line that he showcased at the New York fashion week recently. Now, the designer prepares to show at Lakme Fashion Week Summer/ Resort 2013 in Mumbai — full circle, in a way, because it’s in Mumbai that all the embroideries on his clothes are still done.
On the collection he’ll be showing in India, he says, “I’m going to take things from Resort, from Spring, and a few pieces that I’ve shown that are kind of go-between Resort and Spring, which are in my Fall collection, because when you do glamorous evening wear there’s no time factor to it; you can wear them throughout the year. All the pieces I’ve dressed movie stars in, I want to bring those pieces because I’m sure people would love to see that. Why not do it that way? I’m not coming to India to really sell my clothes. I’m coming to India to showcase my clothes, to show what I’m doing in America.”
There are a few favourites among his pieces, like Stacy Keibler’s recent Oscar gown. “The design looks very Art Deco-inspired, the way the metals are all draped through the dress. Also, when you look at the drawings of Hindu gods, the draping is very similar. To me it’s a combination of all that. The inspiration overlaps. You might call it a little confusion here, but I love it that way. It’s one of those pieces,” says Naeem. “There’s another piece where I’ve used this technique of making ribbon and I’ve sewn the whole dress with ribbon. So what I want to show is craftsmanship and all the different techniques that I’ve used in different clothing. But it’s going to be cohesive. Various techniques of making clothing, and these are all done in India, which is so amazing.”
For a theme for his Fall/ Winter 2013-14 collection, Naeem turned to Art Deco, an era that is lately proving extremely popular with fashion designers — Ritu Kumar’s grand finale at the Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week in New Delhi last October, for example.
“The reason I like Art Deco is that it was an era when there was so much glamour. Design was evolving — this was a new form of design — and it was flamboyant. You can use the curves of the Art Deco to enhance the body. It was also super flamboyant. It was the jazz era. There was so much fun. People were dressing up for the evening. Though America was going through a recession at that time, there was a contrast of all this glamour,” Naeem explains.
There are two ways one might look at the celebrity-centred image his label has developed. High-profile endorsement is, obviously helpful, with hidden talent getting a platform it deserves. But many also acknowledge the traps of red-carpet glamour — the clothes will be flattering from every angle, beautiful even, but will never push certain boundaries. Something that even Elie Saab is, often, accused of.
Does that keep playing on his mind, the stars who’ll strut in front of cameras in those clothes, when he is designing a collection?
“When you’re designing a collection, first of all, you have to come up with your fantasy, what you have dreamed of. And usually that’s how my collection starts. You imagine something and you formulate — that’s fine. But then you have to make it reality. And the reality is that you have to understand who the woman wearing these clothes is. So you have your red carpet movie stars, other high-profile women, politicians, even socialites. You have to keep all that in mind. Secondly, you have to think of the retail factor. That means you have to make clothes for the real woman, a woman who’s not going to the red carpet. You have all these different tiers of clothing… And red carpet is definitely up there because that’s how you create the brand, that’s how you create attention for the brand, so people notice you.”
Next year will see new additions to the Naeem Khan brand — a high-end bridal line, a secondary line targeting the age group of 20 to 30 (“party clothes, daywear, but still interesting clothes”), and accessories (eyewear, bags, shoes and cosmetics).
While the label is opening its first store in the U.S., with another in France planned, India, however, will have to wait. “It’s in the future, not at the moment.”